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

Friday, August 28, 2020

Book Spotlight: THE PAPER DAUGHTERS OF CHINATOWN by Heather B Moore

The Paper Daughters of Chinatown by Heather B. Moore
ISBN: 9781629727820 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781629739472 (ebook)
ASIN: B08F1863SH   (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing
Publication Date: September 1, 2020



Based on true events, The Paper Daughters of Chinatown is a powerful story about a largely unknown chapter in history and the women who emerged as heroes.

In the late nineteenth century, San Francisco is a booming city with a dark side, one in which a powerful underground organization—the criminal tong—buys and sells young Chinese women into prostitution and slavery. These "paper daughters," so-called because fake documents gain them entry to America but leave them without legal identity, generally have no recourse. But the Occidental Mission Home for Girls is one bright spot of hope and help.

Told in alternating chapters, this rich narrative follows the stories of young Donaldina Cameron who works in the mission home, and Mei Lien, a "paper daughter" who thinks she is coming to America for an arranged marriage but instead is sold into a life of shame and despair.

Donaldina, a real-life pioneering advocate for social justice, bravely stands up to corrupt officials and violent gangs, helping to win freedom for thousands of Chinese women. Mei Lien endures heartbreak and betrayal in her search for hope, belonging, and love. Their stories merge in this gripping account of the courage and determination that helped shape a new course of women's history in America.





Purchase Links: #CommissionEarned   IndieBound  |  Amazon  |  Amazon Kindle  |  Barnes & Noble  |  B&N Nook Book  |  BookDepository  |  Books-A-MillionDeseret Books  |  Kobo eBook




Meet The Author


Heather B. Moore is a USA Today bestseller and award-winning author of more than seventy publications. She's lived on both the east and west coasts of the United States, including Hawaii, and attended school abroad including the Cairo American College in Egypt, and the Anglican School of Jerusalem in Israel. She loves to learn about anything in history and, as an author, is passionate about historical research.


Connect to the author via her Website, Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Book Showcase: DON'T F*** THIS UP! by Fred Stuvek Jr.



Don't F*** This Up!: A Guide for Students and Graduates or Anyone Making A Fresh Start by Fred Stuvek Jr.
ISBN: 9781732306042 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781732306059 (ebook)
ASIN: B08C5MQVSV   (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Triumvirate Press
Publication Date: July 7, 2020



The margin of error is shrinking...


Has the new normal just f***ed up the future for young adults? 

Thanks to a global pandemic, they're entering adulthood, their college career, or the workforce during record unemployment, a terrifying economy, and social guidelines that have all but eliminated life as we knew it. 

And what about the millions of newly unemployed workers in America? As they look for a fresh start, how will they overcome the challenges of an economy decimated by COVID-19?

If having a strategy for the future was important before, now it's critical. The choices new grads, young adults, or the newly unemployed make and the practices they adopt right now are going to shape not only their career but every other aspect of their life as well. 

Fred Stuvek, Jr. has some hard-earned life lessons to share with them. As a former athlete who served in the military and successfully started his own business, he has advice for those looking to thrive in this battered economy. 

In Don't F*** This Up!, he explains how harnessing certain proven success principles will help guide those looking for a new start in a world where the margin of error is narrower than ever. He can explain the following in more detail:


  • Adopt high standards and become disciplined
  • Learn how to focus on goal setting from a Hall of Fame athlete turned soldier
  • Develop and improve essential relationships from someone who has built successful businesses
  • Establish a high level of personal integrity through the right actions and attitude 
  • Develop the resilience and grit to overcome adversity







Purchase Links: #CommissionEarned   IndieBound  |  Amazon  |  Amazon Kindle  |  Barnes & Noble  |  <Nook Book  |  BookDepository  |  Kobo eBook




Author Q&A



Don't F*** This Up!: A Guide for Students and Graduates
or Anyone Making a Fresh Start



1.  Your book is titled, Don't F*** This Up!. That is pretty direct. What exactly do you mean by it and how did you decide on it?

Due to this pandemic students and graduates will be facing one of the bleakest employment environments in generations. Opportunities will be limited, and the margin of error is much less than in former times. While the title is visceral, I wanted to emphasize the importance to my target audience that now, more than ever, it is critical to be prepared and get it right the first time.


2.  You have excelled in sports, the military, and in business. What is the key piece of advice you have gained from this trifecta of experience that you want to give to those making a fresh start in this bad economy?

Nothing gets accomplished without discipline, commitment, and a team working together. Your discipline will ensure you follow through on your plan; that firm commitment in your mission will ensure you have the resiliency to stay the course when adversity strikes; and everyone has each other's back.  


3.  How is your book unique from other self-help books out there?

Success is not one dimensional, it entails a number of issues that must converge. The absence or weakness in one area of more will impact your ability to reach your full potential. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a book out there that comprehensively and specifically addresses the entire range of issues for someone to be successful by telling them WHAT is important, WHY it is important, and HOW you do something about it. 


4.  You say that your advice may be hard for people to hear. Why is that?

You are responsible for you and accountable for yourself. You are not a victim of circumstances. The life you are living is based on the habits you have formed, the decisions you made, and the people you associate with. If you want a better life, develop better habits, make better decisions, and re-evaluate who you are hanging out with.


5.  Can you go over a couple of the core ideas for success that you outline in the book?

In order to be motivated and fulfilled there are two issues that are important - alignment and filling in the gaps. When I say alignment you have to understand what motivates you and match those beliefs with your personality, skillset, interests, and values. The other issue is the gaps - you need to understand what areas you fall short in and work on improving your skills in those areas. You also have to be honest with yourself and don't try to be something you are not. Otherwise, you have a mismatch which ultimately will result in dissatisfaction, stress, burn-out, and spill over into your personal life.  


6.  You say that the margin for error is narrowing for people starting out in the workforce. What do you mean by that?

Many companies are streamlining, cutting costs, or putting plans on hold until they are better able to gauge the impact COVID19 will have on the economy and their business. As a result, there will be fewer jobs available which will translate into fewer opportunities for them. This may also translate to new business models where companies revert to a hybrid version of their former self from both an expense and staffing standpoint. They say "you only get one chance to make a first impression." The same holds true here.  


7.  COVID-19 has decimated the economy. For those who have been laid off, what is your biggest piece of advice as they look for a fresh start?

Your mindset, preparation, and commitment will carry you through. Be prepared, be positive, and persevere. Understand there will be rejection and frustration, don't take it personally, it is part of the process, so put it behind you. Learn from it and move on. Your determination and zeal will ultimately resonate with someone, so never give up, never surrender, and always move forward, even if it is one small step at a time. 


8.  Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from your book?

Your achievement in life will be determined by the belief and confidence you have in yourself and what you do. You need to develop the right mindset, develop good habits, and make good decisions. To make those decisions you need to know what questions to ask, how to get the answers, and a process to follow. This book is a roadmap to do exactly that and will be a valuable ongoing reference. 


9.  How/where can readers purchase Don't F*** This Up!?#

It is available in hard copy and eBook through a number of sources such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. You can also go to my website https://fredstuvek.com, where the purchase tab on my home page will direct you to a number of sources where you can purchase either version. 
(#NOTE: Purchase Links are also provided at the top of this post.)

10.  Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about the book?

What is laid out in my book is not based on theory. What I recommend is proven, it works. 




Meet The Author


FRED STUVEK JR. has achieved extraordinary success in diverse realms. He has been inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for achievements in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy, after lettering three years as quarterback for the Midshipmen. After serving as a Naval Officer, he transitioned to the business world where he has held senior leadership positions in private and public companies, both domestically and internationally. Key successes include an international medical imaging start-up that led to a successful IPO and forming a private medical services company, which he subsequently sold. From the playing field to the war room, to the board room, his leadership and accomplishments have given him a distinct perspective and a results-oriented mindset.


Connect to the author via his Website, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, or YouTube.



Giveaway

Enter to win a print copy of Don't F*** This Up! by Fred Stuvek Jr. This giveaway is limited to US residents only; non-US residents will be disqualified. Giveaway begins at 12:01 AM ET on 08/25/2020 and runs through 11:59 PM ET on 09/01/2020. The winner will be announced by 10:00 AM ET on 09/02/2020. Book will be provided by PR by the Book at the conclusion of the tour. Void where prohibited by law.

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This Q&A, giveaway, and tour brought to you by PR By The Book

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

2020 Book 308: STRONG FROM THE HEART by Jon Land



Strong from the Heart

by Jon Land

on Tour August 17 - September 18, 2020



Strong From The Heart (Caitlin Strong #11) by Jon Land
ISBN: 9780765384706 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780765384713 (ebook)
ASIN: B07WPNFP54  (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Forge Books
Publication Date: July 28, 2020


Caitlin Strong wages her own personal war on drugs against the true power behind the illicit opioid trade in Strong from the Heart, the blistering and relentless 11th installment in Jon Land's award-winning series.

The drug crisis hits home for fifth-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong when the son of her outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters nearly dies from an opioid overdose. On top of that, she's dealing with the inexplicable tragedy of a small Texas town where all the residents died in a single night.

When Caitlin realizes that these two pursuits are intrinsically connected, she finds herself following a trail that will take her to the truth behind the crisis that claimed 75,000 lives last year. Just in time, since the same force that has taken over the opiate trade has even more deadly intentions in mind, specifically the murder of tens of millions in pursuit of their even more nefarious goals.

The power base she's up against—comprised of politicians and Big Pharma, along with corrupt doctors and drug distributors—has successfully beaten back all threats in the past. But they've never had to deal with the likes of Caitlin Strong before and have no idea what's in store when the guns of Texas come calling.

At the root of the conspiracy lies a cabal nestled within the highest corridors of power that's determined to destroy all threats posed to them. Caitlin and Cort Wesley may have finally met their match, finding themselves isolated and ostracized with nowhere to turn, even as they strive to remain strong from the heart.




Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org  |  Amazon  |  Amazon Kindle  |  Barnes and Noble  |  NookBook  |  BookDepository  |  eBooks.com | !ndigo  |  Kobo eBook  



Since the inception of the Texas Rangers, there has been a member of the Strong family serving as a Ranger. Caitlin Strong is a fifth-generation Texas Ranger and just as fierce and awe-inspiring as her forebears. One of the many things I enjoy about reading the Caitlin Strong series is how Caitlin's present-day adventures often mirror those of her father, grandfather, great-grandfather, or great-great-grandfather. In Strong From the Heart, Caitlin is battling enemies on several fronts, including one with a very personal link to the children she's helping to raise with her significant other, Cort Wesley Masters. Dylan Torres, Cort Wesley's youngest son, has recently suffered an opioid overdose and the drugs were provided to him at his boarding school. Although Caitlin and Cort Wesley have often battled against enemies that have brought the fight a bit too close to home for comfort, this one has far-reaching ties and may require all of the help they can muster. While Caitlin is trying to reign in Cort Wesley from eliminating all drug dealers from the face of Texas, she must also work to find out who caused the deaths of close to 300 residents of a border town and the subsequent murder of a survivor. Will Caitlin and Cort Wesley be able to find the answers to their family's drug issue before it's too late? Is it possible the deaths of the border town residents due to cyanide gas are linked to the opioid crisis and if so, how and who is responsible? If the deaths aren't linked to the opioid crisis, then what was the reason for the deaths and who is responsible?

If you've been following me for any length of time, then you know I enjoy re-reading books. Yes, I often re-read books when I should be reading new books. So of course, I spent the past eight days re-reading the entire Caitlin Strong series in preparation for reading the newest addition, Strong From the Heart I know, I know, I've told you that I love this series. You probably thought I was exaggerating. I wasn't. I read the newest addition in one day even though I was dealing with a severe migraine AND back spasms. Let me tell you when you can't comfortably sit upright or even recline, your pain medication isn't working, and you can't turn on a light or even have any music playing in the background but you continue to read, then you must enjoy the book you're reading, right?! I recently described Caitlin Strong as a combination of Wonder Woman, Annie Oakley, and the Lone Ranger. She's someone that is always out seeking the truth and fighting for justice no matter what. Caitlin isn't exactly a social advocate, but she does constantly get into "good trouble" by fighting for what's right. She's willing to stand up for the underdog even against seemingly insurmountable odds and she isn't afraid to go up against anyone, including the federal government when necessary. Case in point, she begins in Strong From the Heart by thwarting ICE agents from "taking several school children into custody" by putting them into "protective custody" as "material witnesses" for the Texas Rangers. She stands up against Homeland Security on a regular basis and has even stood up against US Senators. Strong From the Heart brings back a number of cast regulars, including Captain D.W. Tepper - Caitlin's Texas Ranger boss, Colonel Guillermo Paz - a former Venezuelan Colonel/assassin/current guardian anger, Cort Wesley Masters - Caitlin's significant other/former mob enforcer/retired military, Dylan Torres - Cort Wesley's eldest son and current student at Brown University, Luke Torres - Cort Wesley's youngest son and current boarding student at the Village School in Houston, Jones/Smith - former Homeland Security agent, Dr. Whatley - Rangers' pathologist, Nola Delgado - Caitlin's half-sister/assassin/pseudo-pharmaceutical representative, William Ray Strong - Caitlin's great-grandfather and a Texas Ranger, and Pancho Villa (yes, that Pancho Villa). As always with a Caitlin Strong story, there are bad guys and worse guys. One of the bad guys in this story is an "enforcer" that seems to enjoy killing for the sake of killing and suffers from "congenital insensitivity to pain" or an inability to feel physical pain. (You can tell that's not going to end well.) The worse guys, in my estimation, are the ones that have hired the enforcer and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves and their goals, which is ultimately making money and gaining more power. This story has a lot going on, as with all of the Caitlin Strong stories, including family angst and drama, government intrigue, behind-the-scenes power-brokering, prescription pain addiction, legal and illegal drug dealing (on a massive scale), mass murder, intrigue, and more. Yes, I could give you specifics, but if I did you wouldn't want or need to read the book and you really need to read this book! Seriously, if you're into suspense, thrillers, or books filled with twisted action and believable (and unbelievable but in a good way) characters, then you'll want to read this book. For those of you that are just as addicted to Caitlin's exploits as I am, you'll definitely want to grab a copy of Strong From the Heart if you haven't already purchased a copy. For those of you that haven't already started the Caitlin Strong series, spend your staycation by starting with book one in this series, Strong Enough to Die, and read all the way through to Strong From the Heart. Trust me after the first book, you'll be just as hooked as I am. The books are well-written, the stories well researched, the characters realistic, and the action based on real-life scenarios. I look forward to reading more about Caitlin and her exploits accompanied by her band of misfits in the future (okay, they're more like a dysfunctional family than misfits, but you get the point). I really don't want this series to end and am hoping that there were be a few more additions to the Caitlin Strong series before it eventually ends. So, while I wait for the next Caitlin Strong book, I'll probably spend some time re-reading a few books in this series to tide me over.

Happy Reading, y'all!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ Edelweiss+ and NetGalley NetGalley courtesy of Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours. 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."



Author Bio:



Jon Land

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of fifty-two books, including eleven featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. The critically acclaimed series has won more than a dozen awards, including the 2019 International Book Award for Best Thriller for Strong as Steel. He also writes the CAPITAL CRIMES series and received the 2019 Rhode Island Authors Legacy Award for his lifetime of literary achievements. A graduate of Brown University, Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island.



Catch Up With Jon Land On:


JonLandBooks.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!



Tour Participants:


Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!





Enter To Win!:

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jon Land. There will be five (5) winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on August 17, 2020, and runs through September 20, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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Friday, August 14, 2020

Guest Post: Jeff Bond - DEAR DURWOOD


Good day, my bookish peeps. We've made it to another Friday, YAY! For most of us avid readers, our reading style may change a bit as we age, but the one thing we know when we read it is a good story. We enjoy the characters, the settings, the storylines, and the action. Everything about the story just seems to make sense and work. I'm incredibly pleased to welcome Mr. Jeff Bond, author of the Third Chance Enterprise series including Dear Durwood. Mr. Bond will be discussing why we need what he calls "balance in storytelling" to make stories believable. Thank you, Mr. Bond, for taking time away from your writing to visit with us today. The blog is yours!



Balance in Storytelling

My wife and I had a rare night to ourselves last month, the kids away at a sleepover, and decided to relax with some TV. I usually defer to whatever she wants to watch, but I had been itching to check out a movie on Netflix I'd been hearing about for months. For years, actually.

The Irishman.

De Niro … Pacino … Pesci … the three and a half hour runtime gave me pause, but I had fond memories of watching Goodfellas as a college student and couldn't wait to see these actors reunited and doing their thing.

We watched the movie.

Now I wouldn't dream of critiquing Martin Scorsese — and my purpose here isn't to write a movie review — but we both sat back when the credits rolled with conflicted expressions.

"What did you think?" my wife asked.

I thought the film was subtle and moving and utterly convincing, but I didn't love it. De Niro, Pacino, Pesci — those same actors I'd been excited to watch again felt somehow suffocating. It was just so much sameness. Leaving aside race for now — the only substantial female plotline involves the De Niro character's daughter and her ongoing disapproval of his line of work, which she communicates with mute scowls and sidelong glances throughout the film.

In fairness, that's the world of the Italian-American mafia. It would've been disingenuous for Scorsese to portray it otherwise. The issue never even crossed my mind as a young person watching Goodfellas, which owed partly to the different times and diversity not being something we all considered much. (Enough, I should say.)

Another difference between me twenty years ago and me now is that I've written several stories of my own. I've developed my own method for balancing a book along gender, racial, and sexual orientation lines. It's nothing groundbreaking, usually just a document I'll produce at the beginning of the project breaking out the main and secondary characters with either "m" or "f" beside each. If the proportions aren't close, or if all the f's are good and m's are bad or vice versa, it's time to rethink the mix. The technique isn't perfect by any means, but I do notice now when a story seems to ignore the issue.

The reasons for balancing a book in such a way are simple. One, it reflects the world as it is — a goal anyone trying to write convincing realistic fiction should strive for. Second, it's shamelessly better for sales. You don't want to cut your potential audience in half by writing exclusively about one group, leaving others unrepresented. Now that's an oversimplification because we're all human beings, and I can certainly enjoy and identify with stories portraying the inner lives of women or people of different ethnic groups than myself. If readers can cast their minds into protagonists from outside their own experiences, though, there's no reason authors can't do likewise and meet them halfway.

In fact, I would've liked my recent releases to be more diverse than they are. Although I love the throwback pulp-style images my cover artist created for the Third Chance Enterprises books, I feel some angst at all the white faces there. I thought long and hard about making Durwood Oak Jones African-American. Some things about his character would've changed, but I think it could have been an interesting twist, paired with his conservative values and deep Appalachian roots. In the end, though, I didn't feel comfortable risking accusations of cultural appropriation. The Third Chance Enterprises series is nothing more or less than a big, breezy thrill-ride, and I didn't want to saddle it or tarnish readers' experiences with an #ownVoices controversy.

I should say here that I have nothing but respect for #ownVoices as a movement. Its goals are the right ones and progress has clearly been made, particularly on the traditional publishing side. The world doesn't need to weep that straight white male authors like me are slightly constrained in choosing our protagonists. I actually have a couple of books in the outline phase for my new Franklin series — which is more literary/slice-of-life in tone — featuring ensemble casts that should allow me to provide readers with a more representative mix of characters.

Diversity in fiction is tough, coming and going. It can feel artificial when done wrong and patronizing when done very wrong. Stories that reference a character's protected class without a genuine need to do so seem token-ish. It's important for writers to dig deep and find organic story elements that support more diverse casts.

In my second novel, Blackquest 40 — a kind of Die Hard in a San Francisco tech company —  I chose a young female computer programmer to be my Bruce Willis. The story revolves around a nightmarish corporate training exercise that turns darker by the hour, and I wanted above all to create maximum conflict between the corporate overlords running the "training" and my protagonist, Deb Bollinger. Given the macho bro-vibe of the Northern California tech world, I thought making Deb a lesbian would exacerbate that split in a good way — and also made sense given I was setting the story in San Francisco. (Partly because that's where those companies are located; partly because I lived there six years and know the city well.)

This choice took traditional publishing off the table for Blackquest 40, due to #ownVoices concerns. I released it as an indie title and haven't heard many complaints. Most readers like Deb and seem fine with my portrayal. There are certainly other authors who pull it off. James Patterson comes to mind with his Alex Cross series. Thrillers generally don't have social statements at their core — they aren't saying big important things about racial or gender identity — and there's a side of me that feels like the genre should be ripe for more diverse heroes from authors of all backgrounds. But I realize my own perspective is limited here, and that the long legacy of exclusionary homogeneity in publishing looms over the issue.

Ultimately, like so many of us in this challenging year of 2020, I'm feeling my way through the dark, doing my best, trying to learn.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Book Showcase: THE NIGHT SWIM by Megan Goldin



The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
ISBN: 9781250219688 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250219701 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250752499 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781250752505 (Audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B082VMB1R7   (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B0818N4HC8   (Kindle edition)
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: August 4, 2020


After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name―and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she's used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town's golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating―but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places. Someone is following her, and she won't stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?




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Read an Excerpt


1

Hannah

It was Jenny's death that killed my mother. Killed her as good as if she'd been shot in the chest with a twelve-gauge shotgun. The doctor said it was the cancer. But I saw the will to live drain out of her the moment the policeman knocked on our screen door.

"It's Jenny, isn't it?" Mom rasped, clutching the lapel of her faded dressing gown.

"Ma'am, I don't know how to tell you other than to say it straight." The policeman spoke in the low-pitched melancholic tone he'd used moments earlier when he'd pulled up and told me to wait in the patrol car as its siren lights painted our house streaks of red and blue.

Despite his request, I'd slipped out of the back seat and rushed to Mom's side as she turned on the front porch light and stepped onto the stoop, dazed from being woken late at night. I hugged her withered waist as he told her what he had to say. Her body shuddered at each word.

His jaw was tight under strawberry blond stubble and his light eyes were watery by the time he was done. He was a young cop. Visibly inexperienced in dealing with tragedy. He ran his knuckles across the corners of his glistening eyes and swallowed hard.

"I'm s-s-sorry for your loss, ma'am," he stammered when there was nothing left to say. The finality of those words would reverberate through the years that followed.

But at that moment, as the platitudes still hung in the air, we stood on the stoop, staring at each other, uncertain what to do as we contemplated the etiquette of death.

I tightened my small, girlish arms around Mom's waist as she lurched blindly into the house. Overcome by grief. I moved along with her. My arms locked around her. My face pressed against her hollow stomach. I wouldn't let go. I was certain that I was all that was holding her up.

She collapsed into the lumpy cushion of the armchair. Her face hidden in her clawed-up hands and her shoulders shaking from soundless sobs.

I limped to the kitchen and poured her a glass of lemonade. It was all I could think to do. In our family, lemonade was the Band-Aid to fix life's troubles. Mom's teeth chattered against the glass as she tilted it to her mouth. She took a sip and left the glass teetering on the worn upholstery of her armchair as she wrapped her arms around herself.

I grabbed the glass before it fell and stumbled toward the kitchen. Halfway there, I realized the policeman was still standing at the doorway. He was staring at the floor. I followed his gaze. A track of bloody footprints in the shape of my small feet was smeared across the linoleum floor.

He looked at me expectantly. It was time for me to go to the hospital like I'd agreed when I'd begged him to take me home first so that I could be with Mom when she found out about Jenny. I glared at him defiantly. I would not leave my mother alone that night. Not even to get medical treatment for the cuts on my feet. He was about to argue the point when a garbled message came through on his patrol car radio. He squatted down so that he was at the level of my eyes and told me that he'd arrange for a nurse to come to the house as soon as possible to attend to my injured feet. I watched through the mesh of the screen door as he sped away. The blare of his police siren echoed long after his car disappeared in the dark.

The nurse arrived the following morning. She wore hospital scrubs and carried an oversized medical bag. She apologized for the delay, telling me that the ER had been overwhelmed by an emergency the previous night and nobody could get away to attend to me. She sewed me up with black sutures and wrapped thick bandages around my feet. Before she left, she warned me not to walk, because the sutures would pop. She was right. They did.

Jenny was barely sixteen when she died. I was five weeks short of my tenth birthday. Old enough to know that my life would never be the same. Too young to understand why.

I never told my mother that I'd held Jenny's cold body in my arms until police officers swarmed over her like buzzards and pulled me away. I never told her a single thing about that night. Even if I had, I doubt she would have heard. Her mind was in another place.

We buried my sister in a private funeral. The two of us and a local minister, and a couple of Mom's old colleagues who came during their lunch break, wearing their supermarket cashier uniforms. At least they're the ones that I remember. Maybe there were others. I can't recall. I was so young.

The only part of the funeral that I remember clearly was Jenny's simple coffin resting on a patch of grass alongside a freshly dug grave. I took off my hand-knitted sweater and laid it out on top of the polished casket. "Jenny will need it," I told Mom. "It'll be cold for her in the ground."

We both knew how much Jenny hated the cold. On winter days when bitter drafts tore through gaps in the patched-up walls of our house, Jenny would beg Mom to move us to a place where summer never ended.

A few days after Jenny's funeral, a stone-faced man from the police department arrived in a creased gabardine suit. He pulled a flip-top notebook from his jacket and asked me if I knew what had happened the night that Jenny died.

My eyes were downcast while I studied each errant thread in the soiled bandages wrapped around my feet. I sensed his relief when after going through the motions of asking more questions and getting no response he tucked his empty notebook into his jacket pocket and headed back to his car.

I hated myself for my stubborn silence as he drove away. Sometimes when the guilt overwhelms me, I remind myself that it was not my fault. He didn't ask the right questions and I didn't know how to explain things that I was too young to understand.

This year we mark a milestone. Twenty-five years since Jenny died. A quarter of a century and nothing has changed. Her death is as raw as it was the day we buried her. The only difference is that I won't be silent anymore.


2

Rachel

A single streak of white cloud marred an otherwise perfect blue sky as Rachel Krall drove her silver SUV on a flat stretch of highway toward the Atlantic Ocean. Dead ahead on the horizon was a thin blue line. It widened as she drove closer until Rachel knew for certain that it was the sea.

Rachel glanced uneasily at the fluttering pages of the letter resting on the front passenger seat next to her as she zoomed along the right lane of the highway. She was deeply troubled by the letter. Not so much by the contents, but instead by the strange, almost sinister way the letter had been delivered earlier that morning.

After hours on the road, she'd pulled into a twenty-four-hour diner where she ordered a mug of coffee and pancakes that came covered with half-thawed blueberries and two scoops of vanilla ice cream, which she pushed to the side of her plate. The coffee was bitter, but she drank it anyway. She needed it for the caffeine, not the taste. When she finished her meal, she ordered an extra-strong iced coffee and a muffin to go in case her energy flagged on the final leg of the drive.

While waiting for her takeout order, Rachel applied eye drops to revive her tired green eyes and twisted up her shoulder-length auburn hair to get it out of her face. Rachel was tying her hair into a topknot when the waitress brought her order in a white paper bag before rushing off to serve a truck driver who was gesticulating angrily for his bill.

Rachel left a larger than necessary tip for the waitress, mostly because she felt bad at the way customers hounded the poor woman over the slow service. Not her fault, thought Rachel. She'd waitressed through college and knew how tough it was to be the only person serving tables during an unexpected rush.

By the time she pushed open the swinging doors of the restaurant, Rachel was feeling full and slightly queasy. It was bright outside and she had to shield her eyes from the sun as she headed to her car. Even before she reached it, she saw something shoved under her windshield wiper. Assuming it was an advertising flyer, Rachel abruptly pulled it off her windshield. She was about to crumple it up unread when she noticed her name had been neatly written in bold lettering: Rachel Krall (from the Guilty or Not Guilty podcast).

Rachel received thousands of emails and social media messages every week. Most were charming and friendly. Letters from fans. A few scared the hell out of her. Rachel had no idea which category the letter would fall into, but the mere fact that a stranger had recognized her and left a note addressed to her on her car made her decidedly uncomfortable.

Rachel looked around in case the person who'd left the letter was still there. Waiting. Watching her reaction. Truck drivers stood around smoking and shooting the breeze. Others checked the rigging of the loads on their trucks. Car doors slammed as motorists arrived. Engines rumbled to life as others left. Nobody paid Rachel any attention, although that did little to ease the eerie feeling she was being watched.

It was rare for Rachel to feel vulnerable. She'd been in plenty of hairy situations over the years. A month earlier, she'd spent the best part of an afternoon locked in a high-security prison cell talking to an uncuffed serial killer while police marksmen pointed automatic rifles through a hole in the ceiling in case the prisoner lunged at her during the interview. Rachel hadn't so much as broken into a sweat the entire time. Rachel felt ridiculous that a letter left on her car had unnerved her more than a face-to-face meeting with a killer.

Deep down, Rachel knew the reason for her discomfort. She had been recognized. In public. By a stranger. That had never happened before. Rachel had worked hard to maintain her anonymity after being catapulted to fame when the first season of her podcast became a cultural sensation, spurring a wave of imitation podcasts and a national obsession with true crime.

In that first season, Rachel had uncovered fresh evidence that proved that a high school teacher had been wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife on their second honeymoon. Season 2 was even more successful when Rachel had solved a previously unsolvable cold case of a single mother of two who was bashed to death in her hair salon. By the time the season had ended, Rachel Krall had become a household name.

Despite her sudden fame, or rather because of it, she deliberately kept a low profile. Rachel's name and broadcast voice were instantly recognizable, but people had no idea what she looked like or who she was when she went to the gym, or drank coffee at her favorite cafe, or pushed a shopping cart through her local supermarket.

The only public photos of Rachel were a series of black-and-white shots taken by her ex-husband during their short-lived marriage when she was at grad school. The photos barely resembled her anymore, maybe because of the camera angle, or the monochrome hues, or perhaps because her face had become more defined as she entered her thirties.

In the early days, before the podcast had taken off, they'd received their first media request for a photograph of Rachel to run alongside an article on the podcast's then-cult following. It was her producer Pete's idea to use those dated photographs. He had pointed out that reporting on true crime often attracted cranks and kooks, and even the occasional psychopath. Anonymity, they'd agreed, was Rachel's protection. Ever since then she'd cultivated it obsessively, purposely avoiding public-speaking events and TV show appearances so that she wouldn't be recognized in her private life.

That was why it was unfathomable to Rachel that a random stranger had recognized her well enough to leave her a personalized note at a remote highway rest area where she'd stopped on a whim. Glancing once more over her shoulder, she ripped open the envelope to read the letter inside:

Dear Rachel,

I hope you don't mind me calling you by your first name. I feel that I know you so well.

She recoiled at the presumed intimacy of the letter. The last time she'd received fan mail in that sort of familiar tone, it was from a sexual sadist inviting her to pay a conjugal visit at his maximum-security prison.

Rachel climbed into the driver's seat of her car and continued reading the note, which was written on paper torn from a spiral notebook.

I'm a huge fan, Rachel. I listened to every episode of your podcast. I truly believe that you are the only person who can help me. My sister Jenny was killed a long time ago. She was only sixteen. I've written to you twice to ask you to help me. I don't know what I'll do if you say no again.

Rachel turned to the last page. The letter was signed: Hannah. She had no recollection of getting Hannah's letters, but that didn't mean much. If letters had been sent, they would have gone to Pete or their intern, both of who vetted the flood of correspondence sent to the podcast email address. Occasionally Pete would forward a letter to Rachel to review personally.

In the early days of the podcast, Rachel had personally read all the requests for help that came from either family or friends frustrated at the lack of progress in their loved ones' homicide investigations, or prisoners claiming innocence and begging Rachel to clear their names. She'd made a point of personally responding to each letter, usually after doing preliminary research, and often by including referrals to not-for-profit organizations that might help.

But as the requests grew exponentially, the emotional toll of desperate people begging Rachel for help overwhelmed her. She'd become the last hope of anyone who'd ever been let down by the justice system. Rachel discovered firsthand that there were a lot of them and they all wanted the same thing. They wanted Rachel to make their case the subject of the next season of her podcast, or at the very least, to use her considerable investigative skills to right their wrong.

Rachel hated that most of the time she could do nothing other than send empty words of consolation to desperate, broken people. The burden of their expectations became so crushing that Rachel almost abandoned the podcast. In the end, Pete took over reviewing all correspondence to protect Rachel and to give her time to research and report on her podcast stories.

The letter left on her windshield was the first to make it through Pete's human firewall. This piqued Rachel's interest, despite the nagging worry that made her double-lock her car door as she continued reading from behind the steering wheel.

It was Jenny's death that killed my mother [the letter went on]. Killed her as good as if she'd been shot in the chest with a twelve-gauge shotgun.

Though it was late morning on a hot summer's day and her car was heating up like an oven, Rachel felt a chill run through her.

I've spent my life running away from the memories. Hurting myself. And others. It took the trial in Neapolis to make me face up to my past. That is why I am writing to you, Rachel. Jenny's killer will be there. In that town. Maybe in that courtroom. It's time for justice to be done. You're the only one who can help me deliver it.

The metallic crash of a minibus door being pushed open startled Rachel. She tossed the pages on the front passenger seat and hastily reversed out of the parking spot.

She was so engrossed in thinking about the letter and the mysterious way that it was delivered that she didn't notice she had merged onto the highway and was speeding until she came out of her trancelike state and saw metal barricades whizzing past in a blur. She'd driven more than ten miles and couldn't remember any of it. Rachel slowed down, and dialed Pete.

No answer. She put him on auto redial but gave up after the fourth attempt when he still hadn't picked up. Ahead of her, the widening band of blue ocean on the horizon beckoned at the end of the long, flat stretch of highway. She was getting close to her destination.

Rachel looked into her rearview mirror and noticed a silver sedan on the road behind her. The license plate number looked familiar. Rachel could have sworn that she'd seen the same car before over the course of her long drive. She changed lanes. The sedan changed lanes and moved directly behind her. Rachel sped up. The car sped up. When she braked, the car did, too. Rachel dialed Pete again. Still no answer.

"Damn it, Pete." She slammed her hands on the steering wheel.

The sedan pulled out and drove alongside her. Rachel turned her head to see the driver. The window was tinted and reflected the glare of the sun as the car sped ahead, weaving between lanes until it was lost in a sea of vehicles. Rachel slowed down as she entered traffic near a giant billboard on a grassy embankment that read: WELCOME TO NEAPOLIS. YOUR GATEWAY TO THE CRYSTAL COAST.

Neapolis was a three-hour drive north of Wilmington and well off the main interstate highway route. Rachel had never heard of the place until she'd chosen the upcoming trial there as the subject of the hotly anticipated third season of Guilty or Not Guilty.

She pulled to a stop at a red traffic light and turned on the car radio. It automatically tuned into a local station running a talkback slot in between playing old tracks of country music on a lazy Saturday morning. She surveyed the town through the glass of her dusty windshield. It had a charmless grit that she'd seen in a hundred other small towns she'd passed through over her thirty-two years. The same ubiquitous gas station signs. Fast-food stores with grimy windows. Tired shopping strips of run-down stores that had long ago lost the war with the malls.

"We have a caller on the line," the radio host said, after the final notes of acoustic guitar had faded away. "What's your name?"

"Dean."

"What do you want to talk about today, Dean?"

"Everyone is so politically correct these days that nobody calls it as they see it. So I'm going to say it straight out. That trial next week is a disgrace."

"Why do you say that?" asked the radio announcer.

"Because what the heck was that girl thinking!"

"You're blaming the girl?"

"Hell yeah. It's not right. A kid's life is being ruined because a girl got drunk and did something dumb that she regretted afterward. We all regret stuff. Except we don't try to get someone put in prison for our screw-ups."

"The police and district attorney obviously think a crime has been committed if they're bringing it to trial," interrupted the host testily.

"Don't get me wrong. I feel bad for her and all. Hell, I feel bad for everyone in this messed-up situation. But I especially feel bad for that Blair boy. Everything he worked for has gone up in smoke. And he ain't even been found guilty yet. Fact is, this trial is a waste. It's a waste of time. And it's a waste of our taxes."

"Jury selection might be over, but the trial hasn't begun, Dean," snapped the radio announcer. "There's a jury of twelve fine citizens who will decide his guilt or innocence. It's not up to us, or you, to decide."

"Well, I sure hope that jury has their heads screwed on right, because there's no way that anyone with a shred of good old-fashioned common sense will reach a guilty verdict. No way."

The caller's voice dropped out as the first notes of a hit country-western song hit the airwaves. The announcer's voice rose over the music. "It's just after eleven A.M. on what's turning out to be a very humid Saturday morning in Neapolis. Everyone in town is talking about the Blair trial that starts next week. We'll take more callers after this little tune."



Excerpt from The Night Swim by Megan Goldin. 
Copyright © 2020 by Megan Goldin. Published by St. Martin's Press. 
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.




Meet The Author



MEGAN GOLDIN worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism, and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs. The Escape Room was her debut novel.


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This excerpt and tour brought to you by St. Martin's Press