May Book Reviews (Part 1) and a Blog Break

Spring came and went in about 5 days. The garden is demanding immediate attention as are a bunch of other chores that I’ve been delaying until the sun returned. I have my dad’s storage unit to empty and sort, and a deck to scrap and paint. And I suppose it’s time to move the spiders outdoors too. I’ll be offline for a few weeks and promise to return refreshed.

I didn’t want to get too far behind on sharing reviews, so I have some great reads to chat about today. So far this May, I’ve read a lot of books that aren’t published yet. Funny how things happen in bunches like that, so a short list to browse.

May’s (Part One) reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of a self-help book, a cozy murder mystery, a historical fiction, a book of short stories, and a contemporary fairy tale.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.


Re-Create & Celebrate 7 Steps to Turn Your Dreams Into Reality by Cindy Georgakas

Note: This book is scheduled for release on May 20th, so close that Cindy asked me to share my review now rather than wait. Keep it on your radar. It’s worth waiting for. Here’s my review:

There aren’t many people who would turn down the chance at a happier, more fulfilling, and more productive life. Re-Create & Celebrate 7 Steps To Turn Your Dreams Into Reality lays the framework for a multi-approach personal journey.

Though the author shares her wisdom and some practical advice, stemming from her years working as a life coach, the focus of this self-help guide is to aid the reader in a deep exploration of the personal factors that get in the way of realizing our goals. Georgakas provides questions to ponder about ourselves, our beliefs, and our experiences. She offers frequent anecdotes about her own explorations and growth, as well as what she’s observed in clients.

The tone of this book is positive and uplifting, determined to empower the reader by suggesting that the answers to achieving our best selves lie within us. All possible if we can muster the courage to seek them and if we’re brave enough to examine the worn-out messages and ways of being that hold us back. A well-written and well-organized book that deserves a thoughtful read. Highly recommended to anyone seeking to overhaul or fine-tune their lives.


Death by Ice Cream (A Pismawallops PTA Mystery) by Rebecca M. Douglass

JJ is outspoken and snarky, and her running commentary on her life is hilarious. But all is not well in this cozy whodunnit mystery when a dead body shows up in the school’s ice cream case, strangled with JJ’s scarf. JJ’s a suspect, a parent, and an amateur sleuth who can’t keep her nose out of the handsome sheriff’s investigation. She’s also a member of the PTA, suddenly saddled with getting the yearbook done… and all the photos are missing. Add to that, she’s a single mom negotiating a divorce who’s sworn off men… except that the sheriff has her imagination running on overdrive. And I should mention that someone wants her out of the picture.

This book has a lot going on, and JJ is in the thick of it. She’s a great character, extremely likable with a sharp wit, a wry perspective, and a big heart despite all the snarkiness. Secondary characters are equally engaging, with distinct personalities. JJ’s best friend Kitty is the perfect sidekick, and I loved the non-romance romance with the sheriff, Ron.

The pace moves quickly, clues are dropped along the way, and they tie up beautifully in the end, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are plenty of threads to this mystery, and I didn’t know who the murderer was until the reveal. It wrapped up with a nice twist too. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy cozy murder mysteries with a high-energy main character, a tangled plot, and lots of wry humor.


A Low Diving Bird by Libby Copa

This is a beautifully written and heartfelt historical fiction. The US Civil War officially ended a year ago, but for those who fought and for those left behind it continues with poverty, lawlessness, retaliation, and death. On both sides, the wounds of war are deep and lasting, and this is true in Missouri, in the home of Hester Cain.

She’s on her own, a young woman caring for three orphaned boys while her brother and father continue attacks against Union soldiers. She’s sold everything (everything!) she owns to put food on the table. And I’m not sure which was worse, the Union militia hunting down Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, or the rebels killing Union families. Hester walks a fine line to keep herself and her family safe. Then Eben, a Union soldier, walks into her yard and offers to stay and help. Her life improves in small steps until her brother returns home and all she’s gained may be lost.

There’s a tangible feeling of melancholy pervading this story. The war’s psychological damage is profound. Hester and Eben are sympathetic characters, as are the boys though their life’s wounds are slow to heal. Even Hester’s brother, despite his despicable acts, earns some sympathy. The author makes it easy to see the terrible misery endured on both sides of the war. The story ends with a dose of hope and it’s hard-earned. The writing is beautiful and well-paced. I highly recommend this read to fans of historical fiction, literary fiction, and books about the US Civil War, and to readers who enjoy an emotional and beautifully crafted story.


Comes this Time to Float: 19 Short Stories by Stephen Geez

This is the first book of short stories I’ve read from this author, and I was impressed. The quality of the writing is excellent, and the 19 stories in this generous collection cover a variety of genres including a bit of speculative fiction. I was swept away by the many heartwarming tales of friendship, love, and loss.  A number of the stories have a “slice of life” feel to them, reminiscent of flash fiction, a style that I enjoy.

I had a lot of favorites in this book including:

Sidekick – an amazing tale about the power of friendship between two boys
Veneer – a story about two people who discover the truth about each other.
Lunatic – beautiful writing about an unusual being and a little boy
Halfway House – a tender story about second chances, full of twists
Vapor Girl – a wistful sci-fi love story with amazing descriptions
Ready for Company – a sci-fi tear-jerker
Kitty Makes Three – another love story. *Sigh*
Tailwind – a story about the friendship between two old men.

Need I say more? Obviously, I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to fans of short stories and beautiful writing and to readers who want to be moved by some memorable stories.


Clay Tongue: A Novelette by Nicholas Conley

When Katie’s grandfather has a stroke, he loses his ability to speak, and his care becomes more than her mom and dad can handle, especially with a new baby on the way. Katie learns, through snooping in her grandfather’s old notebook, that in a forest cave, there’s a giant magical golem who grants single wishes. One night she sneaks from the house to find the creature. But that single wish is harder to make than she realizes.

This novella-length book read like a fairytale or fable with a powerful dilemma and message about choices and kindness. The plot moves quickly, and I read it in less than an hour. It kept me engaged throughout with lovely characters and vivid action. I’d recommend this book to any child ready to read (or listen to) a chapter book, as well as adults looking for a quick magical tale.


Happy Reading!

See you in June!

Unexpected #tankatuesday

The Expected One
painting by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (Museum: Bavarian State Painting Collections)


the bookworm’s romance

fancies of her secret heart

inked in poetry

rise from the path of pages

with roses unexpected

After all the bookish posts, I thought I’d go with something short and sweet. I love these visual prompts. And I always learn something new about the featured artwork. Colleen thought the young woman might be holding a cell phone. Lol. I went with a book of poetry.

This is an example of ekphrastic poetry, a poem written in response to a piece of art. I wrote a tanka with a syllable count of 5/7/5/7/7.

To read more responses to the challenge, learn about syllabic poetry, or submit your own poem, stop by Colleen’s blog: Wordcraft Poetry.

Colleen is also sharing an announcement about the “Around the Campfire Literary Journal” which is accepting submissions through the month of May. I hope you feel inspired.

In The Tree’s Shadow: Book Tour with D. L. Finn

I’m delighted to share a new book by my Story Empire colleague Denise Finn. She lives in the magical forests of Northern California among the bears and coyotes, and she writes in a wide range of genres from middle-grade fantasy to horror, from speculative short stories to poetry. I hope you enjoy this introduction to her latest release. Take it away, Denise.


Thank you for having me here today, Diana, to discuss my short story collection, In the Tree’s Shadow.

“Effervescent Potion” was part of my personal short story challenge. I’d request a word from a family member and then use it to find an image to work from. I asked my son, Jeffry, the youngest of the children, for a word. Our biology graduate from Oregon came up with effervescent.

Bubbling pictures popped up, and from there, I went to a potion in a lab. What if it wasn’t a routine experiment?

Poor Arnold is forced to work in a lab for a cruel man he is forced to call Sir Charles. Although he and many others are prisoners, Arnold may have a surprise for Sir Charles.


A collection of short stories where dreams and nightmares coexist.

Nestled inside these pages, you’ll meet a couple in their golden years who take a trip with an unexpected detour, a boy desperate to give his brother the Christmas gift he asked for, a girl with a small glass dragon who is at the mercy of her cruel uncles, and a young mother who has a recurring dream about murder. You’ll be introduced to worlds where people get second chances and monsters might be allowed their desires, while angels and dragons try to help. Happy endings occur, but perspective can blur the line between good and evil in these twenty-seven tales. Since the stories vary between 99 and 12,000 words, whether you have only five minutes or an entire evening to settle into reading, there is something that will suit your time and taste.


The round man in the white lab coat dropped a blue pill into a glass beaker. It immediately burst into a rush of bubbles racing to the top of the water. The man dabbed the sweat off his forehead and offered a tentative smile. “It works as soon as it hits the liquid, sir.”

A deep scowl crossed the taller man’s thin face. “I can see that, Arnold, and I prefer Sir Charles. Will it do what I want it to?”

Arnold gulped loudly as the water turned a bloody red and boiled with no heat source. Its froth spilled over the beaker like a volcano exploding. “Yes, Sir Charles. The test is going exactly as planned. We will test it in its chocolate form tomorrow. Its reaction will happen in the mouth and stomach, but we are confident it will succeed.”

Sir Charles’s thick black eyebrows hovered over the bloodshot eyes that defined his madness. “Good, good. I need it to be perfect for Halloween. You understand?”

“Of course, Sir Charles. We will test it tomorrow.”

“On the rats, I assume?” His black-clothed body sank into the shadows, but the clinical lighting from the high ceiling shone directly on his displeased face.

Arnold tugged at his itchy white collar. “Yes, it’s wise to try it on the animal subjects first because—”

Sir Charles slammed his fist on the white Formica counter. The beaker containing the roaring concoction tipped precariously but stayed upright and held its precious elixir. “This potion is meant for humans, not rats. I can’t believe I have to think of everything. I will bring some healthy young specimens from the holding area.”


Readers who enjoy speculative fiction and short stories will find a lot to like in this book. The tagline refers to dreams and nightmares, and I found plenty of both in the read – well, maybe more nightmares and monsters than angels, but they’re both here within this eclectic and generous collection of 27 stories.

The stories cover a wide variety of speculative fiction subgenres, including horror, sci-fi, paranormal fiction, and fantasy. In the darker tales, readers will find Bigfoot, ghosts, demons, and human villains. Some of the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories were my favorites, including “In That Moment” and “The Last Ride of the Night.”

But the collection isn’t all doom and gloom by any means. There are plenty of stories about animals and angels and the renewal found in nature.  Some of my favorites were “End of the Road” about a woman’s recovery from abuse, “The Bench” about the way animals come into our lives, and “The Bike” a tale about kindness. Many of the stories offer original twists on old spec fiction tropes, and the final story, a sci-fi novelette titled “Stranded,” is no exception. I’m happy to recommend this read to fans of speculative fiction short stories who enjoy a wide variety of tales.



  1. The astronauts walked on the moon for my seventh birthday. I believed it was a gift to me.
  2. I love being a part of the underwater world. It is so peaceful and beautiful.

D. L. Finn is an independent California local who encourages everyone to embrace their inner child. She was born and raised in the foggy Bay Area, but in 1990 she relocated with her husband, kids, dogs, and cats to Nevada City, in the Sierra foothills. She immersed herself in reading all types of books but especially loved romance, horror, and fantasy. She always treasured creating her own reality on paper. Finally, surrounded by towering pines, oaks, and cedars, her creativity was nurtured until it bloomed. Her creations include children’s books, adult fiction, a unique autobiography, and poetry. She continues on her adventure with an open invitation to all readers to join her.

D.L. Finn Links:






D.L. Finn blog

Amazon Page

April Book Reviews

Spring is finally making its way up the mountain. No leaves on the trees yet, but the weeds in my gardens are growing like … weeds. I’m trying to read less and write more, but there are so many irresistible books. I have some great reads to share today, including some that gave me book hangovers.

April’s reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of a crime thriller, a historical romance, a post-apocalyptic tale, and two fantasy novels.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.


Tuyo by Rachel Neumeier

It’s hard to decide what to rave about first when it comes to this book. I was moping around my house feeling sad all weekend and didn’t know why. Then it occurred to me that I had a severe book hangover. I hadn’t wanted the story to end. I wanted to read on and on and on.

The story is about Ryo, a young man from an unforgiving winter world. He’s left as a sacrifice—a tuyo—to the victor of a battle with the summer country. In his enemy’s hands, he expects to be tortured and slain, but finds himself spared by their leader Lord Aras. Aras has other uses for him, forcing Ryo to rethink old notions about his world.

The driver of the magic and much of the conflict in this story is a form of sorcery that allows the reading and manipulation of thoughts. That’s powerful stuff and a huge advantage for those with the gift/curse. Neumeier manages the power differential with skillful control. She does a superb job of weaving the plot around this ability that strikes fear in most men, including Ryo who struggles to unravel the truth from planted memories. This deftly crafted magic system is logical, complex, and the source of numerous plot twists and turns.

On top of that, the world-building is exceptional. I was charmed by the differences between the winter and summer countries, which were beautifully drawn, but it was the fully developed culture of Ryo’s people that had me mesmerized. It was profound in many ways, hard and tender, occasionally humorous, often dangerous, and rich with tradition and honor. I believed it completely.

It was Ryo’s first-person narration that created the link and revealed the depth of the culture and character-building. The POV is up close and personal, which immersed me in his story and didn’t let go. I think it was the deep connection to this character’s heart and soul that gave me my book hangover. The book works great as a standalone, but there are more stories in this world, which I’m sure to read.

I highly recommend this book to fantasy fans for sure, to readers who enjoy character and culture-driven tales, and to anyone who loves skillfully crafted stories with mesmerizing characters. (Kindle Unlimited)


Once Upon a Time in the Swamp by C. S. Boyack

I think this might be my favorite of Boyack’s books so far. I’m a big fan of The Hat series too but the stories aren’t really comparable. Where The Hat series is a romp, loaded with action and humor, Once Upon a Time in the Swamp is heartbreaking and courageous, written with amazingly realistic worldbuilding, fascinating detail, and a deep pov – all high on my list of reading I enjoy.

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, decades after a 2nd US civil war. Society is rebuilding itself piece by piece without most of the luxuries or technologies we take for granted. People have adjusted and are making do with what they have. Boyak’s careful world-building and attention to detail reflect considerable thought and research. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of his characters is utterly believable and therefore, mesmerizing. It had me completely immersed in the book.

The story is told from the singular first-person point of view of Mari. She returns to her farm from a morning’s hunt for wild turkey to find her husband and child mercilessly slain. Their deaths, and her subsequent brutalization by the killers, set her on a path of revenge. The broken highways take her from Florida to Tennessee, where she meets both danger and kindness and learns the skills she’ll need to exact justice and remake her life. The deep pov made me feel like I was living this story, and I was emotionally swept up in every chapter.

Though there’s an underlying feeling of sorrow and inevitable loss in Mari’s tale, the story isn’t without humor, mostly in the shape of her traveling companions – an ox named Dirt and a dog named Worthless. The kindness and generosity she encounters along the way lend the story’s world a welcome dose of hope for the future. In the end, the tale is full of possibility.

The pace is snappy, the plot straightforward, and the quality of the writing excellent. I had a hard time putting this book down and would love a sequel. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy fabulous world-building, deep povs, and a deftly crafted tale. (Kindle Unlimited)


Haloed by Sue Coletta

This book is a seat-of-your-pants thriller from beginning to end. Sage is a fiction writer, but she can’t focus, and for good reason. A psychopathic serial rapist and killer, who brutalized her in the past, is back. She raises the alarm, but no one believes her, including her sheriff husband, Niko. Why should they? The Romeo Killer was shot dead and buried years ago.

What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game between the killer and Sage. The close calls are nail-biters. Sage makes awful mistakes that almost get her killed, and I wanted to smack her loving but cluelessly dismissive husband upside the head. They’re great characters for keeping up the tension and their 4-year-old son is adorable … and in danger.

The killer is 100% monster. He shares the POV with Sage, Niko, and Niko’s curvy deputy Frankie, all nuanced characters and easy to like. Frankie was one of my favorites with her self-confident personality, loyalty, and bold style. She’s also competent, and I wouldn’t mind seeing her star in her own series.

One of the book’s many strengths is the author’s knowledge of forensic sciences, specifically around bone and body decomposition, key elements in deciphering this read’s crimes. The pace is strong and doesn’t let up and the plot holds together well. I didn’t see the end coming.

Though Haloed is book #5 in the Grafton County Series, it read just fine as a stand-alone. Highly recommended for readers of thrillers and crime novels.


His Judas Bride by Shehanne Moore

Set in the wilds of old-world Scotland, Kara McGurkie is traveling toward her wedding with Ewen McDunnagh, supposedly to establish an alliance between two feuding clans. But that’s only part of her father’s dastardly plot. It’s also the only way Kara can think of to save her 4-year-old son from growing up in a McGurkie dungeon. On the way to wed (and murder) Ewen, she runs into Ewen’s brother, Callm, the Black Wolf of Lochalpin. He’s honorable, tall and handsome, and though he’s attracted to Kara, he’s still pining for his dead wife.

In typical Moore style, the sparks fly as does the romance. Misunderstandings and assumptions abound, complicated by Kara’s secrets, her desperation to save her son, her betrothal to Ewen, and a few days of passion with Callm. Love has some massive roadblocks to overcome.

The narrative is shared by Kara and Callm. One of the things I enjoy about this author is the tight point of view that unfolds in almost a stream-of-consciousness style, particularly for Kara who has a lot churning through her mind. It requires some focus as it moves fast, but wit and sarcasm are plentiful.

One of the differences between this book and other Moore books I’ve read is the depth of emotion in the main characters. Both had a genuine sense of nobility and a willingness to make sacrifices for those they loved. There’s a lot of kindness in this story. Recommended to historical romance readers who like a clever style of writing, a fast pace, complicated characters, and a heartwarming end.


The Palace of Lost Memories by C. J. Archer

Josie is the daughter of a village doctor, a healer in her own right, though women aren’t considered worthy of schooling or the title. Near their home is the mysterious palace of the king, which magically appeared over the span of a few weeks. No craftsman, guard, or servant has been allowed in or out through its gates.

Then a dangerous illness befalls the king’s betrothed. Josie accompanies her father to the palace and uncovers two new mysteries: there is a poisoner on the loose, and everyone in the palace has lost all but the last two months of their memories.

The plot in this first installment of the “After the Rift” 5-book series revolves around the hunt for the poisoner. Questions about what happened to everyone’s memories are explored, but the answers are saved for later in the series. A romantic subplot develops between Josie and Hammer, the captain of the palace guard, a relationship that took its time and which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Josie and Hammer are very likable characters and easy to root for. The story unfolds in Josie’s first-person point of view, so I had an “open book” view of her thoughts and motivations. Hammer is another story, so to speak. He’s complex, and the mystery surrounding his memory loss and past makes him wonderfully intriguing. Teasers abound and serve as a great hook for the next book in the series. Highly recommended to fantasy readers of all ages. (Free on Kindle)


Happy Reading!

Broken Ties by Jude Itakali: Book Tour

Today I’m delighted to introduce Jude Itakali and his latest book. I know Jude more for his gorgeous poetry and was excited to read his fantasy fiction. Broken Ties is the second book in his Realms of the Mist series. And what a beautiful cover! My review is below, but first, here’s Jude:


PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS: There is often a line between good and evil. This is very important because it forms the basis for the laws which protect us. But we must avoid becoming zealots, uncompromising and unempathetic. Unfortunately, the world is filled with too many this or that choices with no third option. Personally, when I come across these I’m frustrated, but we cannot avoid them.

It is, for this reason, I have a protagonist from a tribe of death, or a villain with complicated intentions. I throw, or at times ease, most of my characters into these kinds of situations. I want to see if together, we can’t find “another way”.

With epic stakes of a world’s fate, they must often make bitter choices at the expense of personal desires, but maybe they’ll surprise you when you least expect it.


Kamau, Ninuwe, and Kena, are bound by the trials of their recent past and forced onto a dark and magical quest through the Gifted realms of Africa. They must assemble the God-killer, an ancient weapon that can destroy the Evil One. The problem is; the Evil One has irreversibly merged with Kamau’s once closest and only friend, Irina.

War is brewing. Monsters are slipping into the greater human world. Gods are toying with them. The mission demands sacrifices that seem too costly to pay, and yet they must still navigate a desperate love triangle and allies who blur with enemies.

Will Kamau and his friends find the strength to do whatever it takes?


“Seeing Kena again invoked a vision Kamau had experienced countless times since his Coming-of-age ceremony; Irina, arguing with a green-eyed shadow on Mountain Nyiragongo, the look of pain in her face as it had told her to sacrifice one of them, and the tear that none had seen as Timothy, Kena’s husband, begged for his life, before Irina had dropped him into the fiery volcano. Pity had diluted Kamau’s anger. What evil choice had Irina faced to make her kill not just his sister, but Timothy as well.

Kena tapped Kamau’s cheek, jolting him out of the memory, “Brooding as ever. And here I was thinking you’d be as excited to see me.”


I’ve read Jude Itakali’s beautiful poetry collection “Crossroads” and enjoyed his rich use of language and sublime imagery. This is the first book of his fantasy fiction that I’ve tried, and I encountered the same vivid descriptions in some entrancing worldbuilding. Though this is partly a contemporary story with modern dialog, it’s primarily set in several magical African realms. It’s full to the brim with flavors of African culture and mythology (real, fantasy, and probably both). Itakali’s imagination is impressive.

Three friends – Kamau, Ninuwe, and Kena – are seeking the parts of a powerful weapon, the God-killer, which they’ll need to destroy the Evil One who has inhabited the body of one of their close friends. Their quest introduces them to both dangerous and helpful magic-wielders, bloodthirsty monsters, fickle gods, and brutal war games. Romance is a secondary plot thread with elements of a love triangle and hints of betrayal.

I didn’t start the series with the first book, Realms of the Mist, but I recommend that approach since this isn’t a stand-alone novel. Beginning with the first will fill in some backstory and help build a connection with the main characters. Kamau is the character I got to know best, and I liked his steadiness, smarts, and nobility. Ninuwe and Kena are also three-dimensional and excellent allies. Since the group moves into new realms throughout the story, there are a lot of characters to keep track of.

The plot has many elements of a quest with new challenges encountered along the way. Accordingly, the pace alternates between high-speed adventure and danger (including some bloody battles), and slower interludes of romance, conversation, and exposition. The story does end with a massive cliffhanger, so be prepared to read onward. Recommended to fans of epic fantasy quests, magical mythology, and amazing world-building set in Africa.


Jude Itakali is a poet, writer, and fiction author from the suburbs of Kampala, Uganda.

His latest novel, “Broken Ties” is the second in his debut fantasy trilogy, Realms of the Mist, with the third book in production.

Jude’s poetry has been featured in No.1 bestselling anthologies like Hidden in Childhood and Poetry Treasures, as well as his first poetry collection; “Crossroads (Winds of love)”.

When not crunching numbers into a computer, or pursuing infrequent exercise routines, you can find Itakali writing fiction in a small cubicle, or under a tree writing poetry and short stories for his website Tales told different.


Pdf/epub copies of Broken Ties to three of the most regular participants in the blog tour comments section, as well as a copy of CROSSROADS for each.

You can get Jude’s tour schedule by visiting his blog:

Tales Told Different

Poetry Treasures 3: Passions

I’m visiting with Miriam Hurdle today at her blog: Showers of Blessings. She’s one of those bloggers who’s always willing to lend a helping hand, and true to form, she’s hosting the launch of a new poetry anthology, Poetry Treasures 3: Passions. Today’s my turn to read one of my submissions.

In 12 years of blogging, this is the first video I’ve recorded of myself reading anything. It took about 45 tries to stop stumbling over my words and making goofy faces. If I had the talent, I’d compile all the clips into a huge blooper reel. Today, you’ve been spared that agony.

The video is short if you want to stop by for a listen. Abbie Taylor is also sharing a recording of one of her lovely poems from the anthology.

Comments are closed here. Hope to see you at Miriam’s!

If you’re interested in hearing more of the anthology’s poets read their work, you can find the tour schedule and links at Wordcrafter Poetry.


RONE Award Nomination

Jan Sikes, a Story Empire colleague and award-winning author, wrote a post last September about her experiences submitting her books to award contests as part of her promotion strategy. You can check out the post Here.

She was so convincing that I decided to give it a try and submitted The Necromancer’s Daughter to 4 different competitions.

It’s a long process as you can imagine. But one of the contests has moved on to the 2nd round, and my book is still in the running. This one is for the InD’Tale Magazine’s 2023 RONE Award.

Now the reason for this post:

I’ve never asked for Votes before, but reader enthusiasm is the basis for moving on to the 3rd and final critique round. So, I’m putting on my grown-up pants, sucking in some courage, and asking:

If you’re inclined and have the time and energy, a vote for The Necromancer’s Daughter would be much appreciated.

And, of course, they don’t make it easy, so no pressure to follow through on this request at all. They require voters to subscribe to their site (it’s free, but still): InD’Tale Magazine. Once you’re there, the blue Subscribe button is at the top.

And once subscribed (which includes an email verification link), you can vote. Click on the top menu item: RONE’S/Contests, then 2023 RONE Awards Reader Voting.

Week 2 (today-4/23) voting includes Fantasy novels. Click on “Vote Here” and the rest is easy.



If you’re an author, this site has a lot of reasonably priced promotion opportunities. It’s worth a peek.


All images from Pixabay unless otherwise noted.

Mejan wondered if she’d made the right decision in caving to her son’s desire to visit the zoo. It was a place she didn’t approve of. On the one hand, it bred endangered animals for future release into the new wild zones. That part she liked. But it also preserved certain native species too dangerous for freedom, creatures forced to endure long lives in cages, denied their natural habitat and the opportunity to breed.

“I want to see them,” Benzi said, his heart set on viewing the latter in their high-security enclosures. “I need to write a report about an animal for a school project.”

Mejan’s nose wrinkled at the thought. “Why not pick a different one? An elephant or tiger? Something less scary.”

“I’m not a little kid.” Benzi huffed a challenge to say otherwise. “My teacher said the government is thinking of exterminating them, and I don’t know if that’s righteous. I want to see them for myself.”

Righteous? How could she argue with her junior professor and his big words? They stood in line for tickets to the exhibit. Benzi was ten, and his argument told her the time had come. The truth about these predators couldn’t—and shouldn’t—be denied him. A terrible choice was being discussed in every corner of the planet, and clearly, children his age weren’t ignorant of the debate.

An underground tunnel with collapsible gates led to the section of the zoo reserved for the threatening creatures. It ended at a spacious courtyard, and once she’d stepped into the sunlight, Mejan’s worries receded.

Wide bricked paths wandered toward the cages, and Japanese maples grew from round plots planted with colorful violets. Hummingbirds zoomed between branches and sipped from feeders. A butterfly garden overflowed with Monarchs, the latest species on the mend.

“This is much nicer than I expected,” she said as her son jogged ahead to the largest enclosure.  She hurried to catch up and stood protectively beside him as he hooked his fingers on the chain link fence. A second fence, an electrified version, stood ten feet farther in. A stagnant moat wound between them.

She drew in a breath as six of the animals ran from their community shelter.  They shrieked at each other in their rapid language.

Mejan winced. Not good. But before she could suggest they try a different area, three of the large males pounced on a female. One punched her in the face as another tried to breed with her. The female screamed as a male heaved up a rock and smashed one of the species’ rare youngsters in the head. The little one crumpled and mewled in the dirt.

In a panic, Mejan grabbed Benzi’s sleeve and dragged him from the fence. Her heart pounded in her ears as she fled. Near the butterfly garden, she squatted and stared into her son’s terrified eyes. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have brought you here. I’m so sorry. Let’s go.”

“But my project,” Benzi whispered, his jaw quivering. “Can we find some who aren’t fighting?”

“I don’t know. They’re all violent.”

“All of them?” A tear caught in his lashes, and he blinked it into submission.

She nodded and hugged him, furious at herself. “They killed off the peaceful part of their species decades ago.”


“Let’s get ice cream.” She pointed a thumb at a colorful stand with a pink awning. “We need a break from this.”

“Okay, but you still have to tell me why.”

Peppermint ice cream provided Mejan with a needed excuse to sit on a shady bench and regain her composure. Benzi’s tears had dried up, but not his questions. “You still have to tell me why they kill each other.”

Mejan blew out a sigh. “No one really knows the answer, love, because their behavior makes so little sense. Researchers think they have something wrong with their brains. Some sort of dominant genetic defect. Supposedly they’re brilliant, but until we moved here, they used their intelligence to find newer and more effective ways to kill each other. For generations, they killed without shame–other animals, butterflies and bees, trees, and plants. They destroyed everything necessary for their own survival, including their air, water, and soil.” She shook her head in disbelief. “They even wrecked the weather.”

Benzi gave her a quizzical look. “The weather?”

She shrugged. “I know it’s hard to believe, but yes, even the weather.”

They finished their ice cream and dropped their sticky napkins in a recycle bin. Hand in hand, they strolled down the path, seeking a quieter enclosure. Benzi halted. “When did they start killing their offspring?”

Mejan’s shoulders slumped as she faced him. “I don’t know. But think about it. It’s hardly a surprise that one day they’d aim their weapons at their young. What still baffles our researchers is that they didn’t seem to mind all the death. In fact, their leaders made it easier and easier to keep killing.”

“That’s why we keep them all in cages, I guess.”

Mejan wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they walked. “Yes, that’s why.”



He gazed up at her, a somber cast to his innocent eyes. “I don’t think we need to exterminate them.”

“Why, Benzi?”

“Because we don’t kill on purpose. And I think they’re going to finish the job without us.”


Guns are the leading cause of death for US children and teens, since surpassing car accidents in 2020. 

The AR-15. Promoted as “America’s rifle” by the NRA (National Rifle Association). It shoots 45 rounds per minute and is the weapon of choice for shooting children in US schools.

Final image compliments of Wikipedia

“Redemption: A Father’s Fatal Decision” by Gwen Plano Book Tour

Today, I’m delighted to host Gwen Plano as she continues her blog tour for her new mystery-thriller, Redemption: A Father’s Fatal Decision. Gwen is one of my Story Empire colleagues and one of the kindest bloggy types around. If you’ve visited her site, you already know she not only writes riveting books, but she’s a poet, often sharing her reflections on life and the breathtaking beauty of the Arizona desert where she lives.

I’ve read and reviewed all of Gwen’s thrillers including this new one, which I scooped up as soon as it came out. My review is below, but before we go there: Here’s Gwen:


Thank you, Diana, for inviting me to your lovely site today. It’s a pleasure to visit you and your followers to share a bit about my new release. I look forward to doing the same for you.

Redemption, A Father’s Fatal Decision is a mystery thriller that takes place in the southeast corner of New York state, in the towns of New Rochelle and Cortlandt. Having spent about twenty years in and around that area, it was exciting to visit as a writer.

The book tackles themes of forgiveness and redemption through the medium of suspense. We accompany the son and daughter of the deceased as they try to uncover the reason for their father’s murder. What they discover prompts them to ask if they even knew him.

Sometimes complicated situations help us see our own challenges in a different light. That is my hope for this book. Most of us won’t experience threats like those of my characters, but pain is universal, as is joy. Seeing either in the extreme helps us recognize our own—and severe or elated, those emotions are impactful.  

In the excerpt below, the protagonist, Trace Holmes, is at the hospital, visiting with his mother. He has a letter from his deceased father. It is a confession.

The Blurb

Family secrets can be deadly. When Lisa Holmes visits her parents one fateful Saturday morning, she hugs her father and walks to her childhood bedroom. The doorbell rings. Her father opens the door, and one minute later, he lies dead on the floor—three bullets to the chest.

The Holmes family lives on a quiet street, but no one really knows Eric Holmes. He travels for business and comes home a few days each month. Unbeknown to all, Eric has multiple lives.

In this fast-paced psychological thriller, Lisa and her brother, Trace, embark on a quest to solve the mystery involving the murder of their father. The journey takes them into a secret world where nothing is as it seems. As the puzzle pieces begin to coalesce, they discover the meaning of Redemption. 

An Excerpt

A child and his mother ride the elevator with Trace to the second floor. “I’m visiting my daddy,” the child says as he fiddles with the toy superhero in his hands.

Trace smiles. “I hope he gets better soon.”

“My daddy fell off a ladder, but when he’s strong again, we’re going fishing.”

“You’re a lucky young man.”

Trace pauses outside the door to his mother’s room and thinks about the little boy and the child’s mother. Tenderness wells in his heart. Mom did what she could to protect my innocence. There were moments, he recalls. Moments. He calls out, “Hi, Mom.”

Katherine sits in a wheelchair, unaided, and looks out the window. In a faint voice she says, “Trace.” She reaches for his hand. He bends, kisses her, and moves a chair to sit beside her.

“I can see you’re feeling better. I’m so relieved. You look beautiful. I like your new bandana. A Lisa special?”

Her happy expression communicates yes, and she adds, falteringly, “I’ll b-be able to go h-home s-soon. Please, don’t w-worry.”

Trace takes her hand and fights the tears that want to flee his conflicted heart. “I have something important to show you.”

Katherine studies her son. “W-whatever it i-is, we’ll f-face it together.”

Trace explains about the letter. His mom watches while he fingers it nervously. “R-read it o-out to me, son.” It seems as though she knows its contents. When he reads the words, she grimaces and closes her eyes. At times, she tightens her hold on Trace’s hand, but she doesn’t cry. A single sheet of paper holds the confession for which she had prayed.

She looks at Trace but doesn’t comment on the letter itself. Instead, she says, “N-now we b-begin a new l-life. One p-person’s actions d-don’t determine ours.

Diana’s Review

Lisa and Trace’s father was an abusive murderer and an international criminal, but when he’s killed, they begin a hunt for answers about his secret life and the reasons for his death. While their mother recovers from gunshot wounds in the hospital, she feeds them clues, and together with their childhood friend Ryan, they begin unraveling the mystery, finding secret messages and puzzle pieces everywhere they look.

The trio has one ally, but otherwise, they don’t know whom to trust, including law enforcement. Their mother’s home is ransacked, their hotel room is bugged, and they’re constantly tailed. They make a good team: personable, supportive of each other, and easy to root for. They’re also smart, their efforts highly successful and conclusions rarely mistaken. At one point they’re referred to as “The Sherlocks,” which I thought was perfect since, for me, the read leaned more toward a “cozy” thriller than an all-out nail-biter. There’s plenty of tension, but modest danger and minimal violence.

This present-tense story is told from the third-person perspectives of the three main characters. The pace is speedy throughout the book with short intermissions for Lisa and Trace to reflect on their childhood and how it impacted their lives. Themes of family dysfunction, redemption, atonement, and forgiveness unfold in these moments, setting the stage for further revelations and a heartwarming conclusion. The book has a Christian slant during these scenes, but it’s not preachy. Recommended to readers who enjoy cozy mysteries, sleuthing, and thrills, and like a solid message about letting go and healing from the past.

Author Bio and Links

Gwen Plano began writing after retiring from a long career in higher education. Her first book was an award-winning memoir. A thriller series soon followed. When she’s not writing, Gwen travels with her husband to both coasts to visit their adult children and grandkids. Nothing warms her heart more than being with family.





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New Book, a Trailer, and a Review

Noelle Granger just released the fifth book in her Rhe Brewster Mysteries series.

Last year, when I launched The Necromancer’s Daughter, I put all my tour hosts’ names into a jar and chose one to get a Diana-made book trailer. Noelle won the prize, but she wanted to wait until her new book came out to take advantage of the offer.

That’s now!

I’m delighted to share the trailer with you as well as my review. I’ve read all of Noelle’s Rhe Brewster cozy mysteries and highly recommend them.

Death at the Asylum

My Review

I’ve read all the Rhe Brewster mysteries and looked forward to this one. It didn’t disappoint, and for those new to the series, it can easily be read as a stand-alone. The story begins with the attempted murder of Maine’s governor. Rhe, an ER nurse, and her husband Sam, the police chief of Pequod, Maine, save the governor’s life and become part of a task force to identify the assailant, a sniper.

But that isn’t the only plot line twisting through this book. Someone has stolen Rhe’s identity and is trying to ruin her. At the hospital where she works, drugs are routinely disappearing, and her boss is after her job. Someone sabotages Sam’s car and attempts to steal her home. A serial rapist is on the loose, and a cult leader is expected of abuse. Never mind the bullets. While she and Sam pursue leads, she also must worry about protecting her young son and unborn child.

The book doesn’t have much to do with the titular asylum, unless you consider that the multiple plots and challenges create a version of bedlam in Rhe’s life. They contributed to a speedy pace, making the book hard to put down, and I enjoyed the puzzle as to whether and how the pieces were connected. I had little of it figured out by the end. Rhe and Sam share the pov, both told in first person in alternating chapters. They’re great characters that care for each other and easily hold their own. Secondary characters are equally strong.

Highly recommended to readers who enjoy cozy mysteries with minimal violence, a fast-paced plot, and characters worth rooting for.

Happy Reading!