To save a galactic kingdom from revolution, Kindred mind-pairings were created to ensure each and every person would be seen and heard, no matter how rich or poor…
Joy Abara knows her place. A commoner from the lowly planet Hali, she lives a simple life—apart from the notoriety that being Kindred to the nobility’s most infamous playboy brings.
Duke Felix Hamdi has a plan. He will exasperate his noble family to the point that they agree to let him choose his own future and finally meet his Kindred face-to-face.
Then the royal family is assassinated, putting Felix next in line for the throne…and accused of the murders. Someone will stop at nothing until he’s dead, which means they’ll target Joy, too. Meeting in person for the first time as they steal a spacecraft and flee amid chaos might not be ideal…and neither is crash-landing on the strange backward planet called Earth. But hiding might just be the perfect way to discover the true strength of the Kindred bond and expose a scandal—and a love—that may decide the future of a galaxy.
The words “save a galactic kingdom from revolution” were all I needed to read to request this book from NetGalley. And that cover is stunning.
Kindred mind-pairings are pretty cool. The bond occurs at birth and is usually shared by people from different walks of life and even different planets. Kindred are in each other’s minds constantly – they can see, hear, and sometimes feel everything that happens to the other. Sounds kind of intrusive, right? The bond ensures the “haves” are aware of how the other half lives and the struggles they endure, with the overall goal of making sure every person is seen and heard. Hopefully the inequalities that exist will be righted, but no one seems to be in a hurry to fix those particular problems. With Joy being a commoner from an impoverished planet and Felix being royalty, they were never meant to bond, but for some reason it happened. And their connection is just about the sweetest thing ever.
Although in line for the throne, Felix really just wants to write music and sing. He’s also kind of a party guy who tends to make impulsive decisions that don’t turn out so well. Joy works in a bookstore to help put food on the table and longs to write children’s books, a profession that isn’t possible with her station in life. She’s a voice of reason and stability for Felix, and the only one who really knows him. Despite never meeting in person, they “played” together as children and are each other’s best friend – and maybe more.
“We need to give more than we take, help more than sit idle. It’s time for change.”
This quote is the overall message conveyed by the novel, and it’s a worthy one. Even a creed to live by. It may not have had the galactic setting I’d expected since much of the story takes place on Earth, but with action scenes, a bit of mystery, humor, strong supporting characters, and a little romance, The Kindred kept me flipping pages so fast I finished it in two days.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
About the Author
Alechia Dow is a former pastry chef, teacher, and librarian. When she’s not writing, you can find her having epic dance parties with her little girl, baking, reading, or traveling.
A sweetly charming love story that leaves the reader with a lasting sense of hope.” —Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star
“The perfect novel to snuggle up with.” —Emily Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read
No one ever said love would be easy…but did they mention it would be freezing?
Adam Stillwater is in over his head. At least, that’s what his best friend would say. And his mom. And the guy who runs the hardware store down the street. But this pinball arcade is the only piece of his dad that Adam has left, and he’s determined to protect it from Philadelphia’s newest tech mogul, who wants to turn it into another one of his cold, lifeless gaming cafés.
Whitney Mitchell doesn’t know how she got here. Her parents split up. Her boyfriend dumped her. Her friends seem to have changed overnight. And now she’s spending her senior year running social media for her dad’s chain of super successful gaming cafés—which mostly consists of trading insults with that decrepit old pinball arcade across town.
But when a huge snowstorm hits, Adam and Whitney suddenly find themselves trapped inside the arcade. Cut off from their families, their worlds, and their responsibilities, the tension between them seems to melt away, leaving something else in its place. But what happens when the storm stops?
Contemporary fiction isn’t my first choice when it comes to genres, but if it’s written by this author, I don’t even need to read the description. I’ll grab it immediately.
Adam and Whitney are dealing with some heavy issues. Adam is still grieving the loss of his father, who passed away just before Adam started high school. He keeps him close by wearing his vintage concert t-shirts and REM jacket and working on a pinball machine designed by his father. He and his mother are struggling to keep their pinball arcade afloat, and Adam is determined to hang onto the business his dad started. Whitney is still adjusting to her parents’ divorce and spends hours every day handling social media for her father’s company. Although her heart lies with the plants at her mom’s shop, she believes working for her dad is the only way to spend time with him. Despite her efforts, he’s laser-focused on his business and unaware of what’s going on in her life. Adam and Whitney were childhood best friends, but grew apart the summer before high school when Adam lost his father and Whitney found new friends. Their dynamic now is combative at best, but their mothers push for them to patch up their relationship.
Smith’s characters generally fall into the nerd category, something that’s made me a confirmed fan. He mentions several bands I’ve seen in concert, and although many of them wouldn’t be recognized by teens this age, Adam’s dad introduced him to their music – as any cool parent would. In their small slice of Philadephia, I adored the strong community among the small businesses surrounding the pinball arcade and how they supported each other. Their comedic social media comments gave me plenty of laughs. I was delighted when two characters from Don’t Read the Comments (Smith’s previous book) made an appearance.
Because at the end of the day, it isn’t about the place. It’s about who you shared it with.
The above quote is something that stuck with me, and it’s perfectly suited for this story about dealing with loss, learning to heal, and rekindling relationships. If you’re a fan of well-developed characters, offbeat plots, heartfelt moments, and YA books without the typical high school drama, I can’t recommend this author enough.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ERIC SMITH is an author and literary agent from Elizabeth, New Jersey. When he isn’t working on other people’s books, sometimes he tries to write his own. He enjoys pop punk, video games, and crying during every movie. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and best friend, Nena, and their son, Langston. WWW.ERICSMITHROCKS.COM
Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.
When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.
With the mention of a Reaper who collects souls and the Japanese underworld, my interest was immediately piqued. I had no idea what I was in for with this book – I totally underestimated it.
As a half British Reaper and half Japanese Shinigami, Ren has never been accepted by her British peers, who bully her on a regular basis. Her own father and stepmother offer the basics of food and shelter – love and concern don’t figure into the equation. Neven, her half brother and also a Reaper, is the only person who cares for her. Your heart immediately goes out to Ren. After losing control of her abilities, she and Neven quickly depart to Japan, where Ren has two goals: one, serve the Goddess of Death as a Shinigami and finally gain acceptance, and two, find her mother.
I’ve always been a fan of morally gray characters, so it was a wicked kind of delight to see Ren gradually cross the boundaries of what she’d previously considered acceptable. The author puts her into situations requiring impossible choices. The relationship between Ren and Neven is an interesting one. Reapers aren’t supposed to be capable of feeling love, but these two are loyal to each other. Neven even chooses to abandon his parents and country to go with Ren so she won’t be alone. Early on it’s clear Ren is thicker-skinned and actually enjoys her job, whereas Neven takes in stray cats and dreads reaping souls. Character development is a strong point.
The Japanese underworld isn’t a place you’d want to vacation. It’s dark (literally) and full of dangerous creatures, so Ren and Neven are fortunate to come across Hiro. He assists in navigating the underworld, and then travels with them to help complete the tasks assigned by the Goddess of Death. Hiro is persona non grata with the goddess and hopes his assistance will get him back into her good graces. I’m not a fan of insta-love, but the spark between Ren and Hiro ignites almost immediately. Then their relationship goes to places I never saw coming and becomes a key plot point.
If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, morally gray characters, and Japanese folklore, jump on this one. After that jaw-dropping cliffhanger, I’ll be one of the first in line for the sequel.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
About the Author
Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her writing is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, and Irish), as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing and Spanish from Emory University and is currently pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she watches horror movies, plays the cello, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.
At the far edge of London, somewhere between nightmares and formless dreams, the Reapers slept by daylight.
The only way to enter our home was through the catacombs of the Highgate Cemetery, through a door that no longer existed. It had been built there long ago, when the Britons first came to our land and Ankou carved a hole in their world so that Death could enter. But humans had sealed it shut with layers of wood, then stone, then brick and mortar, all in the hopes of keeping Death out.
By the nineteenth century, humans had mostly forgotten about the Door and what it meant. Then, when the London churchyards began to overflow with bones, the humans had searched for a place just outside of London to bury their dead. By chance or fate, they’d built their new cemetery right on top of the Door. It turned out that Death drew all of us close, even if we weren’t aware of it.
No streetlights lit the path through Highgate at night, but I didn’t need them to find my way home. Before I’d even passed through the main gate, Death pulled me closer. All Reapers were drawn to him, our bones magnetized to the place of our forefather. As soon as I entered the cemetery, a humming began just under my skin, like a train’s engine beginning to whir. My blood flushed faster through my veins as I brushed aside the branches of winter-barren lime trees and low-hanging elms. My boots crunched shattering steps into the frosted pathways as I ran.
I stumbled through jagged rows of ice-cracked tombstones on uneven ground and through a village of mausoleums, finally reaching the gothic arched doorway of the catacomb entrance. The pull had grown unbearable, dragging me along in a dizzy trance as I descended the stairs into the cool quietness of damp bricks and darkness. The labyrinth would have been unnavigable if not for the fervent pull.
At last, my hands came out to touch the wall where the Door used to be, but now there were only damp bricks and an inscription on the arch overhead that read When Ankou comes, he will not go away empty in rigid script. I dug one hand into my pocket and clutched my clock, pressed my other hand to the bricks, then closed my eyes and turned time all the way back to the beginning.
Time flowed through the silver-and-gold gears, up into my bloodstream and through my fingertips, dispersing into the brick wall. Centuries crumbled away, the mortar growing wet and bricks falling loose. One by one, they leaped out of their positions in the wall and aligned themselves in dry stacks on the ground, waiting once again for construction. Objects were easy to manipulate with time, for I could draw from their own intrinsic energy rather than siphoning off my own. Rather than paying in years of my own life, I could borrow years before the bricks crumbled and quickly repay the debt when I put them back.
I stepped through the doorway and the pull released me all at once. I breathed in a deep gasp of the wet night air, then turned around and sealed the door behind me. The bricks jumped back to their positions in the wall, caked together by layers of mortar that dried instantly, the time debt repaid.
The catacombs beyond the threshold spanned infinitely forward, appropriated as resting places for Reapers rather than corpses. Mounted lanterns cast a faint light onto the dirt floors and gray bricks. It was almost Last Toll, so only the last Reapers returning from the night shift still milled around, their silver capes catching the dim light of the tunnels, but most had retreated to their private quarters for the morning.
I turned right and hurried down the block. The low ceilings gave way to high-arched doorways and finally opened up to a hall of echoing marble floors and rows of dark wood desks. Luckily, there was no line for Collections this close to Last Toll.
I hurried to the first Collector and all but slammed my vials into the tray, jolting him awake in his seat. He was a younger Reaper and seemed perplexed at having been awoken so unceremoniously. When his gaze landed on me, he frowned and sat up straight.
“Ren Scarborough,” I said, pushing the tray closer to him.
“I know who you are,” he said, picking up my first vial and uncapping it with deliberate slowness. Of course, everyone knew who I was.
He took a wholly unnecessary sniff of the vial before holding it up to the light to examine the color, checking its authenticity. The Collectors recorded every night’s soul intake before sending the vials off to Processing, where they finally released the souls into Beyond. He picked up a pen from his glass jar of roughly thirty identical pens, tapped it against the desk a few times, then withdrew a leather-bound ledger from a drawer. He dropped it in front of him, opened the creaky cover, and began flipping through the pages, one by one, until he reached a fresh one.
I resisted the urge to slam my face against the desk in impatience.
I really didn’t have time to waste, but Collections was a necessary step. I didn’t consider myself benevolent in times of crisis, but even I was above leaving souls to expire in glass tubes instead of releasing them to their final resting place, wherever that was. And besides, a blank space next to my name in the Collections ledger meant a Collector would pay a visit to my private quarters to reprimand me. The last thing I needed was someone realizing that I’d left before Ivy could even report me.
But when the Collector uncorked my fourth vial and held it up to the lamp, swirling it in the light for ten excruciating seconds, I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision.
The bells of Last Toll reverberated through the bricks all around us, humming through the marble floors. In this hazy hour between night and day, the church grims came out in search of Reaper bones to gnaw on. Night collections had to be turned in by then, while day collections had to be processed by the First Toll at dusk.
The Collector sighed as he picked up my fifth vial. “I’m afraid I’ll have to mark your collections as late.”
My jaw clenched. “Why.”
“It’s past Last Toll, of course,” he said.
My fingers twitched. The lamp on the Collector’s desk flickered with my impatience, but I took a steadying breath.
“I was here before Last Toll,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.
“According to my ledger, your collections still have not been processed,” he said, spinning my fifth vial in his left hand.
I sighed and closed my eyes. Of course, I knew what he was doing. Chastising a “latecomer” would earn praise from higher management. It was the easiest way for him to climb the ranks—to exert his power over the half-breed. He would be praised for his steadfastness and gain a reputation as a strict and immovable Collector, while I could do nothing to complain. I could explode his lamp and send glass shards into his eyes, but that wouldn’t make him process my vials any faster. The fastest way to get out of there was subservience.
“Forgive me, Reaper,” I said, bowing my head and dropping my shoulders. I let my voice sound timid and afraid. “I apologize for being late.”
The Collector blinked at me for a moment, as if surprised that I’d given in so quickly. But he looked young and power-hungry and not particularly perceptive, so I wasn’t too afraid that he’d see through my tactic. As expected, he sneered as if I truly had offended him, finally beginning to process the fifth vial.
“It’s a great inconvenience to both Collections and Processing,” he said, “though I wouldn’t expect a half-breed to understand the workings of the educated Reapers.”
The only believable response to his goading was humiliated silence, so I hung my head even further and tried to make myself as small and pathetic as possible. It wasn’t hard, because the memory of the night’s events was still wringing my heart out like a wet rag and my skin prickled with nerves so fiercely that I wanted to claw it all off and escape before Ivy could find me, yet here I was, brought to my knees before a glorified teller. I imagined being a High Reaper, being able to reach over and smash his face into his blotter and shatter his owlish glasses into his eyes for delaying and insulting me.
His lamp flickered more violently and he paused to smack it before finally finishing with my last vial. He placed all seven in a tray and pressed a button that started the conveyor belt, sending the souls down to Processing. The moment he put a black check next to my name in the ledger, I stood up straight and turned to leave.
His hand twisted into my sleeve, yanking me back.
I shot him a look that could have melted glass, but he only pulled me closer.
“There’s the matter of your sanction,” he said.
“My sanction,” I said, glancing around the office to see how many people would notice if I simply twisted the Collector’s neck. Too many.
“For your tardiness, of course,” he said, smirking sourly. From his position stretched across the desk, the lamplight caught in his glasses and turned them into two beaming white moons.
The standard punishment for failing to make curfew was a night on the pillory, hands and feet nailed to the wood and head locked in a hole that was just slightly too tight, letting you breathe but not speak. The other Reapers could pull your hair or pour mead over your head or call you a thousand names when you couldn’t talk back. But the worst part wasn’t the nails or the insults. It was the Reapers who did nothing but look at you and sneer like you were nothing but an ugly piece of wall art, like they were so perfect that they couldn’t fathom being in your place. And far worse than that was my own father and stepmother walking past me and pretending not to see.
“Come back at First Toll,” the Collector said. “We’ll find a nice place to hang you up by the Door.”
It took every ounce of restraint I had left to keep my expression calm. This was the part where I was supposed to say, Yes, Reaper, and bow, but he was lucky that I hadn’t smashed his glasses into his face with my fist.
As if he could smell my defiance, he pulled me closer. His glasses fell out of the lamplight, revealing a deep frown.
“Scrub that look from your face,” he said. “Remember that I’ll handle your collections in the future.”
The future, I thought.
Luckily, I didn’t have a future.
The light bulb flashed with a sudden surge of power, then burst. Glass shards rained down over the desk, forcing the man to release me as hot glass scored his hands. Some of his paperwork caught fire, and he frantically patted out the flames with hands full of shards.
“Yes, Reaper,” I said, bowing deeply so he wouldn’t see my smirk as he sputtered about “bloody light bulbs, I knew we should have kept the gas lamps.”
Then I turned and rushed off to the West Catacombs.
I originally reviewed this YA supernatural novel in March 2020, but the paperback was recently released. If you’d like to read my review, click HERE. At less than 300 pages, it’s a quick read I finished on a two hour flight.
The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.
In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.
samantha was born four days before the death of john lennon. she grew up in dallas, playing bass guitar along to vinyl records in her bedroom after school, writing fan letters to rock stars, doodling song lyrics into notebooks, and reading big, big books.
in college at southern methodist university, she majored in english literature, minored in spanish, and studied latin and classics. after that, she went on to receive a master’s degree in english from boston college.
these days, she teaches at a community college and spends as much time as possible in the west texas desert.
Happy Friday! You may have seen this author around the blogosphere this week promoting her new release, The Seal’sTemptation, and I’m thrilled to host her today! If you missed my review of Jacquie’s techno-thriller novella, Virtually Gone, yesterday, click HERE. Make sure to register for the giveaway!
The SEAL’s Temptation
Wounded Hearts Book 7
by Jacquie Biggar
Genre: Romantic Suspense
DEA Agent Maggie Holt knows about Hell…
After eighteen months undercover in a Mexican cartel, Maggie is broken. The kickass agent she once was, is gone, leaving her riddled with guilt and nightmares. Forced to take paid leave, Maggie accepts the offer of a vacation on the ranch of the man who’d rescued her from an almost certain death.
Frank Stein knows the signs of PTSD, he’d suffered the symptoms himself as Chief Petty Officer of SEAL Team Five. Honorably retired from duty, Frank has found peace at the family ranch and hopes it will do the same for Magdalena. Ever since he’d first met her when she was interrogating his buddy, Jared, Frank has been fascinated by the raven-haired beauty and wants the chance to see where their relationship could go.
Adam O’Connor is Maggie’s partner. He knows her. He loved her once and could again, if she’d let him in. But he’s also angry she took the chances she did by going undercover against orders. And now, things are different. She’s different.
When a right-wing militia group infiltrates the area, will DEA Agent Maggie Holt, her partner, Adam O’Connor, and ex-SEAL Chief Frank Stein be able to set aside their differences to stop them before someone dies? And who will Maggie choose, the handsome cowboy, or her charismatic DEA partner?
USA Today bestselling author Jacquie Biggar loves to write Romantic Suspense novels brimming w/Attitude.
Jacquie Biggar is a USA Today bestselling author of romance who loves to write about tough, alpha males and strong, contemporary women willing to show their men that true power comes from love. She lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and loves to hear from readers all over the world!
In her own words: “My name is Jacquie Biggar. When I’m not acting like a total klutz I am a wife, mother of one, grandmother, and a butler to my calico cat. My guilty pleasure are reality tv shows like Amazing Race and The Voice. I can be found every Monday night in my armchair plastered to the television laughing at Blake and Adam’s shenanigans. I love to hang at the beach with DH (darling hubby) taking pictures or reading romance novels (what else?). I have a slight Tim Hortons obsession, enjoy gardening, everything pink and talking to my friends.”
Dawn was little more than a blush on the horizon when Frank, Jared and Adam set out on their ride the next morning. It was both strange and bittersweet to have his friends on his six again. Frank grinned, the tension easing from between his shoulder blades. Just like old times.
He kicked Sadie into a fast trot and glanced over his shoulder. “You girls think you can keep up?”
Jared shot him a one finger salute. “Maybe if you’d given me a horse instead of this old nag.” The nag in question—a handsome Quarter Horse Frank had trained himself—tossed his head, fighting the tight grip on the reins.
Adam leaned over and gave the bay a slap on the rump with his Red Sox ball cap, a rare smile erasing the grim lines of his face. “What’s the matter, Martin? Married life turning you into a pansy?” He took one glance at his buddy’s expression as he wrestled to bring the startled horse under control and decided to catch up to Frank. “Be one with the horse,” he advised with a laugh.
“I knew you were an a-hole,” Jared shouted.
Frank shook his head at their antics. “You two are worse than a couple of kids.” He kept an eye on Jared until he caught up, then guided Sadie toward the hills, turning up the collar on his shearling jacket against the early morning chill.
Spencer stepped out the door of the foreman’s cottage as they rode by and doffed his stained cowboy hat. “Have a good ride,” he called.
Frank tipped his Stetson in reply but kept going. Spence had managed this ranch for upwards of thirty years—he didn’t need Frank telling him what to do.
“He doesn’t spend the night up at the main house?” Jared asked, his butt bouncing in the saddle.
“No, he does not sleep with my mother.” Tempted to let him suffer, Frank warned, “Loosen your back. Roll with the motion and it’ll go easier on you.”
Adam whistled through his teeth. “I’m sensing some tension, Chief. You do realize your mother is a grown woman, right?” His puppy-dog eyes twinkled with mirth.
Frank snorted. “If you yahoos are done, can we get back to business?”
“Ah,” Jared said, his teeth clacking together with every bounce. “I figured there had to be an ulterior motive to this invite.”
Frank frowned. It was true he’d asked his friends to join them at the ranch after their return from Mexico, but he didn’t mean for it to come with a price tag.
“Listen—” he began.
Jared held up a leather-gloved hand, then just as quickly latched onto the pommel as the bay climbed a steep rise. “Hey, it’s all good. Annie and I have been meaning to come down for a visit anyway. Things have been slightly crazy back home, what with the new baby and setting up the new business and all, or we would have been here sooner.” He gave Adam the stink-eye. “Especially, if you’d let me know you were in trouble.”
Adam shrugged. “Don’t look at me, bro, I was following orders. Besides, we had to move fast once we knew where that bastard had Mags.”
They topped the rise and stopped for a moment to take in the vista. Cows grazed in the field below, their sleek brown and white coats a contrast to the verdant green grass. Bluebonnets flirted with the breeze blowing down from the north, keeping the temperature balmy—at least for the moment. Fluffy Cumulous clouds scattered across the sky like the petticoats under a woman’s skirt; not that many wore them these days except for weddings and such. And why the heck was he thinking about a woman’s underdrawers anyway? Frank scowled.
Desperate to break what felt like an awkward silence, she gestured toward the sparkling constellations over their heads. “Do you study the stars, Mr. Stein? You have quite the view out here.” Maybe not as reach-out-and-touch them as she’d felt on that mesa in Mexico, but a hell of a lot safer. The melancholy that was never very far away filled her chest, a black cloud covering the silvery moon. Her best friend was buried on that hill, a victim of the monster who’d ruined the lives of countless women.
“Not really. My brother and I got into it some as kids but then he… disappeared and I kind of lost heart.” Frank’s voice flowed over her like a warm breeze, dispersing the darkness of her thoughts.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I think I remember reading something about that in your file—the part that wasn’t confidential anyway.” She smiled.
He nodded. “It happened a long time ago. We’ve accepted it, though that’s not to say we’ve stopped looking. Hope lives on, you know?”
Yeah, she did.
The only thing that kept her alive through those hellish months with Chenglei and his band of assholes was hope.
Well, that and a craving for revenge.
“I imagine you’ve exhausted official channels. Have you looked into private investigators?”
He shifted, stretching long jean-clad legs and crossing his ankles, revealing scuffed cowboy boots. The old chair creaked, protesting his movements.
“We tried every avenue there was, but it did no good. He’d vanished.” Frank’s voice was matter-of-fact, but his tone revealed how much the loss of his brother still affected him.
The sad truth was there were thousands just like Cameron Stein—young men and women dissatisfied with their lives who think the grass will be greener on the other side and instead learn, more often than not and sometimes with fatal consequences, that running away is not the answer.
There probably wasn’t a lot she could do, but Maggie wanted to help this family to at least find some closure. Maybe she could pull a few strings within the agency and see what popped. Off the record, of course.
She glanced through the window into the soft vignette-like lighting of the kitchen. Frank’s mom had risen to clear the table, her hands grasping the platter of decimated turkey as she laughed at something the ranch foreman had said, affection apparent on both their faces. Emily leaned down to give him a kiss and he took advantage of the moment to pull her onto his lap. Maggie looked away, her heart pinching.
That kind of relationship was as far away as the moon for her. Even before her captivity, Maggie’s main focus had been career-orientated. Adam blamed himself for their break-up, but truthfully, she just wasn’t a good bet.
“I’m not promising anything, but I can check a couple of things when I get back to work. Sometimes, time can uncover secrets from the past.”
As the Arabian kicked his heels and galloped away, Maggie folded onto the ground at his feet, her arm twisted awkwardly where he held her wrist. Long, black silk hair flowed over her shoulder and breast, hiding her face from his view. He let go, grimacing at the red marks he’d left on her delicate skin.
Dropping to a knee so he could better see her expression, Frank frowned. She was pale, fragile looking. He didn’t think the horse had a chance to hurt her, but with the way he’d yanked on her arm, maybe he had. “Are you injured?” he asked, roughly.
She lifted her head at the sound of his voice, but her eyes looked through him and, suddenly, he realized why.
“Maggie, look at me.” He carefully tucked her hair behind the shell of her ear. “Come back to me, sweetheart. I’ve got you.” He rubbed her shoulder and was relieved to see her eyes lose that vacant, faraway expression. “That’s it, take it easy. You’re safe.” And she would remain that way if he had any say.
Tears formed and she blinked them away. “I… I must have tripped,” she said, her voice gaining strength as she raised her armor, blocking him out.
Much as he wanted to confront her with the truth and force her to talk to him, Frank understood the need to hide the flashbacks away—pretend they didn’t exist.
He rose and held out his hand. “It’s the stallion’s fault, he startled you.”
She accepted the offer and stood with less than her normal grace. “Thanks, I’m not usually so jumpy.” She avoided eye contact while carefully brushing non-existent dust from her slacks. “I guess I was expecting more manners after we gave him an apple and all.” Her wobbly smile begged him not to make a big deal out of her breakdown.
“It was my fault. I should have warned you about Desert Dancer. He’s new to the ranch and still learning his boundaries. He’s a showoff for the ladies—kind of reminds me of O’Connor.”
Maggie lifted a brow. “Does Adam know how you feel?”
He grinned, pleased the sparkle had returned to her beautiful topaz eyes. “He’d be the first to agree. Back on the team we called him our secret weapon because he always managed to get intel for our ops when no one else could.”
“Well, can’t say I’m surprised. He made use of those… talents in the DEA, as well.” She started walking and Frank fell in alongside. “It’s kind of strange being here, with you. Adam used to talk about the great Frank Stein all the time. You’re a legend, you know.” She slipped him an intimate, sideways smile that set lightning bugs buzzing in his chest.
I’m so excited to be a part of this blog tour! I read the novella, Reaper, a couple years ago and was really hoping the author would expand on the story. Wishes do come true, and here’s the proof. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but since I’m such a big horror fan, you can be sure it will be soon.
It’s been five years have passed since the Reapers invaded Earth, but Gregory is back and trying to survive the wastelands left behind!
Welcome to the book tour for Reaper: Aftermath by Jonathan Pongratz! Read on for an excerpt and a chance to win 1 of 3 print copies of the book!
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror/ Apocalypse
Expected Publication Date: February 5th, 2021
Five years have passed since the Reapers invaded Earth and tore it asunder. Gregory, his mother, Trent, and their group of scavengers hunt the decimated wastelands for survival.
But when a sudden Reaper attack forces Gregory through a Reaper door, he finds himself in a bizarre place, one that may provide answers to the Reapers’ past and where they came from.
Can Gregory put together the pieces of the past and find his way home, or will he just become another human casualty in the lost war against the Reapers?
I crouched behind a row of old dusty cars beside my mom and two other sharpshooters, my body trembling. Don’t freak out. Be brave. Remember your training.
I took a deep breath and dared a peek ahead between two cars. Across the street was a deserted grocery store covered in grime and soot. It was a small shop, maybe two or three times the size of an average gas station. A bunch of old, rotted wooden planks covered the windows, but the front entrance was untouched. Whoever had been here was either dead inside or long gone. No one in their right mind would leave their home unfortified, not anymore.
All was quiet except for the wind, but I knew better. We all did. Any second and the Reapers could be right on us. Though they never came out during the day, we couldn’t leave anything to chance.
Mom pulled out her walkie. “Proceeding with root-out of potential Reapers.” She retrieved an oddly-shaped ball constructed from cans, tins, and several small bells we called chatter boxes from her supply bag and hurled it over her head.
The chatter box clunked loudly on the ground, bouncing before stopping in front of the seemingly-empty store. For a couple moments we all sat there, waiting for any sign of Reapers.
Mom’s walkie crackled to life. “Patricia, I think we should–”
“Quiet!” Mom hissed. “I think I hear something.”
I couldn’t hear anything, but there was definitely a difference in the air, like it was charged somehow. Just like the basement five years ago. Images of the past filled my mind: My little sister Imogen, the electrified feeling down in the basement, the Reaper’s sudden appearance. I shook off my thoughts and edged close to my mother.
“You’re right, something’s coming.”
Mom nodded, her gaze fixed on the grocery store. “Be brave, Gregory. If you have to, fall back.”
I shook my head. There was no way I was gonna miss out on this.
Her eyes widened, and she gripped her walkie once more. “Reapers, incoming!”
I drew my Glock from my holster, turned the safety off, and tried to look through the abandoned store’s smudged entrance. It was dark inside, but I could see two hulking figures scrambling to the front of the store at breakneck speed.
Two Reapers crashed through the entrance in an explosion of glass that blasted shards in a thousand directions. As the projectiles clinked on the ground I stared at the monsters before us, a chill running down my spine.
Large, festering boils covered their reddish, emaciated bodies. They stood tall on two clawed feet, but could easily switch to all fours for speed, doubling the danger of their razor sharp appendages. The Reapers opened their mouths, revealing multiple layers of jagged, pointy teeth as they gave ear-piercing shrieks of rage.
A grin spread across my face. Time to die, assholes.
I aimed, then pulled my trigger as deafening gunshots came from my left and right. We’d hit the one on the right several times. A thick, black liquid oozed from its wounds, but it was still in fighting shape and pretty freakin’ pissed based on the hideous snarl on its face.
The aggravated Reaper leaped forward on all fours, bounding over the car we were hiding behind and landing in front of the sharpshooter furthest from me. It gave a mighty roar, snatching him up and throwing him like a rag doll. He went flying, landing on a nearby car’s windshield with a loud crack. The monster eyed the other sharpshooter with furious, predatory yellow eyes.
Shit, shit, shit! I lunged towards the Reaper as I targeted it, then yanked on my trigger. It gave a high-pitched cry of pain and staggered back a step. Damn it! I’d only hit its shoulder. Its hateful gaze was now focused on me.
A sudden gunblast boomed from my comrade, and the Reaper fell to the ground, unmoving. A large pool of black sludge gathered underneath its head where the bullet had exited.
Before I could rejoice in the kill, Mom shouted nearby. I spun around. She was battling the other Reaper in front of the grocery store with a long knife in hand. She had deep cuts on her arms and legs, while the monster sported several nonfatal gunshot wounds. I tried to aim for the Reaper but they were moving too fast, desperately circling one another for an advantage. One wrong move and I’d shoot my own mother.
The Reaper took a wide-arching swipe at her, but she dodged to the side, cutting its leg as she went. The monster screeched and turned to attack, but mom slid between its legs and was now behind it. Point blank, Mom whipped out her revolver and fired three shots into the back of the Reaper’s head. It fell to the ground, twitching in its final death throes.
Mom lifted her combat boot and stomped on its head with a sickening crunch. The Reaper didn’t move anymore. She spat on it, then pulled out her walkie as I approached. “All clear. Torch the bodies.”
I glanced back. Twenty yards away behind another row of dead cars, our small group of noncombatants emerged. Mom strolled towards the grocery store and I jogged to catch up to her, eager to see what was inside. Whatever it was, it had better be worth it.
Jonathan Pongratz is a writer and author of captivating horror, urban fantasy, and paranormal stories. When he’s not writing, he’s busy being a bookworm, video game junkie, and karaoke vocalist. A former resident of Dallas, he currently resides in Kansas City with his halloween cat Ajax. By day he works magic in finance, by night he creates dark and mesmerizing worlds.
Wylodine comes from a world of paranoia and poverty—her family grows marijuana illegally, and life has always been a battle. Now she’s been left behind to tend the crop alone. Then spring doesn’t return for the second year in a row, bringing unprecedented extreme winter.
With grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, she begins a journey, determined to start over away from Appalachian Ohio. But the icy roads and strangers hidden in the hills are treacherous. After a harrowing encounter with a violent cult, Wylodine and her small group of exiles become a target for its volatile leader. Because she has the most valuable skill in the climate chaos: she can make things grow.
Urgent and poignant, Road Out of Winter is a glimpse of an all-too-possible near future, with a chosen family forged in the face of dystopian collapse. With the gripping suspense of The Road and the lyricism of Station Eleven, Stine’s vision is of a changing world where an unexpected hero searches for a place hope might take root.
Obviously, this is an unusual book description – which is one of the reasons I requested it. The other is that I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains and was curious to see how a story like this would play out in that area.
Wylodine is a wonderful protagonist – strong, determined, scarred, and soft-hearted. If you find yourself in an apocalyptic-type of event, you could do worse than hooking your wagon to hers. Mostly shunned by the community because of her family business, then being practically abandoned by her mother, with the exception of one good friend, she’s alone when everything starts to go off the rails in her town. In order to survive, going it alone isn’t the best option right now, and she soon comes across people she learns to trust and depend on. Finding your people is a strong theme in this story – like-minded folks who do what they can to form a community and care for each other. Tragedy can bring out the best in people, but it also draws power-hungry individuals on the wrong side of the morality scale, and Wil and friends run across some of the worst mankind has to offer.
The abrupt ending took me by surprise – I even wondered if pages were missing – so a sequel may be a possibility.
To say I enjoyed such a dark, heart-breaking, grim story sounds odd, but Road Outof Winter is also well-written, compelling, and hopeful – it would be an excellent book club selection.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
It’s finally here – release week for Subject A36! Shannon from R&R Book Tours has arranged a fantastic, week long blog tour. Along with spotlights, excerpts, character pics, and reviews, there will also be giveaways – a signed copy (US only) and ebook (international). The schedule is below – hope to see you at some of the stops along the way!
Friday is here – finally! The blog tour is winding up today with another wonderful review at BookWonderlandWeb. Don’t forget to register for the giveaway!
Thanks to everyone who hosted me this week, and all of you who helped spread the word by tweeting, reblogging, and sharing in any way. A special thanks to Shannon at R&R Book Tours for organizing the tour and creating such an awesome banner!
Visit jessicarachow.wordpress.com to read a guest post, excerpt, and her review that made my day – and don’t forget to register for the giveaway! You can also read an excerpt and register for the giveaway at YABookDivas.com.
Many thanks to all of you who are sharing and retweeting – I truly appreciate all the support!