Friday, August 29, 2014

Cover Reveal: The Artisans by Julie Reece and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

Welcome to the Cover Reveal for

The Artisans by Julie Reece

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
The Artisans
They say death can be beautiful. But after the death of her mother, seventeen-year-old RAVEN WEATHERSBY gives up her dream of becoming a fashion designer, barely surviving life in the South Carolina lowlands.
To make ends meet, Raven works after school as a seamstress creating stunning works of fashion that often rival the great names of the day.
Instead of making things easier on the high school senior, her stepdad's drinking leads to a run in with the highly reclusive heir to the Maddox family fortune, Gideon Maddox.
But Raven's stepdad's drying out and in no condition to attend the meeting with Maddox. So Raven volunteers to take his place and offers to repay the debt in order to keep the only father she's ever known out of jail, or worse.
Gideon Maddox agrees, outlining an outrageous demand: Raven must live in his home for a year while she designs for Maddox Industries' clothing line, signing over her creative rights.
Her handsome young captor is arrogant and infuriating to the nth degree, and Raven can't imagine working for him, let alone sharing the same space for more than five minutes.
But nothing is ever as it seems. Is Gideon Maddox the monster the world believes him to be? And can he stand to let the young seamstress see him as he really is?
The Artisans is a delectably rich, layered and dark YA Southern Gothic inspired by Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont's classic Beauty and the Beast.
"The Artisans has all the elements I love - spooky intrigue, strong friendships, and a romantic tension to be savored." ~ Wendy Higgins, New York Times bestselling author of the Sweet Evil trilogy.
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Title: The Artisans
Publication date: May 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Julie Reece
Julie Reece
Born in Ohio, I lived next to my grandfather’s horse farm until the fourth grade. Summers were about riding, fishing and make-believe, while winter brought sledding and ice-skating on frozen ponds. Most of life was magical, but not all.
I struggled with multiple learning disabilities, did not excel in school. I spent much of my time looking out windows and daydreaming. In the fourth grade (with the help of one very nice teacher) I fought dyslexia for my right to read, like a prince fights a dragon in order to free the princess locked in a tower, and I won.
Afterwards, I read like a fiend. I invented stories where I could be the princess... or a gifted heroine from another world who kicked bad guy butt to win the heart of a charismatic hero. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Later, I moved to Florida where I continued to fantasize about superpowers and monsters, fabricating stories (my mother called it lying) and sharing them with my friends.
Then I thought I’d write one down...
Hooked, I’ve been writing ever since. I write historical, contemporary, urban fantasy, adventure, and young adult romances. I love strong heroines, sweeping tales of mystery and epic adventure... which must include a really hot guy. My writing is proof you can work hard to overcome any obstacle. Don’t give up. I say, if you write, write on!
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Cover Reveal: VESSEL by Lisa T. Cresswell and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

Welcome to the Cover Reveal for

VESSEL by Lisa T. Cresswell

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
The sun exploded on On April 18, 2112 in a Class X solar storm the likes of which humankind had never seen.
They had exactly nineteen minutes to decide what to do next.
They had nineteen minutes until a geomagnetic wave washed over the Earth, frying every electrical device created by humans, blacking out entire continents, and every satellite in their sky.
Nineteen minutes to say goodbye to the world they knew, forever, and to prepare for a new Earth, a new Sun.

Generations after solar storms destroyed nearly all human technology on Earth, humans reverted to a middle ages-like existence, books are burned as heresy, and all knowledge of the remaining technology is kept hidden by a privileged few called the Reticents.
Alana, a disfigured slave girl, and Recks, a traveling minstrel and sometimes-thief, join forces to bring knowledge and books back to the human race. But when Alana is chosen against her will to be the Vessel, the living repository for all human knowledge, she must find the strength to be what the world needs even if it's the last thing she wants.
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Title: Vessel
Publication date: May 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Lisa T. Cresswell
Lisa T. Cresswell
Lisa, like most writers, began scribbling silly notes, stories, and poems at a very young age. Born in North Carolina, the South proved fertile ground to her imagination with its beautiful white sand beaches and red earth. In fifth grade, she wrote, directed and starred in a play "The Queen of the Nile" at school, despite the fact that she is decidedly un-Egyptian looking. Perhaps that's why she went on to become a real life archaeologist?
Unexpectedly transplanted to Idaho as a teenager, Lisa learned to love the desert and the wide open skies out West. This is where her interest in cultures, both ancient and living, really took root, and she became a Great Basin archaeologist. However, the itch to write never did leave for long. Her first books became the middle grade fantasy trilogy, The Storyteller Series. Her first traditionally published work, Hush Puppy, is now available from Featherweight Press.
Lisa still lives in Idaho with her family and a menagerie of furry critters that includes way too many llamas!
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Cover Reveal: Horror Business by Ryan Craig Bradford and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

Welcome to the Cover Reveal for

Horror Business by Ryan Craig Bradford

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
Armed with a passion for classic B-grade horror movies, a script co-written by his twin brother, and a wicked crush on his death-obsessed neighbor; hardcore horror fan Jason Nightshade must finish his student film.
But his plans are derailed when the children of suburban Silver Creek start disappearing – his twin brother among them. Battling a possessed video camera, a crazy zombie dog, a monstrous bully, and a frighteningly broken down family life, Jason embarks on a mission to find his lost brother so the two can write an ending for his story.
As any horror fan knows, saving the day won't be easy, as Jason finds himself forced to face the real world where death isn't just a splash of fake blood on a camera lens.

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Title: Horror Business
Publication date: February 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Ryan Craig Bradford
Ryan grew up in Park City, Utah. His fiction has appeared in Quarterly West, Paper Darts, Vice, Monkeybicycle and [PANK]. He currently lives in San Diego where he acts as Creative Director for the nonprofit literary arts organization So Say We All. He’s the co-editor of the anthology Last Night on Earth and founder of the literary horror journal, Black Candies.
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Call Me Grim

Elizabeth Holloway hits the ground running and does nothing but pick up pace throughout Call Me Grim, the edgy YA novel that brings new meaning to the phrase "damned if you do, damned if you don't." In Call Me Grim though, Libbi isn't the only one who has to worry about damnation, she's got the soul of her best friend to worry about.

Full confession, I thought the premise had about a 75% chance of being pure cheese. It wasn't. This was like winning the book review lottery. The characters are fully formed, the dialog engaging, motives genuine, plot twists interesting and even surprising. I was impressed. Moreover, I can see this growing into an interesting series that is about something a heck of a lot larger than boy meets girl or girl saves friend, and I like that.

The premise: death saves a girl, but there's a catch, a huge catch, and it just might be a fate worse than death, caught me off guard. I was ready for "girl dies and gets offered a job to atone," or "girl inherits family job of collecting souls," but "girl trades in a chance at heaven to keep her friend from going to hell, all because the current reaper has personal reasons for wanting out of the whole reaper gig," well, where do I send the "thank you for your originality card?"

Pacing aside, what I liked the most about Call Me Grim, was that it contains a lot of food for thought, especially about what it means to be a friend, and the moral weight of our ties to one another. I'm not sure if that's what Holloway was aiming for, but that's what I came away with... well, that, and a heck of a rollercoaster ride of a story.

I received an ARC to review from the publisher.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Coral & Bone

I had the opportunity to read Coral & Bone for an upcoming Blog Tour through Xpresso Blog Tours. You can check that review out on We Do Write in September.  Of course, I'm not big on waiting, so, I figured I'd dive on in now.

Can I just say, holy gorgeous cover, Batman?
Coral & Bone by Tiffany Daune was a pretty good book. I enjoyed the story and found myself laying awake later than I'd intended to finish just one more chapter, and then thinking about the characters long after I'd set it down.  It was not a one sitting book for me, partially because of it's length and the amount of world building, and partially because every few chapters I felt the need to pull on my swimming suit and find a pool.  My family jokes that I'm a bit of a mermaid myself, of course, in Coral & Bone, that's not a good thing.

In Coral & Bone, Halen, a nearly 15 year old girl, finds herself having returned to the dreary small beach town where her family lived when her father drowned in open water, which she recalls in images of silvery tails. Of course, Halen also finds fire tingling beneath her touch and goes to school with earplugs in to block the overwhelming sensory input of the world around her. Of course, the run-in with mermaids some six years earlier was nothing compared to the drama ignited when she reencounters them after a mysterious young man shows up on her front stoop.

In the first chapter, Halen passes out during a math test because she took out her ear plugs, and this moment sets the stage for the balancing act between her strengths and weaknesses throughout Coral & Bone. Again and again, her abilities push her over the edge, and again and again, she finds herself diminished by them. In some ways I thought the wording was ableist. Halen frequently questions her sanity toward the beginning, and yes, I imagine anyone being pulled from the mundane world into a realm with different rules and different beings might question their sanity, or at least struggle with disbelief. However, the frequency of "crazy" and "insane" statements detracted from the meaning of the words, because they felt like they were being used too liberally.  I know it's a small point, but it's one that wears on me, as a reader.

Similarly, I really dislike the magic k. I know, it's a personal preference thing, but I wish my e-reader had a way to go through and replace all the "magick" with "magic," because it throws me out of any text that isn't a historical text discussing the trend in neo-mystycism and pagan movements toward adding a k in order to differentiate between prestidigitation and illusion and their own brand of magic. It's like fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul.

Speaking of which, so is a cast of Earth dwellers living in contemporary times comprised entirely with bizarre names. Enter Halen, Daspar, Tage... you get the idea. However, it worked in this case. I liked them and their unique names fit the characters and their backstories in ways that Helen, David, and Teague wouldn't have. So props on that.

I think what I liked the most about Coral & Bone was that it surprised me, even the predictable parts surprised me. Sure, we all see them coming, but they unfold in subtly different ways, and it feels good to read the well foreshadowed event with the tiny little twist. I like that Halen was set up to be a bit of a swooning Bella, easily overwhelmed, easily captured, easily led along, despite obvious personal power, but then BAM- she makes choices without equivocation and sets her own destiny. I like that.

I also really enjoyed the world building Tiffany Daune put in. There's a great amount of detail, her magic system has rules and she follows them, and there is room to expand on it. Coral & Bone also exists outside the realm of quest or romance in that there is a political/social justice/ equality arc as well. While yes, there is the "destroy the bad guy, save the realms" element to the story, it really only serves to illuminate the greater problem, that Elosians truly believe that genocide is alright as long as it makes them feel safer. The social justice issues dominate the landscape of the story, and make for an interesting tale.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cover Reveal: Dead Jed 2: Dawn of the Jed by Scott Craven and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

Welcome to the Cover Reveal for

Dead Jed 2: Dawn of the Jed by Scott Craven

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
After a tumultuous first semester in seventh grade, Jed Rivers returns triumphant or so he thinks. After embracing his undeadness to put his archenemy Robbie in his place, the thirteen-year-old zombie thought he’d have a much easier time surviving the second semester relatively intact. That was before he came across the antizombie propaganda published by the mysterious NZN Network, a group trying to push Hollywood stereotypes as the truth. Through fear- mongering and outright lies, the NZN Network will stop at nothing to get Jed expelled.
Jed s attempts to blend in get even more difficult when news spreads that he’s created a zombie dog. And it’s no rumor. Jed shocks even himself when, after seeing a dog get hit by a car, he brings the dog back to life or at least to undeadness when some of his ooze slips into the dog s wounds. The good news is that Jed always wanted a faithful canine companion. The bad news is that the creation of Tread (so called for the mark on his ribcage) unnerves Jed s best friend Luke. Luke abandons Jed, who then learns Luke has been feeding the NZN Network inside information.
Determined to unmask those behind NZN, Jed gets his opportunity at the end of the school year during Pine Hollow s annual Science Fair. When the NZN s experiment goes horribly awry, Jed has a chance to show people that being undead isn’t always a bad thing.
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Title: DEAD JED 2
Publication date: December 2, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Scott Craven
Scott Craven
Proud graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, have one son who will turn 18 in March 2013, now a features writer for The Arizona Republic.
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Girl With the Windup Heart

 I have an increasingly difficult time accepting the bad guy's primary motivation being "revenge," or "I want to make people suffer." If they're not the hero of their own story, they lose some credibility, so this series has increasingly become a tough sell for me. Yes, people are petty. Yes, revenge is a thing, but when revenge and sadism seem to be the whole of a character, it makes it hard for me to care.

Of course, I care about Finely and Griffin, Emily and Sam, Mila, and Jasper, and even Jack Dandy enough to keep coming back for more (even after the over-the-top retreat into bedroom scenes of The Girl with the Iron Touch).  In The Girl With the Windup Heart, I found myself caring ever more about Mila and Jack, but surprisingly less about everyone else. Really, at the end of chapter fifteen, when the arc revolving around Mila's integration seemed to have resolved, I was ready to put it down, because the high drama of Griffin's longstanding battle with The Machinist had just worn itself out with me. Again, I think this has a lot to do with The Machinist's extremely flat characterization and motivation. While I do love the detail Kady Cross has put into her version of the Aether, when it came down to it, between the two plots taking place simultaneously in this book, the one happening in the real world had, for me, more gravitas.

For a book that pays so much attention to artistry, I was surprised by the number of editing issues. Yes, my blog posts are filled with them, but I don't have editors, it's just me, usually at 2am, and possibly dealing with a crying kid. Although I checked it out at the library, it read like an unusually beautiful uncorrected galley.

That said, Kady Cross continues to do what she does best- deliver emotionally charged and romantic adventure in a well constructed alternate past, filled with great passages like, "Finley never thought she'd see a day when she'd be annoyed to be alive." As always, I am impressed with the nuanced world building that has gone into The Steampunk Chronicles. Kady Cross doesn't flinch from writing about the dark underbelly of the Victorian period- particularly gender and class issues, and takes on technological ethics issues as well. Although there are swoon worthy moments and a lot of the time the female characters sit around talking about the men in their lives, the text is not vapid, and definitely has more meat than "just a romance."

Of course, this is the fourth book in the series, and so if you've enjoyed the first three (or four, counting the novella The Strange Case of Finley Jane, which, was my favorite of them all) then you should pick this up as well. I'd rank it below The Girl in the Steel Corset, but above The Girl in the Clockwork Collar and The Girl With the Iron Touch, if that helps.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

City of Heavenly Fire

Sometimes I just can't write without spoilers, and for that, I apologize. I'll try to keep them out of the first paragraph. Of course, this is the sixth book in the series, so if you haven't started The Mortal Instruments yet, stop reading now- everything is a spoiler (but not so spoilerly as the movie which pretty much blew the entire plot of the next few books... so, if you haven't started, and you think you want to, go ahead and do it. I've stuck with it for six books. It's not Harry Potter, but it's high-drama paranormal adventure, and positively pwns Twilight, even when it's uncomfortable to read).

Now on to the spoilers, because Spoilers make this book what it is- not so much in that the plot turns that make the reader gasp need to be pointed out, but because I feel like it could have been about 150 pages shorter, and a lot of what made it needlessly long was Clare writing around things in that almost spoil the Infernal Devices series. No, that's not true, they really do. When you say to someone who hasn't read the other series "oh look, here's these characters, alive all these years later, with complex relationships that turned out this," when that's the end of the other series, yeah, that's a spoiler. Rather than come out and say who those characters are, Clare spends a multitude of pages writing around who they are so that those who have read it will know, but those who aren't won't- but it becomes redundant and verbose. Yes, it's nice to see characters I loved from the other (my preferred) series return, but cutting to the heart of it wouldn't have hurt anyone. Actually, it might have saved my wrists some strain.

Now, on to the meat of the story. This plot focused on solving problems for everyone more than Clary's internal struggle regarding, well, boys, and the struggle between grasping for your own salvation and self surrender. I liked that. However, once again, her mother proves to only be good at being a plot device who gets herself kidnapped. Really? Can't we go another route? I admit, I'm tired of people getting kidnapped. It was like we'd come full circle back to City of Bones. Clary's mom gets kidnapped by relatives, Simon gets kidnapped by vampires... yeesh, haven't we been there and done that?  The motion of the plot was forward, but the elements were backward.

Again, the main themes were ageism, racism, and whatever ism we use when talking about the extra damaging bigotry that surrounds non-conforming sexuality. If the Shadowhunters have anything down, it's kyriarchy. Although, it sure is nice to see that the younger generations of Shadowhunters are making some positive steps toward a more inclusive and accepting future.

City of Heavenly Fire opens by introducing an entirely new cast of characters who later integrate with our central band of taciturn teenage warriors, and I hope to see them again in subsequent writings by Clare. She has a tendency to recycle characters within her world, and really, theirs was the only story left open in the end.  I particularly liked Emma Carstairs, and hope that things with her and her best friend don't turn to ash because of secret reservations in her heart, and that, right there, is what Clare does best. She creates characters that make you care deeply about them. That is why I still go back for more, even if the whole "kidnapped by Morgensterns" trope is wearing thin. I go back because I care about what happens to the people who inhabit her world.

Friday, August 1, 2014

GET BRANDED with Branded (Sinners #1) by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki – Giveaway

Welcome to the GET BRANDED promo for
Branded (Sinners #1)
by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki
presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post.
Fifty years ago The Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society.
To punish the guilty, he created the Hole, a place where sinners are branded according to their sins. Sinners are forced to live a less than human existence in deplorable conditions, under the watchful eye of guards who are ready to kill anyone who steps out of line.
Now, LUST wraps around my neck like thick, blue fingers, threatening to choke the life out of me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit, and the Hole is my new home.
Constant darkness.
Brutal and savage violence.
Excruciating pain.
Every day is a fight for survival.
But I won’t let them win. I will not die in the Hole.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.
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Branded (Sinners #1) by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki
Publisher: Month9Books

I’m buried six feet under, and no one hears my screams. The rope chafes as I loop it around my neck. I pull down, making sure the knot is secure. It seems sturdy enough. My legs shake. My heart beats heavy in my throat. Sweat pours down my back. Death and I glare at each other through my tears. I take one last look at the crystal chandelier, the foyer outlined with mirrors, and the flawless decorations. No photographs adorn the walls. No happy memories here. I’m ready to go. On the count of three. I inhale, preparing myself for the finality of it all. Dropping my hands, a glimmer catches my eye. It’s my ring, the last precious gift my father gave me. I twist it around to read the inscription. Picturing his face forces me to reconsider my choice. He’d be heartbroken if he could see me now. A door slams in the hallway, almost causing me to lose my balance. My thoughts already muddled, I stand waiting with the rope hanging around my neck. Voices I don’t recognize creep through the walls. Curiosity overshadows my current thoughts. It’s late at night, and this is a secure building in High Society. No one disturbs the peace here—ever. I tug on the noose and pull it back over my head. Peering through the eyehole in our doorway, I see a large group of armed guards banging on my neighbors’ door. A heated conversation ensues, and my neighbors point toward my family’s home. It hits me. I’ve been accused and they’re here to arrest me. My father would want me to run, and in that split second, I decide to listen to his voice within me. Flinging myself forward in fear, I scramble up the marble staircase and into my brother’s old bedroom. The door is partially covered, but it exists. Pushing his dresser aside, my fingers claw at the opening. Breathing hard, I lodge myself against it. Nothing. I step back and kick it with all my strength. The wood splinters open, and my foot gets caught. I wrench it backward, scraping my calf, but adrenaline pushes me forward. The voices at the front door shout my name. On hands and knees, I squeeze through the jagged opening. My brother left through this passage, and now it’s my escape too. Cobwebs entangle my face, hands, and hair. At the end, I feel for the knob, twisting it clockwise. It swings open, creaking from disuse. I sprint into the hallway and smash through the large fire escape doors at the end. A burst of cool air strikes me in the face as I jump down the ladder. Reaching the fifth floor, I knock on a friend’s window. The lights flicker on, and I see the curtains move, but no one answers. I bang on the window harder. “Let me in! Please!” I say, but the lights darken. They know I’ve been accused and refuse to help me. Fear and adrenaline rush through my veins as I keep running, knocking on more windows along the way. No one has mercy. They all know what happens to sinners. Another flight of stairs passes in a blur when I hear the guards’ heavy footfalls from above. I can’t hide, but I don’t want to go without trying. Help me, Daddy. I need your strength now. My previous desolation evolves into a will to survive. I have to keep running, but I tremble and gasp for air. I steel my nerves and force my body to keep moving. In a matter of minutes, my legs cramp and my chest burns. I plunge to the ground, scraping my knee and elbow. A moan escapes from my chest. Gotta keep going. “Stop!” Their voices bounce off the buildings. “Lexi Hamilton, surrender yourself,” they command. They’re gaining on me. I resist the urge to glance back, running into what I assume is an alley. I’m far from our high-rise in High Society as I plunge into a poorer section of the city where the streets all look the same and the darkness prevents me from recognizing anything. I’m lost. My first instinct is to leap into a dumpster, but I retain enough sense to stay still. I crouch and peek around it, watching them dash by. The abhorrent smell leaves me vomiting until nothing remains in my stomach. Desperation overtakes me, as I know my retching was anything but silent. My last few seconds tick away before they find me. Everyone knows about their special means of tracking sinners. I push myself to my feet and look left, right, and left again. Their batons click against their black leather belts, and their boots stomp the cement on both sides of me. I shrink into myself. Their heavy steps mock my fear, growing closer and closer until I know I’m trapped. Never did I imagine they’d come for me. Never did I imagine all those nights I heard them dragging someone else away that I’d join them. “You’re a sinner,” they say. “Time to leave.” I stand defiant. I refuse to bend or break before them, even as I shiver with fear. “There’s no reason to make this difficult. The more you cooperate, the smoother this will be for everyone,” a guard says. I cringe into the blackness along the wall. I’m innocent, but they won’t believe me or care. The next instant, my face slams into the pavement as one guard plants a knee in my back and another handcuffs me. A warm liquid trails into my mouth. Blood. Their fingers grip my arms like steel traps as they peel me off the cement. The tops of my shoes scrape along the ground as I’m dragged behind them until they discard me into the back of a black vehicle. The doors slam in unison with one guard stationed on each side of me, my shoulders digging into their arms. Swallowing hard, I stare ahead to avoid their eyes. My dignity is all I have left. The handcuffs dig into my wrists, so I clasp them together hard behind me and press my back into the seat, unwilling to admit how much it hurts. Did they need so many guards to capture me? I’m not carrying any weapons, nor do I own any. I don’t even know self-defense. High Society frowns on activities like that. The driver jerks the vehicle around and I try to keep my bearings, but it’s dark and the scenery changes too fast. Hours pass, and the air grows warmer, more humid the farther we drive. The landscape mutates from city to rolling hills. They don’t bother blindfolding me because they escort all the sinners to the same place—the Hole. Twenty-foot cement walls encase the chaos within. There’s no way out and no way in unless they transport you. They say the Hole is a prison with no rules. We learned about it last year in twelfth grade. To the outside, I’m filth now. I’ll never be allowed to return to the life I knew. No one ever does. “All sinners go through a transformation,” one of the guards says to me. His smirk infuriates me. “I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of stories.” I don’t respond. I don’t want to think about the things I’ve been told. “You won’t last too long, though. Young girls like you get eaten alive.” He pulls a strand of my hair up to his face. Get your hands off me, you pig. I want to lash out, but resist. The punishment for disobeying authority is severe, and I’m not positioned to defy him. They’re the Guards of the Commander. They’re chosen from a young age and trained in combat. They keep the order of society by using violent methods of intimidation. No one befriends a guard. Relationships with them are forbidden inside the Hole. Few have seen the Commander. His identity stays under lock and key. His own paranoia and desire to stay pure drove him to live this way. He controls our depraved society and believes sinners make the human race unforgivable. His power is a crushing fist, rendering all beneath him helpless. So much so, even family members turn on each other when an accusation surfaces. Just an accusation. No trial, no evidence, nothing but an accusation. I lose myself in thoughts of my father. “Never show fear, Lexi,” my father said to me before he was taken. “They’ll use it against you.” His compassionate eyes filled with warning as he commanded me to be strong. That was many years ago, but I remember it clearly. My father. My rock. The one person in my life who provided unconditional love. “Get out,” the guard says while pulling me to my feet. The vehicle stops, and I’m jerked back to reality. The doors slide open and the two guards lift me up and out into the night. A windowless cement building looms in front of us, looking barren in the darkness. The coolness of the air sends a shiver up my spine. This is really happening. I’ve been labeled a sinner. My lip starts to quiver, but I bite it before anyone sees. They shove me in line, and I realize I’m not alone. Women and men stand with faces frozen white with fear. Some are hardened criminals; others, like me, are innocent. A guard grabs my finger, pricks it, and dabs my blood on a tiny microchip. I follow the man in front of me into the next room where we’re lined up facing the wall. Glancing right, I see one of the men crying. “I didn’t mean to hit the guard. I swear it!” he pleads. I turn my head when I see a guard whip out his baton. The thumping sounds of his beating unnerve me. “Spread your legs,” one of the guards says icily. They remove my outer layers and their hands roam up and down my body. What do they think I can possibly be hiding? I press my head into the wall, trying to block out what they’re doing to me. “MOVE!” a guard commands. So I shuffle across the room, trying to cover up. One.
Five of us sit in the holding room. A woman clings to a man sitting next to her. She grips his arm and I can see the whitening of her knuckles. Her eyes meet mine and then she quickly turns away. He’s bent over his hands, defeated. “I’m not the criminal they say I am,” he whispers. His voice breaks. One by one, they pull people into the next room, forcing the rest of us to wonder what torture we’ll endure. I hear screaming from somewhere inside. An agonizing amount of time passes. I lean my head back and try to imagine a place far away. The door opens. “Lexi Hamilton.” A guard escorts me out of the room, and I don’t have time to look back. The first thing I see is a large photo of a regal-looking man on the wall. His frame is wide and he has cobalt blue eyes and a shock of black hair. He’s handsome, middle-aged, and wears the uniform of the Commander. My jaw drops open. It can’t be… Then the door slams closed. I feel their strong arms pick me up and place me on a table. It’s cold and my skin sticks to it slightly, like wet fingers on an ice cube. They exit in procession, and I lie on the table with a doctor standing over me. His hands are busy as he speaks. “Don’t move. This will only take a few minutes. It’s time for you to be branded.” A wet cloth that smells like rubbing alcohol is used to clean my skin. Then he places a metal collar around my neck. Click. Click. Click. The collar locks into place, and I struggle to breathe. The doctor loosens it some as I focus on the painted black words above me.
The Seven Deadly Sins:
Lust — Blue Gluttony — Orange Greed — Yellow Sloth — Black Wrath — Red Envy — Green Pride — Purple
“Memorize it. Might keep you alive longer if you know who to stay away from.” He opens my mouth, placing a bit inside. “Bite this.” Within seconds, the collar heats from hot to scorching. The smell of flesh sizzling makes my head spin. I bite down so hard a tooth cracks. “GRRRRRRRRR,” escapes from deep within my chest. Just when I’m about to pass out, the temperature drops, and the doctor loosens the collar. He removes it and sits me up. Excruciating pain rips through me, and I’m on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. Focus. Don’t pass out. Stainless steel counters and boring white walls press in on me. And that large, gilded photo stares at me like it’s watching. A guard laughs at me from an observation room above and yells, “Blue. It’s a great color for a pretty young thing like yourself.” His eyes dance with suggestion. The others meander around like it’s business as usual. I finally find my voice and turn to the doctor. “Are you going to give me clothes?” A burning pain spreads like fire up from my neck to my jaw, making me wince. He shrugs and points to a set of folded grey scrubs on a chair. I cover myself as much as I can and scurry sideways. Grabbing my clothes and pulling the shirt over my head, I try to avoid the raw meat around my throat. I quickly knot the cord of my pants around my waist and slide my feet into the hospital-issue slippers as the doctor observes. He hands me a bag labeled with my name. “Nothing is allowed through the door but what we’ve given you,” he says. I hide my right hand behind me, hoping no one notices. A guard scans my body and opens his fist. “Give it to me.” His eyes turn to slits. “Don’t make me rip off your finger.” He crouches down and I turn to stone. I don’t know what to do, so I beg. “My father gave this to me. Please, let me keep it.” I smash my eyes shut and think of the moment my father handed the golden ring to me. “It was my mother’s ring,” he’d said. “She’s the strongest woman I ever knew.” With tears in his eyes, he reached for my hand and said, “Lexi, you’re exactly like her. She’d want you to wear this. No matter how this world changes, you can survive.” I turned the gold band over in my palm and read the engraving.
You can overcome anything… short of death.
“You’re going to take the one thing that matters the most to me?” I say, glaring into the guard’s emotionless eyes. “Isn’t it enough taking my life, dignity, and respect?” A hard blow falls upon my back. As I fall, my hands shoot out to stop me from smashing into the wall in front of me. The guard bends down and grabs my chin with his meaty fist. “Look at me,” he commands. I look up and he smiles with arrogance. “What the hell?” He staggers a step backward. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your eyes?” “Nothing,” I respond, confused. “What color are they?” “Turquoise.” I glower at him. “Interesting,” he says, regaining his composure. “Now those’ll get you in trouble.” Reality slaps me across the face. I have my father’s eyes. They can't take them from me. I twist the ring off my finger and drop it in his hand. “Take the damn ring,” I say. I walk to the door. He swipes a card and the massive door slides open to the outside. “You have to wear your hair back at all times, so everyone knows what you are.” He hands me a tie, so I pull my frizzy hair away from my face and secure it into a ponytail. My neck burns and itches as my hand traces the scabs that have already begun to form. Squinting ahead in the darkness, I almost run into a guard standing on the sidewalk. “Watch where you’re going,” he says, shoving me backward. His stiff figure stands tall and I cringe at the sharpness of his voice. “Cole, this is your new assignment, Lexi Hamilton. See to it she feels welcome in her new home.” The guard departs with a salute. “Let’s move,” Cole says. I take two steps and collapse, my knees giving out. The unforgiving pavement reopens the scrapes from earlier and I struggle to stand. A powerful arm snatches me up, and I see his face for the first time.

Courtesy of 

authors' website Courtesy of authors' website
Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.
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