I’m On Vocal!

Hey, Readers. A couple of years ago, I joined a site called Vocal. It’s a place where authors can publish stories of various genres in both fiction and non-fiction. Authors also earn money when stories are read. Vocal + members can enter contests.

I published one story, but I didn’t have the time to devote to it. This weekend, I decided to join again, and I’ve already published two additional stories and entered one into a contest.

The first one, Where is Gunnar, is a flash-fiction story. You can read it by clicking here.

The second, The Great Adventure is a short story that I entered into the Tall Tale contest. Click this link to read.

Both are a little different from my usual genre, although Where is Gunnar contains an element of suspense. I’d be grateful if you’d pop over to read and share. You’ll need a Vocal log-in to comment, but there’s no cost involved for that.


Guest Author Gwen Plano ~ Redemption: A Father’s Fatal Decision

Hey, Readers. It’s my pleasure to host Gwen Plano today. She is a friend and fellow Story Empire colleague. She writes fiction and poetry and is here to talk about her latest release, Redemption A Father’s Fatal Decision. Please welcome Gwen.

Thank you, Joan, for inviting me to your site today. It’s a pleasure to visit your readers and share a bit about my new release.

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. The characters occasionally travel to Old Lyme, Connecticut, but for the most part, the drama is in New York. Having spent about twenty years in and around that area, it was exciting to visit as a writer.

The book tackles themes of forgiveness, redemption, and absolution through 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, Lisa and Trace Holmes meet with the New Rochelle police captain. His team had searched a secluded cabin owned by their father and found both damming information and important documents for his two adult children. The captain presents a deed to a property in Connecticut.


“Take a look at this and read the note. There’s a key taped to the paper.” The captain pulls the deed from a file and hands it to Trace.

Their brows furrow while they read:

Trace and Lisa, your mother loves this area of Connecticut. She dreamed of having a cottage of her own. Please, take care of her when I’m gone.

Trace covers his face with his hands and fights tears. “I’ve hated him for so long.”

Lisa rubs his back and wipes away tears.

The captain waits a few minutes before continuing. Once they compose themselves, he tells them a story. “A while back, a preacher talked to me about redemption. He said it’s like clearing debt. Action or actions a person takes to free himself from a burden. Sound familiar? I believe your father tried to redeem himself by taking actions he thought would clear his debt. I suspect that intention lies behind his final act of refusing to hand over the crown jewel. In his mind, it was payment.”

Trace’s lips tighten, and he thinks about what the captain has shared. “So, the jewel and money absolve him of thirty-five years of abuse?”

“No.” Davis shakes his head. “But, in his mind, he saw it as payment. Absolution is another matter entirely. That’s God’s work, not mine or yours. I’m not a preacher type, but I’ve lived long enough to put pieces of a puzzle together. I conclude that forgiveness is our responsibility, and I’ve arrived at my own definition, which I’d like to share with you.”


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.

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Book Review: You Can Hide

Hey, readers. I read my first Rebecca Zanetti book last year. You Can Run was one of my top reads for 2021. I eagerly awaited the sequel. You Can Hide releases on November 29, but you can pre-order a copy now. I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced reader copy from Net Galley.

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wow! What else can I say about this book? I thought You Can Run, the first of the series, was fantastic. This one surpasses it.

FBI Special Agent Laurel Snow is back in her hometown of Genesis Valley after a brief time in Washington, DC. There’s a serial killer on the loose and his target is highly intelligent professional women. Laurel’s half-sister Abigail is a likely target.

Once again Laurel is paired with Agent Huck Rivers. There is an undeniable chemistry between the two of them. When his ex-fiancée shows up, it creates tension between the two of them. Not only that, Abigail claims interest in Huck.

Readers will see familiar characters and new ones are introduced. I especially liked Nestor, who is not your average computer geek.  

Zanetti throws in clues to keep the reader guessing the killer’s identity, and it wasn’t until the last few chapters of the book that I figured it out. While this book wrapped up with a satisfactory ending, the author left some things open that I hope will be addressed in future books.

After all, “What’s the likelihood of two serial killers working in our small Genesis Valley within months of each other?”

A solid five stars from me.

Thanks to Net Galley and Kensington Books for an advanced reader copy.

Book Reviews ~ The Shadow of Your Smile & Stillwatch

Hey, everyone. Summer is officially here. Weather-wise it arrived in Texas sometime in May. With many of our days reaching triple-digits, it’s a perfect time to stay indoors and read.

Those of you who have followed me for a while know Mary Higgins Clark was one of my favorite authors. Now that her books are on Kindle Unlimited, I decided to catch up on some of her titles I haven’t read and also reread some older ones. Today I’m sharing two reviews.

The Shadow of Your Smile

My Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Not her best…

I’ve been a fan of Mary Higgins Clark since reading Where Are the Children, and eagerly awaited each new release. I lost touch with the books in the early 2000s, but now that they’re available through Kindle Unlimited, I decided to catch up on a few I’d missed.

The Shadow of Your Smile is not her best work. I found several issues with the story.

There is too much telling with too many characters “thinking” about things, resulting in a ton of back story in almost every single chapter. There are countless uses of the words, “she thought,” or “he thought.” Those internal thoughts—going from third person to first person were distracting.

This happens throughout the book. I tend to read with a more critical eye these days, but if Higgins-Clark did this in her earlier works, I don’t recall. How in the world did editors from one of the largest publishing companies in the world allow this to happen? Was it because they believed a bestselling author could get away with anything and still sell books? Apparently, they were right.

There were also many instances of switching character points of view within a single scene. Was the author going after omniscient POV? It takes skill to pull that off, and Higgins-Clark didn’t come through. The scenes seemed like head-hopping.

To end on a positive note, there is a large cast of characters. That didn’t bother me as I’m accustomed to that in her books. When she wrote this one, she hadn’t lost her skill at weaving a suspenseful story. No matter how small a reader might think of an incident is, there is a reason, and everything ultimately ties together.

Writing style, I rate The Shadow of Your Smile a two, storywise a four, rounded to three for review purposes.


My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After reading and being disappointed in one of Mary Higgins Clark’s later books, I decided to revisit Stillwatch. I first read it back in the 1980s and recall it being one of my favorites. Reading it again validated my thoughts and made me realize why she was one of my favorite authors.

Pat Traymore is a successful reporter who has just landed a job with a major cable news network. Her first assignment is to do a story on Senator Abigail Jenkins who is a leading candidate to replace the ailing Vice-President.

Pat, whose birth name was Kerry, had a tragic past. Both her parents died, and it’s long been believed her father, a U S Congressman, murdered her mother before turning the gun on himself. Not only that, Pat, (Kerry) was severely injured, was in a coma for months, and suffered memory loss. To publicity hounding her for the rest of her life, Pat’s grandmother put out the word that Kerry died. In reality, her aunt and uncle adopted her and changed her name.

Pat moves into the Georgetown home where she lived as a young child. She has begun to have memories of that tragic night and hopes to learn the truth of what happened. As Pat uncovers more about the senator’s past, she discovers a link to her own family.

But returning to Washington has placed her in danger. Someone doesn’t want her to do the Jennings story and she begins receiving threatening notes. Will she be able to uncover the truth before it’s too late?

The book is well-paced, the characters well-developed, and the suspense is true Higgins Clark. I also enjoyed reading a book that was written and set in a simpler time.

May Book Reviews Part Two

In case you missed last week’s post, I’ve decided to go back to a weekly schedule with individual reviews beginning next week. In the meantime, here are the second half of my May book reviews.

Pretend You Don’t See Her

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I got hooked on reading Mary Higgins-Clark back in the 1970s when I picked up a copy of Where Are The Children from my favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore. (Those were the days!) Recently, I learned that her books are now on Kindle Unlimited. If you’re a fan, now is the time to catch up on the ones you’ve missed, or like me, reread some you’ve enjoyed in the past.

I first read Pretend You Don’t See Her when it was released in the late 1990s. I had forgotten a lot of things, so I was eager to read it again.

Lacey Farrell is a Manhattan real estate agent. She receives a call from a woman named Isabelle Waring about listing her deceased daughter’s apartment. Isabelle is obsessed over Heather’s death, convinced it isn’t an accident, much to the dismay of her ex-husband, Heather’s father.

When Lacey shows the high-rise to a prospective buyer, Isabelle tells her she’s changed her mind about selling it. Later, when Lacey agrees to meet the woman to discuss the matter, she arrives at the apartment to find Isabelle has been shot and the killer still inside. Lacey narrowly misses death herself when she hides in a closet while the perpetrator leaves.

As Isabelle lies dying, she gives Lacey her daughter’s journal, pleading with her to give it to Heather’s father. She reluctantly agrees and justifies her decision to withhold it from the police as a way to keep her promise to a dying woman. What’s worse, Lacey can identify the killer, which puts her in grave danger.

She ends up in the Witness Protection Program and is relocated to Minnesota. But is she safe there? When she tells her worried mother she’s in Minneapolis during a secure phone call, Mona Farrell vows to keep it a secret, but inadvertently leaves clues as to Lacey’s whereabouts.

It’s a race against time for the feds and the Manhattan police to find the murderer and bring him to justice before Lacey ends up being his next victim.

Despite the changes in writing styles since the 90s, I enjoyed this book. The pacing is good, and suspense is weaved throughout. I also find it refreshing that MHC’s books don’t have a lot of gore and foul language, something that is often overdone in today’s novels. I recommend Pretend You Don’t See Her if you enjoy reading a lighter mystery.

Amazon Link

Red Knife

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Continuing with book eight of the Cork O’Connor series.

Kristie Reinhardt, the daughter of an Aurora businessman, dies from meth addiction. Her father vows to get revenge against the prime suspect Lonnie Thunder, who is a member of an Ojibwe gang known as the Red Boyz. Alexander Kingbird, the gang’s leader calls on Cork to deliver a message to Kristie’s father promising him justice.

By the following morning, Alexander and his wife are dead—shot execution-style. The Red Boyz suspect Buck Reinhardt, and tensions begin to mount between the whites and the Ojibwe. Cork is caught in the middle, and Lonnie Thunder has disappeared. Will Cork be able to locate him before there are more deaths or all-out war?

The plot of this book is a little more complicated in that there are several things happening. Potential drug trafficking by the Red Boyz. Kingbird’s younger brother, a classmate of Cork’s daughter Annie, is bullied at school. A sniper kills Buck Reinhardt. A house belonging to the mother of one of the Red Boyz burns to the ground at the hands of an arsonist.

While there is plenty of tension and action, I had a couple of issues, one of which is Cork’s involvement in a Tribal matter. (I won’t say what to avoid a spoiler.) There was a surprise ending that almost seemed to be an afterthought as there were few clues pointing in that direction.

Lastly, the final chapter looks into the future and “tells” the reader about a major decision in Annie O’Connor’s life. I would have much rather learned this in one of the following books.

Amazon Link

The Fallen Man

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Okay, maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but this was my first time reading anything by Tony Hillerman. It won’t be my last. This is the second book I’ve read this month that was first published in the 1990s.

The Fallen Man is book twelve of Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee series, but I found it worked as a stand-alone novel.

There are two mysteries to unfold. The first begins when climbers find human remains on Shiprock or Tse Bit’ a’i in the Navajo language. It turns out the skeleton belonged to a man who had vanished over a decade earlier. Did he fall to his death or was it murder?

Retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is hired by the man’s family to investigate. When a Navajo guide dies from a sniper’s bullet, Leaphorn becomes convinced the incidents are related. He had worked on the missing person’s case years earlier, so he has a vested interest in solving the crime.

Acting Lieutenant Jim Chee has his own issues to deal with. His captain wants him to investigate a string of cattle thefts in the area. He has to deal with Dick Finch, a New Mexico brand inspector. Finch is arrogant and rubs Chee in the wrong way. Chee is determined, with the help of Officer Bernadette Manuelito to learn the identity of the rustler before Finch does.

The story is well-paced and keeps the reader in suspense. While this was my first introduction to the main characters, I had no problems connecting with them. After reading The Fallen Man, I’m interested in the other books of the series.

Amazon Link

That’s it for this week’s reviews. I’ll be back next week with another review.