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Book Spotlight: Not Quite So Stories by David S. Atkinson & Enter Giveaway!

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We’re happy to be a part of David S. Atkinson’s NOT QUITE SO STORIES blog tour today! Be sure to enter the giveaway!

Not Quite So Stories

Title: NOT QUITE SO STORIES
Author: David S. Atkinson
Publisher: Literary Wanderlus LLC
Pages: 166
Genre: Absurdist Literary Fiction

The center of Not Quite So Stories is the idea that life is inherently absurd and all people can do is figure out how they will live in the face of that fact. The traditional explanation for the function of myth (including such works as the relatively modern Rudyard Kiping’s Just So Stories) is as an attempt by humans to explain and demystify the world. However, that’s hollow. We may be able to come to terms with small pieces, but existence as a whole is beyond our grasp. Life simply is absurd, ultimately beyond our comprehension, and the best we can do is to just proceed on with our lives. The stories in this collection proceed from this conception, each focusing on a character encountering an absurdity and focusing on how they manage to live with it.

For More Information

  • NOT QUITE SO STORIES is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
  • Watch the book trailer at YouTube.

Book Trailer

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/BcuK0aN4eeI?rel=0

Book Excerpt:

TURNDOWN SERVICE

Margaret’s heels clicked repetitiously on the polished marble floors of Finklebean’s Mortuary. The sharp sound echoed down aisles of metal-faced vaults in the chilled, solemn hallways. Her steps were quick but purposeful, her stride constrained by the tight skirt of her starched navy business dress. An invoice was clutched tightly in her talon-like hand. Someone owed her an explanation…and that debt would be paid.
Catching sight of the plain brown wooden door hidden off in a back hallway bearing a faded Caretaker’s Office sign, Margaret halted, causing her heels to clack loudly on the stone. She pursed her lips as she scrutinized the sign. As if using the white metal sign with flaking black letters as a mirror, she adjusted the smartly coiled chestnut bun of her hair. Then she shoved open the weathered door and marched inside.
“Excuse me,” she called out sternly before looking what the room happened to contain, or even whether it was occupied.
A portly man in old blue coveralls sitting at a rough wooden worktable looked up at her calmly. Long stringy gray hair framed his face around a set of coke bottle eyeglasses perched on the end of his reddened bulbous nose. A metal cart, half full of plastic funeral flower arrangements, was positioned next to the worktable. Individual plastic flowers littered the table surface.
Unlike the somber and silent polished gray marble trimmed in shining brass of the hallway outside, the caretaker’s room felt more like a basement or garage. The walls were cinderblock, unpainted, and the floor was bare concrete. Obviously, the room was not used for professional services.
“My bill is incorrect,” Margaret said, thrusting the invoice out at the frumpy little man between a thumb and forefinger, both with nails bearing a French manicure. “You maintain my grandfather’s plot, but this month’s bill is way over the usual twenty-five sixty-three…nine hundred dollars more to be precise. You may not be the person in charge of this, but you’re who I found.”
The older man quietly looked at her still presenting the invoice even though he had made no move to take it. “Name?”
“Margaret Lane,” Margaret said curtly.
“No,” the caretaker shook his mess of oily old hair. “I won’t remember you. I meant your granddad’s.”
Margaret pursed her lips again. “Winston Lane.”
“Ah, yes.” The heavyset man leaned back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head and cocking out his elbows. His belly pushed on the table slightly, causing loose plastic flowers to roll around on the tabletop. The flowers were separated into piles according to color: red, white, yellow, purple, and orange. “Winston Lane. His is over on hillside four, I believe.”
“I’m sure.” Margaret crossed her arms, still clutching the invoice. “So why do I have a bill for over nine hundred dollars?”
The caretaker hunched forward, setting his chin on a pudgy arm and wrapping a flabby hand around his mouth. “Let’s see…Winston Lane…bigger than normal bill…oh, that’s right!” His face brightened with recollection.
Margaret smugly waited for the expected rationalization to begin, the extras and add-ons designed to take advantage of the gullible grieving. She wouldn’t be so easily manipulated.
“He got an apartment.”
Margaret’s expression cracked.
“That’s what the extra money is,” he pleasantly explained. “It’s to cover the rent.”
Margaret stared, blinking occasionally. A thin purple vein throbbed angrily at the side of her neck.
The man smiled. Then he pushed his round glasses further back up his nose and grabbed one of the plastic funeral arrangements from the cart. It had a block of dense green foam set in a fake bronze vase and various colors of plastic flowers stuck in the foam. The man pulled all the flowers out in a single movement and set each in the respective colored pile on the worktable. Then he placed the vase in a pile of similar vases on the floor.
“You…rented my grandfather an apartment?” Margaret finally asked. “Why?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the older man snorted, dismembering another arrangement. “He rented the apartment, not us.”
Margaret sneered, having recovered her self-possession and indignation. “Sir, my grandfather is deceased.”
“Yep,” the caretaker agreed. He started quickly taking vases from the cart, ripping them apart, and then tossing the materials in the respective sort piles. “Guess he didn’t like the plot he picked out. Maybe it wasn’t roomy enough, I don’t know. Some things like that you just can’t be sure of till you get in a place and stay there a while. Anyway, he must not have liked something about it because he went and got himself that apartment. He wouldn’t have done that if he’d been happy where he was at.”
Margaret stood rigid. The toe of one foot tapped irritably. “How could my grandfather possibly rent an apartment? He’s dead!”
“How couldn’t he?” The caretaker snorted again. “It’s a great apartment. Plenty of light. Nice carpets. Good amount of space. It’s got a nice pool, too. Not that pools make much of a difference to a guy like him, being dead and all. Anyway, take a look; happen to have a photo of the place right here. Can’t rightly remember why.”
The man handed Margaret a bent-up photograph he pulled from a coverall pocket. It depicted a pleasantly-lit living room with vaulted ceilings. Tasteful black leather and chrome furniture was arranged around a delicate glass coffee table. On top of the coffee table sat her grandfather’s mahogany coffin, looking just as stately as it had at her grandfather’s funeral service.
Margaret glowered, unsure what to make of the photograph, noticing after a moment that she was chewing her lip as she ground her teeth. Her brain couldn’t keep up, it was all just too ludicrous for her to grasp. The man sorted more funeral arrangements. “So…you’re telling me that my deceased grandfather rented an apartment. Him, not you.”
“Yep. That’s the long and short of it.” The man jammed the photograph back into his pocket.
“My dead grandfather.”
“Yes’m.” He took the last arrangement off the cart and disposed of it as he had the others. He paused to dust off his hands. Then he grabbed a vase from the floor, jammed a plastic flower inside from each stack, and set the newly arranged arrangement on the cart.
“How could anyone rent my grandfather an apartment!?” Margaret threw up her arms. “He’s dead! The landlord couldn’t do that!”
“Sure they can,” the caretaker countered, paying more attention to the funeral arrangements than Margaret. “The building is zoned for mixed use.”
“Mixed use?! He’s dead!” She wiped her hand down her face slowly, stretching her skin as it went.
“So? He’s residing there. That’s a residential use. Certainly isn’t commercial.” The caretaker accidentally shoved two red plastic flowers in the same vase. Laughing at himself, he ripped them out again and started over.
Margaret stepped back, perhaps wondering if the caretaker was insane as opposed to just conning her. That would explain the photograph.
She crossed her arms loosely and tilted her chin upwards just a little, trying to mentally get a handle on the situation. Her brain felt like an overheated car with no oil in the engine. “I’m sorry, but that’s very distracting,” Margaret commented, pointing at the plastic flower piles on the worktable. “Is there any way that you could stop a moment?”
“Sorry.” The older man shook a thick calloused finger at an old clock on the wall, stopped as far as Margaret could tell. “I got to get this done.”
“But…what exactly are you doing? You’re just taking them apart and putting them back together.”
The rumpled man gestured at the flowers. “Well, people pay us to put these on graves, don’t they?”
“Right…”
“They come from a factory, don’t they? Someone paying someone else to bring something a machine made? I don’t think much of that. My way, there’s at least some thought in it.”
Margaret did not respond. Instead, she watched the man fill up the cart again. The arrangements looked exactly the same as before.
“Anyway,” the caretaker went on, “don’t you owe your granddad?”
“Pardon me?” Margaret puffed out her chest.
“Sure,” the man said, peering up at her through the finger-smudged lenses of his glasses. “He said when he bought the plot that you were going to take care of it and he was going to leave you money to keep going to school. He thought you should start working, but helped you out since you were going to mind his spot.”
Margaret swallowed, ruining her attempt to look indignant. A few beads of sweat gathered at her temples.
“You figure you’ve done enough?” The man had his head held low, hiding the tiny smirk on his face.
Margaret’s eyes widened. Her arms hung limply at her sides and her shoulders slumped. “But…”
“Hey, that’s between you two. I just take care of things like I’m paid to. If he wants his plot, I do that. If he wants a two-bedroom palace, I do that instead.”
Margaret absentmindedly twisted an old, ornate gold ring on her finger. Suddenly, her eyes narrowed as if the light in the dim room had gotten brighter. The meticulously squared corners of her mind twisted and stretched deliciously. “That’s right…it was a deal.”
“Come again?”
“I agreed to have his plot cared for.”
“And?”
“Well…” Her lips slipped into a pointed grin. “I pay you a fixed monthly amount to care for that plot. Apparently this apartment is his plot now, so the rent should be part of your monthly care. I expect you to take care of it accordingly. After all, caring for his plot is caring for his plot.”
“Now see here–”
“Regardless, I can’t help but think,” she went on, “that it reflects poorly on your services if grandfather isn’t happy with his plot, not mine.”
The caretaker gawked at Margaret, his mouth hanging loose. “Is that what you think now?” The older man finally growled.
“It is,” she responded with a saccharine tone, “and I expect that all future bills will be for the correct amount.”
“Hmph,” he huffed, settling back into his chair. “Wonder what your granddad would say about that.”
Margaret smirked. “You’re welcome to go and ask him, if you think it will get you anywhere.

About the Author

David S. Atkinson

David S. Atkinson is the author of “Not Quite so Stories” (“Literary Wanderlust” 2016), “The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes” (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor), and “Bones Buried in the Dirt” (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in “Bartleby Snopes,” “Grey Sparrow Journal,” “Atticus Review,” and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.

For More Information

David S. Atkinson is giving away one paperback copy each – BONES BURIED IN THE DIRT & THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL PANCAKES!

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • Two winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive either BONES BURIED IN THE DIRT or THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL PANCAKES
  • This giveaway begins March 1 and ends on May 27
  • Winners will be contacted via email on May 29.
  • Winners have 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

 

 

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First Chapter Reveal: The Bipolar Millionaire by John E. Wade II

The Bipolar MillionaireTitle: The Bipolar Millionaire
Author: John E. Wade II
Publisher: Sunbury Press
Pages: 164
Genre: Memoir

John E. Wade II, retired CPA, author, investor, television producer, and philanthropist, reveals in his memoir, The Bipolar Millionaire, his personal struggle with bipolar disorder and how he has succeeded in living a balanced and blessed life, despite his mental illness.

Wade takes the reader through his family experiences, political aspirations and beliefs, spiritual journey, relationship trials and errors, all while battling mental illness.

Through his religious beliefs, personal perseverance, and the help of friends, family, and his mental health professionals, Wade lives an active, creative, and successful life.

His memoir doesn’t end with contentment at achieving a balance in his life, however. Instead, Wade expresses a determined vision for the future, aiming to assist humanity in what he describes as achieving heaven on earth through his writing, political and spiritual endeavors.

For More Information

Chapter One

I was struggling and dropped into a walk from the jog required of fourth classmen. It was an autumn day in 1963, just a month after I’d had a near-fatal attack of meningitis, and I was still fighting to regain my strength. Panting for breath, I was confronted by a first classman. He asked very directly why I wasn’t jogging. I quickly replied that I had a medical excuse, knowing full well that the excuse had expired. He ordered me to produce the excuse, which I did. Noting its date, he nonetheless allowed me to proceed.

Soon, I was in the academy hospital, lying flat on my back in an almost catatonic state, unable to cope with my mental torment. Although this severe depression, the first in my life, was not diagnosed at the time, it must have been my first bipolar episode, possibly having been triggered by the recent attack of meningitis.

My mother and Carol, my then-girlfriend, came to try to revive me, but I don’t remember responding. Years later, Carol told me that I asked her to help me kill myself, but I have absolutely no memory of making such a request.

Until this illness I had been a model cadet. I had prepared physically according to academy guidelines, so the transition to basic cadet summer was rigorous but easier than it would have been without vigorous training.

One other thing that helped me during basic cadet summer was the stream of daily letters from Carol. My fellow cadets were jealous, partly because of the letters, but also because of the picture of her I had in my room. Even though it was black and white, it was clear that she had blond hair, a sweet smile, and a pleasing, pretty face. That face helped me get through the rest of what we all had to endure to complete our training.

Each week we were given certain “knowledge” to learn, such as types of aircraft or chains of command. I always spent part of Sunday afternoon memorizing the information so that I could recite it during Monday’s meals. The upperclassmen pointedly asked several questions of each basic cadet, which kept us from finishing our entire meal. The first classmen took turns performing the interrogation, but as the questions were considerably shorter than the answers, they always had plenty of time to eat. I always felt I was short-changed because I was the only one who knew the trivia from the first day it was due, and yet I didn’t get a chance to eat more than the other basic cadets.

At the end of basic cadet summer, all the cadets were subjected to a physical fitness test, and I scored the highest in my squadron. At about the same time, we also went on a survival exercise in the mountains for which we were organized into small groups with twenty-four hours’ worth of food and about a week’s time to find our way back to the academy. The experience was particularly taxing for me. I became so obsessed with saving my food that I still had some left when we got back to the academy.

After the final tests, those of us who successfully completed basic cadet summer became fourth classmen. My personal excitement was not long lasting, however. Although I had scored high marks on the physical tests, I was disappointed with my first academic grades, which included some Bs, as I was used to all As in high school. When I asked a first classman for his opinion, he said I did just fine considering that I came from a weak high school.

Basic cadet summer had ended—then the meningitis hit. I’ve since read that physical illness can trigger the onset of bipolar disorder, and although the diagnosis was not made at that time, I believe that is what had happened. My father eventually was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder also, so it appears that I was genetically predisposed to the condition, as is often the case.

I had entered the academy in June 1963, and I received an honorable medical discharge that December; whether I was right or wrong, I considered the situation a great disgrace. It was definitely a life-defining event for me, and I was overcome with depression.

But, there was another aspect to my failure at the Air Force Academy that I didn’t disclose to anyone else until years later: part of the reason I attended the academy was that I had presidential ambitions, which I knew would be shattered by the stigma of mental illness. I internalized and brooded over that stigma for the next forty years.

To make matters even worse, when I finally got home I also lost my girlfriend.

It was quite a shock to me and had a negative effect on my confidence with the women I would date for most of the rest of my life.

I have often wondered what would have happened had I not had the meningitis and bipolar episode. What aspects of my life would have been altered? It’s a haunting possibility to consider.

Still, even though the realization of some of my dreams has eluded me, I have had and am having an interesting, fulfilling life in spite of bipolar disorder, and I invite you to understand its role as I work toward what I believe is my destiny.

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MURDER FOR ME COVER REVEAL

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Pump Up Your Book is pleased to bring you Russel Little’s MURDER FOR ME Cover Reveal! Please stop at the blogs who will be hosting him on May 13!

Murder for Me

Inside the Book

Title: MURDER FOR ME
Author: Russell Little
Publisher: Independent
Genre: Psycho-Thriller

Larry Lamb is a mediocre attorney. His last client committed suicide.

Larry Lamb is a mediocre husband. His wife divorced him because she thinks he’s crazy.

But Larry Lamb’s luck is about to turn around. Oil tycoon Don Stonek needs an attorney good enough to be convincing—but bad enough to lose his case.

Stonek’s wife Ava is the victim of multiple murder attempts, and his lover Marilyn is a suspect. Stonek offers Lamb a six-figure retainer to represent Marilyn, and Lamb accepts, with a secret plan to dump the case and keep the money.

But Marilyn has a certain power of persuasion, and the meeting leaves Larry convinced he must please her every desire. She also tugs at a part of him he prefers to keep locked away deep inside—a part of him that’s desperate for release.

Book Excerpt:

The trees surrounding the clearing looked like jungle to him, and he inhaled the smell of cut grass and heavy tree pollen through his cigarette smoke. This was way better than the stacked old garbage smell in the beaten-down park up the street from Colinas. The trash cans were empty here, and they had black plastic bags on them. Alex never saw that before, park cans with trash bags; these people were treated right.

He flicked his butt at the trash can again as he watched a wuss in blue sweats slowly run into the clearing, look at Alex and the butt as it hit the grass, and speed up as he passed by. Alex laughed at it, the thought of a man giving up sleep to run in a park. “Dumbass,” he thought. He was glad the pussy hurried, and he hoped the guy got far enough away before he popped the bitch.

He had to stay ready. Once he shot her, he’d get some breakfast tacos. There’s a truck a couple of blocks from his room that he bought tacos from late at night. They were good, too, especially the green salsa they made, and he wondered if they were open this early. Of course they were. He hoped that guy was far enough away. He checked the time on his phone again. He’d waited too long for the bitch, and he worried he’d missed her. He might go to Colinas after lunch for a beer to celebrate. He’d have some money coming in so they’d probably give him credit; they’d have to since he’d already spent everything she’d advanced him. If he did this woman well enough, he might get some of Miss Melody, too, and stop having to call her that Miss shit.

A blond woman with headphones ran past him. Who was that? He panicked. Was that her? Blond chick, like in the picture—it had to be. He jumped off the table, jerked his gun out of his pants, and ran after her.

Meet the Author

Russell Little

About the Author

Russell G. Little is a writer and practicing divorce attorney. Murder for Me is a fictionalized compilation of the many people he’s encountered over his lifetime and thirty-two-year career.

He lives in Houston, Texas, with his wife of thirty-two years, Melinda.

Visit Russell Little’s website.

Connect with Russell on Facebook and Twitter.

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Book Spotlight: Dark Money by Larry D. Thompson

Dark MoneyTitle: DARK MONEY
Author: Larry D. Thompson
Publisher: Story Merchant Books
Pages: 420
Genre: Legal Thriller

DARK MONEY is a thriller, a mystery and an expose’ of the corruption of money in politics.

Jackson Bryant, the millionaire plaintiff lawyer who turned to pro bono work in Dead Peasants, is caught up in the collision of money and politics when he receives a call from his old army buddy, Walt Frazier. Walt needs his assistance in evaluating security for Texas Governor Rob Lardner at a Halloween costume fundraiser thrown by one of the nation’s richest Republican billionaires at his mansion in Fort Worth.

Miriam Van Zandt is the best marksman among The Alamo Defenders, an anti-government militia group in West Texas. She attends the fund raiser dressed as a cat burglar—wounds the governor and murders the host’s brother, another Republican billionaire. She is shot in the leg but manages to escape.

Jack is appointed special prosecutor and must call on the Texas DPS SWAT team to track Van Zandt and attack the Alamo Defenders’ compound in a lonely part of West Texas. Van Zandt’s father, founder of the Defenders, is killed in the attack and Miriam is left in a coma. The authorities declare victory and close the case—but Jack knows better. The person behind the Halloween massacre has yet to be caught. When Walt and the protective detail are sued by the fund raiser host and the widow of the dead man, Jack follows the dark money of political contributions from the Cayman Islands to Washington to Eastern Europe, New York and New Orleans to track the real killer and absolve his friend and the Protective Detail of responsibility for the massacre.

For More Information

  • Dark Money is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Dark Money teaser

Book Excerpt:

Jack Bryant turned his old red Dodge Ram pickup into the driveway of the Greek revival mansion at the end of the cul-de-sac in Westover Hills, an exclusive neighborhood in Fort Worth. He was amused to see Halloween ghosts and goblins hanging from the two enormous live oaks that fronted the house. The driveway led to wrought iron gates that permitted entry to the back. A heavy set Hispanic man with a Poncho Villa mustache in a security guard uniform stood beside the driveway near the gates, clipboard in hand. He was unarmed.

Jack stopped beside him and lowered his window. “Afternoon, officer. Fine autumn day, isn’t it?”

The guard sized up the old pick-up and the man wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. “You here to make a delivery?”

Jack reached into his left rear pocket and retrieved his wallet from which he extracted a laminated card. “No, sir. Name’s Jackson Douglas Bryant. I’m a lawyer and a Tarrant County Reserve Deputy. My friend, Walter Frazier, is part of the Governor’s Protective Detail. Said Governor Lardner is attending some big shindig here tomorrow night and asked me to lend a hand in checking the place out before he hits town. My name

should be on that clipboard.”

The guard took the card, studied it closely and handed it back to Jack. He flipped to the second page. “There it is. Let me open the gates. Park down at the end of the driveway. You’ll see another wall with a gate. Walk on through and you’ll find your way to the ballroom where the party’s being held tomorrow. I’ll radio Sergeant Frazier to let him know you’re on your way.”

The gates silently opened, and Jack drove slowly to the back, admiring the house and grounds. The house had to be half a football field in length. Giant arched windows were spaced every ten feet with smaller ones above, apparently illuminating the second floor. To Jack’s right was an eight foot wall. First security issue. Not very hard to figure out a way to scale it. Fortunately, cameras and lights were mounted on fifteen foot poles that appeared to blanket the area.

Jack parked where he was directed and climbed from his truck. Before shutting the door, he took his cane from behind the driver’s seat. He flexed his left knee. It felt pretty good. He might not even need the cane. Still, he usually carried it since he never knew when he might take a step and have it buckle under him. Better to carry the cane than to fall on his ass.

He found himself in front of another wall. He was studying it when Walt came through the gate. Walt was ten years his junior, six feet, two inches of solid muscle. He bounded across the driveway to greet Jack. They first shook hands and then bear-hugged each other like the old army buddies that they were.

Walt pulled back and looked at Jack. “Damn, it’s good to see you. Been, what, about three years since you were in Austin for some lawyer meeting?”

“Could have been four. I think I was practicing in Beaumont then.”

“Still carrying the cane. That injury at the barracks causing you more problems?”

“No worse, not any better. Every once in a while the damn knee gives out with no warning. I may have to put an artificial one in some day. Meantime, the cane does just fine. I’ve got a collection of about twenty of them in an old whiskey barrel beside the back door of my house. This one is my Bubba Stick. Picked it up at a service station a while back.”

Walt’s voice dropped to just above a whisper. “Follow me into the garden. There are some tables there. We can sit for a few minutes while I explain what’s coming down.”

They walked through the gate. Beyond it was a garden, obviously tended by loving hands. Cobblestone paths wound their way through fall plantings of Yellow Copper Canyon Daises, Fall Aster, Apricot-colored Angel’s Trumpet, Mexican Marigold and

the like. Walt led the way to a wrought iron table beside a fish pond with a fountain in the middle, spraying water from the mouth of a cherub’s statue. The two friends settled into chairs, facing the pond.

“This is what the help call the little garden. In a minute we’ll go around the house to the big garden and pool that fronts the ballroom. You know whose house this is?”

“No idea.”

“Belongs to Oscar Hale. He and his brother, Edward, are the two richest men in Fort Worth. Their daddy was one of the old Texas wildcatters. The two brothers were worth a few hundred million each, mainly from some old oil holdings down in South Texas and out around Midland. Life must have been pretty good.

Then it got better about ten years ago when the oil boys started fracking and horizontal drilling. Counting proven reserves still in the ground, word is they’re worth eighty billion, well, maybe just a little less now that we have an oil glut.”

“Edward still around?”

One of the servers in the kitchen had seen the two men and brought two bottles of water on a silver tray.

“Thanks…Sorry, I forgot your name.”

“Sarah Jane, Walt. My pleasure. Let me know if you need anything else.”

Walt took a sip from his bottle as Sarah Jane returned to the house. “Yeah. His legal residence is still in Fort Worth, and I understand he and his wife vote in this precinct, only they really live in New York City. He always kept an apartment there. When the oil money started gushing, he upgraded to a twenty room penthouse that I hear overlooks Central Park. He’s big in the arts scene up there, opera, ballet, you name it. He’s also building the Hale Museum of Fine Art here in Fort Worth.”

Jack nodded his head. “Okay, I know who you’re talking about. My girlfriend is thrilled about another museum in Fort Worth. She’s into that kind of thing. When I moved here, she took me to every damn one of them. The western art in the Amon Carter museum was really all that interested me. So, the Hales play with the big boys, and the governor’s coming. From what I read, Governor Lardner travels all over the world. Never seems to have a problem. What’s the big deal here?”

About the Author

Larry D. ThompsonLarry D. Thompson was first a trial lawyer. He tried more than 300 cases throughout Texas, winning in excess of 95% of them. When his youngest son graduated from college, he decided to write his first novel. Since his mother was an English teacher and his brother, Thomas Thompson, had been a best-selling author, it seemed the natural thing to do.

Larry writes about what he knows best…lawyers, courtrooms and trials. The legal thriller is his genre. DARK MONEY is his fifth story and the second in the Jack Bryant series.

Larry and his wife, Vicki, call Houston home and spend their summers on a mountain top in Vail, Colorado. He has two daughters, two sons and four grandchildren.

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First Chapter Reveal: Wild Within by Christine Hartmann & Giveaway!

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Wild WithinTitle: WILD WITHIN
Author: Christine Hartmann
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Pages:
Genre: Romantic Suspense

A year after a family tragedy, Grace Mori embarks on the journey of a lifetime…

Two thousand, six hundred miles of blistering heat, wilderness, and soul searching—that’s what Grace signed up for when she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s not a voyage for beginners, but with no husband and her family still recovering from her bother’s death, Grace is more alone than ever.

This trail meant something to her brother, and she’ll hike it in his memory, but she can’t do it alone. So with her brother’s gear and a small group, Grace takes the most important first steps of her life.

Grace finds something more than peace and magic on the trail…

When her first day of hiking ends in heat stroke, Grace is rescued by a handsome, red-haired hiker who calls himself Lone Star. Grace has an immediate connection with him, and their brief encounter leaves her fearing her soul mate has slipped through her fingers. Although he vows to keep in touch, Grace doubts she’ll ever see him again.

When fears become reality, the only people Grace can rely on may be killers…

Grace is surprised to find notes left at supply posts along the trail. Lone Star’s eloquent letters keep Grace going, clinging to the hope she’ll find him—and happiness—at the end of her journey. But as the trail becomes more perilous, menace grows within the group. And when Lone Star’s letters mysteriously stop coming, Grace fears the worst.

As tensions flare and a killer emerges, Grace must battle to survive…and reunite with the man she’s sure is her future.

For More Information

  • Wild Within is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

Early morning sun scorched the grimy car hood and forced its way through the window to burn Grace’s bare arms. She fidgeted as she watched the arid plane of sagebrush and light brown dust roll past. The landscape differed completely from the grassy hills, eucalyptus trees, and fog around her native San Francisco. Occasional yucca plants shouldered their way between low scraggly bushes with more branches than leaves. Small boulders peppered the area, looking like enormous grey cottage cheese curds among rolling, sere hills.

This countryside puts the wild in wilderness.

The car bounced past dry pastures and scruffy woods.

Maybe I should have spent more time reading those trail guides?

A glimpse of the Mexican border made her sit up straight.

Who cares? I’m here.

Grace bounced in her seat with excitement.

This is it.

Grace and her friend Celine were the only people at the five square wooden posts that marked the southern terminus of the 2,665-mile Pacific Crest Trail, a route leading from Mexico to Canada. A few yards away, wind forced its way through the steel border fence like the sound of screeching tires. Celine snapped a few pictures as Grace removed the spiral hiker register from its protective metal box. On the first empty page she wrote: Kenji, you’re with me.

She signed with more bravado than she actually felt.

Grace spurted back to the car. “I want to get going.” But her backpack, resting in the backseat, was in less of a hurry. She coaxed it onto her shoulders with much grunting and straining and stood, slightly bent, for one final snapshot.

“I’ve never lifted anything this heavy. What was I thinking? It’s not a trip to Macy’s where I can throw all the heavy stuff into the trunk.”

“You were thinking you might need some supplies.” Celine surveyed her. “Because you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere. For months.”

“Thanks for the reminder.” Grace straightened with effort. “I’ve been waiting almost a year for this. They say your pack gets lighter as you get used to it. So where’s the trail?”

Celine shrugged. Grace searched the monotonous sand and brush.

“I’ve got the map on my cell.”

But the phone wouldn’t turn on. Grace depressed the controls repeatedly. The screen remained as black as its case.

Come on. My paper maps are buried in my pack.

She took a mental inventory of what lay above them: a one-person tent, a sleeping bag and mat, a wide-brimmed sun hat, extra socks, the head of a toothbrush, all-weather matches, a travel-size deodorant stick, her mother’s homemade rice cakes, and Kenji’s apartment key fastened with a twist tie to the zipper of a first aid kit. The idea of spreading everything out at the base of the monument made her ill.

She pushed more buttons.

Don’t die now.

The screen flickered. She fiddled more and the contrast increased.

“Typical me.” Her hands shook a little as she pinched the trail map to zoom in on her location. “I turned down the brightness last night to save energy. For a second there, I thought I was going to faint. That would’ve made a good Facebook post. Grace Mori’s one second thru-hike of the PCT.”

Celine grinned and poked Grace’s arm. “It’s good to get all the mistakes out of the way at the beginning. Now try to make it through the rest of the day without any more.”

Grace stepped into the sparse brush.

“I already miss you as much as I miss your brother,” Celine called after her. But the wind whipped away her words.

On the trail, Grace’s pent up excitement gave wings to her hiking shoes. They floated across baked earth that meandered through scrub and around boulders. She raced securely down descents and sailed up ascents.

This is so easy.

She covered the next two miles in under an hour. Her initial destination was Lake Morena County Park, eighteen miles away. But her thoughts were of the Canadian border.

Twenty miles a day, for the next four months, before the northern mountains become impassable with snow. In this heat, that idea feels like a mirage.

She looked at her watch.

Nine thirty. Ten more hours of daylight. So I’ll get to Lake Morena with time to spare.

At first, the white circle rising in a cloudless blue seemed a happy part of the scenery. But bit by bit, the sun blazed an ever fiercer hole in the sky. Her short black hair melted into her head and burned her fingers when she touched it.

I should never have given up lightening my hair. Apparently blondes do have more fun, even in the desert.

Her legs pistoned in long strides that searched for cover. But nothing afforded shade.

A tree. A bush. A houseplant, for goodness sake. I’ll take anything.

The trail eventually crossed a highway and meandered through a grove of cottonwood trees. There, Grace slung off her pack, dropped beside it, and dug through her gear.

She squashed a cream-colored hat onto her sweaty brow. Her parched lips drained a water bottle. A rough trunk supported her back.

My shoulders ache. My feet hurt. And this pack weighs a ton. Why did I throw in everything I thought might come in handy? Pre-moistened body wipes? Am I really going to need those out here?

The previous night, she and Celine had discussed her strategy. “I read somewhere a person hiking in direct sun needs at least a gallon of water for every ten miles.” Grace laid out her water containers on the hotel bed. “But one gallon weighs eight pounds. I’ve got a two-gallon collapsible water container and two one-liter bottles. Do you think I should fill them all? That’s close to twenty extra pounds.”

“I think you should follow the rules.”

“That’s a lot of extra weight.” Grace hefted a container from the hotel sink. “Maybe I’ll fill two bottles and leave my larger container partially empty. I’ll drink a lot before I start. And Hauser Creek is on the trail. I can get more water there.”

Celine pursed her lips contemplatively and tossed an empty bottle to Grace. “What if there’s no water in the creek?”

“Then they wouldn’t call it a creek.” Grace chucked the bottle back at her. “It’ll be fine. Like I said, I’ll hydrate like crazy before we set out.”

In the morning, after a brief rest under cottonwoods, Grace continued her hike. She chased lazy clouds in search of shade. They vaporized before she reached them.

Why did I wear pants?

She longed for the hiking skirt in her pack. Then the trail narrowed, and waist-high chaparral brush clung and tore as she battled through. Rough, aggressive limbs and thick, unforgiving leaves pulled at her hiking poles. Grace held them above her head, unable to see her feet. After five minutes of struggle, she reached the other side. Her face dripped with sweat. She looked down.

I love you, pants.

Grace drained her second water bottle as she climbed. At the top of the hill, she paused. Perspiration dripped into her eyes and mouth, but she was too hot to care. In the distance, the border wall and Mexican mountains were still clearly visible. She thought of fishing out her phone for a picture.

Too much effort.

The path leveled out. Her pace slowed. The heat irritated her.

I should have had my hat on from the beginning. Why didn’t I start hiking earlier in the day? Where the heck is Hauser Creek? I need more water.

She wiped a hot tear from her cheek.

What a mess. But there’s no point in crying. Come on Grace.

Grace was the kind of person who prided herself on being someone people could count on. When her mother’s first attempt at baked Alaska set the kitchen window curtains aflame, teenage Grace doused the inferno in chocolate syrup, then helped her mother take down the gooey mess.

“People in Alaska originally lived in igloos. They probably didn’t have window curtains.” She wiped the counter with a Lysol-soaked dishrag. “Some desserts don’t translate well across climate zones.”

As an adult, Grace volunteered her services as a psychologist for the Friday overnight shift at the Berkeley women’s crisis hotline. There, she comforted agonized rape victims, beaten girlfriends, and conflicted housewives with a sympathetic ear, sensible advice, and a list of referrals she’d personally vetted.

“You’re ready to move out? Don’t forget to take his Rolex. He owes you big time.”

And when tragedy struck her family a year ago, it was Grace who negotiated with the funeral home and the florist. Phoned relatives in San Diego, New Brunswick, and Tokyo. Late at night, in bed alone, she lay exhausted but sleepless.

“How am I going to get through this by myself?”

That blistering day on the trail, she began to lose faith. The merciless, prodding sun became her enemy. It evaporated her enthusiasm, diminished her stamina, and gnawed at her judgment. Her feet dragged along the sandy path without any of their initial eagerness. She refilled her water bottles from the large container in her pack and ignored the voice that told her she would soon run out of fluids.

After another mile, the trail merged with a Jeep road. In the distance, Grace saw a disappearing cloud of dust.

That was a car. I could have asked them for a ride. Maybe they had air conditioning. Some extra water. Maybe they were on their way back to San Diego and would have taken me to a hotel. I could have started the trail again in a few days, when it’s cooler.

She checked the phone’s GPS. Four miles to Hauser Creek.

I’ll make it if I ration my water.

By the time the trail dove into Hauser Canyon’s shaded grove of oaks and sycamores, Grace hated the sun more than she’d ever hated anything. She squinted at the wooded valley. But the only hint that a creek had ever flowed across the parched land was a strip of slightly darker sand meandering through a pile of rocks. Grace’s knees wobbled.

Even in the shade, sweat poured down her face.

It’s past noon. I should eat.

She felt nauseous. Her head pulsed like molten lava in a live volcano crater.

I need to rest.

Her shoulders shrugged out of the pack straps and she sank to the ground. Before thinking better of it, she drank the rest of her water. A small Japanese folding fan, the parting gift from her sister, offered some relief. The hot desert air drew out the fan’s sandalwood scent. The breeze evaporated her perspiration.

She kicked off her shoes and socks, then changed into her skirt. But after thirty minutes of inertia, sweat still dripped from her chin. Sitting made her dizzy, so she lay down. The violent sun tortured her through the leaves, shafts branding her face and body like flames.

I need more water. Have to keep going. A road’s not far ahead. If I lie down in the middle, somebody will find me.

But the idea of crawling out of the partial shade into the glaring sun was too much.

Bees droned near her head.

What’s that? Airplane? Maybe they can see me down here. Call in a rescue.

Her mind drifted up, into the sparse tree branches. It hung there briefly. Then ascended into the smoldering, cloudless sky.

Later, another idea broke through her confusion.

I’m going to die. On my first day on the trail. Kind of a waste. All this equipment. All that money. Geez, I could have spent it on those cell phone-operated blinds for the living room instead. There was that coupon in the Saturday clipper magazine…

Her tongue ran along dry lips.

Hmm. I’m licking a lizard. I wonder if he’ll lick back.

Then Grace thought of nothing.

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First Chapter Reveal: Am I Going To Be Okay? by Debra Whittam

Am I Going to Be OkayTitle: Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storm of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief
Author: Debra Whittam
Publisher: Turning Point International
Pages: 253
Genre: Memoir/Women’s Psychology/Applied Psychology

Am I Going To Be Okay? is an American story with a universal message. Ms. Whittam traces her history in the form of stories about her all too human, and sometimes unhinged family; she throws a rope to the little girl living there, and in adulthood, is able to pull her out to safety, bit by bit.

Her history is peopled with folks from a different time, a time before therapy was acceptable, 12 steps unimaginable and harsh words, backhands and even harsher silences can be spun to appear almost normal. She writes of a mother who would not or could not initiate love nor give it without condition, and a father, damn near heroic at times, abusive at others, a survivor with his head down and his sleeves rolled up.

Ms. Whittam approaches her past with the clear-eyed tough but sensitive objectivity necessary to untangle the shame from the source. She speaks of the people that affected her life so deeply with an understanding of their time and place in American culture; a family not far removed from immigrant roots when men carried their own water, emoted misplaced anger, and with fresh socks and food found on the trail, were confident, unflinching and at that same time tragical- ly failing to the little ones they ignored.

Like many of us, details notwithstanding, Whittam responded by numbing, running and gunning. Alcohol gave her hope, soothed a crushed soul for a time and wrecked her on a train, until finally she had the courage to accept it wasn’t working for her anymore. It was time to stop drinking and take inventory and accountability. It was time to accept, forgive and move forward. She healed where she was broken.

It is in the telling of this story that Whittam teaches us the difference between just surviving and surviving well, the importance of shared introspection and a careful eye on the wake we leave behind in our actions. Her story is a guide to surviving abuse and addiction. It is also about witnessing and dealing with the shrinking faculties of aging parents in the unavoidable circle of life. Finally, she offers a realistic sense of hope, forgiveness and a life we can shake hands with.

For More Information

  • Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering the Storm of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Chapter One

The Driving Lesson

“Am I going to be okay?” It was the summer before I started kindergarten. I had just turned five that June and was sitting in the back seat of our neighbor’s 1961 Buick listening as Gladys tried to teach Mom how to drive. Mom was crying and struggling with the stick shift attempting to drive down a long, lonely stretch of road aptly named Thousand Acre Road. We were about a mile from our house just outside of our village of Delanson, New York, but it seemed as though we were in the middle of nowhere. “Am I going to be okay?” It was the first time I remember hearing those words. It would not be the last.

Mom was 4’ 11”, weighed 105 lbs. and was petrified of being in that driver’s seat. She needed to sit on two large phone books to see over the steering wheel and to reach the pedals even though the long, bench type front seat was pulled as far forward as possible. Gladys, who was a large German woman, was pressed up against the dashboard and now was more ornery than normal. Mom was begging Gladys to stop the driving lessons. She didn’t want to do it anymore.

Gladys was a part-time nurse at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady and had very little patience. I can’t imagine how she became the choice to teach Mom how to drive but here we were idling on this dirt road waiting for something to happen. Mom continued shaking and crying each time she stalled the car, trying unsuccessfully to get it into first gear. Gladys firmly commanded her to stop crying, let out the clutch, push on the gas, and “drive the goddamn car!” This only caused Mom to escalate into a higher level of panic. She looked over her shoulder at me with tear-filled eyes, pleading for help, “Debbie, am I going to be okay?”

“Yes, Mom,” I said in the most reassuring voice my five-year-old self could come up with. “Isn’t this fun?”

“Oh, for Christ sake, Judy,” Gladys bellowed from the passenger side, “Let your foot off the clutch, push on the goddamn gas and drive!” She didn’t want to remain in that car much longer either. I took in the tension of that scene, wanting to be as calm, clear-headed, and loving as I could be. I knew Gladys’ harsh ways wouldn’t work. Interestingly, most people Mom was surrounded by were like Gladys – Dad, my aunts and uncles, and friends – all impatient with her fears of everything.

“Mom, you are going to be okay,” I encouraged her as I repeatedly jumped up from my seat and leaned over the long, hard ridge along the back of her seat. My stomach ached from balancing on it so I could show her the gears and pedals. There were no seat belts in those days so I was free to see and be a part of the drama unfolding before me.

Mom was in her early twenties when I was born. At this point, five years later, she realized if we waited for my father to drive us anywhere, like to the movies to see Disney’s Cinderella, it wasn’t going to happen. Dad had far more important things to do. He felt his time would be wasted doing something as silly as a movie. She and I were on our own to see the “magical world of Disney” or any of the rest of the world at all. She had never wanted to drive, ever. I remember thinking if I could drive at the age of five, it would’ve been fine with her. Mom’s desire to get out of town for the 25-mile drive to Schenectady motivated her to overcome her anxieties get off the sofa and learn to drive. We were both excited to plan a trip to “the city” for a movie at Proctors theater with lunch at Carl’s Department Store afterward. It was a very high society thing to do back then. Plus what motivated Mom most was my aunts could all drive, and she wanted to keep up with what they were doing.

It was second nature for me, even that early on, to reassure her that everything was going to be okay. The reality was, with Mom at the wheel, we were not okay at all. I was sure from my perch balancing on my stomach that I had a far better view of the road than she did.

Mom was peaceful, calm and content only when she was lying on her right side on the left corner of the sofa. Any plans or action much more than that could cause her anxieties to rise dramatically, sometimes even bringing her to the point of blanking out.

It took every kind of fortitude for Mom to stay in the car and attempt again and again to make it move forward. Her anxieties were equal to a commander of a shuttle about to blast off . This car was way too much for Mom, and she wanted to be at home on her sofa.

Gladys had been our next-door neighbor for three years now, ever since we moved into the three-bedroom ranch home my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles worked hard to build in 1959. She had talked Mom off the ledge many times before this. Once, I got my finger stuck in the front screen door of our house. Mom screamed and ran to Gladys’ house, leaving me stuck in the door. Left there to fend for myself, a pattern that followed throughout my life, I had a twinge of panic that she just might not come back. I jiggled the handle of the metal door and finally got my finger out by myself.

I was crying when Mom and Gladys found me sitting on the front porch sucking on my finger. I wasn’t as upset about the pain of my smashed finger as I was scared and needed my Mom. As the two of them walked across the grass between our houses, there was no more panic in Mom’s eyes. They were giggling and looked like there was some inside joke. Mom looked at me and said, “Oh stop crying. You’re fine.”

She and Gladys went inside the house as I sat there on the cold cement, confused. That didn’t seem very nice. I needed someone to tell ME that everything was going to be okay. I still wanted to be taken care of. It was ever so subtle but the message was clear. It was almost as though I had done something wrong. Shame and subtle ridicule was the sound of Mom’s reassurance. Most problems I encountered in my young life, either physically or emotionally, were either because I had done something wrong, or there was something wrong with me. Those were the choices. Let the ridicule begin.

Cheryl Huber, a Buddhist monk who has a monastery in Northern California, travels sharing experiences of how to meditate, and has written a wonderful, easy-to-read book aptly titled, “There is Nothing Wrong With You.” In this book, she begins with a litany of assaults which many of us heard from our early years that remain with us, intruding on a daily basis, such as: “What is wrong with you? Didn’t I just tell you not to do that? Don’t look at me that way! Stop crying! You are so dumb! Why didn’t you already know that? Who doesn’t know this?” This speaks to our inner self-hate monitor which was at the beginning of a time that we can’t really pinpoint and seems to have no end. It is the time when our self-image, our core beliefs, are planted, nurtured and bear fruit in our anxieties, addictions, and actions.

However, back on that day of the driving lesson, I took in every look on Mom’s face as she struggled through the hell of those moments. Here she was trembling with fear behind the wheel of this monster moving vehicle and enduring being bellowed at by Gladys. “Can we just go home?” she asked. She was finished for the day!

From an early age, I was intensely aware of her every worry, every fear. It became a normal part of my life. I took in every look on Mom’s face, every choking catch in her throat. I wanted to rescue her, help her, and make her fears go away. I wanted to make her happy. Years later, I had more of a love/hate relationship with that part of her, but at the time, her survival was my main concern.

I kept reassuring her, “Mom it’s going to be okay – just let go of that pedal thing, push on that pedal over there and the stick thingy does an H. First, go up on the top – on that side of the H.” I pointed to where she needed to have her hands and feet to make the car move and not stall. I had paid close attention to Dad when he tried to teach Mom to drive many times before. In Dad’s car, Mom needed three phone books and chunks of wood taped to the pedals in order to see over the steering wheel. Dad wouldn’t let her move the seat forward. He refused to be smashed up against the dashboard. My guess is Gladys took over those lessons when things with Dad didn’t go so well. But, at least, I learned. He was my role model for everything, like being strong, courageous and powerful. I wanted to be just like him.

I watched how he did most everything and I still have many of his mannerisms and sayings today. “Shit or get off the pot” is one. It flows right off the tongue. So, in that car with Gladys, it was now my turn to help Mom…to be the one who saved her with kindness and patience. She paid attention to me when I did that.

“Yes, Mom, you are going to be okay.” It was exhausting work to reassure her since these emotional upheavals happened often. I don’t remember hearing her say those things back to me. But, she must have.

Finally, figuring there was no other way out of this mess, Mom shored up the courage from somewhere, managed to push on something right, and the car moved forward without stalling. I softly said, “Yea, Mom!” She turned to look at me, and her body relaxed just a little bit. I was relieved to see her less terrified. Mom was going to be okay, and I was, too.

Mom smiled with pride as she continued driving 20 miles an hour down the road. Then, Gladys said, “Jesus Christ, Judy, you need a five-year-old to get you to push on the goddamn gas.”

Mom did eventually learn how to drive and passed her driver’s test after two attempts. The one and only time she ever got drunk was at the celebration party the neighbors gave her the following weekend. It was as though there was a collective, “ Thank God, the driving lessons are over.”

Mom and Gladys remained good friends until Gladys passed away in 1999 from Multiple Sclerosis. Mom visited her often through her last years bringing baked goods and helping Gladys as best she could, and as much as Gladys would allow.

Mom never touched a cigarette to her own lips denouncing Dad’s smoking as a filthy habit. Yet, she held many a cigarette up to Gladys’ lips when Gladys could no longer maneuver her fingers on her own. These two women were always there to support one another.

Mom continually asked whoever would listen in any given situation, “Am I going to be okay?” It bothered the hell out of all of us. However, when I was that young, being able to help my Mom feel better was one of the first thrills of my life. It was gratifying to hear her say, “Oh, Debbie, thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you!” In that moment, she needed me.

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First Chapter Reveal: Mirror World by John Calicchia

Mirror WorldTitle: Mirror World
Author: John Calicchia
Publisher: Psychangel Books
Pages: 404
Genre: YA Fantasy

What would you do if you saw the future apocalypse of the world in a mirror? Would you try to save the world and those you love, or die trying?

Welcome to my life, this is the vision of the future I’ve been cursed to see. – Cailyssa Larkin

When Cailyssa Larkin looks in a mirror she has an ominous feeling that someone is watching her. Stranger still, she has visions that foretell the future. While visiting her Uncle Spencer, Cailyssa gazes into a mirror and sees a dark future that only she can change. With the future of her own world hanging in the balance, Cailyssa bravely enters the portal to the Mirror World. Here, the Dark Lord controls all the mirrors and bends reflections so all creatures see evil within themselves. With her sister Terry, her mysterious best friend Daemon, and a host of weird and wonderful creatures, Cailyssa embarks on an epic quest to overcome the evil forces trying to destroy her world. She can only defeat the Dark Lord by finding her true self and discovering the family secret that has led her to Mirror World.

This book, written by a psychology professor, integrates famous psychological studies in the story. Readers will enjoy learning important life lessons through the psychological concepts illustrated in the book.

For More Information

  • Mirror World is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

 

Chapter 1: Trouble in the Morning

OK, calm down. You can’t smash it into a million pieces without cutting yourself, and then you’ll really be in trouble.

“I hate you, I hate you, and I hate you!” I hissed at my reflection in the mirror. “Why do you always have to give me a hard time?”

I stood in front of my bedroom mirror, unable to move, transfixed by the image that stared back at me. It really freaked me out. It looked like me—but it wasn’t me. There was just something wrong with it. Was I going crazy? I found it difficult to move. A tap on my shoulder made me jump, and I shivered as I looked away from the mirror.

“Caught ya lookin’ in the mirror!” My little sister said as she danced happily behind me smiling broadly. “Hey, Lyss, no uniforms today at school, remember? Can I borrow your green headband? It will make a perfect match to my awesome shirt.” Terry paused and tilted her head to the side. “Lyssa, you all right? You look like crap.”

“Terry, thanks a lot, not everybody can look like you in the morning.”

Terry was a freak of nature and an amazing athlete. She had piercing blue eyes, the most gorgeous, silky red hair, and perfect skin that never needed a drop of makeup. Every morning she ran a brush through her hair, quickly washed her face, and she was ready to go.

“Lyssa, you know I think you’re gorgeous. The only reason I said you look like crap is because of your eyes. Were you crying?” Terry said softly as she warmly placed both her hands on my shoulders. “C’mon, you can tell me. I heard you yelling at the mirror when I walked in. When you do that I always know it’s ’cause you’re scared or worried. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” I said, glumly shaking my head back and forth. “Remember I told you the strange feelings I get sometimes when I look in the mirror: like it’s not me or that maybe someone is—I know this sounds crazy—looking at me?”

“Yeah, Lyssa, I remember. Just the other day I had the feeling that somebody was staring at me, and sure enough, when I turned around, it was creepy Randle from the back of math class. Isn’t it weird how you so know somebody is staring at you? But really, Lyssa, the mirror?”

“Yes, Terry. But here’s the thing—and promise not to tell anybody; you’re the only person I’ve ever told about this. It’s getting worse. A lot worse! Before you came in the room, I couldn’t move away from looking at the mirror. Am I going crazy?” I covered my face with my hands, determined not to let Terry see me on the verge of tears.

“Listen, big sister, you are definitely not going crazy! You must just be stressed out. You need to take some time for yourself. All you ever do is look out for your friends and try to help everybody. You have the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met, and I think at times you need to be a bit more selfish. Take care of yourself too!” Terry said as I stood up and gave her a hug.

The problem with hugging my little sister was that she started out soft, and then she always tried to squeeze the stuffing out of you, to make it funny at the end. She let go of me before I exploded and spun around so fast that her ponytail lightly brushed across my chin. It made me laugh. Before she left my room, she paused at the door, spun around, and smiled. Her fingers pointed toward me, thumbs up, in what she called her six-gun position.

“Hey, Cailyssa, I forgot to show you the cool slogans I added to the front of my volleyball shirt!” Terry slid across the room and quickly opened her jacket to display her shirt. “Block This” was written in all caps across the front of her shirt with a fat marker, and “You Wish You Could Hit Like a Girl” was on the back. I laughed harder this time.

“Hey, Lyssa, we need to talk more about this mirror thing. You and I! After school! Froyo at our favorite place…yogurt beach!” Terry said as she ran down the stairs to catch breakfast before school.

Terry was just what I needed this morning. She came into my room, listened to me complain, and wrapped an enormous bubble of happiness around me—just like she does to everyone. I wish some days I could be more like that. Why do I often feel like I have the weight of the world on top of me?

“Honey, stop talking to yourself. You’re going to be late for school. Come down and eat breakfast. I made pancakes and don’t have time to drive you if you miss the bus.” That was my father talking. The sound of his voice and the thought of a hot breakfast relaxed me, but I still wanted to take my hairbrush and give the mirror in front of me one good smack! Caught up in a whirlpool of thoughts, I headed downstairs for breakfast.

“Good morning, honey,” my mother said. “You look great today! Is that a new outfit?”

Silence.

“Lyssa, I said you look great today. Didn’t you hear me?”

I was about to make a sarcastic reply, but I bit my tongue just in time. It wasn’t my mom’s fault that I was in a conflicted mood today. She was just trying to be positive and lift my spirits when it must have been obvious to everyone that I wasn’t too cheerful.

“Uh, yeah, mom. It’s a new outfit.” There was no use commenting on the part about looking great; we both knew that wasn’t true today! “Mom, I just want to eat breakfast and go to school, please.”

I was still worried about the mirror thing, and I really didn’t want to talk or listen to my parents this morning.

My father looked at me with a raised eyebrow, recognized it was best not to disturb the peace, and quietly said, “Your mom’s right; you look great today.”

“Thanks, but I really don’t want to talk this morning,” I grumbled. I gave them both a hug and then decided to bury my face in pancakes and bacon. Isn’t it amazing what food can do? I ate, felt a little better, did a quick mental checklist that everything I needed was in my backpack, and headed for the front door.

Then I saw it in front of me. It was like a vision from heaven. It was golden, it was sweet, and it had the most incredible smell. I couldn’t resist. I ran toward it, wrapping my arms around it, and buried my nose in the softest, most perfect spot imaginable.

“You are the best dog in the whole world, Cali,” I said, nuzzling the fur of my golden-retriever puppy.

She looked at me with adorable chocolate-brown eyes that shone like pools of endless love. Her happiness to see me spread into my body, and all of a sudden, I felt how much I loved this furry critter. The only thing better than getting love and attention from one dog is getting it from two dogs.

“I love you, too, Bentley,” I said as my Bernese mountain dog plowed into me, knocking me over in his excitement to see me. Dogs are proof that God loves us, I said to myself.

Both dogs attacked me with a love fest of licking, sniffing, and snuggling. It was simply the best feeling in the whole world. With dog-infused love, I quickly hugged my mom and dad good-bye and went out to wait for the bus with my kid sister, Terry. Usually I drove to school, but my car was in for repairs, so that meant we had to catch the bus. “Please,” I thought to myself, “please don’t let Billy be on the bus.”

The feelings of elation I had felt a few moments ago with Cali and Bentley evaporated immediately as the bus pulled to a stop.

A sick feeling crept into my stomach as I saw the side of Billy’s face in the window. Reluctantly, and with an odd feeling of premonition, I walked onto the bus and made my way to an empty seat. No sooner had I sat down than I heard the most disgusting sound in the universe.

“Here’s Kissa Larkin, stuck on the bus. Where is your boyfriend, Daemon?” Billy Bloomfield yelled as he stood up.

“Billy, just leave me alone today. I don’t feel like dealing with you! BTW my name’s Cailyssa, pronounced K-lyssa, not Kissa.” I said it as politely as I could, but underneath I was seething, and I deliberately avoided any eye contact.

“What’s the matter, Kissa, you too good to talk to the rest of us, or do you miss your boyfriend?” Billy taunted as he made a kissing face to the rest of the bus and finished with an obnoxious burp that seemed to last for minutes and vibrate every window on the bus.

Billy was one of the worst bullies in the entire school, and most people were afraid of him. Not me. First of all, we used to be friends before he became a bully. And I especially dislike boys who like to bully people in front of a crowd to make themselves feel good. Oh yeah, I hate when he calls me stupid names like Kissa. As Billy was still laughing about his own stupid joke, I saw him actually pick his nose and wipe it on the seat in front of me. He continued to laugh, and his chins were shaking up and down as the spittle flew out of his mouth.

I looked across the aisle and saw my little sister’s hands ball up into fists. That could mean only one thing.

“Billy, why don’t you shut up and eat some of the jelly doughnut that you dropped on the front of your shirt,” my little sister howled.

Now let me tell you, my sister has a pair of lungs and can out scream a crowd at a Patriots game. So the entire bus turned around and looked at Billy’s shirt. Sure enough, right in the middle was a huge splat of jelly and a trail of crumbs from the doughnut that had fallen from his mouth.

“Shut up, you little pimple, before I squash you,” Billy yelled back.

Of course he didn’t do anything. Although my sister was a couple of years younger, she had that if-looks-could-kill face on, and Billy sure didn’t want to risk getting his butt kicked by a girl. My sister, Terry, was pretty much not scared of anything, especially Billy Bloomfield. Terry’s nickname was Tink because her favorite hat had a picture of Tinker Bell on it. The hat said “Don’t even Tink about it!” Not many kids could get away with wearing that hat at her age, but the hat was a perfect description of my sister’s personality. You don’t mess with Terry or Tink! Nobody ever gave her a hard time about the hat—or about anything else for that matter. Everyone loved my sister. She was totally out there—smart, athletic, bold, loyal—and had so many friends. She’s so different from me, I thought as I looked at her.

When Billy turned to yell at my sister, the squashed blob of doughnut on his shirt became visible for the whole bus to see. Half the bus started yelling and pointing to the doughnut on Billy’s semiwhite T-shirt. When Billy realized he had become the brunt of everybody’s humor, his face turned bright red, and his whole huge body trembled with embarrassment and anger.

“Thanks for doing that, Tink, but I don’t need your help,” I said to Terry.

“I couldn’t help it! When I saw him making fun of you, I wanted to punch him so bad.” My sister tried her best to whisper this; of course Terry’s voice is completely incapable of whispering, and everyone around us heard and began to giggle. Billy was too busy trying to clean the doughnut off his shirt to hear what we were saying.

I whispered, “Let’s just leave Billy alone. If he gets too upset, he might just explode here on the bus and splatter us with the food and the disgusting things that are in his stomach.”

We both laughed, and I looked down at my little sister, thinking how much I loved that she stood up for me. The bus finally arrived at school, and I made sure to get out of my seat quickly before Billy could block the aisle. Believe me, you don’t stand close behind Billy Bloomfield’s butt—unless you are able to hold your breath for a very long time.

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