M9B Friday Reveal: THERE ONCE WERE STARS Cover and Chapter 1 by @McFarlaneBooks @Month9Books

 

Today Melanie McFarlane and Month9Books
are revealing the cover and first chapter for THERE ONCE WERE STARS, which
releases April 26, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of
the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post!!!
 
A quick note from the author:

I have anticipated this moment for months—the moment I would be able to share
my cover with all of you! When I first laid eyes on the cover for THERE ONCE
WERE STARS I was immediately drawn to the stars and how they are escaping their
glass prison. In my novel, the main character, Natalia Greyes, is also locked
in a glass prison: her home, Dome 1618. During Nat’s childhood the stars became
more visible in the sky, after being blocked by darkness for decades after the
Cleansing Wars. Like the stars, Nat is a symbol of change as she transforms
from a naïve youth into a strong teen, who searches for her place in her tiny
world of Dome 1618, and dreams of escaping to the outside one day. But my
favorite detail of all is the grass and how cool and inviting it is in contrast
to the hard sheen of the glass jar. It can be seen as a symbol of how mankind
can never capture or truly duplicate the beauty of nature, or the wonder of
life itself.
 
Don’t forget to check out my trailer on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuTOuBPX11k

On to the reveal! 

 
 
Title: THERE ONCE WERE STARS
Author: Melanie McFarlane
Pub. Date: April 26, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it:  Goodreads

 

Peace. Love. Order. Dome. That’s the
motto that the Order has given the residents of Dome 1618 to live by. Natalia
Greyes is a resident of Dome 1618, a covered city protected from the deadly
radiation that has poisoned the world outside for four generations. Nat never
questioned the Order, until one day she sees a stranger on the outside of the
dome. Now Nat wants answers. Is there life outside the dome and if so, what has
the Order been hiding from everyone?
 
 

 

Exclusive Excerpt

Chapter One

I stretch my arms across my bed, running my fingers along the same sheets I’ve had since I was a child. The stiffness was beaten out of them long ago, but they still carry the memory of my mother carefully stitching the first tear back together when I was seven. The tiny x’s remind me of her long fingers, moving the needle back and forth with the same care as when she worked with samples in her laboratory.

I trace the row stitches, squeezing my eyes shut as I make a wish; it is my eighteenth birthday, after all. But when I open them, the same scene shows from my bedroom window that always does—the grid of our dome. Nothing changes. It doesn’t matter how many birthday wishes are made; I always wake up trapped inside the dome. The grid of thick glass and steel arcs far above our apartment, stretching to where the great Axis, a tower of government offices, meets the peak of our home—Dome 1618.

I crawl out of bed and let my gaze trail down the Axis to the rooftops of the other apartment buildings, row upon row of housing for blue-collar workers. Closer to the Axis are townhouses of the business owners, hidden from the rest of us, but that’s not where I long to be. My eyes drift to the base of the dome, far away from my window where the Outer Forest lies, my only saving grace. It’s forbidden to hike among the trees, but sometimes rules need to be broken.

“Natalia!” Grandmother’s piercing voice comes from the other side of my bedroom door. “Get up. You’re wasting the day away.”

The clock on my dresser reads eight o’clock in the morning. Seriously? It’s been nine years since I moved in with my grandparents, and saying Grandmother and I have differing opinions barely touches the surface. Her rules are sometimes worse than those of the Order, who police the dome. With any luck, I’ll be assigned my own apartment soon and can finally restart my life, again.

I run my brush through my long brown hair, although by the time I go outside it will look unruly once again. It’s my curse; I have thick hair like my mother, with waves that look more like oddly-placed kinks, unlike the smooth-flowing locks worn by some of the other girls at my school. But I won’t have to go back to the Learning Institute again. Today I’m an adult.

My jeans are on the floor where I left them last night, and I manage to find a clean T-shirt in my drawer. Both have the same tiny stitches as my sheets, covering up the wear and tear over the years, but I sewed these back together myself. Grandmother is firm on the fact that if I don’t take care of what I have, I don’t get a replacement. There’s no point in arguing when her opinions are as deep as the wrinkles on her face, and honestly, it’s hard to tell which she has more of. Before I leave my room, I grab my mother’s notebook. It’s filled with her sketches and work notes on different projects she was involved in. But my favorites are the tiny notes, squeezed in the margins, excerpt of her personal thoughts, hopes, and dreams. The biggest of these was to move her family outside the dome.

“I know you were out last night,” Grandmother says, eyeing me suspiciously between the milk and dry toast as I slip into my seat at the table.

“Must we have this conversation every morning?” Grandfather speaks up.

“You know the ramifications!” Grandmother shrills, and he shrinks in his chair. “Do you want to let her stroll around at night past curfew? One day she won’t come home, and then we will be questioned.” Grandmother redirects her attention to me. “What are you doing out there that’s important enough to risk everything? Haven’t I warned you? If the Order catches you, you will wish you had listened to me.”

“That’s my problem.” I fold my arms across my chest. She always makes me back down with her words. If I’m going to be an adult, I need to learn how to take a stand.

“If your parents could only see you now,” she says unsympathetically. “They would wonder how they got a daughter so determined to get herself detained. You know what they do with little girls who don’t follow the rules.”

“Yes,” I say through gritted teeth. She’s given these lectures many times. Girls who don’t follow the rules are sent back to the Learning Institute for retraining, where they come out all prim and proper, ready to take their place as functional citizens of the dome. I’m not going back there; I know how to stay under the radar.

“Come on, now.” Grandfather finally steps in. “It’s Nat’s birthday.”

“Yes.” Her tone softens. “You’re eighteen now. Hurry and eat; we got you a little something.”

I gobble down the toast, stale as it is, but fresh food is not something that our dome has had in a long time. Since the accident that caused my parents’ death, the Order stopped all excursions for scientific research, completely cutting off the outside world. Prior to this, there were plenty of rations from the farms due to uncontaminated seeds the expedition teams found, along with new plant life for supplementing the crops. But those stockpiles have slowly depleted.

When I finish breakfast, I look at my grandparents in anticipation. Grandfather’s face is beaming, and though Grandmother looks like she is trying to be serious, I can see a small sparkle in her eyes as she hands me a tiny green box with a little purple bow. The bow is smooth, made from fabric nicer than anything I own. I gently untie it, and put the silky strand safely in my pocket, before opening the box to see what is inside.

A silver, heart-shaped locket sits on top of fine tissue paper, so delicate I don’t dare touch it in case it rips. An image of two hands holding a smaller heart is engraved into the center of the locket. This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen—I’ve never owned jewelry of my own. My hands are shaking so bad I almost drop the box.

“Careful!” Grandmother’s voice snaps me from my awe. She grabs the box from me, and it takes all my inner strength to let it go.

She removes the necklace from the box and opens the locket, holding it out to me. Inside, is a photo of my parents on their wedding day. Photos are luxuries. I only own one other— a photo of me with my parents when I turned three—and it stays safe on my nightstand. But this locket—I can take it with me anywhere. I hold up my hair, allowing Grandmother to secure it around my neck, then grasp the tiny keepsake in my hand. I will cherish it forever.

“I’m going to show this to Jak and Xara,” I say, leaving the table.

“Don’t forget, you have to report to work today.” Grandmother reminds me.

“But it’s Saturday.” I groan.

“You’re eighteen now,” she says, her eyes vacant of the compassion they held only seconds ago. “Your time to contribute to the dome begins today. Plus, any experience is good to have if you want to be a scientist one day, like your parents.”

“I don’t see how cleaning toilets at the Axis will do me any good in the future,” I complain. “And I never said I want to be a scientist.”

“You’ll find where you’re meant to be.” Grandfather smiles. “Understanding everything from the bottom-up will help you make a better decision about what you want to do to make your contribution.”

I sigh as I lace up my sneakers, now feeling the pressure of the future. I have no idea what I want to do today, let alone the rest of my life. But it definitely does not involve cleaning up after those in the Axis. I wave good-bye as I leave the apartment, but only Grandfather waves back. My number one fan; he always tries to keep the peace between Grandmother and I. But no matter how close we are, I still have to lie about where I’m really going. No one can know about my secret place.

Outside, I stretch my arms up toward the top of the dome. The sun shines through the dust covered glass of the dome, with sections of blue sky showing here and there. I sneak around the back of our apartment building, and begin my stealthy weave through alleyways. I have hours before my first shift starts at the Axis. Hours to spend somewhere the Order can’t find me.

When I reach the Outer Forest, I sneak in a break in the fence and move between the trunks of trees, inhaling the last of the old world. The rich combination of musk and earth fills my lungs as I run as fast as I can from the fence. Running is one of the few things that make me feel free. When I reach my destination, I’m out of breath, but exactly where I belong—a hidden clearing at the edge of the dome.

I crawl inside a hollowed-out tree I’ve claimed as my own. How did the Order miss this lone tree, dying amidst the perfection of the Outer Forest? It should have been torn down long ago, to make room for larger, healthier, oxygen bearing trees. Decay doesn’t coincide with the Order’s pursuit for perfection and efficiency, but it’s ideal for me: hidden, empty, and alone. I accept this tree’s imperfections and it offers me solace.

I clutch my locket again, this time removing it from my neck so I can look inside. A twinge of pain prickles my throat as my parents’ faces stare back at me. They look so happy and in love. I remember that about them. The in love part. I haven’t thought about people in love for so long.

I lean back, holding the locket against my chest, intent on enjoying the morning sun. Unfortunately, the heat of the sun doesn’t penetrate the cold glass of the dome, but something about that glowing orb in those blue skies makes me feel better. Mom wrote in her notebook about the first time she felt the sun on her skin: warm and, bright, as if it gave her a new life with its rays, just like it did to the world, after the Cleansing Wars. I close my eyes, imagining myself bathed in sunlight, and finally give in to the peace of the forest.

I wake up, feeling something sharp poking my side. I can’t believe I drifted off. My hand shoots behind me, to find the source of the pain. My mother’s notebook is jutting awkwardly from my back pocket. I stand up to tuck it back in, and my gaze slips above a line of bushes growing wildly along the base of the dome. At the same time, something flashes above them, and my breath catches in my throat. My reflection stares back at me from the glass, revealing my locket shining in the sunlight. Relax, Dacie, it’s only you. A nervous laugh escapes my throat, as I finish putting the notebook away.

Another light flashes, but this time it’s in the distance, on the other side of the glass. I lean forward, focusing on the light, and see a shadow move on the other side. My entire body goes rigid, and my heart beat thunders in my ears. No one could be out there—unless—could it be an Infected? No, that’s impossible. They were all killed by the Cleansing War—everything was. If the nukes didn’t kill them, the nuclear fallout afterward would have.

Something moves again—closer this time. A gasp escapes my lips, as a shudder rips through my body. That’s when I see it—the faint outline of a person standing in the open. He’s camouflaged by a layer of dust, blending him into the barren landscape that surrounds the dome. The figure’s shadow stretches across the ground, reaching toward me.

I rub my eyes, as if something in them could be making me see the figure, but when I open them I’m startled to see the figure again, only now there are two. One stays farther back, toward the rockier land, silhouetted against the foothills in the distance. The other stands a short distance from the dome. My heart skips a beat—they’re both human, and they’re both staring in my direction.

 

About Melanie: 
Whether it’s uncovering the corruption
of the future, or traveling to other worlds to save the universe, Melanie
McFarlane jumps in with both hands on her keyboard. Thought she can be found
obsessing over zombies and orcs from time to time, Melanie has focused her
powers on her two upcoming YA novels: THERE ONCE WERE STARS and SUMMONER
RISING.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Giveaway Details:

 

 
1 winner will receive the FIRST eGalley
of THERE ONCE WERE STARS. International.

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Also Melanie is
giving away swag enter that giveaway too!

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Two for Thursday: The DEAD JED Books by Scott Craven ##T4T @TantrumBooks @Scott_Craven2

 

Welcome to this week’s Two for Thursday! #T4T presented
by Month9books/Tantrum Books! And surprise this week we have 3
titles for you!
Today, we will be showcasing three titles that will tickle
your fancy, and we’ll share what readers have to say about these titles!
You just might find your next read!
Don’t miss the giveaway link at the bottom of the post! 
This week, #T4T presents to you:
Title: Dead Jed:
Adventures of a Middle School Zombie
Author: Scott Craven
Pub. Date:
October 1, 2013
Publisher:
Month9Books, LLC.
Pages: 214
Formats: Paperback, eBook, audiobook
Dead Jed is Shaun of the Dead meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Jed’s not your typical junior high geek. He is, to use the politically-correct
term, cardiovascularly-challenged. And while his parents have attempted to
shield him from the implications of being ‘different’ for as long as they could
(Jed was 8 and at a friend’s sister’s birthday party when he blew his lips off
onto the cake in front of everyone, finally prompting the “Big Talk” from his
parents and an emergency SuperGlue repair by his dad), 7th grade at Pine Hollow
Middle School as a target of Robbie the supreme school bully and his pack of
moronic toadies is rapidly becoming unbearable.

From being stuffed in a filled trash can as “dead meat” and
into a trophy case as the bully’s “prize,” to literally having his hand pulled
off in the boys’ room (Jed’s always losing body parts. Luckily, a good stapler
and some duct tape and he’s back in the action) and a cigarette put in it and
try to frame him for the recent reports of smoking in the school, Jed’s had
enough and is ready to plan his revenge. Besides, it’s awesome what you can do
when you’re already dead!
Title: Dead Jed 2: Dawn of the Jed
Author: Scott Craven
Publication date: December 9, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Pages: 266
Formats: Paperback, eBook, audiobook

  Blurb: 

As the fall semester ends and kids head home on for winter
break, Jed and his parents gather for the annual exchanging of gift lists. Once
again, Jed asks for a dog, leading to a heated argument and a firm
“no.” But when Jed spots a stray, he chases it until the dog darts
into the street where it is struck and killed by a car. Grief stricken by what
he’s done, Jed cradles the dead dog in his arms. Soon, ooze from the dog mixes
with tear drops from Jed, creating Tread the zombie dog. Finally getting his
wish, Jed must convince his parents to let him keep the undead dog. But a
zombie dog turns out to be the least of Jed’s issues. Seems some parents don’t
want Jed attending school with their kids. Enter the mysterious NZN Network.
They’ve been distributing anti-zombie propaganda in an effort to get Jed
expelled. But Jed wonders if the creation of Tread has caused his relationship
with Luke to sour. And why, just as he seems to need them the most, his best
friends have abandoned him? Could they have bought in to the anti-zombie way of
thinking? Was creating Tread a mistake Jed will live to regret? When Tread goes
missing, and with his very existence at stake, Jed must rely on his instincts,
team up with an old nemesis an fight for his right to have just as miserable a
middle school existence as any other student – undead or alive.
Title: Dead Jed 3: Return of the Jed
Author: Scott Craven
Publication date: December 15, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Pages: 266
Formats: Paperback, eBook, audiobook
With seventh grade behind him, Jed jumps at the opportunity
to spend the summer in Mexico with his dad. But there’s just one catch: Luke
and Tread get to tag along.
In Mexico, fitting inmight be easier than Jed imagined,
with Holidays such as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Here, a rising
8th grade zombie boy and his zombie dog won’t draw that much attention.
But then Tread unwittingly sets off Mexico’s Chupacabra
Defense Network and Jed accidentally collides with a bus. So much for blending
in. The unusual pair catch the eye of a professional wrestler, who challenges
Jed to a fight!
Their antics manage to capture the attention of a doctor
whose knowledge of the undead causes Jed to question his very existence. Is
this the answer Jed’s been hoping for since his parents sat him down for the
“you’re a zombie” talk? Jed may have finally found a way to be
normal, but at what cost?
Dead Jed: Return of the Jed is book 3 in Scott Craven’s
humorous and heartwarming series about surviving middle school, fitting in, and
embracing one’s differences – even if you are a zombie.

Praise for the Dead Jed Series:
“Hilarious
adventures of a zombie teen who navigates the jungle known as middle school,
this is one story that will resonate with readers.”  —YA Books Central


“If you know
a middle-grader who loves to laugh or sometimes feels out of place and needs
some reassurance to be true to him/herself, this series is a must..”~ Dorothy
Dreyer author of the Reaper’s Rite Series.
WHAT READER’S ARE SAYING:
Like its predecessor Dead Jed, Dead Jed 2: Dawn of the Jed is an
incredibly cute and fun read! Aimed at middle graders, it’s filled with
child-sized humor, puns, and adventure.”~ Books 4 Tomorrow
This story is a light fun read which will have you laughing in seconds.
It is unique and quirky, where Zombie triumphs over evil. GO ZOMBIES! Wahoo!”~Once Upon A Moonlight
Review

 

 

My love of zombie movies arrived long before my love for
writing. I was 10 when I saw a girl about the same age sink her teeth into her
father, a scene that hooked me on “Night of the Living Dead” and one the genre
as a whole. I would embrace writing much later, but it has had a much more lasting
impact. After graduating from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, I packed the back of my
Datsun B-210 and headed to Colorado, relying on the $600 my parents gave me as
I walked out the door (“We don’t think this is the smartest move,” my father
said as he handed me the cash, “but we’ll always be there for you.”) Over the
next 35 years as a newspaper reporter, I would cover sports, crime, courts,
travel and much more. I’ve spent nearly 30 of those years in Phoenix, and am
now a features reporter at The Arizona Republic. My 18-year-old son Bryson has
turned out to be a pretty cool kid, even though he dislikes reading and
writing. When it comes time for him to find his own path, I may not think it’s
the smartest move, but I will always be there for him.
 
 
Connect with the Author:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!
 Giveaway Details:
3 winners will receive the complete eBook set of the Dead
Jed Books. International!

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Yay! IN THE AFTER by Elisa Dane guest post and giveaway @chapterxchapter @ElisaDane @swoonromance

 

elisa dane

In the After

In the After by Elisa Dane

Publication Date:  February 2, 2016

Publisher:  Swoon Romance

Julie: I love that cover, don’t you? I’m excited to host Elisa Dane for today’s stop on her blog tour. Her new book sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to read it! I know she has some interesting things to share with us, so I’ll get out of the way and let her get to it. ♥

Welcome Elisa!

Elisa: Hello, and thank you so much for having me on your blog today. I’m so thankful you took part in my blog tour and I can’t wait for you all to read/meet Sadie and Hayden! I’m feeling rather chatty today, so let’s talk about the young adult and new adult genres and the challenge of keeping story-lines fresh and interesting, shall we?

 

I’m sure since you’re reading this you’re like me and a voracious reader and lover of the written word. No joke, over the past month I’ve read eighteen books. I don’t often get the chance to binge read like I have, but when I do, I want to be carried away by the stories I delve into. I want to get lost in the characters and their worlds. With the staggering amount of books available to us on Amazon and other retailers, it can be a challenge to find stories that aren’t familiar to us in some way. Therein lies the problem. How do authors keep stories fresh when there are only a finite number of tropes in which to write about? How do authors make their stories stand apart from everyone else’s?

 

For me, it’s all about voice, and knowing just how far you can push your readers to suspend their disbelief. I love writing fiction. I get to make shit up for a living. Pretty. Damn. Cool. That said, I write in the contemporary genre. I can place my characters in harrowing situations, but those situations have to be believable. Let’s say my main character’s name is Suzy and she’s never known her father, and recently lost her mother to drug abuse. Suzy is heartbroken and bereft. Suzy and her mother live in a quiet, suburban neighbourhood. It wouldn’t take any stretch of the imagination for us as readers to watch Suzy interact with police and social workers. I think for a lot of us, it would be both believable and suspenseful to read about Suzy being stalked by her mom’s dealer who wants the money her mother owed him. Suzy’s in school and doesn’t have a job. How will she pay the dealer? Even more shocking/suspenseful would be to read about Suzy having a run in with her mother’s pimp, who’d she’d worked for in an effort to pay off her drug dealer. Suzy had no idea her mom was leading a double life turning tricks while she was in school to help support her drug habit. Suzy falling in love with her mother’s pimp, getting pregnant with the pimp’s baby, and killing the dealer, taking all of his money in the process is where my suspension of disbelief cuts off. Um … no. I don’t believe for a second, sweet, innocent, virginal Suzy would fall for her mother’s slimy pimp, develop a heroin dependence like the one that killed her mom, get pregnant, and off a drug dealer with a sawed off shotgun before fleeing the country. Is it possible for Suzy’s character to do all those things? Yeah. Is it believable? Not to me.

 

Voice is another important factor in keeping any genre of writing fresh. The more the author inserts his/her voice into a character, the more I’m drawn in. No one wants to step into a flat, monotone character’s life. As readers, we’re trying to escape our reality for a little while and live in someone else’s life. If the character is flat or boring, we’re not able to escape. I’m a fan of real dialog, which includes the use of swear words when it’s appropriate. I’ve never understood people’s aversion to profanity in books when it’s realistic to the character/situation. If the character I’m reading about is hurting, I want to feel that hurt, and I want to see that hurt in their dialog. Another important thing about voice: it needs to change with each book. If I’m reading a series of books by the same author, I want that author’s overall style to remain the same, but I need each character’s voice to be different. I don’t want to read three different stories with the same character in each book with nothing different but a change of name and scenery.

 

As you can see, authors have their work cut out for them. Writing a book and struggling to incorporate the above elements along with at least a hundred others is no small feat. It takes patience and a lot of hard work. Hard work that is always worth it in the end when a reader tells you they fell in love with your characters and their stories. As a reader, I know what I want in a story. I want a fresh approach to storylines that have been done before, and characters that suck me in and force me to feel and fall for them. As an author, I work tirelessly to make sure I do just that.

Julie: Wow, that was some great insight into the genre from someone who knows and understands it so well. Thanks so much for being here and sharing your thoughts with all of us. XO

 

Want to know more about Elisa and her books? Check it out!

 

Book Blurb:

Sadie Reynolds is a liar with secrets. At school, she’s part of the popular crowd known as AE, despite being broken inside. She hides it well. She has to. The slightest bit of imperfection will land her in the same shoes as her Geeky neighbor named Ian.

Ian and his only friend are the object of Sadie’s friends’ ridicule, ire, and entertainment. The AE rule the school with intimidation and retribution against anyone who would dare question their supremacy.

Sadie steers clear of most of it, terrified someone will find out her secret. She isn’t the least bit perfect. In fact, she suffers from PTSD stemming from the murder of her mother right before her eyes when she was a child. She can barely cope from day-to-day, hiding her truth and trying to fit in. But she knows it’s only a matter of time.

Hayden is a “Waverly,” a kid with the misfortune of living in the small farming town of Waverly that borders the very affluent Lexington Parrish. The AE doesn’t mix with “Waverlies.” Ever.

Desperate to get away from her oppressive friends, Sadie crashes into Hayden at a bonfire and the attraction that sparks between them is nothing short of electric. But Hayden’s an outsider and when things heat up, Sadie will be forced to choose between her friends and her new boyfriend.

Only Queen Bee Britt isn’t having it. She will not allow Sadie to cross her. Sadie can either do what Britt wants her to do or she will reveal Sadie for the PTSD freak that she is.

Sadie does some soul searching about who she is and who she wants to be. She can’t live her life like this. Not any more. One fateful night will help her see how much things have to change.

She’s determined to no longer allow the AE to rule her life. She will be strong, stand up for Ian and love who she wants in Hayden. Determined and invigorated, Sadie goes to school feeling hopeful for the first time in forever.

But, the unthinkable happens.

Shooters attack dozens of students before the two eventually take their own lives, leaving the school a decimated shadow of what it once was.

Suddenly who lives where, wears what or loves whom seems like the least of Lexington Parish’s problems as everyone and everything changes forever in the after.

IN THE AFTER by Elisa Dane is a hard-hitting and heart-warming story of tragedy, love, loss and redemption. It is recommended for readers 14+.

Link to Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28471919-in-the-after

Purchase Links:

Amazon

 

Giveaway!!!

 Contest ends November 27, 2015 

One (1) winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift card and a digital copy of In the After by Elisa Dane(INT)

Enter here!!! http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/c08c9e8e496/?

About the Author:

e dane

 

Elisa Dane loves books, chocolate, reality television, her family, and All Star Cheerleading. Not necessarily in that order! She writes contemporary YA romance with cheerleaders. Yep. She writes what she knows, and it’s her hope that her stories will not only take you on a romantic journey that will warm your heart, but that you’ll find a new respect for the sport of All Star Cheerleading you may not have had before. She’s represented by Brittany Booker of the Booker/Albert Agency, and has published a NA paranormal series under her real name, Lisa Sanchez.

 

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Tumblr | Goodreads

 

Link to Tour Schedule:

http://www.chapter-by-chapter.com/blog-tour-schedule-in-the-after-by-elisa-dane/


M9B Friday Reveal: ASHES IN THE SKY Chapter 1 by @JenniferMEaton #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 

Hi everybody! *waves*
Today my pub sister Jennifer M. Eaton and Month9Books
are revealing the first chapter for ASHES IN THE SKY, which releases March 15,
2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to
receive a eGalley!!
*Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post! 
 
A quick note from the author:
Hello alien fans!

I have to admit that Fire in the Woods was meant to be a stand-alone. When approached
to write a second novel, I really had to scratch my head. I mean, the story was
over, right?

Well, apparently I “left them screaming for more” as everyone always says.
I really didn’t want to deal with the direct
aftermath of book one, so I decided to fast forward a few months: to a time
when things should be settling down for poor, exhausted Jess. All she wants to
do is get her life back to normal again, and to do that, she needs to get back
to school.

Unfortunately for Jess (and maybe fortunately for us) it will be a little while
before our girl has anything close to a normal life again. So enjoy Jess’s
first day back at school after saving the world. Here is chapter one of Ashes
in the Sky: book two of Fire in the Woods.

Alien Kisses!
Jennifer M. Eaton


Title: ASHES IN THE SKY
Author: Jennifer M. Eaton
Pub. Date: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon |
B&N
Goodreads
After inadvertently saving the world,
eighteen-year-old Jessica Martinez is ready to put adventure behind her and
settle back into the familiar routine of high school.
 
Though when she’s offered an opportunity
to photograph the inside of an alien space ship, Jess jumps at the chance.
After all, she’d be crazy to turn something like that down, right?
 
Spending time with David on the ship has
definite advantages and the two seem to pick up right where they left off. But
when Jess discovers a plot to sabotage David’s efforts to establish a new home
for his people on another planet, neither David’s advanced tech nor Jess’s
smarts will be able to save them.
 


ASHES IN THE SKY is an action-packed,
romantic Sci Fi adventure that will leave readers screaming for more.

 

Exclusive Excerpt

1

Dad’s brow creased. “You don’t have to do this, Jess. We can turn around now and go home.”

His fingers rapped on the limousine’s armrest as we pulled up to the entrance of my normally quiet school. Outside, police officers and several uniformed security guards held advancing reporters and camera crews on the sidewalks.

“Relax, Major,” Elaine said, across from me. She pulled out a compact and touched up her lipstick. “Two months after single-handedly saving the world from an alien invasion, Earth’s teenage savior returns to finish high school.” She snapped the case shut. “This is the public interest story of the year.”

Dad’s nose flared. “Yes, she’s supposed to be going to school, but you’ve made it a media circus. Why’d you have to schedule a press conference in the auditorium?”

She slipped her lipstick back into her designer purse. “They would have been here anyway. The best way to calm a stalking fox is to invite him in for tea.”

“Tea? I’ll give you tea.”

I held up my hand. “Dad … ” I didn’t have to finish. I never did. Their arguments were always the same. Father protects daughter, while the publicist pushes media exposure as far as she can legally get away with—and me stuck in between.

Elaine wasn’t all that bad, as far as publicists went. Not that I’d known any other publicists, but she’d been by my side since my very first press conference, and the hundred or so more over the past two months. She could be pushy, but she understood the power of a pint of Death By Chocolate ice cream at the end of a long day, which totally earned her brownie points in my book.

Dad’s gaze returned to me. “We just got back. Do you really need to do another press conference?” The deep lines around his eyes added to the weight of my own exhaustion.

I shifted in my seat, my hands clammy against the leather interior. “If we go home, they’ll just show up here again tomorrow. Let’s get this over with. Maybe then things can get back to normal.” I grabbed his hand. “I can do this.”

Dad pressed his lips together. Of course, he knew I could do it. But knowing and wanting me to answer another set of invasive questions were two different things, and I loved every stubborn inch of him for it.

Elaine fluffed my hair and adjusted the collar of my shirt. “Show time.” She knocked twice on the window, and the Secret Service agent outside opened the door for her. She glided through the crowd with a practiced grace.

Camera-palooza erupted outside. Dang, there weren’t this many photographers when I met the president.

Dad stepped out before me, an imposing figure in his combat uniform. Having an over-protective father did have its advantages. No one was getting by this bodyguard. No one.

I closed my eyes and clutched the charm on my necklace. My mother’s strength seeped into me, giving me courage. You’ll be fine, I heard her whisper. You’re my strong little girl. Always have been.

“I’ll try, Mom.” I opened my eyes and shuddered. You would think I’d be used to the feeding frenzy by now. This was the longest fifteen minutes of fame ever.

Steadying myself on the limo door, I stood.

“Jess, look over here.” Flash.

“Miss Martinez, how does it feel to be back at school?” Flash.

“Jessica, to your right.” Flash. Flash.

The faces and camera lenses blurred. My mind filled with the phantom sounds of alien weapons. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply to ward off memories of blinding lights and screaming voices.

It was over. The aliens had left, and I was alive. We were all still alive.

The Secret Service closed in around us as Dad placed his hand on my back, guiding me to the front entrance. With a well-rehearsed smile, I made my way forward, hoping to avoid a repeat of tabloid-gate when the worst-of-the-worst photos of me turned up on the cover of the National Daily.

Dad moved beside me as we stepped over the threshold. I slipped my fingers into his hand and squeezed. One more press conference. Just one more. I could do this.

We made our way through a throng of reporters, students, parents, and teachers to the auditorium. Hundreds of voices jumbled into one chaotic roar rebounding off the lockers.

A microphone appeared in front of my face. “Ms. Martinez, how did you—”

Dad pulled me to his chest as two Secret Service agents pounced on the guy. The reporter and the agents sunk back into the crowd, disappearing like a stone thrown into water.

“There will be question and answer time after the presentation,” Elaine called as we passed through the auditorium’s stage door.

I exhaled, rubbing my arms. That had to be the worst crowd ever.

Dad circled the area behind the curtains and checked the cracks and crevices backstage. The Secret Service agents had long since given up on trying to convince him that the government pre-secured all of my speaking engagements. I used to joke about their paranoia, until someone actually found a bomb. Those guys in ugly suits quickly became my best friends.

“Did you practice your speech?” Elaine asked.

I raised an eyebrow. “No.” You’d think she’d stop asking me that. I hadn’t memorized one yet. Why would I start now?

I pulled aside the curtain and scoped out the auditorium. A sea of smiling, wide-eyed faces filled the room. Camera crews and reporters intermingled with the student body.

Going back to high school was supposed to help me get my life back.

This fiasco was not getting my life back. But maybe if I answered everyone’s questions now, they wouldn’t keep asking later.

Hey, a girl could dream.

Elaine patted my shoulder before heading out past the curtains. Her heels clopped across the wooden stage as she passed a huge poster of National Geographic’s “The Night the World Stood Still: Special Edition.”

Steven Callup’s cover photo was one of those shots every aspiring photographer dreamed of catching: perfect lighting, engaging subject, active backdrop, and undeniable emotional tone. I wasn’t drooling over this masterpiece, though; because the photograph featured me.

The flames over my shoulder were in crisp focus and flawlessly mirrored in my dark hair. The mottled hues of a fresh sunrise blended perfectly with the devastation in the background. And my God, the expression on Dad’s face as we embraced … the love in his eyes.

That night would haunt me forever. Something incredible had happened, and it had nothing to do with an alien invasion. That cover immortalized the moment for the world to see: a year after my mother’s death, my father finally opened up and started to feel again.

I released the curtain, ready to face my peers, knowing that no one gave a rat’s ass about me or my dad.

They only wanted to know more about David.

I mean, I totally got it. An alien guy crash lands on Earth and has to escape before his people wipe out humanity. Heck, I’d be interested, too. But the clincher was that David changed his people’s minds because of me. I was the heroine in the story of the millennia, whether I liked it or not.

I cringed, thinking of how many people had contacted me for the movie rights. Ashes in the Sky, they wanted to call it. What kind of idiotic title was that? Ridiculous, all of it. The world almost ended right in front of me. I didn’t need to see it again on a big screen.

As Elaine announced my name, and the audience applauded, I wondered if anything would ever be as it was before David’s people arrived.

I took my place behind the microphone and squinted into the harsh auditorium lighting. I’d been in that audience dozens of times, but never on stage. The faces looking back at me were familiar, but distant. Awestruck.

This place was my school. My safe haven. Having the media here was wrong.

I gritted my teeth and gripped the sides of the lectern. This assembly would be the absolute last time I talked about what happened to me in public. Ever.

A mop of perky, blond curls caught my attention from the third row. My BFF Maggie beamed as she gave me a thumbs-up. Part of me relaxed, knowing I had a friend near.

Maggs was the only other person who’d known about David before the Army started chasing us. She even risked her own rear-end helping us escape. She’d talked her way out of a grounding from her father, the general, thank goodness. Damn, he must have been ticked when he found out what she’d done.

Taking one last breath to steady myself, I edged closer to the mic. “You’d have to be dead not to know what happened two months ago. So I’m just going to open it up to questions.”

Hundreds of hands shot into the air.

One of the moderators handed a microphone to a bubbly girl with a blond ponytail. “Is it true that the alien looked just like Jared Linden?”

And, it starts.

“Yes. David mimicked an advertisement and looked just like Jared Linden’s character in that movie Fire in the Woods.”

Okay, that was only half of it. The truth was far too embarrassing. David pulled Jared Linden’s features from my mind. He didn’t look exactly like Jared. Just the hotter parts. The rest was an amalgamation of other cute guys he’d yanked out of my brain. There was no way I would admit to that, though.

A tall kid in a black band tee stood. “So what really happened out there? They were going to annihilate us. How’d you get them to change their minds?”

I cleared my throat. A flash of David’s smile and the warmth of his touch sent a shiver down my spine. “Luck was totally in our favor. If David’s plane hadn’t crashed, we never would have met. It didn’t take long before he realized the human race was worth saving.”

A teacher handed a microphone to a girl wearing glasses. “How long will it take them to terraform Mars?”

Ugh. I tried to think of David’s new home like Seattle or Los Angeles, but it wasn’t. It was Mars. As in: not Earth. Talk about your long distance romance.

“I have no idea how long it will take them to make Mars livable. I do know that they are running short on supplies, so I’m hoping it will happen pretty quickly.”

A girl in a cheerleader uniform flagged down the lady with the microphone. “Everyone says you and the alien were doing it. Inquiring minds want to know. Was he any good?”

Camera flashes singed my eyes as a teacher tried to pull the mic away from the girl.

“No,” a reporter shouted. “Let’s hear the answer.”

The audience murmured, shifting like hyenas waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting foal. Beside the stage, Dad’s face became an unnatural shade of crimson.

Crap.

“Well?” the cheerleader asked.

I wiped the sweat from my palms, remembering the shockwave that raged through me when David’s lips covered mine. The tabloids had reduced our relationship to supermarket trash, and Rah-Rah Girl probably wouldn’t know a real emotional connection if it bit her.

David and I shared something so deeply intimate it transcended everything. No one could possibly understand. I wasn’t even sure I understood. All I knew was that I was in love, and I’d probably never see him again.

I blinked, realizing the room had gone quiet, awaiting my answer about doing it.

My hands fisted, but I forced a smile and rustled up the rote response Elaine had prepared for me. “I heard that rumor, too, but David and I were only friends.” A sickly gash sliced through my heart. The thought of living the rest of my life with him on another planet was akin to living in the desert without water.

Was he out there somewhere, longing for me as much as I yearned for him?

My stomach fluttered. I hated how people’s stupid questions dredged up feelings I’d worked hard to suppress. I had to get off that podium.

A kid in the back stood. “How does it feel to know that six million people died while you were out there hugging dear old dad?” He pointed over my shoulder to the huge magazine cover behind me. “How does it feel to know the death count is still rising?”

It was? “Umm—”

“When did you know they were hostile?” someone else shouted.

My heart thumped against my ribcage. “I, uh—”

A reporter snatched the microphone. “Do you honestly believe they won’t come back and finish us off?”

The rumble of voices intensified. Cameras flashed as dozens of voices drowned one another out. So much for school being my safe haven.

Elaine gripped my shoulder and pulled me from the dais. “Thank you,” she said. “That’s all the questions we have time for today.”

She scooted me past the curtains, Dad following close behind. The volume in the auditorium escalated.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We should’ve been ready for that. Next time—”

“There’s not going to be a next time.” I thrust my chin in the air. “That was my last public appearance. I’m already behind in school, and I need to graduate this year. I just want to get back to my classes and put this all behind me.”

She grinned in that syrupy way adults do when they are about to condescend your butt. “We’ll talk about this later, honey.”

Dad’s gaze seared through her before he offered me a nod of approval.

No, Elaine. We would definitely not be talking about this later.

 




 

Corporate Team Leader by day, and
Ranting Writer by night. Jennifer M. Eaton calls the East Coast of the USA
home, where she lives with her husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up
poodle.
 
Jennifer hosts an informational blog “A
Reference of Writing Rants for Writers (or Learn from My Mistakes)” aimed at
helping all writers be the best they can be.
 
Beyond writing and motivating others,
she also enjoys teaching her dog to jump through hoops—literally.
 
Jennifer’s perfect day includes long
hikes in the woods, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and snuggling up by the
fire with a great book; but her greatest joy is using her over-active
imagination constructively… creating new worlds for everyone to enjoy.
Connect with the
Author: 
Website | Twitter Facebook | Goodreads





 

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive an eGalley of ASHES IN THE SKY. International.

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Two for Thursday: NOBODY’S GODDESS by Amy McNulty and CROWN OF ICE by Vicki L. Weavil @Month9Books

 

Welcome to this week’s Two for Thursday! #T4T
presented by Month9books/Tantrum Books!
Today, we will be showcasing two titles that will tickle
your fancy,
and we’ll share what readers have to say about these titles!
You just might find your next read!
*Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post!
This week, #T4T presents to you:

Title: NOBODY’S GODDESS

Author: Amy
McNulty
Pub. Date: April
21, 2015
Publisher:
Month9Books, LLC.
Pages: 274
Formats:
Paperback, eBook
Find it: Goodreads|
Amazon | Barnes
& Noble
 | Kobo | TBD
In a village of masked men, magic compels each man to love
only one woman and to follow the commands of his “goddess” without question. A
woman may reject the only man who will love her if she pleases, but she will be
alone forever. And a man must stay masked until his goddess returns his
love—and if she can’t or won’t, he remains masked forever.
Seventeen-year-old Noll isn’t in the mood to celebrate. Her
childhood friends have paired off and her closest companion, Jurij, found his
goddess in Noll’s own sister. Desperate to find a way to break this ancient
spell, Noll instead discovers why no man has ever chosen her.
Thus begins a dangerous game between the choice of woman
versus the magic of man. And the stakes are no less than freedom and happiness,
life and death—and neither is willing to lose.
Praise for NOBODY’S GODDESS:
“There are many
terrestrial qualities to this 16th-century village, such as mountains, meadows,
forests, and lakes. But there are also hints of magic throughout . . . the
story is fun and engaging, featuring a female protagonist who will resonate
with young teens.”  —School Library Journal
 
“Wow. I
appreciate this fantasy for what it is: detailed, unique, and just all round
amazing. It’s the kind of novel that keeps you guessing, and just when you
think you’ve got the twist, something happens to throw you off course..”~ Melanie
McFarlane author of the upcoming THERE ONCE WERE STARS & SUMMONER RISING.
WHAT READER’S ARE SAYING:
“It was
something so unique and different that I found myself really enthralled with
the story. To the point that I almost had to blink myself out of a daze when I
finished. “~ Jamie, Blogger @ Queen
of The Bookshelves
“I would
definitely recommend Nobody’s Goddess to anybody looking for a great fantasy
book with a plot that’s unlike anything I’ve read before. The characters and
the world are all done incredibly well, and Amy’s talent with making words jump
right off the page to tell the story is just fantastic. “~Ashley,
Blogger @ The
AP Book Club
“This book
is different from any fantasy book I’ve read before in its concept. It treads
the path less traveled, and manages to make a great story that readers can
enjoy and love.”~Bri, Blogger @ Books
And Ashes

 

 

Amy McNulty is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin with
an honors degree in English. She was first published in a national scholarly
journal (The Concord Review) while in high school and currently spends her days
alternatively writing on business and marketing topics and primarily crafting
stories with dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval
settings.
Connect with the Author:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

 

 
 

Title: CROWN OF ICE

Publication date:
September 9, 2014
Publisher:
Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Vicki L.
Weavil
ISBN: 978-1939765390
Find it: GoodreadsAmazon | Barnes
& Noble
 | Kobo |TBD | iBooks
Thyra Winther’s seventeen, the Snow Queen, and immortal, but
if she can’t reassemble a shattered enchanted mirror by her eighteenth birthday
she’s doomed to spend eternity as a wraith.
Armed with magic granted by a ruthless wizard, Thyra schemes
to survive with her mind and body intact. Unencumbered by kindness, she kidnaps
local boy Kai Thorsen, whose mathematical skills rival her own. Two logical
minds, Thyra calculates, are better than one. With time rapidly melting away
she needs all the help she can steal.
A cruel lie ensnares Kai in her plan, but three missing
mirror shards and Kai’s childhood friend, Gerda, present more formidable
obstacles. Thyra’s willing to do anything – venture into uncharted lands,
outwit sorcerers, or battle enchanted beasts — to reconstruct the mirror, yet
her most dangerous adversary lies within her breast. Touched by the warmth of a
wolf pup’s devotion and the fire of a young man’s desire, the thawing of
Thyra’s frozen heart could be her ultimate undoing.
CROWN OF ICE is a YA Fantasy that reinvents Hans
Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” from the perspective of a young woman who
discovers that the greatest threat to her survival may be her own humanity.
Praise for
CROWN OF ICE:
“A re-imagining of The
Snow Queen, moving and well written.” Sandra Waugh, Author of The Guardians of
Tarnec Series.
 
“I admire the
depiction of a young woman staying true to herself and not letting the
pressures of love or expectations effect her choice. Thyra becomes an example
that would do any woman proud.” Michelle Hauck, Author of Grudging.
 
“Weavil conducts a
careful balancing act between loyalty to the original story and exploring new
frontiers; I think she succeeds in this task, and fans of fairytale re-tellings
will enjoy this one.”
The Australia Times
 
WHAT READER’S ARE SAYING:
“CROWN OF ICE offers so much more than just the tale
of The Snow Queen with a change of perspective. A solid YA adventure with teenagers
who learn so much about themselves, and each other. Even the expected happily
ever after offers believable surprises that underscore the maturity and
independence they each have gained..”~ Julia, Blogger @ All
Things Urban Fantasy
 
“I was enchanted
by this book from the opening paragraphs. The story is told from Thyra’s point
of view, making it very personal and conversational in tone. By using this
method, the reader gets to know Thyra on a deeper level than normal.”~ Stephanie,
Blogger @ A
Dream Within A Dream
 
“CROWN OF ICE is such a fascinating fantasy, with love
adventure and enjoyable characters. I recommend for all fans of fantasy!!” ~ Tonyalee,
Blogger @ LilyBloomBooks
 
“This book was fantastic, and so different from anything
that I have ever read. I loved every single page of this book, and I very much
look forward to whatever comes next from this amazing author!.”~ Jaime, Blogger
@ The
Best Books Ever

 

 

Vicki Lemp Weavil was raised in a farming community in
Virginia, where her life was shaped by a wonderful family, the culture of the
Blue Ridge Mountains, and an obsession with reading. Since obtaining her
undergraduate degree in Theatre from the University of Virginia, she’s gone on
to acquire two masters degrees, living in places as diverse as New York City
and rural North Carolina. She’s currently the library director for a performing
an visual arts university.  Vicki loves good writing in any genre, and has
been known to read seven books in as many days. She enjoys travel, gardening,
and the arts. Vicki lives in North Carolina with her husband, son, and some
very spoiled cats.

 


 

Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!

 Giveaway Details:
3 winners will receive an eBook of NOBODY’S GODDESS &
CROWN OF ICE. International!

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Come see us for a book signing event in Georgia! #APOLLYCON February 2016 #YA

I will be in Savannah, GA with Month9Books pub sister

Jennifer Jenkins @authorjenkins for this event.

♦♦♦♦♦

Please come by and say hello!

No, really. Please.

 (I’ll be the one fangirling in the corner over all the

amazing authors I’m super excited to appear with.)

I’ll need someone to help calm me down! 

 

Apollycon

Were going to have a blast!

Check it out … 

When: February 26th – 28th
(The book signing will run all day February 27th!)

 Here’s more information:

@ApollyCon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/apollycon/?fref=ts

Apollycon 2016: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/apollycon-2016-the-power-by-jennifer-l-armentrout-release-party-tickets-17295152266

ApollyCon 2016 - The Power by Jennifer L. Armentrout...

FEATURING AUTHORS…

*Subject to change
 

Hope to see you there!


M9B Friday Reveal Assets- GENESIS GIRL by Jennifer Bardsley

Today Jennifer Bardsley and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for GENESIS GIRL, which releases September 27, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!


A quick note from the author:

“The first time I saw the cover to Genesis Girl I got chills. Genesis Girl is a psychological, Sci-Fi thriller, and the blood-red cover conveys that perfectly.”–Jennifer Bardsley

 

Fifty years ago cell phones unleashed a Brain Cancer Epidemic.
Terrified by technology, worried parents entrusted their children to a charismatic leader.
Barbelo promised to keep his Vestals safe from the Internet, hidden behind lead-lined walls.
Now, digital purity is valuable and a Vestal named Blanca is auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Blanca is the most obedient eighteen-year-old her purchasers have ever met.
She is a blank slate for the genesis of anything they want.
But too bad for Blanca.
Their new beginning could be her end.
On to the reveal!
 

 

Title: GENESIS GIRL
Author: Jennifer Bardsley
Pub. Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, &eBook
Find it: Amazon
|
Goodreads

 

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the Internet. 


Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.


Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable. 


By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online. 

 

Exclusive Excerpt

Chapter One

My boot hits him in the nuts at the same time as the flash goes off, but it’s too late. The Virus has already taken my picture. He was aiming for Fatima, but I pushed her away just in time. I sideswipe his legs and topple the Virus over while he moans in agony from my kick to his groin.

“Nobody takes my picture, you freak!” I stare at his tattooed face. There’s something familiar about the snake inked around his eyebrow, but I can’t quite place it. We’re in the underground parking garage at school, and the fluorescent lights shade everything ugly. I crouch down and flip the Virus onto his stomach, bashing his nose against the pavement.

Ever since I was little, teachers have warned me about Viruses. They’re paparazzi scumbags whose sole purpose in life is to destroy privacy and expose secrets. I’ve never seen one in person until today.

“Hand me your belt,” I tell Fatima. I hold the Virus in place by grinding my knee into his back while Fatima slips off the cinch from her black spandex uniform. I wrestle the man’s arms behind me with both hands. Surprise, surprise—security doesn’t show up until I’m already hog-tying the bastard.

“You’re not so special now, Vestal!” the Virus says as they haul him off.

He’s right.

Until about two minutes ago, I was a Vestal postulant. A blank slate. An Internet virgin. There were no images of my moniker floating around cyberspace. My parents had never blogged about my every poop. It had been planned that way from the beginning. They had castrated my virtual identity for the promise of a better life.

In one week I’m graduating from Tabula Rasa. Today was my chance to shine while I’m interviewed by companies. Only nobody will want me now.

With one flash of his thumb camera, that jerk destroyed my life.

“Don’t worry,” Fatima says, helping me to my feet. “You’ve still got a face that can sell soap. I knew it the first time I saw you. Your skin’s your best feature, and that hasn’t changed.”

The sound of the security gate opening drowns Fatima out. We watch as a white car enters the Tabula Rasa garage. A flash of sunlight taunts me before the gate closes. All my life I’ve lived in this twenty-story fortress of protection. Today was going to be my first day in sunshine, being interviewed by bidders.

But that Virus ruined it all. How the hell he snuck in, I’ll never know.

“You’re the girl next door,” Fatima says, a bit louder. “Couture might not want you, but the average American will.”

I nod because I’ve heard it all before. Not everyone can be the seductress. I’ll never be like Fatima, I don’t begrudge her that. A clear face, green eyes, and brown hair are what I have to work with, and that’s fine. But there’s no fixing a picture of me on the Internet.

“It’ll be okay, Blanca,” Fatima says again.

But we both know that isn’t true.

For a Vestal, a clear Internet history is the most important thing. Without that I’m nothing. Our elusive privacy is what makes us valuable.

I’ve watched our class shrink from two hundred eager postulants to a graduating group of ten. The infractions were usually unavoidable: their memory was spotty, their temperament was bad, or worst of all, they turned out ugly. But once in a while, somebody was thrown out because of an online transgression.

Everyone left is bankable. Ten perfect human specimens who could sell you anything.

Even Ethan, with his poufy hair and scrawny build, is a sure thing. He wears glasses now despite his perfect vision, and goes around in bow ties and suspenders. “Nerdy but in a good way,” the teachers say. “This one’s going high-tech.”

Beau can write his own ticket too. He’s six feet tall and can out bench-press every other guy in the group. America will drool.

And then there’s Fatima standing next to me. With her dark eyes and svelte figure, she’ll have her choice of any fashion house.

I had been hoping to sell cosmetics. That’s prestigious too, and I really had a chance. But nobody will bid on me now. The auction is a week away, and I’m ruined!

“Blanca?” A woman approaches us right as a dark black limousine pulls through the gate. “That car isn’t for you. Good luck with your interviews, Fatima.”

Fatima waves at me sadly and slides into the vehicle.

“Let’s get this disaster under control,” says the woman as the limo drives away. Her billowing skirt makes her look ethereal in the shadows of the parking garage. I have never seen her before. But she’s wearing white like our teachers and has a platinum cuff, so of course, I follow her.

She takes me to a room on the twentieth floor of Tabula Rasa that boasts a wall of windows. “Darkened for privacy,” says the woman when she sees my apprehension.

I approach them hesitantly, unaccustomed to the glass. I see a tiny patch of sky surrounded by glowing billboards. On every rooftop is an advertisement featuring a face I already know. Vestals stare down at me from all vantage point, hawking perfumes, cars, and weight-loss supplements.

“You’ll be up there too, Blanca. There’s still hope.” The woman stands at my elbow.
I peek and study her this time. She’s fortyish with blue eyes and a heart-shaped face. I know she’s a Vestal because of her white outfit, but I don’t recognize her.

Weird. I know all the Vestals. Everyone does.

The hydraulic doors hiss open, and we both turn to look. The Tabula Rasa headmaster enters in a swirl of white cloak.

“Blanca,” he says, “you have a problem.”

“Yes, Headmaster Russell. I’m sorry, Headmaster Russell.”

“I don’t know how you let this happen.” He strides to the enormous windows, holding a manila file folder. None of the Tabula Rasa faculty are permitted computers, including Headmaster Russell.

“You mean you don’t know how you let this happen, Russell.”

I brace for impact. Nobody talks to Headmaster Russell that way and gets away with it. I know that better than anyone. He grits his teeth. “Security is being questioned as we speak. Sit down, Ms. Lydia. Please.”

“I will not sit down.” Ms. Lydia’s stare could cut glass. “Not until you apologize to Blanca. She deserves better, and you know it.”

There is audible silence. Headmaster Russell rubs the golden cuff on his wrist. “Blanca, I’m sorry that this happened to you.” His eyes don’t meet mine.

Ms. Lydia snaps her fingers.

Headmaster Russell clears his throat and tries again, this time meeting my gaze. “I’m sorry that I let this happen to you. I should have protected you better. I will do everything in my power to make sure you are still harvested at the auction.” Then he turns to Ms. Lydia who stands resolute and icy. “Are you satisfied?”

“Perhaps.” She shrugs. “Let’s see what’s in the folder.”

A few moments later we are seated at the table in the center of the room. Headmaster Russell shows us the picture of me that is now plastered all over cyberspace. I fight back tears.

first look at newest vestal, the caption reads. Then there’s me executing a roundhouse kick, my hair flying back, and my face a perfect mask of rage.

“This is what we are dealing with,” says Headmaster Russell.

“It could be worse.” Ms. Lydia presses her lips together. Right then an old-fashioned phone hanging on the wall rings. “Well, Russ? Aren’t you going to answer that?”

Headmaster Russell jumps to answer the phone. I can hear him say “Blanca” and “photograph,” but that’s it. My future is muffled as he whispers into the receiver.

Ms. Lydia extends her hand to me. Her touch is very cold, but her shake is firm. “My name is Lydia. I’m the elected agent of all Vestal graduates. I lead the Tabula Rasa board of directors.”

“What was your company?” I ask. I still don’t recognize her. But I notice her platinum cuff. That means she was top pick.

“I didn’t have a company. I went Geisha.”

I try to keep my face blank. Really, I do. But what she said is so shocking that my eyes widen for an instant. Ms. Lydia notices.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” she says. “Maybe it’s better. There are many ways to be a Vestal, and they all have honor.”

“Of course,” I answer. “It says so right in the Vestal Code of Ethics.”

Most Vestals leave Tabula Rasa with major corporations, but on rare occasions they enter contracts with private individuals as Geishas.

Nobody wants to go Geisha. Giving up privacy for another person’s pleasure is creepy. Selling out to a company is so much better.

Headmaster Russell hangs up the phone with a loud click. He smoothes his cloak over his barrel chest. “Blanca has five bidders,” he says. “That picture has whipped up a frenzy.”

“Good,” says Ms. Lydia. “You’re redeemed.”

I’m not sure who she’s talking to, but I brave a smile anyway.

***

Barbelo Nemo founded the Vestals fifty years ago after the Brain Cancer Epidemic rotted humankind via cell phones. Bluetooth scanned sensitive neurons. Wi-Fi washed over weakened gray matter. Before the medical community realized what was happening, millions of people were dead.

Scientists promised finger-chips were the solution, but Barbelo forged a different path. Why risk another tech-induced health crisis? Barbelo set Vestals apart and kept us safe. Eighteen years of schooling at Tabula Rasa behind lead-lined walls, and then twenty-five years of service to the Brethren. We have a sacred duty to remain digitally pure.

If it weren’t for Tabula Rasa, I’d be tech-addicted like everyone else. I’d expose my private thoughts to total strangers. I’d be too engrossed in my finger-chips to pay attention to my friends. I’d judge people by scanning their profile before I met them in person. I wouldn’t buy anything or go anywhere unless the Internet told me it was a good idea. I would let my finger-chips rob me of forming real relationships with the actual people who matter in my life. What’s worse, I wouldn’t know I was ruined. I’d willingly give up my humanity one byte at a time.

But as a Vestal postulant, I’m sheltered from that. Chaos swirls around us, but Vestals are constant. We are loyal. We keep secrets. We remind the world there is a better way to live. Because we are so trustworthy, the public buys anything we sell.

No wonder corporations lust for us.

It’s been seven days since the Virus stole my picture, and I’ve made it to the auction after all. I’m sitting on stage with the other Tabula Rasa graduates, safe inside the lead-lined walls of school. The Harvest is minutes away. We’re about to auction our purity to the highest bidder. In front of us are Silicon Valley elite. Many of them are flexing their palms, frustrated that their finger-chip connections won’t work.

Fatima’s hand is on my thigh, and my hand covers hers. Sweat trickles down my back, tracing the curve of my spine as I arch my shoulders in perfect posture. I curl my toes inside their black leather boots, trying to release the pressure.

My whole education, my entire existence, has led up to now.

This morning I woke up in the metal bunk bed of my cloister. In a few days I’ll move to my new home, the Vestal quarters of my business sponsor. I’ll represent a company, a product, and a lifestyle. The world will follow my life through carefully released images. Whatever my company chooses to share will become my new identity.

Where I eat, who I date, what I do. It will all be for one purpose— to sell my company’s products.

I’ll never beg my friends to like my pictures. Total strangers will hang on my every word. I’ll be a Vestal, and millions of people will care about who I am.

Even better, I’ll have a family. Older Vestals will be my mentors. I’ll join their manufactured family in print, media, and billboard campaigns across America.

If I’m lucky, the company will have at least one Vestal in their roster close to me in age. Hopefully a guy. Preferably one who looks more like Beau and less like Ethan. I’ve been waiting eighteen years for a boyfriend, and he had better be good.

“Fatima,” the announcer says. My best friend squeezes my hand and winks at me. Then she walks to the stage. She’s gorgeous, like always. Ever since we were little, I always knew Fatima would be the top pick. Fatima has a body that can sell anything. She’s smart too. It will say that in her portfolio.

But when Fatima stands up there at the podium next to Headmaster Russell, there is only a shuffle of papers in the audience. Heads are bent over still placards. Fatima glances back at me with panic.

No one is bidding.

A woman wearing a white suit scrambles on stage and grabs Headmaster Russell’s arm, whispering into his ear. It’s Ms. Corina, from charm and deportment. She doesn’t appear so polished now.

Ms. Corina points to me, and Headmaster Russell looks too. Then he cringes.

“There has been a change of plans,” he announces to the audience. “Bidding on Miss Fatima will wait. Bidding on Miss Blanca will begin.”

Fatima gazes at me from across the stage. I know what she’s thinking without her saying one word. Fatima’s the seductress, and I’m the girl-next-door. She’s the one people drool for, not me.

I try to smile placidly, like Charming Corina taught us. But watching the audience freaks me out. I’m used to the black uniforms of students and the white robes of teachers. Now all I see is the ambiguity of color.

I try to focus as Headmaster Russell says something about my education.

“Poetry, literature, music,” he says. “Blanca is the perfect package. She’s well versed in the seven liberal arts and entirely ignorant about science and technology. A Vestal Virgin for the modern age.”

Headmaster Russell regards me with dark eyes. Then he turns back to the sea of faces. “Blanca’s the perfect image for your company. Born and bred in Nevada and groomed right here at Tabula Rasa. Let’s start the bidding at five million dollars.”

A deep breath. I fight to be calm when I see arms shoot up and numbers wave. But I don’t think about the auction or my impending future. I think about my past.

Until now, I had no idea I came from Nevada.

Were my parents still in Nevada? Were they scanning the news feed on their palms at this very second? Were they trying to guess which name was mine, eagerly anticipating their cut from my sale? My parents were going to make a lot of money off me.

But my so-called parents aren’t important. All that matters is right now: the bidding war. So many people shout that Headmaster Russell appears stressed. He uses the sleeve of his cloak to wipe sweat off his forehead.

“Thirty million? Do I hear thirty-one?” he asks. That’s when I feel the skin on my arms prickle. Companies won’t pay that much for a Vestal. But private individuals do.

“Thirty-one-and-a-half?” Headmaster Russell asks loudly. Another arm goes up. Then another. “Thirty-two? Thirty-two going once? Going twice? Sold,” says Headmaster Russell, banging the gavel. “Sold for the highest price ever paid in Vestal history. Sold to Mr. Calum McNeal for thirty-two million dollars.”

And just like that I’ve gone Geisha.

A middle-aged man stands. His hair is brown but graying and longish around the ears. He’s smiling so hard, it looks like he’s going to burst.

***

I’m finally wearing white, but I don’t feel like I deserve it. Instead I feel dirty inside as I stand with my fellow graduates around the Pool of Purity. My unlit candle weighs heavy in my hand, and I nervously finger its waxy edge. Everyone has been sold to a company but me. Fatima won’t make eye contact.

“On this the most private of nights,” Headmaster Russell says, “we celebrate the blessing of one more class of Tabula Rasa graduates. The brothers and sisters who came before you surround you with their guidance and welcome you to our ranks.”

I feel their presence before I see them. Older, experienced Vestals step from the shadows and flank us in a larger ring. Together we form two concentric circles, our billowing white robes hovering over the pavement, reflected in the water.

“The candle please.” Headmaster Russell turns to look at Ms. Lydia, who stands nearby.

She is beautiful in the moonlight, her heart-shaped face a mask of serenity. When she reaches out her candle to touch his, the sleeve of her gown slips down below her elbow, exposing her platinum cuff against creamy skin. “The beacon of light,” she says. “We are a sacred fire that will not burn out. Those who came before you welcome you into our Brethren.”

Soon the flame is passed from candle to candle. The dark circle of Tabula Rasa graduates illuminates in a warm glow. When Fatima tips her candle to mine, she struggles to smile. She hasn’t spoken one word to me since the auction. My harvest price was double hers. But I know that’s not the real problem between us. It’s because I’ve gone Geisha.

Headmaster Russell’s voice is solemn. “Vestals are a beacon in a dark world. We alone stand together. We are living sacrifices for all that is pure and all that is sacred.”

An older Vestal steps forward with a silver tray. Nine golden cuffs sparkle in the candlelight. The single platinum cuff beckons to me. I am the top pick.

Ms. Lydia selects a golden cuff. “It is time for the vows. Master Ethan, do you solemnly swear to uphold the Vestal order?”

“I do,” says Ethan, stepping forward.

“Will you consecrate your body? Will you promise to never be marked by ink, stain, piercing, or technology? Will you give your highest self to our cause?”

“I promise,” says Ethan, holding out his arm.

Ms. Lydia snaps the golden cuff on his wrist.

“And now, for the sealing,” says Headmaster Russell, who approaches with a small blue flame. There is total and utter silence for this, the most sacred part of the ceremony. Headmaster Russell singes the metal, searing it shut. Ethan’s golden cuff now marks him for life. The whole world will forever know he is a Vestal.

The sealing happens eight more times until finally, I am the only graduate who remains.

Ms. Lydia picks up the platinum cuff and holds it to the light. “There are many paths a Vestal can take, but one thing is constant. The world relies on us. We are the last guardians of private living. When we sell our reputation, it is with purpose and thought. We do not give it away freely like the masses of humanity. To be purchased privately is a holy act within itself.”

My tears start when she says this. They roll down my cheeks, washing away the shame. It’s like a window has opened in my heart, releasing all the pressure. I feel joy again. Joy and pride for being a Vestal, no matter what.

This is my time. This is what I have lived for. When Ms. Lydia snaps the platinum cuff on my wrist, it is the happiest moment of my life.

 

 
 
 

 

Jennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for the Sunday edition of The Everett Daily HeraldShe also blogs at Teaching My Baby to Read with the mission of sparking a national debate on the important roll parents play in education. Jennifer is a graduate of Stanford University and a member of SCBWI. She lives with her husband and two children in Edmonds, WA.
GENESIS GIRL will release in 2016 and is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder, the sequel  will come out in 2017. Jennifer is represented by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Literary AgencyLLC.
Follow the Jennifer on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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