Sunday, January 31, 2021

What's Coming in February?

Wow! Did January just fly by for you, too? I'm going to blame it on the pile of wonderful reads I was buried under. If you're like me, the year starts off full-speed ahead. It's a race between meeting all those shiny new goals and having enough time to do everything. February is not going to be any less boring, especially on the reading front. Not only is there a fantastic list of reads coming up, but it's also Black History Month. Oh, and let's not forget Valentine's Day.

Are you ready to take a peek at the awesomeness headed our way?


No, this cover doesn't really speak to me, but I noticed it's getting more than a few 5-star reviews. And that peaked my curiosity. This book promises to have tons of heart and starts February off with lots of emotion. You can see if I was right to take a chance on this one on the 2nd.

Picture Book


This is the 3rd book in a popular series (which I haven't read, yet), and there's promises of imagination, adventure and fun. The illustrations are out-of-this-world (I peeked), and so is the tale. A flying hotel? Crazy creatures as friends? Ridiculous battles against pirates and evil?
This one should be quite the ride. Find out on the 6th.

Middle Grade Fantasy


The cover already had me wanting to learn more about this super cute girl and her love for her curls. It's also the first one up for Black History Month, and I can't think of a sweeter book to start it out with. You can get a glimpse on the 5th.

Picture Book


Can I admit the cover caught my eye on this one, too? (Yeah, I might be superficial in that way). This is the 1st in a new series about a teen, who has the power to heal through her singing. There's royalty and intrigue...oh, and some romance involved, by the looks of it. See what I think on the 10th, only a day before it's released!

Young Adult Paranormal


I saw this one and had to get my hands on it. Poetry combines with illustrations to take readers on a journey about the universe: black holes, dwarf planets and all sorts of amazing things. And yep, it's nonfiction! Travel to space with me on the 13th, although you can't do it on your own until April 6th.

Picture Book Nonfiction


Another new series begins with this tale about a teen from Houston, who learns she has godly ancestry. I'm betting this one will be packed with action and tension and tons of girl power. We'll see on the 18th.

Young Adult Fantasy


I can't remember the last time I hit a Manga on here, and I plan on correcting that mistake. This is the first in a humorous series, which should be chucked full of fun and silliness. Join me on the 23rd to see what I think.



I'm a Brother Grimm fan and couldn't resist agreeing to take a look at this one. It's the first in a series (that seems to be a trend this month), and I honestly am not sure what to expect. Fantasy. Mystery. Romance. Something along those lines? Find out on the 26th.

Young Adult Fantasy


Time for a touch of spooky and creepy! This is about a girl, who does make-up for the dead (mortuary...not walking zombies). There appears to be some mystery, romance and the task of finding out who she wants to be. I'll let you know what I think....oh, sometime this month. But it comes out on the 2nd if you want to beat me to it!

Young Adult Thriller


Magic, foggy places, beasts....yep, yep, yep...this sounds perfect to me. There's adventure and mystery and kids tackling impossible things all on their own. I have no clue when I'll get to this one this month, but I will. Again, you might beat me to it because it releases on the 9th.

Middle Grade Fantasy

That's your peek at the 30 reviews I have planned this month. 30??? Yep. Now, you understand my problem. There's only 28 days in February, and I'm back-logged,. This month is going to be packed. 

But isn't every month?

Sneak Peek: The Grimm Cases by Lyla Oweds with Giveaway!

While I'm only giving a sneak peek today, I'll be posting on this one again in a few weeks with my review of Origins. So, stay tuned.

 The Grimm Cases banner

 The Grimm Cases is a Young Adult/ New Adult Paranormal Mystery series with 5 books out so far.
This blog tour is organized by Lola's Blog Tours. See the tour schedule here.


The Grimm Cases #1
by Lyla Oweds
YA Paranormal Mystery


The things I see aren’t for the faint of heart.

And I am no longer willing to ignore them. Not even when my family, and my best friend, tell me to keep quiet about what’s happening. They say people will think I’m crazy.

Maybe I am.

But the spirit haunting my professor’s house is definitely trying to tell me something, and I’m the only one who can see it.

The one person who can help me is my best friend's brother. But I don’t know if I can trust him or his friends. Or if I can step outside the protective bubble I’ve built around myself.

At this point it’s a toss up: the ghosts will kill me or my panic attacks will.

Either way, I figure I’m going to die.

- Goodreads
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The farther I walked, the fewer homes I saw. The woods thickened. Eventually, the sidewalk ended and street lamps vanished. At this point, I could only see the occasional mailbox at the end of a dirt driveway for homes that were far back off the road.
My map application was telling me that I was in the right place, but could there really be a meeting out here in this remote location? It didn’t seem likely.
Unless, Dr. Stephens had faked his background check somehow. It was entirely possible he had lured me out here to murder me.
I was about to turn back when the sound of an approaching motorcycle startled me from my thoughts. Suddenly, it became vital for me to remain unseen. But of course, I wasn’t so lucky. My heart raced as the motorcycle pulled to a halt behind me.
“Hey you,” a man called. His tone was commanding, though not unkind. But I’d already almost reached my stress limit for the day and the threat of confrontation froze me with terror.
I peeked over my shoulder, unsure of what to do. My already racing heart accelerated as my vision took in the newcomer. The beginning of every horror movie I’d ever watched flashed through my mind.
It was hard not to notice his imposing stature. But as he removed his helmet and shook his head, it was even more impossible to not be entranced by his long, silky locks as they fell gently around his chiseled face.
His movements mesmerized me, and I couldn’t seem to pull my gaze away as he used a glove-covered hand to slowly flip his hair back over his shoulder. He was wearing a torn, plaid shirt, extremely faded jeans, and a few days’ worth of stubble, and the look worked for him.
I was an idiot, admiring the person who was probably going to kill me. Then again, it was impossible not to watch him. He was so gorgeous that I could almost hear a choir of angels harmonizing in the background. His physique was molded from God himself. His face was perfect seduction. I wanted nothing more than to explore every inch of his smooth, olive skin.
I wasn’t stupid. No one that beautiful had good intentions. This was clearly a trap. Much as it normally was in the way of natural selection. This must be how he distracted his victims: dazzling them with his looks. I was certain, because despite all the above, something about this guy screamed danger.
There was something off about him. This was as certain as coffee was the greatest beverage known to mankind.
“Do you need any help? This isn’t the greatest place for a beautiful young woman like yourself to be wandering around alone.” His large green eyes twinkled as he grinned at me, showing off his perfect teeth and adorable dimples. Despite his friendly words, my breath caught. A familiar warning rang in the back of my mind.
Yes, unless I did something drastic, I probably would end up dead. I couldn’t let a lumberjack kill me. That would just be ridiculous.
“I’m all right, but thank you,” I somehow managed to say. I was barely able to look at him anymore. I’d had just about enough of strangers for the day, and I hadn’t even made it to my destination. There was no choice but to move forward; I couldn’t turn back, now that he was there.
Maybe if I ignored him, he’d go away.
“Why are you out here?” His deep, melodious voice drifted after me like a caress. I took the risk to glance back again and almost fell to the gravel.
He had gotten off of his bike and was strolling after me as he pushed it beside him.
…Was this for real?
I could probably outrun him, if I had to. I was fast. Despite his attractiveness, he didn’t look well off. I doubted that he’d be stupid enough to leave the expensive-looking bike behind just to chase me.
There was also the possibility that I was wrong. Perhaps he was a good Samaritan—albeit a persistent one. If he was going to kidnap me, wouldn’t he have done so already?
I slowed down, giving him a wary look. He couldn’t be planning on following me the whole way, could he?
He grinned, realizing that he had regained my attention. “I’m just curious. We don’t get strangers in this part of town. There’s nothing out this way except private residences and trees.”
My anxiety rose as I fought to maintain composure. There wasn’t a reason for him to smile during this discussion. He was totally preying on me. And his words, wasn’t that the same as him saying that no one would ever find my mutilated body?
I had to do something. I discreetly searched my purse until I held the tiny can of pepper spray. I was ready. If this guy tried anything—if he even tried to touch me—he would never know what hit him.
“You didn’t answer, angel. Where are you headed?” He continued to trail after me, managing to become more persistent with every passing moment. “I can walk you there, just to make sure you’re safe.”
I stopped walking entirely—I certainly couldn’t show up at Damen’s with this interloper in tow. “I’m seriously fine.” I tried to reassure him in my nicest voice. To show no fear. “You don’t need to bother with me. Besides, I don’t even know who you are.”
“It’s not a bother at all.” He flashed another blinding smile. “And I guess I should introduce myself. It’s a good thing to be wary of strangers. My name is Titus Ducharme. You might have heard of me; I own Jinshu Security.”
Never heard of it. I pursed my lips, listening to him continue on. If anything, I was even more suspicious now. I highly doubted that this man was the owner of anything resembling a respectable corporation. He was far too young and too wild.
Titus—if that was his real name—didn’t seem to notice. “I’m perfectly legit. You can ask my assistant. But I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I see a young woman asking questions. You have a good head on your shoulders, it would be remiss of me to not see you to your destination.”
I raised a brow skeptically, unable to come up with a response. He thought I was smart because I asked a question? It almost sounded as though he was making fun of me.
“Let me take a guess and say that you are headed…” He glanced up and pointed in the direction that I had been walking when he pulled up. “…that way. What a coincidence! I’m going that way as well, so this works perfectly. I’ll escort you.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. He was being so stubborn. It was time to take some action.
He had at least a foot-and-a-half on me and over a hundred pounds of muscle. I had no chance in hand-to-hand combat. There was only one thing for a woman like me to do in this situation.
Yet, despite my fear, I felt guilty. “Titus—”
He grinned warmly as I said his name, as if he loved hearing the sound. The action made me feel even worse for what I was about to do.
I’d give him one more chance.
“I’m seriously fine.” I leveled my most severe glare in his direction, in case he was just a persistent dude with no clue. “You can leave now, please.”
He sighed as he rubbed the back of his head, clearly uncomfortable. “I don’t think that you understand. These streets…I can’t just leave you here alone. I really should—”
Titus didn’t see it coming. The second he refused to leave, I pulled out the weapon and aimed the pepper spray right at his eyes.
Once I had downed the attractive stalker, I ignored his screaming and took off like a bat out of hell.
I had only this chance. According to the maps, I was close to my destination. Between my speed and Titus’s temporary incapacitation, hopefully he wouldn’t catch up to me before I reached safety.

Home (The Grimm Cases prequel novella)Origins (The Grimm Cases #1)Ghost (The Grimm Cases #2)Blood (The Grimm Cases #3)Hidden(The Grimm Cases #4)Balance (The Grimm Cases #5)

- Home (The Grimm Cases prequel novella)
- Origins (The Grimm Cases #1)
- Ghost (The Grimm Cases #2)
- Blood (The Grimm Cases #3)
- Hidden(The Grimm Cases #4)
- Balance (The Grimm Cases #5)

Get the first 3 books and the novella Home as a box set!
Mu is the box set collection which combines books 1-3 as well as the novella Home in one handy box set. You can buy it here.

And here she is...

Lyla Oweds is a paranormal romance author who resides in the beautiful Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania. She grew up near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and is a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and has a deep appreciation for the paranormal, hauntings, and Edgar Allan Poe. As such, she loves all things fantasy, mystery, crime, and horror.

She is the author of the Paranormal Reverse Harem series, The Grimm Cases and related novellas. She has also published the first book of Gloria Protean’s story, The Red Trilogy. You can find out more about her current and upcoming works at her website,
When not reading, writing, or working as a web programmer, Lyla can be found doing adult-y things such as being a mom, decorating the house, and baking. She also frequently enjoys makeup videos, massages, wine, and coffee.

Author links:
- Website
- Facebook
- Instagram
- Amazon
- Goodreads

There is a tour wide giveaway for the blog tour of The Grimm Cases. One winner win paperback copies of Origins, Ghost, Blood, and Home (US Only).

For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lola's Blog Tours graphic

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Review: Jojo Giraffe's Big Laugh by Kim Linette


EQ Explorers
by Kim Linette
Illustrated by James Loram
Kapalua Cove
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 4 to 8

Kali is hiding in a tree, crying because the other kids make fun of her for being too short. Jojo listens to her story, then asks her to climb aboard her long giraffe neck to see the bigger picture. Together they ride through the African landscape, meeting several animals. Through this journey, Jojo demonstrates to Kali that others' opinions do not always reflect the truth, and that seeing the real truth can often help you find your laugh...

Jojo helps Kali gain a new, bigger perspective, and shows her that not taking things personally is an important key to living a big, happy life!

Did you know studies show that emotional intelligence (EQ) is an important key to living a happy, successful life? And unlike IG, EQ can be learned!

Each EQ Explorers book teaches important EQ principles and other powerful life lessons - one adventure at a time.

100% of profits from EQ Explorers books helps nurture and empower underserved children.

We provide direct donations to charitable initiatives and give books to orphanages, remote libraries, care centers, and more.


                                        * colorful illustrations with humor built in
                                        * works well as a read-aloud to groups and individuals
                                        * encouraging message and follows with story nicely
                                        * questions and such at end to help with discussions


The two characters staring with smiles at each other on the cover already had me smiling, and that's exactly the line this tale follows all the way through.

Kali hides in a tree and is crying because the other kids are teasing her about being too short. Jojo the giraffe decides it's time to show Kali how to handle the situation and takes her along for a ride to meet her friends. Jojo stops and asks the other animals what they think of her, and each one has something to criticize, but Jojo laughs each suggestion off...and soon Kali learns a secret which has her laughing, too

This is a book with a message, one that kids need to hear...and adults... because it's something that everyone deals with (or maybe, even dishes out themselves). I enjoyed the fresh twist on how to handle such criticism. But the best part about this book, is it delivers the message through an awesome means—laughter.  Not laughing at people, but seeing how silly some 'criticism' really is.

Kali is a wonderful character and full of innocence and heart. Jojo, the giraffe, is wise and will have listeners wishing that they could ride around on her back too. It's fun to discover Africa and the animals with them. At the end of the book, there's a question section to help open up discussions and thoughts.


Friday, January 29, 2021

Review: 400 Minutes of Danger by Jack Heath

 It's Friday! To start the weekend, we're shifting into adrenaline pure. Nothing's better than a weekend packed with adventure and excitement, right? 

Today's read is just right for slipping a few action-packed moments in between the adventure of daily life, too. This is a collection of ten short stories. Each one is a quick, easy read and will get the blood pumping...and not only middle graders will enjoy this one. Older readers might like the extra tension bursts as well.



Off we go!

Countdown to Disaster #2
by Jack Heath
Sterling Children's Books
Upper Middle Grade Thriller / Adventure
192 pages
ages 8 to 12

Ten life-or-death situations. Ten brave kids. Ten linked stories. Each ordinary hero in this thrilling middle-grade adventure collection has only 40 minutes to escape!
Brad has fallen into a lion enclosure, and the big cats are hungry. Charith has to take the wheel of an out-of-control bus after an explosion. Tak's class trip to an army base is interrupted by an experimental military robot that's hunting them. How will they save themselves? This fast-paced short story collection stars everyday young heroes who must fight to survive . . . with only 40 minutes to figure out how to escape! Kids will be on the edge of their seats following these ten linked stories—even as a clock on the margins of every page counts down the seconds.



                                                 * every page packs action and tension
                                                 * each story can be read in less than 45 minutes
                                                 * not for sensitive readers
                                                 * kids save the day


Action junkies get a full adrenaline rush as every page packs high stakes, super tension, and impossible situations where quick thinking and trusting the gut are the only way to survive.

This is a collection of ten stories, where action and danger reign. Each tale is independent from the others, and each one shows a very different situation. The only similarities are that the heroes/heroines are kids and that every situation is life threatening. The threats come from nature as well as man as each one has a kid unexpectedly caught up in the middle of a disaster about to happen. It's not for the light-hearted or sensitive reader, since these do include violence, intended murder, and simply pure evil intentions...but some of these tales also arise from pure accidents, which arise without warning. In each one, the hero succeeds, but this knowledge does not make the tale any less tense.

As a clever, and extra high-stakes builder, each tale is accompanied by a count-down along the edge of the page, which signifies how much more time each tale has on the clock. I caught myself glancing at it, seeing how much time the heroes/heroines had, and how much had passed. (Just an extra fun).

But then, time is key in these tales, since each one hinges on the quick thinking and reactions. The author wastes no time throwing the reader into the situation and letting the danger fly until the last sentence of each story. This also means that settings and character depth isn't the point and little to no time is spent on this end. That does make the characters a little superficial and hard to really care for, but since these stories are so hard and fast, there's no time to consider that, either. As said, this is for action fans pure, who love the quick rush. 

Ashes of Blood
The Dragon Mafia Chronicles, Book 1
by Lela Grayce
YA Fantasy

Do not serve drinks to a dragon mob boss. They bite. Zero stars.

A century ago, rips in reality appeared all around the globe, allowing creatures from myth to surge into our world.


All now walk the earth in an established hierarchy of power. At the bottom of that chain are mixed-species Mutts... like me. My abilities should be minimal. Yet, after an unfortunate run in with a dragon mob boss, the thirst for my blood quickly becomes his obsession. Violence. Seduction. Bitter betrayal. He will stop at nothing to use me as a pawn in his dark agenda. My only ally is Kreed, a pureblood Zavarian, who will push his own annoyance at being saddled with a Mutt aside if it means bringing down the dragons.

But when someone I trust betrays me, suppressed memories resurface to remind me of how destructive my power can be. No matter how I fight it, a rain of ash and blood is coming. When it stills, will I be the healer of the people... or their destruction?

Lela Grayce lives in rural Wyoming in a small college town. She works for a non-profit organization and loves what she does for the company. She is married to her best friend and hero. By day she is a working mom and wife but by night she is lost in dreams, moonlight, and delusions that she is, in fact, Batman.

Enter to win a Crescent City hardback and other goodies!
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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Review: Jenny's First Catch by Susan Sachs Levine

Today's book caught my eye thanks to the super sweet Roseate Spoonbill chick on the front. Isn't Jenny cute? This book hit my expectations and surpassed them...but I'm not writing my review here. You have to peek further down to see it.

I'm asking about birds...thinking about birds...wondering about birds. And believe it might soon be time to head to the zoo to see some like Jenny. Or I'd have to take a trip to the Everglades. Road trip, anyone?

An Adventure with Florida's Wading Birds
by Susan Sachs Levine
Illustrated by Irene Bofill
Mascot Books
Picture Book
38 pages
ages 4 to 8

Jenny wants to surprise her mom and teach herself how to fish. So, Jenny goes on an adventure through a mangrove estuary where she meets several different wading birds including a White Ibis, Wood Stork, Snowy Egret, and Great Blue Heron. Each bird tries to teach Jenny how to fish, but Jenny’s big spoonbill just won’t work like the other birds’ bills! Young readers will learn all about Florida’s wading birds, as Jenny discovers important lessons about perseverance and being true to herself.


                                                         * very cute illustrations
                                                         * tale with heart...and well-written
                                                         * great for story time
                                                         * offers tons of information about water birds
                                                         * teaches about bill shapes and purposes


Not only is this a super sweet story just as it is, but the author has done an amazing job at weaving in tons of bird facts and that without even slightly jarring the tale.

Jenny has fledged and can't wait to learn how to catch fish on her own. And that sparks an idea—she's going to impress her mother and catch one right away on her own. Realizing that she has zero knowledge and experience, she seeks out various water birds and asks them to help her out. But this whole catching fish thing might not be as simple as she expected it to be.

The cover caught my eye on this one...and my daughter's, too, since she immediately shoved the book into my hands and asked me to read it to her (and she's no longer in the intended audience age group.) This tale was surprisingly extremely well done. The story flows effortlessly and allows listeners/readers to sink right in. Jenny is simply a sweet bird, and it's hard not to like her as she does her best to give her mom a surprise. The other birds are kind and friendly, doing their best as well. And that's where even humor dips in.

Bird lovers and animal lovers are going to enjoy this one, too. While the story itself is amazing enough to hold its own, the author has build in water bird facts on the side of several pages. These 'bubbles' of information do not disturb the story, while reading it, but if a reader wants to come back and learn more about each type of bird, they can. The information in these is easy to understand while delivering a good overview about each species. Plus, the tale is all about Jenny fishing...and while that doesn't sound like much on the surface, it teaches readers about bill shapes without them even realizing it. I honestly can give extra kudos on this front.

The only slightly stumble I had (and my daughter) is on the last page, where each bird pipes up again. But that tiny-tinsy bit by no means whatsoever made me see this book in anything but a super-positive light. And on the last bonus material for teachers, homeschoolers and such....there is more than a little extra information offered, which opens up an entire session on learning about these birds. But since it's the last pages, that leaves this book open to simply reading for fun as well.

In other words, this book is getting an extra star from me.

Sneak Peek: Dragon Blood by Mary Beesley with Giveaway!


Dragon Blood
Draco Sang Trilogy, Book 1
by Mary Beesley
YA Fantasy

Cal, a hungry sixteen-year-old sick of mining the sand, wants to fit in and make his ma proud, but instead, his violent tendencies bring shame. And the truth. He’s the son of a Draco Sang. Carriers of the Dragon’s blood, the Draco Sang transform into half human half beast as they mature into adults. And if Cal can't control the dark impulses of his dragon blood, he'll grow into a man-beast—and he'll be hunted.

Ferth, son of a Draco Sang chief and last of his class to grow claws, needs to prove his worth to his father, or he'll be sent to the slave house. Hiding his human heart, he joins the army headed south to conquer the fertile human lands.

Neither brother feels they belong. Cal is human, fighting against becoming a beastly Draco Sang, while Ferth is struggling to push back his humanity and transform into a worthy Draco warrior.

Before ever meeting in open battle, Ferth is sent to kill Cal. But when he learns they are brothers, he must decide which loyalty is stronger, blood or country. And whether to finally give in to his humanity.



At the mines, hunched-over figures searched for

precious flecks in the endless sand. Cal hardly

noticed the sun beating through his thin robes. People he’d

lived with, played with, worked with all his life, silently

turned on him. They glared their disapproval. News traveled

fast. Opinions changed faster. He ignored their pointed looks.

His fingers panned the sand without it registering with his


When the pit chief berated him for messing up the line—

he hadn’t—Cal thought solely of going north, of leaving

Siccum and finding his people.

At the close of the shift, Cal approached his chief.

“Today’s my last day.”

The man grunted. “I was surprised when they told me

what you did. Thought I heard the name wrong. I hate being

wrong. Almost as much as I hate to lose a good miner. You

fooled me. Just shows, you don’t truly know any man’s


Cal clenched his jaw, biting back the violence awaking at

the chief’s words—even if they were true. “Please, can you

pay my last wages now? I’m leaving at dawn.”

The chief turned a leathered face to Cal and lifted an

eyebrow. “Tomorrow? Where would you go?”


He snorted. “Oh, really? So you’re not going to throw

yourself into the sea?”

Cal wanted to send him to the waves. “Can I get my

wages, please?”

“No. You can’t. It’s not payday. And do I look like I carry

around coin?”

Cal choked back his rising temper. “Where can I go?”

“The account chief comes on payday. How long have you

worked here?”

Cal’s fingers curled into fists. “I can’t wait until next

week. Can you please help me?”

“You think you can cross the desert on your own? Without

a caravan? You’ll die halfway across, especially with that old

man. It would be a waste of good coin anyway.”

Cal’s fist shot forward, connecting with the chief’s jaw

with a satisfying crunch. The man staggered back, clutching

his face. His eyes bulged. Surrounding miners stared in

shock. Cal bolted.

Panting and overheated by the time he got home, he

slammed the gate. A handcart sat in the yard. Grandpapi

rocked in a chair, and Ma bustled about, humming while she


“Last day as a miner,” Grandpapi said.


“They refused to pay me because it isn’t wages day.”

Ma popped her head out of the house. “That isn’t right.”

“That’s what I thought.” Cal paused. “I might have

punched the chief to let him know.”

“That isn’t right, either.”

“They robbed me.”

“Cal.” Ma’s voice sharpened.

“I’m sorry. But he deserved it for cheating me.” Cal had

to smash that smirk o􀅷 the man’s face.

Grandpapi shook his head.

Ma sighed. “I guess we’d better leave now. I’d convinced

the Elders to let us go without further punishment if we

never return, but we can’t a􀅷ord to stay here tonight and

give the angry chief time to plan his retribution.” Frustration

flashed over her face.

Regret pressed down on Cal. “I’m sorry.”

She looked away, jerking at the twine she was tying

around a blanket. “I’m almost done packing. We got a decent

price for the house, at least. We’ll need the money when we

get past the sand.”

When their belongings were settled in the cart, Cal lifted

Grandpapi on top, tucking a blanket around his legs. Ma set

the chicken in her father’s hands.

“Oh, bother,” Grandpapi said as it clucked and flapped.

That sound was going to get annoying fast. “Can’t we just

eat it and be done with it?” Cal asked.

“We might have to,” Ma said. “I hope it doesn’t come to


Cal took his place at the front of the handcart, where two

pieces of wood jutted out on either side. A third piece cut

across the front, forming a rectangle frame around him. He

put his hands on the front bar and pushed. Slowly, the cart

moved through the sand. Ma closed the gate, and together

they left the only home Cal had ever known.

A smattering of people watched in hostile puzzlement.

Leaving Siccum was as rare as rain. Siccum was a tribe of

close-knit families who’d lived here for centuries. Ma and

Grandpapi had transplanted from the north fifteen years

ago, and they’d struggled to set deep roots. Their pale skin

and sharp accents set them apart, but now Cal wondered if

there was more to their shunning than that.

They followed the river north, and Siccum disappeared

from all but memory. Dusk fell. They stopped at the water’s

edge, and Grandpapi stretched his legs as they filled their

canteens. Ma passed out bananas and cheese, both rare

luxuries. Cal savored every bite, thinking that life was

getting better and better.

“I know you’ve already spent a long day at the mines,”

Ma said. “But we need to keep moving. The farther from the

village, the better chance of going unnoticed by night


Cal’s excitement cooled. There would be no wall to hide

behind tonight. He touched the hunting knife that hung on

his rope belt.

“If we keep a good pace,” Ma said. “We should get to

Branmar in seven nights.”

Cal loaded Grandpapi back into the cart and started

pulling. Stars sprinkled the sky, and the waxing moon guided

them. Ma set the pace, and Cal trudged behind, determined

to keep up. Left foot. Right. Left. Right. Eyelids drooped.

Desert faded as his focus wavered.

As if through fog, the dreaded click of the crokator found

Cal. Alarms rang through his nerves.

“Cal.” Ma’s whisper startled him with her closeness. “It

might not know we’re here. I’ll push from behind, and let’s

try to outrun it.”

What a waste of energy. Of course it had found them. With

a jolt of adrenaline, he jogged. The clicks got louder. It came

from behind. Where his ma was.

“Get in the cart, Ma.” His voice came in hu􀅷s.


“Get in the cart!” His shout rolled over the dunes.

“It will slow us down too much.”

The hissing accelerated.

“Get in, or I’ll stop and throw you in.” A fierce need to

protect her drove down his spine. Nothing would happen to

her. The threat sharpened his mind and honed his senses.

The cart lagged as Ma’s weight landed. Wheels groaned,

and so did Grandpapi. Cal’s body ached, and his lungs

burned. He whirled the cart so it faced backward. The beast

had to kill him to get to his family. He ducked out of the

frame, pulling his knife free.

The hissing stopped.

If the moonlight hadn’t cast a gleam on its eyes, he

wouldn’t have seen the slithering creature in the darkness.

The shadow attacked. Large as the handcart, it reared its

long neck and drove poisonous fangs at Cal’s chest. He

swung, knocking the creature o􀅷-course. The sharp scales

on its face cut his hand as it struck again. He caught a fang

on the edge of his knife. Venom slicked his blade. With a

grunt, he heaved the beast back.

“Tail,” Ma shouted.

Cal jumped, staggering against the cart as a barbed tail

whipped in front of his nose. Frantic, he grabbed the chicken.

The gaping mouth dove at him. He thrust the bird between

razor teeth as he sliced at the crokator’s short front leg. His

knife barely penetrated the scaled skin.

With the chicken in its mouth, the animal retreated into

darkness. A part of Cal wanted to hunt it down and kill it, but

the other part, the part that settled deeply in his chest, the

part that had instructed him in this fight, told him to run.

Heart pounding, bleeding hand on fire, Cal scrambled into

the front frame of the cart and turned it north. He ran. He

ran and he ran. Fear chased him even when the crokator did


Mary Beesley believes humans are born to create, and promotes creativity in all its beautiful forms. She's learning calligraphy and watercolor. She loves exploring our magnificent planet and finding all the best places to eat around the world. But nothing beats coming home and sharing a pot of slow-simmered minestrone and homemade sourdough with friends and family. If she's not in her writing chair, you'll probably find her hiking in the Utah mountains with her husband and four children.

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