Sunday, September 30, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Angel by Tiffany Reisz and Giveaway!

The Angel (The Original Sinners #2)
Tiffany Reisz

Release Date: September 25th, 2012
Publisher: MIRA (Harlequin)
Page Count: 410
Source: I received a complimentary ARC from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, as part of the virtual book tour

No safe word can protect the heart

Infamous erotica author and accomplished dominatrix Nora Sutherlin is doing something utterly out of character: hiding. While her longtime lover, Søren—whose fetishes, if exposed, would be his ruin—is under scrutiny pending a major promotion, Nora's lying low and away from temptation in the lap of luxury.

Her host, the wealthy and uninhibited Griffin Fiske, is thrilled to have Nora stay at his country estate, especially once he meets her traveling companion. Young, inexperienced and angelically beautiful, Michael has become Nora's protégé, and this summer with Griffin is going to be his training, where the hazing never ends.

But while her flesh is willing, Nora's mind is wandering. To thoughts of Søren, her master, under investigation by a journalist with an ax to grind. And to another man from Nora's past, whose hold on her is less bruising, but whose secrets are no less painful. It's a summer that will prove the old adage: love hurts.


The first word that came to mind the moment I thought of how to start this review, was victim. Having read and worshipped the first book in this series, The Siren, I realized what it and The Angel have in common is that they both revolve around victims. Not victims in the most literal sense, but victims to, none other, but the Original Sinners. Which brings us to ask: who exactly are the Original Sinners? In Reisz's first book, the answer is unclear, but in this kinkier, more frustrating, and dare I say it... hotter sequel, the blurry lines are finally distinguished. Our Original Sinners are Nora, Søren, Griffin, Kingsley, Michael, and very possibly... the tenacious Wesley. But hush! ...you didn't hear it from me.

In The Siren, the victim was Zachary Easton, the one book editor who could really whip Nora into shape (her work, I mean!) and the one who unknowingly taught her a valuable lesson of love and trust. The Angel's victim happens to be rightfully intrusive reporter, Suzanne, who, like Zach, will change Nora Sutherlin's life forever, but concomitantly is just a passerby in the Sinners' lives, and will virtually never been seen or heard from again.

But before we get that hopeful, though, we as readers, have hell and high water to trudge through first.

Suzanne's trying to peruse the one case that should be left alone: Søren's position in the Catholic church. Oh, Søren. Terrifying, poised, perpetually sanctimonious, he's the small-town church's most respected priest, as well as the underground BDSM world's most revered Dom. He also happens to be Nora Sutherlin's lover. But again, shh...

A suspicious tipoff has Suzanne sprawling to get to the heart of the matter, but no one's going to make it easy for her, Søren included. As her investigation progresses, we learn of the overwhelming motives of why she's so desperate to persecute, as well as the more-frightening justifications of why the truth is so carefully hidden in the first place. But again, this is just the victim's story, the thematic narrative, the passing interference. The Sinners' story is much, much more complicated.

Under Søren's orders, Michael and Nora must hide out at trust-fund baby Griffin Fiske's luxurious palace of a home until Suzanne is convinced to leave. They can't be around while the reporter does her snooping; it's obvious she will expose Søren's lifestyle if she finds any incriminating evidence. Thus we embark on the intense, turbulent summer that begins in Griffin's mansion, composed of Michael's Sub training, as well as Griffin's road to adulthood... something he thought he'd never willingly face.

Nora and Griffin's fuckbuddies-and-best-friends relationship is explicit, entertaining, and very wicked; Michael, to say the least, is shocked, but more than intrigued. I love their dynamic, as well as Michael's initial reaction to and eventual credence for it. His character is probably the one that grows the most in The Angel, especially when he's officially appointed an Original Sinner. I was looking forward to lots of gore and submission regarding his Sub training, but there aren't many scenes. Most of them revolve around Michael coming to terms with his scars—both physical and emotionaland awakening in adolescent sexual discovery, but it's still all amazing. Even more phenomenal, is the effect Michael has on Griffin. With Michael, he's just... home. So proves Nora's theory that he's her Angel, that he's everyone's Angel. It's unquestionable; he's one of them.

The two storiesSuzanne's frantic search and Michael's angelhoodare intertwined perfectly, just so that there are always dire questions raised and is never a dull moment. Well-played, Tiffany Reisz, very well-played. Even when presented with resolutions, I remained scratching my head and pining for more. As expected, the wit, charm, and addictiveness of her literary voice command the tone of this novel. No complaints whatsoever; Reisz has struck gold again.

Nora's separation from Søren will, no doubt, be one of the most difficult periods in her life, but hey, if she survived five years away from himalbeit tearing apart on the inside the entire time—she can do a few months. It will force her to face the unvanquishable flame in the pit of her stomach for a certain sensation she's never known before called vanilla love. It will teach her a few things: the difference between true love and true respect, the irony of sacrilege versus sin, and the only way to cope with denial: to subvert it and confront those demons on her own. Certainly, this summer will change her life. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, but it depends on where her heart's been in the first place. Will facing her fears free her, or will they confuse her even more?

I said this for The Siren, and I'm going to say it again: if you are queasy at heart, if you are devotedly Christian/orthodox/vanilla/insipid, and if you like Happily Ever Afters, do not pick up this book. Not only will the carnal content destroy your sacrosanct mind, but it'll also leave scars and you in tears. We're talking casual sex, underage participants, abusive pasts, and even incest (yes, Reisz went there!) between these pages. So if that turns you off, back the f u c k away. You've been warned.

I think returning readers of the first book in the series will get the most out of The Angel, not only because of the recurring characters and themes, but also because of its newfound revelations. This sequel slowly, painfully, and sadistically answers the questions and divulges the hushed secrets that arose in the first book, particularly those that enshrouded the previously underexposed Søren. It's definitely more agonizing, but all the more gratifying; consider it a 400-page striptease. Dear Lord.

With the exception, of course, of The Siren, The Angel is far more powerful and captivating of a piece of erotic literature than I have ever known. It's equally astonishing, devastating, and foul, but all in different arenas as The Siren; whereas the first novel was heartbreaking, groundbreaking, the second is more adventurous, scarier, darker, more provocative. In the end, Reisz leaves us hanging onto the story of the one person who can make Nora Sutherlin weak on her knees... without a collar and without a cane, but she doesn't let on much, aside from the fact that Nora is finally giving her heart a break. Wesley doesn't make much of an appearance in this book, but he's the title character in the next book, The Prince, out in November. I will forever root for him and wait upon the book with every fiber of my being. 

Stephanie Loves: All right, multiple quotes again. I swear I normally don't do this: "'Please sir, will you let me go so I can drive my as—bottom home, take a shower, eat breakfast for once this week, throw on some clothes and drive back to church so I can sit in my pew looking prim and proper all the while imagining you naked as you're giving some homily on sin and how, shockingly, God's against it? Pretty please with you on top?and "'I may send you away, but I will give you a goodbye that will hold you all summer.'" and "'Life and death are less life-and-death than love is. When I fell in love ... I felt as though I had this open wound. I was so raw, so tender. And it hurt. But I didn't care. Love is the open would that you hope never heals.Just shoot me ugh, Tiffany Reisz, make love to me nOW!!!!!

Radical Rating: 10 hearts: I'm speechless; this book is an extraordinarily amazingly wonderfully fantastically marvelous masterpiece. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Giveaway!
Thanks to Little Bird Publicity, one lucky reader will get the chance to worship read The Angel, themselves! To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below:
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Ends October 15th, 2012

Saturday, September 29, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Keowee Valley by Katherine Scott Crawford

Release Date: September 27th, 2012
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books 
Page Count: 348
Source: Complimentary ARC provided directly by author, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review

On the edge of the wilderness, her adventure began.

She journeyed into the wilderness to find a kidnapped relative. She stayed to build a new life filled with adventure, danger, and passion.

Spring, 1768. The Southern frontier is a treacherous wilderness inhabited by the powerful Cherokee people. In Charlestown, South Carolina, twenty-five-year-old Quincy MacFadden receives news from beyond the grave: her cousin, a man she’d believed long dead, is alive—held captive by the Shawnee Indians. Unmarried, bookish, and plagued by visions of the future, Quinn is a woman out of place... and this is the opportunity for which she’s been longing.

Determined to save two lives, her cousin’s and her own, Quinn travels the rugged Cherokee Path into the South Carolina Blue Ridge. But in order to rescue her cousin, Quinn must trust an enigmatic half-Cherokee tracker whose loyalties may lie elsewhere. As translator to the British army, Jack Wolf walks a perilous line between a King he hates and a homeland he loves.

When Jack is ordered to negotiate for Indian loyalty in the Revolution to come, the pair must decide: obey the Crown, or commit treason...
What Stephanie Thinks: Katherine Scott Crawford's debut novel is a lush, vibrant glimpse of the budding Revolutionary War-era America, as well as an impassioned, glittering combination of adventure, romance, and suspense. The story begins with our lovely heroine, Quincy MacFadden, confessing to having been plagued with strange visions, of which she is positive are omens. She's a rebel at heart, raised to be free and to be only herself, so she knows she has to peruse her intuition, especially because she's got a niggling hunch that her mission will lead her to her missing cousin, Owen.

That's only the beginning of the long, momentous, tumultuous journey that is Keowee Valley. Heart-pounding encounters with the Cherokee Native Americans, a star-crossed romance, more visions, and the threat of Redcoats loom in her time to come. While I did find the story to drag on at times (I felt there was just too much. I didn't have trouble getting through it, but there seemed to be an infinite number of pages), it certainly doesn't lack action. 

Crawford's style is absolutely exquisite; her landscape descriptions brim with glittering detail and her emotions are captured beautifully on the pages. It's told in first-person too, which is rare for a historical novel, but all-the-more personal and vivid. Normally with historical fiction, I get bored with with all the material details, but that wasn't the case with this one. I think it had just the right amount of historical content. Rather, like I mentioned, the narrative tends to drag on a bit—overly-detailed in some places and too vague in others!—but it flows perfectly and has been penned with much care, I can tell.

In terms of historical accuracy, it's clear Keowee Valley is well-researched, and better yet, well-depicted through Quincy's likable, earnest perspective. I'm not so sure about contextual accuracy, though; much of the dialogue and situational conflicts seem too casual, too 'contemporary', too slangy. Obviously, as a reader, this is favorable because it makes the book easier to read, but for some reason, I felt like I was just reading a fancier version of a Harlequin penny novel because of its shortfall in literary substance.

Oh, and one of my favorite parts... the romance! How could I forget? Jack Wolf is a fiercely charming hero, 100% male, 100% hot. Swoon! His and Quincy's interactions are steamy, realistic, and perfectly improper; historical romance at its finest. I love how Keowee Valley doesn't only focus on the romance, though. It contains much more, including sentiments on basic instinct, cultural respect, travel, and mutual understanding, that are applicable in both Quincy's world and in ours. Keowee Valley is a truly universal debut that chronicles, dazzles, and provokes. I look forward to more from this author!

Stephanie Loves: "'There's something powerful between us, and it frightens me, because I feel I might lose my soul to it, and to you, if I'm not careful. But then I know that you hold me with you, and that if we burn, lass, we burn together.'"

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Friday, September 28, 2012

Eden Gives Back

Eden Gives Back - community helping communitiesEdenfantasys is more than just a store now. They do carry lots of products — much of which, such as Evolution of Smooth lotions and lip balms, I approve of, but the company has also branched out to charity efforts.

The program is called Eden Gives Back, and it raises awareness, donates, and holds fundraisers so that we, as a community, can help give back to other communities that may be in need. Over the summer, Eden Gives Back worked with The Parma Animal Shelter by donating money earned through the EdenPoints Program. This is basically a rewards program on the website that can earn customers money for doing small things like searching for products, leaving comments, participating in discussions, voting on polls, rating products, and writing reviews. It's a great program, and even better that Edenfantasys has been using it to make donation for organizations.

I hope Edenfantasys pursues more charity in the future; this is a great program that can get much of the community involved! Future activities could include physical volunteer groups (we could gather people in the area, members of Edenfantasys and otherwise!) to perform services at places like soup kitchens, hospitals, and shelters, as well as bigger fundraisers that involve much of the internet community.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Healer by J.L. Bowen Excerpt and Giveaway!

Brought to you by the lovely Innovative Online Book Tours...

Chapter 1
Healer by J.L. Bowen
I grabbed the wobbly banister and climbed the stairs two at a time to the attic.

A small stampede barged after me. “Going somewhere boy?” Uncle Peter’s heavy footsteps trailed me. “You’ll never get the chance to heal.” His heavy panting echoed in the cramped stairwell. “Not... after... I... get... through... with... you.”

“Not in three days, you won’t,” Aunt Janet gritted her teeth. “I promise you that.”

Great, more pain. They could at least tell me what I did.

My hand shook as I whipped open my door. I charged towards the window. Freedom was only six feet away. Out the corner of my eye, an elephant size blur barreled right for me. I shrank, but Uncle Peter grabbed my arm and threw me.

As the room swirled, I crashed into the wall, knocking the wind out of me. Sweet Aunt Janet stormed over to me and backed me against the wall. “This. Is. Your. Fault.” With each word, she slapped me across the face and slammed my head like a ping-pong ball into the hard wood paneling. She wheezed and stopped. “Since it’s your damn fourteenth birthday tomorrow, they’re hunting you, putting us all in danger.”

God, her breathe stank of peppermint gum. Her hands reeked of her gawd, awful rose perfume. A metallic taste swirled in my mouth. Blood again. My cheeks throbbed.

“I don’t understand.” I rubbed my face. “Who can’t find me?”

“Shut up.” Aunt Janet folded her skinny arms across her flat chest. “I never should have agreed to raise you.”

Wiping my bloody mouth on my arm, I kept silent. That’s a laugh. Yeah, I was real grateful. Nothing like getting the crap beat out of you because you’re not a Martin. My last’s name’s Costa, my mother’s maiden name.

A motorcycle roared outside my window. Aunt Janet’s thin face paled. Her thin lips, smeared with red lipstick, pinched together. She dropped her arms. “It’s them. I know it’s them.”

I half-hoped it was Rusty Owens, my self-appointed protector. Rusty had long dark red hair and rode a fiery crimson motorcycle, but when I peered out the window, disappointment hit me. It was just some old gray haired guy on a blue bike.

I frowned. “So, whoever is looking for me rides a motorcycle?”

Holding up her arm, she clenched her fist. “Didn’t you hear me?” She took a step towards me.

I cringed and clamped my jaw tight. With her wild green eyes and spiky blond hair, she loomed over me like an Amazon ready to rip my guts out. I turned away. Never look a rapid dog in the face.

“Get a hold of yourself.” I peeked back around. Sweat poured down Uncle Peter’s face and a lock of fuzzy orange hair stuck to his forehead. He glowered at Aunt Janet and then slammed his fist into his oversized palm. “They can’t find him.”

I swallowed. Who? A lump of fear formed in my stomach. Somebody chased me, but no one would tell me who. But the thing that terrified me more was that Aunt and Uncle were scared.

Aunt Janet ran her hand through her sonic hedge-hog cut blond hair and paced across the floor. Her high heels clicked on the hardwood floor. “What will we do?”

“Keep him locked in the cellar. If he’s beat down...”

She stopped and clapped her hands together. “You mean they can’t find him if he’s in pain?”

Nausea gripped me. My achy stomach dropped to my toes. I knew that look. Damn, my right arm just healed. Three days ago, Uncle broke it - all because I punched my sixteen-year-old cousin, Bobby, in his round red pocked face - served him right. I hid my grin. He won’t make fun of the color of my eyes for a while.

Glancing away from both of them, I caught my reflection in the cracked dresser mirror. Strands of long black hair hung in my face. Shaking, I pushed the hair behind my ears. With my silver eyes, swollen cheeks, and bloody mouth, what looked like a beaten vampire stared back at me.

Great. I took quivering breathe. At least in three days, I’d be normal again, not a scratch on me.

“Yup.”

Uncle’s firm word got my attention. I wiped the blood on the back of my hand, turned, and bit my lip. Don’t get sick.

Uncle stretched out his flabby arms and nodded.

An evil smile spread across Aunt’s face. “Our family will be safe.”

He dropped his arms to his side. “Exactly.”

At those words, I quivered. Uncle Peter seized my arm again and threw me onto my bed. He leaped on top of me, knocking the wind out of me, and pelted his meaty hooks into my face. “They’ll. Never. Find. You.”

In one leap, Uncle jumped off the bed and chucked me on the floor. I gasped for air, but it hurt to even breathe. I never got over how enormous Uncle and Bobby were, and how fast they could move. You’d think they’d be slow and clumsy, but they weren’t. More like, mad bull elephants bent on trampling you to death.

With his steel toed cowboy boots, he kicked my ribs. At the loud crack, I sucked in my breath. Thoughts fled my mind. As I crawled, I gasped for air.

“You like that?” He kicked me again, and got my hip. “You’re like your smart mouthed mother.” I rolled into a ball, and he stomped on my lower back. My kidneys screamed with agony. I’d piss blood for three days.

“You bastard.” Uncle Peter yanked me onto my feet. He shook me. “Your mother and her boyfriend are hunting you. If they find you, we’re dead.” His fingers dug into my tender skin. “Like when they murdered your father.” He dragged me down the stairs.

My mind went blank. Did I hear him right? Blood drained from my face. My feet tripped over each other as if I was a toddler, but Uncle Peter never slowed. “Quit stalling.”

When he whipped open the basement door, the air changed from summer clean to dusty and mildewed. Not again. I beat on his arm. “No!”

“Shut up.” He shoved me, and I somersaulted down the stairs. My vision blurred until I landed splat at the bottom, gasping for air. Above me, a darkened light-bulb dangled from a string. Sunlight struggled through the windowsills, but failed to chase away dark shadows that lurked under dusty, rickety, chairs, behind old trunks and a headless mannequin. My whole body throbbed as pain consumed me.

Light peered through a dusty window. Escape. I braced my hands on the cool cement, but before I could stand, Uncle threw me against another wall again. I landed on bumpy metal. Damn, not the stupid chains again.

“No,” I whispered and darted toward the door, but he grabbed me. I pushed and slapped his hands, but I couldn’t peel off his fat handcuffs.

He hurled me against the same wall. I shook my head, but he grabbed my hair and pulled me to his chin. Thrusting his giant bulbous sized gut and chest, he pinned me. I couldn’t breathe or move. His hot breath brushed over my head. He clanked the bands on each of my wrists. “There.”

I peered at him. “You said my father was killed in the line of duty. So, did grandma and grandpa.”

“We lied,” he hissed into my ear. His breath stank of buttered popcorn. “Your father went after your mother to bring her back and raise your ugly hide, but her boyfriend ambushed him and killed him in cold blood. Because of you, my brother’s dead.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’ve paid for that sin every day since you’ve come here. My brother was my best friend.” His fingers gripped my shoulders, and he shook me. My teeth rattled and my vision blurred. “And now, your mother is back and wants you, all of us dead. Is that plain enough for you? There only can be one healer, and she’s it.”

He released me, and I fell against the hard wall. As my head cleared, I gazed at him. Sweat trickled down his jowls and splashed onto the cement floor. He averted his hazel eyes.

“You’re a liar.” I yanked on the chains.

He stomped to the corner where a crooked metal rack leaned against the wall. Masking tape, screw drivers, hammers and pliers cluttered the other shelves. Stained turpentine jugs, and open and unopened paint cans were stacked on one metal shelf. Brushes and rollers were stuck inside a paint splattered brown and white coffee can. “I can see I’m gonna have to keep your mouth shut for you.” He jerked a smudged white rag out of a faded yellow bucket.

He waddled over to me. With a sneer on his fat face, he wrapped his fist in my hair. My head snapped back. He stuffed the rag into my mouth. Oil and dirt tinged my tongue. I gagged and shook my head. My salvia wet the cloth, and grit and turpentine ran down my throat.

I refused to show fear no matter how much it pooled in my stomach.

“Better, much, better.” He swiped his hands on his pants.

Softer footsteps thumped on the stairs. Aunt Janet emerged with a whip in her hand. All she needed was a skin tight black spandex suit and a mask, and she could be a super villain.

“I am sooo dead,” I mumbled into the rag and braced the wall with my back.

As a sharp toothy smile spread across her mouth, I quivered. She raised the whip. “This is for putting us at risk, you bastard.” She lashed my gut.

I arched my back. My hands clenched the chains.

“After this, you’d wished you had never been born.”

My heart hammering, I blinked back tears and bit the rag. Slime coated my tongue. With each swish, I counted back from a thousand. There is no pain. There is no pain. There is no pain. But a muffled groan escaped my lips and collapsing to the floor, my legs betrayed me. Aunt Janet’s laugh weakened my resolve. “There, I knew I could make you cry.”

Conan the Barbarian and Rusty Owens, I’m not.

Uncle Peter gripped my hair. “To let you know,” he hissed into my ear. His hot breath blew onto my neck. My stomach revolted. “This is your mother’s fault. Abrianna should have stayed away. She had her chance.”

My mother had a chance for what? Make up your mind, dude. Does she want to kill us or stay with your ugly ass? With his sweating face and beady wild eyes, he’d finally gone mad. Did I fall down a rabbit hole?

As the whip slashed my legs again and again, my thighs and calves pulsated with pain. At each slash, my body bumped up and down on the freezing cement floor. Sweat secreted from every pore.

“Damn it, Janet.” Uncle Peter jerked away from me. “You nearly hit me.”

“Don’t mention that woman’s name. Not ever.” Tears weld in her eyes. “The bitch will pay for her sins.”

“Fine.” Uncle Peter strolled towards the stairs. “I’m hungry. I’ll be right back. Do you want anything honey?”

“No.”

She lifted the whip and lashed me again and again. Deep cuts dug into the back of my thighs, buttock and back. Each time she hit me, my body jolted. I lost count of time. Not wanting to hear her cackle again, I pictured Rusty. His musical voice echoed in my head, “Don’t show them fear. Stay strong. Stay tough.”

Inside, I screamed with agony.

“God, I can’t stand anymore,” Aunt Janet panted. “Have... to... sit... down.”

I glanced over my shoulder. Aunt Janet’s spiky hair stuck to hear head, and the light glistened off her shiny face. She wrapped the whip around the handle and plopped next to me.

Burying my face in my arms, I held my breath. She seized the bottom of my ankle. Her nails dug into my ankle. She smacked the bottom of my foot. I kicked.

“Don’t you dare kick me.” She sat on my calves. I squirmed. She swatted my feet again and again. If you don’t think, that hurts, you’re crazy. Pain, God, I was dizzy from it.

The smell of fish filled the basement. Aunt Janet stopped. “Peter, what are you eating?”

Through my swollen eyes and matted hair, I watched him lean against the wall, holding a sandwich in his hand. He sat a glass of milk on a wooden, splintered chair.

“Tuna fish sandwich,” he smacked his lips together.

The smell of tuna, mixed with the damp and mustiness of the basement, mimicked the scent of a tackle box. I wrinkled my nose. I’d never eat tuna again.

“There,” she gasped. “No one will find him now, especially his slut mother.”

“Janet, shut up.”

Uncle Peter narrowed his eyes at me. Walking over to me, he licked his fingers. With a malicious smile, he kicked me hard in the side, and my rib cracked again or maybe it was already broken. Hard to know. I groaned. My side throbbed each time I breathed, and blood swirled in my mouth. I wanted to pass out, but sweet relief eluded me. Concentrating on anything but the pain, my mother came to mind. Had she been at the game? Awesome, she knew what I looked like, but I wouldn’t know her until I had a bullet in my brain or worse.

Standing, Aunt Janet wiped the sweat from her brow. “So, do you think this is good enough?”

Gee, didn’t know mangling me was such hard work.

Uncle Peter kicked me twice, and I doubled into a tight ball. I moaned. He knelt and stared at me. “Yeah, they won’t be able to find him.” He shook his head. “Damn, I never knew they were this close.” He gritted his teeth. “If they think I’m giving up our chance for immortality, they’ve got their heads up their ass.”

Immortality? What the hell is he talking about?

Aunt stared at me. “So, now what?”

“Wait until tonight. He’s not going anywhere. Hey, honey, is there anymore pie left?”

She tossed the whip across the room. “Yes, dear, I think so. You know, I’m starving.”

I hope the skinny bitch chokes on her own cooking. When they left and shut the basement door, I sat numb. Each time my heart beat, pain pulsed through me.

All this time, Uncle Peter knew my mother could heal like me, but never told me. So, did he think she would keep healing him so he’d never die? Or maybe he had started eating one too many brownies laced with weed. It slipped his addle mind that my mom had my father murder.

My world had turned upside down. First, they told me my father had been shot in a robbery gone bad. I even read the newspaper article - “Cop Gunned Down At 7-11.” Nowhere did it mention that Brian Martin’s ex-wife and her stupid boyfriend murdered him. So what, mom and her putzy boyfriend stopped off to buy some cupcakes, and my father confronted them so they blew him away? Or did the boyfriend not want to share his Twinkies with my dad?

I licked my bloody lip. Every day I passed my dad’s graduation picture from the police academy and the framed newspaper article on the mantel – only to know it was all lie. Why the cover up? My mind spun, not able to piece the puzzle together.

I frowned. “How come my mother can’t find me if I’m in pain?” No answer came forth from the damp walls or the spiders too busy spinning their webs.

But then who cares. My life sucked anyway. More lethal lies told from the two people who were supposed to love me. What did I expect? I needed the truth. I wanted to go someplace where there was no pain, no fear and no sadness – I wanted to be treated like a person. Pent up tears were released. I hadn’t cried for so long, but to know my mother killed my father. With each sob, my body shook. I never expected that. It hurt more than Aunt Janet’s torture. Now, my mother wanted me dead, but she had the all the answers. Great. Exhausted, sleep finally stopped the agony.

~~~



When I woke, the moon shone through the barred basement window. I could barely see through my swollen eyes. Raw torment gripped me. The pale light shined on a brown spider crawling on the cement floor. The spider darted over my lifeless arm. The feel of its long legs sent shivers through me. A sharp prick pierced my arm. The spider fled, and ran across the floor. I ignored the pain. I hurt too much to move.

The damn rag gagged me. I tried spitting it out again, but only licked more blood, dirt, or oil, or whatever nasty metallic stuff stained it. Better to not know.

When the basement door creaked and footsteps shuffled down the stairs, I shuttered and cowered against the wall.

A voice whispered, “My God, what have they done to you? It’s never been this bad.”

Out of the shadows, Larry Martin, who was a few weeks older than me, stood there, holding a bowl and wash rag in his hands. Aunt and Uncle’s second son. With wide eyes, he gawked at me. Two heads shorter than me, Larry passed more for a scared, fat third grader than a seventh grader.

I exhaled and relaxed.

He rushed over to me. Already sunburned, his dark pink face matched the stains of a strawberry slurpee on his white tee-shirt. Gasping for air, he put the bowl onto the floor, reached into pocket and pulled out his inhaler. Blood rushed to his face and changed him into a cherry head.

My hair was plastered to my forehead and cheeks. With his other hand, he swept it off of my face. He stuffed the inhaler into his pocket and then untied the rag and clean air rushed into my mouth.

I spat on the ground. “God, that tasted like crap.”

“I-I-I brought warm water. I-I-I thought you’d want me to wash you up. I-I-I’ve looked for the key to the shackles, but they’ve hidden it this time, and I don’t know where it is. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks for looking.” He’d helped me more than once in this hell house.

Larry dipped the washcloth into the warm water and rung it out. When he put it on a cut, I winced.

He snatched his hand away. “I put hydrogen-peroxide in it. It says it’s supposed to help disinfect and heal cuts. They don’t want you to heal, Armond. It’s like they’re afraid to let you.”

“No kidding.”

He stared at the bowl. “I’ll go and empty this. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Immediately, I regretted being a smart ass. In a sincere voice, I said, “Go ahead and finish.”

“Okay, this will sting a bit.”

I hated those words. Whenever someone said that, it meant it would hurt like hell. I tensed. With his shaking hand, Larry patted my open cuts. I muffled a groan.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

He gently brushed the rag along my torso, down my legs and across my arms, and after a while, his soft touched soothed the smarts. He shoved my hair away again and dabbed my face. “Can you even see?”

Despite the torment of forcing those tiny muscles to move, I smiled. “As bad as I must look, yeah, I can.”

“God, I don’t even recognize your face.”

My smile vanished. “They’ll know you helped me again.”

“I know, but they won’t do anything. Well, they might lock the basement door.” He glanced over his shoulder and then at me. He half grinned. “But I’ve figured out how to pick the lock.”

“What time is it?”

“About quarter to twelve.” He twisted the wash rag, and pink water dripped into the bowl. “Um, they’ll be back at midnight.”

“Great. Did they tell you my mother is the one after us?”

Larry’s green eyes widened. “Nooo waaaay.” He smiled. Well that’s good. She’ll-“

“Actually, she wants to kill me.”

He blinked. “What?” He dropped the rag into the bowl. “Oops. Sorry. But why?”

“Apparently, there can only be one of us. Oh and by the way, she helped murder my father.” I studied him. “Did you know that?”

“What?” He shook his head. “Uh uh. The Rocky Mountain Newspaper said he was killed during a robbery at Mom and Pop’s Grocery store at 72nd Avenue and Lowel by an unknown assailant.” He had read those words over and over throughout the years.

“According to good ole Uncle Peter, my dad knew his killers. My mother’s dumb boyfriend shot him.” I frowned. “I don’t understand why Uncle lied.”

“I don’t know.” His face turned pensive. “Wait a minute, you mean your mom can heal herself too?”

“Yeah and she wants to be the only one. It’s like she wants to be worshipped as some kind of god or something. I guess with me around, she’d lose some of her supposed followers.”

“That sucks.”

“Tell me about it, but I don’t care.” My voice hardened. “I’ve got to find her.”

“Why?”

“I can’t stand this. It sucks. I want to find out who I am.”

He gripped my shoulders. “No, you can’t. Not if she’s gonna kill you. You’re my brother. I can’t let you die.”

I studied his plump serious face. “I know.”

He released me and looked into the bowl. “God, I can’t believe how much blood is in here. I gotta go.” He stood and then hurried out of the basement.

After he left, I forced myself to sit and leaned against the wall. So, the Reverend Peter Martin of Our Rising Savior Lutheran Church, and his lovely wife not only hated my mother, but were afraid of her. Oh, and blamed me for my father’s death. What ever happened, I got blasted for it. Terrorists invaded Arvada, my fault. Collections go down at Uncle’s church, my fault. My mom killed my dad, my fault. The power I had.

I racked my brain. We were at my baseball game this morning, and I didn’t remember any woman stalking me or trying to cut my head off or shoot me between the eyes, but then again, I wasn’t exactly looking either, not with my team losing. Maybe I could find her first. Gee, that will be easy since I don’t know what she looks like.

I stared at the same biting spider crawling across the floor. So, how come all the grown-ups in my life wanted to hurt me? No wonder I never trusted anyone over twenty.

What did Uncle mean by wanting to keep his immortality? He couldn’t heal himself and the only person I could heal was me. Did he mean my mom? Maybe her powers were stronger than mine.

When heavy, fast footsteps came down the stairs, I huddled in the corner. My chains scrapped the floor. I buried my face in my arm, and pretended I was asleep. The light turned on, and I trembled.

“I know you’re a wake boy,” Uncle Peter said. He nudged me with his foot. “Look at me. Or I’ll kick the crap out of you.”

I lifted my head and froze. Uncle Peter held a chain saw in his hand. The blood drained from my face.

Aunt Janet flashed her eyes over me. “God, look at him, Larry’s been down here.”

Uncle Peter shrugged. “So?”

“It’s five minutes to midnight, Peter. Do you think he’ll change?”

“They always do. Fourteen. At the witching hour.”

Change?

I clutched the iron chain and flung it at them, but it clunked short of their feet, clanging on the cement floor.

Uncle Peter narrowed his eyes at me. “You better stop right now.”

I flicked it at them again. “Stay away from me.” My voice sounded funny. What would he do if someone planned to cut his fat ass into tiny pieces?

A splintering pain burned in my back, but Uncle and Aunt stood still. The force of the pain threw me onto my stomach and took my breath away. Stop, make it stop. Something moved inside me like a knife moving through my flesh. I screamed.

Uncle ran over and held my right arm. “Janet, grab his other arm. They’re forming.”

Aunt clawed her nails into my left arm and Uncle held my right. He covered my mouth. I tasted dead fish. Did he ever wash his hands? As something poked through my spine, I withered. My stomach swirled from the agony, and I spewed into his hand. “Please, stop.”

They released my arms, and I collapsed, face first into my own vomit. Slime went up my nose, and I sneezed. With my arms trembling, I pushed myself away from the putrid smell. The pain ceased, and I caught my breath. Cool air hit my back and moved my hair.

Glimpsing over my shoulder, I blinked. It couldn’t be. I had black wings. Not with feathers like a bird or an angel, but shiny and smooth like patent leather. Cobwebs flew overhead and landed on Aunt’s arm.

“Eeww, get it off me,” she said.

I shook my head again, but my wings were still there.

“Janet, quit whining. Grab his other arm and let’s move him away from here before I get sick.”

As they dragged me, the chains hung down my arms like vines. When they came to the far corner of the room, they threw me down on my stomach, and Uncle plopped on my buttock.

I groaned.

“Go get the chain saw,” he ordered. “And plug it into the outlet.”

“Please don’t kill me,” I said in a puny whisper.

He anchored his boots on the iron bands of my wrists. As he moved his boots, my wrists snapped. “Ack,” I shrieked.

“Here.” Aunt Janet panted. “It’s heavy.”

“I’ve broken both of his wrists, so he won’t be able to yank them from you.”

Aunt Janet seized both of my hands. Pain jolted through me.

As Uncle Peter stood on my thighs, his boots crushed me to the ground. His heavy weight bore his boots deep into my skin and muscle. Too weak to move, I waited, but managed to mumble, “Get off of me.”

The roar of the chain saw blocked out my words. As the jagged blade cut into me, I lurched. Bones cracked and shattered. My teeth chattered. I screamed. Not even getting beaten with a baseball bat hurt this bad. Blood and gore splattered on Aunt’s face. At her blood-sucking-vampire smile, I passed out.

I woke again and lay still. Warmth spread over my right side. Breathing hard, I clamped my mouth shut and turned my head towards the right. Through the window, the sun’s purple and pink rays light my naked bruised and bloody side. Spilled orange, pink, crimson, and brown paint stained the cement floor, but the red wasn’t paint. It was blood. My blood.

I’d never been in so much pain. Dying was better than living like this. More than once, I had tried to off myself - took pills, slashed my wrists, wrapped a rope around my neck, but each time, I healed. Being immortal sucked. So, why did Uncle want to be immortal? Especially since he always preached about eternity with God. Hypocrite. I shook. Alone for eternity terrified me. “Make it stop.”

So, obviously I wasn’t human. No, that wasn’t true. I was half-human. Upstairs, my dad’s pictures sat on the mantel. He had the familiar Martin orange hair, pink face, and portly body, but I had long blue-black hair, olive skin, and silver eyes. Did I get this from my murderess mother? Is this why my Uncle and Aunt hated me, because I reminded them of her?

I wished I had super powers like Superman or Hercules. Being the strongest boy on Earth would be so cool. I’d send Aunt and Uncle into orbit permanently. Or, at least heal like Wolverine, but mine doesn’t work like his. It takes three days. Now, if I could heal other people that would be bitchin’. I could cure Larry’s asthma. Maybe my mother could do it, but I sure as hell couldn’t, not even a wounded squirrel. Bobby had shot one in the head with a bee-bee. I touched the animal, but it twitched and died.

I gritted my teeth. My mom could have healed my dad but she let him die. What a bitch.

“Useless, stupid, ability.”

The power flickered inside me. Like always, my blood surged. A flutter like a butterfly moved deep within my chest, but this time, the sensation grew stronger, and intensified. I licked my lips and took a deep breath. The flutter changed to an electric pulse. The darkness faded. My skin tingled and shimmered. A white glow illuminated all over me, and the room brightened like I’d seen in Harry Potter when he conjures up his patronus charm of stag in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But unlike Harry, spasms shook me. My vision blurred. I broke out in a hot, sticky sweat as if I were strapped to a tanning bed stuck on high. Perspiration drenched me. With each heartbeat, the agony lessened.

As I panted, my vision became clearer, my teeth stopped chattering and the convulsions ceased. What the hell had caused that? I scooted against the wall. The putrid smell of vomit and blood turned my stomach upside down like a tipsy curvy rollercoaster. Another spasm gripped me. I clenched my fists and groaned. Agony tore through every muscle, and I flopped on my stomach. Cool air seeped out of a crack in the window and brushed over me. I glimpsed over my shoulder. My ebony wings glistened in the sun. Not a scratch on them. I peered at the doorway, but no sign of Aunt and Uncle. With grim determination, I flapped them. To my surprise, I rose to the ceiling and the tips rammed into the wooden beams overhead hard. “Ow!” I winced and crashed to the ground.

I got the air knocked out of me and struggled to catch my breath. I lay motionless except for my beating wings. I frowned. So, how did this happen? Now I could grow appendages. Never knew that. Uncle Peter had never severed a limb before either, but then again, he just did. I pushed my lips together. I jerked, twisted, and pulled on the chains, but it was useless. I flopped onto the floor and wiped the sweat off of my face with my arm. I glowered at the steadfast bolted links. “Dumb wings.”

I lay on my stomach motionless on the floor. The cool air stopped. I frowned. As I reached around my back, my hand only touched smooth skin. I peered over my shoulder. Where now did they go? Wait a minute, I could twirl my wrist. It wasn’t broken. I sat up. I twisted my neck around, stretched my arms and raised my legs. I even pointed my toes. The healing usually took three days - not one night. How had I healed so quickly?

I cocked an eyebrow. Even now, the pain subsided on my arms and legs. The sun rays showed unbroken, perfect skin – no bruises, cuts, or lashes.

Footsteps clumped on the stairs. I clenched my fists waiting for more pain, more torture, more agony. The light flickered on. Aunt Janet held a handkerchief to her nose, while Uncle Peter clasped the same chain saw in his hand. I crawled away and huddled against the wall. My hands gripped the chains. “Not without a fight this time,” I promised.

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Giveaway!
Thanks to IO Book Tours, there is a tour-wide giveaway consisting of two print copies and ten eBook copies of Healer, and two Healer-themed necklaces! To enter, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form below:
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Giveaway runs through September 29th, 2012 at 11.59 pm (EST).
Open to all readers, INT included! 
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Good luck!

Monday, September 24, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

Release Date: September 25th, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins) 
Page Count: 387
Source: Complimentary ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!!!)

Given the chance, fifteen-year-old Peregrine "Perry" Eckert would dedicate every waking moment to Creatures & Caverns, an epic role-playing game rich with magical creatures, spell casting, and deadly weapons. The world of C&C is where he feels most comfortable in his own skin. But that isn't happening—not if his parents have anything to do with it. Concerned their son lacks social skills, they ship him off to summer camp to become a man. They want him to be outdoors playing with kids his own age and meeting girls—rather than indoors alone, with only his gaming alter ego for company. Perry knows he's in for the worst summer of his life.

Everything changes, however, when Perry gets to camp and stumbles into the World of the Other Normals. There he meets Mortin Enaw, one of the creators of C&C, and other mythical creatures from the game, including the alluring Ada Ember, whom Perry finds more beautiful than any human girl he's ever met. Perry's new otherworldly friends need his help to save their princess and prevent mass violence. As they embark on their quest, Perry realizes that his nerdy childhood has uniquely prepared him to be a great warrior in this world, and maybe even a hero. But to save the princess, Perry will have to learn how to make real connections in the human world as well.

Bestselling author Ned Vizzini delivers a compulsively readable and wildly original story about the winding and often hilarious path to manhood.
What Stephanie Thinks: I've been a Ned Vizzini fan since way way back. I recall purchasing a first edition hardcover copy of Be More Chill at a school book fair the moment it hit the shelves; reveling in his next release, It's Kind of a Funny Story; and the pride/nostalgia/elation I felt when I discovered the latter had been turned into a movie. 

So I was a little more than excited to try his newest, The Other Normals, which is for a slightly different audience, but regardless full of his typical teen angst (see what I did there?) and literally laugh-out-loud-able humor. Many thanks to Ned for the ARC!

The book could read middle grade because of the high-fantasy elements that teenagers might rather roll their eyes at, as well as Perry's inexplicable dorkiness—though it is the essence of his character, which I absolutely loved—but the content is more mature: a bit of mild swearing, sexuality, and just plain giggle-worthy inappropriateness... giggle-worthingly inappropriate for middle-grade boys, that is (penis jokes, anyone?). Nothing offensive to me obviously, but I can imagine some parents disapproving. On the other hand, it's extremely child-friendly. The Other Normals is the kind of book you want your children to stay away from, but whose story you don't want them to miss out on. Honestly, if you're a parent reading this, just be a cool mom/dad and hand it over to your kid. So what if they learn more than a few ways to name the male genitalia? The deep recesses of a teenage boy's mind are bound to contain far more incriminating thoughts.

Plot-wise, it contains that classical Vizzinian magical realism (classical to Be More Chill, anyway) and never gets boring. I was stunned by the span of creativity that's portrayed; Perry's adventure, and subsequently, Vizzini's imagination, is endless! The teleportation, the nefarious villains, the odd and enchanting array of introduced creatures, the geekiness, the underground adventures—such a thrill of a read! The world of Other Normals and the concept of correspondents are both novel and intriguing; brilliant and yet at the same time, somewhat devastating. I really couldn't get enough of them. 

One thing was slightly off, though. While often-hilarious anecdotes pertaining to growing up, family, the perplexing female species, and just regular daily observances are picked up on, I feel at times, there are too many attempted stretches of humor. Maybe my sense of humor itself has evolved over the years, but I feel The Other Normals wasn't as remarkable because it doesn't possess the entertainment factor Vizzini's other works have. I constantly wondered if he was desperate for ideas to make kids laugh... because some of it is just not funny, as if he's trying too hard. The story, I loved—it's original, it's grand, it's marvelous. The tone however, is just stiff. I was slightly disappointed.

That being said, overall, I'm glad I got to try this new side of Ned Vizzini. It's definitely unlike his previous works, but enjoyable nonetheless. It's one of those books that are for reluctant readers: fast-paced, action-packed, and funny; more like a comic book or movie without images, something middle-grade boys will enjoy because they'll be able to relate to it best, but girls will still be able to find humor and insight within. Combining a fresh, believable voice with deep discoveries about interpersonal relationships and adolescent identity, The Other Normals is a wild escape from reality I both applaud and recommend. It's hard to make a children's book profound, yet still appealing, but Vizzini, as always, does it seamlessly.

Stephanie Loves: "I look at the stars ... they force you to think in a different direction.

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥