Excerpt: Scarefest


An early Thanksgiving “gift” for all of you, my lovely readers: the first full chapter of Reclaim!

No one has read this yet (so…feel special? lol), and this is of course before the final copy edit. And I guess it could still change a little bit between now and January, but probably not drastically since it’s mainly set up and reminding you about things that went down in Relapse. (And, if you haven’t read the first two books, spoilers abound.) In any case, hope you enjoy!

(You can read another excerpt here.)

*****

“Lower your elbow,” Alec says. Placing one hand on my waist, he gently coaxes my elbow down with the other. I stiffen under the intimate contact, and he pulls away quickly, taking a step to the side. “You were never going to hit any with your arm sticking out like that.”

Smiling, I glance at him out of the corner of my eye. “It’s just balloon darts, Alec.”

He sighs, crossing his arms. “I know. Sorry. I have a bit of a competitive streak, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“I haven’t.” Returning my gaze to the wall of brightly colored balloons, I align the tip of the dart with a red one in the upper right corner. With a flick of my wrist, I send the dart whizzing toward my target—and straight into the empty patch of corkboard next to it. The next two meet the same fate.

“Fudge,” I say, throwing my arms up in defeat. “There goes my career as a professional darts player. Your turn.”

Alec scoops up three additional darts from the counter and assumes a wide-legged stance, expertly lining up the first dart with the board. He pulls his arm back and snaps it forward again, the dart a silver and black blur as it flies through the air. It bounces off the board, dropping to the ground.

“I may have used a little too much force,” he admits.

I nod in agreement. “Just a little.”

His second dart doesn’t fare much better, getting lodged in the corkboard like all three of mine did. “Maybe you should just stick to football,” I tell him.

As if to prove me wrong, the third successfully punctures a blue balloon with a loud pop that makes me jump, even though I saw it coming.

Alec pumps his fist. “Score!”

Rolling his eyes, the attendant turns to check the tag  underneath the shriveled remains of the balloon. After rummaging underneath the counter, he tosses a neon orange bouncy ball in Alec’s direction. Alec catches it in one hand, promptly dropping it into mine. “I was hoping to win you a giant stuffed animal, but I guess this will have to do.”

“I will cherish it always,” I say, stuffing it into my pocket.

“Another round?” the attendant asks us, looking hopeful as he holds up three more darts. Alec and I glance at each other, then back at the attendant, shaking our heads politely. Heaving a sigh, he turns his back to us, moving to replace the broken balloon.

“Let’s go on some rides,” Alec says to me as we walk away from the game booth.

I shake my head. “Not tonight. I should probably get going,” I realize, checking the time on my cell phone.

“Come on. One ride. How about the Iron Demon?”

“I hate roller coasters…in case you’ve forgotten,” I add with a smirk.

He gives an apologetic shrug. “I kind of did. The haunted house, then,” he suggests, pointing behind me.

“No way. It’s too creepy,” I tell him, shivering at the mere thought of it. The haunted house consists of five or so dark, eerie rooms where an assortment of hideous characters lurk in the shadows, waiting to jump out and scare you. From the outside, it looks like an old, black clapboard house where an evil witch might live. I picture her inside, hunched over a large cauldron filled with a bubbling green potion. She kicks back her head and cackles, and I can almost hear the maniacal sound of it spilling from the windows, echoing in the empty alley beyond.

Alec sounds exasperated when he says, “It’s meant to scare little kids. Not us.”

“There’s a room full of clowns, Alec. Clowns. I’m not going in there.”

“Never mind. Sorry I mentioned it.” I catch him rolling his eyes before he turns away from me. “So, no roller coasters, and no haunted houses. Then how about the…”

His words become background noise as I stare into the alley next to the house—looking for what, I don’t know. The lights from the rides don’t seem to reach this corner of the park, where shadows gather like a thick, dark fog. But if I look hard enough, I can almost see the faint silhouettes of two people through the haze. Another shiver runs down my spine, but this time it’s not from fear, or even the cold autumn air. Anticipation coursing through me, I take a reflexive step toward the alley.

“Carly?” Alec puts a hand on my shoulder. “You okay?” His concerned voice breaks the trance. Shaking myself, I look up at him, smiling.

“I’m fine,” I insist. “It’s getting late. Let’s just go.” As we walk away, I take one last look at the alley, but the figures I thought I saw in the shadows are gone. Feeling strangely disappointed, I turn back around.

“I’m sorry about before. At the dart game,” Alec says. I assume he’s talking about that brief, awkward moment when he tried to adjust my throwing arm. “It was habit. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s okay,” I assure him. “I can understand that. It hasn’t been that long since…” I trail off, watching our shoes hit the pavement in sync as we walk through the amusement park. Waves of patrons stream past us in the opposite direction, talking and laughing loudly, cotton candy in hand.

“No, it hasn’t,” he agrees. “Carly, I…” When I look over at him, he’s avoiding my gaze, kicking a chunk of gravel along as we walk.

“Alec.” I stop in the middle of the street, forcing a couple of kids to go around us. “Why did you ask me here tonight?”

Alec pauses and holds my gaze steady. “I…I guess I just thought that maybe…” He takes a step closer to me. “I still care about you, Carly. I want to get back together. I—I thought you might want the same thing.”

At first, I’m too stunned to speak. I shake my head slowly, sounding apologetic but firm when I finally say, “No. I’m sorry, Alec, but I don’t.”

“No,” he echoes sadly. “Well, I guess I sort of expected that. But I have to ask—why?”

Why?” Feeling flustered, I try to remember why I even agreed to meet Alec at Playland in the first place. I should have realized when he “wanted to talk,” it was about getting back together. Instead of thinking it through, I had jumped at the opportunity to get out of the sorority house, which I hadn’t left in days. Hot, angry tears sting the backs of my eyes, ready to burn their way down my cheeks. “You can’t be serious. You dumped me in front of the entire Greek Quad—then had the nerve to ask for your lavalier back.”

“Carly, I was trying to—”

“And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, your fraternity sacrificed me to bring one of your brothers back!” I didn’t know it at the time—didn’t know why the Sigma Iota brothers lured me to their basement and forced me through the portal that took me to Pandora, the space between universes. It wasn’t until later that I found out it was an exchange, a way to bring one of their leaders back from Olympus while maintaining the balance between our worlds.

“Yes, my fraternity! Not me!” He takes a step closer to me. I remember a time not so long ago when he would come up to me and scoop me into his arms, and I would rest my head on one of his broad shoulders. Now, he leaves a sliver of space between us, a few feet that feel like a mile. His golden skin looks paler than usual, pulled tightly across angular cheekbones. He lifts his hands as though to reach for mine, then brings them back to his sides. His dark eyes fill with tears. “I tried to stop them, Carly.”

“What about afterwards? You didn’t come after me or even try to get help. You weren’t at the ritual when the others came to rescue me—”

“I had no idea they were going after you—”

“Stop it!” I shriek. A few of the people standing in line at the rubber duck game look over at us curiously. “Stop making excuses,” I say, lowering my voice. “There’s nothing you can say to make this better.”

Alec nods, seeming to accept this. “I get it. I do, and I’m…sorry. I really am sorry.”

“Me, too.” I shudder as a biting wind blows through the park, cutting through my denim jacket. It whips a lock of Alec’s black hair across his forehead. I dig my hands into my pockets, resisting the impulse to smooth it back.

“I shouldn’t have asked you out tonight,” he continues. “I should have known…plus, if my brothers find out…” He glances over his shoulder as though expecting one of his Sigma Iota brothers to appear behind him.

“I won’t tell if you won’t. Well, I guess I’ll see you around,” I say, turning to go.

“Just tell me,” Alec says, and I turn back around to face him, “there isn’t someone else.”

I roll my eyes. “Because the only possible reason I could have of not getting back together with you is that I met someone.”

He sighs in frustration. “That’s not what I meant.”

I open my mouth, entertaining, for a moment, the idea of telling him everything about my time in Pandora—about the other prisoner, my only companion in that dark, never-ending abyss. Then, the final words he spoke to me resurface, piercing through me all over again like a flurry of tiny darts.

“I’m a liar, Carly. You said so yourself. And you were right all along…I tricked you. I wanted to play with you a little while longer. And you let me…”

I shake my head. “No. There’s no one else.”

Alec looks relieved. “There’s no one else in my life, either.”

“I hope you find someone, Alec,” I tell him, my voice small. “I hope one day you find her—the woman of your dreams.”

“I hope you find the woman of your dreams, too,” Alec says in a half-hearted attempt to lighten the mood.

I laugh despite myself. “And I hope one day we can be friends. You know, when our houses stop this whole mortal enemies thing.”

He nods. “No matter what happens, I consider you a friend, Carly.”

“Goodbye, Alec.” Unsure of what else to say, I leave him standing next to the booth with the rubber duck game, feeling his eyes on me as I walk away.

I head back toward the park entrance, passing other game booths and rides along the way. Lights flash all around me, brightening the night sky in brief bursts of color. The late night crowd at Playland is mostly composed of people on dates and cliques of rowdy teenagers. Like the group currently loitering off to one side of the arched entryway. The boys are wearing shirts with band or beer logos on the front, pants hanging loose over their boxers. The girls have on shiny tops that don’t come down quite far enough over their form-fitting leggings. None of them are wearing jackets, preferring to look cool over appropriately dressed for the middle of October.

I feel wistful as I watch them talking and laughing, passing a large bag of kettle corn back and forth. I missed out on those carefree years, my adolescence filled with secrets and silence instead of friendships and laughter. Back then, I felt older than my sixteen years, already jaded. Now, watching this group of teenagers, I realize just how young I really was.

“BOO!” a voice bellows in my ear. I jump, letting out a scream to rival those coming from the Iron Demon, and spin around to find a figure in a black, hooded cloak looking just as startled as I am.

“Someone’s a little jumpy,” a muffled male voice says from behind the hood. Shaking his head, he walks away to join the zombie smoking a cigarette over by the ticket booth. The teens with the kettle corn are pointing at me, laughing. Heat rises to my cheeks, and I look away from them. I had forgotten Playland was in the midst of Scarefest, its month-long Halloween event. The zombie and the grim reaper must work at the haunted house.

Glancing around for an escape route, I spot a dark purple tent across the way, the signpost outside of it advertising:

Madam Moira

World-renowned fortuneteller

Divines your future for a $10 donation

I crack a smile at the word “donation.” Nevertheless, I hurry in that direction, avoiding the amused glances and mocking laughter still being thrown my way. For ten bucks, I’m not sure Madam Moira could tell me all that much, but maybe she could at least tell me if I’m going to ace the Concepts of Math midterm I haven’t studied for.

I slip inside the tent to find a hunched figure, draped in a midnight blue cloak, sitting at a foldout table littered with flickering black candles. Directly in front of her is a crystal ball mounted on an iron stand, seeming to emanate a light of its own.

“Who dares to disturb the meditation of Madam Moira?” a dramatic voice says from beneath the cloak. A hand rises to knock back the hood, revealing a tumble of black curls and two dark brown eyes set in an olive-toned face. Madam Moira gestures for me to sit, her large gold hoop earrings swaying from the movement. I take the other chair quickly.

“Ten dollars for a basic reading,” Moira says, holding her hand out expectantly. Her nails are fake, painted a glittery black with a clear gem adorning each tip. I get some money out of my purse, laying the bills in her outstretched palm. Her fingers close immediately over them, cramming them into the velvet pouch on her lap.

“What is your name, child?” she asks me, full, red lips curving into a tranquil smile. I try to hide my amusement at the question. Some psychic she is.

“Carly.” I shift uncomfortably in the chair. The seat is covered with a lumpy gold cushion that makes me feel like I’m sitting on a Jell-O mold.

“Carly,” she repeats thoughtfully. “Daughter of the true gods.” I go still at the words, forgetting the cushion situation. “Tell me, Carly. What has brought you to seek the guidance of Madam Moira?”

Carly,” I begin, mocking her use of the third person, “would like to know what the future holds.”

Moira nods knowingly. “Before we proceed, I must warn you: I do not sugarcoat my readings,” she says, arching a thick, well-shaped eyebrow. She has a faint, unfamiliar accent—must be another part of her act. “Many think they want to know what the future holds. But you may not like what you find there. Would you still like to proceed?”

Of course—I just paid you ten dollars, I think to myself, but all I do is nod, encouraging her to continue.

“Very well.” Moira’s piercing eyes shift to the crystal ball. She stirs the air above it with a flourish of her hands. “You have recently returned from a perilous journey,” she continues, glancing up at me. I give her another nod. “Journey” is pretty vague, even a perilous one. That could mean anything. It could refer to my trip to the grocery store this morning and the truck that almost backed into my car in the parking lot.

Creases burrow across her forehead as she peers into the ball. “I see a field. An endless field with tall, green grass. A great wall surrounding a city. An elderly man, standing guard.” Madam Moira pauses for effect. My heart starts to pound, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.

“I also see a…forest.” I don’t know if I’m imagining it or not, but it looks like the light inside the glass ball is starting to swirl. “And a creature—a gorgeous creature with a shining mane and a glittering”—she squints as though even she doesn’t quite believe what she’s seeing—“horn. A great, gaping pit of fire, mountains looming in the distance.” Moira blinks a few times, wavering in her chair. “I’m sorry. I’m only getting snapshots—everything is so jumbled and disjointed. Now, there’s a room—a dark room with stone walls and an iron throne—”

“That’s enough,” I say, standing up so quickly I almost knock the chair over. Concentration broken, Moira shifts her gaze to me, looking taken aback. “I mean…that’s okay. None of that matters, anyway. It’s in my past…not my future.” I turn to go, unable to listen to this a moment longer—to her abbreviated version of everything that happened in Pandora, an adventure that turned out to be nothing more than a fancy trick.

I wasn’t alone in Pandora, although I didn’t know my prison had a name at first. I thought I was trapped in an eerie, dark palace, held captive by a mercurial, white-haired prince. He sent me on what turned out to be a pointless quest to win my freedom. On my journey, I was tested three times. A test of the mind to enter the city. One of strength to get across a burning chasm. A final test of the heart to choose my own freedom and getting home to my sorority sisters over an imposter Alec. As it turned out, the entire journey had been a distraction created by the prince, who wasn’t a prince or my captor at all, but a fellow prisoner.

“I see a boy.” Moira’s lilting voice brings me back to the present. “A boy with two faces.”

“Who told you all of this?” I ask, sitting down again. “Was my roommate here? This isn’t funny, Victoria!” I say loudly, just in case she’s hiding somewhere, watching me make a fool of myself.

“You care about him,” Moira says, eyes sad.

A tear escapes down my cheek. I wipe it quickly away. “It doesn’t matter. He’s gone. He left me.” I’m not really being fair to Dolos, Moira’s boy with two faces. One, the face of the blonde prince holding me captive—the other green-eyed and dark-haired. The real Dolos, the god of trickery and deceit. When we were rescued from Pandora, I returned home, and so did he, as I found out later. Even though I had already suspected as much, it had taken me awhile to truly digest it—to accept I would never see him again.

“He is not gone,” Moira assures me. “He’s just in hiding.”

I shake my head. “But that would mean—”

“You have known so much loss in such little time,” Moira interrupts me, shaking her head gravely. “A sister in jeopardy. Trapped.”

“Yes!” I cry out, nodding eagerly for her to continue, despite the abrupt change of topic. “Siobhan. Is she okay? Is she alive?”  My sorority sister, Siobhan, was the one who braved Pandora to rescue us. Once I was safely out, she never came back through the portal, and Victoria and the others ran out of time, forced to close it behind her.

“She is hanging on.”

“Do we save her?” I lean forward into the table. “We have to get her out of there. She’s important.”

Moira’s eyes take on a sudden intensity when she replies, “You’re both important.”

I shake my head. “You don’t understand. She saved me, and I think she’s going to save all of us—the whole world, even. We need her.”

“Siobhan is the sword. You are the shield.”

Her cryptic words do nothing to reassure me. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

Instead of answering me, she says, “You need to save the others, first. They are trapped in a different way. Transformed.”

As Victoria updated me upon my return, Hera had spied on our sorority, deeming us unfit to perform our duties as guardians of the wall between universes. As punishment, she turned my sisters into doves.

“Will we be able to save them, too? Change them back?” Moira nods. “How?” I press her.

“Before the day is done, go to the place where three become one.”

“I don’t need another riddle.” I had my fill of them in Pandora. “You’re going to have to give me more than that.”

“You will embark on a dangerous quest.” Moira points a long, manicured fingernail at me. “Sacrifices will be made. Prices will be paid.”

“I think we’ve had to make plenty of sacrifices already,” I say, anger suddenly surging through me.

“You will have to choose.”

“Choose? Choose what?”

“Your sisters or your lover.”

“I think I’ve heard enough.” This time when I stand up, I send the chair clattering to the ground. I was right in the first place. Madam Moira is nothing but an actress. And a mediocre one at that. She got lucky with her guesses. Although I’m not a complete nonbeliever—some people probably are psychic, have “the sight,” whatever you want to call it–but certainly not some ten dollar fortuneteller at an amusement park.

“I warned you,” Madam Moira calls out behind me. “The future isn’t always an easy thing to hear.”

“Neither are your lies,” I tell her without looking back.

“The beast is coming.”

The words stop me in my tracks. Not just the words—Moira’s voice has changed. It’s deep and distorted, like someone or something else is speaking through her. I should bolt from the tent, but fear keeps my feet nailed to the ground. I twist my head slowly to look back over my shoulder, afraid of what I will find when I do, but overcome with an unshakable curiosity.

Moira’s eyes have rolled into the back of her head, leaving only the whites and a spider’s web of red lines. “It rises again,” she bellows. “It returns for the hunt. To devour its prey.”

“What beast?” I ask her, voice quivering. Forcing myself into motion, I back away slowly, unable to take my eyes off of her.

“The beast is alive. It is close. So close.”

“Where is it?” Suddenly, my back hits the wall of the tent, stopping me from going any further. The material gives way as I sink further and further into it. “What does it want?”

Moira fixes her white gaze on me. “You.”

reclaimcover

Antici…..


funnyJust checking in on this rather rainy, blah Saturday. The sun seems to be playing hide-and-seek today…

I’ve had a busy past couple of weeks, and although I won’t burden you with the details, I recently decided to make some changes and moved for the second time in a year. During packing and the move, I of course put all side projects on hold, but I’m planning to dive back into them asap.

I’m still taking my good old time with the edits to Reclaim. I am sorry about that–now, when it does come out, it will be about two years since I published Relapse–but it will be done when it’s done, lol. I’m not putting something out there I’m not 100% happy with. But, the good news is, the last time I was seriously editing it (a few weeks ago) I was about 75% of the way through. So no worries–progress is being made. 😉

In the meantime, I’m leaving up the GoFundMe campaign for a little extra help with book projects while I’m on the job hunt. Once I get halfway to my goal ($50 away…), I’ll post the first half of Chapter 1 of Reclaim on this blog, and the second half once I reach my goal!

For now, happy weekend, and happy reading!

WIP Wednesday: September 7, 2016


This is probably going to be a short and sweet update, but I got excited this week because I’ve actually made substantial progress editing Reclaim! As I’m sure you could tell if you follow this blog, I was getting discouraged for a while, but now I’m pumped again to put this book out into the world! I’m about 70% done with the edits I want to make, which means I can still put the book out this year, haha. I know, I know…I’m slow. I mean, I know people who have written more books than I’ve been able to edit this summer, and it’s been taking me forever to get this book where I want it to be. But now I’m finally, slowly but surely, reaching that point.

I had announced a few weeks back that I was delaying the publication date a bit (to December 6, 2016). If I’m happy with it before then, I’ll try to release it earlier, but for now expect it to come out in December.

As far as other updates go, the gofundme campaign is still up if you are willing and able to make a small contribution (the green button to donate is on the right side of this page). 🙂 Thanks to those of you who have already been able to do so. I’m $75 dollars from the halfway point–once I hit $250, I’ll post the first half of chapter one to the blog, and the rest of it once I reach my $500 goal!

If you aren’t able to donate, that’s of course okay, too! You can also support the Reborn series by taking a minute or two to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or by nagging the author (a.k.a. me) about when the next book is coming out. (Because it’s nice to know that there are people out there excited to read it! I hear from a few of you from time to time, so thank you for the kind words and encouragement.)

Thanks again for following along, and happy reading!

Updates and GoFundMe Campaign


reclaimcoverA quick update post for your Wednesday afternoon.

Last night in a burst of inspiration likely brought on by sleep deprivation, I felt compelled to create a GoFundMe campaign for Reclaim. This is the first time I’m trying any sort of fundraising for my books, so we’ll see how it goes, especially since I’m feeling really reluctant to advertise it. Click here to contribute.

More details are available at the link above, but I decided to do this to raise some money for marketing/promotional materials. My goal is to raise $500 by the end of autumn. This will enable me to try additional marketing avenues as well as pay for book trailers and covers for upcoming books. Turns out, this is hard to do on a postdoc salary and book royalties. 😉

This is definitely not a I-won’t-publish-Reclaim-unless-I-raise-enough-money sort of deal. Reclaim (and subsequent books) will get published either way. This is just a request for a little bit of help. Donate $1 (or two, or more) to help me spread the word about the Reborn series and grow its readership!

Book Review: Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh


Back cover summary: “Varen Nethers is trapped in a perilous dreamworld—a treacherous and desolate realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life. Isobel Lanley, plagued by strange visions and haunted by the nightmares of Varen’s creation, is the only one who can save him. Isobel knows that her only hope lies within a Baltimore cemetery. There, in the early morning of Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, a mysterious stranger known as the “Poe Toaster” will make his annual homage at the legendary poet’s grave. Only the Poe Toaster holds the key to the way between worlds. But great dangers lie ahead for Isobel. An ancient evil, draped in veils of white, is watching, challenging her for Varen’s affections. When Isobel finally finds Varen, he is no longer the quiet and brooding boy who once captivated her, but a dark force, powerful and malevolent. Could Isobel’s greatest love also be her greatest adversary?”

*****

For the most part, I liked this sequel to Creagh’s debut novel, Nevermore (read my review here)–maybe not as much, but I still liked it and enjoy the author’s writing style.

I think what might disappoint readers somewhat is the lack of Varen in this follow-up. Although the trilogy certainly covers other themes, the relationship between Isobel and Varen is the main focus of the first book, so I’m not sure if it was daring or misguided on Creagh’s part to lessen Varen’s presence in Enshadowed. It’s carried through in a different (and unexpected) way…I don’t want to say too much about it because it would likely spoil the book, but just wanted to warn readers that it might not be what they expect. (I think the official book summary is misleading in this way.)

Because of this, it felt like one of those books that, while well written, is very much a transitional installment and doesn’t stand very well on its own. I’m glad all three books are out because now I don’t have to wait to read the third one, haha, and hopefully the third book will wrap things up nicely since the author does leave you hanging and wanting more.

However, Enshadowed still has a lot going for it, which is why I’m giving it four stars. As a YA paranormal/horror book, it definitely has some creepy parts, particularly in the delightfully sinister character of Pinfeathers. Creagh also reverses a few popular tropes. By the end of Nevermore, we know that Varen is trapped in a dangerous dreamworld of his own creation, held captive there by the alluring but evil Lilith. In the sequel, it’s up to Isobel to find a way back to the dreamworld to rescue Varen, although the end result of this probably isn’t what you’d expect, either. Creagh addresses some of the unanswered questions left at the end of the first book, but leaves plenty of mysteries still waiting to be solved in book three. I enjoyed her paranormal spins on the Poe Toaster and Poe’s own murky past and demise.

All in all, I thought it was a good, if not an amazing, sequel, and I’m definitely interested to see where Kelly Creagh is going with all of this in the third and final book.

Book Review: Nevermore by Kelly Creagh


Back cover summary: “Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game. Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.

Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.

As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind. Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.”

***

I’ve been bad about writing reviews lately (well, bad about reading outside of work, period), but I absolutely have to tell fellow YA paranormal, horror, and romance fans about this book by Kelly Creagh. It’s the first in a trilogy, and, although it seems like she’s been enjoying some success, I don’t think nearly enough people know about this book. So I want to spread the word.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I got this book from the library last weekend. (As an aside, I checked out a new library–I LOVE libraries–but didn’t know where anything was yet so had to ask someone where the YA section was. The librarian started prattling on about the summer YA reading list, and I got the feeling they thought I was looking for some books for a kid or something. Nope, I’m just in my late 20s and still read young adult books…and if you’re one of the people playing Pokemon Go right now, you have no room to judge…)

Anyway, I recognized this book from Goodreads and decided to give it a go. I mean, the book summary sounded intriguing if a little predictable, and I wasn’t sure how the Edgar Allan Poe spin would play out, even though it seems like a unique twist for a YA book. Plus, Varen Nethers has to be the bestest character name ever. So, excited but not sure what to expect, I checked it out of the library.

And Ms. Creagh completely sucked me in.

I guess I’m so pleasantly surprised because Nevermore did not have to be this good. The cheerleader/goth “forbidden” high school romance that forms the premise is probably overdone, but Kelly Creagh writes it in such a way that feels fresh and not corny, for lack of a better word. (At least in my opinion). Nevermore opens with the main character, unlikely heroine Isobel Lanley, getting partnered with king of the goths Varen for an English class project. (They decide to do theirs on Poe, of course, Varen’s favorite writer.) Varen and Isobel butt heads for much of the first third of the book or so. She’s still hanging with the popular crowd and dating one of the football players (Brad), but when her “crew” starts to turn on Varen and Brad becomes disturbingly jealous of the fact she has to do this project with Varen, Isobel starts to see that maybe her so-called “friends” really aren’t that great. Throughout the course of the project, she finds herself more intrigued by Varen and drawn into his world, which turns out to be stranger and more twisted than she ever expected.

I thought the tension between Isobel and Varen was great, although it took them a little long to start discovering their feelings for each other for my taste. And, although Varen is your typical dark-and-broody anti-hero (as find out, he kind of has a good reason to be), he’s not mean to Isobel or so forgone that leaves you wondering why she would be interested in him in the first place. He’s somewhat sarcastic in the beginning, and at one point he tells her she’s “not his type,” but it’s more of a mutual dislike (Isobel’s not great to him in the beginning, either). Brad is the real creep. In general I just really liked the characters in this book. Isobel starts off as being the stereotypical, bubbly cheerleader but changes a lot throughout Nevermore. No matter what’s thrown her way, she never stops fighting. One of my other favorite characters was her locker neighbor/new best friend Gwen, who really pops off the page and is just hilarious.

All in all, I would say this is the perfect book for high school readers who enjoy paranormal, horror, and romance. And also for old people like me who also enjoy YA books. 😉 Seriously, though, it’s a pretty balanced mix of horror, humor, and romance. Not so scary as to make you leave a light on at night, but it definitely as some creepy parts. And I just really liked Creagh’s writing style. It’s a dark but beautiful debut novel.

Nevermore isn’t totally without some problems. It’s 500+ pages and, even though it’s still an easy read, I felt like it could have been a little shorter. Like I said, the romantic tension between Isobel and Varen takes a little too long to build up, and is pretty understated (there’s a desperate kiss at one point, but that’s pretty much it). Then again, it is a YA book, so that’s age-appropriate. (I’ll admit, I used to write more YA-oriented stories, but then transitioned to New Adult so that I could write sexier scenes, teehee). Also toward the beginning there’s a chapter broken up with some long passages from The Red Masque of Death as Isobel is reading through The Complete Works of EAP that really pulled me out of the story. I mean, gotta love Poe, but it was a little much. Luckily, it didn’t become a “thing” throughout the book. Otherwise, I really liked the Poe-inspired world she created in this book.

But, at the end of it all, I loved Nevermore and can’t wait to read the next two (Creagh leaves you hanging at the end of book 1). A well-deserved 5 stars!

Reclaim Cover Reveal


reclaimcoverI’m very excited to share the cover art for Reclaim (Reborn #3) with all of you today! It’s designed by the fabulous H.N. Sieverding, who also created the covers for Reborn and Relapse. Make sure to visit her on her author and designer pages to check out some more awesome artwork from her. Reclaim is releasing October 25, 2016, so get excited! And in the meantime, you can check back here or on my Facebook page for updates. 🙂

***

Book Summary:

Carly just lost the last week of her life trapped in Pandora, the space between universes. Most of it was spent navigating an illusion created by her only companion, Dolos, the god of trickery. Even so, the time Carly spent there changed her. She fell in love. She’s more fearless and more determined than ever to leave the darkest parts of her past behind. And she’s learned that, sometimes, family is the one you make for yourself, like the one she’s found at Gamma Lambda Phi.

But a lot can happen in one week, and Carly returns to a sorority in jeopardy. A curse has been placed on her sisters, and it’s up to her to break it. With the Gammas out of commission, Eric’s halfling army is plotting something big, and Carly and her sisters are the only ones who can stop them. To make matters worse, Dolos is working for the bad guys and up to his old tricks.

Time is running out, but the antidote for the curse is proving impossible to find. To save her sisters and stop Eric’s army, Carly has some tough choices to make. But will she choose duty and sisterhood, or the kind of passion that comes around only once in a lifetime?

***

And here’s the full cover:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00023]

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Upcoming Cover Reveal and Updates


I like to try to check in at least once a month, even if I don’t have a lot of new updates (which has been the case for the last several months or so, lol). My only major update has usually been “I’m still working on the edits to Reclaim…I swear…” I always think I’m going to be further along with it than I am, but honestly these things just take time. I feel a little nervous that I haven’t let anyone read it yet, but I’m trying to get it into a form that I’m not too embarrassed to let people read yet, haha.

I’m not even changing that much, but there is one kind of important thing that I realized wasn’t working and desperately needed to fix. Last week I was really struggling with how to do that and was feeling frustrated and whiny. I don’t usually like to whine in my blog posts (at least I don’t think I do…), so that’s why I held off on an update post until I was over it. Luckily, over the weekend inspiration struck, and I feel like the edits are going smoothly again. Right now the release date is set for October 25th, 2016…I’m keeping it that way for now; if I do end up pushing it back, it won’t be too much further out (maybe like November). I’m not going to put something out that I don’t think is ready, but one of the nice things about being indie is that I have complete control over the schedule (muahahahaha!). So I could probably still do everything that needs to be done in five-ish months…

Also, I totally put revisions to Revenge, the short story I posted on here last October, and publishing it as an e-book on the back burner. I figure I’ll go back to it once I’m feeling more confident about Reclaim, but right now book three is the priority.

That all being said, I do have one important/exciting announcement! I’ve finally set a date for the cover reveal, which will be on Thursday, June 30th. If you are a book blogger/author/reviewer and would like to participate, please fill out this form (it’s also pinned to the top of my Facebook page for the next few weeks). I won’t share your information with anyone, and all I really need is your blog or web site link so that I can send out links to everyone participating–it’ll be like a blog hop. You can sign up until Sunday June 26th.

Thanks for following along, and happy Thursday. 😛

 

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Excerpt: Toga Party


Felt like sharing a little excerpt from what I’ve been editing today. Probably not great to share something that’s not really finished, but it’s happening anyway. This is a scene from Chapter 5 of Reclaim, in which Carly and Victoria pay a visit to an old friend who might be able to help them find the antidote for the curse Hera placed on Carly’s sorority sisters. He’s one of the few brand new characters I introduce in Reclaim (most of the others have already appeared in prior books) and the president of a fraternity at a different university. It’s supposed to be a rather silly scene, a bit of comic relief.

***

“Is it this one?” I ask Victoria as we cruise slowly down Applewood Lane, known to Shadesburg University students as Greek Row. I have to admit I’m a little jealous their fraternities and sororities live off-campus in spacious, colonial-style homes. They line either side of the road, uniform and perfect, each with the same white siding, dark blue shutters, and wrap-around porch surrounded by columns. The lawns are also large and well-maintained, the gardens orange and gold with fall-blooming flowers. In comparison, the Gamma Lambda Phi house looks like a shack. The neighborhood is quiet for the most part, the thump of dance music in the distance the only sign of life.

I see Victoria shake her head out of the corner of my eye. “Keep going.”

“What about that one?” I say hopefully as we pass a house with colorful, stained glass Greek letters in the window and a porch filled with autumn-themed decorations. There’s even a pie cooling on the porch table.

“Nope,” Victoria says, sighing as though she wished it were. She points a few houses down. “It’s the house on the end.”

“The one where the music’s coming from?”

She nods. “There’s a space. Pull up over here.” I park in front of a house with a few broken windows, peeling paint, and wicker porch furniture that has definitely seen better days. The Greek letters “ΔΙΚ” are scrawled in magic marker on a piece of paper taped to one of the windows.

“Delta Iota Kappa,” I read out loud as we get out of the car. I give their initials some further thought. “Wait a minute. So they’re…”

“DIK,” Victoria finishes for me, rolling her eyes.

“But they don’t actually call themselves that. Right?” Victoria doesn’t answer me as we walk up to the house.

The music is coming from their second story balcony, where some of the fraternity brothers are stretched out on lawn chairs, having beers. More people are congregated on the front lawn, wearing white sheets like togas and drinking out of red Solo cups. Some of them are simply standing around, talking, others are dancing, still others are engaged in extreme public displays of affection. Someone has even set up a lopsided net for a drunken game of volleyball.

“Talk about playing hard,” I mutter, feeling out of place as we make our way to the house. “It’s Monday night.”

Victoria shrugs. “It’s a party school.” We take our time ascending the crumbling porch stairs, which creak ominously with every step. Almost as soon as we’ve cleared them, a tall, wiry young man jumps in front of us, barring our way to the door.

“Halt!” he says, thrusting his hand, palm out, toward us. “Who seeks entry into the sacred house of Delta Iota Kappa?”

My roommate crosses her arms, an amused lift to her eyebrows. “Victoria and Carly,” she says, humoring him, “of the esteemed house of Gamma Lambda Phi.” At the mention of our sorority’s name, his eyes grow wide, face as white as the bed sheet draped over his slender frame. “Now, let us in.”

He flattens himself against the door, shaking his head vigorously. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.”

“Oh, come on,” Victoria groans. “You’re having a party. What’s a few more guests?”

“I can’t let you in without the…” He trails off, racking his brain for a reasonable excuse. “Proper attire?” he finishes, voice going up slightly at the end almost like it’s a question.

“Too bad I left my toga at home,” Victoria says with a rueful snap of her fingers. Thinking he’s successfully turned us away, the guard relaxes a bit, crying out a moment later when Victoria picks him up by the shoulders. Setting him aside, she pulls open the door, gesturing for me to go in first.

“Hey! You can’t just go in there,” he says, panic in his voice. He runs past us, shouting into the house, “Dion! Dion! We have trespassers!” A couple devouring each other on the couch look up at the commotion, regarding us curiously before returning to their make out session.

“We’re not trespassing,” my roommate insists, sounding fed up. “Your president and I go way back. Now, where is your fearless leader?” she asks no one in particular, eyes scanning the living room. She walks up to a second couple making out on a recliner, trying to see the guy’s face. “Dionysus?”

“Nike?” A man’s deep voice calls her Olympian name from the next room. “Is that your sweet, lilting voice I hear? Pledges. Up!” The order is followed by the sounds of furniture scraping against the hardwood floor and a chorus of male grunts. Four skinny freshmen come hobbling through the doorway, lugging a gold-framed chair with scarlet cushions. Lounging in it is a mass of long, well-muscled limbs attached to a man with curly blonde hair and a complexion like a bronze statue.

“Pledges, down!” he bellows, and the four boys gladly drop the chair directly in front of us before crawling away, trying to catch their breath. The man I presume is Dionysus stands up, opening his arms to give Victoria a hug.

“Nike! It’s so good to see you. You look…pissed off,” he realizes, taking a step back, arms falling. Like his brothers, he’s wearing a makeshift toga, only his is pulled tightly across a broad chest, exposing the corded muscle of his abdomen.

She gives him an exasperated look. “Of course I am. You’re hazing your pledges!”

“You call it ‘hazing,’” he says, making air quotes, “I call it building character. Besides, they like helping out around the house.”

“If that were true, there are a lot of other things they could be helping out with.” As she says it, Victoria stoops to pick up an empty beer can from the floor and sets it on the table next to a takeout container that looks like it’s been sitting out for a few days. “This place is a mess. But in any case, they’re not supposed to be catering to your every whim. They’re your new members, not your servants.”

“Hey, you don’t get to come over here, uninvited, and insult our way of doing things,” Dionysus tells her, crossing his arms. He doesn’t sound truly angry, just mildly annoyed. “Sure, we could clean up a bit, but the house is fine.”

Victoria’s eyebrows go up. “It’s literally falling apart. But I suppose you’ve been too busy partying to notice.”

“We’re fine,” he insists. “Everything’s fine! And the pledges couldn’t be happier.” A quick glance at the four who carried him in here, still panting and glaring at their president, tells me this probably isn’t the case. “They live to serve me—I mean, the house,” he corrects himself when Victoria’s jaw twitches angrily. He gives a nervous chuckle before turning to me instead. “I see you have a new toy.”

“What? No,” Victoria says quickly, realizing he’s talking about me. “This is Carly. She’s one of the Gamma Lambda Phi sisters.”

“Ohhhh.” Eyes the color of gold rum look me up and down as he nods his approval. “Can I play with her, then?” After a moment’s pause, he bursts out laughing, slapping his leg. “I’m just kidding! You should see the looks on your faces. Priceless! It’s nice to meet you, Carly,” he adds, sticking out a hand. “Welcome to Delta Iota Kappa.”

I hesitate, then give his hand a brief shake. “Thanks.”

“So,” he continues, re-crossing his arms, “tell me a little bit about yourself, Carly.”

“Well, I…go to Thurston. I’m a math major. I’m in Gamma Lambda Phi…but Victoria just told you that,” I recall, feeling myself blush. “That’s pretty much it.”

His face spasms like he’s trying to hold back a yawn. “Fascinating. Anyone want a drink?” he asks abruptly, picking up a bottle of vodka from the table. He notices it’s empty and frowns. “I think I need a drink.”

“We didn’t come here to party,” Victoria says, taking the bottle from him and putting it back. “We need some information. Is there somewhere we can go that’s more private?”

He forces a smile. “Of course. Follow me.”

WIP Wednesday: The Mess


I was at a lecture a few weeks ago given by historical fiction author Geraldine Brooks. Not really what this post is about, but, if you ever get the chance, I recommend going to hear her talk. To be honest, I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, and I had never really heard of her before I went to hear her speak–I really just went because she’s a writer and it sounded interesting. (I was apparently the only one who didn’t know who she was, though. The place was packed.) She used to be a journalist covering the Middle East so, in addition to talking about her recent novel The Secret Chord, she had a lot of stories and insight to share.

Anyway, something else she said stuck with me. She said someone asked her author friend once what her writing process was, and her friend replied something like: “Mess. Mess. Mess. Mess. Mess. Mess. Mess. Mess…..art.”

Of course, you had to be there, but when she said it, everybody laughed–many writers in the room knowingly. Because often that’s what it feels like. You start out with the “word vomit”–just getting the words down on paper, not worrying too much about egregious grammar mistakes, typos, or the giant, gaping plot hole you might not catch until later. The first draft–and the second, maybe even the third–can be something of a mess. What Ms. Brooks said reminded me of another quote about first drafts, attributed to Shannon Hale, that I like: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” (I love that one.)

That’s what I’m doing right now. Around the end of February, I finished the first complete draft of Reclaim, and now I’m cleaning it up, trying to build sand castles. And it is a bit of a mess. (I mean, I found a part toward the beginning introducing a plot thread I had decided early on to take out. So I didn’t carry it through the rest of the book, but that little section was still in there. It was very satisfying to just highlight, hit “delete,” and move on.)

I’m not actually changing anything major. Although I had an outline for the book, the characters had minds of their own and–as they always do–took the story in some unexpected directions. But I like where they took me, what they revealed about themselves and the essence of the story.

But there are edits to make, and sometimes I feel like it’s going to take me forever. I get discouraged. Frustrated. Especially when other work takes over and I have to put book writing/editing on the back burner for a few weeks. It usually ends up being a good thing when I take a break from it. My subconscious has a chance to sort out some of the issues that have been nagging me, and I go back to it feeling refreshed. But it doesn’t make me feel any less guilty when I can’t work on it every single day.

Thanks for following along, and I’ll continue to check in monthly as the journey to book three continues. I do have the cover, so we’ll do a cover reveal at some point, in a few weeks or so. If you’re happening upon my blog for the first time, you can find out more about my books and WIPs under the “My Books” tab on the main menu. Until next time, happy reading!

~S.L.