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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Half-Built Houses, by Eric Keller - Blog Tour Stop

I am happy to announce that Spring is official in the air around here.  The weekend was full of sunshine and the flowers are out in droves.  Yes, this makes me extremely happy.  Thank you as always for stopping over at my blog this week.  

Again, this week, I am one of the blog tour stops for Eric Keller and his new release, Half-Built Houses.  He will be giving out an e-book to one randomly selected commenter along his blog tour, so be sure to comment or simply say hello. 





Title: Half-Built Houses
ISBN: 978-1-62420-315-2
Author: Eric Keller

Facebook: NA
Twitter: NA
Website: NA
Blog: NA

Genre: mystery
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1

Buy at: Rogue Phoenix Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble

TAGLINE
All the taught intrigue and compelling personalities of a classic, courtroom thriller combined with the twists and turns of an engrossing murder mystery in a Canadian setting.

BLURB
Charley Ewanuschuk has been mistreated all his life and now survives by moving through society as unnoticed as possible. However, when a murder occurs behind the half-built house he is squatting in society takes notice of the introverted homeless man as he becomes the prime murder suspect. Brian Cox managed to charm his way into a good job in a national law firm but, when the recession hit, he learned that charm is a disposable commodity. Fired by the firm and forced to take on Legal Aid files to pay the bills, Charley's murder trial becomes Brian's first major case. However, this will be no straightforward case. As the trial progresses it becomes apparent forces are working behind the scenes to ensure the homeless man takes the fall for a crime. Told from the points of view of the accused, the lawyer, the detective and the manipulator, Half-Built Houses provides all the thrilling intrigue, clever ingenuity and interesting individuals readers have come to expect form classic courtroom dramas.

REVIEW:
Half-Built Houses
Eric Keller
5 stars
Published by Rogue Phoenix Press
Reviewed by Nancy A. Dafoe

In the vein of the pulsing arterial found in John Grisham’s crime/legal thrillers, Eric Keller’s Half-Built Houses is fast paced, meticulously developed, filled with plot twists, and the kind of complicated characters that keep you thinking about them long after you close the pages. Sex, drugs, and alcohol may lead to the predictable crime, but little else about Keller’s novel is predictable.

Keller’s familiarity with the law and court cases is apparent and the plot moves seamlessly through to an unexpected conclusion. More than a riveting, criminal procedural taking place in Calgary, however, Half-Built Houses offers subtle but significant social commentary on the issues of homelessness, the long-lasting damages of bullying, and the inequalities in class and social structures.

Charley Ewanuschuk, a homeless character accused of the murder of a young woman, stands at the center of the story, but Half-Built Houses is as much the story of Brian Cox, the charming but struggling young lawyer trying his first major criminal case. We know the crime in the opening pages as victim, Natalie Peterson, lies dying in the white snow, but Keller allows the reader to see into the characters’ heads and actions, shifting perspectives from the murdered woman to the suspected killer, to the defense lawyer to the Crown Prosecutor Clay Matthews, and the hardened detective Randall Jenkins on the trail of something that stinks. Lurking in the shadows, Charley is not as alone as he believes. Hugh Young and his son Jason may have wealth and power, but they, too, operate in the shadows. We come to know these characters’ backstories and circumstances leading up to their devastating encounter.

Highly visual, readers will feel as if they are watching this drama play out. With no false notes, Keller’s novel feels right even when everything is going wrong, down to the lurking ambiguity.

EXCERPT
 After the car had been towed away, Charley had gone back to the basement, but he heard sirens and had to flee before he could collect his belongings. Knowing he would stand out as an oddity wandering about in a rich residential area as people started leaving their homes for work, he headed back across the river to the downtown core where the homeless merely blended into the cement. There he numbly walked the icy streets before settling into an ATM kiosk to warm up and rest.

Sitting on the wet floor, he did a quick inventory. He still had his good coat, two cheeseburgers, four dollars, and shoes, but no socks, gloves, or hat. It was thirty below and he had nowhere to go, and he could already feel the dirty slush on the floor soaking through his jeans. Over all the years he had been in Calgary, Charley had been in some extremely difficult spots, but this was one of the worst situations he had faced.

As he pulled one of the slightly squashed cheeseburgers out of his pocket, the key to the cheap padlock he had put on the basement door fell onto the floor. He picked it up. Despite being twenty-five years old, this was the only key he had ever owned. He remembered the joy he felt when he closed the lock for the first time. It was more than simply having a place of his own; it was a sense of survivor's pride because he could look past making it through each day and ponder a future for himself. Now he realized he could not be found carrying the key, so he slipped it into the slot in the bank machine, the slot where people threw away their receipts showing how much money they had in their account.

He was only able to stay in the kiosk for an hour before a security guard found him. The guard clearly did not want to send the pathetic man out into the exceptionally harsh cold, but he sheepishly said that the bank employees would be showing up soon, and they would give him grief if they found someone sleeping next to the bank machine. Charley left without a word.

Having nowhere else to go, he instinctively walked to the day labourer corner. Because the weather was so bad and he was there so early, he got picked up right away to shovel snow. Charley had worked for the boss before, and the man took pity on him, giving him a good pair of gloves and a toque.

~ * ~

Jenkins was checking missing person reports when Wilson strutted into the office and dropped an enlarged printout of a library card on his desk. The picture on the card was of a thin, unsmiling young man with thick glasses and messy hair. It matched the description the neighbour at the crime scene had given them. Wilson sat down and said, "Our basement squatter has a name. Charley Ewanuschuk. The address and phone number he gave are fakes though."

"Did anyone at the library know him?"

"Sort of. One of the librarians said the guy's been coming in about once a week for years, but she doesn't think he's ever said a word to anybody. She did say he was cleaner than the other homeless people and never had a late book, so he has that going for him."

"A name and a picture. We've found people with less." Jenkins, now feeling hopeful this would be a quicker case than he had anticipated, stood up and grabbed his coat. "Let's go check the usual spots."

~ * ~

Even though he had been extremely tired and his feet had screamed with cold, Charley had been content to push a shovel all day as the mundane, physical work was relaxing and allowed him to ponder his situation. By the end of the day, he had forced himself to conclude it was not hopeless. He could not go back to the house he had been using, but that did not mean he could not find another abandoned construction site to use. It would take some time, but he had time; he had little else, but he had time. When the work was done, he was driven back to the corner, given sixty dollars, and told to keep the gloves and the hat. It was enough money to get a room at the hostel for the night. Life would continue to be hard, but it would not be impossible.

As he started walking away, a truck pulled up, unloading another crew of day labourers, and one of the workers called out to him, "Hey, you. Guy who never talks."

He recognized the man as a regular at the corner whom he had worked with a few times. He pointed at himself questioningly.

"Yeah, you. Just thought you should know that the cops were out here this morning showing your picture around. You may want to lay low for a few days."

The man knew Charley well enough not to expect a response, so he turned to jog after his friends, leaving Charley alone on the frozen sidewalk. Renewed panic struck at him, easily pushing away the optimism he had gained throughout the day. He had not even considered the police would look for him. He had always seen himself as a mere visitor moving about beneath the notice of the real inhabitants of the city, so the thought that someone would look for him never occurred to him. Charley had never been to jail, but he had overheard much about the place from day labourers, and being locked up was one of his greatest fears among an impressive list of fears. It was not actually being deprived of his freedom so much as being constantly surrounded by people with no privacy or reprieve that he knew would be an unimaginable hell for him. He could not go to jail.

REVIEW:
Half-Built Houses
By Eric Keller
41/2 Stars
Reviewed by Tamara White

The city of Calgary in Alberta, Canada in the backdrop for Eric Keller’s intense and gripping legal thriller the Half Built Houses.

Charley Ewanuschuk is a homeless man who found comfort in being mostly invisible to the world around him. But the events on a stormy winter night in Calgary plunge him head first into a murder where the almost mute Charley becomes the main suspect instead of the hero. Charley’s quiet distinctiveness doesn’t just draw the reader into his narrative but makes him a target for the other less desirable characters. Charley’s lawyer, Brain Cox, who has his own set backs, is determined to free his client from the murder charge. Brian has a strong character and determination that balances out Charley’s introverted personality.  

Eric Keller exposes the reader to not only the grittiness of the legal system but also the vicious realities of prison life. Half Built Houses is filled to the brim with raw emotions and conflicts. Every time the reader thinks they have it figured out Keller throws in another twist that sends the reader in a new direction. One of the unique aspects of the book is the perspective of the book shifts between several of the characters. This gives the reader a full understanding of the vested interested each character has in the murder. Keller’s novel exposes how life is never black or white and happy endings are better saved for fairy tales.

REVIEW:
Half-Built Houses
By Eric Keller
4 1/2 Stars
Reviewed by G. Lloyd Helm

Half-Built Houses is a crime novel with elements of the classic procedural story. The crime, the cover up, the police investigation. The difference with this one is that it is set in the great white north of Calgary, Canada. It evokes the place and the people very well.

Eric Keller has written a truly great book here. It is filled with interesting characters, all of whom are believable. There are certain of them who are so crushingly sad I could hardly read them without crying.

Charley, a lead character, is homeless and tortured and I felt ever icy shiver of his life on the streets of Calgary. His luck has gone from bad to worse when he witnesses a murder, and is arrested for that same murder. Brian, the legal aide public defender who gets to be Charley's lawyer is believable. He is scrambling to pay his bills and maintain his life style and could probably have just gone through the motions of defending Charley, but he feels for the homeless man and so works his tail off for his client.
This book is well worth the read. I only gave it four and a half stars because the book did seem to slide over into TV cop story a little bit, but Half-Built Houses is still a great story.

REVIEW:
Half-Built Houses
By Eric Keller
5 Stars
Reviewed by James Charles

Half-Built Houses is a crime novel with elements of the classic procedural story. The crime, the cover up, the police investigation. The difference with this one is that it is set in the great white north of Calgary, Canada. It evokes the place and the people very well.

Eric Keller has written a truly great book here. It is filled with interesting characters, all of whom are believable. There are certain of them who are so crushingly sad I could hardly read them without crying.

Charley, a lead character, is homeless and tortured and I felt ever icy shiver of his life on the streets of Calgary. His luck has gone from bad to worse when he witnesses a murder, and is arrested for that same murder. Brian, the legal aide public defender who gets to be Charley's lawyer is believable. He is scrambling to pay his bills and maintain his life style and could probably have just gone through the motions of defending Charley, but he feels for the homeless man and so works his tail off for his client.
This book is well worth the read. I only gave it four and a half stars because the book did seem to slide over into TV cop story a little bit, but Half-Built Houses is still a great story.

AUTHOR BIO:
Eric Keller is a lawyer living in Calgary, Alberta.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

June, by Alicia Stone - Blog Tour Stop

This week I am happy to announce I am one of the blog tour stops for the new book, June, by author, Alicia Stone.  Please welcome her but saying hello or leaving a comment about the book.  She will also be giving away one free ebook to a random commenter, so be sure to let us know if you have stopped by.




Title: June
Author: Alicia Stone
ISBN: 978-1-62420-316-9

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 3



REVIEW
June
By Alicia Stone

A review by Jeffrey Ross 
5 Stars

This is a world-class piece of literature—a finely crafted book that combines several genres successfully. On one level, June functions as an academic or campus novel—much of the text revolves around the detailed, complicated, scholarly world of Professor Perry’s anthropological research and love affair machinations. It also has robust elements of a detective story when super-sleuth David outs a cheating husband. But June most significantly and boldly illuminates a woman’s “sensual” coming of age (somewhat like Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening) as heroine Cassie begins to unshackle herself from a life of emotional servitude and learns to love again. As a writer, I was humbled by the workmanship and power of this novel. Read June—you will never forget the story.



TAGLINE
Living a lie in a web of deceit, Cassandra finds the courage to challenge her controlling husband.



BLURB 
Living a lie in a web of deceit, Cassandra finds the courage to challenge her controlling husband. She sets in motion a tragic chain of events that leads her across Europe from the medieval city of Tallinn to the showboating glamour of Nice. Cast aside and the victim of cruel revenge, Cassandra fights for her future and discovers she is not alone. Her new-found strength is tested to its limits, for where love is concerned there is often a reckoning.



EXCERPT 
Women's toilets, a curious place for confidences. Strangers become acquainted in the queue for the loo. Teenage girls discuss conquests as they hog mirrors, applying make-up. Cassandra had once seen a laughing group of Japanese women roll their trousers to their knees, fastidious in their preparation for a Western bathroom experience. She would have given much to understand their chatter. Quite extraordinary what she overheard about people's lives in toilets, but this was gossip, and the gossip was about her. She knew these voices, Malory Jacque and Miranda Pym.

"Of course Cassandra's very nice. Oh, Lord. No paper. For heaven's sake. A hotel of this repute. I shall speak to the manager. Andrew knows him from cricket."

"Hang on. I'll pass some under the door. Lord, this reminds me of school."
Cassandra heard scuffles and giggles.

"She's pleasant…easy-going in that reserved sort of way. Good for dinner parties."

"Thanks. Oh yes. Marvellous. Pop her next to anyone. She's sort of…you know…"

"Neutral? A foil?"

"That's it. Rather beige."

Cassandra froze in her cubicle. The toilets flushed and the voices moved over to the wash-hand basins.
"Oh, no. Would you look at that? They've changed the hand cream. I always liked the wild heather. This won't do."
A blast from the hand driers drowned any further eavesdropping. The door swung open; there was a clack of heels…
"But when you consider the husband…"

The door closed.

Cassandra waited for a moment before waving her hand at the automatic flush and coming out. Standing before the mirror, she remembered what Perry had said at breakfast.

"Sweetheart. Do you think that shade of blue suits you? Book club today isn't it? You've never worn the cashmere I brought you from Cairo. I found it in your closet the other day."

She had poured his coffee, put another round of toast in the retro Italian toaster, and slipped into their bedroom. The unopened duty-free bag stood upright in the bottom of the 'hers' wardrobe. Shrugging off the blouse chosen earlier, she removed the ribbon tag from her gift and pulled the soft jumper over her head, making for the kitchen.

"Pussy-cat, lovely. Want to stroke you." He didn't. Instead, Perry was out of his seat even as she offered more toast.
"Carbs, Cassandra, carbs. Got to look after the waistline." He held his stomach in and blew her a routine kiss, but she was already moving towards the sink.

Would the puff of air reach the cupboard housing the seldom-used twelve-place dinner service, or would the vapour simply dissipate mid kitchen, she wondered.

"Late tonight, some of the faculty…a little do. Back on the Nine o'clock. Have fun with the ladies."

Cassandra had dropped the toast into the bin and stared out of the window. Next-door's cat had emerged from a clump of daisies and shuddered, the tail bolt upright. Cassandra loathed cats, especially when they treated her garden as their personal litter tray. He, for the cat was a Tom, was the same shade of grey as her jumper.

Now she was staring at the reflection in the mirror. Her face lost, framed by the heavy ornate coving and flock-wallpaper of the Victorian hotel. She had often pondered what people would say about her. They might use affable or good-natured if a little shy. What they didn't see was that she was bored; Cassandra was bored to her very core. Not languid though, never that. There was so much that people did not see. Cassandra composed herself, took a breath, and fixed her smile as she hurried to re-join the discussion about a book she had no wish to discuss.

~ * ~

A creature of routine, she went shopping after Book Club. Every trip to the supermarket was at best an exhausting in-your-face reality experience, at worst a sensory assault. From the seductive smell of the in-store baked bread and the sweet blowsy lilies in pretty buy-me cellophane wrappers to the whole gamut of riotous colour, compelling fonts and unashamed branding the weekly shop was a marketing horror to be endured. Enthusiastic staff spoke of must-buys or operational matters over the public address system interrupting the bland music and the periodic wails of infants distressed or seeking attention. Employees wearing uniform fleece offered tiny plastic pots as if shoppers were at some impromptu cocktail party or were institutionalised, standing in line to take their medication before bedtime.

"Can I tempt you to try a French cheese on offer today? Our own-brand mayonnaise has been voted Britain's favourite. Would you like to see if you can taste the difference?"

There were endless choices, from the selection of three types of trolley at the entrance to the alternative methods of checkout at the exit. Early on in their relationship during a trip to the supermarket, Perry asked that Cassandra take on the responsibility.

"Sweetheart, shopping is ghastly. You are so much better at all this pointless busyness than I. Look about you," he glowered. "Eighty percent of the people here are women. You are among your own kind; you know what to do; you have the time. Lucky, lucky girl, whereas poor old me, cash rich; time poor."

Money wasn't a problem. Perry urged her to spend what she liked. They could afford to live well on his salary and his grandfather's trust fund. Bunty and Reg, his parents, bought the couple's house as a wedding gift. Early on in their relationship, Bunty had trumpeted aloud at Cassandra's modest choice of food retailer and her student habit of shopping around for bargains.

"My dear, a housewife is judged by her table. Top end for groceries, always. It's what Perry's used to."

Cassandra did the shopping, coasting in neutral following a set path. Her face assumed a forced smile. She manoeuvred the trolley around slow mannerly pensioners, avoiding the child, skidding to a halt in the detergent aisle. She read labels comparing saturated fat and salt levels, catering for Perry's current preferences and tastes. He was most particular. Cassandra willed herself not to judge the large woman with the trolley stacked high with snack and convenience food or to think too uncharitably of the salad afterthought perched on top of the high-fat, sugar-laden mountain. She rejected the self-checkout points, aware of her need for human interaction, chatting at the till, agreeing that the weather was shocking and that the three-for-two offer on the Imperial Leather soap was excellent value.

"My husband won't try any other. His mother uses the same brand…you know, a family thing." Cassandra despised the words and herself for the weakness that was her norm.

The cashier listened with her head to one side. Was there a fleeting edge of solidarity or sympathy in the amber eyes? Perhaps it was the magnifying effect of the tortoiseshell glasses. Cassandra felt odd and lightheaded but conscious of a moment of female kinship and understanding with a woman she'd never met before.

"Are you alright dear?" The amber was almost orange, owlish, and wild.

Cassandra considered the question as she used her credit card. The first attempt failed as she tapped in the wrong number. Concentrating, she began the process again until she met with success. She stopped in the act of lifting the bag of shopping into her trolley.

"I think…I am."

The cashier reappraised her as she handed over the receipt.

"Changes take time to work their way through, don't you find? The trick is to make the right choices. Take care now."
There was no one behind her in the queue. The adjacent cashier was busy. No one else had overheard. What a curious exchange; not at all the usual bland pleasantries between staff and customers. Cassandra wheeled her trolley away, leaning against the metal frame. Glancing back at the checkout, the grey-haired woman was changing her till roll and did not look up.

Driving home through the rain, Cassandra thought about the book club. Perry had suggested she join. One evening at dinner, he announced that everything was arranged. The wife of Perry's occasional golf partner would introduce her to the club and pick Cassandra up, taking her to the first meeting.

Debbie, in a red sports car with a mane of tawny hair, tanned, wearing a lime green trouser suit, pulled up outside sounding three long beeps. Cassandra rushed out of the house, flustered with a wave of greeting. This went unobserved as Debbie shot into her driveway, executing a three-point-turn, which halted two inches from the next-door's spotless and regimented recycling bins.

"Hop in. Running late. A cul-de-sac in Westmead," she surveyed the immaculate new-builds, "bad luck. My book choice this month so they can't start without me. Got the top down…nice day…about time. Awful summer, you'd never think we lived in the south of England for pity's sake."

Cassandra held out her hand to no avail as the car sped forward.

"Belt up."

The recollection of that first meeting made Cassandra grimace and smile. She couldn't recall the name of the first book, the plot, or the characters, only that awful new girl paralysis, all the other women staring, appraising, and judging. Fighting an overwhelming instinct to run away, she defaulted to a learned behaviour; she smiled, crossed and uncrossed her legs, agreed and disagreed, nodded and listened, wholly intent on blending in. That was three years ago. Members came and went, but the core remained the same. Perry liked to ask her about the group, wives of cronies in his wider circle, so she stayed. Debbie stayed the course too, catching Cassandra's eye at the more outrageous comments, winking with mirth at the absurd.

Perry wanted to know who was bright. Who led the group? Who did most of the talking? That was in the early days. Of late, he had not asked much about the reading group, but Debbie had become a friend. An unlikely pairing perhaps, but, as the first meeting finished and they walked towards the waiting Mercedes, Deborah Gore-Hamilton said,
"I've got your number, Cassy Bishop. If you need an ally, I've got your back."

That was how their friendship started. Cassandra was no longer alone.



REVIEW:
Title: June (Many a Moon Series, Book 2)
Author: Alicia Stone
Rating: 4
Reviewed by: Gillespie Lamb

Cassandra Bishop is an upper-class English woman in her mid-30s who has voluntarily subordinated herself to a controlling husband (and his mother). Why would she volunteer? “I was young,” she sighs. Her pushy best bud brusquely dismisses that as a whiny excuse and lovingly prods her to reassert herself. In reluctant response, an emotionally deconstructed “Cassy” begins to reassemble her natural lively spirit.

Her quicksilver transformation into a strong, independent woman loosens the constraints in her marriage relationship, with liberating and tragic consequences.  

Author Alicia Stone’s forte is creating a believable slice of upper-crust British society within which her characters grow into people we care about. Her illuminating descriptions of the knick-knackery of the gentry lifestyle are fascinating in themselves. Cassandra comes across as an introspective, sensible, and nervy woman. It turns out her husband is multi-dimensional, too.

Testimonial: I am male. This is a woman’s book, PG-rated, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.



AUTHOR BIO:
Alicia has recently returned to the UK. She is enjoying the south coast and exploring rural villages using back roads and public footpaths. The great thing about English villages is that they have amazing old churches full of history and stories often with a pub next door. Find out more about Alicia, or contact her on her blog: aliciastoneauthor.blogspot.co.uk

Website URL: N/A

Blog URL: aliciastoneauthor.blogspot.co.uk

Facebook page: N/A

Twitter handle: @Alicia_author

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Coterie-Declaration - Blog Tour Stop

This week we are one of the Blog Tour stops for The Coterie-Declaration, by author, Richard C. McClain.  

Thank you to my loyal followers that support these tours.  Reminder, be sure to comment even if it's just a short, love the cover, type of comment as the Author will be awarding an ebook copy of one of his titles to one randomly drawn commenter. As I have read this book, you may want to win the ebook.  Just saying.  



Title: The Coterie-Declaration
ISBN: 978-1-62420-310-7
Author: Richard C. McClain

Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2


TAGLINE
Dakarai Holt, sixteen, is sentenced to a rehabilitation facility. He unearths a conspiracy imposing mind control with ramifications affecting the U.S and the greater world.


BLURB
Arrested for hacking, socially awkward and speech-impaired sixteen-year-old Dakarai Holt is sentenced to two years at Sheffield Academy, an exclusive juvenile rehabilitation facility. Within the first two hours, Dak is subjected to mandatory brainwashing. The academy’s enforcers, the R.A.T. SQUADS, patrol Sheffield to ensure each student's full compliance. Gacheru, Dak’s roommate, pressures him to drink a tonic that conspicuously counteracts Sheffield’s indoctrination. This places Dak in the middle of many adversarial and explosive situations. Additionally, Dak becomes knotted in a clandestine plot involving the Secretary of State and a mysterious group who goes by the name, The Coterie. While at Sheffield, Dak must find a way to survive the R.A.T. SQUADS’ terror, the annexation of a remote island, and battle his own inner demons.

REVIEW:
The Coterie Declaration
By Richard McClain
Review by Courtney Rene
Rating:  5 Stars. 

The Coterie Declaration, by Richard McClain is a contemporary read about a Sixteen year old Dakarai Holt, who is arrested for hacking.  He’s socially awkward and speech-impaired, but he’s an awesome hacker.  When he is sentenced to two years at a Juvenile rehab, the story takes off with government brainwashing along with a plot to take over a remote island.  Dakarai however has found a way to thwart the brainwashing, but then he has a battle of his own against not only the rehab enforcers, but he has to fight in silence as well as try to overcome his own inner darkness. 

This was a complicated, but highly enjoyable read.  From the first page the reader is dumped right into the action.  You sympathize with Dak as he struggles with his inability to speak and other emotional issues, compounded by his absent and uncaring father.  This book is full of suspense and action and moves along very quickly.  The wait for the next book in this series will be long for someone like me that wants to know what happens next.  Well done, Mr. McClain.  I highly recommend this book.

EXCERPT
It is 04:22:31 on Saturday morning and I'm having trouble sleeping. I sit up and turn the light on to give life to the dark room. Instead of celebrating Gacheru's absences, allowing me space to live on my own and nurture my promise to abort ideas of relationships, worrying about him is all I seem to be doing.
A sound at the door steals my attention. I wait for Gacheru to enter but nothing happens. On the floor underneath the door, an envelope sticks halfway into the room. I pick it up and work my fingers underneath the sealed flap and run my fingers the entire length.
The note reads,
Please put the twenty-five billion back.
I sit on the bed as the weight of the words hits me. Nothing in the words themselves denotes any kind of emotion. Except for maybe the "please." Still, a cursory reading initiates a panic attack in my body. A brown bag sits on the floor. I roll off the bed, hitting the floor hard. I pull the bag to my face, scrunch my body to the fetal position, and rock and breathe…
Who sent me the note? I ask an hour later. As far as I know, the man who accosted me in the computer room and his superiors are the only ones aware of what they think is a hacking mistake. To apprise me of this kind of critical information now when I'm not under the influence would violate Sheffield's environment of covertness.
Revealing such knowledge to me makes no sense.
I read the letter again. The word "please" continues to stand out. Sheffield has not proved themselves friendly on the administrative, teacher, or security levels. Why now would they want me to "please" put the money back? They're the type that would hang me up by my thumbs and torture me to get the information. I exaggerate of course.
This message couldn't have come from them. Which begs the question, who sent me this note?
I sift through short list of names. Gacheru's is the only name on it. Somehow he found out I took it and wants me to return the money. He's the only one I know who's been able to bypass Sheffield's mind control and for whatever reasons considered it important that I not succumb to their brainwashing. Would Gacheru send a note? He could speak to me any time. It's not Gacheru. That leaves nobody.
I walk to the window. Darkness still pervades the night, fighting to maintain control. Daylight is hours away. Since the note can't be from Sheffield or Gacheru, I decide to get rid of the evidence. I rip the area of the paper around the sentence and then stick it in my mouth, chew it till it's soggy, and swallow it.
I lie back in bed when I remember the drinks in the closet. It takes a second to pry the board loose. There is nothing in the crevice apart from a thick envelope and three cans. On closer inspection, all are empty. I put the hollow cans back inside and replace the board. The contents of the envelope are none of my business. I'm not a spy. Gacheru helped me for a reason. To betray him this way reeks of self-interest, the worst kind of egotism.
Lightning strikes my mind. Three cans could only mean one thing. A third person has ingested the liquid and like Gacheru and me, this person is resistant to Sheffield's mind control.
Who?
Since Sheffield wouldn't ask me to put the money back except under mind control, and Gacheru could talk to me any time, the person who sent the letter has to be the person who drank the third drink.
Why should I put the money back, especially if we're seemingly on the same side? Wouldn't we have a better chance of stopping whatever it is they're doing and going to do by hitting them in the wallet?
It seems cut-and-dry to me.
While back on the bed sheet I rack my mind, wondering who this third person is. If Gacheru trusts this person, would he approve of the letter? He could have asked this person to send it to me. So why not introduce me? What's the reason for keeping this person's identity secret? As always, my mind considers the worst. If this is a ploy by Sheffield to test whether or not I am still subject to their mind control, seeking out this third person could be nothing more than a trap.
I know three cans means three people are outside the boundaries of brainwashing. I know the third can was unopened more than a week ago. I'm making an assumption here. If Gacheru kept all three cans, this third person ingested the drink after I consumed mine. He would not need to wait till I arrived to give the drink to this person, which means this third person is likely one of the seven people who traveled with me in the van. I'm sure I can nail it down even more. I know this person is aware of the twenty-five billion dollars I stole. By process of elimination it can only be one of three people, and two of them I'm responsible for bringing to Sheffield. Shipley and Jayden. Tasi is the only other person in the room with us when the hunt for the twenty-five-billion-dollar search took place. I can constrict it more. Since I'm in the men's dorm building, it can only be Shipley or Jayden.
The doorknob twists. My heart is catapulted into my throat. Is it the R.A.T. SQUADS coming to drag me away so I can be tortured? Is it Shipley or Jayden?
I hold my breath.


REVIEW:
The Coterie Declaration
Richard McClain
4.5
Reviewed by Tamara White

From the first page Richard McClain’s novel The Coterie Declaration the reader is thrust into Dakarai’s high anxiety speechless world. Darkarai’s complicated reality over flows with suspense, action, and danger. The entire novel moves at a thrilling neck breaking speed. When Dakarai’s magnanimous actions plunge him into a plea deal where he quickly finds out he is going to lose more than his freedom. Dakarai is a complex character that is fighting to not only survive the Sheffield Academy but also his every present anxiety. Sheffield Academy is a place where the rules on paper are not the rules that are followed. As the reader is drawn further and further into Dakarai’s world the characters that surround him become more shady and much more corrupt. While Dakarai does not speak with words McClain does a great job of creating intense scenes that allow Dakarai’s actions to speak for him.  Allowing the reader to explore Dakarai’s thoughts also gives the reader get a deeper understanding of the mute teenager. Even when The Coterie Declaration ends the reader know it’s not over.  


REVIEW:
Title: The Coterie-Declaration
Author: Richard C. McClain II
Rating: 4.5
Reviewer: J.C.

Young Dak, the socially reclusive mute and estranged teenage son of a multi-billionaire tech magnate, is a gifted hacker who hacks into multi-national banks to steal and redistribute money to charitable intuitions and organizations; a somewhat modern-day Robin Hood.
Dak is caught by the conniving FBI agent, Yarbrough, who convinces Dak to plead and be sentenced to a so-called rich-kid reform school, Sheffield, where he soon becomes a pawn in a sinister plot to help a secret organization steal something from Easter Island. Along the way, only able to communicate with the aid of a whiteboard, Dak comes into connection with several characters including shady government officials, a couple attractive young girls that Dak becomes infatuated with, the so-called R.A.T SQUAD—Sheffield’s brutal young security force—and other student-inmates, all of whom have secrets and pieces of the puzzle Dak needs in order to figure out what is going on.
With Dak’s social awkwardness, his muteness, and inability to form friendships, Dak struggles to survive and obtain clues as to not only the fate of his roommate—the only one he really trusted who is found hanged in a tree—but to uncover this secrete Coterie and their plans.
The Coterie Declaration begins with the action-packed FBI pursuit of Dak after he attempts to hack into a major bank. The action and intrigue continues at a fast pace and the reader turns the pages in continued anticipation of what will happen next, or where it is that this story is going. The reader empathizes with the young Dak, estranged from his wealthy father, and roots for him to not only survive, but to put a stop to the secret plans of the Coterie Declaration.  



Author Bio



Richard C. McClain II, "The Storyteller"—an advocate of imagination and a deliverer of truth through creative writing. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Richard is one of five children who was taught to dream and believe that anything is possible. This thought premise inspired Richard to pursue the creative arts, through music, theatre and writing. Richard later became a pastor where from the pulpit he used his story telling abilities to bring the word to life in the hearts of the congregation. Richard is the husband of Sharon, and father of Nicholas, Nicola, Nathan, Natalie, and Nadia. He has had the privilege of honing his storytelling craft and understands the balance between imagination, fantasy, and real life.

"Consider this, before the story is ever heard, it is active, pulsating, and full of passion. It needs but the storyteller to tell it."