Friday, January 27, 2023

Review: Dead Reckoning by Lea O'Harra

 Dead Reckoning by Lea O'Harra

Dead Reckoning by Lea O'Harra

Dead Reckoning by Lea O'Harra
Publisher: Sharpe Books-UK (Sept 29, 2022) 
Category: Crime Fiction, Family Life, Kidnapping 
Tour dates: January 5-31, 2023
 ISBN: Coming Soon 
ASIN: B0BGYG3HGX Available in Print and ebook, 289 pages Dead Reckoning

Indiana, January 2010. It’s a hot summer’s day in 1984 when twelve-year-old Gilly and her friend Sally find a dead new-born in a shoebox in the cemetery of their tiny town. Deciding to keep their discovery a secret, they bury the body in Gilly’s yard. The results are disastrous. Flowers are mysteriously left on strollers. Two local children disappear and end up dead. A suspect is arrested and confesses, blaming the deaths on the girls’ having taken the dead baby. Gilly grows up but is haunted by what’s happened. As a young woman, she flees the town and its memories, going all the way to Japan. Returning with her Japanese husband Toshi to attend her mother’s funeral, Gilly finds the past is not past. She’s threatened, and someone is putting flowers on strollers again. When another child is abducted, Gilly knows she must discover the truth about what happened all those years ago before more lives are lost.

My thoughts:

Dead Reckoning is a slow burn mystery.  Gilly travels to her home town after the death of her mother.  Being at home brings back memories from her childhood and not the good ones.  The person responsible for the deaths of a couple of children has been let out of prison and another child has been abducted.

I thought this was a good mystery.  It did flow a little slow for my taste, but I enjoyed it.  We get peeks into what happened in 1984 through excerpts from Gilly's old diary.  I liked those parts the best.  The solution was a surprise.  The only thing I didn't care for were the characters.  I had a hard time connecting with any of them.  I thought at first Toshi was Gilly's son from the way he acted. Aside from the msytery, I thought this was a good look at family and old friendships and how they evolve over time. Yet how we can also fall into the same patterns from childhood when we get back together with them. I would recommend this one.

Dead Reckoning by Lea O'HarraAbout Lea O'Harra

Lea O’Harra has published three crime fiction novels set in rural modern-day Japan: Imperfect Strangers (2015); Progeny (2016); and Lady First (2017). These comprise the so-called ‘Inspector Inoue Murder Mystery’ series originally published by Endeavour Press (UK). She has also had a story included in Best Asian Crime Fiction published by Kitaab Press (Singapore) in 2020. In the spring of 2022 Sharpe Books reissued the Inoue mystery series and, in September 2022, published Lea O’Harra’s fourth novel, Dead Reckoning, a stand-alone set in her tiny hometown in the American Midwest. Website: Twitter: Facebook: Instagram: Pinterest:

Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus Jan 4 Kickoff & Interview 

 Lu Ann Rockin' Book Reviews Jan 5 
Review & Guest Post Bookgirl Amazon & Goodreads Jan 6 
Review Mark Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus Jan 9 
Guest Review Becky Life as Rog Jan 11 
Review Kari From the TBR Pile Jan 12 
Review & Excerpt Jody Amazon & Goodreads Jan 16 
Review Sal Bound 4 Escape Jan 17 
Guest Review Denise Amazon & Goodreads Jan 18 
Review Lisa's Writopia Jan 19 
Guest Post Lynelle Inspire to Read Jan 20 
Excerpt Leslie Storeybook Reviews Jan 23 
Review Ruth Media From the Heart Jan 24 
Review & Excerpt DTChantel Amazon & Goodreads Jan 25 
Review Laura Lee Celticlady’s Reviews Jan 26 
Guest Review & Guest Post Lisa's Writopia Jan 27 
Review Amy Locks, Hooks and Books Jan 30 
Review & Excerpt Bee Book Pleasures Jan 31 Review

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Review: Flight 171 by Amy Christine Parker

Author: Amy Christine Parker
Publisher: Underlined
Publication Date: October  2022

Devon Marsh is haunted by secrets. Like the identity of the person who killed her twin sister, Emily, in a hit and run accident last Halloween, which Devon has vowed to uncover. Like the things Devon said to Emily just before she died.
But she’s determined to start fresh when she boards a four-hour flight along with her classmates for their senior class ski trip. Devon never could have guessed those secrets would surface in the most terrifying way when a supernatural creature hijacks their flight and gives the students a deadly ultimatum:

Choose one among them to sacrifice before the end of the flight. Or the plane will crash.

As the clock ticks down, the creature slowly unearths the passengers’ deepest, darkest secrets—and reveals that one of the teens on the plane is responsible for Emily’s death. The students must agree on a sacrifice, or there won’t be any survivors. But can Devon find a way to stop the creature, or will she give in to her anger and let revenge take control.

Flight 171 is a YA horror that takes place on a plane. It's told from Devon's point of view.  She has lost her twin sister in a car accident and is determined to find out who ran her over.  An evil presence on the plane will force Devon and all of her classmates to reveal secrets before time runs out and the plane goes down.  Devon hopes the killer will be revealed.

I'm a bit wishy-washy on this one.  I liked the level that the horror and gore reached for a YA.  It was just just enough to make my skin crawl, but wasn't over the top.  There is a lot of body horror in this book, so keep that in mind.  I also wasn't sure who the killer was until the end. 

What I didn't love were the characters.  They were all self absorbed and narcissistic  teens. If I was Devon, I'm not sure I could stand to be around them for a few minutes, never mind a 4 hour plane ride.  Despite that, I do think this is worth giving a try.  It would translate well into a guilty pleasure horror movie.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Spotlight: Pretty Evil by Zoe Rossi

Pretty Evil
Zoe Rosi
Publication date: January 17th 2023
Genres: Adult, Thriller

You’ve done a bad thing. She has you in her sights. Now you’re going to pay.

Meet Camilla Black: an affluent, respected, influential fashion magazine editor, who lives it up in her beautiful Mayfair apartment. But Camilla’s glamorous life is a lie. Behind her poised exterior beats the cold dark heart of a vigilante killer, a murderer hell-bent on wreaking vengeance upon bad men.

Camilla expects to get away with murder. She’s careful. And anyway, it’s worth the risk. She’s making the world a better place with each predator she kills. But when one of her victims’ bodies is unexpectedly found, his gruesome death is splashed all over the papers.

To make matters worse, she’s now being pursued by Detective Wheelan, a new addition to the Met with laser-sharp focus and a worrying habit of solving impossible crimes…

She knows she should stop, but she can’t. Some men just deserve to die. Will Camilla’s insatiable appetite for justice be her downfall, or can she outsmart the police?

Revised edition: Previously published as Predator, this edition of Pretty Evil includes editorial revisions.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Blackwell's

Author Bio:

USA Today bestselling author, parent, wife, veterinarian, chocolate lover. Author of spicy paranormal and contemporary romances. Zoe Forward brings readers the perfect combination of action adventure, romance, humor and a bit of magic.

Her novels have won numerous awards including the Prism, Readers’ Choice Heart of Excellence, Golden Quill, Carolyn Readers Choice Award, and the Booksellers’ Best Award.

You can find her residing in the South with a menagerie of four-legged beasts and two wild kids

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bookbub

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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Spotlight: Never Cross a Highlander by Lisa Rayne

Author: Lisa Rayne
Publisher: Entangled: Amara (December 27, 2022)
Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages

Ailsa Connery has waited three long years to finally escape her enslavement at Stirling Castle and reunite with her clan. But her carefully laid plans are completely destroyed by the arrival of the infamous Highland warrior known as Dubh Mahoun, the Black Devil…who has plans of his own.
Kallum MacNeill’s fearsome reputation has long allowed him to keep hidden his secret double life of freeing enslaved captives across the land. It’s only when he kidnaps a servant lass–quite by accident–that he finds himself facing a wee predicament. He must accompany the lass home or risk her exposing his true identity. It’d be easy enough…if the feisty hellion didn’t fight him at every turn.
As they make their way to the Highlands, the perils the two must face are surpassed only by their constant sparring. Soon, their heated sniping sparks heat of a totally different kind. The kind that ignites a hunger that could consume them both. Yet the difficult journey is no match for the dangerous secrets they’re about to uncover.

About Lisa Rayne
An award-winning author, Lisa graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature and went on to obtain a law degree. She practiced intellectual property, entertainment, and media law for many years before becoming a writer. She started her career writing contemporary romance and won four Emma Awards. Her first sports romance debuted on two Amazon bestseller lists. Always looking to try something new, Lisa’s excited to put her sexy, banter-laden spin on historical romance. Lisa currently lives in the Midwest where she serves as track mom to two collegiate daughters.

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Release Blitz: Wicked Ink by M.A. Lee

M.A. Lee’s Wicked Ink is out now! Check out the gorgeous new adult tattooed romance, and be sure to grab your copy today!
Wicked Ink
Author: M.A. Lee
Genre: NA Romance
From Amazon Bestselling Author, M.A. Lee comes another exciting new college romance novel.
Melissa is my biggest challenge yet. With her beauty, brains, and brazen sass, she is the first girl not to fall for my charm.
I want her.
I need her.
I'm getting high just from her presence. I know she will cave one day, I can see it in the way she looks at me and the way her body reacts when I touch her.
With each day that passes, I can feel her giving in. Her resistance is fleeting as she slowly falls for what we could be. What I want us to become.
They say bad boys are easy to love. And, Colton is your ultimate bad boy. It's hard to blame him; with his dark hair, tattoos, striking eyes, and swagger, girls just can't resist him.

I already had my fair share of bad boys and the last thing I wanted to do was to fall for Colton. Knowing that he owns a tattoo parlor and drives a motorcycle should have me running away at lightning speed--but it doesn't.

I fell for him hard and we both know it, but I'm the last person to admit it. Call it stubbornness, but I am not the type of girl that Colton really needs.

Now, Colton refuses to give up his chase and I don't know how much longer I can fight my feelings for him. I can tell he is different, but can I really trust him with my heart?
Order Your Copy!

About the Author:

  M.A. Lee is a contemporary romance author with a love for all things romance.
Connect with the Author:
Amazon | Facebook | Goodreads


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Blog Tour: Excerpt from To Catch the Setting Sun by Richard Levine


Author: Richard I. Levine
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Pages: 320
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Release Date: August 22, 2022
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Soft Cover: ISBN:‎ 978-1509243297; 329 pages; $17.99; eBook $5.99
Barnes and Noble:  
Apple iBooks: 

 There’s a killer loose on the island of Oahu. His targets? Young, native-Hawaiian women. But it also appears that he’s targeting and taunting Honolulu police detective Henry Benjamin who knew each victim and whose wife, Maya, had been the first name on that list. In addition to battling his personal demons, this New York transplant’s aggressive style didn’t sit well with his laid-back colleagues who viewed Henry’s uncharacteristic lack of progress in the investigation as evidence that fueled ongoing rumors that he could be the killer. Was he, or could it have been someone within the municipal hierarchy with a vendetta? As it was, after thirteen years on the job Henry had been disillusioned with paradise. His career choice long killed any fantasy of living in a grass hut on a wind-swept beach, being serenaded by the lazy sounds of the ocean and a slack key guitar. Instead, it had opened his eyes to a Hawaii that tourists will never see.

Book Excerpt:

The reflection from scattered tiki torches competed with the moonlight flickering across the black velvet lagoon. Gentle trade winds, carrying the sweet peach-like scent of plumeria, tickled the flames and the palm fronds. Clearly a welcomed reprieve from five straight days of stifling temperatures. A catamaran and a couple small outrigger canoes, their artfully painted fiberglass hulls made to look like the wood of ancient Koa trees, were pulled up along the sandy shoreline. The heavy beat of drums reverberated off the tall palms and set the rhythm for a half-dozen pair of grass-skirted hips dancing on the main stage while vacationers laughed, ogled, and stuffed their faces with shredded pork, scoops of macaroni salad, steaming flavored rice wrapped in Ti leaves, thick slices of pineapple, papaya, mango, and freshly roasted macadamia nuts that were all artfully displayed on wide banana leaf covered center pieces. They sat cross-legged in the sand, sipping Mai Tais from plastic cups made to look like hollowed out coconut shells, lost in a tropical fantasy that came complete with a souvenir snap shot taken with an authentic hula girl—the perfect paradise as portrayed on the website. The noise from the music, chanting, and laughter, drowned out the frantic noise of the nearby kitchen, and it drowned out the desperate pleas and painful cries of Makani Palahia from the far side of the beach at Auntie Lily’s Luau Cove and Hawaiian Barbecue.

About the Author
Richard I Levine is a native New Yorker raised in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. After dabbling in several occupations and a one-year coast to coast wanderlust trip, this one-time volunteer fireman, bartender, and store manager returned to school to become a chiropractor. A twenty-three-year cancer survivor, he’s a strong advocate for the natural healing arts. Levine has four Indy-published novels and his fifth work, To Catch The Setting Sun, is published by The Wild Rose Press and was released in August 2022. In 2006 he wrote, produced and was on-air personality of the Dr. Rich Levine show on Seattle’s KKNW 1150AM and after a twenty-five year practice in Bellevue, Washington, he closed up shop in 2017 and moved to Oahu to pursue a dream of acting and being on Hawaii 5-O. While briefly working as a ghostwriter/community liaison for a local Honolulu City Councilmember, he appeared as a background actor in over twenty-five 5-Os and Magnum P.Is. Richard can be seen in his first co-star role in the Magnum P.I. third season episode “Easy Money”. He presently resides in Hawaii.
Visit Richard’s Amazon Page or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Goodreads.

Pre-Order Blitz: Last First Kiss by Stella Holt

Last First Kiss by Stella Holt is a gorgeous debut in a sexy series about a family of first responders! Check it out and be sure to pre-order your copy today!
Title: Last First Kiss
Author: Stella Holt
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: February 9th
He’s going to fight for her this time around.

Charlotte Maguire’s family is the closest thing to police royalty in her hometown. But not even the Maguires could protect her from the heartbreak of becoming a young widow. Now twenty-eight years old, Charlotte mourns the future she lost and has thrown herself into her work. Curating promotional campaigns is the perfect distraction until her gorgeous new boss Caleb shows up, forcing her dormant heart to awaken. Caleb and Charlotte have a past, and it’s impossible to ignore the sparks that are reigniting.

Caleb Kincaid is a survivor in every sense of the word. He’s no stranger when it comes to securing second chances, so when Charlotte Maguire happens his way again, he’s all in. Charlotte has loved and lost once already, and Caleb knows he’s no sure bet. But he also knows they could be great together this time around.

Caleb has always been a man of his word, but what happens when he promises a future he might not be able to deliver?
 Pre-Order Your Copy!
Amazon | B&N | Apple Books | Kobo | Kindle UK


About the Author:

Author of your next binge-worthy romance series, Stella has been plotting sexy, tear-jerker stories since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Born a Georgia peach, Stella loves all things country but calls the beach home even though she’s currently living outside D.C. with her family. Most days she can be found drinking too much coffee, collecting lipstick she forgets to wear, and baking.
Stella’s first series featuring first responders debuts in 2023. You can find her on Instagram @stellaholtbooks and
Connect with the Author:
Website | Instagram | Goodreads

Monday, January 16, 2023

Review: You Can Hide by Rebecca Zanetti

Author: Rebecca Zanetti
Publisher: Zebra
Publication date:  November 2022

What do you do when a sociopath loves you? Rising star FBI profiler Laurel Snow is about to find out …

Calling Laurel Snow’s relationship with her newly discovered half-sister challenging is an understatement. Not only does Laurel suspect Abigail is behind the mysterious disappearance of their father, but her erratic behavior also makes life in Laurel’s small hometown interesting, to say the least. Still, when Abigail claims someone is now out to kill her, Laurel’s instinct to protect her sister goes into overdrive. Then things get even more dicey as dead bodies start turning up in the icy waters of the Sauk River and there’s only one connection among them: Abigail . . .

Having Fish and Wildlife Captain Huck Rivers bringing in those bodies with his dive team only complicates matters. Huck is as impulsive and fiery as Laurel is coolly analytical, which makes their alliance risky at best. But standing up to such a demonically brilliant killer is going to take all the help Laurel can get. Because Laurel’s attempt to save her troubled sister’s life might cost her own . 

You Can Hide is the second book in the Laurel Snow series.  This one picks up fairly soon after the first book.  I wouldn't say that this one works that well as a stand alone.  It definitely ruins the first book.  This time around, there is a serial killer stalking and killing women.  He leaves them posed and missing body parts. There is also a question of how involved Laurel's half sister is in the case.

I liked this addition to the series.  The solution to the mystery was hard to figure out and I enjoyed the journey to hunt him down.  More than the mystery, what I really love about this series is Laurel herself.  It has been enjoyable watching her build friendships with her colleagues as well as figuring out where she feels most at home.  The growing relationship between Laurel and Huck has also been a pleasure to watch.  They are two people who are most unlikely to fall for each other, but somehow they work.  I can't wait to see where it goes next.  I do recommend this one and look forward to the next one.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Release Blitz: Bound to the Beard by Eve London


Are you ready to meet your next Man of the Month? Flynn Sincero is waiting to steal your heart and prove that he's so much more than just a one night stand.

Readers who love Kat Baxter, Hope Ford, and Frankie Love will devour Bound to the Beard by Eve London, a steamy, small town, waking up married, instalove romance.

Buy Now or Read FREE with KindleUnlimited!
Add to Goodreads Here! 
What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
When my bestie whisks me away to Vegas for a girlfriend getaway to get my mind off the business I’m trying to buy, I expect to ring in the new year, not wake up with a ring on my finger. Despite my attraction to the red-hot bearded ginger in my bed, I hop a plane home to Candy Cane Key. A one-night stand wedding can't possibly be the start to something that will last forever... can it?
The first time I see Coral, I know she’s the one. So when I get the chance to check an item off her visiting Vegas bucket list, I go all in. But what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. I’ve got nothing to lose by following her home and convincing her to give us a chance for real. And maybe everything to gain.
The MAN OF THE MONTH CLUB is a steamy small-town collection featuring a new hottie (or two!) every month. In 2023, escape to Candy Kane Key, Florida, and celebrate ALL the holidays with your favorite group of romance authors and their delicious mountain men. Can’t wait to see you there!

Copyright 2023 Eve London
“Flynn, is it?” Gwen eyed the ginger like he was sex on a stick. “I’m Gwen and this is Coral. Are you guys just in town for the weekend, or what?”
“Yeah, I’m Flynn, and this is Josh. We’re actually in town for Josh’s wedding that’s supposed to be happening in a couple of hours.”
“Congratulations. Coral and I are here for a girls’ weekend.” Gwen linked her arm with mine and pulled me into her side. “Hey Coral, isn’t visiting a wedding chapel on your bucket list?”
I recognized the tone in her voice. It was the I’m-about-to-get-the-party-started attitude she shrugged on when she sensed an opportunity for fun. “Oh, we don’t have to talk about that right now.”
“What bucket list?” Flynn asked.
“It’s a fun little thing we did on the plane. Since this is Coral’s first time in Vegas, I had her come up with a list of five things she wants to do while we’re here.” Gwen looked so proud of herself. She didn’t mention she came up with the idea while I was on the verge of succumbing to a massive panic attack. Now that she said it out loud in front of two complete strangers, I felt a little childish.
“That sounds like fun. What’s on your list?” Flynn eyed me with a bit of a twinkle in his dark green eyes. There was something about him that warmed my belly from the inside out. Looking at him was like taking a sip of the proprietary peppermint hot cocoa we served during the holidays at the gift shop where I worked—sweet and comforting with a little hint of heat.
I shook my head. “It’s silly.”
“Come on. I jumped in a fountain for you. Doesn’t that earn me some amount of trust?” he teased.
My cheeks heated under his attention. I crossed my arms over my belly to ward off the butterflies threatening to invade.
“Do you want me to tell him?” Gwen asked.
Knowing her, she’d make up something naughty that would give Flynn the wrong idea. “No, I’ve got it. They’re just little things I want to do while I’m here. Ride in a gondola at the Venetian, get my picture taken by the million dollars in cash. Stuff like that.”
“Well, seeing as I owe you one, let me take you on the gondola ride. We’re staying at the Wynn, so we have to head back that direction to get to our hotel anyway.”
“Don’t you want to get out of those wet clothes first?” As soon as the words left my mouth I wanted to suck them right back in. Yeah, he was hotter than most of the lifeguards I’d seen on the beach back home in Candy Cane Key, but I didn’t want to give him the wrong impression. I was in Vegas for a weekend of forced girlfriend fun and wasn’t looking for anything else. If it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have left Florida, but Gwen turned in all of her travel miles and was the queen of guilt trips. “I mean, do you want to change first?”
Flynn nodded toward the door of the souvenir shop. “I’ll just pop in there and grab a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Want to help me pick something out?”
“Of course she does.” Gwen grabbed my hand and tugged me toward the door. “Come on, Coral. Shopping is right up your alley.”
About Eve London

When Eve London was a girl she wanted to be a trapeze artist. Instead, she grew up to be like most women–a juggler–trying to keep bunches of balls in the air. Now she spends her days writing about the kind of men she likes – sexy, shameless, and just a little bit sarcastic.
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Saturday, January 14, 2023

Spotlight: Excerpt from Waking Fire by Jean Louise


Jean Louise
On Sale Date: January 10, 2023
$18.99 USD
Ages 13 And Up
384 pages

This incendiary YA fantasy debut follows a girl who will stop at nothing to save her village after it’s discovered by a dangerous warlord and his army of undead monsters. Perfect for fans of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin.
Naira Khoum has only known life in Lagusa, a quiet village at the desert’s end. But to the rest of the world, Lagusa is a myth, its location shrouded in secrecy. While war rages to the north led by power-hungry Sothpike and his army of undead monsters called Dambi, Naira’s people live in peace.
Until the impossible happens—Lagusa is attacked by a Mistress sent to do Sothpike’s bidding with a hoard of Dambi under her control. The Mistress is looking for something, and she’s willing to let her Dambi destroy Lagusa to get it.
Desperate to protect her home, Naira convinces her twin brother Nez and handsome refugee Kal to join the newly formed resistance with her. Together, they’ll have to figure out what the Mistress wants—before there’s nothing left of Lagusa to save.

Here is a sneak peek:


“FIVE SILVERS FOR TWO KUFFAS OF RICE?” I SHAKE MY head at the exorbitant price and back away from the grain merchant’s stall. “My mother would kill me. I’ll give you two silvers.”

The merchant’s eyes widen in shock. “Two silvers? I can’t do that. My children have to eat too!” He holds out the sack of rice. “I’ll give it to you for four.” When I don’t immediately agree to his offer, he shakes the bag. “The market’s closing. You won’t find a better deal anywhere else. Here, take it.”

He’s right that my options are limited. The stall my mother usually purchases grain from has already closed and most of the other merchants are putting away their wares and board-ing up their stalls. But four silvers is still too much.

“Two and a half.”

The merchant grimaces as if my counteroffer hurts him. “Three, and I won’t go any lower.”

I can tell he’s finished haggling, so I have no choice but to agree. “Fine.”

While he fastens a rope around the opening of the sack, I fish out three silver rubes from the leather money pouch tied around my waist. Omma’s not going to be happy. She sent me to the market to buy spices and rice for dinner when the sun was six hands from the western horizon, but I took so long picking out incense at my favorite shop that by the time I got around to the errand my mother sent me on, the market was shutting down for the evening.

I hand the merchant the money and he passes me the sack of rice.

“Thank you for your business, samida,” he says with a smile. “See you again!”

The merchant bows and I roll my eyes as I return the ges-ture. I’ll never come back to his stall even if he were the last grain merchant in all of Lagusa. We both know he’s ripped me off, and his satisfied grin makes me scowl even more.

I only have three silver rubes and four coppers left to buy the rest of the ingredients on Omma’s shopping list: cumin, ground red chilis, honey, and dried orange peels. The chilis will be the most expensive, so I’ll buy them first and then see what I can get with whatever rubes are left.

Even though the market’s closing, the roads squeezed be-tween stalls and mud-brick buildings where one buys spices and cloth, jewels and swords, livestock and produce are still busy enough that I can’t run to the next open spice shop. The remaining merchants and customers haggle over prices while dirty children hold out their hands for scraps and coins. The savory aroma of charred meat cooking on a grill makes my stomach grumble as I pass the crowded food stalls, but that’s quickly replaced by the flowery scents coming from up head. Perfumed air engulfs me as I cross Honey Street: the place where those who can afford it go to soak their bodies in cleansing oils and fragranced water.

I find an open spice shop with a bowl of ground chilis right out front. I motion to the owner, but she ignores me, her eyes on something farther up the road.

“Excuse me, samida,” I say, trying to get her attention. “I’d like—”

The owner shoos me away with a wave of her hand with-out even giving me a glance. Annoyed, I follow her gaze to see what could be so important.

A few stalls down, a plume of black smoke rises above the open market.

“Is that a fire?”

The woman nods. “I think so.”

As we watch the pillar of smoke grow, more and more people gather in the street, their eyes transfixed on the dark clouds bisecting the sky.

“It’s those Haltayi,” a man next to me says, a sneer in his voice. “They brought in one of those mangy desert animals, what do you call it?”

“A maugrab?”

“Yeah, the damn thing went berserk. There was some kind of scuffle and a lantern got knocked over and set their tent on fire.”

I stand on my toes to peer over the heads of those in front of me, but it’s no use. I can’t see anything except the smoke. “What happened to the maugrab?”

The man shrugs. “Burned to death, I guess. There’s no way it could have survived those flames.”

A frenzied roar fills the streets, quieting the crowd with its intensity. The maugrab isn’t dead yet.

I’ve always felt sorry for maugrabs—they’re sickly creatures that the Haltayi nomads capture out on the plains beyond the village and charge parents a few rubes to let their children tug on their matted manes or ride on their bony backs. Selling maugrab rides is one of the few ways Haltayi make money to buy supplies so that they can survive the Rocky Plains, but the maugrabs always look so sad, so beaten, as if the rope that keeps them tied to a stake in the ground is sapping all of the life out of them.

I can’t turn my back on a creature in pain, not if there’s something I can do to help. I forget the orders from my mother to not dally and push my way through the crowd to-ward the fire.

The smoke thickens as I get closer, stinging my eyes and making me cough, but I trudge ahead. I finally burst through the crowd and see the Haltayi nomads tossing buckets of water onto the flames, which rage like a beacon in the night. Mer-chants with stalls on either side of the fire are clearing out their wares while using wet cloths to beat away the flames that lick their wooden structures.

The maugrab roars again. A wall of flames separates the animal from safety. Through the fire, I catch glimpses of the poor beast, its mouth open wide, its heavy paws pacing back and forth. Its short snout contains massive, sharp teeth, and anxious muscles ripple beneath the rust-colored fur covering its broad shoulders and hindquarters. Waves of heat prevent anyone from getting too close and helping.

Someone has to do something, or that maugrab is going to die.

Dropping my purchases on the ground, I run toward one of the stalls and climb on top of the structure, my feet sink-ing into the cloth awning. A merchant grabs at me, yelling for me to get down. I kick his hands away and jump onto the next stall, then the next, until I’m on top of the stall closest to the crackling flames.

I can hear more people hollering for me to come back, but I ignore them. Looking down, all I see is fire and smoke. The sides of the tent have burned away but the crates and furni-ture that lined the walls are still on fire. What remains of the top of the tent is in flames, but the section closest to me has already burned away. I’m about to turn back—the foolishness of my actions has finally caught up with me—when I catch sight of the maugrab through the haze.

I look into the maugrab’s eyes, and I see that it wants to live. There are so many people standing around, watching, some of them crying, but no one’s doing anything to help. The maugrab’s going to die unless I do something.

I have to act fast if I’m going to save the maugrab. Luckily the roof of this stall is made of wooden planks and not fabric. I cover my face with my arms, grit my teeth, and pray to the gods that I land on the other side of the fire and not within the flames.

A gasp erupts from the crowd as I leap over the flames. The heat briefly singes my skin before I hit the ground with a thud. My pants are on fire, the hungry blaze eating the thin cloth. I beat out the flames with my hands and get on my hands and knees.

The only sound is the roaring fire, and acrid smoke coats my lungs with every breath. I’ve never felt such heat and I’m instantly drenched in sweat. It’s difficult to see, so I crawl to where I last saw the maugrab and cry out with relief when my hand brushes a furry paw.

The maugrab is lying on the ground, its breaths shallow. I climb to my feet and tug on the beast’s rough mane.

“Come on,” I say between coughs. “Get up!”

Slowly, the maugrab gets on all fours and I rub the sleek reddish-brown fur on its powerful shoulders.

“There’s only one way out of here,” I tell the animal, point-ing at the top of a stall, barely visible over the wall of flames. “And I can’t make the jump. Can you do it?”

The maugrab starts forward but is held back by the rope around its neck tied to a stake in the ground. I make quick work of the knots, and the maugrab shakes its mane and roars when it’s free.

I climb on the beast’s back and grab hold of its mane, my mind racing with prayers to the gods that I can actually pull this off. With a powerful lurch, the maugrab leaps and clears the fire, landing on top of the wooden stall with a skid and digging its claws into the wood to stop us from sliding off.

A cheer rises up among the crowd. I’m grinning, reckless but triumphant.

“You did it,” I tell the maugrab.

The rickety stall wobbles beneath us and the maugrab jumps onto the ground as the roof crashes down.

We’re immediately surrounded by onlookers, many of them clapping me on the back and congratulating me as I slide off the maugrab. A Haltayi woman runs up and wraps her arms around the animal’s neck, as a Haltayi man bows deeply be-fore me. “Thanking you, samida,” he says in his thick accent.

My cheeks flush from the attention and I return the bow. Before I can get caught up in all the smiles and excitement, the structure that enclosed the maugrab finally collapses. Swirls of fiery ash and smoke ride the gust of wind released by the falling structure before descending on the crowd. Cries ring out as hot embers fall on bare skin, and I’m jostled aside by elbows as those around me slap at the little fires clinging to their clothes.

Coughing and stumbling, I move aside to clear a path for more buckets of water to douse the flames and find myself shoved into an alley. I take a moment to collect myself, my heart still racing, when I realize I tossed the expensive rice aside to save the maugrab. I still need to buy everything else on Omma’s list, but with the market in such disarray and with most of the shops already closed, I don’t know if that’s pos-sible. And now that all the excitement has waned, exhaustion has taken over, and I just want to go home.

I wipe the sweat from my face with the hem of my scarf and groan when I see the streaks of black on the light blue fabric. Maybe if I explain to Omma what happened with the maugrab, she won’t be disappointed that I didn’t buy any of the things she asked for and why I returned in such a state.

Deciding I’d rather be scolded by Omma than deal with the market again, I head down the alley, toward the main road that will take me home. I pass boxes of refuse filled with rotting vegetables, discarded sacks of mealy grain, and rolled-up rugs with frayed edges and covered in stains. I’m halfway through the alley when I hear a group of voices coming from the shadows on my left.

“You’re such an idiot!” a girl yells and I stop in my tracks. She’s shrouded in shadows, but I don’t need to see the girl to know who’s yelling.

Hamala Mugabe is the last person I’d want to meet in a dark alley.

Not because I’m scared of her. But because she makes my blood boil.

At school, Hamala seems to get all her pleasure picking on younger students, and anyone who tries to stop her gets it worse. I’ve had no choice but to step in a few times to de-fend someone against her bullying and that’s made me one of Hamala’s top targets. Now, every time we encounter each other, we’re both on guard, waiting for the other to strike so that we have an excuse to strike back. It’s as if a lifelong bond has formed between us: one that pits one girl against the other, always in conflict, resolution residing in the strength of our fists.

“By the Fires, I swear I ought to bash your head in,” Hamala continues. “It was supposed to be a quick grab. We had the hard part—we were the distraction! All you had to do was sneak in, steal his purse, and sneak out, and you couldn’t even do that.”

So now Hamala’s stealing too. I thought I had reached the limit of how much I could loathe another person, but  Hamala always finds a way to push me. She doesn’t even need the money—everyone knows the Mugabe family has plenty. She only gets away with terrorizing others because her fam-ily always buys her way out of trouble.

The last thing I feel like doing right now is confronting her, so I try to sneak by. But I can’t help overhearing their con-versation as I pass the darkened alcove where they’re hiding.

“How was I supposed to know that maugrab was there?” another girl whines. She sounds like Jalaan, one of Hamala’s lackeys. “You know I’m scared of those things, and you said the tent was empty!”

I pause midstep, one foot barely touching the ground. They can’t be talking about what I think they’re talking about, can they? Did Hamala and her goons try to steal from the Haltayi, who are some of the poorest people in the village? Stealing from them is like snatching a beggar’s cup of change.

“You’re blaming me for this mess?” Hamala says, her voice menacing.

“Well,” a third girl chimes in, “no one told you to start a fire.”

I stiffen in shock, my eyes wide. My feet are rooted to the ground. I knew Hamala was dangerous, but now she’s gone too far. So many people lost their livelihoods in the fire, not to mention the Haltayi losing their tent. And that poor mau-grab would have died if I hadn’t jumped in to save it.

I have to confront her. If I don’t, no one will know what she’s done, and then there’ll be nothing preventing her from doing something even worse next time.

Behind me, the market is emptying as the last fires are dampened. A group of watchguards inspect the smoldering remains of the maugrab’s tent while a few stall owners lin-ger, many of them distraught over the damage. Hamala did this—she caused all of this destruction.

“You’ve gone too far this time, Hamala,” I say, stepping into the brightest section of the alley. “Picking on kids in the schoolyard is one thing, but stealing from Haltayi? Arson? Ei-ther you turn yourself in, or I will.”

Slowly, as if she is the hunter and I am the prey, Hamala emerges from the shadows with three of her friends behind her.

“You bitch,” she growls as she moves in front of me. Her lackeys stand behind me, blocking the only other exit. I wish I had my twin brother, Nez, with me to make this fight more even. But then again, he’s always telling me not to fight. “I’m getting so tired of seeing your ugly face. Everywhere I go, there’s Naira Khoum sticking her nose in places where it doesn’t belong.”

I don’t clench my fists even though I want to. But if Hamala takes a swing at me, I’ll have no choice but to defend myself and deal with Nez’s disappointment later.

“If you weren’t always causing trouble, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be home right now eating dinner. It’s because of the fire you set that I’m here among all this garbage trying to con-vince you to do the right thing.”

Hamala puffs out her chest. “Did you call me garbage?”

My stomach sinks. I should have known trying to reason with her would be a waste of time. She twists everything I say into an insult.

“I think she called all of us garbage,” Jalaan says from be-hind.

A fight is coming—a big one. I can feel it in the charged air between us, hear it in the way Jalaan and the others snicker nastily behind me, see it in Hamala’s clenched fists. I turn to the side so that I can keep my eyes on Hamala and the others.

Hamala curls her lip in a menacing snarl and looks down at me. “I think so too. And I know exactly what to do to someone who calls me names and can’t keep her nose out of my business.”

Hamala reaches out to shove me, but I’m too quick. I knock her arms aside and plant my foot squarely in her stomach, kicking the air out of her lungs and sending her flying back-ward. She lands sprawled out on the ground, stunned. The other girls look at each other, not sure what to do, waiting for their leader to guide them, but Hamala can barely talk. Tears run down her cheeks, catching the dust that clouds the air from her fall.

“Get her!” Hamala wheezes at last.

The next thing I know, the other girls are on top of me, pulling my hair, trying to scratch my face and knock me to the ground. One yanks me by the arm while another tries to kick my feet out from beneath me.

I have no choice but to fight back. My father started train-ing me in combat as soon as I was big enough to hold a sword, so I try to end this fight quickly. I punch the tallest one in the chest, knocking her breathless, and grab the arm of an-other girl and twist it behind her back. She whimpers in pain.

By now, Hamala has recovered her breath and is standing. She charges, knocking me and the whimpering girl to the ground. I push the girl off me and try to get on my feet, but Hamala kicks me in the stomach once, twice, three times. I can’t breathe, my abdomen throbs with pain, and I lie on my side gasping for air. Then Hamala grabs my arms, wraps her legs around my waist, and holds me down. I thrash around in an attempt to free myself, but her grip is tight.

Hamala yells out something to her lackeys, but I’m so fo-cused on our struggle that I barely register what she’s saying.

She yells again: “Do it! Do it now!”

I glance at the other girls, afraid because whatever she has planned, it’s going to hurt. I only catch a glimpse of the heavy rock in Jalaan’s hand right before she cracks me in the head with it.

The entire side of my face explodes with pain and my head lolls to the side. Hamala releases me from her grip with a laugh. I crumple to the ground, dizzy and nauseous, and touch shaking fingers to my forehead. They come away bloody.

Hamala kneels in front of me and grabs the collar of my tunic, bringing us face-to-face. She’s so close I can see the crust in the corners of her eyes.

“This is what happens when you keep getting in my way, Khoum.” She shoves me and I fall against a broken pot, the jagged edges scraping my back.

“You think she’s learned her lesson?” Hamala asks the oth-ers. She turns to me. “Well, you little snitch, did you?”

I can barely see straight, stabbing pains radiate throughout my skull, and I feel like I’m going to retch. But I still can’t let Hamala win.

I spit in her face and she jumps back in disgust.

“You rotten bitch!”

Hamala snatches the rock from Jalaan and towers over me.

I’m trying to get up, get out of the way of what I know is coming next, but I can’t seem to get my balance. The giant rears her hand back. I notice a dark spot on the rock and it occurs to me That’s my blood—and then the world goes black.

Excerpted from Waking Fire. Copyright © 2023 by Jean Louise. Published by Inkyard Press.


Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Jean Louise currently lives in Queens, New York, with her cat Martha. When she’s not writing, she can be found with her nose buried in a graphic novel or taking down bad guys in her favorite video games. She received an MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. This is her debut novel.
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