TRUTHS I NEVER TOLD YOU by Kelly Rimmer – Blog Tour

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Truths I Never Told You : A Novel 

Kelly Rimmer

On Sale Date: April 14, 2020

Imprint: Graydon House

Fiction / Historical 

After finding disturbing journal pages that suggest her late mother didn’t die in a car accident as her father had always maintained, Beth Walsh begins a search for answers to the question — what really happened to their mother? With the power and relevance of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Jewell, Rimmer pens a provocative novel told by two women a generation apart, the struggles they unwittingly shared, and a family mystery that may unravel everything they believed to be true.

 

With her father recently moved to a care facility because of worsening signs of dementia, Beth Walsh volunteers to clear out the family home to prepare it for sale. Why shouldn’t she be the one, after all? Her three siblings are all busy with their families and successful careers, and Beth is on maternity leave after giving birth to Noah, their miracle baby. It took her and her husband Hunter years to get pregnant, but now that they have Noah, Beth can only feel panic. And leaving Noah with her in-laws while she pokes about in their father’s house gives her a perfect excuse not to have to deal with motherhood.

 

Beth is surprised to discover the door to their old attic playroom padlocked, and even more shocked to see what’s behind it – a hoarder’s mess of her father’s paintings, mounds of discarded papers, and miscellaneous junk. Her father was the most fastidious, everything-in-its-place man, and this chaos makes no sense. As she picks through the clutter, she finds a handwritten note attached to one of the paintings, in what appears to be in her late mother’s handwriting. Beth and her siblings grew up believing Grace Walsh died in a car accident when they were little more than toddlers, but this note suggests something much darker may be true. A frantic search uncovers more notes, seemingly a series of loose journal entries that paint a very disturbing portrait of a woman in profound distress, and of a husband that bears very little resemblance to the father Beth and her siblings know.

 

A fast-paced, harrowing look at the fault in memories and the lies that can bond families together – or tear them apart.

 

PROLOGUE

 

Grace

September 14, 1957

 

I am alone in a crowded family these days, and that’s the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced. Until these past few years, I had no idea that loneliness is worse than sadness. I’ve come to realize that’s because loneliness, by its very definition, cannot be shared.

Tonight there are four other souls in this house, but I am unreachably far from any of them, even as I’m far too close to guarantee their safety. Patrick said he’d be home by nine tonight, and I clung on to that promise all day.

 

He’ll be home at nine, I tell myself. You won’t do anything crazy if Patrick is here, so just hold on until nine.

 

I should have known better than to rely on that man by now. It’s 11:55 p.m., and I have no idea where he is.

 

Beth will be wanting a feed soon and I’m just so tired, I’m already bracing myself—as if the sound of her cry will be the thing that undoes me, instead of something I should be used to after four children. I feel the fear of that cry in my very bones—a kind of whole-body tension I can’t quite make sense of. When was the last time I had more than a few hours’ sleep? Twenty-four hours a day I am fixated on the terror that I will snap and hurt someone: Tim, Ruth, Jeremy, Beth…or myself. I am a threat to my children’s safety, but at the same time, their only protection from that very same threat.

 

I have learned a hard lesson these past few years; the more difficult life is, the louder your feelings become. On an ordinary day, I trust facts more than feelings, but when the world feels like it’s ending, it’s hard to distinguish where my thoughts are even coming from. Is this fear grounded in reality, or is my mind playing tricks on me again? There’s no way for me to be sure. Even the line between imagination and reality has worn down and it’s now too thin to delineate.

 

Sometimes I think I will walk away before something bad happens, as if removing myself from the equation would keep them all safe. But then Tim will skin his knee and come running to me, as if a simple hug could take all the world’s pain away. Or Jeremy will plant one of those sloppy kisses on my cheek, and I am reminded that for better or worse, I am his world. Ruth will slip my handbag over her shoulder as she follows me around the house, trying to walk in my footsteps, because to her, I seem like someone worth imitating. Or Beth will look up at me with that gummy grin when I try to feed her, and my heart contracts with a love that really does know no bounds.

 

Those moments remind me that everything changes, and that this cloud has come and gone twice now, so if I just hang on, it will pass again. I don’t feel hope yet, but I should know hope, because I’ve walked this path before and even when the mountains and valleys seemed insurmountable, I survived them.

 

I’m constantly trying to talk myself around to calm, and sometimes, for brief and beautiful moments, I do. But the hard, cold truth is that every time the night comes, it seems blacker than it did before.

 

Tonight I’m teetering on the edge of something horrific.

 

Tonight the sound of my baby’s cry might just be the thing that breaks me altogether.

 

I’m scared of so many things these days, but most of all now, I fear myself.

 

Excerpted from Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer, Copyright © 2020 by Lantana Management Pty Ltd. Published by Graydon House Books.

author photo_KellyRimmer_credit Bree Bain Photography

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kelly Rimmer is the worldwide and USA TODAY bestselling author of Before I Let You Go, Me Without You, and The Secret Daughter. She lives in rural Australia with her husband, two children and fantastically naughty dogs, Sully and Basil. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. Please visit her at www.Kelly.Rimmer.com 

Facebook: @Kellymrimmer

Twitter: @KelRimmerWrites

Instagram: @kelrimmerwrites

 

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NIGHT OF THE DRAGON by Julie Kagawa – Blog Tour

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All is lost.

To save everyone she loves from imminent death, kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko gave up the final piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. Now she and her ragtag band of companions must make one desperate final effort to stop the Master of Demons from using the scroll to call the Great Kami Dragon and make the wish that will plunge the empire into chaos.

Shadow clan assassin Kage Tatsumi has regained control of his body and agreed to a true deal with the devil—the demon inside him, Hakaimono. They will share his body and work with Yumeko to stop a madman, and to separate Hakaimono from Tatsumi and the cursed sword that trapped the demon for nearly a millennium.

But even with their combined skills and powers, this unlikely team of heroes knows the forces of evil may be impossible to overcome. And there is another player in the battle for the scroll, a player who has been watching, waiting for the right moment to pull strings that no one even realized existed…until now.

Excerpted from Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa. © 2020 by Julie Kagawa, used with permission by Inkyard Press.

 

One thousand years ago

 

In the long years of his existence, the number of times he had been summoned from Jigoku could be counted on one claw.

 

Other demon lords had been summoned before. Yaburama. Akumu. The oni lords were too powerful not to have some en-terprising blood mage attempt a contract with them, though such rituals often ended badly for the arrogant human who thought they could enslave an oni lord. The four of them were, admit-tedly, a proud bunch, and did not take kindly to an insignificant mortal attempting to bend them to their will. They humored the blood mage long enough to hear what the human was offering, and if it did not interest them, or if the mage foolishly tried to assert dominance, they would rip him apart and do what they pleased in the mortal realm until they were sent back to Jigoku.

It had always amused Hakaimono when a mortal tried to summon him. Especially that moment when they gazed upon him for the first time and fully realized what they had done.

 

Narrowing his eyes, he gazed around, peering through smoke and ignoring the brief feeling of vertigo that always accompanied being dragged from Jigoku into the mortal realm. A growl of murderous annoyance rumbled in his throat. Already, he was not in the best of moods. Akumu had been scheming again, trying to weaken Hakaimono’s forces behind his back, and he had been on his way to deal with the devious Third General when black fire had erupted over his skin, words of blood magic echoing in his head as he abruptly found himself in the mortal realm. Now he stood in the center of a ruin, broken walls and shattered pillars surrounding him, the scent of death thick on the air, and contemplated squeezing the head of the mage responsible until it popped like an egg in his claws.

 

The stones under his feet were sticky and had a sweet, coppery smell he recognized instantly. Lines of blood had been painted over the ground in a familiar circle, with words and sigils of power woven in a complex pattern. A summoning circle, and a powerful one at that. Whomever the blood mage was, they had done their research. Though it wouldn’t save them in the end.

 

“Hakaimono.”

 

The First Oni looked down. A woman stood at the edge of the blood circle, black robes and long hair seeming to blend into the shadows. She clutched a knife in slender fingers, her pale arm covered in red to the elbow.

 

A chuckle escaped him. “Well, don’t I feel important,” he said, crouching down to better see the woman. She gazed coolly back. “Summoned by the immortal shadow herself. I am curious, however.” He raised a talon, watching the human over curved black claws the length of her arm. “If you rip off an immortal’s head, do you think it will die?”

 

“You will not kill me, First Oni.” The woman’s voice was neither amused nor afraid, though the certainty in it made him smirk. “I am not so foolish as to attempt a binding, nor will I ask much of you. I have but a single request, and after that, you are free to do what you like.”

 

“Oh?” Hakaimono chuckled, but admittedly, he was curi-ous. Only the very desperate, foolish or powerful called on one of the four oni generals, and only for the most ambitious of re-quests. Like destroying a castle, or wiping out an entire gen-eration. The risk was too great for anything less. “Let’s hear it then, human,” he prompted. “What is this one task you would have me undertake?”

 

“I need you to bring me the Dragon scroll.”

 

Hakaimono sighed. Of course. He had forgotten it was that time again in the mortal world. When the great scaly one him-self would rise to grant a wish to an insignificant, short-lived human. “You disappoint me, mortal,” he growled. “I am not a hound that fetches upon command. You could have gotten the amanjaku to retrieve the scroll for you, or one of your own human warrior pets. I have been called on to slaughter armies and tear strongholds to dust. Fetching the Dragon’s Prayer is not worth my time.”

 

“This is different.” The woman’s voice was as unruffled as ever. If she knew she was in danger of being ripped apart and devoured by an annoyed First Oni, she did not show it. “I have already sent my strongest champion to retrieve the scroll, but I fear he has betrayed me. He wants the power of the Dragon scroll for himself, and I cannot let the Wish slip away now. You must find him and take back the scroll.”

 

“One human?” Hakaimono curled a lip. “Not much of a challenge.”

 

“You do not know Kage Hirotaka,” the woman said quietly. “He is the greatest warrior the Empire of Iwagoto has seen in a thousand years. He is kami-touched, but also trained in the way of the samurai. His talents with both blade and magic are so great, the emperor himself praised his achievements. He has killed men, yokai and demons in waves, and will be perhaps the single greatest opponent you have ever faced, Hakaimono.” “I very seriously doubt that.” The First Oni felt a smirk cross his face as he breathed in the blood-scented air. “But now, I’m intrigued. Let’s see if this champion of shadow is as good as you say. Where can I find this demonslaying human?” “Hirotaka’s estate lies outside a village called Koyama, ten miles from the eastern border of Kage territory,” the woman re-plied. “It’s not hard to find, but it is rather isolated. Aside from Hirotaka’s men and servants, you won’t be opposed. Find Hi-rotaka, kill him and bring the scroll to me. Oh, and one more thing.” She raised the knife, observing the bloody, glittering edge. “I cannot have anyone suspecting me of blood magic. Not now, when the night of the Wish is so close.” Her black eyes rose to his, narrowing sharply. “There can be no witnesses, Hakaimono. No survivors. Kill everyone there.”

 

“I can do that.” A slow grin spread across the oni’s face, and his eyes gleamed red with bloodlust. “This will be fun.”

 

He would come to regret those words more than any other in his existence.

Q&A with Julie Kagawa

Q: What were your biggest influences when creating this world in story, whether they be legends, folklore, anime, manga or other novels?

A:  Anime, Manga and video games have been my biggest influences when writing the world of Shadow of the Fox, but also the works of Akira Kurosawa like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashomon.   

 

Q: Would you ever consider using this world and/or some of the characters in future stories that you write?

A:  I love Japanese legends and folklore, so I might very well return to this world someday.  Maybe not through the eyes of a kitsune, but there is always the possibility of future books set in the land of Iwagoto.  

 

Q: Did Night of the Dragon have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?

A: I listen to a lot of movie and anime soundtracks while writing, but nothing specific.  

 

Q: What was the hardest scene to write? What was the easiest?

A:  The hardest scene was the last battle with the Final Boss at the end.  Without giving away spoilers, there was a lot of kitsune magic, illusion and misdirection, and trying to show everything that was going on without making it too confusing was a challenge.  I don’t remember an easy scene to write, but I did enjoy writing one of the final chapters (where I hope everyone cries).  

Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)

A: There are a few references that only those very familiar with Japanese folklore would get.  For example, the names of the Reika’s two dogs, Chu and Ko, come from a Japanese novel called The Eight Dog Chronicles, which has been adapted into manga, anime, and even video games.  In Soul of the Sword, Yumeko and her friends are on their way to the home of the tengu, when they encounter a pair of magical stone guardians called Yoshitsune and Benkei, two real life historical figures that inspired countless legends and stories.  In folklore, Minamoto no Yoshitsune was a near mythical swordsman who had been trained by the king of the tengu, and Benki was a warrior monk who was his stalwart companion. 

 

Q: What do you hope people remember about Night of the Dragon?

A: I hope people come away with a new appreciation of Japanese myth and folklore, particularly all the wonderfully bizarre yokai, yurei and bakemono that populate these stories.  From kitsune and tanuki to oni and kirin, I hope it inspires readers to learn more about the world of Japanese myth and legend. And I hope people remember how much they cried at the end of the story. 

 

Q: What is your dream cast for Night of the Dragon?

A:  I am so bad at this question.  I really can’t answer it because one: I am terrible at keeping up with current actors/actresses.  And two: I see everyone in Shadow of the Fox as anime characters.

 

Q: Is there a character that you found challenging to write? Why?

 

A:  Taiyo Daisuke was probably the most challenging, because it was a balancing act of making him a noble and making him likable.  Nobles in fantasy stories tend to be arrogant, snooty, mocking, and manipulatieve. More often than not they are the villains, or at least an unpleasant obstacle the heroes must get around.  Daisuke was very clearly an aristocrat, so I made very certain to give him qualities atypical of a noble. Kindness, humility, and viewing everyone, even the ronin, as an equal was certainly not the mindset of a typical samurai, but it was necessary to make Daisuke a well loved member of the team and not a person the reader, and the other characters, hated.   

 

Q: How does a typical writing day look like for you?

 

A: I work from home, so times vary, but I try to head into my office and start writing around 9am everyday.  I have a quota of 1,000 words a day, except when I’m close to deadline, then the word count jumps by a few hundred words.  Sometimes I reach my quota in a few hours, sometimes it takes me all day, but I try not to stop writing until my word quota is reached.

Q: What is your current read?

 

A: At the moment, the words on my computer screen, lol.  Its deadline crunch time, so my current WIP is the only thing I have time for now. Hopefully I can get back to pleasure reading when I’m finished.

 

Q: What part of the Shadow of the Fox series was the most fun to write?

 

A: I really enjoyed writing the parts with Yumeko’s kitsune illusion magic.  One of my favorite scenes was when Yumeko and the others attended a formal tea ceremony with a snooty noble of the Shadow Clan.  I won’t give away spoilers, but what Yumeko does at the tea ceremony still makes me smile, and remains one of my favorite parts of the series.

 

Q: Was there a scene or backstory about a favorite character that didn’t make it into the final version of NIGHT OF THE DRAGON that you can share with us?

 

A: There was an earlier draft where Taka, Lord Seigetsu’s servant, was a human boy instead of a small, one-eyed yokai who could see the future.  But it seemed more interesting to have him be a yokai instead. Also in an earlier draft, Yumeko was not a half kitsune but a full fox who lived in a den with her grandmother fox and two brothers.  That also, got cut, as a half-human Yumeko was more sympathetic and relatable than one who was full kitsune.

 

Q: The Iron Fey series was your first large published success. How did you feel as a writer when you reflect upon those books? How did/do you feel as a reader when you read or re-read those books?

 

A: The Iron Fey series holds a very special place in my heart as my first published series. I know I’ve grown since then, and when I re-read the Iron Fey I know I’ve come a long way as an author. But I also know that I wrote the best books I could at the time, so even though I wouldn’t write them the same way now, I’m happy with them.

 

Q: What is it about fantasy that draws you to it?

 

A: Is everything a good answer? I love myths and legends, other worlds, magic, swords, wizards, dragons, evil gods, epic quests, and the battle between good and evil.  I read to escape, but also to travel to far away places and encounter creatures and beings I would never meet in real life. Who hasn’t daydreamed about flying on the back of a dragon?  I read fantasy for the same reason.  

 

Q: How much research goes into your books and at what point do you stop using research and build off it?

 

A: It depends on how much I already know about certain aspects of the book.  For example, from the amount of anime and manga I’d consumed over the years, I knew a lot about kitsune, oni, tanuki, and various other Japanese monsters.  I still did a fair amount of research, though it was more about the samurai and the Sengoku Jidai, the era I was basing the book off of. I never really stop researching, though most of it goes into book one, which is where much of the world building takes place.

 

Q: Would you ever write adult fantasy? If so, what would it look like?

 

A: I certainly have considered it, though it would look a lot like my YA books, just with older protagonists.   When I write, I don’t think “This is for teens,” I just write how I would always write. Really, the only thing that differentiates YA from adult is the age of the heroes and the lack of graphic sex in YA.  And even that is changing.

 

Q: Finally, out of all the books you have written, which has your favorite world and why?

 

A:  Probably the Iron Fey series, though Shadow of the Fox is a close second.  I love fantasy and all the fantastic creatures that populate it, so the Nevernever is my favorite world for that alone.  Even though I wouldn’t last a day there without getting eaten by an ogre, a redcap or a kelpie. Maybe if I could find a big gray cat…    

Julie Kagawa_Hires2017

Julie Kagawa, the New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Fey, Blood of Eden, Talon, and Shadow of the Fox series was born in Sacramento, California. But nothing exciting really happened to her there. So, at the age of nine she and her family moved to Hawaii, which she soon discovered was inhabited by large carnivorous insects, colonies of house geckos, and frequent hurricanes. She spent much of her time in the ocean, when she wasn’t getting chased out of it by reef sharks, jellyfish, and the odd eel.

When not swimming for her life, Julie immersed herself in books, often to the chagrin of her schoolteachers, who would find she hid novels behind her Math textbooks during class. Her love of reading led her to pen some very dark and gruesome stories, complete with colored illustrations, to shock her hapless teachers. The gory tales faded with time, but the passion for writing remained, long after she graduated and was supposed to get a real job.

To pay the rent, Julie worked in different bookstores over the years, but discovered the managers frowned upon her reading the books she was supposed to be shelving. So she turned to her other passion: training animals. She worked as a professional dogtrainer for several years, dodging Chihuahua bites and overly enthusiastic Labradors, until her first book sold and she stopped training to write full time.

Julie now lives in North Carolina with her husband, two obnoxious cats, and a pair of Australian Shepherds that have more Instagram followers than she does.

Visit Julie’s website , Goodreads, or Facebook page.

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WE DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS by Adi Alsaid – Blog Tour

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We Didn’t Ask for This

by Adi Alsaid

On Sale: April 7, 2020 

Inkyard Press

Young Adult 

 

About the Book

From Adi Alsaid, the acclaimed author of Let’s Get LostNever Sometimes Always, and North of Happy

 

Every year, lock-in night changes lives. This year, it might just change the world.

 

Central International School’s annual lock-in is legendary — and for six students, this year’s lock-in is the answer to their dreams. The chance to finally win the contest. Kiss the guy. Make a friend. Become the star of a story that will be passed down from student to student for years to come.

But then a group of students, led by Marisa Cuevas, stage an eco-protest and chain themselves to the doors, vowing to keep everyone trapped inside until their list of demands is met. While some students rally to the cause, others are devastated as they watch their plans fall apart. And Marisa, once so certain of her goals, must now decide just how far she’ll go to attain them.

Excerpted from We Didn’t Ask for This by Adi Alsaid. © 2020 by Adi Alsaid, used with permission by Inkyard Press.

 

The lock-in was going fairly well until Marisa unleashed her cronies and chained herself to the main entrance.

 

No one really noticed right away, busy as they were taking part in a number of lock-in-related activities: laser tag in the parking garage, a sanctioned food fight in the cafeteria, a photo shoot tutorial with a renowned YouTube influencer.

 

Once a year, in April, the doors at Central International School’s K-12 campus closed—though they didn’t literally lock—to allow the high school students to roam free for the whole night. Having the next day off school was nowhere near the best part. Nor, strictly speaking, were the activities themselves, though they were extravagant and wonderful and distracted everyone from what Marisa was doing.

 

People fell in love on lock-in night. They stumbled upon new passions that would shape the rest of their lives, discovered friendships they could not imagine living without, before or after. Traumas were resolved on lock-in night, anxieties disappeared, never to return, not even after the buses arrived in the morning to take the students back home.

 

This was well known to the few students who had been lucky enough to have attended before, or who had siblings who had attended in years prior. At Central International School, the student body ebbed and flowed, changing drastically from year to year, and often even more frequently. It was common to have different classmates every semester, and sometimes students would find the person who sat next to them in class—the alluring redhead who scribbled song lyrics on the margins of their textbooks, who one time turned and asked to borrow a pen they never returned, though they had offered a smile that carried with it joy beyond a simple gesture; the redhead who might have one day soon become more than just a classmate—was simply gone from one day to the next.

 

Even by international school standards, the turnover rate of both students and faculty had always been high, though it had a great academic reputation, and the city in which it sat was a diverse and world-class cosmopolis. Yet people never seemed to stick around for long, as if families were carried in by the seaside breeze, and carried away by the same. Most students had multiple passports, and their parents were multinational, or transient because they were diplomats, or titans of industry, or missionaries, or digital nomads, or teachers within the international school world. They had roots in many places, thought of no one place as home—or rather, thought of everywhere they’d been as home.

 

So it was rare for a student to be around for several lock-in nights. Even the locals, who made up a mere fifteen percent of the school’s population, often temporarily relocated during their high school years—a boarding school exchange in Switzerland, a South American road trip in a van with their family, a missionary excursion in Central America.

 

Despite all this, the lore surrounding lock-in night was always momentous, starting as an excited murmur the first day of school and building to a frenzy by the night before the event itself a month or so before the end of the year. Students wondered how, exactly, their life would be improved by the evening. There was no question it would—they could feel it on their skin, their heartbeats thudded with the knowledge that things were about to change, they had absorbed the gossip, not just a rumor or two, but dozens and dozens of first-hand accounts or verifiable secondhand stories, so many of them that it did not feel like hearsay but like fact—it was the how that was exciting. Would the redheaded classmate return to slip a hand into theirs during the movie marathon on the roof garden? Would their fear of heights be cured by the trapeze the school had set up on the football field? Or would it simply be a night of such fun that the joy would sink into their bones and change them into happier people?

 

Lock-in night, simply put, was magic. Even all those who had never experienced it knew it to be true.

 

Which, of course, was why Marisa planned her protest for that well-loved night. To make people pay attention, disrupt what brings them joy.

 

The mad desire to act had existed long before her plan did. Marisa loved the water as a baby. Her parents told the stories to anyone who would listen. She always feigned embarrassment at their anecdotes about her hour-long baths and surprising performance in toddler swimming classes, her dark, curly hair unfurling in the water behind her like a mermaid, her brown eyes huge within the goggles she always carried around. But the truth was that she loved the stories. They confirmed this was not a passing fad, not a childhood obsession that would lose its significance over time, not a baby blanket carried around charmingly until age ten, when it was shoved into a box and donated.

 

When she discovered snorkeling and, later, diving, that love blew wide open. This? This had been possible this whole time?

 

Though Marisa was only seventeen, her parents’ constant relocations for work meant she’d seen a hefty percentage of the world’s waters. She’d snorkeled in Mexico, Fiji, the Philippines, the Great Barrier Reef, Belize. And the more she did it, the more her heart broke. Human beings had found a way to kill water.

 

The places famed for their snorkeling were heart-­ wrenching. The destroyed beige reefs littered the oceans like ornate gravestones. They should have been resplendent with color. Books and scientists told her as much, and other divers did, too. Of course, though, they weren’t. Not anymore. The world had ruined that particular beauty before Marisa had ever had a chance to see it, killing the corals with spilled chemicals, suffocating the oceans with heat. Every time she surfaced, she would dive into the internet, trying to find a way to help. Changing her sunscreen to the reef-safe kind, cleaning up plastic on the beach, asking her parents to donate yet again; nothing felt big enough.

 

Then came the three-day weekend at the start of the school year that changed it all. She had convinced her parents to take the family to the beach, and the Cuevases, who knew their frequent moves could be hard on the children, relented de-spite the fact that neither of them felt settled in at work yet, and they would have really liked to stay in the city and run errands.

 

Marisa had heard amazing things about the snorkeling in the region surrounding the beach. She was always skeptical when she heard anything like that; she’d been disappointed enough. She was fine just swimming among whatever fish remained in the area and pretending this was what it had al-ways been like, this was the wondrous alien world other divers described. After their most recent move, she’d done her usual research and found on the most trustworthy sources that an untouched blip still existed, not too far from her new school.

 

She convinced her parents, who knew it was better to indulge Marisa than fight her, to take a boat to an island, then another, smaller boat to another, smaller island. Arriving at the clear, turquoise waters, which were peppered with butterflies from who knows where fluttering across the surface, whole waves of them outnumbering the tourists she had seen even on the mainland, Marisa allowed herself to hope. Well before her family was ready, Marisa was in her flippers and mask, and she sat on the edge of the boat and let herself fall backward into the warm waters. At first, her heart had soared: greens! Purples! Oranges! Bright colors in the reefs, finally. The schools of fish were more like armies, numbered not in dozens but in hundreds, maybe even thousands, various species all swimming in their separate schools, like great big flags unfurling mightily in the water.

 

Marisa followed them, kicking delightedly, her heart flooding with joy. Then she turned a corner around some rocks and her breath caught, as if someone had reached inside her chest and closed a massive fist around her lungs. Even here, she found murk and drudgery, the reef not on display so much as its dying was.

 

She emerged from the water and took off her mask, tears mixing with the waves. People and the trash with which they suffocated the world. She looked around, shading her eyes from the shimmering sunlight with her free hand. Maybe it was time to accept the world as it was.

 

As she turned to swim back to shore, she caught sight of something on the far end of the island. A construction site. Large, acres and acres of it, from what Marisa could tell, and a handful of bulldozers. She swam closer and saw the sign announcing the coming resort. Nearby, a trickle of brown-gray water weaved its way from below the makeshift wall around the site and dribbled onto the sand.

 

Yes, it was a travesty, an outrage that the world had been ruined before her arrival. But that trickle hadn’t reached all the way to the shore, not yet.

 

As soon as she and her family made it back to their eco-hotel that day, Marisa decided she had to stop that waste from reaching the ocean. Whatever she could do for the reefs, she was going to do it. If it was just shutting down that one construction site, or if it was something much bigger, she had to try. What else was there but to try?

 

Months of stewing later, of planning, of seeing the ruined remains of the ocean floors every time she closed her eyes, of thinking of a way to make everyone else see what she saw. It all led up to this moment, when Marisa hoisted a chain from the duffel bag she’d hidden on campus a few days ago. She weaved it through the handles on the double doors that led into the main school building, then she wrapped it three times around her own body, uncomfortably tight, so bolt cutters could not break through the metal without snagging on her skin. When she was satisfied, she grabbed three giant padlocks from the bag and locked herself in, meaning to stay.

 

She set the keys in the middle of her palm, rubbing them each in a pad of butter procured earlier from the cafeteria, and which had warmed nicely in her pocket throughout the afternoon. Then Marisa, rehearsing her speech in her mind one last time, looked up. She expected to see a sizable crowd already gathering. What she saw instead was a lanky blond sophomore leaving the bathroom across the open expanse of the building’s foyer. The boy was checking to see if he’d re-membered to zip up. He had not.

 

When his eyes met Marisa’s, he could tell she had seen him checking, and he stepped quickly away from her line of sight, failing to notice the heavy metal chain wrapped around her torso.

Adi Alsaid_by Peter Ross

 

Adi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City. He attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He’s now back in Mexico City, where he writes, coaches basketball, and makes every dish he eats as spicy as possible. In addition to Mexico, he’s lived in Tel Aviv, Las Vegas and Monterey, California. His books include Let’s Get Lost, Never Always Sometimes, and North of Happy. Visit Adi online at or on Twitter: @AdiAlsaid.

Pick up your copy here:

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FADE TO WHITE by Tara K. Ross – Cover Reveal

Fade to White Cover

Thea Fenton’s life looks picture-perfect, but inside, she is falling apart. Wracked by anxiety no one seems to understand or care about, she resorts to self-harm to deflect the pain inside.

When a local teen commits suicide, Thea’s anxiety skyrockets. Unexplainable things happen, leaving her feeling trapped within her own chaotic mind. The lines between reality and another world start to blur, and her previously mundane issues seem more daunting and insurmountable than ever.

Then she meets Khi, a mysterious new boy from the coffee shop who seems to know her better than she knows herself—and doesn’t think she’s crazy. His quiet confidence and unfounded familiarity draw her into an unconventional friendship.

Khi journeys with her through grief, fear, and confusion to arrive at compassion for the one person Thea never thought she could love.

A deeply transformational novel from an authentic new voice in Christian young adult fiction.

  •  Fade to White is a contemporary YA novel which explores the interplay of faith and mental health through one girl’s struggles with anxiety and self-harm.
  • There is a touch of magical realism for all those fantasy lovers out there.

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Forever Summer by Nicole Bea – Blog Tour

Forever Summer
Nicole Bea
Published by: The Wild Rose Press
Publication date: February 24th 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult

Morrigan Westhaver isn’t convinced anything could make her forget her abusive ex-boyfriend—not even if she travels all the way from her home in Michigan to her father’s ranch in Alabama. Saved text messages and voicemails haunt her life with poisonous words and crippling self-doubt, but she can’t seem to let them go. On the ranch, much to her surprise, she immediately takes to a rescued horse, Stormy, as well as Levy, an attractive ranch hand. Will their understanding and gentle support help her heal, or is the damage too deep?

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble

EXCERPT:

“We could have texted if you wanted to talk,” I remind him, patting the spot on the bed where my phone has slipped down to.

He pulls an elastic band from his wrist and snaps it into place around his hair, making a perfectly small bun before taking the towel, squeezing the excess water from the style, and taking a seat at the edge of my bed.

“You’re trying to make it sound like you don’t want me here, but I know you do. You wouldn’t have let me in otherwise, and you wouldn’t have kissed me this afternoon.” There’s a pause, the night dripping in and our faces drawing closer. “Do you believe in love at first sight, Morrigan?” His voice hangs heavy and warm in the bedroom air.

The question might be a rhetorical one, but I feel compelled to answer because I think I gave a shit answer the first time he asked me the question.

“I used to,” I reply softly, a whispered lilt to my voice that matches his own. “You know, before.” I tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear.

“That’s interesting.” He clasps his hands together and rests them between his thighs. His eyes tell me that isn’t the answer he wanted. “You stopped believing in love at first sight when I finally started.”


Author Bio:

NICOLE BEA is a short story author and novelist who primarily focuses on contemporary teen fiction. An avid storyteller since childhood, she has honed her skills through a variety of educational programs including management, sociology, legal studies, and cultural diversity in the workplace, most recently engaging in coursework about communication for technologists. In addition to writing for young adults, Nicole is also a technical writer for a global manufacturer of CPAP masks, machines, and other products that manage sleep-disordered breathing.

When she isn’t busy updating her manuscript portfolio or catching up on her To Be Read pile, Nicole can usually be found gardening, horseback riding, or pursuing her new hobby of learning to cook. She and her husband share their home in Eastern Canada with a collection of multi-colored cats and a lifetime’s worth of books.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

 

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Cover Reveal : Warmaidens by Kelly Coon

Isn’t the cover gorgeous?!

Just a few moons after escaping the tomb in Alu, Kammani and the other runaway maidens have found refuge in the city-state of Manzazu. There, Kammani has become a respected healer, especially among the warriors she’s brought back from the brink of death. Now that the nightmares of Alu are fading, she can finally decide whether or not to take Dagan’s hand in marriage.

But when an assassin murders a healer he believes is Kammani and attempts to kill the displaced queen of Alu, the maidens realize they’ve been found.
Hungry for revenge, Manzazu’s queen wants to strike back at Alu with her fiercest weapons—her scorpion warrior maidens—but Kammani knows that war harms more than it heals. To save the innocents and any chance of a future with Dagan, Kammani must take down Alu’s ruler before their lives burn up in the flames of war.

HER HOMECOMING WISH by Jo McNally

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She’s ready to shed her good-girl ways…
“You’re all about following the rules now?
“Pity.”
Mackenzie Wallace hopes there’s still some bad boy lurking beneath single father Danny Adams’s upright exterior. Being the proverbial good girl left her brokenhearted and alone in the past. Now she’s back in town and wants excitement with her high school crush—not love. Dan knows their connection runs deep, despite Mackenzie’s protests. But will their new personas work together—especially when Dan’s secret is exposed?

Harlequin Series Spine Showcase

Excerpt

Dan returned, thankfully ending the conversation. He handed her a glass, but it wasn’t beer.

“I thought you might want some water to hydrate yourself from all your…uh…activity.”

“In other words, you agree I’ve had enough beer tonight? You’re right—this is not a typical Friday night for me.” Remembering she was here to start a more fun-loving life, she lifted her chin. “At least it wasn’t before tonight.”

Owen leaned forward to make himself heard over the music. “Hey, Dan, you bike, right? A bunch of us are going to do the loop around the lake Sunday. Wanna join us?”

Mack’s eyes went wide. “Dan, you still have your motorcycle? I used to love the way that thing rumbled…”

Kiara’s eyebrows rose, and Mack realized she sounded gushy. But she hadn’t thought of Dan pulling up behind the liquor store on that dark red Harley of his in a long time. He’d been every teenage girl’s bad-boy dream—handsome, reckless and restless. She used to run to the back window when she heard him coming, just to watch him pull that helmet off and run his fingers through his hair, wearing those tight jeans.

Was it hot in here, or was it her memories that were heating her up right now? She gulped down the cold water, nearly emptying the glass in one pull. Dan was saying something. Oh, damn. Dan was talking and she wasn’t even listening…

“…think Owen’s referring to bicycles, not motorcycles.” He nodded toward Owen. “I’ve got Chloe this weekend, so I’ll have to pass.” His mouth slanted into a half grin as he turned back to Mack. “But yes, I still have the old Harley. It’s been in mothballs for a few years, but I can’t seem to part with that last vestige of my misspent youth.”

That bad boy might still be in there…

“You know, I’ve never been on a motorcycle. You should give me a ride sometime…”

Dan coughed and the others laughed. That wasn’t the kind of ride she’d meant, of course. Or was it? Rather than apologize, she just met his gaze and shrugged.

There was a spark of something in his eyes. Interest? He closed them and shook his head, as if chasing away whatever thoughts she’d put there.

Author Bio

author photo_Jo McNally

Jo McNally lives in upstate New York with 100 pounds of dog and 200 pounds of husband – her slice of the bed is very small. When she’s not writing or reading romance novels (or clinging to the edge of the bed…), she can often be found on the back porch sipping wine with friends, listening to an eclectic playlist. If the weather is perfect, she might join her husband on the golf course, where she always feels far more competitive than her actual skill-level would suggest.

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TEMPORARY WIFE TEMPTATION by Jayci Lee – Blog Tour

cover_Temporary Wife Temptation_Jayci Lee

Much more than he bargained for…
“You want me to find you a wife?”
“No. I want you to be my wife.”
Garrett Song is this close to taking the reins of his family’s LA fashion empire…until the Song matriarch insists he marry her handpicked bride first. To block her matchmaking, he recruits Natalie Sobol to pose as his wife. She needs a fake spouse as badly as he does. But when passion burns down their chaste agreement, the flames could destroy them all…

Excerpt

Garrett resisted the urge to glance over his shoulder to check on her. Natalie was a grown woman and he didn’t need to protect her from being swarmed by admirers. Besides, she was the one who had proposed they refrain from other relationships, so she wouldn’t do anything to hurt his reputation or hers.

Earlier, at her apartment, he’d caught fire at the sight of her in her little black dress. It was demure compared to the one she’d worn at Le Rêve, but it hugged her hourglass figure and highlighted the curves underneath just enough to tease his imagination.

He walked to the bar for his Scotch and grabbed a flute of champagne from a server on his way back. As he’d anticipated, Natalie was now surrounded by a group of men and he lengthened his strides to reach her.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, sweetheart.” He pressed a light kiss on her lips and handed her the champagne.

“Thank you.” She leaned her head against his shoulder when he pulled her to his side, playing her part like a pro.

“Natalie was just taking us to task about USC’s new head coach. It seems neither he nor I truly understand college football,” said one of Mike’s college friends.

“Is that so?” Garrett raised an eyebrow at her and she shrugged.

“Taking you to task is a bit harsh.” She hid her grin against the rim of her champagne flute as she took a long sip. “It’s just that I have a better understanding than you guys.”

The audience winced and guffawed at her cheekiness. As Natalie continued with her lecture, all the men listened intently, as did Garrett. She was funny and down-to-earth, and her mind was quicker than lightning. Lost in her words, Garrett belatedly noticed the crowd had grown. Her champagne glass was depleted and her smile was becoming strained.

He leaned down close to her ear. “Tired?”

“And hungry.”

“All right, gentlemen. I’m whisking away my date now. I’m tired of sharing her.”

When the crowd finally dispersed, Natalie slumped against him with a groan. “I need food, champagne and somewhere to sit.”

A server walked over with a tray of bacon-wrapped shrimp and Natalie snatched a couple of them. She popped one in her mouth and mumbled around her food, “Not necessarily in that order.”

Garrett laughed and guided her toward the French doors leading out to the garden. Natalie ate every single hors d’oeuvre she met along the way and finished another glass of champagne.

“Holy cow. Is everything really, really delicious, or am I just famished? I would totally go back for that crab cake if my feet weren’t screaming at me to get my butt on a chair.”

He glanced down at her zebra-print high heels. They did amazing things for her legs but didn’t look remotely comfortable. “There’s a bench around the corner.” 

“Oh, thank God.” She kicked off her shoes as soon as she plopped onto the seat.

Garrett shrugged out of his jacket and draped it around her shoulders before sitting next to her.

“Thank you,” she murmured, gazing at the garden. “It’s so beautiful out here.”

“Is it?” He and Mike had grown up tearing apart that very garden, but Garrett had never sat still and taken it all in, like they were doing now. “I guess you’re right.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

He studied her profile, her high, regal cheekbone and the graceful curve of her neck. Half of her hair had escaped the loose knot behind her head and fell down her back and shoulders. He wanted to sweep aside her hair and feel the softness of her skin, which he absolutely should not do.

“So how do you know so much about college football?” He tore his gaze away from her and stared at an old maple tree ahead of him, hard enough to make his eyes water.

“Long story.”

“We’ve got time.” He made a show of checking his watch. “I’ll give you ten minutes.”

Her laughter filled the garden, then ended on a wistful sigh. “My dad and I, we weren’t very close. The only time he didn’t mind my company was when we watched college football together. He was a huge fan. I don’t think he even noticed I was sitting there half the time.”

Garrett understood what that felt like. As soon as he finished graduate school, he’d thrown himself into his work. It was satisfying in its predictability and it created a common ground for him and his father. His dad had stepped down from the CEO position when his mom died, but returned to Hansol a few years later as an executive VP.

“I thought if I learned enough about the sport, he’d like me a little better.” Her shrug told him it hadn’t worked, but Natalie told her story without an ounce of self-pity—like she owned her past, hurt and all. His respect for her deepened. “But soon I noticed I wasn’t faking my enthusiasm anymore. I’d grown to love the sport. Who knew it’d come in handy at an intimate birthday party for a hundred people?”

“You certainly won over quite a few of them.”

“I did?” Her eyebrows shot up in genuine surprise.

He huffed out a laugh. “Why did you think that crowd was hanging on to your every word?”

“Watch yourself, Garrett Song.” Natalie narrowed her eyes and pointed a finger at him. “I know where you live.”

He snatched her hand and tugged her to her feet. “Yes, and you’ll be living there with me starting Sunday.”

“Ugh.” She hooked an index finger in each of her shoes, not bothering to put them back on. “Do you ever stop thinking about work?”

“Yes.” He cocked his head and pretended to consider her question. “But only when I’m thoroughly distracted.”

Her lashes fluttered and color saturated her cheeks, and his gut clenched with heat. She could definitely become his most dangerous distraction.

Desire_Author photo_Jayci Lee

Jayci Lee writes poignant, funny, and sexy romance. She lives in sunny California with her tall-dark-and-handsome husband, two amazing boys with boundless energy, and a fluffy rescue whose cuteness is a major distraction. She is semi-retired from her 15-year career as a defense litigator, and writes full-time now. She loves food, wine, and travelling, just like her characters. Books have always helped her grow, dream, and heal. She hopes her books will do the same for you.

 

Harlequin Series Spine Showcase

Jayci Lee Author Q&A

 

  • Did you always want to write for Harlequin?

 

I read my first Harlequin when I was thirteen and by the time I was fourteen, I dreamed of becoming a Harlequin author. It is truly a dream come true to debut as a Harlequin author.

 

  • Share your favorite memory of reading a Harlequin romance

 

During summer vacation in high school, I used to borrow 10 Harlequin romances per library trip and read them all day, and sometimes all night, long.

 

  • What is a recent book you have read that you would recommend?

 

I really enjoyed Golden Heart Award winner Susannah Erwin’s WANTED: BILLIONAIRE’S WIFE. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys intense, slow burn, billionaire romance.

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WITNESS PROTECTION WIDOW by Debra Webb- Blog Tour

cover_Witness Protection Widow_Debra Webb

 

Can the witness protection program keep her identity secret?
After Allison James finally escapes her marriage to a monster, she becomes the star witness in the case against her deceased husband’s powerful crime family. Now it’s up to US Marshal Jaxson Stevens, Ali’s ex-boyfriend, to keep the WITSEC widow safe. But as the danger escalates and sparks fly, will Jax be able to help Ali escape her ruthless in-laws?

Excerpt

She shivered. The fire had gone out. She kept on her jacket while she added logs to the fireplace and kindling to get it started. Within a couple of minutes, the fire was going. She’d had a fireplace as a kid, so relearning her way around this one hadn’t been so bad. She went back to the kitchen and turned on the kettle for tea.

Bob growled low in his throat and stared toward the front door.

She froze. Her phone was in her hip pocket. Her gun was still in her waistband at the small of her back. This was something else Marshal Holloway had insisted upon. He’d taught her how to use a handgun. They’d held many target practices right behind this cabin.

A creak beyond the front door warned that someone was on the porch. She eased across the room and went to the special peephole that had been installed. There was one on each side of the cabin, allowing for views all the way around. A man stood on the porch. He was the typical local cowboy. Jeans and boots. Hat in his hands. Big truck in the drive. Just like Marshal Holloway.

But she did not know this man.

“Alice Stewart, if you’re in there, it’s okay for you to open the door. I’m Sheriff Colt Tanner. Branch sent me.”

Her heart thudding, she held perfectly still. Branch would never send someone to her without letting her know first. If for some reason he couldn’t tell her in advance, they had a protocol for these situations.

She reached back, fingers curled about the butt of her weapon. Bob moved stealthily toward the door.

“I know you’re concerned about opening the door to a stranger, but you need to trust me. Branch has been in an accident, and he’s in the hospital undergoing surgery right now. No matter that his injuries were serious, he refused to go into surgery until he spoke to me and I assured him I would look after you, ma’am.”

Worry joined the mixture of fear and dread churning inside her. She hoped Branch wasn’t hurt too badly. He had a wife and a daughter.

She opened her mouth to ask about his condition, but then she snapped it shut. The man at her door had not said the code word.

Author Bio

author photo_Debra Webb

DEBRA WEBB is the award winning, USA Today bestselling author of more than 150 novels, including reader favorites the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency, and the Shades of Death series. With more than four million books sold in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to her childhood on a farm in Alabama. Visit Debra at www.DebraWebb.com

Harlequin Series Spine Showcase

Author Q&A

 

 

  • Did you always want to write for Harlequin?

 

A: From the moment I read my first Harlequin Intrigue novel, I knew I wanted to write them!

 

  • Share your favorite memory of reading a Harlequin romance

 

A: I write romantic suspense so sometimes something light is a great way to relax. My fav memory is of laughing out loud while reading a Stephanie Bond Harlequin romance!

 

  • What is a recent book you have read that you would recommend? 

 

A: In The Dark by Loreth Anne White

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Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith – Blog Tour

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Slay meets Eliza and Her Monsters in Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments, an #ownvoices story in which two teen gamers find their virtual worlds—and blossoming romance—invaded by the real-world issues of trolling and doxing in the gaming community.

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

 

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

 

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

 

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

On Sale Date: January 28, 2020

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Eric Smith is an author, prolific book blogger, and literary agent from New Jersey, currently living in Philadelphia. Smith cohosts Book Riot’s newest podcast, HEY YA, with non-fiction YA author Kelly Jensen. He can regularly be found writing for Book Riot’s blog, as well as Barnes & Noble’s Teen Reads blog, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. Smith also has a growing Twitter platform of over 40,000 followers (@ericsmithrocks).

Excerpt

1 Divya

 

Mom. We’ve been over this. Don’t read the comments,” I say, sighing as my mother stares at me with her fretful deep-set eyes. They’re dark green, just like mine, and stand out against her soft brown skin. Wrinkle lines trail out from the corners like thin tree branches grown over a lifetime of worrying.

I wish I could wash away all of her worries, but I only seem to be causing her more lately.

“I’m just not comfortable with it anymore,” my mom counters. “I appreciate what you’re doing with…you know, your earnings or however that sponsor stuff works, but I can’t stand seeing what they’re saying about you on the Internet.”

“So don’t read the comments!” I exclaim, reaching out and taking her hands in mine. Her palms are weathered, like the pages of the books she moves around at the library, and I can feel the creases in her skin as my fingers run over them. Bundles of multicolored bangles dangle from both of her wrists, clinking about lightly.

“How am I supposed to do that?” she asks, giving my hands a squeeze. “You’re my daughter. And they say such awful things. They don’t even know you. Breaks my heart.”

“What did I just say?” I ask, letting go of her hands, trying to give her my warmest it’s-going-to-be-okay smile. I know she only reads the blogs, the articles covering this and that, so she just sees the replies there, the sprawling comments—and not what people say on social media. Not what the trolls say about her. Because moms are the easiest target for those online monsters.

“Yes, yes, I’m aware of that sign in your room with your slogan regarding comments,” Mom scoffs, shaking her head and getting to her feet. She groans a little as she pushes herself off the tiny sofa, which sinks in too much. Not in the comfortable way a squishy couch might, but in a this-piece-of-furniture-needs-to-be-thrown-away-because-it’s-probably-doing-irreversible-damage-to-my-back-and-internal-organs kind of way. She stretches her back, one hand on her waist, and I make a mental note to check online for furniture sales at Target or Ikea once she heads to work.

“Oof, I must have slept on it wrong,” Mom mutters, turning to look at me. But I know better. She’s saying that for my benefit. The air mattress on her bed frame—in lieu of an actual mattress—isn’t doing her back any favors.

I’d better add a cheap mattress to my list of things to search for later. Anything is better than her sleeping on what our family used to go camping with.

Still, I force myself to nod and say, “Probably.” If Mom knew how easily I saw through this dance of ours, the way we pretend that things are okay while everything is falling apart around us, she’d only worry more.

Maybe she does know. Maybe that’s part of the dance.

I avert my gaze from hers and glance down at my watch. It’s the latest in smartwatch tech from Samsung, a beautiful little thing that connects to my phone and computer, controls the streaming box on our television… Hell, if we could afford smart lights in our apartment, it could handle those, too. It’s nearly 8:00 p.m., which means my Glitch subscribers will be tuning in for my scheduled gaming stream of Reclaim the Sun at any minute. A couple social media notifications start lighting up the edges of the little screen, but it isn’t the unread messages or the time that taunt me.

It’s the date.

The end of June is only a few days away, which means the rent is due. How can my mom stand here and talk about me getting rid of my Glitch channel when it’s bringing in just enough revenue to help cover the rent? To pay for groceries? When the products I’m sent to review or sponsored to wear—and then consequently sell—have been keeping us afloat with at least a little money to walk around with?

“I’m going to start looking for a second job,” Mom says, her tone defeated.

“Wait, what?” I look away from my watch and feel my heartbeat quicken. “But if you do that—”

“I can finish these summer classes another time. Maybe next year—”

“No. No way.” I shake my head and suck air in through my gritted teeth. She’s worked so hard for this. We’ve worked so hard for this. “You only have a few more classes!”

“I can’t let you keep doing this.” She gestures toward my room, where my computer is.

“And I can’t let you work yourself to death for… What? This tiny apartment, while that asshole doesn’t do a damn thing to—”

“Divya. Language,” she scolds, but her tone is undermined by a soft grin peeking in at the corner of her mouth. “He’s still your fath—”

“I’ll do my part,” I say resolutely, stopping her from saying that word. “I can deal with it. I want to. You will not give up going to school. If you do that, he wins. Besides, I’ve…got some gadgets I can sell this month.”

“I just… I don’t want you giving up on your dreams, so I can keep chasing mine. I’m the parent. What does all this say about me?” My mom exhales, and I catch her lip quivering just a little. Then she inhales sharply, burying whatever was about to surface, and I almost smile, as weird as that sounds. It’s just our way, you know?

Take the pain in. Bury it down deep.

“We’re a team.” I reach out and grasp her hands again, and she inhales quickly once more.

It’s in these quiet moments we have together, wrestling with these challenges, that the anger I feel—the rage over this small apartment that’s replaced our home, the overdrafts in our bank accounts, all the time I’ve given up—is replaced with something else.

With how proud I am of her, for starting over the way she has.

“I’m not sure what I did to deserve you.”

Deserve.

I feel my chest cave in a little at the word as I look again at the date on the beautiful display of this watch. I know I need to sell it. I know I do. The couch. That crappy mattress. My dwindling bank account. The upcoming bills.

The required sponsorship agreement to wear this watch in all my videos for a month, in exchange for keeping the watch, would be over in just a few days. I could easily get $500 for it on an auction site or maybe a little less at the used-electronics shop downtown. One means more money, but it also means having my address out there, which is something I avoid like the plague—though having friends like Rebekah mail the gadgets for me has proved a relatively safe way to do it. The other means less money, but the return is immediate, at least. Several of the employees there watch my stream, however, and conversations with them are often pretty awkward.

I’d hoped that maybe, just maybe, I’d get to keep this one thing. Isn’t that something I deserve? Between helping Mom with the rent while she finishes up school and pitching in for groceries and trying to put a little money aside for my own tuition in the fall at the community college… God, I’d at least earned this much, right?

The watch buzzes against my wrist, a pleasant feeling. As a text message flashes across the screen, I feel a pang of wonder and regret over how a display so small can still have a better resolution than the television in our living room.

 

THE GALAXY WAITS FOR NO ONE,

YOU READY D1V?

—COMMANDER (RE)BEKAH

 

I smile at the note from my producer-slash-best-friend, then look up as my mom makes her way toward the front door of our apartment, tossing a bag over her shoulder.

“I’ll be back around ten or so,” Mom says, sounding tired. “Just be careful, okay?”

“I always am,” I promise, walking over to give her a hug. It’s sweet, her constant reminders to be careful, to check in, especially since all I generally do while she’s gone is hang out in front of the computer. But I get it. Even the Internet can be a dangerous place. The threats on social media and the emails that I get—all sent by anonymous trolls with untraceable accounts—are proof of that.

Still, as soon as the door closes, I bolt across the living room and into my small bedroom, which is basically just a bed, a tiny dresser, and my workstation. I’ve kept it simple since the move and my parents split.

The only thing that’s far from simple is my gaming rig.

When my Glitch stream hit critical mass at one hundred thousand subscribers about a year and a half ago, a gaming company was kind enough to sponsor my rig. It’s extravagant to the point of being comical, with bright neon-blue lighting pouring out the back of the system and a clear case that shows off the needless LED illumination. Like having shiny lights makes it go any faster. I never got it when dudes at my school put flashy lights on their cars, and I don’t get it any more on a computer.

But it was free, so I’m certainly not going to complain.

I shake the mouse to awaken the sleeping monster, and my widescreen LED monitor flashes to life. It’s one of those screens that bend toward the edges, the curves of the monitor bordering on sexy. I adjust my webcam, which—along with my beaten-up Ikea table that’s not even a desk—is one of the few non-sponsored things in my space. It’s an aging thing, but the resolution is still HD and flawless, so unless a free one is somehow going to drop into my lap—and it probably won’t, because you can’t show off a webcam in a digital stream or a recorded sponsored video when you’re filming with said camera—it’ll do the trick.

I navigate over to Glitch and open my streaming application. Almost immediately, Rebekah’s face pops up in a little window on the edge of my screen. I grin at the sight of her new hairstyle, her usually blond and spiky hair now dyed a brilliant shade of blood orange, a hue as vibrant as her personality. The sides of her head are buzzed, too, and the overall effect is awesome.

Rebekah smiles and waves at me. “You ready to explore the cosmos once more?” she asks, her voice bright in my computer’s speakers. I can hear her keys clicking loudly as she types, her hands making quick work of something on the other side of the screen. I open my mouth to say something, but she jumps in before I can. “Yes, yes, I’ll be on mute once we get in, shut up.”

I laugh and glance at myself in the mirror I’ve got attached to the side of my monitor with a long metal arm—an old bike mirror that I repurposed to make sure my makeup and hair are on point in these videos. Even though the streams are all about the games, there’s nothing wrong with looking a little cute, even if it’s just for myself. I run a finger over one of my eyebrows, smoothing it out, and make a note to tweeze them just a little bit later. I’ve got my mother’s strong brows, black and rebellious. We’re frequently in battle with one another, me armed with my tweezers, my eyebrows wielding their growing-faster-than-weeds genes.

“How much time do we have?” I ask, tilting my head back and forth.

“About five minutes. And you look fine, stop it,” she grumbles. I push the mirror away, the metal arm making a squeaking noise, and I see Rebekah roll her eyes. “You could just use a compact like a normal person, you know.”

“It’s vintage,” I say, leaning in toward my computer mic. “I’m being hip.”

“You. Hip.” She chuckles. “Please save the jokes for the stream. It’s good content.”

I flash her a scowl and load up my social feeds on the desktop, my watch still illuminating with notifications. I decide to leave them unchecked on the actual device and scope them out on the computer instead, so when people are watching, they can see the watch in action. That should score me some extra goodwill with sponsors, and maybe it’ll look like I’m more popular than people think I am.

Because that’s my life. Plenty of social notifications, but zero texts or missed calls.

The feeds are surprisingly calm this evening, a bundle of people posting about how excited they are for my upcoming stream, playing Reclaim the Sun on their own, curious to see what I’m finding… Not bad. There are a few dumpster-fire comments directed at the way I look and some racist remarks by people with no avatars, cowards who won’t show their faces, but nothing out of the usual.

Ah. Lovely. Someone wants me to wear less clothing in this stream. Blocked. A link to someone promoting my upcoming appearance at New York GamesCon, nice. Retweeted. A post suggesting I wear a skimpier top, and someone agreeing. Charming. Blocked and blocked.

Why is it that the people who always leave the grossest, rudest, and occasionally sexist, racist, or religiously intolerant comments never seem to have an avatar connected to their social profiles? Hiding behind a blank profile picture? How brave. How courageous.

And never mind all the messages that I assume are supposed to be flirtatious, but are actually anything but. Real original, saying “hey” and that’s it, then spewing a bunch of foul-mouthed nonsense when they don’t get a response. Hey, anonymous bro, I’m not here to be sexualized by strangers on the Internet. It’s creepy and disgusting. Can’t I just have fun without being objectified?

“Div!” Rebekah shouts, and I jump in my seat a little.

“Yeah, hey, I’m here,” I mumble, looking around for my Bluetooth earpiece, trying to force myself into a better mood.

This is why you don’t read the comments, Divya.

 

Excerpted from Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith, Copyright © 2020 by Eric Smith. Published by Inkyard Press. 

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