Sunday, September 29, 2019

Here We Are: American Dreams. American Nightmares

Alright y'all, this amazing memoir is a serious eye opener that needs to be read by everyone. I am so grateful to Celadon Books for sending me an ARC of it, because I had no idea what immigrant families went through in our country. I don't mean the extreme measures that Donald Trump has taken since taking office. I mean during the 1980s and 1990s when people were fleeing to our country due to wars and massacres against one or more group. This is the powerful story of one family's journey starting in India during the Partition, a division of land in India, and continued through events like 9-11 and the passing of two immigration laws in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. Now since it is an ARC I won't be revealing as much as normal, but I am going to make sure that the point of this brave family's story gets across so that you will want to read this book for yourself. If you question why people are constantly coming to our country, this book will give you an insight. I will be writing my review in her terms simply because it is her story I am summarizing for you. So here we go..

Aarti Shahani was just a teenager when her father and Uncle Ratan were arrested and accused of helping the Cali cartel launder money. The reality was they were just selling electronics in bulk sometimes and were just trying to make their American dream come true. Unfortunately for the Shahani's their journey to become naturalized citizens would become an American nightmare first...

Before coming to America, Dad was a film distributor for Bollywood (the Hollywood of India) and would deliver the films to theaters on his bicycle. (I am talking when they were still on the black and white strips of slick paper that required projectors.) Dad was originally was from Karachi, but his family was forced to flee to Bombay when he was a young child after the Parition. During one of his nights off, Dad met Mom at a poker game in Casablanca. Mom was from Sindh, but her family fled to Barcelona when she was just a baby. The Partition happened in 1947 that divided a country in India into Pakistan and India and it forced families to flee their homes to avoid getting massacred by people who rioted the decision.

This was the 1960s when arranged marriage was still the proper way of doing things, but marrying for love was starting to make its appearance in India. Mom and Dad were one of those little exceptions. It was still technically arranged, but they met before the discussion officially started. Another thing that made them a little different Mom proposed to Dad since she came from money and he worked to send money home. Both Mom and Dad spoke Sindhi, French, Arabi, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Urdu, which means that they were able to adapt no matter where they went.

After they were married, Mom worked as a seamstress at the encouragement of Dad, and was able to bring gifts and money to Dadi, Dad's mom. This resulted in her being the "favorite" daughter, but the reality is she was the only daughter that visited. While Mom didn't understand why, she would soon find out after Dadi convinces Mom to convince Dad to let her move to Casablanca with them. Dad agrees to Mom's initial delight, but Dadi does not come alone. She brings two of Dad's brothers with her that are unemployed, married, and rude. That made five people in Mom and Dad's flat that was a little more upscale because it was close to UN Square and Moulin Rouge. It very quickly became a hostile environment full of questions and name calling from Dadi. Dad starts smoking and drinking.

One year into the marriage, big brother Deepak was born. Eight years later, big sister Angelly was born after two miscarriages. A few months after Ang was born, Mom attempted to OD on pills, but was unsuccessful. After a wake up call from Dad about Mom's selfishness in the act, Aarti was born nine months later a complete surprise. To make matters worse, her homecoming was not a pleasant one. Dadi said Mom was cursed and had another daughter to bleed Dad dry. Dadi also ordered Dad to start sleeping in the bedroom with her while everyone else including the children slept in the living area. (Which sounds weird, but during this time it was not that uncommon.) Mom ended taking herself and Aarti to a relative's place with the help of Dad's friend who drove her to the hospital and home in the first place. The next day, Dad finally agreed with Mom that they needed to take the kids and leave for good. The Shahani's arrived in New York in 1981 on visas.

Aarti grew up in Flushings, NY, and despite the first apartment being a complete dump, she remembers it being full of people from all places coming together. Mom started a cheap babysitting service to help bring in extra money while Dad hit Broadway every day in search of a steady job. One day on the way to the market with Ang and Aarti while Deepak was at school, Mom sees a help wanted sign in the window of a bridal shop. She goes in, does a trial run with a bridezilla, and gets the job the next day. The owner even let Ang and Aarti in the shop with no judgement during Mom's tryout for the job. Instead of being angry, Dad is proud of her for getting the job.

Some time later, Dad reconnects with a friend from "back home" that goes into business with Dad only to turn around and blackmail him later out of greed. Mom finds out when she goes through Dad's desk that he got and finds a check for the friend's wife written out for $1000. After that, Dad started making excuses about where product from his brothers overseas was before just spending "sick" days at home with the girls to avoid seeing the awful so called friend.

It is 1984 and Aarti is finally old enough to go to Kindergarten. This is also the first election that she remembers because her family cheered for Reagan during his run against Mondale. This is also when they are finally able to get their green cards through "chain immigration" starting with Mom's sister who got hers after marrying an American man. It was a three year long process, but when they finally came in the mail, it was still a sigh of relief for them. Unfortunately, Dad was still having a rough go at everything and wanted to leave the States shortly after. Mom refused to go because they finally had true freedom, so Dad leaves and goes overseas to work with his brothers for a while. Mom's boss ends up giving her a Singer sewing machine so that she could do more work at home. When Mom would have to drop off a dress to the shop, she would leave Ang and Aarti home with the kitchen door locked, food and water in arms reach, and instructions to not answer the door for anyone but Deepak. (I know this sounds absolutely insane, but this was before Mom made the friends she did to help with the girls. She also wasn't gone very long.)

A few months have gone by and Mom had gotten the hang of being a single mom for the most part. It was glamorous, but they got by. On the way to market after dropping the girls off with a neighbor named Ione, Mom gets hit by a car and wakes up in the hospital with a dislocated hip. She calls her sister Nimi who helped them get their green cards, and signs out of the hospital AMA (against medical advice) to avoid a surgery bill she can't afford. The next few days, Mom stays with Nimi who gives Mom natural medicine and prayer while Deepak and Ione took turns watching Aarti and Ang. After the accident, Mom struggles to sew like before but her boss doesn't have the heart to fire her. To make matters a little sadder, the boss dies not too long after and the shop is closed for good.

Nimi calls Dad to come back after Mom is not able to get a steady job sewing. She tells him that it has been long enough and his family needed him. Dad shows back up with gifts and jewelry that they can sell for extra money. Dad seems to be actually happy to be back which makes it easier for them to try to work on the marriage. He goes back to Broadway in search of job and is successful this time when an electronics store hires him as second in command. Things finally are finally starting to look up for them.

Since Dad was finally at a steady job, Mom starts and becomes president of the Tenants Association for the apartment building in hopes of making some real positive and necessary changes. This meant that the kids' birthday parties got turned into building events that sometimes embarrassed the kids. Suddenly Mom goes from the Indian who yelled at people for being too loud or hanging around too long to the cool mom who encouraged break dancing competitions. Dad has no idea she is doing this until one day he comes home to find ABC News in the living room interviewing his family and neighbors about their immigration journey. This leads to Mom eventually speaking her mind to Dad for the first time in a while. Especially about Dad's smoking, which becomes a repeat fight.

One day during another go around of this fight, Mom ends up walking out of the apartment and not coming home. Mom doesn't come home for the next couple days when Dad is home. She would sneak in once he had left for work and would leave after making dinner before he got home. Dad found out that she had been staying with "Auntie" Mireya who he was convinced was trying to steal Mom to be in a lesbian relationship. One day Aarti begs and cries for Dad to call Mom so she could ask her to come home. Aarti does not remember how long or what exactly happens when Mom does comes home, but she does remember the hug that they shared as a reunited family.

Fast forward to eight grade year for Aarti, and she is getting ready to take a test that will determine if she would be eligible for a scholarship to one of the three top high schools: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. She is eligible for all three, but she gets tapped for an even more life changing option. She is given information about "A Better Chance" which leads to a full scholarship to Brearly School, a private all girl school that has a tuition of $49,000+ a year. This is all because of her grades and drive to do well in school since most Indian girls don't get to.

While Aarti is discovering who she is as an individual and as one of the few ethnic people are her school, Dad opens his own electronic shop after his boss does not fulfill the promise of making Dad partner. Dad is able to open a two story shop that allows him to stand out as a competitor since the upstairs is just storage for product. After some time and success at the store, Dad comes home and announces that they are buying a house in New Jersey. No one wants to move, but it is his decision and his word. It does mean a two hour commute for Aarti, but it is worth it to her when she discovers she has a little more freedom. The house has four bedrooms and is triple the size of their apartment. That means everyone has their own space, even Deepak who is getting ready to head to college.

After some time in the house, everyone convinces Dad to let them get a dog, and he agrees. They go to the shelter, and bring home Wrinkles who ends up bring the best out of everyone. Ang potty trains her, Dad prays with her, Mom and Aarti teach her tricks, and Deepak enjoys just having her. The only down side is that she is racist, and they wait for a few times of proof before coming to this conclusion. They have the heartbreaking experience of watching Wrinkles mourn the loss at the chance to be a mother after having to get her spayed. They watched as she makes a nest in Aarti's closet full of stuffed animals who she treats as her babies.

Aarti goes on a field trip with her school to meet Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg where they are able to ask questions and meet a woman who was paving the way for women to break glass ceilings. It is also during the time that the tragedy of the Long Island Rail Road mass shooting happened. When Aarti asks what RBG asks about the case, she is handed a pamphlet about the US Constitution. Aarti feels embarrassed, but says nothing to anyone about it.

Aarti does always play the good Indian girl, especially when she is with her best friend and first white friend Corinna. They share adventures in rule breaking that includes sneaking out to go clubbing during one of their many sleepovers since Corinna lived near the school in the richer side of town. One night when they are sneaking out, they get caught by Corinna's mom who says nothing to Mom and Dad since she is also an immigrant. However, being friends with Corinna also lead to Aarti wanting to live like the other girls at school and get a job that wasn't at Dad's shop on Broadway. So after her sixteenth birthday, Aarti interviews for a job at a law firm where one of her teacher's husband works for the summer. His name is Mr. Sagor and he hires her on the spot.

One day after coming home from work, Aarti finds Mom, Deepak, Ang, Dad's brother Uncle Ratan wife and son Auntie Shanta and Babo standing in the backyard. She automatically assumes they found out about her secret boyfriend that is a freshmen at Georgetown. Instead they tell her about cops showing up at the store while Dad and Uncle Ratan were working to ask about one of Uncle Ratan's regular customers fro Columbia. The cops end up taking $400,000 that was the most recent payment from said customer for a big order of electronics. They all think that this must be a mistake, the cops would investigate and return the money after seeing their mistake, so they all forget about it.

The summer before Senior year, Aarti is at work for Mr. Sagor, who has a horrible temper like Uncle Ratan, when her pager goes off. Mom bought her the pager so they could be in contact during all the time that Aarti is out of the house working or being a teenager. The page is from Mom asking her to call, so Aarti immediately calls her back. Mom tells her that the cops came back to the store and arrested Dad and Uncle Ratan and their accountant, and took them to Rikers Island. Mom, Deepak, and Aarti go to visit Dad where Dad gives Deepak his wedding ring to avoid a repeat of an inmate threatening him for it. It is a sad wake up call that this is about to get serious. Dad and Uncle Ratan were being accused of being a front for the Cali cartel, the transnational drug family based in Cali, Columbia, to launder drug money through the States.

Aarti asks Mr. Sagor about Dad's case and he gives her a number for his good friend that agrees to take on Dad's case while Aunit Shanta finds Uncle Ratan a different lawyer. At the first court appearance, both lawyers manage to get Dad and Uncle Ratan out on bond so they can fight their court case outside of Rikers. Senior year of high school starts for Aarti and she starts to struggle, going from a straight A student to a straight B. She has already been accepted to some fine universities, but the school's college counselor tells her that there doesn't seem a way for her petition schools to change their minds about rejecting Aarti if they decide to at the end of the year. However, since Aarti stuck with the job with Mr. Sagor and was eventually promoted, she was able to save her paychecks for college. She gets accepted to the University of Chicago with a scholarship, federal aid, and her savings.

At the lawyers' insistence, Dad and Uncle Ratan plead guilty with an agreement of a sentence of only 1-4 years with the possibility of parole in eight months since the lawyers didn't think they could win at trial. During this time Deepak has become the main bread winner for the household. Ang and Aarti were away at college, which meant that someone had to take care of the bills and Mom and Dad. In order to try to bring some life back into Dad who has become depressed, Deepak finally agrees to have an arranged marriage. The only candidate was a woman named Anchal who lived in India still with her family. Anchal was the daughter of Dad's boss from Morroco.

After many exchanged words, Anchal's dad comes for a visit to the States, and then communication stops between Deepak and Anchal. Aarti protests the whole thing from the beginning, especially after they hear rumors that Anchal pursues other suitors before begging Deepak to take her back. The wedding eventually happens and Anchal moves in with them. A year later, Deepak and Anchal have a baby boy during Aarti and Ang's summer break from school. Both are working at the same law firm to help with bills when they come home one day to see Anchal's dad, mom, and sister had moved in to "help" with the baby. It only takes a few months before it starts to feel overcrowded with the two families in the one house. Especially after Anchal and her half of the family start limiting the baby's physical contact with Deepak and the rest of the family.

During sentencing for Dad and Uncle Ratan, an agreement is made that Uncle Ratan would serve his sentence first so Dad could continue to run the store. Then upon Uncle's release, Dad would begin his serving his sentence. However, things were too tough on Dad to keep the store going at the location on Broadway by himself so he is forced to downgrade to a shop on one of the side streets. Just when they thought that would be the most shocking thing to happen during the summer, Aarti comes home to find that Anchal and her family were not home. Mom thought they were out with friends in NYC, but Deepak says that the baby and some things were missing. Important documents, jewelry, and any money in the bank or the house was discovered gone. They call the police who say they can't do an official missing report for at least one more day. By then though Anchal and her family had taken the baby back to India and stay there despite a court order for Anchal and the baby to be expedited. Anchal responds with allegations of abuse and neglect that can result in Deepak's arrest if he tries to come to India to take the baby back himself.

With nothing else to be done but wait it out for both Dad's sentence and the next step for Deepak, Aarti returns to Uni. of Chicago to begin her junior year. During this time she starts looking into why Uncle Ratan had not been released after 2 1/2 years and denied parole twice. She discovers that it is due to an error on the state attorneys' part involving the removal of charges about him being a member of the Cali cartel at the judge's order. Aarti first writes to the prosecutor who replies with a statement that their contact with each other was inappropriate. So Aarti writes a letter directly to the judge himself, and is surprised when she gets a reply back. She is even more surprised when an emergency hearing is called for everyone involved in the case including Uncle Ratan. The judge orders that the state attorneys' fix the paperwork so that Uncle Ratan could be released a few days later. Unfortunately that is not the end of the legal battle for Uncle Ratan.

On the day of his release from Rikers, Uncle Ratan is not allowed to be picked up by family, but is instead put on the bus by the guards. However, instead of being released to the family, ICE picks him and takes him to one of their jails. Aarti once again sets about getting him free since he is a green card holder. She is unsuccessful since the lawyer they had to hire due to money does not put up the proper fight needed in the ICE courtroom. This does make Aarti worry about herself and Dad since they were the only ones who hadn't filed for naturalization. A few weeks later Uncle Ratan is deported to never return to the States, so his wife and son follow shortly.

Dad was supposed to start his time at Rikers so Aarti makes a plan to make sure that Dad does not go through the same thing as Uncle Ratan. At the end of her Junior year Aarti takes the year off of school so that she can focus on helping her Dad and the family. It is also the year that her Dad closed the store permanently before he starts his sentence. Before going in to his official sentencing hearing, Dad's lawyer has them gather letters of support to show that he has a reason to stay in the States when he is eligible for parole. Most of them are from the neighbors from the apartment building in Flushings and a couple from the little family that lived in the States. Before he goes in, Dad has to go to the dentist who pulls all his teeth and gives him dentures. During sentencing, the lawyer makes sure to outline all of Dad's medical conditions to ensure that he is treated properly. The lawyer asks for house arrest and is told no, the judge asks if the prosecutor would agree to six months then five years parole. The prosecutor is not budging since it would be unfair to Uncle Ratan for Dad to get off so easy.  Aarti finally takes her citizenship test and passes making her a naturalized citizen that can never be deported as long as she stays out of trouble.

Still not returning to Uni. of Chicago, Aarti reaches out to an immigration lawyer she sees on TV about Dad's possible deportation. It turns into her being invited to speak before the New York Bar Association where she tells her family's story. She gets to listen to a lawyer and a congressman first talk about the harmful affects of Clinton's Immigration Laws of 1996 and how they need to be repealed. Aarti tells her father's story, and after is approached by a woman named Nancy who introduces Aarti to a lawyer named Thomas Mosley who would change their lives. Meanwhile there was still the matter of getting Anchal to bring the baby back to the States.

After some time, Aarti and Ang help Deepak come up with a plan to trick Anchal to come to London where they try to have her expedited with the help of his US lawyer and a barrister in London. After paying for Anchal's hotel so she could be under house arrest during the trial and getting awarded the same verdict as in US after showing evidence to disprove Anchal's claims of abuse. Deepak, Ang, and Aarti return to the States to wait for the expedition of Anchal and the baby which doesn't happen after India issues her a new passport allowing her to leave London. Once again, Deepak is powerless to get his son back from his wife, and files for divorce.

Some time after the return from London, Aarti and Mom go to meet Thomas Mosley for the first time to discuss Dad's case and possible deportation. Dad is still at Rikers but his eight months is coming up fast. Mosley looks over the paperwork that Aarti brought at his request, and immediately says that Dad did not fall under the aggravated felony category. This was what ICE had said about Uncle Ratan because it is usually applied to all immigrants facing deportation that has a record. However, Mr. Mosley shows Aarti a case that just concluded not too long ago that changes that completely for Dad. Mr. Mosley agrees to take Dad's case and promises that if he is taken in by ICE, Mosley will do everything in his power to get Dad out.

Dad's eight month sentence finishes and sure enough he is taken into ICE custody. However, thanks to Aarti's preparation, Mr. Mosley goes straight into Federal Court and has Dad released just FOUR days later. Not wanting to get their hopes up too soon, Ang and Aarti go to pick Dad up on the day he calls about him being released. To their relief, Dad is standing outside the ICE jail alone with no jumpsuit or cuffs. They are happy to have him home, but they know the fight is not over just yet. During Dad's time in Rikers, Aarti joined a group that is based in Texas that is focused on the repeal of the 1996 Immigration Laws. Aarti has organized an event on Father's Day to acknowledge the men still facing unlawful deportation, and the whole family goes instead of staying home.

This same group organizes a trip to Washington D.C. where Aarti and Dad speak about their story to one half of the House of Representatives while Ang and Mom speak to the other half. Once it is done and things are finally starting to feel somewhat normal, Aarti returns to finish her Senior year at University of Chicago where she graduates. Anchal still has not complied with the two court orders to return to the States, but Deepak decides to focus on Dad's fight against deportation which includes check ins for Dad in D.C. that Aarti usually takes him to. However, she gets word that her activist group is going to be adopted by the new CEO of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the CEO wants to speak to her, Aarti asks Deepak to take Dad.

On the way to D.C. Aarti gets stuck on the Amtrak when she receives the news that the Twin Towers have been run into by a plane and the Pentagon was attacked. That's right, it was 9/11 and she was safe thanks to a broke down Amtrak. A man lets her borrow his BlackBerry after she announces that Deepak works in the Twin Towers. Aarti calls Deepak until he answers and tells her that he and Dad are safe. They hadn't made it to Dad's appointment yet because of traffic. They were however within eyesight of the Twin Towers and watched as they fell. Instead of heading home, Aarti goes to her meeting with ACLU because she knows that this national tragedy would not stop her fight for the change of Immigration Laws. It would make things worse...

I know normally I would have questions asking the key things I think you may be asking yourself here, but I just can't find only four questions that would fit. This family has been through so much just to be here after fleeing India during a time of massacres and harsh ways of family that didn't understand them. This book has been seeing things in a whole new way. I still think that Trump has gone too far with his idea of making America great again by removing immigrants, but this family's struggle helps me understand he was not the first. I applaud Aarti Namdev Shahani for sharing her family's story in this book even after her successful career with NPR. Thank you to Celadon Books for sending me a copy of this powerful story. I really hope that you go out and buy a copy for yourself after reading this review for the simple fact that everyone needs to read this story in order to better understand why our country is the country people flee to. I hope that you will use my links to buy a copy and join me in this eye opening and heart clutching read. Please go to my page:

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Random Attachment

Alright y'all! So this beauty came to me all the way from the UK! Gertrude Kitty was kind enough to send me a copy all the way from across the pond for just my personal honest opinion. I am super grateful and proud to be a US reader for this indie UK author. Despite being disabled and a mom, Gertrude Kitty did an amazing job with this book! It is a coming of age story with a thriller twist! So without further ado!

Mia Dent is just a 17 year old girl who has had a rough go at life with a divorced alcoholic mom that acts like a teenager herself half the time. Right now she is currently sitting at the police station for the second time in a year, but this time she is a victim. She is currently being detained at the local police station waiting to talk to someone about what has happened. When she is given a chance to call someone, she calls Flynn and then is taken to a holding cell. Once in the cell, she is stripped of her clothes so they can be processed, given a track suit, and left to sit and wait.

A short time later, a forensic scientist named Newman comes in to take pictures and swabs, and he looks at the cut on the back of her head. Newman tells the female constable standing in the corner that medical needs to be notified and that Mia needs some tea and food. When Newman is walking out of the cell, Mia asks him to tell Constable Hall that she needs to talk to her about a girl named Gabby who Mia was with earlier that evening. Alone again with some food and tea, Mia is left to think about the Wolf.

Later, Mia is in an interrogation room being interviewed by Sergeant Raymond and DI Webber with Constable Hall, Flynn Mason, and a solicitor that Flynn brought along. She is trying to tell them about what she can remember despite Sergeant Raymond being a complete sarcastic asshole. Despite it being brought to DI Webber's attention that Raymond is completely out of line and hostile, Raymond gets to stay. Suddenly Mia's nose starts bleeding and Constable Hall is the only one to make a move to help her. With her head tilted back to stop the bleeding, Mia continues to describe where the Wolf was keeping her and other girls and how she escaped.

After a bit more, they take a break and allow Mia to use the restroom while Webber points out that this still needs to be treated like Mia is victim. CSI needs to be taken to where Mia was found, witness interviews need to be done, and medical needs to be involved. When they go back in to resume the interview, Raymond has Mia's file in front of him from a year ago when she willingly came in to turn herself in for wanting to kill her mom. Sadly, this doesn't help convince Raymond that she is truly a victim when it is revealed that her mom is laying in a coma after being pushed down the stairs in their loft. Mia immediately says she didn't do it since her mom kicked her out and she had no key to get in anymore. So they decide that the past year also needs to be discussed.

Mia is on her way to school on the train when she first spots Flynn the first time. She doesn't talk to him since she just sees herself as the fat unattractive girl since that is what her mom has drilled into her head all her life. Once off the train, she goes to school and just tries to get through the day. The next day she sees Flynn aka Posh Boy again on the train to school and decides to follow him off the train. She follows him all the way to his job and then rushes off to school on the verge of being late. She gets through the day and even stays behind in art class to avoid her mom as much as possible. On the way home, she gets creeped out by some guys hanging out in the lobby of her building who say some sexual comments at her.

When she finally makes it home, her mom is sitting at the table drinking away the rent money again. Her mom constantly digs at her about her weight and acts like Mia is ungrateful no matter what she says or does. After talking about Mia again, her mom heads out on her date and leaves Mia alone for a few hours. During which Mia focuses on her homework and completely forgets that she was hungry earlier. However, when her mom comes back crying about getting dumped again, Mia has absolutely no sympathy for her mom.

Mia wakes up Saturday and decides to go for a swim to start her new routine that will hopefully lead to weight loss. After another tear down from her mom about her swimsuit, Mia still makes herself go to the pool where she almost leaves thanks to giggles and comments from the other girls in the locker room. On the way home she gets called supersize by a couple of boys on the bus and she exits the bus before her actual stop. Near the bus stop, she walks into a boxing gym that looks like it is full of violent dudes and talks to the owner about becoming a member. Even though she is pretty sure that she will never set another foot back into that gym. Once back home, Mia comes home and cleans the whole loft since her mom isn't home. She even sorts the laundry and takes it to the mat the next day.

During all of this progress, Mia realizes that she hasn't overeaten or had any sweets in two days. Mia wakes up on Monday and tries to talk to her mom about the school's Spanish exchange program, but all her mom wanted to talk about is Mia's weight meaning two airplane seats. So Mia simply ends the conversation and gets ready for school. On the train to school, she sees Posh Boy again and follows him to work before heading to school yet again. After school that day, Mia heads to the Admiral Pub to see her dad at his job for a visit. It is a nice quick visit with her dad that ends with him giving her some money that she hides from her mom. On the way out the pub to head home, Mia gets tapped on the shoulder which forces her to turn around. When she does, it is one of the guys that creeped her out in the lobby and he grabs her tits and walks away. She rushes home in tears.

Meanwhile somewhere else, the Wolf is crashing his neighbor's party in hopes of scoring some free booze and seeing the teenage daughter. After hopping the fence and stealing a bottle of liquor, the Wolf heads into the shed that is also a hangout. Inside is the daughter her was looking for halfway passed out and sick from getting high with her friends laying on the couch in the shed. The Wolf decides to take advantage of the situation by taking pictures of her naked and then raping her while she is too high and weak to fight back.

Mia has a couple more encounters with Flynn or as she calls him Posh Boy, but it is mainly just her following him to work before she heads off to school. Mia also has another encounter with the boys that have been harassing her. One encounter includes them shoving her in the back and spitting in her face. Mia goes home to find her mom drunk and counting out change because once again she spent the rent money on wine. Instead of taking the money to pay the rent, Mia takes it to the boxing gym she wandered into trying to avoid going home and uses it to pay for her to be there that day.

The next day Mia talks to Mr. Coombe at her school about her financial situation, and he helps her fill out forms to get free lunch and for the school bursary (a monetary award to help students who cannot afford tuition). With things looking up at school a little, Mia celebrates that she has already lost 5 pounds. She decides to go for a swim and is happy. When she gets home her mood is burst when she comes home to find another one of her mom's boyfriends trying to play father.

The next day at school, Mr. Coombe tells Mia that her free lunches start today, and that he put a letter of recommendation for the bursary. Then he gives her £300 as an advance on her bursary, and tells her to go see I.T. about getting her set up with a laptop. After a great day at school, she goes home only to be harassed again by the same guys. They just yell at her this time since she is able to out run them to her loft. The following day she has very little motivation to get up out of bed in the morning, but she forces herself to get up and go for a swim. For the simple fact that every pound she loses causes her mom to lose control over Mia's self-esteem, especially since her mom doesn't know about the bursary money from school.

On the way to get a haircut that she chickens out of after her mom tearing her down again, she ends up getting a job at a pub called the White Bear near the salon. The owner Alex hires her almost on the spot. When she walks out of the pub, she sees her best friend Gabby who she hadn't talked to in a while thanks to her mom accusing Gabby of stealing a bracelet after a sleep over. They have a quick conversation that results in them forgetting about the past. Even the part where Gabby told everyone in middle school about it the following Monday.

Back in the present, Mia is still being interviewed about Flynn and the day she tried to turn herself in to Constable Hall on the night of the school disco for wanting to murder her mom. Hall listens to her and then sends Mia on her way thinking it was just an angry teenage moment.

Back to the telling of the past year, Mia has started her job at the White Bear and is doing really well. Alex is even pleased with her performance and notices how beautiful she is when she smiles. Meanwhile, Flynn just finished his first semester at uni and is suffering from binge drinking cheap spirits. He's driving when he decides to stop at a service station where he reads about the Wolf's second victim being found, and that he has now taken eight girls in total in the past four years.

Mia tells her mom that she is thinking about going to the school disco, and the next thing Mia knows her mom brings her home a two piece suit to wear that Mia absolutely hates. Mainly because her mom is making another big dig at her weight. Constable Emma Hall is working the awful Friday night shift when she sees Mia sitting in the reception area. When Hall talks to Mia, Mia goes into a spill about how she wants to kill her horrible mother for constantly tearing her down and making her wear that awful two piece suit which Mia shows Hall. After Mia is done, Hall sends her home thinking that she just needed to blow off steam, but still says she doesn't want to see Mia back there again for any reason. Mia ends up not going to the disco after all.

Christmas break comes, and Mia spends it working at the pub, going to the gym, and still lightly stalking Flynn when she sees him. One day she follows him to a ferris wheel where she sees him get on with another girl named Kira joins him. Mia decides that she needs to move on, because of course he has a girlfriend. At the gym, Stan puts her in the boxing ring with a man named Tombstone is quiet but big. After the work out Mia heads to work where Alex kisses her and then asks her out to the movies. Christmas Eve arrive and Mia goes shopping for an outfit to wear to her mom's office party and to her date with Alex. When Mia arrives at her mom's work party, her mom is already drunk and immediately starts digging into Mia about her weight despite the co-workers complementing her.

After managing to get her mom to leave, Mia turns and apologizes for her mom's behavior. On the way down the escalator to the train, her mom trips over her own drunken feet and falls. Mia drops the bags she was carrying in an attempt to catch her. When the EMT's arrive to take her mom, Mia picks up an undamaged pudding and walks to the train station home instead of going with her. The next day Mia goes and sees her dad to exchange gifts and just spend time together. Then Mia heads home where she puts her one present from her dad under the tree, puts on music, and starts dancing when she suddenly hears someone knocking at the door.

She answers the door there are two cops standing there. They arrest her for attempted murder on her mother who told the police that Mia pushed her down the escalator. DS Raymond is doing the interrogation where Mia basically laughs and says that it is all a lie, her mom was drunk and is a big time liar. Raymond lets her go for the simple fact that he doesn't feel like doing the paperwork or the leg work to see who is telling the truth. When Mia arrives home her room has been destroyed by her mom out of rage and pettiness. Including her guitar and art book.

A day or so later Mia is getting ready for her date with Alex. She makes sure to put a little more effort in her appearance since this is her first date. He arrives at the movies before her and buys the tickets, then Mia arrives shortly after. The date goes really well, and Alex walks her to the train station where he waits with her, kissing her almost the whole time. Then Mia gets on the train home, and Alex walks out to head home. What neither of them know is the Wolf is close by watching them, and then follows Alex out of the train station. The Wolf takes Alex, and beats him to death. After hearing the news, Mia gives her official statement about the date which is the last time anyone saw him alive.

Back in the present, Webber decides it is time for a break. When they walk out Webber tears Raymond a new one for not including the file on Alex's murder in with the information they had on Mia. It starts to make Webber question what else Raymond dropped the ball on. After the break is over, they go back in and continue to listen to Mia.

Back to right after Alex's death, Mia is walking up and down the Alex's street for the umpth time. She breaks down crying and hugs a tree where Alex was found the next morning after the Wolf took him. However, the cops rule it as a mugging and beating by someone random. While Mia is hugging the tree, the cops pull up because a neighbor called them. They tell her that she needs to leave the street and not come back. Mia makes it all the way to the train station and is on her train home when she gets a text from Alex's phone saying "I can see you." She circles back to Alex's house to try to talk to his dad when she receives another text saying "I can still see you." Just as she gets to the front door, the cops put her in their car and take her all the way home.

Flynn sees her on the train before she gets off to circle back to Alex's house. Flynn is a little creeped out by the way that Mia is acting since all he sees her looking terrified. He watches her get off and knows that is not her usual train stop, but thinks nothing of it. Especially since Mia didn't even look his way this time or try to get close to him. After the cops dropped her off at her building, Mia sees one of the boys harassing her lately waiting outside for her on a bike. After him charging at her a couple times, Mia knocks him off the bike and runs away. She doesn't stop running until she gets into her loft.

Back in the present, Mia is asked by Webber who she told about the text messages she had received. Without a blink of her eye, Mia turns and looks at Raymond and says him. Webber is internaling fuming, but asks Mia to continue telling her story.

The next day after her run in with the boy on the bike, Mia wakes up and realzies that she has exams that day. Once they are done she goes out with a few of her friends including a guy named Ben to celebrate. The group goes to a restaurant where sitting not too far from them is Flynn. They make eye contact, but neither one says anything to the other. After the restaurant, Mia heads to the library where she stays until late before finally heading home.

The next day, Mia heads to work for the first time in weeks after getting a call being asked to please come back. Mia also goes back to stalking Flynn again, but this time he comes out of his work to confront her about following him. He tells her to stay away, but he doesn't have the heart to say much else because of the look on her face. Later though he would threaten to call the police when he catches Mia outside his house going through the trash cans. Mia leaves, but she manages to get a phone card with his number on it and one of his unwashed t-shirts to take with her.

The next day Mia heads to the boxing gym and gets back in the ring with Tombstone with Stan on the sidelines coaching her. After her workout, she goes and visits Alex's grave where the Wolf is watching her nearby without her noticing. The following day Mia goes into work where she is told that she has to work the tables since someone else called in sick. Unfortunately for her, Flynn arrives at her pub that day for lunch and once again he reminds her to stay away from him. Later that night, Mia goes home only to be sent back out by her mom to buy wine.

Mia makes it to the spirits store and is trying to act like she knows what she is doing when a man with a gun comes in to rob the store. Once he is gone, Mia steals a bottle before the police can show and ask questions. On the way back into her building, Mia gets jumped by the same guys that have been harassing her along with two females. They beat her, rip her shirt, and force her to fall and break the bottle in her hand embedding glass into her hand. They drag her into the alley, but she somehow escapes and runs away from her street completely. She goes to the police station to make her statement about the attack and then walks out.

Without meaning to, Mia ends up outside Flynn's house and falls asleep on his steps despite the cold. She walks up later to Flynn asking her what she was doing there. Instead of yelling at her, he brings her inside after seeing her torn shirt and bloody cheek. Mia had her cheek looked at, and it is fractured to the point of needing surgery once the swelling goes down. Flynn takes her in, lets her take a shower after giving her clean clothes. Then he makes her breakfast, and asks her about a note and damage to his car that he assumed was her. When she sees the pictures and the note, she tells him that it wasn't her and that he needs to take this to the police. Again Flynn tells her not to come around or he would call the cops.

After leaving Flynn's, Mia heads to an address to a temporary home the social worker at the hospital told her about. On the way there, Mia stops at a supermarket and buys some clothes along with some snacks for her room. When Mia arrives at the house, she quickly realizes that it is a halfway house, but goes in for the simple fact that it was not her mom's place. She lays down on the bed, and realizes that she left her phone at her mom's and decides to go back to the supermarket to buy a new one the next day. After waking up and buying the phone, Mia is arrested for harassing and stalking Flynn. She is fully processed into the jail where she waits to go in front of a judge who grants Flynn a restraining order for the next twelve months. Then Mia is released, and she goes back to the temp house in order to do just that.

A few months goes by and things are looking up for Mia. She is still living at the temp house, but she has made her room her own. She is going to school, and is working towards an admission to an art school. She wakes up one day and gets ready to go to a half-marathon that she only signed up for because she found out that Flynn is also running it. When she gets there, she blends into the crowd at first, but then she races to catch up with him. Once she is right behind him, she trips over her feet taking him down with her. When they stand back up again, Mia tells him that she's sorry for everything, and that she thinks he should check out her art exhibit at her school so he can understand her better. Then after Flynn threatening to call the cops, Mia walks away.

Mia has been working at the Admiral for her dad her lately since he has been sick and weak here lately. The owner doesn't seem to mind, but they are both concerned for her dad's health. They want him to go see a doctor, but he just keeps refusing. Meanwhile, Flynn ends up going to see Mia's art exhibit where he gets a true glimpse at Mia really is. He even talks to Mr. Coombe a bit, who tells him to come back. Flynn does come back a few hours later with his cousin Kira, that's right the girl from the ferris wheel. Kira looks at the display and tells Flynn that the girl is in love with him and that he needs to give her a break.

The following day, Mia wakes up to the radio telling her Gabby Preston is missing with the Wolf as the suspect. Mia rushes to school praying it isn't her friend Gabby. Sadly when she gets to school, her fears are confirmed by police cars sitting outside the school gates. She has a small break down and goes into a store close to her. Watching from nearby is Flynn who has filed to terminate the restraining order against Mia. He sees her watching the cops at her school, Googles the street name, and sees the article about Gabby. He goes into the same shop as Mia and waits for her. When she comes out of the bathroom, Flynn takes her to get some tea and food.

At the cafe they talk awkwardly about what has happened between them and about the Wolf. Flynn tells her about filing to terminate the restraining order and about how he wants to get to know her despite being a little afraid of her. Then he shows her a note that he received telling him to ask her about Alex. So Mia tells him about what happened and how Alex was killed. Then Flynn walks her towards her school before they start to go their separate ways where Mia kisses him and Flynn kisses her back, surprising them both a little.

The following day Mia wakes up and realizes that exam grades are being handed out at school. So Mia gets dressed and rushes to the school. Mia gets her grades, which are two As and a B, and just as she is getting with her friends to find out their scores, her phone rings. It's her dad who doesn't recognize her voice and says that his chest hurts. She hangs up, calls Flynn and tells him, and he picks her up in a cab. They rush over to the Admiral to find her dad in his loft above the pub in bed weak and in pain. Flynn calls and waits for the EMTs who arrives and takes him to the hospital. Flynn and Mia follow in another cab, and are forced to wait in the ICU waiting room. While they are waiting, one of the staff lets her know that they called her mom and she is on the way. Flynn stay with Mia the whole time, and he realizes that he is falling for her as well.

Still in the ICU waiting room, Mia's mom shows up and starts immediately digging into Mia and blaming her. Flynn finally sees a piece of Mia's regular life before moving out into the temp house. The doctor finally comes out and addresses Mia about her dad while ignoring her mom. Mia is basically told that there is not much they can do short of a liver transplant will save him. Mia and Flynn are allowed to see her dad while her mom is forced to stay in the waiting room per her dad's requests. Mia and Flynn manage to see him for a bit before her dad passes away in the ICU.

Mia arranges all the details for her dad's funeral using the little bit of life insurance that he did have. Flynn is there with Mia during the funeral where her mom makes a dramatic scene of grieving widow. After some time passes, Mia is starting to get back to a normal with the end of her senior year is approaching. Ben invites her to come out with him and some other friends to a club, which Mia in turn invites Flynn to come too. Flynn shows up, Mia has a little too much drink, but they both have fun. Once Flynn realizes that Mia has had too much to drink, Flynn starts to take her home. Mia however requests being taken to a hotel, and Flynn takes her.

When they get to the motel room, Flynn helps her get out of her dress so that it can be cleaned, and tucks her into bed so she can get some rest. Then he arranges to have her dress and his shirt cleaned by hotel laundry and climbs into the bed with her and falls asleep. The next morning, Mia wakes up with a hangover and a note from Flynn letting her know that he paid for the room until check out at noon and breakfast, but he sadly had to rush to work. Just as she is about to eat breakfast, Flynn calls her and makes plans to come by her temp house later on.

Later that night Mia is waking up in her own bed to Flynn arriving just like he said he would. He comes up, sees her wall trying to connect the Wolf's victims together, and still stays the night with her just spooning. The next day Flynn goes and tries to talk to his dad for help with the police only to be cut off each time. Flynn walks out and goes to a cafe to cool off, then as he is waiting for a cab he is pushed in front of a car by the Wolf who followed him the whole time. The last thing Flynn remembers is pain and tires screeching.

The next morning after Flynn leaves, Mia gets a text from her mom saying she was going to jump. So Mia rushes over to her mom's place to find the door ajar. When Mia enters, she finds her mom at the bottom of the stairs looking lifeless. While looking at her mom, Mia is snatched from behind and forced to inhale chloroform. She wakes up groggy in a van later with a bag over her head and her wrists and ankles bound.

Meanwhile Flynn's dad is at the hospital with him trying to get cops to come and his son seen as fast as possible despite a busy ER. Flynn on the other hand takes the needle out his arm, steals some crutches, and takes a cab to Mia's mom's after hearing Mia's voicemails. When he arrives, he sees cops outside the building looking for Mia after finding her mom in the loft at the bottom of the steps. Flynn passes out near the cop and is taken back to the hospital.

Back in the present, Mia is still sitting in the interrogation room with Flynn, the lawyer, Raymond, and Webber. Raymond is still giving Mia shit treatment, and is dismissing everything she says. Mia stands up and ends up throwing up on Raymond, forcing Webber to finally send her to medical. Medical checks her out, takes her blood, and sends her to the hospital to be admitted. Webber goes into his office, buzzes his PA Fred for something to drink, and calls in Raymond to his office. The medical doctor comes in, tells Webber that Mia had to go to the hospital for a concussion and stitches. He also tells Webber that Mia is showing signs of being drugged most likely by chloroform.

Webber tells Raymond that it is clear he handled this case poorly and treated Mia as a suspect instead of a victim. To make matters worse, Fred comes in saying that the Denham PD who originally picked up Mia had been trying to track down Raymond with their blood results on Mia. After yelling some more at Raymond about how IA will be in contact after this, he sends Raymond to track down CSI to go process where Mia was picked up. Then he tells Fred to go inform Flynn and Mia that she is no longer a suspect for anything. Then he talks to Constable Hall about her first encounter with Mia and anything that she knew about her life at home.

Meanwhile, Mia is waking up in the hospital to a nurse telling her about her staples and her room. The nurse also tells her that her boyfriend has brought her a bag and that she is free to take a shower since it is en suite. Once the nurse leaves, Mia looks in the bag to find that Flynn bought her pjs, a robe, a track suit, shoes, underwear, and camis instead of bras. She loves everything he picked, and goes to take a shower where she discovers that he set everything up for her in arms reach. When she gets out of the shower, she puts on lotion, and underwear and a cami before falling asleep sitting up. She wakes up a short time later to Flynn sitting next to her and then he helps her put on the pjs before cuddling with her in bed. Flynn stays with her all night.

The next morning they wake up still snuggled together to breakfast being served. A short time later, Mia is being told by her docs that she being discharged that day. Flynn takes her to his grandmother's house that was left to him for the night. Mia passes out on the couch, and Flynn receives a call from Webber saying her mom died at the hospital and there are two cop cars outside watching the house. Flynn says that he will tell Mia about her mom and bring her in tomorrow to see if she remembers anything new about where the Wolf was holding her. Meanwhile back at the station, Raymond is starting his interviews with IA.

Mia wakes up a short time later to Flynn still there. He shows her around, and then starts to amkes dinner for the two of them. He tells her about her mom, and holds her while she goes from denial to complete acceptance about it. After making dinner, they sit down to watch Beauty and the Beast before heading off to bed together where they spoon all night. Mia knows that she has to go back to the station in the morning and make her mom's funeral arrangements soon...

Will Mia and Flynn be able to have a normal relationship despite everything they have been through? Will the Wolf be caught and the other girls saved? What will happen to Raymond during his IA?

I know, I know. Horrible place to stop because it leaves you with so many questions, but I must to avoid spoilers. Believe it or not, I didn't cover everything that happened in the book. I absolutely loved this coming of age thriller written by a very sweet UK writer. Thank you again to Gertrude Kitty for sending me a copy all the way across the pond! I hope that you are racing to get a copy for yourself after reading this, because I absolutely loved it! If you simply must have a copy for yourself, you can always find links to buy it on my page:

Monday, September 23, 2019

Haunting Hooligans

Alright y'all, this is book four of the Chantilly Adair series, and Carolyn Ridder Aspenson did an amazing job once again. I did receive and e-arc and it was shorter than the other ones, but I am still going to make sure that you have enough detail to make you want to continue this series or start it up. It was still a great quick read and a cozy mystery. I really hope this is not the end of Chantilly and her gang, but if it is, it is a good ending. So here we go...

Chantilly Adair is a single mom to a teenage boy named Austin that works in the historical society in her childhood hometown of Castleberry, GA. She has three friends, Del, Thelma, and Olivia, who have her back no matter what. Including when she is talking to a ghost that no one else can see, but she can ever since her fall down the stairs at work. She has a friendship with the town's detective and lacrosse coach, Jack, that she is still sort of hoping will turn into something more. The main thing standing in the way of that is her knack to find dead bodies and then leading to the killer before the cops can. This time is a little different since it involves Chantilly and the gang looking for Olivia.

Chantilly is getting her yard ready for Halloween before heading off to work when her neighbor Emma Sue asks about whether or not Chantilly's mom's decorations will make an appearance this year. Sadly Chantilly still can't bring herself to go thorough her parents things. She heads into the historical society to start her work day. She arrives to see Olivia, her 26 year old employee that is more like a coworker to Chantilly, bustling around getting the displays ready for the day. After they both make a pit stop into the kitchen, Chantilly heads up to her office and sees a shadowy figure go ahead of her on the stairs.

Just as Chantilly is getting settled down at her desk, a ghost of a lady appears where the shadowy figure was and tells her she has to hurry in order to save her. Then the ghost disappears with no further statement. Chantilly decides to work on her script for the historical haunted tour she started to bring more tourists to town. While flipping through it she realizes that the ghost is Nellie Clementine, who died in the now library/then post office after getting caught having an affair with the married post master. But she has no idea who Nellie was talking about...

Chantilly heads to Del's cafe for lunch and tells Del about her visit from Nellie. Chantilly decides to just go home and get ready for trick or treaters since she doesn't have anymore information about who Nellie was talking about. So she heads to the store to get candy. While she is there, she runs into Jack who basically invites himself over to help pass out candy since Austin will be going out with his friends. They both go back to Chantilly's and have just enough time to get the candy ready before Jack is called to come back into the station.

While waiting for trick or treaters, Nellie appears to Chantilly again telling her the same message before disappearing again. Shortly after some kids come by to get candy, the town's founder Andrew Castleberry appears in front of Chantilly telling her "It's Olivia" and then disappears as well. After a few more kids come by for candy, Chantilly decides to text Olivia to check on her. Olivia says the pub crawl is a bust so her friends and her were heading to a barn for a bonfire party. After that she doesn't respond to anything that Chantilly says. So Chantilly calls Thelma and Del and tells them about what just happened with Nellie and Andrew Castleberry. She also tells them to be ready to go in ten minutes because she is coming to get them.

 She goes and picks up Thelma and Del so they can go look for Olivia themselves. Their first stop is the Castleberry family cemetery where Chantilly is able to talk to Andrew again. He tells her that it is too late, what's done is done, and disappears again. After telling Del and Thelma what he said, they head to the car. She calls Jack who tells her that he can't make an official inquiry, but he will send some guys to go check out the barns to see if there really is a party. On the way, Chantilly is told by another ghost to head East and that Olivia is not in a barn. So Chantilly, Thelma, and Del start heading East, checking barns along the way as well as anywhere else they think that Olivia could be. No luck so far, but Chantilly is not ready to give up just yet...

Will the girls find Olivia in time? Why did both Nellie and Andrew come to Chantilly?

To find out these answers as well as the other details I left out, you will have to get a copy for yourself. I was very grateful to receive an e-arc of this book because I was curious to see what Chantilly would be up to next. Carolyn Ridder Aspenson definitely has a knack for writing cozy mysteries that don't leave you needing something happy and upbeat afterwards. I still hope this is not the end of Chantilly and the gang, but if it is this was a good ending. As always you can find links to get a copy for your own reading pleasure on my page:

Praying For Peace

Alright, y'all, this is book three in the Chantilly Adair series by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson.  It still follows the cozy mystery from book one (Get Up and Ghost) and book two (Ghosts Are People Too), both of which I have done reviews for previously. I love this series for being a different kind of mystery set in a small Southern town, and for being quick reads. When I say quick reads, I mean quick. This one in particular is less than 150 pages. So, I will give as much detail as I can without giving too much away like I normally do.

Chantilly Adair lives in her childhood hometown of Castleberry, GA. She is a single mom raising a teenage son Austin who loves to play lacrosse coached by Detective Jack. Jack is also a friend/possibly boyfriend for Chantilly. Chantilly also has her good friends Delphine/Del, Thelma, and Olivia. A few months ago, Chantilly took a small spell down the stairs at her work and now she can see and talk to ghosts. To make things a little easier for Chantilly, she happens to work at the town's historical society with Olivia, who is more of a coworker than an employee to Chantilly despite only being in her twenties. Del owns and runs the local cafe, and spends most days nitpicking at Thelma who comes in just to aggravate her good friend. Del, Thelma, and Olivia are the only ones that knows about Chantilly's ability to see and talk to ghosts, and because of this they follow her while she investigates murders she comes across.

This time Chantilly is working on a proposal to get funds from city council to restore the town's church when she discovers the body of the church's janitor Acel Grimes. Which means that Chantilly of course finds out more than she anticipated...

Chantilly is at Austin's lacrosse game before they get ready for the tournament. Chantilly stops into the restroom during part of it, and walks out of the stall to find a ghost of a lady who died last year standing there. There are currently other people in the restroom, so Chantilly waits until the two women leave before talking to the ghost. The ghost asks her to talk to her husband about a trip fund she hid in the trunk of her car. The ghost tells her that her husband and son both need to use to take a trip to DisneyWorld to help them heal and grow back together. Despite feeling weird about it, Chantilly does as she is asked, and tells the man about it.

The next morning, Chantilly makes her normal pit stop at Del's Community Cafe for coffee. When she arrives, she notices that Thelma is not acting or looking like her normal self. Normally Thelma is all dolled up with make up and a Dolly Parton looking wig. Today she just seems down and there's a scarf instead. Del explains that she has moments like this through out the year, but usually bounces back after a few days. So, Chantilly leaves Del's and heads to talk to the Mayor.

Chantilly is in charge of looking over historical building remodel plans as well as pitching to the Mayor any restoration projects she comes across. Today she is talking to him about the town's church. The church had a fire that pretty much took most of the chapel out many years ago and has since been rebuilt. Chantilly thinks that the church needs to be restored to the way it looked before the fire. This means that she needs the Mayor's help to get partial funding from the city council. Once he says he thinks there is a good chance of the city council being on board, Chantilly heads straight over to the church to get started on her notes needed for the final proposal.

When she gets there, she talks to Pastor Newton Alabaster, which is the son of the late Pastor Jeremiah Alabaster who sadly died in the fire all those years ago. After getting two boxes of photos from him, Chantilly sets out to make her notes and take pictures of anything that she sees needs to be restored. When she finishes, Pastor Newton asks the church secretary Alice Mae to show Chantilly the basement. Of course, Alice Mae doesn't want to go down there and Chantilly says she is ok to go alone. While down there, Chantilly is directed to a closet by the late Pastor Jeremiah and she looks inside. Sadly, when she opens the closet she finds the body of the church's janitor Acel Grimes.

Detective Jack is called to the scene by Chantilly, and things are still a little awkward for them. Chantilly and Jack started to pursue a romantic relationship, but neither of them was ready for it. Now they are just trying to work on their friendship first, which gets a little rocky every time that Chantilly finds another dead body. Once Jack is all filled on how Chantilly found Acel, without the mention of the ghost of the late Pastor of course, Chantilly heads over to Del's cafe for another very much needed coffee.

Chantilly fills Del on what happened at the church, including the late Pastor's ghost. Del then fills Chantilly in on the fire and how Acel and a man named William Chamblee were the original first suspects for the fire, but there was no evidence to prove it. However, the town was convinced it was William for the simply fact William would always argue with Pastor Jeremiah about money for the church. So Del tells Chantilly that she needs to talk to William first. Del and Chantilly realizes that they hadn't seen Thelma all day, which is slightly concerning.

Chantilly leaves Del's and is walking to her car when the Mayor stops her. He tells her that he thinks that he needs to tell the city council that tearing down and rebuilding the church would be better since it appears to be cursed. Chantilly convinces him to give her a few days to come up with a proposal that will show that the church is worth restoring, not destroying.

Chantilly goes back to the church and sits down with Pastor Newton to talk about the history of the church, focusing on the fire that killed his dad. Newton confirms that William was always confronting his dad about the church's budget, including the possibility of firing Acel. After she finishes talking to Pastor Newton, she goes and talks to Alice Mae. Alice Mae basically repeats the same thing that Pastor Newton said.

After leaving the church, Chantilly heads over to talk to Mrs. Alabaster, Newton's mom. Mrs. Alabaster is described as not being all there mentally, especially after the death of her husband. Still, Chantilly feels that she needs to try to talk to Mrs. Alabaster just in case she has a moment of clarity that could really help. However, pretty quickly Chantilly realizes that she isn't going to get much information from her and leaves. She makes another pit stop at Del's and there is still no sign of Thelma, and now Del is really starting to get concerned.

Later that day, Chantilly is sitting at Austin's lacrosse practice thinking about everything that she learned that day. Afterwards, Jack has a quick meeting with the parents about resting before the tournament starts. Once the other parents start walking away, Jack asks Chantilly if they can go grab pizza with Austin. When they get there, Jack gives Austin $10 to go play in the arcade at the back of the restaurant so that he and Chantilly can talk about Acel's  murder. Jack has a lead that it could be related to a gang in the city, and tells Chantilly to bring him proof that the fire and Acel's murder are connected.

The next morning after forgetting about Austin's late start at school and making sure he has a ride, Chantilly heads to work after making her regular pit stop at Del's. Thelma is there too thankfully, but still doesn't seem like herself. Thelma tells Olivia, Del, and Chantilly that she saw William walking towards the church the day that Chantilly found Acel stuffed into the closet. What makes that significant is the fact that he has basically been a recluse since the accusations started about him being responsible for the fire. After talking about it, they decide that they need a girls night. Olivia is trying to be a rep for a skin care company on the side, and wants to do a test run at a product party. So they all agree to be at Chantilly's house later that night.

Later that day, Chantilly goes and talks to William himself to get his side of what happened all those years ago. He pretty much gives her the same story that she has already heard a few times. During their conversation, Pastor Jeremiah appears next to William on the couch, smiles at him, and disappears again while William is talking about trying to make things right with Newton and Acel. So Chantilly leaves with a good feeling that he had nothing to do with either crime.

Later that night, the girls arrives and they have dinner first. While Olivia is setting up the skin care products, Chantilly fills Del in on everything she found out earlier. When Del and Chantilly decide that they need to go to the church, Olivia walks in with her arms broke out from an allergic reaction. So Olivia is told to go home, get some allergy meds in her system, and to go to bed. Del, Chantilly, and Thelma all get in the car and head to the church. Of course it is after hours but with the help of a ghost or two they are able to get inside. Once they're inside, they hear a loud boom but still make their way to the basement. They get down there, and while Chantilly is showing them the closet, Pastor Jeremiah appears. He tells Chantilly that she just needs to leave it alone, and then disappears.

After that, they try to leave only to see the door closed and locked on them. Chantilly stays by the door while there are three booms on the other side of the door that scares Del and Thelma back down the stairs. When Chantilly is finally able to get the door open, they walk out and walk right into Alice Mae who claims to be there doing some work for tomorrow. She also tells them that she had heard Newton argue with Acel a few times. Alice Mae shows them out and they all go home for the night.

The next day while Chantilly and Austin are getting ready to head to his tournament when Pastor Jeremiah appears in her bathroom. He again tells her to leave it alone, but when she says no again, he uses his energy to smash her mirror. Chantilly and Austin leave the house and go to the tournament like nothing happened. When they arrive, Chantilly tries to talk to Jack again, and he repeats that he wants her to bring him some actual evidence to steer him away from the gang aspect. Once the tournament is over, the team goes out for pizza to celebrate their win, but Chantilly leaves early.

Later she is at home going through the boxes of photos she got from Pastor Newton when Jack and Austin walk through the door. Austin heads to shower, and Jack comes in and tells her that there is video evidence to disprove his gang theory. So he listens to what she has found out as well as looks at the pictures she set aside of Alice Mae in the background of every family photo of the Alabaster's. Jack tells her to hold on to the photos and her notes for now, that way they don't get lost into an evidence box where they may or may not belong.

The next day Chantilly decides to go to church during the normal hours, and goes right before Sunday service starts. After sitting next to Thelma, who is also making a surprise visit to the church, she gets up and goes to Pastor Newton's office. She tries talking to him, but he is too focused on his sermon. So she leaves his office and goes to talk to Alice Mae who basically refuses to talk. Chantilly leaves the church and goes to try to talk to Mrs. Alabaster again. This time she is a little more lucid and tells Chantilly what she can remember about that night. It still has to be taken with the possibility of it being a false memory but it was something that Chantilly could look into.

Once Mrs.Alabaster stops making sense again, Chantilly gets in her car, calls Jack who doesn't answer, and then heads back over to William's again. After she is done revisiting everyone and getting a few more details, she goes home to think about it all. When she gets there she finds a note from Austin saying he is at a friend's house playing video games, so Chantilly gets comfy and settles in to study the pictures a little more and get all her notes together for Jack and for the restoration. Just when she is about to be full focused in, her door bell rings, but she has no idea who it is...

Will Chantilly and the gang figure out who did it? Will Thelma go back to her normal self any time soon? Will her relationship with Jack ever get past the friendship stage?

I will say that this was another enjoyable quick read by Carolyn Ridder Apsenson. I love the cozy mystery of small town living. Then you throw in the fact that she can talk to ghosts, I mean come on. What's not to love?! I really hope that you will go back and read it for yourself, because there are some details that I didn't include besides the ending. If you must have a copy for yourself, then as always you can find links on my page:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Hero Born (Legend of the Condor Heroes Book One)

Alright y'all, so this one is definitely not in my normal wheelhouse, but I absolutely loved it! I am so honored to be part of the ARC receivers who got to read this before it makes it's debut here in the states! Jin Yong is absolutely amazing! His writing style has a nice flow to it that makes you think you are reading a script for a TV show. I will admit that the sub chapters did throw me off for a little bit, but once I got into the rhythm of it, it makes sense. I must give complete kudos to the amazing translator Anna Holmwood who I know worked very hard to make sure that very little was lost in the translating process, and I am sure that she is completely honored and humbled to be the one to be able to bring the English copies to life! Jin Yong has already sold over 300 MILLION copies worldwide, but on September 17th, the U.S. will finally be able to add to those numbers! If you are a big fan of Lord of the Rings or the Asian culture, then this is just the book for you! Now since I have an ARC there is only so much I can reveal, and with the amount of detail that is included, I will still not be able to give it all completely away. So here we go!

The year is 1205 and the Song Empire has been fighting an invasion from the North for decades. Within the first ten years since the Jin Empire has formed, the Song and Jin allied together to defeat the Liao. Only to have the Jin Empire force the Song out of the capital and take over themselves. Forcing all of the people who are under the Song to live on the other side of the River Huai. Most of them are now just simple farmers or simple peasants. They still live in the fear that the North and the Jin will continue to push further South. Two former warriors Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang are among the many who are simply farmers now trying to provide for their families.

Skyfury and Ironheart are best friends that used to fight side by side in the Song army. Now they are simply neighbors with their own wives trying to blend in with the other people in the South. At the beginning of one night, they are among many who have gathered around to listen to a traveling storyteller's tale. Once he is finished and has collected whatever money he is given, Skyfury and Ironheart invite him to have some rice wine and food at the village's tavern owned by Qu San. They ask him about what he has seen and heard up North and then get into politics. After a couple jugs of rice wine, the storyteller decides that it is time to go before the drunken men before him get into a bigger fight over the politics of what is currently occurring thanks to the Jin Empire.

Later that same night during their third watch for boar, Skyfury and Ironheart seen Qu San running from three soldiers who are chasing him after Qu San broke into the Palace and stole some items. Qu San is slightly crippled, and requires some crutches to help him walk, but he is still able to fight and kill the three soldiers by himself. Once it is done and over with, he calls Skyfury and Ironheart to come out of their hiding spots and gets them to help him bury the men once they realizes they are Jin. Qu San offers them both a gold item, and they reluctantly accept them, but bury them immediately once they are out of Qu San's sight. All three men agree to never speak of the night again.

Autumn gives way to Winter, and the Guos and Yangs are preparing for the four of them to have dinner. Skyfury's wife Charity Bao is busy cooking and cleaning while he goes to the tavern to get rice wine and food at Qu San's. Skyfury finds that the tavern is empty and closed, and realizes that Qu San has not been seen for a while. So he goes to the next village over to get the rice wine and chicken, and comes back. Skyfury and Charity go over to get Ironheart and his wife Lily Li for dinner to find that Lily is not feeling well. Charity and Lily stay behind in the Yang's while the men go back over to the Guo's to start eating and drinking. Once the women join, then the dinner turns into just four friends sitting around drinking. When the men become too warm with the alcohol, they step outside where they see a monk running on the edge of the village.

Skyfury and Ironheart invite the monk inside for rice wine and food as well as a chance to warm up after being out in the harsh cold snow for who knows how long. Once the monk is inside, they realize that he is a Taoist monk, and is acting very rudely. When Ironheart and Skyfury challenge him to a fight after he reveals that he has a chopped off head in his bag, the Taoist monk accepts. They fight for a bit before the monk realizes that they are who they saw they are. The monk admits that he thought that since the Jin were after him for killing a traitor they were Jin warriors disguising themselves as farmers. The Taoist monk reveals that he has heard of their ancestors, and that his name is Qiu Chuji, the Eternal Spring Master of kung fu. The group including Lily and Charity sit around drinking some more and talking when some Jin warriors suddenly appear in the village looking for Qiu Chuji. He tells them to stay inside and not come to his aide no matter what while he slips outside just before the soldiers arrive in front of the Guo's.

Qiu Chuji fights all of the men and even murders most of them himself. Once it is all done and the fight is over, Ironheart, Skyfury, Charity, and Lily come out to help him bury and sweep away the bloody snow. Charity and Lily are working on sweeping when Lily suddenly passes out. Once she comes to, Qiu reveals that he believes that she is pregnant. They finish cleaning up the mess and go back inside. Once seated at the table, it is announced that Charity is also pregnant, and Ironheart and Skyfury ask Qiu to suggest names for the children. Once he gives names, Qiu gives both men small daggers with their family name engraved into the handle right there at the table as a gift to the future children. They are very honored to receive the daggers, and thank him before he heads out the door to leave before anymore trouble can come upon the two families.

Once the Yangs go back to their house, Charity puts Ironheart to bed and goes out to check on the chickens. While out there she discovers even more blood and sweeps the snow to the woods where she discovers a man she believes is  solider laying in the edge of the woods still breathing. She decides that she needs to clean and bandage him up, drag him to the barn, feed him, and leave him there to sleep for the night. When she wakes the next morning he is gone, so she doesn't tell Ironheart. Some time goes by and her belly swells as Charity is prepping for the baby. One night while making new clothes for Ironheart despite him telling her to just rest, their village is invaded by Jin warriors who have come to arrest Ironheart and Skyfury for charges of treason. Both men decide that they will not go without a fight, and try to escape with Lily and Charity in tow. Unfortunately, they are both eventually surrounded. Both men try to fight their way out of it, but first Skyfury is killed then Ironheart as he tries to rescue Charity and Lily from the sliders who try to kidnap them.

At the end of the night and fight, Lily Li is taken by Justice Guan who lead the soldiers in the attack against Ironheart and Skyfury, and Charity is taken away by some sliders in the opposite direction. While Charity does not know the fate of her husband at the time, she knows there is a good chance she will never see him again. As she is riding on a horse being lead by the soldiers, some men come out of the woods and attack. Suddenly her horse takes off because it was struck in the butt with an arrow. A man catches up with her horse, lassos it, and slows it down a bit before taking over the lead. Charity faints, and does not come to until she is in some kind of tent where a man is standing off the side watching over her. Charity realizes that it is the man who she bandaged up and left overnight in the barn that fateful night not too long ago. He tells her the news about her husband, and says that he will help her find somewhere safe. With no family or friends to take her in, she realizes that she has no choice but to stick with the man whose name is Yan Lie.

Yan Lie tells Charity that he has a plan to get them to the capital where he will find a place for her to rest safely until her child is born. Then he will make sure that her husband is buried along with Skyfury, and then he will avenge the two great men by killing Justice Guan. The only catch to make sure that they stay under the radar is that Yan Lie is going to pose as her husband so that no one questions why a single man is traveling with a very pregnant woman. They stop at a few inns along the way, and had to sneak out a few of them because of soldiers showing up.

At the last inn they arrive to, Yan Lie gets into a small fight with the inn attendant about money being stolen from their room. Once the police finally arrive, Yan Lie hands them a letter telling them to take it to their Governor. After a few more secrets exchanged and many apologies, it is revealed that Yan Lie is actually Wanyan Honglie, Sixth Prince of Jin, titled Prince Zhao. That's right, poor Charity has been traveling with one of the enemy under the ruse of safety while they evaded the Jin warriors. He has however been kind enough to treat her respectfully and buys her a proper mourning outfit during their journey. Which simply confuses Charity a bit about how she truly feels.

Now that it is fully established that Wanyan Honglie is going to keep protecting her by using his real identity, he decides to go through a walk in the market while she rests at the inn. He is still treating her with respect and as a grieving widow. While he is in the market, he spots a man on a horse with such incredible riding that Wanyan Honglie decides that he needs this man to join his army. So he follows the mystery man to the best tavern in town, the Garden of Eight Drunken Immortals. The man goes upstairs where there is one massive table set up on one side and a couple other smaller tables on the other side of the room. Wanyan Honglie sits at one table close to the edge of the stairs while the man he has been following sits at the massive table. Shortly after more people join them upstairs, and Wanyan Honglie learns that the man he was following was part of the Seven Heroes of the South. The Seven Heroes, or Seven Freaks as some call them, are Flying Bat Ke Zhen'e, Quick Hands Zhu Cong, Protector of the Steeds Ryder Han, Woodcutter Han the Merciful, Laughing Buddha Zhang Asheng, Gilden Quan the Prosperous, and Maiden of the Sword Jade Han. The Seven are waiting for the Venerable Monk Scorched Wood and the Elder Eternal Springs Qiu Chuji the Taoist Monk. They are all there and have no idea that Wanyan Honglie is sitting watching them.

Qiu Chuji accuses Scorched Wood of holding Charity Bao and Lily Li inside the temple against their own will. Of course, the Seven and Scorched Wood deny it and instead of fighting, they have a drinking contest to settle the matter. Qiu Chuji is forced to admit defeat under his own rules, but still believes that the widows of his dear friends are inside that temple. Before much else can be said, a handful of Jin soldiers show up since word has spread about a fight in the tavern, and Wanyan Honglie had not responded. So the Seven, Scorched Wood, and Qiu Chuji all fight their way out of the tavern, but the discussion about the missing widows is not over.

The next day, Qiu Chuji storms into the temple and continues his accusation of hiding the women, and tries to search the temple some more. This result in a physical fight starting between Qiu Chuji and the Seven while Scorched Wood stands nearby. The Seven use all their skills including Ke Zhen'e using his poisoned devilnuts which connect with Qiu Chuji. The poison works through his system slowly until Qiu Chuji passes out, ending the fight between him and the Seven. However, Justice Duan finally emerges from his hiding place with Lily Li dressed in men's clothing, and starts to attack Qiu Chuji. Scorched Wood tells him no, and that starts a small fight with the Seven. Scorched Wood ends up running at Duan head on only to miss and run straight into a temple pillar killing him. During the struggle, Lily Li has the courage to say something and that is when the Seven realize that Qiu Chuji was telling the truth partially as they watch Duan pick up Lily Li and runs out.

A few days later as the Seven and Qiu Chuji are starting to heal, and Qiu Chuji finally has a chance to tell them about the events leading up to him searching for Lily Li and Charity Bao. The events that have lead him to do everything in his power to ensure the Guo and Yang descendants have a safe entry into the world as well as learn kung fu to avenge their fathers. He finally proposes that the Seven assist him in the search by sending them to look for Lily while Qiu Chuji looks for Charity Bao. Then they will each train the child in kung fu to determine who are the real masters, and they will meet in 18 years right back at the Garden of the Eight Drunken Immortals. Once they meet in 18 years, the two disciples will fight each other, and the winner will determine who the true Master is. The Seven agree to do this and once they are all well enough to travel, they take off in their designated direction in search of the widows and their children.

During his fleeing, Justice Duan hires many boats to take him and Lily Li dressed as soldiers as far North as possible. That is until they are ordered by Jin soliders to carry supplies since they both look like regular soldiers instead of a pregnant woman and a Justice. During the supply moving, the Jin group are attacked by another group, and in the chaos Lily Li takes her chance to run away from Justice Duan for good. No one comes after her, and after a short time she faints from a sharp pain in her stomach. When she comes to some time later, her son is laying between her legs still attached to the umbilical cord. Lily Li chews through it, and then camps them out in a ditch for the night. The next morning, she returns to where the soliders were to find dead horses and bodies. She skins and cuts out horse meat that has been preserved by the snow which last them ten days. After ten days and her strength returns, Lily Li sets off with Guo Jing wrapped carefully and starts walking in the same direction she took off running just a little over a week ago. During her walk, she comes across some Mongolian men who take them back to their camp where they stay overnight and then leave the next morning. However, instead of making Lily Li follow, they leave her with four sheep and a hut to live in while she raises her son.

Guo Jing is now six years old, and has taken on the role of sheep herder. He takes the sheep out to the field every day by himself, and this day was no different. However, before he can make it to the field, he is forced to hide himself and the sheep into some bushes as a fight between two armies breaks out within his line of sight. Guo Jing stays in the bushes and watches the whole thing, and once it is done and night fall comes he finally heads home. It is well after midnight when he arrives home to his very worried mother Lily Li. A few days later, Lily Li goes to the market and leaves Guo Jing to tend to the sheep. Shortly after she leaves and he gets ready to take the sheep to field, a wounded man on a horse is riding towards him. The man falls off and Guo Jing recognizes him as one of the men from the battle. Guo Jing gives him some food and water, and the man says his name is Jebe and that he is currently running from the relentless Temujin, one of the leaders on the other side of the fight.

Short time later, Guo Jing hides Jebe in a pile of hay when they hear some more horses approach, one of them holding Temujin himself. After Guo Jing refuses to answer the soldiers accompanying Temujin and is about to be cut with a sword, Jebe jumps out of the hay to save the boy. Jebe challenges Temujin's friend Bogurhi to an arrow duel. Both men fire many shots at each other, and end up hitting each other with arrows that had the arrowhead broke off. After it is over, Temujin decides to take in Jebe who decides to take in Lily Li and Guo Jing to repay their kindness. So now the three of them are living with the Mongolian army run by Ong Khan.

Time passes and Guo Jing and Lily Li are adjusting to being family with Jebe and living with the Mongolian army. News arrives that two Jin Empire Princes will be coming to the camp to bestow some titles upon the army's leaders. The two princes are Wanyan Honglie and his brother Wanyan Hongxi, and they are there to make the army allies with the Jin Empire. During their stay, Guo Jing and Temujin's son Tolui become sworn brothers by exchanging special gifts just like Temujin and Jamuka did so many years ago. This causes Temujin to tell the boys to tag along as they escort the Princes to Ong Khan's camp. After a night of disrespect among the adults, Guo Jing and Tolui wake the next morning to play in grasslands away from the main camp when they shot a rabbit with an arrow and chase it. Once they track it down, they find that Senggum's spoiled son Tusakha has claimed it for his own. When the boys try to stand up to him, Tusakha sicks his friends on the boys and it instantly becomes an unfair fight. During the fight, the Seven Freaks come across the boys.

The Seven have been traveling all over the Mongolian steepes to find Lily Li and Guo Jing. They stop to break up the fight with the boys just as Guo Jing pulls out the special dagger that was given to his family by Qiu Chuji. After breaking it up twice, the Seven finally realize that Guo Jing is the boy they have been searching all over for, and try to teach him a little kung fu. After it becomes clear that he is a shy boy, the Seven tell him that if he decides he wants to learn to meet them later that night on the hillside. However, the Seven can finally celebrate that they have finally found the boy in the first place, and very soon they will find his mother as well, and can start the training they have missed out on for the past six years they spent searching.

Later that night while they are waiting to see if Guo Jing will show up, the Seven discover skulls stacked in piles of nines with five finger holes in the back of them. Ke Zhen'e tells the others to put everything back as they found it, because this is evidence that the Twice Foul Dark Wind known as Iron and Copper Corpse are still alive and practicing their Nine Yin Skeleton Claw. Ke Zhen'e also reveals that they killed his older brother two years ago, and tells the others to go back South now. Of course they refuse, and come up with a plan to ambush the married couple and get revenge finally for Ke Zhen'e's brother. Making sure that everything looks untouched, the Seven hide in various places near an underground tomb near a few of the skull piles.

Iron Corpse is the first to show of the two and she is not alone. She has brought along her next victim, and the Seven watches on in horror as she hits the man eight times with her claws before finally forcing her fingers into the back of the man's skull. When she goes to add the body to the tomb, the Seven attack! It is a tiring battle with just Iron Corpse, and just when they think they have her wounded she calls for Copper. Ke Zhen'e manages to hit her with four of his poison. Two in her eyes blinding her for good and the other two in her back. It takes a while for the poison to work through her system, but just as her body is finally giving in to it, Copper can be heard running straight for them. Unfortunately so is Guo Jing, and Jade Han is the first to reach the boy just in time to move him away from Copper. Now the Seven must take down the stronger half of the couple Copper and protect Guo Jing. Just when the Seven think they are about to be killed, a small distraction of tripping over Guo Jing leads to Guo Jing stabbing Copper in the belly button and killing him.

Iron comes over to her dead husband and wails, then a severe storm breaks forcing the Seven and Guo Jing to take cover until it finally slows enough. Once they are able to see and move safely, they realize that Iron has disappeared with the body of Copper, and that Zhang Asheng is dying from his injuries. They gather around during his last moments distraught, but Jade Han is the most affected since she was in love with him and he in love with her. After spending his last moments with him and having Guo Jing announces that he will learn kung fu from them, the Six cry until they have no more tears and bury him close by properly. Then they all set off to go talk to Lily Li about why they are there and the mission that they have been on for the past six years. They also talk to the Khan who agrees to let them stay in the camp.

Ten years have passed and the Six are still living with the camp and Lily Li and Guo Jing who is now sixteen years old. They have been training him this whole time with the help of the Mongolian soldiers. Now with just two years left to go before they must meet with Qiu Chuji, the Six decide that they need to focus his training on just a few key things. There has been no sign of Iron Corpse this whole time, but they are always prepared in case she does appear. Temujin's tribe has grown as he has concurred others over the years, which means that he can now stand as an equal with Ong Khan. Later one night a stranger appears outside of Guo Jing's ger and tells him to come outside.

Once outside, the stranger asks about Guo Jing's special dagger and then picks a sparing match with him while the Six sit by and watch. Once they have seen enough, the Six stop it and finally ask the stranger who he is. It turns out that Qiu Chuji sent him with a letter reminding them of their set meeting in two years time, and confirms that he has been training Yang Kang as well. After reading the letter, the Six send the messenger back to Qiu Chuji with a simply statement of they will be there in two years time like they agreed upon all those years ago.

A few days later, Guo Jing and the other children are all watching two rare white condors are battling a dozen black condors on a cliff. It is amazing to them for the two white ones to peck almost half of the black condors to death, that is before one of the white ones flies off with a few of the black ones following it. That left one white condor against five black condors, and eventually it lost the fight. The dead white condor flies off the cliff just before it takes its last breathe causing the black ones to follow. The other white one comes back, realizes its partner is dead, and flies itself into the cliff side. Once all the bird noises have stopped, the children hear a stranger talking to them and they all hear two baby condor cries. The stranger climbs up the side of cliff, rescues the baby condors, and slides back down to the children. He gives the babies to Khojin who agrees to take care of them and share them with Guo Jing. After Khojin and the other children leave, the stranger turns to Guo Jing and tells him to meet him at the top of the cliff that night and he will teach him how he got up there.

Guo Jing arrives at the cliff and climbs halfway to the top, and is about to give up when the stranger drops down a rope to him. Once at the top of the cliff, Guo Jing realizes that the man is a Taoist monk. Then he thinks "what could a monk possibly teach me?" and the monk asks about his kung fu masters. Once Guo Jing tells him that he is training with the Six Heroes, the Taoist tells him that he will not teach him any kung fu out of respect to his Masters, but he will instead teach him the proper way to walk, sleep, and sit. Guo Jing thinks that it is silly, but he does as the Taoist says. The only other thing the Taoist asks of Guo Jing is that he tells no one about their meeting. This goes on for two years, and no one suspects a thing.

Since the Taoist has begun teaching Guo Jing breathing and mind clearing exercises for the past two years, it has dramatically helped Guo Jing with his kung fu lessons. One day a wild horse comes into the camp and stirs up the camp's tamed horses. The horse refuses to let anyone near him or on him, but Guo Jing manages to jump on the horse's back. After a few hours, the horse and Guo Jing are both about to give up when the horse is finally tamed by Guo Jing. This makes his Masters question where the boy went that was struggling to master the basic moves. The Six asks him about it, and that is when he finally tells them about the Taoist and their meetings for the past two years. He does not know the name and does not describe him to his Masters, but Guo Jing makes sure that all they have been doing is breathing exercises. The Six are not angry, tell him to keep going to the meetings, and dismiss him, but once Guo Jing is out of ear shot, they make a plan for two of them to follow him tonight.

Later that night Zhu Cong and Gilden Quan follow Guo Jing discreetly to the cliff, and wait at the bottom thinking they will both come down eventually. When they realize that the Taoist and Guo Jing will not be coming back down the cliff, they both climb up. When they get to the top, Zhu Cong and Gilden Quan are furious to see that Iron Corpse, and assume that is the Taoist. While they climb down furiously, Guo Jing and the Taoist are actually crouched behind a rock hiding from Iron Corpse not too far from where Zhu Cong and Gilden Quan where just standing. Not knowing this information, they go back to the rest of the Six and plot a plan to attack Guo Jing when he returns.

Thankfully, Guo Jing and the Taoist decide to follow Iron Corpse when she leaves the cliff instead of going back to camp right away. They follow her across the desert until she takes them to a dozen gers that are beige like the sand around them. Guo Jing and the Taoist hide behind one that she didn't go into and peer in. What they see shocks Guo Jing, because inside is Senggum, Jamuka, and Wanyan Honglie, the sixth prince of the Jin. (Senggum is the son of Ong Khan and Temujin's personal guard, and Jamuka is Temujin's sworn brother and friend.) The three men are plotting against Temujin so that they can take over his tribe and make the Jin army stronger.

After overhearing all of this and the Taoist realizing that Iron Corpse is seeking out information on the Six, Guo Jing and the Taoist race back to his camp to warn both Temujin and the Six. The Taoist finally tells him it is time to tell the Six that his name is Ma 'Treasure' Yu of the Quanzhen Sect and that he is here to help. Guo Jing goes into the Six's ger and just as he is about to tell them what happened, the Six grab both his wrist. Just as one of them is about to hit him on the head, Jade Han stops him so that they can hear what Guo Jing has to say. That is when Guo Jing is finally able to tell them that the Taoist is Ma Yu and that Temujin is in danger as well the Six. At first they don't believe him until he tells him that Ma Yu is outside waiting. They walk outside and see Ma Yu standing there, and that is when they finally let go of Guo Jing and listen to what they have to say. While the Masters are all talking, Khojin rides up and Guo Jing tells her to warn her father about Senggum.

Once she is riding away, the eight of them hatch up a plan to wait for Iron Corpse on the cliff later on tonight. Ma Yu says they need to try to give Iron Corpse a chance to a peaceful solution before attacking them, so he comes up with a plan that they all pose as seven well known Masters and talk her into agreeing to leaving them alone for the rest of her time. With their plan laid out, they head up to the cliff and wait while hiding in the bushes. Iron Corpse may be blind, but she has had 12 years to work on using her hearing to her advantage. When she finally shows up, Guo Jing sees that she has Khojin tied to her back, and he knows that he has to free her while the others distract her. In the end, Iron Corpse does leave peacefully, but only after Khojin is saved and one of the Masters escapes her whip with just a few scratches. The eight of them watch Iron Corpse run away until they can no longer see her dust clouds and then check on Khojin. Once Khojin comes to, she tells Guo Jing that she tried to tell Temujin about the attack but he didn't believe her and left with a handful of his soliders to go see Ong Khan. On the way back to tell Guo Jing is when Iron Corpse grabbed her and knocked her out using a pressure point.

At the news of Temujin not believing Khojin, Guo Jing races after him while the others take Khojin back to the camp to gather the other soldiers to join Temujin. Thanks to his new horse, Guo Jing is able to catch up to Temujin in time to repeat what Khojin tried to tell him and warn him that Ong Khan is following right behind him with his army. Temujin sends two scouts to see if Guo Jing is telling the truth while preparing his troops just in case. When the scouts come back confirming what Guo Jing has said, they prepare to fight. Before the fight can start, Temujin tries to negotiate with Senggum while Guo Jing captures Tusakha who was trying to sneak up on them from the side. This of course forces Senggum to try to really negotiate with Temujin to get his son back. After sending three messengers back with no ears, Temujin is surprised to see Jamuka standing before him.

Jamuka tries to talk him into surrendering since there has been talk about Temujin not following true Mongolian traditions and it angering Ong Khan. Instead of giving in, Temujin gives back the three gifts that Jamuka has given him to forged their sworn brotherhood and Jamuka giving back the ones from Temujin. This breaks their sworn brotherhood and now makes them enemies since Jamuka has chosen to side with Ong Khan and the Jin. Once Jamuka returns back to Ong Khan's side, that is when the fight finally begins....

Will Temujin and Guo Jing make it out alive? Will the Six and Ma Yu make it to Temujin's aide in time to save them? Will the Six and Guo Jing ever make it to see Qiu Chuji and Yang Kang?

These plus many other questions are probably going through your mind right now, but I cannot give too much more away. I can honestly say that I was not expecting to like this book as much as I do, but I enjoyed it completely and cannot wait to see what happens in the following three books that are set to come out over the next two years. A HUGE thank you to St. Martin's Press for sending me a copy, and a big thank you to Anna Holmwood for translating it so that people here in the States can enjoy it! I am telling y'all this book is definitely for you if you agree with The New Yorker when they say "Jin Yong, his work, has a cultural currency roughly equal to that of Harry Potter and Star Wars combined." Or The Irish Times who said this book is "A Chinese Lord of the Rings." Like I said in the beginning, I know I covered a lot but I still did NOT give away everything that happens in this almost 400 page novel. If you are dying to find out what happens to our heroes and want to join in the USA debut of this book, you can find links to get your own copy on my page:

Author Interview with J Lynn Hicks

Alright y'all, this is another amazing author that I met through the FB Group Dystopian Ink. I haven't read her books yet, but I did...