Sunday, July 5, 2015

Just Couldn’t Put It Down Giveaway Hop: "A Lady at Willowgrove Hall," by Sarah E. Ladd (Paperback)

Welcome to the Just Couldn’t Put It Down Giveaway Hop. I think the name says it all … every blogger in this hop is giving away a book they had a hard time putting down (or a gift card to purchase one). If you love historical fiction, then you’re in for a treat because I’m giving away a paperback book by one of my favorite authors in this genre, Sarah E. Ladd!

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall
By Sarah E. Ladd

Cecily Faire has a secret, but when she arrives at Willowgrove Hall to serve as a lady’s companion, she comes face-to-face with the only person who knows the truth about her past. As the steward of Willowgrove Hall, nothing escapes Nathaniel Stanton’s notice, including the beautiful new lady’s companion. But Nathaniel has a secret of his own: he is the illegitimate son of Willowgrove’s former master. When Willowgrove’s mistress dies, everything changes. Cecily and Nathaniel are forced to make decisions that will change the course of their lives. Can they forge a future together despite their secrets?

Read my review HERE.

About the author:
Sarah E. Ladd received the 2011 Genesis Award in historical romance for The Heiress of Winterwood. She is a graduate of Ball State University and has more than ten years of marketing experience. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever.

GIVEAWAY

One lucky winner will receive a paperback copy of A Lady at Willowgrove Hall, by Sarah E. Ladd. Enter through the Rafflecopter form below.

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Now hop around to the other blogs participating in this hop for the chance to win more great books or gift cards!





Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a complimentary copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers for my honest review, which I am donating for this giveaway. All opinions are 100% my own.

Friday, July 3, 2015

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter Two of "Serpentine" by Cindy Pon with Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

M9B-Friday-Reveal

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing CHAPTER TWO of
Serpentine by Cindy Pon
presented byMonth9Books!
Have you entered the pre-order giveaway yet? With each pre-order of Serpentine, you will have the chance to select one of Cindy Pon's pieces of brush art !
You can find out more details HERE!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

SerpentineEbook

SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology. 
Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming-of-age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell. 
When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time. 
Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over – I highly recommend Serpentine.Cinda Williams Chima, bestselling author of the Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles fantasy novels 
“Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright’s transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” ~Kristin Cashore, New York Times bestselling author of the Graceling Realm Series 
“Serpentine’s world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you’ll want to lose yourself in.” ~ Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites

add to goodreads
Title: Serpentine
Publication date: September 8, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Cindy Pon
Pre-order Links:

excerpt


Chapter 2
Skybright cradled the woven basket to her side. She had left under the pretense of going into town to buy a new silk handkerchief and pears for Zhen Ni. In truth, she had her mistress’s bed sheet, hoping to wash it at the creek.
She and Zhen Ni had shared their morning meal of rice porridge and pickles in silence. When they spoke after, it was in hushed tones. She had fetched a medicinal tea to ease her mistress’s cramps, and told everyone in the household that Zhen Ni was suffering from a headache and needed quiet and rest.
The forest towered, seemed to lean forward in greeting. Soon, she was lost in its depths, making her way down a familiar yet barely marked path to the creek. It felt good to be outside the manor, today of all days. When she had asked, Zhen Ni had described the cramps feeling as if someone squeezed her womb in a tight fist, bringing waves of aching pain like she’d never experienced. Skybright remembered the heat she had suffered the night before in her fevered dreams, as if her lower half were fracturing then melding together again.
She placed the basket on a rock and shook out the sheet, picking up the chunk of square soap. Skybright sang as she worked, enjoying the feel of sunlight on her bare neck, where her hair had been wound into two tight buns low against her nape. She scrubbed the stain out and wondered how Zhen Ni was faring right now without her, wondered when she, too, would begin her own monthly letting. A lucid image of a serpentine coil flashed in her mind—a forked tongue darting—and she winced. Skybright scoured the sheet harder, until it was spotless, her arms sore from the task.
“It’s a nice morning for song,” a soft voice said behind her—a male voice—and Skybright leaped to her feet, turning to thrust the lathered soap in front of her like a weapon.
The young man smiled. “You’re quick.” He carried a wooden staff that was taller than he was, long enough that he could whack her in the head without taking a step.
She grimaced at her soap. “You frightened me.”
“I apologize.” He inclined his head.
He wasn’t more than seventeen years, dressed in a tan sleeveless tunic that revealed wiry arms. His slender eyes were near black in color. Skybright took a small step forward. He lifted his chin, as if in challenge, and she saw the angry red mark covering his neck, like a hand had seized him by the throat, burning an imprint into his flesh.
“You’re … him,” she said.
“And you are her. The girl spying in the tree.” He laughed, and it was warm and unguarded.
“I wasn’t—” She stuttered. “I was—”
“Chasing after a lost cat?” he offered.
She smiled despite herself. Skybright had never spoken to a boy so near her own age before, other than to haggle over the price of vegetables at the market.
“I’m Kai Sen.” He half bowed, gripping his staff with both hands so it was parallel to the ground.
“Skybright.” She nodded shyly.
He pointed at her washing. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. Do you mind if I rest here a few moments?”
Skybright returned to wringing the sheet, and he sat near her by the creek’s bank. Feeling self-conscious, she was relieved that he was gazing at the water. The thick trees surrounding them made it seem as if they were the only people for several leagues. He closed his eyes and tilted his face toward the sky, seeming content. She submerged the sheet, splashing the water just to make some noise.
“So truthfully, were you spying?” Kai Sen asked, breaking the silence.
She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “My mistress talked me into it. She’s always full of wild notions.”
“Was it worth the climb?”
“I saw you.” She wrung the sheet, then realized her simple statement could be construed another way. She wasn’t normally so coy, but he truly was the most interesting thing she had seen during her tree-climbing escapade. Mortified, she considered putting the wet sheet over her head.
His dark brows lifted, then he laughed again. She liked his laugh—so full and unrestrained.
“I hope it was an easy climb then.” He grinned at her, his fingers searching for stones near the water’s edge. His hands were broad, darkened by the sun. She shook the sheet out, draped it over a rock, and sat down beside him, the staff resting across his lap a buffer between them.
“Why do you not look like the others?” she asked.
He cast a pebble into the water, and it bounced once before sinking. “You don’t mince words.”
How was she supposed to talk to a boy? Differently somehow? She hadn’t an inkling. All Skybright knew was that his nearness unsettled her in a way that she wasn’t able to explain. “My mistress says I’m too forthright.”
He flicked a glance at her, and she remembered how he had studied her from that great distance in the immense temple square, as if he could see within her. “There’s an openness in your face, yes.” The corners of his mouth quirked upwards as he pitched another stone into the creek. “I don’t look like the others because I’m not truly a monk.”
“Ah.” She furrowed her brows, but he didn’t look at her.
“I study and train at the monastery as a monk would. But officially, the abbot won’t allow me to take my vow because of this.” He lifted his chin. The birthmark was a deep red, like nothing she had ever seen, making the parts of his throat that were flesh-colored appear exposed and vulnerable.
“It’s only a birthmark,” she said.
His smile was rueful. “My parents gave me to the monastery when I was six years because of this birthmark. They were superstitious people from a rural village and believed I was dragged by the throat into this life by the hell lord himself.”
It seemed a cruel fate, to have had parents then to lose them because of something so superficial. For the briefest moment, she wondered about her own parents, where she had come from. “But what does the abbot think?”
“I don’t know.” His head dropped, and some of his hair escaped the twine and fell across his brow. “The abbot took me in, raised me for eleven years. I’ve never asked what he truly thought.”
They sat in silence for some time, listening to the rustle of the forest, the soft stir and hum of hidden birds and creatures. She found a stone and tried to bounce it off the water, but it plopped and sank. Kai Sen’s rock followed, skipping three times before vanishing below the surface.
“And you? You’re a tree-climbing handmaid spy?”
Skybright burst into laughter, sending a bird from a nearby tree spiraling into the clear sky. She’d never laughed like that with anyone except Zhen Ni. “Something like that.”
“To be truthful, I haven’t been able to stop wondering about you. Every time I meditated, I saw an image of you perched high in that cypress tree gaping down at us.” He chuckled. “It was the most unexpected and absurd thing I’d ever seen.”
“I wasn’t gaping,” she said, indignant.
“Oh, you were gaping. Fortunate thing, too, otherwise I would have thought some goddess or nymph had descended upon—”
“There you are! I wondered where you disappeared to.” A lanky boy the same age as Kai Sen ran up to them. “You’ll get me in trouble if we don’t head back now!” The boy’s head was shaved, and he was dressed in slate blue, like all the monks she had seen the other day.
Kai Sen stood, rolling the tall staff easily from one palm to the other. “I forgot the time, talking here with Skybright.”
She scrambled to her feet, embarrassed, and the new boy gawked at her as if he’d never seen a girl before. She picked up the sheet and shook it as a distraction, enjoying the crisp snapping sound.
“Close your mouth, Han,” Kai Sen prodded him in the chest with his staff.
Han clamped his mouth shut, then grinned boyishly. “Kai has the heart of a wandering monk,” he told Skybright. “I’m always herding him back to the monastery. First time I’ve found him with a girl, though.”
Skybright suppressed a smile as she folded the sheet.
“Brother, let’s go.” Kai Sen clasped the taller boy by the shoulder. “Before you embarrass me even more.” He turned and gave her a nod. “Maybe we’ll meet again? I’ll look for you in the trees?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “I don’t think I’ll do that again.”
“That’s a pity,” Kai Sen replied, and Han tugged him by the tunic edge to go. He grinned and waved once, before disappearing into the thicket.




Skybright had taken so long that she’d missed the midday meal. Surprised not to find Zhen Ni in her quarters, she wandered through the manor until she saw everyone gathered in the main hall. The two paneled doors had been folded open, letting in the summer breeze and light. Lilies in bright yellow and orange adorned each table, scenting the air with their strong musk. The red five-sided lanterns were already lit overhead. Lady Yuan sat with Zhen Ni beside her, chatting to another woman and girl across from them.
Someone had dressed Zhen Ni in a pale pink tunic and skirt. As with all her mistress’s clothes, they were intricately beaded, befitting the family’s status and wealth as successful merchants. Skybright noticed, with annoyance, that the jewels pinned in Zhen Ni’s hair didn’t match her outfit. It must have been her stand in, Rose’s, mistake.
“There you are, Skybright,” Lady Yuan exclaimed.
The guests half-turned to glance at her. Skybright bowed her head, but not before sneaking a long look. The girl was petite, with large eyes set beneath delicate eyebrows, and a round nose over a rosebud mouth. She was not dressed as resplendently as Zhen Ni, her outfit not even rivaling Skybright’s own. Her family obviously didn’t enjoy the same stature as the Yuans.
“Lady Fei and her daughter Lan have just arrived after a long journey. Oriole is fetching us some tea. Could you go to the kitchen and ask for the custard buns and nut cakes Cook made this morning?”
Skybright retreated, and hurried toward the kitchen, weaving past the fragrant honeysuckle and quiet pavilions in the courtyards. When she arrived, she helped Cook arrange the freshly made treats on a lacquered tray inlaid with pearl, before tucking a lotus from the pond among the desserts. It would please Zhen Ni. Her trip back was at a brisk, yet careful pace.
When Skybright set the beautiful display of desserts in front of the women, Zhen Ni caught her eye and smiled, having seen the blushing pink lotus. “It matches my dress perfectly,” she said.
“Thank you, Skybright,” Lady Yuan said. “You may go now.”
But Zhen Ni grabbed Skybright’s sleeve. “Do let her stay, Mama.” She flashed her most winning smile. “Skybright should get to know Lan as well.”
“Of course.” Lady Yuan indicated the carved stool in the corner. “Join us.” She passed the desserts on cerulean plates to the guests. “Zhen Ni and Skybright are almost sisters. The goddess left Skybright at our doorstep right before Zhen Ni was born, like a gift for our youngest daughter.”
“Mama, don’t speak of Skybright as if she were a pet Chow!”
Skybright managed to smother her smile, but Lan laughed, a surprisingly rich sound coming from such a small frame, and clapped a hand over her mouth like she had surprised herself.
Lady Yuan took a long sip of tea, her bejeweled fingers holding the porcelain cup just so, before setting it down with artful grace. “It’s my fault,” she said to Lady Fei, flashing a smile at Zhen Ni. “I’ve spoiled her, even Master Yuan says so—and then he does the same!” Master Yuan was a merchant and away traveling many months out of the year, but whenever he returned, his carriage was always piled high with heaps of gifts for Zhen Ni.
“You’re truly fortunate to have four children, and three already wed.” Lady Fei nibbled on a nut cake. Lan had inherited her mother’s small, full mouth. “We’re still searching for a suitable match for our Lan.”
Skybright and Zhen Ni pointedly avoided each other’s gaze. As the women discussed betrothal gifts and the best dates to wed for their daughters, Skybright’s mind wandered back to thoughts of the stream. Of the warmth of sunlight against her skin, and Kai Sen’s laughter. Of the way he had studied her with those dark brown eyes.




The next few days passed quickly as Lan settled into her new quarters, near Zhen Ni’s. She had not come accompanied by her own handmaid, so Lady Yuan assigned a girl of fourteen years called Pearl to help her. And all the while, Skybright and Zhen Ni were on edge, frightened that their secret would be discovered somehow. Skybright went to her mistress even earlier each morning, soon after the rooster’s crow. Zhen Ni was more pale than usual, and they took great care to add color to her cheeks before she greeted anyone.
Lan’s arrival proved to be a good distraction. Zhen Ni and Lan spent their mornings gossiping and embroidering before taking a midday meal, then scattering into the gardens to sip chilled honeyed tea. Lan was better at embroidering than Zhen Ni, but Skybright’s mistress proved to be the best with composing lyrics and playing the lute. Skybright couldn’t do either very well, but had the prettiest singing voice, and was often asked to accompany Zhen Ni as she plucked at the lute strings. Rose and Pearl stayed near, fanning their mistresses, as the summer days were becoming unbearably hot.
Skybright retired exhausted in the evenings, not having given further thought to her feverish dreams from the previous week. But tonight, a familiar tingling below her waist woke her. Terrified, she reared up and grabbed at her legs. They were still there, still the same. She gave a loud sigh of relief, but even before the full exhale, her flesh began to undulate and change beneath her fingers. Bones, ligaments, and joints warped and crackled, melted away, striking with that unbearable heat.
Smooth scales rippled over her human flesh, like dragonfly wings fluttering their way from her feet to cover her abdomen. She swept both hands across her torso, the clothes having evaporated from her, and gasped. Her snake tongue darted out, oppressing her voice, and she could taste the air with it; the whiff of smoke from the snuffed lantern, the bitterness of the gardenia musk Zhen Ni had rubbed into her wrists in the morning, all tinged by the scent of her own sweat and fear.
She fell out of bed, her long serpent body slapping the ground with a loud thwack. Crawling with her hands, she pulled herself up by the window ledge and lit the lantern. She saw the thick coil that began at her waist, just as the last time—but this was no nightmare. Skybright pinched the flesh of her upper arms, her cheeks, then where her hip should be, and the end of her tail flipped, like it had a mind of its own.
“No,” she tried to say. But all that came out was a guttural rasp.
How could this be real?
To her horror, a rooster began to crow. Skybright scrambled on her hands and slid the door aside, hefting her long serpent body, which was at least four times the length of her legs, behind her. She shut the door, fighting panic. She must leave the manor. No one could see her like this—a monstrosity. What if she never changed back?
She crawled awkwardly, using her arms but beginning to push herself a little with her muscular coils. Fumbling too long with the key Zhen Ni had stolen for their escapades, Skybright thrust her way through a narrow side door used by servants and into a dark alley. She had enough wits about her to tie the string the key dangled from around her wrist. More than one rooster was now crying at the morning light in greeting, and some neighborhood dogs responded to the cacophony. In desperation, she tried to quicken her pace as she slithered toward the forest, propelling herself more and more with her serpent length. Her lungs felt as if they would burst from exertion and terror, and a sense of overwhelming grief. She sobbed, but what came out was a long hiss. The mutt that had been barking ferociously behind the neighbor’s wall quieted with a yip, then whimpered.
She had never liked that mean mutt.
The jagged line of trees was a familiar and welcome sight, and Skybright snaked toward it, unused to her lower vantage point. Her serpentine body met the ground where her hips used to be, although she found she could rise higher on her coil if she wanted to. Swallowed by darkness, she made her way between the trees, tasting the earthy tang of the forest on her tongue. The ground vibrated with life, telling her how many nocturnal creatures were still scampering to their nests, even as others were just rising for the day. No humans were nearby.
Skybright navigated with only her coils now. Each powerful thrust propelled her forward, and her speed increased as she pushed her way deeper and deeper, going further than she had ever strolled before with Zhen Ni in their explorations. It wasn’t until morning sunshine glimmered through the thick branches of the trees that she collapsed beneath one, exhausted, unable to shed the tears that weighed heavy against her heart. Why was this happening to her? Curling herself up, her serpent length wound in tight circles, the sight turning her stomach. She shut her eyes so she could no longer see it.




Skybright woke from the feel of a hand pressed against her upper arm, warm and reassuring. Groggy, she opened her eyes and squinted. Kai Sen’s concerned face filled her vision, and she bolted to a sitting position, clutching a tan tunic to herself. It was long sleeved, thank the goddess, and she tucked herself as small as she could beneath it.
He sat down across from her, allowing some distance, folding those lean arms over his knees. The tall staff he had carried before rested beside him. His chest was bare, as he had given her his tunic. “Are you all right?” he asked.
She blinked, feeling woozy. “What time is it?” Her voice sounded thick in her own ears, odd.
“A few gongs before the midday meal yet.” The gongs set the schedule at the monastery, and could often be heard as far as their manor, if she paused to listen for them.
Skybright thrust her face against her knees, which were pulled tight to her chest. Kai Sen’s tunic smelled faintly of camphor wood. The wind stirred, lifting a corner of the cloth, and she clutched her legs harder, acutely aware of her nakedness beneath. Although Skybright was glad to see Kai Sen, she wished he hadn’t discovered her, like some wild animal, naked and disoriented in the forest.
“What happened?” he asked in a quiet voice.
How could she explain this away? It was impossible. Zhen Ni would be hysterical with worry. She had never disappeared like that before. The entire staff would be out searching for her. Skybright took a deep breath that shuddered into a silent sob.
“I can’t say.” She raised her eyes and swallowed the sour taste in her mouth. “I must have wandered in my sleep.”
“I’ve sent Han back for a robe. He … didn’t see you.” Kai Sen’s gaze held steady, and she was grateful for it. “When I found you, I thought you were injured or—” he cleared his throat. “Has this happened before?”
“No,” she lied, hating the way her scalp tingled from it.
“We’re leagues from town.” He lowered his chin. “I’m only glad that I was the one to find you.”
His concern warmed her, even as she shivered beneath the thin fabric of his tunic.
“I wish I had more to offer.” He smiled, and Skybright realized with shock that she wanted to flick her tongue out, to taste the scent of him.
In that moment, someone shouted from beyond the trees, and Kai Sen leaped to his feet. “It’s Han.” He ran, faster than Skybright had seen anyone run, and disappeared among the thickets.
Skybright suddenly remembered the stories of serpent demons, always women, who would shape shift after luring victims with their beautiful faces. Zhen Ni’s sister, Min, had spoken of them. Skybright recalled how Min had widened her eyes and said in a hushed voice, “She acts the helpless maiden, but when she has you alone in the dark of night, that’s when she attacks!” Min had leaped at them, baring her teeth and hissing. “The beautiful woman changes into a giant serpent.” Min threw her arms out wide to emphasize her length. “She’ll sink her long fangs into your flesh to poison you, then swallow you whole. And the worst part? You’ll still be alive when she does it!” Min gnashed her teeth and smacked her lips. Skybright and Zhen Ni had clutched each other during the tale, squealing and giggling.
Was this what she was—a monster of folklore? How could it be possible? She tightened her arms around her knees.
Kai Sen returned with a wheat-colored monk’s robe. “It was the best Han could find,” he said apologetically. “Here.” He stuck his hand out and turned his face away to show he wasn’t looking.
But Skybright took the opportunity to do just that. His chest and torso were as muscular and lithe as his arms. She marveled at how different his body appeared compared to hers, all hard lines and angles. He was as tan as she was pale, letting her know that he often went shirtless in the sun. Kai Sen’s stance exposed his throat to her, and that strange birthmark, which seemed to have deepened to the color of plum wine this morning. Skybright resisted the urge to press her hand over it, to see if it was indeed in the exact shape of a palm. She reached for the robe instead and wrapped it around herself, tying it securely at the waist. The sleeves were too long, and the hem dragged against the ground, but she was relieved to feel the soft cotton against her skin.
“Thank you, truly. To you and Han both.”
He turned to assess her, unable to keep from grinning. “I’ve never seen a monk’s robe on someone so—” He stopped mid-sentence, and appeared flustered for the first time since they’d met. “Never on a girl before.” His smile turned lop-sided, and she wondered what he had been about to say.
“I should return to my mistress.” Skybright drew the robe tighter around herself. “She must be so worried.”
Kai Sen nodded. “Let me walk you back—”
“No, you’ve done more than enough, I couldn’t ask—”
“It would ease my own mind, Skybright. Please.”
Taking note of the unfamiliar surroundings, she said, “Then I would be grateful for your company.”
Kai Sen drew his own tunic on and tied the sash, smiling. “I promised Han I would return as soon as I took you back.”
He led the way through the trees with dexterity, knowing exactly which way to go. She followed, feeling the soft earth and pebbles beneath her bare feet. What must he think of her? The strange girl who climbed trees and wandered naked in the forest at night. Her ears burned at the thought, and she was glad he didn’t see. Some time later, he slowed and glanced her way. “You are certain you’re all right?” He paused. “Your mistress … she treats you well?”
Humiliated, she colored even more. “They’re so kind to me. Zhen Ni treats me like her own sister.”
“Good. I’m glad,” he said. “It’s just, I don’t often find beautiful girls sleeping naked in the forest.”
Her mouth dropped, then she burst into laughter when she saw the teasing slant of his gaze.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Kai Sen went on. “But the last time I was caught undressed in the forest, it was because Han had stolen my clothes from the river bank and I had to return to the monastery plastered in cypress leaves. They were prickly. And didn’t do the job well.” He cleared his throat and grinned at her.
She laughed harder. “Han didn’t!”
“Han did. Don’t worry, I got him back.” Kai Sen laughed with her, and it eased Skybright’s heart. His laughter made everything feel normal and right again. She reached overhead to grab a sprig of cypress, sweeping her palm across the needle-like leaves, trying to picture Kai Sen returning to the monastery covered in them, and chuckled again.
They strolled beneath the cool shadow of the majestic forest, and Skybright remembered how the earth vibrated and hummed with life the previous night, when it seemed she could detect every small movement and animal near her within leagues, smell and taste them on her tongue.
“Do you practice forms with the staff?” she asked.
“I do. We’re taught to use an array of weapons, but I’m most comfortable with the staff.” He spun it from one hand to the other, without thought, by reflex. He wielded it as if it were an extension of him.
“But I thought monks were against violence?”
“Fair point. The techniques and forms help strengthen us not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. And we’ve been known to take to arms and go to war to defend our kingdom in the past. Then, there are always the demons.” He said the last part with a mischievous wink, but she felt both arms prickling. “We must always be prepared.”
“Demons?” she whispered.
“From the ancient texts. The ones that roam the underworld, the ones that roam our own world.”
“Do they exist?” She shivered despite herself. Kai Sen noticed and drew closer, but she wasn’t shivering for the reasons he thought.
“I’ve not seen the like myself. But the abbot believes what the books say.”
They were now by the creek where they had met the first time, not too far from the Yuan manor. “You’ve read these books?” Skybright tried to keep her voice even.
“We study them, yes. Why?”
“I need to—” She rubbed at her throbbing temples in frustration. “Could you research something for me?”
He peered at her, his handsome face curious. “If I can. On what?”
“The serpent demon.”
Kai Sen’s eyebrows lifted.
“Do you know anything about them?” she asked.
“Not beyond the usual old wives’ tales of warning.”
They heard the distant gong from the monastery and Kai Sen whipped toward the sound, his stance as taut as a tiger about to leap. “Han’s going to kill me.”
“I can find my way back. I know where I am.”
“It’s my fault. I took my time on purpose.” He grinned. “I’ll see what I can find. When can I meet you again?”
“Back here, in three days’ time? In the morning.”
“I’ll look for you, Skybright.” Kai Sen jogged back in the direction of the still reverberating gong. “Keep safe until then.”
She waved, sorry to see him go. Skybright wasn’t certain that she could keep safe. She wasn’t certain about anything any longer.

Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association's Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. 



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Thursday, July 2, 2015

M9B Two for Thursday Book Blitz: "The Emissary" by Kristal Shaff and "The Night House" by Rachel Tafoya with Giveaway #T4T

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Welcome to this week’s Two for Thursday Book Blitz #T4T
presented by Month9books/Tantrum Books!
Today, we will be showcasing two titles that may tickle your fancy,
and we’ll share what readers have to say about these titles!
You just might find your next read!
This week, #T4T presents to you:
The Emissary by Kristal Shaff and
The Night House by Rachel Tafoya
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

The-Emissary-Cover
For hundreds of years, dark clouds covered the skies of Adamah, and an ageless king ruled. Those who emerged with one of six extraordinary Shay powers were forced into the king's army, an unmatched force with inhuman Strength, Speed, Accuracy, Perception, Empathy, and Healing. With the army at his side, the king—a man who wields all six abilities—was invincible and unquestioned in his rule. To most, serving the king was an honor. And for some, it was a fate worse than death. 
When seventeen-year-old Nolan Trividar witnesses the transformation of his brother from kind to cruel after entering the king’s army, he vows never to follow the same path. So when his own power—the Shay of Accuracy—comes upon him at the Tournament of Awakening, Nolan conceals his emergence instead of joining the king’s ranks. For years, he traitorously hides his power, pretending to be a gifted scribe. But when Nolan comes face-to-face with a deserter, the man discovers his secret. To evade detection and a death sentence, Nolan escapes with the deserter and flees into a night filled with dark creatures who steal both powers and souls. 
Nolan joins a resistance, a village hidden deep in the forest, filled with others who secretly wield a Shay. But his peace is short lived when they discover that the dark clouds, the undead creatures, their own decreasing powers, and even the king, are all connected.
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WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:
If you like super powers/magic, character development, and reading on the edge of your seat then I highly recommend this book to you!” – Aisazia, Originique Quanimity

“It's a great YA fantasy book with all the things that make for a memorable high fantasy.”Ashley, The A P Book Club

“Between the magical elements, the rebellion against a psychotically evil king, the group of rebels who band together to become a family of sorts who fight and sacrifice for each other, amazing fighting scenes, truly creepy zombie-like creatures who add even more danger to the game, and even a bit of romance, this definitely goes on my 'must read' list – I highly recommend!” – Michelle McLean, Author

about-the-author
Kristal Shaff
Kristal Shaff grew up with books (and used to drive her mom crazy when she wouldn’t leave the library); her first job was even shelving books at the library. She loves anything creative, and you can often find her exploring strange and fantastical worlds in her choices of movies and fantasy fiction. Kristal resides in Iowa with her farmer husband, numerous pets, and 3 awesome kids (plus one more on the way though the journey of adoption). When she isn’t writing, she is a professional face painter who enjoys making children smile.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


Nighthouse-cover-new
Bianca St. Germain works at a Night House, a place where vampires like the aristocratic Jeremiah Archer pay to feed on humans, and she doesn’t much care what others think of her. The money is good, and at least there, she’s safe. Bianca also doesn’t care that the Night House is killing her. All she cares about is nauth, the highly addictive poison in vampire bites that brings a euphoria like no drug ever could. 
But when Bianca meets James, a reclusive empath who feels everything she does, for the first time, she considers a life outside of the Night House and a someone worth living for. But Jeremiah has decided to keep Bianca for himself; he won’t allow her to walk away. 
As she allows her feelings for James to grow, she struggles to contain nauth's strong hold on her life. If they are to have a future, James must make her see what she's worth, what she means to him, before Jeremiah and nauth claim her for good.
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WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:

“This is not your usual vampire book. The inceptions and the mystery messed with my head and I loved every moment of it. ”Paula, Her Book Thoughts

“Rachel Tafoya brought vampires back to life for me, made them mysterious and intriguing again.”Jaime, The Best Books Ever

“I found Rachel Tafoya's debut to be an entertaining read with a unique plot, super interesting world, and great character development! I found myself thoroughly immersed in the world of The Night House.” – Jessica, Jessabella Reads

about-the-author

DCIM100MEDIA
Rachel Tafoya studied creative writing while at Solebury School and was published in their student-run literary magazine, SLAM. She attended a writing program for teens at both Susquehanna University and Denison University, and the Experimental Writing for Teens class and Novels for Young Writers program, both run by NY Times bestselling author, Jonathan Maberry. Rachel is the daughter of crime author Dennis Tafoya.

Connect with the author: Tumbler | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Disclaimer: Susan Heim on Writing is not responsible for Rafflecopter content or prize fulfillment.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop: Enter to Win a $10 Amazon Gift Card!

Welcome to the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop! Every participating blogger is giving away something a reader, author or blogger would enjoy. Since this hop is all about freedom, I'm giving one lucky winner the freedom to choose his/her own book from Amazon with a $10 gift card!


This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends at 11:59 PM EST on July 9, 2015. Enter through the Rafflecopter form below.

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Now hop around to the other blogs participating in this hop for the chance to win more great books and gift cards!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Plan: A Crystal Cove Romance, by Tawdra Kandle ~ Available Now!

The Plan Banner

The Plan

A Crystal Cove Romance

Book 2

Available Now!


iBooks/Amazon/Nook/Kobo/Smashwords/Google Play/All Romance Ebooks/Goodreads


Emmy Carter is a hard-working, no-nonsense woman. She's focused only on supporting her family and growing her pie business. Working weekend nights at The Riptide is just something she does to help pay the bills. When it comes to men -- or love -- she's not interested. Since the day her surfer-boy husband walked out the door to find bigger waves, Emmy's been determined never to give another man power over her heart.

Cooper Davis agrees. He's been married -- and divorced -- twice, and he's got no desire to make it a trifecta. He has his carpentry business, which is his passion, and his teen-aged daughter to keep him busy. The posse, his best friends since boyhood, tease him about finding the right woman. But Cooper knows she doesn't exist.

When Emmy and Cooper share a casual hook-up late one night, it isn't a big deal. It's just a one-time thing. Until it isn't. And although neither of them will admit to themselves or each other that they want more, each encounter only brings them closer to the happily-ever-after they never planned to have.

Like it or not ... it's all part of The Plan.

***Special price for THE POSSE (A Crystal Cove Romance Book 1)***
***99 cents for a limited time only!***

One women, three men, and a love story as unpredictable as the riptide . . .

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00020]

Being a widow at the age of forty-four was never in Jude Hawthorne’s plans. After her husband’s death, she’s left with her family’s beach restaurant and two nearly grown children. The last thing she’s looking for is another chance at love.

However, if her husband’s best friends, the Posse, have anything to say about it, love is just what she’s going to get. The Posse is determined to take care of Jude, and when they decide the best way to do that is for one of them to sweep her off her feet, three begin to vie for her affections. But only one can reach her heart.

In a story of friendship, loss and second chances, Jude will learn her life is far from being over.

Order here!

Coming August 25th

The Path

A Crystal Cove Romance

Book 3


Abby Donavan came to the small beach community of Crystal Cove to start over. After a painful affair broke her heart and derailed her burgeoning career, taking over management for the just-opened bed-and-breakfast was the safe choice. In this sleepy town, Abby figured she could bury her memories and forget the pain.

When the chance to have her own hotel falls into her lap, though, she can’t resist the temptation.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00020]
Making the old Riverside Inn into the showplace she’s always dreamed of running offers the second chance she never expected.

Abby didn’t expect another kind of second chance to land on her doorstep at the same time. Ryland Kent wants to help her bring the Riverside back to life, and his passion for restoration is irresistible. But as much as she wants to ignore it, she can’t help seeing another spark in his eyes ... one that offers to reignite her own flame.

Sometimes the path to a happily-ever-after is anything but smooth.

Pre-order here!

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TK03

About the author

Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books run from YA paranormal romance (THE KING SERIES), through NA paranormal and contemporary romance (THE SERENDIPITY DUET, PERFECT DISH DUO, THE ONE TRILOGY) to adult contemporary and paramystery romance (CRYSTAL COVE BOOKS and RECIPE FOR DEATH SERIES). She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.

Follow Tawdra here:

Facebook/Twitter/Tsu/Pinterest/Instagram/Website/Newsletter/Amazon

Friday, June 26, 2015

M9B Friday Reveal: Cover and Chapter Reveal for "Into the Dark" by Caroline T. Patti with Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

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Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing the cover AND Chapter One of
Into the Dark by Caroline Patti!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
IntoTheDark_eCover1800x2700
A girl’s sweet-sixteen party is supposed to be among the most memorable events of her life. But on the night of hers, Mercy Clare wakes in the waiting room of a hospital with no memory of how she got there. To make matters worse, she’s wearing something she’d never be caught dead in: her best friend Lyla’s clothes.

Mercy’s nightmare is just beginning. The doctor arrives to tell her that it’s she who lies in the hospital bed waiting to die. A trip to the bathroom confirms Mercy’s fears, as Lyla’s face stares back at her and Lyla’s curvy figure pokes through her tight clothes.

But finding out what’s really going on won’t be easy. Because if Mercy wants her body back, it might just cost her Lyla’s life.

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Title: Into the Dark
Publication date: August 18, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Caroline Patti

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Excerpt

Chapter One
Mercy
A TV, bolted high on the wall, buzzes in the background, the faint sound of the local news reporter’s voice robotically reciting the events of the evening. “One dead and another in critical condition … ”
The waiting room is empty of people. Plastic chairs line the walls. Magazines are strewn about. How did I get here?
The news reporter continues to speak. “What appears to be a suicide occurred tonight in the alley behind local watering hole, Wally’s Pub. Closed for a private party, owner Kate McCrimons had no comment on tonight’s event. Relatives of the victim, high school teacher Matteo Andreas, were not available for comment.”
It’s all coming back to me now. The party. The alley. Seeing Mr. Andreas with the gun in his mouth. Oh God.
“Hey, you’re awake.” Jay stands before me holding two coffee cups.
“Did you bring me here?” I rub my temples with the palm of my hand. My head is pounding.
“You don’t remember?” Jay’s eyes narrow and tiny creases indent his furrowed brow. He doesn’t look at all like his normal goofy self. His brown eyes are concerned and focused intently on me.
I close my eyes and hold my head in my hands. “I feel sick.”
“Kate is on her way,” Jay continues. He sits down next to me and sets the cups on the table. “Just a warning, she’s pretty freaked out.”
Tiny waves of nausea roll in my stomach. My mouth is dry and parched. “I’m gonna throw up.”
“Shit.” Jay jumps from the chair. I can hear him scrambling around the room. The noise is making me feel worse.
Something bangs into my legs. I open my eyes just a little to see a garbage can. Jay sits back down next to me and holds my hair back as the contents of my stomach empty. My stomach clenches as I grip the sides of the can. I hate throwing up. I hate the convulsions, the acid taste that fills my mouth, and the way a single strand of spittle dangles from my lip like I’m a drooling dog. Luckily, this is happening in front of Jay so it’s only moderately mortifying. Having known him all my life, he’s seen all sides of me: the good, the bad, and the worse.
“Here.” Jay slips a napkin into my hands. He rubs my back lightly. “Should I get a doctor?”
Jay kisses the top of my head and I flinch. My head snaps up too quickly and I stare at him while the room around me sways. “What are you doing?” I have to close my eyes again as another wave of sick crashes over me.
He takes his hands off me. “What?”
“Why’d you kiss me?” I peer at him sideways.
“I’m sorry.” He says it like a question, and then he looks at me like I’m nuts. “I was just trying to make you feel better, Ly.”
“Okay, but … ”
He called me Ly. As in Lyla. My best friend Lyla. “Why are you calling me Ly?” My pounding head cannot take this conversation.
“That’s what I always call you.” Jay shakes his head. His mop of curls swishes along his forehead. He brushes it out of his eyes by raking his hands through his hair. “How much did you drink tonight?”
I’m not quite sure.
The smell of my own sick is singeing my nostrils so even though it makes the room spin, I raise my head to look at him. A few strands of long, dark hair fall across my face. Hesitantly, I reach up and pull a clump around so I can see it better. My eyes cross as I stare at the nearly black hair. What the hell? Frantically, I pick at it, like an addict with a fixation.
“Lyla, what are you doing?” Jay asks.
I drop the pieces of hair and smooth them back. “Nothing.”
“You’re acting really weird.”
I’m acting weird? He’s the one who keeps calling me Lyla for God’s sake!
“Here you guys are!” Lyla’s older sister, Kate, speaks with an exasperated tone. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. There’s like sixty waiting rooms in this place.” She takes one look at the garbage in front of me and exhales, annoyed. Being a bar owner means Kate has plenty of experience with vomit.
“You okay?”
Slowly, I nod as I slide the can away from me with my feet. She sits in a chair just across from us. “I brought you some clothes.” She holds out a brown paper bag to me and waits for me take it.
“Don’t give me any grief about what I picked. I was in a hurry.” Kate’s appearance is frazzled. Deep brown curls spill forth from the messy bun of hair piled on top of her head. Her feet jiggle up and down. Kate always fidgets when she’s nervous.
In the bag I find Lyla’s “Crazy for Cupcakes” tee, a pair of jeans, and some flip-flops. Why did Kate bring me Lyla’s clothes?
“Do we know anything?” Kate asks.
“No,” Jay tells her. “We’re still waiting for the doctor.”
“Is Eric here yet?” Kate asks about my dad.
“Not yet,” Jay answers.
My dad is on his way. Relief sinks in knowing that in a few minutes I’ll be able to hug him and he’ll make everything okay again.
“You want some coffee?” Jay reaches for the cup and holds it out to Kate. He gestures toward me as he says, “I got it for Ly, but I don’t think she wants it.”
I do not. I hate coffee.
“Sure.” Kate takes the cup and sips slowly. She gives me a reproachful look when she says, “You drink too much coffee as it is.”
I start to protest, to tell them both that it’s Lyla, not me, who insists on stopping every morning at Peet’s, but Kate quickly adds, “Well, go change. This isn’t exactly the place for heels and cleavage.”
Cleavage? I look down and see what she means. I’m busting out of the seams! This isn’t my dress. This is Lyla’s dress. I would never wear a dress like this. For one thing, it’s pink. And it looks like dip-dyed ace bandages wrapped around my body. I hold the bag close to my chest hoping to conceal my heaving flesh. Wait. I don’t have heaving flesh. And I don’t have raven hair. Something is very, very wrong.
“Okay.” As I stand to go, I teeter on Lyla’s five-inch stilettos. Jay catches my elbow and steadies me.
“You need some help?” he offers.
“I got it.” I think. I cannot get away from them fast enough.
Not only do I feel like I’m going to vomit again, but I also feel like I’m having a mental breakdown. My hair is a different color. My breasts are like cantaloupes. I’m not wearing my own clothes. I swallow hard to push down the panic and a touch of bile.
Kate eyes me suspiciously. “Do you want me to come with you, just in case? You don’t look so good.”
“I’ll be fine,” I say, hoping to reassure both her and myself. I don’t have much confidence that I can walk far in Lyla’s shoes. For a split second I think about going barefoot, but decide against it. Luckily, it turns out the bathroom is just across the hall.
Lyla’s dress clings to me like Saran Wrap. I must look like Bambi learning to walk as I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. The carpet of the waiting room isn’t that treacherous, but the slick, overly polished hallway isn’t as forgiving. My left ankle rolls and I stumble just as I reached the bathroom door. Damn!
The bathroom is dark. I flip the wall switch and the light flickers, groans, and burns nearly out, casting a ghoulish yellow glow of light over the room. “Great.”
I grope my way toward the sink. It is then that my eyes adjust to the dark, and for the first time I see my reflection. Only it isn’t my face peering back at me. It’s Lyla’s, my best friend since the third grade. Leaning in closer, I stare, mouth agape, into the mirror. Her blue eyes are rimmed with multiple coats of black eyeliner. The red of her lipstick is faded, leaving her lips with only a hint of berry stain. My hands explore, skimming the sides of her cheek, hoping, praying that at any second the illusion will shatter. Despite my desperate hopes, the reflection never morphs from Lyla’s into mine.
I rack my brain trying to piece together everything that happened tonight. It’s my birthday I suddenly remember. We were having a party at Kate’s bar. A party I didn’t want. Lyla had talked Gage into being my date. Well, more like forced. But we were having a good time. He’s really nice. I went outside; I remember that part. And my teacher was there, that letch Mr. Andreas, and he grabbed me. He kept saying all this weird stuff to me and I tried to get away and that’s when Gage came out and started yelling at him. Mr. Andreas had a gun. And he … and he …
I remember the sound of the gun going off, and the brief second of relief I felt when I realized he hadn’t shot Gage. But then I saw all the blood. There was so much blood.
I stagger backward knocking into the stall door. It swings open and I drop to my knees over the toilet. I heave and heave, but nothing comes up. I curl into a sitting position. My fingers knot into my hair.
When I finally stand up, I expect—okay hope—that everything will have returned to normal, that I’ll be me again, and that seeing Lyla was just some sort of weird post-traumatic stress thing. But when I look in the mirror, I don’t see me. I see her.
This isn’t possible. There’s no way. I must be dreaming.
That’s the only explanation. This is just a dream. A very strange, twisted dream.
But it isn’t a dream. I press my hand to the mirror. It’s solid. It’s real. This is really happening.
“Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!” I curse as the mother of all freak-outs rumbles inside me. What am I supposed to do now?

About-the-Author
Caroline-Patti-225x300
Caroline T Patti is the author of The World Spins Madly On and Too Late to Apologize. When she’s not writing, she’s a school librarian, mother of two, wife, avid reader and Green Bay Packer fan.
Connect with the Author: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads
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Thursday, June 25, 2015

M9B Two for Thursday Book Blitz: "Horror Business" by Ryan Craig Bradford and "Fingers in the Mist" by O'Dell Hutchison with Giveaway #T4T

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Hello and welcome to this week’s Two for Thursday Book Blitz #T4T
presented by Month9books/Tantrum Books!
Today, we will be showcasing two titles that may tickle your fancy,
and we’ll share what readers have to say about these titles!
You just might find your next read!
This week, #T4T presents to you:
Horror Business by Ryan Craig Bradford and
Fingers in the Mist by O'Dell Hutchison
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

Horror-Business-Cover
Armed with a passion for classic B-grade horror movies, a script co-written by his twin brother, and a wicked crush on his death-obsessed neighbor, hardcore horror fan Jason Nightshade must finish his student film. 
But his plans are derailed when the children of suburban Silver Creek start disappearing -- his twin brother among them. Battling a possessed video camera, a crazy zombie dog, a monstrous bully, and a frighteningly broken-down family life, Jason embarks on a mission to find his lost brother so the two can write an ending for his story. 
As any horror fan knows, saving the day won’t be easy, as Jason finds himself forced to face the real world where death isn’t just a splash of fake blood on a camera lens.
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WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:

“Horror Business is, more than anything, an old-school horror story, digging deep into King's meticulous nostalgia, processed through the postmodernism of Scream, filtered at turns through the nerdiness of Dawson's Creek and Super 8, and then drenched in the blackness of a teenage boy's brain.” – Keith McLeary, Author


"What the author really captures here is not just a skin-crawling tale of monsters. He shows us where the real horror lies, in the awkward development of children into teens, the fearful uncertainty.”Matt E. Lewis, The Radvocate

Horror Business combines intelligence and entertainment into a particularly creepy read.” – Jennifer Bardsley, Author

about-the-author
ryanauthorpic3-300x200
Ryan grew up in Park City, Utah. His fiction has appeared in Quarterly West, Paper Darts, Vice, Monkeybicycle and [PANK]. He currently lives in San Diego where he acts as Creative Director for the nonprofit literary arts organization So Say We All. He’s the co-editor of the anthology Last Night on Earth and founder of the literary horror journal, Black Candies.
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | YouTube

Fingers-in-the-Mist-Cover
Sixteen-year-old Caitlyn Foster never believed in the legend of the Redeemers. That was before the trees started to whisper her name. Before a murder of crows attacked the town. Before she and her family came home to find a bloody handprint on their front door, marking one of them as a sacrifice. As Caitlyn’s friends are ripped from their homes, she knows it’s only a matter of time before the Redeemers come for her. Caitlyn has the power to stop the terror, but she’ll have to decide if she’s willing to sacrifice herself to save those she loves.
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WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:

“Hutchison does a fine job crafting a creepy tale that will leave many readers sleeping with a light on, or at least reading with an extra one on.”Jenn, Book Reviews and Giveaways

Fingers in the Mist created an eerie atmosphere that pervaded the entire story. The town, the legend, the characters -- everything was downright creepy.”Kimber Leigh Wheaton, Author

“I LOVED every single second of this book, and cannot wait to see what he comes up with next!” – Jaime, The Best Books Ever

about-the-author

ODell-Hutchison-HS-1-300x244
O’Dell was born in a small rural town in Idaho. There were no Redeemers living there (that he knows of). After attending college in the Pacific Northwest, he found his way to the Houston area. By day, he is a Business Systems Analyst, and at night you can either find him sitting at home, dreaming of random super powers he wishes he had, or directing plays and musicals at various theaters around Houston.

Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Disclaimer: Susan Heim on Writing is not responsible for Rafflecopter content or prize fulfillment.