Writing Challenge Winner: In the Shadows by Marley Bowker

Marley is a 13 year old writer who participated in the Spring 2020 Bad Guy Writing Challenge. Below is her creepy and action-packed short story about a family plagued by a strange nature spirit that roams their house.

Chapter 1

It peered down on the family from the tall tree where it had been stationed for the past hour observing them. “Hold on, watch this real quick” says Lili’s dad. Laughs fade to silence, and eyes flick towards him, as he throws a piece of what looks to be plastic into the large bonfire. After only a couple of seconds, the fire bursts out into a beautiful blue color, with purple streaks and if you look hard enough, even a very faint tone of green.

Everyone is silent, observing the fire in awe as the colors fade back into the traditional array of warm colors. As the night takes over on the chilly evening in the town of Springwood Pennsylvania, the Locke family decides to head inside as their bonfire grows smaller. Lili, the second oldest child, with two younger sisters and an older brother, decides to stay out after the rest of the family for just a few minutes. She liked watching when their monthly bonfires slowly die out, especially towards the end of the fire when all the tiny flames dance in the glowing red pieces of wood at the bottom of the pile.

Lili found it very awing that the giant piles of leaves, sticks, branches, and the occasional piece of broken furniture from the home could turn into a way smaller mound of ash that could be disposed of by simply blowing it around the yard. As the last few flames danced in the breeze, she saw something amongst the treeline. Two balls of warm white light, like a reflection. She giggled, because she knew it was her brother hiding trying to scare her as he normally did. However, when there was no response back, she became skeptical. She saw the two reflections go away for only a second, then appear right back in the same spot, like they were blinking. At that point, she was certain it was her brother trying to scare her, and he had simply blinked because he didn’t realise that you could see the reflection of their eyes.

And that’s when the thought hit her- human eyes don’t reflect light, such as the light from the fire which was probably causing it. Lili saw the eyes slowly moving, as if the unknown creature was moving, and then the eyes disappeared into the darkness in the forest. Just then, she heard a large crash from the trees as she had turned to head back to the house. There was another one. Then another. She recognized the sound as falling trees, but there was no noise indicating someone had cut them down such as a chainsaw. They were also falling at a rate that no person could cut down that quickly. One right after another, there must have been two trees falling every five seconds. Spooked, she sprinted back to the house, and ran into the bathroom to shower and get the smell of smoke, which she had grown to love over time, off of her body and out of her long, brown hair. Lili was just turning the water on in the shower when she heard something downstairs fall and break, so she decided to brave the walk down the stairs and see what had happened.

Then she saw it- her mother laying in her husband’s arms. The floor was covered with blood, and there were two huge gashes on the backs of her calves. Lili’s mom, dad, and the kitchen floor were drenched blood spatter, as if something had come behind her and slashed her legs open. Her dad picked up the phone, and tried to call an ambulance, or someone that could help. Just as he had hit the call button, the phone just beeped like there was no service. The only other time she had heard that noise was right after a category 4 hurricane had hit near her home along the border of Pennsylvania, and torn the power lines right in half. How could that be? Lili thought, because the power was still on.

“Dad, I’m going to check on the lines outside to see if something happened to them. Try and figure out what happened to mom!” She grabbed the flashlight off the table, and ran outside to check. As the light flooded the darkness, she saw that a single part of the line was cut cleanly in half. The two halves were swaying as if there was wind that was blowing them around, but there wasn’t. The breeze had gone away. That could only mean one thing, Lili thought. The line had to have been cut very recently if they were still swaying like that. She shined the light around the lines looking for an answer. She didn’t see anything. She was shining the light all the way down both sides of the cables until the light could not shine any further. But when she flashed it back to where it was originally cut, there it was again.

That pair of eyes shining in the darkness. Again, reflecting the light, only this time, it was the flashlight and not the fire. Lili could not see exactly where the eyes were shining, but she felt that they were staring straight into hers. They blinked again, and the creature started moving. It began slowly, and then all at once, began leaping from one post to the next. She was in shock at how it could move like that, because all the posts must have been at least thirty feet apart from each other. Shining the flashlight towards whatever was jumping, she saw a large bony body, light grey in color, and it had almost looked transparent. Lili still had no clue what it could be, but one thing she knew for sure, and that was that it definitely could not be human.

She then ran as quickly as possible back into the house to tell her dad what she had seen. But when she tried getting inside the door, it was locked. She banged on it for someone to let her in, but within twenty seconds no one answered it. So she ran over to grab the ladder and come back in her window that she knew was unlocked. She set the ladder on the house, and climbed up onto a part of the roof, where she then pushed it back down so nothing could follow her, and ran to her window. She had always left it unlocked because the doors sometimes got jammed and they needed a way to get inside the house, but when she went to pull it open, it was locked. She tried every other window, but they were all locked too. Lili ran back to where she had put the ladder so she could get back down and try another way, but when she got there, she realized that she had pushed the ladder down, and she was now stuck on the roof.

Chapter 2

               Don’t think you’re getting away that easy, sweetheart. It thought. Good luck getting down without a ladder. You want to take my family away from me? Two can play at that game. My nest used to belong where your huge brick nest is that you’re constantly inside. Sleeping, eating, everything. Why your nest is so much bigger than mine was, I don’t know. But I’m going to take care of it. Once and for all. Good luck to you all, Locke’s.

The games have begun. It watched Lili scrambling to the windows looking for a way down, but there was nothing. Windows? Locked. Ladders? Tipped over. There was nothing she could do. The drop down from the first story section of the roof was still a nine foot drop. Curse you, country houses for having such high roofs she thought. Then she remembered she had a trampoline in her back yard. She tried running around on the roof on the first story, but it got blocked off before she was at the point she could jump. So she climbed up onto the second story section, which was very easy as part of it came down close to the first story roofing above the porch.

So she got up there, and eventually made her way around to the back of the house. Looking up from the trampoline onto the roof had not looked like that tall of a drop, but now that she looked where she had to land and how far down it was, she was hesitant. She had to drop nearly two stories and jump out six feet to hit the edge of the trampoline. It was very dark too, since none of the back lights had been turned on because they were motion sensors. This is the only way. I have to do this. For mom. She took a large breath, and jumped as she exhaled, pushing forward with all her strength. She landed on the trampoline, and fell through the padding onto the ground. Could’ve been worse. And then she got up- almost. She noticed that her leg was bent in a way it should not have been bending. That’s when the pain set in. Nothing hurt her until she realized that there was something wrong with her leg and that it was messed up somehow.

The pain quickly seared through her ankle and up to her knee. It was like someone had struck it with a metal club that was on fire. She tried to touch it, but she instantly regretted it as she had touched her ankle directly on the injury. She tried to pull herself to her feet from the metal framing of the trampoline, but when she got on her feet, she fell right back down. What am I supposed to do? Mom and Dad are in serious trouble and I can’t even be there for them! Lili thought, tears rolling down her cheeks, pale from fright. She eventually got on her feet again and began hopping on one foot, headed for the back door. She tried to stand on her hurt foot, but it could not yet support her. So she continued hobbling on her right foot until she reached the back door.

She pulled it open, and walked in between the counters and used them almost like crutches. She turned the corner into the dining room and saw that her mom and dad were still in the same peril state. She bent down and touched her mother’s head, making sure she knew Lili was there too. Her mother slowly looked at her, eyes red and wet. “Lili, honey, you know I love you right?” These words brought tears to Lili’s eyes as well, knowing what the next few following sentences would bring. She nodded. “You know that wherever I may go, I’ll always be right here with you, don’t you?” Her heart dropped. “Yes”. Lili looked up at her dad, who was trying very hard to hide the fact that he was hurting. But Lili could tell he was crying, both on the inside and on the outside.

It was at this moment she realized how much blood her mother had really lost. She didn’t have anything to say. She just bent over and gave her mom a hug. She didn’t care that her shirt was covered in blood at that point, she just cared that she was with her mother, while her mother was still with her. Her dad pulled out his phone to try to call someone one last time, and to everyone’s shock, it worked.

He called an ambulance and they were out in nearly ten minutes. They put Lili’s mom on a stretcher and took her away. At that point her dad quit trying to be strong. He grabbed Lili and held her, sobbing. She held him just at tight as he had. “I love you baby girl” he said. “I love you too dad.” Those were the last words they spoke to each other for the next twenty minutes. Eventually they got in the pickup truck, and headed to the hospital. They weren’t allowed in the ambulance simply because there would have been too many people, but nevertheless, they were on their way.

Chapter 3

               They arrived at the hospital half an hour later, and they sat down in the waiting room. This gave Lili time to think about everything. What it was, who it was, what it’s problem was with her family, and why it was trying to hurt them. It had nearly killed her mother already, who knows what else it could do. She tried to think about all the stories she’d read as a girl, about all these different kinds of paranormal and extraterrestrial creatures that may or may not exist. She’d always been a fan of stories and documentaries on the subject, but she never thought she would be living in one. She gave herself a list of things to figure out; what it was, why it was targeting her family, and what it wanted. She thought and thought for hours on end and never came up with anything. There was no lead. They hadn’t done anything spiritual that might have triggered it such as a ouija board. “Hey dad?” He looked over at her. “Have you ever seen it?”

“Seen what?”

“That creature, the one that hurt mom?”

“What creature? You know what did this to her?”

“I think so. I went outside to check why you couldn’t call anyone earlier, and I saw this thing on the power lines. It wasn’t the first time I had seen it either. Do you remember the other night when we had the bonfire in the yard?” He nodded. “Along the treeline facing the back of the house really far away I saw it then too.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t just someone from the other side of the tree line? There are a couple of houses on the opposite side like ours.” He asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Human eyes don’t reflect light, that thing’s did. I have no clue what is going on.” Lili looked down at the cast on her ankle and wondered why she jumped from the highest spot instead of hanging off the edge and dropping. She would have only been a couple feet off the ground. And it would have saved her a lot of pain. It was too late at that point, however. Her thoughts wandered back to her mom. She wondered when she would get to see her, and if she would be okay. About an hour of thinking later, she still had come up with no explanation, nor a place to start.

A nurse came into the waiting room from a door across the room. “Are the Locke’s here?” Lili’s dad shot up from his chair, and Lili followed. She giggled at the fact that there was an indention where her dad had been sitting, but the joke quickly escaped her mind when they walked through the doors into a long hallway. The nurse showed them where Lili’s mom was staying, opened the door to the room, and stepped aside so they could walk in. She let the door close behind them as she continued down the hallway to do her job. The room scared Lili, as there were multiple tubes coming out of her mom’s arms, and machines beeping, over and over. She felt trapped. She watched the heart monitor continue in the same path. With each beep, it would spike, then go back down. Then again, and again, and again. It never sped up, it never slowed down. Until it did.

“Hey mom, can you hear me?” No response. The nurse had told them that because of the medicine she had given her, she might be unresponsive because she was sleeping. Lili reached for her hand, and laid hers on top of her moms.

“I know you’re in there, mom. Keep fighting. Don’t give up on us. You can’t give up on us. I need you.” Silence followed by the beeping of the monitor. Then it began speeding up. A lot. Doctors burst into the room and ordered the family out. So they left the room in a panic. They turned to look from outside the window on the side, but the curtain closed on them. They could hear faint shouting coming from the other side of the room.

“Is she going to be okay, Dad? Please tell me she is going to be fine.” He did not respond for a few seconds.

“I don’t know yet, Tiger.” Tiger. She’d been called Tiger once before by her dad, and that was when she fell off of her bicycle when she was younger and broke her arm. That sent a wave of shock over her, and her heart dropped yet again. The same nurse began walking towards them from the direction she had left earlier, and ushered them to another waiting room. There were no people in this one, and it was much smaller. This room had to be four times smaller than the normal one, with only ten chairs and a small coffee table. A TV was mounted to the wall, and it was broadcasting some little kid show Lili had never seen before. Just like in any other waiting room, the volume had been turned down very quiet. In that room they sat.

One hour, two hours, three hours. The room had gradually become darker as dusk had set in. Finally, someone had come into the room. By that point, both Lili and her dad were dozing off, and the sudden burst of the door startled them both awake. It took them a second to realize where they were but once they did, the doctor took them to see Lili’s mom. The doctor said that she had a seizure, but that she was stable as of right now. Lili walked over to see her mother with bags under her eyes. Meanwhile, the creature was trying to find where the Locke’s were at. They were not inside nor outside the house. It had checked already. Maybe I finally got rid of that stupid family. They decided to take my family away from me, don’t think I’ve forgotten that easily. The creature posted up on the roof, scanning the surrounding area for signs of the family. But when nothing came up, it moved on. I’ll be back in the morning. Prepare yourselves Lockes. I will get my revenge. Don’t you doubt it for a second. And just as quickly as it had appeared, it sped off into the treeline.

Chapter 4

               As they drove away from the hospital, Lili’s mother began to speak. “I’m still so confused as to what happened.”

“Something attacked you, Mom. What do you remember? Did you see it? Hear it? Tell me everything.” Lili said.

“I didn’t see much, all I remember was that I was at the counter making sandwiches for dinner that night, and something knocked me to the ground. I could not see what it was, I just felt a sharp pain in the backs of my legs. When I turned around to see what happened, nothing was there. I tried to scream for someone to come help me, but I couldn’t. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t. Then I passed out and woke up in that hospital bed.”

Lili pondered on this for a bit. If that creature she had seen multiple times before was the culprit, it would make sense. Her mother said it was quiet, and she never heard anything. Lili didn’t hear anything when it was leaping away on the telephone poles. Her mom said it was so fast she could not see it. That thing had been pretty quick when Lili saw it. It all connected.

Okay, well at least I’ve got somewhere to start now Lili thought. I know now that the creature I saw was probably what hurt mom. I still don’t have the why, but at least I have the who. The Lockes got home, and at that point it was nearly two in the morning, so everyone went to bed.

When Lili woke up the next morning, she went downstairs to make herself some breakfast, thinking this whole thing would be over and done with. But after her parents did not come down stairs, she became skeptical. She went upstairs to check on them at about noon, which was way late for them to get up, as they are early risers and are usually out and about by nine. She opened the door to her parents room, but they were not there. Lili searched the whole house, but could not find anyone. She soon pulled out her phone, and called her dad. No answer. Then she tried her mom. No answer. She went outside to look for them out there, because sometimes they liked to go out to the pastures and groom the horses and milk the cows. But they were not there.

In fact, nothing was there. The cows were all gone, and so were the horses and chickens. She checked and even the eggs were gone from the coop. This had never happened before. She tried calling again, but there was still no answer. Eventually she began running back to the house, and called her mom one more time. This time, instead of hearing her own phone ring, she heard her mom’s ringtone going off in the distance. Confused and terrified, she called again and again, until she found the source of the sound. Lili found both of her parents’s phones laying right next to each other, perfectly straight. None of this made any sense. And then that is when she saw the eyes again. Along the treeline yet again, but instead of being at her house looking towards the trees, she was only yards away. They blinked, and moved forward. It was at this moment Lili realized how large the creature really was, towering above her nearly as tall as her house did.

“Lili, I see we finally meet face to face.” She heard the voice, it was deep and monotone. She did not see a mouth for a moment, because the creature was black. Really black. Darker than the night sky. When she did eventually find it, it looked like someone had attempted to stitch it closed and failed. Skin stretched between the lips as it’s mouth opened, making it even more terrifying than it was before. “Who are you, and what do you want with me? Where are my mom and dad?” Lili shouted at the creature.

“Me? I’m surprised you don’t remember me, Lili Locke.” A shiver ran down her back.

“Who are you!” She screamed.

“Oh honey, you shouldn’t be worried about me. It is your parents you should be concerned about. Do you know where they are?” Silence. “Oh, that’s right. I have them. You guys took my family from me and left me alone for years, so I am going to do the same to you, Lili Locke.”

“Why are you doing this?” She shouted at it, tears beginning to sting her eyes.

“You killed my family when you built this house. You took away the only people I have ever loved. So I am going to  do the same to you.” The creature pulled out an arm with long, sharp looking fingers, which only added to the terrifying aspect of this creature. It pointed behind the tree line, where there was an open area. It was at this point she saw her mother and father, wrapped in web-like material, from there feet to their necks. They were motionless and their eyes were closed. “What family are you talking about? Who did we take from you?”

“My mother, my father, and my brothers and sisters. When you burned down the forest to create this area of land to build your giant house on, you burned my family’s home. I was the only lucky one that was able to get out!”

Chapter 5

               “What even are you?” Lili asked.

“That doesn’t matter! Who do you all think you are, to come to my forrest, burn it all, and claim the land as your own? Why should you get to keep your family, but I lost mine?”

“Because I didn’t do anything to deserve to lose my family!”

“And you think I did? I was very young, I had known my family for less then a year! You’ve had yours way longer, and it’s finally time you feel what i’ve felt all along.” Lili went stiff as a board. She had no clue what to say.

“We aren’t the ones who burned your forest! This house has been here longer then any of us have been alive!” Even though Lili knew this was a lie, she had to try everything she could in order to save her family. Years ago, many before she was born, they had bought out the plot of land and burned it to make a new life here. They had hundreds of acres of forest burned down for them, and never replanted a single tree.

“LIES! I watched your father light the match and toss it at the tree! Don’t try and lie to me, Lili Locke, you WILL regret it.” the creature got closer to her face. This made Lili very uncomfortable, and she stumbled backwards.

“I’ve seen what your family can and will do to get their way. And I think it’s finally time they pay for that, don’t you?”

“Please, you’ve got to take piddy on me, I wasn’t even alive yet when it happened, please don’t punish me!”

“It’s too late. Begging isn’t going to do anything. I wish you would see that already.” The creature leaped over the tall trees back into the clearing where Lili’s parents were being kept. She sprinted as fast as possible towards them, and stood in front of them. She shook them aggressively, but they did not come out of their state.

“Wake up! Mom! Dad! Don’t leave me like this!!” she screamed, but it was useless.

“Move child, or you’re going with them.” The creature said. She did not budge. Lili simply stood there in between her parents, as if she was guarding them.

“Dang it kid, I said move!” The creature was now only half a foot away from her face. She could feel it breathing on her as she reached up and grabbed it’s head. She punched it multiple times, until eventually it threw her off of him. Thats when something happened that no one expected. Lili’s eyes shone bright green beams of light, and began rising into the sky.

“Let. Them. Go. Now.” She said.

“Silly girl, haven’t you realized by now-” he was cut off. The same green appeared in his eyes that were in Lili’s eyes.

 “Wha- Whats happening?” it cried. Lili watched as it began fading colors, shifting grey, then white, until it was nearly transparent. Thats when everything began to pan out. With the loudest BOOM Lili had ever heard, the creature was gone. The explosion sent her flying backwards towards the ground, and she blacked out. When she came to, she saw her mom standing over her. She sat up, wondering what had happened.

“Where am I?” she asked. Her mom simply giggled.

“Honey, you’re still in bed. It’s time to wake up, you’ve slept way longer than usual. Are you feeling alright?” Lili was just confused at this point.

“Wait, but how did you get out of the web nets?” Her parents now looked as confused as Lili.

“What web nets, you crazy?” Her mom said, laughing.

“The ones the creature wrapped you up in! You and dad were both stuck and when I tried to shake you awake, you didn’t wake up!”

“Sweetheart, I think you’ve been dreaming a lot lately. Come on, I made breakfast. It’s your favorite, scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon! It’s real bacon this time too, not the turkey bacon you said you didn’t like. But I don’t understand how you don’t like turkey bacon, I honestly like it more than normal bacon. Come down when you’re dressed.” She turned and walked away. Lili looked at the back of her moms legs as she walked out, and there were no signs of cuts. Not even any scars. She got up and looked in the mirror. Her eyes weren’t green anymore. Just her normal blue. Maybe it was all just a dream She thought. But it felt so real! It was like I was right there. Even now that I know it was just a dream, it still feels like i’m going to walk into the kitchen and see mom laying on the floor in peril again. Lili got dressed, and headed down stairs. Her mom greeted her in the kitchen with a hug, and handed her a glass plate to get her food. Lili looked at all the amazing food, and it smelled so good. She couldn’t wait to dig in, but she let her mom get her food first since she cooked it all.

“Hey, where is dad at? I haven’t seen him yet today.” Lili asked.

“Oh, he just went out to do some work around the pastures, fixing old broken boards and that horrible old gate. He went out to get wood and stuff last night to fix it. Said it should all be done around supper time.” Lili wondered if she should help him or not

“Do you think he would want any help? I don’t think I have anything to do today. I finished the replica you told me to build.”

“I’m sure he would love some help, honey. You can go out there after you’re done eating. Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah.” She was reminded of the dream again. She sat down at the dining table across from her mom, and began eating. So much happened in so little time, I still can’t believe it was only a dream.

Random Reading Thoughts: The Challenges of Reading a Series

Hi blog readers! I’ll be writing a monthly blog post, which will be posted the first week of the month. As the title suggests, each post will be some random thoughts I have about reading. Hopefully, they’ll be thoughts that our readers will find interesting as well.

Poison Study, Book 1 in the Soulfinder series by
Maria V. Snyder

Today, my thoughts have been swirling about book series. I love reading a good series, but sometimes a wrench gets thrown into the works or something else comes up that makes me long for more standalone books. For instance, an author has several books out in a series, hasn’t completed it, but stops writing to pursue other writing adventures (I’m looking at you Jim Butcher and Chris Grabenstein!). Or, a series gets marketed and advertised and sold as a trilogy (yay! only three books!) and then turns into a series of way more books, but now I have to wait a whole year for each book in the series.

Or, along the same lines, you start a series with the first book, and now you have to wait a whole year for each new book. I find myself wondering why I didn’t just wait until the series was finished before I started reading. I’m so impatient to start the next book!

Magic Study, Book 2 in the Soulfinder series by Maria V. Snyder

And that leads me back to what started me thinking about series in the first place. One of my book clubs read a fantastic book last month, the first in a series. I gobbled down the first three books in the series and immediately grabbed book four. Opened it, and realized that some really important stuff had happened that I had no record of! Lo and behold, the author interrupted the series and wrote a related trilogy based on one of the characters, and those three books have all the good stuff I missed. So, I’ll be reading those three books in anticipation of getting back to the original series.

I can’t decide if I’m annoyed with the author for doing that, or looking forward to getting more of the story from a different character’s perspective and seeing more of this fabulous world she’s built. What about you? How do you manage series? Do you wait until they’re finished or do you devour each book as they come out? Drop us a comment below and share what your favorite series is, as well as how you prefer to read them.

Fire Study, book 3 in the Soulfinder series by
Maria V. Snyder

PS: The series that has every bit of my attention right now is the Soulfinder series by Maria V. Snyder, and the trilogy that tucks in the middle is her Glass series.

What’s Ashley Reading?: King of Scars

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

First line: Dima heard the barn doors slam before anyone else did.

Summary: Nikolai Lantsov, the young king of Ravka, has spent the first several years of his reign trying to hold his country together. With the help of his Triumvirate he hopes to strengthen the borders, improve diplomatic relations and rebuild the Second Army. However, as miracles continue to happen around the country and a darkness still infects his land, he is met with more than he imagined.

My Thoughts: Nikolai was one of my favorite characters from Bardugo’s original trilogy. He has a sharp wit and charisma that lets him steal every scene. I was so happy when I learned that he was getting his own duology. Authors do answer prayers! Ha! And Nina from The Dregs Duology has a starring role as well. I loved every one of her chapters. She is daring and smart. And she does not mind causing a little trouble along the way.

“But it’s a very arduous path,” Nikolai said. “Who will carry my snacks?”

In addition to past characters we meet several new ones. I did not know how I was going to feel about them when they first entered the storyline but they surprised me. It was a fun plot twist. I am excited to see where these new characters take us.

The first half of the book was a little slower, a trait which I have noticed in the other books. But when the action picks up the story flies by. Trust me and stick with this. It is worth every minute you spend reading it.

And finally that ending! Wow! It was shocking. It literally gave me goosebumps as I was reading it. I will be highly anticipating the next book. I hope I do not have to wait too long.

FYI: I would highly recommend you read The Shadow and Bone Trilogy and The Dregs Duology before picking this one up. There are lots of characters and storylines that carry on into this latest addition to the Grishaverse.

Hmmm, are Christmas novels a . . . novelty?

So as Ashley was preparing for her book displays for December, and she mentioned that she was creating a display for seasonal titles, I started wondering about how many Christmas novels she’d find. Just regular adult fiction titles — not children’s books or other types of books.

Season's Reading holiday book display at the library for December
Ashley found lots of titles to include on her holiday book display this month!

I’ve never been a big reader of fictional stories that happen around Christmas, just as I’ve never been a big watcher of Christmas Hallmark movies. There’s certainly nothing wrong with either of those things, I just have never really had an interest in them.

But there I was, skimming through bargain Kindle titles on Amazon (I’m always up for a good book that costs a dollar or two) and up pops a title from an author I know and love, Kristin Hannah. Christmas novel. $2. Surely, I can give this a try, right? So I hit that little buy now button and onto my Kindle it goes.

Then I started noticing. Christmas novels are everywhere! Anne Perry, author of the wonderful Victorian mystery series featuring Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, and Inspector William Monk, has been writing a Christmas book every year for the past 16 years. Other titles are available from Debbie Macomber, Susan Mallery and Janet Evanovich and many, many more authors. There are comedies, romances, mysteries.

When I look at the books waiting on the carts to be shelved, I see Christmas novels. When I check in books, it feels like there’s bound to be one in the stack. Obviously, people love reading these stories, so maybe I ought to give it a try.

I just finished a book, and I was looking for something to read. I opened my Kindle, started leafing through my library, and here’s that Christmas book I just bought. I figured I’d give it a shot, because after all, it’s nearly Christmas. I started it on my lunch hour and I was hooked! In fact, don’t let the boss know, but I got so caught up in the story, that I was a few minutes late getting back to work!

So, tell me, do you love a good Christmas novel? And do I need to try watching Hallmark Christmas movies?

What’s Ashley Reading?: Sadie

Did you know that we have a podcast?!  It is called Novel Ideas: The Library Podcast. You can find it on Sound Cloud, iTunes and Google Play.

It has been a lot of fun being able to sit down with Alyssa and several of our staff and talk about books.  I have learned a lot about my fellow librarians through our chats and listening to the podcasts.  Each of us have a wide range of interests and thoughts.  We have chatted about things ranging from cookbooks, re-reading and David Sedaris.  We always bring along a nice hot beverage and some snack to enjoy while we are talking.  So grab yourself a cup of tea and listen with us!

Sadie by Courtney Summers

First line: It’s a beautiful day in the city.

Summary: Sadie has had a tough life. Her mother abandoned her at a young age. She took care of her younger sister, Mattie, until the day that she was found dead. Sadie is determined to seek revenge for her sister’s murder. She leaves town in search of the man she believes to be the culprit. When word of Sadie’s disappearance reaches the ears of West McCray, a radio personality doing a serial podcast, he starts to look into what happened to Sadie.

Highlights: I loved the way this story was constructed. It is very different than any other book I have read. It alternates between Sadie’s story and point of view to a podcast detailing the search for Sadie. It was a great book to listen to which is how I would recommend it. There is a full cast for all the characters. This brought the story to life and gave it a more realistic feel.

The story is heartbreaking. Sadie had a hard life with a mother who was not very involved. She brings home men including Keith. Listening to Sadie’s determination to find him is fascinating. With every little twist and turn I was continually nervous and cheering her on. The ending is hard. Be warned you will feel all the feelings with this book.

Lowlights: I struggled in the beginning while the story is building. It was a little slow moving until the story reached the halfway point it picked up and took off.

FYI: Trigger warning: child abuse and language.

Best book lists rule this time of year, so here’s our list of lists!

Man, Thanksgiving hit, and all my book-related newsletters and websites have been filled with “Best of 2018” and other types of end-of-year book lists. My first response was “Can you not wait until the end of the year? What if the best book of the year gets released in December?!”

But alas, the lists have not slowed down and there are so many of them I don’t know where to start or how to decide which ones I should choose books from! In other words, all these lists have me a little paralyzed. Kind of. I mean, now that I’ve looked at so many lists of what are supposed to be the best books of the year, I have no idea how to manage my to-read list, because now I want to read everything.Image result for choose a book

So, to help you build a TBR (to be read) pile for 2019, here is a Top 10 of the lists we’ve found, from the traditional, to the not-so-traditional.

    1. Image result for new york times book reviewFrom The New York Times Book Review, here’s a list of the 10 best fiction and nonfiction titles chosen by the paper’s book editors.
  1. Here’s a list from Literary Hub billed as the “Ultimate Best Books of 2018 List.” The titles were culled from 52 best-of lists and the titles that appeared most often on those lists show up here.
  2. Here’s a list from Digg that used a similar tactic to review lots of lists  and come up with the Top 10 for 2018.
  3. This Washington Post Book World Top 10 list includes not just the 10 books that caught the editors’ attention, but lots more lists, including the 10 best graphic novels and the best children’s books.
  4. Is any Top 10 list complete without a list from a publishing publication? We think not, so here’s a list of Publisher Weekly‘s Top 10 from 2018.
  5. GQ chose its list of 9 favorites, then each of those authors also chose a favorite, for a list of 17 recommended books for 2018.Goodreads Choice Awards
  6. Goodreads (you are on Goodreads now, aren’t you?!) has its users vote for their favorite books in an end-of-year poll, for a crowd-sourced list.
  7. Another best-of list from Literary Hub is its list of the best-reviewed books from its companion site Book Marks.
  8. Book Riot has a list that is a little different take, and is guaranteed to have some titles that aren’t included on the lists above. It’s a list of 50 must-read books that you likely missed this past year.
  9. And the final list I want to share with you is one of my favorites, and it’s not technically a traditional list. NPR’s Book Concierge is a fun way to find new books that appeal to you, as you can sort using filters (and can combine filters). In addition, NPR makes its Book Concierges from 2008-2017 available as well!

NPR logo

Get great books cheap at library book sale

It’s that time of year again, when reading can take center stage as you find time to relax and rejuvenate yourself. Whether you’re hanging by the pool, on vacation at the beach, or just lying in a hammock in the backyard, a good book can make that moment even better.

If you are in need of good, inexpensive reading material for times like those, the Friends of the Derby Public Library has got you covered. Come to the Friends book sale at the library July 21 and 22 to find reading treasures, at just 25 cents for a paperback and 50 cents for a hardcover.

There will be hundreds of books to choose from, so you are sure to find something you will enjoy. Music CDs, DVDs and books on CD are also available at the nominal cost of $1 for music CDs and $2 for DVDs and books on CD.

If you are a member of the Friends group, you are lucky enough to have access to a Friends-only preview sale 6:30-8 p.m. Friday, July 20. If you aren’t yet a member, you can join for only $10 at the sale.

The book sale will be 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, July 21, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday, July 22, in the Community Room at the library.

Volunteers are needed to set the sale up Friday; to work the sale Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday; and to box up what books are left after the sale on Sunday afternoon. If you are interested in volunteering, please email the Friends group at friends@derbylibrary.com.

Early April new releases

Cover of The Female Persuasion by Meg WolitzerApril 3: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
From Goodreads: “Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer- madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place- feels her inner world light up. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Cover of Dread Nation by Justina IrelandApril 3: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (young adult)
Zombies, Gettysburg, and combat schools to put down the dead. What’s not to love? It’s the Civil War, and at the battles of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, the dead begin to walk, completely derailing the war and changing the country forever. The safety of the country’s citizens lies in the hands of a relatively few people. New laws require certain people to attend combat schools where they learn to put down the dead. And for Jane McKeene, this means more opportunity than she would have had otherwise as she studies to become an Attendant, and trains in weaponry and etiquette to prepare to protect the well-to-do.

Cover of A Necessary Evil by Abir MukherjeeApril 3: A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
In this followup to A Rising Man, Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant “Surrender-Not” Banerjee are called upon to solve the mystery of the assassination of the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Sambalpore. Prince Adhir was a moderniser, but his attitudes and romantic relationship may have upset the religious elements of his country. But the new heir, Prince Adhir’s brother, appears to be an irresponsible playboy. As Wyndham and Banerjee work to untangle the mystery of the murder, they find themselves in a race to find the murderer before the murderer finds them.

Cover of Macbeth by Jo NesboApril 5: Macbeth by Jo Nesbo (Hogarth Shakespeare)
Famed crime writer Jo Nesbo tackles the classic story of Macbeth. From Goodreads: “Set in a dark, rainy northern town, Nesbo’s Macbeth pits the ambitions of a corrupt policeman against loyal colleagues, a drug-depraved underworld and the pull of childhood friendships. Get ready to helter-skelter through the darkest tunnels of human experience.

Cover of Circe by Madeline MillerApril 10: Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe is the daughter of a Titan, but without the powers of either her mother or her father. Because she is such a strange child, she turns to the mortal world for companionship, where she learns she is not powerless. She discovers that she possesses the power of witchcraft, which allows her to transform her rivals into monsters. Threatened by this discovery, Zeus banishes Circe to a deserted island, but this just allows Circe to hone her craft.

Cover of Love and Other Words by Christina LaurenApril 10: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
A then-and-now story of love. Macy is a pediatrics resident who is busy planning her wedding to a financially secure older man. She has a plan — keep her head down and her heart tucked away. Then she runs into Elliott, the love of her life, around whom her whole world used to revolve. From the teenage Elliott and Macy who grow from friends to much more, to the adult Elliott and Macy who have become strangers until their chance reunion, this story explores what happens when love gets a second chance.

 

Late March new releases

Happy first day of spring! OK, so it’s kind of gloomy and gray and cool outside today, but still. Spring! It’s officially here even if it doesn’t much look or feel like it. That means temperatures will eventually be warming and it will be easier (and more comfortable!) to spend time outside.

When the weather warms up, where’s your favorite outdoor location to read? Tell us in the comments. In the meantime, since spring is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts, here is a list of great new books for spring reading.

March 20: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
If you are a fan of creepy gothic novels, Simone St. James serves up just the right flavor. In Vermont in 1950, Idlewild Hall was a boarding school for girls—the girls no one knew what to do with. Four of these girls bond over their shared fear, and then one of them disappears. In Vermont in 2014, Idlewild Hall is an abandoned ruin, where 20 years earlier, the body of journalist Fiona Sheridan’s murdered sister was found. Despite a trial and conviction in the case, Fiona can’t shake the idea that something more is going on.

March 20: Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
From the author of Still Alice comes this story of Richard, an accomplished concert pianist who now suffers from ALS, and his ex-wife, Karina, who reluctantly agrees to become his caretaker. As Richard’s disease and paralysis progress, and Karina struggles with her own past including her divorce from Richard, the couple works to reconcile their past and find peace before it’s too late.

March 27: I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
A new take on a favorite Russian mystery: Did Anastasia survive the executions of her family in 1918 by Bolshevik police? And was Anna Anderson actually Anastasia? In Lawhon’s story, a young woman is pulled from a freezing canal in Berlin. She bears an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov. Her body is covered with horrible scars. When she finally speaks, she claims to be the duchess. Told from both Anastasia’s point of view before the executions, and Anna’s point of view in reverse chronology, the story spans more than 50 years.

March 27: The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Hamel
Do you still love reading novels about WWII? There have been so many good ones recently, and this one is one more to add to your list. Meet American newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit who has come to France with her French husband; Charlotte Dacher, who is 11 when German forces roll into the French capital; and Thomas Clarke, who joins the British Royal Air Force out of a sense of patriotism. The paths of these three cross in Paris, where they will work together against the Nazi forces that have invaded the city.

March 27: Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter (young adult)
Maddie’s dad used to be head of the Secret Service. But now they live in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness with no phone and no internet. Then Logan, Maddie’s former best friend, and son of the president, suddenly shows up—six years later. And when he does, so does an unknown assailant who pushes Maddie off a cliff and kidnaps Logan. Maddie really wants to kill Logan after everything he’s put her through, but she has to rescue him first.

March 27: The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
A king drains his island kingdom of nearly all its magic leaving it vulnerable to enemy nations, which now surround it, waiting for the time to strike and gain a valuable trading port. The king’s three daughters know that a new sovereign must be chosen to save the kingdom and restore its magic, but the king won’t choose an heir until the longest night of the year. So the daughters prepare for battle.

Book Review: Everless

Everless by Sara Holland

First line: Most people find the forest frightening, believing the old tales of fairies who will freeze the time in your blood, or witches who can spill your years out over the snow with only a whisper.

Summary: In a world where blood is time and time is currency, resides Jules Ember. She is a young girl determined to save her father’s life by returning to the Everless estate in order to earn more blood irons (the currency that can add days to years onto a persons life). However, when her father dies at the gates of Everless Jules becomes entangled in a mystery about her past and the family she has been serving.

Highlights: The idea of blood being transformed into currency but can also be consumed to add more time to a person’s lifespan is very intriguing. I never would have considered this premise but it is fascinating to think about. I liked the twist at the end. I figured out several pieces but many of them were great details that added to the mystery. This is a typical dystopian YA novel but it still feels fresh and new.

Lowlights: Being a reader of YA I could easily predict several plot points.  There are similarities to books such as Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.

FYI: Book 1 in a series!