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Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt


Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt

Chapter One
          Sherlock Holmes and I stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing down sadly at the tiny charred corpse.
          “She should never have left us alone,” I told him.
          “She had no great choice in the matter.”
          “There’s always a choice.”
          “Strictly speaking, perhaps. But it’s best that she disappear, at least for a time. Even putting aside the death penalty, I cannot see her thriving in prison.”
          I had to agree. “She is probably better off in Monte Carlo.” And so saying, I snatched up the smouldering pan and tipped my attempt at a chicken dinner into the rubbish bin. Our long-time housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, had recently abandoned us, selfishly choosing freedom over being tried for murder—and thereby risking our lives to my poisonous culinary skills. “Cheese sandwiches, then? Or shall we walk up to the Tiger?”
          He glanced at the kitchen clock. “Do you suppose Tillie might have a table, up at the Monk’s Tun?”
          Three hours later, we were making our leisurely way towards the gate in the stone wall encircling our house. I had pocketed a torch as we left, but the midsummer sky held enough lingering brightness that we did not need it as we returned across the Sussex Downs. Tillie had outdone herself, with a perfection of cool dishes on a warm afternoon: subtle lettuces, an iced soup, cold meats, hot rolls, and a strawberry tart the likes of none in the land.
          The one drawback was, the Monk’s Tun had begun to collect a reputation. Not that I begrudged Tillie her success—although I might wish we had not chosen to stop in the same night as a carload of Young Things on their way up from Dover.
          Not that they were drunk, merely festive; nor were they loud, exactly, merely difficult to ignore. They were my age—in fact, two of them I dimly recognised: a young man with dark Byronic curls who had been the year before me at Oxford, and a girl whose face appeared in the illustrated Society pages of the newspapers. My eyes kept going to them, two sleek girls in Paris frocks, two clean, tanned lads in casually worn suits that would have cost Tillie’s barman a year of his salary.
          The second time Holmes had needed to repeat something, he craned around to look at the table of merrymakers on the other side of the old room.
          “Friends of yours?”
          “Good heavens, no.”
          “Then why are you watching them so closely?”
          “I wasn’t. Not really. Just—they seem like an alien race, down here in Sussex. Don’t you think?”
          His grey eyes fixed on me, but before he could speak, Tillie came up to greet us, and the next course arrived, and the moment was lost.
          However, Holmes never forgot anything. When he pushed open the gate an hour later, he said, “Russell, do you regret the choices you made?”
          Little point in pretending I didn’t understand. “Regret? Never. I might occasionally wonder what life would have been, had things been different, but it’s mere speculation. Like . . . like trying on a dress I’d never actually wear, just to see what it feels like.”
            He closed the gate and worked the latch. We picked our way through the grassy orchard, hearing the faint texture of sound from the hives—drones cooling their homes from the day’s heat. Near the house, the sweet odour from the old-fashioned climbing rose drew us forward.
          Mrs Hudson had planted the flower, long before I knew her. Mrs Hudson, now gone away, to . . . But before yearning could overcome me, the night was broken by the jangle of the telephone bell.
          Neither of us hurried to catch it.
          And neither of us suggested, when the machine ceased its clamour before we were halfway through the kitchen, that we ask the Exchange to restore the connection.
          Instead, Holmes pulled a corkscrew from the drawer and a bottle of chilled honey wine from the cooler. I fetched a pair of glasses from the cupboard. We left the door open, to chase away the aroma of cremated chicken, and settled into our garden chairs. The night smelled of blossoms and honey. The low pulse of waves against the Sussex cliffs obscured the sound from the hives. The wine was cool, but faintly sad as its summer freshness faded, giving a hint of bitterness to come.
          And the telephone rang again. At this time of night, the sound was ominous.
          With a sigh, I put my half-empty glass onto the stones and went through the terrace doors.
          I spoke our number by way of greeting, to be answered by a voice from the local Exchange. “Evening, Mrs Holmes, sorry to ring so late but the lady said it was an emergency, so I told her I’d keep trying you. And the girl at the Monk’s Tun said you’d left there. Do you want me to connect you again?”
          Life in a rural area is rich in many things, but privacy is not one of them. “Hold on a moment, I’ll get Holmes.” The word emergency generally summoned Sherlock Holmes.
          But to my surprise, she said the woman had asked for me.
          “Did she leave a name?”
          “She said to tell you it was Veronica Fitzwarren.”
          Ronnie. Oh dear.
          I pulled up the chair we kept near the telephone, and sat. “Yes, you’d better put me through.”


Chapter Twenty
          The train came to its end on Sunday, two days and four nations after we’d stepped out of our Sussex door.
          The ideal approach to Venice is from the sea, standing at a ship’s rails as the faint traces of buildings take form through the mists. She resembles (and I must agree with tradition here: Venice is feminine) a queen seated on a throne in a wide, fat field. Solitary and regal, she waits in patience for those who would come to do homage.
          Instead of that entry to la Serenissima, we puffed across two miles of water on hundreds of stone arches, waited while the customs men came to check our hand luggage, and climbed down into the cacophony of any railway station on the planet. The salty air churned with the sounds of shouting porters and crashing equipment, customs inspectors and street urchins, the hiss of venting steam and the slams of compartment doors, cries of greeting and the occasional shriek of a traveller seeing her bags vanish into the crowd.
          And yet, this was different. There was no stink of idling taxis, for one thing, no clop of hooves or rumble of motor lorries or whine of motor-cycles. We were in a port city, yet there was no sign of heavy-goods traffic. Groups of laughing foreigners suggested a resort town, yet bright holiday clothing was more than balanced by workaday garments. Uniforms of various kinds put the crowd into order, funneling traffic from iron rails to waterborne craft.
          I watched the familiar scene with pleasure, until my eye was drawn to an oddity: two black-clad figures created an eddy in the swarm, in a way that even the customs men did not. Most of the people giving them wide berth seemed unaware that they were doing so, but even the laughing tourists subsided a touch as they approached the Blackshirts, and their laughter resumed only when they were out of earshot from the two Fascist representatives.
          I shook of the creeping awareness of the outside world and turned my mind to our next moves.
          The previous Friday, when Thomas Cook & Co. had proven a broken reed and failed to come up with adequate rooms, I had dredged the name of a hotel from the depths of memory and sent them a wire. We had left Sussex before any response could arrive, and since the tourist season was clearly well under way—despite heat, Fascists, mosquitoes, and the stench of summer canals—I only hoped that someone had recalled my mother’s name with enough affection to offer us a servant’s room under the sweltering eaves.
          As I prepared to join the milling crowds heading towards the water and thus the Venetian equivalent of a taxi, I became aware that there was a person standing before me, very still and quite close. I adjusted my eyes, and found a trim young man in hotel livery, with a name in fancy stitching on his breast:
Hôtel
Londres
&
Beau Rivage
          “Signore and Signora Russell?”
          “Yes,” Holmes said. Thanks to Mycroft, he even had a passport in the name of Sheldon Russell, an ebony-haired gent, pampered and well glossed from the tips of his shoes to the teeth behind his pencil-thin moustache. Thin disguise, but along with the change in his stance and the languid air he wore, even someone who knew him would hesitate, wondering, might this be a cousin . . . ?
          “The keys to your luggage, please? I shall see it through Customs. Come, your boat is just here.”
          I followed his pointing finger, and saw a sleek steam launch with a man in the same uniform. I held out the keys and my valise, but told him, “We’ll walk, thanks. It’s been a long train ride. Oh—and tell the maid not to unpack the bags. We prefer to do so on our own.” And had, ever since the day one inexplicably thorough hotel maid had happened across a hidden compartment, dutifully removed the contents for cleaning, and sent a bullet whizzing through the next room.
          The hotel man bowed, cheerfully acknowledging our English eccentricity, accepted my tip, and trotted to the hotel launch with our valises.
          As he explained, hands gesturing, that these mad English guests wanted to walk to the hotel, the even sleeker launch beside it drew in its gangway and let out a belch of steam. This one bore the name Hotel Excelsior, and it turned away with an air of disdain, as if to show that its guests did not need to wait along with hoi polloi. The launch went serenely off, ignoring the gondolas, cargo transports, fishing boats with furled sails, many varieties of shallow-hulled canal boats, and one lone rowing skiff.
          Holmes scowled at our own waiting launch. “Do you suppose we shall ever see our possessions again?” he asked me.
          “It’s quite a good hotel, Holmes.”
          “All the more reason for a thief to pick their jacket out of a laundry.”
          Was I being naïve, gullible—touristic? I did not think so. “Venice has little serious crime, and a very clear sense of honour.”
          “Amongst thieves,” he grumbled, so I slid my arm through his and urged my husband and partner towards the foot-bridge linking the modern world with the timeless city known as la Serenissima.
          This most unlikely of cities grew out of the waters centuries ago, a refuge from chaos following the disintegration of the Roman Empire (another power that kept the trains running, metaphorically speaking).
          Its residents expanded their literal footholds in the lagoon by driving trees down into the mud and perching buildings on top. Before long, its ships ruled—and plundered—the known world.
          In the process, Venice gave rise to an idiosyncratic, oddly democratic, and utterly ruthless system of government. The Doge and his Council were absolute rulers, and yet a constant and precarious balance of power ensured that no one man—or even family—could establish a permanent authority over the others. A Doge’s salary was small, forcing him to maintain his interest in healthy commerce. After a Doge died—and the number of Doges who failed to succumb to natural causes served as a cautionary tale to each successor—his estate was reviewed, and pillaged if there was found any trace of misdoing.
          This inborn system of stalemate proved popular with the Venetians themselves, since it allowed them to carry on the business of business while the government squabbled and bickered and compromised itself into stability. It also, incidentally, laid the groundwork for America’s three governmental branches, designed to frustrate each other into tiny increments of progress.
          For eleven centuries, the Venetian system held—until Europe on the one hand took to the seas and cut out the Venetian middleman, while the Ottomans on the other side grew powerful enough to block the formerly bottomless stream of trade from the East. When Bonaparte passed through Venice in 1797 on his way to a more important enemy, he decided, like any lesser tourist, to ship home his pick of the city’s riches. “I shall be an Attila to the state of Venice,” he thundered. Since the Venetian Navy consisted of but a dozen galleys, its Doge abdicated, and a thousand years of Republic quietly ended.
          Under the Bonaparte régime, La Serenissima lost her independence, her authority, her vast agricultural hinterland, and a great deal of her art. (Most of which, to be honest, had been stolen in the first place.) Stripped and powerless, she was thrown to Austria in the peace accord. But her stones remained. Like many other crossroads of trade—Jerusalem, Cairo, Tokyo—the wealth of the city lay indoors, hidden from passers-by behind inscrutable faces.
          As inscrutable as the faces of the residents.
          “Venetians seem to have a very clear sense of Us and Them,” I mused. “Or rather, Us and You. Anyone who isn’t Venetian is by definition a customer, brought for the express purpose of having money removed from their pockets. But like any people who spread out across the world, they’re not fussy about how people claim residency. If you eat at a restaurant three times, you’re part of the family. If you hire a gondolier for a season, you’re expected to hire him the next time you show up, or God help you.”
          As we walked, as my reflections on Venetian history eventually brought me back to the idea of our luggage sailing off with a clever thief, I felt Holmes glance down at me in growing consternation. Finally, he dropped his arm.
          “Russell, how are you so familiar with this place?”
          It is very seldom that one can achieve superiority over Sherlock Holmes, but I concealed my gloating expression behind a serenity fitting of our locale.


Chapter Twenty-Two
          We were on our balcony at dawn, watching the city creep into existence. Shapes emerged from the darkness, shy, deceptive. Across the San Marco basin, the pale front of Palladio’s San Giorgio took on substance: a domed outline, the tower. Off to my left grew the hump and jumble of trees in the public gardens, their organic shapes foreign in a city where soft referred to marble and lead. The pale curve of the Riva degli Schiavoni described the water’s edge before its route veered towards the Arsenale, that centuries-old ship-yard that had been the base of Venice’s immense power. Venice was full of that kind of invisible pull, with patterns and shapes that only a knowledge of history would explain—and even then, mere explanation was rarely sufficient. It was a city with a feminine face over masculine muscles. Where larch pillars sunk in mud held up palaces of Istrian stone—stone that itself was a product of the sea. A place where one’s main floor was above the ground, where a thousand years of work could be wiped out by a wave, where a city ruler could be felled by an anonymous note or a labourer’s family sleep beneath a Tiepolo fresco.
          Venice begged for metaphor, and at the same time, defied any attempt at reducing it to words, notes, or pigment. For centuries, Venice had fascinated artists of the ineffable, keeping Tintoretto and Titian and Veronese busy with one attempt after another at capturing the essence beneath its surface beauty. The city was a poem one never truly understood, a piece of art that kept pulling the eye. This must be what music was to Holmes: a surface texture that suggested a deeper meaning.
          The island across from me shimmered beneath the growing dawn. I could now see masts from the marina at San Giorgio’s base. Closer in, a gondolier plied his way towards the Grand Canal, and I became aware of his voice, greeting the rising sun with song: “O sole mio . . .”
          And with cliché, the magic shattered and I laughed aloud.

[From Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King,
pub date June 12, 2018]





Island of the Mad
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 15
Bantam, June 12, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 320 Pages

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling series—“the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today” (Lee Child).

With Mrs. Hudson gone from their lives and domestic chaos building, the last thing Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, need is to help an old friend with her mad and missing aunt.

Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, since the loss of her brother and father in the Great War. And although her mental state seemed to be improving, she’s now disappeared after an outing from Bethlem Royal Hospital . . . better known as Bedlam.

Russell wants nothing to do with the case—but she can’t say no. And at least it will get her away from the challenges of housework and back to the familiar business of investigation. To track down the vanished woman, she brings to the fore her deductive instincts and talent for subterfuge—and of course enlists her husband’s legendary prowess. Together, Russell and Holmes travel from the grim confines of Bedlam to the winding canals and sun-drenched Lido cabarets of Venice—only to find the foreboding shadow of Benito Mussolini darkening the fate of a city, an era, and a tormented English lady of privilege.

The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant


The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant


      The following scene from Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant is where Lori first meets Ashbert. She doesn’t yet realise that he’s the man she has accidentally brought to life from a collage that she made as a teenager. We join Lori as she has been baking with her friend Cookie...


      Cookie took the bread out of the oven while I wafted smoke away from the smoke detector in the ceiling. The bread had overcooked a bit while we were putting out the fire, but my stomach still rumbled. The burning smell was unpleasantly sharp and acrid, but it was hard to tell if it was from the bread or the fire in the lounge.
      Cookie tapped the base of the loaf. “You can tell when bread is cooked because it will sound hollow when you do this,” she said.
      It didn’t sound hollow, it sounded dead and solid. I took it off her wordlessly and banged it on the counter to see if it made a better sound, but I was a bit worried that we might shatter the granite.
      “The road of trials is littered with obstacles,” she said with a frown.
      “And rock-hard loaves,” I said.
      “I need to think on this.”
      Cookie took herself into the lounge. I placed the loaf on a plate, found a long, serrated knife and attempted to cut a slice. Five minutes sawing produced a lot of shard-like crumbs but made virtually no impact on the bread. I tried to break the loaf with my hands, but I just wasn’t strong enough.
      Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore.
      I went through to the lounge. It turned out that having a think meant passing out on the settee. A joint burned in Cookie’s right hand and a glass of raki lolled toward the cushions in her left. I tutted slightly and took them off her, keeping them well apart to avoid igniting the powerful spirits.
      I was wondering whether it was worth trying the bread again when I heard a sound. It was a light creak, coming from outside. I crept over to the window and looked out into the rear yard of the building.
      It was a naked man.
      Definitely a man and definitely naked, his body pale and golden in the streetlights from the next road over. And he was coming up the fire escape.
      I went into the kitchen to look out of the window, turning out the lights as I entered to improve my   view of what was outside. Was the naked guy returning to one of the other flats? Why was he naked? In the moments that it took me to get to the kitchen window he’d disappeared. He’d either climbed up to the next floor, gone down to the ground, or entered the building. I swallowed hard as I realised that the most likely explanation for him vanishing so quickly was that he’d entered the building somewhere.
      The lounge window was open. I had left it open. I had stupidly left the lounge window open. Was he inside the flat? This flat? My flat? I crept back to the door to the lounge and put my ear to it. I could definitely hear some sort of movement. I willed myself not to panic, took out my phone, dialled 999 but didn’t yet press the call button. Cookie was asleep in the lounge. If a crazed naked man was in there, she was in danger. It didn’t really cross my mind that it might be a sane naked man. I’m not sure there are such things.
      I risked opening the door a crack.
      Oh, God! He was there! A white and – oh, yeah – definitely naked torso moving slowly across the room.
      I hit the call button and backed away.
      “I think there’s an intruder in my flat,” I said, when I got through. “I mean, I know there’s an intruder in the flat.”
      In a voice that suggested they received naked intruder calls all day long, the operator asked me for the address.
      “Can you get out?” he asked.
      “No, not without going past where they are,” I said.
      “Try to secure yourself or hide,” said the operator.
      “But my friend is in the lounge.”
      “Secure yourself and hide. We’ll be there very shortly.”
      Secure myself and hide? Even if there was somewhere to hide in the kitchen, could I leave Cookie in the clutches of a nude lunatic? Of course not. I crept back to the door and peeked through the gap. The lounge was empty and there was Cookie’s foot poking over the edge of the sofa. I had to go and wake her. But I needed protection.
      I momentarily considered the bread knife but then the headline ‘LOCAL WOMAN SENTENCED TO LIFE FOR UNPROVOKED NUDE STABBING’ flashed through my mind and I thought better of it. A non-lethal bludgeoning weapon would be much better.
Ten seconds later, armed with a rock-hard loaf of bread, I crept into the lounge. No. No naked men lurking in corners. He must have moved on. My limbs shivering with fear, I took hold of Cookie’s knee and tried to shake her awake.
      She gave a small grunt and shifted position.
      “Wake up, damn you,” I hissed.
      There was the sound of something being dropped. The door to the largest bedroom, which opened directly onto the lounge, was open! There! This was an old building with many of the original features, including interior doors with locks and bolts. All I needed to do was to pull the door closed and lock it and the man would be trapped until the police arrived.
      “You can do this,” I told myself.
      I stole quickly across the room and tugged the door shut. The handle rattled from the other side as I turned the key in the lock.
      “You’re trapped now, mofo!” I shouted and turned away from the door.
      And, as I did, I realised I had trapped my onesie in the door. A section of leg material caught in the gap.
      The man started to pound on the door from the other side. I’m not normally one for whimpering but I let out a trembling cry.
      The pounding continued, shaking me with each blow. It was a solid door, but I could hear a splintering sound coming from somewhere. I had to get away. There was only one solution and I had no choice. Down came the zip and I wriggled free. I headed across the room. I hadn’t gone two steps when the door gave way and the man burst through like that man with the axe in that film. You know the one. I turned to him with my only weapon: the remains of the indestructible loaf I let out a primal roar of pure, bear-flattening rage and swung the loaf with all my might at the attacker’s head.
      The bread connected with his head with deadly, bone-shattering force and he dropped like a stone. My arm even ached from the impact.
      Two thoughts collided in my mind: the first was that I’d surely killed him. The second was that he looked familiar. Bizarrely familiar.
      The doorbell rang.
      His face was one I’d seen in the very recent past.
      There was a thump at the door.
      “Police! Open up!”
      In fact, his face was my own creation. Robert Pattinson’s eyes. Ashton Kutcher’s smile. Channing Tatum’s jawline. He was the man from the picture I had made as a teenager. He was teen Lori’s dream man, so very recently cast into the fire.





Snowflake
Authors:  Heide Goody and Iain Grant
Publisher:  Pigeon Park Press, July 20, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  US$12.99 (print); US$4.59 (Kindle eBook)
ISBN:  9780995749764 (print);  ASIN:  B07F3X4XF2 (Kindle eBook)

The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant
Lori Belkin has been dumped. By her parents.

They moved out while she was away on holiday, and now, at the tender age of twenty-five, she's been cruelly forced to stand on her own two feet.

While she's getting to grips with basic adulting, Lori magically brings to life the super-sexy man she created from celebrity photos as a teenager.

Lori learns very quickly that having your ideal man is not as satisfying as it ought to be and that being an adult is far harder than it looks.

Snowflake is a story about prehistoric pets, delinquent donkeys and becoming the person you want to be, not the person everyone else expects you to be.


Melanie's Thoughts

Lori arrives back from her holiday in Crete to discover her parents have moved away without telling her. Now she has to go it alone with only her wits and her brother's luxury flat to keep her safe. Little did she realise that a straw goat, mouldering sausage and a bottle of raki weren't the only things she brought back with her. Lori thought it was just a pretty necklace that she bought in a random store in Crete but it turned out it had the power to bring to inanimate objects to life - like the magazine cut out of her ideal man, a long extinct bug, foxes, and so much more. At the tender age of 25 Lori has some serious 'adulting' to do and there is a lot of trouble she can get into the meantime.

Snowflake by the writing duo of Heide Goody and Iain Grant is another lighthearted romp through the trials and tribulations of being a millennial with a magical necklace. Lori's name should be officially changed to Trouble Belkin because, boy, she gets into enough of it. From almost burning down her brother's flat to chasing a donkey through Ikea Lori has more exploits than the normal 20 something. In fact Lori can barely cross the street without triggering a major disaster. Goody and Grant are experts at getting their characters into ridiculous situations and giving them hilarious lines. One specific scene where Lori and her magically created perfect man Ashbert go to the theatre was very amusing, especially the Iron Man reference. There are a number of English 'in jokes' and I am not sure whether you will get all them if you aren't from the UK but it's worth a go.

This is a very good book if you want a lighthearted read or need to be cheered up. My one tiny criticism is that Lori was a bit too ignorant of almost everything and the number of outrageous situations she got herself into was relentless. I felt a bit exhausted when I got to the end of the book.  I feel this situational 'naivety' worked well with Goody and Grant's former prince of darkness Clovenhoof (funniest books ever!) but with Lori she came across too self-involved and borderline inconsiderate. Some of the jokes make up for Lori's personality quirks so if you are looking for something funny, quite kooky and with a happy ending give Snowflake a go.

Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars by Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola



Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars: A Novella
Authors:  Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola
Publisher:  Hex Publishers, June 5, 2018 (April 14, 2018 for Amazon Kindle)
Format:  Hardcover, Trade Paperback and eBook

Earth is dying. Luna is uninhabitable. Mars is our last chance.

Once considered humanity’s future home, Mars hasn’t worked out like anybody hoped. Plagued by crime and a terraforming project that's centuries from completion, Mars is a red hell.

Denver Moon, P.I., works the dark underbelly of Mars City. While investigating a series of violent crimes linked to red fever—a Martian disorder that turns its victims into bloodthirsty killers—Denver discovers a cryptic message left by Tatsuo Moon, Mars City co-founder and Denver's grandfather. The same grandfather who died two decades ago.

Twenty-year-old revelations force Denver on a quest for truth, but Tatsuo's former friend, Cole Hennessy, leader of the Church of Mars, has other plans and will stop at nothing to keep Denver from disclosing Tatsuo's secrets to the world.

Hell-bent on reclaiming her grandfather's legacy, Denver—along with her AI implant, Smith, companion android, Nigel, and shuttle pilot, Navya—set out on a quest to find the answers they hope will shed light on the church's true agenda, the origin of red fever, and the mysteries surrounding Tatsuo's tragic death.



There’s also a short story eBook prequel to Denver Moon: The Mind of Mars titled Denver Moon: Metamorphosis which you can find at Amazon as well as at other bookstores, and a mini-series of comics on ComiXology.

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Watch the trailer then read an excerpt from Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars.

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Chapter One

        I LOWERED THE VISOR OF MY HELMET, BUT IT wouldn’t lock into place. I fiddled with the latch, then finally used a fist to knock it into position. A new helmet would be wise, but this was the helmet my grandfather gave me when I was a little girl. The helmet he gave me the day he died.

        I cycled the airlock and stepped out into a long, sloped tunnel leading to the surface. My boots left deep prints in the sand the color of a dried bloodstain. That was how most chose to describe the color of Mars. Bloodstained. Me, I couldn’t see color. Call it a disability if you like, but I call it a gift. A gift that has kept me sane since taking the case. The things I’d seen, the carnage, the gore…

        People I’d known all my life reduced to scraps scattered sloppily about like bits and pieces in a slaughterhouse.

        Scene after scene, horror after horror, I thanked my lying eyes for taking the edge off so much murder and death. It might not be much considering that, even in monochrome, the crime scenes were plenty vivid. Vivid enough to provide for several lifetimes worth of nightmares.

        But at least it was something.

        It was something.

        At the end of the tunnel, I pushed my way through a series of heavy plastic flaps designed to keep out the worst of the dust and grit from Mars’ constant sand storms. Shoving the last of the flaps aside, I was greeted by a gust of wind that made me adjust my footing to keep balance. Sand peppered my faceplate, and for the first time in a long time I was outside. The view was just how I remembered it. Dusty. Gloomy. Claustrophobic.

        An arrow blinked brightly on the glass of my face-plate, and I angled in its direction. Stats flashed on screen, my eyes locking onto the distance to the habitat: 375.5 meters.

        <Call them again, Smith.>

        <I haven’t stopped calling,> said my AI, his voice speaking directly into my mind. <They’re not answering, Denver.>

        Trusting my navigation system, I started into a slow loping jog, each step carrying me several feet thanks to the planet’s weak gravity. My breath echoed loudly inside my helmet as the distance to the habitat ticked quickly downward.

        <I hope they’re okay,> said Smith. <You were like a daughter to them, you know?>

        I knew. Yaozu and Aiwa Chen were among the very first group of settlers, a hundred of them in all, including my grandfather, who led the expedition along with Cole Hennessey. They were the reason I took the case—I couldn’t trust another eye to stop the killer before this nightmare got to the Chens. I had to get to them first.

        Smith said, <My sensors tell me there’s a builder up ahead. You see it?>

        Looking up, I could barely make the hulking outline of machinery through the haze of dust. Smith didn’t live in my head, but he could see through my eyes. His vision was better in most ways than mine. I’d made a few enhancements since purchasing him, but not too many. He saw things down to the microscopic level, and if I were willing to spend the credits, Smith’s vision could go submicroscopic. He could see colors, too, even though everything I saw remained one degree of gray or another. I’d tried neural devices and lenses, but none of them worked. Smith had the ability to colorize my vision, and on occasion I had the opportunity to view the world like everyone else, but thanks to the time lags, it came with a price: nausea, dizziness and Mars’ worst migraine.

        I veered to get around the space freighter-sized derelict, one of many littering the surface. Once used to carve a livable colony underground, builders like this one had been retired decades ago. Mars colony was as complete as it would ever be. At least until Jericho, the terraforming project, made the surface habitable...but that wouldn’t be for another century or two.

        I checked the display, less than fifteen meters to go. I stared straight ahead. Through the thick haze of the sandstorm, I could just make out the glow of a neon sign: Marseum. Under it was the word Closed.

        I headed toward the light, and behind it, a flat surface began to emerge. A wall. Then, a roof. Finally, an airlock.

        I pushed through the plastic flaps and didn’t bother ringing the intercom before letting myself through the outer door. Shutting it behind me, I stabbed buttons with my gloved fingers until I heard the hiss of air filling the chamber and felt artificial gravity pushing down all around me. A minute later, the light turned on, and I popped my visor before spinning the hatch wheel until I heard the lock click.

        <Be careful, Denver.>

        Slowly, I pushed the door open and peeked my head through. “Yaozu? Aiwa?”

        The museum was empty of people, the lights turned off except for those inside display cases. Cautiously, I moved through the room, past framed photos, and plaques, and mannequins in spacesuits. The next room was circular, the entire area painted a foreboding black. Detecting my presence, the holo-chamber lit, and I was on the surface thirty-five years ago when the sky was clear, and from what others used to tell me, the color of butterscotch.

        I made for a holographic exit sign that led me out into a corridor. I passed through the lecture hall and glimpsed a tall figure moving quickly along the polished metal walls beside me. I reached for the weapon in the bag over my shoulder, but after a second look, I recognized the fringe of bleached-white hair swooping over Japanese features inside my enviro-helmet. Just my own reflection. I exhaled and made a quick check of the hall that yielded nobody. Up the stairs, I knocked on the door. “Yaozu? Aiwa?”

        I pulled off my gloves and palmed the lockscreen. A light flashed, their home system still remembering me.

        The living room was empty. Same for the bedroom and bathroom. But not the kitchen. There, on the table, centered on a plate, was an ear. A human ear.

        <Here we go again,> said Smith.

        My heart sank, and my eyes began to water. Not again. Eleven of the original settlers were already dead. All eleven in the last two days, and none closer to me and my long-deceased grandfather than Yaozu and Aiwa.

        A trail of blood led to the back door. Beyond it, I knew, was the first habitat, the very first structure built on Mars. Part concrete bunker and part circus tent, it housed the original colony until the first of the tunnels were ready.

        I slowly passed through the door, stepping into a warehouse-sized structure that now protected and preserved the original habitat.

        <You should be armed, Denver.>

        <I am armed.>

        <You know what I mean.>

        <I won’t draw until I have to. Like you said, Yaozu and Aiwa were like parents to me.>

        <If they have the feve, you better be ready to draw fast.>

        I moved toward the habitat. Overhead lights blinked in and out, causing ghostly shadows to flicker about. The blood spotted path pulled me forward. I passed a severed thumb without stopping to look. Stepped over the front half of a foot.

        The habitat loomed large ahead of me. Two stories of concrete and steel. To the right stood the attached greenhouse tent, pitched of canvas and plastic that flapped slowly in the breeze created by giant ventilation fans in the warehouse ceiling.

        The habitat airlock was open. Inside, a donation jar containing a handful of credits sat on a pedestal.

        <I’m picking up a biological heat signature,> Smith said.

        <Just one?>

        <Yes.>

        <Where?>

        <In the habitat. Near my old office.>

        <You know I hate when you call it your office.>

        <Sorry, Denver, but you know that’s how I think of it.>

        I gritted my teeth. If he wanted to believe he really was my grandfather instead of an AI who had simply been updated to include my grandfather’s memories, now wasn’t the time to argue.

        I turned left, then right, and stopped in my tracks. A body lay on the ground. Naked. The head was missing, and his gut had been split, organs yanked free and left in a pile. He was male, and the tattoo on his shoulder — a simple gray circle representing Mars — told me this was Yaozu.

        I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked away the tears forming in my eyes before moving past. Smith had detected a heat signature in the next room. Aiwa was still alive. Maybe it wasn’t too late.

        The door was cracked and I used a boot to push it open. Aiwa was inside, standing in the corner, her platinum hair matted with blood. In her hands was her husband’s head, one of his cheeks marred by teeth marks, the other cheek missing as if eaten.

        “Aiwa,” I said, “it’s me, Denver.”

        Her eyes didn’t register my presence. Instead, they darted madly about the room.

        “Red fever has you,” I said. “I can help. Let’s get you to a doctor, understand?”

        She lifted the head like she was going to take another bite, but then she let it drop from her hands. Yaozu’s head landed with a thud and rolled a few inches to the side.

        “That’s right,” I said. I reached into the bag strapped over my shoulder and pushed past my gun to the syringe underneath. “Let me give you this shot, and we’ll get you the care you need.”

        She didn’t look my way. Instead, her eyes landed on a bloody butcher knife resting on the floor.

        “Stay with me,” I said before I bit off the cap of the syringe and spit it to the floor. “Whatever’s in your head, it’s just the feve talking. I’m going to take it all away, okay?” I reached back into my bag and pulled out a small vial of charcoal liquid. “This is just a sedative. It’s going to take all your pain away.”

        I filled the syringe. Aiwa’s head cocked to the side like an animal watching something it couldn’t understand. I took a slow step toward her, my hands raised to not appear threatening. She was just two meters away. “You’re doing good, Aiwa, just stay still.”
        <Um, Denver,> said Smith, <I hate to interrupt.>

        <Then don’t.>

        <But I just got a message, one I think you’re going to want to hear.>

        I took another step forward. <The message can wait.>

        <But it’s from your grandfather.>

        For a split-second, I froze. Then I shook off the ridiculous comment and continued toward Aiwa.

        <He’s dead, Smith.>

        <I know, but the message was buried in my...his memories. I thought it was garbage code, but it just unen-crypted itself.>

        I stepped closer, keeping Aiwa trapped in the corner. <I’m a little busy right now.>

        <But your grand—>

        <Shut up, dammit!>

        Aiwa scratched her head. I winced at the sound of her fingernails rasping against her skull. A trickle of blood leaked from her hairline to a forehead wrinkle and flowed toward her ear.

        “That’s right,” I said. “Just relax, and it will all be over soon.”

        A chime sounded, and a hologram lit above Aiwa’s desk. As if by reflex, she turned to it. I glanced at the image myself, my jaw dropping at what I saw. It was Ojiisan. My grandfather who died twenty years ago.

        <See?> said Smith. <It looks like Aiwa got the same message you did.>

        My grandfather was dead. Yet there he was, clear as day. Ojiisan hadn’t aged a bit since I’d last seen him when I was a girl. The black hair by his temples was still shot with gray. His chin stood proud and his eyes held a firm gaze. His mouth began to move, but I couldn’t hear his voice. The volume was too low.

        How could he have sent a message after all these years? It didn’t make any sense. I took a tentative step toward the desk, and like a flash, Aiwa slipped out from the corner, an elbow catching me as she darted past my position. I spun around, but she already had the knife. She charged, her eyes seized by madness. I dodged, but not fast enough, and felt the blade penetrate my suit and bite into my side.

        I stuck her with the needle, sinking it hard into her shoulder, and stabbed the plunger down.

        She took another swing. I ducked low, managing to avoid the blow. I ran for cover behind the desk, but she came over the top, her weight slamming me across the chest. I fell into the wall and lost my balance, landing painfully on my hip. She dropped on top of me, a knee pinning me to the floor.

        I grabbed the wrist holding the knife with both of my hands and tried to turn the blade away from my chest but, despite Aiwa’s age, I was powerless to stop the edge from slowly sinking closer to my body. I let out a long breath in hopes of compressing my chest, but it wasn’t enough and the blade’s tip dug painfully into my breastbone.

        “Aiwa! Please! It’s me. It’s Denver!”

        She couldn’t hear me. My words were just background noise in a head overcome with the feve. Her face was flushed, veins straining under her skin. Her lips were stretched wide to bare every single tooth in her mouth. The blade sunk deeper. My arms shook under the pressure.

        I heard a bone snap in her wrist, but still, the feve wouldn’t release its hold on her. She raked me with her other hand, nails digging into my cheek like a cat’s claws.

        I managed to stabilize the knife, and with a concerted push, moved it upward and away from my body. I was winning the battle now as the drug took effect. Summoning what little energy I had left, I rolled her off me. The knife fell from her hand and she finally went slack.

        I stood on wobbly knees. Blood ran from my gouged cheek. My suit was wet from the wounds in my side and chest.

        I looked at the desk, at the hologram of Ojiisan, his mouth still moving as he impossibly delivered a message from the grave.

        I walked to the desk and turned up the volume.

        Mars is in grave danger. You must find me.

---------

Want to read the rest of Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars? Buy it right now on Amazon, or pre-order it at Barnes & Noble, Indigo, Waterstones, or anywhere else you buy books. Learn more at DenverMoon.net.

Note: Also available for pre-order at Book Depository, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, iBooks, and Kobo.

Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway


Please welcome Deborah Blake with an excerpt from Dangerously Divine, the 2nd Broken Rider novel, coming on November 28th from Berkley. And enter the giveaway for a US$10 Amazon Gift Card.



Dangerously Divine
A Broken Rider Novel 2
Berkley, November 28, 2017
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway
The author of the “wonderful” (Tamora Pierce) Baba Yaga novels and Dangerously Charming is back with a magically mesmerizing new tale about the dashing and daring Broken Riders…

The Riders: Three immortal brothers who kept the Baba Yagas safe, now stripped of their summons to protect. But fate is not finished with them—and their new callings are even more powerful…

Though his physical wounds have healed, Gregori Sun, the eldest of the Riders, remains in spiritual turmoil. His search for his mother, the one person able to heal his soul and save his life, is failing—until he crosses paths with a beautiful and fascinating librarian who might be the key to his salvation…

Ciera Evans’s bookish ways are just a guise. The product of a difficult past, she has dedicated her life to saving lost teens—by any means necessary. She works alone, but when a dark, brooding stranger proposes they team up to solve both their problems, she is tempted—in more ways than one…

After Ciera and Sun’s plans are derailed by dangerous enemies, they find themselves entangled in an ungodly affair—one that will force them to either find new strength together or be forever haunted by their pasts alone.








Chapter 1

Gregori Sun stared at his reflection in the spotty bathroom mirror of a cheap motel: waist-length straight dark hair pulled back in a tail, black eyes set at a slight slant over the flat cheekbones of his Mongolian ancestors, and the Fu Manchu mustache he’d worn since he’d become a man, longer ago than anyone who met him might imagine. The harsh glare of the light fixture glinted off the straight razor in his right hand. It trembled almost imperceptibly, a leftover echo of the debilitating damage he’d taken a year ago at the hands of the deranged and powerful witch who had once been his ally and a trusted friend.
        A deep breath and a moment’s focused attention banished the tremor and steadied his hand for the task ahead. Sun entertained the wistful thought that it would be nice if all his other remaining issues could be dealt with as easily. But he was not a man who had ever taken the easy way, even if there had been one available, which there was not. Hence this next step.
        Before he could change his mind, the razor flashed—once, twice, three times. Black hair fell into the sink, its darkness a stark contrast against the pitted white porcelain, just as his former life was a stark contrast to his present existence and his future path. The acrid smell of the motel’s antiseptic cleaner echoed his mood.
        Now the face staring back at him seemed to belong to a stranger. Clean-shaven, with hair barely long enough to be held back by the leather thong he wore, the man in the mirror seemed somehow younger and more vulnerable, although he still wore Sun’s habitual aura of impenetrable calm. As with much else in Sun’s life these days, it was more semblance than reality.
        The Buddhist monastery he was entering didn’t require first-year novices to shave their heads, any more than it mandated specific formal clothing. Students were only expected to obey the basic rules and follow the regimen of study, practice, and service. Sun had laid aside his traditional red leathers and silks anyway, as another way of putting aside the past, and now wore loose black wool pants and a black cotton turtleneck more suited to the frigid Minnesota winters.
        The commitment he was making felt worthy of a symbolic sacrifice, even if no one was aware of it but him.
        This was a new beginning in search of a new man; he couldn’t go into it looking the same as he had for more than a thousand years. Sun was so changed on the inside, he barely knew who he was any more. His outside might as well reflect that.

The alley reeked of rancid garbage, burning grease from the Chinese restaurant at the far end, and other pungent odors best not examined too closely, the smell so strong it almost seemed like a solid presence. An abandoned collection of ramshackle cardboard, once the temporary shelter for a homeless person, continued its slow, decaying crumble down the brick side of the building to her left, and rats scrabbled over some half-frozen garbage in an overturned can to her right.
        Ciera Evans ignored them all as she concentrated on her silent pursuit of the man she’d followed for the last six nights. He vanished into the back of a dimly lit building, the door gaping open long enough to reveal a smoky interior and a circle of men sitting around a faded green table playing poker. Drunken laughter spilled out into the night and then cut off with a slam that even the rats ignored. It was that kind of neighborhood.
        Not what she was looking for, she thought. Not tonight. But soon.
        She backed away, careful not to trip over anything in the alley as she tucked a stray lock of dark curly hair under the hoodie that kept her reasonably warm on this cold Minnesota night while also masking her distinctive features. The worn brown leather jacket she wore on top of the hoodie fit right into the usual local attire, so she wasn’t too worried about being noticed on her way back to the car.
        A couple of blocks away, though, Ciera realized she was being stalked in turn. Ironic, really. And a little inconvenient, but she could feel the pulse speed up in her throat and admitted to herself that on some level she was almost eager to be forced into action after long nights of watching and waiting and doing nothing.
        The two men who followed her no doubt thought she was easy prey. They were about to find out just how wrong they were.
        “Hand over your money and your phone and nobody needs to get hurt,” said the bigger of the two toughs as they closed in on her. His heavy boots clattered on the icy sidewalk, the same sound that had alerted Ciera to her unwanted escort.
        “That’s what you think,” Ciera said, using a low, raspy voice to disguise her sex. A twist of her wrists sent her fighting sticks sliding out of her sleeves and into her hands, and she set her feet in a stance that was both rooted and flexible. “Last chance to walk away, boys.”
        The shorter man, underdressed for the weather in ripped pants and holey sneakers, shook his shaved head. “Not a chance, dude. In case you haven’t noticed, there are two of us and only one of you, and you’re kind of scrawny. A couple of pieces of wood aren’t going to save you.” He nodded to his friend and they both moved in closer, scruffy faces wearing matching expressions of stubble-adorned menace.
        “Too true,” Ciera whispered, lower than they were likely to hear. “But a couple of pieces of wood and years of self-defense classes will go a long way.”
        She didn’t bother to show off—a rookie mistake—attacking instead in a flurry of kicks and hits aimed at vulnerable knees, elbows, and collarbones that left the men lying groaning on the ground behind her. She shoved the fighting sticks back up her sleeves and kept on walking without a backward glance.
        A few twists and turns later and she was back at the car she always used for her evening forays. It couldn’t be traced to her since it was registered in the name of a woman long dead. A practical vehicle, it also served to remind her of why she did what she did. The dead woman had been her friend. More than her friend—her savior. Now Ciera carried on her friend’s mission, because it was the only way she could repay the debt she owed. And because she’d made a promise to the only person in her life who had ever kept their word to her.
        Back in her apartment, she stripped off the anonymous hoodie and stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. She wasn’t sure she recognized the woman staring back at her. It was hard to say which one was real—the face she showed the world during the day or the one she hid at night. Maybe neither. But if there was another Ciera beyond those two, she wasn’t sure what that woman would look like. Or if she’d even like her if she ever had a chance to find out.





The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a US$10 Amazon Gift Card from Deborah.

How:
  • Send an email to theqwillery . contests @ gmail.com [remove the spaces]
  • In the subject line, enter “Divine“ with or without the quote marks.
  • In the body of the email, please provide your name and email address. The winning email  address is used only to allow the author to contact the winner and is provided to the author and/or The Qwillery only for that purpose. All other email address information will be deleted by The Qwillery once the giveaway ends.

Who:  The giveaway is open to all humans in the United States or Canada with an with an email address. You may have to set up an Amazon account in order to use the gift card.

When:  The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on December 2, 2017. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.





Previously

Dangerously Charming
A Broken Rider Novel 1
Berkley, October 4, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway
From the author of the Baba Yaga novels, a brand new series set in the same “addicting”* world, filled with wild magic, enchanting damsels, and the irresistibly daring men who serve the Baba Yagas…

The Riders are three immortal brothers who protect the mythical Baba Yagas. But their time serving the witches has ended—and their new destinies are just beginning…

Ever since a near-fatal mistake stripped Mikhail Day and his brothers of their calling to be Riders, Day has hidden from his shame and his new, mortal life in a remote cabin in the Adirondack mountains. But when a desperate young woman appears on his doorstep, he cannot resist helping her—and cannot deny how strongly he’s drawn to her…

For generations, women in Jenna Quinlan’s family have been cursed to give up their first born child to the vengeful fairy Zilya. When Jenna finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she is determined to break her family’s curse and keep her baby, even if it means teaming up with a mysterious and charismatic man with demons of his own…

To unravel the curse, Jenna and Day will have to travel deep into the Otherworld. But the biggest challenge of the journey might not be solving an ancient puzzle but learning to heal their own broken hearts…






About Deborah

Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway
Deborah Blake is the author of Veiled Magic and the Baba Yaga novels, including Wickedly Wonderful and Wickedly Dangerous. She has published numerous books on modern witchcraft with Llewellyn Worldwide and has an ongoing column in Witches & Pagans magazine. When not writing, Deborah runs The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and also works as a jewelry maker, tarot reader, and energy healer. She lives in a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magical and mundane.


Newsletter  ~  Website  ~  Blog  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @deborahblake





Also by Deborah Blake

The Baba Yaga Series

Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway
Wickedly Magical
A Baba Yaga Novella
Berkley, August 5, 2014
eBook, 73 pages

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one…

Barbara Yager loves being one of the most powerful witches in the world, but sometimes she’d rather kick back in her enchanted Airstream with a beer in her hand than work out how to grant the requests of the worthy few who seek her out.

But when a man appears with the token of a family debt of honor, Barbara must drop everything to satisfy the promise owed by her predecessor—and she isn’t above being a little wicked to make sure the debt is paid in full…



Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway
Wickedly Dangerous
A Baba Yaga Novel 1
Berkley, September 2, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

FIRST IN A NEW SERIES!

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Older than she looks and powerful beyond measure, Barbara Yager no longer has much in common with the mortal life she left behind long ago. Posing as an herbalist and researcher, she travels the country with her faithful (mostly) dragon-turned-dog in an enchanted Airstream, fulfilling her duties as a Baba Yaga and avoiding any possibility of human attachment.

But when she is summoned to find a missing child, Barbara suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and an unexpected attraction to the charming but frustrating Sheriff Liam McClellan.

Now, as Barbara fights both human enemies and Otherworld creatures to save the lives of three innocent children, she discovers that her most difficult battle may be with her own heart…



Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway
Wickedly Wonderful
A Baba Yaga Novel 2
Berkley, December 2, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Though she looks like a typical California surfer girl, Beka Yancy is in fact a powerful yet inexperienced witch who’s struggling with her duties as a Baba Yaga. Luckily she has her faithful dragon-turned-dog for moral support, especially when faced with her biggest job yet…

A mysterious toxin is driving the Selkie and Mer from their homes deep in the trenches of Monterey Bay. To investigate, Beka buys her way onto the boat of Marcus Dermott, a battle-scarred former U.S. Marine, and his ailing fisherman father.

While diving for clues, Beka drives Marcus crazy with her flaky New Age ideas and dazzling blue eyes. She thinks he’s rigid and cranky (and way too attractive). Meanwhile, a charming Selkie prince has plans that include Beka. Only by trusting her powers can Beka save the underwater races, pick the right man, and choose the path she’ll follow for the rest of her life…



Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway
Wickedly Ever After
A Baba Yaga Novella
InterMix, January 19, 2016
eBook, 66 pages

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one…

Having triumphed over a powerful enemy and ended up with both a wonderful guy—Sheriff Liam McClellan—and an adorable adopted daughter to raise as a Baba Yaga, Barbara Yager is ready to welcome her happily ever after.

But first she must bring Liam to the Otherworld and get the Queen’s permission to marry him. The Queen, however, is not so easily persuaded. She gives them three impossible tasks to complete in two weeks’ time—and if they fail Barbara will have to watch Liam slowly age and die like all humans, and kiss her happily ever after good-bye forever.

Includes an exclusive preview of the next Baba Yaga Novel, Wickedly Powerful



Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and Giveaway
Wickedly Powerful
A Baba Yaga Novel 3
Berkley, February 2, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

The author of Wickedly Wonderful returns to her “addicting”* world of Russian witches in the latest Baba Yaga novel.

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

The only thing more fiery than Bella Young’s red hair is her temper. She knows that a Baba Yaga’s power without strict control can leave the people she cares about burned, so to protect her heart—and everyone around her—the only company she keeps is her dragon-turned-Norwegian-Forest-cat, Koshka.

But when Bella is tasked with discovering who’s setting magical fires throughout Wyoming’s Black Hills, she finds herself working closely with former hotshots firefighter Sam Corbett—and falling hard for his quiet strength and charm.

Sam may bear the scars of his past, but Bella can see beyond them and would do anything to help him heal. Only before she can rescue her Prince Charming, she’ll have to overcome the mysterious foe setting the forest fires—a truly wicked witch who wields as much power and even more anger than Bella…



Excerpt from Dangerously Divine by Deborah Blake and GiveawayWickedly Spirited
A Baba Yaga Novella
InterMix, September 19, 2017
eBook, 55 pages

Jazz, the powerfully magical teen first introduced in Wickedly Powerful, is now being trained as a Baba Yaga—and she’s determined to free the Broken Riders herself.

Jazz had a rough life before meeting her guardian, and she knows she’s lucky that Bella is training her to be a Baba Yaga. But the gifted young witch is frustrated by the slow pace of her lessons. Jazz knows she’s capable of even greater magic, and she wants nothing more than to find a spell that will give the Riders back the immortality they lost.

With the reluctant assistance of Bella’s dragon-turned-cat Koshka, Jazz travels to the Otherworld to get the necessary ingredients to perform the spell. A willful young witch, dangerous magic, and one powerful wish—what could possibly go wrong?


Cover Reveal and Excerpt - Windhome by Kristin Landon


The Qwillery is thrilled to help reveal the cover for Windhome by Kristin Landon coming in December from Candlemark & Gleam. The fabulous cover is by Julie Dillon.

See the full Wrap Cover Reveal and another excerpt from Windhome at Candlemark & Gleam here.


Windhome
Candlemark & Gleam, December 11, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 346 pages

Cover Reveal and Excerpt - Windhome by Kristin Landon
Earth has sent out exploratory expeditions in a desperate attempt to discover the nature of the alien force that wiped out at least one extrasolar civilization and now threatens Earth itself. One of the exploratory starships is stealth-attacked by the hostile aliens. The survivors, marooned among the pre-technological inhabitants of the icy world of Windhome, struggle to survive, to understand this harsh world and its few, grim people—and, somehow, to fulfill their mission. Thrown into an unwilling alliance with a Windhome outsider faction, exiled into wilderness, two of the human crew must live by this world’s bitter laws, accept the ways of its people—and eventually make a terrifying choice.





Excerpt

        Only here, on all of Windhome, was music studied as an art. Here the crowds were smaller, but they stood in silence to listen. The music troubled Pierre. The men’s deep, warm voices shaped long, curving branches of melody over a firm ground. It was music potent with mystery, heavy with the considered grief of years. The strange scale, like and yet unlike any music of Earth—the sense of searching, searching, for a center, for return, and just as it seemed the music might come to rest there, the voices would fade....
        Pierre knew what he was hearing in that music, and behind that music. He could not allow the dark, ravenous longing for home to begin again. Yet the memories came: The songs and dances in his village, handed down from generation to generation on the fringe of the Covenant world. The singing in the church at Christmas. And at last, his own son’s face, pinched with distress—Why are you going away? Was I bad? Pierre knotted his hands together, gripped until the bones hurt.
        He could not allow himself to remember that now. He straightened, stood firm, watching Kelru’s tall figure moving through the crowd, always looking down. And still he listened to the music. The words were simpler than the harmonies that carried them. Perhaps if he concentrated on the words— The singers’ faces were intent, disciplined. Over those mountains is my home, they sang. In this broad valley is the land where I will die. Worldwind, carry my ashes high. Carry them higher than those mountains, O wind.
        Pierre’s breath caught in his throat and he looked up, up at the stars, which trembled at first, trembled and then stilled as he won his battle yet again. Thousands of stars burned there, a bitter glory. He had never seen such stars in the dusty skies of Earth. Here the night was a flawless emptiness between himself and infinity. He stood exposed on the backbone of an alien world, waiting for death to find him. To find them all.





About Kristin

Kristin Landon lives in Oregon with her husband Tom and an imperious Cavalier spaniel named Lucy. In addition to writing science fiction, she works as a freelance copyeditor of a wide range of scholarly and medical books. Her novelette “From the Depths” appeared in the highly acclaimed science fiction anthology To Shape the Dark (Candlemark & Gleam, 2016). She is also the author of the Hidden Worlds trilogy: The Hidden Worlds, The Cold Minds, and The Dark Reaches (Ace Books).

Website  ~  Twitter @kristinlandon

Dark Matter by Black Crouch - Excerpt, Interview, Review


Dark Matter by Blake Crouch was published in Trade Paperback on May 2nd by Broadway Books. Today we are sharing an excerpt from Dark Matter and re-posting our interview with Blake and review from July 2016.







An Excerpt from Dark Matter

TWO
I’m aware of someone gripping my ankles.
     As hands slide under my shoulders, a woman says, “How’d he get out of the box?”
     A man responds: “No idea. Look, he’s coming to.”
     I open my eyes, but all I see is blurred movement and light.
     The man barks, “Let’s get him the hell out of here.”
     I try to speak, but the words fall out of my mouth, garbled and formless.
     The woman says, “Dr. Dessen? Can you hear me? We’re going to lift you onto a gurney now.”
     I look toward my feet, and the man’s face racks into focus. He’s staring at me through the face shield of an aluminized hazmat suit with a self-contained breathing apparatus.
     Glancing at the woman behind my head, he says, “One, two, three.”
     They hoist me onto a gurney and lock padded restraints around
my ankles and wrists.
     “Only for your protection, Dr. Dessen.”
     I watch the ceiling scroll past, forty or fifty feet above.
     Where the hell am I? A hangar?
     I catch a glint of memory—a needle puncturing my neck. I was injected with something. This is some crazy hallucination.
     A radio squawks, “Extraction team, report. Over.”
     The woman says with excitement bleeding through her voice, "We have Dessen. We're en route. Over."
     I hear the squeak of wheels rolling.
     "Copy that. Initial condition assessment? Over."
     She reaches down with a gloved hand and wakes some kind of monitoring device that's been Velcroed to my left arm.
     "Pulse rate: one-fifteen. BP: one-forty over ninety-two. Temp: ninety-eight-point-nine. Oh-two sat: ninety-five percent. Gamma: point-eight seven. ETA thirty seconds. Out."
     A buzzing sound startles me.
     We move through a pair of vaultlike doors that are slowly opening.
     Jesus Christ.
     Stay calm. This isn't real.
     The wheels squeak faster, more urgently.
     We're in a corridor lined with plastic, my eyes squinting against the onslaught of light from fluorescent bulbs shining overhead.
     The doors behind us slam shut with an ominous clang, like the gates to a keep.
     They wheel me into an operating room toward an imposing figure
in a positive pressure suit, standing under an array of surgical lights.
     He smiles down at me through his face shield and says, as if he knows me, "Welcome back, Jason. Congratulations. You did it."
     Back?
     I can only see his eyes, but they don't remind me of anyone I've ever met.
     ''Are you experiencing any pain?" he asks.
     I shake my head.
     "Do you know how you got the cuts and bruises on your face?''
     Shake.
     "Do you know who you are?"
     I nod.
     "Do you know where you are?"
     Shake.
     "Do you recognize me?"
     Shake.
     'Tm Leighton Vance, chief executive and medical officer. We're
colleagues and friends." He holds up a pair of surgical shears. "I need to get you out of these clothes."
     He removes the monitoring device and goes to work on my jeans and boxer shorts, tossing them into a metal tray. As he cuts off my shirt, I gaze up at the lights burning down on me, trying not to panic.
     But I'm naked and strapped to a gurney.
     No, I remind myself, I'm hallucinating that I'm naked and strapped to a gurney. Because none of this is real.
     Leighton lifts the tray holding my shoes and clothes and hands it to someone behind my head, outside my line of sight. "Test every­ thing."
     Footsteps rush out of the room.
     I note the sharp bite of isopropyl alcohol a second before Leighton cleans a swatch of skin on the underside of my arm.
     He ties a tourniquet above my elbow.
     "Tust drawing some blood," he says, taking a large-gauge hypoder­-
mic needle from the instrument tray.
     He's good. I don't even feel the sting.
     When he's finished, Leighton rolls the gurney toward the far side of the OR to a glass door with a touchscreen mounted on the wall beside it.
     "Wish I could tell you this is the fun part," he says. "If you're too
disoriented to remember what's about to happen, that's probably for the best."
     I try to ask what's happening, but words still elude me. Leigh­ ton's fingers dance across the touchscreen. The glass door opens, and he pushes me into a chamber that's just large enough to hold the gurney.
     "Ninety seconds," he says. "You'll be fine. It never killed any of the test subjects."
Excerpted from DARK MATTER. Copyright © 2017 by Blake Crouch. Published by Broadway Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.









TQWelcome to The Qwillery. You've written over a dozen novels. Has your writing process changed (or not) over the years? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Blake:  Thanks for having me! My writing process has definitely evolved and is continuing to evolve from book to book. The hardest thing for me is finding the right idea. It involves lots of hemming and hawing and self-doubting and journaling and outlining before I finally commit to something and get underway with the writing itself.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Blake:  I would describe myself as a plotter who, along the way, is very open to becoming a pantser when inspiration strikes. In other words, I go into a book having a pretty good notion of what the first half of the book is going to be and a vaguer idea of the latter half. But along the way, I want to be surprised. By characters. By sudden reversals I never planned. So I go into the process with a game plan that I hope inspiration and magic will dramatically alter.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Blake:  Lately, it’s a combination of two things. 1. My own life: the challenges and struggles I face seem to work their way into the psychology of my main characters (and sometimes villains). 2. A strong interest in emerging technologies and how they are changing our world, our species.



TQDescribe Dark Matter in 140 characters or less.

Blake:  If Christopher Nolan directed It’s a Wonderful Life.



TQTell us something about Dark Matter that is not found in the book description.

Blake:  At it’s heart, it’s a love story.



TQWhat inspired you to write Dark Matter? What appeals to you about writing Thrillers?

Blake:  I wrote it because I’m fascinated by quantum mechanics and what that field of science suggests about the universe we live in. I love writing thrillers because I love reading thrillers. I write the kinds of books I would want to read.



TQDo Dark Matter and the Wayward Pine Trilogy (Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town) share anything thematically?

Blake:  Yes. They share man questioning his reality, and at times, his identity. They also share the idea that as we progress as a species and reach higher levels of scientific achievement, that threatens to not only change the world around us, but also what it means to be human.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Dark Matter?

Blake:  I read books, articles, abstracts for the last decade, just trying to wrap my brain around quantum mechanics. I still don’t fully understand it. To truly grasp the insanity of how sub-atomic particles behave requires advanced mathematics degrees, and I took as few of those courses as possible in college. When I finished Dark Matter I sent the book to a physicist named Clifford Johnson who teaches at USC. He was kind of enough to read the science-heavy passages and make sure I hadn’t gotten too far off track in my representation of certain theories.



TQ:   In Dark Matter who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Blake:  Jason was far and away the easiest because I feel like he and I are pulled in similar direction in terms of career vs. family. And being in my mid-thirties, I find myself looking more and more back toward the path not taken. Amanda was the hardest character for me, not to write, but to do justice to. She’s a fairly minor character in the book, but she is with Jason during his hardest moments. I didn’t want to short shrift her character, while at the same time, I didn’t want her journey to overshadow my main character’s.



TQWhich question about Dark Matter do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Blake:

Q: Was this the hardest book you ever wrote?

A: By a factor of about 10.



TQ:   Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Dark Matter.

Blake:  I really like this one, from early on in the book. We’re deep in the main character (Jason’s) head here and beginning to understand where he is in life:
“There’s an energy to these autumn nights that touches something primal inside of me. Something from long ago. From my childhood in western Iowa. I think of high school football games and the stadium lights blazing down on the players. I smell ripening apples, and the sour reek of beer from keg parties in the cornfields. I feel the wind in my face as I ride in the bed of an old pickup truck down a country road at night, dust swirling red in the taillights and the entire span of my life yawning out ahead of me.

It’s the beautiful thing about youth.

There’s a weightlessness that permeates everything because no damning choices have been made, no paths committed to, and the road forking out ahead is pure, unlimited potential.

I love my life, but I haven’t felt that lightness of being in ages. Autumn nights like this are as close as I get.”


TQWhat's next?

Blake:  That’s a great question. Remember what I said about how hard it is for me to fall in love with a new idea? I’m speed-dating a bunch of them right now.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Blake:  Thank YOU! Awesome questions.





Dark Matter
Broadway Books, May 2, 2017
Trade Paperback,368 pages
Hardcover and eBook, July 26, 2016

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.” 

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.



Qwill's Thoughts

Jason Dessen's life is about to change dramatically. He's kidnapped. His life is wrenched away from him. And all he wants is not the fame and glory of the new world he wakes up in, he just wants his wife and son and the life they've made. Jason is not a typical hero. He starts out a happy man who understands what he has potentially given up to have the life he has with the woman he loves deeply and their son he loves as much. This love is palpable and deeply felt. He will do what he has to do to get home if he can while coming to a deeper understanding of what makes the world around him his world. I didn't always like Jason's attitude and some of things he did, but I understood and respected his decisions.

Dark Matter is tightly plotted and beautifully written. There are moments of deep introspection and of pulse-pounding action. There is science that stretches the boundaries of what we know and what is possible. Crouch raises questions about identity, the multiverse and who we are and wraps these questions in an extremely entertaining, often tense, moving SF thriller.

Dark Matter is, for me, essentially a story about a man's love for his wife and family and his journey to be with them. And it's about quantum mechanics and human entanglement. It's about perseverance in the face of nearly insurmountable odds and finding your way home. It's also mind-blowingly twisty and wonderful. Dark Matter will make you think, question and wonder.





About Blake

Photo by Jesse Giddings
Blake Crouch is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. He is the author of the novel, Dark Matter, for which he is writing the screenplay for Sony Pictures. His international-bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy was adapted into a television series for FOX, executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan, that was Summer 2015's #1 show. With Chad Hodge, Crouch also created Good Behavior, the TNT television show starring Michelle Dockery based on his Letty Dobesh novellas. He has written more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over thirty languages and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Crouch lives in Colorado.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @blakecrouch1

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art


Please welcome Annette Marie to The Qwillery. Immortal Fire, the 3rd novel in the Red Winter Trilogy, was published on April 11th.



Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art




Illustrations Words Vs. Art

Words are an author’s paintbrush. We create vibrant, moving pictures with black and white sentences, and if we do it right, the reader gets to watch a little movie in their head while they read. That’s my goal, anyway. I’m a very visual writer; I “see” everything I write and do my best to make sure the reader sees it too.

But what happens when you actually add some art to the book?

Illustrated novels aren’t a new thing, but they aren’t common in modern contemporary fantasy. For my most recent trilogy Red Winter, I knew very early on that I wanted to include illustrations in each book. Heavily inspired by Japanese mythology, the story is a visual feast and I wanted readers to see the story in a more tangible way that I could create with words alone.

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art

So began my search for an illustrator. That task seemed impossible in itself—not only finding an artist with a style that meshed with the story, but finding someone who would really understand what I wanted. I lucked out with Brittany Jackson of BeaGifted Illustrations. She’s amazingly talented, and she captured so much beauty, story, and character in every illustration.

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art

Once she signed on, I thought the hard part was over, and in a way, it was. But in a completely different way, the trial was only just beginning for me. My world and characters exist in my head, and I can only tell their story in words. Now I was handing my precious creations over to someone else to give them visual life. Like most authors, I can be a little (a lot) possessive of my characters, and sharing them with another artist was unexpectedly challenging.

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art

At some points, I can honestly say it was like magic. Brittany seemed to pluck my characters straight from my muse and paint them beautifully, depicting them even more perfectly than I could have imagined. Some of the illustrations even shifted my perception of the characters, and suddenly I could see something more in them I hadn’t known was there—a slightly different facet of their personality, an emotion I hadn’t expected.

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art

At other points, though, I’m pretty sure Brittany wanted to strangle me. And I probably would have deserved it, but she was astoundingly patient and never once made me feel bad when I got hung up on stupid small details because “that’s how I imagined it in my head.”

But when it comes down to it, no matter how carefully I describe something, no two readers are going to “see” that scene or character in exactly the same way. No two readers will experience the story in the same way—or in the precise way I intended it.

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art

But in Red Winter, I know we all—author and readers—can share the exact same experience of each scene that Brittany brought to life with an illustration. They’re my favorite scenes, every one, and even if the process was hard on my poor control-freak brain, I would do it all over again a hundred times to get to see my characters inside the pages of their books in a way I’d never experienced before.

Find out more about Red Winter: www.redwintertrilogy.com



Immortal Fire
The Red Winter Trilogy 3
Dark Owl Fantasy Inc., April 11, 2017
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 408 pages

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art
Once, Emi believed the heavenly gods were righteous and wise, while the earthly yokai spirits were bloodthirsty and evil. But with a traitorous deity poised to destroy her world, and the yokai standing as humanity's only defense, the lies of her upbringing have toppled to reveal a far more terrifying reality.

Despite the looming threat, Emi can't escape her greatest distraction: Shiro, the fox yokai who has so deftly claimed her heart for his own. Soon—too soon—she will have to break the curse that binds his magic and memories. And once the ancient power inside him awakens, the yokai she loves will be changed forever.

As the earthly gods gather to wage war against the heavens, Emi and Shiro must gamble everything to turn the tide against their immortal, all-powerful foes. Together, they will find a way to save her world—even if it means losing each other.



Excerpt from IMMORTAL FIRE:

Violent shivers pulled Emi from the depths of sleep. The chill in the room cut right through the layers of blanket and kimono, and her toes ached from the cold. Curled in a tight ball beneath her blankets, she exhaled harshly, half expecting her breath to fog the air.

Beyond the thin partition that separated her sleeping quarters from the rest of the room, the windows rattled in a fierce wind. A winter storm? A feverish ache throbbed in her muscles, though she didn’t think she had slept for more than a few hours.

Yawning, she forced her tired body off the futon. Cold hit her like a splash of frigid water but even that wasn’t enough to dispel her drowsy daze. A short, fumbling search uncovered no extra blankets in the closet within her small alcove. Wrapping an arm around herself for warmth, she slid a panel open and peeked into the main room.

The remains of Shiro and Yumei’s late dinner had been cleared from the table, and the unlit brazier was devoid of light or warmth. Across the room, a second futon had been laid out near Shiro’s, and dark shapes filled both.

Trust the yokai to sleep right through the freezing cold. Behind their futons was a larger closet where bedding was stored. Surely there would be an extra blanket in there. She stumbled toward it in exhaustion. Her chest felt hollow and empty, and some of the chill that plagued her emanated from within.

As she crossed the room, an icy breeze rushed across her. Jerking back a step, she turned toward the sliding garden doors. A six-inch gap revealed the night-swathed garden beyond, where snow flew almost horizontally in the wind.

Why on earth had they left the door open? With a tired scowl, she yanked it shut. The room immediately felt warmer. Shaking her head, she stopped at the foot of Shiro’s futon, the light from the window glimmering on his white hair. Not that long ago, she had woken him from a nightmare, and he had thrown her into a wall before rousing enough to realize he was about to rip her throat out. Attempting to sneak between their futons to reach the closet was probably unwise.

“Shiro?” she whispered. “Are you awake?”

He didn’t stir. Neither did Yumei, who slept on his back with his head turned away, his hair splayed untidily across his face in a way that was very unlike the usually reserved yokai. He rarely slept when anyone else was nearby, at least as far as she’d seen. Maybe her ki had tired him.

“Shiro?” she tried again more loudly.

When he again didn’t move, not even a twitch of his ears, a nervous prickle climbed her spine. Shiro wasn’t that deep of a sleeper. And why hadn’t her clumsy banging of the garden door woken them?

A spike of adrenaline cut through her drowsiness as she realized how unlikely it was that Shiro and Yumei would go to sleep with a door ajar. Had the wind blown it open? Or … something else?

She scoured the room, but it was clearly empty. Biting the inside of her cheek, she stepped between the futons and crouched.

“Shiro,” she called. “Wake up!”

No reaction. Hoping he wouldn’t attack her, she touched his shoulder. He slept on, eyes closed, face slack. Her apprehension intensified into real fear.

“Shiro!” She gripped his shoulder and shook it, but he still didn’t wake or so much as stir.

Was she dreaming? Was this a nightmare? She spun around and reached for Yumei.

“Yumei, wake up! Please wake up!” She shook him but he was as unresponsive as Shiro. In desperation, she hit his shoulder with her open palm, yelling his name. “What’s wrong with you? Wake up!”

As she turned, intending to grab a handful of snow from outside to shove in Shiro’s face, the air above him shimmered strangely. She went rigid, squinting into the darkness.

A shadow took form. A small body, thin limbs, ragged black hair. The ghostly child crouched on Shiro’s chest, her blank, bottomless stare fixed on Emi.

Her heart thudded in her ears. A kanashibari, the dream-weaving yokai that had been watching Emi in the bath. That was what she’d forgotten to warn Shiro about! And now it was sitting on him, and he wouldn’t wake up.

She lurched back to Yumei. A second kanashibari appeared before her, perched on his torso. The new one, another little girl with short, stringy hair and a pale kimono, looked up at Emi with empty black eyes.

The child’s lips pulled up in a rictal grin, and her tiny arm shot out.

Emi shoved the yokai away, but her hands passed right through the spectral body, feeling nothing but frosty air.

The yokai reached for her face and a small, frigid, solid palm pressed against her forehead. A wave of burning ice surged into Emi’s skull, blanketing her thoughts. Impossible, unyielding drowsiness crashed through her.

Before she could react, before she could even think about resisting, she collapsed on top of Yumei’s unconscious body and slid into darkness.





Previously

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art
Red Winter
The Red Winter Trilogy 1
Dark Owl Fantasy Inc., October 21, 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 324 pages

In a few short months, Emi's mortal life will end when she becomes the human host of an immortal goddess. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess—and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.

Shiro is a spirit of the earth and an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command—whether she wants him or not.

On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate—but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.

Red Winter includes ten beautiful full-page illustrations by award-winning artist Brittany Jackson.


Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art
Dark Tempest
The Red Winter Trilogy 2
Dark Owl Fantasy Inc., January 6, 2017
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 327 pages

Emi has dedicated her life to becoming the perfect vessel for the goddess Amaterasu, but the insidious betrayal of another deity has changed everything. Now Amaterasu has charged Emi with an urgent mission: to find and free the earthly gods before mankind is brought to its knees beneath divine tyranny.

At her side is Shiro, the mysterious fox spirit. When she first saved his life, she could never have imagined that behind his cunning and confidence, he was lost—his power bound by a devastating curse and his memories obscured. His veiled history is somehow tied to the missing gods, but he can’t remember how or why.

As their search leads them into the murky depths of the spirit realm, the shadows of Shiro’s past begin to emerge. With each brief awakening of his true self, she loses a little more of him. The fate of the heavens and earth rest in her mortal hands, and she must find the missing gods before time runs out for her world—and for Shiro.





About Annette Marie

Annette Marie on Illustrations Words Vs. Art
Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling Steel & Stone series, which includes Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night, and fantasy trilogy Red Winter. Her first love is fantasy, but fast-paced urban fantasy and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She lives in the frozen winter wasteland of Alberta, Canada (okay, it's not quite that bad) with her comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness—sorry, cat—Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.


Website  ~  Facebook  ~  TwitterGoodreads


Review, Excerpt and Giveaway - The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca


The Holver Alley Crew
Author:  Marshall Ryan Maresca
Series:  A Streets of Maradaine Novel
Publisher:  DAW, March 7, 2017
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
List Price:  US$7.99 (print and eBook)
ISBN9780756412609 (print); 9780756412616 (eBook)

Review, Excerpt and Giveaway - The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca
The exciting debut to Marshall Ryan Maresca’s Streets of Maradaine series, blending fast-paced heists with epic and urban fantasy across interconnected series of novels

The Rynax brothers had gone legit after Asti Rynax’s service in Druth Intelligence had shattered his nerves, and marriage and fatherhood convinced Verci Rynax to leave his life of thievery. They settled back in their old neighborhood in West Maradaine and bought themselves a shop, eager for a simple, honest life.

Then the Holver Alley Fire incinerated their plans. With no home, no shop, and no honest income—and saddled with a looming debt—they fall back on their old skills and old friends.

With a crew of other fire victims, Asti and Verci plan a simple carriage heist, but the job spirals out of control as they learn that the fire was no accident. Lives in Holver Alley were destroyed out of a sadistic scheme to buy the land.

Smoldering for revenge, burdened with Asti’s crumbling sanity, the brothers and their crew of amateurs and washouts swear to take down those responsible for the fire, no matter the cost.



Doreen's Thoughts

With his newest book, Marshal Ryan Maresca continues to develop his fantasy world, Maradaine. His first two novels focused on the criminal side of the world while his second two looked at the constabulary, those individuals catching the criminals. With The Holver Alley Crew, Maresca looks at the commoners who live on the streets and often are caught in the middle.

The story opens in the midst of a horrific fire, catching Verci Rynax, his brother Asti, his wife, and their daughter in their home by the flames. They rescue themselves and some of their neighbors, while waiting for the fire crews, but the firefighters appear too late. The fire eventually takes out not only their building, but a huge chunk of the neighborhood, including the shop the brothers had planned to open in their efforts to leave the criminal life.

Because of the debt they owed on the building, Verci and Asti are forced to seek criminal work once again. However, when it becomes apparent that the fire was set intentionally, the boys vow to find those responsible and hold them accountable using a ragtag team of their fellow victims.

Maresca excels at this type of rollicking adventure. His writing exemplifies showing, rather than telling. While he gives hints in the beginning about his characters’ backstories, the story itself reveals more about their personalities and problems. Maresca hints early on that Asti’s work as a spy had not ended well, but he leaves the nuts and bolts of the story and its aftermath for later. For example, the reader immediately sees that Asti is having problems controlling his violence by his reaction to seeing a shopkeeper attacked by thugs. It seems obvious that this is related to his past.

In addition to developing his characters, Maresca also outdoes himself with action. From the opening scene until the close, there always is some type of action taking place. Maresca does not use much introspection or dialogue when an old-fashioned brawl will do. His action scenes, such as the opening fire, go on for pages. He offers lots of fights, chases, and crashes, and he does so joyfully.

It is obvious that Maresca has a lot of fun writing his stories. He genuinely likes the characters that he is describing, even the so-called “bad” guys. While the Rynax brothers are technically thieves, they steal because circumstances force them to do so. Ultimately, they believe in a concept of justice, which is why they choose to go after those who set the fire. The same is true of Veranix, who is a vigilante fighting against a major crime lord. In Maradaine, very few people are ever solely good or wholly bad. Just as in real life, Maresca’s characters have a humanity that allows for shades of grey.




Excerpt

“Julien!” he called. The big man pushed his way through the crowd, Asti meeting him partway.

“You all right, Jules? Your house all right?”

“No,” Julien said, his wide, sad face covered in ash and soot.

“I’m sorry, Julien,” Asti said. “Win Greenfield and his family are still trapped.”

Julien nodded, and charged without further prodding. Verci scrambled out of the way as

Julien smashed his shoulder into the door. It splintered and cracked.

“Asti Rynax, what in the name of the blasted saints do you think you’re doing?” Helene Kesser, Julien’s cousin, had come up right behind him, grabbing his wrist tightly. Her face and nightclothes were covered in ashes, black hair a tangled mess, and bare arms scraped and bleeding. “I barely got Jules out of our house. Don’t you dare have him—”

“I just need the door open,” Asti said. He glanced over at Raych, still crying at Verci to come away from the burning building. “Keep everyone else out, Hel. Especially Verci.”

“How the blazes—”

“Just do it,” Asti said. He took off his pack and handed it to Helene. Without another word, he pulled a cloak out and took it to the well spigot nearest Greenfield’s shop. He pumped it hard, but only a trickle of water came out. While he was doing that, Julien broke the door off its hinges with a loud crunch. Smoke poured out through the open frame.

Asti took a deep breath, put on the damp cloak, and ran into the shop. He could hear Helene yelling from outside, telling Julien not to go in after him.

Asti couldn’t see anything; thick smoke filled the shop. Eyes shut, cloak over his face, he went by memory to the back counter. He didn’t need to see to find his way; it was five steps straight, and then three to the right to the door leading to Win’s workshop.
“Win!” he called out. He could barely hear his own voice over the roar of fire. Blindly he found the door to the back room, and gave a silent prayer that it would be unlocked. He pushed his way in and tripped over something on the ground.

The fire blazed throughout the workshop, but on the floor the smoke was thinner. He had tripped over Green- field’s body. Winthym lay flat on his face, breathing shallowly.
Asti shook him. “Win, come on.” Asti shook him again, but he didn’t wake.

Through the smoke, a hand touched Asti on the shoulder. Verci came crawling in, stopping right in front of Win’s body.

“What are you doing?” Asti shouted at his brother. “Same as you,” Verci said. The ceiling crackled and creaked above them.





The Giveaway

What:  One copy of The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca from the publisher. US / Canada Only

How:
  • Send an email to theqwillery . contests @ gmail.com [remove the spaces]
  • In the subject line, enter “Holver Alley“
  • In the body of the email, please provide your name and full mailing address. The winning address is used only to mail the prize and is provided to the publisher and/or The Qwillery only for that purpose. All other address information will be deleted once the giveaway ends.

Who:  The giveaway is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address.

When:  The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on March 17, 2017. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*





About Marshall

Review, Excerpt and Giveaway - The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Photo: © Kimberley Mead
Marshall Ryan Maresca grew up in upstate New York and studied film and video production at Penn State. He now lives Austin with his wife and son. His work appeared in Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction and Rick Klaw’s anthology Rayguns Over Texas. He also has had several short plays produced and has worked as a stage actor, a theatrical director and an amateur chef. His novels The Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages each begin their own fantasy series, both set in the port city of Maradaine. For more information, visit Marshall’s website at www.mrmaresca.com.




Twitter @marshallmaresca







Previously in Maradaine

Review, Excerpt and Giveaway - The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca
The Thorn of Dentonhill
A Novel of Maradaine 1
DAW, February 3, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Veranix Calbert leads a double life. By day, he’s a struggling magic student at the University of Maradaine. At night, he spoils the drug trade of Willem Fenmere, crime boss of Dentonhill and murderer of Veranix’s father. He’s determined to shut Fenmere down.

With that goal in mind, Veranix disrupts the delivery of two magical artifacts meant for Fenmere’s clients, the mages of the Blue Hand Circle. Using these power-filled objects in his fight, he quickly becomes a real thorn in Fenmere’s side.

So much so that soon not only Fenmere, but powerful mages, assassins, and street gangs all want a piece of “The Thorn.” And with professors and prefects on the verge of discovering his secrets, Veranix’s double life might just fall apart. Unless, of course, Fenmere puts an end to it first.



See Doreen's review here.



Review, Excerpt and Giveaway - The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca
A Murder of Mages
A novel of the Maradaine Constabulary 1
DAW, July 7, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

A Murder of Mages marks the debut of Marshall Ryan Maresca’s novels of The Maradaine Constabulary, his second series set amid the bustling streets and crime-ridden districts of the exotic city called Maradaine. A Murder of Mages introduces us to this spellbinding port city as seen through the eyes of the people who strive to maintain law and order, the hardworking men and women of the Maradaine Constabulary.

Satrine Rainey—former street rat, ex-spy, mother of two, and wife to a Constabulary Inspector who lies on the edge of death, injured in the line of duty—has been forced to fake her way into the post of Constabulary Inspector to support her family.

Minox Welling is a brilliant, unorthodox Inspector and an Uncircled mage—almost a crime in itself. Nicknamed “the jinx” because of the misfortunes that seem to befall anyone around him, Minox has been partnered with Satrine because no one else will work with either of them.

Their first case together—the ritual murder of a Circled mage— sends Satrine back to the streets she grew up on and brings Minox face-to-face with mage politics he’s desperate to avoid. As the body count rises, Satrine and Minox must race to catch the killer before their own secrets are exposed and they, too, become targets.



See Doreen's review here.



Review, Excerpt and Giveaway - The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca
The Alchemy of Chaos
A Novel of Maradaine 2
DAW, February 2, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Veranix Calbert is The Thorn—the street vigilante-turned-legend—and a danger to Willem Fenmere, the drug kingpin of Dentonhill. Veranix is determined to stop Fenmere and the effitte drug trade, especially when he discovers that Fenmere is planning on using the Red Rabbits gang in his neighborhood. But Veranix is also a magic student at the University of Maradaine, and it’s exam week. With his academic career riding on his performance, there’s no time to go after Fenmere or the Red Rabbits. But when a series of pranks on campus grow deadly, it’s clear that someone has a vendetta against the university, and Veranix may be the only one who can stop them…




See Doreen's review here.



Review, Excerpt and Giveaway - The Holver Alley Crew by Marshall Ryan Maresca
An Import of Intrigue
A novel of The Maradaine Constabulary 2
DAW, November 1, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

The neighborhood of the Little East is a collision of cultures, languages, and traditions, hidden away in the city of Maradaine. A set of streets to be avoided or ignored. When a foreign dignitary is murdered, solving the crime falls to the most unpopular inspectors in the Maradaine Constabulary: exposed fraud Satrine Rainey, and Uncircled mage Minox Welling.

With a murder scene deliberately constructed to point blame toward the rival groups resident in this exotic section of Maradaine, Rainey is forced to confront her former life, while Welling’s ignorance of his own power threatens to consume him. And the conflicts erupting in the Little East will spark a citywide war unless the Constabulary solves the case quickly.



See Melanie's review here.





Upcoming

The Imposters of Aventil
A Novel of Maradaine 3
DAW, October 3, 2017
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

[cover not yet revealed]
Blending vigilante justice with epic fantasy, this third Maradaine novel finds student Veranix Calbert returning to fight crime • “Veranix is Batman, if Batman were a teenager and magically talented.” —Library Journal

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren’t enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he’s not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

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