The Holdout- Book Review

Image result for the holdout

Book Summary: It’s the most sensational case of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar real estate fortune, vanishes on her way home from school, and her teacher, Bobby Nock, a twenty-five-year-old African American man, is the prime suspect. The subsequent trial taps straight into America’s most pressing preoccupations: race, class, sex, law enforcement, and the lurid sins of the rich and famous. It’s an open-and-shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed—until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, convinced of Nock’s innocence, persuades the rest of the jurors to return the verdict of not guilty, a controversial decision that will change all their lives forever.

Flash forward ten years. A true-crime docuseries reassembles the jury, with particular focus on Maya, now a defense attorney herself. When one of the jurors is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, all evidence points to her as the killer. Now, she must prove her own innocence—by getting to the bottom of a case that is far from closed.

As the present-day murder investigation weaves together with the story of what really happened during their deliberation, told by each of the jurors in turn, the secrets they have all been keeping threaten to come out—with drastic consequences for all involved.

Book cover and summary from Amazon: The Holdout on Amazon

3.5 stars

I want to start by saying, I don’t typically read or watch courtroom dramas, I never thought it was something I would enjoy but I really enjoyed reading this book.

I absolutely LOVED the way the author switched back and forth between the trial and ten years later at the reunion and subsequent murder investigation of one of the former jurors. The flashbacks to the trial were from the perspectives of each of the jurors which was a really interesting way to present the trial and what was going through each of their minds during the process.

I also really enjoyed the look into the jury process. I’ve been called for jury duty but have never been selected to sit on a trial and the process and how it was described was fascinating.

The book was well paced and I definitely didn’t feel I was trudging through any parts but there were a few things that sit right and that’s why I didn’t rate this at 4 or 5 stars.

Spoilers below:
Several times during the trial, Maya (the main character) says something to the effect of ‘they’ll never really know’ so when the “big reveal” happened in the last 5 pages or so, it seemed really forced and kind of a let down. I would’ve much preferred it going unsaid.

The other thing that bugged me is how much she was involved in her own investigation despite being told by her boss to do nothing. She knowingly could’ve compromised evidence or witnesses and screwed herself. But I get it, it’s a story and how else would we the readers been privy to the investigation if not through the main character.

With those two little issues aside, this was a very enjoyable read and definitely opened my eyes to a new genre of books that I’ve avoided in the past.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

Untitled Flash Fiction (143 words)

She saw him and her heart skipped a beat. He was everything she never knew she needed. They married a year later and lived happily together, arguing only over the thermostat and who gets to read the Sunday comics first. Five years after first meeting, his car is run off the road. He is in the hospital for ten days before he finally succumbs to his injuries.

The next few weeks, she doesn’t leave her home, shutting out all visitors. She convinced herself that he hadn’t left her. Little things like the thermostat changing on it’s own or his favorite slippers moving around the house with no explanation. One night she woke up with a start. At the foot of her bed was a shadow, a badly degraded form of the man she loved. She saw him and her heart skipped a beat.

 

 

Prompt is from Instagram account @writing.prompt.s

I Haven’t Disappeared

I promise I haven’t disappeared. In fact, I’m writing more now than ever! I’m working on my full length novel which I hope to have out later this year (more details will come as it comes together).

I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this month. I’m trying to finish up the first draft of my novel. Follow along with my progress, and my writing in general at:

MaerynStills on Instagram

I’ll keep writing and get some more short stories up for you all!

Book Review – #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil

4/5 stars

(Spoiler free review below)

Oh did I enjoy this book. From concept to execution, from setting to characters, from the first word to the last. I gobbled this book up in a day and a half of nonstop reading.

Gretchen McNeil paints a bleak, voyeuristic vision in #MurderTrending where everyone convicted of a capital murder are sentenced to Alcatraz 2.0, an island where they live, work, and are hunted by government sanctioned serial killers. Every inch of the island is covered in cameras which stream non-stop to an app where people across the country watch, chat, vote, and enjoy everything that happens on the island.

Each of the Painiacs (the term coined for the group of killers) has a unique method of murder and Gretchen manages to write them so well that just by describing a location, you know which murderer is about to enter.

The main character, Dee, is wrongly accused of murdering her sister and sentenced to Alcatraz. After surviving her first encounter with the Painiacs, she is given a house and a job to fill her days while waiting her brutal execution. She meets other inhabitants of the island, a ragtag group of characters that are written wonderfully by Gretchen McNeil.

The reason it’s not 5 stars is it felt too “young” at times. I understand it’s a young adult novel, but I’ve read plenty of YA stuff that never made me roll my eyes. (The whole Disney wardrobe angle, I’m talking about you)

This book isn’t a literary masterpiece, but it is a very fun entertaining read and sometimes that’s all you need.

Buy #murdertrending

Ani-Mind (Short Story – 100 Prompts)

“She’s a lion, definitely. Or no, wait, maybe a jaguar,” whispers Trae under his breath to Mhark next to him. 

“Don’t be stupid, only celebrities and the insanely rich can afford exotic Ani-minds.” 

“I bet she’s a python,” Ash sits on the other side of Mhark and chimes in on their hushed conversation. The three stifle chuckles and try to keep quiet in the back of the conference room.

Despite their whispering, Matilda hears it all. Her reddish brown eyes fix on the three of them. She doesn’t know them by name, they are low level employees from the accounting department, but with one glance she knows everything about them. 

She rambles on with her presentation on their quarterly numbers, able to recite all her stats by heart without looking at the projections behind her, and continues to eye up the three gossipers. Both males wear dark, well tailored suits and white dress shirts, only their ties are a shock of color against their neutral suits. The one on the left has a tie printed with feathers in beautiful orange and red tones. A metallic bird in flight pin adorns one of his lapels. The right hand man has a tie of black feathers with shiny blue-green accents to each of the feathers. His silver tie clip is a large bird silhouette. Birds, they always think they’re better than everyone. 

She turns her attention to the woman who joined in. Her blouse is a gradient of blues, darkening as they flow down towards her waist. A dainty silver necklace hangs at her throat with a blue crystal water drop dangling from it. Just underneath her left eye, a small patch of blue fish scales has been tattooed onto her cheekbone. The scales seem to glow brighter as her face turns scarlet with embarrassment. 

Matilda switches the slide and begins to talk about the upcoming quarter. Her gaze slides over everybody in the room. Each figure in some way proudly displays their Ani-mind; a pocket square with dog bones here, cat whiskers tattooed on plump cheeks there, a wrapped scarf with cartoon bunnies frolicking on another. She thinks about her own outfit today, a modestly cut dress in deep plum with a long gold chain looped several times around her neck. The only other adornment to her outfit is her First Global Bank identification badge hanging on her chest from a longer gold chain. There are no symbols and no patterns which is just as she intended. 

Of course she has an Ani-mind. Everyone does. She just chooses to keep it private. When the technology debuted five years ago, even the founders didn’t know how ingrained it would become in daily life. It was marketed as a way to inhabit the mind of an animal for a short period of time. “A simple escape to a simpler mind,” they touted. Ani-mind was a way to experience the sheer bliss of a dog, the contentment of a cat, the ability to fly as a bird, or swim through beautiful coral reefs as a fish. Practically overnight, they became multi-billionaires. Not only was Ani-mind an escape, it became a lifestyle.

She finishes her presentation and everyone scatters quickly back to their desks. Only after the last person has left does she pick up her plain white mug and make her way to her corner office. Along the way, she overhears several of her employees discussing their dream Ani-mind, if money was no object. The huddled group hush as she gets close, replacing their conversation with a respectful “Ms. King” as she passes with a smile. 

Back at her desk, she opens her mailbox and begins to swipe through the pile of advertising emails she’s received. 

Frolicking Felines – connecting single cats, either in human or feline form. Delete.

Calling all Raccoons! A new study is recruiting now! If your Ani-mind is a raccoon and you’re between 18-28 years old, click here! Delete.

Discount Exotics – Be a lion for an hour at a fraction of the cost! Can’t miss offer!! Delete. 

Matilda wonders about the people who would choose a discount Ani-mind experience. She had seen a report on the news once about those places, the animals are extremely sickly and practically dead which is how they’re able to rent them out so cheap. I guess people do it just to boast that they were a lion once, even if all they did was lay there. 

The rest of her afternoon goes by quickly in a haze of spreadsheets and international phone calls with other branches to discuss the budget cuts she was imposing on them. A headache begins to form at the base of her skull. She leans back from her desk and rubs at it when a small knock sounds on her door. 

“Come in.”

The blonde head of her assistant Christoph pokes through the widening gap. “Hiya Ms. King. It’s 5 o’clock and I’ve finished up for the day. Is it ok if I head home or did you need me to do anything else?”

“That’s all for today, thanks Christoph. Have a good night,” she says with a small smile, glancing at a dog tag glittering from a black cord around his neck.

“You too!” And he leaves with a small wave. 

She decides it’s time for her to head out as well. She shuts down her computer, turns off the lights, and heads down in the crowded elevator, listening to the others talk about meeting up for a flight in an hour. The woman who held the door for her to get on has a single feather tattooed on the inside length of her lower arm in exquisite detail. Matilda can’t help but stare at the skill of the artist who did it. The woman notices her staring and grins.

“Had it done right after my first Ani-mind. I knew I was a bird before I even experienced it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Matilda replies. 

The woman’s eyes scan over Matilda, looking for some clue, and her eyebrows knit together when she finds nothing. Confusion was the typical response Matilda got when people looked her over. People can’t understand why she wouldn’t want to express the love for her Ani-mind. Matilda gives a polite but insincere smile and rushes out of the elevator as soon as the doors open in the lobby. 

Crowds push along the crowded city sidewalk, mostly people in suits rushing home from their office job to meld into the sweet world of their Ani-mind. She crosses the street and takes a path through the park. People line the benches; some are reading, some talking to friends, others have on the thin blue illuminated band wrapped around their head, eyes closed and a smile on their face as a squirrel or a duck or cat runs around nearby. 

Just outside of her building, she runs into one of her neighbors on the street, a ferret on a leash leaping alongside of him. 

“Hey Matty,” he says when he spots her. 

She glares at him. “Ugh, Kevan, you know I hate it when you call me that.” She squats down and pets the light gray ferret and her voices rises in pitch. “Well hello there, Mister Noodles! I’m so sorry you have to deal with him but you’re just so cute!” The ferret wiggles happily under her fingers. She stands back up and they walk into the building, grab their packages from the front desk, and into the elevator side by side. They chat about the weather, work, and finally he brings up the latest episode of “The Tarzan’s,” the latest TV craze about a celebrity family whose Ani-minds are a family of apes. The show alternates between the struggles of human lives and their Ani-mind lives. 

It always hung between them, never allowing them to be more than acquaintances. She could see him almost ask the question about her Ani-mind every time they spoke. She knew it was strange, hiding that side of her, but she couldn’t help it. 

They said their goodbyes as she unlocked her apartment door and stepped inside. Just like her outfit, her apartment shows no sign of her Ani-mind. The decor is minimal and animal free. 

From the moment she left work, she could feel it. That itch, that need to meld into the animal mind. That freedom is such a great release after a hard day. She kicks off her shoes and grabs a glass of water, taking it and her small package with her back into her bedroom. 

Slipping out of her business clothes, she pulls on a pair of comfy stretchy pants and a loose draping t-band shirt faded with age. Her ani-mind halo rests on the seat of a plush gray armchair in the corner of her bedroom. She spins the chair so it’s facing her closet doors. With a gentle tug, she opens both doors of her closet wide, the vast array of neutral and dark colored business clothes swaying lightly. From the middle of the clothes, she pushes them all to the sides and there it sits. 

The glass enclosure takes up the entire back wall of her closet and is two inches deep. The dark sand fills two-thirds of it and a light bar runs along the top of the glass. Tunnels have been carved criss-crossing all throughout the thin enclosure, allowing the white closet wall to show through. Various caverns mark endpoints of some of the tunnels. Moving along everywhere in the massive enclosure, brownish-red ants swarm along. Her eyes scan along the tunnels and caverns, looking for the queen. She spots her in one of the caverns, her size is three times that of the workers that move all around her. 

She runs her fingers along the glass and smiles as the ants move along behind it. She grabs the package and opens it up to reveal the ant food she had purchased online. Off to the left, she opens a hatch and dumps in a handful of the mixture. Then she sets the package on the floor, wraps the Ani-mind halo around her forehead and settles herself into the chair. The wire connected to the halo runs to a small button in her hand. 

She presses the button and the halo lights up blue as she focuses on the ant farm, trying to single out one ant making it’s way through the tunnels. The science behind Ani-mind was explained after it came out, but it never made much sense to Matilda. She knew it had something to do with blocking her sensory receptors and receiving and sending inputs to the animal. All she knew is once she focused on the ant, it takes about five to ten seconds for the room around her to melt away and the dark tunnel to appear around her. She knew from some chemical input that she was following this tunnel to the food her human self had just dropped in and bringing it back to the queen’s larvae. 

Her ant form was given a task, she executed it, and was given another task. That was her role and she loved it. After a day of giving orders and figuring out sophisticated financial issues, this simple task following was the perfect way to unwind. After an hour or so of moving the food from the drop site to the larvae to feed, she pressed the button in her human hand and slowly the bedroom appeared in front of her. 

Matilda’s headache was gone, her shoulders no longer tense, and she felt at peace. Leaving her closet door open, she got up from the chair and stretched, enjoying the calming sensation that flowed through her. She understands why people are so inclined to show off their Ani-minds; dogs, cats, and birds are the most popular, other small household pets right behind them in popularity. But she has never seen anyone broadcasting that their Ani-mind is an insect. It isn’t typical. But ants are strong and they band together with their colony and do incredible things. Why shouldn’t she be proud of her choice?

She pulls a black dress from her closet and drapes it over the back of the chair, preparing her outfit for work the next day. Turning on the TV, she climbs into bed and flips through the channels, trying to find something to watch. “Ani-mind Fails” is always an enjoyable watch, so she leaves on the clip show of people’s first time using Ani-mind. Puppies stumbling down stairs, cats with their tongues stuck out, and birds flapping their wings trying to get even an inch off the ground flit across the screen to a laugh track. After a moment, she hops up and crosses the room to her dresser. She digs through the top drawer until her fingers wrap around the small box she bought so many years ago. 

She lifts the jewelry box lid and pulls out the silver chain. Dangling from the bottom is a polished silver silhouette of an ant. It spins around, catching the light of the lamp next to her bed. She drops it back into the box and sets the box on the chair with her dress for tomorrow. She’s had enough speculation and hiding. Matilda climbs back into bed and turns off the bedside lamp. Her eyes drift from the TV to the massive ant farm in her closet. In the light, she can’t see the individual ants, but can make out their undulating movement in the tunnels. She drifts off to sleep with a slight smile on her face, excited about what tomorrow will bring. 


All short stories in the “100 prompts” tag will be written using the flash fiction prompts list on Eva Deverell’s Creative Writing Blog.  They will all be stand-alone short stories unless otherwise noted. Check out the Story Index for more. 

This story was written using Prompt # 70: A woman who uses her pet as a means to escape reality.