Book Review: The Beautiful Lost by Luanne Rice

The Beautiful Lost
Luanne Rice
Point, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-11107-1
Hardcover

How do you survive when you’ve been hit by three waves of overwhelming loss and you’re only sixteen? That’s what the last three years have dumped on Maia. Her marine biologist mother walked out, leaving her with her dad, an insurance agent. At that point, Maia had hope Mom would come for her and was keeping afloat emotionally by her memories of the two of them sitting on the roof outside her room, watching the night skies. That bond was further strengthened, or so she believed, by their shared love of whales and their songs. Supposedly, her mother felt suffocated living in suburban Connecticut, leaving to study whales while living in a remote cabin above a Canadian fjord north of the Saint Lawrence River.

Wave number two hit when her father started coming out of his own funk and found someone he wanted to marry. That reality flattened Maia’s imaginary house of hope that things might become as they once were. She fell into a dark depression so severe that she was hospitalized. Now, barely holding on thanks to antidepressant medication, she’s come up with a plan to run north and find Mom.

The only thing she has that makes life bearable, is the secret crush she’s developed on enigmatic Billy, a boy her age who has his own troubled past and lives in a group home she can see from her bedroom window. Almost every night, Maia studies his window, hoping to get a glimpse of him.

When her hyper alert stepmom pushes the panic button after Maia leaves school early, it forces her to speed up her plan. The following day she takes off in her mother’s old Volvo and is shocked when Billy accosts her and insists on coming along.

What follows is a physical journey via back roads from Connecticut through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, followed by a stealthy entry into Canada. More importantly, and of greater interest, is the spiritual and emotional quest that accompanies it. Billy and Maia are both wounded and secretive, he more than she. Learning to feel and then trust those feelings, makes for a fascinating read. The people they meet on their journey are both interesting and integral to their growing awareness.

The ending is partially predictable, but the parts that aren’t really enhance the suspense. I liked both teens. Some readers may find Billy a bit too hard case emotionally, but having worked with teens on an inpatient psychiatric unit, his coping mechanisms aren’t that surprising. Teens who have been depressed, affected by family chaos or secrets, as well as those who know someone struggling with depression.

In her author’s notes at the back, Luanne shares why she felt compelled to write this book and what her own teen years were like. This is her second young adult book. I read and really liked her first one and it’s safe to say after two really good entries in this genre, she’s got game.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

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Tribute to a Literary Critic, Cheering Coach, Mystery Lover & MOM—and a Giveaway

Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Killer in the Band is the third installment in the Lovers in Crime Mystery series.

In addition to her series set in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, Lauren Carr has also written the Mac Faraday Mysteries, set on Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, and the Thorny Rose Mysteries, set in Washington DC. The second installment in the Thorny Rose Mysteries, which features Joshua Thornton’s son Murphy and Jessica Faraday, Mac’s daughter, A Fine Year for Murder, was released in January 2017. The next book, Twofer Murder, will be released at the end of the year.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV. Visit Lauren Carr’s website at http://www.mysterylady.net to learn more about Lauren and her upcoming mysteries.

I am very sorry to say that last Friday I lost my life mentor, inspiration, harshest literary critic and biggest cheering coach. My mother passed away at eighty-two years of age.

Seven days before, she called with the news that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. No, she was not a smoker. She never smoked even one cigarette. But she had spent twenty-one years with my father, who was a chain smoker. He died of lung cancer in 1974. The dangers of second hand smoke are real.

As my mother, she was the one who taught me the love of books and literature—especially murder mysteries. My fondest memories are lying next to her in bed while she read Perry Mason to me. Mom was not into Dick and Jane. She was into Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie. As soon as I learned to read, I was consuming the Bobbsey Twins—quickly moving onto the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I was never into love stories like other girls. I wanted a dead body and a mystery to solve in my books. This was a love I got from my mother.

Every one at all the libraries in and around Chester, WV, knew my mother. My fondest memories of being with her was going to the Carnegie Library in East Liverpool, Ohio, every Friday morning. As the youngest child in the family, I would make these trips with my mother while my brothers and sister were in school. The love of books and reading was something that the two of us shared together that the rest of my family didn’t take part in. This made it something special.

In recent years, my mother took me back to the mystery section of that same Carnegie Library and pointed at each of the books saying, “I read that. Read this one. This one, too.” She devoured every mystery that would come out. So much so, that the libraries had to borrow books from other libraries just for her because she had read everything they already had.

It was only a few weeks ago that she told me that while at the library, she was waiting in line to check out that week’s books when the lady ahead of her asked the librarian where to find the latest Lauren Carr book. As the librarian directed her, my mom swelled up with pride. When it came her turn in line, she told the librarian that Lauren Carr was her daughter. She says the librarian, who did not know her, almost scoffed until she saw the name “Carr” on her library card. Then she believed her, and called over to the woman that Lauren Carr’s mother was right there. Upon hearing this news, the lady told my mother about how she had read all of my books and enjoyed them.

Once, my mother told me that she was uncertain if she should take the credit or blame for my writing success. Whichever one it is, she certainly played a pivotal role in my becoming an author. She had never attended college. In fact, she went to school in a one room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. But she was wonderfully smart. She knew books and what made a good book—especially mysteries. She didn’t know the literary terms tossed around by writing coaches and editors, but she did know what worked and didn’t.

That’s why I chose her to critique my books before I would send them off to the editor. One hundred percent of the time I would have to do a rewrite after she’d read them. If she had been born at another time or place, she could have become a great literary critic.

It was her intense knowledge of what made a good murder mystery that kept me motivated to continue pursuing my dream of being a mystery writer—even in the face of continued rejections by agents and publishers. Yes, there was some maternal bias there when she would tell me how good I was, but I knew that she knew what she was talking about when it came to mystery novels.

Don’t get me wrong. Mom was not totally biased about my books. Once, when I told her that a reviewer had said I was as good as Agatha Christie, my mother replied, “You’re not that good.” She did know how to keep me grounded.

At her age, Mom had chosen to have no treatment for her cancer. She cut the doctor off when he gave her the news and didn’t even want any specific details about the type, etc. She swore the doctor to secrecy under the threat of death. (That’s my mom!) For the next year, instead of chemo and other medical treatments, she bowled with her team, had lunch every week with her friends, traveled with my sister to visit my home five hours away, and took trips with her friends—all without saying a word to anyone about the short time she had left.

Two days after breaking the news to our family, my brother took her to the ER. They admitted her into ICU. Five days later, she passed away. Just the way she wanted. (Actually, she had told me that she wanted to go out in a blaze of glory in a big fiery car crash, but to peacefully slip away in her sleep was a close second.)

My mom made me the woman I am today—a lover of books—which I have proudly passed on to my son, who is pursuing a minor in journalism. Because of her, the love of writing will continue.

For this, I thank and love my mom.

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
advance reading copy of

  Twofer Murder by Lauren Carr,
just leave a comment below with
your thoughts about who in your life
inspired you with the love for reading.

The winning name will be drawn
on Monday evening, September 25th
and the ebook will be sent in late October.

 

Book Review: The Trust by Ronald H. Balson—and a Giveaway!

The Trust
Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart #4

Ronald H. Balson
St. Martin’s Press, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-12744-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral―a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realizes he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realizes he has stepped into the center of a firestorm.

Every now and then, a novel (or a movie) comes out in which an inheritance is withheld until a certain monumental task is completed. In the case of The Trust, that task involves solving a crime, a murder, and our hero, private investigator Liam Taggart, is perforce right in the middle of everything and it’s a most uncomfortable place to be.

Years ago, Liam had been an agent for the CIA and spent some time in Northern Ireland watching some of his own family, eventually leading to a deep estrangement, including with his uncle, but his cousin, Janie, called to ask him to come to the funeral. As it turns out, Uncle Fergus apparently knew he was going to be murdered and who better to solve the case than Liam? As he soon discovers, fighting over potential inheritances is greatly exacerbated by longlasting resentments going back to his activities during the Troubles so his task is much more difficult.

The story is rife with red herrings and with a plethora of suspects among family and others, enough to set my head spinning as well as there’s this obligation Liam feels, a burning need to make things as right as he can with the late Uncle Fergus and the rest of his family. The core of the story lies in the events during the Troubles and how they still affect the family years later but there’s also a good deal of character development with all of these people, to the point where I could envision myself among them. Even the Belfast police, Sergeant Megan Dooley and Inspector McLaughlin, are well-rounded and important players in the tale and, in the end, Liam learns something that’s life-changing for himself.

Interestingly, Liam’s P.I. instincts don’t work well this time, perhaps because he’s too caught up in family dynamics, and readers may be a bit put off by his…and his wife, Catherine’s…seeming inability to develop and follow the clues but I found it made this couple and the case more intriguing. I wouldn’t want it to happen often or even occasionally but it worked in The Trust because of the family and national history. All in all, this was a very engaging read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of The Trust by Ronald H. Balson,
leave
a comment below. One winning
name will
be drawn Sunday evening,
September 24th. This drawing is o
pen
to residents of the US and Canada.

Waiting On Wednesday (80)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Spotlight on A Conspiracy of Ravens by Terrence McCauley—and a Giveaway!

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Title: A Conspiracy of Ravens
Series: James Hicks #3
Authors: Terrence McCauley
Publisher: Polis Books
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller

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Synopsis

THE BATTLE LINES HAVE BEEN DRAWN. THE WAR HAS BEGUN.

James Hicks has spent his entire life and career fighting on the front
lines of terrorism for the clandestine intelligence organization known
as The University. Hicks has learned that enemies can appear and
disappear in the blink of an eye, and allegiances shift like the wind.
But now, Hicks has finally discovered his true enemy: the
criminal organization known as The Vanguard.

This shadowy group has operated as a deadly organization comprised
weapons dealers, drug runners, and money launderers for decades,
but has now decided to add regime change to their catastrophic agenda.
But knowing the enemy is one thing. Being able to defeat it is another
matter entirely. When Hicks uncovers a solid lead on his new adversaries,
his world explodes. His home base is attacked, his operatives in the
field are wiped out, and, for the first time, The University finds itself in
open combat against an unknown enemy. In a battle that rages from the
streets of Manhattan to the halls of power in Washington, D.C., to
the dark alleys of Berlin, Hicks will have to use every resource
at his disposal to defeat A Conspiracy of Ravens.

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Purchase Links:

              

“In our new reality, Terrence McCauley’s A Conspiracy of Ravens
is not far from the realm of possibility. He hits all the right notes
while creating an simultaneously entertaining and frightening scenario. Read it.”
—Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of What You Break

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An Excerpt from A Conspiracy of Ravens

CHAPTER 1

2:00 A.M.

James Hicks was two hours south of Manhattan, driving to a meeting he didn’t want to attend in Washington, when his dashboard screen flashed red. It was a Proximity Alert from OMNI.

POSSIBLE SURVEILLANCE IN PROGRESS

“Goddamn it.” Hicks pounded the steering wheel. “Not this shit again.”

Surveillance was the whole reason he was driving to Washington, D.C. in the first place.

The Optimized Mechanical and Network Integration System (OMNI) was one of the most advanced computer networks in the world, giving the University one of the few advantages it enjoyed over the larger, federally-funded agencies. OMNI’s access to satellites, data systems, and communications networks collected more data in a millisecond than any human mind could ever comprehend, and saw more than any human eye could see.

Since being selected as Dean of the University weeks ago, the network now dedicated part of its impressive bandwidth to constantly scan his immediate area for patterns and signals that may constitute a threat to Hicks.

He had refused the security measures at first, finding it intrusive for a man who had spent most of his life in the shadows. He had managed to stay alive this long without babysitting. He had seen no reason to allow it now.

But the protection came with the job and could not be refused, not even by the Dean. Given the number of people who had tried to kill him in the past few months, Hicks decided an extra set of eyes watching his back might not be a bad idea.

The automatic alert he was reading now proved he had made the right choice.

He tapped the dashboard screen for more information.
TARGET CAR: BMW 750i
TAIL TIME: 30 minutes and counting
SPEED: Matching 70 miles per hour
ERROR: New Jersey license plates do not match VIN on black box

The fact that a car had been behind him for thirty minutes didn’t bother him. People often popped on the cruise control and let the car do the driving in light traffic like this.

It was the problem with the plates that bothered him. They didn’t match the Vehicle Identification Number OMNI detected from the signal on the BMW’s black box. That was unusual. Too unusual for it to be written off as a mistake.

Hicks had been checking his mirrors constantly during the  drive south. He hadn’t detected anyone following him, but it was difficult to track a car in the middle of the night.

Hicks tapped a button on the Buick’s steering wheel, accessing the OMNI network. “Get me an Operator.”

“Contacting an Operator,” the female electronic voice answered as it connected him to one of the dozens of technicians located throughout the world who constantly monitored OMNI’s field operations.

A man’s voice, betraying a slight British inflection, came over the Buick’s speakers. OMNI may have been a secure closed network operating entirely on its own bandwidth, but University Operators still answered using a standard protocol script. “You’ve reached the switchboard. How may I help you?”

“This is Professor Warren.” It was the signal that he was not in any immediate danger and free to talk. If he had given them any other name, the Operator would have assumed he was in trouble and activated necessary security measures. Even with twenty-first-century technology, old tricks like code words still had a place. “Looks like I’ve become pretty popular. I need more information.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.” Hicks heard the Operator’s fingers work a keyboard as he accessed OMNI to find his location and the alert that had flashed on the dashboard screen. “I see the nature of the problem now. The plates match the exact make, model, and year of the BMW following you, but the VIN is completely different.”

Hicks knew that ruled out any government agencies following him. They would not need to steal plates for a vehicle.

But someone did.

“Who owns the car, according to the VIN?” He heard the Operator typing. “Records show it was delivered to a BMW dealership in New Jersey late last week.” More clicks. “No record of sale. No stolen car reports with the police, either. It’s possible they stole the car tonight from the dealership after it closed.”

Convenient timing. “Who owns the plates?”

More clicks of the keyboard. “Michael Spatola of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. Zooming in to get eyes on his address now.” More clicks on the keyboard. “Satellites show his BMW is still parked in his driveway, but the license plates have been removed from the vehicle.”

Hicks kept his eyes on the road. Someone had been smart enough to steal plates matching the same make, model, and year of the vehicle they had just stolen. Even if a cop decided to run the plates, they would be close enough to match and the cop would probably let them go. Both the car and the plates would be reported stolen eventually, but not for several hours.

That kind of pairing took planning and access. It took effort that common car thieves wouldn’t have gone through. And the odds that common car thieves just happened to be following him this long by accident were astronomical.

Everything about the car and the plates showed intent. It showed planning.

Hicks didn’t like it. He needed answers and, under the circumstances, there was only one way to get them.

“Check traffic and toll cams based on my route. I’m looking for a visual of the driver. Send anything you get to my screen.”

Thirty seconds later, the Operator said, “Sending an image to you now.”

Hicks glanced at the screen while keeping his eyes on the road. A blurry image of two white males at a toll booth in the BMW appeared on his dashboard screen. Judging by the way they filled their seats, he guessed they were each over six feet tall and powerfully built.

The Operator explained, “That picture was taken as they blew through an EZ Pass station without an EZ Pass. I’ll keep looking for a clearer image, but that’s all I have for now.”

Hicks didn’t care about clearer pictures. He needed to find out who was driving that car.

“I’m in a generous mood tonight,” Hicks told the Operator, “so let’s do Mr. Spatola a favor. Enter the theft of the plates and the vehicle into the police network. Say the suspects should be considered armed and dangerous and are believed to be heading for the D.C. area.”

More keyboard clicks. “Doing it now, sir.”

Another idea came to him. “Show me the closest patrol unit on my map.”

A few more clicks. “I’ve just posted the location of the closest unit to your position on your map, sir. The blue icon is the closest police car—a county sheriff ’s deputy manning a speed trap approximately three miles and closing from your current position. The tail car is the red icon on your map, while your car is black.”

Hicks would have preferred a state trooper, but at least a county cop wasn’t some local Barney Fife looking to be a hero.

Hicks pulled the gloves tighter on his fingers. “Plot the nearest off-ramp between here and the speed trap. Something that gives me easy access back onto the highway.”

A blue line appeared on the map of his dashboard screen.

“There’s an off-ramp approximately two miles ahead of you, sir, but be advised: you may not be able to outrun the BMW. It’s got a twin 445 horsepower V8 engine. With all due respect, sir, that’s a tough engine for an old Buick to beat.”

Hicks smiled. That’s why I’ve got an Aston Martin V12 engine under the hood. “Consider me advised. Since the alert is already on the system, send a message directly to the deputy’s onboard computer. Tell him the vehicle is heading his way. Let’s see what he does.”

“Doing it now,” the Operator replied. “And good luck, sir.”

Hicks killed the connection. He never believed in luck. Only in himself.

************

Excerpted from A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS © Copyright 2017 by Terrence McCauley. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Terrence McCauley is the award-winning author of two previous James Hicks thrillers: SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and A MURDER OF CROWS, as well as the historical crime thrillers PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN (all available from Polis Books). He is also the author of the World War I novella THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD, the proceeds of which go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund. His story “El Cambalache” was nominated for the Thriller Award by International Thriller Writers.

Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spintetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association.

A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction. Please visit his website at terrencemccauley.com or follow him at @tmccauley_nyc.

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To enter the drawing for a paperback
copy of A Conspiracy of Ravens,
leave
a comment below. One winning
name will
be drawn Saturday evening,
September 23rd.
Open to residents of the US.

“Stunning set pieces…Solid fare for no-nonsense spy fans.” —Booklist

Book Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers—and a Giveaway!

Thief’s Mark
A Sharpe & Donovan Novel #8
Carla Neggers
MIRA, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-778-33031-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man’s search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel 

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.  

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York’s country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished. 

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver’s account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver’s small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the United States, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.  

My favorite mystery setting, an English village, and a pair of FBI agents who are definitely out of their geographic element…what more could I want? Throw in an art thief (which I’ve always found fun and exciting, probably because these art thieves are daring and, well, sort of James Bond-ish, even the women) and a heinous crime from the past and the stage is set for an engrossing read.

Emma’s grandfather is an art detective in the private collector realm and has a strange tale for Emma and Colin. It seems that he’s had a break-in by someone apparently interested in items connected to one Oliver York. To add a little more mystique, Oliver used to be an accomplished art thief but then became an MI5 agent. Emma and Colin have years-long ties to Oliver through both of his professions but, when a dead man is found at his home, the case becomes ever-expanding and eventually involves multiple countries and law enforcement organizations.

While this is part of the Sharpe & Donovan series, it’s essentially a standalone and focuses largely on Oliver. He is a fascinating man and he makes it easy to understand why cops and robbers sometimes can’t help liking and even respecting each other. Emma and Colin are a delightful couple as well as being really good agents and Oliver’s colleague, Henrietta, is a force of nature but it’s Wendell, Emma’s grandfather, who really stole my heart. All in all, Thief’s Mark was a grand introduction, for me, to this series and the rest of the books are going on my wishlist right now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Purchase Links:

         

    

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About the Author

Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including her popular Sharpe and Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 35 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, Carla lives with her family in New England. To learn more and to sign up for her newsletter, visit CarlaNeggers.com.

Connect with Carla:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Follow the tour here.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers
, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Friday
night,
September 22nd and the book will be sent
out after the tour ends. This drawing is

open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Cover Reveal: The Lovely Dark by K.A. Last

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Title: The Lovely Dark
Author: K.A. Last
Designer: KILA Designs

Publication Date: October 2017
Genres: Dark Fantasy/Horror, Young Adult

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Synopsis

Three teenagers.
One witch.
Twelve souls.

Harvey Anderson always knew the universe was against him, but
there’s a lot of stuff he never expected to happen, like having a crush
on the most popular girl at school, and then falling into a giant hole
in the middle of nowhere with her. And if that wasn’t enough,
somehow they managed to release a soul-sucking, ancient witch
as well. So yeah, there’s that. You’d think it’d be pretty hard to
beat, but knowing Harvey’s luck, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

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Pre-order Links

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks US
iBooks Aus // Amazon US // Amazon AU
(Amazon links to come)

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An Excerpt from The Lovely Dark

I shine my torch beam across the floor, then up the walls and back to the floor. An uneasy feeling settles into the pit of my stomach. I don’t want to ask the question I’m about to ask, but I can’t help myself.

“Are those human bones?”

Lian tenses beside me. “I hope not.”

Toni takes a few steps into the cave, moving to the left and skirting around the wall. I follow, and Lian comes close behind. I feel her grab the back of my T-shirt. I don’t mind the contact. I’m creeped out and glad I’m not down here by myself.

As we move farther into the cave, it becomes clear that something terrible must have happened here. Toni stops, and the light from her head torch shines on a human skull. I jump and a funny noise comes out of my mouth. Black, gaping holes stare at us. A huge spider slowly crawls out of one of the eye sockets, and an invisible finger traces my spine. Bile rises into my throat, and I supress the urge to vomit.

Lian grips my arm and presses against me. We crowd in behind Toni, neither of us prepared to have any space between us. For some reason, I feel safer huddled together when it’s probably not the best idea if we need to run away screaming.

“Yep. Definitely human,” Toni says.

She runs her torch around again and more skulls shine white in the darkness. Some of them are still attached to skeletons, which are sitting on rocks with their backs against the wall, bits of clothing draped off them. Other skulls lie on the ground, detached and without bodies. I keep my torchlight on the spider. I do not want it creeping up on me in the dark.

“Who are they?” Lian asks.

“Something tells me we won’t find a driver’s licence in their pockets,” I say.

“Can anyone see the wand?” Toni takes another step forward.

Lian and I shuffle with her, and I grab her arm with my free hand. The three of us search the cave with our torches, and my stomach rolls again. Our lights bounce around, and then I catch something that glimmers.

“There!” I point and realise neither of the girls can see me because all our light is in front of us. “I think … oh God.” I train my light where I saw the shiny thing. “It’s … is that a hand?”

Finger bones curl around a stick with a stone at the end. The stone is black but shiny enough to reflect our torchlight. Twine binds the stone to the head of the wand in a twisted mass. It’s not very pretty.

“I don’t want it to be a hand,” Lian says. “Bags not getting it.”

Toni snorts. “Seriously?”

“What?” Lian says. “I said it first.”

“You can stay calm when a spider runs up your arm,” I say, “but you can’t pluck a stick from a dead person’s fingers?”

“You do it then. I have no trouble admitting I don’t want to touch dead people.”

Toni hasn’t offered to get it either, even after questioning Lian. She’s as scared as us, which makes this a whole lot worse. Up until now, Toni has been the level-headed one. The one with all the answers. Now, her arm shakes beneath my hand.

I take a breath. “Get ready to … I don’t know. Kill the dead people if they attack me.”

I let go of Toni and take a step around her. Lian lets go of my arm, and fear rushes through me as I lose physical contact with both the girls. I take a few measured steps towards the hand holding the wand, careful not to step on any bones along the way.

Until now, I haven’t considered that the hand might be attached to an arm, attached to a body. I shine my torch around and wish I hadn’t. It is attached to someone, or at least, a skeleton that used to be someone. Strips of fabric fall in tatters around the form. With every step, I get more scared.

“They’re all dead,” I mumble under my breath. “They can’t hurt me.”

Only we’re dealing with witches and magic here, and I don’t actually know that these bones will leave me alone. Especially since I’m about to take something from them. I edge forward and stretch out my free hand, clutching my torch tightly with the other. I stop and lean forward, not wanting to get any closer, and use the length of my arm to get the wand.

My fingers brush the bones as I grab the stick and I yelp, pulling my hand back.

“What?” Toni asks. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” I say.

I flex my fingers and try again, telling myself that it’s no big deal, they’re just bones. Finger bones, but just bones, nonetheless. I manage to grip the wand, and I pull to free it from the dead skeleton’s grasp. At first it doesn’t move, and then it comes away with a snap.

I jump back with the wand in my hand, the bony fingers still gripping to it.

“Oh my god!” Toni says. “You broke the hand off!”

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About the Author

K. A. Last was born in Subiaco, Western Australia, and moved to Sydney when she was eight. Artistic and creative by nature, she studied Graphic Design and graduated with an Advanced Diploma. After marrying her high school sweetheart, she concentrated on her career before settling into family life. Blessed with a vivid imagination, she began writing to let off creative steam, and fell in love with it. K. A. Last is currently studying her Bachelor of Arts at Charles Sturt University, with a major in English, and minors in Children’s Literature, Art History, and Visual Culture. She now resides in the countryside on the mid-north coast of NSW.

Author Links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads
Pinterest // Instagram // Amazon

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