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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Hunter

By Debbie Civil
Fantasy, 357 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud

Blurb:

Sabena Pierce had to run away from Paul McCann, the boy who had broken her heart. She sped out of the parking lot and away from the life that she once knew. After she is captured by Chelindren renegades, Sabena discovers that her entire life has been a lie. She isn’t human and her mother committed a sin much worse than adultery. Sabena is a part of a magical race and there is war among the chelindren people. If she chooses to stand by her family, she will lose the one that she desperately loves. But Sabina is intent on not choosing at all. After Sunny MacPherson, a vindictive outlaw, sends vicious witchlings after her, Sabena will realize that her decision isn’t just between loyalty and love.

Excerpt:

Prologue - Five years prior

Deidra felt a jolt of electricity when her hand brushed against the smooth surface of the blue stone. Her vision filled with bright light, and the sound of the ceiling fan and the smell of sodden boxes vanished. The floor that had been creaky under her sneakered feet quaked, causing her to flail. She dropped the stone in an effort to grab onto something solid, but found nothing except empty air. For a moment she was trapped in a bubble of oblivion. Then, everything happened at once. Cold misty air slapped her in the face, as the sounds of wolves howling traveled to her, and she slammed a shoulder into a tree. Deidra cried out in pain as the angry branches dug into her arm, drawing blood. She tried to pull away from the tree, but it was as if the plant didn’t want to release her. She blinked until the world didn’t seem so blurry anymore and glared up at the moody oak tree.

Examining her arm, Deidra realized a branch had snaked itself around her triceps as if it wanted to prevent her from walking forward. She reached out with her right hand and tugged at the branch. She shrieked as a layer of her skin ripped when the plant relinquished its hold. Warm blood trickled down her arm and splattered onto the hard ground. She cursed when she remembered that animals loved the scent of warm blood. Deidra frowned at her surroundings. Towering spruces, oaks, evergreens, sugar pines, and palm trees encircled her in a smothering cage. Deidra knew it was impossible for all of those trees to survive in the same environment. But her eyes were not deceiving her. The ground was covered in a layer of ice, suggesting this place was going through winter. But still, lush green grass poked out of the ice, standing tall despite its imprisonment.

“Where am I?” Deidra muttered to herself. She knew where she had been…in her recently deceased Uncle Charles’ attic packing boxes. Her Aunt Devin had threatened to dispose of what she referred to as “a pile of junk”. Uncle Charles worked diligently to collect his trinkets and Deidra felt the collection’s final home shouldn’t have been a landfill. Being a selfless niece, Deidra sacrificed her Saturday and drove three hours to pack up his stuff. She was in the middle of sorting through a collection of stones of all shapes and sizes, when she discovered the small blue stone. This stone was a cylinder shaped creation about three inches long and one inch thick, lying at the bottom of the box. A trickle of sweat traveled down Deidra’s neck, making her decide to turn on the ceiling fan. After standing under the cool air for a few minutes, the girl reached out for the stone and was electrocuted. “So that’s what’s happening,” Deidra realized. “I’m dead.” She was probably in purgatory, the realm between heaven and hell.

Deidra shivered as the air suddenly grew ten degrees colder. The wind picked up, sending a cloud of dirt, leaves and tiny particles of ice everywhere. She rubbed her right arm, bare and as cold as a block of ice. Dressed in a white tank top, black shorts, and white sneakers, Deidra was not garbed for this weather. If she stood there, she would freeze to death. It took considerable effort to take the first step because her limbs were beginning to lock up. But when she finally began moving, Deidra realized she didn’t know where to go. All of the branches held hands with the branches of the neighboring trees. This forest didn’t want her to leave. The girl shivered in fear at the idea of climbing one of the volatile plants. These plants had minds of their own. She could easily be tossed around like a baseball. Deidra had no idea where the instinct came from, but knew staying in this forest would be a mistake. She glanced up at the sky. A sliver of light traveled through the canopy the branches made over her head. As if to grant her wish, the spruce beside the oak that had held her captive slithered aside the barest of inches. Deidra sighed in relief and took the exit. She frowned as the trees vanished. A layer of hard ice still coated the ground, and the terrain slanted in places. Deidra’s wide brown eyes couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. But the distant snarl of a wolf told the girl it wasn’t best to linger.

Deidra took off running, keeping track of the pounding paws behind her. She didn’t care where she went, as long as the wolves wouldn’t feast on her flesh. The area changed again, shoving obstacles in her way. Gone was the easy land. She slid between trees, tripped over boulders, and snagged her long black hair on abnormally large tree branches. The farther she ran, the warmer it became. The ice turned into puddles that splashed the trees as she ran through them. Her once icy skin began to burn from the sudden shock of this warmer atmosphere. Her sides ached from the exercise; Deidra wasn’t the athlete in the family. She preferred to curl up with a good book. She wished she had been like her brother Mike, who was the high school track star. The exhaustion struck like a thunder bolt and the girl fell onto the forest floor, unable to move. The wolves could eat her now, Deidra thought as the various scrapes, bruises, and aches began to sing a painful song. The girl could move no longer and didn’t think it mattered. After all, she was dead. There was no death after death.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

A Home for Old Ladies




By Kev Richardson
Contemporary Romance, 416 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald

Blurb:

A loving couple chooses a derelict old Hospital to turn into a family home.

Stanford Lodge had a proud past. Its heritage must be preserved.

Guts and dreams in satisfying its old inhabitants, inspire lovers—yet a labour of love is not all joy. How much can dedication bear?

Excerpt:

“Shouldn’t you be getting a bricklayer for that, darling?”

I had mortar mixed and was laying bricks for two steps from the back door, down to the terrace floor level. I had already built a solid foundation for them.

“No-one is going to see it, my dear. I will be crazy-paving all the wall, the terrace surface and steps.”

“You told me this would be only one step. You are laying two.”

“When building the retaining wall, I realised not only how many bricks would be saved, but how much time I would save by reducing its height two courses, another step level.”

“Oh well that’s all right then. You know how to do crazy paving?”

“I’ll learn on the job, dear.”

She waited, before rolling her eyes, until I looked straight at her.

“You are sure the Old Ladies won’t mind?”

“I will let them know, dear.”

~ * ~

A flexible rule was that Maggie or I would cook dinner, and the kids feed the dish-washer and finish homework before considering TV. That was made once Mags and I decided not to wait on the new kitchen before installing a dishwasher. This reduced the workload on all, even Evelyn’s. Her work had increased, however, to keeping all windows clean, inside and out, even rooms awaiting Restoration.

“That way, darling,” Mags had pleaded, “it just makes the place that much more liveable.”

Dinners during the week were grilled chops or something easy to heat up. The summer’s long twilights were great for barbeques. We were also great salad fiends. Sometimes we gave Evelyn the task of shopping for and preparing casseroles for our freezer. All this gave Mags and me extra time for Renovations. For weekends, Evelyn would prepare roasts. Leanne was encouraged to become adept in roasting potatoes, pumpkin and parsnips to perfection, and boiling up greens.

Tiffany grew quickly and was now being walked each afternoon. She was trained in her toilet hygiene and to alert us when hearing the front gate opening. In a corner of the Big Hole, I had built for Tiffy, a plank ramp. Leanne showed her, time after time, that this was the way to her toilet. A sand-pile was out back and each evening before dinner, Leanne would throw a shovelful over the mess.

Maggie acquired a gardening fetish. The House and Garden magazine we subscribed to had given her the urge. She made time between rehearsals for George, not only to read up on rose culture, dragging me around plant nurseries on weekends, but insisted on doing her own digging in the formal rose-gardens. Paul on occasions helped with the heavy digging along the front veranda facings. She had planned for there, in full view of all approaching up the front path, an English Garden of foxgloves, lily-of-the-valley, petunia, lavender and pansies in their dozens of colours. I had a man in to dig the soil over along the entire side fence, and fertilizing it ready for Maggie to plant hydrangeas, rhododendrons, azaleas, golden forsythia and camellias.

“I simply cannot wait until the veranda posts are painted so I can plant climbing roses and sweet peas,” she kept hinting. “And a passion-fruit vine,” she added for good luck.

“Next summer,” I promised with crossed fingers.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

...boy with no name



By DB Dakota
Fantasy Adventure, 292 Pages
Cover art by Pat Evans, original design by DB Dakota

Blurb:
Born on harvest day, he’s blamed for starvation, declared a curse by the priestess who’s scheming for control. He suffers brutality and scorn, but his family steels him against ignorance and giving up.
An outcast mentalist, he sidesteps superstition, invents revolutionary trappings, discovers a lush homeland and rescues the tribe.
Excerpt:
Ummbl assigned her son the job of lookout for the traders. By and by the two men showed up and were directed to the doctor’s house. She led them outside, away from eavesdroppers, told them the O-marked boy was theirs for a handful of gemstones, and walked with the men to the house where he lived.
“I hear him and his pets inside,” she said, and pointed toward the mouth facade gracing the cavern. “But at Passa we must meet; do you know where Passa is?” They nodded.
“Go then to the chamber, and inside wait for me and the boy. You will pay me eleven turquoises, one for each of his seasons. When darkness falls, you will carry the boy away and flee. With you he will be safer than here, or on the trail by himself. Good care of him you must take and promise no harm to him will come.”
Indicating approval of the conditions, one trader said, “We always care for our goods. What value is property abused or sick?” They stepped off toward the grotto.
Ummbl scurried into the Bearuff wickiup and motioned for the boy to follow. “Must I, O, Priestess?” he exclaimed. “Only suns ago I did a call-down, long and tiresome on the drum. Why another?”
“The time is here for this moon’s atonement for the curse. Come.” Boy stroked the pets, fed them a morsel, secured them in the cage and followed the priestess. At the Passa, he straddled the log drum, took up heavy clubs and, like a loud woodpecker, began beating and mumbling, “I am a no-moon, I am a demon.”
“Louder!” Ummbl scolded, squatted in front of the drum, facing him with her back to the village. “Make the people hear you!”
“I was on a wrong sun born!”
“Why do you live?”
“Through the grace of Tungsee I live!” he shouted.
“Why should you live?”
“I should not live; I should die!”
“Why should you die?” she jabbed.
“Because my people I cursed and starved them of grain.”
“Keep saying it!”
He closed his eyes, kept drumming and, over and over, repeated his confession. “I am of the devil born, wicked and damned! I am hollow and wrong and vain and a danger to my people.” He flared his eyes wide as two men crept out of the darkness and stood on either side of him. One carried a leather rope; the other held a wadded pelt. They knelt, reached forward, ready to grab, tie, and gag him—then they noticed the O on his brow.
“Pious-head!” the lead trader bellowed to Ummbl as he jumped to his feet. “The O birth-sign! He is a vile messenger of Tungsee! Not at any price can we sell him. High born! You tricked us!”
“No, no!” Priestess cried, panic stricken. “A birthmark, his O is not. The O is a tattoo. It tells the story of an ancestry of grit; even the owl says so. This boy’s parents are of high blood and stouthearted.”
“Ummbl, you lie, lie, lie.” Turning to the boy on the drum, the trader asked, “Who are you?”
“Scarface!” The boy realized he was being sold into slavery. “I have no name other!” He leapt off the log, knocked Ummbl aside, splattering her to the ground, and ran toward the village.
The trader bristled, stood over Ummbl, and shook his finger at her. “You concealed Scarface, waiting to trade him for valuables.”
“That O, I myself tattooed long ago!” the doctor erupted. “Birth-blotched with it, he was not.”
“Not that you are to be believed, but why is he a convicted demon?”
“He is not. His confession is practice for a make-believe part in the Pageant of the Husks.”
“Again you lie. Nullifs have no tolerance for blotchy faces. They are deformed god-beings out to control what we think and what the earth brings forth. Nullifs are ordained earth-beings. It is our duty to banish gods. That scarface yonder running is a pious-head. He will be removed from the face of the earth.
“As for you, Priestess, lies and deceit Nullifs suffer not. You will be reported to Javvaluk.” The traders hurried away, leaving the priestess in regret for having created a bogey paradox. The O was a curse from Tungsee—a god. But Nullifs opposed all gods. Ummbl had stirred up a religious war.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

400 Years Between Stars



By Benjamin F. Jones
Futuristic/Sci-Fi, 414 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud

Blurb:
Reaching the planet’s surface, Dyandra is horrified to discover that only half of the crew touched down. The rest are trapped in space by a mutiny. With inadequate provisions and separated from family and friends she must battle for survival in an environment she doesn’t understand.
Excerpt:
One
Alexandra looked at the slack faces of her fellow crewmembers and wished she’d taken the sedative too. The deceleration couch gripped until it hurt. Her pill was stowed beneath her but she wasn’t going to get it—not this close to separation.
Her daughter was in another lander, one of sixteen. Alexandra tried to thread her. The network was busy. That had never happened—but then neither had landing. The ship was 400 years between stars; they had almost reached their goal: Tane.
She listened to the landing craft running through diagnostics.
The ship rattled with sounds she didn’t recognise.
A thread from the ship’s AI whipped her alert. She thumbed the valve to release the couch and staggered upright. The room was a network of struts, installed in the lead-up to landing. She hit her head and swore. The AI’s thread listed open hatches—several of them. How can that be? I was the last to leave the mothership. I sealed those hatches myself.
Her arm struck a bulkhead and she swore again.
Freya opened one eye and looked at her.
“What’s happening?” Her friend’s question was ill-formed and smothered with emotion. It connected directly to Alexandra’s mind but felt elusive as a breath.
“I’ve got to go,” Alexandra threaded back. Freya was barely conscious; her thoughts kept bursting through with links to older memories and snapshots of them together.
“I’m scared.”
“I’ll be back.” Alexandra pushed away Freya’s contact that wrapped through the network.
Alexandra broke the seal on her own craft and went out into the mothership’s central corridor superstructure which housed the ship’s drive and the AI, a long tube with hatches that lead to the landers. There were sixteen craft and they should all be readied for separation. Part of her hoped the open hatches were due to a sensor malfunction. Hatches don’t open themselves—every non-essential component had been cannibalised to repair life support functions and make repairs to the farm modules.
Alexandra threaded the countdown on the network. Twenty minutes to sort out the problem and get back to my craft.
It was not a sensor error—the hatches were open—now that she was in the mothership she could see them.
“What’s going…?”
She threaded the ship’s AI but it had disappeared from the network. Alexandra felt fear growing—her whole life she’d never known the AI to be unreachable. The machine was their lifeline, the controller of the mission. She tried her daughter…unavailable. Alexandra rested her hand on the bulkhead nearest to her and took a breath. In her forty-seven years of life, she had known nothing but routine maintenance and repairs.
She felt alone—uncomfortable without the AI. She threaded Freya but the contact was a mess of terror. Her friend would be no use until the launch window was a million miles behind them.
Looking up the central core of the ship, she could see several open hatches. The drive eased off. She fought back nausea but she’d experienced half-gee before, so it didn’t last long. The change in the drive’s tone brought it to her consciousness.
She moved towards the nearest open hatch. The reduced gravity made her climb rough and uneven. Arms flailing, she tried to reach out for a hold and her elbow smashed into the bulkhead. A superficial injury, but the pain added another layer to her lack of coordination. The metal edge of bulkhead had ripped through her coverall; her blood showed against the material—red on natural cotton.
She heard a shout from above her.
“Alexandra...”
At last someone has come to help. Donna was hanging out into the central corridor, holding onto the safety rail with one arm. Her blonde hair was tied back, revealing a wide expanse of forehead.
“Help me with these hatches,” yelled Alexandra.
“Go back to your craft,” Donna called back.
Alexandra couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“We separate in minutes,” Alexandra said. “Get the farms closed up—we won’t survive without them.”
Donna laughed. The sound caught Alexandra by surprise. Has she gone mad?
“Alexandra, for the sake of everyone on board—go back to your lander—please.”
The tone made Alexandra falter. Panic had stopped her seeing Donna clearly. Donna’s face wasn’t smothered with fear, nor was it sedated; her face showed regret.
“We have fifteen minutes to do this or the whole mission is...” Alexandra pulled herself past Donna and started to wind closed the hatch to one of the farms. Seconds bunched up. Working in half-gee had the added disadvantage that she couldn’t brace against her weight. She cursed loudly each time the windlass completed a turn; her elbow hurt.
The latch on the farm unit’s airlock closed with a worn thunk. The status lights that showed the farm’s readiness for launch flicked from red to green. Alexandra didn’t have time for a smile as she moved to the next hatch. She was aware of Donna yelling from farther along the central corridor. What was wrong with her? Arms crying in agony, Alexandra turned the windlass on the second hatch. She was breathing hard. Her ears popped—she swallowed to clear the discomfort. The ship was making adjustments to pressures, readying for separation.
“Stop!” Donna yelled.
Alexandra put all her effort into closing another hatch. Her back ached. Her fingers were numb and she could feel nothing but adrenaline. She wasted a couple of seconds trying to thread the AI—nothing. She queried the network. The result filled her with hopelessness; this wasn’t a couple of hatches that had accidentally been left; this was planned. It was mutiny.