Uncaged Book Reviews

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ISSUE 44 | MARCH 2020




t o g es s r o h ! e g h n t bli ll A new

nOTE FROM THE EDITOR W

e are close to so many yearly milestones this month! Close to Daylight Savings Time, close to the official beginning of Spring (which can’t come fast enough for me) and close to primary elections in the U.S.! My horses are shedding, so Spring is definitely coming a bit early this year, and I think the groundhog agreed for a change. For the past few years, I’ve been ready to kidnap that groundhog.... One of the questions I love to ask authors about is their characters, and if they ever do something that wasn’t intended. This is one of my favorite questions, and this month, Tamsen Schultz made me laugh out loud because she couldn’t get a character to stop cursing. I only wish I knew an author’s mind, but then again, sounds a bit like schizophrenia, doesn’t it? I also love the answer because the characters become real to the author, which in turn, makes them real to the reader..and for the time you spend with a book, the characters are real for that moment in time...and series books with recurring characters only sweeten that relationship. How can you build a successful career as an author if you can’t get that connection with the reader? When a character connects with the author and tries to write his/her own destiny, it’s sure to have a better chance to connect with the reader. So I think I’ll keep asking that question. 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 2020.

Feature author openings are available now until June 2020, so if authors have a book that is releasing this year, give me a shout and we will see what we can do - most of these spots fill up pretty quickly - to don’t be afraid to contact me. Unfortunately, Tier 2 review requests will remain closed until further notice. That review Tier is only open to Feature Authors at this time. Uncaged is always open to bringing on new reviewers, so if you’d like to get books for free in exchange for an honest review, please email me at Cyrene@ UncagedBooks.com Uncaged still has an opening in our blog review group. If you have a blog and you review books and would like to get more exposure for your reviews, then shoot me an email. The only requirement is to review 4 books minimum although you can certainly do more. The magazine has a monthly section for authors and their pets! Each month, the Featured Authors will be highlighted with their furry pals in a section separate from their feature slot. You will also get a bit of insight into my life as I feature one each month of my own. Enjoy the March 2020 issue of Uncaged Book Reviews and have a great Spring!

X CyREnE 4| uncagedbooks.com


Issue 44 | March 2020

contents featureauthors Rebecca Heflin 14 contemporary romance 22

Barry Knister

32

Debra Moffitt

42

Val Collins

56 64

FangFreakinTastic

104

Sally returns to tell us more about her latest release in the Love Thrives in Emma Springs series

86 Tina Susedik

Tina is back with a new Historical Western Romance, inspired by her time in Deadwood, S.D at the Wild Deadwood Reads convention.

psychological thriller

Harper McDavid

romantic suspense

shortstory

72

Tamsen Schultz

Sandcastles by Madelaine Grant

romantic suspense

showcase

78

Bill Percy

50

90

M.J. Preston

96

political thriller

scifi horror

Ulff Lehmann dark fantasy

authors and their pets

52

paranormal

catchup 28 Sally Brandle

contemporary young adult

inspirational ghost suspense

Rene Folsom

Claire Buss The Gaia Collection

sneakpeek

12 4 7 110 116 120

Suzanne M. Sabol Amber Ruin

Note from the Editor Contributors|Partnerships Uncaged Reviews Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

Uncaged’s Feature Authors introduce you to their devoted writing buddies, and the devotion goes both ways. Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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Contributors | Partnerships

Follow Uncaged on Facebook

Paranormal lover’s rejoice. Uncaged review contributors.

A blog for horror fans. Uncaged review contributors.

A little bit of everything. Uncaged review contributors.

Help for authors and businesses.

If you’d like your banner here, please email me at UncagedBooks@gmail.com

Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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upcomingconventions

Romancing Williamsburg March 18-22, Colonial Willamsburg, VA https://romancingwilliamsburg.com/

Book Lovers Con March 18–22, Nashville,TN https://www.bookloverscon.com/

Apollycon March 26-29, Washington, D.C. https://apollyconevent.com/

KissCon April 17-19, 2020 Chicago, IL https://info.harpercollins.com/kisscon2020authors/

Interracial Romance Authors’ Expo April 23–25, Daytona Beach, FL https://www.irauthorsexpo.com/

BookCon May 30–31, 2020 New York City, NY http://www.thebookcon.com/Home/

Lori Foster’s Reader & Author Get Together (RAGT) June 4–7, 2020 West Chester, OH http://readerauthorgettogether.com/ A Weekend with the Authors April 16–19, Nashville,TN http://www.aweekendwiththeauthors.com/ 8| uncagedbooks.com |





sneakpeek

Suzanne M. Sabol Amber Ruin Amber Ruin Suzanne M. Sabol Dark Fantasy Dahlia, Dean, and Patrick are attempting a political coup of the supernatural world. Gathering allies to upset the balance and throw off the shackles of the ancients won’t be easy. But to live alongside humans instead of in their shadow, they’ll have to overcome enemies at every turn; vampires, shifters, the fae, and humans. Baba Yaga, the queen of the dark fae, has her own designs for Dahlia. Moving her chess pieces on the board, the ancient witch has set a trap to draw The Blushing Death back into her clutches. To possess Dahlia and the power of Fertiri magic for her own purposes, Baba Yaga will do almost anything -sacrifice anyone – to rise to power once more. Racing to survive Baba Yaga’s traps and rescue two of her wolves, Dahlia enters Baba Yaga’s mountain understanding that she may never come out again.

Excerpt The ogre ran at me, closing the distance in easy, thunderous strides. Twenty feet. Fifteen. Ten. I couldn’t dodge too early or he’d be able to change his trajectory. I had to wait until it was too late for him. 12| uncagedbooks.com |

Five feet. Now! The ogre’s arm swung out, thick fingers grasping for me. Dropping to a crouch, I spun and sliced Gladi across the back of the ogre’s ankle as he stumbled, suddenly off balance as I cut his Achilles tendon. The ogre collapsed, face-planting into the tree trunk in front of him with a crunch of bone and breaking bark that made me queasy. I quickly got to my feet, ignoring the blood oozing from one of the ogre’s noses, and strode over. Running up the creature’s back as it lay still on the ground, I grasped Gladi in my hand. With a sure, clean stroke, Gladi slid through the flesh of the ogre’s neck and severed one of the heads from its bulky body. I turned in a panic, searching for Dean. On shaky legs, he got to his feet with a dismembered ogre’s head clutched in his hands. The flesh of its neck was jagged and torn, where the head had been ripped from the neck. Dean tossed the head and met my gaze. His shoulders eased at the sight of me and a tiny grin turned up the corner of his lips. I knew there were seven more out there but I was just thankful Dean was all right and didn’t seem too banged up. I smiled back at him and glanced down at his ogre, my eye drawn by the soft, flickering amber glow where the ogre’s head used to be. “Dean?” I called as the ogre’s arms and legs began to twitch. Flesh and bone sprang from the ogre’s neck where its head used to be. Before I could verbalize what appeared to be happening without gagging, a head was beginning to shape at the base of the neck. Slimy with ill-defined goopy features, clumps of hair began to sprout from the top of the rounded nub. A crocked nose jutted out from the front and the gleam of a few crooked teeth shone bright white in the darkness. Before I had time to really be sick, a fully formed head once again sat on the ogre’s neck and he was getting to his feet. “Behind you!” Dean bellowed.


feature authors

contemporary | young adult | inspirational

Rebecca Heflin

Barry Knister

Debra Moffitt


Savvy Authors, and Florida Writers Association. My mountain-climbing husband and I live at sea level in sunny Florida.

REBEccA HEFlIn

Stay Connected

rebeccaheflin.com Uncaged welcomes Rebecca Heflin Uncaged: Your new release, A Season to Love will release March 12. Can you tell readers more about this book and series? How does the series tie together? ’ve dreamed of writing romantic fiction since I was fifteen and my older sister sneaked a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’ Shanna to me and told me to read it. Now I write women’s fiction and contemporary romance under the name Rebecca Heflin.

I

In case you’re wondering, Rebecca Heflin is an abbreviated version of my great-great grandmother’s name: Sarah Anne Rebecca Heflin Apple Smith. Whew! And you wondered why I shortened it. When not passionately pursuing my dream, I am busy with my day-job at a large state university or running the nonprofit cancer organization my husband and I founded. I’m a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Florida Romance Writers, RWA Contemporary Romance,

14 | UncagedBooks.com

A Season to Love is the second book in what will be a four-book series set in the fictional North Georgia town of Northridge. ASTL tells Kristen and Tyler’s story, whom readers met in A Season to Dance, the first book in the series. When I started A Season to Dance, I had intended it to be a stand-alone novel. I had two other ideas waiting in the wings for stand-alone novels, and wanted to pursue those next. But as I wrote ASTD, Kristen and Tyler begged for their own story. As I pondered a new series, I realized the other two story ideas would fit quite nicely in the series. Thus, the Seasons of Northridge series was born. Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? Before I begin A Season to Dream, the next book in the Seasons of Northridge series, I’m going to change gears and try my hand at a “seasoned romance” novella. The novella, tentatively called Dream Date, will feature a hero and heroine closer to my own age—ahem, fiftysomething. I’m excited to explore more “mature” characters, and I hope readers in my same age demographic will appreciate a happily-ever-after story that proves


it’s never too late to find love. Uncaged: How long does it take you to write and release a book, from writing the first chapter to release day? Are you a plotter or a panster? Alas, it takes me a year from start to finish to write and release a novel. A novella takes about half that time. In addition to writing, I have a full-time job in research administration at a large research university, and my husband and I have a non-profit foundation that raises money to fund support programs for cancer patients and their families. Add to that my community involvement, and the marketing and promotion for my books, and I stay insanely busy.

I am definitely a pantser! I tried plotting once, and it stalled my writing. I do loosely follow Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat process, but the enjoyment for me is following where my characters take me. And they often surprise me, as with Kristen in A Season to Love. I can’t reveal what that surprise was, but it was a doozy! Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? I’d have to say Jane Austen. I’d love to ask her question about Darcy and Elizabeth, especially about where she thinks they end up. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done

Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | something that you didn’t intend when you began? Oh, many times! See above. Lol! In one particular book, I’d planned for my characters to have sex later in the story. Well, they had other ideas, and taking matters into their own hands, wound up in bed much earlier in the story. I love it when a scene or turning point blooms organically. It just feels right. Uncaged: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing? A small digital-first publisher published my first five books. I had a wonderful experience with them, but when I decided to write my first novella, Romancing Dr. Love (which turned into the threenovella series, Sterling University), I thought I’d test the indie-publishing waters. Turned out I liked the waters just fine and have been self-publishing ever since. I love the control over my release date, my pricing, and my cover. If I was able to write books faster, I might continue to write for a publisher and self-publish, but since it’s one book a year for me right now, I’d rather indie-publish them. Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Relax? Hmm, what’s that? When I get some rare free time, I like to be outdoors—hiking in a local state park or working in my yard. My husband and I love to travel, and we’ve been to some amazing places all around the world, but I wouldn’t exactly call our frenetic vacations relaxing. Lol. For true relaxation, I love to read—romance, of course! And watch the occasional movie. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? I think it’s every author’s dream to hit the NY Times or USA Today Bestseller list. But I count it a success when a reader loves my book enough to 16 | UncagedBooks.com


| REBECCA HEFLIn | post a review, send me an email, or post something on social media. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I strictly read eBooks now. When Kindle first came out, my husband bought one for me. I said “thank you” and set aside to return to my physical books. But once I gave it a try, I was hooked! I can go on vacation with thousands of books to choose from and not exceed the airline’s weight limit! I also listen to audiobooks. I have a half-hour commute to work and back every day, so I listen in my car. It’s definitely reduced the stress of the commute. So, I may be reading one book on my Kindle before bed, but listening to another one in the car. I’m just finishing up Lexi Ryan’s Jackson Harbor series, and loving it! As for audiobooks, I’m listening to the Outlander series (again). Diana Gabaldon’s amazing story, paired with Davina Porter’s incredible narration, makes for an entrancing listen. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’ve enjoyed the interview, and I hope your readers have too!

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| FEATURE AUTHOR |

Enjoy an excerpt from A Season to Love A Season To Love Rebecca Heflin Contemporary Romance Releases March 12 Kristen McKay and Tyler Kincaide have a past—one that has left her with a bone-deep animosity for him. And a secret. After seventeen years away, Tyler has returned to his hometown of Northridge, complicating Kristen’s life and dredging up conflicting emotions she’d rather not confront: the shame of that night so many years ago, coupled with the confounding and unwelcome physical attraction she has for him; the desire to keep her secret, and the guilt over doing just that. For his part, Tyler tries to renew his once-casual friendship with Kristen, but is greeted with open hostility for his efforts. He can’t understand why she feels about him the way he feels about Brussels sprouts and kale—intense loathing. What did he do that was so unforgivable? And what can he do to make her view him with less distaste than she would gum on the bottom of her shoe? When they’re roped into working on a project together for the town’s Economic Development Council, there is no denying their chemistry. The heat between them grows into something more than sexual attraction, leaving Kristen no other alternative. She must confess her secret, even though she knows it will tear them apart. In an ironic twist, she finds she must seek forgiveness from the very man she swore never to forgive. Excerpt 18 | UncagedBooks.com

If looks could kill Kristen McKay’s glare would be a lethal weapon. As Tyler Kincaide entered conference room looking for an open seat at the conference table, he grimaced when the first open seat his gaze landed on happened to be next to her. Not that he had anything against her. He liked her. A lot. Well, in the way a man who wouldn’t mind getting inside a woman’s pants likes her. But for some reason, she felt about him the way he felt about Brussels sprouts and kale. Bone-deep hate. Just as he’d made up his mind to take the seat anyway, she lifted her startled gaze to his again, then turned the glare up a notch to death ray. Well, okay then. Another seat cross the table next to Tabitha Gillespie, owner of Pints & Paints, appeared to be available. The Town Hall conference room served as the monthly meeting venue for the Northridge Economic Development Council, or EDC for short. Turning his footsteps in that direction, he felt the heat of Kristen’s glare burning holes in the spot between his shoulder blades, like a laser blast from Cyclops. Resisting the urge to twitch his shoulders, he set his iPad on the table and pulled out the chair, nodding to Tabitha, just as Carter Watson, the council chair, called the meeting to order. The little town of Northridge, population six thousand twenty three, had an active economic development council which advised the Town Council on economic development matters, including business retention and expansion, new development (within strict zoning ordinances in order to maintain Northridge’s historic charm), marketing opportunities, and tourism. As the owner of Firehouse Brews, a local craft brewery, and its sister business The Firehouse Taproom, Tyler had a vested interest in Northridge’s economic success. So, despite the unwelcome chill from Kristen’s side of the table, here he sat, making a concerted effort not to fidget in his seat. He’d noticed today she had her long red hair plaited down her back, stray bits coming loose to curl around her face. The olive-green sweater she wore deepened the color of her bottle-green eyes, and played up the


| REBECCA HEFLIn | peach of her cheeks. The chill of fall had yet to show its face, but Kristen was bundled up as if there were a blizzard coming. She had this rolled-out-of-bed quality that intrigued him. Hair just this side of messy, clothes that seemed an afterthought but that hugged her curves, little tono accessories. It suited her devil-take-it attitude. After working with women in his former profession on Wall Street, buttoned up and suited in dark colors, sleek skirts, and red-soled, sky high shoes, Kristen’s fuck-it appearance was refreshing. And sexy as hell. Ooh boy. He needed to get a grip before he did something stupid. Like compliment her appearance. Such actions could start World War III. Sliding his iPad open, he tapped on the notes app, ready to jot down his thoughts during his second meeting since joining the Council in July. After approving the minutes of the August meeting, Carter brought up the first item of business. As he spoke, Tyler scanned the agenda, stopping when he came to the item titled ‘Film Location.’ Intrigued, he drummed his fingers on his lap, wondering what that could be about. ***** Kristen McKay tapped her pen on the table as Mason Porter, owner of Forget Me Not’s Florist droned on about the latest sales tax increase, and averted her eyes from the man directly across the table from her. Why, she asked herself for the thousandth time, did he have to join the EDC too? Whenever she was in his presence she felt the familiar push-pull. The shame of that night so many years ago, coupled with the confounding and unwelcome desire to be with him despite it. Damn him and his dirty-blond hair and crazy chameleon eyes in that melange of blue-green-brown. Every time she looked at him, the color changed. What color would they appear now? Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look, she repeated to herself. Okay. She looked. And beneath the jarring fluorescent lights, they were a deep olive green with flecks of blue and gold. He gave her a flicker of a smile, and she rolled her own eyes, more at her own weakness,

than at his impertinence. Enough. Stifling a groan, she studied September’s agenda for topics of direct interest to her. She’d only recently become a business owner in Northridge, having purchased what had been the bookstore two years ago when Patti Cotton had decided to retire and move to Florida. Kristen had put every dime she could spare into the business, converting a section of the bookstore into a cafe where she served fresh-baked goods and coffee, renaming it Beans N’ Books. She’d also taken out a small business loan and applied for small business grants from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. As one of the newest member of the EDC, she’d joined determined to make herself heard and have a hand in Northridge’s economic success. She also wanted to prove to everyone that she wasn’t her mother’s daughter (or, even worse, her father’s). That she could be a success, be independent, and unlike her mother, not fall back on a string of questionable relationships, and the occasional hook to make ends meet. And unlike her father, stay out of prison. She knew she had a good business model, but in addition to regular patronage from Northridge’s local citizens, its survival depended on the tourists from neighboring Atlanta who craved a day away from the big city where they could walk the quaint historic downtown area, visit the trendy shops, and sample the excellent food and beverages Northridge’s businesses were proud to offer. Gliding a finger down the agenda, she passed an item, then backed up. ‘Film Location.’ She sat up, intrigued. The State of Georgia had invested a great deal to become the ‘Hollywood of the South,’ and they’d succeeded. Some of her favorite binge-worthy TV shows were filmed in Georgia, including The Walking Dead and Stranger Things. And those productions had boosted the economy in both filming locations. Was a production company looking at Northridge for a TV show or feature film? Salivating at the possibility of a regular catering Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | gig for a production crew, she anxiously waited for the meeting to move along. This could help her little business turn the corner. Finally, Carter cleared his throat. “The next item on the agenda involves the proposal from the Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Division of the Georgia Economic Development Council for Northridge to serve as the location for the feature film adaptation of the best-selling novel Battle of the Heart by Jordan Raven.” Kristen sucked in a breath. She squeezed in time to read books–crucial to a bookstore owner–and had read that book. And loved it! I mean, who hadn’t read the book? she wondered. It’d been promoted on news programs, talk shows, and magazines all over the country. She’d even featured it in her Georgia authors section. Set in the Post-Civil-War-South in the 1870’s, the story focused on a couple, Samuel and Eleanor Wesley, who are trying to put their lives back together after the Civil War, but his past still haunts him and threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to accomplish. Northridge was the perfect location with its railroad history, original post-antebellum buildings and nineteenth century charm. Excitement surged through her. This excitement waned when she returned her attention to the meeting discussion. “I don’t think we want to subject our town to this invasion,” Mason said, brow furrowed. “Yeah,” Tabitha seconded. “It will disrupt our lives.” “It will also be a shot of adrenaline for Northridge’s economy,” Kristen interjected, surprised by her own temerity, especially when all eyes turned to her, including Tyler’s. Screwing up her courage she continued, raising her voice to be heard over the base drum of her heart. “Tony,” she pointed at Dominick Mancini’s son, who now ran Dominick’s Pizza & Pasta, “what about catering for the film crew? Or Meghan?” She jutted her chin toward Meghan Redmond, 20 | UncagedBooks.com

owner and chef of The Whistle Stop Pub. She then turned her gaze on Mason, “You might be called on to provide flowers for scenes. And, Tabitha, the crew will be looking for things to do during their time off—they could come to Pints & Paints.” She leaned on the table to make her point, “Carter, you and Anita did such a beautiful job renovating the 1885 Bed & Breakfast, you could make a mint serving as the setting for the boarding house in the book. After filming, fans of the book will want to stay at the ‘Magnolia Boarding House.’” Her heart expanded in her chest with both nerves and excitement, and with being the current center of attention for all the right reasons, rather than for pity or disdain. She lifted her hand then let it drop to the table. “It’s a no-brainer.” ***** Tyler’s head had swiveled in Kristen’s direction at her first words. Huh. He didn’t know why, but he never expected to be on the same side of an issue with her. Maybe because whenever he was around her she was so . . . contrary, almost for contrariness’ sake. If he said the grass was green and the sky was blue, she’d say the opposite, despite the evidence to the contrary. “Kristen’s right. The economic boost to Northridge is incalculable. Everything from job creation to attracting tourists, this opportunity will bring nothing but good to our businesses.” This set off another round of arguments from the naysayers. Feeling Kristen’s green eyes on him he tilted his head and returned her gaze. The angry voices receded, and in his mind anyway, it was just the two of them, alone. She lifted a brow in challenge, but her eyes remained calm. This was the first time since he’d returned to Northridge that she’d looked at him without hostility. Maybe they were making progress. He liked it. “Well, Tyler and Kristen, since you two are currently the only ones in favor of this, the council requests a


| REBECCA HEFLIn | full report from you on the economic impact, good and bad, this could have on Northridge.” He slid the proposal down the table where it stopped in front of Tyler. “We’ll expect the report at the November meeting.” ***** Wait. What? Kristen’s gaze bounced between Carter at the head of the table, and Tyler, seated across from her. Surely Tyler wouldn’t agree. She’d certainly given him enough reason to steer clear of her. Clenching her fist under the table, she held her breath hoping for his refusal. As one of the newbies on the council, she didn’t want to be the one to turn down an opportunity to show the council how vested she was in the community and that she deserved their respect. But this? No way. She couldn’t spend time with Tyler working on a report, meeting to discuss the pros and cons of the proposal, possibly over lunch, or worse . . . dinner. For one, she couldn’t afford it, and for two, she couldn’t handle it. Since his return, keeping her distance and her secret had been difficult enough. Spending time with him would make it impossible. But just as she’d opened her mouth to protest, Tyler said with a nod at her, “We’ll be happy to.”

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A

fter a career of college teaching, Barry Knister returned to writing. His first novel, a gritty thriller about Vietnam Vets titled THE DATING SERVICE was published by Berkley. Since then, he has published JUST BILL, a gentle novel of magical realism about dogs and owners living on a Florida golf course. Knister has also published three suspense novels featuring journalist Brenda Contay. The first in the series, THE ANYTHING GOES GIRL takes place in Micronesia, and sees Contay investigating an elaborate scheme to use unsuspecting islanders in drug experiments. The second book, DEEP NORTH is a noir suspense story, in which Brenda and three women friends on a fishing trip find themselves mired in a grim pattern of murders in the beautiful Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. Last year, Knister published the third of the series, GODSEND. Set in Florida’s upscale Naples, the novel weaves a character-driven story of romantic guilt with that of a likable and ambitious illegal alien who is helping people to die, even when they change their minds. Knister is a past secretary of Detroit Working Writers, and the former director of the Cranbrook Writers Conference. He has published travel and humor in local markets, and until recently wrote “Let me get this straight,” a blog and column for the Naples (Florida) Daily News.

Stay Connected

bwknister.com

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BARRY knISTER Uncaged welcomes Barry Knister Uncaged: Can you tell us more about your book, Just Bill? JUST BILL is my short novel about dogs and owners living on a golf course. In Naples, Florida, life is comfortable for the welloff residents of Donegal Country Club. But money and golf can’t keep you from getting old, or losing your spouse. That’s why Donegal residents are so attached to their dogs and grandchildren. Even so, Bill, a big, anxious-to-please rescue dog is an outsider at Donegal. He’s devoted to his master, but most residents think Bill is just too big in a community of lapdogs. Former Lands’ End model GLENDA GILMORE is also an outsider. She married an older man, and other Donegal wives think she’s a gold digger. Even after her husband dies, Glenda is too young and good-looking to be trusted After her father remarries, 10-year-old RUBY starts feeling like and outsider to her father--especially after his new wife has a baby. During a family visit with her grandparents, the little girl’s fear leads to tell a lie that forces Bill’s owner to give up his dog But Bill’s ordeal finally leads to hope and renewal. The theme of Just Bill is simple yet profound: help another—a dog, a child—and you help yourself. Uncaged: You’ve also written a suspense series, The Brenda Contay Mysteries. Can you tell us more about those? Are you planning on continuing this series? Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | As the series tagline says, “Brenda Contay doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it keeps finding her.” The series focuses on the life and career of a young journalist. The first book, The Anything Goes Girl introduces readers to Brenda. She’s escaped her bad-girl “anything goes” college reputation to become an overnight TV sensation. She rides to crime scenes on the back of her camera man’s motor cycle, and reports live on the underbelly of Detroit, but she is ashamed of what she does. When Brenda learns of an old lover’s death on a tiny island in the Pacific, she leaves success behind to travel to Micronesia. There, all hell breaks loose when she uncovers a story of drug testing being done on innocent islanders, by a company owned by one of the ten richest men in America. Book Two, Deep North, sees Brenda three years later. She’s won a Pulitzer for reporting on the story in Book One, but one thing’s still missing in her life: a meaningful relationship. That seems about to change when she and three women friends travel to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters to fish and enjoy themselves on a big, plush houseboat. But Brenda’s friend Marion is a lawyer for battered women, and an embittered man is following the women with revenge and robbery in mind. Ultimately, Brenda must make an agonizing decision: to lose someone she feels herself falling in love with, or to commit what is technically murder. Like Just Bill, Book Three in the Brenda Contay series is set on a golf course. In Godsend, the sordid, crime-ridden events in Deep North have led Brenda to break off her new romance, and go on assignment to Naples, Florida. Once again, trouble finds her, this time in the form of a handsome, clever undocumented Mexican alien. With the help of his Green Card-holding cousin, James Rivera is developing a highly successful handyman service for Naples’ wealthy retirees. He is also assisting those who are depressed and ask him to help them die. And he helps them, even when they change their minds. Sorting all this out 24 | UncagedBooks.com

becomes Brenda’s obsession--and the lover she’s left comes to Florida to get her back. I am currently working on Book Four in the series, Colder, with Snow. I think of this story as having a gothic feel. It’s set mostly on a snowbound college campus during the Christmas break. Brenda is now teaching journalism at her alma mater, but students are dying. One is blown up as he hitchhikes home to the Upper Peninsula. Another is severed in half by a heavy glass partition in the school’s swimming pool. At the center is a brilliant Chemistry student, and her all-tooprotective professor. Uncaged: What are you working on now that you can tell us about? My current project--or obsession--returns to the dog/human connection that I focused on in Just Bill. Tentatively titled Assisted Living, the book tells of Brady Ritz, an embittered retired journalist living in a Naples, Florida golf community. In recent years, and under an assumed name, he’s written snarky satirical essays about pop culture. He’s also made comic use of material taken from the lives of family members and friends. When the magazine goes out of business, Brady’s best friend sets up a “Best of” collection of the essays. But the friend then secretly arranges for the book’s second edition to appear under Brady’s own name. The fallout from this provides the story’s action--Brady is shunned by everyone, including his wife. When a dog suddenly comes into his life, the possibility of Ritz finding his way back into the human community arrives with it. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? That’s a tough one: writers can be very self-contained. But I would love to have lunch with Irma Bombeck, Dorothy Parker, the artist Barry Blitt, and half a dozen others that I think would make a great gathering in the Algonquin Hotel dining room. 5) Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began?


| BARRy KnISTER |

That happens all too often. My characters are an unruly, willful bunch.

Enjoy an excerpt from Just Bill

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

Just Bill Barry Knister Contemporary Young Adult

I used to play tennis, but I’m too long in the tooth for that now. Other than Happy Hour with the very funny woman I get to live with, walking my dog Skylar gives me the most pleasure. The amazing improvement in life that has come my way through dogs is something I am grateful for every time the two of us set out. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? To be convinced in my own mind that I’ve had a good day, and that what I’ve written is something worthy of being read. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? I’ve tried audiobooks--in fact, I narrated an audiobook version of Godsend. But I don’t much like them. I use a Kindle when I can’t sleep, but otherwise I prefer the Old Time Religion of printed books. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’m not at all savvy about tech matters, but I am happy to respond to email messages sent to me at barry.knister@gmail.com. I also have a blog that focuses mostly on dogs, an author website, and a Facebook Author page.

Have you ever wondered what your dog was thinking? Meet Bill. He’s a big, affectionate Labrador mutt who lives with his master Vinyl and the missus at the Donegal Golf and Country Club. Rescued by his owner after escaping a puppy mill, Bill is a bit of an oddity among all the other purebred dogs: Emma, the miniature poodle, Hotspur the loyal border Collie, and Wolfi and Stanzi the fearless and courageous dachshunds. Bill spends most of his days hanging out with his doggy friends and trying to obey all the rules that the missus has. But when his master’s granddaughter Ruby shows up, things suddenly go from good to bad. Ruby has it out for Bill, and she’ll do anything to get her way. Told from a dog’s perspective, this heartwarming, insightful, and emotional story of Bill and his four-legged group of gutsy companions will have you understanding life from a dog’s point of view—and believing in the power of kindness. Excerpt Prologue Back in the animal shelter, he resumes a life of sordid, empty days. Dogs come and go. Filling the hours, a welter of sensory overload gives way to boredom. Harsh Florida sun hangs all day in front of his crate; at night, shards of lightning Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | stab down through the skylight. Being brought back this way, he has trouble eating. In four days, he loses two pounds. Then, on the fifth day he is let out in the morning with others, in the fenced yard. Hot and humid, the air is something to push through. By noon the sky has darkened, and by two the trees bordering the adjacent barns clatter and sway. Dust whips through the yard. A plastic bucket flies against the stucco wall, then a lawn chair. One of the animal-shelter staff is now crossing from the sheds where public works equipment is stored. Hunched and facing away, she is holding on to her broad Smokey-the-bear hat. As she nears the gate, her phone rings. She unclips it from her belt and starts talking, holding her hat, working to open the gate. The hat blows off. Still talking, she turns and chases it, back toward the sheds. The hat whips and bounces. The gate bangs open. --Come on. The German shepherd is already outside. Skillfully mastering his injured leg, he starts loping away. It’s wrong, the dog thinks. Running away is a bad thing you get scolded for, even hit on the nose with newspaper. He watches other dogs scuttle out, the woman still chasing her hat. He chooses, and runs. Digging his hindquarters, racing for the gate he bangs a Weimaraner--and then he’s out, racing to catch the shepherd. It’s easy to do, the shepherd hobbled. But he is now loping in a steady, altered three-legged canter, clear of purpose. The dog reaches him. The message coming from the shepherd has to do with distance, the need to leave the shelter behind. In back he hears shouting, faint in the wind. Ahead, a fallen palm frond whisks across the road. In seconds they reach the highway. They run west, side by side on the shoulder. --Just run, the shepherd signals. --Don’t look back. Run. They do, together. He paces himself to match the slower dog. Everything now is wind. Everywhere leaves and torn seeds fly at them-they’re running directly into the first hours of a storm that has brewed for days in the Caribbean. Now rain falls in sheets. It doesn’t start small, there’s no light pattering first, no slow build. It’s 26 | UncagedBooks.com

thrown, pitched and dumped on all beneath. On the right the hot asphalt steams. Traffic barrels past, lashing the two dogs with waves. Horns bray. Headlights and fog lamps seem to charge all at once through the rain curtain, whipping past. How far? A mile? All there is to know lives in his big legs and chest, energy and instinct. And the shepherd. Would he have run without him? Either way he has made another choice on another road, this one in Florida, in hurricane season, dodging a limb torn from a cabbage palm. And in the clatter and steam of it, the slashing spray of passing cars--something registers. He knows this place. In his brain, narrow but deep in terms of sound and smell, he is certain. Ahead, lights are flashing. Some cars have pulled off the road. Nearing them, he leads the shepherd, picking up more clearly the scent and certainty that he is right. --This is good, he barks. --On the other side. I know what this is. No time or need to think. He cuts right and dashes over asphalt. This is where he lives, this is the mister and missus, the pool and rugs, the bed to be under in storms like this. Tires skid, a horn blows. Still it blares. On the wide median he stops. The shepherd isn’t with him. He whines and barks, a surprise even to those hard pressed to get where they need to be in such a storm. For a moment, distracted from worry about their cars and houses, they point at him. Slowing, they inch along the right lane as others race in the left, many talking on cell phones, telling one more detail from this squall-soaked day on Davis Boulevard, telling the person on the other end about some crazy dog out on the median, maybe a Lab, a big one barking his damn head off in all this weather. If this afternoon the dog’s owner were traveling in one of the passing cars, deafened by drumming on roof and hood and slowed by the storm, so that he all at once saw what was there, on the median, it would break his heart. With furious drivers honking and yelling, he would stop his car, get out and call to his dog. But he isn’t there. And what’s happening on Davis Boulevard is months away. Right now it’s late spring, with things as they always are.


mecastanares.com


C ATC H UP

CATCH UP WITH SALLY BRANDLE AND HER LATEST RELEASE IN THE LOVE THRIVES IN EMMA SPRINGS SERIES


Uncaged welcomes back Sally Brandle Uncaged: You have a new release on March 18, the latest release in your Love Thrives in Emma Springs series. Can you tell readers more about the series? Love Thrives in Emma Springs is a contemporary romantic suspense series depicting people who either move to the small Montana town and learn the benefits of a caring community or leave Emma Springs and realize what they’re missing. Readers comment on enjoying the returning cast of secondary characters, many rating their own story on their challenging path to love. Book 3 in the series, The Targeted Pawn, features Elon Hardy, a woman whose romance skills are rusty due to a shuttered, loveless marriage. Her welding torch doesn’t produce the only heat when she leaves Seattle to work for Rane Calderon, who owns a machine shop and raises Wagyu cattle. Problem is, her almost ex has a deadly agenda. All my stories include rescue animals—one of them bearing a strong resemblance to my horse, Lance, the cover model for Pawn. He’s often complemented on his muscled hindquarters! Uncaged: Are you planning on more to this series? Can readers read the series in any order? Glad you asked. I believe it’s easier if the books are read in order, but not mandatory. I plan to publish at least four more in the series. Book 1, The Hitman’s Mistake, featured a very popular and smart mule, Big Red. He reappeared in Book 2, Torn by Vengeance. In real life, I toured a forensic crime lab and saw a machine capable of pulling fingerprints from an eagle feather. Incorporating that idea, I created Red’s story taking place prior to Hitman. For my heroine and hero, I threw a newly badged game warden, Belle, on the trail of a poacher. She depends on help from Rane’s brother and Big Red. It’s currently titled, The Romantic Mule Thriller. Once that releases, I’ll have to choose between a prequel to the series, set in 1978, and two other books that are written and ready for editing. Then there’s my other unpublished romantic suspense series, Deadly Vision-Good Science in Bad Hands. I refer to it as science fact-tion; the inventions are cutting edge. So

| SALLy BRAnDLE | many books to edit, so little time. Uncaged: What is your promotional schedule looking like for 2020? Recently, I enjoyed meeting wonderful readers at King’s Book Store during their valentine author night. Several spring and summer opportunities are in the works, and I’ll post details on my website.

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ulti-award winning author Sally Brandle weaves slow-burning romance into edgy contemporary stories. Sally left a career as an industrial baking instructor to bring to life stories motivating readers to trust their instincts. Sensual, but without intimate scenes, they pack a double shot of suspense. Her rescue Aussie is her companion during long spells of writing or afternoons spent riding on the wind with her thirtyyear-old Quarter Horse. sallybrandle.com Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| CATCH UP |

Enjoy an excerpt from The Targeted Pawn

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. A woman Rane trusted ruined his life, and at forty, he won’t be fooled again. Blisteringly mad he’s hired a female bearing a man’s name, he fights attraction for the curvy, determined brunette while thwarting efforts to build a private prison atop his Blackfeet ancestors’ burial ground. Can Elon and Rane realize love doesn’t have a “best used before date”? If you enjoy smoldering romance, mercenary villains, and rescued animals, you’ll love escaping again to Emma Springs, Montana. Excerpt Fired before she started? No, the Bull Boss couldn’t do that to her. Elon gripped the underside of the table edge, willing him to give her a trial run. One stinking opportunity to prove she wasn’t as worthless as her ex maintained. She bit her lip. There wasn’t enough cash to return to Seattle. “Give me a chance, Mr. Calderon.” Rane took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “You did me a favor helping my bull, so I’ll do the same.” He folded her letter and rested his fist 30 | UncagedBooks.com

on it. “Wasn’t expecting to accommodate a woman.” His glance flicked outside and back to her. “There’s an unused bedroom and attached bath down that hall.” His face softened for a split second before he flipped his thumb over his shoulder. “You may bunk in my grandma’s room. She didn’t handle stairs either.” She’d handle him all right. Her fingers relaxed. “Sounds ideal. You have an MIG welder?” He glanced around the kitchen, as if noticing the mess for the first time. “Yup. Welding can wait until tomorrow. Start by feeding the men at five o’clock. Plenty of grub in the storeroom through the door by the sink.” “I’ll fix a hearty meal.” She palmed her locket. “I don’t have a cell phone. May I call my sons to tell them I arrived?” “House phone’s on my desk in the far corner of the living room. No incoming calls after ten at night, Montana time. Anything else?” “When do you cut checks?” “On the fourth and the twenty-eighth.” He rifled through the stack and pulled out a photocopied timesheet. “Give me your hours three days earlier.” “I can work through the weekend to catch you up.” “Good. Other questions?” Angel needed an advocate. “Just tell me where to park my car and oh…I, ah, have a dog.” “Your car’s ok where it’s parked. Didn’t realize you brought a guest,” he said, in a voice turned soft as suede. The calm before the storm? “Hadn’t planned to adopt a pet. A jerk tossed her from a truck on the highway an hour ago.” She clenched her fist. “I won’t abandon Angel. That’s what I named her.” His boots scraped the floor as he pulled them in and rose to his full height. “Angel can bunk inside, or I’ll find her a temporary doghouse.” “I won’t let her bother you.” “Dogs never do. If she needs kibbles, ask for Fred. He’ll find someone headed to town.” For the first time today, she smiled. “Thank you. I’ll find something to feed her tonight,” Elon said. Rane leaned over her, close enough to show dark stubble on his perfectly sculpted jaw. The guy’s black lashes appeared thick as paint brushes. His eyes glowed a deep shade of russet.


| SALLy BRAnDLE | Flutters swirled in her belly. She blinked several times and leaned back. With one fist braced on the papers, his chest stiffened into a shield. “Animals I trust, Ms. Hardy. Women are another story. A month’s trial, then we’ll talk.” He straightened and walked out, leaving a trail of spicescented annoyance. The front door slammed shut. Elon flinched. So much for the misconception of a kindly old rancher. Nope. Her fortyish boss possessed the ability to morph into a hardened commander with one scowl from his squint-eyed condemning looks. She fingered the buttons on her blouse. How gracious of him to give her a month’s trial run. The divorce might take a year.

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debra moffitt


ebra Moffitt is an author who leads workshops and retreats on writing, creativity, and spirituality, in the United States and Europe. Her popular French Alps retreats attract participants from around the world. She has taught at the Sophia Institute in Charleston, SC and the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Her writing appears regularly in Unity Magazine in the US with interviews of Lynne McTaggart and Dr. Joe Dispenza; in Swiss Entrepreneur Magazine, and in many luxury and consumer magazines world wide.

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Debra is also Editor in Chief for a Swiss luxury magazine. She is the author of the award-winning books, Awake in the World, Garden of Bliss, and Riviera Stories. Her blogs have appeared on Beliefnet.com and Intentblog.com. Debra worked in international business until she felt a deeper calling to write. She speaks and writes in French and Italian as well as English. Her writing is deeply influenced by her travels.

Stay Connected debramoffitt.com Uncaged welcomes Debra Moffitt Uncaged: Your new release, The Girl on the Roof, will release on March 3rd. Can you tell readers more about this book? What inspired this novel? Thank you for the invitation to share about The Girl on the Roof. The Girl on the Roof begins in WWII Annecy under a state of siege. Fifteen-year-old Aurelie watches a funeral with her family, but no one will tell her what happened or who died. Her father and brother take the shrouded body and place it on the North side of the roof, until the spring thaw. Aurelie must discover who died, and how, and prevent the same terrible fate from happening to her best friend. It’s a story that bridges different dimensions of human existence and challenges our notions about death. I’d never thought about writing a WWII novel. I was writing in an 1840’s farmhouse in the French Alps, working on a book set in contemporary Charleston, South Carolina, when the tone of the writing shifted from sunny Folly Beach to foggy Annecy under a state

of siege, and the girl who became Aurelie appeared. I’d been participating in a regular spiritual circle a short distance away in Geneva, Switzerland when my intuitive abilities expanded and I started to perceive people who had passed. What a shock to discover that the energy of our departed loved-ones and strangers is right here! And it came as even more of a surprise when I felt the presence of teenaged Aurelie and knew she had died in a terrible way. When I write, I’m in a very expanded state of awareness and I began to see scenes of WWII Annecy under the Gestapo during a state of siege, with the rationing, resistance, black outs, and more. I felt the departed souls of that time wanted me to share their trials and hardships so they wouldn’t be forgotten. My psychic-medium teacher in Geneva also perceived the departed souls in my writing loft and we both wondered if they might have hidden in the farmhouse during WWII. So the book and the experience was a surprise to me. I’d come in each day to write and feel the excitement as the scenes unfolded in my inner vision. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and early readers are telling me it’s doing the Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | same for them. Uncaged:In July, you are going on a writing retreat in the French Alps. How does a writing retreat work and have you been on one before? Yes, I’ll be in the Alps in July where I lead the 7th French Alps Summer Writing Retreat. It’s a week long experience where I teach writers ways to easily access the kind of expanded states of awareness that I use to write books. Past participants have found it works for them too and they’re writing books right and left with ease. It’s a way to open up creativity and access information in what Lynn McTaggart and others call “the Field”. The Field is a great place to get information about any topic or time period and then later research and verify the impressions. There’s a lot of info available to us when we learn how to tune in.

At the week-long retreat sessions are divided between guided writing using the process I described, with long stretches for wandering, biking, swimming, and relaxing for a few hours followed by late afternoon sessions that focus on structure, the book business, and more. I usually invite special guests for short sessions and last year we had a pro jazz musician and a very popular crime novelist from Ireland. Uncaged: How long does it take you to write and release a book, from writing the first chapter to release day? Are you a plotter or a panster? Good question. So, it depends on the book. I’ve written several novels before this one was released and they felt like trial runs. It seems to me that writing a book is something that can’t be taught really. The process can be guided, but a writer has to actually do one or several books to get the experience in their bones, and blood and cells to fully grasp it. My first trial runs were unplotted. But I had a sense of the beginning, middle and 34 | UncagedBooks.com


end. I use screenplay structure with three acts to guide stories. I find my training in screenwriting has been invaluable in novel writing. About plotting or flyingby-the-seat-of-your-pants method, one writer suggested using inspiration until you get stuck, then going back to your plot, and vice versa. This is very much how I work and I’m sure to leave plenty of room for surprises. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? Hum. That’s a tough one, and my choices have changed in the past couple of years. I find Margret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is a masterpiece – and she started her book with the end. I imagine she was an amazing person and she had an overview of a dying era that gave her a unique perspective. I used to love Tolstoy (and still do), but sitting down to lunch with him would mean settling in for a lecture, I’m afraid. He was a vegetarian and wanted to protect pigs which I like, but I feel he had a rather low, traditional view of women.

| DEBRA MOFFITT | For contemporary authors, the list would be long and I have the opportunity to meet many writers through the Writers Circle and when I do interviews for magazines or radio show/podcasts. NYT bestselling author, Gregg Braden was on my Unity FM radio show and he’s smart, humble, and brilliant. I loved David Nicholl’s One Day and imagine he could be a fun lunch buddy. The amazing, Liane Morarity is a current favorite and I’d love to have a heart to heart writers chat with her. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Oh gosh, all the time! Insistent ones even change the books I’m working on! I mentioned earlier that I was working on a book set in modern-day Charleston, South Carolina when Aurelie, the protagonist in The Girl on the Roof came in. A few days earlier, I’d dreamed that black 1940’s cars pulled up in my drive in front of the 1840’s French farm house

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | where I lived, and I tried to hide from them. I had no interest in writing about WWII before this. But when I woke up, I knew I had to make a decision between the book in-progress or switch to write the new book about Aurelie. So, I tuned into how I felt. The energy coming in felt light, exciting, and I knew it would be an exceptional experience to both write and read this book and both Aurlie, her sister, Claire, and the resistance fighters surprised me as the story opened up. Uncaged: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing?

Wow, this is a difficult question to answer. I think that both have their merits – and disadvantages. A serious indie author needs to be a sort of Renaissance person who is able to do both brilliant creative work, marketing, and track the business side. I’ve been following some of the romance and sci fi genre authors who are very adept at marketing and business. Traditional publishing has the disadvantage of being very slow to respond to markets. Their advantage lies in good distribution and PR in some cases. But both traditional and indie publishers are challenged to build audiences and sell enough books to make it viable. Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love biking, hiking, reading (of course!), and when I have free time a pen and notebook are never far away. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? I write with the intention of sharing an experience and energy. So when people read my books, they pick up not only the words, but there’s a sort of multi-dimensional experience that they can tap into – if they’re open to it. It’s like an invitation. So to me being successful means writing books that entertain and uplift as well as share profound experiences that go beyond the ordinary 3D world that a lot of people inhabit full time. It’s not my world and my books are an invitation to experience something different. Success means reaching the readers who feel this connection and want more of this experience. I know they’re out there as I’ve seen them with my inner vision and I have a drawing above my work space that reminds me that I’m writing for them. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you read-

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| DEBRA MOFFITT | ing anything now? I’ve heard that audio books are on the rise. That sounds okay for non-fiction books, but I love the sensual experience of paper, the smell of ink, the sense of knowing where I’m physically at in the book. Okay, I confess I love my Kindle for travels and it makes it easy to get books now. But I’d take paper over ebooks anyday. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Where would any writer be without readers?! We’re like perfect matches for each other when we align. I’m very grateful to all my readers and appreciate you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! As for social media, I have a Facebook author page where you can keep up to date on events. The best place to find out about upcoming books and events is at my website: www.debramoffitt.com. If you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll receive periodic updates. Everyone tells me to get on Instagram, so stay tuned for that soon too. And Goodreads or Bookbub work too.

Enjoy an excerpt from The Girl on the Roof The Girl on the Roof Debra Moffitt Inspirational Ghost Suspense As the people of Annecy in the French Alps meet the Gestapo’s brutality with surprising resistance, a teenaged girl cannot rest until she solves the mystery of a death in her family. Aurelie watches as her father places a shrouded body on the North side of the roof of the family home. It’s winter, under a Nazi-declared state of siege, and they must wait until the spring thaw for the burial. But who died? And why is no one speaking to her anymore?

Aurelie cannot rest until she discovers the truth and fights to prevent the same terrible fate from happening to her best friend. Excerpt In the afternoon when school lets out, I go to Herr Schmid’s. He lives in a luxurious apartment requisitioned from a Jewish banking family. Claire forbids me to come here. But my belly aches from too much hunger again. Watery school soups with a little barley and onions and meager rations of a little dry bread for breakfast left me starving, just like the other kids. But sometimes Claire gets real food from Herr Schmid and once she brought me here when he was away to show me the place. The first time I met Herr Schmid, hunger and cold blindly drove me to find Claire. The courtyard door stood open, and I walked unnoticed up the four flights of stone stairs to his apartment, dreaming of a warm hearth and buttery apple tarts like the ones Mom used to bake. Rain drizzled outdoors and I’d never felt so hungry, depressed, and alone since Mom died. I tapped lightly on the door to get Claire’s attention. A young man, about my age opened the door instead. He wore a German soldier’s uniform. “Bonjour,” I said, and asked for my sister between chattering teeth. He must not have understood French because he led me straight to Herr Schmid. I stood at the threshold of his study, head down, feeling so anxious that I couldn’t breathe. The young German retreated and left me alone with the imposing SS officer. I was struck by his broad shoulders and refined hands and the red arm band and swastika on his uniform. I’d imagined him with blond hair, but it was black and wavy. His skin looked pale as ivory, and his presence exuded power and authority even before he spoke a word. I stood there in fear and awe. “Yes, frauline,” Herr Schmid said. His eyes reIssue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | mained fixed on an expensive linen paper as he wrote. My heart raced with anxiety and the stress combined with lack of food made my knees buckle and I collapsed. When I came to, I was on the floor with Herr Schmid kneeling beside me. “What’s wrong?” His indigo eyes stared down at me. The fright, hunger, and grief from my mother’s absence all poured out at once. I sobbed like a little girl with my knees pulled to my chest and my head down. “So sorry, sir. I…I didn’t mean to…I tried to…to tell the solider not to bother you…I…It was Claire I was looking for. But don’t blame her. Please excuse me.” I raised my eyes to the wooden beams and high ceilings and then dared to look at him. His razor smooth cheeks looked luminous and healthy; he held his slightly cracked lips apart, and his eyes looked like untouchable blue oceans filled with wild currents and storms. He helped me into the red velour seat by the fire, and I worried that I’d be in trouble. My teeth chattered uncontrollably. He picked up a wool throw that lay on the edge of the couch and draped it around my shoulders. The scent of his vetivier cologne filled my senses with comfort. It was like the one that Dad used on special occasions. He touched my forehead. “You have a fever.” His cool hand sent a warm rush of pleasure and confusion through me. Consumed by hunger, my eyes lingered on a mound of almond cakes coated with a snow of powdered sugar on his desk. I said nothing. Girls were not supposed to speak much or ask for anything, according to the nuns. Especially not food. But my stomach growled loudly. “I must be going,” I said. But my knees wobbled when I tried to stand and I collapsed back onto the red velour seat. 38 | UncagedBooks.com

“Ralph,” he called. The young soldier appeared from the other room. “Is there any soup left?” “I’ll check, sir.” “Bring hot tea and more pastries. And soup if there’s any.” I felt light headed and weak, so I let him take control. “You’re pale. You must eat.” He towered over me. I needed to leave. I knew Claire would be upset. But this felt like an order. Ralph entered with a tea set of beautiful Limoges porcelain cups rimmed with gold, a pile of pastries on a silver plate, real sugar, and even an orange. He sat them on a low table. Such luxury and abundance was rarely seen these days. “Sorry, no more soup, sir.” “This will do,” Herr Schmid said and dismissed the young soldier. “Here.” He lifted the plate of sweets. I had overheard Claire sometimes tell Jean-Michel about how strict and harsh Herr Schmid could be, so I cautiously took one coconut macaroon and gobbled it in two quick bites. Then I stared at the dish with longing. “Have more,” he insisted. I ate four before the gnawing ache of hunger started to subside and leave me feeling stronger. He handed me a cup of steaming tea and I wrapped my numb fingers around it to warm them and closed my eyes. The chill subsided and I’d finally stopped trembling. It was the first time I’d felt cared for and properly fed for months. Since Mom’s funeral, actually when the neighbors had brought food to share. When I opened my eyes, I caught him staring at me. “You are a beauty,” he said. I blushed and lowered my eyes. He poured more tea and touched my knee. “Feeling better now?” I nodded. “I was ten in the last war,” he said. “We had nothing to eat. My mother and I scrounged for roots.”


| DEBRA MOFFITT | “So sorry, sir.” The tea cup rattled on the saucer as I sat it on the table. “My mother died. But thanks to Herr Hitler I survived,” he said. “My mother died too. Last winter.” Probably also thanks to Hitler, I thought secretly. If we’d not had the hardships brought on by the occupation, she might still be alive. He took off his officer’s jacket and hung it on the back of his chair. A rust-colored house cat jumped up and purred on my lap and I dozed off until he touched my arm to awaken me. Surrounded by food and luxury, my heart sang and I wanted to stay there in the comfort and warmth. “You saved me, sir,” I whispered. My heart filled with gratitude and affection. He stood, paced away, and then returned to his chair. “Hans,” he said. “Hans?” I looked up at him. “Yes. My first name. Hans, from Stuttgart.” An aura of charm surrounded him and I yearned to be closer and touch him. I’d heard some of the school girls snicker about an awakening of their senses and desires for physical love, but this was the first time it happened to me. In that moment, I wanted him to kiss me. “I’m Aurelie.” I lowered my eyes, embarrassed by my thoughts.

A trill of pleasure and excitement blossomed in me. All of the blackness of the outside world and the war temporarily vanished in the cozy warmth of the glowing fire between us. Claire had described him as untrustworthy. She said he kept things hidden in deep inner rooms, walled off and remote and called him fickle and moody. But to me he was a warm, kind blessing. He lifted his tea cup and his sleeve slid up to reveal angry deep burns above his wrist. “You’re hurt.” I instinctively took his hand in mine. He started to pull away like an injured animal, his mouth open between a snarl and surprise. Then he relaxed. Without thinking I did what my mother had always done. I kissed his wound. “Mother always said nothing heals better than a kiss,” I said to explain. His eyes watered, like he might cry, but he blinked back what had surfaced. I smiled a little and released his hand. He braced himself on the arm rests as if to flee. “It’s okay to cry,” I said. “It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It only means you’ve been hurt.” He looked at me like I’d touched his deepest fear, that somewhere inside he was weak and unmanly. My heart broke for Hans and I felt his pain as if it were mine, as if we were mystically connected. It felt we already knew each other. Hans’ face turned pale and softened an instant. His pain ran so deep that not even he felt it fully, but I did. I cried. It seemed I shed the tears he couldn’t. The blue of his eyes paled as he stared at me, puzzled and momentarily disarmed.

“Claire’s sister,” he added and smiled. “We’ll keep this a secret from her.”

“Aurelie…”

“Thank you, sir,” I said. “She would be upset.”

A knock resounded at the door and startled me back to the reality that separated us.

“Yes.” He stood beside me and lifted a lock of my hair. I sucked in my breath. “We’ll keep this between us.”

“I need to go,” I said. “Yes, but we’ll meet again. Soon. Will you promIssue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | ise?” “Yes, sir.” “Hans,” he said and he leaned down and kissed my forehead. He jerked his officer’s jacket from the back of the fireside chair, pulled it on, and trod over the polished wooden floor to sit behind his desk, back rigid. The red swastika glared on his armband. In a blink, Herr Hans Schmid shifted from broken-open to closed up tight; from engaged to indifferent; from warm and vulnerable to cold and aloof. He looked like a different man, like Herr Schmid, the powerful SS officer now, and no longer like Hans, the sensitive young man from Stuttgart with a tender heart.

upset. An empty basket hung on Claire’s arm. “Look at me,” she said. I kept my head bowed and lifted my eyes. “Don’t you understand?! We cannot afford…” She lifted a hand to smack me then stopped and hugged me tight to her chest. “Mom’s gone now. I’m here to protect you. Don’t ever go there again. It’s not safe. I’ve warned you before. You must listen to me.” “But I was starving, Claire. I passed out. I thought I would die. But that man, Hans, he gave me food. He saved me. He’s a good man,” I protested. “You call him Hans? Don’t let him trick you. He’s not good. Handsome, yes. Seductive and charismatic. But not good. He’s the enemy, Aurelie. We can’t trust him.” She held both my shoulders in her hands to mark the point.

“Enter,” he said in a monotone. The door flew open and Claire walked in with a blast of cold air trailing her. She sucked in her breath when she saw me by the fire. “Aurelie?! What are you doing here?!” I walked to her sheepishly and she shook my shoulders. “I told you not to ever bother Herr Schmid.” Her eyes raced to him and she checked me all around with narrowed eyes. My buttons. Hem. Legs. When she seemed satisfied I was fine, she shot a fiery, warning glance at Herr Schmid. “I forgot my purse,” she announced and lifted it from the fireplace mantel. “Let’s go. Now!” She pushed me toward the door. I turned back and saw Herr Schmid staring after me.

“I’m sorry.” “Please. If you need anything ask me. I will help you. Promise me you will never go there again.” “But you go,” I pleaded. “Besides he helped me.” “I go because I have made choices. I’m an adult. You’re not.” “But…” “No!” She shook me hard. “You must listen to me. You cannot go back there.” I nodded agreement. But a dreamy feeling surged inside of me as I thought of his blue eyes and the way he’d wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and touched my knees and hands. As I replayed the scene over and over, I remembered every detail about him: his angular face and sensuous lips; his tapered waist and broad shoulders; his power and the sense of protection I’d felt next to him. My heart fluttered, and I fell in love with how’d he’d rescued me.

“Thank you,” I said. Claire jerked me across the threshold and the door closed behind us. She marched me to a deserted side street and erupted. “You foolish, stupid girl!” I looked down at the ground, embarrassed and 40 | UncagedBooks.com

In the romance novels that Claire hides under her mattress, I read that a man can take you away and save you. I so want to escape the misery of rationing, war, and death, and feel whole and happy again. I fall asleep now and imagine Hans’ arms around me and his gentle kiss on my forehead. In my dreams, we escape into a beautiful paradise. I cannot tell Claire. She would be upset.


feature authors

thriller | romantic suspense

Val Collins

Harper McDavid

Tamsen Schultz


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VA l cOllInS

V

al Collins is the author of the awardwinning psychological thriller GIRL TARGETED and ONLY LIES REMAIN, both of which feature heroine Aoife Walsh. A native of Ireland, she began reading at the age of three and still devours books at the rate of one per week. Her favourite authors range from Philippa Gregory and Sophie Kinsella to Lee Child and Linwood Barclay.

Stay Co n n e c te d

valcollinsbooks.com Welcome Val Collins Uncaged: Your latest book, Only Lies Remain, releases on Feb. 19. Can you tell readers more about the book? What inspires you to write in the thriller genre? Only Lies Remain is a psychological thriller set in Ireland. The main character, Aoife, is a young mother at a crossroads in her life. She recently separated from her controlling husband but he wants a reconciliation. Aoife is unsure what she wants. While she is trying to figure this out, she gets dragged into a murder investigation where both the victim and the murderer may be members of her own family.

I started reading at the age of three so by the time I hit my mid-twenties I was running out of genres I enjoyed. That’s when I turned to thrillers. I still read other genres occasionally but thrillers are my ‘go to’ reading material. I’ve always loved trying to guess the endings and when I decided to become an author, thrillers seemed the natural way to go. It turned out that planning the ending is even more fun than guessing it! A few years back I read a number of thrillers that had the most amazing plots. Having read numberless thrillers by that stage, I could usually figure out the ending, but these plots were so twisty, I had no idea what was going on. That was what I always looked for in thrillers and I was so excited, I couldn’t bear to put the books down. Then I finished the book and, in every single case, I was disappointed. The endings made absolutely no sense. Thrillers like that seem to have gone out of fashion now but when I started to write I remembered them. I wanted to re-create the excitement I felt when I had no idea where the story was going, but I wanted readers to get to the end and think the conclusion made sense. Did you ever see the movie ‘A Few Good Men?’ There’s a scene where Tom Cruise opens a closet. He notices the clothes hanging there, but it isn’t until later that he realises their significance. My reaction to that realisation was ‘‘of course, why didn’t I notice that?’ That’s the reaction I’m aiming for in my books – an ending that makes sense and that the reader feels they had an opportunity to work out for themselves. Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m at the very early stages of my third book. All I can say about it at the moment is that it features several of the characters in Only Lies Remain. Uncaged: How long does it take you to write and release a book, from writing the first chapter to release day? Are you a plotter or a panster? Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | My first book took six months to write but it took almost another year to edit. It’s harder to judge how long it took to write Only Lies Remain. I started writing it in January 2018 but had to abandon it completely for family reasons. In 2019 I started working on it again, but at first I only wrote occasionally and for very brief periods. Gradually I started writing for longer periods each day and by the autumn of 2019 I was back to writing every spare moment. Because of all the starting and stopping, I have no idea how long the entire process lasted. I’m definitely a panster. Somebody once described me as suffering from ‘plotter envy’ and, in some ways, it’s true. I wish I could plan my book down to the very last detail. I’m sure I could write much faster and I wouldn’t have the frustration of having to delete entire pages. Unfortunately, that’s not the way my brain works. I started my first two books knowing only the beginning and the end. I had no idea how I would get from one point to the other. That came to me as I wrote. In my most recent book I have a very clear picture of the beginning but absolutely no idea who the murderer is or why he/ she killed anybody. Pansting makes writing very exciting and interesting but extremely, and perhaps unnecessarily, challenging. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? Maeve Binchy. I know she’s Irish, and if I’d tried to speak to her when she was alive, it probably wouldn’t have been that difficult, but I think she would have made an amazing lunch companion. I’ve often heard her interviewed and she always made me laugh. She started life as a journalist. I will always remember her story about the time she chose a photo of a slab of meat for an article on cooking, and the panic when she discovered it was actually a picture of a heart and had been used the previous day in an article on open heart surgery! Maeve had hundreds of stories and she was a born storyteller. I imagine I would have been laughing so 44 | UncagedBooks.com

much, I wouldn’t have had the chance to eat anything. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Because I’m a panster, my characters do very little else. The most extreme example is a character I wrote early on in my writing journey. I had intended her to have a very minor role but she completely took over the story and became one of the main characters. She was a very extreme character and they are always such fun to write. Uncaged: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing? I never attempted to go down the traditional route. Maybe that was a mistake because I didn’t have a clue what I was letting myself in for. There is so much work involved in publishing independently. Writing is the easy part! Most writers are not cut out to be business


| VAL COLLInS | people and you really need business skills if you are going to be a successful author. There’s also the difficulty of finding good editors, cover designers etc. You build up a list over time, but in the beginning, it’s incredibly challenging. I’d love to be able to write a book, send it to a publisher and move on to the next book. But that would mean a lot of the decisions about my book would be made by other people. If I had gone the traditional route from the beginning, I wouldn’t have known any other way, but I’m not sure I could give up control now. Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love travelling, going for long walks in the countryside, reading, hanging out with family and friends and going to the gym. Well, to be honest, I love coming home from the gym. Going there is not something I

look forward to. My favourite place in the world is the Cliffs of Moher in Clare. When I was a kid, you could park on the road and just walk over to the cliffs. One of my earliest memories is of my grandmother standing on one of the ledges, her feet hanging over the edge, telling us kids to get back as it wasn’t safe! It’s now a tourist site with a large Visitor Centre and a huge car park. Around the Visitors Centre, big boulders have been erected to prevent accidents. They’re necessary for health and safety reasons but they don’t improve the view. A few years ago, a group of farmers got together and donated part of their land to allow a pathway to be built right across the top of the cliffs. The entire walk takes six hours but you can pick up a shuttle bus at either end if you’re feeling lazy. So far, I’ve only walked for three hours. We’re hoping to do the full six hours this summer. I’m not sure I’m up to it, though. I love visiting other countries. One of the most amazing places I ever visited was Machu Picchu. Although I love history, I didn’t pay much attention to the ruins because I was fascinated by the mountains. I remember sitting on a wall, staring up at them. In the background a local man was playing a traditional instrument that sounded a little like a flute, and I remember thinking that this was probably the nearest I would ever get to seeing heaven. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? Readers who enjoy my books and freedom to write for several hours each day. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I like all three and they all have a place in my life. If I’m travelling, I like e-books because they take up no space and, in an emergency (e.g. getting stuck on a broken down train for three hours!), you can always read something on your phone. Audio books are perfect for driving or doing boring work like Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | cleaning or gardening. Of course, nothing can beat the smell or the feel of a physical book. I’ve just finished ‘The House’ by Simon Lelic. It was my first Simon Lelic book and I really enjoyed it. I listened to it on audio and the narrators were excellent. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Thank you for choosing my books. I’m thrilled you enjoyed them and I’d love you to follow me. You can find me online at valcollinsbooks.com, and on social media @valcollinsbooks

Enjoy an excerpt from Only Lies Remain Only Lies Remain Val Collins Psychological Thriller Everyone thought Danny Walsh deserted his family when his sons were young. But when Danny’s body turns up fifteen years later and his wife, Maura, is implicated in his murder, accusations and old rumours surface. Aoife rushes in to clear her mother-in-law’s name. But why is it that Maura’s story concerning Danny’s disappearance doesn’t quite add up? Aoife’s investigation uncovers old secrets, longheld jealousies, and lies upon lies. With every new revelation, Aoife realises she doesn’t know her 46 | UncagedBooks.com


| VAL COLLInS |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | family at all. Now her new boss is acting strangely, her best friend is more and more distant, and her husband is no help at all. With her support network crumbling and her family threatened, Aoife must race to keep one step ahead of danger before more innocent lives are lost. But how will she uncover the truth when only lies remain? Excerpt ONE

The news ended, but the murderer didn’t notice. The room grew dark and the mug of tea cooled. At last the murderer rose and began pacing the room, muttering, ‘Could I have misheard? No, of course I didn’t. After all this time! What am I going to do? They can trace DNA in ways that weren’t even imagined fifteen years ago. What if they find a hair, or saliva or whatever else it is that they examine? Will the police arrest me? A good solicitor could convince a jury that DNA evidence is unreliable, couldn’t he? I can’t spend the rest of my life in prison—and, hell, I shouldn’t have to. It’s not like I wanted to kill him. These things happen. But nobody would ever understand how it was. They’d never believe it wasn’t my fault. People need someone to blame. But the truth is some tragedies are nobody’s fault. He didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to kill him, but it happened anyway. It was fate. His and mine. You can’t fight fate. You just have to accept it.’

TWO

It was the same each time. The minute the house came into sight, it started. ‘Breathe in…hold… breathe out,’ Aoife muttered to herself. She really needed to get a grip. It wasn’t like she was expecting a confrontation. Maura wouldn’t say 48 | UncagedBooks.com

anything. Aoife knew that. But the very fact that there was bad feeling between them sent Aoife into a minor panic every time they met. By the time she reached the front door, Aoife’s heartbeat had almost returned to normal. She rang the doorbell and waited. Amy’s light feet raced across the wooden floor, and a moment later her little nose pressed against the narrow glass panel that ran the height of the door. ‘Mama!’ ‘Hi, sweetie.’ Aoife waved at her. ‘Mama! Mama!’ Amy turned and bolted down the corridor, shouting, ‘Nana!’ A few seconds later she returned alone, wailing, ‘Mama!’, her tiny fists banging on the glass panel. Aoife searched her bag for the key she hadn’t used in almost six months. ‘Mama!’ Amy leaped into her arms. Aoife swung her around and Amy screeched with laughter. ‘Where’s Nana!’ ‘Nana sick.’ ‘Sick! Maura?’ She put Amy on the ground and headed for the kitchen. Amy raced ahead of her. Maura met them at the doorway. ‘Sorry, Aoife. I was just coming.’ Her face was pale and had the wretched look that only came from bitter tears. Toys, which Maura normally stored in the playpen, were strewn all over the kitchen floor. Amy was rooting through them, flinging them in all directions. ‘What are your toys doing on the floor?’ Aoife asked. ‘Man. Big man.’ ‘What man?’ ‘Moaney,’ Amy said. ‘Moaney? What’s going on, Maura? Are you okay?’ ‘Detective Moloney called earlier. He gave Amy some toys to play with while we talked. He had some upsetting news.’ ‘Detective Moloney!’ Aoife gripped the countertop. ‘Was he looking for me?’ ‘You’ve spoken to him? Of course, you met him when you worked in DCA. He was the detective who handled the murder investigation, wasn’t he? I’d forgotten you knew each other. Why didn’t you say anything,


| VAL COLLInS | Aoife? Things may be difficult between us, but I didn’t deserve to hear news like that from a stranger.’ Amy pushed between them and thrust a book at Aoife. ‘Story.’ ‘Not now, sweetie.’ ‘Story. Now!’ Aoife picked up Amy and put her in the playpen. ‘Read a story to your dolls. I have to talk to Nana.’ Amy’s face puckered. Aoife had never put her in the playpen before. Aoife opened the book and placed it on the floor of the playpen. ‘Wouldn’t your dollies love to hear about the beautiful princess?’ Without waiting for an answer, she took the teabags from the cupboard and filled the kettle. A glance showed Amy lining up the dolls in readiness for her words of wisdom. ‘What did Detective Moloney tell you?’ she asked, putting two mugs on the glass table. ‘Only the basics. They found him somewhere in the city centre.’ Maura reached for the mug, then shoved it to one side. ‘You probably know more than I do.’ ‘I haven’t spoken to Detective Moloney in over six months. Who did they find?’ ‘Oh God! Well, I suppose you’ll find out sooner or later. I’ll have to tell the boys tonight.’ ‘Tell them what?’ ‘Their father. He’s dead.’ ‘Oh no! Oh, Maura, I’m so sorry. He’d come back to Ireland?’ Maura shook her head. ‘Jason will be devastated. I know he always says he hates him, but deep down I think he hoped his dad would get in touch someday. If only so he could scream abuse at him for abandoning you.’ ‘But that’s the thing, Aoife. Danny didn’t abandon us.’ ‘He may have sent you money, Maura but he still disappeared without a word.’ ‘Not willingly. He was murdered.’ ‘What! When?’ ‘Fifteen years ago. Remember a few weeks back, a body was found in the grounds of that old house in the city centre? They just identified him as Danny.’ ‘But—I don’t understand, Maura. How could Danny

be dead for fifteen years? I thought he sent you money every month.’ ‘So did I.’

DON’T MISS THIS TITLE:

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showcase Claire Buss The Gaia Solution The Gaia Solution Claire Buss SciFi/Dystopian Kira, Jed and their friends have fled New Corporation and joined the Resistance, but their relief is short-lived as they discover how decimated the human race has become and learn of an environmental crisis that threatens to destroy their existence. Kira and Jed must travel up the mountain to the New Corporation stronghold, City 50, to bargain for sanctuary while Martha and Dina risk everything to return to City 42 and save those who are left. With the last of her reserves Gaia, the fading spirit of the Earth uses her remaining influence to guide Kira and her friends but ultimately, it’s up to humanity to make the right choice.

Excerpt ‘We shouldn’t have left them,’ muttered Kira as she looked out of the plane window. They were heading for the Resistance base, across the ocean, away from her island. She could make out several drones buzzing around Artem’s compound where they had left her parents, Ruth and baby Sarah, and the rest of the Force soldiers. She squinted. It looked like a convoy of skimmers was heading towards the buildings. ‘Artem says they will be well protected, hon. He told me about several security measures he has in place. New Corp won’t try anything, they don’t have the 50 | UncagedBooks.com

firepower to win.’ Jed tried to reassure his wife, but he too felt uneasy. Who really knew what New Corp had at their disposal? ‘But my mum is down there. And dad. And Ruth and Sarah. It doesn’t feel right.’ ‘They didn’t want to come with us, Kira. And to be honest, I can’t blame them. Your mum needs to rest, she needs the medicine Artem has, and as for Ruth, I think it’s better for her to stay.’ Jed glanced out the plane window. ‘You know, we probably should’ve left the other children there as well. Safer there than here.’ At that moment, the plane hit a pocket of turbulence and bounced its passengers around. Jed chuckled nervously as he gripped the arm rests. Everyone, apart from Zac, was nervous about flying. Noone, apart from Zac, had flown before. A loud boom made them both jump and look out of the window again. ‘NO!’ screamed Kira. ‘Stop the plane, stop the fragging plane.’ She scrabbled with the seat belt, trying to get out of her seat before her fingers had managed to undo the clasp. ‘We have to go back! WE HAVE TO GO BACK!’

More about The Gaia Collection series The Gaia Collection is Claire’s hopeful dystopian trilogy set 200 years in the future after much of the planet and the human race have been decimated during The Event, when the world went to war with highenergy radiation weapons. In The Gaia Effect, Kira and Jed Jenkins – a young couple who were recently allocated a child – together with their closest friends, discover Corporation have been deliberately lying to them and forcing them to remain sterile. With help from Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, the group of friends begin to fight back against Corporation eventually winning and taking over the governance of City 42. In The Gaia Project, Corporation fight back under a


new, more terrifying organization called New Corp and Kira, Jed and their friends end up fleeing for their lives trying to find a safe place to live. They travel to City 36 and City 9 in vain and must go further afield. In the final book, The Gaia Solution, the main characters have ended up with the Resistance and not only do they have to deal with surviving against New Corp but an extinction environmental event is looming on the horizon and they’re running out of time to save what’s left of the human race.

DON’T MISS THE FIRST 2 BOOKS OF THE SERIES

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TAMSEN SHULTZ & Jubal & Stanley

Two pics of my animals! Jubal is our thirteen year old black lab who is the best boy ever. He was bred and trained to be a service dog through Canine Companions but failed out of the final program because he was a startle barker (they refer to these dogs as ‘change of career’ dogs). He still barks more than we’d like, but the trade off is worth it!

MJ PRESTON & Jake & Milo

I love music, hanging with my friends and my dogs. I have two beagles.

HARPER MCDAVID & Ava, Gibby & James Bond

Stanley is our big orange tuxedo that we got from a Mountain Home Animal Shelter in Idaho. I was up there on a girls weekend and had been mentioning to one of my friends that I wanted an orange cat. The next day, she was on a tour of the shelter facility for work and walked in the front door and he was standing there in a cat kennel staring at her. She called me right away to tell me she found me my orange cat. He’s the best hunter (in his first two weeks with us, he took care of a mouse problem I didn’t even know we had) and has the softest fur.

Ava – My copy editor. Responsible for removing everything out of the recycle bin and shredding. Gibby – The wise one. Letting America know that we should all read books. 52 | UncagedBooks.com


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.

James Bond – Cares little about anyone but himself. Makes himself known when he’s hungry.

VAL COLLINS & Bimbo

I had a dog when I was a kid. He was a terrier (mostly) and his name was Bimbo. Technically, Bimbo belonged to my grandmother, but she lived next door so he spent most of his time with us. My grandmother called all her dogs ‘Bimbo’ because the first dog she owned got very excited every time he heard Jim Reeves singing ‘Bimbo’ on the radio. Bimbo joined our family when I was two and he died the year I turned sixteen. Whenever I hear people say ‘it’s a dog’s life’, I think of Bimbo because he had a quality of life I think few dogs enjoy these days.

SALLY BRANDLE & Mr. Spock

Mr. Spock, a very loving, four-year-old feline, is my constant companion. He joined our family last summer and immediately won our hearts. Daytime hours, you’ll find him sitting on my desk while I’m typing. In the evening he splits his lap time between me and my husband. He loves to bat around balls or bottle caps we throw on the floor for him. Chin rubs are his favorite. I know he had some rocky times before we got him, and I believe he truly appreciates being part of our family. Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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TINA SUSEDIK & Nikki

CYRENE & Artie, Princess & Cubbie I have a mob of pets. Mainly because I seem to like them more than most people, at least that’s what my family says. I will feature one each month - and you can get a small peek into the life I lead on a small farm.

I inherited my cat, Nikki, (whom I call Nikki Nik) from my daughter and her family when their older dog did nothing but antagonize the poor thing. I’ve had her now for two years. She can be a pest when I’m trying to write, but I love it when she wants to be picked up and held, her legs on both sides of my neck like she’s hugging me. She can also be mean when she’s decided she’s had enough petting or if Ignore her when I’m trying to write. But, all in all, I love her.

Our three mini Dachshunds, whom I affectionately call either “The Hobbits” or “The Weens” all came to us from the same person who bred them, but not in the same way. Artie was the first one and he is the only dog in our home that is not a rescue. When the backyard breeder fell on hard times and was losing her house, we took in the 2 girls, Princess and Cubbie. Both were very thin - have you ever seen the backbone or ribs of a Dachshund? It took three months to get them to understand that they didn’t have to wolf down their food, there would be more the next day. Cubbie likes to run in circles - counter clockwise - and the vet said it’s just a quirk that dogs that have been kept in small spaces for long periods do. She’s gotten much better about it now since she is never confined anymore, but she’ll always have the habit to some degree for her life. Makes me angry thinking how they were kept in a small area and starved. All three sleep in my bed with me, on their side of the bed mind you, and Artie can snore louder than a human. We’ve taught Artie the most tricks and he seems to know the most words. All three are diggers, and will try to dig out under the fence at any given time. And when one of our larger dogs starts digging a hole, The Hobbits will go down into the hole and continue the tunneling. We’ve got about a quarter of an acre fenced for the dogs, and it’s their domain, I just fill the holes and cut the grass.

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HARpER M c D AV I D

H

arper McDavid watched her mother ride the roller coaster of writing books, swearing she’d never do it herself. But some things are just hardwired, and luckily for Harper, the world has moved on beyond typewriters and ten-pound manuscripts. Harper’s gritty romantic suspense incorporates her own background in science and engineering and work experience along the Texas/Mexico border. The results are hardhat-wearing heroines that occasionally employ the use of the little black dress. Harper lives in the foothills of Colorado. Her free time is spent searching the world for that next story and perusing her local library for funny book covers.

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Uncaged welcomes Harper McDavid Uncaged: Can you tell us more your book Zapata? Is this your debut novel? Zapata is a romantic suspense. It is the story of Avery, an ambitious female engineer tasked with managing a project in a Texas border town with a dubious reputation. Unfortunately, she attracts the attention of Javier, the mentally unstable son of a cartel boss, and becomes a pawn in a drug war. Her single ally is Alejandro, whose own role is undefined, and with no choice but to trust him, Avery’s journey becomes a harrowing race to outrun Mexico’s underworld. Zapata is my debut novel. The impetus for writing Zapata came from my work as a hydrogeologist along the border. In both fiction and reality drug cartels played a significant role. The similarities between Avery’s story and mine end with Avery being kidnapped by a deranged drug lord and looking to an enigmatic cartel attorney for survival. I was neither kidnapped nor granted the nearly perfect Alejandro DeLeon to save me. Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? My current work in progress is also a story set on the Texas/Mexico border. The working title is Proximity of Betrayal. The story features a geology graduate student, Nia Lombardi, conducting research in Big Bend National Park. The day before her dissertation defense, Nia discovers an unconscious man in her backyard. He’s bleeding from a gunshot wound and Nia elects to shelter the man from a corrupt deputy. It is a choice that leads to the slow unraveling of Nia Lombardi’s life. Proximity of Betrayal was a 2019 Daphne Du Maurier finalist for romantic suspense. Uncaged: How long does it take you to write and release a book, from writing the first chapter to release day? Are you a plotter or a panster? Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | I wrote Zapata relatively quickly, by my own standards. It took me less than a year. I entered it in the Lone Star Writing contest and the final judge was Sharon Roe, an acquisitions editor for Soul Mate Publishing. They offered me a contract upon completion. From that point on, the process took a little over a year before the book hit the shelves. Proximity of Betrayal has taken me longer to write for reasons I cannot explain. Bouts of writer’s block coupled with life getting in the way are the best excuses I can find. It might not help that I am one hundred percent pantser. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? My choice for author of the past would be Jane Austen. Who in the romance business wouldn’t love to have lunch with her? I would be tempted to show her clips of Colin Firth and ask her if he isn’t just the quintessential Mr. Darcy. My present-day author choice would be James Carlos Blake. He possesses an unmatched talent for portraying characters on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border. I suspect he would make a fascinating character himself.

collaboration between the narrator, Gregory Salinas, and me. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began?

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

My characters never follow my intended roadmap. Not for one minute. Not even the supporting cast. It is the plight of the pantser.

I live in Colorado which is great place to enjoy the outdoors and all the related activities. My husband and I travel a lot. In the past few years we’ve been to Morocco, Egypt, and Colombia. Our next big trip is to India. Since I lived there as a child, I am excited to return and see it in a different light.

Uncaged: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing? Hard to say. There are obvious advantages in both. Since so far with print I’ve only gone the traditional route, I am no expert. I feel fortunate to have had others take on some of the intricacies of getting my book out there and introducing me to the industry. Production and recording of the audiobook was a 58 | UncagedBooks.com

Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? Another tough question. I would like to continue to write books that I feel good about. Hopefully, my efforts will result in a stable fan base. As a novice in this game, I’m learning success does not come


overnight. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? The first question is easy–I’m audiobook junkie. I love having someone else read to me and there is nothing better than a skilled narrator. Unfortunately, I read more ebooks than anything else though I’d rather have my hands a physical book. I am currently reading a fiction paperback, a non-fiction hardcover for research, and I have four ebooks to read for book clubs. As always, I am listening whenever I get the chance. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? For fans of romantic suspense that thrive on fast-paced page turners–read Zapata. You’ll find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and if it’s not on the shelf already, you can request it at your local library.

| HARPER MCDAVID | For audiobook lovers, listen to Gregory Salinas’ narration of Zapata. He’s an incredibly talented narrator and ramps up the nail-biting suspense even more. Zapata is available on Audible and if you’re not one for monthly subscription fees, you’ll find it on a number of single purchase platforms which include Chirp and Apple, to name a few.

Enjoy an excerpt from Zapata Zapata Harper McDavid Romantic Suspense When engineer Avery McAndrews is offered a last-minute assignment to the rough and tumble border town of Zapata, Texas, she doesn’t think twice. Used to pushing past stereotypes, she’s sure this project will earn the long-awaited promotion. Instead, she’s thrown in the crossfire between warring drug cartels and soon discovers that her captor, Javier Ramos, is more than just a power hungry drug lord. He’s crazy. As lead attorney for the cartel, it’s Alejandro DeLeon’s job to manage Javier. But this time, Javier’s cruelty reaches epic proportions, and Alejandro finds himself wanting to risk everything to save Avery. Running for their lives with Mexico’s underworld at their heels, Avery and Alejandro discover unintended and intensifying emotions, feelings neither sought and neither seem prepared to control...

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | Excerpt The house was dark and smelled of day-old onions. Stale and muggy. He pulled her along into the kitchen. Unwashed dishes were stacked around the sink. Alejandro slid the paper sack across the kitchen counter toward the woman. She shook her head, then peered at Avery over reading glasses. “I don’t know why he thinks he should leave you here.” Avery gasped. She was American. At least her accent was. And she was almost as pale as Avery. “Leave me here?” Avery shook her head. “No. No. He can’t leave me.” She glanced at Alejandro for an answer, but he averted his gaze. “I have no intention of staying.” The woman raised a heavy salt-and-pepper eyebrow. “He thinks you are.” “Well, I’m not. Take me to a bus station. Call a cab. I don’t care. I’ll walk, damn it. Just point me in the right direction, and I won’t waste your time or mine.” The woman snorted and said something in Spanish to Alejandro. He rubbed his forehead. She chewed her lip and pushed a stray clump of gray hair off her forehead. “You’ll stay. Until I say you can go.” The woman’s voice was gravelly. “You’ve got entitled bitch written all over you, and I’ll be damned if I let you get him in trouble.” She swore under her breath and shook a finger at Alejandro. “I’m retired, damn it. This is the last time.” As if he somehow understood. She barked at Avery. “Take your stuff upstairs. Room’s on the left.” “Where’s he going?” Avery said. “Ask him yourself.” “He doesn’t speak any English.” “Then that’s your problem, girly. When in Rome….” 60 | UncagedBooks.com

Alejandro grabbed the trash bag and started up the stairs. Reluctantly, she followed. The place was hardly cozy. The bedroom was barely a step up from the brothel. A single bed buried in old newspapers occupied one corner. Canned goods flanked the opposite wall, and Venetian blinds hung unevenly from the one small window. Worst of all, the air was still, the room was stifling, and there was no fan. “You’re really going to leave me here?” Alejandro sighed and let the plastic bag slide to the floor. “What’s with the trash bag?” She nudged it with her foot. He pulled it open. She made a small noise in the back of her throat. “My clothes!” She glanced up at him. “How did you get this?” Of course, he didn’t answer. “You dropped it in the chicken poop.” For a moment, it seemed like he was stifling a laugh. “When are you coming back?” she asked. He turned his back to her. She stomped with all her might. Waves of pain shot up her back. She opened the dictionary and flipped through it as quickly as she could. “¿Cuando?” He turned to her. In the fading day’s light, his eyes were golden. Not brown. How had she not noticed before? His dark, thick eyelashes accentuated the striking contrast further. It only made her resent him more for ditching her. He shrugged and shook his head miserably. What was this? Regret for dumping her here? Some kind of apology? Never before had she had such difficulty understanding another human being. Of course, language wasn’t typically a barrier. She thumbed through the book. “Why? ¿Por qué?” He spoke quickly. She couldn’t distinguish a single word. Syllables, inflections, everything melted together. There were no clues. Finally, he spoke the words slowly: “Una semana.” “Semana, semana, semana,” she repeated, furiously


| HARPER MCDAVID | searching for the meaning. “Week?” She gritted her teeth. “Like hell you are. I am not staying here for a week! No semanas. Do you understand?” She poked him in the chest with the spine of the book. “You have two days.” She held up a pair of fingers. “Not a second more.” He drew closer. Their faces were only inches apart. He held up a hand. “Cinco dias.” “No! It’s too long.” She pointed at the stairs. “You heard her. That woman doesn’t want me here. And I’m not living with chickens!” The final sentence came out as a shriek. A smile spread across his face. He was actually stifling a laugh. As if he understood. How dare he? She took a swing at him, now certain he understood the bit about the chickens. He dodged it. The smile on his face continued to grow. He touched her arm, then reached for her wrist, rubbing his thumb lightly across it. “Avery.” She tried to ignore the gesture. Ignore what it was doing to her heartbeat. His attitude was infuriating. “Three days.” She pulled away from him. “After that, I’m out of here. And it’s not a threat. It’s a promise.”

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andrewthomaselder.com




TA M S E n S c H U lT z

T

amsen Schultz is the author of the romantic suspense Windsor Series and the short story, American Kin. She’s an RWA Daphne Du Maurier Excellence in Mystery finalist and three time finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association annual contest. In addition to being a writer, she has a background in the field of international conflict resolution, has co-founded a non-profit, and currently works in corporate America. Like most lawyers, she spends a disproportionate amount of time thinking (and writing) about what it might be like to do something else. She lives in a small rural town, not far from Napa, full of males including her husband, two teenage sons, four cats, a dog, and a genderneutral, but well-stocked, wine rack.

Stay Co n n e c te d

tamsenschultz.com

Uncaged welcomes Tamsen Schultz Uncaged: You released both books 7 & 8 in the Windsor Series in 2019, Through the Night and Into the Dawn. Can you tell readers more about this series? From the ten thousand foot view, the Windsor Series is a series of interconnected standalones that have their roots in the traditional mystery genre but with a little bit of romance thrown in. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty, though, I started the series with A Tainted Mind which kicks off with Dr. Vivienne DeMarco jumping in a car and just driving away from her life...or trying to anyway, it gets a little fuzzy when she stumbles upon a dead body. When I wrote this book, I was working full time, married, and had two young kids--there probably wasn’t a month that went by that I didn’t think about just jumping in the car and driving away, not permanently, but just long enough to feel sane again. But since that wasn’t possible (not for me, anyway), I wrote a character who did just that. And when she did, she found Windsor and from there, the people she meets started demanding their own stories and so the series was born. Uncaged: On your website, it says you have a couple new projects your working on, can you tell us more about those and when they may release? I’m so excited about my new series! It’s set on Tildas Island, a fictional, fifth US Virgin Island. It centers around an FBI task force of five agents who are sent to the island to secure it prior to a major global summit being held there. It kicks off with A Fiery Whisper which stars Damian Rodriguez, a character who first crops up in the Windsor Series--I tend to like the characters I write so I couldn’t cut him off without his own HEA! It’s scheduled to be released in March and I plan (assuming life cooperates) to release three of the five this year. I also plan to put together an anthology of short stories of several secondary characters from the Windsor Series so they can get their HEAs too (and so that we know what they are up to these days….because they are real and I know you know what I’m talking about ;) ) Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? So many. First, there are ones I would love to meet but

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | just know I’d be so tongue tied that I don’t think the conversation would be that interesting and those are Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. I might add Mikhail Bulgakov in there too. Some of the others include Mary Lee Settle, who wrote one of my favorite books, Choices, and then Dick Francis and Elizabeth Peters--two of my favorite mystery writers growing up. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? All the time...it’s weird, but it happens. I was at my writers group the other night and I was complaining that I have this character in my new series that just swears all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind swearing and there is definitely swearing in my books--hard to write an intense mystery with people dying and bad things happening without the occasional f-bomb--but this guy is far above average. I love him, he cracks me up, and he is definitely the jester of the group of agents, but he’s got a mouth on him. And. I. Can’t. Stop. Him. Seriously, you’d think because I’m writing the book that I’d be able to stop him, but alas, no. Uncaged: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing? I’ve only ever been hybrid and indie so can’t weigh in on traditional. I know traditional publishing works for a lot of people and most of my friends who are traditionally published love it. But for me, I’m Loving (yes, capital “L”) having complete control over my books now that I’m fully indie. And financially, it’s been like night and day. I might be singing a different tune if I were trying to do it all on my own, but last year, I accepted the fact that not only do I not like organizing my own promotions, but it’s not my expertise nor do I have the time (my kids might be older now, but I still have a demanding full time job that I love and family obligations). And so I hired a marketing/PA company to help and it was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made. Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? To be honest, I don’t have a ton of time when I’m 66 | UncagedBooks.com

not writing or working, but what time I have I do like to try to decompress completely. I’ve gotten back into going to the gym, I love to travel so do that whenever I can, and I get away with friends for various weekends throughout the year--sometimes we’ll go to the coast or the mountains and just eat and drink and talk. I’m also a Rotarian and will be the president of my club next year and one of my goals is to lay the groundwork for an international project that we can launch and spearhead for the years to come. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? To me, success comes in many different ways--it comes in the emails I get thanking me for writing, it comes in the social media posts from readers saying they love the series, and yes, it comes in the check form too. Right now, my goals aren’t lofty--I want to write


|TAMSEn SCHULTZ | laughed out loud several times...I adore that series. After zipping through that book though, I am on a self imposed reading hiatus until I finish book two in the Tildas Island Series, Night Deception. Except of course while I’m traveling, then all bets are off and I’ll devour anything and everything that looks interesting to me that I can load onto my kindle in the days leading up to my flight. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Facebook is the best place to follow me...I promise I’m getting better about posting! I also have a newsletter that readers can sign up for that will post news on new releases, promos, etc. I think we’re looking to expand my street team too, so if a reader likes my books and is interested in joining, definitely reach out to me and/or my PA.

Enjoy an excerpt from A Fiery Whisper A Fiery Whisper Tamsen Shultz Romantic Suspense Releases March 12 good stories that people read and make enough to have a little fun money since my day job is my primary income. Ultimately, I’d like my income from my books to supplement my retirement income, but that’s a ways off so I suspect by the time I inch in that direction, my goals might change. At the end of the day, and at this point in my life, I write because it fulfills me, I write because I like the stories and characters I create, and I write because it’s fun. I have the luxury of writing for fun, as well as it being fun, and if I can keep it that way, I think that would be the ultimate success. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I prefer ebooks. I travel a lot for work and often for long periods of time. I like that I can have ten books on my phone and it weighs nothing. I just finished reading Meghan Quinn’s Boss Man Bridegroom and literally

FBI agent Damian Rodriguez never thought he’d see his former lover, Charlotte Lareaux, again— they’d gone down in flames over a year ago and now lived oceans apart. But when she shows up on his doorstep on Tildas Island in the Caribbean, bleeding and nearly dead, the distance between them suddenly feels trivial. Charlotte has no idea why anyone would want to kill her or her friends, and relying on Damian and his teammates to find those answers is the right thing to do—even if it isn’t easy. But when they discover that a single, simple question set off the events that left her and a friend fighting for their lives, no one believes that’s the end of the story. In fact, they all know it’s just a whisper of things Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | to come. Excerpt Damian Rodriguez set his bag down on the tile floor of his foyer and closed the front door. After two weeks away, he took a moment to absorb the peculiar musty scent he’d come to associate with his new home on Tildas Island in the Caribbean— humidity with a hint of decomposition and undertones of floral sweetness—he glanced around the room. Sunlight streamed in through the open shutters, casting slanted lines across the living room furniture to his right and long shadows across the dining room table to his left. Dust motes danced in the beams, and the temperature inside, though not as cool as he normally kept it, felt just a little crisper against his skin than the air outside. Even in February, and even at ten in the morning, he was glad he’d had one of his teammates stop by the night before to set his AC to a lower temperature. He was used to summers in DC, but having moved to Tildas Island as part of an FBI special task force three months prior, he’d quickly realized that those few hot months in the DC swamp had nothing on the Island where temperatures rarely dropped below eighty—even at night. After over thirty hours of travel from Rome, where he’d been for a friend’s wedding, weariness weighed on Damian and coffee was the first order of business if he was going to make it through the day. Leaving his bag where he’d dropped it, he headed into the kitchen and set the kettle on the stove. After filling the French press with grounds, he leaned against the counter and stared at nothing in particular as the water heated. Insignificant thoughts filtered through his mind as he waited—flashes of memories from the wedding, the amazing wine he’d had at dinner two nights before, and the seemingly interminable flights and layovers between Italy and his new home. Living the island life seemed like it should be a dream, but the reality was much more complicated than bumming around in the sun with a beer and listening to Jimmy Buffet. The random thoughts slowly faded, and the bone-deep fatigue that came from travel and jet 68 | UncagedBooks.com

lag started to press down on his body. He was glad he’d taken a few extra days off. The time difference between Tildas Island and Italy wasn’t much—only six hours—but between the festivities, late nights, and long travel, he was feeling every one of his thirtyseven years. A knock came at his door just as the kettle whistled. Thinking it was one of his four teammates, he called out, “Come in, the door’s unlocked.” Yet one more thing that was different down on Tildas Island, people actually left things unlocked—cars, doors, even shops sometimes. He wasn’t usually one of those people, but he’d found that as each day passed, he had to remind himself more and more often to lock things up. He poured the water into the press and set the lid on top, and still, none of his teammates came barging in. Inhaling the scent of fresh coffee like it was aromatherapy, he tamped down his irritation—as minor as it was—at whoever was going to make him leave his kitchen and answer the door. Maybe he could wait them out. Another knock sounded, this one fainter, maybe even slightly tentative. With a tired sigh, Damian left his coffee to steep, and made his way to the front door. Gripping the handle, he yanked it open. And every annoyed comment that hovered on his lips died. He froze, his hand still on the handle, then blinked. “Charlotte?” He managed to force the name out even though his mind was still struggling to comprehend that she was standing on his front porch. He was also vaguely aware that his mouth hung open in shock. He snapped his jaw shut and blinked again. Yes, it appeared that Charlotte Lareaux was standing not three feet away from him. The very same Charlotte Lareaux who, at one time, he’d thought was the one. Despite his attempts over the past year to forget her, to push her out of his mind, and most definitely out of his heart, that traitorous organ gave a lopsided thump, then started thudding against his ribs. To counteract the unwelcome, though, unfortunately not surprising, reaction to her, he narrowed his eyes and drew his shoulders back.


| TAMSEn SCHULTZ | “What are you doing here?” he asked. She lived in DC and had no reason to be on Tildas Island, let alone a reason to seek him out.

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She stared at him and didn’t answer right away. In those few seconds, he took in her appearance and frowned. Dressed in capri-length running pants and a sleeveless exercise top, she was soaking wet. He could even see the footprints her drenched sneakers had made on the sun bleached wood of his porch. Her face was pale, but most concerning was the look in her eye; the deep brown pools looked at him in confusion. With her brow slightly furrowed and the corners of her eyes pulled tight, she stared at him. “Charlotte?” he asked, this time he gentled his voice. He wasn’t used to seeing Charlotte anything other than confident—oh, he’d seen her in just about every mood possible from giddy to pissed-as-hell. But underlying all those had been a foundation of confidence that he’d always found both frustrating—because she’d often taken it to the extremes and used it as a shield to keep him out—and sexy as hell. But this, this vacant, utterly lost expression on her face baffled him. He didn’t reach for her, but he relaxed his posture and took a step closer. “I didn’t know you were on the Island. Is everything okay?” He hated to think that the only reason she’d come see him was if something wasn’t okay, but then again, at least that meant she trusted him at least a little bit, didn’t it? Not that he was looking for her trust. Finally, she seemed to wake up a bit. Her gaze fixed on his, and though her eyes still looked a little wild, he could see her struggling to focus on him. Slowly, she shook her head. “I don’t know, something…the dock…it hurts.” Her words filtered into his mind just as he noticed a thin stream of blood making a track down her bare calf. His gaze jerked from her leg back to her face as alarm shot through his system. A tear streaked down her cheek. “I’m so sorry,” she rasped. Then she collapsed. Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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short story

contemporary

Sstles by Madelaine Grant


| SHORT STORy |

SANDCASTLES © Madelaine Grant On Monday the beach was almost deserted. Jill Morgan breathed a sigh of relief as she placed her beach chair close to the water’s edge. The crowds on a Sunday were daunting—mostly families and couples enjoying themselves—not many singles. She’d stayed half an hour yesterday and felt lonelier than at her newly rented house. This transfer to a new job and a new community was proving rockier than she’d anticipated. She reached into her tote bag and pulled out a box of stationary. A letter to her mother was long overdue. Of course she phoned once a week, but a letter was something her mother could read and reread. At least that’s what she’d told Jill in their last conversation. “I love getting letters from you. I’m not computer literate and never will be, so we’ll just have to correspond the old-fashioned way.” Settling back, she began to write: “Dear Mom, It’s Monday, my day off, and I’m sitting on a beautiful beach near my new place and looking out at the water--three colors of turquoise, absolutely gorgeous.” This first part was easy--the rest of the letter would be difficult. Her Mom could read between the lines. Almost 1500 miles away from family and friends, she’d taken the job transfer as a way to escape the pain of bumping into Ethan. In a small town, it was almost impossible to avoid her former fiancée. From the edge of her vision she noticed the little boy playing nearby in the sand. Surrounded with colorful pails, he shoveled sand into each one and then dumped them over. Was he trying to build a sand72 | UncagedBooks.com

castle? It didn’t look like much, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. He was an adorable child with wavy, blond hair and full, rosy cheeks. She was almost tempted to wander over and give him a hand. Of course, his mother would be around watching him. Her gaze swept the area behind him and, with surprise, located the tanned, well built figure of a man with a camera. He focused on the child, snapping shots from different angles, zooming in and out, changing positions as he circled the youngster. The camera looked expensive and professional. Where was the boy’s mother? Probably buying snacks at the beachfront restaurant, she thought, turning back to her letter. But inspiration faded--she would finish it later. Returning the stationary to her tote, she briefly considered the new book she’d carted along. No, she wasn’t in the mood for reading, either. She glanced at the little boy again. With an intent expression, his chubby hands wielded the red plastic shovel as he scooped up the sand. The aching tug at her heart caused her to look away, but the unbidden memories would not retreat. If only she’d been able to convince Ethan to want a child the way she desired one … He’d been honest. “I don’t want any kids.” She’d broken the engagement and tried to get on with her life. It hadn’t been easy. Jill stretched and came to a decision. A swim would break the chain of these unwelcome memories. She ran into the water, dove into an oncoming wave and came up the other side. Invigorating. She turned onto her back and floated awhile. On her way back to shore, she heard the man calling out to the little boy. “Look, Toby, see the dolphins?” Turning around, she saw several dolphins arcing up and down through the water—a wonderful sight. The man focused his camera and began taking photos. When he turned the camera in her direction, she was startled. Were the dolphins behind her? No, they


| MADELAInE GRAnT | were swimming further down. Perhaps he was simply using her as background material. She slowly made her way out of the ocean. “Hello,” the man called out, coming toward her, the small boy tagging behind. “Hope you don’t mind me taking a few pictures. Your white suit and dark hair are a great contrast with the colors of the water and sky.” He must be the boy’s father. His hair was a darker blond, but the expressions were so similar. And his eyes were the same vivid blue. “I’m Dean Wallace and this is my son, Toby,” he said, coming to a stop a few feet away. The little boy ran right up to her. “Whatchurname? Wanna help me make a big castle?” She smiled. “Jill. Nice to meet you. I’d love to help.” “Toby, don’t bother the lady,” his father chided. “It’s no bother. I remember building sandcastles when I was young.” “Goody,” Toby cried, reaching a pudgy hand out to her. “Do you mind if I take more pictures of you with Toby?” Dean’s warm blue gaze held her captive. “That’s okay with me. I’m no model, though.” He laughed. “I’m looking for natural beauty, not the manufactured kind.” She looked around for any sign of Toby’s mother. There was only an older couple sitting nearby. Toby led her back to his sandy mound and handed her a pail and shovel. “You have this one,” he announced.

“I’ll get some wet sand. It sticks better,” Jill said. In a short while, the once lumpy mound took on the dimensions of a small fortress with a moat all around. Toby clapped his hands, beaming. “Look how big it’s getting.” She sat back and cocked her head. “We need a flag for the top, some shells for a path and twigs for a bridge.” Together they searched to find the needed materials. Dean kept busy shooting more film, sometimes aiming in his son’s direction, often at her. She almost forgot his presence--she was caught up in creating a beautiful sandcastle with Toby. “We need to fill the moat with water,” she said. “Then we’ll be finished.” He ran off with his pail, filled it and carried it up to her. “Great. Now you can pour it all around the castle.” Sitting back on her haunches, she watched Toby carefully tip the pail and fill the moat. Dean hunkered down and focused his camera. “Wow, it’s a real beauty, Toby. Let me take a picture of you and Jill next to it.” “You don’t have to put me in it,” she said, moving to one side. “It’s Toby’s sandcastle--he did most of the work.” “Nonsense. It was a joint venture.” He gestured her back. After taking a number of shots, Dean retracted the lens and covered it. “This calls for a celebration. How about some ice cream?” “Yay!” Toby jumped up and down. “Can Jill come, too?” “Of course she’s invited.” He turned to her. “Will you do us the honor of joining us at the snack bar?” Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| SHORT STORy | His infectious grin was impossible to resist. “I’d love to. Let me get my purse.” She hurried back to retrieve it from the tote bag. “You don’t need any money … the treats on me,” he called out. She took it anyway. They sat at a picnic table with their ice cream. “Do you come here often?” Dean asked. “Usually on Mondays--I’m off Sundays and Mondays.”

self in work, traveling around the world on assignment. Now I can stay in one place. We’ll probably be here for the summer months.” He put an arm around Toby. “We’re planning a trip to Disneyworld soon to celebrate Toby’s fourth birthday. We could visit on a Monday.” He gave her a pointed look. “It would be fun if you could come along. What do you say, Toby?” “Yippee.” Toby gave her a wide smile. “See, you’re outnumbered,” Dean said. Then, in a more serious tone, he added, “We’d love to have you join us … unless it would be boring…” “Oh, no,” she interrupted. “I love Disneyworld.”

“So you’re a working girl.” “Yes. I’ve recently moved here. I manage a gift boutique at the mall.” She was tempted to ask him a few questions, but decided she didn’t want to find out. He was probably married and on vacation.

“Then it’s settled. We can figure out a date over pizza tonight.” He looked very pleased. Jill glanced from father to son and back to the handsome man opposite her. The letter to her mother would not be difficult to finish tonight.

Toby piped up. “We’re gonna have pizza. Can you come, too?” He gave her a beseeching look. She flushed. “Oh, I don’t know … “she began “Please join us. We don’t know too many people. We’re staying at my folk’s house—they spend the winters here. I’ve been traveling a good deal these past two years. This is a special vacation, just for Toby and me, to get reacquainted.” He rumpled his son’s hair. “It’s been too long since we’ve spent time together.” She studied the two of them, father and son, so much alike. How could he have stayed away so long? “Your wife didn’t come with you?” she finally asked. His expression sobered. “My wife died in a plane crash two years ago. We’re on our own.” The breath caught in her throat. “I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to pry.” “It’s all right. I can talk about it now. I buried my74 | UncagedBooks.com

The End Copyright ©Madelaine Grant Published with Permission www.madelainegrant.com




feature authors

political thriller | scifi horror | dark fantasy

Bill Percy

M.J. Preston

Ulff Lehmann


BIll pERcY

B

ill Percy, an award-winning novelist, draws on his experiences as a psychotherapist to write vivid, engaging tales of people confronting painful and challenging mysteries. His previous novels in the Monastery Valley series, Climbing the Coliseum, Nobody’s Safe Here, and The Bishop Burned the Lady, were finalists or distinguished favorites in multiple book award competitions. Book 4 in the series, Standing Our Ground, was released in January 2020, and is entered in a number of award competitions. Bill lives with his wife, Michele, in Hope, Idaho, above the shore of idyllic Lake Pend Oreille in the shadow of the rugged Cabinet Mountains.

Stay Co n n e c te d

billpercybooks.com Please welcome Bill Percy Uncaged: You just released the latest book in The Monastery Valley Series, Standing Our Ground. Can you tell readers more about this series? I’m glad to, and thank you for this interview. The series began as a short story I wrote in 2012, which turned out huge and bloated—I realized it needed to be a novel. So, I wrote the first book, titled Climbing 78 | UncagedBooks.com

the Coliseum, and sent it to my editor, Lorna Lynch. She sent it back with the note, “It’s way too long! This is two books!” Ah, still huge and bloated. So, I rewrote Coliseum, stripping out a whole secondary plot, which became the second book, Nobody’s Safe Here. The series has two central characters (well, three, actually). The two adults are psychologist Ed Northrup and deputy sheriff Andrea Pelton (everybody calls her Andi). In Book 1, they hardly know each other, but work together to find the mother who abandoned


fourteen-year-old Grace Ellonson, whom Ed, the shrink, tries to protect. Grace is that third important character, because her growing relationship with both Andi and Ed is a key thread weaving through all four books. In Books 2, 3, and 4, Ed and Andi fall in love, struggle as a couple to define how they want to ive, and ultimately find their way together, though not without all the challenges we all know so well. And Grace plays a part in it all—though I won’t spoil the fun of finding out how she does! Because Andi is a deputy sheriff and Ed’s a psychologist, each book focuses on two stories—a psychological challenge or mystery and a cop-related mystery—that in the end turn out to be connected. For example, in Climbing the Coliseum, Ed must solve why Grace’s mom abandoned her and how to help Grace come to terms with it; or in Nobody’s Safe Here, whether Ed can help his friend when he turns violently self-destructive after suddenly remembering being sexually abused by a monk in his youth. In Climbing, Andi conducts the search for the mother and in Nobody’s Safe Here, she deals with a potential school shooter who is one of Ed’s patients. All of the mysteries, both psychological and criminal, can be found in our daily papers and newscasts. (I’m contemplating having Andi and Ed get involved in an impeachment investigation.) (Just kidding.) Although I live in north Idaho, very near Montana, I

set the series in a fictional Montana valley named for a small monastery high on a mountain overlooking it. The valley is as beautiful as so many valleys in Montana can be. Its southern half comprises the 80,000-acre Double-A Ranch, owned by another important figure in the series, Magnus Anderssen. In the middle of the valley, on the Monastery River, is the small town of Jefferson, and the northern half of the valley is sprinkled with smaller ranches—and many intriguing characters, good and bad. Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m about at the developmental edit stage of the fifth book in the series, whose working title is The Posse, the Hotshots, and the Miracle. Like all four previous books, there are two main stories running side by side. In one, forty-four men, led by the villain in Climbing the Coliseum, Rev. Loyd Crane, occupy some federal land in Adams County and insist that the Bureau of Land Management turn that land over to the county. Andi, as Acting Sheriff, leads the law enforcement response, and because the protesters refuse to negotiate with the FBI agents on the case, Ed is called in as negotiator, using his psychological training. Such protests of federal land ownership are not uncommon across the American west (recall the Bundy family?), as are wildfires and conflicts about how or if to manage them, which is the second story in The Posse, the Hotshots, and the Miracle. In the end, the resolution of the dual problems comes down to the action of Andi and Ed. Issue 44 | March 2020 | 79


| FEATURE AUTHOR | Uncaged: How long does it take you to write and release a book, from writing the first chapter to release day? Are you a plotter? The four books were each released two years apart: 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020. Really, it’s longer than that from start to finish. I am a plotter, and I almost always have the “next” book cooking while I’m refining “this one.” For example, I got the idea for Standing Our Ground (Book 4, released in January 2020) in spring of 2014, when a very controversial stand-your-ground shooting took place in Missoula, Montana. I began plotting it out in the summer of that year, which is five and a half years before the book was released. This is true for all four books, so far, and in fact, I’m developing the story for book #6 even as I’ve been working on The Posse . . I usually work on a draft of a new one through five or more iterations before I consider sending it to my editor, Lorna Lynch, for her developmental edit. While she has it, I’ll work with more concentration on the next book, plotting, outlining, and drafting. When Lorna sends her work back, I revert to that manuscript and do the revisions she suggests, and others that her suggestions trigger in me. Then it goes back to Lorna for her copy editing, while I work on the next one some more. Finally, after I have worked through her copy edits, I send it to Kim Cheeley, my proofreader. While I wait, I start pitching the almost-ready manuscript to my publisher, or if he’s not interested (hasn’t happened yet, knock on wood), others. When Kim sends it back, I polish up the final touches and either do the prep work for self-publishing, or submit it to the publisher who has accepted it. Once it’s in the hands of Black Rose Writing, I have experienced it to be about three months of back-and-forth with the book’s internal designer to get it as close to perfect as we can. Oh, and my cover designer, David Levine, by this time has read the manuscript and submitted a few possible covers to me. Once we’ve found the magic cover, I submit it to Black Rose Writing (or in future, another publisher if we stop working together—or to CreateSpace or another self-publishing service. 80 | UncagedBooks.com

Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? I grew up reading Hemingway, he’s the first and probably the deepest influence on my writing. Although my style is different, his ability to waste nothing, and to put nothing in that isn’t needed, keeps me honest. Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” series, is another author I’d love to have lunch with (or dinner, or breakfast!). When I published Climbing the Coliseum (book 1), I hadn’t read any of his books. Shortly after Coliseum came out, Kim Cheeley, a proofreader and editor in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (south of where I live), mailed me a copy of Coliseum. Kim had found the book in the local library and had penciled every typo, poor word choice, and grammatical error she found in it. (She bought the library a new book.) We met for lunch (she loved the book despite the typos), and she told me it was much like Johnson’s “Longmire” series: I immediately bought and read every book. I’m a fan of Minnesota authors William Kent Krueger, who writes the Cork O’Conner series set in northern Minnesota, and John Sandford, a St. Paul journalistturned-crime novelist with three series: the Lucas Davenport series, the Virgil Flowers series, and the Kidd series. Both men I’d love to talk to. Cork O’Conner is a rural county sheriff (midway through the series, he semi-retires, but continues to do investigations) like my character Andi Pelton and her boss, Sheriff Ben Stewart, and I’d love to compare notes. And I first knew of John Sandford when his by-line was John Camp, police reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a colleague of my dear friend, Jack Coffman, long-time sports and political reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Pioneer Press. Louise Penny, author of the Armand Gamache series, inspires me. Our characters, settings, and stories differ in many ways, but Penny’s Gamache and her villagers in Three Pines create the kind of community that I aspire to show in my Monastery Valley people. Penny’s courage in forging a character like Gamache, battlehardened and battered but never failing to be kind and to honor even his adversaries, makes me want to keep


growing my characters to their own full humanity. I’d love to talk with her about how she does it so consistently. I love dozens, no, scores of writers who have traveled with me through my life, from A.A.Milne, Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, and Philip Pullman when I was a kid to Marilynne Robinson and Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, David Mitchell, and so many others in my adult life. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Earlier, I said I was a plotter, but yes, now and then a character will do or say something I hadn’t planned, catching my breath. Often, it’s a minor character whom I haven’t thought through enough and don’t really know them well. Occasionally it’s a major character. The opening line of The Bishop Burned the Lady (Book 3)

| BILL PERCy | is an example. Here’s a bit of background you’ll need. Monastery Valley is large, but it’s sparsely populated. The southern half of the valley is the Double-A ranch, owned by Magnus Anderssen, the fifth in his family line dating back to 1850 when Anders Anderssen, Magnus’s great-great-grandfather, came to the valley and founded the Double-A. To this day, the Double-A is the largest employer—and benefactor—in the valley. Every Labor Day, Magnus puts on a fireworks show to celebrate the end of summer. As The Bishop Burned the Lady opens, Ed and Andi are arriving at the field where the show will take place. What I’d planned for them was a fine romantic evening surrounded by the whole valley community, an evening during which Ed would ask Andi to marry him. But when I sat down to write the scene, here are the actual first two lines my fingers typed: As Ed yanked

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | the cooler and folding chairs out of his pickup, he didn’t bother to hide his irritation. “For a girlfriend, you’re awful damned distant.” A rotten opening to the question he wanted to ask her. Whoa! Popping the question flew out the window. And their argument complicated all the action between them until the very climax of the book. So much for careful plotting when characters have their own agenda. Still, I don’t believe characters really have their own agenda. We writers do, but sometimes it hasn’t made it to consciousness. Consciously, I wanted Ed and Andi’s happiness to serve as a counterpoint to the brutally ugly murder-and-sex-trafficking mystery that would engulf them through the story. But deeper down, I “knew” that the happy wedding planning was wrong, and so Ed “knew” it too. Uncaged: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing? My experience has been with an independent publisher, Reagan Rothe of Black Rose Writing in Castroville, Texas, and it has been excellent. I have not had experience with traditional publishing, but from what I read and hear from writer friends, my relationship with Reagan and the team at BRW seems much the same as it would be in a traditional imprint. I interpret “traditional publishing,” to mean that the publisher assumes the risk and costs of pre-production, production, and distribution, pays the author an advance, and may help with marketing (though less and less, it seems). Black Rose Writing pays the cost of producing and distributing the books (I hire my own editors, because I work well with them and trust them), pays no advance, but shares some marketing costs or provides discounted marketing services through their relationships with outside vendors. The BRW production, sales, and public relations teams have been helpful, engaged, and quite responsive. 82 | UncagedBooks.com

Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Of course, a first love is reading of all kinds. Currently, I’m reading a lot of political commentary and constitutional history, but always have a novel on the reading stand. I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the West, the Idaho panhandle on Lake Pend Oreille (Ponderay). Summers are warm and dry, Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho perfect for being outdoors. In winter, the ski resort is a favorite destination, and we can snowshoe the mountain trails almost out our back door. Michele and I eat out once or twice a week and go to movies when good ones come to town. We enjoy travelling to visit friends and family around the country, most often to Minnesota, where I lived for forty-seven years and Michele for sixty-eight. But the best thing I do to relax is to write. Since I ended my career as a psychologist and teacher of psychologists, I have found writing fiction to be a joy. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? That’s easy: First, it’s being able to write fiction. As a psychologist, I wrote a great deal: consultative reports, training manuals, interview reports, the stuff of the profession. But those were “have-to” writing. Now I “get to” write creatively, to make a world and people it, to entertain and enliven. The only requirement is a joy to achieve: To tell stories that move people. And that is another sign of success, when fans tell me how a book touched them, conflicted them, made them laugh or feel an old grief. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? This one’s easy too: I much prefer the touch and presence of a physical book in my hands. I haven’t got a Nook or Kindle—yet, although when we’re traveling, I often wonder if it wouldn’t be more efficient to carry a load of books inside that little device! Lately folks have


| BILL PERCy | been encouraging me to consider making audiobooks of the Monastery Valley series. I’ve listened to a few of those, when on road trips, and it’s something I’m considering. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’d like to say thank you—not only for buying the books, but for your reviews and your emails sharing your reactions and responses to them. And thank you for being readers, thoughtful readers who dig a little deeper into the themes of any book you’re reading, opening yourselves to what it means to be human by sharing time with characters though they may be fictional, are sometimes the most real people we can know.

Enjoy an excerpt from Arresting Mason Standing Our Ground Bill Percy Political Thriller “A cold-blooded murder. The victim: A fourteenyear-old boy. The shooter waits patiently for the cops and calmly explains his right to kill the boy. “I was defending my property.” Can Deputy Andi Pelton find the evidence to break through the killer’s stand-your-ground defense? Suddenly, Sheriff Ben Stewart almost dies and cannot campaign for re-election. Andi knows she must take his place—her nemesis, Deputy Brad Ordrew, runs unopposed and he’s promised to fire her when he’s sheriff. Can she stand her own ground to stay in Monastery Valley while she tries to solve the murder and defends herself against scurrilous political ads paid for by a mysterious stranger?”

Excerpt PART ONE A person is justified in the use of force or threat to use force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that the conduct is necessary for self-defense or the defense of another against the other person’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, the person is justified in the use of force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm only if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to the person or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Montana Code 2017, 45-3-102. The stand your ground law. SATURDAY, AUGUST 25 9:37 p.m. The hands on the big Howard Miller wall clock above her cubicle seemed like they hadn’t moved in an hour. Deputy Andi Pelton yawned and then called home. Ed would still be up. Just as he answered, she yawned again. Stifled it. “Hey, kid,” Ed answered. “How’s the shift?” “Shoot me. I’ve never been so bored. If this was Chicago, we’d have four, five drive-bys by now, a couple rapes, runaway kids. Here, everybody must be in bed.” She glanced up at the clock: still 9:37. “I miss you on these evening shifts.” That touched her. “Me too. Ed, let’s go public with our marriage. I want everybody to know.” “How about we talk about it tomorrow on the way to Missoula? Grace’ll be in her car, so we’ll have plenty of privacy.” “It’s a plan. Let’s—” Suddenly, the receptionist’s voice cut in. “Andi, 9-1-1 call. Shots fired.” “Oh, man, I gotta go. Shots fired.” She heard Ed yell, “Be safe,” as she hit End. She grabbed her outer vest and started putting it on as she rushed out to Reception. She passed Marla without slowing. “How many shots?” Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | “Two. Caller said it sounded like a handgun.” Andi kept moving toward the parking lot door. Over her shoulder, she yelled, “Where?” Marla called after her, “206 East Cedar Street. The call came from the house next door.” “Radio Xavier. Tell him to meet me there and . . .” She shivered. “And to wear his armor.” She ran out to the lot. Just before flicking on her siren and lights, she heard Xav’s siren fire up north of town. Good. He’s close, she thought. She finished adjusting the vest as she drove. Four minutes after the call, she swerved around the corner onto East Cedar Street, Xavier’s siren close behind. Shots fired, she thought. “Be careful what you wish for,” she whispered. The dashboard clock read 9:41. Ed pocketed his phone, uneasy. Shots fired? His worst fear was losing Andi in a violent confrontation. “Let it go,” he said to himself. “She’ll be okay.” Grace walked past him, carrying another box. “Who’ll be okay, Northrup?” He picked up the box he’d set down to answer the phone, following her out. “Andi just got a call at work. Shots fired.” “Shots? My God, where?” “In town, I suppose. But I don’t know for sure. I’m just hoping she’ll be okay.” “She will. Andi can take care of herself.” “Right.” He carried the box of Grace’s things out to his pickup, still jumpy. The last shots fired in Jefferson were the ones that almost killed Andi four years ago. He tried to dredge up that reverend’s name, the one who’d started it all. Grace’s car, a used pink Volvo she’d immediately named the Pink Vulva, groaned with her belongings jammed into every corner. When Ed dropped the box onto the tailgate of his pickup, she called, “Careful with that, Northrup.” “How’d you accumulate all this junk in just four years?” He snugged the box into the last open spot in the bed of the truck and raised the tailgate. 84 | UncagedBooks.com

She studied him for a moment, calculation in her eyes. “I’ve been yours only three years and eight months.” “Then it’s even more amazing you have so much junk.” “Jen’s folks rented a whole trailer for, as you call it, her junk.” She sniffed. “I prefer to think of all this—” She pointed at the PV and then at his pickup. “—as beloved possessions.” “Any more beloved possessions in the cabin?” “Uh-uh. But would you consider letting me take a few bottles of that wine you and Andi drink so much of?” “Ah. Would you consider first turning twenty-one?” “Come on, Northrup. Please? I can’t buy wine for three more years. Having some in my dorm room would be a nice ice-breaker for those new friends I’m about to make.” She gave a coy smile. “Work with me here. I’m on the threshold of my new life.” Ed took that in. Her new life. It felt too soon, after three years and eight months. “All right. One bottle for breaking the ice.” “You’re grits and gravy, Northrup,” she sang as she dashed up the porch steps and into the house. Ed smiled to himself: free “dad points,” and no harm done—she’d never remember the corkscrew. He followed Grace up the porch steps, wondering who, if anybody, had been shot. In his head, he listed his patients. None of them were likely to take up arms against their particular slings and arrows, or to invite someone else to do so. Even Beatrice John, as broken and wounded as she was, wouldn’t shoot anybody. Except maybe herself. He pushed the thought away and concentrated on Andi’s shooting four years ago and the reverend who’d caused it all. As he opened the screen door, the name rushed back to him, riding a jolt of anger: Crane. The. Reverend. Loyd. Crane. Andi pulled up at 206 East Cedar Street, lights flashing, siren screaming. Xavier’s squad sailed around the corner just behind. As her tires screeched, braking in front of the darkened house, she switched off her siren. Xavier pulled up fast, his own tires squealing. His siren died. Both flashers stayed on, spraying red and blue lights around the dark neighborhood. Scanning the shadows, she made sure her body armor was secure and, cautiously opening her door, stood behind


| BILL PERCy | it. Jefferson had never put streetlights in its neighborhoods, but the flashing lights illuminated a figure in the deep shadows near the house. No lights inside. She drew her weapon as Xavier climbed out of his squad, staying behind his door, gun drawn. “Identify yourself,” she demanded of the shadowed figure. Raising its hands to shoulder height, then higher, the figure replied, “I’m Daniel Essex.” His voice carried on the cooling air. “This is my home.” “Did you hear shots?” “Of course. I fired them.” What the hell? she thought. “Mr. Essex, I want you to keep your hands where they are. I’m going to approach, and my weapon is drawn. I will not shoot unless you move suddenly. My partner will come toward you from the side. Are you good with that?” “Sure, Officers. Come on.” She glanced at Xav. He nodded and moved off to the side, flanking her. As she approached Daniel Essex, she said, “Are you alone?” “I am.” Coming closer, her eyes adjusted to the dark, and the red-and-blue flashes from the squad cars showed a bulge at Essex’s hip. “Mr. Essex, are you armed?” “Of course, Officer.” He started to lower his hands. “Freeze, sir.” Oh, man. Don’t make me shoot. She was ten feet from him. A few feet to her left and a bit behind, Xavier had his weapon trained on Daniel Essex, but that didn’t slow her racing heart. Essex froze, hands high. “Sir, please turn around slowly, keeping your hands in the air. Don’t do anything fast.” “Sure. Whatever you say, Officer.” His tone was cool, almost friendly. When he turned, Andi approached, saying, “I’m going to disarm you, so please be still.” She patted him down, found the gun, and took it. She stepped back. “Do you have any other weapons on your person, sir?” “Just that one.” His voice sounded less friendly. “And I want it back.” She moved a step back, holding out the weapon gripfirst to Xavier, who took custody of it. “One thing at a time, sir,” she said. “You’ll get

it back once we straighten all this out.” Which could be a long time. “You can turn around, but please don’t make any sudden moves.” “I won’t hurt you, Officer.” “Glad to hear it. And please, call me ‘deputy.’” The guy must be new to the valley, she thought. Doesn’t know we’re deputies, not officers. “Sir, you fired the shots a few moments ago?” “Like I said, yes.” Andi noted that his voice remained friendly, but his words were clipped, exact. “Why did you fire, sir?” He pointed toward the open garage. “He’s in there.” “Who is?” “The intruder who invaded my home. I stopped him.” Andi’s chest tightened. She said, “Is he all right?” “I doubt it, Officer. I’m a good shot.” She moved toward the open garage. “Mr. Essex, Deputy Contrerez will wait with you while I look in the garage.” When Essex nodded, she glanced at Xavier. He nodded. “Go.” She holstered her weapon and moved toward the garage. She heard Essex say to Xavier, “Contrerez? Name like that, you must be Mexican.” He no longer sounded friendly. She smiled faintly as she heard Xavier say, politely, “No, sir. Born and raised in Billings.”

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Catching Up with Tina Susedik Uncaged: You have a new series, The Darlings of Deadwood. How did this series come about?

It’s also during Wild Bill Days, which should be interesting with all the people who come for the weekend. Hopefully many of them will find their way to the book signing on Saturday.

The first year I went to Wild Deadwood Reads, I went on a bus tour with a group of authors and readers. We took an 1880 Train Ride, ending up in Keystone. After we were on the bus and driving down the street, I saw a sign that (I thought) said “Balcony Girl.” Boom. This idea came to me about a woman who arrives in Deadwood and ends up secretly sewing for one of the brothels. One night she has to fill in as a “Balcony Girl,” which creates all sorts of problems for her. BTW, the sign actually read, “Balcony Grill.” You never know where ideas some from. I was going to use it for the Deadwood Anthology, “Wild Deadwood Tales,” but it was too long, so I wrote a short story about Julia’s sister, Suzanna, who goes to Deadwood with her and is the new school marm. I’m now taking that short story and turning it into a full-length story called (of all things) “The School Marm.” Uncaged: Do you have release dates for the next books in the series? How many books are planned for the series? “The School Marm” should be ready in June, in time for Wild Deadwood Reads. It may be sooner – depends on my editor. I’m then going to work on another one I hope to have ready for then, too. I’m not sure how many books will be in the series. I want to include women who have unusual jobs – like the woman who takes over her husband’s blacksmith shop after he dies. Also, a miner, a shopkeeper, an assayer, etc. Uncaged: You attended Wild Deadwood Reads last year. Are you attending this year? What is one of the things you look forward to the most at these events? I will be going to Wild Deadwood Reads again this year. I’ve been to all of them, so this will be my fourth. I always look forward to meeting new authors (to me) and readers. I also love the history of the area. Each time I go, I learn something new. This year a group of us is staying at an old haunted brothel on Main Street.

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ina Susedik is an award-winning, Amazon best-selling, multi-published author with books in both fiction and non-fiction, including history, children’s, military books and romances. Her favorite is writing romantic suspense/mysteries where her characters live happily ever after with a lot of problems in between. Tina also writes spicier romance as Anita Kidesu. She hosts a radio show, “Cover to Cover with Tina,” where she interviews authors of all genres. She lives in northwestern Wisconsin where winters are long, summers short, and spring and fall beautiful.

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| CATCH UP | The Balcony Girl Tina Susedik Historical Western Romance When Julia Lindstrom and her sister, Suzanna, made the decision to move to Deadwood, South Dakota in 1879, Julia never suspected that she would meet her future husband, secretly befriend the madam of a brothel, or jump in to assist when disaster strikes the turbulent mining town. Can she survive all three? Daniel Iverson followed the gold rush to Deadwood back when it was in its heyday, only to discover gold prospecting wasn’t the life for him. Now working as a lawyer, a case falls into his lap regarding a rash of recent illnesses affecting the men visiting the town’s saloons and brothels. Is it a disease or something more sinister? Will a secret bring them together or tear them apart?

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M.J. pRESTOn Uncaged welcomes M.J. Preston Uncaged: Your latest book, Acadia Event, released January 21st. Can you tell readers more about this book?

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o my neighbors, I am a quiet and assuming guy who works blue-collar. What they don’t know is that I also write dark speculative fiction. My work has been printed all over the world. I have three novels on the market and a fourth in the final stages of publication. My short fiction is available with numerous pubs, including magazines and anthologies. I have my own writing style but would say I was influenced by authors like Robert R. McCammon, Joe R. Lansdale, and John Sandford.

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mjpreston.net

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Acadia Event is a science fiction/horror that takes place in the Northwest Territories roughly 400 kilometers south of the arctic circle. It follows a band of ice truckers who find themselves the unlikely defenders against a full-scale invasion by alien aggressors. But not only that, the main character, Marty Croft, is on a mission to save his wife after being coerced into a diamond heist by an Irish gangster named Jude Shamus. There’s plenty of action in this book and an ensemble cast of interesting characters. Uncaged: You’ve written a lot of dark thrillers/horror, and Acadia Event takes a slant toward the scifi. What inspired this book? I was an ice trucker between 2012 and 2016. I had just published my first novel, THE EQUINOX, and hadn’t decided if I was going to write another book. When I went up to the NWT, I was blown away by everything and person I saw. The landscape was breathtaking, there was so much to see. The northern lights, an endless sea of ice, the cracking and popping of it below your wheels as you drove for hundreds of kilometers. There were the animals, ravens, foxes, wolves, wolverines. The weather, which changed regularly. We were operating in climates averaging from forty to seventy below. And there were also the characters up there. These strange, fascinating, and robust characters were as diverse as in their dialect as they were in their physical presence, the commonality was their one-mindedness when it came to the business of driving in such a hostile environment. After my second or third trip up the ice road, I felt my muse tugging at me, saying


words like, “Diamond heist, blackmail, gangster, aliens. It’s the end of the world as we know it!” After that, I got down to work, and Acadia was born. Uncaged: What are you working on now that you can tell us about? THE HIGHWAYMAN SERIES. At the time of this interview, I find myself in limbo, but I suspect that by the time this interview airs, the second installment in this series will already be in publication. The Highwayman series is a project with an indeterminate number of books in mind. To date, there are two and I’m working on a third. It is a police procedural thriller that starts Highwayman, published in July of 2019, and the second book, FOUR, Book Two in Highwayman series. These two books follow the rise of a serial killer who is dubbed the Highwayman because his M.O. is dumping victims along the highways of the United States from Rhode Island to Oregon State. The first book focuses on the genesis of the Highwayman, the police that are tracking him, and it delves deep into his psyche. He is a monster to the core, incapacitating his victims, taking them to a remote location and dismembering them while still alive. This story, which does not end with the first book, HIGHWAYMAN, carries on into the second, FOUR, covers roughly eight years and scores of victims. There is a third Highwayman book in the works, but it will be a completely different story that will cast some of the characters from the first two books. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? I’d love to have lunch with Stephen King or John Sandford for very different reasons. King, because his early work molded me from being a virtual non-reader to a voracious reader and eventually, a writer. I remember being so excited when King published something new. My library has two shelves dedicated to King. I also think SK and I have a common denominator. We both worked blue-collar and in our personal time, we wrote our guts. Stephen King doesn’t have to do that anymore, but I like his take. I can identify. And who doesn’t love Stephen King anyway? He is the King of Horror.

John Sandford, as a second, is coming in second. Sandford is probably my favorite author now. His Prey Series which is into 30 plus books, has never felt stagnant. I like his characters, Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers. I also have a strange fascination with Minnesotans. I can’t believe Netflix hasn’t optioned his work. It is so good. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Yes, on more than one occasion. Some have died horribly; some have done things consider morally repugnant. My characters always surprise me. Two themes of suicide and sacrifice in two separate books. I’ve seen likable characters that double-cross not being what they appear. Uncaged: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing? I wouldn’t be presumptuous in saying most writers want a publishing contract. I’ve been both routes and there is an advantage in having a traditional publishing contract. Traditional publishing offers support in editing, marketing, cover design, and they want your books to sell because your success is their success. When you’re an indie, you are the publishing company. It’s on your shoulders to make sure your book is ready for prime time and you gotta bust your butt to get the word out. And then, there are the millions of indie authors out there in competition for a piece of the same market. Worse, there’s an oversaturation in the market, people who are caught up in the successes of writers like Stephane Meyers or E.L. James, not writing original work but a variation on those successes. Maybe they think they’re going to write the next Twilight or 50 Shades? I don’t know. That saturation doesn’t help the aspiring author get his or her voice out there. As a writer, you’re already competing against the masses to find a voice for your work, so this just compounds it. But also on that thought, traditional publishing is a hard nut to crack.

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“The landscape was breathtaking, there was so much to see. The northern lights, an endless sea of ice, the cracking and popping of it below your wheels as you drove for hundreds of kilometers.�

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Pretty much what everyone else does. I love music, hanging with my friends and my dogs. I have two beagles. I also love being with my grandkids who, by reason of geography, live too far away. So, we’ll be working on that. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? Wake up early every day, drink coffee, for five or six hours, shoot some photography in the afternoon, and live life. If people are digging my stories, then that is enough. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I’m a traditionalist, I like the look and feel of a real book. For me, books mean so much more than just the story that is contained. I grew up in the ’70s before the household computer was the norm. I love what the computer age has done for publishing writing and publish, farewell, and see you later liquid paper. I’ll keep lugging my growing physical library around from place to place, because there is nothing quite like curling up in a chair and holding back the pages with your thumbs, while the words float up off the page as the storyteller’s voice inside my head entices me, “Read on!” Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Thank you for supporting me and my craft. Without you, without your readership, this wouldn’t happen. I write stories because I want people to read them. For those of you who follow me down that rabbit hole, I am in your debt and humbled by the support.

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Enjoy an excerpt from Acadia Event Acadia Event M.J. Preston SciFi Horror Marty Croft has it all. A beautiful wife, and a successful career as a commercial artist. That is until his past comes back to haunt him. Enter Gordon Shamus, the psychotic son of Marty’s former gangster boss. After Marty’s wife is kidnapped, he finds himself forced back into a world he left behind. The job seems simple enough. Drive the worlds longest ice road and retrieve a package of stolen diamonds. But what will become of Marty and his wife when the job is done? Will they be disposed of as potential witnesses? In a twist of fate, the Acadia Diamond mine, located 200 kilometers below the arctic circle, has found something buried in the ice. A portal not of this world, and it is about to be unlocked by unsuspecting scientists. Once opened, the creatures, known as Skentophyte, attack. Overrun by thousands of mind-controlling aliens, what started out as heist becomes a war for survival. In an ensemble cast of characters, the Acadia mine has become the beachhead of an all-out invasion. Detoured into a fight for survival, Marty finds himself in the company of men thrust into a mission to stop the invading force. Can they stop the creatures before they reach the city of Yellowknife? Will they survive against overwhelming odds? And what of Marty’s wife, Maggie? Will she become collateral damage if Marty can’t make it back in time to rescue her from the clutches of a maniac.


| M.J. PRESTOn | Excerpt

of teeth.

The lights of the snowcat bounced up in down in the morning light, tracks click-clacking on the ice, powder kicking up into the air. Behind it, two more vehicles, a plow and a grader, cleared the road. Lenny only saw the headlights, he never saw the creatures riding on the vehicles, but Chase saw them, and he scrambled back down into the trench.

Herb looked around. He did not follow Lenny’s tracks or see the building obscured by the darkness outside the circle of light they stood in. The winds were still up, polishing the surface of the snow, extinguishing his tracks. Lenny hoped there would be enough time to erase them permanently.

The snowcat came to a stop.

Herb turned his head, but Lenny, hoping to distract him, spoke up. “Herb.”

In front of them, a little man waved his arms frantically.

“Yes, Lenny?” Herb turned his attention back to Lenny.

Then he stopped.

They were all around him now, no escape.

The door on the snowcat popped open and out stepped Herb Aronson. “Lenny?”

“Does it hurt?” “Does what hurt?”

Lenny realized his mistake. Saw them climbing down off the vehicles. Saw the caverns where Herb’s eyes had been. He didn’t turn his head to see where Chase was, although he tried to catch a glimpse of him from the corner of his eye. There were five hanging off the plow, all of them now dismounting onto the road. The grader moved up beside the snowcat, its massive lights drowning out the shadows and washing Lenny in amber milk. The creatures were surrounding him now. Chase covered his mouth in horror.

“Your eyes?” Herb grinned. “A little, but not for long.” Lenny brought the knife up. “What are you doing, Lenny?” In one smooth motion, he cut his own throat. There was a sting, sticky warmth, his knees buckled. Better run like hell, Chase, was his last thought. He was dead before they dismantled him.

“We’ve been looking for you, Lenny.” “Well, I guess you found me.” “Where’s Chief Fenwick?” Lenny reached under his parka, unsheathed his knife. “He froze to death. On the Telegraph.” They were closing in. Lenny could hear the clacking Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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UlFF lEHMAnn U

lff Lehmann has spent quite a while waiting on his Midlife Crisis, and decided he won’t go there. For the past two decades he has been developing the stories he is now publishing. Born and bred in Germany, Ulff chose to write in English when he realized he had spent most of his adult life reading English instead of his mother tongue, and brings with him the oftentimes Grimm outlook of his country’s fairytales to his stories. A wordsmith with a poet’s heart, Ulff’s goal is to create a world filled with believable people.

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Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m currently working on the second draft of Shattered Walls, aka book 4. Also, a friend of mine asked me to write a short story for an anthology. I usually write in English, but this short will be in German. Uncaged: How long does it take you to write and release a book, from writing the first chapter to release day? Are you a plotter? It depends. The first book, Shattered Dreams, came together over a period of 3 months, maybe more. I can’t recall. Then it was a whole lot of editing and revising, which took another 6 months. That was the exception, however, as I had all the elements pretty much laid out before writing the novel. Nope, I’m a pantser, my characters determine the story, for the biggest part. Sure, there are predetermined elements, but if a character decides they will not go a certain direction, because it’s not in their interest, who am I to argue? Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? Long list that.

Please welcome Ulff Lehmann Uncaged: Can you tell us more about your Light in the Dark series? How many books are you planning for the series? Light in the Dark is epic, grimdark fantasy, or so it has been called. Like GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire, the story is told from multiple points of view, with the characters coming from all walks of life. It’s realistic, fights are bloody, but the characters are, mostly, likable. The series will comprise a whole of 5 books, starting with Shattered Dreams. So far the first three books have been released.

George RR Martin, I’d love to get into his head. Homer, to find out how much fact went into the fiction. Robert E. Howard, to find out how much of a racist he really was. Val MacDermid, how she comes up with the plots. Nnedi Okorafor, to riddle her with questions about her world building. Bernard Cornwell, just to bask in his presence. I’d love to sit back down again with Margaret Weis and Troy Denning, when I met them I was a different person. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR |

All the time! The bastards have minds of their own. I don’t plan out my characters, they just pop into my mind and I figure out who they are as I’m writing. That poses obvious problems when plotting, or planning because since I do treat them as people and not plot vehicles, they do have their own goals and ambitions. It’s fun and nerve-wracking at the same time. Uncaged: How do you feel about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing? I think traditional publishing could learn a lot from indie publishing. The big houses have the access and means, but they focus on the few big guns and let marketing people determine what else they sign, or don’t sign. There are a great many indie authors out there who deserve to be read, and a great many traditionally published authors who do not. Since traditional publishing has more to do with raking in money and satisfying investors and shareholders nowadays, the cutting edge writing, and the innovations, happens more and more with indies than with traditionals. 7)

What are some things you like to do to

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relax when you aren’t writing or working? Watching movies, listening to music, or reading. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? A few months ago, I received an email from a South African reader, who apologized for not writing me earlier. A friend of his was dying of cancer, and he had spent every day with said friend, reading him my novels. The friend got upset when the reader came too late, because he wanted to know how the story continued. This knowledge, that my words were amongst the last a dying man listened to is everything I could ever dream of. Money to not worry about bills would be nice, of course, but knowing that my words were with a dying man, that’s personal success. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? For most of my life I’ve read dead tree books. Only recently did I begin to make more use of ebooks, mainly because I’m running out of space to put physical cop-


ies. Audiobooks aren’t my jam, I can’t do anything else while listening, or rather if I do something else, I keep missing passages, so I stick with the written word. Old dog, new tricks, and all that.

| ULFF LEHMAnn | Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I didn’t know I had fans. Now I feel like a rock star, a very shy rock star, but okay. Now, I want to thank you for reading my books. The fourth novel will not be out for a while, I had some things that needed taking care of, so I did that, but the story will continue! Onward! You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and one of these days, I hope I’ll also have a homepage up and running.

Enjoy an excerpt from Shattered Dreams Shattered Dreams Ulff Lehmann Dark Fantasy Epic Fantasy filled to the brim with Grimdark Reality If one looks too long into the abyss, the abyss looks back. Drangar Ralgon has been avoiding the abyss’s gaze for far too long and now he turns to face it. For a hundred years the young kingdom of Danastaer has thrived in peace. Now their northern neighbor, mighty Chanastardh, has begun a cunning invasion. Thrust into events far beyond his control, the mercenary Drangar Ralgon flees his solitary life as a shepherd to evade the coming war and take responsibility for his crimes. In Dunthiochagh, Danastaer’s oldest city, the holy warrior Kildanor uncovers the enemy’s plans for invasion. Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | As ancient forces reach forth to shape the world once more, the sorceress Ealisaid wakes from a century of hibernation only to realize the Dunthiochagh she knew is no more. Magic, believed long gone, returns, and with it comes an elven wizard sent to recover a dangerous secret. Excerpt It was dark and cold. The gloom surrounding Drangar was not what he had expected. Somehow, he thought that the Bailey Majestic was just that, agigantic open area where the souls of the dead gathered before they were called forth to face Lliania, Lady Justice, and be judged by her ever-truthful Scales. He had certainly never heard a priest speak about the Bailey Majestic as being a vast emptiness. “I felt those bastards shoot and stab me,” Drangar said. “I’m dead.” Of course, there was no reply, nor did he expect one.

but, as expected, couldn’t grab it. Nor could he touch his own arm. If this was death, it was far more unpleasant than any being ever imagined. “All just lonely souls drifting away in nothingness. None of us able to reach out to the others, none of us being heard,” he muttered. “We came from nothing and leave for nothing. It’s pointless. Life is meaningless. There is no Round Hall, no grand feasting chamber, and no glorious celebration. Nothing!” He wanted to smash something, pound his fists into walls, but could only chuckle bitterly at the futility of it all. There was nothing to break. Nothing left but regrets, guilt, and despair. “What’s the point trying to rid yourself of something you can never get rid of?” he muttered, somehow dreading that Hesmera’s spirit would rise before him just like she had in his nightmares. He remained alone. Aside from the feeling of cloth on his body. Now his left hand was meticulously cleaned. “If I was to take a bath I’d appreciate some warm water and a few lasses to care for me,” he grumbled. “Not that anyone can hear me.”

It was cold and dark. “Maybe even the gods don’t want me,” he muttered, his voice fearful. “Don’t I feel splendid now?” He felt adrift, floating on a boat down some river. Sometimes it was as if he could hear surf slapping against a wooden hull, but neither did he sit on a bench, nor was he surrounded by wood. Someone touched his arm; he shrank away from the gentle caress, all too aware of the nightmares that haunted his sleep. Would he need to sleep here? The touch lingered; escape was futile. Now he thought he felt it more distinct, a rub, as if someone scrubbed him. Drangar moved to take hold of the unseen cloth, 100 | UncagedBooks.com

If this was the Bailey Majestic one of Lliania’s Lawlords, her heralds, would have already hailed him. Even in his hut he had had Dog and Hiljarr to talk to and keep him company. He missed the two. Not that they were talkative—Drangar felt like weeping at the thought—but at least they were good listeners. “Have I been a good listener?” he wondered aloud. “I think I was. Of course, there were times when I cared little about what others had to say, but I think in general I was a good listener.” He chuckled sadly. “Attentive some might say.” “Not that anyone ever did. Not that anyone now has the chance to tell me. Why is it so gods-be-damned dark?” he shouted. Silence. Dark and cold silence.


| ULFF LEHMAnn | “And I didn’t even kill myself,” he whispered. The ghostly cloth wandered up his arm, and for a brief moment he thought he heard the melody of a song. Drangar strained to focus on the tune, words sung in whisper.

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The Lamentation of the Sun. He remembered. How could he ever forget? This song had been on his mind, his lips, and his heart all the way from Dunthiochagh to Carlgh. These fingers held a weapon high Now this soul runs free These fingers held a shining light For all the world to see Though darkness falls and your light fades The Hall of Gods, for you it waits Don’t fear suffering, don’t fear pain Lesganagh will shine on you again Still wars are lost and wars are won Your fate lies always with the sun Lesganagh guide this fading soul Into your shining Halls “No one takes my hand. And no one grieves my death,” Drangar said with bitter finality. It was dark.

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fang-FREAKIN-tastic reviews

feature author

Rene Folsom


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ene Folsom, USA Today Bestselling Author of contemporary and paranormal romance, lives in Florida with her husband and three kids. She has officially diagnosed herself with creative ADD and often has a million and one writing projects going at once. In addition to writing, she is also a graphic artist who enjoys creating custom book covers for indie authors. She is definitely an artist at heart and would love nothing more than to be elbow deep in clay during her waking hours. Rene believes that all fiction is based on some form of reality—otherwise we would never have the inspiration or knowledge to dream up the realistic situations we portray with our words. She is proud to say that her personal experiences have been inspirational, though perhaps not always identical to that of her fictional characters. Where reality and fantasy diverge, however, must remain her little secret…

REnE FOlSOM Stay Co n n e c te d

renefolsom.com

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Enjoy an excerpt from: Thy Kingdom Come Thy Kingdom Come Rene Folsom Paranormal It’s official. I am the world’s worst stripper. From the orphanage to the stage, I’ve always been the black sheep. People avoid me like the plague… Until I meet Semion—the only purebred vampire in the Relic area of New York State. He is also the only man who has ever intrigued me and brings me back from the overwhelming darkness that is my life. So, when I am introduced to others of his kind, I’m taken by surprise just how many of them speak to my soul.


| SCOTT M. BAKER |

But regardless of how much I finally fit in, I am still damaged. I still require the blood it takes to lead. It’s not until I am presented to the purest of vampires that my path to destiny is set in stone. Abandoned at birth and rescued as a stripper, I find myself forced into a position of worth—a reign I will make true on, or die trying. Excerpt My decision to leave the orphanage assaults my mind with memories, even though it cemented a turning point in my life that has since altered who I am as a person. Capturing the full understanding of exactly what I am and why everyone fears me is going to be the challenge of the century. To this day, I remember how my heart didn’t beat… didn’t even flutter or get trapped in my throat as I got caught fleeing the concrete prison that was St. Patrick’s. *** “Where are you running to, Wednesday?” a snotty voice asked behind me. I hated when people called me Wednesday. Stopping in my tracks, I turned my head and looked over the curve of my backpack at the scowling redhead. Her arms were crossed over her chest, her eyes glaring at me in question. I didn’t respond and just kept on walking. My straight, black hair whipped around in my face, and I knew if I didn’t get the fuck away from this place, I’d seriously

lose my mind. I had just turned sixteen a few hours before, and the laughter from the nuns as I mentioned the idea of cake still echoed in my mind. “Sister Frances!” Red hollered. Her voice was loud… too loud… echoing off the cold stone walls that surrounded us. I didn’t stop. I’d die before I’d stop. Instead, I ran for dear life, mentally preparing to scale the seven-foot iron fence in a matter of seconds. I was already tired… my heaving breaths coming in waves. It wasn’t like the nuns of St. Patrick’s made sure we exercised unless you counted scrubbing floors a kind of workout. Still, my heartbeat was nearly nonexistent. I’d lost my heart a long time ago. With a huff, I swung the backpack off my shoulders and threw it over the spiked iron of the fence with a loud thunk. I looked at the long, black poles that made up the barrier to separate the real world from my soul. The shrill hollering from behind me told me I had no time to hesitate. Using the worn tread of my tennis shoes, I took a running start and struggled my way up the side of the fence, my hands digging into the spikes at the top of the cold metal. The grunt of pain that left my lips didn’t even sound like me as I kicked my legs over and dropped to the sidewalk on the other side. Long, spindly fingers reached for me, grabbing a handful of my hair through the gaps in the fence and holding on tight. I screamed in pain and clutched at the nun’s wrist. Regardless of the agoIssue 44 | March 2020 |

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ny that radiated from the hair pulling out of my scalp, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast of her pale skin against my raven hair. The difference was oddly calming to me. Without effort, my blood-covered palms made just enough purchase to wrench her arm the wrong way, causing her to let go and grind out a rather unholy curse from her lips. I backed away, my breath coming out unnaturally slow considering how far I’d just pushed my body. Sister Frances was still reaching for me, strands of my black hair dangling from her white fingers. Evil reflected back at me, and I was damn near sure she would’ve ripped out a chunk of my throat with her gnashing teeth if I hadn’t struggled away. “Tesla!” she screamed. “Get back here!” I didn’t bother to hide my grin of triumph—triumph that I’d escaped the hands of the devil—as I scooped up my bag and sauntered away from that orphanage, never to return. *** To this day, I consider my escape to be the happiest moment of my life. My happiness was short-lived at the time, but I still wouldn’t have it any other way. I would never take my actions back. Leaving was, and still is, the best decision I’ve ever made. I still remember just how miserable I was living with those people and the misery that continued to stem from being rejected by countless foster homes across the city. Of course, all it takes is a few weeks sleeping under bridges and bathing in gas station sinks to move from one nightmare to another.

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Uncaged Reviews Hell Hath No Fury Orlando A. Sanchez Urban Fantasy Hell hath no fury…like an angry god of the underworld. Persephone is missing. When Hades uses every resource at his disposal and fails to locate his wife, he takes drastic measures. He hires the Montague & Strong Detective Agency to locate her, bring her back to him, and most importantly, find out who dared to kidnap his wife. It’s not the end of the world…but it’s going to be close.

Uncaged Review: I loved some of the Easter eggs in this one, I share the same love of scifi that Mr. Sanchez does, may the force be with him. This is a great installment in this series, we even meet Cerberus. With Persephone kidnapped, Monty, Simon and Peaches are recruited by Hades to help retrieve her and re-seal Tartarus, but this time they are going up against the Lightbringers, Lucents under Tartarus’ control. And the Dark Council is coming to eliminate Monty and Peaches. A very intricate plan is laid out and it is a great fight. It’s hard to wrap my head around some of the action in these books, they are so well thought out. I don’t understand how, but this series is just getting better and better. Eight books in, and I am still as thrilled with reading it as I was the first couple books, maybe even more so the more I know the group. You can’t go wrong with this series, and if you’ve never read this genre and want to give urban fantasy a try, this is a great series to jump in with. Can’t recommend it any more than I already do. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Rage Shayne Silvers Urban Fantasy Ever since Callie—the Vatican’s rookie monster hunter—killed a demon a few weeks ago, Kansas City’s been eerily quiet. But she soon learns it’s just the calm before the storm. Because werewolves begin abducting young women in Kansas City, and a new church opens its doors, pronouncing death to all idols, including these ‘make-believe’ monsters and wizards.

Uncaged Review: In the 2nd installment of the Feathers & Fire series, we learn more and more about Callie. I’m still not 100% sure exactly what she is, and maybe the author meant it to be that way. We see new alliances forming for Callie, some for pure reasons, some not, but as Callie’s world builds – things get more and more intricate. This series is set in Nate Temple’s world, and Nate does make a brief appearance and he’s mentioned often, but this book is all Callie and the group she is building around her. I think that the author is settling much better into this character than he did in the first book, and I’m liking the Kansas City world (this series) as much as St. Louis (Nate’s city). I like to see them intertwine once in a while, but Callie is definitely coming into her own. This series has a lot more religious undertones to it than the Nate Temple series, even though it’s not preachy, and no one should be offended, one way or the other. The action scenes were spot on, and the suspenseful part of this book kept you guessing until the end, the twists and turns the book takes was pretty sweet. There are still a few things that need to come into enlightenment, but even though this series is a spin-off, it’s definitely earning it’s way. Reviewed by Cyrene


Graveyard Druid M.D. Massey Urban Fantasy Colin McCool here, otherwise known as the Junkyard Druid. Not my favorite title, but since it’s my only title I guess I’m stuck with it. But hey, things are looking up. Sure, a powerful and sentient magical artifact may have taken up residence inside my skull, and I’m still burdened with a nasty curse cast by an ancient sorceress of the Tuatha Dé Danann… ...but I’m trying really hard to look on the bright side of things.

Uncaged Review: The second installment of this series has the author and his character really coming together nicely. This series is one of those that gets better and better. This time out, Colin has to bring down a powerful necromancer – but it won’t be easy and Colin will need help. I like that Colin is different than the normal heroes in the urban fantasy genre and the pacing is much better in this second book. The world here is building nicely and the snarky Colin is on point. There are some great secondary characters that Colin has built around him, whether he did it on purpose or not. Looking forward to book three. Reviewed by Cyrene

The End of Hatred Rebecca Hefner Romantic Fantasy These are dangerous times on Etherya’s Earth... Slayer Princess Miranda, heir to the throne, has hated the Vampyres for a thousand years. Since the Awakening, she’s fought to protect her people, choosing to be a warrior more than a royal. When a female Vampyre washes up on the shore of her compound’s riverbank, she seizes the opportunity to take the offensive.

Uncaged Review: What a great surprise this book turned out for me. It started a tad slow as the world was built and before I really got a firm grasp on the characters and how the different species were all linked together. But watch out, once this book starts moving, it is a fast moving train. In this world, the Vampyres only exist on Slayer blood, but instead of a peaceful existence between them, there is constant war. This story revolves around the Slayer, Princess Miranda and Vampyre, King Sathan. Miranda is looking to find peace between their people, and unfortunately she will need Sathan’s help. There is a lot of great action – good sex scenes and a bit of humor sprinkled in. The chemistry between Miranda and Sathan is off the charts – and even though the overall arc in this story continues on for the series, it does wrap up and cement Miranda and Sathan’s bond. Well worth picking up. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Uncaged Reviews Christmas Hope Caroline Warfield Historical Romance/War

Willful in Winter Scarlett Scott Historical Regency

When the Great War is over, will their love be enough?

Rand, Viscount Aylesford, needs a fiancée, and he needs one now. His requirements are concise: she must not embarrass him, and she must understand he has no intention of ever marrying her.

After two years at the mercy of the Canadian Expeditionary force and the German war machine, Harry ran out of metaphors for death, synonyms for brown, and images of darkness. When he encounters color among the floating islands of Amiens and life in the form a widow and her little son, hope ensnares him. Through three more long years of war and its aftermath, the hope she brings keeps Harry alive. Uncaged Review: I really hesitated reading this book, as even though I love a good historical romance, I tend to lean toward the Regency, Victorian and Highland romances and have never been a huge reader of war-time stories. Secondly, it’s past the holidays and I normally don’t read them so soon after a holiday is over. But passing this book by, no matter what time of year, would have been a huge mistake. This is an epic love story – and the author’s descriptions and characters will pull you into the story and make you feel the emotions and love that Rosemarie and Harry build upon throughout the book. This is as real as it gets – the author makes me believe it’s her story and she lived it as the historical time period is so perfectly done. Highly recommended. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Miss Grace Winter is the most stubborn of the notorious Wicked Winters. When her brother decrees she must marry well, she is every bit as determined to avoid becoming a nobleman’s wife. She would never marry a lord, especially not one as arrogant and insufferable as Aylesford. Uncaged Review: This shorter read is a whole lot of fun. The Winter’s sisters are not for the faint of heart – and their brother Dev, sure has his hands full. The sisters have in their possession, a set of books that have stories that they could never let their brother know they have, with the hot scenes and images. When Grace is caught reading one of the books, she becomes the target from Rand Aylesford, who needs a fiancée and he uses the book and his knowledge of Grace reading it to his advantage I won’t tell the outcome, or the story itself, but this is a fun afternoon interlude with a bit of humor and some steamy scenes to warm you up. The chemistry between the main characters is spot on and the sisters are a hoot. The more I read from this author, the higher on my list of favorite authors she goes. Reviewed by Cyrene


Through the Eyes of a Captive Angela Christina Archer Western/Pioneer Romance Several men have claimed responsibility for killing Custer, but what if it wasn’t a man? What if it was a woman? They called it a terrible glory and the last great battle for the American West. While the battle of the Little Bighorn was the last stand by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer against the Lakota tribes, to Lily Sinclair it was the last stand between her old life and her new beginning.

taught some tribe members English, the slang and phrases that the Native Americans understood and used was not believable. Ms. Archer has written wonderful Native American stories before, and the dialogue has always been believable until now. Beyond those issues, “Through the Eyes of a Captive” is an entertaining story about an emotionally strong woman that will keep readers flipping pages to see what happens to her next. Reviewed by Ryan Jo

Uncaged Review: Lily Sinclair travels with her husband, Alfred, from their home in Washington D.C. to the western frontier. Lily’s in-laws had squandered the family fortune, so Lily and George head to faraway Montana to start over. Along the way, Cherokee warriors attack the wagon train, kill Alfred and most of the travelers, and take Lily hostage, along with a couple of other women. She is traded to a Lakota tribe for a few horses. Tahatan is a Lakota warrior who tragically lost his wife. He is not happy when the tribe’s chief decrees he is to marry Lily. Over time, trust and eventually love, grows between Lily and Tahatan. Lily integrates into the Lakota tribe and learns their ways and culture. She might have successfully rebuilt her life had it not been for the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the discovery of gold in Indian territory. The first third of this story is Lily trying to find her place in a new world, making new relationships within the tribe and going from being a captive to a valued member of the Lakota people. The middle section is the tribe balancing on the cusp of war. The sweeping conclusion comes after a series of surprises and twists. This book is researched history meeting literary twists. It earns a solid five stars for creativity and characterization. There were a few minor typos sprinkled throughout. The drawback was the dialogue between Lily and her Lakota family. While trappers had Issue 44 | March 2020 |

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Uncaged Reviews Duke of Daring Tammy Andresen Historical Regency He’s known as the Duke of Daring…but is he brave enough to take on one feisty spinster? The Duke of Darlington is on a mission. He needs to protect his secret gaming hell from a group of debutantes who’ve stumbled upon his covert business. The problem… Miss Minerva Chase is not the average lady. Uncaged Review: When I first started this book, I was absolutely positive that I wasn’t going to like Minnie at all. Too brash and too outspoken – I thought she was a bit too cynical and too easy to throw insults without the knowledge of the person she was going after – in this case Tag. But she did redeem herself very early on in the book, and she has easily jumped up on my list of characters that I’ve enjoyed. When five ladies discover the men’s gaming hell, in order to keep their secret – each man who is part of the business is entrusted to watch over one of the ladies. Tag, The Duke of Daring has the daunting job of watching over Minerva, or Minnie. Sparks fly between the two the moment they meet, and it’s a great time watching it all come together. This is a shorter book, and easy to read in a day and I was hooked on finding out how everything was going to play out. I’m not going to give spoilers, but the book is a fun read and a new favorite from this author. Reviewed by Cyrene

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To Win a Wicked Lord Sofie Darling Historical Regency Releases April 22 Who Will Win in the Game Called Love? Percy has been betrayed before, and now the man who destroyed his life is using Isabel to strike again. With the fate of the government and his new life in the balance, he’ll have to keep Isabel seductively, scandalously close. They begin a passionate game of truth and lies, deception and dalliance, uncovering the heart of who they really are and realizing that winning might mean losing what matters the most—each other. Uncaged Review: This is a well written suspenseful regency romance, and the main characters sizzle together. The chemistry is spot on. I wasn’t sure when I started this book that I would like the characters as much as I did. Lord Percival has been a spy and is looking to trap Montfort, the man that left him for dead. And Isabel, is trying to free her father from prison by doing Montfort’s bidding. This well managed plot keeps you guessing as to which way it’s heading, but the reader will see the two fall in love long before they admit it themselves. Even though this book is part of series, it’s a standalone and complete story and it’s all rounded off with a bit of humor and a bit of sexy heat. Reviewed by Cyrene


The Priestess L.A. McGinnis

Death’s Daughter L.A. McGinnis

Fantasy Romance

Fantasy Romance

Magic stole everything from me—

They’ve been enemies for a thousand years.

My home. My family. After that, I put my faith in science. At least I did, until the day the world fell. Now it’s time to put my trust in something else. A band of immortal warrior gods, tasked to save the planet. Now that I’ve joined them, I’ve been plunged into a world of demons, Dark Primordial Gods and portals to other realms.

Uncaged Review: In the 3rd book of this series, we read about Mir and Sydney. Again, I still don’t recommend anyone read this series out of order. Even though each book centers around a specific couple, the overall story arc continues and keeping everything straight really does mean you should read them in order, you won’t be sorry. The main arc is ramping up, and even though the title of this book gives away a spoiler on it’s own, just like Return of the King title gave away a part of the Lord of the Rings. But it’s a wild ride, and the action and tension is ramping with each book. There are some good revelations in this book, and a lot of answers – but there are always more questions, but the author keeps baiting the readers and giving us enough to stay afloat. The chemistry between Mir and Syd is spot on, and the god is going to have his hands full with this one. The plot thickens, and I went straight to book four. Reviewed by Cyrene

Now their paths are about to cross again. From the moment I saw Tyr, I knew he was different. But everything he touched was poison, and he cost me my family. My village. Everything I’d ever loved. For hundreds of years we’ve stayed on opposite sides of the globe, and I vowed if I ever saw him again? I’d kill him on sight. That’s a promise I would have kept. But when my city is razed to the ground, I have no choice but to go to him for help.

Uncaged Review: In the fourth book in this series, we finally find out the back story of Tyr, and his very long history with Hunter. When Tyr saved Hunter’s life with an old spell, he put a piece of dark power inside of her unintentionally. Hunter has hated him for a thousand years. But what happens when the two are thrown together in this massive war against evil? When the Orubus finally attacks, Hunter throws herself between the evil and Tyr to save his life, knowing that she was forfeiting her own. But one more deal.... If you are an urban fantasy fan, or a romance fan, you will enjoy this series with the Norse gods fighting the evil. The edge-of-your-seat action and the all or nothing love between these warriors will win you over. I don’t recommend reading out of order because of the main story arc and the recurring characters. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance Delilah S. Dawson Paranormal Romance A lady with a penchant for pets meets a sexy fireman in this magical and saucy steampunk eNovella from the author of Wicked as They Come. In a world ruled by blood, live pets are rare and kindness rarer still. London pet shop owner Frannie Pleasance has a mysterious way with animals and keeps her charges (and heart) locked in a veritable Eden. She thinks Casper Sterling is just another stray...until she takes in the troublesome lodger (and unwelcome suitor) and becomes the victim of a series of strange and dangerous occurrences.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: This is a cute novella set in the crazy world of Sang. The story itself is pretty sweet. It’s got mystery, romance, and secrets. Why would anyone want to kill a lonely pet shop owner? And what on earth is she hiding? These questions kept this reader engulfed in the story from start to finish. Seriously, I couldn’t put it down! I really wanted to know what her huge secret was, and how things were going to go with Thom. In some ways the story was sad also. This woman was fairly young and alone in the world. She has few friends and her life seems focused on her pet stores. When she takes in a boarder who strongly resembles her brother, things start to really go wrong. Someone is trying to kill her! Frannie’s boarder is none other than Casper, the “Maestro” from Wicked as They Come. I think he is a fairly disappointing person, and poor excuse for a man in this book, but I am still drawn to him for some reason. He is one of those characters that you really want to see get themselves together and quit screwing up their life. He spends most of his time in

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this book drunk, or on his way to being drunk. I was surprised at how much time was spent on developing his character in this story when he was not a main character. His story is told in Wicked as She Wants. When someone lights her bedroom on fire, she encounters a super sweet firefighter named Thom. He offers to help her clean up her shop after the fire, and she accepts. Their romance is the sweet kind that makes you feel kind of warm and fuzzy. The sex is more than just sex. It’s love. It’s emotion. It’s nice because many times the love is left out of the sex scenes, and I end up feeling like there is something missing from those scenes. I think the growth in the relationship between Frannie and Thom goes kind of slow, but because of the fact that she is holding onto something from her past, it pretty much has to be slow or it wouldn’t make any sense that she is taking things slow. I really found myself wanting them to just get down to business and handle the loving. It’s obvious from the beginning that they are attracted to each other. We learn that there are more species of supernatural creatures in Sang than just Bludmen. Daemons make an appearance and we learn that they all have different specialties. It appears there are more layers of Sang than we originally knew! The Blud animals are not as much a part of this story as they are in some of Dawson’s other books, but in exchange for blud animals, normal animals are present. Miss Pleasance only carries regular animals. Puppies, kittens, snakes, birds, all kinds of animals. I would really like to know more about where and how she gets these animals. I would recommend this novella to anyone who likes books. If you are (im)patiently awaiting Dawson’s next book in the series, Wicked After Midnight, pick this up for a quick read. It’s pretty short, so it won’t take forever to read, and it sets up Casper’s character for the next book in the series.


Hot Blooded Amanda Carlson Paranormal Romance It hasn’t been the best week for Jessica McClain. Her mate has been kidnapped by a Goddess hell-bent on revenge — but Jessica is playing for keeps. Because she’s the only female werewolf in town…it comes with its own set of rules…and powers. Aided by two vamps, two loyal Pack members, and one very reluctant human, Jessica must rescue her man while coming to terms with what being a wolf really means.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite series and one of my all-time favorite authors. I can’t tell you how excited I was to read this! At the same time though, I always have a fear that I won’t like a 2nd book in a series as much as I do the first. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, as once again, Amanda Carlson made me glad I let my husband talk me into reading a werewolf book instead of a witch book! In Hot Blooded we continue the story of Jessica McClain, the only full blooded female werewolf in existence. She is on a mission to save her honey, Rourke from the clutches of the evil goddess Selene, who not only wants to kill him, but have her way with him first. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll tell you this much, if some chick kidnapped my honey and had plans like this for him, I’d be going after her too! Hot Blooded has a different feel to it than Full Blooded, but not necessarily in a bad way. It definitely feels like a nice bridge between Full Blooded and Cold Blooded, but not in a way that you should skip it. It’s not, by any means, a filler book, like you occasionally find in long series. There are two main themes of this book: the locating and res-

cue of Rourke and all of this Prophecy business. Carlson does a great job of keeping us on track, while still filling us in or reminding the reader of things they may have missed or not been told in the first book. In addition to the Cain Myth we learned about in Full Blooded, there is another prophecy that talks about a female “True Lycan” that will come to rule over the supernatural race and basically be judge, jury, and executioner of anyone who steps out of line. Obviously, some may not be too happy about that idea and have now made it their purpose to get rid of Jess before the Prophecy comes true. You will find the same type of sarcasm and sense of humor that was in Full Blooded, which in my opinion helps make the characters feel more real. I love a heroine with a snarky attitude, that doesn’t just fall into the seriousness of the plot. She still kicks butt despite the fact that nasty Selene placed a spell on her that should have some serious life threatening effects. We are introduced to a set of vampire twins that act as trackers to help hunt down Selene in her secret lair. It was hard for me to decide if I liked them or not, but eventually you are given reason to feel one way or the other about them. Jess’s brother Tyler, and Danny accompany her on her quest and as usual Tyler is an overprotective brother. Danny is hilarious as usual and we also see sensitivity about him that we did not see before. We also get to have a little bit more fun with Ray, Jess’s favorite pain in the butt cop. One of my favorite characters in this series is Juanita. She is Jess’s neighbor. This chick is hilarious. She is always trying to flirt with the guys or feed someone. She always shows up when you would think she shouldn’t be there, but for some reason, the guys accept it. Maybe it’s her ample bosom that is mentioned or her Spanish accent. Maybe she’s just that great of a cook. I really

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Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews hope there is more to her story than we have learned so far because I would love to hear her tell it. Carlson has done a great job of capturing her accent in every scene in which she speaks and it cracks me up every single time! There are some crazy crazy surprises in this book that I am really dying to talk about but for obvious reasons cannot. We encounter all sorts of interesting creatures along the path to rescue Rourke that I seriously doubt you will expect. The first creature she encounters when close to Selene’s property is just plain nasty and I would not want to run into them anywhere. The climax of the story is a good one. There is some good action and butt kicking. The end definitely sets you up for the next book with a pretty amazing cliffhanger that will leave you shaking your fist and cursing Amanda Carlson for leaving you hanging! I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is into werewolves and liked Full Blooded. If you haven’t read the first book, go pick it up at the same time, so as soon as you finish it, you can go right into this one because you aren’t going to want to wait for the action to continue!

A Kiss of Blood Pamela Palmer Paranormal Romance Only one woman can save vamp city ... One of the few humans who managed to escape the deadly twilight world of Vamp City, Quinn Lennox vows never to return. But the vampires want her back, for only she has the power to renew the magic of their crumbling world and free the vampires trapped within.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: Kiss of Blood, the second in the Vamp City series by Pamela Palmer, starts off not long after A Blood Seduction ended. Quinn is preparing herself to go back into Washington, VC. Zach is starting to suffer from some magical sickness that only seemed to start after he had briefly left DC to go to PA to be with his parents for a little while. Even though he returned to DC, he seems to be getting worse by the day. Quinn has made friends with a guy across the hall, Mike, who is a writer. He keeps her company and doesn’t seem to be looking for anything more than someone to pass the time with. When Traders suddenly show up at her door, Quinn freaks. It turns out that her “freedom” wasn’t quite as free as she believed. Arturo has had someone watching her the whole time, and he himself has been keeping tabs on her as well. He needs her to return to VC to help renew the magic that would mean the survival of VC and its inhabitants, despite the fact that she has already failed at this task once. Due to Zack’s illness, she feels in order to save him, she must return to VC so he can either get better, or they can find out what is causing his illness and start treating it. This book is pretty good. It follows the storyline well, and gives us more insight into the characters and why they act the way they do. We start to see redeeming qualities in Arturo and as easy as it is to hate him for

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betraying Quinn the way he did, I can understand why he did it at least to some degree. Palmer gives us more of an understanding of the depravity of some of VC’s inhabitants as well. It gives the characters hope that with the renewal of Vamp City’s magic, some of the madness that vampires such as Cristoff suffer from can be lifted and they can potentially go back to being the not-sonasty vampires they were before the magic started to fail. Supposedly many of them were much easier to get along with and had better morals in the past. We really start to see the extent of the madness that Cristoff is going through in several brutal scenes while looking for information on Quinn’s whereabouts. Arturo’s loyalty is really going to be tested. He can’t keep up the charade forever, especially when Cristoff is becoming increasingly paranoid. It’s going to be pretty ugly when that happens. We are introduced to some new characters, which helps to fill out the story and give the reader more of a personal investment in the story. It also helps to convince Quinn to do everything she can to renew the magic, and not just for the sake of her brother. She has to learn to trust in those who are trying to help her, but I can understand why it would be hard for her. As hot as Arturo sounds, after everything he has done to Quinn, I don’t think I could trust him either. The other characters we are introduced to have done nothing to break her trust and truly want to help. They gave me a reason to believe that there are “good” vampires and other inhabitants in Vamp City despite what some of the other Vampires and Traders are up to. My main complaint is this, I really did not like the way it ended. I felt there should have been a little bit of something more, but that is the nature of a cliffhanger I suppose. It seemed like the story just stopped. Like you should have been able to turn the page and continue reading that scene, or just more of the story. I didn’t feel like there was any sort of conclusion to that part of the story.

Thy Kingdom Come Rene Folsom Paranormal It’s official. I am the world’s worst stripper. From the orphanage to the stage, I’ve always been the black sheep. People avoid me like the plague… Until I meet Semion—the only purebred vampire in the Relic area of New York State. He is also the only man who has ever intrigued me and brings me back from the overwhelming darkness that is my life. So when I am introduced to others of his kind, I’m taken by surprise just how many of them speak to my soul. Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: I don’t typically enjoy books with romance. I took a chance with Thy KingFang-Freakin-Tastic Review: Legally Undead dom Come because I loved another series by this is FangI’m Freakin’ I’m not even trying to be author. glad I Tastic. did. funny here people. The main Elle,the is I think what initially grabbed mycharacter, attention was openingand line Iof: “It’s felt official. I amwhen the world’s worst likable really for her everything stripper.” Just based that,adapts I had to more.well started falling apart.onShe to know situations Poorhas Tesla hasn’tof had it easy.I Raised in anElle. orphanage and a sense humor. really like She and by abusive foster parents, her whole life has been goes so much injust such a short set upthrough for failure. The girl can’t get atime, break.that Thy she could have just fallen apart, but instead sheher Kingdom Come picks up in just the right point in life for the to witness the craziest partneeds of herto handles herreader business and does what she life the yet. answers Her entireshe lifeishas been something of a lie and get looking for. she’s only discovering her true self a piece at a time. Thy Kingdom Come has action, humor, and a bit of This book but is full and Elle is the sexytimes, not of so action much of theintrigue. sexy to override recruited to be a vampire hunter after she rest of the story. There is an underlying sexualcomes tension, but I wasn’t whatbeing wouldbitten happen. the home to findquite her sure Fiancée byWhen a vamtime in comes, boy does it ever. pire her living room and immediately stakes Speaking of vampires, Kingdom ComeGreg’s has them. the vampire. The nextThy thing you know, And they are a bit different than what I’m used to seebody is gone, andbythat a whole lot ing. Which is fine me.just I’mopens really up looking forward of questions she wants answers to. She doesn’t to seeing where this series goes next. A nice twist on vampires and atosmokin line. What’s seem to want do it, hot but story she really is cut not out to love? for the job. She comes to it honestly though. She

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews Money Galore Stella & Phillip Lemarque Humor In Money Galore, Sophie and Pierre once again find themselves preparing decadent meals for strange personalities, this time, in the palaces of a junk bond king, a wealthy doctor with a white elephant, and a Montecito contessa. Follow Sophie and Phillip as they excavate the secret passageways of their latest clients’ castles only to discover a tantalizing treasure which smells of Provence—but at what cost? Amy’s Review: A must read! The Lemarques pen a unique and fun story in Money Galore. I haven’t read anything from these authors before, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were unique, interesting and very eccentric. I just loved them. The authors writing style works for this story, and brings the characters to life. There is a great chemistry between the characters, and a depth that makes them realistic and flawed, and ones that this reader wants to get to know. Magnificent story, kept this reader turning the pages. The title drew me in, but the story made me stay. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

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The World’s Oldest, Most Powerful Secret Society Anand Arungundram Mohan Cultural Adventure Do you have a friend.... ....who would save your life? This book is about magic, love and teenage rebels. Last, but in no way the least, dive deep into the mysterious lands of India and Pakistan when they were under one empire. You will enjoy the battles, be surprised by the outcomes and learn the power of peace.

Amy’s Review: Magical and cultural This author pens a grand story in The World’s Oldest, Most Powerful Secret Society. I haven’t read anything from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were interesting and showed their culture. The author’s writing style is interesting and shows a passion for the culture and writing. This author brings the stories to life. The pace of the story was just right for this magical young adult story. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller and gives the reader an enjoyable journey. The title drew me in, but the story made me stay. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is definitely recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews


Anybody Want to Play War? Tommy B. Smith Coming of Age/Suspense Brutal injuries can leave scars. As the teenage survivor of a savage dog’s rampage, it’s a lesson Bryce Gallo will never forget. Struggling to cope with his damaged appearance, along with a newfound fear of dogs and mounting anxieties at home and school, he flees his suburban home into the moonlit streets of St. Charles. Amy’s Review: Good Read Smith pens a good story in Anybody Want to Play War? I have read Smith’s work before, and I really enjoyed it. The author’s writing style is unique and there is an interesting way this story unfolds. This author brings the stories to life. There is a great depth in of characters, especially with Bryce, that makes them realistic and flawed. It’s an enjoyable journey to go on with Bryce, and how the story unfolds. Bryce struggles and jumps through obstacles. 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. I look forward to reading more by this author. This read is definitely recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

An Unexpected Evil Pernell Rogers Paranormal Suspense Bad luck awaited Billy Capello in a rain-slicked Brooklyn alley, and the days of living by his wits ended with a ferocious beatdown. Waking up in the hospital, he vowed to change his life, but it had to wait until he healed...especially his legs. Amy’s Review:Intense and thrilling Rogers pens a thrilling story in An Unexpected Evil. I haven’t read anything from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were not just out of this world, but also intense and realistic. This author brings the stories to life. The pace of the story fit this type of story, and shared sub plots, which works. There is a great chemistry between the characters, and a depth that makes them realistic and flawed. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. I have fast become a big fan of Rogers. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews More Than Evil Bil Richardson Horror HOW DO YOU STOP THE UNSTOPPABLE A supernatural entity that has been imprisoned in the earth for millennia is released in a small town. It quickly spreads, leaving a trail of blood and carnage in its wake. Harlan is the local sheriff and he has to race against time to save his family, his town and the rest of the world from this terrifying evil. Amy’s Review: Dark and yet, inviting Richardson pens a thrilling story in More than Evil. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it, so I wasn’t surprised when I also enjoyed this one as well.. The characters were unique and very chilling. This author brings the stories to life. The pace of the story was perfect for this story. I was drawn in from the beginning, and when chapter 1 started with “Revenge is a wonderful thing. When you are in pain it is your comfort. When you are alone it is your companion. When you are hopeless it is your reason to live,” I was hooked. Magnificent story, kept this reader turning the pages. A definite attention grabber. The thrills and intrigue is written clearly and the characterizations are engrossing. This story was intriguing and kept the reader guessing. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

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Theodore Esquire T.K. Ware Suspense The Lawyer of Faith, Charles “ESQUIRE” Everson has been arrested. During the last case, he defended a missionary who was arrested for two counts of attempted murder-her husband, and a police officer. Now, Theodore “ESQUIRE” Walker, his protégé, must defend him against a pack of evil litigator, hiding behind the mask of Dave and Burg Law Firm. Amy’s Review: Exciting and Thrilling Ware writes a thrilling story in THEODORE ESQUIRE. I have read stories from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were interesting and very full of depth. The author’s writing style is clean and definitely tells a great story. There is a great chemistry between the characters, especially between Theodore and Charles. It’s exciting and thrilling from word one. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). 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. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.


Best Friends......Forever? Krysten Lindsay Hager Young Adult/Teen Contemporary Landry Albright hopes the new year will start off in an amazing way—instead she has to deal with more frenemy issues, boy drama, and having most of her besties make the cheerleading squad without her. Suddenly, it seems like all anyone can talk about is starting high school next year—something she finds terrifying. Amy’s Review: Another great Landry Story Hager pens a great story in Best Friends......Forever?, which is part of the Landry’s True Colors series. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it, and it was no surprise that I enjoyed this one, too. The characters were colorful and well-developed. This reminded me of (for me) years gone by so many years ago, and brought forward the complicated and angst of teenage drama. The author’s writing style is perfect for this type of story. This author brings the stories to life. There is a great chemistry between the characters, showing their “true colors.” It is always a joy to read this author’s stories. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller. I will definitely read more of this author’s work. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

Jorrie and the Skyhorse Zoë Landale Young Adult Fantasy Strange creatures slip through the dangerous Five Gates that open onto remote Satter island. When Jorrie runs away from home to Satter Island, she bonds--inconveniently and irrevocably--with a wolfhound. After the dog is blasted with a fatal curse, Jorrie, added by an ancient skyhorse, in time to try to save the dog and herself. But untaught, and on the run from a dark magic user who wants her dead, can Jorrie regain her power fast enough? Amy’s Review: Unique fantasy Landale tells a very unique and interest story in Jorrie and the Skyhorse. I haven’t read anything from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were interesting and very relatable. The main character, Jorrie, was fierce and yet, flawed. She is on a journey to save herself from the darkness that follows. This author brings the stories to life. The pace of the story was on point, and lent to how and when this story unfolded. This author’s characters develop and interacts well with the other characters. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is definitely recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

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