Book Reviews, Mystery

BOOK REVIEW: Tess’s Tale (Donna Joy Usher)


How does mafia wife Tess explain her decades-long disappearance – to her daughter, her ex-husband and her cop boyfriend? How does she choose between two men fighting to the death over her? This is the story of a blues club singer and the gorgeous construction worker who never wanted to run the Vegas mob.

When she showed up on Madame Liss’ doorstep, Tess was the victim of an abused alcoholic mother and her abuser, the Las Vegas Mafia King’s money man, Lou the Brain. Little did she know at the time that her mother’s voice held the power of life and death – and prosperity. Or that she was good with gore – and a gun.

When Harry first laid eyes on Tess, her hair was perfect, except for one stray strand that refused to stay in place as she passed his site. Then he saw her walk into the club. So he walked into the club – a few hours later with his father and associates, including Tess’ twin sister. Then two million dollars went missing and over the next few weeks – and years – everything hit the fan – whenever the Big H and Tess weren’t making mad, passionate, true love.

Tess’s Tale is a departure from Usher’s earlier book, the Seven Steps to Closure. Seven Steps was more of a rom com. Tess’s Tale has more of a 40’s detective noir feel to it, despite seeming to be set between the 1990s and 2000-teens, which actually, I quite enjoy. In addition, as an American, it’s rather an interesting experience to read a casino heist novel set in Las Vegas but written in Australian English. Almost like reading along on the left side of the road. After a bit you become accustomed to it and it’s more of a laugh that balances the nature of the noir. While many details are accurate, the author explains her few liberties in the preface.

The story takes off and rolls along rather well as Tess goes back in time to explain herself to all concerned. It turns out she’s far more adventurous than her young adult daughter thinks her to be. For me, it’s as decadent as a chocolate fudge sundae with extra cherries on top.


Harry had promised me a night alone. Just him and me. Like it used to be before Tweedledee and Tweedledum came along. Mickey and Riley were almost impossible to get rid of.

I said goodbye to Liss, who was getting ready for a night out with Thor. Being the only night the club was shut, Monday nights were sacred. A warm breeze blew over my skin as I walked back home, but the sun was close enough to the horizon that I wasn’t covered in sweat.

Normally when I walk, I’m in my own little world. Thoughts of Harry or singing keep me so occupied that a comet could land and I might not even notice. But today I kept an eye out for Tristan Penn. I wasn’t ready for an encounter with him yet. My self-assurance still hadn’t recovered from the last one.

I turned the last corner warily, poking my head around to check the street was clear. If I hadn’t, I may not have noticed the strange men coming out of Harry’s and my house.

I’d had a lot of men in and out of my house over the last couple of weeks, but I knew these were strange because they carried three, limp bodies. Harry, Mickey and Riley.

A white van was parked out the front of the terrace, its door already open. They threw the bodies in the back and while four of them scrambled in after them, one slammed the door shut and jumped in the front passenger seat, and the other climbed into the driver’s side and started the engine.

The few minutes it had taken them to kidnap my husband had been the longest of my life. My heart banged around in my chest like a ping-pong ball as cold sweat broke out over my body.

Please let them be alive. Please let them be alive.

Sadly, all I had to cling to was the knowledge that Giuseppe would want to torture them before he killed them. I had to hold onto the very small hope I could rescue them before he got to that part.

As soon as the van left the curb I rushed up the road, running as soon as I was sure they wouldn’t notice me. I dug around in my handbag hoping I had put the spare set of car keys in there that morning with the house keys attached.

My hands closed around them and I shoved them into the driver’s side door and wrenched it open. The van was slowing for the corner at the end of the street as I started the car. It turned left as I roared away from the curb.

Six of them. There were six of them. I was pretty sure it had been Giuseppe who’d climbed into the driver’s side.

Fear, panic, nausea – I pushed them all away as I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles.

Six of them.

I stayed far enough back that they wouldn’t notice me tailing them. The growing shadows from the setting sun helped. We drove for what seemed like forever but I’m sure was not that long.

Please let Harry be alive. Please.

Finally they turned up a side street and into the back of a building. It looked like a warehouse.

I drove past the entrance and around the corner and then jumped out of the car. I wished I’d had time to get the gun. I wished I’d had time to ring for help. But who would I have rung?

Liss and Thor? I would never forgive myself if something happened to them.

But, six men!

I walked back past the end of the driveway, risking a quick glance as I went. Riley was halfway out of the van, struggling ineffectively at the men holding onto his shoulders and feet. Neither of them saw me.

I waited another minute and then walked back in the other direction. The lane was empty.

Before the logical part of my brain could register what my feet were doing, I darted up behind the van. A quick peep inside showed me it was empty. Any moment now they were going to start torturing them. Chopping off fingers and toes. Working their way around the bodies till there were no more small bits to cut off. Then things would get really serious.

I wouldn’t let them steal my husband away from me. Not like that. Piece by piece. Scream by scream.

The back door of the warehouse was closed but there was a small window to the left of it. I poked my head up until I could see over the window sill. The back room was empty except for one man.

I let out a small gasp as I ducked back down. An anxious couple of seconds passed before I was certain he hadn’t heard me. I’m sure he was meant to be guarding the back door, but from what I’d seen, he was more interested in what was happening in the next room.

It was going to start any moment. I had to hurry.

Buy Tess’s Tale at Amazon.

 Read my review of Donna Joy Usher’s earlier book,

The Seven Steps to Closure.

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana author of Blues in the NightLiving Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. She is eager to write in a variety of genres. Follow Belinda on AmazonGoodreads and Twitter.


I received an advance review copy (ARC) of this book for the purpose of writing this review. Opinions are my own.

Book Reviews, Romance

BOOK REVIEW: The Seven Steps to Closure (Donna Joy Usher)

Discover Romantic Rajasthan with Tara and Matt. After their one night stand that was part of her practice of the Seven Steps to Closure from ex-husband Jake, Tara and Matt are rediscovering each other. A terrorist attack in Mumbai only draws them closer.

I just read the Seven Steps to Closure, the book that helped me discover Australian author Donna Joy Usher, for the fourth time, the first three being after my purchase a year or more ago. She has a new release coming out soon, so I decided to re-read this one in the meantime. It takes me a day or two to consume like a Bee Sting Cake, for which I wish Donna had included a recipe, since I’ve never had the pleasure. Unfortunately, a genuine bee sting brings Tara and Matt a bit closer, as well.


‘Polly want a crackhead. Polly want a crackhead.’

The voice, more piercing than any alarm, dragged me from my slumber.

‘Who’s a pretty boy?’

I peered blurrily at my bedside table. What time was it? What day was it? Snapshots of the night before flashed before my eyes. Dancing on a table?Surely not.

‘Mary had a little lesbian.’

Harrumphing in annoyance I lifted my head and pummelled my pillow into a more comfortable shape. My efforts were rewarded with a spinning head and an urge to throw up.

Ahhh crap. I had a killer hangover.What did I get up to last night? I concentrated hard and finally more flashes of memory assaulted me – bad karaoke, skolling wine out of a bottle, falling over in a bar, telling complete strangers how my husband had left me, and finally being taken home in a taxi while I sobbed uncontrollably.

I groaned in shame.

‘The money’s on the dresser.’

Rolling my eyes, I turned my attention to the problem at hand. It was really no surprise Cocky had ended up at the animal shelter where my mother volunteered, but I was still perplexed as to why she’d given him to me.

‘He talks,’ she’d advised when she’d dropped him off. ‘It’ll do you good to have some proper company.’

‘Show us your knockers.’

It begged the question: just how sad did she think I’d become if this was proper company?

Gingerly, I swung my legs out of bed and sat with my head between my knees as I made my plan. A quick dash across the lounge to the toilet, ten or so minutes of puking my heart out, and then I could deal with the bird.

He waited until I was almost at the bathroom. ‘You’ve got a fat arse.’

I spun menacingly towards the cage.

‘Nice tits though.’

‘Thanks,’ I said, automatically looking down. I stopped and sighed, realising there was a chance that the cockatiel’s compliment was the nicest thing that would happen to me that day. I had obviously reached a low point in my life.

I looked at Cocky bobbing up and down on his perch, obviously very pleased with himself. ‘What am I going to do with you?’ I asked. I was glaring into his beady eyes – determined to outstare him, when all of a sudden a hot sweat and waves of nausea washed over me. Breaking eye contact I rushed to the toilet just in time to relieve the contents of my stomach in a terribly undignified manner. I heard his cackles echoing around the lounge room and into the bathroom where I lay panting on the floor, tears rolling down my face.

Quarter of an hour later, my face pressed to the cold floor tiles, I considered my options. I couldn’t give him to anyone. I couldn’t kill him – I mean really, I couldn’t.

‘Mary had a little lesbian.’

I’d have to let him go. There was no other option.

Tara is Calamity Jane, which provides many of the humorous situations, which also prove to be tests of Matt’s love and Jake’s lack thereof. Fortunately for Tara, her family and friends always stand ready to rally round her when they can. It’s when they can’t that the men get tested. This delicious combination of unfortunate events makes for some lovely storytelling by the most romantic-hearted woman dentist I’ve never actually met, but would enjoy running into someday at ReaderCon or some such event.

I particularly appreciate the manner in which the main character grows through life situations common to us all: dating, breaking up, internal chatter, workaday life, meetups with friends and family, holiday shopping, deciding how much to tell whom and how about one’s love life and living single in the face of the ex’s remarriage and friends’ pairing off. Imagine an Indian elevator alarm that repeatedly plays “The Wedding March” just outside the door while you’re trying to get some rest on holiday. There’s no escape from life, love and the pursuit of happiness for Tara in the Seven Steps to Closure.


Buy The Seven Steps to Closure at Amazon.

Follow Donna Joy Usher on Amazon, and Twitter.

Belinda Y. Hughes is the author of Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2 and Living Proof. She recently submitted a paranormal scifi short story to HDWP Books for consideration in their New Myths Theme-Thology. Her current projects include LGBT erotica and poetry. Belinda enjoys beading, reading, writing, cooking and hiking in the woods with her old dog.

Follow Belinda on Facebook and Twitter.