Sunday, April 30, 2023

Cafe Au Slay - An Interview, Review & Giveaway

I'm pleased to welcome A. N. Sage to Cozy Up With Kathy today. A. N. writes the Orchard Hollow Mystery series. CAFE AU SLAY is the second book in the series and was released this past week.

Kathy: In CAFE AU SLAY Orchard Hollow’s biggest secret is about to be revealed. Have you ever had to deal with keeping a big secret? 

ANS: I tend to be an open book for the most part. The only big secrets I keep are surprise releases and it's always so difficult to stay quiet!

Kathy: Piper Addison is a resident witch and coffee shop owner. If you were to visit her shop what kind of coffee would you get? 

ANS: Definitely the Mocha a la Joe from book one. I test out all the recipes I put in the books and this caramel mocha was absolutely delicious.

Kathy: The Orchard Hollow Mystery series features a feisty raccoon. I love raccoons. What made you decide to add one to your series? 

ANS: My family rescued a baby raccoon a long time ago and to this day, I still think about how much I wished we could have kept him. They are such clever little creatures and their need to get into everything makes them the perfect additions to a cozy mystery.

Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries? 

ANS: I have always written mysteries in one way or another. Something about solving clues and puzzles really draws me in. When I decided to switch to writing in the adult space (I wrote young adult prior to this), I knew it had to be a mystery. And I also knew it had to have magic. Put those two together and a perfect cozy setting is born.

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres? 

ANS: Young adult fantasy.

Kathy: Tell us about your series. 

ANS: Orchard Hollow is a paranormal cozy mystery that follows an unlucky witch and her ghost familiar as they try to solve murders. It has a lot of humor, even more magic, and twists that will keep you guessing until the end. My other long-running series is Shadowhurst Mysteries. It features a spunky heroine, forbidden love stories, power-hungry covens and magic you won't be able to get enough of! If you like witchy stories full of twists and turns, you'll love this one. The final book comes out this year!

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why? 

ANS: Stella Rutherford. Her attitude has been a favorite to write and I love that she is unapologetically herself.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series? 

ANS: The characters are what inspired this series. One day, I had an image in my head of a witch arguing with her ghost familiar and the first book grew from there.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work? 

ANS: I have been writing for decades, but it wasn't until I started writing in the young adult space that I decided to publish. Indie publishing was really taking off and I knew I had stories that others would want to read.

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite? 

ANS: Victoria Schwab, Christopher Moore, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allen Poe.

Kathy: What are you currently reading? 

ANS: BELLADONNA by Adalyn Grace. It's great!

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us? 

ANS: I love to draw. I am actually about to open an Etsy shop called Glitter Fritter where I will be selling my pastel goth kawaii art as stickers and art prints.

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry. 

ANS: Olives, pickles, cheese, turkey bacon.


Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series? 

ANS: KILLING GROUNDS, book 3 in Orchard Hollow is scheduled to be released in early fall of this year. And book 8 of Shadowhurst Mysteries, PORTAL OF RUIN, will be out in the summer.

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author? 

ANS: Using my creativity to inspire people. I love writing stories that fuel people's imaginations.



CAFE AU SLAY by A. N. Sage
The Second Orchard Hollow Mystery

When famed paranormal investigator Archer Lee comes to Orchard Hollow Piper Addison knows that nothing good will come of it. After all, the paranormals who inhabit the town enjoy a quiet life, not broadcasting who they really are. They have no desire to be exposed, let alone hunted. Even so, she agrees to let the pompous man film in her café, Bean Me Up. A decision she regrets when his assistant drops dead, poisoned, and murder finds itself at her door once more.  Piper will need copious amounts of coffee and a little bit of magic if she’s going to deal with her recalcitrant teenaged employee, rambunctious raccoon, and snarky ghost of a familiar, let alone uncover a killer.
Friendship and self discovery are at the core of CAFE AU SLAY. I appreciate how Piper is coming into her own in the second Orchard Hollow Mystery. Yes, she still has issues, but she's developing better relationships. While she has a lot to sort out with Joe, she may be gaining a friend, who is also a witch. Her relationships with Stella and Harry are becoming more meaningful and she's even started a positive working relationship with Sheriff Romero. What's even more exciting is that she's starting to get a clue on what's behind her wonky powers and discovering who she really is. I enjoyed realizing clues from the first book that intimated these things!
The mystery was ingenious, with red herrings, intertwining motives, and lots of plausibility muddying the waters. Surprises, lots of humor, and heartfelt moments kept me captivated. Unfortunately, there were some glaring grammatical errors that truly threw me out of the story. I also want more than one chapter a book told from Harry's point of view!

Unique characters make CAFE AU SLAY a funny and inventive paranormal mystery.

 Cafe au Slay: A Paranormal Cozy Mystery (Orchard Hollow) by A.N. Sage

About Cafe au Slay

Cafe au Slay: A Paranormal Cozy Mystery (Orchard Hollow) 
Paranormal Cozy Mystery 2nd in Series
Cauldron Press (April 24, 2023)
Paperback: ‎ 384 pages

Piper Addison is not a normal witch. If she’s even a witch at all…

Life after the big four-oh isn’t so bad. Piper Addison, resident witch and coffee shop owner, finally found her groove. Business is flourishing, her ghost familiar is miraculously supportive, and she might even have a date for the weekend.  

There’s only one small catch… A dead body puts Piper in an impossible situation.

Orchard Hollow’s biggest secret is about to be revealed, and Piper might be the only one who can save the town’s paranormal residents. If only she can get a handle on her strange magic.

If that wasn’t enough, the town sheriff trusts Piper to solve the case. Can she help catch the killer before the whole world finds out about magic?

Cafe au Slay is a paranormal cozy mystery, complete with an unlucky witch, a ghost familiar, and a feisty raccoon with a talent for getting into sticky situations.

About A.N. Sage


A.N. Sage is a bestselling, award-winning author of young adult fantasy and mystery. She has spent most of her life waiting to meet a witch, vampire, or at least get haunted by a ghost. In between failed seances and many questionable outfit choices, she has developed a keen eye for the extra-ordinary. A.N. spends her free time reading and binge-watching television shows in her pajamas. Currently, she resides in Toronto, Canada with her husband who is not a creature of the night and their daughter who just might be. A.N. Sage is a Scorpio and a massive advocate of leggings for pants.  

Author Links: 






Purchase Link – Amazon 

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Friday, April 28, 2023

A Grave Roast - A Review


The First Orchard Hollow Mystery 
Piper Addison isn't much of a witch. At almost 40 her magical ability is fairly abysmal. She's a solitary witch looked down upon by the mean girls of the local coven, and instead of a nice cat or other animal, her familiar is a snarky ghost. On the upside, she's just opened her own coffee shop, Bean Me Up, and customers are flocking in to get caffeinated. At least until her espresso machine breaks down, she discovers a dead body behind the shop, and the sheriff shuts her down. Piper will soon have more than wonky witchcraft and broken appliances to deal with as she becomes even more involved with the murder and starts investigating on her own.
A GRAVE ROAST introduces readers to a misfit witch in a paranormal world. You can't help but feel for Piper, who, even at almost 40, is still subjected to mean girls. I think her doubts about herself and her powers as well as the feeling of having no one to rely on resonates with people. On a positive note, the joy she finds in reaching a dream, especially one that allows her to show some distinctive parts of her personality to the world, resonates as well. While Piper may feel alone-she does have two primary beings in her life-Harry and Stella. I love Harry Houdini, the rascally raccoon who continually breaks in to Bean Me Up to steal treats. We get to read one chapter from his point of view. I wish there was more as it brought better understanding and meaning to his role in the book. While Stella comes off as snarky, she truly is helpful and well meaning... and, well, snarky. There's more to her than meets the eye, however. The same can be said for Joe. The almost slapstick physical encounters with Piper made me laugh and I love how he wants to become involved and help in her investigation. I hope they can work through the bombshell he drops at the end of the book.
The mystery itself is compelling and Piper's involvement is understandable. I love how we slowly start to learn more about her and the world of Orchard Hollow.

With humor, lots of coffee, and an intriguing mystery, A GRAVE ROAST is a fun first foray into a magical world.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Currently Reading...

I just finished reading Café au Slay by A. N. Sage. This book is the second in the Orchard Hollow Mystery series and was released this past Monday.

When famed paranormal investigator Archer Lee comes to Orchard Hollow Piper Addison knows that nothing good will come of it. After all, the paranormals who inhabit the town enjoy a quiet life, not broadcasting who they really are. They have no desire to be exposed, let alone hunted. Even so, she agrees to let the pompous man film in her café, Bean Me Up. A decision she regrets when his assistant drops dead, poisoned, and murder finds itself at her door once more.  Piper will need copious amounts of coffee and a little bit of magic if she’s going to deal with her recalcitrant teenaged employee, rambunctious raccoon, and snarky ghost of a familiar, let alone uncover a killer.


Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Dead in the Water - An Interview

I'm pleased to welcome Mark Ellis to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Mark writes the DCI Frank Merlin series. DEAD IN THE WATER is the fifth book in the series and was released today!

Kathy: What makes WW2 such a compelling time period?

ME: WW2 has a personal resonance with me as my father died young from a lung disease contracted on service during the war. On a broader level, I think the war is compelling because it was a very stark battle between good and evil in which the forces of good eventually triumphed.

Kathy: What’s your favourite style of artwork?

ME: I’m very keen on landscapes. Favourite artists include Turner, Constable, Canaletto, and Vermeer.

Kathy: Why choose WW2 for the setting of the series? Does the wartime setting increase the thrill factor?

ME: WW2 was one of a number of periods I considered as a setting for my series. I have always been interested in the war for the personal reason mentioned above. My interest was further enhanced by the many fascinating stories my mother told me about her experiences of ordinary life on the Home Front. In addition, no doubt, the scores of war movies I watched on the tv as a child on wet Sunday afternoons had their influence. What determined my choice ultimately was that I discovered, on researching the period, that there was a huge crime boom in England between 1939 and 1945 and thus plenty of work to keep my fictional detective occupied. Obviously many thrilling and frightening things went on in the war which serve to provide an exciting background.

Kathy: What first drew you to historical crime fiction?

ME: I’ve always loved history. This naturally led to a love of historical fiction and then historical crime fiction. Probably the first historical crime fiction I read was Sherlock Holmes, which is a good place to start.

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?

ME: Not yet. 


Kathy: Tell us about your series.

ME: My hero, Detective Chief Inspector Frank Merlin is a Scotland Yard policeman working in World War Two London. He is the son of a Spanish father and an English mother. There are five books in the series with Dead In The Water being the fifth. I am currently working on number six. With the black-out, the black market, police shortages et cetera, criminals had a great time during the war and Merlin has his hands full battling all sorts of criminal activity. I try to set the Merlin fictional stories against a background of historically accurate fact and real historical figures like Churchill, De Gaulle, Joseph Kennedy and Herman Goering feature. The five books have so far taken Merlin from January 1940 to August 1942. My aim is to follow Merlin’s adventures through to the end of the war.

Kathy: Do you have a specific inspiration for your series?

ME: In my mind Merlin is a physical replica of my father who died when I was 7.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

ME: I have always loved books and from an early age I could imagine no greater achievement than being a published author.

Kathy: Which four authors, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?

ME: All dead I’m afraid. Dickens, Gore Vidal, Graham Greene, Agatha Christie.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

ME: DOCTOR ZHIVAGO by Boris Pasternak and ROCCO AND THE PRICE OF LIES, one of an excellent detective series set in 1960s France, by Adrian Magson.

Kathy: What are some of your hobbies or interests?

ME: I have always been keen on sport. When I was young I played a lot of rugby and cricket. These days I play a little golf and tennis. I read a lot both for research and pleasure and I enjoy travelling. 


Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

ME: Yoghurt, apples, cheddar cheese, and a bottle of wine. 


Kathy: What are your plans for future books?

ME: I am currently 50,000 words into the first draft of Merlin 6. It is set in the early summer of 1943. I have also just written my first Frank Merlin short story for a magazine putting together a wartime collection. I may write more. At some point I’d like to write a stand alone thriller and I have ideas for other series.

Kathy: What’s your favourite thing about being an author?

ME: Talking to satisfied readers. 



In the summer of 1942, the Second World War rages on but Britain now faces the Nazi threat with America at its side. In a bombed-out London swarming with gangsters and spies, DCI Frank Merlin continues his battle against rampant wartime crime. A mangled body is found in the Thames just as some items of priceless art go mysteriously missing. What sinister connection links the two?

Merlin and his team follow a twisting trail of secrets as they investigate a baffling and deadly puzzle–and lovers of mystery, espionage and historical crime fiction will eagerly consume every new clue until the novel’s thrilling end.


About the Author:

Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister and entrepreneur. His books treat the reader to a vivid portrait of London during the war skillfully blended with gripping plots, political intrigue and a charismatic protagonist.

Mark grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs. In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavor, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft and rape were rife and the Blitz provided scope for widespread looting.

This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world. This is the world of DCI Frank Merlin. Learn more at

Follow Mark on social media
Facebook: Mark Ellis- Author Page | Twitter: @MarkEllis15 | Instagram: @markell1

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Brushed Up On Murder - A Review & Giveaway


The First Mobile Car Groomer Mystery 

No one in town really likes the persnickety Durbin Haines, even Molly Stewart. Molly tries to make allowances, seeing as the man saved her from an accident when she was a child, and his cat, Jasper is a sweet client of her grooming services, but it's challenging. When he rushes from a grooming appointment, leaving his beloved cat behind, she's a bit surprised, but agrees to bring Jasper home. When Durbin doesn't answer his door, she finds him in his garden-dead! While she sees murder, the sheriff disagrees. He does come around to her way of thinking, however, except he's certain Molly's Uncle Russ is the killer. With the help of her friends, including the hunky veterinarian and her cat Percival, she's determined to find the real killer all while keeping the cats of Whitewater Valley looking their best.

The first Mobile Car Groomer Mystery brings a variety of characters together in an entertaining mystery. There's action, laughs, and intrigue along with several plausible suspects and two adorable cats. My favorite characters by far are Percival and Jasper and I absolutely loved them in the climactic confrontation.

While the main characters are likeable, I found their behavior quite juvenile, especially when it came to the possible romance between Molly and Hank. I also wasn't thrilled with the portrayal of the Sheriff, a bumbling good ol' boy. I'm unsure of the level of Molly's cat expertise, at least when it comes to properly introducing cats. I'm hoping the reason she threw them together was merely a way to get a plot point across.

The first in a new series, BRUSHED UP ON MURDER is an enjoyable cat-centric mystery.


 Brushed Up On Murder: A Mobile Cat Groomer Mystery by Ruth J Hartman

About Brushed Up On Murder

Brushed Up On Murder: A Mobile Cat Groomer Mystery
Cozy Mystery 1st in Series
Setting - Indiana
Level Best Books (April 18, 2023)
Print length: ‎ 275 pages

The life of a cat groomer isn’t just pampering purring felines, it's murder.

Mobile Cat Groomer Molly Stewart loves her job. Until she finds the dead body of one of her pet parents stabbed with a garden implement in his back yard. When Molly’s uncle Russ becomes the prime suspect in the murder and the sheriff won’t consider anyone else, Molly claws through obstacles as she prowls for clues.

With help from handsome veterinarian Hank Chenowith and Molly’s two cats, Percival and Jasper, will Molly succeed in proving her uncle’s innocence before the real murderer pounces on her?

About Ruth J. Hartman


Ruth J. Hartman spends her days herding cats and her nights spinning mysterious tales. She, her husband, and their cats love to spend time curled up in their recliners watching old Cary Grant movies. Well, the cats sit in the people’s recliners. Not that the cats couldn’t get their own furniture. They just choose to shed on someone else’s. Ruth, a left-handed, cat-herding, farmhouse-dwelling writer uses her sense of humor as she writes tales of lovable, klutzy women who seem to find trouble without even trying. Ruth’s husband and best friend, Garry, reads her manuscripts, rolls his eyes at her weird story ideas, and loves her despite her insistence all of her books have at least one cat in them. See updates about her cozy mysteries at  

Author Links: 





Purchase Link – Amazon  

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Friday, April 21, 2023

Ashes to Ashes, Crust to Crust - A Review


The Second Deep Dish Mystery 
With her new restaurant on the financial brink, Delilah O’Leary is counting on winning Geneva Bay's Taste of Wisconsin Food competition to keep her solvent. Winning could prove difficult when she learns just who the celebrity judge is. Add the shocking death of a juice bar customer and Delilah's mind veers from perfecting her contest entry to murder. With her aunt being more prickly than ever, her cat having adjustment issues, and odd signals coming from Detective Capone Delilah will have to dig deeper than her deep dish pizzas to keep her loved ones safe and happy, and perhaps solve another mystery.
I can't say enough positive things about ASHES TO ASHES, CRUST TO CRUST. I adore this series. The second Deep Dish Mystery is a mature layered mystery. Delilah O'Leary is flawed. Terribly flawed. And she knows it. And yet she is so very likable, despite, or perhaps because of those flaws. In fact, most of the characters are flawed, just like in real life, which is what makes the book so compelling and real.

The mystery is complex and I love how Delilah quietly goes about solving it, working with law enforcement. Twists and turns abound with surprises, not only to the mystery, but to the life of the characters in general. There's a gravity to personal situations and also humor and hope. Excitement, especially when least expected, kept me on my toes and provided breathtaking thrills.
With a compelling cast of characters, a foodcentric setting, and a fiendishly plotted mystery ASHES TO ASHES, CRUST TO CRUST is a delectable page turner.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Currently Reading...

I just finished reading Brushed Up On Murder by Ruth J. Hartman. This book is the first in the Mobile Cat Groomer Mystery series and was released yesterday.

No one in town really likes the persnickety Durbin Haines, even Molly Stewart. Molly tries to make allowances, seeing as the man saved her from an accident when she was a child, and his cat, Jasper is a sweet client of her grooming services, but it's challenging. When he rushes from a grooming appointment, leaving his beloved cat behind, she's a bit surprised, but agrees to bring Jasper home. When Durbin doesn't answer his door, she finds him in his garden-dead! While she sees murder, the sheriff disagrees. He does come around to her way of thinking, however, except he's certain Molly's Uncle Russ is the killer. With the help of her friends, including the hunky veterinarian and her cat Percival, she's determined to find the real killer all while keeping the cats of Whitewater Valley looking their best.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Witch Way Out - A Spotlight

Today I'd like to shine a spotlight on a recent release that's on my TBR pile. Witch Way Out by Cate Conte is the third book in the Full Moon Mystery series. It was released March 28, 2023.


When Violet Mooney’s coworker and fellow witch calls to say that their Connecticut crystals shop, The Full Moon, has been selected as a vendor at the Spring Equinox Fair, it’s welcome news. Ever since she learned about her magickal ancestry, Violet has been struggling to learn her craft while staying out of trouble. It’s no easy feat when her family seems to be the target of a power-grab within the realm, putting the entire magickal community on edge—and setting Violet on a mission . . .

With her investigation conjuring more questions than answers, Violet tries to focus on the Fair, which is being run by one of her personal heroes. Horatio Hale is a proponent of ethical crystal mining, but apparently not everyone is a fan. Violet is shocked when she goes to attend a meeting and finds Horatio dead—with an axe stuck in his chest. To uncover the motives behind the mayhem in both the mortal and magickal worlds, Violet is going to need more than a crystal ball. And it’ll take all the powers she’s been honing—plus some she didn’t know she had—to save herself . . .

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Eat, Drink and Drop Dead - An Interview, Review, & Giveaway

I'm pleased to welcome T. C. LoTempio back to Cozy Up With Kathy today. T. C. writes the Tiffany Austin Food Blogger Mystery series. EAT, DRINK AND DROP DEAD is the first book in the series and was released earlier this month.

Kathy: You start a new series with EAT, DRINK AND DROP DEAD. Was there a specific inspiration for the Tiffany Austin Food Blogger Mystery series?

TCL: Yes, my love of food LOL. I love watching cooking shows and the Food Network Channel and I thought a series aobut a food blogger would be fun to write.

Kathy: Tiffany Austin is a former chef who has become a food critic and blogger. Have you ever wanted one of these jobs or are you just happy to consume the delicacies?

TCL: I think anyone who loves food has always hired a secret desire to be one of those LOL. Personally, I"m content with just eating the fruits of others labors.

Kathy: Do you enjoy cooking? Do you have any specialties?

TCL: I never did when I was younger but I find that since I'm retired I've become more adventurous. One of the things I love to make is a squash soup. Look for that recipe in a future Tiffany book!


Kathy: Tiffany is vying for a position with Southern Style magazine. I love looking through that type of magazine. Do you?

TCL: I absolutely do, and I especially love when they have color photographs of the yummy food!

Kathy: Tiffany has a Siamese cat, Lily, and a King Charles Cavalier puppy, Cooper. Was there a reason to choose these breeds specifically? Are Lily and Cooper based on real animals or are they purely fictional?

TCL: I love King Charles Cavalier puppies and always wanted one. when I lived in NJ there was a woman next door who had one named Cooper, so I guess I pattered Tiffany's dog after him. As for the Siamese, well, my cat MAXX has a definite Siamese yowl when he's hungry, which is 99% of the time LOL

Kathy: Will you share any other upcoming books?

TCL: The third Pet Shop mystery will be released in late June, and the second Tiffany Austin, A CRUST TO DIE FOR, either at the end of this year or beginning of next. The seventh Nick and Nora mystery will be out a little later next year because it's a Halloween mystery! You can always check my website,, or ROCCO's blog,, for news on upcoming books! and of course, you can always sign up for my newsletter!



The First Tiffany Austin Food Blogger Mystery

Tiffany Austin, former New York City Chef, has completed her trial period and is now the permanent food critic and blogger for Southern Style Magazine. Her co-worker, the vitriolic gossip columnist Jenny Lee Plumm, doesn't fare as well. With her benefactor gone, the magazine's board of directors fired her. Blaming Tiffany for her dismissal, Jenny Lee vows to ruin her, digging up any dirt she can find, including the real reason Tiffany left NYC. When the antagonistic columnist is found dead and Tiffany becomes a suspect Tiffany decides to find the killer...or die trying.

The first Tiffany Austin Food Blogger Mystery gives us a well liked protagonist, who, though a bit of a goodie two shoes, is determined and does whatever is necessary to find a killer. I do think her leaving NYC the way she did was a bit ridiculous. Good Lord, say something woman! But she made up for it with her dogged determination to solve the crime. Lots of red herrings and a good number of suspects made for a compelling investigation. Although I cottoned on to the real killer fairly early on, I wasn't absolutely sure until the end.

I found a few inaccuracies in the book,  Peanut shells covered the floor of the bar, yet the baskets on each table held unshelled peanuts. In another instance a female suspect was given a pat search by a male detective even though there was a female police officer on the scene. That would not happen-the female officer would complete the pat search. Since I read an advanced reader's copy, I'm hopeful these errors were caught and fixed. Their inclusion, though a bit jarring, didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book. 

With great characters, lots of food, and an intriguing mystery EAT, DRINK AND DROP DEAD is a wonderful start to a new series.


 Eat, Drink and Drop Dead (A Tiffany Austin Food Blogger Mystery) by Toni LoTempio

About Eat, Drink and Drop Dead

Eat, Drink and Drop Dead (A Tiffany Austin Food Blogger Mystery)
Cozy Mystery 1st in Series
Setting - Georgia ‎
Severn House: Main edition (April 4, 2023)
Hardcover: ‎ 256 pages

A former chef gets mixed up in murder when she moves back to her Southern home town in the first Tiffany Austin food blogger mystery - a culinary cozy that will make your brain work and your stomach rumble!

Food critic and blogger Tiffany Austin has the best job in the world: she gets to eat for a living. At least, she hopes she has a job. Her trial period at Southern Style magazine is up - and rumors are swirling that management are making a choice between Tiffany and a rival columnist: the ambitious Jenny Lee Plumm.

Former chef Tiffany knows she has a battle on her hands . . . but she didn't realize it was to the death! When her rival's body is discovered after the two have a very public argument, Tiffany finds herself the prime suspect in a murder investigation. The lead detective might be very hot - but Tiffany's definitely not ready to go down for a crime she didn't commit.

Ably assisted by Hilary, her best friend and partner in (non) crime, and bolstered by the unconditional love of her Siamese cat Lily and King Charles Cavalier puppy Cooper, Tiffany plunges into an investigation of her own. After all, she has a degree from the CIA - the Culinary Institute of America - and she's not afraid to use it. But can she find the real killer before she's served up to the cops on a silver platter?

Eat, Drink and Drop Dead is a great pick for fans of delicious culinary cozies by Joanne Fluke, Lucy Burdette, Krista Davis and Jenn McKinlay - if you like smart, savvy female sleuths, twisty mysteries and delicious food, why not give it a try!

About T.C. Lotempio

While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic. She and her cat pen the Nick and Nora mystery series originally from Berkley Prime Crime and now with Beyond the Page Publishing. They also write the Cat Rescue series from Crooked Lane and the Pet Shop series, originally published by Midnight Ink and rebranded last year as “Urban Tails Pet Shop Mysteries.” Book six in the Nick and Nora mysteries, A PURR BEFORE DYING, is released this February from Beyond the Page. There is also a new series, Tiffany Austin Food Blogger, coming out in April.

You can cat-ch up with them at ROCCO’s blog, or her website,  




Twitter: @RoccoBlogger  

Purchase Links – AmazonB&NGoogle 

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Friday, April 14, 2023

Velma Gone Awry - An Interview, Review, & Giveaway

I'm pleased to welcome Matt Cost to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Matt writes the Brooklyn 8 Ballo Mystery series. VELMA GONE AWRY is the first book in the series and was released this week!

Kathy: In VELMA GONE AWRY we meet Hungarian private investigator 8 Ballo. 8 has a unique background. How does that help him as a PI?

MC: As a veteran of World War I, or Kaiser Bill’s War as he calls it, 8 has certainly learned the art of fighting, but that ability actually came long before he went to Europe. As a Hungarian growing up in Brooklyn with a best friend who is Black, he and Pearle Hill run into discrimination that leads them into many a fight throughout their formative years. Even more than the fighting, his knowledge of his neighborhood of Bushwick, the larger Brooklyn,, and New York City as a whole allows him to go places and network with people to resolve his cases.

Kathy: Set in the 1920s 8 has to find the flapper daughter of a wealthy businessman. Why choose this time period for your mystery?

MC: I’ve written several historical novels and am currently publishing two mystery series. This is my first foray into creating a historical PI mystery. The time and place of the Roaring ‘20s has always fascinated me, and the more I dug in, the more I realized that it may have been the most exciting time and place for all of history. Coming out after WWI, Brooklyn is a melting pot of diversity of cultures, rich with the explosion of the Jazz Era, Prohibition and the rum running that follows with illegal speakeasies, baseball, moving pictures, and so much more. Mix in legendary figures such as Dorothy Parker, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, and Babe Ruth and you truly have a novel laded with content. 


Kathy: Historical mysteries require an extra special brand of research. What's your favorite method to research this time period?

MC: I read many a book, did countless hours of internet research, but by far the best method of research was, a site that archives newspapers of America from long before the 1920’s. I actually read the Brooklyn Eagle for the year of 1923 every morning, starting before I began writing the novel. I’d read my local newspaper, and then move to the computer, and read that one. Fantastic resource for events, stories, people, entertainment, and culture, but as valuable as anything else were the advertisements.

Kathy: 8's investigation leads him to many famous people of the 1920s. How did you decide who to include? Who would you most want to meet?

MC: I did include the legendary people mentioned above. Dorothy Parker, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, and Babe Ruth. I also included the legendary gangsters, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, amongst others. The people that enthralled me the most made the cut and several have continued on into the second in the series, City Gone Askew, due out in April of 2024. 


Kathy: What first drew you to historical mysteries?

MC: I have always loved history and mystery. I started at a young age reading the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and moved my way up through writers such as Robert Parker, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen. The same can be said for historical books of James Michener, Ken Follett, Leon Uris, and William Martin. I then went on to get a B.A. in history from Trinity College and taught history at the junior high School level. Velma Gone Awry is my first incursion into combining these two loves of mine, histories and mysteries, into a historical PI mystery.

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?

MC: So far, I’ve written histories and mysteries. My current work in progress, The Not So Merry Adventures of Max Creed, is more in the thriller vein.

Kathy: Tell us about your series. 

MC: VELMA GONE AWRY is the first in my Brooklyn 8 Ballo series. 8 Ballo is a PI in the neighborhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn and is helped in his endeavors by his close friends, Pearle Hill, a Black business entrepreneur, Marty Hoffman, a Jewish journalist for the Brooklyn Eagle, and Stephen McGee, an Irish cop. Together, with help from others such as Dorothy Parker, they work to find the missing flapper, Velma Hartmann.

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

MC: I am partial to my protagonist, 8 Ballo. Much like a best friend, he is the person I have chosen to spend the most time with because of his mixture of intelligence, culture, and roughness. He enjoys philosophy, poetry, literature, and a good fist fight.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?

MC: The first step was realizing I wanted to combine my two loves and write a historical mystery. My second revelation was to choose Brooklyn because my daughter lives there and I could visit and do research. The final genius was to realize how legendary of a time period the Roaring ‘20s were.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

MC: I write because I have to, but I suppose I’d like people to read my books and appreciate them. I often include an educational component, mostly for myself, but certainly something I believe my readers have valued. This might include topics such as Fidel Castro, the Civil War, the personality of cults, genome editing, or nuclear power to name just a few. I enjoyed learning about these topics and hope my readers do as well. 


Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?

MC: I am going to have to answer that twice. I have many friends who are authors, and I can’t leave them off the list. So that list would be BJ Magnani, S. Lee Manning, Kevin St. Jarre, and Anne Britting Oleson. The second list would be those that I’ve not met. They would be Robert Parker, Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, and Louis L’Amour.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

MC: I am currently reading RICHER THE MIGHTY by J.B. Manning (the husband of S.L. Manning).

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

MC: I like to play golf poorly, walk with my wife and dogs in the woods or on the beach, and read. Of course, I write. 


Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

MC: Bacon, roast beef, potato chips, and cookies. Yeah, I know I’m going to die young. 


Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?

MC: The fifth book in my Mainely Mystery series, Mainely Wicked, is due out in August. The fifth book in my Clay Wolfe Trap series, Pirate Trap, is due out in December. The second book in the Brooklyn 8 Ballo series, City Gone Askew, is slated for April of 2024. I am currently writing a thriller that will debut a new series, tentatively titled The Not So Merry Adventures of Max Creed.

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?

MC:  I love all aspects of writing. Creating characters and plots is fabulous, as is editing to improve those characters and plots, but then sharing them with readers in the form of listeners at readings and presentations is pretty fantastic as well. Write on.



The First Brooklyn 8 Ballo Mystery

Brooklyn PI 8 Ballo has seen a lot, growing up as an eighth child whose grandparents fled to New York from Hungary, studying philosophy in college, and fighting in the Great War, but his search for a missing flapper could be his greatest adventure yet. Businessman Fritz Hartmann is paying 8 good money to find his missing daughter, Velma. The young flapper happens to be friends with a lot of notable people and 8's search for her leads him to the likes of Dorothy Parker, Coleman Hawkins, and the Fitzgeralds. 8 soon discovers that Fritz isn't quite the reputable businessman he appears, running illegal liquor and other unsavory businesses-businesses that have gangsters like Meyer Lansky and Ben "Bugsy" Siegel taking offense. Could Velma have been taken in retaliation, or is she merely enjoying her own life? Or could she be running from her father? With an eclectic band of friends 8 will search the boroughs of New York City for the woman who has piqued his imagination.

I really enjoyed this trip to 1920s NYC. What starts as a missing person case evolves into mob dealings, revenge, murder, and more. One of the things I liked best about VELMA GONE AWRY was meeting some of the famous people of the time and seeing how 8 interacted with them. I particularly enjoyed 8s relationship with Dorothy Parker while I shook my head at the antics of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
The fictional characters are just as intriguing. 8 Ballo is a thoroughly modern man, believing in equality, not only of race, but gender as well. It's a bit surprising, and very welcoming, especially as he is in his mid 30s during the 1920s when the book is set. It's also part of his charm. Intelligent and quick witted, 8 cultivates friendships with a diverse group of people and allowing him to fit in with a wide range of situations. For the most part Velma is an enigmatic character, a will-o'-the-wisp. Other characters are more down to earth. All are interesting and there are truly no minor characters. Author Matt Cost has a good grasp of psychology as well, as shown in the reactions and behaviors of his characters.
VELMA GONE AWRY is a historical mystery with a modern flair. In depth characterizations and an intricately plotted mystery will captivate readers. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Brooklyn 8 Ballo Mystery and I look forward to joining 8 on his next case!


The author is generously offering a print copy of the book to one person who comments on this post no later that 11:59pm Monday, April 17, 2023. Sorry, US mailing addresses only. Please leave an e-mail address along with your comment so that I may contact you should yours be the chosen comment.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Currently Reading...

I just finished reading Eat, Drink, And Drop Dead by T. C. LoTempio. This book is the first in the Tiffany Austin Food Blogger Mystery series and was released last week.

Tiffany Austin, former New York City Chef, has completed her trial period and is now the permanent food critic and blogger for Southern Style Magazine. Her co-worker, the vitriolic gossip columnist Jenny Lee Plumm, doesn't fare as well. With her benefactor gone, the magazine's board of directors fired her. Blaming Tiffany for her dismissal, Jenny Lee vows to ruin her, digging up any dirt she can find, including the real reason Tiffany left NYC. When the antagonistic columnist is found dead and Tiffany becomes a suspect Tiffany decides to find the killer...or die trying.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Man on the Run - A Spotlight & Giveaway

Today I'd like to shine a spotlight on Man on the Run by Charles Salzberg which will be released next week.


Master burglar Francis Hoyt is on the run. After walking away from his arraignment in a Connecticut courtroom, he’s now a fugitive who has to figure out what he’s going to do with the rest of his life.

And so, he heads west, to Los Angeles, where he meets Dakota, a young true crime podcaster who happens to be doing a series on Hoyt. At the same time, he’s approached by a mysterious attorney who makes Hoyt an offer he can’t refuse: break into a “mob bank,” and liberate the contents.


About the Author:

Charles Salzberg, who rarely leaves the island of Manhattan where he was born and raised, began his literary life in the mailroom at New York Magazine, thinking somehow it would lead to his real dream: writing the Great American Novel. Restless, and too young (and stupid) to realize the consequences, he left the magazine after only three months and began life as a freelance magazine writer, with absolutely no idea what he was doing.

After a successful career as a magazine journalist for New York Magazine, Esquire, GQ, Redbook, New York Times etc., book reviewer, nonfiction book writer, he made a move to fulfilling that dream of becoming a novelist when his first novel, Swann’s Last Song, was published and wound up being nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel. After losing, he swore he’d keep writing crime novels until he won something.

After four more novels in the Henry Swann series, he wrote two successful stand-alone novels, Devil in the Hole (named one of the best crime novels of 2013 by Suspense Magazine) and Second Story Man (nominated for another Shamus and a David Award, both of which, true to form, he lost). He finally broke the losing streak when Second Story Man was named winner of the Beverly Hills Book Award. He’s also published three novellas, to be found in the collections Triple Shot, Three Strikes and Third Degree. He teaches writing in New York City, is a Founding Member of New York Writers Workshop, and is on the boards of PrisonWrites and Mystery Writers of America-NY.

Follow Charles Salzberg on social media:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


The author is generously offering a copy of Man on the Run to one reader with a US mailing address. Simply leave a comment on this blog post no later than 11:59pm Eastern on Friday, April 14, 2023.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Four Parties and a Funeral - A Review & Giveaway


The Fourth Catering Hall Mystery
Reality TV has come to Belle View! The production company for The Dons of Ditmars Boulevard have arrived filming the pilot they hope to sell to the networks. Now Belle View Catering Hall is filled with wannabe reality stars, including some Family members looking to become TV celebrities. When the production company's smarmy  CEO winds up dead Little D becomes the prime suspect, after all he is the son of a real Don and is romantically involved with the victim's ex-wife. Mia Carina will have to prove his innocence while corralling the dons and donettes as the film crew tries to create more drama. At least she can count on Shane for support. Or can she?
Oh, the lure of fame and stardom achieved without any real effort... or talent. While Mia is immune, she sees a solid money making opportunity for Belle View and takes advantage. Little D and many others, however, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, look to promote themselves, whatever the cost. Reality television brings out the worst behavior in people-and so it is in the fourth Catering Hall Mystery. We see behavior that can be hilariously funny, jaw dropping, and murder motive making. The mystery is ingeniously woven through the scenes along with major character development.
While there are lots of laughs, there are also serious moments when a critical problem to Mia and Shane's future arises as well as health concerns for Mia's dad. This balance of laugh out loud moments (I can picture those bargain bin colors on Elisabetta's new knitwear) and sobering issues (and I'm not talking about the day after the bachelorette party kind of sobering) makes FOUR PARTIES AND A FUNERAL so great.

Belle View Catering Hall takes on reality TV in FOUR PARTIES AND A FUNERAL with plenty of drama, laughs, and love. It will tug at your heartstrings while you simultaneously hold your stomach from laughing too hard.


 Four Parties and a Funeral (A Catering Hall Mystery) by Maria DiRico

About Four Parties and a Funeral

Four Parties and a Funeral (A Catering Hall Mystery)
Cozy Mystery 4th in Series
Setting - New York
Kensington Cozies (March 28, 2023)
Mass Market Paperback: ‎ 304 pages

In this fresh and witty cozy mystery series set amid an extended Italian-American family in Astoria, Queens, catering hall owner and amateur sleuth Mia Carina must solve a murder on the set of a reality show.

The June events schedule at Belle View is busting out all over—proms, graduations, and of course, weddings. There are unexpected bookings too, including a casting call for the pilot of Dons of Ditmars Boulevard. But soon, Mia’s fears about the cheesy reality show are confirmed . . .

Belle View quickly becomes the site of a sea of wanna-be goombahs and phony girlfriends, and some of Mia’s friends insist on getting in on the action. The production company owner and his executive producer ex-wife—who’s also very minor British royalty—have assembled a motley crew that does as much infighting and backstabbing as the on-screen “talent.” Even so, it’s a shock when a dead body is found in the pool house of a local mansion rented by the show . . .

Murder might boost the ratings. But Mia intends to make sure the killer gets jail time, not airtime . . .

Italian recipes included!

About Maria DiRico

Maria DiRico is the pseudonym for Ellen Byron, author of the award-winning, USA Today bestselling Cajun Country Mysteries. Born in Queens, New York, she is first-generation Italian-American on her mother's side and the granddaughter of a low-level Jewish mobster on her father's side. She grew up visiting the Astoria Manor and Grand Bay Marina catering halls, which were run by her Italian mother's family in Queens and have become the inspiration for her Catering Hall Mystery Series. DiRico has been a writer-producer for hit television series like Wings and Just Shoot Me, and her first play, Graceland, appears in the Best Short Plays collection. She's a freelance journalist, with over 200 articles published in national magazines, and previously worked as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing. A native New Yorker who attended Tulane University, Ellen lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs.

Author Links – Website Chicks on the CaseFacebook Twitter

Purchase Links - Amazon - B&N - Kobo - IndieBound - Kensington -

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Friday, April 7, 2023

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau - A Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway


By Jaime Jo Wright

In 1801 a young girl living in Castle Moreau is visited by a female phantom, a terrifying creature with a misshapen hand. A vision her father says is a dream, but she knows to be real. In 1870 Daisy François begins work as a housekeeper at Castle Moreau, despite tales that women disappear from the area and the fact that the mistress of the castle writes frightening Gothic stories. In the present day Cleo Clemmons is running away from her life. Living off grid she takes a job at Castle Moreau, hired by the grandson of the elderly owner to help organize it. Cleo soon realizes the job may be more than she can handle. Will Castle Moreau keep its secrets or will a woman who wants to disappear reveal them once and for all?

Vulnerable women, hauntings, fear, possible madness, and, dare I say a hint of forbidden romance make THE VANISHING AT CASTLE MOREAU a chilling Gothic novel. The three stories from three time periods propel each other, as each one layers on an aspect of haunting, drawing the reader in just as Castle Moreau draws in women. Compelling and enthralling, the facts are hidden until the end.

Playing on the fears many of us have, I was entranced, wondering what exactly to believe in the first two time periods. In the present day portion I was beyond curious what exactly happened to make Cleo run. Indeed, it was the many thoughts the book provoked that had me as entranced as the actual words written. All of the characters are intriguing, my favorites being Daisy and Deacon, with the most fascinating being Castle Moreau itself.

Full of atmospheric suspense THE VANISHING AT CASTLE MOREAU is a delightfully spooky novel incorporating themes of loss, faith, and redemption.

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau by Jaime Jo Wright Banner

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau

by Jaime Jo Wright

April 3-28, 2023 Virtual Book Tour


The Vanishing at Castle Moreau by Jaime Jo Wright

A haunting legend. An ominous curse. A search for a secret buried deep within the castle walls.

In 1870, orphaned Daisy François takes a position as housemaid at a Wisconsin castle to escape the horrors of her past life. There she finds a reclusive and eccentric Gothic authoress, who hides tales more harrowing than the ones in her novels. With women disappearing from the area and a legend that seems to parallel these eerie circumstances, Daisy is thrust into a web that threatens to steal her sanity, if not her life.

In the present day, Cleo Clemmons is hired by the grandson of an American aristocratic family to help his grandmother face her hoarding in the dilapidated Castle Moreau. But when Cleo uncovers more than just the woman's stash of collectibles, a century-old mystery of disappearance, insanity, and the dust of the old castle's curse threaten to rise again. This time to leave no one alive to tell the sordid tale.

Award-winning author Jaime Jo Wright seamlessly weaves a dual-time tale of two women who must do all they can to seek the light amidst the darkness shrouding Castle Moreau.

Praise for The Vanishing at Castle Moreau:

"An imaginative and mysterious tale."

New York Times bestselling author RACHEL HAUCK

"With real, flawed characters, who grapple with real-life struggles, readers will be drawn into this gripping suspense from the very first page. Good luck putting it down. I couldn't."

LYNETTE EASON, bestselling, award-winning author of the Extreme Measures series

"Wright pens another delightfully creepy tale where nothing is quite as it seems and characters seek freedom from nightmares both real and imagined."

Library Journal

"Wright captivates. A thrilling tale. . . . Readers won’t want to put this down."

Publishers Weekly

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau Trailer:

Book Details:

Genre: Dual time Suspense/Thriller
Published by: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: April 2023
Number of Pages: 384
ISBN: 9780764238345
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | Baker Book House

Read an excerpt:

The one who rescues,
who loves,
and who stands in the gap.
God knew I needed you.

The Girl

MAY 8, 1801

When I was a little girl, my father would often come to my bedside after my screams wakened him in the night. He would smooth back my damp ringlets, the mere feel of his callused and strong hand inspiring an instantaneous calm.

“What is it, little one?” he would ask me.

Every night, the same question. Every night, I would give the same answer.

“It is her again, Papa.”

“Her?” He would tilt his head, giving credence to my words and refraining from scolding or mockery.

“Yes.” I would nod, my head brushing the clean cotton of my pillowcase. “The woman with the crooked hand.”

“Crooked hand, hmm?” His query only increased my adamant insistence.

“Yes. She has a nub with two fingers.” A tear would often trail down my six-­year-­old cheek.

My father would smile with a soothing calm. “You are dreaming again, mon chéri.”

“No. She was here.” He must believe me!

“Shhh.” Another gentle stroke of his hand across my forehead. “She is the voice of the mistress of your dreams. We all have one, you know. Only yours needs extra-special care because she isn’t beautiful like the rest. She is the one who brings the nightmares, but she doesn’t mean to harm you. She is only doing her best with what she has been given, and what she has been given are her own horrors.”

“Her hand?” I would reply, even though we repeated this explanation many nights in a row.

“Yes,” my father would nod. “Her hand is a reflection of the ugliness in her stories. Stories she tells to you at night when all is quiet and your eyes are closed.”

“But they were open,” I would insist.

“No. You only think they were open.”

“I am afraid of the ghost, Papa,” I urge.

His eyes smile. “Oui. And yet there are no spirits to haunt you. Only the dream mistress. Shoo her away and she will flee. She is a mist. She is not real. See?” And he would wave his hand in the air. “Shoo, mistress. Away and be gone!”

We would survey the dark bedroom then, and, seeing nothing, my father would lean over and press his lips to my cheek. “Now sleep. I will send your mother’s dream mistress to you. Her imaginings are pleasant ones.”

“Thank you,” I would whisper.

Another kiss. The bed would rise a bit as he lifted his weight from the mattress. His nightshirt would hang around his shins, and he would pause at the doorway of my room where I slept. An only child, in a home filled with the fineries of a Frenchman’s success of trade. “Sleep, mon chéri.”

“Yes, Papa.”

The door would close.

My eyes would stay open.

I would stare at the woman with the crooked hand, who hovered in the shadows where the door had just closed. I would stare at her and know what my father never would.

She existed.

She was not a dream.


Daisy François
APRIL 1870

The castle cast its hypnotic pull over any passerby who happened along to find it, tucked deep in the woods in a place where no one would build a castle, let alone live in one. It served no purpose there. No strategy of war, no boast of wealth, no respite for a tired soul. Instead, it simply existed. Tugging. Coercing. Entrapping. Its two turrets mimicked bookends, and if removed, one would fear the entire castle would collapse like a row of standing volumes. Windows covered the façade above a stone archway, which drew her eyes to the heavy wooden door with its iron hinges, the bushes along the foundation, and the stone steps leading to the mouth of the edifice. Beyond it was a small orchard of apple trees, their tiny pink blossoms serving as a delicate backdrop for the magnificent property.

Castle Moreau.

Home to an orphan. Or it would be.

Daisy clutched the handles of her carpetbag until her knuckles were sure to be white beneath her threadbare gloves. She stood in the castle’s shadow, staring at its immense size. Who had built such an imposing thing? Here, in the northern territory, where America boasted its own mansions but still rejected any mimicking of the old country. Castles were supposed to stare over their fiefdoms, house lords and ladies, gentry, noblemen, and summon the days of yore when knights rescued fair maidens. Castles were not supposed to center themselves inside a forest, on the shore of a lake, a mile from the nearest town.

This made Castle Moreau a mystery. No one knew why Tobias Moreau had built it decades before. Today the castle held but one occupant: Tobias’s daughter, Ora Moreau, who was eighty-­six years old. She was rarely ever seen, and even more rarely, ever heard from. Still, Ora’s words had graced most households in the region, printed between the covers of books with embossed golden titles. Her horror stories had thrilled many readers, and over the years, the books helped in making an enigma of the reclusive old woman.

When the newspaper had advertised a need for a housemaid—­preferably one without a home or ties to distract her from her duties—­it was sheer coincidence that Daisy had seen it, even more of a coincidence that she fit the requirements. And so it was a surprise she was hired after only a brief letter inquiring after the position.

Now she stood before the castle, her pulse thrumming with the question why? Why had she accepted the position? Why would she allow herself to be swallowed up by this castle? The stories were bold, active. Women disappeared here. It was said that Castle Moreau was a place that consumed the vulnerable. Welcoming them in but never giving them back.

Daisy stiffened her shoulders. Swallowed. Tilted her chin upward in determination. She had marched into hell before—­many times, in fact. Castle Moreau couldn’t possibly be much worse than that.

Cleo Clemmons

They had buried most souvenirs of the dead with the traditions of old, and yet what a person didn’t understand before death, they would certainly comprehend after. The need for that ribbon-­tied lock of hair, the memento mori photograph of the deceased, a bone fragment, a capsule of the loved one’s ashes—­morbid to those who had not lost, but understandable to those who had.

Needing to touch the tangible was a fatal flaw in humanity. Faith comforted only so far until the gasping panic overcame the grieving like a tsunami, stealing oxygen, with the only cure being something tangible. Something to touch. To hold. To be held. It was in these times the symbolism attached to an item became pivotal to the grieving. A lifeline of sorts.

For Cleo, it was a thumbprint. Her grandfather’s thumbprint. Inked after death, digitized into a .png file, uploaded to a jewelry maker, and etched into sterling silver. It hung around her neck, settling between her breasts, just left of her heart. No one would know it was there, and if they did, they wouldn’t ask. A person didn’t ask about what was held closest to another’s heart. That was information that must be offered, and Cleo had no intention of doing so. To anyone. Her grandfather was her memory alone—­the good and the bad. What he’d left behind in the form of Cleo’s broken insides were Cleo’s to disguise. Faith held her hand, or rather, she clenched hands with faith, but in the darkness, when no one was watching, Cleo fit her thumb to her grandfather’s print and attempted to feel the actual warmth of his hand, to infuse all the cracks and offer momentary refuge from the ache.

Funny how this was what she thought of. Now. With what was left of her world crashing down around her like shrapnel pieces, blazing lava-­orange and deadly.

“Pick up, pick up, pick up,” Cleo muttered into her phone, pressing it harder against her ear than she needed to. She huddled in the driver’s seat of her small car, all of her worldly possessions packed into the trunk and the back seat. She could hear the ringing on the other end. She owed it to Riley. One call. One last goodbye.


“Riley!” Cleo stiffened in anticipation.

“. . . you’ve reached Riley . . .” the voice message continued, and Cleo laid her head back against the seat. The recording finished, and Cleo squeezed her eyes shut against the world outside of her car, against the darkness, the fear, the grief. This was goodbye. It had to be.

The voicemail beep was Cleo’s cue. She swallowed, then spoke, her words shivering with compressed emotion. What did a person say in a last farewell?

“Riley, it’s me. Cleo. I—” she bit her lip, tasting blood—“I-­I won’t be calling again. This is it. You know. It’s what I hoped would never happen. I am so, so sorry this happened to you! Just know I tried to protect you. But now—” her breath caught as tears clogged her throat—“this is the only way I can. Whatever happens now, just know I love you. I will always love you.” Desperation warred with practicality.

Shut off the phone.

There was no explaining this.

There never would be.

“Goodbye, Ladybug.” Cleo thumbed the end button, then threw the phone against the car’s dashboard. A guttural scream curled up her throat and split her ears as the inside of the vehicle absorbed the sound.

Then it was silent.

That dreadful, agonizing silence that came with the burgeoning, unknown abyss of a new start. Cleo stared at her phone lying on the passenger-­side floor. She lunged for it, fumbling with a tiny tool until she popped open the slot on its side. Pulling out the SIM card, Cleo bent it back and forth until it snapped. Determined, she pushed open the car door and stepped out.

The road was heavily wooded on both sides. Nature was her only observer.

She flung the broken SIM card into the ditch, marched to the front of the car, and wedged the phone under the front tire. She’d roll over it when she left, crush it, and leave nothing to be traced.

Cleo took a moment to look around her. Oak forest, heavy undergrowth of brush, wild rosebushes whose thorns would take your skin off, and a heap of dead trees and branches from the tornado that had ravaged these woods decades prior. The rotting wood was all that remained to tell the tale now, but it was so like her life. Rotting pieces that never went away. Ever.

She climbed back into the car and twisted the key, revving the engine to life. Cleo felt her grandfather’s thumbprint until it turned her skin hot with the memories. Memories of what had set into motion a series of frightful events. Events that were her responsibility to protect her sister from.

Goodbye, Ladybug.

There was no explaining in a voicemail to a twelve-­year-­old girl that her older sister was abandoning her in order to save her. Cleo knew from this moment on, Riley would play that message, and slowly resentment would seep in as she grew older. Resentment that Cleo had left and would never come back.

But she couldn’t go back. Not if she loved Riley. Sometimes love required the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love required death. Death to all they knew, all they had known. If Cleo disappeared, then Riley would be left alone. Riley would be safe. She could grow up as innocent as possible.

So long as Cleo Clemmons no longer existed.


Excerpt from The Vanishing at Castle Moreau by JAIME JO WRIGHT. Copyright 2023 by Jaime Sundsmo. Reproduced with permission from Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—­for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—­without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.



Author Bio:

Jaime Jo Wright

Jaime Jo Wright is the author of six novels, including Christy Award winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo; her husband, Cap'n Hook; and their littles, Peter Pan and CoCo.

To learn more, visit Jamie at: (& check out her Podcast - MadLit Musings!)
BookBub - @JaimeJoWright
Instagram - @JaimeJoWright
Twitter - @JaimeJoWright
Facebook - @JaimeJoWright



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