Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jessica James – Researching Historical Fiction: Make it Fun

Researching historical fiction: Make it fun

by Jessica James

One of the questions I’ve been asked most often about writing historical fiction is, “How much research did you have to do?”

The answer is easy: “A lot.”

But the follow-up answer to the follow-up question, “How did you do your research?” is not quite so cut and dry.

Many authors think of research as endless hours sitting in a stuffy library pouring over dusty pages of history books. In my case, nothing could be further from the truth. I did read some war records and timelines and tactics, but every author already knows the nitty-gritty work that needs to be done to get their facts straight. I thought it would be more interesting to share some of the not-so-common methods I used to learn about the Civil War era.

A novel idea

Believe it or not, some of my research involved sitting in a comfortable chair simply reading novels penned in the 1800s. I really felt guilty indulging in this exercise, but the wealth of information I gleaned from those pages about the manners, etiquette, lifestyle and dress of the Civil War period is immeasurable.

I also came away with something that is perhaps more ambiguous, but no less important—a feel for the language and the cadence of the sentences in the 19th century. I am a bit of a stickler for language, and spent a lot of time making the dialogue sound authentic.

An added bonus of reading old books is learning the techniques of writing “romance.” Novels in that era do not contain sex or promiscuous acts of any kind—requiring the author to really write from the heart.

Battle scenes? I’ve never been in one.

Battle scenes were some of the most difficult ones to write since, of course, I don’t have any actual experience in that setting. One option was to pour over books containing official records and military strategies of Civil War officers, but for the most part, I did not. Instead, I read diaries and newspaper accounts, again, to get a feel for the language, and also to develop an understanding of the personal and emotional elements of the war.

Living in Gettysburg, Pa., gave me the added opportunity to attend large-scale battle re-enactments where I discovered what a camp full of horses and a few thousand men (in wool uniforms in July) smell like. I remember being surprised at how the campfires stung my eyes and how hot and stuffy those white canvas tents could be. What I discovered by sitting in the dark and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a military encampment could never be learned in a book.

The battle re-enactments also gave me a feel for the chaos of battle—clouds of smoke, whinnying horses, bugle calls, booming cannons, shouted orders, etc. These things can be imagined, but are so much more vivid when experienced first-hand.

Walking in the footsteps of history

As I said, many aspects of the history we write about can be imagined, but I’m the type of person that has to visit, feel and experience an historic site, even if it’s just an empty field where a cavalry engagement once took place.

I call it “capturing the energy,” and, though it may sound strange, I always seem to get a burst of creativity after doing so. Whether it’s standing on the exact spot where Gen. J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded, or walking the field where Pickett’s Charge took place, I “feel the vibes” and can hardly wait to get back home and write.

Other sources

I also have to mention a few other research methods I’ve used that have inspired and educated me all at the same time. Reading old love letters and diaries are two of my favorites. Since writing was the main source of communication during the Civil War era, letters and diaries are so heartfelt and eloquent that they cannot help but serve as a source of inspiration.

I also enjoy visiting cemeteries, and reading the old inscriptions. By the way, this is also a great place to find old and regional family names (as are obituaries).

Old house tours are fun and can provide loads of information about life in the 19th century, period furnishings and architecture.

Don’t feel guilty! It’s worth your time to get away

One of the dictionary definitions of research is “study,” but another is “explore.” If you set aside one day or afternoon a week to go on a fieldtrip, you will find yourself “creatively refreshed.” Whether you go to a cemetery, a bookstore, a museum, or an empty field, the time you spend will not be wasted, so don’t feel guilty about being away from your computer. It’s research!

Above and Beyond

Another timeless novel about commitment, honor and faith from Jessica James, winner of the coveted John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction.

A raging war
An unexpected love
A selfless sacrifice

Charismatic Confederate cavalry commander Douglas Benton would much rather flirt with a woman than work with one. But Rebel spy Sarah Duvall soon teaches him that faith is more important than glory—and love more important than life.

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Genre - Christian Fiction

Rating – G

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Website www.jessicajamesblog.com

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior by Multiple Authors

Change Finds You

by Cara Michaels

“The date of record is October thirtieth, two-thousand-twelve. This is Special Agent Everett Benjamin.”

The voice drew my attention from the digital voice recorder resting on the table. The red recording light assured everyone observing that my words would be captured for all time, with “all time” defined as “until the Gemini Group buried the story”. At best, anything I said today would end up in a heavily redacted report buried in some government archive. Hadn’t stopped me from trying to get the word out, though. No, the FBI could take credit there. Getting nabbed at a convenience store just proved I’d never been intended for the undercover life. I’d only lasted two months on the official run.

“For the record, please state your name.” The special agent sitting across from me held an air of comfortable superiority. As homegrown investigative organizations rated, he still believed his FBI sat at the top of the food chain.

How sweet.

“Dr. Savannah Welborn.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” For a tough FBI guy, he had a nice voice. Kind of deep, kind of mellow.

The pen held between his index and middle fingers drummed an uneven, impatient beat. The air conditioning kicked on, a background hum of recycled air smelling faintly of paper and dust. Like the room needed to be colder. What brainless desk jockey thought hypothermia contributed to productivity? The beds of my fingernails had turned blue some fifteen minutes of waiting ago. My body had already forgotten how it felt to be warm. Inside, outside, and everywhere in between. I ground my teeth to hold in a shiver.

“Not a problem, Agent Benjamin,” I said. I even flashed my gritted teeth as I smiled. Just call me Doctor Cooperative.

His gaze slid over my Celldweller concert tee. Beneath the table, worn blue jeans allowed refrigerated air to sneak in at the torn knees. Like I needed his visual disdain to tell me I was way underdressed for a federal interrogation. They didn’t do anything without a tie or stockings.

At least my feet stayed warm in socks and sneakers.

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t get apprehended in my Sunday best. I’ll try harder next time.”

His lips pinched, biting down on whatever he wanted to say and emphasizing his stern features. Add a sense of humor and strip away the premature aging of his job, and I put him in his early thirties, maybe. Salt dashed his black pepper hair, the cut military short.

“You understand why you’re here, yes?” he asked.

“I can play stupid if you’d prefer to explain it for the viewers at home.” I gestured to the large mirror dominating the end of the room on my left.

Benjamin clenched his teeth, let out a slow breath.

“You’ve been charged with obstruction of an ongoing investigation, as well as aiding and abetting the vigilante organization known as the Paladins.”

He made a good show of flipping through a manila folder stuffed with evidence. Of my so-called crimes, no doubt. My actions over the last several years tied me to the Paladins and — if one knew where to look — to the Gemini Group who had unintentionally created them. I’d built the Gemini Group, created the experiments, written the procedures. I’d documented its transition into a monster as the sons and daughters of my trial groups grew and revealed the changes in their genetic codes.

The cells made to save their parents had resulted in unexpected, even terrifying mutations. A woman with Ehler Danlos Syndrome gave birth to a daughter who could dislocate and reshape her bones and body at will. A man with early-onset Alzheimer’s fathered a child with eidetic memory. A treatment for severe hypothermia resulted in a son with extreme cold tolerance, who could manipulate the temperature around him, and even generate ice from the water in the air.

In short, my efforts to cure disease created superhumans.

But Karen Gemini, the reason any of my work had been possible, accused me of using her to play God.

She had it right, maybe. At least in the beginning.

Like a proud parent, I’d been thrilled by these gifted children. But like regular humans, they came in all shades of good, bad, and indifferent. Some made an effort to use their unique abilities to help the world around them. The public had taken to calling them the Paladins, and it suited them. Honorable, fierce, and steadfast in the face of a world turning on them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Karen Gemini gathered the blackest souls to her bosom, a nightmare brood poised to unleash hell on earth.

The FBI and Agent Benjamin might not yet realize it, but the Paladins stood in the way of gathering darkness. And as the woman whose research had started all of this, I stood to shield the Paladins.

If Benjamin meant to intimidate me, he needed a new strategy.

Go ahead, Agent Benjamin. Take me down. This is so much bigger than you know.

“Dr. Welborn?” Benjamin’s gaze, his eyes an eerie amber-orange, fixed on me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you want me to deny the allegations? For dramatic effect?”

He turned away, but not before I saw him grimace. Aw, did my attitude hurt his career advancement opportunities? Tough shit.

He needed to toughen up his poker face for this job.

I’d stepped into sharky waters with open eyes. I’d known the risks of siding with the Paladins. Of siding against Gemini.

I smiled.

He rolled his eyes, tension visible along his jaw. “Belligerent charm. Does that work for you often?”

“What do you want from me here, Agent?”

“Names. Aliases. Addresses. We want the Paladin operation.”

I laughed. Not a polite titter, but a snort of disbelief. “Sorry to say, but you’re doomed to disappointment.”

“Doctor—”

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Genre - Short Story Anthology

Rating – PG13 (some strong language)

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Sarah Martinez – How Have People Responded to Sex and Death in the American Novel?

How Have people responded to Sex and Death in the American Novel?

by Sarah Martinez

I had one woman from my mommy group who also has hopes of publishing one day come up and put her arm around me and tell me I was a badass. She said she admired that I just went out and got it done. At a time when I feel like all I do is juggle, drop balls and fail to complete any number of tasks, that was wonderful to hear.

I got my first fan letter a few weeks ago. The person was also an author who said that the way Sex and Death was written made her want to inspire her readers to think as much as she did when reading the book, and she wanted to go past what she thought she was capable of. My words did this? WOW. I don’t care how many books I sell (Yes, I do.) that is priceless.

When I am inspired to write to an author in this way I am affected. The feeling is huge. It means that someone else has gotten inside of me and made their mark. To think that I had that same type of effect on someone else is really really incredible.

Most of the reviews on Amazon have been good and what I am really proud of are how well thought out most of them are. There is a range of experiences people have had with the book and that they took the time out of their lives to articulate this is worth a lot.

I was worried that people would be frustrated because it didn’t fit as what I feared they expected from an erotic novel. It turns out that readers are very willing to go with me on these wild journeys. Now I can’t wait to give them the next book!

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Genre – Literary Erotica

Rating – X

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Website http://www.mywildskies.com/

Living with Your Past Selves by Bill Hiatt

CHAPTER 3: THE THEFT

The problem was, the shifter wasn’t bleeding from multiple flesh wounds, and his arms hadn’t started to feel like lead. I could still lose if I didn’t kill him fast.

The shifter dodged me skillfully, staying just far enough away to tempt me to lunge too far and lose my balance. Luckily, I knew that game from my previous lives and did not fall for it. Unfortunately, the shifter had created a standoff. He couldn’t get close enough to me to try hand-to-hand combat, but he moved too fast for me to strike successfully with the sword. The subtle blurring of his outline told me that he was shifting constantly, somehow using his shifting as a tactic to dispel the fatigue poisons in his muscles. His breathing was still steady, his moves as fast as ever. I was pretty sure he couldn’t keep up the shifting indefinitely, especially at that rate of speed, but he really didn’t need to. I was already having trouble keeping the blade up, and the blood loss was making me light-headed; there was no way I could outlast him.

Then I realized what I had to do. The force creating the fire on the sword was magic, but the fire itself behaved as fire normally would—and I could manipulate natural forces, at least on a small scale, almost as easily as I could manipulate people. I had enough breath now for a quick chant in Welsh, and I used it. In response to my words, the flames shot out from the sword like a laser, blasting the shifter’s chest and igniting him. He howled and tried to beat out the flames with his hands, but the fiery stream, fed by the magic of the sword in a way I by myself could never have sustained, just kept right on coming. In no time he was engulfed in flames. His screams echoed in my ears, and the smell of burning flesh was everywhere. Once I was sure his attention was focused completely on the fire, I moved in and took off his head in one swift, clean stroke.

I need to preface what happened next by pointing out I wasn’t really as much of a wimp as I’m going to sound like. You just have to keep in mind that, for all my bravado, I had never had to deal with this kind of situation before in my current life. Many of my former selves had been hardened by numerous battles, and they took killing lightly, in some cases even when they were about as young as I was now. For me it was different. For four years I had had the echoes of those past selves in me, telling me to kill, sometimes for what seemed pretty trivial causes, like Stan’s poking around near my secret. In my wildest dreams, though, I had never actually expected that I would ever need to kill somebody. Finding the sword, the training, so much else, I had done more or less instinctively, not really anticipating the immediate practical need for such things. For the last few minutes, of course, I had known that my life was on the line, that I needed to kill the shifter. But during the whole battle I had been running on autopilot, fueled by battle adrenalin and survival instinct, other feelings jammed down as far inside of me as they would go. Now, as the adrenalin faded, I knew that everything had changed. I had sometimes daydreamed about myself as a fairy-tale knight slaying a dragon. But fairy tales don’t suggest any psychological aftermath. The prince finishes saving the damsel, perhaps marries her—end of story. However, my story had no end. Yes, I was alive, and that should have made me ecstatically happy, but I had killed, and I knew with a chilling certainty that I would kill again…and again…and again. Oh, it would be self-defense, or it would be defending someone else, but my current self could not yet handle the enormous weight with which such violence would press upon my soul.

As the gory reality flooded over me, I swayed, fell to my knees, and vomited repeatedly, my stomach continuing to convulse long after it was empty. The smell of burned flesh continued to assail me, and so did one sight I would never be able to forget no matter what I did—to the very end, the shifter’s face had looked like Stan’s. When he had realized he could not contain the flames, I saw the absolute, gut-wrenching fear in Stan’s eyes. And when I took the thing’s head, I could not shake the feeling that I was taking Stan’s.

I lay on the ground, feeling sorry for myself and disgusted with myself, not wanting to ever get up. I began to cry, gently at first, then in long, shaking sobs.

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Answer these in the Rafflecopter below and stand a chance to win a $50 Amazon.com gift card or cash via PayPal

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Genre - Fantasy / Young Adult

Rating – PG13

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Darkest Lie by Angela Day

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CHAPTER 3

             "I bet he escaped from the psych ward," Remi mused, fascinated by Thane's story. "He sounds like one of those savants, people who can do one thing better than anyone else on the planet but lack in their connection to reality." 

              They were at his locker in the school hallway during lunch, two days after Thane's mad dash to catch the bus and lightning strike. Remi had been glad to see him and drawn out everything that had happened since he left school on Monday, and he'd just finished telling her about Brennan Tayler. "Here's your backpack, Flash," Remi said, smacking him in the chest with it. Thane gave her a quizzical look, and she colored. "He's a comic book guy. Wears all red, runs so fast he's hard to see."  Thane kept looking at her until she punched his arm. "Cool people like comic books."

              "Sure," Thane said, smiling a little. It felt good to be doing something normal after the last few days. He stretched the fingers of his right hand, thinking about the hospital and Brennan again. 

              Remi noticed. "Let me see it?" Thane held out his previously injured knuckles for her and she stared at them like a jeweler inspecting a diamond. "There's nothing here. No bruising, no swelling, nothing. Are you sure you even hurt it?"

              "Yeah," Thane answered. "It was broken. He fixed it."

              "I wonder why," Remi mused, reaching out and taking his hand in both of hers.  Thane stiffened, unsure, but Remi was too deep in her thoughts to notice. She rubbed his knuckles with her thumb, trying to feel for any inconsistency. Thane felt his face going red and was about to pull away when something inside his hand moved.

              Remi froze-- she'd felt it too. Their eyes met over his hand. "What is that?" she asked him. He shrugged, pulling his hand out of hers to look at it himself. He pushed his finger down in the space between his second and third knuckles, and felt that same something hard roll away. It was so small he never would have noticed it on his own. He pulled his hand up to his eyes, and Remi stood on tiptoe to get a closer look. They both leaned in, trying to see any evidence of what they were feeling under Thane's skin.

              The bell rang, startling them both. Thane and Remi realized their faces were only inches apart, and sprang back. Snickers around them in the hallway let them know their display had not gone unnoticed.

              "New girlfriend, Thane?" Ben called from a few lockers down. 

              "You could do better, new girl," Jeran said, flexing his muscles. "I could show you a lot more than that weak loser." Thane's face colored, but Jeran walked off laughing with his buddies. Jeran was an entitled prick, the star of the second worst football team in the state. He wasn't smart enough to be the quarterback but as a wide receiver, you only had to get the ball somewhere near him and he would catch it. Tall and muscular, girls flocked around him and grownups loved to talk to him. Thane wanted to punch him hard enough to make it impossible for him to smirk for at least a week.

              "Don't worry about those idiots," Remi started, but Thane spun around and left her behind. From the moment Mr. Hoffman introduced them, Thane had failed at his one cardinal rule. When he was with Remi everybody saw him.

              Thane was one of the first into the room. Ms. Rasmussen didn't look up as he entered, engrossed in some magazine. He managed to slide onto his stool in the back row without exciting note or comment from anyone. He took out his notebook and pretended to read it as the rest of the class arrived in twos and threes. 

              Remi's voice, laughing and chatting, stabbed his ear and he couldn't help glancing up. She was walking in with Jeran, smiling at him and shaking her head so that her dark hair bounced. As they came in, Ms. Rasmussen's attention was diverted by Remi's giggle and she smugly observed them. "Know your way around now, sweetie?" she asked Remi in a satisfied voice. Remi gave her a half smile, but did not respond. Jeran flashed Ms. Rasmussen a grin calculated to charm, then turned to Thane and transformed it into a self-satisfied smirk.

              "Thanks, Jeran," Remi said, and walked back to sit with Thane. Jeran's face darkened as she walked away.

              "I found your girlfriend lost in the hall," Jeran swaggered down the aisle towards him, voice dripping with false sympathy. "I told her you were unstable." Thane was clenching his teeth, jaw taunt, and Jeran bent down in his face. "It's okay, loser. If your dad doesn't wake up, I'll take care of your hot mom, too."

              Music blossomed in Thane's mind as his fist connected with Jeran's jaw. There was a crunch and a sizzle and the smell of burnt flesh as Jeran fell backwards and the second bell rang. Jeran landed on the floor, as surprised by the sucker punch as Thane was. Jeran sprang back up, blood in his mouth and rage in his eyes and oddly, a bright burn on his jaw. He moved at Thane.

              "That is enough, Jeran!" Ms. Rasmussen snapped. Jeran hesitated, and then lunged for Thane. Ms. Rasmussen grabbed Jeran's shoulder and spun him around, her eyes flashing and her breath quick. "Get out of my class." 

              "What?" Jeran was stunned. "But Cressa--"

              "You will call me Ms. Rasmussen. Go to the nurse's office, then the principal's.  Now." Her voice had gotten softer, colder, and somehow so dark that Thane repressed a chill.

              Jeran crumbled. He fled from the room, the door banging as he ran through it. Ms. Rasmussen came to stand in front of Thane and rested the tips of her fingers on his arm. "Aren't you a hero for defending your mother's honor like that!" She was sweet, but her green eyes glowed with something Thane didn't recognize. Greed? Insanity? She tugged at his arm a little, and he stood up. "Why don't you come up here and take Jeran's seat? He won't be needing it."

              Thane obediently gathered his things and went with her to the front. Remi followed him. Ms. Rasmussen seemed delighted. She even clapped her hands to get the attention of the class, which was completely unnecessary as every eye was already on her.  

              "Change of plans today, everyone! We're going to be doing hands-on experiments instead of a quiz." Her announcement brightened the feeling in the room considerably. "Put away your books and keep out your notepads. You'll need to take good notes. Every team will need a Bunsen burner, a holding tray, one five hundred milliliter beaker, one hundred milliliter beaker, safety glasses for each of you, a thermometer, and a pair of tongs. We're going to talk about thermodynamics!" She seemed gleeful, as manic as Thane had ever seen her.  

              Thane got up and gathered the implements since Remi wouldn't know where they were. He felt awful for ditching her in the hall. Carefully holding as many of the implements as he could in his arms, he set them down gently on the table in front of Remi and spread them out. 

              "I stole his playbook," Remi whispered. Thane attached the Bunsen burner to the short tube that rose out of the center of their rectangular table. "I thought we could do some creative play changing."

              A rush of gratitude warmed Thane. Having a friend had perks. Ms. Rasmussen continued to give instructions.  "...and be sure, girls, to keep your hair away from the flames. I'll be around to make sure that the gas lines are connected. Place the holding tray about six inches above the flame and fill the larger beaker with water from the sink..." Remi grabbed the larger beaker and followed the line of students back to the sink. Soon all the students had their beaker of water in place on the holding tray and were turning the burners on, seeing the waving yellow and orange flame tighten into a straight blue and purple one. "Open the air hole to only about half, we don't want it fully on. We're just heating water."

              The lean, tall woman walked around the classroom checking each burner to ensure that the gas lines were attached correctly and the flames were high and hot enough. She came to Thane and Remi, bending to peer closely at their set up. "I think you need to lower your holding tray slightly," she instructed, and Thane made the adjustment. The corner of Ms. Rasmussen's mouth twitched, and then she moved on.

              Her foot slipped, the thin heel shooting into the air, and she flailed her arms. With one hand she grabbed the side of a table, and the other grabbed Thane's left arm, pulling his wrist directly across the open flame.

              "Argh!" Thane grunted, jerking his hand back. There was a shiny red mark along the underside of his wrist as wide as two fingers. He stared at it as his teacher regained her balance and turned to him.

              "Oh, Thane, I'm so sorry," she gushed. "Someone spilled some water on the floor and I slipped! Let me see it," and she jerked his arm towards her. Her green eyes studied the red welt for a slow heartbeat, and she appeared... pleased. But only for a moment. Her face was full of concern and contrition when she looked back at him. "It's not badly burned. Run cold water over it. As for the rest of you," she whirled to face the class, her beautiful features twisted in fierce and dangerous anger, "be more careful. This could have been a serious accident. If you spill any liquid, clean it up immediately. I could've broken my ankle and poor Thane," she looked down at him and her tone quieted, "poor Thane could have lost his hand. Well," she said, her voice returning to normal, "back to work, everyone."

              As the flames burned and the students adjusted their safety glasses, Ms. Rasmussen pulled a box off the shelf behind her desk. It was dusty, and she smiled and held it for a moment. Then she wiped it off and placed it on her desk. "In this box I have several pieces of Field's Metal. Has anyone ever heard of it?" She paused, but no hands went up. "It is a most impressive alloy. It's a non-toxic mixture of bismuth, tin, and indium. There are many alloys that melt at low temperatures, even though the metals they are mixed from require much higher temperatures to melt in their pure form. These low melting point metals are called fusible alloys."

              Several of the students were scribbling furiously, as Ms. Rasmussen was not writing on the board. Instead, her hands were resting on either side of the open box as she was intently watching the beaker and the flame in front of Remi and Thane. Remi was one of the desperate note takers-- Thane couldn't take his eyes away from the chemistry teacher, like a bird staring at a snake. His heart pounded against his chest and his palms felt sweaty. Something was wrong. 

              She reached her hand into the box and drew out what looked to be a silver straw. "Each of you will be given one of these Field's Metal wires. Place your thermometers into the water and the metal wire into your smaller empty beaker. Using the tongs, hold the smaller beaker partially submerged in the boiling water. Record at what temperature, both Fahrenheit and Celsius, the metal begins to melt. I will pass out molds to each team for you to pour your liquid metal into, and you will time how long it takes the metal to re-harden."

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Genre – New Adult Urban Fantasy

Rating – PG

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Website http://awriterbyday.com/

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Survivors by Daniel Harvell

The Survivors

When seven strangers impossibly survive a horrific airplane crash, they find themselves changed in remarkable ways. The survivors are endowed with powers that defy explanation. Some are blessed. Some are cursed.

Going their separate ways, they adapt their extraordinary “gifts” to their ordinary lives. The results, however, aren’t always pretty — particularly when one of them engages in a killing spree. With little more to go on than the psychic link that they all share, the survivors seek out one another to uncover the murderer and bring him or her to justice.

The fireman, the grandmother, the psychiatric patient, the basketball player, the mute girl, the rich blonde, and the man in the wheelchair — they all have secrets worth hiding. They can’t trust each other. They can’t even trust themselves.

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Genre - Fantasy

Rating – PG

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Website http://danielharvell.com

Lichgates: Book One of the Grimoire Saga by SM Boyce

Chapter 4—Caged

Kara’s pulse raced. Her body couldn’t take this kind of stress for much longer. The brunette standing in the cave laughed and slid the gold cross into her pocket.

“It really is my lucky day!” the woman said. “So the Vagabond’s back, now? And it only took a thousand years. We were beginning to think you would never show up.”

Her arsenal of snappy comebacks exhausted, Kara shrugged. The brunette meandered closer, her loose curls sliding over her neck as she gloated. She stopped only when she could graze the Grimoire with her long, pale fingers.

The old leather book imploded at the woman’s touch, scattering its dust in the air. Kara gasped, and the clover pendant’s diamond glowed blue from where it hung around her neck.

“Bring it back!” the woman demanded.

Kara stuttered, unsure of what to say.

“I said bring it back!”

“I don’t know how!”

“Don’t lie to me.” The brunette grabbed Kara’s collar and lifted her to her toes.

She seized the woman’s freckled wrists without thinking. Heat flooded through her hands, just as it had when she pulled the clover pendant out of the lock, and something sparked in her palm. Blue light exploded from her fingers.

The woman sailed backward and crashed against a bookshelf, but Kara fell lightly back on her feet and examined her hands. All of the freckles and wrinkles of her palm were in the right place. There was no sign at all that lightning had just exploded from her fingers.

Books tumbled off the shelves, burying the brunette in parchment and crinkled leather that fell away just as quickly when the woman stood a second later. Her shoulders hunched as she glared, but she didn’t come closer. As much as Kara wanted to run, her feet would not listen.

“How long have you been the Vagabond?”

“Um—”

“You can’t even control what you are, can you?”

“Well—”

A white streak blazed across her vision, and the woman was gone. Something grabbed her shoulder and shoved her into the nearest bookshelf, pulling one of her hands behind her. An itchy material scratched her wrists. Before Kara could take another breath, the woman spun her around. Kara’s hands were now bound in front of her with thick rope.

“Hey! You can’t—”

The woman laughed. “I already did. My name is Deidre. I want you to remember that, because this was too easy. You’ll want a rematch someday, and I’ll be more than happy to oblige.”

Deidre dug her nails into Kara’s arm and pulled her away from the study. The rope wriggled like a worm as Kara struggled. Its fibers dug deeper into her wrists, stinging her fingertips with pins and needles as it cut off circulation to her hands. She stopped resisting, and the rope, in turn, was still.

They turned down a dark tunnel. Kara couldn’t see, and the only sensation besides the moldy damp of the cave was Deidre’s nails as they bruised her skin. They walked for a few minutes, slowing only when they neared the entrance to another passage. Light splashed from it, illuminating gray rocks that cast shadows into the hallway. They walked through, and the glare blinded Kara until her eyes adjusted to the rows of pale gray flame emanating from dozens of torches.

A massive cavern stretched into the expanses above, dissolving beyond the light’s edge into solid darkness. The torchlight illuminated a swarm of ash-gray creatures. The pores on their arms hissed, releasing streams of hot mist that hovered above them. She stopped to gape, but the brunette shoved her forward. Several of the gray monsters snickered or leered at the rips in her clothes.

Something roared nearby. Kara jumped. To her left, two lumbering monsters leaned on their forearms like apes. They loomed over her, their bodies clunky blocks of rock that sent pebbles falling to the earth with each movement. Each had a pair of gaping holes served as a nose. Their lipless mouths cracked and tore as they roared, revealing three rows of stubby teeth.

“What—?”

“Trolls,” Deidre interrupted. “Don’t get too close. We want you in one piece, at least for now.”

The brunette tightened her grip on Kara’s shoulder and turned her toward the trolls. The beasts snorted and shuffled in place, revealing glimpses of a wheeled metal cage that was attached to them with thick leather straps.

One troll lowered its head, leaning closer when Kara passed, and its brown iris shrank as it focused on her with a look of uneasy curiosity. When she was close enough to touch it, the creature lunged, twisting its head to snap at her neck.

Buy Now @ Amazon & Smashwords

Genre – Fantasy

Rating – PG13

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Orangeberry Book of the Day – The Blackout by Stephanie Erickson

5.

The next morning Molly got up and went to class, prepared to hear the groans from her Modern Poetry class for their late papers.  She usually punished them with half a letter grade for every class they were late, but she wasn’t sure what to do to compensate for her own lateness.  She thought if she could come up with a few options, like having class in the garden one day or letting them pick the next poem to discuss, and let them choose, they’d be happy. 

Her other classes held better prospects.  She was excited because the day brought discussions about Gulliver’s Travels in British Literature, and The Poisonwood Bible in Modern Fiction.  Save for the groaning from Modern Poetry, she expected it to be a pretty good day. 

It happened in the middle of Modern Fiction.  A student had asked what point Kingsolver was trying to make by sacrificing the family’s youngest child. 

“What could possibly be worth killing such an innocent character?” she asked.

“Well, what do you think?  Do you think the father is so taken by his ‘mission’ to ‘save’ the heathens in the Congo that his youngest is a fair sacrifice, as you put it?  What’s one life if it saves a handful of others?”   Molly had just said it to spur the discussion.  She often made extreme statements in class just to stir the pot and get a good discussion going.

She sat cross-legged on top of her desk looking at the rows of students as hands shot into the air.  She smiled and surveyed their faces.  Their expressions ranged from angry to mischievous.  Molly picked one that seemed undecided.  “Mia, what do you think?”

Before she could answer, the lights went out.  It wasn’t really all that dark, because the back wall had several windows on it, and for that she was thankful. 

“Um…OK.  Just a second here, let me poke my head into the hall and see if I can find out what the deal is,” Molly said as she got down off the desk.

The students whispered to each other as she walked to the door.  “Settle down.  I’m sure it’s just a power surge, and it’ll be back on before I can even find out what happened.” 

“My phone doesn’t work.  Does yours?”  A boy in the front row asked his neighbor.

It caught Molly’s attention.  “Is your battery dead?” she asked.

“No.  I left home with a full charge.” 

Other students began retrieving their phones.  The consensus was unanimous.  No one’s phone worked.  Molly took her phone out of her pocket to see, and to her surprise, it displayed nothing but a black screen. 

She frowned and continued on her journey to the door.  “I’ll find out what’s going on.  Just stay calm,” Molly assured them.  They all looked worried.

Teachers were beginning to poke their heads out of their doors, making similar inquiries about the outage.  No one seemed to know what was going on.  Normally, there would be an announcement or some sort of directive about what to do, but they’d never encountered this type of outage before. 

Molly ran to her office to grab her laptop and returned to the classroom.  By then the kids were getting a little panicky, letting their imaginations run away with them. 

“Why would the power and our phones be out?  What could possibly cause something like that?”

“How long do you think it’ll be out?”

“My mom said she thinks the apocalypse is coming.  She said the signs are all there.”

Another student burst out laughing.  “Your mom is crazy.”

Molly interrupted before a fight could break out.  “OK, enough.  The power will probably be back on soon.  The school has an emergency generator that should kick in any minute now.  Just let me get my laptop going, and I’ll see if I can get some information about it.”

“Dr. Bonham, if the power’s out, will you be able to get online?”

By then, Molly had already gotten her computer out and was trying to get it powered up.  “Oh, that’s a good point.  Probably not.” 

Then she noticed nothing was happening with her computer.  She held the power button down, with no response.  She waited a few moments and tried again.  Still nothing. 

“What on Earth…” Molly muttered.

“What’s wrong?” 

“Um…I’m not sure.  I can’t get my computer to come on.” 

“What should we do?  Can we go home?”

“I don’t know about that either.  The stairwells are dark, I don’t want there to be a stampede.  Just give me a minute to think about the options.” 

They weren’t prepared for something like this.  They knew exactly what to do for a tornado, a fire alarm, or an earthquake.  But this was new territory. 

There really was no reason not to continue with class.  The only things they were using were the lights, and it was plenty bright enough to continue the discussion without them.  However, the kids were rattled, and quite frankly so was Molly.  Continuing with the discussion seemed fruitless, but leaving right this second wasn’t a good option either. She didn’t want to put the students in an unsafe situation. 

“Let me run back to the department head’s office and see what he thinks.  You guys wait here until I get back, OK?”  Molly looked at them all, seeing the panic starting to bubble up.  “I mean it,” she said sternly.  She thought giving them a task, even if it was just sitting still, would help occupy their minds.

Molly caught up with Terry Longman in the hallway.  She looked at him and shrugged.  “Now what?” she asked.

His normally disheveled appearance looked a little more unruly in his stress.  His grey hair stood straight out and his tweed coat hung unevenly.  “I have no idea.  I’m telling the kids and teachers to stay put for now.  There are no lights in the stairwells, and I don’t want anyone getting trampled.  Let’s wait twenty minutes or so and see if it comes back.  If it doesn’t, we’ll let the classes go one room at a time to prevent a stampede.  So, since your class is at the far end of the building, they may be here a while.”

“No problem.  Just keep me posted.”

Molly stopped in Cindy’s room, knowing she had a rowdy group this time of day.  They were arguing with her about getting to leave.

“HEY!”  Molly hollered to get their attention.  They were immediately quiet.  “This is a professional environment, not a middle school.  Arguing is not tolerated.  You will stay put until Dr. Longman says you can go.  He’s making his rounds now, and he’s said if power is not restored in another twenty minutes or so, he will let everyone go home.  However, he doesn’t want any misconduct, so he’ll be letting classes go one room at a time.  Just sit tight.”

A unified groan went up.  “Hey, you’re supposed to be in this class right now anyway!  I don’t want to hear your complaints,” Molly said.

“Yeah, well I’m not sitting here any longer than I have to.  Class gets out at three, and I’m out of here at three,” declared an older student, dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt.  It was obvious that his silver chains, piercings, and long hair were meant to intimidate.  Molly was unfazed.

“You’ll do whatever the head of the department says you’ll do.  No questions about it.  This is considered an emergency situation, and for your own safety and the safety of others, you’ll stay put for now.  We’re not keeping you here forever, so just relax.” 

Cindy had that deer-in-headlights look.  Molly turned and put her hand on Cindy’s upper arm.  “Hey, straighten up.  These kids’ll eat you alive if you let them.  Don’t.  Terry said he’ll be letting classes go one at a time if the power’s not back in twenty minutes.  The process shouldn’t take too long, since there’s about ten rooms downstairs and ten up here, so just hold the fort for maybe an hour tops, OK?”

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Genre – Adult Fiction / Contemporary

Rating – PG13 (some strong language)

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Website http://stephanieerickson.weebly.com/

Death Ain't But A Word: A Supernatural Hot Mess - Zander Marks

Death Ain’t But A Word - Zander Marks

Amazon Kindle US

Amazon Kindle UK

Genre - Urban Fantasy

Rating -  PG13

4.4 (29 reviews)

Free until 31 July 2013

Just because Wilkin's a crackhead doesn't mean the shadows aren't real.
They're real. And they've been haunting him since he was seven years old. Mostly he ignores them.
But when the ghost of his best friend from childhood shows up at the local motel, Wilkin can't ignore the call of friendship. And when his friend's killer buys the motel so he can destroy the remains, Wilkin can't ignore that, either.
Wilkin steals his friend's skull before the killer can destroy it and is plunged into a hot mess of a supernatural thrill ride.
A death-race pursuit of a child's skull. A spirit-whispering trucker hauling plush toys to Kansas. Five demonic farm-kids in a housing project. A Dodge City marshal who executes wayward ghosts. A nasty yellow jersey that takes the joy out of living. And a graveyard full of snitches.
It's enough to make you want to hit the crackpipe. All leading to a climax where staying alive is the least of Wilkin's worries.
Because when most of the people around you are spirits anyway, DEATH AIN'T BUT A WORD.

Corr Syl the Warrior by Garry Rogers

Corr Syl

The warrior wiggled his furry toes, scratched an ear, and thought about singing with Ralph and dancing with Allysen last night.  He grinned and rolled out of bed.  As he reached toward his jar of dried fruit and nuts, he sensed the attack and dropped to the floor.

The assassin came across the smooth stone with quick light steps, his gleaming blade slashing down from right to left.  The warrior had dropped right beneath the cut, and now he leapt forward, drew a short sword, and turned to block the whirling assassin’s rising cut.  As the assassin recoiled from the block, the warrior drew his long sword and attacked in ‘two heavens’ form, rotating blades beating down the defenses of the backing assassin.  In seconds the warrior stopped, his short sword holding the enemy blade, the edge of his long sword across the imaginary assassin’s neck.

The attack could follow many other paths.  Instead of completing a full spin after the blocked cut, the assassin could have directed his momentum ‘over the mountain’ onto the warrior’s shoulders or skull.  To meet that slower, but stronger maneuver, the warrior might continue his turn into his left quarter, letting his short sword trail into a high block position.  Then he would step in and shove the assassin back, and again use two heavens.  Or….

The instant an attack began, chemical and electrical impulses generated by nodes throughout his body would accelerate the warrior’s movements.  Had the assassin been another Tsaeb warrior, the attack would have been complete before the warrior reached his sword.

Corr Syl, the youngest fully-trained warrior of Wycliff District, liked the direct block and the power of two heavens, but he knew that if he drew both swords, his long sword could end the encounter almost instantly.  He grinned, and his long gray whiskers twitched when he thought about the damage the edge-to-edge block by his almost indestructible drahsalleh sword would do to a metal blade.  He added the defense against the assassin’s over the mountain maneuver to the collection of tactics in the battle kingdom of his memory world and shifted his thoughts.

Corr’s battle kingdom held perfect memories of thousands of encounters, both from real practices with other warriors and from his imagination.  Narrow canyons, waterfalls, caves, and dark woods filled the battle kingdom.  A tendril of Corr’s conscious mind often visited and relived favorite encounters.  After Nursery Canyon where Corr had spent his childhood, Corr liked the battle kingdom best.

Barren lands and seas existing only as outlines covered most of Corr’s memory world.  If no mortal attack or accident occurred, the outlines would eventually fill with images, emotions, and thoughts.

Corr twitched his fur-covered skin, and pulled on his weapons harness.  As he snapped the smooth gray clasp bearing the warrior’s insignia, he ended the thread of an old argument that had lost significance.  He had always questioned the value of mental combat exercises involving close-quarters surprise attacks.  No normal assassin, and almost no Tsaeb warriors, could come so close undetected.  But Corr’s teacher had insisted that Corr practice such situations at least once every day.  After 13 years and thousands of practices, Corr’s complaint had faded.  So he gave it up.  All the warriors Corr knew added a close encounter attack to their other daily exercises.  It must serve a purpose.

As he turned toward the door, another thoughtstream, like a mocking child, produced a conclusion:  Rhya Bright doesn’t like me. Corr severed the stream and gave the freed capacity to a new botheration.

Yesterday, as Corr strolled toward the river enjoying the warm sun on his fur, Arden Aquila, the Chairman of the District Council, swooped to a landing in Corr’s path and made a befuddling announcement.

“Corr, the council has elected you as its volunteer agent; we need to have at least one warrior present at all meetings.”

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Genre –  Science Fiction

Rating – PG

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Website http://garryrogers.com/

Dina Rae – Are Angels Aliens or Vice Versa?

Are Angels Aliens or Vice Versa? 
By Dina Rae

We’ve all heard about UFO sightings, alien abductions, burnt crop fields, and cattle mutilations. Roswell, New Mexico and Area 54 are the meccas of American X-files. Bright discs are seen everywhere around the world. What does the Bible have to say about extra-terrestrials? Were things so different three thousand years ago? Or are we just using a different vernacular? Anyone who has ever picked up the Bible knows the story of Noah and the ark. God chose him and his family because they were ‘pure’ (Genesis). The question is pure heart or pure bloodline? Angels mated with women back in those days, producing a half breed called nephilim.

These beings were described as giants with superhuman powers. Could the nephilim be an old version of modern day aliens of a mixed race? Angels and aliens are always described as glowing with light. Ezekiel, an Old Testament prophet, vividly describes a spaceship in his book. Enoch’s writings about angels were controversial enough to be edited out of the Bible. More of his writings were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He regularly communicated with angels and ascended up to Heaven to speak with God on behalf of their shortcomings. Possible abduction? Halo of the Damned explores the idea of angels breeding with humans.

Stop by Dina Rae's website and enter to win $200 worth of her novel-themed prizes at http://dinaraeswritestuff.blogspot.com/p/rafflecopter-for-halo-of-nephilim.html   @haloofthedamned Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/dinaraebooks/ Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/DinaRaeBooks Halo of the Nephilim, sequel to Halo of the Damned (60 reviews, 4.3 avg. on Goodreads), has just been released and now available through major book distributors. RAFFLECOPTER with prizes for all angel and demon lovers. Enter to win!
4 Custom t-shirts
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angel ornament, fashion scarf, winged trinket bowl, wing earrings
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Halo of the Nephilim
Can a fallen angel, his band of broken souls, and his nephilim children change the world?
Armaros the Cursed—Satan’s favorite of the Fallen, falls once again after breaking the rules. Fearing an eternity of punishment, he attempts to save himself by sending a bird to his congregation on an island. They prepare the great Armaros’ kingdom for his return. His loyal worshipers must rescue him from the pit. The sequel to Halo of the Damned, the story begins with Armaros’ arrest. Reporters are duped into believing he was gunned down while awaiting trial. Declared dead, his only surviving daughter proves her relation and inherits everything. She catapults her career from an entry-level advertising assistant to the head of Armaros’ advertising empire. Life couldn’t be better: a windfall inheritance, real power within a major industry, a loving relationship with a former demon, and a baby on the way. She should be on top of the world, but knows everything good must come to an end.
Joanna’s sister marries her dead mother’s probate lawyer. Joanna includes them as players in her advertising chain. A string of events tangles their lives with old family secrets.
Wickedness looms over the Easterhouse family once more, forcing them into an unlikely showdown filled with page-turning excitement. Halo of the Nephilim is filled with conspiracy, Enochian magick, witchcraft, and angel lore taken directly from scripture and other ancient writings. Nephilim meander the Earth in confusion—constantly questioning who they are and where they stand in terms of good and evil.
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Genre - Horror/Paranormal
Rating – R
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Friday, July 26, 2013

Steve Wilhelm – Why Book Covers Are So Important

Why Book Covers Are So Important

by Steve Wilhelm

When I am looking to buy a book in the bookstore, or an eBook online, the first thing that catches my eye is the book cover. Now, unless I am already looking for the new book from a top author that I like or a specific book that I have heard wonderful buzz from someone I know who has read it or maybe a review in the newspaper, I have to admit, I am going to be swayed by the book cover. If the cover is bland or so generic that I have no idea if it even relates to the title of the book or the content inside the cover, chances are I will not purchase it, much less give it a second glance. On the flip side, if the cover is so complex that I have to struggle to find the title of the book, or it makes me have to try and guess what the book is about, I might hesitate in the purchase.

There has to be balance in what is portrayed on the cover to capture the eye of the reader, as well as draw interest to what is contained inside. If there is a scantily clad, big breasted young lady in the arms of a muscle bound pirate against a moonlit sky full of stars, well, that would definitely catch my eye and probably provoke some interest. It would also tell me that it’s probably a soapy, chick book full of sex and adventure. Not that I have anything against that kind of book. But it’s just not for me. But that’s a constructive cover for a certain genre and a specific reader. If the cover is a plain green and has a turtle inside a circle with the title of, say, “The Frantic Pool,” I might spend a minute or two trying to figure out what the cover means. It could, of course, be a brilliant cover and title and have specific meaning to the plot. So that cover has done what it is supposed to do, which is generate the interest of the reader.

The cover doesn’t have to be generated professionally by a graphic designer or a company that specializes in covers. If one can’t afford the services of those, that’s fine. But they should definitely put in the extra time and effort to create something in his or her own budget that doesn’t look like it was created on an etch-a-sketch or a napkin at the local coffee shop. Unless, of course, that’s the effect one is trying to convey.  But do go the extra mile to create something classy and presentable, something that the readers will enjoy and take a second look at. A cover that the author can be proud of, because that’s what people are going to see in bookstores when they pick up books, or browse the internet sites that sell eBooks. People are going to see that cover first.

Remember, the book cover can make or break the book.

The Tales of Nick

Nick Ambrose, aspiring author and recovering alcoholic is on the verge of success. His first book is a hit and opening doors for him. He’s met Sera, young, beautiful and seems to be the girl of his dreams. Life is good. What could possible go wrong?

“Dark, cold, trembling. Where was I? I shook my head and slowly the black turned to a dull grey. I opened my eyes and strained to see something – anything. My head throbbed as if a ping hammer was constantly pounding from the inside. The more I concentrated and tried to focus, the more I felt the pain in my head. It was overwhelming, and there seemed nothing I could do to overcome it. Why was I hurting so? The tumultuous angst was indescribable. I seemed totally immobilized, body, mind and soul. Where could I obtain help? Was there anyone out there?”

Barry, Nick’s best friend is MIA and Nick now finds himself all alone. Demons from his past now come crashing into the fray, challenging all that Nick has worked so hard for. Could even Houdini find an escape from the binds that tie?

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Genre - Thriller/Romance

Rating – R

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Website http://stevemutt.wordpress.com/

Dogs Aren’t Men by Billi Tiner

Dog's Aren't Men

A contemporary romance.

Rebecca Miller is a gifted veterinarian with an extraordinary understanding of animal behavior. She is leading a fulfilling life as the owner and operator of the Animal Friends Veterinary Clinic. Ever since her 30th birthday, her mother has made it her mission to help Rebecca find a man, get married, and give her grandchildren. But Rebecca doesn’t see the need for a man in her life. She has her dog, Captain, and that’s all the companionship she needs. However, her world changes the day she literally runs into Derrick Peterson, a gorgeously handsome ER doctor.

Derrick’s experiences with women have taught him that they are vain, silly, and untrustworthy. He keeps his relationships with them brief and superficial. However, he finds himself being irresistibly drawn to Rebecca. She’s smart, witty, compassionate, and very different from the women he usually encounters. Will Rebecca be the one to break down the wall he’s spent a lifetime building around his heart?

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Genre - Contemporary Romance

Rating – PG13

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Website http://www.tinerbooks.com/

Summer Kindle Fire Giveaway

Kindle Summer

This is a joint AUTHOR & BLOGGER GIVEAWAY EVENT! Bloggers & Authors have joined together and each chipped in a little money towards a Kindle Fire HD 7".

Kindle Fire HD 7" Giveaway

The winner will have the option of receiving a 7" Kindle Fire HD (US Only)

  Or $199 Amazon.com Gift Card (International)

  Or $199 in Paypal Cash (International)

 

Sponsoring Bloggers & Authors

  Giveaway Details 1 winner will receive their choice of a Kindle Fire 7" HD (US Only), $199 Amazon Gift Card or $199 in Paypal Cash (International). There is a second separate giveaway for bloggers who post this giveaway on their blog. See details in the rafflecopter on how to enter to win the 2nd Kindle Fire. Sponsor a future Kindle Fire Giveaway by signing up HERE. Ends 8/15/13 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer http://iamareader.com and sponsored by the participating authors & bloggers. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.   a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day – I’d Kill For You by Alan Plessinger

Chapter 2: A Detective, pursuing a lead not likely to produce significant results, comes upon a young girl needing to solve a certain mystery of her own, and upon interrogation finds her life to be not quite an open book, if not yet a fully closed one.

After reading and memorizing the case file that’d been faxed to the office, Riley grabbed the key to his residence for the night, the apartment of a lovely blonde secretary named Karen. He also grabbed his overnight bag with a few essentials. He left the office and took a cab out to her place in Tribeca, let himself in, and crept silently to her bedroom. A light was on. He eased open the door, and found that she had fallen asleep with the lamp on and a book in her hand, waiting for him. He took off his clothes as silently as possible, but not silently enough.

She woke up and asked what took him so long, but it was plain to see she had no real interest in the answer. He smiled, crawled across the bed, and kissed her.

When they were finished making love, Riley got up and took a shower, taking a moment to flush the condom down the toilet. After the shower he dried off and took a moment to use his beard-trimmer and then brush his teeth with his toothbrush from the overnight bag, things he liked to take care of at night. When he finished, he returned to the bedroom and sat naked on the bed, finally ready to get some sleep. Karen was lying there, looking at him, smiling, her arms and legs relaxed, her body contented. Before he could lie down, she crawled across the bed and hugged him.

“I’ve got some bad news, Riley,” she said, kissing him on the shoulder. “I’m taking myself out of the harem.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that, Karen. Why?”

“I’m getting married.”

“Really? That’s great! Congratulations!”

“Thanks. I’m really sorry, honey, but you can’t stay. He’ll be here in a few hours for a breakfast date. You’ve got to be gone.”

Riley was a little taken aback by being thrown out unceremoniously, considering they’d just made love. But he didn’t want to be a nuisance.

“Couldn’t I get some sleep on the couch? I can be your cousin from Schenectady.”

“Honey, I’m marrying the guy who gave jealousy lessons to Othello. You can’t be anybody’s cousin.”

Riley sighed a little and said, “OK, Karen, if that’s the way you want it. I’m sure you two will be very happy together.”

“Thanks, honey. Let’s hope so. I’m not starting things out too well, I know. I should’ve stopped you. I should’ve told you about him, but I had to have one last little taste of the Riley.”

Riley had the unpleasant reaction most men would have, hearing the word little used in any context during pillow talk, but he didn’t complain.

“I take it you never told him about us?”

“Us? There is no ‘us,’ Riley. One day a month does not an ’us’ make.”

Riley smiled. She intended to enjoy dumping him, getting some of the power and control back for the first time in a long while. She continued.

“Honey, how long do you think you can go on this way? A lot of the girls in the harem are worried about you. You’re knocking on forty, you know.”

“Please don’t call it a harem. If you call it that, I might start calling it that. I started this arrangement because I was tired of everybody hating me for having a lot of sex with a lot of different women. I’m tired of being the bad guy. I don’t like people acting like I’m a predator. This way at least there’s no lying, and everybody knows where they stand.”

“Plus you don’t have to pay rent.”

“Yeah. That’s nice.”

“And when’s the last time you told any random woman about the arrangement?”

“I’m discreet.”

“Because you know any woman who hears about it is going to hate you.”

“I wish women could be a little more understanding about this. You’ve never had any cause to complain, have you?”

“Honey, I’ve been a part of the arrangement for more than two years now, and I look forward to the twenty-fifth of every month like a high holy day. You never disappoint. But I never kidded myself for a second that this was a real relationship. Don’t you want a real relationship? Don’t you want to get married one day?”

“I’ve never understood the point of marriage, at least for me. You’re getting married; you explain it to me. What is it for?”

“Lots of things. Companionship. Not dying alone.”

“Oh, what’s the big deal about dying alone? If a couple is married for fifty years, unless they die together in a car accident, at least one of them is going to die alone. Right?”

“So you really don’t ever want to get married?”

“I really don’t. I don’t even like dating. Seduction kind of bores me. I really think I don’t have any ability to fall in love. But maybe some day I’ll meet a woman who might change my mind. I don’t want to say it’s totally impossible. It might happen.”

“Not if you never date, it won’t. Honey, I’m not kidding. A lot of the girls are worried about you.”

“Do you all get together and talk about me, or something?”

“There’s a Web site.”

“Of course. Of course there is. Please don’t tell me the name.”

She kissed him on the shoulder again and said, “Your clothes are hanging up in the usual place, Riley.”

“Thanks. Your fiancĂ© didn’t find them?”

“If he’s checking out the clothes in my closet, we’ve got worse problems than you. Forget the dry-cleaning bill, OK? It’s on the house.”

He stood, turned, and leaned down to kiss her good-bye on the lips, but she gave him her cheek.

“Denied!” he said.

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Genre – Murder / Mystery

Rating – R

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The Secret of the Sacred Scarab by Fiona Ingram

“A little,” Adam confessed, looking pale. In fact, he was terrified. He’d never been on a plane before. He knelt down and hugged Velvet.

“Look after Velvet for me, Dad,” he said. Then he picked up his rucksack and thundered down the stairs, yelling, “Egypt, here we come!”

At the airport, the boys’ mothers fussed over last-minute details while their fathers checked tickets, passports, and luggage for the umpteenth time.

Adam’s mother reminded him about his journal. “Remember, Adam, it’s part of the agreement with the school because you’ll miss a few days. Miss Briggs wants a daily record of your activities, including some drawings of the monuments to show you learned something from this trip.”

“Sure thing, Mom,” he said. Adam enjoyed drawing and was good at it so that part of Miss Briggs’ instruction was easy.

Justin’s mother checked his medical kit. Frowning, she inspected each bottle. “Let me see. You’ve got headache pills, runny-tummy pills, motion sickness pills, Band-Aids, ointment, and mosquito repellent.”

She looked at Justin with an anxious expression. “Do you want to take the motion sickness tablets now, dear?”

“Mom, please don’t fuss,” Justin grumbled, embarrassed by the attention. “I’m not even on the plane yet. Don’t worry. I can take care of myself.”

The plan was for the boys to fly to Johannesburg, a bustling city about two hundred and fifty miles away, meet up with their aunt and grandmother, and then catch the evening plane to Cairo. After trying to dodge hugs and kisses from their parents, the boys were relieved when a smiling flight attendant took charge of them. Their mothers sniffed and wiped their eyes.

“I hate it when Mom gets all emotional,” Adam whispered to his cousin.

“Mine cried at the school concert,” Justin whispered back in disgust. “It was awful.”

They walked across the tarmac with the flight attendant, trying to appear relaxed. The plane looked enormous. It seemed very high off the ground as they climbed the stairs to the entrance. They were glad when the flight attendant finally checked their seat belts. Adam gritted his teeth and clutched the arms of his seat. His stomach churned with fear and excitement at the sound of the wheels rumbling and the engines screeching. When the plane began to move it felt as though a giant hand was pushing them back in their seats. At last, they were airborne and on their way.

“I wonder what Aunt Isabel is like now,” Justin said.

Adam was puzzled. “What do you mean? We talk on the phone to her all the time.”

“Yeah, but we haven’t actually seen her for ages. The last time was when we all got together for Gran’s birthday. That was about a year ago. Another thing, Aunt Isabel usually travels alone because she’s always researching some story. I wonder why she asked us to come this time.”

“Who cares?” replied his cousin. “I’m glad she did. I’ve never been away before, like on a major expedition.”

Their unconventional Aunt Isabel was a journalist who jetted all over the world researching incredible stories. She was famous for never remembering birthdays until at least six months later and then sending fantastic presents to make up for it. The boys were rather in awe of their green-eyed, auburn-haired, unusual aunt who—when she was home—lived in an amazing old house filled with antiques and lots of animals, namely, four cats, two dogs, and a rather fierce Mallard duck called Charlemagne.

“Do you think she’s changed?” Justin’s forehead crinkled in a slight frown.

“Adults don’t really change,” Adam said with a knowing look. “They just get older. But I think she’ll be exactly the same as always.” He pulled a face. “Strict!”

Their aunt had arranged for a cab to collect the boys from the airport and drop them off at her house. When they arrived, Isabel’s housekeeper let the boys in. Isabel was out with their grandmother because Gran had insisted on a hairdo before the trip, so the boys were on their own.

Their aunt’s home was the most fascinating place they’d ever seen with wooden floors, decorated ceilings, stained glass windows, and lots of antique furniture. Their careful footsteps echoed as they explored the rooms with Toby and Fergus, Isabel’s two scruffy terriers, pattering behind them.

Looking around in awe, Justin said, “This is amazing.” He stopped in front of another door. “What’s in here?”

They walked into a study with tall bookshelves covering the walls. Several volumes lay open on the desk. Their aunt seemed to be busy with some kind of research. Given her line of work, this was not surprising. Adam saw a small brown object holding down the pages of a book. He picked it up.

“Hey, look at this! It’s a carved scarab.”

Justin was already absorbed in an album of old photographs. He looked up, and then walked over to Adam and took the scarab from his hand. He stuck out his chest and posed with his hands on his hips.

“Now pay attention, boys. Let us examine the Egyptian scarab,” he said pompously, just like his history teacher Mr. Sanders. “Scarabaeus. The scarab beetle was sacred to the ancient Egyptians.”

“Goodness me,” came a familiar voice from the doorway. “That’s impressive. I’m glad you’re coming along. Justin, you can be our guide.”

Both boys yelled, “Aunt Isabel!” and flung themselves into her arms.

“Steady on!” Their aunt laughed as she staggered back under their combined weight. “You’ll knock Gran over. She’s right behind me.”

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Genre – Juvenile Fiction

Rating – G

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