reviews, books, blog tour

Blog Tour: Drums of War – Michael Ward

London 1642.

The King has fled London with the drums of war ringing in his ears. Across the country, lines are being drawn and armies raised.

Influential royalist Lady Carlisle switches sides and presses spice trader Thomas Tallant and his partner Elizabeth Seymour into Parliament’s service.

Soon Thomas faces double-dealing in his hunt for a lethal hoard of gunpowder hidden on the river, while Elizabeth engages in a race against time to locate a hidden sniper picking off Parliamentary officers at will in the city.

The capital also witnesses a vicious gang of jewel thieves take advantage of the city’s chaos to go on the rampage, smashing homes and shops, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. They hand pick their targets but refrain from selling any of their loot. There are more questions than answers.

When war finally erupts, Elizabeth is caught in the brutalising carnage of Edgehill while Thomas joins the Trained Bands in their defence of the city. As he mans the barricades at Brentford, in a desperate rearguard action to repel Prince Rupert’s surprise attack, he realises the future of London rests in the hands of him and a few hundred troopers.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth believes she has identified the jewel thief and goes underground to trace his hoard.

But all is not as it seems.

Writing has been central to Mike Ward’s professional life. On graduating from university he became a journalist, working in newspapers and for the BBC. He then went into journalism education, teaching and researching journalism practice before becoming head of the UK’s prestigious Journalism School at UCLan. For the last eight years he has run his own content creation company.

My thoughts: we return to Thomas Tallant’s London, in the grips of the English Civil War (Charles I vs. Parliament). London is for Parliament and the King is in Oxford (which he named his capital) with his Royalist soldiers.

Thomas is hired by Parliament to find out where some stolen black powder is being smuggled out of London from, which he does. Getting himself involved with turncoats and conspirators. Can’t see any of today’s MPs on the frontline of a battle wielding a musket somehow!

Meanwhile Elizabeth, Thomas’ friend, has been asked by the King’s physician to assist him in his field hospital. Sickened and saddened by the chaos and death she returns to London angry and traumatised. She’s been tasked to find a jewel thief and us poking around the Goldsmith’s Guild, despite having been warned off. Will this help soothe her after witnessing the brutality of the battlefield?

It was interesting to read about the fighting in Brentford and the taking of Syon House – places I know, and battles that aren’t as well known as Edgehill. The Civil War was a time that saw families divided and brothers on opposite sides. Thomas’ father wants to remain neutral, in the hope that his trading won’t be interrupted, but that’s probably not going to work for long.

The historical facts (the war, the jewel thefts) are real, which adds depth to the story and allows the author to bring things to life that are usually just a list in a textbook. Another enjoyable outing for Thomas and Co.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Council – T.C. Weber

TheCouncil copy

Welcome to the book tour for T.C. Weber’s lastest book, a political satire called The Council. Read on for more details!

Council ARC cover (50 pct)

The Council

Publication Date: September 22, 2022

Genre: Political Satire/ Humor

Luther Smith, a newly elected county councilman, is determined to make a difference for his constituents. Unfortunately, he’s ill-prepared for the corruption, incompetence, and lunacy of his fellow councilmembers. Lisa Hogan, a down-on-her-luck single mom and avid naturalist, discovers that developers plan to raze the last tract of forest in the county. Facing a dysfunctional bureaucracy, corrupt politicians, and lazy journalists, Luther and Lisa form a growing bond as they attempt to navigate the legislative labyrinth, mobilize the community, and attempt to save the forest.

“You may think this story is full of absurdity and exaggeration, but I assure you, it is frighteningly close to reality. And that’s precisely what makes this book so hilarious.”

– Local Councilman who was told to remain anonymous by the Ethics Commission

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Excerpt

The blonde woman in the back rose from her seat and approached the microphone, pale lips pressed together. She wore tan cargo pants and a green fleece. “Hello. I’m Lisa Hogan and I live at 2355 Whistlestop Drive, Foxglove Estates.” She gestured toward Councilman van Womple. “Is he going to sleep through public testimony?”

Council President Sparks leaned into his mic. “Can someone please wake up Clifton?”

Councilwoman Sutton reached over and jostled van Womple awake. His eyes darted wildly. “Whaa?”

“According to their web site,” Ms. Hogan spoke into the mic, “Cha-Ching Properties, which owns half the land in the county, is planning to develop the Great Woods, our last sizable stand of forest. But that area is zoned for conservation. I came to ask if you know what’s going on here.”

Luther hadn’t heard this before, but the Great Woods were way over on the west side of the county and this was his first meeting. The other councilpersons similarly responded with blank faces, except for Councilman Davis, who looked down and rustled through his papers.

The council president leaned toward his microphone. “Thank you.” He scanned the empty seats. “Anyone else?”

Ms. Hogan remained at the lectern. “I’m not finished.” She scrunched her face and ran fingers through limp hair. “It’s on Cha-Ching’s website—I try to follow what they’re up to. It’s listed as their next big project—The Preserve—an irritatingly ironic name since their sketch map shows houses, stores, and office buildings instead of unbroken forest. You know nothing about it? They haven’t submitted anything or contacted you?”

Sparks looked around at the other council members. Sutton shrugged. Van Womple’s eyelids drifted slowly down again.

Luther decided to find out more. “Did you contact the Planning Department?”

“They said they had nothing on file.”

“Did you contact the developer?”

Ms. Hogan’s eyes narrowed. “They refused to talk to me and don’t respond to emails.”

“Development projects have to be approved by the Planning Department, so keep calling them.”

“It would be nice if Sylvan County posted proposed projects on their web site like other counties do.”

Davis cut in before Luther could respond. “I’ll pass that along. Thank you.”

The woman sighed and marched back to her seat.

Council President Sparks shuffled through a pile of papers. “And now we’ll take up our first order of business. Let me see if I can find it…”

Davis responded, “It’s on the agenda. We’re honoring Boy Scout Troop 1156 for um…?” He looked at the others for help.

“Oh yes,” Sparks said. “Where are they?”

There was no sign of boy scouts in the chamber.

Davis looked around. “Did anyone send them an invite?”

Shrugs all around.

Sparks frowned. “Well, someone find out where they are.”

The meeting secretary closed the Candy Crash game on her smartphone and began scrolling through contacts.

“This is important,” Sparks said. “It’s important to honor the troops.”

The troops? Luther wondered if he’d misheard.

“I was there on 9-11,” Sparks continued. “Saw the towers come down. Right there on my TV. And then I had brunch. Waffles, I think.”

Available on Amazon

About the Author

TW author photo (4 in)

T.C. Weber has pursued writing since childhood, and learned filmmaking and screenwriting in college, along with physics and ecology. His first published novel was a near-future cyberpunk thriller titled Sleep State Interrupt (See Sharp Press). The first book of a trilogy, it was a finalist for the 2017 Compton Crook award for best first speculative fiction novel. The sequels, The Wrath of Leviathan and Zero-Day Rising, are also out. These were followed by Born in Salt, a character-oriented alternate history novel, and The Survivors, a post-apocalyptic horror novella. His latest work, The Council, pits a naïve councilman and a down-on-her-luck single mom against greedy developers and a dysfunctional government, to try to save their county’s last stand of forest.

Mr. Weber is a member of Poets & Writers, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, the Horror Writers Association, and the Maryland Writers Association, and has run numerous writing workshops. By day, Mr. Weber works as an ecologist, and has had a number of scientific papers and book chapters published. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland with his wife Karen and two miniature schnauzers. He enjoys traveling and has visited all seven continents.

For book samples, short stories, and more, visit https://www.tcweber.com/

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Book Tour Schedule

November 28th

R&R Book Tours (Kick-Off) http://rrbooktours.com

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@latishaslowkeylife (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/latishaslowkeylife/

Books Blog (Spotlight) https://www.booksblog.co.uk/

November 29th

Liliyana Shadowlyn (Review) https://lshadowlynauthor.com/

The Faerie Review (Spotlight) http://www.thefaeriereview.com

@witchinglybookish (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/witchinglybookish/

Cocktails & Fairytales (Spotlight) https://www.facebook.com/CocktailsFairytales

November 30th

Lady Hawkeye (Spotlight) https://www.ladyhawkeye.com/

@kellyatx (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/kellyatx/

@accio_mischief (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/accio_mischief/

Stine Writing (Spotlight) https://christinebialczak.com/

December 1st

I Smell Sheep (Spotlight) http://www.ismellsheep.com/

@margiebythebookcase (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/margiebythebookcase/

Rambling Mads (Spotlight) http://ramblingmads.com

Book Reviews by Taylor (Spotlight) https://www.bookreviewsbytaylor.com/

December 2nd

@adlynsreadingcorner (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/adlynsreadingcorner/

@mandioyster (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/mandioyster/

Bunny’s Reviews (Spotlight) https://bookwormbunnyreviews.blogspot.com/

@bayyyansbooks (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/bayyyansbooks/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y%3D

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Blog Tour: Death on the Crags – Jo Allen

Everybody loves Thomas Davies. Don’t they?
When policeman Thomas Davies falls from a crag on a visit to the Lake District in full view of his partner, Mia, it looks for all the world like a terrible but unfortunate accident — until a second witness comes forward with a different story.
Alerted to the incident, DCI Jude Satterthwaite is inclined to take it seriously — not least because of Mia’s reluctance to speak to the police about the incident. As Jude and his colleagues,
including his on-off partner DS Ashleigh O’Halloran, tackle the case, they’re astonished by how many people seem to have a reason to want all-round good guy Thomas out of the way.
With the arrival of one of Thomas’s colleagues to assist the local force, the investigation intensifies. As the team unpick the complicated lives of those who claim to care for Thomas but have good reasons to want him dead, they find themselves digging deeper and deeper into a web of blackmail and cruelty … and investigating a second death.
A traditional British police procedural mystery set in Cumbria.

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Jo Allen was born in Wolverhampton and is a graduate of Edinburgh, Strathclyde and the Open University, with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in geography and Earth science. She’s
been writing for pleasure and publication for as long as she can remember. After a career in economic consultancy she took up writing and was first published under the name Jennifer Young, in genres of short stories, romance and romantic suspense. She wrote online articles on travel and on her favourite academic subject, Earth science. In 2017 she took the plunge and began writing the genre she most likes to read — crime.
Jo lives in the English Lakes, where the DCI Satterthwaite series is set. In common with all her favourite characters, she loves football (she’s a season ticket holder with her beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers) and cats.

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My thoughts: this was another excellent outing for DCI Jude Satterthwaite and the team as a holidaying Welsh policeman is pushed off one of the Lakes peaks in front of his partner.

But why would anyone want to murder the very nice Thomas Davies – what secrets are his loved ones hiding? Jude is determined to solve this mystery.

Things get complicated by the arrival of a colleague from the North Wales police who has her own agenda. Jude and Ashleigh’s relationship is a bit rocky, Ashleigh being a very astute person knows Jude and Becca still have feelings for each other that they haven’t acted on. Will that change things?

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Velvet Badge – Bob Mantel

Forty years in the making, Bob Mantel’s thrilling debut novel challenges today’s social standards with compelling characters while infusing the Big Apple’s unmistakable presence.

In The Velvet Badge: A New York Noir a tasteless nightclub run by a failed JFK assassination co-conspirator brings out the worst in 1970s New York. Songbird Sadasia Trayne runs into a disco-era buzz saw of wine, women, and murder when she hooks up with the Brooklyn-based creator of a notorious TV sitcom. Her frantic SOS to a long-lost love, the Big Apple’s closeted lesbian Chief of Police Detectives, drives this tale of memory and regret, compromise and topiary, politics and a corrupt press, Kris Kringle and twisted acts of love. Will the headline-grabbing sex crime she sets out to solve max out the Chief’s investigative skills or deep-six her career?

The Velvet Badge combines edge-of-your-seat storytelling with stone-cold hilarity and just a touch of holiday ho-ho-ho. A fast-paced novel embedded with elements of suspense and dark humor, The Velvet Badge is perfect for readers who enjoyed Meatpacking by Michael Heslin, The Burn by Kathleen Kent, or Cold Evidence by Robin James.

Mantel creates a world of mystery while infusing dark comedy in a fresh way. “The novel’s New York episodes were inspired by the 1970s city I lived in during my Columbia College days…I was a classic hick, struggling with classes and discovering the highs and lows of the city. Many of these stories found their way into The Velvet Badge,” he said.

Authentically reflecting the sights and sounds of the city he loves, Mantel’s talent for bringing the diversity of New York to life on the page may seem effortless, but it wasn’t always easy. “Like many other writers, I knew what I wanted to accomplish in my first book but didn’t know how to pull it off,” he said. “I worked on The Velvet Badge, off and on for many years, and even completed several drafts, but never to my satisfaction. I took it up again after I retired in 2017 and, this time, all the missing pieces seemed to fall into place–including an ending that I’d previously been unable to conjure.”

Bob Mantel was educated at Columbia College, where he won the Cornell Woolrich Award for Fiction, and the University of Chicago. He lives in New York and enjoys visiting cities that have ballparks and concert halls. The Velvet Badge is his first novel. Learn more at bobmantel.wordpress.com and follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


Bob Mantel Blogger Q&A

How long did it take you to complete The Velvet Badge?

An embarrassingly long time–more than 40 years–although I didn’t work on it steadily and often left it untouched for years. One of my problems was taking Ulysses too much to heart and spending nearly a decade badly imitating Joyce’s prose. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, which is why I call that magnificent book “the great crippler of young adults.” Long story short: you may know what you want to write but have no idea how to bring it off. I completed any number of drafts until I finally figured out a decent ending for the book. After that, everything else finally fell into place.

Have you ever experienced writer’s/creator’s block? How do you get out of it?

Writer’s block for me turns out being a function of not having thought through my material to the point where it’s ready to work on. Whenever one crops up, I make a backup copy of the chapter I’m working on, save it as Chapter X-GARBAGE, then write away as well as I can, not expecting to keep much of what I’m producing. If I keep at it, I eventually understand how I need to shape my material and I can get back to my original draft, revise as needed and move forward.

How much of your work is autobiographical?

All of it, just like every first novel is autobiography. I’ve been inspired and stimulated by the places I’ve lived and the people I’ve known and loved. But I’m not out to draw their portraits “from life.” Instead, I’m interested in drawing on the autobiography of the emotions I felt about them to create unique places and characters that I’m free to work with as I choose.

You use a lot of what used to be called “hard jokes” in your fiction. Are you concerned about offending your readers?

No. The Velvet Badge is a hard-edge black comedy/murder mystery set largely in the 1970s. Much of the book’s humor derives from its describing characters in two ways: first, as they’d be seen in the 1970s and then authorially commenting from the present day. There’s shock value in the first and, hopefully, laughter and healing balm in the second. If any of my readers are looking for hate speech, they should track down the TV channels and websites offering plenty of that these days.

The Velvet Badge seems to contain quite a few references to operas and old movies. Could you mention just a few?

Name-dropping like that isn’t surprising when you consider what was going on in New York back when I first knew it. Take the book’s Oscar Wilde/Richard Strauss “Salome” reference. Back in the day, standing room at the Met was three bucks–and didn’t come with subtitles! More importantly, you could get into any number of revival movie house double features up and down Broadway for only $2.50. There’s a big scene in “Badge” that riffs on “The Pride of The Yankees,” after the book previously sang the praises of the talented, ever-lovely Teresa Wright. Of course, a major plot point in “The Velvet Badge” is a direct homage to Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” And the book closes with a bit of dialogue straight-up stolen from Alida Valli in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.”

What’s your favorite book-movie adaptation?

I’d have to say it’s a three-way tie between Raymond Chandler and Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye,” Thomas Pynchon and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” and Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show.” By the way, if anybody wants to buy “The Velvet Badge” movies rights, please give me a call. I’m in the book.


Extract from The Velvet Badge

Faced with life’s deep dish pie of pain, Donny Damon always ordered his slices á la mode. It was a habit he’d acquired from his old man Harry, who’d been born in a land where the streets were paved with gold, days before the Blizzard of ’88 paralyzed the East Coast, and who did little to hang his hat on until 1923, when Harding’s sudden death out west landed brine-faced Coolidge in the Oval Office.

Silent Cal’s pronouncement that “the chief business of the American people is business” was a turning point for Harry Damon, inspiring the colorless street pug to scrape together whatever cash he could, marry the first woman he could fast-talk in front of an altar and make a go of “Damon Truss & Convalescent Supply” on New York’s Lower East Side. The driving force behind this enterprise’s success was the 35-year-old’s decision to have his child bride strut her fine, precocious stuff behind the shop’s plate-glass window, wearing little beyond a leg cast, neck brace and strategically placed Ace bandages. Since such a display was an insult to community standards, it drew the smutty-minded, bogus lame and halt to his establishment from a twelve-block radius and kept its cash register ringing for as long as Olivia Damon continued her risqué showcase.

Harry’s missus gave the act the hook during FDR’s first administration and would eventually divorce her husband claiming alienation of affection. But by then the small business owner hardly even remembered being married and had gone all in on racketeering practices that expanded Damon Truss ten-fold during the Great Depression. By the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was piloting a regional wheelchair powerhouse while also heading a body bag monopoly in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Damon’s stranglehold on these markets, however, couldn’t and didn’t last. America’s entry into World War II gave Feds the excuse they’d been waiting for to nationalize his enterprises rather than let Harry spend the next several years dodging profiteering charges. 

Being put out to early pasture may have caught the wheelchair king off guard, but it couldn’t keep him and his enormous wad of buyout cash down for long. Within a few months, Mr. Damon was steering his Studebaker President north along the mighty Hudson to a sleepy river town founded by the Dutch and re-christened by the Brits to honor the neatly trimmed juniper bushes surrounding its village green. Or so the story went. 

The actual name change to “Carvéd Hedge” dated only from the 1920s, when those eponymous hedges were first planted. Back then, local politicians and the chamber of commerce decided that a little fudged history would attract new business, along with a better class of people, and make the dusty old place a village to be proud of instead of the shoulder-shrug whistlestop it had been sliding into for decades. This effort hadn’t made much of a difference. But every once in a while, a resident would surprise the neighbors, show some talent or initiative and put the community’s general mediocrity to shame.

Sharpie Bev Boslegovich, for example, parleyed her ability to recognize a born patsy when she saw one into a thriving local real-estate business. So when Harry Damon turned his big sedan onto Main Street in 1942, he couldn’t even put the damn thing in park before “Hiya, handsome! Lookin’ to settle down?” came winging his way from under a mop of Shirley Temple curls. 

Since sparkplug Bev believed in telling people what they wanted to hear, she gave a twist to her town’s Jazz Age creation myth that a mark like Damon would be powerless to resist. Namely (“Turn left at this corner!”) that an eyesore property, sitting idle on her books for months, had once been the home of a profligate Tory (“You know, before the Revolution.”) who spent the bulk of his fortune developing a topiary wonderland of trees, bushes and shrubs that a small army of gardeners had stripped, clipped, bent, and chiseled into a stunning array of geometric and animal-shaped confections.

Not a word of this was true, of course, but Bev understood Damon had journeyed to her little piece of heaven on earth because he was in the market for prestige as much as a home. To hear her tell it, the property she was hawking was the true inspiration behind the name of the village that tripped so lightly off her tongue. “Why else would they call it Carvéd Hedge?” Bev demanded as much as wondered.

Moved by the realtor’s aggressive eloquence, Damon’s gullibility made him believe wholeheartedly that the unruly mess he was looking at was precisely the spot where a vital, breathing, European artform had jumped species and taken root in Colonial America. This despite the fact that the “estate,” as Bev called it, was nothing more than a derelict saltbox with a sagging catslide roof, centered on a half-acre lot and thick with oversized, misfit verdure that, if you wanted to believe in it hard enough, at one time might conceivably have served some decorative function. Boslegovich sealed the deal when she told him, “There are some things you just can’t put a price on.” Damon barely flinched when she quoted a ridiculously high ask and bought the place for cash. “None of that buying-on-time crap for me,” he crowed. It was the maraschino cherry topping a forced retirement that had already started to melt. 


My thoughts: this was a crazy, black humoured book taking in JFK’s assassination, a nightclub decorated in homage (?) to that event, a singer who might be amazing but who would ever know when she gets involved in the horrific murder of a lesbian TV producer, and turns to her ex – the Velvet Badge of the title – female chief of detectives, Ellia, who grew up in a house with Christmas obsessed parents and is still scarred by her younger brother’s death.

The murder seems fairly straightforward – the laundry delivery man fits the detective’s motive and suspicions very well, maybe a little too well. But as long as there’s no murder similar to this, he’ll do. There are other bodies, but if you can’t find them, are they there?

A local “businessman” has an interesting story to tell, tying up a few loose ends, but the damage is done and various people (like the mayor) just want this all to go away. A wandering, freewheeling format, slowly connecting the characters together is a bit confusing at first but then brings it all together at The Umbrella Man.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Book Blitz: Before Again – Claire S. Duffy

BeforeAgain copy

Congratulations to author Claire S. Duffy on the release of Before Again, “A gripping start to a seductive series.” Read on for more info!

front-cover

Before Again (The Shadow City Chronicles #1)

Publication Date: November 30, 2022

Genre: Urban Fantasy/ Paranormal “Buffy meets Outlander”

He’s been killing for hundreds of years.

But he reckoned without her.

Kirsty has always been alone.

It’s fine. It’s what she’s chosen. People, as a general rule, are more trouble than they’re worth. It’s why God invented batteries.

But when she comes across the man being burned alive on the banks of the Clyde, she can’t just let him die. Without a second thought she batters in to save his life…

And accidentally tears the fabric of time.

Now an ancient serial killer is on the loose and only Kirsty can make him regret he was ever born.

Even if it means killing the only person who ever loved her.

Sometimes she can bloody well see all these magic destiny shenanigans far enough.

The twisty, laugh out loud funny start to a seductive fantasy series. Buffy meets Outlander with a side order of Taggart. If you like fast-paced action, Glasgow humour and women who take no prisoners, you’ll love Before Again.

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Excerpt

Kirsty ran faster and faster, desperately trying to find that rhythm that cleared her mind. Her lungs burned and her legs trembled, but she pounded on and on. She swerved left, then right, vaulting over the railing around Queens Park as though it were nothing, then raced herself up the path to the flagpole. A swan hissed at her and a dog’s bark echoed in the moonlight. She leapt onto the platform around the flagpole from the path below, clearing at least three metres straight up.

Kirsty drank in the view as she caught her breath. Her brain whirred like a possessed waltzer. Half-thoughts, snatches of feeling, fragments of horror zipped and sizzled and seared across her mind. The white light and the crack of Owen’s spine snapping back into place rattled around and around until Kirsty was dizzy.

What was he? What was she?

The city was spread out before her, lights twinkling in the blackness. The Campsies barely an outline against deep purple clouds. Her city. A city that had ricocheted from poverty to riches and back again; that was famous for being one of the friendliest and most dangerous places in the world. A cultural capital of Europe that had an outbreak of bubonic plague in the twentieth century. A city riddled with vibratey time holes and lepers who play Simon Says with wee girls and maniac serial killers who can’t be killed.

A strange, icy sense of calm enveloped Kirsty. She looked up, and the stars were dazzling, celestial fireworks twinkling a hundred colours, filling her with awe and strength. The night was still, but a gust of wind swirled around her, whipping up her hair, whispering something she couldn’t catch.

A glittering sound crackled in the air. It sounded like a fire that had almost burnt itself out, leaving only red-hot coals to shimmer and snap. The air itself was alive, fizzing with magic.

Kirsty thought of Mrs McCafferty’s words. Just focus on the next step. Could she do that? A fox screeched in the dark. The Shadow had gone to the Barrowlands that evening to find another victim. Owen. Kirsty pictured him coming up the stairs, all smooth and suave in his tailored suit and his silver cigarette case.

He might have been running his victim’s tights through his fingers right now, slowly approaching as she cowered in terror. He might have been displaying her body, ready for some poor bugger to stumble across in the morning. Instead, he was hiding in the dark, trying to put his face back together. That was something.

They hadn’t won the war. Kirsty wasn’t even sure what the war was yet. But they won a wee battle.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

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When she’s not wandering around Glasgow dreaming up sexy vikings and tears in the fabric of time, Claire S Duffy writes best selling the crime fiction series Glasgow Kiss and the Stockholm Murders under CS Duffy. She’s also a screenwriter and blogs about the feminist dawn of Hollywood at Fully Fifty-Fifty on Substack.

Claire S. Duffy – Fika Books

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Blog Tour: The Great Tree – Able Barrett

Andrew and his older brother Nicholas were separated as children.

Nicholas had been snatched away by the Prince of Darkness, and Andrew had all but given up hope, but now their mother is ill, and he’s determined to reunite them before she passes – despite her objections.

With his dog Jenny by his side, Andrew sets out on an epic and perilous crusade well beyond his wildest imagination, facing evil protectors, giant wolves, dark magic, Sorcerers, Goblins, and even the Prince of Darkness himself.

Then there’s The Great Tree. 

It’s enormous, with a presence that’s nearly impossible to describe…

And it’s clearly the heart of the kingdom of the wicked Sorcerer. 

This is the setting for the adventure story that changed Christmas forever!


Young people and adults of all ages will enjoy this thrilling fable in the same way we’ve enjoyed other great Christmas stories of the past.

Jenny the dog is based on a very real Jenny, the author’s vision of a true warrior – who has her own inspiring story that he’s happy to share with anyone who asks.

All proceeds from the sale of The Great Tree go to The Last Road Dog Animal Sanctuary to rescue unadoptable dogs, cats, and horses, an approved 501 (c)(3) Animal Public Welfare Charity that greatly appreciates the ongoing support of readers like you!

Able Barrett is a former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney and U.S. Department of Justice Organized Crime Strike Force Prosecutor who shamelessly admits he loves animals more than most people, and he’s the manager of The Last Road Dog Animal Sanctuary.

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Andrew & The Treasured Spirit of the Northland

I enter the darkness that has been cultured for thousands of years, the legends of life gone by, ringing within its corridors with a deafening silence. I feel the presence of both good and evil, which seem to loosely pull at me. Which direction to take? A light can only slightly penetrate the thickness of the darkness. Faces begin to appear as ghost-like images; it’s a warning, which I do not heed. 

The images become clearer. They are the faces of beautiful women, goddesses perhaps; they draw my very being deeper into the darkness, serenaded by their gentle voices lifting away my fear of the unknown. I am floating now, effortlessly on a bed of soft blowing air. I am totally consumed. Have I fallen under a spell? I call out for help. 

Suddenly there is a flash of brilliant light and the real faces of the women are revealed to me. They are the true evil ones, the guardians of the darkness, the Temptress Sirens of the Dark Lords. They have surrounded me. I see a faint light in the distance. I begin to run towards the light, I feel Temptress Sirens clawing at me as I try to go towards the light in hopes of a safe passage. I hear a voice ever so softly… “Don’t go to the light…….Don’t go to the light…….It will deceive you. Use your faith and follow your heart.”  

I stop but I can feel the Temptress Sirens stalking me. I move through the complete darkness with my eyes closed now. There then appears a golden mist that forms a stairway leading upward through the darkness. Without hesitation, I follow the stairway climbing slowly out of the darkness. I can still feel the draw of the Temptress Sirens at my back growing stronger. I become weary as I continue to climb. The strength of the Temptress Sirens is beginning to hold me back. I fear I cannot make it to the top. A silhouetted hand appears from out of the darkness above me. I do not know whether to take it. I have no choice. I grab the hand and a gentle pull brings me away from the grasp of the Temptress Sirens. I hear their shrieks of madness slowly fade away as I am pulled forward. 

A gentle light appears and an Angel appears before me. She has the youthful beauty of a thousand ages. I hear her gentle voice speaking to me yet her lips do not move. Her name is Afriel. She is a being of light charged with safeguarding young life. She is to protect that which is youthful and tenderly growing within each of us, no matter how old we actually are. Afriel grants youth, vigor, and vitality. She places her hand on my forehead and closes her eyes as she nods her head and says, “go forward and save your brother, Nicholas.”


How did you do research for your book?

I start of course with my own knowledge; from there I am pretty impatient so I go to the internet and reliable sources. Since my books are mostly fiction I can make up anything I want, although I like to be as close to the truth as possible to make it believable which is always a goal of mine. 

Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?

Nicholas was the hardest; here is a guy we swept away by the Prince of Darkness as a kid and transformed into something he was not; but he remembers deep in his soul what he was like. The easiest was Andrew and Jenny; that was me and my girl Jenny, so very easy. 

Where do you get inspiration for your stories?

I was working on a project and as I sat in my office out the window I saw this huge tree sitting on a hill in the distance, shaped perfectly and it came to my mind immediately what a “Great Tree” and the rest just fell into place. 

There are many books out there about Christmas. What makes yours different?

I could not find a book/story about how Santa Claus (St. Nick) came to be; also how did this Christmas tree celebration come to be. It may be the first book about how St. Nick and Christmas Tree celebration came to be; at least to my knowledge. 

What advice would you give budding writers?

Just go for it! Don’t let any excuse stop you. Failure is not a good reason not to try; otherwise nothing would get done. 

Your book is set in an alternative world. What inspired that?

The Great Tree is set somewhere between the 7 Kingdoms, Middle Earth, and the Shire. Great places that I love in lore and from great writers. 

In your book you focus on the brothers’ bond. Why is that?

Two young men together were the only powers on earth that had the power to defeat the evil before them. It is the key to the book and story, without it, the story fails. 

If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be?

That is an easy one Andrew and Jenny; that was me and my girl Jenny, so very easy. 

Do you have another profession besides writing?

I am manager of The Last Road Dog Animal Rescue where we have a home for the unadoptable dogs, cats and horses that otherwise would be homeless or worse. I get to spend every day with my animal buddies which is a life all dream; while at the same time to write; nothing is better than that for me. 

How long have you been writing?

The Great Tree only took 25 years to finish. 

Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?

Absolutely. Drop it for a while then just jump back into when you least expect it and boom you are at it again. 

What is your next project?

“Life Beneath the Surface.” It is about a man that wakes up in the sweat lodge of an Indian medicine man, who just brought him back to life, when all else failed. He has a little memory of his past except that he remembers his wife, Aurora, was killed. It goes from there…

What genre do you write and why?

Fiction; fantasy, animals and sometimes epics, but always a good yarn!

What is the last great book you’ve read?

The Bible. 

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?

“I really like your story but really loved the pictures!”

How are you similar to or different from your lead character?

I was a young man very similar to Andrew, as his persona is that of my own at that age, at least from my perspective, in particular his love of Jenny. 

If your book were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles?

Andrew: Timothee Chalamet

Nicholas: Tom Holland

Aurora: Sydney Sweeney

If your book were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?

A movie score by Hans Zimmer; Lead Song by Lady Gaga; and Directed by Antoine Fuqua

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing your book?

Making it as perfect as you can; proofed to perfection and getting the pictures to match your mind’s eye and then getting people to read it!.  

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like?

Long and winding road!

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Just go for it. You will be surprised what you have inside you, that just needs a jump start to get going, and the you will have a great fun doing it. 

Which authors inspired you to write?

J. R.R. Tolkien

George R.R. Martin

Jack Kerouac

Dr. Seuss

Jack London

What is something you had to cut from your book that you wish you could have kept?

A deeper dive into the personalities of Andrew and Nicholas but it slowed the pace of the book too much. 

On rituals:

Do you snack while writing? Favorite snack?

Nope! I work best on an empty stomach. 

Where do you write?

In my office with my dogs all around me. The atmosphere is perfect.

Do you write every day?

It goes in spurts. Days at time and then a break, sometimes caused by life’s ever-changing  events. 

What is your writing schedule?

Late nights when it is quiet.

Is there a specific ritualistic thing you do during your writing time?

I like having a movie I have seen a million times but has a good soundtrack in the background. 

In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?

I have because it is actually faster and you can do an outline form much faster, at least in my case that sometimes is the only way to keep up with my brain pumping out ideas quickly and rather in random order. 

If you’re a mom writer, how do you balance your time?

I am a dad to my dogs, and I find the time with them is in balance at all times. 

Fun stuff:

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

431 BC – 404 BC to the Greek and Sparta era; the time of my ancestors!

Favorite travel spot?

The beach.

Favorite dessert?

Don’t like deserts; but I would like to visit the Sahara Desert. 

If you were stuck on a deserted island, which 3 books would you want with you? 

Boat building book for novice; Edible native plants; and The Bible.

If there is one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?

My compassion and caring for animals.

What is something you’ve learned about yourself during the pandemic?

That is my life; it didn’t change much during the pandemic, because I pretty much stayed at home most of my life anyway; it is typical, not atypical.

What TV series are you currently binge watching?

Kojak – he is of Greek heritage too. 

What is your theme song?

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough 

What is your favorite thing to do in winter?

Playing with my kids (dogs and cats); going on hikes with them is wonderful, even better in the snow. 

What is a favorite Christmas tradition (or memory)?

I love watching It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. I first saw it when I was about 14 or 15 and I lived outside of Chicago, where I grew up. It was on the local PBS station. I started watching just when Gorge Bailey is on bridge and about to jump in to commit suicide when Clarence, his guarding angel, saves him. After the movie was over I went outside at about 1 in the morning and it was snowing big snowflakes outside and it was an absolutely beautiful night out, with the snow gently falling ever so gently. I will remember it forever. 

What song is currently playing on a loop in your head?

Walking in Memphis 

What is something that made you laugh recently?

When Jenny just starts to roll over on her back and scratches in the grass, always cracks me up as funny and happy because she is so happy. 

What is your go-to breakfast item?

Spinach

Hard Boiled Egg

Whole Grain English Muffin

Yogurt

Non-fat Milk

What is the oldest item of clothing you own?

I have t-shirts from high school days from the 1970s. 

Tell us about your longest friendship.

I have some friends that we get together every year in summer that date back to grade school days, about 60 years; Rob, Will, Jimmy, Scott, and Cookie. Rob and I are the closest. I pray for their good health and prosperity every day. 

What is the strangest way you’ve become friends with someone?

I saved (adopted) a couple of dogs Pebbles and Bambam from a no kill shelter in 2004; they had been dropped off when they were just puppies on the shelter doorstep; and had been there for 5 years. Pebbles was quite famous as she one night opened the gate to the puppies’ room and they found a bag of kibble and they all feasted until morning when they were found. Pebbles and Bambam were great dogs and I loved them both. The lady that helped me adopt them; we became very good friends from then on; even today. 

Who was your childhood celebrity crush?

An actress that went to my high school, before my time, but I still had quite a crush on her, even today, Ann-Margret.


My thoughts: this was an adventure story about one young man and his dog, Jenny, going on an epic quest to find his missing brother and save him from the darkness. There’s magic and danger but the bond between Andrew and Jenny, as they fight to redeem Nick and return to their home, is at the heart of the story. An enjoyable holiday fantasy. And all proceeds from the book go to support an animal charity. Whi

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Cover Reveal: Woodborn – Heather Nix

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We’re thrilled to share the cover for the soon to be released epic, sapphic fantasy, Woodborn by Heather Nix — Coming January 2023!

Woodborn Cover- Ebook Crop

Woodborn (Song of Gods #1)

Expected Publication Date: January 21, 2023

Genre: Sapphic Fantasy/ High Fantasy

“I do not know how I lived in darkness for so many years with this bright world just waiting for me to grasp it.”

Maelwen is a young witch trapped in a harsh and unforgiving life. Friendless and alone, she endures terrible abuse in order to survive in the desolate land of Iowain.

Across the continent, Cicerine, a virtuous young faun, lives in the idyllic glade of Kanitosh Woods. Alongside her mother and closest friend, she is raised with dutiful reverence for the god, Idyth—led by the mysterious Father Farragen.

After escaping her tormentor and seeking a new life of her own, Maelwen finds a fresh start in the seedy trade city of Konidas. Meanwhile, a terrible tragedy befalls the glade, and Cicerine must flee to the same seaside town, leaving behind all she has ever known.

As a dark and menacing force spreads across Idythia, can Maelwen’s gifts and Cicerine’s developing power stand against the threat which faces them all? Alongside found family, new friends, and a crew of sapphic pirates, the line between good and evil is tested as the continent prepares for an epic battle.

CW: This is a sapphic fantasy novel, featuring a great deal of blood. Full list here

Coming Soon! Pre-order here!

*Cover Art by Anna Doušová

About the Author

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Heather Nix is the debut author of Woodborn, the first book in the Song of Gods series. Born and raised in sunny San Diego, CA she longs to return to the forests of the Pacific Northwest. She is the mother of two human and three cat children, and enjoys tattoos, tabletop RPGs, and creating feminist art in her limited spare time. Heather is passionate about writing queer fantasy and strives to create nuanced characters who resonate with underserved communities.

Books by Nix | Instagram | TikTok|ARC Team

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Blog Tour: The Heart of Neverland – Natalie J. Reddy

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I am thrilled to be part of the book tour for The Heart of Neverland by Natalie J. Reddy! Read on for more details!

eBook - The Heart of Neverland

The Heart of Neverland (The Neverwitch Chronicles #1)

Expected Publication Date: November 30th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy/ Romance/ Adventure/ Pirates/ Pan Retelling

One night.

That’s all it takes to turn my life upside down. It’s not like I had the most stable childhood to begin. Most of it was spent on the run from the villains in my mom’s head. It isn’t until after she’s murdered right in front of me that I realize maybe they weren’t in her head after all.

After her death I go to stay with an uncle I didn’t know existed to try to make sense of my life and find some answers about who I really am. As I search for the truth a guy named Peter shows up and makes it his mission to constantly get in my personal space. He’s gorgeous, flirty and completely infuriating. And possibly not actually human or from this world.

The things he tells me sound insane and I don’t think I can trust him. It doesn’t matter that each heated touch draws me deeper into his web. Things like magic, pirates and Peter Pan just aren’t real.

PRE-ORDER HERE!

About the Author

Author

Natalie J. Reddy is a Canadian Author who spends her days trying to escape reality by making up stories about the characters in her head.

Natalie realized at an early age that she had a passion for storytelling and that passion followed her into adulthood. There is nothing she loves more than to be pulled into a fictional world whether it’s in her own writing or the writing of others. Natalie is the author of the Scar of Days Forgotten series, a New Adult Urban Fantasy series with characters who have supernatural abilities and dark and sometimes unknown pasts to overcome.

When she’s not writing, Natalie can be found having all sorts of real-life adventures with her husband and daughter or curled up with a good book and a cup of tea.

To keep up to date on upcoming books, subscribe to Natalie’s newsletter at nataliejreddy.com

Natalie J. Reddy | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

My thoughts: this was a very interesting take on the Peter Pan story. There’s a lot of darkness in the original and Natalie J. Reddy has certainly explored that element here, Pan is not a sweet innocent, but a grown man who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. With strong adult themes (consent, sex, murder) this is not the Disneyfied story you might be expecting.

Book Tour Schedule

November 28th

R&R Book Tours (Kick-Off) http://rrbooktours.com

@atrailofpages (Review) https://www.instagram.com/atrailofpages/

@over.on.my.bookshelf (Review) https://www.instagram.com/over.on.my.bookshelf/?hl=en

Rambling Mads (Review) http://ramblingmads.com

@accio_mischief (Review) https://www.instagram.com/accio_mischief/

November 29th

@amber.bunch_author (Review) https://www.instagram.com/amber.bunch_author/

@the.brooke.library (Review) https://www.instagram.com/the.brooke.library/

@ecce.libri (Review) https://www.instagram.com/ecce.libri/

@mels_booksandhooks (Review) https://www.instagram.com/mels_booksandhooks/

@_toris.thoughts_ (Review) https://www.instagram.com/_toris.thoughts_/

November 30th

@its_b.e.l.l.e (Review) https://www.instagram.com/its_b.e.l.l.e/

I Smell Sheep (Review) http://www.ismellsheep.com/

@the_pageling (Review) https://www.instagram.com/the_pageling/

Bunny’s Reviews (Review) https://bookwormbunnyreviews.blogspot.com/

I Love Books & Stuff (Spotlight) https://ilovebooksandstuffblog.wordpress.com

@ better_0ff_read (Spotlight) https://www.instagram.com/better_0ff_read/

December 1st

@alexis.reads__ (Review) https://instagram.com/alexis.reads__?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

@thelibrocubicularista (Review) https://www.instagram.com/thelibrocubicularista/

@mandioyster (Review) https://www.instagram.com/mandioyster/

@wendyreadsforfun (Review) https://www.instagram.com/wendyreadsforfun/

Freelance Writer, Janny C (Spotlight) https://freelancewriterjannyc.com/

December 2nd

Cheryl’s Book Nook (Review) https://cherylsbooknook.blogspot.com/

Liliyana Shadowlyn (Review) https://lshadowlynauthor.com/

@takealookatmybookshelf (Review) https://www.instagram.com/takealookatmybookshelf/

@wolfesbooks (Review) https://www.instagram.com/wolfesbooks

Book Reviews by Taylor (Review) https://www.bookreviewsbytaylor.com

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Blog Tour: Children of Memory – Adrian Tchaikovsky

The modern classic of space opera that began with Children of Time continues in this extraordinary novel of humanity’s battle for survival on a terraformed planet.

Earth failed. In a desperate bid to escape, the spaceship Enkidu and its captain, Heorest Holt, carried its precious human cargo to a potential new paradise. Generations later, this fragile colony has managed to survive, eking out a hardy existence. Yet life is tough, and much technological knowledge has been lost.

Then strangers appear. They possess unparalleled knowledge and thrilling technology – and they’ve arrived from another world to help humanity’s colonies. But not all is as it seems, and the price of the strangers’ help may be the colony itself.

Children of Memory by Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky is a far-reaching space opera spanning generations, species and galaxies.

My thoughts: every time I read an Adrian Tchaikovsky book I decide I really don’t get it, then I read it again, and sort of get what is happening. And that’s how I ended up feeling like Miranda does in the later sections of this complex, clever and slightly infuriating book. There are dozens of clever little literary and cultural references throughout, it takes time to spot them and I certainly felt silly when it hit me that The Tempest might be a source, the main character is called Miranda after all!

Visiting a planet that may or may not be occupied by the descendants of fleeing humans, refugees from the end of Earth, the crew of the Skipper hope to find a colony. But something strange is going on.

On Irma, Liff, the granddaughter of Captain Holt of the Enkidu, has a new teacher. And she keeps seeing her grandfather and she’s also pretty sure there’s a witch in the hills. But no one will listen to her, so she’s going to find out herself.

Clever, richly metatextual, intelligent science fiction that asks big questions about reality, life, memory and who gets to decide. Very pleasing.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: A Restless Truth – Freya Marsk

A Restless Truth is the second entry in Freya Marske’s beloved, award-winning Last Binding trilogy, the queer historical fantasy series that began with A Marvellous Light.

Magic! Murder! Shipboard romance!

Maud Blyth has always longed for adventure. She expected plenty of it when she volunteered to serve as an old lady’s companion on an ocean liner, in order to help her beloved older brother unravel a magical conspiracy that began generations ago.

What she didn’t expect was for the old lady in question to turn up dead on the first day of the voyage. Now she has to deal with a dead body, a disrespectful parrot, and the lovely, dangerously outrageous Violet Debenham, who’s also returning home to England. Violet is everything that Maud has been trained to distrust yet can’t help but desire: a magician, an actress, and a magnet for scandal.

Surrounded by the open sea and a ship full of suspects, Maud and Violet must first drop the masks that they’ve both learned to wear before they can unmask a murderer and somehow get their hands on a magical object worth killing for—without ending up dead in the water themselves.

My thoughts: I didn’t think this would be better than A Marvellous Light, one of my favourite books of recent years, but oh it is. I loved Maud, I loved Violet, I even like grumpy Hawthorn. Basically I adored this book. A sapphic murder aboard a ship with magic and hijinks and lots of Maud getting a very private education from Violet. And it’s so, so, so good. Elements of Tipping the Velvet, Titanic (do not tell me the hiding in the car scene wasn’t a huge nod, that ended very differently), Agatha Christie style crime novels (made me think of the recently published A Fatal Crossing and Miss Aldridge Regrets) and just tremendous fun.

Maud is undercover, when the lady she’s accompanying across the Atlantic is murdered and she needs to solve the crime, identify the piece of the very important Last Contract, and avoid getting murdered herself, so she can report back to Robin and Edwin safe and sound. So obviously she recruits a team – an actress, a Lord and a reporter/jewel thief, and those are just the people who know they’ve been recruited (there’s a menagerie involved too – cheetahs at sea!)

I loved this and I can’t wait for my fancy Illumicrate edition to arrive and sit next to its siblibg on the bookcase and there’s still a book three to come and I am very excited as you might be able to tell…

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.