SPOTLIGHT! MY OXFORD YEAR by Julia Whelan

SPOTLIGHT! MY OXFORD YEAR by Julia Whelan

American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day. When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret. Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for.

 

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CHAPTER 1

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England – now!

 

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad – Robert Browning, 1845

 

“Next!”

The customs agent beckons the person in front of me and I approach the big red line, absently toeing the curling tape, resting my hand on the gleaming pipe railing. No adjustable ropes at Heathrow, apparently; these lines must always be long if they require permanent demarcation.

My phone rings. I glance down. I don’t know the number.

“Hello?” I answer.

“Is this Eleanor Durran?”

“Yes?”

“This is Gavin Brookdale.”

My first thought is that this is a prank call. Gavin Brookdale just stepped down as White House Chief of Staff. He’s run every major political campaign of the last 20 years. He’s a legend. He’s my idol. He’s calling me?

“Hello?”

“Sorry, I-I’m here,” I stammer. “I’m just –

“Have you heard of Janet Wilkes?”

Have I heard of – Janet Wilkes is the junior senator from Florida and a dark horse candidate for President. She’s 45, lost her husband twelve years ago in Afghanistan, raised three kids on a teacher’s salary while somehow putting herself through law school, and then ran the most impressive grassroots senatorial campaign I’ve ever seen. She also has the hottest human-rights-attorney boyfriend I’ve ever seen, but that’s beside the point. She’s a Gold Star wife who’s a progressive firebrand on social issues. We’ve never seen anyone like her on the national stage before. The first debate isn’t for another two weeks, on October 13, but voters seem to love her: she’s polling third in a field of twelve. Candidate Number Two is not long for the race; a Case of the Jilted Mistress(es). Number One, however, happens to be the current Vice-President, George Hillerson, who Gavin Brookdale (if the Washington gossip mill is accurate) loathes. Still, even the notoriously mercurial Brookdale wouldn’t back a losing horse like Wilkes just to spite the presumptive nominee. If nothing else, Gavin Brookdale likes to win. “Of course I’ve heard of her.”

“She read your piece in The Atlantic. We both did. ‘The Art of Education and the Death of the Thinking American Electorate.’ We were impressed.”

“Thank you,” I gush. “It was something I felt was missing from the discourse –”

“What you wrote was a philosophy. It wasn’t a policy.”

This brings me up short. “I understand why you’d think that, but I –”

“Don’t worry, I know you have the policy chops. I know you won Ohio for Janey Bennett. The 138th for Carl Moseley. You’re a talented young lady, Eleanor.”

“Mr. Brookdale –”

“Call me Gavin.”

“Then call me Ella. No one calls me Eleanor.”

“Alright, Ella, would you like to be the education consultant for Wilkes’ campaign?”

Silence.

“Hello?”

“Yes!” I bleat. “Yes, of course! She’s incredible –”

“Great. Come down to my office today and we’ll read you in.”

All the breath leaves my body. I can’t seem to get it back. “So… here’s the thing. I-I’m in England.”

“Fine, when you get back.”

“… I get back in June.”

Silence.

“Are you consulting over there?”

“No, I have a… I got a Rhodes and I’m doing a –”

Gavin chortles. “I was a Rhodie.”

“I know, Sir.”

“Gavin.”

“Gavin.”

“What are you studying?”

“English Language and Literature 1830 to 1914.”

Beat. “Why?”

“Because I want to?” Why does it come out as a question?

“You don’t need it. Getting the Rhodes is what matters. Doing it is meaningless, especially in Literature from 1830 to 19-whatever. The only reason you wanted it was to help you get that life-changing political job, right? Well, I’m giving that to you. So come home and let’s get down to business.”

“Next!”

A customs agent – stone-faced, turbaned, impressive beard – waves me forward. I take one step over the line, but hold a finger up to him. He’s not even looking at me. “Gavin, can I call –”

“She’s going to be the nominee, Ella. It’s going to be the fight of my life and I need all hands – including yours – on deck, but we’re going to do it.”

He’s delusional. But, my God, what if he’s right? A shiver of excitement snakes through me. “Gavin –”

“Listen, I’ve always backed the winning candidate, but I have never backed someone who I personally, deeply, wanted to win.”

“Miss?” Now the customs agent looks at me.

Gavin chuckles at my silence. “I don’t want to have to convince you, if you don’t feel –”

“I can work from here.” Before he can argue, I continue, “I will make myself available at all hours. I will make Wilkes my priority.” Behind me, a bloated, red-faced businessman reeking of gin, moves to squeeze around me. I head him off, grabbing the railing, saying into the phone, “I had two jobs in college while volunteering in field offices and coordinating multiple city council runs. I worked two winning congressional campaigns last year while helping to shape the education budget for Ohio. I can certainly consult for you while reading books and writing about them occasionally.”

“Miss!” the customs agent barks. “Hang up the phone or step aside.” I hold my finger up higher (as if visibility is the problem) and widen my stance over the line.

“What’s your date certain for coming home?” Gavin asks.

“June 11th. I already have a ticket. Seat 32A.”

“Miss!” The customs agent and the man bark at me.

I look down at the red line between my sprawled feet. “Gavin, I’m straddling the North Atlantic right now. I literally have one foot in England and one in America and if I don’t hang up they’ll –”

“I’ll call you back.”

He disconnects.

What does that mean? What do I do? Numbly, I hurry to the immigration window, coming face to face with the dour agent. I adopt my best beauty-pageant smile and speak in the chagrined, gee-whiz tone I know he expects. “I am so sorry, Sir, my sincerest apologies. My Mom’s –”

“Passport.” He’s back to not looking at me. I’m getting the passive-aggressive treatment now. I hand over my brand new passport with the crisp, un-stamped pages. “Purpose of visit?”

“Study.”

“For how long will you be in the country?”

I pause. I glance down at the dark, unhelpful screen of my phone. “I… I don’t know.”

Now he looks up at me.

“A year,” I say. Screw it. “An academic year.”

“Where?”

“Oxford.” Saying the word out loud cuts through everything else. My smile becomes genuine. He asks me more questions, and I suppose I answer, but all I can think is:

I’m here. This is actually happening. Everything has come together according to plan.

He stamps my passport, hands it back, lifts his hand to the line.

“Next!”

 

#

 

When I was thirteen I read an article in Seventeen Magazine called, “My Once in a Lifetime Experience,” and it was a personal account of an American girl’s year abroad at Oxford. The classes, the students, the parks, the pubs, even the chip shop (“pictured, bottom left”) seemed like another world. Like slipping through a wormhole into a universe where things were ordered and people were dignified and the buildings were older than my entire country. I suppose thirteen is an important age in every girl’s life, but for me, growing up in the middle of nowhere, with a family that had fallen apart? I needed something to hold onto. I needed inspiration. I needed hope. The girl who wrote the article had been transformed. Oxford had unlocked her life and I was convinced that it would be the key to mine.

So I made a plan: get to Oxford.

After going through more customs checkpoints, I follow signs for The Central Bus Terminal and find an automatic ticket kiosk. The “£” sign before the amount looks so much better, more civilized, more historical than the American dollar sign, which always seems overly suggestive to me. Like it should be flashing in sequential neon lights above a strip club. $ – $ – $. Girls! Girls! Girls!

The kiosk’s screen asks me if I want a discounted return ticket (I assume that means round trip), and I pause. My flight back to Washington is on June 11th, barely sixteen hours after the official end of Trinity term. I have no plans to return to the states before then, instead staying here over the two long vacations (in December and March) and traveling. In fact, I already have my December itinerary all planned. I purchase the return ticket, then cross to a bench to wait for the next bus.

My phone dings and I look down. An email from The Rhodes Foundation reminding me about the orientation tomorrow morning.

For whatever reason, out of all the academic scholarships in the world, most people seem to have heard of The Rhodes. It’s not the only prestigious scholarship to be had, but it’s the one that I wanted. Every year, America sends 32 of its most overachieving, uber-competitive, social-climbing, do-gooder nerds to Oxford. It’s mostly associated with geniuses, power-players, global leaders. Let me demystify this: to get a Rhodes, you have to be slightly unhinged. You have to have a stellar GPA, excel in multiple courses of study, be socially entrepreneurial, charity-minded, and athletically proficient (though the last time I did anything remotely athletic I knocked out Jimmy Brighton’s front tooth with a foul ball, so take that tenet with a grain of salt). I could have gone after other scholarships. There’s the Marshal, the Fulbright, the Watson, but the Rhodies are my people. They’re the planners.

The other finalist selected from my district (a Math/Econ/Classics triple-major and Olympic archer who had discovered that applying Game Theory to negotiations with known terrorists makes the intel 147% more reliable) told me, “I’ve been working toward getting a Rhodes since Freshman year.” To which I replied, “Me, too.” He clarified, “Of high school.” To which I replied, “Me, too.”

While, yes, the Rhodes is a golden ticket to Oxford, it’s also a built-in network and the means to my political future. It ensures that people who would have otherwise discounted me – this unconnected girl from the soybean fields of Ohio – will take a second, serious look. People like Gavin Brookdale.

Going after things the way I do, being who I am, has alienated my entire hometown and most of my extended family. My mom hadn’t gone to college and my dad had dropped out after two years because he’d thought it was more important to change the world than learn about it, and there I was, this achievement machine making everyone around it vaguely uncomfortable. She thinks she’s better than everyone else.

Honestly, I don’t. But I do think I’m better than what everyone, besides my dad, told me I was.

 

#

 

I wake up in a moment of panic when the bus I’d boarded back at Heathrow jerks to a stop, sending the book on my lap to the floor. Hastily retrieving it, I force my sleepy eyes to take in the view from the floor-to-ceiling window in front of me. I chose the seat on the upper level at the very front, wanting to devour every bit of English countryside on the way to Oxford. Then I slept through it.

Pushing through the fog in my head, I peer outside. A dingy bus stop in front of a generic cell phone store. I look for a street sign, trying to get my bearings. My info packet from the college said to get off at the Queens Lane stop on High Street. This can’t be it. I glance behind me and no one on the bus is moving to get off, so I settle back into my seat.

The bus starts up again, and I breathe deeply, trying to wake up. I jam the book into my backpack. I’d wanted to finish it before my first class tomorrow, but I can’t focus. I was too excited to eat or sleep on the plane. My empty stomach and all-nighter is catching up to me. The time difference is catching up to me. The last twelve years spent striving for this moment is catching up to me.

Inside my jacket pocket, my phone vibrates. I pull it out and see the same number from earlier. I take a deep breath and preemptively answer, “Gavin, listen, I was thinking, let’s do a trial period of, say, a month, and if you feel that I need to be there –”

“Not necessary.”

My throat tightens. “Please, just give me thirty days to prove that –”

“It’s fine. I made it work. Just remember who comes first.”

Elation breaks through the fog. My fist clenches in victory and my smile reaches all the way to my temples. “Absolutely,” I say in my most professional voice. “Thank you so much for this opportunity. You won’t be disappointed.”

“I know that. That’s why I hired you. What’s your fee? FYI: there’s no money.”

There’s never any money. I tell him my fee anyway and we settle on something that I can live with. The Rhodes is paying my tuition and lodging and I get a small stipend for living expenses on top of that. I decide right then that what Gavin’s going to pay me will go directly into my travel budget.

“Now, go,” he says, “Have fun. You’ve clearly earned it. There’s a pub you should visit in the center of town. The Turf. See where one of your fellow Rhodes Scholars – a young William Jefferson Clinton – ‘didn’t’ inhale.”

“Ha, got it. Will do.”

“Just take your phone with you. Your phone is an appendage, not an accessory. Okay?”

I nod even though he can’t see me. “Okay. It’s a plan.” Just as I say this, the bus rounds a bend and there she is:

Oxford.

Beyond a picturesque bridge, the narrow two-lane road continues into a bustling main street, lined on each side by buildings with a hodge-podge of architectural styles, no room to breathe between them. Like the crowd at the finish line of a marathon, these buildings cheer me on, welcoming me to their city. Some are topped with sloped, slate roofs, others with battlements. Some of the larger buildings have huge wooden gates that look as if they were carved in place, a fusion of timeless wood and stone that steals my breath. Maybe those doors lead to some of the 38 individual Oxford colleges? Imagining it, dreaming of it all these years, doesn’t do it justice.

I look skyward. Punctuating the horizon are the tips of other ancient buildings, high-points of stone bordering the city like beacons.

“The City of Dreaming Spires,” I murmur to myself.

“Indeed it is,” Gavin says in my ear. I’d forgotten he was still on the line.

That’s what they call Oxford. A title well deserved. Because that means, before it was my dream or Seventeen Magazine girl’s dream, it was someone else’s dream as well.

Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator. She graduated with a degree in English and creative writing from Middlebury College and Oxford University. While she was in England, her flirtation with tea blossomed into a full-blown love affair, culminating in her eventual certification as a tea master.

Connect with Julia

Website: http://www.jmwhelan.com

Facebook: @justjuliawhelan

Twitter: @justjuliawhelan

Instagram: @justjuliawhelan

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2939944.Julia_Whelan

Woohoo Interview!!! DEAD GIRL RUNNING Author Christina Dodd

Woohoo Interview!!! DEAD GIRL RUNNING Author Christina Dodd

Woohoo we are so excited to welcome DEAD GIRL RUNNING Author New York Times Bestselling Author Christina Dodd!! 

I have three confessions to make:
1. I’ve got the scar of a gunshot on my forehead.
2. I don’t remember an entire year of my life.
3. My name is Kellen Adams…and that’s half a lie.

Girl running…from a year she can’t remember, from a husband she prays is dead, from homelessness and fear. Tough, capable Kellen Adams takes a job as assistant manager of a remote vacation resort on the North Pacific Coast. There amid the towering storms and the lashing waves, she hopes to find sanctuary. But when she discovers a woman’s dead and mutilated body, she’s soon trying to keep her own secrets while investigating first one murder…then another.

Now every guest and employee is a suspect. Every friendly face a mask. Every kind word a lie. Kellen’s driven to defend her job, her friends and the place she’s come to call home. Yet she wonders–with the scar of a gunshot on her forehead and amnesia that leaves her unsure of her own past–could the killer be staring her in the face?

Amazon

Thank you, Miranda and Joyfully Reviewed for giving me a chance to speak with your readers.

 

What drew you to the suspense genre?

 

I write what I read…and since I’ve written historical romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense and suspense, you know I love to hop around. But no matter the genre, if there’s a suspense core to the story, I’m a happy reader, and a happy writer.

 

What kind of research have you done for your murder mysteries?

 

I have not killed a single person, regardless of the provocation.

 

Why? What have you heard?

 

Your writing provides such clear visualizations I felt like I was right there with Kellen.

 

Thank you! That is a compliment I treasure. I’ve waited eight years to write Kellan’s story and I want every reader to see with her eyes, struggle with her memories (and lack of them), and live in her action scenes. Her experiences with marriage, the military and day-to-day life aren’t unique to her, and she speaks to the growth of every woman.

 

What inspired the hauntingly beautiful Yearning Sands Resort?

 

The hauntingly beautiful Washington coast. I wanted the resort to be interesting, a destination for tourists, but the unique part of the Yearning Sands experience is the beach, the mountains, the whales, the biking, the boating, the roaring Pacific storms and the moments of absolute peace when the only things that matter are the beating of your own heart and the sunset glow across the sky.

 

Here is a photo (unretouched) of a sunset seen from my house in NW Washington. Yes, it rains a lot, but it can be breathtaking.

The ending of Dead Girl Running is one of the best jaw-dropping cliffhangers I’ve read. Did you know going in what those final scenes were going to be?

 

(gleeful) Oh, yes. I certainly did.

 

I’ve seen complaints on a couple of Goodreads early reviews; they didn’t like the cliffhanger ending. So if you’re anti-cliffhanger, hold off on DEAD GIRL RUNNING. And plug your ears, because people are going to talk about it.

 

The next book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL ME, picks up the threads and gallops on with Kellan’s story. This series is a three-parter, designed to keep every reader waiting on the next installment.

 

When will WHAT DOESN’T KILL ME be arriving and what will the tone be?

 

WHAT DOESN’T KILL ME is scheduled for February 2019. The tone is dark, intense, terrifying…and I laughed all the time I was writing it. Once you read the DEAD GIRL RUNNING cliffhanger, you’ll know why.

 

The opening line is, “WHAT DOESN’T KILL ME … had better start running.”

Readers should visit my website and join my mailing list for news, corny jokes and a book list sorted by genre, series and in order.

Blitz! FORTUITY by Rochelle Paige

Blitz! FORTUITY by Rochelle Paige

Fortuity, the first in the all-new, emotional and romantic Fortuity Duet by Rochelle Paige, is available NOW!

The only kinds of luck I knew were bad and worse…until my life hung in the balance. I finally caught a break in the form of a second chance.

I vowed not to let it go to waste.

To make a difference.

But I didn’t start really living until I met him.

Dillon Montgomery.

My complete opposite—except for our matching tortured souls.

I couldn’t resist him for long.

How could I when his smallest touch made my heart race?

When it felt like we were destined to be together.

But sometimes luck and sorrow are intertwined…

Excerpt:

Dillon twisted his neck and flashed me an apologetic grin over his shoulder. Unwanted butterflies swirled in my belly, and I quickly yanked my hands away from his shoulders and took a step backwards. His eyes flashed with male satisfaction and his grin grew wider. Determined to ignore the impact he had on me, I shifted my focus to the students. “Your test date is coming fast, so you’ll need to squeeze in as much extra study time as you can without neglecting your regular coursework. Maybe set aside some time during Thanksgiving break when you don’t have as much homework.”
“Ugh. Studying over break sucks,” one of the girls complained.
“Yeah, but you guys are in the homestretch. This test score is one of the last things you need to get into college. Trust me, it’ll be worth the extra effort.”
“I guess if you could get into college while recovering from a transplant, then the least I can do is a little bit of studying over a holiday break that isn’t even that big of a deal since I don’t have a family to celebrate it with anyway.”
The other kids nodded in agreement, and I snuck a peek at Dillon while everyone finished packing up. His brown eyes were wide with shock. I quickly looked away before he could ask me anything, and focused on saying my goodbyes as the kids all headed out. We both kept quiet—for which I was incredibly grateful—as Dillon helped me clean up the room. When we were back on the road, I turned to him and asked, “Were you really teaching my kids how to count cards?”
His lips tilted up at the edges. “Maybe just a little.”
“It’s a good thing none of them have any money to gamble or else they might learn to enjoy blackjack as much as you do.” His lip tilt turned into a full-fledged grin, and I glared at him. “I don’t know why you’re grinning at me! Look at what your affinity for gambling got you.”
“What?” He pointed at his face. “The black eye?”
“Yeah, for starters.”
His grin grew into a blinding smile. “It was worth it.”
“What? Why?”
“Because it’s the reason I met you.”
Shit. Those damn butterflies took flight in my stomach again

Download today or read FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2F5wXni

Amazon Universal: http://mybook.to/Fortuity

Add to GoodReads: https://bit.ly/2G71HcP

Preorder the stunning conclusion, Serenity, Today!

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2Hi9zsJ

Amazon Universal: http://mybook.to/SerenityRP

iBooks: https://apple.co/2JdJkAg

Nook: https://bit.ly/2HoLBLB

Add to GoodReads: https://bit.ly/2K8zgK8

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rochelle Paige is the Amazon bestselling author of more than twenty books. She absolutely adores reading and her friends growing up used to tease her when she trailed after them, trying to read and walk at the same time. She loves stories with alpha males, sassy heroines, hot sex and happily ever afters. She is a bit of a genre hopper in both her reading and her writing. So far she’s written books in several romance sub-genres including new adult, contemporary, paranormal and romantic suspense.

She is the mother of two wonderful sons who inspired her to chase her dream of being an author. She wants them to learn from her that you can live your dream as long as you are willing to work for it.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ rochellepaigeauthor/

Facebook Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/ groups/1436132763270558/

Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/Ly1Tn

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ RochellePaige1 | @RochellePaige1

IG: https://www.instagram.com/ rochellepaigeauthor/ | @rochellepaigeauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/ author/show/7328358.Rochelle_ Paige

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/ Rochelle-Paige/e/B00HEWGCFY

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/ profile/rochelle-paige

TIME TO BID! LIFT for Autism!

TIME TO BID! LIFT for Autism!

BID | GIVE | LIFT Wear | GIVEAWAY | List of Auction Items

The LIFT Auction is open for bidding!

Monday, April 23 – Friday, April, 27

Bid Here: http://bit.ly/LIFT2018Bid

Click here to enter the $50 Gift Card GIVEAWAY celebrating LIFT!

It’s time! The LIFT 4 Autism auction is open for bidding until Friday, April 27, 5pm EST.

A few bidding tips

1. You must register to bid. This connects any bids you make to an email address and alerts you if someone submits a higher bid, or ultimately if you have the highest bid when the auction closes and you win.

Register, browse and bid here: http://bit.ly/LIFT2018Bid

2. US Only v. International. Before you bid on an item, please note if it is marked Domestic (US Only) or International. If you are outside the US, bid on and win an item marked US Only/domestic, the donor is not obligated to ship Internationally, and the bid will instead be awarded to the next highest eligible bid.

3. There are about 350 items up for bid. For quick reference, you can view this rough list of items, or you can browse, scrolling from page to page, or you can use the search window to find a particular item.

5. When bidding closes, the person with the highest bid at that time is the winner and will be automatically alerted at the email address they used to register.

5. Pay for your bid when you receive the notification that you were the winning bidder. Failure to pay for the bid forfeits the item to the next highest bidder.

Don’t wanna bid? Here’s 2 other ways to give & be involved!

→Make a financial donation to Kulture City through the LIFT Campaign. (No amount is too small!)

GIVE HERE: http://bit.ly/LIFT2018Give

→Buy LIFT Wear (T-shirts, totes, mugs, etc…) All proceeds to Kulture City.

http://bit.ly/LIFT2018Tee

Just a few auction highlights:

All proceeds from the auction, TeeSpring campaign, and online donations go directly to Kulture City, our national charitable partner and the incredible work they do for ASD families. Learn more about their programs at kulturecity.org.

Contact us at liftauction@gmail.com with questions.

Don’t miss a thing!

LIFT Mailing List | Facebook Group | Instagram | Twitter

 

Review & Excerpt SONG OF BLOOD AND STONE by L. Penelope

Review & Excerpt SONG OF BLOOD AND STONE
by L. Penelope

A treacherous, thrilling, epic fantasy about an outcast drawn into a war between two powerful rulers.

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

Jack’s mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagamiri is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and it’s people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda’s Earthsong to do it. They escape their ruthless captors and together they embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps.

Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation.

The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.

CHAPTER TWO
Jackal and Monkey stood at the edge of a wide canyon. Monkey asked, If I leap and make it to the other side, was that my destiny or merely my good luck? Jackal replied, Our destiny can be taken in hand, molded, and shaped, while chance makes foolishness out of whatever attempts to control it. Does this make destiny the master of luck?  —collected folktales

Jack had found himself in a great many hopeless situations in his life, but this one was the grand champion—a twenty-­two-­year record for dire occurrences. He only hoped this wouldn’t be the last occurrence and sent up yet another prayer that he might live to see his twenty-­third year. The temperature had dropped precipitously. His spine was assaulted by the rocky ground on which he lay, but really that was the least of his discomforts.

His vision had begun to swim about an hour ago, and so at first he thought the girl looming above him was a mirage. She peered down at his hiding spot behind a cluster of coarse shrubbery, her head cocked at an angle. Jack went to stand, years of breeding kicking in, his muscle memory offended at the idea of not standing in the presence of a lady, but apparently his muscles had forgotten the bullet currently lodged within them. And the girl was Lagrimari— not strictly a lady, but a woman nonetheless—and a beautiful one, he noticed as he squinted into the dying light. Wild, midnight curls floated carelessly around her head, and piercing dark eyes regarded him. Her dress was drab and tattered, but her smooth skin was a
confectioner’s delight. His stomach growled. When was the last time he’d eaten?

Her presence meant he was still on the Lagrimari side of the mountain range bordering the two lands and had yet to cross the other, more powerful barrier keeping him from his home of Elsira: the Mantle. The girl frowned down at him, taking in his bedraggled appearance. From his position lying on the ground, he tried his best to smooth his ripped uniform, the green fatigues of the Lagrimari army. Her confusion was apparent. Jack was obviously Elsiran; aside from his skin tone, the ginger hair and golden honey-­colored eyes were a dead giveaway. And yet he wore the uniform of his
enemy. “Please don’t be scared,” he said in Lagrimari. Her brows rose toward her hairline as she scanned his supine and bloodied body. Well, that was rather a ridiculous thing to say. “I only meant that I mean you no harm. I . . .” He struggled with how to explain himself.

There were two possibilities. She could be a nationalist who would turn him in to the squad of soldiers currently combing the mountain for him, perhaps to gain favor with the government, or she could be like so many Lagrimari citizens, beaten down by the war with no real loyalty to their dictator or his thugs. If she was the former, he was already dead, so he took a chance with the truth. “You see, I was undercover, spying from within the Lagrimari army. But now there are men looking for me, they’re not far, but . . .” He paused to take a breath; the effort of speaking was draining. He suspected he had several cracked or broken ribs in addition to the gunshot wound. His vision swirled again, and the girl turned into two. Two beautiful girls. If these were his last moments before traveling to the World After, then at least he had something pleasant to look at.

He blinked rapidly and took another strained breath. His mission was not complete; he could not die yet. “Can you help me? Please. I’ve got to get back to Elsira.” She stole an anxious glance skyward before kneeling next to him. Her cool hand moved to his forehead. The simple touch was soothing, and a wave of tension rolled off him. “You must be delirious.” Her voice was rich, deeper than he’d expected. It eased the harsh consonants of the Lagrimari language, for the first time making it sound like something he could imagine being pleasant to listen to. She worked at the remaining buttons of his shirt, pulling the fabric apart to reveal his ruined chest. Her expression was appraising as she viewed the damage, then sat back on her haunches, pensive.

“It probably looks worse than it is,” he said.

“I doubt that.”

Jack’s chuckle sounded deranged to his own ears, so it was no surprise that the girl looked at him askance. He winced—laughing was a bad idea at this point—and struggled for breath again. “The soldiers . . . ​­they’re after me. I have to get back through the Mantle.”

“Shh,” she said, peering closely at him. “Hush all that foolishness; you’re not in your right mind. Though I’ll admit, you speak Lagrimari surprisingly well. I’m not sure what happened to you, but you should save your strength.” She closed her eyes, and suddenly his whole body grew warmer, lighter. The odd sensation of Earthsong pulsated through him. He had only experienced it once before, and it hadn’t been quite like this. The touch of her magic stroked him intimately, like a brush of fingers across his skin. The soft vibration cascaded over his entire body, leaving him feeling weightless.

He gasped, pulling in a breath, and it was very nearly an easy thing to accomplish. Tears pricked his eyes. “Sovereign bless you.” Her expression was grave as she dug around in her bag. “It’s just a patch. You must have ticked someone off real good. It’d take quite a while to fix you up properly, and the storm’s coming. You need to find shelter.”

She retrieved a jar filled with a sweet-­smelling substance and began spreading it over his wounds. The Earthsong had turned down the volume of his pain, and the cream soothed him even more.

“What is that?”

“Just a balm. Helps with burns, cuts.” Her hand paused for a moment. “Never gunshot wounds, but it’s worth a try.” He laid his head back on the ground, closing his eyes to savor the ability to breathe deeply again. “A quick rest and I’ll be back on my way. Need to keep moving, though. Need to get back.”

“Back through the Mantle?” Her tone vibrated with skepticism.

“And away from the Lagrimari soldiers chasing you?”

“Yes.” Her palm met his forehead again. She thought he was delusional. He wished he was. Wished the last few weeks had been nothing but the imaginings of an impaired mind.

Author L. Penelope has developed a unique and interesting premise with her Earthsinger Chronicles.  The first book Song of Blood and Stone introduces us to Jasminda and Jack. These two come from vastly different backgrounds and therefore have different agendas.  I truly enjoyed getting to know both of them.  It is easy to become emotionally involved in these characters with Ms. Penelope’s highly entertaining, high octane writing style.

Jasminda is a captivating heroine.  She has faced many hardships that have made her a force to be reckoned with.  I found her Earthsinger abilities to be incredibly fascinating.  Jack has all the qualities a girl could ask for in her hero.  He is very easy to fall for and root for! When these two get together you can feel the power on the pages.  They go on quite the journey in Song of Blood and Stone discovering an epic romance along the way!  I don’t want to give anything away but I will tell you things move fast in the best ways.  I was glued to the pages and finished in one sitting.  I am looking forward to the next book in the Earthsinger ChroniclesSong of Blood and Stone is the perfect read for every young adult lover but excellent for us adults as well.

Leslye Penelope has been writing since she could hold a pen and loves getting lost in the worlds in her head. She is an award-winning author of new adult, fantasy, and paranormal romance. She lives in Maryland with her husband and their furry dependents: an eighty-pound lap dog and an aspiring feral cat.

SONG OF BLOOD AND STONE by L. Penelope

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.Source: Publisher SongContinue Reading

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