Menagerie – 13 Short Stories! #NewRelease @JoanHallWrites

It gives me great pleasure to host my friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall, today! She has a brand-new collection of mystery, suspense, and contemporary short stories. But I’ll let her tell you about it.


Thanks so much for hosting me today, Jan, and for sharing your space to talk about my latest release, Menagerie. It’s a mixed-genre compilation of thirteen short stories. Each tour stop features a different story where I tell what inspired me to write it.

Like me, you’re a music lover. Summerwood is a contemporary fiction story where the male lead is a guitarist in a popular rock band.

Most of the time, I don’t have a title for a book or story until I’ve completed it. This wasn’t the case for Summerwood. I had a title before I knew the first line. It came about because of the name a housing development I passed while driving to work. One morning, I knew I had to write a story with that title.

The only thing I could envision was a young woman browsing a local farmer’s market. Character names, scenes, and the genre came later. The idea of the young woman shopping in an outdoor farmer’s market was inspired by an Al Stewart song from the 1970s, “Year of the Cat.” That’s all I had.

Summerwood is one of two stories inspired by a photo prompt. Many of your readers knew the late Suzanne Burke, and some participated in her weekly flash fiction prompt. One week, she had a picture of a young man on stage. I wrote a short piece about a rock star who’d grown weary of life on the road. After a lengthy tour, he planned to go home where he could unwind.

I wanted to expand the story, and it dawned on me Summerwood was the perfect place. I made a few changes—the lead character, Dylan, became a lead guitarist instead of the lead singer. That seemed to fit better for what I had in mind.

In the story, Dylan collapses on stage and has to drop out of a lengthy tour. He goes home to the town of Summerwood, where he rekindles a relationship with his good friend, Lydia. Dylan comes to the realization that life on the road isn’t what he thought it would be, so he ponders his future.

For the answer, I turned to a real person. The late John Defoore was a music instructor who taught guitar to many popular singers, including Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and Michelle Shocked. In the late 1990s, he bought an old hotel in the nearby town of Mineola, Texas, with the idea of hosting a music-performing venue. He ran the Piney Woods Woods Pickin’ Parlor for seventeen years.

Story ideas often come in the most unlikely places and times. I never thought I would blend the name of a housing development, a flash fiction prompt, inspiration from a song, and a real music venue into a short story, but I’m pleased with the way Summerwood came together.


After Bodie’s announcement about extending the tour the prior evening, Dylan couldn’t even say his usual mantra. The additional weeks were more than he wanted to think about. All he could do was take one day at a time.

Tonight. If I can just get through tonight.

He was in the middle of a guitar solo when everything began spinning. The bright lights dimmed, and the music was barely audible. Even his instrument seemed foreign. Something wasn’t right. The last thing he remembered was Sid rushing to his side.


King’s. The Tower of London. Glass. What do these have in common?

Each is a famous menagerie.

While this Menagerie doesn’t focus on exotic animals, it does contain a collection of stories that explore various trials people face and how their reactions shape their worlds.

Survivors of a haunted bridge. Women who wait while their husbands fight a war. Former partners reuniting to solve a cold-case murder.

These are just three of the thirteen stories in this compendium, encompassing past and present, natural and supernatural, legend and reality. The genres and timelines are varied, but there’s a little something for everyone who enjoys reading about simpler times and small-town life.

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January #BookReviews! @howellwave @RZanetti_Author @JoanHallWrites @wendy_dalrymple @PamSCanepa1

I started the new year out with some entertaining books that I want to share. I only post 4 and 5-star reviews.



In this follow-up novel to The Eternal Road, we find Samantha being given a mission by Archangel Michael to help find two souls who have gone missing on their journey to find the eternal resting place. Air Force pilot Ryan Sanders, and his escort, the infamous Eddie Rickenbacker, are missing. With the angel’s permission, Sam chooses to take James with her on the mission. Of course, that leads them to the magical 1956 Oldsmobile.
The journey brings Sam and James face-to-face with their arch-enemy, Lucifer. No doubt the devil is behind the missing souls. He lives up to his evil reputation when he insists on claiming the soul of Ryan Sanders.
When Sam and James finally catch up to Sanders and Rickenbacker, the four are sent on a horrifying soiree through history, each stop growing more intensely painful than the one before. From the battle of Gettysburg to the sinking of the Titanic and Auschwitz prison camps, their faith and fortitude are tested over and over. They cannot let Lucifer win.
This is truly a story of good vs. evil. I love how Sam and James stayed focused and steadfast throughout each trial. Their relationship strengthened as they went, while Lucifer became more evil and degenerative. If you are looking for a historical fantasy adventure of epic proportions and the ultimate test of faith, you will enjoy this book. I highly recommend it! It was a great way to start off a new year of reading!


I will preface this review by saying I am not a big fan of vampire stories. That being said, this story is not your typical vampire trope.
The book opens with Cara’s four-year-old daughter, Janie, waking her mother up to tell her they are coming. Great opener! Immediate tension and worry. Janie is psychic, and Cara is a strong empath. I loved that aspect of the story.
Talen is a super-human warrior. And he’s a vampire, but not a stereotypical one. His family, the Kayrs, have been around for hundreds of years and, for many years, have had a peaceful truce with another group of vampires, the Kurjans. But things have changed, and treaties are being broken.

And Cara and Janie are in the dead center of it all. The Kurjans intend to capture Cara and Janie to help procreate their species, even though they would have to wait many years for Janie to grow up. The Kayrs will not let them be taken, so Talen Kayr gets to them first. This book is filled with lots of heart-stopping action, including fight scenes where heads are being decapitated, and shapeshifters join in the melee.
Talen Kayr claims Cara as his mate, and the sex scenes are rough and sometimes brutal. And there are many. That part of the story became redundant. Talen has the power to immobilize Cara with unearthly desire and raw lust. I have nothing against graphic sex scenes, but there were a bit too many in this book for my taste. Half the amount would have been more enjoyable. While I won’t be reading more in this series, I am still a died-in-the-wool Rebecca Zanetti fan. She is a talented writing force!



Menagerie is a collection of unforgettable short stories. From the first dual-timeline story to the last heartfelt family drama, I was sucked in.
It is hard to pick out a few favorites, but I’ll give it a try.
“Ghost Bridge” is a chilling account of a doctor in the 1800s who could not get to his patient in time and himself dies in a horrible accident on a bridge. Rumors have it that he still roams the bridge trying to reach his patient. The story comes forward to modern times, and Kate is severely injured and trapped. Is it the ghost of the good doctor who comes to rescue her?
“Seven Days” could be a lesson for us all. We are so tied to our electronic devices. What would it be like to go without them for a whole week?
“Lone Wolf” was another that really stood out to me. The close-up encounters are realistic and believable.
But out of the thirteen stories in this book, only left me with physical goosebumps on my arms. “Storm Rider” is a tale that I will not ever forget.
If you enjoy stories set in small towns, tales that include ghosts and folklore, you will devour this book, as I did. I highly recommend it. This author did a superb job of creating these tales!



This is a enemies to lovers romance set in the midst of a category-five hurricane on the Florida coast. Melody Orlean, a meteorologist, and her cameraman, Ty, have been sent to a beachside resort to cover the storm for her local station. They arrive to find another meteorologist, Mark Fox, and his camera crew, Jade, already stationed at the resort and filming. Melody is fit to be tied. First of all, they’ve been promised exclusive access to the resort, and secondly, Mark Fox is a sworn enemy. I struggled to understand Melody’s intense dislike for Mark, and even when the reason was revealed, it seemed a little flimsy. But the story was good, and the setting intense. The author did a great job of putting the reader in the middle of this gigantic storm while the hotel is being battered and crumbling around the characters.
When I picked up the book, I thought I was getting a romantic comedy, but instead, it is an intense struggle for survival while dealing with past issues. I loved the characters’ determination to survive and how they put aside differences to band together. The story is well-written, has a happy ending, and carries a great message to anyone in the path of one of these deadly storms.


Janie is exhausted, running the Crossroads Diner almost single-handedly. At first glance, the diner seems like any normal restaurant, but as this short story unfolds, the reader becomes aware that it is a very special place in between worlds. Everyone is going somewhere. Some come for a short time, and some stay. It is a jumping-off place of sorts for those who need help moving on. There is an incessant blizzard, and folks seek shelter inside. When Cowboy shows up, Janie isn’t sure she can trust him, as trust doesn’t come easy. While it appears he is there to help, he has to prove himself.
This is the perfect mix of realistic fantasy. I immediately related to Janie and her exhaustion. Yet, there was no way to stop and rest as the place stayed filled to capacity. Her work was never done. I wasn’t sure about Cowboy at first, but he proved himself pretty quickly. An imaginative story of a place that is no place and a time that is no time. I highly recommend it!

That’s it from me this month. I hope you saw something that grabbed you!

November Book Reviews! @HarronIsabella @sgc58 @StevieTurner6 @colleenhoover @bakeandwrite Rebecca Zanetti

I had some great fun reading an eclectic group of books this month!



The opening prologue to this story grabbed me before reading the first chapter. I had to know what happened with the little girl, Marissa. Fast forward fifteen years, and Marissa (now going by Mary) has graduated from college with a teaching degree. She’s studious, hard-working, and has no time for partying as her friends do. But they talked her into a weekend getaway to the beach, and Mary has always loved the water. It’s that weekend that changes her entire life. When catching a football, Jared Hawk knocks Mary over on the beach, and if the saying “love at first sight” ever applied to two people, it does for them. Neither Mary nor Jared do one-night stands, but their attraction is strong, and Mary spends the night with him. What happens after that is a series of misunderstandings and missed opportunities. When Mary lands her first temporary teaching job, the last thing she expects to see is the handsome hunk, Jared Hawk, in her senior English class. Shocked is not a big enough word. Mary is pregnant, and Jared is the father, but she hasn’t seen him since that day and night on the beach. And now their situation is even more complicated by the difference in their ages (three years) and the fact that Mary is now his teacher. The story unfolds one delicious layer at a time as these two fight huge odds to find their way back to each other and create a family. Everything is on the line for both of them. Jared’s dream to play in the NFL league doesn’t fit with sudden family responsibilities at the age of 19. Mary’s teaching career, which just started, is in jeopardy. I rooted for them both throughout the story. The author did a good job of sprinkling in backstory and strong family dynamics throughout. If you are looking for an epic love story, you will no doubt enjoy this one as I did.


Flights of Fancy is a collection of short stories and one novella. I was hooked from the first story to the last. What a shocking twist the first story delivers. What appears to be a cold-blooded murder is really something else entirely. I don’t want to give it away. I’ll just say be prepared to be surprised. Each story through the collection is unique and different because of Sally’s unique perspective and writing style. I think if I had to choose a favorite, it would be the last one in the book, which is actually the novella. What a tragic tale, but as Sally is apt to do, justice is served on a heaping platter.
This is an entertaining read and perfect for a bedtime story or two before lights out. The stories mainly focus on romance, ghosts, the supernatural, sweet justice, or, as you might want to say, revenge. I highly recommend it. 



When James Hynde’s world came crashing down around his ears, he did what any weak-minded man would do—commit suicide. End it all. After all, He can’t face prison, which he knows is the only future for him, after stealing millions from the bank where he worked. With a bottle of whiskey in hand, he climbs to the top of a parking garage and throws himself off.
Olivia Benet is rushing to get back to her car before her paid time runs out. How could fate possibly intervene at that exact moment for her to cushion Hynde’s fall? Yet it did.
James only suffers minor injuries, while she is left completely paralyzed and unable to walk. Her career as a ballet dancer is ended, and her dream crushed.
While James goes to prison for his crime of embezzlement, Olivia is faced with trying to rebuild her life again from a wheelchair. The only thing that keeps her going is the desire for revenge, to take from James as much as he took from her on that fateful day.
What happens next is quite the twist, when James falls in love with Olivia. They even marry, once he is out of prison. But her motivation is still revenge, and she finds a way to get her hands on the hidden money that no one knew about except Hynde’s mother.
Over and over again, things come together for James and Olivia, only to fall apart again throughout the story. I don’t want to leave any spoilers here, but as secrets are revealed, and lives are devastated, there only seems to be one way to go from rock bottom, and that is up. Ms. Turner did a great job writing this story, and I ignored chores to finish reading it. She even brought the COVID pandemic into the story in a completely realistic and believable way. If you are a fan of compelling drama with realistic overtones, you will enjoy this story as much as I did. 



The Deanne family was suffering financial hardships, and Christmas was just around the corner. I loved how the father was willing to sell off a few possessions to buy meager gifts for his girls. But the biggest gift came in the form of a baby bird in need of a home. The girls eagerly took over the care of the baby bird, and it grew and flourished. When the family had the chance for a vacation to the ocean, they took the bird with them, and just when it appeared he had flown away, he showed back up for the trip home. This book shows how youngsters can care for baby animals and how at some point if it’s a wild animal, it has to be set free. This is a heartwarming family story perfect for young children.


What a rollercoaster ride! Kenna Rowan is broken, so broken that she is barely functioning. After spending five years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, she’s returned to the town where it all started. Why? Because she has a five-year-old daughter, she gave birth to while in prison, whom she’s never seen. This story is complex and deeply layered.
Kenna loved Scotty. Scotty died because of a car crash that, if Kenna had been rational and thinking, could have prevented. Everyone hates her for killing Scotty. So, how will she ever be able to see her daughter, Diem, who is being raised by Scotty’s parents?
Enter Ledger, Scotty’s best friend. What happens after that kept me up late at night reading page after page. I had to get to a hopefully happy ending for Kenna. This book will twist you up inside. It will tug at your heartstrings and make you ball your fists in anger. It has it all. I highly recommend this to anyone who just devours a good story. Colleen Hoover never disappoints!



This collection of poetry and flash fiction could not be more aptly named. I love that the author dedicates her latest to the online writing community, which supports and inspires.
The book starts with different forms of poetry, which Ms. Cronin writes with exquisite artistry. I loved them all, but of course, some stood out personally to me. “Rejection” tore at my heart. We’ve all experienced that emotion at some point in life, and this poem expresses it visually through words. “Dress Rehearsal” is another favorite, perfect for Halloween or masquerade balls. I also love that Ms. Cronin took the time to share her exploration of her ancestors through DNA. Therefore, “Origins” tops the list of fabulous poetry.
Under the Short Story category, I had a few favorites as well. Topping the list is “The Healer.” A woman with the gift of healing fears for her life. But as in all of Ms. Cronin’s stories, it has a wonderful ending. “The Home Help” is another that resonated with me. It carries a warning to be careful of your words and actions, as they most always come back to roost.
This is an eclectic collection of emotive writing that I can highly recommend to everyone, as there is something to please every reading palate.



I quite literally closed this book after finishing it, looked up at the ceiling, and said out loud, “Wow! What a story!”
Josie Dean wanted family more than anything. An orphan child, she grew up in the foster care system, never knowing the feeling of security, of being wanted.
Then she met Shane. In a very short time, they marry, and she is convinced she’s finally found what she craved. They will start a family, and Josie will make sure their children are always loved and secure. But then Shane disappears.
Josie is left to pick up the pieces and create a life for herself. The one foster parent she’d had who showed caring and kindness was an accountant, so that is the career she chose to pursue. Two years later, Josie gets a call to come to the hospital, that her husband is being treated for a head injury. She wants nothing more than to serve him divorce papers. But Shane has other ideas, as he walks back into her life with no explanation of where he’s been. And to complicate matters more, he has amnesia and has left behind three dead bodies near the river.
Shane and his three brothers were raised in a military camp and trained to be killing machines. Not only that, they were created in test tubes by a mad scientist. Each brother has superhuman abilities. Shane can hear a whisper from a block away. And his body is big, muscled, and immune to pain.
But he loves Josie, his angel. And he’ll do anything to keep her safe as her life is in grave danger.
Their relationship is volatile at times, the sex rough and passionate, and the commitment unwavering. So many unanswered questions. I wasn’t sure Josie would have the inner strength to stick it out. I hope this review is making sense. This story is so complex and has so many different layers, I’m still sorting it all out in my mind. And I don’t want to leave any spoilers. Rebecca Zanetti is fast becoming an automatic go-to author for me, as her stories never disappoint. If you love a story filled with thrilling action, a complex plot, and unforgettable characters, you will devour this book, as I did!

That’s it from me this month. I hope you saw something that grabbed your interest. These were all fantastic books!

#NewRelease – Things Old and Forgotten @maeclair1 #ShortStories

I became a fan of Mae Clair’s writing with the first book I read. She is not only a talented storyteller but a friend and fellow blogger at Story Empire. I am super thrilled that she has released this new collection of short stories! I’ll let her tell you about it!

And because I am letting Mae Clair have my blog today, there will not be a Wednesday Wonder until next week. 🙂

Hi, Jan. Thanks for hosting me today and allowing me to share my newest release with your readers. Things Old and Forgotten is a collection of short fiction that includes stories in several genres—magical realism, fantasy, speculative, even two that touch on mild horror.

When I was in tenth grade, my English teacher gave me his Lord of the Rings book collection to read, and an entire new realm unfolded before my eyes. Prior to that I’d been reading mostly science-fiction, but the discovery of epic fantasy was unlike anything I’d encountered before. I was hooked and spent the next decade devouring books of wizardry, magical artifacts, and enchanted realms. To this day, I still love a good epic fantasy or sword-and-sorcery novel. When it came time to put together my collection of stories for Things Old and Forgotten, I couldn’t resist including a few fantasy tales. Below is the opening from Kin-Slayer, one of the fantasy tales included in my collection.

I will permit the ghosts their share.


I remember the ocean, glittering with a thousand faceted eyes, sunlight bright as diamonds on the surface. The scent of salt heavy in the air as it twined with the black smoke of cooking fires and the reek of fish left to dry beneath the sun. My home was nestled in a simple village. Small and secluded, Ceadon squatted on a bluff overlooking the water, her nexus a ragged sphere of thatch-roofed hovels.

She was a giddy perch, erected high on a pinnacle of wind-blasted rock. As children, E’ana and I often sat on the edge, watching the tide roll from shore as it carried our father and the other fishermen from sight. In the evening, we would meet them on the beach, anxious to ogle the day’s catch—seaweed-draped pots brimming with lobster and crab, nets so heavy they hugged the sand as the men unloaded a bounty of bluefish and tuna.

It was a modest life, fitting and welcome in those idyllic days of childhood. But childhood, like all things, fades with the passing of time.

At fifteen, E’ana was chosen as a First Daughter, one of the select betrothed to the Leviathan. Though I found the prospect disquieting, E’ana trembled with excitement. She slept little that night, tossing and turning.

I could stand her restlessness no longer. “You’ll make a fine bride, E’ana.”

She twisted in her bed to face me. “I wondered if you were awake.” Her voice sounded watery, as though she’d been crying. A black nebula of hair tumbled over her shoulders. “What if he doesn’t choose me? Atalayah, it would destroy Father if I were passed over! He was so proud of me today.”

Beyond the walls of the hut, wind played over the dunes, conjuring sand into fleeting demons. Wind can sound like water when it chooses—merciless, powerful. It made me think of dried fish heads twined with kelp and hung from doorways as protection against gales. Of the Elders huddled in their shacks. They feared the wind almost as much as the denizens of the deep, but there was no sky god to placate and bribe with virgin flesh as they did with the sea.

“It isn’t a failure to be passed over, E’ana. Many of the First Daughters have lasted as long as three seasons. The matrons speak of a few who survived all five and were permitted to marry.”

“What men would have them?”

My anger flared. “Better to wed flesh than die in the sea!”


“I’m sorry. That was jealousy speaking.”

The lie appeared to pacify her.

“And what have you to be jealous of, sister? You may never be a First Daughter, but you are a First Sword. One would be hard-pressed to name the greater honor.”

“As you say.” I had no further words, knowing they would fall on deaf ears. In time, I heard the evenness of her breathing, signaling sleep. Inwardly, I seethed. Didn’t she realize the luxuries of a First Daughter—the finest fish of the day’s catch, the best seat at village festivals, even the perfumed silks imported from the south—were simply bribes to soften the blow? The Elders told her she was destined for immortality, but she was an offering, nothing more. The Leviathan might protect us from sea dragons and merrows, but its cost of tribute was too high.

The sky had grayed with dawn before I found the peace to sleep.


A man keeping King Arthur’s dream of Camelot alive.
A Robin Hood battling in a drastically different Sherwood.
A young man facing eternity in the desert.
A genteel southern lady besting a powerful order of genies.
A woman meeting her father decades after his death.

These are but a few of the intriguing tales waiting to be discovered in Things Old and Forgotten. Prepare to be transported to realms of folklore and legend, where magic and wonder linger around every corner, and fantastic possibilities are limited only by imagination.

Thanks again for hosting me, Jan. In honor of my love for autumn—a fantastic time to curl up with a book—Things Old and Forgotten will be on sale for .99c through October 31st.




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