Book Excerpt: Moa

Please enjoy this excerpt from Moa, a paranormal YA novel with a literary bent by Tricia Stewart Shiu. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $600 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, 5 autographed copies of Moa, and 5 autographed copies of its sequel, Statue of Ku.

 

Eighteen-year-old, Hillary Hause’s left thumb searches frantically to turn on the “I’m Okay to Fly” hypnotherapy recording. Her nerves on edge, fuchsia fingernails press into the blue pleather armrests of her airplane seat.

“No spells can help you now,” she whispers to herself under her breath—then checks to see if anyone notices. Nope, they don’t.

The plane lifts through the early morning, gray fog of California, “June Gloom” giving way to the azure sky, and Hillary covers her curly brown head and retreats beneath the questionably clean plane blanket cranking the volume to drown out the drone of the engines.

“Outer shell close to breaking.” This time she doesn’t care if anyone hears.

I hover just beyond her “outer shell”—a movement in the periphery, a faintly familiar scent, a fond memory just beyond recognition, a non-human observer. Before the week is up, Hillary will save my life, as I will hers. But, for now, more about Hillary.

The drink cart rolls past the blanket, which has, by now become a moist steamy cave.

 

“Hey, freak. I hope your plane crashes.” The memory reverberates through her brain despite her attempts to distract herself with the hypnotherapy recording. She increases the volume, but the ugly conversation, which occurred just before school ended, still haunts her mind.

“I guess the only people they check on those flights are the suspicious ones,” Krystal Sykes, a bully from her home room, leans in as Hillary hastens to grab books for her next class. Krystal, also a senior, has hounded Hillary since the first day of freshman year and this is the final day during the final hour at this tiny high school of 376 students —where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

“Look, Krystal.” Hillary turns her eyes toward the sneering blonde. “It’s the last day of school, we’ll never see each other again. Can you give it a rest?” These are the most words the two young women have exchanged in the entire four years of high school.

A look of shock replaces Krystal’s smug snick, “Oh, so now you talk.” She leans in, so close that her spray tan becomes a patchy Impressionist painting. Her pores are blotched with cakey, two shades too dark powder, her unblended cream eyeshadow creases across the center of her lid and her tropical breeze flavored breath threatens to strangle the words right out of Hillary.

“I know all about your witchcraft practices and have made a few spells of my own. Trust me. You’ll never make it to your sister’s house in Hawaii.” Krystal’s backpack jingles and Hillary watches her spin around and skip down the hall.

 

Hillary is not a witch. She has, however, carefully crafted a “shell” to protect herself from bullies like Krystal—who, as far as Hillary can tell—is not a witch either. She has watched Krystal throughout elementary, middle and high school and has not been able to discern whether or not she practices witchcraft. No matter what Krystal’s background, her intent is to harm. And there is nothing worse than a spell with an aim to hurt. Hillary has had no choice but to remain in a constant state of defensiveness.

The twenty-minute recording ends and Hillary falls into a troubled sleep—feeling every bump and hearing every creak of the plane.

With about an hour left in the flight, Hillary awakens with a “turtle headache.” Hillary’s older sister Molly taught her this term which means a headache caused by sleeping too long underneath the covers of one’s bed.

Sadly, Molly lost her husband, Steve, last year in an unfortunate surfing accident. The throbbing pain in Hillary’s left temple could be the result of remaining submerged beneath an airplane blanket and wedged between the window and armrest, or it could be from worry about how Molly and her niece, Heidi are dealing with their devastating loss.

Disoriented, Hillary pokes her head out just in time to glimpse puffy clouds and sparkling sea below. A flood of excitement and sheer wonder flows through Hillary in the form of a tingle from her head to her toes. And then, a lovely thought:  “…And for an Everlasting Roof, The Gambrels of the Sky…” She will enjoy this plane ride, thanks in part to Emily Dickinson.

 

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Moa and Statue of Ku eBook editions have both been dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing either of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $600 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of each book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copies of Moa and Statue of Ku for just 99 cents
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About Moa: Eighteen-year-old, Hillary, anticipates adventure as she embarks for trip to Honolulu, but gets more than she bargained for when Moa, an ancient Hawaiian spirit, pays her an unexpected visit. Get it on Amazon.

About Statue of Ku:  The second book in the Moa Book Series, “The Statue of Ku” follows Hillary and Moa as they jet to Egypt on the Prince’s private plane to reclaim Moa’s family heirloom, the inimitable statue of Ku. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Tricia Stewart Shiu combines her addiction to the written word with her avid interest in the healing arts and all things metaphysical in her novels Moa and Statue of Ku and looks forward to finding new ways to unite her two loves. Visit Tricia on her websiteTwitterFacebook, or GoodReads.

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Book Review: The Child Goddess

The Child GoddessThis was another bargain bin book from Barnes & Noble a year or two ago; I hadn’t ever heard of Louise Marley before seeing this hardcover. The image was intriguing, and the fly-leaf description caught my attention:

A priest of the Order of Mary Magdalene and a skilled anthropologist, Isabel Burke has been called offworld to the barren planet of Virimund. The ExtraSolar Corporation, developing Virimund as an energy source, has encountered an “incident” that has stopped their work. It seems there are people on Virimund after all–descendants of an emigrant ship that left Earth three hundred years before. And something has changed them.

There are children born on Virimund who do not age. Upon discovery, these lost souls are sent to an island where they live by themselves, ashamed that they will never become truly human. One of these children has been captured by ExtraSolar, which hopes to discover the secret to her ageless existence. Under constant examination and study, the girl has yet to utter a single word. For ExtraSolar, she is a resource to be used and discarded. But for Isabel, she is an innocent who needs help.

I’ve always been drawn to stories about contemplative, introverted people and their motivations, and this is a fine example of that type of character. Except for the fact that this is set in a far-future Earth and one of its lost-colony planets, this story reflects the inner journey of The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin. Start with the premise of a new priesthood, solely for women, based on the understanding that Mary of Magdalene was Jesus’ first disciple. Add to that the scientific training and humanitarian focus protagonist Isabel Burke brings to the table, and you have a fascinating intersection of faith, care, and rigorous process.

When I first read the book, I could appreciate those elements. I had a harder time appreciating the pacing of the story. For a shorter novel it felt like it took me forever to read. The story ball hands off perspective between Isabel and her charge Oa, as well as various other characters, so while it’s clear whose head leads at the moment, it also never lets the reader settle comfortably in one perspective, underlining the vague sense of rootlessness the whole story tells.

Yet, the thematic drive that starts from the point of a botched first-contact scenario, through Isabel’s increasing drive to adopt the supposed child dislocated back to earth from that contact is profound on many levels. The subtle discourse on the nature of humanity and what makes an individual count as being worth rights and consideration is sophisticated.

For readers interested in a literary take on a scifi/fantasy theme, this book is definitely worth a try. I’m happy to recommend it even to those who are not normally fantasy fans; because of the complexity of the theme this qualifies as an edifying take on human rights outside the fraught political context our current Earth experience normally adds to such discussions.

Book Review: The Black Swan

The Black SwanMy experience with Mercedes Lackey’s books has been uneven over the years, so I’ve typically been reluctant to try a new series of hers without some kind of recommendation. In this case, it was a leap of faith, since it is a retelling of the Swan Lake story and I thought it was an extension of her other fractured fairy tale series, The Elemental Masters.

Amazon’s description is more concise than what’s on the back of the paperback version, and conveys enough similar information to show why I thought the stories might be related:

After his wife’s untimely death, a powerful sorcerer dedicates his life to seeking revenge against all womankind. He turns his captives into beautiful swans–who briefly regain human form by the fleeting light of the moon. Only Odette, noblest of the enchanted flock, has the courage to confront her captor. But can she gain the allies she needs to free herself and the other swan-maidens from their magical slavery? A monumental tale of loyalty and betrayal, of magic good and evil, of love both carnal and pure, and of the duality of human nature, The Black Swan is a rich tapestry which is sure to become an all-time masterpiece of fantasy.

Indeed, the story is engaging enough that I’ve read it a couple times. The relationship Lackey describes between Odile, the black witch in the ballet, and her father, provides context and the underlying tone of manipulation and emotional abuse. Baron Von Rothbart’s evil becomes apparent over the course of the story, but it’s Odile’s evolution that really provides the meat of the story:

She was tired of rebuffs when she expected praise; there must be something she could do to change the situation. For the past few days, she had devoured book after book in the library, sitting next to an open window overlooking the gardens in order to enjoy the summer evenings while she sought for a new direction to her work. She had to have something to show her father, for he kept up a steady inquiry into the progress of her studies. That inquiry would become painfully embarrassing soon; traces of sardonic amusement already showed in his voice. Her problem was that she couldn’t think of any course of study that would please him.

Finally, she tried a different approach to the problem. She cleaned off a wax tablet and sat in her favorite seat with it in her lap and a stylus in her hand, a single lamp burning above her head. She divided the tablet in half with a line scribed in the wax; on the right, she inscribed a word or symbol that stood for a spell she had mastered that had brought forth a word of praise, while on the left, similar signs for spells that had brought indifference, or worse, veiled disapproval.

The transformation from slavish and devoted daughter to woman who has her own agenda was thoroughly enjoyable. Swan Lake the ballet does not have a happily ever after, though the way Lackey develops even that element is consistent with the fully fleshed characters she develops over the course of the novel.

I can happily recommend this book to anyone interested in an updated take on an old fairy tale that doesn’t end in quite the bloody mess the original portrays. Technically, this is also a romance, given the happily ever afters that come with it, but there’s nothing customary or treacly about the way Lackey manages that conclusion.

Book Review: Dark Waters

Dark WatersHere again, my love of Twitter introduced me to a new (to me) author: @TheShannonMayer. She is fun and friendly there, and shares lots of interesting links. She’s been pretty prolific over the past year or so, though the majority of her work deals in zombies–something I’m not particularly keen on. Then she decided to take advantage of some of the freebie promos Amazon offers, and gave this one, based on Celtic legends, away for a few days. It’s hard for me to pass up free reads, or anything based on the Celtic legacy, so I went to look at her product page.

There wasn’t much of a blurb, but it was just enough for me to decide to take Mayer up on her offer:

Two sisters, one of them kidnapped + Two gorgeous men.
+ A legendary prophecy =
Monsters, magic, deception and sensuality.
Be prepared to dive into Dark Waters!

She’s giving it away again today and tomorrow as part of the KA Books Free Par-Tay, so I’d recommend you grab your chance to snatch up the engaging tale to try out something new.

The story explores the intricate interweave of family and fairy tale, and while the heroine seems to be one of the type who remains clueless and questioning for long enough for the reader to want to shake her, ultimately she proves her strength. To give you a sense of her state of mind, here’s how she tries to reconcile fact and fiction early on:

“A shark was it?” he said, a patronizing look on his face. I had the sudden urge to slap him. “It wasn’t a shark, it was…” I paused. I didn’t really know what the two monsters were; I had no name for them. And how was I to explain what I saw? They would blame my crazy descriptions on the fear and my past experiences. Or even my family history. Maybe Grandpa wasn’t as crazy as we’d thought. Or maybe I was about to join him at the Pavillion.

“It wasn’t a shark,” I said again, sticking to the one part I knew for sure.

There’s something frustrating to me about a person who spends so much time questioning their own sanity, though the author does a good job pointing out how the fraught relationship between Quinn, her mother, and her grandfather, and the toll their emotional abuse has taken on her. I’m also not a great fan of love triangles, but the one Mayer builds between Luke, Bres, and Quinn is compelling. As is the way she uncovers the layers that make Quinn’s mother one of the more unlikable characters I’ve read.

For those of you interested in a modern take on Celtic legends or a fast-paced adventure, this is a fun one to explore. It’s not the best-edited book I’ve read, but it offers interesting escapism that whips you through the story and does actually leave you wondering where Quinn will end up next.

Book Review: Even Villains Fall in Love

Even Villains Fall in LoveThis book review request actually came at a time when I was debating whether I should buy the book outright. I’m friends with @lianabrooks on Twitter and have enjoyed her blog posts on science-related topics and her wry tweeting style for some time. Plus, her whole thing with socks just cracks me up. I’m just not a huge fan of superhero stories, nor novellas, the former since they tend to fall into stereotypical batmanese and the latter because they just go by too quickly.

Nonetheless, the blurb intrigued me:

A super villain at the top of his game must choose between the world he wants and the woman he loves.

If you believe the rumors you know that Doctor Charm, the wickedly sexy super villain, retired in shame seven years ago after his last fight with the super hero Zephyr Girl. The fact that the charming Evan Smith—father of four and husband of the too-beautiful-to-be-real Tabitha—bears a resemblance to the defeated Doctor is pure coincidence. And, please, ignore the minions.

Everything is perfect in the Smith household, until Tabitha announces her return to work as a super hero. Evan was hoping to keep her distracted until after he rigged the 2012 presidential election, but—genius that he is—Evan has a backup plan. In his basement lab, Evan has a machine whose sole purpose is keeping Tabitha hungry for him.

But children and labs don’t mix. The machine is broken, and Tabitha storms out, claiming she no longer knows him. World domination takes a back seat to meeting his daughters’ demands to get Mommy back right now. This time his genius isn’t going to be enough—he’s going to need both his evil alter-ego, and the blooming super abilities of his children to save his wife. But even his most charming self might not be enough to save their marriage.

As it happens, I had another short airplane ride to visit family this week, and the story was just long enough to keep me entertained for the flight. I’m not sure my seat mates were quite as entertained for the number of times I giggled out loud.

This was a tongue-in-cheek take on the trope and just what I needed to kick my preconceived notions in the teeth: not all super hero stories are cut from the same cloth.

Theoretically, Tabitha wouldn’t change much. She’d be frostier. Inhibited perhaps, inattentive, less forgiving and more likely to question what he did in the lab. Super heroes were defenders of the right; they adhered to a strict moral code. One that didn’t involve villains.

I would almost call it a satire for its commentary on our expectations and the way it turns the genre on its ear. That’s also the best part of the story: showing that even with extraordinary abilities, we’re all a very human collection of blind spots and assumptions. The family dynamics of dealing with four precocious children layered in for yet another element to those interactions, making the tale truly a confection of laughs and plot twists. I still wished for more when I got to the end of the story, but it was satisfying enough to leave me with the classic “awwww” of a very well-done Happily Ever After.

It’s my pleasure to recommend the novella to anyone who has a yen for a romance set after the wedding and the kids have happened as well as to anyone who wants scifi with true-to-life characters. This short gem has a little bit of something for everyone, and is a worthwhile investment. I think I’ll need to go check out Brooks’ other works based not only on the engaging piece she’s put together here, but also because she’s built a decision tree about who might like the book that is not only realistic and helpful, but makes me smile.

#AtoZChallenge – Reflection Post

A to Z challenge survivor 2012This was the first year I had heard about the A to Z blog challenge–and I heard about it serendipitously when I was pondering publicity options for my release of Dust to Blood. So it served a two-fold purpose: To see whether I could blog that frequently, and to gather some of my notes and thoughts about background for my book as reference materials.

It turned out so well, I’ve created a table of all those links on my book’s permanent page. I got to share some of the really fascinating bits of research about Russia that I uncovered while I was writing the book–people are still giving me positive feedback about the pictures I found of Manpupuner. And it’s always fun to look through model portfolios to find the face that comes closest to representing an individual you’ve fabricated.

I’m finding it a fascinating side to myself that when given some sort of pseudo-competitive framework (like this one or NaNoWriMo), I’m able to stick to a regular schedule with relative ease. You’ll notice after April came to a close, I was silent here again for a week. Not that I don’t have a lot of excuses for needing some time off… but the A to Z challenge did prove to me that I was able to sit down daily to commit words to post. It worked especially well to have a schedule in place and know what I was going to be posting about.

Returning to the original focus of my blog–book reviews and author interviews–I’m thinking setting up a regular set of days where I’ll be posting (tentatively: Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday) is in my not-so-distant future. Putting together the image, tags, and categories as well as the tentative date the piece might right seems to keep my head in the game effectively. Stay tuned to see whether it works for the longer haul.

;)

#AtoZChallenge – Z is for Zar

Nicholas and AlexandraOK. I know I’m cheating a little, taking out the “T” you normally see at the beginning of the Anglicized version of this word, but I really struggled with finding a word related to Dust to Blood that began with Z for this final installment of the A to Z blogging challenge. After all, this is a story about Dragons, NOT Zombies. (And a quick shout-out/thank you to @MrsPickle_ who helped brainstorm this entry with me one night when I really should have been editing…)

;)

And there is a scene in the second half of the book where Anne and her group visit the Ipatiev house to see the location where the last Russian Tzar and his family were gunned down, so it’s a legitimate reference to my book.

Since this is the last in this series of blog posts, though, it’s also a nice transition back to my regularly scheduled programming. I read Nicholas and Alexandra when I was in 9th grade as part of a school assignment. While it’s billed as a non-fiction biography, though, the story read as part political and religious intrigue and part gripping horror.

It made quite an impression on me, both for the fact that I had seen how the revolution and counter-revolution had played out in the Soviet Union, but also because of the terror of those final days, where you didn’t know whom to trust, and everything was so outside the experience you had been raised to expect. For anyone with an interest in Russian history, and how the Romanovs came to their bloody end, this is recognized as the standard biography to draw you into that story. It’s well-written and worth the read even if you’re more interested in the tragedy of parents trying to find a solution to heal their hemophiliac son.

#AtoZChallenge – Y is for Ya ne ponimayu

I don't understand peopleMy penultimate A to Z blog challenge post. What a month! Doing 26 posts in a month seems like a mini NaNoWriMo–but I’m pleased with the background bits I’ve been able to share about Dust to Blood.

So today’s post reverts to language study, and another one of the very early phrases any beginning student learns: “Ya ne ponimayu” … “I don’t understand.”

When I did a Google image search for this phrase, then, I discovered some wit in Russia captioned this adorable cat picture with “Ne ponimayu ya lyudey” … “I don’t understand people.”

While we’re at it, I want to say “Thank you (very much)!” (in Russian: “spasiba” Спасибо!) for everyone who has been following along. I hope, someday, to also be able to say “You’re welcome!” (in Russian: “pazhAlusta” пожалуйста!) for sharing some basic Russian phrases with you and helping you explore a small corner of this fascinating culture.

Since Russian is the 8th-most-spoken language in the world, with an active population of 144 million speakers, some of these phrases might actually come in handy sooner than you might think.

#AtoZChallenge – X is for Xarasho

HarashoI won’t claim I’m not cheating a little with today’s X entry for the A to Z blog challenge, but the Cyrillic spelling and pronunciation for the word of the day could easily be represented by an X (update: Here it is in Cyrillic, so you know I’m not lying: Хорошо). So I’m running with it.

:D

I also have no idea how this particular banner came up in a Google search for the Russian word “Harasho”–but huge, red, bombastic, and prominently featuring Lenin was a common feature of my time in Moscow, so I’m posting it for its memorabilia effect. Not that you can actually see the Cyrillic “XCH” sound represented there (think: clearing your throat for this one–a loudly aspirated aitch sound with a bit of uvular involvement).

(Hey, it’s my blog, I can do what I want, right?)

;)

As for how this fits in to Dust to Blood? One thing I noticed when we lived in Moscow was that the verbal tick of many beginning English speakers there was that something was “guuud”. I don’t know if part of that is because they tend to use harasho to also mean OK (as in, “can you do x?” respond affirmatively with “harasho”), but it’s stuck in my head all these years. So it became a character element for me too. Similar to “da” (yes).

Or the Russian people are much more optimistic than any of their literature, fairy tales, or philosophies would have you believe. I’m not sure which is more ironic.

#AtoZChallenge – W is for Cold War

Cold War FlagsI struggled again, coming up with my 23rd entry in the A to Z blog challenge. There wasn’t anything obvious in Dust to Blood that would work for a W entry–until I took a step back with the help of my husband. He was right to point out that the backdrop for this story is the end of the Cold War. There were a lot of heady emotions as first the Berlin Wall fell, and then slowly, the remaining heavy duty hard-liners crumbled under the desire of their populations to pursue more open and democratic politics.

The Cold War kicked off in earnest at the end of WWII and found its name via the talents of George Orwell in the British paper, The Tribune. It was the formative back-drop for the Baby Boom generation, and by the time Gen Xers like me came around, it was such a fixture as to have entrenched itself in the collective psyche to such a degree nobody expected the world to be able to exist in anything other than this bipolar state.

I lived behind the Iron Curtain from 1978-1984, so most of my childhood memories involve the complexities of crossing very tense borders following specific protocols (“Don’t show the visa! The US doesn’t recognize this as an international border crossing!”). In Moscow, this was less of an issue than watching the new US Embassy being built–with the understanding that the contractors were embedding listening devices in every nook and cranny. My young experiences told me there was no such thing as privacy or secrets. The Iron Curtain fell, finally, when I was half-way through college, so the lessons of Perestroika and Glasnost made an equally deep impression.

All of this exposure has lived on in my dreams over the years, and is how I recognized the setting of my dream when Ivan and Anne first introduced themselves to me. My intermittent Russian lessons for you come from what I osmosed as a 2nd and 3rd grader. And the bogey-man of the KGB and other secret informants are partially brought to you by the fact that even now there is a Stasi dossier available in Berlin that documents that segment of my life.

The fact that there are still closed, totalitarian regimes, then, begs for the ongoing question to be answered: How are they maintaining power when logic indicates they should fail? So I’ll ask that question in books 2 and 3 of the series and see how it plays out in China and North Korea. ;)