Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Flower Girl Murder by Keith Hirshland (VBT: Book Review / Contest Giveaway)

In association with Virtual Author Book Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for The Flower Girl Murder by author Keith Hirshland!

Book Review

The Flower Girl Murder by Keith Hirshland
Publisher: Independent Self Publishing
Publication Date: eBook February 12, 2018 / PB February 15, 2018
Format: Paperback - 256 pages 
               Kindle - 413 KB
ISBN: 978-0692046685
ASIN: B079T329P3
BNID: 978-0692046685
Genre: Crime - Police Procedural / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller

Buy The Book:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Virtual Author Book Tours. 

Book Description:

Daisy Burns was a likable, devoted wife and mother who spent her spare time volunteering at school events. Everyone loved Daisy. So why would someone shoot her three times and dump her body behind a Planned Parenthood chapter in North Carolina?

With no witnesses and few leads, Raleigh detective Marc Allen turns to the press for help—specifically, veteran news anchor Lancaster Heart. Heart agrees to broadcast the police department’s plea for information in his nightly newscasts.

Elderly viewer and longtime social worker Blanche Avery is positive she recognizes the photograph on the television as an older version of her friend Daisy— the young, heavily pregnant girl she met years before who made the decision to give her child up for adoption.

When Tanner Goochly Jr.—a member of a notorious crime family—becomes the victim of another point-blank shooting, Allen races to discover the connection between the murders. Could it be that Daisy was somehow involved with an illegal enterprise, or was she hiding something else, another secret to be discovered?

The body count is rising, and the suspect pool is widening. As Allen’s investigation reaches a fever pitch, he realizes that a mother’s choice could have killer consequences.

Book Excerpt:

The Flower Girl Murder

Chapter Thirty-five

It was another night of disquieted sleep for Blanche Avery. The visage of the murdered woman seemed to take up permanent residence on the inside of her eyelids, staring sadly back at her whenever the old woman climbed in bed and closed her eyes. Daisy Burns’s death weighed heavily on her mind and even more so on her heart. Blanche was no fool; she knew the world was an unkind place, but she always tried (and sometimes felt she succeeded) to keep the anger, arguments, indignities, and outright violence at arm’s length. Most of it was confined inside the electronic box, and she could watch from the comfort of her favorite living room chair. Her real world was full of sadness; she witnessed it every day. Homeless men and women on the streets, having lost their way and fallen through society’s cracks. Children, some in groups, others alone, on corners or at playgrounds during the time of day when Blanche was certain they should be seated at desks, facing teachers writing on blackboards, in school. Even the dogs and cats she visited on a weekly basis at the shelter near her home. She always stopped in with a smile or a treat, hoping the beagle or the mutt or the calico kitty would be gone, off to a for-real home with loving masters, but it rarely was. But Blanche also knew sadness and strife were not murder. Hardship didn’t have to be permanent. She felt, deep in her heart, there was always hope to be found in life. An opportunity to make the next day better than the last one. But there was no hope in death, no next day for the sorry soul whose life had been stolen. When Blanche prayed, she occasionally even said a prayer for the executioner, but mostly she just wondered how anyone could do such a thing to another living soul. She knew it happened, but having it happen to someone she knew broke her heart. She turned her head to look at the small clock on the bedside table: 3:40 a.m. She knew sleep would not return, but it seemed too early to get up. She got up anyway. After sliding her feet into the new slippers her son had given her for her birthday, she eased into her robe and headed for the kitchen. She flipped on the light and sat down at the small wooden table in the center of the room. A pen and pad of paper, a recent addition, rested on one corner. With a slightly trembling hand, Blanche reached for them both. In the weeks since learning of the young woman’s murder, she had taken to putting pen to paper, finding a place to transfer the jumble of thoughts that disrupted her sleep in the middle of an increasing number of nights. She was surprised, at first, at the sharpness of her mind when it came to recalling the details that were now decades old. She relived the heartbreak of that poor young woman. She harkened back with specific detail to the joy on the faces of the man and especially the woman who would become new parents. And she remembered the child. She could close her eyes and feel the newborn’s soft skin on her cheek, sense the tiny fingers gripping the first two of her left hand. The smell of powder and preciousness invaded her nostrils. Sitting at the kitchen table with hours until sunrise, Blanche Avery cried, and Blanche Avery wrote the words she hoped would explain, then justify, her life while retelling the story of theirs.

My Book Review:

In The Flower Girl Murder, author Keith Hirshland weaves a riveting mystery/police procedural tale that follows Raleigh N.C. Detective Marc Allen, and veteran news anchor Lancaster Heart as they investigate the unexplained murders that start to pile up in their town.

Author Keith Hirshland provides a multi-layered storyline that has enough mystery, suspense, drama, treachery, secrets, and intriguing twists and turns that keeps the reader guessing, while weaving an intricate and complicated web of what the motive of the murders could have been, and the spectrum of possible participants who could have been involved in committing them. And if that isn't enough to captivate the reader, the author adds a wonderful touch of humor and a bit of romance into the mix to keep them entertained.

The Flower Girl Murder is an exciting police procedural/crime mystery story that has realistic characters; witty dialogue and interactions; rich descriptions of the setting that transports the reader to Raleigh, NC, Reno, NV, and Aspen, CO; a fascinating behind the scenes intertwining of police procedural and investigative techniques and the news station on-air news stories and CTA (call to action) segments; and a multi-layered storyline that draws the reader into the interconnection between the main characters as the pieces of the murder investigations puzzle comes together and is solved.

The Flower Girl Murder is the kind of mystery that easily keeps the reader captivated, guessing, on their toes, and wanting more!


About The Author

Award-winning author, Keith Hirshland is an Emmy Award-winning sports television producer with more than three decades of experience producing shows that aired on ESPN and ESPN2. Among the first forty people to be hired by the Golf Channel in 1994, Hirshland was in the middle of the action when it premiered in 1995. He provided his talents for the golf network for close to two decades.

The Flower Girl Murder is Hirshland’s second novel and third book. Big Flies, his first mystery novel, was published in 2016. It is the winner of the New Apple Awards: Solo Medalist Award and runner-up for the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book of the Year.  Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In: Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat is a memoir about his experiences in the television industry. It was Book Talk Radio Club’s Memoir of the Year”.

Hirshland lives in New Jersey with his wife and Bernese mountain dog.

Contest Giveaway

Win An eBook Or PB Copy Of
The Flower Girl Murder
By: Keith Hirshland

Giveaway: The Flower Girl Murder by Keith Hirshland This giveaway is for one print copy or ebook copy of the book. The print copy is available to the U.S. only but the ebook is available worldwide. This giveaway ends on June 29, 2018 at midnight Pacific time. Entries are accepted via Rafflecopter only.

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Virtual Book Tour

Tour Schedule:

Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus May 1 Interview

Dawn Bound 2 Escape May 2 Excerpt

Aurora  Amazon Review May 3 Review

Lu Ann Rockin’ Book Reviews May 4 Review

Lillie Amazon Review May 7 Review

Sherry My Reading Journeys May 10 Review

Stephan Amazon Review May 14 Review

Kathleen Jersey Girl Book Reviews May 18 Review

Carl Brookins Books LLC May 23 review

Liz Devoted Mommy of 3 May 24 Review & Excerpt

Sal Bound 4 Escape June 7 Guest Review

Shannon The Pulp and Mystery Shelf June 11 Interview

Jess JBronder Book Reviews June 22 Review

Mindy A Room Without Books is Empty June 28 Review

Monday, May 14, 2018

Hungry For Love by Maya Sacher (Book Review)

Hungry For Love by Maya Sacher
Publisher: Independent Self Publishing
Publication Date: PB - February 27, 2018 / eBook - March 1, 2018
Format: Paperback - 234 pages
               Kindle - 1961 KB
ISBN: 978-1973428626
Genre: Contemporary Romance / Women's Fiction

Buy The Book:
Amazon (Free Under Kindle Unlimited)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book Description:

Elizabeth, a dentist in her late thirties, doesn’t have it all. She is coping with her husband’s coma, her unresolved grief over her mother’s death, her mixed feelings toward her stepmother, dissatisfaction with her job.

Unexpectedly, she falls in love with a musical zoo curator from Australia. He is divorced, he has a dog and a tween daughter who doesn’t want Elizabeth around.

When her husband wakes up, Elizabeth’s life is thrown into chaos. The choice before her is unbearable because she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, yet she wants to do the right thing, whatever that is. The expectations of her family and her men don’t make it any easier. What should she do? Can she have her cookie and eat it too?

Book Teasers:

My Book Review:

Can you be in love with two people at the same time, and have it be successful? This is the dilemma that thirty-six-year-old Elizabeth Evans-Klein finds herself in when she can't help but love two men at the same time.

In Hungry For Love, Elizabeth Klein is at a crossroads in her life. Elizabeth's husband Jesse, a fashion designer, has been in a coma for close to two years after a freak accident, leaving her feeling all alone and resentful that she can't move forward with her life. She also is fed up with being a dentist in her father's practice, they have a tense relationship, and what she really wants to do is become a cookie baker. Then there is the trauma of her mother's death due to breast cancer when Elizabeth was seven years old that has her in therapy sessions for hypochondria. Add in the family drama with her younger step-sister Jodie, and Elizabeth's therapist tells her that she needs to make a change in her life, she needs to take a break from everything and do something for herself. Who would have thought that a trip to the local zoo and a chance meeting with Australian zoo curator and divorced dad Aidan Sparks would lead to friendship and love? Just when Elizabeth was beginning to feel loved and happy again, Jesse comes out of the coma ... leaving her with a dilemma: she's in love with two men at the same time! Unable to decide who to choose to give her heart to, Elizabeth thinks that maybe she needs both men to love her because she is just that hungry for love.

Hungry For Love is an intriguing women's fiction story about the complexity of a woman's personal and professional life. Author Maya Sacher takes the reader into the inner workings of Elizabeth's life and the intertwining dilemmas that she faces. From flashbacks to Elizabeth and Jesse's relationship/marriage, to her ongoing family drama with her father, step-mother, and step-sister, to the exciting new relationship with Aidan, the reader goes along for the ride on the emotional roller coaster ride as Elizabeth deals with a variety of life dilemmas, choices, and decisions that not only will affect her but the other people in her life as well.

I really enjoyed reading this multi-layered story. I couldn't help but become intrigued by the love triangle, and how Elizabeth, Jesse, and Aidan each dealt with their emotional relationship arrangement. Add in the intensity of Elizabeth's family drama and the origin of her hypochondria, this is a realistic story that will make you wonder how you would handle these inner life dilemma's if you were in Elizabeth's shoes.


About The Author

Maya Sacher is a writer, a law school graduate, an activist, and the author of a short story collection, God’s Sins, and a novel, Horny Girl, both published in Croatia. She travels on occasion, she watches a lot of movies, and she loves a good book, especially books that make her laugh and teach her new things.

Amazon Author Page

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

White Heat by Paul D. Marks (Book Blast Event / Contest Giveaway)

In association with Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the book blast event for White Heat by author Paul D. Marks!

About The Book

White Heat by Paul D. Marks
Book 1: A Duke Rogers PI Thriller Series
Publisher: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: May 21, 2018
Format: Paperback - 340 pages 
               Kindle - 2994 KB
               Nook - 579 KB
ISBN: 978-1946502735
BNID: 2940159059727
Genre: Mystery / Crime / Thriller

Buy The Book:

Book Description:

P.I. Duke Rogers finds himself in a combustible situation in this racially charged thriller. His case might have to wait…

The immediate problem: getting out of South Central Los Angeles in one piece during the 1992 “Rodney King” riots and that’s just the beginning of his problems.

Duke finds an old “friend” for a client. The client’s “friend,” an up and coming African-American actress, ends up dead. Duke knows his client did it. Feeling guilty that he inadvertently helped the killer find the victim, he wants to track down the client/killer. He starts his mission by going to the dead actress’ family in South Central L.A.—and while there the “Rodney King” riots ignite.

While Duke searches for the killer he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from Warren, the murder victim’s brother, who is a mirror image of Jack in that department. He must also confront his own possible latent racism—even as he’s in an interracial relationship with the dead woman’s sister.

Book Excerpt:

We came to Florence and Normandie. Half a block away the cops were regrouping. Or retreating. Or hiding out. It was hard to tell. There was a swarm of them, but they weren’t doing much of anything. People were looting, throwing rocks, bottles and the like right under their noses. As we left the intersection, I glanced back. A large semi was pulling into the intersection. We continued away from the intersection. Later I learned that this was where Reginald Denny, the driver of the semi, was pulled from the truck. Beaten within an inch of his life. We were gone before it happened. But I still have pangs of guilt for having been so close and having done so little. Now I know how lucky we were.
In a sense it was a quid pro quo situation. Tiny’s black face was my passport among his people. My white face was his insurance that the cops might just leave him alone—if they knew he was with me. That might have been why he wanted to help me out. Protection. But it wasn’t an uneasy truce. I felt comfortable with him. Like we’d known each other all our lives. Maybe we had. The last thirty minutes had been a lifetime.
We crouched behind a low wall at a service station, surveying the situation. He watched two sides. I watched the other two, covering each other’s backs. We were both armed; neither of us wanted to use our guns.
Noise barked from every direction. Sirens. Shouts. Choppers hovering. Shots. Too many shots. It all blended into a cacophony of confusion. The din was ear-shattering and lifeless, inert, all at the same time.
“Why’re you helping me?” I asked Tiny as we scoped the street out. He never answered my question, though I asked several more times.
There was an explosion in the distance, then the shock wave. A new column of black smoke appeared every few minutes. Slow-motion funnel clouds.
“Man, don’t they know they’re tearing down their own goddamn neighborhoods,” he said, scanning the horizon. “Where’re they gonna get food and clothes when all this burns to the ground?
Excerpt from White Heat by Paul D. Marks. Copyright © 2018 by Paul D. Marks. Reproduced with permission from Paul D. Marks. All rights reserved.

About The Author

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story Ghosts of Bunker Hill was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. Howling at the Moon (EQMM 11/14) was short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards. Midwest Review calls his novella Vortex “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” Marks’ story Windward, from the Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea anthology, has been selected for the 2018 Best American Mystery Stories (fall 2018), edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler.

Author Website
Amazon Author Page

Contest Giveaway

Win A $20 Amazon Gift Card

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Paul D. Marks. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Gift Card. The giveaway begins on May 8 and runs through May 14, 2018. Void where prohibited.

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Book Blast Event

Event Participants:

Tome Tender

Mythical Books

Celticladys Reviews

Jersey Girl Book Reviews

Quiet Fury Books


A Bookaholic Swede


Aurora Bs Book Blog

Brooke Blogs

The Bookworm Lodge

Cozy Up WIth Kathy

Stacking My Book Shelves!

Mystery Suspense Reviews

Hott Books


Cheryl's Book Nook

Bound 2 Escape

411 on Books, Authors, and Publishing News

CMash Reads

JBronder Book Reviews

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Willow's Way by Sharon Struth (VBRT: Book Review / Contest Giveaway)

In association with Goddess Fish Promotions, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book review tour for Willow's Way by author Sharon Struth!

Book Review

Willow's Way by Sharon Struth
Book 2: A Sweet Life Series
Publisher: Kensington / Penguin Random House / Lyrical Press
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
Format: Paperback - 226 pages
               Kindle - 1559 KB
               Nook - 1 MB
ISBN: 978-1516103591
ASIN: B07465L9HP
BNID: 978-1516103560
Genre: Women's Fiction

Buy The Book:

Buy The Series: A Sweet Life Series
Book 1: The Sweet Life
Book 2: Willow's Way

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author/publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book review tour event hosted by Goddess Fish Promotions. 

Book Description:

Willow Armstrong, the once-famous “Queen of Weight Loss” and president of Pound Busters, succumbed to stress eating after her divorce. Now the scandal of getting caught on camera binging on pizza, and the internet-wide mocking of her new curves, may destroy her career. Add in a business advisor who drained her finances, and Willow is out of options—until she learns she’s inherited a house in England’s most picturesque locale, The Cotswolds.

Willow’s trip across the pond to sell the property and salvage her company soon becomes its own adventure: the house, once owned by grandparents she never met, needs major work. Plus, single dad Owen Hughes, the estate’s resident groundskeeper and owner of a local tour outfit, isn’t thrilled about the idea of leaving . . . Yet as Willow proceeds with her plans, she’s sidetracked by surprising discoveries about her family’s history--and with Owen’s help, the area’s distinctive attractions. Soon, she’s even retracing her roots—and testing her endurance—amid the region’s natural beauty. And the more she delves into the past, the more clearly she sees herself, her future, and the way home . . .

Book Excerpt:

Willow Armstrong could hardly breathe as she stared at the video playing on her laptop. Stupid. She’d been so stupid. Once again, she’d let urges rule her choices, and this time, she’d been exposed.

Willow squinted at the blurred image. Maybe that wasn’t even her. Heck, she’d seen clearer pictures of Sasquatch. “Are you sure that’s me, Becky? I mean, lots of people in Manhattan could own a black Lexus.”

Her assistant remained silent on the other end of the phone for a little too long then said, “Give it a sec. Keep your eyes on the rearview mirror.”

The camera zoomed on the inside of the car and the front mirror came into focus. Willow paused the tape and leaned on the marble kitchen counter to get a closer look. A shiny object hung off the car’s rearview mirror. Was that…?


Dread wormed through her, twisting and turning like a knife in her gut. The silver folded-fork symbol associated with Willow’s weight-loss empire, Pound Busters, dangled off the mirror.

She groaned. “I can’t believe this.”

“I’m sorry. I figured you’d want to know.”

“You made the right call.”

“Now I’m not sure. Why don’t you shut it off?” Becky couldn’t hide her worried tone.

Willow’s heart warmed for her concerned assistant, who had given Willow ten dedicated years of service. Loyal right to the end. And this could be the end.

On the screen, the arrow hovered over the play button. Terrified to see what the rest of the world would, she froze, her hand stilled on the computer mouse.

Thirty minutes and four thousand “likes” ago, Celebrity Secrets had posted the video to their Facebook page. Dear God! Over seven hundred comments she didn’t dare read, and some three hundred shares, all over a slip into Tony’s Slice of Heaven. The mouth-watering goodness of the slice barreled toward her with a vengeance. Just a few moments of cheesy bliss. Was it too much to ask for?

“You there, Willow?”

“Yes.” She drew in a breath that somehow boosted her courage. “I really should watch this.”

She hit the play button. The camera moved and refocused, closing in on the shadowy figure in the driver’s seat until the picture became perfectly clear.

Book Teaser:

My Book Review:

In Willow's Way, author Sharon Struth weaves a wonderful women's fiction story about a woman's personal journey of rediscovering herself.

Willow Armstrong is a forty-year-old divorced woman and founder/CEO of Pound Busters, a successful weight loss company. Willow has always struggled with insecurity and has been self-conscious about her weight since childhood. She had lived in the shadow of a mother who had been a model, and a step-father who ridiculed her. Twenty years ago, at the end of college, Willow started Pound Busters, and became known as "The Queen of Weight Loss." But two years ago after a very embarrassing and publicly humiliating divorce from her ex-husband, Richard Carter, Lieutenant Governor of New York, Willow had a significant weight gain which led to public fat-shaming and an unsure future with the Board of Directors of Pound Busters. 

Desperate to figure out how to change her life around, Willow discovers that she has inherited property in Bitton, England, which had originally been bequeathed to her mother who had passed away in a car accident. Willow travels to England to check out the property and is surprised to uncover long-held family secrets. Along the way, Willow gets a second chance of rediscovering herself with the help of Owen Hughes, a single father and estate groundskeeper and owner of a tour company. 

Willow's Way is a delightful story that transports the reader across the pond to the picturesque English Cotswolds countryside. You can't help but empathize with Willow as her trip to England leads her on a personal journey to find her way after going through some very traumatic and painful situations in her life. With the help of Owen Hughes, Willow learns about her family's past history and gets a second chance to learn how to love herself as she is. You can't help but cheer Willow on as her adventure in England gives her a chance to move forward with her life, and a little bit of romance added to the mix! 

With an enjoyable cast of characters, a richly vivid English countryside setting, and a realistic story of struggle and rediscovery, Willow's Way is a heartwarming women's fiction tale that will keep the reader engaged from beginning to end! 

Willow's Way is the second book in the Sweet Life Series but is a standalone read.

RATING: 5 Stars 

About The Author

Sharon Struth
believes you’re never too old to pursue a dream. The Hourglass, her debut novel, was a finalist in the National Readers’ Choice Awards for Best First Book. She is the author of the popular Blue Moon Lake Novels, which include Share the Moon.

When she’s not working, she and her husband happily sip their way through the scenic towns of the Connecticut Wine Trail, travel the world, and enjoy spending time with their precious pets and two grown daughters. She writes from the friendliest place she’s ever lived, Bethel, Connecticut.

For more information, including where to find her published essays, please visit or visit her blog, Musings from the Middle Ages & More at

Author Website
Amazon Author Page

Contest Giveaway

Win A $10 Amazon or Barnes & Noble Gift Card

Sharon Struth will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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Virtual Book Review Tour

Tour Participants:

April 19: Long and Short Reviews
April 26: My Reading Journeys
April 26: Andi's Book Reviews
May 3: Kimmi Love
May 3: Jersey Girl Book Reviews
May 10: Locks, Hooks and Books
May 10: Bookaholic

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Fix by Robert Downs (VBT: Book Review / Contest Giveaway)

In association with Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for The Fix by author Robert Downs!

Book Review

The Fix by Robert Downs
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Publication Date: December 2, 2017
Format: Paperback - 166 pages (Novella) 
               Kindle - 1018 KB
               Nook - 189 KB
ISBN: 978-1626948174
BNID: 2940158546877
Genre: Noir / Suspense 

Purchase Links:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author/publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours.

Book Description:

Professional gambler, Johnny Chapman, plays the hand he’s dealt, but when he’s dealt a series of losers, he decides to up the ante with more money than he can afford to lose. Just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, it does. The loan shark he owes the money to demands that he pay up and sends his goons after him. The man offers Johnny one way out—fix a race by fatally injecting the dog most likely to win. A piece of cake, Johnny thinks, until he looks into the big brown eyes of the beautiful dog, and the price suddenly seems too great to pay. Now Johnny’s on the run and the goons are closing in…

Book Excerpt:


The taste of liquor still lingered on his lips. Six months without a drink, and he had the chip to prove it. His eyes were downcast, the table was green felt, and his wooden seat jammed the lower part of his back. The overhead light was dim, and he had his hat pulled down over his eyes. Johnny Chapman had lost three hands in a row, and he didn’t want to lose a fourth.
The Indian sat across from him with his hands folded across his chest, wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room, his hair shaved close to his head, and a tooth missing near his front. He cracked his knuckles between hands and even once during. The sound bounced off the walls in the closet of a room.
“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Thomas Kincaid asked. “I ain’t got all night.” His lips formed a sneer before he took a long pull on a dark drink. His eyes flicked in every direction except straight ahead.
“Don’t rush me.”
“If you move any slower, we’ll both be looking up at the daisies,” Thomas replied. He looked at his two cards for what must have been the third time.
Johnny sucked his lip between his teeth, flashed his eyes once toward the ceiling, and flipped a chip onto the deck. The roar in his ears nearly pulled him away from the hand, but the click of the ceiling fan managed to hold his attention. The darkness helped with his focus as well.
The girl sat across from him, dark hair drifting to-ward her shoulders and even a bit beyond. Teeth as white as a bowl of rice. A drop of moisture near her upper lip entered the equation. Her T-shirt bunched out at the front, and her eyes were as cold as Alaska. She played her cards close to her chest, and her bets were even. For the most part. She managed to toss in a few extra chips when she had a hand. But she was a straight shooter and hadn’t bluffed once. Johnny knew it was coming, though. He just didn’t know when. Even if he managed to run like hell, she’d probably still clip him at the ankles. Her chip stack sat more than a third higher than his own.
She had a good smile. That one. Not too much of the pearly whites, but just enough for a man to take notice. The words on her chest accentuated her assets. Tight, clean, and turquoise—the T-shirt, not her breasts.
Johnny’s eyes flicked to his watch, and his phone buzzed in his pocket. The alarm. His leg vibrated for a second more and then it stopped.
It was almost time. The medication. It took the edge off, and stopped his mind from racing off to infinity and beyond. The man with the dark rims and the white lab coat prescribed it in a room bigger than the one he was in now. If he didn’t take his meds in the next ten minutes, the headaches would start soon after.
The ceiling fan whirred again. The backroom was stale and damp, the casino out on the edge of the reservation with nothing but tumbleweed and small trees for over a mile. Diagonally opposite from the little shithole that he called home for the past several years. The run-down piece of trash with the broken Spanish shingles, cracked stucco, and clouded windows.
Seconds turned over, one after another, and still there was no movement from the Indian to his right. Lapu Sinquah flipped his sunglasses up, and dragged them back down, but not before his eyes looked around the table. The Indian made a face and flipped two chips onto the green felt.
The girl was next. She scratched her forehead. Her expression remained neutral. When Caroline Easton flipped her head, her hair remained out of her eyes. Her look resembled cold, hard steel. She followed the Indian with a two-chip flip.
Thomas tossed his cards away, and it was back to Johnny. He felt it: an all-consuming need to win this hand…and the next one…and the one after. Desire consumed him, after all. Or maybe it didn’t.
The hand that got away. The hand that consumed him, pushed him over the edge, and had him calling out in the middle of the night. One voice. One concentrated effort before the moment passed him by. He couldn’t imagine losing, ending up with nothing. Bankrupt.
This minute reasoning had him playing cards night after night, hand after hand, reading player after player. Moment after moment. Until the moments were sick and twisted and filled with jagged edges and punctured with pain. Or left him dead and buried on the side of the road in a ditch with half of his face missing.
The winning streak wouldn’t last. It’d be gone again. Like a sound carried away by the breeze in the middle of a forgotten forest. This time, he wouldn’t fold too soon. This time, he’d play it differently.
The one that got away. The pot in the middle that would have covered three month’s rent. But he tossed his cards aside, even though he’d been staring at the winning hand for damn near three minutes.
His eyes flicked to each of the three players before he once more peeled his cards back from the table and slid the two spades to the side.
The Indian glared at him through the darkness and his dark sunglasses. “Well?” Lapu asked. “What the fuck, man?”
Johnny tossed his shoulders up in the air. “I’m out.”
“Just like that?” Caroline’s long dark hair whipped around her head.
“Sure, why not?”
The Indian rubbed his shaved head. “You’re one crazy motherfucker.”
Johnny shrugged. “I never claimed to be sane.”
The ceiling fan whirred faster, clicking every five seconds. The air was heavy and suffocating, and he yanked on his collar with his index finger. Two drinks were drunk, and a glass clinked against a tooth. One chair slid back and another moved forward.
“There’s over two grand in the pot,” Lapu said.
Johnny gave a slight tilt of his head. “And I know when to walk away.”
The Indian jerked to his feet and extended a finger away from his chest. “It was your raise that started this shitstorm.”
“True,” Johnny said. “And now I’m going to end it.”
Caroline combed her hair with her fingers. “You haven’t ended anything.”
“I’d rather have that as my downfall than lose it all to you nitwits.”
Caroline smirked. Her white teeth glinted against the light overhead. “Who made you queen of the land?”
“I’d like to think it sort of came up on me,” Johnny said. “It sort of took me by surprise. Existence is futile.”
The Indian smirked. His stained teeth were nearly the color of his skin. “Futility won’t help you now.”
The hand was between the girl and the Indian. Her assets versus his. One smirk versus another. The sun-glasses were down, and both the movements and expressions were calculated. Chips were tossed, and the last card was flipped. Caroline took the pot, and her cold expression never wavered.
A ten-minute break ensued. Johnny used the bath-room, washed his hands, shoved two pills into his mouth, cupped his hands underneath the spout, sucked water from his palms, dunked his hands underneath the liquid once more, and splashed the water on his face. He grimaced at his own reflection, the dark, sunken eyes. He sucked in air and dried his hands. His shoes clicked on the broken tile on his way out the door.
His chips hadn’t moved, and neither had the table. The stack of chips was smaller than when he started this game. As the losses mounted, his amount of breathing room decreased. His longest losing streak was thirteen hands in a row.
The blinds were doubled, and his mind numbed. Compassion was a long forgotten equation, and sympathy wasn’t far behind.
The conversation picked up again, and the Indian perfected a new glare. “I never heard so much chatting over a game of cards.”
“It’s not just a game,” Thomas said. “Now, is it?” One dark drink was replaced with another, and the man’s eyes glazed over.
The girl tapped her wrist with two fingers and flipped her hair. “I think we’re already past the point of sanity.”
“If there was ever a point, it was lost—”
“I had a few points of my own that were somehow hammered home.” Johnny flipped three chips into the pot in one smooth motion. He had a hand, and he was determined to play it, even if he had to stare down the girl and the Indian at the same time.
“The game of life succeeds where you might have failed,” Lapu said.
Thomas knocked back the remainder of yet another drink. “I don’t accept failure.”
Johnny’s eyes flicked to his wrist. “You don’t accept success either.”
“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” Thomas asked. “Are you late for a date?”
The girl called and tossed three chips into the pot with only a slight hesitation. She had a hand, or she wanted to make it appear as such. Her lips moved less and less, and her eyes moved more and more. Her features were clearly defined.
Johnny kept his expression even.
“You’re not late for anything that I’ve seen,” Caro-line said.
Both the Indian and Thomas folded.
“I’d like to take you out back and shoot you.”
“Would that somehow solve the majority of your problems?” the Indian asked.
Johnny nodded. “It might solve a few.”
“Or,” she said, “then again, it might not.”
The last card was flipped, and bets were tossed into the center of the pot. Johnny raised, and Caroline countered with a raise of her own. He called, flipped his cards over, and his straight lost to her flush. Half of his stack disappeared in one hand. He ground his teeth and chewed his bottom lip.
“I don’t like you,” Johnny said.
Her expression was colder than Anchorage. “You never liked me.”
“There might have been mutual respect, but that ship sailed out into the great beyond and smacked an iceberg.”
“Does not equal acceptance,” Johnny said.
“It will keep you up most nights,” the Indian said.
Determined not to lose again, Johnny kept his eyes on the prize and his dwindling stack of chips. The girl to his right had never flashed a smile, and now her stack of chips was nearly three times the size of his own. His eyes flicked to his wrist once more, and he grimaced.
For several moments, the ceiling fan took up all the sound in the room.
His breath hiccupped in his chest, and he swayed in his chair. The wood jammed against his lower back, and the angry green felt kept an even expression. His mouth moved, but no sound escaped from between his lips.
He fell out of his chair and cracked his head on the carpet. For the next few minutes, he drifted in and out of consciousness.
< < “Did his heart just stop?” Lapu asked.
Thomas leaned across the table. “What the hell are we talking about now?”
Lapu stood up. “I think that fucker passed out.”
“Which fucker?” Caroline’s chest pressed hard enough against her shirt to slow down her blood flow. Her eyes narrowed, but her hand was steady.
“The one that was losing.”
“That’s all you fuckers.” She tapped her tongue against her upper lip. “You’re all losing.”
Lapu shoved his chair back. “I don’t like losing.”
“But you do it so well.”
Thomas’s body shifted in his chair. “Not on purpose.”
The ceiling fan stopped, and the walls trapped all remnants of sound. One beat of silence was followed by another.
Lapu moved first. He slapped two fingers to Johnny’s wrist and checked for a pulse. The heartbeat was low and weak and arrhythmic.
“What do we do now?” Caroline asked. “Have you got a plan?”
Thomas stood up and sat back down again.
“Cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar,” Lapu said. “Both have the potential to reduce the effects of arrhythmia.”
She pointed. “Or maybe he has pills in his pocket.”
Lapu nodded. “That is also an option. Check his pockets while I prop up his head.”
“I need another drink,” Thomas said. “I’d rather not be sober if a man is going to die.”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”
Lapu had watched his father die with a look on his face not that far from the one Johnny wore now: the lost eyes and the still body, with his spirit on the verge of leaving this world for the next. Lapu poked through his pockets in a methodical fashion and found a prescription bottle with a half-peeled label. He popped the top, poked his finger through the slot, and removed two pills. He peeled Johnny’s lips apart, shoved the pills inside his mouth, and forced him to swallow. Minutes later, his life force had altered considerably, and color had returned to Johnny’s cheeks.
Lapu nodded his head. “There’s a purpose to every-thing.”
Thomas leaned over and slapped Johnny on the cheek. “I believe in the possibilities of a situation. Those moments that lead from one into the next, filled with passion and compassion and equality, and some other shit.”
Caroline smirked. “Which is what exactly?”
“Not losing another hand.”
Johnny inched his way to a sitting position and slapped his forehead. “Fuck me—”
“Not likely,” Caroline said. “It neither looks enjoy-able nor promising, but that’s a nice try, though.”
“Your perspective has gotten skewed,” Thomas re-plied.
“That’s certainly possible,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be so sure.”
< <
More hands were played, and more hands were lost. Johnny’s stack of chips diminished faster until he was left with two red ones and half a drink. His even expression had vanished long ago, and his feet had started tap-ping during the last three hands. The Indian had six chips to Johnny’s two, and the rest were distributed between Thomas and Caroline, with the girl staring above a tower nearly level with her chin. Her expression hadn’t changed, and neither had her methodical approach to playing cards.
The barrel of a gun dug into Johnny’s lower back-side after he expunged the last two chips he had to his name. He didn’t have time to move or breathe, and he hadn’t even noticed Thomas shift his weight and remove the pistol from somewhere on his person. But the digging did further enhance Johnny’s focus and destroy his moral support. “Cuff him.”
“What the fuck?” Johnny replied.
“It’s time you realized the full extent of your losing.”
Johnny couldn’t see Caroline’s expression, but her voice was filled with menace and hate and exhibited more force than a battering ram.
“Stand up, you piece of trash.”
The gun shifted, and Johnny rose. The room spun, and he considered passing out all over again, but he pulled himself back and inched his way toward the metal door that was a lifetime away.
The barrel against his back never moved or wavered.
< <
She hated cards. Had hated the act and aggression of gambling most of her life. The thrill of winning and the heartbreak of defeat neither moved nor motivated her. Tossing chips into a pot, calculating the odds in her head, reading players around the table, and playing the hands of the other players instead of playing her own made her head throb from the weight of the proposition. But she did it, over and over again. If she thought about it long enough and hard enough, Caroline might have called herself a professional gambler, but that was a term she hated even more than the act of taking money from unsuspecting souls who had a penchant for losing. But if her two choices were paying the rent, or living on the street, she would choose rent every time and worry about the consequences later.
She couldn’t change her fate, or her odds. All she could do was play the hand she was dealt, match it up against what the other guys and gals had around the table, and study the ticks and idiosyncrasies that made each player unique. Over-confidence and euphoria were concepts she knew well, and she could smell it coming like a New Mexican thunderstorm. Even though she understood what she needed to do, she hated her hands even more than she hated long division. With each passing second, her trepidation grew, and the calm she exuded on the surface was a thunderstorm underneath the shallow exterior. It had gotten to the point that it was totally out of control, and probably would be for the rest of her life. It wasn’t satisfying, or even mesmerizing, and yet here she was week after week, going through the motions. The same types of players sat around the table with the same types of expressions painted on their uneven faces. The voice in her mind echoed in time, and she did her best to keep the whispers at bay. But the plan backfired, just as all good plans did that were built on a foundation of lies.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Caroline asked.
“Trying to win,” Johnny said. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Losing,” she said. “And not even admirably. You really are one stupid bastard.”
She had been called to test him, to see if he would break and crumble beneath the weight of a bad hand or two or ten, and he had folded faster than a crumpled handbag smashed against a mugger’s face. She had chipped away steadily at his chips, until two red ones were all he had left, and a tower of multicolored circles stood in front of her.
< <
Johnny had a hand that was planted in his lap by the gods, or maybe it was Julius Caesar himself. He couldn’t remember the number of times he’d lost in a row. Six or maybe it was seven. The torment and punishment continued unabated, and he licked his lips more with each passing second. The hands played out one after another against him, and the gates of Hell had opened before him. The girl to his right was methodical, and the jabs kept on coming, one right after another.
Her hands were probably her best feature. The way her fingers slid across the table, shoving chips and poking at her cards, and prodding the weaknesses of those around her, only made him long for her even more.
But this was it. His moment. And he wasn’t about to let it pass him by. Two minutes later, though, the moment passed, his chips were gone, a gun was shoved against his backside, and he was escorted out of the building.
Excerpt from The Fix by Robert Downs. Copyright © 2017 by Robert Downs. Reproduced with permission from Robert Downs. All rights reserved. 

My Book Review:

In author Robert Down's gritty noir suspense novella, The Fix, the reader meets down-on-his-luck gambler, Johnny Chapman. Johnny has lost the last of his money at a card game and loan shark Harrison Barrymore wants him to pay his debt. Harrison offers Johnny a way out: fix the next dog race by doping the dog that has been winning races lately. Johnny figures he could do the job, that is until he looks into Sam the dog's eyes, and Johnny realizes that he can't do it. So now what does Johnny do? He runs for his life from the loan shark's henchmen, trying to stay one step ahead in order to save his life!

The Fix is a fast-paced gritty noir novella that is full of in your face action and suspense that easily keeps the reader engaged. Author Robert Downs interweaves Johnny's flaws and troubles that he finds himself in as his life spirals downward with the same kind of down-on-your-luck troubles of his ex-girlfriend, Gwendoline Nivea in an alternating fashion that makes the reader stay on their toes. I kind of thought that this alternating interweaving of Johnny and Gwendoline's stories was confusing because I thought the premise of the story was supposed to be primarily focused on the trouble that Johnny found himself in after he didn't fix the dog race. Somehow the madcap dangerous adventure Johnny found himself in with the goons chasing him down was further into the story than I had expected. In any case, I did appreciate the suspense and dark humor that is prevalent throughout the book, it was quite entertaining. I just wish that maybe the story could have focused only on Johnny's crazy adventures, and not have been interwoven with his ex-girlfriend's life problems too. 

My Rating: 3 STARS 

About The Author

Author Robert Downs aspired to be a writer before he realized how difficult the writing process was. Fortunately, he’d already fallen in love with the craft, otherwise his tales might never have seen print. Originally from West Virginia, he has lived in Virginia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and now resides in California. When he’s not writing, Downs can be found reading, reviewing, blogging, or smiling.

Author Website
Amazon Author Page

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