Book Review: Villain by Michael Grant

“People could be amazingly blind to what was right in front of their faces.”

(“Villain”, chapter 8, page 84)

A year ago, almost to the day, I posted my review of Monster by Michael Grant, the long-awaited continuation of the GONE series that originally released in June 2008. Ten years later, readers like me are still caught in the FAYZ and soaking up every word of Villain, the latest installation in this gripping series.

Villain

Shade Darby was there the day the Perdido Beach dome came down. She witnessed the horror that was Gaia, the monster of the FAYZ as well as the death of her mother. When the alien virus-infected rock crashed into the earth, Shade was there to retrieve a piece. Along with her friends Cruz and Malik, she’s ingested a portion of the rock and now they’re part of the Rockborn and able to morph into something more, beings of incredible power. Unfortunately, Shade and friends aren’t the only ones that are Rockborn, and some of the others are using their morphs for more evil agendas.

Villain brings back previous foes, from Knightmare to Peaks, Vu, and the sadistic Drake Merwin—Whip Hand. Adding to the mix is a new villain, Dillon Poe. When morphed as the Charmer, Dillon is unstoppable. His ability to command anyone to do anything with just his words makes him a dangerous, deadly villain. Add to it his lust for power and our heroes have their hands full.

Also returning for Villain are GONE series fan favorite Dekka and brief but critical appearances by Sam and Astrid. Personally, I love the new dynamic that’s developed between Dekka and Armo as well as Dekka and Shade. Author Grant also gives us a new hero in the form of Francis, a young girl who can walk through any solid object and who also possesses a very special trait that may be key when it comes to the final take-down of the Watchers.

Villain took me on a heart-stopping ride, twisting my insides and pushing all the buttons. There are brutal moments, turns, and Chapter 30 that even brought a tear + a very loud “hell yeah!”

“‘What are we going to do? Cruz repeated. She shrugged. ‘I guess we’re going to try and save the world.’”

The GONE series has never shied away from harsh, gory, terrifying imagery and Michael Grant certainly paints a picture. There are scenes in Villain that may be difficult to read, but it’s well done and a complete page-turner.

It’s no secret I am a long-time fan and faithful reader of Michael Grant and the GONE series ranks in my top all-time favorites. For me, Villain continued to deliver the story, characters, and thrills I’ve come to expect and love from this author and series.

If you’ve not stepped into the FAYZ yet, pick up book one: GONE and dive right in. Read ‘em all and be sure to grab a copy of Villain.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

“And why can’t you understand. . . I don’t get what’s so wrong with being happy where you are.”

(Alba, Chapter 8, page 138)

CinnamonGirl

Melissa Keil brings incredible fun and laughter to the end of the world with The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl. It’s a book that pulled me in from the prologue and kept me engaged until the very sweet end. This is the third book by Keil that I’ve read and I’m hungry for more, along with a piece of apple strudel from Albany’s.

Sarah Jane Albany, known as Alba, calls the small town of Eden Valley home. Alba and her mom live in the residence behind their bakery named Albany’s. She’s a comic-book loving artist and the creator of Cinnamon Girl, her newest character who’s being slightly troublesome, almost as much as the events that quickly begin to unfold in Alba’s once even-paced life.

For Alba, tradition and routine are just fine. Why mess it all up with with changes like leaving Eden Valley and going to college? She loves her corner of the world that includes the bakery, her friends, and especially her best friend Domenic Grady, known simply as Grady.

Pals since the playpen because their mothers are best friends, Alba and Grady haven’t really spent a day apart in their lives. But, with Grady’s plans to go off and study law, Alba is in a bit of funk, especially because she’s really not sure what she wants or where she’ll fit in once her best friend leaves for his own adventure. And then there’s this pesky little issue of the world ending. Literally.

So what happens when the end of high school also coincides with the end of the world?

Alba struggles to make sense of her place in the world and the changes that are about to befall her, Grady, and their group of friends. When an obscure television personality predicts the planet’s demise and names Eden Valley as the only place that will survive, their tiny Australian town quickly becomes the center of global attention, filling with end-of-the-world zealots, personalities, and a particular hunky teen actor who also happens to be a former friend of Alba’s and Grady’s.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the quirky characters, including Alba’s entire gang of friends. Author Keil creates a great cast of supporting characters that developed and contributed perfectly to the main story, while at the same time drawing you in—I’d totally read a book that focused on Tia and Petey. The dialogue is witty yet easy to read and believable. Keil paints a picture with her words, giving readers a clear view of Eden Valley and the chaos that an end-of-the-world prediction would bring to a small town.

The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter were awesome! Loved them as artwork and how they connected seamlessly with the story.

Go grab yourself a copy of The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil. It’s a romance spiced with a quirky-sweet main character plus banter, universal truths, and laugh-out-loud moments.

You can check out Melissa Keil’s other books at her website. Also, my review of her book The Secret Science of Magic is here.

Book Series: When Covers Don’t Match

When you own a complete book series, do you care if the books are mixed-and-matched? Does it make you twitchy to own book one of a series as a paperback and books three through six (soon to be seven) as hardbacks?

Yes, I’m looking at you GONE series.

And how about different cover art?

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Currently I own three series, three of my all-time favorite book series, that are not matched. It doesn’t usually bother me until it’s time to clean and re-organize my bookshelves, then it makes me twitchy because they don’t fit in nice and neat.

This brings me to the next question:

Do I treat myself to a new set of each?

 

 

 

Here is the series that stimulated this train of thought:

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The first three books are paperback and the last two are hardback. The first one has different artwork—which I do like.

However, the white really doesn’t go with the darker palette of the other four. Now in reality, does all this make a huge difference?

Of course not.

But it’s my bookshelf and since I gaze at it while working daily, I like a certain aesthetic.

 

 

 

I have no issues owning multiple copies of books or series that I reread regularly and Percy Jackson & the Olympians falls into that category.

I think I just talked myself into new, matching volumes of this Rick Riordan series. Christmas is just 85 days away, so maybe it’s perfect for my wish list.

So who’s going to talk to Santa for me?

Book Review: “The Lies They Tell” by Gillian French

“Whatever you heard ain’t likely to be the truth. I don’t think anybody left alive knows the truth, except that boy.”

(Marilyn, The Lies They Tell, page 212)

The Lies They Tell by Gillian French offers a dark, twisting mystery amid family drama and the socio-economic divide of Tenney’s Harbor, Maine. This was the first Gillian French novel I’ve read, and it was a page-turner!

I love a good mystery and The Lies They Tell delivered.

LiesTheyTell

Told from the eighteen-year old Pearl’s perspective, the story opens with an introduction to the Garrison family. They are wealthy and one of the prestigious families at the country club where Pearl works as a waitress. When four of the five Garrison family members die in a horrific fire, we learn that the surviving son Tristan may be a suspect. Unfortunately, Pearl’s father also is suspect as he was the watchman on duty the night of the fire.

The bulk of the story takes place six months after the fire. It’s summer and Tristan and the other summer rich boys are in Tenney’s Harbor. As Pearl waits on Tristan and his friends at the club, she’s drawn into their group. While, she’s not a fan of the affluent summer boys, she has hopes that getting close to them may help her clear her dad’s name. Since the fire, her dad has lost work and buried himself in the bottle. They are barely scraping by.

Author Gillian French provides an immersive experience, creating a rich atmosphere with her settings in this book. It’s very easy to “see” Tenney’s Harbor, the country club, and Pearl’s world.

Personally, I enjoyed following Pearl and her discoveries into the truths behind the closed doors of the Garrison household and the family life that only Tristan knew. There was ample drama, suspense, and the weaving of the lies and betrayal worked. I also really liked the final setting for the ending, just enough creep factor but not too over-the-top.

The Lies They Tell by Gillian French was the perfect book to curl up with on a stormy afternoon and I recommend it to any YA mystery fan.

Book Review: The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil

“I believe she will shortly describe me as

‘that dipshit who’s always smiling at himself.’”

(Joshua, page 3)

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil is smart, funny, and one of my favorite reads of 2018.

secret science of magic

Its blurb via author Melissa Keil’s website:

Sophia is smart. Like, genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius? In life and love, timing is everything.

It was pure chance I stumbled on this book and I’m so happy it happened. While at my local library to pick up a few books for research purposes, I couldn’t help but make a detour into the Young Adult section. Big surprise, right?

The Secret Science of Magic caught my eye from its place on the “new” shelves, just by its title. After reading the jacket blurb, I knew it was coming home with me. Then I opened the book and it began with with a quote from Harry Houdini. I was all in.

How could I not want to know what would happen when a young magician attempts to win the heart of a genius?

This is not your typical high school romance novel. Set in Melbourne, Australia, author Melissa Keil gives readers alternating POV from Sophia and Joshua. Sophia is a genius, particularly skilled in mathematics, while Joshua does well in history class, his overall interest in studying and homework is minimal. His passion is magic. Neither are part of the popular social circles at school.

There were many elements about this book that I loved. Normally, I’m not a fan of first person POV but I really liked it here as it kept me close to the characters. From the first pages, I became invested in Sophia and Joshua. I laughed out loud more than once before finishing chapter one. Keil’s writing style is sharp and witty. She has created characters that you want to know inside and out, and then shows us all their messy truths but in ways that are completely relatable.

I also enjoyed the numerous pop culture references, in particular the Doctor Who tidbits. As a fan of Eleven, I swooned and giggled with the tiny fez hats that “magically” appear on Sophia’s pencils when she opens her pencilcase.

As we all know, the course of teenage romance rarely runs smooth, and in the case of Sophia and Joshua the odds are stacked against them. However, it was a joy to be able to tag along for their journey. The Secret Science of Magic kept me entertained from start to finish and I’m still chuckling over several moments. I highly recommend it.

Melissa Keil is the author of The Secret Science of Magic, Life in Outer Space, and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

I already have Life in Outer Space on reserve at my library, so keep an eye out for my thoughts on that one.

Book Review: Echoes by Alice Reeds

“I already hated everything about this plan,

even if it was the only one that made sense.”

Fiona. Chapter Eleven, page 102

I rarely do this, but I’m going to begin this post with the book’s blurb from the author’s website, which you can access here: www.alicereeds.com.

Blurb:

They wake on a deserted island. Fiona and Miles, high school enemies now stranded together. No memory of how they got there. No plan to follow, no hope to hold on to.

Each step forward reveals the mystery behind the forces that brought them here. And soon, the most startling discovery: something else is on the island with them. Something that won’t let them leave alive.

Echoes by Alice Reeds had a lot of elements I really liked, including the alternating chapters that went back and forth between two “realities”: the island and Berlin.

Echoes

As a fan of shows like “Lost” I was excited to read a story about two teens stranded on a mysterious island. While there wasn’t a smoke monster, there were ample life-threatening situations for Fiona and Miles. Personally, I preferred their story on the island versus the city-setting of Berlin. I had a few issues with city chapters, and I may have actually yelled at them to just go to the American Embassy. But, I did keep turning pages and although I felt the ending was a bit rushed (lots crammed in), I mostly was satisfied.

Character-wise, I did struggle to connect with Fiona, and at times, Miles seemed cliche, but I ended up liking him. However, overall there was enough action and questions (important with this type of story) to keep me engaged.

Book Review: Until the End by Christopher Pike

Until the End by Christopher Pike is his original trilogy titled Final Friends. Until the End contains the three books: The Party, The Dance, and The Graduation.

The Party and The Dance were both originally released in 1988 and The Graduation came out in 1989. I wish they would have kept the original Final Friends title, because it’s an actual line in the book and I think it ties the trilogy together a bit better.

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When I found Until the End at a bookstore during some travel, I squealed. No lie. Squealed loudly and most likely frightened the couple browsing in the next aisle over. The squeal came from stumbling upon the “Pike” name on the book’s spine. As a teenager and into my early twenties, I bought and devoured every Christopher Pike book available. I was obsessed. When I picked up Until the End and discovered that it was the entire Final Friends trilogy in one, super-thick book—I knew it was coming home with me. It took all I had not to plop down in the aisle and begin reading right there.

The Final Friends trilogy or Until the End is a YA mystery/thriller that’s contemporary. Because it was written in the late 1980’s, the pop culture references reflect that time, ie: mention of the “big TV movie The Day After” and of course, no cell phones plus what now would be considered archaic computer technology. Set in California, the story follows a group of friends and acquaintances attending the same high school. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Jessica Hart and Michael Olson.

Book One: The Party introduces the main characters and sets the stage for the tragedy that will bring them all together and tear many of them apart. Like many good mysteries, The Party ends with a dead body and a lot of questions.

Book Two: The Dance is the aftermath of that tragic party. Author Pike takes readers on a ride exploring the various reactions/coping mechanisms each character employs while also attempting to deal with daily teenage life. There’s ample witty dialogue, teen crushes, and general high school drama woven in as well, but the main thread continues to be the mystery. The Dance concludes with Homecoming and another tragedy.

Book Three: The Graduation picks up on the last day of high school for this band of seniors. They’ve all experienced many ups and down during their last year of high school. Their all-night senior party aboard a cruise ship to Catalina is to be a great celebration, but someone has other plans. Everyone who had been present during the party when a life was lost, will be on that boat. More than one person has an agenda, and everyone is shocked by the revelations.

All three books of the trilogy are fast-paced and offer enough clues that an observant reader can begin to put together a theory or two on the who, what, and why. The characters, although a bit cliche at times, are overall likable and Pike does give them growth, as well as redemption for those in need of it.

Even after 30 years, the Final Friends trilogy by Christopher Pike still delights and entertains me. My inner teenage was transported back in time and that was just plain fun!

Book Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Want to know what drew me to One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus?OOUIL front cover

This:

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

This blurb called to me. Not quietly. It SHOUTED.

How the hell did I miss this when it released?

So anyway…

Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars. Um, yeah. I’m reading it. And I did. And I couldn’t put the book down. Mysteries have always been and always will be my favorite stories. And when they’re YA, it just doesn’t get any better for me.

For a quick breakdown, One of Us Is Lying gives readers the brain, beauty/princess, criminal, athlete, and the outcast. These five find themselves stuck in detention on a Monday afternoon. One of them dies. They all have something to hide and they’re all lying.OOUIL page

Author Karen M. McManus gives readers a fast-paced, contemporary mystery filled with red herrings, teen drama, and relatable characters. The dialogue is witty and believable, the integration of technology contemporizes the themes from the classic Breakfast Club movie and Pretty Little Liars books/tv show. As a huge fan of the latter, it was fun to read all the twists and turns in One of Us Is Lying, and of course I was totally suspicious of every character.

I gave the book a 5-star rating on GoodReads and I do highly recommend it. She has another YA mystery coming out January 8, 2019: Two Can Keep a Secret. I’m very much looking forward to reading that.

Please stop by Karen M. McManus’ website and check out more information about her and her books. And don’t forget to add One of Us Is Lying to your TBR List!

Book Review: The Evolution of Claire by Tess Sharpe

“A new circle of evolution, of prey and predator and adaptation, is already beginning . . . and I’m here near the start of it all, walking in its footsteps. Literally.”

Claire Dearing. Chapter 11, page 145

 

The original Jurassic Park movie from 1993 ranks as one of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Movies. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve see the film. The second and third movies in the franchise I like, but don’t rank that high. The fourth, Jurassic World from 2015 brought back a lot of the original fun for me. In particular I was taken with the character of Claire Dearing played by Bryce Dallas Howard. Claire was obviously intelligent, driven, and brave.

When I heard a young adult novel was releasing that focused on Claire’s story pre-Jurassic World, I was intrigued. Okay, more than intrigued. I may have have squealed a bit scaring the cat.

JW

The Evolution of Claire by Tess Sharpe takes readers to 2004 as Claire Dearing has just finished her first year of college and is about to embark on the summer internship of a lifetime—interning at Jurassic World theme park the year before it even opens to the public. This Claire, 19-year old Claire, is not the woman we know from 2015’s Jurassic World, the movie. She’s young and idealistic, and at this stage of her life would never call a dinosaur an “asset.”

I like animal-loving Claire, who feels deeply and wants to make a difference by going into politics so she can create real change for animals, advocating for their rights.

“All it takes is one person, determined to rise, to get enough power to a voice to the voiceless.” (page 8).

She’s fiercely determined to follow this path and the opportunity to spend the summer interning at the Jurassic World theme park and impressing the well-connected and wealthy Mr. Masrani is too good to pass up. The interns each have a different focus from Ronnie who’s security to Eric the filmmaker and his twin sister Tanya, the botanist. There’s also Justin, Art, and the know-it-all Wyatt.

Claire has her hands full as an intern, from helping Dr. Wu in the lab to helping a young, wounded triceratops and figuring out how to keep a playful brachiosaurus from playing ball with the park’s gyrospheres. As the summer progresses, Claire makes friends and even becomes interested in another intern, but things start to go awry. She uncovers a journal left behind from the mysterious intern group that was on the island prior to her group—the interns no one talks about. What happened with that group? Who was Iz and what had she discovered?

“With discovery come secrets,” Bertie says. “As well as the threat of them getting exposed to the wrong people. People who might want to exploit or harm our dinosaurs.”

Bertie (Head Trainer)  Chapter 21, page 269

Overall, I enjoyed The Evolution of Claire. It kept me turning pages and it was interesting to watch Claire’s character develop. There were ample fun “Jurassic Park” style moments as well. I think the trigger for Claire’s evolution makes sense and I’m curious to see where the franchise will take her young character if we get another book, and I hope we get another book.

Girl Gone Ghost by Dawn Husted is Now Available

Girl Gone Ghost by Dawn HustedSonora’s popularity means more to her than a new Michael Kors purse. With Fall Fling around the corner, she’s on the lookout for the perfect gown in the small Texas town. But a ghost has different plans.

When her best friend’s body floats ashore Brushy Creek, Sonora is haunted by the corpse-like spirit. The incessant ghost refuses to leave the cheerleader alone. She must risk death and sanity to find her friend’s killer. If Sonora isn’t careful, she’ll be the next victim.

Girl Gone Ghost is a standalone novel. If you like gripping suspense, sizzling chemistry, and dark secrets, then you’ll love Dawn Husted’s mystery, thriller romance.

Perfect for fans of We Were Liars, Pretty Little Liars, and The Sixth Sense.

Available at: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F8ZTQV8

About the Author: Dawn Husted grew up in central Texas, in Aggieland. She discovered her love of writing after graduating from Texas A&M University.

She enjoys writing urban fantasy, science fiction, romance, and paranormal suspense.

She lives with her wild husband, two kids, one stray cat, and an Australian shepherd. Find out more at dawnhusted.com.

You can find her on social media: Twitter and Facebook.  And totally go check out her website at: dawnhusted.com/

 

 

Would you like to get a sneak peek at Girl Gone Ghost? I’ve got it for you! Read on!

 

EXCERPT:

Chapter One

Yes, Brenham—a town in the birthplace of Texas—had a serial killer. My best friend’s body was discovered nine weeks ago.

Holding Magnolia’s obituary in my hand, I couldn’t peel my eyes away from her heart-shaped face. My eyes watered. The newspaper clipping encompassed her mesmerizing smile and all the years we spent growing up together. Why did she have to die? I kicked my shiny green pompoms into the corner of my room. One of my cheerleading medals fell off the bedroom wall, onto Kaylee’s fluffy black and white tail. My border collie growled and her back stiffened, hair raising along her spine.

“They’re only pompoms,” I muttered as I bent to pick up the medal. What’s the matter? The sea green ribbon attached to the medal had formed a perfect M on the carpet. Bending over, a chill wafted over my back and up my neck. The air conditioning hummed on above my head.

Kaylee showed her teeth at the corner. I waved my hand at her. “Stop it. Sit. What’s gotten into you?” I hung the gold medal back on the nail next to dozens of others. My fingers had crinkled the top edge of the clipping. Dang it.

I grabbed my copy of East of Eden off my desk and stuck the clipping between the pages to flatten it again—and put the obit away one last time. A familiar pang squeezed my chest, and I wiped a tear from my cheek with the back of my hand. I couldn’t focus on Magnolia anymore. I needed to let her go. She was gone and she wasn’t coming back. Opening my dresser drawer, I slid the novel inside. It rested beside my half of our friendship necklace, the same one I had removed two days after her death.

My phone buzzed with a text from my boyfriend, Chris Jenkins. Just pulled up.

In the reflection of the dresser mirror, an outline of our high school’s mascot stared at me with wide-eyes and a green, roaring mouth. I remembered the day Magnolia helped me place the cub sticker on the wall—the same day we made the cheerleading squad our freshman year, three years ago. Closing the drawer, I breathed the memory of Magnolia in and out for the last time.

The doorbell rang. I turned my light off and rushed to let Chris inside. We were having dinner tonight—like it was another normal Saturday night with my family.

Opening the front door, Chris walked in and winked. “Hey, babe.” His arms slid around my waist and squeezed. I laced my fingers through his. He smelled woodsy.

I glanced into the kitchen. Mom grabbed food from the island in the middle and placed the bowl on the dining table.

“Sonora, fill the glasses,” she said. Chris released my hands.

“Where have you been? I thought you’d be here fifteen minutes ago?” I asked him.

“Sonora, did you hear me? Fill the glasses, all the way to the top.”

I hated filling glasses with ice, and she knew it. The cold icky cubes sounded like freshly painted fingernails scraping the hood of my Taurus.

Mom’s pristine hair swayed on her poised shoulders as she hung her apron on the hook.

Chris followed me and grabbed the glasses off the kitchen island and handed them to me one by one, winking at me with his dreamy, dark chocolate eyes.

“Make that one half-full,” he whispered to me as he grinned.

I stuck my chin out to mimic her, “Mom likes the ‘hot tea to melt the cubes with perfection.’” I laughed and smiled at Chris but filled each cup as requested.

Here we were, having dinner, like normal. But my senior year was on the brink of spiraling out of control—I could sense it. Who had killed Magnolia? Why? Dad turned off the jazz music playing in the background and shooed my border collie, Kaylee, into my room. “In you go. No begging at the table,” he told her as he shut the door. Dad turned back to the long wooden table. Behind him, vintage racks displaying antique spoons hung on the navy blue wall. We held hands as he sat. “Who wants to say grace? Chris?”

I squeezed Chris’s fingers, prompting him to speak.

“Sure, Mr. Stewart,” Chris replied, closing his eyes and bowing his head.

“Bless this food and help Brenham High win the game Friday.”

“Amen,” Dad said, loosening his tie from around his neck. He wasn’t the football type, but that didn’t stop him from cheering for the team.

“Sonora, can you grab the sour cream please?” Mom asked. Scooting my chair back, I ambled into the kitchen, past my brother’s empty seat. I missed Bram. Why did he have to move out? I yanked on the door and studied the contents. Containers of yogurt, butter, and assorted Tupperware blocked the view. I reached for the sour cream behind leftovers of questionable age. An eerie dampness floated over my arms. Something smelled old and rotten as if seafood had been left to spoil. I rubbed my nose, shaking the horrid odor off, and shut the door. “Mom, you need to clean the fridge,” I said, entering the dining room.

“Sonora, don’t be ridiculous. The fridge is spotless,” she replied, waving my insane notion off as usual. I grimaced. Why did she have to use my name in every sentence? Why? I handed her the container and sat next to Chris, wriggling the moldy smell from my nose. Beneath the table, he casually crossed his ankle over mine.

“So Chris, are you starting on Friday?” My father passed him the green beans from the middle of the table.

“Yes, sir, Coach wouldn’t have it any other way.” Chris plopped a serving onto his plate, passing the blue bowl to me next. “And Sonora will be cheering from the sidelines.” He winked and nudged my side. I was the cheerleader dating the star football player.  

“How do you like the new coach?” my dad asked.

Chris nodded, focused on the food.

Dad wasn’t about to ask deeper questions about football. His professor brain didn’t allow much time for sports, but he knew the town had hired a new coach. Everyone in a small town knows when that sort of thing happens.

“Sonora, how’s the dance committee coming along?” Mom asked as I took a bite.

My fork froze in midair. “Fine,” I replied, not exactly feeling in the mood to talk about the Fall Fling.  I wanted to stop thinking about Magnolia, but it was hard. I guess Mom found it easy to forget my dead, best friend.

The horrid smell rushed around me. The same fishy smell as before. Weird. Where was it coming from? I leaned over to Chris and sniffed.

“Did you just smell me?” he whispered out the corner of his mouth.

I shook my head, playing it off. His cologne was distinct, rosewood and lemon, his hair astutely angled. He was perfect. My boyfriend wasn’t the rancid haddock source. I glanced over at Mom’s flawless makeup and Dad’s impeccably ironed shirt. Nope. Not them either.

The smell became overwhelming. How did nobody else notice it? I sucked in a breath. It had to be from outside. Chris shoveled mashed potatoes into his face. Dad dipped into the dinner rolls, unaware.

Ugh. I coughed, and an errant bean lodged in my throat. I coughed again, trying to knock the lump lose, but it remained in place.

Then I couldn’t cough.

Trying to take a deep breath, the slimy, healthy vegetable obstructed my airway. I tried to cough. Choking! No air in. No air out.

I frantically gestured to my throat. My eyes widened.

Chris dropped his fork. It clanked against his plate. “Sonora?” Jumping up, he yanked me from my seat and knocked my chair out of the way with his foot. Wrapping his arms around my stomach, he thrust inward and upward violently. My ribs throbbed. My lungs begged for air. Nothing.  

“God, do something!” My mom yelled, panicked.

Wait. Mom never panics. Her voice wavered in and out.

“C’mon! Breathe!” Chris clasped his hands around my waist, but I could barely feel them. Stay conscious. Bright neon spots flickered in my vision, and the table clouded out of focus. Was this what Magnolia experienced when she died?

He yanked inward AGAIN.

Nothing happened.

“Sonora!” Dad’s voice echoed.

My legs wobbled, my stance weakening. Chris thrust his fists into my stomach once more. I hunched over from the force, and the green bean dislodged, skittering across the table.

Inhaling an enormous mouthful of oxygen, life breathed back into my limbs. Weak, I slapped my palms against the table in effort to stay upright. The placemat slipped off the edge, and my plate of food plummeted to the floor—over my new Gucci flora flats.

“Sonora,” my mom said again, sounding less worried and more annoyed by the mess.

Would you please stop? I wanted to scream at her but didn’t. Months ago, I’d had a mental breakdown from stress, and ever since, it was like Mom couldn’t repeat my name enough.

I hung my head as the table slowly stopped spinning. It was as if I’d finished a string of back handsprings at a pep rally, and my brain hadn’t caught up with my eyes.

Chris’s panicked hand rested on my back.

The room became solid once more, but something was different.

In the corner, behind my dad—stood a ghostly corpse, one silvery eyeball hung from its socket. The ghost paled in comparison against the dark blue walls.

I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. I must be seeing things. Oxygen starvation did things to a person. I breathed in steadily and looked once more.

The corpse had moved closer. A worm slithered in the hollow place behind the droopy eye. Water ran from its hair and dress, collecting in a silvery pool at its feet. Her drenched white dress sucked to her body, turning the dress a shade of slippery peach. Golden hair hung like sodden pompoms down both sides of a haggard face.

My legs buckled and my right elbow slammed against the table as I collapsed to the floor.

“Sonora!” Chris yelled, dropping next to me, shaking my shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

Four feet away, she peered at me with one glossy eye above swollen cheeks. Her wet face resembled a purple water balloon about to pop. Her eyes and nose a permanent shade of bruise.  

The tiny shimmer of a friendship necklace, a gold locket in the shape of half-a-heart, dangled around her translucent neck.

It can’t be.

I plunged backward, away from Chris. Away from everybody. Away from HER! My spine skinned the edge of the wooden chair, and the pain held me upright. This couldn’t be real. She couldn’t be real.

Magnolia had been my best friend—nine weeks ago, her body washed ashore on Brushy Creek’s swampy banks. She had been murdered by the Creekside Killer.

This wasn’t any corpse. It was Magnolia. I’d known her my entire life. I hadn’t seen her dead before, but I’d recognize that necklace anywhere.

In a blur, her ghostly form rushed toward me.

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