Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Muddy Grave, The Raleigh Cheramie Series by Jessica Tastet (Review, Excerpt)

Besides from the occasional dead person, life in Barbeaux Bayou is pretty normal. 

That is until resident traiteur Raleigh Cheramie stumbles across a local dead girl and the top suspects are the people closest to her. 

To complicate her life further, an old flame sweeps into Barbeaux with his own hidden agenda. 

Complicated turns to deadly as Raleigh gets closer to the secrets buried in the muddy grave.

Jessica Tastet
Image of Jessica TastetAn avid reader, Jessica Tastet began writing in the sixth grade. The result was a mystery story she promptly shared with all her family and whoever else she could convince to read it. Born and raised in Raceland, Louisiana, she uses the places and people of her childhood to create the backdrop of her fictional South Louisiana town in her Raleigh Cheramie series.

Presently, she resides in her hometown with her two children where she surrounds herself with good books and family.

Jessica Tastet is the author of the Raleigh Cheramie series consisting of Muddy Bayou and Muddy Grave. She is currently working on the third book in the series, Muddy Hearts.

Enjoy Chapter 1

Raleigh Cheramie was going to freeze to death. The weather in Louisiana had lost its mind. Yesterday she’d been fanning herself with her notepad, but this morning December had arrived all at once, and even the parts that were hidden beneath her clothing felt like ice as she waited in this long line to be suffocated with smoke and deafened with loud music.
Exactly why she was waiting was still beyond her. That’s where she had lost her mind along with the weather. Barbeaux Bayou, a typical back bayou town with gas stations as big as its grocery stores, was having a party to end all parties. Anyone who wanted to know what everyone else was doing wrong had been invited to celebrate a new “night spot” as they’d called it in the black and white flyers they’d pasted to everything with windows for the past two weeks.
Her companions had decided that it was a spectacle worth seeing. She didn’t think it was one worth freezing over.
Mike’s elbow jabbed into her side that was slowing becoming numb and she flinched. Apparently, he’d forgotten once more that she was not one of his tough guy friends. Her girl parts were much softer than his gorgeous tight abs. Since she was technically seeing someone right now, she probably shouldn’t be thinking about the chiseled chest that he bared frequently, but it was nice to look at. Not that Max didn’t look yummy himself, but she couldn’t say she’d seen him bare chested yet. Maybe she needed to distract herself right now before her thoughts snowballed. She looked up at Mike’s boyish face instead as he jerked his blonde haired head toward Sheri and Jeff. Jeff’s fingertips rhythmically brushed Sheri’s fingers every time he swung them in an attempt to keep warm, and their eyes met that second longer than friendly. Now that was interesting.
Mike chuckled. “Going to be a nice night, Jeff?”
Raleigh returned the jab to Mike’s side, but it landed more towards his lower waist with the height difference. When they were thirteen, he’d shot up and her growth had puttered out not too long after. She’d had to look up in that direction ever since. She much preferred when her eyes had looked out over his hair.
Jeff stood a few inches below Mike, and his dark eyes were now crinkling at the corners, glaring their way. “I see you’ve lost the stalker tonight. Going to be a real nice night for you, too.”
Ouch. Apparently, the Jeff and Sheri development was just too new for public mention. That explains why she hadn’t noticed anything before tonight. Her instincts weren’t dead and that was good to know. She made her living on instincts as a reporter these days for the Barbeaux Gazette.
Raleigh shivered again, burrowing further into her jean jacket. She lived in Louisiana for the approximately fifteen days of cold a year, and a nice vacation to the tropics during those fifteen days appealed to her. “Why again are we waiting in line at a bar?”
Sheri laughed as her gum smacked against her lips.  “Honey, the parking lot is chock-a-block full. We have to see what all the hype is about.”
“She’s not my stalker.” Mike grumbled. “She’s just a little lonely and confused right now.”
Raleigh patted his arm, though she had to reach up to do so. And for the record, his biceps were as hard as his chest. “Mike,” Raleigh looked up at him with the sternest expression she could manage though her bottom lip twitched with a smothered smile. “She showed up at work five times this week, not to mention that strange middle of the night visit two nights ago. That qualifies her as a stalker.”
Mike’s frown eased some but his shoulders sagged. A smile didn’t appear as he bent down his head in concession. Good time, one maybe two dates, Mike had acquired Kayla Duncan as a stalker two weeks ago. With her high cheekbones and blue eyes set in an oval face not to mention that long blonde hair, she was okay. Well maybe more than okay. With all that stalking, besides from her southern drawl and innocent doe eyes, Raleigh had noticed that she spoke in an octave above normal and laughed at everything that was uttered, funny or not. Mike was right about the lonely part though. His reaction to her arriving at work yesterday morning with breakfast had been out of character even for his laid-back personality. Of course, Kayla had rung his doorbell the night before at two in the morning to use his bathroom. The clingy type was certainly not Mike’s type. And this girl was working toward an academy award for psycho clingy.
Raleigh checked out the line. It was just as long behind them as in front.
To all the other fools waiting in line before and after them, two cute couples approached the bar. Mike and Raleigh may be cute, but they were only a couple of lifetime friends. There was that incident in college, but it was to never be spoken about again. Too much tequila and torrential tears over a bad breakup had led to levels of awkwardness that made it painful for everyone near. Jeff and Sheri may be heading toward coupledom, but it was too early to tell or ask. Hmm… if that didn’t work out, it may be the end of this group dynamic. Mike and Jeff were good friends, and Raleigh and Sheri were catching up after Raleigh’s long absence from Barbeaux. But if it did, there might be a bridesmaid dress in her future. On that thought, it didn’t sound good from any angle you spun it.
Finally, they reached the glass doors of the The Seafood Camp. She’d be able to escape the cold, maybe feel her toes againShe tried not to think about the walk back to Mike’s Jeep in this wind. Maybe she could convince him to pick her up at the door when the night was over. Okay, so she was pushing it. A bit much for the non-boyfriend with zero privileges.
Nick nodded them in without so much as an ID check. In Barbeaux he probably knew her birthday and how she’d celebrated. Raleigh’s eyes burned as they adjusted to the hazy blue and red lit smoky room as she stumbled after Mike through the crowd. The techno beat vibrated up the heel of her boots into her legs, but Raleigh’s teeth were still chattering from cold. She’d never make it north of the Mississippi. The Camp’s grand opening flyers advertised itself as a dance club. Raleigh supposed this is the closest Barbeaux Bayou would get to one of those.
She’d never been in a dance club that had trees in its center with a bar wrapping around one side. A balcony lined the top floor and green vines draped down from the banisters. The outer walls nestled booth seating and there were pirogues leaning against the back wall along with a trawl net draping from the ceiling.
On the other side of the club, there was a band area where a DJ was spinning, and there was certainly dancing. At least that’s what a few people looked like they were doing. Some she wasn’t so sure about.
As Raleigh’s eyes burned and blinked less, the long blonde haired girl gyrating on the bar came into focus. Her belly button, nose, and ear piercings sparkled like tiny light beams in the revolving lights. If Raleigh had all those diamonds, she’d find a better place to show them off. Bar entertainment had not been included on the Grand opening flyer. Her cheeks still burned from her one experience at a strip club. What had she done to endure a repeat performance so soon?
A sideways glance at the blonde’s thin round face revealed Winter, a stripper who’d worked the same bar as Raleigh’s sister. Among life’s small favors, Madison had said good-bye to that lifestyle after her ex-boyfriend had held her hostage for over a week and had tried to kill them when Raleigh had botched the rescue. Madison had the worst taste in men, and Raleigh could speak with experience since hers hadn’t been anything to brag about either.
Raleigh’s chest ached as she watched the visibly spaced out Winter sway to the music, her eyes fully dilated. Five weeks ago, Raleigh had discovered Winter’s best friend Summer dead by what the Barbeaux Gazette was told to be a drug overdose. This must be how Winter dealt with the death- get wasted and dance on bars. Raleigh would just have drunk tequila and drown herself with tears. She would never dance on a bar in public without falling and making a fool of herself, and besides her curves looked nothing like Winter’s even with Spanx.
Raleigh followed Mike as he dug deeper into the crowd. People were stacked up against each other’s back pockets, and there was way too much brushing up against lumpy bodies for Raleigh’s tastes. Maybe next time they should wait for the weekend after grand opening to tryout the new bar. She hadn’t even known Barbeaux’s population was this large.
After attempting to side step a rather entangled, enthusiastic couple, she realized she’d lost the deep blue shirt of Mike. The flashing lights made it difficult to focus on anyone. She pushed up on to her toes, stretching as high as she could, to peer overhead. Stilts would have been more helpful.
She turned back toward the door to look for Sheri and Jeff, and Madison’s gyrating semi-bare hips on this side of the bar filled her view.
Raleigh squinted, straining through the smoke and light show to make sure it was her sister under all the heavy eye makeup and plunging neckline. There was some serious push up bra action going on to obtain that cleavage because there was no way Ms. Skinny would normally fill out half that size. Her toned legs went on forever in the short black shorts that just covered her butt cheeks. She looked like the two bit stripper she’d said she didn’t want to be again. Were she and Madison even related? Raleigh seriously needed to ask her parents for DNA tests.
She had half a mind to drag her sister out by her hair, but she figured she needed to try a different approach first. She pushed her way through the crowd gathered around the bar, wincing as shoulders rammed against tender parts. She’d have bruises later, but for now reaching Madison would be worth it.
She stopped in front of the bar and glared up at her sister, waiting for Madison to stop waving her arms above her head and look down at her. Her lips were frozen in that beauty pageant smile she’d picked up in that one season she’d stalked the circuit, hoping for some ridiculous crown. It’s her eyes that gave her away though. They looked straight ahead, avoiding looking down.
Finally, she relented and Raleigh could hear the exasperation over the vibrating guitar. Madison knew that Raleigh wasn’t giving in, just as Raleigh knew that her argument would fall on deaf ears. Raleigh often wondered if it were the six year age difference or the gaping chasm in their personalities that prevented them from ever seeing eye to eye. They shared dark hair and amber eyes with green flecks and that was the sum of it. You’d think they could find at least some tedious bad habit in common.
Madison jumped down much too graceful to have only done it once. Raleigh would be picking herself off the floor or limping away if she’d tried that. Had Madison jumped down from that many bars to make it appear so easy? Baby sister had left innocent behind long ago, she supposed.
“What do you want?” Madison hissed. “I’m working.”
Raleigh glared at the green glitter across her eyelids. It was distracting as if she’d landed in Oz, and why did her little sister have to be taller than her? Could she not at least be intimidating to at least her younger sister? “Let’s talk about this outside.”
Madison rolled her eyes. The glitter gave it the effect of an eight year old playing dress up. “Fine,” she muttered.
Madison’s temper didn’t stop her from flirting and teasing several men as they made their way toward the door with a glaring red exit sign. Twenty-three, not sixteen. Raleigh repeated this mantra to herself. Her sister wasn’t a teenager, though she was acting the part. Maybe if she told herself to treat her like a sensible adult, she’d poof into a real one. Not likely.
Raleigh’s ears rung in a muffled way as they stepped outside into a quiet night. They had emerged at some back door without even a parking lot. Madison pushed a lone brick to jar the door open. Something told her that this wasn’t Madison’s first night here, even though it was the grand opening.
“What are you doing, Madison?”
“I’m working, Mom.” Madison grumbled, tapping her high-heeled boot, arms closed. Raleigh thought she’d have a husband or at least a steady boyfriend first before she had to deal with a teenager.
“You have a job, and it’s not dancing on a bar. A month ago you wanted a fresh start. What happened to that?”
Raleigh sucked in a deep breath. She felt a little dizzy. She must have forgotten to breathe.
Madison’s expression was statuesque. “Is that all?”
Heat shot through Raleigh’s body. “What do you mean, that’s all? You’re dancing on a bar again! Isn’t that enough?”
Madison flashed the look that let Raleigh know she was being ridiculous, at least in Madison’s view. Raleigh had seen it so often lately she was beginning to wonder if Madison had another expression. “I’m not doing anything wrong. I get one hundred fifty dollars cash tonight, and I haven’t compromised any morals, have I?”
“Morals…” Raleigh stuttered. “You think dancing on a bar shows morals? Where did Mom and Dad go wrong teaching you right from wrong?
Madison blurred before her into hazy turquoise and purple lights. She reached out and braced herself against the rough bricks of the building. Her anger had burned through her before, but this was ridiculous. It was just Madison. She should be used to her stupid antics by now.
Madison’s hands dropped to her sides and her fists clenched. “Just because I’m not a prude doesn’t mean I don’t have morals. I’m not naked, am I? I haven’t had but one drink, and I’m not high. I’m sorry we can’t all please the moral police.”
Madison swayed side to side. Raleigh tilted her heavy head watching her sway for a moment. Now why would she do that? It was like a pendulum and quite hypnotic. It seeped in little by little. Madison was standing still, and it was Raleigh who swayed.  
At any moment her heavy head was going to fall to one side and cease the swinging of the pendulum. She stumbled toward the rough, sand textured wall as black spots popped from the blur of lights blending together.
“Raleigh?” Madison’s weak voice squeaked from somewhere outside of the fog. While she strained to hang onto Madison’s voice, the lights became dull and the bricks almost looked like individuals instead of a large mass. Madison’s voice didn’t come again though and everything evaporated as she had nothing else to hold onto.
Raleigh sank to her bottom into the deep darkness. It was always like this. A complete disconnect from her body. She’d prefer if she could disconnect and land on an island with a beautiful beach, but no, she had to leave and visit the dying as they left their body. Me’Maw’s traiteur ability worked the same, but Me’Maw connected to the living. Raleigh was only able to watch people’s last moments before they died. As she saw it, Me’Maw definitely had the better end of the deal.
The black spots spread, and she could no longer see the street lamp. Her head splintered, and she began to feel as though she’d be split in two. She needed to release herself in order to embrace whoever was trying to reach her. Her head felt as if spider cracks were forming through her cranium. She’d need to let go before she had a stroke.
Raleigh sank into the tunnel, feeling a rush of air gush through her.
She stared up at the stars. They sprinkled around her like a tapestry, winking at her. The earth warmed her… and tickled. Small movements from within the Earth crawled across her flesh. The stars blurred together into a white spotlight and then sorted themselves out again.
There was something feminine about the body even though she couldn’t see her body, only the stars. In a side view, she could see the weathered gray cypress of an old barn with a rusted tin roof caved in. There was also a deep putrid smell of cow.
Raleigh shuddered as she yanked herself out of the dead girl, and planted herself firmly back in her body slumped against the building. It couldn’t have lasted but a few seconds, but her body trembled with the switch.
The blurriness cleared, but Mike’s face filled her sight. “Are you okay?”
She shuddered again from the residual effect of being in a dead woman’s body. This would never be easy, but would she ever be okay seeing the dead? Raleigh would have to vote no on that one.

My Review

Although Muddy Grave is the second book in the Raleigh Cheramie series, both books are stand alone reads, and like the first book, Muddy Bayou, the story line is set along a sleepy bayou.

Author Jessica Tastet showcases her talent in bringing the little bayou town of Barbeaux to life with her colorful descriptions of the setting and the people. 

Raleigh may be the central character, but the stories have family at the heart of them, and it seems everyone has a secret to hide, along with just about everyone else in town. And, they are all looking to place blame on someone else, especially when another dead body shows up. The ants scatter and those left standing are all pointing fingers.

If you enjoyed Muddy Bayou, you'll enjoy Muddy Grave even more as Raleigh becomes even more determined to grow into who she is, accepted or not. The mystery continues.

Purchase Muddy Grave and Muddy Bayou by clicking here:

Disclaimer / Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book with no obligation for a positive review. No compensation - monetary or in kind - has been obtained for this post. Cover art, book description, and any excerpts are courtesy of the author, publisher, or PR firm. 
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  1. As always love your site. hope all is well with you and your family. Agman

    1. So glad you stopped by. This is a great book - AND it was written by my best friend. Hope you and yours are well. Donna

  2. Great review and intriguing chapter! Thanks for sharing. :)


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