The Frugal Find of the Day: Qi: A Young Adult Fantasy, Elizabeth A. Svigar {$0.99}

Elizabeth A. Svigar’s Frugal Find Under Nine:

Description:

Thirteen-year-old uber-archer Samantha is thrilled to qualify for Xenith, the most prestigious – and mysterious – Olympic training facility in the world. Much more than an athletic camp, it’s part fantasyland where living dolls and the Baba Yaga abound. Then there’s Dr. Nine, a master alchemist whose laboratory is very well guarded indeed. But not all that glitters is Olympic gold. When dangerous secrets begin to surface, Samantha must fight her way through Xenith’s sinister underworld to save her friends and family – if she survives herself.

Qi is a fast-paced young adult fantasy that will appeal to fans of strong but conflicted protagonists as well as fans of mythological adventure tales. It draws influence from Slavic mythology, Dante’s Inferno, and contemporary villains and heroes. Recently, it was selected for the second round in Amazon’s breakthrough young adult novel contest, and it continues to receive highly positive reviews from both readers and reviewers. It is currently on sale for 99 cents.

 

Accolades:

“A fast-paced, unique fantasy tour-de-force” ~A Myriad of Books

“A true testament to family and friends” ~Surrounded By Books Reviews

 

Reviews:

Qi: A Young Adult Fantasy currently has a customer review rating of 4.5 stars. Read the reviews here.

 

An excerpt from Qi: A Young Adult Fantasy:

Chapter One – Winners

*

Sam peered across the meadow at the target seventy meters away. She took a deep breath and held it. Just seventy meters between her, a perfect score, and acceptance into prestigious Xenith Training Camp for field sports.

Honeybees buzzed in the summer clover and the crowd murmured behind her. She licked her lips, fingers straining against the bowstrings. Squinting down the sight, she aimed at the tiny golden circle in the middle of the target.

As always, her gut told her the exact moment to let go, and she released her grip. Over her pounding heart, she heard the arrow’s familiar whistling sound. A silver streak in the bright afternoon sun – then, as if drawn by a magnet, the arrow struck the bullseye with a satisfying thunk.

A girl’s voice rang out above the screams of the crowd. Sam turned to see her older sister, Abby, darting across the field. She was still wearing her white fencing uniform. The first place medal she’d won earlier bounced against her chest, flashing gold in the sun.

Sam ran to meet her. “We’re in.” She threw her arms around her sister.

“Yeah!” Abby jumped up and down, pulling Sam with her. “We get to be with Mum. We’re the best in Salem. We could be the best in the world!” She whipped her long, blonde hair behind her head. “Let’s find Dad.”

Sam and Abby pushed their way through the crowd, acknowledging good wishes on all sides. A judge slipped a medal just like Abby’s around Sam’s neck, and the weight of it felt wonderful – the weight of success. Sam’s teammates hugged her so tightly that even the three bands she’d wrapped around her dark curls weren’t enough to keep them under control. They popped out all around her face in a messy halo.

Sam laughed, fighting her way out of their embrace. “I can’t breathe.” She tried to gather her hair back but soon gave up. Who cared what she’d look like in the photos, anyway. She was going to Xenith, where the best athletes in the world prepared for the Olympics. And Mum would be there.

Finally, Sam spied their father standing alone at the edge of the field. “There he is.”

They scrambled over to him.

“We made it,” Abby crowed, grabbing his arm. “We’re following in your footsteps, Dad.”

“Congratulations, girls.” Their father smiled at them, but only with his lips. Behind his wire rimmed glasses, his gray eyes looked sad. Sam’s heart deflated. She knew why. Mum.

Abby must’ve caught on too, because she linked her arm through his and rested her head on his shoulder. “You’ll come too, right?”

He didn’t say anything for a moment, but then he smiled again and this time it looked genuine. “Of course. I’ll arrange a sabbatical. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He brightened. “I’m thirsty. And how do we celebrate after winning?”

Sam laughed. “Three fresh-squeezed lemonades coming on the double.” She hugged him, breathing in the clean scent of his aftershave. His jacket button pressed into her face. She’d been only five when her parents divorced, and she’d probably never know the details. But now that they were going back to Fletching, the town where Xenith was located and where their mother still lived… well, maybe her parents could put the past behind them and their lives back together again. After all, it had been eight years.

“Hurry back, the photographers are here.” Abby finger-combed her hair and adjusted her collar so her medal shone in the sun.

“Will do.” Sam ducked around folding chairs and small clusters of spectators, looking for Mr. Scott’s lemonade stand, which was always somewhere at these tournaments. The smell of popcorn drifted by and made her thirstier. She craned her neck. Where was it?

“Good work, Samantha,” said a deep voice behind her. She spun around. A tall, very thin man was standing there, smiling uncertainly. His closely cropped silver hair contrasted sharply with his unlined face. His hands holding the program trembled.

“Um, okay, thanks.” She was well known in the community. Surely, that must be how he knew her name. “Have we met?” He didn’t look familiar to her at all.

“Not since a long time ago.” The man studied her face, then took a step toward her and held out his hand. “I’m–”

“Sam, over here!” Her father thundered. “The stand’s over here!”

The man’s face twisted into a grimace, and he turned on his heel. He strode away so fast it seemed like he’d simply vanished. Sam blinked and looked around. Everyone was acting exactly as they had before, like nothing unusual had happened. She shook her head. He’d probably just seen her name in the program and wanted to talk to her. It happened all the time with fans.

“We got the lemonade!” Abby yelled. “Get over here, it’s photo time.”

Sam shook off her jitters and pushed her way back through the throngs of people. Her father and Abby were talking to a woman wearing a crisp blue suit and carrying a professional-looking digital camera.

“Ah,” she said when she spied Sam. “How wonderful. The Liffey sisters, winning again – what a headline for the Daily. Our own future Olympians. How about you stand in front of the high school sign?” She pointed.

Sam and Abby strutted over to the sign and put their arms around each other. Sam smiled into the camera, forgetting all about the strange man. She’d never felt so happy in all her life.

***

Later that night, they sat around the dining room table. Sam picked at the last slice of pizza, wishing she wasn’t too full to eat it. Her medal lay on the table, its blue band intertwined with Abby’s as though in an embrace.

“So, when can we go?” Abby asked for the hundredth time, drumming her fingernails on the table and jiggling her knee up and down. Sam hoped her sister wasn’t going to get snitty with their father – it happened too often lately now that Abby was fourteen and thought she knew everything.

Their father took a long drink of soda and took his time swallowing it. “Soon,” he said vaguely.

Sam didn’t remember moving to Salem, and for the first six or so years of their parents’ divorce, Mum had visited them once a month. Her visits had been woven into the fabric of their lives, unquestioned, like how you get up, eat breakfast and head out to school every day. But then she came once every two months, then once every three. This year, she’d only visited them once, and here it was August. They’d never visited her.

“Would we have to go to school?” asked Abby. Sam could tell her sister was hoping the answer would be no.

Their father smiled. “Of course. You’d go to the local school, Fletching Academy. It’s right on the grounds. Most of the kids who go there are also in Xenith.”

“Oh,” said Abby, and she slouched back in her seat.

“How do we get there?” Sam asked. She had faint but happy memories of Fletching. She’d had two good friends there, identical twins named Eli and Jonah. She wondered if they were still there. Wherever “there” was – she’d never seen it on a map.

Their father tugged at one of his earlobes. “How do you get there… well, it’s complicated.”

“Why don’t we catch a plane like Mum?” Abby furrowed her brow.

Their father shook his head slowly, as though chasing away a thought. “That’s not how it’s done.”

“What does she do, teleport?” Sam fought a chuckle as she pictured her mum vanishing, bit by bit, like a Star Trek character.

“Not exactly,” replied their father, running his hands through his light brown, wavy hair. He took his glasses off and rubbed his thumb over his nose.

Abby dropped her glass on the table with a thud. “Why are you being so weird, Dad? Whenever she came you went and got her at the airport.”

Sam shot her sister a glare. She didn’t want to deal with an argument, not on their glorious day. She wished Abby wasn’t so impatient and that she held her tongue better when she was mad. But that was how her sister had always been.

Their father stared at the wall for a moment. “I suppose you girls are old enough to know some things.” He seemed to be choosing his words carefully, like someone picking through rotten fruit at the grocery store, trying to find something useful. “How much do you remember about Fletching?”

“Not much,” admitted Sam. “I remember those twins and going down to the beach in the summertime. Mum was always practicing archery so it was just us.” Sam had loved those days by the water with the twins. Once, her precious stuffed bunny Sunny had gotten caught in the tide and Eli dove in to rescue her, even though it was dangerous. His mother and father shouted up a storm, despite the fact they were champion swimmers and had taught Eli themselves. Once they stopped yelling, Sam had given Eli a hug. She hoped he was still there.

“Yeah, your mum really wanted that gold medal.” Their father jolted Sam back into the present. “Too bad she never got it. But she tried hard, that’s the important thing.”

“We’ll get it for her,” Abby said, touching her medal. “She’ll be proud of us.” She sat up straight in her chair. “It’s the best training in the world, isn’t it, Dad?”

Their father nodded. “It’s a pretty special place. Heck, it almost got me the world championship.” He took a deep breath. “I’m about to let you in on a secret, so listen carefully. You see, Dr. Benjamin Nine, the president, discovered how to make gold some years back. It’s how they fund Xenith.”

“Wow,” said Sam. She leaned forward. What a weird name. Plus, she’d never heard of such a thing, except in some magic books. “Really?”

Abby seemed skeptical. “Impossible, Dad. No one can do that.”

“It’s fantastical, but it’s true,” said their father. “And it’s pretty amazing. Dr. Nine’s a genius alchemist. He’d been working on it for years, and then he figured it out. But he doesn’t tell anyone the secret, mind you, so don’t go snooping around.”

Abby shook her head. “This makes no sense, Dad.” She played with her napkin, watching him like a hawk. Sam could tell that even though her sister was doubtful, she wanted to believe this fantastic story as much as Sam did.

“Dad wouldn’t lie to us, Abby,” she said.

“I don’t think I can explain this to you in a way you can understand,” their father said softly. He stood up, almost knocking his chair over in the process. He gripped the edge of the table, and Sam noticed his knuckles were white. “All I can do is show you. I can take you there tonight.”

Sam and Abby leaped to their feet.

“Seriously?” Abby squealed, grabbing Sam around the shoulders in a big hug. “Does Mum know?”

Their father shook his head. “No. But she’ll be happy for the surprise. Go upstairs and pack your things. Remember your sports gear. Meet me in my study when you’re ready.”

“Yay!” Abby shouted, pulling away from Sam. She pushed her chair into the table with a bang and her medal slipped away from Sam’s, falling to the floor in a whirl of gold and blue.

***

Upstairs, Sam threw some jeans, shirts, socks and underwear into her backpack, then ran to the bathroom and grabbed her toiletries. She jammed them all in with her clothes and looked around. If Eli was still in Fletching, she’d love to show him she’d kept Sunny all these years. Spying a small foot sticking out from under her bed, she giggled. She snatched the bunny and shoved her in on top of everything else, then pulled the straining zipper closed. She caught up her quiver and bow and darted into the hallway, where she almost crashed into Abby.

“Isn’t this exciting?” Abby danced around, her hair flying everywhere. “We’re finally going back, and this time to Xenith, too, just like Mum and Dad. I wonder what it looks like now.”

Sam could still smell the pine trees and the summer grass, and see the stone cabin where their parents had lived in the woods. It had been beautiful.

Abby waved her hand in front of Sam’s face. “Yoo-hoo. Anybody home?”

Sam laughed. “Sorry. I was thinking about the last time we were there.”

“I know.” Abby picked up her bag in one hand and her long, silvery foil in the other. “I can’t wait to get back.”

“Well, let’s go.” Sam ran down the stairs. She didn’t know how they were going to get there tonight, but she didn’t much care. One thing she did know: Xenith produced more Olympians than any other training facility in the world. And even that paled to having her whole family in one place for the first time in eight years. All thanks to archery. After checking to be sure Abby wasn’t looking, she kissed her bow.

A sliver of light from the partly open door to their father’s study lay on the wall of the hallway. They headed toward it, Sam’s bow and quiver bouncing as she walked. Her stomach tensed. The Xenith kids would be in a whole new league. They were the best in the world. Would she measure up? Or would she let her father down, embarrass him in front of their mother?

Inside his cavernous study, their father was sitting behind his mahogany desk. The messy stacks of books all around him made him seem oddly dwarfed, even powerless.

When he saw them, he smiled grimly and clicked off the lamp. “Well, this is it.” He pulled a chain from under his shirt. On it was a tiny silver key. He pushed himself up and walked across the room like an old man, wearily and slowly, as though life has pressed him down. Sam gripped Abby’s hand. It was damp, but she didn’t let go.

Their father twisted one of his old fencing trophies and Sam nearly fell backward as the bookcase slid open with a hiss to reveal a second, smaller room. It was like something out of a spy movie, but in her own house. She clutched Abby’s hand as if it could save her from drowning. Nothing was normal about this.

Their father reached inside the room and turned on a light. The room was tiny, more like a walk-in closet, and was nearly completely filled by an ancient, busted up black trunk.

“What is this?” Sam whispered to Abby, shuffling closer to her.

“I have no idea.” Abby’s voice trembled. “I’ve never been in here before.”

“Come here,” their father said in a solemn voice, gesturing toward the trunk. “I don’t want you to be too alarmed by what happens next, so stand behind me. Take a deep breath, and get ready.”

Slowly, he slid the key into the lock on the trunk. He shifted it back and forth a few times, and with a dull snap the lid parted with the bottom. Dust filled the air as he opened it all the way with a screech. Sam coughed as a vile scent like rotting leaves hit her nostrils. Whatever this was, it was disgusting for sure, and she couldn’t see what it had to do with Xenith. Maybe he was about to give her some kind of enchanted bow and arrow. Or a talisman. Something to prove they were good enough. But they’d shown that already, today at the match.

Their father turned, his glasses gray with dust, obscuring his eyes. “Come closer,” he whispered. For the first time in her life, Sam felt afraid of him. But she edged forward, still gripping Abby’s hand. When they reached him, their father stepped aside to let them see inside the trunk.

On a maroon velvet cloth, a skull with deep-cut, glowing red eyes and diamond-like teeth lay next to a golden necklace with a blood colored charm. Something was weird about them – they seemed alive, or like something was alive inside them. She shook her head. What a ridiculous thought. She stole a glance at her sister and saw Abby was transfixed, staring at the skull.

Their father reached into the trunk, and Sam bit back a protest – for a second, she’d imagined the skull would attack him. But nothing happened. He moved the skull and the charm out of the way and pulled up the cloth.

Underneath, a yellowed doll lay wrapped in a cloth of gold. Their father picked it up, unwrapped it, and winced. It had messy, black hair that fell to its waist. It wore monk’s robes, tied at the waist with a rope. Its round, black eyes were set above a nose so crumbled and misshapen it could hardly be called a nose at all. Instead of a mouth, it had a crude, red slash.

I know him. The thought came to her out of nowhere. Ridiculous. She’d never seen it before in her life, and anyway, how could she know a doll? That moldy smell… it was making her feel drugged.

The doll winked at her.

Her skin crawled as she stared at the doll. She ran her hand over her forehead and down her face. This doll was no Sunny, that was for sure.

It opened its gash of a mouth.

Abby screamed. Sam jumped to the side and her father steadied her.

Yellow teeth gleamed. “Hello, Samantha. Hi, Abigail. And Mr. Liffey, of course. My… you’ve kept me waiting for a long, long time.”

 

Qi: A Young Adult Fantasy is available for purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $0.99

 

Connect with Elizabeth A. Svigar:

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The Frugal Find of the Day: Four Years from Home, Larry Enright {$0.99}

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Larry Enright’s Frugal Find Under Nine:

 

Description:

Tom Ryan — firstborn of five children in a large, Irish Catholic family, smart and acerbic, a cheat and a bully — calls himself the future king of the Ryans. There are other opinions. His mother calls him a holy terror. Mrs. Ioli calls the police on him. His father says that had Trouble been a saint, that would have been Tom’s middle name. But his parents, neighbors, peers, and siblings all must bow down before him or suffer the consequences. Just ask the Christmas turkey leftovers he buried in the side yard.

Harry, the youngest Ryan, was the shining star of the family. Bright, sensitive, and caring, he was protected by parental radar, called by God and Grandma Ryan to the priesthood, and was in Tom’s eyes, a brown-nosing little punk who had become a threat to his kingdom and the primary target of his search and destroy missions.

Then Harry changed. He abandoned his vocation and quit the church, and when he left for college, he left for good. He never called. He rarely wrote. His picture disappeared from the mantle. It was as if he had ceased to exist and his shining star had been but a passing comet. The enemy had retreated and Tom’s war was over.

“Four Years from Home” begins on Christmas 1972 during Harry’s senior year at college. The Ryan family has gathered without Harry for another bittersweet holiday celebration. When an unexpected and unwelcome gift arrives, the family demands answers and Tom Ryan, bully cum laude, must make a reluctant journey of discovery and self-discovery into a mystery that can only end in tragedy.

Written by the son of Irish Catholic immigrants, “Four Years from Home” redefines brotherly love in the darkly humorous and often poignant actions of its principal skeptic, Tom Ryan.

 

Accolade:

From Linda Prather

This is probably the hardest book review I’ll ever write. As an author myself I always preface my reviews with the information of whether I know the author or not. I’ve “met” Larry Enright on Facebook, Twitter and a variety of other forums. I love his wit and sense of humor. I’ve interviewed him and didn’t take offense to his comment that my writing career was inspired by a Rabid Dog (“Old Yeller”). And I’m not a professional reviewer.

When I told Larry that I had purchased his book he emailed me and told me it was “Different”, and he hoped I liked it.

Different would be one way of describing “Four Years From Home”. Most people assume since I write dark, not-so-cozy murder mysteries that my taste in literature runs the gamut of James Patterson, Tami Hoag, Kay Hooper, Patricia Cornwell and other mystery writers with a penchant for murder and mayhem. They would be right to a certain extent, but I also loved C. S. Lewis. The first time I read “The Screw Tape Letters” I was amazed, thrilled and awed by a work of literary art so deep, and so exquisite I almost felt I should chop off my fingers for even considering myself to be an author. “The Screw Tape Letters” was different. A book that inspired great passion in those who read it, and those who attempted to read it and burned it as blasphemy. Growing up in the Bible belt I naturally assumed it would burst into flames as soon as I opened it, or at the very least I would be stricken with some horrible malady for reading such “trash”. It has a place of honor on my bookshelf as being one of the true literary arts of my time, and the exact opposite of what I was led to believe. That’s all I can say about it without giving you spoilers.

Several years ago a movie came out called “Sixth Sense”. Millions of people watched this movie before I did, but out of millions of reviews not one person gave away the spoiler. That fascinated me. It was definitely “different”. And millions of people kept that secret religiously. There were minor clues along the way, but so intricately weaved into the story that you missed them.

Which brings me back to “Four Years From Home”. A work of literary art which I believe will inspire passion within each reader. You will love it – or you will hate it. Or perhaps like me you will love it and hate it (which I can’t say why without giving away a spoiler). Within the pages of “Four Years From Home” Mr. Enright has weaved an intricate model of human hopes, dreams, fears, strengths and weaknesses. The brilliance of the human mind, and the frailty of the human mind.

Tom Ryan is a Legend In His Own Mind. Much like every child and artistic adult who grew up in an atmosphere that allows the imagination to develop and grow. Reality is just a figment of our imagination to be bent, changed and shaped to our will. But somewhere deep inside, perhaps at the core of our existence, deep within the soul lies a reality we cannot bend; we cannot change or shape to our will. A reality we can only at best attempt to run away from and escape.

I can’t say more without giving away a spoiler, which is why this was a very difficult review to write.

OVERALL BOOK – 4.5 Stars

I gave this 4.5 stars instead of 5 because I found at least 5 typos in the book were words were omitted from a sentence and in one case transposed in a sentence. For a debut novel this is minor, as my own traditionally published first book had 7 typos. When I brought this to the attention of my publisher the comeback was, “Patricia Cornwell’s new book has 28 typos in it.” My comeback was, “I’m not Patricia Cornwell.” As authors we have a responsibility to our readers. As self-published authors that responsibility, in my humble opinion, increases.

CHARACTERIZATION – 5 Stars

You are immediately drawn into the Ryan family through Tom’s internal dialogue, and through interaction with his mother, father, sisters and brothers. You’re given a clear– at least according to the legend– concise “picture” of the family and their strengths and weaknesses. They each become someone you feel you know intimately. Especially Harry. Sweet, special Harry.

Although some may consider this a backdoor approach into characterization, it worked for me.

PLOT – 5 Stars

The plot is “different”. If you’re a traditional mystery follower who expects certain things to happen in order, you may be slightly disappointed. But the plot is unique. A true literary art, as it is subtle, and perhaps somewhat hidden in the Legend’s mind. And the purpose of a mystery is to lead the reader down a path of intrigue, throwing out subtle clues and yet revealing nothing that will allow you to grasp the conclusion–therein, Mr. Enright has excelled. I, as a mystery writer, applaud myself on being able to figure out early on “what’s going on”. That didn’t happen here. I was tempted many times to move to the end of the book, but as with all books I enjoy I denied myself that pleasure and kept turning pages. Searching for the clues that would reveal the end. I was astounded. I would never have guessed the ending.

This was a difficult book to review because I loved it, and I hated it, and I wanted to tell you why, but much like “Sixth Sense”, that would reveal far too much. You may find yourself a little irritated by Tom’s obsession with (oops, can’t say, because that’s a spoiler), but if you like “different” then I truly believe you’ll love this book. A fantastic debut novel, and one I’m glad I didn’t miss.

 

Reviews:

Four Years from Home currently has a customer review rating of 4 stars. Read the reviews here.

 

An excerpt from Four Years from Home:

 

Chapter 1

My name is King Thomas of Ryan, so crowned as firstborn of Daniel, Earl of Ryan and his consort, Helen, and ascendant to the royal throne upon my birth September 12th, 1946. My domain stretches from horizon to horizon, my power is absolute, my word law.

Load of crap, you say? Maybe… But as the firstborn child of five and male, I was special, and my parents, being allegedly of sound mind and body, recognized that. I was the culmination of their union, the be-all and end-all of their existence. I always got the biggest and best of everything, and as for whatever was left over? Well, that went to the others. Examples? Who got all the new clothes and who got the hand-me-downs? Who had the only complete baby photo album and who got maybe a couple dozen snapshots each? With me went the Ryans’ highest expectations, with them, only vague and unspoken hopes for the best.

The others — that’s how I had always thought of them — they were an amorphous mass of humanity whose sole purpose was to annoy me. I had never asked for them, nor was there ever the slightest intimation on my part that I preferred some demeaning power-sharing arrangement to absolute rule in my kingdom. I was totally at ease with having two loyal and subservient subjects to do my bidding.

Life was so simple and so right. Life was good. When I was too young to talk, I would simply point and they would fetch. It was a thing of beauty that only got better when I was learning to speak. I could say anything from “goo, goo” to “uh, uh” and they would go to ludicrously extreme lengths to try and figure out exactly what I wanted. “Does Tommy want his bottle?” No, don’t you understand? I want that. “Does Tommy want his Clancy doll?” Poor Clancy, he deserved a Purple Heart for the wounds I inflicted on him. “Does Tommy want to play with his ball?” Bingo! Bring it here, Mom Servant. King Tom wants to take a shot at that lamp over there.

Yes, all was going famously. They seemed overjoyed with me at the center of their world, and I was definitely happy with the five-star service. That was why I was so surprised when Mary came along. First of all, I don’t recall ever granting my permission for her to enter my realm. And second, a sister? Why would anyone want a sister? A dog maybe, a bird possibly, a fish — that was a stretch — but a sister? Why would anyone want something that came with a built-in Guard-all shield? You don’t get it? Just try and hit a girl and you’ll see what I mean. Nowadays we’d call it an invisible force field, but back then, a Colgate metaphor was the best we could do.

Her appearance on the scene was so inexplicable an occurrence and so completely defied all logic that it took me a good ten minutes to figure it out. I had immediately ruled out an act of God since, after all, I was the only God in my universe. An act of the devil? I didn’t think so — I was also the devil in this world. Just ask my parents after I had made my true aspirations known at age two. No, she was clearly a mistake and, in my infinite mercy, I would allow my parents one mistake. After all, they were only human, and I had no choice.

But to my disappointment, the mistakes continued in Sam and then Kate. Royal pains in the butt they were, I being the royal and they the pains. Yet somehow I survived them and their various assaults on my authority. My shining armor bore no permanent dents. I was, after all, the future king of the Ryan family and my siblings would bow down before me. Or else…

Eventually, I came to enjoy having the others as indentured servants to do my bidding and, more importantly, to take the blame for my dirty work. I could easily bully my weakling sisters and get away with it (though I still had trouble hitting them) and Sam was not physically powerful enough yet to stand up to me. And they realized early on that their sheer numbers were no match for a real king. They knew that I could do whatever I pleased to them and get away with it. And the icing on the cake was that I could just as easily implicate them in whatever scheme I hatched, thus transferring the blame and punishment. I had perfected the “who me?” look quite early in life and had a long list of patented excuses which always worked like a charm. God, life was good then.

But then Harry came along on Christmas Day in 1950 and everything changed. With Harry it was different. My usual tactics didn’t work on him. Mom and Dad took his side in everything. Even my best-selling publication, The Book of Tom, A Field Manual of Dirty Tricks and Assigning Blame, was totally useless. It baffled me. Why was he any different than the others? I mean, I could push Mary down the steps, blame it on our blind cat and get away scot-free. But do the same thing to Harry? Dad would instantly produce the results of DNA testing (which didn’t even exist back then) along with a fingerprint analysis proving the culprit was me and boy would I get walloped. It was unbelievable how far Dad had advanced scientifically and technologically after Harry’s untimely birth.

In desperation, I enlisted the aid of Mary, negotiating a temporary non-aggression pact with her for her help in torturing Harry. Of course I never called it that to her face. I’m not stupid, you know. I called it “The Alphabet Bombing Campaign,” or “ABC” for short. I told her that it was all part of making sure Harry grew up to be smart; that we were really doing him a big favor teaching him the alphabet; that it was all part of the “big” picture. The part I left out was that the “big” picture was actually that now there would be two to share all blame, two for Mom and Dad to choose from when trying to figure out the intricacies of my grand scheme. We were golden, or so I thought.

It just shows how wrong royalty can be. I had developed intercontinental ballistic building block missiles that were effective at an incredible range. I called them ICBBBMs. They were the perfect weapon and left no evidence since the missile ended up where building blocks belonged anyway (in the playpen), leaving no trace of anything out of the ordinary. Any minor injuries caused could easily be explained with a lie-detector-proof “I guess he hit his head on something,” which was true in a manner of speaking – at least my manner of speaking. It was the perfect campaign.

Mary and I positioned ourselves within sight of Harry’s playpen and commenced our vigorous and historic bombardment, scoring direct hit after direct hit. It was inspirational, fun, even educational, spelling out things like “Take that!” and “Bye bye, Harry” with a cleverly sequential barrage of wooden blocks.

Mom caught us in mid-victory. It wasn’t because Harry was crying, which he wasn’t. He was simply watching us and laughing, probably because we were such lousy shots. It was because Mom and Dad always seemed to be keeping a special eye out for Harry with their newly developed state of the art parental radar. They told me that he was a special child, a gift from God, and I had to learn to deal with that.

Oh, I dealt with it. I used every weapon in my arsenal to deal with it. But every dismal foray against Harry’s impregnable position, even with reinforcements in the form of my conscripted siblings, turned out to be worthless. My best diversionary tactics, picked up from years of watching Combat! on TV were useless, making me wonder what Vic Morrow and Sergeant Saunders had that I didn’t. All this led me to the inevitable, sinking feeling that I had been deposed.

But this is not about me. This is about Harry. Oh, I hated him all right. I hated the threat he represented to my world. I hated his lack of reaction to my attacks and his better-than-thou attitude. In short, I hated his guts. I was bent on his destruction. But my parents were right — there was something about Harry that was different, special; I just didn’t realize it at the time.

It wasn’t his sandy hair or his slightly crossed eyes or even his thin, bony frame or that stupid smile I couldn’t wipe off his face. It was his attitude about things, about everything. Nothing ever seemed to upset him. And believe me, if I couldn’t upset his applecart, nobody could. I’m not bragging, but Mom didn’t name me the “Holy Terror” for nothing. I remember when he was five, I covered him in cooking oil and chicken feathers and was busily tying him to the porch banister. I was all ready to run him out of town on a rail when I was caught by the parental torture-detector and summarily banished to my room to await further punishment from Dad. Even then Harry only smiled at me and laughed when he saw his tarred and feathered self in the mirror.

I joined a “gang” in fifth grade. Well, it might be more accurate to say I formed a gang in fifth grade. It consisted of every boy in my class who I could beat up. Harry was just starting first grade at Saint Catherine’s. As our collective initiation into the Gang of Seven, we ran Harry down on the playground, dragged him off under cover of a clever nun-diversion (which I devised, naturally), and buried him up to his neck in the dirt on the edge of Miller’s field, telling him he would be resurrected if his faith were strong. He believed us and remained quietly entombed until Jean Mykita dimed us out to the principal, Sister Concepta, and she sent the goon squad to save him. I can now tell you just how hard the good Sister can hit one-handed with a belt and just how many nail heads there are on the floor of the sanctuary of the church. My friends and I had to polish every one of them to her liking while she walked among us preaching the gospel and taking her best shots.

As he grew, Harry became the shining star in our family. He was the smartest, the funniest, the most successful at everything he put his mind to. He was, hands down, the best. And when I finally gave up trying to kill him, I must admit I actually liked him. You see, I finally realized that he represented no threat at all to me since his success was of the non-material variety. I could rest easy on my laurels as the secular king of the family.

Of the five children, he was the one Mom and Dad saw as most likely to become a priest. In their Roman Catholic eyes, this was the highest calling for a young man and any material success was entirely secondary for one with “a vocation.” They would settle for material success for their other children. (Well, actually, for me they would have settled for my keeping out of prison, I think.) This, their Irish immigrant ethic looked upon as exemplary, having come from very little to a comfortable middle class life the hard way. But this was not the case for Harry. Harry was special, important. His life was their blessing, and for fifteen years it was just that.

Grandma Ryan always said that she saw “the light” in Harry’s eyes, “the light” being the calling to become a priest. She was very old and very Irish and we could hardly understand a word she said, but we all respected her (and, more importantly, the back of her hand). After Sunday dinners at her house and a rousing game of Five Hundred, we would sit on the sofa while she talked on and on about God’s calling and the “divil.” Harry was the only one who really listened to her. Maybe he was the only one who understood her. I don’t know. I had a hard enough time with Five hundred comprehending Grandma when she called out “hearts are the good ones.” I never saw what was so good about them. But we could all see that Harry was destined to be a priest. This was the absolute highest calling a boy could aspire to, the dedication of one’s life to God and the salvation of others, including me I guess. Mom and Dad prayed every night with us, and in their prayers, we all saw our futures. “God bless Tom (please, dear God, bless Tom) and Mary and Sam and Kate and give them all long, happy and successful lives. And God bless Harry and make him the holiest priest ever.”

I’m sure the words were not exactly like that. Years have a way of clouding the memories. But that is my recollection of it, and Harry did indeed grow in God’s grace and gentleness throughout his years at Saint Catherine’s. He went on retreats all the time, spent hours on end with the parish priests and nuns being disgustingly helpful, became an altar boy, and even spent a summer after sixth grade at a seminary to get himself acclimated. He did it all. It was nauseating. The nuns talked in stage whispers about the first saint to come out of Saint Catherine’s and the girls idolized Harry to the point of making me want to puke. Of course this made the school bullies torture him relentlessly. I was in the ex-bully category by then, having graduated from grade school “bully cum laude.” But I saw it all and Harry was totally oblivious to it. Ultimately, the decision was made that he would skip the eighth grade and go right into seminary, so seventh grade was to be his final, crowning year. That was the year Grandma Ryan died. That was the year she made him promise on her deathbed to become a priest. That was the year Harry changed.

I doubt if my parents realized it at first, but I knew. I still had quite an intelligence network in the parish even though I had moved on to high school, and I was the first to know that Harry was skipping daily mass and going to the park. And it wasn’t like he was meeting a girl there. That I could understand completely. He would sit on a bench alone, seemingly enjoying the day — very weird for a seventh grader. He started doing that the week after Grandma’s funeral. Then he started skipping Sunday mass, lying to Dad about having to serve an early service. Midway through seventh grade, Harry announced at the dinner table that he had changed his mind about going to seminary; that he wasn’t ready for it; that he wanted to finish eighth grade at Saint Catherine’s and go to South Catholic and maybe do seminary after that. That bombshell took weeks for my parents to come to grips with. Dad had Father Harkins, our Methuselahn pastor, talk to him. Mom had Sister Jean Lorette, his sixth grade teacher and most trusted confidante on matters of utter holiness and penmanship, talk to him. Both were usually quite influential with Harry but not this time. I even offered to come out of retirement and intimidate Harry into going. I told Dad I wouldn’t even charge them for the service. Oddly enough, I think that is what finally did it for my folks and made them give it up. But it might also have been a major conference with a seminary counselor from Saint Anselm’s. I never actually heard what went on in that meeting between Mom, Dad, Harry, and the priest, but when I asked Harry later, he just said that the priest understood about his calling and explained it to the folks. So seminary was pushed off for four years until high school graduation. I had an uneasy feeling about all that.

Mom eventually accepted this as just a little bump on the road less traveled. To her way of thinking, Harry was still destined for sainthood but, like Paul, had to endure some hardships along the way. (You know Paul, that guy who wrote all those indecipherable epistles in the Bible in a secret code unbreakable even by my Captain Midnight Decoder Ring?) And I could not agree with her more that South Catholic High School was a hardship, having endured more detentions with Mr. Baracco than I could count.

Dad, on the other hand, seemed to take it harder than Mom. He actually became friendlier with me after that, and we did things together without Harry there to bug me. I suppose desperation drives people to do crazier things, but I can’t say that regaining some of my former stature with him was much of a plus. Dad and I had little in common at that point. I loved him but I was a deposed king and he a workaholic engineer. And being a junior in high school, I was more interested in girls and in making trouble than in baseball games and grabbing a bite to eat at the diner to talk about life.

 

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The Frugal Find of the Day: A Single Deadly Truth (A Steve Decatur Mystery), John Urban {$2.99}

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Description:

On February 18, 1952, a five-hundred-foot oil tanker named the Pendleton snapped in half as it battled sixty-foot seas in a winter storm off Cape Cod. The rescue of the Pendleton ranks as one of the most heroic events in the history of the United States Coast Guard. That much is true.

In a work of fiction, A Single Deadly Truth tells that another ship sank that same night, just a few miles from where the Pendleton went down, and the ship’s sole survivor remained committed to taking the story, and the ship’s location, to his grave. Until now.

A Single Deadly Truth features a thirty-five year old college professor and part-time harbormaster named Steve Decatur who spends his summers living aboard an old wooden sailboat in the town of Harbor Point, Massachusetts. When Decatur’s friend, a lobsterman and diver named Chris Blanchard, is found dead off Cape Cod, Decatur is called on to retrieve the man’s boat. Along the way, there’s growing evidence that Blanchard’s death was a murder, not an accident.

To the end, Decatur remains persistent in uncovering the truth and in doing so he uncovers a much larger crime.

 

Accolade:

From F. Cook, a 5 Star Amazon Customer Review:

“A Single Deadly Truth” is a five-star read that puts debut author John Urban on the same thriller list as Lee Child and Harlan Coben – and Urban’s central character, harbormaster Steve Decatur, on the same list as Jack Reacher and Myron Bolitar. (OK, more Bolitar than Reacher, but very similar.) Set on the New England coast, “Single Deadly” is a fast read that blends sunken treasure, deep-sea diving, fast boats and a cast of characters that run from bad guys to real bad guys to really really bad guys. (And that doesn’t even count the shark.) I don’t know anything about sailing and still found this to be a great read. Those who are sailors would probably find it even better. Consider me a fan.

 

Reviews:

A Single Deadly Truth (A Steve Decatur Mystery) currently has a customer review rating of 5 stars. Read the reviews here.

 

An excerpt from A Single Deadly Truth (A Steve Decatur Mystery):

He kept TSB’s throttle just short of wide open and ran the boat around Elephant Rock, past the mouth of the river, and along the ocean beach.  He was covering water fast, but out of the corner of his eye he saw something.  “Jesus,” Decatur said, as he pulled back hard on the throttle and cut into a tight turn.

Even at thirty knots, he thought he recognized the shadow-like form.

“Jesus,” he said again, seeing the animal glide past, just off TSB’s bow.

Twelve feet, easy.  More like fourteen.

He grabbed the tag stick and went forward, but before Decatur could make a positive identification it sounded.

Decatur had been around the sea his whole life.  Throughout his youth his father introduced him to everything from shellfish to sharks.  He was picking up horseshoe crabs before he could walk, unhooking barracuda on winter trips to Florida in his early teens, and coming across great whites in high school when he worked on a sword fishing day boat out of Rhode Island.  The captain of that day boat said he’d never seen anyone like Decatur before.  The old man told him, “The first time people see a great white’s head rise from the sea they lock up and freeze.  Rigor mortis.  Mighty whitey does that to people.  The world’s great predator.  Makes other sharks look like little fish in a tank.  But, Sonny, you didn’t freeze.  It might not be so good to be fearless of that creature.”  The thing was, Decatur wasn’t fearless.

 

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The Frugal Find of the Day: An Image of Death (Ellie Foreman Mysteries), Libby Fischer Hellmann {$4.99} {BONUS – Win a copy!}

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Description:

Who knew that a career in video documentaries could lead to crime? Such is the fate of Chicago’s Ellie Foreman whose shoots hook her up with misdeeds past and present. Here she is producing a video about foster children that’s being financed by a successful Chicago real estate developer. Her plans get thrown for a loop when a mysterious package appears at her door one winter night. Inside she finds a surveillance video showing the murder of a young woman. Who was this woman and what is her connection to Ellie?  The cops shunt her aside, but the urgency she feels to find answers, coupled with her professional knowledge of film, compel her to sleuth despite the difficulties borne from a complex history with her lover, David. A little digging reveals that the murder victim was a courier with a dark history forged in Eastern Europe at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse. And a little more digging reveals dark happenings here at home, money laundering, and the deadly price of dealing in diamonds…


Accolade:

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:

Chicago filmmaker Ellie Foreman specializes in video documentaries, but her career has a way of sliding into harrowing murder investigations, as it does in this powerful tale, the third in the series. Foreman’s receipt of a hand-delivered, unmarked surveillance videotape, apparently showing the cold-blooded murder of a young woman, ensures she gets involved in the police hunt for the woman’s killer, if only at the fringes. At the same time, Foreman is filming a documentary for wealthy mover-and-shaker Ricki Feldman, a lady in a position to throw money and opportunities Foreman’s way-opportunities that have their own dangers. When the police run out of leads in the murder case, Foreman shifts into high gear and uncovers a web of deceit connected to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the ensuing chaos and crime. Hellmann is adept at welding technical information about film-making, diamond cutting and other arcane subjects to strong characters. With her somewhat disreputable past, Foreman comes across as a complex and flawed heroine, who grapples with issues as large as murder and as mundane as an overdue visit to her father. Foreman’s pluck and grit married to Hellmann’s solid storytelling should win a growing audience.

 

Reviews:

An Image of Death currently has a customer review rating of 4 stars. Read them here.

 

An excerpt from An Image of Death:

Chapter One

Ricki Feldman is the type of woman best admired from a distance—if you get too close, you might find some of your body parts missing. But here I was sitting next to her at La Maison, one of the toniest restaurants on Chicago’s North Shore.

We were seated in a private dining room with dark wood beams, stucco walls, and terracotta floor tiles. Huge arrangements of fresh flowers—a significant feat in the middle of January—surrounded us. The occasion was a ladies’ luncheon in Ricki’s honor. The directors of WISH, Women for Interim Subsidized Housing, had organized it to thank her for a twenty thousand dollar donation, dollars that would help support low-cost housing for kids who’d been in foster care but couldn’t afford to live on their own.

Charity. Tzedukah. A simple act of philanthropy. Except with the Feldmans, nothing was ever simple. The daughter of a hugely successful real estate developer, Ricki had taken control of the company several years ago at her father’s death, and was proving to be just as ambitious and shrewd. In fact, you got the sense that good deeds, money, even people, were just commodities to the Feldmans. Bargaining chips for some future quid pro quo. Which was why it was wise to make sure you left with everything you came in with when you dealt with them.

Two waiters hovered over her now, refilling her water glass and whisking imaginary crumbs off the white tablecloth. With silky dark hair, magnetic brown eyes, and a willowy build, Ricki was the kind of woman it was hard to look away from. Even so her expression was always calculating, measuring, taking stock. I kept my hands in my lap and my knees pressed together.

The eight other women at the luncheon were decked out in designer finery. I spotted a Missoni label on one woman, another with a Fendi bag. Silver flashed at their necks and ears, and it was hard to find a wrinkle on any face. I felt like the hired help in my Garfield and Marx slacks. In fact, when Ricki introduced me around as the woman who produced the video about “The Glen”, I repressed the urge to pay fealty.

You see, Ricki and I weren’t friends. And I wasn’t a contributor to WISH. A few months ago Feldman Development had built a luxury housing project on the old naval base in Glenview, and Ricki hired me to produce a video about it. I’d had misgivings—environmentalists were trying, unsuccessfully it turned out, to preserve the land as prairie. But she threw a lot of money at me; money I needed to make ends meet. So I took it, produced the show, and tried not to dwell on what the shortage of grasslands would do to global warming.

“The Glen” eventually became one of Feldman’s most successful properties, and when Ricki invited me to lunch, I thought it might be a belated thank you, so I accepted. You might disapprove of their methods, you might not like their style, but the Feldmans were tireless. They got things done. Plus, it’s not often I get the chance to hobnob with women of wealth and privilege.

Now, though, as chatter about exotic vacations, haute couture, and the latest Hollywood scandal drifted over the table, I silently shoveled salad into my mouth, feeling just a bit overwhelmed.

The waiters cleared our plates, then brought out brandy snifters filled with sorbet. As I smiled up my thanks, I caught the waiter staring at my chest. I looked down. A dark oily stain was spreading across my blouse. Salad dressing. And I hadn’t worn a jacket. The waiter sniffed and moved on. I propped an elbow on the table, in an effort to hide the offending spot. Resting my chin on my hand, I tried to appear thoughtful.

It was a short-lived attempt.

“You don’t like sorbet, Ellie?” Ricki asked a moment later.

“Oh, I like it.” I smiled weakly and reached for my spoon. As my elbow moved, Ricki’s gaze dropped to my chest. “Oh dear. I’m sorry.”

Suddenly eight pairs of eyes were on me.

I dipped my napkin in my water glass and dabbed at the spot, but, of course, that only made it worse. My heart’s not enough—I have to wear my lunch on my sleeve, too. I dabbed some more, but it was hopeless. There was only one solution, especially with this crowd. I tossed my head, put my hands in my lap, and affected a je-ne-sais-quoi nonchalance. Next time I’d wear a haz mat suit.

A blond woman with skin so tight it looked like stretched canvas rose and tapped a knife against her water glass. “Now, ladies.” She looked around the table, a brilliant, pasted on smile encompassing us all. “In honor of Ricki Feldman’s generous donation to WISH, I thought we’d play a little game.”

I smiled. I knew these games. A variation of a roast, someone asks silly questions about the individual being honored, and the person with the most correct answers wins a prize. I looked around the table. During the course of producing the Glen video, I’d learned a lot about Ricki. Where she went to school, her cat’s name, her favorite movie. I stood a good chance of winning. I wondered what the prize was. I wouldn’t waste my time over perfume or candy, but a day at a spa, or a gift certificate for some trendy store could be worth it. With this crowd, it was a distinct possibility. I dug out a memo pad and pen from my bag.

The game was momentarily delayed when the maitre d’ rolled the pastry cart up to the table. Leave it to a man a to tease us with the foods we crave but shouldn’t eat. They’re still trying to get even for that Eve and the apple thing. One woman ordered flourless chocolate cake, and another chose a flaky apple tart. I summoned up my will power and tried to pretend they were laced with cyanide. Or botulism.

The lady with the face-lift stood up again. “Ready now, ladies? Oh. I almost forgot.” She looked around and grinned. “Whoever wins gets a massage and facial at North Shore spa.” She smiled and seemed to rest her eyes on me.

Not bad, I thought and smiled back, eagerly anticipating questions about siblings, birthdays, best friends in kindergarten.

The blonde cleared her throat. “All right. First question. Who’s wearing a brand new diamond today?”

Diamonds? The women tittered, and two hands shot into the air. Ricki fingered a diamond solitaire at her throat.

“No, no, ladies.” The blond woman waggled a finger at us. “You’re supposed to write down how many ladies you think are wearing diamonds today. And they have to be new.”

More giggles and surreptitious glances. I squirmed. What kind of game was this? I wondered whether I’d made a mistake coming. I could be at home, surfing the net or planning the important, hard-hitting documentary I would produce one day. I snuck a glance at Ricki. A confirmed workaholic, she could be making deals, building shopping centers, collecting rents. But she was smiling benevolently, as if she had nothing more pressing to do than decide between a two or three carat prong set ring.

It suddenly occurred to me I might not win this game.

The blonde woman waited until the rest of the group had finished writing and licked her lips. “Okay… second question.” She flicked an imaginary speck off her Theirry Mugler jacket. “How many ladies are wearing a new outfit today?”

My smile felt glued to my face. These women may not have gone to Harvard, but the way they scrutinized each other, working their way up from shoes to earrings, was just as intimidating. I imagined a classroom filled with women clutching number-two pencils, filling in designer names on their SAT’s.

“Ready to move on?” The woman chirped.

I took a sip of water.

“Now for our third, and final question.” She paused dramatically, then slid her eyes toward me. “Who knows what Ellie Foreman does for a living?”

I slumped, trying to ignore the knowing looks cast my way. Now I knew why I was there. They wanted me to produce a video for WISH. Ricki had told them all about me. Hell, she probably promised to deliver me on a platter. I was the lamb led to slaughter. The dog to the pound. And Ricki Feldman was holding the leash.

“Waiter!” I shot my hand in the air, no longer caring about the stain on my blouse. If I was going to pay for this lunch, the least I could do was order dessert.

 

An Image of Death is available to purchase at:

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The Frugal Find of the Day: Outcasts, Steven Savile {$0.99}

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Description:

My name is Declan Shea.

I never thought I was monster. You have to believe me when I say that. I had a normal life. I was in love with a beautiful girl, Aimee. We’d just bought a great apartment in the Theatre Village we could barely afford and I was working impossible hours trying to make ends meet, but I loved every minute of it. This was my life.

It changed overnight. I was driving home from a gig when a tramp stepped out in front of my car. I killed him. I know I did. But no-one believed me. The medical staff at the hospital insisted he was the result of some sort of hallucination because of the trauma sustained during the accident. I tried to convince them otherwise, but the more I protested, the more obvious it became to them that I had damaged more than just my ribs in the crash, so I started to lie to keep them happy. I pretended he wasn’t there. I pretended that I hadn’t woken up to find him sitting at the bottom of the bed eating my meal. But he was. He was everywhere.

His name was Crohak, king of the tramps. He ruled the streets.

And he was determined to destroy my life and take away everything I loved in revenge.

Ask yourself this: how do you fight a monster no-one else can see?

That is what he reduced my life to. I stopped being Declan Shea that night. I stopped being a jazz pianist and became someone else entirely. I became a monster.

Outcasts, International bestselling author Steven Savile’s debut novel is a document humane charting the descent of an ordinary man into a murky underworld of very human monsters, grief and madness as he wrestles to come to terms with who he is and just what he is capable of in the name of love.


Accolade:

“A raw, gritty novel: part social commentary, part philosophy, part fantasy. Savile handles his episodes of graphic violence skillfully, eschewing cliches and shock tactics in favor of understated, detached narration, and the result is a genuinely chilling portrait of total alienation. Savile’s novel is original, smart, and well-written; his disturbing images and bleak prose and both thought-provoking and genuinely unsettling.”

-Rue Morgue


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An excerpt from Outcasts:

Walking, even with the support of the crutches, was exhausting.

I was forced to stop twice before the hospital gates. Impatient people bustled and steered around me not bothering to hide their wariness and even annoyance. I could see them looking, wondering what it was that had reduced me to paraplegia without leaving any external scars for them to read. I couldn’t imagine having to carry their morbid curiosity every day for the rest of life. Their eyes lingered long enough to make me feel dirty.

I forced myself to walk on and found myself making excuses for everyone who thought of themselves as normal.

Some things stay the same, no matter how much they hunger for change. Money can be poured into the infertile soil only to wither and die as projects fail, while twenty feet down the road, where the grass is forever greener, the self same projects could have been blossoming. Parts of Newcastle are like that. The walk down Leazes Hill to the Haymarket is like that. The Trent House on the corner, with its sawdust, spit and polish atmosphere cynically designed at snaring student grants, is like that. The red brick buildings that stand four and five storeys tall are like that. The Georgian terraces are like that. The wooden portakabins are like that.

I crossed the road at the converted zebra, expecting horns to blare when the waiting drivers realised my legs weren’t capable of covering the black and white stripes as  quickly as the green man dictated. I poled my way to the centre, looking apologetically at the blind windscreens. Again, I had to pause to gather my second wind. I felt momentarily guilty. I knew I should have waited for Aimee, but I just didn’t feel like being shepherded or cloistered. Walking on my own was something I had to do. My own stubbornness saw me refusing the offer of aid when it came my way. The drivers took my halting progress well. The bitter man inside me said it was because they saw a cripple and were thinking: But for the grace of God, there go I.

Somewhere inside all of them was a memory of a moment when a slightly different twist of fate could have propelled them into an involuntary role reversal, be it a knock picked up in a kick-about, a trip on the staircase at home, walking out in front of a car, or over-compensating for a skid. The variations were as endless as the outcomes and every one of them was feeling guilty for thanking their lucky stars. I didn’t begrudge them, that was almost exactly what I was feeling myself.

The streets are a hostile place for someone on crutches. Too many people don’t think –  too set on their trajectory, all elbows and pushes as they arrow for gaps that aren’t there. Crutches are trial enough without having to ride against the current of shoppers or go down.

The open air bus station and its wreath of thick exhaust fumes was a welcome sight, even if it meant another road to cross. I sat outside the Oxfam shop on the corner, watching the cars and the starlings. A black cab glided into the rank with its buckled railings.

An old woman wearing too many coats for the tee-shirt weather clutched carrier bags and pushed a wire-framed shopping trolley towards the lights. Her entire world was in that trolley. Clothes, papers, jewellery, boxes and bottles. A scavenger’s treasure trove of useless oddments. She stopped before the repetitive beeps of the crossing said it was all right for her to wade out between the stationary cars.

I levered myself to my feet and started to shuffle-walk to stand beside her at the lights, looking past the iron staircase into Eldon Square and the reflections of glass walls to the circling birds above the hidden Grey’s Monument.

When she saw me, she screamed. This poor old woman literally dropped the bags she clutched so desperately, opened her cracked lips to say something, couldn’t and started shrieking. It was a terrible sound. I stepped forward, forgetting the restrictions of my crutches. One went clattering to the floor. Panicking, she tried to fend me off, throwing her hands up defensively and slapping at the empty air between us. I held up my hands to show her I meant no harm. Her bags spilled rubbish onto the street. People had stopped to look at us. I felt like turning and yelling at them to leave us both alone. I would have if I thought it might have helped.

I took another unaided step forward.  The skin across my ribs pulled. She pushed her trolley straight at me. I had no chance to dodge, so I let it clatter into my legs, praying it wouldn’t be enough to topple me. It wasn’t. The old woman was crying hysterically. Clawing at her own face. Her fingernails dug into the bags beneath her dull eyes. Soon, her tears mingled with blood on her cheeks and her fingernails clawed all the more fervently, scrabbling after her eyes.

I backed off, still in a stupor, bending to grab my fallen crutch. I fell sideways against the side of a car, needed its support to drag myself back to my feet. I couldn’t move anywhere near as quickly as I wanted to. My horror effectively hypnotised me.

Her fevered fingers pulled at the skin, burrowing into the wretched flesh. Working by feel, they undermined the roots of her eyes. Splashes of blood gouted down her wrists and forearms. The skein of muscles and nerves beneath the skin parted in some insoluble puzzle of knots. Her face was blazing with the lustre of pitiful triumph.

‘You won’t. . . harm me. . . now,’ she said, whether to me or to herself, I couldn’t tell. Her voice was that of a mewling infant, albeit spoken from an elderly mouth. She was shaking her head wildly, her feet rooted to the spot. Above her head the green man started to flash but the warning was too late for her. Her fingers neatly snapped the worms of nerve and then pulled out her eyes.

Screaming, she turned blindly, drawn by the beeping overhead, and lurched into the traffic, eye sockets empty, blood streaming down her cheeks, hands fighting off whatever demons her blind senses were conjuring. She twisted back on her self, stumbling. She fell to her knees in the middle of the road. Lifted her head to look up. Those vacant sockets seemed to stare right through me. Her hand was on her face, her look now stricken, as she realised what she had done. No euphoria.

I clutched the traffic light for support. I wanted to be away from this place, badly.

Her mouth was a raw wound between the planes of blood. Her head no longer raised above the height of her body. Her voice clung to coherence with the greatest of difficulty, but I heard the remnants of the old woman there, clinging to life.

‘You remember, don’t you. . ? You remember. If you don’t. . . you will. . . I knew you’d come. . . You get down on your knees. . . and you pray. . .’

She fumbled blindly ahead, clawing at the road, her eyeballs abandoned beside her.  Her head twisted, hearing something I didn’t.

The car didn’t slow down.


Outcasts is available to purchase at:

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Connect with Steven Savile:

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The Frugal Find of the Day: Liquid Fear: A Mystery Thriller, Scott Nicholson {$0.99]

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Scott Nicholson’s Frugal Find Under Nine:

Description:

For fans of Dean Koontz, James Patterson, and Harlan Coben. Ten years after a tragic clinical trial testing a secret fear-response drug, the research volunteers realize the experiment is still underway. 99 cents for a limited time.

LIQUID FEAR: A Mystery Thriller
When Roland Doyle wakes up with a dead woman in his motel room, the only clue is a mysterious vial of pills bearing the label “Take one every 4 hrs or else.”

Ten years before, six people were involved in a secret pharmaceutical trial that left one of them dead and five unable to remember what happened. Now the experiment is continuing, as Dr. Sebastian Briggs concludes his research into fear response and post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s backed by a major drug company and an ambitious U.S. Senator, but he also has a personal stake in the outcome.

Only by taking the mysterious pills can the survivors stave off the creeping phobias, sexual impulses, and inflicted madness that threaten to consume them. But the pills have an unexpected side effect—the survivors start remembering the terrible acts they perpetrated a decade ago. They are lured back to the Monkey House, the remote facility where the original trials took place, and Briggs has prepared it for their return.

Now they are trapped, they each have only one pill left, and cracks are forming in their civilized veneer.

After the pills are gone, there’s only one option. “Or else.”

 

Accolade:

Neal Hock, Bookhound’s Den:

“In his latest offering, author Scott Nicholson yet again moves into new territory by creating a story full of action, mystery, thrills, and paranoia. Focused on a group of people who volunteered for an experimental-drug trial ten years ago, this story will have you flipping the pages to keep up with the fast-paced action all the way until the end. As the memories of the past come back with ever-increasing intensity, the survivors try harder to forget. This story had me looking over my shoulder at times. Don’t miss out on this treat from Nicholson.”

 

Reviews:

Liquid Fear currently has a customer review rating of 5 stars. Read the reviews here.

 

An excerpt from Liquid Fear:

CHAPTER ONE

 

The rain fell like dead bullets.

David Dunn blinked against the drops. Darkness slathered both sides of his eyelids and the air smelled of burnt motor oil. The silvery salvo of precipitation swept over the expanse of a lighted billboard.

“Need a lawyer?” read the emblazoned pitch, followed by an alphabet soup of advertising copy that swam in David’s vision. The sign was upside down.

No.

He was flat on his back, looking up, his clothes soaked. He couldn’t lift his head. The rain beat tiny tattoos on his face, pooling and racing down in tracks as warm as blood. The surface beneath him was hard and cold. He let his head tilt toward the right and he saw a cluster of distant lights.

Buildings. A town.

But which town?

And, the bigger question, who was he this time?

He tested his fingers. None were broken, though the knuckles were sore. Maybe he’d been in a fight. Or mugged and left to leak fluids onto the pavement.

Dunn. David Dunn.

That was his name. The one he’d been born with, not the name they’d given him. Whoever “they” were.

He focused on the billboard. It featured a bland, stern face. No doubt the attorney of record, one desperate to cash in on the misfortunes of others.

Injured in a car crash? Worker compensation claims? Product liability lawsuit? The bottom of the ad heralded a toll-free number.

David wondered if he owned a cell phone. He usually didn’t, but sometimes they gave him one, slipped it into his jacket pocket with prepaid minutes.

Prepaid minutes. That was a laugh. “Pay as you go” was the name of this game.

The rain must have pounded him for a while, because he lay in a puddle. And it was summer because he wasn’t shivering. A car horn blared, probably 50 feet away, and tires spat white noise across the wet asphalt.

They were coming for him again. They were always coming for him. Or else they already had him.

He moved his lips, mouthing the words “Need a lawyer?”

The car hissed onward, weaving in the gloom, its twin taillights like the eyes of a retreating dragon.

With a groan, he rolled onto his side, cheek chafing against crumbled tar. He wore no hat. A wristwatch adorned his left wrist and he snaked his arm near his face. The LED numerals flickered red.

11:37. Nearly noon or nearly midnight, it was all the same.

Unless it was time for the next dose.

The rain spattered and drummed around him in staccato fusillade. Constant war, the Earth versus the sky. Us versus them. David Dunn against himself.

A nudge to his back.

He didn’t have the strength to fight them this time. No running left in those freighted legs. No direction safe. All avenues took him back to the Research Triangle Park in the heart of North Carolina.

Home—the place of no escape.

He closed his eyes and flopped to one side, hoping they would make it quick this time.

“Home, home on the range,” he sang.

The nudge again, this time to his shoulder. “Hey, get up.”

Swim, swim, swim. His head went nowhere. He tried to smile, his last act of will, his final defiance. But his lips were the cold, limp corpses of twin snakes.

“Are you okay?”

A woman. But which one?

“I think I need a lawyer,” he said, though he wasn’t sure his mouth moved.

Hands explored him, angled his head from side to side. The fingers were strong and sure.

“Can you move your arms and legs?” the woman said.

He nodded, or at least dipped his chin.

“We have to get out of here.”

Here. Out. She must be new to the program. There was no “out” and everywhere was here. The universe was their lab, the world their maze, and the cheese was the disease.

The cheese was the disease. Probably a nursery rhyme in there somewhere, a modern retelling of “Hickory Dickory Dock.” Maybe he had a new song.

David licked his lips and they tasted of chemicals. Rain in the city got scarier every day. Why did they even bother with the program anymore?

Civilization would accomplish the mission, given time. But time was money and money was energy and energy was power. Maze opening onto maze, forever and ever, amen.

She tugged at the collar of his jacket, sopping his head into the puddle like a biscuit into weak gravy. “Sit up, David.”

She knew his name. They were getting smarter, all right. Changing the flavor of the cheese. He dared not open his eyes, but he couldn’t resist.

He could never resist.

He blinked and squinted through the jewels of water on his eyelashes. Her face was a fuzzy pale moon and her naked body was glistening. He blinked again. Squinted. Focused. Which one would it be?

Her. Who else?

He clawed at the concrete, digging to bury himself alive in the wet, filthy soil of the city. Back to the nothingness of the womb. A tomb of cool, welcoming clay, not of hot, harboring flesh.

He had rolled and scrabbled about five feet across the abrasive surface when she called again. “David.”

The word was an echo of childhood scolding. He wanted to cover his ears, but that would slow his crawling escape. The buildings slid into focus now, the lawyer gazing down from the billboard with poisonous solicitude.

Against the foggy sheen of silver-gray that lay across the night air, the windows of a waffle house projected a beacon of cigarette smoke, cholesterol, and safety in numbers. His soaked jacket pressed against his back, water streaming from his hair. It was long, past his collar, in a style and length he hadn’t worn in years. Not since college, which was the last stretch of his life he clearly recalled.

He crawled toward the smell of fryer oil and coffee. A bare foot appeared beneath his chin, the burgundy nail polish chipped, a raw scar along the arch.

“David, it’s me.”

Craning the cinder-block weight of his head, his gaze went up the plump calf and higher. Did he know that skin? Or was all skin a stranger, even the skin he now wore as David Dunn?

“You don’t remember me, do you?” The words fell from above, as brittle and bracing as the rain.

Of course he remembered her. His eyes traveled higher, to the dark patch of hair between her legs, then up to her belly where the blood ran in a thick rivulet.

He couldn’t bear to see her face, which was haunted by the ghost of all abandoned fears. Traffic hissed in the distance, like rows of long reptiles entwining in venomous ecstasy.

He raised himself to his knees, head spinning, distant buildings the ancient cliffs of an alien planet.

Waffle house. Its squares of smeared yellow light promised some sort of security. Normality. Greasy reality. But first he had to get past her.

“They’re coming for us.” She reached her hand toward him, fingers pale and slick as maggots.

His stomach lurched. Dry, acidic air rushed up and abraded his throat. He had nothing to vomit. The hand touched his shoulder, and David found himself reaching up to her, surrendering. His arm was like a roll of sodden newspapers.

They’ll get you anyway. They always get you.

Or maybe they had you from the start.

She helped him to his feet and he swayed, blinking against the rain. Car headlights swept over them. Two giant shadows loomed on the brick wall at his back.

Eyes everywhere.

He jerked free of the woman’s grasp and ran blindly away from the swollen and indistinct shapes. His legs were damp ropes but still he fled.

Rubber squealed on pavement, the shriek of a hungry leopard. Car doors opened, rain ticked off the metal roof, and the engine mewled.

“David!” the woman screamed.

They had her, but David didn’t care. That was exactly what they would expect: for him to play hero again.

He hadn’t saved her last time, and Susan was going to die again, but it wasn’t his fault.

He plunged toward the dark, wet wedge between buildings, willing his legs forward. His heart knocked mallets against his temples. Sharp-toothed things would be waiting in the darkness, but they would be the lesser of two thousand evils.

A kinder, gentler evisceration, because those monsters would do it from the outside in.

Not from the inside out, like the people from the car would.

Her shriek rose against the oppressive sky and shoe soles spanked the asphalt.

“Stop!” someone shouted. Were they really dumb enough to think he’d obey them at this point? After all they’d done to him, all they had taught him?

After what they had made him become?

He ran into the alley, assaulted by the odors of rot, bum piss, and motor oil. A chain-link fence, ripped and curling away from its support posts, blocked his escape.

David clutched the links, praying for the strength to climb. He dug the tip of one shoe into the fence and launched himself up. He slipped and hung like a crucifixion victim for three seconds, time for one deep breath before collapsing.

He lay with his face against the fence, the links imprinting blue geometry against his cheek. He listened, waiting.

Rain, tick tick tick.

No footsteps, no shouts. No car engine.

They had taken her. And spared him.

No. That’s just what they wanted him to think. That he was safe, so the next game would be even more disturbing.

Or maybe they wanted him to cower, to doubt, to face his monsters alone.

With them, you could never be sure.

Fear was their tool and his drug.

He whimpered for his next pill and the blissful fog of amnesia.

This was who he was.

Whoever he was.

He kissed the rain and it kissed back.

 

Liquid Fear is available for purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $0.99

Smashwords for $0.99


Connect with Scott Nicholson:

Scott Nicholson is author of the bestselling suspense, mystery, and supernatural novels The Red Church, Disintegration, Speed Dating with the Dead, and 17 other books. With J.R. Rain, he writes the Cursed! and Supernatural Selection series. He’s also author of the children’s books If I Were Your Monster, Duncan the Punkin, and Too Many Witches. Visit him at Author Central or http://www.hauntedcomputer.com

 

The Frugal Find of the Day: Sylvianna, Keryl Raist {$3.99}

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Keryl Raist‘s Frugal Find Under Nine:


Description:

Sarah Metz just got to Sylvianna College. She went in search of a biology degree. She found a group of wizards on the run from their past. They remember her. She doesn’t remember them. Over the next year, she’ll help them fight off the creatures trying to kill them, fall back into love with the man who used to be her husband, break the heart of her best friend while doing it, and maybe, if they’re very, very lucky, not remember who she used to be.

Sylvianna is a modern day fantasy with a scorching hot romance and a deeply layered plot. Angels, demons, magic, sword fights, free will, destiny, and true love all weave into a complex tale of the search for redemption.

 

Accolade:

From Bardess:

Excellent long read! Was expecting sci-fi/fantasy/adventure, Forgotten Realms type book but this was so much more. Very impressive, jaw-dropping scenes I would’ve never considered could fit into this genre. Really, fantastic.

I have shelves full of R.A. Salvatore & Ed Greenwood so was expecting something along those lines. Sylvianna does a great job of fulfilling the magic/adventure while adding a very unique writing style (switches between 1st person & 3rd person) AND pulling in some incredibly hot sex scenes. Who knew you could pull that off so successfully?!

I’m not a reader of romance novels at all – don’t expect this to be a book like that. Where other sci-fi writers lets the characters close the door to the bedroom, she delves into romance between wizards. Wow! While the romance sub-plot is integral to the storyline, the magic and combat scenes really come to life. Deep character development and strong, interesting storyline. Looking forward to the next two.

 

Reviews:

Sylvianna currently has a customer review rating of 4 stars. Read the reviews here.

 

An excerpt from Sylvianna:

I was passing Writers’ and saw Chris on the sofa through the front windows.  I headed up the steps.

“You’re up early today,” I said quietly as I poked my head in.  Autumn’s room is right next to the front door, so I didn’t knock.

“Technically, I’m up late.”

“Can I come in?”

“Sure.”  He sat on the sofa with the TV on mute, eating a bowl of cereal.

“Up late good or up late scary?”  I settled next to him.

“Both.  We decided to head into town to see Hellboy II.  On the way back something went after us.”  There it was, less than fifteen minutes after getting off the phone with Ari: a big heaping pile of not normal.  “But Pat got rid of it before it could do any damage.  So that’s good, but that moment when you know something is wrong, that’s scary.”

“And you’re still up…?”

“Because we spent seven hours discussing what happened.  Pat left an hour ago.  I’m surprised you didn’t trip on him at your place.”

“He wasn’t there when I got up.”

“So he does occasionally sleep at his place?”  He kept that question light, so I answered it the same way.

“He sleeps at his place about four nights a week.  We joke about him never going home, but he’s only at my place about half the time.”

He seemed to think about that for a minute and then switched the topic.  “Anyway, I wasn’t quite ready to sleep, so I got a shower and sat down for some bad TV and breakfast.”

I looked over his black and green plaid flannel pajama bottoms, comfy gray t-shirt, and bare feet.  “Then some sleep?”

“I certainly hope so.  I’ve been up for,” he looked at the clock, “twenty-three hours now.”

“Should I scoot off and let you rest?”

“Not yet.  Still have to finish breakfast and I’d like some company.”

I nodded.  “So, tell me more about what happened.”

“We were heading home.  Everything got weird a few blocks from the junior high.  Temperature dropped, the colors went wrong, and I started to feel dizzy.  The others felt it in different ways…”

“Who are the others?”

“Mike, Pat, and Dave.  For some reason Autumn had no desire to see Hellboy II.”

“Amazing.”

“Yeah.  Anyway, Dave spotted it first.  This was something new.  It was hiding.  Like it wanted to set up an ambush.  Whenever we’ve dealt with them before they come right at us.”

“New kind of Minion?”

“No, just new tactics.  It was almost anticlimactic.  We knew it was there.  It hadn’t noticed us yet.  Pat looked around for a moment.  Two houses back had a gravel driveway.  He loped off and came back with five nicely shaped bits of granite, charged them up, tossed them like grenades, and the Minion vanished.”

“Was that an attack or a test?”

“That’s what took seven hours to discuss.”

“And the answer is?”

“Insufficient data.  Probably a test but no way to know for sure.”

“If you can blow up something’s brain just by thinking about it, why are the Minions a problem?  Can’t you just…”  I twirled my fingers and flicked them at an imaginary critter in front of us.  “And have it fall over dead?”

Chris laughed.  “First of all, I almost never…,” he mimicked my gesture.  “Autumn does stuff like that.  I don’t.  For obvious reasons I’ve never seen myself do it, but I imagine I just look like I’m concentrating hard.

“Secondly, Minions, at least here, aren’t the kind of thing I can just kill with a snap.  My great talent—if you want to call it that—is to see how something is put together, see what makes it alive, and then stop that.  Take us for example: I look at us and understand how heart, brain, and lungs work together to keep a person moving.  Then I figure out which of those three options will kill easiest and do enough damage to drop the person.  Most magical things without bodies were made by someone.  I have yet to run into anything made by a mind like mine that I couldn’t take apart.  However, the Minions were not made by a mind like mine.  I’ve had lots practice with them, so I do know how to kill them, but it takes more time and effort than I’d like.”

“What about the Dark Man?  What’s the problem with him?”

“Same problem as with the Minions.  If anything made the Dark Man, it was God, and that’s very much not a mind like mine.  Sure, give me a day or three of fighting nothing but demons and I’ll find a way to kill them.  Pick a target, and I’ll eventually find a way to destroy it.  But that doesn’t mean it’ll be fast, clean, or easy.”

I sat there and nodded.  Battle mage was becoming a more concrete term.  “So, you really used to kill things on a regular basis?”

“It wasn’t my first choice, but yes, I did it, and I was good at it.”

“Why?”

“Why did I do it, or why wasn’t it my first choice?”

“Why did you do it?”

“Two assassins showed up on my back porch and tried to kill me and my children.  It was kill or die, and I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt them.  I never really did any magic before then.  Didn’t have a clue I could do it.  But no one was going to harm them, not while I was breathing.  I don’t know, maybe if they had just gone after me, that’s where the story would have ended.  But those two idiots picked a time when my kids were with me.  It was the last thing either of them ever did.

“It was a very…”  He spent a moment looking for the right word and didn’t find it.  “It was a moment of perfect clarity.  Everything slowed down.  Everything was sharp and intensely real.  I was whole and perfect and doing precisely what I had been created to do.  Then it was over.  I got my kids inside, then collapsed shaking and threw up because that’s when the fear hit.

“There’s…” he paused, once again thinking of a word, “an exquisite contentment that goes with doing precisely what you were created for.  Pat can tell you about it, too.  You can see it when Mike picks up a sword.  I know it sounds terrible.  When I’m killing things I’m perfectly at peace and right with the universe because it’s what I was meant to do.  The magic is beautiful and sharp and clear and just so perfect; it’s hard to describe.  Like working with molten diamonds.  It’s just… right.”

I didn’t know what to do with all of that.  So many things there, so I started with the easiest one.  “You had kids?”  Wrong choice.  I could feel the glow he had from talking about the magic fade to regretful pain.

“Yes.”  He sighed and tried a smile.  “Five of them.  The youngest two hadn’t yet been born when that happened.  It was autumn.  We were playing… call it hop scotch.  Filling the time between dinner and bedtime.  My guards hated that flat.  But I was being stubborn and stupid.  We were in the Palace, supposedly surrounded by my supporters.  We built it the way we wanted it, had lived there for sixty years, and our children had been born there.  I didn’t want to move to a more secure location.  We moved the next day.  Our children went into hiding the day after that.  The day after that I declared the people who hired the assassins in formal rebellion, and the war was on.”

“That’s when being a battle mage really started?”

“Yes.  Sort of.  Took a little while for me to be able to do it on command.  The first year I did fight with a sword.  It was only by the grace of our God I survived.  Pat and his troops showed up in the third year.  That’s when things started to shift in our direction.  Having him around helped.  I could watch how he did it and improve my own techniques.  There was a war on, so I got lots of practice with my new skills.  Since it’s what I was made for, I had an innate grasp of better, easier, more effective ways of doing what I needed to do.  Basically, I’d watch him do it, try it a few times myself, and then change it to make it work better.

“By the fifth year I was really good at it.  By the tenth the price on my head was so high it would have bankrupted the other side to pay it, but it would have been worth it because it would have won them the war.  By the last year of the war, no one was even willing to fight me.  I won by virtue of being the biggest gun in anyone’s arsenal.”  He paused, looked at me, got a sense for what I was feeling, and said, “You’re having a hard time believing this, aren’t you?”

I looked at the tall, skinny kid with a bowl of cheerios in his lap, staring at me through small, round glasses and tried to find a tactful way to say what I was feeling.  “Well, you aren’t precisely Chuck Norris, now are you?  I’m sorry.  I can feel you mean it.  It’s so very real to you, but it is kind of hard to believe.  While you say it to me, it makes perfect sense.  Then I realize I’m sitting on your sofa while you eat Cheerios in your jammies.  It’s just… unreal.”

He half-smiled.  “Well, first of all, me versus Mr. Norris or any other superhero—with the possible exception of someone like Wolverine who can heal really quick—and I win.  Secondly, it’s probably a good thing you don’t just sit there and believe all of this with nothing but our stories for proof.  Thirdly, one of these days, you’ll see the proof.  I don’t mind waiting a good long time for that to happen.  You’re willing to heal us and haven’t called campus psychiatric services to see about having us committed.  That’s about as good as we can hope for right now.”

“I also talked to Ari right before coming here.  He’s very real world, very normal.”

“Ahh…”  I felt Chris start to shut down, begin paying attention to the TV again.

“I should probably head off.  Let you get some sleep.”

“Thanks.”

A quick glance at the clock on the way out showed me there wasn’t time for much of a jog before the biscuits would be ready for the oven.  I headed home and thought about the man Chris used to be.

 

Sylvianna is available for purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $3.99

Smashwords for $3.99


Connect with Keryl Raist:

Blog: topublishornotto.blogspot.com

Website: kerylraist.com

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/extcvf

 

The Frugal Find of the Day: The Naked Gardener, L B Gschwandtner {$0.99}

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L B Gschwandtner’s Frugal Find Under Nine:

 

Description:

Artist Katelyn Cross loves Greg Mazur and he loves her. He wants to be married but a previous relationship that went sour has made Katelyn overly cautious about any permanent commitment. And what about Greg’s first wife? He lost her to cancer and Katelyn worries that he’s only looking for a replacement. What’s a girl to do? Canoe down a river with five gal pals, camp out, catch fish, talk about life and men. The problem is, a river can be as unpredictable as any relationship and just as hard to manage. On their last day, when the river turns wild, the women face the challenge of a lifetime and find that staying alive means saving themselves first while being open to help from a most unlikely source. As Katelyn navigates the raging water, she learns how to overcome her fear of change in a world where nothing stays the same. When Katelyn returns to her garden, she’ll face one more obstacle and the naked gardener will meet the real Greg Mazur.

 

Accolades:

The Naked Gardener: A Must-Read!, October 20, 2010

By Lisa Steinke “Chick Lit Lover”

L B Gschwandtner had me at THE NAKED GARDENER. The title alone grabbed my attention and piqued my curiosity more than any book had in a long time. And when I read that one of my favorite authors, Kim Wright (Love in Mid Air) had given it her seal of approval, I was sold. And as I turned page after page, I completely lost track of time. I was immediately lost in the world of artist Katelyn Cross who, among other things, secretly gardens in the nude. But of course the book is about so much more than that- it’s about love, commitment, fear of commitment, trust, friendship and fear. Katelyn takes five friends on a wilderness canoe trip to get away from the real world, camp out and dish about life and men. But on their last day away, the women face the challenge of a lifetime while they attempt to stay alive…

The book is riveting, juicy, relatable, intriguing, entertaining and honest. And kind of makes me want to garden naked… although I’d have to take up gardening first :)

 

Reviews:

The Naked Gardener currently has a customer review rating of 4 stars. Read the reviews here.

 

An excerpt from The Naked Gardener:

My life with Maze. I could almost see it projected in front of me like one of these waves. Maybe not completely predictable, but at least reliable. And who would I be in that reliable life? Would I disappear into some wifedom? My distrust of the future came down to that. If I could still be me, if I could know who I was now and be true to that, not become someone else, or be expected to become someone else, but could grow within that framework, then marriage would be all right. Marriage would not be a cage or a trap or an ether that would engulf and transform me. But I had to be sure of me.

The river pushed us forward, floating on it and in it. We had to keep moving. We had made our choice. You can’t move forward if you’re constantly looking back. Change is the only constant on the river and that’s the way it is in life. No guarantees. Only promises and pledges. Life is full of them. Legal pledges and pledges of the heart.

It felt as if we’d been paddling for a long time, but in reality it went fast. We reached the heavy water in a few moments and I knew that meant the falls were not far ahead. Once we started our descent it would seem as if we were hurtling down. I knew that in my head. But I didn’t know how it would feel. And then, I could almost see the fall off in front of us. A shelf in the water, rounded at the top with nothing visible beyond it. A horizon.

“Here it comes,” I yelled.

Erica would be the first to see the drop-off. Just seconds before me. I waited for her yell. I waited for what I’d have to do to keep us steady. I could hear the roar of them now. Could taste the mist in the air. Could feel light spray on my cheeks and lips. It would be a shock. We would feel as if the earth had fallen away from us. Would hurtle us down into its maw, this falling off, this letting go, this tipping away from equilibrium. Is that what kids love about roller coasters? When they hover at the very peak of a downhill ride. That second before the car starts its descent. That floating moment. When you know you’re about to lose control and you wait for it to happen, know it’s inevitable. Your whole body gears up for it and then wham, you’re dropping, free falling down and down and down with no end to it, nothing but your head thrown back and your own screams filling the air. What ospreys must feel as they plunge head first into the sea, their wings pulled back, their necks stretched to a straight line, beaks pointed down, crashing into the water and then grabbing a fish and up, up, up again. They always come up. They always return to the air to free fall again. Not like Maze soaring with giant ersatz wings, catching the thermals, gliding from a mountain over a valley. No sound except the wind passing by. Not this hurling, crazy diving feeling.

 

The Naked Gardener is available for purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $0.99

Amazon Paperback for $9.39

 

Connect with L. B. Gschwandtner:

The Novelette Website

Amazon Author Page

Facebook

Twitter


The Frugal Find of the Day: A Single Deadly Truth (A Steve Decatur Mystery), John Urban {$2.99}

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John Urban’s Frugal Find Under Nine:

Description:

On February 18, 1952, a five-hundred-foot oil tanker named the Pendleton snapped in half as it battled sixty-foot seas in a winter storm off Cape Cod. The rescue of the Pendleton ranks as one of the most heroic events in the history of the United States Coast Guard. That much is true.

In a work of fiction, A Single Deadly Truth tells that another ship sank that same night, just a few miles from where the Pendleton went down, and the ship’s sole survivor remained committed to taking the story, and the ship’s location, to his grave. Until now.

A Single Deadly Truth features a thirty-five year old college professor and part-time harbormaster named Steve Decatur who spends his summers living aboard an old wooden sailboat in the town of Harbor Point, Massachusetts. When Decatur’s friend, a lobsterman and diver named Chris Blanchard, is found dead off Cape Cod, Decatur is called on to retrieve the man’s boat. Along the way, there’s growing evidence that Blanchard’s death was a murder, not an accident.

To the end, Decatur remains persistent in uncovering the truth and in doing so he uncovers a much larger crime.

 

Accolade:

From F. Cook, a 5 Star Amazon Customer Review:

“A Single Deadly Truth” is a five-star read that puts debut author John Urban on the same thriller list as Lee Child and Harlan Coben – and Urban’s central character, harbormaster Steve Decatur, on the same list as Jack Reacher and Myron Bolitar. (OK, more Bolitar than Reacher, but very similar.) Set on the New England coast, “Single Deadly” is a fast read that blends sunken treasure, deep-sea diving, fast boats and a cast of characters that run from bad guys to real bad guys to really really bad guys. (And that doesn’t even count the shark.) I don’t know anything about sailing and still found this to be a great read. Those who are sailors would probably find it even better. Consider me a fan.

 

Reviews:

A Single Deadly Truth (A Steve Decatur Mystery) currently has a customer review rating of 5 stars. Read the reviews here.

 

An excerpt from A Single Deadly Truth (A Steve Decatur Mystery):

He kept TSB’s throttle just short of wide open and ran the boat around Elephant Rock, past the mouth of the river, and along the ocean beach.  He was covering water fast, but out of the corner of his eye he saw something.  “Jesus,” Decatur said, as he pulled back hard on the throttle and cut into a tight turn.

Even at thirty knots, he thought he recognized the shadow-like form.

“Jesus,” he said again, seeing the animal glide past, just off TSB’s bow.

Twelve feet, easy.  More like fourteen.

He grabbed the tag stick and went forward, but before Decatur could make a positive identification it sounded.

Decatur had been around the sea his whole life.  Throughout his youth his father introduced him to everything from shellfish to sharks.  He was picking up horseshoe crabs before he could walk, unhooking barracuda on winter trips to Florida in his early teens, and coming across great whites in high school when he worked on a sword fishing day boat out of Rhode Island.  The captain of that day boat said he’d never seen anyone like Decatur before.  The old man told him, “The first time people see a great white’s head rise from the sea they lock up and freeze.  Rigor mortis.  Mighty whitey does that to people.  The world’s great predator.  Makes other sharks look like little fish in a tank.  But, Sonny, you didn’t freeze.  It might not be so good to be fearless of that creature.”  The thing was, Decatur wasn’t fearless.

 

A Single Deadly Truth (A Steve Decatur Mystery) is available for purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $2.99


Connect with John Urban:

Website: http://www.johnmurban.com

 

The Frugal Find of the Day: The Royal Dragoneers, M. R. Mathias {$4.69}

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M. R. Mathias’ Frugal Find Under Nine:

Description:

The Royal Dragoneers is a full length novel @115,000+ words.  It is available in all ebook formats and in 6×9 Createspace paperback through B&N and Amazon.com.  It was featured in the first ever Publishers Weekly Indie Select issue, and was deemed one of the top 10 fantasy releases of 2010 by Fantasy Book Critic.

The Royal Dragoneers by M.R. Mathias

Hold on to your dragon! You’re about to journey through a brave new world of hearty survivors straight into a dragon riding, troll fighting adventure for the ages.

After struggling for more than two centuries to tame the inhospitable, dragon infested Islands where they washed up, the descendants of the survivors of a lost passenger ship are now striving to tame the Mainland they have found.

But the Goblin King, an Ivory antlered demon called Gravelbone, has a different plan for the men who are invading his territory. He and his Nightshade are rallying the trolls to defend their lands.

With the help of the dragons, goblins, and orcs they plan on rendering the wall the humans have built useless, so that they can drive man back to the islands from where they came.

When stubborn King Blanchard finally accepts that the kingdom really is under attack it may be too late, and the only ones who can save the people on the Mainland have been locked away in the dungeon.

Join some brave young men and their mentor, a grizzled old King’s Ranger, and a particularly clever young magic wielding woman, as they traverse the wild frontier, and sail to King’s Island to warn the King of the warring trolls. Then hold on for your life as you tear through the pages, because the pure blooded dragons they have befriended have another plan all together.

 

Accolades:

“Mathias has created a great cast of characters… My favorite was Zah. She is a strong female, and she can kick some major butt. The other characters I loved were the dragons…seriously kept me on the edge of the seat.” ~Michelle @Goodreads Review

“The action is fast and furious, and the novel has the author’s trademark twists on the traditional storyline and keeps one guessing where it will go. It is a fun book that I heartily recommend.” ~Fantasy Book Critic  (fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com)

“An exciting step into a mythic world of awe-inspiring escapade, wild battles, exciting characters. Action is fast paced, satisfying in quantity and moves the reader at a brisk pace from page to page at a breathless tempo.” ~Hollingshead Book Review

“Mathias is a master at characterization. The dragons are magnificent in the story. I also enjoyed the characters of Zah and Jenka. The Royal Dragoneers is book one in the The Dragoneers Saga. The plot is action is fast, furious and never ending. The plot is intricately woven with twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing. The story has a mythical quality. Fans of fantasy will not want to miss this one.” ~Readers Favorite Reviews (An Amazon Vine Voice)

 

Reviews:

The Royal Dragoneers currently has a customer review rating of 4 stars. Read the reviews here.

 

An excerpt from The Royal Dragoneers:

From some distance, a battle horn sounded. Men from one of the many keeps that had been built in the area before the construction of the wall must have finally seen the attack, and were sending men forth. A few dozen armored horsemen came galloping out of an open gate, and a score of pike men marched after them. Another horn sounded from somewhere else, but Zah couldn’t concern herself with any of it.

Crystal came, streaking toward the opening in the earth, and Zahrellion focused her attention on the knotted mass of seething goblinkin scrabbling up from it. Her fingers traced a pinkish lavender symbol in the air before her, and then she threw her hand forth pointing at the hole. The very world seemed to pull inward toward her fingertip before the magical energy released into a warbling yellow flow that went, streaking down, into the enemy. Crystal cut a sharp veering turn away from the area and managed to spew a jet of her glacial breath over some of the goblins. Frozen in place, they slowly cracked to pieces.

With a gut vibrating whooomp! and a bright, violent, flashing concussion, dozens of gray goblin bodies and a few trolls flew out and away from the hole. Some were screaming in pain, others were in gruesome bloody pieces. More than half of the goblins in the mouth of the opening were limp and lifeless, their bones and guts pulped by Zah’s powerful spell. When Crystal pulled around and cut an arc through the sky back towards the wall, Zah saw she had caused quite a bit of carnage, but had really only succeeded in widening the opening for the vermin.

More of the filthy trolls were coming out with the goblins now. Many of them were holding their heads, as if their ears had been ruptured by the blast, others had clubs or sling sacks full of throwing stones.

Zah saw an orc come growling out of the tunnel then. It began calling out orders in the strange language the goblinkin all shared. The vermin started forming a protective ring around the passage Zah had just widened for them.

Suddenly, Crystal lurched through the sky into a spinning horizontal spiral. She narrowly avoided a streaking mudge. Zah was dislodged from her position between spinal plates. She started to lift away from Crystal’s chilly body and there was nothing she could do about it.

Crystal felt Zah slipping and at the last second curved back up into her bond-mate, forcing her body to press back into her seat. It caused the relatively large white dragon to take a swath of the similar sized scarlet fire drake’s heat across her belly, which hurt her deeply. They went careening through the air, avoided a hurled stone the size of Zahrellion’s head and almost collided with one of the wall-top archer’s barbed steel shafts in the air.

“Away!” Zah yelled to her wyrm. “Get away from them. We can come back around after you’ve gathered yourself.”

“Yesss,” Crystal hissed. Her wing strokes grew longer and pushed them through the air faster and faster. Zahrellion didn’t think her dragon would recover from the scorching blast of fire so quickly, but Crystal went banking hard around just as soon as she was over the frontier and out of harm’s way.

“Hold on,” the dragon hissed and put forth even more effort into gaining not only speed but altitude as she went through her turn. By the time they were facing the wall again, they were well above the other dragons. Only the scarlet fire wyrm seemed to notice them. Crystal took advantage of her position and dove right down onto one of the black-scaled mudge. Like a hawk swooping on a rabbit, she latched onto the smaller dragon’s back with both claws and snapped its spine. She pulled up just past the wall and tossed the screaming, writhing carcass into the hole, nearly clogging it.

“Good,” Zah called over the rush of the wind. “I wonder where those little beasts are going into the shaft? We need to find the other end of the tunnel.”

“Yesss,” Crystal agreed. “But firssst thisss.”

The agile white dragon changed their course and took them streaking low across the ground on the kingdom side of the wall. When they neared the hole in the ground she spat forth her frigid breath and froze half a score of the goblins and a pair of trolls into solidity. An orc popped up just then and took the blast full-force, but not before loosing a bolt from the crossbow in his arms. The missile flew straight at Crystal’s head. Somehow she corkscrewed through the air around its trajectory. She started to hiss something back to her bond-mate, but she felt Zahrellion go limp on her back. She had to fight with all she had to keep her rider from falling to her death. It wasn’t until she was well away again, and flying at a much slower clip, that she curled her long neck back and saw the fletching of the crossbow bolt jutting out of Zah’s bloody chest.

She made for a clearing in the scattered forest outside of the wall, but it was occupied by an orc and his company of trolls. She flew farther away into the frontier, because going north toward the peaks was her instinct. She knew she couldn’t fly as far as that. By the amount of blood showing through Zah’s dark robes, Crystal could only hope that the girl would survive until she found them a safe place to land.

 

The Royal Dragoneers is available for purchase at:

Amazon Kindle for $4.69

 

Connect with M. R. Mathias:

The Dragoneers Homepage

Amazon Author Page

Facebook

Twitter

 

 

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