Favorite Quotes on Books and Reading

"A book is a gift you can open again and again." Garrison Keillor

Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.” Jane Yolen

"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." Oscar Wilde

"Books have furnished, burnished, and enabled my life." Julia Keller

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Book Showcase: THE THIRD TO DIE by Allison Brennan



The Third to Die, Mobile Response Team #1, by Allison Brennan
ISBN: 9780778309444 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488055430 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488208041 (audiobook - digital)
ISBN: 9781094097732 (audiobook - MP3 on CD)
ASIN: B081FJTS3Q   (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B07S4BCQMJ  (Kindle edition)
Publisher:  MIRA Books
Release Date: February 4, 2020


An edgy female police detective…An ambitious FBI special agent. Together they are at the heart of the ticking-clock investigation for a psychopathic serial killer. The bond they forge in this crucible sets the stage for high-stakes suspense.

Detective Kara Quinn, on leave from the LAPD, is on an early morning jog in her hometown of Liberty Lake when she comes upon the body of a young nurse. The manner of death shows a pattern of highly controlled rage. Meanwhile in DC, FBI special agent Mathias Costa is staffing his newly minted Mobile Response Team. Word reaches Matt that the Liberty Lake murder fits the profile of the compulsive Triple Killer. It will be the first case for the MRT. This time they have a chance to stop this zealous if elusive killer before he strikes again. But only if they can figure out who he is and where he is hiding before he disappears for another three years. The stakes are higher than ever before, because if they fail, one of their own will be next…. 





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Read an Excerpt


Wednesday, March 3Liberty Lake, Washington12:09 a.m.

Warm blood covered him.

His arms, up to his elbows, were slick with it. His clothing splattered with it. The knife—the blade that had taken his retribution—hung in his gloved hand by his side.

It was good. Very good.

He was almost done.

The killer stared at the blackness in front of him, his mind as silent and dark as the night. The water lapped gently at the banks of the lake. A faint swish swish swish as it rolled up and back, up and back, in the lightest of breezes.

He breathed in cold air; he exhaled steam.

Calm. Focused.

As the sounds and chill penetrated his subconscious, he moved into action. Staying here with the body would be foolish, even in the middle of the night.

He placed the knife carefully on a waist-high boulder, then removed his clothes. Jacket. Sweater. Undershirt. He stuffed them into a plastic bag. Took off his shoes. Socks. Pants. Boxers. Added them to the bag. He stood naked except for his gloves.

He tied the top of the plastic, then picked up the knife again and stabbed the bag multiple times. With strength that belied his lean frame, he threw the knife into the water. He couldn't see where it fell; he barely heard the plunk.

Then he placed the bag in the lake and pushed it under, holding it beneath the surface to let the frigid water seep in. When the bag was saturated, he pulled it out and spun himself around as if he were throwing a shot put. He let go and the bag flew, hitting the water with a loud splash.

Even if the police found it—which he doubted they would— the water would destroy any evidence. He'd bought the clothes and shoes, even his underwear, at a discount store in another city, at another time. He'd never worn them before tonight.

Though he didn't want DNA evidence in the system, it didn't scare him if the police found something. He didn't have a record. He'd killed before, many times, and not one person had spoken to him. He was smart—smarter than the cops, and certainly smarter than the victims he'd carefully selected.

Still, he must be cautious. Meticulous. Being smart meant that he couldn't assume anything. What did his old man use to say?

Assume makes an ass out of you and me…

The killer scowled. He wasn't doing any of this for his old man, though his father would get the retribution he deserved. He was doing this for himself. His own retribution. He was this close to finishing the elaborate plan he'd conceived years ago.

He could scarcely wait until six days from now, March 9, when his revenge would be complete.

He was saving the guiltiest of them for last.

Still, he hoped his old man would be pleased. Hadn't he done what his father was too weak to do? Righted the many wrongs that had been done to them. How many times had the old man said these people should suffer? How many times had his father told him these people were fools?

Still, he hoped his old man would be pleased. Hadn't he done what his father was too weak to do? Righted the many wrongs that had been done to them. How many times had the old man said these people should suffer? How many times had his father told him these people were fools?

Yet his father just let it happen and did nothing about it! Nothing! Because he was weak. He was weak and pathetic and cruel.

Breathe. Focus. All in good time.

All in good time.

The killer took another, smaller plastic bag from his backpack. He removed his wet gloves, put them inside, added a good-sized rock, tied the bag, then threw it into the lake.

Still naked, he shivered in the cold, still air. He wasn't done.

Do it quick.

He walked into the lake, the water colder than ice. Still, he took several steps forward, his feet sinking into the rough muck at the bottom. When his knees were submersed, he did a shallow dive. His chest scraped a rock, but he was too numb to feel pain. He broke through the surface with a loud scream. He couldn't breathe; he couldn't think. His heart pounded in his chest, aching from the icy water.

But he was alive. He was fucking alive!

He went under once more, rubbed his hands briskly over his arms and face in case any blood remained. He would take a hot shower when he returned home, use soap and a towel to remove anything the lake left behind. But for now, this would do.

Twenty seconds in the water was almost too long. He bolted out, coughed, his body shaking so hard he could scarcely think. But he had planned everything well and operated on autopilot.

He pulled a towel from his backpack and dried off as best he could. Stepped into new sweatpants, sweatshirt, and shoes. Pulled on a new pair of gloves. There might be blood on the ATV, but it wasn't his blood, so he wasn't concerned.

He took a moment to stare back at the dark, still lake. Then he took one final look at the body splayed faceup. He felt nothing, because she was nothing. Unimportant. Simply a small pawn in a much bigger game. A pawn easily sacrificed.

He hoped his old man would be proud of his work, but he would probably just criticize his son's process. He'd complain about how he did the job, then open another bottle of booze.

He hoped his father was burning in hell.

He jumped on the ATV and rode into the night.


Excerpt from The Third to Die by Allison Brennan, 
Copyright © 2020 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books. 
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.
 




Meet the author


Author Photo by Brittan Dodd
Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of three dozen thrillers and numerous short stories. She was nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers, has had multiple nominations and two Daphne du Maurier Awards, and is a five-time RITA finalist for Best Romantic Suspense. Allison believes life is too short to be bored, so she had five kids. Allison and her family live in Arizona. Visit her at allisonbrennan.com


Connect with the author via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and her website

Book Spotlight: ALL THE GOOD GIRLS by Willow Rose





All the Good Girls

Harry Hunter Mystery Series Book 1

by Willow Rose

Genre: Mystery, Thriller




This novel is the first book in Willow Rose's electrifying new Harry Hunter series.

Detective Harry Hunter of Miami PD's homicide squad throws himself into a case no one asked him to solve.

Four teenagers from one of Miami's affluent neighborhoods are murdered on a boat. Another is found in a dumpster. All five of them go to the same school and are on a list of witnesses to another crime.

Because he's in bad standing with his boss, Harry is given the task of protecting a possible future victim, but Harry isn't always known to follow his boss's orders.

Soon, he'll risk everything while racing to stop a killer who has left everyone else in the homicide squad shaking in terror.

All the Good Girls is the first book in the Harry Hunter Mystery Series and can be read as a standalone.


**only 99 cents!**




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The Queen of Scream aka Willow Rose is a #1 Amazon Best-selling Author and an Amazon ALL-star Author of more than 60 novels.

She writes Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal, Romance, Suspense, Horror, Supernatural thrillers, and Fantasy.

Willow's books are fast-paced, nail-biting pageturners with twists you won't see coming. Several of her books have reached the Kindle top 10 of ALL books in the US, UK, and Canada. She has sold more than three million books.

Willow lives on Florida's Space Coast with her husband and two daughters. When she is not writing or reading, you will find her surfing and watch the dolphins play in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.



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Thursday, January 23, 2020

2020 Book 28: THE LOOK-ALIKE by Erica Spindler

The Look-Alike by Erica Spindler 
ISBN: 9781250083678 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250083685 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250259783 (audiobook - digital)
ASIN: B07T93QNDX  (Audible edition)
ASIN: B07SBQDLS4  (Kindle edition)
Publication date: January 28, 2020 
Publisher: St. Martin's Press



From the New York Times bestselling author of The Other Girl and Justice for Sara comes a thrilling psychological drama about a woman who believes she escaped a brutal murder years ago—but does anyone else believe her?


Sienna Scott grew up in the dark shadow of her mother's paranoid delusions. Now, she's returned home to confront her past and the unsolved murder that altered the course of her life.

In her mother's shuttered house, an old fear that has haunted Sienna for years rears its ugly head —that it was she who had been the killer's target that night. And now, with it, a new fear—that the killer not only intended to remedy his past mistake—he's already begun. But are these fears any different from the ones that torment her mother?

As the walls close in, the line between truth and lie, reality and delusion disintegrate. Has Sienna's worst nightmare come true? Or will she unmask a killer and finally prove she may be her mother's look-alike, but she's not her clone?




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Sienna Scott has spent her entire life dealing with her mother's mental illness. She doesn't blame her mother Vivienne for her illness, but she does blame her for not taking her medication on a regular basis or continuing with therapy. After Sienna came upon a murdered body on her college campus ten years ago, her mother's paranoia became untenable. The solution was to send Sienna overseas to London where her maternal grandmother lived. Sienna lived in Europe peacefully for ten years eventually becoming a Cordon Bleu trained chef. Sienna has faced many fears over the past decade but her final fear is that of returning home and dealing with her mother. She expected to be welcomed home by her half-brother and touchstone, Bradley. He's happy to see her but not pleased at her permanent return, which raises some questions in Sienna's mind. Sienna's mother, Vivienne, is sure that "they" are still out to get Sienna and becomes even more unhinged than she was after the murder a decade earlier. Two good things come out Sienna's return, her renewed friendship with Randy Clark, a former campus police officer and now town detective, and a burgeoning friendship and romance with her neighbor, Jonathan Hart. However, it quickly becomes apparent that perhaps Vivienne's paranoia may not be unfounded or is it? Will Sienna be able to discern the truth of what happened 10 years ago before something else or someone else dies?

I usually spend my weekdays visiting with my 85-y.o. mother. It's up for question as to whether I'm keeping an eye on her or she's keeping an eye on me, but the one thing we both have gotten used to is spending our afternoons reading. The Look-Alike pulled me in to the point where I didn't hear the phone ringing or my mother talking to me until after she had called my name several times. (Yes, the story was that engrossing, I didn't want to set it aside.) I enjoy reading suspense and this well-crafted psychological suspense kept me on tenterhooks. I enjoyed the unexpected twists-and-turns the story took and Ms. Spindler kept me guessing until the bitter end. The characters are realistic and they all seemed to be hiding parts of themselves from each other, and yes that keeps the reader guessing about what's coming next as well as the action. Although there is violence in the story, hey it starts with a murder, the violence becomes almost secondary to everything else that takes place, such as the theme of dealing with mental illness, the possible hereditary nature of mental illness and the dangling threat of inheriting a mental illness, the destruction wrought by dealing with having a murdered family member, sibling rivalry, friendship, romance, and more. Ms. Spindler packs a lot into this story and although there are only a handful of primary characters, it is a story that seems all-too realistic especially if you've had to deal with the fall-out caused by having someone with a chronic mental illness in your family. I'm always eager to read a new story by Ms. Spindler and I feel incredibly fortunate that I was given the opportunity to read a review copy of The Look-Alike. For those of you that enjoy mystery or suspense reads, make sure you grab a copy of The Look-Alike. For those of you looking for an intriguing suspense read with romance elements, get a copy of The Look-Alike to read. And finally, for those of you looking for something a little bit different to read, grab a copy of The Look-Alike, you won't be disappointed. I enjoyed reading The Look-Alike and will be purchasing a print copy of this book to add to my home library. Who knows, perhaps I'll even lend it to my 85-y.o. mother to read during one of our afternoon reading sessions.

Happy Reading!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss+. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Book Spotlight: BLOWN AWAY by Charlene Johnson









Blown Away

The Crimes of Passion Series Book 2

by Charlene Johnson

Genre: Romantic Suspense




Zack Daniels grew up in a rundown apartment complex off the Las Vegas Strip. At an early age, he learned to protect and support his mother and sister with determination and grit. After his sister is raped by the son of a local Russian mobster and commits suicide, he joins the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police to seek justice for her and to protect the public. 

When a high-profile executive is murdered in his best friend's hotel, Zack is assigned to track down the killer. The sole witness to the murder is a beautiful high-priced escort. He must let go of his vendetta against his sister's rapist to work the case. 

Sonnet Banks goes to the wrong hotel room and witnesses a murder. She is stunned. She knows the killer. He's someone from her past. Someone she hoped to never see again. 

During her police interview, Sonnet tells Zack she doesn't recognize the killer, but Zack is convinced she's lying. Zack needs the lovely, evasive woman to tell him what she knows and is willing to use seduction to get it. Yet, was it still seduction when all he could do was think about her? 

Zack Daniels is so hot he makes Sonnet's knees weak. He checks every box for her. Every box. But even if he wasn't her protector, she can't risk getting close to him or anyone. And she can't tell him the truth. 

After a bold attempt on Sonnet's life, Zack enlists the help of two close friends and someone completely unexpected to protect her. The countdown to an all-out war looms before them. Would they all survive? Time was running out.  






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Charlene is a Waynesburg, Pennsylvania native. She went to Waynesburg High School and graduated Cum Laude from Waynesburg College with a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts. She currently lives in Sacramento, California where she spent the last 33 years working at Northrop Grumman.

Books have always been her passion. She started reading at an early age and progressed to full-length books by age nine. The first supernatural book series she read was Dark Shadows, and it sparked her interest in all things paranormal, with a spicy touch of romance mixed in for good measure. She also started writing poetry in grade school and continues to do so today.

Being an avid reader, the consummate daydreamer and an incurable romantic with a Cinderella complex, she started creating her own characters and storylines because she realized she had her own stories to tell. 

She is married and has a son, a daughter, and four beautiful grandchildren. 

Besides reading and writing, she also enjoys photography, travel, music, and great movies. 



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Monday, January 20, 2020

Book Blitz: WHITE OAKS by Jill Hand










White Oaks
by Jill Hand
Genre: Thriller





"An ingeniously dark comic thriller about greed, gluttony and murder that is destined for the big screen." –Best Thrillers



Aimee Trapnell reluctantly leaves her apartment on Manhattan's Central Park West to return to her childhood home in Georgia for her father's ninetieth birthday. Also on hand are her two brothers, wily Marsh and ne'er-do-well Trainor. With a forty-billion-dollar inheritance at stake, they're willing to do whatever it takes to make the old man happy.



To their shock they learn that what their father wants for his birthday is to kill someone. He doesn't care who it is. He just wants to know what it's like to commit murder.



Betrayal, double-dealing, and fast-paced action set the Trapnells on a collision course with an unexpected villain. Their journey takes them from the swamps of Georgia, to Italy's glittering Amalfi coast, to rugged Yellowstone National Park.





**Only .99 cents Jan 18th – 20th!!** 



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Jill Hand is a member of the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers. Her Southern Gothic novel, White Oaks is available on Amazon and from the publisher, Black Rose Writing.

 

Advance readers called it a fast-paced, hilarious account of three siblings who are competing for their father's forty-billion-dollar fortune while trying to prevent the destruction of Planet Earth.


 

Diane Donovan, senior reviewer from Midwest Book Review praised White Oaks, calling it, "an unusually multifaceted tale that holds the ability to prompt laughter from thriller-style tension."

 

Jill Hand's novel, Rosina and the Travel Agency, and The Blue Horse, a novella, follow the adventures of a young woman rescued from a railway accident in 1889 by a twenty-fourth-century enterprise in the business of time travel tourism.

 


 


 

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Bookbub * Amazon * Goodreads

 


 






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Sunday, January 19, 2020

2020 Book 23: SECOND SIGHT by Sharon Sala

Second Sight, The Jigsaw Files #2,  by Sharon Sala 
ISBN: 9780778360933 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780778309376 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781488055379 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488208034 (audiobook - digital)
ASIN: B07XLTPMS4  (Audible edition)
ASIN: B07R5Y6SV9  (Kindle edition)
Publication date: January 28, 2020 
Publisher: MIRA Books




The clock is ticking…

When Charlie Dodge gets a phone call from a frantic woman stating her daughter has been kidnapped by her ex-husband and taken into a cult called Fourth Dimension, he takes the case without hesitation. The cult's rumored purpose is to gather men with psychic abilities with the goal of breeding a race of people who have supernatural powers. Once accepted into the cult, men are given a young girl to marry in exchange for one of their own daughters.

The FBI has been monitoring the cult's activities, but Charlie and his assistant, Wyrick, aren't bound by the same rules as the feds. They head to the mountains of Kentucky to infiltrate the cult's compound. The lives of children are at stake, and Charlie and Wyrick will risk everything to destroy the cult and its leader—no matter the cost—because this case is personal.






Purchase Links:  IndieBound  |  Amazon  |  Amazon Kindle  |  Audible  |  Barnes and Noble  |  B&N NOOK Book  |  BookDepository  |  Books-A-Million  |  Books-A-Million eBook  |  Downpour Audiobook  |  eBooks  |  !ndigo  |  Kobo Audiobook  |  Kobo eBook  




Charlie Dodge is a private investigator from Dallas, Texas. He's also former military and dealing with the fact that his wife of twenty years is lost to him due to early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Charlie's business associate/partner is Jade Wyrick, a tall, bald fashionista that has had a double mastectomy and now proudly sports an intriguing tattoo that covers her chest and part of her back. Without makeup, Wyrick (she doesn't answer to Jade), might resemble a trans-woman and she's quite used to the prejudice and bigotry associated with her looks. Oops, almost forgot to mention that Wyrick is also Mensa-certified genius, a computer programmer extraordinaire, a multi-millionaire business owner (she writes and sells computer games), a pilot, a psychic (remember that because it's important), and a good friend to have around. She's saved Charlie more times than he can count.

Dodge Security and Investigations has become quite well-known after their last case which involved finding and saving the life of a millionaire business owner from Denver. Wyrick has set up their new offices (their last office blew up...if you want to know more, read The Missing Piece), she also prioritizes possible new cases and front-and-center is a case of the missing child of a local attorney. When the woman comes into the office and provides Charlie and Wyrick with some more details and they begin their investigation, they quickly realize this is not an ordinary parental abduction case. Twelve-year-old Jordan Bien was taken by her father, Judson Bien just so he could exchange her and receive his own "bride" in a psychic cult known as the Fourth Dimension. This cult's goal is to marry psychics with psychic-offspring to breed more psychics. The only problem is that these psychic men are "marrying" children aged 12-14 against their will. The question now is even with this information and Wyrick's psychic abilities, will they be able to locate Jordan and this cult's camp and free not just Jordan but all of the kidnapped girls before something horrible happens?

For those of you that have been following me for a while now, you know that I enjoy reading romantic-suspense. I have quite a number of favorite authors and yes, Sharon Sala is one of them. Second Sight is the second book in the Jigsaw Files series and it is just as much about Charlie Dodge as it is about Jade Wyrick and their growing relationship and attraction. (The first book in this series is The Missing Piece and I strongly encourage you to read that one before you grab a copy of Second Sight to read.) Charlie and Wyrick have tracked down the cult and are working with the FBI, but things don't work out quite as well as hoped with their partnership (read the story to learn more). Jordan is dealing with her kidnappers in a unique way especially considering she's a young girl and far from home. Both Jordan and Wyrick are intelligent and strong females that don't take any guff from anyone especially males. Basically, they don't conform to the notion of the weak female and this causes a lot of problems for both of these ladies in expected and unexpected ways. There's a lot of action in Second Sight and some of it is by behind-the-scenes players. There are obviously bad guys, the psychics kidnapping and marrying "child brides," but there are also really bad guys. Jordan, Wyrick, and Charlie are the good guys and they're all definitely ready to fight. Yes, there's a lot more going on in this story and no, I'm not going to tell you about everything, read the book! I found Second Sight to be a riveting read and even though I was dealing with a migraine and some vision issues that slowed down my reading, I read this book in one day. I highly recommend this book and series to all readers of romance and romantic-suspense and am looking forward to finding out what's next for Wyrick and Charlie. (If you can't tell, I really like and admire Wyrick. She's part Lizbeth Salander, part Wonder Woman, part Captain Marvel, and part Marie Curie with a lot more facets all rolled into one. Okay, I also like Charlie as well as the dynamic between the two.) Now, go grab a copy of The Missing Piece if you haven't already read it and add Second Sight to your TBR list.

Happy Reading!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss+. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, January 13, 2020

Book Spotlight: A PRIDE OF BROTHERS: RICK by Peggy Jaeger






A Pride of Brothers: Rick
by Peggy Jaeger
Genre: Romantic Suspense





Elite bodyguard and P.I. Rick Bannerman's job is to protect. He doesn't get emotional with his clients, but when a woman from his past is threatened, his next job becomes personal.

Family lawyer Abigail Laine is the target of a client's vengeful husband, but refuses Rick's offer of protection. He walked away from her four years ago, and she swore to forget him.

Now her reluctance to accept his help could cost Abby her life.





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I'm a #contemporaryromance writer who writes #RomComs about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can't live without them. If I can make you cry on one page and bring you out of tears rolling with laughter the next, I've done my job as a writer! 


#Family and #food play huge roles in my stories because I believe there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal...or two...or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, I bring all topics of daily life into my stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents I longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through my books, I've created the families I wanted as that lonely child.


As a lifelong diarist, I caught the blogging bug early on, and you can visit me at peggyjaeger.com where I'm blogging about life, writing, and stuff that makes me go "What??!" daily.


I'm a social media junkie! You can visit me at all these sites below, any day and I'll probably be there.


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Friday, January 10, 2020

Book Showcase: A BEGINNING AT THE END by Mike Chen



A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen
ISBN: 9780778309345 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780778388289 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9781488055355 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488208003 (audiobook - digital)
ISBN: 9781094097435 (audiobook - MP3 on CD)
ASIN: B07Y8NQ5PF  (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B07QKD5TT1 (Kindle edition)
Publisher:  MIRA Books
Release Date: January 14, 2020


How do you start over after the end of the world?


Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet's population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.

In post-apocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on—even if they don't want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city's eyes by connecting with people again.

Krista, Moira, Rob, and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose.
Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going. 





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Read an Excerpt


Prologue



People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.
Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They'd served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.

"The show must go on," her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album's second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single's number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.

The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.

Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena's floor seats and funneling to the exit door.

MoJo pushed on, just like she'd always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary "Thank you!" and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She'd never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad's watch.

One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn't anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn't in her spot.

Panic raced through MoJo's veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad's lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn't have been something she'd done, could it?

No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad's wrath tonight, she thought.

The next song's opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song's highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she'd earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.

Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight's dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.

No applause. No eyes looked MoJo's way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. "We have to go," said the voice behind her.

"What's going on?" she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.

"The flu's spread," he said. "A government quarantine. There's some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone's trying to get home or get there. I can't reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up."

They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he'd put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.

The doors flew open, but rather than the arena's quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. "I've got your dad on the line," Steven yelled over the din, "His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing's happening back home." His arm stretched out over her head. "That way! Go!"

They moved as a pair, Steven yelling "excuse me" over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. "This is the end. This is the end."

The end.

People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she'd always figured the "end" meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.

"Hey," Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. "This way!"

MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.

"The end, the end," the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn't just about a flu.

It was everything.

But… maybe that was good?

No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.

In life.

All of that was done.

The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.

If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.

"Steven!" she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.

She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.

"Tell my dad," she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, "to go fuck himself."

For an instant, she caught Steven's widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn't let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.

Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.

Maybe it was the end. But even though her head was down, she walked with dignity for the first time in years, perhaps ever.


Excerpt from A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen. 
Copyright © 2020 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.





Meet the author


Photo by Amanda Chen
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter 


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