ISSUE 58 | MAY 2021
n o te fr o m t h e e d it o r
ay 2021 - this month since it’s spring, and it’s hard to accomplish a whole lot in between the weather, I’ve dedicated the “A Life in Motion” column to the Rehabilitation of Tsunami. This has been a two year journey and it’s a feel good story that is needed these days. Also, I have some Barbequed Grilled Stuffed Chicken Breasts in my monthly recipe that is great out on the grill. We are contining with the short story this month, “Ignition Point” by Jami Gray with part four and we will publish a chapter a month until it’s complete. This novella is a jumping off point for the Arcane Transporter series by Jami Gray. Urban fantasy lovers will love this one. A new way to promote the feature authors, starting for April, is every author with a Feature in Uncaged Book Reviews that month will be placed on the main front page slider. The website gets a fair amount of traffic on a monthly basis, and this is a new way to promote. This is a FREE promotion along with being a Feature Author. Uncaged Book Reviews readership is still up dramatically. New readers are finding the magazine and discovering new authors. Uncaged will continue to bring the best possible content as usual. We will be continuing with the “Buy 2, Get 1” promotion we’ve been running. 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. Uncaged is supported through advertisements, but the prices will not increase in 2021. You may now fill out a form on the Requested Reviews Page on the website for your book to be on list for a review. I cannot guarantee a review date for the book, but it will remain on the lists. The tables on the Review page will be revamped in the coming weeks. 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 May 2021 issue of Uncaged Book Reviews.
Issue 58 | May 2021
feature authors Paula Quinn 12 ancient worlds/time travel romance 22 30 46 54 62
Maggi Andersen victorian historical romance
Heather Slade romantic suspense
Ignition Point, part 4 urban fantasy - Jami Gray
authors and their pets
Uncaged’s Feature Authors introduce you to their devoted writing buddies, and the devotion goes both ways.
contemporary women’s fiction
A Life in Motion
W.L. Hawkin fantasy mystery
Sebastien de Castell
Monthly column chronicling life on a small farm.
Anya Mora suspense
The Rehabilitation of Tsunami
Barbequed Grilled Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Monthly recipe from Cyrene’s country kitchen
COVER IMAGE @cristinacristods via Twenty20
4 7 108 114 118
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Issue 58 | May 2021 |
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If you’d like your banner here, please email me at UncagedBooks@gmail.com Issue 58 | May 2021 |
upcomingconventions Starting in October, Uncaged will start listing conventions for 2021 since so many have been canceled or modified for 2020. Uncaged will watch for any cancelations or modifications for the 2021 season.
Lori Foster’s Reader & Author Get Together (RAGT) June 2–5, 2021; West Chester, OH http://readerauthorgettogether.com/
oas & Tiaras Afternoon Tea B TBA - Allen, TX
Writers on the River July 17, 2021; Peoria, IL https://www.facebook.com/groups/writersontheriver Simply Romance Bookish Weekend June 3–6, 2021; Gatlinburg, TN https://simplyromancecon.com/
RomantiConn Author Signing Event July 24, 2021; Trumbull, CT https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romanticonn-2021-tickets-71912007751 Wild Deadwood Reads June 19, 2021; Deadwood, SD https://wilddeadwoodreads.com/ A Weekend with the Authors (new dates in 2022) All About the Indies (new dates in 2022) VIRTUAL: Romance Slam Jam Convention 8| uncagedbooks.com |
historical romance | contemporary
PA U L A Q U I NN
aula Quinn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling multipublished author of Scottish historical, paranormal, and fantasy romance. She is moved by music, beautiful words, and the sight of a really nice pen. She lives in New York with her three beautiful children, six over-protective chihuahuas, and a spoiled cockatiel. She loves to read romance and science fiction and has been writing since she was eleven. She loves all things medieval, but it is her love for Scotland that pulls at her heartstrings.
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To date, four of her books have garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly. She has been nominated for Storyteller
of the year by RT Book Reviews and every one of her books from the Children of the Mist series have garnered Top Picks from RT Book Reviews. Check out her series, Hearts of the Highlands featuring the brave, romantic MacPhersons on Amazon now! Also, look for her new time-travel series Echoes In Time coming soon!
seen through the eyes twenty-first century woman. She’s called Kes, but Nicholas prefers to call her by her full name, which is Kestrel because it’s different and odd, like her. I knew their story would be fun to write, and it was. Their dialog was such a pleasure that I loved when they were together almost as much as they finally did. Their love happens in the time of England’s War of the Roses, between the two Plantagenet branches, the House of Lancaster and the House of York’s fight for the throne. Here’s the blurb about the book, which I happen to love.
pa0854.wixsite.com/paulaquinn Uncaged welcomes Paula Quinn Welcome to Uncaged! Your latest novel, Echo of Roses releases in May and is the first in a series. Can you tell readers more about this book and the series in general? I absolutely adored writing Echo of Roses. Some books just want to be written. You know what I mean? I found this picture some years ago of Travis Fimmel in armor. It was a movie promo. It looked ghostly and haunting and brought my muse to life. I fell in love with the photo. I even made it my home screen on my phone, and it’s still there after I finished his book. I called the character Nicholas. I knew he wasn’t a Highlander. His tale would be a time-travel romance, so he had to wait. And he did, for six years. When I was finally given the opportunity to write my time-travel series, Echoes In Time, I was thrilled. Nicholas would finally have his story. When I looked at that picture I saw a fifteenth century knight being
After receiving a dragon brooch from a distant great aunt, twenty-first century historian Kestrel Lancaster finds herself in fifteenth century England. Smack in the middle of a war. Like…in the middle of a blood and guts spewing, heads flying around her war. With six armored men riding toward her, bloody swords raised high in the air, horrified looks on their faces, there isn’t time to think. Only to scream. But like a dream, a dark knight rides into the fray and saves her from them all. When she realizes where and when she is, she doesn’t know whether to thank him for keeping her alive or curse him for it. Sir Nicholas de Marre has seen many things in his years as military commander for the House of York, but he has never seen a woman appear right before his eyes—and in the middle of the battlefield. Without thinking, he kills the Lancaster bastards closing in on her. Thankfully for her he is able to fight with her deafening screams behind him. He saves her from certain death, not knowing if she is mad, or he is, and carries her to safety. That’s his first mistake. The second is showing her mercy when he finds out she’s a Lancaster. But this odd woman who takes pictures with imaginary phones and teaches Cook to make cupcakes is easy to fall for, and before long, the heart of York’s champion is captured by a Lancaster. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
England’s throne is about to change. The House of Tudor will reign, and the War of the Roses will finally be won with the intimacy of a kiss, the tenderness in a touch, and love that will echo through time. The series is something I’ve always wanted to do. So far, there are three books in the series. Book 2 is Echoes of Abandon and book 3 is The Warrior’s Echo. They all feature different characters who will be transported to different centuries when they rub a brooch they inherit and speak the name Pendragon. Interwoven into the stories will be characters who will come together in the series finale, when the last hero will finally be found. You have written too many books to mention, do you have a favorite character from your books? I love all of them, but there are several who stand out. Callum MacGregor and his sister Maggie from Laird of the Mist, Ashton and his tiny friend, Shara from The Beloved…Oh gosh, nope! I love them all. They’re like my kids! What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m working on book 2 in the series, Echoes of Abandon. This time, we have a twenty-first century NYC detective sent back to eighteen century England, and the stately home of the Duke of Croydon and his beautiful daughter, who also happens to be a thief. Can I just say now that I just want to take this hero by the hair and kiss his throat! Ok, gather yourself. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? Sex scenes are the most difficult—most of the time. The sex scenes in my dragon books were fun to write! The easiest would have to be anything involving a lot of raw emotion. I love it. 14 | UncagedBooks.com
| PAULA QUINN | What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do? Mostly, seeing my sister. I also love going to the movies, and out to eat in a restaurant, so that’s what I’m looking forward to doing. What was the first book that made you laugh and/ or cry? The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. I had to stop reading just to cry my eyes out. He’s also my favorite author :) Many books have made me laugh. Too many to name. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love to go to our neighborhood park. It’s gorgeous for a city park. Lots of trees. I love trees. I enjoy feeding the sparrows at said park, and enjoying a Starbucks iced coffee with my daughter or my brother. I’m a Bible reader and an art journeyer. Sometimes I combine the two. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? Oh, Spring without a doubt! I love when the trees are green and the flowers are bursting with color. The weather is perfect too! How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? It depends on the day. Some days I write long than others. Usually, I start at 9:30am, take an hour for lunch, then back from 3 to 6, dinner and more writing until 9:30pm. It takes me four months to write a novel, sometimes five. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | I love physical books. There’s just nothing like holding a book and smelling the pages. I also love ebooks because they sell more :) And if the narrator is right, I could listen all day. Speaking of the right narrator and listening all day, you HAVE to hear Sean Patrick Hopkins narrate Heart of Ashes, Shadows, and Stone! I guarantee you will swoon. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I like o thank everyone who has picked up a copy of one of my books! And a hug if you reviewed it! It means a lot to us all.
Enjoy an excerpt from Echo of Roses Echo of Roses Paula Quinn Ancient Worlds/Time Travel Releases May 18 After receiving a dragon brooch from a distant great aunt, twenty-first century historian Kestrel Lancaster finds herself in fifteenth century England. Smack in the middle of a war. Like…in the middle of a blood and guts spewing, heads flying around her war. With six armored men riding toward her, bloody swords raised high in the air, horrified looks on their faces, there isn’t time to think. Only to scream. But like a dream, a dark knight rides into the fray and saves her from them all. When she realizes where and when she is, she doesn’t know whether to thank him for keeping her alive or curse him for it. Sir Nicholas de Marre has seen many things in his years as military commander for the House of York, but he has never seen a woman appear right before his eyes—and in the middle of the battlefield. Without thinking, he kills the Lancas16 | UncagedBooks.com
ter bastards closing in on her. Thankfully for her he is able to fight with her deafening screams behind him. He saves her from certain death, not knowing if she is mad, or he is, and carries her to safety. That’s his first mistake. The second is showing her mercy when he finds out she’s a Lancaster. But this odd woman who takes pictures with imaginary phones and teaches Cook to make cupcakes is easy to fall for, and before long, the heart of York’s champion is captured by a Lancaster. England’s throne is about to change. The House of Tudor will reign, and the War of the Roses will finally be won with the intimacy of a kiss, the tenderness in a touch, and love that will echo through time. Excerpt Nicholas de Marre, Earl of Scarborough barely dodged a swipe that would have killed him. The bloody blade sliced a thin cut along his cheekbone. His opponent should be quite proud of himself, for rarely did anyone make him bleed on the battlefield. If they had, it wasn’t because Nicholas was distracted. Nothing distracted him while he fought. It was what made him so deadly. But he’d never seen a woman appear as if right out of the air just a few feet away from him. For, she was not there one moment, and the next, she was. She was dressed…he didn’t know how to describe her clothes. There was no time to examine them further. Or to ponder why her huge anguished gaze made his chest feel odd. He had to kill his way to get to her. She was terrified and screaming, holding her hands to her ears. When the Reds moved toward her with intentions on killing her, he rode into the fray and fought and killed for her. She finally stopped screaming because she fainted. He had to dismount and pick her up. He wasn’t sure if she was solid form or a vapor that would dissipate when he touched her. She was solid. He tossed her over his shoulder and ran with her back
| PAULA QUINN | to his horse. He heaved her over the side of the saddle and fought two more men on foot. He disposed of them with full, air-slicing power, killing them both. He was tired. His arms were aching. He could hardly breathe. He had a few moments to tear out of his armor and leave it where it fell from his body, piece by piece. His heart thundered and his breath stalled when another man came upon him. Without his armor, he felt lighter, almost weightless. He swung with both hands and the victim’s head flew from his body. The battle was almost over. The Reds were retreating. With his path cleared, Nicholas leaped to his saddle and left the field with the woman in his arms. He rode home to his fortress in Scarborough. What else was he to do with her? The fighting was over for now. His side had won. He wasn’t surprised. The White forces were trained well—by him. He didn’t celebrate with them though. The woman had nothing to do with it. He wasn’t here to make friends. He never had been. He was here to keep the House of York firmly seated on the throne. But it wasn’t. Not since King Edward died and his brother, Richard ruled. For two years Nicholas fought for a man he hated and a house he loved. He looked down at the woman beginning to stir in his arms. Where had she come from? What were the strange clothes she was wearing? What kind of magic was at work here? Surely, she would be accused of being a witch. Was she? Ordinarily, Nicholas didn’t believe in such things, but he saw her appear from nothing with his own eyes. She was beautiful enough to be a witch. Her thick, glossy waves fell in loose waves around her face and hung a little past her shoulders. Her nose was small and her lips full and shapely. But hell her eyes hypnotized him. They were large deep-set, vivid blue beautiful, terrified eyes. She had secrets. She wasn’t from around here. He would have remembered her if he’d seen her before.
She was beginning to wake up. What had he done? What was she doing bouncing up and down in his arms while he rode home as if she were a prize? Why had he fought to save… her lush, black lashes were separating, revealing oceans as fathomless as the seas, and bluer. So blue. “What…?” she choked out. Her eyes, opening wider, mesmerized him. “Where am I?” she shrieked, breaking the spell. “What’s happening?” He put aside her beauty and hardened his gaze. “You are in England. Why don’t you know that?” He wanted to study her further, but she bolted up in his lap and almost fell. The terror in her eyes and in her trembling lips appeared authentic. She was a madwoman then. That’s why she wore such odd attire. But how did she come out of the air? “This isn’t…this can’t be happening. I don’t…I don’t live in England.” He guessed as much since she spoke with a tone and inflection he’d never heard before. It wasn’t French or Spanish, or Scottish or middle eastern. “Where do you live? “New York. “New York?” “Please, you have to help me.” “What’s new about it?” he demanded. “And what’s wrong with the York we have now?” His voice sliced sharper than any sword, but it had no effect on her. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | “What…what year is it?” she asked as if her thoughts were a thousand leagues away. His expression darkened. He didn’t like being made to look a fool. “It’s the year of our lord, fourteen hundred and eighty-five. Who are you?” he demanded. “Where did you come from?” “Stop the horse!” She had grown quite hysterical. Her hands were shaking when she brought them her mouth. Nicholas brought his mount to a halt. He didn’t need this bother in his life. He had battles to fight to keep the York name alive. When he wasn’t fighting, he had all the issues at home to deal with. Namely, his cousin Reg, Reg’s wife, Adele, Adele’s maid Margaret, and Reg and Adele’s four children William, Eddie, Kate, and Andrew. They were enough to make Nicholas swear off having children if he ever married. “Let me get off! she shouted again. “I have to get back!” “Back to where?” he put to her, for she looked as if she knew. “Home.” Her eyes filled with water and appeared like the color between heaven and the sea. “I have to find a way home.” “Where?” Why was he asking? He had duties to see to at his own home. Mayhap after that. But no! He wouldn’t keep her with him for so long. Not another person in his castle. He should have realized it on the battlefield, before he took her, but he was covered in blood and exhausted. He hadn’t been thinking straight. “Not where,” she muttered. “When.” He arched a brow. Should he help her dismount? “When?” 18 | UncagedBooks.com
“Twenty-nineteen.” He gave her a hard stare. “What does that mean?” “The year of our Lord,” she corrected, wide-eyed, “Two thousand and nineteen.” He wanted to laugh, but someone else’s affliction was no laughing matter. He groaned instead. He hadn’t meant to do so as loud as he had. But what the hell was he supposed to think? He frightened her. She pulled away and tried to slide from the saddle. He didn’t want her to fall so he hooked his arm under hers and lowered her down. He shouldn’t leave her. But he didn’t want to coddle a mad woman—and he certainly didn’t want to bring one home. “Farewell then,” he said and nodded to her. She said nothing but looked around. She appeared faint. He closed his eyes. “I don’t belong here,” she sobbed. He opened his eyes and set them on her. “But here is where you are.” “No! No. I don’t want to be here because you see, I know how crappy medieval times were. There’s… there’s no Advil. No antibiotics. My phone—” She looked at him with a whole new horror in her eyes. “My parents, my brother, my friends.” She began to walk. He kept his horse at a slow pace beside her. “Are you certain you were not hit over the head, Miss? Your family might not be gone. They might be close by.” “Look—” He did, expecting that she might be about to show him how she had done it. How she’d come from the air.
| PAULA QUINN | “I know this is difficult to believe. I can’t believe it and it’s happening to me. But I…I got some letter in the mail this morning from a law firm telling me to go to their office in midtown. I got there and it was all very sketchy, but, you know, I went in…”
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What in the name of all that was holy was she saying? It couldn’t be a different language. Some words were familiar to him. Some were not. Mail? Office? Sketchy? What did it mean? “…and it changed and looked brand new all of a sudden. I felt funny. Like, tingly, and then I was here… on the battlefield.” What had changed? What was she saying? She started up crying again. What was he to do with her? He couldn’t leave her. She was very pleasing to the eyes. Her odd, blue trousers fit her long legs and shapely derriere quite nicely. She wouldn’t last the night with all these Lancasters about. She’d be raped before morning. “Come on, then, Miss,” he grumbled. He held his hand down to her. She refused it. Very well then. He flicked his reigns and rode away. Pity she was out of her head. He was glad she didn’t want to go with him. He couldn’t help her. What the hell was Advil and antibiotics anyway?
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
MAGGI A ND E R S E N
USA TODAY bestselling author, Maggi Andersen has over 40 books and novellas published. The wonderful works of Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Mary Jo Putney, and Eloisa James fostered Maggi’s love of the Regency era. Maggi holds a BA in English and Master of Arts Degree in Creative Writing. She lives in Australia, in the beautiful Dandenong ranges, and supports the RSPCA. Animals often feature in her books.
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Uncaged welcomes Maggi Andersen Welcome to Uncaged! On May 13th, your newest book, Never Dance with a Marquess releases and is the second book in a series. Can you tell readers more about this book and the series? Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m delighted to tell readers a little about my new release and current series.
and believes even more strongly that he is not suited to marriage. Must Carrie take matters into her own hands to change his mind? What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m writing Announcing Miss Theodosia, the third and final book in the Once a Wallflower series.
The Never Series Never Doubt a Duke (A semi-finalist in the RONE Award) Never Dance with a Marquess. Never Trust an Earl (To be released later this year)
Presenting Miss Letitia Introducing Miss Joanna (Semi-finalist in the RONE Award) Announcing Miss Theodosia (To be released this year)
Never Dance with a Marquess
Announcing Miss Theodosia is such fun to write. Miss Theodosia (Thea) Tothill is determined to overcome the many obstacles a lady faces to become a journalist. She has no inclination to be the author of Gothic romances, but intends to expose thrilling misdeeds and mysterious happenings to write about them for publication in newspapers and journals. She intends to remain single as a husband would only ruin everything. Thea’s mother is firm in her resolve to see her daughter married. She considers her child unnatural not to want to marry and have children. Thea has a plan. At balls, she will discourage gentlemen seeking an introduction by leaving the ballroom at the first sign a gentleman might approach with a request for an introduction. Fortunately, her Grandmama, who is to be her chaperone, has many friends to distract her. At her first ball, Thea dons her father’s spare pair of eyeglasses to make herself less attractive. She keeps a close eye on the orchestra whose flurry of activity heralds the master of ceremonies’ announcement. Her plan works well for the first few dances, while bending but not breaking any rules of etiquette or refusing any gentlemen, which would only reach her mother’s ears. Until she meets the Hon. Curtis Grainger. The handsome gentleman she first glimpsed as she climbed down the chestnut tree outside her bedchamber window.
Maxwell Leeming has only a short time to live and asks his good friend, Nicholas Pennington, to become guardian for his two children, and safely guide his eldest daughter, Caroline, through her first London Season until she marries. Max fears his brother, Simon, who fled England after being accused of murder, might return to gain control of the children and their fortune, and endanger the life of Max’s young heir, Jeremy. Nicholas, a confirmed bachelor, and avid historian, prefers to spend his life quietly writing at his country estate. Two lively wards who test him at every turn and their beautiful sister, Carrie, who will set London on its ears when she makes her debut, disrupt his ordered life. Nicholas has no intention of risking his heart again. But as time passes, he finds fault with Carrie’s suitors, much to the amusement of his friend, Charles, Duke of Shewsbury. (From Never Doubt a Duke) Carrie, at first suspicious of her sibling’s guardian, soon warms to him. As the day approaches when she must leave for London, she wants only to remain at Elm Park with her family. But Nicholas, firm in his resolve, refuses to delay. She must go to his sister, Gwen, who will chaperone Carrie, and enjoy all that London Society offers. When Max’s brother Simon returns from the Continent, placing the children in danger, Nicholas takes action. But not without some loss of life. He blames himself
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | Curtis plans to remain single for years. His work for the Crown does not allow for a wife and family. He suffers ennui at the debutante balls his grandfather, the Earl of Brentford urges him to attend. Curtis recognizes Miss Totill immediately having first seen her in deshabille, climbing down a tree at her parent’s country home. He observes her for some time where she sits with the wallflowers. Despite the eyeglasses, which are too large for her face, she is a remarkably pretty girl, and has avoided dancing every dance by leaving her seat and disappearing. Does she dislike dancing? Do her slippers pinch her toes? He sees no sign of it as she is quite fleet of foot. She did not wear glasses when she so skillfully climbed down that tree. Curiosity gets the better of him. So when Thea evades another hapless gentleman and hurries from the ballroom, Curtis pushes away from the marble Doric column he leans against to follow her. And thus, another Once a Wallflower adventure begins, which I hope readers will enjoy. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? Love scenes take the longest to write because I want them to show their true feelings. I need to get the mechanics right, but I also want to show their emotions, not just the physical sensations. The characters are vulnerable, no matter how experienced, and they bring their previous history to the scene. If it’s the final love scene, it’s a culmination of all that we have learned about them during the story. The most enjoyable is writing dialogue, I love Regency banter in the books I read, and love to write it. The battering of words back and forth between hero and heroine often 24 | UncagedBooks.com
makes me laugh. I like crafting a fight scene too, to allow my hero to show his strength, smarts, and expertise. They are fun to write. What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do? Dining out with friends and family, browsing through shops without having to keep my distance from people while I grab the bare essentials and hurry off home. And the movies. I really miss going to the movies. What was the first book that made you laugh and/or cry? The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. Little Women when Beth dies made me cry. Some of Georgette Heyer’s characters make me giggle, even though I’ve read the books many times. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Spending time with family. Walking and wandering the leafy garden at our new house. Watching old black and white movies, and Netflix. Listening to music. A lovely lie down with a book after lunch if I have the time. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? I love autumn. The leaves turning, the air crisp. “Season of mellow fruitfulness,” as Keats wrote. It heralds the onset of winter, but I don’t mind the cold. I wouldn’t want one season all year around, though. I like to see the change of seasons, it’s part of the rhythm of life. This is my favorite place to dream up new stories or work on the plot for the one I’m writing.
| MAGGI ANDERSEN | How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? The virus has changed our lives so much. It slowed me down last year. I enter my study after breakfast, and apart from meals and doing housework and exercising, I usually stay at the computer until 5 or 6pm. It’s not all writing. There’s always research to be done; getting historical facts and word uses right. I work with a critique group, which are a great bunch of authors who hail from different parts of the world. Attending to business and promoting my books is time consuming. It usually takes three to five months to write a full novel. Less for a novella if it flows well. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I have a kindle, but I also read paperbacks–I have an extensive library of favorites I re-read. Audiobooks are great to listen to when driving long distances or walking. At present, I’m reading Mysterious Lover by Mary Lancaster. The Crime and Passion series. It’s very good. I have one of Heyer’s novels, Faro’s Daughter, waiting on my kindle. Haven’t read it for years. When I revisit these books, I view them differently from when I first read them as a teenager. The world has changed too, of course. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I love to hear from readers and learn more about them. I hope you’ll let me know if you enjoy one of my novels. If you’d like to write a review, they are always welcome. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, BookBub, Pinterest and Instagram. Or sign up for my newsletter to keep up with my new releases and the specials and freebies on offer. Have any questions? You can always contact me at email@example.com.
Enjoy an excerpt from Never Dance with a Marquess Never Dance with a Marquess Maggi Andersen Victorian Historical Romance Releases May 13 A confirmed bachelor inherits a family. After her father dies, Caroline Leeming’s younger brother and sister are made the wards of Nicholas, Marquess of Pennington. About to embark on her first Season, Carrie must first spend a month at the marquess’s home, Elm Park. She is wary of him, will he allow her sister to live with her after she marries? The marquess is a confirmed bachelor who wouldn’t want two children to raise. Determined to dislike him, the handsome marquess is not what Carrie expects. When he proves to be a kind and capable guardian for Arabella and Jeremy, rescuing them from scrapes, Carrie fears she is falling in love with him. As the days pass into weeks, she finds it unbearable to leave Elm Park for London and a life away from her family. Suffering the tragic loss of his first love, and the recent deaths of his brother and father, Nicholas is determined never to risk his heart again. A historian, his life is one of routine while he manages his estate and spends his free hours in his library. But his dying friend, Maxwell, Baron Leeming has asked Nicholas to become guardian to his children. He fears his younger brother, who is wanted for murder, will return to England and attempt to take control of the children’s fortune. Max’s young heir could be in danger. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | Nicholas finds himself with not only two unruly youngsters who test his nerves, but a lovely debutante he must see through her first London Season. His sister, Lady Guinevere Winston, has agreed to be Carrie’s chaperone. But Nicholas finds it increasingly difficult to see her safely married. The entrancing young woman turns his safe, sober life upside down, and no suitor seems good enough for her. Keen suitors pursue Carrie, but she wants no man but Nicholas. She is sure he loves her, if only he’ll admit it. Will he risk his heart? Excerpt Chapter One Early Spring, 1818 Elm Park, Surrey Nicholas Marquess of Pennington glanced up from his books as the coach, with two of the Pennington footmen accompanying the coachman, trundled past his library window on its way to the stables. His whippet sat up in his basket, looking expectant. “No, Chester, you shan’t be accompanying me.” The dog settled down again with a sigh. Nicholas finished the letters he’d been signing and left them for his secretary, Paul Williams. Steeling himself, he pushed back his chair and rose from the desk. Passing a mirror on the way to the door, Nicholas smoothed his dark hair and straightened his cravat. Would this put an end to the peace he valued? He had been on his own for so long, he’d grown accustomed to it and was entirely unsuited to family life. To keep his sanity, he must make it clear from the beginning, he was not to be disturbed while working in his library. He suspected it would be his last bastion of peace. His butler met him in the corridor. “The ladies await you in the morning room, milord. I took the liberty of ordering the tea tray.” “Good fellow.” Nicholas entered the room, expecting to find two young ladies. There was only one, whose freckled face beamed up at him, plus 26 | UncagedBooks.com
a dour-faced older female in black from head to foot— the governess. “Uncle Nicholas!” The younger lady turned from the fireplace where she had been studying an oil painting and pranced coltishly over the carpet to him. The governess cleared her throat. “Oh.” As if her governess had struck a whip over her head, the auburn-haired sprite of some fourteen years fell into a low curtsey. “I forgot. But it is so good to see you again.” Nicholas smiled. “And you, Arabella. But I am not your uncle,” he said, surprised she remembered him at all. Max had died almost a year ago. Arabella and her sister, Caroline, had stayed with the vicar and his wife for the months following his death. Her mourning period over, Caroline was then to have gone straight to London, but the vicar wrote to him on her behalf. Because Arabella was so upset at losing her father, and then her sister leaving for London, and as it was still early in the Season, might Caroline spend a few weeks with them at Elm Park. Nicholas had disliked the idea. A young woman of twenty living under his roof for even a short time would undoubtedly cause gossip in the village. But he agreed. Perhaps it would help ease the children into their new life. “But you are our guardian, are you not?” Arabella asked. “And we are to live here with you. At least, I will.” Her green eyes clouded. “Carrie won’t, as she makes her Come-out next month, and Jeremy will only visit from Eton for the holidays.” “You shall have much to occupy you here, Arabella,” Nicholas said hastily, fearing tears. He hated to see women of any age crying. She tilted her head and gazed at him. “What might we call you?” The governess coughed twice. “Nicholas will do.” It earned him a warm smile. “And you must call me Bella.” He turned to the afflicted governess. “I’m sorry. How
| MAGGI ANDERSEN | do you do, Miss…?” His secretary had supplied the lady’s name, but he’d forgotten it. She sank into a low curtsey with a creaking of her limbs. “Miss Scotsdale, my lord.” Bella came to seize the lady’s elbow. “Dear Scotty’s knees are not what they were.” She assisted an uncomplaining Scotty to the damask sofa. The lady lowered herself regally upon it. Bella sat beside her. “Scotty is a little weary, we’ve come quite a long way.” “Yorkshire is a distance from Gloucestershire,” he agreed. “But tell me, Bella, where is your sister?” “Carrie is still in Harrogate because she decided Mrs. Barns, that’s the vicar’s wife, has need of her. Their two children have the measles.” What Caroline might do to help was beyond his knowledge. “As I sent my coach to bring you both safely here, that is most unfortunate.” It was a damned nuisance. Was Caroline going to be a handful? “The vicar explained that to Carrie, but Emily, that’s his youngest, was still feverish, so Carrie decided to stay for a few days more.” “I hope that you, or your sister, or Miss Scotsdale, were not so afflicted?” “Carrie has had the measles, but I haven’t,” Bella said. Her chin trembled. “But Carrie assured me you agreed to her staying here with Jeremy and me for a few weeks.” She swallowed. “Before she leaves us.” Her chest heaved with a heavy sigh. He tamped down a sigh of his own as he eyed the dramatic young woman before him. “I have arranged it, Bella. But tell me, how did your sister plan to travel here?” He had visions of her coming by stage or mail coach. The vicar might have warned him, he thought crossly. The governess cleared her throat again. “If you’ll allow me to speak, my lord, the Leeming family coachman is to bring Miss Leeming and her maid.” She flushed. “I did not approve of her remaining behind, but my opinion was not sought.” “Carrie will be perfectly safe with old Bickle,” Bella said. “As the new tenant has yet to move into Leeming Hall, he agreed to spare him.” Nicholas’s footman, Jerry, brought in the tea tray.
Bella peeled off her gloves and untied the strings of her bonnet. “Oh, crumpets, I adore them.” Miss Scotsdale, Scotty, snapped sandy eyebrows together in a frown when Bella’s bonnet sailed onto a chair. A sense of unease seeped into Nicholas’s bones. Could he carry out his promise to Max? Raise these two children safely to adulthood? It seemed a formidable task. He had readily agreed, keen to ease his friend’s mind. “Don’t tell the children about Simon, unless you must,” Max had implored him as Nicholas had signed the legal papers making him their guardian, while their fortune was held in trust by the family solicitors and their great aunt, Lady Penelope Grantly. Max wrote to him for the last time, a year ago, with the grim news that his health was now at a very low ebb. “As Carrie has turned twenty, she requires only your guidance. I trust you will do as we discussed and arrange her London debut. I’m sure a suitable match can be found for her quickly.” Max’s handwriting was uneven, with ink blots upon the page. “Losing your father and brother must have been devastating, Nicholas. Such sadness in your young life. I pray you find love and companionship, and wish I could be there to see it.” It was a crushing blow. Max was only forty-two. Nicholas had written back to express his concern and added the assurance that his friend did not need to worry about his children. A month later, Nicholas attended Max’s funeral. It would not be easy to raise two children alone. With no progeny and little experience of schoolroom misses, not to mention debutantes, he felt decidedly ill-prepared. He hoped to be better able to guide Max’s son. Jeremy had inherited the barony and was now in his thirteenth year. “Your brother arrives from Eton next week for the school holidays,” he said to Bella, who had fallen into a dispirited silence. “Oh, good. I see so little of Jeremy now he’s at school,” Bella said, sounding wistful. “We had Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | wonderful adventures.” “Did you?” Nicholas asked uneasily. “Yes. Jeremy and I used to climb the big old oak tree in the Leeming Hall garden. We’d have battles with acorns. I fell out once and broke my arm.” “I trust you’ll resist climbing any trees here, Bella.” She frowned at him. “Heavens. I am too old to climb trees.” Nicholas looked at the silent governess. “Miss Scotsdale, would you please pour?” The august lady set about it with a rattle of cups and an iron determination. Nicholas took a cup and saucer from her with a nod of thanks. He added milk and stirred in sugar. “Tell me of your sister’s plans, please, Bella. When does she leave Yorkshire?” Bella’s mouth glistened with butter. She dabbed her face daintily with a napkin. “You never quite know with Carrie.” Nicholas groaned inwardly. “Dare I ask why?” “She is a great help in a crisis. Mrs. Barns, the vicar’s wife, says so. But Carrie is exceedingly fond of poetry.” “I see,” he said carefully, although he didn’t at all. Struggling with a poet’s vague intent was a complete waste of time in his estimation. He much preferred a book on history. “I’m sure there are many gentlemen who will share her interest.” “I imagine so.” Having finished her crumpet, Bella selected a jam tartlet and took a dainty bite. “But Carrie never seems to see them.” Nicholas took a long sip of reviving tea. With a swallow, he ventured where he feared he should not dare. “See whom exactly?” “Gentlemen.” Bella cocked her head at him as if he would understand, but he remained at a complete loss. “They try to get Carrie’s attention wherever she goes and are disappointed when she ignores them. It’s not that she’s rude or standoffish. She’s always polite, but Carrie says no man 28 | UncagedBooks.com
could ever measure up to Lord Byron.” Nicholas cast a longing eye at the crystal decanter of golden liquid on the drinks tray. “Miss Leeming will arrive on Friday,” Miss Scotsdale said. “And if I may venture an opinion, my lord, a firm hand is needed with the children.” He raised his eyebrows. “Indeed?” “Oh, Scotty, you always say that, but you spoil us all,” Bella said, seemingly unruffled by the criticism as she reached for another tartlet. “I can’t wait to see the estate,” she said to Nicholas. “Will you show us around after Carrie arrives?” “I look forward to it.” Nicholas put down his cup and stood. “Welcome to Elm Park. If you’ll excuse me, ladies, correspondence awaits my attention. My butler, Abercrombie, will send a maid to show you to your rooms. I shall see you at dinner.” “Can we play cards after dinner? Do you play snap?” “As you shall be with me for some time, I am confident you will not only teach me the game but trounce me roundly.” Bella giggled. Relieved to see no further sign of tears, Nicholas left the room. His secretary awaited him in the library. “Leave the post for a moment, Paul, I have a letter to write.” He seated himself at his desk and drew a fresh sheet of bond from the drawer, then sharpened his nib. He would appeal to his sister, Gwen, to visit him for a short stay. Her husband, Winston, wouldn’t like it, as he’d already agreed to his wife spending a Season in London as Caroline’s chaperone while he remained at their estate with Bartholomew, their small son. Nicholas stroked his taut chin with finger and thumb. It couldn’t be helped. Winston would have to surrender his wife for a few days more. This was an emergency.
l I ND A SHEEHAN
inda Sheehan is a career writer living in Napa, California where she’s the coowner of Poe Wines that makes highly acclaimed Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Rosé, sparkling wines as well as organic grapefruit vermouth awarded 95 points from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. “Decanted” is her second novel. Besides indulging her passion for great wines, she pursues her addictions of horseback riding and golf.
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Uncaged Welcomes Linda Sheehan Welcome to Uncaged! Your new novel, Decanted, will release on May 13th. Can you tell readers more this book? Thank you for the chance to promote my book in your super-cool publication! Decanted tells the tale of Samantha Goodyear, who quits her-high pressure job in Manhattan to work grape harvest in France at an ancient and celebrated domain. There, between picking grapes in the cellar and crushing them in the vineyard, she meets the heir to the dynasty, who teaches her about the art of making wine and the art of making love. Wrapped through Samantha’s adventures (that eventually take her to Napa to make a wine of her own), is the story of her great-aunt Vivian, an artist’s model in 1930’s Paris, who inspired her niece’s love of wine. You are a co-owner of Poe Wines – a winery in Napa. Drawing from your own personal experiences, you included this culture into the book. What do you want readers to take away from this book? I find that people from all walks of life: actors; film producers: sports stars: scientists; politicians; are into wine, and love learning about this industry. The culture here is unique and exciting, and I wanted to give readers a fun and inside look at what makes it tick, and see what the process of making wine is really all about.
two ladies stage an epic battle to win the celebrated Women’s Club Championship tournament. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? Sex scenes are the hardest! How far do you go, how steamy can you get before you offend some readers? The funniest scenes are always the easiest for me because I love to crack myself up while I’m writing. What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do. Hug and kiss good friends without seeing that terrified look in their eyes that I could pass on the dreaded virus. What was the first book that made you laugh and/ or cry? The ending of Gone with the Wind made me cry for days when I was fourteen. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love riding and jumping my horse Valentino in the arena that has an amazing view of the Napa Valley.
What are you working on next that you can tell us about? My next novel, Fore Play, is a comedy set at a swanky Los Angeles golf club known for its decadent parties, ruthless social climbing, and star-studded membership, where Issue 58 | May 2021 |
THE CULTURE HERE IS UNIQUE AND EXCITING AND i WANTED TO GIVE READERS A FUN AND INSIDE LOOK AT WHAT MAKES IT TICK.
| FEATURE AUTHOR | If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? Summertime! Because it always brings back memories of those fun days sailing on Long Island sound all summer long. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I can write for five or six hours straight before the computer makes my eyeballs feel like rocks. My novels have taken about three months to bang out, and another three months to edit. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? Audiobooks make long drives fly by, and I’ve even sat in the garage when I’ve arrived home to finish them. But curling up in bed with a great book is my true passion. I’m currently reading The Billionaire’s Vinegar which is a total page turner. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’d like to share the words of Napoleon Bonaparte who said, “Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” Readers can follow me on Instagram at lindasheehanauthor, or my website at lindasheehanauthor.com
Enjoy an excerpt from Decanted Decanted Linda Sheehan Contemporary Women’s Fiction Releases May 13 From author Linda Sheehan, who’s part of a Napa wine dynasty, comes a story of grapes, wine, first crushes, and juicy redemption. Dreading the desk job that awaits her after high school, eighteen-year-old Vivian Goodyear takes off for pre-World War ll Paris, where she supports herself as an artist’s model. Flash forward to modern day Manhattan where, inspired by Vivian’s courage, her grand-niece Samantha leaves her pressure cooker career to work the grape harvest in France. There, between picking grapes in the vineyard and crushing them in the cellar, she gets lessons in the art of making wine and in the art of making love. But when her world is turned upside down, a link from Aunt Vivian’s past could right it in a tale of being on top, sinking to the bottom, and coming up for glorious air. Excerpt prologue Montmartre, Paris June 1936 Marciel erased the asymmetrical portion of the figure model’s right breast and corrected it with his pencil. Though he’d been studying nudes since his first days at L’Académie, it still surprised him how few women had two bosoms that matched each other in size and shape. But the model’s anatomy wasn’t the reason he’d sent her away the previous day before her session had ended. It was rather that she lacked that special
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| LINDA SHEEHAN | something—that elusive élément magique that would inspire him to take his sketch to canvas. Between touch-ups of the drawing, he checked his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past hour. Phillipe had assured him that his new model would be there at two p.m., and it was already half-past three. He decided to give her ten more minutes, before he’d pack up his pastels and easel and head to the Place du Tertre to take advantage of the waves of tourists that flocked to Montmartre in summer. His gift of capturing the outer beauty, as well as what lay beneath the surface of his subjects made him one of the more successful portrait artists on the hill. Those commissions put food on his table, but did nothing to further his chances of getting recognized by the only people that mattered to unknown artists like himself—the dealers at the galleries on Paris’ Rue Laffitte. Another look at his watch reminded him that while time was running out for the model, it was running out for him as well. He’d turned thirty last month and had yet to get one of his paintings up on a gallery wall. Picasso was a celebrated artist by age nineteen. Chagall made a name for himself in his early twenties. Marciel had shown exceptional promise while a student at L’Académie. He received high praise by his professors for his painting style that, by adding in a tilt of the head or a smoldering gaze, could turn an ordinary looking woman into a mythological heroine, a sinister creature, or an object of unbridled desire. Then . . . maybe it was the ever-growing stench of human waste on the city streets, or his anxiety caused by the Nazi cloud that loomed over Europe, or perhaps the talent and creativity of his youth had passed its shelf life. Whatever the reason, the passions within him that had ignited the canvases of his earlier works seemed to have vanished over the past two years. And unless they reappeared soon, his only recourse would be to return to his family’s domaine in the south of France to join his father and sister in the cave making Grenache and Syrah. Gaining attention as an artist in Paris was becoming harder all the time as Montmartre continued to be a magnet for aspiring painters who flocked to the district with dreams of becoming the next Cézanne, Matisse, van Gogh, or Degas. It also made it harder to get suitable models who would take
their clothes off for under ten francs. The ones in demand worked for artists with bigger names and fatter wallets, leaving the prostitutes and gypsies for those struggling like himself. The last girl Phillipe had sent him was as skinny as a chicken carcass pecked over by buzzards. The one before that was over forty and fat as a Yorkshire pig. But the agent had assured him that this girl, though young, would set his brush on fire. Now, he’d give his friend hell for her being a no show. He put the cork back in the bottle of the Burgundy he’d opened to use as a prop for the painting, and hoped the wine would keep its character for a few more days. While he returned the bottle to the shelf, there was a gentle rapping on his door. *** New York City, three years ago A dome of unyielding heat and humidity blanketed the Manhattan skyline, unseasonable even for midAugust. But as I sat with my friends at the dark mahogany bar of Spence’s Fines Wines & Spirits, the cool air that rose from the cellar below Columbus Avenue made that summer evening feel like a crisp fall morning. “Here’s a wine well-suited to toast a grand lady on what would have been her ninety-sixth birthday,” Spence Walker said as he climbed up the cellar steps, emerging with a bottle in his hand. “A Tannat from Gascony.” He flipped the blade from his corkscrew and ran it around the lower lip of the bottle’s neck to remove the top of the tin capsule. After twisting in the screw and popping the cork, he poured the deep purple liquid from the grapes of Southwest France into four glasses. I rotated mine on the counter and raised it high in the air. “To Great-aunt Vivian! Who encouraged me to trust my instincts, to take chances, and to taste.” “To Samantha’s Aunt Vivian,” Spence, Stephanie, and Cameron said as their glasses met mine then touched each other’s. “Some great-aunts teach their nieces to knit and bake cookies. Mine taught me how to tell the difIssue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | ference between a Grenache and a Syrah,” I said before taking a sip. “Whoa!” I licked my lips to negate the intense drying sensation that had taken over my mouth. “She might have loved this wine, but it’s sure not my style.” “Let it wake up a bit,” Spence suggested. “You’ll be surprised by how it develops. It’s bold, but Vivian once told me it has the power to take you to unknown places.” “That sounds like my aunt,” I agreed. “Yup. That lady had one adventurous palate,” Spence said. “Wasn’t she considered a bit of a rebel back in her day?” “Yup. A rebel with a mind of her own.” I gave the wine another swirl. “After she finished high school in the 1930s, her parents assumed she’d attend Mrs. O’Grady’s secretarial school for women. Wrong! Instead, she took her savings and booked passage on the SS France bound for Paris. Thought she could make a living by selling her clay sculptures. When that bubble burst, she enrolled in art school with the money she earned as a life model.” “A life model?” asked Cameron. “You mean a nude model? That little old lady was a nude model?” “She wasn’t always a little old lady. You’ve seen her on that canvas hanging over my mantle. The artist who painted it thought her face and form expressed a complex range of characteristics that seeped onto the canvas: sexuality, innocence, bitterness, sweetness, softness, acidity—” “Just like great wine,” said the willowy and beautiful Stephanie. “Yeah, just like great wine. She told some radical stories about her life in Paris right before the war,” I said. “The nightclubs, the fashions, the artists and writers she hung with, the fear that their world was about to come crashing down. But it was strange that she never talked about her life when the Nazis took over the city.” “It had to be a nightmare,” said Stephanie. “I’m sure. I just know that after the occupation, she moved back here and became a stylist for Vogue. She also wrote a nationally syndicated 36 | UncagedBooks.com
column about food and wine.” “That Vivian was quite the Renaissance woman,” Spence said as he took another sip of the Tannat and let it linger on his tongue. “And she sure knew her French wines.” While he spoke, he kept his eyes on the shop’s front window as if waiting for Vivian to walk in with her determined but abbreviated gait. “With just one whiff, she could name what was in the glass and where it was from, be it a Petit Verdot from Bordeaux, a Syrah from Provence, or a Chenin Blanc from St. Émilion.” Though my great-aunt had died six months before, it was still hard to believe she was gone. When I graduated from college and took a job at Weatherhouse Accounting, Vivian invited me to move into her coop on the Upper West Side. I was soon making enough money to share a decent space with my friends in BedStuy, but I just wasn’t comfortable with a lady that age living alone. The reality that she wouldn’t be around forever hit when she handed me a list of what would go to whom upon her death. The apartment she got for a steal in the 1970s would go to my parents, the funky art deco jewelry would go to my mom, and the furniture, the painting, and a case of some wine she’d been storing would go to me. Not long after, I got a call on my cell from the NYPD. Vivian’s heart had stopped beating while she was selecting her favorite salad mix of Russian kale and curly endive at the Seventy-ninth Street market. “I sure hope I’m as spry as Miss Vivian was when I’m ninety-five,” Spence said while he held up his glass of the almost-black wine to look through it. “Fat chance of that though. My eating habits are awful. Coffee for breakfast, no lunch, tasting wine all day long, fast food for dinner. Did you know I used to surf? All summer long. But the only exercise I’ve done for the past twenty years has been shuffling cartons and stacking bottles on these shelves.” “I can remember being in shape. Great shape, too.” I felt the waistband of my jeans cutting into my belly and silently cursed that new hire Austin for leaving those Krispy Kremes on the coffee counter each morning. “When I had time for a five-mile morning run, evening spin classes, TRX—” “You still have a primo body for a girl who rarely
| LINDA SHEEHAN | sees the light of day,” the always supportive Cameron said. “And that face still looks pretty, even under those office lights. If I had even the slightest interest in the feminine sex, I’d never let you leave the house.” While speaking, he looked my way with eyes puffy from lack of sleep. Those bags and his ever-increasing slouch from being affixed to a computer made the 4 Decanted guy who was once the captain of his Varsity diving team look far older than his twenty-eight years. “You’d never let me leave the house? That’s creepy, Cam. Creepy.” “Where’s your sense of humor, Sam? You need to chill. Or what you really need is a good—” “I know what I need. But who has time for sex after working from seven in the morning ’til eleven at night all week long? Of course, my mom neglected to mention that I’d be working these hours when she convinced me to major in accounting. I guess I’m just destined to look like an overweight cadaver after thirty-five.” “Seems like it’s only a matter of time before we all look like cadavers after enough of these eighty-hour weeks crunching numbers,” added Stephanie, who was new enough at the firm to still have her sunny glow. She took another sip of the wine. “Spence was right about this getting yummier though.” While we were talking, she’d been entering her tasting notes on the Tannat into one of her favorite wine-sharing apps. Then she added a picture of the vintage’s label and tagged us as her drinking partners. I checked the time on my cell. “Playtime’s over for me. Another late night awaits. Got that bear of a presentation tomorrow for the Bannex Box Company. I’ve already created thirty-two schedules and sixteen spreadsheets. Getting close though.” “Wait. Isn’t Bannex Favia’s account?” asked Cameron. “She’s all over those folks.” “Favia’s on vacation, so Van Ness gave the assignment to me. He likes what he’s seen with my plan to expand the firm’s reach. So instead of schlepping to Duluth and Cleveland to audit paper pulp and carton factories, I’ll be traveling to wineries in Sonoma and châteaux in France. It’d be a great way for me to parlay myself, and maybe all of us, into the wine industry.
After all, how many times have we heard him say he wants his hires to think outside the box?” “Only maybe . . . three times?” asked Stephanie. “A day, that is.” “More like three times an hour,” Cameron said with a yawn. “See you in the morning, guys,” I said. “You go, girl! Knock the socks off those carton kings!” Cameron called out as he held up a glass of a crisp white from the Phelz region in Germany. “Will do. Bye, Steph. Here, you take the Tannat, Spence. I shouldn’t be drinking tonight anyway,” I said as I slid my glass down the bar in his direction. “Hey, Sam, I’ve got the distributor for Domaine LeMont in Beaujolais stopping in around seven tomorrow evening,” Spence said. “I haven’t carried their wines for years, but since Wine Snob named them the best in the region, I’ve been getting calls for it. So come on by. I’d like your young taste buds to try them.” “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” I said as I unlocked the door and let myself out of the shop.
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
A Life in Motion Life in rural Wisconsin is always
A Life in Motion.
A snippet of life on the farm with Cyrene.
| A LIFE IN MOTION COLUMN |
A Life in Motion – May 2021 The Rehabilitation of Tsunami Each month I’ll share part of my life on this small farm. Some fun, some serious, but always in motion. I’ll share my tips for gardening, show you my gardens and harvests, fixing and rebuilding areas in the barn, the new baby chicks that will arrive in the spring, adventures with my goats and horses and since I’m always cooking and trying new things, I’ll post a recipe that I thought worked out well each month with pictures. Hope you enjoy the column and get a glimpse of what life is like for us here in the country. We are on the board for a horse rescue/adoption non-profit 501C organization called Racer Placers, Inc. For the most part, the organization takes in Standardbreds that have either retired from, injured or are not competitive in harness racing and have been sent to our organization to rehab, retrain and find these horses new forever homes in a second career. Many have gone on to be search and rescue horses, therapy horses, competitive distance driving, endurance riding, show horses, 4H kid horses and family trail horses. When there is space and the funds, we have taken in other breeds to help out, some from people who find themselves unable to care for them any longer and want the protection of an adoption organization, or some are in an inhumane/neglect situation and need to be removed. Such was the story and the case of Tsunami. Tsunami is a well-bred, double registered ½ Arabian, ½ Andalusian older gelding that was with two other Arabian geldings and were in a starvation situation. The county animal control where these horses were, knew they needed to remove the horses from the situation, but didn’t have anywhere to take them. One of our board members talked to the owner of the horses and finally got her to sign them over to Racer Placers, and Racer Placers went in with a trailer and picked up the horses.
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After proper vetting, the main issue was the horses were severely malnourished and on a scale of 1-9 for body score, with 1 being the lowest score – these horses barely made the score of 2. Ideally, you want the horses to be between 4-5, 5 being optimal. But there is a long way in between those numbers. For some reason, I looked into Tsunami’s eyes, and something hit me. For days I deliberated over him. and normally where horses are concerned, I go with my gut. But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just lamenting over his situation. There was just something about him, and finally I talked to my daughter and told her I thought he would be the next best step for her, and with Ana temporarily out of commission (that’s another story) – we decided to bring him home. He had been rescued from starvation, but we had a long way to go. The vet informed us that if he had stayed in the place he was at, he more than likely would not have lived through the winter. He’s never acted like he missed those two geldings he was with for all that time as he now has two mares. The other two geldings have moved on to great loving homes also although I’m not personally in touch with their adoption parents, I have been told they are doing well. It was a concern that he would show some depres-
sion from the separation of his two long-time mates, but he never truly did. I think he knew he found a place
where he was going to get the care he deserved and he was happy and curious. Starting off, we made sure he got plenty of fresh water and hay. We slowly began grain rations, adding as we went along. We also added pellets, soaked alfalfa cubes and a quarter cup of corn oil. We fed small portions and slowly brought up the amount so not to get him sick.
| CYRENE OLSON |
We created a brand new pasture from our small hay field, and sent the horses out to pasture. As we slowly introduced him to the lush, fresh pasture, Tsunami truly blossomed. It was a missing piece to help us get to our goal. His energy levels increased dramatically that marks his breeding. He would trot and gallop around the field with his tail flagged and
Next was exercise. He needed consistent therapy to start bringing back his muscle which was horribly atrophied. Walking over poles, up and down hills, easy and slow lunging. Bending his neck around and stretching it inside, down and out – he loves treats, so this helped make his exercises easier and fun for him. We did ride him very easy once he got the weight on. But we didn’t put too much pressure on him, we wanted him to have exercise, but not to overdo anything. This continued for Tsunami’s first full year (2019) with us. We kept up the exercise and we got to a point where we could level out his feed, and actually bring it to a maintenance level. In the spring of 2020, we added something that I believe brought Tsunami a great deal of good. We gave him something that he hadn’t had in at least 9 years.
his neck arched, snorting and enjoying being alive. So after a full summer of lush pasture (2020), we felt like it was time to move to the next step of Tsunami’s rehab. Unfortunately, in January 2021, our barn roof collapsed from snow. There was a bit of a delay, as we moved to get shelters up, and storage areas for hay and equipment, fix fences and think about what to do with to re-purpose the barn since insurance was not going to help. During this time, our next level with Tsunami was put on a back burner while we navigated our new reality. The barn will be an ongoing project for the summer, but shelters are up, fences are strengthened and Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| A LIFE IN MOTION COLUMN | we started working on his next phase-strength and stamina. We wanted to build back his muscle, and this is going to take us most of the summer, as he’s an older gelding and he hadn’t really had any work to speak of in his last home for 9+ years. He has a bit of arthritis somewhere in the back end, we are thinking probably hips or stifles, but we put him on a supplement and put on support boots on his back legs, and the more often we work him, the more the flexibility is returning for him. A couple other bad habits have gone away with patience and time. We believe in natural horsemanship and training, and nothing is achieved through brute force. One was when mounting, as soon as a person was seated, Tsunami would jerk backwards and almost fall on his back end. Someone must have jerked on his reins when mounting and scared him. We slowly removed that problem with consistent positive praise and practice in each step of mounting. Today - that is a thing of the past. Secondly, he nipped. I’m not sure why, but a few good taps to his nose to show that we didn’t allow that, and I haven’t seen him do it since. Again, nothing more extreme was needed for him. What have we found? A horse that is willing to try anything you ask of him, even if he isn’t sure it’s a good idea. He is the perfect horse for my daughter’s
next level, and he’s teaching her a lot and even with her uncertainty in the beginning, she has bonded wonderfully with him. It’s that “gut feeling” thing I talked about before. I enjoy riding him occassionally myself, as he’s had some nice training in the past and is easy to ride. With the new exercise regimen, many soft spots along his top line are filling in. Sometimes, I get emotional looking at the progress that Tsunami has made over the last two years. I expect him to keep improving and surprising us along the way. I am so proud of him and his recovery. We couldn’t have done it without his own desire to live and his freespirit. During this time, he’s gone from a languid horse with no energy, to an energetic, middle-of-the-pack, sometimes a jerk horse (most horses have their “jerk” moments) that shows us he is becoming his true self. Who knew that looking at those pictures of him in the beginning that he was going to be this well-built of a horse? And he’s only going to improve. So here is to the next year with him and our other two as we come into another riding season. If your life has been blessed with horses, then you know the feeling. Even if you are an armchair fan, you can’t help but admire this resilient and magnificent creature. Until next month… My recipe this month is a very easy recipe: Barbequed Grilled Stuffed Chicken Breasts. I love to use the grills, specially in the warm weather and an easy, tasty recipe means less to clean up inside and it’s nice to keep the oven off. This is a recipe that I got from a magazine, and then modified it to work better for us. ©Copyright 2021 Cyrene Olson www.uncagedbooks.com Cyrene@UncagedBooks.com
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3) In a separate bowl, combine bread crumbs and bacon, ½ of the grease drippings mixture, cheese, chives and garlic. Add 2-3 TB of water to the mix.
to your own taste.
Barbequed Grilled Stuffed Chicken Breasts For this recipe, I used our charcoal kettle grill. Ingredients 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts 4 slices of bacon – cooked to crisp, reserve bacon grease. 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese – your choice. I used a Cheddar and Monterey Jack mix 1 cup of Italian style bread crumbs 2 TB Butter - melted 2 TB fresh chives 2 TB fresh parsley 2 cloves fresh garlic – minced Salt & Pepper to taste Barbeque sauce of choice 1) Cut your chicken breasts into 2 large pieces – I’m including a pic for an example, this is not me. Put a piece of plastic wrap on top of one of the slices and pound it down with a meat tenderizer to break up the muscle to make it easier to roll. Repeat with all pieces of chicken.
4) Salt and pepper the chicken breasts on both sides
5) Brush the inside of the chicken breast with the dripping mix. 6) Spoon the stuffing mix on top of the chicken breast, leaving room on the ends. 7) Roll up chicken breast from the wider side to the thin side. Use kitchen string, small metal skewers or soaked toothpicks to close it up. 8) Grill for at least 18 – 20 mins until the thermometer reads 180° turning every few minutes. 9) Add barbeque sauce of choice the last 10 mins of cooking. I would say that this will feed 4 easily. The breasts are very tasty, but they aren’t that big once they are cooked, so the healthier appetites may want two. As always, let me know if you try it!
2) Cook the bacon until crispy, reserve the bacon grease and mix 2 TB of drippings with the melted butter. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
suspense thriller | mystery
eva r o bi n s o n
va Robinson is a pen name for the fantasy author C.N. Crawford. Eva lives in Burlington, Vermont with her husband (also a writer), and two young boys. Together, they spend a lot of time at the lake, and weekdays in an office that overlooks the water. Eva is originally from Lexington, Massachusetts. 46 | UncagedBooks.com
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are desperate for something more in their lives that seems out of reach. You also write paranormal under the name C.N. Crawford which is actually a writing team. As Eva Robinson, are you writing solo?
Welcome to Eva Robinson Welcome to Uncaged! Your newest book, a mystery called Influenced will release on May 14th. Can you tell readers more about this book? Influenced is a psychological thriller that explores some of the dark side of social media: looking at glamorous lifestyles that seem out of reach, or getting obsessed with toxic commentary. All the characters in this book
Eva Robinson is just me. My husband, who also writes under the pen name C.N. Crawford, is starting his own thriller series. My thrillers like Influenced are likely to continue including psychologist characters, which is the field I used to work on. And he is writing about scientists, which is his former field. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? I love writing dialogue and that usually flows easily for me. I find endings hard because sometimes I feel reluctant to let the characters go.
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| FEATURE AUTHOR | What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do? Everything. Restaurants, seeing friends, museums. But especially—I became obsessed with a German techno marching band during the pandemic, and I’m desperate to see them play live. I got so into them that I ended up mentioning them a few times during Influenced. I’m desperate to travel again! I lived in the UK for ten years and would love to go back. What was the first book that made you laugh and/ or cry? It’s hard for me to remember that far back but the first book that I read multiple times was Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? We spend a lot of time by the lake in Burlington Vermont in the warmer weather, and we also kind of wander between food trucks and ice cream places. I love taking photos by the lake, and going to the movies in the winter. That’s something else I’m looking forward to when the pandemic is over. I am a popcorn addict. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? I love summer. I can’t explain to why I live in one of the coldest parts of the country, but summer here IS amazing. Would be great if it lasted all year. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? It usually takes me 3-4 months including editing and planning the book. Influenced took me four months. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical 48 | UncagedBooks.com
| EVA ROBINSON | books? Are you reading anything now? I am about to start Verity by Colleen Hoover. I have heard amazing things about it. Usually I red on my phone, but I have been so obsessed with the news this year that it has become hard to read on my phone. So I’ve got a paperback and I’m excited to start! What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I love my urban fantasy readers—and I don’t have many yet in the thriller world, but I’m excited that some have followed me over to a new genre. I’m so appreciative of my readers. I can be found on facebook and goodreads, but also my C.N. Crawford Instagram profile is quite active!
Enjoy an excerpt from Influenced Influenced Eva Robinson Psychological Suspense Releases May 14 A psychologist shouldn’t be losing her mind, but Hannah is anyway. She needs a new job and lots of sleep—fast. Desperate for a change of fortunes, she contrives a meeting with her former classmate. As a student at Harvard, Rowan became famous on Instagram by chronicling a glamorous life. The two women soon form an obsessive friendship, and Hannah is drawn into a privileged new world. But when a garden party takes a shocking turn, Hannah and Rowan find themselves suspected of murder. The Cambridge police start closing in, uncovering their dark secrets one by one. Now, the friends are unraveling—and by the time the truth Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | comes out, one of them will be dead. Excerpt A sharp blow splintered the back of her head. Pain shot through her skull. Stunned with the blinding pain, she stared out across the garden. The knock from behind had been a pure shock to her system, robbing her of rational thought. She wondered vaguely if she was ruining the party somehow. She opened her mouth to scream, but she wasn’t sure if she was making any sound. Gripping the railing, she tried to make sense of the world around her. A labyrinthine garden sprawled out beneath the old wooden deck. It stretched all the way to Fresh Pond, where dark water glittered in the distance. It should be peaceful here, but pain was ripping her head open, and someone was screaming. Only now did she realize she’d dropped her phone onto the gravel path two stories below. It lay there, shattered. Was she screaming, or was it someone else? She nearly lost her balance over the railing, and she gripped it tighter. The feel of the rough wood under her hands sharpened her senses, and her thoughts crystallized. Her friend wanted to kill her.
Her blood roared in her ears. “Wait—” she cried, but the word came out garbled. A sharp, angry shove pushed her forward, and she flew over the edge of the railing. Wind whipped over her, and panic exploded in her mind with the rush of the fall. A single thought rang out. I don’t want to die. When she hit the path, pain rocketed through her bones, through her head. She couldn’t breathe. Her lungs were collapsing. I don’t want to die. She couldn’t feel her legs anymore, couldn’t move them. She felt only the shattering pain in her head, in her ribs, her arms. When she sucked in a breath, it was like a knife piercing her lungs. On the gravel path, she tried to pull herself forward, fingers digging in between the little rocks. An agonized grunt escaped her, an inhuman noise as she inched forward. Her legs weren’t working, but her fingers, her arms could pull… Fractured with pain, her head lolled forward. She couldn’t do it. Her body wasn’t working properly, and the pain was too much. Quiet. Be very quiet, and maybe they won’t find you.
And if she didn’t get away right now, if she didn’t flee from this old mansion, she would die.
Someone still screamed above, shouting her name. Warm blood dripped from her ears, her nose… What if they thought she was dead? Maybe they’d leave her here.
Right here, right now, her blood on the stones. But before she could turn to run, thin fingers gripped her shoulders, so hard that they were digging into her flesh like talons. Run, run, run.
How could she be quiet when her breath was so loud? Quiet like a mouse. That was what her teacher had said long ago, when they’d hide behind bookshelves or under desks. The lockdown drills had scared her so
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| EVA ROBINSON | much back then. The principal would walk through the halls with the bullhorn. He’d pretend to be the killer and they’d hide from the bad man, listening only to the sound of breathing, arms wrapped around knees, eyes closed. Dark rooms and death stalking the halls. Quiet like a mouse. That was how you survived. If you couldn’t run, you hid in the dark and hoped he never found you.
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But death wasn’t coming in the form of a strange man stalking the halls. It was coming from a friend. Someone on a Victorian deck surrounded by fairy lights and colored lanterns. She lifted her head a little, her gaze catching on the little gold bracelet. The fleur-de-lis charm glinted in the moonlight, engraved with S&O, ’09. Her thoughts drifted back to the past. The day she’d gotten it in high school, she had already known she’d never take it off. All the girls in their graduating year at her chichi private school had them. It marked her out as a member of an elite tribe, a graduate of Saltonstall and Oakes. She’d been destined for great things. Anyone could see that back then. Her chest ached for that day. The sound of screaming pulled her back to the present, to the danger. Should she be quiet, or try to move again? Something was wrong with both her arms. The sound of a river rushed in her ears. For a dazed moment, she thought of her mom. No, it wasn’t her mom she wanted… Maybe she should try to pull herself forward again. But shadows were filling her mind.
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PAULA QUINN & Her Cupcakes
MAGGI ANDERSEN & Charlie
Oh, yay. I love sharing my cupcakes! I have six!
LINDA SHEEHAN & Jet We call this one Charlie, who is very smart and very tame. He tries very hard to communicate with me. “How are you today, Charlie?” “Ellerk.” I speak cockatoo, so that’s okay.
W.L. HAWKIN & Skaha
Here’s a picture of our dog Jet, a lurcher, who has the speed of a bullet train and the heart of an angel.
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I picked up Skaha from PADS when she was eight weeks old and raised her to be an assistance dog knowing I would have to give her up in two years. It was a bittersweet love knowing separation was coming. Then, when she was two-and-a-half and in Advanced Training as a hearing dog, the trainer called and said they were releasing her. They couldn’t get her to stop scavenging food. Did I want to adopt her?
A U T H O RS A N D T H E I R P E TS 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.
I burst into tears. When I stopped crying, I went and picked her up and we’ve been inseparable ever since. Skaha is my best friend, my therapy, my coach. When I’m too long at the computer she nudges my hands off the keyboard with her nose. When I’m agitated, she lies on me. She keeps me healthy and happy and, with Skaha, I’m never alone. Yes, she will likely star in a book some day!
SEBASTIAN DE CASTELL & Peloush
People often ask me where I got the inspiration for Reichis, the thieving, murderous squirrel cat who torments Kellen in the Spellslinger series. The answer is our cat Peloush, a once feral kitten who grew up to be a self-important, demanding, and entirely untrustworthy feline who’s convinced my wife and I are his butlers. In addition to his other foibles, Peloush is absolutely convinced he’s the toughest cat in the neighbourhood. The problem is that he’s actually quite scrawny and not tough at all, so he goes out an tries to dominate other cats’ yards only to rapidly discover they can toss him around like a toy mouse. He then comes home and complains that his humiliation is entirely my fault.
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w.l. h aw k i n
. L. Hawkin writes “edgy urban fantasy with a twist of murder” from her loft near Vancouver, B.C. Her Hollystone Mysteries series (character-driven, romantic, LGBT mysteries and thrillers) follows a coven a witches who solve murders using rituals, magic, and a little help from the gods. Her novels include: To Charm a Killer, To Sleep with Stones, To Render a Raven, and To Kill a King.54 | UncagedBooks.com
Wendy is a seeker and mystic with a background in Indigenous Studies and English literature. She loves to soak up the landscape so, although she’s an introvert, in each book her characters go on a journey where she’s travelled herself. She found her voice publishing poetry and Native Rights articles in Canadian news magazines and now is an Indie author/ publisher at Blue Haven Press. http://bluehavenpress. com
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bluehavenpress.com Uncaged welcomes W.L. Hawkin Welcome to Uncaged! You’ve written four urban fantasy books in the Hollystone Mystery Series with the latest being To Kill a King. Can you tell readers more about the series? Can these books be read as standalones? Sure. The series revolves around a coven of witches based in Vancouver who solve murders. I didn’t know I was writing a series when I started. I was just writing to escape my workaday world teaching high school and urban fantasy is a fun, freeing genre. In To Charm a Killer, a serial killer is abducting witches and the coven spins a charm to catch him before he can do anymore harm. But spells create ripples. A teenage girl gets caught up in the charm and everyone starts misbehaving. Estrada, who is a freespirited polyamorous magician and also high priest of the coven, emerges as the lead protagonist and travels to Ireland to save the girl. In To Sleep with Stones, Dylan McBride, another coven
member is arrested for murder while working on an archaeological dig in Scotland. He calls on Estrada to find the real killer and get him out of prison. But, while Estrada’s in Scotland helping Dylan, his lover, Michael Stryker, gets targeted by a vampire and makes a mistake that propels us into book three, To Render a Raven. When the vampire steals Estrada’s baby on the eve of her first birthday, the coven travel up the BC coast by yacht to rescue her. To Kill a King spins off To Sleep with Stones. Sorcha O’Hallorhan, who headed the archaeological dig in Scotland is given a gift by a god—she can go anywhere in time to any place she desires. Well, when she was fourteen, Sorcha saw Old Croghan Man’s remains in the National Museum in Ireland. His torso had been dug from a bog in the Irish Midlands. Sorcha has the gift of psychometry and when she touches the metal on his leather armband she sees his face, falls for him, and decides to become an archaeologist. So, the god takes her to Iron Age Ireland to meet the man she once envisioned. Knowing he will be ritually murdered and thrown in the bog to cure for two thousand years, Sorcha determines to save the bog man from his fate. When Estrada discovers that Sorcha is stranded in Iron Age Ireland with Celtic Druids, he and Dylan demand that the god send them there so they can rescue her. The books can be read as standalones as each story is self-contained, but what I realized after writing book four is that the series chronicles Estrada’s personal journey. So, if you want a richer, deeper experience, it’s good to begin at the beginning. You also review books on your website, do you post the reviews on Amazon? What is your preferred reading genre? I love to read mystery, thriller, and action-adventure, which coincidentally is what I write! I do post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I also write reviews for the Ottawa Review of Books online, a site that features Canadian authors. I try to support other authors as much as I can because I know what Issue 58 | May 2021 | 55
| FEATURE AUTHOR | it takes to write a book and how hard it is to break into the market. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? The most difficult scenes for me are action scenes. I spend way more time in my head than in my body and I’m actually quite klutzy. I tend to bang off walls and often wake up with mysterious bruises! Thankfully, my daughter is a CrossFitter and massage therapist who’s done taekwondo. So, I always run physical sequences by her to see if what I’m writing is even remotely possible. For example, if someone hits you in the back of the knees with an iron sword which way will you fall? She knows anatomy and can explain to me how the body will work in any given situation. My easiest scenes are dramatic and emotional; sometimes love scenes, sometimes conflicts. I’m quite visual. I see and hear scenes as if they’re playing on a screen. I’d love to see these books produced for film because that’s the way they come to me and that’s the way I write them. What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do? Hugging people I care about. Taking a ferry over to the islands to visit friends. I usually tour around B.C. in the summer, and I miss being able to do that. What was the first book that made you laugh and/ or cry? Old Yeller. I still can’t read a book or watch a film where a dog gets hurt. That’s a dealbreaker for me. A few years ago, my daughter and I went to the movies to see I Am Legend. When the dog appeared she leaned over and said, “It’s okay. Nothing happens to the dog.” A while later, she leaned over again and said, “Oh, sorry Mom.” All of my books have animals, especially dogs and horses, and I promise you that no animal gets hurt 56 | UncagedBooks.com
except for those pesky raven-vampires! What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Every day I go walking in nature with my dog, especially in the woods and by water When I’m inside, I love to watch a movie or series I can get lost in. I’m also a musician and love to have a glass of wine, play the piano, and sing. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I’m not the kind of author that writes x hours or words per day. When I’m into a project, I write until my eyes bleed and my back aches so much I have to stop. Other
| W.L. HAWKIN | an Ebook. I haven’t got into audiobooks yet. I just finished reading and reviewing two Pacific coast thrillers by Owen Laukkanen — Deception Cove and Lone Jack Trail. I loved them both. Owen’s passion is to save dogs and one of the main characters in this series is his rescue pit bull, Lucy. I actually got to meet Lucy recently and I see why she’s become a celebrity dog. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? If you’re looking for something a little different that you can sink inside, give my series a try. I write cross-genre so be prepared for mysteries, thrillers, adventure, travel, some steamy romance, and always something supernatural—witches, faeries, ghosts, or vampires. You’ll find spells and rituals, mythic and literary references, and a whole lot of drama.
days, I’m musing, marketing, reading, researching. Writing is a full time vocation but it’s not all about words to the page. On the average, it takes me six to twelve months to write a first draft. I don’t outline. I just write the whole book as I see it. Literally. When I close my eyes I visualize scenes; sometimes I dream them or wake up with them. Then I sit down with my laptop and write what I see and hear. Revision comes later. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I prefer physical books. I usually read in bed at night and find the screen hard on my eyes. I do sometimes read on my kindle if someone sends me a book to review but honestly I find it more difficult to engage in Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR |
Enjoy an excerpt from To Kill a King To Kill a King W.L. Hawkin Fantasy Mystery “Her fingers flew to the fey butterfly tattooed on the back of her neck. Her friend, Yasaman, had designed it for her when she finished grad school. It was her symbol of freedom. Sorcha never wanted to be a professor bound to lecture halls—all she ever craved were the wild places and their stories. Now she was deep inside Ruairí’s story. Sometimes the butterfly brought her joy; other times, inspiration . . . but always a sense of hope. And she needed all three in this moment for her heart was breaking to see her man so broken.” Sorcha just wanted to warn Ruairí of his fate until she saw him and fell in love. How could she leave him to be ritually murdered and cast in a bog to cure for two thousand years? Though he’s lost and grieving the loss of his lover, when Estrada realizes his fiery friend, Sorcha O’Hallorhan, is trapped in Iron Age Ireland, he demands that Cernunnos take him and Dylan back through time to rescue her. The Horned God obliges but states the rules: you cannot change history or develop bonds with anyone. How can Sorcha, the spirited archaeologist, survive this prehistoric warrior culture? Assuming she’s fey, Ruairí’s unscrupulous rival wants her power; but worse still, Ruairí’s lover, the wicked Crow Queen, wants her dead. Can Estrada use his Wiccan powers and magician’s skills to defeat these Iron Age Druids and 58 | UncagedBooks.com
bring his friends home without changing history? Excerpt The Cattle Raid at Croghan The Previous Beltane When the shiver struck Sorcha’s belly, she opened her eyes. Something was off. It seemed she’d awoken inside a Van Gogh painting. Spiraling masses of stars studded an indigo sky. Dawn was breaking, creating a liminal gold glimmer on the horizon. Leaves fluttered, caught by the night breeze, and the sweet scent of apple blossoms perfumed the air. Also, the scent of fresh cow manure. With a gasp she sat up, wrinkled her nose and glanced around to see just how close they were to the patty. Then a branch snapped in the undergrowth and the curious face of a cow appeared. Its nose and ears were as red as her own ginger hair; its white face flecked and freckled. An Irish Moiled cow. She’d seen them once at the agricultural show in Galway. A native breed, the name derived from the Gaelic maol or dome that stood atop its head. The beast flicked an ear and Sorcha giggled. If she were ever to be reincarnated as a cow, surely this would be the creature. She turned to Cernunnos who slept beside her. “What’ve you done, man?” Her whisper stirred the horned god, who sat up, gathered his long black hair in his fist and let it fall over his right shoulder. In his human form, the god resembled Estrada, the man from Canada she fancied but had never had, and she suspected this was no accident. Cernunnos ran his fingers across her cheek and over her lips, then turned her face to his. His black eyes flashed deviously. “I’m not a man. I’m a god, and I’ve given you a gift.” “A gift?” She caught his hair in her hands and be-
| W.L. HAWKIN | gan spinning it into a fishtail. Her mind was spinning much the same. The horned god had come to her camp at Kilmartin Glen in Scotland on the eve of Beltane and offered to take her anywhere in the world, to any culture or time she desired. But an Irish Moiled Cow? Had they just blown across the sea? In all her years in Ireland she’d never seen it look this verdant, this fecund, this pristine. Turning his face to hers, she stared into his eyes. “Tell me what you’ve done.” “You’re home, Sow-r-ka.” He said her name the ancient way, drawing out the vowels and trilling the r with a breathy flick of his tongue. “Home?” The red-haired archaeologist had traveled the earth uncovering and analyzing ancient civilizations, but no place felt like home except . . . “So, it’s Ireland, is it?” “Ériú,” he said, pronouncing each syllable. “Err-oo,” she echoed, and suddenly realized that, although she’d grown up speaking Irish at her school in Galway, they were speaking a dialect she’d never heard before. A corner of the god’s lip turned up in a grin as he watched her face. “You wanted to meet your ancestors.” “Aye?” “And see the tortured king you envisioned as a lass.” “The tortured king?” She’d studied cultures throughout time in Ireland, but could it be him? Old Croghan Man? The king who was ritually killed atop Croghan Hill? Whose body was mutilated and sunk in the bog over two thousand years ago? The god’s face twisted thoughtfully. “But a glamor is needed. We must appear in the fashion of the day.” “A glamor?” Suddenly, a cow crashed through the bushes, its hooves coming within inches of Sorcha’s face. She
jumped up and out of its path, but it was followed by another near miss. She’d never seen cows move so fast. Veering right, she raced into the trees and dashed behind a tall ash. Moiled cattle were everywhere. Careening through the grass, into the trees, and on over the rise of the far hill. Red and white blurs against the emerald green of the land and the goldstreaked morning sky. Then near-naked riders appeared among them, waving their arms and whooping astride stout horses, their hair flying free or sticking straight up from their scalps in terrifying spikes. “Cernunnos!” Where the hell is he? He didn’t leave me here in the middle of a cattle stampede? She decided to go back to the place she’d last seen him and finding an opening, made a mad dash through the trees and into the glade. That’s when she saw them—two horsemen bearing down on a huge white bull. The top of its skull was crowned in an enormous white maol. Red nose pointed down; it was barreling straight at her. A voice in her head screamed run! but her feet were stuck to the earth. Then an arm wrapped around her belly and she was hoisted and flung onto the front of a horse veering sideways at a gallop. Her face hit the animal’s sweaty hide and bounced and all she could smell was horse. The rider’s knees pressed against her ribcage and hips as he steered the animal out of the path of the charging bull. When the horseman stopped at last in a thick grove of trees, he shoved her down to the earth. As her feet touched the ground, Sorcha fell backward and smacked her tailbone. She cursed. “You shouldn’t be here.” His amber eyes flickered as he huffed like an angry bear. “Why are you here?” Embarrassed, she stood up, rubbing her sore back. Then, hands on her hips, she glared back at the Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | horseman. “That’s none of your business!” He nudged his horse with his heels so it pranced about nervously, sides heaving, its jet black hair curly with sweat, and she had to get out of its way. But her retort had unnerved the man and she smirked. Perhaps a woman had never addressed him in such a tone. “What’re you called? What’s your clan?” he asked, voice raised but composure back intact. This was a man who led. A man who asked questions and got answers. “My name is Sow-r-ka,” she said, pronouncing it as Cernunnos had, in the old Gaelic way. “And I . . .” Stopping, she backed up a step and blinked. She knew his face. Had seen it before in the National Museum in Dublin. In a vision. When she’d touched the copper mounts on the twisted leather armlet he wore above his elbow. The armlet he wore now. She’d seen it countless times in the museum where it still encircled his arm, though his torso was as flattened as a leather jacket. That armlet signified his nobility and had survived over two thousand years in a peat bog. To see the tortured king you envisioned as a lass, Cernunnos had said. And here he was. Sorcha’s gaze dropped to his hands—the enormous hands of a man, six-and-a-half feet tall. Hands that had been photographed and published in endless articles. Old Croghan Man. His torso had been pulled from the bog in 2003 when she was fourteen years old. Standing before her was the reason she’d become an archaeologist. A rush riveted through her body and she wavered, unable to breathe. He was staring at her, waiting for her to finish her sentence, and she couldn’t. The sun had risen behind him and backlit this vision who seemed too beautiful to be real. But was. She could smell his body, had felt his hands as he swept her off her feet, had heard him speak in the old Gaelic 60 | UncagedBooks.com
tongue. He was clean-shaven, nose long and straight, cheekbones high and shadowed. His glittering amber eyes swept up at the corners, both amused and annoyed. The sides of his head were shaved close around his ears, but his copper hair was gelled up in eight-inch spikes that made him appear over seven feet tall. Mud and sweat were smeared across his chest. He was a huge man, broad, muscular, and naked save for a leather loincloth. Sorcha released her breath and swallowed. When at last she found her voice, she asked timidly, “What’s your name?” It was a question that had haunted her for fifteen years. “Ruairí Mac Nia.” Rory, she repeated, trilling the consonants in her mind. Rory, son of Nia. Sliding down from his horse, Ruairí approached her and feeling suddenly threatened, Sorcha backed up. “You’re safe with me.” His eyes swept over her body and she followed his gaze. Seeing her watching him, his face flushed and he turned away. “Fine. If you’d rather stand with your cloak in that.” Sorcha glanced down then and took in the glamor Cernunnos had created. He obviously meant for her to be regarded as a woman of rank. This was a stratified society and the Brehon Laws were clear about who could wear what. Only kings and nobles were allowed to wear multiple colors, purples and blues, and slaves wore only brown. Her long, woven sapphire cloak was fringed in gold and fastened by a circular gold brooch at the breast. The bottom dragged in the grasses and, aye, dangled in a cow patty. Fortunately, it wasn’t as fresh as the first one she’d seen. Beneath the cloak she wore a long, narrow saffron jacket as bright as the sun. Underneath, a soft white linen frock fit tightly around her breasts and was drawn in at her waist by a woven leather belt and purse. Soft leather sandals covered her feet. She couldn’t wait to see how they’d been constructed. Her hand strayed to touch the gold brooch and she choked back a gasp. It was La Tène, a culture that
| W.L. HAWKIN | had crossed the sea from the mainland with the Celts. Images of gold hordes and wood-framed skin boats flashed through her mind. Decorated in the triple spiral, it was more beautiful than anything they had in the museum. Nervously, Sorcha touched her hair, then realized it was drawn up and plaited elaborately, and held in place with pins. Thin gold bangles jangled at her wrists and sent small sparks up her arms. She was nobility, as was he. Ruairí Mac Nia would not harm her. But someone intended to harm him. That was a fact. She’d seen the evidence. “I’ll come.” As she walked toward him, he leaned down and made a stirrup with his entwined fingers. She placed her foot in his hands and he lifted her gently onto the bare back of the black horse. He needed no help to mount but rather raised his leg and leapt up behind her in one fluid motion. She felt his broad chest against her back and his arms encircling her as they rode through a forest more enchanting than any she’d ever seen before. It was primordial. Virgin. Even the air seemed drunk with untainted oxygen. She felt drunk herself. Intoxicated by the moment.
leave her there. This adventure with the tortured king, as he called him, was obviously part of the gift. Sorcha sighed. “My older brother married Cern’s sister so . . . It’s complicated.” He laughed. “When is family ever not complicated?” The sound of his laughter sent a shiver up her spine and put a smile on her lips. Ruairí Mac Nia was a man—no different than any man she’d ever met despite his appearance. As they left the shelter of the forest the land opened up and far in the distance, she spied an Iron Age hill-fort atop Croghan Hill. The hilltop where he would be inaugurated as the Sun King and then ritually murdered, quartered, and sunk in a bog. Sorcha squeezed her fists in the horse’s black hair. She’d seen the scars on the bog man’s leathered chest, the slit nipples, and the stab wound to his heart. She couldn’t let that happen. Forget history! At the very least, she must find a way to warn him of his fate. If he knew what was coming, he could change destiny himself.
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“Why are you out here alone?” The question startled her. “I-I came here with my brother-in-law. I’d never traveled this way before, so he brought me along. When the cattle stampeded, we got separated.” “Brother-in-law?” Did they not have such terms? She’d have to watch what she said. Just because she spoke their tongue didn’t mean she understood their ways. “Cern is . . .” She paused, wondering what to say. There was a good chance Cernunnos would appear at some point. She was surprised he hadn’t yet. He wouldn’t bring her to a place two thousand years in the past and Issue 58 | May 2021 |
a n ya m o ra
nya Mora lives in the PNW with her family. Her novels, while leaning toward the dark, ultimately reflect light, courage, and her innate belief that love rewards the brave.
Stay Co n n e c te d
62 | UncagedBooks.com
Uncaged welcomes Anya Mora Welcome to Uncaged! On May 6th, your latest book, Secrets Mothers Keep will release. Can you tell readers more about this book? So thrilled to be here. Secrets Mothers Keep explores mother-son relationships, how far you would go to protect the ones you love, and the cost that it might carry. You’ve contributed a couple books to a series, A Liars Island Suspense series in which several authors have also written books for. How did this series come about and can you tell readers more about how the books all connect? Liars Island is a fun, inter-connected series of novella length thrillers. I came up with the idea for the series with author Hayley Ford. We designed an island community and invited authors to join us in writing the world. It has been wonderful to connect with contributing authors and bring readers this edge-ofyour-seat series. The books feature island landmarks and returning characters crop up throughout the series. The stories are all stand-alone, but it becomes more fun the more of them read! What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? I could write dialogue all day – for me the challenge is the high action scenes. Since I mostly write first person, present tense, I dive pretty deep in the main character’s head, and enjoy that aspect of writing. What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do? Post-pandemic I am looking forward to leisurely browsing a bookstore, probably with a London Fog in a to-go cup, and a lunch date on the horizon. What was the first book that made you laugh and/or cry?
As an adult, I remember crying during the novel White Oleander. It was heartbreaking, the motherdaughter relationship in that novel. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love to practice yoga. I never have been much into exercise, but when looking for a way to lower my stress levels, I turned to a local yoga studio. I always say I’ve never loved something so much that I was so bad at! But I am learning! I also love to travel. Preferably to a location with a beach. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? Summer. I live in the often-rainy Pacific Northwest. I live for the sunny months! How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I write full time and usually work on my stories from 8-4pm. I take about six weeks to draft a novel, but most often they have lived in my head for a lot longer! I have a little travel trailer I renovated in my back yard and am lucky enough to carry my morning coffee to my little office and get to work! Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I think it would be an even split. I was gifted a Kindle Oasis this past Christmas and love reading late into the night on that, on my side. But when I am running errands or taking walks, I turn on an audio book. Any other time, I have paperback. I can’t resist them. I am currently reading What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins. I was compelled to purchase it after reading that the male main character was a Quaker. I am often drawn to religious aspects in novels. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
I have a little travel trailer I renovated in my back yard and am lucky enough to carry my morning coffee to my little office and get to work!.
| FEATURE AUTHOR | What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I hope Secrets Mothers Keep resonates with readers. It was a story born out of a fear I had as a mother, of my teenage son connecting online with people who had dangerous intentions. I teased out that fear as I wrote this novel.
Enjoy an excerpt from The Boy Who Kissed the Rain Secrets Mothers Keep Anya Mora Suspense Releases May 6 On Friday night in the clay fields of Bethel Creek, seventeen-yearold Daniel Reyes is found brutally attacked and left for dead. On Saturday morning, Cora Maxwell finds her teenage son’s clothes covered in blood. A small town torn apart by a horrific hate crime. An investigative reporter hell bent on finding the truth. A mother’s worst nightmare. What really happened to the Reyes boy? In the heart-stopping and timely suspense novel, Secrets Mothers Keep, widow and mother Cora Maxwell faces the hardest decision of her life. In a world where there are few second chances, do you grant one to your child? And if so… what is the cost? Excerpt In the basement, I open the washing machine 66 | UncagedBooks.com
and see it’s full of dry clothes. Groaning, I realize the breaker must have switched again. It’s one of the reasons I miss Noah. He’d have had that fixed the first time I mentioned it. Whereas I’ve been switching it back on for the better half of the spring. The breaker box is next to the utility sink and I flip it on. Back at the machine, I realize it’s filled with Ezra’s clothes, and he’s overloaded it to boot. I pull out several bath towels, knowing they’re going to mess up the rotator, and as I do, my eye catches on a large stain. Several of them. Pulse quickening, I pull more items from the washer, my hands shaking as I stretch the fabric of my son’s clothing, taking in the enormity of what I hold. I know my stains. My newspaper column is filled with household advice. How to make your floorboards shine. How to organize a gift wrap closet. How to treat a pesky stain. This is no ordinary stain. It’s blood-stained clothing. For this, I’d typically start with baking soda — mixing one part soda with two parts cold water in a bowl and dabbing it onto the stain using a cloth. If that didn’t work, I’d simply rub half a lemon over the stain and sprinkle some table salt on top. Last ditch effort would involve hydrogen peroxide. None of those household tips will fix this. These. A pair of dark denim blue jeans size 31x34, caked in orange clay and dark red blood. A sweatshirt with blood splattered across the front. Too much blood for a scraped knee or a clumsy fall. So much blood. Shaking, I sink to the floor, holding my son’s clothing in my hand. I think of Daniel. Left for dead in the clay fields near Bethel Creek. No.
| ANYA MORA | No.
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This can’t be what it looks like. It has to be anything else. Everything else. It can’t be this. I drop the clothes, not wanting to touch them, to be connected to them. Even though I am sure there must be an explanation. How could there not be? It’s Ezra we are talking about. Ezra, who is planning on applying to Ivy League schools. Ezra, who volunteers at the nursing home. Ezra, who studies on the weekend. Not Ezra, who stops by a creek on a Friday night and hurts a boy — a boy we knew and loved — within an inch of his life. No. I wipe my cheeks, unaware of the tears that slide down my face, but they are there. No. This isn’t possible, isn’t even a thought to consider. My eyes fall on the clothes, clothes made for a man. Clothes that would have fit Noah. I should treat these stains. It’s a decision that I make in a split-second and even as the icy cold water runs from the faucet of the utility sink, the clothes soaking in the stain-removing concoction, I question myself. My rationale. My sanity. There is no doubting my desperate need for one thing to stay the same in a life that has been split once, and then twice. Fissures running deep along the crevices of my heart. I need this to disappear, for this one thing in my life to stay the same. Ezra and me, we’re all we’ve got.
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shortstory Pt. 4
| SHORT STORY | This story will continue in consecutive months.
Ignition Point by Jami Gray My words did nothing to erase the contempt edging Uncle Zev’s face. “Mr. Jones?” “The dead man back at the wreck.” “He was a dick, Uncle Zev,” Jeremy muttered, as he uncurled from his uncle to stand next to him. “He hit me with a muting spell.” His wan face scrunched up. “I was trying to unravel it, but it kept slipping away. Every time I thought I had it undone, it twisted back up.” The man’s dark gaze flickered to the boy and back up to me. “A muting spell?” A wealth of disbelief weighed his question. Why his question made me feel like a five-year-old caught with her hand in the cookie jar, I had no idea. “It obviously wore off.” “Obviously.” For a moment I thought his lip twitched, but I must have been mistaken. His eyes narrowed, and his voice was sharp with suspicion. “Yet you still managed to get Jeremy’s name.” “Charades.” The word popped out before I could stop it. “What?” A frown chased away the fierce lines, leaving behind distracted bafflement. “You know, the game where you try to guess what something is called?” Jeremy offered helpfully, completely oblivious to the antagonistic undercurrents between his uncle and me. “She figured it out pretty quick.” “Not many names with three syllables and a J sound,” I muttered, resisting the urge to shift uncomfortably under Zev’s hard stare. “We’d only gotten to the first name before Frick and Frack behind you showed up.” A tremor ran through my arms, and the 70 | UncagedBooks.com
rake marks burned like a bitch. Zev’s lips tightened and his head twitched, as if he was shaking off the odd conversation. He re-aimed his intimidating stare and demanded, “Do you know where they were taking him?” Since I didn’t want to be the lone target of his anger, I had no trouble sharing. “I have the address.” “Good, then you’re taking me there.” I was? Funny, I don’t remember agreeing to that. “Why?” Another tremor ran through my arms, and I set my jaw, determined to hold my hands up all night if doing that would keep imminent death at bay. My momentary weakness did not go unnoticed. “Oh, for God’s sake, drop your hands.” Impatience snapped through his voice. I refrained from snarking back a snide “thank you” and did just that. Don’t bait the assassin, Rory. Blood rushed back into my fingers, and the rake marks on my arms went from bearable to a teeth-gritting burn. Oblivious to my inner commentary, Zev answered my question. “Because my job isn’t done until I ensure no one is going to be coming after Jeremy.” I was all for letting him go rain hellfire and damnation all over whoever waited at the end of this colossal cluster. “Okay, but don’t you think getting Jeremy out of here might be a bit more urgent?” Not that telling this man what to do could be considered smart, but come on, taking a kid on a vengeance mission? That wasn’t exactly the most adult thing to do. “Since your car is totaled, and I’m not about to trust mine to a woman who can be bought by the highest bidder, that’s not an option.” Condescending jackass. “Fine.” His dig found its mark, and anger flared. “Then if I’m no longer required, you two run along and have fun.” I was more than ready to call it a night, especially since Jeremy had his grumpy-ass uncle at his side. I might not have wheels, but my legs worked. I could start walking until Lena could pick me up.
| JAMI GRAY | “I didn’t say that.” He squeezed Jeremy’s shoulder and walked over to where the sprawled body of the Caster was illuminated by the security lights. Not quite following what he meant, I frowned. “Didn’t say what?” “That you weren’t required.” Zev dropped into a crouch by the body and riffled through the dead man’s pockets. His position partially obscured his movements, but his shoulders shifted under the tightly fitted shirt. “Besides, you’re not getting out of this that easy.” I caught a glimpse of the small bottles preferred by casting mages as they disappeared into the various pockets of Zev’s dark cargos. Not appreciating his patronizing attitude, I folded my arms, only to suck in a sharp breath as the move pulled my jacket over the still-seeping wounds along my arms. I breathed through the burst of pain and sent a few foul words toward Zev’s feathered friend. “As if I’d call this easy.” Zev’s hands stilled as he turned his head and pinned me with a menacing look. If he hoped to shut me up, he was bound for disappointment. My typical clientele ran the gamut from legit to unsavory, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with danger and intimidation. Unfortunately, when both were directed at me, it resulted in my mouth running ahead of my brain. True to form, I waited until he turned back to his search before I added, “Aren’t you worried someone will wave around a handful of cash and change my mind?” “Nope.” Don’t ask. Don’t ask. Don’t ask. “Why?” Zev’s sigh lifted his shoulders as he paused his search again and looked up, pinning me in place with his dark gaze. Even with half his profile shadowed, I caught the flash of teeth as he smiled. “Because you can’t spend it if you’re dead.” As a threat, I had to admit it was effective, but a tiny sliver of resentment remained. “Fine.”
He went back to riffling through the Caster’s pockets. Lingering adrenaline rattled my nerves. Unable to stay quiet, I asked, “I’m assuming you have a plan of some sort?” “Yep.” He straightened and, with a few long strides, crossed to the woman’s body but didn’t elaborate. “Are you going to share?” Instead of answering, he repeated his previous position and crouched. This time, he kept his back to me, blocking my view of whatever it was he was doing. Frustrated by his lack of response, I glared at the tempting target his broad back offered, especially with my gun lying just a couple of feet away. Wisely, I refrained from giving in and going for my gun. Movement caught my eye, and I realized that Jeremy was trying to see what his uncle was up to. Despite his avid fascination, I figured the kid was going to need some serious therapy before the night was through. Zev straightened and turned, a knife in his hands. “You do what I say, when I say it.” He tucked the knife away and jerked his chin toward my gun. “Go ahead and pick it up.” Not about to give him a chance to change his mind, I went over and retrieved it. I did a quick ammunition check. Six rounds. I tucked it back into the holster and looked up to looked up to find both Jeremy and Zev watching me. “What?” Something moved through Zev’s face before he shook his head. “Nothing.” He turned to Jeremy. “Okay, bud, let’s clear out.” He shot me a dark look. “How far away is the address?” Since he mentioned having a car, I went with the safe assumption we would be driving, not walking. “We were about five minutes out when the Fire Mage decided to play roadblock.” “Then let’s go.” He nudged Jeremy’s shoulder, urging him to move, and turned to leave. A little taken aback at his abruptness, I started, “Umm...” He stopped and turned back to look at me, impatience deepening his forbidding expression. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| SHORT STORY | Undaunted, I gave a pointed look at the bodies. “Are we just leaving them here?” Not that I wanted to carry them back or anything, but… “I’ll call in a clean-up crew.” His abrupt response carried a dismissive arrogance that made me think he was used to being obeyed without question. Too damn bad I didn’t work that way. Since there was a totaled Maserati and at least one more body out on the road, it was a safe bet that Zev’s clean-up crew wouldn’t be the first ones to hit the scene. “I’m pretty sure the authorities will get here first.” Not that I was anxious to stick around, especially if it meant fielding questions I may or may not have answers for or ending up in handcuffs thanks to the carnage littering the courtyard. He angled his body toward me and folded his arms over his chest. A cynical twist curled his upper lip, deepening his raffish appearance. “If you’re inclined to stick around and see who gets here first, be my guest.” Taken aback by his offer after he all but threatened me into being his wingwoman of vengeance, I raised my brows in disbelief. He must have interpreted my expression correctly because he bared his teeth, turning his expression wolfish. “I’m sure once they hear why you’re involved, they’ll be happy to offer you a pretty set of shiny new bracelets.” His assured answer flashed a warning that perhaps I should be a tad bit concerned about who I was dealing with. And I was, but it was just another rock in a growing pile threatening to crush me at some point tonight. I looked away, gritting my teeth so the names boiling on the tip of my tongue didn’t fall out. It did me no good to evade being arrested only to piss off the killer in front of me. I hadn’t forgotten my promise to Lena that I would end the night breathing. With that in mind, I kept my head down, stalked around the irritating jackass, and came over to where Jeremy waited. I shoved my frustration aside and gave the kid a reassuring look. With Jeremy at my side, I led the way out of the maze of walkways with Zev right on my ass, his aura all but leaking dangerous intent. It was like being a tasty mouse morsel stalked by a really hungry cat. To 72 | UncagedBooks.com
mask my nervousness, I decided it was high time to find out what I’d inadvertently been roped into. Without turning around, I muttered, “If I’m going to be arrested, it would be nice to know why.” The crawling sensation along my spine indicated I’d gained his undivided attention.“So sure you’ll make it to a jail cell?” It was hard to read his voice. I didn’t know him well enough to decide whether he just had a dark sense of humor or he got off on tormenting others. Not that it really mattered, because now that I wasn’t in danger of being killed, curiosity was kicking in with a vengeance. “Fine. I’d still like to know why death or incarceration are my only two options here.” “Maybe you should have thought of that before you accepted this job.” Fed up with his derision, I came to an abrupt stop in the narrow walkway, turned, and put my hands on my hips. “I don’t know you, nor do I have to justify my decisions to you. You’re the one who wants me to work with you. That being the case, stop with your bull”—I caught sight of Jeremy watching us and cut myself short—“hockey and tell me what we’re facing.” As he held my gaze with his, Zev’s expression didn’t lose its mocking edge, but some unknown emotion moved in the depths of his eyes. Seconds stretched before he spoke. “Have you heard of LanTech or Origin Industries?” His unexpected question knocked my anger aside. “They sound familiar.” “LanTech deals with magic-infused technology, and Origin is a biotech research company.” “Okay,” I said, drawing the word out and trying to figure out what that had to do with anything. “Both hold contracts with the military that finance their research arms.” My brain connected the dots. “Research arms? Like figuring out how to meld science and magic into weapons?” I didn’t think it was possible, but his face went harder. “Exactly. Jeremy’s mom worked for LanTech as a researcher, but she decided to share her work and its
results with Origin.” My hands dropped from my hips as I bit my lip. “I’m guessing that violated an NDA clause somewhere?” No doubt anything that brushed up against the military or government carried a hell of a nondisclosure agreement. “Just one or two,” he confirmed, even as his gaze kept shifting behind me. Probably trying to make sure we weren’t ambushed. In between us, Jeremy leaned a shoulder against the stucco wall, his face drawn and pale. Putting two and two together, I asked, “Was the kid supposed to be leverage to get her to cooperate?” Strangely, it was Jeremy who answered, “If they thought that, they didn’t know Mom.” There was nothing to ease the blunt edge of his statement—no bitterness, no anger, just a simple statement of unvarnished truth. Those thin shoulders rose and fell in an awkward shrug as he shuffled his feet. “Not that it matters.” I looked at Zev, who reached out and squeezed Jeremy’s shoulder. “Lara was killed two weeks ago, but they weren’t close. Jeremy was raised by his dad. When he died, Jeremy remained with his uncle.” There was so much stuffed into that explanation, but thiswas not the place or time to unpack it. Reining in my curiosity and sympathy, I tried to stick to the relevant facts. “Is that why when Jeremy got kidnapped, your brother called you in?” Zev frowned. “I don’t have a brother.” Okay, now it was my turn to be confused. “But if you’re Jeremy’s uncle—” The frown cleared, and he waved a hand. “In name only, not genetically.” I readjusted my assumptions and tried again. “You work for Jeremy’s family?” “You could say that.”
| JAMI GRAY | Oh boy. My mind spun as the bits and pieces began to come together. I got a bad feeling that I was in way over my head. If Jeremy’s uncle sent in a badass like Zev to rescue Jeremy, it meant that Jeremy probably belonged to one of the more powerful Arcane Families, and, by extension, so did Zev. If that was the case, then this situation sat way the hell above my pay grade. At this rate, the best I could do was try to survive the night and pray that Zev forgot all about me when the dust finally settled. “Your Mr. Jones,” Zev said, his voice cutting into my whirling thoughts, “was hired by one of the two companies.” I refrained from reiterating he wasn’t my Mr. Jones and went with, “But you don’t know which one?” “Not yet, but I’ll be finding out.” A wealth of threat underlay his words, making me pity those waiting at the delivery address. “Now, if you’re done stalling,” he snapped out, “let’s move.” There was no way to misinterpret his glare, so I shut my mouth on the other questions begging to be asked. Then I gave him my back and resumed our trek out of the questionable protection of the buildings. My footsteps sounded overly loud in the quiet but were echoed by a lighter scuff that belonged to Jeremy. Zev moved in silence. The narrow walkway spilled out to the broader sidewalk lining the empty parking lot. A mix of paranoia and caution left me worried that other threats lay ahead, waiting for us to step into the open. I wasn’t the only one feeling uneasy, because Jeremy all but walked on my heels. Even Zev stuck close, his attention focused on our surroundings. We moved into the exposed lot, skirting the sporadic pools of illumination from the overhead lights. The weird sensation didn’t let up even as I picked my way across the rough ground and back to the scene of the accident. The shadow of the overturned Maserati took shape, and the scent of sulfur from the Fire Mage’s magic lingered in the air. A few hundred yards out from the wreck, the skin-ruffling sensation of being watched became almost painful and caused a shiver of discomfort. I peered out into the shifting Issue 58 | May 2021 |
shadows of the night and didn’t realize I had stopped moving until the two males came up and stood still. “What is it?” The question came from Jeremy and carried an edge of impending panic that added a high note to his voice. “I don’t know,” I murmured, still trying to locate the imminent threat. On the boy’s other side, Zev tilted his head as if scenting the air. An inky shape with wings glided by us, so close its passage ruffled my hair. With everything that had happened, I’d all but forgotten Zev’s pet. It rode the thermals in everwidening circles as it rose in the night-shrouded sky. A few tension-stretched moments later, Zev ground out, “We’ve got incoming.” A realization clicked in my frazzled brain. Considering the raptor’s presence and how it reacted when Zev initially appeared, it was safe to assume Zev was some kind of animal mage. “Friend or foe?” That earned me a sardonic glance. “Unless you have backup coming, I think it’s safe to stick with foe.” And here I was hoping it was his backup charging to our rescue. Silly me. “Do you have a head count?” He shook his head. “A car, coming in from the southwest.” That the car was coming in from the same direction as the address Zev wanted me to take him to did not bode well.
vibrating with a muffled bass line to zip by. Luckily, they didn’t stop. Apparently, they were too busy rocking out because they didn’t notice us or the wreck. As soon as the coupe’s taillights disappeared, Zev was up, and we were jogging across the street. The jolting pace set off complaints from my various injuries, which I did my best to ignore. I strained my ears for the sounds of either approaching sirens, indicating the police, or the familiar rev of a racing engine as our unknowns moved in. Neither came as we made it across the wide street. Zev led us down a small neighborhood side street where a dark SUV waited. The sound of the locks disengaging echoed softly, but there was no revealing flash of lights or chirp of the alarm to accompany it. Smart. I opened the back passenger door and ushered Jeremy inside. Once he was in, I tried to close the door without slamming it. Despite my efforts, the dull thud that still sounded made me wince. I scrambled into the passenger seat, pulled the door closed, and went to reach for the seatbelt. Breathstealing pain flared along my ribs. I froze, trying not to breathe as the ache eased into an uncomfortable burn. Carefully, I adjusted my position and tried again, this time taking shallow breaths. I got the belt in place just as Zev turned the ignition. “Address.” At his abrupt demand, I automatically reached for my phone and found empty pockets. “Dammit.” His head whipped around. “What?”
“Where’s your car?”
“My phone’s back in the Maserati.”
Instead of answering, he took the lead, nudging Jeremy toward me. “Follow me.”
Although the light available from the dash was limited, I caught the whitening of his knuckles as his grip tightened, causing a soft rasp of protest from the steering wheel.
Deciding it was better to face the unknown armed, I pulled out my gun and then grabbed Jeremy’s hand. “Stay close.” Together, we followed Zev as he bypassed the totaled car. We were coming up on the road when Zev stopped and dropped to a crouch and motioned for us to do the same. Tugging on Jeremy’s hand, I dropped. We waited for the fastmoving sport coupe 74 | UncagedBooks.com
Tension snaked along my nerves. Before he could say anything, I cut in, “It’s fine. I know where we’re going.” Unable to stay quiet, I kept talking. “Maybe I can claim it was stolen when the police call me.” Not that they’d believe me, but the other option was approaching one of the Guild’s electro mages to wipe it as a personal favor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure I’d
get a chance to call that favor in anytime soon. Zev stared at me, his jaw tight, something working behind his dark eyes. He opened his mouth, but whatever he was going to say was cut short when lights came up behind us. We both froze. Our heads turned to watch the approaching vehicle. Even Jeremy turned to stare. Water replaced my muscles, and my pulse raced as the approaching car slowed and then passed us. It stopped at the stop sign. No one breathed until it turned left out of the neighborhood. “Right,” Zev said. “Where am I going?” I stared at where the car had been, mind blank and body frozen. “Rory.” The sound of my name snapped me back to the here and now. As I realized I’d momentarily panicked, heat rushed under my cheeks. “Right,” I muttered as I mentally recreated the map I’d been following earlier. “Is it safe to assume you want to avoid whoever it is heading our way?” I caught his agreeing chin jerk. “Okay, then make a U-ey, follow this road as it curves around, and take the third left. It should drop us onto Southern. Make a left. If we’re lucky, we can slip by as they’re busy checking out the wreck.” Zev pulled out, and away we went. Within a few tense minutes, we were at the stop sign, the same one I had aimed for before being tossed aside by the neighborhood fire starter. Since the SUV’s windows were heavily tinted, I indulged my curiosity and turned to stare up the road. I could see a dark sedan, its taillights glowing as it slowed to a stop. It was all I caught before Zev had us moving through the intersection. As soon as he cleared it, he accelerated. I gave him directions,and soon we could see the lights ahead indicating a large building set back from the main road on the left. Zev slowed to the speed limit as we cruised by. The building looked like so many others, gray and squat, surrounded by parking lots, all protected with Do Not Enter signs and restrictive barriers. A few cars were in the lot, but for the most part, it appeared deserted. Not a surprise, since we were here past normal business hours.
“Keep an eye out for a loading dock,” Zev advised in a low voice. “Got it.” I kept my attention on the passing scenery. Zev made a left at the end of the block claimed by the building. It was more of the same. After the second left, which took us along the back side of the property, we hit pay dirt and found two loading docks. Without looking away, I reached out and grabbed Zev’s arm. My fingers curled around the solid muscle, getting his attention. “There!” I used my free hand to point at the two docks. He slowed even more, leaning into my space as we both peered intently through the window. It was obvious whoever owned this building wasn’t expecting trouble to attack from the back. Only three of the lights worked in the lot. The rest remained dark. It was the bright security lights and the obvious cameras covering the loading docks that worried me. Zev kept going until we were lost in the shadowed street out of range of the cameras. Then he pulled to the side of the road and stopped. He turned off the car, shifted on his seat, pulled out his phone, and then twisted around and handed it to Jeremy. “Here.” Wide-eyed, Jeremy took it. “If we’re not back in thirty minutes, call your uncle. Tell him to track my phone and come get you. Warn him I’ve warded the SUV.” He leaned forward, making sure he had the boy’s attention. “Jeremy, under no circumstances do you leave this vehicle. Do you understand me?” He waited for Jeremy’s hesitant nod. “Stay down, and we’ll be back soon.” Zev shot me a look, and reading the unspoken question, I managed a reluctant nod of my own. I was as ready as I was going to get. We got out and left Jeremy locked in the SUV.
The End, Pt.4
© Copyright 2020 Jami Gray All rights reserved. Published with permission. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
fantasy | horror | contemporary
Sebastien de Castell
sebastie n d e castell
ebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way. 78 | UncagedBooks.com
Sebastien’s acclaimed swashbuckling fantasy series, The Greatcoats. was shortlisted for both the 2014 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy. the Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut, the Prix Imaginales for Best Foreign Work, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His YA fantasy series, Spellslinger, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and is published in more than a dozen languages. Sebastien lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.
Stay Co n n e c te d
decastell.com Uncaged welcomes Sebastien de Castell Welcome to Uncaged! You have a couple fantasy series running, the Spellslingers and The Greatcoats, and a new series starting in September called the Court of Shadows. Can you tell readers more about each series? Thanks for having me – I’m delighted to be here! Spellslinger is a six-book fantasy series that deals with magic in all its forms and exploring its repercussions both on those who possess it and those who don’t. Kellen begins the series as a young man from a magical society about to undertake his mage’s trials only to discover his own magic is fading. With his life looking all but hopeless, he meets a mysterious gambler who offers him the chance to follow a different path than the one he always expected to take. Also, there’s a murderous talking squirrel cat, so really, the series has it all. Way of the Argosi, which is my latest book, takes place before the Spellslinger series and introduces us to
Ferius Parfax, a young refugee struggling to survive against the mages who destroyed her clan and have marked her for a life of torment. In her quest to find freedom for herself and justice for her people, she attempts many paths, from that of a brave knight to a clever thief and even to an aimless drifter. But it’s when she meets one of the strange, wandering philosophers known as the Argosi that she finds the one path that will change her forever. The Greatcoats is my four-book swashbuckling fantasy series, inspired in part by classic adventures such as Dumas’ Three Musketeers and Raphael Sabatini’s Scaramouche but with a somewhat more modern fantasy style. The Greatcoats were travelling sword-wielding judges whose mission was to bring the King’s Laws to the various corners of a troubled nation, but after his murder, they were disbanded and disgraced. Now Falcio val Mond, former leader of the Greatcoats, is forced to rely on his wits and dueling skills – along with the aid of his two closest friends, Kest and Brasti – to fulfill his dead King’s final mission to restore the rule of law and bring back the Greatcoats once more. And finally, the Court of Shadows is the new series that takes place right after the Greatcoats, in which new and far more insidious enemies threaten the troubled kingdom of Tristia. For the first time we join the various secret orders that, like the Greatcoats, were meant to protect the country from dangers that arise both within and outside the country. On your website, you have a “Secrets” section that gives bonus material to your series (yes, I subscribed, I’m too nosey for my own good). Will you be adding material from the new series in the future? Definitely! In addition to deleted scenes, story journals written while drafting the novels, there will also be new images from the books coming! You love to travel, have you gone on any literary pilgrimages? Issue 58 | May 2021 |
I adore getting on a plane, landing somewhere new and just wandering around for days on end.
| FEATURE AUTHOR | It depends on what you mean by literary pilgrimages. I often go on cycling trips in Europe, and all of them provide opportunities to explore places big and small in search of inspiration for settings and stories. In the summer before the pandemic, I spent several days cycling along the Loire River in France so that I could stop at various castles along the way for research. I think I visited 10 castles in 4 days! What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do? Travel, travel, and more travel! I adore getting on a plane, landing somewhere new and just wandering around for days on end. In addition, I have lots of friends in London that I haven’t been able to see since before the pandemic hit, so there’s lots of catching up to do! I also miss getting to be at conventions, meeting readers and hanging out with author friends, so I need to get more of that in my life. What was the first book that made you laugh and/ or cry? The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe when Aslan was killed and his fur shaved off. I’m not a religious person, so I didn’t catch the religious allusions in that scene, but my nine year old self was shattered by that chapter. Ugh. Now you’ve got me thinking about it again. Have to grab a tissue. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I like to go running. Actually, that’s not true; I don’t enjoy the running and I’m terrible at it. However, it always calms me and I often come up with new scenes for my novels while out running. I’ve been a musician most of my adult life, so I still play gigs whenever I can (the pandemic has been terrible for live music, alas). Truth be told, though, I’m always thinking about new books, so a small part of my 82 | UncagedBooks.com
| SEBASTIEN DE CASTELL | brain is always working, which is how I like it! How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? It varies tremendously depending on book deadlines and where I happen to be in the progress of a novel. In terms of typing new words, I’m typically doing that for about three hours a day, but it can be as much as ten hours straight if I’m in a particular groove. The question of how long it takes to write a novel is an interesting one because the most important work – coming up with the ideas – happens away from the keyboard. I wrote the entire draft of Fall of the Argosi (coming out in Fall 2021) in thirty days and was shocked when my editor liked it so much I had to argue for a second draft. On the other hand, Saint’s Blood took me two entire years. One of these days I’ll devise a writing process that makes the writing time more predictable, but I haven’t managed to do so yet. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? It varies a great deal depending on the book and the context. Any time I’m outside lying on a beach somewhere on a beautiful day, a physical book feels most enjoyable. On a day to day basis or when travelling, by necessity I’ll read e-books because I like to travel light. I love a great audiobook, but I have trouble finding ones that connect for me. It’s one reason why I’ve been so grateful that my publishers found Joe Jameson to narrate the Greatcoats and Spellslinger, and Kristin Atherton for the Argosi series. Their performances truly bring the stories to life in a way that amazes me when I listen to them. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’m always delighted to hear from readers who Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | enjoy the books. The best way to reach me is via my website: https://decastell.com/contact. However I can also be found on Twitter at @decastell and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ SebastienDeCastell. Oh, and I’m on Instagram at @ SebastienDeCastell. But if someone wants a reply, my website is the best choice. Thanks again for having me on Uncaged Magazine!
Enjoy an excerpt from Way of the Argosi Way of the Argosi Sebastien de Castell Fantasy A merciless band of mages murdered her parents, massacred her tribe and branded her with mystical sigils that left her a reviled outcast. They should have killed her instead. Stealing, swindling, and gambling with her own life just to survive, Ferius will risk anything to avenge herself on the zealous young mage who haunts her every waking hour. But then she meets the incomparable Durral Brown, a wandering philosopher gifted in the arts of violence who instead overcomes his opponents with shrewdness and compassion. Does this charismatic and infuriating man hold the key to defeating her enemies, or will he lead her down a path that will destroy her very soul? Through this outstanding tale of swashbuckling action, magical intrigue and dazzling wit, follow Ferius along the Way of the Argosi and enter a 84 | UncagedBooks.com
world of magic and mystery unlike any other. Excerpt CHAPTER 1 – A Good Girl Be a good girl now. People are always saying that to me. Every time the shabby remnants of our tribe come to a new village or town begging for shelter, some stranger pats me on the head and says, ‘Be a good girl now.’ Different voices. Different languages. But always that same phrase, like a ghost that follows me wherever I go. A master contraptioneer in one of Gitabria’s gleaming cities said it with a smile in her lilting, musical accent: ‘Suvé onta bella jaïda.’ Be a good girl now. What she’d really meant was: smile, look pretty, and be quiet. In the Zhuban territories far to the north, a warrior poet (everybody in Zhuban claims to be a warrior poet) took it much more seriously. His brow furrowed with deep lines as he frowned at me. ‘Nanging isang bubutay bamba.’ Being now a good girl. But he was really telling me to be wise, to be vigilant and, most of all, to be quiet. Quiet is the part they all agree on. Even now, as this kind old woman, thin strands of sooty-grey hair burned to the skin of her forehead where the edge of an ember spell caught her a few minutes ago, arm hanging from her shattered left shoulder where that same mage’s iron binding slammed her into the corpses of her neighbours, whispers to me through broken teeth, ‘Shh . . . be a good girl now.’ It’s hard to be anything else in this dank, dark cave she shoved me into. Outside, in what’s left of this dusty, dried-out husk of a town on the edge of the Seven Sands . . . Outside the cave, a septet – that’s seven, in case you don’t know – of Jan’Tep war mages are busy slaughtering the screaming, pleading vestiges of my own clan one by one. They could probably incinerate all of us with one big spell, but from what I saw, the mages were mostly teenagers. I guess they’re showing off for each other. Soon they’re going to figure
| SEBASTIEN DE CASTELL | out that I’m in here and come up with an especially nasty spell just for me, but I guess I shouldn’t worry because the kindly old woman trying to nudge me further and further into the cave has a plan. Shh… be a good girl now. Great plan, lady. I feel like telling her that no Mahdek would ever tell an eleven-year-old to be quiet. They wouldn’t call me a girl either, because it’s not until we turn thirteen that we stand before our tribe and tell everyone who and what we are inside. At my age, I’m supposed to be searching for my spirit animal – the beast or bird who will be my companion as I make my way in the world, whispering its counsel to me, guiding me through life. How is a spirit animal supposed to hear you calling if you’re quiet all the time? Mahdek children are encouraged to make noise, to speak with our minds and our hearts (even if adults don’t exactly listen to us, I’ve noticed), so that spirit herds passing by will be drawn to our words and songs and one of them will sense a kindred soul whose life they want to share. But I’m never going to have a spirit animal. I’m never getting out of this cave. No matter how many times the nice old woman mutters, ‘Be a good girl,’ it’s not going to make a difference. Being good never saved a Mahdek exile from being murdered by a Jan’Tep mage. Although . . . It occurs to me now, as I’m lying here curled up in a ball, trying to make myself as small as possible among the smoul- dering corpses of the townsfolk who crawled in here as iron and ember spells were still tearing them apart, while this dying old woman . . . No, I’m pretty sure she’s dead now. The index finger of her good hand is still pressed to her lips as if, even in death, she’s reminding me to stay quiet. Anyway, I can’t help but wonder if maybe there’s a connection between the fact that my people are the only ones on the continent who don’t expect their young to be quiet and the fact that there are so few of us left. Maybe our problem is that we just never learned to shut up. I hear the battle cry of one of our warriors outside.
She’s attacking the mages, shouting at them in the old way, in our own tongue. We don’t even speak it among ourselves any more because it makes the people who give us shelter uncom- fortable. The Jan’Tep mages who hunt us tell people that our language is a ‘demon-tongue’. They say we use it to awaken infernal beings to slaughter our enemies. How I wish that were true. I know our warrior has died when I hear the thunder crack of an ember spell lighting up the air outside the cave. I can picture the shower of gold and blue sparks, followed by the scene of early morning after a storm. Part of me wants to run outside just to behold the wonders of Jan’Tep magic. I know I should hate it, but the colours, the lights, the way they move . . . it’s beautiful. And if you’re going to die anyway, shouldn’t it be while looking at something beautiful? Too late now. The screams have stopped and everything’s gone quiet. I wonder if the warrior who just died was the last of my clan. And was my clan the last of all that remained of the once-great Mahdek tribes? Am I alone now? ‘Burn the bodies, bury the ashes,’ I hear one of the mages saying. He’s the older one, the one in charge. But he’s not the one I hate the most. The one I hate the most is younger, maybe sixteen. He’s as tall as any of them though. His shoulders are broad and unlike the others he looks strong beneath his robes. He doesn’t smile when he raises his hands, forms those strange shapes with his fingers and sends lightning and fire to kill us. He doesn’t laugh or make jokes when we die. The others I can hate the way you hate a cold winter or a sharp stone that cuts your foot. They’re cruel and ugly on the inside. They’re monsters. But this one, he knows – some- where inside he knows– that this is wrong. He’s a human being. Like me. But he does it anyway. I don’t know his name because when the Jan’Tep mages are on a mission they call each other things like ‘Iron Asp’ or ‘Ember Fox’. This young one is Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | ‘Shadow Falcon’. I’m going to kill Shadow Falcon one day. Well, probably not since I’m about to die. More spells are starting to ignite the air outside the cave. Different ones this time. Not the crack of thunder that passes in an instant but the steady crackle of flames that pour out from the mages’ palms as if their hands were volcanoes filled with lava. Why is it so important to them that no trace of us be left behind? I can hear some of the mages complaining about the stink of flesh burning from the bones of the dead. A couple of them are vomiting, their spells collapsing from the break in their concentration. Then the older one, their leader, shouts at them and they begin the process all over again. Soon he’ll send someone into the caves to search for any stragglers. To find me. ‘Please spare us!’ a voice cries out. Not one of my people, of course. I’m pretty sure they’re all dead now. Also, we know better than to ask a Jan’Tep war coven for mercy. One of the villagers who took us in must be pleading for his life. ‘We didn’t know what they were!’ Not true. We never lied about who we were. Maybe we should’ve though. ‘They summoned demons to force us to shelter them.’ Complete fabrication. No matter how much the Jan’Tep claim we use demon magic – their excuse when they started killing us off three hundred years ago – you can’t ‘summon’ a demon. I know this because I’ve tried many, many times. ‘We only pretended to hide them so we could come find yo—’ Funny how they kill him right as he’s finally saying something true. My clan stayed in this little town in the Seven Sands too long and one of the townsfolk must’ve gone in search of a Jan’Tep hextracker, who then led the war coven right to us. Never stay in one place too long. That’s what the Mahdek tell their children. It’s what my mother and father told me right before they died in the raid that wiped out half our 86 | UncagedBooks.com
clan three years ago. I still remember the looks on their faces, how scared they were. Why aren’t I scared? I’m going to die here in this dark cave, seeing nothing but the face of a dead woman with her finger pressed to her lifeless lips, smelling nothing but the stench of the corpses all around me. I should be terrified. I should be angry. Instead I feel almost . . . drunk? Is that the right word? We Mahdek don’t drink spirits (stupid name for alcohol since spirits are meant to guide you, not make you act silly). Maybe it’s just that once you’ve watched your parents floating in the air, wrists and ankles wrapped in beautiful bands of yellow and silver light, right before they’re torn apart, you know without a shred of doubt that one day some other Jan’Tep mage will do the same to you. Today’s that day, I think. ‘There!’ I hear a low voice growl. ‘Get her!’ I stick out my arms to make it easier for them to drag me from the bodies. I don’t pull away or scream. Maybe I really am a good girl? ‘Quickly now, while they’re still destroying the evidence!’ A pair of big hands wrap around my wrists and yank me backwards, away from the entrance. My bum slides over the dead and then scrapes the cold rocks and dirt. We seem to be going deeper into the cave. I hadn’t even realised there wasa deeper part; it just looked like a shallow grotto before the old woman pulled me in here with her. Whoever’s got me lets go of my wrists and scoops me up in their arms. I look up in the darkness and I can just barely make out two figures. They’re crouched over me, and the shadows hang over them, making them look menacing. Like demons. Maybe my people really are demon worshippers. Something heavy scratches the cave floor, shifting as the bigger demon shoves it with his shoulder. The two of them bend down even lower as they haul me into a narrow tunnel. Must’ve been camouflaged by the villagers so they could use it to hide themselves and their valuables whenever they got raided. Probably doesn’t work so well when the mages coming for you have sand spells that can track you anywhere. The
| SEBASTIEN DE CASTELL | one they call Shadow Falcon, I heard one of the others say he’s the best at it. Maybe he’s already coming for us. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ one of my rescuers says. He’s speaking Daroman, from a country about two hundred miles from here. The Seven Sands doesn’t have its own language, so most folk in these parts learn a simplified form of Daroman. This man speaks it awkwardly though, like he learned it only recently. His voice is deep, his tone gruff in a way that warns me not to argue with him. ‘What about the others?’ I ask anyway, but all I hear is the shuffling of his boots on the rocky ground. I guess he doesn’t want to say that there aren’t any. ‘Where are you taking me?’ I ask then. The voice that answers belongs to a woman. It’s unusual sounding. Smooth. Elegant. I like it, but I feel strange hearing it, like I’ve snuck into a rich person’s home and someone’s about to find me. ‘To a place far from here,’ she says. ‘A place where you’ll be safe.’ The man speaks up, grunting from the effort of carrying me while having to bend so low. ‘No more living on scraps for you, my girl. No more trudging through deserts under the hot sun or icy forests in the frozen winter. You’ll live in a big house and eat fine foods and have all the toys you could ever want.’ His voice catches on those last words – like he’s trying to stop himself from crying. ‘The Jan’Tep—’ I begin, but the woman cuts me off. ‘They will never hurt you again,’ she says, louder now because I guess we’re pretty far from the cave entrance. ‘Ours is a wealthy family, child. An important one. And we are . . .’ She struggles as if she doesn’t know the right word, which tells me for sure she isn’t a native Daroman speaker. After a second the man mumbles something to her and she nods. ‘Warriors-of-honour. Yes, we are warriors-of-honour. Do you understand me? Not even the lords magi of the Jan’Tep would dare try to take you from us.’ I’d explain to her that I have no idea what warriorsof- honour are supposed to be and that she’s wrong because once a mage has seen a Mahdek they neverstop coming for us, but I find I’m just so very tired now. I’m not sure how long they’ve been carrying me when beautiful golden light explodes all around us.
Must be a Jan’Tep lightning spell. I feel bad for the man and the woman who came here thinking they could save me. Nobody likes to discover that their world isn’t as safe as they believed. ‘Quick now,’ the man says. ‘Get her into the carriage!’ The sun. The light I saw was the sun in the sky above, not magic. They hide me under a blanket inside a carriage which, from the brief glance I get, is just about the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen. Soon I find myself being gently rocked to sleep as four fine horses pull us along, first down a dirt path and then onto a road. My head is on the woman’s lap. It’s as warm and comfortable a pillow as I’ve ever known. ‘Rest now,’ she says, stroking the red tangles of my hair under the blanket. ‘The worst has passed – this I swear. Be a good girl now, and stay as quiet as a mouse until we’re clear of the territories.’ Be a good girl now. She was nice. So was her husband. They took me to a lovely home just as big and beautiful as they promised. I buried their bodies in the garden six months later.
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Issue 58 | May 2021 |
dan mc d o well
am a writer with a Texas-sized appetite for thrilling and mysterious stories. When I am not crunching spreadsheets or resolving technical problems at the office, I can be found trying to channel my inner-creativity into writing, playing music, and drawing stick figures with a set of hands that no surgeon or carpenter should ever trust. My wife, daughter, and I live at the foot of the Texas Hill Country with two oversized cats named Maggie and Millie. 88 | UncagedBooks.com
danmcdowell.org Uncaged welcomes Dan McDowell Welcome to Uncaged! Your debut novel, Level Zero, will release on May 13th. Can you tell readers more about this suspense thriller? Level Zero is a novel of terror, intrigue, and suspense. It hits heavy on the complexities of interpersonal relationships and the burdens carried through life in the midst of a terrifying backdrop. What may strike some readers differently is my choice to tell the story through multiple character’s lenses to make their thoughts visible in a given scene. Some people enjoy the first person point of view. Others may prefer second or third. I’m still deciding what I like best. I think it all depends on what the story demands. Each one has different needs and lenses required to view it optimally. I found out early in the writing process that Level Zero was too big a universe to focus on a single character. It’s essentially the gateway into a universe of stories I hope to write that we’ll be branding “A Nightmare in Riverton.” You write quite a bit of short stories on your website. Are these ever going to be published or are they just to be published on your blog? There have been some talks with publisher(s) in the past about an anthology of my short stories. Short stories are where my I began my creative writing journey in 2019. At present, I have written about thirty. Most of them fall into the mystery/horror/thriller category with a few lighter and campy/corny stories in there as well. Short stories are an important tool for writers, both new and
emerging, and for the seasoned bestsellers. In my opinion, telling a story concisely takes a lot of discipline. Sometimes, it may even require more than a novel or novella because of the age-old “show don’t tell” rules for writers and limited opportunities for character dialogue. What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m pleased to mention that the next Nightmare in Riverton Novel, Oak Hollow, will release with Black Rose Writing in October. We are currently prepping it for pre-sale and will debut the cover in the near future. It’s my hope that it will make Level Zero a richer experience retrospectively and offer further depth into The Oak Hollow Hotel and the property’s troubled past. I had a fun time writing it and broke away from some of the conventional approaches to keep the writing more dynamic. It’s my hope that these adjustments make it both engaging and thought provoking to the reader. Thrilling fiction often has many layers, and can often mean something different each time we look at it. Outside of the Riverton universe, I have a few other works in progress including a completed first draft manuscript for a new psychological thriller/horror novel -- working title “Truth or Consequences.” It takes place in dystopian New Mexico shortly after the US has split between East and West. The premise of the story is about a teenager struggling with addiction issues. His parents opt to have a chip installed to adjust dopamine and cortisol levels in his brain to curb addictions and cure his depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, the protagonist’s’ installation does not go well, and he’s sent to an experimental rehab facility as a result. Upon arrival, a curious and charismatic overseer uses cult-like approaches to cure residents with the help of emerging simulation technologies. Elsewhere in the facility, struggling counterparts and supervisors exhibit bizarre behaviors in their quest for a state called “tendom” during rehabilitation. As the body count increases around him, he finds that the lingering side effects of the chip may not be worth the cost. Issue 58 | May 2021 | 89
| FEATURE AUTHOR |
The Arlington Hotel offers the upper-class amenities of any standard 100 year old hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas... if you can get over it’s troubling past and bizarre relocations. Oh, and don’t forget the fires that may or may not have been carried out on the competition by mobsters or a crazy group of hillbillies that live in the hills just across historic state highway 7 dividing Hot Springs National Park from the city of Hot Springs. My lovely wife designed the cover for my first novel, Level Zero. Though the character and POV in my book can vary by chapter, one character is constant, the Oak Hollow Hotel and its surrounding area. Its mysterious origins are still being discovered... This is where it gets interesting. The sil90 | UncagedBooks.com
houetted hotel theme on my book’s cover was inspired by a picture of an old hotel we found on the internet. What’s interesting is that we didn’t know what or where it was when we designed it. Then, the irony of ironies occurs... 9 months after completing the initial draft of Level Zero which features a rather spirited hotel and securing a publishing contract, we took an unplanned vacation to Hot Springs, Arkansas — a quirky, sleepy, and steamy town with a seedy past. Upon arrival, while driving the main street, we found the hotel that inspired the cover, despite never realizing it was in the same town. Total coincidence? Or was it fate? Only time will tell.
What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? The most difficult scenes for me are the ones I can’t visualize in my mind’s eye. These aren’t usually introductions or endings, but rather the scenes that carry the narrative forward from beginning to end. I tend to write dialogue heavy because I see excessive description as slowing to character and story development. I ground my characters and worlds as caricatures of reality. The easiest scenes for me are often deaths, traumas, and moments of emotional struggle. I guess modern media and books are to blame for that… and an excitable imagination after midnight. What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do? I’m tired of masks and feeling like I can’t gauge someone else’s comfort level with them on or off. I don’t like having to think about it everywhere I go or forgetting one. Recently, I went to an auto parts store without one and I ended up wrapping my four-year-old daughter’s fuzzy hot pink sweater around my face stupidly. I can’t say that the guys in the shop were impressed… depressed, maybe. I don’t want any more of those makeshift mask moments. I’m too much of a rule follower to allow for it. What was the first book that made you laugh and/or cry? I don’t know if I know for certain, but as a child I was particularly tickled by Chris van Allsburg’s, The Sweetest Fig. I’ve enjoyed dark humor ever since and continue to read the story to my daughter today. As for crying, it was another children’s book -- Brian Selznick’s, The Houdini Box. I didn’t cry because of the book, but remember tears streaming down my cheeks when I found out how Harry Houdini died. The book was my first exposure to his story. Needless to say, I never considered a career in magic after the fact. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?
| DAN MCDOWELL | I love watching films and documentaries. As you can imagine, I enjoy a good horror or thriller film, but I’m also a sucker for award winners and decade defining works, too. My wife jokes with me that I could open a shrine to Blockbuster (RIP) with our myriad of films accumulated through the years. I cataloged, organized, and databased all of them at the start of the pandemic—consolidating them into zipper sleeves (close to 1,000 films and television shows in total), and purging all of the cases. What once took up closets full of discs are now handily stored under one cubby hole in alphabetical order by genre. (Yes, the horror/thriller films have their own binder.) I also love quality time and/or traveling with my family. We haven’t been able to do as much traveling during the pandemic, but look forward to when we can again. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? I would have to say Fall. Growing up in Texas, the scorching summers and ever-lingering humidity are far from enjoyable. Unless you’re playing in the water on those days (which requires a ton of sunscreen), it’s just better to enjoy the A/C or find the shade. I love the first evenings in late September (more realistically -- October) when the temperature begins to dip overnight. It’s a relief in the air you forget during the cruel months of July and August. For those gawking at the concept of a Texas Fall, some years it feels like there isn’t much of one. The same could be said for Spring. More often than not, it’s just Summer or Winter here. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I make an intentional effort to be creative in some capacity at least an hour per day – trying to stretch to two when possible. This occasionally transcends writing, though. On more creative days where larger windows of time present themselves or a big epiphany arrives, I enjoy to hammer out words for many Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR |
This photo was taken at the scariest place in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Madame Toussard’s House of Wax. It hadn’t seen a lick of updating since 1973 and my wife and I loved it as Richard Nixon greeted us through the entryway. Not sure if my daughter felt the same. Only fitting that Alfred Hitchcock introduce the chamber of horrors |which featured a werewolf on a table UncagedBooks.com 92
under a bunch of corn syrup and one other undefinable hodge podge of outdated creepiness. The rain-catching buckets in the hallways perfected the setup as water dripped through the long forgotten ceiling tiles. The musty smell of aged rubber mannequins (or whatever gobbly goo they’re made of) completed the eclectic feel to this unlikely shrine of yesteryear.
hours. As much as I’d like it to be in one successive period, it’s often broken up throughout a given day -early in the morning, late in the evening, across a lunch hour, etc. The length of time required to write a novel is a complex one. A first draft might be completed in 30 days, but a completed book might take 30 years… It’s hard to say. On average, I would say 3 months to write, a month off with eyes away from it, and another 6-9 months for editing and production. All in all, a one-year turn around is an impressive feat most of the time. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I have a kindle, but I prefer physical books. There’s nothing quite like the page turning sound, the smell of the book, and the tangibility and ability to underline or highlight. To counter that, I respect the desire to reduce clutter. If someone’s moved over to ebooks, they’ve probably freed up a shelf or a section of their garage or attic. I enjoy audiobooks… if it’s the right narrator and the right book. My household is a mixture of all three. I don’t believe I’ll shy away from one over another entirely, but am admittedly slowing down on physical books. If I think it’s one I will read or reference more than once I often buy the physical. I’m reading a handful of books. I’m sorry to admit it, but I am one of those DNF guys with a lot of them. Books are like pizza, sometimes, you only need a slice. Other times you want the whole pie! Consider this by Chuck Palahniuk The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King The Husband by Dean Koontz Posting from Proverbs by Nick Harris It Was Born in the Darkness of the Wood by JL Hickey What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Thanks for your support, encouragement, and feedback along the way. I enjoy writing and feel like I have many
| DAN MCDOWELL | stories to tell. When it comes to writing, I can’t help but parallel it with music. Sometimes it works well, other times not so well. Think about it. You may have an album you love and then a follow up album or song doesn’t stand out as much. Then, a year later, another one releases that ends up being a swan-song opus of “Stairway to Heaven” proportions. Never give up on an artist because one effort doesn’t fit your taste. Ride the wave of creativity and see where it leads, and don’t be afraid to create something new yourself, too!
Enjoy an excerpt from Level Zero Level Zero Dan McDowell Horror Releases May 13 In 1982, an acquisition of a troubled hotel leads Chris Wilkerson down a dark path as he forms a horror hotline in the facility. Fixating over the macabre and a collapsing marriage, Wilkerson unlocks a ticket to terror. Waking from a coma with 53 others, Todd Adams fights to understand phantom memories before disappearing into the hands of a peculiar captor. Discovering commonality in an unresolved past, Todd questions why as he charts out an escape. Excerpt I guess this is it. Chris Wilkerson, I hope you know what you’re doing. Walking toward the extensive building, he peered up at it,catching glimpses of silhouettes engaged in questionable behaviors. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | He moved toward the entryway and noted an etching in the stone of the building’s outer wall. THE OAK HOLLOW HOTEL — ERECTED 1926 BY DON WASSERMAN... MAY OUR FOLLY NEVER LEAD US ASTRAY. FOR W.W. Never stepping into the building, Chris opened the door and looked around a moment. What a sad decline. This place must have been so much more. A voice called out from behind, “Not going to get very far, sir. You can’t just come snoop around over here. Can’t you respect the hallowed ground you’re standing on?” Who is this guy? Give me some space. “What are you talking about? Hallowed ground? This place is a dump.” “Watch yourself. I’ve managed a pawn shop down the block for a while. There’s something that just ain’t right about it. I best get back over there. I was just on an evening stroll.” “It’s a good night for that. I’m Chris Wilkerson.” The man extended his hand to shake Chris’s, “Steve Renzell. Nice to meet you. Steer clear for your own good. I can’t put my finger on why I feel implored to tell you this. Call it an intuition. I get ‘em from time to time. I ain’t no caretaker or wet nurse, though. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.” “Thanks for your concern. Have a good night,” Chris said as Steve strolled the block toward Bridgewater. He walked away from the building in misdirection. Steve turned around to assess his whereabouts. Go on now. Get out of here, Steve. I’m a grown man. Leave me be. 94 | UncagedBooks.com
After Steve was out of sight, Chris moved back toward the door and entered the building’s lobby. An older black woman draped in loose fuchsia-colored fabric approached Chris. She spoke in a Cajun accent, “Can I help you with somethin’, honey? You look lost.” “I don’t know. Maybe... I was told this building might help me...” “Darlin’, this place will do whatever you need it to if you treat it right. You hear me? Smoke one with me, will ya?” “Sure. I could use a drag.” Let’s see where this takes me. “Oak Hollow. It’s an area of many successes and failures. People grade a place based on its surroundings. I know the verdict on this joint may not be that great in your social circles, but there’s a whole ‘nother thing going on here behind the scenes. You know what I mean?” Chris studied the room in enchantment. Despite mediocre maintenance through the years, it had good bones. The ground floor possessed an open layout with dried out fountains, worn tapestries, weathered pool tables, and red felt chairs. Clusters of people hovered in each corner. Some had fires lit and burning near busted out windows. Others hummed and chanted incantations. The peculiar place captivated Chris.
k ate rigby
ate Rigby was born near Liverpool and now lives in the south west of England. She’s been writing for over forty years. She has been traditionally published, small press published and indie published. She realized her unhip credentials were mounting so she decided to write about it. Little Guide to Unhip was first published in 2010 and has since been updated. However, she’s not completely unhip. Her punk novel, Fall Of The Flamingo Circus was published by Allison & Busby (1990) and by Villard (American hardback 1990). Skrev Press published her novels Seaview Terrace (2003) Sucka! (2004) and Break Point (2006) and other shorter work appeared in 96 | UncagedBooks.com
Skrev’s avant garde magazine during the noughties. Thalidomide Kid was published by Bewrite Books (2007). Her novel Savage To Savvy was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) Quarter-Finalist in 2012. Other novels of hers have received various Independent Author Awards, such as Awesome Indie Awards and Chill With A Book Readers Awards, including Down The Tubes. She has had other short stories published and shortlisted including Hard Workers, published in three different publications. A shortened version of her blog as a tribute to David Bowie after his death was included in the book: ‘David Bowie: I Was There’ (Red Planet Books 2017) She also writes poetry and is currently co-editing an anthology for other poets with disabilities and long term health problems. She also received a Southern Arts bursary for her novel Where A Shadow Played (now re-Kindled as Did You Whisper Back?). She has re-Kindled her backlist and is gradually getting her titles (back) into paperback.
kjrbooks.yolasite.com Uncaged welcomes Kate Rigby Welcome to Uncaged! Your newest release, The Colour of Wednesday is a sequel to Down the Tubes. Can you tell readers more about the book and what inspired you to write The Colour of Wednesday, almost ten years after the release of Down the Tubes? Many thanks, Cyrene. Yes, The Colour Of Wednesday is a continuation of Michael’s story actually two
decades on from when I first wrote Down The Tubes. Something momentous happens in his life, which knocks him off course (again) causing him to relapse. There are more family strains as his past comes back to haunt him and new revelations come to light. He finds he’s not beaten the addiction demons yet, after all, but the opening event acts as a catalyst for change. Michael is a survivor and hopes to get his life back on track again in his life though perhaps not quite as he thought. I never planned to write a sequel, but his story just started unfolding to me in real time and I needed to write it down! What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’ve actually started writing an autobiography which I’ve been planning for a few years. It’s got an angle but I don’t want to say too much at the moment. But I’ve really enjoyed making a start and revisiting places of my youth. Having lived through many a decade, you realize that lots of things from your childhood are of interest now from a social history point of view. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? I think where I’ve not had direct or indirect experience is the hardest to write and I have to do a lot of research. The easiest would be the opposite. When I know the characters inside out the other usually falls into place, even if I need to research around the Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | subject or setting. What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over that you haven’t been able to do? Staying overnight at my mum’s! It will be so good to spend quality time with her and her cat, Sheba. I did see her very briefly very recently for a family occasion but I was unable to join them for the meal part outside – I have certain health conditions and my body is very intolerant of cold. Even though it’s mid April as I write this, there’s a sharp nip in the air and apparently the outdoor heaters where the rest of the family went for a meal was inadequate. I did see my mother briefly later. Luckily she got to grips with Skype quite early on in the pandemic as she is deaf and doesn’t hear at all well on the phone. She then mastered FaceTime and also does Zoom. Pretty amazing for 93! What was the first book that made you laugh and/ or cry? Now, that is really hard to remember back all those years! The first one to make me cry I’m sure will have involved a cat or a dog. I do remember a rather sad Ladybird book about a puppy and his owners sent him away because he was a naughty and he wasn’t happy in his posh new home. But it had a happy ending, I seem to remember, and I think it was that which made me cry – the poignancy of his return after his ordeal. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love singing. I was unable to go to live singing groups any more – even before lockdown - so Zoom singing has been opened up to me. If there are two of you doing the session and then the song teacher has a backing track, you can, in theory, get a four part harmony going! I 98 | UncagedBooks.com
also like to read, listen to music on my ipod (60s to 90s music especially), photography, follow the fortunes of Liverpool FC, watch TV and genealogy. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? Summer! I hate the cold and so does my body. I think I would love perpetual September, where the weather is warm enough, and the air, ground and sea have warmed up. I do love Spring as a season though, and the opening up of flowers, hearing the birds and leaf coming into bud. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I don’t always get to do do any new writing on many days, because a lot of the time can be spent on promotions, updating websites, doing blogs and so forth. My last novel took me two to three years, I think. Before social media I did write one or two novels in less than a year.
| KATE RIGBY |
Enjoy an excerpt from The Colour of Wednesday
The Colour of Wednesday Kate Rigby Contemporary /LGBTQ Fiction
Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I’m definitely a paperback girl! I’m reading Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens which I got for Christmas. I’m a slow, savouring sort of reader. It’s a great book so far. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I would like to say if you’ve enjoyed any of my books, I’d love for you to read some of the others and spread the word. I’ve found that different books of mine resonate with different people, so there doesn’t seem to be one favourite.
The Colour Of Wednesday takes its name from the last sentence of Down The Tubes and continues Michael’s story two decades on from that novel. A family death propels him back into chaos and self-destruction. There are more relationship and family strains as his past comes back to haunt him and new revelations come to light. With the help of a new friend, Michael hopes to get his life back on track again but can he finally beat the demons of addiction and change old patterns? Death proves to be a catalyst for change, often in expected ways, as Michael battles to overcome past hurts and relationships and embrace the new. But the new comes with its own problems.The Colour Of Wednesday explores the dark interior world of grief and past pain, while looking toward a redemptive world of hope and self-discovery.Trigger warning: Contains scenes of drug use and suicide. Excerpt Late February Michael is ready to go out and meet the world head on, drowsy, but assured and resolute. He throws a dark fleece over his head. He’s sure he looks presentable but it doesn’t matter, it’s about paying your respects. He checks his pockets for cash, leaves his van (he knows he’s probably not up for driving) and flags a cab to the crem, knowing it’ll cost him. But he can’t be arsed with public transport. Issue 58 | May 2021 |
| FEATURE AUTHOR | He pays the cabbie and is left outside a featureless, modern building in the grimness of a late February day. Squally dashes of rain blow every which way. Is he even in the right place? He’s not completely off his face, but he’s glad he’s a bit pinned out otherwise he’d be really shitting it now, in fact he wouldn’t have got down here at all. He’ll score again off Leaf afterwards. Just to tide him over, to get him through this terrible time. Reward himself for coming here today. Anyone would, wouldn’t they? It’s deadly quiet. Just a semicircle of lawn, and the evergreens and bare trees bowing in the wind. But what did he expect? A full-on rave? He supposes he expected people outside, but that would have been worse, having to mingle beforehand. It’s best not to overthink, best just go in, that’s what he’s come for, hasn’t he? He goes inside, breathes in deeply as he opens a door and finds his way into what is obviously a service. He feels like someone in Eastenders, barging in, heads turning round – one or two anyway. He doesn’t look at the heads, they are just a blur. He did try and come in by stealth, but somehow he’s managed to draw attention to himself as he creeps to a seat at the back on the left. It’s not until he’s been here for a few moments that he starts to focus, as much as his heroin-head will allow him. At first, he thinks it may be the wrong place or the wrong time – maybe the next service on the schedule sheet? – and he’s embarrassed himself needlessly. His tracking of time isn’t the best, never has been. One of the mourners seems to be rounding up his tribute with one amusing fishing anecdote. Michael knows he’s in the right place now, especially when the man mentions Andrew by name. He and Andrew were friends and neighbours, the man is saying. Both divorcees. At first, Michael doesn’t recognise the man in dark suit and tie – used as he is to seeing him in more casual attire – but realises it is Bob, the neighbour and friend who raised the alarm after his father offed himself. Bob’s charcoal hair has been smoothed and his small dark eyes shine. 100 | UncagedBooks.com
Offed himself. That phrase and thought still makes him shudder in the midst of all these formalities, this sanitised send-off, where the bleak truth is side-stepped. A middle-aged man in a dark suit creeps over to Michael from nowhere and politely hands him an Order of Service booklet. Michael nods his thanks. But he can’t compute any of it. This vignette of his father in his prime with dates. Like he lived and died in the usual way. But it’s a lie. He can’t focus on it, so he looks around instead. There aren’t too many people here. It’s hard to make out the people from their backs in their dark formal suits (no bright colours in this situation, an unnatural death). But there at the front on the right he can just make out, between the starched shoulders of the mourners behind them, members of his family. His mother, dark brown hair stiffly clipped back even more than usual, her head tilted to one side to listen to Bob. At one point she turns right round to glare at Michael, their eyes meet, just briefly. Her look is wintry, her eyes fierce and accusing, as though it’s somehow his fault for the funeral or maybe for turning up in this manner, humiliating her. And there – a few seats along, her darker hair also tied back but less austerely than their mother’s – is Elaine. A man is now rising awkwardly from the front with a sheet of paper in his hand. He’s wearing a dark grey suit, his shoulders strong-looking but tense. As he goes to the lectern, there’s a sudden dawning – it’s Stephen: his younger brother who he’s not seen in years. Now a grown man with the world on his broad shoulders. A successful and upstanding man, an IT Project Manager of some sort, who knows about family duty and the proper thing to do. Michael knows, in his own world, he has been successful too – holding down a job as a Project Worker with the homeless at DOORS, and held in high regard by his colleagues and those in need of help, but it’s a different world to his younger brother’s. Stephen is reading some passage, none of which Michael can follow, he is too busy thinking about Stephen, and how he looks like the older brother. He pictures some childhood scene when just the two of them were at play, solving some puzzle, or playing with their cars or trains. The times they were alone together, rare and spasmodic, with
| KATE RIGBY | Stephen away at his clever school during term-time, or doing other competitive sports, like running or swimming. Things too risky for his asthmatic older brother, even if he had wanted to do them. Seeing Stephen now, standing there, is making the whole thing even more surreal. Stephen lives in Manchester now, has done for years. Michael’s not sure if his wife or children are with him here today but doesn’t think so. Not that he would know them. He browses the rows ahead for evidence but the young woman he sees is Bob’s daughter, Kel, who helped his father. He also thinks that the tall chestnut-haired woman, second row on the left, is Jane – his father’s ex. Now Stephen is relaying some family anecdote or other, about their father, about a holiday on the south coast, his father saving his life when he got swept out of his depth in the sea, but that was the sort of man he was, putting others first, risking his own life for his children. But wouldn’t most fathers? Michael feels an intangible pang, about this other life, the one his father must have had with Stephen. He will have been on this holiday too but remembers nothing about it. Yet here is his brother with his own memories. Normal fatherand-son memories. There are additional fond tributes, for this man with infinite patience, a man with total focus, who was hardworking and generous, with an eye for detail and a love of aviation, and before Stephen steps down from the plate he cites some father quote – Dad, your guiding hand will stay with me forever. Ugh. Michael feels this line alone will be his undoing. Then the person – do they call them celebrants? (though there’s little to celebrate about his father’s life) – asks them all to join in with ‘Abide With Me’. The mourners stand, their singing stilted and subdued. There is his father’s coffin on the platform. It is only now he has dared to look at it. His legs are trembling as he stands, nothing is coming from his mouth. His breathing is catching. He is afraid of having an asthma attack. This is the time to flee, under cover of song. He doesn’t want to see the coffin disappear behind curtains or gateway. He knows he should, he knows he should stay to believe it’s really happened. The finality of it should be releasing him, no going back, but it’s that too which is a complete mind-fuck. Like seeing The
End when a film has finished, so he’s out of here. Maybe he’s a coward for not sticking around, but, outside in the cold air, he feels an overwhelming sense of relief at escaping, at not having to engage with his family. For having walked away from the travesty of those words about the guiding hand.
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Issue 58 | May 2021 |
To keep up with Slade’s latest news and releases, please visit her website at www.heatherslade.com.
Enjoy an excerpt from: Irished Irished Heather Slade Romantic Suspense Releases May 6
eather Slade gave herself the gift of writing a book for her own birthday one year. Thirty-plus books later (and counting), she’s hit a couple of best-seller lists and has had the time of her life. For Slade, the joy is in the writing, but nothing makes her happier than hearing from a reader who tells her that she’s made her laugh or cry or gasp or hold her breath or stay up all night because she can’t put one of her books down. The women she writes are self-confident, strong, with wills of their own, and hearts as big as the Colorado sky. The men are sublimely sexy, seductive alphas who rise to the challenge of capturing the sweet soul of a woman whose heart they’ll hold in the palm of their hand forever. Add in a couple of neck-snapping twists and turns, a page-turning mystery, and a swoon-worthy HEA, and you’ll be holding one of Slade’s books in your hands. She loves to hear from her readers. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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He’s an undercover double agent. She’s his partner’s younger sister. Together, they’re INVINCIBLE. IRISH Undercover for years, I learned one thing: be careful who you trust. Now, I need to know who’s killing our best operatives. Back on the ranch, I can uncover the secrets, while proving myself to everyone who doubts the truth. But Flynn Wheaton knows more, feels more, than meets the eye. She’s the first truth I’m going to conquer.. FLYNN Pain hidden by kindness. He’s the perfect mystery, the rugged and inked man with secrets to unfold. He may be my brother’s partner, but I plan to know more, uncover it all. When my life is threatened, there’s only one thing I want to know, Will I finally get IRISHED? Excerpt I had every intention of doing as he’d suggested, just not right away. Waiting, though, made it more difficult. When one song ended and another began, someone else cut in before I had a chance. Most didn’t bother me. It was only Saint’s gaze, that never seemed to leave her, that made me angrier by the minute. Flynn was an innocent young woman who he would devastate if he came at her in the way he was
known to do. At the very minimum, I had to warn her. I stalked over and tapped her current dance partner, Razor, on the shoulder. When he took a gentlemanly step back, I pulled Flynn into my arms. Her cheeks were flushed and she was smiling.
this would be the year I finally had a man interested in me. You said I was pretty, you danced with me, held me in your arms.” My eyes filled with tears and my voice was too clogged with emotion to go on.
“You’re having a good time,” I said, shuffling my feet from side to side and wishing I was a better dancer. “To be honest, my feet are starting to hurt,” she said, laughing. “I haven’t had a chance to break these boots in.”
He turned my body so my back was up against the porch rail. “I am interested in you, Flynn, I told you that.”
I looked down at the cowboy boots I remembered her wearing the night we went to the Flying R. The first night I held her in my arms. “You look very pretty, Flynn.” She looked away. “Thank you.” “I…um…wanted to warn you about one of the guys here tonight. He’s got a reputation as—” “Oh my God.” Flynn wriggled from my arms and stalked away but I stayed on her heels. “Wait. Please.” Given I was taller, had a longer stride, and wasn’t wearing boots that hurt my feet, it was easy for me to get in front of her before she stormed out the door. “Paxon, you better just get out of my way.” “Only if you’ll let me finish.” “Why? Why should I let you finish? Don’t you realize…never mind, you couldn’t possibly understand.” “Understand what?”
I rolled my eyes and wiped my tears with my sleeve. “Right. So interested in me that when I kissed you, you couldn’t back away fast enough.” He cupped my cheek with his hand. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I explained that too.” “I just—” I started crying again, unable to go on. “Just what?” He stroked my skin with his thumb and rested his forehead against mine. “I just wanted to know how it felt to be kissed by a man. You wouldn’t do it and now you’re warning me about other guys—” When Paxon’s lips touched mine, my mind went blank. He held the side of my face and pressed his tongue against my mouth and I opened to him. His kiss was soft at first, then harder when he angled his head. His other arm went around my waist and he pulled my body into his. Paxon pulled back and stared into my eyes. “I’ve wanted to do that since I met you. I should have. I’m sorry I waited.”
I stomped away but Irish followed. I was almost to the front door of the main house when he grabbed my arm. “Understand what?” he repeated. I knew I’d soon be in tears but what I was about to say needed to be said. “I thought maybe—just maybe— Issue 58 | May 2021 |
R E V I E W S
R E V I E W S 108
uNCAGED BOOKS uNCAGEDBOOKS.COM
FANG FREAKIN TASTIC fangfreakintasticreviews.com
Uncaged Reviews Wolf’s Bane
The Debutante and the Duke Collette Cameron Victorian Historical Romance
Secrets are my specialty.
All she wants is her freedom. All he wants is her…
Aimee Easterling Fantasy
I’m Mai Fairchild --- fox shifter, sister’s keeper, and bane of the local werewolf pack. In a world where different is dangerous, my sister and I must pretend to be human at all costs. Too bad I just lost the job that lets me live under the radar while putting food on my sister’s plate.
Uncaged Review: This series has a lot of potential to get better and better, it didn’t all come together in this book, but I’m on board for the next ones in the series. The world building is a bit lack luster, and I didn’t get a good feeling of this world, it’s almost as if you are tossed into the world and just supposed to instinctively know how everything works. Things seem to come together slowly, but there are several things that are never really answered, but may be in the future books. This is not a romance but it seems to be heading in that direction. Although I like Mai, I’m not sure I like her sister as well, even though she’s just a kid. But one thing I didn’t understand is why that the fox shifters have such a volatile nature and are sworn enemies to the wolf shifters. This is an action packed book, that doesn’t slow down much and the characters are easy to like. I haven’t fallen in love with the characters yet, but that may happen as the series progresses. Reviewed by Cyrene
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Rayne Wellbrook shouldn’t be living in a luxurious London manor. She shouldn’t be the step-niece to a powerful duke, either. And she most certainly shouldn’t be sneaking into the neighbor’s gardens—even if the house is unoccupied. Or so she thinks until a rakishly handsome Scot startles her one morning. Though she’s wary of men and even leerier of nobles, this man with his too-long hair and piercing blue-green eyes sends her heart to frolicking. When he insists on an introduction, Rayne flees but can’t get the enigmatic new neighbor out of her thoughts.
Uncaged Review: The characters of Rayne and Fletcher are opposites, her – a young lady from society, and him, a duke who is half English and half Scottish and has vowed to return to Scotland once his business in England is complete, but when he sees a young lady climbing over the fence in the garden to the home he is renting, many plans start to go amiss. This author always has a fun way of introducing characters to each other. This was a nice quick read that is fun to watch the romance. This is a sweet romance and although it had a few holes here and there, this author is always consistent for me to be a nice read. One thing I can say, is normally I love epilogues, but this one, not as much as usual – I think it had too large of a time jump for me, but overall, I can count on this author’s works to brighten my day. Reviewed by Cyrene
I, Angel JC Andrijeski Fantasy Romance
The Crimson Legacies De Graff & Glidewell YA Fantasy
Some angels don’t get harps. We hunt demons.
On the eve of the blood moon, Eden will fall.
I never asked to be an angel. Truthfully, being an angel kinda sucks. This gig didn’t come with an instruction manual. No one told me about the mess of powers I’d inherit, with no idea how to control. Or that I’d black out when I fly, waking up naked in random places. Or that I could only sleep in windowless rooms. Or that every time I pick up a weapon, there’s a good chance someone dies.
Uncaged Review: This is a good start to a series, but it was a bit confusing until the end, where it started to come together, but there was still just as many questions in my mind at the end, as there were in the beginning, just different ones. The world building still needs some attention but I think the author deliberately left us readers in the dark and learned along with Dags. This book does some nice twisting and turning and will throw you off a bit when it doesn’t end up exactly how you think it will. There is a beginning of a romance with Dags and Phoenix, apparently they are fated to be together, but I’ll let the readers find out more about that themselves. This is a good urban fantasy, and it’s a refreshing change from the vampire/shifter worlds. I did like the way that the characters were introduced and how that came together and adding Steve McQueen was a nice touch, definitely moving on to book two. Reviewed by Cyrene
When the King and Queen don’t believe the plea for help from a young boy, Princess Sabina is forced to take action on her own. Venturing into the wastelands, she discovers a vast army unnaturally approaching the fortress. Uncaged Review: I liked the start of this series, it’s got a good premise and the prophecy that is told could put an end to their world. Edwin, is a wolf shifter who has controlled his shifting tendencies – and also blood makes him ill. He will need to come to terms with being a shifter and helping Princess Sabina. This book had some really really good moments, there was also some moments that were a bit drawn out, but that seems to be a tightrope that authors have to walk in the beginning of a series, enough information to keep understanding, or too much/too little. My biggest issue with this book is the cliffhanger. I don’t appreciate cliffhangers, I don’t mind continuation of the series, but wrapping up a book itself and carrying over a main arc is fine, but not when it’s cut off in a bad spot. Other than that, this is a young adult that has a very encouraging beginning. Reviewed by Cyrene
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
Uncaged Reviews Magnar
Mary Morgan Historical Fantasy Known as the Barbarian, Magnar MacAlpin is a fierce ruler for those under his command. As leader of the Wolves of Clan Sutherland, his loyalty and obedience lies with Scotland. However, the king’s last demand is not something Magnar will tolerate. After Elspeth Gunn’s brother the Chieftain of Castle Steinn is murdered, she flees with her nephew, and finds safety amongst a band of men who are rumored to be part wolf. When the king forces her to wed a heathen Northman, she fears losing her heart and soul not only to the man, but the beast as well.
Uncaged Review: Ms. Morgan continues her exceptional writing with this brand new series. I have to admit, I wasn’t really on “team Magnar” in the beginning of this. Or even in the middle. I liked Elspeth from the beginning, but I would have liked to see more conflict in her feelings for Magnar, maybe taking longer to admit to her feelings. By the halfway point, I began to like this couple more and more and how Elspeth challenged Magnar. If you like action, steamy romance and characters you won’t forget, this is a good book to start. If you’ve never read this author before, she may become one of your favorites. She creates a world that you can imagine as you read, and this book is no different. This is one of those books that grabs a hold of you and before you know it, you are nearing the end, wanting more. Reviewed by Cyrene
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Highland Legend Kathryn Le Veque Medieval Romance Releases July 27
Magnus Stewart, aka “The Eagle” is the bastard son of a duke, and his royal blood has never been anything but a curse. Among the mystique and riches of the legendary fight club Ludus Caledonia, Magnus uses his anger and bitterness to battle his way to the top.. Diantha de Mora has heard of The Eagle, and in desperation seeks his help. When Magnus reluctantly comes to her aid, his fate is changed forever in one night. With enemies at every turn, it’ll take muscle and a miracle for them to make it to the Highlands alive. There Magnus can reclaim his destiny, as Diantha reclaims his heart.
Uncaged Review: Magnus is an elite fighter in a legendary fight club, making his way up the ranks after being held a hostage for years as revenge on his father. As the bastard son of a duke, Magnus has been led to believe his father wanted nothing to do with him, and he makes a name for himself. Diantha, also a hostage of betrayal against her father from the same place, sees Magnus and remembers him. Escaping long enough to find Magnus and beg for his help to get back home to her family. Although, Diantha will not accept any help, she wants to earn her way. Magnus goes against anything he’s ever done before and hires her to take care of his cottage. This story has many layers, romance, suspense, brutal fights and engrossing characters. How the relationship develops between an experienced alpha male and a very smart, but naïve Diantha and the way all the layers will peel away keep the reader flipping pages. I had not read the first two books in this series, but was never lost or felt like I missed anything. Great addition to this author’s catalog. This author just doesn’t miss. Reviewed by Cyrene
The Targeted Pawn Sally Brandle Romantic Suspense Threats forced her to flee Seattle. Honor binds him to Montana. A second chance at love tethers them together. Elon Hardy’s romance skills are rusty after a loveless marriage ends, but upon meeting hunky rancher, Rane Calderon, sparks blaze hotter than her welding torch. To support her collegiate sons, she’s determined to acquiesce to the bullheaded, female-phobic boss until her divorce finalizes from her deceitful husband.
Uncaged Review: This is the third book in the Love Thrives in Emma Springs series, and this is my favorite so far. One thing in common with these books, is that I feel like I’ve been to Montana myself (I have not) because of the beautiful way this author describes the area. In this book, Elon is a divorced woman with an evil ex-husband and kids in college. To keep paying for those hefty college tuitions, she takes a job in Emma Springs as a welder. But when the sparks fly when she meets her boss - Rane, (and not from the welding), they will each have baggage to get through to find their way to each other. This is a great suspense, full of Blackfoot history, a clean romance and villians you will truly despise. Toss in some rescue animals and I’m all in. This is a series I plan to reread back-to-back when I get some free reading time. Reviewed by Cyrene
Her Virtuous Viscount Scarlett Scott Scottish Historical Jilted by the woman he loved, Tom, Viscount Sidmouth, has decided he will happily remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. He wants nothing to do with affairs of the heart. And he most certainly wants nothing to do with the wild widow next door. After spending years trapped in a loveless marriage, Hyacinth has returned to London on a mission to experience everything she missed. Balls, parties, flirtations, and assignations—she wants it all. She isn’t about to allow her disapproving neighbor to spoil her fun. She’s living her life one raucous celebration at a time. Uncaged Review: This author is fast becoming one of my favorite historical romance authors. All of her books that I’ve read of hers to this point are original, fun and I easily get completely absorbed in the book. This story is one of second chances, and the healing of broken hearts. Tom has always tried to do right by his family and ends up being left by a woman he believed he loved. No more marriage for him. Hyacinth, now a widow after spending many years in a loveless marriage is not keen to move onto another man. Instead she wants to have the fun she never had a chance to do. Watching the two of these people heal each other and find their way to love is completely inspiring and engrossing. And now, this is one of my favorite books by this author. Reviewed by Cyrene
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
Uncaged Reviews Parish the Thought H. Max Miller Crime/Mystery
Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but this is Louisiana, where everything gets a splash of hot sauce. Detective Cadillac Holland is called upon to locate Senator Chester Donovan’s missing daughter-in-law. A pool of blood in the trunk of her Mercedes exposes unexplained deaths in a town once described as being a place “where there are more alligators than people, and the alligators are friendlier.” The solution to this mystery lies buried in the town’s sordid history, a story that changes with each telling.
Uncaged Review: Normally I’m not a huge mystery fan, but this book pulls off a twist I never saw coming and it was one of those “what the hell just happened” moments. I’ve never read a book by this author and even though this book is the fifth book in a series, I never felt lost. Holland is a detective that is complex, smart and thinks outside the box. When a missing person case turns into a much more riveting case and Holland must peel back the layers to find the truth before the killer finds him. This book kept me turning the pages and although it wasn’t the book that made me haul it around all over the place waiting for a chance to read a couple more pages, it kept me coming back and rethinking my suspense genre aversion. A good read with some good twists. Reviewed by Cyrene
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Tales from the Red Sun Village Vol.1 Mark Swaine YA Horror
The legendary warrior Kamui Li visits the people of a settlement in the badlands of Purgatoria. In a bid to build morale, the dangerous Samurai recounts three campfire stories to the nervous people of the village to help them overcome their fears of this dangerous new world.
Uncaged Review: This is a book of three separate stories, and all are told by Kamui at a campfire. They really don’t seem all that cohesive until the end. First of all, these can be gory and bloody, so I would caution the young adult genre to at least older teens. I imagine that a lot of video games can be brutal, but just a word of warning that younger teens may have issues with it. And talking about video games, the second story that deals with a cursed videogame, is actually my favorite of the three. Maybe it’s because I’m not a gamer, but it was a fast paced with plenty of action and I was riveted to the story. So if you like some shorter stories that border on a Twilight Zone trippy episode and like the horror, this book may be right up your alley. Reviewed by Cyrene
Starlight Seized China Dennington
The Interludes JK Duval Erotica
Two storytellers separated by decades Could the story of the past be the key to saving the future? Don’t miss this clean YA science-fiction read perfect for fans of Shannon Hale and Megan Whalen Turner! Maris Hall’s name isn’t spoken. Her writings were burned. Her images erased because of the horrendous thing she did. As a third-generation inhabitant of the red desert planet Erimost, Tessa Hall ironically knows precious little about her own family history, despite being the city historian.
The Interludes, A Sexual Odyssey, is the fun sexy erotic novel for mature audiences. Seven different characters will take you along for almost every conceivable match-up in some seriously sexy locales. From a beach-side cottage along the warm moonlit waters of Jamaica to a shower stall in London’s famed Claridge’s Hotel, across the hills of Tuscany to a magnificent 18 room oceanfront shingle style home on the western shores of Martha’s Vineyard, these are just a few of the places that will spread out before you on this journey of erotic discovery. You may wish to share what’s behind this cover with someone you love and create your own sexual odyssey.
Uncaged Review: As a new colonization on a new planet is threatened by conflict, it could be up to Tessa to discover the secrets that can help save her people and the planet. Being the historian, she begins to unravel the past that has been erased from the books. But is what she’s reading true? When I read scifi, I have a pretty high bar, and with the science part, this book falls a bit short. But it almost makes up for the lack of scientific knowledge/ inventions and details by the characters. The characters are well flushed out and is told through multigenerations of women. I would have liked to know more about the past, and this author has an almost poetic way of writing that is very captivating. Reviewed by Cyrene
Uncaged Review: Erotica can go different ways for me. It’s either just plain smut with zero character development and not a plot that you can even see – just like a porn movie in a book. This book didn’t do that. There was nice character development – and you wouldn’t think so because each interlude is a short story, but the characters stories continue on in further chapters, so you can read this book two ways. You can stay with the one main character and at the end of the chapter, it will tell you what chapter to forward to if you want to continue with that character. Or you can read it straight through, but all the main characters do come back around. This is a sexy, fun book and it does have some characters that you can like and get behind. There are what I call, small plots within the story, but this book can be a nice turn on to some people, but if you don’t like the hard hitting sex scenes, than this isn’t for you. But if you do like erotica, and want something a bit different, than this is a nice choice. Reviewed by Cyrene
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews Shadow of Doubt Hailey Edwards Urban Fantasy
Hadley Whitaker is a liar, a killer, and a chocoholic, but she’s getting better about the first two. Or maybe she’s just getting better at them. Some days it’s hard for her to tell fact from fiction, but only one truth matters. Goddess willing, she’s going to be the next Potentate of Atlanta. Even if it means playing nice with Midas Kinase, a shifter whose mysterious past might just be grimmer than her own. When a bloodthirsty rogue begins hunting the city’s paranormals, Hadley ropes Midas into letting her work the case. But that rope starts to feel more like a noose as they come closer to discovering not only the rogue’s identity, but each other’s darkest secrets.
Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this series. I read the series before it and had developed a not-so-great opinion of Hadley based on that. But when I finished the other series, I found that I wasn’t done and still needed more from that world. I’m glad I kept reading. The book focuses on Hadley Whitaker, and it seems she’s really trying her best to atone for her mistakes. She’s learning how to be a better person and a productive member of society despite her many faults. I love seeing characters grow and seeing this side of her has been a reminder that things aren’t always as cut and dry as we may think they are to start with. Something I enjoyed about this series is its location. As much as I adore Savannah, I had just read 8 books in a row that took place there. And in the
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previous series, nothing good ever came from visiting Atlanta. It was good to see the city getting some love. I also like that the different factions of supernatural creatures are learning to work together to keep their city safe. I’ve found that I like Hadley’s sense of humor also. It’s similar to my own, and I can appreciate a snarky comment. I haven’t figured out how I feel about Midas yet, but I’m itching to find out more about Bishop. Ford is an interesting one too that I’m excited to see where Edwards goes with all this. Overall, this is a great start to the series. Plenty to keep me entertained and written in a way that keeps my attention and keeps me guessing. I don’t like being able to solve the mystery right away, and I don’t have that problem in this book.
The Lying, the Witch, and the Werewolf Demitria Lunetta, Marley Lynn, Kate Karyus Quinn Paranormal Mystery I turned my boyfriend into a vampire and now he won’t return my calls. I’m operating on a low budget with a broken heart until a client makes me an offer I can’t refuse – go undercover in a sex cult to find his sister. This cleaning lady isn’t interested in getting down and dirty, but I could use the getaway. At first the cult only seems interested in bringing humans and supes together...in bed. But I quickly discover there’s way more than just group orgies happening here. Despite preaching peace and love, I suspect their real aim is to force their own brand of sexual healing onto the rest of the world. Complications increase when Nico shows up, worried for my safety. As the attraction that’s been simmering between the two of us threatens to boil over, will Nico and I go all the way to solve the case? Or can I save the day and keep our relationship squeaky clean?
of Jimmy Choo’s. I love how she keeps things lighthearted even when it seems like the worst is happening. The writing in this series is so easy to absorb. I’m not saying it’s a low read or anything like that, but the way the authors put everything together makes everything flow fast and smooth. The characters are all easy to relate to in different ways and it makes them more believable. I love how Paige’s character has evolved from a closeminded and occasionally uptight and down on her luck character to who she is today. I wish more people in real life could overcome their prejudices the way she has. It’s understandable that she is still a little leery, but as time goes on and she has those life experiences, her opinions are changing. Hopefully more people in our society can start to do the same. Overall, I can’t think of a single actual bad thing to say about this book. I’ve loved it as much, if not more, as the other books and my only sort of complaint is it’s never long enough. But I’m selfish like that and always want more.
Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: The Lying, the Witch, and the Werewolf is a bit more…let’s go with “sexually interesting” than the other books in this series. But for good reason. Paige must go undercover at a sex cult to help look for a client’s sister and make sure she’s there of her own free will, happy, and safe. But in true Paige fashion, she can’t just peek through the bushes (no pun intended) unseen and be on her way. She grabs everyone’s attention along the way and gets herself into as much trouble as possible. I really love this series. There are plenty of laughs to go along with the mystery, and I just devour each book faster than her dalmanther pup can eat a pair
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews Everything’s Annoying JC Michael Horror Anthology From J.C. Michael, author of Pandemonium, comes Everything’s Annoying, a collection of dark fiction and horror. Covering a variety of themes, Everything’s Annoying provides an array of unsettling tales that will stay with you long after reading.
Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: There’s really only so much I can say about this book. It’s full of short reads that will keep you guessing as to what is going on and what surprises are on the next page. I read JC Michael’s book, Pandemonium, several years ago and let me tell you, he can tell a story that sticks with you. I still think about that book and there are several stories in this collection that I’m sure will be making appearances in my head in the future.
One thing I really must say is I’m not at all mad at the guy in the first story. I can really understand where he’s coming from and can’t say that I blame him one little bit for how that story went. That’s the closest I can get without giving away a spoiler. Just know I get it. Seriously, this is another great book by this author. He has never let me down, and it doesn’t look like he plans to start anytime soon. I enjoyed every dark minute of it.
Time Travel SciFi It is the year 2288, and Earth is reeling from the most horrific terrorist attack it has ever endured.The Quest, a pseudo-religious splinter group, have taken a stance against the Earth Alliance’s authority of the planet.It is down to Youssef Haseem, now the highest-ranking official left in the EA, to build a team to face the threat of total inhalation if he doesn’t stand down and bow to The Quest’s demands. Then the leaders of The Quest disappear, and a legend emerges in the year 1888. But just who is the mysterious stranger stalking and viciously killing women on the streets of Whitechapel, London?A mission is launched! A battle of wits against time itself. A fight to be played out in the present and the past, with the fate of humanity at stake.Legends can happen anytime...
Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: I’m unbelievably glad I took the chance on this book. I can’t lie, I was a little nervous about reading this book at first. I’m not much of a sciencey/serious person, so I wasn’t sure if it would work for me, but I’m a sucker for anything even vaguely historical. I just can’t help it. Especially 1888 Whitechapel history. I was worried some of the more futuristic stuff would turn me off or be too confusing for me but I understood 99% of it. And trust me when I say that’s a big deal. I’ve read some of McCluskey’s other books, so I knew I generally enjoyed his writing style, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. I loved the twist on the old theory of Jack. I was completely caught off guard by what was going on and I really can’t give enough praise for this story.
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McCluskey’s creativity and ability to really show you the story really came through. I liked the idea of a religious cult, I mean, who doesn’t right? It was just crazy enough to be plausible. Overall, great story, great writing, great creativity and unique enough to stand above the rest. Well done.
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews Adjustment Year Melina Druga Historical War Fiction The war is over, but the healing has just begun. 1919. The promise of better days slips away as the optimism everyone experienced on Armistice Day fades. Hettie Taylor returns home to Canada married to Alfred, a man she barely knows, and without having had an opportunity in the nursing service to properly mourn her first husband, Geoffrey. Amy’s Review: Magnetic! Druga pens another magnificent historical story in Adjustment Year. I read the stories in this World War I trilogy, and I really enjoyed them. These books should be read in order. The characters were realistic and fit the era of 1919, just after WWI. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). A very well-written story, and I enjoyed it. It is always a joy to read this author’s stories. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller. Magnificent story, kept this reader turning the pages. This read is so engrossing, it brings you right in the middle of the story. Hettie is stronger than she thinks she is, as she mourns one husband while marrying one she doesn’t even know. The war is over, there should be parades in the street, but the truth is ... and that’s where I leave it. No spoilers here. This story is more than words on the page, it’s intriguing and a magnificent and terrifying journey for Hettie, and the reader.
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All Things Bright Ted Tayler Crime Thriller Stacey Read was thirteen and a half when she disappeared Police found Stacey’s body in the canal ten days later Gus Freeman and his team are reviewing the unsolved case All things bright and beautiful. Nothing is ever what it seems Gus has his work cut out in this tenth cold case as the true horror is revealed Amy’s Review: Another great story! Tayler pens another magnificent story in All Things Bright story. This is book ten, yes, I said ten, in Tayler’s The Freeman Files series. I recommend this series thus far to anyone who loves a good mystery, along with dynamic characters. Gus and his team solve the unsolved cases, and his current case is none like no other, and that’s all I’m saying about that. The plot is not just one note, solving cases, but it’s about the people, the camaraderie, and looking for even the smallest clue. It’s a grand collection of characters, that just meld together, to solve what has always seemed like the unsolvable. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. Tayler is definitely high on my list of favorite authors. It is a very well-written story, and I enjoyed it. It is always a joy to read this author’s stories. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller. This is a magnificent story, kept this reader turning the pages. A definite attention grabber, so much I couldn’t put it down.
Dragon Rider Prophecy Zola Blue Children’s Fantasy The Dragon Rider Prophecy is a Dragon Fantasy about Logan and Johanna who are leading ordinary lives as college co-eds. They were adopted by a good family when they were young. They’ve wanted nothing… as both had dreams of playing hockey and leading ordinary lives. until a shared dream exposes their true identities and opens their eyes to their shared destiny. Amy’s Review: A grand epic fantasy! Wichland pens a grand, fantastical story in Dragon Rider Prophecy. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. In a world of fantasy and prophecy, hidden secrets, Logan and Johanna are trying to live life as normal as possible, especially when they don’t realize how truly special and magical they are. It’s an adventure for them as their powers and abilities increase, as well as for the reader. It’s a wonderful take on an epic fantasy or even magical journey. The line between good and evil is there, and danger is always just around the corner. I really enjoyed this story, and Wichland is a grand writer with an even grander imagination. 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. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller.
Sea Spray John A. Heldt Time Travel Romance Months after stealing two time machines from a madman who wants them back, the Lanes, a family of seven, seek peace and safety in 1927, the latest stop on a journey through time. For a while, each succeeds. Amy’s Review: Another great Time Box book Heldt pens a outstanding story in Sea Spray, the third book in the Time Box Series. I have read most of what Heldt has written. I like Heldt’s writing style and his timeless time travel theme in whatever book he writes. This author brings the stories and the different eras to life. I must say that time travel is just part of the story, and the family and family dynamic is the biggest part of it. His characters have depth, and minds of their own. Stolen time machines, life in a time long since passed, and even new relationships, but that is just the beginning. There’s something to be said for living, literally, in the past. The Lanes are an incredible real family, with not just “time” issues, but family relationships and secrets. I loved this book. The stories just keep getting better and better. Reading this, you can tell the time Heldt put into knowing the time eras where the Lanes land, and it pulls the reader in that time, right there with them. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). Heldt is one of my favorite authors that I review for, and his imagination is so full, I hope there will be more stories. It’s a “timeless” story, that is more than just words on a page.
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews The Dancing Murders James Musgrave Mystery Boomtown San Diego, in 1888, erupts in murder. Retired Marshal and hero of the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp is involved. What’s really going on? Amy’s Review: Prolific Storytelling Musgrave pens a suspenseful story in The Dancing Murders, the sixth book in the Portia of the Pacific Mysteries. I’ve read the stories leading up to this one, and I recommend the books be read in order, though it isn’t necessary. I find it necessary just to read this author’s work, and keep reading whatever Musgrave writes. This author brings the story to life. The characters had a lot of depth, and were very realistic. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. It is always a joy to read this author’s stories. This is a magnificent story, kept this reader turning the pages. A definite attention grabber, so much I couldn’t put it down. The thrills and intrigue is written clearly and the characterizations are engrossing. If you love a good suspenseful, thrilling, historical mystery, this book should be next on your list. This story takes the reader to 1888, San Diego, and you’re introduced to the retired but wiry Wyatt Earp.
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The Half-Light A D Lombardo YA Fantasy Will Kai be able to unlock his potential—and can he handle the risks? Prince Kai’s life was transformed the moment he witnessed the death of his mother—killed by a dragon in the palace garden right in front of him. After years of sheltered isolation, Kai is desperate to find his way in a changing world. So he sheds his royal detail by venturing out of the confines of Diu city alone. Amy’s Review: A grand Fantasy Lombardo pens a fantastical YA story in The HalfLight. I haven’t read work from this author before, and I liked this one. Filled with Princes, dragons, and a changing world, the story is a good read. It’s meant for young adults, but I liked it, and found that Lombardo has a great talent creating this magical, and dangerous world. Secrets linger around the story and the Prince, (Kai), making for a good story. 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. This read is so engrossing, it brings you right in the middle of the story.
The Son of Seven Mothers Benjamin Risha Occult As the adopted son of two cult leaders, Benjamin Risha was raised to someday assume a place of leadership in the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation with the Bible, and his parents’ interpretation of it, as his guide. He believed the prophecies of his adoptive mother and father, which included them being the two prophets foretold in the Book of Revelations as preceding the second coming of Jesus Christ, them raising from the dead when they died, and such dire warnings as the ground opening up to swallow nonbelievers into hell. He was sure that Susan Alamo could raise the dead as promised. Amy’s Review: Powerful true story!! Risha pens a harrowing and remarkable true crime story in The Son of Seven Mothers. This is the first book of this author’s that I’ve read. Risha takes the reader back in his history and how he grew up with his adopted parents, that were cult leaders. The prophecies of his family and the cult around him, he believed in what they believed in. When the prophecies proved to be false, it was a long road and journey for him to survive and “escape” into the real world, which was so foreign to him. Risha writes his story well, this reader feeling both appalled and relieved at his life. It was a powerful true story, and it shows great strength that Risha shares his story with the world. Talk about true crime. It’s a true crime survivor story!
Masters’ Escape Jamie Schultz Western SciFi He refuses to be tamed. She can’t let him go. Will they break down their walls and allow love to grow? Bret Masters thought he’d finally found a glimmer of hope in his nightmarish existence. But after a night of sweet passion, the woman he trusted throws him out of her bedroom and returns him solely to worker status. His ego crushed, a rash escape attempt only results in him being dragged back in chains. Amy’s Review: Entrancing Romance Schultz pens another cowboy, and steaming romance in Masters’ Escape. I have read work from this author before, including the story before this one, and I really enjoyed it. I recommend that the books be read in order for this one to make sense, without having to spell out the backstory. The characters were raw and very intense, yet vulnerable, and magnetic. It’s not just sunshine and rainbows for Masters, as he is going through some very rough times, and doubts not only himself, but others as well, and their intentions. It’s a really good story, and Masters is a very complex man. This author brings this story to life. There is a great chemistry between the characters, and the romance was not one where the writer forces a couple together, but the magnetism is there. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next.
Issue 58 | May 2021 |
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