Tag: young adult books

PROJECT EMERGENCE Coming Soon

 
Today Jamie Zakian and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for PROJECT EMERGENCE which releases March 14, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
 
A quick note from the author:
 
I’ve always dreamed of writing an epic sci-fi thriller. I knew I wanted it to involve a group of teens leaving a dead Earth to start new lives on a terra formed Mars, but I didn’t have any ideas on how to make the plot exciting. Then, a song I never heard before played on my Pandora app. Escape by Rogue. As that song blasted through my headphones, the entire story that is Project Emergence streamed through my mind like a movie trailer. So, I went straight to work. It took months of frantic writing, almost a year of editing, and a mini rewrite, but that moment of inspiration became my first YA novel.
 
Project Emergence is a fast-paced thrill ride across the stars. It shows the extent people will go to uphold their beliefs, and that love can overcome any evil.

 

On to the reveal! 


 
Title: PROJECT EMERGENCE
Author: Jamie Zakian
Pub. Date: March 14, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 292
Find it: Goodreads| Amazon | B&N | TBD
 
An ancient Hopi myth says people arrived on tiny silver pods that fell from the sky.
 
But the truth is far more terrifying.
 
Two-hundred fifty-eight teens are sent from a dying Earth to a terraformed Mars as part of the Emergence Program,
mankind’s last hope before solar flares finish off their planet and species. Among the brave pioneers are sixteen-year-old Joey Westen and her twin brother, Jesse.
 
After only minutes in space, something triggers a total ship lock down.
 
With the help of their roommates, the Matsuda twins (notorious hackers and shady secret-keepers), Joey and Jesse stumble onto an extremist plot to sabotage the Emergence Program.
But Joey and Jesse didn’t travel to the deepest pits of space and leave their mother behind to be picked off in a high-tech tin can. They’ll lie, hack, and even kill to survive the voyage and make it to Mars.

 

Excerpt

Chapter OneJoey squirmed in the seat of a large, airtight van as it sped along an empty road. A cloud of red sand kicked up outside her window, and the van’s tires hummed against cracked pavement. Solar flares had done a fine job of destroying this once beautiful planet. She never got to see Earth in its glory days, as she had been born into a scorched world, but could almost picture the way it used to be.

In her imagination, the reddish tint that covered the parched countryside outside her window transformed to crisp green meadows. The piles of stone and metal reconstructed to form the buildings they once were, reaching for a sky that was blue instead of crimson.

Her daydream ended when the nose of a spaceship peeked above maroon-crested hills. That massive shuttle was waiting to carry two hundred and fifty-eight lucky lottery winners off this dying planet, and she was one of them.

“Whoa,” Joey said, her breath fogging the glass. A light crinkle drew her stare to the paper in her now tight grip. She loosened her stiff fingers, smoothing a crease from the official seal of the Unified Nations of Earth.

…The letter in her hand still mesmerized her. Selected … Terraformed Mars … New home … Those words knocked the bottom from her stomach every time she read them. Things were getting way too real. No more tiny lead-lined home, school at the kitchen table, Mom. She turned to Jesse, her brother’s smirk brighter than an X1 flare.

“You’re a crappy twin. I’m freaking out right now; you should be too.”

Jesse rolled his stare her way. “Fraternal twins don’t work like that.”

“That’s not true.” She read the letter again, making sure both their names were listed for the umpteenth time.

“I can’t believe this is happening.” Jesse grew tense. A frown swept his lips for just a moment before his perma-smile returned. “No one from G-Sector ever goes anywhere.”

“Did you see the look on Mom’s face when we left?”

“I know. Buzzkill.”

“What’s she gonna do without us?” Joey asked in a near whisper.

“Finally be able to feed herself.” Jesse snickered.

She shook her head, folding the letter. “Maybe she’ll win the next lottery and meet up with us on Mars.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

Jesse leaned close, keeping his voice low. “Didn’t you hear what that kid behind us was saying?”

“No. What?”

“He said the lottery’s rigged.” Jesse eyed the soldier stationed at the front of the van, then the other two at the rear. “That everyone is selected for a specific purpose.”

“But that would mean the U.N.E. is lying to everyone,” Joey said, a bit too loud. Jesse’s eyes opened wide, and she shrugged.

“You’re gonna get us booted from this ride before we even launch.”

“Whatever,” she muttered. “It’s a stupid idea anyway ‘cause look, we’re here. What do we have to offer? All you can do is fix stuff, and me … well, I’m just good at being cute.” She batted her eyes, flaunting a sly smile.

“Yeah you’re right. That’s real flippin cute.” Jesse slanted toward the aisle, glancing around the cab. “There aren’t any adults on this van.”

“There’s the soldier guys.”

“Geez, dummy. I mean the passengers.”

Joey pinched her brother, who wriggled away. “Dummy,” she mimicked. With a failed attempt to appear casual, she popped her head up and scanned the seats. Sparkly clothes and bright makeup captured her stare. “They look like A-Sectors.” She didn’t mean to gawk at the people seated around her, but she’d never seen such lavish clothes, such flawless skin.

“Please remain seated while the vehicle’s in motion,” a soldier thundered.

Jesse grabbed Joey’s arm and pulled her down into the seat. “Smooth, sister. Real smooth.”

She shrank back, deploying her trusty get-out-of-messes frowny smile on her brother. “Oops. In trouble already. Figures.”

Grumbles erupted from Jesse’s lips, and she turned back to the dusty earth outside her window. Crazy how one day and a trip to the mailbox could change her entire life. Yesterday, she was painting a mural of Mars on their bedroom wall. Today, she was going to Mars.

The parched countryside vanished behind a tunnel wall. She sagged in her seat. For sixteen years, she clung to Jesse. Every time dust storms pelted their windowless metal house, she curled under his arm. Mom worked late, so Joey’s hand became glued to his. And now, when she actually needed the comfort of his touch, her brain decided it was time to man up. Her eyes narrowed. She zeroed in on his cozy-looking hand, her fingers drumming a steady beat on her leg.

***

Sabrina poked her head around a corner. Her fingers tightened around the rifle’s grip as she peered down a dim corridor. Shadows danced along the concrete wall, and she backed up, pressing her comms button. “Stone to dispatch. Come in, dispatch.”

Static crackled in her ear, a garbled voice cutting in and out.

“Dispatch, do you read? Where the hell is my backup?”

This time, only the fizz of dead air replied.

“Damn underground bright-out dens,” Sabrina mumbled.

These missions twisted her gut every time. There were very few people left alive on Earth. Many couldn’t afford specially designed homes or the rising cost of oxygen, and it didn’t sit right to bust folks just for trying to survive the scorching sun. But she was Captain Sabrina Stone of the Unified Nations of Earth, a high ranking officer in the sector that controlled every aspect of the entire planet, and she had a duty to protect what was left of that planet. Neither a heavy conscience nor lack of backup would hinder that.

Sabrina held her weapon close, skulking down the stone passage. Two men strolled around the bend, then stopped short, and she popped off two rounds. No sound emitted from the gun’s muzzle, just a flash that lit the graffiti-stained walls in white.

The men slumped to the ground. Tiny darts protruded from their chests, and pamphlets spilled from their limp hands.

“Earth-heads,” she muttered, glimpsing anti-Mars propaganda. The bang of a metal door slamming shut echoed from the dark tunnel on her left, so she headed toward it.

Men and woman dropped as Sabrina skated through shadows, firing her gun. Their tranquilized bodies slapped concrete, a trail to a solid door at the end of the long hallway. She reached into her vest and extracted a small explosive charge. Just as the magnet clinked to the steel slab, a voice flowed through her earpiece.

“Captain Stone, we’ve breeched the airlock. En route to your position.”

“Bout time,” she said beneath her breath. Her thumb glided over the button of the wireless detonator, and spikes of fear burrowed into her gut. U.N.E protocol, and the whirl in her stomach, said to wait for backup. Pride, however, was a persistent little sucker, one that set loose a torrent of electric shocks in her veins. She scurried back, covered her head, and pressed the detonation button.

An explosion rocked her chest, slamming her against the wall. Hunks of concrete crashed down, and the door slammed atop the rubble. Sabrina swung her rifle dead ahead. Adrenaline perked her lips into a smile as she charged through wisps of smoke, firing upon everybody that lunged her way.

“This is a raid of the U.N.E. Get down on the ground.”

Soldiers flooded the doorway behind her, and she bit back her grin. A woman needed an iron-clad stare amid this troop of grunts. “Took you guys long enough.” She turned, stumbling back as the five-stars of a general gleamed in her eyes. “Sir,” she roared, standing up straight.

“Captain Stone, I need you to come with me.”

Sabrina glanced around, as much as one could without moving a single muscle in their neck. Her men cleared the room as the general’s elite soldiers crowded around her.

“Am I in trouble, sir?”

“Quite the contrary, Captain. You’ve been selected for an important mission. You’re going to Mars, Soldier.”

***

Joey grabbed her brother’s hand the instant he climbed off the van’s step. People shuffled all around the wide-open room, probably watching her act like a baby, but she couldn’t let go. Fear stole her will. It could have been the towering room of glass walls and silver beams that encompassed her, the barrage of strange faces, or the fact that she’d never see her mother again, but gloom tainted this moment. Holding her brother’s hand quelled a fraction of her inner-turmoil, so she planned to keep doing it despite her sissy appearance.

A soft voice streamed from a kiosk of video screens, repeating the Space Center’s famed slogan.

Three days on the state-of-the-art R23 shuttle, strolling through green grass, swimming in cool oceans.

Everything she memorized from the letter in her backpack.

“Look, there’s check-in,” Jesse said, tugging her from the display of white sandy beaches.

She inched through the crowd, close to his side. They filed into a rowdy line, her palm sweating against his skin.

“The Westen twins, I presume,” a high-pitched voice echoed from behind them.

In one swift move, Joey shook free from Jesse’s grasp and whirled around. An ultra-posh Asian girl leered down, and Joey stood tall. Her eyes wandered to the near identical boy at her side, bearing the same long jet-black hair. Another set of twins.

“How did you know our name?” Jesse asked. Joey nudged his arm, pulling his gaze from the low cut of the girl’s sparkly shirt.

“We know the names of all the twins on this ship,” she said, her hand hoisting to her hip.

“First and last,” the boy added.

Joey stifled a chuckle. Twins who finished each other’s sentences; this trip was going to be stellar. The line shuffled forward, and the small group edged up a few paces.

“How many twins are on this flight?” Jesse asked, glancing between the pair.

“Fourteen, including us,” she replied.

“Well, fourteen sets,” the boy corrected, turning to his sister.

“That actually makes twenty-eight twins.”

“But twins is plural, so it would be fourteen,” she argued, a hint of red flaring her cheeks.

“Yeah, but, you knew who we were,” Joey said. “We didn’t even know there were other twins here. Is there, like, a manual we didn’t get or something?”

The girl laughed, slapping her brother’s chest. A stealthy glare clouded her delicate features as she leaned close to Joey. “We hacked the database.”

“We hack everything,” the boy whispered.

“Cool,” Joey said through a smile, glancing at Jesse.

“So you must be Jesse,” the girl said, staring at Joey, “Short for Jessica, right?”

“Ah, no,” Joey said. “I’m Joey. Short for Josephine, which I hate so … just Joey.”

“I’m Jesse, which … isn’t short for anything.” Jesse shoved his hands into his pockets, lowering his gaze.

“Ahem. The line is moving,” a redheaded girl groaned.

They all crept forward again, and then Jesse spun back around. “So are we supposed to hack to find out your names?”

The girl giggled, and Joey rolled her eyes. Her stare landed on the boy’s annoyed face. Once their gaze connected, his frown lifted to a grin.

“Kami Matsuda.” A rainbow of colors reflected off the girl’s clothes as she slinked in front of Jesse, looking up into his eyes. “That’s Rai,” she said, nodding to her brother but keeping her deep gaze on Jesse.

Jesse gulped. His hands began to tremble, and it became painfully obvious at how fast his breath flowed.

“Next in line.”

“That’s us,” Joey said. She all but ripped Jesse from Kami’s leer. “We’ll catch up with ya.” It took quite a massive tug, but she finally got Jesse moving toward the registration table. “Now who’s smooth, dorkus,” she whispered.

***

“Let me get this straight, Mr. Winslow,” Sabrina said, only able to mask a fraction of the edge in her tone. “You want me to be a glorified babysitter for a bunch of teens in space?” She walked across the large office of the Space Center, toward Director Winslow’s desk. Her boots sank into lush carpet as she strolled past stone statues, one of which lost its arm somewhere along the way. Such extravagance. If it were liquidated and spread out, every sector could afford a giant dome to protect its people from radioactive air instead of just the A-Sectors. She tore her gaze from art-adorned walls, catching an impatient glare from the man behind a glossy wooden desk.

“The situation on our hands goes far beyond babysitting, Captain Stone. We’re under attack. The commander of the U.N.E. herself assured me you were the best of the best.”

“Commander Sun said that? Huh.” She stepped closer to the desk. The man before her strained to appear confident, but she glimpsed the beads of sweat that trickled between his dark wrinkled skin and white hair.

“You’ve got my attention,” she said, cupping her hands behind her back.

“Of course you understand every word spoken within this room stays within this room.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ever since the inception of the Emergence program, a group of fanatics have targeted us. Are you familiar with the Earthisum Movement, Captain Stone?”

“Yes, sir. I took out an underground lair of them this morning. They seem to be, for the most part, harmless.”

“Perhaps on the outside.” He pulled a brown folder from his drawer and placed it on his desk. “Have a look.”

Sabrina flipped through the file. When she read a handwritten letter, which appeared to be scrawled in blood, her fingers actually shook.

“The threats made in that manifesto were not empty.”

Her head snapped up, and she gawked at the old man before regaining her composure. “Are you saying the Earth-heads blew up your first flight to Mars?”

His finely manicured fingers massaged his forehead, a ghostly shade of white claiming his cheeks. “Yes. After only hours in space.” He lowered his stare. “The second and third flights as well.”

“What?”

“Those maniacs sabotage every spacebus we launch. None have successfully made the voyage to Mars.”

“How could you hide this from the public? They think people are living, flourishing over there. You need to put a hold on this program. Now. I’ll need at least a week to investigate.”

He shook his head, and Sabrina slammed her hands on the desk. “That file says there are two hundred and fifty-eight children walking onto that shuttle as we speak, Mr. Winslow. Two hundred and fifty-eight lives you’re putting at risk.”

“If we stop the program, they’ve won. No! The survival of the human race is too important. This mission has to succeed, Captain Stone.”

“But why now with kids? If what you’re telling me is true, Mars is empty. There are no doctors, scientists, or security of any kind in place. They’ll eat each other alive out there.”

“It has to be them.” He rose from his seat, smoothed a crease on his pinstriped lapel, and strolled to the window. “Those young adults were born in the year of the massive solar flare.” While gazing out the lightly tinted glass, he motioned for Sabrina to join him.

“I don’t see why that matters.” As she approached, the doublewide spacecraft stole her focus. She allowed her stare to wander along the gleam of curved metal and sharp points of thin wings before she shifted her gaze to the man beside her.

“They’re genetically predisposed to elevated radiation. I handpicked each one of them—for their instincts, spark, and their odds of producing healthy offspring.”

“Look, I get that. But if you just postpone a few weeks I can—”

“Earth only has a few weeks left, Captain Stone.” His voice quavered. He cleared his throat, lifting his chin high. “The sun is set to flare in, approximately, ten days. The space program predicts its intensity will surpass our classification scale. Everything left above the surface will be eradicated. Not even the UV dome of A-Sector can deflect these waves.”

Sabrina gasped. She began to stagger back, but Winslow grabbed her arm.

“Captain Stone, Sabrina. Look at those children.”

Her legs wobbled for the first time in her memory, but she crept forward. People hurried along a glass-encased walkway, far below, like tiny ants marching into a trap.

“That’s the future of mankind walking onto that spacebus. If they don’t make it to Mars, our species will cease to exist. You have to get them to that planet safely. You’re the last hope of humanity, Captain Stone.”

 
Jamie Zakian is a full-time writer who consumes the written word as equally as oxygen. Living in South Jersey with her husband and rowdy family, she enjoys farming, archery, and blazing new trails on her 4WD quad, when not writing of course. She aspires to one day write at least one novel in every genre of fiction.


Connect with Jamie here:

 
 
 
3 winners will receive and eGalley of PROJECT EMERGENCE, International.
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Cover Reveal and Giveaway: SCEPTER OF FIRE by Vicki L. Weavil

I’m pleased to offer you a peak at another book to be released by my publisher, Month9Books. In fact, this novel hits the market only a week or two before the anthology IN THE BEGINNING gives me my young adult fantasy debut.
Today Vicki L. Weavil and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for SCEPTER OF FIRE, a companion novel in the CROWN OF ICE Series! Which releases October 18, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an
eGalley!!

Here’s a message from the author.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” SCEPTER OF FIRE is a companion book
to CROWN OF ICE, my retelling of “The Snow Queen.” It takes place a few years later, in the midst of an invasion by a power-mad foreign emperor, and includes most of the characters from CROWN OF ICE.
 
However the protagonist in SCEPTER OF FIRE is someone new—17-year-old Varna Lund, an ugly duckling among swans, who’s certain her destiny lies in taking on the mantle of village healer after the death of her aged mentor. But when a young soldier enlists her aid to care for his injured friend, Varna and her sister, Gerda, are catapulted into the war that has engulfed their country.
Forced to flee enemy troops with her sister and the two soldiers, Varna must also evade her mentor, Sten Rask—revealed to be a
powerful mage seeking the enchanted mirror hidden by a former Snow Queen.
 
To protect the mirror, and their country, Varna, Gerda, and the soldiers join forces with a sorceress, an enchanted reindeer, a
brilliant scholar, and a young woman traveling with a wolf. But Varna faces a terrible temptation. Promised beauty and power by the devilishly handsome Rask, she must choose—achieve her own desires, or protect a society that has never embraced her.
The Cover:   I love how this cover matches the cover of CROWN OF ICE, and yet is different enough to set the books apart. Both feature
striking young women, but whereas CROWN is glazed with icy blue tones, SCEPTER is saturated with reds, golds and other fiery hues. If you look closely, you can even see flames reflected in the girl’s eyes—very appropriate for a book that deals with sorcerers who wield fire. Although the cover model is not an “ugly duckling,” she does accurately reflect the protagonist during one portion of the book, which I will not reveal at this point due to “spoilers”! 

 

Title: SCEPTEROF FIRE
Author: Vicki L. Weavil
Pub. Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | TBD |Goodreads
Sharp as pine needles, and twice as bitter, seventeen-year-old Varna Lund’s determined to become a healer. At least patients don’t care about her looks, unlike the young men who spurn her for eighteen-year-old Gerda or even  her younger sisters. An ugly duckling among swans,
Varna hopes to bury her passionate nature in useful work.
Her healing skills are put to the test when Varna encounters Erik Stahl, a young soldier who’s deserted the battlefield to carry his
injured friend, Anders Nygaard, to safety. Varna, enlisting the aid of Gerda, cares for Anders in secret.
But a brutal betrayal catapults the four young people into life on the run, where Varna discovers her old mentor is actually a powerful
wizard. Seeking the enchanted mirror hidden by a former Snow Queen, the wizard hopes to use  Gerda as a pawn in his plan to aid the invading emperor.
Other forces ally against the wizard, including an auburn-haired sorceress, an enchanted reindeer, a brilliant scholar, and a  young woman traveling with a wolf. Along with the soldiers and Gerda, they vow to prevent the  mirror from falling into enemy hands. But tempted with promises of beauty and power from her now devilishly handsome mentor, Varna must choose between her own desires and the good of
a society that’s never embraced her.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”,
SCEPTER OF FIRE is a companion book to CROWN OF ICE.

 

 

Vicki L. Weavil was raised in a farming community in Virginia, where her life was shaped by a wonderful family, the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and an obsession with reading. She holds a B.A. in Theatre from the University of Virginia, a Masters in Library Science from Indiana University, and a Masters in Liberal Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After working as a librarian at the NY Public Library at Lincoln Center, and the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media) in NYC, she is currently the Director for Library Services at the University of North
Carolina School of the Arts.
Vicki loves good writing in any genre, and has been known to read seven books in as many days. She enjoys travel, gardening, and the arts. Vicki lives in North Carolina with her husband and some very spoiled cats. A member of SCBWI, Vicki is represented by Fran Black at Literary Counsel, NY, NY.
Where you can find Vicki:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Tumblr

 

 
ONE winner will receive an eBook of CROWN OF ICE & an eGalley of SCEPTER OF FIRE (when available), International.

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NEW: Ashes in the Sky

Fire-in-the-Woods-CoverIf you’re new to the Fire in the Woods series, stop reading. Click here to read my review of the first book, then go pick up a copy and read it first. You won’t be sorry. I promise.

Fire in the Woods can stand alone. It tied everything up in a neat package. But there’s a sequel (or three).

Why would anyone want to read on? Isn’t a series supposed to leave loose threads to guarantee readers keep buying the books?

If you’ve read many of my reviews, you’ll know I ding books that don’t have a clear problem that is solved by the last page.

And even though there is another book about Jess and David after Ashes in the Sky, Eaton ties up this story in a satisfying package. Just like the first one.

My Summary

AshesInTheSky.v6-Book2-Final.v3.BNAfter a summer of army interrogations and media appearances, Jess wants life to get back to normal. It’s her senior year. She’s got college applications that need submitting.

When the photographic opportunity of a lifetime comes her way, Jess leaves normal behind. Again. This time, she’ll be shooting aboard an alien spaceship.

Much to her delight, she also gets to see David. But things are different when he’s not wearing the false human skin she knows so well.

Different isn’t a bad thing, but try convincing a hard-headed alien of that. When Jess’ camera catches sight of something she was never meant to see, she and David have to run again.

This time, it’s an alien in pursuit. And rather than fleeing on foot, they’re in a spaceship. And the alien who’s after them is not afraid to eliminate anyone who stands in his way.

My Review

The book started out with Jess, her snarky voice hadn’t been shredded by her awful summer under scrutiny. She and her dad have become closer, and he’s in over-protective mode from page one.

Which causes conflict. And creates irony when he ends up being the one who needs rescuing.

We move deeper into the father-daughter issues but then they get tossed into the back seat while Jess hops aboard a spaceship. By the end, though, this relationship moves beyond one of its stumbling blocks.

The central issue of whether Jess and David can have a future together sprouts in the reader’s mind. More and more roadblocks are revealed. A strange connection goes unexplained (but there’s another book or two).

Once again, the character issues are wrapped into a life-or-death race against time. Although there were some boggy moments in the first half of the book, the story escalated to incredible heights. The bottom dropped out a few times. Things look even bleaker for Jess than in the first book.

Jess doesn’t need rescuing. She actively finds a way to confront the bad guys. This is one of the reasons I adore her so much.

As in the first book, the theme of inter-species interaction gets center billing. For a teenager (like Jess), it’s all about the feels. Unfortunately, there are plenty of grown ups who have more authority and influence over her choices at the moment.

This is the question that remains unanswered. It’s a deep question and an easy resolution would cheapen its significance. I’m ready to read on and find out how Jess can change David’s mind, when all the facts seem to be on his side.

My Recommendation

This book series is for romance lovers. Yes, Ashes reads like science fiction, much more so than the first book. However, the author does an excellent job of dropping in just enough description to ground and interest the reader, without deadening the frontal lobe with too much scientific mumbo-jumbo.

If you like alien stories and cool space technology, you’ll adore this book, too. Even though the relationships are central, there is an excellent adventure element to Ashes in the Sky. Adrenaline junkies won’t be disappointed.

If you haven’t done it already, buy Fire in the Woods and Ashes in the Sky. You won’t be able to get enough of Jess and David.

Like me, you’ll be drumming your fingers and demanding, “When is the next book coming out?”

Some things are worth waiting for. That was true of Ashes in the Sky, and I’m sure the third book will prove to be, as well.

Stolen Empire Series

The Stolen Empire series by Sherry D. Ficklin is classified as Teen and Young Adult historical romance. I picked up the first book free (and it is still available free on eBook) many months ago.

Even though I enjoyed the first book (see Goodreads review here), it didn’t really compel me to continue on with the series.

I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. The fact the first book does not have a happy ending (sorry, not trying to spoil anything for you here) didn’t help things.

In fact, the series doesn’t have a happy ending.

If you’re familiar with Russian history at all, this shouldn’t surprise you.

If you’ve heard of Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, you might be shaking your finger at me saying, “Why would you expect a happy ending from that story?”

Why indeed.

Queen of Someday

QueenofSomedayThe first book opens with Sophie fending off an attack on her carriage. It’s traveling across the barren, snow-covered Russian landscape. Not unguarded, but the guards were surprised by the attack.

From this first scene, I loved this ferocious girl who knew how to protect herself. I also knew to expect more threats against her life. The German princess traveling to Russia wasn’t heading to a safe haven.

This story shows her interactions with the empress Elizabeth, the heir apparent, Peter and a number of courtesans. Sophie struggles to learn the language and proper etiquette. She befriends one of her ladies’ in waiting and attempts to fall in love with her intended groom, Peter.

Instead, she falls for one of his best friends.

We know the relationship is doomed. Still, we press through more attempts on her life, hoping they will find a way to be together.

This book ends with her taking the name Catherine at her induction into the Russian Orthodox Church. She is going to leave foolish Sophie behind and become indomitable Catherine.

The star-crossed lover theme is well-played. Tension is high throughout the book. It was difficult to put down.

However, it wasn’t a happy story. No matter how well-written and engaging, I find it impossible to give five stars to anything that doesn’t leave me feeling better when I finish it.

Queen of Tomorrow

Queen of TomorrowThe second two books I read recently when the three titles were offered by the publisher in a boxed set for a buck. You know me and my passion for buck books.

This picks up a year after the first book and reads like an adult novel. I’m surprised that this series has been successfully marketed to teenagers. The library journal specifies it is for ninth grade and above, but I found much of the content – especially in the third book – more appropriate for an adult audience.

Also, Catherine is married with a lover, facing no situations that a relatable to a teenager in our era. Not that the story is bad, because I think this might have been the best of the three books, but it just felt wrong in the YA genre.

In this story, we see the politics of the times enter into Catherine’s life as she struggles to cement her place in the ruling hierarchy by producing an heir. Will she choose to side with Prussia, her former homeland, or truly sell out to the Russian populace, who desperately need a ruler to care for them?

It holds court intrigue and manipulations on every level. Again, a page-turner. The end will get your eyebrows raised.

I was glad to be able to continue reading the saga in the final book of the trilogy.

Queen of Always

QueenofAlwaysThis finishes Catherine’s journey from the unloved wife of the crazy Peter, Emperor of Russia (for a short time) to Empress.

Having read the first two books, the reader comes to expect death threats and attempts on Catherine’s life. And wonders – at least I did – why no one is trying to kill crazy Peter. Why are they happy to let him rule?

Because a careless puppet is easier to control than a strong-willed queen.

The romantic element in this final book pushes beyond what I would consider acceptable for anyone under eighteen. It toes the line between spicy and erotic, with the implications leaving little to the imagination. Or maybe inciting the imagination beyond the realm acceptable for unmarried, possibly sexually inexperienced teenagers.

Again, there is no true happy ending. Even though Catherine accomplishes what she sets out to do: secure the throne of Russia for her son.

What I enjoyed most about this series is the evolution from the idealistic girl into the realistic woman. Although I disagreed with many most of her choices, they made sense and built reasonably upon each other.

It is hard not to see her as a hardened murderess by the end of the book. After all the pain she’s suffered, she had to adapt to survive.

Would I have been able to choose differently and ascend to the same heights? Perhaps. But the author couldn’t rewrite history (although she freely admits that the time-lines in the book aren’t accurate to real life, even if the historical events are correct.)

In the end, it made me thankful NOT to be a queen or in a place where I had the power to make life-and-death decisions for everyone around me. I wanted to hug my sons and whisper how much I love them, and give thanks for the caring (not-at-all-psychotic) husband I’m have.

Sometimes, reading makes you appreciate the life you have all the more.

Thank you Ms. Ficklin for writing such a series as this, making me grateful to be the queen of nothing but my little house on the corner.

It’s finally Coming! The Sequel to Fire in the Woods

I am beyond excited about this announcement and thrilled to be able to reveal this cover on my blog.

I read and reviewed the first book in this series Fire in the Woods months and months ago. I’ll obviously be re-reading it about March 10th, in preparation for the second book (there are at least THREE in the series.
Along with Jennifer M. Eaton and Month9Books, I’m happy to give you a sneak peak at the first chapter for ASHES IN THE SKY, which releases March 15, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
 
A quick note from the author:
Hello alien fans!Jennifer-M.-Eaton-Promo-Protrait-239x300

I have to admit that Fire in the Woods was meant to be a stand-alone. When approached to write a second novel, I really had to scratch my head. I mean, the story was
over, right?

Well, apparently I “left them screaming for more” as everyone always says. 
I really didn’t want to deal with the direct aftermath of book one, so I decided to fast forward a few months: to a time when things should be settling down for poor, exhausted Jess. All she wants to
do is get her life back to normal again, and to do that, she needs to get back to school.

Unfortunately for Jess (and maybe fortunately for us) it will be a little while before our girl has anything close to a normal life again. So enjoy Jess’s first day back at school after saving the world. Here is chapter one of Ashes in the Sky: book two of Fire in the Woods.

Alien Kisses!
Jennifer M. Eaton


Title: ASHES IN THE SKY
Author: Jennifer M. Eaton
Pub. Date: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N Goodreads
After inadvertently saving the world,
eighteen-year-old Jessica Martinez is ready to put adventure behind her and settle back into the familiar routine of high school.
 
Though when she’s offered an opportunity
to photograph the inside of an alien space ship, Jess jumps at the chance. After all, she’d be crazy to turn something like that down, right?
 
Spending time with David on the ship has definite advantages and the two seem to pick up right where they left off. But when Jess discovers a plot to sabotage David’s efforts to establish a new home for his people on another planet, neither David’s advanced tech nor Jess’s smarts will be able to save them.
ASHES IN THE SKY is an action-packed, romantic Sci Fi adventure that will leave readers screaming for more.

 Exclusive Excerpt

1
Dad’s brow creased. “You don’t have to do this, Jess. We can turn around now and go home.”

His fingers rapped on the limousine’s armrest as we pulled up to the entrance of my normally quiet school. Outside, police officers and several uniformed security guards held advancing reporters and camera crews on the sidewalks.

“Relax, Major,” Elaine said, across from me. She pulled out a compact and touched up her lipstick. “Two months after single-handedly saving the world from an alien invasion, Earth’s teenage savior returns to finish high school.” She snapped the case shut. “This is the public interest story of the year.”

Dad’s nose flared. “Yes, she’s supposed to be going to school, but you’ve made it a media circus. Why’d you have to schedule a press conference in the auditorium?”

She slipped her lipstick back into her designer purse. “They would have been here anyway. The best way to calm a stalking fox is to invite him in for tea.”

“Tea? I’ll give you tea.”

I held up my hand. “Dad … ” I didn’t have to finish. I never did. Their arguments were always the same. Father protects daughter, while the publicist pushes media exposure as far as she can legally get away with—and me stuck in between.

Elaine wasn’t all that bad, as far as publicists went. Not that I’d known any other publicists, but she’d been by my side since my very first press conference, and the hundred or so more over the past two months. She could be pushy, but she understood the power of a pint of Death By Chocolate ice cream at the end of a long day, which totally earned her brownie points in my book.

Dad’s gaze returned to me. “We just got back. Do you really need to do another press conference?” The deep lines around his eyes added to the weight of my own exhaustion.

I shifted in my seat, my hands clammy against the leather interior. “If we go home, they’ll just show up here again tomorrow. Let’s get this over with. Maybe then things can get back to normal.” I grabbed his hand. “I can do this.”

Dad pressed his lips together. Of course, he knew I could do it. But knowing and wanting me to answer another set of invasive questions were two different things, and I loved every stubborn inch of him for it.

Elaine fluffed my hair and adjusted the collar of my shirt. “Show time.” She knocked twice on the window, and the Secret Service agent outside opened the door for her. She glided through the crowd with a practiced grace.

Camera-palooza erupted outside. Dang, there weren’t this many photographers when I met the president.

Dad stepped out before me, an imposing figure in his combat uniform. Having an over-protective father did have its advantages. No one was getting by this bodyguard. No one.

I closed my eyes and clutched the charm on my necklace. My mother’s strength seeped into me, giving me courage. You’ll be fine, I heard her whisper. You’re my strong little girl. Always have been.

“I’ll try, Mom.” I opened my eyes and shuddered. You would think I’d be used to the feeding frenzy by now. This was the longest fifteen minutes of fame ever.

Steadying myself on the limo door, I stood.

“Jess, look over here.” Flash.

“Miss Martinez, how does it feel to be back at school?” Flash.

“Jessica, to your right.” Flash. Flash.

The faces and camera lenses blurred. My mind filled with the phantom sounds of alien weapons. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply to ward off memories of blinding lights and screaming voices.

It was over. The aliens had left, and I was alive. We were all still alive.

The Secret Service closed in around us as Dad placed his hand on my back, guiding me to the front entrance. With a well-rehearsed smile, I made my way forward, hoping to avoid a repeat of tabloid-gate when the worst-of-the-worst photos of me turned up on the cover of the National Daily.

Dad moved beside me as we stepped over the threshold. I slipped my fingers into his hand and squeezed. One more press conference. Just one more. I could do this.

We made our way through a throng of reporters, students, parents, and teachers to the auditorium. Hundreds of voices jumbled into one chaotic roar rebounding off the lockers.

A microphone appeared in front of my face. “Ms. Martinez, how did you—”

Dad pulled me to his chest as two Secret Service agents pounced on the guy. The reporter and the agents sunk back into the crowd, disappearing like a stone thrown into water.

“There will be question and answer time after the presentation,” Elaine called as we passed through the auditorium’s stage door.

I exhaled, rubbing my arms. That had to be the worst crowd ever.

Dad circled the area behind the curtains and checked the cracks and crevices backstage. The Secret Service agents had long since given up on trying to convince him that the government pre-secured all of my speaking engagements. I used to joke about their paranoia, until someone actually found a bomb. Those guys in ugly suits quickly became my best friends.

“Did you practice your speech?” Elaine asked.

I raised an eyebrow. “No.” You’d think she’d stop asking me that. I hadn’t memorized one yet. Why would I start now?

I pulled aside the curtain and scoped out the auditorium. A sea of smiling, wide-eyed faces filled the room. Camera crews and reporters intermingled with the student body.

Going back to high school was supposed to help me get my life back.

This fiasco was not getting my life back. But maybe if I answered everyone’s questions now, they wouldn’t keep asking later.

Hey, a girl could dream.

Elaine patted my shoulder before heading out past the curtains. Her heels clopped across the wooden stage as she passed a huge poster of National Geographic’s “The Night the World Stood Still: Special Edition.”

Steven Callup’s cover photo was one of those shots every aspiring photographer dreamed of catching: perfect lighting, engaging subject, active backdrop, and undeniable emotional tone. I wasn’t drooling over this masterpiece, though; because the photograph featured me.

The flames over my shoulder were in crisp focus and flawlessly mirrored in my dark hair. The mottled hues of a fresh sunrise blended perfectly with the devastation in the background. And my God, the expression on Dad’s face as we embraced … the love in his eyes.

That night would haunt me forever. Something incredible had happened, and it had nothing to do with an alien invasion. That cover immortalized the moment for the world to see: a year after my mother’s death, my father finally opened up and started to feel again.

I released the curtain, ready to face my peers, knowing that no one gave a rat’s ass about me or my dad.

They only wanted to know more about David.

I mean, I totally got it. An alien guy crash lands on Earth and has to escape before his people wipe out humanity. Heck, I’d be interested, too. But the clincher was that David changed his people’s minds because of me. I was the heroine in the story of the millennia, whether I liked it or not.

I cringed, thinking of how many people had contacted me for the movie rights. Ashes in the Sky, they wanted to call it. What kind of idiotic title was that? Ridiculous, all of it. The world almost ended right in front of me. I didn’t need to see it again on a big screen.

As Elaine announced my name, and the audience applauded, I wondered if anything would ever be as it was before David’s people arrived.

I took my place behind the microphone and squinted into the harsh auditorium lighting. I’d been in that audience dozens of times, but never on stage. The faces looking back at me were familiar, but distant. Awestruck.

This place was my school. My safe haven. Having the media here was wrong.

I gritted my teeth and gripped the sides of the lectern. This assembly would be the absolute last time I talked about what happened to me in public. Ever.

A mop of perky, blond curls caught my attention from the third row. My BFF Maggie beamed as she gave me a thumbs-up. Part of me relaxed, knowing I had a friend near.

Maggs was the only other person who’d known about David before the Army started chasing us. She even risked her own rear-end helping us escape. She’d talked her way out of a grounding from her father, the general, thank goodness. Damn, he must have been ticked when he found out what she’d done.

Taking one last breath to steady myself, I edged closer to the mic. “You’d have to be dead not to know what happened two months ago. So I’m just going to open it up to questions.”

Hundreds of hands shot into the air.

One of the moderators handed a microphone to a bubbly girl with a blond ponytail. “Is it true that the alien looked just like Jared Linden?”

And, it starts.

“Yes. David mimicked an advertisement and looked just like Jared Linden’s character in that movie Fire in the Woods.”

Okay, that was only half of it. The truth was far too embarrassing. David pulled Jared Linden’s features from my mind. He didn’t look exactly like Jared. Just the hotter parts. The rest was an amalgamation of other cute guys he’d yanked out of my brain. There was no way I would admit to that, though.

A tall kid in a black band tee stood. “So what really happened out there? They were going to annihilate us. How’d you get them to change their minds?”

I cleared my throat. A flash of David’s smile and the warmth of his touch sent a shiver down my spine. “Luck was totally in our favor. If David’s plane hadn’t crashed, we never would have met. It didn’t take long before he realized the human race was worth saving.”

A teacher handed a microphone to a girl wearing glasses. “How long will it take them to terraform Mars?”

Ugh. I tried to think of David’s new home like Seattle or Los Angeles, but it wasn’t. It was Mars. As in: not Earth. Talk about your long distance romance.

“I have no idea how long it will take them to make Mars livable. I do know that they are running short on supplies, so I’m hoping it will happen pretty quickly.”

A girl in a cheerleader uniform flagged down the lady with the microphone. “Everyone says you and the alien were doing it. Inquiring minds want to know. Was he any good?”

Camera flashes singed my eyes as a teacher tried to pull the mic away from the girl.

“No,” a reporter shouted. “Let’s hear the answer.”

The audience murmured, shifting like hyenas waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting foal. Beside the stage, Dad’s face became an unnatural shade of crimson.

Crap.

“Well?” the cheerleader asked.

I wiped the sweat from my palms, remembering the shockwave that raged through me when David’s lips covered mine. The tabloids had reduced our relationship to supermarket trash, and Rah-Rah Girl probably wouldn’t know a real emotional connection if it bit her.

David and I shared something so deeply intimate it transcended everything. No one could possibly understand. I wasn’t even sure I understood. All I knew was that I was in love, and I’d probably never see him again.

I blinked, realizing the room had gone quiet, awaiting my answer about doing it.

My hands fisted, but I forced a smile and rustled up the rote response Elaine had prepared for me. “I heard that rumor, too, but David and I were only friends.” A sickly gash sliced through my heart. The thought of living the rest of my life with him on another planet was akin to living in the desert without water.

Was he out there somewhere, longing for me as much as I yearned for him?

My stomach fluttered. I hated how people’s stupid questions dredged up feelings I’d worked hard to suppress. I had to get off that podium.

A kid in the back stood. “How does it feel to know that six million people died while you were out there hugging dear old dad?” He pointed over my shoulder to the huge magazine cover behind me. “How does it feel to know the death count is still rising?”

It was? “Umm—”

“When did you know they were hostile?” someone else shouted.

My heart thumped against my ribcage. “I, uh—”

A reporter snatched the microphone. “Do you honestly believe they won’t come back and finish us off?”

The rumble of voices intensified. Cameras flashed as dozens of voices drowned one another out. So much for school being my safe haven.

Elaine gripped my shoulder and pulled me from the dais. “Thank you,” she said. “That’s all the questions we have time for today.”

She scooted me past the curtains, Dad following close behind. The volume in the auditorium escalated.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We should’ve been ready for that. Next time—”

“There’s not going to be a next time.” I thrust my chin in the air. “That was my last public appearance. I’m already behind in school, and I need to graduate this year. I just want to get back to my classes and put this all behind me.”

She grinned in that syrupy way adults do when they are about to condescend your butt. “We’ll talk about this later, honey.”

Dad’s gaze seared through her before he offered me a nod of approval.

No, Elaine. We would definitely not be talking about this later.



 Corporate Team Leader by day, and Ranting Writer by night. Jennifer M. Eaton calls the East Coast of the USA home, where she lives with her husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up poodle.

Jennifer hosts an informational blog “A Reference of Writing Rants for Writers (or Learn from My Mistakes)” aimed at helping all writers be the best they can be.
 
Beyond writing and motivating others, she also enjoys teaching her dog to jump through hoops—literally.
 
Jennifer’s perfect day includes long hikes in the woods, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and snuggling up by the fire with a great book; but her greatest joy is using her over-active
imagination constructively… creating new worlds for everyone to enjoy.
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter Facebook | Goodreads



 
Giveaway Details:
1 winner will receive an eGalley of ASHES IN THE SKY. International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GENESIS GIRL, COVER REVEAL

Now that I’m officially part of the Month9Books stable of authors, I’ll be sharing the covers and deals of books that I think might interest my audience. Genesis Girl is a sci-fi dystopian book for young adult to new adult readers.

A quick note from the author:

Jennifer Bardsley, author
“The first time I saw the cover to Genesis Girl I got chills. Genesis Girl is a psychological, Sci-Fi thriller, and the blood-red cover conveys that perfectly.”–Jennifer Bardsley

 

Fifty years ago cell phones unleashed a Brain Cancer Epidemic. Terrified by technology, worried parents entrusted their children to a charismatic leader. Barbelo promised to keep his Vestals safe from the Internet, hidden behind lead-lined walls.

Now, digital purity is valuable and a Vestal named Blanca is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Blanca is the most obedient eighteen-year-old her purchasers have ever met. She is a blank slate for the genesis of anything they want.

But too bad for Blanca. Their new beginning could be her end.

 On to the reveal!GenesisGirl_1800x2700

 

Title: GENESIS GIRL

Author: Jennifer Bardsley

Pub. Date: September 27, 2016

Publisher: Month9Books

Format: Hardcover, Paperback, & eBook

Find it: Amazon | Goodreads

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the Internet.

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable.

By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online.

 Read on for an excerpt from the first chapter!

 Chapter One

My boot hits him in the nuts at the same time as the flash goes off, but it’s too late. The Virus has already taken my picture. He was aiming for Fatima, but I pushed her away just in time. I sideswipe his legs and topple the Virus over while he moans in agony from my kick to his groin.

“Nobody takes my picture, you freak!” I stare at his tattooed face. There’s something familiar about the snake inked around his eyebrow, but I can’t quite place it. We’re in the underground parking garage at school, and the fluorescent lights shade everything ugly. I crouch down and flip the Virus onto his stomach, bashing his nose against the pavement.

Ever since I was little, teachers have warned me about Viruses. They’re paparazzi scumbags whose sole purpose in life is to destroy privacy and expose secrets. I’ve never seen one in person until today.

“Hand me your belt,” I tell Fatima. I hold the Virus in place by grinding my knee into his back while Fatima slips off the cinch from her black spandex uniform. I wrestle the man’s arms behind me with both hands. Surprise, surprise—security doesn’t show up until I’m already hog-tying the bastard.

“You’re not so special now, Vestal!” the Virus says as they haul him off.

He’s right.

Until about two minutes ago, I was a Vestal postulant. A blank slate. An Internet virgin. There were no images of my moniker floating around cyberspace. My parents had never blogged about my every poop. It had been planned that way from the beginning. They had castrated my virtual identity for the promise of a better life.

In one week I’m graduating from Tabula Rasa. Today was my chance to shine while I’m interviewed by companies. Only nobody will want me now.

With one flash of his thumb camera, that jerk destroyed my life.

“Don’t worry,” Fatima says, helping me to my feet. “You’ve still got a face that can sell soap. I knew it the first time I saw you. Your skin’s your best feature, and that hasn’t changed.”

The sound of the security gate opening drowns Fatima out. We watch as a white car enters the Tabula Rasa garage. A flash of sunlight taunts me before the gate closes. All my life I’ve lived in this twenty-story fortress of protection. Today was going to be my first day in sunshine, being interviewed by bidders.

But that Virus ruined it all. How the hell he snuck in, I’ll never know.

“You’re the girl next door,” Fatima says, a bit louder. “Couture might not want you, but the average American will.”

I nod because I’ve heard it all before. Not everyone can be the seductress. I’ll never be like Fatima, I don’t begrudge her that. A clear face, green eyes, and brown hair are what I have to work with, and that’s fine. But there’s no fixing a picture of me on the Internet.

“It’ll be okay, Blanca,” Fatima says again.

But we both know that isn’t true.

For a Vestal, a clear Internet history is the most important thing. Without that I’m nothing. Our elusive privacy is what makes us valuable.

I’ve watched our class shrink from two hundred eager postulants to a graduating group of ten. The infractions were usually unavoidable: their memory was spotty, their temperament was bad, or worst of all, they turned out ugly. But once in a while, somebody was thrown out because of an online transgression.

Everyone left is bankable. Ten perfect human specimens who could sell you anything.

Even Ethan, with his poufy hair and scrawny build, is a sure thing. He wears glasses now despite his perfect vision, and goes around in bow ties and suspenders. “Nerdy but in a good way,” the teachers say. “This one’s going high-tech.”

Beau can write his own ticket too. He’s six feet tall and can out bench-press every other guy in the group. America will drool.

And then there’s Fatima standing next to me. With her dark eyes and svelte figure, she’ll have her choice of any fashion house.

I had been hoping to sell cosmetics. That’s prestigious too, and I really had a chance. But nobody will bid on me now. The auction is a week away, and I’m ruined!

“Blanca?” A woman approaches us right as a dark black limousine pulls through the gate. “That car isn’t for you. Good luck with your interviews, Fatima.”

Fatima waves at me sadly and slides into the vehicle.

“Let’s get this disaster under control,” says the woman as the limo drives away. Her billowing skirt makes her look ethereal in the shadows of the parking garage. I have never seen her before. But she’s wearing white like our teachers and has a platinum cuff, so of course, I follow her.

She takes me to a room on the twentieth floor of Tabula Rasa that boasts a wall of windows. “Darkened for privacy,” says the woman when she sees my apprehension.

I approach them hesitantly, unaccustomed to the glass. I see a tiny patch of sky surrounded by glowing billboards. On every rooftop is an advertisement featuring a face I already know. Vestals stare down at me from all vantage point, hawking perfumes, cars, and weight-loss supplements.

“You’ll be up there too, Blanca. There’s still hope.” The woman stands at my elbow.

I peek and study her this time. She’s fortyish with blue eyes and a heart-shaped face. I know she’s a Vestal because of her white outfit, but I don’t recognize her.

Weird. I know all the Vestals. Everyone does.

The hydraulic doors hiss open, and we both turn to look. The Tabula Rasa headmaster enters in a swirl of white cloak.

“Blanca,” he says, “you have a problem.”

“Yes, Headmaster Russell. I’m sorry, Headmaster Russell.”

“I don’t know how you let this happen.” He strides to the enormous windows, holding a manila file folder. None of the Tabula Rasa faculty are permitted computers, including Headmaster Russell.

“You mean you don’t know how you let this happen, Russell.”

I brace for impact. Nobody talks to Headmaster Russell that way and gets away with it. I know that better than anyone. He grits his teeth. “Security is being questioned as we speak. Sit down, Ms. Lydia. Please.”

“I will not sit down.” Ms. Lydia’s stare could cut glass. “Not until you apologize to Blanca. She deserves better, and you know it.”

There is audible silence. Headmaster Russell rubs the golden cuff on his wrist. “Blanca, I’m sorry that this happened to you.” His eyes don’t meet mine.

Ms. Lydia snaps her fingers.

Headmaster Russell clears his throat and tries again, this time meeting my gaze. “I’m sorry that I let this happen to you. I should have protected you better. I will do everything in my power to make sure you are still harvested at the auction.” Then he turns to Ms. Lydia who stands resolute and icy. “Are you satisfied?”

“Perhaps.” She shrugs. “Let’s see what’s in the folder.”

A few moments later we are seated at the table in the center of the room. Headmaster Russell shows us the picture of me that is now plastered all over cyberspace. I fight back tears.

first look at newest vestal, the caption reads. Then there’s me executing a roundhouse kick, my hair flying back, and my face a perfect mask of rage.

“This is what we are dealing with,” says Headmaster Russell.

“It could be worse.” Ms. Lydia presses her lips together. Right then an old-fashioned phone hanging on the wall rings. “Well, Russ? Aren’t you going to answer that?”

Headmaster Russell jumps to answer the phone. I can hear him say “Blanca” and “photograph,” but that’s it. My future is muffled as he whispers into the receiver.

Ms. Lydia extends her hand to me. Her touch is very cold, but her shake is firm. “My name is Lydia. I’m the elected agent of all Vestal graduates. I lead the Tabula Rasa board of directors.”

“What was your company?” I ask. I still don’t recognize her. But I notice her platinum cuff. That means she was top pick.

“I didn’t have a company. I went Geisha.”

I try to keep my face blank. Really, I do. But what she said is so shocking that my eyes widen for an instant. Ms. Lydia notices.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” she says. “Maybe it’s better. There are many ways to be a Vestal, and they all have honor.”

“Of course,” I answer. “It says so right in the Vestal Code of Ethics.”

Most Vestals leave Tabula Rasa with major corporations, but on rare occasions they enter contracts with private individuals as Geishas.

Nobody wants to go Geisha. Giving up privacy for another person’s pleasure is creepy. Selling out to a company is so much better.

Headmaster Russell hangs up the phone with a loud click. He smoothes his cloak over his barrel chest. “Blanca has five bidders,” he says. “That picture has whipped up a frenzy.”

“Good,” says Ms. Lydia. “You’re redeemed.”

I’m not sure who she’s talking to, but I brave a smile anyway.

What do you think, readers? Will you be adding this book to your TBR list?

Wouldn’t Want to Be The Last Orphans

The Last Orphans is a Young Adult science fiction book with dystopian themes. This isn’t the first book by N.W. Harris I’ve read, which might be a recommendation of its own.

I won this book from the publisher when it was first released in October 2014. It’s been sitting in my Kindle queue for many months. Why?

Before I won the book, I interacted with the author, discovering the story has some graphic scenes of violence against the adults. Later, kids take up arms and are shooting each other. All of these are disturbing images, and the horror aspects of this story kept me away. After all, I had plenty of other reading choices.

What changed my mind? The second book in the series came out in April and so the title popped back into my news feed. I decided if I just read the book in the mornings while running on the treadmill, I shouldn’t run too serious of a risk of netting myself any nightmares.

My Summary

Shane and his dad aren’t getting along. Shane has lost his mom and grandmother, and in the midst of this grief, strange events begin to happen. He gets the unfortunate experience of being present when an adult he cares about meets the crazed assassins of nature.

While he’s holding out hope that he can save this person, he meets up with his secret crush and her sister, only to learn the rampaging cattle he noticed earlier stampeded their parents. An tortuous vehicle ride later, watching another adult meet their end and discovering too many bodies to count, these three reach the high school gym where a bunch of other kids are gathered.

Even though Shane is neither the strongest nor the smartest, the kids defer to his leadership. They hatch a plan to evacuate to a nearby military base using school busses for transportation. While they’re out gathering supplies and gassing the buses, a group of juvenile delinquents attacks and terrorizes the kids remaining at the gym. (A heart-wrenching scene)

When they travel on toward Georgia’s capital, things get worse. At the military base, they discover the soldiers have survived but are now turning on each other. A radio transmission explains the cause of all the strange events (government project gone wrong) and gives these teens an objective.

In the end, they manage to stop the craziness, but the body count is high.

My Review

This book earned four stars from me in my Amazon and Goodreads reviews.

The story was well-constructed and moved along at a steady pace. By the mid-point, I found myself reading it on my lunch break as well as the treadmill. I wanted to find out how they would survive. You will too.

Most of the characters didn’t move or interest me. I was particularly disappointed in Shane. Not that he didn’t have courage, skills and a good heart. He just wasn’t the best choice of leader. The author didn’t convince me that Shane should lead, so it felt contrived that the other kids wouldn’t choose someone more popular as their leader.

The horror aspect of the story is real – and revolting. The more critical issues of teen-on-teen crime was handled with finesse. Even though we hate to see kids hurting each other, their motivations are realistic and well-drawn. The crimes aren’t glorified or exaggerated. Harris showed himself a skilled writer in his handling of these events.

After the ever-increasing pace of the narrative, the ending rushed in and tied things up too neatly. It truly felt like a set-up for the sequel. If you’ve read many of my reviews, you know how I feel about that.

My Recommendation

If you enjoyed the Gone series by Michael Grant, you should read this book. Even though the plots are dissimilar in many ways, many of the themes are the same. The biggest question: how would young people survive if all of the adults suddenly disappeared?

I caution parents and younger readers about the graphic content in this book. Being covered in cockroaches is horrifying to imagine. If the cockroaches have the intention to kill? It’s worse. Nightmarish. If you have a vivid imagination – like me – I would recommend reading the book during the middle of the day.

Louder than Words

I am a fan of young adult stories – but not straight romances.  Especially not YA romance which is generally too much angst and drama and not enough story. Iris St. Clair makes me a liar with her phenomenal book Louder than Words.

I’ll admit I picked up the book because it was at a special release day price, and the author is in a writing critique group I recently joined. The blurb piqued my interest because it sounded like some non-romance young adult novels I’ve read and enjoyed.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

“Disappointment has been on speed dial in Ellen Grayson’s life lately. Her dad died, her mom numbs the grief with drugs and alcohol, and her so-called friends have slowly abandoned her.

Trusting a popular teacher with her troubles should have been safe and should NOT have led to an unwelcome seduction attempt that made her desperate to escape the final moments of Junior year. Lesson learned. Best to keep all the sordid details to herself and trust no one.

Enter Rex Jacobi, a cocky boy, recently transplanted from New York City and fellow summer camp employee. Though his quick wit and confidence draws her in, she can’t let him get too close. And summer is just long enough and hot enough to keep a boy like that at arm’s length.

But by the time Rex’s charm wears down her resistance, it’s too late. He’s put Ellen on the “just friends” shelf and has shifted his romantic attentions to the impossibly annoying and perky anti-Ellen. Even worse, the teacher who tried to get her to sleep with him is still at it, preying on other girls while Ellen struggles to come to terms with what happened.

With her ability to trust as shaky as a chastity vow on prom night, Ellen must decide if she has enough remaining courage to speak up about the well-liked teacher and risk retribution, tell Rex how she really feels about him and risk heartbreak, or hold all her secrets inside. After all, it’s the only safe place she knows when the only thing louder than words is the fear of being rejected.”

So, I open the book expecting this to be in the vein of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. And the opening scene keeps that illusion alive (see paragraph one, two and five from the blurb). But after chapter three there’s nothing more about the groping teacher.

Sure a small scene where he practically threatens her at a restaurant, but the story is obviously “just” a romance. It’s about her pushing away Rex and then regretting it. Attempting to settle for friendship with him when her heart and mind are calling her all sorts of hypocrite. Ho-hum.

About halfway through, things change when the teacher re-enters the picture. And, yes, it does broach the same subject as Speak and does it in a way that is so non-confrontational that any teenage girl who read it would think, “I could do that.” Whereas, the trauma value to Speak’s heroine holds some kids who consider themselves “normal” at arm’s length.

I tip my hat to St. Clair for dealing with sensitive subject matter with finesse. It’s not just the definition of “what is a consensual relationship” that she addresses. Nope, there’s a list of volatile topics:

  • How do we approach a child we suspect is being abused?
  • How can we be a friend to someone who’s lost a parent? Or whose parent is a drug addict?
  • When is withholding the truth a sign of friendship? And, conversely, when should the truth push us from our comfort zone?
  • Why do teenagers consider bullying the norm? Why are so many willing to be bystanders rather than take a stand?

Each of these questions finds an answer in the midst of this not-just-a-romance story. St. Clair handles them with tact and without ever hinting at being preachy or judgmental.

Upon finishing the last page, I had to sit down and review this book because the magnitude of the accomplishment astounded me. From something marketed as a “young adult romance,” a spotlight falls on important subjects many teenagers face (or wonder about).

I laughed. I teared up. Most of all, I believed Ellen could truly exist in this world. And I wanted to meet her because I felt like she is someone I’d want to befriend. Just a regular girl with standard problems who faced them with the bravery of an Amazon warrior.

Yes, this “romance” gets five stars from me because it is so much more than “just” a love story.

My favorite romantic line from the book: “The tingles have formed throbbing gangs who have sprayed suggestive graffiti all over my private property.” Now, that sounds exactly like something a teenager would think – and is totally sexy while being amazingly appropriate in the same instant.

If you have a daughter who likes romance, get her this book. Read it so you can have some important discussions with her about some of the subject matter subtly confronted in between teenage angst and drama. It is worth every penny and every minute. I promise.

Swoon Romance YA Wednesdays: Louder Than Words by Iris St. Clair Book Blitz with Giveaway

Welcome to the first

Swoon Romance YA Wednesdays!

This week features

Louder Than Words by Iris St. Clair.

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post

Louder-Than-Words-Cover

Disappointment has been on speed dial in Ellen Grayson’s life lately. Her dad died, her mom numbs the grief with drugs and alcohol, and her so-called friends have slowly abandoned her.

Trusting a popular teacher with her troubles should have been safe and should NOT have led to an unwelcome seduction attempt that made her desperate to escape the final moments of Junior year. Lesson learned. Best to keep all the sordid details to herself and trust no one.

Enter Rex Jacobi, a cocky boy, recently transplanted from New York City and fellow summer camp employee. Though his quick wit and confidence draws her in, she can’t let him get too close. And summer is just long enough and hot enough to keep a boy like that at arm’s length.

But by the time Rex’s charm wears down her resistance, it’s too late. He’s put Ellen on the “just friends” shelf and has shifted his romantic attentions to the impossibly annoying and perky anti-Ellen. Even worse, the teacher who tried to get her to sleep with him is still at it, preying on other girls while Ellen struggles to come to terms with what happened.

With her ability to trust as shaky as a chastity vow on prom night, Ellen must decide if she has enough remaining courage to speak up about the well-liked teacher and risk retribution, tell Rex how she really feels about him and risk heartbreak, or hold all her secrets inside. After all, it’s the only safe place she knows when the only thing louder than words is the fear of being rejected.

 

add to goodreads

Title: Louder Than Words
Publication date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: Swoon Romance
Author: Iris St. Clair

Available for Purchase:
Amazon

About-the-Author

Iris St. Claire

Iris St. Clair is the pen name for a long-suffering cubicle worker by day, a Walter Mitty-like dreamer by night. (Her alter ego Tatiana Ivanadance also choreographs gravity-defying routines in those fantasies, but that’s another bio.)
No matter what genre she writes, she prefers witty, insecure heroines and kind, persistent heroes able to break through to the gooey heart inside.
In high school she was voted most likely to win at Monopoly and Clue, but least likely to throw a ball anywhere near a target. Thank goodness writing requires less hand-eye coordination, punctuation errors notwithstanding.
Iris believes in the two-year “fish or cut bait” dating rule and has a 20+ year marriage and two teenaged sons as proof of concept. She lives, writes, dreams and dances in the rainy Portland, OR area.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest

Giveaway

Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!

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See my Goodreads review and come back on Monday, March 2nd for the full scope of my thoughts on this exceptional YA romance.

Eye of the Soul

Fantasy novels entice me. As you know, I’ve learned that novels of epic scope aren’t really my cup of coffee. Novels with an epic premise or story? That would be Eye of the Soul by Terri Rochenski.

I was introduced to the writing of Rochenski through an anthology I bought to support one of my writer friends. You can check it out here. Since that time, I’ve been following the publisher, J. Taylor Publishing, on Facebook.

When they posted that the first book in a series would be FREE to celebrate the release of the second book in the series, you know what happened. I clicked the link. Amazon offered its wonderful “Buy now with 1-click” option and another book added itself to the ever-expanding queue.

Not every book in that queue will be read by me. Several I snagged for FREE weren’t worth the price I paid for them.

Not so with Eye of the Soul.

The Blurb

Copied from Goodreads:

“Escape.

That should be Hyla’s first thought as her people are chained and imprisoned for no imaginable reason. Instead, Hyla finds herself traveling through a land void of Natives, with human soldiers pillaging in desperate pursuit of her, and in search of the mystical Pool of Souls—home to the one man who can save her people.

Or so she believes.

Led by her faith in the deity Fadir, Hyla is met along her journey by Jadon—a human male and fierce King’s warrior, and his childhood best friend Conlin—one of the few Natives aware of his Fadir-given Talents. Protected by Jadon, guided by Conlin, and with an unfailing belief in the purpose of her pilgrimage, Hyla carries on.

Like her, though, another searches for the Pool, and should he gain access first, everyone she loves, and everything she knows, could be lost.

Forever.”

My Review

The novel opens with the capture of Natives by an ambitious High Priest. The Natives appear as elves in my mind – fair skin, pointed ears, (supposed) mystical abilities. I liked that Rochenski uses a different name for them, leaving her plenty of space to conform them to the story she’s telling.

Hyla, a nineteen-year-old orphan, is away collecting roots and herbs for the healers when the attack comes. Right away, we see she is fearful, which makes the reader wonder why. That backstory is sprinkled in at all the right moments.

Through a number of narrators, the story unfolds. A High Priest with a vendetta against the deity of the Natives emerges as the villain. We want to hate him; his despicable misuse of power and authority begs it. Yet, we see he has a secret past – a motivation not unlike that of Mr. Freeze (of Batman fame).

Jadon and Conlin enter the story as childhood friends who share the spotlight as the male heroes in the story. They are like night and day, but their camaraderie and realistic interactions pull the reader further in to this fictional realm.

Hyla’s Talent (mystical power) is the only one that isn’t dormant as the story opens. And she resents it because it shows her the true intentions behind every word and deed. It’s a curse, and she doesn’t understand why the king and others want to use it. How can it help win a war?

In a dream, she is called to the Pool of Souls. When the High Priest discovers its location, he sends his own combined group of soldiers and gifted (but unawakened – so he believes) Natives.

Conflict unfolds and the course is clear. Who will make it to the Pool? What does the Pool actually do? Will Hyla accept her calling? And, will she choose Conlin or Jadon?

The characters are well-formed and realistic.  Although the motivations of some of them are unclear or questionable, most of them acted and reacted consistently. Intrigue surrounds the powers of a few “non-Native” people in the story: where did their powers come from? Why do humans have these “gifts”?

The problem is straight-forward and the plot un-convoluted. We know the goals of the characters and, except where they are keeping a secret, we understand what motivates them. This is by no means a simple story, it is just easy to follow. Rather than shrouding information, the author shares it – to the end that it creates more questions and adds tension.

My Recommendation

This story gets a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars from me. It took me awhile to decide I liked Hyla – needed to understand what made her so mistrustful. Although Jadon is likeable, he seems rather stereotypical. If it weren’t for his friendship and interaction with Conlin, I might have written him off as an egotistical, womanizing jerk.

Give these characters the chance to grow on you, and you won’t be disappointed. Nothing about the story line or premise (racial discrimination, anti-religion and revolutionary tendencies) disappoints.

This is the first book in a series. I’m delighted to meet these characters again. I’m also thrilled that Rochenski handled the story in the proper way: one problem for this book is tackled and resolved, while the larger series problem is clear but still hangs overhead at the end of the book.

The epilogue introduces a new twist and creates immediate anxiety because it pushes one of the heroes into the line of fire. This is a great way to encourage readers to put down book one with the left hand and pick up book two with the right. It was added to my Amazon wish list with a single click, and you’ll see it on my Goodreads “TBR” list, as well.

If you like magic, sword fighting and quests, this is a book you’ll want to read. Whether you’re looking for a great story or a deep story, Eye of the Soul grants your wish.

Have you read this book? What did you think?