Monday, 6 April 2020

BLOG TOUR - NIGHT OF THE DRAGON - SHADOW OF THE FOX BY JULIE KAGAWA

Title: Night Of The Dragon
Series: Shadow Of The Fox
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Legends, Myths, Fables
Release Date: 31st March 2020

BLURB supplied by Harlequin
All is lost.

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

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

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


PURCHASE LINKS


EXCERPT

One thousand years ago

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

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

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

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

“Hakaimono.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Kagawa, the New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Fey, Blood of Eden, Talon, and Shadow of the Fox series was born in Sacramento, California. But nothing exciting really happened to her there. So, at the age of nine she and her family moved to Hawaii, which she soon discovered was inhabited by large carnivorous insects, colonies of house geckos, and frequent hurricanes. She spent much of her time in the ocean, when she wasn’t getting chased out of it by reef sharks, jellyfish, and the odd eel.
When not swimming for her life, Julie immersed herself in books, often to the chagrin of her schoolteachers, who would find she hid novels behind her Math textbooks during class. Her love of reading led her to pen some very dark and gruesome stories, complete with colored illustrations, to shock her hapless teachers. The gory tales faded with time, but the passion for writing remained, long after she graduated and was supposed to get a real job.
To pay the rent, Julie worked in different bookstores over the years, but discovered the managers frowned upon her reading the books she was supposed to be shelving. So she turned to her other passion: training animals. She worked as a professional dog trainer for several years, dodging Chihuahua bites and overly enthusiastic Labradors, until her first book sold and she stopped training to write full time.
Julie now lives in North Carolina with her husband, two obnoxious cats, and a pair of Australian Shepherds that have more Instagram followers than she does.

AUTHOR LINKS
Twitter @jkagawa
Instagram @juliekagawaauthor









Sunday, 5 April 2020

BOOK TOUR - DEER AMONG WOLVES - A WORLD IN RUIN BY REBECCA FERNFIELD


Title: Deer Among Wolves
Series: A World In Ruin
Author: Rebecca Fernfield
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Survival
Release Date: 1st March 2020

BLURB supplied by Silver Dagger Book Tours
An extinction-level plague was only the beginning

Sixteen years have passed since an unstoppable plague ripped through the world killing billions.

A few desperate, mis-matched groups of men, women, and children found their way to a small town and learned how to survive, then thrive.

Now death is stalking them once more!

Newly appointed First Officer, Jude Sinclair, is under pressure when death follows a group of struggling survivors into town.

As the townsfolk sicken then die after a short, painful illness, Jude is desperate to learn how to stop the disease and save the town from extinction.

Deacon Carlisle lost everyone he loved to the plague and then ruthless survivors, now all he wants is to protect his new family and escape the infected town, but the unthinkable happens when his son disappears.

With the sickness claiming lives, and the boy missing, Jude and Deacon must rely on their own ingenuity to discover the truth, and save everyone they love.

Does Jude have what it takes to protect the town from its invisible enemy?

Can Deacon rise to the challenge of saving his son?

What is the truth behind the deaths and the boy's disappearance?


Goodreads Link

PURCHASE LINKS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
British author, Rebecca Fernfield, is a lapsed medievalist who spends her days plotting the overthrow of evil regimes and devising intricate plans to rescue their victims. She's also given to flights of fancy about the end of the world and what she'd do if supermarkets suddenly ran out of chocolate, wine and other essentials. She lives among the flatlands of the Humber estuary where Vikings and Saxons once fought and where, sometimes, on foggy mornings, you can still hear the echoes of clashing swords.


AUTHOR LINKS
Follow the tour HERE for special 
content and a giveaway!

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Saturday, 4 April 2020

REVIEW - THE WATER YEAR BY MAX HOWARD

Title: The Water Year
Author: Max Howard
Genre: Teens, YA, Hi Lo Prose
Publisher: West 44
Release Date: 1st April 2020

BLURB from Goodreads
Sophie lives on the border between the United States and Mexico. She spends most of her time taking care of her little sister and working at the family restaurant, hoping to catch the eye of Ruben, the Mexican boy who delivers baked goods. Her father and uncle spend their free time scouring the desert as part of a civilian militia, hoping to stop undocumented immigrants from entering the United States. When Sophie becomes involved with an immigrant-aid organization called Water Is Life, it challenges everything she's ever known. Suddenly, Sophie is stuck at the borderline of family and justice.


PURCHASE LINKS
Amazon UK

REVIEW
I have read quite a few of these Hi-Lo, prose/poetry style books now and I am being totally honest I would have kind of wrinkled my nose up at reading poetry/prose but these books have really changed my mind!

The cover is simple and effective as it features a large water container that has a large significance in the story. When I saw this book and read the blurb, I felt compelled to read it and share my thoughts on it.

The main character of the book is Sophie who is still grieving the loss of her mother. Sophie carries a lot of weight and responsibility on her young shoulders as she is expected to fit into the role of the “woman of the house” when at home, fixing something to eat for her younger sister Violet and keeping the house neat and tidy too. Sophie also helps out a lot at the family restaurant, which is called Fresh Ranch whilst keeping an eye on Violet at the same time. Sophie has been in and out of the restaurant from being very young so when her dad gets worried about Violet being there it irritates Sophie a little. Sophie is a bit fed up at not seeing enough of her best friend Amy lately. Amy has a boyfriend called Lucas who thinks he is cool, but Sophie finds him annoying and sarcastic. Lucas constantly clicks his tongue ring and Sophie finds it infuriating. Sophie doesn’t have a boyfriend though she does have a crush on the Mexican delivery boy that brings Fresh Ranch its baked goods and pastries whose name is Ruben Velez. Amy coerces and cajoles Sophie into going to the Sato twins party, they are having in the desert area. It’s whilst at this part that Sophie makes a shocking discovery. That makes her wonder exactly what her dad and Uncle Matt do in the Desert Rangers camp outs. Sophie thought it gave her dad an outside of work activity, distract from thinking of her mom so much maybe and at the moment it probably takes Uncle Matt’s mind off his divorce from Aunt Rachel.
After discovering the plight of immigrants and their long trek across the desert without water, Sophie decides she wants to help and that’s how she ends up meeting Ruben Velez and getting to know more about him. Ruben is part of human kind, an organisation that regularly goes out into the desert and leaves large water containers for the thirsty. However, the problem is as quickly as human kind are putting out these water containers someone is slashing them in an attempt to discourage the immigrants. Amy decides they should do a school play about the plight of the immigrants and ropes in Sophie to help.

I adored the character of Sophie, in one way she is so grown up, helping in the family business, taking care of her younger sister but in other ways she is still so young and naïve. Though perhaps her father fails to see it Sophie is also still missing her mother dearly and writes letters to her which form part of this book.

I thought the water droplets as the Chapter separators was really different yet very relevant to the book’s content. I enjoyed the letters Sophie wrote to her mother and the “signs” she saw as replies from her mother were poignant and realistic. I also liked the nod to current children’s films with the reference to “Ice Fairies” and the way Sophie and Amy watch it with Violet so much that they know the words and sing them which totally confuses Amy’s boyfriend Lucas who has no idea about the song “Here I Am”, the words or where it is from. I loved the sweet naïve first crush, and first dates scenario between Ruben and Sophie.

I think the book was very well written and covers a few serious subjects such as, death of a parent, friends getting boyfriend, first boyfriends and of course the main element of immigration. The style of the book makes it easy to read, there are no super long words, or complicated explanations to put off a newer reader or perhaps a more reluctant reader off in any way, yet the plot remains interesting all the way through and can be enjoyed by more experienced readers too. I honestly think anything that encourages more people to read is a fantastic idea. For me, I usually read these in just one of two reading sessions, so these are perfect for me to read in bed before I go to sleep or to curl up on the sofa with a cup of decaffeinated, dairy free coffee with!

My immediate thoughts upon finishing this book were that I really enjoyed this story of two teenagers that have a secret crush on each other. a girl mourning her mother whilst trying to step up and being the "woman of the household" helping to care for her younger sister who realises her father is part of something she doesn't morally agree with. Will she go against his wishes? Will he accept her opinion and meet her part way?

To sum up this is an amazing story told in a brilliant way!




Friday, 3 April 2020

BOOK BLITZ - PRIESTESS OF STORMS & STONE - THE ROGUE ETHERAL BYY ANNIE ANDERSON


Title: Priestess of Storms & Stone
Series: The Rogue Etheral
Author: Annie Anderson
Genre: Adult, Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 31st March 2020

BLURB supplied by Xpresso Book Tours
If there is one lesson I’ve been taught in my life, it’s that fairies are the absolute worst.


Finding a fledgling succubus in Faerie is like locating a needle inside a realm-sized haystack. With a guide I can’t trust and a goal more ephemeral than smoke, my odds of success are tenuous at best. Not to mention, as the last Elemental in existence, I have a giant target painted on my back.



Because one half of Faerie wants me dead, and the other half wants to use me as a sacrifice to open the gates to Earth. But I swore I would find my quarry, and I will. Even if I have to rip the entire realm apart to do it.



There is a storm coming to Faerie, and that storm is me.


PURCHASE LINKS

EXCERPT
It was never a good sign to be drinking bourbon at ten in the morning, but after the week I’d had, I figured I was due. Self-medicating with alcohol wouldn’t take the sting out of my grief, in fact, it was likely to make it worse. But I’d needed a teensy little breather from my housemates after the last truth bomb had been dropped, and wrapping my head around my new knowledge required booze.

I could feel Della’s eyes on me, her acute vampire gaze boring a hole in the side of my face. She wanted an answer to her question, and she likely wasn’t going to leave me alone until I gave her one.
When are we leaving?
That question echoed against the walls of my brain with enough force to give me a headache. Melody was alive. She was alive, and my sister was dead.
But that didn’t make a lick of sense. Melody died right in front of me. I watched Aurelia send her soul on in a way only a phoenix could do. I watched her body burn in the flames of a funeral pyre. I needed answers before I could answer Della’s question.
Because I wouldn’t be leaving to hunt her down unless I was sure this wasn’t some kind of trick. I’d been tricked too many times in the last week, and I wasn’t falling for another one.
“Melody is dead, Della,” I whispered before taking another sip of bourbon, refusing to face my bodyguard. If I looked at her, I’d see either pity or censure, and I couldn’t deal with either.
“Then why is her son gone?” Della pointed out a big hole in the “Melody’s dead” argument.
Shit, fuck, and damn. I made a promise to Melody to keep her son safe. If it wasn’t Melody who had her son—and I highly doubted it was—then I’d have to go get him.
In Faerie.
Aces.
But hadn’t I earned a break? Hadn’t I earned the right to let someone else take up the slack?
You made a promise. You swore. You can’t turn away just because you’re hurt.
Those words cut through my thoughts sharp enough to bring tears to my eyes. I did. I made a promise to make sure her son was safe. And I’d keep it. Maybe it would make my soul burn just a little less. Maybe if I did this one thing, losing Maria wouldn’t hurt so bad.
Yeah, I doubted it.
I sniffed back the sting of tears, tossed back the rest of the bourbon, and managed to set the glass down without smashing it. I’d been on a smashing kick for the last little bit, and my living room had borne the brunt of it. At the time, I’d wanted to destroy everything Maria had ever touched. If I could just break it, burn it, wreck it, then it would have been like she wasn’t stamped all over every molecule of my house.
Wasn’t that stupid?
Like I wouldn’t see her every time I closed my eyes.
“Okay, I’ll give you that,” I muttered, finally answering Della’s question. “But I can’t just bust down the door to Faerie and find her. If it is her. We need way more to go on than a note and a can-do attitude.”
I peered down at myself. I had on black shorts and a black tank top. It was good enough for summer in Denver. All I needed was some flip-flops. Had I brushed my teeth today? Shrug. Was I wearing a bra? My tank had a shelf bra in it. It would just have to do. Plus, Barrett wouldn’t give two shits about what I was wearing. I located my flip-flops in their spot by the door, shuffled my feet into them, and raised my hand to snap my fingers.
But Della pounced on my hand before I could complete the task.
“What?” My whole body was on red alert, my eyes searching my demolished living room and relatively untouched kitchen.
“You can’t go out like that,” Della whispered furiously, her face a picture of panic.
Frowning, I looked back down at myself. Yep, all my parts were covered.
“It’s summer. Shorts and a tank aren’t going to turn any heads no matter how much ink is on display.”
A dawning realization lit up Della’s face before she winced. “You haven’t checked a mirror since you got back, have you?”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Annie Anderson is a military wife and United States Air Force veteran. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she is a southern girl at heart, but has lived all over the US and abroad. As soon as the military stops moving her family around, she'll settle on a state, but for now she enjoys being a nomad with her husband, two daughters, an old man of a dog, and a young pup that makes life... interesting.


GIVEAWAY
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3 x $25 Amazon Gift Cards
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Thursday, 2 April 2020

REVIEW - THE VANISHING PLACE BY THERESA EMMINIZER

Title: The Vanishing Place
Author: Theresa Emminizer
Genre: Teens, YA, Hi Lo, Prose
Publisher: West 44
Release Date: 1st April 2020

BLURB from Goodreads
When Brooke, Eva, Nate, and Jay take a nighttime sail off the Florida coast, they never imagine that their lives are about to change forever. Shipwrecked by a storm at sea, the teenagers become castaways on an island that seems designed to test their very natures. Faced with loss, trauma, and the harsh reality of day-to-day survival, will they find the strength to confront their inner demons and escape the Vanishing Place? Or are mysterious forces at work to keep them stranded for all time?

Goodreads Link

PURCHASE LINKS
Amazon US
Amazon UK

REVIEW
It was the blurb rather than the cover that attracted me most to this book. The way the blurb hints that there is something “other” that keeps the teenaged characters stranded on an island when they are shipwrecked made me want to learn more.

The book begins with two teenage girls listening to the parents of Brooke getting drunk. Brooke has talked her friend Eva into sneaking out to see the two boys they met earlier who have promised to take them out in a boat. Brooke is the skinny, beautiful, confident and more talkative of the girls with Eva, the curvy, less confident one dragged along for the adventure. The two teens make their way to meet Nate whose fathers boat they are going out on and his friend Jay. Unfortunately, none of the teens are used to drinking much alcohol so quickly become intoxicated. The weather turns bad, the sea becomes rough and the boat is wrecked with the four teens finding themselves washed up in the shallow water next to an island none of them recognise.

The book is told from three points of view starting with Eva, who is thinking about the Three rules of survival, A person can survive: 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Then Eva looks around and see’s that only three of them have survived Brooke’s body is laying broken over the remainder of the boat.

We learn more about the three different characters by how they handle being stranded on the island. Nate is an organiser, a checker, and a planner. He counts the hours, days, weeks they are stranded. Every morning he checks on and counts the dwindling supplies/equipment they have.

Jay’s initial reaction is to get angry with Nate, demanding to know where they are, why Nate got so drunk he didn’t realise they were drifting off course. Yet Jay seems to accept the situation they are in much quicker than the other two. Jay seems quite quickly and easily resigned to living the rest of his days on the Island. He doesn’t believe they will be rescued, when an “escape” attempt ends up in near death and them back on the Island he seems to think its “fate” that they are in a “Vanishing Place”.

I did enjoy reading the book, learning about the different characters and personalities. It was a shame Brooke was “killed off” it would have been interesting to see what she would have brought to the group dynamic.
I’m not so sure about the three teens handled the death and dealing with Brooke’s body….should they have tried burying her, …should they have kept the body somewhere on the island for if/when they were rescued….I’m not so sure I would have immediately thought of burning a best friends body!
It’s quite strange that the two perhaps perceived as quieter characters are the ones that become more confident in their own abilities and take charge of the situation they are in, making the best of it. For Jay life on the Island is an improvement on his life at home, so he doesn’t feel the need to try get back everything he had before he was shipwrecked. Whereas the more confident Nate just keeps trying to find ways to escape the island to get back to his life as the popular guy at school and the company of others, back to civilisation. Eva ends up being happy with either eventuality as long as she isn’t alone, she is happy to make the best of a bad situation.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing reading this book were that this book was yet another great short read, that is classified as Hi-Lo and prose/poetry which not so long ago would have been a genre I would have just dismissed and not even thought of reading.
To sum up The Vanishing Place was an interesting, different kind of read with an eerie quality to it. The book is initially based on four characters but is told through the points of view of three of the characters. Great short read, perfect bit of escapism to read with a cuppa.



Wednesday, 1 April 2020

BOOK BLITZ - KEEP FOREVER BY ALEXA KINGAARD

Inspired by a true story
Title: Keep Forever
Author: Alexa Kingaard
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Genre: Historical Romance, Women's Fiction
Release Date: 28th March 2020

BLURB supplied by Xpresso Book Tours
Paul O’Brien’s idyllic childhood in Southern California comes to a halt when his mother dies in the summer before his senior year of high school and a very different persona of his father emerges – isolating himself inside the house, turning to alcohol for comfort, and barely noticing his only child. Simultaneously, the war in Vietnam is sending shock waves around the world and young men from one coast to the other are being called upon to serve. Paul enlists in the Marines before receiving his draft notice. 
Elizabeth Sutton is eager to gain some independence from her father’s old fashioned notions and looking forward to her first year in high school.  At fifteen years old, tragedy strikes with the loss of both parents in an auto accident, turning her childhood into one of responsibility and worry overnight.  The four siblings are scattered when her nine-year-old twin sisters are sent to live with their Aunt and Uncle on Nantucket Island, and Elizabeth is left behind in Boston with their grandmother.  Her older brother, Sam, enlists in the Marines, eager to join the conflict a world away as opposed to dealing with the one unfolding at home. 
A bond develops between Paul and Sam in Vietnam, and both are injured in a bloody battle that costs Sam his right hand and sets the stage for a lifetime of nightmares and sleepless nights for Paul.  Matched by similar tragedies at a young age, Elizabeth and Paul’s first introduction by Sam upon their return from Vietnam is the beginning of friendship and love that survives five decades. 
After marrying, welcoming their first child, and inheriting a small beach house, the couple adapts to their new surroundings, but distant memories of Vietnam continue to haunt Paul.  In an era when veterans refuse to speak of their pain and the government denies that thousands of soldiers are coming home irreparably damaged, he is left to deal with the challenge of caring for his loved ones amidst his his erratic flashback episodes and moods. As their lives unravel from the lingering effects of PTSD,  Elizabeth learns to accept the burden that Paul brought home, and together they make their own memories to keep forever.


PURCHASE LINKS

“Unlike some war stories that focus on intense, harsh and graphic depictions of post-combat trauma, this tale unfolds gently, like an Edna Ferber novel, spread across many decades, detailing the impact this soldier’s illness has on an entire family, including children and grandchildren. KEEP FOREVER is a wonderful, emotionally satisfying read that I highly recommend. ”
GARY SEIGEL, author of “Haskell Himself”

EXCERPT
“Anything you can give me for this headache?” Paul clenched his teeth, hoping to reduce the lightning bolts behind his eyes. He tried to remember how delicious it felt to be pain-free.

     “We’ll get you something.” Dr. Shapiro turned to his nurse. “I’m ordering a mild sedative for Paul so we can remove the shrapnel. When we’re done, find him a spot in the ward and—”

     Paul interrupted. “I have a friend who was wounded. I think he was on the chopper with me. Do you know if Sam Sutton is here?” He looked at the doctor for reassurance.
     Dr. Shapiro knew who Paul was talking about. He laid a hand on Paul’s arm. “He just got out of surgery. I’ll see if I can get him a bed next to you once the anesthesia has worn off.”
     “Will he be okay?”
     “Yes, we treated his hand.” That’s all Doctor Shapiro would share with Paul. He stood up and moved to the next patient in line. Paul struggled to prop himself against the wall, comforted only by a small pillow for his head and a thin blanket to minimize the shaking he couldn’t repress. He surveyed the scene that unfolded before him and waited for Sam to join him. The room was filled with muffled groans from dozens of young men, many in critical condition with life-threatening injuries, mutilated limbs, and grotesque facial wounds that replaced the once handsome, strong, vigorous appearance of youth. Some

screamed in agony as young nurses did their best to scrub lacerations and change dressings, while others lay silent with nothing more than a vacant, faraway look.
     Paul watched a trim and confident nurse, her chestnut hair securely pulled away from her face in a tight bun that showed off her high cheek bones and almond-shaped eyes—rich, like the color of chocolate. She wrapped the final piece of clean gauze around the head of a distressed young soldier and whispered something in his ear. Whatever she had said appeared to relieve his agitation as a slight smile crossed his face and he surrendered his broken body to sleep.

     The nurse walked over to Paul, pulled up a chair, and introduced herself. “Hello. My name’s Diane. Feeling okay? Any pain? It’s almost time for another dose of medication.” Amidst all the suffering, she smiled and waited for Paul’s response.
     “Hey, hi, I mean hello, Diane. My name’s Paul. Waiting for my friend, Sam Sutton. Doc said they would bring him out soon. Ya know if his hand’s okay?” He hoped Diane might have more information about Sam’s condition, but she politely excused herself as she rushed to meet two medics entering with Sam, still groggy from surgery. They inched closer to Paul and the empty cot next to his. Diane’s gentle hand guided the corpsmen as they lifted Sam from the stretcher to make his transition to his bed as comfortable as possible.
     Paul gasped aloud. He couldn’t help it. There was no way to silence the sound that rose from his throat when he saw his friend beside him, his right hand thick with bandages, wrapped as if to protect something that was no longer there. Paul slowly brought his hands to his face and felt the layers of soft bandages, only his eyes, nose, and mouth exposed. His head pulsated and his face felt tight and swollen. With crystal clarity, his mind flashed back to the instant when his life, when Sam’s life, were forever changed. His body tensed with the memory—the sounds, the heat, the explosions, the cries for help, and the smell of death all around them. He choked back tears and resolved to remain stoic and grateful that his wounds would soon be invisible. Unlike Sam, he had escaped a lifetime of disfigurement and the constant reminder of his brush with death.
     Diane hovered over Sam as he stirred. She had played this part too many times the last nine months, soothing traumatized young men, convincing them that everything
would be just fine, even though it was not always the truth. She knew he would need a voice of reassurance when he realized where he was and the severity of his injuries. Sam’s eyelids fluttered. He tried to focus on his surroundings and take in the foul odor and musty smell of the tent, lined from one end to the other with broken bodies. The stench of disinfectant, humidity, and soiled linens stuck to the canvas walls of the makeshift hospital like glue, and he swallowed hard to prevent the nausea from taking hold of his body. Sam rolled his head to one side and looked at Paul, who appeared composed, determined, and calm.
     “You made it, buddy. We made it,” whispered Paul.


 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ALEXA KINGAARD was born in San Diego, CA and has lived most of her life in the area. She currently resides in Carlsbad and is the mother of a son and daughter who continue to be her biggest fans and cheerleaders.


Her debut novel, KEEP FOREVER, was inspired by her late ex-husband who batted the residual effects of the Vietnam War for decades after his return. The burden he brought home is shared by combat veterans of all conflicts, and her fictional account highlights the collateral damage encountered by family members and loved ones living with PTSD in their midst.

Her second novel, MY NAME IS ROSE, departs from her personal experiences and focuses on the collective memories of her generation. She loves writing about nostalgia and the human condition, the common denominator of our lives.


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