Body in the Ballroom by RJ Koreto

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The Body In The Ballroom by R.J. Koreto Banner

President Teddy Roosevelt’s daring daughter, Alice, leaps into action to exonerate a friend accused of poisoning a man just about everyone hated.

Alice Roosevelt, the brilliant, danger-loving daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, has already risked an assassin’s bullet to solve one murder. She never expected to have to sleuth another, but she’d never pass up the opportunity, either. Anything to stave off boredom.

And such an opportunity presents itself when Alice is invited to a lavish ball. The high-society guests are in high spirits as they imbibe the finest wines. But one man, detested by nearly all the partygoers, quaffs a decidedly deadlier cocktail. An African-American mechanic, who also happens to be a good friend of former Rough Rider-turned-Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, is suspected of the murder-by-poison, but Alice is sure he’s innocent and is back on the scene to clear his name.

From downtown betting parlors to uptown mansions, Alice and Agent St. Clair uncover forbidden romances and a financial deal that just might change the world. But neither Alice nor her would-be protector may survive the case at hand in The Body in the Ballroom, R. J. Koreto’s gripping second Alice Roosevelt mystery.

Alice Roosevelt and Joseph St. Clair are back in another romp of a mystery through the high society of New York in the early 20th century. Alice is as mischievous as ever and St. Clair his irascible self. This is shaping up to be a fun series. Recommended.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery

Published by: Crooked Lane Books

Publication Date: June 12th 2018

Number of Pages: 304

ISBN: 1683315774 (ISBN13: 9781683315773)

Series: Alice Roosevelt Mystery #2

Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

President Roosevelt and I were just finishing out talk when A moment later, the office door opened, and Mr. Wilkie, the Secret Service director, walked in. I stood to greet him.

“St. Clair. Glad to see you’re back. Very pleased with the way it went in St. Louis.” He turned to the president. “Have you spoken to him yet, sir?”

“Yes, and he’s agreed.” Wilkie looked relieved, too.

“Very good then. If you’re done, sir, I’ll take St. Clair to her. My understanding is that arrangements have been made for Miss Roosevelt to leave tomorrow afternoon.”

“Exactly. We’re all done then. St. Clair, thanks again. And I’ll be up in the near future, so I expect to see you again soon.” We shook hands, and I followed Mr. Wilkie out the door.

“Is she smoking on the roof again, sir?” I asked. That’s what happened the first time I met Alice in the White House.

He grimaced. “No. My understanding is that she is in the basement indulging a new hobby of hers. But you’ll see.” He led me downstairs, and that’s when I heard the unmistakable sounds of gunfire. Mr. Wilkie didn’t seem worried, however. “Miss Roosevelt somehow got hold of a pistol and has set up her own private firing range in a storage room. We launched an investigation to figure out how Miss Roosevelt obtained such a weapon but were unable to reach a formal conclusion, I’m sorry to say.”

No wonder they wanted me back.

And just as when Mr. Wilkie had sent me to get Alice off the roof, he once again cleaned his glasses on his handkerchief, shook my hand, wished me luck, and departed.

I heard one more shot, and that was it. She was probably reloading. The sound came from behind a double door at the end of the hallway. I carefully opened it, and she didn’t notice at first.

I watched her concentrating on the pistol, her tongue firmly between her teeth as she carefully focused on reloading. It was an old Smith & Wesson single-action, and she was damn lucky she hadn’t blown her own foot off. She was shooting at a mattress propped against the far wall, and from the wide scattering of holes, it was clear her marksmanship needed a lot of practice.

“A little more patience, Miss Alice. You’re jerking the trigger; that’s why you keep shooting wild. And that gun’s too big for you.”

It was a pleasure to see the look of shock and joy on her face. She just dropped the gun onto a box and practically skipped to me, giving me a girlish hug. “Mr. St. Clair, I have missed you.” She looked up. “And I know you have missed me. They say you’re back on duty with me. We’re heading to New York tomorrow, and we’ll have breakfast together like we used to and walk to the East Side through Central Park and visit your sister Mariah.”

I couldn’t do anything but laugh. “We’ll do all that, Miss Alice. But I’m on probation from your aunt, so we have to behave ourselves. You have to behave yourself.”

“I always behave.” She waved her hand to show that the discussion had ended. “Now there must be a trick to loading revolvers because it takes me forever.”

“I’ll teach you. Someday.” I made sure the revolver was unloaded and stuck it in my belt. Then I scooped up the cartridges and dumped them in my pocket.

“Hey, that’s my revolver,” said Alice. “It took me a lot of work to get it.”

“You’re not bringing it to New York, that’s for sure, Miss Alice.”

She pouted. “I thought you’d relax a little after being in St. Louis.”

“And I thought you’d grow up a little being in Washington. You want to walk into the Caledonia like a Wild West showgirl? Anyway, don’t you have some parties to go to up there?”

“Oh, very well. But promise me you’ll take me to a proper shooting range in New York and teach me how to load and fire your New Service revolver.”

“We’ll see. Meanwhile, if you don’t upset your family or Mr. Wilkie between now and our departure tomorrow, I’ll buy you a beer on the train.” That made her happy.

We walked upstairs as she filled me in on White House gossip.

“Oh, and I heard you were in a fast draw in St. Louis and gunned down four men.” She looked up at me curiously.

“A little exaggeration,” I said. I hadn’t killed anyone in St. Louis, hadn’t even fired my revolver, except for target practice.

“You didn’t kill anyone?” she asked, a little disappointed.

“No. No one.”

But then her face lit up. “Because your reputation proceeded you, and they knew there was no chance of outdrawing you.”

“That must be it,” I said.

“But look on the bright side,” she said, still full of cheer. “New York is a much bigger city. Maybe you’ll get a chance to shoot someone there.”

***

Excerpt from The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto. Copyright © 2018 by R.J. Koreto. Reproduced with permission from R.J. Koreto. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

R.J. Koreto

R.J. Koreto has been fascinated by turn-of-the-century New York ever since listening to his grandfather’s stories as a boy.

In his day job, he works as a business and financial journalist. Over the years, he’s been a magazine writer and editor, website manager, PR consultant, book author, and seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He’s a graduate of Vassar College, and like Alice Roosevelt, he was born and raised in New York.

He is the author of the Lady Frances Ffolkes and Alice Roosevelt mysteries. He has been published in both Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He also published a book on practice management for financial professionals.

With his wife and daughters, he divides his time between Rockland County, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Catch Up With R.J. Koreto On:
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In the Grip of It by Sheena Kamal

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In the Grip Of It by Sheena Kamal

On a surveillance assignment for a child custody case, PI-in-training Nora Watts finds herself ensconced in a small farming community on a beautiful hippie island in the Pacific Northwest, a place with a reputation for being welcoming to outsiders. But when she arrives there, she discovers her welcome quickly wears thin. Perhaps too quickly.

Salt Spring Island, with a history as a refuge for African Americans fleeing the bonds of slavery, is not a place of refuge for her—and, she suspects, may not be for the people who live there, either.

As she investigates, nothing about this remote community seems to add up. It gets personal as Nora confronts her own complicated feelings toward her estranged daughter and becomes increasingly concerned about the child she’s been tasked to surveil. She discovers that small, idyllic communities can hide very big secrets.

More of a novella than a full-length novel, In the Grip of It touches on a number of interesting and tension-bearing plot devices. There’s the custody angle, where one parent has made choices that affect the other parent’s ability to see his child; this one is blended with the cult angle, where the custodial parent has joined a “community” that is causing the visitation issues. Kamal also touches on integrated “haven” communities, alternative drug therapy, and even veganism. Everything, however, comes back to relationships, and Kamal does a good job of introducing a number of those throughout the mere 90 pages of this story.  The primary characters here, Nora and Leo, are smart and likable, but the story isn’t long enough to really get to know them. While I enjoyed In the Grip of It, I was left wanting more and really hoping the author will produce a full-length novel featuring Nora Watts.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller

Published by: Witness Impulse

Publication Date: May 15th 2018

Number of Pages: 96

ISBN: 0062879324 (ISBN13: 9780062879325)

Series: Nora Watts #1.5

Grab Your Copy of In the Grip Of It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Last week a man came into our PI office, looked around the shabby interior, frowned, and said, “I must have gotten the address wrong.”

“Depends,” I replied. “What are you looking for?”

“An investigator.”

“Nope, you’re in the right place,” I said, looking at his nice suit, shiny shoes, and expensive watch.

“Are you sure? Maybe I should come back later.”

He was clearly trying to make a graceful exit. Before the man could leave, I got up from behind my desk and opened the door to Leo Krushnik’s office. “Leo, there’s someone here to see you.”

“Well,” said the man, who was hesitating behind me, “I’m not really sure that this is the right fit for me.” He was trying to be diplomatic about the condition of our office and what it might say about his own level of desperation that he was here, but we weren’t about to let a potential client go without a fight. His level of desperation was no match for ours.

Leo Krushnik, the head of our little operation, walked around his desk and beamed at the man. “We’re the right fit for anybody,” he said, grasping the man’s hand and giving it a firm shake. “We prefer to keep our overhead low so that we can offer competitive rates to people who need our services, regardless of their personal incomes. Please, have a seat.”

The man sat, a little overwhelmed by Leo’s charm, which is considerable. That day Leo was dressed in linen pants and a simple cotton shirt, as a nod to the heat wave the city was experiencing. He could pull off this look as easily as he pulled off the lie about our rates. We keep our overhead low because this dump on Hastings Street, in the derelict Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, is all we can afford, but clients didn’t need to know that. And even I could admit that the “competitive rates” line sounded good—even true—coming from Leo.

“How can I help you?” Leo asked.

“My name is Ken Barnes, and I’m concerned about my son, Trevor. My ex-wife Cheyenne moved to Salt Spring last year with Trevor and I think she’s gotten into some kind of trouble there. She won’t bring him back to Vancouver and visitation has been difficult.”

Leo frowned. “Because they’re on an island?” Salt Spring wouldn’t be easy to ferry to and from on a regular basis.

“Yes, but that’s not the only reason. She keeps putting off my visits and it’s been difficult to arrange for Trevor to come into Vancouver. I think . . . I think she’s in some kind of cult, to be honest. They call it a commune, but you know those stories about Bountiful?”

“Yes,” said Leo. Everyone knew the stories about Bountiful, British Columbia, where fundamentalist polygamous communities live and proliferate seemingly freely.

“Well, I think it’s something like that. Cheyenne wants to be in some kind of crazy sex cult, sure. She’s not my wife anymore and I really don’t care what she does. But I’m fighting for custody of Trevor. I want him out of there.”

“And you need some ammo.” Leo looks up from his pad, where he’s been taking notes. “You’ve come to the right place, Ken. We’ve done surveillance work for many child-custody cases.” Another lie, but Ken didn’t notice. We’d only done a handful of those, but “many” is relative. “You understand that this won’t be cheap? We’ll have to get out to the island and spend some time gathering information.”

“That’s fine. There’s nothing I won’t pay to get my son out of there. Cheyenne, she . . . well, she struggled with depression and anxiety for years and she let a lot of toxic people into her life who fed on her struggles. It was like a sick downward spiral. When she started doing yoga and got certified as a teacher, I thought she’d changed. But I’m not sure anymore. I know this sounds terrible—I know it does—but I don’t trust her judgment about the people she lets into her life. Especially men.”

“She married you,” Leo said.

“I know, but this is the thing: it’s not about me and her anymore. We’re done. This is about Trevor—and me doing my part as a father, making sure he’s safe. That he has a good life. I just want results.”

“We can’t guarantee results.” This is the first time I’d spoken since the initial exchange. Ken Barnes’s startled gaze meets mine. He’d clearly forgotten I was there, which was not unusual. “Maybe it is a sex cult, maybe it isn’t. All we can do is take a look and document what we find.”

“I know that nothing is certain, but I know my son deserves a healthy, normal life. Whatever they’re doing on that island is not normal. It just isn’t. It’s one step away from homeschooling, and who’s to say they’re not making him do hard labor?”

What is normal, anyway? I didn’t ask Barnes for clarification. I just kept silent as Leo agreed to take his money in exchange for the work. Before he let Barnes go, he pulled him aside. “Nora’s right, Ken, about any sort of guarantee. But what I can say is that if there’s something to find, chances are we will get a sense of it.”

In the next few days, I started the file on Cheyenne Barnes and looked through the information Ken had provided us. “Cheyenne scrubbed her social-media profiles last year,” he explained to me, over the phone. “I thought she was punishing me by erasing the memories and keeping me away from what’s happening with my son, but now that I think about it, there’s something fishy about this whole thing.” So he kept saying.

Cheyenne is smiling in all the photos, and in every single one there is something wistful about her, a faraway look in her eyes. Something that suggests a romantic nature. She’s an instructor for hot yoga, which I thought was stretching for attractive people but later discovered is actually sweaty stretching. Who knew. She’d gone to Salt Spring Island two years ago to work at a yoga retreat and, according to Ken, never came back. She met a man there, a fellow yoga enthusiast, and rebuffed all of Ken’s attempts at reconciliation.
There is very little to be found on Cheyenne Barnes’s new man. He has no social-media profiles of his own, but I did find a picture of him on the Spring Love website. Some people are so attractive it’s almost surreal, and Vikram Sharma is one of them.

***

Excerpt from In the Grip Of It by Sheena Kamal. Copyright © 2018 by Sheena Kamal. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Sheena Kamal

SHEENA KAMAL holds an HBA in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness. Her debut novel, The Lost Ones was inspired by this and by Kamal’s most recent work as a researcher into crime and investigative journalism for the film and television industry.

Catch Up With Our Author On:
sheenakamal.com, Goodreads, & Facebook!

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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Sheena Kamal and WitnessImpulse. There will be 10 winners of one (1) print copy of Sheena Kamal’s THE LOST ONES. The giveaway begins on June 1, 2018 and runs through July 1, 2018. Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.

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Interview with Ruth Ware


westawayA few weeks ago, I reviewed The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Ruth Ware’s newest which just hit the streets. The folks over at Goodreads just posted an interview with Ware in which she talks about Mrs. Westaway. Check it out:

British author Ruth Ware keeps good company. Her mystery and thriller novels have been compared to Golden Age crime writers like Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and Dorothy L. Sayers. Her previous novels—The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark Wood, and The Lying Game—riff on classic mystery templates, with women who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Read more….

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

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37756654Read, remember, think.” These three words capture the very basic premise of Kate Morton’s newest story, and are especially important to two of our protagonists – Elodie the archivist and Lucy the Reader/Teacher/Collector/Thinker. The reading, remembering, and thinking these two do throughout this enchanting story are the Yin to the Yang of Birdie, the Clockmaker’s Daughter who narrates much of the story.

Morton is especially adept at time slip stories that feature multiple voices which, in less capable hands, can muddle the story. Here she tells the story of a fateful summer month in 1862 which touched multiple lives over the next 150 years, eventually coming to light at the hands of a 21st century archivist enchanted by a photo of an enigmatic beauty and a sketch of a house that she knows from a childhood story. That archivist, Elodie, is one of several narrators. Others include Birdie, the titular “Clockmaker’s Daughter” who truly is the heart of the story; Lucy, witness to the tragic events of 1862; Juliet, a journalist and young mother widowed during World War II; Leonard, a soldier haunted by war who first gives voice to Birdie; and Ada, a fiery young girl who will not give in to bullying. Morton swirls all of these voices together into a whirlpool of laughter, love, deception, and betrayal all centering on the house, Birchwood Manor.

It is Birchwood Manor that gathers the multiple story strands, beginning with the fateful summer of 1862 when artist Edward Radcliffe assembled a group of artists known as The Magenta Brotherhood to spend a glorious month creating art at the remote manor house.    In attendance is Radcliffe’s muse and model, with whom he intends to run away to America and marry. Over the course of a few hours, all their plans unravel, leaving one woman dead and another disappeared. The events of that day carry forward through generations, until Elodie discovers the photo of Birdie/Lily and Edward’s sketchbook, leading her to unravel the story.

Morton has a knack for bringing her characters to life, developing them in such a way that the reader laughs, cries, sighs, and grumbles through the story, feeling the feelings as deeply as the characters themselves. All of Morton’s books contains characters and stories like that, and she succeeds again here, building a story that you will remember for a long time.

My only complaint Here, and it’s a small one, happens midway through, when we get to a jarring, climactic scene with Ada which is never fully resolved or explained, at least not to my satisfaction. Despite this one issue, I found The Clockmaker’s Daughter to be just as lovely as Morton’s earlier work and highly recommend it.

Publication Date: September 9, 2018
Publisher: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Author Spotlight – Kate Morton


mortonDo you like secrets? Author Kate Morton is a master at telling tales that revolve around secrets. I found my way to Morton’s work with her second novel, The Forgotten Garden, which is one of those books that just transfixes you and everything else fades to gray while you read. After that, I went back and read her debut, The House at Riverton, and was just as enthralled; that experience has been repeated with each new book she’s published. Morton is set to publish her sixth book this year – September/October in Australia & New Zealand, and October in the U.S. I just got my hands on an advanced reading copy of that new book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, and thought I’d share my fondness for the author here.

On her website, Morton writes:

“I started writing because I wanted to recapture the joy of reading as a child. As soon as I learned that the black marks on white pages were doorways, and that it was within my power to go through them (and the back of a wardrobe) whenever I chose to, I was hooked. I read everything that I could get my hands on and could usually be found hiding in the bough of one of the avocado trees in our garden, book in hand. I’m still chasing that feeling of complete immersion, which makes the real world disappear.”

It seems Morton’s reading experiences as a child have informed her writing as an adult, given the addictive nature of her books. Storytelling is an art, and Kate Morton’s work is a masterful example of the art form at its best. Much of her work reminds me, in its basest form, of the Gothic novels I read when I was a child – Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, for example – but Morton has taken the form to a new level. Her stories are typically told across time and in multiple voices, with meticulously researched history, and memorable character development. I encourage you to add one of Morton’s books to your summer reading list.

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The House at Riverton – Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy this debut novel set in England after the First World War. The “war to end all wars” signaled a major change in the lives of England’s aristocracy, and Morton chronicles the trials and tribulations of one family buffeted and bound by secrets, tragedy, and misunderstanding.

 

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The Forgotten Garden – The first Morton book that hooked me on the author. A young woman comes into an unexpected and shocking inheritance from her beloved grandmother, and travels across the world to discover long-buried secrets that will change her life forever.

 

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The Distant Hours – A compelling story featuring a decaying manor in the English countryside, the trio of odd sisters who live there, and (of course) secrets from the past better left buried. This includes a fascinating look into the era when children were sent to the country from London to keep them safe from bombings during World War II.

 

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The Secret Keeper
– A young girl witness an unexplained act of violence involving her mother, which becomes a distant memory as she grows up. As an adult, that memory begins to haunt her as the family celebrates her mother’s 90th birthday.

 

 
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The Lake House
– Heartbreak and tragedy destroy a family in the early 1930s, then 70 years later, a burned out police inspector on a forced holiday picks up on a cold case and re-opens old wounds.

 

 

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter
– Scheduled for publication in the U.S. in October 2018. Murder, intrigue, art, tragedy – all these things coalesce during a heady summer in 1862, observed by the clockmaker’s daughter, whose voice carries over the decades to be heard once again by an archivist.

Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray

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On Tour May 7 – June 8, 2018

 

Synopsis:

Keep the Midnight by Alex Gray

When the body of a red-haired young man is washed up on the shore of the beautiful Isle of Mull, Detective Superintendent Lorimer’s tranquil holiday away from the gritty streets of Glasgow is rudely interrupted. The body has been bound with twine in a ghoulishly unnatural position and strongly reminds Lorimer of another murder: a twenty year old Glasgow case that he failed to solve as a newly fledged detective constable and which has haunted him ever since.

As local cop DI Stevie Crozier takes charge of the island murder investigation, Lorimer tries to avoid stepping on her toes. But as the similarities between the young man’s death and his cold case grow more obvious, Lorimer realises that there could be a serial killer on the loose after all these years. As the action switches dramatically between the Mull murder and the Glasgow cold case twenty years earlier, Lorimer tries desperately to catch a cold-hearted killer. Has someone got away with murder for decades?

This is the second DS Lorimer novel I’ve read recently and found it just as compelling and clever as the first. In this, we learn more about Lorimer’s early days as Glasgow police and the early, tragic days of his marriage. Gray does a fine job of filling out the reader’s view of Lorimer and his wife, and handles the heartbreak of lost babies and infertility with sensitivity. The mystery is well-plotted and paced, and thoroughly engaging. Recommended.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: Witness Impulse

Publication Date: May 8th 2018

Number of Pages: 368

ISBN: 9780062659286

Series: A DCI Lorimer Novel, #12 (Stand Alone)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble; | HarperCollins | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

They called it ‘the splash’; though the boat that crept silently, oars dipping lightly in and out of the water creating myriad bubbles of phosphorescence, made little sound at all. It was vital to keep quiet; the time for frightening the fish would not come until the net was properly laid across the mouth of the burn. After that the oars would be raised high and brought down with force, driving the sea trout from their shadowy lairs straight into the trap. It was illegal, of course, had been for decades, but that did not stop more intrepid poachers sneaking in at dead of night and lying in wait for the fish.

Unfair, unsporting, the fishery bodies claimed, though most folk here, on the island of Mull, recognised the thrill of rowing under the stars and risking some wrath from the law enforcers.

Ewan Angus Munro glanced back over his shoulder to see his son playing out the last of the splash net; the ancient cork floats now in a perfect arc across this narrow neck of water.

Young Ewan looked towards his father and nodded; the first part of the deed was done and now all that remained was to ensure that the fish would be scared out from their hiding places by the sudden noise of oars thrashing on the surface so that they would rush towards the net.

The old man turned the boat with an expertise that came from many years of practice, then headed back towards the shallow channel. He raised the oars, resting them in the rowlocks, water dripping like molten rain from their blades. The small craft was allowed to drift a little before Ewan Angus turned to his son again, the eye contact and nod a definite signal to begin the second stage of their night’s work.

Young Ewan Angus stood, legs apart, perfectly balanced in the centre of the boat, one oar raised high above his shoulder as the older man watched him, eyes full of approval. The boy had been given more than just his father’s names: his flair for the splash, too, had been passed down from father to son.

Across the marshy strand full of bog cotton and sweet-smelling myrtle sat a small white cottage. A swift glance showed him that there was no light on anywhere; the holiday folk were doubtless sound asleep, oblivious to the small drama being played out yards from their front door.

The sound of the splash seemed magnified as it disrupted the stillness, echoing over the bay. The young man heaved the oar again and again, each whack making his body stiffen with fear and a sort of bravado. If they were caught they’d lose both the net and the boat, a heavy price to pay for a night of fun and a good catch of sea trout, fish that fetched a decent price at the back doors of the best hotel kitchens.

Several times the boat was rowed up and down, followed by a series of splashes until the old man raised his callused hand to call a halt. Now it was time to wait and see if the fish had indeed been scared witless enough to swim towards their doom.

Once more the old man rowed along the line of corks, his son lifting the net to see if anything lingered below.

‘A beauty,’ the boy whispered, raising the net to reveal a good-sized sea trout struggling in the brown mesh.

‘Ten pounder at least!’ he went on, freeing the huge fish where its gills had caught and hurling it into a wooden box below his feet.

‘Be-wheesht and get the net up,’ his father hissed, though the grin on his face showed how pleased he was with their first catch of the night. The old man bent towards the struggling fish, his fist around the priest, a wooden club that had been in the family for generations. One swift blow and the fish lay lifeless in the box, its silvery scales gleaming in the night.

One by one, others joined the fated sea trout as the two men made their laborious way along the edge of the net.

‘My, a grand haul, the night, Faither,’ Young Ewan Angus exclaimed, his voice still hushed for fear of any sound carrying over the water.

‘Aye, no’ bad,’ his father agreed, a contented smile on his face. One of the middling fish would be wrapped in layers of bracken and left in the porch of Calum Mhor, the police sergeant. A wee thank you for turning his continual blind eye to the nocturnal activities taking place down the road from Craignure. Mrs Calum had guests staying and she’d be fair pleased to serve them a fresh sea trout for their dinner. It was universally acknowledged here on the island that the pink fish was far superior in flavour to the coarser salmon, particularly those that had been farmed.

‘My, here’s a big one!’

The young man staggered as he tried to haul in the final part of the splash net. ‘I can hardly lift it!’ he exclaimed.

‘Must be caught on a rock,’ the old man grumbled, his mouth twisting in a moue of disgust. If they had to tear the net to release it then it would take hours of work to mend, but the operation depended on being in and out of these waters as quickly as they could manage. Hanging about was not an option in case the Men from the Revenue had decided on a little night-time excursion of their own.

Suddenly the young man bent down in the boat, hands gripping the gunwales as he peered into the depths below.

His brow furrowed at the rounded mass swaying beneath the surface, rags of bladderwrack shifting back and forwards with the motion of the waves. Then, as his eyes focused on the ascending shape, Ewan Angus Munro saw pale tendrils that had once been fingers of flesh and one thin arm floating upwards.

He screamed, and covered his mouth as the sickness rose in his throat, then stumbled backwards. The boy flung out his arms, desperate to grasp hold of something solid to break his fall but all he felt under his hands were the wet bodies of slithering fish.

‘What the . ⁠. ⁠. ⁠?’ Ewan Angus turned, an oath dying on his lips as the boat rocked violently, small waves dashing over the bow.

Wordlessly, his son pointed to the waters below. Then, as the old man peered over the side of the boat, he saw the body rising to the surface, its passage out to sea impeded by their net.

***

Excerpt from Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray. Copyright © 2018 by Alex Gray. Reprinted by permission of Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Alex Gray

Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Strathclyde, she worked as a visiting officer for the Department of Health, a time she looks upon as postgraduate education since it proved a rich source of character studies. She then trained as a secondary school teacher of English.

Alex began writing professionally in 1993 and had immediate success with short stories, articles, and commissions for BBC radio programs. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.

A regular on the Scottish bestseller lists, she is the author of thirteen DCI Lorimer novels. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

Catch Up With Alex Gray On:
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May Micro-Reviews


28A02E25-07BA-4CBD-B1E0-6AEE24541D0DThe Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser – The Vanderbeeker kids are back in another charming story about generosity, being a good neighbor, and growing up. This is one of those gentle, feel-good stories where nothing much happens, except real life. The kids witness a beloved neighbor having a stroke, they struggle with their own emotions, and they learn that even kids who appear to have it all often don’t. The Vanderbeekers are definitely “free range” kids, and their adventures in their Harlem neighborhood are the stuff of dreams. The kids are all written beautifully and the family dynamics are definitely something to emulate. This is not a particularly special story in that it’s something “new” but it will be enjoyed by early to middle grade readers who just like to read about other kids.

Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

657A0259-7343-412B-A674-DF6D9DD31EA2In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey – Bailey checks all the boxes in this supernatural, psychological thriller of a book: a couple whose marriage is in trouble, a dead child, a mysterious English manor house, a spooky forest, intimidating & creepy manor staff, a past tragedy…and more. Charles, Erin & Lissa are the seemingly perfect family whose life is turned upside down by a truly horrible accident. The psychological strain of that experience coupled with the gothic-horror experience of Hollow House makes for a top-notch, nail-biting, check-under-the-bed thrilling novel. For fans of English folklore, horror, and suspense. Recommended.

Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

994C1041-BFDE-4E07-9D99-917BC0590A95Bluecrowne by Kate Milford – As a diehard Greenglass House fan, I eagerly anticipated this prequel to the series, and I am not disappointed. Kate Milford introduces us to a whole new cast of colorful characters who are every bit as entertaining, clever, and quirky as Milo and company. Lucy Bluecrowne is a character for the ages, and I look forward to following her adventures as she grows up. Liao and Xianming are also so intriguing that they deserve another book as well. Milford is well on her way to creating a world in Nagspeake that is every bit as magical and real as J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts. Her writing is full of lovely descriptions, clever and thoughtful dialogue, and plenty of mystery, suspense, action, adventure, and magic. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Childrens Books Group; Clarion Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

97EB1610-2008-4809-8637-BEB706E2DBEF Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster by Brian Regan – It seems that creating monsters to distract people from real issues is not something unique to 21st century politics. As a longtime but amateur student of cryptozoology, I am always open to reading new accounts of legends and monsters, so I was eager to learn more about the infamous Jersey Devil. The origin story of Mother Leeds giving birth to an evil, horrifying “monster” that flew up the chimney certainly has its roots in European folklore and fairytales. Those tales were often created to make people do things – e.g. Peg Powler and Jenny Greenteeth were invented to keep children away from rivers and streams, thereby keeping them safe from drowning. In this book, Regal and Esposito take the Jersey Devil out of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and link it to political intrigue and opinion-shaping. What better way to get people to do what you want than to scare the crap out of them? I suppose it’s somewhat comforting to know that such political maneuvering has been going on for hundreds of years without the world ending, which suggests that the current version of the Jersey Devil (immigrants/Muslims) will eventually be replaced with something else. This is not light reading, however, so I will recommend for those who enjoy non-fiction related to politics and history.

Publication Date: March 1, 2018
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

06FD49B1-679B-46B2-80F7-D50D936D72F1Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – Leonardo da Vinci has always fascinated me, so this new biography of possibly one of the greatest humans ever to live was something I had to read.  Isaacson delivers a well-crafted look not only into da Vinci’s life but into the culture of the time which certainly shaped his world view and supported his curiosity. It was da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity about everything that first attracted me to him so many years ago, and Isaacson provides a laser view into the mind that envisioned flight, surgery, and so much more. Highly readable, well written, and meticulously researched, this is very much recommended.

Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

 

 

 

 

April Micro-Reviews


unforgotten

The Unforgotten by Laura Powell – What a ride! This is a book that forces you to pay attention, which really isn’t a problem because you will want to keep turning those pages. The story begins with Betty Broadbent, a young girl who suddenly finds her quiet life in a small Cornish village turned upside down by a series of grisly murders. The local hotel run by Betty’s mother becomes de facto headquarters for the journalists who descend on the town, and that’s where Betty meets Gallagher. The two fall into an unlikely and unpredictable relationship/friendship as the search for the “Cornish Cleaver” goes on. While I expected a tightly written mystery, I got that plus a really well-crafted story about obsession, madness, and guilt. I found the characters charming at first, then a little irritating, then a little scary and suspicious. The author does a good job of blending past and present, and skillfully demonstrates how the past never really leaves you. I’m not often surprised by endings, but this one had me gobsmacked. Really, really good.

Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Published By: Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

islandIsland of the Mad by Laurie King – I’ve been a fan of Laurie King’s Mary Russell series for years, but the last couple felt a little played out. This one, unfortunately, continued that trend. Here, Mary is contacted by an old, dear friend whose beloved Aunt Vivian has disappeared. Vivian, who has been a resident of an asylum for years, was visiting family when she disappeared along with some jewels and other items from her brother’s safe. Russell is called upon to find the Lady Vivian and recover both the lady and the jewels. This involves an undercover stay in Bedlam (the asylum where Vivian lived for years), fascism in Britain and Italy, and Cole Porter. While the story was entertaining enough, it didn’t spark like previous books. The younger Russell would have twigged on the reason for Lady Vivian’s “madness” long before this Mary Russell figured it out. I found myself shaking my head at her thickness by chapter 4. I think it’s time to move on.

Publication Date: June 12, 2018
Published By: Random House Group/Ballantine/Bantam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

darkangelDark Angel by Elly Griffiths – I’ve loved Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series from the first, and was eagerly anticipating this next entry in the series. “Was” is the keyword in that last sentence. Griffiths has gone from writing top-notch mysteries focusing primarily on Ruth’s role as a forensic anthropologist to writing sappy relationship novels that focus on Ruth as the “other woman” in a love triangle, successfully reducing her to a cliché. Why do writers do that? Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series suffered from the same issue, but Winspear is finally bringing Maisie back around to detecting. Griffiths needs to do the same. Ruth Galloway is so much more than Nelson and Kate. Bring her back! Please!

Publication Date: May 13, 2018
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

168987AA-65EE-4C22-828E-3AD4FE97BFE7The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe – Another highly anticipated series entry from Alex Bledsoe that more than lived up to the anticipation. Begun with the Hum & the Shiver and concluded here, Bledsoe’s Tufa series is one of the most creative and well-written modern fairy tales out there. Bledsoe beautifully wraps up the story arc of an exiled tribe of Tuatha de Danaan living in Tennessee, providing closure to a number of stories included in the earlier books. We finally learn the one story that Bledsoe has never told – the origin story of the Tufa – and it’s fascinating, especially the little nugget of info from the King of Fairyland regarding the bet that landed the Tufa in Tennessee.  While I am sad that this is the last in the series, I am very much looking forward to the tales Bledsoe will spin next. I highly recommend the entire series.

Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Published By: MacMillan/Tor-Forge
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

westawayDeath of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – Ruth Ware has done it again. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is an un-put-downable tale of family turmoil, long-buried secrets, and deception that will keep you up at night, reading just one more chapter…until you’ve devoured the whole thing in one sitting. Harriet “Hal” Westaway is a young woman making her living as a tarot reader on the Brighton Pier. She’s all alone in the world, having lost her mother in an unexpected accident when she was 18. Not only is she alone, but she’s also in debt. So when she receives a letter from an attorney informing her that she is a beneficiary in the will of  her grandmother Hester Westaway, she packs up her few belongings and heads to Cornwall, even though she believes the letter was sent in error. Her arrival sets in motion a chain of events begun decades earlier and brought to a grim conclusion here. Ware gives us an appealing protagonist, shifty characters, a questionable will, and the de rigeur treacherous housekeeper all wrapped up in a brooding Cornish mansion right out of Agatha Christie. One of the best I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: May 29, 2018
Published By: Simon & Schuster/Gallery/Scout Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson

2

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson

“Thommy Hutson is the ultimate authority in nostalgia-driven storytelling.”

~ Clive Barker, Bestselling Author of Books of Blood and The Thief of Always

High school can be a real killer. Break a mirror, walk under a ladder, step on a crack – innocent childhood superstitions, right? Not at the exclusive and secluded Trask Academy of Performing Arts. Someone is taking those childish superstitions one deadly step too far when the campus is rocked with the deaths of several star students.

Layna Curtis, a talented and popular senior, soon realizes that the seemingly random, accidental deaths of her friends aren’t random—or accidents—at all. Someone has taken the childhood games too far, using the idea of superstitions to dispose of their classmates. As Layna tries to convince people of her theory, she uncovers the terrifying notion that each escalating, gruesome murder leads closer to its final victim: her. Will Layna’s opening night also be her final bow?

Thommy Hutson has extensive experience with the teenage slasher films of the 80s and 90s, which shows in this suspenseful tale. You have your group of gorgeous teens, one of whom has a deep, dark secret that catches up with all of them in the form of a mysterious and deadly maniac. In this case, the maniac is also creative, using superstitions to frame the murders that eventually follow. Heavily reminiscent of Lois Duncan novels, with a little R.L. Stine and John Carpenter thrown in, Jinxed offers gnarly entertainment in a super-readable form that will appeal to anyone who enjoys a little creativity with their thrillers. Like many Partners In Crime books, this one would be fabulous on the screen (big or small – but I’d actually like to see it as a TV series, in the vein of Riverdale.) Teens will eat this up, as will many adults. Recommended.

Book Details:

Genre: YA HORROR/THRILLER

Published by: Vesuvian Books

Publication Date: March 13th 2018

Number of Pages: 244

ISBN: 978-1944109127

Series: This is the first in a new trilogy, each is a stand alone but with a teaser for the upcoming book you won’t want to miss!!

Get Your Copy from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it on Goodreads!

Read an excerpt from Jinxed by Thommy Hutson:

Prologue

The small private island was a mystery.

This, even when so many knew, or thought they knew, what was going on twenty-two miles off the coast of Seattle, on the strip of land named after the very rich and very dead Cadogan Trask. Protected like so much of the Pacific Northwest by Douglas firs, red alders, and bigleaf maples, Trask Island, a blister in the water, seemed mythical. Very little was known about the reclusive man who bought the uninhabited plot in the 19th century, later developing it to suit his tastes. His personal life and his purpose, just like his eponymous island, were ensconced in a thick, white mist. One day there, the next not.

Over the years, worry about Trask the place and Trask the man ebbed and flowed. No one dared argue that business on the island brought money and a small amount of prestige to the area, but there was something about it.

The same people who sang its praises also gawked and wondered and preached about whether its gifts matched its detractions. All of those armchair whatchamacallits peeked out the windows of their glass houses into their neighbors’ glass houses and threw not stones, but boulders.

Always, always, they asked the same question: Why must a high school be so private?

The institution was nestled behind a wall of nature so beautiful that an equal number wondered how anything about it could be bad. A school for the gifted and talented. A place where children with an affinity for dance, voice, drama, art, and communications would be nurtured. A place where stars were born to shine.

But bad is a relative word.

And stars fall from the sky.

Still, the answer to the question on so many minds of what was really going on with those who were lucky enough, and rich enough, to find themselves hidden within its sacred I hope I get in please God let me get in walls?

Well, the answer was simple.

Secrets.

And not so simple.

Lies.

***

Spring, 1998

Trask Academy of Performing Arts was, indeed, very private.

The campus lay upon acre after acre of rolling green hills. Tall, age-old trees swarmed the landscape. Sturdy, dark red-bricked buildings were scattered about. Cobblestone sidewalks—concrete wouldn’t do, and asphalt was far too unsightly—snaked their way through and around the campus. Surrounding all of this flora, not to mention brick-and-mortar money, was a thick-ledged stone fence complete with wrought iron. The ornamental finials topping each spire had three-edged spear points. The borders weren’t sharp enough to cut, but the tips were fine enough to puncture. And at only one point along the entire perimeter was there a gate.

One way in. One way out.

Down one of those lamp-lit walkways, in its own enclave, was Williams Hall, a beautiful sandstone and cerulean tiled theater fashioned in a Romanesque style. A bell tower, now long out of use, still kept watch over the surroundings. The only modern accoutrement, though some would say eyesore, was the building’s large, white marquee, added during the 1980s when, presumably, a faculty member, or perhaps a wealthy donor, convinced the school’s administration flashing lights were all the rage. Its large black letters read:

52nd Annual Trask Academy of Performing Arts Showcase

Inside, rehearsal ran late.

The long fluorescent-lit hallway was filled with leg-warmered young dancers packing their bags. Actors filed away their scripts. Singers stopped their warbling. All seniors. Almost all rich. Wrapping up a rehearsal in the school’s premier venue for the school’s premier event.

Begun in 1946, the Trask Academy of Performing Arts Annual Showcase saw the best and brightest of the graduating class perform for a lucky invited audience. The theater’s fifteen hundred seats filled with relatives, talent scouts, agents, bookers, managers. Hollywood and Broadway knew that those fortunate enough to study at Trask were groomed to be unsurpassed in their field, and what better way to find the stars of tomorrow than to watch the hopefuls of today. Rich daddies and mommies prayed the exorbitant tuition fees had paid off. Rumors swirled the cost to attend the school was as high as one hundred thousand dollars a year, which would make it one of the most expensive private schools in the world. For those prices, check writers expected nothing but the best.

And Hell hath no fury if they didn’t get it.

Amanda Kincaid was working to be the best. She sat on the stage alone, dressed casually in dark jeans and a top that showed just this side of too much. She was a pretty girl and, at nineteen, a year older than most of the other seniors. Her age made her more serious, and more guarded. Her dark hair, normally wavy, was pulled back tight. She wasn’t a dancer, not really, but she felt the hairstyle made her look the part of a performer. Whatever part that was.

When she heard the last door of the night slam, she knew she was finally alone. She could now work without the worry of being judged by everyone around her. She was a good actress, she knew that. But that wasn’t enough, and she also knew that.

Standing up, she grabbed her script. She promised herself that tonight was the night she would not peek at her lines. She knew them. She had to. It wasn’t going to be like Showcase 1995—

Karen Reasmith stopped in the middle of her piece, mouth agape, spotlight burning down on her as if she were caught trying to escape prison.

She had forgotten her lines.

The adults in the audience, who could cut deeper than any razor, sat in irritated silence, while the other students lovingly absorbed the crash and burn before their eyes. A train wreck of epic schadenfreude. Karen looked around, helpless, hoping she could be saved from herself. But all that came were tears as she tore off the stage.

Amanda thought of the joke around campus for those new kids who didn’t understand how serious Trask pupils took their performing arts studies. They’d ask, “Did you ever hear of Karen Reasmith?” When incoming students answered in the negative, the upperclassman would respond, “Exactly.” Testosterone high-fives and estrogen giggles followed as they walked away from newbies who rolled their eyes.

But Amanda understood what the newcomers didn’t. Couldn’t, at least not so quickly. Karen had blown it. She would never even get a chorus audition in a touring show. Casting agents loved to talk. And what they loved to do more than talk was gossip. By the time Karen had packed her bags and left the compound, her talent was already colder than the iceberg that had sunk the Titanic.

Except that the Titanic had survivors.

Amanda shook off the memory of Karen Reasmith and focused. Her tongue darted around her red-lipped mouth, preparing to utter chilling words as she channeled Euripides’ Medea.

“In vain, my children, have I brought you up, Borne all the cares and pangs of motherhood, And the sharp pains of childbirth undergone. In you, alas, was treasured—”

Suddenly every light went out, leaving Amanda alone in blackness.

Even the ghost light’s exposed incandescent bulb had gone out, which made her anxious. Amanda knew the ghost light was a big deal, if only a superstition. She was aware of the firmly held belief that every theater had a ghost. And not Phantom of the Opera ghosts who taught beautiful, young women to become chanteuses. No, these were simply the spirits, perhaps of performers long dead, who remained in the place they once loved. Perhaps the ghost light allowed them to perform their own works when no one was around. Or maybe they just liked to watch performances.

Nonsense, Amanda thought. The light is there so we don’t fall into the orchestra pit. Or something.

Still, she didn’t like it being out. Just in case. Of whatever frightening case might be out there.

And then the noise came. Softly at first, but building in volume. It seemed to emanate from the back right of the auditorium. It sounded like the moan of a dead person who most decidedly did not want to be dead. Like a zombie upon its victim, ready to sink yellow and black teeth into the soft flesh of a neck, tearing out tendons, arteries, a larynx.

Amanda’s breathing grew faster, shallower. She felt as if she were standing in the cold, black reaches of space. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck tingled. Her mouth opened, ready to scream.

Amanda knew she should have been alone. And she knew she was not. But she stopped herself short of screaming. Instead, she cocked her head as the ghastly voice grew louder, transforming into something else, like something off one of those cheap Halloween sound effects tapes. Her split-second shudder of fear gave way to the crack of an embarrassed smile, then annoyance.

“Seriously? Not funny!” Amanda yelled out, her voice coming back at her with the faintest echo. Her words stopped the not-so-sound-effect sound effect. “I’m trying to work here,” she added matter-of-factly. She smirked. She waited. I’m ready when you are, idiots. When nothing happened, she took a step to her left.

“Dare you try to cross without the guidance of the ghost light?” a voice boomed. Amanda let out a small yelp. “Who can know what evils from the past lurk within these hallowed walls?”

Wait a minute, she realized. I know that voice. Despite the darkness, she moved in circles, calling out.

“If anything evil does linger, it’s probably from your pathetic performance, Marcus.”

She carefully shifted closer to the stage’s left wing. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw she was inches away from one of the thick, black curtains that prevented audiences from seeing backstage. The material was moving, ever so slightly. Who is that? What dashed away behind the barrier? She had to know, needed to. She slowly reached for the fabric and started to tug on it—

A reverberating audio feedback filled the auditorium. Amanda reeled, falling on her tailbone. Then, silence.

The bulb inside the cage of the ghost light came to life.

Someone had been right there. Not anymore.

“Oh, come on. Did I bruise your fragile ego?” she asked cynically. She got no response and decided she was over this game. She really did need to practice.

“Fine, whatever. Can you please turn the stage lights—”

They came back on before she could finish.

Jerks, she thought.

She looked back down at her script. Mumbling the words to get back to her place, she heard a rustling deep backstage. Hushed voices talking fast. Getting more strident. Urgent.

Inconsiderate jerks. Looking up, she projected to the back of the auditorium.

“In you, alas, was treasured many a hope of loving sustentation in my age, of tender laying out when I was dead—”

“Do something!” a voice said harshly backstage.

A female voice that Amanda couldn’t make out responded, “Just go, just go!” It sounded like she might have been crying.

Amanda stopped worrying about her performance. She stopped wondering who was scuttling around. She was concerned that something was wrong. These people had laughed at first, but now they sounded worried. And very frightened.

So was Amanda. She stepped toward the left wing once again, this time with purpose. Something slammed backstage. Amanda screamed, threw her hands to her mouth, and let script pages flutter to the ground in a jumbled mess she would normally have cared about, but not now. Something was happening. Her expression turned to sour terror when she saw it.

Smoke.

Thick dark billows wafting up from backstage.

“Oh my God.” She instinctively reached forward for the curtain, calling out. “Are you guys all—”

As she drew the curtain back, Amanda watched ravenous flames grow with a fresh gust of delicious, necessary oxygen. She was thrown as the heat slapped her body.

Crawling backward, she stumbled to her feet, turned to run, and screamed again, this time louder. She barely missed falling into the orchestra pit ten feet below.

“Help me!” she cried, looking around frantically, noticing the pages of her script dancing in a small vortex of flame, smoke, and heat. Flames licked the ceiling and rained dripping bits of burning material down. An ember from a set piece dropped to her arm, searing her flesh. She whimpered, hot tears flowing down her face. Another ember, another burn.

Desperate, Amanda tried to use her hands to wave away the smoke, but it was too thick. Coughing, she pushed toward a set of exit doors off the left wing of the stage. She imagined the fresh evening air outside, but her arms almost snapped when she slammed into the door that would not open.

For a moment Amanda wasn’t sure what was going on, but another ember landed on her hair and began smoldering, bringing her back. She swatted at it, screaming. She got up and tried the door again. It wouldn’t budge. She pounded on it.

“Help me! Somebo—”

Amanda violently coughed. She looked around, water in her eyes from fear and fire. The conflagration had engulfed the auditorium and Amanda, rushing to the stage again, realized she was at the center of it all.

A twisted, groaning came from above and, realizing just in time what it was, she scurried as a lighting rig swung right past her.

She didn’t have much time. More and more fly ropes snapped in the heat. Scene flats crashed to the floor. The glass lamp of the ghost light exploded. Disoriented, Amanda stumbled across the stage as smoke stung her eyes and heat filled her lungs.

Colored lights above burst and shattered, sending glass shards raining upon her. She covered her head, not seeing the snapped cable heading toward her.

It belted her in the leg, drawing a deep, thick gash and sending her sailing over the front of the stage.

Into the orchestra pit.

Her head hit the wooden floor with a crack. Her leg twisted at an odd angle. She was not going anywhere.

It’s so much cooler down here, she thought sadly. The fire drew closer as debris rained down around her. She looked high above and saw fire crawl up the curtains, licking at the Trask Academy of Performing Arts crest. Its enamel sheen bubbled in the heat.

The fire upon her, Amanda felt her skin burn. She used her left hand to rub the fire from her right arm, but everything sloughed off the bone in large, bloody, sinewy chunks. The pain was excruciating. She had been sure, when talking with friends about terrible ways to die, that after a few seconds fire would have extinguished any sense of pain, or that her body would dull it enough to make it more manageable.

She thought how wrong she had been.

She felt every lick of flame as if a galaxy of the hottest stars were slowly stabbing through her. Her head lolled to one side. Her screams withered. She wanted to cry out, but instinct had its hold on her, and the heat she felt every time her lungs sucked in was too great.

The air itself had become a scorching hell.

She saw little blobs of dancing light as she held, held, held her breath. The world was just about black when another jolt of pain brought her back, as if a gleaming, hot needle had been shoved into her iris. While the blinding orange and yellow of one thousand degree flames ravaged her body, she saw nothing.

Her lack of vision was not due to the agonizing pain. Or the shock that racked her body. The heat was so great that her eyes exploded, like eggs bursting in a microwave.

The young girl with so much life ahead of her was as good as dead. A burning husk of a person. The unconscious fear of suffocating grew to be too much, and she sucked in a giant rush of heat that melted the delicate, paper-thin tissue of her lungs. It was a pain so much worse than breathing in water from the lake where she and her friends would go swimming. Long before she had come to this school.

As the little oxygen left in her bloodstream wended its way through her dying shell, strange fleeting thoughts crossed her mind. It wasn’t, as everyone said, a movie-like assemblage of her life playing at breakneck speed. It was, simply, random moments. The first time she sawThe Wizard of Oz and wanted to be Dorothy. Riding her pink bicycle in the grassy front yard of her house, yelling for anyone to watch her ring the tiny bell on the handlebars. Hitting her babysitter’s older brother in the face with a snowball, upset and confused that she could make a big boy cry. Screaming on a roller-coaster with her former best friend, Shelly, sure she was going to pee her pants from laughing.

Then it was over. Her human light faded, faded, faded with one last thought.

The baby.

CHAPTER 1

Present day

Silver moonlight cast a pall over the remains of the burnt, condemned theater that kept watch over the school campus. Even with a new, more open brick façade already complete as part of the school’s very expensive renovation, the scaffolding snaking around and up its walls read like the twisted bones of a skeleton deep inside a closet. But that fabled darkness, coupled with its offer of shadowed cover from faculty, made the theater a prime location for itchy students to scratch their desires, test their mettle, and relish in stories that brought back the dead.

“Some say you can still hear her screams in the still of the night.”

The voice of the storyteller belonged to Max Reynolds. He was standing in front of the building, staring up at it as he spoke. A senior with well-toned arms that stretched his tight, white T-shirt, he looked pleased with himself as he waited for a response. His structured, boyish face wasn’t always smiling, but when it did, it charmed everyone. This was one of those times.

“Lame, lame, lame,” said Layna Curtis. A sarcastic smile grew from her full, naturally red lips. “Let’s be real, not only has that story been told before about a jillion times, it’s been told way, way better.” She sighed and pushed long dark hair away from her pale, pretty face and over her shoulders, feigning boredom. Inside—though she would never admit it—she wasn’t sure she liked being there. That building, she thought, is staring at us. At me.

“Oh, really?” Max asked, goading her, snapping her from distracted thoughts.

“Totally,” Layna replied. Clever and confident, she would play the game. She nonchalantly picked at the pills of her cream-colored sweater. Max stared at her, his eyebrows raised. Without looking up, Layna said, “Guys, am I right?”

Layna looked first to Nancy Groves, a fantastic dancer who was stretching her legs as if a loop of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” played in her head. Holding her legs at seemingly impossible angles was par for the course for Nancy. She had a lithe body that shimmered when she performed. Layna knew it. Everybody knew it. And Nancy loved that. But Layna knew her friend’s Achilles’ heel was her short, bobbed hair, so naturally straight that even the strongest Ogilvy home perm would be hard-pressed to win the battle. Not that she hadn’t tried, often with a lot of help from Layna and shared fits of laughter. Layna appreciated Nancy knew what she had and how to use it.

When Nancy didn’t respond, Layna’s eyes went to Alice Reitman. Alice smacked her chewing gum. She was cute, but nowhere near Nancy-thin. Layna had always thought that Alice wasn’t fat. At least not fat, fat. And Layna knew that Alice despised in a gag me with a spoon way when people referred to her as “the bubbly one.” That usually meant fat.

Layna felt bad knowing most people openly said Alice was talkative and upbeat, but also worried Alice was thinking, Thanks, now hand over the ho-ho’s and you won’t get hurt. But what did it matter to Layna? Alice wasn’t an actor, singer, or dancer. She studied communications and was going to be “the next, not-quite-as-thin, but incredibly relatable television journalist.” Layna had told Alice that was a fine choice, but she preferred Savannah Guthrie, even though she looked much taller than her guests, and it often appeared she might just lurch over and devour them. They all have their flaws, Layna reminded herself.

At the end of the line was Trask’s “it” girl, Sydney Miller. Pretty, with blonde hair in perfectly placed waves, Sydney was popular and athletic. Layna admired her. At Trask, and in real life, Layna had to assume, guys wanted Sydney and girls wanted to be her. When she walked down the halls, the underclassmen all turned their heads to catch a glimpse of the Sydney Miller. If the singers were belting out a tune, they stopped as she strode by. Layna knew her friend Sydney was going to be famous. She had the talent to be a star, sure. But she also had a sheer force of will. Nothing was going to stop her from achieving her dreams. Nothing. And nobody. Layna admired that especially, even as she pushed down slight feelings of jealousy.

But like the others, Sydney just sat quiet.

Layna looked again at all of her girlfriends, incredulous. “Oh my God, backsies please. This is when my friends say they’re with me?”

But none did. They stood stoic, staring forward, or around, or down. Looking worried. It didn’t sit well with Layna.

“Layn, I mean, it is kind of a creepy story,” Alice offered.

Layna’s shoulders slumped. No backsies, apparently.

“Seriously, a girl died. Right in there,” added Nancy.

Sydney leaned her body in closer. Layna could practically feel the girl’s breath when she spoke. “It’s just not something we should, you know, make light of.”

Layna couldn’t believe it. Her unease was giving way to annoyance. “Because some chick supposedly died in this awful, mysterious, tragic way a million years ago—”

“It’s more like, only twenty years, but go on,” Max said.

Layna glared at him long enough to make a point, and then continued. “I’m just saying, we see this eyesore all the time, but tonight we’re supposed to all of a sudden be frightened because Max used his big boy voice to tell a campfire story we all knew? Sorry, it just isn’t work—”

Layna abruptly stopped. She had heard something. They had all heard something.

It was not the wind, Layna knew. Not the creaking of scaffolding. It was a low, hurting moan. A harsh, frightening whisper.

“Whooo—?” hissed the voice, from inside the building.

Layna’s brown eyes went wide. Max sidled next to her. “Okay, fine, it’s working now,” Layna said. Nancy, Alice, and Sydney huddled close, too.

Sydney, worried, looked directly at Layna. “Dude, what did you do?”

“Me?” Layna whispered, too loudly.

“Shhh!” Nancy harped.

The punitive voice came back. Angrier, more strident. “Who wantsss—?”

They waited, breaths held, to hear what came next, but the only sound was the flapping of a plastic tarp over a pile of bricks. Then someone jumped out from the shadowed entrance of the theater. Layna let out a high-pitched scream. Then the others screamed, too. Layna grabbed Max tightly, trying to shield herself from whatever was coming toward them.

The screams of the others went on and on. And on. Layna gathered that something wasn’t right when she peeked from Max’s chest and saw her friends staring at her, their formerly petrified faces now swathed in knowing smiles.

“Whooooo wantsssss … a drink?” the stranger in the entryway asked.

Layna opened her eyes fully and unscrunched her face. She knew that voice. She’d been had.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Nancy joked, poking Layna.

Layna pursed her lips and nodded her head. “All right, fine, go ahead. Let’s hear it,” she said.

After a moment of silence, they burst out laughing. Layna put her hands over her face, embarrassed that she had fallen for such a cheap trick. Max pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.

“We totally had you,” he said, then grabbed her chin so he could look her in the eyes. “And I’ll always have you,” he added, leaning in for a kiss. Layna greedily accepted.

“Get a room already!” Nancy playfully snapped. “And, Crosby, get your ass out here.”

Crosby Williams’ broad, white smile, and a glint from his hazel eyes, emerged from the darkness. Layna stared at the writer and part-time less-than-stellar illusionist, also a member of the senior class. She should have known—he could never pass up the element of surprise. He may have been lacking in the prestidigitation department, but he made up for it with a bohemian style and perfectly unkempt hair.

“I’d love to, but the spirits are insistent,” Crosby offered. “You must come inside and face your fears, if you are to partake of the beers.” He pushed his arm forward so it was struck by moonlight, waving a bottle that glistened with condensation. Then just as fast, he pulled it back and his smile, his eyes, and the beer disappeared all within the ruins of the old theater.

“You heard the man,” Max said. “Duty calls.”

Nancy, Alice, and Sydney moved first, with Nancy leading the pack. The girls laughed as they, too, vanished into the shadows, one by one. Max lurched forward, but Layna caught his hand and stopped him.

“Babe, come on,” he said.

Layna looked up at the building, gazing at its two, large Venetian windows that watched over everything. Watching me, I bet.

“What’s wrong? Let’s go,” Max said. “Or are you scared? Ooooh!” He waved his fingers in front of her face in a silly manner.

It broke Layna free from her worry. The small lie, one he’d never figure out, came forth. “Of course not,” she said. “Let’s go.”

After one last look deep into the shadows before her, she gave Max a kiss on the lips. Ready or not, she let him lead her into the darkness of the auditorium.

The building was a far cry from the grandeur of its glory days. Gone were most of the plush, red velvet-covered seats that once filled the theater, leaving only an empty, sad expanse of dirty concrete. Those seats that remained, mostly near the stage and scattered up makeshift aisles, were blackened and charred, having melted under the heat of the fire. Layna felt a chill, even though the seating wreckage could barely be seen under the cover of dusty translucent plastic. Construction materials, tools, wood boards, and sandbags were strewn about, giving credence to the rumor the schools’ deep-pocketed donors weren’t jonesing to bring this part of the campus back to life.

It was an open secret on campus that the coffers of Trask Academy of Performing Arts might be drier than anyone in the administration wanted to admit. There was money, of course, because Dean McKenna knew that keeping up appearances was paramount, but there was an equally strong, although silent, opinion that the building was nothing more than a part of the school’s dark past and, just maybe, it should stay there. Layna certainly felt that way right now. Neither she, nor her friends and fellow students, had any idea that in at least one of the more heated board meetings—old-boys club affairs always held privately with little fanfare—more than one donor had agreed: why rebuild a nightmare when you can construct a brand-new dream?

Layna and her friends meandered through the maze of equipment toward the stage.

“All right, Crosby, come out, come out, wherever you are,” Alice said, loud enough to cause an echo, but there was no answer from Crosby.

Layna and Max made their way to the front of the group. As they walked, they stared up through scaffolding and more plastic tarps, the former creaking and the latter flapping in the stiff breeze whisking through the empty structure.

Moonlight shone down on Max, who climbed up onto the stage from a set of rotting steps. “Watch the third one, it’s a doozy,” he said as Layna grabbed his hand for help up. Then Max, always the gentlemen, reached for the other girls, grabbing Nancy’s arm a bit harder when she failed to heed his warning and her foot almost broke through the soft, pulpy wood of the stair.

Layna gasped, but Nancy just uttered an embarrassed “Whoopsie.”

From the stage, the friends paused to take in their surroundings, illuminated not only by the natural evening light, but also by the lone ghost light in the center of the stage.

“Spooky. Maybe this was, you know, the light,” Alice wondered aloud. The thought caused a hint of unease in Layna.

“Yes, most definitely,” Sydney said with a smile. “Now let’s steal the bulb and call GE so we can make a billion dollars on the light that lasts an eternity.” The response put Layna at ease, but Alice rolled her eyes, blew a large, pink bubble, and sucked it back into her mouth with a loud pop!

Layna found that the light did not offer her any warmth, or security, so she just stood quietly with her hands in her pockets. Max sidled next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

“Hey, look,” Layna said, moving a few feet past the light to where a picnic blanket was spread out on the stage.

Nancy went to it and stood with her back toward the darkness of the stage’s left wing. “Fancy,” she said. “Maybe next time we can have a picnic, I don’t know, at the scene of a car accid—”

A hand suddenly reached from the shadows and whisked its way over Nancy’s mouth. Unable to say anything, her eyes filled with fear and worry.

“Nan, how much longer do we wait?” Sydney asked. She turned and let out a scream when she saw Nancy.

Layna and Alice yelped as well. “Max!” Layna screamed, with the unspoken order of Do something! Max practically leapt across the stage. Then he stopped, and he and the others watched as the stranger’s hand wended its way from Nancy’s mouth, down over her shoulder, and to her jacket’s zipper.

It started to pull down.

Nancy’s wide eyes shrank to a disbelieving squint. She yanked hard on the offending arm and pulled a stumbling Crosby from the shadows onto the stage.

“Wow, way to be romantic, Cros,” Nancy said. “I’ve always dreamed of doing it here. Literally, right here.”

“Me too, babe. Me, too,” Crosby joked, raising his eyebrows in quick succession before planting a kiss on her lips.

The others made their way over.

“Crosby, such a lovable jerk,” Sydney offered, giving him a peck on the cheek.

“That’s funny, I thought he was just being a jerk,” Layna added with a little more annoyance than she had meant to.

Max crossed in front of her. “Me-ow.” Now it was Layna who rolled her eyes. It hadn’t been her idea to hang out in a burnt-out building, tell ghost stories, and do God only knows what. She would have been fine if they had never come here.

“Come on,” Crosby said. “I couldn’t let the ambiance go to waste. We’re all entitled to a good scare, right? So, welcome children. And now, watch.”

They all did as Crosby stood in front of them, arms outstretched. He tugged on each sleeve. Nothing there. Suddenly, with a few slick gestures and a turn, he produced beer bottle after beer bottle.

“Well kiss my ass and call me abracadabra,” Max laughed, happily grabbing two bottles and offering one to Layna. She shook her head. Max ambled off, saying something under his breath like, “More for me.”

Alice brushed past Layna, smacked her gum, and grabbed a beer. “The party has so officially started.”

Crosby saved the last drink for Nancy, sheepishly gesturing like it was a peace offering. “Forgive me, but in all honesty, I just had to set the mood.”

“Oh, it’s gonna take more than janky beer,” Nancy retorted with a smile.

Crosby shrugged his shoulders, opened his jacket, and showed her the flask he had been hiding. Nancy’s smile grew. Layna watched, enjoying their playful back-and-forth.

“You know me so well,” Nancy admitted. She put her arms inside Crosby’s jacket, moving her face close to his.

“And you me, my dear,” responded Crosby. Somehow, they seemed to smile even as they kissed deeply.

Layna cleared her throat and sat down on the blanket. “Tongue-wrestlers, your much-needed, very private room is now ready. Please check in, stat.”

Nancy pulled back from Crosby, laughing. “Duly noted.” She and the others joined Layna on the blanket.

Crosby remained standing by himself, still pretending to kiss Nancy. The others laughed, which he took as his cue to stop and take a seat. The teens kicked back, looking up at the star-studded sky through a gaping hole in the roof of the condemned theater.

“See, it’s not so scary in here,” Max said.

Layna thought, but would never dare say, that it was still just as creepy as she had imagined. Maybe more.

***

“Let’s discuss break. Please tell me you’re staying,” Sydney pleaded, breaking the silence. Secretly she had also hoped to head off talk about the building, the legend, or how frightening it was. And is.

“Oh, we’re staying the week,” Layna said, adding emphatically, “All of us, right?”

Nods all around. Sydney let out a Thank God sigh.

“Rumor has it only D’Arcangelo and McKenna are gonna be here,” Alice said. “And there’s gonna be a party tomorrow night to kick things off.”

“A freshman party, ugh.” Nancy groaned and took a swig from the flask.

“I’ll pass, thank you very much,” Sydney said.

Layna looked like she was holding in a secret she couldn’t keep in. “Max wants to go!” she revealed.

The group stared at him as if he were mad.

“What?” Max asked. “It could be fun.”

Layna threw a You’ve gotta be kidding me stare at him. “Oh, totes,” she said, “if the fifteen-year-olds can plot out how to sneak anything stronger than hard lemonade into the dorms.”

Sydney shook her head. “Barfing kids and tragic pop music outside my door, all night long. Sign. Me. Up!”

“Oh, let me call the wahmbulance,” Nancy laughed. “It’s your fault. You could have lived with us big kids in Campbell Hall.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Sydney replied. “I am not giving up my primo view for snot-nosers.”

And it was true, she thought. Her view was fantastic, overlooking the conservatory filled with exotic plants, from rare orchids to ingeniously sculpted bonsai trees. Aside from the supposed eco-friendly gratification, the school’s motivation for the garden was a mystery to Sydney, her friends, and most other students, too. Most of the kids at school, Sydney among them if she stopped lying to herself, had the mindset that if you’ve seen one flower, you’ve seen them all.

The beauty of the building, Sydney had to admit, could not be overstated: a dome of striking brass-capped cames that held together shimmering glass plates of blue and gold, the colors of the school. Sydney often found herself staring at the top of the structure, mesmerized as it reflected the setting sun. Beyond the dome, the rolling green hills that the school had so meticulously taken care of led to the thick forest just beyond the gates of the campus.

It was that view that kept Sydney in the underclassmen’s dorm. She had lucked out with her room. The school used the stunning views and state-of-the-art facilities to lure new students, but after the main academic coursework was finished in year one, students started their majors and moved to one of two dorms on campus closer to the buildings where they would train. Still, Sydney accepted that the spectacular view, and the slightly longer daily walk to her classes, was worth putting up with the kids who were just finding their way. When she had asked to stay in her room, the housing committee decided she could. Sure, there were moments when she thought it might be more fun to be in a building with all of her friends, seniors who had paid their dues and were ready to graduate and make their mark with the talents that Trask had nurtured within them. But when the committee said yes if she agreed to stay at the school for her entire academic career, she had made her choice.

Sydney was shaken from her thoughts of pretty stained glass and obnoxious newbies when Crosby said, “They’ll be in dreamland before you know it. The last ferry leaves Saturday morning and they’ll wanna be bright-eyed for mommy and daddy at the docks.”

“Speaking of morning, like, what’s with the ratchet, military-style early rehearsal, Syd?” Alice asked. “It’s just us, and you’re the only one in the showcase.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Layna said, smiling. “The star here needs someone to shine the spotlight on her the minute day breaks, didn’t you know?” Sydney wondered, for just a second, whether something more wicked lurked behind the comment and smile.

“Oh, the shade!” Nancy said.

“Guys, I was joking. Seriously,” Layna offered. She took Sydney’s hand. “Hey, when have I not been the overachieving understudy to the world’s soon-to-be most famous talent?”

The words didn’t make Sydney feel much better. Sydney knew how badly Layna wanted to perform. “Layn, you’ll get your chance. Trust me, it’ll happen.”

“You’re right,” agreed Layna, “the minute you pull a Peg Entwistle and take a leap off the Hollywood sign.”

“Layna!” Nancy laughed, half-heartedly.

Sydney chuckled slightly, then looked away. She didn’t want to keep up the contest with Layna, didn’t want to see something in her friend’s eyes that might betray their friendship.

Max took a long swig from his beer and gestured at their surroundings with the bottle. “There’s always hope for a mysterious fire during one of Syd’s rehearsals.”

“Okay, seriously, starting to feel uncomfortable here,” Sydney admitted. She looked at Layna, waiting for the break. It finally came. They locked eyes, and Layna’s big grin forced one from Sydney.

“Babe, friends to the end,” Layna said, moving to wrap her arms around Sydney. “The very end,” she added, her tone both playful and menacing.

Everyone relaxed as Sydney lightheartedly pushed Layna away. “Girl, bye!”

The wind picked up, whistling through the theater. The scaffolding creaked and groaned. A light flurry of plaster dust sprinkled down, looking, Sydney thought, perhaps too much like ash from a fire.

“The universe likes the idea, Syd,” Crosby said. “Maybe your number is up.”

“And I like the idea of you shutting up,” Sydney replied sharply. She had reached her limit on the subject of past deaths as well as jokes about her own.

Layna grabbed Sydney’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

Alice yelped as floorboards creaked in the darkness of the stage wings. “That was so not the wind,” she muttered.

Max stood tall, taut, alert. “Who’s there?” he asked.

No response. Layna grabbed his arm. He motioned for her and everyone else to be quiet as he stepped toward the edge of the light thrown out from the ghost lamp.

“Ooh, tough guy,” Crosby mumbled, snickering. Nancy slapped his arm. Max glared at him and then disappeared into the shadows.

Sydney was worried. And that meant they all must be worried, she thought. Was that an animal? Was it a teacher? Or had something they mentioned too many times that night come back?

As soon as she heard the crash, Sydney stopped wondering and let out a scream.

“Max!” Layna screamed, darting to her feet out of instinct. The others rose up behind her. Nancy pushed Crosby forward. He cocked his head and opened his eyes wide. Sydney imagined him thinking exactly what she was thinking, Just what am I supposed to do?

“Do something, idiot,” Nancy ordered.

Crosby inched toward the darkness, stopping at another noise, a scuffling, this time closer.

“Not necessary,” Max’s voice came from the shadows. Sydney was relieved as she watched somebody being forced from the wing and onto the ground. The other girls screamed, as did Crosby. Sydney took note that his scream was more high-pitched and went on a hair longer than the girls’, which she knew he’d regret.

Max appeared again.

“What the hell are you doing here, you stalker douchebag?” Max asked whoever was skulking backstage.

Sydney focused on Layna. She knew what was going to happen next. Her eyes met Max’s judging gaze. She took a sharp breath in and forgot the drama and worry from before. Max was obviously not happy with the person lying on the floor in front of them all.

***

Layna knew she could not hide what Sydney, what Max, what everyone saw as she looked at the heap on the ground.

Dillon Reeves. A loner and, some have said, a rebel.

He was also a senior, though the rumor on campus was that the musical prodigy might have been older than everyone else after being held back in grade school. It wasn’t for lack of intelligence, apparently, on which everyone agreed. Depending on whom you asked, though, the true reason changed. Imaginations ran wild. And the stories got bigger.

I heard Dillon would just sit in the corner of his kindergarten classroom and hum after he got yelled at for eating cookies another kid brought, so they held him back.

I heard Dillon took a broken paintbrush and stabbed another student in eighth grade for making fun of his still-life art project, so they held him back.

I heard Dillon got blamed for pushing his high school shop teacher into a table saw blade and then ran through the halls screaming the teacher was jumping around like fleas on a hot brick, so they held him back.

There was also one about embezzlement, and some even whispered about a true murder. Layna hated that one and knew it was not, could not be, true. Still, on and on it went. The lightning speed of Trask’s gossip train left some wondering if, after putting the pieces together, Dillon wasn’t in fact responsible for the Lindbergh kidnapping. Stranger things have totally happened!

Layna believed none of it. Dillon was just special. Quiet, smart, very cute. Dillon’s looks and charm and bad boyishness did not go unnoticed. Almost every girl on campus noticed, and some boys, of course. But it was all of him—the things she knew, the things she learned, and yes, even the things she did not know but hoped to one day—that had attracted Layna during junior year when Dillon had transferred in. This was before Max, of course, a time her friends ridiculously referred to as Proto-Max.

“Are you all right?” Layna asked, looking Dillon over and brushing off his dark leather jacket.

“I’m fine,” he answered, standing up. He was tall. Taller than the others. Layna tried to hide the fact that she did not mind him looking into her dark eyes with his blues.

“I hope I didn’t hurt his man bun,” Max scoffed. Layna eyed him with a not now look. Max rolled his eyes. She knew he was sick of this. Sick of Dillon.

The others looked on with fascination at the love triangle. Layna was keenly aware that her friends knew she used to love Dillon, who was always slightly aloof in his love for her, who eventually fell out of love with him and into love with Max. Thankfully, Max loved her back more fully than Dillon ever did.

Max backed away, saying, “Fine, then the party’s over. At least for me.”

Layna stepped toward Max. “Max, stop.”

He did. But he didn’t turn around. She hated when he talked to her with his back. “If you want El Creepo to make it through senior year, you’re gonna have to make a choice.”

Layna just stared at him. The others stared at her. Alice whispered, “She must be answering him with her mind!”

Crosby laughed. Layna frowned, but she took some comfort when Nancy rolled her eyes and elbowed her boyfriend in the rib. No laughing. Check.

Everyone watched intently, not sure what was going to happen next.

No one expected it when Dillon grabbed Layna’s hand.

“Dude! Not. Cool,” Crosby offered.

Max turned around with enough time to see Dillon’s hand slink away from Layna’s. “What are you doing?” she snapped at Dillon. She ran to Max and put a hand on his shoulder. Slinking around to his front, she faced him.

“Him or me, Layna. I can’t play this game forever,” Max said.

“He’s just trying to get a rise out of you. And it’s working.” Layna knew it was a lie the moment it rolled off her tongue, so she wasn’t surprised when Max called her on it.

“No, Layn, you were helping him get a rise,” Max said.

Layna grimaced, wanting to scold Max for being so gauche in front of her—their—friends, especially Dillon. But she wasn’t fast enough.

Max sighed. “Him or me.” He kissed Layna on the forehead then stepped past her into the shadows, down the stairs, and toward the entrance doors. All she could do was watch him. She turned to the rest of the group. No one said a word.

“I didn’t ask him to do any of this,” Layna said. She looked at Dillon. “And you didn’t have to do that.”

“You didn’t have to let me,” Dillon answered quietly.

“It’s getting late,” Sydney offered, moving past Dillon without a glance. She grabbed Layna’s hand, and the two started toward the doors.

Crosby and Nancy followed. “Oops,” he said sarcastically, bumping into Dillon’s shoulder.

Alice rushed up behind Nancy. “Wait up!”

Alone on the stage, Dillon watched the group make its way toward the entrance. “See you tomorrow,” he yelled out. “And I’m sorry.”

Crosby, Nancy, and Alice exited as Sydney tried to coax Layna to leave. Layna didn’t budge. She wasn’t sure if Sydney understood, even as her friend walked away.

Layna knew Dillon could now see her only as a silhouette awash in moonlight. She watched him watch her. Her hair blew in a gust of wind that came through the open door. Fine dust particles rained down on Dillon. Were they anywhere else, Layna might have thought he looked angelic. Dillon shook his head, put it down, and then rubbed his eyes. Layna knew her time had come, that when he looked back to her, she would be gone.

She needed to be gone.

So she left. As the door closed behind her, she did not turn back. She wandered slowly toward Max, who waited for her. He always waited for her. That’s what he did. She grabbed his hand, and they followed the others back to the dorms.

But Layna knew Dillon was still on stage. She imagined him standing there, all alone, licking his wounds and staring with red, watery eyes at the ghost light.

***

Excerpt from Jinxed by Thommy Hutson. Copyright © 2018 by Thommy Hutson. Reproduced with permission from Vesuvian Books. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Thommy Hutson

Born and raised in Upstate New York, Thommy graduated from UCLA and launched his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!

His career then took a thrilling turn when he wrote and produced several definitive genre film retrospectives for television and home entertainment: SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.

He was also a staff writer on Hulu’s daily web series “The Morning After,” a smart, witty, pop culture program aimed at getting viewers up-to-date on the latest entertainment news and celebrity interviews.

Thommy also produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy.

He co-wrote and produced ANIMAL for Chiller Films and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films. The project debuted in iTunes’ top ten horror films (reaching #1) and became the network’s highest-rated original movie.

Continuing his passion for uncovering the stories behind the story, he went on to produce CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, which is the most comprehensive look at the popular film franchise.

As an author Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version distributed by Simon & Schuster reached number one in Amazon.com’s Movie History & Criticism category. He also has a deal with Vesuvian Media to write a YA thriller trilogy with the first book due out spring 2017.

He produced and made his feature directorial debut with THE ID, an independent psychological drama/thriller. Filmmaker Magazine stated it was “a deeply unsettling thriller that’s as moving as it is frightening…with skillful, provocative direction that has echoes of early Polanski.”

Most recently, Thommy wrote the screenplay for CineTel Films’ supernatural horror film TRUTH OR DARE. He is also directing, writing and producing a documentary with Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films in addition to developing other film and television properties with the company.

As an author, he is currently writing another book that definitively details the history, making and legacy of another fan-favorite genre film from the 1980s.

A member of the Producers Guild of America, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment through his company Hutson Ranch Media.

Catch Up With Thommy Hutson On thommyhutson.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Micro-Reviews


Philosophers FlightThe Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller – Imagine a world where the patriarchy is flipped. Where women who have unusual skills (think those traditionally associated with “witches” like flying, healing, and magic) have shaped the world and women have the power. Now imagine that the son of one of the most decorated “Philosophers” wants to join what seems to be the equivalent of the Air Force, but to do so he must graduate from the Philosopher program at Radcliffe, where he one of only 3 men. At the same time, the Philosophers are threatened by the “Trenchers” who believe the skills possessed by the Philosophers are evil.

And that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Miller has built a world that is at once familiar and topsy-turvy, and made that world a whole lot of fun. There’s unbounded humor and imagination here along with plenty of breathtaking excitement. Highly recommended.

Edna LewisEdna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original – If you pick up this book expecting it to be a cookbook, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a highly readable collection of essays about a remarkable woman, this is your book.

Yes, there are some recipes, but they are superfluous to the story told here. Edna Lewis is the star, and food her supporting actors. This collection of essays and reminiscences about Lewis, who passed away in 2006 after decades of holding court as the Queen of Southern Cooking, is a beautiful testament to a woman who successfully introduced real Southern Cooking to the masses. Cooking in a time when food was “complicated,” Lewis made her mark and built her audience by staying true to simple recipes using the freshest ingredients. Along the way, she influenced countless chefs and cooks. This book collects their stories, each one unique and interesting. Recommended for curious cooks.

Well Timed MurderA Well-Timed Murder by Tracee de Hahn – I stumbled upon de Hahn’s first Agnes Luthi book, Swiss Vendetta, quite by accident while browsing in a book store one day. I took it over to a comfortable chair to read a few pages and was hooked after the first chapter. I’ve waited for this, her second in the series, with much anticipation and I was not disappointed.

Agnes returns with the same quiet, sturdy, wry spirit, despite the injuries she sustained at the end of Swiss Vendetta. We learn more about Agnes and her family here, as well as about Julian Vallotton, as the two investigate the death of a master watchmaker. I have a fondness for mysteries that include well-researched information about unusual topics; in this case, de Hahn delivers some fascinating information about the Swiss and international watch industry.

The author skillfully develops key characters, and crafts a tricky and surprising plot which fully engages the reader. Tracee de Hahn is quickly becoming a new favorite author and Agnes Luthi a favorite character. Highly recommended.