Those Coveted Reviews

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Waiting for reviews can drive an author bonkers.

Case in point: When APPLE OF MY EYE went live on NetGalley, I was a bundle of nerves. What if they don’t like my book? I’ll be ruined by one star ratings before I get my feet off the ground. What if they think it’s just okay? That’s not enough. What if they don’t want to read it at all and I’m stuck in the land of 0 reviews?

First off, I admit that I’m a bit of a worrier. I can give you the worst case scenario for pretty much anything in two seconds flat. So, take something as important to me as a book I’ve been dreaming of for years, and I’m bound to be extra maniacal.

Apple was on NetGalley for a whole two days when I started checking Goodreads obsessively. I felt I was exercising good control if I waited an hour between checks. Each time I held my breath as I waited for the screen to change, a picture of tension as if the results had the power to forever change my life.

I was really lucky in that my first review came within the first week the book was on NetGalley. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but it also wasn’t terrible. Everything the reviewer said was good, but in the end it was given 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3.

Ugh. I wanted a 5. I needed a 5. I wasn’t ruined, but I wasn’t saved either. What exactly was I? What did this mean? If I don’t get some fives soon… What if I’m just mediocre? If the next rating is lower…

Crazy, huh?

This is what happens to an author when a book is released into the world. Okay, maybe all authors don’t dangle this far over the edge of sanity, but I’d venture a guess that plenty do. Our books are our babies, created from a spark of idea and built on for months or even years. We love them and we want you to love them. For our books to succeed, we need you to love them.

To date, my obsessive worrying is unfounded. Apple is sitting at 4.33 stars on Goodreads, 4 stars on Barnes & Noble, and 4.5 stars on Amazon. Not too shabby.

Today my second novel, THROW THE KEY, hits NetGalley for it’s review term.  I’m far from confident, but I’m not a basket case either. This time, I’m taking the review process for what it really is. In reality, good or bad, reviews are a wonderful thing. They either affirm the work I’ve done or clue me in as to how I can do better for my readers next time. For readers, gone are the days when you have to depend solely on a killer description to know if a book will be worth your time. A glance at the reviews quickly lets you know if the hype is warranted. It’s a win-win for both reader and author.

I very much appreciate every review a reader takes the time give. If you’ve read and reviewed my work, thank you so much! If you read my work and haven’t left a review, I’d be grateful if you’d consider doing so.


Blog tour begins Monday, August 6th

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Schedule with links available at

August 6 – RABT Book Tours – Kick Off
August 7 – Nana’s Book Reviews – Excerpt
August 8 – Cinta Garcia De La Rosa – Spotlight
August 9 – Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews – Guest Post
August 10 – Just Because Reviews – Excerpt
August 11 – Book Addict – Spotlight
August 12 – Dani the Bookaholic – Excerpt
August 13 – Drops of Ink – Spotlight
August 14 – Jazzy’s Book Reviews – Spotlight
August 15 – Beach Bound Books – Excerpt
August 16 – The Bookworm Lodge – Spotlight
August 17 – Evermore Books – Excerpt
August 18 – Bound 2 Escape – Spotlight
August 19 – The Avid Reader – Interview
August 20 – Stephanie’s Book Reviews – Spotlight
August 21 – Truly Trendy – Excerpt
August 22 – Texas Book Nook – Review
August 23 – I’m All About Books – Spotlight
August 24 – SK Gregory – Review
August 25 – Tea Time and Books – Spotlight
August 27 – Read and Review – Spotlight
August 28 – The Indie Express – Review
August 29 – Book Junkie Mom – Review
August 30 – T’s Stuff – Spotlight
August 31 – What Emma Reads Next – Review
September 1 – Silver Dagger Scriptorium – Spotlight
September 2 – Zooloo Book Blog – Review
September 3 – Momma Says to Read or Not to Read – Spotlight
September 4 – Novel News Network – Review
September 5 – RABT Reviews – Wrap Up



8 Days and Counting, Plus a New Excerpt!


It’s so hard to believe that release day for this baby of mine is one week from tomorrow. It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking, it’s terrifying, but most importantly, IT’S ABOUT TIME!

To kick-off the countdown, I wanted to share an excerpt. The first chapter has already made the rounds, so I thought I’d give those of you following me on any or all platforms a look at chapter 2. Please know that I am grateful for each and every like, follow, RT, comment, review, to-read shelf add…everything. Thank you so much!

In this chapter we meet Brad, quite possibly the only ally Laurie has. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter Two


September 18, 2018

The scream stands out from the others, cutting over the crowd like a crashing jet. I stop walking, scan the masses for the source. A series of wails follows. It sounds like a woman, her cries high-pitched, hysterical. I crane my neck and peer over festivalgoers, but don’t see anyone in distress.

Luke tugs on my arm. “Come on, daddy.” He points the caramel apple in his other hand toward the Tilt-a-Whirl. At four years old, he’s too small to ride, but he loves to stand there and watch the thing spin in the air. I don’t get the thrill, but it makes him happy.

The cries seem to have stopped so I nod to Luke and start walking again, filing in behind the rest of the crowd. His sandy hair is getting shaggy and I make a mental note to have it trimmed before I send him back to Trish. It will give her one less thing to complain about, spare me the accusations of only wanting the fun part of parenting. Then again, it could give her one more thing to complain about. Too short or not short enough, too uneven or too even. I’m convinced she’s going to take the divorce out on me until the day I die. It’s my fault, she claims. Maybe she’s right. I never should’ve married her in the first place.

But if I hadn’t married her I wouldn’t have Luke.

He squeals as we step closer to the Tilt-a-Whirl, but his attention is quickly drawn to a booth beside us adorned in stuffed animals, the back wall covered in balloons. Throw a dart and a scrap of paper inside of the popped balloon reveals the level of the prize won. It’s almost always a number one, which equates to junk; a plastic bracelet, cheap toy car. Luke points to a giant stuffed tiger. I’d need to get a ten to win that and something tells me there is just one on the whole board.

“Play, Daddy!” he says, once again tugging on my hand. A hunk of caramel sticks to the side of his mouth.

“Wouldn’t you rather watch the Tilt-a-Whirl?” I’d rather go home, but that’s beside the point. I thought the outing might help clear my head, but too many people flood the streets for that to be possible. Their voices bounce in my skull, colliding with Mark’s words from earlier. Something isn’t right. I hear it on repeat, the seriousness in his tone raising goose bumps on my flesh.

Luke shakes his head. “Please, please, please!” It’s so hard to deny him. He’s the reason I’m training with Mark, getting out of firefighting and into investigations. Safer, less risk of leaving Luke partially orphaned. He’s also the reason I followed Trish to this apple-worshiping town after our divorce, preventing a three-hour distance from my son.

I pull my phone from my pocket and check the screen. Nothing from Mark yet. I stuff the device back into my front pocket. So much for clearing my head.

As a kid with neon blue hair passes, I wonder if this place might be what I really need my head cleared of. I glance around – a morbidly overweight man wearing a t-shirt three inches too short, a pair of pierced Goth-looking teenagers, and a group that may not be familiar with the concept of soap and water – and suspect that every trailer park in a sixty-mile radius is empty right now.

If I didn’t know that all carnivals attract these crowds, I’d be in the first cab out of town, swearing off apples for the rest of my life.

I reach for my wallet in my back pocket and focus on Luke, still gazing longingly at the stuffed tiger. “All right, buddy. I’ll try it once.” It’s easier to fork out a few bucks for a dart than to say no. It’ll be worth Luke’s smile, anyhow. He squeals and then pulls his caramel apple to his mouth for another bite.

“Five bucks,” the man in serious need of a shower and shave behind the counter tells me. When I was a kid, the game was a buck.

That horrifying scream sounds again, shrilling over the voices, cheers, and even the band down the street. It’s closer this time, or maybe I’ve just moved closer to it. Luke startles, squeezing my hand. His mouth hangs open in anticipation of the apple, but his arm freezes before the treat reaches it.

I look over my shoulder and then down at Luke. Whoever it is, she can’t be far, maybe a couple booths away. I need to check it out, see if I can help. My many hours of emergency training ingrained the instinct in me. I shove my wallet back in my pocket, pick Luke up, and take off toward those miserable wails. “The tiger!” Luke cries, his voice bouncing as I jog.

“We’ll come back later. I need to help someone.”

“Who?” Luke asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell him, my breathing heavy as I run.

Outside a booth ahead, right across from the Tilt-a-Whirl, people gather. I make my way through them and spot an older woman leaning over the counter, calling to someone. “What’s wrong?” I ask her.

Her eyes are wide, her face pale. She shakes her head. “I…I don’t know.” She points inside the booth. “She said she was getting a migraine, but then she started screaming.”

In the back of the booth, I see Laurie.

“It’s the baby’s mommy,” Luke says. He loves making little Emily laugh and watching her body shake with giggles. Since I bought the house next door, we often see Laurie going for a walk with Emily in the stroller. It’s not exactly coincidence that I happen to be near the street every time she passes.

Laurie keeps her eyes on the ground. She holds her hands to her head, her chest heaves like she can barely breathe, and she paces more frantically than I’ve ever seen. I squeeze around the counter into the booth and set Luke down. “Stay right here, okay?” I point at the Tilt-a-Whirl. “See, you can watch from right here.”

Luke nods but his eyes are on Laurie. I go to her, touch her arm. “Laurie, are you okay?” Stupid question. Clearly, she’s anything but okay.

She looks at me, her wide hazel eyes darting like a caged animal. She starts to step back as if she’s afraid of me, but then recognition settles in her face, softening the creases around her glistening eyes. A jumble of sounds rolls from her mouth like she’s trying to form words but can’t do it. “Eh…eh…e…”

I put my hands on her arms. “Emily? Is Emily okay?”

Her light brown hair bobs with frantic motion, but I don’t know if she’s nodding or shaking her head. Strands cling to her tear stained face, the rest disheveled like she’s been tearing at it.

I scan the small booth, its plywood walls and nylon roof. No one is inside except me, Laurie, and Luke. I try to keep my voice calm, but my breaths are heavy. “Where is Emily?”

Laurie starts shaking her head and waving her hands, more sounds tumbling from her mouth but still no words. I fumble for my cell.

“9-1-1?” the woman on the other side of the counter asks me.

I nod.

“The sheriff is right up the block,” she says, pointing. “I’ll run get him.”

Sheriff Tilton. The last person I need to see tonight, a big part of the reason I needed to clear my head in the first place. Or maybe Mark’s bias is starting to rub off on me. That’s the more likely theory. Unfortunately for me, I represent Mark’s camp by association. No doubt Tilton will be less than thrilled to see me. But clearly Laurie needs help and he’s the best person to give it to her.

I catch sight of Luke. He leans against the counter, his head turning with the motion of the Tilt-a-Whirl. I turn back to Laurie, note the way her body trembles. I rub my hands over her arms and try to keep my voice soft, but not too quiet or she’ll never hear me over all this carnival noise. “Look at me.” She looks up and suddenly gasps before screaming. She pulls away and scoots backward, lodging herself in the corner of the booth.

“Laurie, it’s okay. It’s just me. Brad.” She crouches to the street, pulling her arms around herself. She’s breathing so hard I fear she’ll pass out. I squat to her level. “Are you hurt?” She doesn’t look hurt, just terribly shaken.

She stares at me like she’s never seen me before, but then her eyes flicker. “B…b…br…”

I nod and smile at her. “Yes, it’s just me. Brad. I want to help you. Can you take a few deep, slow breaths with me?” I make a show of sucking in a deep breath and she tries to follow suit but her chest shudders with each inhalation. I keep my voice soft. “Was Emily here with you?”

She seems to nod, shrug, and shake her head all at the same time. “Was anyone else here?”

I get the same response.

I glance back at Luke. Now he’s laughing, clapping his hands as he watches the ride spin. I need to do something with him. The flashing lights will only keep him occupied for so long and I can’t help Laurie and keep an eye on him at the same time.

The problem is, who do I call? I’m too new to town to know anyone very well. Laurie has watched Luke a few times, but that certainly isn’t an option. The logical choice is Trish but I can’t call her. I had to plead for an extra night with Luke as it was – something I never had to do when I had shared custody. But that was before she dragged me into court, before the judge made my life a living hell.

“While the court finds no reason to remove custody as Mrs. Chandler requests, Mr. Chandler’s lack of availability to the child, regardless of how warranted it may be, holds merit. It is in the best interest of stability for the child…”

I thought I was having a heart attack; the pain in my chest shot straight through me. This stranger was taking my son from me in some capacity, all because emergencies sometimes pulled me away from him.

No, not because of emergencies. Because Trish saw the opportunity to accuse me of being an absent parent. I just couldn’t believe that the judge agreed with her lunacy.

“Mr. Chandler will retain partial custody of the child, but only on weekends. The situation will be revaluated in three months.” With the bang of a gavel, he was gone and so was Luke.

That was almost three months ago, shortly after I moved to Jackson. Tomorrow I’m due in court for the follow up, no doubt to be another face off with Trish.

I definitely can’t call her with an emergency now.

Luke spins his head, mocking the motion of the carnival ride. He’ll be fine with me. I’ll make it work.

Laurie still sits in the corner of the plywood booth. She hugs her knees to her chest, but then as if realizing she’s lost touch with reality, she straightens her legs and pushes herself to her feet. She glances at the ground, then pulls her hands to her mouth, tears trickling down her cheeks. I follow her eyes to a small, pink object on the street. I step over to it and pick up a soft doll, the kind for a very young child. I turn to Laurie. “Is this Emily’s?”

She reaches for it, takes it from me, and clutches it to her chest. “Eh…em…E…”

But she pauses as if suddenly disoriented. Something flashes in her eyes and even though I can’t describe it, I know what it is; this helpless version of her vanishing, the real Laurie coming back to me.

She closes her eyes and takes a long, deep breath. Slowly, her eyes flutter open and she focuses on me. “Brad,” she says. She glances over her shoulder, carefully examining the small area around us, then leans in and rests her hand on my forearm. “I’m…so glad to see you,” she says between labored breaths, her voice a desperate whisper. Her hand trembles on my arm.

“Are you okay?” I ask, putting my hand over hers. “Is Emily…”

Laurie doesn’t let me finish, leans even closer, her breath warm on my ear. “I need help.”

I nod. “The sheriff should be on his way.”

She shakes her head wildly. “I don’t want…”

She stops speaking as a rough voice projects over the background banter. “What’s the problem?”

I turn to face the source: Sheriff Tilton.

Tilton’s bloodshot, drooping eyes make him look hung over or stoned, but it’s nothing new, his typical look. His uniform seems freshly pressed and the metal on his shirt and his gun glint beneath the flashing lights of the Tilt-a-Whirl. The woman has returned with him, her eyes wide with concern. She must know Laurie.

Though I doubt he’s waiting for permission, I motion Tilton inside the booth. Luke stares up at him before glancing back at Laurie, but the squeals across the street steal his attention again. “Chandler?” Tilton says. “What are you doing here?”

He’s as happy to see me as I guessed he would be. I brush it off, try to keep my voice level. “I was just up the street with my son when I heard her scream.” I turn away from him, try to block out any perceptions I’ve formed. I rest a hand on Laurie’s back, try to nudge her toward Tilton. “Tell the sheriff what happened.”

But she seems to be fading again. She clutches the pink doll to her chest, her eyes wide before she turns away, shaking her head, her breathing growing even faster. Her shoulders tremble and fresh tears roll down her cheeks. “Is Emily missing?” I ask.

Laurie’s gaze grows distant, but she parts her lips. “She…she’s gone.”

Tilton speaks up. “Laurie, do you know who has your daughter?”

“J…J…J…” She meets the sheriff’s eyes, but takes a step back like she doesn’t recognize him. By the way her eyes dart about and sweat beads on her forehead despite the cool night, I can tell we’ve definitely lost her again.

“Who did you see? Anyone?” Tilton asks.

Laurie doesn’t answer, starts pacing the small space again, pausing only long enough to thrust the doll at the sheriff. “Gone,” she cries. “Gone.”

He reaches for the doll, but she pulls it back like a greedy child. “Laurie,” he runs a hand over his head. “I’m going to do everything I can to find her but I need you tell me what you know. Can you do that?”

She looks at the wall of the booth and screams, but there’s nothing there. She glances at the street and jumps back as if a colony of snakes crawl at her, but again there is nothing. She shifts her gaze to the sheriff, her eyes widening as if seeing him for the first time. With a slight gasp, she takes a couple steps back.

I fight the urge to back away, too. This is nothing like the Laurie I know, the Laurie that was here just a moment ago. I wish I knew what she was thinking or seeing for that matter. They can’t be the same images I see. There is nothing here but makeshift walls and people she knows. Laurie tries to take another step back but she’s met the wall. She breathes even heavier as she points a finger at the sheriff. “Jake!” she blurts.

Tilton tips his head, his voice low. “You’re saying that Jake has Emily?”

Laurie seems to want to disappear into the wall, her back pressed firmly against it, her feet shuffling. I step closer to her, hoping she’ll catch sight of me instead of Tilton. “It’s Sheriff Tilton, Laurie.” I keep my voice soft. “But you just said Jake.”

She nods frantically.

I glance at the sheriff. By his expression, I know he’s thinking the same thing I am. Still, I play Laurie’s game, hope if she calms she’ll be able to speak to me again. “Jake has Emily?”

Those mumbled sounds tumble from her mouth again, gibberish I can’t even begin to understand. “J…J…J…”  I think she’s nodding, but it’s hard to tell.

The sheriff steps forward, putting himself in Laurie’s line of vision. He puts his hands on his narrow hips, sticks out his ever-growing belly. “That doesn’t make sense.” At least he keeps his voice friendly. “You know that.”

She meets his eyes, her own widening. Tilton squints and shakes his head. “How could Jake have Emily?”

Laurie’s head is shaking and her teeth are chattering like she’s standing in a freezer. “J…J…” She groans a little then blows out a frustrated breath.

Sheriff Tilton shakes his head. “Jake can’t have Emily, Laurie. He’s dead.”



What’s real and what’s fake?

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APPLE OF MY EYE is a work of fiction. Technically, it’s psychological suspense, but could also fit under the labels of domestic suspense, thriller, psychological thriller, domestic thriller, mystery, general suspense… I’m sure there are more.

Call it what you like, give it any label that feels right. What it comes down to is this – It’s fake. One big, fat, juicy lie.

Let’s face it, fake is fun. Last week I explained how the setting was my inspiration for APPLE OF MY EYE. If I took that same inspiration and tried to put it into non-fiction, I’d put you to sleep. I’m sure that there are plenty of stories worth telling from the area, but my personal account is not one of them. Wonderful as it may have been for me, I could only make it appeal to you with serious embellishments. Even that might not help.

So rather than create pages of boredom to fulfil my desire of writing a book that features a town from my past, I produced pages of lies. The thing is, for those lies – fiction – to be good, they have to feel real even though there is no doubt that they’re not.

There are plenty of ways to create realism without stepping out of the bounds of fiction and I have used several techniques to accomplish this, but I also chose to bring life to the story by including details that are very real. What are those?

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The water tower.  From the end of chapter 1:

I nod and force my mind to focus. My name is Laurie Brandon. I’m a second grade teacher. I’m in Jackson, Ohio at the Apple Festival. My hometown. I glance at the surface of the street where the booth sits, the brick street confirming my location. A few blocks away, lights illuminate the water tower hovering over the town, painted red to resemble an apple and embellished in a green leaf with a pipe protruding from the top as the stem.

The streets. In some areas, Jackson has maintained beautiful brick surfaces that give town a warm, homey feel.

From chapter 1:

A fog settles in my head, sprinkling over my mind like chalk dust. I find myself gasping, my heart racing faster and harder. This symptom is new. I blink, trying to focus on the brick surface of the street but it’s a blur. The dust is growing thicker, an eraser materializing, brushing over my mind and randomly choosing which memories to wipe away.
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Apple Pie Bars. Okay, they only get brief mention in the book but these things are scrumptious! (Note to self – share recipe in future post!)

From chapter 4:

“Rochelle Denison,” she tells him. “Laurie’s mother, Paula, is my dearest friend.”

“When did you get here?”

“Just before Laurie. She came in and starting setting up.” Rochelle tips her head. “Well, the booth was set up from the previous worker, but Laurie had several containers she was unpacking. I was sure they were Paula’s pies. She always bakes for the festival. If you’re going to buy a pie, you must have one of Paula’s. Oh…they’re to die for. And her frosted apple bars…”

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Nearby locations. Though there are few mentions, references to a neighboring towns represent actual locations.

From chapter 7:

I look back at Laurie again. There is no way that doll just happened to be stuffed in her purse. It wouldn’t upset her if that was the case. A snatched baby would.

Tilton turns to Rochelle. “You wouldn’t know who Laurie might leave the child with, do you? A babysitter?”

The woman shrugs. “Paula watches her while Laurie is at work. She drives a half hour each way from Gallipolis every day to watch that sweet baby. She’s her only grandchild and she loves that little one to pieces.” Her eyes crease in sympathy, tears forming within.



The festival itself, of course! Specifics of the festival are a combination of reality and imagination, but the event itself is very much real.

The Inspiration Behind APPLE OF MY EYE

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The first version of APPLE OF MY EYE was written a long time ago. Seriously, I think it’s been more than 10 years. It had a different title, different plot, heck it was even a different genre. I submitted the original manuscript to a handful of agents and one of them was kind enough to give me feedback. I don’t remember everything he said, but he included a letter grade so that I knew where I stood in the grand scheme of quality. He gave me a B-. Ugh.

Coming from an agent who sees thousands of manuscripts each year, maybe that wasn’t too bad, but to me it said one thing – not good enough. I knew I’d need an A+ to get representation, yet alone publication.

I dried my tears, put the manuscript on the shelf, studied the agent’s comments closely, and moved onto another story. My mind traveled back to that last project, but with time came clarity. I knew that as it was, it would never make it. There were just too many flaws and the plot as a whole wasn’t as plausible as it needed to be. I filed the idea permanently. Well, most of it.

More time passed and with every project I attempted to start, I found myself going back to APPLE OF MY EYE (then titled BEYOND THE BRINK). I thought of different ways I could rework it, but none of them grabbed me like they should. After giving it enough thought, I realized that it wasn’t the story nagging at me, it was one key element – the setting.

The story takes place in the small, southern Ohio town of Jackson, a place from my childhood. When I was growing up my family moved several times and no place grew on me quite this little town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Picture lush rolling hills, friendly welcoming faces, and a festival that seemed to draw the support of the whole community.

I admit, my impressions may be skewed by the fact that I was child at the time, but it seemed that everything in the town revolved around its annual Apple Festival. I remember the hours my mom spent making pies (which were sold in a booth to support the school I attended, just like in the book), my school constructing a float, and the thrill of riding on that float in the festival parade. I remember spending long days roaming the blocked-off streets of Jackson, playing carnival games, waiting for my turn on the rides, and bingeing on carnival food. I remember masses lining the streets to watch the parade and the need to get there early to claim a section of sidewalk.

The festival went on for almost a full week and still continues every September. The build up to it gave a feeling similar to an impending Christmas morning, but when the carnival rolled out of town and the booths were torn down for the year, a sense of emptiness smothered the town. We couldn’t wait until it was time to start it all over again the next year.

I was 14 years old when I moved away from Jackson, but no other place from my past has quite the same hold on me. I felt this incredible pull to bring those memories to life and what better way than through fiction? Maybe my original manuscript needed to be scrapped, but that too-important-to-me setting still held promise. I constructed an entirely new plot, eliminated a slew of characters, and created several replacements. I was on my way. BEYOND THE BRINK was dead, but APPLE OF MY EYE was very much alive.

Of course, the story is entirely fictional and truth be told, so is much of the setting. Street names are fake, any businesses or buildings mentioned were constructed only in my mind, and no characters or situations bear any resemblance to real life people. Still, the idea for APPLE OF MY EYE was born entirely from a setting close to my heart.

Despite being a work of pure fiction, some bits of reality are often a great addition and you’ll find that I was careful to preserve a few details in the book.

What are those details and how are they used in the story? Check back next week to find out!