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New Release!

Hello everyone! This week, we’ll be doing something a little different. Instead of posting a review of a book I’ve just finished, I thought I’d give you a special sneak peek into my latest series, The Einherjar Games. It kicks off with a bang in Bread & Circuses, an action-packed, battle-royale adrenaline rush that follows Agnes Sinclair as she navigates the dangerous arena of Valor City in an effort to save her sister.

Interested in learning more? Check out this blurb and first chapter below. Enjoy!!


Create a Mantle.  Battle the other players.  The last person standing wins entry to Eden…all others cease to exist.

Agnes Sinclair never had a reason to play in the Einherjar Game before.  Not with its fatal stakes.  The winner might gain entry to Eden, but all others suffer a fate worse than death: their souls fade to nothing.

Then she looked in on her little sister.

The only way to save her is to win the Game.  But to do that, she’ll need a Mantle, one composed of the myths, legends, and fairy tales trapped in Fólkvangr.  Just when all hope seems lost, Arthur Pendragon offers one too enticing to refuse: The Twelve Knights of the Round Table.  He wants them out of Fólkvangr, and she needs their strength to save her sister.

But it won’t be easy.  The other players are determined to win; Valor City—even on a good day—is no place for the weak; and Valen Augustus, the Board Chairman of the Game, has his own agenda.  An entire city is poised against them…

May the best player win.

If you enjoy Suzanne Collins, Victoria Schwab, and Annette Marie, you won’t be able to put down this action-packed, swoon-worthy, battle royale series starter to The Einherjar Games.

Chapter 1

Meeting the King

The Raven’s Hammer was always packed—most bars in Valor City were—and because of the large number of people, Agnes tended to avoid them. But the Old Man had wanted to meet in a public place. With lots of people.

Which was weird. She would have pictured their topic belonged in a more dark-alley, away-from-prying-eyes venue. Like a seaside dock at midnight. Not that Valor City had a seaside dock, landlocked as it was, but still. That atmosphere suited the topic of their meeting better.

Not a bar where a physical fight was about to break out over near the pool tables.

Her gaze darted to the raised pitch in voices. It lasted a moment, calmed down somehow, but there was still a powder keg of tension radiating from that corner of the bar. Another spark and it would explode.

She caught a whiff of something sizzling. Fajitas, maybe, with bell peppers and onions, just like she used to get back home. Mouth watering, her head perked up like a prairie dog as she sniffed out the scent, forgetting all about the pool table, the crowd around it, and the Old Man sitting across the table from her.

Valor City might be hell, but at least food—good food—was always available. The Game Board made sure of it.

The Old Man chuckled. She was surprised she heard him over the din of the bar, especially from that commotion brewing over near the pool tables, but still, she heard it.

Smooth, dumbass. Way to be smooth.

Face flaming red, she snapped her head back front and chastised herself, first for letting her attention wander, and second for looking like a starving idiot.

“Hungry?” he asked, taking a sip of his own drink. Whiskey, she guessed, from the smell and color.

Huh. He seemed…genuinely considerate in his asking. Not as if trying to make small-talk or buying time—though he definitely need to, as the rest of his party had yet to show up. But he asked the way a host at a party might, determined to keep his guest happy. Well that’s…weird. Most people wouldn’t care.

Still, couldn’t hurt to be polite. And honest. Mostly to stay in his good graces, but also because those fajitas had smelled heavenly. “Wouldn’t say no to whatever that was.”

Smiling, he raised a hand as if to signal a waiter. Agnes swallowed down her gut-reaction snort. If he expects a waitress to work through this mess just to take his—

“What can I get for you?” a waitress asked, sliding up to the table, notepad and pen poised in hand.

Agnes started, not sure which surprised her more: the fact that he’d summoned her from nowhere with a quick raise of his hand or that, despite how haggard and tired she looked from working, she seemed to be basking in his presence.

Yeah. Basking.

Like a freaking cat in a sliver of sunlight filtering in through a window.

The Old Man ordered, giving the waitress a wink before she left with a giggle. Agnes watched, puzzled, as she moved back into the bar crowd, disappearing almost instantly in the swarm of bodies.

She turned her attention back to the Old Man. “Are your other two going to be showing up anytime soon?”

“They’re on their way,” he answered, taking another sip of his drink. A content sigh escaped him as he set the glass back down on the table. “Not to worry. I won’t let the brawl in the corner interfere with our business.”

Well he seems sure of himself.

Another surprise. Their interactions over the phone had led her to paint him as a funny guy. He’d made jokes, cracked quips, always had a humorous, carefree tint to his voice. When she’d first met him outside the bar, she’d been caught off guard by his navy pinstripe suit, bear-like physique, and behemoth gray beard. Mostly the suit, though. Because it had been tailored. And tailored suits like that could only be found in Alpha district. And an Alphaite slumming it in the Odin’s Hall district?

Weird.

She couldn’t decide if she liked all these weird surprises. She’d survived as long as she had by playing it safe, being careful, and not taking unnecessary risks. Caution had become her middle name since coming to Valor City. Well, caution and instinct.

And, another surprise—as much as she wanted to exercise caution here, her instincts screamed at her that the Old Man was safe. That he wouldn’t harm her, that he had been truthful in their conversations so far, and that he truly did want what he said he wanted.

Which, you know, was surprising since he still hadn’t given her his name. She just called him Old Man because he refused to give her anything else to work with and that moniker worked just fine. In fact, when she’d threatened to use that title, he’d just laughed. A great, big, booming one that had infectiously made her smile and solidified his new name in place.

Why he hid his name, she didn’t know, but now that she’d seen he was from Alpha, maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe she’d recognize the name, once she heard it, and that would color her impression of him. Something he didn’t want.

But the only way she wouldn’t trust him was if he was affiliated with Valen Augustus somehow. And he wouldn’t even know that—it wasn’t like she made her disgust of Valor City’s most prominent and powerful citizen public knowledge. No, she preferred to keep that animosity tight to the chest, so why not give her his name?

Movement in her periphery jerked her from her thoughts. She saw a woman emerge from the packed crowd around them and slide into the empty chair beside the Old Man. She wore a plaid green apron over her jeans and blouse, one dusted with flour. Her red hair, peppered with graying strands, was pulled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck, though strands near her temples had worked loose, framing her wrinkled and pleasant face. Beaming, plump, and with the tastiest scent of homemade cookies swirling about her, she took her seat and beamed at Agnes. “And you must be the dear girl we’re here to meet. I’m Martha. Martha Murray.”

The woman had a Scottish accent. Not thick, thank goodness. For the most part, anything beyond a Texas twang or Hispanic accent had her asking “I’m sorry, could you say that again?” on repeat like a broken record. Agnes held out her hand and the woman shook it. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Murray. I’m Agnes.”

“Well aren’t you just lovely. I have a daughter a few years younger than you—Constance is her name—I hope she has manners like yours when she’s older.” The woman patted her hand over their clasped handshake before readjusting in her seat.

The chair beside Agnes screeched against the hard floor as it was pulled out. A man sat down, a stranger, one she’d never seen before. She straightened in her seat, scooting as far from him as she could without leaving the table altogether, and then studied him with a scowl that warned she didn’t appreciate being caught off guard like that.

He was tall, physically impressive, and strong—but then again, a lot of people in Valor City were. Around her age, if she had to guess, maybe a few years older at twenty-five or twenty-six, though the short, full beard made him appear older, regal almost. He had mussed blonde hair, not surprising, given the winter winds she, herself, had fought through outside, and piercing blue eyes that met hers and held them. Her scowl relaxed.

“This is Arthur,” the Old Man said. “Arthur, meet Agnes.”

He held out his hand. “Agnes.”

Only he didn’t say it like everyone else did. He said it in the French manner. On-yes rather than the Ag-nes she always heard. And he said it in a British accent, his voice deep with a baritone timber and a booming quality to it that, for a moment, cut through the noise around them.

Shivers raced down her spine from just hearing her name spoken.

Son of a biscuit.

She shook his hand, lightning tingling down her arm from the contact. “Are you the medium?”

“No,” Martha interjected, “that would be me.”

Agnes felt her face warm. In that brief exchange, she’d forgotten that the other two were there. Jerking her hand back to her, she turned in her seat to place Arthur in her periphery. Get it together. Business. You’re here on business—not blue eyes.

Martha gave her a warm smile as she began wiping her hands on the green apron. “Have you ever had your soul measured before, dearie?”

Agnes shook her head. She’d thought about it, sure, but there had never been a need to before. People measured their souls for one reason. Because, on some level, they wanted to play the Game.

She’d never wanted to play, never even joined the frenzy the city devolved into each year when the Game started again. Didn’t understand it, either.

But that had changed the last time she’d looked in on her little sister.

Agnes gritted her teeth—refusing to let the image surface. Refusing to think about it. She needed a level head, needed to keep her wits about her. Thinking about Arielle, about what she’d seen, would only infuriate her, make her emotions run high. For this conversation, she needed logic to prevail. Cooler heads and all that.

Martha waved for Agnes’ hand. She wiped it on her jeans, hoping to dispel some of the clamminess, before she laid it in the woman’s.

Her eyes fluttered shut as her fingers tightened around Agnes’ palm. They sat like that for a moment, the woman holding tightly onto her hand and Agnes aware of the people around them, wondering if they were watching. Most, if not all of them, would realize what was happening.

Why did we need to do this in public?

Martha’s eyes flew open and she jerked back. Her mouth formed a little O of surprise before a giddy smile stretched across her face. Her eyes snapped to Arthur and she nodded vigorously. Her other hand came up, patting Agnes’ hand, just like that initial handshake.

Agnes swallowed, glancing around between the three others at the table. The Old Man took another sip, grinning a lazy, triumphant smile behind his glass that reminded Agnes of a content cat after catching a canary. Martha was still patting her hand happily. And Arthur just looked gob-smacked.

She resisted the urge to jerk her hand back, but instead tugged it back to her. Politely, but stern enough to convey to Martha that she wanted to be let go of. “Is it a low number?” she asked, not sure why the three of them were acting so strangely. “Too low?”

The Old Man shook his head. He braced his forearms on the table and leaned forward. “Not at all, kid. In fact—and do stop me if I’m mistaken, my dear Martha—but we believe your soul can be fractured into twelve pieces.”

Agnes did snort at that sudden surge of surprise—the strongest she’d felt yet. Yeah, right.

Martha leaned forward across the table, eyes shining eagerly. “He’s right. I’ve never seen a soul as large as yours. It can be split twelve ways, I’m sure of it.”

She eyed them skeptically. This had to be a racket of some kind. A scam. The average ways a soul could be split was four. Four. Splitting a soul into twelve was impossible. No one, not even Valen Augustus, had enough soul to be split twelve ways.

“You could save them all.”

Her head snapped back to Arthur. He was staring at her in a mixture of awe and astonishment, like he’d found a winning lottery ticket discarded on the sidewalk.

She held up a hand. “Whoa, wait a minute. I’m not trying to save anyone but my sister.”

“And we’re in the unique position to help you do that,” the Old Man said. He threw back the rest of his drink, the empty glass making a sharp snap on the table when he slammed it down. “You want to play the Game to win the prize, correct? To reach Eden? And to save your sister? We want—”

“Assuming I can even contract twelve,” she interrupted, “is impossible. No one has that much soul.”

“The soul is a mysterious thing,” the Old Man shrugged. “No one, not even the gods, know the true depth and width of it. But I trust in Martha’s opinion. If she says you have enough soul to contract a mantle of twelve, I believe her.”

Twelve.

Now that the initial shock was fading off, something far more dangerous was worming into her chest. Hope. She could envision herself with a mantle of twelve spirits. She could see herself winning the Game. Rescuing Arielle. Hope was forcing her to see the path twelve spirits could give her, and that was dangerous.

“We have a mantle of twelve for you to use,” Arthur sad.

She eyed him cautiously. His shock was gone, replaced by a calculating, thoughtful expression. She could see the gears in his mind turning, forming strategies, making plans.

“If I really do have the capability of contracting twelve spirits,” she said, then held up a hand to cut the Old Man off, “I’m just saying, even if I do, why should I use your spirits? Why not contract my own?”

A cold, piercing steel came into Arthur’s eyes. Agnes straightened, goosebumps pricking down her arms from the fierce expression. “Because the Game starts in two weeks. You won’t have time to research spirits, contact each one, and negotiate a mantle. We have one for you, already prepared, with twelve spirits ready to listen to your every command.”

He’s trying to intimidate me. Normally, she would have thought that a stupid tactic, given where they were, but—great, another surprise—it was working. She felt like a stray cat that had just pissed off a lion. Her instincts were screaming at her to back down, roll over, and let him get his way.

And she might have, if it had just been her impacted by that decision. But Arielle was on the line too. Her little sister’s fate hung on the choices Agnes made, so she’d stand up and fight for the best option, the strongest mantle, to save her sister. And if that wasn’t the one they’d prepared, then so be it.

She leveled an equally frosty glare right back at him. “Firstly, I want to hear why you’re so gung-ho about me using this particular mantle. Then I want to know why you think they’re going to help me win.”

The Old Man chuckled, but she refused to glance in his direction. She and Arthur were trapped in an epic staring contest and she wouldn’t be the first one to crumble. Not over this, not with Arielle counting on her.

“You didn’t tell her,” Arthur accused.

For a beat, she thought Arthur was talking to her. But then the Old Man’s chuckle shifted to full-blown laughter, and she realized he was speaking to him. “No, I didn’t.”

“Tell me what?” she demanded.

The Old Man corralled his laughter back under control, though humor still flooded his voice when he spoke. “Agnes, this is Arthur Pendragon. As in King of Camelot, Ruler of Avalon, and King of Britain. The mantle of twelve? They’re his twelve Knights of the Round Table trapped in the realm of Fólkvangr.”

Oh shit.

The waitress reappeared, a steaming tray in hand. “Dinner’s ready,” she sang, dropping the plate off in front of the Old Man. “Enjoy!”


I hope you enjoyed that little tidbit! This story is near and dear to my heart in so many ways–it incorporates so many myths, legends, and stories that I loved listening to when I was a child, Arthur and his twelve knights being near the top of my favorites.

It goes on sale May 22nd. Pre-orders are available now through Amazon.

Book Review: Kill Code by Clive Fleury

Book Blurb:

WHEN THE OCEANS RISE…THE TRUTH DROWNS

It’s the year 2031. Our future. Their present. A world decimated by climate catastrophe, where the sun’s heat is deadly and the ocean rises higher every day. A world ruled by the rich, powerful, and corrupt. A world where a good man can’t survive for long.

Hogan Duran was a good man once. He was a cop, forced to resign in disgrace when he couldn’t save his partner from a bullet. Now Hogan lives on the fraying edges of society, serving cruel masters and scavenging trash dumps just to survive.

But after four years of living in poverty, Hogan finally gets a chance to get back on his feet. He’s invited to join the National Security Council, the powerful paramilitary organization responsible for protecting the rich and powerful from the more unsavory elements of society.

All he needs to do is pass their deadly entrance exam, and he’ll be rewarded with wealth and opportunity beyond his wildest dreams.

But this ex-cop’s path to redemption won’t be easy. The NSC are hiding something, and as Hogan descends deeper and deeper into their world, he starts to uncover the terrible truth of how the powerful in this new world maintain their power…and just how far they will go to protect their secrets.

In a world gone wrong, can one man actually make a difference, or will he die trying?

Published December 5th 2018 by TCK Publishing

My Review:

Buckle up, buttercups.

Holy macaroons. These book didn’t mess around. Action, more action, gun fights, action, car chases, sieges, action–I felt exhausted after reading this book. The adrenaline spiked hard, even from the opening chapters. And it just built from there.

The world-building was phenomenal, though truth be told, I would have liked to have seen more of it. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the parts we did, especially the trash collecting (you’ll understand what I mean once you read it!), and I appreciated how plausible it was. Especially with Max and the food truck–I work at a charity, so that part resonated soundly with me. And that intricate detail concerning people’s responses to the world crumbling around them cinched the world-building for me beautifully.

The plot was very character-driven–Hogan and how he reacts to the situations he finds himself in propels the story forward. Which was wonderful, as I found myself respecting the cop-turned-scavengar-turned-NSC candidate. His sense of justice and morality threaded through the narrative, often times warring with his instinctive need to survive, which created a wonderful friction that I gobbled up as if it were dressing on Thanksgiving Day.

Some characters did feel flat though. Jake, for example, seemed to be the token greedy, self-serving character, and I would have enjoyed sussing out his motivations more and finding some depth within him (for all the bad guys, actually), but overall, I enjoyed the characters and their interactions. And this might be a personal thing…or a weird one, I suppose, but why on earth was everyone taking their clothes off? The shower scene, yeah, ok, but to use technology? To take part in a welcoming ceremony? It became a running joke as I read, keeping a tally of how many times people were naked (because, you’d think, with the unbearably scorching sun, they’d cover up so as not to be burned, but I digress).

Still, I enjoyed it! Definitely a Kingsman: The Secret Service meets The Matrix with some Mad Max tossed in for good measure. It was such a polished narrative, definitely deserving 4 out of 5 stars!

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way sways my review or opinion of the novel. Thank you Clive and John for the opportunity to read and review it!

Want to check it out on Amazon? Click here!

Want to learn more about Clive Fleury? Click here!

Want to visit TCK Publishing? Click here!

Book Review: The Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves #1) by Roshani Chokshi

Book Blurb:

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

Published January 15th 2019 by Wednesday Books

My Review:

I’m on a magic heist kick.

I picked this up thinking it would follow the same vein as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. And boy howdy, does it. Severin is Kaz, Laila is Inej, and well, you see where this is going. There are remarkable similarties, so if you enjoyed Six of Crows, you’ll probably get a kick out of The Gilded Wolves as well.

The writing is absolutely breathtaking. Chokshi’s ability to craft a metaphor, to let her creativity run wild, and to make such hauntingly beautiful paragraphs is overwhelming. A little too overwhelming, in fact. While I thought the prose was magical, it could be overly distracting. Not by much, but there were a few instances where I had to reread a passage, if only to fully grasp what was being conveyed. That said, I’m not sure I would want Chokshi to trim it down. Her style of writing added to the atmospheric sense of this historical Paris in a manner that felt precise and deliberate. In a nutshell, it was gorgeous to read. And while that beauty could be distracting from the story, I felt it complimented it more than detracted.

The characters, themselves, were similarly beautifully rendered (dare I say, forged??). Oddly enough, my favorites were the outliers of the narrative. Zofia was a particular pleasure to interact with, her inability to pick up on social cues and her dependence on using math to make sense of the world made her such a real, visceral character. To that end, Hypnos likewise possessed such a wonderful complexity in his penchant for hiding his own insecurities, doubts, and longings behind his charm, wit, and extravagance. Each character had such a vibrancy to them, making them feel real, and I appreciated that immensely.

My main critique would be the final two parts of the narrative (it’s broken up into six parts). The first four felt fine, so I didn’t really understand why the subsequent two parts were added. Especially because I thought they went in for a needless shock reaction. I don’t want to ruin it too much, and spoil it if you haven’t read it yet, but the unexplained, convenient-for-the-baddies twist was…well, insulting. The book had been believable up until that point, but that moment ruined it for me because it lacked any kind of explanation. No build-up, just boom: tragedy. Yes, it gives you emotions, but it was a sucker punch for you to feel something, to end on a different note than where the narrative was headed. And I wasn’t a fan of what it did.

I enjoyed the story, though I didn’t feel such a compulsive need to finish it. In fact, I found myself putting it down for days at a time, which isn’t usually like me. And the most aggravating part is I couldn’t explain why: I liked the story, I liked the characters, I enjoyed the writing. Still, it didn’t draw me in as much as I wanted it to. I give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Thief (The Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner

Book Blurb:

The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king’s prison. The magus is interested only in the thief’s abilities.

What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.

Published December 27th 2005 by Greenwillow Books (first published October 31st 1996)

My Review:

I first came across this book when I was younger and it instantly became one of my favorites. So my re-read of it largely builds off the nostalgia, though don’t let that dissuade you from picking it up–this book has it all. Cunning thieves, wily villains, rich mythology, and temple-raiding the likes of which Indiana Jones couldn’t pass up.

I think, for me, the characters cinched it as one of my all-time favorite books. I loved the character of Gen, both when I was younger and again as an adult. His cocky attitude and overabundance of confidence sell him as such a compelling character, especially because it seems to be in direct contradiction to the situation we first see Gen in. That, and his sharp wit, made the story all the more engaging.

I also loved how some chapters were of Gen telling the myths and legends of his childhood. I live for mythology or similar stories (duh, writer here) so I appreciated the extra world-building happening in those chapters. I remember reading it as a child, loving those quick little stories Gen shared, as they were the first I’d come across in a book. They’re just as compelling as the main story line and I loved how they were all tied together at the end.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone in need of a good adventure fix. I (both my child-self and my adult-self) adamantly give this book 5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1) by Deborah Harkness

Book Blurb:

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

My Review:

This book is smart. Which is usually a weird thing one says about a book, granted. Often they’re described as entertaining, funny, tragic, etc., but–and I don’t know about you, but for me–I don’t usually throw around smart to describe a book.

This one, however, is smart. I love magic and monsters (obviously, if you’ve seen what I like to read) and this one has that in spades, but how it was presented, and how it attempted to deal with the larger themes of origin, segregation, and species, touched on just how smart this book was. Sure, Harry Potter had magic, but it didn’t have vampire scientists attempting to find the origin of all supernatural creatures or witches exploring history to unravel the past. Harry Potter accepted magic as a force and moved on (which I’m not disparaging in the slightest, but let’s face it, Harry Potter used emotion rather than logic to combat all the things wrong in the world), whereas the All Souls Trilogy examined the basis of origin (through a supernatural and magical lens) to combat bigotry and segregation.

See? Smart.

It was a journey made all the more engaging by the wonderful cast of characters and the forbidden romance between Diana and Matthew. The emotional components to go along with the logical examination the themes of the story tried to elaborate on. Now, I love a good flexing of the old noggin as much as the next girl, but the balance between the exploration of origin and the emotional turmoil the characters experienced cinched it for me. I couldn’t put this book down because of it.

It’s such a wonderful story. If you’re looking for something with more depth than your typical fantasy romance, I encourage you to pick it up. Join the bandwagon. Maybe watch the TV show. You won’t regret it. 5 out of 5 stars.

First 3 Chapters of Perception

CAse #1: Villanova Apartments

ONE

“You do realize we haven’t moved off this couch in the last four hours?”

“Not true,” Bronte said, clicking through the end credits of Grey’s Anatomy and onto the next episode. She tossed the PlayStation controller onto the ottoman/coffee table in front of us, narrowly missing her fairy-tale books and flower vase vignette. “Two episodes ago, you grabbed us cokes from the fridge. Thirty minutes into the previous episode, I stood up, stretched out my left leg because it went to sleep, and then sat back down.  So we have moved off the couch.  Some.”

“Ah. I stand corrected.”

She nodded.  “As you were.”

The recap from the previous few episodes flashed across the 32-inch flat screen across the far wall. As if we hadn’t just seen all those moments hours earlier.

My eyes roamed above the screen to the world map tapestry hanging above it. As it always did, my eyes focused on the splotches marring the map. Bronte thought they were part of the tapestry’s charm. I thought they looked exactly like the state of New Jersey, just flipped around, and that the artist had been from New Jersey and this was all a clever ploy by the New Jersian to bolster the reputation of New Jersey. Bronte didn’t believe me.

The familiar jingle signaling another episode chimed from the screen. Then Meredith Grey’s voice floated over a fly-over of Seattle, drawing another parallel between surgical skills and life at large.

As it did.

In.

Every.

Episode.

“Shoot me now,” I grumbled.

Bronte grabbed one of the couch pillows and flung it at me. With eight pillows on the couch, we usually had some to spare besides the ones we cocooned ourselves with whenever we binged like this.

It smacked me on the top of the head before plopping off onto the ground beside me.

“We’re in season nine,” she said. “More than halfway through.”

“This was fun at the beginning.”

“It’s fun now.”

“Liar.”

“Maybe.”

“I’ve forgotten what other TV shows even talk about.”

“There are no other TV shows outside of Grey’s.”

“That can’t be right.” I looked over at her, a mock serious expression on my face. “Is that right? I can’t remember a time before. Was there a time before?”

“There has always been Grey’s.”

A chill went through me, rocking my core so violently I sat up with the shivers.

Bronte glanced at me, then frowned. “You want me to turn the heat up? Get a blanket?”

I fell back into my spot. “No need. It’s gone.”

She sat still for a moment. Then she reached forward, grabbed the controller, and paused the show. “It happens a lot, doesn’t it? The chills?”

“I’m always cold. You know that.”

She shook her head. “No, not getting cold, or running colder than normal, but the chills. My dad used to say it’s whenever someone walks over your grave–that’s when you get chills like that.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“It happens a lot though. Me included.”

She was right, of course. I’d noticed them too. The sudden shuddering seizing, then gone. A second, maybe two, then it passes like it’d never happened to begin with.

But I hadn’t been able to find a cause. We didn’t always walk under a vent when it happened, though sometimes we did. We didn’t catch a whiff of chilly air coming in through the cracks around our windows from the hasty construction. Driving, West Texas wind wasn’t always sneaking in through the front door. It was a fairly new apartment, so there shouldn’t be any drafts from holes or rotting beams. And I wasn’t scientific enough to try and discover the cause, even though I had noticed how weird it was.

So I did what any sane person would do when met with something unexplainable and odd: I ignored it outwardly. I didn’t voice aloud how I felt that same chill some weekday mornings, exactly at the last minute when I needed to get up for work, and that it had saved me from oversleeping a few times. I didn’t tell my roommate that I felt it when I was alone in the apartment, crying over sad books. And I was certainly not about to mention that it seemed to happen more frequently when I played The Legend of Zelda video game series more than any other.

Letting those thoughts worm around in the back of my mind was one thing. Spreading them like a disease by voicing them aloud was something else. If I said them, if I shared them, if I gave them form–even in the form of spoken words–then they’d be real. They could spread.

I wasn’t about to let that happen.

“Really, Charlotte, I never noticed.”

She scowled at the use of her real name. Bronte had started as a nickname when we first met–we’d bonded over our general love of books after being introduced through a mutual friend, Rose. It had caught on, and in the thirteen years since then, it had spread to the point where nearly everyone called her Bronte now.

“Really, Stella, you never noticed?”

“Really, Charlotte, I never noticed,” I repeated, leaning forward and pressing the play button.

Still scowling, she grabbed a pillow and hugged it to her chest, turning her attention back to the show. For a few minutes, she looked at the screen. Then she whispered, “I keep thinking I see things. Out of the corner of my eye.”

I looked over at her.

She kept staring straight ahead. “And when I turn to look at them, they’re gone. Every time I think I see something, it’s you I think I see. Or feel, I guess. You know how like you’re standing in your room and you just know someone is standing in your doorway, even though you can’t see the doorway? It’s like that.”

“Why do you think it’s me?”

She shuddered. It wasn’t a shiver, not one of the walking-over-your-grave ones. But a shudder, nonetheless. “Who else would it be? We’re the only two here.”

I grabbed a pillow for myself and hugged it close.

My mouth opened to tell her about the voices. The voices I laid awake at night, trying to convince myself were people outside or in the apartment below. Voices floating through paper-thin walls because they sounded distant. No, not distant, exactly, more like muffled. Less like being echoed through a long hallway and more like words whispered through a pillow.

The front door burst open and we both jumped out of our seats.

Rose barreled into the room, balancing a pizza box and a bottle of wine along with her laptop bag, winter coat, and purse. “Assistance?”

Bronte and I shot forward, taking things from her until we’d unburied Rose from all the clutter. Her long, blonde hair was wavy today, held back by a bohemian scarf. Her sweatpants and two-sizes-too-big sweater let loose the scent of laundry detergent as I peeled her out of her coat. “Laundry day?”

“Yes,” she purred, taking a whiff of her sleeve and letting out a pleasant sigh. “Nothing beats laundry day.”

Bronte took the pizza box and wine into the kitchen. She stowed the white wine for after dinner and grabbed some plates down from the cabinets. “We’re on season nine,” she called out as she helped herself to a slice.

“Glad to see you’ve risen spectacularly to my binge challenge.  Liking it, Stella?”

I rolled my eyes.

After we each grabbed our plates, we all returned to our places on the sofa. Bronte and I sat on it while Rose sat on the floor, her back propped up against it.

I noticed Bronte wouldn’t meet my eye as we resumed the show.

She didn’t bring it up after Rose left for the night, with a quick reminder about tomorrow’s girls’ night.

We didn’t breach the subject as we cleaned up the debris from dinner.

But when we headed our separate ways for the night, she shivered as she headed for her bedroom. We both froze: me near the kitchen lights, her in her doorframe. For a moment, I thought she was going to turn to me.

She didn’t.

And after a deep breath, she stepped into her room and shut the door.

My hand hovered over the light.  Then I flipped it and marched toward my bedroom door.

In the dark, my ears caught the softest sigh floating through the stillness of the room.  It spurned me on faster until I jumped into bed.  Like a child, I yanked the covers over my head.

“It’s just people outside, walking their dogs,” I whispered.  “People outside.  Just people.”

But I seriously doubted it.

*

“They’re starting to figure it out,” Oliver sighed, falling back onto the couch.

Cyril watched as his friend’s astral form fell slower than any real body would. Like a feather floating, Oliver drifted through the still air to settle on the couch. Not that the cushions gave under his weight–he didn’t have any weight. Not anymore. Not for a long time.

He never really understood why Oliver insisted on sitting on the furniture. They were ghosts. They could float. And their bodies didn’t exactly tire either, if they did remain upright.

His friend’s phantom outline shone with the faintest light in the late-night darkness of the room. A vague outline of pale, ghostly white. Oliver moved so that he could rest his elbows on his knees, hanging his head, his fingers sliding through his hair to mess it up.

If his friend stood now, he would be the picture of a crazed ghost portrayed in movies and on paper. Messy hair, wild eyes, trembling frame.

Oliver was taking the overheard conversation between Bronte and Stella roughly. Especially Bronte’s admissions of catching shadows in the corner of her eyes. Her fear, her uncertainty of those shadows had pierced straight through Oliver, forcing him to leave the room and retreat to Bronte’s bedroom during the evening.

Cyril had caught his friend’s face as Oliver and Bronte accidentally brushed when she switched rooms afterward. When Bronte stiffened. When Stella froze.

Bent over as his friend was now, he imagined it was the same face. The same agonized, tortured expression.

He moved away from Stella’s door, more toward the center of the living room. Still floating, he sat, but his body didn’t fall toward the floor. His top half didn’t even move. His legs just came up and he sat cross-legged nearly three feet above the ground.

“Not yet.  We still have time before they truly being to suspect.”

Oliver’s head snapped up and he scowled at him. “The chills? Bronte is seeing things. Stella is hearing things. Us, Cyril. They’re feeling, seeing and hearing us.”

Cyril felt a stab of annoyance. “And what would you like me to do about that?”

Oliver scoffed. “Nothing.”

Anger rising, Cyril opened his mouth to snap back. But then he stopped, took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

Not that it was an actual breath. He’d given up breathing more than one hundred years ago. But still, the actions of taking a breath calmed him down. “Sorry.”

Oliver sighed. “I just…I don’t want what happened with Mrs. Rogers to happen again.”

“I know.”

“They’re younger, Cyril,” he said, an edge of concern creeping into his voice. “God, they’re in their mid-twenties. The only saving grace with Mrs. Rogers was her age, so she died faster.”  He let out a bitter laugh as he said it. “She only had to spend the last six years of her life going crazy.  If we do that to them–”

“We won’t.”

“–haunting them for the rest of their lives. God, I couldn’t bear to watch them deteriorate like Mrs. Rogers. She moved twice in those last six years, Cyril. Nearly bankrupted her to do it and she didn’t know, didn’t realize–”

“Oliver.”

“–her own children wanted to condemn her to the psychologists. We drove her mad, Cyril.”

Cyril floated through the air and landed on the sofa beside Oliver. “That’s not how it’s going to happen. Not again.”

Oliver’s eyes flitted to Bronte’s bedroom door. “A pocket watch. She bought a pocket watch and it killed her. And I thought how we died was bad.”

“They aren’t going to be like Mrs. Rogers.”

His friend turned to look at him. “You can’t know that.”

Sighing, Cyril glanced over his shoulder at Stella’s door. “They’ve got each other, so that’s something. They’re more akin to dreamers, so that might help. They’re stronger than Mrs. Rogers was. When it gets to the point that their perception of us is stronger, they’ll be better able to handle…able to handle the fact–”

“That they’re haunted,” Oliver whispered on a sigh.

TWO

Book Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

Book Blurb:

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

Published February 26th 2019 by Orbit

My Review:

Let’s start off with something I’m sure everybody’s talking about and arguing over: this book was written in the second person POV. Which means that you have a narrator (unknown for the first half of the novel) talking to the main character, Eolo. Obviously, Eolo can’t hear this narration happening…think of it like when you’re driving along, all sunshine and daisies, when another driver swerves in front of you and you start angrily yelling at said driver. The driver can’t hear you. But you yell about their terrible driving habits anyway. It’s like that, though less angry and more thoughtful. And woah Nelly, if there’s one thing this narrator is, it’s thoughtful.

And surprisingly…I didn’t hate it. I thought it would be confusing, distracting, and difficult to follow (as I don’t read many stories in the 2nd person POV), but nope. If anything, I devoured the story because (for me, at least) I wanted the identity of the narrator to be revealed. Because I kept flip-flopping back and forth between who I thought it might be and I love the building tension of a good mystery.

Which was just one of the many mysteries inherent in the novel, all fixated on the fascinating premise of the Raven’s Lease, the Raven’s Heir, and the Raven god himself. The political, economic, and power plays at work within the empire of Iraden and the countries beyond were fascinating to watch unfold, especially within the small cast of characters. This is my first Leckie novel, but I appreciated how the flaws within the system of government became one of the root problems the characters faced, and I believe she did a fantastic job conveying that.

The system of magic the gods utilized was likewise fascinating. Seemingly all-powerful until, like one of the gods within the novel came to realize, you examine the dangerous limitations. I’m a sucker for any kind of magic system the involves precise word usage, which was exactly what we had here. And which tied beautifully into the theme of power and dominance.

This novel was beautifully written, carefully crafted, and delightful to read. It left me with one of my most severe cases of book hangover. I borrowed it from my local library…and now, I’m having trouble giving it back. 5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Six of Crows (Six of Crows Duology #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Book Blurb:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes


Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Published September 29th 2015 by Henry Holt and Company

My Review:

I should know, by now, that when my friend Natalie suggests a book, I should drop whatever it is I’m doing and read that book. It’s crazy–she knows my reading preferences better than I do. Some of my all-time favorite stories have been ones that she suggested to me, and yet, like an idiot, whenever she buys me a new book, I put it on my to-read shelf and get around to it later.

Which is why I’m so late to jump on this bandwagon.

Believe me, this is a bandwagon worth getting on.

Leigh Bardugo is a born storyteller. Her world building, her characterizations, her ability to draw out suspense, rile up tension, or convey such heart-wrenching emotion with only a few words is truly a gift.

Six of Crows is truly a vibrant story, with six teenagers at its heart. Each one has such a rich past, with those memories influencing their choices and personalities in the present. What I loved was how utterly flawed they were. They were driven by their desires, for better or worse, and that made them feel real.

But the complexities weren’t limited to the characters themselves. Bardugo created an entire universe, with political machines, warring countries, capitalism, and religious zealots. All the things you’d find in this world, which made the story all that more engaging.

I loved how much of an impact the setting had on our characters. Where they grew up, the cultural and socioeconomic impact of those formative years, influenced them as people. So often, we see characters in a fantasy setting, but that setting hardly influences how the people behave. Not so in Six of Crows, which was a relief. From the cold demeanor of Matthias so the shady underside of Kaz, the countries altered our characters, and I found that remarkable.

The writing, in itself, was absolutely stunning. It was vivid, consuming, and gorgeous, the type of writing I would aspire to. I’m so happy that Natalie gave me this book–I loved it so much and it definitely deserves a strong 5 out of 5 stars.

Dream Journal: Ditties vs. Dinosaurs

Ok, so me and my friend Michaelangelo work for Ingen. Yeah, that Ingen. The evil organization from Jurassic Park that just doesn’t understand mother nature is not to be trifled with. In the immortal words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, “you were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.”

Right. So Mikey and I work as taggers. We go out into the wilds of the world and tag animals for observation and study by shooting them with these micro chipped tag things. I have a wonderfully imaginative subconscious because once the tag has been set, all a person needs to do is hum a little pre-programmed tune and it calms the animal right down.

Neat, right?

But the song only resonates with the tag, so you have to implant one first, or the whole thing falls apart.

So I’ve been ordered to tag this giraffe/dog chimera creature: think long neck on the body of a dog, but with the spots of a giraffe, and with its head freaking yards above, it has its tongue hanging out like a dog leaning out of a car window. I can’t decide if they’re cute or horrific, so yeah, chimera.

It’s escaped from the lab and is loose in the city (they’re always loose in the city, right? Why not ever, I don’t know, some rural nowhere with nothing but tumbleweeds and horned toads?). But whatever. Chimera. Loose. Gotta save the city and indulge my Power Rangers envy by being a hero.

I take one of the guns being prepared for this massive mission all of us taggers have schedule for the next day. We’re going to try and reclaim the old Jurassic Park. So I take a gun and go hunt the chimera, because that’s what heroes do.

I get there, and this chimera is practically rabid. It’s terrorizing actual dogs in a downtown park, children are crying, parents are snapping photos of this thing–it’s a mess. It’s distracted by a particularly feisty chihuahua, both barking at each other, except the chimera’s body is like yards back and it’s head is near the ground, it’s head extended to be right in the chihuahua’s face, but Good Night, the little dog isn’t backing down.

I tag it while it’s in the middle of its barking contest and then edge closer, humming the song.

But it doesn’t work.

Cue the scene were it swings it’s head around in a panic, knocking me in my gut, and then I’m trying to wrestle it’s massive neck down while I’m humming this song loudly and frantically.

Eventually, I manage to knock it unconscious (because in dream mode, I’m a badass apparently), and I return to the lab to try and tell anyone that’ll listen that the microchips won’t work against the dinosaurs. No one listens (shockingly) so the next day, our people head out to Jurassic Park and start dying because the humming songs aren’t working.

I find my friend Mikey and we do stealthy-sneaky shenanigans into the computer room to discover that the tags have been programmed with a freaking different song. On purpose, or by accident, who can say? But I’ve got people to save so I leave that question for later.

We rush to the island and start running along, humming these little ditties, the correct little ditties. Dinosaurs drop left and right, and we pave our way through them like Moses parting the Red Sea. But still, we lost good men and women, though Mikey and I hum our way through the island, saving as many as we can.

We’re still humming our butts off when I wake up.

Book Review: After the Fall (RWBY #1) by E. C. Myers

Book Blurb:

Trouble is brewing . . .

After Beacon Academy fell, Coco, Fox, Velvet, and Yatsuhashi made a vow: No one else is getting left behind. It’s been more than a year since Team CFVY saw their school destroyed by the creatures of Grimm, their friends felled in battle or scattered across the world of Remnant. Since then, they’ve been settling into life at Shade Academy in Vacuo, fighting hard to finish their training so they can find their friends and save their world.

When a distress message comes into Shade, asking for huntsmen and huntresses to defend refugees from a never-ending stream of Grimm, Team CFVY answers the call without hesitation. But in the heat of the desert, they’re forced to relive their former battles, both from the fall of Beacon and from everything that came before.

Published June 25th 2019 by Scholastic Inc.

My Review:

So for those of you unfamiliar with the wonderful world of RWBY (pronounced “ruby”), it started as a web series by Rooster Teeth. The show of RWBY follows the four main characters: Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang. Their initials (as well as the initials of all the four person cells operating in the show) were smushed together to give us their team name, RWBY, as they attended the combat school, Beacon Academy, to learn how to harness their auras, semblances, and physical skills to defend the world from dark creatures known as Grimm.

Believe me, this is all important. Because this book follows the story of team CVFY (pronounced “coffee”) after the fall of Beacon Academy. The main characters continue their story arc in the web series, but fan favorites CVFY weren’t relevant to the plot anymore (at least at the time of my writing this) so Rooster Teeth decided to tell their story in a different medium.

Rooster Teeth is very good at that–I mean, with the free series posted on their website, they have to get their money from somewhere, right? The merchandising alone is crazy, and there was a manga spin-off, so why not a book series following the ever popular team CVFY?

I enjoyed this book immensely, especially the little nods you’ll pick up along the way if you’re a fan of the show. I’m a big fan of Easter eggs, and this book doesn’t disappoint in the number of nods and references to the story from the original series.

That being said, I had some problems with the writing. There are multiple point of view shifts, and while I felt like Myers did the best he could with the POV jumps, the sheer number of them was jarring. Especially if you read continuously through it, like I did. Having to hop around into different people’s minds, reorienting yourself constantly, was exhausting. More than once, I had to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to make sure I was following the correct character (the silhouettes on the first page of each chapter were a lifesaver!). Four characters, plus the jumps back to Beacon, were a bit much, in my opinion.

Another issue I had was the intended audience. I realize they published through Scholastic, which is definitely more of a younger readers publisher, and they probably tried to make the story reach a younger audience because the writing felt simplistic. At the same time, I felt they wanted to cater to older audiences who follow RWBY. And then they wanted to allow it to be accessible to people unfamiliar with RWBY while acknowledging the fan-base that transitioned with them from the web series (hello, Easter eggs). Trying to spread to cover so many bases left the story thin.

Overall, I enjoyed it immensely. I’m just sad to say that if I didn’t have that love for RWBY pushing me forward, I might not have finished. Because of the rich world-building in Remnant, the complex themes from the show, and the characters are such a draw, I could transpose that richness over onto this story. Without that prior knowledge, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much. I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars.