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Full Excerpt from Christopher Paolini's To Sleep in a Sea of Stars


We hope you have been visiting the websites/blogs hosting Parts 1, 2 or 3 of the excerpt over the past three days, but in case you've missed it here is the entire excerpt from To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini. The novel will be published in September by Tor Books.



Full Excerpt from Christopher Paolini's To Sleep in a Sea of Stars




         Cold fear shot through Kira’s gut.
         Together, she and Alan scrambled into their clothes. Kira spared a second of thought for her strange dream—everything felt strange at the moment—and then they hurried out of the cabin and rushed over toward Neghar’s quarters.
         As they approached, Kira heard hacking: a deep, wet, ripping sound that made her imagine raw flesh going through a shredder. She shuddered.
         Neghar was standing in the middle of the hallway with the others gathered around her, doubled over, hands on her knees, coughing so hard Kira could hear her vocal cords fraying. Fizel was next to her, hand on her back. “Keep breathing,” he said. “We’ll get you to sickbay. Jenan! Alan! Grab her arms, help carry her. Quickly now, qu—”
         Neghar heaved, and Kira heard a loud, distinct snap from inside the woman’s narrow chest.
         Black blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, painting the deck in a wide fan.
         Marie-Élise shrieked, and several people retched. The fear from Kira’s dream returned, intensified. This was bad. This was dangerous. “We have to go,” she said, and tugged on Alan’s sleeve. But he wasn’t listening.
         “Back!” Fizel shouted. “Everyone back! Someone get the Extenuating Circumstances on the horn. Now!”
         “Clear the way!” Mendoza bellowed.
         More blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, and she dropped to one knee. The whites of her eyes were freakishly wide. Her face was crimson, and her throat worked as if she were choking.
         “Alan,” said Kira. Too late; he was moving to help Fizel.
         She took a step back. Then another. No one noticed; they were all looking at Neghar, trying to figure out what to do while staying out of the way of the blood flying from her mouth.
         Kira felt like screaming at them to leave, to run, to escape.
         She shook her head and pressed her fists against her mouth, scared blood was going to erupt out of her as well. Her head felt as if it were about to burst, and her skin was crawling with horror: a thousand ants skittering over every centimeter. Her whole body itched with revulsion.
         Jenan and Alan tried to lift Neghar back to her feet. She shook her head and gagged. Once. Twice. And then she spat a clot of something onto the deck. It was too dark to be blood. Too liquid to be metal.
         Kira dug her fingers into her arm, scrubbing at it as a scream of revulsion threatened to erupt out of her.
        Neghar collapsed backwards. Then the clot moved. It twitched like a clump of muscle hit with an electrical current.
        People shouted and jumped away. Alan retreated toward Kira, never taking his eyes off the unformed lump.
        Kira dry-heaved. She took another step back. Her arm was burning: thin lines of fire squirming across her skin.
        She looked down.
        Her nails had carved furrows in her flesh, crimson gashes that ended with crumpled strips of skin. And within the furrows, she saw another something twitch.
  
         Kira fell to the floor, screaming. The pain was all-consuming. That much she was aware of. It was the only thing she was aware of.
        She arched her back and thrashed, clawing at the floor, desperate to escape the onslaught of agony. She screamed again; she screamed so hard her voice broke and a slick of hot blood coated her throat.
        She couldn’t breathe. The pain was too intense. Her skin was burning, and it felt as if her veins were filled with acid and her flesh was tearing itself from her limbs.
        Dark shapes blocked the light overhead as people moved around her. Alan’s face appeared next to her. She thrashed again, and she was on her stomach, her cheek pressed flat against the hard surface.
        Her body relaxed for a second, and she took a single, gasping breath before going rigid and loosing a silent howl. The muscles of her face cramped with the force of her rictus, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.
        Hands turned her over. They gripped her arms and legs, holding them in place. It did nothing to stop the pain.
        “Kira!”
        She forced her eyes open and, with blurry vision, saw Alan and, behind him, Fizel leaning toward her with a hypo. Farther back, Jenan, Yugo, and Seppo were pinning her legs to the floor, while Ivanova and Marie-Élise helped Neghar away from the clot on the deck.
        “Kira! Look at me! Look at me!”
        She tried to reply, but all she succeeded in doing was uttering a strangled whimper.
        Then Fizel pressed the hypo against her shoulder. Whatever he injected didn’t seem to have any effect. Her heels drummed against the floor, and she felt her head slam against the deck, again and again.
         “Jesus, someone help her,” Alan cried.
         “Watch out!” shouted Seppo. “That thing on the floor is moving! Shi—”
         “Sickbay,” said Fizel. “Get her to sickbay. Now! Pick her up. Pick—”
         The walls swam around her as they lifted her. Kira felt like she was being strangled. She tried to inhale, but her muscles were too cramped. Red sparks gathered around the edges of her vision as Alan and the others carried her down the hallway. She felt as if she were floating; everything seemed insubstantial except the pain and her fear.
         A jolt as they dropped her onto Fizel’s exam table. Her abdomen relaxed for a second, just long enough for Kira to steal a breath before her muscles locked back up.
         “Close the door! Keep that thing out!” A thunk as the sickbay pressure lock engaged.
         “What’s happening?” said Alan. “Is—”
         “Move!” shouted Fizel. Another hypo pressed against Kira’s neck.
         As if in response, the pain tripled, something she wouldn’t have believed possible. A low groan escaped her, and she jerked, unable to control the motion. She could feel foam gathering in her mouth, clogging her throat. She gagged and convulsed.
         “Shit. Get me an injector. Other drawer. No, other drawer!”
         “Doc—”
         “Not now!”
         “Doc, she isn’t breathing!”
         Equipment clattered, and then fingers forced Kira’s jaw apart, and someone jammed a tube into her mouth, down her throat. She gagged again. A moment later, sweet, precious air poured into her lungs, sweeping aside the curtain darkening her vision.
         Alan was hovering over her, his face contorted with worry.
         Kira tried to talk. But the only sound she could make was an inarticulate groan.
         “You’re going to be okay,” said Alan. “Just hold on. Fizel’s going to help you.” He looked as if he were about to cry.
         Kira had never been so afraid. Something was wrong inside her, and it was getting worse.
         Run, she thought. Run! Get away from here before—
         Dark lines shot across her skin: black lightning bolts that twisted and squirmed as if alive. Then they froze in place, and where each one lay, her skin split and tore, like the carapace of a molting insect.
         Kira’s fear overflowed, filling her with a feeling of utter and inescapable doom. If she could have screamed, her cry would have reached the stars.





To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
Tor Books, September 15, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 880 pages

Full Excerpt from Christopher Paolini's To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a brand new epic novel from New York Times bestselling author Christopher Paolini.

Kira Navárez dreamed of finding life on new worlds.

Now she has awakened a nightmare.

While exploring a distant planet, she discovers an alien relic that thrusts her into an epic journey of transformation and discovery.

Her odyssey will carry her to the far reaches of the galaxy.


Earth and her colonies are on the brink of annihilation.

One woman.

        The will to survive.

               The hope of humanity.


This epic novel follows Kira Navárez, who, during a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, finds an alien relic that thrusts her into the wonders and the nightmares of first contact. Epic space battles for the fate of humanity take her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, in the process, transform not only her ? but the entire course of history.





About the Author

Full Excerpt from Christopher Paolini's To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
Christopher Paolini was born in Southern California and has lived most of his life in Paradise Valley, Montana. He published his first novel, Eragon, in 2003 at the age of 19, and quickly became a publishing phenomenon. His Inheritance Cycle—Eragon and its three sequels—have sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is his first adult novel.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini - An Excerpt


The Qwillery is thrilled to share with you the second excerpt from the adult debut of Christopher PaoliniTo Sleep in the Sea of Stars.

The first excerpt was posted yesterday with the third being posted tomorrow. All of the participating websites and blogs will post the entire excerpt on Friday, May 29, 2020!



To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini - An Excerpt




        Kira dug her fingers into her arm, scrubbing at it as a scream of revulsion threatened to erupt out of her.
        Neghar collapsed backwards. Then the clot moved. It twitched like a clump of muscle hit with an electrical current.
        People shouted and jumped away. Alan retreated toward Kira, never taking his eyes off the unformed lump.
        Kira dry-heaved. She took another step back. Her arm was burning: thin lines of fire squirming across her skin.
        She looked down.
        Her nails had carved furrows in her flesh, crimson gashes that ended with crumpled strips of skin. And within the furrows, she saw another something twitch.


        Kira fell to the floor, screaming. The pain was all-consuming. That much she was aware of. It was the only thing she was aware of.
        She arched her back and thrashed, clawing at the floor, desperate to escape the onslaught of agony. She screamed again; she screamed so hard her voice broke and a slick of hot blood coated her throat.
        She couldn’t breathe. The pain was too intense. Her skin was burning, and it felt as if her veins were filled with acid and her flesh was tearing itself from her limbs.
        Dark shapes blocked the light overhead as people moved around her. Alan’s face appeared next to her. She thrashed again, and she was on her stomach, her cheek pressed flat against the hard surface.
        Her body relaxed for a second, and she took a single, gasping breath before going rigid and loosing a silent howl. The muscles of her face cramped with the force of her rictus, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.
        Hands turned her over. They gripped her arms and legs, holding them in place. It did nothing to stop the pain.
        “Kira!”
        She forced her eyes open and, with blurry vision, saw Alan and, behind him, Fizel leaning toward her with a hypo. Farther back, Jenan, Yugo, and Seppo were pinning her legs to the floor, while Ivanova and Marie-Élise helped Neghar away from the clot on the deck.
        “Kira! Look at me! Look at me!”
        She tried to reply, but all she succeeded in doing was uttering a strangled whimper.
        Then Fizel pressed the hypo against her shoulder. Whatever he injected didn’t seem to have any effect. Her heels drummed against the floor, and she felt her head slam against the deck, again and again.





To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
Tor Books, September 15, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 880 pages

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini - An Excerpt
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a brand new epic novel from New York Times bestselling author Christopher Paolini.

Kira Navárez dreamed of finding life on new worlds.

Now she has awakened a nightmare.

While exploring a distant planet, she discovers an alien relic that thrusts her into an epic journey of transformation and discovery.

Her odyssey will carry her to the far reaches of the galaxy.


Earth and her colonies are on the brink of annihilation.

One woman.

        The will to survive.

               The hope of humanity.


This epic novel follows Kira Navárez, who, during a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, finds an alien relic that thrusts her into the wonders and the nightmares of first contact. Epic space battles for the fate of humanity take her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, in the process, transform not only her ? but the entire course of history.





About the Author

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini - An Excerpt
Christopher Paolini was born in Southern California and has lived most of his life in Paradise Valley, Montana. He published his first novel, Eragon, in 2003 at the age of 19, and quickly became a publishing phenomenon. His Inheritance Cycle—Eragon and its three sequels—have sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is his first adult novel.





Only Lies Remain by Val Collins - An Excerpt


The Qwillery is thrilled to present an excerpt from the recently published Only Lies Remain by Val Collins.

Only Lies Remain and the previous novel, Girl Targeted, are psychological thrillers featuring Aoife Walsh. For those of you reading along the heroine's first name Aoife is pronounced "EE-fa".



Only Lies Remain by Val Collins - An Excerpt




Excerpt from Only Lies Remain



ONE


The news ended, but the murderer didn’t notice. The room grew dark and the mug of tea cooled. At last the murderer rose and began pacing the room, muttering, ‘Could I have misheard? No, of course I didn’t. After all this time! What am I going to do? They can trace DNA in ways that weren’t even imagined fifteen years ago. What if they find a hair, or saliva or whatever else it is that they examine? Will the police arrest me? A good solicitor could convince a jury that DNA evidence is unreliable, couldn’t he? I can’t spend the rest of my life in prison—and, hell, I shouldn’t have to. It’s not like I wanted to kill him. These things happen. But nobody would ever understand how it was. They’d never believe it wasn’t my fault. People need someone to blame. But the truth is some tragedies are nobody’s fault. He didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to kill him, but it happened anyway. It was fate. His and mine. You can’t fight fate. You just have to accept it.’



TWO


It was the same each time. The minute the house came into sight, it started. ‘Breathe in…hold…breathe out,’ Aoife muttered to herself. She really needed to get a grip. It wasn’t like she was expecting a confrontation. Maura wouldn’t say anything. Aoife knew that. But the very fact that there was bad feeling between them sent Aoife into a minor panic every time they met.
        By the time she reached the front door, Aoife’s heartbeat had almost returned to normal. She rang the doorbell and waited. Amy’s light feet raced across the wooden floor, and a moment later her little nose pressed against the narrow glass panel that ran the height of the door.
        ‘Mama!’
        ‘Hi, sweetie.’ Aoife waved at her.
        ‘Mama! Mama!’ Amy turned and bolted down the corridor, shouting, ‘Nana!’ A few seconds later she returned alone, wailing, ‘Mama!’, her tiny fists banging on the glass panel.
        Aoife searched her bag for the key she hadn’t used in almost six months.
        ‘Mama!’ Amy leaped into her arms.
        Aoife swung her around and Amy screeched with laughter.
        ‘Where’s Nana!’
        ‘Nana sick.’
        ‘Sick! Maura?’ She put Amy on the ground and headed for the kitchen. Amy raced ahead of her.
        Maura met them at the doorway. ‘Sorry, Aoife. I was just coming.’
        Her face was pale and had the wretched look that only came from bitter tears. Toys, which Maura normally stored in the playpen, were strewn all over the kitchen floor. Amy was rooting through them, flinging them in all directions.
        ‘What are your toys doing on the floor?’ Aoife asked.
        ‘Man. Big man.’
        ‘What man?’
        ‘Moaney,’ Amy said.
        ‘Moaney? What’s going on, Maura? Are you okay?’
        ‘Detective Moloney called earlier. He gave Amy some toys to play with while we talked. He had some upsetting news.’
        ‘Detective Moloney!’ Aoife gripped the countertop. ‘Was he looking for me?’
        ‘You’ve spoken to him? Of course, you met him when you worked in DCA. He was the detective who handled the murder investigation, wasn’t he? I’d forgotten you knew each other. Why didn’t you say anything, Aoife? Things may be difficult between us, but I didn’t deserve to hear news like that from a stranger.’
        Amy pushed between them and thrust a book at Aoife. ‘Story.’
        ‘Not now, sweetie.’
        ‘Story. Now!’
        Aoife picked up Amy and put her in the playpen. ‘Read a story to your dolls. I have to talk to Nana.’
        Amy’s face puckered. Aoife had never put her in the playpen before.
        Aoife opened the book and placed it on the floor of the playpen. ‘Wouldn’t your dollies love to hear about the beautiful princess?’
        Without waiting for an answer, she took the teabags from the cupboard and filled the kettle. A glance showed Amy lining up the dolls in readiness for her words of wisdom.
        ‘What did Detective Moloney tell you?’ she asked, putting two mugs on the glass table.
        ‘Only the basics. They found him somewhere in the city centre.’ Maura reached for the mug, then shoved it to one side. ‘You probably know more than I do.’
        ‘I haven’t spoken to Detective Moloney in over six months. Who did they find?’
        ‘Oh God! Well, I suppose you’ll find out sooner or later. I’ll have to tell the boys tonight.’
        ‘Tell them what?’
        ‘Their father. He’s dead.’
        ‘Oh no! Oh, Maura, I’m so sorry. He’d come back to Ireland?’
Maura shook her head.
        ‘Jason will be devastated. I know he always says he hates him, but deep down I think he hoped his dad would get in touch someday. If only so he could scream abuse at him for abandoning you.’
        ‘But that’s the thing, Aoife. Danny didn’t abandon us.’
        ‘He may have sent you money, Maura but he still disappeared without a word.’
        ‘Not willingly. He was murdered.’
        ‘What! When?’
        ‘Fifteen years ago. Remember a few weeks back, a body was found in the grounds of that old house in the city centre? They just identified him as Danny.’
        ‘But—I don’t understand, Maura. How could Danny be dead for fifteen years? I thought he sent you money every month.’
       ‘So did I.’ 





Only Lies Remain
VCB Publishing, February 19, 2020
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 316 pages

Only Lies Remain by Val Collins - An Excerpt
Everyone thought Danny Walsh deserted his family when his sons were young. But when Danny's body turns up fifteen years later and his wife, Maura, is implicated in his murder, accusations and old rumours surface.

Aoife rushes in to clear her mother-in-law's name. But why is it that Maura's story concerning Danny's disappearance doesn't quite add up?

Aoife's investigation uncovers old secrets, long-held jealousies, and lies upon lies. With every new revelation, Aoife realises she doesn't know her family at all. Now her new boss is acting strangely, her best friend is more and more distant, and her husband is no help at all.

With her support network crumbling and her family threatened, Aoife must race to keep one step ahead of danger before more innocent lives are lost. But how will she uncover the truth when only lies remain?





Also featuring Aoife Walsh


Girl Targeted
VCB Publishing, January 23, 2018
Kindle eBook, 301 pages

Only Lies Remain by Val Collins - An Excerpt
Where do you turn when you can’t trust your friends, your peers, your own husband?

Aoife is a contented newlywed, temping while she awaits the birth of her first child. When her agency asks her to fill in on a temp position, Aoife witnesses a horrific tragedy at the office—one that will change the course of her life forever.

Three months later, now employed full-time at the same workplace, Aoife’s learns that the ‘tragedy’ she witnessed was actually a cold-blooded murder. When she decides to investigate, Aoife discovers that everyone in the organisation has secrets they are desperate to protect. Even her friends cannot be trusted.

An attempt on Aoife’s life proves that somebody is going to extraordinary lengths to ensure the past stays dead and buried—and Aoife along with it.

What’s more, Aoife’s personal life is beginning to unravel. She’s positive she has a stalker but everyone thinks she’s imagining it. Her husband is turning into a stranger who doesn’t care that his wife’s life is in danger, even her mother-in-law is keeping secrets from her.

Convinced that solving the case is the only way her she and her daughter will ever be safe again, Aoife rushes to uncover answers to a shocking scheme of greed, betrayal, and murder before the killer silences her for good.





About Val Collins

Only Lies Remain by Val Collins - An Excerpt
Val Collins is the author of the award-winning psychological thriller GIRL TARGETED and ONLY LIES REMAIN, both of which feature heroine Aoife Walsh.











Website  ~  Twitter @valcollinsbooks
Facebook

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt


Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt

Chapter One
          Sherlock Holmes and I stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing down sadly at the tiny charred corpse.
          “She should never have left us alone,” I told him.
          “She had no great choice in the matter.”
          “There’s always a choice.”
          “Strictly speaking, perhaps. But it’s best that she disappear, at least for a time. Even putting aside the death penalty, I cannot see her thriving in prison.”
          I had to agree. “She is probably better off in Monte Carlo.” And so saying, I snatched up the smouldering pan and tipped my attempt at a chicken dinner into the rubbish bin. Our long-time housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, had recently abandoned us, selfishly choosing freedom over being tried for murder—and thereby risking our lives to my poisonous culinary skills. “Cheese sandwiches, then? Or shall we walk up to the Tiger?”
          He glanced at the kitchen clock. “Do you suppose Tillie might have a table, up at the Monk’s Tun?”
          Three hours later, we were making our leisurely way towards the gate in the stone wall encircling our house. I had pocketed a torch as we left, but the midsummer sky held enough lingering brightness that we did not need it as we returned across the Sussex Downs. Tillie had outdone herself, with a perfection of cool dishes on a warm afternoon: subtle lettuces, an iced soup, cold meats, hot rolls, and a strawberry tart the likes of none in the land.
          The one drawback was, the Monk’s Tun had begun to collect a reputation. Not that I begrudged Tillie her success—although I might wish we had not chosen to stop in the same night as a carload of Young Things on their way up from Dover.
          Not that they were drunk, merely festive; nor were they loud, exactly, merely difficult to ignore. They were my age—in fact, two of them I dimly recognised: a young man with dark Byronic curls who had been the year before me at Oxford, and a girl whose face appeared in the illustrated Society pages of the newspapers. My eyes kept going to them, two sleek girls in Paris frocks, two clean, tanned lads in casually worn suits that would have cost Tillie’s barman a year of his salary.
          The second time Holmes had needed to repeat something, he craned around to look at the table of merrymakers on the other side of the old room.
          “Friends of yours?”
          “Good heavens, no.”
          “Then why are you watching them so closely?”
          “I wasn’t. Not really. Just—they seem like an alien race, down here in Sussex. Don’t you think?”
          His grey eyes fixed on me, but before he could speak, Tillie came up to greet us, and the next course arrived, and the moment was lost.
          However, Holmes never forgot anything. When he pushed open the gate an hour later, he said, “Russell, do you regret the choices you made?”
          Little point in pretending I didn’t understand. “Regret? Never. I might occasionally wonder what life would have been, had things been different, but it’s mere speculation. Like . . . like trying on a dress I’d never actually wear, just to see what it feels like.”
            He closed the gate and worked the latch. We picked our way through the grassy orchard, hearing the faint texture of sound from the hives—drones cooling their homes from the day’s heat. Near the house, the sweet odour from the old-fashioned climbing rose drew us forward.
          Mrs Hudson had planted the flower, long before I knew her. Mrs Hudson, now gone away, to . . . But before yearning could overcome me, the night was broken by the jangle of the telephone bell.
          Neither of us hurried to catch it.
          And neither of us suggested, when the machine ceased its clamour before we were halfway through the kitchen, that we ask the Exchange to restore the connection.
          Instead, Holmes pulled a corkscrew from the drawer and a bottle of chilled honey wine from the cooler. I fetched a pair of glasses from the cupboard. We left the door open, to chase away the aroma of cremated chicken, and settled into our garden chairs. The night smelled of blossoms and honey. The low pulse of waves against the Sussex cliffs obscured the sound from the hives. The wine was cool, but faintly sad as its summer freshness faded, giving a hint of bitterness to come.
          And the telephone rang again. At this time of night, the sound was ominous.
          With a sigh, I put my half-empty glass onto the stones and went through the terrace doors.
          I spoke our number by way of greeting, to be answered by a voice from the local Exchange. “Evening, Mrs Holmes, sorry to ring so late but the lady said it was an emergency, so I told her I’d keep trying you. And the girl at the Monk’s Tun said you’d left there. Do you want me to connect you again?”
          Life in a rural area is rich in many things, but privacy is not one of them. “Hold on a moment, I’ll get Holmes.” The word emergency generally summoned Sherlock Holmes.
          But to my surprise, she said the woman had asked for me.
          “Did she leave a name?”
          “She said to tell you it was Veronica Fitzwarren.”
          Ronnie. Oh dear.
          I pulled up the chair we kept near the telephone, and sat. “Yes, you’d better put me through.”


Chapter Twenty
          The train came to its end on Sunday, two days and four nations after we’d stepped out of our Sussex door.
          The ideal approach to Venice is from the sea, standing at a ship’s rails as the faint traces of buildings take form through the mists. She resembles (and I must agree with tradition here: Venice is feminine) a queen seated on a throne in a wide, fat field. Solitary and regal, she waits in patience for those who would come to do homage.
          Instead of that entry to la Serenissima, we puffed across two miles of water on hundreds of stone arches, waited while the customs men came to check our hand luggage, and climbed down into the cacophony of any railway station on the planet. The salty air churned with the sounds of shouting porters and crashing equipment, customs inspectors and street urchins, the hiss of venting steam and the slams of compartment doors, cries of greeting and the occasional shriek of a traveller seeing her bags vanish into the crowd.
          And yet, this was different. There was no stink of idling taxis, for one thing, no clop of hooves or rumble of motor lorries or whine of motor-cycles. We were in a port city, yet there was no sign of heavy-goods traffic. Groups of laughing foreigners suggested a resort town, yet bright holiday clothing was more than balanced by workaday garments. Uniforms of various kinds put the crowd into order, funneling traffic from iron rails to waterborne craft.
          I watched the familiar scene with pleasure, until my eye was drawn to an oddity: two black-clad figures created an eddy in the swarm, in a way that even the customs men did not. Most of the people giving them wide berth seemed unaware that they were doing so, but even the laughing tourists subsided a touch as they approached the Blackshirts, and their laughter resumed only when they were out of earshot from the two Fascist representatives.
          I shook of the creeping awareness of the outside world and turned my mind to our next moves.
          The previous Friday, when Thomas Cook & Co. had proven a broken reed and failed to come up with adequate rooms, I had dredged the name of a hotel from the depths of memory and sent them a wire. We had left Sussex before any response could arrive, and since the tourist season was clearly well under way—despite heat, Fascists, mosquitoes, and the stench of summer canals—I only hoped that someone had recalled my mother’s name with enough affection to offer us a servant’s room under the sweltering eaves.
          As I prepared to join the milling crowds heading towards the water and thus the Venetian equivalent of a taxi, I became aware that there was a person standing before me, very still and quite close. I adjusted my eyes, and found a trim young man in hotel livery, with a name in fancy stitching on his breast:
Hôtel
Londres
&
Beau Rivage
          “Signore and Signora Russell?”
          “Yes,” Holmes said. Thanks to Mycroft, he even had a passport in the name of Sheldon Russell, an ebony-haired gent, pampered and well glossed from the tips of his shoes to the teeth behind his pencil-thin moustache. Thin disguise, but along with the change in his stance and the languid air he wore, even someone who knew him would hesitate, wondering, might this be a cousin . . . ?
          “The keys to your luggage, please? I shall see it through Customs. Come, your boat is just here.”
          I followed his pointing finger, and saw a sleek steam launch with a man in the same uniform. I held out the keys and my valise, but told him, “We’ll walk, thanks. It’s been a long train ride. Oh—and tell the maid not to unpack the bags. We prefer to do so on our own.” And had, ever since the day one inexplicably thorough hotel maid had happened across a hidden compartment, dutifully removed the contents for cleaning, and sent a bullet whizzing through the next room.
          The hotel man bowed, cheerfully acknowledging our English eccentricity, accepted my tip, and trotted to the hotel launch with our valises.
          As he explained, hands gesturing, that these mad English guests wanted to walk to the hotel, the even sleeker launch beside it drew in its gangway and let out a belch of steam. This one bore the name Hotel Excelsior, and it turned away with an air of disdain, as if to show that its guests did not need to wait along with hoi polloi. The launch went serenely off, ignoring the gondolas, cargo transports, fishing boats with furled sails, many varieties of shallow-hulled canal boats, and one lone rowing skiff.
          Holmes scowled at our own waiting launch. “Do you suppose we shall ever see our possessions again?” he asked me.
          “It’s quite a good hotel, Holmes.”
          “All the more reason for a thief to pick their jacket out of a laundry.”
          Was I being naïve, gullible—touristic? I did not think so. “Venice has little serious crime, and a very clear sense of honour.”
          “Amongst thieves,” he grumbled, so I slid my arm through his and urged my husband and partner towards the foot-bridge linking the modern world with the timeless city known as la Serenissima.
          This most unlikely of cities grew out of the waters centuries ago, a refuge from chaos following the disintegration of the Roman Empire (another power that kept the trains running, metaphorically speaking).
          Its residents expanded their literal footholds in the lagoon by driving trees down into the mud and perching buildings on top. Before long, its ships ruled—and plundered—the known world.
          In the process, Venice gave rise to an idiosyncratic, oddly democratic, and utterly ruthless system of government. The Doge and his Council were absolute rulers, and yet a constant and precarious balance of power ensured that no one man—or even family—could establish a permanent authority over the others. A Doge’s salary was small, forcing him to maintain his interest in healthy commerce. After a Doge died—and the number of Doges who failed to succumb to natural causes served as a cautionary tale to each successor—his estate was reviewed, and pillaged if there was found any trace of misdoing.
          This inborn system of stalemate proved popular with the Venetians themselves, since it allowed them to carry on the business of business while the government squabbled and bickered and compromised itself into stability. It also, incidentally, laid the groundwork for America’s three governmental branches, designed to frustrate each other into tiny increments of progress.
          For eleven centuries, the Venetian system held—until Europe on the one hand took to the seas and cut out the Venetian middleman, while the Ottomans on the other side grew powerful enough to block the formerly bottomless stream of trade from the East. When Bonaparte passed through Venice in 1797 on his way to a more important enemy, he decided, like any lesser tourist, to ship home his pick of the city’s riches. “I shall be an Attila to the state of Venice,” he thundered. Since the Venetian Navy consisted of but a dozen galleys, its Doge abdicated, and a thousand years of Republic quietly ended.
          Under the Bonaparte régime, La Serenissima lost her independence, her authority, her vast agricultural hinterland, and a great deal of her art. (Most of which, to be honest, had been stolen in the first place.) Stripped and powerless, she was thrown to Austria in the peace accord. But her stones remained. Like many other crossroads of trade—Jerusalem, Cairo, Tokyo—the wealth of the city lay indoors, hidden from passers-by behind inscrutable faces.
          As inscrutable as the faces of the residents.
          “Venetians seem to have a very clear sense of Us and Them,” I mused. “Or rather, Us and You. Anyone who isn’t Venetian is by definition a customer, brought for the express purpose of having money removed from their pockets. But like any people who spread out across the world, they’re not fussy about how people claim residency. If you eat at a restaurant three times, you’re part of the family. If you hire a gondolier for a season, you’re expected to hire him the next time you show up, or God help you.”
          As we walked, as my reflections on Venetian history eventually brought me back to the idea of our luggage sailing off with a clever thief, I felt Holmes glance down at me in growing consternation. Finally, he dropped his arm.
          “Russell, how are you so familiar with this place?”
          It is very seldom that one can achieve superiority over Sherlock Holmes, but I concealed my gloating expression behind a serenity fitting of our locale.


Chapter Twenty-Two
          We were on our balcony at dawn, watching the city creep into existence. Shapes emerged from the darkness, shy, deceptive. Across the San Marco basin, the pale front of Palladio’s San Giorgio took on substance: a domed outline, the tower. Off to my left grew the hump and jumble of trees in the public gardens, their organic shapes foreign in a city where soft referred to marble and lead. The pale curve of the Riva degli Schiavoni described the water’s edge before its route veered towards the Arsenale, that centuries-old ship-yard that had been the base of Venice’s immense power. Venice was full of that kind of invisible pull, with patterns and shapes that only a knowledge of history would explain—and even then, mere explanation was rarely sufficient. It was a city with a feminine face over masculine muscles. Where larch pillars sunk in mud held up palaces of Istrian stone—stone that itself was a product of the sea. A place where one’s main floor was above the ground, where a thousand years of work could be wiped out by a wave, where a city ruler could be felled by an anonymous note or a labourer’s family sleep beneath a Tiepolo fresco.
          Venice begged for metaphor, and at the same time, defied any attempt at reducing it to words, notes, or pigment. For centuries, Venice had fascinated artists of the ineffable, keeping Tintoretto and Titian and Veronese busy with one attempt after another at capturing the essence beneath its surface beauty. The city was a poem one never truly understood, a piece of art that kept pulling the eye. This must be what music was to Holmes: a surface texture that suggested a deeper meaning.
          The island across from me shimmered beneath the growing dawn. I could now see masts from the marina at San Giorgio’s base. Closer in, a gondolier plied his way towards the Grand Canal, and I became aware of his voice, greeting the rising sun with song: “O sole mio . . .”
          And with cliché, the magic shattered and I laughed aloud.

[From Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King,
pub date June 12, 2018]





Island of the Mad
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 15
Bantam, June 12, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 320 Pages

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling series—“the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today” (Lee Child).

With Mrs. Hudson gone from their lives and domestic chaos building, the last thing Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, need is to help an old friend with her mad and missing aunt.

Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, since the loss of her brother and father in the Great War. And although her mental state seemed to be improving, she’s now disappeared after an outing from Bethlem Royal Hospital . . . better known as Bedlam.

Russell wants nothing to do with the case—but she can’t say no. And at least it will get her away from the challenges of housework and back to the familiar business of investigation. To track down the vanished woman, she brings to the fore her deductive instincts and talent for subterfuge—and of course enlists her husband’s legendary prowess. Together, Russell and Holmes travel from the grim confines of Bedlam to the winding canals and sun-drenched Lido cabarets of Venice—only to find the foreboding shadow of Benito Mussolini darkening the fate of a city, an era, and a tormented English lady of privilege.

The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant


The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant


      The following scene from Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant is where Lori first meets Ashbert. She doesn’t yet realise that he’s the man she has accidentally brought to life from a collage that she made as a teenager. We join Lori as she has been baking with her friend Cookie...


      Cookie took the bread out of the oven while I wafted smoke away from the smoke detector in the ceiling. The bread had overcooked a bit while we were putting out the fire, but my stomach still rumbled. The burning smell was unpleasantly sharp and acrid, but it was hard to tell if it was from the bread or the fire in the lounge.
      Cookie tapped the base of the loaf. “You can tell when bread is cooked because it will sound hollow when you do this,” she said.
      It didn’t sound hollow, it sounded dead and solid. I took it off her wordlessly and banged it on the counter to see if it made a better sound, but I was a bit worried that we might shatter the granite.
      “The road of trials is littered with obstacles,” she said with a frown.
      “And rock-hard loaves,” I said.
      “I need to think on this.”
      Cookie took herself into the lounge. I placed the loaf on a plate, found a long, serrated knife and attempted to cut a slice. Five minutes sawing produced a lot of shard-like crumbs but made virtually no impact on the bread. I tried to break the loaf with my hands, but I just wasn’t strong enough.
      Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore.
      I went through to the lounge. It turned out that having a think meant passing out on the settee. A joint burned in Cookie’s right hand and a glass of raki lolled toward the cushions in her left. I tutted slightly and took them off her, keeping them well apart to avoid igniting the powerful spirits.
      I was wondering whether it was worth trying the bread again when I heard a sound. It was a light creak, coming from outside. I crept over to the window and looked out into the rear yard of the building.
      It was a naked man.
      Definitely a man and definitely naked, his body pale and golden in the streetlights from the next road over. And he was coming up the fire escape.
      I went into the kitchen to look out of the window, turning out the lights as I entered to improve my   view of what was outside. Was the naked guy returning to one of the other flats? Why was he naked? In the moments that it took me to get to the kitchen window he’d disappeared. He’d either climbed up to the next floor, gone down to the ground, or entered the building. I swallowed hard as I realised that the most likely explanation for him vanishing so quickly was that he’d entered the building somewhere.
      The lounge window was open. I had left it open. I had stupidly left the lounge window open. Was he inside the flat? This flat? My flat? I crept back to the door to the lounge and put my ear to it. I could definitely hear some sort of movement. I willed myself not to panic, took out my phone, dialled 999 but didn’t yet press the call button. Cookie was asleep in the lounge. If a crazed naked man was in there, she was in danger. It didn’t really cross my mind that it might be a sane naked man. I’m not sure there are such things.
      I risked opening the door a crack.
      Oh, God! He was there! A white and – oh, yeah – definitely naked torso moving slowly across the room.
      I hit the call button and backed away.
      “I think there’s an intruder in my flat,” I said, when I got through. “I mean, I know there’s an intruder in the flat.”
      In a voice that suggested they received naked intruder calls all day long, the operator asked me for the address.
      “Can you get out?” he asked.
      “No, not without going past where they are,” I said.
      “Try to secure yourself or hide,” said the operator.
      “But my friend is in the lounge.”
      “Secure yourself and hide. We’ll be there very shortly.”
      Secure myself and hide? Even if there was somewhere to hide in the kitchen, could I leave Cookie in the clutches of a nude lunatic? Of course not. I crept back to the door and peeked through the gap. The lounge was empty and there was Cookie’s foot poking over the edge of the sofa. I had to go and wake her. But I needed protection.
      I momentarily considered the bread knife but then the headline ‘LOCAL WOMAN SENTENCED TO LIFE FOR UNPROVOKED NUDE STABBING’ flashed through my mind and I thought better of it. A non-lethal bludgeoning weapon would be much better.
Ten seconds later, armed with a rock-hard loaf of bread, I crept into the lounge. No. No naked men lurking in corners. He must have moved on. My limbs shivering with fear, I took hold of Cookie’s knee and tried to shake her awake.
      She gave a small grunt and shifted position.
      “Wake up, damn you,” I hissed.
      There was the sound of something being dropped. The door to the largest bedroom, which opened directly onto the lounge, was open! There! This was an old building with many of the original features, including interior doors with locks and bolts. All I needed to do was to pull the door closed and lock it and the man would be trapped until the police arrived.
      “You can do this,” I told myself.
      I stole quickly across the room and tugged the door shut. The handle rattled from the other side as I turned the key in the lock.
      “You’re trapped now, mofo!” I shouted and turned away from the door.
      And, as I did, I realised I had trapped my onesie in the door. A section of leg material caught in the gap.
      The man started to pound on the door from the other side. I’m not normally one for whimpering but I let out a trembling cry.
      The pounding continued, shaking me with each blow. It was a solid door, but I could hear a splintering sound coming from somewhere. I had to get away. There was only one solution and I had no choice. Down came the zip and I wriggled free. I headed across the room. I hadn’t gone two steps when the door gave way and the man burst through like that man with the axe in that film. You know the one. I turned to him with my only weapon: the remains of the indestructible loaf I let out a primal roar of pure, bear-flattening rage and swung the loaf with all my might at the attacker’s head.
      The bread connected with his head with deadly, bone-shattering force and he dropped like a stone. My arm even ached from the impact.
      Two thoughts collided in my mind: the first was that I’d surely killed him. The second was that he looked familiar. Bizarrely familiar.
      The doorbell rang.
      His face was one I’d seen in the very recent past.
      There was a thump at the door.
      “Police! Open up!”
      In fact, his face was my own creation. Robert Pattinson’s eyes. Ashton Kutcher’s smile. Channing Tatum’s jawline. He was the man from the picture I had made as a teenager. He was teen Lori’s dream man, so very recently cast into the fire.





Snowflake
Authors:  Heide Goody and Iain Grant
Publisher:  Pigeon Park Press, July 20, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  US$12.99 (print); US$4.59 (Kindle eBook)
ISBN:  9780995749764 (print);  ASIN:  B07F3X4XF2 (Kindle eBook)

The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant
Lori Belkin has been dumped. By her parents.

They moved out while she was away on holiday, and now, at the tender age of twenty-five, she's been cruelly forced to stand on her own two feet.

While she's getting to grips with basic adulting, Lori magically brings to life the super-sexy man she created from celebrity photos as a teenager.

Lori learns very quickly that having your ideal man is not as satisfying as it ought to be and that being an adult is far harder than it looks.

Snowflake is a story about prehistoric pets, delinquent donkeys and becoming the person you want to be, not the person everyone else expects you to be.


Melanie's Thoughts

Lori arrives back from her holiday in Crete to discover her parents have moved away without telling her. Now she has to go it alone with only her wits and her brother's luxury flat to keep her safe. Little did she realise that a straw goat, mouldering sausage and a bottle of raki weren't the only things she brought back with her. Lori thought it was just a pretty necklace that she bought in a random store in Crete but it turned out it had the power to bring to inanimate objects to life - like the magazine cut out of her ideal man, a long extinct bug, foxes, and so much more. At the tender age of 25 Lori has some serious 'adulting' to do and there is a lot of trouble she can get into the meantime.

Snowflake by the writing duo of Heide Goody and Iain Grant is another lighthearted romp through the trials and tribulations of being a millennial with a magical necklace. Lori's name should be officially changed to Trouble Belkin because, boy, she gets into enough of it. From almost burning down her brother's flat to chasing a donkey through Ikea Lori has more exploits than the normal 20 something. In fact Lori can barely cross the street without triggering a major disaster. Goody and Grant are experts at getting their characters into ridiculous situations and giving them hilarious lines. One specific scene where Lori and her magically created perfect man Ashbert go to the theatre was very amusing, especially the Iron Man reference. There are a number of English 'in jokes' and I am not sure whether you will get all them if you aren't from the UK but it's worth a go.

This is a very good book if you want a lighthearted read or need to be cheered up. My one tiny criticism is that Lori was a bit too ignorant of almost everything and the number of outrageous situations she got herself into was relentless. I felt a bit exhausted when I got to the end of the book.  I feel this situational 'naivety' worked well with Goody and Grant's former prince of darkness Clovenhoof (funniest books ever!) but with Lori she came across too self-involved and borderline inconsiderate. Some of the jokes make up for Lori's personality quirks so if you are looking for something funny, quite kooky and with a happy ending give Snowflake a go.
The Wounded Ones by G.D. Penman - Excerpt and GiveawayThe Attic Tragedy by J. Ashley-Smith - Excerpt and GiveawayFull Excerpt from Christopher Paolini's To Sleep in a Sea of StarsTo Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini - An ExcerptVelocities: Stories by Kathe Koja - Excerpt and GiveawayOnly Lies Remain by Val Collins - An ExcerptCarpe Glitter Blog Tour - An Excerpt from Carpe Glitter by Cat Rambo (and a Giveaway)Guest Blog by J.S. Breukelaar: Writing Speculative FictionIsland of the Mad by Laurie R. King - ExcerptThe Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant

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