Book Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu @almakatsu @TransworldBooks @The_FFBC

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Title: The Deep
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Dark Fantasy, Thriller

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks // Google Play
Amazon // Book Depository // Indiebound

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The Deep
Alma Katsu
Transworld Digital, March 2020
ISBN 978-0-525-53790-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers – including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher – are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

Not too long ago, I listened to the audiobook of Alma Katsu’s The Hunger and, truthfully, I was mesmerized by the ominous atmosphere she created. That ambience comes largely from my knowing ahead of time what really happened with the Donner Party, the ineffable tragedy of it all, and the promise of The Deep was that it would give me much of the same feeling. I didn’t do audio on this one but visually reading it didn’t lessen the effect.

Was the Titanic imbued with a supernatural touch as the author suggests? Maybe, maybe not, but there is no doubt that the ship’s story is full of ghosts and belief in the occult was popular among the wealthy at the time so Ms. Katsu taking it a bit farther is not really out of line, is it? Even with a sizeable passenger list and crew, there do seem to be an inordinate number of deaths and peculiar events that the people on the voyage can’t truly explain in “normal” terms and then, of course, there is that awful night.

When stewardess Annie finds herself, four years later working as a World War I nurse on board the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, perhaps it’s not surprising that she would come across a wounded soldier who was also on the Titanic’s fateful voyage. Annie carries her own demons with her, though, so possibly her memories are tricking her into thinking that Mark can’t be there because he could not have survived the sinking. Then again…

Ms. Katsu’s real strength lies in her storytelling and on her ability to bring people and historic events to life. The Deep is a compelling tale that could, if you believe just a little, be truth and, might I add, it’s immeasurably enhanced by including a real woman, Violet Jessop, who has to be one of the luckiest seafaring women ever. Well done, Ms. Katsu!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2020.

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An Excerpt from The Deep

Chapter One

October 1916
Morninggate Asylum,
Liverpool

She is not mad.

Annie Hebbley pokes her needle into the coarse gray linen, a soft color, like the feathers of the doves that entrap themselves in the chimneys here, fluttering and crying out, sometimes battering themselves to death in a vain effort to escape.

She is not mad.

Annie’s eyes follow the needle as it runs the length of the hem, weaving in and out of fabric. In and out. In and out. Sharp and shining and so precise.

But there is something in her that is hospitable to madness.

Annie has come to understand the erratic ways of the insane-the crying fits, incoherent babblings, violent flinging of hands and feet. There is, after days and weeks and years, a kind of comforting rhythm to them. But, no, she is not one of them. Of that she is certain.

Certain as the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, her da’ might once have said.

There are a dozen female patients hunched over their sewing, making the room warm and stuffy despite the meagerness of the fire. Work is thought to be palliative to nervous disorders, so many of the inmates are given jobs, particularly those who are here due more to their own poverty than any ailment of mind or body. While most of the indigent are kept in workhouses, Annie has learned, quite a few find their way to asylums instead, if there are any empty beds to keep them. Not to mention the women of sin.

Whatever their reasons for turning up at Morninggate, most of the women here are meek enough and bend themselves to the nurses’ direction. But there are a few of whom Annie is truly afraid.

She pulls in tight to herself as she works, not wanting to brush up against them, unable to shake the suspicion that madness might pass from person to person like a disease. That it festers the way a fine mold grows inside a milk bottle left too long in the sun-undetectable at first but soon sour and corrupting, until all the milk is spoiled.

Annie sits on a hard little stool in the needle room with her morning’s labor puddled in her lap, but it is the letter tucked inside her pocket that brushes up against her thoughts unwillingly, a glowing ember burning through the linen of her dress. Annie recognized the handwriting before she even saw the name on the envelope. She has reread it now at least a dozen times. In the dark cover of night, when no one is looking, she kisses it like a crucifix.

As if drawn to the sin of Annie’s thoughts, a nurse materializes at her shoulder. Annie wonders how long she has been standing there, studying Annie. This one is new. She doesn’t know Annie yet-not well, anyway. They leave Annie to the late arrivals on staff, who haven’t yet learned to be frightened of her.

“Anne, dear, Dr. Davenport would like to see you. I’m to escort you to his office.”

Annie rises from her stool. None of the other women glance up from their sewing. The nurses never turn their backs to the patients of Morninggate, so Annie shuffles down the corridor, the nurse’s presence like a hot poker at her back. If Annie could get a moment alone, she would get rid of the letter. Stash it behind the drapes, tuck it under the carpet runner. She mustn’t let the doctor find it. Just thinking of it again sends a tingle of shame through her body.

But she is never alone at Morninggate.

In the dusty reflection of the hall windows they appear like two ghosts-Annie in her pale, dove-gray uniform, the nurse in her long cream skirt, apron, and wimple. Past a long series of closed doors, locked rooms, in which the afflicted mutter and wail.

What do they scream about? What torments them so? For some, it was gin. Others were sent here by husbands, fathers, even brothers who don’t like the way their women think, don’t like that they are outspoken. But Annie shies away from learning the stories of the truly mad. There’s undoubtedly tragedy there, and Annie’s life has had enough sadness.

The building itself is large and rambling, constructed in several stages from an old East India Company warehouse that shuttered in the 1840s. In the outdoor courtyard, where the women do their exercises in the mornings, the walls are streaked with sweat and spittle, smeared with dirty handprints and smudges of dried blood. Luckily the gaslights are kept low, for economy’s sake, giving the grime a pleasantly warm hue.

They pass the men’s wing; sometimes, Annie can hear their voices through the wall, but today they’re quiet. The men and women are kept separate because some of the women suffer from a peculiar nervous disorder that makes their blood run hot. These women cannot abide the sight of a man, will break out in tremors, try to tear off their clothes, will chew through their own tongues and fall down convulsing.

Or so they say. Annie has never seen it happen. They like to tell stories about the patients, particularly the female ones.

But Annie is safe here, from the great big world. The world of men. And that is what matters. The small rooms, the narrow confines are not so different from the old cottage in Ballintoy, four tiny rooms, the roiling Irish Sea not twenty paces from her front door. Here, the air in the courtyard is ripe with the smell of ocean, too, though if it is close by, Annie cannot see it, has not seen it in four years.

It is both a comfort and a curse. Some days, she wakes from nightmares of black water rushing into her open mouth, freezing her lungs to stone. The ocean is deep and unforgiving. Families in Ballintoy have lost fathers and brothers, sisters and daughters to the sea for as long as she can remember. She’s seen the water of the Atlantic Ocean choked with hundreds of bodies. More bodies than are buried in all of Ballintoy’s graveyard.

And yet on other days, she wakes to find plaster beneath her fingernails where she has scratched at the walls, desperate to get out, to return to it. Her blood surges through her veins with the motion of the sea. She craves it.

On the far side of the courtyard they enter the small vestibule that leads to the doctors’ private rooms. The nurse indicates that Annie should step aside as she knocks and then, at a command to enter, unlocks the door to Dr. Davenport’s office. He rises from behind his desk and gestures to a chair.

Nigel Davenport is a young man. Annie likes him, has always felt he has the well-being of his patients in mind. She’s overheard the nurses talk about how difficult it is for the parish to get doctors to remain at the asylum. Their job is discouraging when so few patients respond to treatment. Plus, it’s far more lucrative to be a family doctor, setting bones and delivering babies. He is always nice to her, if formal. Whenever he sees her, he thinks about the incident with the dove. They all do. How she was found once cradling a dead bird in her arms, cooing to it like a baby.

She knows it wasn’t a baby. It was just a bird. It had fallen out of the flue, hit the hearth in a puff of loose feathers. Dirty, sooty bird, and yet beautiful in its way. She only wanted to hold it. To have something of her own to hold.

He folds his hands and rests them on the desktop. She stares at his long fingers, the way they fold into one another. She wonders if they are strong hands. It is not the first time she has wondered this. “I heard you received another letter yesterday.”

Her heart trembles inside her chest.

“It is against our policy to intrude too much on our patients’ privacy, Annie. We don’t read patients’ mail, as they do at other homes. We are not like that here.” His smile is kind, but there is a slight furrow between his brows and Annie has the strangest urge to press her finger there, to smooth the soft flesh. But of course she would never. Voluntary touching is not allowed. “Here, you may show us only of your own free will. But you can see how these letters would be a matter of concern for us, don’t you?”

His voice is gentle, encouraging, almost a physical caress in the stillness. Bait. She remains silent, as if to speak would be to touch him back. Perhaps if she doesn’t respond, he will stop pressing. Perhaps she will vanish into air if she is quiet enough. She used to play this game all the time in the vast fields and cliffsides of Ballintoy-the recollection returns with startling clarity: the Vanishing Game. Generally, it worked. She could go whole days drifting in the meadow behind the house, imagining stories, without ever being seen or spoken to. A living phantom.

The doctor stretches his neck against his high collar. He has a good, solid neck. Hands, too. He could easily overpower her. That is probably the point of such strength. “Perhaps you would like to show it to me, Annie? For your own peace of mind? It’s not good to have secrets-secrets weigh on you, hold you down.”

She shivers. She longs to share it and burns to hide it. “It’s from a friend.”

“The friend who used to work with you aboard the passenger ship?” He pauses. “Violet, wasn’t it?”

She starts to panic. “She’s working on another ship now. She says they are in dire need of help and she wonders if I would return to service.” There. It’s out.

His dark eyes study her. She cannot resist the weight of his expectation. She has never been good at saying no; all she has ever wanted was to please people, her father, her mother. To please all of them. To be good.

Like she once was.

My good Annie, the Lord favors good girls, said her da’.

She reaches into her pocket and hands him the letter. She can hardly stand to watch him read, feeling as though it is not the letter but her own body that has been exposed.

Then he glances up at her, and slowly his mouth forms a smile.

“Don’t you see, Annie?”

She knots her hands together in her lap. “See?” She knows what he’s going to say next.

“You know that you’re not really sick, not like the others, don’t you?” He says these words kindly, as though he is trying to spare her feelings. As though she doesn’t already know it. “We debated the morality of keeping you here, but we were reluctant to discharge you because- Well, frankly, we didn’t know what to do with you.”

Annie had no recollection of her own past when she was admitted to Morninggate Asylum. She woke up in one of the narrow beds, her arms and legs bruised, not to mention the awful, aching wound on her head. A constable had found her unconscious behind a public house. She didn’t appear to be a prostitute-she was neither dressed for it nor stinking of gin.

But no one knew who she was. At the time, Annie scarcely knew herself. She couldn’t even tell them her name. The physician had no choice but to sign the court order to detain her at the asylum.

Her memory has, over time, begun to return. Not all of it, though; when she tries to recall certain things, all she gets is a blur. The night the great ship went down is, of course, cut into her memory with the prismatic perfection of solid ice. It’s what came before that feels unreal. She remembers the two men, each in their turn, though sometimes she feels as though they have braided together in her mind into just one man, or all men. And then, before that: fragments of green fields and endless sermons, intoned prayer and howling northern wind. A world too unfathomably big to comprehend.

A terrible, gaping loneliness that has been her only companion for four years.

Surely it is better to be kept safe inside this place, while the world and its secrets, its wars, its false promises, are kept away, outside the thick brick walls.

Dr. Davenport looks at her with that same wavering smile. “Don’t you think, Annie?” he is saying.

“Think what?”

“It would be wrong to keep you here, with the war on. Taking up a bed that could be used for someone who is truly unwell. There are soldiers suffering from shell shock. Everton Alley teems with poor and broken spirits, tormented by demons from their time on the battlefield.” His eyes are dark and very steady. They linger on hers. “You must write to the White Star office and ask for your old job, as your friend suggests. It’s the right thing to do under the circumstances.”

She is stunned, not by his assertions but that this is all happening so quickly. She is having trouble keeping up with his words. A slow dread creeps into her chest.

“You’re fine, my dear. You’re just scared. It’s understandable-but you’ll be right as rain once you see your friend and start working again. It’s about time, anyway, don’t you think?”

She can’t help but feel stubbornly rejected, spurned, almost. For four years, she’s managed things so that she could stay. Kept her secrets. Was careful not to disrupt anything, not to do anything wrong.

She has been so good.

Now her life, her home, the only security she knows, is being ripped away from her and she is once more being forced out into the unknown.

But there is no turning back. She knows she cannot refuse him this, cannot refuse him anything. Not when he has been so kind.

He folds up the letter and holds it out to her. Her gaze lingers on his strong hands. Her fingers brush against his when she takes it back. Forbidden.

“I should be happy to sign the release papers,” her doctor says. “Congratulations, Miss Hebbley, on your return to the world.”

3 October 1916

My dear Annie,

I hope this letter finds you. Yes, I am writing again even though I have not heard from you since the letter you sent via the White Star Line head office. You can understand why I continue to write. I pray your condition has not worsened. I was sorry to read of your current situation, although, from your letter, you do not sound unwell to me. Can you ever forgive me for losing track of you after that Terrible Night? I didn’t know if you had lived or died. I feared I would never see you again.

Excerpted from The Deep by Alma Katsu. Copyright © 2020 by Alma Katsu. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Original link: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/586714/the-deep-by-alma-katsu/

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About the Author

Alma Katsu is the author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist. The Hunger made NPR’s list of the 100 Best Horror Stories, was named one of the best novels of 2018 by the Observer, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books (and more), and was nominated for a Stoker and Locus Award for best horror novel.

The Taker, her debut novel, has been compared to the early works of Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining historical, the supernatural, and fantasy into one story. The Taker was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by Booklist, was nominated for a Goodreads Readers Choice award, and has been published in over 10 languages. It is the first in an award-winning trilogy that includes The Reckoning and The Descent.

Ms. Katsu lives outside of Washington DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. In addition to her novels, she has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly, and a contributor to the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Program and Brandeis University, where she studied with novelist John Irving. She also is an alumni of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career in intelligence, working for several US agencies and a think tank. She currently is a consultant on emerging technologies. Additional information can be found on Wikipedia and in this interview with Ozy.com.

Author Links:

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

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Book Review: Sting by Cindy R. Wilson @cindyrwilson @entangledteen @YABoundToursPR

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Title: Sting
Author: Cindy R. Wilson
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult

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Purchase Links
Can Be Found Here

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Sting
Cindy R. Wilson
Entangled Teen, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-64063-826-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They call me the Scorpion because they don’t know who I really am. All they know is that someone is stealing from people with excess to help people with nothing survive another day.

But then a trusted friend reveals who I am―“just” Tessa, “just” a girl―and sends me straight into the arms of the law. All those people I helped…couldn’t help me when I needed it.

In prison, I find an unlikely ally in Pike, who would have been my enemy on the outside. He represents everything I’m against. Luxury. Excess. The world immediately falling for his gorgeous smile. How he ended up in the dirty cell next to mine is a mystery, but he wants out as much as I do. Together, we have a real chance at escape.

With the sting of betrayal still fresh, Pike and I will seek revenge on those who wronged us. But uncovering all their secrets might turn deadly…

Last fall, I was introduced to Ms. Wilson’s work through her book, Rival, and I liked it very much. At the time, I hoped to see more from her but I didn’t think that would happen so soon. I’m mighty glad I was wrong.

Once again, the author has crafted a story that tips the hat to both another fictional theme, The Count of Monte Cristo, and a legendary quasi-historical figure, Robin Hood. Tessa is a young girl who makes her way in a harsh world—one which we have brought upon ourselves through climate change—but always has an eye towards helping others who are less fortunate by appropriating supplies from those who live a life of privilege and plenty. Tessa has a somewhat surly attitude but she always wants to make life a little easier for those who barely survive day to day in the Dark District and she has formed a family of sorts among a little girl named Cass, a boy named River who is beginning to stir certain feelings in Tessa and Elle, a girl who resents her own origins in the Light District. Each night, they have to avoid the Enforcers who are directed to keep residents of the Dark District in their place.

Tessa has acquired a nickname, Scorpion, largely because of her quick, rapid forays into enemy territory and it’s both a hindrance and a source of pride but betrayal of the deepest sort gets her thrown in the prison known as Decay. After that, escape and revenge are all she wants. A fellow prisoner, Pike, has his own reasons to seek retribution but, for both, the future is a nebulous thing.

Appealing characters and a strong plot, along with a vivid setting, kept me reading into the night and I especially appreciated that this is a self-contained story…although I wouldn’t be averse to another adventure for Tessa and her family 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2020.

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An Excerpt from Sting

He empties another pot of water. “How did you learn how to do all this?”

“Unclog sinks?”

“Fix things. They said the Scorpion built robots the size of men and sent giant tanks into those warehouses to collect all the supplies.”

“Giant tanks?”

“With electronic devices attached to the side. Weapons.”

I stare at him.

“What?” he asks.

“Giant tanks and human-sized robots? Really? That’s a lot of embellishment.”

I wish I could have built an army of robots, though. Something to fight back against the Enforcers. But we still have a chance. Me and Pike. We’re going to do this together.

“You made a big impact, Tessa.”

I look over, my hands dripping with sink water. He’s never called me Tessa before. I almost forgot he knows my real name.

His eyes are earnest, focused on mine. “Whether you were building robots or not, you made a difference. People talk when that happens.”

Mongo snaps out an order for us to get to work. I drop my eyes and continue to gather pots of water.

“I made robots,” I admit with a shrug.

Pike flashes a smile. “Yeah?”

“Robotic scorpions to help canvas the city and the areas we planned on…visiting.”

“Ah. Scorpion. I see. I was wondering where that came from.”

“It wasn’t my idea to start calling myself that.”

“Like I said, you made a difference.” He shifts another pot of water to the bucket. “People need heroes and hope to hold onto. When they get it, they do a lot more than embellish. They start to believe.”

I make myself continue working, though my heart is clutching at Pike’s words. I know what he’s talking about. I know about hope and believing. The first time we brought back supplies for the people in the Dark District and they thanked us, I believed we could do more. The first time a mother cried because we gave her food for her kids, I believed we could get into any warehouse anywhere and help more people. I had hope and I believed.

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About the Author

Cindy lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and loves using Colorado towns and cities as inspiration for settings in her stories. She’s the mother of three girls, who provide plenty of fodder for her YA novels. Cindy writes speculative fiction and YA fiction, filled with a healthy dose of romance. You’ll often find her hiking or listening to any number of playlists while she comes up with her next story idea.

Author Links:

Website //  Goodreads // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

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Book Review: The Insurrection by Chris Babu @realchrisbabu @tlcbooktours

The Insurrection
The Initiation #3
Chris Babu
Permuted Press, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-68261-883-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

They are protected by lies. He is armed with the truth.

Having survived the Initiation and expedition, one battle remains: the fight for the heart and soul of New America.

Drayden and his friends, enlisting the help of Professor Worth, must find a way back to New America before the Guardians imperil their return. But for these teens, their problems are only beginning. The Bureau, which never expected them to survive the expedition, will do everything in their power to prevent New America’s darkest secrets from getting out.

Drayden’s only hope is the insurrection led by ally Kim Craig. The David versus Goliath battle between good and evil, between truth and lies, will push Drayden to his breaking point and require bravery, self-acceptance, and above all, belief in himself. Backed by the will of the citizens, he’ll need to engineer an ingenious strategy to defeat the all-powerful authoritarians. The question is, will it be enough?

Predators in the wild, gang violence, a perilous ocean journey, confrontations with the Guardians…all, and more, are the many trials and tribulations a small band from Boston face as they work to help those who are resisting the Bureau of New America. How did we get here? A pandemic caused by Aeru, a deadly bacterium (uncomfortably close to what we currently have with the coronavirus) led to a totalitarian group dividing Manhattan into highly defended walled wards but, as you might expect, very little about this is beneficial to the citizens.

Drayden and his team , Catrice, Sidney and Charlie, along with the elderly Professor Worth, set out to become part of the incipient revolution led by Kim Craig but they also have personal issues to work through, especially the teens. When all is said and done, this band of resistors are able to focus on the task at hand, the defeat of the Bureau and they learn that their bonds give them the strength and the fortitude to do what needs to be done.

Mr. Babu is a very talented storyteller and I have to say I really appreciated the way he let these teens be more mature than so many authors do, with all of them able to keep the usual teen angst down to a dull roar. I haven’t read the first two books but I surely will now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Books-A-Million // Amazon

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About the Author

Chris Babu is a lifelong math and science geek, with a math degree from MIT. For nineteen years, he worked as a bond trader on Wall Street. Now he writes full-time, indulging his love of young adult books. He splits his time between New York City and the east end of Long Island, where he lives with his wife Michelle, daughter Lily, and Great Dane Buddy. He’s the author of The Initiation and The Expedition, and can be found at chrisbabu.com.

Connect with Chris:

InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

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Book Review: The Life Below by Alexandra Monir @TimelessAlex @harperteen @The_FFBC

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Title: The Life Below
Author: Alexandra Monir
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication date: February 18, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
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Amazon // Book Depository // Indiebound

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The Life Below
Alexandra Monir
HarperTeen, February 2020
ISBN 978-0-06-265897-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As Naomi lifts off into space and away from a rapidly deteriorating Earth, she watches the world fade away, and along with it Leo, a Final Six contestant she grew close to during training. Leaving Earth behind is hard, but what’s ahead, on Europa, could be worse. The International Space Training Camp continues to hide the truth about what happened to the last group of astronauts who attempted a similar colonization but failed mysteriously. With one shot—at this mission and to Europa—Naomi is determined to find out if there is alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there.

Leo, back on Earth, has been working with renegade scientist Dr. Greta Wagner, who promises to fly him to space where he can essentially latch on to Naomi’s ship. And if Wagner’s hypothesis is right, it isn’t a possibility of coming in contact with extraterrestrial life on Europa—it’s a definite. With Naomi unaware of what awaits, it’s up to Leo to find and warn her and the others.

With all the pieces of their journey finally clicking into place, everything else starts to fall apart. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and the questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous failed mission get answered in the worst way possible. If the dream was to establish a habitable domain on Europa… the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.

After our mindbending landing on the moon back in 1969, we’ve faltered in our quest to explore space. Mars seems like a barely attainable dream and no one apparently wants to go back to the moon. Imagine, then, the massive effort to go to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, to build a new home for humanity after we failed miserably on Earth to address climate change.

A tiny crew of six highly trained teens, accompanied by two AI’s, has a monumental task ahead of them when they lift off but it’s most alarming that they don’t really know what they’ll find on icy Europa. Why did the earlier mission fail and what is the International Space Training Camp hiding? There are so many things that can go wrong, not least of which is the possibility of finding alien life on Europa. Leo has learned something that could truly jeopardize the success of the mission and the safety of the crew but now he has to try to reach them before they get to Europa, before he loses Naomi forever.

Much of the action—and it’s pretty breakneck—focuses on the journey itself, as it should considering all the inherent dangers. I appreciated that because so many space exploration stories slide past the trials and tribulations of getting to the ultimate destination. The very real possibilities of space exploration are endlessly fascinating and Ms. Monir has crafted a story that’s worthy of those possibilities.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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Read an excerpt from The Life Below here.

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About the Author

Alexandra Monir, Iranian-American author and recording artist, has published five novels for young adults, including her popular debut, Timeless. A Barnes & Noble best-seller and one of Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month,” Timeless and its sequel, Timekeeper, have been featured in numerous media outlets and been published in different countries around the world. She followed the duology with Suspicion and The Girl in the Picture, both standalone YA thrillers. Her science fiction novel, The Final Six (March 6, 2018) was acquired by HarperCollins and Sony Pictures during the same week, in two major pre-emptive deals.

Alexandra is also a singer/songwriter who often integrates music into her books’ pages. She wrote and recorded three original songs to accompany Timeless and Timekeeper, which were released as the album “The Timeless EP” and distributed by Jimmy Buffett’s record label, Mailboat Records. She also recorded a song that was released with the publication of Suspicion, and is composing a stage musical geared toward Broadway. Her musical roots are deep, as she is the granddaughter of the late Monir Vakili, the foremost Iranian opera singer.

Alexandra Monir is a frequent speaker at middle schools and high schools across the country, and at major events including fan conventions, women’s leadership conferences, and book festivals. She is a member of the Iranian American Women Foundation, an organization near to her heart. Alexandra currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and newborn son. To learn more about Alexandra, visit her online at www.alexandramonir.com.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

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Book Review: Netherfield by Maria Grace @WriteMariaGrace @AnAudiobookworm

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Title: Netherfield
Series: Jane Austen’s Dragons, Book 3
Author: Maria Grace
Narrator: Benjamin Fife
Publication Date: February 2020
Genres: Historical Fantasy

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Netherfield
Jane Austen’s Dragons, Book 3
Maria Grace
Narrated by Benjamin Fife
Maria Grace, January 2020
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Elizabeth Bennet thought she was prepared to do anything to make the Dragon Conclave accept her beloved young dragon Pemberley into the Blue Order, but she had not anticipated it would leave her banished from her ancestral home and betrothed to none other than Mr. Darcy. But before Elizabeth and Darcy wed, they must find a dangerous rogue dragon before it provokes a war amongst the dragons and brings the fragile peace between dragons and mankind to a catastrophic end.

Nothing written in the annals of dragon lore has prepared Elizabeth to manage a dragon not governed by the Blue Order. Dragons have always loved her, but this one finds her arrogant, selfish and insensitive to others. With only her instincts to guide her, she must convince the rogue of her good intentions before the Blue Order loses patience and decides on more drastic measures.

Called away to the other side of the kingdom, trying to settle the dragons’ unrest, Darcy learns the nature of the force poisoning the rogue dragon against Elizabeth. One nearer and dearer than they could have imagined.

Can Elizabeth and Darcy convince with rogue dragon to cooperate before darker forces turn it against them, without destroying the fragile bonds uniting the couple?

We’ve come to the end of the saga entangling dragons with the original Pride and Prejudice (except for the prequel, A Proper Introduction to Dragons) and all comes to a head, potentially a more concrete meeting of the minds between humans and dragons. First, though, there are many threads to follow, not least of which is the mystery surrounding a rogue dragon. This particular dragon is unknown to both societies and, thus, not governed by the all-important treaty that supports their co-existence.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth has been banned from Longbourn, partly because she insulted the petulant and entitled landed dragon of the same name by refusing to marry Mr. Collins to whom the estate is entailed. Lydia has apparently run off with Wickham and is being chased by Darcy and Fitzwilliam, someone is involved in smuggling and leaving poisonous dragon venom where it can endanger others and an emissary from another dragon federation has gone missing. Add to that the trials of tending to the baby Pemberley and the somewhat tepid romance between Elizabeth and Darcy and the scenario is perfect for a lively adventure.

Once again, Mr. Fife wowed me with his narration, most especially his dragon voices (my favorites are April, Longbourn and Walker), and he certainly had great material to work with from Ms. Grace. I suspect I’ll be listening to this trilogy again, more than once 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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Purchase Links:
There has been a delay in publishing this third
audiobook but it will soon be available on

Audible and iTunes

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About the Author

Five time BRAG Medallion Honoree and #1 best selling Historical Fantasy author, Maria Grace has her PhD in Educational Psychology and is a 16-year veteran of the university classroom where she taught courses in human growth and development, learning, test development and counseling. None of which have anything to do with her undergraduate studies in economics/sociology/managerial studies/behavior sciences. She pretends to be a mild-mannered writer/cat-lady, but most of her vacations require helmets and waivers or historical costumes, usually not at the same time.

She writes gaslamp fantasy, historical romance and non-fiction to help justify her research addiction.

Author Links:
Website // Twitter // Facebook // Pinterest

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About the Narrator

Benjamin Fife has always had a passion for learning. With a mind that remembers all sorts of numbers and useless trivia, he regularly wins local radio shows and enjoys confusing people with sci-fi quotes.

Fife grew up in Southeast Idaho. He attended college at Idaho State University, where he met his future wife in their music theory class. They have been married nearly 20 years and now have six children and a whole menagerie of animals. When their oldest daughter was three or four years old they started reading aloud from novels every night at bedtime, and have continued the tradition ever since. The family loves exploring various worlds and topics through Fife’s wonderful reading skills, which get better every year. They all have his Christmas Carol voices memorized (and the older kids are known to quote along with portions), since he has read it to them every December.

Benjamin enjoys all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy – both books and shows, is an extreme eclectic music lover, and prefers his chocolate to be of the 90% cocoa variety. Above all, he loves to be with his family. He loves recording audio books, and is delighted to tell people, “I’ve finally found what I want to be when I grow up!”

Website

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Play an excerpt here.

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Giveaway

Custom Statue of the Dragon, ‘Pemberley’

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Book Review: Late for Dinner by M.K. Scott @morgankwyatt @SDSXXTours

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Title: Late for Dinner
Series: The Way Over the Hill Gang, Book 1
Author: M.K. Scott
Publisher: Sleeping Dragon Press
Publication Date: July 9, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Cozy

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Late for Dinner
The Way Over the Hill Gang, Book 1
M.K. Scott
Sleeping Dragon Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1944712334
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Marcy Collins proved her investigative skills in the field time and time again, but after an accident leaves her disabled, she’s forced into early retirement in a senior convalescent center. Although her mind and body may not be what they used to be, her steadfast determination to fight crime and advocate for victims continues.

When her well-meaning former partner is assigned with helping to keep her mind agile, he unknowingly inspires her to search for clues in a long-forgotten cold case. Before he knows what’s happening, Marcy assembles a team of sharp-eyed, witty, and often cantankerous senior sleuths to bring a criminal to justice and help her regain some of what she thought she’d lost for good.

Follow the former detective and her team of unconventional sleuths as they dig through the clues and wind their way down a treacherous path of deception, tomfoolery, and murder!

Senior sleuths always amuse me, most likely because I’m a senior myself and would like to think my brain would still be lively if I end up in an assisted living facility 😉 Solving crimes would be right up my alley and much more fun than playing bingo or doing arts and crafts. I mean, think about it—surely years of reading mysteries would pay off then, right?

Late for Dinner introduces a few elements to the senior sleuth concept that are a little different from what I’m accustomed to seeing. The leader of this small pack of investigators is not a senior herself; Marcy is in the assisted living home to hopefully recover from a crippling car accident and she was, in fact, a police detective, waiting to see if she can go back to desk duty or will be forced to retire. Also, the first case they look into has no connection to any of them so there’s no personal impetus to solve this cold case.

What the Way Over the Hill Gang does have is a yearning for something interesting to do and each member has expertise to offer, such as Lola’s sharp eye and ability to read people. Herman, Jake and Gus all served in the military in World War II and bring relevant experience and skills to the mix while Eunice, on the periphery and not officially part of the gang, is a world-class gossip and can ferret out almost anything that’s out of the norm. I liked all these people a lot, even when they were annoying as all get out.

Watching the gang work to prove that a woman had not committed suicide years ago was a lot of fun despite a couple of issues. The writing seemed a little stilted to me, to the point that I occasionally had to read a passage again to make sure I got it right. Also, I never could get a handle on when this is taking place—there are references to techniques and items that point to today but the three men would have to be in their 90’s and it seems unusual they would all be so active,. When all is said and done, though, I don’t really care so much and will certainly move on in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Apple Books
Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from Late for Dinner

Lola stared at her manicured fingers gripping the card deck with the same disgust she’d shown when she discovered the local television station had replaced her favorite crime program with a teen reality show.

Her elderly bridge partner, Herman, had a shock of silver hair that waved over his skull similar to a rooster’s comb. Any hair in a man’s later years was all gravy to the point most of the other male residents grumbled that Herman was a show-off.

He waved his hand in front of her face. “Still breathing? Good partners are hard to come by.”

“Don’t I know it.” She shuffled, ignoring the twinge of pain in her hand.

Marcy and Jake laughed at her comment, but Herman narrowed his eyes, probably taking it as an insult regarding his failure to get the last two trumps.

Lola dealt out a card, still out of sorts, but not quite able to put her finger on why and retorted, “Retirement stinks!”

Marcy, always a calmer member of the group, shot her an easy smile that hardly creased her face. Most folks would think she was younger than her forty plus years with her dark hair hardly touched by gray and her trim body. The only old thing about her was the wheelchair, which was temporary.

If Lola had had a clue that chasing criminals would have kept her looking young, she might have chosen that as a career as opposed to making use of her long legs and other notable assets as a Vegas showgirl. Still, it had been a good life. Her ability to sum up people in a few seconds allowed her to have more than her share of pleasant adventures and adoring admirers. That was behind her. She sighed and acknowledged Marcy with a nod, curious to hear what the woman might say.

“Hear ya. Most working folks would envy us. We’re all living in a premier assisted living community with plenty of activities. What else could you want?”

Lola pursed her lips and rolled her eyes upward as she tried to explain how she felt without insulting her companions. “Sure, we have shuffleboard, fit and sit exercise class, flower arranging, and Bible Bingo. Those are old people things. Even the food has morphed into tasteless mush.”

“About that.” Jake held his hand up. “Something is going on with the dietary director.” He glanced around making sure he had everyone’s attention and cupped his ear with his hand. “I hear things.”

A general murmur of agreement followed, with the exception of Gus yelling, “What?” He sat at a nearby table playing solitaire. Gus didn’t know how to play bridge and had no desire to learn.

Various eyes connected around the table, knowing the inevitable process of repeating what had been said in a much louder decibel would probably result. Gus’s early life of working with explosives damaged the man’s hearing. Even though he had hearing aids, he usually didn’t wear them, because he thought they made him look old.

Instead of yelling his former comment, Jake ran a hand over his shoe polish black hair before mouthing the words. Gus popped up both thumbs, signaling his understanding. At some point, he taught himself to lip read, but it only worked if he was directly looking at a person.

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About the Author

M. K. Scott is the husband and wife writing team behind The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries. Morgan K Wyatt is the general wordsmith, while her husband, Scott, is the grammar hammer and physics specialist. He uses his engineering skills to explain how fast a body falls when pushed over a cliff and various other felonious activities. The Internet and experts in the field provide forensic information, while the recipes and B and B details require a more hands on approach. Morgan’s daughter, who manages a hotel, provides guest horror stories to fuel the plot lines. The couple’s dog, Chance, is the inspiration behind Jasper, Donna’s dog. Murder Mansion is the first book in The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries. Overall, it is a fun series to create and read. Drop Dead Handsome is the second book in the series. Killer Review should be out in October 2016.

Website // Blog // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram // Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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$50 Amazon Gift Card

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Book Review: The Hollows by Jess Montgomery @JessM_Author @MinotaurBooks @TLCBookTours

The Hollows
The Kinship Series, Book 2
Jess Montgomery
Minotaur Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-18454-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Ohio, 1926: For many years, the railroad track in Moonvale Tunnel has been used as a shortcut through the Appalachian hills. When an elderly woman is killed walking along the tracks, the brakeman tells tales of seeing a ghostly female figure dressed all in white.

Newly elected Sheriff Lily Ross is called on to the case to dispel the myths. With the help of her friends Marvena Whitcomb and Hildy Cooper, Lily follows the woman’s trail to The Hollows―a notorious asylum―and they begin to expose dark secrets long-hidden by time and the mountains.

The Appalachians are a vast and very old area covering all or parts of thirteen states in the eastern part of the US plus some of eastern Canada, a system that includes a variety of mountain ranges, and the descendants of its original settlers are a different breed from most of us. Take it back almost a hundred years and the people are even more distinctive, a blend of European and Native American backgrounds with their own culture, who lived simply, apart from “mainstream” America by choice. In The Hollows, Ms. Montgomery has captured the beauty of this one small portion of the Appalachians and the unique inhabitants of the period.

There are also secrets to be discovered by Lily and her friends, along with the reader, as well as immersion into the racial divides, labor organizing and societal inhibitions that plagued women at the time and the mystery of what really happened to the old woman. The word “hollows” carries a double meaning here, referring to a geographical distinction found in the mountains but also, in this case, to what turns out to be an insane asylum as dark as anything you’ve ever heard of. Meanwhile, Lily is running for re-election against great odds and the Women’s Ku Klux Klan, the auxiliary of the better-known men’s organization, is creating trouble in the community.

A book like this one appeals to me greatly because I came away from it knowing a bit more about our American history and, along the way, enjoyed a journey through a beautiful and compelling setting. The characters are vivid and fully fleshed out, the three women in particular, and they created in me a strong empathy for them. I haven’t yet read the first book, The Widows, but I’ll be doing so forthwith and, in the meantime, I’m adding The Hollows to my list of best books read in 2020.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iTunes
Books-A-Million // Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

JESS MONTGOMERY is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News and Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Based on early chapters of The Widows, Jess was awarded an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant for literary arts and the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus. She lives in her native state of Ohio.

Jess Montgomery showcases her skills as a storyteller in The Hollows: a powerful, big-hearted and exquisitely written follow-up to her highly acclaimed debut The Widows.

Connect with Jess:
Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

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