Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Blog Tour: The Healer by J.L. Bowen

Buy the book: Amazon US

Story: Thirteen-year-old Armond Costa heals in three days, no matter what abuse his uncle and aunt inflict upon him. On his fourteenth birthday, he sprouts wings and discovers his aunt and uncle had lied to him. He's the lost Golden Demon's Healer. His father, King of the Golden Demons, insists he return with him and save his people from being persecuted by their mortal enemies, the Dark Demons. Now, Armond must choose between the Ellis brothers and seventeen-year-old Rusty Owens -- the only family he's ever known -- or condemn the Golden Demons to extinction.

Thoughts and impressions: Though intrigued by the concept behind the book, I have to admit that I found the first third-to-half of this book fairly hard going. This is due to the fact that things felt a bit all over the place, which resulted in me having a hard time building up a clear picture in my head of the events taking place. By the second half, it felt like the author had found her voice and her focus and I was able to settle into the story much better. This obviously resulted in me enjoying the story much more!

There were certain things that worked in this story’s favour, such: as a very well-drawn main character who was far from perfect; the fact that the author was not afraid to put her character through the ringer in such a way that you rarely see in fiction aimed at teens / YA; the struggle with burgeoning sexuality and having to face the question of whether homosexual urges are natural and acceptable.

There were other things that worked against it, such as: a plethora of characters who are all named but often don’t play a pivotal role. I’m a big fan of the rule of not introducing a character if you can make the story work without them – the human brain just can’t juggle that many names and it’s very frustrating to read about “John” and “Peter” doing something that puts a big question mark on their motives when I can’t even remember who “John” and “Peter” are! What´s more, the character descriptions were often fairly generic. All the characters seemed to look the same.

 Beyond this, there’s also the fact that the struggle with sexuality was made redundant by the introduction of a love-at-first-sight (kill it with fire!!) very plain Jane female character who had nothing really special going for her when the male romantic interest had been built up so well.

Despite a rocky start, I came to enjoy the characters and world built up in The Healer and will be looking for more by this author.

Style: Some big problems in the first half of the book that would occasionally drag me out of my reading zone.

Final verdict: All in all, the story fairly comes out at a balance of the bad versus the good. For each bad point, there’s a good point to counter it.

Get a sneak peek:

Chapter One

I grabbed the wobbly banister and climbed the stairs two at a time to the attic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Uncle stretched out his flabby arms and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I arched my back. My hands clenched the chains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Inside, I screamed with agony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Janet, shut up.”

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

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

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

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

Immortality? What the hell is he talking about?

Aunt stared at me. “So, now what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I exhaled and relaxed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No kidding.”

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

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

“Okay, this will sting a bit.”

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

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

“What time is it?”

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

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

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

“Actually, she wants to kill me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That sucks.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Peter shrugged. “So?”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eeww, get it off me,” she said.

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

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

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

I groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Useless, stupid, ability.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Blog Tour & Giveaway - The Grimm Chronicles by Isabella Fontaine & Ken Brosky

Buy the book: Amazon US ; Barnes & Noble

I adore fairy tale retellings! As in, when I discover books that are based on fairy tales, it's very rare that I will ever pass them up, even if they look like they'll be a far cry from what I'd normally read. The Grimm Chronicles immediately caught my attention and it was soon on my TBR list. Fairy tales and a strong female heroine? Yes please!

Story200 years ago, the Brothers Grimm unleashed their stories upon the world. Literally. Now the characters of the Grimms’ stories walk among us. With every day that passes, they grow more evil. They are the Corrupted, and only a hero can stop them. 

For 18-year-old Alice Goodenough, that means taking precious time off from her summer vacation. In addition to volunteering at the local library, Alice must stop the Corrupted who are now actively hunting her down. With the help of her magic pen and her trusty rabbit friend, the world has suddenly gotten a lot more complex. The Corrupted are everywhere, and only Alice can see them for what they truly are. 

This book contains the first 3 episodes of the critically acclaimed series: Episode 1: Prince Charming Must Die! 
Episode 2: Happily Never After 
Episode 3: Revenge of the Castle Cats 

Additional features for the print edition: 
- An introduction 
- Two special “Lost Diaries” 
- A behind-the-scenes interview 
- A collection of original Grimms’ Fairy Tales 

The Grimm Chronicles is intended for Young Adults aged 13 and up. The goal is to provide Young Adult readers with a strong, charismatic young woman in the role of the hero and provide readers with a positive protagonist who uses her brain to overcome obstacles life throws in her way.

Thoughts and impressionsFairy tales are very popular right now, from retellings of the classics (Alex Finn’s books) to fantastical spins that leave the story a far cry from the original (Throne of Glass). They’re all over TV and cinema as well, with Grimm, Once Upon a Time, a new version of Beauty and the Beast lined up for this fall, the recent Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White (the Julia Roberts version), and Jack the Giant Killer coming soon.

Most of us are fairly well aware of the existence of most of the fairy tales just due to general culture. I know that I personally read a few of them when I was young (the few that are appropriate for that age group) but I haven’t read the originals since then. It’s something that I always mean to rectify but never seem to get around to doing.

With this book we have the first of four eventual volumes comprised of three tales each. They’re centred around one character, Alison Goodenough (have to admit that I’m not a fan of the name, mind), who is living the original Grimm fairy tales, warped slightly by events that transpire in the beginning and our modern society. There’s a white rabbit mixed into it all, which I wasn’t as keen on because a) it felt at times that he was used as an easy way of wrapping up the situation, and b) the white rabbit belongs to Alice in Wonderland, and as far as I am aware there is no talking white rabbit in the fairy tales written by the brothers Grimm.

Despite this little niggle, I enjoyed this book a lot. A very nice touch was that the Grimm’s fairy tales used in this are listed so it’d be fairly easy to go and find the original should you wish to compare it with this new spin on events. I personally won’t be doing that as I don’t have the time to do so right now, but it’s a great added extra for anyone who would be interested in making their own comparison.

The whole aim of this series was to have a new take on the fairy tale events in such a way that would allow a strong female character to rise to the forefront of events. This was a success and Alison Goodenough turned out to be an enjoyable character to follow through her adventures. I’m interested in seeing where the authors will take things from here!

Final verdict: I'm always interested in fairy tale retellings and I vastly enjoyed what the authors did with these tales from the Brothers Grimm. 4 stars

Get a sneak peek:

Chapter one: Prince Charming Must Die!

I should have known Edward was too good to be true.

No. Wait. Let me go back to the beginning. Before I had this curse. Before I went around slaying creatures that shouldn’t exist. Before I made friends with a rabbit.

Let’s start at the end of my junior year of high school. That was when all of this really started. I was looking forward to summer. I didn’t have a job but I had something even better: a volunteer spot at the local library. It was the best job in the world—sure, I mostly just put away all of the books and no, I wasn’t getting paid. But I loved being inside that old building. From the outside, it looked like a big old firehouse complete with rusty red bricks a rusted fire escape on one side. All it needed was one of those big garage doors for the fire truck.

Inside, though … that was where it all happened. When you walked in through the front door, you passed the little check-out desk where one of the old librarians would give a smile. Beyond that: rows and rows of old metal bookcases. Fiction. History. Biography. Science. In the center of the massive space was a circular table with five computers, the only hint of technology in the entire place.

Even the light bulbs were old! I’m not kidding—the lights hanging from the tiled ceiling had old steel shades, something out of the nineteenth century. It was a good thing the library closed before it got dark because without sunlight streaming in through the windows, the place might take on a much creepier tone.
But in the daylight, it just looked neat. On the second floor were more bookcases, mostly children’s books and young adult books, but there was a reading room up there, too. I remember going there as a child and sitting on the red carpet of the reading room and following along as one of the librarians read one of the children’s novels. My dad sat outside, reading Star Trek books.

I remember the first time I “graduated” to the first floor. I chose a science book about extinct animals from long ago. I’d been enraptured by a drawing on the first page where a long-extinct saber-toothed tiger was battling a ferocious lion. I just knew the tiger had won because tigers are the greatest.

I remember that time because I’d almost gone into the basement. The basement door was near the bathrooms and I’d opened the door by mistake. A cool breeze had touched my skin. It was so dark that I squinted, trying to make something out. Anything. But it was too dark, and it gave little 13-year-old me the chills.

The basement. If only I’d known what was waiting for me down there.

Needless to say, I was ready for exam week to be over. Even my last class of the day—hardly a class at all—couldn’t keep me entertained. Fencing. Where other girls chose basic gym because the rules for roller skating and badminton were relaxed enough to allow casual gossip, I’d made the choice to fence with six other guys—including my boyfriend Edward—and a girl named Tina who was on the verge of failing.
“You have to attack,” I told her midway through class. She’d lost twice already during the week and we were being graded on our form. Tina didn’t have form. Tina had nothing more than an amazing ability to swing her sword—called a “foil”—left and right as fast as possible and delay the inevitable.

“I can’t attack,” she told me, shifting in the chair. We were in a small weight training room off of the gym. In front of us, two of the other students were fencing in full gear, their shoes squeaking on the red rubber mats. “The boys are stronger.”

“Oh gawd,” I muttered. “Look,” I pointed to the two boys fighting. They were both wearing white uniforms but one of the helmets had an A printed on the back and the other a B so our teacher—Mr. Whitmann—could communicate the scores.

“What am I looking at?” Tina asked.

“Watch Gregg,” I said. “He’s the A. Watch him parry. See how he always uses the same riposte? He loves stabbing after he parries.” We watched them attack and parry again, the thin blades of their fencing swords clanging together. Gregg took two steps back, parrying his opponent’s attacks. When the time was right, he took the offensive, stabbing wildly at his opponent’s ribs. “Just watch their shoulders,” I told Tina.

Mr. Whitmann called an end to the fight and tallied up the scores. Gregg was the surefire winner.

“He’s too good,” Tina moaned. “All these swords just blur my vision. I can’t even see them coming!”

“Just focus,” I said. “We’re not losing to a bunch of stinky boys. Gregg doesn’t even wear deodorant, for crying out loud.”

“Alice,” Mr. Whitmann said, wrinkling his black mustache. “You can’t keep quiet sitting there? You’re up. Gregg, you stay on.”

I grabbed the B mask and foil from the quiet boy who’d just been creamed by Gregg. I adjusted the plastic chest protector underneath my jacket, much to the chagrin of the boys seat at the edge of the mat. Edward simply smiled, giving me a thumbs-up. I have to admit, he looked pretty good sitting there. He was one of the few guys who could wear the bulky fencing gear with any grace, like he was actually comfortable underneath all the padding.

“En guard,” Mr. Whitmann called out. I barely had time to get a grip on the foil before Gregg came crashing at me with all the grace of a football player. I parried his thrusts; the clang of the swords was almost lost inside the mask but not quite and I relished it. I loved this moment. I loved the salty smell of sweat inside the mask. I loved the way the world seemed dark and closed-in from behind the black mesh.
And I loved winning. Especially against boys bigger than me. And as Gregg came in again, I parried low, pulling his foil downward, taking a quick step back and then a quick step forward and thrusting the foil into his chest. The tip of my sword pressed into the protective jacket and the narrow blade bent in a U-shape.

“Point,” Mr. Whitmann called out. “Parry-riposte from the right. Good job, young lady.”

“Can you sound more surprised?” I muttered inside the mask. Mr. Whitmann was a small, portly man with jet-black hair and hairy arms. He favored the boys; that much was obvious. And he loved Edward. Everyone loved Edward. From the very day he transferred to Washington High School, he was universally loved.

Gregg came at me again, this time swinging his sword even more violently. I parried as best I could, stepping away from him. He didn’t even have his free hand behind his back, and if our foils weren’t dulled at the tip I could have nicked the skin of his bare hand. He left me another opening and I took it, stabbing him in the rib.

“Point B,” Mr. Whitmann said. “Excellent job, Alice.”

Gregg stepped back, tearing off his mask in frustration. I took mine off and pulled loose strands of black hair behind my ears. I glanced at Edward, who was sitting with the other boys, smiling approvingly.

Later, at the end of the day, he sidled up to me at my locker. “Do you need help with your books?” Students had begun sifting out; the only ones lingering were the select few who needed a few extra minutes to fill our backpacks with notes and textbooks. Our school was like that: a lot of slackers. Kids who preferred C’s because it allowed more time to watch awful TV shows. Exam week was even worse because some students only had one or two classes—plus gym—and then could leave.

I spun around and wrapped my arms around him, planting a kiss on his lips. He had soft, full lips, perfect for smooching. “We’re waiting for Tricia and Seth. I told them you would give them a ride home. Is that OK?”

He smiled, holding me close. “Of course. Will you spend some time with me tonight?”

How could I say no? Edward was dreamy. Edward was everything a 17-year-old girl wanted: dark looks, chiseled body, searching green eyes, short brown hair, and of course an earring to top it all off. That isn’t to say the earring was the deal-maker—more of a cherry on top of a tasty sundae.

A really, really tasty sundae.

I’d met him in a strange sort of way. Well, strange in retrospect. At the time, it couldn’t have been more exciting. I’d been at the park down by Lake Michigan with a couple friends right before school started. They’d gone rollerblading and so I took to the opportunity to knock down a few chapters of a new fiction novel, lying back on a bench. My eyes slowly shut.

When I woke up, he was standing over me. In all his hunky glory. Wearing a tight blue button-down shirt. He was looking down at me like he wanted to kiss me. Yeah.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just noticed that something is about to flitter out of your purse.”

I glanced down at my black purse sitting on the grass next to the bench. He was right: a little slip of paper was hanging out, fluttering in the wind. “Flitter,” I repeated with a smile. “I like the sound of that word.”
“It used to be quite a popular word,” he said, crouching down beside me. He was regarding me ... really, really staring into my eyes. “Royalty used it for a long time. And then when the peasants started using it, the royalty stopped. Weird, no?”

I laughed. “Do you always walk up to girls and tell them about the history of words?”

He laughed, too, glancing at the piece of paper still flittering as the breeze picked up again. “No, no. I don’t know where that came from. I’m usually much more awkward.”

I felt incredibly calm around him, calm enough to sit up and hold out a hand. “I’m Alice.”

“Edward,” he said, taking my hand in his. “So what is it?” he asked, nodding to the paper. “I bet it’s a shopping list.”

“That’s so goofy!” I said with a laugh. “I hate shopping. My mom shops for me.” I winced. Stupid, stupid. “I mean, I shop for myself. Sometimes. It’s just a note to myself. It says Alice, please remember to return your book to the library.”

“Ah, a library denizen,” he said. “Do you go to the downtown library?”

“No,” I said. “I live out by New Berlin. There’s a little library right by my house.”

“So you go to Washington High, then?”

I nodded.

“I’m starting there this year,” he said. “I’m a little nervous. I transferred from out of state.”

“Just keep a list of weird words handy,” I offered.

He smiled. We talked some more. I don’t remember what we talked about because my head was swimming with excitement.

He came up to me the first day of class. We were leaving English, having been assigned a section of Jane Eyre, one of my favorite classic novels. Just walking through the crowded hall, I could see eyes on me in every direction. That never happened before. But now here the mysterious new guy was talking to little old me, telling me about his original copy of Jane Eyre that he wanted to show me, but only if I agreed to let him take me out to dinner.

That Friday night, the first Friday of the school year, we had our first date in a crowded dark little restaurant in downtown Milwaukee that featured $25 plates and whose walls were covered with old paintings. I thought I was going to die. Being there with him. Eating food my parents would be jealous of. Staring at the plastic-wrapped original copy of Jane Eyre, with “An Autobiography” in small text underneath the title.

Tricia and Seth met us at the entrance to the school. Tricia was wearing heels today, which made her an inch or two taller than Seth. They were both wearing their Washington Dragons t-shirts to show a little school spirit: the girls’ basketball team—the “Lady Dragons”—had won the state championships again. Seth looked younger with such a large shirt on. He was already short, and his boyish pimpled face and short blond hair didn’t help things. He’d gotten an ear pierced a year ago but it had become infected and he had to take it out … just Seth’s luck.

“That really doesn’t do much for your figure,” I said to Tricia with a smile. I turned to Seth. “Yours either, dear.”

Seth just shrugged. “They were out of small sizes.”

“I got mine for free,” Tricia said proudly. She tossed her blond hair over her shoulders. “The cheerleaders were throwing t-shirts into the stands at the last home game.”

Seth jerked a thumb in her direction. “Trish reached over an old lady’s head and tore it out of her hands.”
“I did not!” Tricia said, slapping him lightly on the arm. This could have been the beginning of a long, drawn-out fight. That was how they were. It was the complete opposite of Edward and me: we never fought. I didn’t want to deal with their fight today. I didn’t want either of them preoccupied before our biology final on Thursday. The only sensible course was a diversion.

“Are those the jeans we picked out last week?” I asked.

Tricia lifted up her too-long shirt, extending one leg. “Indeed they are. Acid wash is going to make a comeback, I swear it.”

Edward and Seth both laughed a little. “She’s probably right,” Edward said. “Every style eventually makes a comeback.”

“Yeah but is she going to live that long?” Seth asked with a raised eyebrow.

Another playful slap. But this time, he caught her hand and held it. A good sign that they would stay on good terms and at least try to get some studying done tonight. I didn’t want either of them to fail.

We walked toward Edward’s car on the far end of the parking lot. Nothing but the best for Edward: a great car and a great parking space. Only the upper-class kids had parking spaces in the little lot behind Washington High. The rest of us peasants parked on the streets in the surrounding neighborhood, generally upsetting the owners of the one-story boxes who liked their street quiet and devoid of teenagers.

“You think it’s gonna rain?” Seth asked, glancing up at the gray sky. “I’m so sick of the rain. I gotta start biking to work to save money on gas.”

Tricia wrapped her arm in his. “It’s going to rain every day you have to work. All summer.”

“That’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to him,” I told her with a laugh. Edward’s hand found mine and squeezed it tight. I felt a little surge of warmth spread across my body. I looked up at him. He was a foot taller than me, a good six inches taller than Tricia and she was five-ten. He could have been on the basketball team. I told him that. He would always respond: “I’d rather spend time with you.”

Dreamy, eh?

In the car, Seth sat up front and controlled the radio dial with calculated fury, making sure we were never tortured by any commercials. Edward had one of the nicest cars but he drove in control and always used his turn signals, even as he was pulling out of the parking lot.

“You’re such a weirdo,” Tricia told him when he made a complete stop before pulling out of the parking lot. “Not even one squealed tire? Really?”

He laughed and gave a little shrug, turning on the wipers as a small sprinkling of rain started up. “I like to be safe. It’s a nice car, if you haven’t noticed. With some nice ladies inside, too.”

“Where?” Seth asked, looking around.

I kicked the passenger’s seat. “Be good.”

“I bet if we were wearing low-cut blouses he’d be nicer,” Tricia said with a smile. We were on 85th street now, heading away from the city of Milwaukee and toward the little suburb of New Berlin. “Remember two years ago when we didn’t have chests? I don’t even think Seth ever even talked to me in the hall.”
“I never talked to anyone in the hall,” Seth muttered. “Especially girls without chests.”

“I bet I’d still have talked to Alice,” Edward said, glancing at me in the mirror. His dark eyes narrowed deviously.

“Probably not,” I told him.

Tricia laughed. “Yeah Eddie, she really wasn’t much to look at when she was a frosh. See how straight her dark hair is now? It used to be much frizzier. I had to teach her how to use hairspray. And this face? Zits. Tons and tons of zits. She needed a lot of help.”

“It’s true,” I murmured. I’d smoothed out some of the rough edges over the past two years. My skin was clearer (although I didn’t tan well) and I’d filled into a slight hourglass shape. My bright brown eyes seemed brighter now than when I was younger—or maybe I’d just gotten used to them. I used to hate them. Now, I loved how they complimented my indigo-friendly wardrobe.

“Every high school student needs a lot of help,” Edward said with a smile. “Me included.”

“Yeah I think one of your pecks is smaller than the other,” Seth said, giving Edward a poke in the ribs. Edward flinched, smiling, but said nothing.

Suddenly he braked, forcing my body against the seat belt. I looked out the windshield and saw the car of Joey Harrington pass us.

“What an ass,” Tricia said. “Who passes someone on a residential street?”

“Joey Harrington,” the rest of us said at the same time. Joey lived in our neighborhood, too. He kept to his clique of popular students inside the lunchroom and played football and hockey. He didn’t talk to us, but he didn’t pick on us either. We were the in-betweens—not quite popular, not quite outcasts who were the target of bullies. But we had friends in the outcast cliques, and so Joey and his friends’ taunts affected us too.

After Edward started dating me and word had spread, Joey was even nice to me in the hallway. Not overly nice, mind you … but he’d say hi. And it was hard not to enjoy it.

“You should cut him off,” Tricia said.

“I’d love nothing more,” Edward responded. “But not today.”

“Not today,” Seth scoffed. “You always say that. You’ve got, like, the coolest head in the school. And I mean that in a bad way, dude.”

“Yeah,” said Trish, “what happens when you get caught in some drama? You’ll have to take a side. Joey and his friends and those cool girls are obsessed with making drama.”

Edward just shrugged. It didn’t get to him. At least, I don’t think it did. He was cool. He looked cool—calm, I mean. His short dark hair and square jaw made him look like someone out of an old black-and-white detective film, one of those guys who’s always thinking one step ahead.

As we headed farther west, the houses and properties began to spread out. No more small boxy World War II-era homes … now, everything was getting bigger. Bigger homes. Bigger front yards. Bigger cars. We passed Southridge Mall, and then our rival high school. The street widened into four lanes to accommodate more traffic.

Edward turned right at Cherokee Drive, weaving around bends in the street. The houses in this small patch of neighborhood were crowded with pine and maple trees. Everything was green. Summer was here.
“Your stop, my friends,” Edward said, pulling into the driveway of a long two-story house with brown siding and wide windows overlooking the road. This was Seth’s house. You couldn’t see it from the front road, but in the back yard was one of the most amazing swing sets out there, complete with a climbing tower and monkey bars. As kids, Seth and I had logged hundreds of hours on that jungle gym.

Tricia opened her door, then reached out and grabbed Edward’s shoulder. “So you’ll pick us up tomorrow, right?”

He laughed. “I promise.”

“Please,” she said. She turned to me. “Don’t either of you forget. I can’t miss that exam.”

“You need to focus on passing the exam,” I told her sternly.

“I will.” She smiled her pearly white smile, then blew me a kiss.

Edward gave a wave to Seth, pulling out of the driveway and heading back toward 86th Street. On the way, we passed my house. My parents were both home, their twin Toyotas sitting in the driveway. Our house was narrower than Seth’s. Taller, too—our house had two floors. The paneling outside was dark blue and the windows much, much older. Drafty. Edward had never been inside my house, but if he had he would have first noticed the draft coming in through the windows. Everyone noticed that first.

We were quiet for a while. Edward didn’t talk much. I thought it was sexy; it reminded me of the hunks that always showed up in the books that all the girls in school read during Study Hall. The hunks were always silent. Always mysterious. Like Edward. Why he’d zeroed in on plain Alice was the subject of many guesses.

“Are we going to prom next year?” I asked him suddenly.

He turned right on 86th Street. “Of course.”

I leaned back. I wished I’d gotten in the front seat to be closer to him. I wanted to be close to him suddenly. To make sure he didn’t disappear.

“What made you think of that?” he asked.

“I just got this, like, real weird feeling run over me,” I said. “Like, we’re not going to be together next year or something.” Give me reassurance, I thought. There were prettier girls in school. They all liked Edward. They talked to him in class. They tried to make him laugh because he had a nice smile. OK, I’m being modest. A lot of them downright fawned over him. I pretended not to see it, but in reality we’re talking more than a little anxiety. He’d made friends so quickly—that was what happened when you joined track. The runners were popular.

He didn’t answer at first. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

“Seriously?” I asked. “No answer?”

“Of course we’re going,” he said finally.

“But you hesitated.”

“A lot of things happen over the course of the year, Alice.” He shrugged. “I’m game if you are.”

“But what?” I asked. “You think I might not be up for it?”

He didn’t answer. The downside to having a mysterious boyfriend was sometimes he was mysterious in an annoying sort of way. The popular girly books never prepare you for that.

“You OK?” he asked finally.

I touched my forehead. “Yes. I think. I’ve just been having some weird dreams.”

“What about?”

“I don’t know. I can’t remember them well. But I keep waking up in a cold sweat. I know they’re scary, though. I remember them being scary.”

“Don’t eat pizza before bedtime,” he offered. “It causes nightmares.”

“Thank you, doctor. That’s really wonderful advice.”

Farther out at the edge of the suburb were the much larger houses. These houses were less social than the ones in my neighborhood: each one had a wrought iron gate and expansive yards and high fences that acted as a buffer between their neighbors. Each house was secluded and that, I think, was the way the owners liked it.

They liked their yards, too. Edward’s neighbor had put in a number of massive green shrubs that had been cut to resemble animals. Edward’s parents had “installed” maple and ash trees around the edge of the property to give their mansion—a thick, two-story monolith with off-white paneling and narrow prison-like windows—the feel of a cabin out in the woods.

A really, really big cabin.

He stopped the car at the gate, running his keycard across the little sensor box. The gate opened and he drove up the asphalt driveway, parking at the side of the house. Up close, the house looked more “middle class” and less “Super Filthy Rich.” There was a small door that presumably led to the basement and two green garbage bins that always seemed to be overflowing. Rain water had stained the red-brick foundation with ugly black streaks.

“Ugh,” I said, stepping around the garbage bag sitting on the grass next to the overflowing bin. Food wrappers and empty orange juice cartons were leaking out. “The raccoons got to it. Don’t your parents tell you to take out the trash?”

“Every week,” Edward said with a smile. “I hate doing it. It’s a long walk from the house to the street, if you haven’t noticed.”

“I’ve noticed,” I said. “You could almost have your own bus line from the street to your house.”
We walked up the concrete steps to the front door. Edward pulled out his keys and unlocked it.

“No parents?”

“What do you mean?” he asked with concern in his voice.

“I thought you said they might be home today.”

“Tonight,” he said. “Later tonight. Much, much later.”

We walked into the house. The front door opened into a massive living room. Near the front door were two blue couches and a large flatscreen TV smushed against the wall. Over the beautiful dark gray floral pattern wallpaper. That idea had to have come from Edward’s dad, I thought. No sane woman would hang something over such beautiful wallpaper.

Beyond the living room was the kitchen and a bathroom, the only other two rooms—beside his bedroom upstairs—that Edward said we were allowed to hang out in. The first floor had three more rooms, each one filled with things teenagers weren’t allowed to touch. Edward had shown me one afternoon when he was sure his parents wouldn’t show up. The first room was full of tall marble statues. Old, old statues. Statues of goddesses and ancient soldiers and plain-looking figures who had the curly hair and wardrobe of philosophers.

The second room was full of paintings, which hung on the wall and were held in place by solid metal frames whose intricate designs were almost as interesting as the paintings themselves. Lots of cherubs. Edward’s parents had a thing for cuddly little angel babies, I guess.

The third room led to the staircase and the bedrooms upstairs. This room was simpler, with tall solid wood bookshelves that tempted me every time we snuck upstairs. Books so old just looking at their delicate broken spines might cause them pain. Books so old the writing on the covers looked as if it had been inked in a different language entirely, the font so obscure you had to squint and remember back to your cursive lessons to figure out each letter. It was beautiful.

We went in there now on our way to his bedroom. I stopped as I always did, exploring one of the bookshelves nearest the large staircase pressed against the far wall. My bare toes sank into the soft red carpeting as I ran a finger along the middle row. This was the only room with carpeting. It looked old, too, as if it belonged in an earlier generation.

“Fairy tales,” I murmured. “God, there must be dozens of books of fairy tales.”

“They’re important,” Edward said. “Don’t you think?”

“I guess.”

“They are important,” Edward said. “Children need to believe in happy endings.”

“And Prince Charming,” I added. I looked up at him. “Right? Prince Charming is real, isn’t he?”

He smiled and kissed me on the forehead. “Of course, my love.”

“What’s this?” I asked, grabbing a flat wooden box sitting on one of the shelves. There was glass over one side and when I saw what was inside, I nearly dropped it.

“Careful,” Edward said, taking it from me. “They’re just butterflies.”

Dead butterflies!” I exclaimed, wiping my hands on my pants. “Stabbed with needles!”

“That’s how they’re displayed.”

“Well, it’s gross. Almost as gross as spiders.”

He seemed offended, sliding the box back into the bookshelf between two books. “I have a lot of these, all over the house, so you might as well get used to them. I collect them. Every butterfly species is different. They’re all beautiful in their own way.” He looked at me and smiled devilishly. “I bet spiders can taste the difference, too.”

My stomach lurched. “Oh that is so gross. Please stop.”

He put an arm around me. “If you insist, my love.”

We went upstairs. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong: I didn’t sleep with him. In fact, I’d never slept with him. It was strange, especially since we’d been dating for more than half a year, but I was having doubts about whether we should go that far at all. He seemed so much more mature than me. He didn’t laugh at Seth’s ridiculous jokes—he just smiled. He didn’t get excited at the hockey and basketball and football games we went to—he just clapped. He didn’t goof around with his track mates in class.

If we were going to have sex, I wanted to make sure it meant something. And I still didn’t know Edward, not really … I mean, what about that butterfly collection? What was that all about? Was he going to work in a museum or something? And I hadn’t even met his parents yet! Always so busy, running around making money.

We necked. There was nothing wrong with that, right? His bed was soft. His dark blue sheets felt silky on my bare toes. His lips pressed against mine, then made their way down to my neck. This is nice, I thought. This could be every night for the rest of my life and I would be happy.

His hand crept lower. I let it happen until he reached my waist, then pulled it back. “Not now,” I said.
“When,” he whispered into my ear. I could sense the longing. It was hard not to give in. Still, I felt something was wrong about this moment.

“Soon,” I said. “I promise. I turn eighteen on Monday, remember?”

He rolled back, sighing. His tight shirt had rolled up a bit and his strong abs were visible now. I had to fight the urge to run a hand along them. Gawd, I was fighting a lot of urges.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “Really. You’re wonderful. Almost too wonderful. But I want to wait until I’m eighteen.” There. A little lie, yes, but it would buy me some time before I had everything figured out. Plus, I’d be a thousand dollars richer, too.

“It’s OK,” he said, staring up at the ceiling. “It’s OK. This just feels so right for me, that’s all.”
Yeah. Right. I bet it did, Edward. I didn’t think any of that at the time, though. At the time, I felt nothing but shame. Like I’d done something wrong for saying no. Like I should feel bad because I wasn’t ready to have sex with him. Why wasn’t I? He was one of the coolest guys in school. He was dark. He was mysterious. And he was mine.

He drove me home in silence. I fought the urge to apologize. Be tough, I told myself. Be tough. You didn’t do anything wrong. Just because a lot of the kids in the cool clique talked about sex all the time didn’t make it cool. Or right.

I made it past the kiss goodbye. I made it past the kitchen, where my mom was sitting at the table reading a magazine. I made it to my room. Then I cried. I felt as if I’d done something wrong saying no. I felt as if I was supposed to sleep with Edward.

Mom came into my room without knocking. Her soft hand rested on my back and stayed there while I let it all out.

“It’s hard,” I said into my pillow.

Mom—ever the understanding one in these moments—simply affirmed my outlook on life with a quiet “Mmmm-hmmm.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” Mom said, “that’s just the way it is. Life isn’t a fairy tale. It has a lot of ups and downs.”
I sighed, dry-hiccupping. The tears were gone. If Dad was up here, he’d call this a “woman thing” and maybe he was right. My cycle had begun acting less on time for the last six months, ever since I’d started dating Edward. It was nothing spectacularly big—a couple days early, then a couple days late—but it was incredibly strange given how rigorous my cycle usually was. I didn’t want to mention that to my mom. 
Those types of topics had a tendency to lead to “sex talks,” and I’d had enough of those. Really, just one or two is enough, Mom.

“You’re starting your new job in a few days,” Mom said. “Look forward to that. Just get through these last few exams and then focus on that. I’ll run your pillow case through the laundry tonight, too.”

“It’s not a job,” I murmured. Gawd, what a teenager-thing to say. Here she was, trying her best to cheer me up, and I had to go and pick her words apart.

She was unfazed. “Books,” she said in her soothing “Mom” voice, “are what you love.”

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