Nine Lives: A Lily Dale Mystery

Nine Lives: A Lily Dale Mystery

4.5 4
by Wendy Corsi Staub

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In this warm and witty series debut from New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub, a widowed young mom plans a fresh start in Chicago—but instead finds her way to a quirky lakeside village that just happens to be populated by mediums.

When reluctant road trippers Bella Jordan and her son Max detour to Lily Dale, New York, they're planning to


In this warm and witty series debut from New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub, a widowed young mom plans a fresh start in Chicago—but instead finds her way to a quirky lakeside village that just happens to be populated by mediums.

When reluctant road trippers Bella Jordan and her son Max detour to Lily Dale, New York, they're planning to deliver a lost cat to its home and then move on, searching for one of their own. But the footloose feline's owner Leona Gatto has unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind a pregnant pet without a mistress, a busy inn without a keeper—and a lovable circle of neighbors who chat with dead people.

After agreeing to help out temporarily, sensible Bella doesn't need psychic gifts to figure out that a houseful of tourists and a litter of kittens lie in her immediate future—or that Leona was murdered. It's up to her to solve the case so that she and Max can leave town, but their new home—like Leona's killer—might just lurk where she least expects it.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Nine Lives:

“[A] charming series launch…[Staub] introduces a host of warmly appealing characters and throws in a touch of the otherworldly. Recommend for readers who enjoy the TV show Charmed.”
Library Journal

"Best-selling author Staub takes readers...on a spooky journey into the unknown while lightening the mood by weaving in sweet, heartfelt, hopeful moments."

"Staub doesn’t overplay the quirkiness of the guesthouse residents for color, nor does she rely on ghosts and psychics to solve the murder, opting instead to pull the heartstrings of readers."
Publishers Weekly

"A tantalizing tale mixed with small-town politics and secrets, while also capturing the authentic feel of a woman struggling through desperate times...This is a terrific start to what is hopefully going to be a series featuring Bella Jordan and her son."
RT Book Reviews

“No spirits were bruised in the writing of this tale.”
Kirkus Reviews

"A good cozy by a good writer telling of a town that is its own character, just as much as the people that reside there"
Suspense Magazine

"Nine Lives achieves just the right balance of charming and quirky, with Staub offering up a loveable cast of characters who will hopefully be haunting readers for years to come."
Hartford Books Examiner

"Nine Lives has everything...Wendy Corsi Staub has done it again."
New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd

"Wendy Corsi Staub's Nine Lives hooked me from page one. In fact I didn't want to put it down: with warm characters, an intriguing setting and just a touch of the unexplainable it's a thoroughly satisfying read.
—Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author of the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness mysteries

“I loved visiting Corsi Staub's magical world, cover to cover, and can't wait for the next in the series.”
—Juliet Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author of Give Up the Ghost

Praise for New York Times and USA Today bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub:

"If you like Mary Higgins Clark, you'll love Wendy Corsi Staub."
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jackson

"Once Staub's brilliant characterizations and top-notch narrative skills grab hold, they don't let go."
Publishers Weekly

"An entertaining tale...Succeeds as an engrossing, suspenseful thriller."

"As always, Staub leaves us wanting more."
RT Book Reviews

"When it comes to mysteries of the home and hearth, Wendy Corsi Staub is unrivaled. Just when you think you've figured her out...think again!"
—John Valeri, Hartford Books Examiner

Publishers Weekly
This sweet, romantically melancholic first in a new paranormal series from bestseller Staub (Nightwatcher) introduces newly widowed Isabella Jordan, who embarks on a road trip with her young son, Max, from Bedford, N.Y., to visit her hated mother-in-law in Chicago. Car trouble strands Bella and Max in the spiritualist enclave of Lily Dale, N.Y., where they wind up attending to the needs of a very pregnant cat. In addition, the Victorian guesthouse where they’re staying suddenly needs tourist-season help due to the drowning of the caretaker, Leona Gatto. The locals’ attitude that contact with the dead is possible makes Bella wonder whether her beloved late husband could be watching over them, but she’s terrified by dreams that suggest Leona’s death was no accident. Staub doesn’t overplay the quirkiness of the guesthouse residents for color, nor does she rely on ghosts and psychics to solve the murder, opting instead to pull the heartstrings of readers soft on animals, young kids, and the idea of love beyond the grave. Agent: Laura Blake Peterson, Curtis Brown. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Newly widowed Isabella Jordan and her son, Max, are moving to Chicago to live with her mother-in-law but get sidetracked to the spiritualist town of Lily Dale, NY, after their car breaks down and Max finds a pregnant cat that needs tending. The feline's owner, the proprietress of a successful boarding house, recently died, and Bella is coerced into running the Victorian guest house until someone can be hired to replace the late Leona Gatto. But as she and Max settle in, Bella soon discovers that Leona's death may not have been an accident. VERDICT Not to be confused with Staub's YA "Lily Dale" paranormal quartet, this charming series launch returns to the unusual community of psychics that Staub explored in her stand-alone thriller In the Blink of an Eye. She introduces a host of warmly appealing characters and throws in a touch of the otherworldly. Recommend for readers who enjoy the TV show Charmed.
Kirkus Reviews
A young widow stumbles on a town filled with psychic energy that encourages her to investigate an accidental death that may have been a murder. Following her husband Sam's death after a long illness and the loss of her job as a teacher, Bella Jordan, out of money and options on where to live, is forced to make the trek from New York to Chicago to start a new life with her mother-in-law. That's not what Bella wants, but she needs to have some way to take care of Max, her young son. Not very far along the way to Chicago, Bella and Max rescue a cat who seems determined to meet its end on the road. Unable to stop herself from trying to deliver the pet to its owner, Bella detours into the little town of Lily Dale. Though she finds the guesthouse the owner ran, she's too late to meet Leona, who was recently found drowned in spite of her lifelong fear of water. The town's residents press Bella into service to take Leona's place, at least for the summer. After all, Lily Dale is a tourist destination, with folks coming from all over the country to enjoy the spirits. That's the spirits of those who have died, not the ones that come in bottles, though after a few interactions with the kooky residents, Bella thinks it could be both. Even though she's a skeptic, Bella has some small hope that being surrounded by the spirit world could put her in touch with Sam. Instead, it leads her into wondering whether Leona's death was an accident or whether there's something more afoot. Though this new series from Staub (Blood Red, 2015, etc.) is being compared to Mary Higgins Clark, the story, for better or worse, is a good deal sweeter and gentler than Clark. No spirits were bruised in the writing of this tale.

Product Details

Crooked Lane Books
Publication date:
Lily Dale Series , #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

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Read an Excerpt

June 18 Lily Dale, New York

Less than two weeks from now, when Lily Dale’s official summer season is under way, Leona Gatto’s guesthouse will be teeming with overnight visitors. But on this cool and gusty June night, she and Chance the Cat have the place all to themselves.

The mackerel tabby is lounging on the bay window seat down­stairs in the front parlor, watching the world go by on Cottage Row. At this time of year, the world mainly consists of fireflies and the occasional flitting moth, though tonight, the breeze has sent all sorts of fascinating things—to a cat, anyway—skittering past the window.

Soon, however, the annual human parade will begin. Lily Dale might be the tiniest of tiny towns, but as the birthplace of the Spiritualist religion well over a century ago, it remains populated almost entirely by psychic mediums. A handful, including Leona, are in residence year-round. Most prefer to spend the rigorous west­ern New York winter elsewhere. They return just ahead of the throng of summer visitors who find their way to the Dale because they’re seeking something: a connection to a lost loved one, psychic counsel­ing, physical or spiritual healing . . .

No exception, Leona arrived fifteen years ago, middle-aged and newly widowed, paralyzed by grief and hoping somebody here could connect her to her late husband.

Inevitably, somebody did. Her husband’s message: that she should stay for a while instead of hurrying back home to Wyoming.

“Are you sure Edgar said that?” Leona asked the medium in sur­prise. They’d built a wonderful life together out west, and she couldn’t imagine that he’d want her to abandon it. “Maybe it’s not him.”

“He’s wearing a black cowboy hat and he’s very insistent,” Patsy Metcalf said with a smile. “He wants me to tell you that it’s about time you’ve come to your senses and put on a practical pair of shoes.”

“That’s Edgar! He was always yelling at me for wearing heels when I travel. But I can’t believe he wants me to stay out east. He was born and raised on a ranch, and so was I. Wyoming will always be home.”

“Remember, my dear, I’m not here to tell you what you expect or even want to hear. I’m here to relay what your loved one wants you to know.”

Truer words were never spoken. Little did Leona realize then that she herself would eventually be capable of parting the delicate veil that separates this world from the next. She knows now that Edgar did, indeed, want her to sell their dude ranch to the hotel chain that had been sniffing around it for years. He’d always said they’d get the place over his dead body. In the end, that was what had happened—but with his blessing.

Wyoming was her old home. Lily Dale is her forever one.

This house had a long history as an inn but had been turned into a private residence when she bought it. She reclaimed its roots and transformed it into a guesthouse very much like the one she’d left behind, only with a Victorian theme instead of a Western one.

She’s always enjoyed welcoming new people into her home, get­ting to know them, and making them feel comfortable.

But that isn’t the only reason the terrible loneliness is behind her.
After years of mediumship training, she remains in touch with her late husband, along with countless other folks. Some are old friends, and some are just plain old. Centuries old. She’s grown quite accustomed to having them around. Most of the time, the spirits coexist with her just as seamlessly as Chance the Cat does.

Tonight, however, one of her regular spirit guides is as twitchy as the weather. Typically a benign presence, Nadine has been wreaking havoc around the house. At first, Leona attributed the flickering lights and random creaks and thumps to the night wind.

And she attributed her missing laptop—which she hasn’t seen since this morning—to good old-fashioned old age. But now that it’s failed to turn up in any of the usual spots where she might have misplaced it, Leona isn’t so sure Nadine is to blame. This wouldn’t be the first time Nadine or the others have played hide-and-seek with her belongings, but it should have resurfaced by now.
Then the usual drip from the upstairs sink faucet turned into a gush that overflowed onto the floor. While Leona was wiping that up, the downstairs faucet mysteriously turned on and flooded the kitchen sink and then the floor.
“That’s enough!” Leona said sharply after slipping and nearly falling.
Harmless little pranks are one thing, but she could have been hurt. And water damage in an old house is no picnic.

This just isn’t like Nadine.

The last straw was when, minutes ago, a fuse blew with a pop­ping, sizzling sound, plunging the whole house into darkness.

“Oh, for the love of . . .” Leona stood with her hands on her hips. “What’s going on? Are you trying to get rid of me? You’ll have to try a whole lot harder than that.”

After a grueling trip to the ancient fuse box in the spidery cellar, she decided that a snack would settle her nerves. But when she opened the fridge and started rooting around, she discovered that the full carton of half-and-half she bought this afternoon was some­how empty.

Nadine again. Leona hasn’t touched a drop—the carton is still sealed—and cats can’t open refrigerator doors.

Some might argue the same about Spirit. Funny how even that particular word—Spirit, as the energy is called here in the Dale—had sounded awkward to Leona’s ears when she first arrived. Funnier still to think that she, like so many newcomers, was steeped in skepticism.

If you spend enough time here, the extraordinary becomes ordinary.

Now, thanks to Nadine’s antics, she stands in the bathroom mirror trying to make herself presentable for a late-night trip to the closest store a few miles down the road. She takes her morning cof­fee with plenty of cream, and Chance the Cat, unlike most felines, isn’t exactly lactose intolerant. She laps it up, especially in her current state, which—

Hearing a creaking sound downstairs, Leona frowns at her reflection.

“Oh, Nadine, now what are you up to?” she asks, and she is startled to see the spirit guide fleetingly take filmy female form in the room behind her.

That’s unusual. Nadine rarely materializes. Like the others, she is usually merely a presence Leona can feel but not see or hear, other than inside her own head.

Framed in the doorway, the apparition holds up a transparent hand, her palm facing Leona as if to stop her from leaving the room.

Leona scowls. “Make up your mind. I thought you wanted me out of the house, thanks to your Houdini act with my half-and-half. Now you want me to stay put? I don’t . . .”

She trails off, realizing that Nadine is no merry prankster. Nadine’s shaking her head, and her glittering eyes are wide with concern.

“What is it? What’s wrong? Are you trying to warn me about something?”
But the spirit has already faded, leaving Leona alone.

The silence in the bathroom is punctuated by wind chimes tin­kling below the window. That’s not unusual. Wind chimes are as common as porches in the Dale.

But to Leona’s ear, they’ve drastically multiplied: a tintinnabula­tion as ominous as the alarm down at the old firehouse. The clanging grows to a fever pitch and is abruptly curtailed.

Silence again.

Unsettled, Leona goes back to brushing her hair.

Her strokes slow as she hears another creaking sound, this time in the hallway outside the door.

She isn’t alone after all.

She uneasily attempts to tune into the energy, wondering if one of her other guides has come to pay her a visit. But the presence doesn’t feel familiar, and it certainly isn’t Edgar, whose proximity always fills her with light and warmth. This energy is dark and oppressive.

Maybe it’s not Spirit at all.

Maybe it’s a living person: a stranger, a prowler.

Wielding the hairbrush in one hand like a weapon, she uses the other to painstakingly turn the knob and pull.

She was right about one thing. She isn’t alone. But she doesn’t find a stranger on the other side of the door.

Her eyes widen in shock at the sight of a familiar face. “What are you doing here?”

June 29 Bedford, New York

“If one more thing goes wrong today . . .” Bella Jordan steps over the broken vase on the floor and grabs the broom propped in a corner of her tiny kitchen. She’s been tripping over it all morning, but there’s no other spot amid the clutter, and it doesn’t make sense to store it back where it belongs: jammed into the usually overcrowded pantry cupboard that triples as a linen and broom closet.

Her goal today is to empty that closet, transferring its contents to the cardboard moving boxes she also keeps tripping over, along with the big black trash bags stuffed with household items that are, like all their furniture, destined to be tossed or given away.

Most of it is perfectly useful. She’d keep it if she only knew where she and her son Max will wind up living. But she can’t fit much into her small car, she can’t afford a moving van or storage unit, and she refuses to bor­row money from her mother-in-law, to whom she’s plenty beholden as it is. So the Salvation Army will get the lamps, books, decorative glassware . . .
Minus one vase.

With a sigh, she begins sweeping the shards of crystal into the dustpan she’d tossed onto the already crowded countertop following a previous mishap with a glass—which was how she’d then knocked over the vase.

Maybe I should go around with a dustpan hanging from my belt like some klutzy handyman. Or rather, nonhandy nonman.

She’s never been the most graceful gal in town, but the move-out process has produced more mishaps than usual. Earlier, she’d chipped a plate and broken the handle off a coffee mug. Neither had value, sentimental or otherwise. But this latest casualty was an expensive one.

Not as expensive, by any stretch of the imagination, as the col­lection of vintage Carnival glass pieces she’d inherited from her god­mother and sold off over the past few desperate months to pay the rent and bills.

There may not be hordes of antique dealers lining up to buy a fancy vase like the one she’d just broken, but it had been a wedding present from . . .

Who was it? A friend? One of her coworkers? Sam’s late great-aunt Doris?

Funny how easy it is to forget things you probably should remem­ber and remember things you’d rather forget.

Oh, Sam . . .

Bella doesn’t want to forget him. Just the illness that had stolen him away late last year after long, dark months of suffering.

As if mustered by the mere thought of Sam, a breeze slips through the screen. It’s slightly cool, fragranced by the blooming mock orange shrubs her husband always loved and silvery with tin­kling wind chimes he gave her for her last birthday.

She was charmed by the strings of pretty stained-glass angels cascading from delicate chains, but he kept apologizing.

“I wanted to get you something more, but . . .” But he was sick, and money was growing tighter by the day.

“I don’t want anything more. I don’t need anything but these.” And you. I need you, Sam ...

“Your Christmas present is going to be great,” he promised her. “I already know what I’m getting for you, so don’t worry.”

She did worry. Not about Christmas presents. About Sam.

She can hear his voice amid the swaying wind chimes, calling her his “Bella Angelo—my beautiful angel,” the literal translation of her name. His version of it, anyway.

Her ancestors were from Sicily, and her maiden name was Angelo. Her given name is Isabella, but Sam never called her that.

To him, she was Bella Angelo—that, or Bella Blue, she remem­bers, staring at the gently fluttering curtains he said exactly matched the cobalt color of her eyes. She’d made them from fabric remnants, using a sewing machine in the domestic arts classroom at the middle school where she taught science.

“Why are you so good at everything you do, Bella Blue?” Sam was so impressed, you’d have thought she’d just hand-stitched a designer gown.

“Oh, please. You’re the only one who thinks so.”

“Not true.” He ticked on his fingers the people he felt were equally enamored of her: their friends, her colleagues and students, and, of course, Frank Angelo, her own doting, widowed dad, still alive at the time.

Conspicuously missing from the list: Sam’s mother.

Millicent Jordan had made up her mind long before Bella even met her that no woman could ever be good enough for her son. The fact that she lives almost a thousand miles away in Chicago was a blessing throughout Bella and Sam’s marriage. Sam loved his mother, but Bella privately called her Maleficent—after the villainess in Sleeping Beauty.

Now, however, life would be easier if she were nearby. For all her faults, Millicent’s the only family they have left. She’s a lousy mother-in-law, but she was a good mom and would probably be a decent grandmother, given the opportunity.

Which I’m about to give to her.

Sam was young and brash enough not to have made life insur­ance a priority and had accidentally let his meager policy lapse. Even with health insurance coverage, expensive treatments for his illness had consumed the money they’d been saving to buy a home of their own one day. On the heels of losing him, Bella lost her teaching position to budget cuts. As she began a futile job hunt, the landlord decided to put the house on the market. A wealthy buyer snapped it up, planning to turn it into a majestic private home.

Her lease expires at the end of June. Which is tomorrow. With nowhere else to turn, she and Max are driving out to visit Millicent for the summer and figure out their next step.

If only she didn’t have to uproot Max after all he’s been through. This is the only home he’s ever known, the only home that’s ever mattered to her.
She’d grown up in rental apartments all over New York City. She was a new bride when she moved into the first-floor apartment of this Victorian triplex in Bedford, just eight short tree-lined suburban blocks from her first teaching job and three to the commuter railroad that carried Sam to his Manhattan office.

Even now, whenever she hears the rumble and whistle of an eve­ning train, her heart stirs with expectant joy: He’s coming home!

But he isn’t, ever again.

She and Max are alone now.

With a wistful sigh, Bella steps out the screen door to deposit the broken glass into the garbage pail—and trips over a lump of gray fur with black ticking. Somehow, she manages not to fall and even keeps the shards from flying through the air.

“Well, we meet again,” she tells the fat tabby cat perched in a patch of dappled doormat sunlight. He was here yesterday morning, too, but darted into the bushes as she stepped out the door, scar­ing the heck out of her. Later in the day, she glimpsed him stalking chipmunks in the yard, and last night around dusk, he was snoozing under a shrub.

“Are you lost?”

He seems quite certain that he isn’t, looking up at her as if he belongs here.
He doesn’t, of course. The landlord has a strict no-pets policy. That’s always been fine with Bella, whose last apartment came with a neighbor’s dog that barked twenty-four-seven. Besides, Sam is severely allergic to dander.

She expects the cat to bolt as she steps around him and dumps the broken glass into the metal garbage can, but he doesn’t even flinch at the clattering din. Impulsively bending to pet him, she’s rewarded with loud purring.

Hmm. He’s wearing a red collar, so he’s not a stray.

“Mommy?” Max calls from the kitchen.

“Out here.”

“Can I watch TV?”

“Nope. You know the rule.” Only an hour a day, and only in the early morning or before bed, unless it’s raining.

“Then can we play Candyland?” he asks.

She sighs. Playing the interminable game is questionable any­time. But now?

Sam would have dropped everything to play Candyland with Max.

“I was an only child, too. I get it,” he’d say.

Bella had been an only child as well, and of course, she got it, too. But she and Sam each had their forte when it came to occupying their son. Books and puzzles were her department; board games and anything involving wheels or a ball were Sam’s.

Now it’s all up to me, and how the heck am I supposed to squeeze playtime into this crazy day?

“Maybe we can play later,” she tells Max as he appears in the doorway with the Candyland box and a hopeful expression.

He’s still barefoot and wearing the pajamas she’d told him to change earlier this morning. A five-year-old version of his late father, he has the same sandy brown cowlick above his forehead and the same solemn brown eyes behind his glasses. Now they widen when he sees the cat.

“Where did he come from?”

“I’m not sure. You have to get dressed, Max. It’s almost noon.”

“I will.” He crouches beside the kitty. “Can we keep him?”

The timing of the question is so ludicrous, it’s a wonder Bella manages to keep from blurting, Are you nuts?

Instead, she counts to three before gently reminding her son, “We’re leaving tomorrow, and I’m sure he already has a home.” Lucky him.

Meet the Author

New York Times and USA Today bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub is the award-winning author of more than eighty novels and has twice been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She lives in the New York City suburbs with her husband, their two sons, and a rescued stray cat named Chance.

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Nine Lives: A Lily Dale Mystery 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 4 days ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought the psychic aspect would be hokey, but it worked. Great story!
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
This was my first book by this author and it won't be my last. And this was a great choice for the month of October. Apparently Lily Dale is a town of Psychics and Mediums and what have you. Due to circumstances beyond her control, recently widowed Bella ends up there. And every time she thinks "this is her last day", something else happens to keep her there. I thought this was a great little cozy mystery with lots of suspects and lots of nice neighborly people. There are several secrets going on besides the recent death of Leona the Manor House owner. I think it all came at a great time for Bella. Otherwise, she was going to have to go live with her mother-in-law. (I'm shivering to think that would have to happen.) Read the book and you would shiver too. It was definitely a fun read which I found captivating and pleasant. Thanks Crooked Lane Books and Net Galley for the free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. You have turned me on to another new author!
Ron More than 1 year ago
I read Wendy's In the Blink of an Eye. Then the 4 book series Awakening, Believing, Connecting and Discovering about Lily Dale and Calla's extraordinary experiences at Lily Dale. I just could not wait for another one of Wendy's books about Lily Dale. When I received Nine Lives I read the book cover to cover-I just could not put it down. Nine Lives is the start of another suspense series about Lily Dale and it is going to be as good or better. These books peek into the inner lives and lifestyles of an entire village of mediums and healers, all spiritualists. Fun to read, with humor and suspense. I highly recommend this book for anyone and all ages....