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The Last Prizefighter

The Last Prizefighter

The Last Prizefighter by James Classi

5 stars

 

(Excerpt from Amazon) On a 20X20 boxing ring in the belly of Madison Square Garden, Tommy Farrow defends his title for the WBO championship belt against Jeffrey Johnson. Near the end of the 10th round, a solid left hook to Farrow’s head drops him to the canvas, killing him instantly. Thus begins an adventure into hell and a race against the clock.

Farrow must rescue the soul of a writer who dies only seconds before him. The writer, Robert Scalia, has been hijacked by demons through a passage into purgatory called the Hellmouth.

In the future, Scalia is supposed to write a tell-all book that will prevent a madman from becoming the President of the United States…a madman that will eventually cause a nuclear war.
If Farrow can rescue Scalia from hell, he and the writer will be put back into their bodies at their times of death and be allowed to give life another shot; but if he fails…the world as we know it will end.

The timer is set. Get ready to rock.

Tommy Farrow dies and begins an adventure into hell to save Robert Scalia, a writer that could prevent the end of the world as we know it. But this is not a simple, straight forward fight. This is the hardest one Tommy has even taken on and it’s looking like he might not win.

I loved this book. I am a huge fan of thrillers and horror and this book is that and so much more. You can’t help cheering for Tommy and encouraging him to win. But when you think he might just win, he has not even begun to fight.

This book will such you in from page one and will keep you up all night to finish it. I love the description and a whole new story than you will have read before. I can’t wait to read other stories from James Classi.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

For more information on The Last Prizefighter be sure to check out Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I’m happy to say that I have a guest post today from author D.J. Donaldson. I love his Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn mysteries and have shared my opinions on several of them. But there is more to this series than the books that I have reviewed. Cajun Nights is the first in the Andy/Kit series and it was almost a TV series. Read on to find out more.

CAJUN NIGHTS AND THE CHARACTERS WITHIN:

THE MANY LIVES OF A TV SERIES THAT NEVER WAS

by D.J. Donaldson

LIFE #1

Cajun Nights was my first novel featuring New Orleans medical examiner, Andy Broussard, and his suicide/death investigator, Kit Franklyn. A few weeks after the book was published, I got a call from my agent with the surprising news that, “There’s been a flurry of movie and TV interest in your book.” I’d never considered that such a thing was possible. So that was one of the best phone calls I ever had.

Subsequently, a production company headed by the former director of programming at CBS took an option on the series, planning to shape it into a TV show. As perhaps some of you know, this phase of things is known as “development hell”, because it takes a very long time to make anything happen. So a year went by with no news. I figure, okay, the thing is dead. But, the producers renewed their option for another year, which meant I got paid again. It wasn’t a lot of money, but with that check, I’d made more money from the two option years than the advance I was given on the book by the publisher.

So more time goes by with no news. Now, I’m not even thinking about it anymore. Then, while I was attending a scientific meeting in Dallas, I got a call from the agent in Hollywood who was handling the dramatic rights. CBS had agreed to pay for a pilot screenplay. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but if this guy had tracked me down in Dallas just to tell me that, it must be a big deal. And guess what… I got another check as an advance on the screenplay even though I wasn’t gonna write it. I was beginning to love the agent who created that contract.

They chose as a writer someone who’d had several movies produced. That may seem like something not worth mentioning, but I’d read an article once that said it was possible to have a career as a screenwriter and never have anything produced. (Yeah, I don’t quite get that either, but it sure seemed like the writer we had, was the better kind.) With her experience and success, I was sure we’d get a great screenplay.

A few months later, a package arrives in the mail. IT’S THE SCREENPLAY. I’m so excited, I quickly skim the enclosed letter from the producers: “Read this over and tell us three things you don’t like about it.” That’s ridiculous, I’m gonna love it. After all, it was written by a pro.

Well, I hated all of it. The writer didn’t seem to “get” the relationship between Andy and Kit. I couldn’t believe it. The books show that non-romantic love is possible between an unrelated man and woman of greatly differing ages. Though he can’t admit it, Broussard loves Kit like the daughter he never had. Kit loves Broussard like a father, even though she has a father. How do I boil all the things I hate down to just three items? Somehow I manage and send my reply back.

As it turned out, the producers didn’t really care about any of my thoughts. Was I upset? Not really, because I figured they know TV, I don’t. And… surprise, when they gave the script to CBS, I got another check. Now I definitely love my agent.

The producers are sure the script will be approved and we’ll soon be shooting a pilot. They invite me to watch them film in New Orleans. They say they’ll even find a bit part for me. They predict that the series will run for ten years. And they should know. Their show, Cagney and Lacey, ran for seven seasons. Now I’m excited.

But… later, I get another call. CBS didn’t like the script. And they didn’t want to see a rewrite with the same story. The producers asked me if I had any ideas. The screenplay was based on the second book in the series. When I got this call I was sitting at my desk looking at the rough draft of book number three. I pitched them the story and they said, “Send us a copy by overnight mail.” This was back before manuscripts could be sent by e-mail. (I know, I can hardly remember those days myself.)

So another screenplay was written, which didn’t fare any better than the first. Thus life #1 of my hoped-for TV series went to a quiet demise.

LIFE #2

A few years later, while I was at the Kentucky book fair promoting book number five in the series, a young blonde fellow bought a book. We spoke for a few minutes and he moved on. Later, back in Memphis, I get a call from this guy. He wants to option the series for TV. I tell him about my earlier experience with the other producers, who failed, but he’s unfazed. We strike a deal. There’s talk about John Goodman playing Broussard. John Goodman… he lives in New Orleans and he’d be a great fit. I love it.

Within a few weeks the producer calls to say he’s on his way to Memphis and could I meet him and John Goodman’s “best friend,” at the Peabody Hotel. (The Peabody lobby is where William Faulkner and his mistress used to have drinks.) The meeting takes place and I give the best friend a copy of the latest book, which he assures us, will be in John Goodman’s hands within twenty-four hours. That was the last time I ever heard from him or the producer. So I guess the deal is off.

LIFE #3

In my primary occupation, I taught medical and dental students microscopic anatomy. One day I get a call from a former dental student. He’s now a part-time actor who’s been in a couple of notable films. He says that he and a long-time Hollywood promoter have formed a production company and are looking for material. He remembers that I wrote a few novels and wonders what I’ve been doing since he last saw me. I talk about my work and send him some books.

Very soon thereafter he calls me again and says he and his partner “are on fire over these forensic books.” They believe the series would make a great TV SERIES. He asks me who I’d like to play Broussard. I tell him I’ve always believed Wilford Brimley would be perfect. Incredibly, my former student says that his partner had lunch with Wilford just last week. He’s sure they can get him to sign on. With an actor of Wilford’s stature attached to the project, we’ll surely get a deal.

Was all this talk about Brimley just smoke? No. Because they actually got him on board. And what’s even better, my former student and his partner were working with another producer who had a development deal with the Sci-Fi network. They planned to present my series to the network three weeks hence, focusing on the real and apparent paranormal aspects of the first two books.

On presentation day at the Sci-Fi Network my student calls me just before they go in. I wait anxiously the rest of the day to hear how it went. Years later, I’m still waiting. The only contact I’ve had since presentation day is a big envelope from the producer who had the development deal. In the envelope is a bunch of stuff I wrote for the presentation along with a note from the producer that says, “Sorry we couldn’t have worked longer on this together.”

LESSON LEARNED

Early in the machinations of the first development deal, I used to caution myself not to spend any time thinking about how great it would be if every week I could watch my characters living and breathing on a TV show. My thinking was that if I kept a tight rein on my expectations, it’d be much easier on my psyche if things didn’t work out.

But then I realized I was missing out on the excitement of the possibility. Why not let my mind run with it? Then, even if none of the deals came to fruition I would still have the pleasure of being part of a great endeavor. So that’s what I did. And now, even though I never played that bit part in a pilot and I’ve never seen John Goodman or Wilford Brimley bring Broussard to life, I sure had a lot of fun along the way.

(By the way, if you’re a TV/film producer, the rights are available.)

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(Excerpt from Goodreads) Imagine investigating a case where each of the several victims had type O blood, drove an obsolete car, and hummed a nursery rhyme before committing murder and then suicide. That’s young criminal psychologist Kit Franklyn’s assignment and the solution just seems plain impossible. Her obese, jovial boss, chief medical examiner Andy Broussard, is just as baffled as she is. Together, they devise strictly scientific possibilities. Not once do they consider black magic to be the culprit until an ancient Cajun sorcerer’s curse surfaces, “Beware the songs you loved in youth.”

For more information or to purchase Cajun Nights be sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads.

Hillwilla

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Hillwilla by Melanie Forde

5 stars

 

(Excerpt from Goodreads) Beatrice Desmond, 55, lives on a remote farm nestled in a deep hollow in southern West Virginia. A native of Boston and a graduate of an Ivy League college, Beatrice is a fish out of water in Seneca County; although she maintains contact with certain friends and family, too often, Beatrice retreats into her work as a translator and editor, or into the bottle of Jack Daniel’s she maintains nearby. Fate finally intervenes, requiring Beatrice to befriend and shelter Clara, an abused teenager, and accept the job of ghostwriting the memoir of her dashing but enigmatic neighbor, Tanner Fordyce. Gradually, Beatrice finds her resolute independence and crusty reserve soften, her carefully constructed barriers fall, and her guarded and self-protective nature moderates, as she explores the renewed pleasures of emotional involvement. At times sad, at times hilarious, and always quirky, Hillwilla celebrates the glories of nature, the resilience of the human spirit, the healing power derived from genuine connections with others, and the potential for reinventing ourselves—at any age.

 

Bea has struggled from humble beginnings to an Ivy League graduate. But she has had enough with society and has moved to the mountains of West Virginia. There she is considered an outsider by the locals, but she could care less. She has her home, her animals for companionship, and a job as a translator and editor.

 

Then her neighbor Tanner Fordyce tries to convince her to ghostwrite his biography. She reluctantly agrees and then finds herself helping Tanner rescue Clara from a troubled home life. Bea sees herself in Clara and although grudgingly, she does help Clara. But along the way Clara helps her in return.

This is a great, heartwarming story. I find a lot of my tendencies in Bea. I grew up on a little farm and have come a long way. Yet I find that I would rather stay at home with my cats than have to go out and deal with other people. I can also relate to Clara and some of how she grew up. But the best part of the story was how Bea realizes that she really does need other people and that they can be a bright part of her life.

I loved the scenes; I could feel myself right there in the pages. You can’t help getting sucked into the story and keep reading into the late hours wanting to know what is going to happen next. This is a stand alone book but I could see other adventures for Bea in the future. I can’t wait to read what Melanie Forde comes up with next.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Be sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads for more information or to purchase Hillwilla.

Harvest Moon

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Harvest Moon (Behind the Stars – 3) by Leigh Talbert Moore

5 stars

This is the third book in the series and I recommend reading the other two before starting. The story starts with Prentiss waking up in pain and not knowing what is going on. She is coming to from having the new born calf land on her. Gallatin is there to help her and get her pain pills. He is also there to help sneak her to the stream for little visits.

But the more time Prentiss spends with Gallatin the more she is starting to be attracted to him. Jackson is starting to become more of a memory and she has to keep reminding herself that she can’t like Gallatin, she is just doing this to find out how to escape. But there adventures are not as secret as they think and there is a lot more happening that is hinted at.

Although this story is more about Prentiss and Gallatin it just adds to the series. You can’t help but feel for Gallatin when it seems he has feelings for Prentiss too. I really like how there are no flashbacks with Jackson. It is hinted that there is more to him than Prentiss knows and I have a feeling that he is just a jerk or something like that.

I can’t believe how fast these books go. I know they are only a couple chapters in the series but it is so easy to get caught up in them and left wanting more. I can’t wait to find out what is really going on with both Gallatin and Jackson.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

For more information on this series to to purchase Harvest Moon, be sure to check out Amazon and Goodreads.

On a 20X20 boxing ring in the belly of Madison Square Garden, Tommy Farrow defends his title for the WBO championship belt against Jeffrey Johnson. Near the end of the 10th round, a solid left hook to Farrow’s head drops him to the canvas, killing him instantly.Thus begins an adventure into hell and a race against the clock.
Farrow must rescue the soul of a writer who dies only seconds before him. The writer, Robert Scalia, has been hijacked by demons through a passage into purgatory called the Hellmouth.
In the future, Scalia is supposed to write a tell-all book that will prevent a madman from becoming the President of the United States…a madman that will eventually cause a nuclear war.
If Farrow can rescue Scalia from hell, he and the writer will be put back into their bodies at their times of death and be allowed to give life another shot; but if he fails…the world as we know it will end.
The timer is set. Get ready to rock.
Teasers
More About James Classi

James Classi has been writing since the age of 16. He lives on Long Island with his wife, children and 2 dogs. James has worked in Law enforcement for the last 8 years. His interests include photography, old rock music, and the Civil War, and playing the acoustic guitar.
His first published a collection of short fiction titled “Nine Lives” was released 2 years ago. Each story in the volume has been liked to an episode of Tales from the crypt.
In his new novel, The last Prizefighter, James takes you to hell and a race against the clock.
He is currently at work on a second volume of short stories and a new novel.
Facebook:James Classi
Twitter:James Classi
Goodreads:James Classi
Find More by James Classi

Deadly Odds

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Deadly Odds by Allen Wyler

5 stars

(Excerpt from Goodreads) Twenty-three-year-old Arnold Gold is a Seattle-based odds-maker and local computer genius. Described as a “part-time hacker and full-time virgin” by his friends, the awkward young shut-in flies to Vegas to try and get lucky–in more ways than one. But his high-stakes activity on the Net inadvertently thrusts him into a vortex of international terrorism. His dark net hacking has resulted in murder, and now it will take every last bit of Arnold’s genius intellect and legendary hacking skill to stay one step ahead of the murderous terrorists, the FBI, the local cops, and his lawyer. Gold’s only chance to save himself is to find the location of a bomb hidden somewhere in Vegas, and somehow prevent the explosion that will turn Sin City into the scene of the deadliest terror attacks since 9/11.

Arnold Gold is a 23 year old computer genius. He has developed a way to use statistics to make money through online gambling. But he is obsessed with his virginity. After several failed attempts at dating, and the death of his roommate, he goes to Las Vegas and gets and escort. But after too much alcohol he starts bragging about this program.

Conveniently he is contacted by some guys that say they work for the FBI and they ask him to run some numbers. When his prediction comes true the real FBI catch up with Gold and decide to make him spy on the terrorists that want to use Gold’s data. Gold is stuck in the middle and trying to find a way to hack the terrorists without being caught or killed along the way.

Allen Wyler’s previous books are thrillers in the medical profession. This is another field but with the same style. There is a lot of technical information but not in an overwhelming way. There was a lot of action from the start. With everything going on in the world today with technology and terrorists, this books makes you feel like it could happen to you.

This is another great story by Allen Wyler. Make sure to add this one to your collection and check out his other books.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

For more information on Deadly Odds, Allen Wyler, or other books from Allen be sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and his website.

The Tree of Water

Tree of Water

The Tree of Water (The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme – 4)

Story

The epic voyages continue in The Tree of Water, the fourth adventure in bestselling author Elizabeth Haydon’s acclaimed fantasy series for young readers, The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme.

As Royal Reporter of the land of Serendair, it is the duty of young Charles Magnus “Ven” Polypheme to travel the world and seek out magic hiding in plain sight. But Ven needs to escape the clutches of the nefarious Thief Queen, ruler of the Gated City, whose minions are hunting for him. His friend, the merrow Amariel, has the perfect solution to his dilemma: Ven and Char will join her to explore the world beneath the sea.

As they journey through the sea, Ven finds himself surrounded by wonders greater than he could have ever imagined. But the beauty of the ocean is more than matched by the dangers lurking within its depths, and Ven and his friends soon realize that in order to save thousands of innocent lives, they may have to sacrifice their own. For everything in the ocean needs to eat…

Interview

Elizabeth Haydon

Elizabeth Haydon, documentarian, archanologist and translator of Ven’s journals, including The Tree of Water

Little is known for sure about reclusive documentarian and archanologist Elizabeth Haydon.

She is an expert in dead languages and holds advanced degrees in Nain Studies from Arcana College and Lirin History from the University of Rigamarole. Her fluency in those languages [Nain and Lirin] has led some to speculate that she may be descended of one of those races herself. It should be noted that no one knows this for sure.

Being an archanologist, she is also an expert in ancient magic because, well, that’s what an archanologist is.

Being a documentarian means she works with old maps, books and manuscripts, and so it is believed that her house is very dusty and smells like ink, but there is no actual proof of this suspicion. On the rare occasions of sightings of Ms. Haydon, it has been reported that she herself has smelled like lemonade, soap, vinegar, freshly-washed babies and pine cones.

She is currently translating and compiling the fifth of the recently-discovered Lost Journals when she is not napping, or attempting to break the world’s record for the longest braid of dental floss.

We had the chance to ask her some questions about the latest of Ven’s journals, The Tree of Water. Here is what she shared.

1. Dr. Haydon, can you give us a brief summary of The Tree of Water?

Certainly. Ven Polypheme, who wrote the, er, Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, lived long ago in the Second Age of history, when magic was much more alive and visible in the world than it is now. His journals are very important finds, because they tell the story of ancient magic and here it still may be found in the world today.

In the first three journals we saw how Ven came to the mystical island of Serendair and was given the job of Royal Reporter by the king of the island, a young man named Vandemere. The Royal Reporter was supposed to find magic that was hiding in plain sight in the world and report back about it to the king. As you can imagine, this could be a fun but dangerous job, and at the beginning of The Tree of Water, we see that Ven and his friends are hiding from the evil Thief

Queen, who is looking to find and kill him.

Amariel, a merrow [humans call these ‘mermaids,’ but we know that’s the wrong word] who saved Ven when the first ship he sailed on sank, has been asking Ven to come and explore the wonders of the Deep, her world in the sea. Deciding that this could be a great way to find hidden magic as well as hide from the evil Thief Queen, Ven and his best friend, Char, follow her into the Deep. The sea, as you know, is one of the most magical places in the world—but sometimes that magic, and that place, can be deadly.

The book tells of mysterious places, and interesting creatures, and wondrous things that have never been seen in the dry world, and tales from the very bottom of the sea.

2. The main character in The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme series is Charles Magnus “Ven” Polypheme. Tell us about him.

Ven was an interesting person, but he really didn’t think so. He and his family were of a different race than the humans who made up most of the population where he lived, the race of the Nain. Nain are an old race, a little shorter and stockier than most humans, with a tendency to be on the grumpy side. They live about four times as long as humans, are very proud of their beards, which they believe tell their life stories, don’t like to swim or travel, and prefer to live deep in the mountains.

Ven was nothing like the majority of Nain. He was very curious, loved to travel, could swim, and longed to see the world. He was actually a pretty nice kid most of the time. He had the equivalent of a baby face because only three whiskers of his beard had grown in by the time The Tree of Water took place, when he was fifty years old [around twelve in Nain years]. He had a great group of friends, including the merrow and Char, who were mentioned earlier. It is believed that his journals were the original research documents for two of the most important books of all time, The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic. The only copies of these two volumes were lost at sea centuries ago, so finding the Lost Journals is the only way to recover this important information.

3. What kind of research do you do for the series?

I go to places where Ven went and try to find relics he left behind. Usually this is with an expedition of archaeologists and historians. I am an expert in ancient magic [an archanologist] so I don’t usually lead the expeditions, I’m just a consultant. It gives me the chance to learn a lot about magic and lets me work on my suntan at the same time, so it’s good.

4. What is/are the most difficult part or parts of writing/restoring the Lost Journals?

Here’s the list, mostly from the archaeological digs where the journals have been found:

1] Cannibals

2] Crocodiles

3] Sunburn

4] Sand flies

5] Dry, easily cracking parchment pages

6] The horrible smell of long-dead seaweed

7] Grumpy members of the archaeological expedition [I could name names, but I won’t]

8] Expedition food [when finding and retrieving the journal for The Tree of Water, we ate nothing but peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, olives and yellow tea for six months straight]

9] When salt water gets into your favorite fountain pen and clogs it up. This is very sad.

10] Unintentionally misspelling a word in the Nain language that turns out to be embarrassing [the word for “jelly” is one letter different from the word for “diarrhea,” which caused a number of my Nain friends to ask me what on earth I thought Ven was spreading on his toast.]

5. What do you enjoy about this series that cannot be found in any of your other books?

Getting to write about a lot of cool magic stuff that used to exist in our world, but doesn’t anymore. And getting to travel to interesting places in the world to see if maybe some of it still does exist. Also getting to show the difference between merrows, which are real, interesting creatures, and mermaids, which are just silly.

6. What do you hope readers take away from this book?

I hope, in general, that it will open their eyes to the wonder of the sea, which takes up the majority of our planet, but we really don’t know that much about it down deep. There is a great deal of magic in the sea, and I hope that if and when people become aware of it, they will help take care of it and not throw garbage and other bad stuff into it. I have a serious dislike for garbage-throwing.

Probably the most useful secret I learned that I hope will be of use to readers is about thrum. Thrum is the way the creatures and plants that live in the ocean communicate with each other through vibration and thought. As Ven and his friends learn, this can be a problem if you think about something you don’t want anyone to know about when you are standing in a sunshadow, because everyone gets to see a picture of what’s on your mind. Imagine how embarrassing that could be.

7. Are there more books coming in this series?

Well, at least one. In the archaeological dig site where The Tree of Water was found was another journal, a notebook that Ven called The Star of the Sea. We are still working on restoring it, but it looks like there are many new adventures and different kinds of magic in it. The problem is that it might have been buried in the sand with an ancient bottle of magical sun tan lotion, which seems to have leaked onto some of the journal’s pages. This is a very sad event in archaeology, but we are working hard to restore it.

As for other books, it’s not like we just write them out of nowhere. If we haven’t found one of Ven’s journals, there can’t be another book, now, can there? We are always looking, however. We’ve learned so much about ancient magic from the journals we have found so far.

8. You are a best-selling author with other books and series for adults. What made you want to write books for young readers?

I like young readers better than adults. Everyone who is reading a book like mine has at one time or another been a young reader, but not everyone has been an adult yet. Young readers have more imagination and their brains are more flexible—they can understand magical concepts a lot better than a lot of adults, who have to deal with car payments and work and budget balancing and all sorts of non-magical things in the course of their days.

Besides, many adults scare me. But that’s not their fault. I’m just weird like that.

I think if more adults read like young readers, the world would be a happier place.

9. Tell us where we can find your book and more information about where you are these days.

You can find The Tree of Water anywhere books are sold, online and in bookstores. There are several copies in my steamer trunk and I believe the palace in Serendair also has one. I also sent one to Bruno Mars because I like his name.

At the moment, I am on the beautiful island of J’ha-ha, searching for a very unique and magical flower. Thank you for asking these interview questions—it has improved my mood, since I have only found weeds so far today. I am hoping for better luck after lunch, which, sadly, is peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, olives, and yellow tea again.

All the best,

Dr. Elizabeth Haydon, PhD, D’Arc

Review

5 stars

This story is based on the lost journals of Ven Polypheme, a royal reporter that is to travel the world and find magic. Ven is trying to escape the Thief Queen. His merrow friend Amariel suggests exploring underwater and search for The Tree of Water. But this is not his only task. Just before they leave, Madame Sharra gives them a sea dragon scale and tells them to find the dragon too.

This is the fourth book in The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, which I was concerned with since I have never heard of this series. Don’t let that stop you from reading it. There is no down time trying to figure out what is going on. You jump straight into the action. There are numerous dangers to encounter from sharks to jelly fish to sea elves and a dragon. It seems Ven’s group is always in one form of danger or another.

I really liked this story. There was great action and a good plot. It reminds me of the Hobbit for middle grade kids. But if you like middle grade stories, you will like The Tree of Water also. I’m excited to see how this series began and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Excerpt from The Tree of Water

THE TREE OF WATER

Elizabeth Haydon

Starscape, 2014

 

1

To Go, or Not to Go

 

The human boys had an expression back in the faraway city of Vaarn where I was born. It went like this:

 

Curiosity killed the cat

 

Satisfaction brought him back

 

I am a curious person. I was just as curious back in my early days in Vaarn as I am now, perhaps even more so, because my curiosity had not yet been given a chance to be satisfied.

 

The first time I heard this expression, I was very excited. I thought it meant that my curiosity could make me feel like I was dying, but it would let up if I discovered the answer to whatever was making me curious.

 

I told my mother about the rhyme. She was not impressed. In fact, she looked at me as if I had just set my own hair on fire on purpose. She patted my chin, which was woefully free of any sign of the beard that should have been growing there.

 

“That’s very nice,” she said, returning to her chores. “But just in case nobody told you, you are not a cat, Ven. Unlike you, cats have whiskers.”

 

My pride stung for days afterward.

 

But it didn’t stop my curiosity from growing as fast as my beard should have been.

 

My name is Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme, Ven for short. Unlike the human boys in Vaarn, I am of the race of the Nain. Nain are somewhat shorter than humans, and grumpier. They live almost four times as long as humans, and tend to be much less curious, and much less adventurous. They hate to travel, don’t swim, and generally do not like otherpeople. Especially those who are not Nain.

 

I clearly am not a good example of my race.

 

First, I am very tall for a Nain, sixty-eight Knuckles high when I was last measured on the morning of my fiftieth birthday. I’ve already mentioned my uncontrollable curiosity, which brings along with it a desire for adventure. I have been blessed, or cursed, with quite a lot of that recently.

 

But as for the curiosity, while I’ve had a lot of satisfaction for the questions it has asked me, it doesn’t seem to matter. As soon as one burning question is answered, another one springs to mind immediately. As a result, I am frequently in trouble.

 

So now I am about to lay my head on a chopping block, on purpose, and a man with a very sharp knife is standing over me, ready to make slashes in my neck.

 

I’m wondering if in fact instead of being a live Nain, I am about to end up as a dead, formerly curious cat.

 

Because now I have three whiskers of my own.

 

Ven Polypheme had two sets of eyes staring at him.

 

One set was black as coal. The other was green as the sea.

 

Neither of them looked happy.

 

The green eyes were floating, along with a nose, forehead, and hair on which a red cap embroidered with pearls sat, just above the surface of the water beneath the old abandoned dock. The brows above the eyes were drawn together. They looked annoyed.

 

The black ones were in the middle of the face of his best friend, Char, who stood beside him on the dock. They looked anxious.

 

In the distance a bell began to toll. Ven looked to his left at the docks of the fishing village to the south of them, where work had begun hours ago. Then he looked behind him. The sleepy town of Kingston in the distance was just beginning to wake up.

 

Ven looked back down into the water.

 

“Come on, Amariel,” he said to the floating eyes. “I can’t really go off into the sea without him.”

 

A glorious tail of colorful scales emerged from below the surface, splashing both boys with cold salt water.

 

“Why not?” a girl’s voice demanded from the waves. “He’s a pest. And he isn’t nice to me.”

 

Char’s black eyes widened.

 

“I—I’m sorry ’bout that,” he stammered. “When I first met you, Ven didn’t tell me you were a mermaid—” He shivered as another splash drenched him again. “Er, I mean merrow. I’m sorry if I made you mad.”

 

“Hmmph.”

 

“Please let him come,” Ven said. “Captain Snodgrass gave him orders to keep an eye on me. So if I’m going to explore the sea with you, he kinda has to come along.”

 

Char nodded. “Cap’n’s orders.”

 

“He’s not my captain,” said the merrow. “I don’t take orders from humans. You know better, Ven. My mother will fillet me if she finds out I’m traveling with a human male. Especially if we are going to go exploring. There are very clear rules about not showing humans around the wonders of the Deep. And besides, it’s dangerous. You have no idea how many sea creatures think humans are tasty. I don’t want to get chomped on by mistake.”

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Ven watched Char’s face go white.

 

“We’ll be careful,” he promised. “Char will be on his best behavior.”

 

“I’ve seen his best behavior. I’m not impressed.”

 

“Look,” Char said. “If you get sick of me, you can always cover me with fish guts and toss me out as shark bait.”

 

The merrow stared coldly at him.

 

“Oh, all right,” she said finally. “But remember, there’s a reason they call bait for sharks chum. ‘Chum’ is another word for ‘friend.’” Her eyes stayed locked on Char. “And if you make a bunch of sharks angry, Chum—”

 

“I’ll be chum,” Char said. “Got it.”

 

“So if you’re coming, we have to find a fisherman named As a with a red-bottomed boat.” Amariel pointed south to one of the far docks. “He’ll cut your gills, and we can get going.”

 

Both boys grabbed their necks.

 

The merrow rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. Do you want to be able to breathe underwater or not?

Gills are the only way I know of to do that. I’m tired of waiting. Decide whether you’re coming or whether I’m leaving.”

 

“We’re coming,” Ven said as he let go of his neck. “Sorry—it’s just instinct. Let’s go.”

 

Char nodded, but did not remove his hands.

 

The merrow disappeared below the surface of the water.

 

The two boys hurried south over the packed sand along the shore.

 

“Ya know, it’s not too late to change your mind, Ven,” Char muttered. “We could get a boat or somethin’, and follow her out to sea, like we did when we were chasing the Floatin’ Island, and then dive down to see whatever she wants to show us—”

 

“You can stay on shore if you want to, Char,” Ven said, trying to see the merrow in between the waves. “But I promised her a long time ago that I would explore her world with her. It’s now or never.”

 

“Have it your way,” Char said gloomily. “You always do anyway.”

 

They followed the pebbly path in the sand south until the fishing village came into sight. Several long piers led out into the harbor, with docks along each of them. Small boats lined the docks. At each boat fishermen were hauling nets filled with flapping fish and cages with crabs and lobsters onto the piers. Seagulls flew in great wide circles above, screeching and crying, then diving for food.

 

“So how did she happen to find this Asa, and how does she know he won’t just cut our throats?” Char asked as they picked their way among barrels and pieces of rope on the slats of the pier.

 

Ven shrugged. “No idea. But sailors and merrows have a pretty good connection.” He pointed about halfway down the pier, where a small green fishing boat with a red bottom bobbed lazily in the morning tide. A wrinkled man in a wrinkled hat sat on a barrel at the edge of the dock, cleaning his morning catch of fish. “Could that be him?”

 

Char squinted. “I guess so.”

 

“Come on. We may as well ask. If it’s not Asa, he probably knows where to find him. Fishermen all know each other.”

 

The two boys walked along the pier, stepping out of the way of men dragging lobster traps and heavy netting, until they got to the red-bottomed boat. They stopped behind the elderly fisherman, who did not seem to notice they were there.

 

Ven coughed politely.

 

“Excuse me, sir—are you Asa?”

 

The fisherman looked up from his work, his sky-blue eyes twinkling in the sun.

 

“Who’s askin’?”

 

“Er, my name is Ven, sir. I was told I might find a fisherman at this dock who could, uh, cut gills.”

 

The wrinkly man nodded. “Well, Ven, you’ve found ’im. But I can’t say as I’ve heard of any recent wrecks.”

 

Ven blinked. “Pardon?”

 

“Shipwrecks,” said the fisherman. “That’s the only reason I know of for a man to risk a slice in his neck—to salvage the treasure from the bones of a shipwreck.”

 

“Oh.” Ven and Char exchanged a glance, then looked off the edge of the dock.

 

In the water behind the boat, the beautiful tail of multicolored scales was waving at them from beneath the surface.

 

“Uh, we weren’t really planning to dive for treasure,” Ven continued, trying to block the sight of the merrow’s tail. “We just want to do some exploring.”

 

The fisherman’s eyebrows arched.

 

“The sea’s no place to explore without a good reason, lads,” he said seriously. “Lots of bad stuff down there—believe you me. The only reason a man takes his life into his hands on a daily basis by going out there is to make a living for his family. Otherwise, we’d farm the land.” The blue eyes twinkled. “If we knew how.”

 

“Well, we’d really like to have gills, nonetheless,” Ven said. “We’ve been told you know how to, er, cut them without too much pain—and safely. Is that true?”

 

Asa exhaled, then nodded.

 

“I suppose that depends on how much is too much where pain is concerned,” he said. “That’s really up to you. It’s not my business what you’re doing. We mind our own business on the sea. If you want gills, and you’re willing to take the risk, I can cut ’em for you right quick.” He held up a thin silver filleting knife. “Then I have to get back to cleaning my catch. So, what’ll it be? Make haste, now.”

 

Char and Ven looked at each other once more, then nodded at the same time.

 

“We’re in,” said Char.

 

“All right then,” said Asa. He reached into the boat and took hold of the top of a small sea chest that held his tackle. He slammed it closed and put it on the dock in front of them. “Kneel down and put your heads on this chest, your left ears down.”

 

The boys obeyed.

 

“Well, ’s been good to know you,” Char whispered as they positioned their heads on the chest.

 

“Shhh,” Ven whispered back. “We’re not being executed, for pity’s sake.”

 

“You hope we’re not. You never know.”

 

Asa wiped the filleting knife on his trousers, then came and stood over Ven.

 

“Hold very still, now.”

 

Char winced and put his hand over his eyes.

Ven started to close his eyes as well.

Suddenly, from the end of the dock near town, a bright flash of rainbow-colored light blinded him.

And the world seemed to stop around him.

Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Haydon

Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Brandon Dorman

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