Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Truth Spotlight and Giveaway

The Truth
By Jeffry W. Johnston
February 2, 2016; Tradepaper, ISBN 9781492623205

Title: The Truth
Author: Jeffry W. Johnston
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Praise for The Truth

"Such a fast-paced read!  What really happened that night? The truth will leave you gasping.” - April Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Girl, Stolen and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

Summary:

“I tied you up because I need you to listen,” Derek says. “Focus.”

“Please…  W-what do you want from me?”

“The truth,” he says.  “About what happened the night my brother died.” He reaches for my left hand. “If I think you’re lying…” With his other hand, he flourishes a pair of flower cutters. Curved. Sharp.

And he smiles.

When Chris wakes up in a dark basement tied to a chair, he knows that he’s trapped—and why. Eight nights ago a burglar broke into Chris’ home. Eight nights ago Chris did what he had to do to protect his family. And eight nights ago a 13-year-old runaway bled to death on his kitchen floor.

Now Derek wants the truth about what happened that night. He wants proof his little brother didn’t deserve to die. For every lie Chris tells, he will lose a finger. But telling the truth is far more dangerous…

A riveting, edge-of-your-seat thriller from Edgar Award-nominated author Jeffry W. Johnston that explores the gray area between what is right and what we’ll do to protect the people we love.


Buy Links:

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/Wf7Iw
BooksAMillion- http://ow.ly/Wf7MH
IndieBound- http://ow.ly/Wf7Zf

About the Author:


Jeffry W. Johnston has published about thirty-five short stories and more than two hundred articles. His first young adult novel, Fragments, was an Edgar Award nominee for Best Young Adult Mystery and a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers selection by YALSA.  He lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and their teenage son.  Visit him at jeffrywjohnston.com

Social Networking Links:


Excerpt from The Truth:
I wake up to find I cant move, my arms and legs duct-taped tight to a wooden chair.  Duct tape is also wrapped around my chest and the chair’s hard, unyielding back. 
The only thing not bound is my head, but I can only turn it left and right.  I can’t look behind me because of the chair’s high back.
Christ, what is this!
            My head hurts.  I feel nauseous, dizzy.  Can’t focus.  What happened?  How did I get here?  My memory’s a blur. 
            “Hey!” I shout.  “Hey!  Anybody here?”
            I wait a few seconds.  Nothing.
            I see unfinished walls, but I could be in a room anywhere.  The only furniture I can see is a metal folding chair leaning against the wall opposite.
            Wait a minute!  What about Devon!  The last thing I remember was calling on my cell phone to make sure he got to the field OK.  What time is it?  Is he in the middle of his game, wondering where I am?  Is Mom there, wondering the same thing?
I can tell my cell is not in my pocket, not that I’d be able to reach it anyway. Where is it?  How long have I been out?  A couple hours?  A whole day?  Is it still … what, Saturday?  Are people looking for me?  The police?
            “Hey!” I shout again.  “Heeeyyyy!”  I try harder to break free.  “Is somebody here?  Can somebody help me?  Please!  Please…!”
            Who could have done this to me?  Why?
            “Help!  Help me!  Heeelllp…
            This isn’t working.  I need to calm down and try to think.  Come on; breathe.  That’s it.  Again.  OK, now another breath.  My heart is starting to slow a bit.  That’s good.  Maybe closing my eyes will help.
            Two more deep breaths.  Okay.  Now, think.
I remember dialing my cell.  But before that. I had knocked on Rita’s front door.  We were going to go to Devon’s game together.  I was waiting for her to open the door.  Wait, the door did start to open.  Then … nothing.  Or … something.  Something made me pass out.  Something with a sweet smell.  Held against my face.  Making me gag.  Feel sick.  I couldn’t push it away.  Something very strong was holding it in place. 
Not some thing.  Some one.
            I hear movement.  Behind me.  A door opening.  I try to look back; can’t.
The door closes.  A quiet click.
            Then footsteps.  Steady, determined. 
            I recognize the guy who appears in front of me.  Derek Brannick. Only a year older than me, which makes him seventeen, but with the broken front teeth and scar on his throat he looks much older.
            He’s holding something in his hand, which he slips into his pants pocket before I can see it.  Then he picks up the metal chair from against the wall and opens it before straddling it and leaning over the back, facing me.  He lowers his head.  Does nothing for a couple minutes.  My heart slams against my chest.  I wait.  So scared I can’t think straight.
Finally, he raises his head and looks at me.  His eyes… It’s as if there’s no light in them.  Nothing.  Dead eyes.
            “You want some water?”  His voice is raspy.  He stands and moves out of my field of vision.  I hear a faucet turning on and off.  Then he’s back with a paper cup.  “Tilt your head back,” he says.  I do the best I can.  Some of the water runs down my chin but enough makes it into my mouth.  The water’s lukewarm, but I welcome it.
            “Feel better?  Can you talk?  ’Cause you’re gonna need to be able to talk. ” He crumples the cup and throws it on the floor.
            “Yes,” I croak.  “Th … thank you.”  My voice is trembling.  I can’t help it.
            Derek nods, lets out another long breath as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and sit back down in his chair, pulling it closer to me.
“I’m … I’m sorry,” I try.  “I’m really—”
“Shh,” he says sharply, pointing a finger at me.  “I told you before, Chris… I’m not looking for that.”
“I should have showed up at the—”
“Shhh!”
He begins to cough.  It sounds painful.  He starts to talk again, then stops. Maybe it’s painful to talk too.  The way his voice is all rough and raspy, it wouldn’t surprise me.
Derek tries again.  “I tied you up because I need you to listen,” he says. “Focus.  Think you can do that?”
“Please…  Wh … what do you want from me?”
“The truth,” he says.  “That’s all.”
            He reaches for my left hand.  Tied the way I am, I can’t resist.  “I don’t want to hurt you if I don’t have to,” Derek says.  “But you need to know that I’m serious.  If I think you’re lying…” With his other hand, he pulls out what he had shoved into his pants pocket and shows it to me.
A pair of flower cutters.  Curved.  Sharp.
Slowly, even gently, he opens them and slides the little finger of my left hand in between the razor edges.
“One finger for each lie,” he says again, “Do you understand?”
            Oh God!  Oh Jesus!  All at once, I’m sweating, my eyes stinging.
            “Do you understand?” he asks again, voice unchanging, low key.
            “Yes,” I croak.  My eyes remain riveted to the cutters, expecting them to move, to squeeze.
            “Chris.  Look at me.”
            I look up into those dead eyes.
            “I meant what I said.”  He stops to cough again; continues.  “I need to understand everything.  This,” he says, indicating the cutters lightly caressing my finger, “will help you to tell the truth.  That’s all I want.  Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.  There’s no right or wrong answer.  There’s only the truth.  Do you understand?”
            But I can’t tell him the truth.  Not the whole truth.
My eyes dart back to the cutters. 
Abruptly, he squeezes them.  “Do you understand?”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Friday, January 22, 2016


The Past cover
The Past by Tessa Hadley
Publication date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Harper
Hardcover: 320 pages
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours for an honest review


 “An exquisite writer, a writer’s writer, with a fine eye for detail and a way of crafting sentences that make you stop and inhale . . . Hadley should be a bestseller rather than literary fiction’s best kept secret.”—The Times (London)

Three sisters and a brother, complete with children, a new wife, and an ex-boyfriend’s son, descend on their grandparents’ dilapidated old home in the Somerset countryside for a final summer holiday, where simmering tensions and secrets rise to the surface over three long, hot weeks.The house is full of memories of their childhood and their past—their mother took them there to live when she left their father—but now, they may have to sell it. And beneath the idyllic pastoral surface lie tensions.

Sophisticated and sleek, Roland’s new wife (his third) arouses his sisters’ jealousies and insecurities. Kasim, the twenty-year-old son of Alice’s ex-boyfriend, becomes enchanted with Molly, Roland’s sixteen-year-old daughter. Fran’s young children make an unsettling discovery in an abandoned cottage in the woods that shatters their innocence. Passion erupts where it’s least expected, leveling the quiet self-possession of Harriet, the eldest sister. As the family’s stories and silences intertwine, small disturbances build into familial crises, and a way of life—bourgeois, literate, ritualized, Anglican—winds down to its inevitable end.

Over five novels and two collections of stories, Tessa Hadley has earned a reputation as a fiction writer of remarkable gifts. She brings all of her considerable skill to The Past, a work of breathtaking scope and beauty—her most ambitious and accomplished novel yet.

My Take: 

The Past by Tessa Hadley is one of those books that is very difficult to describe without making it sound more or less than it is. It is a distinctly British novel which manages to slow down time and indulge in a slow, languorous episode in the life of this family.

The four adult siblings have agreed to spend a few weeks at the old family home because they all know that the sensible thing to do is sell the place. Despite reluctance to take the plunge, they are indulging in one last family summer holiday before making the final decision.

I found the characters to be interesting and complicated. I hate to go into too much detail about each of them really, because I enjoyed so much getting to know each of them. Roland and his third wife Pilar and his teenage daughter Molly; Alice and the 20 year old son of a former lover, Kasim; Fran and her two children, Ivy and Arthur; and Harriet make up the family group. That there will be at least a summer flirtation between Kasim and Molly is quite apparent from the moment they both occupy the same room.  There are several other interesting developments over the course of their vacation which propel the story.

There is a much appreciated break in the novel right in the middle, which gives a glimpse at the life of the siblings young mother during a trying time. I found it refreshing to get to see the siblings as children and see a small piece of their mother's life. This short episode also brings things back around to help show how the past is always with us.

Even more than the plot, I enjoyed the writing - the descriptions of the countryside, the houses, gardens and people all sparked my imagination and brought the quiet countryside to life for me. I enjoyed the pleasant, leisurely pace of the novel and appreciated the chance to read without feeling the need to race to the end of the book.

I think that The Past would appeal to anyone who enjoys literary fiction, novels about families and British literature. I suspect that this is one novel that will be hard to get out of my head.   I know several friends who will be vying for a chance to read my copy of the book.



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About Tessa Hadley

Photo credit Mark VesseyTessa Hadley is the author of five highly praised novels: Accidents in the Home, which was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award; Everything Will Be All Right; The Master Bedroom; The London Train, which was a New York TimesNotable Book; and Clever Girl. She is also the author of two short story collections,Sunstroke and Married Love, which were New York Times Notable Books as well. Her stories appear regularly in The New Yorker. She lives in London.



Tessa’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 5th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, January 6th: BookNAround
Thursday, January 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, January 11th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, January 12th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, January 13th: Bibliotica
Thursday, January 14th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Friday, January 15th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Monday, January 18th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, January 19th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, January 20th: Curling Up by the Fire
Thursday, January 21st: From the TBR Pile
Friday, January 22nd: A Book Geek
Monday, January 25th: Novel Escapes

Tuesday, January 26th: Dreams, Etc.







Sanctuary Bay Blog Tour: Review and Excerpt



Sanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz
Publication date: January 19, 2016 
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Hardcover; 320 pages
Hardcover: 978-1-250-05136-3 / $18.99 USD

eBook: 978-1-466-86917-2 / $9.99 USD
Source: Publisher via NetGalley for an honest review

Description:

In this genre-bending YA thriller, will Sarah Merson's shiny new prep school change her life forever or bring it to a dark and sinister end?

When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn't sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate's dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay's glossy reputation. 

In this genre-bending YA thriller, Sanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz, Sarah's new school may seem like an idyllic temple of learning, but as she unearths years of terrifying history and manipulation, she discovers this "school" is something much more sinister.


My Take:

While Sanctuary Bay starts off as a somewhat typical young adult novel about a teenage girl who lands a spot in a prestigious private boarding school, it definitely doesn't follow the typical story line. Sarah Merson isn't your typical private school type - she is a foster kid and she has a very specific type of memory. All of this comes into play and makes the book different from some of the typical fare, but the story itself is what changes things. 

From the moment Sarah arrives at the school, things feel a bit off. Small things at first. But if you have a suspicious mind like I do, you start to have misgivings and start looking for clues as to what is the deal. I like the way the authors think - I had such fun reading the novel and finding out exactly what makes Sanctuary Bay so very different from other schools.

I think the Sanctuary Bay will definitely appeal to the young adult audience for a number of reasons. It does have many of the typical focus points for the boarding school novel, but the twists make the novel stand out. The handsome rebel, the popular clique, new friends in a strange school, -- but again - twists. I know my teens love novels with a good twist and I admit I do as well.

 I liked the ending of the novel and I hope it means there will be another book (or two) in the future. I am extremely curious about what the bigger picture is and what Sarah gets up to after this.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz have written many books for teens and middle-grade readers, including the Edgar-nominated mystery series Wright and Wong and the YA novels Crave and Sacrifice. They have also written for the TV shows Roswell, 1-800-Missing, and The Dead Zone. Laura lives in New York and Melinda lives in North Carolina, but really they mostly live on email, where they do most of their work together.

SOCIAL LINKS

St. Martin’s Griffin
Website   

BUY LINKS



SANCTUARY BLOG TOUR EXCERPT

Daddy  pressed his finger to his lips, shushing Sarah quiet as he slid the door to the tunnel back on. She wrapped her arms tightly around  her knees and pressed her cheek against her arm, trying to pretend she was back in her  own  room.  But it didn’t smell like her room. Even the spicy smell of Daddy’s cologne had faded now  that the tunnel was closed.  And  grayness was all around her. She was almost four, and that was too old to be scared of the dark. But it wasn’t all dark. It was just gray dark.
She tried not to think of monsters crawling toward her. Daddy said there were no monsters. But monsters  liked tunnels. They liked little girls.
Sometimes when she was scared she liked to sing the Maggie song. But that was against the rules. She had to be quiet. She had to be still. She had to wait until Daddy  or Mommy  opened the door and got her.
Thinking  about  the rules  helped.   She  could  almost hear Daddy  saying them, as if he was hiding in the tunnel with her. Even though he was way too big. If something bad happens, wait until the room is safe. If you leave the tunnel, put the funny slit- ted door back on. Run fast. Find a lady with kids. Tell her your name is Sarah Merson. Merson. Merson. Merson. Merson. Ask for help.
              Her nose started twitching, itching from the thick air. Mak- ing her want to sneeze. But she had to be quiet.
Then she heard Mommy screaming. Mommy never screamed. Were the monsters out there and not in the tunnel?
On  hands and knees she started creeping  toward the slits of light, heart pounding.
“Kt85L is our property,” a man said. “You had no right!”
Out there. Mommy  on her knees facing the hotel room wall. Someone’s legs. A hand  reaching  down.  A silver bird stared at Sarah from a ring on the finger. Stared with a horrible  little black eye. The finger pulled  the trigger of a gun.
A bang. Her ears filling with bees. Mommy  collapsing on the floor. Red spilling out.
Sarah shoved her fingers into her mouth. Quiet. The rule was be quiet.
Shouting. Daddy’s legs running by, out of the room. The bird man chasing. The door banging closed.
Something bad happening.
The  room  was safe. The  bird  man  was gone. So she had  to get out. Mommy  was on the floor. Daddy  was gone.
She shoved the door and it fell out onto the floor. Near Mommy. Near  the red. But the rule was to put  the funny  door back on. She picked  it up and shoved  it over the tunnel like Daddy  had shown her.
Sarah  didn’t  want to look at Mommy.  She looked  out the window  instead. The window  was always open  and there was never a screen. Daddy’s voice came from the hallway, yelling. Screaming.
Another bang.
Sarah pressing her hands over her eyes. Not looking. Not look- ing. Something bad happening.
Daddy  was quiet now. Something bad. She had to run fast.
Sarah climbed  on the chair under  the window.  The chair al- ways went under  the window.  She stuck her legs through the window  and jumped down.  Now run fast.
She ran fast, looking for a lady with a stroller or a kid her age. A mommy  would  help  her.  She would  say she was Sarah Merson.

Sarah Merson, and something bad happened.



Friday, January 8, 2016

The Dirt on Ninth Grave Spotlight and Excerpt

ABookGeek is happy to present a spotlight and excerpt from:

The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones
(Charley Davidson Series #9)
Publication date: January 12, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Hardcover; 336 pages



In a small village in New York Charley Davidson is living as Jane Doe, a girl with no memory of who she is or where she came from. So when she is working at a diner and slowly begins to realize she can see dead people, she's more than a little taken aback. Stranger still are the people entering her life. They seem to know things about her. Things they hide with lies and half-truths. Soon, she senses something far darker. A force that wants to cause her harm, she is sure of it. Her saving grace comes in the form of a new friend she feels she can confide in and the fry cook, a devastatingly handsome man whose smile is breathtaking and touch is scalding. He stays close, and she almost feels safe with him around.

But no one can outrun their past, and the more lies that swirl around her-even from her new and trusted friends-the more disoriented she becomes, until she is confronted by a man who claims to have been sent to kill her. Sent by the darkest force in the universe. A force that absolutely will not stop until she is dead. Thankfully, she has a Rottweiler. But that doesn't help in her quest to find her identity and recover what she's lost. That will take all her courage and a touch of the power she feels flowing like electricity through her veins. She almost feels sorry for him. The devil in blue jeans. The disarming fry cook who lies with every breath he takes. She will get to the bottom of what he knows if it kills her. Or him. Either way.

Author Biography


For reasons known only to the Big Guy upstairs, NYTimes and USA Today Best Selling author Darynda Jones won both a Golden Heart and a RITA for her manuscript FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT. But even before that, she couldn’t remember a time she wasn’t putting pen to paper. When she was five, she would pick up a pencil and notepad, scribble utter chaos onto the page and ask her mom to read her masterpiece aloud. Thankfully, her mother would play along.  Later she wrote plays for the neighborhood kids, made up stories for her brother as he played cars, and fell in love with Captain Kirk. Those raging, seven-year-old hormones only fueled her imagination, prompting her to create fantastical stories for Barbie and Ken to enact. Ken was such a bad boy back then.

After years of being repeatedly sent to the principal’s office for daydreaming in class, she managed to make it to high school where she almost finished her first manuscript. Sitting with her BFF in a corner booth at the local Tastee Freeze for hours at a time, she wrote a post-apocalyptic story about a group of teens who bore a remarkable resemblance to the members of Van Halen and were trying to escape the tunnels of a huge government fallout facility decades after World War III had destroyed the surface of the earth. It was a science fiction version of The Warriors and destined to be a classic.

Life was good. Writing was good. Then she graduated and the real world came crashing through. She forced the dream aside in favor of sustenance and shelter, got married to a local rock star, and had at least two kids that she can think of, the oldest of whom was born Deaf, probably to spite her. When he was five, she packed up her boys and moved to Albuquerque to put him in a Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing program. The rock star stayed behind with the business, and they took turns going back and forth on the weekends to see each other for seven really long years.

While in Albuquerque, Darynda decided to see the cup half full and go back to college while she still had enough brain cells to make it worth her while. After graduating Summa cum Laude from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Sign Language Interpreting, she moved back to her hometown and got a real job. Several in fact, mostly teaching at a local college and interpreting pretty much everywhere. Based on personal experience, she does not recommend having more than three jobs at any given time.

But bit by bit, the desire to write needled its way back to the surface. Unable to squelch it any longer, she started writing seriously again in 2002 with one goal in mind: A publishing contract. Unfortunately, she sucked. Thank goodness practice makes almost-perfect and three complete manuscripts later, she won that Golden Heart, landed an amazing agent and sold to St. Martin’s Press in a three-book deal.

She currently has two series with St. Martin’s Press, the Charley Davidson series and the Darklight Trilogy. She hopes you enjoy reading them as much as she enjoys writing them.

Darynda lives in the Land of Enchantment, also known as New Mexico, with her husband of almost 30 years and two beautiful sons, the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys.

Author Twitter: https://twitter.com/darynda
Goodreads Fan Group: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/160729-the-official-darynda-jones-fan-group (Tons of discussions, giveaways, and Q&As in here!)


**Excerpt from The Dirt on Ninth Grave**


1



Remember, it’s never too late to give LSD a shot.

—T-SHIRT

I stood beside the booth and poured coffee into a beige cup that had the words FIRELIGHT GRILL written across it, wondering if I should tell my customer, Mr. Pettigrew, about the dead stripper sitting next to him. It wasn’t every day a dead stripper accosted one of my regulars, but telling Mr. P about her might not be a good idea. He could react the way I did the first time I saw a walking corpse a little over a month ago. I screamed like a twelve-year-old girl and locked myself in the bathroom.

For seven hours.

I admired the rascally old man, a decorated war veteran and retired NYPD detective. He’d seen more action than most. And with it, more atrocity. More depravity and desperation and degradation. He was a tough-as-nails, real-life superhero, and I couldn’t picture any situation in which Mr. P would scream like a twelve-year-old girl and lock himself in a bathroom.

For seven hours.

In my own defense, the first dead guy I saw had fallen to his death at a construction site in Kalamazoo. Thanks to a hundred-foot drop and an unfortunate placement of rebar, I had another image to add to my things-I-can-never-unsee collection. Silver linings, baby.

I pulled three creamers out of my apron pocket where I stashed them, mostly because keeping creamers in my jeans pocket never ended well. I placed them on the table beside him.

“Thanks, Janey.” He gave me a saucy wink and doctored his coffee, an elixir I’d grown to love more than air. And French fries. And hygiene, but only when I woke up late and was faced with the heart-wrenching decision of either making a cup of the key to life itself or taking a shower. Strangely enough, coffee won. Every. Single. Time.

Mr. P was a regular, and I liked regulars. Whenever one walked into the café I felt a little less lost, a little less broken, as though family had come to visit. As fucked up as it sounded, they were all I had.

A little over a month ago, I woke up in an alley, soaked to the marrow of my bones with freezing rain pelting my face and no memory of who I was. Or where I was. Or when I was. I had nothing but the clothes on my back, a honking big diamond on my ring finger, and a blinding headache. The headache disappeared fairly quickly. Thankfully the clothes and the wedding ring did not. But if I were married, where was my husband? Why had he not come for me?

I’d been waiting since that first day. Day One, I’d called it. I’d been waiting for four weeks, three days, seventeen hours, and twelve minutes. Waiting for him to find me. For anyone to find me.

Surely I had family. I mean, everyone has family, right? Or, at the very least, friends. It would seem, however, that I had neither. No one in Sleepy Hollow—or the entire state of New York—knew who I was.

But that didn’t stop me from digging in my raggedly bitten nails and clinging to the knowledge that almost everyone on the planet had someone, and my someone was out there. Somewhere. Searching for me. Scouring the galaxy night and day.

That was my hope, anyway. To be found. To be known. The spiderweb cracks in the shell holding me together were splintering, bleeding into one another, creeping and crackling along the fragile surface. I didn’t know how much longer it would hold. How much longer until the pressure inside me exploded. Until it shattered and catapulted the pieces of my psyche into space; to the farthest reaches of the universe. Until I vanished.

It could happen.

The doctors told me I had amnesia.

Right?

Apparently that shit’s real. Who knew?

While waiting for Mr. P to scan the menu he knew by heart, I looked out the plate-glass windows of the café at the two worlds before me. I’d realized very soon after waking up that I could see things others couldn’t. Dead people, for one thing, but also their realm. Their dimension. And their dimension defined the word cray-cray.

Most people saw only the tangible world. The world in which the wind didn’t pass through them but bombarded them, its icy grip only metaphorically slicing through to their bones, because their physical bodies would only let it penetrate so far.

But there was another world all around us. An intangible one where the winds did not go around us but passed through us like searing smoke through air made visible only by a ray of light.

On this particular day, the tangible forecast was partly cloudy with an 80 percent chance of precipitation. The intangible forecast, however, was angry, billowing clouds with a 100 percent chance of thunderous lightning storms and fiery tornadoes swirling in an endless dance over the landscape.

And the colors. The colors were stunning. Oranges and reds and purples, the likes of which were not found in the tangible world, glistened around me, whirled and melded together with each reaction of the capricious weather, as though battling for dominance. Shadows were not gray there but blue and lavender with hints of copper and gold. Water was not blue but variegated shades of orchid and violet and emerald and turquoise.

The clouds parted a few blocks away, and a brilliant light shot down to welcome another soul, to embrace the fortunate spirit that had reached the expiration date of its corporeal form.

That happened fairly often, even in a town the size of Sleepy Hollow. What happened less often, thank goodness, was the opposite. When the ground cracked and parted to reveal a cavernous chasm, to deliver a less fortunate soul—a less deserving one—into darkness.

But not just any darkness. An endless, blinding void a thousand times blacker than the darkest night and a million times deeper.

And the doctors swear there is nothing wrong with me. They can’t see what I see. Feel what I feel. Even in my state of absolute amnesia, I knew the world before me was unreal. Unearthly. Unnatural. And I knew to keep it to myself. Self-preservation was a powerful motive.

Either I had some kind of extrasensory perception or I’d done a lot of LSD in my youth.

“He’s a doll,” the stripper said, her sultry voice dragging me away from the fierce world that raged around me.

She leaned her voluptuous body into him. I wanted to point out the fact that he was old enough to be her father. I could only hope he wasn’t.

“His name is Bernard,” she said, running a finger down the side of his face, a spaghetti strap slipping down a scraped-up shoulder.

I actually had no idea what she’d done for a living, but from the looks of it, she was either a stripper or a prostitute. She’d caked on enough blue eye shadow to paint the Chrysler Building, and her little black dress revealed more curves than a Slinky. I was only leaning toward stripper because the front of her dress was being held together with Velcro.

I had a thing for Velcro.

Sadly, I couldn’t talk to her in front of Mr. P, which was unfortunate. I wanted to know who’d killed her.

I knew how she’d died. She’d been strangled. Black and purple splotches circled her neckline, and the capillaries in her eyes had burst, turning the whites bright red. Not her best look. But I was curious about the situation. How it had evolved. If she’d seen the assailant. If she’d known him. Clearly I had a morbid streak, but I felt this tug at my insides to help her.

Then again, she was dead. As a doornail. In winter. What could I do?

My motto since Day One was to keep my head down and my nose clean. It was none of my business. I didn’t want to know how they died. Who they left behind. How lonely they felt. For the most part the departed were like wasps. I didn’t bother them. They didn’t bother me. And that was how I liked it.

But sometimes I felt a tug, a knee-jerk reaction, when I saw a departed. A visceral desire to do what I could for them. It was instinctual and deep-seated and horridly annoying, so I crawled into a cup of coffee and looked the other way.

“Bernard,” she repeated. “Isn’t that the cutest name?” Her gaze landed on me in question.

I gave her the barest hint of a nod as Mr. P said, “I guess I’ll have the usual, Janey.”

He always had the usual for breakfast. Two eggs, bacon, hash browns, and whole-wheat toast.

“You got it, hon.” I took the menu from him and walked back to the server’s station, where I punched in Mr. P’s order even though Sumi, the line cook, was about five feet from me, standing on the other side of the pass-out window, looking slightly annoyed that I didn’t just tell her the order since she was about five feet from me, standing on the other side of the pass-out window, looking slightly annoyed.

But there was a protocol in place. A strict set of guidelines I had to follow. My boss, a sassy redhead named Dixie, was only slightly less procedural than a brigadier general.

The stripper giggled at something Mr. P read on his phone. I finished up the order so I could move on to other vexations.

Vexations like LSD, Slinkys, and capillaries. How was it I could remember words like capillaries and brigadierand, hell, vexations and not remember my own name? It made no sense. I’d been going through the alphabet, wracking my brain for a candidate, but I was running out of letters. After S, I had only seven left.

I sought out my coffee cup and picked up where I left off.

Sheila? No.

Shelby? Nope.

Sherry? Not even close.

Nothing felt right. Nothing fit. I just knew if I heard my name, my real name, I’d recognize it instantly and all of my memories would come flooding back in a shimmering tidal wave of recollection. So far the only tidal wave in my life resided in my stomach. It did flip-flops every time a certain regular walked in. A tall, dark regular with jet black hair and an aura to match.

The sound of my coworker’s voice brought me back to the present.

“Lost in thought again, sweetie?” She walked up to stand beside me and gave my hip a little nudge. She did that.

Cookie had started working at the café two days after I did. She’d taken the morning shift with me. Started at 7:00 a.m. By 7:02, we were friends. Mostly because we had a lot in common. We were both recent transplants. Both friendless. Both new to the restaurant business and unaccustomed to having people yell at us because their food was too hot or their coffee was too cold.

Okay, cold coffee I understood.

I glanced around my section to make sure I hadn’t abandoned any of my customers in their time of need. All two of said customers—three if I included the dead ones—seemed pretty content. Especially the stripper. We were smack dab in the middle of the midmorning lull. It wouldn’t last long, however. The lunch crowd would be arriving soon.

“Sorry,” I said, busying myself with wiping down the counter.

“What did you say?” She glowered playfully before stuffing a bottle of ketchup into her apron and grabbing two plates off the pass-out window. Her thick black hair had been teased and tugged into a spiky masterpiece that only feigned disorder, but her clothes were another matter altogether. Unless she liked colors bright enough to blind her customers. There was no way to tell, really.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” she said in her stern mommy voice. Which made sense. She was a mother, though I had yet to meet her daughter. She was staying with Cookie’s ex while Cookie and her new husband, Robert, got settled into their new digs. “We talked about this, remember? The whole apology thing?”

“Right. Sor—” I stopped mid-sorry, catching myself before I could complete the thought and incur her wrath.

Her scowl turned semi-serious, anyway. One more “sorry” out of me and she’d turn downright nettled.

She bumped a generous hip against mine again and took her customers their lunch. Like me, she had two living customers and one dead one, since the departed man in the corner booth was technically in her section.

It would do him little good. Cookie couldn’t see dead people like I could. From what I’d gathered over the recent weeks, no one could see dead people like I could. Seemed like that was my superpower. Seeing dead people and the strange world they lived in. As far as superpowers went, if a vengeful madman hopped up on 24-Hour Sudafed and wielding a broadsword named Thor’s Morning Wood ever attacked us, we were screwed. Six ways to Sunday.

I took Mr. P his order while watching Cookie refill her customers’ water glasses. They must’ve been new to the world of Cookie Kowalski-Davidson. She wasn’t the most graceful server. That fact became exceedingly evident when the woman reached over Cookie’s arm to grab a French fry off her beau’s plate. Big mistake. The movement surprised Cookie, and a second later a wall of cold water splashed out of the pitcher and onto the guy’s lap.

When the icy liquid landed, he bolted upright and shot out of the booth. “Holy shit,” he said, his voice cracking, the sudden chill to his twigs and berries taking his breath away.

The horrified look on Cookie’s face was worth the price of admission. “I’m so sorry,” she said, trying to right the situation by blotting the large wet spot at his crotch.

She repeated her apologies, frantic as she poured all of her energy into drying the man’s nether regions. Either that or she was serving off the menu.

The woman opposite him began to giggle, hiding behind a napkin shyly at first, then more openly when she saw her boyfriend’s shocked expression. Her giggles turned into deep belly laughs. She fell across the seat of the booth, her shoulders shaking as she watched Cookie see to her boyfriend’s needs.

Yep, they were definitely new. Most of our customers learned early on not to make any quick movements around Cookie. Of course, most wouldn’t laugh when a waitress tried to service their lunch date either. I liked her.

After several painfully entertaining moments in which my guileless friend changed her technique from dabbing to outright scrubbing, Cookie finally realized she was polishing her customer’s erector set.

She stilled, her face hovering inches from the man’s vitals before she straightened, offered the couple a final apology, and returned to the prep area, her back two-by-four straight, her face Heinz-ketchup red.

I used all my energy to hold back the laughter threatening to burst from my chest like a baby alien, but inside I lay in a fetal position, teary and aching from the spasms racking my body. I sobered when she got close. Cleared my throat. Offered her my condolences.

“You know, if you have to keep buying your customers’ meals, you’re going to end up paying the café to work here instead of vice versa.”

She offered a smile made of steel wool. “I am well aware of that, thank you.” To suffer her mortification alone, she called out to Sumi, letting her know she was taking a break, then headed to the back.

I adored that woman. She was fun and open and absolutely genuine. And, for some unfathomable reason, she cared for me. Deeply.

My one female customer, a shabby-chic blonde with a bag big enough to sleep in, paid out and left. About two minutes later, Mr. P wandered to the register, ticket in hand, his face infused with a soft pink, his eyes watering with humor. Cookie had entertained the whole place. The stripper followed him. He thumbed through some bills, shaking his head, still amused with Cookie’s antics. The stripper took advantage of the moment to explain.

“He saved my life,” she said from beside him. She’d wrapped her arm in his, but every time he moved, her incorporeal limb slipped through. She linked her arm again and continued. “About a year ago. I’d … had a rough night.” She brushed her fingertips over her right cheek, giving me the impression her rough night involved at least one punch to her face.

My emotions did a one-eighty. My chest tightened. I fought the concern edging to the surface. Tamped it down. Ignored it the best that I could.

“I’d been roughed up pretty bad,” she said, oblivious to my disinterest. “He came to the hospital to take my statement. A detective. A detective had come to see me. To ask me questions. I figured I’d be lucky to get a patrol officer, considering … considering my lifestyle.”

“Here you go, hon,” Mr. P said, passing me a twenty. He folded up the rest of his bills and pocketed them as I punched a few buttons on the cash register, then began pulling out his change.

“It was the way he talked to me. Like I was somebody. Like I mattered, you know?”

I closed my eyes and swallowed. I did know. I had become acutely aware of the nuances of human behavior and the effect it had on those around them. The smallest act of kindness went a long way in my world. And there I was. Ignoring her.

“I cleaned up after that. Got a real job.”

She’d probably been ignored her whole life.

She laughed to herself softly. “Not a real job like yours. I started stripping. The place was a dive, but it got me off the streets, and the tips were pretty good. I could finally put my son in a private school. A cheap private school, but a private school nonetheless. This man just—” She stopped and gazed at him with that loving expression she’d had since she’d popped in. “He just treated me real nice.”

My breath hitched, and I swallowed again. When I tried to hand Mr. P his change, he shook his head.

“You keep it, hon.”

I blinked back to him. “You had coffee and ate two bites of your breakfast,” I said, surprised.

“Best cup I’ve had all morning. And they were big bites.”

“You gave me a twenty.”

“Smallest bill I had,” he said defensively, lying through his teeth.

I pressed my mouth together. “I saw several singles in that stash of yours.”

“I can’t give you those. I’m hitting the strip club later.” When I laughed, he leaned in and asked, “Want to join me? You’d make a killing.”

“Oh, honey, he’s right,” the stripper said, nodding in complete seriousness.

I let a smile sneak across my face. “I think I’ll stick to waiting tables.”

“Suit yourself,” he said, his grin infectious.

“See you tomorrow?”

“Yes, you will. If not sooner.”

He started toward the exit, but the stripper stayed behind. “See what I mean?”

Since no one was paying attention, I finally talked to her. Or, well, whispered. “I do.”

“My son is with his grandma now, but guess where he’s going to school.”

“Where?” I asked, intrigued.

“That private school, thanks to Detective Bernard Pettigrew.”

My jaw dropped a little. “He’s paying for your son to go to school?”

She nodded, gratitude shimmering in her eyes. “Nobody knows. My mama doesn’t even know. But he’s paying for my son’s schooling.”

The tightness around my heart increased threefold as she wiggled her fingers and hurried after him, her high heels eerily silent on the tile floor.

I watched her go, giving Mr. P one last glance before he turned the corner, wondering for the thousandth time if I should tell him about the demon coiled inside his chest.



Copyright © 2015 by Darynda Jones

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Ice Queen: Book Two of Odd Tangle-Hair's Saga Blog Tour and Review

The Ice Queen: Book Two of Odd Tangle-Hair's Saga By Bruce Macbain

Publication Date: November 30, 2015
Publisher: Blank Slate Press
eBook & Paperback; 285 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Author/Publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for an honest review

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The second volume of Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga takes up Odd’s adventures as a skald (court poet) in the land of the Rus. Here he is drawn into a dangerous love affair with the passionate and cunning Princess Ingigerd of Novgorod, and is forced to break with his sworn lord, Harald the Ruthless. Along the way, Odd devises a stratagem to defeat the wild Pechenegs, nomadic warriors of the Russian steppe, and goes off on a doomed mission to explore the distant reaches of the Black Sea. The novel concludes with Odd sailing into the harbor of Constantinople, bent on a secret mission, which will almost certainly cost him his life.

 Eager, curious, quick-witted—and sometimes wrong-headed—Odd Tangle-Hair recounts his story with candor, insight, and always an ironic sense of humor.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION | INDIEBOUND


My Take:

The Ice Queen is the second book in the Odd Tangle-Hair Saga -- and it is indeed a saga. Of course it is a Nordic tale and Odd - despite his young age - has many wild and dangerous adventures across vast expanses of the world. Now, Odd does make some questionable decisions which make some or many of his adventures less than enjoyable or pleasant, but his life wouldn't exactly be called boring.

Odd continues to be an engaging protagonist with a sense of humor - most of the time. Even though his youth certainly plays into some of his poor decisions, he is wily and tough -- he manages to get out of many close calls and come up with some pretty ingenious plans for survival. His main weakness seems to be for Princess Ingigerd - she is truly an ice queen - cold and calculating and able to seduce and scheme to get what she wants. 

Harald is exactly what we all expect - a good warrior, but a pretty awful person and not a friend in any sense of the word. Prince Yaroslav is an interesting character - he appears fairly weak and easily influenced at his palace, but seems to come into his own when he is away at war. There are several other memorable characters that wind through the narrative and have an influence on Odd - for good or ill.

As the saying goes: If it weren't for bad luck, Odd would have no luck at all. That pretty much sums up much of his adventures --- even though others make decisions as poor as his, Odd just doesn't get much of a break. He is betrayed over and over again -- and winds up in some abysmal situations. 

I am looking forward to reading the third installment in Odd's saga -- I can't wait to find out what happens to him in Constantinople. The Ice Queen is definitely a novel that I will recommend - it brings the period to life in a way that some of the histories just can't.  I think that the whole of Odd Tangle-Hair's Saga would be great assigned reading to go along with the biographies of Snorri Sturluson - and yes, the biographies are assigned reading for my teens in their homeschool curriculum. 

  



About the Author

03_Bruce MacbainFrom boyhood, Bruce Macbain spent his days in reading history and historical fiction. The Greeks and Romans have held a special fascination for him, and this led to earning a master’s degree in Classical Studies and a doctorate in Ancient History. Along the way, he also taught English as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Borneo. Later, he taught courses in Greek and Roman civilization at Boston University, and published a few dense monographs, read by very few. In recent years he has turned to writing fiction, a much more congenial pursuit, beginning with two historical mysteries set in ancient Rome (Roman Games and The Bull Slayer). Now, he has turned his attention to his other favorite folk, the Vikings. Odin's Child , the first novel of Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga, was published in May, 2015 and is now followed the sequel, The Ice Queen. A concluding volume will follow next year.

Bruce spends his spare time in the kitchen, cooking spicy food.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, December 1
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Tuesday, December 15
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Wednesday, December 16
Spotlight at Puddletown Reviews
Spotlight & Giveaway at Unshelfish

Thursday, December 17
Interview & Giveaway at Room With Books

Sunday, December 20
Spotlight at Layered Pages

Tuesday, December 22
Review at Book Nerd

Monday, December 28
Review at A Book Geek
Review at The Absurd Book Nerd

Tuesday, December 29
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews
Guest Post at The Absurd Book Nerd

Wednesday, December 30
Review at A Bibliotaph's Reviews

Thursday, December 31
Review at Boom Baby Reviews

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