Uncaged Book Reviews

Page 162

ISSUE 69 | January/February 2023
LEAHGRANT.NET

As I write this editorial, the holidays are almost upon us and 2022 is coming to an end. With an uncertainty of how long we will live in this home, I’ve made the tough decision to take my horses and put them into a boarding facility. Even though they will no longer be in my backyard, they will be in a nice facility where they will be safe and cared for. I will be able to take advantage of the many ammentiies that come with being at a large boarding facility, the commardarie with other horse people, the great riding areas including a large indoor and outdoor arenas, and plenty of room to ride outside. I haven’t boarded my horses in many years, but it will clear up my schedule of work here at home and finally be able to enjoy them more. Many pictures will be coming in the months ahead.

Many early plans are in the works for new features for Uncaged in the new year, so be on the lookout for any announcements on the Facebook page and on the website, and of course here, in the magazine.

We will be continuing with the “Buy 2, Get 1” promotion we’ve been running, with some changes for 2022/23. The promotion will only be for Full Page Ads, so if you buy 2, you will get one free. No other advertising will be eligible. With the issues selling out advertising more frequently, this gives more opportunities for all in advertising in the magazine. It really does help from a marketing standpoint, to have an advertisment run three months in a row to repeat in the readers mind. You don’t just see a commercial on TV one time and remember it, right? So we will continue to try and provide the best bang for your buck and get the most eyes we can on your work.

If you’d like to be a Feature Author, you can also fill out a form on the Reviews/Feature Info Page to request a Feature in 2021. Put in your top 3 choices and this is normally first come/first serve, but I do move around months to keep a good selection of genres in each issue. Soon I will also put up forms for Catch Up Features - these are for past feature authors that have a new book releasing, and we can do a shorter feature, and also a Short Story Submission form. Any author submitting an approved short story receives a full page ad in the same issue. The new form for Short Story Submissions has been added, and a Catch Up form will come next.

Enjoy the January/February issue of Uncaged Book Reviews and I wish for 2023 to be a great year for all.

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X cyr ENE no TE FR o M T h E E d IT o R contents 14 Kat Kinney 22 Anna Applegate 32 Ronald Niezen 68 Cass Kay 52 Jillian David young adult dark fantasy urban fantasy thriller/suspense occult horror romantic suspense FEATUREauthors 88 Glenda Benevides self-help/motivational 148 Marisa Dillon historical romance 98 Daniéle Cybulskie history of medieval europe 118 Maeve Grey 134 Elizabeth Bernard historical medieval historical fiction
5 Issue 69 | January/February 2023 | Issue 69 | January/February 2023 4 Note from the Editor 7 Contributors|Partnerships 168 Uncaged Reviews 174 FangFreakinTastic Reviews 178 Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews 80 authors and their pets Uncaged’s Feature Authors introduce you to their devoted writing buddies, and the devotion goes both ways. fangfreakintastic 44 EXTRAfeatures 162 D.C. Gomez fantasy Uncaged on Instagram SHOWcases The Eye in the Sky Mark Everglade Wisdom & Understanding 20 GUESTcolumns 112 Folklore and Horror Kev Harrison M.J. Watson 30 Charlene L. Morris 38 J.G. Rogers Nija Walker 48 66 78 Favian Segovia Beatrice Fairbanks Cayzer Cover by Cyrene Model ©Lor Myers https://www.deviantart.com/meetmeatthelake2nite Tutorial by PSD-Dude Who the Hell Did I Have Sex With? S.O. Marie 62 The Mortal Test Ryan M. Dixon 84 It May Be True Robert L. Snider 94 My Life of Rainbows Lauren Myers 114 4 Children’s Books Harmony Brantley 130 Unloving You Natalia Terentiev 106 Inspirational Poems Donald Sparks 158 Seven: The Story of Things to Come Alice J. Childs 10

Follow Uncaged on Facebook

7 Issue 69 | January/February 2023 |
Contributors |
Paranormal lover’s rejoice. Uncaged review contributors.
Partnerships

upcomingconventions

Uncaged will watch for any cancelations or modifications for the 2023 season. Please watch their websites for information as the dates get closer.

Black Ink

January 12-14, 2023; Charleston, SC https://www.blackinkcharleston.org

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books April 22-23, 2023; Los Angeles, CA https://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/

Sunshine State Book Festival

January 27-28, 2023; Gainesville, FL https://www.sunshinestatebookfestival.com

The Imaginarium Book Festival May 20-21, 2023; Washington, D.C. https://www.imaginariumbookfestival.com/

Savannah Book Festival

Feb. 16-19, 2023 Savannah, Georgia https://www.savannahbookfestival.org/

Texas Book Festival June 23-24, 2023; Grapevive, TX https://bookbonanzaevent.com/

8| uncagedbooks.com |

feature authors fantasy

| suspense

Kat Kinney Ronald Niezen Anna Applegate

Kat kinney

Author Kat Kinney lives with her family and two extremely pampered guinea

do not like werewolves, vampires, or falcons and wonder why their

them.

Uncaged welcomes Kat Kinney

Welcome to Uncaged! You have two series out now, the Texas Shifters and the Dyrwolf series. Can you tell readers more about these two series?

Hi and thank you so much for having me! Dyrwolf is a young adult fantasy series about a young girl (Lea Wylder) caught between the human and wolf-shifter world. The two have been at war for decades and she’s been raised to believe the wolves are completely evil, that they’ve enslaved her kind, but over the course of the novel as she comes to the aid of an injured wolfshifter, she comes to find there are nuances to the truth. I also wrote this book because I really wanted to pen a novel with a character with a severe chronic pain condition. Lea has severe chronic migraines like I do and this impacts her throughout Dyrwolf and its sequel.

Texas Shifters is my new adult paranormal romance series. It’s set in a modern-day fiction town just outside of Austin that I have overrun with werewolves and vampires. Humans just discovered vamps and shifters exist a few years ago in this world and they’re still getting used to the idea. My family of seven brothers may have lots of drama but they’re fiercely loyal and lots of fun.

In April, you have a first book in a new series coming out, Light My Pyre which is up for preorder. Can you tell us more about this series?

Light My Pyre has been lots of fun to write! I am switching gears with this one a little and it will be a paranormal romance/cozy mystery mashup set in in a fictional Colorado town outside of Denver. My first book with feature a fae firefighter and a dragon shifter and each book will have different supernaturals and a new couple. I really love holidays and cozy seasonal books, so each book in this series will have all the best things about each season. Light My Pyre kicks things off with autumn. Think hearty soups, a town carnival, fire pits and marshmallow roasting. Plus there’s a rather adorable Irish wolfhound named Daisy. (Okay, she isn’t seasonal, but she’s been really fun to write!)

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

Probably battle scenes are the hardest for me to write because I confess I have not had as much experience with sword fighting as some other things where I can more easily draw from in my lived experience. But I try to get better with every book I write.

15 Issue 69 | January/February 2023 |
pigs who human insists on writing about things that like to eat

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

Plots and characters always come to me at the most inconvenient moments when I have absolutely nothing on which to write them down. (so say we all!) But seriously, I always start with a solid outline and then also have an outline for every chapter. But then as I’m drafting, I allow myself space for better ideas to take the place of what I originally had planned. Sometimes what I originally had was just the starting off point and as I get the idea more fully fleshed out and can see it more clearly, I’m able to better articulate it.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

I am finishing up my draft for Light My Pyre. It has some really great scenes with dragons in it that I just got finished drafting. I’m excited to share them with everyone in just a few months! All my books have a suspense plotline of some sort but this is my first one that I would call half paranormal romance, half mystery. I’m excited for people to read it.

Do you base any of your characters on real-life people?

Not really. Sometimes a character will resemble someone physically in my head a bit, but they don’t really have the same personality.

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

Like Lea in Dyrwolf, I have really severe migraines. When I was drafting Dyrwolf, I had to draft a lot of it using a screen reader because the migraines were so severe at that point, it was painful to focus on text.

Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages?

Usually the characters.

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

Reading! I’m a huge reader, which I get from my mom.

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

I read ebooks and audiobooks. Right now I’m reading quite a few holiday books!

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

Thank you so much for supporting my books and for supporting authors! I’d love to chat with you on Twitter or Instagram.

Stay Connected

Enjoy an excerpt from Dyrwolf

Dyrwolf

Lea Wylder has spent so long hunting werewolves that now one is stalking her in her sleep. In the unforgiving forests of the north, shape-shifting wolves have enslaved the sole human city for hundreds of miles, driving survivors up into the mountains. When Lea tracks a shifter and finds him caught in a trap, she’s convinced he’s the white wolf from her dreams. Not that it matters. He’s one of them. And they’re at

16 | UncagedBooks.com
| FEATUrE AUTHOr |

But as Lea pulls back the bowstring, Henrik shifts to human and begs her not to shoot. By name. But how could he possibly know her? In twenty years, the wolves have never crossed the river over to their side.

Injured and unable to walk, Henrik needs Lea’s help to get back home. If he could be turned against the pack, it could change the course of the war. But first there’s the small problem of returning him to the wolves—without getting caught.

Excerpt

A hand clamps around my ankle. I shriek and tangle my fingers in the soft, sticky evergreen bristles, a clam suddenly aware it’s about to be stolen from the safety of the wet, sucking sand.

Henrik rips me from the underbrush like he’s plucking a bird from its nest. Instead he’s found a wild, crazed thing covered in sap and scratches. I claw and kick, but he extracts me easily as a mother cat retrieving its kitten.

“Is it your head?”

Another whine seems to be answer enough. I curl in on myself, panting. His heat disappears. I stagger to my hands and knees, clawing to get back to the safe embrace of the evergreen. Fall. Get up again. An arm loops around my waist, pulling me back.

“Where are you trying to go?”

Now I’m crying for real. And covered in evergreen needles. Like some sort of sticky, fragrant hedgehog. “Lea.” The hair is smoothed back from my face with fingers that smell of boy and herbs. “I’m going to make your head better. I know it hurts. Just stay here a minute. Don’t go crawling off.”

I bury my face in hands that smell of evergreen, of home and of a mother who never wanted me, and cry

harder. Henrik is swearing under his breath. I’m sure of it, even though he’s switched back to Dyr, which to me is just a bunch of vowels and unfamiliar sounds. He plucks at my arm, unsticking a particularly large branch, and I shrink back. He must have found his knife by now.

“Lea.”

It’s plaintive. Wounded. And I don’t care. If this is how I am to die, I hate him for dragging it out. For playing with his food. And then suddenly he’s scooping me up. I’m nearly six feet tall, by no means a small girl. We’re practically the same height. But somehow, he’s gotten me tucked in the crook of his arm, head nestled against his shoulder, the backs of his knuckles ghosting oh so softly over my cheekbones as if he’s afraid if he presses any harder, he might break me. Me. Who has threatened how many times in the past two days to kill him.

It floods me then. Everything. Warm skin and herbs and boy smell and Henrik. Who is cradling me like anything but a piece of meat he’s planning on devouring. My heart swoops with a flutter of something perilously close to hope, my terrible, traitorous chin beginning to wobble.

“Please don’t kill me.”

What story will the Village tell, when I am dead and someone has carved my name up on one of the columns? When the bones of all who once knew and loved me have crumbled to dust, and the letters of my name on an aging post, a tale passed around the fire pit on the long, dark winter days, are the only proof I ever existed? Lea Wylder. Will someone be left to remember that I am the one who chopped down the Wishing Tree? Will anyone ever know I would have given my life to save Salem’s? Or will all that remains be this shameful, sickening moment when I disappeared from the world without a trace, cowering and begging for my life?

“You silly, silly goose.” The pad of his thumb col-

17 Issue 69 | January/February 2023 | | KAT KINNEy |
war.

lects my tears and traces them away. “My wolf can’t stop staring and you think it’s because he wants to eat you.”

Then why, I want to ask. But fire devours my skull from the inside, ravaging words, hope, memory. Flames lick white hot through flesh and bone, searing them to ash. Dull beetles bore their way to the center of my brain in small razor bites until nothing remains but pain. I try to wipe my nose and succeed only in sticking sap and bristles to my face. “I can’t see,” I say for what has to be at least the third time. Henrik stills.

“Not at all?” His progress picking needles off my arms abruptly halts. “Has this happened before?” “When they’re bad.” Henrik smooths my sleeves, which have become much less prickly. I settle my head into the crook of his neck. Something plunks in my lap and the air is suffused with the scent of spice and herbs. Leaves rip. Fragrant branches snap and tear. I grumble at the shaking. Henrik’s collarbone isn’t a very soft place for my forehead. The wolf would’ve been better. But it probably wouldn’t appreciate all the sap in its fur.

“Open.”

I obey. The sharp scent of peppermint swirls in the air, mixed with something bitter. Warm boy fingers poke leaves into my mouth. I obediently chew. But then comes something that feels like a twig. Bark or roots follow. I growl, but my lips part and more leaves find their way in.

“Unhh.” Gagging, I spit it all out. “Lea.”

“Uh kuh fih tha muh ih muh maow.”

“What?” He’s shaking me again. I shove him off and scrape the rest of his greens from my teeth. “I can’t fit that much in my mouth.”

“I’m not so sure about that. From what I’ve seen, you have a pretty big mouth.” I punch him in the chest and he chuckles. “Tell you what, we’ll try this again the way we do it with the little wolves.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I poke his arm, but he ignores me. He’s chewing on something. I huff, picking needles from my sleeve. “Henrik—”

Boy fingers push a wet glob of chewed up herbs and spit past my lips. I claw like one of Salem’s cats, starting to spew it out, but he clamps a hand over my mouth. “Chew. You’ll feel better.”

I growl, both hands clamped on his wrist, trying to break his hold. But it’s no use. He’s too strong. He ignores my quiet snarls as I turn the mashed leaves and spit around in my mouth.

“If we were back at the shop, I would grind this into a nice tea for you so there wouldn’t be so many barky bits to chew. I’m sorry we’re a bit low on options at the moment.”

I growl again from behind his hand. Henrik chuckles. “Oh, Lea. So much to learn about wolves. Growling only makes us like you more.”

I chew sullenly, doing my best to glare.

His breath warms the shell of my ear. “Did you swallow it?”

I nod. “All of it?” Nod. “Are you going to bite me if I move my hand?” Nod. He chuckles. “That’s my girl.”

18 | UncagedBooks.com | FEATUrE AUTHOr |

M.J. Watson

Mark Watson began writing in his forties; and now thirty years later, he publishes three novels, MIRROR IMAGE, TODD, A MAN ORPHANED and GOOD BYE SON, all dealing with family difficulties and the bond that holds them together even when they feel discarded. He is a husband, father and grandfather and enjoys retirement and writing.

Witness how the characters found the strength to forgive themselves and the people they love and to ask also for forgiveness in this heart-wrenching story of family love and forgiveness. In Mirror Image, Doris is confronted with her past and realizes that it’s time to go back home after forty some years away. She goes back to the family home she knew then; with much humility, she desperately wants to straighten out her past with her family. Also knowing that she must do this to help stop what she knows will result in a forever hole in her granddaughter’s heart.

BOOK EXERPT pages 7-8

“Pompoms never were important, really Gram?”

“Well I was interested in cheerleading when I was in high school, and we had pompoms. You know Claire having a baby is the most beautiful experience a woman goes through in her life under the right conditions. Loving a man, he loving her, being married helps. However, a man and woman can conceive a child without love or marriage. Even this does not take away the feeling of mothering, that very natural love, that mother’s love will always be there. I can’t explain it Claire. Have any of your friends become pregnant?” “None of my close friends, at least not that I know about.”

“What do you mean?”

Mirror Mirror
“Well maybe they wouldn’t tell anyone if they decided not to keep the baby.”
“Are you talking about adopting the baby out

or are you talking about abortion?”

“Well either I guess but I was thinking about abortion. No! No! Not me! I mean I think that is what girls consider today!”

“Girls do consider having the baby and then adopting out? They do, don’t they Claire?”

“Probably Gram, I don’t know. I think some keep their babies but most end it before anyone finds out. Most girls don’t even tell their best friends, not even their boy friend, but sometimes you can tell by the way she acts.”

“Exactly, my point exactly, by the way the girl acts! By the way the girl acts! By the way you’re acing.”

“Gram, please stop, I’m not pregnant.”

“So you say.”

“Gram, I’m not!”

We are both quiet, looking down at our food. “Claire,” I am quit for a moment “the decisions you make today will be with you the rest of your life, like the decision of what college to attend. You want to enter a college that offers a good program in the field you want to study. You don’t pick a school because a friend is going there. You might change schools after a year or two and you could likely change majors before you settle on one, but you choose a school that will best suit your different interests, weighing all of this with cost, location and so on.”

“I know Gram all three of these schools of-

fer what I am looking for. I would like to go to Pepperdine but it would cost my parents a lot more money.”

“Yes, so that too must be considered and put into the decision making. Having a baby at sev-enteen, not married and very much wanting to go to school presents one with many things to think about, consider and decisions to make. Today society offers and many times encourages a young mother to end her pregnancy, end the problem and abort the baby. Abortion does end the pregnancy, the baby is gone but the problem is not solved. Believe me I know this does not solve the problem. See Claire you’re pregnant and sometime in the future you will no longer be preg-nant. However the pregnancy ends, through miscarriage, abortion or completion to birth, the fact remains you were once pregnant. We want to believe that having an abortion means everything goes back three or four months, to no pregnancy. It doesn’t, you can never go back. After choos-ing and having an abortion the mother will discover that dealing and living with the embarrass-ment and shame of being an unwed mother is nothing in comparison to what she will live with knowing she aborted her child. This is true even if she chooses never to tell anyone. Claire the decisions you make today, this week or whenever will affect you the rest of your life.”

www.mjwatsonbooks.com

Anna Applegate

Anna Applegate is a USA Today Bestselling Author. She writes paranormal romance and lives tucked away in rural Maryland with her beautiful daughters, building a mini-Disney Princess army in their own little happily ever after.

Anna is an avid reader, especially if it involves vampires. She loves to escape into her fictional world – whether through her unchecked book addiction, or by creating her own paranormal romances filled with fantasy and surprise twists and turns.

Welcome to Uncaged! This year, you’ve released a newer series, Curse of the Fae. Can you tell readers more about this series?

This series is the longest I’ve attempted, 8 books long. I fell in love with fae, as many of us paranormal and fantasy readers have lately. This series appealed to me so much because I feel like it lets me stick with my new adult writing, but add more spice in and tension as the story continues on.

The series features Coraline Fray, and 18-year old foster kid who falls into the magical, dangerous world of Faerie. Almost instantly, she’s assigned to the Unseelie Castle, as a feeder to the Prince, Noah Driscoll. The Unseelie and Seelie have been at war for as long as anyone can remember and it makes for an unsettled and dangerous place for a mere mortal.

The series has it all, which is what I love – sexual tension, betrayal, friendship, love, good vs. evil, dragons … I don’t think I can list it all even!

You also have a few other series out, can you tell you tell us more about them? What inspired you to write in the paranormal/fantasy genre?

Yes, my other series that I finished most recently is the Magic Bound Saga. This one was my absolute favorite to write because it holds a special place in my heart since my grandfather and I thought of the concept together. This is a time travel paranormal romance with time travelers, vampires, shifters, fae, magic, and soulmates.

I’ve always loved reading vampires and so many of my books have had vampires involved in some way. Because all of my favorite books are paranormal or fantasy based, it was easy for me to fall into writing that genre because escaping into another world comes so naturally given the kind of reader I’ve always been.

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

Most difficult by far is any sort of sex scene. I don’t

23 Issue 69 | January/February 2023 |
Uncaged welcomes Anna Applegate

know why I always struggle through them! I write all sorts of scenes from simply tension, to fade to black, to more elaborate…all of them make me struggle. I think because I wonder if any of my family will read it haha.

The easiest for me are scenes between good friends - bantering and creating those sort of, bonding moments. I also actually REALLY enjoy fight scenes and that final action sort of moment … those always come to me quickly and I speed through them excitedly.

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

They come from anywhere! Sometimes as I’m reading or watching something I think of a different ending, or different plot twist and immediately start taking notes! I also have two wonderful author friends and we bounce ideas around off each other all the time.

For characters, I get inspired by things that make me happy or excited. For example, my vampire male lead in The Magic Bound Saga was based off of Killian Jones in the Once Upon a Time show … I just fell in love with him and wanted to badly to create a character that made me feel like he did.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

The fourth book in the Curse of the Fae series is on my dockett right now. I also have a pen name for sports romance that I write under, Ava Woods. I’ve been releasing some steamy football romance novels to freshen up my writing since I’ve been in paranormal so long.

Do you base any of your characters on real-life people?

While I’ve never based my characters fully off of real-life people, there are definitely characteristics that I’ll include in characters of people I know.

Mostly, it’s characters I love, so a friend that reminds me of a character, I’ll use some real life jokes occasionally.

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

I’ve never taken a Creative Writing or English class beyond the general education classes I had to take in college. My desire to write came on very hard just from being a reader who kept thinking, “why didn’t this happen in this book” or “how cool would it be if this plot twist happened” Eventually, I just dove in and tried it myself and fell in love. It’s hard to keep up sometimes because I have a full time job outside of writing, and I’m a full time single mama to three young daughters … which might be surprising as well :)

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AUTHOr |

Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages?

Plot is always first for me. I used to fly by the seat of my pants and just write, but now I’ve turned into someone who NEEDS a solid plot before I can move on the series. From there, and many times AS I’m plotting, I create the characters, their backstory, the history of my world. I take very meticulous notes now and have an entire series journal now that includes everything I need to know for the series!

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

Reading :) Lots of reading. I do enjoy binge watching shows as well but mostly the reading comes in first. I

love turning it into taking myself on a little date … a glass of wine, some crackers and cheese, or maybe ice cream … my book and me!

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

I enjoy ebooks for series because I can immediately dive into the next book! If there’s a series I love, I’ll immediately buy all of the physical books though because I enjoy looking at them on my bookshelves. I’ve tried to get into audiobooks and have had some trouble doing so. I did JUST finish the first part of “A Court of Mist and Fury” the Dramatized Audiobook version which was such an amazing way of consuming that book (that series is one of my favorites). I just started Throne of Glass, I haven’t read it yet and am diving in!

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

Really I’d just like to say thank you! To be able to use writing to escape AND to connect with people who enjoy the same fantastical worlds and being swept away by love and adventure is such an incredible feeling. To know that there are readers who give my books time when there are so many books to read out there, makes me feel really special and honored. I have enjoyed every minute of my author career, and hope for many more years of writing these stories and connecting with the fabulous people I’ve been able to connect with thus far.

Stay Connected

25 Issue 69 | January/February 2023 | | ANNA APPLEGATE |

Enjoy an excerpt from Faerie Magic

Coraline Fray’s escape from foster care is about to turn into a fight for her life.

After Cora’s utter clumsiness lands her in a strange world, she’s immediately hauled off to jail by a Fae guard. Now the freedom that had been so close is a distant memory….because humans who learn of Faerie can never go back.

Imprisoned as an energy source for the Unseelie Kingdom, Cora now serves the heir to the throne: Noah Driscoll. And although Prince Noah disagrees with the practice of imprisoning humans for energy-feeding purposes, that’s a secret the future Unseelie King needs kept quiet.

Which means even if he’s against it, he needs Cora to pretend he’s feeding, and she needs to keep up the ruse, too. Because if Noah isn’t feeding on her, she’ll be assigned to another Fae who will.

And yet, somehow she’s found herself loyal to these monsters the minute they’re threatened, and starting to fall for the Prince of the Unseelie himself… Two mistakes that are about to cost her what little she has left.

Excerpt

“My…my.” I clenched my jaw and got hold of myself enough to ask, “My blood?”

I glanced back at Ms. Trapsbury’s stoic glare. “So you’re telling me Prince Noah needs blood? My blood?” I rose, facing her again. “Why? Is he a vampire? Are you telling me vampires are real?”

The woman pursed her lips and made a tsking noise. “What are you going on about child? No. Prince Noah, a vampire? Vampires are vile creatures and our royal family is most certainly not vampires. Honestly. Prince Noah is a fae.”

The air pulled itself from my lungs and I could feel the crease between my brows deepen to a point that I brought my hand to my head. I wobbled. This woman was speaking in riddles. Speaking crazy.

Ms. Trapsbury lifted her chin slightly. If she was aware of my downward spiral toward insanity, she didn’t show it. “I suggest you get some rest now, dear. You’re not in the human world anymore, you’re in Unseelie Lands now.”

Forbidden love, magical worlds, and fae royalty... what could possibly go wrong for a human who has fallen in Faerie?

26 | UncagedBooks.com | FEATUrE AUTHOr |

Beatrice Fairbanks Cayzer

KIDNAPPED IN JERUSALEM

BeatriceFairbanks Cayzer comes from an illustrious family. Her two ancestors who came to Upper Virginia in 1620 helped found their community. She founded the Cayzer Museum for Children in England where she was the wife of Stanley Cayzer, a grandson of Sir Charles Cayzer, founder of shipping companies that evolved into Caledonia Investments, and nephew of Admiral Lord Jellicoe, the second Governor General of New Zealand. Then she turned into writing.

In Oxfordshire, she wrote The Princes and the Princesses of Wales. In Guernsey, she wrote The Royal World of Animals. Returning to the USA, she wrote nine Rick Harrow novels, winning Book of the Year Award from the Horseracing Writers’ Association. In 2016, she had a sell out with The Secret Diary of Mrs. John Quincy Adams and in 2018 had another sell out with New Tales of Palm Beach.

Kidnapped in Jerusalem

Fairbanks Cayzer Psychological Fiction

Dennis McLeary, sexually abused at age 6. At 18, he accepts sexual advances of a 14 year-old girl hoping to prove to himself that he is a normal man. Jailed for 17 years for having sex with the under-age girl, he is abused in prison by fellow inmates and the prison chaplain. Free at 35, he determines to better himself and hopes to have a normal marriage. Ensnared in a messy event, he escapes more prison time by becoming a waiter on a passenger-freighter. He gets leave from his ship to swim in Turkish waters, where he meets and falls in love with Myriam al-Montee, a half-Turkish halfSaudi Arabian Muslim woman. Instant adora-tion is reciprocated. Myriam elopes with Dennis, they are married by his ship’s captain. Myriam does not tell Dennis that her fanatical father, who hopes to use her to found his dynasty, is known to behead any

person showing fondness for her. When three women are beheaded at her father’s orders, she warns Dennis, he could be next.

They hide from her father in Alexandria and in Cairo, but are located by her fa-ther’s agents in Jerusalem. Kidnapped, Myriam is brought to her father in Saudi Arabia. He orders her locked in a cell-like room in a desert house where recently a cousin has starved to death. After three months, she get help and relieved by Alf, an Oil field worker. He tries to rape her. Dennis, agonizing for her, would travel any where including to a country where they would behead him in order to reach Myriam. They find each other near a famous oasis in time to stop Alf from raping Myriam. But fate holds more vicious challenges.

Beatrice

~ ~ Ladybella ~ ~ “After reading this manuscript, I can say that I fell in love with Louisa Adams. She was a strong individual whose life story needed to be told. Louisa Adams made an impact. I couldn’t put the book down. A must read.”

I have never been to Morocco until reading this BOOK. What a wonderful trip it took me through. The mysterious possibilities that the characters of this story endure are nail-biting. This is truly a masterpiece that will enthrall all mystery and vampire fans. I highly recomend reading this masterpiece. I loved it.

~ ~ Samira Sowan ~ ~ “The author Beatrice succeeded to keep the reader thrilled to read every page in her book and to take us through the journey of the unique character of Louise and live the era of the 1700 and 1800.in such a fascinating way. I definitely enjoyed every page in this compelling story. A must read..”

~ ~ VIV ~ ~ “Reader observes as main personages meet the ups and downs that bruise those on the top level yet took to heart the enormous wrongs done to slaves in America and went into battle”

THE HARROW QUARTET takes the reader to many unusual places because the narrator Rick Harrow is a racehorse trainer, and a trainer has to bring his horses to the most likely tracks to win. The reader goes to Dubai, Russia’s St. Petersburg, romantic villages in Italy, tycoon homes and estates of the newly rich in Spain, and the wilds of Mexico’s most inaccesssble mountains as well as to its over-crowded and dangerous capital city.The characters vary from a Chechen terrorist to Milan’s exquisite models, to the wild west drug lords of today’s Mexico.

~ ~ Anthony Roberts ~ ~ Inspiring story of a great lady.

~ ~ garbonzo ~ ~ Here is another installment from Beatrice Cayzer’s fabulous series featuring Happy and Rick Harrow. Travel with them as the traipse across the

globe from one extravagant horse exhibition to the next, and finding trouble wherever they go. Cayzer’s prose is filled with vibrant imagery, plenty of action, and enough hanky-panky to make a sailor blush. These stories are great fun, and will have you coming back for more. Fans of any of the modern detective series found on BBC/PBS will feel right at home. Don’t be surprised if these adventures are turned into their own small-screen production. Enjoy!

~ ~ Cathryn Elwyn ~ ~ It’s not every day that jockeying, an estate in the British countryside, and a complication involving the president of Russia figure in one story, but best-selling author Beatrice Fairbanks Cayzer is nothing if unpredictable. Deaths, conspiracies, and . . . a threat to beloved Happy’s life? This has got to be BFC’s best yet.

~ ~ Brett Virgo ~ ~ I just finished reading this wonderful book. I was so hooked I could not put it down. I highly recomend this Murder Mystery. It will not disappoint. Each chapter draws you in, that you have to keep on reading. I am eager to see what BF Cayzer will come up with next.

~ ~ DEE ~ ~ Murder by Medicine is a deliciously delightful book that reminds everyone of how wonderful London can be, during the Season. The descriptive scenes take you there with intrigue and GLAMOUR! Horses, men and murder are an intoxicating read in the hands of B. F. Cayzer. Without a doubt, Murder by Medicine is one of the best books that I have read. It is a perfect gift for any stylish acquaintance or be wickedly selfish and keep it all to yourself!

~ ~ Cathy ~ ~ If you like murder mysteries, this is a great book to read. It brings you into the horse people who have their own ideas of life. It travels from Ethiopia to England with fast paced action. Do read. beatricecayzer.com

Amazon Customer Reviews
Photo © rich Soublet

Ronald Niezen

Ronald Niezen is a Distinguished James McGill Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Associate Member of the Faculty of Law at McGill University. He previously held positions as a professor of anthropology and of social studies at Harvard University. He completed a doctoral degree in Social Anthropology at Cambridge, for which he spent ten months living and traveling in northern Mali. Niezen has published ten nonfiction books on human rights and social justice activism. For his recent work on digital activism, Niezen received training in open-source investigations in workshops sponsored by the NGO Bellingcat, Berkeley’s Center for Human Rights, and the Institute for International Criminal Investigations. The Memory Seeker is his first novel.

Welcome to Uncaged! In February your book, The Memory Seeker will release. Can you tell readers more about this book?

The Memory Seeker is unusual in that it combines war crime investigation with family drama. That means writing it involved research into how war crimes investigations are done—or how they were done around ten years ago, as things are changing very quickly—and going deeply into memory and family relationships. The story revolves around an investigator, Peter Dekker, who is hired by the International Criminal Court in The Hague to conduct an investigation into war crimes perpetrated during the civil war in Mali in 2012-2013. We follow Peter to Timbuktu in northern Mali to assist in an investigation of the destruction of

UNESCO heritage property. This part is historical, based on an actual case. While he is in The Hague, Peter Dekker and his girlfriend Nora begin to uncover war crimes from World War II in which his own family members are implicated, above all his father. This part is based more on personal history. My parents survived the German occupation in World War II and I grew up hearing stories about what that was like. Adapted versions of these stories are the main source of energy behind the plot.

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

There’s a scene later in the book in which Peter goes to see his father, Arie, who is dying in hospital. And, while this scene is fictional, it grapples with, and draws from memories of, my father’s final days. He lived to be ninety-five, but the end of a parent’s life is almost never easy. Nor is it easy to write about.

The easiest scenes to write were those involving dialogue between Peter’s girlfriend, Nora, and his aunt, Julia. You’d think dialogue between two women

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would be tough for a guy to write, but the characters helped me. They took on a life of their own. Then there’s the fact that Aunt Julia’s stories were close to those I’d already heard from my parents. It was a matter of writing them down in the character’s own words.

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

I’ve had the idea for the plot of this book for quite a while. It bounced around in my head for years, maybe a decade. Then the COVID closure came, my research in the Netherlands was stymied, and I set to work, at long last, on the novel. I’d done academic research on violent conflict in Africa and had long seen connections between that work and what I’d learned from my family, my mother mostly, about the war in Europe. It was a matter of building a plot around this basic connection. But I didn’t start with everything organized. I sketched profiles of the main characters, then began to write the story organically. Secondary characters came out of the process of writing, and every character took on greater reality as I put down words.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

I’m working on a novel set in the interior of British Columbia in the 1970s. The main character is Peter Dekker from The Memory Seeker, but in the new novel he’s thirteen years old, with all the urges, curiosity, and naiveté that involves. I don’t like the idea of a “prequel,” but I suppose you could call it that. The plot is nothing you’d recognize from The Memory Seeker. There’s still a crime driving what happens, but there’s more in this new project about class and race in a rural mill town.

Do you base any of your characters on real-life people?

I lack the inventive imaginations of some writers, especially science fiction writers, and base most of my characters on real-life people. This can get an author

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| FEATUrE AUTHOr |

into trouble because, well, let’s just say the transition people undergo from real-life to fiction isn’t always flattering. Plots have demands. Characters that begin with living inspiration get transformed (or transform themselves) into something else. Friends and family members may see enough of themselves in a character to take offense. I have my apologies and explanations ready.

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

For reasons I can’t fully explain, many people who look up my background think I was brought up under privileged circumstances. A rumor once floated around my grad student cohort at Cambridge University that I came from a super wealthy family. How that happened, I have no idea. My parents were immigrants from the Netherlands with minimal education who came to Canada with next to nothing and set up their new lives in a prospector tent. For a number of years, we lived in a trailer park next to an oil refinery. (This is the setting of my novel-in-progress.)

I worked summers in a plywood mill to pay my way through college. There’s a contrast between my present status as a senior scholar and where I’m actually from that my readers might find surprising.

Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages?

Hmm. I’d say the plot, but only in vaguest outline. Then I think about the characters, what they look like, their habits, preferences, relationships. This can change, but it’s reassuring to write knowing something about who the characters are. From there, they can then take clearer shape and guide the plot, take on a separate reality, offer surprises.

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

Since moving to San Diego over the summer, I’ve taken up surfing. It’s ideal for taking you out of yourself. You can’t be all caught up in the cares and concerns of life when you’re being smacked by a wave

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| rONALD NIEZEN |

and don’t know which way is up. Hiking has other consolations. I find it so important to get out of the city and get into nature—or what we in the west began to call nature when we separated from it.

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

I much prefer physical books. There’s the aesthetic of a book. I like, the texture, the smell. I also bend the corners or make notes where I find something striking or inspiring. A physical book lends itself much better to that than other formats.

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

You may see from my online profiles that I’ve written ten non-fiction books. There are some vignettes in them that come close to creative non-fiction, but for anything like The Memory Seeker you may have to wait for the next title—provisionally titled Refuge. I’m nearly done with a first draft, but the revisions, review, editing, production, etc. take a while, so thanks for your patience.

Enjoy an excerpt from The Memory Seeker

The Memory Seeker Ronald Niezen

Thriller/Suspense

Available Feb. 16

When Dutch-Canadian Peter Dekker is hired as an investigator by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, he has no inkling of the war crimes that lie in his own family’s history. His work takes him to Timbuktu, where he collaborates with Malian colleagues to document war crimes from a recent and only partly-ended civil war. While he is on assignment, his live-in girlfriend, Nora, gets to know Peter’s estranged aunt living in the Hague and uncovers a dark history of murder, revenge, and collaboration with the Nazi occupiers. As the stories of his family under Nazi rule unfold and the intrigues multiply, Peter is confronted with a war crime in which he finds himself next-of-kin rather than an investigator. The Memory Seeker takes on the experiences of war violence and its aftermath, the vagaries of memory, and the incompleteness of courtroom justice pitted against the temptations of revenge.

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1: NORA

Peter Dekker willed himself to stop ravaging his fingernails, but it didn’t always work—one little moment of abstraction, and he’d find himself with a piece of skin or the edge of a nail between his teeth. He was new to the job, and wasn’t used to horrors captured on video, not whole days of them anyway. There were breathing exercises that were supposed to help. Now and then he looked out at the Scheveningen forest through the building’s trapezoidal, bombproof, light-bending, espionage-resistant

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| FEATUrE AUTHOr |
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ronaldniezen.ca

windows. The view wasn’t always relaxing, no fault of the forest. The windows themselves, with all their security-oriented genius, evoked images of the bombs and bullets they were designed to stop.

Rashbinder, with three months more experience than Peter, ranked the videos in quarts of blood, a threequart image or a five, now and then into the tens and twenties. Dark humor to steel the soul. Objectively, the blood-measure didn’t always work. It amazed Peter, the things humans could inflict on one another without breaking the skin.

If Nora were here with him, it’d be easier. She was on the other side of the Channel, finishing her fellowship with another month to go before the end of Lent Term. Until then, they’d make do with weekend visits. With her Friday afternoons and Monday mornings free for quick flights, they’d have two whole days together at a time—if he could pull himself away from the screens. They took on a life of their own, those screens, as though possessed by demons. Which, if you considered the complex algorithms driving the search engines, they actually were.

His first assignment as a new hire at the International Criminal Court in The Hague was to gather evidence of war crimes from videos posted to social media. First, he had to learn about how the online platforms worked, the different sources of satellite imagery; how Russian search engines did pretty a decent job of facial recognition; how you could geolocate an image with something as simple as a minaret, an irrigation ditch, the shape of a mountain in the distance, or even a contrail from a jet matched against flight logs. Then there was metadata analysis, looking for signs of fakery, things like shadows not lining up consistently in different parts of the image or the time stamp being out of sync with the hands on someone’s watch. It was a crash course on how to acquire godlike powers from behind a desk. There was no end of tools and techniques.

His supervisor, Evan, was a good teacher. Peter hadn’t trusted him at first. The British public-school accent clashed with his jeans and Asics in a way that made him seem an imposter. Not that a sweater with college colors and a bow tie would’ve been much better. Evan had gained Peter’s trust by letting him explore on his

own, flounder for a while, suffer psychologically from repeated viewing, then with a few clicks of the mouse reveal a solution, or the way toward one. For the sake of his sanity, with his mind over-filled with the imagery of violence, Peter needed to switch to something else. He caught up on events in Mali, starting with the documents that made the gears of an investigation grind forward. The language of the reports was peppered with acronyms that forced him to flip back and forth between the main text and the list of abbreviations: AIG for Armed Islamic Group, GSPC for Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, and RCP, for Regiment of Paratrooper Commandos. No real need to read beyond the list to get a sense of the mess he was trying to unravel. He skimmed through a document dated January 2013, released just a few months previously, until he found a passage that he marked with a line and asterisk in the margin:

The Prosecutor alleges that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the following crimes have been committed in Mali: war crimes, including murder; mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; intentionally directing attacks against protected objects; the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court; pillaging; and rape.

It was the bloodless language of a court-ordered investigation at the behest of a country soaked in blood. Measurable in quarts. He recognized in these few lines the reason he’d been hired: not so much for his skills in digital investigation, but his field experience. Or the combination. The way it might be put to use in an investigation was still unknown—at least to him. The Court was built on layers of secrecy, regimes of access. Access to the building via the handprint readers next to revolving doors would get you only so far. He wasn’t in the room where his assignment— his fate—had been decided. That information was being carried in other, more eminent, heads. He wondered when it would wend its way down to him.

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Favian segovia

THE LAST MAN

Favian Segovia was born in Bravo, Mexico. He began writing in 2017, and he lives in Texas. Even though The Last Man? is his first novel, he found the path in writing to show his love for sci-fi. He is committed to be recognized as the best sci-fi adventure author one day. He wants to share his passion with the readers.

authorfsegovia.com

A new sci-fi book series awaits readers as author Favian Segovia releases the first installment in The Last Man? He invites readers to embark on this journey to the New Eden with the last man on Earth. What will happen to the world, as people know it? Can one man still bring hope despite the challenging circumstances that lie ahead? Readers will find out in the pages of Book One of “Journey to New Eden”.

A world war of greed and power pushes the governments into their own extinction. A virus outbreak targets men into a near extinction. A military driven by women search for surviving men in an attempt to control a world in ruins. All faith has been lost with no future and no hope. Only one secret place holds the answer to restore peace. One man is the key of hope.

A man out of the ashes rises forward in search for the last city called New Eden, in the hopes and desperation to re-establish humanity. But he has to find out the hard way the perils of being the last man.

SEPTIC

Book Excerpts

“Hey, John, did you put out the flames like I told you to?”

“Yes, I did remember I told you a while ago, I know how to take car my responsibilities I am not child.”

“Bravo! Did you secure the perimeter, John?”

“Actually, there is something I want to tell you. I think we should lay low for a couple of days and figure out what we are going to do! We have a river one mile east of the plane crash! We can use the river to supply our water intake. We need to hunt. We can probably set a few traps to catch small animals. I was thinking if you maybe you do the traps, I am really not in a mood to build anything.”

“No problem, John. I will take care of the small traps. You take care of hunting for tonight. We must stay frosty John. We don’t want Ariana’s soldiers to catching us off guard?”

“Well, Carlos, I assume they will. I don’t think they will give up that easy. They sure want something from us. And honestly, I don’t think it’s only sex! We got to find out what it is.”

“We will figure something out, you’ll see. Let me check on Perez. I will be right back.”

“I will go get something to eat Carlos. Get the fire started!”

“Hey, we have two-way radios on the backpack, don’t we?”

“Yes! I will be on channel 7.”

While I head on the hunt, I got a call from Carlos minutes later.

“John! John! Can you hear me?”

“Yes! What’s going on, Carlos?”

“It’s Perez. She is burning in a fever!”

“Shit! How is that possible?”

“The cut is infected. We need antibiotics John not saliva. John go to the field fast, or she will die!”

“How the hell are we supposed to get medicine here?”

“There is an herb you are going to have to look for. It’s called echinacea!”

“What the hell is that, Carlos? How am I supposed to find it?”

“Listen carefully, the flower’s color is purple to yellowish and maroon! The center is very pronounced! Get as many as you can!”

“How can I find them?”

“Try and look for an open grassy area. They grow in open environment!”

“Understood! I will be back.”

WOLF’S DEN

The task ahead of me seem to put all my best parts to use. I never knew what running meant till this day as I struggled downhill to find an open space. That was not only what I was worried about. I dropped the radio and lost my only way to communicate with Carlos. As I kept go

ing, I saw a small village just on the outskirts of the mountain. I stood behind a tree to watch the movement at the village. I knew if I could find something fast, it would be here in the village. I was not going to let my friends down, so I had to take a risk. For the first time, I began to feel for the well-being of others, and this time it was time to pay them for the favors they did for me! I hid behind some trees and waited for the perfect time to go into the village.

A few hours later, everybody seemed to be going inside to rest. It was perfect timing. The villagers were having dinner, so I knew it would be an easy task to do. I go into this hut, and there where children sleeping. I tried my best to not make any noise, but like the movies, there is always something that falls, and wham! I knocked a bottle from table, and two of the children woke up. They did not seem to be scared, but they sure were screaming like crazy. I guess they have never seen a human male in a long, long time! So, it was inevitable that they started screaming in their native language, and I knew in that moment I was in serious shit! So, I thought I could pull it off just like the first time at the military base! But in all honesty, what was I supposed to do? Kill the kids so they can shut the f**k up!

So, the villagers woke up and saw me running. I headed back to the plane as fast as I could! Never in my life have I run this fast. I could swear that I was doing fifty-five.

The villagers sent their warriors after me along with their search dogs! So, it was not long after they caught up to me climbing that steep mountain. I really had nowhere to go. I was surrounded! After they caught me, they brought me back to the village!

What awaited me was anyone’s guess.

The Eye in the Sky

column

The Eye in the Sky

We all want to believe we live in a world where Big Brother watches over you and has your best interests in mind, but to what extent do you deserve privacy? The Founding Fathers were aware of this delicate balance and the concern that the government would abuse its power if it was able to send officers to trample into the home of political dissenters, an opposing church, or people it just didn’t like to search and seize their property. Thus, in 1791 the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing freedom from having the government illegally search you, your properties, and your possessions without reasonable cause. This was important, since under British rule search and seizure was used to intimidate minorities.

That was the end of the story then, right? After all, no one would invite soldiers, investigators, and law enforcement officers into their home for no reason to read their diary, grab a beer, peruse their TikTok account, and take their stuff.

But as Thomas Jefferson said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

The Patriot Act was passed in the United States in 2001, undoing the fourth amendment without formally revoking it. It greatly extended the government’s ability to search citizen records held by third parties, conduct secret searches, collect information regarding communications, and other privileges, all without reasonable cause (ACLU, 2022).

In an age where FaceBook and other social media sites, online shopping corporations, libraries, telecommunications companies, and other institutions are collecting hundreds of thousands of pieces of data on

every citizen, this allows the government unprecedented access to people’s data, and their lives. Add to this the network of cameras the government can access to include retail store cameras, traffic light cameras, and more, and the eye in the sky has opened to take the world within its gaze (ACLU 2022).

But someone will inevitably say, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.”

The truth is, everyone has something to hide, and everyone has a reason to worry. Minorities often have to conceal numerous aspects of themselves, from their national origin, their religion, their disability status, to their gender and orientation and other facets in order to avoid discrimination. Anything about you which is different can be used against you.

Most of the books that would show up in my data feed are now banned by numerous government institutions including libraries and schools, since books such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World are threats to the status quo despite repeatedly being called three of the most important classics in the past century. These are books we all had to read in school when

I was young. As a social science project, I had to read much of the work of Karl Marx for college – does this put me on a government list? It would be naïve to think otherwise.

The U.S. states the Patriot Act is designed to counter terrorism (Justice, 2005). The word terrorism used to refer

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Guest Column

to actions taken against a population by the government; but in the mid nineteenth century, it took on connotations as referring to a group of politically-minded people creating terror. By the 1920’s, it was used without the political association (Merriam-Webster, 2022). The act itself clarifies that terrorists don’t have to be foreign entities; the issue is that we have a history of describing as “causing terror” anything that is counter to the status quo.

The ACLU reports that from 2003 to 2006, the F.B.I. issued 192,499 requests for private citizens’ information without putting them through a judge, forcing corporations to comply with leaking citizens’ intellectual property. Almost 200,000 infractions against human rights, which led to only one terrorist being caught, who would have been caught anyway without the act. Of the government secret searches that occurred of people’s property, less than one percent had any relation to terrorism during this timeframe, and a large number were used against immigrants (ACLU 2022). So what can be done? First, don’t consent to cookies and other online trackers. Use browsers that allow you to block data collection and intrusions. Run spyware software to regularly check for malware on your computer. Pay in cash when you can. Use alternative social media sites that have agreements not to collect your personal data, and beware of what you post online. Most of all, peacefully protest. Power doesn’t give up power unless it’s coerced to.

Even so, as our dependence on technology deepens, it is impossible to go off the grid and avoid data collection. My phone recently had 7,000 trackers on it in a scan, and it’s not uncommon for people to have as many as 10,000. If someone were to come into your home and steal your photo album, you would defend yourself, but when the government steals a hundred thousand pieces of data on your travel routes, the books you read, the psychological journals you peruse, and what you do on Friday nights down to the most embarrassing photos, people usually don’t even speak up. That’s because the government exists as an abstract entity, and according to construal-level theory, this impacts our inability to respond to it. So go ahead, get the word out; protect liberty for your children. Some would say this is paranoid, but remember, reading this article has already placed you on their list.

References:

©Copyright 2023 Mark Everglade for Uncaged Book Reviews www.uncagedbooks.com Published with Permission

American Civil Liberties Union. (2022). Available at URL: https:// www.aclu.org/issues/national-security/privacy-and-surveillance/surveillance-under-patriot-act

American Civil Liberties Union. (2022). Available at URL: https:// www.aclu.org/other/surveillance-under-usapatriot-act

Merriam-Webster. (2022). The History of the Word Terrorism. Available at URL: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/history-of-the-word-terrorism#:~:text=The%20words%20terrorism%20 and%20terrorist,against%20the%20ongoing%20French%20Revolution

The United States Department of Justice. (2005). USA Patriot Act: Sunsets Report. Available at URL: https://www.justice.gov/archive/ olp/pdf/sunsets_report_final.pdf

Don’t forget to check out this title:

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nijawalkerbook.com

authors

| occult

feature
Cass Kay suspense
| non-fiction Jillian David d aniéle Cybulskie Glenda Benevides

Jillian DAVid

Jillian David lives near the end of the Earth with her nut of a husband and their bossy cats. To escape the sometimes-stressful world of the rural physician, she writes while on call and in her free time. She enjoys taking realistic settings and adding a twist of “what if.” Running or hiking on local trails often promotes plot development.

Welcome to Uncaged! Can you tell us more about your latest book, Fallen Comrade?

You bet! My readers know that I like to raise the stakes and serve up tons of nail-biting suspense, but with this book? Well, I threw the proverbial kitchen sink at it! The suspense is off the charts. The alphas – they’re alphaLICIOUS, alphaZILLA’s! In this book, I blow up (lots of) things, create a rescue scene that I’ve never anything similar before, and that ending – phew, it’s something else!

Fallen Comrade is the first book in my Project Morpheus series, a military romance/romantic suspense series centered around the Morpheus Squad. These ex-Special Forces team members were subjects of a military experiment gone drastically wrong. They are super soldiers, ultimate protectors … and ticking time bombs.

The Morpheus Squad mission is to bring justice to their injured military brethren who are threatened or taken advantage of. Their current op? Expose Fallen Comrades, a “charity” where the donations supposedly help injured and disabled veterans, but instead those

funds are being siphoned right into the pockets of its corrupt CFO, Beau Lequire. Power-hungry Lequire will stop at nothing to keep the truth about his organization secret, even if that means silencing pregnant Kiera McNeill, sister of a disabled vet and Morpheus Squad team member who had been the Fallen Comrade spokesperson until his suspicious death.

To bring the truth to light, Kiera must depend on the one man in this world who wants nothing to do with her: Morpheus Squad member, former flame, and mountain recluse Jake Zimmerman. Can Kiera suppress her feelings for Jake long enough to stay alive, protect her baby, and get justice for her brother?

Can reluctant protector Jake control his intense desire and virally-enhanced strength to keep Kiera safe from Lequire’s evil clutches?

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

The most difficult scene for me to write would be a major spoiler, so I will hold off describing that scene. (Hint: It happens 75% into the book and

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Uncaged welcomes Jillian David

involves extreme altitude and the most bizarre birthday party you’ve ever seen!)

The second-most difficult scene to write was the one that occurred after Kiera and Jake reconnect during one amazing, hot, steamy night. The next morning, these damaged characters have to face their personal demons, exposing raw emotional wounds that they don’t have the tools to heal. Defensive, emotionally vulnerable, and in fear for their lives, these characters don’t handle their developing relationship well at all. They emotionally hurt each other, badly. After they air out their feelings, emotional rubble remains. How can they ever find a path back to each other?

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

Okay, this book’s inception was kind of odd. About 7 years ago I moved into a house which had a walk-in closet with a built-in bench. Under the bench was a storage space. Below the space’s floor was an open basement. I kept thinking, ‘What if there was a trap door under that bench, could it go to a tunnel exiting the house? What sort of person would make a tunnel like that? What would they be hiding or protecting to need that escape route?’ I chewed on that thought for months trying to answer those questions, and created characters who, indeed, needed an escape tunnel from a house. That idea became the first two (now deleted) chapters in what became Fallen Comrade! (Those first chapters are on my website’s blog as bonus content, if anyone is interested in seeing how the book really started!)

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

Right now, I’m finishing up Hidden Comrade, book #2 in the Project Morpheus series. It’s planned for release on January 20, 2023 at all major booksellers in digital format! Here’s the blurb:

Pele Tuitama’s Morpheus Squad mission infiltrating a Smoky Mountain children’s camp is FUBAR.

He might be a virally-enhanced military experiment, but augmented abilities won’t help him protect Reagan McNeill, the most unsecure-able target imaginable. Sweet Reagan’s kisses and the possibility of a future he should never consider, distracts his laser focus. If Pele can’t keep Reagan safe from an evil adversary bent on revenge against the entire McNeill family, then Reagan will die.

After a nasty breakup, Reagan doesn’t trust any man— or herself. Enter handsome Pele, the world’s worst camp counselor. She doesn’t believe his story or his motives. When overly-protective Pele draws her close and then rejects her, Reagan is finished with games. Then the truth she learns rips open recently-healed emotional wounds.

In order to escape through the mountains, Pele must share his deadliest secret. To have a chance at their future, they must reveal their demons and pray for acceptance ... and survival.

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Do you base any of your characters on real-life people?

Not wholly. I take pieces of people I know and use those pieces as the base upon which I build the rest of the character.

Beau Lequire I did base on the government contractor who got taken to task for parlaying his phony military disability into preferential government contracts, until Senator Tammy Duckworth (who is herself a truly disabled veteran) deftly knocked him down several notches and exposed his slimy business practices. Here’s the link from that hearing from 2013 if folks are interested: https://youtu.be/rPOKm20wP4s

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

Any reader who follows me probably knows by now, but for new-to-me readers this could be news: For my day job I’m a rural FP/Ob (family doc who does

obstetrics, c-sections, etc) practicing near The End Of The Earth. In all of my novels I incorporate medical details or scenes, and oh yes they are realistic!

To

I replied, “That scene literally happened to me, the doctor on duty in a rural ER, fifteen years ago.” When I create medical situations, I do remove any details that could possibly trigger HIPAA, but most of the medical scenes and scenarios are things I’ve experienced in my twenty-ish years of practicing medicine!

7) Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages?

I’m supposed to say “characters,” because that’s the ‘correct’ way that experts say we need to write a romance novel – character-driven.

The real answer? I start with a situation and then work backwards to see what kind of characters would be in that situation. That’s how I’ve created my prior series. Examples:

Hell to Pay paranormal romance series: What happens if a person sold their soul to save someone they love, then for centuries are trapped in an eternal contract? (Situation first, then I created characters from various historical times and brought them into the present day setting where they have to break their contracts to be with their love interest).

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I remember several years ago getting an email from a reader who said, “No way was that ER scene accurate.”
which

Hell’s Valley paranormal/western romance series: A rising evil pits families of psychic ranchers against one another in a Wyoming-based Hatfield versus McCoy cross-valley feud, where the stakes involve the survival of humanity. (Situation first, then populated the world with a ranching family whose siblings each have different supernatural powers.)

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

Mostly sleep. Boy oh boy, I love catching some z’s when I’m not on call, no one can wake me up at 2 am to go in for a delivery, and I can truly rest. I’ve even had dreams where I’m commenting to myself (in the dream), ‘Wow, this is a good night’s sleep and it feels great.’ Silly but true.

I also enjoy trail running, and hubs and I do this activity together. We have completed several 50K races over the past few years. (It’s just like running a 5K but you keep going for quite a while longer.) As we like to quip, ‘We’re chunky but we’re slow.’ :)

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

I read mainly ebooks or physical books. My commute time is like two minutes, so there hasn’t been much opportunity to read audiobooks thus far.

I just read another book in Jeannie Lin’s amazing Lotus Palace mystery series. This series is cozy mystery romance set in the Tang dynasty of China, circa 850 A.D.. Jeannie’s gorgeous writing voice is simply breathtaking and a pleasure to experience. I recommend this series to anyone who has eyeballs.

A go-to fun read is H.E. Trent’s sci-fi romance series based on the planet Jekh. These books (some are alien-human menage) are so sexy, with amazing world-building! I’m on book six or seven now. Just when I think the series is done, the author puts out another amazing book!

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I recently read one of Laura Baird’s bear shifter books, and enjoyed the heck out of this entertaining, sensual read! The rest of that bear shifter series is now on my to-read list.

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

First and foremost, wow do I really appreciate my fans who have been with me these past ten years on this publishing journey. I’m always excited to give out Advanced Reader Copies to a select few fans, and watch them experience my next book. Their enthusiasm makes all of the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears all worth it!

Stay Connected

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jilliandavid.net

Enjoy an excerpt from Fallen comrade

Fallen Comrade Jillian David Romantic Suspense

Ex-Green Beret Jake Zimmerman’s Georgia mountain seclusion is shattered when the one woman he should never have left, pregnant Kiera McNeill, shows up on his doorstep. Her life is in danger, thanks to a botched Morpheus Squad mission. If the nature of her baby is discovered, evil forces will stop at nothing to capture Kiera. When Kiera learns of Jake’s topsecret Morpheus Virus running through his veins, she realizes that her protector is the deadlier threat.

Kiera knows the secrets of Fallen Comrades, a billion-dollar “charity” which siphons donations away from wounded veterans and into the pockets of power-hungry CFO Beau Lequire. Now her sadistic ex-boss, Lequire, wants revenge. Her only chance of escape rests in the lethal hands of the man who once rejected her: Jake. All she needs to do is suppress her feelings for Jake long enough to destroy Fallen Comrades, stay alive, and save her baby.

Excerpt

Thanks to his tree-mounted security cameras that made the system guarding the crown jewels look amateur, it took less than ten seconds for Jake Zimmerman to identify the vehicle creeping to a stop in front of his remote Blue Ridge, Georgia,

cabin. Silver Hyundai Accent, five years old, brandnew tires. Getting the registration info from the license plate, however, led to a dead end. His computer kept cranking through databases. So far, nothing had come up.

Odd. Normally, he could get the information right away. Where was the convoy? When would they storm the compound?

He cocked his head to the side. No whumps of an incoming helo.

Sparks of adrenaline fired up his nerves, lasering all of his senses on the intruder.

His first thought was that the Army had finally found him. He ran the pad of his index finger over the rough grip of the Sig nestled in his shoulder holster. How could anyone find him? He’d buried his personal intel deeper than a black ops mission file. The powers that be would have had to connect a hell of a lot of dots to figure out Jake’s real identity and location.

Besides, if Uncle Sam wanted to storm Jake’s castle, there better be a battalion coming. If Uncle Sam was smart.

He shifted, feeling the weight of a second pistol in the drop leg holster. With minimal concentration, Jake could detect the mild indentations of a Ka-Bar fixed blade in the sheath at the small of his back as well as the ever-present multitool tucked away in a pocket and ready to go for any occasion.

He peered at the … occasion … on the computer screen. He kept the house lights off and waited despite a driving need to run out there and exterminate whoever had dared to invade his peace and quiet. Control, dammit. Drawing a hand over his face, he took several deep breaths and tightened and loosened a fist. The muscles in his neck clenched, refusing to loosen despite his automatic relaxation techniques.

The damned virus had started to take over his brain

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again until his entire world narrowed down to one mandate: destroy.

No, damn it. He was a man, not this … monster.

His ability to restrain those calamitous urges was slipping. Thanks to the top-secret Project Morpheus he had volunteered for almost two years ago in Special Forces, the part of Jake that had previously kept him from devolving into base violence now fucking loved it when he lost control. The darkness within Jake thrived on the anarchy that was his virally corrupted soul.

Add in an uninvited visitor, and it looked like tonight would bring even more fun for one of the U.S. Army’s best-kept secrets.

Question of the evening: what idiot would show up at his place at 2:00 AM? Better yet, why? It was midMarch, still damp and at times freezing up here in the southernmost part of the Appalachian Mountains.

Did the person want to rob him? Jake had no material items of value. Not for lack of resources, thanks to his combat pay savings and mother’s life insurance policy. But he didn’t need much—just the ability to keep his demons at bay chopping wood out back and lifting weights until oblivion. That, and a deep-seated desire to not interact with any other humans suited him fine. Something of value? Well, he had a locket with a clip of smooth auburn hair he should have thrown away long before now. Yeah, he was a bastard for preserving the keepsake, despite being technically faithful to his then-wife who did not have auburn hair. Could explain part of why he was no longer married.

He peered out the window again. Whoever was out there remained in the vehicle. Come on, people, let’s go.

So. What to do about the person parked outside his house? Well, right now, his goddamned virus had a helpful suggestion. It wanted Jake to dismember whoever was in the car. Now.

Wiping his hands on his black cargo pants, he unholstered the Sig and crept to the front door. Time to eliminate the person stupid enough to visit him. Because one person could lead to two people, which could lead to being put back in the military “testing facility.”

Unclenching a fist, he carefully released more of his tenuous control over the virus. It infused every cell in his body with unnatural strength and reflexes. But as the strength and acuity of his senses grew, his sanity ebbed.

The hellish yin and yang. Ingrained training was all that kept him from falling over the cliff into psychosis.

The one person who knew he lived here was Mateo, and Jake hadn’t seen his Special Forces buddy since Mateo and the rest of the Morpheus Squad had gone underground a year ago. Actually, strike that. He’d seen Mateo briefly at Brady McNeill’s funeral.

Brady’s funeral. And one particularly f**ked-up night. Not in small part because of seeing Brady’s sister, Kiera.

Seen? A bland word for the silky skin sliding over him and around him during their sweaty, heated reunion.

Since that night, nothing besides Jake’s own misery mattered. Not his best friend’s death, not the Morpheus Squad, his own emotional baggage. Nothing.

Which was exactly what he had now, wasn’t it? Nothing.

Well, not completely. He had someone casing his house.

He licked his lips.

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The figure closed the car door and stood, unmoving, facing the front porch.

Jake took stock in a matter of seconds: The person was around five-foot-eight, with a hooded jacket hiding the head and face in shadow. They favored one leg on those first few steps toward the house. Thin legs and what looked like a bit of a paunch. He squinted. Paunch or explosives vest? Damn it. If the government had found him, they would attempt to take him back in for more experiments or wipe him off the face of the earth trying. Best of luck.

Maybe someone was lost out here in the mountains. The road petered out in another five miles, deep into the National Forest. Who the hell wandered around the Georgia mountains in the middle of the night?

He rubbed the back of his neck. The virus crackled through his nerve endings. Mental processes turned to sludge, making high-level analysis more challenging.

What a time to skip an antidote dose.

Too late now. Don’t care.

As a swell bonus for volunteering to become a walking military biological experiment, each Morpheus Squad member had gotten extra goodies, like Jake, with his extraordinary upper body strength. He rolled his shoulders, upper back, and arms, priming for action.

Each muscle popped as poorly contained rage swept through him, turning him from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde.

Sweat broke out on his forehead as the shaking began.

Using his military training and what little humanity he still possessed, he fought to retain a shred of control. Adrenaline whipped like an icy breeze on

naked skin.

He tightened up on the Sig’s grip.

Neutralizing the guy was going to feel like nirvana. On second thought, he could use a good brawl. Stuffing the weapon back in his holster, he flexed his hands. Mr. Hyde would much rather do this the natural way. The hunched figure in the baggy jacket trudged up the gravel driveway, halting gait a little short on one leg. Jake spied a hint of a pale nose and cheek as the person looked up at the house, but he couldn’t make out any other facial features with the hood casting a shadow. Pressing his back to the wall next to the front door, he waited. Listened. Biofeedback techniques and clenching and releasing his hands allowed him to slow his heart rate and focus all of his energy on the shuffle of footsteps up the porch stairs. The virus strained like a chained dog tempted by a wounded rabbit.

Jake became a metal spring, coiled and ready.

At a knock on the door, he didn’t move.

The spring inside of him tightened. Tick, tick, tick. His body ratcheted down as tight as he could go.

A tap on the electronic keypad outside. What the hell? The bolt turned and the door cracked open. The coil released.

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alifetimeinaries.com

Cass kay

Cass started her writing career as a journalist in college who moonlighted as an actress. Now at home with her husband, two sons, and two dogs, she’s discovered that fiction novel writing combines her love of the written word with her love of creating compelling characters.

When not staring at a computer screen, she can be found planting bulbs in the garden, her nose in a book, or watching Smallville with her family.

Welcome to Cass Kay

Welcome to Uncaged! Can you tell readers more about your book, Legacy Witches?

For sure! Let’s see… Legacy Witches is, at its core, about being who you want to be despite the expectations of your peers, or even the inner demons in your own head spouting doubts of what you deserve. The book is set in modern-day Salem but is filled with witches, demons, and politicians. Oh my! It’s the first in a series that I think will go seven books—if my plotting holds out.

You mentioned having a new book coming out in April, can you tell us more about that?

Yes! I’m super excited to be releasing the second book in the Legacy series, Forgotten Ghosts, this April. We’ll get to see what Vie and Dee are up to next. They explore the tunnels below Salem and find a ghost who’s more than they bargained for.

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

Oh my goodness. Romance scenes are so hard for me! And book two kicks in with a real romance this time, so I really had to put some effort there. The easiest is probably shenanigans. I love me some good hijinx and those scenes just pour out. I suspect that largely has to do with my theatre background.

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

I’m a research junkie. I generally find some sort of lore, some geographically unique location, or some event in history that sparks my interest. Then I dig in, gathering all the articles and books I can find with my trusty pen and notebook beside me. It just snowballs from there.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

I just sent Forgotten Ghosts to the editor, so I very recently started drafting book three for the Legacy series! I also have a romance/fantasy series I’m working on with a co-author and an apocalyptic series whispering in my ear. Ya know, all the things

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at once. That’s how it works.

Do you base any of your characters on real-life people?

Grandma Susannah is named after my ancestor, as is Vianna. But beyond that, not really. I love to people watch in general, watch physical reactions and communications, watch how people show different emotions, that kind of stuff. But I don’t have any characters based off of people in my own life. I wish some of my characters were in my life though!

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

This is a hard one! I decided what might be most surprising is my favorite summer job I’ve had. I worked at a shipping and receiving dock for an industrial supply store, and I drove a forklift around all day. So much fun. Way better than golf carts.

Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages?

Well, I kinda always start with world-building. My research just naturally puts me there first. Characters come next. Plot is the last stage before drafting.

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

I do love to garden, so a lot of the stuff Vie does in her garden comes from my own experiences. I also really love watching scary movies with my teenage son and we’re pretty big into the NBA. Right now we’re all about the Boston Celtics and Jayson Tatum! Go green! My youngest is a big time reader so we have story time together every day and I always look forward to it.

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

Paperbacks all the way! I need the book in my hands, it just feels right. I’m currently reading

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Rootwork by Tracy Cross. After that, the next two on my list are Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates and Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall. I love reading.

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

I don’t think I can say thank you enough to all the readers who not only read the book, but found the time to review it. So many people have said so many amazing things, and as this is my debut book, it’s just overwhelming. You guys are so appreciated. To reach me, my instagram account is where I’m most active. I love reading books and I love sharing pics of my monster puppy, Arkham.

Stay Connected

Enjoy an excerpt from Legacy Witches

Legacy Witches Cass Kay Occult Horror

Coming from a long line of murderous witches hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows for Vianna Roots. When she inherits the family’s haunted house after her mother dies, she decides flipping the rundown dump is her smartest move-but the ghosts that haunt her have a different plan.

When Vianna finds the ghost of her childhood friend Nancy, she’s drawn into the mystery surrounding her friend’s death. Her meddling attracts

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the attention of the oldest coven in Salem. In order to get her out of town, they make an offer on the house, but Vianna hesitates. She’s no longer sure she wants to abandon the demon familiar who possesses her home, the transgender outcast witch-who may just be the best friend she never knew she needed-and her high school crush, who now wants her in his life.

Vianna must find a way to solve the case of her murdered friend, stay out of the hands of the most powerful coven in Salem, and face the past she’s so desperately tried to run away from.

Excerpt Legacy Witches Chapter One

Leaves rustled in the tree where Grandma Susannah hung. The hem of her brown peasant dress swayed with her legs as she swung backward, then forward, making the branch bow before the tip of her pointed boot hit the trunk. Rustle. Creak. Tap.

Vianna Roots sat in her rusted Ford parked in the driveway, windows down from the pre-dawn drive, jaw clenched, focusing on her childhood home instead of the ghost of her twelfth-great-grandmother that swayed in her peripheral vision. Her gut tightened, and she rubbed her eyes. No one could escape their family forever. That was truer for her than most, since she was the only one in her family who could see the dead. A gift she’d give anything to give back. Thanks, but no thanks.

Ten years had passed since climbing out her bedroom window in the middle of the night, and although she was no longer a teenager, the dark twostory house hadn’t changed. The family home had passed down through their line since the 1700s, the numerous add-ons highlighted by mismatched windows of various sizes and shapes. The crack in her windshield kept her focus as she

avoided the inevitable. Her mother was dead and her burial scheduled for tomorrow—technically today since the sun was rising—making Vianna the last legacy witch in the Roots line. Which meant this house of horrors was now hers. She rubbed her palms against her thighs to chase away the goosebumps.

“Ghosts can’t hurt you.” She was an adult now, one who faced her fears instead of jumping out of windows. She bounced her knee up and down.

Sleeping in her truck felt like a reasonable alternative to sleeping in the house. She could also just turn around and drive back to Boston, leave Salem in the past where it belonged and let whatever or whoever deal with the haunted property. The forty bucks in her pocket wasn’t enough for a hotel room and food, but it was enough for gas.

Her eyes veered from the cracked windshield back to the monstrosity of memories shaped like a house. With a sprawling wraparound porch, large mullioned bay windows, charcoal shingles, and pointed steeples of various heights, it was impossible not to notice. If she cleaned the place up, she’d make a buck, and it’d become someone else’s haunted problem.

The shadows of branches reached across the lawn like fingers as sunlight spilled over the horizon. The vivid apparition of Grandma no longer swayed in the branches, leaving only the scent of mothballs and apples on the breeze. Ghosts had a habit of coming and going as they pleased.

Despite how much Vianna would rather skip the ceremony, that wasn’t an option, so she needed to get ready. Inside the house was her only hope for proper ceremonial robes worn at a legacy witch’s burial. Time to go inside.

When she shoved the rusted truck door open, it squeaked loudly enough to announce her presence to the row of houses, each passed down through families of witches just like hers. This neighborhood was coven territory. Luckily, witches weren’t known to be early

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risers, so gawking eyes wouldn’t be watching from the windows. Not just yet, anyway.

The same web of cracks covered the pavement, and she reached into the truck bed for her worn duffel. As she did, a handle caught on the lip, and the nylon tore. Clothes spilled out in a heap, most of them managing to land in a sludge-filled crack in the driveway. She groaned and sighed at the moon.

She kicked the pile, and a T-shirt flew against her Ford. “Curse the goddess.”

With a sigh of defeat, she bent to gather the meager pile that contained most of her belongings. A low rumble from behind made her freeze. There was no point in turning around because nothing would be there. As a child, she’d explained away the grumbles and moans as an old house shifting with age and weather, but planks of wood didn’t growl. And they especially didn’t lock doors or hide things when a child misbehaved. This time, however, she wasn’t a child to be scolded.

“Hush,” she grumbled back.

Piling her clothes into a heap on the ripped duffel, she used the ruined bag as a sling to carry the load and headed toward the front door. Stepping-stones led beneath a rusted archway covered in wisteria. The weeds that laced through the wrought iron fence were the size of bushes, and her fingertips twitched at the urge to pull them. Instead, she shoved her hands into the pockets of her jean shorts.

A soft morning breeze sent goosebumps up her legs as she bound up the porch stairs. She tucked the ball of clothes against her stomach and pulled a rusted skeleton key from her pocket. When she slid the key into the old lock and tried to turn it, expecting the familiar click, the key wouldn’t budge.

She grimaced and stepped back, leaving the stuck key in the lock. “You’re not going to let me in?”

The house spat the key onto the weathered porch, where it landed with a fat thwack and she clenched her fists. Dropping her belongings at her feet, she kicked at the door. “Yeah, well, I don’t want you either, but I’m all you’ve got.”

Somewhere along twelve generations of Roots witches, the family familiar and demon had melded with the house. Now, because of nothing more than her birthright, Vianna possessed the passed-down heirloom. He seemed as pleased about the arrangement as she was.

She took a few deep breaths and started pacing the porch, considering her options, when her flip-flop caught on splintered wood. She stumbled forward, flinging her hand to the banister and lodging a sliver into her palm. Straightening herself, she tried to pull the wooden prick out of her skin, but it just wedged deeper. More deep breaths.

The porch swing blocked the main windows that lined the front of the house, so she went to the far edge of the porch and smeared a spot of dirt away from the edge of the window to see inside. The sitting room soaked up the rising sun, highlighting the same old-as-balls antique furniture she remembered from her childhood.

If the front door wouldn’t budge, fine. She’d climb in through the window. Wedging her fingers beneath the seam of the frame, she yanked upward. Three of her fingernails cracked backward, and she yelped, bouncing on the balls of her feet and flapping her hands as if the movement would ease the pain.

“Mother of Satan,” she yelled at the house. Yellow birds chirped their taunts from the trees, and she glared at them before continuing her pacing.

“She’ll be pissed if I show up at her funeral looking like this,” she said to the family demon, motioning to her crumpled T-shirt with a coffee stain. The drive had been too early for dexterity. “You know

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if anyone can make you miserable from the grave, it’s her.” Familiars were demons, but Mother was Mother. Her fingers caught in the tangles of her dark hair as she forced it into a knot on top of her head. There wasn’t any time for games. She needed those ceremonial robes. She was getting inside. Now.

Something heavy smacked her between her shoulder blades, then plopped onto the wooden porch. She gave a sad little squeak and spun around, looking down at the black beady eyes of a dead bluebird. With a deep breath, she turned back toward the house. “Kinda predictable, don’t you think?” The possessed house had a standard set of antics that clearly hadn’t changed in her absence. The ammunition varied: a bird, a frog, or a mouse, and always spit from the rain gutters.

With narrowed eyes, she stepped over the dead bird and marched toward the side gate. The back door had a latch problem, and since nothing else about the place had changed, she was counting on consistency. In a hurry to act before the house caught on, she darted down the stairs and around to the side gate. Grabbing hold of the handle, she ran face-first into wood. The house had jammed the gate door. “Funny,” she growled. With a strong hip bump, the gate relented, and she burst into the backyard. Thick piles of mulch from seasons of neglect piled against the fence, and rose bushes drooped in a lopsided slant with wilted, unpruned heads. Mother never had been much of a gardener, making it Vianna’s childhood job. But she didn’t mind, because it was one of the few places she found peace and solitude. She felt a sharp pang in her chest at the sight of the garden. The feeling had nothing to do with personal attachment; this was business. Real estate was worth more with a healthy landscape.

Grass crunched beneath her feet as she noticed the bare branches of the apple and cherry trees. Trumpet and creeper vines strangled the shed on the east side, patches of wilted sunflowers sprouted wherever they saw fit, and deep green berry vines overwhelmed the full west corner. Although unattended, life thrived. A faint screech sounded only moments before a stream of water blasted her chest, then face, knocking her backward. She squealed and turned her back to the attack, knowing exactly where it was coming from. This wasn’t her first impromptu outdoor shower from the hose cart that sat on the deck next to the faucet. She’d learned in her teens to tie a knot in the hose as a precaution.

“Really, no new tricks? This is the best you’ve got?” Water pelted her back as she walked backward, making her way up the porch steps. The stream ratcheted up her T-shirt and sent a waterfall of hair over her face. When she was close enough, she reached around, grabbed the hose, and yanked. With her foot on the squirming rubber snake, she cinched a knot, and the water stopped.

Her sigh came out as a wet raspberry. She wanted to be mad, and she was, but there was also a comfort in familiarity—even if it came from a demon house— though she’d never encourage him by saying the words aloud. She brushed wet strands of hair off her face then pulled open the patio screen door. The hinges splintered from the frame. The screen fell toward her as she half threw, half kicked it to the side, and it slipped to the porch with a crash.

Straightening, and refusing to make an even louder show for the neighbors, she pulled the suctioned wet shirt from her skin. With both hands on the knob, she lifted up and out, then jiggled. When the lock didn’t release, she bumped the door with her knee. Click. It slid open and a rank puff of air rolled out. She waved her hand in front of her nose and choked back a cough. “Your appearance mirrors horse dung.” Grandma Susannah now stood in the kitchen with her arms folded over the cut noose that hung from her neck like a twisted fashion statement. A violet hue tinted her lips

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and matched the bruising around her neck. Vianna wasn’t sure how long her body had hung after they killed her, but she suspected overnight, and judging by the bluish-purple coloring, maybe during winter. “You’re looking dead as ever, Grandmother.”

“Your hair looks like an owl in an ivy bush,” Grandma croaked, like the old toads that burrowed into the garden beds. “And you’re just as mouthy as when you left.”

“Probably more so.”

Vianna took a deep breath and stepped through the ghost, not surprised by the chill that raced over her skin. The kitchen looked exactly the same as the day she left. A large wooden block island sat in the middle of the room, with a small table and four mismatched chairs in the corner. An iron tea kettle with the same scratch down the side still sat on the stove, and out of habit, she filled it in the sink and set it back on the burner.

“Retrieve your rubbish from the porch at once. I will not have you tarnishing the Roots family appearance for our neighbors to see. If you must be an ungrateful mess, do so in the privy of your own company,” Grandma croaked from behind her.

Vianna went to the nearest window to let in some fresh air, but the paint-chipped frame behind the sink wouldn’t budge. She smacked the edge with her fist, then gave it another good shove, and it cracked open. The gasp of cool air wasn’t enough to clear the cobwebs of memories, but it helped with the smell.

She shuffled around in the junk drawer filled with its namesake, pushing aside sticks of charcoal, crumpled sticky notes, garden twine, and an old pin cushion until she found a pair of tweezers for the splinter in her palm. Grandma Susannah clicked her tongue from the archway, but a lifetime of practice made ignoring ghosts second nature for Vianna. After tugging the splinter from her palm, she turned and, this time, stepped around her

grandmother before striding into the sitting room. Dust covered the antique furniture, and the worn spots on the red oriental rugs were just as she remembered them. Mother’d had a thing for antiques, and she’d added a set of velvet wingback chairs and an ornate table by the bay windows. A large gold fainting couch stretched over the main rug, kitty-cornered to Mother’s embroidery chair, butted up close to the hearth. Rows of framed black-and-white photos of witches past lined the fireplace mantel. Growing up, she’d always felt like they were watching her, and that feeling hadn’t faded. With deep breaths, she counted to five and let her heart calm. Time wasn’t frozen. She was no longer a child trapped in a demon house. Her blood-witch mother wasn’t watching her, tapping a whipping rod against her palm in an even tempo. Vianna was a grown-ass woman. She’d built a new life for herself in Boston. The house may not have changed, but she had.

A shower and fresh clothes for the funeral were next, and those were upstairs. First, she unbolted the front door and scooped up her wrinkled belongings, keeping half her body in the house just in case the demon tried anything again. She used her hip to close the door and headed upstairs, skipping over the third step out of habit because the creak always drew Mother’s attention.

The hallway at the top of the stairs had four closed doors, but it was the porcelain doorknob at the end of the hall that stole her attention. As a child, she’d been forbidden from Mother’s room, but rules died with their enforcer.

“You look daft when you gawk like that,” Grandma said from beside her. Vianna’s legs felt like sacks of compost, and her sandals sunk into the thick threads of the narrow rug with every dragged step. She shifted the bundle of clothes into one arm, then wiped her free palm against her shorts. The porcelain knob twisted easily, and the door swung open. Hot garlic flooded her senses. She gagged as she stumbled backward and dropped her clothes to

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the floor.

“Rotting hell,” she barked between coughs.

“Garlic heals ailments, you worthless waste of good blood,” Grandma said.“Guess it didn’t work out so well.” She pressed the back of her hand beneath her nose.

Mother had died of a heart attack in her sleep, and no amount of garlic was going to prevent that. For once, it wasn’t fear of her mother that made her hesitate, because Vianna knew Mother’s ghost wouldn’t be in the room. The freshly dead lacked the awareness to move beyond their corpse. Eventually they moved on to replaying their last moments in what Vianna called death cycles. Ghosts caught in their own death cycles made up a large chunk of what she saw when it came to paranormal activity. The rare ghosts who were aware of the living, or could haunt a place or object, were decades old.

Since Mother was a fresh ghost, she was safely tucked into the graveyard—for now. Of all the ghosts that roamed the world, her mother following her around was the only one that made her break out into a cold sweat. Preventing that outcome was her number one goal in life and the only thing that could have dragged her back to Salem. Vianna marched across the room and yanked open the window. A gentle breeze brushed against her face and rustled loose strands of still-wet hair. She needed more than a slight breeze if she wanted to kick the stench. The house was ancient and didn’t have central air, so Mother kept fans tucked into every bedroom closet. Vianna wrestled past the shoes and fallen clothes that cluttered the floor of the walk-in closet, retrieved the fan, and plugged it in by the door so the blades would suck air from the hallway and blow the repulsive odor out the open window.

There wouldn’t be a scrap of cloth in the house that wasn’t garlic-saturated. Sack-shaped

gray dresses hung in the closet alongside long, dark robes. There’d be dozens of covens and crowds of witches all in the same velvet folds, and suddenly the idea of pretending to be one of them made her insides shrivel. She’d never joined a coven for good reason. Coven rules, traditions, this house, and mostly her mother were things she’d promised herself to stay away from.

A garment stood out from the others, and her fingertips ran down the side seam of the red fabric. The dress was her size, sleeveless, high neck, and midcalf. A final farewell to her mother in something so inappropriate felt right. She was different from the other witches, and everyone knew it. There was no point in pretending otherwise.

This afternoon, she’d face the entire witch community, but it was her mother’s coven—the one she’d denied when she disappeared in the middle of the night—that struck fear into all the others. The Original Blood Coven was the death squad, killers for hire.

Would they want revenge for her defection? And if they didn’t, would her mother’s ghost? The dress crumpled in her fist as she pulled it from the hanger. Blood red was the perfect color.

Watch for this title:

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authorcharlenemorris.com

MAEVE & AmyCat, CharlieCat & SpazzyCat

Amycat is a twoyear-old feral kitty who conned me into letting her become a full-time inside-the-house kitty so she could edit my stories. If I am at my desk, she is either on her pillow on my desk or dragging all the markers and ink pens out of the holder.

SpazzyCat

charliecat is my gentle gray giant. he was over three years old when we got him from the shelter. Even though he is the largest of my trio of felines, he is the meekest. he’s almost ten years old now and even though he’s been with me so very long, he is still terrified of everyone but me. I think poor CharlieCat had a rough life before he came to live with me.

Spazzycat, bless his heart, thinks he is a dog. he growls at the Fedex and UPS guys, and runs to the door and meows when he sees my husband coming up the driveway home from work.

My dog Milton, a 100-pound yellow Lab, is often accused of being part Great Dane. He is quite large for a Lab, with long legs and a very distinguished face. Though my family and I adopted him when he was just under two years old, we know for certain (DNA verification) that he is 100 percent Lab. Not that it mattered to us at all. In fact, when we were looking for our next dog, we had in mind a female mixed-breed rescue, no more than 50 pounds. Instead, we came home with Milton, and we’re so grateful to have him! He not only is incredibly handsome, but he has the sweetest disposition of any dog I’ve ever known. Milton loves everybody—people and other dogs, though I’m not sure he’s ever had the pleasure of meeting a cat.

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AmyCat CharilieCat

AUTHORS AND THEIR PETS

Pets and companions come in many shapes and sizes. From furry to feathered to hairy and scaley - there is a place for all of them. Authors have a special relationship with their pets - whether they remind them to get up and take a break or they inspire their writing. Meet the critters that share their love and devotion to Uncaged Feature Authors.

JILLIAN & Fluffy, Fred & Wilma

KAT & Emily, Elizabeth & Poppy

We have a rule in our house that we cannot enter a Humane Society building while we have cats at home. If we do, we’ll walk out with yet another cat (or two).

Right now, our house is run by Fluffy who is somewhat grumpy and grizzled and bonded siblings Fred and Wilma whose life work is monitoring my activities. (1st picture Wilma, sleeping in an inappropriate spot. 2nd picture, Fred with his single brain cell set on “cuddle.” 3rd picture, Fluffy, who wishes to speak to the manager about her dissatisfaction with the plush amenities provided her.)

The first picture is of Emily. My other two are Elizabeth and Poppy. Here is their Halloween picture :). Poppy is very fluffy and a cross between a tumbleweed and a swiffer. She may or may not have gotten to make a cameo appearance as one of West Caldwell’s guinea pigs in book three of the Texas Shifters series (shh... don’t tell her.) Elizabeth, in the pumpkin hat, is our clever trick pig who loves strawberries.

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CYRENE & Swagger, Tsunami & Ana

I’ve got two puppers: Gotham and Arkham. Gotham is a ten year old siberian husky/timber wolfmix. He’s been nicknamed ‘twinkie’ as of late. Old age has made him pretty ‘fluffy’ and spoiled.

My younger pup is a year old mastiff named Arkham. He’s got advanced, early onset hip dysplasia, so his back side doesn’t function so well. But he doesn’t let that stop him! He’s the happiest and most energetic monster you’ve ever seen. And the cutest!

For over thirty years, I’ve had my horses here at home. With multiple issues that have built up, I made the decision to move the horses into a boarding facility. It’s an expensive decision, but it’s the best decision for the horses. Along with having the horses here at home for over thirty years, that also means my main fencing is over thirty years old, and most of it needs to be replaced. I’ve fixed parts of it the best I could, but it’s coming to the point where the whole fence needs to be torn out and replaced. On top of that, my barn roof caved in almost 2 years ago, and even though I built shelters for the horses, it’s not the same. The pasture gets muddy and icy, and I’ve found that I’m battling the structures and mother nature more and spending quality time with the horses less. On top of all that, I know our time here is limited, so it doesn’t make sense to toss money into it at this point since I’m not an owner. With my mother having cancer, and not knowing how that will turn out, it was time to make some changes so I can enjoy the horses again and make sure they are in a safe place.

The place they will be in by the time this issue is published, is a five star facility, with large indoor and outdoor arenas, round pens, a 5/8th of a mile oval track, picnic areas, a large pond that you can actually take your horse in and swim with, and large pastures. The only work I’ll have to do is brush my horses and saddle them up to ride. There are a lot of amenities in boarding, including club rooms, washing machines for blankets, tack rooms, and wash stalls for horses. On top of that, we will be surrounded by horse people. I haven’t boarded my horses since my early 20s, and I’m happy to give this experience to my daughter. She’s never been a part of it, and it is a great experience, I’m sure she will be riding out with new friends before I know it. Watch for great pictures in the months to come as we get our bearings on what will be our new normal.

The pictures above are of the new facility. (none of the above horses are mine)

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authorryandixon.com
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authorryandixon.com

Glenda benevides

Glenda Benevides is an Award-winning, RECORDING ACADEMY {#IAmTheAcademy}, Voting Member, and GRAMMY® considered artist and author, is tireless when it comes to inspiring others to embrace their strength, listen to their heart, chart their course, feel inspired and dive into a musical, emotional and thrilling ride. Like a wild tent revival preacher, Glenda’s sermon is empowerment, enlightenment and builds bridges of understanding all wrapped together in powerful vocal expression that sways you from the tip of your head to the toes of your feet!

Welcome to Uncaged! You are an award-winning singer/songwriter, what inspired you to write a book? Can you tell us more about the book, Courage: Find Your Fire and Ignite Action in Your Life?

I honestly wanted to see if I had something to share that could make a difference for people. It was actually an exercise to see if I could do it and to see how hard would it be. Boy oh boy, that was an understatement. At the time I had a friend who was still saying he was going to finish writing his book and its now year ten and still no book completed. Ha! That was the challenge I needed, to see if it could be done. Well, I did it. Done in 15 days with 10 chapters. That’s me. I’m a get it done, kinda women. So, before that I said to myself. What do I have of value that could truly be insightful and support someone? I thought, I can share my stories of how I gained full self-expression and freedom stepping into embracing my courage on a daily basis. My on the mate approach to life supported me to create more clarity, courage, confidence and commitment. I thought that might help others to get see how they could achieve confidence for themselves by seeing they could do it too. No magic thing to happen

just a simple practical practice. For me this approach creates a more empowered and loving flow in life and with community. So, that was where it all began. Me, with a personal challenge in a small attic in Boston Ma.

With your background, have you ever considered writing fiction?

No, I love reading it and watching it on film. It’s my music, songwriting, singing and performing that has been my expertise and passionate career in life. This over 20-year skillset led the way to shine light on my musical life stories. Writing my book was a way to share a long form written story of how I got my successes, turning my trails into triumphs. It seemed to me so many people want to share and shine their passions out into the world but they don’t even know where to start or take the chance to begin.

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

I would say looking back, picking it all apart and to be sincere about the trails I faced and how I got through them. The easiest thing was, I noticed I

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had grown exponentially and that I could actually share that knowledge with an open heart.

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

My own life experience and of course people in my life who have deeply colorful rich scenarios to negotiate through. Wonderful way to learn about what to do and what NOT to do in my own life.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

I am working on several things at the moment. Our next music video Walkin, to be released in 2023 and getting ready for 65th Grammy nominations this year. I’ve submitted my latest single, Lulu White for the Roots category. Also, a tour in UK this summer.

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

I donate money to plant trees and uplifting community through a higher vibration, music, words and actions. Every time someone buys a Courage handbook or buys my music, I plant a tree. If that is inspiring to you? You can support an artist and the lungs of the planet with one purchase. Everyone gets elevated.

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

Gosh, that’s a good question! For me, it’s when you love what you do so much, it is relaxing, rejuvenating and invigorating most of the time. But I guess I would say, I love film and coffee cafes, and having deep amazing conversations or just get a massage.

Do you prefer eBooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

All the above actually! Different reading for different situations. When walking or driving I love audio books. When chilling or wanting to study, I read an ebook if there’s no light or physical book if there is light.

I’m actually listening to Brain Rules by John Medina now. It’s fantastic and incredibly insightful.

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

Always, follow your own heart and inner guidance. Remember, you do and can make a difference for someone by just sharing yourself. This experience or insights shared openly and unafraid is very powerful and sometimes you never know how that difference is made. So, get to know you and go for it.

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| FEATUrE AUTHOr | Stay Connected glendabenevides.com

Enjoy an excerpt from courage

Courage Glenda Benevides Self-Help/Motivation

If you are alive and breathing, you are growing no matter what you believe or what is happening.

“Who am I?”

Ask yourself this everevolving, truth-seeking question every day and ponder it with curiosity.

Embracing yourself as you are is a key factor in being able to move anything forward in this world as an empowered manifestation of the honest YOU.

Take the time to step back and reevaluate your life. This action will support your efforts to embrace your own thoughts, inspirations, and honest desires and sort out the inner monologue that is working against you. Look at your own truth and intentionally let go of others’ opinions.

The walls of fear take the wind out of the sails of courage. Own what are truly your feelings. Speak up and speak out with passion and fervor, and love who you are.

Excerpt

COURAGE

♥ Be the courageous, unthinkable gift that you are?

If your answer is “yes” to any or all of the above questions, this book is for you.

Running from one task to another—with no idea of who you are, what you are, and what you want from moment to moment—erodes your inner light and steals your energy. Then, one day you realize that there’s nothing left.

You may not have confidence, but you can have courage to reach out, inquire, open up, and grow. Facing something new and uncomfortable takes audacity and bravery. Getting out of bed for some people is courage. Saying “I am going to start again today and work on my passions” is courage. By activating courage, you are one step closer to doing the unthinkable.

There is a way out of feeling stuck, disenchanted, and alone. You don’t have to be relegated to the lies you tell yourself— especially the biggest lie: “I cannot have what I truly desire.”

What you have to offer, share, or give to others is worthy enough to be explored, designed, dreamed, created, or produced for all to experience. Telling your stories may save someone else’s life or hearing someone else’s music may move you through a painful emotion. When you hear words of wisdom, they may shift and uplift your life.

It’s time to do the unthinkable.

Step forward—empowered—on the path of your dreams.

My intention and desire in writing this book is that you will begin to see how important you are in your own world and in the world of others in your life. You will need a separate, personal journal to write down answers to some questions that I’ll pose as well as your thoughts, inspirations, and insights.

It all starts with a sincere foundation of love and care for yourself. The foundation is YOU. With a solid foundation, you will create building blocks to confidence and experience courage to get what you want with grace and flow.

With a foundation of self-love and self-care, you will create a space to experience freedom in your life and for the people around you. This freedom comes from taking the time to develop powerful

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habits and mindful ways of being, which will set you on an extraordinary path to your own empowerment. When you follow your clear path, you will develop new skills, new attitudes, an inspired vision of who you are and who you are not, and the passion to step into your true heart’s desire. You will have courage— and all that comes with it—in every choice you make.

As you move forward to create breakthroughs and see new possibilities, you are on a path to self-discovery.

Extraordinary people say “yes” and then act. Reading this book is the first step—and you’ve taken it!

Get the free eBook, Goddessclick the cover below.

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FEATUrE
|
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robertlsnider.com

Daniele cybulskiE

As a writer, TEDx speaker, former college professor, and podcaster, Danièle has made medieval history fun, entertaining, and accessible for millions of people around the world. As well as introducing a general audience to the fascinating world of the Middle Ages, her books, articles, videos, and weekly podcast have been used as resources in schools and universities across North America. Danièle’s mission is to share the joy of history by highlighting our common humanity across time and space.

When she’s not reading, writing, or recording, Danièle can be found drinking tea, doing Krav Maga, or sometimes building a backyard trebuchet.

Welcome to Uncaged! Can you tell us about your book, How to Live Like a Monk? What do you want readers to take away from reading this?

How to Live Like a Monk is a book that uses history as a lens through which we can explore how to live our lives in healthier ways. It brings together interesting bits of medieval history and the latest scientific knowledge around wellness in a way that makes it easy to learn and integrate these monastic lessons into our busy lives. What I’m hoping readers will take away from the book are some strategies that will make life a little easier, and a little happier each day. I also hope it sparks an interest in medieval history!

How long did it take to research for this book?

I’ve been a medieval historian for about fifteen years or so, and all of that compiled knowledge finds its way into the book in various ways. I’ve also been interested in psychology and wellness for about as long, so this brought together a few of my long-term interests, which

made researching fun. I spent about a year working on this book, making sure I was up to date on the latest scholarship on monks, as well as on healthy living. There’s always new research coming out, which keeps me busy and learning all the time.

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

The most difficult part of writing this particular book was that although both medieval monks and modern wellness experts agree on many healthy habits, their reasoning differs quite a lot. Medieval monks believed that the body was inherently sinful, so it was important to keep it under control by cultivating healthy habits, while modern experts tell us we should nurture these habits because we deserve to be well. It was a little tricky to bring these two disparate points of view together at times.

The easiest parts are always when I hear the voices of the past themselves through reading primary sources. Monks were prolific writers, so we can read a lot of their thoughts today in their own words. I

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love those moments where human nature shows through in struggle, humour, or thoughtfulness, so it’s a joy for me to set those up and step out of the way, letting the readers access the past in a way that is up close and personal.

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

This particular book idea was pitched to me by Lauren Orthey at Abbeville Press, so I can’t take credit for it. In it, though, as in all my work, I’m inspired by the human stories in the medieval past. Modern people tend to think that people who lived so long ago must have been very different from us, but the more you read their letters and books, the more you realize that they are far more similar to us than different. I like to find ways to collapse that distance between us, so that we can really put ourselves in their place and see things through their eyes.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

I’m just finishing up the edits on a similar book, called Chivalry and Courtesy: Medieval Manners for a Modern World. It’s like the monk book, in that I draw parallels between the medieval and the modern, while giving people a glimpse into everyday life in the Middle Ages. There is a common myth that medieval people had no manners, so it was fun to dive into that research and pull out snippets from medieval books of etiquette. The advice is very familiar to what we’re all taught today about how to behave politely, and that’s interesting on so many levels.

All my characters are real-life people, and that’s what makes them so fascinating. Some of the best, most interesting stories are actually those of real people. When it comes to the Middle Ages, the people, their lives, their decisions, and the consequences of those decisions are much more complex than they are often portrayed in fiction. It’s true what they say: truth is often stranger. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would

probably surprise your readers the most?

I am a thoroughly modern woman! People tend to think because I love medieval history, I’m probably inclined to want to live it. A lot of historians do spend time living in the past through clothing or cooking (etc.), and we learn a lot of really great stuff through their experimentation. But when I’m not writing or podcasting or researching, I take a break from the medieval world. My aesthetic tends towards the modern and the streamlined, not the riotous, sumptuous colours and embellishments of the Middle Ages.

Which comes first in the planning stages of writing of a non-fiction?

I think it all comes back to your first question: what do you want readers to take away from this book? To me, this is the north star in non-fiction: the point that you need to keep track of as you’re going. You can have the most interesting idea or tidbit or digression, but

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if it doesn’t lead to that one place, it doesn’t belong in the finished product. I think it’s good to explore those detours, because they can be fruitful. But in the planning, and then in the editing, you need to know where you’re going, or you’ll get yourself and your readers lost.

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

Pretty much all the things I do to keep myself happy and relaxed are in How to Live Like a Monk, making it a much more personal book than I ever thought it would be. I relax by reading, walking in nature, listening to music (classic rock and Lizzo), and spending time with the people I love, who bring positive energy into my life. I’ve also become a much more physically active person as I’ve gotten older, and I really enjoy both martial arts and yoga, two practices at opposite ends of the spectrum that teach me how to challenge myself in very different ways.

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

I always prefer physical books, although I do have an ereader for times when that makes more sense (like travelling) and it’s much more comfortable than I thought it would be. I never read on my phone unless I’m truly desperate. I read on an iPad for work because I access a lot of research material in pdf form, and it makes highlighting easy, something I could never bring myself to do to a paper book. I trained to be an actor for a little while, so I have a hard time listening to audiobooks – I get distracted by the performance instead of the story!

I always have a book on the go, usually two: one fiction and one non-fiction. I just finished Bird Box, which I loved, and I’m rereading The Extended Mind because there’s so much good stuff in it that I need to take it in again to solidify and apply.

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

My fans are truly amazing, and all I ever want to say to them is thank-you! They make it possible for me to do this work full-time, and that is a dream come true that I never take for granted.

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| DANIELE cyBULSKIE | Stay Connected
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Enjoy an excerpt from How to Live Like a Monk

How to Live Like a Monk

Daniéle Cybulskie History of Medieval Europe

How medieval monastic practices—with their emphasis on a healthy soul, mind, and body— can inspire us to live fuller lives today

Middle Ages and those seeking inspiration for how to live a full life, even when we’re confined to the cloister of our homes.

Excerpt

Chapter One: Tend Your Plants, and Your Soul Green, above all colours, is most agreeable to the eyes. The

Ancren Riwle

In the beginning, there was a garden. For medieval Christians, the Garden of Eden is where human life, human goodness, and human strife all began. It was where humankind was at its most perfect, and where everything was in balance and glory.

We know that they prayed, sang, and wore long robes, but what was it really like to be a monk? Though monastic living may seem unimaginable to us moderns, it has relevance for today. This book illuminates the day-to-day of medieval European monasticism, showing how you can apply the principles of monastic living, like finding balance and peace, to your life.

With wit and insight, medievalist and podcaster Daniele Cybulskie dives into the history of monasticism in each chapter and then reveals applications for today, such as the benefits of healthy eating, streamlining routines, gardening, and helping others. She shares how monks authentically embraced their spiritual calling, and were also down to earth: they wrote complaints about being cold in the manuscripts they copied, made beer and wine, and even kept bees.

For the medieval monk, greenspace represented peace, serenity, and a return to humankind’s origins. It also represented healing and nourishment, not only for the soul, but also for the body. To live like a monk, then, is to respect and make use of those plants that they believed were placed here for our purposes, and the natural processes that make both gardens and people flourish and grow.

Find Yourself a Soul Patch

Nothing refreshes the sight so much as fine short grass. – Albertus Magnus

How to Live Like a Monk features original illustrations by Anna Lobanova, as well as more than eighty color reproductions from medieval manuscripts. It is for anyone interested in the

Modern doctors have toyed with the idea of giving prescriptions for physical activity and time outdoors, but this is not a new idea. For medieval monks whose prayers kept them within the church for a large part of the day, the idea of having time outside was considered essential. Although monks didn’t wallow in the dark— they had windows and candles and lamps, of course— there is no replacement for the outdoors. And it couldn’t just be a cobblestone courtyard either: it had to be green. According to Hugh of Fouilloy, “The green turf which is in the middle of the material cloister refreshes encloistered eyes and their desire to sturdy returns. It is truly the nature of the colour green that it nourishes

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the eyes and preserves their vision.” Another medieval writer, William of Auvergne, declared this was because green is “half way between black which dilates the eye and white which contracts it.”

Cloisters were arranged in squares around a central courtyard or garth: a place in which plants were grown and fountains were kept (Fig. 18). Framing the garth were open stone corridors for monks to walk in or take refuge from sun and rain, but in order to accommodate both foot traffic and to provide the healing green the brothers needed, the garth itself was often a grass lawn. Albertus Magnus provides a surprisingly detailed look at the effort required to create a greenspace of such serenity:

One must clear the space destined for a pleasure garden of all roots, and this can hardly be achieved unless the roots are dug out, the surface levelled as much as possible, and boiling water is poured over the surface, so that the remaining roots and seeds which lie in the ground are destroyed and cannot germinate….

The ground must then be covered with turves cut from good [meadow] grass, and beaten down with wooden mallets, and stamped down well with the feet until they are hardly to be seen. Then little by little the grass pushes through like fine hair and covers the surface like a fine cloth.

As a fitting metaphor of the kind that monks loved best, creating the lawn involved removing those obstacles that would harm it, transplanting new growth in their stead, and tending the grass with care.

The centre of the garth could also hold other objects to both soothe the soul and encourage contemplation, such as a fountain (Fig. 19), a juniper bush, or a mulberry tree. The gentle sounds of the fountain encouraged meditation on the Holy Trinity, while juniper, like so many other plants to be found within the monastery walls, was planted for both symbolic and practical purposes (Fig. 20). Juniper is an evergreen plant, never sleeping, never changing, making it an ideal plant to help a brother contemplate the steadfastness of God’s love. It was also useful, as its fragrant branches

could be cut and dipped in holy water to sprinkle it during ceremonies. Mulberry, another practical plant as we’ll soon see, symbolically represented the crucifixion.

While it’s not always possible to provide ourselves with our own private lawns, fountains, or trees, it’s essential for us as human beings to find ourselves with green plants before our eyes, or –even better – under our feet. Besides providing us with life-giving oxygen and recycling our carbon dioxide, plants make us feel calmer, help us fight depression, and help us recover more quickly from illness. As monks discovered, these benefits occur within minutes of us entering greenspace, or even just looking at plants. Like the monks who brought greenery into the church for something beautiful and fragrant to enhance their sacred experience (like holly or ivy for Christmas, or lilies for Easter), we can bring the outdoors into our indoor spaces to reap many of the same benefits with simple houseplants. Whether we’re taking a break between prayers or business meetings, it’s worth giving our eyes a rest and our souls some peace by looking out a window, talking to our potted plants, or taking a short stroll across some greenspace.

Get Your Greens In

Two cooked dishes should be enough for all the brothers, and if fruit or fresh vegetables are available, they may be added as a third course. A generous pound of bread should suffice for the day, whether there is one meal or both dinner and supper. – St. Benedict

There’s a common misconception that medieval food was bland, rotten, or otherwise unappetizing, but the truth is that medieval people had access to many of the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs that we do today. Even imported spices weren’t out of the reach of most monasteries, if the abbot was willing to bend St. Benedict’s rules and permit such luxuries. (The abbot, himself, was more likely to partake of expensive spices in his duties as host,

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but that privilege didn’t always extend to the other brothers.)

Culinary gardens provided monks with most of the herbs we still use to make our food flavourful and fragrant today: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, mint, and coriander (cilantro) are just a few. Some plants currently used for seasoning – like celery – were considered medicinal rather than culinary, so they didn’t tend to be used in cooking. Other plants which we rarely find in modern recipes were used by medieval people to add extra flavour: herbs like lavender, and flowers like roses. Saffron was frequently used in fancy dishes for both its flavour and its bright yellow colour.

It was important that a monastic garden grew a variety of delicious culinary herbs because the monastic diet was meant to be mainly vegetarian, which limited their options somewhat. Monks could eat birds and fish, but according to St. Benedict, “they should all abstain entirely from the consumption of the meat of quadrupeds, except the gravely ill” and guests. This wasn’t out of a sense of being kind to our animal friends, exactly: meat was thought to make people lusty, as everyone in the Middle Ages had been around animals enough to have seen quadrupeds copulate at some point in their lives. Eating animals brought thoughts of animals to mind, which brought thoughts of animals mating to mind, and an entire lifetime of celibacy was difficult enough without being made to think sexy thoughts at every meal. Of course, the fact that many monasteries had extensive pastures and rabbit warrens (Fig. 21) far beyond the needs of their guests alone speaks to the fact that not every monastery kept strictly to the rules. Overweight, meat-eating monks are a stereotype in the stories and songs from the Middle Ages that still persists today.

Fish and other aquatic creatures were essential to the monastic diet (Fig. 22), as fish do not mate in the same way that humans do, and therefore looking at the fish on your plate wasn’t going

to stir any lusty images. There were many days on which all Christians were (at least theoretically) not permitted to eat meat, such as Fridays, and certain holidays. In fact, many abbeys accepted eels as annual rent payments from their tenants to get them through the forty long fish days of Lent. But monks cannot live on eels alone. As we all know, a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables is critical to good health. Fortunately, monasteries grew both.

To picture a vegetable garden in the Western world now is to picture leafy lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and perhaps some sweet corn and even potatoes. In the Middle Ages, however, Europe did not have sweet corn, potatoes, or even tomatoes, as these all come from the Americas, which – beyond a shortlived and unsuccessful Viking settlement – hadn’t yet been discovered by Europeans. Vegetable gardens in medieval Europe were full of other things like turnips, carrots, radishes, onions, leeks, and eggplants. Just looking at this paragraph is enough to make the mouth water, as there is an endless variety of ways to make tasty and filling meals out of these plants alone.

Beyond the vegetable garden were the orchards, which offered monks a variety of vitamin-C boosting options, like apples, pears, and citrus trees, as well as other tasty offerings, such as olives and almonds. Easier to cultivate, but just as delicious, were fruits such as raspberries and blackberries (Fig. 23). Although citrus, olive, and almond trees are mainly found in southern Europe, the continent’s climate during much of the Middle Ages was actually several degrees warmer than it is today, which meant that plants such as grapevines could be grown as far north as England until the fourteenth century. Monasteries cultivated vineyards, too, as a way to provide their communities with both grapes and wine. Despite what you may have heard about the Middle Ages, people did drink water at the time, but they preferred wine or ale with most meals. Wine was especially important for monasteries, given its ties to the Eucharist, and association with the blood of Jesus.

The monastic diet, like pretty much all medieval

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diets, was heavily dependent on bread and pottage, a kind of stew or porridge made with available grains like barley and oats and whatever tasty meat or veggies there was left over thrown in, so it contained more carbohydrates than many modern people are comfortable with. However, because medieval milling wasn’t as effective as modern milling, the grains to be found within bread and pottage were coarse, full of the fiber and gut-cleaning roughage modern people get from the most expensive bakeries. Fine, white flour – the kind we now know is unhealthier for us – was saved for the rich.

A healthy diet for a modern person, then, isn’t all that far removed from a monastic diet at the height of its late summer plenty, with whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, the omega-3 boosting power of fish, and a glass of red wine (Fig. 24). This collection of healthy foods is most commonly known as the Mediterranean diet in the modern world, and its health benefits are many, including a longer lifespan, and a lower risk of a range of diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disease. Fortunately, we now have the privilege of enjoying these options even during the coldest nights of winter, as well as to supplement our diets with the bounty of other continents, like glorious guacamole and avocado toast.

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Folklore and horror: eternal Bedfellows

Folklore and Horror: Eternal Bedfellows

Picture the scene: Thousands of years ago, a community of people sit around the fire, partially for heat, but also to ward off the threats of animals, people or things beyond their understanding. Using what knowledge they have of the world they inhabit, they fashion stories. Stories to entertain, and stories to serve as warnings, especially to the young, who lack life experience and awareness of the dangers which lurk beyond the group.

on pain of death at the hand of an axe-wielding maniac. Increasingly, we are seeing horror tackle the debates of the day, pertaining to themes such as discrimination, the ever more pervasive reach of technology, or societal breakdown.

And, with traditional stories creeping into the background, in a world dominated by social media, countless streaming platforms and podcasts, horror is taking on that mantle. Along with science fiction, horror asks the ‘what if’ questions about the hazards around us all in the modern world. Creating the folklore of the now, but also wondering what might be the allegories of tomorrow.

In my own writing, I’ve explored near-future dystopias – situations which scarily feel all the more possible with the passing of time. These thought experiments are for the reader to engage in, while (hopefully) also reading a compelling story. But they’re as much for me to find out how I feel about the topic which has piqued my interest. Most of the time I find the answer in the writing process. But not always.

These moments are the foundations of what we now call folklore. Tales about the darkness beyond our bonfires. Tales of what might happen if you venture alone into the woods at night. Or if you tempt fate by trying to traverse the land occupied by wolves. Or whatever it may be where you live.

We might think of this type of folklore as primitive or no longer relevant, and yet the interest in it persists. From these early bonfire tales, through the Brothers Grimm, to modern urban legends, the pattern and purpose of these tales is clear. And, as the title to this article to suggests, it has much in common with the horror genre.

Horror has, of course, moved on from the fairly basic allegories of the nineties film and fiction boom. No more are the lessons horror stories attempt to convey simply about avoiding youthful debauchery

Beyond this, though, there is another branch of horror, which is growing richer all the time: folk horror itself. The strict definition, of course, is the horror of folk—of people. And we see this clearly, arching back through time from films like The Wicker Man to modern iterations like Ari Aster’s Midsommar.

But while the horror here is very much in the people— the isolated community who don’t live by the same rules of engagement as the rest of us—the very fact of their connection to what we might broadly call ‘the old ways,’ is so often what creates that difference.

Here, we can see writers and creators picking at threads of extant folklore, bringing these ‘lost’ traditions to the fore and setting characters, whose modern sensibilities tie in with our own, against them.

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Guest Column

It’s the thought experiment again, but this time with the backdrop of a world whose inhabitants are alien to us. Whose vested interests are not the rat race, the price of fuel or mainstream political allegiances, but rather old gods, revered creatures from beyond the veil, or similar things.

This draws readers in because we all love stories of outsiders. Of individuals against the odds. But it also works on a different level. As the world becomes ever more global, ever more interconnected, fictions like these also enable us to explore the things which make a place and a people uniquely what they are. What are the stories of old which influenced the people they are today.

Some notable authors working with these sorts of approaches are Stephanie Ellis, whose Five Turns Of The Wheel offers a detailed look at some of the more chilling folklore of rural Britain, or Adam Nevill, whose Scandinavian-based novel, The Ritual, was brilliantly adapted for film by Netflix. The roots of the story reach through the fertile soil of the region’s folk tales for their inspiration.

traditions we’ve lost touch with through folk horror, it’s clear to me that folklore and horror were, are, and forever will be entwined.

©Copyright 2022 Kev Harrison for Uncaged Book Reviews www.uncagedbooks.com Published with Permission

And, in my own work, I explored the Slavic lore of Baba Yaga in my debut novella, The Balance, middle eastern Djinn-lore and curses in my forthcoming novel, Shadow of the Hidden (Brigid’s Gate Press, 2024), and faerie lore from Brittany, in western France for the untitled novella I’m currently writing.

Whether we search for a new canon of folklore through the horror genre, or seek to connect to underlying folk

Kev Harrison is a British author of dark fiction, living on the outskirts of Lisbon, Portugal. His novella, Below, is forthcoming in 2022 from Brigids Gate Press, while his earlier novella, The Balance, is available from Lycan Valley Press. His debut collection, Paths Best Left Untrodden, is out now from Northern Republic. His short fiction has been featured in a number of anthologies and magazines, as well as on podcasts such as Tales to Terrify and The Other Stories from Hawk and Cleaver. When not writing dark tales, Kev can be found running, sampling too many craft beers for his own good, singing bizarre songs to his cats, and travelling to far flung places with his better half, Ana. You can find him at www.kevharrisonfiction.com and on Twitter as @LisboetaIngles.

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feature authors

Maeve Greyson historical Marisa Dillon Elizabeth Bernard

Maeve greyson

USA Today Bestselling Author. Two-time RONE Award winner. Holt Medallion Finalist 2022. Maeve Greyson’s mantra is this: No one has the power to shatter your dreams unless you give it to them. She and her husband of over forty years traveled around the world while in the U.S. Air Force. Now they’re settled in rural Kentucky where Maeve writes about her courageous Highlanders and the fearless women who tame them. When she’s not plotting the perfect snare, she can be found herding cats, grandchildren, and her husband—not necessarily in that order.

Welcome to Uncaged! Your latest book to release is the fifth book in a series, Saving Her Highland Traitor. Can you tell readers more about this book and the series?

I am thrilled to be at Uncaged. Thank you so much for having me. My Time to Love a Highland series, which Saving Her Highland Traitor is a part of, is what I like to call a Scottish Historical Time Travel Romance series. The following better explains it:

It’s long been said there is a special someone for everyone. But what if that someone lives in a different time? Fear not, the Scottish Highlands have the answer.

Many consider Scotland a magical place. It takes hold of hearts and never lets them go. This series is about how Scotland’s natural geographical wonders are actually doorways to the past that transport unsuspecting souls back in time to unite them with their perfect match.

Each book portrays a different way back in time, how the modern-day heroine handles traveling to medieval

Scotland, and whether or not she not only discovers a way to return to her time, but also whether she returns or remains in the past with the love and acceptance she eventually wins.

I have so enjoyed writing this series and sadly, I’m nearing the end. Saving Her Highland Traitor is the fifth book in the seven book series and in it, modern day Mila and her godson Robbie tumble back in time during a freak thunderstorm in Glencoe. Since she is a tour guide in Scotland, history is pretty much her jam and when she realizes that the wonderful chieftain who takes them in is going to be executed in two months, she and her godson have to find a way to save him. But she’s not sure that’s even possible. After all, can the history books be re-written?

You also have several other historical series out, can you tell us about those?

The Highland Heroes series is seven warriors bound by blood and blade and the women who show them there is so much more to live for than battle. The Once Upon a Scot series about three mighty warrior brothers who meet their matches.

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Uncaged welcomes Maeve Greyson

*big grin* I like warriors. Can you tell?

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

Most difficult? Definitely the physically intimate scenes. I try to go for the emotional angle rather than the physical “insert Tab A into Slot B” angle. And depending on the characters, sometimes the emotional angle is difficult to put into words.

The easiest? Actions scenes. I love writing a good, hard battle.

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

I honestly do not know. I know it sounds crazy but I really don’t. When I was a child, I was always that kid who got into trouble for daydreaming all the time. I guess the daydreams bring me the stories.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

I’m currently writing Book Six in my Time to Love a Highlander Series where a fit of anger becomes a leap back through time for love.

Do you base any of your characters on real-life people?

My villains are almost always based on people I have dealt with in real life. The personality traits of folks who seem to thrive on making other people miserable just really adds realism to my stories and makes the meanies more well-rounded characters that readers love to see get what they deserve.

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

I really do believe in “insta-love” or “love at first sight”. The reason I do is because on my second date with my husband, he asked me to marry him and I said yes. We had only known each other three

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months when we married. We’ve been married almost 44 years now.

Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages?

It’s almost always the plot. I’ll see something or hear something that makes me play the “what if this happened” game and then the voices in my head take over. Then my characters make themselves known. I’ll write a nice neat outline for them to follow. Then they totally take over and absolutely ignore it.

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

I’m not much of a “relaxer”. There is always something to be done, or planned or written. However, in the summer I do enjoy gardening. Vegetables mainly. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my grandmother’s green thumb when it comes to flowers.

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

I love physical books. The feel of them. The way they smell. I think they should bottle the way a library smells and sell it as a room freshener. That would be awesome.

I’m currently reading The Regency Years by Robert Morrison as research for my next series: The Sisterhood of Independent Ladies.

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

I am so thankful for my readers. They’re the absolute best.

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Stay Connected

Enjoy an excerpt from: Saving Her Highland Traitor

Saving Her Highland Traitor Maeve Greyson Scottish Historical

mance

Ro-

She wanted a new beginning. Not love or a life with a man about to be executed three hundred years in the past.

Twenty-first century tour guide Mila Carthson and her godson Robbie are excited to launch their first tour of the season in their brand new minibus. They made it through a horrific year of him being bullied and three deaths in the family. Now it’s spring and time for new beginnings. Things can only get better.

But after hours on the road with tourists who act worse than spoiled toddlers, Mila begins to wonder. Surely, a sack lunch surrounded by Glencoe’s beauty will improve the day. She gets the group settled, then she and Robbie climb to higher ground for some badly needed peace.

While they’re eating, the strangest storm blows in and makes her and Robbie so ill, all they can do is hug it out while the wind and rain batters them. When the weather lifts, everything is different. Not just different, but changed beyond belief. And someone is coming. On horseback. At a thundering, breakneck speed.

The last thing eighteenth century Chieftain Teague MacDonald needs is an unforeseen interruption in his interception of the Campbell clan’s favorite whisky. But his greatest weakness is taking in strays. Especially comely wenches. And this one is that. Fiery as a freshly lit torch, too. So, even though persecuting the bloody Campbells, smug-

gling, and quietly strengthening the Jacobite cause keeps him busy, this lovely lass is too tempting to ignore. And the longer he is around her, the more he wants her and wishes she would let him save her from whatever terrible secret set her and the lad on the run in the first place. One way or another, he will win her trust. And with any luck, he will win even more.

Mila has been many things. Tour guide. Substitute mother. Grieving friend. But the eighteenth century transforms her into something she never expected: a woman in love like never before. Except she knows Teague is going to be executed soon. She read about it while researching his castle’s remains back in the twenty-first century. Somehow, she has to keep him alive. But can the history books and destiny be rewritten?

Excerpt

Ten ladies, all exhibiting varying levels of grumpiness, waited beneath the canopy at the rear of the Old Town Hostelry.

“They look pure dead miserable,” Robbie said as Mila brought the minibus to a halt.

“That they do.” She put on her best smile and nodded for him to do the same. “But we shall make their day better, aye?”

His dubious scowl mirrored her doubts.

She opened the door and hopped out to greet them. “Good morning, ladies. Are ye ready to enjoy Scotland’s many wonders?”

“I am ready for the rain to stop,” said the one with the hood of her bright pink raincoat pulled so low that all that showed was her wrinkly frown. “Och now, it’s already faded to a wee mizzle. Sure to stop soon.” Mila motioned them forward. “Think of it as future whisky and fresh water to sate yer thirst.” Her cheeks ached with the forced smile as, one by one, they grumbled their way onto the bus. “I am Mila

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Carthson and in the seat behind mine is my assistant, Robbie Abernathy. It is our pleasure to meet each of ye.”

None of the ladies bothered to respond with a smile, a nod, or their names.

“If I don’t sit in the front, I will vomit. You know that, Mildred.” The scowling lady in the hot pink raincoat bared her teeth at a purple-haired woman cloaked in a crinkly black poncho. While the fuchsia rain slicker woman appeared petite and fragile, she stubbornly straddled both front seats on the right side of the bus. Each time the poncho-clad Mildred tried to shove her way into the aisle seat, Ms. Pink pushed back and refused to let her sit.

“There are two seats, Winona. Since when does hogging two seats cure motion sickness?” Mildred pushed closer so the last pair of the group could squeeze past her, then she angled back into the center of the aisle, glaring down at her travel mate.

Unable to get past Mildred and into the driver’s seat, Mila stood on the steps. “We usually rotate seats at every stop so everyone gets an opportunity to sit in front.” She cast a gently shaming frown at Winona. “And everyone gets one seat. Not two.”

“I have to stay in the front the whole trip or you’ll be cleaning up barf.” Winona shoved back her hood and jutted her powdered chin higher.

“If ye would be so kind as to scoot over so yer friend can sit, we will be on our way.” Mila noticed the rest of the group seemed enthralled by the stand-off, as though it was their favorite form of entertainment. “She is not my friend, and I got here first.” The woman jerked a nod and resettled her outstretched position. A tittering of laughter rippled through the bus.

“Kindly shove over, Ms. Winona, or I shall have to ask ye to get off the bus and make other arrangements for a tour.” Mila stared the woman down. This was not the way to start the day. While she didn’t want bad reviews, she refused to tolerate such unreasonable behavior. And she also refused to be bullied. Gasps and mutterings rippled through the seniors.

“You can’t talk to her like that.” Mildred squared off her cloaked girth like a great black crow guarding a bit of roadkill.

“That’s right,” shouted someone from the back. “Customers are always right, you know!”

For the first time that morning, snarly pink lady Winona gleamed a broad smile and scooted over. “Thank you, Mildred.” She twisted in the seat and waved at her supporter in the back. “Thank you, Doreen.”

“You are quite welcome.” After a smug, snorting huff, Mildred seated herself with a haughty flounce of her crackling black wrap.

It was going to be a very long day. Mila composed herself with a slow, deep breath, climbed into her seat, and buckled in. She flipped on her mic and announced, “We shall take a brief turn around Edinburgh and then head to Stirling.”

“Turn on the air!” The barking demand came from the one called Doreen. The individual who had supported Winona earlier.

“No way! We are soaked to the skin and it will be too cold.” Mildred swiveled around and shook a finger at Doreen, who wore rhinestone-tipped glasses that made her look like an oversized beetle.

“I don’t care. I am boiling back here!” Doreen rose and lumbered into the aisle as if ready to brawl. Mila stopped the vehicle, unbuckled, and stood to face them. “I would ask that everyone remain seated while we are in motion. For safety reasons, ye ken?”

“What is that supposed to mean? Ye ken?” Doreen waggled her head back and forth like a cobra preparing to strike. She wrinkled her bulbous nose, making her sneer even more pronounced.

“Ye ken means do ye understand?” Mila stood her ground. “I want no one injured on our outing today.”

“Afraid we might sue you?” The woman snapped her head with every word, making her sparkly glasses bounce to the end of her nose. “Because we could, you know? Rita’s son is a lawyer.”

The more Doreen talked, the more it confirmed that hauling this group of belligerents back to the

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boarding area and refunding their money was the best choice for all concerned. “Today is entirely up to yerselves, ladies.” Mila paused, struggling to keep a professional tone. “Shall we all settle in and enjoy Scotland with a bit of civility or return to the hotel? The front desk keeps several guide cards on hand. I feel certain ye could find another tour that would be more to yer liking.” Doreen’s mouth twitched as though holding back a torrent of ill-mannered replies. But instead of spouting off, she plopped back down into her seat. Several of the others peered out the window, while a few stared down at their laps. No one made eye contact nor offered a response. Mila refused to take this sudden shift to meekness as an answer, knowing full well the snarling beasties could return at any moment. “What do ye wish to do, ladies? Continue this tour or return to the hotel?”

Mildred waved her toward the driver’s seat. “Let’s go. And you can turn on the air for Doreen. We’ve already burned through all the other guides. You’re our last resort.”

“Well, isn’t that lovely,” Mila uttered under her breath.

Robbie unbuckled, climbed up onto the seat, and pulled two lightweight blankets down from the overhead rack. He offered them to Mildred and Winona, adding the sweetest smile as he held them out. “If ye get chilled, these will knock the air off ye.” He turned and addressed the rest of the women. “If anyone else would like one, we’ve got one for each of ye.”

“I would like one, young man,” said a lady from midway on the bus.

He pulled free another plastic-wrapped blanket, hopped down from the seat, and took it to her. “We have them cleaned after each trip and sealed like this, so ye know nothing is lurking in the cloth.”

“I am sure they’re quite clean.” The silvery-haired woman offered a genuine smile as she opened the blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. Mila released the breath she held. Perhaps they could salvage the day and make it enjoyable after all. She settled in, fastened her seatbelt, and waited

for Robbie to do the same. As they headed through Edinburgh, she pointed out the Royal Mile, Princes Street Gardens, the castle, and several other sites. “Our lovely Edinburgh is best enjoyed on foot,” she said. “For days and days, if yer itinerary permits it.”

“You try walking days and days with arthritis and a hip that needs replacing.”

A glance in the mirror failed to show her the commenter, so she ignored it. But it did make her wonder why they had chosen Scotland as their vacation destination. After all, so many of the sites were best enjoyed with sturdy walking shoes and the determination to soldier on and explore.

Stirling castle proved to be somewhat of a struggle since the mobility car was not in service. Ramps helped in some areas, but the ladies still found fault with everything. The cobbled courtyard was too rough, the grassy areas too wet. The adapted toilets failed to suit them. Every room was either too cold, too damp, overcrowded, or hot. The concessions and souvenirs were overpriced and dared to require British Pound currency rather than U.S. Dollars. When Mila suggested they pay by credit card whenever possible because the exchange rate was usually less, they stared at her as if she had sprouted a second head.

After enduring all she could stand, she ended the tour of the castle earlier than scheduled. The promise of a picnic lunch while viewing the beauty of Glencoe appeared to put a bit of spryness into the ladies. One thing she had discovered early on was that these ten women ate more than a dozen good-sized men. Both snack boxes on the bus were emptied in the first hour. She had to send Robbie for more while she led the group around Stirling. It was about a two-hour drive to Glencoe. She prayed they had enough to keep the group pacified until lunch.

“Are there any more cookies?” Winona rattled an empty wrapper at Robbie as they bounced along.

“Aye. I’ve got shortbreads, parlies, and some Empire biscuits. Which would ye like?”

“Just pass over some of all three. Mildred will help me eat them.” The woman drained her water bottle, then tossed it at him. “And more water too.”

Robbie kicked the back of Mila’s seat. She made eye contact with him in the mirror and

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slightly nodded for him to do as the lady asked. After all, if Ms. Winona had a mouthful of biscuits, she was less likely to complain. Mila only hoped the woman’s tendency toward motion sickness had been an empty threat.

She drove along in silence, having given up on her usual informative commentary about the countryside. Sharing the history of the area had turned out to be like poking an ill-tempered bear. The seniors took it upon themselves to dispute everything she said. Never had she led such a self-proclaimed group of experts on Scottish history. So she went silent. After all, who was she to argue with American Hollywood’s depictions of her native country?

“Our lovely lunch setting is just up ahead, ladies.” Mila sent up a prayer of thanks and made a mental note to give Robbie half the take of today’s tour. The lad had saved the day and held his tongue admirably.

“I see no restaurant, no tables, or benches,” Doreen said.

“There is a fine area to pull off where we can eat our lunches and admire the beauty of the Three Sisters: Aonach Dubh, Beinn Fhada, and Gearr Aonach.” Mila gauged the murkiness of the sky. It looked to be lightening nicely with the sun peeking through more and more. With their blankets on the large, flat boulders overlooking the glen, surely the women would be content or at least quiet for a wee bit. “Speak English!”

Mila clenched her teeth and forced a smile. “Aonach Dubh means Dark Ridge. Beinn Fhada is for Long Hill, and Gearr Aonach means Short Ridge. These peaks radiate from Bidean nam Bian’s ridges. But the Gaelic is more romantic. Do ye not think so?”

“No,” Rita said from her seat in front of Doreen’s. “I think it’s confusing. Everything should be in English.” Robbie kicked the back of her seat again, but she ignored it. There was no way out of this. They were both trapped with these grumblers until Fort William. There the ladies would spend the night, then take the train back to Edinburgh.

“And here we are.” Mila halted the minibus alongside the stones intended to serve as their lunch tables and seats. If the rain returned, they could easily reload everything back inside. But if there was an ounce of mercy

anywhere in the universe, the rain would hold off so she and Robbie could climb to their usual perch and have a few moments of peace while the others bickered and complained over their meal.

“Here? On those rocks?” Mildred bobbed her head up and down while squinting out the rain-spattered window.

“Aye.” Mila hopped up from her seat and smiled at them all. “Everyone grab yer blankets to spread across the stones. Ye will find them the perfect height for sitting. Robbie and I will bring out the sandwiches, fruit, and chips.” She knew better than to call the chips crisps. It would only resurrect the ladies’ conversation of why Scots called so many things by stupid names.

Each of the grumbly grannies shot her a withering look as they ambled past. They hitched their way down the steps, then stood scowling at the boulders. “Why did they even come to Scotland?” Robbie whispered while helping her slide the coolers of food and drink off the bus.

“I dinna ken, but mind yer tongue.” She shot a glance over her shoulder and quickly scanned the group. “They claim they canna hear, but I would lay odds they can pick up a mouse’s fart clear back in the States.”

Robbie laughed and nearly dropped the drink chest. “But we can still eat on our ledge, aye?”

“Definitely.” With his help, she placed the food coolers on top of the largest rock and opened the lids. “I shall leave ye to it, ladies. There are egg and cress sandwiches. Corned beef and pickle. Treacle. Even some ham, cheese, and ketchup pieces, too.” She grinned. “Sorry. Pieces are what we Scots call sandwiches. I am sure ye think that’s silly, too.” She pointed at the rest of the feast. “Fruit, chips, and wee fairy cakes in this box and nice cool waters in the drink cooler.”

All of them stared at her with upturned noses and lips quirked into a snarl.

“Disgusting,” came from somewhere in the back. Mila didn’t catch which one said it. And it didn’t matter. She threw up her hands, unable to believe their level of ingratitude and rudeness. “This is all there is, ladies. If ye canna choose something, then

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ye will have to wait ’til we reach Fort William.” She couldn’t resist a bit of smugness as she added, “And ye have eaten all the snacks. So there will be nothing to nibble on during that wee jaunt of roughly thirty minutes.”

That spurred a few of them forward. The rest soon joined in, half-heartedly pawing through the food. Mila fully expected a brawl to break out at any moment, like dogs scuffling for a bone. She turned to ask Robbie to fetch their packs, only to discover he had already done it. With a big grin, he handed over hers then slung his to his shoulder.

“Are ye that hungry?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“Nah.” He took the lead. “Ready for a wee stretch of my legs and some quiet.”

“Ye have done well, my fine brat. I am proud of ye.”

He ducked his head. “I feel a mite sorry for them. They must be verra unhappy to be so sour all the time.”

“That they must,” she agreed.

“Where are you going?” Mildred shouted while shouldering her way deeper into the food chest. Mila pointed up the ridge. “Higher ground to watch the weather. That way, we can warn ye before it hits. Dinna worry. We willna go far.”

“Watch the weather?” Robbie repeated with a snort.

“Hush it or ye can eat with the ladies, ye ken?” He grinned and continued climbing. They forged even higher than their usual spot, putting more space between themselves and the carpark below. The trying day warranted it. “This should be good enough.” Mila turned and made sure she still had a clear view of the minibus and the ladies. A prick of uneasiness made her pause and reconsider. As irritating as they were, they were seniors. What if a medical emergency occurred while she and Robbie were perched halfway up the mountain? Of course, even though she had training for minor issues, anything severe would be beyond her skills. And the ladies had survived the trip from their beloved Cobeak, Il-

linois, to Edinburgh, Scotland. Surely, they would be all right.

“What’s wrong?” Robbie plopped his backpack onto the ground, then sat beside it.

“Nothing.” She joined him and unzipped her pack. “Just checking to see if they’ve started brawling yet.”

“I think that’s how they communicate with each other,” he said around a bite of sandwich. “Like when animals growl, but dinna mean anything by it.”

“Ye are a wise lad.” She unwrapped her egg and cress sandwich, frowning at its mangled condition. “Look at this. The ice pack smashed it flat as a griddle cake.” “It’ll still eat just the same.” He grinned. “Least ye can lick the squished egg off the paper.”

“True enough.” She poured them both a cup of tea. As she handed him his cup, she noticed him frowning at something and turned to see. A thick bank of dark clouds, its swirls and billows flickering with lightning, was bearing down on them. The speed of it was impressive. She unleashed a frustrated groan. “Bloody hell. Look at that storm coming.” “Aye.” He shoved the rest of his sandwich in his mouth and started repacking his bag. “Be here in a flash.”

She did the same, squinting as the wind whipped her ponytail into a wild frenzy. She cupped her hands around her mouth and bellowed at the tour group below, “Take cover!”

With all the debris spinning about, she could hardly make out anything past an arm’s length. She hoped the women heard her warning, or at least noticed the storm and got back into the bus. As she slung her pack to her shoulder, her stomach lurched as if some unseen force had punched her. A cold sweat peppered her upper lip. Wave after wave of nausea washed through her. She dropped to all fours and threw up, heaving so hard it felt like she was turning herself inside out. Even though the wind had reached a deafening howl, she vaguely picked up on the sound of nearby retching. Robbie. Sick as well. Fighting the storm and blinding dizziness, she crawled over to him. “Robbie!”

He shook his head, then threw himself into her arms, convulsing and gagging. She closed her eyes and held him tight. No way could

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they make it down the hillside. Wind and rain lashed against them, but the worst part was the awful falling sensation. The relentless storm swallowed them whole and sent them spinning down its dark gullet. At least if they died, they died together. A terrible, highpitched keening screamed and whistled all around. She covered Robbie’s ears while tucking her head against his. Never in her twenty-eight years had she ever experienced such a raging tempest. Once the roaring squall died, it took her a while to realize it. Nature’s attack had numbed her. Made her feel fuzzy-headed and not sure of anything. Rain still peppered down, but nothing like before. The sky had softened to a murky blanket of grayness. The lightning-filled blackness of the angry cloud bank had passed. She straightened but kept a tight hold on Robbie. Thankfully, both nausea and dizziness had left her. After swiping her soaked hair out of her face, she gently patted the lad on the back. “The worst is gone. I think so, anyway. Are ye feeling any better?”

He slowly uncurled and lifted his head, squinting up into the rain. Water streamed down his face, plastering his short, dark hair to his skull. While he was still somewhat pale, she took heart at the two faint patches of pink highlighting his cheeks.

“I dinna feel sick anymore,” he said. “My eggs didna taste as if they had turned. Did yers?” “No.” She pushed herself up and helped him stand. “Mine tasted fine and if it had been food poisoning, I think it wouldha lasted longer.”

“It wouldha,” he said. “Mama got it once after some bad clams. She was sick for a few days.”

That was the first time he had spoken about either of his parents since the auto accident, but Mila didn’t draw attention to it. She merely took heart, hoping that meant he was slowly healing from their loss. She waved him forward. “We best go check on our ladies, aye?”

He made a face. “Ye know they’re going to be madder than wet hens?”

“I know. But there is no avoiding it.”

“Ye go first.” He adjusted his pack across his shoulders and grinned. “In case they start throwing shite.”

She started to correct his language, then found herself unable to speak. Even through the rising fog and

mizzling rain, she could tell something was very wrong. Their surroundings were entirely too quiet. “Robbie.” She swallowed hard and pointed. “The bus is gone.”

He stepped up beside her, his thumbs looped through the straps of his pack. “Uhm—so is the road. And the grumpy hens.” He stared up at her, his voice cracking with the same panic strangling her. “Where is everything?”

“I dinna ken,” she whispered, hugging him close. “I dinna ken what has happened.”

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maevegreyson.com
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Author Interview

What’s the hardest thing about being an author?

Do you feel that writing is an ingrained process or just something that flows naturally?

A: Personally, the hardest part is the grammar of writing. I have dyslexia so writing can be difficult. Having friends and family to help proofread is always the best too.

What is the best thing about being an author?

A: I absolutely loved doing the illustrations. I have always enjoyed drawing so being able to show off my art is so heartwarming. What book changed your life?

A: The books that my grandmother read to me when I was young really shaped my world and imagination to this day.

What inspired you to write this book?

A: Well for my book about Ellie May the pig. It is about my very own pet pig. As for the Viking and Cryptids that has just been an interest to me.

How would you describe your style of writing to someone that has never read your work?

A: That really depends on the topic. For children’s books, I try to do little rhythms to my stories.

What is the take home lesson you wish your readers will learn after reading this book?

A: To give ideas to people to look for things that interest them or to adopt a pet pig for yourself.

What books are currently in your to be read pile?

A: The series “Extinction” by Nicholas Smith is what I am reading right now. It is an extreme contrast to what I write.

A: Some say that my writing is adventurous and out-of-the-box.

Anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

A: If you have a drive to draw or to tell stories, please make a book or a show, and share your work to the world!

Elizabeth bernard

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is an award-winning author of historical fiction, including two Amazon best-sellers. Her latest novel, SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD (release date: January 19, 2023) is the haunting, emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together. The book is inspired by the lives of two remarkable Scottish women at the turn of the twentieth century: Lady Sibell Lilian Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie, spiritualist and romantic novelist; and her sister, Lady Constance, who shocked British society with her scandalous barefoot dancing in the public theaters of London, Paris, and New York.

Elizabeth’s novels have received honors including: Finalist, Eric Hoffer Book Award; Finalist, National Indie Excellence Awards; Finalist, Arizona Literary Contest; Gold Medallion, Book Readers Appreciation Group; Discovered Diamond award for historical fiction; and Readers’ Favorite 5-star pick. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), musician, and former public relations executive. She and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.

Welcome to Uncaged! Your book, Sisters of Castle Leod will release in January. Can you tell readers more about this book?

Thanks so much for inviting me. SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD is the story of two real-life sisters of the Scottish Highlands, one a countess and the other a most unconventional Lady. In the Victorian era, Ladies Sibell and Constance Mackenzie grew up in the iconic Castle Leod—the castle that Outlander author Diana Gabaldon used as the model for her fictional Castle Leoch—and the sisters later became among the most talked-about

women of their era. Sibell, who inherited the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie, was a spiritualist, believer in reincarnation, and a writer of mystical romantic novels. Constance was a champion swimmer and big-game hunter, best known for scandalizing British society with her half-naked public demonstrations of barefoot dancing. As complete opposites, they clash on many fronts, and their long estrangement provides many of the shocking twists and turns of the novel.

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Uncaged welcomes Elizabeth Bernard

What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

I’ll start with the easiest. I love writing edgy and emotional dialogue, and I find it easy to immerse myself in the characters during those kinds of hightension scenes. The most difficult scenes for me are those that describe settings. I want those scenes to be immersive as well, but it is always challenging when writing about distant places and time periods. One has to be so careful about accuracy, and that can sometimes get in the way of the poetic impulse.

For SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD, I was fortunate to be able to travel to the Highlands, tour Castle Leod, and “walk in the shoes” of my characters. I even met with Sibell’s grandson, the 5th Earl of Cromartie, and it was from him that I learned about the castle ghost known as the Night Watchman, who adds a special touch of the supernatural to my story.

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

Before writing SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD, I had developed a personal interest in the history of spiritualism—that is, communication with the dead. In the course of reading about how the spiritualism movement was, in many ways, an attempt to reconcile religion with science, I ran

across just a brief mention of Lady Sibell Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie, a spiritualist who correctly predicted one of the very few earthquakes ever to hit Scotland. I was driven to find out more about her. When I discovered that her sister, Lady Constance, was also quite famous and very controversial, I began to suspect I was onto something that would make an intriguing historical novel and a compelling story centered on the conflict between two very different sisters, each suffering a loss for which they could not forgive the other. Lucky for me, there was a tremendous amount of information about both sisters, much of it in the form of archived newspaper articles—yet still plenty of room for imagination as far as plot and character development.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

With SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD just about to launch, I haven’t settled down yet to start writing something new, but the ideas are fermenting. My next project is likely to be a dual timeframe novel, part of it in modern times and part in the past. I have an idea for a mystery that should be of special interest to lovers of Venice, Italy. But I’ll have to see whether the plot that I have in mind holds up to further investigation. If not, another possibility is a sequel to my earlier historical novel THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, which is a medical thriller set in New York City during the Edwardian era.

Do you base any of your characters on real-life people?

Yes, I often do. But in the historical novels I’ve written that are inspired by people who actually lived— SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD and one of my earlier books, TEMPTATION RAG—I also include fictional characters. In SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD, the most notable of these is Demetrius Khoury, an enigmatic young man of Arab descent who claims to be the countess’s lover from a past life and eternally bound to her by an ancient Phoenician ritual called the Link of Fire. Though Demetrius is fictional, Sibell was known to claim, on more than one occasion, that she had a Phoenician “spirit guide.”

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What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

Probably some of the other things I’ve done prior to becoming a writer, such as living in a mountaintop commune in Arkansas, being a street musician in San Francisco, and co-writing music with a few well-known players and producers. Eventually, I transitioned to a career in public relations and, also, publishing. Though I’ve always been a writer, it took me a while to become really serious about fiction-writing. I am so happy to be a full-time author for the last nine years!

Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages?

For my first historical novel, THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, it was the plot. I wanted to write a thriller involving an Edwardian-era cosmetic surgeon, in those days called a “beauty doctor,” engaged in deception and murder. But my other two novels, including the new one, SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD, were first inspired by real-life characters. The plots evolved, to a large degree, from actual events in their lives. But my genre is historical fiction, not biography, so there’s always a carefully crafted balance between fact and fiction.

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

I love walking with my dog, being out in nature, and the greatest thing is to be able to let him run free. I live in Arizona, and there’s a lot of beautiful country here. I spend as much time as I can in the mountains, but the desert is also amazing. Another favorite pastime is music. After my earlier days as a street musician, I became a touring professional playing clubs and concerts, and I still love compos-

ing music in my home studio.

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

It seems like most readers who love historical fiction prefer physical books. I agree that there is something “organic” about holding a book in your hand and flipping the pages. I love to admire book covers and to see books lined up on a shelf. But … when it comes to actually reading, I have come to prefer ebooks. Adjustable lighting and print size, more convenient for travel, and the search capabilities are awesome. I am always reading something. Right now, it’s The Deception by Kim Taylor Blakemore, a historical novel about a troubled spiritualist struggling to regain her lost powers.

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?

If you are a fan of historical fiction, I hope you will sign up for my blog at ehbernard.com. I promise not to overwhelm your in-box, as I’m a once-in-a-while blogger. My blog focuses on the historical backstories to my novels and on recommending the work of other historical novelists that I have discovered and loved. Stay Connected

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Enjoy an excerpt from Sisters of castle Leod

Releases Jan. 19

A family tragedy, a forgotten legend, and two sisters tormented by what each has lost.

Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon’s fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era.

Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father’s vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell’s daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate.

Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.

Excerpt

At the palazzo, Mama was nowhere to be found. Likewise, the next morning when I tapped on her door, there was no answer. I’d never been angrier. She had no right to divulge personal information about me to a stranger, let alone to arrange, however she’d done it, for a “chance” meeting with him. Of course, I’d been a fool to accept his invitation for a moonlight ride. What would Edward say if he knew? At best, I was frightfully naïve. And at worst? I hated to think it, but perhaps I had more of Mama’s failings than I wished to admit.

On my way out, I stopped to leave a message for her that I would be back in time for tea if she cared to join me. No hint of the scolding I planned to deliver.

“Good morning, my lady.” The desk clerk reached behind him for an envelope in the slot corresponding to my room number. “Someone left this for you earlier.”

“Thank you.” I took it, assuming it must be from Mama. But no, the handwriting on the front was not hers. Stepping away from the counter, I unsealed it and removed the note inside.

Dearest Sibell,

I did not sleep, thinking of you and last night. My intention was to reassure you, but I fear I did the opposite. I acted too boldly, and for this I beg your forgiveness.

I offer one suggestion, if I may. Should you wish to explore the past and create the future you desire, pay a visit to Doctor Joseph Belfry in London. You can trust him.

Demetrius

I crumpled the note and looked around for somewhere to toss it. Finding no receptacle, I tucked it

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into my handbag to dispose of later and hurried out of the lobby.

The day was sunny, the salty air filled with the cries of seagulls circling overhead, but I barely noticed. Neither did I stop to enjoy the music provided by several small orchestras in Piazza San Marco or by the street musicians playing for handouts at the Ponte di Rialto. After crossing the bridge, I ducked down one of the narrow cobblestone lanes lined with small shops, having no inclination to pause and admire the colorful blown glass and finely embroidered linens. But passing a small outdoor café tucked into one of the neighborhood squares, I stopped for a moment to observe tourists sharing bitter coffee and sweets, as Edward and I had done on our wedding tour. How long ago it seemed, how pure and full of hope I was then. And now?

My thoughts turned again to Demetrius. The smoothness of his tanned skin. The elegant way he held his cigarette as if it floated between his fingers. And his eyes. If I were to consider them apart from the rest of his face, I’d swear they belonged to a much older man, someone who had known the depths of pain and passion.

I knew it was wrong to fantasize, especially about someone I neither liked nor trusted. Still, wouldn’t any woman be intrigued by a man so wildly imaginative? How could he react as he had to a mere newspaper illustration? Convince himself he was in love with me. He’d never used the word love, but that’s how it sounded when he described dreaming of me night after night, waking in the mornings covered in sweat. Love, infatuation … or was it madness?

But who was I, a staunch believer in the power of dreams and visions and intuitions, to judge anyone else’s soundness of mind? Most would find ample grounds for doubting mine if they knew the mission I was on at that very moment.

I walked for twenty minutes, wandering far from the parts of Venice I knew, passing countless streets

that were scarcely streets at all, just dim passageways narrow enough one could flip a coin from one side to the other. Lost in thought, I might well have failed to notice the sign for Calle Sortiva.

“Looking for something, Madame?” The bespectacled gentleman who had spoken stood out from the crowd by virtue of his odd attire. Wearing a formal black suit and opera hat, he was rather overdressed for a morning stroll.

“Calle Sortiva. A little shop called—”

“L’Art de la Magie.”

“Why, yes.” I smiled uneasily. “How did you know?”

“Because it’s my shop you’re looking for,” he said, acknowledging my surprise with a good-natured chuckle. “I have a talent for recognizing a customer when I see one.”

“You’re the proprietor of L’Art de la Magie?”

“I am.” His French accent, though mild, lent credence to his claim. “It’s tricky to find the place unless you pay close attention. Come along, I’m on my way there now.”

We walked on together, chatting about the weather and other topics of little significance until, rounding the corner and after a few steps more, we came to a door remarkable only for what hung above it. A wooden sign illustrated with the likeness of a goat’s head bearing huge horns, a five-pointed star emblazoned on its forehead.

The gentleman raised his walking stick and unscrewed the curved handle fashioned from bone. The hidden portion was metal and notched like a key. He inserted it into the lock. A click, and the door opened. The light streaming in from the street revealed a small landing from which rose a steep, narrow staircase.

“Only one flight up,” he said. “Not too bad.”

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I stepped inside, and he closed the outer door, plunging us into darkness.

“So sorry. I always forget.” He struck a match and lit a wall sconce at the base of the stairs. “Better? Do hold on to the railing.”

The stale air smelled of mildew. I tried not to breathe as I followed him up the creaky wooden steps. At the top was another door, which he opened without need of a key. “Please, come in,” he said, stepping aside.

L’Art de la Magie was a long, narrow room, illuminated by a single tall window with heavy black curtains pulled back and secured with braided gold rope. Opposite were floor-to-ceiling shelves, the lower portion filled with books and the upper with a myriad of jars and bottles holding variously colored liquids.

“Forgive the mess, but my work requires a certain state of disarray,” he said, nodding towards a large table in the center cluttered with glass vessels and vials, funnels, rods, porcelain bowls, mortar and pestle, and an alcohol lamp.

He turned to me and bowed, removing his tall hat with a flourish. Beneath, he was bald save for a sparse gray fringe. “I believe introductions are in order. My name is Monsieur Hugo Alarie. And to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”

I had no intention of revealing my true identity until I had a better idea what Monsieur Alarie’s magic was all about. “Mrs. Glenda Bates.”

“And how did you hear of my little shop, Madame Bates?”

“At a dinner party in London. Someone said you arrange séances.”

“I do many things. Arranging séances is one of them. My least favorite, I might add. You see, Madame Bates, most people desiring to attend a séance feel themselves drawn to the mysterious, but what they’re really after is entertainment. I would not dismiss them

all as naïve—among them, on occasion, are persons with impressive occult credentials—but the majority are no more enlightened than my customers for magic potions.” He gave me a wink, then gestured with a sweep of his arm towards the rows of bottles against the wall. “Please don’t misunderstand. Some of these concoctions are quite fine, indeed. A lovely scent can enliven the spirit greatly, don’t you agree? And I have discovered many combinations of herbs and flowers with previously unrecognized curative powers. But then, as you hinted, potions are not the reason you have come.”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“You are a genuine seeker. I recognized your gift, Madame Bates, when I first saw you in the street. Your aura was a lovely violet.”

I smiled, assuming flattery was part of his usual routine. “My friend in London said that Madame Moreau—”

“Madame Moreau is touring the continent at present.”

My heart sank. “Oh, my … I’ve come all this way to see her.”

“Unfortunate, indeed.”

“Well … if seeing Madame Moreau is impossible, might there be another medium of similar reputation you could recommend?”

“Absolutely not.” He seemed disapproving of my request. “However, if you like, I can read the cards for you. There is more truth in what they say than you will find at any séance.”

I knew straight away that he meant the Tarot. When I was a child, I’d discovered a deck in Grannie’s room. I recalled being frightened by a picture of a man hanging upside down. Ever since, I had stayed away from the Tarot, though I knew people who put great stock in its power of divination.

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Monsieur Alarie did not wait for my reply. Going over to the tall shelves against the wall, he opened a silver box that lay on a shelf near the middle and removed a deck of cards tied with a black velvet cord. Carrying it with him to the long table, he pushed aside his assorted apparatus, then beckoned me with a curl of his knotty finger.

“Have you done this before?” he asked, plopping onto a wooden stool and leaning his cane against the table.

“Not really.” With guarded curiosity, I took the seat across from him.

“Good. I prefer if you have no preconceptions. I have found it is best not to follow rules or formulas, but intuition. Let us see what the message of a simple three-card spread can offer you today, Madame Bates.”

He shuffled the deck four times and, when he had finished, asked me to cut it in half. Once I had done this, he dealt the first three cards from the top, placing them horizontally in front of me, facedown. The card in the center, which he laid down first, was positioned higher than both the card to my right, which he placed second, and the one to my left. When all were properly aligned, he turned them over, in the same order, allowing me a minute to study the strange pictures and symbols.

“Do you wish to tell me what you see, Madame Bates?”

I shook my head. The Tarot still made me nervous. But at least I had not drawn the hanging man.

“Very well. Let us begin.” Behind his wire spectacles, his eyes narrowed, deepening the web of fine wrinkles around them. He pointed to the card on top, the image of a gray-bearded man in a long cloak holding a walking stick in one hand and an hourglass in the other. “The Hermit. This is how you see yourself, Madame Bates. As someone

who wishes to leave the material world behind. It is the most important of the three cards, because it also represents your future. Or future possibilities. But this card—” He touched the one to my left, an image of six golden goblets. The card was upside down. “Tell me, did you have a pleasant childhood?”

“I was very fortunate.”

“I imagine you were, but …” He frowned. “Something from those happier days has been lost, its innocence spoiled. Now, despite your wish to transcend the material world, the way is blocked. You are afraid. You lack faith.” He looked up at me, his wiry brows raised in a question. “Are you an artist? Perhaps a writer?”

“I—I do write, but nothing of note. Nothing at all lately.”

“Well, you are young. But don’t delay. Your work is at the heart of your journey, Madame Bates. The creative process is the first step in opening your mind. A writer, yes. That’s a start. But to discover who you are, you must go beyond.”

I should have been elated. He’d called me a writer, what I’d always dreamed of becoming. But even that dream, so dear, paled beside the longing for Janet. “Please, do you see anything about a child? My daughter?”

“This reading is about you, Madame Bates.” He lowered his head, peering at me above his spectacles. “Even if you’re not who you say you are.” He tapped the final card. “The King of Wands. You wield considerable power. Position? Wealth?” He paused. “Title?”

No matter that everything he’d told me was true, I was becoming impatient. I wanted to know about Janet.

“But can you tell me about my daughter? She died … suddenly …”

For an instant, his expression was sympathetic, rather like the doctor who’d pronounced my baby’s condi-

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tion incurable. Then, with a swift motion, he swept up the three cards and returned them to the deck. “My dear lady, I do not wish to seem harsh, but you have already asked me that.”

I was taken aback. He surely could understand the reason for my persistence. My daughter was dead!

“Very well then. At least can you tell me when Madame Moreau will return to Venice?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know precisely.” He reached for his cane and struggled to his feet. “And now, I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m expecting another client at any minute. Thank you for stopping by, Madame Bates.”

He offered his arm, which I accepted reluctantly, and we walked together to the door.

“You neglected to tell me what I owe you for your time, Monsieur Alarie.”

“Nothing. I only ask for payment when a client is satisfied. You clearly are not.”

I felt a touch of contrition that I’d not thanked him for the reading, which actually was quite insightful— more so than one would expect as a matter of chance. “There is very little that satisfies me these days. It’s not your fault.”

He turned to me, his stern countenance softening. “Do not despair, Madame Bates. It is indeed possible for the end to be followed by a new beginning. However,” he added with a firm thump of his cane, “you must get to work.”

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| ELIZABETH HUTcHISON BErNArD |

Marisa dillon

Born in Norway, and globetrotting at a young age, Marisa had glimpses into the history that shaped the world. Castles, manor homes, battlefields, artifacts, and more, were accessible to her growing up as she traveled Europe and Scandinavia.

It’s no wonder the stories she created for her school papers, and now as an adult historical romance author, are filled with real history and saga. As she continues her travels to exotic locals, her curious nature and love of romance allows her to create stories that carry the reader back in time. When you are immersed in one of her books, you can almost feel, taste and touch where the stories take place.

When she’s not crafting a manuscript, Marisa stays busy in her ‘day job’ working on product branding and social media. An award-winning producer/director/marketer, she lives in Southern Ohio with James, her first love and knight in shining armor.

senting the time period with costumes and reenactments.

Welcome to Uncaged! Your latest book in The Lady of Lore series is called The Secret of Skye Isle. Can you tell us more about this book and the series?

First, let me start with the concept of the series. Every year Ohio hosts a Renaissance Festival in a 35-acre permanent medieval village that has been authentically and historically recreated. The cast of characters, which includes a queen and her court, do an amazing job repre-

Walking through their fictional village, I felt transported, as if I had time-traveled to England. I was inspired by one of my favorite festivities of the that era, the joust. I had always marveled at the principles of knighthood and the tenets of chivalry. Once I started down that path, I chose the late 15th century, when King Henry VII was crowned and the House of Tudor was born, as the backdrop for my fictional series and the first

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Uncaged welcomes Marisa Dillon

book, The Lady of the Garter.

For the next book, The Golden Rose of Scotland, I tuned in to England’s advisory relationship with Scotland for inspiration. Every good historical author knows Scotland can add depth and drama to any story. Wars between the two countries have waged for years, and that real conflict provided the spark for that story. This second book uses a papal gift with a thousand years of history behind it as the impetus. Unless you research the golden rose, you won’t know where the real history ends and the fiction begins.

When I was working on the draft for the third book in the series, The Secret of Skye Isle, I struggled with writing about a journey across Scotland through the Highlands. The trips to the Renaissance Festival had sparked

the series, but now I needed to write about a mysterious island made unique by glaciers and invading Vikings. How could I do that when I had never set foot there?

I started by using Google maps and reading journals from those who lived at that time, but that still didn’t give me what I longed for. I wanted to travel the roads, stare up at the mountains, and wonder through the castles. Thanks to good luck or divine intervention, I was transported by modern means to the Isle of Skye and the nearby Highlands. From the local lore to the documented mystical phenomenon, I was enchanted by stories of the Fae, the faerie flag of Dunvegan Castle, and the haunting beauty of the Isle. You’ll find the history and the fiction woven into this page-turner.

Are there more books planned for this series? Although I won’t rule it out, and I do love this

| FEATUrE AUTHOr |

series, after the third book I moved up a few hundred years to write a new series set in the Regency England time period.

What is the most difficult scene for you to write?

Love scenes are the most difficult for me to write. Part of the challenge as a historical author is I am bound by the societal norms of the era. Can you imagine a duke inviting a woman to move in to his manor home for a few months to try out the relationship? Oh, the servants would talk! If that is a goal in the story, I would need to employ a popular troupe, a.k.a. permissible gimmick, to get them in the same home like a marriage of convenience.

What is the easiest?

Usually the last chapter, when the happily ever after is a given and the story gets to its sweet conclusion.

Where do you get your ideas for new plots and characters?

In the first book, a scandalous painting goes missing. There are duels for honor. Sibling rivalry. Ballroom drama. And of course, romance!

Do you base any of your characters on reallife people?

There are occasions when real people have given me inspiration, but most of the time my characters materialize like ghosts who want to be remembered. I like to quote Stephen King and what he calls “The Boys in the Basement.” He says, “There they are, down below, unseen and unheard but hard at work.”

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?

Traveling, first. I was born in Norway and was able to travel the world at a young age. Being able to look at historical places and listening to people speak in other languages provides all kinds of inspiration. When I’m not traveling, daydreaming and meditation can also be an aid.

What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

I started writing a new series during the pandemic about three sisters in Regency England who gain social status through a gambling win.

I’m a belly dancer! That’s not my day (or night) job, but it’s a passion of mine. I started to take classes about fifteen years ago to improve my fitness. It changed my body and my life in a positive way. Belly dance is empowering and a lovely form of artistry. It’s not burlesque or stripping, although I respect those artforms as well. Evidence of belly dance can be found as far back as

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| MArISA DILLON |

6,000 years ago in historical artifacts. With my love of history, it’s no wonder I chose to perform a dance with ancient roots.

Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages?

You may have heard authors describe themselves as ‘pansters’ or plotters.’ I’m a ‘panster,’ which means I write by the seat of my pants. I often don’t know where I’m going until I sit in my writer’s seat. But I tend to be a ‘plot-driven’ author. I begin with a story idea, then the characters become more defined as the plot develops. It’s usually in the third draft when I’m able to refine the motivations and the nuances that make each of my characters unique.

What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

My husband would say I don’t relax because I’m such an energizer bunny. I’d have to say reading is a great way to relax. Not my own work in progress, but new releases, classics, any genre but horror. I’m just a scaredy cat. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now?

I love all three formats for different reasons. When the pandemic started, I listened to all the Lord of the Rings stories as audiobooks. I’d take a walk at lunchtime and enter the world of Frodo Baggins. With a beach vacation, I want the physical book. The rest of the time, I like an ebook because I can highlight and not feel guilty about it.

I love reading romance novels, too. Mostly historical, but I enjoy contemporary ones as well. I would love for new fans to follow me on Good

Reads for my recommendations and reviews. I’m making it a New Year’s Resolution to log more of my reading and provide recommendations in 2023. Stay Connected

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What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?
| FEATUrE AUTHOr |
marisadillon.com

Enjoy an excerpt from The Secret of Skye Isle

The Secret of Skye Isle

Marisa Dillon Historical Romance

A lifesaving antidote grows as a rare rose on an isle full of faerie lore. Healer Ursula Fraser won’t risk delivering her best friend’s twins without it, but first she’ll need a guide to find it and a miracle to get there.

Both come in the form of battle-scarred laird Alasdair MacLeod, a Highlander who seeks to avenge his father’s death and claim the title, Lord of the Isles. He requires an heir, not a wife. But when he offers her his guidance, he also offers her his bed and a bargain.

Insulted, but fearless, Ursula expects she’ll triumph without surrendering until Alasdair takes of one her potions accidently. When the effects of the concoction make him believe he’s in love with her, she’s tempted by the compassion he’d hidden behind his cold exterior.

Will this Highlander who harbors a family secret keep her from returning to Fyvie Castle in time for the twins’ delivery? Or will a faerie flag, and a prophecy filled with magic, settle all the scores?

Excerpt

Not only rare flowers but exotic herbs permeated the Urquhart Castle gardens. As Ursula strolled the grounds, enjoying the flora, she wished for Rosalyn as fine a display for Fyvie. Given the time and resources, she’d like nothing more than to build a bountiful private haven for her sister of the heart.

There were many rare varieties scattered among the common perennials. Her eyes lit on a particular rose, and for a moment, there was a flicker of hope that she’d found the guelder. But that would have been too convenient.

Solitude had been a rare commodity, so Ursula basked in the quiet. Thanks to Alasdair, she was enjoying this reprieve as he’d had a hand in saving her from Ethan’s beratement. He’d been suggesting they share a room. Of course, she’d refused, and Alasdair had handily put Ethan in his place by coming to her rescue.

The two men barely tolerated each other. They were complete opposites. Ethan full of angst and lust. Alasdair playful and amorous. She did enjoy the attention from both. One more than most. And thanks to their pursuits, her pain of Joshua’s loss was fading.

Over the last few days, especially aboard the ship and with a change in her routine, Ursula had thought long and hard about Joshua. Although she had cared for him,

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she had not truly been in love. She’d settled.

Long ago, her virginity had been stolen from her. Most men would consider her soiled. But her mother had said purity was of spirit not body. They were witches after all and were not expected to adhere to the social norms of the royals or upper class. She’d understood the faerie code but had never abused the freedom her spirit allowed. Only with Joshua had she explored those urges. He had helped her appreciate her body in ways she may never have discovered without a lover like him.

antidote for her potion, and to take a look at his battle wound.

The door opened abruptly with no knock. When Ursula turned to see who had entered, her mouth flopped open. She had no words. “You look surprised.” Alasdair’s brow rose. “We had an appointment.”

“You startled me,” she confessed. The last time she’d been alone with him was in the captain’s quarters when his kissing had gone wrong.

She shivered a little as if his spirit had just touched her cheek. Although she was a seer, she could not see the dead, unless they were stuck between worlds like Moaning Molly.

Taking a seat by an ornate table near the hearth, Ursula unpacked the herbs from her silk bag. After the garden visit, Lord Gordon’s servant had led her to this private solar at the end of a long hallway, explaining she would be needed for healing services before bed.

She was happy to oblige. As a guest in his household, she was willing to repay the laird for the generosity of providing his hospitality. Of course, she carried most of the herbs needed for common ailments. Although she was pleased to provide a service to her host, she was concerned she would no longer be able to fulfill the promise she’d made to Alasdair, to provide an

She had been disappointed their intimate moment together had ended so abruptly, before she could explore the possibilities. But the time and location had been a poor choice. But the memory of them laying on the floor together in a tumble made her smile at him.

Alasdair swept into a low bow. “My apologies, my lady.”

When he rose, he was wearing a mischievous grin. And as she studied the laird more closely, she noticed he was wearing different clothes than before, a rust-colored linen shirt with a wide open ruffled collar. And instead of a kilt, he was sporting snug leather breeches and soft slippers.

Alasdair caught her staring at him.

His face reddened when he glanced down. “Och! You do nae recognize me in George’s clothes.” He captured her gaze on the way back up with his own sheepish one. “Our host insisted his servants wash my clothes.”

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She had to admit she was shocked to find Alasdair transformed from a rugged warrior to a refined gentleman. He looked more like a spoiled Englishman who’d never dirtied a hand in the Highlands or waged a war with an enemy.

“I suppose an annual washing is preferred by some,” he said, crossing the room. He took a seat on the other side of the table. “For me, that is still too often.”

She stifled a laugh, still off-balance by the two of them unchaperoned. She was not naïve, but it was a bold move to have her meet him alone in a bedchamber after dinner.

overridden with guilt. His infatuation was her fault.

She reached for her silk satchel by her feet, but by the time she’d raised her head and brought the bundle to her lap, Alasdair was down on one knee before her. He reached for her hand and helped her rise to her feet. Towering over her, he said, “On second thought, I am nae sure any antidote would work.”

“If you cannae fix my obsession for you, I will have no course of action other than to remove your clothes and take you to bed.” He’d declared his intentions as if he’d just asked for more mead at the head table.

Ursula blinked hard. She’d yet to have a word with him on this, and she did not need to read his thoughts, because he was speaking them aloud. He rose and approached her slowly. “You must be considering my offer. Otherwise, I’d have a black eye by now.”

Is she considering his offer? She was smitten. Captain Quinn had called it. Aye, this man who’d tugged at her heartstrings aboard the Merry Maid was stirring wanton feelings in her now.

Is the antidote working, or am I affected by the herbs in the stew, too? But aside from her feelings of lust and confusion, Ursula was

Ursula swooned a little, and Alasdair’s hand was behind her back in moments, keeping her from toppling over. His other arm wrapped around her waist. This close to him, she marveled at how tall he was. “I promised you relief from your injuries,” she said, holding her silk pouch between their faces as if it were a shield she could use to protect herself from his flirtatious gaze.

He gently pushed her hand down and grinned at her when he could see her face again. “That ’twas not what I had in mind,” he told her as he turned her toward the massive chamber bed covered in a dark-blue velvet that matched the canopy above. Both were richly appointed with golden ropes and tassels.

She resisted his progression toward the bed. “Nay, Alasdair, I did not promise a rendezvous in this secluded Highland castle.”

He chuckled at her feeble attempt to refuse him. She tugged harder at his hand and stopped in her tracks.

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His solution was to sweep her off her feet. It was her turn to chuckle. “You are persistent. I’ll shall give you that.”

Alasdair closed his eyes.

She sucked in a sharp breath before his mouth claimed hers. What could she do but kiss him back? This was no time for an argument. She relaxed and let herself be swept up in the moment.

Alasdair’s lips were gentle and aggressive at the same time. A lot like how he was when she was with him.

Maybe the sheer size of him intimidated her when she stood close to him. Yet every time they’d been alone, even in the captain’s quarters when he’d kissed her after Sid’s wedding, he moved like he was taking her prisoner, attacking her with a subtle seduction, leaving her wanting more.

His groan brought her back to the chamber, back to her senses when she broke the bond of their entwined lips.

“What was that?” she asked, surprised her breathing was labored.

“A kiss.” His lips cocked up on one side.

DON’T MISS THESE TITLES:

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fang-FREAKIN-tastic reviews feature author

gomez

D. C. Gomez is an award-winning USA Today Bestselling Author, Podcaster, motivational speaker, and coach. Born in the Dominican Republic, she grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. D. C. studied film and television at New York University. After college, she joined the US Army, and proudly served for four years.

D. C. has a master’s degree in Science Administration from the Central Michigan University, as well as a Master in Adult Education from Texas A&M- Texarkana University. She is a certified John Maxwell Team speaker and coach, and a certified meditation instructor from the Chopra Center. One of D. C. passions is helping those around her overcome their self-limiting beliefs. She writes both nonfiction as well as fiction books, ranging from Urban Fantasy to Children’s Books. To learn more about her books and her passion, you can find her at www.dcgomez-author.com.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

One of my quirks in the writing process is that I bingewrite. I write non-stop until the manuscript is complete, and then I take a break. Sometimes my breaks could be a couple of weeks, or a couple of months. It took me a while to become comfortable with the fact that I wasn’t writing every day. Now I enjoy my process and make the most of it.

What have been your proudest moments?

This is such a hard question. As a writer, seeing my first book in print is still one of the best moments of my life. But the proudest moment would have to be my graduation from Basic training (U.S. Army). Nobody that knew me prior to joining believed that I would make it through a week of training, nevertheless, to graduation. I wasn’t physically active and was terrified of guns. That one accomplished helped me to see that anything was possible if you focused yourself enough.

What is the nicest thing a reader said to you?

The nicest thing a reader said to me recently is that they read my devotionals every day. As a multigenre author, is fun that my readership is connecting to my both my fiction books as well as my non-fictions. The Dare Collection is one of my most personal projects, and I’m so happy it resonates with readers.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I’m an avid reader. I have no issues getting lost in a book for hours. Unfortunately, I enjoy doing that even when I’m writing. That might be one of those reasons some projects due take longer to complete.

Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer?

My advice for any person who wants to write is to give themselves permission to not censor themselves. Be as authentic to the story as possible and give the characters room to play and grow.

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DC

Enjoy an excerpt from:

The Hitman The Hitman D.C. Gomez Fantasy Short

To save his race, Eric will have to risk losing his soul. If he still has one…

Being the Order of Witches’ Hitman, is not Eric’s view of an ideal job. But he can’t deny he is good at the job. If he can find the traitors, he might have a way out of the mess he finds himself in.

It seems Eric is not the only one hating being an assassin. The sexy Sacha Garcia, from the renowned clan of assassins, is having her own morality dilemmas. Too bad the world cannot wait for either of them to address their internal turmoil.

Excerpt Chapter 1

Blood flowed down his abs as the scorching water hit his body. It was hard to tell if the blood was Eric’s or his last target. Did it make a difference? There wasn’t enough soap or boiling water to wash away the memory of the kills. Eighteen months. Eric had been chasing witches, wizards, traitors, and the like for the last eighteen months of his life, all on behalf of the Order. He slammed his fist against the tiles of his shower and immersed himself under the water. His bruised knuckles split open again. Fresh blood mixed with the trails already running down his body. His dark hair was matted, probably from guts or brain-matter. The result was the same: dead bodies everywhere and still no lead. He was tired of the chase, the games, the intrigue—of everything. The madness of it all was eating away at his soul, if he even had one at this point. In his one hundred and seventy-three years

of living, this was the first time Eric had truly hated his existence and his skills. Yes, he was a great witch, but by the looks of it, he was a better killer. Eric continued his ritual, soaking his head with shampoo as if that could erase the memory and the tension in his mind. His pride wouldn’t let him admit it out loud, but he missed Texarkana. The madness of Reapers Inc. would be a welcome relief in exchange for the life he’d been living. He never intended to become the Order’s assassin or their avenging angel. For as old as he was, he still made many foolish mistakes. Did he honestly believe he could help his people after the blows they’d suffered? No. Eric knew better. He was running away. The water cooled, and Eric knew the drill. Once the water turned cold, it was time to step back into the real world. To forget his life as a cop in Texas, the last one he’d embraced, and don the mask of a cold, calculated bastard. If Isis was right, it wasn’t hard for him to be distant and disregard people. He actually missed her and regretted never telling her how he felt. “Damn Constantine and Virginia,” Eric told himself for the hundredth time as he stepped out of the shower and let the cool air dry his body.

The guardian of the interns and Death’s right-hand man, Constantine, was not one to be crossed. The five-thousand-year-old cat had more money, power, and influence than God himself. If Eric believed in the Almighty, it might impress him. But when Constantine hired him to train the newly made Intern, he gave strict instructions to never get involved with her. Eric didn’t see that as a problem. He never expected to fall for her. Isis Black was insufferable, impulsive, and opinionated. Yet, Isis made him see the good in people again.

If Constantine wasn’t reason enough to stay away, the too-hot-for-her-own-good Intern was related to the most improbable person alive. How could he have known she would be the goddaughter of Virginia Black, the high priestess of the Order of Witches? Could his life become more demented?

The cell phone screamed the ring tone “Hells Bells” by AC/DC.

Eric took deep a breath to settle himself. That ring tone could only mean one thing, and he wasn’t in a rush to answer the call. Strutting naked through his apartment, he headed toward the kitchen. It was six in the morning, and since he’d been up all night, he needed coffee. Duke could wait.

The smell of the Jamaican coffee was intoxicating. It was official. His automatic coffee maker was his new best friend. Eric poured a cup and inhaled the

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decadent brew. He didn’t care that the liquid was boiling. Deep down, Eric prayed the wrath of his coffee would burn away the bile he felt burning the inside of his throat.

“No luck,” Eric told himself just as his cell rang again, causing his insides to turn.

“I know you are ignoring me.” Duke’s heavy European accent came across the speaker as soon as Eric connected.

“I just got in,” Eric replied. “You can’t possibly have another lead for me.”

“I have something better,” Duke replied. “Doubt it, but let me hear it.” Eric placed the cup down and used his power to heal his wounds. The skin on his hand mended, and he could feel his ribs snapping back in place. If he was going out again, he didn’t have time for natural healing. Eric doubted he remembered how that actually worked anymore. “Are you listening to me?” Duke shouted. Eric had blocked the man out and missed all the details. “Sorry, man, I was trying to heal here.”

“You are great at that,” Duke admitted in a softer tone. “You should have been a healer instead…” “Instead of an assassin?” Eric finished for him. Both men avoided the conversation, knowing it was pointless to dwell on bad choices. “Regardless of how many times you fix the body, humans always die.”

“Sounds like you’ve been there.” Duke was in a very talkative mood.

Eric was not. “What’s the lead, Duke? I want to crash before I face another battle.”

“We found him,” Duke whispered. “Are you sure?” Eric knew exactly who Duke was referring to.

“The arrogant bastard thinks he’s untouchable,” Duke continued. “He’s collecting an army of low-life wannabe witches with no talent. You need to take care of Rafael. The priestess wants his head on a platter.” “Didn’t think Virginia was one for channeling her inner Salome?” Eric smirked. He didn’t blame their leader. Too many good people had died because of Rafael’s betrayal.

“That might be the only bible reference she ever quotes,” Duke answered. “That asshole has an ongoing date every Friday at the Village Underground in Greenwich.”

“I know the place.” Eric had lived in New York City several times and was familiar with the now comedy club. He remembered when the place played Spanish Rock to the drunk college students and village hippies.

“Anything you need?” Duke had the excitement of a

teenager at prom.

“Set me up an appointment with Mr. Lorenzo,” Eric replied.

“Again?” Duke choked. “Man, how many suits can you destroy in one month?”

“Do you want to do my job or what?” Eric was in no mood to defend himself from a man who only wore sweatpants and crop tops. “Do you even own jeans?”

“Fuck you, Eric,” Duke answered.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Eric sipped the rest of his coffee. “Let him know I’ll be by the shop at one.”

“Will do. Do you need any weapons?” Duke was back to acting like a giddy cheerleader.

“Last time I checked; I am the weapon.” Eric examined his fully healed body. If his magic ever failed—which never happened—he was physically strong enough to take on an ox. There was no doubt he was deadly.

“If that wasn’t a fact, I would say you were an arrogant asshole as well,” Duke told him.

“Oh, I am definitely that,” Eric said, not apologizing for his attitude. “But I’m as good as it gets, so why bother denying it? Text me any important details, and don’t call me until tomorrow.”

“Yes, Master Eric. Whatever you say, Almighty One,” Duke replied, full of sarcasm.

“Go to hell, Duke, and don’t call me back.” Eric disconnected the call before the two of them bantered for another hour.

Eric poured himself another cup of coffee. He wanted a nap before heading out for the day. It had been over a month since he had stayed at the apartment, which meant there was no food anywhere, besides the coffee. To make things worse, the place smelled of mildew. He wondered if the cleaning lady ever aired it out. He could cleanse it with magic, but he doubted he would be in town long enough to enjoy it.

New York City was a strange place early in the morning. For the city that never sleeps, early mornings were eerie in their quietness. Eric could sense all the residents of the building either sleeping or slowly waking up. He let his senses trail the enchantments and security around his apartment, needing to make sure no person or thing could sneak up on him while he slept. Taking one last sip of coffee, he headed for bed. He didn’t bother with clothes. After everything he had been through, modesty was something he cared nothing about.

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Uncaged Reviews

The maddened aren’t the only ones hiding in the shadows...

When the new vampire arrives at the base, he makes it clear I’m his new obsession. But I’m not like the other women. I won’t cave to Brone’s charisma.

Except that now one of my friends has gone missing, and the only logical explanation for her disappearance is an unseen enemy… Something so dangerous, no one is safe. Brone promises to protect me, and maybe, just maybe, I want to believe him.

Uncaged Review: This book is actually the second book in the series, the first was the prequel was first to give you a heads up into this world. Each book is going to center on one couple, and then there is an overall arc running throughout. This time it’s about Jezebel and Brone, one of the last of the women you could see falling for one of the vampires is Jezebel, and she doesn’t make it easy on Brone, but he won’t give up. There is a new threat outside the compound, and it’s not the mad dhampirs that are the biggest threat anymore to the human women.

This is shorter read, and I finished it in one sitting, and there is plenty of action, and romance. I think this book steps up even better than the first one, and I’m definitely looking forward to book three. This is a good original take on the vampire genre and the world building is well thought out. Reviewed by Cyrene

A fake relationship with a sexy cowboy in a small town is never a good idea...

-Alana-

After high school, my plan was to leave the small town of Mason Creek and never look back. I thought I’d work my way through college while my long-time, bull rider boyfriend chased his rodeo dreams and took me along for the ride.

Uncaged Review: This is a series that is running that has different authors joining in and is about 30 books at the time of this review. This one is the 12th in the series, but I had no problems following along, so they read well as standalones. This story is about Alana, who has sworn off of cowboys since she was hurt by a bull rider. She buries herself in work and taking classes online to finish her degree. She lives above the store she manages, in a small one bedroom apartment.

Holden comes to town to work on a friend’s ranch to let some drama blow over, because the cabins on his friend’s land are being renovated, he gets to stay in the small room across the hall from Alana’s apartment. Watch out when they have to share a bathroom.

This is a slow burn romance, and a wonderful light read. Holden is a sexy cowboy and Alana is a spunky, sassy woman that keeps him in his place. With great secondary characters, this book was a fun read that was easily read in one sitting. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Blood After Dawn Brenna Harlow Paranormal Romance Perfect Secret Molly McLain Western Contemporary Romance

The Dragon Berserker’s Mate Harlow Blaze Paranormal Romance

The big bad dragon doesn’t play nice, even with a little ray of sunshine. Guarding her, easy. Pulling her pigtails? Much more fun.

Hazel

After a midnight escape from her stepfather, Hazel’s in serious need of a fairytale ending.

Uncaged Review: The third book in this series (if you count the prequel) and the series is still coming up with surprises. Jay has locked his dragon away, and won’t shift because of all the carnage he fears from his beast. Because of this, his sanity is on the line. Hazel is escaping an abusive stepfather, with the help of her witch friend. When it’s found out that she is dragon marked, she agrees on an arranged marriage with leader of a different eyrie, in exchange of her providing dragon heirs, she would be given a safe home and her debts paid off. But she doesn’t count on Jay….

This book has some good action, a few good twists and of course, romance. Seeing if Hazel and Jay can find their way to each other is a fun ride, especially after Jay is assigned as her guardian. For the dragon shifter lovers out there, this is a good series and never loses its momentum. Reviewed by Cyrene

Be the One Nina Levine Rock Star Romance

This cocky bad boy rocker has met his match. He wants her heart, but she only wants his body.

Presley

I don’t care that he’s a smooth talker. He can sweet-talk me all he likes, so long as he backs it up with an orgasm or two. But I’m not looking for a relationship. God, no. Not with a rockstar.

Jett

I don’t care that she argues with me and throws up walls like she’s building a fucking house. Presley Hart will be mine. I’ll make sure of it.

Uncaged Review: There wasn’t a building of romance in this book, more of a building of love. This book jumps pretty fast into some hard hitting sex scenes, but the love between Jett and Presley is slow building, and the reader will feel many different emotions when reading, from joy to the ultimate sadness, from anger to joy, it’s all here. The story is mesmerizing and very hard to put down after the halfway mark. Presley has sworn off falling for rock stars after her past marriage. But the connection with Jett is not something she was prepared for.

There will be times you love the characters and times when you hate them, and you will feel it all as they fight their way to their HEA. This is a standalone book, and that’s too bad, I would have liked to read more about the secondary characters in this book. Reviewed by Cyrene

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The stories say that the dragons saved humanity, but all they left were ashes, cinder, and a new breed of human. Welcome to the Outlands, where nobody cares if you scream.

Rogue, Fighter, survivor. I have many roles, but my only purpose is to protect my loved ones and make a better life for them. It’ll take one more job to make my dream a reality.

Uncaged Review: This book really surprised me. I liked the originality of this world, and am looking forward to learning more. The author doesn’t slow the book down with a lot of back lore, but gives bits and pieces as you go along. I ended up having a lot more questions at the end, but the cliffhanger that this landed on was not too horrible, considering 3 of the 4 books this series is, are already released.

The action sequences and the characters are well thought out, and I can see this turning into a reverse harem in the future, but this is a slow build. I’m definitely moving on to the second book as I have a lot more questions. The book kept my attention and I liked the different supernatural beings. Nice start to a series. Reviewed by Cyrene

Wed by proxy to a baron old enough to be her grandfather, Lady Anne trudges up the gangway of a galleon that will deliver her into the arms of a tyrant. Crestfallen, she believes her disastrous life cannot get worse—until she awakes to the blasts of cannon fire.

Uncaged Review: I’m always on board for a good pirate tale, and this is a good one. Anne is wed by proxy to a tyrant whom she’s never met, but is shipped off on a ship to him. The ship is overrun by pirates and she’s taken hostage by a Scottish Laird, who is a type of Robin Hood to his starving people, by stealing from the rich to keep his people fed. Taking on the ship, Laird Calum had no idea he’d be raiding a ship that held Anne.

Slowly Anne sees the plight of his people, and her feelings for him grow slowly. This is a nice romance to watch, as Calum is determined to be honorable, but the more he gets to know Anne, and knowing the man she’s been wed to, the more he wants to keep her safe from him.

This story has a couple good turns and is a good read that’s hard to put down. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book from this author, and hope it won’t be so long for the next. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Dragon Trial Debbie Cassidy Dark Fantasy Captured by the Pirate Laird Amy Jarecki Medieval Historical Romance

Why a Marauding Marquess is Best Tammy Andresen Historical Romance

He’s no woman’s fool…

The Marquess of Hartwell will not be taken in by the Moorish clan and especially not the ridiculous Juliet Moorish. She’s got her head in the clouds which makes her a danger to everyone around her as she sets about hatching little schemes. So what if her auburn hair is so lush and lovely, and he’s begun daydreaming about running his fingers thought the locks?

Uncaged Review: This is a faster read, and it kept me hooked from the first pages, and is a lighthearted romp. I haven’t read the others in this series, but I had no issues picking this one up. Juliet is quite the schemer and planner, and ruins her plans of chasing another, who really doesn’t have much interest in her. With the Marquess, Dane, showing up and messing up her plans.

This is more of the fun side from this author, and it had me smiling often at the different escapades that Juliet would go to. For a lighter historical romance, this one fits the bill. Reviewed by Cyrene

The Formidable Earl Sophie Barnes Historical Romance

He’s breaking the rules for one woman, and coming dangerously close to falling in love…

Simon Nugent, Earl of Fielding, knows he’s flawed. He’s arrogant, possessive, and haunted by a terrible choice he made long ago. So when a former friend’s daughter gives him the chance to do a good deed, he grabs it. Except he’d like to grab her as well and teach her a thing or two about kissing. If only she weren’t so damn stubborn.

Uncaged Review: Simon’s life has predictable and boring after the war. A man who saved his life in the war, was unjustly hung for treason, and his daughter Ida, ran away and disappeared to live with an aunt. When Simon stumbles onto Ida, he feels he needs to right a wrong, and sees Ida as a chance to do just that. But it won’t be easy, Ida is hell bent on getting justice for her father and doesn’t trust easily.

Simon will learn to be less rigid in society and wanting their approval, to not caring what others think, only the woman he falls in love with. This is a very engrossing book that kept me hooked and turning the pages and it was over before I realized. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Loyalty to family. Trusting instincts. The will to survive. These virtues are deeply embedded in a mature Dutch teenager, Annika Wolter. Her attributes prove useful as she navigates typical comingof-age insecurities and a blossoming romance with a handsome lieutenant in 1939 Batavia, Java. Nothing prepares her for the distress of Hitler’s attacks on European countries followed by Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor, toppling her idyllic life in the Dutch East Indies colonial society and separating her from the man she loves.

Uncaged Review: I’ve actually had this book read for a bit, but I think it took a while for me to digest this book well enough to write a review. This book is not like anything I’ve read, and mind you, I don’t read biographies or even war era books often and I know this is all based on a true story. The amount of research to tell this story correctly is mind blowing to me, but this author has done her due diligence and has told a story so engrossing that once you start reading, you won’t put it down. The story of Annika is not only heartbreaking at times, it’s also heartwarming. The love she has for the lieutenant and her mother is unwavering and inspiring.

The author is able to take us back in time, with her beautiful descriptions that enhance the reading. There isn’t too many books that I can compare this too and what is great about these type of books, is that I learn when I read since it’s all based on true events and people. Highly recommended. Too bad 5 stars is the limit.

He was created in a lab. She has no choice but to trust him. Together they just might save the world. When Cat’s father is kidnapped by her alien boss she turns to Zorak, one of the mysterious lunar raiders “cultivated” by the aliens to protect Earth. Cat isn’t sure she can trust Zorak, but she has nowhere else to turn.

Uncaged Review: When the aliens landed on Earth, seeking asylum from their world being nearly destroyed, they created the raiders supposedly to protect Earth from their enemies. But the aliens lied and seeking to enslave the entire planet. Lucky for the humans, the raiders have blasted away their programming and go against the aliens that created them. Zorak, is one of the leaders of the raiders and when Cat asks for help to free her father, Zorak knows immediately that Cat is his fated mate.

This is a good scifi with nice world building and even people who haven’t read a lot of scifi can keep up with the language. This is a good start to a series and I plan to continue on as I’m now invested in the characters and this world. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Sapphire Promise Zorak

Love in the Forest

Grey Contemporary Romance

Step into the mystical and magical forests of Upstate New York, where Earth and Sky camp photographer Brooke Meadows has taken refuge from the demons of her past as she uses her ability to communicate with the dead to heal loved ones left behind.

Uncaged Review: From the first chapter I was drawn in by the wonderful area and scenery that has me wishing for a vacation in New York. When Josh takes a leave to the Earth and Sky Retreats he never would have known what an impact the area and one woman would have on him. Both Brooke and Josh will transform in the pages of the book, and find their way out of their pasts.

These are characters that are easy to like and are real enough that they could be your own friends, and the author draws you in and makes you feel like you are part of the story. This contemporary romance has a slight twist, that only makes it more compelling.

Reviewed by Cyrene

Wyvern’s Lair Shannon Mayer Urban Fantasy

I thought I had the next steps in my journey plotted out. I thought I knew where I was going and who I was going with—the usual crew of Lila the smart-mouthed tiny dragon, Ford the man who would be my mate if I let him, and Balder, the horse who has carried me through more danger than I can count.

Uncaged Review: With this being the 5th book in this series, it’s to the point where I’m going to have to read the last three pretty quickly now. This is a nine book series and this one does not let off the gas pedal. These characters truly need some major downtime.

Everything is full speed ahead, and I don’t know how Zamira actually pulls off some of the things that happen to her, but their group changes with the addition and subtraction of others.

I’m not giving away anything with these books. If you like a good action-packed urban fantasy, then this series is a good one to pick up. This author has managed to pull me into this world and it’s been a crazy fun ride. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews

As The Underworld Turns

What does a forty-year-old former child star do when she finds out she’s a Demon?

A sitcom, of course.

Age is just a number unless you’re an actress of a certain age trying to make a comeback in La La Land. Back in the day, I was the child star of the hit show Camp Bites. Today, I’m still living it down.

After a disastrous soap opera audition and getting fired from a TV show for not having a bodacious enough backside, one would think I’d be smart enough to go into real estate. Nope.

Just found out from the rudest, meanest, and hottest guy alive that I’m a Demon. The jerk, also a Demon, goes by the name Abaddon—Abe to his friends. I call him Dick.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: This is a fun series. As much as certain aspects of Robyn Peterman’s writing drives me nuts (like the overuse of certain phrases throughout all her series), I really do enjoy her stories.

Cecily’s character is interesting. She’s finding out all this stuff about herself and is in denial for a bit, but seems to take it in stride after the initial freak out period. I like her sense of humor and it sounds like her personality is a lot like mine, so I can appreciate that. I do like that she called out the entertainment industry, though. Nothing like a bit of reality. Her agent is absolutely hilarious though. Her constant name changes and just the way she carries herself has me laughing the whole time. It just goes to show that the people you’d least suspect may have more to them than you know. And I adore her dad and brother. I don’t

think I’d ever heard of that called “Jazz cabbage” before lol.

I like the pacing of this story too. It moves quickly but doesn’t feel forced or rushed. There’s a little bit of fluff/filler but not excessively so. I didn’t love the cliffhanger, but the 2nd book is out now, so it can be read immediately after.

Ultimately, this is a fun start to a new series. Lots of laughs, a bit of action, and a bit of ghost nudity.

Mind If I Come In K.L. Phelps Vampire Mystery

Vampires and giants and turtles — oh, my!

On a recent trip to Vegas, Katrina Parker really crapped out. Married, widowed, and with no memory of either event, Kat suddenly develops the ability to communicate with comatose people. But what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there — especially when it comes to the supernatural. Even back in Houston, trouble still haunts her. After agreeing to try to help the coma-stricken daughter of a mob boss, Kat discovers the assault that placed the poor girl in the hospital was only the beginning. Aided by her amnesic vampire housemate, a former Vegas detective, a spunky turtle, and a man who may or may not have a neck, Kat vows to discover who is behind it all … before she becomes the next victim.

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Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: This series has sucked me in, and I can’t stop reading it. I’m currently on book 5, but had to write my review for book 1 before I get them all mixed up. I’m loving almost every minute of it. I love mysteries, and I love paranormal, so this series is great for that. The paranormal population has recently come out of the shadows, so while Kat was attempting to do some supernatural tourism in Vegas, something went horribly wrong and she has no memory of even arriving in Vegas before she woke up in the hospital.

Kat really is a mess. While I like her, some of her ditziness grates on my nerves after a while. She zones out a lot. I can appreciate her appetite, as someone who also has a huge appetite, but half the book is her eating. I don’t mind overlooking that bc I do love the story. She hits her head an awful lot, so I’m not sure if she has brain damage or if that’s just her personality. By the end of the book, I’m thinking she should definitely have her head examined bc no one hits their head that many times without some kind of damage.

The side characters in this book are probably better than the main character. Jonny is her vampire roommate. They have no idea how they know each other, but he’s drawn to her and her safety. There are others, but I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but know Kat keeps some interesting company. I will say Frank from the Texas Taco Depository is a great character too. I wish I had someone like Frank in my life.

My main complaint with this book (and series) is that Kat commonly mentions feelings of inferiority compared to her friend Helen. In every. Single. Book. Repeatedly. We get it. Helen is hot. But the constant “oh I’m nothing compared to her” gets old pretty quickly. Even the guys in Kat’s life, including the potential love interest, make comments about how hot Helen is every time her name is brought up. It’s kinda gross, if I’m being honest.

While the mystery of who tried to kill the mob boss’s daughter is solved, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. It would have been nice to get a little more

insight as to what happened in Vegas, but now that I’m further into the series, the questions do get answered, but not until books 4 and 5.

This series is good for someone just looking for some laughs and pass the time. There are little inconsistencies, but don’t take it too seriously. I don’t get the impression this series was intended for deep thought.

Packing Serious Magical Mojo

Brenda Trim

Paranormal Women Sleuths

What happens when six middle-aged sisters with a party planning business buy a cursed plantation? Add one ghoul, the Queen of Voodoo, and a dash of unlocked dormant magic and find out!

When Dani convinces her five sisters to sink everything they have into purchasing a dilapidated old plantation, it seems like a great idea at the time. They need a site to expand their business, and none of them is a stranger to the occasional escapade. Little do they know buying Willowberry Plantation House will be the biggest adventure of their lives.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: This is an easyto-read book and a nice start to the series. I like the storyline and the characters. But, there are some problems. If you can overlook the problems, you’ll enjoy the story, but go into it knowing what to expect.

The sisters are super close. Which is cool. That’s great that they have such a tight bond. The prob-

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Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews

lem isn’t with the sisters themselves, but with how confusing the author has made it to identify them. She repeatedly uses their full names while introducing them (there’s 6 of them!) which would be great if they went by those names, but they don’t. They go by nicknames. And every one of their names starts with a D. I’m pretty sure I have no idea which sister actually does what and I’m on book 4. The perspectives switch between the sisters for every chapter, so that doesn’t make things less confusing. I felt like I needed a help guide. Which, I did find at the back of the book, but it was just as confusing and included characters we hadn’t been introduced to yet. And it was at the end! I didn’t find it until I finished the book, so it wasn’t helpful at all. Essentially, they all blended together.

I like the variety of powers the sisters ended up with and that they’re learning more all the time. I also liked the idea of how they got them. What I didn’t like was how the one sister kept talking about needing a “tall boy,” and they didn’t clarify that she meant a Pepsi until much later. I’ve only ever heard beer as being referred to as a tall boy. It seemed like she was drinking a lot and in the morning. Now it’s just annoying. While I appreciate having older main characters (as an older main character, myself), the constant references to needing to pee got old. If someone is peeing like that, they should probably see the doctor, bc that sounds more like an actual medical condition, not just age. And since one sister is a nurse, she should probably have told her sister that.

As much as I’m complaining, I enjoyed the story itself. If you can get past the problems, you might like the story too. Best not to take it too seriously, though. I gave it 4 stars bc I really like the story, but it was really more of a 3.5 to me. I’m also pretty easily entertained.

Reaper Remembered L.E. Perez, Mia Ellas Occult Horror

Reaper Wilhelmina Vellum is about to turn eighteen and enter her second year at Academie L’Mort. With her mother’s journal unlocked and in her possession, Billy hopes to discover why her parents betrayed Death.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: Billy just can’t catch a break. Poor girl can’t go anywhere without someone trying to kill her or some other catastrophe happening. Now her sister has joined her as a reaper at Academie L’Mort, and things just keep getting worse.

This book is nothing if not action packed. There’s something exciting waiting around every corner and nothing ever seems to go as planned. But if anyone can get through it, Billy can. I think she’s a really likeable character and the people who keep messing with her are jerks. She just wants to find out about her parents. Her few friends are cool though, and it’s nice to see she has some kind of support system. I just wish the situation with Jericho wasn’t so hot and cold.

Pez is amazing. I’d still like to know more about him. I feel like there’s something we haven’t been told yet when it comes to him. At least, I hope there’s more to his story.

This book is another great addition to the series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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The Hitman DC Gomez Fantasy Short

To save his race, Eric will have to risk losing his soul. If he still has one…

Being the Order of Witches’ Hitman, is not Eric’s view of an ideal job. But he can’t deny he is good at the job. If he can find the traitors, he might have a way out of the mess he finds himself in. It seems Eric is not the only one hating being an assassin. The sexy Sacha Garcia, from the renowned clan of assassins, is having her own morality dilemmas. Too bad the world cannot wait for either of them to address their internal turmoil.

it’s written in a way that makes it easy for me to see in my head. That makes a huge difference for me, and makes the whole book come together better for me.

I demolished this book in one day. I hate to say anything negative, but my one complaint is that I’m not a fan of where she ended the book. That was frustrating. BUT the 2nd book is out now, so you can go from one to the other without having to wait. I’ve read the next book, and it’s even better than this one.

I loved this book and am really looking forward to seeing how everything pans out for Eric and Sasha. It’s well written, fast paced, and completely kept my attention. It doesn’t have the filler that other books do. Every scene, every word, serves a purpose and I appreciate that.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: Let me start by saying I can’t say enough good things about this author or her books. I started with The Intern Diaries and was immediately hooked. This series is a spin off from that one, but you can start with this series without having to have read the others. That’s another good thing about this author; even her spin offs tie in together in a way that doesn’t confuse you if you haven’t read the other books yet. But be prepared, you’re going to want to read the other series too.

Let’s talk about Eric. I wasn’t really a huge fan of his in The Intern Diaries. It wasn’t that he was a bad character, but I just didn’t feel him. That being said, I like him much more now. A lot of how he acted in the other series makes more sense now.

As far as Sasha goes, I’m still undecided on her. I think I like her, but it’s still a little too soon for me to tell. She’s definitely an exciting character, though. I’m looking forward to seeing where she ends up.

The action in this book is great. It seems realistic and

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Cleopatra’s Vendetta

H2LiftShips- A Back Story Bob Freeman SciFi

Amy’s

Bari, Italy, present day. Think tank Special Ops leader Timothy Stryker and his wife Angie, a self-made CEO, haven’t exactly been seeing eye-to-eye. They take a much-needed Italian holiday, but it comes to a shocking end when Angie and their daughter are kidnapped.

Amy’s Review: Magnetic!

What a magnificent story in Cleopatra’s Vendetta by Avanti Centrae. I’ve read books by Centrae before and loved each one. I do think this one is one of my favorites. It’s a very unique story, that combines history and present thrilling adventure. The reader meets Stryker. He and his wife are still reeling from the death of their son, and it is affecting their relationship. Stryker is Special Ops. They believe they need a vacation, but danger just follows them, and his wife and daughter are kidnapped. It’s filled with thrilling action, suspense, and the past is reflecting danger and curses from the past. The characters are dynamic and it is a well-written story. I am a definite fan of this author! Whatever this author writes, want to I read. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with marvelous books. This author is a great storyteller. The author brings the reader on a superb journey. The only time I put the book down, was to take a breath before reading more. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next. I will definitely add more of this author’s books to my bookshelf. Tantalizing and intriguing! A wonderous trail of words.

Trading and dealing for a living is just what the LunaCola’s crew is doing to get by. But everybody (or octopus) has a backstory, and the members of the crew have more than enough to reminisce. There’s nothing quite like sitting down to play cards, celebrating a job well done, and recollecting the past but there’s still plenty that still has to come to light.

Amy’s Review: Interesting and yes, technical as well.

What a grand story in H2LiftShips- A Back Story by Bob Freeman. This is the second book in the H2LiftShips series. I find that the stories are a mix of science and science fiction, and there is a line where both meet. There is a mix of different character, including alien octopuses and it sure is an adventure into and beyond the solar system. The story is well written, and the technical terms and stories jargon can take some getting used to, but as I read the first book in the series, and intend to read the next book, I am now familiar with Freeman’s writing style, and how he intertwines real science, and science fiction, while creating an entertaining story. This author brings the story to life. The characters had a lot of depth, and were very realistic. Action-packed and it takes the reader on a superb adventure. This read is so engrossing that it brings you right in the middle of the story. Who could ask for more when it’s filled with aliens, and other interesting creatures? It’s literally out of this world!

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One True Friend

Ted Tayler

Crime Suspense

Katherine Alford was found dead in her car at a local beauty spot in June 2008.

The devoted mother had received an urgent phone call late in the evening, and Katherine asked a neighbour to babysit for ten minutes. She never returned.

Amy’s Review: Another Great Read

What a great story in One True Friend by Ted Tayler. This book is part of the Freeman Files series, and its volume 18 (and I’ve read every one of them). I really love reading about Gus and his team, and how they have these interesting cases to solve, some feeling unsolvable. The cold case they are working on now, is the disappearance of Katherine, and her subsequent death in 2008. There were errors in the original investigation, so now the team has more questions to answer, by having to start over. I like the crossover of personal and professional lives, which gives each of the team members depth and make them very realistic. As always, Tayler writes a magnificent story, and develops each of his characters, both the dead ones and the ones who are alive. I am a definite fan of this author! Whatever this author writes, I read. It’s definitely un-put-downable! It is always an honor to read this author’s books. This author is a great storyteller. The story brings the reader on a superb journey. A reader can get lost in the story. Action-packed and it takes the reader on a superb adventure. This read is so engrossing that it brings you right in the middle of the story.

When I grow up I want TO BE

A CHAIR

Ryan Rae HarbuckMemoir

Her story has (not) defined her.

From where she sat, her perspective of the world was both quite ordinary and rivetingly extraordinary—from a paralyzing car accident in her teens to traveling overseas on a journey of self-reflection to becoming a mom. Throughout everything she experienced, she fervently believed in following her given path.

Amy’s Review: Intriguing memoir

What an intriguing title in When I grow up I want TO BE A CHAIR by Ryan Rae Harbuck. I haven’t read work from this author before, and I enjoyed this story. This author was on our podcast, The After Show with McKensie Stewart and Amy Shannon as part of our marketing palooza, and the author had two minutes to tell the world about her book, and it intrigued me so much I just had to read it. Of course, it’s not about becoming a chair. The chair is a symbol, and how she grew from a car accident in her teenage years, and coming of age, and discovering herself, her true self. This book gives a lot of information about her life, and the path of her life, her own journey into transforming into what she wanted to be, her own being, guiding her own life and setting her own destiny. It is a very interesting and emotional read.

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

Dead Winner

Kevin G. Chapman Mystery/Suspense

Be careful what you wish for . . .

Rory McEntyre is a lonely trusts & estates attorney who plays the hero inside video games. Then, his old flame, Monica, walks into his office with a $60 million winning lottery ticket and a world of trouble.

Amy’s Review: A Grand suspenseful story

What a thrilling story in Dead Winner by Kevin Chapman. Chapman writes crime thrillers stories well, and now, here is a suspenseful plot with a very intriguing death takes place, and it’s not so easy to see the what or the why it happened. It seems there are different angles on this death. And one can wonder if this is the curse of the lottery winners that happen so often. I am a definite fan of this author! Whatever this author writes, I read. It is a very well-written plot, and I enjoyed it. It’s one of those embraceable stories. It’s definitely un-put-downable! It is always an honor to read this author’s books. This author is a great storyteller. The story brings the reader on a superb journey. This is a magnificent story that kept this reader turning the pages. Both thrilling and intriguing, all the way to the end. The characterizations are engrossing and dynamic. Definitely an unpredictable story, my favorite kind! Yes, you never know what’s going to happen next

Lost and Found in the 60s Paul Justison

Coming of Age

Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye returns as Mark Stenrud to bring the psychedelic era vividly life in Lost and Found in the 60s. Alienated from a toxic mother, and in constant conflict at his conservative high school because of his radical politics, Mark Stenrud escapes for Haight-Ashbury, where he takes a job in the post office and settles into a carefree existence in the psychedelic center of the universe.

Amy’s Review: If you read Catcher in the Rye ... What a wonderful story in Lost and Found in the 60s by Paul Justison. Justison picks up where Salinger left off in Catcher in the Rye. If you haven’t read that, it’s a classic, and it should be read. However, Justison, reintroduces the reader to Holden Caulfield, where he comes to life as Mark Stenrud. It’s an interestingly written story, and of course, takes place in the 60’s LSD-era. It’s not all psychedelic and rainbows, but it’s shows the danger of making bad decisions just to “feel good.” I like to admit that I wasn’t born until after this era, not because of the era, but because I’m not that old, but this was a really great story. You learn about the side of the 60’s that’s not just about politics, hippies, and free love, but about adventure, tragedy and loss. This author brings the story to life. The characters had a lot of depth, and were very realistic. The story brings the reader on a superb journey. The author’s technique of raw, magnetic characters and great plotlines is a gift. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next.

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Distant Early Warning

Jeff Widmer

Historical Fiction

The Coldest War Lies Within

It is the late 1950s, and the Andersen family is at war with itself. As back-to-back hurricanes ravage the rural town of Pennsboro, the family suffers an irredeemable loss. Georgia becomes mired in a haze of medication and TV. Marsh retreats into work and fantasies of the redhead next door. Wil, a precocious boy with a fondness for a girl with almond eyes, suspects his parents are possessed by the aliens from his favorite movie.

Amy’s Review: Powerful Read!

What a powerful story in Distant Early Warning by Jeff Widmer. This is the second book of Widmer’s that I’ve read, and so far, my favorite. Widmer is an exceptional writer and storyteller, and he brings the Andersen family to life. This book is based on true events, and it follows the destruction of the town of Pennsboro, where the Andersen’s life. The journey takes the reader back to the 1950s, where tragedy, and loss, affect this family at its core. It’s an amazing plot that has multiple subplots, that help the reader get to know the Andersen as a whole and individuals, and the incomprehensible events that have affected their lives. I am a definite fan of this author! The characters had a lot of depth and were very realistic. This book deserves a second read! (And maybe more). It’s definitely un-put-downable! The story brings the reader on a superb journey. This is a magnificent story that kept this reader turning the pages.

Bishop Candace Nola Horror

Erin Rogers and her daughter Casey have been missing in the Alaskan wilderness for five days. Troy Spencer is determined to find his sister and niece at any cost. Once there, a local tells Troy about a loner, Bishop, a man shrouded in secrets, who may be his only hope.

Amy’s Review: Entertainingly horrifying!

What a chilling story in Bishop by Candace Nola. This is the first book that I’ve read from this author and I enjoyed this terrifying tale. Evil lurks while Troy searches for his sister and niece, lost in the Alaskan wilderness. Here the reader is introduced to not just Troy and his search for the “bishop” in order to find his family members, but also Casey, how she has this inner strength, even though she is scared for her life and her mother’s. It’s a well written tale, and brings in the unknown, spooky woods, and lore of the evility. Both thrilling and intriguing, all the way to the end. The characterizations are engrossing and dynamic. Action-packed and it takes the reader on a superb adventure.

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

Destiny of Determination: Faith and Family Cathy Burnham Martin Historical Fiction

Having escaped the Armenian genocide, young survivor Hrant Gulumian seeks a new life in America, but social challenges threaten to annihilate hope.

Amy’s Review: Another journey through life and time

What another incredible story in Destiny of Determination: Faith and Family by Cathy Burnham Martin. Destiny of Determination: Faith and Family is a journey through time and ancestry, as the author shares her family’s memoirs, (and her own), and their love, and strength. The author dedicates this story to her mother, who dedicated her life to her friends, faith, friends and community. It’s a very powerful story, and I am so honored to be able to read and share in this family’s memories. This is a true story, but it’s written as fictional so it can keep some identities private. Take a step back, enjoy the story, as if the author is telling you her family’s tale. I am a definite fan of this author! Whatever this author writes, I read. This author brings the story to life. It’s one of those embraceable stories. It’s definitely un-put-downable! It is always an honor to read this author’s books. This author is a great storyteller. Masterfully written! This author not only tells the story but shows it with words as well. I will definitely add more of this author’s books to my bookshelf. A family’s legacy is their legacy, sometimes through stories and memories

The Broken Pines Chris Riley Suspense

After Kenny’s wife dies suddenly, he is forced to deal with the tough challenge of raising his children alone. Adding to his struggles of being “Mr. Mom,” Kenny’s nine-year-old son now suffers from Traumatic Mutism, as brought on by the loss of his mother. It is a problem Kenny has no idea how to fix. But just when he thinks he might have the answer, he and his son cross the unlikely path of a violent drug addict.

Amy’s Review: Great Read

What a suspenseful and emotional story in The Broken Pines by Chris Riley. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and it was very interesting and intriguing. Kenny is struggling, and his loss is affecting how he continues on, and then, insert Vance and then Rob, and things just get more interesting, and even dangerous. It’s a well written story that brings the reader into the middle, wondering what will happen next. Action, and addiction, and the inbetween that is life brings this story to another level. The characters had a lot of depth and were very realistic. This author is a great storyteller. The author brings the reader on a superb journey. Both thrilling and intriguing, all the way to the end. The author’s technique of raw, magnetic characters and great plotlines is a gift. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next. This author’s characters develop and interacts well with the other characters.

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Gateway To Mars

Time is running out for planet Earth. Marseria, the insidious Martian plague, has been infecting our planet for over twenty years and has resisted every human effort to eradicate it. With all life on Earth facing extinction, the only solution left is to directly access a specific piece of Martian technology. But, according to diaries left behind by Ogilvy the astronomer, the Martians have hidden it at the lake on the moon.

Amy’s Review: Enjoyed this story!

What an entertaining sci-fi story in Gateway to Mars by H.E. Wilburson. This is the third volume in what is currently a three-volume set, The Martian Diaries. I recommend reading each book in order. If you like HG Wells, you are certain to like these books. Gateway to Mars finds the earth still in peril and on the brink of extinction, due to a Martian virus. Between the past and the present, the fight for survival continues, with doctors trying to find the cure before it is too late. It’s a magnificently written tale that gives so many details and brings the characters to life. It reads so believable, which is also a trait of HG Wells. Basically, Wilburson picked up where Wells left off in War of the Worlds. A definite attention grabber, so much I couldn’t put it down. Both thrilling and intriguing, all the way to the end. The characterizations are engrossing and dynamic. I am a definite fan of this author! Whatever this author writes, I read. This author brings the words to life. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This Karl G. Trautman Coming of Age

Manny’s always got something to prove. Whether it’s to the world or himself, he never stops trying to validate his identity.

Follow our hero as he: Returns to New Hampshire and throws himself back into college Travels out west, in search of adventure and himself

Amy’s Review: A Grand Sequel to Deacon Blues

What a great story in Sweet Dreams Are Made of This by Karl G. Trautman. This is the second book in the Manfred Schmidt series, and I hope there will be more. I read Deacon Blues and was introduced to Manny. Manny is a great character, and a lot of flaws. Even self-doubt, and that innate feeling that he always has something to prove, usually to himself. In this book, Manny is on an adventure, hoping to find himself. He is finally coming of age, and needs to seek out something, anything that will help him grow as a person, as a man. I am a definite fan of this author! This author brings the story to life. Manny is a very realistic character, and his depth of character traits make him feel like he’s sitting next to you, talking to himself, trying to figure out life. It is an honor to read this author’s books. This story was very unpredictable. This is a totally inspirational title.

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

Holy Parrot Angel A Mystery

Buritaca, Colombia: Mary, sixteen, insisted the parrot, known as Gabriel, told her she was to be the mother of a saviour for the new millennium. She said she was a virgin. Pablo, suspected as being the child’s father, mysteriously disappeared. Leo Lumière, an undergraduate genetics student from Australia was torn between exposing a crime and protecting Maria from harm.

Amy’s Review: A Great Read

What a grand story in Holy Parrot by Angel A. I am honored to read another story from Angel A. This story is a unique and intriguing read. The story takes place in Buritaca, Colombia, and the reader meets Mary. Mary swears that this Parrot whose name is, Gabriel, said she would have a child, the new Christ. It’s an interesting story that brings in religious beliefs, and faith, and maybe a bit of deception. Not everyone believes Mary, especially when the self-proclaimed virgin is pregnant. The characters had a lot of depth and were very realistic. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. This journey was very unpredictable. This is a totally inspirational title. This author is a great storyteller. Definitely an unpredictable story, my favorite kind!

Historical Mystery

Caroline McAlister, college professor and life-long skeptic, is reeling from the loss of her father and her marriage. Her once promising career has come to a standstill. When her father bequeaths the family cabin to her, it comes with a ghost who haunted her childhood.

Amy’s Review: A Grand Read

What a grand story in Hemlock Hollow by Culley Holderfield. This is the first book that I’ve read from this author, and I hope that it won’t be my last. I really enjoyed this magical and intriguing “hollow” and what stories it brings. The reader meets Caroline, who is one of those people who need to see proof and doesn’t really believe in what she can’t see. Once her father dies, she gets the family cabin, in Hemlock hollow, bringing her into the middle of not only her own ghost story, but smack-dab in the middle of a murder. She inadvertently becomes an amateur sleuth to find out the truth, and maybe her perspective on life will change. I just became a fan of this author, and was able to embrace the writing style, and storytelling abilities. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. This story was very unpredictable. This author not only tells the story but shows it with words as well.

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Hemlock Hollow Culley Holderfield

Compromising Position

Newly appointed Campaign Manager, Catherine Lawrence has a plan, and it definitely doesn’t include falling in love with the handsome, free-spirited, blue-eyed, surfer from Australia who just moved in next door.

Amy’s Review: A sweet and clean romance between enemies!

What a grandly romantic story in Compromising Position by Diane Merrill Wiggington. Do you believe in love at first sight? I don’t think that Catherine or Jake believes in it. Total opposites, and what seems like a lifetime loathe, leads to something neither one predicted. It’s a fun and interesting romance with good intentions, that grows. I like the story because the characters are really interesting, and polar opposites, and even if you didn’t know they’d fall in love, even with their encounters, their unfriendly encounters, the reader can feel the chemistry even if the characters don’t admit it. I am a definite fan of this author! It’s a fun read, and very intriguing, since it makes you fall in love with Jake and Catherine, and wonder what will happen next between them, and how in the world do they make it to “love.” This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with marvelous books. It is always an honor to read this author’s books.

A failed black-ops mission in eastern Europe has retired NYPD detective and Navy SEAL Michael Keough recalled back to Washington. It’s there that a random encounter with a gunman leads Keough to uncover a conspiracy targeting the highest levels of the United States government.

Amy’s Review: Breath-taking action!

What a catch-your-breath kind of story in The Trident’s Justice by George P. Norris. This is the second book in this series, and definitely not the first book of Norris’ that I’ve read. I enjoyed each story, and I really like Michael Keough. He’s a retired NYPD detective and Navy SEAL, and he’s on a mission. He needs to uncover a government conspiracy as well as save the country as we kn ow it, but that is never an easy task. The story is full of action, and intrigue, as well as humanity, as Keough proves it to himself and others. Another case of saving the red, white, and blue, and it is magnificently written. Whatever this author writes, I want to read. This book deserves a second read! (And maybe more). The author brings the reader on a superb journey. This is a magnificent plot that kept this reader turning the pages. A definite attention grabber, so much I couldn’t put it down. Both thrilling and intriguing, all the way to the end.

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The Trident’s Justice George P. Norris Thriller
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