Thursday, February 28, 2013

Opal

by Jennifer Armentrout
Read: February 8 - 22, 2013
Published: December 11, 2012 by Entangled Teen
Source: Kindle Purchase
Category: Paranormal Romance, Aliens, YA
Series: Lux Series book 3

NOTE: Opal is the third book in a series. My thoughts contain spoilers for Obsidian and Onyx. This review is spoiler free for Opal

No one is like Daemon Black.

When he set out to prove his feelings for me, he wasn’t fooling around. Doubting him isn’t something I’ll do again, and now that we’ve made it through the rough patches, well... There’s a lot of spontaneous combustion going on.

But even he can’t protect his family from the danger of trying to free those they love.

After everything, I’m no longer the same Katy. I’m different... And I’m not sure what that will mean in the end. When each step we take in discovering the truth puts us in the path of the secret organization responsible for torturing and testing hybrids, the more I realize there is no end to what I’m capable of. The death of someone close still lingers, help comes from the most unlikely source, and friends will become the deadliest of enemies, but we won’t turn back. Even if the outcome will shatter our worlds forever.

Together we’re stronger... and they know it. (From Goodreads)

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It took me exactly two weeks to finish this book. Not because I struggled to get through it, or didn't have the time, but because I was panicked out about the CLIFFHANGER everyone was freaking out about. I ended up putting this book on hold when I only had 10 pages left, and finally picking it up again when my desire to know what happens outweighed my fear of what was to come. The ending was crazy, but I survived it intact. With or without the cliffy, Opal is a fantastic sequel. I daresay it's the best book in the Lux series yet. 

I don't know if you remember my Onyx review, but I was incredibly frustrated with Katy throughout the entire book. I've always admired her stubborn, independent personality, and I understand that she was reluctant to trust Daemon and angry at him for hurting her in Obsidian. But in my opinion, that was no excuse for her complete lack of judgement and refusal to listen to the truth. After an entire book of wanting to shake her, and then watching her learn some tough lessons because of her behavior, I was thrilled to be back on Katy's side in Opal

Katy was an idiot in Onyx, but what I admire about her is that she would be the first person to admit it to you. In Opal, Katy acknowledges her mistakes, and actively works to correct them. She does this without sacrificing the feisty, strong willed personality that we met in book one. That doesn't mean that anything is easy, in fact everything is much more complicated. But I love that Jennifer Armentrout doesn't gloss over the mistakes Katy made. 

Katy's relationship with Daemon continues to grow and progress in Opal. They are both strong minded people, and they have to learn to work together and manage their differences. They also have to figure out how to balance their warring desires to protect each other with their need to trust and rely on the other. I was incredibly impressed by Daemon and Katy's growth in this book, and the way that Armentrout showed how well they work as a couple. Despite their differences in natures, they truly connect with each other, and form an amazing team. Of course they are still the same stubborn people that they have always been, and continue to butt heads and disagree at times. But what is fantastic about this book is that they learn how to work through their issues and to communicate without huge breakdowns. I loved seeing signs of maturity in their relationship. Don't worry, there are plenty of sweet and sexy moments in this book as well. Fans of Katy and Daemon will not be disappointed by that development of their relationship either.

Amidst Katy and Daemon's personal dramas, the seriousness of the government threat to the aliens is increasing, and every person they know has been affected in some way. People in town have started to notice that there have been a lot of suspicious disappearances, and a few sudden reappearances. Dawson has been rescued. However, Beth is still being held by Daedalus, and he is desperate to get her back (I loved Dawson, especially his interactions with Katy and Daemon!!). Dee is struggling with the loss of Adam, and blames Katy for his death. Katy's moms' boyfriend Will has disappeared, and it is unclear whether Daemon successfully created a bond with Will when he healed his leg. The Arum are a constant threat hanging over everyone's heads. Many questions surround the DOD and Daedelus, and no one knows what has happened to Blake since Daemon and Katy let him live at the end of Onyx. I got dizzy just typing all of that out, I can't imagine what it must be like to live it. 

Two major themes this book explores are consequences and sacrifice. What are you willing to do to save the people you love? Would you put yourself at risk, or sacrifice someone else? I have a feeling that we will be revisiting these questions in the next two books, which  are supposed to be from both Daemon and Katy's perspectives. I cannot wait for that. 


Love Triangle Factor: NONE!
Cliffhanger Scale: HIGH

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

None of the Regular Rules Blog Tour

Blog tour hosted by Xpresso Book Tours
See the full tour schedule HERE

None of the Regular Rules
by Erin Downing

Read: February 23 - 24, 2013
Published: November 20, 2012 by the author
Source: Gift from the author in exchange for an honest review
Category: Contemporary YA

Sometimes, a few dares can change lives...

The weekend before the start of senior year, Sophie Erickson and her best friends, Ella and Grace, discover a handwritten list of dares tucked away in the glove compartment of Sophie’s beat-up old Toyota. But this isn’t just any list; it’s a dead girl's bucket list.

Sophie's beloved aunt Suzy died as a teenager in a fatal fall, leaving Sophie with an overly cautious family, a few fading photographs, and a bucket of bolts that barely passes for a car. But now, Sophie has Suzy’s list of the things she wanted to do in her last year of high school. Sophie can't help but wonder: What would happen if she tried to fulfill Suzy’s last wishes, to live out the longed-for life of her aunt, her hero?

As Sophie and her friends attempt to knock off the things on Suzy's list of dares, love blossoms in unexpected places and Sophie begins to feel that her life is finally coming together...when in fact, everything is slowly unraveling around her. When the truth about a long-held family secret threatens to shatter everything she believed to be true, Sophie is forced to question everything she knew about the life and people she believed in, and ultimately herself. 


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“I wanted to feel the pressure of trying something new – of risking something before we were thrown out into the world with a bunch of strangers and all of the security of home stripped away.” 
Senior year is about to begin and Sophie Erickson has decided that she wants more from her life than her safe, parental-approved existence. She sees her future after high school stretching out before her with a big blank, impenetrable wall blocking the way, and she's ready to do something to change that. Instead of watching safely from the sidelines Sophie decides that this is the year that she will step out from the background and experience life. She wants to do something to define herself, but she’s not sure what that will be. Until she finds a hand written list of dares in her late aunt Suzy's car.

Sophie always looked up to her aunt, whom she saw as brave and the only person in her family willing to take chances and go after what she want. Although Suzy died tragically 10 years ago when she was in high school and Sophie was only 8, Sophie still feels a strong connection to her. That bond has never been stronger than now, when Sophie is entering her own senior year of high school and has inherited Suzy's car. When Sophie and her two best friends find the list of dares that her aunt wrote in high school, Sophie decides that she will complete the list to honor her aunt, but also as a way to step outside of herself and hopefully, discover who she is in the process.

None of the Regular Rules is a book about friendships. Although Sophie is the driving force behind committing to the list of dares, she wants to share the experience with her two best friends, Grace and Ella. It is Sophie's enthusiasm that makes them excited to participate. Grace is popular, athletic and a great student; Ella has an eccentric, artistic style, is a part of the yearbook crowd and wants to see the world after high school. Sophie in many ways is the balance between them, but each of the three girls is dissatisfied with something in her life. The three of them have been friends since childhood, and though they are are all different from each other, they have somehow been able to maintain a friendship throughout school. I really love that this is a book about a friendship between three girls. It is how many of my friendships have formed, and the story was more relatable because of it.

Sophie, Ella and Grace have known each other long enough to be able to read each others’ moods, call the other out when she is being idiots and also push each other’s buttons. During their senior year, their relationship will be tested by guys, misunderstandings and pressures at the end of high school. With the big changes of college – and expectations for the future – looming, they are still growing and learning how to relate to each other, they are also still having fun and challenging each other in the process. Sophie, Ella and Grace’s relationship is by no means perfect, but it is dynamic and that makes it real. It was refreshing to read a book that focuses on healthy, supportive girl friendships.

In addition to the focus on friendships, two themes that really resonated with me in None of The Regular Rules were perception and identity. How you perceive someone before you meet them can be very different than what they are like once you get to know them. We all judge others before we know who they are, or put people on pedestals only to watch them fall. This is never an easy lesson, but it is one that everyone learns - sometimes in more painful ways than others. On the flip side, is the concept of developing your own identity. Learning how to be authentic regardless of what others think is true about you (or want to be true about you), and regardless of whether you disappoint others in the process. It is never so important to learn these lessons than the end of high school, when your future is looming ahead, and when you have to make your own decisions about what that future looks like for you, regardless of what your parents or anyone else thinks. It takes a fair bit of bravery to do this, which is something that each of the three girls develops over the course of the book. 

Of course a romance weaves its way through the story.  Featuring Sophie and her neighbor Johnny Rush, the love story is not the center of the plot, but fits into it nicely. While I will admit to being slightly disappointed in the way it progresses, it does feature some sweet and swoonworthy moments that I enjoyed. I wish we'd gotten to know Johnny a little better, and that he'd opened up to Sophie sooner. Despite his friendly, upbeat personality, he was not always forthcoming with information about himself and that made me suspicious about him. 

None of the Regular Rules is a fantastic look at friendships, love and identity at the end of high school. Growing up and defining who you are doesn't have to mean loosing friends or leaving your past behind. And though trying something new can open yourself up to failure, it can also bring things - and people - into your life that you would have missed otherwise.

Love Triangle Factor: Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone  


Purchase None of the Regular Rules: Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

About the Author: 
Erin Downing has written more than a dozen books for young adults, tweens, and kids. Her guilty pleasures include an unhealthy obsession with reality TV and cheesy romantic dramas (Revenge! Alias!), an addiction to Us Weekly magazine, and cupcakes.

Before turning to writing full time, Erin worked as a book editor, spent a few months as a cookie inventor, and also worked for Nickelodeon. Erin has lived in England, Sweden, and New York City, and now resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and kids. 

Find Erin Downing: Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook



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Friday, February 22, 2013

Just One Day

by Gayle Forman
Read: January 12-14, 2013
Published: January 8, 2013 by Dutton Juvenile
Source: Gift from the amazing Heather @ The Flyleaf Review
Category: Contemporary, New Adult


My summary: Just One Day stars Allyson Healey, a girl who’s always known what she is going to become. She has just graduated from high school, and is headed to college in the fall, where she will work hard so that she can get into medical school and become a physician like her father. As a graduation present her parents have given her a guided trip to Europe with her best friend. Sounds like a blast, right? When the book begins, Allyson is nearing the end of her trip, back in England after exploring Europe with her group. Unfortunately, experiencing Europe with a bunch of American students hasn't been as thrilling as Allyson had hoped. She is also bummed because she wasn't able to see Paris.

This is where Willem comes in. He is a Dutch actor working for Guerrilla Will, an underground Shakespeare theatre group that performs in public locations. Although they do not know each other, Willem offers to take Allyson to Paris for just one day. Allyson is naturally wary at first, but she agrees to Willem’s plan. Soon she is discovering that despite their differences, she and Willem actually connect really well. They spend a day together that is magical, memorable and even a little harrowing. This day also causes Allyson to question the path that has been so carefully laid out for her.

However, Allyson wakes up the next morning and Willem is gone. She is confused and hurt by his departure, but returns to the states to begin college and continue the rest of her Life Plan. Except that once Allyson starts college, she realizes more and more that she's not sure the path laid out for her is the one she wants to be on. The question is, what will she do about it? 

Tulips at Keukenhof

Stories have the ability to take readers away from reality and transport them to far off places. But sometimes they also connect back to our lives, and build upon our own memories and emotions. For me Just One Day is a powerful example of the second kind of book.

I read Just One Day in January soon after the story released, but it has taken me until now to muster enough courage to write out my thoughts about it. There are already so many fantastic reviews of this book, and I’ve had trouble finding a way to articulate how much this story resonates with me personally. Not only does it feature a swoony romance and fantastic New Adult themes about the transition period between high school and after, but I connected with so many experiences in Allyson’s life. I am still struggling to put into words exactly how much this book has affected me. 

I was actually afraid to start Just One Day. I knew it was going to be a Gayle Forman twofer, which translates to lots of emotions and heart break – but also a fan yourself romance. I had planned to wait to read it until the fall when both halves of the story would be released. But then I read THIS REVIEW by my friend Heather @ The Flyleaf Review, which literally made me tear up. From that review, I knew I had to read this story ASAP. Thankfully, Heather gave me a copy of the book for Christmas, I only had to wait a few weeks until it was released in January to read it. THANK YOU, HEATHER. 

You know what, Just One Day DOES have an amazing and heart-breaking romance. Despite my worries that I wouldn't be able to get into their love story when I already knew how their day would end, I ate up Willem and Allyson's time together. I had no trouble sensing a connection between them, and hanging on every moment they spent exploring Paris. In addition to the travel, art and literature themes, what deeply resonates with me about this story is the intensely emotional journey of self discovery that Allyson embarks on as a result of that day. I think it is all the more powerful because this book takes place during that big life moment of going from high school to college, when nearly every relationship in a person's life is affected. From growing apart from childhood best friends, to how much you should share with your parents, to learning how to make new friends, Gayle Forman depicts it all in brilliant and uncomfortable detail. 

Despite the devastating way that Allyson and Willem's experience in Paris is ended, and all the what if scenarios that would have given them another end to their day, for me one of the most profound concepts of Just One Day, is the fact that it is so clear to me that Allyson was not ready for a relationship with Willem at that time (I daresay he wasn't ready for one with her either). In fact, I think any actions on their part to keep in touch would have been disastrous. Only after Allyson looses Willem, resulting in her search to find herself and then him, is she is in a healthy enough place for a relationship. But whether she finds him, or whether it is possible to connect again after she has changed so much...well you just need to read this book and preorder the next one.  

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium



A Six Degrees of Separation between me and Just One Day (or how my life connects with Allyson and Willem's)* 


Sketching in Orvieto, Italy
1) I lived in Holland as a child, and still think Hagelslag is a delicious breakfast choice.

2) I played Rosalind in a high school production of As You Like It. 


3) I studied in Italy during college, and I've navigated foreign transportation systems and gotten lost in a European city. I also didn't speak the language at all before I arrived. 


4) I've experienced the painful reality of growing apart from a childhood best friend, and struggled to make new ones after a move. I am bummed that I never made a college friend like Dee, though! 

5) Allyson is right, Italians do not understand the concept of lines.



Keukenhof early 1980s
*I'm sort of embarrassed by this part of my post. Also, I'm making the exact same facial expression in both of those pictures. Some things really don't change. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Archived

by Victoria Schwab
Read: February 11-13, 2013
Published: January 22, 2013 by Hyperion
Source: Library
Category: Alternative Reality, Paranormal YA 


Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.
In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption. (From Goodreads)

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I fell in love with Victoria Schwab's writing in The Near Witch, which I called "a beautiful, lyrical, creepy, fairytale," and I was excited to see what she had planned for us in The Archived. I knew the writing would be gorgeous, and of course I was not disappointed. Plus as soon as I read the description - "Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books" - I was completely sold on the concept.  

In the world that Victoria Schwab has created in The Archived, every moment of a person's life is recorded and then placed into a library called the Archive once the person dies. The information is not kept in book form, but as a History or a physical copy of each person. This vast library of the dead is organized and maintained by Librarians, who live and work in the Archive full time. Occasionally a History will wake up and escape his/her shelf, and if they aren't caught and returned quickly, the results are usually disastrous. It is the job of a Keeper to make sure that Histories do not get into the Outer, or the regular world. The Narrows is the corridor between the Archive and the Outer, and that is where Keepers spend their time patrolling and returning escaped Histories to the Archive. Keepers live in the Outer world, but access the Narrows and Archive when a History needs to be returned. 

Mackenzie (Mac) is a Keeper, a job she inherited from her grandfather Da. At 16 she is one of the youngest, which is impressive except that she cannot tell anyone in her regular life about her job (including her parents and friends). As much as she loves what she does, she feels lonely and isolated. When The Archived begins, Mac has just moved with her mom and dad to the Coronado, an old hotel turned apartment building. Mac's brother Ben died a year ago and her mother is sure that a new home will give her family a fresh start and help them begin to heal from the loss of Ben. Mac does not agree, and despite their efforts, her parents aren't coping well either. The new home also means a new Keeper territory for Mac, which is busier than her last region. Along with more work it brings the added stress of constantly lying to her parents about where she is. 

Although Mac understands that Histories are not really the people who we have loved, it doesn't stop her from wishing that she could see her brother Ben again. She visits the shelf  where his History is kept as often as she can convince one of the Archive Librarians to take her there.  As much as they warn her that it isn't healthy - and that Ben isn't really there, she secretly wishes  that he'll wake up so that she can see him one more time. Although the Librarians are not part of Mac's life in the Outer, in many ways she is closer to them than any one else. Especially red chuck wearing, smutty magazine reading, Roland, who has a protective/mentoring relationship with Mac. Although she only sees him in the library, Roland has a bigger influence over Mac than her parents do, partly because they have no idea of her role as Keeper. Roland is one of my favorite characters in this book. I'd love to know more about his background. 

Two things of note happen when Mac moves into the Coronado. The first is that she meets a boy named Wesley Ayers who wears eyeliner, black nail polish and spiked hair, and whom she can't help but find intriguing. Despite his goth looks, Wes is vibrant and alive. But being a Keeper fills her with secrets and lies and makes it difficult for her to get close to anyone. It is also clear that Wes has his own family issues and secrets, which further complicates a connection. The second thing that happens is that Mac learns about a crime that took place in her building long ago, and she becomes desperate to solve it. What happened? And why can no one tell her anything about it? 

During her investigation, Mac explores the Coronado, which is an absolutely fantastic setting for a book. I wish I lived there. It is an enormous, crumbling old hotel filled with gardens, libraries, gargoyles, grand staircases and rickety elevators. Schwab truly brought the location to life. Besides Wes, Mac meets several other Coronado residents, including Ms. Angelli, an antiques collector who knows more than she's saying, and Mr. Nix, the only person in the building that was alive at the time of the crime. Then there's Owen, a guy that Mac first encounters when he rescues her from a dangerous situation, but whom clearly has his own story to tell. There's something different about him that Mac can't quite place, but it draws her to him. 

Although the pacing of The Archived was slow at first, the story really picked up after the first 100 pages when there was a revelation that surprised and excited me. However, my biggest trouble with this story centered around Mac. Even though conceptually I could understand her grief and loneliness and why it led her to take the actions that she did, I had a lot of trouble connecting with her emotionally. As a result, I found myself increasingly frustrated with her decisions. I was happy with the place she got to at the end of the book, but I will admit to having trouble getting over some of the things that she did throughout. I also felt like Mac took some big leaps in logic in her initial investigation of the Coronado crime, skipping natural early steps in how she got to some of her conclusions. Although they were mostly right, I didn't really understand how her mind got there so quickly. 

The Archived almost feels like it could be set in any time in recent history. Except for a passing mention about Mac's dead cell phone, there is really not much modern technology that is discussed. That along with the historical hotel, and the ageless Archives gives the book a timeless quality. Also, the entire story takes place in the Coronado or in the Narrows and Archives, further isolating the story from the modern world. Though the timeless feeling of the book worked well with the mood and setting of the story, I would like to see Mac out in the world more in the second one. It is summer vacation now, but how will she manage school (and Wesley) along with her role as Keeper? I'm very curious about both those questions. 

The Archived is a beautifully written story from Victoria Schwab, both in its lyrical prose and its unique and fascinating concept of a library for the dead. Although I will admit to having some problems with the heroine's decisions, I am really happy about her growth by the end of the book and I look forward to where this story takes us next. 


Love Triangle Factor: An uncomfortable Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: LOW - The book resolves itself well, but there is definitely room for more story. This is the first book in a series, and I'm looking forward to the next part of the story. 




Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Moonsongs, Book 1 and 2 Blog Tour
Excerpt and Giveaway

The Moonsong Saga blog tour is hosted by CBB Book Promotions
See the full tour schedule HERE

Moonsongs is a series of short episodic urban fantasy novellas about a lonely girl with purple hair who discovers that she is part of a rich tradition of hunters, and maybe her life has a bigger purpose after all. What kind of monsters she's hunting, you'll have to read the books to find out. 


Blood Fugue
by E.J. Wesley
Published: By the author September 24, 2012
Category: Urban Fantasy **NOT YA**
Series: Moonsongs, Book 1 (47 pages, each book is a short novella)

ABOUT BLOOD FUGUE: “Some folks treated the past like an old friend. The memories warmed them with fondness for what was, and hope for what was to come. Not me. When I thought of long ago, my insides curdled, and I was left feeling sour and wasted.”

Jenny Schmidt is a young woman with old heartaches. A small town Texas girl with big city attitude, she just doesn’t fit in. Not that she has ever tried.

Life has pummeled her heart into one big, lonely callus. She has no siblings, both parents were dead by sixteen, and her last grandparent—and caretaker—was in the ground before she turned twenty-one. She’s the last living member of her immediate family. Or so she thinks…

“We found my ‘grandfather’ sitting at his dining room table. An entire scorched pot of coffee dangled from his shaky hand. His skin was the ashen gray shade of thunderclouds, not the rich mocha from the photo I’d seen. There were dark blue circles under each swollen red eye. A halo of white hair skirted his bald head, a crown of tangles and mats. Corpses had more life in them.

Suddenly, instead of burying it with the dead, Jenny is forced to confront the past. Armed only with an ancient family journal, her rifle, and an Apache tomahawk, she must save her grandfather’s life and embrace her dangerous heritage. Or be devoured by it.

Blood Fugue can be found at: Amazon | Goodreads 

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Witch's Nocturne
by E.J. Wesley
Published: By the author December 2012
Category: Urban Fantasy **NOT YA**
Series: Moonsongs, Book 2 (73 pages, each book is a short novella)

ABOUT WITCH'S NOCTURNE: After receiving an ancient tribal journal from her grandfather, Jenny is sent on a mission of discovery in an attempt to unravel clues to her family's monster hunting past. The journey becomes more than academic when she is asked to confront a coven of dangerous witches who plan to cast an insidious spell on the plains of West Texas.

Witch's Nocturne is the second of the Moonsongs Books, a series of paranormal-horror-action novelettes by author E.J. Wesley. These stories contain language and content better suited for mature readers.

Witch’s Nocturne can be found at: 




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EXCERPT FROM BLOOD FUGUE: 


Smoldering in an auburn and gold shroud, the sun retreated behind a hill on the far horizon. Even the stubborn oaks and stout cedar trees along either side of the highway bristled in the growing wind. A small cyclone of blowing sand and leaves lifted across the road in front of us. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees in less than two hours.

Things changed in a hurry in West Texas.

After we’d left Merrill’s, I’d gone home to switch clothes and pick up my old lever action .30-30 rifle. Realizing I’d probably be up in the tree stand for a few hours and not see a thing, I hadn’t been in any real hurry. But now, with my slippery hands on the steering wheel, I was getting anxious. As the afternoon waned, time seemed precious, like I was racing the dark or, if Grandpa was right, speeding toward my destiny.

I stomped on the gas. Like a whip-cracked beast, the pickup’s engine roared in defiance before yielding some extra mph.

“Sun’ll be down soon. Then it’s game on,” I said to Marshall. “Thanks again for tagging along.”

“Don’t get too excited. I’m staying in the pickup, remember? And you promised to go to Lubbock with me, which didn’t hurt your case.” Marshall didn’t look away from the frayed paperback in his hand, but he did pat the first aid kit next to him. “Besides, I’ve seen you in action. You may need my professional help before the night is over.”

I frowned, hoping he was wrong about the first aid. “You know I hate Lubbock. That was dirty pool.”



Little crystalline spouts of my breath floated in the gloom around me. I’d been in the tree stand thirty minutes and was already itching to call it a night. My legs ached. This wasn’t one of those cushy three-person stands. This one wasn’t much more than a shrapnel-like piece of metal jutting out of the bark about twenty feet off the ground. The chains holding it in place were rusty enough to give me pause when, rifle slung over my back, I’d scaled the tree. I didn’t weigh much, and the stand hadn’t looked like it would hold much. Luckily it had. Standing erect, my back had bonded with tree ever since.

“He knew we were coming,” I muttered to no one, wishing for the hundredth time I was in the warm pickup with Marshal.

We’d gotten to the farm at dusk, just like Grandpa had asked. We banged on his door for ten minutes with no answer. Deciding he’d probably just gone to bed early, I finally gave up and took my spot in the tree.

His absence had been gnawing at me ever since. Why go through all the trouble of coming of out of hiding from faking your death, contacting your long lost granddaughter for the first time in fifteen years, asking for her help to kill a dangerous animal, and then not be around to see it done?

I looked in the direction of the corral. A single halogen yard light several feet outside the fence had flickered to life at sunset. It didn’t illuminate the entire holding area, but shone some light on the corner of the pen where Thunder’s rotting body was heaped. I spotted what I thought were the gray chunks of his remains in the yellow light and my stomach clinched. I struggled to make anything else out in the dimness.

My vision took a moment to steady through the scope. Flies buzzed, although they were more sluggish than they’d been earlier in the day. They wouldn’t survive this cold night. The thought prompted me to pull the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, hoping to warm my numb ears and cheeks.

I looked down the scope for a long while without seeing anything. Then, in the shadows beyond the horse, two golden eyes appeared. The body was completely obscured by darkness, but the eyes were the only things I really cared about. They never blinked, only stared straight ahead, directly into my scope. I don’t know how, but I could see them, and I knew what the animal was feeling. He was mad. Not crazed, but angry.

My imagination filled in the gaps. I visualized his pupils contracting and expanding, the burning colors of the irises swirling around them like agitated clouds. I could imagine his gaze shifting with my movement, as if he were counting the breaths escaping my lungs. In my mind, I could almost feel the ground around him vibrating with a swelling growl, and hear the rumble disturbing the otherwise silent night.

Blood thundered in my ears as I came to one simple, terrifying conclusion: malice. The animal wanted blood, and he aimed to get it in the most violent of ways. 

I shouldn’t be here. That thing isn’t--I caught myself.  I'd almost thought human. Of course, he wasn’t human. People didn’t gut horses with teeth and claws.



About the author:

Born and raised in Oklahoma, E.J. grew up in a land of good earth and better people. He holds degrees in psychology and counseling, but prefers to spend his time in the heads of imaginary people to real ones. He writes and lives in South Texas, and loves to chat about movies, books, music, food, and family.

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