Book Blitz & Excerpt: A Holiday Haunting at the Biltmore + Giveaway

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A Holiday Haunting at the Biltmore
by Eva Pohler
(The Mystery House Series, #8)
Publication date: January 1st 2022
Genres: Adult, Horror, Mystery

Ellen should have known that a gathering in America’s last castle would entail a few uninvited guests.

During a Christmas eve wedding at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, Ellen and her friends are visited by multiple ghosts. The spirits have come to tell their stories, to right the wrongs that history has done to their memories. Each of them died in Asheville with their voices stifled. One spirit is particularly adamant and threatening, despite her small size, and her mood fluctuates like the mountain winds surrounding the great estate. She claims to be the ghost of Zelda Fitzgerald, and she wants her story told, even if she has to kill to make it happen.

*Although this is book eight in The Mystery House Series, these books can be read in any order.

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EXCERPT:

Chapter One: Hot Tub Musings

Ellen clung to the handrail as she eased down the steps into the hot, bubbling water. She adjusted her black one-piece bathing suit, making sure she was still covered. The aquafit class had rearranged everything.

From behind her, Sue said, “I can’t believe I let you guys talk me into this.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Tanya said from where she was already resting in the tub.

Ellen sat across from her. “Speak for yourself. I could barely breathe.”

Sue followed Ellen through the water, the ruffles of her polka dotted bathing suit dancing on the surface. “I may have even died for a few minutes. I thought I saw a light at the end of a tunnel and my mother waving to me.”

“That was probably just the Nazi instructor on deck telling you to lift your knees higher,” Ellen teased.

Two other women from the aquafit class, both in their early seventies, joined Ellen and her friends.

“That instructor isn’t as good as the one on Tuesdays,” one of them, a petite woman with white hair, said. She was nearly as thin as Tanya.

The other woman, rounder than Ellen but not as round as Sue, nodded. “The one on Tuesday really works you.”

“Oh, Lord.” Sue pushed her dark brown bangs from her eyes. “Let’s not come on Tuesday.”

“We already agreed that we would,” Tanya pointed out. “At least until the wedding.”

Ellen tugged at her shoulder straps, trying to keep everything in the right place. “You can count on me. I’m determined to lose twenty pounds or die trying.”

Sue scoffed. “Well, maybe I love life more than you.”

“If that were true,” the petite woman with the white hair began, “you’d keep coming. I’ve been doing this for over thirty years. I used to be bigger than both of you combined.”

The woman pointed at Ellen and Sue. Ellen tried not to be offended. The audacity of some people, she thought.

“I’m sold!” Sue said comedically, lifting her finger high in the air. “Sign me up! Oh, that’s right. Tanya already did.”

The other women laughed, and Ellen’s mood lightened.

“Did I hear you say that you have a wedding coming up?” the rounder woman asked Tanya.

“Not my wedding,” Tanya said as her blue eyes widened. “It’s Ellen’s son. He’s getting married on Christmas eve at the Biltmore Estate.”

“Oh, how nice,” the petite woman said. “That’s the most beautiful house in the country.”

Ellen leaned against the lip of the tub and breathed in the smell of lavender and musk. “That’s what my son’s future in-laws say, too. They’ve been planning this wedding since their daughter was a baby, I think.”

“Are they from Asheville then?” the petite one asked.

“They live there,” Sue said. Then, turning to Ellen, she asked, “Is it the mother that’s related to the Vanderbilts?”

“Yes,” Ellen said.

“Which means they’re getting the works,” Sue gloated. “The entire wedding party and their guests will be staying at the Biltmore House, which is never done anymore.”

Ellen gave Sue her keep-your-mouth-shut look. Maya’s parents had asked them not to talk about the event with others. They wanted to avoid a media circus.

“How wonderful,” the petite woman said. “You sure you don’t need another grandmother to come?”

Ellen smiled but said nothing in reply.

“That sounds like a once in a lifetime experience.” The round woman climbed from the tub. “I hope you enjoy it, and have a nice weekend, ladies.”

“You, too,” Ellen said as Sue and Tanya waved.

“I should go, too,” the petite woman said. “Will I see you all on Tuesday?”

“We’ll be here.” Tanya turned to Sue. “Right?”

Sue shrugged. “We shall see.”

After the two women left, and she and her friends were alone in the hot tub, Ellen said, “Poor Lane is so stressed over this wedding.”

“I thought that was the job of the bride,” Sue said.

Tanya stood up. “It can be hard on the groom, too. Poor thing. What’s been the most stressful for him?”

Ellen sighed. “Maya’s grandparents. Both sets are still alive, and, apparently, one set can’t stand the other, and vice versa.”

Sue furrowed her brows. “Do you know why?”

“Lane doesn’t know the whole story. The grandfathers were friends long before Maya’s parents were born. According to Maya, they can be really nasty when forced to be in the same room.”

“That’s too bad,” Tanya said as she took her damp blonde hair from its ponytail, and then remade it higher on her head. “I hope they won’t ruin the wedding.”

Ellen’s stomach clenched. She wanted Lane’s wedding day to be perfect for him so that only happy memories would be made.

“I would think the setting alone would be enough to sweeten even the sourest grapes of the bunch,” Sue said reassuringly.

Ellen lifted her brows. “I hope you’re right.”

“Is it Maya’s maternal grandfather or grandmother that’s related to the Vanderbilts?” Tanya asked.

Ellen submerged to her neck. She let out a small gasp of pleasure as the hot water relaxed her muscles, tight from the workout. Then she said, “Grandmother. Melissa Dresden—used to be Brown. She’s the daughter to a cousin of George Vanderbilt, the one who made it all happen. I just read a book about it called The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan. It was interesting to read about the estate’s history. George fell in love with Asheville when he took his ailing mother there to breathe.”

“To what?” Tanya asked.

“To breathe,” Ellen repeated. “Back then, they believed fresh air was the cure for almost everything—especially tuberculosis—and Asheville had become known for its breathing porches that overlooked the beautiful Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.”

“George’s mother had tuberculosis?” Sue asked. “Most people didn’t survive it.”

“No, she had malaria, and she recovered from it, but not before George fell in love with the area and began buying up all the land.”

“What year was this?” Tanya asked.

“Late 1800s,” Ellen said. “According to the book, George wasn’t interested in the family business like his two older brothers, who took over various railroad companies when their father died. George was more of a scholar. He loved to read and to collect art, and he wanted something different for himself. So, he decided to outdo his siblings by building the largest private home in America.”

Sue nodded. “That he did.”

“It was more than that, though, wasn’t it?” Tanya asked. “Didn’t he build a famous dairy?”

“Yes—though now it’s a winery. He also hired the best forester and horticulturalist and created a forest preserve and foresters’ school. Later, his wife Edith, who outlived him by many years, created a school for the villagers that focused on textiles and crafts, I believe. Apparently, Edith did a lot for Asheville. I think she was the real heart of Biltmore, only because George died young. They had a daughter named Cornelia, but, according to the book, she was never as devoted to Biltmore as her mother.”

“How old was George when he died?” Sue asked.

“Early fifties, I think. Younger than us.”

“Can you believe I turn sixty next year?” Tanya asked.

“Already?” Sue covered her face with her hands. “I’m right behind you.”

“Brian’s sixty-two, and he’s fine,” Ellen pointed out. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“Not yet, anyway,” Sue said.

“That’s too bad about Maya’s grandparents,” Tanya said. “I really hope they behave themselves at the wedding.”

“Me, too.” Ellen sighed and leaned back on the lip of the tub. “Lane says that Maya’s Vanderbilt grandmother was originally engaged to Maya’s other grandfather, and that’s why the two sets of grandparents don’t get along. One man stole the Vanderbilt bride from the other.”

“Must be hard for the grandmother who isn’t a Vanderbilt,” Sue pointed out. “She might feel like chopped liver. Don’t you think?”

“I know I would, in her situation,” Tanya said. “How selfish of her husband that he can’t let it go.”

“Lane doesn’t think that’s the whole story,” Ellen said. “I just hope they can be civil for the sake of their granddaughter.”

“And for the rest of us,” Tanya added.

Sue shrugged. “I don’t know. Drama at the Biltmore might be fun.”

“Don’t say that,” Ellen insisted. “I’m worried enough about the other encounters we may have while we’re there.”

“Did the book say the house is haunted?” Tanya asked.

“No, and when I asked the Biltmore wedding coordinator about it, she said that they weren’t allowed to discuss it.”

“It’s rumored to be.” Sue furrowed her brows again. “And if Biltmore employees have been warned against talking about it, then you know what that means.”

Tanya stretched her arms. “It’s a good thing we’re taking along some of our equipment.”

“I’m afraid not to,” Ellen said. “Ghosts have a way of finding us, and I don’t want to be caught unprepared.”

“They find us because we have the gift, and they can sense it,” Sue said.

“What do Lane and Maya think about it?” Tanya climbed up and sat on the edge of the tub with her legs in the water.

“I haven’t mentioned it to them,” Ellen admitted. “I’d like to keep any ghostly happenings away from the wedding, as much as possible.”

“Have you done any research, to learn if anyone has written about hauntings there?” Sue asked.

Ellen combed her fingers through her short, damp hair. “I’ve read about ghosts in Asheville, but very little is said about hauntings at the Biltmore. One book claimed that George Vanderbilt’s ghost is there.”

“I wonder what unfinished business a billionaire would have, that would keep him from moving on,” Tanya said.

Ellen climbed up and sat beside Tanya. “Hopefully, it’s only a rumor, and the wedding will go off without a hitch—worldly or otherwise.”

“I’m sure it will,” Tanya reassured her.

“We’ll find out in two months’ time,” Sue said. “That is, if we survive Aquafit.”

Ellen and Tanya looked at each other and grinned.


Author Bio:

After earning her Ph.D. in English and teaching writing and literature for over twenty years, Eva Pohler became a USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels in multiple genres, including mysteries, thrillers, and young adult paranormal romance based on Greek mythology. Her books have been described as “addictive” and “sure to thrill”–Kirkus Reviews.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Last Blue Christmas + Giveaway

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Looking for the perfect holiday read? Look no further! Welcome to the book tour for Last Blue Christmas by Rose Prendeville. Read on for details and a chance to win a $50 Amazon e-Gift Card!

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Last Blue Christmas
Publication Date: December 1st, 2021
Genre: Contemporary Romance/ Holiday Romance

The only case they haven’t cracked is how to be together.

Not on Officer Maggie Kyle’s Christmas bingo card:

• A homemade bomb in a bus station locker.
• A child, the prime suspect in the bombing.
• Her partner of ten years abandoning her to solve the case on her own.

Max St. James might be the worst cop in the world—or at least in Toronto:

• He fell in love with his partner.
• He’s the reason she never became a detective.
• He doesn’t much care who planted the bomb.

The IED’s blast ignites years of tension, sending Maggie and Max careening in opposite directions—but opposites still attract.

Can they find a way to come together to solve the case before another bomb goes off?

And will it mean another ten years sacrificing the future they want for the partnership they already have?

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Excerpt

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… four migraine headaches, three massive ulcers, two aching ear drums, and a hole where my heart ought to be,” Maggie sang quietly to herself as though Max wasn’t sitting right there. She cracked herself up and switched off the unmarked Suburban’s FM radio with a flourish, and Max could swear he caught a whiff of cinnamon.

“Maggie Kyle, your Christmas spirit confounds me,” he told his partner. He was pretending to watch a Buick creep down the street a little too slowly so she wouldn’t guess how attuned he was to the earnest timbre of her voice or the wry quirk of her lips. She was trying too hard to act casual with him, and he couldn’t figure out why.

Maggie forced another laugh. “Christmas spirit,” she repeated, skimming the crossword puzzle in her lap before glancing back across the street at the rundown residence of Bobby King. Its peeling paint, once white, was now a weathered gray, and of the four green shutters meant to frame the front windows, two were broken and one was missing altogether.

“What is a six-letter word for ‘lack thereof,’ Alex?”

“Jeopardy’s not a crossword puzzle,” she said, making sure he saw her eye roll.

“Dispatch, we need to put out an APB on Officer Kyle’s missing Christmas spirit.”

“You going to call in that Buick?” she changed the subject.

“I wrote down the plates,” he lied, squinting to make them out so he could record the vehicle in his logbook.

Maggie picked up the radio. “51-19?”

“51-19, go ahead,” another officer responded from his own unmarked vehicle around the corner.

“10-15 headed your way. Tan Buick, early 2000s model, traveling east. Manitoba plate: Yankee Lima Echo seven seven eight.”

“Copy,” 51-19 replied.

Maggie replaced the radio and turned her attention back to the crossword. “Frankie wants to enter that gingerbread contest, and her mom’s been playing Christmas carols since before Halloween. I’m not sure how much more I can take.”

“Got it. No Christmas carols.”

Max drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. When exactly had she lost her Christmas spirit? He could picture her as a little girl—in his mind she wore two long braids and was constantly shaking her bangs out of her eyes—staring up at the sky waiting for Santa to ride out of the stars like a meteor with the same patience she now bestowed on their stakeout. “But peppermint lattes are okay?”

She grinned. “I’ll allow it.”

“So you only hate Christmas a little bit then?”

Maggie snorted.

Time was, Max didn’t mind the odd stakeout. It beat writing parking tickets or chasing shoplifters through the snow. Play some tunes, shoot the shit, pee in a bottle if things got urgent.

With the right partner it could seem like a day off. But everything was like eggshells with Maggie lately, and he couldn’t figure out when exactly things had changed.

Today he felt a special kind of twitchy, the kind that made you want to peel off your own skin. Max loved the city—sometimes he hated how much he loved it—but sitting still all week, downtown where the Toronto high-rises blocked out the sky, he was starting to feel caged, like the buildings were closing in from every direction.

Maybe he was psyching himself out after the whole ancestry test situation. The dichotomy of an Indigenous urbanite was turning his brain against itself. Maybe he just needed a vacation.

“Do you believe in nature versus nurture?” he asked.

“What, you mean like, mama tried but Bobby King was born rotten and no amount of church or cuddles or bedtime stories could have stopped him growing up to be a cop-killing gun runner?”

“Something like that.”

Maggie shrugged at him. “You missed a button.” She pointed at his shirt. “Girlfriend didn’t catch that?”

She was obsessed with the idea that he and Selina from next door shared more than a wall. It had only happened once—okay a handful of times. But it was five years ago, and there was no way Maggie could have known, except somehow she did. Even back then there’d been something, in his gait as he walked to the patrol car or a half-guilty look in his eyes; she had known, and if he protested now she’d take it as some kind of proof.

Not that it should even matter. They were partners, not lovers, and he’d certainly been her shoulder to cry on when the asshat from college dumped her and split back to Edmonton.

Max should have made a move on Maggie then, but he was still her TO and besides, he’d been a rebound before. He didn’t want to be one for Maggie, and she didn’t want him anyway. She’d been singularly focused on making detective since her first day at Fifty-One Division. Until, somewhere along the lines, she hadn’t.

And she was right about the button. His black undershirt was peeking through. Did he bother to look in the mirror this morning? After a dozen years on the job, he knew what he’d see. Not his father, not even his grandfather—just a sad imitation, like a kid who got the wrong size costume at Halloween.

Her phone began to vibrate then, and she, too, silenced it without answering.

“Your mom again?” he asked.

She didn’t respond, which meant yes.

“She giving you a hard time about staying here for the holidays?”

“I’ll take ‘Does the earth orbit the sun?’ for a thousand, Alex.”

“Weren’t you going to invite your folks out here for Christmas?”

“That was last year.”

An uncomfortable mixture of lust and shame surged through Max, from the tips of his ears to his belly, at the thought of last Christmas. He tried to remember her parents being in town, but all that came to mind was the department holiday party and sweaty fumbling in a dark interrogation room. And cinnamon. She had smelled like cinnamon then, too.

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About the Author

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Rose Prendeville is a librarian and honorary Canadian with a passion for stories about found families and flawed people doing their best.

She’s been devising such tales for as long as she can remember, including secretly in the back of her tenth grade French class (Pardon, Madame Gonzales), and she went on to double-major in screenwriting and creative writing.

Hydrangeas are her lifeblood, hot baths and hiking are her solace. She adores baking (and mostly eating) macarons, and she can’t wait to share this and future books with you.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Behind the Mask + Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Thomas Grant Bruso will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Behind the Mask
by Thomas Grant Bruso
Genre: Horror, Mystery/Suspense, LGBT

Seventeen-year-old Jesse has a babysitting gig at the Linderman’s house on Halloween. He loves watching Christie and Dylan and is thrilled to see them dressed up in cute, creative costumes. When he arrives at their house, Jesse knows it will be a fun-filled night of pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating.

But Jesse quickly realizes Halloween is not only about candy, pumpkins, and scary costumes. It’s known for tricks and ghoulish things and can bring out crazies. While trick-or-treating, he notices a strange person wearing a glow-in-the-dark mask watching him from the shadowy street.

The rest of the night turns into a cat-and-mouse game of survival. Strange things start to happen at the Linderman’s residence, setting Jesse on edge, making him apprehensive somebody might be taking the spirit of Halloween too far.

Will Jesse survive the things that go bump in the night, or will he become just another tall tale this Halloween?

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Read the Excerpt

I leaned my forehead against the doorframe and closed my eyes, waiting a beat. When I opened my eyes, I watched the vehicle reverse and slowly pull out into the street, braking for children running by. The headlights bounced up and down as the vehicle’s wheels rolled downhill along the raised trajectory of the driveway.

As I watched the car drive off, its red taillights blinking as if in warning, my chest tightened like a clenched fist for some indeterminate reason, and an uncomfortable heaviness settled inside me. I let the curtain fall from my slippery fingers back into position, and I leaned against the wall to catch my breath and bearings.

I climbed the stairs and relieved Christie, telling Dylan he had to dry off, dress, and get into bed. He turned on his brotherly charm and debated with me about bedtime. “Your mom and dad were strict about what time you had to be in bed,” I told him.

“Just go to bed, Dylan,” Christie yelled from her bedroom.

Dylan sat on the bathroom floor, pouting and wrapped in a towel, as I drained the tub and put away his toys. “I’ll read you a story before I turn out the light,” I said.

“Batman, please,” he begged.

“Dry off and get into your pajamas.”

He stood and stomped out of the room.

“Stop being a baby!” Christie yelled from down the hall.

“I ain’t a baby!” Dylan shot back.

“I’m not a baby,” his sister corrected him.

I stepped out into the hall to referee their sibling mudslinging. “I can skip story time,” I said to both of them. “Is that what you want?”

A unison of “Nos!” shot out into the hall from their open bedroom doors, the only unanimous decision they’d made as brother and sister that night.

I read to Christie, who couldn’t keep her eyes open for more than five minutes. I gave Dylan a glass of water and set it on his night table. I ran my hand through his floppy brown bangs that had been spared from the vomit, and he fell fast asleep from the steady, relaxing raking gestures of my hand in his hair.

As much I enjoyed story time with the kids, I couldn’t wait to delve into my quiet corner of the house with a cup of tea. I wanted to start on my homework, especially after Dylan’s stomach-churning episode.

I pulled the comforter up around his back and reached over to shut the lamp off. I left the Godzilla nightlight lit up across the room and cracked the door open ajar. I checked on Christie one last time before heading downstairs. I poked my head into her room to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. After I’d finished reading Dr. Seuss to her, she told me that she didn’t sleep well when her parents were not home.

I told her that I’d be downstairs, and if she woke up scared to come down, I’d fix her a glass of milk. She felt safer with the door wide open, she told me. I wished her goodnight and crept downstairs to the kitchen.

I microwaved a cup of water and brewed one of Mrs. Linderman’s decaf black tea bags for five minutes while I rummaged in my bookbag for my math homework. Before sitting at the kitchen table, I plated three chocolate chip cookies from Mrs. Linderman’s fresh-baked stash.

I blew on the hot tendrils of steam wafting up from the teacup and dunked a cookie. My empty stomach growled at the aromatic chocolaty smell. I looked around the silent kitchen, chewing and dipping. Peace and quiet, finally, I thought, resting my elbows on the tabletop and sitting hunched forward under the yellow globe of light from the stained-glass ceiling lamp hanging overhead, savoring the deliciously sweet dessert.

Without Christie and Dylan talking and nagging and carrying on about something, I felt my thoughts winding down, the wheels in my mind slackening to the speed of a snail. My heightened anxieties dwindled like the setting sun. I worked on the half dozen Algebra questions for class, showing my work on separate pages in my notebook, and struggling with a few questions when a sound from outside jerked me out of my reverie.

I looked up and stared down the hall leading into the living room. Shadows danced beyond the drawn lace curtain on the front door. I thought I heard footsteps on the porch steps, but it was the wind tugging on the screen door, yanking it open, and slamming it against the side of the house.

I thought I had locked it.


About the Author:

Thomas Grant Bruso knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer. He has been a voracious reader of genre fiction since he was a kid.

His literary inspirations are Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ellen Hart, Jim Grimsley, Karin Fossum, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Connolly.

Bruso loves animals, book-reading, writing fiction, prefers Sudoku to crossword puzzles.

In another life, he was a freelance writer and wrote for magazines and newspapers. In college, he was a winner for the Hermon H. Doh Sonnet Competition. Now, he writes and publishes fiction, and reviews books for his hometown newspaper, The Press Republican.

He lives in upstate New York.


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