Category Archives: Giveaway
This Christmas Eve… no creature was
Except, maybe, a mouse.
At long last, can true love break the Nutcracker’s curse?
For Clara Stahlbaum, this Christmas means the end of her youth. A daughter of
the aristocracy, Clara is expected to give up her dreams of adventures and the
extraordinary for more normal days as the wife of a cruel Viscount.
But when magical Uncle Drosselmeyer returns with his wondrous, dancing
contraptions, and one…special gift for Clara, she is beckoned to the land of
Winter Dream, where she is thrust into the greatest adventure of her wildest
dreams. But will she be able to break the Nutcracker’s curse?
Uncle Drosselmeyer’s apprentice, Anton, is handsome as he is mysterious. But
what is it about him Clara finds so alluring?
Winter Dream is a phenomenal retelling of The Nutcracker from the eyes of Clara
Stahlbaum with all the magic of the Holiday season. If you loved S. Jae-Jones’
Wintersong, you’ll fall in love with this stunning tale of love, war,
redemption, and Christmas magic.
PROLOGUELarge, white puffs floated all around me. Sinking into my flesh with their cold, yet light kisses. Every snowflake
was different, specially crafted before it fell from the sky. They were beautiful, even as they melted. I tipped my head back to catch the snow as it fell. I felt as though I was floating through air, caught in a haze of ice flakes as sugary and sweet as the icing on the gingerbread house my governess and I had made together.I stretched my arms out to my sides, spinning in place.The green forest turned with me, a wood full of large spruces perfect for Christmas trees. They were decorated as such, lighted with white candles and draped in silver tinsel. On some, icicles hung on the tips of the limbs. It was a world in which the snow was like sugar and the air smelled delicious, like freshly baked cookies. It was perfect—a world of my own making, if I was capable of crafting something so… wonderful.“Clara…”The sound of my name trilled from a distance, carried on the cool, winter wind.Turning slowly, I peered over my shoulder, catching a glimpse of a young boy my age. He was dressed in a bright
red suit, adorned with golden epaulettes. His blond hair was brushed away from his face, revealing two bright blue eyes. His lips, pink as his cheeks, curved into a smile.“Clara…”“Yes?” I asked curiously, turning to face him. As I slid my hands over my cream and ivory lace nightgown, I suddenly
felt quite foolish. My mama had always insisted I never wear my bedclothes in front of guests or visitors. And yet, here, in this strange and beautiful world, such things hardly seemed to matter. He took my hand and flashed another
warm smile as he led me to a large, white carriage.“Where are we going?” I asked softly, pausing before the door. The panels were solid ivory, adorned with a golden
handle and step.“Winter Dream,” the boy said with a relieved expression. “Home. Home to Winter Dream.”“Winter Dream?”“I’ve come to take you back, Clara. To where I am—to where all the people who love you live.”“But I don’t know where this Winter Dream is. I’ve never been there…”“Come with me,” he beckoned, squeezing my hand gently. “Come. . .”The snow fell all around us; small flakes clung to the tips of our hair and eyelashes. As much as I longed to go .
. . there was something holding me back. Something. . .As I peered behind me, a small, dark shadow began to form. It started out small, like the size of a mouse, and it
grew—or was I shrinking? The boy beside me held my hand, and his eyes grew wide with fear.“No!” I screamed, tucking myself into his shoulder. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to know.“Clara, wait!” I heard him beg, his urgent tone tugging at my heartstrings. “Come with me, please.”“No! I want to go home!”As soon as the words poured from my lips, I woke with a start.Here, there was only me and the four walls of my bedroom. A sheer sliver of light crept through the space of an open curtain, sparkling with the bright white of the snow outside. It was quiet, as if the world had not yet woken. As if I was the only one no longer dreaming sweet things. Instead, while everyone else slept, I contained the chill of my
own strange dream.I buried myself beneath the duvet and hugged my knees to my chest. I was alone, completely and utterly alone.I closed my eyes tight, not wishing to face that Christmas morning. I wished only for the chance to slip back into my
dream. To return back to that magical world, where a boy with bright blue eyes was waiting for me. Back to the place where an enchanting land called ‘Winter Dream’ existed.
“The Songs in Our Hearts” with 48Fourteen Publishing, and
“Allerleirauh” with Parliament House Press, with future titles to follow.
Chantal first started writing stories at the age of seven and continues with that love of writing today.
The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig
by Don Zolidis
Janesville, Wisconsin (cold in the sense that there is no God)
The worst thing that’s ever happened to Craig is also the best: Amy. Amy and Craig never should’ve gotten together. Craig is an awkward, Dungeons & Dragons-playing geek, and Amy is the beautiful, fiercely intelligent student-body president of their high school.
Yet somehow they did. Until Amy dumped him. Then got back together with him. Then dumped him again. Then got back together with him again. Over and over and over.
Unfolding during their senior year, Amy and Craig’s exhilarating, tumultuous relationship is a kaleidoscope of joy, pain, and laughter as an uncertain future-and adult responsibility-loom on the horizon.
Craig fights for his dream of escaping Janesville and finding his place at a quirky college, while Amy’s quest to uncover her true self sometimes involves being Craig’s girlfriend and sometimes doesn’t.
Seven heartbreaks. Seven joys.Told nonsequentially, acclaimed playwright Don Zolidis’s debut novel is a brutally funny, bittersweet taste of the utterly unique and utterly universal experience of first love.
She laughed again. “You know what I’m saying?”
“Sure,” I said, realizing I had zoned out again and she had probably said something important. “It’s just like . . . ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ By T. S. Eliot.”
“Well, yes, but I think that’s more about alienation than anything else, and what I’m talking about is acceptance. Like,
Prufrock can’t accept that he’s changed and the world is becoming different, you know?”
“Yup,” I said, crossing it off in my notebook. Shit.
You’re probably beginning to understand why I wrote down things to talk about.
“I think my favorite line,” I said, looking down at the rest of my notes, “is ‘I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.’”
“Aww,” she said. “Why?
I smiled into my pillow. I hoped she could see it too. “Because that’s how I used to feel before I met you.”
“I’m singing to you,” Amy said into the phone. “Except I really suck at singing.”
“I think the singing is metaphorical.”
“Maybe they’re like the Sirens. Luring lonely poets to their doom. And really they’ve got teeth like knives and will rip you to shreds if you come too close.”
“That pretty accurately describes my love life up to this point.”
“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“It’s pretty bad.”
“Oh come on.”
Amy was my first girlfriend. Well, okay, there was Jessica Southern, my junior year, who I went out with for nine days. We kissed once, and then she decided that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Which it probably was. So, twelve days into my first relationship with Amy, we had already lasted exactly 33 percent more than my previous record (yes, I had done the math).
About the Author
Originally from Wisconsin, Don Zolidis is a novelist and one of the most-produced playwrights in America.
His 102 published plays have received more than 12,000 productions and have appeared in every state and 64 countries.
His first novel, The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in October 2018.
He currently splits time between Texas and New York and aspires to owning a dog.
PURCHASE THE BOOK
3 winners will win a finished copy of THE SEVEN TORMENTS OF AMY & CRAIG, US Only.
A Room Away from the Wolves
by Nova Ren Suma
Bina has never forgotten the time she and her mother ran away from home. Her mother promised they would hitchhike to the city to escape Bina’s cruel father and start over. But before they could even leave town, Bina had a new stepfather and two new stepsisters, and a humming sense of betrayal pulling apart the bond with her mother—a bond Bina thought was unbreakable.
Eight years later, after too many lies and with trouble on her heels, Bina finds herself on the side of the road again, the city of her dreams calling for her. She has an old suitcase, a fresh black eye, and a room waiting for her at Catherine House, a young women’s residence in Greenwich Village with a tragic history, a vow of confidentiality, and dark, magical secrets. There, Bina is drawn to her enigmatic downstairs neighbor Monet, a girl who is equal parts intriguing and dangerous. As Bina’s lease begins to run out, and nightmare and memory get tangled, she will be forced to face the terrible truth of why she’s come to Catherine House and what it will take for her to leave…
In the Dark
When the girl who lived in the room below mine disappeared into the darkness, she gave no warning, she showed no twitch of fear. She had her back to me, but I sensed her eyes were open, the city skyline bristling with attention, five stories above the street. It was how I imagined Catherine de Barra herself once stood at this edge almost a hundred years ago, when the smog was suffocating and the lights much more dim, when only one girl ever slept inside these walls of stacked red brick.
I was with my friend, if she could be called a friend, on the rooftop that night, close enough to pull her away or slip a word into her ear, close enough to push. I saw how far the gate was, how long the jump would be to reach it. I was there to witness how she flew.
It was dark, and I blamed the darkness. For those few moments, when she was midair and not even kicking, I practically became her. I grew her long legs and longer eyelashes, I lost the jumble of knots in my hair, I let the mistakes spill out of my suitcase and scatter without a care into the wind. I was falling, and falling fast. There was a hum in my ears like a song leaking through floorboards. The windows on the way down were all lit up, every one, people I didn’t know living their private lives inside as if no one could see. The skyline above sparkled the way stars used to at home, and I didn’t want to ever hit ground. I was someone here. I was someone.
Maybe that was what she saw, what she felt, what this house turned her into. She was out there beyond the ledge with nothing beneath her feet. She was high enough to clear the gate many times over. I swore she was out there. I swore the air had her, the night had her, the lights cast a ring all around her, and then the patch of darkness was empty.
I could see past where she’d been, as if I were sailing straight over buildings, beyond spires and scaffolding, past roof gardens and water towers, down through Lower Manhattan to the southern tip of the island, where the gleaming black bay took over. I saw the whole city spread out before me, sinister and strange and perfect. The air was clear, and she wasn’t in it. No girl was falling or flying. Every window was dark. And how oddly quiet it became, like a patch of forest where no person had set foot for what felt like days upon days.
When I remembered where I was, I crept closer to the edge, gripping the bricks to stay steady, and I did what I knew she wanted.
I leaned out into the vacant night—the air boundless, feathery gray, and blooming with possibility—and I looked down.
About the Author
Nova Ren Suma is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Walls Around Us, a finalist for an Edgar Award. Her new novel A Room Away from the Wolves is forthcoming September 4, 2018, from Algonquin. She also wrote Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone and is co-creator of FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology. She has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in the Hudson Valley, spent most of her adult life in New York City, and now lives in Philadelphia.
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—Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter
– 1 Winner will receive a Copy of A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma
– 1 Winner will receive a $25.00 Amazon/PayPal Gift Card.
by Tracy Barrett
Sixteen-year-old Clancy Edwards has always been “the good girl.” Ever since her mother died in a skydiving accident when Clancy was young, Clancy’s father has watched her like a hawk. Between her dad’s rules and her boyfriend’s protectiveness, she’s longing for an escape this summer. Then she meets Denny.
Denny is a new skydiving student and college freshman. Clancy lets Denny think they’re the same age–and that she’s old enough to make decisions for herself. But the lies snowball, relationships are damaged, and suddenly Clancy isn’t the person she wants to be. If only making choices were as simple as taking a leap out of a plane. Before Clancy can make things right, one last act of rebellion threatens her chance to do so–maybe forever.
Jumpers try to avoid reserve rides, even though every instructor reminds students, “When in doubt, whip it out.” It’s not only the expense of paying a rigger to repack the reserve. Reserves open fast, and the hard opening can give you whiplash, but it’s not the discomfort either. The main thing is that jumpers are superstitious. If you dump the reserve and it malfunctions too, you’re sunk. Nowhere to go. Reserves just about never malfunction, and the odds against both the main and the reserve malfunctioning are astronomical, but still. . . .
So my mom had tried everything to clear the main. She did exactly what you’re trained to do, exactly what I’d heard my dad and Leon and Noel and Randy and Louisa and Patsy tell their students: “If the pilot chute or the main canopy gets stuck, you have to break the burble.” So she flipped over. It didn’t work, so she flipped back to cut away, so the canopy would fly away cleanly. She had no way of knowing that the AAD would fire at precisely the wrong moment, making the two chutes—the main and the
reserve—snag each other, and that neither one would open.
I watched to the end, seeing the pink canopy and the white one wrap around each other, making a big nasty barber pole that didn’t slow my mom down enough to make a difference. Then, when Angie dropped the camera, the ground came up, up, up to the camera lens, and then—whomp. And the screen went black. Was that the last thing my mom saw? The ground coming up, and then nothing? What did she think about in those last seconds? Did she think of me? Of my dad?
After I went to sleep, I saw it over and over again, only sometimes she cut away sooner and sometimes she cut away later. But no matter what she did, it ended the same way, with the camera thumping on the ground and the sounds of screaming and crying.
I woke up when my dad got home, and I wanted to ask him to come sit by my bed until I fell asleep again. I wanted to tell him about how Theo was acting weird and how confused I was about Denny—about whether he was just a DZ friend or whether he was interested in me (and whether I was interested in him), and what I should do about it if he was. Or I was. I wanted to confess that I’d driven the car on Travis day and had done just fine.
I couldn’t. He’d ground me forever. Anyway, he wasn’t the sit-by-the-bed-until-you-fall-asleep kind of dad, and even if he were, once I got started, I’d tell him about watching the video. And seeing that we hadn’t talked about my mom’s death ever, not even once, I couldn’t do that.
Copyright © 2018 by Tracy Barrett
About the Author
Tracy grew up near New York City, and went to college in New England and graduate school in California. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree with honors in Classics-Archaeology from Brown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study medieval women writers and won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Work-in-Progress Grant in 2005. She taught Italian and other subjects at Vanderbilt University for almost thirty years. She has two grown children and lives in Tennessee with her husband and two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of FREEFALL SUMMER and Swags (signed bookplate and a silver skydiving pendant) by Tracy Barrett.
The Leading Edge of Now
by Marci Lyn Curtis
Just when Grace is beginning to get used to being an orphan, her estranged uncle suddenly comes forward to claim her. That might have been okay if he’d spoken to her even once since her father died. Or if moving in with Uncle Rusty didn’t mean returning to New Harbor.
Grace once spent the best summers of her life in New Harbor. Now the place just reminds her of all she’s lost: her best friend, her boyfriend and any memory of the night that changed her forever.
People say the truth will set you free, but Grace isn’t sure about that. Once she starts looking for it, the truth about that night is hard to find — and what happens when her healing hurts the people she cares about the most?
There’s a moment when I do not breathe, when my heart rate goes volcanic, when the distance to Rusty’s house seems so wide and so impassable that it will take me hours to scramble back.
Owen is staring at me, eyebrows crashed together like he’s trying to solve a particularly difficult crossword puzzle. It’s an expression I know well, seeing as how I’ve spent half a lifetime watching him stand in the garage, gazing at his projects as though he were unraveling the greatest mysteries of the universe.
I want to turn around and run.
I want to slap him.
I want to burst into tears.
What I do, though, is stare at him. He looks the same now, only different. While his dusty blond hair has been cut short, his eyes are the same — still clear emerald-green, big and serious, with lashes as long as palm fronds. He’s probably grown a full two inches since I last saw him, and he’s broader across the chest. On his right forearm is the small diagonal scar he got back in the third grade, when he tried to build a birdhouse for an endangered owl. I always considered that scar one of the things that made Owen Owen. But now it looks misplaced, inappropriate. I have to resist the urge to try to scratch it off. I close my eyes, like maybe I can erase his presence that easily. But he smells so familiar — like sawdust and coffee and soap — that this particular action only makes him more real.
I open my eyes again.
Owen plucks the headphones out of his ears. “Grace,” he says slowly, like he’s trying to remember how my name is pronounced.
Now would be the proper time to speak. But I’m pretty sure that my mouth has been blown apart and then reattached backwards and inside out, a couple of miles north of my vocal cords. So I just continue to look at him.
A few decades pass.
I clear my throat. It sounds like an old, brittle floorboard, creaking under bare feet. “You’re here,” I say, which is quite possibly the stupidest thing I could’ve said to him. Twenty-some-odd months of dreaming about getting even, and now all I can do is state the obvious.
About the Author
Marci Lyn Curtis is the author of young adult dramedies THE ONE THING and THE LEADING EDGE OF NOW. She lives near Tampa, Florida with her husband. You can find out more about Marci on her website (marcilyncurtis.com), on Twitter (@Marci_Curtis), on Instagram (@marcilyncurtis), or on Facebook (marcilyncurtis).
Purchase the book:
3 winners will win a finished copy of THE LEADING EDGE OF NOW, US Only.
by Paula Stokes
Embry Woods has secrets. Small ones about her past. Bigger ones about her relationship with town hero Luke and her feelings for someone new. But the biggest secret she carries with her is about what happened that night at the Sea Cliff Inn. The fire. The homeless guy. Everyone thinks Embry is a hero, too, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Embry thinks she’ll have to take the secret to her grave, until she receives an anonymous note—someone else knows the truth. Next comes a series of threatening messages, asking Embry to make impossible choices, forcing her to put her loved ones at risk. Someone is playing a high stakes game where no one in Embry’s life is safe. And their last move…is murder.
About the Author
Paula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.
– 1 Winner will receive a $25 gift card to Amazon, B&N, Etsy, or Society6.
– 1 Winner will receive a Choice of any Paula Stokes YA Novel.
– 3 Winners will receive a Hidden Pieces Swag Pack.
by AJ Banner
Beware of friends with secrets…
Imagine your closest friend utterly betraying you. Years later, when she seeks forgiveness, you invite her to your engagement party as a gesture of reconciliation. But seething hostilities rise to the surface, ruining everyone’s evening. After an awful night, your friend’s battered, lifeless body is found at the bottom of a rocky cliff.
Newly engaged Marissa Parlette is living this nightmare. She should be celebrating her upcoming wedding, but she can’t shake the image of her friend lying dead on the beach. Did she fall? Was she pushed? Or did she take a purposeful step into darkness? Desperate for answers, Marissa digs deep into the events of the party. But what she remembers happening after nightfall now carries sinister implications: the ugly sniping, the clandestine meetings, the drunken flirtations. The more she investigates, the more she questions everything she thought she knew about her friends, the man she once trusted, and even herself.
Bestselling author A. J. Banner keeps readers on a razor-sharp edge in this intricately plotted novel of psychological suspense…in which nothing is as it seems.
3.75 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
If you like a story where absolutely everybody is a suspect, then this is the novel for you. Even the narrator thinks she herself is to blame at some point.
The morning after Marissa and Nate’s dinner/engagement party, Marissa wakes up to find that her best frenemy and next door neighbor Lauren is dead. Did she fall or was she pushed from the cliff down to the rocks below? Marissa does her best to investigate who might have had a reason to want Lauren dead–and before ling she finds out there are plenty of potential killers.
Marissa is a likable enough main character, though she makes some decisions that left me scratching my head. There is a wide cast in this novel, and it seems all of them have something to hide, even down to Nate’s 9 year old daughter.
At times I might have felt the author was throwing in TOO many red herrings; it’s a bit tiring trying to keep up with every side character’s personal problems. Most questions do get answered by the end, but it felt more like tying up loose ends than integrating their plot lines into the story.
When the killer was revealed, I was definitely surprised, although the climax fell a little flat for me. I wish we would have gotten to see a bit more of the culprit throughout the whole of the book.
This is another good thriller offering, and you will devour it quickly just like I did.
About the Author
Born in India and raised in North America, A. J. Banner received degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Her previous novels of psychological suspense include The Good Neighbor and The Twilight Wife, a USA Today bestseller. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and six rescued cats.
Connect with A. J. Banner
One commenter will win a copy of After Nightfall. US/CAN only. Leave me a comment telling me your best friend’s name! Ends 9/7/18.
by Dan Poblocki
Shadow House, Book Four
Shadow House never sleeps . . . Five children have been lured into Shadow House, all for different reasons. None of them knows the others. And none of them knows what do to when they can’t find a way back out.
But something is different inside the house. Someone – or something – there knows a little bit more than they should. Only how are the kids supposed to decide if that someone is trying to help them . . . or trap them there forever?
Enter Shadow House . . . if you dare. Don’t just read about Shadow House—step inside with the free SHADOW HOUSE app. Each image in the book reveals a haunting in the app, where the choices you make determine your fate. For tablet or phone: scholastic.com/shadowhouse.
About the Author
Dan Poblocki is an American author of mystery and horror novels for young people. He was born in Providence, Rhode Island. During his pre-teen years, his family moved to Basking Ridge, New Jersey. His books have been translated into French, Greek, and Polish. Dan currently lives in Kingston, NY with two scaredy cats.
Dan graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in theater. Subsequently, he toured the United States playing ultra-challenging roles such as Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Shoemaker in The Shoemaker and the Elves to packed houses filled with literally thousands of screaming children. (He hopes they weren’t screaming in fear.)
Dan ended his promising acting career to focus on other endeavors. While exploring various artistic options, he held a number of jobs in New York City including: a floral groomer, an audience-wrangler for a popular game show, a computer analyst, a chemotherapy-unit assistant, and a traveling bathing suit sales-dude.
That’s right. A traveling bathing suit sales-dude.
Dan now writes full time. He’s probably working on something new this very minute!
PURCHASE THE BOOK
– 3 Winners will receive a Copy of THE MISSING (Shadow House #4) by Dan Poblocki.
Blood Will Out
by Jo Treggiari
Ari Sullivan is alive—for now.
She wakes at the bottom of a cistern, confused, injured and alone, with only the shadowy recollection of a low-pitched voice and a gloved hand. No one can hear her screams. And the person who put her there is coming back. The killer is planning a gruesome masterpiece, a fairytale tableau of innocence and blood, meticulously designed.
Until now, Ari was happy to spend her days pining for handsome, recent-arrival Stroud Bellows, fantasizing about their two-point-four-kids-future together. Safe in her small hometown of Dempsey Hollow. But now her community has turned very dangerous—and Ari may not be the only intended victim.
On being inside the mind of a killer
One of the major decisions I made when I started to plot this book was to write the killer’s chapters in the first person. I wanted to get inside their head as much as possible and I wanted the reader to as well. This achieves two things. One is that the reader is forced into close contact with the killer, their thoughts and motivations—a scary place to be—and the other is that the reader is therefore a step ahead of the main character, and that builds tension.
I did a lot of research into serial killers although there is much we do not know about them. I concentrated on Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. I noted some of the similarities between them- the way these killers stalked their prey, presented different faces to people, had sometimes suffered abuse as children, and were capable of kindness as well as horrific cruelty and violence. Ed Gein for instance, nursed his mother. Ted Bundy was a social activist and even authored an anti-rape pamphlet (!), John Wayne Gacy entertained children at birthday parties…as a clown! Dahmer had good friends in high school. I really tried to understand them although that was an almost impossible task. I have to say it was a nightmarish six months. I had a very hard time keeping my happy life separate from all the awful things I was discovering; the depths that people can fall to.
I absorbed that background material and then wove my own creation. I knew I couldn’t write from that character’s POV unless I found some spark of humanity, something that allowed me and the reader to latch onto them in some way; to care if at all possible. Beginning their story in childhood let me imagine a triggering event and an evolution in their life. We were all children once. It was a tightrope walk because I also did not want the reader to forget that this was a monster I was writing.
About the Author
Jo Treggiari was born in London, England, and raised in Canada. She spent many years in Oakland, California and New York, where she trained as a boxer, wrote for a punk magazine, and owned a gangster rap/indie rock record label. Her novel Ashes, Ashes, a YA post-apocalyptic adventure published by Scholastic Press, was a multiple award nominee and bestseller. Her acclaimed novella Love You Like Suicide, appeared in the Fierce Ink Press anthology Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL and as a limited edition of the long-running zine Cometbus. Her most recent YA is Blood Will Out, a psych-thriller, published by Penguin Teen (2018). She has a second yet-to-be-named thriller coming from Penguin in the summer of 2019.
– 2 winners will receive a Copy of BLOOD WILL OUT By Jo Treggiari.
The Girl on Camera
by Morgan Dun-Campbell
New Adult Mystery
Reality TV is about to get real…
“Are you ready to win the heart of the nation? Compete with seven other contestants for the cash prize? Change your life forever?”
Twenty-six-year old Rory Stevens is thrilled to be selected as one of eight contestants for new reality show: The Retreat.
However, on the second day of filming – during a televised broadcast from the show’s host – all power shuts off with no explanation: leaving the contestants, quite literally, in the dark.
Completely stranded, it is now up to Rory and her seven companions to figure out what is happening.
And then one of them disappears…
For fans of Naomi Alderman, Dave Eggers and John Marrs.
The screen is frozen. There’s a very faint noise, a high-pitched screech, barely audible, that seems to come from the TV.
‘What the hell’s happening?’ Carl cries. Adam looks to him and instantly shhhes him, obviously he can hear the noise too.
We wait a few seconds, each of us holding our positions.
The TV switches off. Completely black screen.
The faint whining noise stops.
All the lights switch off, simultaneously.
Cabin Two, previously bright, is now lit only by the rectangular pools of daylight that come in from the four windows, angled evenly around the room. Even in the afternoon, the room is now surprisingly dark and patterned with shadows.
But it’s too quiet.
Something else has happened.
I realise that we’ve become accustomed to the gentle hum of central heating, the hum from Cabin One, Two, and Three.
But now it is eerily silent, as though The Retreat itself was just a moment ago a living thing, and now it’s died and left us. Something has left us at least, we no longer have the comfort of electricity to rely on, we’re human beings who have been spoilt by laptops and power showers and overhead lighting and central heating and now we’re soft and vulnerable and can’t exist without our twenty first century accessories, in our natural states.
If the power doesn’t come back soon, we’ll be freezing tonight.
Now, an almost suffocating silence.
‘Again,’ Carl says, his voice a whisper, as though we might miss a vital clue. ‘Just what on earth is happening?’
I lean in ever so slightly towards Adam. I clear my throat, and say softly, ‘looks like we’ll have to cancel the leaving party altogether.’
‘Don’t touch me,’ Jess spits at me. I have my hands on her upper arms, stood behind her, trying to both offer comfort and restrain her – last thing we need is her venting her anger on the TV, breaking it somehow, and cutting off our one connection to the outside world.
‘Jess, you need to calm down,’ I say, ‘otherwise you’re going to work yourself up into a state. You have to accept the fact that for the moment at least, it’s out of your hands. He’s there and you’re here. Be reasonable.’ She pulls out of my grip, darts a couple of steps forward and spins on her heels to face us all, the back of her head inches from the TV.
‘Reasonable?’ She repeats. ‘Why am I here?’ She yells at us, her tone accusatory. ‘We don’t know what this place is. We’ve never even heard of this show before. We’re idiots, that’s what. We’ve been had and now we’re stuck here in a prison.’
‘Please, Jess, calm down,’ I say. She starts crying loudly. I note that Adam is studying Jess intently, really letting the weight of her words sink in.
But – Jess is starting to question the validity of the show, and that’s ridiculous. We all went through it.
The auditions. The stay at the hotel. The forms. The limos. The cameras.
That can’t be staged – it just can’t. It’s too complicated.
We’re on national television and we just happen to be the first to try out a brand new show that no one’s ever heard of before, and now all the power has switched off.
… I wish I hadn’t mentally phrased it like that. It makes it sound like madness.
For a brief moment, my mind flickers back to that moment when I clicked on the Apply Now link on my computer screen, blindly trusting this message that had popped into my life out of the blue – no, not from the blue, but from somewhere else, somewhere hidden and secret and suddenly deeply unsettling, now I look around at this dusty cabin, no power, wooden and cold and basic. This does not look like the premise for a televised show in the slightest.
No – of course it is. What about that show Mariah mentioned, Fearless? They’re supposed to be gritty.
‘Jess, the cameras could come on again any minute now,’ Carl says, words gentle, as though she’s a patient in a psychiatric ward who could switch personalities at any moment. ‘Do you really want to be broadcast live to a nation as a crying, irrational state?’ He gestures to Jess, her hair ruffled and sticking up all over the place like she stuck her finger in a wet plug socket, her minimal mascara now running in two lines down her red puffy face.
‘Oh god,’ she says, sniffing and taking a deep gulp. She looks to me. ‘I’m a terrible mother, aren’t I?’
‘What? No,’ I insist. ‘This whole – mess is completely out of your hands. You were left in the dark about anything to do with…’
‘Tony,’ she finishes for me, her eyes glaze over. ‘No, I’m like one of those awful mothers you read about in the papers who leave their baby in the car seat on a hot summer’s day so they can try on that new pair of designer shoes –’ she covers her mouth, eyes wide. ‘What if social services are watching?’
‘Nobody’s watching,’ Mariah says.
It’s at that moment that I spot Freddie.
He’s sat hunched over, huge arms resting on his legs, the elbows propped on the knees, his hands clasped together in a prayer position under his strong chin, an index finger pressed against his bottom lip. He stares at the floor, his lips a thin white line, and his eyes are alive in a way they’ve never been before, with an intensity so strong, I’m surprised he doesn’t have Superman-like vision that’ll burn a hole in the floor.
He’s completely motionless and I’ve never seen him like this. He’s usually animated, watching whoever’s speaking with heightened curiosity like a dog, making sure he’s at the heart of the action.
It’s like he’s switched himself off. Along with the cameras.
‘So… that’s it? Show’s over? Cancelled early for low viewing ratings? What?’ Mariah snaps. ‘I packed my skimpiest, tightest, and coldest wardrobe, so I could die of pneumonia with a bunch of nobodies and get eaten by woodland animals?’ She gestures to her current outfit. White denim shorts, V-neck blue sequinned strappy top, she shivers.
‘There are slightly more pressing matters than a wardrobe malfunction,’ Adam murmurs. Jess is shaking her head, wide eyed, in a state of shock presumably.
‘Let me out,’ she cries.
Nice Guy Freddie gets up.
‘Everyone sit down,’ he says. The words are neutral, but his voice is steady and strong, and this deliverance makes me uneasy.
‘So. We’re all in agreement,’ Freddie says, still speaking in his new, blank voice. ‘We all heard about this show from an email.’ Everyone round the circle nods. We’re sat on the sofas.
‘I’ve heard stories like this,’ Lexxi cries, her eyes wide, her knees jiggling, restless as she previously was with excitement, but now that excitement comes from a place of fear. ‘You know. The stuff people agree to online. Meet me behind this dodgy alleyway if you want a part in the new Tom Hanks movie! Then they get thrown into the back of a van, and shipped to the Middle East.’
‘How is that relevant?’ Carl says. He also seems different now the cameras are off. No longer easy-going, he’s now wound tight and stressed. Perhaps fame is more of an addiction for him that he realises. With those cameras off, his chances of being back in the limelight are jeopardised.
About the Author
Morgan Dun-Campbell lives in London. She has an MA (Distinction) in Creative Writing and Publishing, has participated in two Arvon literary writing courses, and has worked as an intern for numerous publishing houses, including Penguin Random House and Bloomsbury. The Girl on Camera is her first novel.
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