Smoke and Iron – Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway!

36595619I’m so excited to announce that I’m the third stop on the Smoke and Iron blog tour! If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m addicted to the Great Library series by Rachel Caine. So I couldn’t believe it when I got picked to be a part of the tour! If you haven’t read my review of Smoke and Iron yet, check it out here.

To celebrate the release, I’ve been given the great honor of showing you an excerpt of a chapter from Wolfe’s point of view! Fans of the series are probably sitting in shock right now – what? We’re not following Jess? Well, in book four we get to explore multiple points of view and it’s amazingly exciting. Check out the other stops on the blog tour to see other chapters from other beloved characters!

And at the end, check out the TWO giveaways for a chance to win a signed copy of Smoke and Iron… and the entire series as a whole!

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WOLFE

9_wolfeIt was the smell, in the end, that was the worst of it. Not that the Great Library kept a filthy prison, but the stench of terror and de¬spair was harder to wash away than more organic stains. This facility used stones that had been quarried for similar purposes five thousand years ago, long enough that the walls had been well soaked in pain and horror, and exhaled it constantly.

And he knew the miasma of it so intimately, horribly well.

He could ignore the darkness, the bars, the discomfort. But not the smell. And so, after the bars had closed around him, Christopher Wolfe had gone a little mad. A day of shuddering, flinching, imagining that every noise was a torturer coming for him again. A night when he wouldn’t close his eyes, for fear the past would smother him.

The morning of the second day—which he calculated not by sunrise, which was invisible down here, but by the changing of the guard watch—he had grown more accustomed to the stench of the place, and the darkness and the confinement, or at least he’d mastered his dread of those things a bit. He reminded himself that if he was right, his job here was not to wallow in useless self- pity, but to do something more.

If he was right, of course. If this was some plan that Jess and his miserable twin had conjured up. If this was not simply betrayal, but betrayal to a purpose.

The question then was what he was expected to accomplish, locked up here. Morgan, he could understand. But if this was a plan, by rights one of them should have whispered at least a hint to him before it was too late.

Then why would it profit any scheme—and he sensed Dario San¬tiago’s Machiavellian hand behind it—to send him back to a hell he’d never have agreed to return to? Wolfe had worked hard to keep his trauma silent and secret from the younger members of their little band, but Jess, in particular, had been privy to details. The young man knew at least the edges of that particular knife, if not the terrible wounds it had left.

No way to solve this puzzle without information, he told himself, and concentrated on the one he could solve: the security of this prison.

Here in this passage, he saw more of the dull metallic gleam of moving sphinxes than he did human High Garda. An overdependence upon automation, he thought. The sphinxes could be gotten around. Jess had worked out how. Even Dario had managed it.

Human guards were more difficult, if less lethal. They adapted. The sphinxes at least operated upon a set of rigid orders.

But surely his feckless students hadn’t put him here just to escape; no point in that. No, there was a purpose behind it, just as there was behind putting Morgan back in the Iron Tower.

That was when he heard the murmurs from another cell. He rec¬ognized the words, and they were echoed from other locations—one farther to his right, and one almost directly to his left. Prisoners at morning prayers.

And suddenly, Wolfe knew precisely why he’d been placed here. It started with those prayers but would hardly end there.

He sat cross-legged on his narrow bunk and ran through where, precisely, these prisons were located. They’d not taken the precau¬tion this time of moving him to another city. He was in Alexandria, in the cells buried far beneath the Serapeum. Holding pens for those sentenced to death. Ignore that, Wolfe thought, as he felt a small crack run through his resolve. Just another problem to be solved.

He listened. Sat for the better part of an hour and simply listened, pinpointing coughs, shuffles, rustles, the distant sounds of moans and sobs. This place is full of dissidents. Normally, it would not be; the Li¬brary’s opponents ranged from Burners—who normally killed them¬selves rather than end up here—to smugglers, who were usually killed quickly.

This prison, he realized, had been packed with individuals the Archivist thought might go against him. We did this, he thought. Our small act of rebellion, rescuing Thomas from Rome, echoing across the entire Library system . . . it forced him to tighten his grip, eliminate those who could do him harm. He had no doubt that the individuals jailed near him were Library sworn . . . Scholars, librarians, High Garda soldiers.

The core of the Library, now seen as its enemies. Tyrants turned on their own, in the end; it was the only way to keep power.

The prayers ceased, and Wolfe stood up and went to the bars of his cell. They were heavy, cold iron, and he thought of a thousand ways to break them. All required things he didn’t currently possess, but that had never stopped him for long. “My friend next door,” he said. “Are you by any chance a relative of Khalila Seif?”

There was a moment of silence, and then a guarded reply. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I know her well,” Wolfe said. “And a more brilliant, clever student I’ve never taught. She’s that rare combination of a great mind and an even better heart.”

He heart the release of a breath. It sounded shaken. “That’s my sister,” the man said. “My younger sister. I’m Saleh. She’s well?” The young man—he was young, perhaps a few years older than Khalila—sounded shaken. “She’s not here?”

“Safe I can’t guarantee, but last I saw her, she was well, and far away from here.”

“I pray she stays far away, too.” He hesitated a moment, then said, “My apologies. I’ve given you my name and not asked yours.”

“Christopher Wolfe.”

“The rebel Scholar.” Saleh’s voice had turned brittle. “The one who brought all this on us.”

“Blame can wait. Survival first,” Wolfe said. He had no patience for fools, now or ever; the only thing he’d ever done to deserve the blame was to invent a machine the Library didn’t want. Everything, everything, followed from that. His imprisonment. His release, and erasure from Library records. His penance as lowly instructor. His determination to never allow the Archivist to destroy another bright mind. “Tell me who’s here with us.”

“My father, uncle, and older brother are farther down the row,” Saleh said. “Arrested on suspicion of treason against the Great Library. Which is nonsense, of course. We were arrested to force Khalila to come back.”

“Who else is here?”

“A Scholar Artifex, Marcus Johnson. Le Dinh, Scholar Medica. Captain Ahmed Khan, High Garda. Two or three Scholars from the Literature ranks, one a beloed author whose recent works are considered heretical. A host of librarians, for various crimes including concealment of original works, and Burner sympathies.” Saleh paused to think. “There’s one at the end of this corridor I don’t know. He never speaks. My father tried sign, but there was no response. But that only accounts for this one hallway.”

“How many other High Garda confined in here?”

“Six more. Ahmed’s the only one of significant rank, though.”

Wolfe had forgotten about the bars around him now, the chill in the stones, the evil smell of the place. He found a small chip of stone and used it to begin scratching out a list on the wall. “Start method¬ically,” he said. “Are you at the end of the hallway?”

“No.”

“Then tell me who is next to you.”

When he was done with Saleh, he engaged the woman to his right, Ariane, who’d been listening. She was High Garda and deliv¬ered her account in a crisp, calm voice that he quite liked. It re¬minded him for a terrifying second of Nic, and he had to pause and push that need away. Niccolo is safe, he told himself. And on his way. Your job is to be ready when he arrives.

The word spread slowly down the hall, and passed back to him, as he drew a complete map of the prison hall, with names attached. By the time the meager ration of lunch arrived, he’d memorized the placements and rubbed away the map.

“Eat it, don’t throw it,” advised the High Garda soldier who handed him the tray of food. Meat, bread, cheese, figs, a small por¬tion of sour beer and a larger one of water. “Throw it, you get noth¬ing else today or tomorrow. Doesn’t take long for people to learn the lesson.”

Wolfe glanced up at him and had a second of doubt. Did he know this man? Recognize him? It was possible, but he couldn’t be sure, and the soldier gave no indication at all of knowing him.
“I’ll throw it when I’m tired of the food,” he said.

That got him a bare thread of a smile, and the young man—he was young, nearly as young as Wolfe’s students—tapped fingers to his forehead in a mock salute. “That’s why you’re a Scholar,” he said. “You get right to the bottom of things.”

I do know him, Wolfe thought. He couldn’t place the boy in proper context; surely they wouldn’t put one of Santi’s people on duty here? Unless, of course, there was more going on in Alexandria than he’d previously suspected—eminently possible, considering the shocking number of Scholars and librarians imprisoned. Perhaps the strong¬hold of the Great Library was no longer holding quite as strongly. An interesting theory to chase.

Wolfe ate his food slowly, not to savor its taste—it had little—but because he was involved in assessing the residents of this prison for their potential value in any escape attempt. The Artifex Scholar would certainly be useful. The writers could certainly come up with distractions. He was most concerned about Khalila’s father, who suf¬fered from a delicate heart, which these conditions certainly hadn’t improved.

He was still deep in thought when he scraped the last of the wa¬tery meat from the bottom of the bowl.

There was a message written on it, barely visible now and disap¬pearing fast. It said, Lieutenant Zara sent me.

Wolfe paused, closed his eyes a moment, and took in a deep, slow breath. Brightwell had not, after all, abandoned him here without a word, without a plan. Santi’s lieutenant—not a woman he cared for a great deal, but competent nonetheless—had been alerted to his plight. And knowing Zara, she had plans.

Now he had a messenger, and possibly even an extra ally.

Wolfe used his thumb to scrub the rest of the message from the bowl and put the tray through the slot outside the bars after down¬ing the ale and most of the water, which he desperately needed.

When the young man came back to collect the dishes, Wolfe fi¬nally placed him in his proper context. A lieutenant, one who’d been in charge of the Blue Dogs in Santi’s squad. Troll. His nickname was Troll. A competent young man, and fearless, which would be an as¬set here. Wolfe nodded. Troll glanced down in the bowl, gave that thread-thin smile again, and left without a word.

Wolfe sat back on his bunk and began to methodically catalogue every item in this bare, depressing cell for its usefulness.

Because soon, he’d need every possible asset to find a way out of this.


Smoke and Iron blog tour (1)

Signed Set of The Great Library Giveaway

Signed Smoke and Iron Giveaway

Good luck! Massive thank you to Rachel Caine for not only creating such an amazing series, but for sharing the love with her fans.

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A New Book by M.C. Frank – The Robin Hood WIP a e s t h e t i c

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of M.C. Frank (if you need proof, just look at the cover of the last book in her No Ordinary Star trilogy – my obsession is printed for all to see), so I’ve been following her Robin Hood WIP diaries for quite some time. The brilliant young author is working on a retelling of Robin Hood, and if it’s anything like her other retellings, it’s going to be amazing.

When she revealed the aesthetic she has in mind for the book, my jaw hit the floor. I can’t be more excited for this book to come out, so of course, I had to share it with you! With permission from the author, I’d love for you to see the aesthetic of her Robin Hood work in progress, along with a short extract from what she’s working on.

So now, without any further ado: M.C. Frank presents THE ROBIN HOOD WIP AESTHETIC.

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Robin looked at the glittering torches far ahead. The castle loomed before him, banners flying, lute music wafting in the evening air.

He crouched in the shadows, fingering the sharp edge of his arrow. For a second he allowed himself to think of what was happening inside the walls; after all, Tuck must be in by now, along with the “women”. Were they being served platters of pungent fruit and roasted meat? Were they watching the tricks of a garrishly-dressed jouster and listening to the music for the dancers? He knew everything that would be going on in the Sheriff’s Great Hall on this important day of celebration and revels.

He’d once been a nobleman, too, he’d once been served by kitchen maids and clothed in silks and colors.

A cold drop landed on his cheek; it had started to rain. He glanced behind him and motioned to Alis and John to follow him as they padded from tree to tree, until they were close enough to the walls of the castle.

“Robin,” John’s voice boomed in the gathering darkness. He always tried to whisper, but alas, never succeeded. For such a large man, even making his voice small seemed impossible. That, or he was like a five year-old, who is unable of grasping the concept of “be quiet.”

“Hush,” Robin mumbled. “What is it now?”

“Well, nothing,” John said, his blonde braids catching a ray of the torch fire. They were so close, the light of the flames was illuminating the darkness; they were right outside the castle walls. “Except thisQ when are you going to do it, already?” Robin realized with a pang of surprise that John was angry. “I don’t know if you noticed, but we’re practically in the castle, all right? At this pace you’ll have us at Sir Roderick’s table as if we were his damned invited guests.”

Robin didn’t reply, he just hung his head. It was true, they had moved closer than he needed. He could have done what he came to do from a hundred yards away, even farther.

“Now, stop moving and do what you have to do so we can leave!” John said, and then his voice dropped -so he could whisper, after all. “Look, I know what you’re thinking, Rob, so stop it. Stop it, you hear me?”

“You deserve to be in there, John,” Robin whispered back, unable to stop himself. He could hear his own voice hoarse and hated himself for sounding so broken. For being so broken. “Alis and Will and little Ru… Even you and Tuck, you all deserve to be in there and celebrate like princes, instead of hiding and trying to keep our heads attached to our necks. You deserve to be in there.”

“Well, we’re not,” John said roundly. “We’re outlaws, which to be honest, is far healthier in this political climate. I’d rather be wet, empty-bellied and sleepless than deign to eat the stolen food that graces the Sheriff’s table, while children die and starve under his watch. I’d rather be a beggar than a prince, if the Prince is plotting to take the rightful King’s throne. Do you understand?”

Robin nodded.

“I don’t think you do. I bet you keep thinking that it’s your fault that we’re not up there, celebrating. You always were a fool, you know,” John added tenderly.

And that was it. Robin snapped out of his trance. He turned around and punched John in the arm, and then drew back his bowstring, looking straight and true towards his aim.

Christmas is not for you, he told himself, just as a reminder. Celebrations and feasts, food and riches aren’t for you. For you is not to make merry and keep your belly filled. For you is to fight; for you is to live.

He took his eyes off his aim for a split second and glanced back towards John, who looked on at his readied arrow unimpressed, pretending to rub the spot where Robin had punched him, as if it hurt terribly. Robin turned back his attention to his target.

For you is to be loved by outlaws.

For you is to be an outlaw.

For now.

Robin let go. For you is to hope.

-from the Robin Hood WIP,  ©2017 M.C. Frank

Read more on the author’s blog, here.

It’s just… breathtaking.  Gosh I hope this book comes out SOON! I have a need!

FIRST LOOK: An interview with R.R Virdi, Author of Grave Measures and The Grave Report

What? Another self published Saturday? Can life get any better? Well, it just might. This is the first official interview we’ve ever had on Readcommendations, and we’re so proud to have R.R. Virdi as our guest. He’s even willing to share with us the first page of Grave Measures! 

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading R.R. Virdi’s debut novel, Grave Beginnings (check out our review of it here) and was blown away by the fast paced and fun atmosphere of such a complex novel and brilliant universe. The concept alone was enough to make my mind race: a soul without a body, solving supernatural crimes by taking over the recently dead? Sign me up right now! And now, the eagerly awaited sequel is just about to be released. In Grave Measures, the stakes are even higher, and nothing is as it seems…

Summary

Grave MeasuresWhat do shadows darting across the walls, cryptic writing, black fog, and a little girl who can see ghosts have in common? Paranormal investigator and soul without a body, Vincent Graves, has forty-four hours to find out. To make matters worse, his years of body-hopping and monster-hunting are catching up with him. He’s losing his mind. An old contact has shut him out. To top it all off, something’s skulking through an asylum, killing patients. Three guesses who might be next, and the first two don’t count. The writing on the wall is not so clear. But one thing is: if he doesn’t figure this out he’s a dead man—well, deader—and a strange young girl might follow. Vincent’s got his back against a wall, and that wall’s crumbling.

Some days it’s not worth it to wake up in someone else’s body.

I have to say that the sequel is even better than the first: Graves might have a bit more time this round, but there is so much more going on than meets the eye. There might even be other worldly things involved… as well as other worlds, too. It’s got suspense that’ll get your heart racing, and twists that will make you jump out of your seat (I know I did, and no, I’m not exaggerating).

Graves also must face the consequences of the first novel, Grave Beginnings. A certain character is back – I won’t spoil who it is, but fans of the first novel will be in for a pleasant treat – and they’re not too happy about what they were put through. We also get to see a softer side of Graves, as well as get a few more hints about his past.

One things’s for sure: there’s so much happening in this novel, that I’m afraid to spoil a single part of it. Suffice to say it’s even more epic than the first, and for fans of the Grave Report, a must read. And if you haven’t read any of the Grave Report yet? Then you can find Grave Beginnings on amazon, right here!

We sat down and had a quick chat with R.R. Virdi, who told us a bit about the past, present, and future of his books.

Q: So let’s start at the very beginning. Where did you come up with the idea for the Grave Report?

A: I’ve always been a paranormal and urban fantasy buff with a huge love for mythology and anthropology. I didn’t know how to include all of that in a series until I came up with the idea of a character not limited to being in a certain place or body at any time. That meant I had a lot more options for stories, places, creatures and more. It sated my desire to tackle as many mythologies as I could. Enter the body hopping soul as my way to do it all!

Q: How did you come to the decision to self publish?
A: I had actually queried before in my life, not this novel, but older works. I had grown scared and reluctant to continue that process over and over. I figured under self-publishing, no matter what, my novel would be out there forever. It would give me the time and ability to grow, improve and nurture my series. That decision is doing wonders for me. Since then I have gotten a few trad publishing offers that I might look into for the future. For the moment, The Grave Report is continuing as an indie series.

Q: Your sequel is coming out in just a week. What do you have in store for us in Grave Measures?
A: Grave Measures debuts April 15th 2016. It’s going to follow up in the months after Grave Beginnings. Vincent’s choices and actions have had consequences, we’re going to see the fallout of those. And of course many new characters—good and bad.

Q: There’s a lot of questions we have about Graves that’s we’re dying to know the answers to… any idea how long this series will go? Do you have it all planned out in your head, or are you writing it as it comes?

A: I know where the series is going and it’s slated for around 20 novels with short stories and hopefully a few standalone novels in there as well separate from the main works. I have the important parts planned in my head, but the fun bits, the how I get there, is all written as I do it. I love it that way. I love the freedom, the creative surprises and evolution a story undertakes as it builds momentum.

Q: Now there are whispers of a new series you’re going to be breaking soon… something very different from the Grave Report series.

A: There are 😉
Q: You’re a very active member of the Nanowrimo community. How much of an impact does that have on your writing?

A: A great impact on getting my writing done. I’m part of a wonderful community that encourages me and I don’t want to let them down. They keep me writing.

Q: Your blog is probably one of the most motivational blogs for aspiring writers there is on the internet. If you had to pick just one piece of advice you could give to every writer out there, what would it be?
A: Keep writing! That will take care of everything else on its own. Improving your skill, building your works/bibliography, building your career and having you seen. Keep writing. It will make you believe in yourself and your ability to write. Keep writing. If you can write a novel, you can do the rest of the stuff in the business! It’s the same. Lots of hard work, but at the end of the day, just getting it done!

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the first page of Grave Measures, appearing for the first time right here, right now!

There’s no good way of waking up in a dead body.

For starters, you feel like six pounds of crap in a three-pound bag. You have no idea where you are, you’re nauseated, and everything is disoriented. It’s like a bad hangover—with a dead man thrown in.

I blinked several times. Haziness and columns of white greeted me, peppered with the odd spot dancing across my eyes. The warmth spreading across the back of my neck prompted me to turn. “Ackh,” I sputtered as rays of sunshine shone onto my face, forcing me to squint.

I wriggled my body in an attempt to loosen it up and discovered another reason why it sucks to wake up in a dead body. My arms were bound.

And not in the fun and kinky way.

They were stretched across my chest in an awkward self-hug. Now I’m all for healthy self-esteem and loving yourself—straitjackets—not so much. I struggled with the restrictive coat, thrashing like I had been tasered. Nothing came of it. The durable canvas held together. Of course it would. I mean, that’s what it’s made for right?

My efforts succeeded in, first, exhausting me and, secondly, producing a trickle of moisture on my upper lip. A moment later, the stream of liquid trickled into my mouth. I tasted salt and copper. I let my gaze drift over my coat-covered chest. The muscles in my neck strained as I stretched and brushed my nose against the coarse canvas. Crimson blotched with darker hues of garnet smeared across the fabric.

Dead man’s blood.

A huge thanks to R.R. Virdi for allowing us to feature him on this blog, and to allow us to read his novels. Grave Measures might be out next week, on April 15th, but it is available up for preorder. Read it and get blown away!