CALICO THUNDER RIDES AGAIN
by T. A. Hernandez

Three years ago, the Ban changed everything, outlawing certain forms of magic and bringing about the rise of powerful crime syndicates. Now, speakeasies in every city sell illegal charms and jinxes, and bootleggers traffic restricted potion ingredients across the country. But even in this changing world, the magic of the circus still acts as a wondrous escape and provides entertainment for all.

Jake Strickland owns one such circus, inherited after an accident ended his career as a rodeo dragon rider. He also inherited the circus’ financial troubles, but since the show became his, he’s slowly managed to turn it into a profitable business once more. Or at least, that’s what he thought.

When a dangerous mobster comes to collect an old debt, Jake resorts to desperate measures to get the money before a strict deadline. With lives and livelihoods at stake, he battles the clock, his responsibilities to the circus, and a longstanding personal grudge that has festered for years. Can he pay back the mob before it’s too late? And if so, what will it cost him?

Content warning: This book is intended for a new adult or adult audience but would also be suitable for YA readers. There is some swearing as well as mild depictions of animal abuse.

EXCERPT
They sat in the front row of the grandstands under the canvas of the big top, just two ordinary spectators in a crowd full of smiling faces. The boy was wide-eyed and silent, but Harvey found himself humming along to a familiar, bouncing tune as the rich tones of the brass band filled the air. A half-eaten bag of roasted peanuts lay on the bench beside him, and occasionally, a whiff of their warm, hearty smell found its way to his nose, evoking memories of his own childhood visits to the circus.

Ah, to be a boy again, if only for a day. Inside the tent, none of his problems mattered, and just being here made him feel decades younger. At his age, despite the circumstances had brought him here in the first place, that was good enough.

He glanced down at his companion, who reached for a handful of peanuts as he craned his tiny neck to watch the agile trapeze artists soaring overhead. The lithe man hanging upside-down from a swinging bar caught his partner by the arms and held her for the space of a heartbeat before sending her flying again.

The center ring below them suddenly ignited with dancing purple flames, and the crowd let out a collective gasp. The hanging trapeze artist continued to swing back and forth like a pendulum as the flames reached higher, lapping at his dangling hands.

His female companion timed another swing and leaped from her raised platform. She passed right over the fire once…twice…then launched herself into the air and pirouetted so fast it seemed impossible for her partner to catch her.

Harvey gripped the edge of his seat and leaned forward, certain the poor young woman was about to plummet to a fiery death in the flames below.

At the very last second, the man caught her. As her body swung down through the heart of the fire, the violet flames burst into hundreds of white flower petals that fluttered harmlessly toward the grandstands and drifted down, carrying with them the sweet scent of caramel and vanilla.

The petals disappeared before they hit the ground, but the magical illusion had ignited the crowd. Harvey applauded and whistled with the rest of the onlookers as the trapeze artists finished their act and bid them all farewell with waves and a few blown kisses.

Beside him, the boy shoved another handful of peanuts into his mouth. His wide eyes scanned the canvas sidewalls of the tent, but when he didn’t see who he was looking for, he turned his attention back to the center ring for the next act.

Harvey shifted uncomfortably in his seat and loosened the tie around his neck. The boy seemed like such a sweet, endearing child. A shame that, like the circus, it was all just an elaborate act.

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REVIEW
Ever since I read The Night Circus, I’ve been a sucker for anything that has the words “magic” and “circus” in the same sentence. So when the opportunity to read this book came up, I jumped on it like a bunny on carrots.

A circus…with a dragon!

I repeat. A circus…with a dragon!

The only thing I hesitated over before reading this was the 1920s setting. I don’t usually go for historical books, but literally everything else about this was right up my alley. I am beyond glad I didn’t let that little reservation win. I enjoyed this from start to finish. I even nearly forgot it was historical. That’s not to say that the setting wasn’t fleshed out—it was. It’s that I didn’t get bogged down in the details of the time period. I got caught up in a tale of magical performances, potions, mythical creatures, and mirror communication. And to top it all off, all the magic was rooted in one man’s very real financial struggle. I was hooked.

The book was on the shorter side, which leads me to my only real complaint—if it can even be called that. I didn’t feel like some of the secondary characters got enough screen time. I wanted to know more about how some of them came to the circus, why they were so dedicated to the circus. There was a little, but I felt there could have been more. There is an entire universe in here that we only scratch the surface of.

On the flip side, the story is tight and compact. I got a very clear picture of who Jake was and the struggles plaguing him. I won’t spoil the ending, but it didn’t go in the direction I expected. I wound up loving it, and I’m always for shouting about books that surprise me. If this at all appeals to you, give it a try. I hope to see more from this author, circuses with dragons or something else.

ABOUT T. A.

T. A. Hernandez is a science fiction and fantasy author and long-time fan of speculative fiction. She grew up with her nose habitually stuck in a book and her mind constantly wandering to make-believe worlds full of magic and adventure. She began writing after reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings many years ago and is now happily engaged in an exciting and lifelong quest to tell captivating stories. She is a clinical social worker and the proud mother of two girls. She also enjoys drawing, reading, graphic design, playing video games, riding her motorcycle, and making happy memories with her family and friends.

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