Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

The Golden Lily
Bloodlines Book #2

Author: Richelle Mead
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Hardcover: 417 pages
Publisher: Razorbill (June 12, 2012)

Ratings: ★  

My thoughts:

The Golden Lily is the book two to the Bloodlines novel, spinoff series of the Vampire Academy series.

Sydney. Oh boring Sydney *looong sigh* When I finished reading the book 1: Bloodlines, I was sad. So sad that I didn't get to like the book, and now after  reading the Golden Lily the experience was depressing. That feeling you wanted to love the book but you just can't! It took me months to purchase this book and when I finally decided to read the book, there was so much hope that Dimitri's appearance would somehow make the story interesting. Nope. No excitement in reading the story. Totally. I blame Sydney for all this. I see Sydney as the most boring character in all of Richelle Mead's books. Oh, add Jill to that. 

Dear Adrian. What happened to you? I don't remember getting excited seeing you this time.  I loved you! What is wrong with you??!? I know you're still heartbroken but you don't have to be "lifeless" after Rose! And where did you learn those boring lines? Oh I know. Sydney! 

Jill. I just can't understand why some people think you can be a lead character when I still see you as "jailbait", a KID. You're not like your sister Lissa. I know it's wrong to compare but I can't "feel" you! Your story is too superficial. 

Another thing I noticed which made it harder for me to like the whole "Alchemist" thing was that half the story is about dealing with human thus labeling this as "paranormal" book is not at all right. Sydney made it clear that she doesn't want to see blood and magic. She also doesn't want to be with people who are considered as unnatural and evil (Moroi and Dhampirs)... I get it. So why is Sydney still the narrator of this series??  

I couldn't connect with all the characters. Considering almost all of them are from the VA series, it felt like I don't know them.  Honestly I wished I didn't read these books at all! :=(

Amazon positive reviews, click HERE.

About the book:

I wasn't free of my past, not yet.

Sydney's blood is special. That's because she's an alchemist - one of a group of himans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worls of humans and vampire. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives. But the last encounter Sydney had with vampires got her in deep trouble with the other alchemists. And now with her allegiances in question, her future is on the line.

When Sydney torn from her bed in the middle of the night, at first she thinks she's still being punished for her complicated alliance with dhampir Rose Hathaway. But what unfolds is far orse. Jill Dragomir - the sister of Moroi Queen Lissa Dragomir - is in mortal danger, and the Moroi must send her into hiding. To avoid a civil war, Sydney is called upon to act as Jill's guardian and protector, posing as her roommate in the unlikeliest of places: a human boarding school in Palm Springs, California. The last thing Sydney wants is to be accused of sympathizing with vampires. And now she has to live with one.

The Moroi court believe Jill and Sydney will be safe at Amberwood Prep, but threats, distractions, and forbidden romance lurk both outside - and within - the school grounds. Now that they're hiding, the drama is only just beginning.

About the author:

Richelle Mead is an international bestselling author of fantasy books for both adults and teens. Her Georgina Kincaid series follows a reluctant succubus, while her Dark Swan series features a shamanic mercenary caught up in fairy affairs. Over on the young adult side, Richelle writes the much-acclaimed Vampire Academy series and its spin-off, Bloodlines, about a secret society keeping the vampire world hidden from humans.

Richelle's books have been on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and received honors from the American Library Association. Her books have been translated into over two dozen languages, as well as transformed into graphic novels. A lifelong reader, Richelle loves mythology and wacky humor. When not writing, she can be found spending time with her family, buying dresses, and watching bad reality TV. More at:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Spotlight: Kea Noli's PEARL LOVER

Pearl Lover
by Kea Noli

Book Information

Genre: Young adult
E-book: Kindle
On sale: $2.99
Book publisher: Createspace
ISBN: 3930256
Page count: 275
Release Date: 4th July ‘12

Twitter: @KeaNoli
Amazon Link: Pearl Lover E-Book
Website: Pearl Lover, Coming-of-age
Facebook: Link


French heiress coming-of-age

Although Nixie Veidt loves a Russian danseur, she marries a bureaucrat to save her inheritance from a
domineering mother. If she is unfaithful, her mother, a wealthy socialite, will become guardian. When Nixie
hires the danseur for her ballet company, her mother hires a private detective and spies on her daughter.
A debutante’s conflicting love for two men and the struggling rebirth of Ballets Russes, a ballet company

Is it moral for a woman to love two men?


Nixie Veidt closed the door to an empty safe.             
She took the last piece of gold, the size of a chocolate bar, but shiny, yellow and heavy, and packed it into a small bag with the others.  It was part of her inheritance, some of her dad’s wealth that he had accumulated over forty-years, a small fraction compared to her mother’s wealth. 
Although the bag was on wheels, it was as immovable as concrete.  She gave it a jolt to start it rolling. 
Father Voclain had told her to remove everything from the safe and depart quickly before her mother returned.
She moved swiftly but lightly in dusty velvet clothes, a robust figure that was athletic and graceful.  She closed the door, quietly, considerately, pausing because it was the last time she would be at home.  
The first room that she passed along the corridor was her mother’s bedroom, a room that always smelled of rare French perfume and looked like the first blossoms of spring.  The floral designs were across the bedspread, curtains and rugs, and on the walls like ivy.
Nixie continued along the west-wing, passing eight doors, bedrooms in sunlight on one side, while on the other, bedrooms in shade. 
She stopped in front of the last door, her dad’s bedroom, where an odor of chicken consommĂ© was strong, an odor that had become frequent because he could only consume liquids. 
She peeked inside the room.  It was unpleasant for her to see him, the sheet lying flat across the sunken chest, and unpleasant to hear the suppressed breathing. 
She recalled Father Voclain’s words, that he had told her earlier, when she crept inside the sullen dark chamber, where the curtains squeezed a slit of sunlight onto the floor.  She recalled how her dad greeted her, a skeletal grin, and bony fingers reaching out. 
“Your dad has something to say,” said Voclain, a tall figure dressed in black, but not an ordinary priest.  “He can’t....  So I will.  Hopefully … the way he wants.  If things were different … if he had more time … he would help you.  But, he can’t.”
Max Veidt looked up, swollen eyes in yellow skin.
“You will not come back after today.  Don’t protest.  It’s about your inheritance.  Your mother wants a trust.  Control … until you are twenty-one or twenty-five …  Your dad disagrees.  When he is …” Voclain paused, looking away, his voice cracking.  “The will has been changed.  She won’t know until it is read.  The lawyers have sent a letter about the trust.”  Voclain gave Nixie a file, containing her net worth, details about investment funds and bank accounts.  “Remember Conrad…?”
Nixie recalled the days when Conrad visited the house, played the grand piano, and sang songs.
“You’ll go to him.  He’ll advise you about the bank accounts and investments.  When she fights—”
Max interrupted, coughing, “And…she…will.…”
“W—what about … the funeral?” blurted Nixie.
Voclain continued: “Forget the funeral.  A waste of suffering.  For miserable bastards.”  He saw the perplexed face, fear mingled with sadness in the twisted mouth and oscillating eyebrows.
The raspy voice added, “Tell…her….”
“A—about… me.”
“B—but there’s no need,” replied Voclain, protesting gently. 
“She…she…has…a right … she…must…!”
Voclain looked lovingly at Max.  “I will.  Calm down.  Some would call your father a materialist.  No time to explain all the details.  But he started with a few hundred francs.  Turned them into millions.  None of his ways are so called ‘respectable.’  He hid the money …” 
Voclain chuckled, whispering in a stealthy voice, “Conrad sells false I.D., amongst other things.  Helps the wealthy hide their money.  The reverse of Robin Hood.  He’ll guide you with your inheritance.  Help you keep it —a financial genius—a black marketer.  You’ll meet him tomorrow for lunch.  The Neapolitan outdoor Restaurant.  Don’t know what he’ll advise you.  I can’t come with you.…  Are you up to it?”
Nixie tossed her head back, forcing an unhappy smile on the tremulous lips and replied: “You look worried.  I can do it.”
Voclain tore a piece of paper from a larger one, hastily.  “The combination to the safe.  Take everything from it.”
Nixie held the paper, her fingers trembling. 
“Pack and leave before your mother returns.”
Max’s eyes smiled, obtrusive sparks glinting defiantly and glowing with light that did not come from the room.  “Go…get…the…hell out—  The …Russians…say: ‘Never… look… behind.’”  These were his last words, before she went into the den, read the combination, unlocked the safe, and removed the gold and cash. 
She had to hurry with the bag.  Pulling the muffled wheels over the Persian runner, she passed a row of windows.  The corridor separated the entertainment area from the bedrooms; a buffer from the happier days when flamenco dancers clipped the dance-floor; and when her mother, Maria, had strutted as the prima dancer.
Nixie approached the threshold to the living room, where she paused and looked across the ruby-red lounges, against the background of snowy limestone floor. 
She looked through the diamond shaped windows for her mother’s sports car beneath the porte-cochere, the grand entry where in a different century carriages had arrived under cover.  Had Maria been alive then, she would have worn the hoops of a crinoline.  The car was nowhere to be seen. 
Nixie crossed the living area, the noisier part of the house whenever her mother entertained.  She passed the ballroom and dance-floor; and the stage, a raised platform where she had danced when she was a swan.
She headed towards the side courtyard, where she had parked her car by the servant’s entrance that Maria avoided.  
Thinking of her father’s words: ‘never look behind,’ reminded her of the Russian danseur, who was waiting for her at the villa.  
There were mottled shadows from the trees across the garden where vines grew between tropical fan palms. 
Through the arched opening, Nixie saw the fountain and heard the splashing streams, as they fell in curved trajectories from the lion heads into the agitated basin.    
In the cool and shadowed arch was a sweet fragrance, lingering and drifting in waves, a familiar fragrance that was in Maria’s bedroom.
The first thing that Nixie saw was a sports car parked beside her car. 
Then she saw her mother, a short woman in a fluttering dress, prancing on pencil-heels, a red bandana tied around her neck, a wide brimmed hat with curls bouncing beneath. 
Nixie heaved the bag onto the passenger seat.  She walked to the driver’s side. 
Maria smiled, white teeth sparkling in a concave band.  “Nyx, darling, imagine finding you here?  What do you have in the bag?  Mmm?  Bricks?” asked Maria, flippantly, suppressing a chuckle.  “I have something to ask.”  She kissed her daughter’s cheeks, the smell of alcohol on her breath.  She held a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses, probably a gift from a male admirer.    
The smile vanished, as Maria surveyed her daughter.  Although Nixie wore tailor-made clothes, and handmade shoes, Maria hated the braided hair, and the gray clothes that reminded her of soot, as if her daughter were a railroad engineer.   
Her daughter’s eyes could have looked dreamy with blue eye shadow; the lips fuller with plumb lipstick; the possum-eyebrows plucked into crescent-moons; the streamlined body softer in a pleated skirt and a laced bodice.    
“The flowers are for your father.” 
“You plan to go into his room?” Nixie asked incredulously.
Maria shook her head no.  The thought of going into a room where a person was dying horrified her, even though the man was her husband.
Maria held out the flowers.  
Nixie scolded: “I won’t carry them in for you.”  
Maria gasped.  “My, my…!  What a bark…!”
 “You won’t,” added Nixie, “but you’ll get Father Voclain to.”
Voclain cared for Max.  Maria disliked him because he rode a motorcycle and wore a black leather jacket.  “Father Voclain…!  Ah.  Father!  Don’t insult the church.  A disgrace.  Mocking God.” 
Maria described a cross over her low cleavage.  “Voclain the insane spoke about a burial in the garden.  Your father’s body under the elms.”  Maria shuddered, hoop-earrings oscillating.
Max wanted a burial in a bomb-shelter, the remnant from World War II in a rising mound, where the sun shone its yellow patches during the mornings along a vista of elm trees. 
Maria removed a letter from her handbag, unhooking the gold clasp.  She added, “I wanted to ask you about ... Rollinard and Rollinard.  Why this letter?  So formal.  Something about the trust.  Changes.  Mmm…?  I can’t ask a dying man.  You know anything?  You talked to him, no?”
“I don’t need a trust,” blurted Nixie.  “I can look after my own money.”
“We will see about that,” scoffed the imperial voice.
Nixie opened the driver’s door, and sank into the seat that was reclined like a chaise lounge.  She started the engine and closed the door. 
“Where are you going?”
“The villa.”
“When are you coming home?”
“Not for a long time,” droned Nixie, like the engine.  
“Go for one hour.  But come back.  He needs you.  I need you,” ordered Maria.
“He doesn’t want me here.”
“What…?  But.  What about the funeral?”
“I’m not going.”
Maria gasped.  “To her father’s own funeral?  She’s not going…?” 
This was a strange conversation in the grounds of the palatial home on the French Riviera between privileged women, who should have comforted one another, during the death of a loved family member.          
Maria had the look of a scornful flamenco dancer.  She placed the flowers on her daughter’s lap, and said: “Take them.  They are my love to you.  Hate against love.  No contest.  You need me.  You will see.”            
Nixie drove towards the gate, stopped, picked up the bouquet, shook her head, and then tossed them out of the car.                

FORETOLD Release Day

Foretold: 14 Tales of Prophecy and Prediction

Release Date: August 28, 2012
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

About the book:

Have you ever been tempted to look into the future? To challenge predictions? To question fate? It's human nature to wonder about life's twists and turns. But is the future already written—or do you have the power to alter it?

From fantastical prophecies to predictions of how the future will transpire, Foretold is a collection of stories about our universal fascination with life's unknowns and of what is yet to come as interpreted by 14 of young adult fiction's brightest stars.

This collection includes works from:

Malinda Lo (Ash)
Lisa McMann (Wake)
Kami Garcia (Beautiful Creatures)
Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures)
Laini Taylor (The Daughter of Smoke and Bone)
Michael Grant (Gone)
Saundra Mitchell (The Vespertine)
Richelle Mead (the Vampire Academy)
Matt de la Pena (I Will Save You)
Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries)
Heather Brewer (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod)
Diana Peterfreund (Rampant)
Simone Elkeles (Perfect Chemistry)
Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Book Spotlight: Tara Woolpy's RAISING WILD GINGER

Raising Wild Ginger 
by Tara Woolpy

Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Bats in the Boathouse Press (June 11, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0983203326
ISBN-13: 978-0983203322
Book review (5-star)


Parenting is hard. That's what Edward Rosenberg has always assumed, although his only experience with children has been as the drunken uncle. Now the love of his life, Sam DaCosta, is yearning for fatherhood. Edward's been sober for years. He and Sam are in a good place. Why rock the boat? On the other hand, how can he deny Sam his dream of a family?

Then they meet Ginger. At twelve she's been through more than either Edward or Sam can imagine. She's seductive, secretive and dishonest. But somewhere between stealing his cash and alienating Sam, Ginger manages to wind herself into Edward's heart. Can the three of them create a family? Or will Ginger blow them all apart?

Early Reviews:

"Raising Wild Ginger is a captivating tale of a newly created family - a family that is not your usual mother-father-child family, but one that still matters to all involved and is at the very heart of the word a family. Of course, this family is not without it's ups and downs, and there are many instances that are heartwarming as well as heart wrenching. It is an emotional, tender story, and it reminds us just how powerful the love of a family can be."
Kristin Thorvaldsen, Always with a Book

"Woolpy has penned a sensational sequel to her outstanding debut novel Releasing Gillian’s Wolves. Raising Wild Ginger brings 12 year old foster child Ginger into Edward and Sam’s lives after she has endured countless acts of horrendous trauma for much of her young life. She arrives broken and alone, it is her last chance for a normal life with a family. Edward and Sam vow to not make the same mistakes their parents did and accept and love Ginger for who she is and what she can become, leaving the past behind to create a loving family all three of them desperately need.
This story will tug hard on your heartstrings and not let them go.  An Absolute Must Read!!
*****5 Stars"
Lori Caswell, Dollycas's Thoughts

Chapter One

For our anniversary, Sam and I trekked in to the site of our first kiss. With our Boston terrier, Daphnia, scouting the path ahead, we hauled a picnic lunch through a quarter mile of wetland to the grove by the stream where we’d waited for the emergence.
I spread out a blanket. Sam opened a cooler and grabbed the bottle of sparkling cider and two plastic champagne glasses. He popped the cork and poured. Little bubbles fizzed up from the bottom of the glasses. Handing one to me, he smiled and toasted, "To us."
Four years ago, we’d met in the late afternoon every day for two weeks, hoping to catch mayflies in their annual ephemeral swarm, an event where, if I understand correctly, in one afternoon the whole population mates. On that last day, I’d arrived late to find Sam and the mayflies already there. I swung up my cameraand, looking through the viewfinder, I’d seen everything I’d been waiting for, too.
That’s the picture I keep on my desk. Sam, arms outstretched, head flung back, laughing as hundreds of beautiful white-winged insects fly around him. I’d wanted that for the book cover, but the art director decided it wasn’t properly academic. She went for a close-up of a male mayfly perching on a blade of marsh grass, wings held high, tail filaments catching the light, his huge eyes scanning the sky for a mate.
As the light began to fade that afternoon, we’d stood in the middle of the grove, our shoulders almost touching, peering at the camera preview screen. I remember trying to feel heat from his body and watching his face, memorizing the curve of his eyelashes, as I clicked through the images. Eventually he looked up, and that’s when we kissed.
Four years later and I still couldn't believe my luck.
"To us," I agreed. Our glasses touched. I sipped the syrupy juice and leaned back on my elbows. We had an amazingly good life.
Then Sam said, "You know, I really would like children," and I groaned.
"What?" he continued. "Look, Edward, I know we’ve been over this but—"
"Sam, darlin', I’m too old for kids."
"Don’t be silly. Men older than you have children all the time. And it isn’t like you’d be making one from scratch. I think you’d make a great father."
"No, you’d make a great father. I’m a better uncle. Let’s not talk about this now. Come." I patted the blanket next to me. "Lie down and let me distract you."
He laughed and handed me my sandwich. "Food first, you old lecher."
After lunch, I pulled him down beside me on the blanket. The wet earth beneath us smelled of spring, and the nylon of our bulky jackets rustled. "The thing about an early spring picnic," I whispered into his neck, "is that, while we don’t have mosquitoes, it’s also too cold for people."
"We might have seen another mayfly emergence."
"But we didn’t, and there’s something sharp poking my hip. Let’s find Daphnia and go home."
Later, covers pulled up to our necks, Sam lay spooned against me. I stared into the curly mat of his hair. He’s younger, smarter and much better looking than I am. He’s also usually right. "I’ll think about it," I whispered.
* * * * *
We packed the usual dozen or so into St. Sebastian’s for the Tuesday noon meeting. I took a seat next to my sponsor, Henry. Last week’s Sunday School projects hung above our heads, butterflies made from tissue paper and clothespins. A woman in gray, whose name I never remember, agreed to chair and we began. I looked around the group--no first timers, but a few still early in recovery.
After the readings, our chair said, "This is a discussion meeting. Does anyone have a suggestion for a topic?"
I cleared my throat. "Hi, I’m Edward. I’m an alcoholic and an addict."
"Hi, Edward," the group chimed.
"I guess I want to talk about resentment." I fiddled with my coffee cup. "My partner really wants to look into adopting… making a family. The thought scares the crap out of me. He grew up in this white-bread family where punishments fit the crimes and everyone was hyper- normal—at least until he came out, but that’s another story. I don’t have any idea how to do that, what that kind of family looks like from the inside. I feel scared of the responsibility, the time, and I think, deep down, terrified I’d turn into my mother and really mess someone up. It’s not something I want him to want, and I can’t seem to shake feeling angry and resentful, even though I know that’s poison for me, my sobriety and for our relationship. I’m hoping this meeting will help me get over myself. With that, I’ll pass."
Someone else took up the topic of releasing resentment, an alcoholic favorite, and the meeting continued. By the time we stood to hold hands and repeat the serenity prayer, I felt better than I had in weeks.
Henry asked, "Got time for coffee?”
"Sure. How about we meet at the Rise and Shine? The coffee’s awful, but the pie’s good."
At the Rise and Shine CafĂ©, cracked green vinyl booths line the wall opposite the lunch counter. Old-time diner food. I’ve been a regular all my life. It’s gotten a little better since Irene and her sister Claire took over, but not much. The smell of grease still envelops you as you pass through the front door. Sam’ll come here if he’s really hungry. For me, the place remains delicious with memories of the grandfathers taking us for chocolate chip pancakes on summer Sunday mornings.
Henry and I took the back booth. As Irene poured our predictably bitter coffee, I wondered if I looked as unchanged to Henry as he did to me. Over a decade ago, he’d taken on the job of steering this messed-up, rich, white, gay guy toward something like sanity. He didn’t look different to me from that first time I’d stumbled into a meeting, fresh from twohundredandseventy-four days in jail, followed by twenty-eight in treatment, and looking for something to convince me that life without drugs and alcohol was better than suicide. Big and black, ten years older than me, already sober twenty-some years and married for longer, he breathed out a cloud of patience developed through years of sobriety and social work, and looked like hope to me. He still does.
"So Sam wants babies." He chuckled.
"Not babies, he’s thinking kids, maybe refugees." I took a swig of coffee and dumped in more creamer. "He’s got some great arguments. No question about it, we have plenty to share." I shook my head. "But I’m not sure I’m the Mother Theresa type."
Henry stirred sugar into his coffee. Irene brought two slices of rhubarb-apple pie, warmed so that golden flakes of crust glistened against the ooze of pink filling. I forked a bite into my mouth and rolled the tart sweetness along my tongue.
Henry spoke. "Have you thought about a compromise? Maybe foster care? It’s cheaper and faster than adoption, and it could be temporary if that's what you wanted."
"So you think I should give in?"
"Man, this is good, isn’t it?" He held up a forkful of glistening pink filling. "I think you should keep an open mind, that’s all. How badly does Sam want kids?"
"Badly. Ever since he visited his sister and her family last summer, he’s talked about it off and on. It triggered this family thing in him, and it’s like an itch he can’t quit scratching." I stuck my fork into a ridge of crust, watching it crumble, catching the crumbs and popping them into my mouth. Food is my only remaining addiction. I'm not giving it up.
 "I thought he wasn’t in contact with his family." Henry wiped the edges of his mouth with a napkin.
I shrugged. "It’s complicated. His father won’t acknowledge his existence, but Naomi, his sister, keeps in regular contact. They talk on the phone, email. Over the past few years the three of us have seen each other a few times in neutral territory, and last year he met her family. She’s scheduled to spend some time here early this summer. His mom pretends to his dad that she doesn’t communicate with him, but sends little messages through Naomi. It gets confusing."
"Sounds like it." He sipped his coffee. "Sam’s good for you. Those early years I knew you when you were involved with what’s-his-name—"
"Rob," I supplied.
"Right, Rob. Where is he these days?"
"New York, last I heard. He got a job as a personal assistant for some magazine editor." I shrugged. "But that was a couple of years ago, so who knows."
"Well, he wasn’t healthy for you. You really struggled in that relationship."
"It didn’t help that he was constitutionally incapable of fidelity."
"Uh-huh. I don’t see you having that trouble with Sam."
I shook my head and smiled. "Sam was born faithful."
Henry nodded. "People like that don’t come along every day." He pressed his fork into the few remaining crumbs on his plate. His eyes met mine. "I have this girl. She’s from downstate and has been through a rough time. Before next school year, we’d like to get her out of the town she’s living in and find her somewhere around here, at least for a while, until we can get her something more permanent. When you were talking in the meeting, I thought maybe you’re the right people to take her on."
He shrugged. "She’s already been bounced from a couple of homes. She tends to make wives uncomfortable. I think she could use a safer kind of father figure than she’s had so far."
"Oh." I leaned back in the booth, letting the coffee cup warm my hands.
"You could think of her as a different sort of refugee." He smiled.
I nodded slowly. "Interesting."
"Talk it over. Do whatever’s best for the two of you. If you’re interested, give me a call and I’ll come over to the house, talk with the both of you, fill out some paperwork, and get the process started." He smiled again. "You think you can prove you’re healthy, financially stable and have enough room for a foster child in that mansion of yours?"
"Okay, I’ll talk to Sam. You really think I could do this?"
"I really think you could be good at it, but you’ve gotta do what works for you. What Sam wants is important, but you need to know your own limits too." He tented his arms, folded his hands together and rested his chin on his thumbs. "You’ve grown up more than you know, my friend. Give yourself time and I think you can figure out that next right step."
As we stood to go, Henry said, "I’m having an open house on Saturday afternoon to celebrate my birthday. Can you both come?"
I smiled. "I’ll check with Sam, but I bet we’re free."
"No presents," he said. "We’ve got more than enough crap around the house. And bring big appetites. Fran’s already cooking."
I grinned. "Appetites we’ve got."
From my car on the way home, I phoned Sam at work.
"Hi," he said, "can you stop at the store and pick up some pasta? I talked Maggie into coming over for dinner with a jar of homemade tomato sauce."
"Excellent. I’ll see if I can pick up some appropriate bread and a bag of salad."
He sighed. "We really should learn to cook."
"So you keep saying."
"I’ve got to get to class. Thanks for shopping."
"I love you."
"Me, too."
* * * * *
As I pulled into the garage, I glanced at Gillian’s house next door, where Qian practiced skateboard moves in the driveway. Gillian lent the house to the university for use by visiting faculty, and for the past few years it had felt like we were living next to an international guest house. Qian’s mother, Bo Lin, was almost done with her sabbatical and soon they’d pack up to head back to China. I knew that feeling. Sam and I spent our first year together in Amsterdam during his sabbatical. As the end neared, I felt torn. I’d made friends and I loved the city, but I also missed my home. And when I came home, I left Gillian in Amsterdam.. Who’d have thought I’d be the one to hold down the home front while she spent our golden years abroad? It’s like the Dalai Lama said in that movie, “Kundu”: things can change just like that.
Gillian’s my oldest friend, my next-door neighbor, my sister, my co-conspirator in life, not to mention the best cook I’ve ever known. We’ve been linked since childhood by our grandfathers, two men who lived, made a fortune, and died together, leaving all their money to the foundation that Gillian and I control. I always contend they were gay and Gillian, while she allows it’s a good possibility, points out that our very existence could be cause for doubt. Now she’s living in Amsterdam while I keep the old homestead in repair and watch the foreign professors come and go.
I let Daphnia out the front door and spotted the afternoon paper slumped against the step. Above the fold, the headline called out in big letters that after years of delay, our congressman was finally headed to jail. There was a bad picture of Jack, the guy I'd spent twenty years loathing as he made Gillian miserable. I was glad she'd been out of the country throughout the scandal of the divorce, his bribery trial and the endless appeals. Maybe now that it was over and he was headed to prison, she'd come visit. 
I stared at the picture, hearing the clang of prison gates closing. The memory never fades. It's been years. I can go weeks without thinking about it and then something will trigger my memory--a story in the paper, a guy showing up at a meeting sporting an ankle bracelet, the phrases “drunk driving” or “vehicular assault,” and I'm back there amid the bright lights and constant noise. Most of what you hear about prison is bull. I wasn't raped in the shower or shanked in the yard. I did spend nine months stuck in cacophonous, soul-sucking boredom. Like anywhere else, money helps. My mother could talk the judge into the harshest sentence possible, but she couldn't keep Gillian from stocking my prison account with money and my care packages with cigarettes and chocolate.
I threw the paper on the dining room table and went to work. I spent the afternoon editing two images I’d agreed to donate for a Nature Conservancy brochure. I fiddled with the magenta in a sunset until my eyes crossed. Still, it was easier than the old days when I would have been stuck for hours in an acrid darkroom. Around four, I took a break and headed for our basement where, years ago, I’d converted the old rec room into a gym. Back then, I was struggling to keep Rob’s attention and had spent hours pumping iron, trying to force myself into the hard-body he’d wanted. These days I trot along on the treadmill. Sam’s thirteen years younger, so I’ll probably die first, but I’d like to stick around long enough to enjoy a life together.
By the time Maggie and Sam pulled up, I was considering a few images from Madrid for the book and playing tug-of-war with Daphnia. I watched out the window as Maggie parked at the curb and Sam waited in the driveway. As they greeted each other, I was struck by how related they looked--about the same height and lean. Actually Maggie borders on skinny, with that wonderful dark, curly hair. Maggie looked like Sam’s slightly older sister, but their DNA couldn’t be more different; SamDaCosta'sa Sephardic Jew only two generations off the boat, and Maggie Mazzoniis the daughter of an Italian butcher and an Irish nurse, who I'm sure never counted Abraham, Isaac and Jacob among her next of kin.
I like Maggie. It seems to me that we’ve been to some of the same dark places, but we never discuss it. There’s something tangential about our friendship. She’s Gillian’s best girlfriend and Sam’s closest colleague at work. Sam and Gillian are sweet people. They grew up loved and it shows. Maggie and I--well, that shows, too.
I opened the door as they started up the steps. Daphnia bounded down, wagging his whole body in greeting before jumping to plant his little paws on Sam’s thigh. Sam picked up the dog and held him as he squirmed and licked his face and tried to lunge toward Maggie. 
She reached a hand over and obligingly scratched his ears."Hi Daph,how’s the poop-eating business?"
Sam averted his eyes. "Oh, he’s been over that for, um, weeks."
"Uh huh," Maggie said. "I’m still not letting that tongue anywhere near my face."
"Great to see you." I hugged her and stood aside to let them through. Sam and Daphnia kissed me in passing. 
"God I love this view." She stood by the kitchen window, looking out at the lake. "So what have you been up to lately, Edward? It seems like I haven’t seen you in ages." 
"Polishing his book." Sam took the tomato sauce Maggie handed him and went looking for a pan.
"A book? I didn’t know you were working on a book."
I felt myself blush. "It’s not a book yet. But I collected some nice images of urban wildlife in cities like Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam and I think—shit, I don’t know what I think."
"They’re great," Sam exclaimed. "He caught all the great landmarks: Buckingham Palace, the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower--only the focus of each picture is a pigeon, a squirrel, a rat, raccoons, even a pet ocelot. They’re funny and sad and beautiful."
"I’d love to see them sometime." Maggie leaned against the counter, watching us puttering in domestic bliss in what passed for cooking in the Rosenberg-DaCosta household.
I grinned at her. "Sure. If you twist my arm, I’ll show you everything after dinner."
She sighed, one hand on her forehead like a swooning B-movie heroine. "I can’t tell you how long it’s been since a man made that kind of offer."
"What about Paul Johnstone? I thought he made that kind of offer all the time." Sam winked at Maggie.
"Who’s Paul Johnstone?" I shook pasta into boiling water.
"Chair of the history department," Sam said. "He’s hot, for an old guy. And he seems to find his way into the science building and past Maggie’s office more often than you’d expect."
"What I’d expect and what really happens in academia seem to be completely different things." I stirred the pasta, which was forming alarmingly large clumps. "It always sounds more like you’re high school students than college professors."
"Feels like that, too." Maggie gave Sam a look. "Paul’s a great guy. And he’s not much older than Edward."
"Ouch," I said.
"And I’m about as interested in him as I am in Edward."
"Any time you youngsters are ready, you can feel free to change the subject," I grumbled into the pot.
Eventually, we got dinner on the table. I turned to Maggie."So, you have any plans for after the term ends?" 
She shrugged. "Mostly work. I’ve got a big grant that starts in June."
"The drug company collaboration?" Sam asked.
"Yes. And that’s all I get to say about it." Maggie speared a lettuce leaf. "I signed all sorts of confidentiality papers. I can tell you that they’re sending over a doctoral student as part of the deal."
Sam's eyebrows shot up. "They’re sending you a student? What about funding any of the students you’ve already got?"
"Part of the deal. And it works out well for me. They’ve already trained this guy so he’ll be ready to do the technical work from the get-go. Anyway, no summer plans." She tore off a hunk of bread. "I was going to visit my sister in San Diego so I can remember all the reasons I didn’t marry some redneck guy and have a bunch of snotty-nosed kids, but it looks now like I’m stuck in the lab all summer. You guys doing anything exciting?"
I looked at Sam, who shook his head. "No, not yet."
"You’re coming to the end-of-term picnic, aren’t you, Edward?" Maggie asked after a pause.
"Am I?" I asked Sam.
He smiled. "It’ll be better than the holiday party, I promise. It’ll be outdoors. We can play volleyball."
"I guess I’m coming," I told Maggie. "But if he abandons me to that geologist again, I’m out of there."
"You left him with Carter, didn’t you?" Maggie accused Sam.
"I went to get punch, and by the time I returned they were already up to the Cambrian."
I shuddered dramatically. "It was hideous."
Maggie patted my arm. "I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to rescue you." She turned to Sam. "You’re a cad."
He shrugged apologetically. "I wasn’t thinking. I’ll be better next time."
After Maggie left, Sam and I walked down to the dock. I pulled him close as we stood looking out over the water, listening to the waves lap against the shore. I recounted my conversation with Henry.
"Huh," he said. "Troubled teenage girl--hadn’t thought of that possibility."
"I don’t know what I think yet," I told him. "We’re really good, right now, like this."
"I know," he whispered, leaning into me.
"But we can keep talking." I watched the play of moonlight and wind across the waves.
* * * * *
I woke in the dark, hot and sweaty, my heart pounding. The clock said three a.m. Taking a deep breath, I tried to relax. My favorite nightmare, the one where I watch through my windshield as three kids tumble in slow motion around the back seat of the station wagon. My car keeps pushing and pushing into theirs. I can see Zoe Barnes’s terrified face in her rearview mirror. I watch as first little Ben, then Amber, and finally Zach crumple onto the seat. Can’t tell you how much of the dream is memory, how much reconstruction, but I bet Zoe has dreams like mine. This was the part I avoid remembering. I went to prison and eventually walked out, picked up my life and went on. Zach tried to get home from dinner at his grandma’s and won’t ever walk again.
I slid out of bed and pulled on my robe. Might as well start the coffee. Fourteen years and I hadn’t yet fallen back to sleep after the dream. Before heading down to the kitchen I stopped in my office, turned on the computer and transferred $10,000 into the trust account I’d set up for Zach after the accident and another $10,000 into a checking account I share with Zoe. It doesn’t stop the images, but it’s what I always do after the dream. I deposit, she withdraws. Maybe after her own dreams, maybe when she watches Zach wheel himself to school. We don’t talk much. He’s going to Stanford in the fall. I know because I’m paying the tuition. Seemed only fair since over the years I’ve made him too rich for financial aid. Least I could do.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guest Author: Eric Collins

I recently published my first novel, The Testing Point.  It’s a crime story set in the Greater Boston area, and although it’s a work of fiction, most of it draws from life.  My dad was a Boston police officer who worked the night shift.  He would come home at about 7 o’clock each morning at a time when I would be getting ready to go off to high school.  The morning routine would begin with his saying, “Want a cup of coffee?”  This was the signal that it was time for the two of us to sit at the table and discuss all that had transpired on the streets while I was sleeping safely in my bed.

Although my father’s tales alone could provide fodder for a good crime novel, I had other wellsprings to tap as well.  For instance, one of my jobs during my teen years was to manage the desk at a Boston motel.  It was mob owned, and many of the regular customers were “connected”.  The motel’s lounge could get wild, with its wise guys, hookers, and bar hoppers.  I started out as the under-aged desk clerk and auditor who illegally worked the midnight-to-eight shift.  In this capacity, I was also the night manager.  This made for some interesting situations.  For instance, I was the manager of the lounge, but too young to enter.  The bartender, a by-the-book kind of guy, would bring complaining patrons out to me at the desk so that I could resolve problems and disputes.  It was exciting work for a teenager.  I learned a lot about how to think on my feet, interact with all kinds of people, and have some fun in the midst of chaos and anarchy.

My neighborhood was also an area known for its tough streets, but also for its thriving organized crime community.  Growing up, I always thought my life was typical.  I considered my childhood to be idyllic.  Translated that means, “the bullets always missed me.”  My wife once asked me, “How many murderers do you know?”  I answered, “Define murderer.”  To which she responded, “That is not how a normal person answers that question.”  Confused, I asked her, “How does a normal person answer that?”  “None,” she responded without hesitation.  I’ve since come to believe that she may be right.

Not everything that happens in my novel happened to me or even to my father.  Many of the events that take place in the pages of The Testing Point happened to friends or acquaintances who told me their tales, and a good percentage of the book came entirely from my imagination. And there are still a lot of stories that I can’t tell in a work of fiction, because if I were to include them in my book, nobody would believe them.  
Strangely enough, I could probably include them in a non-fiction work, because I would be saying explicitly, “These things really happened.”  

It’s interesting that what kept me from writing this book for a long time was my unwillingness to tell stories that would impinge on the privacy of others.  One night, I was sitting at a pub, telling stories to some of my friends.  As they often did, they attempted to coax me into writing the stories down on paper.  I pointed out the privacy issue.  “Well, just fictionalize it,” one of my friends responded.  I don’t know why the thought hadn’t occurred to me before, but it hadn’t.  That night, I began to write my novel.  I’m glad I did, because I’ve had so much fun putting all those stories into one coherent adventure, and telling it my way.

The Testing Point

Author: Eric Collins
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 17, 2012)

About the book:

When a prostitute is murdered in a seedy motel room, and an eyewitness points his finger at a cop, it seems an open and shut case.  But rookie officer Ben Grasso isn't buying the official story and undertakes his own unsanctioned investigation.  Fellow officer Dina Greenbaum learns of her partner's dangerous investigation and, despite lessons from her past that should have warned her away, she decides to help.  Fighting organized crime, police corruption, and their own demons, the partners find they can't tell friends from foe, and that they may have started something they can't finish.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Review: Dervyshire Park by Nicole Conway

Dervyshire Park

Author: Nicole Conway
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Fresh Ink Group (July 20, 2012)
Amazon Link

Note: I received a review copy of this book free from Fresh Ink Group. The review posted below is based on my personal thoughts while reading the book.

Ratings: ★ ★ ★ 

My thoughts:

Dervyshire Park has a promising start, read the half of the story in just a few hours. It tells the story of Randolf Fuerst, a lycanthrope considered an outcast to his pack. Lycans are ruled by women and his mother is the alpha of all the lycans everywhere. Since women rule the pack, naturally, females are preferred over males and that is why Randolf was made an outcast.The author was able to incorporate Greek mythology when it comes to the history of the lycans that made the book a bit more interesting to read. I loved how it differs with other lycan/werewolf books I've read in the past. Imagine, a woman alpha? 

Initially, the story is narrated by Randolf and then it would shift into third person POV from time to time. It was moving along just fine until I realized after reaching more than half of the story, I'm beginning to lose interest in reading further. The sudden shifts in POV disrupt my connection to the story and characters. Another problem was hating Charlotte, Randolf's love interest. I hate her attitude and her views in life. Nothing in her is interesting for me since she doesn't go to school, she doesn't work, and she has no friends except for Kim and Sam, her friend and suitor.  All characters are likeable, even the bad guys except Charlotte. I can't even feel the "magic" when she is either with Randolf or Sam. 

All in all, it would have been a great werewolf book if not for the flaws mentioned above. 

About the book:

"We are the silent guardians, those born of the need to protect humankind, acting as their unseen shield against a dark world to which they are blind."

21-year-old Charlotte wants a way out of small-town Colorado, not a life trapped on the family ranch feigning affection for the awkward man who pesters her for a commitment she can never give. Then the enigmatic Dr. Randolf Fuerst arrives to reclaim Dervyshire Park, the old mansion looking down upon Charlotte's world from the wild foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Working to perfect the antivenin that neutralizes the bite of even the fiercest lycanthrope, the dark-haired stranger sees something in Charlotte, and knows his life might well be transformed by her simple touch. Pursuing desire and passion is never easy, though, and Charlotte will find her dreams dashed by the dark forces and savage creatures that descend upon Westcliffe and the people she loves.

How can a young lady, a mere human, stand to lose what she had nearly given up hope of ever finding? Is there a place safe enough for two forbidden lovers to discover their destiny? Might the truth lurk up that country lane, past the overgrown hedges, behind the imposing doors of a mysterious mansion called Dervyshire Park?

About the author:

A native of Alabama and graduate of Auburn University, Nicole Conway is currently living with her husband in Texas.  An avid reader of fantasy and romance novels, Nicole enjoys spending time with her family, entertaining, and combing through coookbooks for new recipies. Though she has written numerous romantic novels and short stories, Dervyshire Park is her first work to be published.

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