Louise Callaghan - Tor/Forge Blog

$2.99 December 2020 eBook Deals

Right in time for the holidays, we have five great ebooks on sale for $2.99 the whole month of December! From historical thrillers to captivating nonfiction, you’re sure to find something you’ll love.

Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan

Image Place holder  of - 1Father of Lions is the powerful true story of the evacuation of the Mosul Zoo, featuring Abu Laith the zookeeper, Simba the lion cub, Lula the bear, and countless others, faithfully depicted by acclaimed, award-winning journalist Louise Callaghan in her trade publishing debut.

Combining a true-to-life narrative of humanity in the wake of war with the heartstring-tugging account of rescued animals, Father of Lions will appeal to audiences of bestsellers like The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Bookseller of Kabul as well as fans of true animal stories such as A Streetcat Named BobMarley and Me, and Finding Atticus.




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Remembrance by Rita Woods

Image Placeholder of - 4Remembrance…It’s a rumor, a whisper passed in the fields and veiled behind sheets of laundry. A hidden stop on the underground road to freedom, a safe haven protected by more than secrecy…if you can make it there.

Ohio, present day
. An elderly woman who is more than she seems warns against rising racism as a young nurse grapples with her life.

Haiti, 1791, on the brink of revolution. When the slave Abigail is forced from her children to take her mistress to safety, she discovers New Orleans has its own powers.

1857 New Orleansa city of unrest: Following tragedy, house girl Margot is sold just before her promised freedom. Desperate, she escapes and chases a whisper…. Remembrance.




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People of the Canyons by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

Place holder  of - 90In a magnificent war-torn world cut by soaring red canyons, an evil ruler launches a search for a mystical artifact that he hopes will bring him ultimate power—an ancient witch’s pot that reputedly contains the trapped soul of the most powerful witch ever to have lived.

The aged healer Tocho has to stop him, but to do it he must ally himself with the bitter and broken witch hunter, Maicoh, whose only goal is achieving one last great kill.

Caught in the middle is Tocho’s adopted granddaughter, Tsilu. Her journey will be the most difficult of all for she is about to discover terrifying truths about her dead parents.

Truths that will set the ancient American Southwest afire and bring down a civilization.




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The Stolen Gold Affair by Bill Pronzini

Placeholder of  -63In response to a string of gold thefts in a Mother Lode mine, Quincannon goes undercover as a newly-hired miner to identify and capture the men responsible.

Meanwhile, Sabina finds herself not only making plans for her and Quincannon’s wedding, but also investigating both an audacious real estate scam and an abusive young man’s villainous secret.




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Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero

Poster Placeholder of - 99Sicily, 1943. Eddie Harkins, former Philadelphia beat cop turned Military Police lieutenant, reluctantly finds himself first at the scene of a murder at the US Army’s 11th Field Hospital. There the nurses contend with heat, dirt, short-handed staffs, the threat of German counterattack, an ever-present flood of horribly wounded GIs, and the threat of assault by one of their own—at least until someone shoots Dr. Myers Stephenson in the head.

With help from nurse Kathleen Donnelly, once a childhood friend and now perhaps something more, it soon becomes clear to Harkins that the unit is rotten to its core. As the battle lines push forward, Harkins is running out of time to find one killer before he can strike again.




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These sales end 12/31/2020 at 11:59 pm.


5 Great Book Club Picks

5 Great Book Club Picks

By Jennifer McClelland-Smith

There’s never a bad time for book club. Whether your book club is more of a wine club or a snacks club or a fun and friendship club, the camaraderie that comes with a group of people reading the same book and talking it out is unmatched. We’ve rounded up some of our Forge book club favorites that all have reading group guides. They’re perfect for getting the conversation going and offering ways to go deeper into these meaty books.

Poster Placeholder of - 49Remembrance by Rita Woods
Remembrance is one of those books it’s impossible NOT to talk about. It takes you on a journey throughout the country and the ages telling the story of an elderly woman in the present, a slave in 1791 Haiti and an escaped slave in New Orleans in 1857. There are elements of magic that make this a rich book experience like no other. Find the reading group guide here!

Image Placeholder of - 85Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan
Animal lovers and people interested in Middle East politics will be equally captivated by Father of Lions. Louise Callaghan is Middle East Correspondent for the Sunday Times and her take on this incredible story of a zookeeper and the measures he takes to save his animals in the wake of the Iraq War is a truly thrilling read. Find the reading group guide here!

Place holder  of - 19The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch
Fans of thrillers and historical fiction should look no further than this book, set in 1799 New York City. Dealing with the fallout of a financial crisis, racial tensions and corrupt financiers, The Devil’s Half Mile feels almost contemporary. Young lawyer Justy Flanagan is on the hunt for his father’s killer and the twists and turns he faces will keep you on the edge of your seat. Find the reading group guide here!

Image Place holder  of - 3Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber
If your book club loves nothing more than a cozy read, Midnight at the Blackbird Café is the perfect choice. It’s a sweet Southern story about a girl who returns to the small town where her mother grew up with a magical twist. There are quirky characters, heartwarming romance and enough pie recipes to make your mouth water. Do NOT read this on an empty stomach! Find the reading group guide here!

Placeholder of  -72A Dog’s Promise by W. Bruce Cameron
Dog lovers and book lovers alike know Bruce Cameron is the best choice for an uplifting canine read. This third book in the Dog’s Purpose series continues the story of Bailey and introduces us to Lacey, another very good dog. No one can write the soul of a dog quite like Bruce. And the way these two pups unite a fractured family gives readers plenty to howl about. Find the reading group guide here!


8 Books to Read for Galentine’s Day

By Alison Bunis

Happy Galentine’s Day! What’s Galentine’s Day, you ask? Essentially, for those of you not in the know, what started as a made-up holiday on the tv-show Parks and Recreation has become a real holiday. The day before Valentine’s Day, the most couple-y of holidays, gal pals everywhere put aside their partners and say to each other, “I appreciate your friendship and I love you.” How you celebrate is up to you, of course. Leslie Knope of Parks and Rec obviously goes for breakfast food, because that’s her love language. But for us here at Forge, our love language is obviously books. So to celebrate Galentine’s Day this year, we’ve put together a list of books celebrating women!

These books are by women or about women. Some of these women kick ass. Some of these women bake magic pies. Some of them tell you about their parents’ divorce and how not to join a cult, and some of them write about ISIS occupations. It’s a wide range, because there’s no predetermined way to be a woman, or to be a gal-pal. So grab your BFF, grab a couple of books, and get reading. Ladies celebrating ladies by reading about awesome ladies. What could be more Galentine’s Day than that??

For the Non-fiction Gal

Image Placeholder of - 37Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark
Pick up this book if you’re into Karen & Georgia’s podcast, My Favorite Murder! But even if you’re not a podcast person, don’t worry, this book is an excellent read for anyone looking for an honest, open, hilarious memoir about the struggles of dealing with mental health issues, addiction, and being a True Crime fan.

Poster Placeholder of - 13Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan
This one is a touching story of humanity in the midst of war, told by award-winning journalist Louise Callaghan. Callaghan is one of the youngest Middle East Correspondents ever hired by the Sunday Times (UK), and she has had pieces published in The Sunday Times Magazine, Vogue, and the Times Literary Supplement. Talk about an impressive lady. Father of Lions is a must-read if you’re interested in a story that will make you view war and conflict in a new light, or if you want a good book about brave animals.

To Get Your Pulse Racing

Image Place holder  of - 50The Retreat by Sherri Smith
We’ve all got that one friend who’s way too into the latest wellness craze. Maybe we are that friend, and no one’s told us yet. Doesn’t matter, this is just the book to break the spell: four friends go for a weekend getaway at a wellness retreat. By the end, only one of them is left standing…

Place holder  of - 7Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Hank Phillippi Ryan is an award-winning investigative journalist, so when she sits down to write a book about a journalist looking for the truth in an unbearably brutal story, you can bet she delivers. Trust Me is full of all the psychological suspense and manipulation that any thriller reader could ever desire.

A Hint of Magic

Placeholder of  -2Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber
For your friend who believes in magic, for your friend who believes in love, for your friend who loves to bake, for your friend from a small town, for your friend with a close family, for your friend with serious family issues: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe checks all the boxes. But have baked goods on hand: you’ll definitely want a snack while reading.

Remembrance by Rita Woods
Do you want to spark a discussion with your friends? Want to dive into the deeper issues surrounding the Haitian Revolution and the Underground Railroad? Or do you just want to sink into an enthralling read about four women, connected across different times and places, struggling to make their way in a world that doesn’t have a place for them? (Hint: If you liked The Underground Railroad or The Orphan Train, this is definitely the book for you.)

Historically Accurate Friendships

Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble
 Okay, this one’s for the gal pal groups who watched Downton Abbey together. The movie helped, sure, but it was just one movie. So if you’re suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawal, Shelley Noble is here to help you out with her delightful mystery set in Gilded Age Manhattan, where horse racing, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And our plucky heroine Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

Of Irish Blood by Mary Pat KellyOf Irish Blood by Mary Pat Kelly
This vivid, compelling epic is a great read for anyone interested in Irish heritage or family history, because author Mary Pat Kelly based the story on her own great-aunt’s life. Following heroine Nora Kelly as she travels through Europe in 1903, readers will meet all kinds of exciting real-life characters such as Gertrude Stein, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce!


Start a Discussion With the Father of Lions Reading Group Guide

Place holder  of - 73Father of Lions is the powerful true story of the evacuation of the Mosul Zoo, featuring Abu Laith the zookeeper, Simba the lion cub, Lula the bear, and countless others, faithfully depicted by acclaimed, award-winning journalist Louise Callaghan in her trade publishing debut.

Combining a true-to-life narrative of humanity in the wake of war with the heartstring-tugging account of rescued animals, Father of Lions will appeal to audiences of bestsellers like The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Bookseller of Kabul as well as fans of true animal stories such as A Streetcat Named BobMarley and Me, and Finding Atticus.


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Order a Copy of Father of Lions

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Excerpt: Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan

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Place holder  of - 30Father of Lions is the powerful true story of the evacuation of the Mosul Zoo, featuring Abu Laith the zookeeper, Simba the lion cub, Lula the bear, and countless others, faithfully depicted by acclaimed, award-winning journalist Louise Callaghan in her trade publishing debut.

Combining a true-to-life narrative of humanity in the wake of war with the heartstring-tugging account of rescued animals, Father of Lions will appeal to audiences of bestsellers like The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Bookseller of Kabul as well as fans of true animal stories such as A Streetcat Named Bob, Marley and Me, and Finding Atticus.

Father of Lions by Louis Callaghan will be available on January 14. Please enjoy the following excerpt!

Abu Laith

Abu Laith was not the kind of man to let another man insult his lion. Especially not a man who looked like this.

He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, well pressed, and had the air of a civil servant. He carried a baby in the crook of his left arm. In his right hand he held a reed, plucked from the banks of the River Tigris, which he was using to poke Abu Laith’s newly acquired lion cub, who was asleep in his cage.

The man’s wife and the rest of his children stood nearby, watching sullenly. Despite his efforts, the poking was having no measurable effect on the lion, who wasn’t moving at all. All of this registered in Abu Laith’s mind as he ran at full pelt through the zoo towards the man, who had not seen him coming.

It was around 7.30 p.m. in the zoo by the Tigris, and the dusk was settling pink over Mosul’s Old City. Families were sitting outside the zoo cafe drinking cold Pepsi and glasses of tea. The bears were reclining in their cages as Abu Laith charged past.

‘What are you doing?’ shouted the self-appointed zookeeper, who rarely spoke at less than a bellow. ‘Get out of the zoo.’

The man, who did not realize the danger he was in, barely glanced up. ‘Why aren’t they doing anything?’ he asked, irate. ‘We paid money to see them.’

Abu Laith came to a dead halt in front of the family. ‘They’re full,’ he shouted. ‘They’ve just eaten. When animals are full, they sleep.’

The man, who wasn’t listening, kept poking at the lion cub. Next door, the lion’s mother and father—known to the zoo’s employees as Mother and Father—were also asleep.

‘We paid money to see them move,’ the man said, prodding the lion cub again.

‘How would you like it if I poked your children with a stick?’ Abu Laith spat, advancing on the family.

The man, who had finally got the message, backed away, his wide-eyed family backing with him. ‘I’m not coming here again,’ he said, snippily.

‘Good,’ called Abu Laith, as the visitors turned and scuttled off. ‘And you had better not, because if you do I’ll feed you to my lion.’

Grumbling to himself, Abu Laith turned his attentions to the cub. He was sound asleep, and looked not unlike a middle-sized ginger dog. None of the zoo workers, who were milling aimlessly around the park, had reacted to Abu Laith’s outburst. They were used to it.

Everyone always said that Abu Laith himself looked like a lion, and it was true. He was five foot six with a rock-hard keg of a belly and an opaque halo of orange hair. His nose looked like it had been hewn from a boulder and sprinkled with freckles. He spoke in a roar.

That was why they called him Abu Laith, which—loosely translated—meant Father of Lions.

Since he could remember, Abu Laith had loved animals, and devoted himself to them at the near-absolute expense of humans. He had raised dogs, pigeons, rabbits, cats and beetles and held them in his hands when they died. For his third-eldest daughter’s birthday, he had driven a herd of sheep into the family home. He had once given a baby monkey a shower in his garden.

He had one ultimate, lifelong ambition: to live on a farm with large predators roaming free around him. In Mosul, this was considered a suspect ambition. It had, possibly, something to do with the restrictions on animals in the Quran. In the holy book, dogs were listed as haram—unclean—along with pigs, donkeys, bandicoots, parrots, glow-worms (and all such bloodless animals), snakes and forest lizards (animals that have blood, but whose blood does not flow).

Most people, even if they weren’t religious, thought that dogs were dirty, and somehow unsavoury, in the way that people in Europe felt about rats: plague carriers and unclean beasts that defiled their surroundings. Though some families kept pets, it was considered disreputable to own a lot of animals. Among the people of the great city by the Tigris, animal lovers had a shady reputation as hustlers, fighters and panhandlers. Pigeon breeders, a fraternity to which Abu Laith also belonged, were especially dodgy.

Under the Iraqi legal system, pigeon owners were not considered trustworthy enough to testify in court. They had a reputation for always getting into fights and drinking too much whisky. Abu Laith fitted the stereotype all too well. He was a shaqawa—a kind of good-hearted neighbourhood thug. The sort of man you might call if you needed an extra pair of fists in a fight, or if someone was harassing your daughter, and needed to be scared off. He would never let anyone else pay for lunch, and always lent money to his relatives, grasping as he thought they were.

Since he was a young man, Abu Laith had made his living as a mechanic, fixing cars in the neighbourhood—at first for a few dinars here and there, but now he owned a big garage with several employees, where he charged hundreds of dollars to fix large American cars of the kind favoured by Mosul’s elite. But this was nothing more than a distraction from his real love: large, dangerous animals.

In 2013 he had decided to take an enormous step, which he hoped would change his life for the better. He was going to build his own zoo: a wide, open space with a park for animals to roam, and offices and apartment blocks that looked over it. It didn’t matter that the city was plagued with suicide attacks and kidnappings. In Abu

Laith’s mind, the development would be a lot like Dubai—slick skyscrapers and open lands on the bank of a mighty waterway, albeit the Tigris rather than the Persian Gulf.

As he gathered together his funds, wrenching money back from tight-fingered relatives and strong-arming investors, he had searched for a plot of land. He discovered that a large swathe of grass on the eastern bank of the Tigris was for sale. There was already a zoo next door. To Abu Laith, the plan seemed fated to succeed, as long as the two businesses could combine into one large zoo. Once he had finished building the new development, he could buy the animals from the existing zoo, adding new ones if he needed to.

One bright morning, he went and spoke to the owner of the zoo, a rich man from Mosul known as Ibrahim, who lived in Erbil, a Kurdish city 50 miles to the east. Like most wealthy people from Mosul, Ibrahim hid his money, knowing it would be a magnet for kidnappers and spongers. When he travelled around Mosul, he went in a simple taxi. He wore poor-quality clothes, rather than fine suits. Abu Laith understood this, and understood how he could be of service.

‘I know you can’t be here to keep an eye on your business,’ he told Ibrahim, when he went to see him. ‘But I know animals, and I know Mosul. If we work together, I’ll make sure your animals are looked after well. Then we’ll expand it together, and we’ll make some money.’

As it was, Abu Laith knew very well, the animals at Ibrahim’s zoo were in a pitiful state. He had been to scout it out a few times, and had been appalled at what he saw. The bears—a Syrian brown bear called Lula and her mate, who wasn’t called anything at all—were tetchy and worried by the fireworks that were set off to entertain visitors nearly every Friday evening near the zoo. The ponies were skinny, and the lions in their metal cages, about the size of a car, were bored and left roasting in the sun.

Abu Laith decided to step in and transform the lacklustre park into a proper zoo. With Ibrahim’s blessing, he began to visit the animals after he finished at the repair shop. Abu Laith, despite never having been a zookeeper before, had spent his life preparing for the role. From hours of watching the National Geographic channel, a years-long obsession of his—it played uninterrupted in his Mosul home—and from owning dozens of pets, he had accrued zoological knowledge that he considered unparalleled. When he was unleashed on Ibrahim’s zoo, it was as if a bomb had fallen from the sky. The zoo employees quickly learned to shuffle off when they saw the portly red-headed man stalking towards them. He would inevitably be getting ready to shout at them for not having cleaned the cages, or for feeding barley to the lions.

‘They need meat,’ he would spit. ‘Fresh meat, only just dead.’

Abu Laith was in his element. Soon, he hoped, he would have raised enough funds to start building his own park on the plot of land he had bought next door to the zoo, which for the moment lay empty. When it was done, these animals would be able to run free, rather than being cooped up in those small, hot cages.

It would begin with the lion. By early 2014, Abu Laith had for six months been the proud owner of a lion cub. He had tawny orange fur, and a notch on his upper lip where he had caught it on some chicken wire that Abu Laith had ill-advisedly used to protect the his cage from stick-wielders and other disturbers of the peace.

The lion cub was his first acquisition for the new zoo—the first animal that would be truly his, and not Ibrahim’s. He had first met the cub in Ahmed’s house, which lay about half an hour east of the Old City. Ahmed worked at the zoo, and he infuriated Abu Laith, who disliked the way he always wore tracksuits and his disdain for the proper feeding habits of animals.

For some time, Abu Laith had expected that Ahmed might be hiding something from him regarding the pregnancy of a lioness who had been brought to the zoo two years before with her mate. Abu Laith suspected that when the lioness gave birth, Ahmed would try to steal her offspring and sell the cubs without the knowledge of the zoo’s owner.

While he might often turn a blind eye to some stealing, Abu Laith was not going to be cheated out of a lion. As a self-styled manager of Ibrahim’s zoo, he had decided early on that he had a claim on the lion cubs, and had arranged to buy as many of them as he could once the lioness gave birth.

Though he had never seen them in the wild, Abu Laith knew a lot about lions courtesy of National Geographic. He knew, for example, that lions sharpened their claws on stones, and that they liked to sleep after dinner.

All Ahmed knew about, he thought, was money. So when one day the pregnant lion started looking a bit skinnier again, with no sign of the cubs, Abu Laith suspected immediately that something was up. Biding his time, he waited on the street outside his house until Ahmed’s eldest son walked past.

‘Son,’ Abu Laith called nonchalantly. ‘Do you know where your father is keeping the lion cubs?’

‘They’re at home,’ said the boy.

It wasn’t long before Abu Laith was parking his large American car outside Ahmed’s house, a small building with a garage. Inside the garage sat Ahmed, who was peering into a modest brick structure containing two very small lions, each no bigger than a loaf of bread.

Abu Laith was furious. ‘Why did you separate them from their mother?’ he shouted, as he stormed into the room. ‘Now if she sees them, she’ll smell human on their fur, and she’ll eat them.’

Ahmed, lounging in his tracksuit, didn’t seem to care. ‘Which one do you want, then?’ he asked, clearly exasperated that he’d been rumbled.

Abu Laith crouched down and cast a professional eye over the lions. Moving slowly, so he wouldn’t scare them, he opened the door to their enclosure. Immediately, one of the cubs jumped out and on to a white plastic chair that stood in the middle of the garage.

‘This one is mine,’ he declared, beaming at the young lion, who looked back at him calmly. Within a matter of days, Abu Laith had installed the lion in a cage next door to his parents in Ibrahim’s zoo.

After a period of consideration, he decided to name the cub after the lion in a cartoon about African animals that he had watched with his children, complete with mistranslated Arabic subtitles: he would call him Zombie.

Immediately, he set to work training the lion. He taught Zombie to sit quietly outside the cage when it was being cleaned. When he told him to go back into the cage, Zombie would obey. The cub knew not to bother the other animals in the zoo. Across the way from Zombie lived the two brown bears, Lula and her mate. The male bear was admirably strong, Abu Laith thought, and very protective of Lula. When the zookeepers had once tried to move him into a separate cage from his female companion, he had roared and fought so much they had given up.

Lula was a quiet soul who liked honey. When Abu Laith finished up at his mechanic’s shop, he would come to the zoo with half a kilo of honey for Lula, who would eat it and lick it from her paws. She liked apples, but only if they hadn’t touched the ground. She was a very clean bear.

The training continued apace, and within a few months Abu Laith knew, with the confidence of a man who had only met four lions in his life, that he would be able to tell Zombie apart from a thousand others of his species.

When night fell, and all the families and the small, annoying children were gone, Abu Laith would take a bottle of whisky to the zoo and sit down with Zombie for a yarn.

‘If animals are really dirty,’ he would sometimes ask, gazing out over the Tigris as the reeds rustled, ‘why did God create them?’

The lion couldn’t answer, but Abu Laith thought he knew what he was talking about.

A few months after Zombie came to the zoo, however, Abu Laith’s dreams of building his own wildlife park on the Tigris were dashed by a suicide attack that killed one of his business partners in the zoo-building venture just as he was emerging from Abu Laith’s front gate. He had been drinking with the man in his courtyard, and Abu Laith survived, but was accused by the police of having ordered his partner’s murder.

Because the man had died in front of his house, Abu Laith felt compelled to pay compensation to his family to the tune of almost all his considerable fortune, amassed through years of saving up every dollar from fixing American cars. After four months in prison, when he was released after the police realized he wasn’t a murderer, he came to the zoo to see Zombie, his dreams of re-creating Dubai on the Tigris in tatters.

He could feel the lion had missed him.

Copyright © 2020 by Louise Callaghan

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