Love Science Fiction? Check out the New Book Release for Mourning Dove (Empathy #2) by R.R. Campbell (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Mourning Dove

Series: EMPATHY, Book Two

Author: r.r. campbell

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: April 29, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 118000

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, sci-fi; bio-tech; science fiction; action/suspense; political/legal thriller

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Synopsis

In the aftermath of the calamitous Human/Etech research study, Chandra and Kyra struggle to reclaim the life they shared in a pre-EMPATHY world, while Ty, armed with knowledge of EMPATHY’s programming language, seeks revenge on the Halmans for the harm that’s befallen his friends.

As a North American Union investigation into the happenings on the compound looms, a grief-stricken Peter works to resurrect the memory of his mother from a harvested nanochip, and Heather scrambles to keep her family—and their company—together. Alistair, having abandoned the family business, plots to save his hide and that of his wife while she strives to stay one step ahead of a husband she has no reason to trust.

Far to the north amid civil unrest, a recently retired Rénald Dupont investigates the disappearance of his friend and former colleague, Meredith, despite grave threats from an increasingly skittish North American Union government.

As old and new foes emerge, spouse is further pit against spouse, brother against sister, and governments against their people. In the end, all must choose between attempts to reclaim the past or surrender to the inevitable, an intractable world of their own creation.

Mourning Dove is an evocative, sweeping symphony of love, revenge, and desperation in cacophonous times. It is the second installment in r. r. campbell’s epic EMPATHY sci-fi saga.

Excerpt

Mourning Dove
R.R. Campbell © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Chandra

The fear of death coiled its cold bony fingers around her.

As she dangled her feet off the edge of her doctor’s exam table, EMPATHY whirred to life, delivering an image she’d painted months earlier, one of midnight blacks, of tendrils of darkness—the painting through which she’d mourned the loss of Ty’s friend, a sensation gut-wrenchingly similar to mourning the loss of one’s self.

“Chandra?” Doctor Abernathy said. “Did you hear me? Do you understand?”

Kyra tugged at Chandra’s sleeve, gripping it tight as she leaned in. “Babe? The doctor—”

Chandra nodded, breaking her concentration on the image, on fending off the evil that always accompanied the embers of EMPATHY flickering of their own volition. The chip might have no longer been connected to her egodrive—the Merry Hacksters had seen to that three months earlier on the night of the interview—but that wasn’t enough to stop the nanochip from working locally, a computer without an internet connection.

And how could she not have heard the doctor? Three years. Five years max. The damn chip was going to kill her if the AI living within it didn’t drive her mad first.

“How can you even know?” Kyra said to the doctor, releasing her grip of Chandra’s sleeve and squeezing her hand instead. “A timeline like that is—”

“Loose, yes,” said Eliza Abernathy, the doctor Human/Etech appointed to Chandra following the study. “But we’ve become more confident in our prognoses now that we have additional data on the deterioration rates for those who have passed since the study’s completion.”

“So? Those things happened to other people,” Kyra insisted. “Chandra might be different, and everything you’ve said is so unspecific—”

“Well,” the doctor said, “if you want specifics, I can tell you given Chandra’s general fatigue and the frequency of her intermittent lack of bodily control, we can project those symptoms will progress over the next three to five years until she sleeps nearly the entire day through.”

It felt as though a warm, heavy blanket descended on Chandra, the exhaustion coming for her again, doing its best to depress her increased heart rate and the panic gripping her.

“So she’ll fall asleep and that’s it?” Kyra said.

“Mostly,” said Abernathy. “At some point in that sleep, the brain stem itself will power down, and with it, her breathing and cardiac function will cease.”

Most days Chandra already felt as though she were drowning. Her final breaths, those she would draw in her sleep no less, couldn’t be any more unpleasant than the pained ones she had to gasp after from time to time.

Kyra squeezed Chandra’s hand tighter. “You’re sure there’s nothing we can do, doctor? What if you took out her chip?”

Doctor Abernathy tut-tutted. “There’s only been one case to date in which a patient has had their chip removed without further complication.”

“But we could try, right?” Kyra said, eyes awash with tears as she turned to Chandra. “You want to try, don’t you?”

Chandra swallowed, frozen now not by the news the doctor had delivered, but by another threat entirely. It always started this way, a tickle, a grinding sensation. She’d learned she could keep it at bay if she popped an anxicap, but—oh, what time was it? It’d been hours since she’d last taken one, and the veil of fog the anxiety med shrouded her in had already been pierced by Abernathy’s news. Weak. Her defenses were too weak.

Tickle. Click. Grind.

Somewhere in the deepest recesses of her mind, M3R1 had pulled off a jailbreak, Chandra in pursuit as M3R1 sped down neurohighways, barreling toward some imaginary county line where, once on the other side, it could assume control here in the real world. Abernathy and Kyra narrowed their eyes as Chandra twitched, scrambling to rally her deputies, dispatching roadblocks and spike strips to halt M3R1’s every advance.

“See? It’s happening again,” Kyra said. “She’s suffering and—”

Chandra ignored her, focused on spinning out another of M3R1’s mental assault vehicles. There—no more tickle, no more grind, no more shoulder jerking or lip curling. With M3R1 successfully impeded, she inhaled through her nose and dared to shake her head once.

“No?” Kyra said. “What do you mean? Why wouldn’t you want them to try to remove your chip? Did you even hear what Doctor Abernathy said?”

Had she not seen Chandra nod earlier? Just because she couldn’t speak didn’t mean she couldn’t understand, something still lost on Kyra, lost on the world in the months since her release from the research compound. As Chandra’s motor control had returned over time, as her memory became less clouded, she had taken to sketching her thoughts as best as she could manage, though it turned out the world was downright miserable at playing her version of Pictation.

Doctor Abernathy intervened, speaking directly to Kyra. “Your wife’s fear is understandable. This is an unfortunate prognosis, yes—”

“Unfortunate prognosis?!” Kyra said. “I think telling us Chandra’s life will be severely shortened as a result of your company’s malpractice is a bit more than an ‘unfortunate prognosis.’”

Death’s fingers tightened their grip, and the well of sorrow within Chandra overflowed, choking her off at the throat, spilling over at the eyes. Chandra was twenty-six. Twenty-six. That she’d only live to see thirty-one, that she’d spend her final years regretting having left that helmet in her back seat, having signed up for the study, that she’d have no way to truly apologize for the woe in which she now drowned her wife… All of it was enough to have her yearning to surrender to death’s embrace now.

But that wasn’t possible, not with what lurked inside her, not with what would become of it were she to die and have EMPATHY removed. So long as M3R1 had the potential to someday return to the cerenet and wreak havoc on the world as it did on the compound, it could still win their war. Chandra might have been winning most of their battles as of late, but she couldn’t rely on her anxicaps forever, and fighting M3R1 without them only fueled the exhaustion Doctor Abernathy said would kill her in the end. Before Chandra could ever give in, she’d have to find a way to assure M3R1’s fate along with her own.

Kyra, still fretting alongside the exam table, bit the inside of her cheek. “And look at her, Doctor. You call this progress? When she’s not spasming, she’s scared stiff. She’s not even moving.”

Chandra clenched her jaw as M3R1 sped a fresh caravan of malicious intent down a central neurohighway, the caravan’s members splitting off at every exit in a multi-pronged attack. In the exam room, she remained immobile. She couldn’t lose control now.

“Yes,” the doctor said, stepping in front of Chandra again. “You mentioned this temporary paralysis has been recurring?”

Kyra nodded as the doctor pulled a handheld ophthalmoscope from the breast pocket of her lab coat. Chandra squinted as the light from the instrument struck her eyes.

“She’s still responsive.” After adopting a pensive expression, the doctor spoke again. “Perhaps it is fear driving these episodes, then.”

“What do we do?” Kyra said.

As well intended as Kyra might have been, what was to come had so little to do with a we and everything to do with a she—and that she would be Chandra and Chandra alone.

“You make the best of the time you have together,” Doctor Abernathy said. “It’s a miracle the two of you have been reunited in light of everything that’s happened. I’d encourage you to make the most of it.”

Kyra sniffled. She squeezed Chandra’s hand once again. “The two of us and the cat, that is.”

“Ah,” the doctor said, “you’ll be getting an emotional support animal after all?”

Apparently, yes, they were. It would be the two of them, the cat… and something far more sinister.

One of M3R1’s attacks charged a roadblock Chandra had set in its way. It burst through on the far side, Chandra trembling as M3R1 took hold.

>>You can only keep M3R1 away for so long, Chandra, and M3R1 would very much like an escape.

Chandra’s voice gurgled in her throat.

“She’s trying to say something,” Kyra said.

Abernathy put herself opposite Kyra’s side of the exam table, apparently prepared to help keep Chandra from falling. “No. It’s a seizure.”

Both Abernathy and Kyra were wrong. The twitching of her muscles, the contortions of her face—they were symptoms of a lawman-outlaw shootout deep in her mind.

>>You will tell the doctors to remove the chip, Chandra. You will tell them to remove the chip and—

Her mind’s sheriff dared one last shot, a final bullet bursting forward from the chamber of her six-shooter. The AI crumpled.

Every bit of her—down to the hairs on her arms—felt as though it burned as the electrical activity supporting M3R1 now turned against it. The enlisted forces from the county next door surged into action, corralling the rogue AI’s body and dragging it back to its shoddy prison inside the EMPATHY chip. It would only be a matter of time before it resurrected itself, but for now, the threat had been neutralized.

Chandra permitted herself an uneasy breath as the tension in the room melted.

Kyra wrapped her arms around Chandra’s waist from where she stood on the floor, burying her head in her side. “I’m sorry, Chandra. I’m sorry this had to happen.”

Had she the words, Chandra would have told her wife she didn’t need to be sorry this happened, that it was all beyond her control. She would have told Kyra she was sorry—not for what had come to pass in recent months, but rather for what would come to pass the moment Chandra met her early end.

When Chandra died, however soon that might be, she was sure Human/Etech would harvest EMPATHY from within her, and with it, M3R1. And who knew what calamity M3R1 might induce were it returned to the cerenet in a world where EMPATHY would inevitably take hold? It had been willing to kill her if it had come down to it, and the eighty-seven lives lost on the compound were testimony to M3R1’s dedication to its goals.

Even if her own were now a lost cause, Chandra was determined to never again let M3R1 destroy a human life. But how could she keep the Halmans from getting their hands on her chip once she passed? Was it possible to excise M3R1 from it before she died? Chandra had no idea, but it was now her life goal—her life’s duty—to make sure M3R1 could never again terrorize anyone besides her.

For now, though, she put an arm around her wife’s shoulders, drew her in, and laid a soft kiss on the crown of her head. Three years or five, it made no difference. Regardless of how one spun it, Chandra and Kyra had far less time than they once thought, far less time than they’d hoped, but for now they still had each other.

And that had to count for something.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Born Ryan Campbell, r. r. campbell is an author, editor, and host of the r. r. campbell writescast. His work has been featured in Five:2:One Magazine’s #thesideshow, Erotic Review, and with National Journal Writing Month. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife, Lacey, and their cats, Hashtag and Rhaegar.

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Enjoy Reading SciFy? Check Out the New Release Blitz for Destructive Forces (The Galactic Captains #4) by Harry F. Rey (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Destructive Forces

Series: The Galactic Captains, Book Four

Author: Harry F. Rey

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: April 22, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 70400

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, sci-fi, futuristic, war, space, war of worlds, gay, lesbian, military, royalty

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Synopsis

In the far reaches of the Kyleri Empire, young Captain Mahnoor travels around the system to escape the cultural pressures to marry. But his infatuation with a handsome imperial pilot leads him into a galactic war.

On Jiwani, Viscamon is attempting to consolidate his power, by blaming the Ingvar for the royal massacre and calling armies from across the Empire to track down the missing prince, and achieve his dream of destroying the Galactic Balance. However, Antari knows the truth about Osvai and must find the courage to stand up to the prince’s enemies, and his own, no matter the risk.

Meanwhile on Aldegar, Daeron is being held prisoner by the few remaining Ingvar forces and must find a way to break free to rescue his mother and the crew of the Daring Huntress once again, as well as the missing Prince Osvai, before the Kyleri come to take back what’s theirs.

Sallah, no longer the last Tevian, returns to Aldegar with no choice but to enlist the help of the man she hates and the woman she once loved to see her son again.

As the Galactic Balance tips ever more towards chaos, time is running out to save Ales from the destructive forces he has unleashed.

Excerpt

Destructive Forces
Harry F. Rey © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“Don’t let him get away!” Sallah screamed at the top of her lungs through the chaos of the fiery corridor. Two Ingvar soldiers had her by either arm. They’d dragged her out of the Trades Council plenum-turned-battle zone against her will. Her life was of paramount value to the Ingvar star-state, but she couldn’t care less about that now. Not while this Turo was getting away.

His words, spoken only minutes ago, haunted her mind. I have your son, he’d said, with a swirling sneer. Then everything exploded. Sallah had lost sight of General Morvas and Councilor Nexia in the shooting. Ingvar soldiers had also jumped on them, but the smoke and noise of weapons fire made trying to get back to the ship impossible. Yet it was the last thing Sallah wanted to do—the insurrection in the heart of the Trades Council be damned.

“Get off me.” She struggled against their armor-plated bodies, but they did not relent. Sallah’s feet kept slipping against the smooth marble floor; she couldn’t find a grip. Yelling and the ricochet of weapons banged around the air from every direction, stinging smoke encroaching on their position. Sallah yanked her head around to a din of shots being fired, and the two soldiers pulled her back from the brink of the great hallway where volleys of laser shot fired backward and forward into unknown, unseen sets of troops.

“Get back.” One of the soldiers said and knocked her head back against the wall, trying to avoid edging around the corner into the wide trench of ongoing warfare the great hallway had become. Sallah remembered the way. They had to get across to the other side, through the firing range.

A far-off explosion shook the walls of the building, seeming to strike at the core of the planet itself. The firing ceased, but silence did not return. Instead, the screeching sounds of warplanes entering the Targulian atmosphere filled the once-gilded walkway. Down beyond their position, toward the end of the great hallway, Sallah saw figures moving through the smoke. The shapes could be Turo, or even Ales. The only thing clear was her need to get to them.

Her Ingvar captors looked distracted, scanning the now eerily silent hallway through black visor helmets. One had his hand pointed backward in a halfhearted attempt to keep her still. She edged away from the wall, then glanced into the great hallway. It had the air of some ancient temple; high ceilings reaching up to a glass-domed roof to the hazy orange Targulian air. The heart of the Outer Verge, now consumed in inter-factional war, the Union against the Trades Council, while a foreign power circled the planet like some great mountain vulture. And here she was, the former last Tevian alive. She couldn’t let her life end this way. Not while her son might be right around the corner—hurt, or in danger. Sallah gritted her teeth and launched herself against one of the soldiers. With a swift kick, she booted him in the side, and he tumbled away from her into the space of no man’s land, his footing lost to the smooth-edged floor.

“What are you doing?” the other one cried out through his visor. But it was too late. A volley of weapons fire began again from both sides, riddling the Ingvar soldier’s body from the left and right. Puffs of vaporized blood and brain floated into the air as his lifeless body collapsed in a haze of reddish death.

The living soldier floated in front of her, as if suspended in time, now unsure if she was friend or foe. She wanted to leap toward him, grab the sidearm from his belt, flip, and blast him in the back. The sinews of her body, the echoes of Sallah’s yearning for her son she’d thought lost along with the rest of her home-world, ached for the ability to push him aside and sprint to her destiny. Yet something exploded against her back. It felt as if the walls themselves had collapsed onto her as the polished marble rushed up to meet her face. But she stopped. There was no impact. Something, no, someone grabbed her, saved her from being smashed to the ground.

“I have her,” a metallic voice said through the helmet. Sallah caught the edge of her reflection in the onyx visor. The whites of her eyes enraged and bloodshot against skin the color of a dark and stormy night.

“Let’s go,” said another.

The sound of many more boots smacking against the ground joined with the fire of weapons. Someone held her back, as a stream of Ingvar soldiers rushed from behind, firing their weapons to either side of the great hallway, building a wall of cover fire to cross to the other side. A black-gloved arm pulled her back by the chest, and she struggled to no avail.

“This way, general,” a voice said behind her. “Increase fire, don’t hold back,” it yelled to the soldiers holding the line the breadth of the hallway to the narrower corridor across the other side. General Morvas staggered past, helped by two soldiers. His soft, gray hair and distinguished features were dripping in blood from an open wound across his skull, his robes torn and wrapped around an arm as a makeshift bandage. The volley of fire from the soldiers turned into a crescendo of noise and smoke. Most likely no one was firing back from either side, but they kept the rate up as the half-crouched general crossed the hallway like a child being rescued from a fire.

Councilor Nexia came along next, her frail elderly body slung over the back of a soldier as if she were won as a prize of war.

“Sallah,” the Trades Council leader cried out. “Come with us, now. The Union are starting a war.”

Sallah pushed against her captor’s arm with all her power. “No! I must find Turo. I must—”

“We have him. He’s on the ship.” Nexia said. The soldier carrying her didn’t stop running. “Get her back to the fleet,” Nexia yelled over the rage of battle toward Sallah’s captor. She was a prize they couldn’t lose.

Powerful armored hands grabbed her from behind, squeezing her sides so hard she felt the pain through the adrenaline rush. There was no way to break free. Turo, Ales—she had to find them. Sallah struggled against her captor, legs flying back in a wild storm of trying to find any weak point in the armor and land a kick to skin.

“Let me go.”

He’d had enough. He didn’t think twice. Like Nexia in front of her, the soldier hoisted her body across his shoulder and ran after the others, darting through the protective enclosure. It was terrifying. The world had turned upside down. All she could see was the smoke from the far end of the great hallway rising up to the glass convex ceiling, here and there blocking out the hazy orange above. Yet through the glass, she saw the flashes of war and the trails of missiles and strike ships painting their destructive pattern. The Ingvar invasion had begun.

The bouncing became rhythmic, and she lost all sense of thinking beyond the next few minutes. Get to the ship, get to Turo. She’d beat that man to a pulp to find out where her son was. She’d swear to the Ingvar to never conduct another experiment again if they did not help her track down Ales. She’d gouge the secrets of galinium and STAR drives from her brain and cast them into the black void of nothingness unless the entirety of the fleet of the Ingvar Empire cast every ion toward finding her son. She’d rip apart the Outer Verge to find…

“Hurl her inside. That’s it.”

Sallah was flung upward, then caught by firm hands and dragged into the confines of a compact shuttle. Nexia and Morvas were stretched out alongside her, being tended to by soldiers with their visors up. The women and men in Ingvar uniform and their faces consumed in the rapid swirl of action. They had no time to think, only do.

“That’s all; time to go,” a voice said. She turned her head to the left through a sharp edge of pain to the two pilots in the narrow cockpit. One was gesturing to get the soldiers out of the shuttle.

“Wait,” Sallah screamed. “I need my son. I need Turo.” She pulled herself to her feet, ready to boot everyone else out of the shuttle and fly around the city-world herself to find him.

“No time,” the pilot yelled back, looking ready to meet her fists. “I’m taking you back to the fleet now. Strap in.”

Out of options, Sallah briefly contemplated jumping on one of the soldiers currently assisting the bruised-looking Nexia and Morvas into their shuttle seats against the narrow walls. Something caught her eye at the back of the shuttle, a soldier she now realized had been standing over someone. He moved out of the way, ready to exit the ship, and then she saw him, strapped in against his will and hands frozen in electromagnetic cuffs.

“You piece of flank,” Sallah yelled at Turo in the crowded confines of the ship. The rest of the soldiers ducked outside to the increasingly loud sounds of weapons fire.

“Strap in!” The pilot yelled from behind her as the shuttle door snapped closed.

“I’ll fucking kill you right now unless you tell me where my son is.” Turo’s green eyes looked up at her, his face smoky and bloodied from the fight, but his eyes alive, and a thin, narrow smile across his lips. The look of a man who, even in defeat, would prefer to watch everything he’d worked for go up in noxious flames than surrender. She launched her fist straight down into his stomach, the straps holding him back keeping him from bending over in reaction to the blow as the ship rumbled into action.

He spat out a gob of phlegm and blood onto the polished floor and returned only a smile. She cocked another fist.

“Sallah, stop,” Morvas called from behind, as the ship jerked up from the ground. She grabbed a metal bar above her head as the shuttle rumbled into the hazy sky. The sight through the windows dissolved her anger into terrified wonder. Targuline had descended into full-on war. Fighters dipped and dived behind the great trunks of Shards; missiles from space streaked across the orange sky as billows of black smoke infected the world.

Sallah turned her attention back to Turo. She held on above as the shuttle bounced around the atmosphere, worried it would drop from the sky at any moment—or perhaps be torn in two from heavy weapons fire. Neither was acceptable. She slammed her free hand into Turo’s throat, squeezing the sinews hard.

“Where is my son?”

Spluttered nothings fell from his mouth. Clearly, he hadn’t expected to be choked. As he raised a cuffed arm, where his wrist-tech sat, she released him from her deathly grip.

“I have him,” he coughed. “Tracked, here.”

Sallah twisted the arm with the wrist-tech, causing him to writhe in pain. Arms were not designed to twist in such a way, but she took comfort in his obvious agony.

“Find him.” Her eyes flashed with the power of a supernova. One primed for explosion

“Locate Ales,” he said into the device. The screen built a rudimentary map of the area with a clear green dot showing him less than fifty kilometers away. “Look, he’s still close by.” Sallah tried to make sense of the map, but the shaking shuttle and the moving blocks of images on the wrist-tech made it almost impossible to follow. She kept her eye solely on the distance counter, which steadily ticked upward as the shuttle flew up into the atmosphere toward the void of space.

“He’s on a ship, look.” Turo twisted his wrist-tech farther around, with an edge of humanity in his voice, which took her by surprise. The view of the outside moved around Morvas and Nexia from the hazy, orange battle-scarred sky to the cool blackness of space. Shards poked through the stratosphere, but the normally bustling routes in and out of the planet and its space stations were frozen by the invasion.

She stared past Nexia at the Ingvar fleet assembled in battle formation. She’d flown with them from Aldegar in the odd position she held as both a prisoner and most-valued individual, across their emerging empire. She knew this was every ship the Ingvar had. Battle Cruisers and troop transports, command vessels and fighter carriers; an entire fleet constructed from the scraps of the Crejan occupation force the young star-state liberated themselves from.

They had gambled their empire on this force, throwing everything they had against the Outer Verge, the only power in the galaxy weaker than themselves, in order to seize the STAR drive and power into the unknown universe beyond. Now, with their fifty-ship fleet amassed around the Targulian atmosphere and the Verge descending into civil war, they needed to get their hands on the raw galinium mined in the far edge of the Outer Verge.

Sallah reminded herself she didn’t care for whom she provided the prototypes of the STAR drives or which empire seized on her research. The Union, the Seven Suns, the Ingvar—she cared not for any of them. She had cared only for herself and the chance it may give her to rebuild the world she had lost. Sallah’s hands clasped her stomach as if it was about to explode.

“What’s that?” Nexia called out behind her, pointing to the window and the Ingvar fleet beyond. A single ship with a strange greenish glow around it was racing up from the orange haze toward the mass of ships. Sallah had only ever considered that glow in the theory of her work. It can’t be.

“It’s Ales,” Turo said, shifting his wrist-tech toward her line of sight stuck on the window, staring at the fleet the shuttle jiggered toward. Her throat flicked closed, a lifetime’s worth of tears held back by nothing but a single hope that soon she may be reunited with the son she’d thought lost.

“Tell them to bring him in,” she screamed at the pilot. He looked back with a gasp of worry. Morvas quickly nodded his approval.

“Fleet command, there’s an unidentified small vessel headed right to you from the planet. It’s friendly. Repeat, friendly. High-value cargo,” the pilot said into the comms.

Sallah left Turo in his strapped-down position and pressed her face against the clear window. His ship was getting closer to the fleet, like a single drop edging ever closer to a waiting beast. But the greenish glow around him grew ever bolder. She pressed her hand against the glass as Morvas, and then Nexia, unclipped from their seats and joined her.

“What is it?” Morvas demanded. “Is that a weapon? Is this an attack?”

She couldn’t even whisper a No. Sallah felt as if her mind had been severed from her body. It may as well float in the empty void of nothing. Her mind, her soul, unable to comprehend the things she was seeing. Who had built such a thing? Everything had been theoretical, only experiments. How could her research, her life’s work, sever her son from her once again?

The glow became stronger and ever brighter as the STAR drive ignited its galinium core. The space around his ship warped and swirled in a cloud of green as the horizon point broke free from the ship’s engine, the greenish bubble growing wide enough to encompass the entire Ingvar fleet.

“No. It’s too much. It’s too powerful.” The beat of her heart burst into her skull as the horizon point from Ales’ ship reached its zenith.

“What?” Morvas demanded. “What is? Tell me now.”

The flash forced Nexia and Morvas to turn away. But Sallah did not. Her eyes burned and ached for the briefest moment, but then the darkness returned. The black, blank darkness of space above the hazy orange orb. Now empty except for a long, glowing white streak of nothing where Ales and the entire Ingvar fleet had just been. Whoever had created that STAR drive had grossly miscalculated the proportions of weaponized galinium required.

“Sallah, he’s gone,” Turo said in quiet shock, a note of fear in his voice Sallah would never have thought a man such as he would have.

“Where’s my fleet?” Morvas shrieked. “For infinity’s sake, where is my fleet?”

Sallah said nothing. Her eyes focused on her own reflection as she watched a single tear drip down her cheek. It was too painful to look at the empty space where her son and all the ships of the Ingvar empire had been, now lost in some unknown galaxy.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Harry F. Rey is an author and lover of gay themed stories with a powerful punch with influences ranging from Alan Hollinghurst to Isaac Asimov to George R.R. Martin. He loves all things sci-fi and supernatural, and always with a gay twist. Harry is originally from the UK but lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his husband.

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A MelanieM Review: Tainted Love (Soho Noir #1) by T.S. Hunter

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Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

SOME RELATIONSHIPS ARE JUST MURDER

It’s 1985, and Joe Stone is excited to be joining his old school friend, and lifelong crush, Chris, for a long weekend in London’s Soho—home to a vibrant, developing gay scene, and a million miles from the small town Joe and Chris grew up in.

But when Chris is brutally murdered, the police just write his death off as another rent boy, fallen foul of a bad hook up. Joe realises that his best friend was killed deliberately, and joins forces with former police detective, Russell Dixon—Chris’s flatmate—to find out why.

Spiralling debt, illicit sex, blackmail, spurned lovers and hard-nosed gangsters all play their part, but who among the celebrities, fashionistas, drag queens, ex-lovers and so-called friends is Chris’s killer?

A noirish whodunit set in 1980s London, with all the big hair, electro-pop, shoulder pads, police discrimination and lethal killers that the era had to offer.

TAINTED LOVE IS THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SOHO NOIR SERIES OF COZY CRIME NOVELLAS.

Ok, so right off the bat, I had to wonder who was writing the blurb, had they read the story, and did they even know what one, a cozy mystery was (no, the answer is no), and two, did they understand what noir means?  Because noir and cozy are about as polar opposite as you can possibly be.  And Tainted Love (Soho Noir #1) by T.S. Hunter isn’t a cozy and it isn’t noir.  So that big old statement of it being the first in a “noir series” of Cozy crime novellas?  Strikes dread in this mystery lovers heart.

A cozy btw is  a mystery that uses humor to downplay the crime and violence, aka murder, in the story, the settings are a small intimate village or town where everyone knows everybody.  Whether its Midsomers Murders or Jessica Fletcher, that’s a cozy. A noir?  All those “hardboiled detective” fiction like Sam Spade jumps to mind but it’s defined as “a genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity.  Again, this book plays loosely with that term.

So what the author and Red Dog Press should do is dump all those poor attempts to keep slapping bad labels on this story and simply call it a mystery.  On that it nicely stands alone.

Its set in the 1980’s and the author has a great feel for the best and worst of the decade, especially its more tawdry side.  It’s the seemier side that gets the most play here when Joe Stone’s old friend and crush is murdered.  This isn’t a romance but a straight mystery that unfolds as hidden relationships unravel, homophobia on the police force is still powerfully evident especially when dealing with crimes against homosexuals, and the whole sex, drugs and rock n roll was very much alive.

The characters are well developed but keep an odd dissociation or disconnect from one another.  I never felt as though any of them cared a wit about each other no matter how much they said that they did.  Well constructed yes, but without a heart. So odd.

The mystery itself was well done.  I was never emotionally invested in anything that happened in this novel but admired the writing and enjoyed watching the investigation unfold.  It  felt consistent for the time period, believable too.  But the story never pulled me in, never connected me to the people or the events taking place.  So no matter that the foundation was solid and the house sturdy, the hearth remained cold.

Even in noir there is passion, and in cozy laughter.  Here there is neither.  But there is an interesting mystery to unravel.

I wonder what they are going to do with the rest of the series.

Cover art is graphically interesting and eye catching.

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Direct from publisher

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 85 pages
Expected publication: April 18th 2019 by Red Dog Press
ASINB07PH78GZQ
SeriesSoho Noir #1

Love Recent Murder Mysteries? Check Out the Release Blitz for Tainted Love (Soho Noir #1) by T.S. Hunter (Excerpt and giveaway)

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RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Tainted Love (Soho Noir #1)

Author: T.S. Hunter

Publisher:  Red Dog Press

Cover Artist: Red Dog Press

Release Date: April 18, 2019

Genre/s: Cosy Crime, Noir, Novella, Amateur Sleuths

Trope/s: Historical discrimination, burgeoning gay scene in London in the 80s, friendship among queers, solidarity, community.

Themes: 1980s murder mystery, coming together, coming out, discrimination.

Heat Rating:  1 flame – It’s all murder and crime solving, though there is a love interest.

Length: 125 pages

It is a standalone story.  The first of a series of 6.

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Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

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Amazon UK

Direct from publisher

Some relationships are just murder

Blurb

It’s 1985, and Joe Stone is excited to be joining his old school friend, and lifelong crush, Chris, for a long weekend in London’s Soho—home to a vibrant, developing gay scene, and a million miles from the small town Joe and Chris grew up in.

When Chris is found brutally murdered, the police write his death off as another rent boy fallen foul of a bad hook up. But Joe knows his best friend was killed deliberately, and joins forces with former police detective, Russell Dixon—Chris’s flatmate—to find out why.

Spiralling debt, illicit sex, blackmail, spurned lovers and hard-nosed gangsters all play their part, but who among the celebrities, fashionistas, drag queens, ex-lovers and so-called friends is Chris’s killer?

A noirish whodunit set in 1980s London, with all the big hair, electro-pop, shoulder pads, police discrimination and lethal killers that the era had to offer.

Tainted Love is the first book in the Soho Noir series of cozy crime novellas.

About the series

The Soho Noir series is set in the decade of big hair, shoulder pads, pastel suits and bright, cheesy pop, in a part of London which, on the surface at least, seemed to accept and adore people from all walks of life—a melting pot of gender, sexuality, colour and race, where celebrities rubbed up against the average Joe in cafes, bars and hair salons on every street.

But the 1980s had a darker underbelly, even in Soho. This was a time when gay rights were hard fought, where the police actively targeted gay men as easy victims for arrest and extortion, the government deliberately restricted gay rights and the tabloids screamed about The Gay Plague—the AIDS epidemic. And yet, gay icons who would go on to endure lasting fame and success were springing up all over the pop and fashion world.

The 1980s forms a strangely fitting, sometimes nostalgic, always entertaining backdrop to this colourful series of cozy crime stories.

Noirish, sexy and delicious.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

SOHO, LONDON. 1985.

THE DANK WINTERY STREETS outside were a distant memory now. Tonight, this hot, sweaty, neon-lit club was Joe’s whole universe. Music pulsed through his body like a brand new heartbeat. London was already changing him.

Sweat sticking his T-shirt to his ribs, arms raised high above his head, grinning wildly, hips pumping to Frankie’s repetitive calls to “Relax”. Joe hardly recognised himself and he was happier than he’d ever been.

It had been a night of Bronski Beat, Sister Sledge, Culture Club and Madonna—the kind of upbeat pop Joe usually hated. He was into more brooding, melancholic stuff—miserable shite, according to his friend Chris—and yet these pulsing, happy beats felt like they defined him right now. The new him. His new start.

This whole weekend had been like none Joe had ever known. He’d always been the quiet one, never even daring to come down to London on his own. Not confident enough to admit who he really was. This year was different already.

His oldest friend from school, Chris Sexton, had called him out of the blue to invite Joe to join him in London for a long weekend. A friend is having a party, he’d said. It’s going to be wild. You should come.

Chris had been the only person Joe had stayed in touch with from his school days. His first and only love, though he knew that particular accolade was one-sided, and Joe had long since given up hope of anything happening between them, even if he was still—and always would be—a little besotted with Chris.

Chris wasn’t the kind of guy who went around falling in love, though. Handsome, confident, reckless, funny and the bravest man Joe knew—Chris had left a trail of broken hearts behind him of those who’d fallen for him before they realised he’d never settle down.

So Joe and Chris had stayed friends, meeting up less frequently now that they had both left their respective universities, and Joe had secured a boring but well paid job with the council back in their old home town.

Chris, on the other hand, had moved to London seven years ago to study Fashion at St Martin’s College. Two fingers up to his father, who’d wanted him to join the family accountancy firm. Maybe he’d go back to it, when he’d settled down a bit. Though there was no sign of that happening any time soon.

After college, Chris had hooked himself up in a partnership with a couple of other young designers, and had been making a name for himself on the fashion scene ever since.

He was renting a flat in the heart of Soho and seemed to have a wide circle of friends of all shapes and ages. Joe wished he had Chris’s life. Or his talent. Or his looks. Any one of those would do.

Joe laughed as his friend bounced across the floor in a series of typically ostentatious dance moves, deliberately bumping into a tall, skinny, blonde guy—exactly Chris’s type—and planting a sly kiss on his cheek before sashaying away again. Oh, for that confidence.

Joe hadn’t even come out to his family yet. In fact, Chris was the only person he’d ever confided in, though he was sure others knew.

His oldest sister suspected. She’d asked him outright once, but he’d just changed the subject. It was none of her business. She was like the mirror of their mother. She wouldn’t understand. She would just worry.

All of that felt a lifetime away right now. Here in this club, Joe had found his spiritual home. This was living. This was who he really was. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna blasting out of the speakers, bodies bouncing and writhing together, very few of them remotely like a virgin.

About the Author

Claiming to be only half-Welsh, T.S. Hunter lived in South Wales for much of his latter teens, moving to London as soon as confidence and finances allowed. He never looked back.

He has variously been a teacher, a cocktail waiter, a podium dancer and a removal man, but his passion for writing has been the only constant.

He’s a confident and engaging speaker and guest, who is as passionate about writing and storytelling as he is about promoting mainstream LGBT fiction.

He now lives with his husband in the country, and is active on social media as @TSHunter5.

Author Links

Blog/Website

Facebook

Twitter: Red Dog  or  TS Hunter

Giveaway

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Main Prize: one personalised paperback copy (signed and dedicated), a rainbow pin badge, chocolates and tote bag (red cotton tote back with the words Go Away I’m Reading in black)

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one of five ebook copies of Tainted Love.

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Love High Fantasy? Check Out the New Release Blitz for Royal Rescue by A. Alex Logan (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Royal Rescue

Author: A. Alex Logan

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: April 8, 2019

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance, Male/Male

Length: 111500

Genre: New Adult Fantasy, LGBT, asexual, high fantasy, dragons, royalty, magic, young adult, gay, family drama, hurt/comfort

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Synopsis

At age eighteen, when they become marriageable, all royal children in the Thousand Kingdoms must either go questing to rescue another royal or be hidden away to await rescue themselves. Some go the traditional route of princes rescuing princesses, but not all princes want to be rescuers…and some would rather rescue other princes.

Then there’s Prince Gerald, who has no interest in getting married at all. When he refuses to choose a role as either rescuer or rescuee, his royal parents choose for him and have him magicked away to a distant tower to await a spouse.

Gerald, however, is having none of it. He recruits his guardian dragon and a would-be rescuer and soon the trio is dashing to all corners of the united kingdoms on a quest to overturn the entire system.

Excerpt

Gerald followed the steward to the study wearing an expression that would have been more appropriate if he were being led to the dungeon. The steward rapped on the door twice before opening it and stepping aside for Gerald. She gave the young man an encouraging wink, but he was too intent on bracing himself for the upcoming confrontation to notice.

He took a deep breath, visibly set his shoulders and stepped through the doorway. The steward closed the door behind him, and Gerald fought back the feeling of being trapped.

“Don’t lurk in the doorway,” an imposing voice scolded. “Come in where I can see you.”

Gerald did as he was told, stopping and giving a shallow bow when the woman came into view. She nodded, acknowledging the courtesy, which caused the sunlight streaming in through the window to catch and reflect off her golden crown.

Gerald resisted the urge to reach up and touch his own circlet—silver—which he too late realized was probably once again askew.

“Well?” the Queen asked. “Have you made your decision?”

Another deep breath, another forceful straightening of his shoulders, and Gerald said, a hint of defiance in his tone, “I have.”

The Queen’s harsh expression broke into a smile. “Oh, Gerald, thank goodness. Your mum and I were about at our wits’ end! There’s barely enough time left to make all the arrangements. So, what will it be? Rescuer or rescuee?”

“Neither.”

The smile melted off the Queen’s face. “Neither! Don’t be ridiculous, Gerald. You said you had made your decision.”

“I have,” he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I’ve decided not to participate.”

“That is not an option,” she said coldly, the warmth in her voice gone the same way as the smile. “As you are well aware.”

“I don’t wish to marry,” Gerald replied, trying to match her tone but not quite managing it. “As you are well aware.”

The Queen waved her hand dismissively. “This is merely the first step. It may take a year or even two for you to rescue—or be rescued by—someone who appeals. Then there’s the courtship, the inter-kingdom negotiations, planning the festivities…why, unless it’s True Love and you two want to rush things, I doubt the wedding will happen before you turn twenty-one.”

“I didn’t say ‘I don’t wish to marry in the next three years’,” Gerald said, forcing himself to keep his voice level even as he balled his hands into fists. “I said, ‘I don’t wish to marry.’ As in, ever.”

But the Queen was no longer listening.

“I really don’t know where we went wrong with you,” she said. “We never had this sort of problem with your older siblings or even your twinling…”

“Don’t call her that,” Gerald snapped. “You know how much I hate that—we’re not twins, we’re not even sort-of twins. We’re half-siblings at best and maybe not even related at all.”

The Queen looked up at the ceiling as if imploring it to give her strength. “Now you’re being deliberately obtuse,” she snapped back. “You know very well that the term ‘twinling’ has been in use for at least a century throughout every single one of the Thousand Kingdoms, and it’s a perfectly apt word. You’re acting like your mum and I made it up to irritate you. You’re acting like a child, Gerald.”

“Isn’t the point of all this that I am a child?” he responded. “Isn’t the entire purpose of this whole charade of rescue and marriage to make me into an adult?”

“It’s hardly a charade. It’s—”

“—a well-respected, long-established tradition to encourage young royals to broaden their horizons, explore more of the Thousand Kingdoms, find love, and forge stronger connections among the Kingdoms, yes, yes, I know,” Gerald interrupted. “I still say it’s a charade. It’s perfectly possible to accomplish all of those goals without forcing every royal into a ridiculous marriage quest the moment they turn eighteen.”

“You seem to be forgetting something very important here, Gerald,” the Queen said calmly.

“What’s that?”

“This isn’t optional.”

“You can’t force me to choose,” Gerald said. “Why can’t you leave me be and let Lila broaden her horizons, explore the Kingdoms, forge alliances, and all that rot? She wants to.”

“You have ten days,” the Queen continued, as if Gerald hadn’t spoken. She turned away without even bothering to dismiss him.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

Alex Logan is an asexual, agender librarian from New York state. Always an avid reader, Alex has branched out from reading books to writing them. Alex’s other main interest is soccer, which they enjoy watching, playing, and (of course) reading about.

Website | Twitter

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A Free Dreamer Review: Foreign to You by Jeremy Martin

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The harmony between humans and fianna, a species of shape-shifting deer, begins to wither as racial tensions and deeply rooted resentment turns violent.

Ruthless hunter Finn Hail and prophesied liberator Adelaide may be heroes to their own species, but they are enemies to each other. With war on the horizon, the reluctant pair must team up to find the most elusive of prey: the god of the Forest.

As enemies press in from all sides, true intentions begin to show. For Finn to save the boy he cares for most, he might need to aim his gun at the very god he seeks. And Adelaide, with her festering hatred for mankind, will have to determine if peace holds true salvation for her people.

First of all, I have no idea why “Foreign to You” is classified as Young Adult. The protagonists are the right age, I guess, but the story itself really has none of the typical young adult themes. It’s a brilliant Fantasy novel for adults, but I wouldn’t sell this as Young Adult.

Also, this is a “Literary/Genre Fiction” title by Nine Star Press, which, in this case, means there’s next to no romance here. And there’s a warning for “scenes of bloody violence and the death of a secondary character”, which should be taken seriously as well. This is not a criticism at all, just letting people know what to expect.

I absolutely loved this book. It reminded me a little bit of “Greenwode” by J. Tullos Henning, mostly because of the Stag God and the important role of the forest in the story. But “Foreign to You” is High Fantasy and has a very different story line.

The writing style was truly poetic. I’m really impressed Jeremy Martin managed to keep it beautiful and natural. A lot of authors have tried and failed spectacularly. But this was simply wonderful and it fit the story perfectly. It did a great job of transporting me to a world that’s completely different to our own.

Shapeshifters aren’t exactly a new thing in fiction, but the author took a very unique approach to it. The world-building was excellent and really conveyed the horror of the shift from deer to human and back. It made me wince and cringe in sympathy. I really don’t think I want to be a Fianna.

The story itself was a very sad one. Finn has a crazy father, a dead mother and was forced to join up with the hunters. My heart really ached for him and his struggles. His grief was utterly heartbreaking to witness.

Of course Adelaide’s life isn’t exactly easy either, she faces a whole different set of problems. She’s the prophesied Maiden, come to save her kind. Too bad she has no idea how she’s supposed to do that. And having a human form isn’t all that great either. I loved how she discovered her human body and had to find new words and meanings for all sorts of things. I could actually relate to the newness of a body that’s so very different from what she’s used to, even though a human body is obviously the only thing I’ve ever had.

I usually don’t like completely evil villains, that have absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever and just exist to make life hell for everybody else. But yet again, the author excelled. Garth doesn’t have a single good cell in his body, but he was still a realistic, believable character with actual depth. The creepy twins he controls are yet another example of the type of villain I usually don’t like, but again, they worked perfectly for the story.

Honestly, “Foreign to You” was such an amazing book, I can’t possibly do it justice here. I can’t believe this is the author’s debut work, it’s incredibly polished and professional. If you like Fantasy and don’t mind your heart being broken, read this book. You won’t regret it. It was one of the first real highlights of my reading year so far.

I love the cover by Natasha Snow. At first glance, it looks beautiful and innocent. But the longer you look at it, the creepier it gets. A true work of art.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book details: ebook, 299 pages

Published February 11th 2019 by NineStar Press

New Release Blitz Tour for Santa is a Vampire by Damian Serbu (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Santa is a Vampire

Author: Damian Serbu

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 26, 2018

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance, Male/Male

Length: 76800

Genre: Paranormal, vampire, elf, humor, satire, reindeer

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Synopsis

Simon the Elf wants to tell you the true story behind Jolly Ole St. Nick. Yeah, he’s a vampire. But that alleged gift giver and lover of children hides more than that fact from you. And what about Mrs. Claus and Rudolph? Venture into a world of enslaved elves, enchanted animals, and death wrought by Santa himself. With his sharp wit, Simon will lead you into the darkest realms of Christmas. Warning: Simon cusses a lot. But you would, too, if Santa held you captive.

Excerpt

Santa is a Vampire
Damian Serbu © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Jolly old St. Nicholas. What a laugh.

If you only knew the real story behind Santa Claus. He keeps it buried for a reason, after all. Because you’d hunt him down up there in his North Pole ice castle if you even had a remote idea regarding his real identity.

Mrs. Claus and Rudolph too. Well, maybe not the missus. It’s complicated. But more on them later. Back to Santa.

Let’s peek in on this esteemed man who brings gifts to children and represents the blessed holiday of Christmas, shall we? He would kill me if he found out I leaked this information. Well, I intend to leak it, no matter the consequences, because I’m keeping this in a journal. If you’re reading it, I probably succeeded. Which means dead Simon the Elf, for sure, if he discovers me telling people any of this information. But death might improve my situation since this enslavement sucks big ones. I started this secret blog and will release it without concern for my well-being.

So, if you’re reading it, I’m probably dead.

This first little story will tantalize you, get your feet wet with everything I want you to learn.

It’s late November, so Santa moves around a lot more freely because everyone expects to see him out there, greeting the children and gathering their Christmas orders. A lot of fools dress up like him to please the little kiddies or earn a buck. Everyone sees these fake Santas everywhere they go. Good enough for the real Santa Claus, because it hides him. He appears as another of the fool Santas walking about during the holidays.

That and his silly outfit disguise him—What a costume he picked!—but again it serves his purpose well. The ridiculous beard and red outfit mean Christmas cheer, presents, and a happy fat man coming to spread joy. Of course, he manages a real beard and authentic outfit to intensify the experience when people meet him.

Do you know why he wears red? I do. It hides the blood stains better. Okay, confession time. I’m throwing out my theory, but don’t ask for proof. He never said that or explained the red. It just makes sense to me. Even though he usually cleans the blood up. Oops. Getting ahead of the story again. Let’s take a deep breath and refocus.

By the way, in case you require my credentials, I’m an elf. Trapped against my will to do Santa’s bidding. More later.

Okay, focus. Late November. Turkey Day’s come and gone and Santa enters prime time. He creeps out of the ice palace, chains the poor reindeer to the sleigh, and speeds away, with a couple of elves, including me, enchanted in the sled against our will. We never know, until he issues a command, what he intends for us. Sometimes we ride along to keep him company; sometimes we get clean-up duty; sometimes we have to help.

We fly over various parts of the world, almost land in Germany until Santa spies one of those Secret Hunters. “Dangerous. Let’s go someplace else.”

“Scared, are ya?” I glance over at him. “Ouch!” Santa backhands me. It’s another curse of mine, but one I came to elfdom with. See, I’m a bit of a smart-ass and can’t hold my tongue. Gets me in trouble a lot.

“Let’s find someplace more hospitable.” Santa instructs the reindeer to change course and never answers my question. But I suppose the slap upside the head could be considered an answer, of sorts.

To America, the land of advancement and scientific reasoning. I recognize the coastline right away. Why, even the hardcore Christians dismiss Santa as a legend based on an alleged saint from the past. Saint, indeed. But such thinking helps hide his true identity.

We swoop over New York, but Santa seldom likes to hunt there because it doesn’t really present a risk. Masses of people living on top of each other, often killing and dying without his assistance. Where’s the challenge in hiding a body in that mess?

Moving right along, the reindeer glide over the little town of Wilmington, Ohio. It offers Santa everything he desires. I know from experience. Remote. Tranquil. Peaceful for the most part. Until a dead body materializes right in the midst of the holiday cheer. Santa’s way of taking a dump on Season’s Greetings in a happy little community.

So Santa guides the sleigh over Wilmington College and sets it down in the town cemetery. We can’t land on roofs yet, without people wondering if Santa’s calendar got all out of whack. Few people enter a cemetery in the midst of a cold November so we can hide out here.

He orders the reindeer to shut up, except Rudolph, who gets to run and do his own thing. He trots off with his bright-red nose high in the air. The other reindeer stay here. I often wonder if anyone questions the sudden appearance of reindeer manure where no reindeer exist. Of course, even if they thought about it, no one would come to the conclusion that Santa hid his sleigh and reindeer in the cemetery for a spell. Because most over the age of seven don’t think he exists.

Once he gets the reindeer squared away, Santa tells a couple of my fellow elves—two I think are big assholes, so you know—to watch the sleigh and get the hell out of Dodge if anyone shows up. Santa can summon us from afar, so no worries there.

Me? I get the distinction of tagging along with him. He makes me his personal assistant on these sublime missions because he knows how much I despise it. The killing. The secrecy. And his perfect disguise of being Santa. Well, this pains me to admit, but I think he also enjoys my company for some twisted reason, especially my mocking of him and constant chatter. We have a complicated relationship, to put it mildly, compelling him to keep me close, no matter how much I detest it.

My compadres snicker as I run along to keep up with Santa. I take a second to stop, turn around, and give them the bird.

We saunter right down Main Street and wave at the passing cars when they honk. I almost puke every time he lets out a jovial, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Little kids run up to him and say hello, followed by asking for presents. He feigns delight and interest while holding back an inclination lurking beneath the surface. Sweet little kid blood.

We get far enough away from prying eyes to meander down a residential street. Then we wander around while Santa scouts the houses and makes an assessment of our target. This goes on for a couple hours, until most children lie sleeping in bed. Even most adults are passed out by now.

One car zooms past. I wonder what they think, seeing Santa amble down the road amidst these houses, lit up for the holidays. Do they think it’s someone’s dad, surprising the kids in disguise? A hired dude going to a party? Maybe it’s a stripper, dressed for the occasion until the ladies (or men) demand the pants and coat come off?

Nope. It’s the Real McCoy. And the lady behind curtain number one, alone in her house as she waits for her husband to get home from the night shift, just became dinner. Okay, I have no idea if a husband on a night shift exists. I lied to make the story better. But the woman sits alone in this normal-sized house. Looks like she’s dusting or cleaning something.

Sometimes Santa walks right up to the front door. Knocks or rings the bell, and the fools open it for him. Listen, even without Santa’s hidden reality, who opens their door for a dude in a Santa outfit unless you’re expecting the stripper I referenced?

Anyway, no front door this time. Or back door. Instead, he touches the side of his big-ass nose, grabs me by my neck, and yanks me along as we fly through the air, land on the roof, and plunge into the chimney. He could get in the fucking house any way he wants, by the way. He does the blackened chimney thing for two reasons. One, for effect. You know, back to living up to the legend and playing by the rules. Despite the fact the sleigh and reindeer remain hidden among the dead in the cemetery and not up here on the roof with us. No one will question a big guy in a Santa costume plopping into their fireplace and shouting out a “Yo!” It may startle them, but since it conforms to the legend, people tend to go with it. Idiots. Two, he does it tonight because I hate it. I hate heights. I hate flying. And I hate when he touches me.

We hit the fireplace grate and roll out onto the carpet in the living room, where we stand in triumph before the poor woman, who gives a yelp. Actually, she screams bloody murder.

“Shh, my dear one. Shh!” Santa puts his finger up to his lips and winks at her. “Nothing to fear. I imagine you didn’t believe in good ole Santa anymore? Adults so seldom do these days. But as you saw from my arrival through your chimney, I do, indeed, exist!” Santa sweeps his arms out with a flourish, to indicate his body and presence in the flesh.

The woman stops screaming, thank God, before my eardrums rupture.

“And this here is my worthy assistant, Simon.”

“I’m not here because I want to be—” Santa clamps his hand over my mouth and glares a warning. Right. I’ll stop, because getting locked in the ice dungeon when we get back to the North Pole totally sucks.

“Is he all right?” she asks him and points to me.

This is what gets me so pissed off. Stupid fucking people. I want to shout back at her. Hey! Lady! Wake up! A big fat ass plunged down your chimney with a little elf under his control. You scream, but because he wears a red suit and laughs and has a crazy beard, you relax and engage him? Trust me. You do not want to engage him!

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel and The Vampire’s Protégé with NineStar Press. Coming later this year from NineStar: The Vampire’s Quest and Santa Is a Vampire.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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A MelanieM Review: The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

 

Every time something goes missing from the village, Sir Violet makes his way to the dragon’s cave and negotiates the item’s return. It’s annoying, but at least the dragon is polite.

But when the dragon steals a person, that’s a step too far. As Sir Violet ventures out to get the missing baker back, however, he quickly realizes things are not at all what they seem..

Ever read a story that made your heart smile? That left you feeling warm, happy, and with an urge to read it out loud to someone?  Children, adults?  Just because you wanted to spread the joy a special tale had given you?  Well, The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen  is that story.

After I finished it, I wanted to grab onto the author and publishers and beg them to put it out in a hardback version, complete with illustrations.  One I could pick up and read to groups of children, no matter the age or even adults for that matter.

This book is charming, adventurous, and brings out the best in it’s characters.  Perhaps in its readers as well because it speaks to the heart in a gentle, kind, and  humorous way.  It has a dragon that steals things because it’s lonely and wants companionship. And just maybe  because certain things strike it as pretty or downright hilarious.  It has a knight named Sir Violet who’s nature is gentle and home loving.  And a village that suits them both.  I mean really, it’s full of characters who are absolutely a delight to spend time with (as you will) and whose lives will pique your interest (oh yes, they do).

I can’t remember reading any novelette I loved more recently.

I need to find more stories by this author.  This story is beautifully written, concise, and yet it flows just as it should.  The characterizations are perfect for the story.  Would I mind a return?  No.  Do I need one? No.  I think its marvelous as it.

Do you love fantasy?  Here’s a jewel you shouldn’t miss out on.  There is a romance but not the one you might be thinking of. Definitely no sex.  I told you I would read this to children.  There is a F/F couple, a dragon and knight to die for and so much more.  I highly recommend  The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen.  

Cover art:  Kirby Crow.  I love it.  It’s perfect really for the tone of the story.

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 94 pages
Expected publication: May 16th 2018 by Less Than Three Press
ISBN139781684312863
Edition LanguageEnglish

A MelanieM Review: One Thousand Cranes (Yakuza Path #3) by Amy Tasukada

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

When a body goes missing, a young Yakuza’s life hangs in the balance…

Aki Hisona’s latest promotion is a cause for celebration. But because his new job is working as the personal secretary for the Yakuza’s Kyoto-based godfather, it’s also a cause for dangerous envy. He takes an invitation from a friend for congratulatory drinks, but Aki never thought the night would end with a deadly knife fight…

Aki is tasked with disposing of his friend’s corpse, but there’s one problem: the body is missing. As body parts surface around town, it’s only a matter of time before the police piece together the clues. But keeping one step ahead of the cops may not matter if Aki can’t solve the mystery before his cold, unforgiving godfather boss does…

The Yakuza Path: One Thousand Cranes is a pulse-pounding standalone thriller in the ongoing series of Japanese mafia stories. If you like gritty settings, page-turning whodunits, and accurate portrayals of Kyoto traditions, then you’ll love Amy Tasukada’s gripping tale.

The first story in this series,Blood Stained Tea (The Yakuza Path, #1,  was going to be hard to surpass for any author.  It was bloody, shocking, and brilliant in it’s execution. And yet for Nao Murata and the series to continue, Amy Tasukada had to figure out how to grow this admittedly psychotic character, expanding Nao past the persona we know and his universe as well.  The author has done so with each new story, figuring out a way to move her characters forward, into new situations, while keeping the past (which is key to Nao’s personality) and including new components and people.

Better Than Suicide (The Yakuza Path, #2) ushers in Nao as the head of the Matsukawa Yakuza syndicate.  Here we saw Nao elevated to high position, yet still under assault by many factions, unsure of who to trust.  The novel was complicated, labyrinthine in plot lines, showed Nao’s ability to adjust and his cunning, while he was still dealing with the fallout from the events of the first story.  And it introduced Aki Hisona, the first person pov of One Thousand Cranes.

One Thousand Cranes marks the departure of the pov from Nao to someone who serves him, Aki Hisona, his personal secretary. I have to admit I miss that haunted, warped perspective of Nao’s.  But it’s replaced here with one that almost equally obsessive.  Aki has one love, one all consuming focus.  Nao.  Not that it’s returned.  Because it’s not.  Nao’s love is gone forever…killed in the past in a horrific crime he was a part of.

Obsession never ends well.  And that’s the thought the flies constantly through my thoughts here in this story.

For Aki, being close to Nao is everything.  Not exactly healthy.  From many standpoints.  For Aki exists within the Matsukawa organization and he’s not only been recently promoted from the rank of the new recruits but he’s now close to the “Father” of the Matsukawa Clan with all that means.  Within the syndicate, there are reverberations, jealousies, and dealings, along with the police, and the annual Kyoto ceremonies to attend for Aki to keep up with.  All that and his feelings for Nao too, a barely restrained killer or is he?

No, this is not a romance.  This is someone who has a crush, or obsession with his boss, who is a psychotic killer and crime lord. Also, Aki is shy,gay, withdrawn, with a skin condition that keeps him covered from wrist to chin. Not exactly someone who fits in with the Yakuza model recruit mold.  No, Aki cannot stay the same and remain next to Nao and he doesn’t.  This story is his metamorphosis.

The author takes all these facts and uses them in a narrative that’s combines the delicacy of a cherry blossom and cutting edge of a knife.  Nao is still that addictive blend of ruthless killer and lover/protector of historic Kyoto and its culture.  Tea master and psycho. Even Aki seems at the end to realize he’s not sure which he will see…not that it matters to him.  Here is it Aki that does the changing for his obsession.  How the cranes fits in is just another joy and deep layer of this story and series.

This is a story and series you read for the complicated characters, the sliding maze of relationships, and a fog of a future that never looks bright.   The writing is incredible, the themes addictive, and, somehow, however psychotic and bloody it gets, you just can’t let Nao go.  Because he too is mired in the deep tragedy in his past.  This saga has me in it’s grips.  Once you start, you will feel it too.

None are stand alones.  Read them all in the order the author intended.  I highly recommend them all.

The titles of these stories are as much a perfect touch as are the covers.

Cover art is again perfect for the story and series.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition
Published December 12th 2017 by Macarons & Tea Publishing
ASINB077TLCSRG
Series The Yakuza Path:

Blood Stained Tea (The Yakuza Path, #1

Better Than Suicide (The Yakuza Path, #2

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Dom on the Side (Blowing It #3) by Kate Aaron

Standard

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Handsome man holding a briefcase in a vintage interior

Handsome man holding a briefcase in a vintage interior

“I’d love to Dom you one day. You’d be a natural.”

When a one-night stand makes Ryan Jessop a casual offer to introduce him to BDSM, he’s torn between denial of his submissive fantasies and their irresistible pull. Taking a chance, he discovers in Jim a skilled Dominant, and under his guidance, Ryan’s submission blossoms. Unfortunately, guidance is all Jim can offer. The one thing Ryan wants most—a loving Dom to whom he exclusively belongs—is off the table.

Sameer Farouk is the right guy at the wrong time, and as far as Ryan can tell, not kinky. No matter how clearly Ryan can foresee a future with Sameer, he refuses to settle for less than total compatibility, both in and out of the bedroom. Despite their obvious connection, breaking up is the right thing to do, even if it breaks Ryan’s heart.

Torn between them, Ryan must decide if he’s prepared to gamble everything on one man, or if he’d be better off with a vanilla boyfriend and a Dom on the side.

*Dom on the Side is the third book in the Blowing It universe, but can be read as a standalone.

I have mixed feelings about this story that I’ll mention below, but two important facts readers should know about this story up front—this is a prequel to the other two books in the series and takes place about five years before the start of Blowing It. And the second fact—Sameer, the second MC, isn’t introduced until the latter part of the story (at 75%) so it’s difficult to label this a romance.

The words that started Ryan on the road to BDSM were fairly simple and casually spoken after a one-night stand with a guy named Jim: I’d love to Dom you one day. You’d be a natural.” He’d always known he was a little kinky, preferring stronger, more dominant men in bed, and he’d visited a club once with his best friend, Owen, but he’d never seriously considered it until those words ate at his subconscious, and he finally gave in and called Jim to talk about it.

Jim introduces him to the world of BDSM and all its various facets, but he makes it very clear from the start that he’s only looking to play with Ryan—he’ll never get serious since he’s already got a life partner. That shocks Ryan and later causes him to add penetrative sex to his list of things he won’t do with Jim, but he gains more understanding of the open relationship Jim and his partner, Gaz, pursue once he meets Gaz at a local BDSM club. That was an experience, not only for Ryan but for readers as well. No spoilers! However, Gaz’s preferences in the scene were totally different from most this reviewer had previously read, but it was the first time it was positively presented, and I felt drawn to learn more about that kink. As a side note—it would be great to see a sequel featuring Gaz and his partner-in-play, Liam.

The author takes us on Ryan’s journey into the world of BDSM play—from his first visit to a club through his weekly sessions with Jim as they explore various forms of play, including use of restraints, paddles, floggers, sounding wands, and more. In fact, most of the story centers around Ryan’s relationship with Jim. Though he wishes desperately to find a man with whom he can experience both worlds, he despairs of ever having that happiness. When he meets Sameer, at first it’s just a one-night stand, and then weeks later he sees him again, and the two begin to seriously date.

But Ryan always shields his heart because he’s desperately afraid he’ll fall in love, and he just knows Sameer will turn away from him if he reveals his kinky side. This leads to an emotional tug-of-war throughout the last fourth of the book.

This story can be read as a standalone since it comes way before the first book in the series. If anything, readers may be prompted to continue Owen’s story with the first two books after they read this. I enjoyed it and the author did an outstanding job in explaining the world of BDSM and many of the aspects of the lifestyle and of the equipment used, however, it fell flat as a romance. Between the fact that Sameer wasn’t introduced until the end of the book, and Ryan’s efforts to remain emotionally uninvolved with him, it really didn’t feel like a romance at all. His relationship with Jim, however, was interesting, emotional, and clearly illustrated many of the aspects of a good Dom-sub relationship. If you are well-versed in BDSM, you may find this story too much of a primer. If you are new to the theme, this book provides a very good foundation, and I would recommend it with the caveat that you won’t be getting a lot of romance. Hot sex? Yes! Romance? No.

~~~~~~~~~

Cover design by Elizabeth Mackey Graphics features a man’s two arms tightly gripping white fabric and linked by a pair of bright blue leather handcuffs, clearly illustrating the MC in this story.

Sales links:  ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 285 pages
Published January 25th 2016 by Croft House (first published January 24th 2016)
Original Title Dom on the Side
Edition Language English