Guest Blogger: Michaela MacColl, Author of Always Emily (Giveaway)

Always Emily_FC

Emily and Charlotte Brontë are about as opposite as two sisters can be. Charlotte is practical and cautious; Emily is headstrong and imaginative. But they do have one thing in common: a love of writing. This shared passion will lead them to be two of the first published female novelists and authors of several enduring works of classic literature. But they’re not there yet. First, they have to figure out if there is a connection between a string of local burglaries, rumors that a neighbor’s death may not have been accidental, and the appearance on the moors of a mysterious and handsome stranger. The girls have a lot of knots to untangle—before someone else gets killed.

What’s Up with That Title? by Michaela MacColl

This week my new book Always Emily comes out. It’s the next novel in my series of literary mysteries – this one is about the Bronte sisters.  Charlotte Bronte (who would write Jane Eyre) is 18 and her sister Emily (of Wuthering Heights fame) is 17. The sisters get involved in a mystery on their very own moors – a mystery that threatens their peace of mind, their brother and father and even their lives.

If my story is about two sisters, what’s up with that title? Always Emily? I’ve had lots of  people ask me (especially my husband who gets this book mixed up with my last one about Emily Dickinson).  The truth is this book was originally written in alternating chapters, first Charlotte then Emily. These sisters, despite having an identical upbringing, were completely different from one another.

Charlotte was the eldest sister and she assumed responsibility for the family. She’s the one with the plan – to keep the family solvent, to find employment and to get the sisters published.  Emily, on the other hand, had zero ambitions other than to wander the moors and write her wild, uninhibited poetry and stories. Naturally Charlotte wrote about the repressed and moral Jane Eyre, while Emily penned a gothic melodrama of illicit love and revenge.

Jane Eyrewuthering heights

 

Ultimately I found the alternating narration way too confining. It didn’t seem fair to the reader to leave Charlotte locked in a trunk about to suffocate and then shift to Emily doing the most mundane of chores.  So I switched to a third person, but let each sister own their own chapters.  It worked so much better but I had to answer that pressing question, who is the main character?

bronte

I’m the eldest in my family and I’m the one who likes to plan – so my preference was Charlotte of course. But Emily was so much more fun! And if there’s to be a romance (and in these literary mysteries there is always a hint of some love in the air) Emily seems the more likely candidate. So Emily won out by a hair – Charlotte has adventures, but Emily is the main player.

Charlotte quite reasonably resents her sister’s lack of responsibilities. And how aggravating that Emily is the sister that attracts the masculine attention that Charlotte craved. More than once Charlotte mutters, “Emily, it’s always Emily.”

My editor and I liked this as a title because it sounds so romantic – but really it’s the lament of the plainer, older, duller sister. It’s always Emily!

Thanks for reading. I’d love to have you visit at www.michaelamaccoll.com , or follow me on Twitter at @MichaelaMacColl or check out Author Michaela MacColl on Facebook.

 

Read an excerpt at http://www.scribd.com/doc/198642656/Always-Emily

CCSS-Aligned Discussion/Teacher’s Guide at http://www.chroniclebooks.com/landing-pages/pdfs/AlwaysEmily_DiscussionGuide_FINAL.pdf

Win a signed copy of Always Emily!

Leave a comment, including your email address, for a chance to win an autographed copy of Always Emily by Michaela MacColl!

TERMS AND CONDITIONS:

  • By entering, you confirm you are 18 years of age or older and reside in the U.S. or Canada.
  • Giveaway ends 11:59 PM EST on May 1, 2014.
  • Winner will be notified by email and have 72 hours to claim the prize.
  • Prize will be shipped directly to the winner by the author or her representative.
  • This blog is not responsible for items lost or damaged in shipment.
  • Void where prohibited.

 

Kindle Freebie: Psyched by Juli Caldewell

psyched

Aisi Turay has it all under control.

At least, she thinks she does. Forget that the most popular girl in school hates her guts and will stop at nothing to embarrass her. Forget that her little brother is tormented by the ghosts and demons she sees all the time. Forget that her mom is a con artist who pretends to be psychic to make some cash. Forget that her dad is hiding a secret than can destroy everything she knows about herself. Nope, she’s got this one…until that one awful day when she nearly loses it all.

With ghost-hunting hottie Vance, a guy who stumbled into her life at the worst possible moment, Aisi must search for the messages hidden in visions and memories to protect her family. Maybe, just maybe, they can reclaim what she thought was lost forever.

File Size: 376 KB
Print Length: 255 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0615838650
Publisher: Julianne Hiatt Caldwell; 1 edition (May 30, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00D4C4HOQ

PURCHASE HERE!

Book Spotlight: Dragons of Jade by Jean Lauzier

There’s no such thing as dragons.

Of that, Jade Delaney was sure. She may not have known who she was or where she came from, but at least she had a plan for her future.

All that changes when a dragon summons her back to the world from which she came. There, she learns dragons are real, the truth of her birth, and just why she was abandoned as a toddler.

Now she must discover and stop whoever is killing the dragons, while avoiding the man who is hunting her.

File Size: 2547 KB
Print Length: 163 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: White Bird Publications, LLC (April 1, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00JD0VPJ8

The Secret Side of Empty by Marie E. Andreu

empty

A gripping, emotional story of a young woman’s journey to belong and be free to pursue her dreams is what you’ll find in The Secret Side of Empty by Marie E. Andreu.

A straight-A student on her way to becoming valedictorian, M.T. watches while her friends get their driver’s licenses and make college plans. As an undocumented immigrant, M.T. lives in constant fear of being found out, while coping with her domineering, paranoid father who believes her education is a waste of time. Not even her best friend, Chelsea, knows the truth.

Pressure mounts as the National Honor Society wants M.T. to plan their trip abroad and M.T. begins a relationship with Nate knowing she will never fit into his perfect, wealthy, all-American life. Can M.T. learn to trust herself and others to stake claim to the life she wants?

Drawing on her own experience as a formerly undocumented immigrant, Andreu creates a superbly told, thought-provoking story that tugs at every heart string. Readers will be captivated by this young woman’s plight of seeking dreams just outside of her grasp and diminished by her militant father whose only desire is to earn enough money to return to the country of his birth, ripping M.T. away from the only land she has ever called home.

While illegal immigration is a highly politicized topic, The Secret Side of Empty isn’t a story about undocumented immigrants. It’s the story of a girl growing up in America who has to hide a secret that can end life as she knows it. It’s the story of friendship and learning to trust others. It’s a story of family and how they shape us; how they can hold us back and often how they lift us up. While I definitely believe this novel will challenge beliefs about illegal immigration, in the end, readers will remember The Secret Side of Empty because of its believable and inspiring heroine.

Highly recommended!

Rating: :) :) :) :) :)

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Running Press Kids (March 11, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0762451920
ISBN-13: 978-0762451920

I received a copy of this book from the author’s publicist. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

Coming Soon!: Moonflower by Angela Townsend

moonflower

Natasha remembers little from her Russian childhood, other than the lingering nightmares of her mother’s tragic death. So when someone close to her hands her a one-way ticket to Russia, along with the deed to her family farm, and then is brutally murdered, she has little confidence about what awaits her in that distant land.

With doubt and uncertainty, Natasha has no choice but to leave her life in America for an unknown future. Once overseas, the terrifying facts as to why she was really summoned home come to light.

Fact one: Monsters do exist.
Fact two: The only thing keeping those monsters out of the world is an ancient mural hidden below her family’s farm.
Fact three: The mural that keeps the evil out of the world is falling apart.
The final fact: It’s up to Natasha to restore it and save the world from a horror unlike anything seen before.

Luckily, Natasha isn’t alone in her mission. Three Russian Knights are tasked with protecting her from the demons as she restores the mural. And leading the Knights is the handsome and strong Anatoly, who seems to be everything Natasha could hope for in a man. Unfortunately, there is one huge problem. Her Knights are forbidden from having relationships with the artists they protect, and Anatoly is a hardcore rule follower. But rules cannot stop the way she feels.

When a horrifying demon breaches the barrier and pulls Anatoly inside the mural, Natasha can’t help but charge, once again, into the unknown—this time to save the man she secretly loves. Now on the demons’ turf, she risks her own life to free the very one who is supposed to be protecting her. Little does she realize that if she should fail, it could mean the destruction of the very last barrier shielding mankind. Will Anatoly refuse Natasha’s help? Or will he finally realize, when love is at stake, the rules will be broken.

COMING MARCH 31, 2014!

 

You can add Moonflower to your list on GoodReads at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20924104-moonflower

On My Kindle

alchemy

The summer of 1984 was a golden time in America. From California, where gymnast Mary Lou Retton was winning Olympic gold, to Cape Cod, where explorer Barry Clifford was discovering pirate gold, the nation seemed obsessed with the precious metal. But for 15-year old Al, that obsession hits a little too close to home when he finds a code-filled notebook belonging to his missing father that may contain the ancient formula for turning lead to gold. Convinced that his father’s sudden disappearance is connected to his secret experiments in alchemy, Al sets out to find the truth. He enlists the help of Cammie, a beautiful girl staying for the summer while her marine biologist father tracks a wayward manatee, and together they begin unraveling the mystery. But the closer they get to an answer, the closer they grow to each other, and as the end of summer draws nearer, Al wonders if they can break the code without breaking his heart.

bone field

In this sequel to Belle of the Glades, the holiday season brings mystery and adventure for Belle and her Indian friend, Summer. At the Bone Field, they find clues of a Bigfoot, but Belle’s uncle dismisses the signs. Belle and Summer set out to befriend the mysterious stranger with food gifts, but he has reason to stay hidden. Is he a real Bigfoot? How does Belle solve the mystery?

games

Eleanor Parkhurst is determined to get in the way of Nathaniel Naverly seducing her sweet cousin Rose. Nate has a history of treating girls badly and Ellie suspects his intentions are far from honorable. Getting Nate to switch his attention to her seemed like a good plan, but Ellie didn’t foresee that she might have to protect her own heart from his schemes as well. The game is proving a challenge. Midnight meetings, fighting or kissing, it’s all part of the fun of flirting. Set in an English boarding school, Ellie and her American new best friend, Flora, discover that boys are more complicated than classes, and you have to play the game well or you might just get played!

guinevere
She is a mere child of twelve. But in these medieval days, this is the age when childish things must be put away and greater responsibilities accepted–all in preparation for a betrothal of marriage.

For young Lady Guinevere, on the advent of her thirteenth Birth Day, the whole idea is quite unbearable. After all, what could be better than spending her youth playing with her best friend Cedwyn, roaming the grounds around the castle looking for mythical creatures or hunting rabbits?

However, the wizard Merlyn–her teacher and friend–knows that destiny has a way of catching up with a person. His arrival sets in motion a series of events that will lead Guinevere to her destiny whether she is ready for it or not.

down under

When a reluctant grandson in Oregon is pressured into writing to his grandma in Australia, wonderful things happen. Both have a need for love and reassurance as they deal with their everyday problems. Back and forth the letters go: Josh shares his daily problems, and Grandma Rose shares past memories that astonish her grandson and his friend Kelly.

The Xbox gathers dust, as the two friends find themselves bike riding and bird watching – and actually reading. Googling the weird and wonderful Aussie critters that come to Rose’s garden becomes a fun hobby. Soon, Andy and Gradma Rose shrink the Pacific Ocean into a puddle they can easily ford.

** Glossary of Australian and words included.

billy

Young Billy loves the game of baseball. He can’t wait to play and hang around with his team mates. But Billy’s team mates don’t take to him right away and Billy struggles hitting.

Different Kind of Knight: Princess of Valendria Series by Mary Waibel

different-kind-of-knight-333x500Through a twist of fate, Princess Gabrielle became First Knight of the King’s Elite Guard, a position always held by the second born male. She’s spent years proving to the Minsters of Faldaera she is capable of leading the king’s Army.

When mythical creatures plague her kingdom, Rielle is sent to capture Captain Brody, the alleged culprit behind the attacks and the man who broke her heart four years ago.

Brody, Crown Prince of Delphine, is living in self-imposed exile, atoning for the sins of his father. But Fate has different plans for him. Tired, beaten down, and ready to give up on life, he is tossed into the path of the one person he would do anything for―Princess Gabrielle.

With a traitor in her ranks, and a mark on her head, Brody joins forces with Rielle, hoping to keep the woman he loves safe.

Happily-ever-after is not guaranteed, and mythical creatures aren’t the only danger the couple face. As battles rage, Rielle has the chance to prove herself a capable leader, but will doing so cost her the love of her life?

Excerpt

Brody lifted his tankard and took a swallow of the bitter brew, wishing he could drown his sorrows away. He knew from experience it was the worst thing to do. Not only would his problems still be there the next day, but if experience held out, they would be worse. A raging headache and upset stomach interfered too much with crewing a ship.

“We could stay here a few more days, if you want,” Ruprecht said.

Brody raised a brow. “Are you reading my mind now?”

“No. I’ve just seen that look before.”

Before Brody could say anything, the door opened. A young woman, dressed in field armor, stepped inside with two knights flanking her. Her gaze swept the room, drifting past him, before returning and locking on him, eyes widening in surprise.

Brody cursed under his breath, recognition dawning as she exchanged words with the two men. The older one shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. The younger tapped a hand to his chest and slipped out the door. He couldn’t hear what she said, but by the flush that crept into the knight’s face, he was certain she hadn’t liked him disobeying her order.

Of all the people in Faldaera, she was the last person he ever thought to see. She should be at Griffonvul Castle, training with the men, not out for a pint. Surely her appearance here was a coincidence. Or was it? Had his aunt somehow learned of their stolen moment in the garden four years ago? He wouldn’t put it past her to have set something up with the princess.

As she stalked to his table, he took the opportunity to study her. Eyes, like honey flecked with chocolate, looked at him, a flicker of hurt in their amber depths. He wondered at it briefly as he studied the rest of her.

Strands of golden blonde hair pulled loose from her braid. Dirt and dried blood smeared her face and her leathers, as if she had ridden here from the battlefield. She was far from the beautiful princess he had danced with under the stars, but she still made his pulse jump.

“You.”

The derision filled word rang in the room, drawing the attention of his men. They shifted in their seats, hands drifting to weapons. He knew he need only give the sign and they would detain her.

“Princess Gabrielle. What a pleasant surprise.” He smirked, the twist of his lips blossoming into a full smile when her eyes narrowed.

“Surprise?” She laughed, the sound wrapping around him and squeezing his heart. “I don’t think so. What are you doing in Faldaera?”

He took a sip of ale, studying her over the mug. “Just passing through.” When she frowned, he decided to see how far he could push her. “Were you hoping I’d drop by the castle for a visit?”

“Hardly,” she replied, dryly. “Besides, you’d have a hard time finding me there, anyway.”

“Too busy out playing knight?”

“Playing?” The man at her side said, his hands flexing as if he’d like to take a swipe at Brody. “Do you have any idea to whom you are speaking?”

Brody grinned and winked at Rielle. “Oh, I know exactly to whom I’m speaking.”

“Then you should be more respectful,” the knight said.

“I apologize if I have offended you, Your Highness.”

Brody tipped his head forward, a lock of brown hair falling in his eye. He brushed it back just in time to catch Rielle rolling her eyes.

“It would take more than that to offend me. However, my men are a bit touchier on the subject than I am. You’d be wise to be careful with your words.”

Ah, she still had the same rapier wit he’d sampled the last time they met. He wondered if her kisses were still as sweet. If her skin was still as soft. If she would melt in his arms like she had that night.

“My father has requested an audience with you.”

Her words snapped him out of his thoughts. “Me? Whatever for?”

She laughed again, but this time it was a hollow, mirthless sound. “You truly thought no one would put the pieces together and figure it out?”

“Figure what out?”

“Your arrival in Faldaera corresponds perfectly with the increase in creature attacks. Then there’s the trident marking on their manacles. What are you after, Captain Brody?”

He grinned, relieved she hadn’t used his real title. Then her words registered, and he stared, stunned she would think Delphine responsible for what was happening here.

“I thought you knew me better.”

“So did I,” she whispered.

He swore he could see pain in her eyes, and he hated to think he had put it there.

“I have my orders. Will you come willingly?”

He looked at the man at her side again and grinned. “Traveling light, Princess?”

“My other men will be here soon.”

“Ah, but mine are here now.” He leaned forward. “Who do you think would win?”

Her face paled, and for a moment, he thought he’d gone too far.

“You’ve never seen me fight, Captain.”

“There’s a first time for everything. Do you remember our other firsts?” Her cheeks tinged, and she swayed. Brody frowned. “Are you all right?”

She looked up at him, and he saw fear in her eyes. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out.

“Rielle?”

Her eyes rolled back as her body went limp. Brody jumped to his feet, scooping her into her arms before she collided with the floor.

Books in this series:

Quest of the Hart (MuseItUp)

Charmed Memories (MuseItUp)

Different Kind of Knight (MuseItUp, 1/31/14)

Faery Marked (BookFishBooks, 2014)

Visit the author online at marywaibel.blogspot.com

Guest Book Review: Princess Madeline and the Dragon by Kirstin Pulioff

madeline

Book Review: Princess Madeline and the Dragon by Kirstin Pulioff
Series: Princess Madeline Series
Paperback: 118 pages
Publisher: Caliburn Books (December 10, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1623750709
ISBN-13: 978-1623750701
Genre: Fantasy/magic/adventure
Ages: 10+

Five Stars

All is well in the Kingdom of Soron; at least, that’s what everyone thinks. The village has been rebuilt since Prince Paulsen’s disastrous attack the previous autumn, and preparations are underway for the Spring Faire – a very important occasion. Princess Madeline is also preparing for her upcoming wedding to Daniel, and the prospect of establishing a new home in the North. The wizards, now welcomed back after their timely assistance during the previous troubles, have a new role to play. Madeline has been having strange dreams, and the Elder Wizard, in fact her Uncle Elias, is trying to teach her to harness her magical powers, inherited from her mother. Then things turn horribly upside-down, as we have been warned via the prologue, where Lord Hawthorne (hunting for dragons’ eggs) stumbles upon a rare clutch of these magical eggs. Amazingly, a green dragon appears and begins to ravage the kingdom. The fiery attack ends with King Theodore being badly burned to the point where he insists on Madeline’s marriage to Daniel right away; and he appoints Madeline’s twin brother Braden as King of Soron. The dragon is fast becoming a huge and dangerous problem. Will Madeline and Braden be able to decipher the clues left by their mother that spoke of the Age of Dragons? And why is the dragon suddenly attacking the kingdom?

Kirstin Pulioff has cleverly sown the clues to the final book in the first and second books, where seemingly innocuous items hold the key to solving the mystery of the green dragon. Braden, somewhat neglected in books one and two, comes into his own and pulls the readers’ focus as he takes charge of the kingdom, and finds the path of love not as smooth as he had hoped. Madeline has really grown up here, and her thoughts on resolving the kingdom’s dilemma differ greatly from her brother’s. Her way is based on love, reason, reconciliation, and truth. The wizard Elias also has a lot to teach both the characters and young readers and his words of wisdom are beautifully woven into this rich fantasy tapestry. Again the author’s gift for description stands her in good stead as the dragon, in all its flaming fury, is brought vividly to life in the pages of this magical fairy tale. Princess Madeline and the Dragon is well worth the wait as there is something for everyone: romance, love, enchantment, magicality, wizards, action, adventure, and of course … here be dragons!

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.

First Chapter Reveal: The Cloud Seeders by James Zerndt

The Cloud Seeders 7

Serve Your Country, Conserve Your Water, Observe Your Neighbor

This is the slogan of the Sustainability Unit and of a country gone eco-hysterical. After nearly twelve months without rain and the hinges of the world barely still oiled, Thomas and his younger brother, Dustin, set out across a drought-ridden landscape in search of answers. What they discover along the way will change their lives, and their country, forever.

The Cloud Seeders weaves humor and heartache, as well as poetry and science, into a unique novel that defies categorization.

First Chapter:

Serve Your Country, Conserve Your Water, Observe Your Neighbor

Our Mom tended to be philosophical when she played Would You Rather.

Thomas, would you rather be thunder or lightning? Snow or fire? A question mark or period? Red or yellow?

Dad never played. He even refused to answer the easy questions like would you rather kiss Marilyn Monroe or Madonna? He’d shake his head, smile at Mom, but always claim he just liked to listen.

I still play my own version with Dustin even though I’m eighteen now, and it’s been over a year since we’ve seen our parents.

“Would you rather I kick your butt or you hurry it up?” I say, and Dustin stops to ponder this before realizing I’m not kidding.

“Hurry it up?”

“Move,” I say, and he does.

He has to.

I’m all he has now.

It’s seven a.m. and we’ve got four hours of water-patrol ahead of us. While Dustin gets dressed, I toss his used body-wipe in the bin and head outside to wait.

At least he’s stopped asking to take showers.

There’s that anyway.

When he finally comes out of the house, Dustin’s wearing the state-mandated dust mask with his Officer of Sustainability jacket zipped up to his nose. The logo, a big drop of blue water wearing hand-cuffs, covers his entire nine-year-old torso.

“Let’s do this,” he says and struts off ahead of me, ticket book at the ready.

Normally I’d be doing this on my own, but it’s summer, so Dustin’s helping out, earning his badge. Nearly twelve months now and no rain. And the year before we had a whopping two inches. Just enough to keep the hinges of the world oiled.

We walk, without incident, for a solid hour before being heckled by a Leftover sitting on a cardboard box. There’s a liter of brown-colored water at his feet. Leftovers are what most people call them. The government’s official name for them is “The Internally Displaced.”

“Hey, I think I hear somebody watering their lawn! You guys better go arrest them!”

Even from this distance, I can see his lips are cracked and torn. Dustin has his pen out before the guy finishes his sentence.

“Forget it,” I say, grabbing Dustin by the collar before he can cross the street.

“But he’s worth at least 50 water points.”

Water points: an incentive plan cooked up by the powers that be. For every 1000 water points, you get a 5- gallon drum of fresh water.

“We’ve got plenty without him, D. This isn’t a game.”

“What if Mom and Dad don’t come back? What if they stop giving us their rations? Then what?”

“Then we get by like everybody else.”

Dustin tucks his ticket book back inside his jacket, sticks the pen behind his ear and contents himself by taking a long, unnecessary drink. Then he wipes his mouth on his sleeve and says, “When are they coming back anyway?”

“When Dad finishes his research and figures this mess out. We’ve gone through this how many times now?”

“A million.”

“C’mon,” I say. “Let’s go find some electricity-bandits. That’ll make you feel better.”

We pass by a few abandoned stores, the insides all gutted long ago. One has a banner pasted over whatever the old name was.

The Water Barter.

At least they tried.

We walk off the main road, down a few side streets, straight into the middle of nowhere and see a boy about Dustin’s age riding a bicycle, his belly just starting to distend. He stops and waves when he sees us, thinks we’re the good guys.

I tell Dustin to throw him a bottle of water and Dustin just looks at me like do-I-have-to, but he does it anyway. We watch the kid pump toward the bottle, his spindly legs coming to life. When he picks the water up, he waves it in the air in thanks, then goes back to pedaling more dust.

I keep an eye on Dustin, see if he’s registered the fact that the kid could be him if things were different.

But he just seems annoyed.

It isn’t much longer before we spot some lights peeking out from a curtained basement window. We knock on the door, and, sure enough, the lights go out. A woman, forty something, still wearing her bathrobe, opens the door. She’s got the thirst. It happens when you drink too much recycled water.

Her lips look like two dead worms.

“Hi, ma’am. We’re with the Sustainability Unit. Would you mind if we came in, took a look around?”

I know the look she’s giving me. Our dog used to do the same thing after he peed the carpet.

“Be my guest,” she says. “And who’s this little cutie-pie?”

She doesn’t know it yet, but she just earned herself an extra ticket. Maybe ten.

“This is Cadet Dustin,” I say and give her a look she interprets perfectly.

“Oh, you’ll have to forgive me. It’s just that I haven’t seen such a handsome cadet before.”

Dustin, having none of it, says, “The basement?”

I shrug and she leads us down the hallway. On the way, I peek my head into her bathroom, note the illegal tube running from her Recycler into a hole in the tiled floor. She must have just gone because the thing is still agitating, filtering out the urine, turning it into clear drops of water to be used for laundry, dishes, that sort of thing. On the side of the 5-gallon plastic jug, in big black letters, it says:

NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.

The basement holds the usual Unforgivables: crude hydroponics, some lettuce, carrots, tomatoes. The government made indoor-gardening illegal last year since it uses up too much electricity. Well, that and people don’t tend to share what they grow inside.

The only real surprise here is the row of flowers.

“Dragon Lilies were his favorite. My husband’s, I mean,” the woman explains. “He died last year. I share with others when I have enough. Please, you have to understand.”

I want to grab her hand, put my arm around her, sit down and have a nice big salad, eat every last morsel of evidence with her, tell her she has no idea how much I do understand.

“I still have to write you up for this. They’ll probably just garnish a few liters, put you on water- probation for a year. It won’t be so bad.”

“Not so bad?” she starts to say, but stops when she notices Dustin scribbling away.

“Let me see that,” I say and take the pad from him.

“Eight Unforgivables,” Dustin says. “And that’s not counting the fan you have on upstairs.”

“Cadet Dustin,” I say. “Could you go outside and check the perimeters, make sure we didn’t miss anything?”

“Gotcha,” he says and actually goes so far as to hitch up his pants before heading upstairs.

“I’m already getting by on less than most,” the woman begins, her hand rubbing her neck, the robe parting just a touch. “Isn’t there something we can work out, some sort of community service I could perform?”

I take a step back, cough some of the color back into my face. “Here,” I say and only hand her two of the tickets. “Just pay these and dismantle the greenhouse, okay?”

Her eyes go all big and soft and I hurry out of the basement before she can get to me. When me and Dustin head down the street, he eyes me suspiciously.

“How many did you give her?”

“Eight,” I lie. “Nice work, partner.”

*

            After our shift, Dustin and I get cleaned up for our date with Jerusha. She asked me to bring Dustin along to the Water Rally, said she had a surprise for him afterward. Jerusha’s what we call a Bootlegger: someone who makes un-recycled water and sells it on the black market. Dustin adores her, but I’m a little worried about what’ll happen if he finds out about her hobby.

The Water Rally is supposed to be a formal event, so I go through Dad’s closet, pick out one of his brown tweed numbers, the kind with the patches in the elbows. I’m hoping Jerusha will get a kick out of me looking smart for once.

When I get downstairs, Dustin’s standing in the middle of the room wearing his old Halloween costume. Tony the Tiger. From his favorite cereal. Back when we still had milk. And cereal.

“Dustin, what the…?”

“You said get dressed up.”

“I meant wear something nice.”

“This is nice. Wait, no, it’s GRRRR–”

“Stop. Where’s your I.D.?”

We were told to wear our badges on a lanyard. For security reasons. Dustin pulls up his tail. His badge is taped to Tony’s sphincter.

“Wonderful. I’m sure Sarge will love that.”

When we get to the party, there are giant banners hanging everywhere with slogans written in giant green letters.

WATER IS A STATE OF MIND! YOU REIGN!

Dustin’s costume, it turns out, is a big hit. One of the officials even comes over, shakes both our hands, says that maybe next year they’ll have a real costume party.

Dustin jumps up and down at this, claps his paws and growls, “That’s GRRRRREEEAAAT!”

The guy eats it up.

We stop by a few of the demonstration tables as we make our way to the buffet stations, not wanting to appear in too big of a hurry. There are pamphlets about new Recyclers, some with a focus on women’s needs. They’re pink and smoother looking than the clunky one we have at home.

Next is a booth on how to police your neighborhood and turn in Violators: Serve, Conserve, Observe. Basically, it’s teaching regular citizens how to do our job. Free video cameras are available from the government if they want to set up surveillance on a suspect neighbor. There’s even a poster of a man brandishing a knife, a dead garden hose in his other hand.

Like a trophy photo.

Give me a break.

We move on, eventually finding Jerusha hovering around the buffet they have set up. There’s shrimp. Well, not real shrimp. Shrimp-flavored soyfu or something. Jerusha looks amazing, dressed in a black one-piece that stops just above her knees.

“I didn’t know Tony the Tiger was coming!”

“Next year they’re having a costume party,” Dustin brags. “All because of me.”

“Too bad it’s not this year. You’d win hands down, kiddo.”

Dustin wags his tail. “You going to watch the speech with us?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Nothing I like better than watching people lie through their teeth.”

We watch the “hysteria”, as Jerusha calls it, from the nosebleed seats. Everybody else is jostling down below, crowding the main stage like our President’s some kind of rock star. Which, in a way, I guess he is. They even have his face beaming down from a gigantic 4-sided screen set up above the crowd. His beatific eyes about a foot-wide each.

“How come they get to have a TV?” Dustin wants to know.

“Because they’re pigs,” Jerusha says and pops a fake shrimp in her mouth.

“I don’t get it.”

“Don’t think of it as a TV,” I tell him. “It’s more like a screen. So we can see him better.”

“Oh,” he says, but I can tell he isn’t buying it.

If I could have your attention for a moment, please.

The crowd quiets down, presses closer to the stage.

The first thing I’d like to address are the rumors that there’s been precipitation in California. Unfortunately, that’s a blatant un-truth. Now believe me, there’s nothing more I wish were true. We believe the rumor was started by some of our more unsavory citizens who would like nothing better than to undermine Operation Green. We, as a country, must focus on sustaining our current water economy, working as a whole so we can overcome this greatest environmental challenge of our time. Now who’s with me?

The crowd erupts. I even start to clap but stop once I notice Jerusha glaring at me.

“Do you even know why you’re clapping?”

“Of course, I do,” I say, zero conviction in my voice.

Thank you, my friends! Thank you! Now, with that nasty bit of business out of the way, let’s get to what you’re all waiting for. The Water Awards!

More frenzied applause.

I sit on my hands.

As you know, each month we reward one exceptional citizen with a twenty-gallon supply of pure un-recycled water. This month, for outstanding dedication to the Sustainability Movement, we award Citizen Hugh Penly for the courageous act of turning in his neighbor for washing their electric car. Hugh, are you out there? Come on up here! I want our citizens to see what a true hero looks like!

An elderly man wearing an old Mariner’s baseball hat emerges from the crowd, makes his way to the podium as the crowd chants, “Hugh! Hugh! Hugh!” When they roll out the five-gallon drums of water, the man nearly breaks down in tears. A fairly moving scene, but one cut short when Jerusha stands up.

“C’mon, we’re leaving. I can’t stomach this any longer.”

As we make our exit, we get a few strange looks. Like we’re nuts for leaving just when things are getting good.

Once we get outside Jerusha squats down next to Dustin, and he climbs up without a word.

Piggy-back time.

It’s nice. Something a mother might do.

“You boys game for a real party? Something that isn’t sanctioned by fascists?”

I knew there would be something like this. There always is with Jerusha. Probably some lame party with wanna-be Leftovers in scruffy beards, none of them fully weaned off the grid yet but doing everything possible to look like they are.

“I’m game,” Dustin says and uses his tail like a whip to spur Jerusha on. “Gitty up!”

“It depends on where the party is,” I say, like the decision hasn’t already been made.

“Not far. C’mon.”

Jerusha trots off, Dustin holding onto her black hair like the reins of some magical horse. The streets are deserted, not one car out since nearly everybody in their right mind is at the rally. After about five blocks, Jerusha plops Dustin down on the sidewalk and raps four times on a metal warehouse door.

A peep hole slides open, then quickly shuts again.

“I don’t know about this,” I murmur and Jerusha lowers her eyes at me, says, “Of course you don’t know. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

Before I can come up with a response, the door opens and we’re ushered in by a kid in a black suit. It’s ten times more expensive than the hand-me-down I’m wearing.

“Welcome, comrades,” he says and acknowledges Jerusha by kissing her on both cheeks, all European-like. I couldn’t dislike the guy more. “I see you brought some defectors.”

“Not exactly,” Jerusha says, eyeballing me. “But I’ll vouch for them.”

“Whatever you say, Jerusha. But they’re your responsibility.”

Jerusha grabs one of Dustin’s paws. “C’mon. Stick close to me.”

She leads us through a dark and seemingly empty warehouse until we reach a ladder mounted to a wall.

“Where’s that go?” Dustin asks.

“To the roof. Where else?”

Jerusha turns to me, flicks my lanyard. “You might want to lose that.”

I look down, and, sure enough, my ID is hanging out. Luckily it’s face down, my Water-cop face still hidden.

“Right,” I say and stuff it into my breast pocket.

Dustin bends over, wags his tiger-butt at Jerusha. “What about me?”

“You’ll be fine, honey. Just don’t go doodie anywhere, okay?”

I pictured hot tubs, naked people drinking illegal beer, multiple Unforgivables, Dustin having a heart attack trying to hand out all the tickets. But when we get on the roof, we find only a small swarm of dancing teenagers.

Dustin leans into Jerusha, whispers, “These aren’t Leftovers, are they?”

“Leftovers? This isn’t the day after Thanksgiving, honey. These are your neighbors.”

A soft mist falls over the crowd and people start twirling, rubbing the falling water into their clothes. Behind the crowd I see a guy holding a sprinkler. I nudge Dustin, point to the rain-maker, and Dustin’s jaw drops.

I start to say something, but Jerusha grabs his hand before I can get a word out.

“It’s supposed to encourage the real thing!” Jerusha shouts, spinning Dustin around under the fake rain. “Wonderful, isn’t it?”

I nod but can’t help wondering if they’re using Recycled water, drenching everybody in what isn’t even fit to drink. I lean against a railing, watch as some of the dancers run their fingers blissfully through their urine-soaked hair.

“Wasn’t that amazing?” Jerusha asks when the rain ends. “Cleansing, don’t you think?”

“Do you know what the punishment is for–?”

Again, Jerusha doesn’t let me finish. She picks Dustin up, his fur all matted down. “Who cares what sour puss thinks. What does Tony the Tiger think? Fun stuff?”

“Awesome stuff! What was that thing making all the water come out?”

If I don’t step in, I can see Dustin bringing this up at headquarters and getting us all in trouble.

“That, Dustin, was an antique. Something from the old days. Something that’s obsolete now.”

Jerusha squats down beside him as the others make their way back down the ladder. “It’s called a sprinkler, Dustin. People used to place them on their lawns and children would run through them in the summer. Someday, with the help of people like this, we might have them again. Would you like that?”

Dustin turns to me, says, “Can we get a sprinkler?”

“No, we cannot. For one, they’re illegal. For two, they’re nearly impossible to find. Besides, what are we going to sprinkle? We don’t have a lawn.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

By the time we get to Jerusha’s house, it’s dark, her parents long asleep. Her parents think Jerusha’s an angel, living out in the garage so she can remain close to them. The fact that they’re being used as a cover has, I’m sure, never occurred to them.

They’re the opposite of Jerusha: good, obedient, scared citizens.

“Home illegal home,” she says, waiting for us by the garage.

“You live out here?” Dustin asks.

She doesn’t answer, just unlocks the padlock and clean-and-jerks the garage door open. With a flip of a switch, we’re doused in red light. A king-size bed with satin sheets sits in the middle of the garage.

“Whaddya think?”

Dustin immediately goes for the bed.

“What’s up there?” He points to a second story loft with bed sheets hanging from the ceiling. It must be where she hides her paraphernalia, her water-making lab. “Can we go up?”

“That’s my special place, Dustin. Sorry. Off limits for now.”

I haven’t turned her in.

There’s my being head-over- heels in love with her, but also the fact that she knows where my mom and dad are. It works out well, a blackmail made in heaven since I can’t imagine being chained to anything sexier than Jerusha.

“Mind your own business, D,” I say. “Or you won’t get to see the surprise.”

“Surprise, surprise, surprise!” he yells, jumping up and down on the bed.

“First you have to keep a secret,” Jerusha tells him. “Can you do that, Dustin?”

“I can do that.”

“I thought so. How about you, Thomas?”

“I don’t have much choice, do I.”

“No, I suppose you don’t,” Jerusha says and climbs the ladder to the loft.

“Do you think she has a sprinkler? Maybe some water pistols?” Dustin asks.

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“That would be so awesome.”

“No, it would not,” I say. Water-pistols are a major Unforgivable. “You know we can’t tell anybody about this, right? We’d both get in big, big trouble.”

Dustin plops down on the bed, says, “Don’t be such a wet rag, Thomas.”

“You don’t even know what that means.”

Jerusha is standing at the top of the ladder, her black dress replaced by a pair of bulky flannel pajamas.

“Thomas, would you give me a hand with this?”

She’s holding something wrapped in a white bed sheet. I climb half-way up, help her walk it down.

“Ready?” she says once we set it on a table, but instead of waiting for an answer, Jerusha whips the sheet off. “Ta-da!”

“A TV!” Dustin says, standing on the bed again. “Does it work?”

Major, major Unforgivable.

Anyone caught possessing movies of any kind will automatically be placed in Rehabilitation.

I remember the DVD burnings held on weekends, the bonus water-points handed out for every ten movies burned. No longer would we gorge ourselves on distraction, no longer would we amuse ourselves into submission.

“Where did you get that thing?” I say, not quite wanting to hear the answer.

“Here,” she says and hands me an old VCR tape. “Make yourself useful.”

Jerusha drags an old car battery out from under the table, goes about threading the modified cord onto the terminals. It’s one of those old combo TV/VCR deals. As I slide the tape in, Dustin puts his hands on his lap, morphs into good-little-boy. When the images from Star Wars start to fill the twelve-inch screen, Dustin’s mouth doesn’t seem able to close.

Once Jerusha is satisfied that Dustin is sufficiently hooked, she fluffs a few pillows, gives me a nod toward the loft.

“Dustin, honey, I need to go upstairs with your brother for awhile. Will you be okay down here?”

“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.”

“Give me two minutes,” Jerusha says and cranks the volume before disappearing up the ladder.

I count out two long minutes in my head, then follow after. When I part the bed sheets at the top of the ladder, Jerusha is standing next to a claw-foot bathtub filled with soapy water, the steam slowly rising, a blue towel wrapped around her.

“You can’t just–”

“I can, Thomas. You should know that by now.” She lifts her leg up, the towel opening up along her thighs in a V as she dips her toes in. “When’s the last time you had a real bath?”

Number One on the list of Unforgivables.

I can’t speak.

Would you rather watch R2D2 or take a bath with Jerusha?

“High school,” she says. “Am I right?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?”

“Where’d you get all the water?”

“Take your clothes off.” Jerusha drops the towel to the floor, starts coming toward me and I back away, worried about Dustin. “We’re just taking a bath, Thomas. What do you think is going to happen?” Her smile widens. “He can’t hear us anyway.”

I undress, sit down in the tub, barricade my knees against my chest as the water envelopes me like smoke. An entire tub full, hot enough to turn my legs a deep pink.

“Now relax.” Jerusha takes her hand, tugs at one of my feet so that my leg slides down along her thighs. “That’s better.” Her hair is spread out against the back of the tub like a shiny black fan. I can’t stop staring. “Feels good, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah,” I say, my voice quivering like the surface of the water.

Jerusha leans forward, places her mouth against my knee, gives it a soft bite. The world pulses and pounds in my ears as she lies back with this pleased look on her face. I close my eyes, listening to the sounds of light sabers and blasters filtering up from below. I stay that way for I don’t know how long, but by the time I open my eyes again, the water’s almost cool.

Jerusha, smiling that illegal smile of hers, says, “I guess that makes you a Violator now, too.”

“If Dustin wasn’t here,” I start to say. “I’d violate more than–”

“Oh God, I forgot about him,” she says and pulls herself out of the water, starts drying herself with one foot on the tub.

When she finishes, she climbs back into her pajamas and heads back down to Dustin. I dry myself with Jerusha’s towel, rub her smell as deeply as I can into my own skin before putting my clothes back on.

I’ve been so preoccupied that I haven’t had time to really look at her water-brewing system. I’ve seen them before, but this one is especially tricked out. There’s a car battery on the floor, jumper cables hooked up to an iron rod that leads to a small skylight in the roof. Aluminum foil covers the bottom of the skylight while plastic tubing drips down like an IV into a barrel. It must have taken her a month to get enough water for just the one bath.

I feel honored almost to the point of tears.

By the time I make it downstairs, the tape’s sticking out of the VCR and Dustin’s fast asleep on the end of the bed. Jerusha’s already turned the TV off, covered Dustin with a blanket.

That night I fall asleep with my arm around Jerusha, her back arched into my chest as I dream of flash floods, thunder and lightning, showers, tsunamis.

Oregon Mourning

The lake’s been electrocuted again,

the mist sizzling

from its bald surface,

the fish all capsizing

while the loons keen.

Soon the cicadas, too,

will throw their voices

across the water

in protest.

i can almost remember how all this used to look,

back before they passed sentence

on all the good things.

 

Title: The Cloud Seeders
Genre: Young Adult/Teen/ Dystopian/ Science Fiction
Author: James Zerndt
Publisher: James Zerndt
Pages: 268
Language: English
Format:  Paperback, Kindle

Purchase your copy at AMAZON

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James Zerndt 7

James Zerndt lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son. His poetry has appeared in The Oregonian Newspaper, and his fiction has most recently appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal and SWINK magazine. He rarely refers to himself in the third person.

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Guest Book Review: The Battle for Princess Madeleine by Kirstin Pulioff

princess

Book Review: The Battle for Princess Madeline
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 21, 2013)
ISBN-13: 978-1482790085
Genre: Fantasy/magic/adventure
Age: 12+
Five Stars

In book two of the Princess Madeline series we’re back in the Kingdom of Soron, in the midst of the Fall Festival. Apart from the fun and activity of this festive event, there is a special significance: Princess Madeline’s betrothal to her Champion Knight Daniel, who saved her during her previous escapade. Princess Madeline is starting to grow up as well, and apart from making her tutor’s life a misery with her questions, is taking a great interest in the kinds of things necessary for running a kingdom and being responsible for people. It seems that nothing will spoil this idyllic time, except the reappearance of the sly Prince Paulsen, making outrageous demands on King Theodore. Paulsen demands Madeline’s hand in marriage and when the king reminds the prince that although he rid the country of brigands, he did not actually save the princess himself, this leads to terrible events. War ensues, and at the same time Madeline must decide how she can help save the kingdom. The banished wizards risk the wrath of the king by appearing, with messages, clues, and advice. While Theodore and Daniel face Paulsen’s ravaging troops, Madeline makes her own decisions.

Kudos to author Kirstin Pulioff for introducing more entrancing back story regarding magical choices that Madeline and her twin brother made without knowing it. Fragments of their mother’s story come through, adding to the wizards’ role in this book, and indeed in the prehistory of Soron. I loved the element of magic and mystery that the wizards bring, with suggestions of building onto forthcoming events, when the Age of Dragons looms over Soron. Madeline develops a sense of maturity about life, and her relationship with Daniel. She also uses her wits and embarks upon a daring plan, so courage is part of her nature. The battle scenes and the grim results of Paulsen’s invasion are brought to life by the author’s gift for description. In fact, description is part of what makes the series so appealing. One can hear the clash of swords, the shouts of the soldiers or (on a more peaceful note) almost rub shoulders with Madeline as she gazes at a beautiful view. There is much to entice young readers in this tale of the Princess: action, adventure, a charming romance, magic, and of course, the promise of dragons to come. I am looking forward to book three.

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.