Monday, June 30, 2014

GIVEAWAY - Interview with author Tracy Barrett - The Stepsister's Tale

Please welcome yet another new to me YA author Tracy Barrett who is here today chatting about her new release The Stepsister's Tale, the retelling of the classic Cinderella tale that has starred reviews from both Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus!! Way to go Tracy!
Click the link HERE to read both starred reviews.
Tracy's publisher Harlequin Teen is graciously sponsoring a giveaway for one print copy of The Stepsister's Tale, US & CAN only so be sure to enter for a copy of this editorially praised novel for yourself.

  • ISBN-13: 9780373211210
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 6/24/2014
  • Pages: 272

Harlequin Teen has graciously offered
one Print Copy of The Stepsister's Tale
for a giveaway US & CAN only
use the Rafflecopter form below to enter
Thanks Harlequin Teen
Good Luck!


What really happened after the clock struck midnight?
Jane Montjoy is tired of being a lady. She's tired of pretending to live up to the standards of her mother's noble family—especially now that the family's wealth is gone and their stately mansion has fallen to ruin. It's hard enough that she must tend to the animals and find a way to feed her mother and her little sister each day. Jane's burden only gets worse after her mother returns from a trip to town with a new stepfather and stepsister in tow. Despite the family's struggle to prepare for the long winter ahead, Jane's stepfather remains determined to give his beautiful but spoiled child her every desire. 

Read an Excerpt:

Jane stopped at the gate, which was half-overgrown with shrubs and vines, and put down her basket. She balanced on one foot and scratched her calf with the toes of the other. She could tell that Mamma hadn't come back yet. The house looked dead, just a lot of wood and stone. It was only when Mamma was home that it looked alive.
She sighed and lifted her basket. It was light enough—berries were getting scarce, and the weather was too dry for mushrooms, except in the deepest part of the woods, where she didn't dare to venture. She had found only a handful of sticks suitable for firewood.
The drive curved around to the wide stone steps leading up to the massive front door. Jane took a shortcut across the brown grass, glad that Mamma wasn't there to see her. Only stable boys tread paths, she always scolded. Once, when Jane was particularly tired, she had reminded Mamma that there weren't stable boys at Halsey Hall anymore. Mamma's look of bewildered hurt and betrayal had stabbed like an icicle at Jane's heart, and she never again mentioned the lack of stable boys—or of a proper stable—and never again walked across the grass while Mamma was home.
She climbed the uneven steps and leaned her weight into the door, which opened reluctantly. "Maudie?" she called. She heard scuttling to her left, where the North Parlor and the ballroom lay abandoned. She sighed again. Her sister was no doubt hiding a new treasure—perhaps some small gift from Hugh or his mother, Hannah Herb-Woman, or a brightly colored stone or snakeskin. Jane waited a few minutes and then opened the door, a little too noisily, so that Maude would have a chance to pretend she had merely wandered into the vacant part of the house for no reason.
Jane crossed the North Parlor and looked through the doorway—empty now of its door—into the ballroom. Maude seemed small in that vast space, her footsteps echoing as she crossed the scuffed and dusty floor that Jane dimly remembered gleaming, long ago. Now the grand room was a home for bats and mice, whose smelly nests cluttered the corners. The musician's gallery above them was empty save for a few broken chairs where the black-coated cellists and flutists and trumpeters used to make music that moved dancers' feet around the floor.
Maude's shabby dress, so faded that it was impossible to tell its original color, was too tight on her. Her hair hung in lank strands; one of the reasons Mamma had gone to the city was to buy soap so they could wash more often. By the way her sister was studiously avoiding looking into a dark corner behind her, Jane guessed that this was where she had stashed her treasure.
"Mamma still isn't back," Maude said.
"I know." When Mamma went to the little village down the hill she would return the same evening, but several times a year she made the longer trip to the city to barter cheese and eggs for soap and flour and the other things they couldn't grow or make on their own, and she stayed overnight before returning home. But she had never been away this long before.
Ladies do not farm, Mamma always said when they asked why they couldn't grow wheat and barley. If a lady wishes to have a pretty pastime, keeping chickens and making cheese are suitable. She may tend a flower bed, and she may gather berries and nuts. She may embroider and make lace. She may exchange what she does not need with other gentlewomen who have an excess of what they themselves produce. But that is all. We are ladies, and ladies do not do heavy work.
Yes, Mamma, they always answered, and then they would go out to chop wood or shovel out the stable or do their best to repair the chicken coop. Yes, Mamma, as dutifully and politely as if they really were the ladies that Mamma said they were.
Jane and Maude went through the main hall with its magnificent staircase and into the South Parlor, now not only a parlor but their sitting room, kitchen, and dining room, as well. Jane surveyed the room with satisfaction. As soon as Mamma had left, the sisters fell to work, cleaning and straightening, taking rugs outside to beat dirt from them, pulling and shoving the heavy chairs into the sun to bake out the mildew in their cushions. Now, clean curtains hung over sparkling windows, a small stack of firewood lay on the hearth, finally emptied of ash and cinders, and scraps of cloth covered the worn spots on the chairs that they had carefully positioned over the worst holes and stains in the carpet.
When Mamma came back, she wouldn't say how nice everything looked. She always acted as though invisible servants took care of things and never acknowledged that her own daughters, the last of the Halsey line, blistered their hands and reddened their eyes by firelight to keep things decent.
They had watched her disappear down the long drive that summer day, sitting erect on old Saladin, who'd been loaded down with packs full of cheese and butter. It had been—how long ago? Jane counted on her fingers. Two days to clean the South Parlor, another to muck out the stable, a fourth when Maude hunted herbs while Jane worked on the heap of mending and darning in the work basket, and today. Five days. Jane tried to ignore the wiggle of fear in her belly.
To conceal her worry, she asked, "Did you find any eggs? I'm starving!"
"Four," Maude said. "We can have two each."
"And I found some wood. Let's make supper now, shall we?"
Soon, the water in the little pot hanging over the hearth was boiling, and Maude gently slipped the brown eggs into it.
Jane sat while her sister tended the fire. Once, supper had meant a roasted duck or the leg of a pig, with vegetables and soft bread, and if they had been good, a sweet afterward. But there were no more cooks in the house, and the kitchen, with its fireplace of a size to roast a whole boar and mixing bowls large enough to bathe a baby in, had long been cold. Jane barely remembered how it had looked with servants bustling about, their cheeks red from the fire, their faces shiny with sweat. Rich smells of roasting meats and yeasty breads and bubbling sauces would intoxicate her. Cook would find something sweet for Jane, always with a second helping to carry back up to Maude, who'd been too little to come down the stairs. Now, the heavy iron spoons and spits and ladles rusted under layers of cobwebs, and the bitter smell of old ashes hung in the damp air.
"Janie?" Maude was standing over her, holding out a bowl with two steaming eggs in it.
It didn't take long to eat their meal. Maude licked her bowl but Jane pretended not to see this lapse in manners; her sister had seemed even hungrier than usual lately, ever since she had starting outgrowing her clothes, seemingly overnight. But neither of them had been getting enough to eat for months, and what little they had was monotonously the same. Maybe Mamma would surprise them with bakery-made sweets when she came back, or a ham, or even something exotic, like grapes or oranges.
Jane left Maude to wash up with almost the last of the soap and went to do the evening milking. When she returned, Maude was squatting at the hearth, poking the fire with a long stick. She looked up as her sister came in, her brows drawn together in worry. "When is Mamma coming home, Janie?"
Jane was about to snap, "How should I know?" but she softened when she saw Maude's lower lip trembling. She forced herself to speak carelessly. "Soon. She must have had business in town."
"What business, Janie?"
Rather than answering, Jane said, "It's still light out. Do you want to go on an explore?" Maude leaped to her feet. "Now?"
The last time they had ventured up the stairs, Jane had stepped on a board that split under her foot, and although she had clutched wildly at the banister, she'd crashed heavily to the stone floor. She had lain there, dazed, for a few moments, and when she'd raised her head, Maude was peering at her, her eyes wide. Jane had forced herself to sit up and brush her dress off calmly. She'd said, "The step above it looks good—let's see if you can stretch your legs far enough to reach over the hole." They had made it to the second story safely, and Jane had carefully hidden the purple bruise on her hip and her sore shoulder from Mamma after she'd come home.
This time they arrived upstairs without incident, placing their feet carefully at the edges of the steps and holding tight to the banister. They walked hand in hand down the long corridor. When she was very small, Maude used to shrink from the portraits lining the walls. "It's only Great-Great-Grandmamma Esther," Jane would reassure her, speaking of the painting of the stiff-looking little girl clutching an equally stiff-looking kitten. "They say that her mother was descended from the fairy-folk." Or, "only Great-Grandpapa Edwin," of the strong-jawed young man in evening clothes, holding a book and staring down his long nose at his descendants standing in the dust. "He was the one who had our hunting lodge built."
Jane would recite each room's story to her sister, who always listened in solemn silence. "This was Grandmamma's chamber," Jane would say. "She was very particular about her bed and couldn't sleep without three pillows, stuffed with the down of white geese." Through the dim light they would look respectfully at the bed. They knew that if they touched the pillows, still heaped up as though waiting for Grandmamma, their hands would go through the rotten silk cases and they would find the famous goose down full of bugs.
"Her bed curtains were of the finest damask," Jane would continue. "Damask was the only cloth beautiful enough for her taste and still heavy enough to keep out light and sound." The weight of the heavy, dark red cloth had made most of it pull through the shiny curtain rings—brass, Jane said, although Maude insisted they were gold—and it dangled in uneven loops around the dark, deeply carved bedposts.
Mamma's room, with its delicate furniture and dingy wallpaper that had once been bright with rosebuds, was the best. The girls took turns choosing what to look at first. It might be the cupboard where the ball gowns still hung, holes in most of them, the musty odor making Maude sneeze. Jane had once suggested cutting up one of the dresses and re-piecing it to make a dress for herself or her sister; Mamma had been so shocked at the idea of using a silk gown for everyday use that Jane never mentioned it again. Or they might turn to one of the drawers where the delicate undergarments and stockings and handkerchiefs retained something of their satiny sheen, or the heavy jewelry box on the dresser.
Everything of value had been sold long ago, but the glass beads and rings and brooches that Mamma had worn to costume parties still glittered coldly on black velvet. The girls would take them out reverently, holding them up to their chests or ears or fingers, never daring to put them on, asking each other, "How do I look? Which one suits me best?"
Today it was the turn of Papa's bedchamber. Their bare feet did not tap on the stone floor, the way Mamma's shoes used to, and the boom of Papa's boots was hard to remember. Jane pushed open the oaken door, showing the faded carpet and the broken riding crop that Papa had flung down years ago.
Maude took a step inside, then halted. "Why don't we look at one of the guest rooms instead?"
"It's not their turn. We have to do things the right way. We're Halseys." She imitated Mamma's tone, and Maude snickered, and they entered. Papa had sold almost everything, even his guns and the signet ring he had inherited from his own father. Jane had rarely entered the room in the old days, and even now she found it uncomfortable to venture past the door. What drew their eyes in that dim chamber was the portrait of Mamma as a young woman, above the fireplace. The fresh eagerness of her smile, the energy of her step as if the painter had called out to her to come to him, the way her hand clutched her hat with the long sweep of a feather curving up toward her face—these gave her an interest that was deeper than beauty.
"She was happy," Maude said, as she always did. It was a strange thought.
"She was about to marry the handsomest man in the kingdom."
"And welcome him into the oldest family and the finest house in the kingdom."
They fell silent, each wondering if anybody—much less the handsomest man in the kingdom—would ever want to marry them. Neither thought they looked pretty the way the dainty ladies in the portraits lining the hall, with their pursed lips, pale glossy ringlets, and glowing fair skin, were pretty. They both resembled Mamma, with their dark hair, determined chins, and long hands and feet. But in the portrait, Mamma's hair was smooth and shiny, and her slender fingers elegantly held up the skirt of a gown that gleamed clean and unmended, while their own hair twisted in an unruly fashion around their heads and their work-roughened hands rested on faded dresses that were patched and worn, and that always seemed too small.
Rose had resembled Papa, Mamma said once, surprising them with this rare mention of Jane's twin. Rose had had Papa's big eyes and fine features. But Rose was dead, and baby Robert, too, so Papa's looks had been lost. Lost, along with the gold and jewels and parties whose music and gay laughter Jane vaguely remembered—everything that had gone away when Papa had gone away.
When word came that he had died, poor and alone in a miserable room in an inn, surrounded by empty bottles, they were surprised—not that he was dead, but that he had so recently been alive, because for a long time he had been dead to them.
Maude said that all she remembered of Papa was a large, noisy presence, strong arms that would lift her up and then a scratchy face rubbing against her cheek and neck until she screamed and he laughed and put her down, all accompanied by a strong smell that she later learned was liquor. Jane remembered a deep voice shouting late in the night and their mother crying, and their father disappearing for days at a time, until that last disappearance when he'd never returned at all. They both knew without ever saying it that they must behave well and do everything Mamma said, so that she would not cry again. Or—and the thought was so bitter that Jane tried to push it away—so that she would not leave them like Papa.
Jane led the way back down the corridor, the eyes in the portraits boring holes in her back. She always felt that they would be different on the way back—Great-Grandpapa Edwin would be smiling, or the kitten would have squirmed out of Great-Great-Grandmamma Esther's arms. And as she climbed down the stairs, holding her skirts up with one hand and grasping the rail with the other, she heard the ancestors whispering behind her.
You are a Halsey. You are the last of your line, you and your sis- ter. You have much to live up to. Never disgrace the Halsey name. On and on they whispered as Jane hurried, risking a dangerous tumble, and the voices didn't cease until she stood once more in the South Parlor, surrounded by their own familiar clothes and furniture and cooking things, and Maude made rose hip tea, to help them recover from the climb.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Interview with Lisa Verge Higgins author of Random Acts of Kindness The Goodreads July Read

I'm so happy to bring my good friend and fabulous author Lisa Verge Higgins back to The Reading Frenzy. She has been present for some of my most memorable firsts, she was the first author I hosted on this blog last year for the monthly book club read when it moved from the now defunct Barnes & Noble book clubs and now here she is debuting at my Goodreads forum too.
I hope you enjoy our chat and it's not too late to sign up and participate in the Goodreads July Book club read. Click the link for details.

Right now there is a sale on the e-book version click the book for the $3.99 sale

Reading Schedule
Week One July 7th - 13 Chapters 1-9
Week Two July 14th -20 Chapters 10-19
Week Three July 21 - 27 Chapters 20-end
Week Four July 28th-end Thank You Week!

Friday, June 27, 2014

**GIVEAWAY** + Interview with author Cyn Balog writing as Nichola Reilly - Drowned

Please welcome to the blog today author Nichola Reilly/Cny Balog. She is chatting about her new HQN Teen Novel, Drowned.
Then stick around and enter to win your own print copy, US & CAN only of the novel sponsored by Nichola's publisher, Harlequin.

  • ISBN-13: 9780373211227
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 6/24/2014
  • Series: Drowned Series , #1
  • Pages: 304


Coe is one of the few remaining teenagers on the island of Tides. Deformed and weak, she is constantly reminded that in a world where dry land dwindles at every high tide, she is not welcome. The only bright spot in her harsh and difficult life is the strong, capable Tiam—but love has long ago been forgotten by her society. The only priority is survival.

Harlequin is generously sponsoring this
giveaway of one print copy of
Thanks Harlequin
Good Luck!

Read an Excerpt:

I write things on the sand so I won't forget them. Things I like. Darkness. Dreams. Clam.
Buck Kettlefish.
Things I want.
A warm dry place.
A long night of sound sleep.
I watch the waves come and erase the words from the shore. Erased from existence. From possibility. It's almost as if the waves are taunting me.
For thousands of tides I am sure people thought about how and when the world would end. Maybe they wondered whether it would happen while they were alive, or if their children, grandchildren, or maybe even their great-greatgreat-great-grandchildren would be the unlucky ones to be there when the world crashed down around them. But I don't have to wonder.
I know it is going to happen soon, and maybe in my lifetime.
Every morning I wonder if I will see the sunset. Every breeze is like death breathing down my back.
The sun burns like fire among black smokelike clouds on the horizon, making my eyes squint and burn. High tide is approaching, the waves slowly coming closer. With every breath, every heartbeat, they rise a little more. Soon almost everything will be underwater.
I stand and shake the sand out of my mat, then roll it up and affix it to my knapsack. I've gotten pretty good at doing all these things one-handed. My clothes are wet, and my lips taste like salt. I'm not sure why I'm yawning because I had a pretty good spell of sleep. Nearly half a tide. Half a tide where, at least in my mind, I was somewhere warm and dry, somewhere that didn't smell like crap or rotting fish.
I plod along with the others, away from the steadily rising waters. It's chilly but at least my tunic is only slightly damp; it doesn't stick to my skin. Nothing is ever dry here. It's either sopping wet or damp, and damp is a blessing.
It's time once again for formation. We all know the tides. We must, or we'd pay for our ignorance with our lives. It's time for all of us, all 496 of us, to trudge to the platform that stands maybe sixty of my feet above the ground, at the center of the island. At least, at last total, there were 496 of us. I don't like to count because our numbers are constantly falling. We all know this, which is probably why nobody looks at or speaks to anyone else. Better not to get too familiar.
When someone disappears, we all assume the worst. Because the worst is usual.
The only person who does look at me is Mutter. His face is dark and leathery, and his beard is scraggly and foul, greenish-gray, filled with old, dead things. He has his own scribbler scars, but at least he has all his limbs. He is useful. He sneers at me, disgusted. "Waste of space," he hisses as I find my spot on the platform. "Scribbler Bait." I wipe away the sand with my bare foot. The number two is scratched there.
Number two is my spot, for now. It's near the dry center of the circular formation, where things are safer. There are 496 circles arranged around it, spiraling out from the center. The circles are small; there's barely enough room to stand. There used to be thousands of circles, one for every person on the island. But the only thing constant about the island we call Tides is change.
Children get the central spots. When I reach my sixteenth Soft Season, when I am an adult, I will be given a new spot based on the importance of the job I am given. Mutter is right, though. I don't have any special skills, and my deformity makes it difficult for me to pull in the nets or do the things fishermen do. I'd barely make a good scavenger, the lowest of the low. People call them Scribbler Bait.
"I saw a scribbler on the platform last night," Xilia whispers to no one in particular. She is a scavenger, too, and quite mad. But many of those who occupy spaces on the outer edge of the formation are crazy, because they brush with death every time the tide comes in. And nobody can deny that the scribblers have been getting braver. That's not the name we always had for them. When I was young they were called spearfish, because they'd often spear fishermen as they brought in the nets. But then they started coming onto the sand when the tides receded, sunning themselves. They'll attack us on land, ripping through our flesh with their spear-shaped noses, then feasting on our blood. They're getting smarter, too, because after a while they began burrowing under the sand, hiding from us, and springing out whenever a human came too close. They make long, winding paths in the sand with their sinewy black bodies—like scribbles, my father had said. My father started calling them scribblers, and everyone followed him, as they usually did.
I've never seen a scribbler on the platform before. The thought makes me shudder. The platform, however small and inadequate, is our safety. But I know our safety is eroding. It has always been so. A thousand tides ago, the platform was twice the size it is now at high tide. There was room for twice as many people. Now we are under five hundred. I know this because there are fewer than five hundred spaces. The largest number that's still visible, though it is nearly half eaten by the tides, is 496. At least, that was the number the last time I had the energy to look.
I sigh and throw my things down on my spot. The spot is so comfortable and familiar to me that I feel as if the imprint on the stone conforms perfectly to my feet. Sweat drips from my chin. My eyes sting from the glare reflecting off the white concrete. Little Fern, who is seven, comes hopscotching up to space number one, scrawny as a sprig of seaweed, two white-blond braids framing her sweet smile. She has a little stick in her hand, something she's never without. When she steps next to me, she touches the stick to my elbow. "Your wish is granted," she says with great flourish.
If only. If only the stories I told her about fairies were true. There are so many things to wish for.
I was space number one until Fern turned five, when we all moved over a space to make room for her. Before then, she occupied the same spot as her mother, who was a fisherman before she died many tides ago. They used to give mothers spaces in the center of the formation when they had children, but then things became so dire that some women had babies just to get a better spot. I was told Tiam's mother had, and my mother had, though I can't remember ever squeezing next to her on her spot. Two babies in a season was a virtual baby boom. So they put an end to that practice after I was born. Now nobody has children. It just means more people. And there are already too many people.
After all, when a baby is born, it just means that when that child turns five, we'll all have to move one space to the left. The person at the very end of the spiral is out of luck. Space is something people have been known to kill for.
I'm grateful for Fern, though. She is the only one who still smiles at me. As for the others, we are not friends. We do not trust or like anyone, even our own family members—if we have any of them left, and most of us don't. We all know what is coming, and we've all lost enough to know that caring for another person doesn't make things easier.
Which means I have a big problem.
"Hey, Coe."
Just like part of the formation washes away in every tide, part of me is lost every time I hear his voice.
"Hi, Tiam," I say, staring at the sandy ground. Looking up at him, at those liquid sapphire eyes, will just make the pain worse. Besides, I already have every inch of his face memorized. Him? If I hadn't been required to assume the space next to him for the past ten thousand tides, if there weren't slightly under five hundred of us, I doubt he'd know my name.
Fern waves her wand some more, granting wishes to the air. I wonder how obvious it is that most of the wishes I have in my head involve Tiam. It's not that I want to wish about him. It just happens.
Tiam drops his stuff in space number three. For as long as I can remember, he has been beside me. When I was young he used to hold my hand to keep me from being scared. He is never scared.
I move as far away from him as I possibly can, which isn't far enough. The spaces are only maybe two of my feet in diameter, so now that we are older, we rub shoulders. Even though I try to wash up every day in a tide pool, I know he can smell me. I have the luck of having the job that makes me reek a hundred times worse than the normal, forgettable stench that most of us carry. Mine seems to bury itself deep under my skin. No matter how much I bathe, it never completely goes away.
If he does smell me, though, he never lets on. In twenty tides or so he will reach adulthood, and I'm sure he will have a good spot in the formation. A spot for the most valuable people. He is smart enough to be a medic, strong enough to be a builder, brave enough to be an explorer. He is everything I am not.
Tiam always comes to the formation at the last moment. I think it's his way of laughing at nature, while the rest of us cower before it. He says, to no one in particular, "So, what is the news?"
I know that isn't directed at me. I spend most of my free time alone, so I don't ever hear any news. But formation is the time to catch up on the latest gossip. Burbur, in space four, who is one of the most respected royal servants, says that she heard the king coughing in his sleep while making her normal rounds in the palace. Tiam raises an eyebrow, and everyone murmurs, "Ah, really?" Finn, a fisherman, whispers that the food brought in during this morning's harvest was "pitiful," and people shake their heads and say, "Is that so?" This goes on for a moment as I wonder whether or not to submit the only piece of information I have gleaned in the past hundred tides. Finally I clear my throat.
Tiam and the rest turn to me, clearly surprised that I'm contributing. "Xilia said she saw a scribbler on the platform last night," I offer weakly.
Someone, Burbur I think, huffs. Another person snorts. Tiam says, "You mean the Xilia who sees scribblers in her soup? In the eyes of her enemies? Floating among the clouds?"
Laughter isn't heard often on the island, but at this, people burst into fits of loud guffaws. I shrink into the center of my space. "Point taken," I mumble.
He leans over so that his warm breath grazes my cheek, and immediately I stand spear-straight. "Sorry, Coe, I don't mean to make light of it," he whispers. "Xilia says things just to scare people. And the last thing we need is for people to be more afraid."
Tiam the peacemaker. He is so like my father, it's scary. And it's hard to feel offended when he whispers in such a gentle way. I can't feel anything other than my heart thudding against my chest, the heat rising in my cheeks. I nod. "I know. It's okay."
"We've lost another!" someone shouts. From here I can see a body being hoisted into the air and carried in the hands of the others, toward the edge. It will be tossed over. That is the law. We spend much of our lives on the platform, squeezed together so tightly that the air tastes rancid, and one can barely raise a hand to wipe the sweat from his brow; so it's not uncommon for people to pass out while standing in the scorching heat. It's a woman, but I can't see who. I can only see the dirty bottoms of her feet as she is carried farther away from me. I look at Tiam, who is frowning. He doesn't approve of this law.
I know the sea is close when the wind picks up and I can feel its mist in my face. The people on the outer edge begin to scramble and shout, and we collectively sway along with the waves, breathing in as each one comes, out as it recedes. The sea is not close. Not yet. The newly risen sun, still veiled in those smoky clouds, will have nearly begun to sink from its high point in the sky by the time we are done here. But Fern already has her hand in mine, and it's sweaty and trembling. I do my best to calm her by stroking it lightly.
Tiam grins past me, at her. "Hey, Bug," he says. "Try this."
She turns to him, eyes wide. Tiam is balancing on one foot like a crazy man.
Fern and I stare at him.
"Try this," he says, patting his stomach and rubbing his head. "Bet you can't do that."
"You'll get in trouble," I warn, but I know people make special allowances for Tiam. Fern giggles and squeals. Tiam always knows how to make everything better. He knows how to make those tense moments in the formation pass quickly. "You are such a crabeater," I mutter, trying my best to sound gruff, as if I couldn't care less about him.
The waves are close now. I can hear them crashing against the platform, smell them. My wet hair, and the hair from the woman behind me, whips my face. Skeletal limbs press against me. People hug themselves and moan. We all tremble as one. The scribblers at the edge are hissing, sensing the human flesh that is so near. During the worst of it, I always look up at the calming sky, at the seagulls gracefully arcing overhead. But today there are storm clouds above. A jagged edge of lightning slits those clouds, followed by the rumble of thunder. All of nature rages around us. We are powerless here.
But Tiam does not care. He spins in circles, touching the tip of his nose. While the rest of the formation huddles together, wishing their space were bigger, Tiam acts as though the space is a mile wide. His antics get riskier and riskier as the moments drag on, so that one can barely take notice of the waves crashing around us. He causes such a commotion that all the people at the center of the formation, the important people, stare at him. I try to nudge him to stop, but he doesn't care.
"Hey, Bug," he says. "Let's race. Ready?"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Interview with Emilie Richards author of No River Too Wide + Review

I'm so pleased to welcome to the blog another favorite author of mine and I'm a bit ashamed this is the first time. I've read almost everything she's written, enjoyed both her stand-alones and her series and it's about time I've gotten around to inviting her to the blog.
She is here today to talk about her just released yesterday novel #3 in her Goddess Anonymous series, No River Too Wide.
Please enjoy our short chat and I've included my review courtesy of RT Reviews below.
Emilie its all yours!



Some betrayals are like rivers, so deep, so wide, they can't be crossed. But—for those with enough courage—forgiveness, redemption and love may be found on the other side.
On the night her home is consumed by fire, Janine Stoddard finally resolves to leave her abusive husband. While she is reluctant to involve her estranged daughter, she can't resist a chance to see Harmony and baby Lottie in Asheville, North Carolina, before she disappears forever.

Read an Excerpt:

In an Oscar-worthy performance, Harmony Stoddard put all the enthusiasm she could muster into her voice. "I just know you're going to love spending time with your grandma, Lottie."
In reality she wasn't sure that her nine-month-old daughter, happily exercising her chubby little legs in her bouncy chair, was going to love the upcoming visit one bit, but she continued the charade.
"And your daddy will be there. You remember Davis, right? You've seen him twice. He even held you once."
Of course, not with any enthusiasm, but Harmony's job was to ready Lottie to be carried off by strangers and to make her baby girl think this was going to be a terrific afternoon. By her own critical standards, she was doing an admirable job, even if she was developing a roaring headache from the effort.
She wasn't surprised at the good face she was able to put on upcoming events. After all, she had been raised by a mother able to turn a day rimmed with fear and foreboding into an adventure. So many afternoons she and Janine had baked cakes and cookies, or set the dinner table with their best china and carefully folded napkins, pretending they were a normal mother and daughter brightening their happy little home.
In reality, of course, their preparations had only been a pantomime. Pretending all was normal had helped them get through the hours until Rex Stoddard walked through the door to lavishly compliment them or—more memorably—knock Janine to the floor.
Sadly, Janine Stoddard wasn't the grandmother on her way to see Lottie. That grandmother, Grace Austin, was Davis's mother. Lottie's father had only recently gotten around to telling his family about his nine-month-old blessed event. Harmony didn't know if her ex-boyfriend had been too embarrassed, or if the baby's arrival had simply slipped his mind.
Whatever the reason, Davis's father had no interest in meeting Lottie, but his mother was curious and expected Davis to produce her new granddaughter. So producing Lottie was the activity of the day.
"Let's make sure we have everything you need," Harmony continued in her own mother's chirpy counterfeit voice. "Diapers, just in case one of them is willing to change you. Your sippy cup. Spring water. Snacks you can feed yourself."
She paused a moment, wondering how that would work. Would Davis and Grace let messy little Lottie experiment with the lightly steamed vegetables Harmony had prepared, the little squares of whole wheat toast? Or would they lose patience and feed her French fries or crumbled-up hamburger from whatever restaurant they took her to?
The mystery was about to be solved. The bell at the bottom of the stairs pealed, and Velvet, Harmony's golden retriever, who had been sleeping on the sofa, gave one sleepy bark before closing her eyes to finish her nap.
Harmony took a deep breath. For better or worse, Lottie was Davis's daughter. Harmony had no right to dictate everything he did with her. After all, he did send regular support checks. Of course, if he didn't, he would have to explain his reasons to his stodgy employer when the state of North Carolina garnished his paycheck.
"Okay, off we go." She lifted the baby into her arms and settled her into the car seat to carry her downstairs. Harmony had insisted that Davis check the manuals for his car and the car seat to be sure he could use it safely. Luckily his Acura was new enough that she didn't really have to worry, which was a good thing, since she doubted he had bothered with his homework.
The doorbell rang again, longer this time, followed by a third blast. She smoothed the wisps of pale brown hair off Lottie's forehead, then hoisted the car seat and the diaper bag and carried both to the door, nudged it open with her hip and peered down at him.
"It takes a minute to get her into the seat, so next time you can ring once, Davis. If you'd like to take the diaper bag, that would help."
Davis, good-looking in a brooding sort of way, deepened his perpetual frown, but he came up the steps, stopped just below her and held out a hand. She swung the diaper bag in his direction, and he caught it. She followed him down, taking her time so she could grasp the rail. The stairway up to her garage apartment was wide and as safe as any outside stairway could be, but she always took her time, even when she wasn't carrying precious cargo.
The woman waiting at the bottom of the stairs was obviously Grace. She had the same vaguely dissatisfied expression as her son, the same dark hair, the same impatient, almost jerky, movements. Although she smiled politely, her eyes didn't change. She was examining Lottie, and not with grandmotherly affection.
"She seems small for nine months," Grace said. She didn't bother to smile at the baby, who was playing with a ring of plastic keys Harmony had given her. She continued her assessment. "Davis had more hair."
"I probably had less," Harmony said, struggling not to dislike Lottie's grandmother on sight. "She is small, but well within the normal range."
"Davis was walking by the time he was that age."
"You must have had your hands full."
Grace gave a humorless laugh. "We had a nanny until he was five, so my hands were full with better things. His father and I both traveled frequently for business."
"I'm sure she took excellent care of him."
"Of course she did," Grace said with obvious irritation. "We made sure of it."
Harmony thought one response was as pointless as another, so she gave none at all.
"We'll bring her back in a couple of hours," Davis said quickly, as if even he had picked up on his mother's animosity. "Mother's flying out early this evening. This is just a brief visit."
Harmony managed a tight smile. "I'll be waiting, and I'll have my cell phone with me if you have any questions."
"Oh, I think we can manage," Grace said. "Davis's sister has two children, and we see them frequently. Of course, that situation is very different. They live in a two-parent family."
"There's no point in bringing that up." Davis sounded annoyed.
"Why not? It's the truth. Your father and I are happy to be seen with them. We can show themoff to our friends."
The rest of the sentence was unspoken but clear. Not like this one.
"Your son proposed, and I declined," Harmony said, "so don't blame him. I hope you won't punish Lottie. Times have changed, and there are plenty of unmarried parents raising children."
"I doubt you have any idea what I consider appropriate."
Enough was enough. Harmony lifted her chin. "I doubt that I want to."
"Let's go," Davis told his mother. "As usual you've thrown a damper over the afternoon. Let's see what we can salvage."
Grace just smiled, as if his words had been a compliment.
Harmony watched them head toward Davis's car, and for the first time she felt a twinge of sympathy for Lottie's father. She'd just gotten a peek into Davis's childhood, and while the scenery surrounding him had probably been lovely, the actors and script had been B-movie grade, at best.
As Harmony watched, Grace got into the passenger's seat, leaving her son to set the car seat on the ground, open the rear door and finally juggle it inside to begin the process of trying to fasten it in place.
Like her own mother, Harmony yearned for the best in bad situations, so she had foolishly hoped Grace would welcome Lottie and shower the baby with unconditional love. Instead, it was clear Grace and Davis would take Lottie to a restaurant closer to Asheville, do their familial duty and return her well ahead of schedule. Their visits—if Grace visited again—would always be short and stressful. Eventually Lottie would refuse to go with them.
Harmony had chosen a real winner when she'd moved in with Davis almost two years ago.
Not for the first time she wished her own mother could be here with her. Without a doubt Janine Stoddard would fold her baby granddaughter into her arms and smother her with all the love she had to give-and was so rarely allowed to.
But that, too, was a bad situation with no "best" to hope for. Right now, in a secluded house in Topeka, Kansas, her mother was probably preparing dinner for Harmony's father, hoping as she struggled for perfection that tonight Rex Stoddard would praise what she cooked and otherwise leave her in peace.
Sadly Harmony could only guess, because she hadn't talked to her mother in over a year. The last time she'd tried, Janine had told her never to call home again.
• *
From the audio journal of a forty-five-year-old woman, taped for the files of Moving On, an underground highway for abused women.
I was a happy child. My father worked in a factory, and my mother was a dressmaker who sewed and made alterations in a corner of the bedroom she shared with my father. She was always home when I returned from school. There were homemade cookies waiting and open arms for my friends.
Most of the money Mama made was turned over to my father, who decided how to spend it, but her wishes were always taken into account. Daddy was a kind man, generous in every way, who found joy in providing for his family and keeping us safe from harm. When our front door was closed at night, love, not fear, was locked inside with us.
Every Sunday we attended a church where God's mercy was preached from the pulpit. Every Monday I walked through a neighborhood of small, tidy houses to a school where I was expected to do my best. While neither of my parents had gone to college, they saved what money they could to guarantee I did. They wanted to give me the best.
Had they lived, my life would have been different, but in my third year of college, as they were on their way to visit me, a car traveling in the other direction crossed the interstate median directly in their path. The cars exploded on contact, ending a midday drinking binge for the driver and the lives of both my parents.
The accident left me without a compass. My sheltered background left me with little insight into people who were not decent and well-meaning. My parents left me with a yearning for what I had lost, but sadly they left me when I was too young to understand the difference between a marriage based on respect and one based on fear.
By the time nine months had passed, I had learned.
One month after their deaths, the Abuser came into my life.
Rex had done this before.
At two a.m., as she tossed underwear and socks into a canvas backpack, Janine Stoddard reminded herself this was not the first time her husband had stayed away all night without warning her ahead of time. Keeping her off guard was part of a strategy to keep her from leaving him. Sometimes, by piecing together hints in later conversations, she'd even concluded that Rex had stayed close to the house the whole time to see what she would do in his absence.
It wasn't enough that she obeyed every whim when he was at home. He wanted to be sure she followed his orders when he wasn't, too.
While their son, Buddy, was still alive, Rex had never needed to worry. At the first sign of his mother's defection, Buddy would have called his father. Of course, Rex's faith in Buddy had never been put to the test. Janine had loved her son too much to put that kind of pressure on him.
She couldn't think about Buddy. Not now.
It was possible Rex was observing her right this minute. He might be in his car in a vacationing neighbor's driveway, eyes trained on the road to see ifJanine tried to slip away. He might even be camping in the woods behind their house, with binoculars and night-vision goggles. Rex considered himself something of a survivalist, and while he was too much of a loner to drill on weekends or join a militia, he collected survival gear the way some men collected fishing lures or model airplanes. He kept all his equipment under lock and key in the same room where he kept an arsenal that included an AK-47 and an assortment of Rugers and Remingtons.
He liked to tell her exactly what each gun could do. Sometimes he gave his lectures with the gun pointed directly at her.
For a moment she was frozen in place, one hand raised toward the dresser, as she thought about those guns. Was she insane? Did she really believe that after all these years she might be able to pull this off? That Rex had really been fooled by her eager attempts to please him, by her waning interest in anything that wasn't centered on his needs, by her reluctance to go out in public without him?
For months now she had carefully waged a campaign to make her husband think his efforts to turn her into one of the walking dead had succeeded at last, that there was nothing left inside her except a desire to please him. The masquerade had given her hope and a reason to live. Having a plan, even a sliver of one, had slowly reinfused her with energy and purpose. As she had pretended to sink lower and lower, she had watched his reaction and gauged his state of mind.
Rex had believed her. She was almost certain. After all, not to believe would have been an admission that twenty-five years of his best efforts to subdue her hadn't borne fruit. He had set out to change his wife to suit his every need, and Rex Stoddard succeeded at everything he set his mind to. He was so superior to those around him that even the possibility he might fail never really entered his mind.
She had known that. She had used that.
But had she really convinced him? If she had, where was he tonight?
One more time, just one more, Janine forced herself to consider other possibilities. Rex wasn't a drinker. Had he been hurt, the police or the hospital would have called her. If his car had broken down on the way home from work, he would have driven home in a rental car, angry at the world and anxious to take his frustrations out on her.
She squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to picture the best scenario. Rex had probably gone off on an overnight business trip, as he was sometimes forced to. Truckers and trucking firms in the Midwest were the primary clients of Rex's insurance agency, and occasionally it was necessary to visit in person to settle claims or sell policies. He hadn't told Janine he was leaving, because he wanted her to think he was still in town, eyes trained on her from some hidden location.
Janine reminded herself that she had carefully practiced her escape. Her husband's most powerful weapon was fear.