Uncaged Book Reviews

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ISSUE 61 | September/October 2021

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n ote from the editor


eptember/October 2021 - What a long, hot month it’s been here in Wisconsin. This issue and the Raven Awards are all running late. Sometimes unforseen circumstances get in the way, but hopefully it’s all in the rear view mirror. We are finally going to start building the new permanent large run-in for the horses. I’ve got the Diggers Hotline coming out to mark the underground electric so I don’t put a post in the wrong spot. The decision was made to build off the front of the old barn, To be able to have 3 run in stalls if needed, and a larger overhang. This will be built with wood and from salvaging some of the metal from the barn that is still in good shape. I’ll be chronicling the whole build for the next issue. The Raven Awards are set up and will begin final voting the week of September 13 and last one week. The winners will be announced and awarded on September 28, at a LIVE Facebook Event starting at 7:00pm CST. Authors will be invited to have games and giveaways in between the awards. More info coming very soon. Since this is a double issue, there is a lot more reviews, and a lot more content. This magazine is close to 180 pages, and I’m hoping there is a good selection for everyone.

an advertisment run three months in a row - to repeat in the readers mind. You don’t just see a commercial on TV one time and remember it, right? So we will continue to try and provide the best bang for your buck and get the most eyes we can on your work. Uncaged is supported through advertisements, but the prices will not increase in 2021. If you’d like to be a Feature Author, you can also fill out a form on the Reviews/Feature Info Page to request a Feature in 2021. Put in your top 3 choices and this is normally first come/first serve, but I do move around months to keep a good selection of genres in each issue. Soon I will also put up forms for Catch Up Features - these are for past feature authors that have a new book releasing, and we can do a shorter feature, and also a Short Story Submission form. Any author submitting an approved short story receives a full page ad in the same issue. The new form for Short Story Submissions has been added, and a Catch Up form will come next. Enjoy the September/October issue of Uncaged Book Reviews.

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

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X cyrene

contents feature authors Sherri Moorer 14 science fiction 24

David L. McDaniel


Anna J. Walner

62 76


young adult paranormal

Victor Alvarez


Marina DelVecchio

fangfreakintastic GJ Stevens 146 horror

short story


84 110

Lauri Schoenfeld

romantic comedy

psychological thriller


Avery Maitland


Elise Marion

historical romance

historical romance

authors and their pets

Tess, Part 1 fantasy - Michael Giltner

guest columns


What is Fantasy?


Holding Out for a Hero

JP McLean

Anna J. Stewart

a life in motion


psychological thriller

Jennifer Lieberman


Issue 61 | September/October 2021

A Volunteer Life Monthly column chronicling life on a small farm.

cyrene’s kitchen


Grilled Pork Chops with a PeachBourbon Glaze Monthly recipe from Cyrene’s country kitchen

cover image @raineelc via Twenty20

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Note from the Editor Contributors|Partnerships Uncaged Reviews FangFreakinTastic Reviews Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

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Uncaged’s Feature Authors introduce you to their devoted writing buddies, and the devotion goes both ways. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


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.

If you’d like your banner here, please email me at UncagedBooks@gmail.com Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


upcomingconventions Uncaged will watch for any cancelations or modifications for the 2021 season. Please watch their websites for information as the dates get closer.

GayRomLit Retreat October 7–10, 2021; St. Louis, MO https://www.gayromlit.com/

Fall in Love New England October 15–16, 2021​; Boxborough, MA https://www.fallinlovenewengland.com/

Romancing the Gold Coast October 21–24, 2021; Glen Cove, NY https://romancingthegoldcoast.com/

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KallypsoCon November 4–7, 2021; Orlando, FL https://kallypsomasters.com/kallypsocon-2021/

Indie Romance Convention (IRC) November 10–13, 2021; Lebanon, TN http://www.indieromanceconvention.com/

Shameless Book Con November 12–14, 2021; Orlando, FL https://shamelessbookcon.com/

feature authors

scifi | fantasy | young adult paranormal

Sherri Moorer

David L. McDaniel

Anna J. Walner



y name is Sherri Fulmer Moorer. I write because I’ve always loved to do it, and ebooks allowed me to share those stories with readers. The purpose of my writing is to escape reality and experience the adventure of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. I write in a variety of genres because I 14 | UncagedBooks.com

can’t be pigeon-holed into one area, and I’m many other things in addition to being an author. I work full time in professional licensing, which is great for keeping me in touch with people and reality and, in turn, inspires me to write more. I’m married and live in the woods with two parrots that keep our hearts, home, and lives filled with joy and silliness that most people find strange. I’m a social media rambler and borderline introvert/extrovert whose kindred spirit, according to online quizzes, is somewhere between a Sith Inquisitor from Star Wars and Scooter from The Muppets.

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told me they felt there was more to the story, especially with the Advanced Artificial Intelligence. The COVID pandemic hit which resulted in me working from home for a year, and my Dad passed away from complications with lung cancer in August 2020, just two days before my birthday. With grief and more time on my hands (you’d be amazed at how much more time you have without a daily commute), I turned to my writing to cope, and expanded Domino into a four-novella series titled The Sentience Series. The remainder of the series follows up twenty years after Domino to show how it transitioned to an Advanced Artificial Intelligence system that gets hacked by an unknown entity. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

sherrithewriter.com Uncaged welcomes Sherri Fulmer Moorer Welcome to Uncaged! Your latest book you released is Domino, the first book in a new series. Can you tell readers more about this book and the series? Domino was originally written as a stand-alone novel about a failed experiment to download human consciousness online – or so it seems. The truth is that the people funding the Domino project don’t have the patience to work out the problems because a new study to develop Advanced Artificial Intelligence is emerging, and they want to get involved in that instead. One member of the research team, whose family has been involved in the development of the neural chips that’s opening up these advances, gets desperate and decides to download herself to Domino to prove that it works. Unfortunately, she dies, and finds her consciousness stuck online. While there, she discovers that the experiment works and the failures are due to sabotage, which launches a story of revenge and desperation to save humanity’s greatest hope at achieving immortality. I decided to expand out the series when beta readers

The most difficult scenes to write are where a character dies that I thought would make it through the end of the novel. It doesn’t happen frequently, but when it does it’s difficult to face that this character won’t make it. There is a scene in the final book of The Sentience Series where this happens, and I struggled mightily with it. Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to move the story forward, and I decided to leave it because that loss became a major factor in moving the story and the characters to the conclusion. The easiest scenes to write are what I call “character development” scenes. These are the times where they’re having a flashback, or doing something mundane like talking to a family member over dinner, or talking to a friend on the phone. Those conversations and the way they interact with other characters when they aren’t actively “in” the conflict seem easier to write because it gives me a chance to put “flesh on the bones” of the characters. You can see who they are and what’s motivating them in other areas where they deal with the conflict and themes that are driving the story. Are you attending any in-person book signings or conventions this year? Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | No, I’m still at the stage of doing everything online. It would be fun to be part of those things. Perhaps someday I will be. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? Most people seem surprised that I have a full time job outside of the home. I’m not sure why, because I feel like I have all of the tell-tale traits of a working woman. I’ve been working in professional licensing for the State of South Carolina for twentytwo years. Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? Definitely the plot, although the characters usually aren’t far behind. My novels always start with an idea for the story, and then I fill it in with characters and research that helps to develop the story. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love to read, but I think that’s a common thing with writers. We have a love of books that was probably born from reading, and grew to creating our own stories from there. I also have two parrots that my husband and I adore and love to play with. Spending time with family and friends is always good. On the rare occasions when I’m not working or doing all of that, I enjoy doing counted cross stitching. A friend taught me how to do it right after I published my first book in 2004, and I loved it from the start. I don’t get nearly enough time for it with my busy lifestyle, but I do what I can and understand it will be slow progress with those patterns. My latest finish, a hummingbird and lilacs, took a year. The one before that was rose cuttings, and took me three and a half years to complete. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? That’s a difficult question, because every season has 16 | UncagedBooks.com

pros and cons. It would probably be fall, because the days are still reasonably long and the weather starts to cool off from the blazing heat and humidity of summer. Plus, I live in the woods, and the changing leaves are beautiful. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I have to grab time to write whenever I can with a full time job. Usually, I don’t get more than two hours a day, about four days a week. Even on weekends, I typically don’t do more than two hours of writing, because there’s so much to do around the home. I have learned to work with that, and accept the progress I can make in that time. One time hack that I did learn was to take my personal laptop to work with me, and write on my lunch breaks. That was a breakthrough in my productivity that really made a difference. An hour a day might not seem like a lot, but you’d be amazed at what you can get done in two or three lunch hours in one week. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I prefer ebooks, and absolutely love my Kindle. That was the greatest invention because you can literally have millions of books on a small, light device. I do read physical books too, because I have a library card and check out physical books almost as much as ebooks. I’m always reading something, which means that I typically read a book every 1-2 weeks. My favorite authors are Emma Newman, Kim Stanley Robinson, J.A. Jance, P.D. James, and Brad Meltzer. I love sci-fi and mystery novels. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I would say that I hope they find inspiration and hope in my novels to help them through their own daily life. Fiction is a great escape, but it’s also an excellent “mirror” to reality where you can find things that help you in your day-to-day life.

Enjoy an excerpt from Domino Domino Sherri Fulmer Moorer SciFi Technology blurs the lines between life and death. Post created May 1, 2175. My name is Kasei Marcuyla. I’m the co-founder of Domino, the program that copies neurological maps and data from neural chips implanted in human brains. I’m posting this message to inform you that Domino works, and these souls aren’t copies from the neural chips. They’re real, sentient, human beings. We bridged the gap between man and machine, giving humanity the ability to continue life in the digital world after the physical body dies. I was murdered for this discovery. I downloaded myself to Domino yesterday and discovered that the flaws in the system weren’t programming problems. It was sabotage by my own team members. I was attacked by a computer virus that short circuited my neural chip, and fragmented the Domino mainframe. My physical body died, but I escaped to the Internet and survived. I’m on a mission to find the backup of Domino, and to find out why my team members are working against me. I have the resources of the Internet at my disposal to finish this project, and no physical limitations to stop me from getting inside your beloved systems. I’ll prove that Domino works, and I’ll make the ones who sabotaged this project pay for working against me. One by one, the dominos fall. Excerpt Chapter 2 “What if they find out what really happened?” Naomi asked.

| SHERRI FULMER MOORER | “They won’t,” Bianca said crossly from the video message screen on Naomi’s computer. “Kasei was alone in the lab, and she never said a word on the internal monitoring video. They’ll never look at us, so stop worrying.” “I can’t believe Kasei integrated with Domino.” Bianca shook her head, her curly red hair bouncing around her shoulders. “Why? We knew she was losing it. We developed the virus to stop her from doing it if she actually made good with her claims to integrate with the system.” “We didn’t know it would kill her,” Naomi stared at Bianca’s stern face on the screen. “Did we? It was just supposed to fracture the code for the program, not neurological data. She should have been able to pull out.” Bianca sighed. “I thought Julissa would pull her out of the program when the virus activated. I had no idea Kasei would try to integrate alone. Domino is a two-person system to operate. Kasei should have known it would kill her if she did it by herself, especially after what happened to her father and grandfather.” She paused. “Even so, the computer in the lab is a quantum computer. Even if Kasei were alone, she should have been able to terminate her connection. She’s so arrogant that she probably thought she could beat the virus. I’ll bet she didn’t try to disconnect. She just let it happen. That seems to be a family trait.” “You lied to me!” Naomi said. “You said it wouldn’t hurt anybody, but everybody in the system is gone now.” “Everybody in the system, except for Kasei, was already gone. All of the other signatures were just copies of the neurological maps from when they were living. They weren’t really alive.” “I’m glad you can make that distinction so clearly,” Naomi said bitterly. “It’s the truth.” “The purpose of Domino was to preserve that data. Our virus destroyed it. Whether it was really them or not isn’t relevant – they and their families entrusted us with that information, and it’s gone. We’ve betrayed them to protect ourselves,” Naomi said. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | “Welcome to millions of years of evolution in action,” Bianca said. “Every one of our test subjects was terminally ill. Most of them are already dead. It’s not like we did anything that hasn’t or won’t happen to all of them. We aren’t really stopping death, even if the media portrays it that way. Besides, we didn’t wipe that code. Kasei could have easily prevented all of this by disconnecting. She’s the one who killed them, if you insist on referring to it that way, and herself along with them.” Naomi dropped her head in her hands. “We knew this was coming for six months. Why didn’t we come up with a better plan?” Naomi narrowed her eyes. “Better yet, why didn’t you ever run that backup of Domino that Kasei kept asking you about?” “It’s a huge program. Kasei didn’t want it backed up on Cloud storage, and I couldn’t find an external storage device big enough to hold a backup that included the program and all of the data from millions of test subjects.” “You don’t seem concerned about the fact that our friend is dead, the project that funded our education crashed, and pretty much everything we’ve done for the past four years a complete waste.” Bianca sighed. “I am upset, but I’m also frustrated. We told Kasei and Julissa not to move forward with their crazy plan to integrate with Domino. Julissa was listening, but you know how Kasei was when she got in one of her states. You couldn’t tell her anything.” “We killed her. This is our fault, and they’re going to find out and put us in jail and our lives will be over –” “Naomi, stop it. You’re paranoid. I’m sorry Kasei died, but we did warn her to back off. The decision to take a gamble on integrating with Domino was hers and hers alone.” Bianca said. “She walked right into her death. We did kill her, Bianca. We’re guilty.” “If she decided to plug herself in the system anyway, then maybe she was suicidal.” “She wasn’t suicidal. Or at least, she didn’t think we would act that fast.” “Kasei’s problem was that she wasn’t listening to 18 | UncagedBooks.com

us.” Bianca paused. “Heck, she was so loopy since the incident in October that I wonder if she was even in the same reality as the rest of us. Maybe she wasn’t aware of what was happening with the rest of the team, but we did tell her. The virus has been a backup plan in the event that we lost control of Domino since we came on this team. We never made a secret of it. Comprehending and accepting what we said was their responsibility. Julissa listened to us and accepted it, but Kasei didn’t. She made her choice and suffered the consequences of her refusal to accept reality. It’s nobody’s fault but her own if she was stupid enough to ignore us and take dramatic measures to save this project.” “We didn’t talk about the virus much. It was mentioned what, three times over the past four years?” Naomi sniffed. “Did you tell them we were launching the virus? I haven’t mentioned it since that incident in the lab in October.” Bianca clenched her jaw. “I did, and got no reaction. Julissa shrugged and said keep it as backup. Kasei gave me that blank stare and walked out of the lab. I didn’t hide what I was doing.” Bianca paused. “Julissa won’t hurt us, and Kasei can’t hurt us. Julissa is a straight arrow, and Kasei’s dead. Domino is gone, and the police don’t have anything but our testimony, which will agree if we act wisely. It’s our word against Kasei’s rambling texts and emails over the past few months. No intent to harm her can be drawn from anything they can find on us. Heck Naomi, we didn’t intend to harm her! We did nothing wrong. We aren’t mind readers. We didn’t know she’d go directly to the lab and proceed with her stupid plan after I intercepted that message that the University was shutting Domino down for good.” Naomi crossed her arms. “What about the virus? They’ll want to know why Domino is destroyed.” Bianca smiled. “What virus? I had no idea there was a virus in the system. Domino must have been hacked at some point between when they sent that email about shutting down the experiment and when Kasei integrated with program.” She shrugged. “What’s to say Kasei didn’t integrate with Domino to delivery that virus anyway?” “They won’t see that we downloaded it ten days ago?”

| SHERRI FULMER MOORER | “Absolutely not. And don’t mention it again unless we talk in person. Now I have to go in after we stop talking and delete all traces of this conversation.” Naomi pushed her brown hair away from her face. “Fair enough. If you’re deleting this, then I want to ask one more question: Is Kasei gone?” “She’s being cremated. The memorial service is the day after tomorrow.” “You know what I mean. She connected with Domino.” “Domino is destroyed. Therefore, Kasei is gone. May she rest in pieces.” Naomi’s throat constricted as she forced mucus down her throat. “There’s a back door in Domino that links to the Internet. Maybe she got through it before the virus crashed Domino.” “It was a beta place holder to activate at a later stage of the experiment, which isn’t going to happen now,” Bianca said. “Stop worrying. You had the least to do with this. Nobody can blame Kasei’s death on anybody but Kasei.” “I wrote the virus!” “You wrote it with my help and one thing I added was that it destroyed itself along with Domino, just like we planned.” Bianca sighed. “It’s gone, Naomi. Nobody will ask questions if we don’t draw attention to ourselves. Go on with your life. We’re free to define ourselves now that Domino isn’t holding us prisoner anymore.” “I thought you enjoyed the project.” “I did, but it’s over now. We lost the minute the janitor found the body in the lab, and we’re lucky we escaped that unscathed. We can’t do anything but put the work on our resume, scrounge up a few professional references, and hope it gives us an advantage at a good job.” She paused. “Relax. Enjoy graduation in a few days. Go to grad school. Get a good job, marry Blake, have a few kids, and live happily ever after. This is over. Let it go. Domino is gone, Kasei can’t hurt us anymore, and Julissa will probably cave in to those people with the university in Columbia that want to use parts of Domino for their development on their proposed Advanced Artificial Intelligence project. They’ve been trying to recruit her since she got her undergraduate degree two years ago.”

“But Domino is gone now,” Naomi said. Bianca waved it off. “It doesn’t matter. She’s the main organizer of Domino and probably has enough information to give them a jump start on their crazy idea to integrate artificial intelligence with our neural chips. Even if she doesn’t, she still wins. She’ll use her family money and influence to get away from here and find some other endeavor to chase down. The future is a clear path of open doors for all three of us now.” “Not the way I hoped.” “No, but it’s done.” Naomi paused. “What about you? What will you do?” “I’m out of money, so grad school is out for me. I’ll find a job. It’s time for me to move on to the next stage of life.” She sighed. “I’ll see you at the memorial service.” “See you later.” Naomi clicked off the call screen and stared at the block of text that was a semester’s worth of class notes. Somehow, she had to finish studying for her final exam tomorrow morning. She should probably do laundry too, so she’d have something clean to wear to the memorial service. Naomi sighed, clicking open social media instead. The headlines screamed at her: STUDENT COMMITS SUICIDE IN RESEARCH LAB. Small wonder it was the headline. Palmetto University was a mid-size university, located an hour west of Columbia, South Carolina. The entire town of Palmetto City was comprised of the university, and a few businesses. Kasei’s death was the top story not only on the campus news, but the local news as well. Fortunately, there was no mention of Kasei being connected to Domino when she died. In fact, no speculation was offered at all, which was surprising given the high profile of their experiment. The articles simply said that she was a good student with a bright future, and her tragic suicide during finals week was a shock to the campus. Maybe Bianca was right. Maybe it was over. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | Naomi’s message icon blinked. A small text box opened in the top corner of her screen, flowing with red words. Do not be deceived. Naomi blinked. What was this? A prank? Probably some sick person who knew she and Kasei were friends. Well, she wouldn’t scare easily. She didn’t need sick people feeding her anxiety. She was doing that fine on her own. Deceived about what? She typed. Your secrets didn’t die with me. “She knows,” Naomi gasped. Yes, I know. I know it all. You’re all lined up, and now I’ll knock you down. Naomi’s hands shook as she slowly typed. Kasei? I told you Domino works. Not funny, Bianca. Bianca is next domino to fall. Naomi’s face paled as she stared at the text on the screen. Domino is destroyed. We lost. I’m logging off now. You can run, but you can’t hide. The digital world is everywhere, Naomi. It surrounds us. It encompasses us. It IS us. I have perfected the integration. Unfortunately, you gave up too soon. Worse yet, you betrayed me killed me. I can’t let that betrayal go. I can’t let you hurt anybody else. What are you talking about? Naomi typed. There was a knock at the door. Naomi jerked. “Who is it?” “Detective Grace Milone and Officer Reid Garrison with the county police department. We have some questions about the suicide of Kasei Marculya. Can we come in?” “You better get the door,” a mechanical voice with a female tone said from her laptop. “What?” Naomi mumbled. “Naomi Blake?” the woman’s voice outside the door called. “Can we come in? We have a few questions about Kasei’s suicide.” “Why are they investigating a suicide?” Naomi mumbled. “Because they know the truth,” The pixels swirled 20 | UncagedBooks.com

to the shadowy image of a woman. “You killed me.” Naomi squinted. “Kasei?” “Bianca lied. I survived.” “How is this possible?” She tapped the screen. The pixels wiggled, but the face remained. “You’re dead!” “You meant for me to die, but I didn’t.” Static filled the room. “You and Bianca aren’t the only players in this game, Naomi. The next play is mine.” “Miss Blake, we hear you. Please open the door.” “Yes, please open that door and explain everything to them. I’m sure they’ll understand why you designed and launched a virus that killed me. It was to secure your future. The problem is, it was at the expense of mine.” Static erupted from the small speakers on the computer. “Or so you intended. Fortunately, I’m smarter than you are. Now my future is forever, and yours is over.” “No, we never meant – “Naomi cut off as the knocking on the door became more insistent. She heard voices in the hallway. No doubt, the noise alerted her neighbors, and now they were putting their two cents worth in with the police. Those girls across the hall were so nosy! “This can’t be happening. I didn’t mean for you to die!” “But I did, Naomi. I did die, at least to that world, and it’s because of you.” Naomi sprang from her chair, running to the window and throwing it open. She was on the fifth floor. No exit. “The fire escape,” the voice said from her computer. “What?” she strained her eyes. The fire escape was damaged from a tropical storm the previous fall. Building maintenance was repairing the network of outside catwalks to escape the buildings, but the closest secure landing was on the third floor. “You were in gymnastics and cheerleading in high school,” the voice said. “Position yourself correctly, and you can jump down to that landing. You can make it. Go to Bianca, come up with a story, and both of you go to the police station in a few hours with whatever fiction she wants to sell them. I’m sure they’ll believe

| SHERRI FULMER MOORER | that neither of you meant any harm – until I send them a random link to Bianca’s dark web activity.” “What?” Naomi asked. “That’s not your problem. Play your innocence, and they’ll let you go. Let her take the fall. She set you up too, if you really believed that the virus wouldn’t kill me and destroy everybody in Domino. Should you pay for Bianca’s crimes?” “It’s too far,” Naomi whined. “You always were the weak one. Go ahead. Answer that door. Answer for yourself, and everybody else. Tell them Domino works, and you designed a virus that was meant to kill me and everybody in Domino.” The sound rose to full volume. “TELL THEM YOU KILLED ME!” “Naomi Blake? What’s going on in there?” the male voice called through the door. Naomi studied the landing two floors below her. A laugh resonated from the computer. “What’s it going to be, Naomi? Face the truth, or escape with more lies to have your dream life?” “I can’t take the blame for this! Bianca made me do it! She should go to jail.” “You’ll go to jail if they break down that door and see you in here, and that conversation you just had with Bianca. She hasn’t deleted it yet. Do you want to go down with her?” Naomi took a deep breath and jumped. The door to her apartment burst open to her scream as her body hurled past the landing. Grace and Reid rushed to the window just in time to see Naomi crash to the ground in an explosion of blood and bone. Reid walked to the computer, his eyes wide with shock as the screen glowed against his dark face. “Grace, you need to see this.” Grace walked next to Reid, the light glowing against her own ebony skin and dark, curly hair tied behind her head. A single line of text glowed the center of the computer screen. One by one, the Dominos fall. “What is that?” Grace asked. “Is it a suicide note?” Reid shook his head. “No. I think it’s something else.” Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |




avid L. McDaniel is a native Californian living in the shadow of the Three Shasta’s. He spent a few years as a Cavalry Scout stationed in West Germany and did one tour on the West German / East German border. He has been married for thirty years as of September 2021 and all of his children are now adults. He spends his time, when not working, or writing, working in his back yard, or camping and riding quads at the Oregon Dunes. If time 24 | UncagedBooks.com

allows, he even likes to be a Dungeon Master for his friends playing Dungeons and Dragons.

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comic con, The Sundial Bridge Comic-Con, in Redding on September 4th. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? That is a good question. I can’t really think of anything that would surprise anyone because I am a bit of a recluse and am pretty boring. I enjoy the outdoors and animals. I served in the Army for three years and used to race bicycles, but not professionally.

Uncaged welcomes David M. McDaniel Welcome to Uncaged! Your newest book, Fyaa’s Bane, will release October 7th and is part of the War of the Quarterstar Shards series. Can you tell readers more about this book and the series? This series is about a swordsman trying to escape his identity as the target of an ancient elven prophecy where he is both the savior and the destroyer of the realm. Along the way, he will realize that he needs to tackle this head-on in an attempt to thwart the prophecy by securing all of the shards from the star that created the realm. He will also realize that he will need help from others as an aggressive kingdom wages war for the Quarterstar Shards that, in the process, could destroy the realm. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? I struggle a bit with descriptive scenes, which I think is a good thing, that way, I tend not to go into too much detail. I also have to slow down my pace to get the description right, so I don’t give too little description. I don’t like reading books where the author describes every detail of a room.

Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? The plot comes first and then the characters next. I do spend a lot of time with character development, but I need to have the end in mind before I even start writing. Besides, some of my characters write themselves once I get going. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Working in my backyard on the weekends, reading whenever I can, and just chilling with my two cats and two dogs. There are also rare moments where I try to get together with my son and some friends to play Dungeons and Dragons. We usually get together once a month during the winter months since most of us have more demanding jobs in the summer. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why?

The easiest for me is dialogue. I love writing dialogue.

Late spring, for sure. I don’t like early spring due to all the pollen, but once everything has settled, late spring is excellent just before the triple-digit heat kicks in here in Northern California.

Are you attending any in-person book signings or conventions this year?

How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel?

The only thing I have scheduled right now is our local

My day job is way too demanding for me to be on Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |



26 | UncagedBooks.com

| DAVID L. MCDANIEL | any schedule for writing, so I write whenever I can and for as long as I can. I seem to be able to finish a rough draft in about a year once I really get going.

Enjoy an excerpt from Fyaa’s Bane

Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I love physical books but don’t mind ebooks or audiobooks. They both have their times when they are better than physical books. It is great to have extra options as far as reading goes. As far as what I am reading, well, that is a tricky topic because I have no less than five books that I am reading right now. I need to cut it down, but I can’t help myself when I see a good book. I end up picking it up to only read a page or two, but then I get hooked and, just like that, have added another book to my pile. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I have two books to read first. The Warrior’s Bane and Quarterstars Awakening were written as one book, but they were split into two books upon publication. The reader can read either one first. Quarterstars Awakening is a story of elves, dragons, and a love story between a human princess and an elven prince. The story sets up the prophecy that plagues the main character, Alaezdar, throughout the series.

Fyaa’s Bane David L. McDaniel Fantasy Releases October 7 Alaezdar has been wounded and is suffering from the effects of Goblin-Touched Steel. His body’s transformation and death has been slowed, but he suffers. He must seek out his father’s council for answers to his role within the prophecy. Meanwhile, Kunther and Aaelie find themselves without a home and family after the ransacking of Valewood by Trielian Warriors. They end up on separate journeys facing perilous danger as they struggle to find their paths. Fyaa, with information given to her by Ra-Corsh, begins anew her search for her Birds of Fire. She also seeks out Crimson, her long lost lover, in order to restore their place in the cycle. She sets her gaze on Alaezdar as she seeks to bring the prophecy full circle. Alaezdar’s only hope is to follow Fyaa in hopes of recovering memories long lost. The Center Stone, and therefore, the Triestones, have resurfaced. The full reality of the prophecies becoming all too real for the denizens of Wrae-Kronn. Excerpt Chapter 6 It had begun to rain again, and Alaezdar still wandered in the city near the docks. He needed to get to Triel, but his hip screamed at him with every Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | step. The little girl said she had healed him, but he didn’t feel any better. He had heard about the effects of goblin-touched steel, but he had no idea just how painful it was. He did not know how anyone could tolerate the unstoppable ooze and the burning that went deep within the joints as the wound festered. He could see the effect of using such a weapon in combat. Even though it did not kill the wounded immediately, it did cause excruciating agony for the rest of their much-shortened lives. It wasn’t contagious, but he understood morale could be destroyed from the mere mention of these devastating weapons. Alaezdar walked a little farther along the docks, the rain was no more than a drizzle adding to the grayness of the ocean port. He stopped to gather his senses for a moment and ran his hand through his hair to move the wet hair off of his face, but when he did, a clump of hair stuck to his hands. He wiped his hands on his chest to remove it. In disbelief, he ran both hands through his hair, and every time he came up with more clumps of hair. Panic began to set in, and his hip again began to burn as if a large iron had been placed upon it. The burn propagated itself throughout his left leg, the acute pain increasing as it spread. He had to cool it down. He could feel his body heat rising, so much so that he felt like he was going to catch on fire at any moment. He ran to the edge of the pier away from the ships and jumped down onto the beach. His leg seized up on him, causing him to fall just feet away from the bay’s slowly lapping waves. Using his fingertips, he crawled on his stomach to the water’s edge, turned over on his back, and put his legs into the water. As soon as his left leg touched the water, he heard a loud hissing noise come from his leg, followed by his leg exploding in excruciating pain. He clenched his teeth from the pain and leaned back on his elbows. He tried to stifle his groans, but the hissing sound continued. Shocked by the sound, he stood up and stripped his pants off to look at what had made the hissing sound in the water. The leg felt crusty as his pants came off and in do28 | UncagedBooks.com

ing so, he saw that his entire upper thigh and hip was one massive scab oozing an orange, burning pus between multiple cracks in the scab. He began to wipe it off of his leg, but the pus that stuck in between his fingers began to burn the skin off of his hands. He rubbed his hands in the sand to remove the pus and then rolled on his back and cursed at the top of his lungs. “What did that girl do to me?” he whispered as he rolled over on his stomach and passed out from the pain. *** “Wake up my love,” she said softly as she stroked his forehead with her long supple fingers. Alaezdar opened his eyes and saw a beautiful woman with long red hair hanging inches from his face. He sat up quickly, but immediately regretted doing so and fell back. He took a minute to reorient himself with his surroundings. The sun was high in the sky amongst a partly smoky haze that rested below a crisp blue sky. He lay next to a rocky ledge and the smell of pinesap mixed with musty earth told him he was no longer near the ocean. “Where am I?” he asked, running his hand over his head, feeling nothing but soft skin where a full head of hair used to be. “We are south of the Goblin Ridge Mountains, just north of Mervyyx.” Alaezdar sat up, and almost passed out again. He propped his hands behind him to keep him from falling on his back again. “Back at the Goblin Tribes Forest?” “No, we are south of that. We are safe from those vile creatures and safe from the smoldering fires. Unfortunately, the recent rains have nearly put out the blaze.” He shook his head at her choice of word: unfortunately. “Why am I here?” he asked, ignoring her comment. “You, my love, Crimson, are here to help me free my companions. The simpletons of this world call them the Birds of Fire.” “Why do you call me Crimson?” “Because that is who you are,” she answered, smiling like a young girl talking to her love interest. Alaezdar recognized the voice as the one he spoke to on the docks of Battleworth. “Oh no, this isn’t happening,” Alaezdar said as he leaned forward to stand up, but Fyaa put her hand to his chest. He looked down at her hand, shocked at how

| DAVID L. MCDANIEL | strong the force was behind it that kept him from moving an inch further even if he wanted. “I don’t know what is going on, but I am not going anywhere with you,” he said laying back down with both hands covering his face. “Yes, you will go with me,” she said, standing up directly straddling each leg over his chest looking down upon him. “My companions are waiting for you to rescue them, not only from their imprisonment but to return them to their original forms.” “I don’t know what you are talking about, you might as well be speaking a different language.” “You will understand soon enough,” she said as her back exploded on fire, eventually taking the shape of wings. She lifted herself off of the ground about five feet to give Alaezdar the freedom to stand up. Seeing the opportunity, Alaezdar stood up, but immediately the pain reminded him of his plight and his sight became fuzzy and he fell to one knee. Not allowing this to slow him down, he stood up again, but this time not only was his vision blurred, but his head screamed in pain causing him to grab his head and he fell to both knees and landed on his elbows. As he lay there, he felt his bald and scaly head and was reminded of his condition at the docks of Battleworth. “What have you done to me?” he screamed in pain. “I have tried to heal you from your wounds. The poison of the goblin- touched steel has been neutralized, but it seems to be fighting back as if it is alive. However, if you still had your sword, you wouldn’t be going through this transformation because the sword would have healed you. This transformation you are experiencing is not of my doing. Crimson is trying to come back to his original form. You are Crimson, do not fight it.” “I will fight this!” he screamed, causing his head to hurt even more. He scooted backward away from her and forced himself to stand up and run away. Fyaa smiled and flew over his head and landed in front of him. “You don’t understand,” she said as the chain mail on her skin began to glow from the wisps of her hair and wings, warming up the tight ringlets. “You are mine until such time when I decide to release you. When I do release you, you and I will willingly destroy this realm and promptly find another realm to create and

destroy just as you and I have done since the beginning of our time.” “I will not,” he said, not fearing her threats, and walked back away from her again. He did not care if she struck him down right there. If she did, at least it would end this torture of being the center of this ridiculous prophecy. He needed to find a way to wrest himself from her, though, and he knew he could not escape in the shape that he was in. He needed to find his father. As much as that even sickened his stomach, his father knew more about this prophecy than anyone he knew. Now, for the first time in his life, he wished he had listened. As predicted, the flaming witch landed in front of him again. This time, she no longer smiled at him and her face was covered in flame. The fire swirled around her so violently that he no longer saw any human-like features except for her red hair that even though it was in flame, still had the consistency of hair on her head. “You will come with me,” her voice crackled out of her flaming head. “You have no choice in the matter.” “If I go with you, can you heal me?” he asked, beginning to acquiesce, realizing if he could buy some time, maybe he could figure a way out of this mess that was only continuing to worsen. “I cannot do that, but I will ease the pain so that you can function. You must understand though, that your transformation has begun, and cannot be reversed. As I said before, you are now converting into your true form.” “What can you do? I feel like my body is turning inside out.” “That is exactly what is happening. Your inner self is trying to come out, but your wicked Kronn is fighting it, and prolonging your transformation, causing you more pain. You need to learn to subdue your Kronn and push it away from yourself. Kronn is the enemy. Come with me to help me release my companions. Do this and I will help you through your transformation. In the end, we will be unstoppable in this realm.” Alaezdar shook his head? How did it come to this? Why can’t he escape this insane and out of control Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | demon woman? “Then let’s get this done,” Alaezdar said before he could overthink the situation. He had no idea what she was talking about but knew he had no other choice in the matter. Fyaa clued him in on one part of this nightmare that might offer him some understanding of how Kronn magic works within him—alluding that he could control it once he figured out how to unleash the Kronn. He had always fought against his Kronn, even though he never believed he had the ability to tap into the magic of Kronn, but his experience in the catacombs with the guardian proved otherwise. He now had the talisman with the Quarterstar Shard they called Val-Eahea’s Quarterstar, and he would have to secure all four shards in order to complete the prophecy. Though he did not trust the magic, nor how it worked, he knew he had something that ultimately contained an enormous amount of power, even though he did not know how to properly use it. “What we need to do first is release my companions. Then we must obtain the Center Stone before anyone else so that we can collect all of the Triestones and control the Aaestfallia Keep. In this, we will be able to open and close the portal at any moment of our choosing.” Fyaa continued rambling, pulling Alaezdar from his thoughts. “If this will help me move out of this prophecy dilemma, then I am ready whenever you are,” Alaezdar said, not really understanding what she was asking of him. “Then let’s go now,” Fyaa said as she grabbed him from behind and wrapped her arms underneath his armpits, picking him up off of the ground. They flew south for many hours. He was in abject pain, though Alaezdar was surprised that her touch did not burn him as it had before. He figured it had something to do with this new transformation within him. He felt his skin turning to scale. His legs were completely covered in a scab-like infection. It crept up above the wound on his hip to cover his lower back and stomach. His chest and neck were normal, for the moment, yet he could feel an intense throbbing working up his spine. 30 | UncagedBooks.com

This must have had something to do with the fact that she swore to take away the pain. If she hadn’t had done so, he figured the intensity of the pins and needles would have rendered him unable to function. As they flew, he continued to try to come up with an idea of how he was going to get out of this dilemma, but if he could buy some time, he might be able to figure out a way to find these Triestones and use their power to get away. His thoughts continued to come back to his Kronn. The last few Gartans of the Watcher’s Guild he had met told him he possessed Kronn, so much to the extent they all feared him, except for Gartan the Kronn Seeker, whose job it was to find the one the prophecy speaks of, which Alaezdar was reluctantly beginning to accept was him. He still wore the cloak that Gartan the Kronn Seeker wore and this reminded him of its aid in Aaelie’s rescue. So many pieces to this puzzle confounded him, but he knew there was an answer somewhere: the cloak, the wraeths, The Watcher’s Guild, even his sword, Bloodseeker. He realized that if he had not been so passive at the beginning of the troubles in Valewood, they might not have fallen so far behind Aaelie, and they might have caught up with Fyaa and Ra-Corsh long before the Death Pass. Alaezdar continued to stew on his thoughts for another six hours as they flew south. The sun was still in the sky, but it was beginning to make its descent into the Rae-Om Ocean as Fyaa began to descend. The abandoned village of Mervyyx came into view as they flew over the southern ridge of the Goblin Ridge Mountains. Within minutes, they had landed in the middle of an abandoned street where Dwarven shops had once thrived. Fyaa let Alaezdar free and backed away as he surveyed the situation. Not a sound could be heard in the city. The smell of rot and decay were the first senses he noticed as he looked around him. He had heard of this place, but there had never been any reason to come here when he was with Rager’s House of Renegades. It was nothing more than a dead city inhabited by evil creatures. Now he waited for those dead creatures to surface and show themselves. “Just wait,” Fyaa spoke as if she knew what he was

| DAVID L. MCDANIEL | thinking, “they will arrive.” “I don’t intend on waiting.” Fyaa backed away, looking at him like he was crazy, but then smiled deviously as if she was anticipating the treat he was soon to be in for. Sick of her attitude, and ready to get on with this new venture and get it behind him, Alaezdar walked down the city street paying attention to every detail of the buildings, waiting for something to jump out at him, but nothing did. Even though the city was silent, it still seemed to speak the tales of greatness through the broken and crumbled walls of its once busy establishments. He walked on with Fyaa remaining a safe distance behind him. The farther they walked the more anxious he could feel Fyaa becoming. He could sense her nervousness as it grew, languishing in the air around them. “Where are they?” Fyaa asked out loud and then silenced herself, clearly wishing she had not spoken so loudly. They waited a few more moments, but her fear that over speaking might have awoken the wrath of the Darkshadows was unjustified, as nothing surfaced. After nearly an hour of wandering the streets, Fyaa took to the air and flew above the city to see if she could find something. Alaezdar found himself alone and pondering thoughts of hiding from her and escaping, but the more he thought about it forced him to change his mind. Right now, he sorely needed her for the possibility of keeping him healed and maybe alive. None of that mattered anyway, for within a few seconds he heard Fyaa, screaming in terror like a little girl, just a few crumbled buildings away. Alaezdar started to run but tripped as his legs did not move as they should. He fell to one knee and felt his scabs under his leggings stretch and tear. Pus and blood oozed down his leg as he stood up, and he continued to quickly limp over to where he heard Fyaa’s screams. Even at his slow pace, it did not take him very long to find her. She kneeled on the ground covering up her head and screaming in fear while six cloaked figures surrounded her, just watching her and swaying back and forth. They were not attacking but were just standing as if in some trance while blocking her from escaping. When he came around the corner, the Dark-

shadows saw him and stared at him from underneath their cloaks. All movement stopped for a few seconds, and then just like cockroaches being exposed to light, they scattered back into the shadows of the broken buildings. Fyaa stood up, looked embarrassingly at Alaezdar, and then composed herself. “Go after them!” she yelled. Alaezdar started to walk towards them when a man in a red cloak that looked to be stained by ash and fire and was torn in numerous places appeared from behind them. “I see you have found him,” the man said, startling them. Fyaa’s wings burst into fire and she took to the air, leaving them alone as she watched from thirty feet up. Just high enough to stay safe yet still hear their conversation. “Can you help me?” Alaezdar asked. “That depends on what you need, though there is very little I can do.” “I need my wounds healed so that I can escape this sorceress.” “I cannot help you in that endeavor,” he responded. “That is not why I brought you here!” Fyaa shouted from above. “Get my birds back!” “I know why you are here,” Gartan began. “She has already been here and seen me, she knows that her companions are here somewhere, but I could not help her unless she brings me the Kronn Man that the prophecy speaks of.” Alaezdar started to deny his role in this prophecy, but thought better of it and instead answered. “I may be that man.” “Yes, you may be, but I cannot tell if you are the one as you are in your current state,” he said looking at his bald head that was now scabbing over just above his forehead, “but I sense that you are the same man that met Gartan the Kronn seeker, and he believed you to be that man, so I will go on that supposition.” “She wants me to free the Birds of Fire,” he said pointing up at her. “Yes, she made that very clear Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | to me the first time she was here.” “Then, how do I do this?” “I do not know, but if you are truly the one the prophecy speaks of, you will find a way. More importantly, if you are this person, you are inherent in both types of magic Wrae and Kronn. The remnants of the original star are in your bloodstream, meaning you also have the bloodline of Traelyn, daughter of Dar Drannon, the originator of Kronn.” “Find them, you idiot!” Fyaa shouted down. Gartan looked up at her and then backed away, bowing before Alaezdar with a long swoop of his arm as if to allow him access to any part of the city he wished to explore. Alaezdar stepped away. He walked down the nearest street, and for some unknown reason other than a sense of intuition, he stepped inside one of the buildings that weren’t as dilapidated as the others. Walking in, he realized that it was an old armory. Swords, shields, hammers, and axes lay scattered on the floor. He could tell that they were once attached to the wall behind the counter, but the shelves had long since rotted, causing them to fall from their placement on the wall. Grabbing a rusty sword, he quickly noticed that the wood covering the hilt had rotted away and rust had eaten through the entire blade, making it useless. Frustrated, he threw it to the ground. He picked up numerous weapons and found them all in the same condition. He had just picked up an old pickaxe when he heard something approach him from the door. The six Darkshadows entered the room. Not wasting a second to attack, they pulled back the hoods of their cloaks, exposing their twisted and misshapen heads. Alaezdar looked at them in fear as they exposed their long and twisted fangs. An unknown sense of fear gripped his consciousness. His head ached as his body vibrated. His vision got blurry, and his arms and legs went numb. Before he lost consciousness, he heard the pickaxe fall to the ground. 32 | UncagedBooks.com




y Work I am a mother, and a published author. I’ve always had a passion for writing, spending my life obsessed with literature. As an author, my creativity has grown. I not only read the stories I love, but I create them too. My Journey Anna began her journey to becoming an Author at a young age, escaping into the world of books. Visiting far away places and going on thrilling adventures, while dealing with Social Anxiety. Over time| UncagedBooks.com her own voice as an Author began to 36

take shape. The Enrovia Series was her first series, establishing her own company, Silver Dawn Publishing, and venturing out for the first time. Anna is now am International Bestselling Author of The Uluru Legacy Series, “Garkain”. Her journey as an Author is only just beginning, with three more books in the series, and a new work in progress always at the ready.

Stay Connected

annajwalner.com Uncaged Welcomes Anna J. Walner Welcome to Uncaged! In November, you have the second book in a series, Larougo releasing. Can you tell us more about this young adult fantasy book and series? Readers of “Garkain” were left with a few questions! “Larougo” picks up exactly where we left off. And with plenty of new conflicts, alliances, and surprises, ARC readers are already hailing it as better than the first! How many books are you planning on with the series?

ed to provide readers with a sense of believability that we hadn’t seen with vampires and lycanthropes yet. Are you attending any in-person book signings or conventions this year? I have been fortunate enough to be slated for a signing in September of this year, and possibly more after the release of Larougo in November. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? Amelia’s story is derived from mine. My origin story is, in a way, hers as well. I was adopted from Hospital in Houston as well. And I also took the DNA test, reconnecting with some of my biological family. Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? Characters always. I believe that if the Author can manage to make their readers care enough about the characters, form a connection with them, that it provides for a much more immersive and enjoyable experience. If you can make me feel for the characters, I will follow them through the entire series. You have me invested in their lives. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

There are four books in The Legacy. The third will be releasing next year, and will take us into New Adult territory.

With a two-year-old, and being a single mom, I don’t get much of that honestly. But I do enjoy playing video games or watching movies with her. It’s our time to hang out and unplug.

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

If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why?

In “Garkain”, the most difficult scene was probably the Unbinding Ritual. Because it was the moment where we find out how Amelia will differ from the rest of The Colony, due to her unique circumstances. Weaving in science with Fantasy is always a challenge. But I want-

Fall. I have always been a sucker for fall. And maybe that’s because I live in Texas, where it’s such a relief to feel that cool breeze flow in from the first cold front of the year. And you have Halloween, Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


Thanksgiving, and Christmas all on the horizon. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? It truly depends. With “Garkain”, the process was slow. It was the first introduction into this world, and to these characters. There was this intrinsic pressure to make the characters relatable, funny, and interesting. Once the groundwork was laid, the other books in the series came easier, more quickly. The characters were already fully defined and their distinct personalities were easy to settle into when writing. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I prefer E-books. Only because I can always have it at the ready. Either phone or Tablet. I may not always remember to put a book in my purse, but I never forget my phone!!

What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Thank you, first of all, for taking this ride with me. Each video and review mean so much to me. To know that you have enjoyed the book, or recommended it, truly does make this all worth it!

Enjoy an excerpt from Garkain Garkain Anna J. Walner YA Paranormal A girl in search of her family finds more than she ever dreamed possible. Blending myth with reality, this awardwinning debut provides a truly unique and realistic spin on the genre you love. Enter a world hidden to human eyes for over three

38 | UncagedBooks.com

| ANNA J. WALNER | centuries. A safe haven for both Vampire and Werewolf. She’ll become something she never thought existed, agree to things she never thought she would, and find a life worth dying for.

just the Colony, as they called it, had changed her in ways she never imagined were possible. Psychically, emotionally, and spiritually. She was, quite honestly, a completely different person.


The things she had seen and experienced defied explanation for anyone outside of their community. She had been Unbound, no longer tethered by human rules or laws. What she was now must remain a secret to anyone outside of their hidden world. No one could ever know. Not her friends or her family in the States. No one. It was safest that way. So much had happened in such a short time. She’d met her family, and fallen in love with the country, was intrigued by the culture of her people, and made the decision to accept a proposition that would change everything. She had agreed to things she never thought she would. Become something she never thought existed. And found a life worth dying for.

Coming Home Amelia stared at the man in the seat next to her, watching him breathe deeply in a dreamless sleep as they flew over the Pacific Ocean on their way back to the States. She would be going home to tie up loose ends and delete her former life completely. Roan would be seeing the States for the first time, both of them making the most of their three months before returning to a life that would be a huge commitment for them. A life that she never dreamed of, but now she couldn’t imagine any other way. She still pondered the events of the last few weeks, and their future to come. How they would unite two separate worlds as one. How they would lead a new community into the future, reshaping it and bringing fresh ideas to an archaic society. For now though, she tried to push the thoughts from her mind. This was their time together now. Their last three months of freedom.


Amelia brushed the hair from Roan’s forehead as she watched him for a while. It was hard for her to completely process the events that led up to this moment. Only a few months ago she’d been a girl with no family. And now she was a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, and in December, she’d be a wife. Twenty-five years of wondering and questions. Imagining the why’s, searching on the internet for a possible connection. Taking the DNA test two years ago and signing up for the online registry. Bouncing from foster home to home, never finding a place to fit. If she’d only known, if she only had a clue what awaited her . . . The two weeks she spent with the Uluru Colony, or Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


What is Fantasy? Guest column by JP McClean


What is Fantasy? by JP McLean

Whether I’m at a dinner party, attending a book event, or captive on a plane, if I disclose that I’m a writer of fantasy, the next question will likely be, what is fantasy? It’s the question I’m asked most often. Fantasy has long been one of my favourite genres to read, so the question surprised me at first. I’ve since learned that most readers know what to expect from a romance, thriller, mystery, or suspense novel, but they’re not always clear about what they’ll get with a fantasy book. We all know fantasy is the ‘and’ that follows science fiction. And if you type “what is fantasy?” into any search engine, you’ll get a definition that includes fictional universes and mythical creatures. But fantasy is so much more than that. It includes the high fantasy world building of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the low fantasy urban setting of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. It includes classics like Peter Pan, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Mary Poppins. It’s old-time television favourites Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Flying Nun. It’s Back to the Future, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Ghost Busters. The 2020 Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) codes, which help libraries and bookstores determine where to shelve books, break the fantasy genre into the subcategories: o Action and Adventure o Arthurian o Contemporary 44 | UncagedBooks.com

o Dark Fantasy o Dragons and Mythical Creatures o Epic o Gaslamp o Historical o Humorous o Military o Paranormal o Romance o Urban BISAC codes also classifiy fantasy as a subgenre of the romance, Christian, and erotica genres. You can also find fantasy titles tucked inside the occult and supernatural, and magical realism genres, and in the thriller supernatural sub-genre. As you can see, fantasy’s scope is huge. It’s one of the reasons I love writing in the genre. After years of reading and watching a wide variety of fantasy titles, you could say my imagination is pickled in the possibilities. If I had to boil down fantasy to its essence, I’d say that, at its core, fantasy contains at least one fantastical element that requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. It could be a dragon, a vampire, a troll, a werewolf, or just a neighbour who can fly. It could be an unfamiliar world or dimension. It could be all of those elements rolled into one epic tale. But it’ll never be boring. As for me, I tend to stick close to home in my writing. My stories are grounded in today’s world (minus the pandemic) with characters that could be your friends and neighbours. I like to keep the magic a secret I share with the reader; a secret the non-magical characters in the books aren’t privy to. And though I’m no longer surprised by the “What is fantasy?” question, I love it when the reaction I get to my answer is a nod and a knowing smile. Because the person who asked the question may not know who J.M. Berry is, but they all know Peter Pan.

| JP MCLEAN | ©Copyright 2021 JP McLean for Uncaged Book Reviews www.uncagedbooks.com

JP McLean’s latest release is Blood Mark, which comes out October 19, 2021. What if your lifelong curse is the only thing keeping you alive? Jane Walker survives the back alleys of Vancouver, marked by a chain of bloodred birthmarks that snake around her body. During her tortured nights, she is gripped by agonizing nightmares when she sees into the past. It isn’t until, one-by-one, the marks begin to disappear that she learns the deadly truth: Her marks are the only things keeping her alive. JP (Jo-Anne) McLean writes urban fantasy and supernatural thrillers which have received honourable mentions from the Whistler Independent Book Awards and the Victoria Writers’ Society. JP is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. She is a certified scuba diver, an avid gardener, and a voracious reader. Raised in Toronto, Ontario, JP lived in various parts of North America before settling on Denman Island on Canada’s west coast, where she now lives with her husband. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her cooking dishes that look nothing like the recipe photos or arguing with weeds in the garden.

jpmcleanauthor.com Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


showcase Ed Monosov

Scattered Memory Beads

Weaving together his “Scattered Memory Beads”, the author shares his personal stories one bead at a time in this memoir. As a tribute to the people who have helped and supported him through the twists and turns of his tough life, author Ed Monosov shares his memories through this compelling collection of autobiographical stories. These are stories about people dear to his heart who shaped his and other children’s characters during the difficult post-war times. These pages depict the life of a man who has seen and has been through a lot. This book has been written in Russian, but now available in Russian and in English.

Scattered Memory Beads Ed Monosov

This book is a collection of autobiographical stories that will forever remain in my memory. These are stories about people dear to my heart who shaped my and other children characters in difficult postwar times.

Ed Monosov has lived through a complicated eighty years. He keeps in his memory the images of caring people who did not let the soul of a lonely boy freeze in the twists and turns of harsh life. He remembers absolutely nothing about himself and his family before the start of World War II, before their evacuation to the outback of Russia – to Bashkiria and Tatarstan. The first amber bead of his memory was born under the Nazi bombardment of their caravan of refugees heading to the east, a caravan of unfortunates

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like him and his mother from besieged Leningrad, Muscovites and from other occupied territories of Russia. After many years of hardship he eventually found his home in the USA. He retired in 2013 after many years of successful scientific research in University of California and in the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (famous La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation).

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A Life in Motion Life in rural Wisconsin is always

A Life in Motion.

A snippet of life on the farm with Cyrene.


A Life in Motion – September/October 2021

A Volunteer Life Each month I’ll share part of my life on this small farm. Some fun, some serious, but always in motion. I’ll share my tips for gardening, show you my gardens and harvests, fixing and rebuilding areas in the barn, the new baby chicks that will arrive in the spring, adventures with my goats and horses and since I’m always cooking and trying new things, I’ll post a recipe that I thought worked out well each month with pictures. Hope you enjoy the column and get a glimpse of what life is like for us here in the country. I’ve always felt that my life has been enriched by volunteering at various times in my life. When I lived in Texas, I volunteered at a local hospital pushing a cart around with items from the gift shop for patients who needed toiletries or just a newspaper. Many of the patients always looked forward to my visit. Some were long term patients and didn’t get many visitors and those were the ones I’d spend extra time with, talking about just about anything, I hoped I helped their stay a little. Since I couldn’t fly home to Wisconsin on every holiday, I volunteered at a soup kitchen close to Dallas, to help in the kitchens to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving, talk about getting a new perspective on being thankful. Here in Wisconsin, I rounded up all my friends, co-workers, family members and neighbors and collected coats, hats and gloves for a homeless shelter for my own personal coat drive. Arriving with a loaded back seat and trunk with sizes of every shape and color, the people at the shelter were more than grateful. In the last several years, my daughter and I have been volunteer board members at a horse rescue called Racer Placers, Inc. This is a non-profit 501c organization that works primarily with ex-harness racing Standardbred horses, retraining them for a new life after racing. Some horses just didn’t race well, some were injured and some raced until the cut off age of 15 years. And just sometimes, there is room for other breeds who need help. 52 | UncagedBooks.com

This has turned into a passion for both my daughter and I and if this rescue ends at some point, I’m confident we will continue to volunteer locally at another one. I started riding horses when I was nine years old. My very first horse, was an older Morgan mare and the bond I shared with her has never been duplicated. Pair a young girl and a horse, and it’s a recipe for a lifelong love for horses that is almost unbreakable. I grew up with this horse, she saw me through my first boyfriends and first crushes, to the heartbreaks, but what was always steady was my horse. I did a lot of horse shows as a youth, with both my horse and as I improved on my riding skills, I rode for other owners in horse shows. I also transferred that love of horses to my daughter, at a very young age. There finally came a moment when I didn’t have

horses in my life for a few months. I had taken care of my Quarterhorse gelding Chico for the final two years of his life, battling cushings and laminitis. It was an

overwhelming couple of years of trying different medications, and shoeing methods working with my vet and farrier just to get him comfortable. When I finally said goodbye, I needed time to process, grieve and recover. But do you ever? When I was finally ready to look for a new riding partner, and one I could share with my daughter - I looked to adoption first. I found an adoption place not too far from me called Racer Placers and was drawn to one of the horses on their website. So I filled out the application, and when I got the call that I was approved, I went up to meet Check My Swagger. Although I liked her even after meeting her and was interested in adopting her, she would need some time as she was going to be spayed as they found a cyst on an ovary and would need the rest time. But in the meantime, they had a nice little Morgan/Tennessee Walker mare that had come in from the kill pens on the east coast. She actually was an Amish owned mare, so she would have been used as mostly a working horse. We did manage to adopt Swagger within a few months, but this started our relationship with Racer Placers. But the hole left in my life after Chico was beginning to fill in. There is always room to love another. And these horses hadn’t had the one-on-one attention and love, but we were going to change that. Racer Placers does some fantastic work and we couldn’t be more proud to work with them. Volunteering at an animal rescue of any kind is not for the faint of heart. We’ve seen some bad cases come in and turned them around to be healthy and happy and found their new forever homes. We’ve also seen the other side when there isn’t much hope except to give the horses the best care for the end of their lives and show them that someone cared before they leave this world. Even though there are sad moments, the moments that overshadow all the bad is when the horse and adopter is matched perfectly, and you see the joy on the adopter’s face and the light in the horse’s eyes for his second chance. When horses come in mostly from the racetracks, Racer Placers evaluates them and then decides what training they would

| CYRENE OLSON | need to be able to have a successful life after the track. Many of the horses ride and drive when our agency puts them up for adoption. We have a set of trainers on standby that help out and get these horses ready for their new homes, and even though they’ve never had riders, Standardbreds seem to take to training quite easily.

As an organization, we’ve had “Driving Fun Days” to help get the word out about our horses and to help people learn to drive a horse. Many people in our area want to learn how to harness and drive, and we have a fun learning day. In Wisconsin, there are driving clubs and even endurance driving meets and shows where the drivers dress up and compete. In 2019, we had so many horses and ponies in the organization, we had a Youth Event, where kids were paired up with an adoptable horse for two months, and under close supervision, they were Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| A LIFE IN MOTION COLUMN | responsible for all the horses care and training. All had to be done without riding because of insurance reasons, but at the end of the two months, the kids showed the horses in events at a show ring, from showing their grooming skills and obstacle classes to a fun costume class at the end. Every kid was a winner and the costume class was great. It was one of those moments when you are proud of all the kids and what they accomplished. Some of these horses had bad ground manners before the kids took over, but you would never know it at this show.

So volunteering for me is a way to give back to the lifestyle of horses that I’ve lived all my life. I am thrilled everytime I hear of how well these horses are doing. From walking through fire at a desensitizing clinic:

to the show arena from English:

The horses all had new skills taught by the kids, the kids had learned responsibility, and the community learned more about our cause. It was a big win all around. Several horses and ponies were adopted by their youth and family they were paired with and the others were adopted out soon after. Today, we have horses that have been adopted out that do search and rescue and parades. There is even a “celebrity alumni” horse, click the image below to watch a short video on how Levi and Sandy visit a hospice twice a month.

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to gaming and even carrying the smallest of riders.

| CYRENE OLSON | The Standardbred is a versatile breed that can do anything, and as an organization, we are making a difference in these horses lives. It doesn’t matter where you find your passion. It can be organizing a toy drive, or picking a local family to gift on Christmas, or writing cards to our troops overseas. Volunteering won’t make you a rich person, but you will benefit in ways that money can’t buy. And you can make a difference, whether it’s for people or our four-legged friends, we can all make a difference. And maybe I’ll see you all riding down the trail.

Grilled Pork Chops with a Peach-Bourbon Glaze I love trying new recipes for grilling. This one really gives the pork chops a great flavor. I chose the charcoal grill and the indirect method for this recipe. Ingredients

©Copyright 2021 Cyrene Olson www.uncagedbooks.com Cyrene@UncagedBooks.com

Visit RacerPlacers.com for more past stories and events.

4 bone-in pork chops (not too thin) Seasoning rub (I use Grill Mates steak seasoning) Salt & Pepper 1 can Peaches, with half the juice (optional) 1/4 Cup Bourbon 2 TB Brown Sugar Glaze: 3 TB Peach Perserves 1 1/2 TB Bourbon 1 TB Butter (melted)

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1) Get the grill started. You can use either charcoal or gas for the recipe. I chose charcoal for the great smokey flavor that works with the glaze. 2) Wash the chops and pat dry. Put on the seasoning of your choice and salt and pepper each chop to taste. 3) Mix the glaze ingredients together for the topping. You can use more or less bourbon to taste, the alcohol will burn off, but the flavor will remain. Put this on the side.

3) In a smaller foil pan, put the can of peaches, bourbon and brown sugar. Mix to coat the peaches. 4) Put the chops on a hot grill and cook 7-8 minutes on each side-largely depending on the thickness of the pork chop. Add the foil pan of peaches. 56 | UncagedBooks.com

5) During the last few minutes of cooking, coat each chop heavily with the glaze. Cooking and turning a few minutes longer on each side. When using the indirect method of cooking, the grill won’t overcook the food as quickly. 6) Cook until the chops reach an internal temperature of 145° Remove from heat and serve with the peaches on top or on the side. I served mine with green beans and brown rice.

As always, let me know if you try it!

feature authors

suspense | thriller | comtemporary

Victor M. Alvarez

Marina DelVecchio

Jennifer Lieberman



ictor Manuel Alvarez was born in Puerto Rico and moved with his older brother and his mother to New York City when he was nine years old. While living in the Big Apple he decided to join the New York City Police Department, but as fortune would have it, he was ultimately drafted into the US Army. He completed his boot camp training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Then it was airborne training, Ranger, Military Police schools, and later jungle warfare school in the Republic of Panama. His military awards | UncagedBooks.com range62 from Jump Wings, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry,

awards of the Purple Heart, Air Medal, and Army Commendation Medal, among other numerous awards. Alvarez attended the University of Maryland while on active duty studying criminal justice, with a minor in law enforcement. He served as an army criminal investigator (CID agent). While serving two tours in Vietnam he saw combat, sustaining wounds to his right hand and right knee. Serving in Japan, he studied Shotokan Karate obtaining the coveted rank of Godan or fifth-degree black belt. He is classified as an expert in small arms and combat knife fighting, and he obtained the classification as a sharpshooter with army assault weapons, and holds a Japanese Renshi (instructor) license, under the (Dai Nippon Butoku Kai), in classical Japanese weapons. After retiring from the US Army, with twenty-one years of service, he applied for and received his private investigator’s credentials in the state of Arizona and became an Arizona bounty hunter. He currently makes his home in New Smyrna Beach, FL.

Stay Co n n e c te d

writervmalvarez.com Welcome to Victor M. Alvarez Welcome to Uncaged! Your newest book, The Theseus Conspiracy will release on September 2 and is a part of a series. Can you tell readers more about this book and the series? Is there a planned amount of books in the series or is it open ended? U.S. Army CID Special Agent Jacqueline Sinclair . . . the Army’s famed counterterrorism agent, returns in a chilling and exhilarating novel with the sequel to Requiem for the Dead.

A ruthless and vindictive scheme hatched by one madman threatens to alter the peaceful trajectory of recent history and instead plunge humanity into World War III! It begins with the theft of seven Russian nuclear suitcase bombs by a rogue CIA double agent named Matthew Banks code-name Theseus . . . with his plan of vengeance on Russia and the U.S. In Stuttgart, Germany, the U.S. Army Military Intelligence apparatus inadvertently intercepted Banks’ nefarious scheme in a secure message from the Russians, bound for the Russian Consulate in Germany. Agent Sinclair and FBI Agent Dan Russell are the only hope of stopping an unprecedented global catastrophe. In short order, Sinclair and Russell soon realize Russian military forces are set to take over the Russian government by force, by having the nuclear bombs detonated in specific Russian locations. But soon Banks changes their plans in his scheme of revenge. . . fear of Russian sleeper cells being activated in the U.S. also plunges the dynamic duo into despair. The efforts by FSB Russian agents in tracking the rogue double agent have been futile. While the American agents desperately search for answers, the terrorists led by Banks, set their plan in motion. The “Theseus Conspiracy,” is my second book in the series. The planned sequel (Book three) tentatively titled, “The Retribution,” takes off, with Banks’ return-seeking retribution on Sinclair and her team. A team of African bounty hunters is thrown into the fray. I have outlines for three more Sinclair action-adventure books in the series, with possibly more in the works. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? The most difficult scene or scenes to write are the fighting scenes. I have to outline each fighter and place them in the action. What are they capable of Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |



accomplishing, and what weapons if any they are to use. Who lives or who dies; friend or foe, who do I erase from the story? This takes me roughly two weeks of writing with several revisions until I have an iron-clad fighting scene. I love writing the action scenes first and then the backstories. My easiest is the background of each individual, what and where they came from, and why they are some bad-ass dudes. Writing about a heroine came easy for me. I modeled Sinclair from some of the most actionoriented women on the silver screen. Are you attending any in-person book signings or conventions this year? I’ve attended several book signing events and have two more scheduled for the year. 64 | UncagedBooks.com

What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? Answer: I am an ex-Army CID Agent, a combat veteran with 21 years of service, I was also a bodyguard for two law firms, and in the 1980s, I was an Arizona bounty hunter. Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? For me, the plot comes first. It’s important what you’re going to write about before setting the characters into the story. You have to develop the plot forward and backward before you do anything else. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

Sit down to a good Preston & Child FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast mystery. Watching movies with my wife and little rescue poodle, Haley. Enjoying a quiet evening at a good restaurant. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? The season I love the most is summer. I enjoy walking on the beach and enjoying the sunshine. Although I live in central Florida, this can be almost a year-round thing. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I try to write an average of seven hours a day. It takes me about nine months on average to complete a novel. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I do like all three; eBooks, audiobooks, and physical books. But my preference is physical books. There is nothing quite like having a hardcover book in front of you. Feeling the pages on your fingers as you turn from one to the next page. You might say, I’m old-fashioned that way. Currently, I’m reading a Preston & Child mystery, and a book titled Tombstone, by Tom Clavin, about the life and time of the Earps, and the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? If you have not read Requiem for Dead, I’d recommend it. Although Requiem and Theseus are standalone books, I wrote Requiem with a lot of backstories of my main characters. The third book is a sequel to Theseus.


Enjoy an excerpt from The Theseus Conspiracy

The Theseus Conspiracy Victor M. Alvarez Suspense/Thriller Releases September 2 CID Special Agent Jacqueline Sinclair, the Army’s famed counterterrorism agent, returns in this chilling and exhilarating sequel to Requiem for the Dead. A ruthless scheme hatched by one madman threatens to plunge humanity into World War III! With the theft of seven Russian nuclear suitcase bombs, rogue CIA double agent Matthew Banks code-name Theseus... with the execution of his wife and child at the hands of Russian FSB agents, and the CIA’s treachery, plans his vengeance on Russia and the U.S. In Germany, the U.S. Intelligence apparatus inadvertently intercepted Banks’ nefarious scheme in a secure message from the Russians. Efforts in tracking Banks have been futile. While the American agents desperately search for answers, the terrorist sets his plan in motion. Sinclair must make the ultimate sacrifice for her country; can she stop Banks before the bombs go off? Excerpt —PROLOGUE— Operation Code Name:Theseus Port City of Murmansk, Russia, off the coast of the Barents Sea,Sunday, September 8, 12:30 A.M. All five of them questioned the validity and danIssue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | gers of operating in Russian waters. A Russian submarine could well attack them, get blown up by mines, and even be considered a provocation that could lead to war with the U.S. But they kept their reservations to themselves. During their mission briefing they were told, and in no uncertain terms, that just as in any mission, failure was not an option. So, now the only question was—when would they start? Much was riding on them, bringing their mission to a successful conclusion. They’d been practicing for two weeks, almost twelve-hour days, fine-tuning every little detail down to its core. There were failures,which they confronted and overcame. It’s what they do well, as warrior elites are called upon to perform this vital mission. They were a five-man team-SEAL Team 3: Code Name, Bravo from the Naval Special Warfare, Group One, stationed in Coronado, California. Handpicked because of the area they would work in and where they’d launch from; plus, their success rate was immensely important; tops among three other teams considered for the mission. The mission code name was—Theseus! The Team leader was Bravo One, Master Chief Petty Officer Mark Hawthorne, a 12-year member of SEAL teams, and a highly decorated, careeroriented naval man. He was a six-foot-tall, stocky, and muscled warrior from Fort Worth, Texas, with a slow Southern drawl. His nickname was Tex to his team. Bravo Two, the second in command, was Senior Chief Petty Officer William P. Grey. He was a 10year veteran with an impeccable military record that included three Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars. From Boston, Massachusetts, he had been a newscaster for the local TV network before joining the Navy. At five feet nine inches, he had a build described as resembling that of Arnold 66 | UncagedBooks.com

Schwarzenegger. The team lovingly had nicknamed him, Arnie.\ Chief Petty Officer Dañiel Acosta was Bravo Three. According to him, the meaning of his Spanish surname was, “God is My Judge.” A sixyear naval man, his medium height and slender build was a perfect fit for the team. A Mexican by birth, his family entered the U.S. legally when he was six, and thirteen years later, he became a citizen. He’d served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq before joining the SEAL teams. His specialty was in demolitions and as a sniper. Bravo Four, Chief Petty Officer Jessie M. Stevens, was just as tall and stocky as his team leader Hawthorne. A graduate of Harvard witha Ph.D. in Philosophy, he sought adventure and set a course to his life other than what his family wanted. He joined the Naval SEAL teams, much to the disappointment of his family. His specialty was as a combat medic. Chief Petty Officer Thomas J. Alekseev, Bravo Five, was the fifth member of the team and was a seven-year Naval SEAL team member. He was a short, tough, stocky man and a last-minute replacement to the team. A Russian of Jewish descent, he was born and raised in New York City. His thorough knowledge of the Russian language was the reason they added him to the team. However, his specialty was that of a sniper. Bravo team would launch from a Hunter Killer attack submarine and be given free rein the moment they were within swimming distance of their first target. Their mission was to infiltrate the Russian Federal Prison at Murmansk and extract a prisoner code name Theseus, whose Russian name was Anisi Sverchinsky. The prisoner’s ultimate destination was Stuttgart, Germany. It’s what the SEAL teams called a “Snatch and Grab” operation. The 377-foot long SSN-790, US advanced stealth attack submarine, the USS South Dakota was a Virginiaclass submarine that patrolled the seas with deadly silence, while built to dominate the world’s coastal and deep waters

| VICTOR M. ALVAREZ | while conducting antisubmarine warfare. However, taken from its normal operations, today it would transport SEAL team members on their mission.

him uneasy; they could’ve armed the port with mines and listening devices. The only recourse left involved the mini-sub.

The orders to Captain John Summers were to drop the operators off without a hitch and retrieve them with their target, regardless of hostilefire! The rules of engagement: if fired upon, they would engage return fire and elude capture by all means!

“All engines stop,” Summerfield commanded. Turning to his XO, he said, “Ready the surveillance drone for launch, and have the SEALTeam leader report to me as soon as possible.”

Submerged for well over nine hours, the boat arrived at their assigned drop-off point (DOP). Captain Summerfield ordered his Executive Officer (XO), Steve Helms, “Bring her up to photonics-mast depth. Steady as she goes.” The photonics-mast, the replacement for the old periscopes, with a variety of electro-optical visible and shortwave infrared sensors feeds imagery through strands of optical and low-light cameras directly to themast operator’s high-resolution display as well to the captain’s viewer screen in front of him. “Aye, aye, sir, mast depth, steady as she goes,” Helms shouted to the helmsman and the mast’s operator. Helms was a tall and slender man of thirty-two, blond and blue-eyed, who grew up in a naval family and aspired to become a submarine commander. Being the XO to one of the most renowned and capable submarine commanders, CaptainSummerfield, was a stepping stone to that position. Captain Summerfield, with the XO standing alongside him, set their eyes on the screen. “Give me a 360-degree sweep,” he ordered the mast operator. Within seconds, once it completed a total sweep, the camera stopped. What they observed was almost total darkness, heavy snowfall, with a few portlights and no movements in or around the port of Murmansk. No visible ships were sailing behind them. They gauged the distance to the port at twelve miles. Yet it wasn’t what he could see, but what he didn’t which made

“Aye, aye, sir,” Helms acknowledged. The drone, shaped like a torpedo, contained sensors and videocapable equipment able to see through the dark murky seas and relay its progress to the sub as it recorded every inch of obstacles in its path. Still standing beside the viewer screen, Captain Summerfield turnedand faced his XO. “Steve,” he said, speaking low with a palpable excitement to his voice, “pull up the charts for this area. I need a clear picture of the entrance and anything else that could make me believe mines are waiting for us.” Summerfield’s gaze fell on Chief Hawthorne who stepped into the CIC and approached the Concenter. Impressed with the Hunter Killer boat, Chief Hawthorne, not having been abroad any like it, kept his observations to himself. “Chief,” Summerfield said, “we’re at your DOP and about twelvemiles to the entrance of the harbor’s inlet and additional two miles to the harbor landing. What lies in between is an unknown. I wanted you to see what may await you and your men out there. I’m sending out a drone and we’ll be able to confirm or deny the existence of any mines.” Hawthorne frowned, and giving the Captain an uneasy smile, said, “Mines! We weren’t told that we go through a possible minefield.”“Well, we’ll know soon enough.” “Can your sonar detect the mines?” Hawthorne Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |



the width of the mini-sub.

“Yes, they can,” Summerfield responded. “But if we ping the entrance to the harbor, whoever might have ears on, will surely know we’re here.”

Nodding absently, the Captain turned his attention back to the jobat hand, and not wasting any more time, palmed his microphone. “Torpedo room, is the drone ready?”

Folding his arms about his chest, Hawthorne nodded. Summerfield, once back on his Captain’s chair, placed an elbow on the armrest and held his chin in his hand in contemplation of the chart’s disclosure as Helms examined the charts on the touch screen monitor laying flat on the chart table.

“Aye, sir.” was the quick confirmation from the torpedo room. “Drone is ready and waiting on your orders.” “Very well, launch drone,” Captain Summerfield commanded.

A brief silence ensued.

“Aye, sir, drone away.”

As he scrolled through the charts on the touch screen monitor, Helms halted on a well-defined chart showing the Murmansk inlet harbor. He checked and double-checked, but it showed no signs of mines. Could they have placed the mines since then? He wondered.

Seconds later from the left front side of the submarine, a muzzle door opened followed by a torpedo-shaped underwater surveillance drone. As it shot through the water, its rear motor engaged.

“Sir, the chart doesn’t show any mines positioned through the area however, these charts are not up to date.”


“Right,” Summerfield acknowledged. Both Hawthorne and Helms gazed at Summerfield and waited for his orders. The next few minutes could confirm what he suspected, and if that was the case, he probably knew his boat wouldn’t be able to navigate through the minefield. Would Chief Hawthorne suspend his mission, or find another way through? The thought raced through his mind. He wasn’t sure. However, he knew better than that, having worked with other SEAL teams in the past, and knew of their steadfast commitment to theirmission. If that was the case, Summerfield had an ace up his sleeve—the mini-sub attached to the boat—if the distance of the mines to each other didn’timpact 68 | UncagedBooks.com


SHERRI FULMER MOORER & Zack & Bubba Meet Zack and Bubbles, our Dynamic Duo! Zack is a twenty one year old sun conure who loves to play, snuggle, and hang out with his “sister” and humans. We’ve had our golden boy since he was six weeks old.

These are Fifi and Foxy, two of three feral kittens I just adopted for our family. They helped me write my dissertation proposal and like to jump on my keyboard while I’m writing for extra cuddles

DAVID MCDANIEL & Roy I would love to mention my best animal friend who just recently passed away on July 21st this year. His name was Loverboy, but I called him Roy. He sat either on my desk or on the back of my chair and he was with me for every single page and word written for Fyaa’s Bane. He was my Muse.

72 | UncagedBooks.com

Bubbles is a feisty Moncks Parakeet (Quaker) that we adopted five years ago. She’s seven years old, and is truly a girl after my own heart, since she loves scifi and especially aliens. Bubbles also adores her brother and daddy, and loves chattering with her mommy. We have many rousing conversations, although sometimes I wonder if we’re talking about the same things. Zack and Bubbles consider themselves to be my “muses” and I do talk to them about my writing quite a bit. In fact, they’re a good sounding board for ideas. Head bobs and dancing usually mean “go for it!” Preening, sleeping, or an outright “no” means “bad idea.”

ANNA J. WALNER & Wishu Wishu was found after his tree was cut down. He was given to me, as I lived on acreage at the time, and nursed from a pup. He was a Fox Squirrel who was successfully rehabilitated and released into the wild. I have since rescued many different types of wildlife, and am a supporter of adoption.

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.

LAURI SCHOENFELD & Jack My dog’s name is Jack Wyatt Wolverine Schoenfeld. My kids each had to give him a name. He’s our mini schnauzer, and he loves giving hugs. He’ll put his paws gently on your shoulders, stretch up, and lay his head up against your cheek. He’s a sweet boy. Jack follows me everywhere and is often lying right by my desk with me as I’m writing.

AVERY MAITLAND & Suki, Niima & Piper My life, and writing schedule, is run by three cats. Suki – the black one Niima – the fluffy one Piper – the stripey one They look sweet and innocent, but Piper has deleted entire manuscripts by stepping on the keyboard while I’m writing. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s happened three times now... she’s my meanest critic.

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college professor with an MFA in Creative Writing, my most recent publication includes my Young Adult novel Dear Jane (Black Rose Writing, 2019), about an immigrant adoptee who finds solace in literature and recalls an abusive childhood in letters addressed to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This book remained on Amazon’s #1 adoption fiction list for the first four weeks of publication, has generated positive reviews 76 | UncagedBooks.com

from Amazon, Goodreads, Kirkus, IndieBound, and Readers’ Favorites, was a Gold Medal winner for the YA category of England’s 2019 Wishing Shelf Book Award, and was just selected as a Kirkus Best Indie Books of 2019. My writing has garnered awards from Writers Digest (2011-2016) and Carolina Women (2019) as well as publication in Ms. Magazine (2016), The Huffington Post (2011), The Tishman Review (2016), and a few women’s organization sites I’ve regularly contributed to such as She Writes, The New Agenda, and Her Circle Ezine. My list of print publications includes Opposing Viewpoints on Media Violence (2012) and Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love and Loss (2014). I have two forthcoming publications: The Professor’s Wife (Black Rose Writing, Oct. 2021) and The Virgin Chronicles (She Writes Press, Apr./2022) More information about me can be found on my website: www.marinadelvecchio.com.

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marinadelvecchio.com Uncaged welcomes Marina DelVecchio Welcome to Uncaged! Your newest book, The Professor’s Wife will release October 14. Can you tell readers more about this thriller? Sure. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss my book. I wanted to write a book about the pitfalls of love. The way we fall headlong for someone and become enamored and mystified by love and sex. The way that love begins, with such pure desire and intimate connection that makes us feel we cannot live without the other person. And then I wanted to show how that purity, that intensity can be overshadowed by

our previous experiences, our childhood traumas, our damage. How sex is often used to mask that damage. How differently we respond to love and desire when they are overcome by that damage, and how quite often, we don’t have the skills with which to repair the losses we encounter. This is a love story. An erotic and tragic one with an unexpected twist. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? The most difficult scenes for me to write were the sexy ones. Not because they are difficult to imagine but because I don’t usually write about sex or eroticism. And there’s a lot of sex and eroticism in this book, which makes me blush. Especially if my students or children ever read it. What is the easiest? The easiest scenes to write are the back stories for my characters. They come easily to me because of my background in literary analysis and my love of psychology. I love the way characters’ motives unravel and connect simultaneously to childhood experiences and losses. I love going deep into a character’s psyche and staying there, excited when I uncover something new and unexpected. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? People would be shocked to learn that my mother was a prostitute and I was raised by her and her pimp for a few years before I was adopted. Or maybe the fact that I was adopted at the age of eight and also spent a year in an orphanage. Both surprise a lot of people who encounter me because my damage and trauma do not present themselves in my external or professional life. I am a cheerful and pleasant person who still holds on to faith in people and love and unadulterated childhood experiences. I love to laugh and sing. To be able to stay strong and hopeful, considering my past, is surprising even to me at times. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? The characters always come first for me. With The Professor’s Wife, I knew who Carl was when I began the story; unfortunately, he wouldn’t let me write him as I originally imagined him. He kept writing himself, so I let him guide the plot and storyline, and I believe that he did a great job advocating for himself and not making himself into a cliché. I love psychology and the way it plays out in our motives and actions, and psychology is steeped in character development. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I immerse myself in my kids. I love taking my daughter to the beach with her friends, sit on the sand, listen to music, and watch them run and swim and create TikTok videos. I also love to watch her dance. For my son, who’s off to college soon, I love having his friends crash at my house, and I find it incredibly soothing to cook for them. Making my kids happy fulfills me. It also relaxes me and gives me hope that despite the absurdities of life, they will turn out just fine. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? I love Autumn. I live in North Carolina, which is full of trees and colorful plant life. My favorite 78 | UncagedBooks.com

moment each fall is when I am driving home and my eyes suddenly open to the scene before me. I become fully aware of deep shades of green and brown and orange and red and yellow leaves lined before me. In that instant, my heart jumps to my throat, my lungs fill up, and I feel like a giddy child. I look forward to this moment every fall, and it never ceases to amaze me. It’s like waking up from a dream state for the first time. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? During the pandemic, I joined a women’s organization (WFWA) that hosts daily write-ins via Zoom. They meet every day for two hours, and since joining this group, I have written 2.5 books in one year. Before that, it was difficult for me to organize my time between teaching, writing, and raising my kids. But writing 2 hours a day has been my goal for 2020-2021. If I write every day, it can take me two-three months to write and


revise a novel or memoir. Having writing buddies and a set schedule for writing is an approach that works for me.

Enjoy an excerpt from The Professor’s Wife

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

The Professor’s Wife Marina DelVecchio Psychological Thriller Releases October 14

I collect all three. I have books waiting for me on my Kindle, my Audible app, and even more books in my three bookcases that I have yet to read. When I walk in my neighborhood, I listen to books. Kindle is harder to immerse myself in because I rarely sit down unless I’m writing or grading. I prefer physical books because I like to underline original lines, words I have not encountered before, or visceral reactions to a moment described by the author. If I’m reading women’s fiction or a psychological thriller, I go to audiobooks and Kindle for those. But for serious memoirs or works of nonfiction, I rely on the actual book because I want to take notes. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? As a fan of reading and books myself, I only want to say, thank you for taking the time to read and spending your hard-earned money on my work. You have a ton of choices in reading material, and I’m so happy you landed on mine. I never realized how beautiful of an experience it is to have a reader reach out to me and tell me how much my writing moved them or resonated with them until it happened to me with the publication of my debut novel Dear Jane. It has made me more cognizant of my audience as well as how important it is to leave reviews, give starts, or share with the authors I read how much their work touched me. Afterall, this is why we write. To share, to move, and to connect with words

Carl Bingham is a lonely British Literature Professor who has sworn off love and sex since an affair with a student at Skidmore College almost lost him his tenure and reputation. Camilla is a young artist who sits in his classroom, mesmerized by his voice and appearance. Despite their age difference, they fall in love, marry, and feed each other’s physical and emotional needs. But when secrets and betrayals begin to threaten the bond they have forged and have found nowhere else, how far will each go to keep the other from disappearing? The Professor’s Wife is about enduring love and the darkness that lives in all of us when it is threatened by the unexpected twists and bends of life itself. Excerpt Carl Bingham’s hands shook as he twisted the key to lock the main door of his home. The freckles on his fingers danced with the exertion it took him to remove the key from the lock and place it into his jacket pocket. He balanced himself by grasping the white railing and tracing its outline, slowly pacing along the wraparound porch of his farmhouse. He was thinking about the seven steps he would have to face in a few seconds leading from the top of the porch to the bottom and placing him on the gravel walkway he needed to land on to get to the pharmacist’s in town. When he reached the top of the porch landing, he hesitated a bit, to take a breath, yes, but also to marvel at the teal blue steps his wife had painted with her own hands so many years ago—before Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | she had gotten ill—before he had to resign from his teaching job at the college to care for her. Carl was still tending to her, but worry creased his brows at the thought. He couldn’t even lock the door without becoming spent. He didn’t know how much longer he could protect her, or how she would survive if anything happened to him while descending her blue steps. That Camilla of his had been a spirited girl, lovely and vibrant. Nothing like the shriveled, frail whisper of the woman now lying in their bed. The day she had painted the steps leading up to the porch of their home, he had been at work longer than expected. A tenured professor of British Literature at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, he had been missing a lot of dinners with his young wife. At twenty-seven, she had the wisdom and intelligence of his fifty-six years, but she was not the kind of woman one placed into a home and bid her to clean and cook and make babies. So, when her dinners remained uneaten and cold upon their dining room table, and he trudged in after nine in the evening up to his elbows in ungraded student papers, her patience had worn thin. “You leave me in this big old house by myself all day and then you return to me late. It’s been three nights this week,” she whined. “Honey,” he began, beckoning her to sit next to him on the couch, where he had propped his feet upon the coffee table. Camilla pouted as she slowly made her way to him and then sat upon his lap, facing him, and flattening the lapels of his tweed jacket to his shoulder blades. Her touch still made him shiver, and they had been married three years. They made love almost every night, and she was no stranger to the things he liked. “You’re supposed to be painting, anyway,” he sighed, closing his eyes so he could feel her fingers touching his neck and face from a dark and disembodied place that always felt so good. “Did you get to paint a bit?” “I sure did,” Camilla piped up, rose from his lap suddenly, and then pulled him off the couch. “Let 80 | UncagedBooks.com

me show you.” Carl thought she would drag him up the stairs to their bedroom, to continue the journey her fingers had begun from his neck to his hair and then back down again to his collarbone and the trail of grey wiry chest strands she had unbuttoned his shirt to get to. Instead, she pulled him to the front door, yanked it open, and led him to the center of their wrap-around porch, which curved over them like a bell at the top of the seven steps. “Look,” she pointed to the seven steps that stretched out beneath them. His eyes followed the path of her fingers, but he saw nothing except the steps. “Oh, Carl!” Camilla left him standing there, disappeared into the house, and turned on the porch light from inside. “You see anything different now?” “Indeed, I do,” he chuckled. She had painted the stairs teal blue. “Very nice.” “Well, I got tired of waiting for you, so I whipped out the paint that we used for our bedroom walls, and voila! The exterior of the house is all white, and I just couldn’t stand it anymore. It’s so blah. So, I painted it blue, like our bedroom. Maybe the steps will remind you of our bed and the sex that awaits you, and you will come home to me instead of playing around with your little wide-eyed undergraduates.” “Indeed, I will,” he grinned, planting a kiss on her dark hair and pulling her close to him. “Indeed, I will.” Carl smiled, thinking of his wife, when she was young and feisty. He still saw that girl in the woman who lay in their bed upstairs; he saw that girl in her eyes when she smiled as he offered her medicine to dull her pain. But mostly he saw her pain. Pain he couldn’t take away. It’s not like it used to be, when she hurt inside and cried on his shoulders, and he could take it all away with just one cajoling comment or a quote from Keats or Byron. That always made her mood lift a bit, and then she would brighten up, kiss him on the lips, and go about her business, renovating a kitchen

| MARINA DELVECCHIO | cabinet, or sanding down a table, or painting the guest bedroom a different color. That was a different Camilla, a long time ago Camilla. One that ran across their lawn in her tank top and shorts or bustled into the kitchen with a new meal she had found on the internet, pounding away at the keyboard applying for grants to study with a particular artist, or shimmying out of her clothes and climbing into bed with him, covering the expanse of his chest with her dark strands, her lips moist upon his skin. Carl hesitated at the base of the blue teal steps, grabbed onto the railing, and looked upward at the window above him. Their bedroom window. Where she lay, groaning in pain, writhing in discomfort. He could still hear the soft moans that forced their way out of her lips, lips that were once grinning with mischief. Lips that found his again and again with a hunger he envied in her, a hunger he could not satisfy no matter how often he made love to her, how much food he fed her, how many talents she picked up and dropped back down when they got too heavy for her to carry. She lay in that bed of theirs, and after decades of marriage and love and passion, she was still empty. He felt the yawning hunger inside her even now—while he stood outside their home, on his way to the pharmacy for her medicine. Not even the medicine could fill her appetite or the emptiness that took up most of her, growing, duplicating, stretching as far as her insides would allow. She was full of drugs, but she was empty. Her eyes told him every day—the soft earthy shade of dust and soil looking back at him with pain, pleading with him for something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Desire. No, he felt the desire. He was sure she desired nothing now. Except release. She wanted to release from this earth, this world that failed her again and again. And from him, too. Because even after all these years, he did not know the trick to loving her so she felt it. And this, he was sure, is how he had failed her.

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ennifer Lieberman is a multi-hyphenate actor-writer-producer from Maple, Canada and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from York University in Toronto. After years of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors with no success of breaking into the entertainment industry, Jennifer decided to take matters into her own hands and created the soloshow Year of the Slut. This show proved to be her break and the play Year of the Slut went on

to win the Audience Choice Award in New York City and is now the novel Year of the What? Since deciding to make her own break, Lieberman has appeared in over 30 international stage productions in Canada, The U.S., Australia and Europe. She has also produced over 40 independent film/digital and theatre productions. Jennifer has penned a number of theatrical works and her short films have screened at the Festival de Cannes among other international festivals. She is currently gearing up to direct her first feature film Longing.

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jenniferliebermanactor.com Uncaged welcomes Jennifer Lieberman Welcome to Uncaged! Your latest book you released is called Year of the What? A romantic comedy. Can you tell readers more about this book? Year of the What? was adapted from my award-winning solo show Year of the Slut; it’s a racy coming-of-age comedy. When I first moved to LA, a friend suggested I write a piece to let people know I exist and to showcase both my writing and acting abilities. Like in the movie “La La Land” no one really came, but I stuck with developing the show and went on to win an award for it in New York. I was then encouraged to adapt it into a book…and the book took on a life of its own. Six months after Dana’s first break-up she is single and heartbroken in New York City. At 25 she is a virgin once removed and navigating the Manhattan dating world is daunting. Having only been intimate with one man, Dana feels ashamed of her desires and keeps trying to squash them in order to be a ‘good girl’. With

the help of Kelly, her unabashedly promiscuous roommate, Dana embarks on an outrageous adventure of sexual discovery while looking for love, ultimately finding her power and confidence. This book is a female empowerment piece that explores the themes of feminism, sexual expression and coming-of-age (or coming into one’s own) in a world where women are constantly judged, for being too much or not enough of whatever we choose to be - especially by our own self critics. It is also a candid account of sexual discovery intended to help other women have the confidence to find themselves both in and out of the bedroom. What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m never writing one thing at a time because I flip-flop between literary works, stage and screen writing. Bookwise, I’m working on Book #2 in the Year of the What? series. I’m also in the early development stages of a new play about the homeless epidemic. Aside from writing, I’m also an actress and a filmmaker. I’m currently in the fledgeling production stages of directing my first feature film that I wrote called Longing. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? I don’t write if ideas are not screaming their way onto the page forcing me into their submission, because of this I don’t find anything about my writing process difficult. I make it a point to stay inspired and give my ideas the space to tell me when it’s time to write. I guess it’s a good thing that writing is not my sole focus and that I’m usually in the middle of multiple writing pieces at any given time. Are you attending any in-person book signings or conventions this year? That is yet to be determined, but unfortunately not Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | very likely due to Covid. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? It might surprise people to know I have been a volunteer with Chaverim, a social group for special needs adults, since 2014. I volunteer teaching acting/improv classes and at special events or field trips. Since my involvement teaching acting classes the group has found a passion for performance and has since collaborated on two productions which they were awarded grants for to assist in funding. The first project was a music video, the second was writing and shooting the feature film The Bella Danza about an all-abilities dance contest. This was an exciting project for everyone involved. The red carpet screening was beyond what anyone in

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the group believed they would ever accomplish. My favourite thing about working with this group (and teaching in general) is when I’m able to guide and inspire individuals to surprise themselves with their own capabilities. Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? For me, the plot always comes first, I usually have something burning that I want to say before I know who or how it will be said. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I’m a total yoga-holic. I used to be a competitive gymnast so I love to stay active. My yoga practice has

a challenging mix of strength, balance and flexibility exercises as well as meditation and philosophical teachings. This is a wonderful combination for both my physical and spiritual needs. I also love being in nature, so any outdoor activities like hiking, biking, swimming, paddleboarding and beach volleyball are totally my thing. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? I am one of those people who is always cold, so growing up in Canada I thought I would be at home in a warm tropical climate where I could live in a bathing suit all year round. However, after living in Los Angeles for many years I realized I was mistaken. Contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles is not warm all year round, it gets quite chilly for several months where sweaters and jackets are required in the winter. Although the temperature changes in LA, there is basically only one season; looking out the window

nothing changes from month to month all year round. For someone who grew up with changing seasons this can be confusing because you don’t feel time passing the same way you do with a ‘four distinct season’ climate. Even though I’m not a fan of the cold, I love the contrast of the seasons and how they affect my psyche in terms of goal setting and activity planning. When you know you only have a few months to enjoy each season it really gets a fire under you about getting to the lake or on the slopes because if you don’t you’ll be waiting a whole year before you’ll have another opportunity. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I’m not the type of writer who ‘writes’ every day. I’m a creative who wears many hats as I mentioned above. When I’m on fire I can write for 12-14 hours straight without a water or bathroom break and this can go on for days and weeks until the piece is completed. My last feature length screenplay Issue 61 | September/October 2021 | 87

| FEATURE AUTHOR | Longing wrote itself in about a month at a rapid fire pace. I can also go months without writing at all. However, I am always working out ideas in my head all day long, which I still consider writing, regardless if others may not. So far, I’ve only written one novel which was almost a ten year process. I wrote the first draft in less than 6 weeks working on it evenings and weekends; it was an adaptation of my awardwinning solo show. The book adaptation definitely took on a life of its own. I then spent months collecting feedback and rewriting, then more months of submissions and rejections to agents and publishers. Then I decided to take a break from the novel and co-wrote and produced a web series (Dumpwater Divas), then I was hired to go to Australia twice over two years to work on a play (Burying the Dead). After those two years I went back to the novel and unfortunately hired the wrong editor, whose notes were so brutal I couldn’t look at the manuscript for another two years. I then went on to make a few short films (Jamie, Leash and Details), worked on a TV series (Tommy Wiseau’s The Neighbors), produced a bunch of film and theatre projects for other people, starred in a few plays and didn’t really think about the book. Finally, I was convinced to go back to the novel and self-publish it just to get the book to the finish line as a completed piece of work. So, to answer your original question, I guess it can take me anywhere from 6 weeks to a decade to write a novel! Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? 88 | UncagedBooks.com

I’m totally old fashioned, I love a real paperback or hardcover book. I try to avoid screens as much as possible when I’m not working. Just like I’m always writing more than one thing at a time, I’m always reading more than one thing at a time. I’m usually reading a novel for pleasure, a philosophical or inspirational book that I start my day with and a play or script to keep my acting muscle flexing. I just started the urban fantasy novel Secret Sky by JP McLEan, Hagakure The Secret Wisdom the Samurai is my current morning inspiration and I’m making my way through a Sam Sheeperd collection called Seven Plays. What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I would like to thank you all for checking out my work, I really hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your feedback!

Enjoy an excerpt from Year of the What? Year of the What? Jennifer Lieberman Romantic Comedy Six months after Dana’s first break-up she is single and heartbroken in New York City. At 25 she is a virgin once removed and navigating the Manhattan dating world is daunting. Having only been intimate with one man, Dana feels ashamed of her desires and keeps trying to squash them in order to be a ‘good girl’. With the help of Kelly, her unabashedly promiscuous roommate, Dana embarks on an outrageous adventure of sexual discovery while looking for love, ultimately finding her power and confidence.

| JENNIFER LIEBERMAN | Excerpt It was the middle of January and it had been a month since the Russell disaster. I started the New Year determined to get back on track with my own life and stop worrying about a relationship or lack thereof. I landed a small role working on an independent horror film that started shooting the second week of January. On my last day, well, my only day of work, I overheard the producer say they were short- handed in the art department. I saw my opportunity and offered to work behind the scenes. The producer agreed and I was hired to stay on for the remainder of the shoot. My job consisted of dressing the set, gathering props, making fake blood, and basically doing whatever they needed. My real boss, Henry the mogul, loved me, so he let me take the three weeks off from my assistant job to work on the movie. He knew acting was my dream and being a dreamer himself he was never one to stand in the way of dreams. He also happened to be in St. Barts for an impromptu getaway with his latest model/girlfriend, so it was a good time to ask for a favor. The movie was a low budget horror film shooting on a farm upstate. There was a main house, a large barn, and a few cabins and sheds scattered around the four acres. The property was lovely covered in snow, but, once the sun went down, the place felt really creepy, with dilapidated barns and rotted trees leaning lopsided, casting weird shadows. It was the perfect setting for a horror flick. I reported to Asher, the production designer; he had dirty blond hair, brown eyes, and was cute in a scruffy puppy kind of way. He made it clear he was into me, but I had my eye on Rey, the produc- tion manager. Rey was a tall, dark, Puerto Rican hottie, more built and muscular than Asher and, in general, just seemed to bathe more frequently. He was also an actor and did theater in the city, so he and I had something in common. The days were long and grueling for everyone. Asher was constantly giving me hugs and encouragement.

Rey became a shoulder to lean on as we both commiserated over our recent breakups and move-outs while we smoked weed in his car after we wrapped each night. He drove me home a few times when we stayed late cleaning up, assuring me driving through Hell’s Kitchen was on his way home to New Jersey. One night on the drive home I confided in Rey, “I wrote a play and was thinking of submitting it for a reading at the theater company I’m part of,” I said, half proud and half embarrassed. “Oh, yeah,” he perked up. “It’s a short one-act with two characters, male and female. Would you, maybe, want to read it with me sometime? It’s never been read aloud before.” I thought Rey would be great to play opposite me. I also hoped my play could be a way to spend time with him. I was starting to really like him. “I want to read it,” he said, leaning across me to open my door. “Bring it down. I’ll wait in the car.” “Now?” I was surprised at his interest. He nodded. I darted up the six flights of stairs, printed a copy, and ran it down to his parked, black Eclipse. A few days went by and he never mentioned my play. I knew he had a lot on his plate with the film, so I didn’t bug him. He was the only person I’d given it to, other than Kelly, and I was nervous about what he might think. Maybe he thought it sucked, because he never mentioned it again, and neither did I. I felt stupid for sharing it with him. Beth’s smoking-hot body and pouty lips weren’t the only things causing a stir on set. It turned out she didn’t have the best attitude. She was continuously late, never knew her lines, and never wore a bra. No one on the overwhelmingly male crew seemed to have issues with any of that. If they did, they never said anything. Even Rey was completely hypnotized—he didn’t even get mad when her cell phone rang while the cameras were rolling, which is one of the biggest taboos on a film shoot. I couldn’t understand how she could get such a big part and I got killed off in the first scene? Okay, fine, once you get over the whole blonde Kardashian thing, what was there? Why would Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | they put up with someone so unprofessional when I was sitting right here and willing to work really hard? Then it occurred to me...her role was topless. I didn’t want to be considered for any of the topless roles. The fact that I had more self-respect than Beth (or more insecurity about being nude) did not make me feel better; I was jealous of her, plain and simple. I’ve never been one of those girls who just walks into a room and everyone notices. At 5’4”, with an athletic build, hazel eyes, and wavy chestnut-brown hair, I was super active, but not obsessive. Beth had perfect skin and her hair was never out of place, not even when she was covered in fake blood. Her voice was deep and raspy and the way she swung her ass when she walked made the entire crew weak at the knees. “She smells like peaches,” Rey would whisper every time her scent wafted by him. This girl oozed sex appeal. I wished I could be that. Sure, I had more confidence and style than when I was in high school, but I didn’t have that wow factor, no matter how badly I wanted it. And I had no idea how to get it. The movie only had one real star, well, he was an up and coming, Trevor Stone. His work had gotten a lot of press at Sundance and Tribeca last year. He went to film school with the director, so they were able to get him without paying him his usual rate. They flew him in from LA so the entire shoot was scheduled around his availability. The day Trevor arrived everyone was buzzing with energy. For most of us it was our first film so we could barely contain ourselves in the presence of a real celebrity—even the guys were excited. His looks didn’t hurt either. He was a quiet, African American guy with a calm but powerful presence. I couldn’t believe I was working on a film with an actual Hollywood star! I grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada, and my best friend, Sean, and I had dreamed of making movies and moving to Hollywood together ever since I could remem90 | UncagedBooks.com

ber ... so he could make the movies and I could star in them. He said I inspired his vision. We had been writing and performing skits in my backyard since we were kids, and by high school we were shooting shorts on his dad’s camera. He went to film school at the University of Toronto and I studied marketing at York University, because my parents didn’t consider a degree in Theater useful (they were in total denial). We became serious collaborators on his film projects through university; I continued to be his inspiration, and one of our films even got into a few film festivals, giving us a glimpse of what our future would be like. It was pretty exciting. Now I was on an actual movie set in New York City with an actual star. I had to pinch myself. Trevor had a strong “CrossFit” body and light brown eyes. He was 5”9 and had perfect teeth and a shy, sexy smile. From his looks, you would think he was a total asshole, but, as it turned out, he was one of the nicest guys there, friendly and polite to everyone. He had zero attitude and a quiet confidence I admired. Beth declared Trevor was hers early on in the shoot, before she had ever met him, and now that he had arrived she wasn’t going to let anyone get in her way. She was half interested in him, but mostly interested in the press she could get being on his arm. He wasn’t a major movie star yet, but he was famous enough to get his picture snapped at the grocery store from time to time. Trevor had a trailer in his contract, so the production rented one only for the time he was in town. Beth was somehow under the impression that it was also her trailer and was constantly in Trevor’s face. The poor guy couldn’t go anywhere without her on his trail. The movie star requested assistance going over his lines so Rey volunteered me for the position. I was thrilled to have the chance to spend time with him. I knew Rey wasn’t being nice; he was being strategic, trying to keep Beth away from Trevor to protect his own interests. I didn’t care; it worked out great for me. There I was at Trevor’s trailer. It was just an RV, not a fancy one like on the big studio movies. There was a kitchen with a table, a bathroom with a shower, and

| JENNIFER LIEBERMAN | a bed at the back with a curtain you could pull across for privacy. “Hi, I’m Dana. I’m here to run lines,” I said quietly when he opened the door. “Hey. Great. Come on in.” Trevor cleared his bag and his jacket to make room for me to sit in the banquet in the kitchen. “So, where do you want to go from?” I asked nervously, flipping through my script. “We can take a minute before we dive in.” He smiled. Trevor was genuine and easy to talk to. We talked about our respective hometowns. He told me about living in LA. I told him about New York life. We compared the bands we liked. I soon realized he didn’t want to go over lines at all; he just wanted someone to talk to. I wasn’t blind to the fact that he was gorgeous, but after working for Henry, I was in contact with so many celebrities, from millionaires to moguls, that I could see them all as people. “Hello there, anybody home?” Beth burst in with her smoky voice. Trevor stood up and went to the door to block her from coming in. “Hey Beth.” He greeted her in an annoyed tone. “What-cha doin’ in here? Taking a nap? Do you want me to come snuggle with you?” she asked and put her arms around him, leaning over his shoulder. She peered inside and noticed me at the table then pulled off of him quickly. “What’s she doing here?” she snapped in a catty tone. “She’s helping me run lines. Mind coming back later?” Trevor replied. “I can do that with you!” She slithered up to him seductively. He took both of her hands in his and said, “Sweet-

heart, you’re talent. You shouldn’t bother yourself with that stuff.” Beth was both flattered and disappointed. She tossed her hair seductively and pranced away without a fuss. Trevor and I went back to chatting. “How did you get involved in the production? Did you go to film school?” he asked. “No, I’m an actress. I had a small role and got killed off the first week,” I explained. “I want to learn what happens on a movie set, so here I am...” His gaze pierced through me. “Smart.” “I wrote a play,” I said. “I want to be more than an actor.” “Can I read it? Will you bring me a copy?” he asked curiously. “Sure,” I lied. If Rey couldn’t be bothered to read my stuff, there was no way this guy would, so I spared myself the humiliation. Dodging Beth became a full-time job for Trevor, which was pretty funny to watch, considering she had every guy eating out of the palm of her hand, except the one she wanted. It seems that cruel humor of life strikes against all women, no matter where we stand on the hotness scale. I became Trevor’s go-to person for running lines each day, even though we rarely looked at the script. On Trevor’s fifth day shooting, I brought breakfast and coffee to his trailer. My greasy, unwashed hair was hidden under a wool hat; I was on my fifth day without a shower. I unzipped my fleece hoodie and rested it over the bench; my gray thermal hugging my body. “Morning superstar,” I whispered, peeking in at him lying on the bed in the back through the crack in the curtain. “I brought coffee and a breakfast sandwich.” Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | “Thanks, darlin’. Just put it down, I need to lie here for a few,” he mumbled between the pillows. “Sure thing. I’ll come back in twenty.” “Stay. Chill. I like having you around. Just make sure no one bugs me.” Ten minutes later Trevor emerged and sat next to me, picked up his cup of coffee, took a sip, and let out a sigh. He looked at me long and hard for a moment, the morning sun streamed in through the fogged-up windows. It was freezing outside. “You’re really beautiful, you know,” he stated, simply. I was caught by surprise, un-slept and unwashed. It had been a long time since I’d received a compliment from a sexy guy. “You walk around here with no makeup, a fuzzy hat and baggy clothes, but I can still see it,” he said almost critically, like it irritated him that I didn’t try harder. “You know what these days are like; I haven’t showered since my last day off, before you even started,” I said a little defensively. “I wasn’t criticizing you, I was just saying, no matter how much you’re trying to cover it up, I can see you. Plus, you have a good heart. I can tell,” he said sweetly. “Thanks,” I smiled, a bit confused. “No boyfriend?” I shook my head, no. He leaned in and kissed me softly on the lips. I abruptly stood up. “I, ah, totally forgot, I need to fill a bunch of prosthetics with blood bags for the massacre this afternoon. I’ve, ah, gotta go.” I darted out of there. That was my first kiss since Russell. I avoided Trevor for the rest of the day.

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shortstory Part 1


by Michael Giltner

| SHORT STORY | This story will continue in consecutive months.

Tess By Michael Giltner “I hate days like this, hate, hate, hate,” he muttered to himself. “And, I hate it, even more, when it’s my own fault. Like I didn’t know I was running out of coffee and could have gotten some when I was at the store on Tuesday. And, to make it worse, my ‘secret’ stash in the freezer is gone as well. I guess I used it the last time I ran out and now on the one day I really, really need coffee to get me started, I don’t have any. Damn!” Still muttering under his breath, Steve walked back into the bedroom to put on enough warm clothes to make it to the store and back. “Damn,” he muttered again. “It’s also a crappy day; cold and snow all around. Thank goodness they plowed last night. Being a half-mile down a dead-end road, you never know if they’ll plow or not. At least I don’t have to fight a snow-covered road to get out of here. Maybe I’ll stop at the diner and grab breakfast AFTER the store. Otherwise, if I stop first, I might just enjoy their coffee too much and then forget to get some and have to repeat it all over tomorrow! Nope, store first then breakfast.” Ambling to the front door, Steve grabbed his heavy coat and New England Patriots cap before opening the door to his lakeside cabin. His two-bedroom unit was the only one that had been built before the real estate company developing the area collapsed. All the remaining lots were in probate and couldn’t be sold or built on for several years, if ever. The world was changing, and everyone wanted to move farther north so this area wasn’t as “desirable” as it was when the project started. Sure he had a great view of the small lake out the back of the house and to top it off, the rest of the house was hidden from view by the grove of pine trees that surrounded it. It made a perfect “getaway” place, especially when he needed peace and quiet to concentrate on his next novel. The cabin offered all the basics; water and electricity, and the septic would last a long time before needing to be cleaned, so everything was on the upswing except for the lack of coffee. To top it off, they had laid in cable for internet service. So, on a terrible winter day, you could at least grow numb, mentally, binging on various cable series. Stepping outside, the air was crisp and cold. Spring was just around the corner but in New England, that 98 | UncagedBooks.com

corner could be closer to summer than winter. Getting into his truck, he started the engine and pulled out onto the blacktop road. As the development progressed, the road was to be upgraded, but again, that might never happen now. Fortunately, the county had taken ownership and at least they would plow when necessary. As he headed for the main highway, he saw someone in the distance walking away from him. “What the hay!” he mentally exclaimed. “Why would someone be on this road? No one lives down here but me.” As he got closer to the person, he was more surprised and then concerned as he saw the person in more detail. She was walking on the edge of the road in the snow, barefoot, and was only wearing a T-shirt. “Oh, my God. She’s going to freeze to death and die of hypothermia.” Pulling up next to her, Steve jumped out and rounded the front of the truck. Slowing, he held up both hands and looked her in the face. “Hi. I‘m here to help. You’re going to freeze out here. Please get in my truck and I can take you to where you’ll be safe. OK?” he pleaded. Nodding in response, she stood still as Steve opened the passenger side door and helped her into the truck. He was totally surprised when her skin wasn’t ice-cold. His hands were freezing, and he had only been outside for seconds whereas she had definitely been out longer. Hustling back to the driver’s door, he looked at the woman through the side window and then slowly opened the door to get in. “You OK? I’m getting in now, and we can get you some help.” Another nod and Steve felt comfortable enough to climb back in and shut the door. The engine was still running and heat was pumping out from all the vents. His little sojourn outside had caused the internal temperature to drop and now the system was working hard to get the temperature back up to the “normal” 72 degrees setting Steve preferred. “There’s an emergency care facility about 5 miles away and we can go there so you can be checked out.” Glancing at the woman, now that he could take a closer look, she was in reality a young girl. He noticed her feet were not blue from walking in the snow, nor did any

| MICHAEL GILTNER | parts of her exposed skin show any effects from the cold. Slowly, the girl turned toward him, looked him straight in the face, and spoke.


“I am woman. You are man. I want you.”

“Tess,” she stated again.

Stunned by her statement, Steve replied, “what?” Reaching down with crossed arms, she began to pull her t-shirt up from her body. Steve could see instantly that she wasn’t wearing anything but the t-shirt and reached out to pull it back down.

“OK, Tess, I’ve got a lot of questions.”

“Whoa, whoa. What are you doing?”

“Tess?” responded Steve.

“No, Tess,” she answered. Somewhat perplexed now, Steve stopped to catch his breath. “Look, if it’s alright with you, we can go back to my cabin and figure this out, OK?”

In the excitement of the moment, Steve had taken his foot off the brake and the truck was starting to slowly move down the road. Fortunately, the road had been built with a rumble strip and as soon as the tire hit it, Steve looked back and quickly corrected the truck’s path. Stepping on the brake, he then put the truck into park and turned back to address his passenger. His mouth flew open but no words came out. She was sitting there totally naked. But, she wasn’t exactly what he expected, not that he ever expected to find a naked woman in his truck at all but this one was totally different.

Nodding in approval, she repeated, “Tess.”

“I want you,” she repeated as she reached out to him.

“Yes,” was her only response.

“Hang on there little girl,” exclaimed Steve as he tried to gather his senses and figure out what was going on. She was undeniably beautiful. About 5’ 8” tall, blond hair and blue eyes, eyes that seemed to bore right into your soul. But other than that, featureless! A living, breathing Barbie doll. At least that was Steve’s first thoughts. She had human proportions and was modeled after a female, but she lacked certain “physical features”. There were bumps on her chest where she would normally have breasts, but that was all. She did not have a belly button and when she turned directly toward Steve, he could see she was featureless from the waist down, at least as far as being a female was concerned. Taking a deep breath, Steve began to ponder what he had walked, actually driven, into. Was this a joke? Was he dreaming? Is this a hallucination due to caffeine withdrawal? What was going on?

Exiting the truck, Steve rounded the vehicle to open the passenger side door, his mind working feverishly to try to understand what was happening. Reaching out to take her hand, she followed his lead like a ballroom dancer and moved toward the cabin. Still naked, she appeared unperturbed by the weather, her skin showing no indication that she was affected by the cold. Unlocking the door, they entered, and Steve directed her to sit on the couch. As soon as he sat down across from her, she once again stated, “I want you.”

“Do you have a name?” was the only thing he could think of. Staring back at him with those hypnotic eyes she said,

Slowly shaking his head and not comprehending the “Tess” part, Steve put the truck back in gear, slowly reversed his course, and headed back to the cabin. He was slightly amused as his only thought was, “I still don’t have any coffee!” Pulling back into the driveway, Steve stopped the truck, shut off the engine, and turned to Tess. “Do you want to come inside?”

With a giant sigh, Steve began his analysis of the situation. “OK, one thing at a time. First of all, there is no way we can do anything so this “I want you” can’t work.” Before he could get another word out Tess responded, “But, I am woman, and you are man, so I want you.” With a slight guffaw, Steve leaned in to make sure she was paying attention. “OK, let’s address that, so we can get it out of the way. First of all, you are built to look like a woman and a very beautiful one at that, by Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| SHORT STORY | the way. I don’t know if it’s a genetic defect or what, but there’s no way you can ever, uh, have a man.” “But, I am woman!” “Well, no, you’re not. You’re, uh, missing a few critical components.” Cocking her head to the side, she responded, “What am I missing?” Steve was starting to realize that the more he spoke with her, the better her ability to respond back to him became. It was like she was learning “how” to communicate in real-time and was doing so at an amazing rate. Now totally intrigued, he decided to take a very direct approach. Standing up, he moved to his desk, opened the bottom right drawer, and rummaged through some papers before pulling out an old Playboy magazine. He had kept this one because it contained an interview he had done many years ago when his first novel made the bestseller list. Skipping to the middle of the magazine, he unfolded the center section and turned the photo toward Tess. “While this may not be the average female, it does show the features all human females possess and I think you will be able to quickly see you’re missing a few.” Tess took the magazine and scanned it in detail from the top of the playmate’s head down to her toes. Once complete, she handed it back to Steve. With downcast eyes, she responded to Steve. “It appears you are correct. They were not complete in their design and now I must leave.” Standing, Tess turned to head for the front door. Steve immediately jumped up and blocked her path. “Wait, wait,” he stated. “I’ve got a million questions and exactly where would you go?” Opening her mouth to respond, Tess hesitated then answered him, “I do not know.” “OK then, you stay here until we figure something out?” Slowly, a smile lit up Tess’s face. “Yes, I will stay here,” was what Steve heard but under 100 | UncagedBooks.com

her breath, she added, “and not kill you; now.” Over the next few hours, the twenty questions turned into hundreds. Most came back with the same consistent response. “I do not know.” Where did you come from? Who put you here? Are you actually a human or a machine, an android? Or some other combination? Can you communicate with whoever put you here? Etc., Etc. As they talked, Tess moved around the room looking at the few items Steve had used to decorate the cabin. As she was leaning over to get a better look at some of his items, Steve was just as amazed to see that Tess was just a blank on the backside as the front. Yes, she had nicely shaped buttocks, but that’s all, again Barbie in real life. But a Barbie that was walking and talking and possibly, a real danger to him and others. Maybe she was a machine. He had read about the robot generations being created in several world areas. A subset of this effort was for sex-bots but obviously, Tess wasn’t designed to fulfill that role. Maybe as a servant, but why the, “I want you?” Or there was a design error in the code that put the wrong programming into her. Maybe she was an alien vehicle designed to spy on humans, but then, why would they not have built her correctly. They certainly, based upon news reports, had been snatching people and doing extreme bodily exams on them. They should definitely know by now what a human looks like. The bodily design defects were the most significant issues, other defects, Steve could not phantom. What was she designed to accomplish and by whom? What would happen when she accomplished it? When he paused in his thoughts to try to analyze what he knew and what he should ask next, he realized his body was screaming for food. Not only had he missed breakfast and his coffee, but also lunch as it was now mid-afternoon, and he needed to eat something. “Tess, are you hungry?” “Hungry? No, I do not eat.” “Ever?” “No.” “How do you maintain your energy level? Humans have to consume food in order to keep their body functioning.

What keeps you functioning, Tess?”

| MICHAEL GILTNER | and while they existed, they were meaningless.”

“You keep saying ‘Tess’, that is not correct.”

“So, by having a name, they became meaningful?”

“What do you mean?”

“For lack of a better definition, yes.”

“My name is Tess and you keep saying it incorrectly.”

Looking around, Steve had forgotten the TV was on. He tended to leave it on when he was out thinking that should anyone approach the cabin, they would believe someone was home and move on. Listening to the “chatter” as he called it, he realized Tess was acquiring new phrases and words from the shows. Her responses to his questions were not just parroted phrases, but “conscious” constructs, having moved from 3-4 word responses to complete sentences, insightful sentences. This realization left him stunned. If she was this quick a learner, what next?

Quickly realizing they were going in a tight circle, Steve asked, “Can you write your name?” “Yes.” Steve grabbed a pen and paper and passed them to Tess. Seated at the desk, she moved the paper and slowly wrote in a style mimicking a first grader with a large crayon. T….E...S...T “Test,” exclaimed Steve as he looked over her shoulder. “Yes, that is correct. Did I say it wrong?” “Maybe I heard it wrong, but “Test” could raise a lot of questions. Can we stick with Tess?” Analyzing the question for a few seconds, she then responded, “Yes, Tess is good.” More questions thought Steve. “When you hesitated, were you communicating with someone? Why did you not answer immediately? Did you have to wait for an answer?” “Ha, ha. You are funny,” she replied, but it came out very flat without any real emotion. “As you have already determined, I am learning constantly. For some reason, my knowledge base was left as incomplete as my body.” With that said, she glanced down at herself and began to shiver. “Are you cold?” Steve quickly asked. “No. My body re-adjusts itself occasionally, and the reaction you saw occurs when that happens,” “What was re-adjusted?” “You caused the readjustment when you gave me a name. All my thoughts are now linked to that name, Tess. Thank you. Before those thoughts were not linked

The days were lengthening but still short as winter was not yet over. Steve generally started early; make a pot of coffee, write for a few hours, eat lunch, possibly nap, write some more, eat supper, edit his writing for the day, outline the direction for tomorrow’s writing and then go to bed. He seldom stayed up late but today he was afraid. No, not really afraid but concerned. If he went to bed, what would “she” do. He didn’t want her to leave. “Tess?” Hearing her new name, she turned away from the TV to look at Steve. “I have to go to bed and get some rest. Will you be here when I get up in the morning? I really would like for you to stay. There is a lot we can learn from each other and, well, I believe it would benefit both of us if you stay.” “Sure. There are a number of shows I want to watch and maybe tomorrow you can show me the internet. I should be able to learn a lot faster then.” “Damn,” thought Steve. “That’s going to be very tricky what with all the fake news and stories that are on the web plus if she finds the dark web, who knows what she will find. Ok. We’ll give that a try in the morning after, damn, I forgot, I need to get some coffee, but then we can do it.” With a brief smile, Tess turned back to the TV. The Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| SHORT STORY | volume was so low, Steve could barely hear it but it was obvious Tess could. He had managed to get her to wear at least a sweatshirt to cover up part of her body should anyone venture close to the cabin. A young, totally naked girl sitting in his cabin would raise a lot of questions regardless of her completeness! Venturing into the bedroom, Steve wasn’t sure he could sleep. Too many questions surrounded the very existence of someone, something, like Tess. Who had created her? Was she an earthly creation or of alien origin? Was she dangerous, and on and on and on? Eventually, his mind just quit and he fell asleep. When he began to gently snore, Tess walked into his room. Kneeling beside the bed, she stared at his face for a long time. As he began to breathe steadily but shallow, she gave him a brief smile and retreated back to the living room. ‘No, I definitely will not kill him,” she stated emphatically. Awaking early the following morning, Steve was not sure if everything that had just happened was just a dream or a figment of his highly imaginative writer’s mind. Did he really find, i.e., rescue some “alien” machine? It had to be a dream. Nothing like that was even remotely possible and especially not in this neck of the woods. He threw on his robe and headed downstairs. Thinking he must have left the TV on last night, he wandered into the living area. At first, startled and then slowly coming to his senses, he realized he had not been dreaming. Tess, perched in front of the TV, was real, well, as real as possible. She did exist regardless of what she was or where she came from. Clearing his throat, he spoke. “Good morning, Tess.” Turning slightly so she could see his face, she replied. “Good morning Steve. When can we talk about the internet? I’ve watched about as much of this as my processing powers can handle. Do people really like this? Most of it seems like it would be boring after a while!” “Well, since you’ve been watching for about 12 hours now, I do think you’ve seen the best parts and yes, it does get boring. Did you find anything interesting?” “Pocket fisherman, $9.95 plus shipping. Everyone wants one! Do you have one?” “Uh, no, but I have seen one and regardless of what they show you on TV, it’s kind of useless for fishing. Maybe for a kid but not for anyone that wants to actu102 | UncagedBooks.com

ally fish. Why, do you want one?” Ignoring his question, Tess asked a different question. “How about the military 1,000-lumen flashlight or the Magic Ear?” “Well, based upon what I’ve observed, you definitely don’t need the Magic Ear. I believe the Dollar Store in town has an area with a number of those ‘Seen on TV’ products. We can go look at them if you want to see some of them but first, I still need coffee. Do you want to go with me or just stay here until I get back?” Turning back to the TV screen, Tess replied, “I’ll just stay here. The more interesting programs are just starting.” “I’ll stop by Walmart and get you some clothes while I’m at it. You have any idea what size you wear?” Again, turning back to Steve, Tess thought for a minute and then rattled off a few sizes for tops, pants, and shoes. “Uh, OK but how did you arrive at those sizes?” asked Steve. Cocking her head to one side, Tess replied, “I don’t know. They just seemed to be part of my knowledge. I don’t know why I would know, but it seems correct. Is that a problem?” Shaking his head in bewilderment, Steve just stated back to her, “well, if it doesn’t bother you, then I guess it shouldn’t bother me. We’ll go with those sizes and see if they ring true.” Later as Steve sat at the cafe and cradled the hot coffee, he thought to himself as he blew across the top of the cup to cool it, “what have I gotten myself into? I have no idea what she is, where she came from, or what her purpose might be. I guess I could call the authorities but who knows what problems that might cause. If she feels threatened, she could be extremely dangerous and I could be in danger myself. As they say, let’s just let sleeping dogs lie for now. We can always take a new course of action if it proves necessary. I can always say my ‘niece’ is visiting, but most would be surprised to see her wandering around without any clothes, so I better hit the store; coffee and clothes. A great combination for a shopping list!”

Tess had been exceedingly accurate in estimating her clothes size and Steve had been somewhat savvy in selecting articles that a girl her age might wear. Several tops, none low cut, of course, pants, and socks. He also selected both tennis shoes and hiking boots and a jacket since it would raise questions if she were outside without adequate clothing. He was a little bumfuzzled when he walked past the undergarment aisle as he wasn’t sure if he should purchase any or not. She obviously didn’t need any but then again she might want some to fit in and speaking about fit, what about a bra. After a few moments, he decided he would let Tess make that decision later. With his new purchases in hand and his coffee, finally, Steve headed back to the truck and home with totally mixed emotions. She was a child in so many ways but learning faster than any human. She was also a woman, so to speak, but lacking certain “components” in her design. Thousands of thoughts passed through his mind until he realized he was back at the cabin. Somewhat chagrined, he realized he hadn’t paid attention to any of his driving and was glad the police weren’t out this early. He would have to be more diligent as he didn’t want to draw any attention at this point. Steve was just as surprised at Tess’s reaction to the new clothes. Her eyes went wide with excitement as she felt the material and then tried them on right in front of Steve. “We’ll talk about that later,” thought Steve. “Wow!” exclaimed Tess. “These are great and just my size. Thank you.” Turning quickly, she rushed Steve, and before he could react, gave him the strongest bear hug he had ever received, so much so it slightly took his breath away. Once he caught his breath, Steve responded, “glad you like them.” As Tess slowly pulled away, Steve glanced down at her hands. “Strange,” he stated. “They didn’t give you any fingerprints either. Your fingers are smooth just like the rest of your body. I’m very surprised at what they didn’t give you since they, or whoever would want you to fit-in for the majority of the situations.” Looking down, Tess also realized for the first time that true, no fingerprints and no palm prints either. She turned Steves’ palms over and looked at his. “Yes, it appears they were deficient in many areas. Is that a problem?”

| MICHAEL GILTNER | After a second of thought, Steve responded. “Only with the authorities. With others, you can just say it’s a genetic trait of your family. No one in your family ever had them and it has been passed down to certain family members and you happened to have the gene that caused this abnormality. That should provide an answer for most people.” Satisfied with the answer, Tess turned to another subject. “Can you show me the internet?” With major concern building around his response, Steve looked directly at her and said, “Yes, but there are a number of issues I have that could impact both of us. Unfortunately, I am not extremely efficient in using the internet. I generally only do some research and use email to connect with my publisher. I know there are numerous sites that can cause problems, some legal, some not. There is also the “dark web” where most of the traffic concerns illegal situations but I’ve never searched for it nor tried to connect to it. So, I will show you the internet, but you need to proceed with caution since neither of us is proficient with everything out there. I can’t tell you what to look out for other than never offer any personal information, but then, you don’t have any. I’ll show you what I know and then please ask me if you find something you don’t understand, alright?” With a somewhat quizzical look on her face, Tess just stood there, then shuttered and replied, “yes.” “A new realization?” asked Steve. “Yes, and it gave me some feedback that going on the internet would be extensively useful. Thank you.” And with that response, Steve showed Tess all that he knew about using the internet, gave her a logon id and password. From that point on she was totally engrossed. Within a day she was proficient in its use, having learned touch typing in about 20 minutes. By the next day, she had started and completed several programming courses and was writing code. When asked what the code would do, she replied, “some sites are more difficult to access, so I needed to set up special permissions to get there.” Looking up from the screen, she added, “it will also Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| SHORT STORY | protect and shield you as I am now an anonymous entity. They can not backtrack my access to this computer or to you. With hops, I’m over 100 jumps away from here. I only hacked into systems to see their data and did not change anything. I have no use for the data other than to read it.” Since this was way beyond Steve’s understanding of what was actually going on, he just stood there marveling at the knowledge she had picked up in such a short time. Over the next several weeks Tess was on the internet 24/7. In a few days, Tess became proficient in several languages: Spanish, French, German, and Greek. Not only could she speak the languages but also read and write in them. She did discover the dark web and when she did, her expression changed. If Steve could interpret it, it would have been showing a hint of anger. What did confuse Steve was when Tess left the house and built a striking area around a tree trunk. His confusion was resolved when he saw her practicing karate moves against the tree. The poor tree never had a chance! What also surprised him was how fast she was. Her moves became a blur at times as she sent combination after combination into the tree. “Well, shoot,” thought Steve. “I know where the next firewood is coming from. “ What Steve did not know was that Tess was also training herself to not kill on the first blow. She needed to understand what would harm, and what would do permanent damage. Very quickly, she reduced the force of her blows to a level that would induce major pain versus death. Increasing the force was easy, constraining it took more diligent training. After two days of intensive training, she stopped, stared at the tree, shuttered, and then turned back to the house. Tess spent the next couple of days reviewing more videos before she marched back out to the tree. Assuming she was going to practice her karate moves again, Steve wasn’t too concerned until he heard a loud “ka thunk” coming from the yard. Walking to the back window, he was surprised to see Tess throwing knives at the tree, the same poor tree as before. Looking at the ground around her, he saw that it wasn’t just knives. While she had gathered every knife in the house, including his hunting knife, she had also “borrowed” the scissors, his hatchet, and both his single and double104 | UncagedBooks.com

headed axes. As he watched, she would pick up an item, mentally weigh it and determine its balance point before gripping and then throwing it. She was also practicing from different distances, 10, 15, and then 20 feet. With each throw, she was becoming more precise. Unfortunately, the scissors were not made well and shattered when it hit the tree. She smiled when she realized that even in its destroyed state, she had still managed to penetrate several inches into the tree. Most humans aren’t as resilient as trees. Once she had consistently impaled the poor tree with every sharp instrument, except the kitchen sink, from a variety of distances, she stepped back and smiled again. She was ready. Just ahead on the side of the road was the “seediest” bar she could imagine within driving distance. It used to be a biker hangout but had gotten so bad; they had even moved on. There were a couple of older Harley’s parked among the beat-up and rusting pickups but the days of “biker” glory for this bar were long gone. It wasn’t even a country bar, just one on a back road that most people would want to avoid and not be seen in. “Perfect,” thought Tess as she pulled into the parking lot, gravel crunching under the tires as she reversed and parked with the front of the vehicle pointing outward. She anticipated the need for a quick retreat and wanted to have as much of an advantage as possible. Another piece of knowledge from the TV drama shows. Over the last few weeks, Tess had become immersed in “revenge” and “vigilante” movies. Steve’s movie bill was going to be very high this month as most were “pay per view” films. Since Tess didn’t need sleep, nor bathroom breaks, nor food or liquid, she could binge 24 hours straight. And, with the headsets Steve had purchased, there was no worry about the volume bothering him as he worked or slept. He had tried to tear her away several times but as soon as his back was turned, she quickly returned to the big screen. She was obsessed but also seeking understanding. Why would anyone put themselves in harm’s way for anyone they didn’t know? She thought she understood about war and some of the films implied the situation was similar; people were in harm’s way and it took a special person to save them. And, generally, it was a single person who took it upon themselves to correct the situation by inflicting some form of revenge for past grievances. She also felt that the only way to fully understand this act was to become a vigilante herself.

Monitoring the newspaper and police reports Tess learned there had been an increase in crimes against women in the area. The trail had, in general, led back to the bar she was staring at, but there wasn’t enough proof to arrest anyone or close the establishment. The community police force was also too small and too well-known to try to infiltrate the bar. Everyone knew everyone else in the area but Tess was definitely an unknown. Opening the door to the car she had ‘borrowed’ from Steve, she knew, should her action plan work, it wasn’t going to get back to him and would eventually be reported stolen. She didn’t want anyone coming around suspecting Steve had any involvement in what she was about to do or hoped to do. Opening the front door and stepping inside, all eyes turned toward her. While the sun was setting outside and the light was fading, it was still dimmer inside. A short time later as the sun set further, external lights would cast their glow on the front door and a few lights also targeted the entrance from the inside. Everyone wanted to know exactly ‘who’ was entering the establishment and if they needed to be ready to leave or fight. Glancing around, Tess moved to an open spot at the bar and looked at the bottles lined up on the rail along the back of the wall. A middle-aged man with a slight limp and a 2-day beard ambled over after a few minutes. “What’ll you have?” he asked. “The highest proof vodka you got, please,” was Tess’s response. With a slight nod, he turned and ambled over to a bottle of Balkan Vodka — 176 Proof. It had been an expensive present from the previous owner and due to the price, untouched by any of the regulars. Showing the bottle to Tess, he offered a little advice, “This is pretty potent. Sure you want it.” With just a quick glance, Tess replied, “Yes.” Without another word, the bartender pulled out a shot glass, checked to make sure it was clean, uncorked the bottle, and poured a healthy jigger. Taking a step back, he just stood there and watched as Tess first took a sip and then tossed the remaining fire down in one gulp. “Boy, that’s good stuff! I’ll have another please.”

| MICHAEL GILTNER | This exercise continued for three additional drinks. The barkeep would fill the glass; Tess would drink about half and then the other half and then ask for another. As she was finishing her fourth, a man approached from behind and sat beside her on her right. “That’s pretty potent stuff, little lady. You might want to slow down if you plan on walking out of here.” “OK,” Tess thought. “I’m hearing all the familiar lines that can lead to trouble so maybe this is the “wrong” place to be.” Realizing the full measure of both the comment that was made and her immediate analysis, a slight giggle escaped her. “Time to improve the act,” she thought. Her next words were spoken with a slight slur, and she intentionally began to waver on the stool. Turning to the man who had spoken, she responded, “maybe you’re right, but it’s really good!” Immediately, she caught out of the corner of her eye another man moving behind her. She also saw him make a move toward her shot glass and put a drop of clear liquid in her drink. Turning back quickly, she reached out and grabbed the man’s wrist with her right hand. “I saw what you did. What did you put in my drink?” “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about! There’s nothing in your drink. As a matter of fact, I was going to offer to buy you another one. We don’t get many women in here, and I was hoping that by buying you one, you’d stop by more often,” he stammered. “Really?” Tess replied, “Then I’ll tell you what. You drink this one and then you can buy me another one. That work for you?” Surprised by her response. He immediately became angry and tried to jerk away from her. “Let me go, you stupid b*tch,” he shouted. “Now that’s not very nice. So, drink up or else.” “F**k you,” he shouted. Tess immediately grabbed his elbow with her other hand and in a quick move, thrust his forearm against the bar rail. Her left hand forced the elbow under the Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| SHORT STORY | bar top and the right hand forced his arm over the top. A resounding ‘crack’ and then a scream echoed around the room as she broke his arm. Taking a quick look at his lower arm and hand now tilting at a 35-degree angle from the rest of his arm, his eyes bulged as he fainted and fell to the floor. “Damn! That wasn’t very nice,” responded the first man as Tess turned back to face him. As soon as he had heard the crack, he reached behind his back to pull out his hunting knife. Even before it was fully in view, Tess struck out with a knuckle-extended crushing blow to his larynx. The knife clattered to the bar top as he grasped his throat and just as quickly toppled backward off his stool. His throat crushed, he would slowly suffocate if he did not receive medical care soon. Realizing this was big trouble, the bartender reached under the counter and scrambled to pull out a shotgun. He was swinging it toward Tess when she reached up and grabbed the barrel. Pulling the gun toward her while pointing the barrel up, she was surprised when he pulled the trigger. While the blast merely opened a hole in the ceiling, the sound was enough to tell everyone else in the bar, time to leave. As the remaining patrons scrambled for the door, Tess pulled the gun toward her and then thrust it back into the barkeeper’s face, breaking his nose. The force of the blow also sent him reeling backward where he slammed into the wall. The impact was enough to send bottles sailing off the shelves, several of which hit him in the head opening up several cuts. As he slowly sank to the floor, Tess turned toward the door; time for her to leave as well. She quickly grabbed the bottle used to drug her drink and placed it in full view on the counter then headed for the front door. When Tess was a few feet from the door, a huge wall of a man stepped in front of her. “You’re not going anywhere,” he stated as he stood there with his arms crossed. Taking another step toward the door, Tess threw a hard right fist straight into his midsection. Combined with her concentrated body weight of 312 pounds, the punch was so strong it reached nearly to his backbone. His eyes bulged as all the air in his lungs erupted at once. Bending forward from the blow, Tess’s knee then caught him on the chin and sent his whole body flying out through the front door. Following the path created by his body, Tess headed for her car and just as quickly drove away. A few miles down the road she pulled over to give way to several police cars heading in the opposite direction. 106 | UncagedBooks.com

Gashton’s Ravine was just a few more miles up the highway. Pulling into the closed observation area, Tess put the car in neutral and then easily pushed it forward until it teetered on the edge and then toppled into the ravine. What she wasn’t expecting was the ensuing explosion when the car hit the bottom. As the flames reached up into the sky, Tess turned and headed down a path she had previously explored knowing it would eventually take her back to a location close to Steve’s house. Sensing she had possibly done a good deed and stopped a few bad guys, Tess felt a sense of accomplishment. She also felt she had learned an extremely valuable lesson. Being a vigilante isn’t as easy as depicted on TV and now she only hoped she wouldn’t get caught. Maybe the fire was a good thing. She had taken off the wig and her fake glasses and left them in the car. The fire looked hot enough to eliminate them and leave little trace. Now to get Steve a new car.

End, Part 1

© Copyright 2021 Michael E. Giltner All rights reserved. Published with permission.

feature authors

thriller | historical romance

Lauri Schoenfeld

Avery Maitland

Elise Marion



auri Schoenfeld currently resides in Utah with her hubby, three kids, and dog Jack Wyatt Wolverine. She’s an advocate for scoliosis and child abuse awareness, a Nancy Drew enthusiast, and a cyborg. Teaching creative writing classes and workshops is one of her favorite things to do. When she’s not having long conversations with her characters and creating stories, Lauri’s hosting The Enlightenment Podcast, reading, playing the piano, or solving a mystery. She’s the owner of Inner Enlightenment, a business built around connecting to your inner child within through stillness, play, and self| UncagedBooks.com 110

expression. Her goal and focus are to turn a negative experience into something positive by changing the toxic cycles and creating a new chapter with unconditional love and healing for generations to come.

Stay Co n n e c te d

One night, I woke myself out of sleep knowing what needed to happen in this scene, and I didn’t like it at all because I knew Adaline would hurt. I did cry writing that whole scene. The easiest scene would be writing about Adaline’s antique store and adding sensory details about her favorite items. I had a lot of fun with those scenes. I also really loved writing the scenes with memories about Adaline’s two little girls. Are you attending any in-person book signings or conventions this year?

Uncaged welcomes Lauri Schoenfeld Welcome to Uncaged! You are releasing your debut novel, Little Owl on August 31. Can you tell readers more about this book? Thank you! I’m thrilled to be here. Little Owl is about an unstable woman trying to find a sense of safety and certainty in her life but feels trapped to know how to do this. When her two little girls are taken from her front yard and pronounced dead, it propels her to find answers, and she goes on a hunt to unravel all the missing pieces and people from her past. There she finds the secrets and lies she told herself and the ones that others have led her to believe about her life. Adaline has to dig deep into her childhood trauma to understand what happened to her girls and see if she can trust anyone, including herself. What was the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? The whole book was an emotional rollercoaster. I started off feeling that deep fear of losing your child and wrote with heightened emotions as if my kids were the ones being taken. That feeling was essential to creating the pacing and tension that needed to be in the story, but man, I had to step away sometimes as it felt so close to the surface. There was one particular scene that I’m not going to spoil, but I had a very specific thing in mind for the direction Adaline was going to go. A safe path. The story was at a halt and not flowing.

Yes. I’ll be holding an in-person book signing on September 4th at Printed Garden in Sandy, Utah. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? When I was fourteen, I died for five minutes from a drug overdose. To this day, I don’t like taking medication or going to the hospital, and death scares me. Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? For me, it always starts with the characters and then I start asking questions about who they are and why their story needs to be told. From there, the plot begins to unfold. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love watching the sunset with my dog, lighting candles and listening to music, playing the piano, doing a wordsearch or reading. Often, I have a candle lit while I’m doing all of these things. I love the feeling of a lit candle in my space. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? Fall. Absolutely fall. In Utah, the leaves change to vibrant colors, and it cools down to the perfect Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |



112 | UncagedBooks.com

| LAURI SCHOENFELD | sweater weather. I love the feeling of getting all cozied up in warm socks, sweaters, and blankets. Sunflowers and crows are everywhere, and the smells of earth and cinnamon are some of my favorites scents around that time. Halloween is also right around the corner, so I get giddy about that too. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? Wow. I love that question. I once heard someone say that writing has its seasons. I was not too fond of that at the time as I wanted to be writing all the time. But, over the years, I have realized this to be very true. Some days I can write for hours, and things flow through me so naturally, like breathing. Other days, my heart needs time to process, listen, and step away to understand and explore myself and my characters. At those times, I like to say we’re in the investigation stage :) Writing a novel typical is three to six months for me now, not including editing revisions. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? Physical books. I love the smell, sound, and feeling of holding a book in my hands. Yes! I’m reading Pretty/ Ugly by Jennifer Anne Gordon. This is my second time reading it! What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’d say to keep following your dreams and listening to your heart. Life begins when you take a shot on yourself and try the thing that scares you the most. They can follow me on Facebook or Instagram at Lauri Schoenfeld.

Enjoy an excerpt from Little Owl Little Owl Lauri Schoenfeld Psychological Thriller Adaline Rushner is a woman in pieces. Her daughters have gone missing, and although the authorities seem to have found their bodies, something still isn’t right. Her husband, Cache, can’t bear the pain and wants to move on, but Adaline can’t shake the feeling they’re still alive. She even starts seeing them in the house, though Cache does not. Adaline wonders whether this current tragedy has something to do with the misfortune and painful experiences she suffered in her own childhood, but her memories have gaps in them that she can’t quite close on her own. After Adaline and Cache move to Salt Lake City, everything gets even stranger. Local cop Officer Abbott thinks Adaline’s distinctive owl necklace may somehow link to his own missing daughter. Adaline’s neighbor Maggie offers assistance and comfort, but Adaline suspects her of hiding other truths from her. Adaline tries to prepare for her girls’ eventual return while investigating her own past forgotten traumas, but a threatening message urges her to let the past stay forgotten. Can Adaline find the truth and save her marriage to Cache, or will the tangled web of memories from her past keep her from moving on? Excerpt ONE Owling, Utah Monday, October 18th 8:15 a.m. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | Adaline poured herself a cup of coffee and rubbed her eyes. Continual nights of sleeplessness wouldn’t be sustainable. She knew that. She wanted to crawl back in bed and not get up for a while. If it weren’t for the girls, she’d be there now. For days. Weeks. Who knew—it all blended together. Her daughter, Leora, had been having reoccurring night terrors and claimed someone was watching their house. Adaline pretended not to show her discomfort, or to mention she felt this all the time. Her insomnia came from the fear that childhood monsters had never left. They weren’t the kind of monsters with snarling teeth or claws that pull out your eyes, but people. They wore a skin and looked pleasant, but evil lurked inside, underneath their sinister and perfect smiles. The ones that brought her back to her childhood home. When they had hovered over her, she’d wished to be taken away or put out of her misery. No one came back then. They were dead. Adaline knew they were, but fear of their arrival sat on her chest in the form of anxiety. Adaline took a deep breath and placed two heartshaped plates on the wooden table. She glanced out the window. The newly carved pumpkins sitting on the porch were invaded by specks of white. Dammit. The snow was not in the plans for her daughter’s Halloween-themed eighth-birthday bash, happening in only a few days. She didn’t want to come up with another new idea. “Good morning, beautiful.” Adaline jumped, spilling some of her coffee on the freshly painted yellow counter—a side perk of last week’s insomnia binge created while the world slept. Yellow should invigorate joy. She hoped the joy would rub off. “Morning.” She 114 | UncagedBooks.com

turned around and smiled at her husband, Cache. Cache had this smirk he’d give her that was a perfect blend of mischievous and playful. She adored it. Adaline also loved his short, curly, brown hair. Running her fingers through it gave her a sense of calm and joy. The curly strands bounced back like a slinky. He leaned in to hug her. She embraced him, fighting the urge to play with his now smooth and groomed hair. Cache didn’t like his hair messed up before work. Stepping back, he peered at her. “You didn’t sleep again last night. Are you taking your pills?” She hated those damn pills. They made her feel worse than she felt without them. That’s saying something. In the past, Adaline only took them occasionally to stop being asked if she took her pills, until a few months ago when she got worse and her depression escalated. They didn’t work. “Nope.” She turned to drink her coffee. “Why? They’re supposed to be helping you.” Adaline stood in silence, staring at her coffee and watching it spiral from her sip. “They don’t work.” She glanced back at him. He scratched his head. “You haven’t tried it long enough, honey. You need to stick with it.” The handle on the mug in her hand grounded her. She clung to it, placing all her emotions inside. Adaline was so tired of being told by other people how to feel. That she somehow didn’t know her own body, heart, and mind. How the hell would they know? Cache wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her from behind. “I just want the best for you.” Adaline didn’t say anything. Nothing nice would come out of it. She continued to grip her mug and stared out the window. Whimpering and tugging on her robe drew her attention. She peered down at two brown eyes and a pouty nose. “Hi, puppy.” Her fiveyear-old daughter, Eliza, loved pretending to be a dog. Adaline diverted out of Cache’s hold and placed her coffee on the counter. “What’s the matter?” Eliza whimpered again. “I can get you my step stool,

| LAURI SCHOENFELD | Mama.” She wobbled around the kitchen, half-human and halfdog, and lugged the stool toward Adaline. “Here you go. This will help you reach daddy.” Adaline bent down. “Thank you, my star. That will be helpful, indeed.” Eliza smiled, then paused. “What is it?” “I don’t think the bad dream spray is working for sissy,” she said. “Moving is scary.” Adaline didn’t blame her for being resistant to change. When they went down to Salt Lake City a few months ago, everything came together so quickly. Cache got a new job opportunity at a business firm, and they found a nearby cottage home with a big backyard with lots of room for all their needs and more. Their neighbor, Ms. Dunbar, owned an antique store in Salt Lake City called Lost Treasures. The previous manager left, and she asked if Adaline would like to be the new manager. Adaline loved the idea of being surrounded by beautiful items needing a home. She understood and related to it. Now, with all the change coming in a few weeks, uncertainty and fear begged her not to leave. To take it all back. Nothing happy happened without a price. She learned that long ago and worried safety and happiness was too good to be true. Adaline brushed Eliza’s forehead, and a brown ringlet bounced in place. “I will talk to your sister, and we’ll figure it out. Pinky promise.” She put her finger out, and Eliza latched on to it with her own little one. Eliza seemed satisfied as she bobbed into her chair. “You kissed my sandwich, mama. I love it.” She began eating her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, complete with one bite already taken. She liked to call it a “kiss.” One only her mom could give. “What time is it?” Leora came around the corner of the hall, rubbing her eyes. She yawned. Her long blonde hair was tangled in a circular web across her scalp. Cache trotted toward her and picked her up in his arms. “It’s time to get up, sleeping beauty, and help

your mom go party shopping. Someone’s having a birthday.” “Daddy, put me down.” “Not until you tell me who’s birthday it could be,” Cache said. Leora wiggled around. “Okay. Okay. It’s my birthday.” Adaline gazed at Leora’s swollen eyes and pale skin. Sleeplessness was taking a toll on her too. So many nights, Leora would make her way out of bed, screaming and crying, and stare out the bedroom window. Adaline caressed Leora’s cheek with her fingertip. “Do you want to talk?” She tilted her head. “Someone’s watching you, mom.” One of the only techniques that calmed her racing heart, even for a moment, was counting, so she closed her eyes and counted in her head. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five. She knelt and brought Leora inward, hugging her. “No one gets to take me away from my sunshine. I’ll stay with you and keep an eye out tonight.” She smiled. “Okay. You’ll stay with me?” “Yes. You, my sunshine, have me forever and ever. And you have that amazing dad of yours too.” Cache pointed to himself, making a statement of agreement. “No one is watching you or your mom. Your imagination is just going wild and telling you things that aren’t happening.” Adaline picked up the turquoise pillow on the couch and choked it a few times. “It’s real to her, Cache.” “Of course it is. But there’s nothing to be afraid of.” How many times had she heard that growing up? How many times had people told her she was lying about the abuse happening in her house? Her imIssue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | agination has gone wild, they’d say. Her parents were well-known and good people. To fuck, they were. Let’s keep pretending there aren’t horrible people in the world or fear isn’t something everyone goes through. Adaline tapped on Leora’s nose. “Why don’t you hurry and eat, and then you girls can go outside and play for a bit while I get dressed.”

“Love you back,” Eliza said it like a wind chime dancing in the air. Adaline planted her hand on Leora and rubbed her back. “I believe you. It’s okay to be afraid.” “I’m okay, Mama,” she said. “Just tired.”

Eliza grinned. “There’s snow. Daddy, can you stay and play with us?”

“If you see anything strange, scream. I’ll come right out,” Adaline said.

“I would love to, but I have a meeting,” he said. “Raincheck?”

Leora looked up and nodded. “Make sure to stay—”

She pouted. “Okay, next time.” He kissed the girls on the head. “I love you. Enjoy the snow and spending time with your mama. Lucky ducks.” “Bye, Daddy,” they sang in unison.

“In the yard.” Eliza threw her hands in the air. “We know it. You tell us a thousand times.”

Adaline fluffed the pillow before putting it back on the couch. “Don’t forget to pick up that ‘thing’ this morning.” “Will do. Take your meds. They’ll help.” He brought Adaline in for another kiss before he opened the garage and stepped out. Adaline pulled out her phone and glanced at the long list of errands and chores for the day. Ugh. She often wished a magical fairy would make the long list of things disappear with a wave of her wand, and she could spend the day playing with the girls. Party shopping was a priority—if Leora still wanted a birthday bash. Adaline peered up from her phone to see the girls no longer at the table but getting their boots on. “Where do you both think you’re going?” “Mama, you said if we ate, we could go see the snow,” Eliza said. Adaline looked at the time on her phone and cleared her throat. “I did, didn’t I?” They both smiled and rushed to hug her. “Get your coats and gloves on and stay in the front yard,” she said. “Love you.” 116 | UncagedBooks.com

“Well, now a thousand and one times,” Adaline said, holding up her phone. “Wait a moment. I want to take a picture.” Eliza smiled on command and Leora rolled her eyes. They both leaned into each other and Adaline snapped the picture. “Beautiful.” Nodding, they both waltzed out the door to grab the snowflakes. Adaline smiled and paused, taking in their laughter. There was nothing better than giggling and hearing their joy over the small yet beautiful things, like snow—a reminder of why she didn’t stay in bed. She walked to her bedroom and put her phone on the nightstand to charge. The battery was low. Adaline let her robe fall to the floor, took out a long-sleeved tshirt and black leggings from her top drawer, and got dressed. Opening the bottom drawer, all nine pairs of her forest green fuzzy socks welcomed her. She grabbed a pair, put them on, and went to the closet to find a hat. Errand day equaled hat day. Sitting on the bed, Adaline thought about how to support herself and Leora in sleeping better. So many sleepless nights. Nothing seemed to help either one of them. What am I doing wrong?

| LAURI SCHOENFELD | Adaline stood from the bed and went into the kitchen, peering out the window. She couldn’t hear the girls’ highpitched squeals or giggles of delight that she always heard when they played outside. Lifting the blinds, she glanced left and right. Nothing. I’m sure they’re all right. No sound. Her heart picked up pace, and her feet moved under her before she knew she had left the kitchen. The fast motion made her shaky knees feel as if they were in control. She took a deep breath, but her chest clenched harder. Adaline yanked her coat off the hanger in the hall closet and slammed the door. “Leora. Eliza? Are you okay?” She yelled louder as she stepped down the front porch. The snow fell quickly, and the tire swing rocked back and forth, but there was no sign of wind. Left. Right. Left. “Girls, I don’t want to play games right now. Come out.” No movement or sound answered her. Adaline ran to the shed as her body shook. The girls loved to play doctor in there where they’d take care of all their pretend farm animals. Keep it together. Don’t freeze. Keep it together. The air in her lungs grew shallower and she tightened her grip on her coat pocket. One . . . two . . . three . . . breathe. She opened the shed. It smelled like old, wet wood, mold, and leather. There wasn’t a place in there the girls could hide and not be seen. She gasped. No. Please, God. No. Don’t do this to me.

felt slower. It was taking too long. Was she running or not moving at all? Her head spun, and she focused on only one thing, the front door. She gripped the doorknob, threw the door open, and rushed inside. She bent down to look under the couch and leaped back up, after only seeing dust bunnies mock her. Adaline pushed the couch, and the lamp on the side table crashed to the ground. Gripping her hair, she counted. She kept counting as she moved to the girls’ bedroom. Her heart skipped, seeing their door wide open. They’re just sitting on their bed—nothing to worry about. Butterflies and rainbows flew across the ceiling, saying hello in place of her girls. The room held scattered toys and remnants of playtime, and their beds nurtured stuffed animals, but not them. She covered her mouth. “No. This can’t be happening. NO.” Adaline clung to her stomach and tried to stop herself from hurling up the coffee she just had. Her arms shook, and her legs wobbled. Every nerve in her body felt like needles pushing through her skin over and over. She reached for her heart and patted it to remind it to beat. Adaline raced from their room and opened the front door. They must be out here somewhere. Don’t freeze. Focus. She ran down the steps. She slipped on the sidewalk and watched the sky move above her right before she heard a crack in her eardrums. Her eyes begin to shut without her consent. NO. Leora. Eliza. Mommy’s coming.

Tears poured down her cheeks. Her pulse thrashed, and her legs moved, but her body Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |




Canadian living abroad in the wilds of New Zealand’s South Island, Avery Maitland is a prolific author who writes in several different genres, but she keeps coming back to history. She firmly believes that there is a heartthrob to be found in every history book, and she’s determined to find the perfect one–no matter how many books (or eras) it takes. Join Avery for thrilling adventures with strong heroines and heroes worth swooning for. 120 | UncagedBooks.com

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averymaitland.com Uncaged welcomes Avery Maitland Welcome to Uncaged! Your newest book, Lessons in Spectacle will release September 21, and is the second book in the Her Majesty’s Matchmaker series. Can you tell readers more about this book and the series? I’m so excited to share this series with readers! Set against the backdrop of Queen Charlotte’s court, Her Majesty’s Matchmaker is a series of interconnected standalone novels about different couples on the (sometimes rocky) road to love. Constance Blackwood is the connection between each novel and couple and it is her interference which drives the couples together. Her efforts are, of course, purely selfish—if she fails to amuse her royal mistress with her matchmaking efforts, her position at court will be lost and with it any hope of advancement for herself and her twin brother who is struggling with his newly acquired title. In Lessons in Spectacle, the love connection is entirely accidental. It is also full of danger, which I hadn’t anticipated before I started writing. The main characters in this story are also different for me as they are an unlikely match between a brawler and a shy young woman hiding from her true identity. I’m afraid to say much more for fear of spoiling some of the twists and turns that are lying in wait for readers. But, I will say that these characters surprised me, and that doesn’t happen very often. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?

I don’t usually struggle with any particular scene—I feel as though I’m a bit of an oddity in that I have to be able to “see” the action happening in my head like a movie before I can even attempt to write it. If I can’t see it, I can’t write it. Which sometimes leaves me hanging for days while I try to visualize what’s happening. So, if anything, I’d say beginnings are the most difficult. The scenes I enjoy writing most are always action based. Fight scenes, intense action, and arguments. I love writing arguments. Are you attending any in-person book signings or conventions this year? Sadly, I haven’t been able to arrange anything for myself this year. I’m also located in New Zealand, which makes such things a little more complicated. I dearly love conventions, and have never attended as an author. So, hopefully I’ll be able to do so in the near future. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? Before I became a writer, I was a makeup artist. I worked backstage at fashion shows and on photoshoots, and had my work published in several high profile magazines. I specialized in avant garde and high fashion makeup, and taught classes at a makeup school in my home city of Vancouver. Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? I always begin with a “plot bunny” – an idea that I can’t get out of my head, whether it’s a piece of conversation, or an interaction that I can’t wait to get down on paper. However, best laid plans Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


usually go awry, and sometimes the characters have been waiting to tell their story and the plot gets a bit “flexible” while I write. Flexible is a nice word for it. Sometimes the characters just take over and tell me their secrets as they go, which can be thrilling and irritating at the same time.

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What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I feel like I’m always working. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. However, my husband and I love to go on long drives, and I’m always keen for a trip to the movies. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why?

Autumn forever. Crisp days, clear nights, a crackling fire. I want it all the time. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I try not to think about how many hours I spend writing. I have a wordcount goal for the day and when I hit that goal, I can take a break or stop depending on how I’m feeling. It can take two hours, or all day. I’m very prolific, so (depending on the length and how good I am at sticking to my wordcount goals) a novel will usually take me 4-6 weeks to complete with a few smaller side projects happening along the way. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I love physical books, but ebooks are great when you’re traveling or on the go. I’ve been reading more on my phone lately and serial fiction on a few apps have me hooked. I try not to read when I’m in the middle of writing, but I spend a lot of money on research books so it doesn’t really count when I’m planning for a new series. Right now I have two on the go! Roman military history (to augment what I already know from my Classics degree), and a collection of the greatest archaeological finds in Egypt complete with blueprints and sketches from the excavators. Can you guess what I’ll be writing next? What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’m always thrilled that people are reading what I’ve written, so, thank you for taking a chance on my books and characters. I truly hope that you find something different in my books that will keep you coming back for more.


Enjoy an excerpt from Lessons in Scandal Lessons in Scandal Avery Maitland Historical Regency Releases Sept. 21 Could a match between mortal enemies heal a feud that has burned for generations? Or will tragedy be the only outcome. “Dearest Diary, there is something magical about the Colonies… the mere mention of them is enough to send all the world into a tizzy. A banished lord has traveled across the Atlantic, and there are whispers everywhere, but I will tell only you my secrets.” With her delicate arrangements proving to be popular with her changeable mistress, Constance Blackwood must tread carefully to be sure that she is not discovered. The Queen demands nothing more than the finest for her entertainments. Scandal. Spectacle. Ruin. A spy in the bedchamber’s of London’s elite, Constance must provide her royal mistress with gossip and amusement, or risk losing her own place in court and face the ruin of her family and reputation. Thankfully, Constance is able to pull some inspiration from Shakespeare himself to bring an ancient family grudge to the forefront of court gossip. But will she be able to set right what has been put in motion? And will she be able to survive this Lesson in Spectacle?

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | Lord Anworth’s sons are as unruly as they are handsome, but James Anworth, the youngest of the three, has proven the most troublesome. After a chance meeting on a rainy London night, James discovers that he has fallen head over heels in love with a young woman who is also a stranger to the city. But Miss Portia Godfrey has arrived in London under a false name, and the secrets she wishes to distance herself from could leave more than a broken heart in its wake. Simmering anger over an almost-forgotten feud between two noble families will lead a pair of star-crossed lovers across the Atlantic to New York, and will put Constance’s own life in danger as she is unwittingly pulled into their plans. Will Constance be able to salvage this tragedy in the making? Excerpt Chapter One James Anworth New York A fist grazed his ear, and James reared back to block the blow that he knew was coming. The other man puffed and blew like a bull, and he telegraphed his moves so clearly that he might as well have shouted out his next attack. “Hold still, ya red bastard,” the man growled as James ducked another punch. “Hit him, James! Damn it, man, stop dancing around and hit him!” On the sidelines of the fight, his elder brother wiped at the blood from his broken nose and spat on the straw-covered floor. This was all Edward’s fault. Why was it always his job to step in? Shouts and raucous cheers filled the air, and the click of coins suggested that there was more at stake in this fight than the honor of the Anworth name. These men would bet on anything. 124 | UncagedBooks.com

“You scared to hit me, boy?” James glared at the man. He was taller and thicker than the last one he’d fought. With broad shoulders and cattleman’s hands, this brute was a brawler who could take a punch, and he had the scars to prove it. James’s jaw still stung from the glancing blow the man had landed at the start of the fight. But that had been a lucky hit, and James wasn’t distracted now. The faint hope he’d held out that the quarrel could be resolved quickly and quietly had been dashed as soon as the card table had flipped. Betting chips and coins slid under his feet as James circled his opponent. Sweat trickled down his neck and itched in the collar of his shirt. “Maybe he didn’t hear ya,” someone yelled. Rough laughter accompanied those words, and James tightened his fists. The big man’s expression darkened. James’s avoidance and deflection of his attacks was only making him angrier. Good. Anger made men sloppy “Come on, James!” Behind him, his elder brothers jostled against the men who held them back. This was not a sanctioned fight, but there was betting going on, and there was no way for them to intervene unless they wanted the situation to escalate even further. Not that it mattered. As soon as word of the brawl reached their father— “Look out!” But James moved too late, and his opponent’s elbow crashed against James’s head. He stumbled, stunned by the blow, and before he could veer out of the way, the man grabbed hold of his fine shirt, pulled him forward, and drove his knee up into James’s groin. His breath rushed out of his lungs, and James let out a grunt of surprised pain at the same moment his brothers groaned loudly behind him. James’s knees struck the hard wooden floor as he fell,

| AVERY MAITLAND | and his shoulder knocked against a table, sending it skidding away from the fight. “Pull it together, man!” Joshua’s voice cut through the fog in James’s mind. He pulled his elbow up just in time to stop his opponent’s boot from smashing into his ribs. But instead of pushing the blow away, he grabbed on to the man’s leg and held it tightly. “What’re you doing?” the man choked out. James spat on the floor and grinned up at the big man while his brothers roared their approval in the background. “What’s the matter?” James asked. “Balance a little off?” This was the kind of fight James liked. An unfair one. There was nothing better than taking down a bigger man who had underestimated his size and his youth. He tightened his grip on the man’s boot and rose up to standing. The big man let out a yelp and hopped to keep up with James’s motions. “Shall I take him for a walk?” James called out. “Perhaps a turn about the park,” Edward shouted. James grinned, but his smile tasted bitter. It was Edward’s fault that he was in this predicament. But he’d remind his brother of that little detail after the fight was won. Which wouldn’t be long now. “Let me go,” the big man pleaded. His voice was a rough whisper, and James could see panic flashing behind his eyes. Panic at the thought of being shamed in front of a whole host of men who were scared to death of him. James didn’t even know his name, and he didn’t care. He pulled the man’s leg higher and laughed as the broad-shouldered oaf let out a surprised grunt. It would have been easy to humiliate the man—James briefly considered how simple it would be to pull him out into the street and make him hop up and down in the mud while his comrades laughed and jeered. But there was no time, and a more permanent solution was necessary.

After all, the Anworths didn’t toy with their prey. It could have been a family motto. Games like that were for cowards. A smile spread across James’s face, and the hapless man struggled in his grip. This has gone on long enough. A sharp twist of his wrists sent the man crashing to the ground. On the sidelines, his elder brothers cheered and pushed at each other, and James’s hands tightened into fists as he loomed over his opponent. A few quick punches would see an end to this match. And then a few weeks would pass without a challenge—until someone felt bold. Or until Edward felt the itch to cheat at cards again. “Do it!” Joshua yelled. James glanced up. His elder brother’s eyes were wide and crazed. Joshua liked brawling. No. He relished it. The crunch of bone under his knuckles. The sight of blood on the dirty floor. He hesitated for just a moment before his anger returned, and he glared down at the big man on the ground. “That’s enough sport for today, young master.” The crisp voice made James stiffen and then a walking stick tapped him across the shoulders. Sheridan. Even though he wore the finest suits, Lord Anworth’s valet was a terrifying man. James couldn’t put his finger on quite what it was about the man that chilled him to the bone There was a groan from the crowd as a welldressed gentleman stepped between James and his fallen adversary. The end of the ebony walking stick stabbed down into the prone man’s throat, and he let out a strangled grunt as it bit into his ruddy flesh. The gentleman smiled down at him. “Your quarrel with these men is finished,” he said smoothly. “You… I know you.” “Yes,” he said with a smile that sent a chill up James’s spine. All noise in the room slowly dwindled to a strange, deadly silence. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | Edward and Joshua wore smug expressions on their faces as Sheridan slid a billfold from his pocket and drew out a folded paper note. He released it into the air and watched it flutter down to land on the floor beside the man’s bloodied elbow. “I believe that will cover whatever losses you may have sustained at the hands of these gentlemen.” The fallen man’s laughter was thick as he pushed the end of the cane away and spat a mouthful of blood onto the floor. “Gentlemen?” he snorted. “These bast—” The end of Sheridan’s cane slammed into the man’s throat, cutting off anything else that he might have said. Edward smiled and draped his arm around Joshua’s shoulders. But James could only grit his teeth as he backed away. This show of power wouldn’t solve anything. It was just going to make things worse for them. But Sheridan, and by extension, their father, had no problem with that. Lord Anworth was still convinced that being an Englishman in this new colony—this new country—actually meant something. It was as if he didn’t even recognize there had actually been a war. And that England had lost. Lord Anworth and his sons had been sent to New York as a punishment. But no one could tell his lordship that. Certainly not his sons. 126 | UncagedBooks.com

Money bought favors. Good lodgings. Good food. Pleasurable company. But it didn’t buy respect. Not the way it did back in England. “Why are you here?” James managed. Mr. Sheridan’s smile was just as cold as his pale eyes. James swallowed hard and fought the urge to look away. His father’s valet delighted in domination—no matter who the subject might be. “Your father has asked for you,” he replied casually, as though there were not a man pinned beneath his walking stick, squirming like a butterfly impaled upon a taxidermist’s pin. “Bad timing, man,” Edward called out in a tone that could have been mistaken for jovial. “James almost had the bastard. I could see it in his eyes. He was going to—” Joshua shoved his brother away and swept his jacket over his arm. “Shut up,” he snapped. Edward laughed and strode into the area that had been cleared for the fight. He threw a mock punch at James and laughed when he flinched. “It would have been a good bout,” he said. “But your head was elsewhere, little brother.” James slapped his brother’s fist aside and glared at him. “It is your fault if it was,” he growled. Sheridan looked down at the man pinned beneath his cane and frowned. “Are you satisfied, Mr. …?” Edward sauntered over and examined the fallen man who groaned faintly. “Beale,” Edward snapped. “William Beale. He seems to think that I’m a cheat at cards. Dumb bastard.” He aimed a kick at the man’s midsection and grinned as the toe of his boot connected with a satisfying thud. Mr. Beale folded into a fetal position, and Sheridan

pulled his cane from the man’s throat. “I think he’ll be satisfied with his payment,” Edward laughed as he bent to snatch up the bill Sheridan had dropped. He examined the note carefully and then laughed harder.

“And you expect me to fight for your honor each time,” James muttered.

“You do know that these Americans reject His Majesty’s currency.”

His appetite had been well and truly dampened by the evening’s...activities, and he could not bring himself to cut into the meat. Lord Anworth’s table was always full.

Sheridan inclined his head, and James wondered if he could dislike either man any more than he already did. Joshua shook his head and chuckled. “Why do you have that?” James asked suddenly. They’d been in New York for almost a decade… there would be no reason for Sheridan to have the king’s money. Unless. “What does father want?” James choked out. Their father’s valet smiled. “You shall accompany me,” he said as he stepped over the prostrate man who had, only moments ago, been certain to have left the club with his honor intact and his jaw unbroken. Neither of those things were true now. “Your father has asked for you.” This would not end well. James knew that for sure. *** “You cannot expect me to have played fair against those men,” Edward protested. Joshua snorted into his wine glass. “You don’t play fair against anyone.” Edward raised his crystal tumbler in his elder brother’s direction. “This is also true.”

He pushed at the lamb on his plate and winced at the congealing puddle of gravy on the side.

Wine. Meat. Bread. Out of season fruits and vegetables. Somehow, Lord Edmund Anworth was always able to procure the very best cuts of meat and produce for his meals. Edward and Joshua never seemed to notice, but James was always wary of such things. No one ate as well as they did, and he often wondered why. They had been sent to the American colony as a punishment, but nothing about their life had seemed like a hardship. At least not as far as James could see. The Anworth house was large and opulent, and they had servants to see to their every need—it had all seemed so…strange. Edward shifted in his seat and looked pointedly at the empty seat their father usually occupied. “Why are we even here,” he groaned. “If Father cannot be bothered, why should we? I daresay I have other places I could be this evening.” Edward sighed and pulled a pistol from his vest. He laid it upon the table next to his plate as casually as though it were a pair of gloves. “Father has been very secretive of late,” Joshua said. He ignored Edward’s weapon. “When has he not been secretive,” Edward snapped. He shoved a bite of steak into his mouth and threw down his cutlery as he chewed. Just as Edward’s knife clattered to the table, the dining room doors burst open. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


Without warning, Lord Anworth strode into the dining room and took his place at the head of the table. “And what sort of man would I be if my sons knew my every move?” Joshua shook his head and chuckled into his wine, but Edward could not hide his angry expression quickly enough. A footman rushed into the room with a plate that had already been loaded with lamb and vegetables, but before the man could set it down, his lordship’s valet snatched it out of his hands. He glared darkly at the footman, who disappeared through the dining room door as quickly as he had appeared. Mr. Sheridan set the plate down in front of his master and then stepped back and observed the table with a cold stare that sent a shiver down James’s spine. “Did I interrupt something?” Lord Anworth asked casually as he picked up his knife. “Of course not, Father,” Joshua replied easily. Their father’s knife sliced into the rare lamb easily, and James watched the movement of the blade instead of looking at his brothers. “Sheridan tells me that you were…brawling.” “It wasn’t my fault,” Edward protested. “It was your fault,” Joshua chided him. “If you were better at cards, you wouldn’t have to cheat,” James muttered. Edward’s hot glare turned toward him, and James looked down at his plate to avoid his brother’s stare. He might have to fight all of his brothers’ 128 | UncagedBooks.com

battles, but his place in the Anworth hierarchy was clear enough. “But they all cheat,” Edward said stiffly. His voice was a little louder, and James focused on his own plate and the way the blood from his rare lamb was soaking into the bread. Lord Anworth’s chuckle was rich and dark, and James dared to glance in his father’s direction. Being in America had not changed his father overmuch, and James was not certain whether or not it would matter where they were. Lord Edmund Anworth would always find a way to increase his fortunes and expand the influence of his name. Power makes men dangerous, and the glint in his father’s dark eyes hid many sins. “Why are you in such a good mood,” Joshua asked. Suspicion was a familiar presence in this house, and Joshua was right to question their father’s jovial attitude. He rarely took supper with them, and never in the dining room. The fact that they were all there together was very strange, indeed. “And why did you call us here?” Edward snarled. “We were having a perfectly fine evening—” “You were cheating at cards in a third-rate establishment, while your younger brother defended the family honor with his fists,” Lord Anworth said briskly. Edward’s eyes narrowed, and he threw his napkin down upon his plate. “Why are we here?” he growled. “I have good news for you,” their father said with a smile. He sliced into his lamb again and gestured with the bloodied blade. “We are returning to England.” “What?!” Joshua’s incredulous shout echoed off the high ceiling, and James stared at his father in mute surprise. “We’ve been in this pigsty of a country for ten years, Father,” Joshua continued. “It might have escaped your notice, but the king does not want us back in

London.” Joshua was treading on dangerous ground, and James’s appetite disappeared as their father frowned. Lord Anworth set down his knife and chewed thoughtfully for a moment before he lifted a hand and snapped his fingers sharply. As though he were already prepared for his master’s summons, Mr. Sheridan produced a letter and set it into Lord Anworth’s hand. Edward sneered at their father from across the table. “Please, spare us the dramatics, Father.” “An invitation from the hand of Queen Charlotte, herself. Begging us to return to London.” Joshua let out a choked laugh. “And what of His Majesty?” “We all know who rules in Buckingham Palace,” Lord Anworth snapped. “His Majesty is not fit for the crown.” Those were dangerous words, even here in the former colony. America’s new president was no friend to the British crown, but there were still Royalists among the people of this newly forged country. Joshua pushed his chair back from the table and began to pace the length of the dining room. Disbelief radiated off him. “So, you will put aside the king’s order,” he choked out. “And go back to what?” “To claim what is rightfully ours,” Lord Anworth said smoothly. “What is…” asked Joshua. He gestured in exasperation. “…rightfully ours? Father, did you fall off your horse and hit your head? We have nothing in England. Nothing.” “Carmichael,” Lord Anworth said simply. Joshua let out a groan as Edward leaned back in his chair and laughed. “Carmichael? Not this again.” Lord Anworth’s fist crashed down on the table. The

force of the blow rattled the silverware, and James flinched. “Our family has been fighting for that estate for years, and I will not listen to my sons denigrate that fact. It is rightfully ours, and we shall return to London and claim it with the queen’s blessing.” “It’s only ours because there are no Carmichaels left,” Edward laughed. Lord Anworth’s fist slammed into the table a second time. “Everything has been arranged,” he shouted. Silence settled over the room, and James swallowed hard. Joshua’s face and neck were red, and Edward looked as though he were holding back a gale of inappropriate laughter. He didn’t like the look on Edward’s face, either. Their father threw down his napkin, drained his glass of wine, and then rose from his seat and buttoned his waistcoat angrily. “The ship departs in two days’ time,” he snarled. “There will be no negotiations. No arguments. And no excuses.” Without another word, Lord Anworth strode from the room with Sheridan following at his heels. James held his breath as his father’s boots thudded across the highly polished hardwood floors. “London,” Edward sneered. “I never thought we’d go back.” “It’s ridiculous,” Joshua agreed. “The king’s command…” Edward tapped his fingers upon the table thoughtfully. “I wonder what Father had to do to make the queen go against her husband’s banishment order.” “I suppose we shall find out soon enough,” Joshua snapped. “Until then, we had best prepare to leave New York.”

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lise Marion is a lover books and has a special place in her heart for sweet and sensual romance. Writing about love across all walks of life is her passion, as is reaching people through the written word. The Army wife and stay-at-home mother of three spends most of her time taking care of her children. Her second job includes writing stories about characters that people can fall in love with. When the Texas native isn’t caring for her family or writing, you can usually find her with her nose in a book, singing loudly, or UncagedBooks.com 132 | up cooking something new in the kitchen.

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it going several different ways in my mind, before I type a single word of it. Once I reach that climactic moment, it just flows onto the page in such a satisfying way. Are you attending any in-person book signings or conventions this year?

elisemarion.com Uncaged welcomes Elise Marion Welcome to Uncaged! Your newest book, Willful Widow will release October 19th. Can you tell readers more about this book? Certainly! Willful Widow is the second book in the Lawless Ladies series, which is about a group of friends whose desperation and financial positions lead to them moonlighting as highwaymen. Or, rather, highwaywomen. Euphemia, aka Effie, is the heroine of Willful Widow, and as the title suggests she has lost her husband. She also has a young son to care for alone. With little to no work to be found and an ailing aunt to care for, Effie feels she has no choice but to join in the highway robbery scheme with her friends. During one of the robberies, she crosses paths with one of London’s most notorious rakes. What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest? The hardest scenes to write are always the opening ones, because there is so much to accomplish in order to hook the reader. While laying the foundation of the plot, the main character(s) need to be introduced, and a setting established. There are a lot of moving parts and there’s a risk of overworking it or ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing.’ Typically, this difficulty tends to persist through the first chapter or two, and from there it’s smoother sailing. The easiest scenes for me to write are those big romantic moments. I spend the entire book building up to the climax, so by the time I actually get there, I’ve thought about it, dreamed about it, imagined

For 2021 I don’t have any in-person events planned, but I do hope to get back to travelling and book conventions in 2022. I haven’t attended a signing in a few years, and I miss having the chance to interact with other authors and readers. What behind-the-scenes tidbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most? Hmmm. I don’t know that I’m interesting enough for anything about me to come across as surprising! In my high school and early college years I did some pageants and modeling. I competed in the Miss Teen Texas USA competition twice and walked a few runways. Maybe not surprising, but it was definitely an interesting and fun time in my life. Which comes first, the plot or the characters in the planning stages? For me the characters always come first. My stories are very character-driven so my energies in the beginning are spent fleshing out the characters and their motivations. I think character-driven stories leave more room for development and surprises within the plot. If I let the characters drive the story, I can be caught by surprise by plot twists that spring from their decisions. In turn, the reader will also be caught be surprise. This is why I’m a terrible plotter! I prefer to mold the characters and let them tell the story through me. What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I’m a reader, of course, and devour romance novels in ebook, paperback, and audio form. I’m also a movie lover, and my husband and I are always lookIssue 61 | September/October 2021 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | ing for something new to watch. I like crafting and decorating around the house, and cooking. I also have a wicked shoe collection. If you could have one all-year season, which would it be and why? Definitely fall! I love the cooler (but not cold) weather, and where I live you can wear a sweater in the morning but shed it in the afternoon when it warms up. I love fall flavors and spices, like pumpkin and sweet potato, apple cider, cinnamon and nutmeg, and all that. I like the changing colors of the trees and that feeling of the holidays approaching. Oh, and Halloween, of course! I wasn’t allowed to dress up as a kid, so now I go all out for myself and my family, and we decorate the house. How many hours a day do you write? On average, how long does it take to write a full novel? I am an author full time, and am pursuing my Bachelor’s degree part-time, so no two days are the same. Most of the time I spend the hours my kids are at school working in the author world. Most of my books are self-published, so that involves a fair amount of administrative and marketing work for me, and I tend to take care of those things at the beginning at my day. From there, I try to set aside at least 2-4 hours a day to write without distractions. Some days I accomplish more, some days less. On average, it takes me anywhere from one to three months to write a novel. It really just depends no how the story is flowing from my mind and what’s gong on in my life at the time. Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Are you reading anything now? I love books in any form I can get them! I’m not a paperback purist, though I used to be. Military life meant moving frequently and there wasn’t always room for all my books. Once I got an ereader and discovered audiobooks I was able to collect more stories and have a world of awesomeness at my 134 | UncagedBooks.com

fingertips. I still love my paperbacks, but you can’t beat the convenience and eco-friendly advantages of ebook and audio! What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I would want to thank the readers who have been with me from the beginning—when I started this author journey with my first self-published book back in 2011. I have grown so much and been so enriched by the experience and am so honored to know there are people out there who want to read my writing. For those who are new to me, I would say: welcome to my fictional fantasy world. The men are gorgeous, the women are strong, and the stories are always engaging.

Enjoy an excerpt from The Cave of the Six Arrows Spinster Sister Elise Marion Historical Regency Helena Montgomery is left to care for her siblings after the deaths of her parents. Buried under a pile of debt, she has no choice but to join her friends in a dangerous scheme. Moonlighting as a masked highwayman is a sure way to end up facing the hangman, but there is nothing Helena wouldn’t do for those she loves. Besides, she only intends to continue her illegal activities until her sister’s first season yields an advantageous marriage. Lord Sebastian Radcliffe doesn’t want a wife, but must select one to secure his family legacy. The young, beautiful Harriett Montgomery seems like the perfect choice—yet Sebastian finds himself drawn instead to her elder sister. He never expected to marry for love, yet the vivacious Helena quickly burrows her way past his stony façade and straight into his heart. He thinks her a high-handed shrew; she thinks him a

| ELISE MARION | self-righteous bore. Yet, passion kindles between this unlikely pair, leaving them hopeful that the futures they once thought impossible might be within reach. However, the damaging secret of Helena’s crimes hangs over her head, forcing her to keep Sebastian at arm’s length. Despite her best efforts, she is unable to deny the depth of her feelings. When the truth is exposed, will Helena lose the man she has come to love? Excerpt Kent, 1813 Helena Montgomery flinched when the heavy blunderbuss exploded in her hand. The recoil jolted her wrist and sent vibrations along her arm. She stumbled, but was balanced by a pair of hands gripping her shoulders. “Steady, Helena,” murmured Wilhelmina Barrington, giving her a consoling pat. “Relax your elbows and don’t forget to breathe. You are in control.” “Tell that to the gun,” she muttered, sauntering to the long, rough table laden with various weapons, bullets, and gunpowder. “I thought this would be easier,” said another of her friends—Lady Cecilia Finch. She stood beside Helena, struggling to stuff her paper-wrapped ball into a flintlock. “The men make it look so effortless.” Helena nodded her agreement, trying not to draw attention to the fact that she was better at loading than Cecilia. Learning to shoot wasn’t something she had ever expected to learn. Amid the typical feminine pursuits of watercolors, needlepoint, and the pianoforte, the sport of shooting ranked rather low on the list of priorities. However, none of those achievements had ever done her any good. She had been taught from a young age what a lady’s place ought to be. She was to be quiet and demure, refined and poised in order to snag the perfect husband. Her first year on the Marriage Mart had ended in bitter disappointment, as none of the eligible men had displayed any interest in her. Another year passed, then another, and another, forcing Helena to give up entirely. She simply wasn’t marriage material. The quietness and demureness that were supposed to cultivate the interest of the opposite sex weren’t assets for Helena—they were curses, manifesting as mortifying shy-

ness and lack of social grace. She wasn’t a wallflower … she was more like a stem—plain and unremarkable and always unnoticed. Helena had resigned herself to the idea of being a spinster for life. Several seasons without a single offer had placed her firmly on the shelf, and she’d made her peace with that. She had her family, who were tight-knit and loving, as well as a group of dear friends. Her life was fulfilling because she strove to make it so. But all that had changed with the death of both her parents. Now, being an unwed spinster with two younger siblings to care for and no fortune had created a desperate situation. And desperate times called for desperate measures. Thus, the shooting lesson. “Come on, ladies!” Wilhelmina bellowed, marching along the grass behind the cluster of women trying—without success—to land their shots at the center of their wooden targets. “Straighten those backs and steady those hands. We can do this!” Mina was a force of nature; a tall, willowy slip of a woman with dark, flashing eyes and a determined chin. Unlike the rest of their group, she wore a pair of breeches and knee-high boots, a coat and shirtwaist complementing her slender figure. Her skin was a toasted shade of sienna, and the braid hanging over one shoulder was comprised of thick, coiled spirals. She looked more like a general marching off to battle than the daughter of a duke. It was here, at her secluded house in Kent, that Mina was determined to turn them all into proficient marksmen. Cecilia threw down her flintlock with a frustrated grunt. Her cornflower blue eyes welled with tears as she blew a loose strand of honey-hued hair out of her face. “That’s it. I can’t do this. I’ll simply have to rob carriages with a knife or a set of sharp knitting needles. This … this thing is impossible.” “Not so impossible,” chimed in Euphemia Green. The eldest of their set and a widow, Effie was tall like Mina and gracefully built, with a head full of glossy, chestnut locks and eyes such a pale blue they resembled a clear river. “Think of it as a game. It’s rather fun, really.” Helena could hardly believe the smile stretching across Effie’s angular features, or the glee in her eyes as she pointed her pistol and fired, landing Issue 61 | September/October 2021 | 135

| FEATURE AUTHOR | her shot just right of center. “Effie, you’re a natural,” Mina declared. “Come, help Cecilia with her form … Cee-Cee, there will be no tears or hysterics. We have decided we aren’t helpless, remember?” With a sniffle, Cecilia allowed Effie to place the gun back into her hands. While the two murmured over the proper techniques, the fifth woman of their tight circle of friends sidled over, hands braced on her hips. “Could she have possibly yelled that carriage robbery bit any louder?” Selina Russell grumbled, rolling her eyes. “We’re going to be dragged off to Newgate before we’ve even begun.” Mina darted a gaze at the house looming over them—a quaint, two-story cottage where she lived with her infirm mother and a handful of servants. “No one can hear us with these guns firing off every few seconds. Besides, my staff are discreet. We’re safe here.” Selina’s indigo eyes, enhanced by inky black hair, sooty lashes, and swarthy olive skin, met Helena’s—wide and filled with unspoken words. They were all guests of Mina for the week, and were very aware of their friend’s dire situation. The house belonged to Mina’s mother outright, but money for servants and even the barest of human comforts was dwindling by the day. Their friend might be reduced to poverty before long. But then, weren’t they all in such dire straits? The sudden and devastating deaths of Helena’s parents had shattered the illusion of security she’d been surrounded by her entire life. The lovely townhouse she lived in might not be her home much longer, and all the things her family had collected over the years would fall out of their grasp and into the hands of the creditors. Their country home in Yorkshire had fallen into disrepair with the barest skeleton of a staff keeping it from collapsing onto itself. No one lived there, and the few tenants who depended on the land for their living had taken up other pursuits. They had families of their own to feed, after all. As the eldest sibling, Helena was left shouldering it all. Her brother, Henry, was still a student at university and not yet wise in the ways of the world. His male pride had him ready to leave school and seek employment to care for their family, but Helena would hear none of it. Henry’s education was 136 | UncagedBooks.com

too important to be thrown away, even if he was the only male left in the family. Harriett, the baby sister, had just reached the age of coming-out and was even more dependent upon Helena than their brother. With their parents gone and the true state of their finances exposed, there would be no money for new gowns for Harriett’s season—which was truly a shame. As a beautiful and accomplished young woman, Harriett could make a splendid match. The kind of union that would see the Montgomery family connected to a wealthier, more powerful one. And thus had been born the plan to secure Harriett a wealthy and preferably titled husband. However, a husband couldn’t be caught with nothing, and the youngest Montgomery sister’s beauty wasn’t nearly enough. She needed a coming out and a wardrobe fit for a fine lady. She needed money that Helena just didn’t have. “Why did we let her talk us into this?” Selina whispered, as Mina stepped away to watch the other two ladies shoot at their targets. Effie’s guidance had steadied Cecilia a bit; now their friend could at least point the weapon without fainting. “Because we’re desperate,” Helena replied. “All five of us. There is nothing else to do, short of becoming … Haymarket strumpets.” Selina’s sprite-like face lit up with a teasing smile. “Whores, Helena … they’re called whores.” Helena’s cheeks flamed hot. Which, she decided, was a perfectly natural reaction for a well-bred woman when one mentioned such delicate subjects. Selina was high-spirited and outspoken, and hardly ever blushed. “Yes, well,” Helena replied with a sniff. “I don’t want to become one, but one must put food on the table, mustn’t one?” “And outfit one’s sister for a season,” Selina said with a sigh. “Poor Harriett, used like delicious bait in a world filled with hungry sharks.” Helena gave her paper-wrapped ball a sharp jab, shoving it down the barrel of the blunderbuss. “Harriett wants to make a match. All the better if one of those sharks can learn to love her while also offering a massive fortune. She isn’t bait, Selina. She’s simply … a means to an end for the good of us all. Harriett will find the husband she wants, and in the process my family will be saved from destitution. But for her to make a match, we need money … and we’ve al-

| ELISE MARION | ready decided there’s only so many ways we can go about making ready funds.” “Yes,” Mina said, having returned to overhear the last bit of conversation. “And it will work.” “We’ll be caught,” Cecilia whined, throwing her gun down and wringing her hands. “No one will believe five women are capable of such a scheme,” Mina argued. “That’s why it’s the perfect plan.” “She’s right,” Effie agreed. “I don’t like this anymore than the rest of you, but I have a son to think of and no other prospects.” “It doesn’t quite feel right, does it?” Helena asked, giving voice to her own reservations. She was determined to go through with this, but was no less afraid than Cecilia and Selina. “Robbing people?” “Taking from those who take from others without a second thought,” Mina interjected, her plump upper lip curling into a sneer. Venom threaded through her words, and Helena could hear the pain her friend tried to conceal beneath such bravado. Her father might have been a duke, but her mother was a former servant, and a Negress as well. Mina’s illegitimate birth had placed her among the lowest of the low in society, and no one ever let her forget it. “We won’t take from anyone who can’t afford to lose a few baubles, or pounds and pence here and there.” That only made Helena feel marginally better. She came from a family of landed gentry, which had placed her on the fringes of the beau monde her entire life. Any invitations they had received had been due to her father’s connections. A baroness had sponsored Helena’s debut, and that first season had offered her a glimpse into a glittering world of excess and privilege. The people of the ton were slaves to their vices. The ladies never wore the same gown twice to public functions, and dripped with jewels. The gentlemen gambled their fortunes away on a whim, and showed their wealth in carriages and horseflesh. She had seen mountains of food go to waste at balls, and opulent gowns thrown into scrap heaps. Mina was right; the people they planned to target with their daring scheme wouldn’t die for the loss of a pocket watch or snuffbox. But the ladies standing around her—and Helena as well—might be reduced to starving if they didn’t act fast. Mina’s suggestion had filled them all with horror at first, but a little cajoling and convincing had brought them all around.

They were going to be highwaymen. Or rather, highway-women, but that was a term Helena was sure didn’t exist. The dangerous world of carriages on dark roads in the middle of the night was strictly a man’s domain. At least, it had been until five fast friends had decided to change that. “We can do this,” Helena said, feigning confidence she did not feel. But if Selina or Cecelia cried off, she didn’t think she could muster the courage to go through with it herself. Either there were in this together, or they wouldn’t do it at all. “It’s like Mina said last night … the theatrics of a highwayman are what really matter. With the proper costuming and intimidating weapons, people will hand over their valuables without a fuss. Really, this … shooting practice is only a precautionary measure. I doubt we will actually have to shoot anyone.” “But you will be ready if you must,” Mina insisted. “Oh, God,” Cecilia groaned pressing a hand to her throat. “I think I’m going to be sick.” “Steady, Cee-Cee,” Effie murmured with motherly affection. “We are in this together.” Effie extended one hand, lifting her eyes to meet each of their gazes one by one. Mina placed her own hand atop it and smiled. “Together.” “Together,” Helena agreed, adding her hand. Reluctantly, Selina came next, and then Cecilia. “Come on then,” Mina encouraged with a decisive nod. “We still have much to do if we’re going to be ready for the start of the season. Lots of carriages coming and going from London, all ripe for the picking.” Steeling her spine as well as her resolve, Helena turned toward the targets and lifted her blunderbuss. She took a slow, deep breath and remembered all that Mina had taught her. Releasing the breath, slow and steady, she pulled the trigger— this time managing to stay on her feet when the blunderbuss kicked and the report echoed through the air. Birds squawked and scattered in the distance, and then a heavy silence followed as the other women gaped at her with slack jaws and furrowed brows. Her bullet had hit the target dead center. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


Holding out for a Hero Guest column by Anna J Stewart


Holding Out for a Hero by Anna J. Stewart

Can I tell you a secret? I’ve fallen in love. Not just once. Not just twice, but…let’s see. *Counts on fingers*. Forty-three times. Okay, so maybe not completely and utterly in love, but I’ve definitely had my heart tipped a few times thanks to the inner workings of my brain. One of the greatest things about being a romance author is, as it’s my job to evoke emotion in my stories, I get to play with said emotions, over and over again. I’ve fallen for cops, chefs, FBI agents, boat captains, a bookstore owner, a photojournalist, a few cowboys here and there… the list really can go on and on.

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After celebrating my 20th Harlequin release, BUILDING A SURPRISE FAMILY, out this month from Heartwarming (available in digital format and in print at select sites), I took some time to reflect on the patterns and habits I’ve developed when it comes to my heroes (heroines can wait for another article). My epiphany, as I perused my published works that range from sweet romance to spicier paranormal romance, contemporary romance, and romantic suspense, was that all of my heroes share a few important qualities: stable, reliable, steady, and yeah, pretty darned handsome. One, however, stands out. It’s obvious I am a fan of the nice guy hero. That’s not to say my heroes aren’t flawed. They absolutely are. They have to be if I’m going to latch on to any

| RICHARD PAOLINELLI | kind of important internal conflict to drive the story. But when all is said and done, my heroes are just really nice guys at heart. Okay, some are moodier than others and maybe a few need an attitude adjustment occasionally, but at their core, they’re going to do the right thing, especially when it comes to the heroine and the growing relationship they’re attempting to build (or attempting not to build). They aren’t the character people cringe at when they enter a room, but they might be the one people talk about when he leaves. In a good way, of course. The kind of man girlfriends chat about over a bottle or two of wine. The kind of man who makes a woman stand up and take notice. Ozzy Lakeman, my hero for BUILDING A SURPRISE FAMILY, might just be the nicest hero I’ve written yet. He’s had his challenges; he was a big kid, struggled with his weight for a lot of his life, and now that he’s gotten those aspects of his life under control and is serving as a town firefighter (and was previously a sheriff’s deputy), he’s still the same guy he’s always been. Compassionate. Empathetic. Willing to lend a hand and do what needs doing. Not for accolades or to look good in someone’s eyes but because it’s the right thing to do. Over the course of the series (this is book 10), we’ve seen him grow into the character who earned his own happily ever after. He’s changed. In a lot of ways, but he’s also the same quiet man we met in book one. The man who was waiting for his life to really begin. I’ve worried, from time to time, if my heroes are a bit too good to be true, but you know what? That’s part of the magic of romance novels. I, as the author, get to create the kind of hero (and heroine) I want to be around. People I want to spend time with. I’ve often said I write heroines I’d love to be and I write heroes I want to fall in love with. That’s how I felt as a reader and it’s how I feel now. In my worlds, nice guys definitely do not finish last and, happily, I have a whole shelf full of those heroes. In the pages of my own books. Wishing you all many characters to fall in love with, whatever genre you read.

Happy reading. ©Copyright 2021 Anna J. Stewart for Uncaged Book Reviews www.uncagedbooks.com

USA Today and national bestselling author Anna J. Stewart writes sweet to sexy romance for Harlequin’s Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense lines as well as ARC Manor. Early obsessions with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Wonder Woman set her on the path to creating fun, funny, and family-centric romances with happily ever afters for her independent heroines and the men who love them. A former RWA Golden Heart nominee, Anna’s books have finaled in the Daphne DuMaurier and National Reader’s Choice awards. Her sweet romance RECIPE FOR REDEMPTION was recently turned into a holiday movie for UPtv (A CHRISTMAS RECIPE FOR ROMANCE) which aired during the 2019 holiday season. Since her first novella with Harlequin in 2014, Anna has written and published more than forty romances in multiple sub-genres. Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with a serious Supernatural, a Jason Momoa addiction and two slightly nutty cats named Rosie and Sherlock. When she’s not writing, you can find her cooking and baking, binge-watching classic TV and cooking shows, attending fan conventions, or heading to the movies. You can read more about Anna, her books, and the writing workshops she offers at www.authorannastewart.com. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


fang-FREAKIN-tastic reviews

feature author

GJ Stevens



J Stevens started writing fiction at the age of thirty. Even as an engineer with a large family and a full time career with plenty of adult responsibilities, he has always had a creative side. After years of self-suppression, the flood gates opened and his novel In The End was the culmination of many years of finding time from nowhere to learn the craft. Whilst working to independently publish and | UncagedBooks.com 146a success make of his novels, Gareth lays bare

his publishing journey through his blog, drawing together advice and knowledge from those already in the industry. As a lover of the outdoors, every year he spends weekends out in the desolate countryside of the UK hiking and camping with his long-time friends which he uses as inspiration for both his creative fiction works and the subject of many a blog post. GJ Stevens is on the beginning of his publishing journey and wants to share the highs and lows with anyone who will listen.

Stay Connected

Not intentionally, but places I go influence my writing. Cornwall for IN THE END and Isle of Wight for AFTER THE END. Fate’s Ambition was inspired by a hiking holiday in Snowdon, North Wales and it’s where I set much of the book. It also includes Barbados which is where I had my honeymoon. Silly question. What is your favourite snack to munch while writing? Lee Child once said that he doesn’t eat when he’s writing as the hunger comes through in his thrillers. I’m not so sure that’s true but I don’t tend to eat whilst I’m writing, just whilst doing everything else. Who first inspired you to be a writer and what were your favourite books growing up?

For a bit of fun I asked my fan club to come up with questions for an interview and here is the result. Where and how do you get your inspiration? Especially if you hit a wall when writing. I genuinely have no idea! I’m very lucky as I have no shortage of ideas. They just come to me. My main issue is trying to focus on one project at a time. If I come to a problem that I can’t immediately overcome, like how a character can do something, I’ll generally sleep on it or I find running really helps as it gives me time to just focus on a problem. Do you edit as you write or do you get to the end of your first draft then edit? I write in drafts. So the first draft is very poor and basically a collection of ideas loosely strung together. Then I’ll revise the draft for plot, maybe picking up a bit of editing for grammar and structure as I go along. Then when the plot is sorted I’ll edit properly in several drafts ready for my editor to rip it apart. Do you travel to research places you’ll write into your stories?

The writing of my thrillers was inspired by Lee Child and Vince Flynn. American Assassin by Vince Flynn inspired to write about Agent Carrie Harris in Fate’s Ambition and then her own series starting with Operation Dawn Wolf. I wasn’t a big reader as a kid but I do remember reading a series about a child detective, which was great fun. How much of your inspiration is from your imagination and how much is from people around you and life experiences? I would say my writing is a mix of them both, but sometimes I’ll be sitting somewhere and people watching and think, I must use them in my next scene or book! Real life can sometimes be so much more colourful than imagination. Are some of your characters, based on people you have met in life? If no where does the inspiration come from? My first book, Fate’s Ambition, started out with myself as the lead character James Fisher, and my friends as James’ friends which appear at the start of the book. My best friend, who was also the inspiration for James’ best friend in the book was not best pleased when he read the final page, but no spoilers! Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |


Andrew in IN THE END was also loosely inspired by my best friend in real life. I actually tend to avoid doing that now or all my characters would end up being the same. Do you ever find yourself writing a character that you really don’t like? I ask because some are really nasty. And do you then struggle to continue with them before you give them a gruesome end? I’ve loved all my characters, so far, even if they’re the bad guy / girl. They always have some aspect of them that I root for, even if it’s a glimmer of hope that they will come right in the end. Most don’t and die in horrible ways, but still it can be sad to see them come to an end. When you kill off a villainous character do you ever have a real person in mind from your past that may have tormented you or wronged you that this is a way to exact some type of revenge secretly? Not really. I find the best revenge is to be the best version of yourself. I was bullied for a year in high school but I held back from killing them in terrible ways in my fiction. That would give them too much light and the best way to combat bullies is to ignore them and they fade away. Do you ever write all night or do you like to keep regular hours (or close to regular hours)? I have a pretty set routine which is tailored to fit around my day job and my family. I get to my office about an hour and a half before I start work then do author admin and marketing for half an hour, then write for an hour. At lunchtime I do the same, admin and marketing for half an hour and then half an hour on writing or editing. I rarely write in the evenings as that’s time with my wife, but I may do things I don’t have to give 100% concentration to. Every few months I’ll take a day off work and spend the day writing. I love those days, but they are so few and far between. 148 | UncagedBooks.com

I don’t do much writing at the weekends but I may do editing and read throughs. If you had an hour who would you like to talk to (dead or alive) and on what subject? I do have a man crush on Ryan Reynolds… But in all seriousness I would like to talk with Stephen King. He’s nailed the writing game, I’m sure you’d agree. What was your favourite lesson at school and why? Electronics and DT. I went on to get a masters degree in electronics and then went into the water industry. Absolutely nothing to do with writing. I’m a very technical person and I like creating things so I thinks that’s why I enjoyed it so much Do you have any pets? Although I was brought up with dogs I don’t have any pets. I’m allergic to pet hair, however our best friends have a lovely chocolate lab which might have been the inspiration for Shadow of IN THE END fame… When I start to write full time, hopefully in 7 years or so, we plan to get a dog. I believe there are breeds that suitable for people with allergies.

Enjoy an excerpt from: In the End In the End GJ Stevens Horror When humanity faces an undead nightmare, one man’s party turns into a race to survive. Logan has always taken things a little too seriously. So when his New Year’s Eve attempt to unwind descends into chaos, he’s the first to realize it’s no joke. After Logan and his friends miss the

evacuation transport, he’s given a choice: lead the group to safety or watch all of his friends come back from the dead… When Logan discovers the military and government have no interest in saving them, making it to sanctuary alive may be their only hope. And after he learns his party of survivors might hold the key to a cure, the fate of humanity rests on his shoulders. But saving his species could mean sacrificing himself… Can Logan stave off the end of the world or will one wrong decision doom humankind? Excerpt LOGAN The first sign was the internet going down, the music streaming into the floor-standing speakers going quiet without warning. A sudden loss of connection; Wi-Fi box rebooted twice and still nothing. The dimming of the lights came next. Not total power failure; the solar panels on the roofs to thank. Still we drank, draining the supply to a bottle of port bought from the local supermarket on a hangoverfuelled run. It was New Year’s Eve 2017. We’d rented a holiday cottage on the extremes of Cornwall, almost Land’s End. The cottage, one of nine in a gated development, each built the new way but made to look old. The doors were a funny proportion; building regulations, I’m told. Each cottage was built out of the way of the rest in a wide circle, a thick copse of trees separating them. In the centre stood a manager’s house, a small shop and a bar. Where a tenth cottage could have sat was the wide road leading out and in. There were ten of us, the cottage full to bursting. Twin and double rooms were shared despite all but four of us not being coupled. We’d been there four days already, the recycling bin emptied with the ring of bottles each morning. A maid cleaned out the jacuzzi we’d piled in all night until the Atlantic air got too much and we headed back to dry around the wood-burning stove. We lasted an hour before myself and Andrew dressed, mounting an expedition and walking the couple of hundred steps to the centre of the circle. We weren’t the only ones there. A huddle had formed at the open door of the manager’s house, a half-drunk crowd shouting over each other.

I remember the concern on Andrew’s face. Our worst fear; the little shop had run out of its overpriced alcohol and the mob were about to lynch the grey-haired manager unless he’d drive a rescue party to the nearest twenty-four-hour supermarket. We still thought it was true as the door closed in our faces. People turned to each other. Some were strangers. Some were not. All were dumbfounded at his actions, but before the small crowd could become a mob, the door opened and out came the guy with an ancient radio in his hand, garbled words and static rattling from the paint-flecked speakers. The crowd hushed as more joined at our backs. We were now in the middle of a group, hushing too, listening to a voice settle. A handful of words come clean from the speaker. A power station had been attacked by terrorists; the nuclear reactor in Somerset. Panic rippled through the group, radiating adrenaline working to nullify the alcohol. Two of the group pushed outwards and I turned to see them running back to one of the nine houses. We continued to listen, my heart pounding in the near silence. The sudden drop in power to the grid had destabilised the network; emergency breakers had sacrificed the South West to save the rest of the nation from total darkness. The radio broke up as the word radiation came isolated from the rest of the sentence by static. Andrew and I stared, soon turning to other, but we’d read no more meaning. Then came the reassurance again. The damage was not to the reactor but to the distribution system. There was no immediate danger of radiation leaking. The core was stable. Torn between the silence from the radio and sharing the news with the others, we peeled away and back to the cottage. Thoughts of alcohol were long gone, but we found the house quiet, bedroom doors closed up tight. It could wait for the morning. The voice from the radio had made it clear there was no immediate danger. The second sign was the hammering at the door in the early hours. With the power still dimmed, rationed between the buildings, I was the first to answer. I was the one to see the silver-haired guy rush to tell me to get the hell out of here. I was the first to hear him mumble the word evacuation as he moved away, running towards the centre of the circle before I had a chance to question. Issue 61 | September/October 2021 |



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FANG FREAKIN TASTIC fangfreakintasticreviews.com




Uncaged Reviews Lone Survivor Nikki Landis Dystopian/Horror Zombies! The world has gone to s*** and the zombie apocalypse is now responsible for wiping out humanity. One girl believes she’s all alone and the world’s last hope for survival . . . but is she the key, a threat, or something else entirely?

Uncaged Review: Leave it to this author to make me fall for a zombie book, and one way she did it is by throwing in romance, not too many of the zombie books will venture into that area. In this world, the zombie virus was man-made, trying to get the best soldier, the best weapon, then trying to wipe out low income areas by putting the virus in the water bottles. But it all went to hell. Bailee has been surviving on her own for the last year, and doesn’t believe there are any other survivors until she meets a group of marines, who are actually looking for her. Bailee is the niece of a scientist and it’s believed that her blood may hold the key to a cure – since her Uncle shot her up with a drug before he died. Sawyer, the leader of the survivor group, begins to have feelings for Bailee after finding and saving her and bringing her into the group, a bad idea in a zombie apocalypse. In this world, there are zombie runners. These are the ones that are just newly turned, with speed, some intelligence and strength, so the author turns the notch on scary. There is some gore, graphic violence, language and sex – so if any of those things bother you, this may not be a great read for you. For me? After that ending – I am gladly running on to book 2. Reviewed by Cyrene

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The Devil You Know Jena Gregoire Paranormal Romance

Following a drunken night together, the vampire Michael “Vegas” Tremayne takes off with no explanation, leaving Deziree Davanzati to wonder if they’d made a terrible mistake. Rather than obsess about it, Dez spends most of her time at Onyx, the rock club she owns and operates for the supernatural citizens of New York City. All are welcomewerewolves, witches, and anyone else willing to play nice while under her roof and pay their tab at the end of the night.

Uncaged Review: This is an OK start to a series, but I wanted to like the book more than I really did. I liked the storyline and the suspense with a couple twists in the end were good, and also the book didn’t necessarily end on a cliffhanger, but it did propel the story forward. My biggest issue was the characters and the romance. I never felt attached to any of them, and I never felt the connection between Michael and Dez. This is written almost as a young adult, but because of doing that, part of the romantic connection between Michael and Dez is lost. Also, I would have like to have a better understanding of this world. There is a good amount of action and some bantering that is fun, but there were also a lot of places I felt like skipping or skimming over. My favorite character is Dez, but since this was a romance that was one that started right in the beginning with nothing leading up to it (the first 300 or so years the reader is not witness to their partnership stopping supernatural crime), then I don’t care if Michael shows up again or not. The storyline is enough that I will probably move on and read the next in the series. Reviewed by Cyrene

How to Survive an Undead Honeymoon Hailey Edwards Urban Fantasy The Epilogues: Part II Nothing says romance like spending a long weekend at a haunted inn famed for sending its guests to the ER with scratches, bites, and fractures. Or so Linus thinks when he books a trip for Grier and himself to Oliphant House. As far as honeymoons go, the choice is nontraditional, but then, so is his bride.

Uncaged Review: When this series was finished, the author added 3 longer novellas as “epilogues” to the ending. Each of these have a story within and just adds to the whole story of Grier and Linus. This time they are going on their honeymoon, of sorts, more of a long weekend away and Linus has chosen a haunted inn because of Grier’s love off all the things that go bump in the night, thinking solving a mystery would be a fun getaway. Well, this haunted fun turns deadly…of course. I enjoyed the extra time with this group, but I have the same feelings as Linus, I wanted to be selfish and see more time with just Linus and Grier. But it was still a fun time with enough of the twists and turns this series is known for. I’ve put these books off reading for a while, drawing the series out longer. I really am bummed that there is one book left in the epilogues. Reviewed by Cyrene

The Ice Duchess Tracy Sumner Historical Romance A scandalous countess plays matchmaker…for a man she once longed to take for herself. Georgiana Whitcomb, Countess Winterbourne, is known as the Ice Countess for her rebellious ways and refusal to marry again. But a scandalous Christmas wager fashioned by Georgiana’s childhood obsession changes everything. Uncaged Review: A second chance to get it right….Georgiana is a widow, having married in an arranged marriage to an older man to save her family’s monetary issues. After her husband passes away, she vows never to marry again, and sets up The Duchess Society, teaching young women how to get more respect in a marriage and to get a good match, and earning the nickname, The Ice Duchess. Dexter, returns home to his dying father and promises him he will marry and take over the dukedom. As kids, Dexter, Georgie and her now deceased brother, Anthony were inseparable and when she finally sees Dexter again, she finds that easy connection is still there… This is a nice romance that finds that a second chance to find love is heartwarming and I was drawn into the book pretty quickly. This book introduces The Duchess Society series, and the secondary characters are just as likable as the main. The epilogue was the perfect touch on this one. Reviewed by Cyrene

Issue 61 | September/August 2021 |


Uncaged Reviews Earl of Baxter Tammy Andresen Historical Regency

Optical Delusions in Deadwood Ann Charles Paranormal Mystery Romance

He’s known as the Earl of Bastards…

Someone is spreading rumors around Deadwood that Violet Parker likes to chat with dead folks.

If society thinks the nickname is an insult, they are sorely mistaken. Mason, the Earl of Baxter, has grown up knowing he’s the illegitimate son of the Duke of Devonshire, otherwise known as the Demon Duke. He’ll join his father in hell before he bows before any man or woman of the peerage. Uncaged Review: This book is a very cleverly written story, it hits on two series that are running. First off, it’s in the Wicked Earls Club – a series that has many books with contributions from several authors and it hits on the Lords of Scandal series. In this book, we get the story of Mason and Clarissa. Mason is known as the Earl of Bastards, his title gifted to him from his brother Bash, a Duke. He is the result of an affair of his father’s, and was hated by him. When he goes off to war and is badly wounded, a young girl helps to nurse him back to health and he vows to find her one day and help her. This book jumps in right after the happenings of the last book in the series, Earl of Gold. When Mason sees Clarissa at the wedding of Logan and Penny, he knows it’s the same girl who gave him a reason to live all those years ago. But both of these characters will need to heal from a childhood and maybe, just maybe they can heal each other. This is a nice addition to both of the series, and the book moves along nicely. I was already invested before I picked up the book, as this is one of my favorite series from this author, but the book stands on its own as a good story and a great page turner. Reviewed by Cyrene

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With her reputation endangered, her bank account on the verge of extinction, and her career at risk of going up in flames, Violet is desperate. When the opportunity to sell another vintage home materializes, she grabs it, even though this “haunted” house was recently the stage for a two-act, murder-suicide tragedy.

Uncaged Review: When a book has me trying to force myself to stay awake to read just “one more page,” and finally giving up to sleep because I can’t comprehend what I’m reading any longer – then that’s a sign of a fantastic read. And they don’t come along that often. But this book did it. I read the first one a few months back, and I really liked it, but this one knocked it out of the park for me. There are more than a few laugh out loud moments like this one between Violet and Doc: “Tiffany said she was glad you were back together again.” “Natalie heard that? Where was she, under the car?” I barked out a laugh and was stared at by the three dachshunds that sleep in my bed when their heads popped up out of a deep sleep. Oh well, dogs don’t understand human craziness as long as I feed them. The mystery was really well done, even stumped me for the whole intertwined mess it turned into, in a good way. The romance is spot on, but Violet really needs to let Doc completely in and quit hiding. The paranormal part of this is mild and has to do with ghosts, but it’s well played in this book and there wasn’t much I didn’t like. Taking some real history about some haunted places in Deadwood. I will say when I hit the last quarter of the book, there was nothing going to stop me from reading to the end. A mystery series with a little more fun. Reviewed by Cyrene

Dead Case in Deadwood Ann Charles Paranormal Mystery Real estate agent, Violet “Spooky” Parker stumbles upon a body-part theft ring at the local funeral parlor and suspects her caustic coworker has a hand in it—or maybe a foot. Can Violet discover what’s in the crates the crooks are sneaking out of the mortuary in the dark of night? Or will she end up in one of them herself … in pieces?

Uncaged Review: In book three, the paranormal is increasing, and this book amps up even more danger, laughs and some chills. The mystery is never really over for Violet, she’s always getting her nose into somewhere she shouldn’t be. This time, she thinks she’s stumbled on a body parts ring, but she is also close to losing her job – if she doesn’t close the sale on the Old Prospect’s Hotel, she may be out of a job. And the place is haunted, of course. So Violet will do some off the wall things to get the sale. And she drags Doc with her. This book is not only a good mystery, but the author’s way of throwing in the humor and how Violet sort of stumbles through life takes the book to a new level. I normally am not a mystery lover, but these books are changing my mind. Reviewed by Cyrene

A Demon Bound Debra Dunbar Dark Fantasy Imps just wanna have fun. All Samantha Martin wants to do is drink beer by the pool, play mischievous pranks on the humans, and get her hot neighbor in the sack—oh, and avoid the angels who won’t hesitate to execute her on sight. Uncaged Review: I’m not real sure I ever really liked the main character, at least in the first half of the book, I was still on the fence with the book as a whole for the full first half. This was such a slow starter for me. As for Sam, I know she’s a demon and the author does a good job keeping her a demon and not letting her get “too humanized” by her time in their world. But the background and the world building is very lackluster, so it was hard to get a good focus. I set this book down several times before I finally finished it. When Gregory shows up, the storyline is oxygenated to life. I even started liking Sam more. There are a lot of unanswered questions lying around and I know this is a longer series so some of the answers will keep coming, I’m sure. If the world would have been better established, it may have held me better in the first half. All in all, I’m glad I muscled through as the back half was pretty good, and I plan on moving to book two to see where this story goes, but I can’t commit to more than that at this point. Reviewed by Cyrene

Issue 61 | September/August 2021 |


Uncaged Reviews How to Rattle an Undead Couple Hailey Edwards Urban Fantasy

Loved by a Dangerous Duke Collette Cameron Historical Regency

Bring on the cakes, balloons, cakes, gifts, cakes, and…well… cakes. It’s time for Grier’s baby shower!

Is she desperate enough to marry a man she loathes? Sadly, yes…

Grier is ready to smile for the cameras, rip open the presents, and finally taste that lemon chiffon cake, but it’s just not meant to be. The Grande Dame is MIA, which turns the big event into an even bigger search party. And that delicious cake? It’s going right back in the fridge. Uncaged Review: In the third epilogue of this series, Grier is nearing the end of her pregnancy and getting ready to deal with baby showers. In the meantime, the Grand Dame is missing along with Boaz. So even though Grier has to sit most of this investigation out, she manages to help out still stuffed behind the protective walls of Wooly. This wasn’t just a frivolous epilogue, this was a fullfledged book with all the characters, more Linus and Grier, and an action-fight sequences tossed in for good measure with a suspense to solve. This book even introduces more character development in a couple areas that I didn’t see coming. Even though this book is the end of this series, the ending left the door open for more. And I truly hope that there will be more. Reviewed by Cyrene

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He always has his way… Stanford is aware of his nickname, The Dangerous Duke—and it suits him just fine. Inheriting a bankrupt dukedom and rebuilding it taught him just how useless niceties were. Except now, he’s ready to choose a duchess, and the only one he deems suitable (and enticing) enough despises him. Perhaps he should reconsider the value of niceties…

Uncaged Review: This is a sweet romance that is a nice addition to this series. Ophelia has turned down the Duke of Ashford’s proposal for marriage and he deserved it. Used to getting what he wants, Stanford will have to change his game to win over Ophelia. Ophelia is stubborn and sassy, he’s got his work cut out for him. But he’s going to find out that marrying her was not yet a mark in the win column. The gypsy caravan coming into town was a great touch. I really enjoyed this romance, although I saw a couple similarities to a different book, like the alphabetical names, how the staff was lined up on the stairs when the Duke arrived home – but one thing I did learn is about these balls in the regency era, and how they start later in the evening and go until the wee hours of the morning, sometimes ending in breakfast. It always fun to learn new tidbits. Overall, I liked the story, I think the personalities shifted a little quickly for both main characters, and I never really saw how Stanford got his moniker of the “Dangerous Duke,” but it’s a nice and easy feel-good read for an afternoon and we sure can use that these days.Reviewed by Cyrene

Phoenix’s Refrain Ella Summers Dark Fantasy There are forces greater than gods or demons at work here. Leda Pandora, the Angel of Chaos, isn’t like other angels. She fights dirty, in ways totally unbecoming of a soldier in the Legion of Angels. She cracks jokes at the other angels, even when she should really keep her mouth shut. And she stubbornly insists on doing the right thing, even if it’s totally against the rules.

Uncaged Review: Leda and Nero’s child is on the way, and targeted by not only by Leda’s parents, Grace and Faris for a weapon, but also the Guardians who have been kidnapping supernaturals to use for power. In this book we learn more about the past lives of Grace and her sisters, and of Tessa, Gin and Zane, Leda’s family and how they all became the adoptive children of Callie. This world is so intricate and well thought out down to the last detail that you may want to read this book (or parts of it) twice to get to all the details. The plot comes together nicely and even though the main arc in the story is ongoing, the books will not leave the reader on a cliffhanger. Leda and Nero are stronger than ever, and the secondary characters are back in force. The humor adds levity and the action sequences had me on the edge of my seat. Highly recommended series. Reviewed by Cyrene

Shimmer Sharon Ashwood Fantasy Romance Three wishes, two warriors, one chance at redemption Fae martial artist Alana Beech demands justice when her teammate dies during a rigged fight, but no one cares. Injured and alone, Alana is forced to accept a last-chance job at a curiosity shop. There she finds a magic lamp—and a spark of hope—in a box of abandoned junk. Uncaged Review: This is a fun premise for a book, and the characters are likeable. Alana is a cage fighter, trying to make a living and just barely squeaking by. When her partner/teammate is killed in a rigged fight, Alana is alone and forced to take a crap job to pay the bills as the injuries she has prevents her from fighting and she doesn’t have a lot of magical blood. But she comes across a lamp only to find a real genie inside ready to grant her three wishes. Ronan is a dragon prince, who was imprisoned in the lamp, and has spent centuries granting wishes and corrupting the people that use them. When he comes across Alana, she gives him hope for breaking the curse. I would have liked better world building, but the character development was good and the there were a couple of good twists at the end. I wanted to tell Alana a few tips at times, but she got there in the end without my interference. Reviewed by Cyrene

Issue 61 | September/August 2021 |


Uncaged Reviews Surviving Crazy Frank Crimi Apocalyptic Humor After a gigantic solar storm plunges the world into the dark ages, a cast of borderline crazy characters find themselves stranded at a remote mountain diner. Cut off from the rest of the electricity-deprived world, the group, whose grip on sanity is tenuous, and whose coping skills leave much to be desired, are forced to rely on each other with laughingly absurd results. As their situation rapidly deteriorates, the distant town of Jericho becomes their only hope for survival. Only the road to Jericho is fraught with peril that only the bravest of them may survive. Worse, Jericho may not be the safe haven they desperately seek. How will they survive this new bizarre and frightening world where everyone’s a nut in a place that’s getting nuttier by the day is anyone’s guess. Uncaged Review: This is one of those books that can go a couple ways, people are going to absolutely think it’s hilarious or the book will get on their nerves. Personally, I sit in the middle of those two scenerios. On one hand, there were times that I laughed out loud at some of the antics and characters. Other times I was wondering what the heck is going on in this author’s mind. Granted, this is the first time I’ve read anything this funny for a dystopian book, and it was a fun relief although small sub plots or stories sort of threw me out of the story a bit, and felt a bit disjointed. The humor style will not be to everyone’s liking. All in all, this is a fun book, and if you want something to read that is a bit lighter and give you a break from heavier fare, this may be a good choice. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Angel’s Roar Shayne Silvers Urban Fantasy Callie Penrose must die… Callie Penrose – a wizard with a splash of Angel’s blood flowing through her veins—kind of broke the Vatican and their band of Holy-warrior, wizardpriests, the Shepherds. Officially, the report stated Callie forgot to turn the other cheek, and things escalated… She returns home to Kansas City to find new gangs of supernaturals roving the streets, preying on the innocent while the local factions do nothing. Although not unified, everyone seems to agree on one point…

Uncaged Review: The more books I read in this series, I feel that Shayne Silvers is getting a good handle on the character of Callie, and in this book, we find out more about Callie’s past and parentage, and see her coming into her power. Nate does show up in a minor supporting role, but it’s always fun to see these two series intertwine. I’ve stuck to reading these in order, but I am skipping the Phantom Queen Diaries, within the Templeverse, I gave them a try, but they just didn’t click with me. The Feather and Fire series with Callie has a much stronger religious undertone than the Nate Temple books. In this book, finding and stopping the new gangs of bad supernaturals on the streets, mixed with the Templars, Fallen Angels and Angels – mix in a polar bear, witch and a sphinx, and in Silver’s worlds, it’s a hot mess. But you’ll definitely want to pay attention to this one, lots of truths revealed under an intricately written plot with action and humor. Get ready to stay up late. Reviewed by Cyrene

Accidently Married to a Dragon Jasmine Wylder Fantasy Romance Married to the enemy; fate or true mate? I’ve always had a crush on Varton Kirk. Hot, handsome, filthy rich. My worst enemy. After a night of drinking, I wake up in Vegas. Ring on my finger, and Varton beside me.

Uncaged Review: This is a shorter novella length novella to a series, Shifter Dating Service. This starts out pretty promising, even with the over-used “got drunk, woke up in Vegas married” plotline. Varton is a dragon shifter and Melodi is the cop that has been harassing him to pay a ticket. In this world, (I guess, there is not back world building here), shifters are out among people since they shift in front of people. The banter in the beginning between Varton and Melodi is fun and energetic, but unfortunately it all goes downhill from there. After the initial couple chapters, the whole thing is rushed and when a killer that Melodi put in jail 5 years ago gets out and comes hunting Melodi, it’s all a bit too fast. I think it would have been a better book if it had been flushed out a bit more. Reviewed by Cyrene

Storm and Shelter Various Regency Anthology When a storm blows off the North Sea and slams into the village of Fenwick on Sea, the villagers prepare for the inevitable: shipwreck, flood, land slips, and stranded travelers. The Queen’s Barque Inn quickly fills with the injured, the devious, and the lonely—lords, ladies, and simple folk; spies, pirates, and smugglers all trapped together. Intrigue crackles through the village, and passion lights up the hotel. One storm, eight authors, eight heartwarming novellas. Uncaged Review: This is a really nice anthology for those that like the regency era, and it’s a very original idea and writing compared to anthologies I’ve read in the past. Normally there is a theme, and the authors write their own independent story as their contribution. Although this is also true here, this one also centers around one storm with the stranded travelers in one Inn, and the intrigue and matchmaking that follows. I’ve read books from several of the authors and there was a couple that were new to me also, all of the books flowed seamlessly with their plot and there was not any gaping holes in the plots from author to author. Each one’s descriptions just built on the others. I enjoyed all the stories in this group and it was surprising to see characters from one story make a brief appearance in another. The authors did a great job pulling me into this story, and if this Inn wasn’t fictional, I’d be in line to visit. Reviewed by Cyrene

Issue 61 | September/August 2021 |


Uncaged Reviews Crimson at Cape May Randy Overbeck Paranormal Mystery No matter how far you run, you can never really escape a haunted past. Darrell Henshaw—teacher, coach and paranormal sensitive—learned this lesson the hard way. Now, with his job gone and few options, he heads for Cape May to coach a summer football camp. The resort town, with gorgeous beaches, rich history and famous Victorian mansions, might be just the getaway he needs.

Uncaged Review: This is the second book that we meet up with Darrell Henshaw, but in my opinion, a reader could jump in to this book without reading the first one and not be lost. Reading the first one would enhance this book because of all that happened and the characters, but it’s not required to enjoy this one. This is not the genre I normally read in, but the author did a great job yanking me into the story and I always love a paranormal twist, in this case – ghosts that need help. This time around, they could be digging their own grave in finding the answers and the criminals. This book has a great pace along with the great dialog. There isn’t a lot of fat in this book or anything that will throw you out of the story. With some good twists, this book kept surprising me. Mystery lovers who are looking for something just a bit different, will enjoy this book. Reviewed by Cyrene

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The Somewhere I See You Again Nancy Thorne YA Historical Fiction Hannah will resort to anything to save her mother’s life. Including blackmail. Even if the target is the former boyfriend of her goody-goody best friend, Stacy. Except, he just moved to the West Coast, and now it’s up to Hannah to convince Stacy to hitchhike with her cross-country to confront him. It’s 1971. Change is happening. And Hannah’s understanding of the world is about to be tested by those she encounters along the way, including a gorgeous draft dodger. Someone is about to face a deathly experience. But it’s not Hannah’s mother.

Uncaged Review: This book is set in the early 70s, and around the time of the Vietnam war. This story is an intricately woven coming of age story that will capture the crazy and over the top emotions of young women as they hitchhike across the country. The adventures and the people that they meet along the way keeps this book a true page turner, and the author magically transports you into the story. This is a story that’s hard to put down, and will have you thinking about it long after you set it down. As a child of the 70’s myself, it was easy for me to picture the world as I saw it within the pages. Even though this is a fictional story, it very well could have been an experience in a real life. Reviewed by Cyrene

Duke of Decadence Tammy Andresen Historical Regency

Curse of the Blacknoc Witch Tori V. Rainn Fairy Tales/Fantasy

The Duke of Decadence has a secret…

Be good, or the Blacknoc Curse will come for you.

Well, to be honest, Bash has several. His father, the Demon Duke, might have been the cruelest man in all of England. Bash hates his own title, the very one he inherited and all the trappings that come with it. And most secret of all, he hopes never to marry and carry on that family legacy. Which is downright scandalous for a duke to even think.

Uncaged Review: The ninth book in this series brings us the story of Bash and Isabella. This book has Isabella trying to disguise herself to be able to gamble at a gaming hell, to get money for her and her sisters, but Bash sees through her charade and offers her a job at the gaming hell, Den of Sins in exchange for his protection. Isabella can’t see a way out of it, but Bash is everything she despises, so theirs is more of a hate-to-love romance. This is a great addition to this series and Bash and Isabella’s story is sometimes intriguing and sometimes humorous with likeable characters. Even characters that you can see will be featured in a future addition to the series, and some from the past are making their appearances. A good story and a heartwarming epilogue. Reviewed by Cyrene

Samuel dreamed of being a lot of things, but a monster trapped in a forest realm never entered his mind. The Blacknoc Curse wasn’t supposed to be true, only a children’s story meant to persuade them away from evil. Yet, here he was tasked with hunting cursed kids. There’s nothing left for Samuel except the horror surrounding him.

Uncaged Review: Within the first sentences, you are tossed into a dark forest, and I was wondering what I got myself into, but I’m glad that I kept going. Children who commit a terrible sin are cursed into a dark forest where monsters eat them, spit them out and then the child becomes a monster. Each night, new kids are tossed into the fray. One of the monsters, Samuel, has been fighting off the monsters and trying to save kids every night. When he meets Layla, he feels more than ever the need to protect her. Each night he saves Layla, and each day she tries to find the cure for the curse to free the kids and Samuel. And the solution could be within a book at the library. This is a pretty gory book, and it’s not for young teens as it might give them pause. But I really liked the author’s poetry that she uses for the riddles of the Blacknoc Curse. This is set in a historical time, I’m not sure exactly when, more like old western times, as they use wagons and horses. But the book is an easy read and once you get past that first chapter so you aren’t so confused, it’s a decent tale and a quick read. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews The Green Witch Wendy Wang Psychic Thriller Somewhere a witch is going to die today. For psychic Charlie Payne, gruesome visions of death are just a normal Tuesday— but when she investigates the murders of two green witches, her usual methods lead nowhere. With her options to save the next victim dwindling, she must test a dangerous new form of astral projection to find the killer. Meanwhile, Charlie’s cousin Lisa has her own set of problems. When an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning a garden center drops in her lap, it seems almost too good to be true. When her store manager dies in a mysterious accident after being stalked for months, that dream quickly turns into a nightmare. Now the stalker has turned his sights on Lisa, and it turns out the “lucky” plant left to her by the previous owner is anything but. As if that wasn’t bad enough when the threads of Charlie’s murder investigation tangle with Lisa’s growing list of troubles, both of their lives will be on the line.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this book, but the reality is that it hasn’t been that long, I was just being impatient. It was nice to see a story featuring Lisa and her abilities. She’s a character that I’ve never been too sure of and while I think she’s a good character and seems like a good person, she’s also felt standoffish. It was nice to see more of her. As usual, this book is full of mystery and intrigue,

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and I spent most of the book trying to figure out who the killer was. I hate it when I figure it out right away. I had my suspicions but didn’t figure it out until it was time. The action and pacing are both what I’ve come to expect from this author, which is what keeps me coming back for more. I would liked to have seen more of Charlie, Tom and the rest of the family, but I also understand why the focus wasn’t entirely on them. This was a fun read and as a plant lover, I now have another kind of plant to add to my collection. If only I had Lisa’s green witch skills.

The Unlikeable Demon Hunter Deborah Wilde Urban Fantasy The Brotherhood wants her gone. The demons want her dead. Not bad for her first day as a Chosen One. When Nava half-drunkenly interrupts her twin brother’s induction ceremony into a secret supernatural society, she doesn’t expect to accidentally torch his life-long dream and steal his destiny. Horrified she’s now expected to take his place, Nava is faced with something she never wanted: a purpose. The society isn’t cool with a woman in their ranks and teams her with an ex-rock star handler to keep her in line. Too bad he’s exactly what Nava’s always wanted: the perfect bad boy fling with no strings attached, because a hook-up with him is as dangerous as the vengeful demon out for blood–her brother’s. And Nava’s the only one who can save him. Odds of survival: meh. Odds of a good time before she bites it: much better.

There is A LOT of action in this book. And not just the fighting kind. I, myself, prefer the fighting kind, but sometimes both are part of the story. The fight scenes were interesting and pretty well thought out. I enjoyed them quite a bit. I liked the twists in the story. Every chapter is something different, and I liked the pacing of the story. I appreciated that the story wasn’t something I could read in one day. It has some meat to it, I guess you could say. Overall, despite not really liking the main character, I really enjoyed this book. I have actually finished the series before I wrote this review, and it honestly gets better and better with each book. There’s some new kind of crazy lurking behind every page, and once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: While I don’t particularly care for Nava’s character, I did really like the storyline itself. I thought it was unique and fun. I enjoyed the Jewish lore that was included as well as most of the other characters. Unlikeable is a fairly accurate description for Nava. She’s shallow, selfish, and doesn’t seem to have a lot of sense. A lot of the reasons why she is the way she is gets explained as the story goes on, so I understand it to a degree. That being said, if you can overlook her faults, the rest of the book really is quite enjoyable. And let’s be honest, the author told us upfront that she was unlikeable, so we shouldn’t act surprised. I did enjoy Nava’s sense of humor, though.

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Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews

girls aren’t interested.

Pink Gallery to Mar Suite C.L. Horror

It was easy to follow, even for someone like me. One of the things I was worried about was that I wouldn’t understand what was going on. That didn’t end up being a problem at all.

A blitz killing android assassin is malfunctioning and looking for love. He’s neurotic, violent, broke, and crazy… but for the life of him, he can’t figure out why

The action in this book was exciting as well. The violence was graphic and dark and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. If you’re looking for something dark, violent and a bit different, I recommend picking up Pink Gallery to Mar Suite.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to like this book. I thought it was going to be too sciency for me or to robot-ish, and I’m afraid of robots. I was pleasantly surprised, and I’m glad I gave it a chance. I didn’t expect this to be a 5 star read for me, but I was hopeful. Sometimes I love surprises.

Half the time I forgot he was an android. I think that helped. ICQA-1037, (AKA: Icy) is neurotic and violent, but at the same time, entertaining to me. There were things he said that I couldn’t disagree with. I’m really afraid of robots and the whole idea of AI, so this book is a pretty much perfect example of why I have that fear. He’s programmed to be an assassin, but realizes he enjoys just killing in general. Which, to me, is scary as hell. I enjoyed the pacing of this book. Bc it was more sci-fi-ish than I normally read, it took me a bit longer to read than most other books I try, but that’s not the author’s fault. I just can only do so much of this sort of thing at a time. So the pacing of this book was good for someone like me as well who has to read in a chapter or two at a time.

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Blood & Ash Deborah Wilde Urban Fantasy Cold-blooded kidnappers. Longlost magic. When things get serious, she goes full Sherlock. Ashira Cohen takes pride in being the only female private investigator in Vancouver. With her skills, her missing persons case should be a piece of cake. She wasn’t counting on getting bashed in the skull, revealing a hidden tattoo and supernatural powers she shouldn’t possess. Or the bitter icing on top: a spree of abductions and terrifying ghostly creatures on a deadly bender.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: I really enjoyed the Jezebel Files. I blew through the series like it was on fire, and I couldn’t get enough. Luckily, there were plenty of books in the series to keep me going from one to the next, so there was no pesky down time in between to interfere. I liked the characters in this series much better than I did in Wilde’s The Unlikeable Demon Hunter series. My only complaint about the characters would be that they just felt really indecisive. That drove me crazy with the “will they” or “won’t they”. I like that Wilde has a lot of diversity in her books as well. The world isn’t monochromatic, so I prefer my books to not be as well.

learn about. As much as I enjoyed this book (and series), there were little things that bothered me, which is why it didn’t get a full 5 stars. Some of the translations of phrases, don’t really translate to things that make sense in the context she uses them, and there aren’t always enough context clues to help you figure out what the character is trying to say. This seems to be a consistent problem with all of her books. To the point where I’m having to find translations in several places and asking several people for help on what’s being said, who about half the time, also don’t know what she’s trying to say even when it’s their native languages. I’m all for multicultural characters and diversity in books, but in some places it does feel a little bit like tokenism. I’m not saying that was her intention, but it does feel that way on occasion. I liked that she included different kinds of people because that’s how the world is, but sometimes it just felt like they were just there to check a box, so to speak. Those negatives being said, I really did enjoy the storyline as a whole, which is why I continued to read them and flew through the series. If you can overlook the things I mentioned, especially since I don’t think it was intentional, this series is fun and a great read.

Something about Deborah Wilde’s books that I thoroughly enjoy is the amount of Jewish lore in them. I’ve always been fascinated by Judaism, so seeing some of the things I’ve read about in other places in her books is something I very much appreciate and enjoy. Plus I get to find new things to research and

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Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews Pretty Savage TA Kunz YA Thriller She Comes with the Fog Bad things never happen in the picturesque town of Haddon Falls ... until now.

crime spree.

It all starts with a killer party. It will end with a savage

Seniors Donovan Walsh and Drea Sullivan attend a high school party for very different reasons. But after discovering the body of one of their classmates, they find themselves thrust into the same waking nightmare. From that moment, their lives become intertwined in a search for answers to questions they never should have asked. As bodies pile high, the unlikely pair dig into Haddon Falls’ past and uncover secrets someone would kill to keep hidden. In a small town where every face is friendly and every door unlocked, Donovan and Drea must unravel who is an ally ... and who is willing to bury them—and the truth—six feet under.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: Once again, TA Kunz has kept me guessing and on my toes. I love a good mystery and TA Kunz always delivers. Who doesn’t love a good mystery!

Donovan and Drea are both easy to like. Donovan reminds me of a friend I had in high school. They both feel like actual people. They aren’t unrealistic characters who have all the answers to all the things and I can appreciate that in a story. Too many characters nowadays just have all the answers and that’s not realistic, especially for a

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couple of teenagers. I love their senses of humor as well. As someone fluent in sarcasm and making jokes at the wrong time, I love seeing characters who do the same. I really appreciated the length of this book. It took me 3 days to read it. Far too often either I’m loving a story, and it’s over too fast, or it just drags on forever and is full of filler. Pretty Savage is neither of those things. Every word is essential to the story, and it moves along at a great pace. It doesn’t seem to drag or have unnecessary filler just to add pages. Kunz’s ability to make me see the story always amazes me. Every single book I’ve read by this author has made me feel like I was watching a movie even more than usual. I would definitely watch this if it were a movie, as long as the director didn’t ruin it lol. I love that I didn’t figure out what was going on until the end. They revealed just enough along the way to make you question yourself when you think you know who the killer is. I hate solving the mystery too early and I didn’t have that problem with this book. Pretty Savage is a great read. It’s fast-paced, keeps you on your toes and guessing, and wraps you up so completely, you don’t want to do anything else until you find out how it’s going to end. The story revolves around high school students, but I thoroughly enjoyed it even as an older person. Highly recommend.

The Birthright Eli Constant Urban Fantasy Destiny. Death. And a birthright of blood. Drugged and abducted shortly before her eighteenth birthday, Kat Forst is dragged halfway across the world. She doesn’t know why... or how. She doesn’t know anything. Except that she’s not alone. her best friends have been taken as well. And that’s her fault. Because their kidnapper wasn’t after them all. No. He only wanted Kat. Because her blood is the key to the magic of Chios. Her death will re-awaken what has been lost for so long. But Kat isn’t exactly ready to die. Not without a fight anyways. And the fact that her captor is gorgeous and covered with glittering, magical tattoos won’t distract her from staying alive... she hopes.

I love how unique this author’s stories always are. Her books keep me guessing and on my toes. They are always a pleasure to read, and I never feel like there’s anything important missing. I feel satisfied at the end of her books even when I’m mad that she’s done one thing or another to a character. Also I love this cover. It’s gorgeous.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: As usual, Eli Constant has delivered a book I couldn’t put down. The way she builds her worlds is unbelievable, and I feel like I can see the worlds she creates. In The Birthright, Eli Constant does an amazing job of giving me the supernatural elements I need, paired with the thriller elements I want. The characters are easy to relate to, which makes them more believable, in my opinion. With every turn of the page, I found myself trapped in the story (in a good way) and didn’t want to put it down. I enjoyed the pacing and just the overall storytelling is exactly what I’m looking for in a great book.

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews The Search For Summer Chantelle Atkins YA Contemporary

Courage of One Zola Blue Fantasy

When Bill’s desire for the truth pushed Charlie into an impossible decision, he lashed out in horrifying fashion, stealing baby Gabriel and leaving Bill for dead. Panic-stricken Charlie is now on the run with his three-day-old son. His hiding place reveals a mystery that will drive him further across the country.

In ancient times on earth, there lived a race called Dragonors. Following in a tradition to gain status and recognition in the village, those able would compete in rigorous games of cunning and abilities. Tournaments culminated into a weapon battle to the death or submission while riding a dragon; at its end, the winner was given status within the village.

Amy’s Review: Superb read! Atkins pens a magnetic psychological journey in The Search For Summer. I have read work from this author before, and I am a huge fan of Atkins. The characters were raw and very intense. This author brings the story to life. The characters had a lot of depth, and were very realistic. It’s one of those stories that you can’t shake, the plot, the depth of the story, and the journey that it brings the readers on. First, Summer is a person, so that’s the only spoiler I’m giving. A story filled with betrayal and kidnapping, and that’s only the beginning. Charlie is a character that you almost feel sorry for, and yet, there is also Bill and Summer, unforgettable characters that have more flaws than good, but there is something still human about them. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller. If I haven’t said it before, if she writes it, I’ll read it. A definite attention grabber, so much I couldn’t put it down. This story was intriguing and kept the reader guessing. Such an inspiring story.

Amy’s Review: Fantastical Story! Blue pens another great story in Courage of One, part of her Mejuarian Series (book 3 to be exact). I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. The story is one of fantasy, history, connections, and magic. Luken is an unforgettable character, in both the past and the present. It is always a joy to read this author’s stories. This story captures the reader’s attention at chapter 1. This read is so engrosssing, it brings you right in the middle of the story.

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Hell Holes 3 Donald Firesmith SciFi The beautiful young photojournalist, Aileen O’Shannon, is not who she seems. For centuries, she has been a demon hunter, a sorceress who has tracked and killed small bands of demons that occasionally crossed into our world. But that changed when she joined Dr. Jack Oswald’s expedition to study one of hundreds of huge holes that mysteriously appeared overnight in the frozen tundra north of the Arctic Circle. Amy’s Review: Aileen is back!!! Firesmith pens a magnificent story in Holes 3: To Hell and Back. I’ve read the first two stories in this series, and I really liked them. I recommend, as I always do, read the entire series, and in order. It just makes you enjoy each one, the better. If you’ve read the other stories, you know Aileen O’Shannon, and she is back for another demon hunting journey. The demons are emerging from the holes in the artic, and it’s nothing but more and more holes emerging. It’s another action-packed, demon fighting, wonderous story. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). This story was intriguing and kept the reader guessing. The author’s technique of raw, magnetic characters and great plotlines is a gift. It’s a great story to follow and try to figure out what will happen next.

Phenomenal Touch Marie Lavender SciFi Romance In this never-seen-before union of tales, you’ll discover three full mystical stories by Marie Lavender. Finally, a collection that fans can sink their teeth into! From light contemporary fantasy romance to space opera, to all out fangs and sensual moments, this starter set has everything a paranormal/fantasy/ sci-fi romance book lover could want… Amy’s Review: Love, love, loved all three stories!! Phenomenal Touch: A Supernatural Romance Series Starter Collection and Boxed Set has three different, but magnificent stories written by Marie Lavendar. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed every one of them. This author brings the story to life. The characters had a lot of depth, and were very realistic. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. So, let’s start with MAGICK & MOONLIGHT. OK, if I said it was magical, it may sound hokey, but it was. No only does Jessie have this magical power, but secrets she feels like she has to protect herself. A wonderfully majestic story. Now for BLUE VISION, here we are introduced to Brooke, who is attracted to mysterious Colin, but that is just the beginning, and I read this story more than one. Maybe it’s my favorite of all three, or as I read each one, each one became my favorite. SECOND NATURE, and yes, it has vampires, and I like vampiric stories when they are written well, and this one was. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. (but you never know, vampires could be real). This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller. The stories capture the reader’s attention at book 1, chapter 1. Who could ask for more, when it’s filled with magical/fantastical creatures and other interesting beings (even the humans are interesting). (If this is a starter collection as the title says, I look forward to what comes next in each of these stories).

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews Plateful of Murder Carole Fowkes Cozy Mystery Claire DeNardo is scared of a lot of things. Ordinary objects like roller coasters and men’s hairpieces make her knees knock loud enough to be a band’s rhythm section. Unfortunately, the only job Claire can find is working for her Uncle Gino in his seedy detective agency Amy’s Review: Incredible story Fowkes pens a magnetic story in Plateful of Murder, the first in the A Terrified Detective Mystery series. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. I really like the premise of the story, especially with Claire being afraid of things, and now, she has to work in a detective agency. I love how the story plays out and Claire has to face things she never thought possible. I have read other stories in this series, and now, finally, I get to read the one that started it all. This book deserves a second read! (and maybe more). A very well-written story, and I enjoyed it. It is always a joy to read this author’s stories. I recommend reading all of the books in this series, and start with this one. It’s pretty amazing, and I really like Claire, not so perfect, and not so confident Claire. This read is so engrosssing, it brings you right in the middle of the story.

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You Can’t Kiss A Bubble Karen A. Wyle Childrens What can you do with a bubble? Many children – and adults – find bubbles fascinating, even enchanting. And yet they’re so different from most things we enjoy, lasting only a few moments. This little book, with its lovely and whimsical illustrations, looks at both the charm and the transitory nature of bubbles, and reminds us that we can take joy even in the impermanent. Amy’s Review: Wonderful story You Can’t Kiss A Bubble is a wonderous simple story, but it has a lot of meaning behind the fascination of bubbles. They don’t last forever, and they are very interesting for children of all ages (meaning adults as well) I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. This was a different story from what I’ve read from Wyle before, but it is obvious that this writer is very talented in many genres, and this one, though, simple, had the best meaning of all, cherish the moments. And kudos to the illustrator who made the great illustrations tell the story as well. A grand read for all, and cherish the read as well. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller.

Only in New York M.G. Crisci Non-fiction Shorts Among these 36 unforgettable short stories, you will learn how to buy fireworks in the back alleys of Chinatown from Yong Wo, how the author met Mafia boss, John Gotti, enjoying a 2” prime steak at his favorite restaurant before he had his guest whacked. Amy’s Review: Superb Collection of NYC stories This collection of NYC short stories by M.G. Crisci is a remarkable work of words. I’ve read Crisci’s work before, and I did read the second volume of Only in New York first. I loved it so much, I asked Crisci to send me the first book so I could read it, enjoy it and then review it. I’ve read each story at least twice. Crisci has lived one heck of a life, and his stories from the city of New York, are real and written to perfection. I had the honor to have Crisci on the podcast that I co-host, The After Show with McKensie Stewart & Amy Shannon, and to hear Crisci read his own words, and that’s the voice I hear when I’ve read this. I have to admit that I loved all of them, but one of my favorites, was “Coffee Near Carnegie.” (I also love the sketches). I could read these stories over and over (and have).

The De-Coding of Jo: Blade of Truth Lali A. Love YA Steampunk/Fantasy A Hypnotic StarSeed A Mysterious Island A Cosmic Reboot Gaia is perishing. The Wizard of Bondage has hijacked humanity’s existence in the astral realm using psychic warfare. In a last-ditch effort, Mother Earth sounds the alarm and activates the StarSeed Quest. Amy’s Review: A definite hypnotic story!

Love pens a incredible cosmic story in The De-Coding of Jo: Blade of Truth, the second in her series, Ascending Angel Academy. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were intense, raw, dramatic, and focused. I recommend reading the first book in the series, The De-Coding of Jo: Hall of Ignorance. It’s not necessary, but I think that all series should be read from the beginning. Jo is back with her friends, and now they are still fighting for survival, and the reigning of terror brought on by shapeshifting killers. It’s another epic story told by Love, and when there is darkness, in comes some light. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. It is always a joy to read this author’s stories. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller. The thrills and intrigue is written clearly and the characterizations are engrossing. If you love a good epic fantasy and dramatic planetary realms, this book should be next on your list.

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews The Dark Chorus Ashley Meggitt Horror Oblivion awaits the Angel’s salvation The Boy can see lost souls. He has never questioned the fact that he can see them. He thinks of them as the Dark Chorus. When he sets out to restore the soul of his dead mother it becomes clear that his ability comes from within him. It is a force that he cannot ignore – the last shard of the shattered soul of an angel. Amy’s Review: Absolutely magnificently terrifying! Meggitt pens a dramatic horror story in The Dark Chorus. I haven’t read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. Lost souls, forces of shattered souls, and evil all around it. It’s a magnetic story that sometimes makes you look away, but then you have to reread so you don’t miss a thing. Murders, delusions, and The Boy that sees the souls makes up for a terrifying, yet, enchanting story. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. If you love a good horror, with good versus evil, and the spirts of the dead, this book should be next on your list. This story was intriguing and kept the reader guessing. This story captures the reader’s attention at chapter 1. The Dark Chorus is more than just a title, it’s the life of The Boy, which could also be his own personal dark side.

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The Society of Necessities Christopher Bowron Historical Mystery Daniel St Croix is the beneficiary of his estranged grandfather’s estate-including a gold wedding band holding a powerful secret. The gold forming the band was originally given to a long-dead Egyptian Pharaoh from the gods who once walked the earth. Daniel must read Pierre St Croix’s well-kept journals to unravel the puzzle and imminent danger attached to his inheritance. Amy’s Review: Amazing read! Bowron pens a superb, powerful and intriguing story in The Society of Necessities. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. This may be my favorite of Bowron’s so far. Daniel gets one heck of an inheritance, wrapped with secrets and power, a power that is unimaginable. It’s a great story to follow, and Bowron really brought in the story with realism and grand imagination. Puzzles, twists, secrets, and journeys make this story unputdownable!!! Imagine a ring from an Egyptian Pharaoh, and then it’s all of a sudden, yours, centuries later. What an unforgettable story. It is a very well-written story, and I absolutely enjoyed it. This author is not just a writer but a great storyteller. This story captures the reader’s attention at chapter 1.

Plight Bryan Way Mystery Short Words cannot describe what hides in the dark: The shape of a nightmare. The face of a shadow. The eyes that watch you sleep. The fear we impose on a void. Confronted by a supernatural plague that claims victims with arbitrary malice, Holly’s mother is forced to navigate an absence of electricity, sunlight, and rationality if she has any hope of retrieving her daughter. But what will she have to sacrifice in order to get Holly back?. Amy’s Review: Surviving the darkness! Bryan Way never disappoints this reader. As you may have guessed, I have read work from this author before, and I really loved it, loved it, loved it. And I loved this one as well. There’s this darkness across the world, and the sun is hiding. Sure, there’s nothing in the dark that isn’t in the light, but is that really true? Not in this story. Disappearing, without a trace, movement of shadows in the dark, and that’s just the beginning of this story. It’s a remarkable story of belief, strength, fear, courage, and survival. Surviving the darkness by bringing in light, it’s not an easy journey. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories.

Hell Holes 4 Donald Firesmith SciFi After killing his father, a marauding band of alien demons captures 15-year-old Paul Chapman, his mother, and his twin sister. Taken as slaves and food to Hell, a planet orbiting a nearby star, their survival is extraordinarily difficult and far from certain. As the years pass, Paul learns he only has two choices: live as a powerless slave or die as food for his masters. How much must Paul collaborate with his demon masters to survive? Amy’s Review: Superb Read Firesmith pens a magnificent prequel to his Hell Holes Series. I read the books that came before this one in the series, and now, the prequel is here. The alien demons are taking who they want, and making them slaves. Hell is not what we perceive as Hell, it’s a planet all of its own. We learn about Paul and his family, and the Hellish journey he must face not to just survive, but get out from under this devilish predicament. What I like about the story, besides the characters, the ultimate evil alien devils, is there are underlying plots, that are more than just part of the story, they are the story. Humanity, survival, and dealing with loss, in the most impossible way. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. It is a very well-written story, and I enjoyed it. It is always a joy to read this author’s stories. A definite attention grabber, so much I couldn’t put it down. It’s literally out of this world! Action-packed and it takes the reader on a superb journey.

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Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews The Year Before the End Vidar Hokstad SciFi

Twelve Maxbridge Street M H Keplar Erotica Short/BDSM

Forty years ago humanity found out we were not alone. The Centauri offered us the galaxy.

A young hetero executive signs up for a night of pain and sexual humiliation at the hands of the men and women of The Association. He experiences what was promised and more.

With one year to go before the gate is ready, Captain Zara Ortega learns of a conspiracy between Mars separatists and the Centauri to split the solar system between them. The crew of the ship Black Rain goes on a daring raid from one of the most well-guarded stations in the system to uncover the truth, but an attack on their ship raises more questions. Amy’s Review: Very Imaginative story!!! Hokstad pens a wonderfully imaginative story in The Year Before the End. I haven’t read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed this. This author brings the story to life. The characters had a lot of depth, and were very realistic. What I really liked about this story was not just that there were aliens and there was the exploration of the vast galaxy, but this story did sort of keep it close to home. Our solar system was at stake, and it was up for division. It’s relatable, and yet, very “out of this world” as well as setting the stage for the strive and desperation for survival. It’s a young reader friendly story, and I’m really glad I read it. It’s one of those hidden gems that adult and young reader sci-fi fans would enjoy as well. This author has a great imagination and I’m glad it’s being shared with stories. The story brings in the believable, even if almost impossible. Hokstead writes, “The day the Mars gate came online, it all changed forever. It was the first large demonstration of dramatically all of the solar system would change -- all of humanity...” This story was intriguing and kept the reader guessing.

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Amy’s Review: Magnificently themed Keplar pens a short but very interesting and intense BDSM story in Twelve Maxbridge Street. I have read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. It is definitely for adults, and even more, those who definitely have an open mind not just to erotica but to BDSM. I am familiar with the BDSM lifestyle, so I felt this story was well detailed, and also well-written. A short story is not easy to write, and this left nothing out in the story. John attends The Association building, and that’s just where his story begins. “Bondage. Punishment. The muscles between his legs contracted again. Ever since he’d begun the process of signing up for The Association, his body had begun to give him these pleasant little gifts.” And that’s all I’m giving away for this story. It’s accurate and indeed an intense and yet, powerful read. This is a magnificent story, kept this reader turning the pages. If you love a good erotic BDSM story, this book should be next on your list.

Domme Experience Simone Freier Erotica DOMME EXPERIENCE: Kelly takes the upper hand – in a manner of speaking – exhibiting her dominant side, and impressing her parents and Sam, as roles are reversed.

Amy’s Review: An impressive new story! Freier pens a superb and magnetic erotic story in Domme Experience. I have now read all eight of the stories in the Experiences series. I liked Kelly and Sam (and their entourage) from book one. I was very excited to read this one, when the author offered it to me. The characters had a lot of depth, and were very realistic. The story is not just about sex, and BDSM (or a dominant submissive) relationship, but about love and sharing different experiences. A submissive pretty much has all the control, and this time, Kelly and Sam have reversed roles. I really enjoyed this story, not only is it detailed, it’s written so well and I savored every word. No, it’s not taboo, and happens more than people know. Yes, it’s a lifestyle, sometimes only part-time, or once in a while, or a full everyday lifestyle. If you are just learning about these stories, I recommend starting with book 1. This is a magnificent story, kept this reader turning the pages. A definite attention grabber, so much I couldn’t put it down. A book for adults only, and those with an open mind about others and who they love and how they show their love.

Inspired by the Holy Ghost Aimee Cabo Nikolov Christian Poetry Aimee Cabo always found music therapeutic and discovered great meaning from the songs she shared on her radio talk show, ‘The Cure.’ As Aimee grew in her relationship with God, these meanings started to form into poetic messages. The same song gave different messages depending on her emotional state, the environment she was in, as well as what was needed at the moment. Amy’s Review: Spiritually and Faithfully Uplifting Cabo pens an inspiration title in Inspired by the Holy Ghost. I haven’t read work from this author before, and I really enjoyed it. Cabo definitely has a connection between her and God, and her inspiration and faith is shown on these pages of majestic poetry. Here, she is inspired by songs, and expands her memory to gain remembering her feelings when she first heard a particular piece of music. She expands her memory by prayer and faith. Cabo is definitely an inspiration, as she is inspired, whole-heartedly by her faith and beliefs. Her words are powerful, and even if you’re not totally connected in faith or beliefs, no matter your connection with a higher being, the words are moving and emotionally charged.

Issue 61 | September/August 2021 |


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