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Desperation, Drama, Deception--It's 1914, and movie studios are thriving in Chicago. The Kelly sisters are desperate to escape poverty, but when Rae picks a pocket, the empty wallet contains only a list of mysterious numbers. After Lukas Krantz, a local gangster, buys the wallet and paper, he gives Rae and her two sisters an entry into RidgeW Pictures, where Matt Ridgewood struggles to make his studio competitive. Sensible Rae lies about her age to star as a child adventurer. Gorgeous Lily plays a sweet heroine in westerns while aiming for a rich society husband. Reckless Delia abandons her farmer-husband and takes off her clothes for the camera. Loyal to each other, the sisters fight for success and love in a hectic world of early silent movies, misplaced passions, betrayals, looming World War I, and even murder.
Rae slowed her pace as a group of young men walked toward her, but they ignored her and headed straight for the house with the red flower pots on the porch. A piano playing “You Made Me Love You” sent jaunty music over the transom above the entrance. She wasn’t nervous, but she didn’t want to be noticed, especially by men out for a good time.
The dirty windows of Gus’s Motors were dark, but a dim glow came from the back of the shop. She knocked and waited. After a long minute, she pounded on the door and kicked the bottom panel.
A light flashed inside. Three bolts slid free, and the door opened a few inches.
“We’re closed, kid.”
The huge man standing in the doorway had had a lot of rough years. Beefy hands—big as baseball mitts—misshapen knuckles—and a nose broken so many times it lay flat against his face. White scars streaked over drooping eyelids. He looked to be in his fifties, but the way he stood, legs slightly apart, said he could still hold his own in a fight.
“Are you Lukas Krantz?”
“No. Whadda ya want?”
“Somebody told me I’d find Lukas Krantz here. I’ve got something to sell him.”
He frowned, rubbed his scarred chin, and looked her over. “What you got?” He held out his hand.
“Can’t show it to anyone but Krantz.” She’d never see any money if she let him take it and shut the door. “Is he here or not?”
“Wait a minute.”
He closed the door in her face. She shrank against the doorway while two more men passed her and climbed the steps to the house across the street. The piano music grew louder.
Footsteps inside. He opened the door wide this time. “Come in, kid.”
She followed him through a large room full of tires and tools. Belts and hoses hung on the walls behind a counter cluttered with half-opened boxes. A battered cash register sat on one end of the counter, the empty money drawer open. The floor was gritty under her feet as she followed him down a short hallway and through the door to an office. Two dark green leather chairs sat in front of a polished wooden desk lit by a brass banker’s lamp, the green shade glowing. The light in the rest of the room came from floor lamps with stained-glass lamp shades. Electrical wiring stretched across one wall. A large framed map of Chicago streets hung on the wall behind the desk.
“Here’s the kid.”
“Thanks, Gus.” Lukas Krantz pushed his chair away from the desk, stood, and waved her into one of the leather chairs. “Sit down. Gus said you have something to sell me.”
She’d been expecting a man as old as Gus, and for a minute, she couldn’t think what to say. Krantz wasn’t smoothly handsome like the heroes in the movie pictures, but her sister Delia would say he was intriguing. Lily would sniff and call him rough. Tall, with dark wavy hair drooping over his forehead, and solid muscles under his tailored business suit, he looked no more than thirty. He waited for her to speak, his dark eyes curious.
She slid her hands along the soft armrests, wanting to sink back into the chair, but his gaze was vaguely impatient. “I have a wallet to sell. I found it.”
He sat down and smiled. “Found it? What makes you think it’s worth anything?”
Fishing the wallet out of her pocket, she put it on his desk. “It’s good leather. No money inside—just some paper that doesn’t mean anything.” She moved to open the wallet and remove the paper, but his hand closed over it.
Holding herself still, she curled her hands into fists while he examined the leather. He had to buy it. He had to. He unfolded the yellow sheet of paper and stared at it. Her nails dug into her palms. How long did it take to decide to buy a wallet?
“Who were you standing next to when you . . . found this wallet?”
She flushed. No point in lying. “There was a crowd at the newsstand reading the papers, and a young fellow was close by.”
“What did he look like?”
“Skinny, good clothes, thin mustache, and ginger hair a little long around his ears.”
He tapped his fingers on the desk. “How much do you want for the wallet?”
Tricky question. She didn’t want to ask for too much or too little. Mrs. Polsky came to mind. “I need rent money,” she began, “and there’s other—”
“How about thirty dollars?”
Her mind went blank for an instant. Her wildest hope had been to get the twelve dollars rent with maybe a bit extra. She swallowed hard. “That would be fine, Mr. Krantz.”
“How old are you?” His gaze held her in place.
She looped her finger in one of her curls and spoke with complete sincerity. “Thirteen.”
“Why are you in charge of getting rent money? Are you on your own?”
“My sister Lily lost her job, and my pa had to go on a trip, so we’re short of cash.”
He opened a drawer, plucked out some bills, and thrust them across the desk. She snatched the money, resisting an urge to count in front of him, and shoved it in her skirt pocket. “Thank you very much. A pleasure to meet you.”
She half rose, but he waved her back in the chair. “I like to know who I’m doing business with. What’s your name?”
“Any relation to Maxie Kelly?” His voice hardened.
This was not good. She shifted awkwardly. “He’s my pa.”
His sharp gaze held her in place. “Maxie Kelly cost me close to three thousand dollars a few days ago. Where’d he go?”
Automatically, she felt through the folds of her skirt and curled her fingers around the wad of money in her pocket. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “He didn’t say. He left this morning.” Her heart pounded against her chest, but she kept a half-smile on her face as if they were having a friendly chat.
They stared at each other until he shrugged. “Relax. I know you don’t have it.” He walked to the door and called for Gus. “Take her home, so she’s not walking the streets in the dark,” he said when the older man entered the office. He held up his hand as she rose from the chair. “Wait a minute.”
Bending over the desk, he wrote a note, folded the paper, and handed it to her. “I have a financial interest in RidgeW Pictures. They need people—especially young girls—for the background. You take this note to Matthew Ridgewood on Monday at nine o’clock. He’ll give you a job. If you’re any good at standing around, you can work all week.”
She stared at the note. Standing around didn’t sound like much of a job.
“He pays three dollars a day,” he added with a grin.
“For standing around?” She didn’t really believe him, but the paper went into her pocket and nestled next to the money.
“Sometimes he tells you to walk back and forth,” he said, “and, Raeanne, if your pa shows up, you tell him I’m waiting to talk to him.”
She mumbled thank you twice before she followed Gus through the back exit into an alley where an automobile was parked on a cement slab. She gasped. It was no ordinary Tin Lizzie.
“Pretty swank, huh?” Gus grinned as he opened the door of a Pierce-Arrow.
At last she was getting a ride in an automobile, and it was one that cost over four thousand dollars. She stepped on the running board, sank into the seat, stretched her legs, and told Gus which way to drive.
Kissed by a ghost—Jenny Tyler doesn’t believe in ghosts, but her recent concussion gives her strange visions. Her aunt’s séances to reach the dead produce even more odd sensations. After a séance, Jenny meets a ghost soldier who says he needs help and, with a kiss, takes her to 1914 Belgium during the invasion by Germany at the start of World War I. Hurtled through time, Jenny relies on her courage to survive constant danger in an unfamiliar world. When she finds Jack, a Canadian in the British army, trapped behind enemy lines with a wounded comrade, she recognizes her ghost soldier. At risk of being captured and shot, the three teens struggle to evade enemy soldiers, outwit attempted betrayal, and reach neutral Holland. Falling in love with Jack, Jenny realizes she is reliving an adventure and a romance from a past life.
"Treachery, romance and intrigue make Kiss'd a welcome time-turner. . . [the authors] previously wrote the excellent Spanish-American War-set The Dangerous Summer of Jesse Turner." Akron Beacon Journal
"[The authors] vividly portray the historical moment and keep tension levels high through a series of perilous encounters . . . readers intrigued by the idea of past-life loves should . . . be intrigued by this girl-meets-ghost story."--Publishers Weekly.
"The authors have cast the whole story in a lean, well-done present-tense narrative that is very gripping right from the earliest pages. The period details of the war are effectively grim, but the research never slows down the central story. A lean and moving story." Historical Novel Society
"I enjoyed the love story between Jenny and Jack . . . . The elements of supernatural and history were fascinating." Goodreads Reviewer
The air’s warm and humid, the moon half hidden under clouds. I forgot to turn out the lamp on my desk, so light from my bedroom window shines on the stone path. Walking slowly across the flagstones toward the arbor, I have to keep lifting my feet over and around Snowball who’s twisting around my ankles, demanding attention. Near the arbor, I stop and stand in place, waiting—waiting for something. The clouds shift, and the moonlight breaks through, changing the shape of the shadows in the garden. The only sounds are Snowball’s purring and the crickets. I feel alone, but then Snowball hisses and races back to the house.
“I know you’re here,” I whisper. I strain to see into the shadows cast by the rose arbor. “Why did you come?”
He seems to form out of the darkness, looking more substantial than before. Definitely a soldier. Brass buttons. Heavy boots.
My pulse jumps. “Why did you come?”
“You called me.” His voice sounds like an echo.
“I already told you—you’re wrong about that. Who are you?”
“I need your help.”
I dig my fingernails in my arm. A jolt of pain. I must be awake. “Why do you need help?”
Edges of him break into pixels, but only for a second this time.
“Who are you?” I repeat.
“I’m looking for Jenny.”
His eyes lock on mine, and he walks slowly toward me. “I know a poem about you.” He smiles.
“Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in . . . .”
He holds out his hand, but I back up a step. While I try to decide whether to stay or run, he moves—he glides—close enough to touch me. Not transparent anymore.
“Jenny kiss’d me when we met,” he repeats.
He’s so close now I have to tilt my head to see his dark eyes. He puts his hands on the sides of my face, his fingertips slightly rough as a soldier’s would be. I can’t pull away. I can’t resist. He bends his head toward me. My heart pounds. My blood whooshes through my body.
“Jenny, come with me now. You belong with me,” he whispers.
Slowly, he leans down and presses cool, soft lips against mine. My head whirls, and thick darkness blots out everything.
THE DANGEROUS SUMMER OF JESSE TURNER
Fighting with Colonel Theodore Roosevelt in Cuba
It’s 1898, and 16-year-old Jesse Turner is eager to escape his reputation as the son of an outlaw who ran with the likes of Jesse James. In hopes of proving he is nobler than his father, Jesse leaves Missouri to join the Rough Riders, led by Theodore Roosevelt, who are en route to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War. Jesse quickly befriends two teenagers from New York and a Comanche, but he also makes a dangerous enemy who holds him accountable for his father’s actions. Reep and Allen introduce an earnest underdog in Jesse and carry the story briskly forward through detailed descriptions of the daily travails and bloodshed of war. Jesse’s easygoing first-person narrative keeps the tone light, yet the authors don’t avoid gritty details of the Rough Riders’ experiences, including lice infestations, spoiled meat, and crabs swarming over fallen soldiers in the jungles of Cuba. Readers drawn toward war stories will find characters worth investing in this vivid historical outing; an endnote touches on the real-life figures that appear in the novel, as well as the authors’ sources. Ages 12–up. (Publishers Weekly, 7/27/15)
“Reep and Allen follow these . . . vibrantly-drawn characters through the tedium and terror of military life, from camp intrigues to the heat of battle – and of course meeting the Colonel himself.” (Historical Novel Society)
“The book is suggested for teens . . . but older readers will find it exciting and realistic.” (Akron Beacon Journal)
The third day in camp, I was in line waiting to get into the mess hall when the fight started.
A cowboy pushed in front of one of the New Yorkers standing in front of me. “Git to the back of the line, la-de-dah boy. Real men go first, not a boy in silk undies he’ll dirty up as soon as he hears any guns.”
The New Yorker started out polite enough. “I beg your pardon. The end of the line is well back there.”
“Then you better git back there. This is my spot now.” The cowboy looked about twenty. He had a long thin scar on his cheek and when he smiled, his whole face went lopsided. Gave him a real evil slant.
The New Yorker stood his ground. “I don’t intend to move,” he said. “You cannot push your way in wherever you want to. You’ll have to go to the rear.”
“A la-de-dah boy telling me what to do—that’s ripe.” The cowboy sneered, slapped the boater off the New Yorker’s head, shoved him out of line, and sent him reeling backwards.
We all got quiet. The cowboy shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, grinning, getting ready for a fight. The New Yorker took a step and slowly bent over toward the ground. I thought he was going to pick up his hat, but instead he came up quick and hard with a punch that caught the cowboy on his jaw and knocked him back on his heels.
The orderly line of fellows turned into a pushing crowd. I was up front from the start. In spite of taking the cowboy by surprise, the New Yorker started getting the worst of it pretty quick. The cowboy knocked him down, and his head hit the ground hard. I could tell he was dizzy when he stood up. His eyes weren’t focused, and he didn’t keep his hands high enough to avoid the punches landing on his chin. The cowboy bashed him in the stomach next and tripped him when he tried to straighten up.
The crowd started tossing in advice. “Hit him hard! Step back! Move around!”
I couldn’t tell who the advice was aimed at, but it wasn’t helping the New Yorker because he doubled over with the blows he was taking from the cowboy. Every time he tried to fight back, the cowboy landed another sickening body punch.
Aunt Livia had always warned me, “Jesse Turner, don’t meddle in other people’s business.”
Mostly, I’d followed her advice, but I didn’t think it was right the way the cowboy was bearing down on the New Yorker with a murderous look. I’d seen that look in fights back in Liberty. Blood ran down the New Yorker’s chin and dribbled on his white shirt. Another punch and he was back on the ground. The cowboy kicked him in his side.
“Give it up,” I shouted. “He’s down. Just let him be.”
The cowboy picked me out of the crowd, and his lopsided grin told me I was in for it next. I set myself to handle the blow coming my way, when he pulled a knife from his back pocket. The blade was short—thick—shiny.
“Don’t mix in this, kid.” The cowboy moved toward me.
I’m plenty quick on my feet, so I dodged his first swipe at me. The crowd was too close to let me back up much. He got the knife near my chest, and I danced away again.
Now the crowd started giving me advice. “Watch out! Keep back! Dodge him!”
The cowboy had dark eyes—almost black—and he was getting near enough for me to see the sparks in them. He was excited about the chance to cut me up. For sure, I was going to get that knife in me before too long.