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CRIMINAL Excerpt/Author Interview/Giveaway!!!

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Following the horrors she discovered in the basement of Sanctuary at the end of Breeder, there is no longer any doubt in Pria’s mind that the Unified World Order is wicked. But convincing the rest of the world will be another story. When it’s revealed the files she’d stolen from Sanctuary are worthless, Pria and the other Free Patriots must scramble to come up with another way to convince everyone to rise up in open revolution before the UWO’s monsters destroy them all. But Pria’s tenuous grasp of human nature complicates her role in the rebellion as she finds herself torn between Pax, her ever-present protector, and Henri, her good-natured friend.

A new scheme to infiltrate the seemingly impregnable UWO machine places Pria once again at the centre of the plan. This time, though, she must be willing to erase her identity, It’s a sacrifice she thinks she’s ready to make, but she has no idea just how difficult it will be.

 

Welcome to the GTB blog tour of CRIMINAL by KB Hoyle. The title is actually an acrostic:

C is for Commune. Pria and some others go on a mission to Denver Commune.

R is for Remembrance. Pria struggles to remember who she is.

I is for Incriminating evidence. Pax goes to trial and Etienne stand trial.

M is for Making a move. The Free Patriots decide to make their move against the UWO.

I is for Illness. Pax hides a mystery illness.

N is for New friends. Pria makes a couple of new friends at Asylum.

A is for Awkward romantic tension between Pria and Pax, and Pria and Henri.

L is for Love. Pria learns what love is.


 

Here is an exclusive excerpt:

I wake confused and chilled to the bone. My blankets have slid to the floor off the side of the bed, and the air in the cave feels like it’s dropped ten degrees since the day before. I scoot to the edge of the bed to try to retrieve my blankets, but I hear a gravelly voice say, “I’ll get them. Don’t move.”

A moment later, Henri spreads them back over me, and I smile in gratitude. The lights are dim and everything is quiet, but I hear soft breathing on my other side as well. I look over to see Pax, fast asleep. They’ve both stayed the night.

“How are you feeling?” Henri asks in the same gravelly whisper. “Need more pain medication?”

“No,” I whisper back. Whatever they gave me, it must have been strong. I can feel only a dull ache beneath the fresh wrappings on my thigh and wrist. “What time is it?”

“Almost morning.” Henri rubs a hand over my buzzed hair. A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. “You’re almost as bald as I am,” he says. “Still beautiful, though.” He leans down and presses his lips to my forehead.

I’m too stunned to say anything, but I shrink back slightly, into my pillow. His familiarity confuses me, sets me on edge, even as it also spreads warmth through me. I glance over at Pax, prompting Henri to do the same. He straightens and, without another word, returns to his chair. It’s identical to the one Pax is slumped in, asleep with his hand on his forehead.

I try to turn over onto my side and find I can’t. Movement in my injured leg is restricted and painful. I sigh in frustration. My back hurts from lying in one position for too long, and I’m certain I won’t be able to fall back asleep.

Henri said it’s almost morning. What will the morning hold? Release from the infirmary, hopefully. Holly’s test before Luther? Probably. If he didn’t see to that last night while I slept. I wonder if he’ll want Pax and me to participate in her interrogation.

I’m surprised Luther hasn’t come to see me yet. I would think he’d be interested in the intelligence he sent me into Sanctuary to retrieve. Maybe he’s too distracted with the files transferred via the hack.

Someone pushes a cart past the curtain of my room, and the wheels clatter over the uneven rocky floor. All I can see of it are the glinting silver spokes. Who else is here, injured, with me? What do these people do all the time?

It strikes me how little I actually know about the people with whom I’ve chosen to identify.

“Henri?” I whisper. “Are you still awake?”

“Hmmm.” He sounds just barely so.

“Did Holly get her wrist treated last night? She’s not in a holding cell, is she?”

“Probably, yeah. But don’t worry. They’ll have taken care of her wrist.”

I chew my lip, thinking, remembering what it was like for me when I first left Sanctuary. “She’s going to be confused, you know . . . scared. I hope I can see her today.”

There’s a rustle of clothing as Henri leans forward. “What makes you think you can trust her, Pria? Isn’t it kind of convenient that she just showed up right before you fled Sanctuary? How do you know she’s not a spy for the UWO?”

I wrinkle my nose. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Try to make me doubt her. You weren’t there when we were trying to escape. I think she’s telling the truth.”

“If she’s not, we’re all screwed. There are any number of ways she could lead them right to us, and we’d never know it.”

“Stop.” I put my hands over my eyes. “You sound like Etienne.”

Another rustle of clothing and I feel Henri’s shadow fall over me. Then his cold hands touch mine, prying them away from my face. “Look at me, Pria.”

“No!” I struggle, but I don’t know why.

“Look at me!”

He wrenches my arms apart, and for a moment all I see is Henri’s friendly face twisted into an ugly grimace. Then he turns his head, and the dim light glints off a spot of gold in his ear.

Etienne.

I shriek and flail, but he’s holding my arms too tight for me to get away. I fling my head to the side, looking for Pax, but his chair is empty. The chill in the cave bites my skin, which is exposed. I’m dressed in only my undergarments.

“You can’t smuggle a bomb in here without my knowing it. There’s one easy way to find out if you’re a spy.” Etienne pins both my arms above my head with one hand and takes up a scalpel in the other. “I just have to perform a quick procedure.”

He draws the blade down my stomach, and the skin springs apart like a severed wire. The pain is excruciating, unbearable, beyond articulation. I watch in horror as he flings the blade aside, sending flecks of my blood flying across the room, and then digs his hand into the incision. He retracts his hand a moment later, holding a fist-sized metal contraption.

“See?” he shouts. “It’s a bomb! You were going to blow us all up!”

“No! I swear!”

A switch on the side of the bomb ticks up, and red lights start to blink. Faster, and faster, and faster.

“Now we’re all going to die,” Etienne says.

I scream. 


 

Below is an interview with the author, and at the end of the post there is a link to a GIVEAWAY!

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Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 

There are several messages, really, in Criminal, that I want my readers to grasp, but as an author, I never want the message to overtake the primary function of the novel—which is to entertain the reader. So obviously first and foremost, I want to just tell a good story, and for my reader to be carried along by the story and to have a good time reading it. As far as the message/messages go, I’d say the primary one in Criminal has to do with identity. I sought to answer the question of what makes us human? The main character, Pria, is faced with this question over and over in the story, even to the point where, by the end, her entire reality is shaken by some presuppositions she has about this question. Pria has to discover her personal identity, but she also has to figure out what she believes about the identity of others, and what that means about the human race and her part in the rebellion against the Unified World Order. These are big issues, and things I think we should all think about, even though we’re not living in a dystopian society.

 

How much of the book is realistic? 

I’d say this book is about 50% realistic. Obviously all the characters and the plot are fictionalized (and the concept of the Golems), but I base my settings and my conceptions of the future society off research I did into real technologies, conspiracy theories, my own knowledge of Denver and its surrounding areas, and just basic knowledge of human nature and my thoughts on future trends in society. I could see some of the sorts of things I write about coming to pass. Actually, some of the things I have written about in my books have come to pass already in the years since I started researching them. It’s a little frightening.

 

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? 

This is a difficult question! Because by the time you get a book all the way to publication—especially when it has taken a long time (as this book has)—you tend not to wish that you could go back and change things. And my editing team does such a fantastic job of helping me tweak things. Hmmm. I guess, maybe, if I could go back, I would make the first act of the book a little shorter (so as to get to the main action faster), and the last act longer (so as to draw out the finale).

 

Can you share a little of “Criminal” with us? 

Here’s a short excerpt from what was one of my absolute favorite scenes to write. It falls about mid-story, and I won’t say too much so as not to spoil things, but this is a scene where Pria and Pax and some others from the rebel Nest Asylum are being attacked by Golems. It’s absolute chaos, and in the midst of it all, Pax and Pria get separated from the others. 

My spine grates over hard rock, and then my breath whooshes out of me as we leave the ground. For a moment, I think a Golem has lifted us, but then I hit a patch of gravel, hard, and my head cracks against a stone. With Pax on top of me, I can hardly breathe, and starbursts fill my vision.

The forest lights up with more starbursts and the zip-zip-zip of energy guns.

“Pria!” Pax slaps my cheek. He rolls off me, and I can breathe again. “Are you hurt? Can you hear me?”

The trees are lighting up. It’s beautiful.

“Pria!”

I cough and rake air into my lungs. I cough again and nod. Nodding hurts.

Aircraft circle above the trees like birds of prey, firing down on the Golems. One flies low, and a Golem snatches it out of the air. With a roar and a vicious shake, it flings the craft to the ground. The craft explodes, and bits of burning metal and flesh scatter, some of it reaching Pax and me where we lie just below a shelf of rock. I raise my arms to cover my face, but Pax leans over me, taking the brunt of it. A piece of something red-hot lands on my calf, and I kick it off.

More shots echo through the woods, followed by bellows and crashes. The Golems are being taken out.

I struggle to sit up, and Pax pulls me to his chest. “It will be over soon,” he says in my ear. He sounds so assured.

 

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

I used to find it challenging to discipline myself to do the planning and research I needed to work out a novel before I started writing it, so that would have been my old answer to this question, but I’ve progressed enough in my career now (I’ve written 9 novels—8 published and 1 on deck) that I’ve found my writing rhythm. I know the drill. I know how to research and outline and plan. I actually really relish all those steps. And I know when to start writing. All of that is, quite frankly, more or less easy. What is particularly challenging is my schedule—finding the time and just fighting exhaustion to get it all done. With four small children to mother (all boys and all 9 and under), a day job as a teacher, my website and social media platforms to manage, trips and speaking engagements to manage, my house to (attempt to) keep clean, meals to cook, and just all the regular things in life to get around to, the challenges I face are never (or rarely) IN the actual writing. The challenges are external to the writing, but they affect the writing. Finding the right balance where I can get all the work done and still get sleep and maintain healthy relationships and good health is difficult.

 

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing “Criminal” to life?

Aside from the external challenges mentioned above, I didn’t have too many of these challenges in bringing Criminal to life. It did take me much longer to write Criminal than it usually takes me to write a book, but that’s because I had just had a baby and was nursing at the time. I also battled a bout of post-partum depression while trying to write the book, which didn’t help me to be very productive, but on the other hand, staying actively engaged in a creative project was good for me at the time in battling depression. I didn’t have too much extra research to do because I was just building on the research and world-building I had already done for Breeder. I’d spent about three years prepping this whole series, The Breeder Cycle, so writing Criminal was really just a matter of going back to my notes and making sure I was still on track and following the plan.


Click the link below to be entered in the GIVEAWAY! One lucky reader will win a print copy of Criminal and Breeder by K.B. Hoyle!! Good luck!

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The Empress of Tempera by Alex Dolan

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The feud began forty years ago. On one side: one of the wealthiest families in America. On the other: an artist known as Qi, heralded as the next Andy Warhol. After an acrimonious falling out, a Cold War began between these two families, and very few people remember the artist at all. Until a piece by Qi appears in New York.
Outside the Fern Gallery, a man stabs himself in the heart while staring at the last Qi, a painting of a young Chinese empress. Paire Anjou, a young art student fresh to the city, stands so close, her dress is freckled with blood. The resurgence of Qi’s art stirs up widespread curiosity and attention. Much like Michelangelo’s David, the portrait evokes powerful reactions from people. Patrons pass out, write love letters, and try to vandalize it. Since the day she saw it, Paire can’t stop ruminating about the painting.
The descendants of both families converge, and Paire, who covets the Empress, is woven into an escalating blood feud. Paire Anjou is herself a descendant of criminal parents with a predilection for theft. And she has decided that she needs to possess the Qi for herself.

Thanks to Diversion Books for gifting me this book for review!

EMPRESS is the kind of book that has a dark undercurrent running through it. The darkness may ebb and flow, but it’s always there. Paire is a character who may be sympathetic at times, and other times she will make you cringe and wonder what you ever saw in her in the first place.

The titular Empress is the sun around which everyone’s world revolves. Dolan’s description of her is so precise, so fawning, that it makes you wish you could see her for yourself and become obsessed. As Paire slowly sinks into lustful infatuation with the Empress, the darkness flows into her and also makes her stronger. Paire gets involved with illegal activities, all the while with the painting at the back of her mind.

The darkness envelops other characters as well, and begets betrayal, or violence. It seems as though the painting is like a Rorschach drawing; people see what they want to see, while the image affects them all differently. I especially enjoyed this aspect of the book – watching everyone decompensate is a delicious, voyeuristic experience.

Another enjoyable facet of this story is the art and artist setting. New York is the perfect backdrop for this beleaguered gallery and its employees. There also was a great deal of authentic art discussion that taught me things and enriched the reading experience.  Any time I can learn something from a book, it’s a plus for me. This shows that the author is not just trying to create a story; he is doing his hardest to immerse the reader in a believable world where things occur because of the setting, not despite it.

THE EMPRESS OF TEMPERA was a compelling and brilliantly conceived story. I loved it! Definitely a must read this year. You can pick up your copy here.

Ruffian: The Story Of A Jockey by Beverly Harrison

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60 seconds out of the starting gate, Jockey Syd Paul is riding for her life. Blindsided, she’s attacked during a race by a fellow jockey and friend. Forced to fight for her life atop a fast and furious thousand pound horse galloping at top speed, Syd struggles, fighting in disbelief, while only inches away, the other jockey falls to his death. Shocked and battered and without a moment to think, she turns from the nightmare behind her toward the finish line just ahead, and wins the race.
Bloodied and beaten into a bruised lump of flesh, Syd finds herself dazed and standing in the winner’s circle, flashing back at what just happened. WTF, she thinks, watching the instant replay unfold like bad reality tv. From the video replay, there’s no question. Syd looks guilty as the gates burst open just like a hundred times before. Only this time, Syd battled another jockey to the death and then went on to win.
Bleeding and head swimming, the single question remains: Why did my friend attack me? She finds a shocking truth: Some unidentified person will go to any length to control the jockeys and the outcome of certain races. One jockey has died and others will follow. Syd is forced to accept help from police detective, Joe McQueen. He’s drop dead gorgeous with the tenacity of a pit bull and the sensibility of a good ol’ boy.
Unsure of placing her life and her future into the hands of a complete stranger, (McQueen), Syd sets out to find the answers and keep herself safe, knowing she’s only one golden ticket away from her dream of riding in the Kentucky Derby, but in the next race, she’ll be riding not only for her career, but also, for her life.

 

Thanks to Word Slinger for gifting me this book for review!

I found the plot of this book wonderfully refreshing. Not many stories are written with a racing background (unless you are a Dick Francis fan), much less with a female jockey in the main role. Syd Paul is a feisty girl, making her way among the misogynistic jockeys at the track. She is a talented rider, hoping to find a mount to get her into the Kentucky Derby.

When her good friend attacks her during a race, she is thrown into a race fixing scheme that threatens her very existence. Syd is a loner by nature and is mistrustful of most people, except for a handful of friends. Her best friend convinces her to go to the police, but they don’t seem to be much help. She gets attacked again, and doesn’t know why she can’t get anyone to believe that she is danger.

I enjoyed the book, despite the writing being a bit uneven. Perhaps it was the editing, but it pulled me out of the story when I would see odd words capitalized (Owner, Jockey) and the occasional typo here and there. I also wanted to shake the character of Syd a few times, when she persisted in going places alone and putting herself in danger. ( I suppose that was needed, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a story.)

The same thing that bugged me about her was also her strength: a female jockey who didn’t want to sit on the sidelines while the men took care of business was an excellent choice of main character. Competition is intense in racing, and Syd showed her mettle by holding her own against the guys. She refused to give in to emotion, always keeping her goal firmly in her sights. At times this was also a noticeable quirk – Syd seemed to vacillate at times between grief and being perfectly fine (after the death of someone close to her). I kept thinking that it was very strange for her to be so happy just a few minutes after having tears in her eyes and talking about how much she missed her friend. Personally, if that was me, I would have been home crying and being miserable, not out flirting and going to restaurants.

But that is a small criticism. I’m sure anything she did was to advance the plot, which was quite suspenseful. I wasn’t sure who the bad guys were, and all in all, the idea of race fixing was quite plausible. Many people believe horse racing is fixed in some way, but never think of the people that may be caught up in it without their consent.

The race descriptions and personalities (and names) of the horses left me in thrall – I love horses and felt as if I were behind the scenes at a large track. Syd’s skill as a jockey was also a plus; she always raced to win and never compromised who she was.

My verdict? A good story, well rounded characters, and some suspense. Definitely an enjoyable and unique read that horse racing fans (and mystery lovers) will enjoy. You can pick up your copy here.

Just Life by Neil Abramson

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Veterinarian Samantha Lewis and her team are dedicated to providing a sanctuary for unwanted, abused, and abandoned dogs in New York City. But every day it gets harder to operate her no-kill shelter. Sam is already at her breaking point when she learns of an unidentified, dangerous virus spreading through their neighborhood. The medical community can only determine that animals are the carriers. Amid growing panic and a demand for immediate answers, suspicion abruptly falls on dogs as the source. Soon the governor is calling in the National Guard to enforce a quarantine—no dog may leave the area.

Samantha knows from her own painful history that, despite the lack of real evidence against the dogs, a quarantine may only be the beginning. As questions about the source of the virus mount and clash with the pressure for a politically expedient resolution, Sam is forced to make life-altering choices. She finds allies in a motley crew of New Yorkers — a local priest, a troubled teen, a smart-mouthed former psychologist, and a cop desperate to do the right thing — all looking for sanctuary from their own personal demons. But the person Sam needs the most to unravel the mystery of the virus and save the dogs is the last one she’d ever want to call on—because contacting him will mean confronting the traumatic past she has fought so hard to escape.

 

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing this review copy.

Imagine a neighborhood in Manhattan in the grips of panic over a virus – one that is killing children and could possibly be spread by dogs. Imagine a shelter vet pushed to her breaking point by lack of money and no lack of politics. Add in a priest who may be losing his faith, an orphaned teen, and a few stray dogs who need homes.

Put yourself in the shoes of the veterinarian, who deeply loves her faltering shelter and all the dogs who call it home. Feel the only emotions that seem to be present in the first half of the book: incredible sadness, defeat, and frustration. Think about the sources of help available to you: none. At least none you can trust.

Welcome to JUST LIFE.

Not a happy, comfortable read, for sure. It is, however, a thought provoking and emotional story about making choices, standing up for what you believe in, letting go of your personal demons, and learning to trust.

Each character is deeply flawed but holds a spark inside them: the priest who throws a rock through his own church window because he is feeling distant from his Savior; the teen who was abused in foster homes and who is determined to save all the dogs at risk, no matter what; the assistant deputy mayor who is practicing good politics by shutting down the shelter.  The sun in their world is Sam, the veterinarian who gives everything she has to the stray dogs, her only family.

As the virus swirls around the neighborhood the tension ratchets up, and Sam is forced to make hard choices to save the dogs. Who will back her up?

My attention was held during the entire reading of this book. The veterinary medicine is correct, and the possibility of a bird flu – like virus (but with deadlier complications) was plausible. Each character’s story is revealed bit by bit, and sometimes they are sympathetic, sometimes not.

The character of Beth Cohen provides much needed comic relief during many dark times. She is a disgraced psychologist forced to either submit to a jail sentence or “volunteer” at the shelter. She asks probing questions, making Sam confront her fears and doubts. As I mentioned, she is also sarcastic and self effacing, adding a lighter touch here and there.

Gabriel, the priest, provides one of the most human touches in JUST LIFE. He is suffering from dementia, and his portrayal is poignant and heartbreaking. His backstory is the platonic love he held for his best friend and confidant Channa, who died recently. He wonders if he will be able to remember her, and the emotions she stirred in him. He questions his God, in a crisis of faith that pervades the entire book until the end. The scene with him in chapter 35 made my heart well up, and brought tears to my eyes. Well done, Mr Abramson.

JUST LIFE is a tightly woven story that will not leave you easily. It is not a story with a bright shiny ending, nor is it a depressing tale of failure. It is a tour de force of the human condition and the bond we share with our animal friends; and the lengths we will go to in order to protect them.

You can get your copy here.

 

 

Cast Adrift by Mannah Pierce – Guest Post PLUS excerpt

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Cast Adrift is the first part of a science fiction saga set in an interstellar world of the far future where Earth is merely a myth. Ean is queen of the Willow, a small ship with a Traditional crew who live in space and trade between the stars. Suddenly Tre, the laid back crew enforcer, is demanding that they dash to one system to pick up cabin boys and then divert to another to recruit an adolescent who is utterly unsuited to spacer life. Who is Jax? What is Rae? Why is the most powerful individual in Known Space interested in Kip? Most importantly, what is Tre up to?

 

Many thanks to Publishing Push and Mannah Pierce for this guest post! Here, the author gives us an in depth view of her novel.

    Love between the stars by Mannah Pierce

In my interstellar world of the far future, spacer crews travel along the shipping routes that link occupied solar systems, earning their living by trading.

Most spacers are male, because there are many planets that offer no future to adolescent males with limited education and no connections to the local elite. This means that the majority of spacer crews are all-male.

Faced with this ‘reality’, what would spacer crews be like? As an author, my mind went to similar, Earth-bound, situations: prisons; gangs; schools; the military; Ancient Greeks; the Spartans. Then my mind settled on the crews of the tall sailing ships that crossed the great oceans, including pirates.

Then I took it a step further. For some crews, their spaceship would be their home. They would be true nomads.

In this way, Traditional spacer crews were born.

A Traditional spacer crew is associated with a specific ship. Each ship, in my novel Cast Adrift it is the Willow, has existed for centuries. The components making up the ship have changed, like the individuals making up her crew have come and gone, but the Willow continues. It is like a family home or a genealogical tree.

It is somewhere for those discarded, future-less adolescent males to settle, to belong and to grow.

A ship, a spacer crew, must have a captain. In a Traditional spacer crew the captain must stand apart so that he has authority. Space is intrinsically dangerous. A good captain has to be objective enough to take the hard, split-moment, life-and-death decisions. Captain Mel of the Willow is in his fifties. He has put aside the passions of his youth and stepped up. He knows that Tre picked out the Willow and its crew because of its quality as well as its traditions.

A spacer crew also needs a queen. In everyday matters the queen’s word is law. The queen is the heart of the crew. Ean, the queen of the Willow, is atypical. He is very young. He does not use his looks and his power as weapons. He is subtle, kind, patient and persistent. Tre needed a queen of unparalleled quality and Ean has the potential to be just that.

Conflict between spacer crews has to be managed. When a spaceship is lost, the whole crew dies. Space battles are to be avoided. Traditional crews settle their disputes through ritualised combat. The enforcer of one crew fights the enforcer of the other; hand-to-hand with standard knives as the only weapon. The consequences of victory and defeat are negotiated before the combat begins. Tre is the Willow’s enforcer. As a cyborg, only another cyborg or a highly trained hybrid fighter can defeat him.

Other than the captain, the queen and the enforcer, there is the senior crew. Senior crew members have their knives; they can hold their own in a fight. They fulfil the other roles in the crew: navigator; pilot; engineer; medico; technician; cook. The Willow usually only has a navigator, a pilot and an engineer. Then there are the junior crew; older apprentices who have their knives but are still learning the skills they will need. Finally there are the cats and the cabin boys. Cats should be over fourteen. Cabin boys are between twelve and fourteen. Junior and senior crew members can buy into a crew. Cats and cabin boys are adopted.

I know that some readers baulk at the idea of cats, which is short for catamite. I refer you to those Earth-bound, all-male examples. What would happen when you put a group of human males, mostly in their teens and their twenties, in a metal box (the space ship) with no exits (only vacuum outside) for long periods of time?

The answer is that they would end up having sex with each other; it would happen even if they thought they were heterosexual before they joined the crew.

Traditional crews have rules to manage sex, like they have rules to manage disputes between crews. Joining a spacer crew is like entering into a group marriage. The default setting is that everyone will share sex with everyone else. The exceptions are the captain, who must keep a professional distance, and the cabin boys, because the age of consent among spacers is fourteen.

So far it sounds fair, but in reality that is not always the case. Some members of the crew form stronger relationships, mostly pairs but some trios, and opt out. They announce their exclusive status with love rings. This threatens the cohesion of the crew. The solution is that cats are not allowed to opt out; that way no member of the crew ends up isolated.

Some Traditional crews do not allow love rings and the exclusivity they represent.

Others, like the Willow, protect their cats by restricting the sexual acts they are allowed to perform.

If the Traditional crew is sound, it works. Lost boys join a crew. Cabin boys are cosseted. Cats are loved. They grow up and enter a profession where their backgrounds no longer matter. If space does not kill them, they end up with enough funds to make choices about their future.

And sometime they fall in love.


 

Excerpt from CAST ADRIFT:

Jax had to trot to keep up with his escort. The big man’s stride was smooth and effortless but deceptively quick. Jax recognised it as one of the many features that dissuaded the honourable from challenging and the dishonourable from attacking.

Other, equally intimidating, characteristics were his height, his muscular bulk and the knife scar that ran down his left cheek.

He wondered what the man’s name was. He would not ask, just as he had not asked the other five men who had escorted him over the last three days. They would not remember him; the forgetting pills would see to that.

 

So this was Carrefour Station. Jax recalled the models of spacestations that his tutor had insisted he study. This type of corridor, ten paces wide with its walls lined with advertisements, was typical of throughways in residential sectors. They passed a media screen. On it was displayed the person Jax used to be; a towheaded, green eyed boy in a velvet jacket. It was a shock. None of the simulations had suggested that his uncle would throw the net this wide this soon.

The reward for useful information had been raised to five thousand credits and the cover story of a kidnapping would be more believable out here than at home.

 

Suddenly the corridor was wider and lined with shops. Jax realised that they were closing on their destination; the margins of the spacer quarter were where residents sold and spacers bought. Reflected in one of the shop windows was a small, cloaked figure trotting beside a large spacer. Peering out from inside the hood were dark eyes and Jax could see wisps of brown hair.

His eyes and his hair; his mother had made temporary changes and then reprogrammed his nanobots to maintain them.

He blinked back tears. He would never again hear her voice or feel her touch.

 

There was no time for such sentiment. As his mother had made him promise; he would escape and survive until he could challenge the usurper and reclaim his inheritance.

This day was critical; he had to go through an open recruitment fair and yet end up with the correct crew.

They slowed. The change in pace refocused Jax on his surroundings. The shops had gone, replaced by stalls. Now almost everyone around them was a spacer, identified by their long hair, short jackets and tall boots. Instead of their path being direct, it swerved this way and that; residents scuttled out of a spacer’s way but spacers avoided each other.

Then their route was blocked by people standing with their backs to them; the rear of a crowd.

His escort’s hand grasped his shoulder and pulled him close. It was a shock to be manhandled; Jax had to stop himself twisting away. No one other than his mother, his father or his trainer had been allowed within touching distance for as long as he could remember.

 

The crowd was not uniform; it was made up of groups with gaps between them. Jax realised the groups were crews and that they must weave their way carefully between them. Touching a spacer without permission was dangerous; it could easily precipitate a challenge.

His escort made Jax walk before him, a large hand on either shoulder.

Then they were out the other side of the crowd and into the Killing Square. Jax’s eyes went immediately to the empty floor around the cross.

It was clean; no blood had been shed since it had been scrubbed at station’s dawn.

 

They joined the queue that contained the younger boys; a few were alone but most had adults with them.

These were those wishing to be cabin boys. Most crews did not recruit cabin boys; they were considered more trouble than they were worth. It made more sense to stick to cats, who were bigger, stronger and old enough to help relieve sexual tensions amongst the crew.

That was how his tutor had put it; relieving sexual tensions. The other men in the household had been much blunter; cats sucked rod and, once they were old enough, spread their rear cheeks for anyone who was interested in poking a hole.

Jax would not think about that.  He was pretending to be twelve, which was too young. He would be a cabin boy and not a cat.

 

Two ahead of him in the queue was a very small boy.

“Age?” asked one of the two recruiters seated at the table.

“Twelve,” the boy squeaked.

“Not a chance,” the other man said. “Be off with you.”

“I’m a hybrid,” the boy replied. “It’s not my fault I’m this size.”

 

Jax was intrigued. He had never seen a hybrid close up; his father disapproved of them. He moved so he had a better view between the adults in front of him. The boy did not seem to have a tail, which was a disappointment.

He did, however, have whiskers. He also had fangs, which he was displaying to the recruiters.

“You been tested?” the first recruiter asked.

“No,” the boy admitted, “but I’ve got the fee.”

 

Jax wondered where the boy had got the gold credit that he put on the table. There was a silence; apparently the recruiters were similarly surprised.

“Fine,” the second recruiter decided. “Name?”

“Ray,” the boy replied.

“How do you spell that?” the recruiter asked.

Jax doubted the boy could spell but he answered, “R, A, E,” and the man tapped the information into the tablet strapped to his forearm.

Then the gold credit was exchanged for a token and the boy was directed to one of the booths at the side of the square.

 

The next boy, like Jax, had his test results. The man with him, maybe his father, passed a tape to the first recruiter, who checked it in a portable viewer before taking the boy’s details, giving him a token and directing him to the pen.

They suggested that the adult accompanying the boy wait in the crowd until the end of the fair, which was worrying. Jax had thought the adults handed the boys over and left. Certainly his escort would not stay.

 

Jax was next. His escort pulled down his hood as they reached the table. The two men looked at him with approval, which was more than they had done when faced with the previous two boys.

“Age?”

“Twelve,” Jax answered. Neither man queried it. It was as his mother had said; a well-nourished boy of eleven could easily pass for twelve.

“Name?”

“Jax.”

“Test?”

He handed over the tape and watched, heart thumping, as they checked it. The last thing he wanted was for them to insist on a retest; the data on the tape had been heavily edited.

 

“Fine.” The second recruiter turned his attention to Jax’s escort. “We accept responsibility for the boy Jax until he becomes a member of a certified Traditional crew.”

Jax realised it was a compliment. It meant that they were certain he would be placed with a crew.

Then his escort was gone and Jax was walking towards the indicated pen clutching his token.

 

When he got there he took off his cloak, folded it carefully and strapped it to the outside of his pack. Once he had slung his pack across his back, he stood up straight and risked looking at the crews, hoping that one of the men would give him a signal he recognised.

 

Jax was accustomed to being the sole focus of attention. This time was different. He wished the crews were paying attention to the other boys.

None of the men gathered around the pen, nor any one of those he could see in the crowd, had offered the prearranged signal.

The queens of three of the crews were well into a ruthless negotiation with one of the recruiters over who should claim him. In a bizarre way they reminded him of his mother, which was crazy because they were male and ugly while his mother was female and beautiful.

 

Perhaps not ugly; different. All three were thin. Their long hair was dyed, their jackets embellished and their faces painted. To Jax’s eyes, their pants were too tight, their heels too high and their chests too exposed.

If no one gave the signal, he would end up going with one of these men.

“It’s up to you,” a voice whispered.

It was the hybrid boy. Jax twisted around and looked at him.

“The recruiter gets a cut, so he wants them to bid each other up, but the rules say you choose. That’s why you have the token.”

Jax had forgotten that. He looked back at the three queens. He didn’t want to go with any of them. He scanned the crowd around him, his gaze darted from man to man, hoping to see the signal.

 

Another voice, this time soft and pleasant. “My name is Ean; I am queen of the Willow.”

Jax looked around and up. It was a young man with kind brown eyes.

“What’s your name?”

Jax knew it was in the information on the tablet but the young man, Ean, was not holding one. “Jax,” he replied.

Ean smiled and Jax felt himself smiling back.

“Excuse me,” one of the queens interrupted in a tone that said, “Get away from him.”

The recruiter was beginning to look anxious. “Please stay away from the boys unless you are serious about making an offer.”

Ean turned to face the queens rather than the recruiter. “I am Ean. I am queen of the Willow. We are interested in the boy Jax.”

“You are too late,” one of the other queens hissed.

“Have you registered an interest?” the recruiter asked, much more politely.

 

Someone walked up behind Ean and handed him a tablet. Jax moved a little so he could see better; it was an older man with a captain’s insignia.

“Yes,” Ean replied. He turned back to Jax. “The Willow is a small, strictly Traditional crew. Our song goes back centuries. Over a thousand spacers have begun their new lives with us. With us you will learn what it means to be a spacer.”

“Six thousand credits,” squawked one of the other queens.

The sheer magnitude of the offer stunned the other queens into silence.

Ean recovered first. “It is not about credit,” he continued, still only speaking to Jax. “I know that you get three-quarters of the fee, I know that four and a half thousand credits seems a lot, but what you could get from being cabin boy and cat on the Willow is beyond price.”

One of the other queens snorted with derision and another laughed outright.

 

Jax had already decided. Something had gone wrong. The man he was meant to be meeting was not here. He either chose a crew or walked away with his test tape and his token. The latter was not an option. A boy of eleven would not last a single night in a spacestation without protection.

If he was going with a crew, he preferred Ean’s.

“Can I meet the rest of your crew first?” he asked Ean.

Ean smiled again. “Of course you can.”

 

One of the other queens groaned, turned and walked away. The other two were slower to accept they had lost but they faded into the background when Ean’s crew came to stand around him.

There were Ean, the captain and five others: four with knives and a cat.

Then another man appeared at Ean’s side and, suddenly, Jax could not look anywhere else.

 

He was a cyborg. Jax had been trained to recognise them. What was a cyborg doing spacing? Converting a man into a functional cyborg cost…Jax discovered that he did not know how much; enough that even his father could afford only a few of them.

Then the cyborg’s fingers were moving and Jax recognised the signal.

 

It all fell into place. This was the man: the one his father had ordered to prepare a crew for him; the one who had held him as a newborn and pledged his life to him.

That his father should allocate one of his precious cyborgs to the task was unexpected. Perhaps his father had cared more about him than he had ever shown. Jax’s eyes prickled with tears but he willed them away. He would not cry. Only the weak cried.

 

Ean was introducing the crew. “…Captain Mel. This is Vic, our engineer, Art our navigator, Ben our pilot and this is Cas.” He did not introduce the cat, which Jax recognised as proper space etiquette. Then he turned to the cyborg. “This is Tre.”

Jax held out his token.

“I see you have worked your usual magic, Ean,” the engineer, Vic, commented. He was the oldest other than the captain. Of course the cyborg could be older; if you were paying for cybernetic enhancements you would not skimp on nanobots and age retard.

The captain looked towards the recruiter. “We will give you an honorarium of two hundred credits.”

The recruiter managed to look grateful for the payment, even though it was scant compensation for missing out on over seven times as much commission.

Ean’s fingers closed on the token and Jax gave it to him.

 

It was over. He was safe. Jax had thought he would feel better than this. Instead, he was convinced he had missed something important.

He found himself looking back, toward the hybrid boy. What was his name? Rae.

The boy gave a grin, which showed his fangs and lifted his whiskers.

He seemed more pleased that Jax had found a crew than he was worried about no one showing the least interest in him.

“Is that your friend?” Ean asked.

One of the crew, Jax thought it was Vic, groaned.

“Yes,” Jax heard himself answer, which was weird because he didn’t have any friends. Neither his father nor his mother approved of friendship.

“Ean,” the captain warned.

“But…” Ean began.

“One is more than enough,” Art complained. “Let’s go.”

“Wait,” the cyborg, Tre, ordered. He was looking at the tablet; presumably at Rae’s details. “You, Rae, come here.”

 

Rae came over. Suddenly Jax was aware that the boy was grubby and probably stank. Worse, he was a hybrid. What had possessed Jax to claim him as a friend?

“Put your hands this far apart,” Tre instructed him.

Rae’s whiskers twitched in what Jax guessed was suspicion but he did what he was told.

“I’m going to drop a coin. I want you to catch it. No moving your hands until you see it drop.”

Jax squirmed. It was impossible; Rae was being set up to fail. His hands were too far apart; no one’s reaction time was that good.

 

The coin dropped but there was no clink of the coin on the metal floor. Rae’s left hand had moved so fast that all Jax had seen was a blur.

“By the Lady,” Ben murmured.

“We’ll take this one too,” the captain said immediately.

The recruiter looked over. He obviously had not seen the outcome of Tre’s test. “The hybrid?”

“Rae,” the captain clarified.

 

Rae’s chin came up. “Maybe I don’t want to go with you.”

Ean frowned slightly. “We are a good choice, Rae. If…”

“As if you have anywhere else to go,” Art interrupted, which Jax thought was rude. Ean was queen; Art should be treating him with more respect.

“I’ve survived on my own this long,” Rae replied. “I’ve a choice. It’s up to me.”

“Yes, it is,” the captain agreed.

Rae paused for a moment and then held out his token and the coin to Tre. “I’ll join because you thought I would pass your test. No one ever thought I could do anything before.”

Tre nodded and took both. He handed the token to Ean and the coin back to Rae. “You won it.”

Rae pocketed the coin and grinned.

Jax got his first close-up look at Rae’s fangs. They were long and impressively pointy.

What had he done?

 

Learn more about the author’s imaginary world of the far future at www.mannahpierce.com . Read more about the crew of the Willow in Cast Adrift,  its sequel Foothold and her upcoming novel, Homeward.

The End Of The Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher

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“The government in the past created one American Dream at the expense of almost all others: the dream of a house, a lawn, a picket fence, two children, and a car. But there is no single American Dream anymore.”

For nearly 70 years, the suburbs were as American as apple pie. As the middle class ballooned and single-family homes and cars became more affordable, we flocked to pre-fabricated communities in the suburbs, a place where open air and solitude offered a retreat from our dense, polluted cities. Before long, success became synonymous with a private home in a bedroom community complete with a yard, a two-car garage and a commute to the office, and subdivisions quickly blanketed our landscape.
But in recent years things have started to change. An epic housing crisis revealed existing problems with this unique pattern of development, while the steady pull of long-simmering economic, societal and demographic forces has culminated in a Perfect Storm that has led to a profound shift in the way we desire to live.
In The End of the Suburbs journalist Leigh Gallagher traces the rise and fall of American suburbia from the stately railroad suburbs that sprung up outside American cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries to current-day sprawling exurbs where residents spend as much as four hours each day commuting. Along the way she shows why suburbia was unsustainable from the start and explores the hundreds of new, alternative communities that are springing up around the country and promise to reshape our way of life for the better.
Not all suburbs are going to vanish, of course, but Gallagher’s research and reporting show the trends are undeniable. Consider some of the forces at work:

• The nuclear family is no more: Our marriage and birth rates are steadily declining, while the single-person households are on the rise. Thus, the good schools and family-friendly lifestyle the suburbs promised are increasingly unnecessary.
• We want out of our cars: As the price of oil continues to rise, the hours long commutes forced on us by sprawl have become unaffordable for many. Meanwhile, today’s younger generation has expressed a perplexing indifference toward cars and driving. Both shifts have fueled demand for denser, pedestrian-friendly communities.
• Cities are booming. Once abandoned by the wealthy, cities are experiencing a renaissance, especially among younger generations and families with young children. At the same time, suburbs across the country have had to confront never-before-seen rates of poverty and crime.
Blending powerful data with vivid on the ground reporting, Gallagher introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, including the charismatic leader of the anti-sprawl movement; a mild-mannered Minnesotan who quit his job to convince the world that the suburbs are a financial Ponzi scheme; and the disaffected residents of suburbia, like the teacher whose punishing commute entailed leaving home at 4 a.m. and sleeping under her desk in her classroom.
Along the way, she explains why understanding the shifts taking place is imperative to any discussion about the future of our housing landscape and of our society itself—and why that future will bring us stronger, healthier, happier and more diverse communities for everyone.

Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs is a book of social history in the same vein as, and of similar caliber to, the ancestral classic of its genre, Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth T. Jackson. Like that book, this one avoids several of my pet peeves. It shuns ostentatious language in favor of highly function, dense, understandable sentences. No word seems to be solely dedicated to creating emphasis without also fleshing out the meaning of what is being said.  The discipline in research displayed in this book, unfortunately, did not match the the discipline in language.

I understand that it is unfair to expect of any book the thorough and relentless inclusion of data and primary source material provided by Mr. Jackson in Crabgrass Frontier. However, I must note that the difference in reading experiences between these two books is probably founded in this lack. In Crabgrass, the reader doesn’t feel like he or she is being convinced of anything. There is hardly any deductive step in that wonderful book about which the reader must say, “I’ll give Mr. Jackson that one.” Instead, Mr. Jackson would support a statement with publicly accessible data or primary source material, deduce something from that statement, and then support the deduction with MORE data or primary source material. What is different in Gallagher’s work is that reading it is like crossing a bridge of ordinary construction, with what looks to me like enough structural support to safely get me from one side to the other. But hey, what do I know? I don’t build bridges for a living, and she does, so I’ll trust her and drive over the bridge. Reading Mr. Jackson’s book is like driving on what seems to be an ordinary road on solid ground, and then have your rendezvous partner at the end of your journey ask, “How was your passage over the river?” You reply, “There was a river?”

If you don’t mind deductive passages spanning fractions of entire chapters without references to sources (and I imagine that most will not mind) there is much to love in the potentially mind-expanding subject matter here. Mrs. Gallagher connects the decline in childhood outdoor activity not to the advent of television and electronic entertainment, but to changes in the design of suburban landscapes. She investigates the pressures of the Millennial generation on the demand for suburban accommodation, and she provides a rich historical backdrop for the future she predicts. The average reader of Mrs. Gallagher’s book will finish it much more informed about American modern history, demographics, architectonics, and demographics than he or she was before. Furthermore, the relative paucity of primary source material helps to make The End of the Suburbs more fluidly readable than Crabgrass Frontier. This accessibility, and Mrs. Gallagher’s lighter tone, will hearten her work to more casual readers than myself, i.e. nearly everyone.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales by Susan Berliner

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Welcome to Susan Berliner’s world. It’s a place where strange things–both good and bad–happen. Meet some of the inhabitants:

* Doreen. It’s time for her wedding but where is everyone? (Doreen’s Wedding)
* Neal. The face he sees in the mirror is no longer his own. (Mirror Image)
* Deb. All she does is recite four Latin words. How bad can that be? (The Rapunzel Effect)
* Ben. Everything he says sounds like gibberish. (Wordless)
* Mary. Her sweet dreams become nightmares and then the nightmares become real. (Dare to Dream)
* Kayla & Dan, Lisette & Omar. Two vacationing couples, one white and one black, form a bizarrely close relationship. (The Sea Crystal)
* Alicia. She waters office plants for a living. It’s a stress-free job, right? (The Plant Whisperer)
* Isabel. The man in a red sports car looks exactly like her long-lost husband. (Nathan’s Return)
In this weird world, you’ll encounter a variety of genres from thriller and horror to fairy tale and humor. Enjoy your visit!

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

Once I started reading these stories, I could not put my Kindle down. Short stories are always good, because you can read one and pick up again with a brand new story. However, once you start reading anything written by Ms Berliner, you had better clear your calendar. Her characters are haunting, memorable, and real. Despite the horror/thriller undertones in some of the stories, each character seems authentic.

As I read, I kept thinking of the Twilight Zone, with offbeat stories that started out normal, but always had some strangely plausible but unsettling ending.  THE SEA CRYSTAL is just like that. Normal people: a bride, an office worker, couples on vacation — what could be so strange about that?

You are in for a real treat. It takes a special talent to be able to create a scene in a few pages, from beginning to end, and this is where the author excels. As soon as the story begins, you are thrust into a little microcosm where things look ordinary…mundane, even.

But then…plants start talking, or someone disappears, or someone who is there turns out that they were never even there in the first place!

Much like a riddle or a brain teaser, these tales will get under your skin and not be shaken off that easily. One of the stories in particular, DOREEN’S WEDDING, left me with a queer little ache in my heart. Entirely plausible, simply done, and utterly gripping. I challenge anyone to read that and not be moved.

Berliner is a talented weaver of stories, and I guarantee you will love this book. Click here and pick up your copy RIGHT NOW.

 

BOOK LAUNCH GIVEAWAY!!

Banner with all three titles
IGNITE: BOOK THREE OF THE RESISTANCE SERIES
BOOK LAUNCH GIVEAWAY
“Lawson creates a clever narrative where we know, without question, that the terrorists are the enemy. But soon we realize that those truly loyal to the country must rise up against the existing powers–effectively becoming terrorists themselves.”

 

Readers call the Resistance Series books “terrifying” and “eerily believable.”
Are you ready for the adrenaline rush?

Get FREE E-BOOKS and read the story of Tommy and Careen’s fight against the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense from the very beginning!

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Download Ignite: Book Three of the Resistance Series on July 19-20 on Amazon:
Send your receipt to tracy@counteractbook.com and in return, you’ll receive FREE downloads of Counteract and Resist, the first two books in the series!

Dissolution by Lee S Hawke

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What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head and your entire city might turn out to be a lie… what would you sell yourself for?

 

Thanks to the author for this review copy! I had reviewed her other novel, DIVISION, so when she contacted me about this one, I immediately said yes. Hawke is a master of the dystopian genre, and this book is a wonderful, thrilling, well written bit of pleasure.

Madeline is a great protagonist: a girl coming to terms with the world around her, and losing her faith in things she believed were to be true. She is strong and capable, with a clear idea of what she wants from her life.

I loved the idea of the Auction – it almost seemed like a kinder, gentler version of Brave New World. As the corporations and their culture became clearer to me, I could easily imagine the future Hawke created. As in every dystopian novel, there must be the “others” – ones who shun the way of life and the rules. Madeline comes in contact with these, known as the corpless,  after she makes her escape, leaving the door open for a sequel. She learns that what she was told about these others is false, and is unsure who to trust – after all, there is a large reward for her capture that would have someone set for life.

The only suggestion I would have for the author is to share more details about the corporations earlier in the book – it was a bit confusing to see the names like MERCE and PERCO and DRAYTH without grasping the concept that they were all separate entities with extremely limited job offerings.

Other than that, I’d like to give the author kudos for writing a YA/dystopian novel without including teen angst and romance. Sometimes the science just has to stand on its own without dragging a love interest in there. Madeline can convey all the social commentary she needs to on her own, without being a lovesick teen.

The chapter with the river really made an impact on me. The idea of a city poisoning the water supply with chemicals, whether intentional or accidentally (due to poor care of the natural resources) seems truly apocalyptic. The description of what Madeline sustained after her near drowning was intense and thought provoking.

Other futuristic details include food with no taste (unless your taste sensors are on) and the ubiquitous collar that all citizens wear. This collar is used for some nefarious purposes, as the reader will discover.

DISSOLUTION was one of my favorite books this year so far. It’s extremely well written, and more enjoyable than HUNGER GAMES. Madeline’s world is not as dark as the HG one, but pretty close.

I’m hoping that there will be a part two to this novella, so I can see what happens to Madeline, and learn the future of the corporations.

This book is a must read! Go get your copy here.

 

Guest Post by author Hal Levey (Under The Pong Pong Tree)

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“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. . . .The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.” -Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore. . .The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.” -Blue Ink Starred Review

Love and the brutality of war are woven together in a beautiful, heart-wrenching tapestry in Under the Pong Pong Tree.

Thanks to Publishing Push and the author for helping me create this guest post! UNDER THE PONG PONG TREE is a wonderful, character-driven novel about love and war. Here, author Hal Levey tells us how everything came to be:

 

Under the Pong Pong Tree was incubated long ago during a year spent as China Medical Board Visiting Professor on the medical faculty of the National University of Singapore. The eponymous pong pong tree of Southeast Asia also is called the suicide tree. It is intended as a metaphor for the cruelty suffered by the Chinese residents of Singapore under the heel of the Japanese during World War II. I kept a journal that became a background resourceI also met many colleagues who suffered under Japanese brutality. Nevertheless, the year in Singapore was an exhilarating experience. I did a certain amount of recreational jungle bashing upcountry in Malaysia, and befriended the RAF contingent at the Seletar Air Base in Singapore. I became close friends with Squadron Leader Darrol Stinton, MBE, and joined him and the RAF Seletar Sub-Aqua Club on an expedition to Pulau Perhentian (Perhentian Island) in the South China Sea. The purpose was to develop sea rescue capabilities for airmen lost at sea. The job previously was done by the Royal Navy, but, for some reason, they terminated such operations and the RAF was obliged to create their own system.

The airmen made me Honorary Member No. 1 of the club, but harbored the faint suspicion that I was a CIA plant. Darrol died in 2012 from a hospital-borne infection at a military hospital in London. He was there for surgical replacement of titanium rods that supported his spine, stress-fractured from his years as a test pilot for the RAF. I brought him back to life in my book as Squadron Leader Darrol Stanton. I also borrowed Chinese and Malay names of individuals I had met as characters in my book.  I did this to avoid inventing ethnic names that might inadvertently have had a lewd context.

The novel started to come to life when I spent a summer month in the Caribbean, lecturing to pre-med students at St. Georges University on the island of Granada. This was a pleasant diversion, and St. Georges relied on visiting faculty, mainly from Australia, India, and the USA. Part of my stipend was a room at a first-class hotel perched on a glittering white sandy beach. I delivered lectures in the morning, and spent the afternoons sipping rum punch at a tiki bar next to the hotel. Sitting on a bar stool with time on my hands, I started to scribble an outline in pencil on a yellow legal pad. I started with the setting and then populated it with my characters. Eventually they wrote their own stories and I merely transcribed them. After much picking up and putting down of the manuscript over several years, it ultimately emerged as Under the Pong Pong TreeThe first draft ran to about 185,000 words, but I chopped it down to 78,000 words in the final version.

It is a gripping story that also bears elements of a cautionary tale. In the book, the Japanese are portrayed as brutal and pitiless in their treatment of the Chinese residents of Singapore. They executed thousands and practiced decapitation almost as an art form. Today we view the Japanese as a tidy little people, hard-working, and steeped in their quaint cultural traditions. The other naughty nation, Germany, has emerged from the horrors of Nazism to become an economic powerhouse. One might wonder what the future holds for brutal regimes of the present day?

I am unaware of literary influences that have helped me along the way – although there must be some. I tend to write from the omniscient viewpoint, with little interest in the machine-gun conversational style of the contemporary best-seller. Nor do I have an affinity for the current obsession with zombies or mutated mosquitoes the size of Greyhound busses. I lost interest in fairy tales when I was about eight years old. Although, now that I think about it, I have toyed with the idea of writing a story about a hemophobic vampire. If I have a favorite author, it might be Archy, the poet reincarnated as a large cockroach, who held frequent conversations with Mehitabel, a morally ambiguous cat who claimed to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Mehitabel maintained her zest for life, proclaiming “there’s a dance or two in the old dame yet.” Archy typed messages to his boss, Don Marquis, by diving headfirst onto the keys. The messages understandably all were in lower case and lacked apostrophes. That did not disturb the editors of the New York Sun, who were happy to publish Archy’s messages in their daily edition.

As to the future: I might follow up with a prequel to Under the Pong Pong Treebut only if a readership emerges from the underbrush. Otherwise, I shall move in another direction – yet to be determined.

I am currently involved in the puzzling procedure called marketing. I won’t bore you with the details, but, if you write a book, you want it read. Of course, I also might call your attention to Boswell’s quote from Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Undiscovered authors are advised to refrain from such flippancies until THEY beg you to sign a major contract. Until then, we must be content to write because we are unable to not write.

 

Here are excerpts of excellent reviews of my book, by Clarion and Blue Ink:

“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. …The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.”
—Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore….The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.”
—Blue Ink Starred Review

 

 

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