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Books to Read This Fall, Based on Your Latest Binge Watch

By Lizzy Hosty

With all the new content lately, it’s easy to get sucked into a series and binge the whole show. After catching up on the latest season of a popular show or watching an intense limited series with twists and turns, check out the books we suggest below to complement your watching experience!


If you love You then try Her Perfect Life

Image Place holder  of - 52If you use social media, then you’ve probably seen the memes from You (season 3) floating around right now. And rightfully so! This gripping series showcases what happens when charming yet awkward crushes become something even more ominous and obsession goes a little too far. If you’re a fan of You, then we promise you’ll love Hank Phillippi Ryan’s latest novel, Her Perfect Life, which is a thrilling story about a successful and beloved television reporter who has it all. But to keep it, all she has to do is protect one life-changing secret: Her own. While You poses the question: “What would you do for love?,” Her Perfect Life poses the question: “How much will she risk to keep her perfect life?” And both have the same sinister answer: “Everything.”

If you love The Undoing, then try I Don’t Forgive You

Poster Placeholder of - 13If you couldn’t get enough of watching Nicole Kidman (and her gorgeous coats) as the successful psychologist watching her world fall apart in a twisty murder mystery, then make I Don’t Forgive You your next read. Allie Ross thinks she has it all – career, family, new house in the suburbs. But it all comes crashing down when she is suspected of murdering one of her new neighbors. This page-turner about a mother’s desperate attempts to keep her life together is a ride you won’t forget. 

If you love Mare of Easttown, then try And Now She’s Gone

Place holder  of - 60After you finish watching the twists and turns of Mare of Easttown, be sure to check out And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall. Both Mare and Grayson Sykes have to make tough decisions to try and find people who may or may not be missing – and both will have you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out just what is the truth and what is deception.

 

If you love The Great British Baking Show, then try The Lights of Sugarberry Cove

Image Placeholder of - 81Are you someone who likes to try their hand at creative baking and finding new recipes? Do you have a sweet tooth that you’re always looking to satisfy? Or do you perhaps like to wind down at the end of the day by focusing on some good, wholesome content? If any of these apply to you, then we heartily suggest you check out The Lights of Sugarberry Cove by Heather Webbera delightful book about family dynamics, healing, love, small town Southern charm, good food, and a touch of lake magic. And while you’re at it, you can accompany it by watching episodes of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix because it’s equally as wholesome and endearing! 

If you love Joe Pera Talks With You, then try A Bathroom Book for People Not Pooping or Peeing but Using the Bathroom as an Escape

Placeholder of  -59If you’re a fan of Joe Pera’s cozy comedy Joe Pera Talks With You  on Adult Swim, then it’s a no-brainer that you’ll love his first book. Here you’ll find all the wholesome, deadpan comedy you’ve come to expect from Joe. But you’ll also be delighted to find Joe Bennett’s illustrations that bring the book to life. This charming little read will not only make you feel good, it will make you feel better. Who doesn’t love a bit of sincerity along with silliness?

If you love Hallmark holiday movies, then try An Irish Country Yuletide or It’s a Wonderful Woof

Have you found yourself ready to skip straight to the holiday season and watch cozy Christmas Hallmark movies? You are not alone! Hallmark started their Christmas countdown on October 22nd, which means it is now totally acceptable to start drinking eggnog and hanging stockings. While you sit by the fireplace, be sure to grab either It’s a Wonderful Woof by Spencer Quinn or An Irish Country Yuletide by Patrick Taylor, two delightful holiday treats!

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5 Mystery & Thriller Books Set in Los Angeles

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By Lizzy Hosty

Australian novelist and #1 New York Times bestselling author Candice Fox’s newest novel Gathering Dark is a standalone thriller set in Los Angeles. To get you ready to read Gathering Dark, out March 16th, here are some more suspenseful novels also set in the City of Angels!

 

 


And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall

Placeholder of  -21Troubled by her past, Grayson Sykes is now tasked with finding Isabel Lincoln, but Grayson quickly discovers that Isabel might not be missing; she might not want to be found.

 

 

Dead West by Matt Goldman

Image Placeholder of - 72The fourth entry in the critically acclaimed Nils Shapiro series, Dead West follows Minneapolis private detective Shapiro on yet another exciting case. What seems to be a cut and dry investigation – is Beverly Mayer’s grandson throwing away his trust fund in Hollywood in the wake of his fiancée’s tragic death? – soon turns deadly, as Nils Shapiro realizes there are people out there who want the Mayer family dead.

Indigo by Loren D. Estleman

Poster Placeholder of - 2Indigo, book 6 in the Valentino Mysteries series, has Valentino tasked with collecting a prized donation to the university’s library; Bleak Street, classic noir movie thought lost to time. The rising star of the movie, Van Oliver, disappeared before the movie was finished, and everyone suspected his alleged ties to the mob had come back to haunt him. Now, Valentino wants to be the first to release the movie, and knows the best way to entice an audience: finding out what exactly happened to Van Oliver.

Made To Kill by Adam Christopher

Image Place holder  of - 79An ode to the classic film noir, Made to Kill is Adam Christopher’s fourth book following LA detective Ray Electromatic, who always solves the case – even if he forgets the case after 24 hours when his robotic memory gets wiped. His newest client is strangely familiar, and Ada, the supercomputer inside his ear, won’t tell him if he’s met her before. Racing against the clock to solve the case before his memory is wiped, Ray tries to solve the mystery of the missing Hollywood star, and figure out where he’s met the client before.

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Candice Fox comes a new mystery, this time set in California. Dr. Blair Harbour, once a respected surgeon and now an ex-con trying to reconnect with her son, is asked for help to find her former cell mate’s missing daughter. The only person standing in her way is the detective already on the case, and the person who arrested Blair for murder, Detective Jessica Sanchez.

 

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Holiday Treats for Your Holiday Reads

By Julia Bergen

What we all need this holiday season is to sit down with a book and some treats. It’s socially distanced, it’s relaxing, it’s everything you need right now. But what treats go with what book? No worries, friend, we’ve thought this out so you don’t have to. Now get back to decorating that tree/cooking that turkey/ordering that Indian food/living your best pandemic life.


Image Place holder  of - 18A Resolution at Midnight by Shelley Noble – Champagne Truffles

Even if you’re not reading A Resolution at Midnight on New Year’s Eve, you can still feel like you’re ringing in the New Year with a champagne truffle. This historical mystery is set in Gilded Age Manhattan, right during Christmas season, and Shelley Noble is ready to transport you to the streets of Old New York. Just make sure to hold your pinky out while you eat your truffles; Lady Dunbridge is an aristocrat, after all!

Image Placeholder of - 57A Dog’s Perfect Christmas by W. Bruce Cameron – Peanut Butter Cookies

Bake some for yourself, and some canine-friendly peanut butter treats for your best fluffy friend. Not only are peanut butter cookies perfect for this book because dogs love peanut butter, but also because W. Bruce Cameron books are kind of the peanut butter cookie of your bookshelf. They’re sweet without being saccharine, they’re utterly delightful, and everybody loves them. Another good holiday treat for this book, if you’re into puns, peppermint BARK.

Place holder  of - 96And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall – Thumbprint Cookies

Since the protagonist of And Now She’s Gone is a PI, thumbprint cookies are the perfect treat for this fast-paced mystery. While the mystery of who left the thumbprint on your cookie is already solved, the mystery of how many thumbprint cookies you’ll eat is still unfolding! You’ll need a generous plate of these, because the last thing you’ll want to do while trying to find out whether Isabel Lincoln is missing or on the run is get up for another plate of cookies.

Placeholder of  -19An Irish Country Welcome by Patrick Taylor – Irish Shortbread Cookies

You’ll want an Irish treat as you immerse yourself in the village life of Ballybucklebo, where cozy stories happen 365 days a year. Preferably alongside a nice cup of tea for dipping. In this particular tale, doctor Barry Laverty and his wife Sue are anxiously awaiting their first child, while a new well-to-do fledgling doctor attempts to fit in with rough and tumble village life. That’s enough coziness to last you through 2022.

Poster Placeholder of - 54South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber  – Pecan Pie

Pecan pie is the perfect holiday AND Southern dessert to make your reading experience perfect as you settle in to South of the Buttonwood Tree. Best served with a tall glass of sweet tea! Heather Webber perfectly creates the atmosphere of a small Southern town in Buttonwood, Alabama in this heartwarming story of magic, love, and family.

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In Conversation: Hank Phillippi Ryan and Rachel Howzell Hall

Forge authors Hank Phillippi Ryan and Rachel Howzell Hall both have new books out this year, so we got them together to chat about writing characters who keep secrets, guessing plot twists, and more!


Image Place holder  of - 71Both of your books feature women pretending to be someone they’re not — why were you drawn to write about them? Do you have personal experience with pretending to be someone else, or projecting a different image?

HANK:Oh. Daily. (Laughing.)  But I have been a television reporter for more than 40 years. I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, and gone undercover and in disguise.  It’s very stressful, and I’ve learned that the only way to be successful is to have most of yourself convinced that you really are who you say you are–is that method acting? And only keep a tiny sliver of your brain free to remember your real goals. That way your behavior and reactions seem authentic. Still, there’s always that one track of your brain that’s thinking: did I get a wide shot? Did I get a shot of his face? Is my camera working? What will I say if I get caught?

(I’ve only gotten caught once.  My “hidden” camera was not hidden well enough, and that’s not good. But it all worked out fine.)

RACHEL: Nothing as exciting and as fascinating as Hank, ohmigod. But as a woman, I’ve pretended plenty throughout my fifty years–that I’m more brave than I am, dumber than I look, a wanton seductress and an intellect that surrounds herself in books. It depended on the situation, of course, but playacting is something I think we all have done. I’ve also seen up close women who leave fabulous public lives–friends, successful jobs, bubbly and vibrant personalities–go home to a mess and a family life in tatters. They’re being abused–or act as abusers. Toxic and raggedy, but no one expects that that woman’s being hit? Or that woman’s cursing like a sailor and is mean as a snake? No, because she and the kids roll out the next morning with fresh clothes, forced smiles, and for her, makeup hiding the bruises or perfume hiding the stench of brimstone.

And last, as an African American woman, (and I’ve talked about this plenty), I’ve pretended that I didn’t hear the racist comment, or that I’m fine with the phrase, “I don’t see color,” a phrase that I absolutely hate because nothing is wrong with me being black and by not seeing that, you fail to recognize that my color has influenced and shaped everything about me. That’s like saying, I don’t see food types. Tacos are wonderful. So is roast beef. So is spaghetti. There’s nothing wrong saying, “I love Mexican food.” End rant.

Which comes first when you’re writing these complicated characters – the real character or their pretend identity?

HANK: The real character. Then I think: What does she want, and how far will she go to get it? Because when a book feels real, Poster Placeholder of - 43like the character is a real person–they do things for a reason. So in THE FIRST TO LIE, I knew that at least one character had a driving,  obsessive, and understandable motivation for her desire for revenge. Then, understanding that, I had to figure out how she’d accomplish her goal successfully.

RACHEL: With AND NOW SHE’S GONE, I think the character came first. Because I’ve seen women in jeopardy, women who want to leave, and they do, only to be pulled back. I wanted to see that in a book but this time, I want her to actually get away… but not really. And like Hank, I also wanted to write about how far a character will go to get it–but with two women. One who has successfully managed the trick of disappearing and the one who is tasked with finding her.

What is compelling about writing about people with secrets? What about you, can you reveal any of your own secrets/what do people not know about you, or what do they think about you that is dead wrong?

HANK: Every thriller is about secrets–who has a secret, and what it is, and who else knows it–and what will happen if the secret is revealed. And what will the character do to protect that bit of knowledge? That’s truly the fun part of writing–sometimes my characters reveal secrets that even I didn’t know they had!  “The first line of the first chapter of THE FIRST TO LIE” is “Lies have a complicated half-life.” Because it’s not only about concocting the lie, and telling the lie, but remembering it.

Secrets about me? Do I even have any? Ah–I’m a terrible singer? But I know all the words to the Beatles songs, and endless Broadway musicals? That I wanted to be a disc jockey when I grew up? And oh–I am the world’s worst driver. The worst.  I was a majorette in high school–!!–but I was so terrible, the band director told me to march in the middle of the back row, and just pretend to twirl.  What do people think that’s dead wrong? Ah–maybe that I’m super-confident. Trust me, I am terrified with nerves at every appearance.

RACHEL: I refuse to believe that Hank is terrified EVER — okay, maybe when she was caught undercover but other than that? Bah.

Big secrets are exhausting–anyone who keeps them is constantly thinking about them. Holding their breath anytime a subject comes up. Keeping secrets is a mental thing but it’s incredibly visceral. And that makes for exciting writing. And we all relate to these stories because we’ve all kept secrets–not necessarily embarrassing, life-changing ones but secrets nonetheless. From love and loyalty to actually hating that movie or not knowing the words of the Black National Anthem, people have things they’ll hold to their chests until they die.

Those who don’t know me assume that I’ve always led a quiet, middle-class life filled with books and videogames. Books and videogames, yes. But I’ve seen violence up close, gunshots all around me. I’ve had more than six surgeries and my drawers are filled with the nice, treaded socks hospitals slip on your feet before procedures. I have secrets and they fuel my writing. One funny secret that I’ll share: when I was in 7th grade, my mom picked me up from school. I needed to pee really, really bad but she needed me to go into the drug store for something. I protested but I had to go–and so I went into that Sav-on. And I peed in the aisle. And ran out, not telling the manager that I peed in Aisle 7.

What did you find surprising in your writing process?

HANK: I have no idea about the endings of the books. Or, for that matter, the middles. I have no idea what comes next until the next sentence, and the next paragraph, and then, whoa the next scene. SO people say wow, the ending of THE FIRST TO LIE really surprised me! And I say, yeah, wasn’t that a surprise?  Talk about a surprise ending. I surprise myself. Every time!  But that’s what gets me to the computer every day–I have to find out what happens next. And the only way to do that is to write it.

I must say–I do not recommend this method.

RACHEL: But you do it so well, Hank!

I’m surprised that it continues to be hard. That I continue to be scared–of writing a complete story that makes sense, that makes a reader want to turn the page. I guess that’s a secret–that I fear that I’m no good at this and that I’ll never become the Beyonce of Hank Phillippi Ryans because I suck. LOL. My big secret, writing-related, is that I’m scared to death that I will never be successful. So, it’s a big thrill when someone reads my books, or when I’m nominated for an award. Part of me thinks that happens out of pity or because someone is being nice to me. On my most confident days–Monday through Wednesday–I know that’s not true. I know that I have interesting stories to tell, that it’s fine that my voice is different than Hank’s or Attica’s or Steph’s, that this isn’t a zero sum game and that my stories deserve a place on a bookshelf somewhere. I keep writing in hopes that I will someday get it right.

Hank, do you have a bank of endings that you haven’t used and that you aim to use one day? I have, like, two or three…

HANK: Ha. Ha ha ha. Rachel, you are a funny funny person. I have NO spare endings. I don’t even have the ending I need for the book I’m working on now.  (And aw, Rachel. Thank you.) But wait. Rachel. You KNOW the endings of your books before you start? Do you know the whole story?

RACHEL: As a child of pop culture, growing up in the 80s, television as your babysitter, I love good endings–and the best endings for me were always from The Twilight Zone. There was always something special on holidays because of the TZ marathons, and we’d watch all day and the endings still resonated even though you’ve watched that ‘Anthony sending people to the cornfield’ episode 100 times. So, that desire to leave readers with a good ending–not one of those ‘gotcha’ ones but a very lovely, organic end to things… Yes, sometimes I do know the endings, although Land of Shadows–I didn’t know that ending until I wrote it. The ending for And Now She’s Gone, I did know. But I didn’t know the whole story.

You’ve both written series and are now writing stand-alones – what drew you to these stand-alone stories?  Were there plots that didn’t fit with your series that you have adapted into stand-alones?

HANK:  So different to write a series and a standalone. Because in a series, the main character isn’t going to die–Jane Ryland will be back! So the suspense has to come from something other than the mortality of the main character. So there’s a crime, it’s solved, and you can go on to the next adventure.  But in a standalone there’s this amazing knowledge that anything can happen. Anyone can be good, anyone can be bad, anyone can be guilty, and anyone–anyone!–can die. When I realized that, it felt so powerful.

So to me, a standalone means: here is the single biggest and most compellingly important thing that will ever happen to these people. And watch out readers–anything goes.

RACHEL: Writing mystery and crime, we’re blessed (or cursed) with an abundance of story ideas. And I want to get to at least thirty percent of those. I can’t really do that if I’m solely writing a series. I want to hop in different characters’ heads–Lou Norton is different than Miriam Macy, and Grayson Sykes and Isabel Lincoln are different than Lou and Miriam. Of course, I could’ve Rube Goldberged plots to fit into a Lou Norton story or a missing woman plotline, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted each woman to have a say and to be featured and to have her life examined.

Hank, since you’re an investigative reporter, are there too many stories vying for attention. “Write me! Write me!’ How do you narrow down what you wanna write?

HANK: I have often said to my husband on my writing days: If I can have just ONE good idea a day, I’m happy. One! But that elusive gorgeous idea for a novel? That’s such a great question, Rachel. I have this weird faith or trust or belief  that when I need a good idea, it will  come. But that is the most difficult part of writing–to get that one gorgeous core gem of an idea. I absolutely remember when it happened for THE FIRST TO LIE. But if I reveal it, it will give it all away.

But Rachel, you honestly have an abundance of ideas? Sigh. Does your writer-brain just decide: This is the one? Or is it a theme?

RACHEL: I do! I have about ten stories that I’ve started and stopped, simply because I don’t know how to write them yet. And I have an Evernote filled with news articles of future stories. I only decide which ones to write only when I can’t stop writing it, when I’m not frustrated or bored by it. I do know that I have to be excited about the idea–and that I’m clear on what I want to say about that issue. It took me more than ten years to figure out the story that eventually became And Now She’s Gone.

Are either of you good at guessing other people’s twist endings? 

HANK: Ha! I constantly guess. My husband and I will be watching TV, and I’ll say–The sister did it! Or–she’s pregnant. Or–oh, it’s the daughter. And Jonathan asks–can’t you just watch it? And I say–no, I can’t. I have to guess.

But here’s what’s a little annoying. If we’re told there’s a twist, then we’re looking for it. And reading every single word looking for clues. And sometimes, instead of enjoying the book, our brains race ahead, trying to beat the author to the answer. I wish I could stop doing that. Maybe we should even stop saying that books have twist endings. Just let ‘em be a surprise.

RACHEL: Amen, Hank! I’m already looking for the trick, and with the ‘with the ending you don’t wanna miss,’ I can’t just enjoy the story. As a writer, I like starting simple and have the reader look up and realize that they’ve been caught up in a delicious tangle. I hate twist endings for the sake of twist endings. I think after The Sixth Sense, everyone had to have these crazy contortions in their stories. I think life in itself offers enough twists without having the ‘he was always dead’ ending. I mean, who would’ve guessed 2020 would shape up (or down) like it has? I’m hoping for a twist ending, though. The good kind, though.

HANK:  Agreed, dear Rachel.


Preorder And Now She’s Gone, coming September 22, 2020!

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What Hides Beneath: Rachel Howzell Hall on the Nature of Secrets

Read Rachel Howzell Hall’s thoughts on the nature of secrets and what inspired her new novel And Now She’s Gone, coming September 22nd, 2020!


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By Rachel Howzell Hall

Los Angeles is a city of sea, stars and sky. The Pacific Ocean glints off the shore over there. What’s-Her-Face from That Show passes you and races up the 405 freeway in her Dodgers Blue Maserati (oh, you thought I meant constellations). And the sky, occasionally interrupted by skyscrapers, helicopters and airplanes becomes IG-worthy around four-forty every afternoon. That sky… As Grayson Sykes, new private investigator and heroine of AND NOW SHE’S GONE (coming 9.22.2020) says, from dirty blue to rose quartz to Necco wafer orange.

Los Angeles is also a city of secrets. Who killed and dismembered the Black Dahlia? Where are those secret Prohibition tunnels that were used to run booze? Is that ranch up there in the canyon really an abandoned Nazi compound? All the freeways and overpasses and 515 miles of freeway means there are tunnels and overpasses and dark corners, connected but not. A little over 503 square miles, Los Angeles is a land of houses and office parks, ghosts of auto- and aviation manufacturing plants, tattered structures still left tattered from the 1992 uprisings. Each edifice, each seemingly empty space crammed with secrets, but yet, never meeting its capacity.

How did I get here, writing crime stories about secrets and Los Angeles?

As a child, I learned to identify few sounds earlier than kids born in the suburbs or rural areas. Yes: the chirp of sparrows and caws of crows, the screeches of cats and the howls of dogs, the hover and thump of police helicopters and the urgent cries of sirens—from the quick whirs of a cop car to the longer screams of fire trucks and ambulances. Then, there were the kak-kak-kak of gunfire, the sudden screech of tire rubber and the thumps of sneakers slapping against the asphalt. The shouts of angry men and the cries of frustrated women. Maybe those sounds led me here. Maybe my fear and fascination of the action bubbling beneath those sounds—that, too. Not understanding the point of it all. The fearlessness and fearfulness that lead all of us to hurt each other. The ‘why’ and ‘was it worth it’. The need for answers so that I could sleep in the silence like those kids in places that I read about and never looked like me…

Even as a little one, I never believed good always triumphed over evil, that truth and lies could not coexist in the same space. I believed that you were punished for your sins and you were punished for not sinning, too. No one was going to save you except you—I believed that, too. I romanticized everyone else’s life—their homes were quiet, clean and led by parents who never raised their voices. Their homes boasted cabinets bursting with name-brand foods all the time, not just on Payday Fridays. Every girl not me could afford Guess? jeans, had a boyfriend and they all attended fabulous parties that I had not been invited to.

And as I grew, I came to understand that nearly everyone I counted as friends had jacked up home lives—mean-ass dads, alcoholic moms, violent brothers, aunties that stole, cousins in jail, bankruptcies, religious fanaticism, molestation…

I came to see that my dysfunctional family played more board games together, ate dinner together and danced together. That even though my parents argued, my siblings and I were loved and that my mother locking my sister and me in the bathroom and making us hold hands until we made up because, as she said, ‘You can be mad at me for making you do this but I don’t ever want you mad at each other’ was one of her best lessons in life. That my dad’s hardcore chef tendencies leading him to cook foil-wrapped filet mignon and mushrooms on a hotel iron during one of our few family trips would result in one of the best meals I’ve ever had. (Cheaper to buy the meat from the grocer than to take six people out to a restaurant, dig?)

Economics and race may have kept us in that part of L.A., but it never stopped us from achieving. Our lives—black lives—mattered.

Nature and nurture—that’s why I what led me to writing crime. And I write about lives that go largely ignored except when they’re used as a plot point or reasons behind a characters’ negative visceral reaction.

That’s why I chose to set my new novel AND NOW SHE’S GONE in Los Angeles and in this genre.

A native of Los Angeles, I’ve only ever lived for four years away from this place, trading my big city skies and rush hour traffic and so-much-to-do vibe with UC Santa Cruz. After graduation, I slid right back to this city of secrets, adding to my existing bank of secrets. Like… what happened in that drug store. Like… what occurred on that solarium sixteen floors up…

From identity and true feelings, to domestic violence and murder, AND NOW SHE’S GONE bulges with the secrets we all keep. Like… Aunt Jen had an affair with a priest. Like… Daddy has a secret family. Like…  He hits her every night and sits beside her in a church pew every weekend.

Grayson Sykes came to Los Angeles with secrets of her own—but as a PI, it is her business to discover and sometimes reveal the secrets of others. In her first big case, she’s hired by physician Ian O’Donnell to find his missing girlfriend, Isabel Lincoln. Ian isn’t saying, but something’s happened in their relationship to cause Isabel to flee one last time—and this time, she’s taken the doctor’s beloved Labradoodle Kenny G with her. But Grayson senses that Isabel hasn’t gone far, and it is up to her to twist through this city of 4 million people to find one woman who has some of the worst secrets to keep.

What’s happened in your world when one of your secrets were revealed? And what led you to loving crime stories?

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Download a Free Digital Preview of And Now She’s Gone!

Place holder  of - 19Start reading Rachel Howzell Hall’s novel And Now She’s Gone with a free digital preview of the first 42 pages! And Now She’s Gone will be available September 22.

About And Now She’s Gone:

Isabel Lincoln is gone.

But is she missing?

It’s up to Grayson Sykes to find her. Although she is reluctant to track down a woman who may not want to be found, Gray’s search for Isabel Lincoln becomes more complicated and dangerous with every new revelation about the woman’s secrets and the truth she’s hidden from her friends and family.

Featuring two complicated women in a dangerous cat and mouse game, Rachel Howzell Hall’s And Now She’s Gone explores the nature of secrets — and how violence and fear can lead you to abandon everything in order to survive.

Download Your Free Digital Preview:

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Excerpt: And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall

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Featuring two complicated women in a dangerous cat and mouse game, Rachel Howzell Hall’s And Now She’s Gone explores the nature of secrets — and how violence and fear can lead you to abandon everything in order to survive.

Isabel Lincoln is gone.

But is she missing?

It’s up to Grayson Sykes to find her. Although she is reluctant to track down a woman who may not want to be found, Gray’s search for Isabel Lincoln becomes more complicated and dangerous with every new revelation about the woman’s secrets and the truth she’s hidden from her friends and family.

And Now She’s Gone will be available on September 22nd, 2020. Please enjoy the following excerpt.


1

She had to do it.

She had to glance in her rearview mirror. Because a black SUV was rolling up behind her. Closer . . .

A black SUV with the green Range Rover medallion on the left side of its grille.

Closer . . .

The truck stopped inches away from her car’s rear bumper. The sound of music reached her first—Notorious B.I.G., “Hypnotize.”

Shit.

Maybe her worry was irrational. It wasn’t like she was on an abandoned road. She was on the west side of Los Angeles, and there was a sports equipment store over there. And a Taco Bell over there. There were storefront windows that promised Pho! Massage! Comic Books!

Didn’t matter, because right at that moment, she was the only woman in the world.

But the man behind her wore familiar-looking aviator sunglasses and—

This truck could be his. Shitshitshit.

Whenever she spotted a black Range Rover, the hair on her neck and arms shot up like straw. In this city, that meant she was a scarecrow four times a day.

She was trembling now, panic sizzling through her blood. She fought it, shallow breath by shallow breath, until she could take deeper breaths, until her fear huddled in that safe place behind her bladder. She kneaded her mind to remember any tiny detail that would tell her this was not the truck. Like . . . A yellow pine tree air freshener hung from the mirror. Like . . . A white scrape on the fender’s black paint.

No luck.

She was boxed in—car to the left of her, car to the right, cross traffic and red light before her. In the crosswalk, an old lady inched from one curb to the other curb.

What if he tries to open my back passenger door as I’m sitting here?

The doors were locked.

What if he tries to break a window?

Then she’d . . . blow the red light, try her damnedest not to hit the old lady in the crosswalk, but if she had to hit her . . .

No. She wouldn’t let him walk up on her again like that. The driver removed his sunglasses.

Those eyes . . .

She squinted at the image in the rearview mirror. “That’s not him.”

Those eyes . . .

Too small. Too spaced apart.

He was not the man who had promised to kill her. Not this time.

 

2

Los Angeles was a city of skies—and everyone in the city now sweltered beneath a dirty-blue sky. Later in the evening, that same sky would turn rose quartz and then, in the morning, Necco wafer orange. Because the marine layer, exhaust from cars and refineries, and brushfire smoke reflected the sun. It was a murder sky, killing four million people slowly . . . slowly . . . molecule . . . by molecule.

But Grayson Sykes wouldn’t die on this eleventh day of July because of that killer sky.

She planned to end her day with dollar tacos and strawberry margaritas with her coworkers at Sam Jose’s. They would talk about Zadie’s upcoming retirement, Clarissa’s upcoming bachelorette party, and Jennifer’s “thing” with her husband’s chief mechanic.

Gray had no wedding and she was far from retirement. “I just won’t eat heavy tomorrow,” “Are you serious?,” and “I did my steps today”—those were her happy hour lines. The quartet would eat, drink, and laugh; they’d cast lustful glances at men who should’ve been home with their wives, who should’ve been working out at the gym, who should’ve been at the office preparing PowerPoint presentations on midyear fiscal numbers.

Now, though, Jennifer Bellman sat in the lobby of the smoked green glass and metal building where Rader Consulting was located. Just a hop, skip, and jump away from the magnificent Pacific Ocean, Rader Consulting did it all—from pets to cons. Looking for lugs in all the right places, squeezing into spots where cops weren’t allowed to go. No warrants? No problem. Need info? Got it right here. From background checks to finding long-lost boyfriends. From simple internet searches and deep, dark web dives to, ahem, other methods.

The blonde was pretending to read the two-week-old People left on the coffee table. One of the primary skip tracers at Rader Consulting, Jennifer sniffed, snuffled, and clawed to find missing deadbeats and debtors. Men saw the hair, the boobs, the blouse that framed those boobs, and they never took her serious enough to keep their traps—or their flies—closed.

Gray asked, “Why are you sitting down here?”

Jennifer bit her bottom lip. “There’s a new tech titan on the third floor. Tall, Slavic hotness in a Hugo Boss suit. He needs to know that I exist.” A gossip, a ditz, a flirt—thrice-married (and still married) Jennifer could be all that and worse.

The “worse” now walked beside Gray to the elevator bank. “Where’d you go?” she asked.

“Pharmacy.”

“No offense, but I don’t know why we celebrate one hundred percent linen.”

“You lost me.” Gray pressed the Up button.

“Your pants, honey.” Jennifer tsked Gray’s wrinkled white linen slacks, then batted her baby blue eyes. “What’s that dog with all the wrinkles in its face?”

“A Shar-Pei?”

Jennifer clapped. “That’s it! Wrinkles everywhere, like your slacks. They’re cute, though. The dogs, I mean.” Jennifer and her perfect blonde bob and her perfect high breasts bursting from her floral print Chico’s dress. So efficient, Jennifer Bellman. So eager to climb and so eager to please.

Not really. Jennifer Bellman was a fifty-year-old rottweiler in cocker spaniel cosplay.

The two women entered the elevator together. Gray’s eyes burned—Jennifer wore enough perfume to scent a small country. At the end of the day, Gray always smelled like marshmallow and vanilla.

“Oh,” Jennifer said. “Nick’s been drifting through the building looking for you.”

“He texted—he just gave me my first real case.”

Jennifer clapped. “No more looking for lost Chihuahuas!

Cheating husband?” “Missing girlfriend.”

The elevator doors opened to the second floor.

“You’re gonna need help,” Jennifer said. “I’ll be right there to guide you. My first bit of advice: when all else fails, cry. Tears make people feel sorry for you, and they’ll tell you anything you need to know just to shut you up.”

White-haired Zadie Mendelbaum stood at the breakfast bar clutching a soft pack of Camels and a bottle of Dr Pepper. A career of squinting at records had frozen her face into a mask of narrowed eyes and an upturned nose. She also had a pack-a-day habit and exquisite hobbit-size hands. She’d worked at Rader Consulting since its establishment, seven years before, and was always proud to boast that she was “employee number one.”

The old woman reminded Gray of one of her foster mothers. Naomi Applewhite also had a Dr Pepper addiction, but she smoked hard-pack Newports while sucking peppermints. Gray had stayed with Mom Naomi for seven months. Two weeks before starting eighth grade, Gray had been snatched out of that depressing Oakland apartment by Child Protective Services and placed into a girls’ home. No explanation given. Whenever Gray smelled smoky mint or cloves-black licorice almonds, she thought of Naomi Applewhite. Which, now that she worked with Zadie, was all the time.

“Went on break without telling me?” Zadie followed the two women into Gray’s office.

Gray dropped her purse onto the credenza. “About to start my first missing person case.”

“Congrats, honey,” Zadie said. “How you feelin’?” “Excited. Nervous. Nauseous.”

“Like a virgin at a prison rodeo?” Jennifer asked. “Never been to a rodeo,” Gray said. “So . . . maybe?”

“You’ll do fine.” Zadie pointed at the pile of books on the corner of Gray’s desk. “Looks like you’ve been studying.”

For two years, Gray had worked as a contractor for Rader Consulting, writing reports, transcribing recordings, and much, much more! Now, though, she wanted to be a private investigator. She’d read handbooks, attended community college courses, shadowed Nick for two weeks, and watched YouTube videos featuring investigators on the job. She’d even immersed herself in mysteries written by Hammett, Chandler, and Mosley. Nick promoted her, placing her on his license until she’d be eligible to apply for her own in three years. And then he’d given her a case: finding Cheeto, a stolen Chihuahua.

“Sounds simple,” Gray said. “Find the guy’s girlfriend. I shouldn’t fuck it up too much.”

“You obviously haven’t met you,” Jennifer snarked.

Gray plucked a sheet of tissue from the box on her desk. “I have, and I’m actually the best report writer here.” She cleaned her tortoiseshell glasses but kept her gaze on Jennifer.

Jennifer offered a saccharine smile. “Totally different skill set.

But you’ll see that.”

Zadie clicked her nails against the Dr Pepper bottle. “I’ll always remember my first missing person case He woke up on

Saturday, stayed home while the wife and kids drove to synagogue. He fed the dog, opened the front door. He took his kayak out in the marina, where he ‘drowned.’ But really, he swam down shore for three miles, where he’d hid dry clothes and a new life and a new name behind a fucking drug dealer’s boat.”

Gray and Jennifer eyed each other.

Zadie had just described how her husband Saul had disappeared thirty years ago.

“Well, women disappear all the time,” Jennifer said. “Some intentionally.”

Because she’d grown tired of her man, had grown tired of his hands, of that job, of those freaking dishes that kept filling the sink, dishes that no one touched even as their stink wafted through the house. If she wasn’t taking the kids with her, she kissed them fare-well, took out the trash one last time, and just left.

Natalie Dixon, a woman Gray knew once upon a time, had disappeared like that.

Unlike the men who disappeared, women left their egos behind along with their keys, photo identification, and unpaid electric bills. These women may have wondered about their past lives—What are they doing back home? How are they living without me? Did somebody finally wash those damned dishes?—but they rarely did more than wonder. They never visited old haunts. They never searched their names on Google or checked their Facebook pages. Unlike most men who vanished, women rarely got caught. They just wanted a new beginning.

Natalie Dixon had also longed for a new life and hadn’t wanted to be found. Guilt had gnawed at her spirit, Gray recalled, and that prickly sensation of millions of eyes had pecked at poor Natalie Dixon, and she always worried that the wrong pair would pick her from the crowd.

“Two, three days, tops,” Gray said. “That’s Nick’s estimation.” “I would say use sex appeal to help you,” Jennifer said, eyes on her coral-painted fingernails, “but that won’t work. Fortunately, you have a great personality. You can talk about books and . . . and . . . movies and . . . politics. Oh, and comic books. Improvise. Make shit up.”

Gray cocked an eyebrow. “I’m good at making shit up.” “She’s better than you at that, Jen,” Zadie said.

“Doubt it,” Jennifer sang, with a twisted grin. “I’m a supreme liar—Oh!” She pointed at Gray. “Think I’m a bitch now? Skip Sam Jose’s tonight and see how evil I’ll be tomorrow morning. I can’t do Clarissa alone.”

Zadie rolled her eyes. “That girl does nothing but yak, yak, yak.”

“I’ll let you know about tonight,” Gray said.

Jennifer slapped Gray’s desktop. “Nuh-uh. I’ve dated enough black men to know that ‘I’ll let you know’ means ‘I’m not showing up.’”

Gray laughed.

“You’ll see your ex-marine,” Jennifer sang. “Former marine,” Gray corrected.

Hank Wexler was the new owner of Sam Jose’s. Two weeks ago, the square-jawed jarhead with blue eyes and thick salt-and-pepper hair had claimed that the blue-inked Hebrew letters tattooed on his left forearm were Gray’s name. Back then, he didn’t even know her name, not that him not knowing had kept Gray from licking tequila salt off his skin. An hour later, she and Hank had made out in his office—it was like they’d known each other in a former life, so making out so soon was okay. He had tasted like whiskey sours and Juicy Fruit gum. That had been a good night.

“No flaking,” Jennifer said now, as she glided out of Gray’s office.

“Scout’s honor,” Gray shouted. “Have a margarita waiting for me.”

Copyright © Rachel Howzell Hall

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