Mind Over Monsters (F. R. E. A. K. S. Squad Investigation Series #1)by Jennifer Harlow
Beatrice Alexander is no ordinary schoolteacher—she can move objects with her mind, an embarrassing skill she hasn’t yet mastered or embraced. After nearly killing her brother by accident, she joins the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad, the Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals. This top-secret branch of the FBI combats ghosts, ghouls, and other… See more details below
Beatrice Alexander is no ordinary schoolteacher—she can move objects with her mind, an embarrassing skill she hasn’t yet mastered or embraced. After nearly killing her brother by accident, she joins the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad, the Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals. This top-secret branch of the FBI combats ghosts, ghouls, and other monsters threatening humanity.
With her teammates—among them a handsome former-detective werewolf and an annoying Don Juan vampire who’s dead-set on seducing her—Beatrice investigates her first case. Disgustingly dismembered bodies have turned up, bearing bite marks of the undead. Someone—or something—is raising a horde of hideous, bloodthirsty zombies. Armed with Bette, her trusty machete, Beatrice takes on the master of the flesh-devouring corpses, who’s guarding a horrifying secret . . .
Featuring a team of monster hunters with unique paranormal abilities, the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad Investigation series combines humor, suspense, and supernatural crime-fighting.
“Jennifer Harlow’s debut novel had me laughing and gasping from start to finish!”—VICTORIA LAURIE, New York Times bestselling author of the Ghost Hunter Mystery series and the Psychic Eye Mystery series
“Wonderful! A gritty, dramatic police-procedural with a compelling heroine and a fascinating group of sidekicks. Looking forward to the sequel!”—KAREN CHANCE, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Cassandra Palmer series
"The most engaging detectives to face the walking dead since Scully and Mulder. Part urban fantasy, part police procedural, and entirely marvelous, monstrous fun."
"If Donald Westlake had ever gotten around to writing a paranormal mystery, it would have sounded like this. Harlow's genre debut is funny, creepy and refreshingly brash."
How would you like your job if your co-workers included a vampire and a werewolf?
Bea Alexander, an elementary schoolteacher, has one trait so alarming most people avoid her. Even her family calls her a monster. So when George Black drops by and invites her to join F.R.E.A.K.S. (Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals), his unit at the FBI, she's so lonely that she agrees and is whisked off to a secret compound in Kansas. There she meets a dishy vampire, a handsome werewolf, a woman who can make her spontaneously combust, a teen who used to rob banks and specializes in teleportation, a blind man who chats with ghosts and a psychic who can read her mind. Their mission is to fight "UNCRETS," that is, unidentified creatures. But first Bea has to learn how to harness her awesome power to blast people, places and things to smithereens. She's barely through training when she and the other Freaks head to Colorado to solve two murders the local sheriff attributes to wild animals but the FBI doesn't. The adventure entails several near-death experiences when they are twice attacked by zombies, assaulted by ghouls, practically incinerated in a cemetery mausoleum, sucked empty of liters of blood, shot at and, in Bea's case, both propositioned and almost devoured by the vampire and the werewolf. Babysitting a little dead girl puts Bea in harm's way, but her training and her special skill save the day, give or take a few missing chunks of flesh.
If Donald Westlake had ever gotten around to writing a paranormal mystery, it would have sounded like this. Harlow's genre debut is funny, creepy and refreshingly brash.
Read an Excerpt
Mind over Monsters
By Jennifer Harlow
LlewellynCopyright © 2011 Jennifer Harlow
All right reserved.
Chapter Onea conversation with dr. george herbert black, ph.d.
I was surprised to find that a man who wore a three-thousand-dollar suit was staying at the Comfort Inn. I thought for sure he'd be at the Hilton, not the hotel known as the best place in town to have a quickie. His choice in lodging does not inspire confidence.
I walk down the hall as slowly as I can. I'm good at delaying the inevitable. I'm not sure if it's the fact I have nothing in my stomach or the fact that I'm scared out of my mind that's making my legs wobble like two blobs of Jell-O. As I reach room 403, I take a deep, cleansing breath like I was taught at my one yoga class. Do I really want to do this? What if he's some crackpot waiting for me to come in so he can attack me and chop me up with a chain saw? Dang it, I should have left a note.
Dear Nana, went to meet some strange guy who came to my hospital room today and started talking about ghosts, goblins, and ghoulies. If I don't come back by morning, I'm probably floating in the Pacific being eaten by sharks. P.S. Sorry I almost killed Brian tonight.
Yeah, she'd finally throw me in the loony bin for sure.
The door swings open without warning, nearly giving me a heart attack. A small gasp escapes my throat. I'm not usually the jumpy type, but the last few days have really taken it out of me. Dr. Black, who towers a foot above my five foot four frame, is still wearing his perfectly pressed gray suit and gracious smile. That grin melts twenty years off his seventy-year-old face as his multitude of wrinkles smooth out. The shiny silver hair covering his head like a helmet accentuates his tan skin. He's painfully thin. I probably outweigh him by forty pounds. Ichabod Crane in Armani. I'm pretty sure I could take him without lifting a finger. Of course, that's exactly why I'm here in the first place.
"I was getting worried," he says.
"Sorry, I had to change my shirt." Which is code for I turned the car around half a dozen times.
He steps to the side, gesturing me to come in. His suitcase rests on a blue and white floral bedspread underneath a picture of a garden. Two double beds, a cheap dresser, cream-colored lamp shades. I've only been in hotels a handful of times and they always look the same.
"Were you surprised to hear from me?" I ask.
"Not in the least. I could tell you were intrigued. I knew that curiosity would eventually get the better of you. Just not so soon." He walks over to his suitcase and pulls out a water bottle. "Would you like something to drink? I'm afraid all I have is water."
"I'm fine." I take a seat in the chair next to the window. The view is pretty unimpressive, just cars passing on the freeway.
He walks over to the edge of the bed closest to me and sits. It barely moves under his thin frame. "So, care to tell me what happened tonight that prompted your call?"
My back goes ramrod straight. "Nothing," I say not too convincingly. "I was just curious. Don't get to meet a parapsychologist every day."
"There's no need to lie to me, Beatrice," he says. "There are no judgments here."
"Nothing happened," I say again.
"Beatrice," he chides, "I don't have to be psychic to know something is upsetting you. In the hospital earlier today you were very adamant for me to leave and then five hours later you call. Now please, tell me what happened. I might be able to help."
"I—I can't." I shake my head vigorously. "This was a bad idea. Uh. Maybe I should just go."
"Listen to me, Beatrice," he says in a sympathetic voice, "whatever it is, I can assure you I've heard much worse."
"I doubt it," I say on a quick exhale.
"You'd be surprised. Please. Nothing you say leaves this room. You came here for help. Let me help you."
I look into his cauliflower eyes. Sympathy. Huh. Haven't seen that in a while. Lately it's just been fear everywhere, and that gets old after a while. Even in the hospital, where bleeding drunks come in ranting and raving about aliens implanting devices into their heads, I was the freak. A few machines dance in the air, an orderly has to be sedated, and suddenly you're Freddy freakin' Krueger.
He's right. If I want him to help, I need to tell him everything. And once I start talking, I can't stop. I confess about tonight and what I did to my brother Brian. About the first time something flew across the room when I was six, knocking my mom's boyfriend unconscious. I tell him about my mother's suicide.
Finally, I tell him about Leonard.
He just sits there, occasionally nodding but saying nothing, that sympathetic expression never wavering. When I'm done, he walks into the bathroom and comes out with a box of tissues. I take two and dab my eyes.
"Thank you," I say through the sniffles.
He sets the box next to me and returns to his position on the bed, crossing his long legs. "Are you all right?"
I sniffle again. "No. I almost killed my brother tonight, just like ..." I shake my head to push the image of that man out of my head.
"What precipitated this incident? What did your brother do?"
Just the thought of that scene starts the tears again. The whole thing comes in pieces. The fight. Brian's rage-filled words spewing out as Nana tried to calm him down. My body tightening like a coil with every syllable, while the pressure inside my head increased twofold. My palms throbbing where the nails dug into flesh. Our dining room table rattling as if a five-point earthquake had hit, plates clattering to the floor. More words. Freak. Abomination. She hated you as much as I do. She should have killed you before you were born!
Then, no more pressure. The table flipping mid-air off its legs, landing a few inches shy of Nana's feet. A huge crack cutting across the back wall as if an invisible knife slashed through it. Then the screaming. Agonizing. Horrible. High pitched, like a lobster thrown into a boiling pot. Brian grabbing the left side of his face, clawing at it. Two red streams of blood dripping out of each of his nostrils. The whites of his brown eyes quickly turning red from burst capillaries. Then Nana. My Nana looking at me as Brian always had. Like a monster.
Two minutes later, I tried to kill myself with a bottle of aspirin.
"Do you often lose control like you did tonight?"
I blink away the images, returning to the tacky hotel. Before I can form words again, I take a few breaths to lessen the sobs. "No," I manage to get out. "I mean, not like that. It felt like something broke inside me." Dr. Black stands again, retrieving the bottle of water. This time I take it.
"That's common with psychokinetics."
"Huh? You called me that before in the hospital. I don't know ..." I trail off and sip the water.
"It's more commonly known as telekinesis. You move matter with your mind. Didn't you know there was a name for it?"
"You never did any research on your gift?"
"I saw the movie Carrie. Well, part of it. My friend April made me watch it, but I don't like scary movies. And that was just a movie."
"True, but people like you have been chronicled through the ages. Saint Teresa of Avila levitated during deep prayer. In the first century, Simon Magnus floated to the top of a column during a duel. There are others, of course, in Russia, India, England, all over the world. However, none have lifted an entire car before. Have you ever tried to use your gift? Consciously, that is?"
"I don't know what you mean."
He stands from the bed again, picking up the box of tissues. He sets it down on the desk a few feet away from me. "I want you to pick up this box and have it glide onto your lap. Can you do that?"
"I—I can try." I look at the box, concentrating on it, letting its image fill my mind. Okay ... lift! It doesn't move. Lift! Still nothing. I squint until I barely see the box. Lift, for God's sake! Nada. "I can't do it. Sorry."
Dr. Black nods. "It's okay. You've never really directed your gift before, only when your survival depended on it. Can I assume it works unconsciously?"
"Yeah." I sip the water. "Um, sometimes I turn around and see cabinets opening by themselves. My bed floats some nights too. It's really put a damper on my social life," I say with a quiet scoff. "How can I have people over when my plates dance in the air?"
"Who else knows about your gift?"
"Just Nana, Brian, and my best friend April. I couldn't let anyone else know in case they decided to chase me out of town with torches and pitchforks or something."
"How lonely you must feel," Dr. Black says.
"Yeah," I whisper, willing the tears away. I've cried enough over loneliness for twelve lifetimes. "But I suppose the whole of America knows now after what happened with the car."
The car. Geez. Was that only three days ago?
I was about to get into my car after a long day at school, looking forward to reading the latest Jennifer Crusie book while watching the Doris Day marathon on Turner Classic Movies when I saw him. Randy Dodson, one of my students, playing that gangster video game I had confiscated two weeks before, walking oblivious to the world. Without glancing either way, he stepped into the street, fingers still jumping on the buttons. At the same time, a shiny black Hummer—a monstrosity every man and soccer mom seems to be driving in San Diego—rounded the corner like a demon chased by the Devil himself. The moment the behemoth came into view, I knew without a doubt that the car wouldn't stop. I knew it. I was about to watch the boy I helped with fractions earlier get splattered on the street. Instinct took control of my body. I moved faster than I thought myself capable of. As the car zoomed closer, Randy glanced up from his game. He couldn't move. Neither of us had time to jump.
There but for the grace of God, I reached him before that tank did, pushing him to the ground and shielding his small, trembling body with mine. In that same instant, I stared at the car, filling my mind with it. Its shape. Its wheels. Its weight.
It soared off the ground, flying over our heads with the wheels spinning midair, inches from us. The engine roared, almost shattering my eardrums while the exhaust burned my already tender eyes, and hot blood ran out of my nose and ears. My head felt as if it was underneath the tire, the pressure and pain so great I couldn't even scream. The two-ton vehicle landed with a crash a few feet beyond us, sparks shooting everywhere as metal hit concrete. That was the last thing I saw before passing out: the Fourth of July in March.
I woke up three days later in the hospital to floating machines, a blinding headache, and a well-dressed parapsychologist sitting by my bed, business card in hand, offering to help me.
It's been a heck of a week.
"I wouldn't worry about that," Dr. Black says. "It will be chalked up to simple physics in the end. The world relies on Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation is often the right one. Which would you believe, that the car hit an incline or that a school teacher lifted it with her mind?"
"You would be surprised how deeply the public's deniability of things they don't understand runs. We rely quite heavily on it."
"The people I work for."
"And who do you work for? Let me guess, the government," I say mock seriously. "Yes, of course."
The image of me tied up to a bed being poked and prodded with sharp metal instruments in the name of science dances into my head. I stand quickly. "I have to—"
He stands as well. "Oh, no. Don't be afraid," he chuckles. "I haven't come to cart you off to some lab never to be seen again. I'm afraid television and films have given us a bad reputation."
"Us? Who's 'us'?"
"Technically, we're an offshoot of the FBI. A highly classified one, naturally, but we have several trained official agents on our team. When we're in the field, we carry FBI badges as part of our cover, but their rules and regulations don't really apply to us." He begins to chuckle, "If they did, I'm afraid we couldn't get anything done. But we also work with the military if the need arises."
"The need for what?"
That sends a shiver down my spine. They handle what the military can't? Not a glowing endorsement for my involvement.
"Please sit down, Beatrice," Dr. Black says with a smile. "We have a lot more to discuss."
Despite my apprehension, I sit. I've always been too darn curious for my own good.
Dr. Black sits back on the bed across from me. "Now, you've trusted me tonight, and I know how hard that was for you, but I'm going to ask you to trust me once more. Because what I am about to tell you may be a bit shocking and hard to believe, but it's all true. I ask that you keep an open mind. Can you do that?"
"Good," he says. "You are not as different and alone as you might believe. There are possibly hundreds of people with psychic gifts in this country alone. These gifts manifest themselves in different ways. Some can read minds; others can see spirits and communicate with them. It's different for everybody. Moreover, there are others who can do extraordinary things, like transform into animals or walk through solid matter. Basically, every manner of creature you thought only existed in fairy tales and films does, in fact, exist. Trolls, werewolves, witches, vampires, all of them. And sometimes—not often though—these creatures harm others. That's when we come in. The creature responsible has an edge over humans, often preternatural strength or even immortality. We simply ... even things out a bit. Are you with me so far?"
"Yeah," I say, "Dracula and the wolf man are alive and kicking. Do they share an apartment with Elvis?"
All humor fades from his face. "I'm being serious, Beatrice."
I scoff. "Well, forgive me, but I have a hard time believing that there are vampires and werewolves and whatnot walking around and nobody's found out."
"Says a woman who can move things with her mind."
I shrug. "Still."
"If a werewolf attacks a human, it usually gets written up as a wild animal attack, which is exactly what it is. Vampires work hard to hide their existence, just as you do. Most don't even need to kill to feed. But you'll learn all about this more intensively during your training. Now—"
"What? My what?"
"Training. There's a flight leaving for Virginia tonight." My eyes bug out of my head and my jaw drops. "Wait. You told me in the hospital you'd help me get this thing under control, you didn't mention anything about becoming Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I jump out of the chair. "Uh-uh. No. I don't even like killing bugs! After I saw Dracula, I had to sleep with the lights on for a week! You've so got the wrong girl."
"You ran into traffic and single-handedly saved that boy. You are definitely the right woman."
"Anybody would have done that."
"No. They wouldn't." Dr. Black stands from the bed again, taking a step toward me. "I do want to help you. We have scientists and military personnel who will train you to use your gift. And you'll have a chance to be with others like you. As of right now, there are six members of the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad, all with—"
"Federal Response to Extra-sensory And Kindred Supernaturals. F.R.E.A.K.S."
"I am not a freak," I say, voice deceptively quiet.
He smiles. "Well, not yet, no."
"Look," I say with a glare, "I appreciate you listening to me and not, like, tying me to a stake to burn, but ... " I shake my head. "I teach fourth grade. The worst thing that could happen to me is I get glue in my eye. I think I'd like to keep it that way." I bend down and pick up my purse. "And I sure as heck don't want to be called a freak anymore than I already have. It was nice meeting you." I step past the frowning man toward the door. "Good luck with the trolls or whatever."
"Beatrice," he says as I pass, "do you honestly believe it's that easy? To go back to the way things were?"
Excerpted from Mind over Monsters by Jennifer Harlow Copyright © 2011 by Jennifer Harlow. Excerpted by permission of Llewellyn. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Truthfully, I took a chance and bought this book based solely on the title and cover. I am so very glad I did! Before I was finished with this book, I purchased everything else she had out. I love the premise, the snarkiness and individuality of the characters, and the smoothness and pacing of the plot. I always love it when an author comes up with something new and fresh and Jennifer Harlow hit it dead center. So glad I found this author.
Let me begin this review by saying that this book pretty much rocked my socks! I love all things paranormal, so when I started in on this story I quickly discovered that I'd hit the motherload! In this book is the existence of every supernatural entity you could think of: ghouls, zombies, ghosts, trolls, necromancers, werewolves, vampires, ogres and so on. There are also several individuals with psychic abilities ranging anywhere from mediums to pyrokinetics--anything is possible in this book. Aside from the outstanding characters and creatures, this story is very creative and well-written. The storyline is also very fast-paced and the book is extremely hard to put down. The protagonist and narrator, Beatrice, is my kind of gal; she's smart, witty and incredibly fun to read about, and seeing things through her perspective is a fun and exciting experience. One of the things I love most about her is how much she grows throughout the novel. She starts off being scared, unsure and isolated because of her gift as a telekinetic; but over the course of the story she ends up being more self-aware and a total badass! Joining the "F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad" proves to be a very dangerous but rewarding experience for Bea. Her first assignment involves a grueling investigation to stop a murderous necromancer and this process involves a lot of blood, sweat and danger--and the wielding of a machete (yes, Bea's cool like that!). My favorite thing ever is a female character holding her own and kicking some serious butt, and that's exactly what Beatrice did. Another reason to absolutely adore this book is the hot werewolf and the seductive vampire who are both interested in Bea. These two characters couldn't be more different, but they are both extremely desirable nonetheless. Will, the werewolf, is in charge of the "F.R.E.A.K.S." and he's got plenty going for him; he's smokin' hot, strong, and has a lot of integrity. This man also has a very boy-next-door vibe going on that's impossible to resist. Oliver, A.K.A. the most gorgeous man and vampire in the history of EVER, has a devilishly smooth way about him. At first I wasn't sure how to feel about him, because he's one of those guys that you should probably hate but he's just so darn charming that you can't. His interactions with Bea cracked me up every time, and I grew quite fond of him after some of his many layers were peeled back to reveal a kindness under that pompous exterior. It will no doubt be interesting to see how the tension between Bea and these men carries out. This book has quickly become a new favorite of mine and to say that I am eagerly awaiting the second book in this series is a serious understatement. I cannot wait to read more about Bea; with her sassy talk and overall amazing demeanor that will never cease to entertain. So, do yourself a favor and get your hands on this book, because you will not be disappointed!
This is the debut for Jennifer Harlow and she really nailed it! Using cheeky humour paired with drama and suspense, Harlow has found a winning combination especially when contrasted against the darker nature of the urban fantasy genre. I found myself completely engrossed in the story and more enthralled by the diverse cast of characters. If you’re not into horror have no fear because Harlow expertly pars down on the gore by adding in a humorous narrative and compelling protagonist. And as much as I loved this book, I felt like it took a few chapters for Harlow to really hone in on Bea’s voice. It was sort of a trial by error which is altogether not uncommon for an author’s first book. But once she found it she really rocked it out. As much as I loved the premise of the story, I loved the cast of characters even more. The F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad is full of all-stars! There’s a variety of personas, each one distinctly unique and ultimately loveable. Beatrice is an old-Hollywood loving, sensible yet sarcastic girl who struggles with fitting in. She’s someone who has an infallible sense of dedication despite being shunned by the people close to her. But the best thing about her is her hilarious wit! It’s easy to see why she’s so likeable. Round it out with an amazing list of paranormal side-kicks—from a hunky werewolf to a Don Juan vampire, a gothic teleporter teen, sexy pyromaniac, blind medium and shy auror—and we’ve found ourselves a kick-ass paranormal Ghostbusters, of sorts. Harlow has written a comical yet touching story injected with mystery and intrigue. The characters are dynamic and the chemistry between our Bea and her two supernatural studs is electric. And while Harlow does venture out into some grim territory, the story never strays too far into serious.
“Favorite phrases: "Like most social outcasts who inherited the shy gene, books became my best friend....Most of my paycheck went to Barnes and Noble. I knew everyone there by name." "The moment he knocks one into a tree or a tombstone, another seems to take its place in the line, like a zombie Pez dispenser." "I really much prefer zombies without teeth. This is much better. Nice stroll through teh body parts." Favorite chapter title: A Machete is a Girl's Best Friend ************* The whole book is a joy to read! The above is just a sample of the dialogue throughout. In another writer's hands, this could have become annoying, but Jennifer Harlow writes soft snark wonderfully. I could easily identify with Beatrice and her love of solitude and books. Her involvement with FREAKS is exactly how it would go 'in real life'...Beatrice is amazed to be asked to join and even more astounded to find out who (and what) she'll be working with. I cannot wait to read the rest of the series as it comes out.
This is a great start to a new series. Beatrice Alexander has been a little different all her life. However, until recently, she was able to mostly hide her abilities by not having a social life and working as an elementary school teacher. Then... her control slipped and she almost mortally hurt her brother. To keep from hurting anyone else, she has agreed to be admitted into a secret government group of others with a wide array of paranormal abilities, called the F.R.E.A.K.S squad, where they will help her control and use her abilities to help society not hurt it. Her very 1st assignment with the F.R.E.A.K.S involves zombies... Don't let the word zombies scare you... this is a light-hearted, easy read and suitable for young adults (lots of flirting, but no explicit sex scenes). I'm looking forward to the next installment in this series...
Review by Jen: When we were asked to host a stop on Jennifer's blog tour, I jumped at the chance. Mind Over Monsters is the first book in a new series and the concept jumped out at me. It's all about a secret government group, F.R.E.A.K.S (that's Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals). The main characters include psychics, a vampire, werewolf and so on. In this first tale, the group is in Colorado to investigate a couple of mysterious deaths. As the case progresses, the small, peaceful town they are in turns into zombie central. Where are the zombies coming from? Why are they there? I really enjoyed this book. The concept if fun and fresh and the characters are quite interesting. I couldn't put the book down and now and totally bummed that the sequel isn't scheduled to be released until the fall of 2012. The book had mystery, paranormal elements and the hint of a romance to come as the series develops... what more could a girl ask for? I am looking forward to see where this debut author takes this series.
My thoughts: I loved this story! I'm not a huge zombie fan, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this book. The writing is wonderful. The author's use of the language is superb, giving her words life and making the scenes into images as well. I easily pictured every character and place in my mind through her vivid descriptions and attention to detail. The characters are cleverly created and so very easy to invest in. As a licensed elementary teacher, I was thrilled to find one as the main character. We are given a little bit of everything paranormal with this story! Each is well developed and given a unique personality. The plot is original and entertaining. The reader isn't spoon fed the ideas, but neither is the reader left hunting for them. The story is easy to read, but not elementary in it's development. This was my first Jennifer Harlow read, it will not be my last - can't wait for more!
I saw this book on the Halloween table at Barnes & Noble and decided to check it out. I love zombies, werewolves, and vampires and it seemed to have them all. I couldn't put it down! It was so fast, funny, creepy, and cool! I so enjoyed this book. Can't wait for the next one.
I was sucked in from page one. Jennifer Harlow keeps things fun, fast paced and entertaining! I highly recommend this to anyone with a love of fantasy and the supernatural. This book will keep you wanting more from cover to cover!
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