EXCERPT from Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter: “My Eddie is in trouble!”

SHATTERED BONDS by Faith Hunter, copyright Faith Hunter.

My cell chimed. Beast and I followed Eli to my gobag in the mud room, the small bag hanging on the rack with other winter gear. He swiped the screen, tapped in my security code, and started back to the office, saying, “Molly, it’s Eli—”

Angie Baby screamed, “My Eddie is in trouble! My Eddie! No! No!”

Beast growled, showing killing teeth. My/our heart did a fearful, arrhythmic bump-and-pause, and then raced too fast. Again, I searched for the connection to Edmund. Gone. Severed. As if it had been cut out with a knife. It was a strange sensation, as if a part of my own body had been instantly amputated and I kept searching for it, feeling something but … not the missing part. Ed was mine. Ed was gone.

Molly’s voice came over the phone and my attention swept to the cell. “Sorry, Jane. Angie woke up screaming from a bad dream. We’ve been trying to calm her down, but she grabbed my cell and called.” In the background, we heard the sound of Angie Baby’s screams diminish in volume and the crooning of her father’s flute magic, calming her.

“Eli here. Jane’s big-cat at the moment. Angie may not be having a dream.”

“What’s happening with Ed?” Molly asked, a trace of fear in her tone.

“We don’t know, except that Jane heard Ed through the vamp-binding. Alex is searching for him.”

In the background Angie’s screams crescendoed, the pitch so high it hurt Beast’s ears. She turned her ear tabs down against the noise and thought, Kits… Kits in trouble. Ed in trouble.

“Eli, I—. This is … Has Ed been killed? He and Angle have a blood bond. I don’t know what to do if… ?” Molly’s voice trailed away, uncertainly.

I/we nodded Beast’s head up and down, then back and forth, an uncertain yes / no gesture. We stared at Eli, snarling and licking our jaw, hoping he would understand that this was really not right.

“Jane and Beast are upset too,” he said.

“I think we’ll come visit,” Molly said.

“We have the room,” Eli said.

“Yeah. I’ve seen the sales brochures,” she said wryly.

In the background, the screaming stopped. Evan said, “She’s asleep. Pack fast. More snow is coming.”

Into the cell, Molly said, “We’ll probably have to keep her in magically induced sleep but expect us after nine tonight.”

“The county brined the street but the drive is frozen,” Eli said. “Call if you get stuck.”

“Will do.” The call ended.

From the office, I heard the Kid’s voice in quiet conversation with Grégoire, Blondie’s and Alex’s voices barely loud enough to pick out, even with Beast’s ears. Grégoire was in France with Edmund. Good. That meant up-to-date info. I / we trotted to him.

“Send me everything you have,” Alex said.

“Oui. My people do so now. Dieu vous garde en sécurité.”

“You too, dude.”

I heard a connection end and felt a smile tug at my Puma lips. Only Alex would call a royal-born, centuries old, powerful vamp dude.

 

 


Read the rest in Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter—how can you not?.


My thanks to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book via NetGalley) they provided.

EXCERPT from The Dead of Winter by A. B. Gibson

PROLOGUE

STILL FOLLOWING. SHE KNEW BECAUSE when she stopped to check a moment or two ago, she could still hear him chasing her. She was hardly making any noise as she raced through the cut paths of the maze, but her predator was barreling directly through the corn and his heavy boots made a loud crunching. The snapping and rattling sound following in his wake as he crashed through the dry, brittle corn stalks was terrifying. And, because it was becoming louder, she could tell he was getting closer.

The woman had rushed into the maze too quickly to even notice what direction she was going. She was paying more attention to the gash in her ribs than anything else, and she didn’t care about finding their so-called exit, anyway. She only wanted one thing—out. The first frost came early, and there had been a few more since, and the icy turns made it hard to go fast. The sun, which was just beginning to rise, barely illuminated the paths. But she couldn’t slow down, and she dared not fall.

A treetop loomed over the field straight ahead, and she used it as a reference point, when the only choice was to go left or right. Without breaking stride, she followed her instinct and turned left this time, thinking if she kept changing directions, maybe she could lose him. Her legs wobbled from speed and exhaustion, and she choked on the biting wind that stirred the corn stalks. By now she had lost a lot of blood from her deep wound and she was feeling faint, so she had to dig in mentally to keep running at full speed.

 

 


Read the rest in The Dead of Winter by A. B. Gibson.


My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group

Opening Lines—System Failure by Joe Zieja

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author—but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. I’m sure we can all relate to it.

Lucinda Hiri was pretty sure taking over the galaxy hadn’t been in the job description when she was offered this intern position six months ago. Then again, it wasn’t impossible. The Snaggardir corporation’s paperwork was notoriously long and detailed, vetted by droves of lawyers at every level of approval to make sure that the language had all the right loopholes in all the right places. Lucinda supposed that somewhere on page 356 there could have been a small asterisk that said “in the event a nascent people rise up after two hundred years of secret collusion, you will be required to take detailed notes at their strategy meetings.”

It had seemed like a dream come true at the time. Sal Snaggardir and his family’s company were arguably the most powerful economic force in the galaxy. The possibilities for her career as a businesswoman were endless. Not liking interning at some space technology company on Urp, where she would likely move laterally for the entirety of her disappointing, coffee-supported life. Snaggardir’s was the place to make it big.

In retrospect, though Lucinda should have noticed that Mr. Snaggardir was trying to conceal just how big his company had gotten. Subsidiary corporations literally thousands of banks all across the galaxy holding funds under different names, and that nondisclosure agreement she signed threatening to eradicate her family line if she ever told anyone anything about the company. The legal department said that was boilerplate, and, really, what did she know? She was just a thirty-year-old unpaid intern with three advanced degrees in business arts.

from System Failure by Joe Zieja

EXCERPT from Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers: South of Baghdad

From Chapter 10 South of Baghdad

Taken from the start of Chapter 10, this extract sees John Pierce sharing one of my entertaining days in Iraq that occurred exactly as written. It concerned me that editors might want the chapter cut, whereas I think it show in a microcosm the hope, mistrust and deep-rooted anger that permeated Baghdad back then.

‘Look at his face. Can you see his face? He hates you.’ Mr Saleh had suddenly turned from an urbane, confident businessman into an excited Willy Wonka as we’d driven through the gates of his factory to the south of Baghdad. It made a striking change from the recent days spent with the cagey Faris and his crew.

General Imad had introduced the two of us over a phone call from his place the previous day and we’d met up that morning and spent the day together. Instead of focusing on the business set-up, it gave me a chance to spend time with a wealthy businessman and discuss discernible business opportunities.

Lunch had been delicious fish cooked over hot coals in a tented restaurant with an open fire pit by the banks of the Tigris. And Mohammed was right: masgouf was delicious. The place was hired for our exclusive use and his private goon squad sat in a car immediately outside, watching over us and the superbly maintained vintage black Mercedes we’d arrived in.

This wasn’t just for my protection. Local kidnappings were rampant and anyone with money was fair game as were their families. During the war the previous year, most of the prison inmates had ended up free to roam the city and get back to business. With the economy shot to pieces and the scarcity of jobs, crime was about the only sector showing rocketing expansion. Mr Saleh wasn’t taking any chances.

As I checked out the faces of the workers in the compound, I wasn’t feeling the love from any of them. A good job the goon squad were following right behind us or this might have got unpleasant. An especially furious-looking individual with wild hair and wilder eyes stood out. If there was anyone looking angrier than this guy, then I probably needed to be drawing the Makarov.

‘All his family were killed in an American air strike. He hates the Americans. He hates you. If I wasn’t here, he’d try to kill you.’

Why this was said in such an enthusiastic manner I couldn’t quite grasp.

‘Well let’s keep him at a distance. I don’t think it will help productivity if I have to shoot him.’

Mr Saleh’s head turned so fast I thought he had to have done himself an injury. ‘Of course. You have nothing to worry about. I apologise. You are safe here.’

That remained to be seen.

We were about half an hour south of Baghdad at Mr Saleh’s drinks factory. He was giving me the grand tour after I’d explained to him over lunch how I was looking to bring leading Western brands into Iraq and here on the search for suitable local partners.

‘Bring me Coca Cola and all our dreams will be realised,’ he’d told me.

As I inspected the dusty compound, run-down buildings, and forlorn production line, it was difficult to envisage the Coca-Cola quality control people ripping his hand off to sign on the dotted line.

I tried to introduce a diplomatic reality check. ‘Coca-Cola is likely to already have partners here or in Jordan.’ Drinks manufacturing was a sector I knew precious little about and, with no advance warning about the type of business he owned, I’d had zero time to conduct any background research.

Mr Saleh swept my negativity aside. ‘I want you to find me a new production line in the UK or Germany. Send me some details and we can refurbish this factory and make it fit for the big companies. Anyway, we shall expand our water production and become the best brand in Iraq.’

He was thinking big. Provided he had the money, then this could be worth a closer look.

***

‘He’s outraged I brought you here.’

Mr Saleh reverted to being Willy Wonka as we headed back out through the gates. He drove the highly polished Mercedes himself with only me in the car alongside, the goon squad bringing up the rear in the other Merc. Not exactly low profile but the goons bristled with weapons and ammunition, ready for a fight rather than just for show.

The dirt road leading from the factory wound through some undulating terrain on its way to the main road. We rounded a sandy hillock to be confronted by a pickup truck manned by four armed balaclava-clad men bearing down on us. As it slewed to the right, I could see a fifth balaclava behind a large pintle-mounted anti-aircraft gun, a 12.7mm (.50 cal) DShK, or ‘Dushka’. My eyes must have popped out of my head like something from a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I drew the Makarov and hoped they hadn’t spotted me through the tinted windows. Mr Saleh put his arm across.

‘No, Mr John. It’s okay, these are security forces.’

He stopped the car and opened the window to shout a greeting to the vehicle commander as I tried to bring my heart rate back under control. I was going to need a drink tonight.

 


Read the rest in Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Opening Lines—The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author—but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they’ll rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare, or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they did from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

from The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

Opening Lines – Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings* I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit? How can you not?

It might take a little while to get there, but I’ll tell you everything, and I’ll tell you the truth. As best I can. I used to lie, but when I tell you the story, you’ll understand why I had to lie. You’ll understand that I didn’t have a choice.

I just wanted to do my job.

from Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

* Technically not the opening, there’s a Prologue (or something, I don’t have the book on me) — it’s the start of Chapter 1. But I count that as the opening.

EXCERPT: Dead is Better by Jo Perry

So in lieu of posting a review-ish post of Dead is Beautiful, I’m doing something better, namely, I’m shutting up. Instead, I’ve been given the first few pages of the first Charlie and Rose book — Dead is Better. Everything you really need to know about the series is here — the epigraphs, the humor, the tragedy, the mix of humor and tragedy, Charlie’s brutal honesty about himself, and Rose. I just re-read this post and had to fight the impulse to re-read the book. I just love this book.

Naturally, when corresponding with Perry this week about this post, I made sure to get the title wrong, because I’m a professional.

“Sometimes dead is better.”

––Stephen King, Pet Sematary

 

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another.

But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”

––Helen Keller

 

1.

“When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

All I know is that I know. And I can’t stop knowing. There was no cinematic replay of my life, no white light, no luminous passage to a perpetual meadow populated by old friends and relatives––I didn’t float over my failing body as the life seeped out.

I couldn’t see a goddamn thing––my eyes were shut.

There was then––the team of EMTs working on me, one applying compressions to the disco beat of the Bee Gees’s “Stayin’ Alive,” and a small young woman with long, curly hair squeezing the breathing bag attached to a plastic tube they’d shoved down my throat. Then a tall young man with short black hair loads me onto a gurney.

That was that.

Bullet holes still interrupt my flesh. My sternum is cracked, my chest bruised yellow and purple from their efforts.

One thing about this place—it’s come as you were.

 

2.

“We do not need to grieve for the dead. Why should we grieve for them? They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home.”

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

No Virgin Mary Blue sky. No combustible darkness.  Just a flash, a bang, and a fade-out that delivered me to this quiet place without midnight or noon, twilight or dawn.  This place, if it is a place—a beach without a sea, a desert without sand, an airless sky.

Did I mention the goddamn dog?

For the record, she wasn’t mine on the other side––which proves that error is built into the fabric of the universe—if that’s where we still are.

No ragged holes singe her gut, and she walks without a limp, but there’s a dirty rope around her neck that trails behind her too-thin body covered with long, reddish fur.  The first moment I saw her, I could tell––She’d been tethered long enough without water or food to die.

Well, she’s not hungry or thirsty now.

Is that peace?

 

3.

“Whatever can die is beautiful — more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world. Do you understand me?”

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

In life I’d heard of dogs like her, cheap burglar alarms.  Solitary, lonely, they bark at passersby and garbage trucks from behind high fences in exchange for water and kibble when the people remember to feed and water them.

They bark out of fear.

And to remind themselves that they in fact exist.

Now that I think about it, I wasn’t much different. A nobody.  A man of no importance.

On the other side, being a nothing had advantages. People barely saw me and that made me free.  I moved among them like a shade, a cipher. And when they did acknowledge whoever they thought I was, they were often revealing, entertaining––overconfident, saying too much about spouses and ex-spouses and email passwords, and what the neighbor’s son really did in the garage, and about not really being married, or the time they shoplifted—confessing, boasting.

Being nothing– that’s my gift

 

4.

When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

 

In case you wondered, yes. When you’re dead, you can attend your own funeral. It’s not required, but I decided to go––time is unknowable here––to try to find out what happened.  And I thought the dog might like a change of scenery–or any scenery.

I want to look at certain people’s faces, especially my own.

Late morning at Mount Sinai, Hollywood Hills––which should be named Travel Town 2.0. The final resting place of thousands of corpses sits next door to Travel Town, a collection of non-traveling train cars frequented by babysitters, little boys and blinking coyotes who venture out at noon, when the picnickers and homeless eat their food.

The ferocious September heat and smog smudges LA’s edges and boundaries––until it doesn’t seem that different from this place, except that the dog and I are temperature-controlled––perpetually lukewarm, courtesy of Who or What we do not know.

The living––palpable, whole, shiny and fragrant with sweat and irritation––nothing’s worse than LA traffic on a Friday afternoon––remind me of those silvery-mirage-pools that form on the surfaces of overheated streets and then evaporate when you get close. Although it was I who lacks presence, they seem insubstantial, like flames, the men in suffocating dark suits and ties, and the women–especially my four exes––lotioned and gleaming, tucked and tanned, manicured and lap-banded, and holding wads of Kleenex in their diamond-ringed left hands to signify their former closeness to and recent repudiation of the deceased, who lay by himself in a plain wooden box up front.

The dog, whose rope I hold in my right hand, urges me forward, and then waits patiently while I look.

Jesus. Why is the casket open? I look like shit. I must have Mark’s wife “the decorator” to thank for this grotesque violation. Why didn’t they shut the box as is customary, especially here in a Jewish place. What were they trying to prove? That despite being shot to death I was still in some sense, intact?

Was I ever really the poor fuck who lived behind that face?  The neck and chin have been painted with peach make-up, and the too-pink lip-glossed mouth forced into a grimace that was, I guess, supposed to indicate post-mortal composure.  It must have taken three guys at least to wedge my fat ass into the narrow box.  I’m large.

Or I was.

I feel strangely light on my feet now. Want to lose sixty pounds in a hurry?

Die.

Read the rest in Dead is Better by Jo Perry — and the rest of the series: Dead is Best; Dead is Good; and the focus of this tour, the wonderful Dead is Beautiful. .

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.