I’m nervous still. After all, just because they chose a book doesn’t mean they got it right, and we’ve got all of June to find out if they did. EEEP!
If you’re just starting our craziness, here are the first installments of the interactive short story inspired by Chantel Reads All Day’s “Read Your Bookshelf Challenge” for 2022.
With everything pushing back the last one a whole week, you guys are getting back to back. YEs, I’m still a couple of days late, but hey! Cool beans!
To find out what books I’m reading (and a hint of the upcoming prompts), you can find my list on Chantel’s (from Chantel Reads All Day) Hey Reader Website. I’m reading an Erin Bartles book this month, The Words Between Us. I haven’t started it yet (I’ve been immersed in Janice L. Dick’s Happenstance series–great books!) but as soon as those are done…
Cast of Characters
Bill Olemann- Rich dead uncle
Wes Olemann- Bookstore owner
Tom Olemann- Wes’ brother
Sadie McGee- Music store owner
Elton Sadler- Mary Margaret Montmorency’s sorta grandson
Detective Grosser- not to put too fine a point on it but…
Book club members:
- Allison Petty- pediatric nurse
- Jonas West- truck driver
- Mary Margaret Montmorency- old lady from England
- Arlette Hoskins- homemaker (and husband Darrel)
- Gavin Underwood- businessman
- Corey Gray- florist
- Simon Lesourd- printer
- Bernice Boyles- postal worker
- Piper Etherbridge- retail clerk
- Julia Chen- lawyer
- Xander Meers- student
- Carrie Dermott- homeschool mom
Xander’s call couldn’t have come at a worse time. Standing out of the way in a hospital room as doctors and nurses worked to revive a guy who had been beaten for walking past a “peaceable protest” without picking up a sign—not the way he had expected to spend his morning. When the man’s heart began blipping on the monitor again, the doctor ordered him sent down for an ultrasound to search for internal bleeding.
He’d have to come back. With a quick prayer—why he did it when he didn’t know what he believed anymore he couldn’t say—Andrew slipped from the room and strode down the hall. First: no statement from the guy. He’d seen the man who threw the first punch and called the others to go for him. They needed that statement.
Second: Xander. If the kid was calling to confess, he’d quit. If that kid’s a crook—no. He’s not. He has an idea.
Xander’s phone picked up just as Andrew stepped out of the doors of Southeast Regional and into the hottest day they’d had since last August. As he slipped out of his suit coat, he said, “You called?”
“She’s sus, Grosser. Totally sus. I caught her telling a friend she couldn’t have lunch with their group because she had to see me about something and the friend said, ‘Didn’t that already fail?’”
Andrew’s gut clenched. He reached his car and leaned one hand against the frame, his eyes scanning the area. They’d trained him to do it in the academy, but did others do it? Keep track of their surroundings? They should.
Xander’s story burst back into his thoughts. “—practically ran me over and asked me to join them all for pizza for Gabe’s birthday.”
“That’s suspect?” The whole “sus” thing… suspect. Kids.
“Not really…” The kid didn’t sound like he was backtracking, but what was with the delay? “Until she said, ‘It’s next Thursday. We’re going around six. I’ll treat.’ Seriously, Grosser, that girl would have made out with me right there in the hallway if I’d pushed for it. I know it. Something’s going on. She only asks me to do stuff when it’s club night. I don’t trust her.”
He needed to fess up about Ciara, but if Xander was trying to pull info… yeah. Couldn’t do it. He’d just have to tell Ciara to make it this Thursday. “Wait…” That’d give his brain a second to think. “You think Ciara is involved with the puppet master? Isn’t that a bit far-fetched? I thought she liked you. She acted like it.”
“She did!” Xander’s voice echoed a bit with that. Must be in the restroom. It came softer again—almost a whisper now. “But this doesn’t add up. I think it’s all an act. I just can’t figure out why or how. That’s your job.”
Andrew started to say something else, but the call dropped. He tapped Ciara’s contact on his phone and waited for her to pick up. “It’s Detective Grosser.”
“Yeah. I see it right there on the screen.”
Great. The kid was in snarky mode. Just what he needed. “Look, got a call from Xander. He’s suspicious that you only invite him to do things on book club night. Any chance you can decide that you need to move that pizza night up to this Thursday so your friend… Gabe? Doesn’t figure it out?”
“You buy my pizza and I can.”
He almost laughed, but despite the cheek, decided he still wanted to keep his options open there. Especially since his captain was holding out for more info on his prime suspect before letting him even conduct a routine interview. “I’ll leave a gift card for you at the school office.”
If the pause before she said thanks and disconnected meant what he thought it did, she’d been hoping for cash. “Nothing doing, kid.”
A text came through before he could get the key into the ignition. *Go ahead with an informal interview.
“Yes!” His fist pounded the steering wheel as a grin stretched his lips to the cracking point. First a drink… then their puppet master. He was sure of it.
Seated in her cherry red chair, Arlette waved a book around, sing-songed “Yadda, yadda, blech, blech,” and moved her whole upper body in a fast circle before rising to check the camera. Lighting—good. The plant beside the chair had grown, though, and now it looked like its fingers were reaching out to tangle in her hair. “Or maybe do rabbit ears.” She paused, adjusted the plant, and continued. The titles of the stack of books beside her didn’t read clearly enough. Too many.
With a sigh, Arlette pulled the top two off and set them on the chair. She’d have to hold them in her lap. One last glance at the clock told her she still had time to film before Darrel got home. She clicked record and seated herself. Head bowed, eyes closed, she took a deep, cleansing breath. Time to be perky. Viewers didn’t like grumpy Arlette, though she’d tried to make it part of her brand. Total failure on that one.
“It’s June and time for my TBR pile! I’ve picked some great—”
The doorbell interrupted her intro and turned fake perky into one hundred percent authentic snark. “Go away.” She said it even as she rose, dumped the books on the chair, turned off the recorder, and stomped through the house to the front door.
The sight of Detective Grosser both excited and terrified her. He’d either gotten the perp or she was his next suspect. We all have to be suspects, Lette. Deal. So she dealt by opening the door. “Detective. What’s up?”
“Can I come in for a few minutes? We have questions.”
Why did cops say that? It was in nearly every book she’d ever read. The “royal we” as if they were the queen’s constables doing her bidding or something. And we don’t even have a queen in America.
“Oh, right. Of course.” She led him into the living room and sat automatically in her favorite spot on the couch. Bad move. That meant the detective sat in Darrel’s chair and could see anyone coming up the walk. Anyone like Darrel.
“Tell me a bit about your YouTube channel, Mrs. Hoskins.”
Was that all? Well, this would be a fast visit. “It’s still pretty new, but I enjoy it. I read a lot…” She waved a hand at the bookshelves flanking the fireplace. “So a friend suggested I start a channel after the kids went off to college.”
“And what do you talk about on your channel?”
You’ve seen it. You must have, or you wouldn’t know that it’s mostly talking. So what are you getting at?
“Arlette, okay? It’s not like you don’t know my name.” He only nodded. “Okay, well it’s not like you don’t know the answer. But yeah, I talk about books. The ones I have read, the ones I want to read, the ones I’ve bought… books. That’s why they call it ‘BookTube.’”
What the guy could possibly find to write down in that answer, she couldn’t imagine. “And how do you decide what books you’re going to read?”
Okay, this was just weird. Arlette started to answer with a generic, “Whatever strikes my fancy,” and decided to go with snarky instead. “I don’t know. How do you decide what book you’re going to read?”
“Lately, it’s been decided for me.”
The words pummeled her from all sides. “Wait… you’re reading our books?”
“In case there’s something inside the book to help us catch this guy, yeah.”
Impressive. With the current understaffing of police officers, Arlette knew he had to be crazy busy. At least the police were taking the situation seriously. They should. The whole thing was crazy. She almost said as much when she realized he still waited for an answer to the question. “Well, that’s partly how I do it. There are challenges, you know. Different blogs, publishers, and BookTubers have different ones. I always pick a few to do. I hope to host my own next year, but I need a few more subscribers before it’s worth the effort.”
“Sure.” Arlette excused herself and returned with her reading journal. She turned to the section with her challenges. “Here are the ones I’m doing this year.”
As the detective flipped through the challenge pages and paused. “You read picture books?”
“One every week—there’s a prompt. So for…” She leaned over and pointed. “Okay, so for that one, I did Jamberry.”
He looked first at her and then at the journal. “‘A book that could be ‘rapped.’ What’s Jamberry?”
What did any of this have to do with anything? Though she wanted to ask, Arlette went to grab her well-worn (okay, nearly worn out) copy of Jamberry. “Read it out loud. You’ll see.”
It only took two sentences for him to nod, smile, and hand it back. “Got it. And what about… ‘Seasons’?” He looked at the journal closer. “Is Over and Over the book you read for it?”
“Yes. It’s by Charlotte Zolotow and one of my favorites.”
“And…” He stared at the list. “What about ‘A celebration of simple things’? What is Miss Rumphius?”
Arlette huffed before responding. “It’s a delightful story about a woman who doesn’t do anything earth-shattering in the world’s eyes but makes a quiet, deliberate impact on the world nonetheless. It teaches children that our simple contributions can make big impacts.”
He scanned the list again and narrowed his eyes. “What’s this week’s? The prompt says, ‘An underrated book.’”
“I haven’t chosen yet. There are so many that people don’t appreciate—the ones by Thomas Locker with their great paintings, the wordless ones by Alexandra Day, When I Was Young in the Mountains…”
From his expression, Grosser wasn’t impressed with that title, and it irked her something fierce. She jumped up and went to grab the book. The thought to offer him a drink came and went before she could act on it. The guy was wasting their time. Not even water for him.
And in an act of hypocrisy, she wasted his time by reading every word of When I Was Young in the Mountains. “It’s my daughter’s favorite. And for the record,” she added, “Next week’s ‘a book with a lesson’ will be The Scrap Doll by Liz Rosenberg. Anything else?”
“What about this mystery challenge?”
Arlette flopped her head back against the couch and closed her eyes. “I choose a book based on the prompts. Last year I did golden age of mystery books by authors like Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh and the rest. This year I’m doing it with cozies—bad choice, by the way.”
“Series—they’re almost all long series, and I have to plow through five or six books sometimes just so I don’t read one out of order to fill the prompt. Next year I’m doing middle-grade mysteries I think.”
“And yet, you’ve also been doing…” He flipped the page again—to the page Arlette hoped he wouldn’t. “This one.” He held it up just like any good librarian reading a story to children. “The ‘TBR Buster.’ Let’s look at the prompts on this one. Quiet… Love in the title… Growth…” He looked up. “Sound familiar?”
Antagonizing a cop wasn’t a good idea, but she really couldn’t help it. “And your point? I didn’t come up with them! Talk to the owner of that channel.”
“I would, but she lives in Canada—not likely to be our puppet master is she? But a loyal subscriber—one who comments every week on her videos…? Now she makes sense.” He snapped the journal shut and leaned forward, holding it in both hands. “Especially since she hasn’t once mentioned that she knew what the next clue would be. Suspicious, don’t you think?”
Deep inside she felt it. The shakes were coming, and once they arrived, she’d look so guilty it wasn’t even funny. “Are you arresting me for being the puppet master?”
“I don’t have the kind of proof needed to do that, but if you’d like to confess, I’m sure we can work out—”
“I’m not confessing anything.” It was a stupid idea but she had to try. Arlette rose and walked to the door without wobbling too much. “I’d like you to leave now. Being accused of threatening people is insulting. I won’t listen to it in my own home. I’ll see you next week—assuming you haven’t caught the real puppet master and abandoned us.”
At least he didn’t argue. The detective thanked her for her time, left his card on the coffee table next to her half-read copy of Miss Buncle’s Book (did that count for irony?), and strode down her front walk. Arlette collapsed on the floor, shaking.
Jonas sat next to Allison and watched the group. So far, there was no sign of any envelope. Maybe the guy was late. Perhaps he’d given up. As unlikely as it was, that one got Jonas’ vote.
They’d already discussed the general plot of Miss Buncle’s Book and had reached a general consensus that the publisher would likely be irritated that someone had written a thinly-veiled account of an actual village’s life without admitting it up front. Now each member had an opinion on different characters and where they thought each would go.
Mary Margaret Montmorency and he were the only ones who had finished it. “I’ve started the next one already,” she’d said. He hadn’t admitted that he’d already bought the audio himself. The story wasn’t his usual favorite style but it did hold some genuine appeal.
At a lull, he asked a question he hadn’t been able to decide for himself. “Does anyone have a strong opinion on whether the author is trying to write a moral lesson or if it just naturally followed while observing human nature?”
That set off an argument that became heated to the point that Grosser intervened. Personally, he liked seeing everyone really engage. Mary Margaret Montmorency laid a thin hand on his arm and said, “Insightful question, dear Jonas. I am intrigued.”
What else she might have said faded away at the appearance of Wes Olemann carrying an envelope. So much for the hope that the puppet master had given up.
Arlette Hoskins went gray and her hands shook when Wes handed her the envelope. Carrie, seated beside her, reached over to squeeze her hand. “It’ll be all right. So far, so good, right?”
Was it his imagination, or did Arlette mutter, “That’s what you think”?
All eyes turned to Detective Grosser. The guy sounded ticked. What’s up with you?
Arlette opened. She seemed unwilling to look at it, glanced down and away so fast he wondered what was wrong. Grosser seemed… well, engrossed.
“‘A book you’ve been avoiding but actually want to read.’”
The whirring of an oscillating fan in the corner provided ambient noise broken only by Mrs. Montmorency’s plastic teaspoon tapping against her paper cup. Julia Chen finally spoke. “And the clue? What’s the book?”
“Yes, Mrs. Hoskins. What is the book?”
Arlette snapped her head up and glared at him. “The clue doesn’t make any sense at all to me. It says: Find a one-word title that gives you the wrong time of the wrong month.”
That was weird. The group began talking all at once, but Jonas needed to see the clue to let it make sense to him. He rose and moved to Arlette’s side. “May I see it?”
She thrust it at him as if anxious to get rid of it. “Be my guest.”
Jonas read it carefully. Twice. Then he saw something interesting. “This one’s dated.”
Everyone crowded around him to see before parting with the efficiency of the waters of the Red Sea as Detective Grosser appeared. “May I see it, please?”
As he passed it over, his mind spinning. One word title… wrong month. Wrong time of month. It sounded like a book for girls about female cycles. Oh, I hope not.
After looking at the card, Detective Grosser asked Arlette, “So… what book have you been avoiding that you really want to read?”
Simon broke in before Arlette could answer. “Don’t think that’ll help, Grosser. This is about what books the puppet master has or hasn’t read isn’t it? Isn’t that what we decided last time?”
“I don’t think we decided anything. We assumed as much, but Mrs. Montmorency hadn’t read A Man Called Ove or anything by Backman, so it could have been inside knowledge of her.” He turned to the older woman. “By the way, did you ever mention at the club here that you hadn’t read anything by him?”
The poor old gal looked confused, but Carrie spoke up. “She did! I had Anxious People in my bag and she asked if it was any good. In that conversation, she admitted she’d never read anything by him.”
“And who was nearby?”
Gavin raised his hand. “I overheard that.”
“So did Arlette.” Carrie turned to the woman. “Remember?”
If Grosser’s expression said anything other than, “Gotcha,” Jonas would eat his… something inedible. He didn’t wear a hat in summer.
A book you’ve been avoiding but actually want to read.
Find a one-word title that gives you the wrong time of the wrong month.
Well, don’t forget to give us your guess to the clue.
I think I’ve figured it out, though why Arlette would want to read that book I have no idea. *yawn*
Here are the rest of the episodes again in case you missed one.