Book Club Mom’s Author Update: Tammie Painter

Author name: Tammie Painter

Book to feature: The Undead Mr. Tenpenny, The Cassie Black Trilogy Book One

News to share: I’m thrilled to announce the launch of The Undead Mr. Tenpenny, the first book in my new series, The Cassie Black Trilogy. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but the novel — which is full of dark humor — first came to mind while I was waiting for my grandmother’s funeral to start.

The book begins when Cassie Black, who works at a funeral home, finds her “clients” waking up.

Cassie thinks she has the problem under control, until her latest client (Mr. Tenpenny) insists he’s been murdered and claims Cassie’s responsible thanks to a wicked brand of magic she’s  been exposed to. The only way for Cassie to get her life back to normal is to tame her magic and uncover Mr. Tenpenny’s true killer.

Simple right? Of course not. Because while Cassie works on getting her newly-acquired magic sorted, she’s blowing up kitchens, angering an entire magical community, and discovering her past is more closely tied to Busby Tenpenny than she could have ever imagined.

The novel earned some happy kudos from a branch of the American PEN Women when it won first place in their novel excerpt contest, and again from Apple who selected it as one of their Most Anticipated Books of 2021.

But what’s truly brought a smile to my face are the responses from my early reviewers who have loved the characters, the humor, and the overall premise of the book.

Anyway, If you like contemporary fantasy with snarky humor, unforgettable characters, piles of pastries, and a little paranormal mystery, you’ll love the Cassie Black Trilogy…a fish-out-of-water tale that takes you from the streets of Portland to the Tower of London.

Brief bio and other books: I’m an award-winning author who turns wickedly strong tea into imaginative fiction. With a creative and curious mind, my stories run the gamut from historical fantasy to modern-day paranormal, and magical realism to humor-laced dark tales.

Besides the new trilogy, I’ve got two, complete historical fantasy series under my belt: The Osteria Chronicles and Domna, plus a fair number of short stories.

Website and social media links:
BookBub: @TammiePainter
Instagram: tammiepainter
Twitter: @tammie_painter

Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.

Email Book Club Mom at for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between. Author submissions are limited to one per author in a six-month period.

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Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, Yes
Mary Beth Keane

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I very much enjoyed this story about two families in a suburban town outside New York. A tragic event splits them apart and the resulting pain haunts them for decades. The story begins in New York in 1973 as Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope graduate from the police academy. Marriage and children follow and the two families become next door neighbors in the fictional town of Gillam. As the children grow, Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope become best friends and are on the verge of romance until the night that changes the course of both families’ lives.

After that night, Kate and Peter’s families are burdened with trying to move on and many other problems, including hushed family secrets and worries of history repeating itself. Each character wonders if the events could have been altered had they acted differently. They struggle with marriage, parenthood, and the rippling effects of mental illness, alcoholism and sexual abuse. And whether they like it or not, their families will always be interconnected.

What I liked most about this book is the way I got to know the characters and saw how they worked through situations over time, finding their way back to each other. But first, readers see how the families, engaged in daily life, don’t acknowledge their deeper problems until they lead to bigger crises. I also liked Brian’s brother, George, whose quiet resilience and self-knowledge is there for any of them to see, if they would only notice. By the end of the story, I felt like I understood why each acted the way they did.

I don’t want to give anything more away, because family dramas are much more enjoyable if you experience the events as they unfold. And although the families’ problems seem overwhelming, friendship, love, acceptance and forgiveness ultimately dominate.

Ask Again, Yes was voted a 2019 Summer Read by fans of Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show (read about that here). And for readers who like to know how authors develop stories, here’s a BookPage interview with Mary Beth Keane.

I recommend Ask Again, Yes to readers who like family sagas and stories about resilience. I think it would make a good book club book.

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Book Review: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

My Lovely Wife
Samantha Downing

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this debut thriller/dark humor novel, a picture-perfect marriage has shocking secrets beneath its shiny facade. To outsiders, Millicent and her husband have the perfect life. They live with their two teenagers in Hidden Oaks, the good part of Woodview, Florida. She sells real estate and her husband teaches tennis at the country club. They have friends. They go to work. Their kids play sports. And they are loyal to their traditions: family dinners, movie night, a standing lunch date after Saturday soccer, and guaranteed ice cream after a trip to the dentist. But Millicent and her husband play a secret deadly game. And when the stakes and pressure rise, they take greater risks to keep their secret hidden, until the dynamics of their marriage betray them.

Narrated by the husband, we learn the couple’s backstory, how they met and fell in love, and their early years as young parents. We also learn about their disturbing second life and how it fuels their marriage. When they change course, their actions begin to affect their children and the people in town. Soon, the husband reveals his own secrets and we see the trust between them erode.

Sandwiched between Millicent and her husband’s schemes are the daily activities of a normal American family and the typical problems that arise for working parents, moody adolescents and the ever-growing presence of social media and the news media. Similar in mood to shows like You, Dexter and Ozark, the characters’ mundane problems in My Lovely Wife offer comic relief to stories in which people lead secret lives which would be too dark by themselves.

Despite the obvious creepiness and some disturbing violence, I liked My Lovely Wife. While its main characters are mostly despicable, the husband reveals a glimmer of conscience, something interesting to think about. Readers who search for at least one likable character will find a couple in the side characters. Several entertaining twists, including a big reveal in the final pages will force the reader to look back and decide who is bad, who is worse, who is a little of both and what the future holds.

I recommend My Lovely Wife to readers who like thrillers and dark humor and I look forward to more books by Samantha Downing.

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Book Review: The Perfect Wife by Blake Pierce

The Perfect Wife
Blake Pierce

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a quick psychological suspense novel, you might be interested in The Perfect Wife by Blake Pierce, the first in the Jessie Hunt series. In this debut, Jessie Hunt and her husband Kyle Voss have moved from Los Angeles to a wealthy neighborhood in the coastal town of Westport Beach. Kyle is a rising star at the wealth management firm where he works. Jessie is about to finish her degree in forensic psychology and has lined up a practicum at the Non-Rehabilitative Division, a high-risk unit at the local state hospital. Jessie will conduct a series of interviews with Bolton Crutchfield, a convicted serial killer.

Kyle is all about climbing the ladder and they soon join the local yacht club where he hopes to make lucrative business contacts. But Jessie senses something strange about the yacht club and thinks her new friends and neighbors have too many secrets.

As Kyle submerges himself in work, Jessie conducts interviews with Crutchfield, who seems to know too much about her and her weaknesses. Is there some connection the reader doesn’t know about? At home, tension grows between Jessie and Kyle and a fateful decision after a wild yacht club party brings it all to a head, revealing all.

This is a short and fast-paced thriller in which Pierce’s characters are just coming to life. Although characters are not fully developed and the plot line is wild and unbelievable, the story moves well and is a solid 3-star read.

I recommend The Perfect Wife to readers who enjoy series debuts and like to see how characters may develop in future stories.

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Book Review: A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

A Murder of Magpies
Judith Flanders

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Samantha Clair, an editor at Timmons and Ross, has a hot manuscript in her hands. The author is fashion journalist Kit Lovell and he’s about to expose the French couture house of Vernet in his new book, The Gilded Life and Tarnished Death of Rodrigo Alemán. Alemán is the company’s former CEO, now deceased under questionable circumstances. In the manuscript, Lovell claims Vernet has been involved in money laundering and worse.

The story begins when the bicycle courier delivering the manuscript to Timmons and Ross is killed in a hit and run. When Lovell is robbed and disappears and Samantha’s London apartment is mysteriously searched, Sam finds herself in the middle of an investigation. She teams up with Inspector Jacob Field and calls upon her mother, Helena, a powerful solicitor, to solve the hit and run and find Lovell.

Though not a detective, Sam plunges into the sometimes-dangerous investigation, often without Jake’s knowledge. And once they start digging, they discover a much more involved system of crimes with many players. Flanders introduces several mysterious characters, including Sam’s upstairs neighbor, the retired Pavel Rudiger, who never leaves his apartment, and an unnamed lurker who seems to be following Sam. Sam also meets more than a dozen others, including professors, editors, and a crew of solicitors from various firms.

Sam must also tend to problems at the office. Most important is figuring out what to do with one of her authors, the possibly over-the-hill chick-lit writer Breda McManus, whose new manuscript reads like a clunker. Flanders gives readers an amusing look into the publishing business and its politics, one of the stronger parts of the story.

After a complicated middle, Flanders introduces additional characters who quickly push the story to a neatly tied-up finish, solving both the mystery of Lovell’s disappearance and the crimes associated with Vernet.

I thought this story was okay, but felt the crime plot was unnecessarily complicated and a little hard to follow. There’s also an awkwardness between characters and maybe that’s because A Murder of Magpies is the first in the mystery series and readers don’t know them yet. That said, I liked several of the side characters and would like to see them in future stories. In addition, the suggestion of a future romance in Helena’s life would make for some interesting subplots.

So just an average mystery, but with the promise of better stories and characters as they develop. There are three more books in the Sam Clair series. You can learn more about them here.

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Audiobook review: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn, read by Ann Marie Lee

The Woman
in the Window
A. J. Finn

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Here’s a quick audiobook review of The Woman by the Window by A. J. Finn, read by Ann Marie Lee. This is a suspenseful psychological thriller set in New York about a woman who has suffered an unexplained tragedy and now lives apart from her husband and young daughter. An agoraphobic, she hasn’t left her house in nearly a year. Instead, she watches old Hitchcock movies, drinks wine, self-medicates and spies on her neighbors through the zoom lens of a powerful camera. One day, she sees something terrible through the window of a new family’s home. When she tries to report it, no one believes her and she begins to wonder if she imagined it. Her increasingly frantic, and unreliable narrative places the reader (and listener) in the mind of an unraveling trained psychologist who can’t treat herself properly.

Through interactions with her family, psychiatrist, online chess players, fellow agoraphobes, her physical therapist, neighbors and the man who rents her basement apartment, Dr. Anna Fox’s back story comes into focus. But while the details of her story may become clear, what isn’t clear is whether she saw what she thought she saw. Readers may want to believe her because she describes the details so vividly, but there’s a lot else going on with the neighbors and her tenant to cause suspicion. As Fox continues to drink recklessly and down her medications in fistfuls, Finn propels Fox towards a tense showdown between her own demons and others.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Woman in the Window. Ann Marie Lee is a fantastic narrator of this excellent story. She effectively portrays a wide variety of characters, scenes and emotions and I was gripped throughout. One particularly emotional scene towards the end is especially convincing. I also like how Finn ties the old movies she watches into the plot, particularly Rear Window and Vertigo.

The unreleased 2020 film of The Woman in the Window is directed by Joe Wright and stars Amy Adams and Gary Oldman. It’s scheduled to be released on Netflix in 2021. Read more about the film here and here. I’m looking forward to watching it!

I recommend The Woman in the Window to readers and listeners who like psychological thrillers, though I wouldn’t recommend listening while you’re driving – it’s that engrossing!

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Book Review: The Searcher by Tana French

The Searcher
Tana French

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I enjoyed reading Tana French’s new standalone novel, The Searcher, a suspenseful crime story set in western Ireland. Here’s what it’s about:

When forty-eight-year-old Cal Hooper quits the Chicago police force, he thinks a move to the small village of Ardnakelty will be far enough away to forget his problems. He likes the small-town atmosphere and plans to spend his early retirement fixing up the neglected cottage he purchased. His neighbor, Mart and the locals have welcomed him and the village shopkeeper, Noreen is ready to fix him up with her widowed sister. Life is looking good. Then thirteen-year-old Trey Reddy shows up. Trey’s nineteen-year-old brother, Brendan, has disappeared and Trey, a neglected member of the shunned Reddy family, is desperate to find him. No longer a detective, Cal makes no promises, but agrees to look into Brendan’s disappearance.

Cal questions Brendan’s buddies and others in the village, but their evasive answers raise more questions. What’s clear is that Ardnakelty and the larger town of Kilcarrow have bred a restless youth. Maybe Brendan left for London for a better life. Or is the answer up in the intimidating mountainside where the Reddy family lives and where overgrown paths and dangerous bogs warn outsiders to stay out?

Cal senses a hidden and darker part of the town and its people and soon, confusing warnings and a series of violent events threaten Cal’s investigation. Will Cal be able to keep his promise to Trey? French reveals that Cal’s quest to solve the mystery is partly personal. He’s left a failed marriage in Chicago and a career that’s gone bad. In short, he has lost his moral code and wants it back. But first he must understand Ardnakelty’s own complex code.

Parallel to Cal’s investigation is French’s atmospheric portrayal of a remote village with its long histories and complex relationships between families as modern twists to old problems, such as how to earn a living, have seeped into their lives.

Mart’s neighbor tells Cal, “When I was a young lad, we knew what we could want and how to get it, and we knew we’d have something to show for it at the end of the day. A crop, or a flock, or a house, or a family. There’s great strength in that. Now there’s too many things you’re told you want, there’s no way to get them all, and once your done trying, what have you got to show for it at the end?”

The Searcher is a layered story about relationships, personal histories and the pressures of a changing world, set in a place of ominously changing weather. I chose The Searcher because I read In the Woods, French’s debut and the first of the Dublin Murder Squad series, a few years ago and thought it was excellent. I plan to return to the series this year. Have you read any of Tana French’s books? Leave a comment below!

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Book review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Jar of Hearts
Jennifer Hillier

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Geo Shaw, Angela Wong and Kaiser Brody are inseparable high school friends until Calvin James approaches them at the 7-Eleven near school. Calvin is older and a little bit dangerous and what’s better is that he’s chosen Geo over Angela. Tired of playing second to her friend, she’s not about to let him go. Meanwhile, all Kaiser can do is watch as the girl he loves falls for the wrong guy.

But Calvin is more than a little bit dangerous. He’s controlling and abusive and Geo falls blindly into the dynamic. And when Angela confronts her friend, Geo denies the abuse. After a drunken high school party, Geo tries to keep everyone friendly, but Calvin’s darker side emerges. And the next morning, Angela goes missing. Calvin and Geo keep quiet because they know the terrible truth about what happened. Calvin quickly disappears. Geo goes to college, gets and MBA and redefines herself as a corporate executive. Fourteen years later, she’s a vice president at Shipp Pharmaceuticals and engaged to the CEO.

Then Angela’s remains are uncovered. Detective Kaiser Brody links Calvin and Geo to Angela’s death and breaks the Sweetbay Strangler case wide open, identifying Calvin as the serial killer who has terrorized Seattle. Calvin is sentenced to life in prison and Geo gets five years for her role in Angela’s death. Kaiser’s feelings for Geo are just as strong and he’s determined to keep an eye on her while she’s in prison, especially after Calvin slips Geo a mysterious note in the courtroom.

The rest of the story covers Geo’s prison term, the time after her release and character backstories. In addition, readers learn important details about the night Angela died. A wild and surprising conclusion explains why Geo and Calvin acted the way they did.

Jar of Hearts really grew on me after I finished reading it and especially after my mystery book club Zoom yesterday. Afterwards, I started to think more about the characters and their motivations. Geo, Calvin and Kaiser all crave love and this story is about their quests to obtain it. I like how they all have that in common to different degrees, but you may be shocked when you learn more about them. In addition, Geo and Calvin are survivors and will do whatever it takes. Kaiser is willing to overlook Geo’s past if it gives him a chance with her. And a surprise character makes the relationships even more complicated, giving readers a lot to think about.

Jar of Hearts was published in 2018 and won the 2019 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel. The title refers to Christina Peri’s debut single of the same name in 2010. In it, Peri sings angrily about a love interest who wants to get back together. You can watch the video here.

I recommend Jar of Hearts to readers who like psychological thrillers and suspense novels.

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Audiobook review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova, narrated by the author

Still Alice
Lisa Genova

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I recently listened to Still Alice by Lisa Genova, a fictional account of a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The story begins with Alice Howland at the peak of her career. At fifty years old, she’s a renowned professor of psycholinguistics at Harvard University. She and her husband, John, a professor of biology, have spent their careers researching and teaching at Harvard. Despite some slight tension in their marriage over John’s lab schedule and a daughter who has skipped college to become an actress, everything is pretty good in the Howland family and with their two other adult children.

But then Alice starts forgetting things and gets lost after a jog, just minutes from her home. And worse lapses follow.

Alice and her family are stunned by the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The book looks at the disease from Alice’s point of view and chronicles her inevitable decline. Genova also shows how the family reacts. John’s denial and then his aggressive search for the best medicines and trials are a reflection of his scientific mind. Because her strain of the disease is genetic, their adult children grapple with the news and results of their own testing. The Howlands rally around Alice, but they also take inward paths. John is sometimes supportive and other times he escapes into his career. Their children are just beginning their adult lives, a period that’s meant for them, not a sick parent. Genova presents an interesting dynamic between the siblings and their parents and shows how they step up, and back, in different ways.

Alice copes in surprising ways. Her brilliant mind has enabled her to use creative work-arounds, a strategy that has likely covered up her disease before she was diagnosed. She offers surprising insight as she devises a private plan to measure and face her decline.

Genova outlines this heartbreaking scenario with detailed scientific explanations and provides many resources for patients and families who suffer with Alzheimer’s.

While I found the story compelling and important, I was disappointed in its telling. Genova presents her story awkwardly. It’s a third-person look into Alice’s mind, using a lot of plain dialogue and coupled with long and scientific explanations of the disease, reading more like an informational pamphlet than a novel. I wanted to learn more about the Howlands and felt these characters could have been better developed, a missed chance that could have made the story great. I was also sorry to have chosen the audiobook version. Genova’s narration was plain with little inflection, making the characters all sound the same. A professional narrator would have made a huge difference.

Still Alice was adapted to film in 2014 and stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parish. It was directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. The film won many awards and Moore won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

All-in-all, I’d recommend Still Alice to readers who want to know more about how Alzheimer’s affects its patients and their families, but I’d steer you to the print version.

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Book Review: The Last Pilgrim by Noelle Granger

The Last Pilgrim
Noelle Granger

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve always been interested in American history, especially that of the early American settlers, who endured many hardships as they built lives in a new land. I very much enjoyed reading Noelle Granger’s latest book, The Last Pilgrim, a rich historical fiction about Mary Allerton Cushman, the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower.

In 1620, Mary Allerton was four years old when she and her family arrived on the Mayflower in what would soon become Plymouth Colony. She grew up and married Thomas Cushman, a man she’d known since childhood, who became a Ruling Elder of the colony. Together they worked the land and raised eight children. Like all of the settlers, however, they faced many dangers and endured sickness, hardship and loss. Both Thomas and Mary lived long lives, despite these trials. Thomas died in 1691 at age eighty-four and Mary died in 1699 at age eighty-three.

This well-researched story is told mostly in Mary’s voice and some in her father, Isaac Allerton’s. It portrays her as a bright young girl, full of questions and a mind of her own. When her mother dies, Isaac Allerton fears that Mary, his youngest child and a willful girl, will be without proper supervision. He places her in Governor William Bradford’s household where Alice Bradford teaches her the many difficult tasks assigned to women, including caring for children, cooking, gardening, spinning wool, weaving flax, helping with childbirth, learning herbal remedies, and making candles, soap and beer. As a member of the Bradford household, Mary’s inquisitive mind is also tuned in to William Bradford’s colony business, an interest she cultivates and maintains throughout her life, and for which she often receives rebukes from her husband. “It isn’t your place to question me, wife. I’m responsible for our welfare and will see to it,” Thomas tells her.

Granger’s unfiltered history also reveals the complex and ever-changing relationships colonists had with the different Native American tribes, who were often at war with each other and had treaties and alliances with different tribes and colonies. She shows this darker side of American history, a time when settlers stole corn from the natives, pillaged their camps and, during times of war, massacred Indians, including women and children. Other descriptions reveal the colonists’ challenges as they try to establish a community, including the ever-present pressure for payment of debts to the Merchant Adventurers, who financed their voyage, and the simmering conflict with England over independence.

Family life and the Separatists’ religious beliefs are also prominent themes in Granger’s story and she portrays the settlers matter-of-factly in their efforts to worship, propagate and govern. Discipline was important as well as knowing one’s place and while Granger’s Cushmans love their children, they raise them under the strict rules of the times, with frequent thrashings for impertinence. Punishments for transgressions in their community include hangings and other harsh sentences. It’s no wonder these early settlers were tough, which likely made them able to survive.

The Last Pilgrim is full of life and history and is an uncensored look at early American settlers. Granger’s extensive research is evident in its telling and I found it easy to imagine Mary Cushman’s life with all its difficulties as well happy times. I recommend The Last Pilgrim to readers who enjoy historical fiction and want to learn more about early American life.

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