Thursday, March 31, 2016

M9B FRIDAY REVEAL: Argos by Phillip W. Simpson - Cover Reveal + Chapter 1 + GIVEAWAY!



Today Philip W. Simpson and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for ARGOS, which releases May 10, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

Here’s a message from the author.

This was a labor of love for me. I have always loved dogs and stories of dogs' courage and loyalty. Hearing or reading these never fail to make me cry. Particularly stories of dogs like Grey Friar's bobby and Hachiko. And then there's the story of Argos - probably the most famous and loyal dog of all time. In Homer's Odyssey, there's literally only one page dedicated to the death of Argos and for me, it was the most moving scene in the whole book.

I had to write this book, not only for myself but for all the dogs I've loved throughout my life. I had no choice in the matter.

I love this cover because it's evocative and moody (much like the cover to my last book, Minotaur). It also begs certain questions: why is a dog in a boat being rowed across a river by a heavily cowled boatman? Those who are familiar with the classics will know the boatman is Charon and the river is the Styx. Therefore the dog is in Hades. But why? A dog has no place in Hades so what makes Argos so special? I love covers that make the reader ask these types of questions.


 Title: ARGOS
Author: Phillip W. Simpson
Pub. Date: May 10, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | TBD Goodreads

Loyalty has no limits

Raised from a pup by Greek hero, Odysseus, Argos has come to learn the true meaning of love and loyalty. But when Odysseus leaves for the Trojan War, little does Argos know it will be 20 years before he sees his master again. With Odysseus gone his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, are easy prey for neighboring kings and the Gods themselves.

But Argos was tasked to keep them safe until Odysseus returns and that is a promise he is determined to keep – whatever the cost. Told through his eyes, Argos recounts the story of his life – his pain, his joy, his triumphs and failures; his endurance in the face of hardships almost too great to believe.

Above all else, Argos strives to do what is right – and to remain loyal to his King when all others  have given up hope. To live long enough to see his beloved master one more time.

This epic myth of love and loyalty proves that a dog really is man's best friend.





Excerpt


Prologue

So this is what it’s like to die?

I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly isn’t this slow humiliating descent into darkness. My body aches, bruised by the fists and feet of Penelope’s suitors and servants, joints painfully swollen by age.

Flies swarm around me, attracted by the stench of the manure pile beneath me, or perhaps sensing the death that is slowly creeping toward me. If I am honest, they don’t annoy me so much. My vision is cloudy at best, eyes misted over by the onset of time. I can barely see their dark flickering shapes and I haven’t the strength to dislodge them when they land. To try and maintain a little dignity, I make the odd attempt to flick my tail or ears but both the flies and I know my heart isn’t in it.

Two old men walk past, leading an ox and open wagon through the palace gates. I lift my head slightly in an effort to see them better, more out of habit than any great interest. I sniff the air, trying to gauge what is in the wagon. All I can smell is feces. My sense of smell, almost overcome by what lies beneath me, fails, and I silently curse my aging, traitorous senses. If I had to guess, I would say they are farmers, bringing produce for the palace kitchens, probably to feed the greedy, slovenly mouths of the suitors who buzz around Penelope much like the flies above my dying body.

The two old men spare me a glance. Although my eyes are not what they once were, I detect sympathy in their gazes. Perhaps they recognize me for who I am or who I once was. Or perhaps not. Maybe they just see an old dog dying on a steaming pile of manure.

Hours later, two other men pass by, dressed in finery that makes them anything but farm hands. I recognize their faces but I would know them regardless by their swagger. Two of Penelope’s suitors come to steal another man’s wife. I hate them with every ounce of my being. If I were even five years younger, I would launch myself at them and tear their arms and legs off with great bites of my powerful jaws. But I am not five years younger. I am old and incapable of doing anything but glare at them balefully.

Like the two older men earlier, they look in my direction. One of them says something I can’t quite catch to the other and they both laugh. The taller suitor reaches into a pouch at his side and pulls out an object that he throws in my direction. It lands off the manure pile, well out of paw reach. I suspect it is a piece of dried meat.

“Here,” he says, laughing. “Eat this. If you can.”

His companion joins in the laughter and they disappear through the palace gates knowing full well that I will not be able to reach the tasty morsel. I wouldn’t eat it in any case. I would much rather starve to death than receive salvation from the likes of them.

Directly overhead, the sun beats mercilessly down. Waves of heat wash over me and warms the manure pile even more. The pile of droppings from mules and oxen are a mixed blessing. For the last two nights, my bed of filth has kept me warm and soothed my aching joints. During the day, however, things are altogether different. The heat is stifling, unbearable, and even I, well accustomed to the most repulsive of scents, am sickened.

My tongue lolls slackly from my open mouth. It is almost too much effort to pant but I know that if I do not, I will die from the relentless heat. I am no longer hungry but would give almost anything for a bowl of cool water with which to quench my thirst. Perhaps even a tub that I could plunge my whole body into—something I would never have done as a young pup. All my life, I have avoided baths, but now I am driven almost crazy by the thought of indulging in something I once hated.

A bath would have an additional benefit. The fleas and ticks that infest my body would probably decide that my scrawny carcass isn’t worth the effort and depart for more luxurious quarters. I would not miss them. The flies I can tolerate, but the incessant biting of these degenerate little creatures is almost more than I can bear. If I had the strength, I would obliterate them with mighty paw strokes.

When I was younger, Penelope or Telemachus would sometimes gently comb them from my body while I lay before the fire in the great hall of Odysseus. Just the thought of such times sends a pleasurable tremor coursing through my body.

I daydream about what they would do if they knew I was lying here, dying and surrounded by filth and decay. Penelope would gather my head into her soft hands and gently kiss my forehead. Telemachus, my human brother, would hug me and rub salves into my open wounds. Together, they would ease my pain and comfort me like they have many times throughout my life.

But those times are long gone. Penelope is locked in her rooms in the palace of Ithaca, besieged by unwelcome suitors. Telemachus left the island months ago to seek out his father, my master, the great hero Odysseus. It is probably a futile quest. Odysseus has been gone for twenty years and, if the words of the palace staff are to be believed, long dead. But neither I nor Telemachus believe it, cannot bring ourselves to believe it. I have heard from the gods themselves that he lives, and whilst they like to play with the lives of mortals, I want to believe them. A man like Odysseus does not simply just die. He is destined for more than death.

It is he that keeps my soul harnessed to my body. The loyalty toward my master and a forlorn hope that he will return to me before I am claimed by death. All of my contemporaries have been in the grave for years already. Not me. It is this loyalty and hope that has kept me going for twenty years.

What I would give to see him one last time.


Chapter One

I awake only to discover that I have died. I am surrounded by gloomy silence. The landscape is devoid of features—or color for that matter. Mist washes over me, tendrils swirling together to form almost recognizable shapes and figures. I can hear whispered voices but from which direction they come, I’m not sure.

I know where I am of course. Hades. The Underworld. The halls of the dead. It makes sense that I am here and yet it does not. The last thing I remembered was lying dying on the manure pile outside the palace gates. Clearly, my body had given up its futile quest for life and so here I am.

But that doesn’t ring true. As far as I know, the Underworld is the place where the souls of the dead dwell. The human dead. The souls of other creatures do not find their rest here. Dogs certainly aren’t allowed in—at least I had never heard of any dogs being granted the privilege. I had heard the stories of the heroes who had ventured into the Underworld before their time: Aeneas, Cupid and Psyche, Heracles, Pirithous and Theseus. Not one of them mentioned encountering any dogs.

Perhaps I am going to be the first. But why single me out for this singular honor, if honor is indeed what it is? I have done nothing special. Like most dogs, I have devoted myself and my life to my master. I don’t believe that is so unusual.

A thought occurs to me: maybe I’m not in the Underworld after all. Perhaps I’m dreaming. As dreams go, it’s pretty bland. I console myself in the knowledge that it is still better than reality, where I have to face endless torment from fleas and ticks.

I choose a direction at random and start walking. I have no destination in mind and no goal. It is simply something to do. Padding along comfortably, it is then that I notice something unusual about my body. When I had last seen my own scrawny flesh, it looked nothing like this. My fur is healthy and clean. Clean! My muscles feel strong, nothing like the wasted bag of old bones I had been moments before. I am young again! What joy!

I take some time to experience the true thrill of youth, to leap and bound, and spring lightly. It is a heady sensation. The gods only know how long I do this for. It’s hard to keep track of time in this place but I don’t care—I’m too busy enjoying myself. After some time however, I gradually become aware that someone or something is watching me. Unbidden, my hackles and the fur on the back of my neck rise. A growl rumbles deep in my chest and emerges through barred teeth.

The mist clears and a boat materializes before me, bobbing calmly on a river as black as night. A figure stands on the boat, shrouded in a black cowl, taller than any human. He carries a long pole which he uses to halt his progress against the swift current.

A long finger emerges from the black sleeves and beckons toward me. I don’t move. I can’t move, frozen as I am in fear. I know who this is and I dare not approach.

The figure cocks his head at me as if considering. Then he whistles. It is the same two-tone whistle used by countless dog owners. Against my will, my traitorous tail wags and I take first one hesitant step forward and then another. Before I know it, I am standing on the shore next to the boat and the boatman.

“Pay your fare,” demands a sepulchral voice drifting out of the black cowl. A hand emerges again from the sleeve. This time I get a good look at it. It is twice as large as any human’s, but with six fingers. The flesh enclosing the bones appears to be rotting.

I don’t bother trying to respond. It’s not like I can speak and tell him I have no fare. I believe it is customary to pay a coin to cross the river Acheron—because this of course is what it is. One of the legendary rivers of the Underworld, it marks the boundary of Hades. The only way in or out is across the river and the only way to cross the river is in the boat controlled by Charon, the boatman.

To gain passage, relatives of the recently deceased have to place a coin in the mouths of the dead. I have seen this done many times before, but I have no coin myself. Just to be sure, I open my mouth to check. Sure enough, I feel nothing on my tongue.

Charon cocks his head again. He seems to be listening to something, but even I, with my magnificent hearing, can detect nothing.

“Very well,” he says, seeming to talk to himself. He indicates that I am to enter the boat and obediently, I do exactly that, even though every part of my body screams at me to flee. I have always struggled to resist going for a ride in any form of moving vehicle, be it chariot, cart or boat.

Charon says nothing as he poles us slowly across the river. The Acheron flows into another river, which I assume is the Styx. Unable to resist the impulse, I sit perched in the bow, my tongue wagging, sniffing the warm breeze. I detect nothing I recognize.

Eventually, we reach the far shore. I don’t have to be told to get out. I leap out as soon as I am able which is just as well because no sooner have I done so, Charon turns the boat and heads back the way he had come.

There is a darker line of shadow on the horizon before me, and with no better prospects, I make for it. As I get closer, I recognize it for what it is. A huge inky black gate made of some material I am not familiar with. Two huge doors are set within but it is not these objects that command my attention.

Sitting calmly before the doors is a creature the likes of which I have never seen before. It is a massive dog. It isn’t just size that marks it as unusual. This dog has three heads, a serpent’s tail, and a mane of snakes that weave angrily in and out of the coarse black hair that covers the rest of the creature. Each huge paw is tipped with long claws that bear no resemblance to my own. These claws look like they could shred tree trunks.

I know immediately who it is. Cerberus. The great guardian of the gates of Hell. It is his job to ensure that none of the denizens of this place ever leave.

One of the heads swivels in my direction. I meet the gaze of those blood red eyes with rising panic.

“Be calm, Argos,” says Cerberus in a voice like smoke and thunder. “You have nothing to fear from me.”

“Your appearance certainly belies that,” I say in my head. When I was younger, I had tried to speak but quickly realized that I didn’t possess the clever tongue or vocal apparatus possessed by humans. My habit then had been to reply to rhetorical questions in my own mind. You can imagine my surprise when Cerberus gives every appearance of not only hearing me, but understanding me, too.

The central head of the huge Hellhound nods. “I realize that I appear quite fearsome, but it is mostly for show. Those who dwell here must stay. I could hardly stop them if I had the appearance and abilities of say, a common dog.”

I swear to the gods that the speaking head seems to be smiling slightly. That’s if dogs can smile. I confess I have tried to smile many times, but all I have succeeded in doing is lolling my tongue.

“I don’t think I’d risk a confrontation with you,” I say.

“Really, Argos? I have heard tales of your bravery. I think there are many things you would risk. Especially for your master.” I notice that only one head speaks while the two heads flanking the central one move constantly, their baleful eyes seeking out any who would dare escape.

“You know of my master Odysseus then?” I ask.

The central head nods. “Of course. Odysseus is beloved of the gods—especially by the gray-eyed Goddess Athena. I have even heard my own master, Hades, speak highly of him. His deeds are legendary.”

“They are?” I ask, silently cursing myself for doubting this fact. Of course his deeds are legendary. The actions of my master could not be anything else. I just hadn’t heard of any of them. “So my master lives then?”

“It is not for me to say, Argos. I am sorry. Come closer. Do not be afraid.”

Tentatively, I do as Cerberus asks and trot toward him, stopping a few spear lengths away. My sense of perspective immediately changes and I sit down on my haunches in order to take in the enormity of it. The gate is taller than any structure I have ever seen. As for Cerberus, he towers over me, larger than any creature I have ever encountered. Larger even than a rhinoceros. A visitor to Ithaca once told Odysseus about a mythical creature called an elephant that he had seen in his travels. From his description, Cerberus must be at least equal in size.

As nervous as I am, curiosity gets the better of me. “Can I at least hear about these legendary deeds then?” I ask, wagging my tail hopefully.

“Perhaps another time,” says Cerberus. Eddies of smoke are slowly rising from his speaking mouth. “I have brought you here for another reason.”

“Other than the fact that I’m dead?” I ask.

“Are you?” counters Cerberus.

“Why else would I be here then?” I retort. A niggling doubt is starting to form. Maybe this is a dream after all.

“Let me ask you something, Argos. I have served my master, Hades, for millennia and will continue to do so for all of existence. Why do I do that?”

“For loyalty,” I say immediately. “For love.”

This time, Cerberus nods all three heads. “Indeed. I love my master. He is everything to me and he has repaid my loyalty countless times. I would do anything for him.”

“As would I for my master,” I say.

“And that is why you are here, Argos. You are an exceptional dog. You may not think so but I have watched you and I know. Your loyalty and your love for your master is exceptional. It compares even to my own.”

“So why am I here?” I ask, slightly confused.

“Because, I want to hear your story. I want to hear it told in your own words, to experience it from your perspective. I want to hear about everything you and Odysseus experienced together and what made your bond so strong. I want to know why you have waited twenty years for him. In short, I want to hear the story of your life.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because,” says Cerberus, “I want to know that I’m not the only one. That I’m not the only one whose loyalty exceeds all expectation and belief.”

“And why should I do this for you?” I venture.

“You might be surprised if I told you,” says Cerberus.

The words send a shiver running down my spine.





Phillip W. Simpson is the author of many novels, chapter books and other stories for children. His publishers include Month9books, Macmillan, Penguin, Pearson, Cengage, Raintree and Oxford University Press.

He received his undergraduate degree in Ancient History and Archaeology and both his Masters (Hons) degree in Archaeology and his Masters (Hons) degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. Before embarking on his writing career, he joined the army as an officer cadet, owned a comic shop and worked in recruitment in both the UK and Australia. His first young adult novel, Rapture (Rapture Trilogy #1), was shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards for best Youth novel in 2012. When not writing, he works as a school teacher.

Phillip lives and writes in Auckland, New Zealand, with his wife Rose, their son, Jack, and their two border terriers, Whiskey and Raffles. He loves fishing, reading, movies, football (soccer) and single malt Whiskeys. 





One (1) winner will receive an eGalley of ARGOS. International.




Wednesday, March 30, 2016

COVER REVEAL: Polaris by Beth Bowland + GIVEAWAY!

TantrumBooksComingSoonBanner

Welcome to the cover reveal for
Polaris by Beth Bowland
presented by Tantrum Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
Be on the look out for this fun upcoming MG title from Tantrum Books!

Polaris_1800x2700

Bixie, Montana is in the middle of nowhere, not connected to any place, and not needed to get to any destination. But one snowy evening, a lone visitor walking down an old country road changes thirteen-year-old Aaron Martin’s life forever. Aaron thinks he’s being a Good Samaritan by inviting the nearly-frozen visitor into his home, but he’s unwittingly initiated “The Game.”

A group of Elders, known as the Council of the Legend, come together from time to time to enjoy a rousing event they playfully call “The Game.” Now, Aaron’s town is the playing board and he and his fellow townspeople are the players.

The rules are simple. Win. Because if Aaron loses, he won’t just lose his family. He’ll lose his very identity.
add to goodreads

Polaris by Beth Bowland
Publication Date: August 16, 2016
Publisher: Tantrum Books

Available for Pre-Order:
Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks
About-the-Author2
Beth Bowland

Beth Bowland, a native Ohioan, has always enjoyed reading and creating stories of her own. As a child she devoured every book she could get her hands on and spent numerous hours at the library each week. She loves writing stories for tweens and young teens and her characters are often described as quirky and fun, but always relatable. When she’s not writing, she loves watching HGTV. She has one daughter and resides in Arlington, Texas with her husband, Phillip.


giveaway2
Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!



Chapter-by-Chapter-blog-tour-button

Monday, March 28, 2016

RELEASE DAY BLITZ: End of the World (The Undertakers #5) by Ty Drago + GIVEAWAY!

Undertakers 5 RDB

Happy Release Day to
The Undertakers 5: End of the World
by Ty Drago!!
Join us in celebrating this release from Month9Books!
Enter the giveaway found at the end of the post.
Happy Book Birthday, Ty!

Undertakers 5 Cover

The Corpse War is over. Or at least Will Ritter thought the war was over. But Will quickly changes his mind when he is led through a doorway in time and finds himself in a future where the Earth has been all but destroyed. The Corpses, alien invaders who wear the dead like suits of clothing, have returned in horrific numbers. In the wake of their destructive onslaught, a rag-tag group of survivors with some of Will’s now grownup friends among them is all that’s left of mankind. Will must take part in a desperate, last ditch effort to rewrite history, prevent the Second Corpse War from ever happening, and defeat this evil that has consumed mankind once and for all. But victory, if such a thing is even possible, carries a heavy cost.
add to goodreads

The Undertakers 5: End of the Word by Ty Drago
Publication Date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books

About-the-Author2
Ty Drago

Ty Drago does his writing just across the river from Philadelphia, where the Undertakers novels take place. In addition to The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses, The Undertakers: Queen of the Dead, and The Undertakers: Secret of the Corpse Eater, he is the author of The Franklin Affair and Phobos, as well as short stories and articles that have appeared in numerous publications, including Writer's Digest. He currently lives in southern New Jersey with his wife and best friend, the real Helene Drago née Boettcher.

giveaway2
Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!


Chapter-by-Chapter-blog-tour-button

BLOG TOUR: The Raven's Daughter by Peggy A. Wheeler - Excerpt + Book Soundtrack

About the Book

Title: The Raven’s Daughter 
By: Peggy A. Wheeler 
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Publication Date: February 29th

Synopsis: A Murdering Monster and a Myth Come to Life

After a police shootout where she killed a man, criminologist Maggie Tall Bear Sloan retires from the force to enjoy peace and quiet in rural California. When sets of young twins are murdered in her town, the local sheriff recruits her to solve the gruesome killings.

But to catch a killer, Maggie either accepts her true nature as a “pukkukwerek” —the shapeshifting monster killer of Yurok legend—or more children will die.

As the manhunt intensifies and her own family is threatened, Maggie will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Whether she’s awake or asleep dreaming, Maggie is faced with a difficult choice: embrace her heritage—even if it means turning into myth itself—or deny that heritage and lose everything.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo


About the Author

Peggy A. Wheeler is published under the names of Peggy A. Wheeler, Peggy Wheeler and Peggy Dembicer. Her non-fiction articles and poetry have appeared in a number of national magazines and anthologies. She has written for Llewellyn Worldwide. Most recently, her short story Mama’s Special Stew appears in WOMEN WRITING THE WEIRD II: Dreadful Daughters, by Dog Horn Press. 

Her B.A. in English Literature is from U.C.L.A. Her M.A. in English with a Creative Writing  emphasis is from California State University at Northridge. While attending U.C.L.A., Peggy was one of only twelve students (and the only undergraduate) chosen to study with Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States. She won first prize awards for two of her poems from an Evergreen Women’s Press nation wide poetry contest. Her poetry received honorable mentions from the judges of a Los Angeles Poetry Festival and The Academy of American Poets. Peggy’s poem Du Fu was nominated for a Rhysling award for Best Science Fiction Poem. Her manuscript for THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER was a top ten finalist in the 2014 CCC Great Novel contest.

Social Media Links: Twitter | Website |  Facebook

Read an Excerpt!

An unkindness of ravens, knocking and cawing, settled into the branches of a gray pine. Maggie squinted at them through the morning glare of the sun, and reached into her coat pocket. “You gluttonous, winged pigs.” She withdrew her hand and tossed corn onto the dirt. No matter where Margaret Tall-Bear Sloan was, ravens were certain to be nearby. She always carried corn.

The phone rang. She dropped the kernels remaining in her palm, and sprinted into her cottage. “Hello?”

“I’ve got bad news,” said Jake Lubbock, Wicklow’s sheriff.

“Don’t tell me. More kids?”

“Six-year-old girls. The O’Malley twins.”

“Dammit. God dammit.”

“You still thinking about joining the reserves? Your certification is current, and you still have your license to carry. Right? I can expedite this.”

Silence.

“Maggie, listen to me. We sure could use your help. Two sets of twins in less than eight months.
 No clues. We can’t get a handle on this.”

“You know after what happened in Oakland, I don’t deal with child killers. I’m sorry, but I have to say no.”

“Can we meet for lunch and talk? At least hear me out.”

“What time? I’ve got an appointment this morning. I can be in town around one if that’s not too late.”

“One it is,” Jake said. “And…Maggie?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me. I’m not getting involved. This is only lunch, and you’re buying.”

“Whatever you say. See you at The Dandelion.”

She slicked back a few stray hairs. Not bad for an old broad. With her bare foot, she stroked Samantha, her blue point Siamese rescue cat with a crooked tail and an attitude. The slinky feline leapt onto the table and butted Maggie’s hand in a bid for additional petting.

For 46, Maggie figured she’d held up pretty good, her complexion wrinkle-free except tiny crows’ feet at the corners of her eyes when she smiled, which was seldom. Maggie had Yurok features from her mother’s side, toasted butter skin and Native hair, glossy stuff of legends she plaited into a thick salt-and-pepper braid that fell to her waist. Her lime green eyes that turned dark olive when she became angry, which was often, she owed to her Northern Irish father.

She pulled on her favorite T-shirt, the one that read, “I’m half white but can’t prove it,” kicked off fuzzy pink slippers, yanked on her Dan Post boots, and left with her dog following close behind. “See ya later, Samantha. Keep the mice away while we’re gone.”

She opened the door to her ‘54 cherry red Chevy pickup. “C’mon, Chester.” The old bloodhound leapt into the passenger’s seat. As Maggie headed toward town, a raucous cry broke the mid-day stillness. She glanced in her rearview mirror. “Yup, ravens following us, Chester. What a big surprise, eh boy?”

***

“Hi,” she said as she entered the café. The screen door slammed behind her.

“You look really pretty today,” Jake said. “I ordered a cup o’ java for you.”

“Thanks, and if you hit on me, I’m walking out.” Maggie laughed as she slipped into the booth opposite Jake. “Can’t stay long anyway. Chester’s in the truck.”

A waitress with spiky purple hair, an earplug the color and size of a new copper penny and a dragonfly tattoo on her neck set mugs of coffee on the table. “Ready?”

Jake and Maggie put in their orders, but the waitress lingered.

“Yes, Dawn?” Jake asked.

“Sheriff, those little girls, the O’Malley’s? Their family lives in my neighborhood. Their mom was planning a party for their seventh birthdays this Saturday, and she’d hired me to help out. I hope you catch that asshole.”

“We’ll get the guy, I promise. We’ll have him by…”

As he spoke to the waitress, Jake raked his fingers through his hair from right above his brow to the nape of his neck. When stressed, he had a disarming habit of combing his fingers over his scalp. Maggie drifted into a memory.

She had first noticed him in 8th grade during a math exam. Jake sat at the desk in front of her raking his fingers through his hair again and again distracting her so much she almost flubbed the test. “Would you knock it off with the hair thing,” she whispered. “I can’t concentrate.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bug y…,” he said turning in his seat to apologize, but the moment he made eye contact with her, he froze. His last word caught in his throat, and the only other sounds from his gaping mouth were stutters.

That was how their friendship began. Jake became the only person, maybe other than her friend Sally, Maggie could be herself with. But, there was no way she could make herself want him the way he wanted her. Even now as older adults, they jousted, kidded each other, argued, and picked on one another like adolescents. For Maggie, this was her way to demonstrate the only affection for him she could muster. Not known for a stellar sense of humor, Maggie never joked with anyone else like she did with Jake. She took no pleasure in breaking his heart, although she’d done it a hundred times

“Want a refill?” Dawn said, breaking Maggie’s revere.

“Sure. Thanks. “The waitress poured the coffee, and departed, her red Doc Martens clumping against the tile floor.

Jake shook his head and laughed. “Those shoes can’t be comfortable to work in.”

Maggie grabbed her bag and inched from behind the table. “I really can’t handle kid murders. You’re going to have to fly solo or hire someone else. Thanks for the coffee, but I have to leave.”

“Wait, Maggie. At least have some lunch. Food’s already ordered. C’mon. If you don’t want to give us a hand, I understand, okay? I’m not going to pressure you.”

“You better not be lying.”

“Stay put. Please.”

She scooted back and said nothing as she stirred a packet of sugar into her mug.

“I thought you liked your coffee black.”

“Yeah, I do. But, today, I need something a little sweet.” She studied Jake’s face.

Although handsome in a rough sort of way, the years had neither been easy nor kind to him. “You say there are no clues?”

“That’s what’s so goddamn baffling. We can’t even find footprints. It’s like a ghost is killing these kids, Maggie. Forensics can’t find hairs, cloth fibers, or fingerprints.”

 “Nothing at all we can work with?”

 “From what we can tell, it looks as though the son-of-a-bitch keeps the kids for a couple of days.” He leaned across the table, looking around the café to ensure no one was listening, and whispered, “We find the kids face-to-face, arms around one another in an embrace. In each case they were placed…I don’t mean dumped… placed in graves almost reverently. This is the work of a 100 percent authentic sicko.” He leaned back, laced his fingers behind his head, and stretched. His upper back made an audible pop. “Damn, I’m getting to be an old, creaky fart. You don’t want to retire, Maggie. C’mon. Get on the reserves. Help us out. We need you. I need you.”

“Any sign of sexual assault?” she asked.

“No.”

“How old did you say the victims are?”

 “No younger than four, no older than eight.”

“Babies then.”

“Yeah, Mag. Pretty much.”

“Shit.” With the fingers of both hands she massaged the tops of her shoulders.

A scraping noise outside caught their attention. “Will you look at that?” Jake pointed at the window.
“Check out all those crows.”On the ledge, a half dozen ravens perched in a row.

“They aren’t crows.”
***

 Maggie settled into her lounge chair overlooking Wild River. Her lump of a lazy bloodhound stretched out on the grass beside her, and Samantha curled into a snug ball on her chest. She’d put on her favorite Clannad CD, and opened a paperback book, Learning Irish Gaelic.

The lunch meeting with Jake wore on her, and Maggie had not slept much the night before.
The placid music lulled her into drowsiness. Her eyes closed, and as she fell asleep, her fingers went limp and the book slid from her lap landing with a soft plop on the ground.

She dreamed she was a raven. She flew through a remote part of the forest deep into the Trinity Alps. Below, elk and bear foraged for food. Maggie cawed a greeting to them, veered west and flew toward the white cliffs of Sunset Mountain. Beneath the shade of an old Douglas fir, alive in spite of being split nearly in two by lightning, she saw a thin human-like figure, only much too tall to be a human, hunched over something. Curious, as ravens are, she flew closer, settled onto the limb of the fir and cocked her head to get a better look.

An emaciated Native man in dirty torn buckskins with strips of rotting flesh hanging from his hands and face busied himself digging a rectangular hole with a spade. The man had long, stringy black hair that appeared plucked out in patches revealing skull the color of coffee stains. The music of unseen whistles and drums echoed off the cliffs.

“Who are you?” she said. The question came out in a series of caws and clicks.

He ceased his digging, tilted his head above to the branch where she perched. With one eye he stared at her. Where his other eye should have been was a foul hole from which dropped, one at a time, glistening maggots.

About the Soundtrack

This is pretty easy.  I don’t have specific “songs” or cuts off of CDs.  I’d say a mix of traditional Native American music, especially drumming and flute, and Traditional/Contemporary Irish music.  I prefer more haunting melodies to upbeat or fast music.  This is a dark story after all! 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War (graphic novel) - Paul's REVIEW

*I received this book as an eARC from Diamond Book Distributors and IDW Publishing in exchange for an honest review*


Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Title: 
Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War
Author: Mike Johnson
Illustrator: Angel Hernandez
Upcoming Release Date: March 29, 2016


Synopsis: Two iconic franchises collide for this blockbuster crossover event! The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise meets the Green Lantern Corps for the first time in an all-new adventure that spans the cosmos! Kirk and Spock make a most unusual discovery on a lost world... igniting events that will change the fate of empires!



------------------------------------------------------------

Review: I am a big fan of Star Trek. I grew up watching Voyager and I am very familiar with all things Trek. I've read some of the reboot film comics, but I haven't kept up with them. Green Lantern on the other hand, I know very little about. I've seen the film. I know some of the history of the Corp, but I am definitely just a casual consumer when it comes to Green Lantern


In this graphic novel, your really only need to be a casual consumer of either franchise. Anything that needs to be explained is explained. Obviously, you'll enjoy it more the more familiar you are with either franchise. 

The rings from the Green Lantern universe make their way into the Star Trek world. With them, comes some characters as well. When the rings arrive, they find new bearers. Many of the Enterprise crew get rings that match their personalities. Unfortunately, so do villains. General Klang the Klingon makes an appearance. There are also appearances from the classic Star Trek races Gorn and Romulan. 

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this comic. It is done really well. It's a fun, high energy story with great characters. I give this graphic novel a 4/5. If they continue this crossover series, I want to read the next volume! My favorite image was Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, sitting in the Captain's Chair of the Enterprise.   


--PAUL

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

BLOG TOUR: The Undertakers: End of the World (Undertakers #5) by Ty Drago - Top Twelve + GIVEAWAY!


Good morning! We're really excited to be a part of the blog tour for Ty Drago's The Undertakers: End of the World today! Ty stopped by to share his Top Twelve time travel stories, and we've also got a giveaway for you at the end of this post, so be sure to enter via the Rafflecopter form.

Also don't forget to stop by the rest of the amazing blogs on this tour. You can find the full schedule by clicking on the banner above!

Before we get to Ty's Top Twelve and the giveaway, here's a little bit more about the book and its author!

About the Book

Title: The Undertakers: End of the World (Undertakers #5)
Author: Ty Drago
Publication Date:  March 29, 2016
Publisher:  Month9Books

Synopsis: The Corpse War is over. Or at least Will Ritter thought the war was over. But Will quickly changes his mind when he is led through a doorway in time and finds himself in a future where the Earth has been all but destroyed. The Corpses, alien invaders who wear the dead like suits of clothing, have returned in horrific numbers. In the wake of their destructive onslaught, a rag-tag group of survivors with some of Will’s now grownup friends among them is all that’s left of mankind. Will must take part in a desperate, last ditch effort to rewrite history, prevent the Second Corpse War from ever happening, and defeat this evil that has consumed mankind once and for all. But victory, if such a thing is even possible, carries a heavy cost.


Purchase Links: Google Play | Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks


Find the rest of the series here:


About the Author

Ty Drago does his writing just across the river from Philadelphia, where the Undertakers novels take place.  In addition to The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses, The Undertakers: Queen of the Dead, and The Undertakers: Secret of the Corpse Eater, he is the author of The Franklin Affair and Phobos, as well as short stories and articles that have appeared in numerous publications, including Writer's Digest.  He currently lives in southern New Jersey with his wife and best friend, the real Helene Drago née Boettcher.


Find Ty Online: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


Ty's Top Twelve Time Travel Books/Movies/TV Shows

Top ten time travel tales, huh?  That’s a tough one, and especially relevant to me as the final book in my Undertakers Series, “End of the World,” is very much a time travel story.  I know firsthand how hard it can be to get such things right, and so I’m always impressed when I read or see an interesting, well thought out, and effective approach to the whole warping experience.

With that in mind, I’m going to up the ante.  Instead of ten, let’s call it twelve, with four examples in each of the three categories.  Movies first, in no particular order.


1)      Back to the Future (Parts 1-3): Okay, not perfect from a temporal consistency perspective.  I mean, what the heck was that business of people being “partially” erased from photographs?  Wouldn’t it be one way or the other, based on state of the timeline?  But aside from that quibble, this 80’s trilogy went a long way toward taking a hard SF theme and making it work in pop culture.  Plus they gave us a really great glimpse of the 50’s and, let’s face it, a look at 2015 that turned to be a lot cooler than what we actually ended up with!

2)      Frequency: I love this one.  This tale of a father and son communicating via solar flares and a ham radio across thirty years was wonderfully crafted and has very few logical flaws that I could see.  The scene with the wallet and the scene with the wood burner were especially powerful.  I must see!

3)      Timecrimes: This dazzling example of original science fiction storytelling comes to us from Spain, but it is totally worth the sub-titles.  In it, a man accidentally steps into a time machine and goes back one hour, which sets into motion an amazing and dizzying dance of cause and effect unlike anything I’ve ever seen on film.  A true masterwork in time travel.

4)      Time after Time: Another one from the 80’s, this is a neat little thriller starting a young Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, about H.G. Wells’ time machine being stolen by Jack the Ripper, who uses it to escape to 20th century San Francisco.  Wells pursues him.  It may sound a bit far-fetched, but the result is a taut, engaging thriller that does it’s best to explain the twists and turns it creates in the timeline.  Not perfect, but a ton of fun.

Now, let’s visit the idiot box, shall we?  Again, these are in no particular order.

1)      Quantum Leap: Remember when Sam Becket stepped into the quantum accelerator … and vanished? The series was never quite as successful as it should have been, and the ending was rushed and fell very flat.  But overall, this continuing story of a man “leaping” into the lives of people in various times and in various places along the length of his own lifespan was smart, funny, and amazingly poignant at times. Scott Bakula made a name for himself in the lead role, with Dean Stockwell as his holographic guide, Al.

2)      Star Trek: Okay, obviously the crew the Enterprise didn’t always travel through time.  But they did so often enough, and well enough, to deserve a nod.  The first series especially, given its 3-1/2 year life in the sixties, made some amazing strides with episodes about traveling to the past.  “The City at the Edge of Forever” is a shining example of powerful, thoughtful time travel storytelling.

3)      Time Tunnel: Okay, it sucked.  But, as a kid I loved it.  Poor James Darren and Roger Colbert just kept bouncing from time to time and place to place, forever “happening upon” famous historical figures or finding themselves appearing coincidentally at pivotal moments in history.  And everyone always spoke English!  Watching it today, it’s almost laughably naïve and shallow.  But it still holds a place in my heart.

4)      Doctor Who: Come on.  Of course. The Doctor and his Tardis have been with us, on and off, since the sixties. He wears many faces, has even more different companions, but his blue box remains the same.  True, the storytelling hasn’t always been the best, and the monsters tend to be a little … well … rubbery.  But when the show is on the mark, there is simply no better television to be had, period.  Maybe best of all, they even explain why everyone in spacetime speaks English!

And, finally, my personal favorite: the written word.  Time travel books are plentiful and varied.  But here are a few of my personal picks:

1)      The Time Machine: HG Wells’ allegory about British class divisions as seen through the eyes of a man who travels far into the future is arguably the one that started it all.  It’s been made into more than a couple of movies, though no one’s ever gotten it quite right.  Though written in 1895, the story has held up surprisingly well, and Lord those Molochs are scary!

2)      The Doomsday Book: Connie Willis penned this ultra dark tale of a scholar who travels back to 14th century England during the worst of the black plague. What she witnesses is both vivid and absolutely heartbreaking, and it has a lot to say about how our individual problems and tribulations mean next to nothing in the face of something as savage and merciless as a pandemic.  A powerful read.

3)      Lightning by Dean R. Koontz tells the tale of a young woman whose life is repeatedly saved by a handsome stranger who always shows up just when she needs him.  Where he comes from and what he’s up to is both more (and less) complicated than you might think, but Koontz does a good job in this early novel of keeping you guessing.  And the ending is worth a cheer.

4)      The Undertakers: End of the World is, I admit, a shameless plug.  Utterly shameless.  However, since I did offer up more than the ten suggestions requested, I feel okay about it. J  This is the final book in my Undertakers Series, and it pulls our erstwhile hero, Will Ritter, thirty years into the future where he finds the world on the brink of destruction by the Corpses he’s been battling through the last four books.  Now, he must team up with the grown-up versions of his friends in a last-ditch desperate effort to save humanity and defeat the Malum invasion once and for all!

Thanks for the time and attention.  Happy reading, everyone!



The Giveaway!



What's your favorite time-travel tale? Let us know in the comments! 

--Ashley & Paul

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Half Bad by Sally Green - Paul's REVIEW + GIVEAWAY

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review*


Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Title: Half Bad

Author: Sally Green
Publication Year: 2014

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world's most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan's only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it's too late. But how can Nathan find his father when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?






------------------------------------------------------------

Review: There are a lot of really cool concepts in this book. It takes place in a modern world where magic exists in a counter culture sort of way. It's similar to Harry Potter's world. There are White witches and Black witches. The protagonist is the son of the most feared Black witch, but his mother was a White witch. There's a prophecy. It's almost like a different take on the Harry Potter "Chosen One" story with the main character the son of the main villain. Don't get me wrong though, this book stands on its own. It is not just a rip off of Harry Potter. The magic system is completely different. When witches turn 17 they receive their Gift, a specific type of magic they excel at. 


I was put off by the writing style in this book. It goes back and forth between first and second person. I found it off putting and never really felt immersed within the world.

There were some really interesting characters throughout the novel. I liked seeing how each character's personalities matched with their Gift. I also liked that White witches weren't always good and Black witches weren't all bad. There is a romantic element to the book, but it doesn't overpower. I was surprised by a same-sex love interest for the protagonist towards the end. That may be one of the reasons I read the second book. I want to see where that leads, if anywhere.

Overall, this book was underwhelming. There were many interesting elements, but it didn't come together for me. I found the writing off putting. I give this book a 3/5


------------------------------------------------------------

   

HALF WILD (#2)
out in paperback now

HALF LOST (#3)
on sale March 29, 2016

Praise for HALF LOST, the last book in the trilogy
*    “The Half Bad trilogy ends as strongly as it started in this conclusion to one of the finest recent examples of YA fantasy.”- PW 


*    " An immensely satisfying finale of dazzling magic, hard-earned romance, and the tragic realities of war.”– Kirkus


*    "It’s a poignant finale to a trilogy that for readers, for full effect, will need to absorb from its beginning.”– Booklist



GIVEAWAY




--PAUL