Review: The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: June 26, 2018

Publisher: Unsolicited

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Blurb:

When Lavinia Starkhurst’s husband is killed in a freak accident, she takes to the open road and meets a number of strangers, all with struggles of their own. Through these unexpected and occasionally hilarious encounters, Lavinia reflects on her past deeds, both good and bad, explores her two marriages, her roles as caregiver and wife, hoping all the while for self-acceptance and something to give her new life meaning.

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Amendment. If you would like to follow along with the tour check out TLC Book Tours for the full schedule.

Review:

Based on the short blurb I assumed that this would be sad and while it definitely had some reflective moments, it was ultimately a story of hope and resilience. I love being surprised by the contents of a book and this one definitely did that and more.

I love a quirky and unique heroine and Lavinia delivered a highly usual point of view, she’s not some delicate widow she’s a strong woman who is grieving in her own way and on her own terms, which I love! Even when her family and friends think she’s crazy for embarking on a road trip all alone with no solid plan she doesn’t care and just lives her best life. Her brand of humor was dry and a bit dark which I also love so being privy to her inner monologue was so entertaining to me. The entire style of this was drool and sardonic and written in a really matter of fact, straightforward and simple way. Easily a book you can fly through in one sitting and that was enjoyable from the first page to the last.

The Amendment in three words: Unusual, Amusing and Effortless.

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for my review copy.

About the Author:

Parrish is the author of five previously published books of fiction: Women Within, a novel (Black Rose Writing, 2017); By The Wayside, stories (Unsolicited Press, 2017); What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel (She Writes Press, 2014); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and All The Roads That Lead From Home, stories, (Press 53, 2011). She is the author of over forty-five published short stories, and numerous essays on the art and craft of writing. Learn more by visiting her website at http://www.anneleighparrish.com.

Connect with Anne

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Review: The Stranger Game by Peter Gadol

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: October 1, 2018

Publisher: Hanover Square

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

Rebecca’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Ezra, has gone missing, but when she notifies the police, they seem surprisingly unconcerned. They suspect he has been playing the “stranger game,” a viral hit in which players start following others in real life, as they might otherwise do on social media. As the game spreads, however, the rules begin to change, play grows more intense and disappearances are reported across the country.

Curious about this popular new obsession, and hoping that she might be able to track down Ezra, Rebecca tries the game for herself. She also meets Carey, who is willing to take the game further than she imagined possible. As her relationship with Carey and involvement in the game deepen, she begins to uncover an unsettling subculture that has infiltrated the world around her. In playing the stranger game, what may lead her closer to finding Ezra may take her further and further from the life she once lived.

A thought-provoking, haunting novel, The Stranger Game unearths the connections, both imagined and real, that we build with the people around us in the physical and digital world, and where the boundaries blur between them.

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Stranger Game, if you would like to follow along with the tour check out TLC Book Tours for the full schedule.

Review:

I really liked the idea behind this one, getting followers on social media is an obsession for many people and seeing the follower phenomenon take place in real life fascinated me. There is something so creepy about playing a game where you follow random people while they go about their day, but we all do this on social media with no hesitation, yet there is such a big difference.

The style of this was a bit different, the writing is sparse but the prose is still hauntingly beautiful in an odd way. This has a strong literary vibe and was light on the thrills but it’s still very mysterious in its own unique way. At times it read like a social commentary about this social media obsessed society we’ve created but it was subtle, yet thought provoking. A bit different than what I expected but nonetheless an entertaining read that I would recommend for anyone looking for something unique.

The Stranger Game in three words: Unusual, Smart and Deep.

Overall rating: 3/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

About the Author:

Peter Gadol’s seven novels include THE STRANGER GAME, SILVER LAKE, LIGHT AT DUSK, and THE LONG RAIN. His work his been translated for foreign editions and appeared in literary journals, including StoryQuarterly, the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal, and Tin House. Gadol lives in Los Angeles, where he is Chair and Professor of the MFA Writing program at Otis College of Art and Design. Visit petergadol.com for more info on his work.

Review: Our Little Lies by Sue Watson @suewatsonwriter @bookouture

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: October 11, 2018

Publisher: Bookouture

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

Marianne has a life others dream of. A beautiful townhouse on the best street in the neighbourhood. Three bright children who are her pride and joy.

Sometimes her past still hurts: losing her mother, growing up in foster care. But her husband Simon is always there. A successful surgeon, he’s the envy of every woman they’ve ever met. Flowers, gifts, trips to France – nothing is too good for his family.

Then Simon says another woman’s name. The way he lingers on it, Caroline, gives Marianne a shudder of suspicion, but she knows she can’t entertain this flash of paranoia.

In the old days, she’d have distracted herself at work, but Marianne left her glamorous career behind when she got married. She’d speak to a friend, but she’s too busy with her children and besides, Simon doesn’t approve of the few she has left.

It’s almost by accident that Marianne begins to learn more about Caroline. But once she starts, she can’t stop. Because what she finds makes her wonder whether the question she should be asking is not ‘should she be jealous’, but… ‘should she be scared’?

Fans of The Girl on the Train and I Let You Go looking for a dark, gripping psychological thriller, with a final twist that will put their jaw on the floor, will love Our Little Lies.

I’m so excited to be one of the stops on the blog blitz for Our Little Lies today!

Review:

Did you catch the authors name at the top of this post? Yes, it’s Sue Watson, the same lovely lady who writes romantic comedies that make me laugh hysterically one minute and then swoon the next. Little did I know that she has a dark side, she’s not all cakes and champagne, she went very dark for her latest book and it was amazing!! I’m even more in awe of her than I already was, she is fabulous at both genres and has an even bigger fan in me than I was before.

This had a slow burning style of suspense, the kind that creeps up on you and then in the end leaves you reeling. It all begins with Simon and Marianne, they have a picture perfect life and seem blissfully happy. We all know that not is always as it seems to outsiders and their relationship is fraught with tension and hostility underneath the surface. While I truly enjoyed Marianne, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her up until the very end. She seems unhinged somehow, but she’s also sweet and a loving mother as well, she made me scratch my head. She also had the funniest hashtags, some of Watson’s trademark humor snuck through and I loved the black humor that broke up an otherwise tense story.

This was yet another case where I was absolutely sure that I knew exactly what would happen only to be totally wrong in the end. While the tension builds at a steady pace for most of the book at about three quarters of the way through the real surprises begin and I was well and truly stunned. This had a whopper of an ending and if this is only Watson’s first foray into psychological thrillers I cannot wait to see what she does next!

Our Little Lies in three words: Dark, Devious and Impressive.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

About the Author:

About the author: 
Sue Watson was a journalist then TV Producer at the BBC until she wrote her first book and was hooked. 

She’s now written thirteen novels – many involving cake – and her books have been translated into Italian, German and Portuguese. Originally from Manchester, Sue now lives with her husband and teenage daughter in Worcestershire where much of her day is spent procrastinating while eating cake (for research purposes), and watching ‘My 600lb Life,’ on the sofa.

Sue explored the darker side of life for her latest book ‘Our Little Lies,’ a dark, psychological thriller completely devoid of cake. She’s hoping this change in direction will be reflected on the weighing scales.

For more info visit Sue’s website; http://www.suewatsonbooks.com/

Sue would love to meet you on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/suewatsonbooks

Follow Sue on Twitter @suewatsonwriter

Review: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: October 1, 2018

Publisher: Park Row

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

What if the nightmares are actually memories?

It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?

The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts—there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she’s unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?

I’m so thrilled to be one of the stops on the blog tour for Under My Skin today! If you would like to follow along with the tour check out TLC Book Tours for the full schedule.

Review:

Talk about a book that will make your head spin!! I will admit for the first bit I was slightly confused but I think that’s mostly due to the fact the Unger is such a fantastic writer that she just drew me into the tangled web that is Poppy’s life so wholly. Once I caught on I was utterly hooked, and found myself totally caught up and invested in this one.

I haven’t so strongly felt a characters paranoia and unease since The Woman in the Window, I had similar feelings while reading this especially as I could not for the life of me figure out if Poppy was insane or not. She teeters back and forth between seeming mostly sane and then she goes off the rails, she has crazy dreams and has problems separating her dreams from what’s actually happening and I couldn’t begin to figure out what was actually going on and what was part of her delusion. Add in a penchant for popping pills and she was one hot mess but she was sympathetic. She’s deep in the throes of grief and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her even if her decision making skills were severely lacking.

This was just really well executed overall, the writing is top notch and the plot itself was gripping as well. Poppy was extremely well developed and highly complex, love her or hate her she was endlessly fascinating and I couldn’t wait to see how things would play out for her. Fans of Unger will be pleased and new readers will be happy to discover a talented new author.

Under My Skin in three words: Wild, Unnerving and Unreliable.

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for my review copy.

About the Author:

Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling, award-winning author of sixteen novels, including the new psychological thriller UNDER MY SKIN (coming Oct 2!)

Her books are published in twenty-six languages worldwide, have sold millions of copies and have been named “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, Indie Booksellers, Goodreads, and Sun-Sentinel to name a few.

Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR and Travel+Leisure Magazine. Lisa Unger lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida with her husband, daughter and labradoodle.

Connect with Lisa

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Review: The Christmas Cafe at Seashell Cove by Karen Clarke @Karenclarke123 @bookouture

Amazon

Release date: October 5, 2018

Publisher: Bookouture

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Blurb:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the café at Seashell Cove, where there’s hot chocolate to keep you warm – and the man of your dreams could be waiting…

Interior designer Tilly Campbell loves being carefree and single. But her latest job is redecorating the cosy local café for a Christmas party, and when her friends confess their plans for the big night – including a proposal, a declaration of love and a pregnancy announcement – Tilly starts to wonder if she might be missing out…

Transforming the café into a winter wonderland is more of a challenge than she thought, so when she bumps into gorgeous newcomer Seth, Tilly welcomes the distraction. Seth is a single father, struggling to settle his son Jack into their new cottage, and Tilly is determined to help them make their house into a home in time for Christmas.

But with the café still in chaos just days before the party it looks like it’s going to be a Christmas to remember for all the wrong reasons… With friends old and new relying on her, can Tilly save the Christmas party?

And could she finally find love waiting for her under the mistletoe?

A heart-warming, hilarious read about friendship, family and the meaning of Christmas. Perfect for fans of Sue Moorcroft, Holly Martin and Debbie Johnson! 

I’m delighted to be one of the stops on the blog tour for The Christmas Cafe at Seashell Cove today!

Review:

This is the third book in a series but since life got in the way this summer I wasn’t able to read the second book. It was no problem reading this as a standalone as each book focuses on a specific couple but they are set in the same charming town so there are lots of cameos from old friends. This time it’s about Tilly, she was such a warm, likable character and one I took a liking to instantly. As usual all of the characters were very easy to like (with the exception of one or two) and it makes me want to pack up and move to Seashell Cove myself.

The romance here was one of those slow builds, a friends to lovers trope and it’s so nice to see as it always comes across as highly realistic and like the way a relationship would unfold in real life. The humor in Clarke’s books is always what keeps me coming back for more and her trademark wit is in full effect here, I always finish her books with a grin on my face and this time I was even feeling a festive vibe, I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Christmas at Seashell Cove in three words: Enchanting, Festive and Adorable.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

About the Author:

Karen is the author of the popular BEACHSIDE and SEASHELL COVE series of romantic comedies, published by Bookouture.

She’s also written three romcoms with a paranormal twist, all available to download

When she’s not working on her novels, Karen writes short stories for women’s magazines and has had over three hundred published globally. Some of them can be read in her short story collection ‘BEHIND CLOSED DOORS…and other Tales with a Twist’

Karen lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband and three grown-up children, and when she’s not writing loves reading, walking, baking and eating cake.

Review: The Birthday by Carol Wyer @carolewyer @Bookouture

Amazon

Release date: September 27, 2018

Publisher: Bookouture

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

One hot summer’s afternoon, five-year-old Ava Sawyer went to a party. She never came home… 

When five-year-old Ava Sawyer goes missing from a birthday party at a local garden centre, the police are bewildered by the lack of leads. That is until two years later, when Ava’s body is found and another little girl, Audrey Briggs, goes missing. Audrey also attended that party …

Leading the investigation is Detective Natalie Ward. A mother of two teenagers, this case chills her to the bone, and is a disturbing reminder of the last job she worked on. One that still keeps her awake at night…

Natalie soon discovers that Ava’s mother has some worrying gaps in her alibi and as she digs deeper, she’s sure Ava’s father is not telling the full story. And what did the owner of the garden centre Elsa see that day? Something that she’s not telling Natalie …

Just as Natalie is facing up to the grim possibility that Ava and Audrey were killed by someone close to home, another little girl from the party doesn’t come home from her ballet lesson. Can Natalie find a way to stop this killer before more innocent lives are taken?

Gripping, fast-paced and nail-bitingly tense, this book will keep you flying through the pages long into the night. Perfect for fans of Angela Marsons, Rachel Abbott and Karin Slaughter.

I am so thrilled to be one of the stops on the blog blitz for The Birthday today!

Review:

I am such a huge fan of Wyer’s work and when I heard she was starting a new crime series I couldn’t wait to start it. Something about her style of writing combined with her original and gripping storylines always sucks me in right away and this was no exception, it’s an extremely strong start to a new detective series that I cannot wait to read more of.

Oftentimes I find that the start of a series can be a bit tedious as the author is trying to not only introduce you to a whole new cast of characters but they’re also trying to pique your interest enough to make you want to continue on with the series as well. Nothing to worry about here, Wyer has effectively managed to hook me after just the one book, I warmed to Natalie immediately and there were enough hints about her past that I’m dying to learn more about. The glimpses into her home life were fairly brief but I am definitely interested in exploring that more and then the members of her team were also interesting as well. Let me put it this way, if I could’ve read the next book immediately I would’ve dropped everything and done just that.

The case was also intriguing, you have missing little girls and leads that keep turning into dead end after dead end and Wyer is such a great writer that you feel all the highs and lows right along with Natalie and her team. Per usual the plotting was intricate and well thought out and I never guessed what would happen next. It had the perfect balance between excitement and then slower moments where you learn more about the characters, I was gripped by it all and really cannot wait to see what Wyer has in store for Natalie next.

The Birthday in three words: Meticulous, Solid and Engaging.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: After He Died by Michael J Malone @michaeljmalone1 @OrendaBooks

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: July 30, 2018

Publisher: Orenda Books

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

You need to know who your husband really was…

When Paula Gadd’s husband of almost thirty years dies, just days away from the seventh anniversary of their son, Christopher’s death, her world falls apart. Grieving and bereft, she is stunned when a young woman approaches her at the funeral service, and slips something into her pocket. A note suggesting that Paula’s husband was not all that he seemed…

When the two women eventually meet, a series of revelations challenges everything Paula thought they knew, and it becomes immediately clear that both women’s lives are in very real danger.

Both a dark, twisty slice of domestic noir and taut, explosive psychological thriller, After He Died is also a chilling reminder that the people we trust the most can harbour the deadliest secrets…

I’m so pleased to be one of the stops on the blog tour for After He Died today!

Review:

I’m beginning to realize that the ever so talented Malone is the rare type of author who reinvents himself with each new book and I am so very impressed with this keen ability he possesses. I’ve now read his last three releases and have really liked all three and am truly blown away by how unique and compelling all of them are.

His last book (House of Spines) left me feeling highly unsettled and this one did as well, albeit in a completely different manner. This time I had an uneasy feeling as it seemed that the more Paula went searching for answers the more danger she was in, and I cared about this woman. Right from the moment you’re introduced to her character you’re empathetic because she’s a new widow and then she receives a cryptic note from a young woman saying her husband isn’t who she thought he was. Of course my first thought was that he was a stereotypical cheating husband with a possible double life, but I should’ve known better. Malone didn’t take the easy way out, instead he led me down a twisty and winding path full of intrigue, betrayals and deceit that left me breathless.

That’s where I cease discussing the plot because this one is best discovered on your own. It’s the best combination of simmering tension and extremely fast pacing that kept me reading late into the night. Something about his writing style always consumes me, he gets under my skin and I’m not satisfied until I’ve finished the book. Speaking of satisfying it had a totally gratifying conclusion and proves yet again that Malone is an author that’s not to be missed.

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: September 4, 2018

Publisher: Park Row

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

A woman is forced to question her own identity in this riveting and emotionally charged thriller by the blockbuster bestselling author of The Good Girl, Mary Kubica

Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that causes her to doubt everything she’s ever known.

Finding herself suddenly at the center of a bizarre mystery, Jessie tumbles down a rabbit hole, which is only exacerbated by grief and a relentless lack of sleep. As days pass and the insomnia worsens, it plays with Jessie’s mind. Her judgment is blurred, her thoughts are hampered by fatigue. Jessie begins to see things until she can no longer tell the difference between what’s real and what she’s only imagined.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, another woman’s split-second decision may hold the key to Jessie’s secret past. Has Jessie’s whole life been a lie or have her delusions gotten the best of her?

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for When the Lights Go Out! If you would like to follow along with the tour check out TLC Book Tours for the full schedule.

Review:

I have a strong relationship with Kubica as an author, I’ve really enjoyed all of her previous books and I’m always super excited when she comes out with a new book. She’s a master at that slow burning style of suspense and her writing is just outstanding, and I although I enjoyed this one I know it can and will divide readers.

This follows Jessie right when her mom passes away and then it also flips back to 1996 and follows Eden as she marries and wants to start a family. Jessie is suffering from severe insomnia and Kubica captured her sense of desperation and paranoia perfectly. Seeing inside Jessie’s head while she was suffering so greatly from a serious lack of sleep gave the book a crazed, frenzied feel that I liked, the suspense and tension ran at an all time high and no one writes slow boiling suspense like Kubica does. On top of that, her characterization is always on point and this was no exception.

I said earlier that this is dividing readers and it’s all about that ending. THAT ENDING!! I won’t say much more, but I can see why some love it and also why some were frustrated and I fell somewhere in the middle. Was it surprising? Absolutely! Was it my favorite big reveal of all time? Unfortunately no, but I am such a huge fan of Kubica that I wasn’t too bothered. If you’re already a fan of hers I urge you to read this for yourself and see what side of the fence YOU land on. No matter what, she’s an assured and bold writer that’s unafraid to take big risks and I have mad respect for that!

About the Author:

Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL and PRETTY BABY.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

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Connect with Mary

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Review: The Girl In His Eyes by Jennie Ensor @Jennie_Ensor @Bloodhoundbook

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: September 18, 2018

Publisher: Bloodhound

Genre: Fiction

Blurb:

Her father abused her when she was a child. For years she was too afraid to speak out. But now she suspects he’s found another victim…

Laura, a young woman struggling to deal with what her father did to her a decade ago, is horrified to realise that the girl he takes swimming might be his next victim. Emma is twelve – the age Laura was when her father took away her innocence.

Intimidated by her father’s rages, Laura has never told anyone the truth about her childhood. Now she must decide whether she has the courage to expose him and face the consequences.

Can Laura overcome her fear and save Emma before the worst happens?

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Girl In His Eyes!

Review:

This was an highly emotional read, often uncomfortable to read due to the subject matter of abuse, but Ensor does a fantastic job of dealing with things in a sensitive and genuine manner. Sexual abuse is never an easy subject to discuss or read about but it’s a valid issue and one that was handled with care here.

What was unique about this one was that you not only hear from Laura and her mother Suzanne, you hear from Paul as well and see what he’s thinking and feeling. It was a disturbing look inside the mind of a pedophile but it was also interesting to see what he was thinking. Laura was such a sympathetic character, she’s never told anyone about the abuse and now she’s faced with a huge moral dilemma as she’s worried her father may be grooming a new victim. I was so empathetic towards her, she broke my heart and had been through so much.

This was one of those books that makes you think and if you can stomach hard hitting subject matter then I can definitely recommend it. Ensor is a gifted writer and this was an emotional read that I won’t soon forget.

The Girl In His Eyes in three words: Harrowing, Dark and Disturbing.

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

About the Author:

Jennie Ensor lives in London and has Irish roots. During a long trip overseas she obtained a Masters in Journalism and began her writing career as a journalist, covering topics from forced marriages to accidents in the mining industry. Her debut novel BLIND SIDE was published by Unbound in 2016. In January 2018 her short story ‘The Gift’ was placed in the Top 40 of the Words and Women national prose competition. Her poetry has appeared in many UK and overseas publications, most recently Ink Sweat and Tears. She sings in a chamber choir.

Links:

Author website & blog: https://jennieensor.com

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JennieEnsorAuthor

Twitter: @jennie_ensor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennieensor/

Blog Tour: The Ancient Nine by Ian Smith

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: September 18, 2018

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fall 1988

Spenser Collins

An unlikely Harvard prospect, smart and athletic, strapped for cash, determined to succeed. Calls his mother—who raised him on her own in Chicago—every week.

Dalton Winthrop

A white-shoe legacy at Harvard, he’s just the most recent in a string of moneyed, privileged Winthrop men in Cambridge. He’s got the ease—and the deep knowledge—that come from belonging.

These two find enough common ground to become friends, cementing their bond when Spenser is “punched” to join the Delphic Club, one of the most exclusive of Harvard’s famous all-male final clubs. Founded in the nineteenth century, the Delphic has had titans of industry, Hollywood legends, heads of state, and power brokers among its members.

Dalton Winthrop knows firsthand that the Delphic doesn’t offer memberships to just anyone. His great-uncle is one of their oldest living members, and Dalton grew up on stories of the club’s rituals. But why is his uncle so cryptic about the Ancient Nine, a shadowy group of alums whose identities are unknown and whose power is absolute? They protect the Delphic’s darkest and oldest secrets—including what happened to a student who sneaked into the club’s stately brick mansion in 1927 and was never seen again.

Dalton steers Spenser into deeper and deeper recesses of the club, and beyond, to try to make sense of what they think they may be seeing. But with each scrap of information they get from an octogenarian Crimson graduate, a crumbling newspaper in the library’s archives, or one of Harvard’s most famous and heavily guarded historical books, a fresh complication trips them up. The more the friends investigate, the more questions they unearth, tangling the story of the club, the disappearance, and the Ancient Nine, until they realize their own lives are in danger.

I’m so excited to be one of the stops on the blog tour for The Ancient Nine today. I have a Q & A with the author and a sneak peek at the book, enjoy!

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Halloween Night, 1927

The Delphic Mansion

Cambridge, Massachusetts

EMPTY ROPES CLATTERED against flagpoles, and street signs flapped

helplessly in the shadowy night. Two boys sneaked down a cobblestone path

crowded with heavy bushes and enormous signs that warned against trespassing.

They stood there for a moment, their bodies dwarfed by the gigantic

brick mansion

“That’s enough, let’s turn around,” Kelton Dunhill whispered. He had large competent hands and knots of compact muscles that bulged underneath his varsity letter sweater. He carried a long silver flashlight he had borrowed from the superintendent’s office of his residential house.

“I’m going all the way,” Erasmus Abbott said firmly. “I didn’t come this far to chicken out. Just a few more minutes and we’ll be inside.”

Dunhill looked up at the tall wrought-iron fence that had been reinforced with solid wood planks to obstruct any potential view into the rear courtyard. He was a tough, scrappy kid, a varsity wrestler who had been undefeated in almost three years of college competition. He was many things, but a quitter was not one of them. Very little intimidated Dunhill, the son of a banker and elementary school music teacher, but when he looked up at the mansion’s towering spires and turrets set against the ominous sky and the royal blue flag that snapped so loudly in the wind, something made him feel uneasy. At that very moment, if Erasmus Abbott had not been standing next to him, he would’ve turned on his heels and run like hell. The only thing that kept his feet planted was his greater fear of the humiliation he would face once the others got word that the scrawny Abbott had showed bigger nerve.

“If we get caught, we’ll be fried,” Dunhill said in his most persuasive voice, trying to sound rational rather than scared. “Technically speaking, we’re trespassing, and they can do anything they want to us since we’re on their property. I don’t need to remind you of what happened to A. C. Gordon.”

Erasmus Abbott took the milk crates they had been carrying and stacked them in a small pyramid against the fence, then slipped on his gloves and pulled his hat down until it settled just above his eyes. He was dressed all in black. Now completely disguised, he turned and faced Dunhill.

“There’s no proof Gordon ever made it this far,” Abbott contested. “And besides, I never believed the whole business about his disappearance anyway.” Abbott turned toward the platform of milk crates, then back at Dunhill, and said, “So what’s it going to be? I’m making history tonight with or without you. The answer is in there, and I’m not gonna stop till I find it.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dunhill mumbled under his breath before pulling down his own skullcap and stepping up to the fence. It all started out as a dare, but Abbott had taken it more seriously than anyone expected. This would certainly not be the first time a student had tried to break into the well-guarded Delphic mansion. There had been many attempts over the years, but according to legend, the farthest anyone had gotten was the external foyer. No one had ever penetrated the interior. What most worried Dunhill, however, was that few had lived to share their story.

“And what’s your plan once we get on the other side of the fence?” Dunhill said.

Abbott ran his hand over the small canvas bag strapped to his waist. “Everything we need is in here,” he said. “Once we get to the back door, I’ll have the lock open in well under a minute.”

Abbott had been practicing on diferent doors all over Quincy House in the middle of the night. His best-recorded time was twenty-nine seconds with a blindfold covering his eyes and a stopwatch hanging around his neck.

Abbott was not particularly athletic, but he scaled the crates easily and in one motion hoisted himself over the top of the fence and its row of pointed spears. Dunhill heard him land hard on the other side, then made a small sign of the cross over his heart, climbed onto the crates, and hurled himself over the fence. He landed on the firm slate tiles with a jolt.

They stood on the perimeter of a large courtyard dotted with elaborate marble sculptures and a fountain whose water sat motionless in a wide, striated basin. There were no lights to guide them, but moonlight cut through the heavy canopy of trees that towered overhead. A formidable, sturdy brick wall that was even taller than the fence they had just climbed surrounded them on two sides. Abbott had correctly chosen their entry point into the yard.

A gust of wind sent small piles of leaves flying sideways from one corner of the courtyard to the next. The mansion was eerily dark except for the dull flicker of a light in a small window just underneath the sloping angle of the tiled roof. The enormous building looked cold and menacing and unforgiving.

“She’s massive,” Abbott whispered. “I didn’t think she’d be this big. Must’ve cost them a king’s fortune to build it.”

“It’s not empty,” Dunhill said, pointing at the lighted window. “I still say this isn’t a good idea. We’ve already proved our point. Let’s get the hell out of here while we still can.”

Abbott pretended he hadn’t heard a word Dunhill said. He walked quietly across the courtyard toward a set of stairs that led to a large door with small panes and a brass doorknob that glistened under the moonlight’s glow. He cupped his face to the glass and looked inside. He turned and waved Dunhill over, but Dunhill remained motionless underneath the fence, still not believing they had actually gotten this far.

Abbott unzipped the canvas bag, pulled out a couple of tools, and quickly went to work on the lock. That’s when Dunhill glimpsed a shadow moving across the courtyard. He looked up toward the lighted window and saw something that he would never forget. It was the ugliest, scariest, blackest face he had ever laid eyes on. His heart tightened in his chest, and his lungs constricted. He tried to scream but couldn’t get the air to move in his throat. He turned to Erasmus to warn him, but it was too late. The door was open, and he was already inside.

1

Harvard College

Cambridge, Massachusetts

October 2, 1988

IT SHOULDN’T HAVE been enough to wake me, but I had just drifted off on the couch in the common room that separated my bedroom from my roommate’s. It was a short scratchy sound: a pebble or sand being dragged across the linoleum floor. I looked toward Percy’s bedroom. His door was closed and his light off. I sat up on the sofa, swiveling my head in the darkness to see what could’ve made the noise. Mice were not exactly uncommon sightings in these old Harvard houses, some of which had been built more than a century ago, so I was preparing myself for vermin out on a late-night scavenge. But when I turned on the lamp and looked down at the floor, what sat there took me completely by surprise.

Someone had slipped a small cream-colored envelope underneath the front door. There was no postage or return address, just my name and room number elaborately inscribed.

Spenser Collins

Lowell House L-11

I turned the envelope over, hoping to find some indication of who might have sent it, but what I discovered was even more puzzling.

Embossed on the flap were three torches—so dark blue, they were almost black—arranged in a perfect V shape.

I heard footsteps just outside the door, slow at first, but then they began to pick up speed. I pulled the door open, but the hallway was empty. Our room was on the first floor, so I grabbed my keys and ran a short distance down the hall, jumped a small flight of steps, then rammed my shoulder into the entryway door, forcing it open into the cool night. I immediately heard voices echoing across the courtyard, a cluster of three girls stumbling in high heels, dragging themselves in from a long night of drinking.

I scanned the shadows, but nothing else moved. I looked to my right and thought about running across the path that led to the west courtyard and out into the tiny streets of Cambridge. But my bare feet were practically frozen to the concrete, and the wind assaulted me like shards of ice cutting through my T-shirt. I retreated to the warmth of my room.

Percy’s bedroom door was still closed, which was not surprising. He wouldn’t wake up if an armored tank tore through the wall and opened fire.

I sat on the edge of the couch and examined the envelope again. Why would someone deliver it by hand in the middle of the night, then sneak away? None of it made any sense. I opened the book flap slowly, feeling almost guilty ripping what appeared to be expensive paper. The stationery was brittle, like rice paper, and the same three torches were prominently displayed in the letterhead.

The President and members of the Delphic Club

cordially invite you to a cocktail party on

Friday, October 14, 7 o’clock

Lily Field Mansion at 108 Brattle St. Cambridge.

Please call 876-0400 with regrets only.

I immediately picked up the phone and dialed Dalton Winthrop’s number. Fifth-generation Harvard and heir to the vast Winthrop and Lewington fortunes, he was one of the most finely pedigreed of all Harvard legacies, descending from a family that had been claiming Harvard since the 1600s, when the damn school got its charter from the Bay Colony. Dalton was a hopeless insomniac, so I knew he’d still be awake.

“What the hell are you doing up this time of the night?” Dalton said. “Some of us around here need our beauty sleep.” He sounded fully awake.

“What can you tell me about something called the Delphic Club?” I asked.

The phone rustled as he sat up.

“Did you just say ‘the Delphic’?” he said.

“Yeah, do you know anything about it?”

There was a slight pause before he said, “Why the hell are you asking about the Delphic at this ungodly hour?”

“They invited me to a cocktail party next Friday night. Someone just slipped the invitation under my door, then ran.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? The Delphic invited you to a cocktail party?”

“Unless there’s another Spenser Collins I don’t know about.”

“No offense, Spenser, but don’t get your hopes up,” he said. “This is probably some kind of prank someone’s pulling on you. The Delphic isn’t just a club, like any fraternity. It’s the most secretive of Harvard’s nine most exclusive clubs. They’re called final clubs. The Delphic goes all the way back to the 1800s and has some of the world’s most prominent men as members. An invitation to their cocktail party is like an invitation to kiss the papal ring.”

“So, what you’re really trying to say is that they would never give an invitation to a poor black kid from the South Side of Chicago.”

“Spenser, you know I don’t agree with that kinda shit, but that’s how these secret societies operate. They haven’t changed much over the last century and a half. Rich white men passing off the baton to the next generation, keeping their secrets shielded from the rest of the world. Yale has Skull and Bones, but here at Harvard we have the final clubs. It’s no exaggeration when I tell you that some of the country’s biggest secrets are buried in their old mansions.”

“If I don’t fit their image, then why did someone just slip this invite under my door?” I said.

“Because it’s not real,” Dalton said.

“What do you mean?”

“Guys joke like this all the time. This is the beginning of what’s called punch season, which means the clubs are secretly nominating sophomores to enter a series of election rounds. Whoever survives the cuts over the two months gets elected into the club. You’ve heard of the hazing they do in fraternities. Well, this is a little like that, but it’s a lot more formal with much bigger stakes.”

“What makes you so sure my invitation is fake when you haven’t even seen it?”

“Are you alone?”

“Percy’s here, but he’s out cold.”

“Pull out the invite and tell me if you see torches anywhere.”

I was sitting in the chair underneath the window, still eyeing the courtyard, hoping I might see who might’ve dropped off the envelope. The ambient light cracked the darkness of our common room. I held up the envelope.

“There are three torches on the back of the envelope,” I said.

“What about the stationery?”

“There too.”

“How many?”

“Three.”

“What color?”

“Dark blue.”

“Is the center torch lower or higher than the others?”

“Lower.”

Dalton sighed loudly. “Now take the stationery, turn it over, and hold it up to a light,” he said. “Tell me if you see anything when you look at the torches.”

I followed Dalton’s instructions, carefully removing the shade from one of Percy’s expensive porcelain lamps that his grandmother had proudly given him from her winter house in Palm Beach. I held the invitation next to the naked bulb. “There’s a thin circle with the initials JPM inside,” I said. “But you can only see it under the light. When you move it away, the letters disappear.”

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Spense, it’s the real deal!” Dalton yelled as if he were coming through the phone. “The Delphic really has punched you this season. I can’t believe this is happening. Tell me the date of the party again.”

It was rare to hear this level of excitement in Dalton’s voice. Few things got him going, and they typically had to do with either women, food, or his father, whom he hated more than the Yankees.

“Next Friday at seven o’clock,” I said. “It’s at a place called Lily Field Mansion.”

“Lily Field, of course,” Dalton said. “It’s the biggest one up there on mansion row, and it’s owned by the Jacobs family, one of the richest in the country. Stanford Jacobs used to be the graduate president of the Delphic, so it makes sense that he’s hosting the opening cocktail party.”

Secret society, mansions, ultra-wealthy families, an invitation delivered under the cloak of darkness. It was all part of a foreign world that made little sense to me, the son of a single mother who answered phones at a small energy company.

“So, what the hell does all this mean?” I asked.

“That you’re coming over here tomorrow for dinner, so we can figure out some sort of strategy,” Dalton said. “This is all a long shot, but if things go well for you on Friday night, you might make it to the next round. I’m getting way ahead of myself—but one round at a time, and you might be the way we crack the Ancient Nine.”

“The Ancient Nine?” I asked. “Is that another name for the clubs?”

“No, two different things,” Dalton said. “The Ancient Nine are an ultrasecret society of nine members of the Delphic. A secret society within a secret society that not even the other Delphic members know much about. Most around here have never even heard of the Ancient Nine, but for those who have, some swear it exists, others think it’s nothing more than another Harvard legend.”

“What do you think?”

Dalton paused deliberately. “I’d bet everything I own that they exist. But no one can get them to break their code of silence. According to rumors, they are hiding not only one of Harvard’s most valued treasures but also century-old secrets that involve some of the world’s richest families.”

Copyright © 2018 by Ian K. Smith in The Ancient Nine and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press.

Sounds intriguing, right?! Now for the Q & A.

Q & A with Dr. Ian K. Smith regarding THE ANCIENT NINE

1. To begin with your beginnings, how did you get into writing?

A: I have always wanted to write stories since I was in college and read John Grisham’s The Firm, long before it became the international sensation. I enjoyed how that book made me feel, heart racing, unable to focus on anything else but the book, literally reading pages while stopped at traffic lights. I wanted to be able to create the same kind of story that had a similar effect on someone else. I like stories. I like creating. I have loved books my entire life. I decided that while my principle area of academic study would be biology and eventually medicine, that I would always keep an open mind and ambition to write and publish. That writing itch I had harbored for so many years just never went away and I refused to ignore it. Despite what many of my colleagues thought while I was in medical school, I believed both medicine and creative writing could be pursued passionately in parallel.

2. You’ve written many bestselling books about health and nutrition. What made you decide to pivot and write a thriller now?

A: Thrillers and crime fiction have always been at the top of my list for entertainment. I like to write what engages me, so I decided to sit down and create a story in the fashion that I like to read them. I love suspense and plots lines that are fast-moving and constantly make you think. I like the feeling of not wanting to put a book down and getting excited for the next time I have a break in my schedule to pick up that book again to read the next chapter. I wrote my first novel, THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS back in 2004, a thriller based on the campus of Dartmouth College where I finished my first two years of medical school. I had such great feedback from readers across the country. I would be on tour for one of my health and wellness books and invariably, someone would come up to me in the airport or a bookstore and ask me when I was going to write another thriller, because they enjoyed THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS so much and wanted more. Every time this happened, my heart would jump, and I would profusely thank the person for reminding me of my other passion and my need to go back to it and create more stories to share. I’ve been wanting to publish another thriller for a long time, and this was the perfect time in my career to do so. Fans of my fiction had waited long enough.

3. This is a novel you “waited years to write.” What is it about this story that was just begging to be told?

A: This story has everything that I love to read. There’s mystery, murder, suspense, history, and a love story. I’ve been writing this book for more than 25 years. I started when I was a senior at Harvard. While I was a very young and unpolished writer back then, I knew that it was a story that was so compelling that it needed to be told, and I knew that one day I’d be able to finish the story and publish it. This is a fish-out-of-water story with a coming-of-age feel that I think will appeal to people across the spectrum. Everyone likes a story about an underdog, and THE ANCIENT NINE captures that feel and spirit. I learned during my research that no one had ever written extensively about the Harvard final clubs. There were remote mentions in magazine and newspaper articles, but never anything that really penetrated this rarefied world of power and privilege. I just felt like this was a story begging to be told.

4. What was your personal experience with “secret societies” like? How did you decide what details to include as elements of the story in The Ancient Nine?

A: I was everything you would expect a prospective member WOULD NOT be. I was the wrong color, no pedigree, blue-collar family, and completely unaware of the elite circles in which these members traveled and inhabited. When I started to understand the lineage of the members and graduate members, I couldn’t understand why they would invite me to join. I have always been sociable, easy-to-like kind of guy, but I didn’t fit the image of a member nor did I have the money or access to privilege that the majority of members had. I wanted to include the elements as I experienced them. I wanted readers to see this world like I did for the first time, unsuspecting, unexpecting, an undaunted. I met many great guys when I was a member and remain friends with many of them to this day. Being a member was like a dual existence on campus. I was a regular student like everyone else most of the time, then I was a member of this final club that was a world of its own, including a staff that served us in our mansion and dinners with wealthy, powerful alums who were leaders of their fields throughout the country. I sat down to tables to eat and share jokes with amazing men who were extremely successful and influential, and at the same time fun to talk to and share experiences. Being a member taught me a lot about life and discrepancies and how pivotal networking can be as one tries to advance in life.

5. The Delphic Club is a very important part of the story, just like the mysteries around it. How did you come up with the mystery? Did you know how it would be solved from the beginning or did you come up with it as you wrote?

A: When I first started writing THE ANCIENT NINE, I wasn’t completely sure how it would end. I had a good idea of some of the plot twists and most of the narrative, but I had not worked out the entire mystery. As I was researching the history of the clubs—something that was very difficult to do since there has been very little written about them through the years—I discovered some amazing occurrences and legends not just about the clubs, but of Harvard itself. These discoveries were like a small, unknotted thread that once I started pulling, the story unraveled before me and everything began falling into place. I spent a lot of time in libraries, in the stacks of Widener Library at Harvard and Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, digging into the historical connections. It’s amazing how you can reach a point where a story can actually write itself, and you just become the vessel through which it’s told, trying your best to stay out of its way while you transcribe it as best as you can without losing its feel and meaning.

6. Have you received any negative feedback as a result of writing about your real-life experiences in these secretive organizations?

A: I don’t know what the feedback will be until more people have had a chance to read it. I have had some of my clubmates read it and others who are familiar with the clubs and they gave me really positive feedback. They found the book to be engaging and informative. They felt like I captured the essence of an experience that can only be felt by someone like myself who was foreign to this world. This book is not an expose or hit piece on the final clubs. This is a book that is based on real events, secrets that have been tightly guarded for hundreds of years. As the clubs are in serious and overdue conversations about opening their doors to a broader membership, some of this information will enter the public forum much easier and more fluidly than it has in the past. I would think that many current and graduate members of the clubs will find this entertaining, especially since they know very well the lay of the land on which the story is built.

7. How much does the main character in The Ancient Nine have in common with Ian Smith? How much of the story is autobiographical?

A: Spenser is based on me. His emotions, worries, thoughts, and experiences are based on mine. There are some creative changes I made such as where he was from and some of the family dynamics, but a lot of who he is and what he thinks is autobiographical. I’ve held on to this story for a long time as I wrestled with the best way to tell it and when it should be told. I was a tough, fearless kid who wanted to excel at everything and wanted to make my single mother and family proud. For those times, I was not the typical Harvard student—no trust fund or Ivy connection or renowned academic family pedigree—but I had what was most important for a student from any walk of life, the confidence that I could make it on Harvard’s storied campus. I was unafraid to try new things, mix it up, and learn as much as I could. I played sports intensely all my life, and I think that taught me a lot about the world, our many differences, the rigors and benefits of competition, and the importance of resiliency. I’ve never been one to be intimated by the chasm between what I have and what others have. Spenser sees and feels the world in exactly the same way as he remains proud of his humble beginnings and constantly works to do what is right.

8. In this novel you introduce a highly varied cast of characters, ranging from comical to mysterious, sporty

to academic. Who was your favorite character to write?

Which one would you most likely want to grab a beer with?

A: This isn’t an easy question as it’s like asking you to pick a favorite child. There are different things an author loves about the characters he or she creates, and there are different reasons why the characters appeal to the author. I will say, however, that it tends to be fun to write about characters who are very different from who you are, because it allows you to explore and imagine in a space that is not completely familiar. Writing Ashley Garrett was a lot of fun. I liked and admired her at lot. She’s from the other side of the tracks, brilliant, tough, witty, romantic, and unimpressed. If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Ashley. Dalton Winthrop was also a lot of fun to write, because he was rich—something that I was definitely not—and rebellious and so determined to cut his own way in life despite the overbearing expectations and interventions of his imperious father. I don’t drink alcohol, but several of the real people who the characters are based on I actually did sit down with over the poker table and a box of pizza. I think it would be great fun to sit down to dinner with the obscenely wealthy but uproariously gregarious graduate member Weld Bickerstaff class of ’53 who lived in New York City. You just wind him up and let him go.

9. The Ancient Nine delves deep into the history and underbelly of Harvard. What was your process for researching this story?

A: I spent many months researching Harvard’s history and some of the less known facts about John Harvard’s book collection he donated to the college and the infamous 1764 fire that destroyed almost all of it. Over the years of writing this book I would find new pieces of information and the web of history and mystery would grow even larger. Little is publicly known or discussed about these clubs, and lots of secrets and knowledge have gone to the grave with many of the graduate members. Harvard has one of the most expansive library systems in the world, and I spent countless hours in many of the libraries mentioned in the book, digging up old newspapers and magazines and examining rare books. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun at the same time to connect the dots and delve into the layers of such an important university and the secret societies that have long been a perpetual irritant to the school’s administration.

10. During your research, did you find out anything surprising that didn’t make it into the book?

A: I gathered piles of research and discoveries while working on this book, but alas, an author must decide what to include and what to discard. Those decisions were gut-wrenching at times, but for the sake of the reader not having to sit down to a 600-page tome, the cuts had to be done. One thing that surprised me that didn’t make it into the book was how conflicted many of the school’s former leadership really were with regards to the clubs. Many of them publicly spoke against the clubs and the need for them to either be disbanded or opened to a more diverse membership, but privately, these administrators and school trustees had been members of a club themselves and as graduates, still supported them financially in ways that their identities and participation wouldn’t be exposed.

11. Readers will know you from your work in health and nutrition. In stepping away from that world, and into the world thriller writing, what surprised or challenged you the most?

A: It has always been fun and rewarding to write books in the genre of health and nutrition. I have enjoyed immensely helping and empowering people. My books through the years have literally been life-changing for millions of people. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to produce that type of impactful work. Writing thrillers has been equally gratifying as it has allowed me to be more imaginative and tap deeper into my creative side. I believe that a person can tap similarly and effectively into the left (science, math) and right (creativity, arts) sides of the brain. Contrary to what some have suggested, I don’t believe it’s one or the other. One thing vastly different about writing thrillers is that the plots are not linear, and therefore requires a vigilant attention to detail and great effort to maintain continuity. There are all kinds of dead ends, interweaving threads, surprises, disappointments, and moments of excitement that you must work into the story, knowing that you need to entertain your reader and keep them engaged for hundreds of pages. Accomplishing this is no small feat, but the work it takes to achieve it is worth every grinding second of it once you do.

12. What’s next for you? Will you continue to write thrillers and do you have an idea for your next novel?

A: I will definitely continue to write more thrillers. I love reading this genre, and I love writing it. My creative mind has a natural proclivity for this type of storytelling. I’m currently working on a different series of crime fiction/mystery books based on a character named Ashe Cayne who’s an ex-Chicago police officer and now a private investigator. I have learned a lot from my friends in CPD who have shown me the ropes and explained procedure. Ashe is smart, sarcastic, handsome, tenacious, morally compelled to right wrongs, broken-hearted, and a golf addict trying to bring his scoring handicap into the single digits. I LOVE this character and Chicago as the setting. The expansive, energetic, segregated, volatile, notoriously corrupt Chicago becomes an important secondary character in the book. Ashe Cayne takes on only select cases, and people of all walks of life from all over the city come to him to get answers. The first book in the series is called FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLY, and it’s about the daughter of one of the city’s richest men who mysteriously goes missing on the night she’s supposed to sleep over her best friend’s house. Her aristocratic mother hires Ashe Cayne to find her missing daughter. But it’s a lot more complicated than a missing person case. I expect to publish this book in the fall of 2019.

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