Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Cover Reveal: The Legend of the Pumpkin Thief by Charles Day


Today Charles Day and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for the Bram Stoker Award Winning THE LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF, which releases October 18, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!

On to the reveal! 


Title: THE LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF
Author: Charles Day
Pub. Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | TBD | Goodreads


As the townsfolk sleep, something creeps into the neighborhood. Hidden in shadows, its presence is as old as time itself, its intent not born of goodness.

Nick, a teenager who fancies himself a detective, wakes to find his carved masterpiece missing. Now a mystery is afoot, and Nick has his first assignment, to find out who or what is snatching up the town’s pumpkins and why.

Unfortunately, as with all great detectives, obstacles stand in Nick’s way—the neighborhood bully and his cronies, and the strange old lady and her dog who share the run-down house at the end of Nick’s block. As Nick investigates, an urban legend unravels . . . .

The Legend of The Pumpkin Thief.

Nick fears the legend as he embarks on the most dangerous adventure of his young life. Collecting clues, getting ever closer to the true nature of evil, he learns that curiosity comes with a high price.


"Charles Day's The Legend of the Pumpkin Thief should be every Halloween-crazy kid's favorite book--and a lot of us adults will love this wonderful tale as well. Part mystery, part fantasy, and part perfect Halloween scary story, it all adds up to 100% sheer delight. Bravo to intrepid young detective Nick, that black-suited Pumpkin Thief, and Charles Day for putting them together in this sweet-'n'-spooky novella."
~Lisa Morton, four-time Bram Stoker Award winner and author of The Halloween Encyclopedia.


Excerpt


Chapter One

Nick sniffed the cold air that had started to settle in and around Chesterville, New York, his quaint, upstate hometown located in the Catskill Mountains. Halloween was one day away, a Friday this year. Nick looked forward to the holiday, one of his favorites, next to Christmas, of course. However, today he had something he enjoyed even better: a great mystery.

Nick flipped through the final pages of yet another mystery novel that fed his mind with exciting characters and great plots. As he sat in bed with his new favorite book held in his sweaty palms, the earth could have exploded into smithereens, his house pulled from its foundation by a tornado—it didn't matter what catastrophe might occur at this moment; Nick found himself fully immersed in the final chapter with his favorite characters.

He loved stories about missing people, crazed or degenerate criminals intent on doing their victims harm, or a detective two clues away from capturing his suspects.

Although he was only twelve, Nick had already completed a good number of mystery novels in his short life. He kept his own personal collection in a large cardboard box on a shelf in his closet, safe above wooden hangers holding football jerseys, dyed T-shirts, and ripped blue jeans, and he was about to add this latest mystery to his library. Just a few pages to go and he would know what these characters were up to … until he heard a voice from downstairs.

"Nicky, time for dinner! I'm not going to call you again," his mother yelled up the stairs, apparently for the second time. Yes, nothing interrupted his concentration when he neared the end of a good mystery book—except his mom, with her threatening voice.

Nick's mother was not unlike other mothers in the neighborhood. He had some friends whose moms were the same when it came to gathering their families for dinner, but tonight was not the night. He wanted to finish the final pages before stepping back into reality.

"I'll be down in a minute, Ma!" Nick screamed back, but his eyes still focused on the book. Sure, he knew he'd be in trouble if he didn't heed her call. Dad would eventually come upstairs and yell at him for not showing up at the table on time. So he bookmarked the page, took a quick peek at himself in the mirror on his way out of his room, admired the short blond hair, blue eyes, and thin physique—still looking good, guy—then quickly ran downstairs to join his family.

As Nick walked into the dining room, he saw Samantha, his younger sister, still ten but going on sixteen, already seated at the table with a generous portion of meat and potatoes
falling over the edge of her plate. Her dark hair, pulled up into pigtails, bobbed as she inhaled the aromas. And, coming out from the kitchen with freshly baked dinner rolls, was Mom.

"Sit down, Nicky," Mom said, passing him by while the smell from those warm rolls filled his nostrils and made his mouth water.

As Nick suspected, Mom, adorned in a silk blouse, yellow skirt, and high heels, was dressed as if she'd just stepped out of one of those beauty magazines scattered about the house. However, he focused on those dinner rolls she'd placed on the table. He had to have one. As he went to grab a roll, Samantha's annoying voice short-circuited his growing appetite to savor the warm goodness.

"Glad you could make it, snot-face," she said, smiling at Nick.

There she was, in all her glory, his pigtailed brat of a sister.

Nick's appetite suddenly disappeared. He stared at Samantha, who continued to smile, and wondered how … how he could make his sister's life miserable at that very moment.

"That's it, sis. Fill up on all that food you got there on your plate so you can keep getting nice and fat, because—"

"Ma!" Samantha yelled.

"Knock it off, Nicholas. Leave your sister alone and let her eat," Mom said.

Of course, Samantha screaming was always his fault. Whether or not his sister was wrong didn't matter; it seemed that he'd be the guilty one. In fact, Nick knew that even if she stood on the dinner table and kicked the plates full of food to the floor, with his parents witnessing the whole event, he'd still be the guilty one, accused of making her do it.

"Yeah, okay … I know it's my fault. Even though she called me snot-face, I'm the one who's guilty." Nick gestured, using his hands to show his frustration. "Whatever."

Nick watched his father come in while he argued.

"I don't care much who's at fault; what I want is for everyone to stifle it and eat your food … understood?" He sat down at the head of the table.

"Ma, have a seat and join us." He looked to his left. "Nick and Samantha, not another word out of you two, or you're both grounded."

That's what Nick wanted to hear—fairness. His dad was harsh when it came to disciplinary things, but he also was fair. Nick could reason with him on occasion, and he liked that.

"Oh, by the way," his father said, looking confused, "I was coming in from the rain and noticed the jack-o'-lantern on the steps out front is missing. Anybody know where it went?"

He knew his dad wanted an answer from him, by the stare he sent deep into Nick's eyes. The Stare of Death!

Nick felt singled out again. Sure, Dad, blame it on me. Score another win for Sam.

Nick heard the drops of water as they exploded on the roof. Loud tapping sounded against the windows from the windswept rain. Halloween is tomorrow. Maybe one of the local punks in the neighborhood took it to use as a flying projectile. I don’t know.

Nick figured that since eggs were hard to come by on Halloween, especially for kids his age, it had to be a teenager who'd stolen their pumpkin to toss around instead. That would make a nice mess on some unsuspecting neighbor's driveway.

Then it hit him. Here was his chance to find out who may have taken the carved-out pumpkin and, just maybe, assist in the apprehension of the punk. After eating most of his dinner, Nick excused himself from the table and ran up to his room to gather a few items.

He shut his door, surprised his parents didn't question his early departure from their nightly dinner ritual. Not even an evil eye glanced his way from his mom. That had certainly made him feel better. No need to get on Mom's bad side.

There was another good reason to venture out and start his investigation: to be far away from his sister.

She was trouble.

Besides, there was a mystery to solve, the case of the missing pumpkin, and he figured he'd start by checking to see if any of his neighbors were missing their pumpkins.

The new mystery reminded him of the stories he'd heard among his classmates: the urban legend of the Pumpkin Thief. He'd cut out an article about this legend from the school's newsletter a few years ago, when he'd first heard the story, intrigued by the creepiness of it all.

Nick wanted to read the article again. He went to his desk and rummaged through his stack of papers until he located the piece of tattered print, written by some kid, a Jeffery Beamer, in the Journalism Club. He'd certainly done his research on the urban legend. Nick re-read the whole thing while standing.

"Legend of the Pumpkin Thief, by Jeffery Beamer.

"One thing that truly amazes me is urban legends. I've heard a few good ones over the years, some from watching TV, others from Googling urban legends. So when some of my older friends in school shared with me the Pumpkin Thief legend, I just had to do a little bit of research. And this is what I found.

" Legend has it that around Halloween, this evil creature, the Pumpkin Thief—a tall, green-bean-thin figure in a black suit and large, orange tie, with a massive orange pumpkin for a head and carved-out eyes, nose, and jagged mouth—would sneak into a town of his choosing and snatch up the pumpkins at night. He'd collect as many as he could hold, then he'd carry them away to a secret location.

"Why did he snatch up all the pumpkins? Well, my dear readers, folklore said it had to do with him trying to stop the townsfolk from using them to ward off evil spirits. You see, without the pumpkins to protect their homes, they were prey to all the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins that float around on Halloween, having fun on the one night when they get to celebrate all things horror. They run amok and frighten trick-or-treaters. It's their night, and the Pumpkin Thief does what he can to allow them to have fun on this special night.

"Now, although the urban legend has been discredited, I was able to retrieve some stories from people who said they have evidence that he is indeed real.

"It appears that a few local towns had confirmed that this Pumpkin Thief visited them. They had their pumpkins stolen, and on Halloween night, weird things happened to a few of the townsfolk. Some said they saw ghosts peering into their homes through the windows. One person claimed that floating chased about his bedroom Another said his doorbell kept ringing, but no one was there. I even found a few photos from a nearby town that showed strange, large, orb-type lights floating above their homes on Halloween night.

Of course, experts discredited these allegations. It seems no one had concrete evidence of a Pumpkin Thief caught red-handed grabbing pumpkins; nonetheless, the legend continues. Which town will be next?

Nick stopped reading. He had enough to go on. One missing pumpkin certainly did not qualify as a visit from the Pumpkin Thief. But it was kind of cool, getting all worked up the night before the holiday, a special holiday devoted to celebrating evil and dead things. And the article intrigued him. Maybe I should look into this some more, find out who else might have been visited by this legend since Jeffery wrote the article. I need to track down this kid. I'm sure he's got more to tell.

He replaced the article on the pile of papers and went to pack his jacket pockets with all the detective tools he'd need for tonight: a flashlight, cell phone, and a small pair of binoculars. Those were all he had, so far. He'd ordered some other items out of one of his detective comic books, but they hadn't shipped yet. He loved all the detective gadgetry!

He knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. He wanted to be a detective with the police department. He wasn’t sure how to get there, but between his parents, teachers, and those guidance counselors they had in the big high school he’d be eventually attending, he’d find his way. Once he had the title of detective, and access to all that high-tech gadgetry he'd seen on his favorite TV shows, he'd be happier than an ant in a picnic basket.

And now that his family's pumpkin had gone missing, most likely stolen, he’d been given the perfect opportunity for an early taste of detective work. Just the thought of it excited him as he began preparations for tonight's quick investigation.

Nick sat on his bed for a moment longer, still imagining how, one day, he'd succeed at what he wanted to do. Detective work. The girl. The cars. The life.

Nick had to stop thinking so much about the future and instead concentrate on solving the mystery afoot. He already had an idea about who may have put their grubby hands on his pumpkin. Lou, the bully of his neighborhood! He stood and walked out of his room, closing the door behind him, then to the top of the stairs. But when he approached the top step, he saw his evil little sibling with the pigtails at the bottom, looking straight up at him.

Samantha put both hands on her hips and smiled. "Where are you going? I'm telling."

"You've got to be kidding me, Sam. What is your problem? You're ten, but sometimes you act like a spoiled baby. Do you really hate me that much?"

Nick hoped a little guilt would soften his sister up, and possibly keep her from saying anything to their parents. She seemed to have a relentless desire to make his life a living mess.

For real.

"You're playing stupid detective again, right?" She smiled, her arms folded. "Well, you're going to need me if you want to solve a mystery because I know how to be a real detective." She continued to smile while blocking Nick's exit.

He knew her motive. She wanted to follow her big brother through a night of detective work, a complete gathering of clues, and hopefully witness a crime get solved through the quick actions of her detective brother.

He also figured she'd tell all her friends that her older brother could solve any crime that dared to enter her neighborhood. He could see it in her eyes. "Yeah, sure. Get your coat and let's go. It's getting dark out."

Nick wasn't the least bit happy about having to drag Samantha along, but he didn't want her telling her friends and their parents any lies about his motives. Besides, she might be able to help keep an eye on things.

***

Nick and Samantha left the house together, first telling his parents he was taking his sister across the street to his friend's house. He knew they would've noticed Samantha missing, with her always under their feet.

As they crossed the street, Nick took out his flashlight. He directed its yellow beam to his neighbors’ stoops and porches in search of pumpkins. He pointed the light at each home, every porch that may have displayed a pumpkin, as he walked farther down his street, Samantha by his side.

He was having trouble getting a clear view. Although the rain had stopped, a misty fog had taken over, reflecting the beam of his flashlight back into his eyes. That made it difficult for him to check for pumpkins, even with some porch lights on. But as far as he could tell, none of the houses had any pumpkins on their porches, either. That bothered him.

Eventually he made it to the last house on the left, the home of Mrs. Needlewhitter, an eighty-seven-year-old widow who hated children. Nick knew she was a mean old lady, and he usually did his best to steer clear of her. Tonight was different. He needed to check her porch, just like he'd checked the others.

Nick slowly approached the gate, then jumped back in sheer fright, pulling his sister to the ground with him. Baxter, the old lady's German Shepherd, slammed up against the fence, barking, snarling, and showing off his white canines.

Samantha cried and screamed, "I want to go home!"

Her loud voice made the dog bark even more.

"Come on, sis, let's go. He can't hurt you. He's behind the fence," Nick said, lifting her up off the wet grass that left a fresh, green stain on the knees of her white pants. He shined his flashlight on Mrs. Needlewhitter's porch, noticing a few smashed pumpkins by her bottom stoop.

Could that be it? Had he found the culprit? An eighty-seven-year-old, half-crippled, almost blind, gray-haired … pumpkin thief?

Baxter stood on his hind legs, his massive front paws hanging over the top of the gate, snarling and barking at Nick as he came closer for a better look. He shined his flashlight in Baxter's eyes, turning them red as blood, reminding him of a movie he'd seen last week on the Chiller Channel about this dog gone bad, evil incarnate, determined to do harm to those who'd messed with him while he was still a pup.

Nick shook this thought from his head and, instead, focused his attention on the front porch.

The porch light turned on.

"What's going on out there, Baxter boy? You see trespassers, is that it?" Mrs. Needlewhitter yelled through the screen door. "Get 'em, boy. Rip ’em to shreds. Dirty rat punks."

Nick couldn't understand why she said what she did, but he wasn't waiting around to find out what would happen next. He grabbed hold of his sister and ran across the street, not looking back as they sprinted home. He still heard the old lady's dog, barking in the distance.

When they reached their house, Nick walked his sister up the front porch steps, and then opened the door. He gave his tearful sister a nudge inside. "Go, and don't say a word to Mom or Dad, you hear?"

She didn't look back or reply as she walked indoors.

He quickly shut the door, then sat down on his front steps to think of what he needed to do next. He'd found a few broken and smashed pumpkins, and Mrs. Needlewhitter might just be the pumpkin culprit, but why?

How?

How could she manage to sneak around and grab all those pumpkins? Or could this be the work of Lou, the bully? Or worse. Has the Pumpkin Thief chosen this town for this Halloween? My town? Now Nick had even more reason to find this Jeffery Beamer.

In the interim, Nick knew he had to gather some evidence, so he thought up a plan, a great plan on how he'd get closer to those pumpkins scattered about Mrs. Needlewhitter’s yard. This was going to be his first real detective work, and he knew deep inside that he was so ready to accomplish the task.



Charles Day is the Horror Writer Association's Mentor Program Chairperson, Co­-Chair for the NY/LI Chapter, and a member of the HWA Library committee. He is also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association, the American Library Association, and the Young Adult Library Services Association.

He is also the Bram Stoker Award® nominated author of the YA novel, THE LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF. He’s also published his first adult novel DEEP WITHIN and the first book in his Adventures of Kyle McGerrt trilogy, a YA western heroic fantasy, THE HUNT FOR THE GHOULISH BARTENDER, and his first co­authored novel with Mark Taylor, REDEMPTION

His forthcoming publications and projects in development for 2014 include a comic book series
based on the ADVENTURES OF KYLE McGERRT trilogy, his first middle­ grade series, THE
UNDERDWELLERS, and his third YA novel, IMMORTAL FAMILY.

On the publishing business side of things, Charles is the owner of Day Media and Publishing in New York, which houses the successful imprints, Evil Jester Press, Evil Jester Comics, and Hidden Thoughts Press (mental wellness collections,)

He’s also an artist and illustrator, who is passionate about creating the many characters he’s brought to life in his published, or soon to be published works. You can find out more about his upcoming writing projects, check out his illustrations and art, or find out what he’s cooking up next with that evil dude­in­the­box, the evil Jester, by visiting his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/charles.day.92

A quick note from the author:
As the townsfolk sleep, something creeps into the neighborhood. Hidden in shadows, its presence is as old as time itself, its intent not born of goodness. Nick, a teenager who fancies himself a detective, wakes to find his carved masterpiece missing. Now a mystery is afoot, and Nick has his first assignment, to find out who or what is snatching up the town’s pumpkins and why. Unfortunately, as with all great detectives, obstacles stand in Nick’s way—the neighborhood bully and his cronies, and the strange old lady and her dog who share the run-down house at the end of Nick’s block. As Nick investigates, an urban legend unravels . . . . The Legend of The Pumpkin Thief. Nick fears the legend as he embarks on the most dangerous adventure of his young life. Collecting clues, getting ever closer to the true nature of evil, he learns that curiosity comes with a high price.

When I fist saw the cover, I was blown away at just how cool and creepy it was. I mean, it's almost identical to the vision I had of the evil legendary character who shows up and a new town every year for Halloween. As an artist myself, I really dig all the colors and inks. Kudos and congrats to the artist. You rock, buddy. 



3 winners will receive an eGalley of THE LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF. International.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: Undertow by Michael Buckley

Title: Undertow
Author: Michael Buckley
Genre: Sci-fi/ Action Adventure
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
Stars: 5 Stars


Undertow by Michael Buckley
Amazon Book Depository | Barns & Noble | Houghton Mifflin Harcour | Books.A.Millon | Goodreads
Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s only hope of survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen.

Action, suspense, and romance whirlpool dangerously in this cinematic saga, a blend of District 9 and The Outsiders.

My Review


Buckley slayed it, killed it, nailed it, caught it on fire and then dragged it to the bottom of the ocean. Okay, maybe I took it too far, but he blew me away with this one! I seriously have never read anything, ANYTHING, like this novel before. Yes, sure there have been plenty of other mermaidish stories out there, but Buckley took this one to a whole new level. He completely created his own unique species with a whole new world and culture for his readers to dive into. Along with his stunning writing style, fun characters, and gripping story line.

Buckley's amazing story line and creativity really shined in this one. I way very impressed with how much work Buckley must have put into his plot line because it truly showed. He blew me away with his unique species of merpeople, their culture, language, and governing system. By creating this Buckley made this such a fascinating world for his readers to dive into, which made this book so much more enjoyable for me. I loved it! Absolutely mind-blowing! Buckley also fabricated suspense by having a shaky relationship between the human population of Coney Island and the merpeople. He also added more by having tensions rise within the merpeople's clan too. I also thoroughly enjoyed the romance in this one. I ship Fathom and Lyric so hard, it's not even funny! And finally I also enjoyed all the plot-twists Buckley had put into to this one. Just when I thought I knew where things were going, he completely flipped everything on it's head. It was breath-taking!

Another part of the story line that I loved where the characters Buckley incorporated into this one. Lyric was such a dependable and reliable main characters, who was very independent and mature. But she also had a dark past; which today's teen readers can relate too very well. I also love reading about Fathom and learning about his unique culture and way of life as a merperson, and it was amazing to see these in action too. I also loved all the minor characters he packed into this one too, each one brought something wonderful to this story, and it was incredible to see what unfolded with each new character.  And Buckley really brought these characters to life through his imaginative and almost poetic writing style, I've never encountered anyone with a writing style like his before.

With all these factors, Buckley has masterfully captivated his readers, and has taken them on an unforgettable journey. I loved this read so much, and I'm so glad I picked it up when I did. I don't regret it. With creative circumstances, a gripping story line, a stunning writing-style, and fun characters, Buckley has captured my attention. I won't be forgetting this one anytime soon! And I have a feeling that many others won't be forgetting either.

My Posts about Undertow...



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Friday Cover Reveal: Immortal by Nicole Conway


Today Nicole Conway and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for IMMORTAL, the final book in the Dragonrider Chronicles which releases November 8, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!

A quick note from the author:

This book marks the end of the first Dragonrider series, and I couldn't imagine a better cover to go with it. It's a darker but beautiful reflection of the first book's cover, just as the war has changed Jaevid from an innocent boy to a man chosen by destiny and driven to do what is necessary to save his loved ones. To be honest, I had mixed feelings as I put the final touches on this book. I'm filled with hope for the next series, confidence that my readers will enjoy it as much as they have the first one, but also sadness to see this one come to a close. It's like saying goodbye to an old friend, knowing you'll see them again someday.

On to the reveal! 




Title: IMMORTAL (Dragonriders Chronicles#4)
Author: Nicole Conway
Pub. Date: November 8, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | TBD | Goodreads


Destiny has called.

With Jaevid Broadfeather forever lost to the depths of Luntharda, Felix Farrow struggles to stand on his own. He begins a violent downward spiral which causes him to abandon his post as a dragonrider, hiding in the halls of his family estate. His one hope for redemption lies within the heart of someone from his past—and the very last person he ever wanted to see again.

And now the time has finally come.

Hovrid, who has ruled Maldobar as a tyrannical imposter, is preparing to make a decisive assault against Luntharda that will destroy what remains of the elven race. Only Jaevid, Felix, and their trusted friends are able to stand in his way. They have only one chance to end the war, and only one hope to absolve the curse that threatens to destroy their world. The stage is set. The plan is in motion.


What began as one boy’s adventure will now end in blood.


Excerpt


PART ONE

FELIX

ONE

I lost Jaevid and Mavrik in the fray almost immediately.

In front of me, my riding partner, Lieutenant Darion Prax, was leaning into his dragon’s speed as we made our final approach. Behind me, a dozen more riders were following us in. Below me, the city of Barrowton boiled with the fury of battle. Our lines of infantry were broken, but trying to reform. The gray elves fought like savages, wielding spears, bows, and scimitars. Some of them rode on the backs of jungle monsters, others were zipping around us through the sky on creatures called shrikes. Our natural enemies.

Prax gave me a few brisk hand signals, instructing me to move into place and get ready. I twisted my saddle handles slightly, applying a bit of pressure under the saddle. With a few heavy beats of her wings, my dragon caught up with him and flew right underneath him. Nova was a big girl, bigger than most male dragons twice her age. But what she lacked in speed she made up for in other ways—something the gray elves were about to figure out

first hand.

We dropped down lower. Arrows sailed past my helmet. One bounced off my breastplate and gave me a scare. I leaned down closer to Nova’s body for shelter from the hail of fire coming from below. Unlike most of the other dragons, gray elf arrows couldn’t pierce her thick hide.

I checked Prax out of the corner of my eye. He was giving me one finger and a closed fist. First target. Time to hit hard. I clenched my teeth and twisted the saddle handles, giving Nova the signal.


Prax and I dove as one, our dragons spiraling in unison towards the ground. We pulled out of the dive flying side-by-side, barely a hundred feet off the ground behind the enemy lines. I squeezed Nova’s sides with my boot heels, and I felt her take in a deep breath.

Together, our dragons showered the ground with a storm of their burning venom.

Gray elf warriors screamed. They fired at us with everything they had. But our rain of fire didn’t end until Nova had to stop for another breath.

We broke skyward and began preparing to make another coordinated pass.

But the second time wouldn’t be so easy. The trail of flames and burning corpses we’d left behind had gotten the attention of a few warriors on shrikes. I spotted four of them heading straight for us.

I gave Prax the news—we had company.

He quickly replied with a plan.

I was slower, so I was bound to be their first target. But that was fine; I was ready.

When his volley of arrows failed, the first gray elf rider had his shrike attack us outright. The bizarre creature was like a furious mirage of mirrored glass scales. It wrapped around Nova’s neck and started clawing at her eyes. Nova roared and slung her head back and forth. The shrike’s rider was twisting in his saddle, drawing another arrow that was aimed right at me.

“Better make that shot count,” I yelled and drew my sword.

Suddenly, Prax blurred past us.

There was a crunching sound and a shrike’s yelp of pain as his dragon got a tasty mouthful of the monster. I saw the gray elf rider fall from the saddle and begin to plummet toward the ground. A very small part of me felt bad for him. The rest of me still remembered he’d just tried to kill me.

Another shrike hit Nova. Then another. One was wrapped around her head again while the other hit much closer to the saddle—closer to me—right at the base of her tail. I twisted the one saddle handle I was still hanging onto and Nova pitched into a violent roll. She spun, getting faster and faster.

The shrike on her head lost his grip. He flew backwards, bouncing along her body and whooshing past me. One well aimed thrust of my sword made sure he wouldn’t be coming back around for a second try.

The last shrike and rider were a problem, though. She was trying to cut my saddle straps. Clever. Effective, too, if she managed it.

But I wasn’t about to give her that chance.

I sheathed my sword and twisted the handles again, hanging on for dear life. Nova snapped her wings in tight against her body and dropped from the sky like a giant, scaly stone. The further we fell, the faster we went. The wind howled past my helmet. The ground was getting closer and closer.

I bit back a curse and looked back. It was working. The shrike was losing his grip, sliding further away from me down Nova’s tail.

I squeezed my heels against her ribs.

Nova spat a burst of flame directly in front of us, and I hunkered down against her as she wrapped her wings around herself. Everything went dark. I could smell the acrid venom in the air. It made my eyes sting. I could feel the heat of the flames as I panted for breath.

Dragon venom is funny stuff. It’s sticky like sap and highly acidic. It’ll burn through just about anything—except a dragon’s own hide.

Nova flew through her own burst of flames, shielding me with her wings. When we came out the other side, she flared her wings wide and caught the air like a kite. Below us, a shrike-shaped fireball crashed into the ground.

Prax appeared next to us, giving me hand signals again. You okay?

I gave him a thumb’s up.

Good. Time for another pass.

*****

The battle was over.

The shouting voices and clashing blades had gone quiet. Now, there was only the crackling of the flames still smoldering in what was left of Barrowton. It was a wasteland – barely more than a charred crater littered with the bodies of the fallen.

Yet another ugly scar on Maldobar’s landscape.

We’d only just gotten back to the citadel at Northwatch—our little slice of paradise where the forces assigned to protecting the northern border were housed. Group after group of dragons and their riders continued to land on the platform and file into the tower. One hundred proud warriors had left to retake the city only a few days before. Less than forty of us returned.

Still, I was only looking for one.

“Where is he? Does anyone see him?!” I shouted at the top of my lungs and shoved my way through the other dragonriders. I called his name over and over, hoping to spot him or his blue dragon making their way down the corridor ahead of me. They must have fallen behind.

I searched every bloodied, war-beaten face that came walking in from the rain. Before I knew it, I was standing back at the open gateway that led out onto the platform.

Jaevid Broadfeather was nowhere to be found.

Someone grabbed my shoulder. A bolt of hope shot through me as I spun around, hoping to see him standing there.

It wasn’t him.

It was my riding partner, Lieutenant Prax, standing over me like a giant in blood-spattered battle armor. He was much older than I was and a far more seasoned rider. That’s why the look on his face absolutely terrified me.

“No one saw him or Jace depart with us.”

I was instantly sick. I couldn’t accept that. Jaevid wouldn’t just roll over and die—not this easily. We’d made it this far, gone through all of our dragonrider training together from beginning to end – so I knew he could fight. Sure, I’d teased him plenty about sucking at hand-to-hand combat, but I’d never met anyone faster or better with a blade. He was half gray elf, for crying out loud. Granted, he hid it well, but I knew he had that elven killer instinct buried down deep in his soul. I’d seen it surface once or twice before when someone pushed him too far.

I had to believe he was here somewhere. I just hadn’t found him yet.

I turned around with every intention of standing out on the platform in the driving rain until I saw him land. Boy, was he in for it. That little jerk should have known better than to pull a stunt like this after our first battle, the one time I hadn’t been standing right next to him while we did something ridiculously dangerous to make sure he didn’t get killed.

Prax grabbed my arm to stop me. There was no shaking off his grip. “We can’t go out there. They want the platform clear for the riders still landing. We’ll have to wait in the stable.”

I stole another glance out of the gateway. The skies were choked with rumbling black storm clouds and the rain was falling hard enough to obscure the city below. Every couple of minutes, the ominous, dark shape of a dragon appeared through the gloom, wings spread wide and legs outstretched to stick the landing. As they landed, infantrymen rushed out to help the riders dismount and escort them inside. Some of them had to be carried because of their injuries. Their cries of pain were drowned out by the sound of the thunder.

“Come on.” Prax shook me a little to break my trance. “You need to look after your lady. Then I’ll wait with you back at his stall.”

I didn’t like it. I wanted to be standing right here when Jae finally dared to show his face after making me stress out like this. But Prax was right. My dragon, Nova, was still dressed in her saddle and I needed to get her settled in before I did anything else.

The work was distracting. It kept me from staring at the gateway every single second while I unbuckled her saddle strap-by-strap and checked her over for injuries. Thankfully, she was unharmed. Her scales really were as strong as iron plates. And judging by a few nicks and scrapes I found around her chest and neck, that trait had saved her life more than once.

Once she was fed and nestled into a bed of hay for the night, I closed the door to her stall and immediately made a break for the platform. I had every intention of waiting there again. I didn’t make it there, though.

Everyone was waiting on me. The other surviving riders in Emerald Flight had gathered outside Nova’s stall.

“They still haven’t come back yet?” I looked at Prax, expecting an answer.

He didn’t have to give a verbal one. Once again, his expression said it all. Jaevid and his senior partner, Lieutenant Jace Rordin, still hadn’t returned.

So we waited.

Sitting outside Jaevid’s empty dragon stall, we watched the rest of our dragonrider brothers tending to their mounts like I had. It wasn’t looking good. The elves had made an impressive stand at Barrowton and our ranks had taken a beating. Less than half of us had returned and many of those were wounded or grounded because their mount had been injured. The riders landing now were barely able to limp in out of the rain. Some of them even had to be carried. I watched one rider who had to be dragged off the platform by the infantrymen. He was shouting like a madman, still crazed from battle. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying or why he was so upset until a big group of soldiers rushed past us to help restrain him. Then I heard why.

His dragon had managed to carry him back safely to the tower, but the creature had died on the platform shortly after.

The rider’s grief-stricken screams mingled with the constant rush of the rain. It was a sound I’d never forget.

I couldn’t watch anymore after that. I leaned against the stall door with my eyes closed, trying not to think about or imagine anything. Then, infantrymen rolled the iron grate down over the passage that led out onto the platform. It made an awful clanging sound.

That was it. The last of us who survived the battle had landed.

It was over. We all knew it, and yet none of us wanted to be the first to get up and leave.

It didn’t feel real. I didn’t want to believe it was. There had to be some kind of mistake. He was going to pull off another miracle, come wandering in with that weird, self-conscious smile on his face and start apologizing—he had to. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

“Jace was set on going head- to- head with that gray elf princess again.” Someone finally spoke up and broke the heavy silence. “He must’ve dragged Jaevid into it, too. Poor kid wouldn’t stand a chance in a skirmish like that.”

I pushed away from the door and started walking away. I didn’t want to hear this. I didn’t care how he died. He was gone. The how didn’t matter.

I thought I managed to get away without any of them following me. But I should’ve known better than to think Prax would let me go. I heard his heavy footsteps and the clinking of his armor as he fell in right behind me.

He waited until we were well away from the others, standing just inside the stairwell that spanned the full height of the fifty-story tower, to catch me by the shoulder. “I’m sorry, boy.”

“Sorry won’t bring my best friend back from the dead. Sorry never did anyone any good. It’s a waste of everyone’s time,” I snapped.

He let me go. I could see sympathy in his eyes as he stared down at me. It pissed me off. For a few seconds, neither of us said a word. Then he shook his head. “We’ve all lost someone today, Felix. Every last one of us. So go do whatever you have to do. Work it out. Then clean up your armor and get ready again. You and I are some of the few who are still battle-ready.”

I already felt like a total failure for letting my best friend down. I’d let him die alone in battle. And now I felt worse knowing I’d offended Prax, although there wasn’t a lot I wanted to do about it right now. All I knew was that my insides hurt. I couldn’t think beyond the rage that was burning in my body like hellfire. I could practically taste the flames crackling over my tongue. I needed a way to let it out.

****

Three days. That’s how long it took Prax to resurface and try talking to me again.

I knew he’d be coming. I was already on borrowed time. At any given moment, orders could come down and I’d be sent back to the battlefront somewhere to kill more elves in the name of peace and justice. A bunch of crap, really. Neither existed in my world.

My knuckles were bleeding through the strips of bandages I’d wrapped them in. It probably had something to do with me facing off with a sparring bag every day at dawn, pounding at it with all my strength until I was too weak to stand. I didn’t stop to eat and sleeping was totally out of the question so I didn’t even bother trying.

Honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. I was asking myself a lot of hard questions while whaling against the sand-filled training bag, and most of those questions I no longer had an answer for.

Why was I here? Punch. What was this all for? Punch. Could I even justify not being at my estate now? Punch.

“Felix.” Prax’s voice interrupted the rhythm of my internal interrogation.

I stopped and let my arms drop. They were so numb I couldn’t even feel my fingers anymore. I turned around, wiping away the sweat that was dripping into my eyes.

I expected to see Prax there, giving me one of those cautious, sympathetic gazes. But I hadn’t expected to see the guy next to him. I didn’t know him. Rather, I’d never laid eyes on him before. But I knew right away who he must be.

Jae had never been all that chatty when it came to his family. I could sympathize. My own family life hadn’t been great, but it didn’t hold a candle to what I suspected Jae had put up with.

When we’d first met, he looked like a pulverized, half-starved puppy. Some of the other guys training with us liked to pick on him because he was one heck of an easy target—but they weren’t the cause of all those bruises. Some of those marks had been older. Much older. He’d gotten them long before he’d darkened the door of the dragonrider academy. So I went out of my way to ask Sile about them. Needless to say, the answer had been unsavory.

My father had never beaten me, even when I probably deserved it. He didn’t have the strength or the audacity. He popped me across the cheek a few times for mouthing off, sure, but that was more embarrassing than anything else.

Jae, though? He probably weighed eighty pounds soaking wet when we first met. And that father of his had been beating him mercilessly for years, according to Sile.

Now I was looking at the one person who should have stuck up for the little guy whenever his dad decided to use him like a doormat. I knew this had to be his older brother. The family resemblance was strong, even if this guy wasn’t a half elf like Jae. Same piercing eyes. Same strong jawline.

“Roland, I presume?” I glanced him up and down. He was taller than me, unsurprisingly. Chalk that up to yet another Broadfeather family trait. “You look like hell.”

It wasn’t an insult. He really did look awful. His right arm was sealed in a plaster cast all the way up to his shoulder and he had bloody bandages wrapped around a wound on his head. He was obviously one of the lucky infantrymen who made it back to the citadel from Barrowton—the uniform tipped me off. Except for the stubble on his chin, he looked so much like Jae it would make anyone stop and take a second look. Granted, this guy had a lot more muscle to throw around, but he had the same piercing eyes, squared jaw, and high cheekbones.

“I don’t believe we’ve met.” He was looking at me cautiously. I suspected being in the dragonrider quarters was making him uneasy. Infantrymen weren’t supposed to be up here.

“We haven’t,” I replied. I left it at that, hoping Prax would take the hint that I wasn’t really up for a heart-to-heart discussion with this guy.

I walked past them to a corner of the sparring room where I’d stashed a few of my things, including a towel to wipe myself off with. I could hear them both following me.

“Colonel Bragg has issued his official statement. Medics swept the battlefield at Barrowton looking for any remaining survivors and taking record of the dead,” Prax spoke up.

I stopped. All the little prickly hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “And?”

“They never found his body—or Jace’s for that matter. But his dragon was sighted in the area with an empty saddle,” he answered quietly. “Some of the other riders report having seen them engaging the gray elf princess in aerial combat. They saw her shoot Jace’s mount down. Jaevid was right on his tail, so . . . we can only assume . . .”

“—That he’s dead. Yep. Thanks. Figured that much out on my own, you know, when he didn’t come back.” I scowled at them both, hoping it would be enough to stop this conversation from going any further.

It wasn’t.

Prax turned his attention to the silent infantryman standing next to him. “We cleaned out their room. There wasn’t much left behind, but Jae’s brother here insisted you should have it.”

That’s when I noticed Roland was holding something. It was a mostly empty burlap sack. He held it out to me with a tense expression. “They tell me you two were close.”

I didn’t want to take it. Just the thought of seeing what was in there made me start to feel nauseated all over again. “Shouldn’t this be given to his family?”

“That’s why I’m giving it to you.” Roland fixed his gaze right on me. “I know how you must feel about me. And you’re right to despise me. I can only imagine the things Jaevid told you about me let alone the rest of our family. I won’t deny any of it. But I never laid a hand on him. Not even once.”

I snatched the bag away from him. “Some might argue that joining in and just standing by and watching it happen are basically the same thing.”

Roland hesitated. Slowly, his eyes moved down until he was staring at the floor. “We were both trapped in that house, both suffering at the hands of the same man. Jaevid never knew how many beatings I took for him, how many nights I would sleep by my bedroom door so I’d hear if Ulric went outside after him. My every waking thought was about how I could get out of there. But I couldn’t just run away and leave Jaevid there alone. I would have never done that to him. So I waited until Ulric came back from Blybrig and told us he’d been adopted by the dragonriders. Then I left.”

An uncomfortable silence settled over us. I’m sure Prax was learning a lot more about the Broadfeather family than he ever cared to. After a few seconds I cleared my throat, crammed the bag of Jae’s belongings under the rest of my gear, and nodded. “Actually, he didn’t talk about his family life much.”

“I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me,” Roland sighed. “I just thought, since you were closest with him, you ought to have what was left of his things. He’d probably want it that way. And considering the circumstances, I wanted to thank you in person.”

“Thank me?”

“Yes. I’m not trying to be condescending. But I am grateful that you were willing to step in and befriend him. Someone of your social standing—”

I stopped him right there. “That never had anything to do with it. It wasn’t charity.”

He nodded. “I understand. I’m just saying that there aren’t many others who would be willing to jeopardize their reputation. You’re a better man than most. And I want you to know I appreciate that.”

“Ah.” This was beginning to make me really uncomfortable. I began picking up my stuff and planning a quick exit.

“I also wanted to ask if there was anyone else we should inform,” Roland added, as I slung my bag of gear over my shoulder. “Did he ever mention having a lover?”

Once again, my body locked up involuntarily. I hadn’t even thought about her. Did she know? Who was I kidding . . . of course she didn’t know. I cursed under my breath and flashed Prax a telling glance. Someone was going to have to tell Beckah Derrick what had happened.

“I’m willing to do it,” Roland offered. I guess he could read my expressions well enough to tell what I was thinking.

I clenched my teeth. “No. I’ll do it. She should hear it from me. I’m the one she’ll blame.”

The trouble was, I didn’t know how I was going to find her. Beckah lurked on the edge of every battlefield, haunting our blind spots like some kind of avenging angel. To my knowledge, she’d been keeping her distance from the riders otherwise, which was smart since she was playing a dangerous game. Being the only female dragonrider wasn’t something to be proud of. It might earn her the hangman’s noose or the business end of a sword if anyone found out her real identity.

If anyone could actually catch her, that is. Being paired up with a king drake, the biggest and baddest of all the dragons in Maldobar, put her at a big advantage over the rest of us.

I had my work cut out for me. As soon as I managed to shake off the pity brigade, I headed straight for my room and started thinking of ways to get in contact with her. I didn’t know where she was hiding out between battles, though. Jae might have known, but if they had a secret lovey-dovey rendezvous spot, he’d never spoken a word about it to me. That sneaky devil.

I decided to look for clues when I got back to my room. I dumped out the burlap sack of his belongings onto my bed and began to look through them. There wasn’t much. It was mostly spare uniform pieces and a few bundles of letters tied together with twine. I hesitated to go through those because that kind of stuff was probably pretty personal. What right did I have to go digging around in his private life?

Then again, what did it matter now? And one of those letters might contain a clue about how to get in touch with Beckah.

Hesitantly, I untied one of the bundles and opened up a few of the letters. None of them were helpful, really, and going through them gave me an eerie feeling. It just felt wrong.

Finally, I came to one that looked like it hadn’t been opened in a while. The address scribbled across the front said it was from Saltmarsh, a town down on the southern coast. I’d never been there, never had a reason to. It was a port city, home to mostly fisherman and hired hands looking for shifts on the merchant ships that came and went from the harbor.

Seeing that address struck a chord in my memory. Jae had mentioned to me before that Beckah and the rest of her family lived there. He’d visited them before the start of our avian year. When I opened up the letter, I found only one line scribbled inside. There wasn’t a signature, either. Just two initials:

— B. D.

They had to be Beckah’s.

I knew she wouldn’t be there. It was a long flight between Saltmarsh and Northwatch, too long for her to be going back and forth every time there was a battle. Heck, I couldn’t even be sure her family still lived at that address, either. Sile struck me as kind of a shady character, like he had something to hide. He might just pick up and leave without saying anything. But this was the best lead I had. I was going to have to start there and hope for the best.

I lit a candle and took out a few sheets of fresh paper. I wrote three letters. The first one was to Sile Derrick, letting him know what happened and where he could find me. The second one was to my commanding officer, Colonel Bragg, who was in charge of all the dragonriders here at the citadel.

And the last one . . . was to my mom.


About Nicole: 
Nicole is the author of the children’s fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. Originally from a small town in North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s
career as a pilot for the United States Air Force. She received a B.A. in English from Auburn University, and will soon attend graduate school. She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time
occupation.

Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She lives at home with her husband, two cats, and dog.




Giveaway Details:
3 winners will receive the complete series (in eBook format) of the DRAGONRIDERS CHRONICLES including an eGalley of IMMORTAL. International.


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Monday, September 5, 2016

Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kindcaid

Title: The Diabolic
Author: S.J. Kincaid
Genre: Sci-fi/ Action
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
Stars: 5 Stars

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
Amazon  | Barns & Noble | Simon & Schuster | Books.A.Millon | Goodreads
A Diabolic is ruthless. 
A Diabolic is powerful.
 A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.

But, nothing can prepare you for Nemesis.


My Review


(ARC Review: Only my opinions and reactions from the book as a whole will be revealed. I will not be discussing any major plot points, or spoils.)

Let me just start off by saying that this book was so unique and out of this world exhilarating! Seriously, I can't get over it! It's where the genetic modifications of Maximum Ride, meets the harsh betrayal of Red Queen in space. Just as that sounds, it's full of unique plot twists and full of suspense. And speaking of plots, this one, I have never read anything like this before. It as so incredible! Kincaid truly out-did herself with this one, her passionate and imaginative writing style really made this one a refreshing read. I also really enjoyed the characters thought this story, each had their own obstacles to overcome, and it was amazing to see Kincaid fit them all into a already dense plot line. I'd have to say Nemesis was my favorite. She was a reliable main character, readers learn how the Galactic court works just as she is, forming the critical bond. She is also a major bad ass; round-house kicking, punching, flipping, and killing when necessary. If I ever met her, I wouldn't want to get on her bad side. And finally, with an amazing plot, refreshing writing style, and amazing characters, there can't possibly be anything more to this book. Right? While think again, there's also an epic romance packing into this already full mix. And it's one you're not going to want to miss. The Diabolic is one read you're going to want to add to your TBR pile, pronto! I don't want you to miss it, because you will be missing out on one of my favorite sci-fi reads this year.

My Posts about The Diabolic...