Who Writes All these Books?

Sheila Webster Boneham and Lily

Sheila Webster Boneham and Lily

Sheila Webster Boneham writes the Animals in Focus mystery series. Best-seller Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, was an NBC Petside Top Ten Dog book of 2012 and won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America. The Moneybird was a Maxwell finalist in 2014. Sheila has been involved with many sides of the animal world and has written seventeen nonfiction books about dogs and cats, six of which have won major awards. You can find Sheila at sheilaboneham.com, or at her Writers & Other Animals blog at writersandotheranimals.blogspot.com, or on Facebook.

Jay and Leo, the protagonist’s dog and cat in my Animals in Focus mysteries, make regular visits to their local library with their trainer, chauffeur, and “peoplemom,” Janet MacPhail. Like Janet, I’ve spent many hours with my own registered therapy dogs in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and yes, libraries. As volunteers with three different “read to the dog” programs, my dogs and I listened to many children read or, in the case of the pre-readers, make up stories to match the pictures. One day, a little boy stopped reading and asked, “Where do all these books come from?” After that, I often asked the same question, and tried to help the young readers understand that every single book they read was written by someone. I like to think the idea sparked some dreams in a few of them.

The real-life Jay during a library "read to the dog" session

The real-life Jay during a library “read to the dog” session

I was a big dreamer as a kid, and family legend has it that I started writing stories as soon as I could grip a crayon. I was also lucky enough to see a lot of the country as my mom and I tagged along on some of my daddy’s business trips. He was an engineer, and was instrumental in the development of sonobuoy technology for detecting submarines during the cold war. One of my favorite destinations was on the beautiful coast of Maine, where the navy monitored equipment tests from the Pemaquid Point lighthouse.

While my dad was off watching screens and twisting knobs (or so I imagined), my mom and I spent many happy hours on the Pemaquid rocks and exploring the tidal pools. At Pemaquid I learned that the sea will take back the treasures you gather if you don’t move them above the tide line (there may be a metaphor in that). I learned that seagulls will steal your lunch if you don’t keep it safe from aerial thievery. I met my first sea creatures—starfish, mussels, and more—and ate my first lobster. And it was in Maine that I met my first author and learned that real people write books.

Pemaquid Light

Pemaquid Light

We always stayed at the Pemaquid Hotel, a lovely old place with guest rooms and dining room in the main hotel and “cabins” outside. We liked the cabins because they had little porches where we could sit in the evenings and listen to the frogs that sang in the pond at the back of the grounds. Some of the elderly guests had been coming to the hotel since they were children, a thought that boggled my pre-teen mind.

At that time, the hotel was owned by the Allens, who lived there year round and opened for guests in the summer months. They were lovely people, but I must confess that my favorite family member was Bristol, their Beagle. He often accompanied me on my walks to the rocky coast, and helped ease the pain of missing my dogs at home. From the hotel it was an easy stroll to the lighthouse, the rocks, and the tiny snack and souvenir shop where my mom bought me a copy of Mystery at Pemaquid Point by Mary C. Jane.

Shepherds CrookSerendipity being ever part of life, I took my new book to dinner and Mrs. Allen saw it on the table. Her daughter, she said, had been in Mrs. Jane’s fifth-grade class a decade earlier. Perhaps my mother saw my future even then. I don’t know. What I do know is that she got Mrs. Jane’s phone number and called to ask if she could bring her young daughter to meet her and have her book signed. So off we drove to the lovely town of Damariscotta and Mary C. Jane’s home for lemonaide and cookies, and a lifelong memory of meeting my first author.

I’ve returned to Pemaquid Point several times over the years, and it will always be one of my favorite places in the world. And my memories of Maine will always include the three women who conspired to let me meet the author whose book I loved. Knowing what I know now about most authors, I cherish the idea, too, that Mrs. Jane was as delighted to meet a reader from far away as I was to meet her.

What memories do you have of meeting an author or other person who opened your eyes to something new?

Book Review: Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit by Carole Nelson Douglas.

Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit 2Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit
A Midnight Louie Mystery #27
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing,
ISBN 978-1-943175-02-4
Trade Paperback

From the author—

In Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit, feline PI Midnight Louie’s roommate, powerhouse PR freelancer Temple Barr, discovers a strip club opening in a nearby empty building threatens her elderly landlady’s wedding chapel business. Electra Lark’s troubles go supernova with a murder charge for a death that echoes a bizarre slaying decades earlier. While Temple’s fiance, Matt Devine, ex-priest radio shrink, plays detective with a rough crowd getting rougher, her ex, magician-counterterrorist Max Kinsella, dodges IRA remnants in Ireland, where psychotic stalker Kathleen O’Connor claims she’s found his cousin, presumed dead from a pub bombing years earlier. All the investigators’ pasts draw them into shocking revelations of present peril. Temple and Louie must solve why a forgotten fifties night club, Zoot Suit Choo-Choo, is again a nexus of death and greed.

He’s short, he’s debonair, he’s a savvy man about town and private eye. He’s the inimitable Midnight Louie, CEO of Midnight Investigations and the only roommate he thinks Miss Temple Barr, amateur detective and red-headed PR maven, needs in their Las Vegas condo. Unfortunately, Temple’s main squeeze, Matt Devine, doesn’t see things the same way.

I’m a fan of series although I’ve become very lax about keeping up with even my favorites just because there are so many good books to be read. Some series, in my opinion, become kind of tired when they go on too long so I tend to skip an entry or two and then pick it up again; the break usually works and I find the series entertaining again. Very few keep my undivided attention and Midnight Louie is one of those few. I’m one title out of sequence—haven’t read Cat in a Yellow Spotlight yet—but that’s OK because time moves glacially from one book to the next and it’ll be easy for me to pick that one up. In the meantime, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit as I knew I would. The thing about really good series is that you can trust the author and her characters to not let you down.

This go round, it’s Electra, Temple’s landlady, who’s in trouble when her ex-husband gets killed and she had a really good motive to do him in. Meanwhile, Temple’s former boyfriend, Max, is busy avoiding killers in Ireland, not to mention fending off his crazy stalker, Kathleen, and Matt is contemplating a career move while doing a little undercover work of his own. While the humans are thus engaged, Louie and his unacknowledged daughter, Louise, are intent on finding out why someone broke into the condo and scared the heck out of the sleeping Temple (who was, of course, rescued by her wrathful kitty). He’s also wondering why the snooty bookstore cat, Ingram, has once again come into his life, much to his dismay.

I love dogs and all sorts of other animals but my heart belongs to the feline tribe and a visit with Louie and his colleagues on the mean streets of Las Vegas is like indulging in comfort food. Better yet is comfort food and Louie ;-) I’m of two minds about the next book in the series, Cat in an Alphabet Endgame, because I want another Louie adventure but it will be the last in the series. The wonderful Ms. Douglas isn’t leaving her fans in the lurch, though—she’s promised that Louie will have a new set of adventures and I can hardly wait!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

Book Reviews: Due for Discard by Sharon St. George and A Chorus of Innocents by P.F. Chisholm

Due for DiscardDue for Discard
An Aimee Machado Mystery #1
Sharon St. George
Camel Press, March 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60381-223-8
Trade Paperback

Author Sharon St. George is a good writer but she writes long and wordy. The novel has an interesting premise because the protagonist, Aimee Machado, has a relatively rare but useful degree in forensic librarian-ship. She works in the northern California town of Timbergate, her first job out of graduate school. Her job is to create a forensic research library for the hospital she works at. It is the hope of her mentor and the principal funder of the project that various area law enforcement agencies will use the developing library as a research resource.

It is clear from the beginning, in which readers get a sense of trouble, that the director of the project is largely absent because he has to deal with police in the matter of his wife being found murdered. So, Aimee is left to her own devices which includes nosing into the relationships and back stories of several characters, some of whom readers of crime fiction will instantly recognize.

The story moves at a leisurely pace, punctuated in the early going by Aimee’s occasional explosions of ire at her uncooperative brother who lives in the same town and knew the deceased woman. Various characters some with ulterior motives, others like the gossipy volunteer library worker, move through the story, sometimes contributing little to the plot. Most of the characters are logically drawn if not particularly inspiring. But more and more as the plot deepens, we learn of multiple connections, motives and desires until plot threads inspire visions of a plate of spaghetti.

This novel is coherent, logical, well-put together and fulfills any reader’s expectation of a cozy-type mystery. It has a rousing climax with a satisfactory conclusion and I expect this author will enjoy success with a series of additional stories featuring Aimee Machado. I hope, in the process, she examines her sense of pace and quantity.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.


A Chorus of InnocentsA Chorus of Innocents
A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #7
P.F. Chisolm
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0460-9

This reviewer is not a big fan of historical crime novels. There are, however, a few authors working in the genre who have deep understanding of the requirements of the genre, and who honor the strictures of whatever time period they choose to write about. That always includes being keenly aware of the technical, scientific and cultural circumstances and limitations of the period. This author is one such.

This novel, one of a series, involves the death of a churchman—a minister of the “new” meaning protestant—religion. It is a fine example of all of the above plus this is a cracking good story. When the churchman, Jamie Burn, is murdered and his wife, Poppy, raped, these events in the far north country along the English-Scottish border in 1592, set in motion turbulence that will disturb the court of Elizabeth I. Sir Robert Carey, a powerful courtier, is ranging across the border region, trying to maintain order and keep away from the married woman he desperately loves.

The novel is really the story of a woman, the Lady Elizabeth Widdrington, who takes on herself responsibility for pursuing and identifying the men who killed Poppy’s husband and raped her. This in spite of her awareness that her abusive husband will object to her activities. Lady Widdrington is a marvelous character, carefully developed, fully formed, emotionally consistent, who through adroit force of will and a keen sense of propriety, is able to manipulate and bend to her will, a number of the rude and brawling men who populate her world.

Chisholm’s style is tight, forward pressing, and she tries successfully to use the language of the time. That can be difficult at times. One of the “rules” of crime novel writing is to limit the number of characters in order, presumably, to make things comfortable for readers. Well, perhaps with her tongue firmly planted in cheek, this author has given readers three pages of characters and included as well some horses and dogs that played roles in the story.

I recommend the series, the writing is strong and excellent, the characters are compelling and interesting and the plot of this novel is thoughtfully and properly conceived and resolved.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Blitz: End of Day by Summer Lane

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Title: End of Day
Series: The Zero Trilogy #3
Author: Summer Lane
Publication date: October 9, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Young Adult



The end has come.

Elle Costas and her dog, Bravo, have survived the dangers
of Hollywood and escaped the clutches of Slaver Territory.
The apocalypse has been cruel, and the wasteland of
California has forced them to seek shelter in a civilian
refugee camp at a place called Bear Mountain.

Here, they meet Cheng, a mysterious boy with the skills
of a samurai, and Luli, a steampunk warrior with a thirst for
vengeance. But friends cannot always be trusted. When a
horrific tragedy befalls Bear Mountain, Elle and Bravo come
face to face with their most dangerous enemy yet.

Betrayal and heartbreak threaten to destroy the bonds of
friendship. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Run, or be caught.
Kill, or be killed.
Fight, or be forced to surrender.

The end of the day will change everything.
Will Elle and Bravo survive?

The explosive, thrilling conclusion to the #1
Bestselling Zero Trilogy by Summer Lane.



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Girl and Dog Versus the World 

Interestingly, the most popular character of all of my books and stories has been Bravo, the German Shepherd bomb dog from The Zero Trilogy. His undying love and loyalty to fifteen-year-old Elle Costas is a wonderful example of true friendship. I think everyone loves dogs – or at least, they should! – and Bravo embodies the selfless nature of an animal.

End of DayWhen I was creating the character of Bravo, I knew exactly who he was going to be and what he was going to be like. There was no question. Bravo has been a friend to me just as he has been a friend to Elle.

Many people have commented on the dialogue between hardened Elle and Bravo. Is Elle imagining that the dog is talking? Is the dog actually talking? The answer is that I look into the eyes of dogs and cats all the time, and the more time you spend with them, the more you can read their thoughts – just like people!

The dialogue between girl and dog came about naturally. I wanted to write about the dog as the real presence that he was. I didn’t want the narrative to be childish, because this story is about the raw, gritty battle for day-to-day survival. Bravo’s voice emerged from the story in a truly organic way. His voice is uniquely his own. His bond with Elle is so special. I love that Elle’s best friend and real love is a dog, because what could possibly be more wonderful than that?


Summer Lane Trilogy


About the Author

Summer Lane 2Summer Lane is the #1 Bestselling author of The Collapse Series and the compelling tie-in novella books of The Zero Trilogy, as well as the upcoming Bravo Saga (releasing March 2016). She is also the author of Collapse: The Illustrated Guide, a #1 Bestselling graphic companion to her phenomenal original series.

She is the owner of WB Publishing and Writing Belle, an online magazine. Summer is also an accomplished journalist and creative writing teacher.

Summer lives in the Central Valley of California, where she spends her days writing, teaching, and writing some more. When she is not writing, she enjoys leisurely visits with friends at coffee shops, movie dates, reading and spending the day at the beach or mountains.

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The Great Escape

Vivian LawryVivian Lawry has roots in Appalachia, and ties to Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, and up-state New York. Now she lives and writes near Richmond, Virginia. She writes broadly, everything from memoir to magical realism. She is co-author of two Chesapeake Bay Mysteries: Dark Harbor and Tiger Heart. Her most recent book is Different Drummer—a collection of off-beat fiction. The title says it all. Winner of the Sandra Brown Award for Short Fiction, her work appears in more than four dozen literary magazines and anthologies. She blogs about writing and life at vivianlawry.com. Like Vivian Lawry on Facebook.

When I was a young child, the only books in our house were several Bibles and a two-volume pictorial history of World War II. My father, who had an eighth grade education, subscribed to Field and Stream. My mother (tenth grade education) subscribed to Modern Romance and True Confessions. Besides the Dick-and-Jane readers, the first books I remember clearly are The Littlest Mermaid (not the Disney version) and my fourth grade geography book. The former showed me beauty, magic, and sorrow. The latter showed me wonders of the world beyond my small Ohio town. I can still see the pictures of African tribes—pigmies; women with elongated necks, their heads resting on a column of rings; men with artistic scarring.

Neither my school nor my town was big enough to boast a library. Instead, we had a bookmobile that came every two weeks. I had special dispensation from my teachers to take out more than two books at a time. I walked home with all the books I could carry between my cupped hands and chin. On the shelves of that bookmobile I discovered my first serialized love: the Cherry Ames nurse books, 27 of them written between 1943 and 1968 (by Helen Wells (18) and Julia Campbell Tatham (9)). Every book involved a medical mystery. My second serial love was the Ruth Fielding series, 30 volumes produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, between 1913 and1934. Ruth Fielding volumes and several books of fairy tales filled a small bookshelf at the foot of my Aunt Mary’s bed. Mary was (and is) five years older than I. When I stayed with my grandparents in the summer, I devoured Aunt Mary’s books. Ruth Fielding also solved mysteries. And the fairy tales? Only a step from The Littlest Mermaid.

Reading, reading, reading. When I was well into elementary school, my parents decided to acquire a set of Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedias. A local grocery story offered one volume for a quarter with a grocery purchase of a specified amount I don’t remember, and they thought we three children should have the reference books on hand. Facts are fabulous.

Different DrummerSkipping lightly over lots of reading, I first discovered The Great Escape in college. During finals week one semester, I read The Complete Illustrated Sherlock Holmes. I currently follow both the “Elementary” and “Sherlock” series on TV. Another finals week, I read all of Jane Austen. I’ve read all of Jane Austen several times since then. On my honeymoon, I discovered Ross MacDonald on the shelves of a B&B in Vermont. I loved his twisted, multi-generational plots, dark as they were. I read all I could find, as soon as I could find them. Then there was Dorothy L. Sayers. She is the only mystery writer whose books I’ve read more than once. Once you know who done it, what’s left but the craft? As a green academic, I found Rex Stout’s thirty-three mysteries a great escape from cyclical pressures, each of them so formulaic. In the Dick Francis series of forty-three novels, the through-line wasn’t a character but racing in the broadest sense. I discovered the fun of learning things from mysteries. That eventually merged with my pleasure in the Nevada Barr mysteries, where her through-character (Anna Pigeon) takes the reader from one national park to another.

Over the years, I sometimes ventured into other escape routes, leading to calm in the midst of stress, something to make me just not think about it and fill hours of sleeplessness. For example, I sipped port as I read all the volumes of The Poldark Saga as well as all of Robertson Davies. I could never get interested in Agatha Christie, unfortunately for me, given how prolific she was. But so many of her stories seemed to be solved by the alligator over the transom—an unforeseen, fortuitous event, with evidence completely unavailable to the reader.

Funny thing, though. Since I started writing mysteries, reading them is no longer escapist reading. I still read mysteries sometimes. I read all three of the Steig Larsson books, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He broke all the rules and was a raging success. I’ve recently read Tana French, very atmospheric. But now it feels like research.

Vivian Lawry Book Pair

I spent long hours at the hospital, holding my brother’s hand as he lay dying. When I wasn’t holding his hand, I read Jane Austen Fan Fiction. There are hundreds of them out there. And no matter what twists, turns, extensions, or variations of Pride and Prejudice come to hand, there is a basically familiar structure. Shades of Rex Stout!

Most recently, I’ve discovered the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, nine l-o-n-g novels, including elements of historical fiction, romance, mystery, adventure, and science fiction/fantasy. I’m not usually a fan of science fiction, in spite of the excellent works of Ursula Le Guin. But the Gabaldon books are time-travel novels that go into the past, incredibly well researched and grounded in fact. Nettie’s Books, my manuscript that is a finalist in the Best Unpublished Novel Contest sponsored biannually by James River Writers and Richmond Magazine, took me in that direction. Although set in western Virginia, 1930-1935, it took me into that territory of getting it right.

Bottom line: books are the great escape! And there’s something there for you, wherever you might be in your journey.

Cover Reveal: Not Enough by Mia Hoddell

Not Enough


Title: Not Enough
Author: Mia Hoddell
Publication Date: November 20, 2015

Genres: General Fiction, Romance, NA/YA



Neve Colvin isn’t good enough. As an introvert, her life
is a never-ending list of labels and criticism. Pressures
to change come from everyone—including the one person
she thought would love her unconditionally … her
mother. All Neve wants is acceptance, but surrounded
by extroverts it’s a wish that’s nearly impossible to fulfil.

For Neve there’s only one solution: anyone disapproving
must go. Even if it means only one person will remain.

That person is her lifelong friend Blake Reynolds. He’s
seen the fights with her mum, the breakdowns caused by
attacks on her personality, and the battles for acceptance.
Each time she is left shattered and questioning who she is,
he’s the one to collect the pieces of her broken heart. Shielding
her from the cruelty is his only concern. But how can
he protect her when Neve is concealing a secret so dark?

Blake thinks he knows everything about her, and with their
relationship developing, he assumes Neve trusts him fully.
However, there is one memory Neve is too ashamed of to share.
Revealing it will test Blake’s loyalty beyond what she could
ever ask, and Blake is the only friend she can’t afford to lose.
He’s the one person capable of dragging her from the darkness
plaguing her, but with pressures to conform increasing,
even Blake may not be enough to pull her back this time.


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Mia Hoddell Book Teaser


About the Author

Mia HoddellMia Hoddell lives in the UK with her family and two cats. She spends most of her time writing or reading, loves anything paranormal or romantic, and has an overactive imagination that keeps her up until the early hours of the morning.

By the age of nineteen, Mia had published nine books, including the Elemental Killers series and the Seasons of Change series. Since then, her books have charted on numerous Amazon Bestseller Lists, and she has also had poems published in a many anthologies. With an ever growing list of ideas, Mia continues to create fictional worlds through her writing, and is trying to keep up with the speed at which her imagination generates them.

She also designs book covers and banners on her website M Designs

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Spotlight on A Different Truth by Annette Oppenlander

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Title: A Different Truth
Author: Annette Oppenlander
Publisher: Grey Wolfe Publishing
Publication Date: April 15, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult



In 1968, with the Vietnam War at its bloodiest, sixteen-year-old
Andy Olson is banished to Palmer Military Academy. Along with
his best friend Tom, he is plunged into a world where rules are
everything and disobedience is not an option. Andy doesn’t care
about politics and grows increasingly irritated when Tom openly
supports the peace movement. Contradicting the establishment
and provoking their bullying classmates is dangerous.

But when Tom is attacked and the school calls it an
unfortunate accident, Andy must make a choice that will
not only threaten his future but his very life.



Purchase Links:

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An Excerpt from A Different Truth

Chapter One
They came for me in the night, evil shadows that chased away my dream.

“Get up!”

The voice, cold and demanding, makes me open my eyes. Only I can’t see a thing because in that instant the beam of a flashlight hits my face. Before my fuzzy brain can figure out what to do I’m yanked out of bed. I shiver, less from the cold, but from the uneasy feeling that’s creeping up my spine.

Hushed sounds like suppressed grunts filter into the room, though the corridor beyond is plunged into darkness.

Heavy boots stomp around me. I search for a familiar face, someone I recognize, but the harsh light remains glued to my eyeballs. I’m about to shout, demand an explanation when they force back my arms and my shoulder blades begin to throb.

“Move.” The speaker’s voice sounds deliberately deeper, a bad actor’s attempt to disguise his identity.

“What’s going—”

My head and question disappear under a hood. I spit to keep the fabric from entering my mouth. It smells rancid as if someone has wiped their armpits with it. Gagging, I open my eyes wider… nothing. I’m blind. My chest heaves as I suck hard to find enough oxygen under the cloth, and resist the dizziness that wants to engulf me. I’m scrambling to think of what to do, when a shove sends me staggering forward into the hall. Too late.

The last cobwebs of sleep evaporate as I notice mumbling, suppressed groans and staggering feet. There are others like me. Someone squeezes my wrists and pushes me onward at the same time. It’s like a bad movie scene, except I’m in it. Suddenly I’m fuming mad, a burning in my stomach that works its way up to my throat. And there is a flicker of something else—fear.

“Walk!” comes the order from farther away. I twist my hands, but the iron grip holds. My body feels clumsy in the darkness. Now my wrists are being tied. Fingers made of steel clamp down on my biceps and guide me around a corner. I’m trapped.

I try remembering if I missed an announcement, something that would explain this bullshit. Nothing comes to mind. All I can think of is my heart pounding in my neck and the stinky cloth on my face.

“Stairs,” someone hisses.

I step down, feel the momentary void before my foot hits the next tread. The cover shifts and I can see my toes. Somehow it feels comforting. This whole thing reminds me of Boy Scouts when they led me into the forest to make a fire and find my way back. Except this—whatever this is—seems really hostile. The voice of dread inside me whispers louder.

Somewhere ahead a door bangs. We must be going outside. A moment later I feel gravel under my bare feet, shooting darts of pain up my calves. I stub my big toe and suppress a groan. I’m not the only one because cries and grunts erupt all around me. I’m confused and clueless, getting angrier by the second. I want to smack these guys in their fat noses.

We keep walking, turning corners until I lose all sense of direction. Since my arrival at the academy two weeks ago, I’ve learned to march everywhere. I was sort of proud of knowing my way around so quickly. Until now, when the stuffy blackness in front of my eyes is playing tricks as if my head is stuck in a barrel of ink. How long have we been out here? Palmer’s campus spreads across hundreds of acres. I imagine being hauled into the woods and left to find my way back. Somehow that seems too easy.

By the time I’m yanked to a stop, my mouth is dry with a mix of panic and rage. Straining my ears I hear nothing but muffled whispers, impossible to understand or identify. Hundreds of cadets live here and I’ve got trouble just remembering the guys on my floor, Barracks B, one of six dorms. Not to mention the battalion and company officers who all look the same with their buzz cuts and uniforms. What a bunch of jerks. The voice of warning nags louder.

A Different TruthAn arm wraps around my throat and forces me to the ground, followed by a blow to my stomach. Lights explode behind my eyelids. Struggling to breathe, I ignore the stinging in my ribs. I’m used to getting beat up in football, but this is cheap. This isn’t a fight, it’s slaughter.

Anger constricts my throat and makes it even harder to get air. Damn hood. Another punch lands, higher this time into the chest. Are they going to kill me? I didn’t ask to come to this stupid school in the first place. What if I pretend to pass out? But how would they know with your face covered up, the voice in my head gripes. They’ll simply pound you to mincemeat, conscious or not.

I’ve got only one choice, to stay calm and look for an opening. My fingers constrict as I receive another jab. More throbbing joins the angry burn in my gut. Think, I order myself. Concentrate. The cries around me are distracting. So is my aching body. I wait for another strike, but nothing happens. For a moment I feel suspended like I’m floating. It’s worse than the attack because now I hear the thump-thump of other guys being pummeled.

I manage to roll on my side and yank on my ropes. One hand comes free. I rip away the hood and gulp air. Better, though it’s still too dark to see anything.

The knock to my stomach comes out of nowhere. I pull up my thighs to protect my belly, watching the shadows that move like liquid smoke. Cries mix with the sound of punches as the attackers hover above their prey. The air boils with agony.

I’m on fire now, a volcano ready to blow. The chicken shit closest to me looks like he’s taking aim. Instead of turning away to shield myself, I jolt forward and wrap a foot around his ankle. Then I yank. The scumbag grunts and collapses to the side. When I roll to my knees everything turns red. I punch in rapid succession until the guy quits moving. One down.

Ignoring my churning gut, I stand up. The fighting around me continues, flashlights dance, illuminating bits and pieces of an eerie battle. I’ve got to get away, hide some place. I’m not bad running sprints, but they outnumber me and my feet are raw. Maybe it’s best to stay low and crawl off into the darkness.

By the time I notice the shadow sneaking up behind me it’s too late. A kick to my knees sends me flying. Landing on my side, I want to spit with disgust. What worms. The scumbag I’ve hooked earlier sits up and holds his middle. Serves him right. I swing a fist, but the blow lands on the other mugger’s thigh which is hard and smooth as a medicine ball. It’s the last punch I manage before my arms are forced down, and somebody sits on my legs. No matter how I writhe and kick, my attackers stay out of reach. I feel like a turtle lying on its back. More blows pelt me until a whistle sounds. Like ghosts, the thugs vanish.

I lie unmoving. My feet ache, my middle cramps and my head pounds in unison with my heart. Above me the moon cuts a thin crescent into the sky, the stars cold and distant—indifferent. I’m alone. A lump appears in my throat and I swallow it away. I didn’t cry when my parents dropped me off and I’m sure as hell not going to cry now. I don’t notice the dampness until I begin to tremble. My back has turned to ice. When I straighten to stand, my stomach twists as if I’ve eaten rocks and I slump back on my knees.

Somewhere to my right I hear moans, soft cries like suppressed weeping. I inch toward the sound. The sliver of moon makes it hard to see who is lying there. Some still wear blindfolds and have their hands bound. I grope in the dark to untie them and pull off their hoods. I recognize one of them by his high voice. Markus Webber, a freshman who lives in the room next to me. Markus is fourteen and looks twelve. He’s crying. New fury bubbles inside me. Lousy rotten cowards, beating up a mere kid.

At least I’m sixteen, I think grudgingly. Not that it does any good. Like Markus I’m a plebe, a new cadet at the beginning of my ‘career’, that’s what my dad calls it, at Palmer Military Academy. I’m scum. Dirt under the oldmens’ shoes, fair game to be yelled at and made to service my superiors until I’ve learned the rules. I’ll pay my dues for an entire year to graduate to oldman status and earn the right to torment the next generation of plebes. Who comes up with this stuff?

“You okay?” I ask, my voice strange to my ears.

Markus curls into a ball. “My stomach.”

I crawl closer and grab his arm. “Better get up. You’ll freeze.”

Markus wipes his face and shifts onto his knees. “Thanks, man.”

Around me boys stumble to their feet. When I hear another groan, I make my way toward the noise. It sounds familiar.


Something hard hits my knee. The flashlight fires a sharp beam across the lawn as I grab it. Tom is lying on his back, his knees bent and sticking up like two extra-long twigs. I yank away the hood and untie his hands.

“Shitheads,” Tom grumbles. “Nothing like a warm-welcome hazing in the second week.”

We met the first day. Tom stood near the entrance to our dorm, looking out of place like a mismatched shoe. He’s tall and skinny with black hair and brown eyes that zoom into your face not missing a thing. I liked him immediately.

I plop down to inventory my pajamas. “Did you recognize anyone?”

My pants are wet and stained with blood and grass. Several buttons are missing from my shirt and the right sleeve and arm stick to my skin. My mother’s stern voice echoes through my head, “Andrew, be careful with your clothes, everything costs money.” Andrew, that’s me, though everyone but my mom calls me Andy. At the time I swallowed the comment of why they were sending me to this posh school, if it was so expensive.

Supposedly it’s to help me study, but there is something else. Something they haven’t expressed in words. I know they’re unhappy about my grades and resent my rebellion. I draw a rattled breath.

Tom stares at me. “You okay? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Nothing.” I try a smile though I can tell Tom isn’t buying it. “Looks like they got you pretty good.”

“Couldn’t get the stupid hood off.”

“They had to be oldmen. Some were definitely from the football team, too damn strong. I mean I punched this guy in the thigh and it felt like cement. Who has legs like that?”

“I guess you’d know best, playing with them every day,” Tom says with a crooked grin. “Let’s go, my arms are turning to icicles.”

I scan the three-story building, its windows like black eye patches. The flashlight beam fades somewhere along the second floor.

“We’re behind the faculty dorms. I bet they know.” Most of the single teachers live here while professors and military personnel with families stay in houses near campus. The building is strictly off limits, though I don’t have the faintest idea why anyone would want to step inside.

“Probably happens every year,” Tom says.

“Did you notice they avoided our faces? Not to leave marks you’d see tomorrow.” I rub my chest as if I can rid myself of the soreness.

“Might hurt their precious reputation if someone from the outside found out,” Tom says. “On second thought, my father would probably thank these wackos for teaching me a lesson.” His voice drops into a jeer. “The school trains young men in discipline, how to protect the country. None of that peace-loving hippie bullshit.” Tom’s voice returns to normal. “I think he even believes it himself.”

“How is being beaten by cowards teaching anything? Cocksuckers.” It comes out much louder than intended and I hear a few giggles behind me. I grin despite the soreness. It’s forbidden to curse. Most everything is forbidden, certainly the things I’ve enjoyed doing before I got here. I grimace. At least one guy has a stomach ache right now.

“Wonder if we’ll figure out who did this,” I say aloud.

“Doubt it.”

The cheerfully bright entrance of our barracks appears, its hallways deserted. I push away the thought of what other surprises await us, like how I’ll make it through two entire years. Tom holds open the door, his face tweaked into a sarcastic grin despite the bruise swelling on his collarbone. I grin back. At least I’ve got a friend.


About the Author

Annette OppenlanderAnnette Oppenlander writes historical fiction for young adults. When she isn’t in front of her computer, she loves indulging her mutt, Mocha, and traveling around the U.S. and Europe to discover amazing histories.

“Nearly every place holds some kind of secret, something that makes history come alive. When we scrutinize people and places closely, history is no longer a number, it turns into a story.”

For more information visit Annette Oppenlander’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


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