September is just around the corner, folks and you know what that means. It means that we have a bunch of new upcoming books in September coming our way, to read and savor.
I must say, after switching to paperbacks a few weeks back, I have to admit, I have been reading more than when I was reading on Kindle. It’s absolutely crazy how quickly I go through books these days once I made the switch. As fancy and convenient reading on an e-reader sounds, at the end of the day––at least personally––I think it still can’t beat the feeling and smell of a book in my hands.
And yes, while paperbacks are more expensive than ebooks, for me, it seems to be a fair trade so long as I could get back into reading again. Your girl never again want to feel that despair of not being able to pick up or even desire to read a book for 6 months straight. For a book lover, there really is no hell crueler than that.
I just wanted to share what worked for me, especially if there are readers out there who are going through a reading slump as well. Try changing the medium with which you read your books, as that worked quite well for me. With that said, I think I have ranted long enough by now. Let us get started on the list of books coming in September that you should add to you to-read list.
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life. I hadn’t really cared much about him before then one way or another, but I had limits. It would’ve been all right if he’d saved my life some really extraordinary number of times, ten or thirteen or so—thirteen is a number with distinction. Orion Lake, my personal bodyguard; I could have lived with that. But we’d been in the Scholomance almost three years by then, and he hadn’t shown any previous inclination to single me out for special treatment.
Selfish of me, you’ll say, to be contemplating with murderous intent the hero responsible for the continued survival of a quarter of our class. Well, too bad for the losers who couldn’t stay afloat without his help. We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow.
Ah, but what about me, you ask, since I’d needed him to save me? Twice, even? And that’s exactly why he had to go. No one was going to let me explain that he’d only had to save me the first time—along with half a dozen other students—because he had set off the explosion in the alchemy lab fighting that chimaera, or that the second time around, the soul-eater was running away from him when it came into my cell. You could get away with one explanation like that, at best, and after that, no one cared. I had just fallen into the general mass of the hapless warts that Orion Lake had saved in the course of his brilliant progress, and that was intolerable.
Our rooms aren’t very big. He was only a few steps from my desk chair, still hunched panting over the bubbling purplish smear of the soul-eater that was now steadily oozing into the narrow cracks between the floor tiles, the better to spread all over my room. The fading incandescence on his hands was illuminating his face, not an extraordinary face or anything: he had a big beaky nose that would maybe be dramatic one day when the rest of his face caught up, but for now was just too large, and his forehead was dripping sweat and plastered with his silver-grey hair that he hadn’t cut for three weeks too long. He spends most of his time behind an impenetrable shell of devoted admirers, so it was the closest I’d ever been to him. He straightened and wiped an arm across the sweat. “You okay—Gal, right?” he said to me tiredly, just to put some salt on the wound. We’d been in the same lab section for three years.
“No thanks to you and your boundless fascination for every dark thing creeping through the place,” I snapped icily. “And it is not Gal, it has never been Gal, it’s Galadriel,” —the name wasn’t my idea, don’t look at me— “and if that’s too many syllables for you to manage all in one go, El will do.”
His head had jerked up and he was blinking at me in a sort of open-mouthed way. “Oh. Uh. I—I’m sorry?” he said, voice rising on the words, as if he didn’t understand what was going on.
“No, no,” I said. “I’m sorry. Clearly I’m not performing my role up to standard.” I threw a melodramatic hand up against my forehead. “Orion, I was so terrified,” I gasped breathily, and flung myself onto him. He tottered a bit: we were roughly the same height. “Thank goodness you were here to save me, I could never have managed a soul eater all on my own,” and I hiccupped a pathetically fake sob against his chest.
Would you believe, he actually tried to put his arm round me and give my shoulder a pat, that’s how automatic it was for him. I stepped deliberately on his foot and jammed my elbow into his stomach and shoved him off. He made a choked noise like a whoofing dog and staggered back to gawk at me. “I don’t need your help, you insufferable lurker,” I said. “Keep away from me, or you’ll be sorry.” I shoved him back one more step, and slid the cell door shut—with the big melted hole where the doorknob and lock had used to be, for which thanks—bare centimeters away from his face, enjoying the look of perfect confusion as it vanished away.
However, the soul-eater was still bubbling away on the floor of my cell, hissing as it deflated the rest of the way, and the putrescent stink was completely filling the room.
I was so angry that it took me six tries to get a spell for cleaning it up. When I stood up and hurled the fourth ancient scroll back into the impenetrable dark on the other side of my desk and yelled furiously, “I don’t want to summon an army of scuvara! I don’t wantto conjure walls of mortal flame! I want my bloody room clean!” what came flying out of the void in answer was a horrible tome encased in some kind of pale crackly leather with dark-stained spiked corners that scraped unpleasantly as it landed on my metal desk. It had probably come off a pig, but someone had clearly wanted you to think it had been flayed from a person, which was almost as bad, and it flipped itself open to a page with instructions for enslaving an entire mob of people to do your bidding. I’m sure they would have cleaned my room if I told them to.
I had to actually take out one of my mother’s stupid crystals and sit down on my narrow squeaky bed and meditate for ten minutes, with the stench of the soul-eater all around me and getting into my clothes and sheets and papers. You’d think that any smell would clear out quickly, since one whole wall of our rooms opens to the scenic view of a mystical void of empty darkness, so delightfully like living in a spaceship aimed directly into a black hole, but you’d be wrong. After I finally managed to walk myself back from the incoherent kicking levels of anger, I pushed the pig-skin book off the far edge of my desk back into the void—using a pen to touch it, just in case—and said as calmly as I could manage, “I want a simple household spell for cleaning away an unwanted mess with a bad smell.”
Sullenly down came thump a gigantic volume entitled Amunan Hamwerod packed completely full of spells written in Old English—my weakest dead language—and it didn’t open to any particular page, either.
That sort of thing is always happening to me. Some sorcerers get an affinity for weather magic, or transformation spells, or fantastic combat magics like dear Orion. I got an affinity for mass destruction.
Genre :Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT, Romance, Paranormal
Publish Date :September 1st, 2020
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
Yadriel pulled back the last of the cloth to reveal a dagger nestled inside. “Wow,” he breathed.
“It’s practical,” Maritza explained, hovering over his shoulder.
“It’s badass,” Yadriel corrected, a wide smile pressing into his cheeks.
The dagger was the length of his forearm with a straight blade and a cross guard that curved like sideways S. Lady Death had been delicately painted onto the polished wooden grip. Yadriel held the dagger in his hand, solid and reassuring. He traced his thumb along the thin lines of gold paint that radiated from Lady Death, feeling every intricate brushstroke.
This was his dagger. His portaje.
Yadriel had everything he needed. Now all that was left was to finish the ritual.
He was ready for this. He was determined to present himself to Lady Death, whether or not anyone else approved. But still, he hesitated. Clutching his portaje as he stared up at Lady Death, sucking in on his bottom lip. Doubt crept its way under his skin.
Yadriel jumped as Maritza placed a steady hand on his shoulder. Her brown eyes were intense as she studied his face.
“It just—” Yadriel cleared his throat, his eyes sweeping around the room.
Maritza’s eyebrows tipped with concern.
A brujx’s quinces was the most important day in their life. Yadriel’s dad, brother, and abuela should’ve been standing next to him. As he knelt on the hard stone floor, the emptiness pressed around him. In the silence, he could hear the static of the uneasy candle flames. Under the hollowed eyes of Lady Death, Yadriel felt small and alone.
“What if—what if it doesn’t work?” he asked. Even at nearly a whisper, his voice echoed through the empty church. His heart clenched. “What if she rejects me?”
“Escúchame.” Maritza gave his shoulders a tight squeeze. “You’ve got this, okay?”
Yadriel nodded, wetting his dry lips.
“You know who you are, I know who you are, and our Lady does, too.” She said with fierce conviction. “So screw the rest of them!” Maritza grinned at him. “Remember why we’re doing this.”
Yadriel steeled himself and spoke with as much courage as he could muster. “So they’ll see that I’m a brujo.”
“Well, yeah, but other than that.”
“Spite?” Yadriel guessed.
“Spite!” Martiza agreed enthusiastically. “They’re gonna feel real stupid once you show them. And I want you to savor that moment, Yads! Really”—she took in a deep breath through her nose and clasped her hands to her chest—“savor that taste of sweet, sweet vindication!”
A laugh jumped in Yadriel’s throat.
Maritza smiled. “Let’s do this, brujo.”
Yadriel could feel the goofy grin back on his face.
“Just don’t screw it up and make the dios shoot you down with lightning or something, okay?” she said, backing up a few steps. “I can’t carry the responsibility of the family black sheep on my own.”
Being transgender and gay had earned Yadriel the title of Head Black Sheep among the brujx. Though, in truth, being gay had actually been much easier for them to accept, but only because they saw Yadriel’s liking boys as still being heterosexual.
But Maritza had certainly earned the title in her own right as the only vegan bruja in their community. One year younger than Yadriel, she’d gone through her own quinces when she turned fifteen earlier that year, but she refused to heal because it required the use of animal blood. One of Yadriel’s earliest memories of Maritza was of her crying inconsolably when her mother had used blood from a pig to heal a child’s broken leg. Early on, Maritza decided she wanted no part of healing if it meant harming another living creature.
In the dim light of the church, Yadriel could see her portaje hanging around her neck—a rosary of pink quartz that ended in a silver cross, but the concealed vessel remained empty. Maritza explained that, even though she refused to use her powers, she still respected the diosa and their ancestors.
Yadriel admired her for her convictions, but he was also frustrated by them. All he wanted was to be accepted—he wanted to be given his own portaje, treated like any other brujo, and given the same responsibilities. Maritza, on the other hand, had been offered every right of the brujx, but she chose to reject it.
“Now, prisa!” Maritza said, waving him on impatiently.
Yadriel took a deep, steadying breath.
He tightened his grip on his Hydro Flask, the metal cool against his sweaty palms, as he exhaled through pursed lips.
With a more steadied resolve, Yadriel unscrewed the cap and poured the chicken blood into the bowl. To her credit, Maritza did her best to hide a look of disgust.
As the deep red liquid mixed with the tequila, a gust of wind blew through the church. The candle flames flickered. The air in the room felt thick, as if it were crowded with bodies.
Adrenaline coursed through Yadriel’s veins, and excited chills raced up his arms. When he spoke, he did his best to keep his voice steady and deep.
“Santísima Santa Muerte, te pido tu bendición,” Yadriel said, calling upon Lady Death to ask for her blessing.
A rush of air brushed against his face and dragged like fingers through his hair. The flames trembled, and the statue of Lady Death suddenly felt alive. She didn’t move or change, but Yadriel could feel something pressing toward him.
He lit a match and dropped it into the bowl. The liquid caught, bursting into flames. “Prometo proteger a los vivos y guiar a los muertos,” Yadriel said, vowing to uphold the responsibilities of the brujos. His hands trembled and he gripped his portaje tighter.
“Esta es mi sangre, derramada por ti.” Holding the dagger, Yadriel opened his mouth and pressed the tip to his tongue until it bit into him. He winced and held his portaje out in front of him. A thin line of red glistened on the edge of the blade in the warm light of the candles.
He held the dagger over the burning bowl. As soon as the flames licked the steel, the blood sizzled and the candles blazed like torches, their flames tall and strong. Yadriel squinted as a rush of heat hit his face.
He removed his portaje from the fire and spoke the final words.
“Con un beso, te prometo mi devoción,” he murmured before brushing his tongue over his lips. Balancing the hilt in his palm, he kissed the image of Lady Death.
Golden light sparked at the tip of the blade and raced down the hilt to his hand. His skin glowed as the light shot down his fingers and up his arm. It traveled down his legs and curled around his toes. Yadriel shuddered, the thrilling sensation robbing him of his breath.
As quickly as it had appeared, the thick thrum of magic in the church dissipated. The candle flames extinguished themselves in the same pulse. The air in the room went still. Yadriel pushed up the sleeve of his hoodie and stared at his arm in awe as the golden light faded, leaving his brown skin unadorned.
He stared up at Lady Death. “Holy crap,” Yadriel breathed, pressing his hands to his cheeks.
“Holy crap!” he repeated. “It worked!” He felt his chest, the thunderous beat of his heart pulsing against his palm. He jerked to look at Maritza for confirmation. “Did—did it work?”
The fire in the bowl glinted in her eyes, a huge smile on her face. “There’s one way to find out.”
Laughter bubbled in Yadriel’s throat, relief and adrenaline making him half delirious. “Right.”
If Lady Death had blessed him, granting him the powers of the brujx, that meant he could summon a lost spirit. If he could summon a spirit and release it to the afterlife, then he would finally prove himself to everyone—the brujx, his family, and his dad. They would see him as he was. A boy and a brujo.
Genre :High Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Science Fiction
Publish Date :September 8th, 2020
Prince North’s home is in the sky, in a gleaming city held aloft by intricate engines, powered by technology. Nimh is the living goddess of her people on the Surface, responsible for providing answers, direction—hope.
North’s and Nimh’s lives are entwined—though their hearts can never be. Linked by a terrifying prophecy and caught between duty and fate, they must choose between saving their people or succumbing to the bond that is forbidden between them.
Even though ten years have passed, I still find it difficult to talk about the land mine. I don’t like to think about it either, but on that score I don’t always get to choose. One time last summer my new American friends, Alyce and John, took me to a carnival here in the suburbs of Chicago, where I live now with my mother. What a dazzling sight it was for a seventeen-year-old girl who had lived most of her life in Afghanistan and in the refugee camps of Pakistan. I had never seen anything like it–the colors, lights, noise, and spectacle. I ate cotton candy and tried my luck at a few sideshow games, and then we went to look at the rides.
We came to one called the Gondola. It was shaped like a large boat suspended from two long poles. It had many rows of seats, all facing the center. The boat was swinging back and forth when we arrived. Each time it swung in one direction, the seats on that side lifted way up, maybe a hundred feet into the air. Then it swung the other way, and the seats on the other side lifted up. It was kind of like a massive swing that went from side to side instead of forward and backward.
As the ride got going faster, people started screaming, but Alyce told me they were having fun. She said the ride scared them, but they wanted to be scared. That was what they enjoyed about the ride.
I told Alyce I wanted to try it. Alyce wasn’t so sure about that, but I insisted I could handle it. So she bought some tickets, and we both climbed aboard. We went to the very end of the boat, to the seats that rose the very highest, because we wanted the full effect, the biggest scare-the most fun. The man came through and locked down a bar in front of us. That bar keeps you from falling out when the ride is going. Of course, you can still get out by climbing over the bar, but when the Gondola is swinging back and forth at full speed, who would want to?
At first the ship swung slowly. It didn’t go very far in either direction. But gradually, the boat went faster and swung farther. Each swing took our seats higher, and when the boat reached the top of its swing, it seemed to pause. For an instant I felt weightless. Then, when it swung the other way, I felt as if I was falling fast. My heart came into my throat, and my throat dropped down into my stomach. It was scary but exhilarating, and I was loving that feeling of speed and of the wind in my hair.
But then at the peak of the ride, just as the boat reversed direction and our seats began to fall, the machinery sent off some kind of spark. And when that spark flashed in my eyes, it triggered something. I dropped through a trapdoor into some other reality. Suddenly, I wasn’t in America on a carnival ride. I was on the ground, looking up into the sky and the sun. I had fallen out of that day and into a moment ten years in the past. Above me what I saw was that ring of faces, the people who had gathered around to gawk at me after the land mine went off-it was as real to me as the clouds overhead.
So I started screaming, right there on the Gondola ride, just like I did on that terrible day. “Why don’t you help me? Why are you all just looking at me like that? Help me, someone help me!”
It was that scene, exactly. I tried to get up, as I had that day. I wanted to be whole again. I scrambled to get away from the horror of what had happened-except that I was not really on the ground in Afghanistan. I was at a carnival in Wheaton, Illinois, on the Gondola, struggling to get out of my seat on a ride that was going a hundred miles an hour, back and forth, up and down. Thank God Alyce was there by my side, as she has been by my side so often in these last few years. Thank God she knew at once what I was about to do, and she flung her arms around me and kept me in my place and shook me and called into my ear, “Wake up, Farah! Wake up!”
I came back to consciousness. The ride was still going, and I knew vaguely where I was, but only through the fog of a terror that I couldn’t blink away. I yelled, “Stop the ride, stop the ride!”
But of course they didn’t stop the ride. They never stop the ride.
I screamed, but my screams attracted no attention. Everyone was screaming. They expect people to scream on carnival rides. I was doing nothing newsworthy. If I had managed to get out of my seat and over the restraining bar, yes, then someone would have noticed. If I had managed to jump from the Gondola ride at the peak of its motion, yes, I would have made the news: ONE-LEGGED AFGHAN GIRL JUMPS FROM CARNIVAL RIDE. But it didn’t happen because Alyce was there to save my life–but then, Alyce has done that in a lot of ways, big and small, since we met two years ago.
The ride finally slowed down, and the world around me changed from a blur of motion to a field of happy crowds enjoying a summer day. I said, “Oh my goodness, what happened?” I looked around and said, “Oh my goodness! I’m not in Afghanistan. It’s not that day. I’m in America.” Nothing was broken, I was told. The machine was supposed to make sparks.
Even now, I wonder what triggered my flashback at that carnival. Was it the heart-swelling sensation of falling? Was it the light that flashed in my eyes and then morphed into the sunlight of that awful day, the sunlight that shone through that ring of horrified faces? I wish I knew so I could get ready for the next time or avoid tripping another switch that turns some ordinary moment into a horrible waking dream.
Nowadays I don’t dream about my leg very much. It’s not like those first few weeks or even months after it was amputated, when I used to dream that I was riding a bicycle or running around in our yard in Kabul or just walking.
In those dreams I would say, Oh my gosh, look at this! I can ride a bicycle. I’m running. What was I worrying about? My leg is just fine! I don’t have those kinds of dreams anymore. Now when I take off my prosthetic leg at night, I feel like I have always been this way. Although my mind remembers another time. They say that amputees can feel their missing limbs, but I never have. I don’t feel pain, absence, presence, or any other sensation where my leg used to be. My body knows it’s gone. It’s just my mind that sometimes forgets. The other night I woke up thirsty and wanted a glass of water, so I automatically started to get out of bed. I almost fell, and then I remembered that I had to put on my prosthesis.
Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.
Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.
Genre :Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT, Paranormal, Mental Health
Publish Date :September 15th, 2020
Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes to the opportunity: living in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.
But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.
Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to stay at a farm on an isolated part of the Northern California Coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but also haunted by the past traumas its young residents have come to escape. And Mila’s own terrible memories are starting to rise to the surface.
On the morning of my interview I slept until eight, went downstairs to the kitchen, and poured myself the last of the coffee. I stood at the counter, watching out the window as I sipped, and then pushed up my sleeves and turned on the water to wash the breakfast dishes that Amy and Jonathan has left stacked in the sink.
In just a few days, I would leave them.
Amy had bought a crib and tucked it into the garage. A few days after that, she came home with a bag from a toy store. A stuffed bunny peeked over the side. She asked me how my English final went and I told her I wrote about the collapse of social mores in a couple of short stories and she said it sounded great. And then she took the bag into their bedroom as though it were nothing.
She was only being kind. I knew that. They hadn’t asked me to stay.
The sink was empty. I scrubbed it until it was perfectly white and then I turned off the water. I tried to breathe. I tried not to want this so badly.
My phone buzzed.
“Are you ready?” Karen asked. She’d been my social worker for 4 years and even though I could tell she was in traffic, probably dribbling coffee on her skirt and checking her email as she talked to me, she calmed my racing heart.
“I think so,” I said.
“Remember––they read your letter. I’ve told them so much about you. They’ve talked to all your references. This is just a final step. And you get to make sure you really want it.”
“I want it.”
“I know you do, honey. I want it for you too. Call me as soon as it’s over.”
He knocked at ten thirty, exactly when he said he’d arrive.
“Mila?” he asked when I open the door. He stuck out his hand. “Nick Bancroft. So nice to finally meet you.”
I led him into the kitchen, where around table aside beneath a window in the sun and the chairs were close enough or friendly conversation but far enough apart for strangers.
“How are you doing?” he asked after we sat.
“Well, finals are over, so that’s good,” I said.
“Yes, congratulations. Your transcripts are solid. Have you considered college?”
I shrugged. “Maybe I’ll go at some point.”
He nodded, but I saw that he felt sorry for me. My eyes darted to the window. I didn’t know how to talk about my life with someone who understood. I clenched fist in my lap and forced myself not to cry. I was ready to prove my work ethic, talk about the hours I spent volunteering at the library, and assure him that I was not afraid of dirt or messes or children throwing tantrums––but I was not ready for this.
Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.
But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.
When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?
Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?
When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?
Thursday, 16th January
4 BRITONS DEAD IN SKI RESORT TRAGEDY
The exclusive French ski resort of St Antoine was rocked by news of a second tragedy this week, only days after an avalanche that killed six and left much of the region without power for days.
Now, reports are emerging that in one remote ski chalet, cut off by the avalanche, a “house of horror” situation was unfolding, leaving four Britons dead, and two hospitalised.
The alarm was only raised when survivors trekked more than three miles through the snow to radio for help, raising questions of why the French authorities did not work to reestablish power and mobile phone coverage more quickly following Sunday’s avalanche.
Local police chief Etienne Dupont refused to comment, except to say that “an investigation is in progress,” but a spokesperson at the British embassy in Paris said, “We can confirm that we have been informed of the deaths of four British citizens in the Savoie department of the French Alps and that the local police are treating these incidents as a linked murder enquiry at this stage. Our sympathies are with the friends and families of the victims.”
The families of the deceased have been informed.
Eight survivors, also thought to be British, are said to be helping the police investigation.
This year has been marked by unusually heavy snowfalls. Sunday’s avalanche is the sixth since the beginning of the ski season and brings the total of fatalities in the region to twelve.
Five Days Earlier
Snoop ID: ANON101
Listening to: James Blunt / You’re Beautiful
I keep my earbuds shoved into my ears on the minibus from Geneva Airport. I ignore Topher’s hopeful looks and Eva, glancing over her shoulder at me. It helps, somehow. It helps to shut out the voices in my head, their voices, pulling me this way and that, pummeling me with their loyalties and their arguments to and fro.
Instead, I let James Blunt drown them out, telling me I’m beautiful, over and over again. The irony of the statement makes me want to laugh, but I don’t. There’s something comforting in the lie.
It is 1:52 p.m. Outside the window the sky is iron gray, and the snowflakes swirl hypnotically past. It’s strange. Snow is so white on the ground, but when it’s falling, it looks gray against the sky. It might as well be ash.
We are starting to climb now. The snow gets thicker as we gain height, no longer melting into rain when it hits the window, but sticking, sliding along the glass, the windshield wipers swooshing it aside into rivulets of slush that run horizontally across the passenger window. I hope the bus has snow tires.
The driver changes gear; we are approaching yet another hairpin bend. As the bus swings around the narrow curve, the ground falls away, and I have a momentary feeling that we’re going to fall—a lurch of vertigo that makes my stomach heave and my head spin. I shut my eyes, blocking them all out, losing myself in the music.
And then the song stops.
And I am alone, with only one voice left in my head, and I can’t shut it out. It’s my own. And it’s whispering a question that I’ve been asking myself since the plane lifted off the runway at Gatwick.
Why did I come? Why?
But I know the answer.
I came because I couldn’t afford not to.
Snoop ID: N/A
Listening to: N/A
The snow is still falling—fat white flakes drifting lazily down to lie softly over the peaks and pistes and valleys of St. Antoine.
Three meters have fallen in the last couple of weeks, and there’s more forecast. A snowpocalypse, Danny called it. Snowmaggedon. Lifts have been closed, and then reopened, and then closed again.
Currently almost every lift in the entire resort is closed, but the faithful little funicular that leads up to our tiny hamlet is still chugging away. It’s glassed in, so even the heaviest dump doesn’t affect it, the snow just lies like a blanket over the tunnel rather than clogging the rails. Which is good—because on the rare occasions it does shut, we’re totally cut off. There’s no road up to St. Antoine 2000, not in winter, anyway. Everything, from the guests in the chalet, right through to every scrap of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, has to come up in the funicular. Unless you’ve got the money for a helicopter transfer (which, believe me, is not unheard of in this place). But the helicopters won’t fly in poor conditions. If a blizzard comes in, they stay safely down in the valley
It gives me a strange feeling if I think about it too much—a kind of claustrophobia that’s at odds with the wide-open vistas from the chalet. It’s not just the snow; it’s a hundredweight of unwelcome memories bearing down on me. If I stop for more than a minute or two, the images start to come unbidden, crowding into my mind—numb fingers scrabbling through hard-packed snow, the sheen of sunset on blue skin, the glint of frosted lashes. But fortunately I’ve got no time to stop today. It’s past one o’clock and I’m still cleaning the second-to-last bedroom when I hear the shuddering sound of the gong from downstairs. It’s Danny. He shouts my name and then something I can’t make out.
“What?” I call down, and he shouts again, his voice clearer this time. He must have come out into the stairwell.
“I said, ‘Grub’s up.’ Truffled parsnip soup. So get your lazy arse down here.”
“Yes, chef,” I shout back mockingly. I quickly dump the contents of the bathroom bin into my black sack, change the liner, and then jog down the spiral stairs to the lobby, where the delicious smell of Danny’s soup greets me, along with the sound of “Venus in Furs” emanating from the kitchen.
Saturday is both the best day of the week and the worst. Best, because it’s changeover day—there are no guests, and Danny and I have the chalet to ourselves, free to laze in the pool, steam in the outdoor hot tub, and play the music we like at the volume we want.
Worst, because it’s changeover day, which means nine double beds to change, nine bathrooms to clean (eleven, if you count the loo downstairs and the shower room by the pool), eighteen ski lockers to sweep and Hoover, not to mention the living room, the dining room, the den, the snug and the outdoor smoking area, where I have to pick up all the disgusting butts the smokers always strew around in spite of the prominent bins and buckets. At least Danny takes care of the kitchen, though he has his own to-do list. Saturday night is always a big dinner. Got to put on a show for the new guests, don’t you know.
Now, we sit down together at the big dining room table, and I read through the information Kate emailed this morning as I spoon Danny’s delicious soup into my mouth. It’s sweet and earthy, and there are tiny little crunchy bits scattered over the top—shaved parsnip roasted in truffle oil, I think.
“This soup is really good,” I say. I know my role here. Danny rolls his eyes, in a Well, duh gesture. If there is one thing about Danny, he’s not modest. But he is a good cook.
“Think they’ll like it tonight?” He’s fishing for more compliments of course, but I can’t blame him. Danny’s an unashamed diva about his food and, like any artiste, he enjoys appreciation.
“I’m sure they will. It’s gorgeous, really warming and . . . um . . . complex.” I am striving to pin down the particular savory quality that makes the soup so good. Danny likes compliments to be specific. “Like autumn in a bowl. What else are you doing?”
“I’ve got amuse-bouches.” Danny ticks the courses off on his fingers. “Then the truffled soup for starter. Then venison haunch for the carnies and mushroom ravioli for the veggies. Then crème brûlée for dessert. And then the cheese.”
Danny’s crème brûlée is his showstopper, and it’s to die for. I’ve literally seen guests come to blows over a spare portion.
“Sounds perfect,” I say encouragingly.
“As long as there aren’t any fucking stealth vegans this time,” he says morosely. He’s still reeling from last week, when one of the guests turned out to be not just vegan but gluten intolerant as well. I don’t think he’s forgiven Kate yet. “Kate was really clear,” I say, cajoling. “One lactose intolerant, one gluten-free, three veggies. No vegans. That’s it.
“It won’t be,” Danny says, still enjoying his martyrdom. “One of them will be low-carbing or something. Or a fruitarian. Or a breatharian.”
“Well, if they’re a breatharian, they won’t be bothering you, will they?” I say reasonably. “They’ve got all the air they could want up here.”
I wave an arm at the huge window that dominates the south side of the room. It overlooks the peaks and ridges of the Alps, a panorama so breathtaking that even though I live here now, I still find myself stopping mid stride on certain days, almost winded by its beauty. Today the visibility is poor, the clouds are low, and there’s too much snow in the air. But on a good day you can see almost to Lake Geneva. Behind us, to the northeast of the chalet, rises the Dame Blanche, the mountain that forms the highest peak of the St. Antoine valley, overshadowing everything.
“Read out the names,” Danny says, around a mouthful of soup, only he says it more like read aht the names. His accent is pure sarf London, though I know in reality he grew up in Portsmouth. I’m never quite sure how much is all part of the act. Danny’s a performer, and the more I get to know him, the more I’m fascinated by the complicated mix of identities beneath the surface. The cheeky Cockney geezer he puts on for the guests is just one of them. On nights out in St. Antoine I’ve seen him pivot from note-perfect Guy Ritchie to a gloriously flaming RuPaul, all in the space of five minutes.
Not that I can talk. I’m putting on my own act. We all are on some level, I suppose. That’s one of the joys of coming here, to a place like this, where everyone is passing through. You get to have a fresh start.
“I need to get it right this time,” he says, breaking into my thoughts. He puts a minuscule grind of fresh black pepper onto his soup and tastes it, then looks approving. “Can’t afford another fucking Madeleine. Kate’ll have my guts for garters.”
Kate is the area rep, and is in charge of coordinating all the bookings and logistics for all six of the company’s chalets. She likes us to greet the clients by their names right from day one. It’s what marks us out from the big chain operators, she says. The personal touch. Only it’s harder than it sounds, week in, week out. Last week Danny made friends with a woman called Madeleine, only when the feedback forms came in, it turned out there was no one called Madeleine in the group. Or any woman with a name beginning with M. He’s still got no idea who he was talking to all week.
I run my finger down the list Kate sent through last night.
“So it’s a corporate party this time. Tech company called Snoop. Nine people, all in separate rooms. Eva van den Berg, cofounder. Topher St. Clair-Bridges, cofounder. Rik Adeyemi, head of beans. Elliot Cross, chief nerd.”
Danny snorts out his soup through his nose, but I carry on.
“Miranda Khan, friends czar. Inigo Ryder, Topher’s “boss.” Ani Cresswell, chief Eva-tamer. Tiger-Blue Esposito, head of cool. Carl
By the time I’m finished, Danny is actually crying with laughter and his soup has gone down the wrong way.
“Is that really what it says?” he manages, between coughs. “Head of beans? Tiger—what the fuck else? I didn’t think Kate had a sense of humor. Where’s the real list?”
“That is the real list,” I say, trying not to laugh at the sight of Danny’s screwed-up face, shining with tears. “Have a napkin.”
“What? Are you shitting me?” he gasps, and then sits back, fanning himself. “Actually, I take that back. Snoop’s that sort of place.”
“You’ve heard of them?” I’m surprised. Danny isn’t normally the sort of person with his finger on the button that way. We get all sorts here, lots of private parties, the odd wedding or anniversary, but a surprising number of corporate retreats too—I guess the price tag is easier to swallow if your company is paying. There’s a lot of law firms, hedge funds, and Fortune 500 companies. This is the first time Danny’s heard of one of the companies and I haven’t. “What do they do?”
“Snoop?” Now it’s Danny’s turn to look surprised. “Have you been living in a fucking cave, Erin?”
“No, I’m just—I’ve never heard of them. Are they a media company?” I don’t know why I chose that. Media seems like the kind of industry that would have a Tiger-Blue Esposito.
“No, they’re an app.” Danny looks at me suspiciously. “Have you really not heard of them? You know—Snoop—the music app. It lets you—well, snoop on people. That’s kind of it.”
“I have literally no idea what you’re on about.”
“Snoop, Erin,” Danny says, more acidly this time, like if he keeps saying it, I’ll smack my forehead and go, Oh yeah, that Snoop! He pulls out his phone and scrolls down the apps to one that looks like two eyes on a hot-pink background. Or maybe two cogs, it’s hard to see on the logo. He presses it, and the screen goes bright pink, then black, blazoned with SNOOP. Real people, real time, real loud in fuchsia letters.
This time the two os of the name are the wheels of a cassette tape.
“You like hook it up to your Spotify account or whatever,” Danny explains, scrolling through menus as he does, as if lists of random celebrities will make everything clear. “And it makes your listening public.”
“Why would anyone want to do that?” I say blankly.
“It’s a quid pro quo, innit,” Danny says, sounding impatient. “The whole point is no one wants to listen to you, but if you join, you get to listen to other people. Voyeurism for your ears is what Snoop calls it.”
“So . . . I can see what . . . I don’t know . . . Beyoncé is listening to? If she were on there.”
“Yup. And Madonna. And Jay-Z. And Justin Bieber. And whoever else. Celebs love it—it’s the new Instagram. It’s like, you can connect, yeah? But without actually giving away too much information.”
I nod slowly. I can actually kind of see the attraction of that.
“So it’s basically famous people’s playlists?”
“Not playlists,” Danny says. “Because the whole point is that it’s real time. You get what they’re listening to right now.”
“What if they’re asleep?”
“Then you don’t get anything. They don’t appear in the search bar if they’re not online and listening, and if you’re snooping on someone and they stop listening, their feed goes dead and you get the option to shunt along to someone else.”
“So if you’re snooping on someone and they pause a song to answer the phone—”
One night, Molly Clarke walked away from her life.
She doesn’t want to be found.
Or at least, that’s the story.
The car abandoned miles from home.
The note found at a nearby hotel.
The shattered family that couldn’t be put back together.
They called it a “walk away.”
It happens all the time.
Women disappear, desperate to leave their lives behind and start over.
But is that what really happened to Molly Clarke?
The sky grows dark as I drive.
I tell myself to concentrate, to focus on the two narrow lanes of smooth, black asphalt and the double yellow lines that divide them.
The road feels like a tunnel, carved between walls of brown cornfields which flank the road on both sides and go on as far as the eye can see. Darkness now hovers above and below, and from side to side. It’s everywhere.
I hear the woman on the radio talk of the storm, but she is muted by thoughts that will not relent as the events of this terrible day unravel in my mind.
This stretch of Route 7 passes through an endless chain of small New England towns—not the quaint villages farther south, but the old industrial hubs that have been left to decay.
Neglected farmland, dilapidated houses, abandoned factories—they stand like tombstones. I wonder where people live. Where they buy groceries. Where they work and go out to dinner. Why they don’t leave.
The unease causes my shoulders to rise and my back to straighten. It’s the same every time I pass through. These towns will haunt me well into the night.
There’s a gas station up ahead. The Gas n’ Go. It sits at the intersection of Route 7 and an eerie road that leads to the heart of one of these towns. I have never been down that road, and I don’t ever intend to. Still, this seems to be the spot where outsiders find themselves in need of gas as they journey from southern Connecticut into western Massachusetts. There must be half a dozen boarding schools and small colleges which are accessed from Route 7. Sometimes I recognize cars, even faces, when I have to stop.
And I will have to stop today. The gas light has been on for miles now.
After the Gas n’ Go, it’s two hours to my home at the southern end of the state. I have already passed the green welcome sign. Welcome to Connecticut.
It will be just after nine. My husband, John, will likely be out. At the gym. At work. Having drinks with a friend. My daughter, Nicole, will also be out somewhere. Anywhere that’s not near me. She just turned twenty-one so she has options now. Options that keep me up at night, watching the clock. Listening for the door.
The dogs will bark and jump on my coat. They’ll only want food. They save their affection for my husband. He was the one who brought them home after Annie died, so they’ve been his dogs more than mine.
The house will smell like Fantastik and lavender dryer sheets because it’s Thursday, and on Thursday the cleaners come. I wonder if they’ll remember to clear the ashes from the fireplace in our bedroom. It’s late October and cold enough for a fire. John likes to sit in bed with the fire burning while he watches television. He had one going last night. He was asleep by the time I made it up the stairs, though now I remember that the fire had a fresh log. Conclusions are quick to follow and one hand now covers my gaping mouth.
Am I too sensitive? Am I just being too me, too Molly? I hear these thoughts with John’s voice. Stop being so Molly.He has come to use my name as an adjective that allows him to dismiss me. But, no—I’m not wrong about the log on the fire. He was pretending to be asleep.
The day unravels and I can’t stop my thoughts.
My son, Evan, attends one of the boarding schools off this road. He was recruited as a freshman to play football. He’s a junior now, and a starting lineman this season. I make this trip every other Thursday to watch his home games. The season is half over and they are leading the ranks. They may win the entire league this year.
The drive is four hours each way. John tells me I’m crazy to make the trip twice a month. He tells me Evan doesn’t care. Nicole has harsher words for me. She tells me Evan doesn’t want me there. That I embarrass him by going. That he’s not a little boy anymore and he doesn’t need his mommy watching him play.
He has changed. She’s right about that. He knows the power he has on the field. I hadn’t seen it before today. It was in his stance, his walk. It was in his eyes.
And it was in his cruelty. I wonder when that began. If it’s new. Or only new that I can see it.
I waited for him outside the field house where the team enters the locker room. I picture him now, as the day plays out again, slowly, painfully.
How he walked with his friends, the enormous bag hanging over his shoulder, high-tops unlaced, baseball hat turned backward, and a mischievous smile that probably had something to do with talk about a girl.
In that moment, before his eyes caught sight of me and his face changed, I felt my heart fill with pride.
These thoughts come, and like the log on the fire, they don’t go. My boy, my sweet Evan, the easy middle child, walking like he owned the world. A smile pulled clear across my face as I waited for his eyes to turn and see me at the door.
And they did turn. And they did see.
And then they widened and looked away. He grew closer, and still, they did not return to me. He positioned himself between two of his friends and passed through the door, leaving me in awe of his dismissiveness.
It is just now, one hundred and eleven miles later, that I feel the bite of it.
My vision blurs. I wipe away tears. Christ, I hear John. Stop being so Molly! He’s a teenager.
But the thought won’t leave, this image of his back turned as he walked into the building.
I look up at the dark clouds stirring in the sky and see the sign for the Gas n’ Go sitting atop a giant pole. The storm is a hurricane. I am driving right into its path.
John said this was another reason I shouldn’t make the trip today. The school could cancel the game if the storm got too close, and even if they didn’t, I would surely run into it on the way home.
The storm, Evan not caring.
And Annie. He stopped short of saying it, but the words lingered between us.
Today is the anniversary of her death. Five years ago, on this day, we lost our youngest child. She was nine years old.
No. I will not think of Annie. I will not go backward. I will go forward.
Put one foot in front of the other.
I learned this in grief counseling. I used to be a middle school science teacher, where the focus is on learning to analyze problems by breaking them down into pieces and forming hypotheses—so I studied the grief this way. Objectively. Clinically. We are not wired to witness the death of a child. To endure it. To survive it. But like every other human defect, we have used science to outsmart our own biology. We can take a brain that is shredded ear to ear and we can put it back together with mantras like this one. Mantras that have been tested in clinical trials. Vetted in peer articles and TED Talks and now appear in self-help books.
You just put one foot in front of the other, Molly. Every day, just one more step.
Had I not had other children to care for, I would not have been able to take these steps. I would have died. Let myself die. Found a way to die. The pain was not survivable. And yet I survived.
During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.
As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.
While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .
Cold fear shot through Kira’s gut.
Together, she and Alan scrambled into their clothes. Kira spared a second of thought for her strange dream—everything felt strange at the moment—and then they hurried out of the cabin and rushed over toward Neghar’s quarters.
As they approached, Kira heard hacking: a deep, wet, ripping sound that made her imagine raw flesh going through a shredder. She shuddered.
Neghar was standing in the middle of the hallway with the others gathered around her, doubled over, hands on her knees, coughing so hard Kira could hear her vocal cords fraying. Fizel was next to her, hand on her back. “Keep breathing,” he said. “We’ll get you to sickbay. Jenan! Alan! Grab her arms, help carry her. Quickly now, qu—”
Neghar heaved, and Kira heard a loud, distinct snap from inside the woman’s narrow chest.
Black blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, painting the deck in a wide fan.
Marie-Élise shrieked, and several people retched. The fear from Kira’s dream returned, intensified. This was bad. This was dangerous. “We have to go,” she said, and tugged on Alan’s sleeve. But he wasn’t listening.
“Back!” Fizel shouted. “Everyone back! Someone get the Extenuating Circumstances on the horn. Now!”
“Clear the way!” Mendoza bellowed.
More blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, and she dropped to one knee. The whites of her eyes were freakishly wide. Her face was crimson, and her throat worked as if she were choking.
“Alan,” said Kira. Too late; he was moving to help Fizel.
She took a step back. Then another. No one noticed; they were all looking at Neghar, trying to figure out what to do while staying out of the way of the blood flying from her mouth.
Kira felt like screaming at them to leave, to run, to escape.
She shook her head and pressed her fists against her mouth, scared blood was going to erupt out of her as well. Her head felt as if it were about to burst, and her skin was crawling with horror: a thousand ants skittering over every centimeter. Her whole body itched with revulsion.
Jenan and Alan tried to lift Neghar back to her feet. She shook her head and gagged. Once. Twice. And then she spat a clot of something onto the deck. It was too dark to be blood. Too liquid to be metal.
Kira dug her fingers into her arm, scrubbing at it as a scream of revulsion threatened to erupt out of her.
Neghar collapsed backwards. Then the clot moved. It twitched like a clump of muscle hit with an electrical current.
People shouted and jumped away. Alan retreated toward Kira, never taking his eyes off the unformed lump.
Kira dry-heaved. She took another step back. Her arm was burning: thin lines of fire squirming across her skin.
She looked down.
Her nails had carved furrows in her flesh, crimson gashes that ended with crumpled strips of skin. And within the furrows, she saw another something twitch.
Kira fell to the floor, screaming. The pain was all-consuming. That much she was aware of. It was the only thing she was aware of.
She arched her back and thrashed, clawing at the floor, desperate to escape the onslaught of agony. She screamed again; she screamed so hard her voice broke and a slick of hot blood coated her throat.
She couldn’t breathe. The pain was too intense. Her skin was burning, and it felt as if her veins were filled with acid and her flesh was tearing itself from her limbs.
Dark shapes blocked the light overhead as people moved around her. Alan’s face appeared next to her. She thrashed again, and she was on her stomach, her cheek pressed flat against the hard surface.
Her body relaxed for a second, and she took a single, gasping breath before going rigid and loosing a silent howl. The muscles of her face cramped with the force of her rictus, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.
Hands turned her over. They gripped her arms and legs, holding them in place. It did nothing to stop the pain.
She forced her eyes open and, with blurry vision, saw Alan and, behind him, Fizel leaning toward her with a hypo. Farther back, Jenan, Yugo, and Seppo were pinning her legs to the floor, while Ivanova and Marie-Élise helped Neghar away from the clot on the deck.
“Kira! Look at me! Look at me!”
She tried to reply, but all she succeeded in doing was uttering a strangled whimper.
Then Fizel pressed the hypo against her shoulder. Whatever he injected didn’t seem to have any effect. Her heels drummed against the floor, and she felt her head slam against the deck, again and again.
“Jesus, someone help her,” Alan cried.
“Watch out!” shouted Seppo. “That thing on the floor is moving! Shi—”
“Sickbay,” said Fizel. “Get her to sickbay. Now! Pick her up. Pick—”
The walls swam around her as they lifted her. Kira felt like she was being strangled. She tried to inhale, but her muscles were too cramped. Red sparks gathered around the edges of her vision as Alan and the others carried her down the hallway. She felt as if she were floating; everything seemed insubstantial except the pain and her fear.
A jolt as they dropped her onto Fizel’s exam table. Her abdomen relaxed for a second, just long enough for Kira to steal a breath before her muscles locked back up.
“Close the door! Keep that thing out!” A thunk as the sickbay pressure lock engaged.
“What’s happening?” said Alan. “Is—”
“Move!” shouted Fizel. Another hypo pressed against Kira’s neck.
As if in response, the pain tripled, something she wouldn’t have believed possible. A low groan escaped her, and she jerked, unable to control the motion. She could feel foam gathering in her mouth, clogging her throat. She gagged and convulsed.
“Shit. Get me an injector. Other drawer. No, other drawer!”
“Doc, she isn’t breathing!”
Equipment clattered, and then fingers forced Kira’s jaw apart, and someone jammed a tube into her mouth, down her throat. She gagged again. A moment later, sweet, precious air poured into her lungs, sweeping aside the curtain darkening her vision.
Alan was hovering over her, his face contorted with worry.
Kira tried to talk. But the only sound she could make was an inarticulate groan.
“You’re going to be okay,” said Alan. “Just hold on. Fizel’s going to help you.” He looked as if he were about to cry.
Kira had never been so afraid. Something was wrong inside her, and it was getting worse.
Run, she thought. Run! Get away from here before—
Dark lines shot across her skin: black lightning bolts that twisted and squirmed as if alive. Then they froze in place, and where each one lay, her skin split and tore, like the carapace of a molting insect.
Kira’s fear overflowed, filling her with a feeling of utter and inescapable doom. If she could have screamed, her cry would have reached the stars.
Adrift in the wake of her father’s death, a failed marriage, and multiple miscarriages, Libby McKenzie feels truly alone. Though her new life as a wedding photographer provides a semblance of purpose, it’s also a distraction from her profound pain.
When asked to photograph a wedding at the historic Woodmont estate, Libby meets the owner, Elaine Grant. Hoping to open Woodmont to the public, Elaine has employed young widower Colton Reese to help restore the grounds and asks Libby to photograph the process. Libby is immediately drawn to the old greenhouse shrouded in honeysuckle vines.
As Libby forms relationships and explores the overgrown—yet hauntingly beautiful—Woodmont estate, she finds the emotional courage to sort through her father’s office. There she discovers a letter that changes everything she knows about her parents, herself, and the estate. Beneath the vines of the old greenhouse lie generations of secrets, and it’s up to Libby to tend to the fruits born of long-buried seeds.
Tuesday, March 15, 1943 Bluestone, Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains
There were three tricks to hiding. First, it was important to breathe as shallow as possible. If you were doing it right, your nostrils barely flared, and your breathing was as shallow as the James River in drought-hot summer heat. Next, a good rabbit tamed its racing heart and did not allow it to pound and drum against the ribs. Sounds had a tendency to echo beyond the confines of the body.
And the third trick, and not the least by far, was keeping your eyes cast downward. You never looked at whoever was hunting you. A fox might not be able to see a rabbit, but it could feel its stare as surely as if it were being tapped on the shoulder.
Sadie Thompson crouched behind the thick tangle of a honeysuckle bush twisting around the large stump of a fallen oak. Her heart beat fast in her chest, rapping against her ribs so hard she struggled to catch her breath. She was out of shape, and the mile-long run through the woods from her old truck had taken a surprising toll. A year ago, she would have done the run like a deer, twice as fast without breaking a sweat.
Darkness had descended on the Blue Ridge Mountains, tossing an inky blackness over the land. What little moonlight trickled through the thick rain-ripe clouds was caught in the canopy of trees. An owl hooted. Deer, disturbed by her unwelcome intrusion, bolted through the woods. The poor visibility suited Sadie. She was accustomed to traveling at night and was intimately acquainted with the hills and the valleys of Nelson County. Her father had taught Sadie and her brothers how to negotiate the narrow back roads barely wide enough for a car. It could be rough going, but they were the best routes moonshiners had when avoiding the law. Her pa had made them memorize the sharpest curves in the road, walk the old Indian paths that cut up the side of the mountains, and he’d shown them the secluded caves best suited for cooking mash into moonshine. She and her family knew all the ins and outs of this part of Virginia, and they could stay lost forever. If that was what they wanted.
Sadie pressed her face against the damp leaves and took a moment to shake off the lingering panic that had sent her bolting into the night. Crickets whirred nearby, and a spider crawled over her hand, but she gave neither a second thought. She had a bigger problem facing her now. Sheriff Kurt Boyd had arrived at her mother’s house an hour ago, most likely bent on arresting Sadie for attempted murder—maybe even murder, if the man did not pull through. Sadie was not a bit sorry for what she had done but now wished she had been smarter about exacting her revenge.
She had run from her mother’s house with not even enough time to pack a bag or kiss her sleeping baby before sprinting to her truck. She put the car in neutral and coasted down the backside of the hill, careful not to make a sound. Only at the bottom did she start the engine. But the sheriff must have heard the commotion of the rumbling engine and taken off after her. She drove as far as her old truck’s radiator would take her until it boiled over, leaving her no way to quickly repair it.
Arms pumping, and her work boots rubbing against her swollen feet, she dashed into the brush as the rumble of Boyd’s Dodge grew closer. She thought maybe she could cut across the mountain on an old Indian trail, but Boyd had seen that trick before and would simply circle around. That left her with no choice but to hunker down.
She would wait Boyd out and maybe later circle back to her truck and see if it had cooled enough to run again. Her aim was to get to Charlottesville and then ride a train as far away from Bluestone as she could manage.
As she lay on the ground behind the shrubs, the rumble of a car engine echoed. She recognized the sound of the sheriff’s grumbling Dodge engine moving slowly down the road. He knew she was close. He might not have been the smartest man, but he knew Indian paths, mining trails, and hiding spots almost as well as she did.
Seconds later headlights appeared. She pressed her belly closer into the damp soil, her tender breasts still filled with milk, straining against her roughly hewed shirt. Too curious for her own good, she stole a peek in time to see Sheriff Boyd’s thick frame pass in front of his headlights. He stopped and stood with his feet braced and a meaty right hand resting on his belt. She could not see his face but guessed he was frowning. Boyd had always reckoned a thoughtful man did not need to smile or say much. That was just as well, because when he opened his mouth, he never had anything worth saying. A flashlight’s beam cut deep into the darkness, passing just a few feet above her body.
“Dumb as a box of rocks,” her brother Johnny used to joke about the sheriff. Her brother Danny had laughed. “Can outsmart him on my worst day.”
Thinking about Johnny and Danny made her throat tighten with a bone-deep sadness she doubted would ever leave her. God, how she missed those two. “Don’t be thinking about me,” Johnny’s voice echoed in her head. “Be worried about Boyd.” “Yeah,” Danny echoed. “He might be stupid, but he’s mean, and even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
The advice was sound. She would worry about her brothers and daughter once she was safe. Now she had to deal with Boyd.
What the lawman lacked in intelligence, he made up for in tracking skills. The man was part bloodhound. The state authorities would call Boyd if a prisoner escaped any jail in a twenty-five-mile radius. Even farmers called when they had a coyote killing their livestock. And at election time, he sniffed out enough illegal stills to make the Bible-thumpers happy. Her father never took it personally when Boyd came after the stills. His job was to find them, and her father’s was to hide them. Everyone had to survive. But by Sadie’s way of thinking, Boyd had a petty streak in him. Those prisoners he brought back had a black eye or two when they finally made it to their cells. There was always a cow unaccounted for, and when Boyd wielded his bat against a still, he was always whistling a happy tune.
Boyd’s boots crunched on the soft dirt and leaves as he walked not more than twenty feet from her. “Sadie, I know you’re out there, girl. This is where your brothers used to hide. Make it easy on yourself and come on out. I won’t hurt you.”
When she was little, she and the boys had played rabbit and the fox in the hollow. She was always the rabbit because she was the littlest—but also because she was good at burrowing into a small unconsidered place and could stay silent as she listened to her brothers’ laughter turn to frustration when they could not find their little rabbit. Sadie closed her eyes and willed her entire system to slow. She pressed her face hard against the ground.
I’m just a leaf on a twig, she thought. “Nothing important here,” she wanted to say. “Keep on moving, Sheriff Boyd.”
Booted footsteps moved closer to her hiding spot. Boyd’s heavy breathing proved he was not used to running either. He was a good six inches taller than her, but he was not built for speed, especially in the backwoods.
Sadie and her brothers roamed these hills like the Cherokee, Siouan, Iroquois, and the German and Scottish settlers who followed. If she was not hauling water to their house, she was carrying bags of corn and sugar or toting boxes of mason jars filled with shine. Even as a young child she could heft two bucketfuls of water up from the creek in less than five minutes without spilling a drop. No lady was strong like Sadie, but then she had never claimed to be fancy. “Come on out, Sadie,” Sheriff Boyd said. “No one wants to hurt you.”
Sheriff Boyd’s voice was coated in an extra layer of sugar, but there was nothing sweet about his lies. If he found her, he would put the cuffs on her, just as he had threatened a dozen times before. And this time, he would take her to Lynchburg and see to it that Dr. Carter made sure she never had another child.
She squeezed her eyes tighter and thought about her beautiful baby girl sleeping in the cradle. She willed away her tears and sadness. She was not leaving her girl because she wanted to. Life had taken a hard turn and stripped away her choices. She could only take comfort knowing the child would be fine—maybe even fare better—in her grandmother’s care. Sheriff Boyd’s breathing slowed as his big feet snapped twigs. The brush near her shifted and moved. She pictured his big hands pawing through the sticks and leaves and grabbing her by the collar.
I’m a gnat. A bug on a log. Too small to notice. “Haven’t you been enough of a disappointment to your mama? Hasn’t she got enough on her shoulders without worrying about your brothers and the bastard she’ll surely be raising?”
Tears sprang up behind her closed lids. Maybe she was one of the worst daughters a mother could hope for. But she sure as hell was not going to let this hick sheriff use her own failings to flush her out of the brush like frightened quail.
“You’re a sorry girl.” Sheriff Boyd’s words trickled out on a heavy sigh. “You’re trouble.” When his berating did not work, he shifted gears. “You’d be so much better off if you let me help you. I’ll talk to the judge and tell him to go easy on you. We all know you didn’t mean to run that man over with your truck. It was an accident, pure and simple.”
His words burrowed under her resolve, and a sob took hold and sprang up in her throat. More tears filled her eyes. She pursed her lips. God help her; it had not been an accident. If given the chance, she would do it again.
Time slowly crawled by as she listened to the sound of his breathing. He took another step closer, and she could smell his cheap aftershave. She held steady, doing her best not to think about Boyd. Boyd would not find this little rabbit tonight.
“Damn it, Sadie. I will find you.” The sheriff muttered a string of curses and ended his tirade with something about her burning in hell. “And I’ll see that the judge locks your scrawny ass up for a long damn time.”
The leaves rustled under Boyd’s boots as he turned back toward the road and the halo of headlights.
His car door slammed with anger, and the engine sputtered like an old man clearing his throat as he shifted into first. The clutch was going bad. She had told him often enough about the worn clutch, but just like everyone in the valley, he did not take her too seriously. Finally, the rubber tires began to roll; the engine ground from first to second gear and rattled off into the night, growling like an old man.
As tempted as she was to move, she stayed pressed against the cool earth. Her right arm, tucked under her body, had gone to sleep and now felt as if a thousand needles prickled under her skin. This was not the first time her arm had been pinned, and she had surely felt worse discomfort than this before.
An owl called out, hunting for its own rabbit, which hopped into a hollowed-out tree near her. Sadie smiled at the irony. She knew Boyd was a wily son of a bitch, and she would not put it past him to double back on foot.
When she finally lifted her head, the moon had climbed in the night sky, and the clouds had parted, revealing an endless number of beautiful stars.
I’ve always been a control freak. But he makes me crave submission…
Working for a hotel heiress and social media influencer may not be my dream job, but at least it allows me time to do what I really love—take photographs. Pretty good for a wholesome farm girl from Kansas trying to make it in Boston. Life may not be easy working for a diva, but at least I know what to expect.
Until blue-collar billionaire Braden Black strides into the office. He’s beyond handsome and sexy, but also domineering with a definite hard edge. I’m not sure why he’s interested in me, but within a few weeks, he’s showing me a world I never knew existed.
He’s opened up a side of me I can only face in the dark, and it’s quickly becoming an obsession. How can I give up something this addictive—even if his secrets could ultimately destroy me?
Genre :Adult Fiction, Science Fiction, Literary, Mental Health
Publish Date :September 29th, 2020
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?
In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.
Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford. She sat at a low table staring at a chess board.
‘Nora dear, it’s natural to worry about your future,’ said the librarian, Mrs Elm, her eyes twinkling.
Mrs Elm made her first move. A knight hopping over the neat row of white pawns. ‘Of course, you’re going to be worried about the exams. But you could be anything you want to be, Nora. Think of all that possibility. It’s exciting.’
‘Yes. I suppose it is.’
‘A whole life in front of you.’
‘A whole life.’
‘You could do anything, live anywhere. Somewhere a bit less cold and wet.’
Nora pushed a pawn forward two spaces.
It was hard not to compare Mrs Elm to her mother, who treated
Nora like a mistake in need of correction. For instance, when she was a baby her mother had been so worried Nora’s left ear stuck out more than her right that she’d used sticky tape to address the situation, then disguised it beneath a woollen bonnet.
‘I hate the cold and wet,’ added Mrs Elm, for emphasis.
Mrs Elm had short grey hair and a kind and mildly crinkled oval face sitting pale above her turtle-green polo neck. She was quite old. But she was also the person most on Nora’s wavelength in the entire school, and even on days when it wasn’t raining she would spend her afternoon break in the small library.
‘Coldness and wetness don’t always go together,’ Nora told her. ‘Antarctica is the driest continent on Earth. Technically, it’s a desert.’
‘Well, that sounds up your street.’
‘I don’t think it’s far enough away.’
‘Well, maybe you should be an astronaut. Travel the galaxy.’ Nora smiled. ‘The rain is even worse on other planets.’
‘Worse than Bedfordshire?’
‘On Venus it is pure acid.’
Mrs Elm pulled a paper tissue from her sleeve and delicately blew her nose. ‘See? With a brain like yours you can do anything.’ A blond boy Nora recognised from a couple of years below her ran past outside the rain-speckled window. Either chasing someone or being chased. Since her brother had left, she’d felt a bit unguarded out there. The library was a little shelter of civilisation.
‘Dad thinks I’ve thrown everything away. Now I’ve stopped swimming.’
‘Well, far be it from me to say, but there is more to this world than swimming really fast. There are many different possible lives ahead of you. Like I said last week, you could be a glaciologist. I’ve been researching and the—’
And it was then that the phone rang.
‘One minute,’ said Mrs Elm, softly. ‘I’d better get that.’
A moment later, Nora watched Mrs Elm on the phone. ‘Yes.
She’s here now.’ The librarian’s face fell in shock. She turned away from Nora, but her words were audible across the hushed room: ‘Oh no. No. Oh my God. Of course . . .’
Twenty-seven hours before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat on her dilapidated sofa scrolling through other people’s happy lives, waiting for something to happen. And then, out of nowhere, some- thing actually did.
Someone, for whatever peculiar reason, rang her doorbell.
She wondered for a moment if she shouldn’t get the door at all. She was, after all, already in her night clothes even though it was only nine p.m. She felt self-conscious about her over-sized ECO WORRIER T-shirt and her tartan pyjama bottoms.
She put on her slippers, to be slightly more civilised, and discov- ered that the person at the door was a man, and one she recognised. He was tall and gangly and boyish, with a kind face, but his eyes were sharp and bright, like they could see through things.
It was good to see him, if a little surprising, especially as he was wearing sports gear and he looked hot and sweaty despite the cold, rainy weather. The juxtaposition between them made her feel even more slovenly than she had done five seconds earlier.
But she’d been feeling lonely. And though she’d studied enough existential philosophy to believe loneliness was a fundamental part of being a human in an essentially meaningless universe, it was good to see him.
‘Ash,’ she said, smiling. ‘It’s Ash, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. It is.’
‘What are you doing here? It’s good to see you.’
A few weeks ago she’d been sat playing her electric piano and he’d run down Bancroft Avenue and had seen her in the window here at 33A and given her a little wave. He had once – years ago – asked her out for a coffee. Maybe he was about to do that again. ‘It’s good to see you too,’ he said, but his tense forehead didn’t show it.
When she’d spoken to him in the shop, he’d always sounded breezy, but now his voice contained something heavy. He scratched his brow. Made another sound but didn’t quite manage a full word. ‘You running?’ A pointless question. He was clearly out for a run. But he seemed relieved, momentarily, to have something trivial to say.
‘Yeah. I’m doing the Bedford Half. It’s this Sunday.’
‘Oh right. Great. I was thinking of doing a half-marathon and then I remembered I hate running.’
This had sounded funnier in her head than it did as actual words being vocalized out of her mouth. She didn’t even hate running. But still, she was perturbed to see the seriousness of his expression. The silence went beyond awkward into something else.
‘You told me you had a cat,’ he said eventually.
‘Yes. I have a cat.’
‘I remembered his name. Voltaire. A ginger tabby?’
‘Yeah. I call him Volts. He finds Voltaire a bit pretentious. It turns out he’s not massively into eighteenth-century French philosophy and literature. He’s quite down-to-earth. You know. For a cat.’
Ash looked down at her slippers.
‘I’m afraid I think he’s dead.’
‘He’s lying very still by the side of the road. I saw the name on the collar, I think a car might have hit him. I’m sorry, Nora.’
She was so scared of her sudden switch in emotions right then that she kept smiling, as if the smile could keep her in the world she had just been in, the one where Volts was alive and where this man she’d sold guitar songbooks to had rung her doorbell for another reason.
Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.
There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.