Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Paragon by Shauna Alderson



Title: Paragon
Author: Shauna Alderson
Genre: YA Fantasy


Now that high school is over, Randi just wants to live her quiet life in her little town, but it doesn’t feel right without her friends there. Ever the daredevils, they’ve gone to seek adventure in the capital city of Grandin, and Randi can’t help but feel left behind. Not to mention she definitely can’t stop thinking about that kiss she and Eddy shared before he left.

When Randi discovers a mysterious mark on her skin that matches an illustration in “A Handbook on Paragonhood”, she’s thrown into a world of powerful gods and ancient magic that she thought only existed in the myths. She’ll have to step out of her comfort zone—and into the dangerous streets of Grandin—to find a way to protect herself and the people she loves.

Randi’s not the only one with a secret, though, and she finds herself questioning who she can trust. Randi will have to wrestle with what it means to be a Paragon and how far she’s willing to go to do what’s right.

With the fate of the world on the line, can she live up to being one of the chosen?

AmazonB&NKoboIndigo

Excerpt:

Granite floor, walls like black static, and out of the moving darkness looms a door. I push its handle down, opening the door to a huge space.

A man and a woman circle each other like raptors, each brandishing a knife. The static-fuzz wall to my left is covered in weapon racks—everything from maces to swords to guns—and stone braziers, while the wall to my right is lined with punching bags and benches. A seemingly spaced-out old man sits on one of the benches, and a middle-aged guy fiddles with something on the furthest bench.

I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.

The middle-aged man lifts his head to watch the fight and sees me. “New girl,” he tells the others.

Everyone stops. The other two men simply seem bewildered, but the lady-predator with the knife might just kill me, judging from her glare.

“Uh, sorry, I'll just go,” I stammer. I pivot on my heels, but behind me, I only find blackness. No door.

My gut drops.

“Don’t be afraid,” the male fighter says. “We won’t hurt you.”

I peek over my shoulder as he discards his weapon onto the floor. That's not a hazard at all. “Where am I?” The words come out in a squeak.

He scratches the side of his head. “It’s—well, it’s hard to explain.”

“We call it the dreamscape,” the woman says. “We Paragons come here to hone our skills. You being here means you found out.”

She must be referring to the mark and the myths. I found out what I am, and now I show up here. Makes sense in a dream-logic sort of way.  


Author Bio:

Shauna Alderson began writing teen fantasy even before she was a teen. After she “grew up", she completed creative writing courses (and a BA in Development Studies) at the University of Calgary. When not reading or writing, she can usually be found teaching ESL, composing on the piano, creating art, or volunteering abroad. She also enjoys dessert, Studio Ghibli films, and being the silliest person she knows.



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Monday, 30 March 2020

Beyond The Yew Tree by Rachel Walkley


Title: Beyond The Yew Tree
Author: Rachel Walkley
Genre: Ghost story / Women’s Fiction Mystery - contemporary
Publication Date: 27th March 2020


Beyond the Yew Tree
Whispers in the courtroom.
Only one juror hears them.
Can Laura unravel the truth by the end of the trial?

In an old courtroom, a hissing voice distracts shy juror, Laura, and at night recurring nightmares transport her to a Victorian gaol and the company of a wretched woman.

Although burdened by her own secret guilt, and struggling to form meaningful relationships, Laura isn’t one to give up easily when faced with an extraordinary situation.

The child-like whispers lead Laura to an old prison graveyard, where she teams up with enthusiastic museum curator, Sean. He believes a missing manuscript is the key to understanding her haunting dreams. But nobody knows if it actually exists.

Laura is confronted with the fate of two people – the man in the dock accused of defrauding a charity for the blind, and the restless spirit of a woman hanged over a century ago for murder. If Sean is the companion she needs in her life, will he believe her when she realises that the two mysteries are converging around a long-forgotten child who only Laura can hear?



Ordinary women.
Extraordinary experiences.



Excerpt:

Night after night, the same bad dream pesters Laura, a young woman who is stuck on jury service in Lincoln crown court. Believing that it’s something to do with the building and the old prison next to it, she decides to escape to a different town and spend the night with a friend. Optimistic that she’ll have a decent night sleep, she’s about to find out she’s wrong…


      This time the tormented woman touched Laura’s arm, and Laura woke up screaming. The dream had followed her. A scantily clad Amelia ran into the room, convinced Laura had seen a burglar – there had been a spate of them recently on the housing estate. Sporting underpants and an uncovered tattoo of a dagger on his chest, Jordan searched every room armed with a sixteen-weight bowling ball. Laura’s pleas for him to stop only elicited more embarrassment.
      ‘Sorry, I’m so sorry,’ she said, struggling not to cry. The dreadful dreams had become intrinsic to her deepest sleep and perversely mesmerising. ‘It’s just a bad dream.’
      Amelia handed her a glass of milk. ‘You’re white as a ghost—’
      ‘Please, don’t use that word. I’m not seeing ghosts. It’s just ever since I’ve started jury service…’ She stopped. She didn’t say the courtroom was in a castle with a long and violent past. The unnerving intrusion, the whispering, troubled her more and more. It had to be linked to the nightmares, but how?
      Amelia’s eyes widened. ‘Is it a murder?’
      ‘No.’ Laura wished it was as it might justify the nightmares; bad dreams in her experience needed a trigger, a connection to the real world. ‘Nothing gruesome. Something else is bothering me. Look, forget it. I’ll be fine.’
      Laura had never spoken of the other nightmares, and Amelia was only vaguely aware of the accident; she’d been at university in Portsmouth when it had happened.
      ‘Sure?’ Jordan appeared over Amelia’s shoulder, the bowling ball gone.
      ‘Yes. Sure,’ Laura said firmly and wiped her eyes. She plastered her usual prosaic face over the troubled cracks that Amelia and many others failed to spot, except her mother, Angela, and Marco, who had, on the odd occasion, nearly seen past them.
      She burrowed into the sleeping bag. Coming to Amelia’s had been a mistake. She’d brought along something evil, and it had tainted her friend’s house. The details of the dream persisted, cementing themselves deeper in her waking memories: the cell, the marks around the woman’s neck, the pleading tone of strange whispers, coming not from the prisoner’s mouth, but originating within Laura’s head, just like at the courthouse. Any hope of detaching herself from the fear they created had to lie waiting for discovery in the castle. She remembered hurrying through the creepy graveyard. If there were clues, they might be within those stone walls. She should visit the Lucy Tower and take a closer look at the names engraved upon the headstones. If Brader’s trial was dull, at least the intervals between sessions might provide answers to her dreams and a cure for her affliction.





Author Bio:

Aspiring writer who pens Women's Fiction and magical tales about family secrets.
What else?
An East Anglian turned Northerner - almost.
Information professional, always.
Biologist, in my memories.
Archivist, when required.
Amateur pianist and flautist.
Reluctant gardener.
Scribbler of pictures.
And forever.... a mother and wife.
Oh, not forgetting, cat lover!




If the winner is in the UK then it will be a print copy, otherwise International winner is e-book.
Giveaway to Win One copy of The Last Thing She Said or The Woman of Heachley Hall (Open INT)
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Saturday, 28 March 2020

Chloe Rose and the Enchanted Maze by Veronica Elle Butler



Title: Chloe Rose and the Enchanted Maze
Author: Veronica Elle Butler
Genre: Fantasy
Age Category: Middle Grade
Publication/Release Date: 25 March, 2020


Twelve-year-old Chloe Rose lives a quiet, happy life in her hometown Wilmoton, but she’s haunted by the same nightmare night after night—one with guns and swords and lost fathers. When another brewing battle has her town preparing for war, Chloe’s fears are made into a reality. Promises are left unfulfilled, her family is torn apart, and she must leave her comfy life in Wilmoton behind when she and her mother move into the King’s palace. Living in a castle seems like a dream come true, like the new beginning they need, but Chloe’s not convinced. After a series of altercations, Chloe Rose is kicked out, more desperate for hope than ever. To restore what she’s lost, Chloe travels to an enchanted maze where wishes come true and fairies rule. But with evil forces working against her and her new friends, can Chloe complete the trials of the maze or will her heart’s desires be left unfulfilled?


Chloe Rose and The Enchanted Maze is a powerful story of bravery, friendship, grief, and love.


Chloe Rose and the Enchanted Maze is a perfect story for children in military families, mixed race families, or for readers looking for more #ownvoices stories. Discussion questions and teaching materials are available.

Excerpt:

CHLOE ELOISE ROSE

The wind sang through the meadow under the open bright skies of Wilmoton, the land advanced confidently with warmth. Each new day, the promise of spring drew near as wildflowers rose from the earth. The Langerfield battle had ended two years ago, and peace had once again returned to Wilmoton. So, Chloe Rose spent some time alone in her special place. 

This was where she felt lighter and happier; its warmth spread to her heart. Here, Chloe’s favorite spot was on a little hill in the middle of a meadow that overlooked Wilmoton. It was one of the most beautiful views that her hometown had to offer. 


Surrounded by gentle whispers of nature, it was also Chloe’s special place to draw flowers and pick them for her mother. The sun glared down at her from the sky, and the breeze brushed her sun-kissed skin while she let her curly brown locks down. She smiled with every twirl on her dress on the soft-bedded grass. For a moment, everything was peaceful and her heart had a steady, calm beat. Here, she was not afraid of what haunted her thoughts, that which caused her to squeeze her eyes shut to make go away. Nor did she worry about the nightmares that came every night after those thoughts. Everything is brighter and calm here, Chloe thought now.


As time crept up on her, Chloe finished her drawing and brushed the pencil shavings and eraser crumbs from her dress. She walked down the slope of the Meadow and back home to her mother, Catherine. She picked some rosebuds for her mother—Mom likes to watch the petals expand slowly as they bloom. She also grabbed the sketch of her view of the meadow, which she made for her father, Michael. 


Chloe’s affection and admiration for her parents were unfathomable. She liked to believe her father had superpowers. Her father was the captain of the Wilmoton’s army. The ongoing dispute between Wilmoton and Cottondale was as old as time. A dispute over land and who owns what and who was the first one on the more fertile land. 


Cottondale’s features ranged from cracked sidewalks and deteriorated houses that either had weathered paints along their walls or were in ruins from previous conflicts. Remnants of broken swords and shields littered its fields. The people of Cottondale showed no inclination to repair these damages. Instead, they carried on with their lives in the only way they could, with the hope of reusing the broken swords and broken shields, whenever the situation would inevitably call for it again. 


Wilmoton was a quaint town with unsurpassed colorful cottages and a huge bell tower named “Armstrong” at the heart of its harmonious infrastructure. The women learned to sew and weave every day in workshops. The people of Wilmoton were hardworking, and it showed. It was the type of place where almost everyone knew each other and people greeted each other with a smile. Wilmoton was ruled by King Francis II, a kind king who protected his people. 


Apart from the never-ceasing war between Wilmoton and Cottondale, Chloe loved living in her hometown. As she skipped along the sidewalk, her pink gown flared up and down in the wind with every bounce. She soon spotted Mr. Andrews with the evening newspaper— a worried look on his face. 


The Andrews family lived a couple of cottages away from the Roses, and their two daughters Chloe Rose and Thyra Andrews were best friends. Like Chloe’s father, Albert Andrews was in the army, too. 


During one of the many conflicts between the two towns, someone abandoned a baby in a wicker basket on the boundaries of Wilmoton. Disturbed by this little bundle of joy’s being abandoned, Mr. Andrews hurried back to his home with the baby, showing her to his wife, Ava, who had no child of her own. Ava Andrews was overjoyed, so they adopted the baby and named her Thyra.


Upon seeing his worry, Chloe waved her hand to say, “Hello, Mr. Andrews!” Her broad smile revealed her glittering brown eyes, which could cheer up any sad face on a normal day. This time, it did not. 


“Hello, Chloe,” Mr. Andrews replied in haste, his whole face lit up with worry and confusion. Chloe did not know how to interpret the look on his face, so she continued home. 




Catherine Rose was the envy of almost all the women in Wilmoton. Not because of her luscious, black hair or delicate porcelain skin. Not even because of her high cheekbones or dainty nose that perched so delicately above her rosebud lips. No, she was the envy of the town because of her advantageous marriage to the captain of the army.

“Go and wash up for dinner, dear,” Catherine told Chloe as she entered their cottage. 


Wanting to rid the image of Mr. Andrews’ uneasiness from her mind’s eye, Chloe’s thoughts turned to her wonderful day in her happy place. She held out her hand with a bunch of rosebuds, “I picked these for you, mother.” 


Catherine smiled, but disquiet sat in her eyes when she replied, “Thank you, my sweet girl. It’s impossible to have a dull day around you. You lighten up any room! I hope you’re hungry for some delicious shepherd’s pie.” 


Chloe glowed with delight. She loved shepherd’s pie. “Shouldn’t we wait for daddy?” She peered at her mom with a curious look as she tilted her head to the side. 


“No, honey. Daddy will be home later. Come, let’s eat for now,” her mother suggested. Although there was evidence of warmth in her voice, her eyebrows were creased with worry. 


Chloe was unaccustomed to see such anxiety on her mother’s face. The distress she saw there mirrored that of Mr. Andrews earlier. I wonder if mother and Mr. Andrews have the same thoughts. Something’s up, I can feel it …but what? … Maybe mother would tell me if I asked. Picking up on the trepidation in the air but not knowing how to address it, Chloe cupped her elbows with her hands and asked her mother, “Is something the matter?” 


Catherine let out a deep sigh as her heart skipped a beat. She was tempted to explain what had been published in the evening newspaper, but she did not want to worry her little eight-year-old. “No, we’ll be all right.” She couldn’t quite believe her own words as she sat across from her daughter's cute, puzzled face. 


Despite Catherine’s platitudes, Chloe wished she could read her mother’s mind. I bet it’s the Queen. Everyone knows she’s been sick for a while now. She doesn’t make appearances anymore. Chloe’s mind then revisited that thought that haunted her nights, another idea nagging at her brain. She quickly shook it from her mind, Surely it can’t be; it must be some bad news about Queen Anne.


Her mother sat at the dinner table with her apron on. She checked the clock: He was late. Her food tasted like dust, so she placed her spoon on a napkin next to her dinner plate and turned her gaze to the evening sky, staring at the gray skies outside the kitchen window as the street lamps came on. 


“May I be excused, mother?” Chloe asked, bringing Catherine’s mind back to the present. 


“Yes, darling. You may.” Catherine’s eyelids drooped with worry. She didn’t notice that Chloe never touched her shepherd’s pie either. 


Chloe’s steps were now rather heavy as she dragged herself to her bedroom and prepared for bed—she no longer skipped with happiness as she did earlier. Like her mother, Chloe was unsure of what this night would bring.




Catherine looked down at the table and saw Chloe’s untouched dinner. Once again, she sighed deeply and checked the clock on the wall. Her heart weighed down with worry. Catherine sat up and waited for her husband. Meanwhile, Chloe remained in her bed and dwelled on that other thought. What if dad’s in trouble? What if those nightmares are real? Mom definitely knows something, but she won’t tell me because she thinks I won’t understand. So, Chloe thought up ways to take her mind off the wave of thoughts that clashed her mind. She picked up her favorite book on botany, but it only piqued her interest further since it was her favorite subject. She got out of bed and walked out of her room to check on her mother. She plodded into the kitchen and stood in the doorway. “Is dad home yet?” Chloe asked. 

“No. What are you still doing up?” 


Chloe told the truth, “I couldn’t go to sleep.” 


“Me either. Come here.” Her mother cuddled her. 


“Why can’t you sleep, mom?” Again, Chloe wanted to know the heaviness that had fallen upon the night. 


So, Catherine decided to be as honest as she could. “Well, I am waiting for your dad to get home. Once he does, we will know more for sure.” 


Chloe let out a yawn and adjusted her position in her mother’s embrace. They snuggled up with the beautiful quilt that Catherine had just finished the day before and eventually drifted off to sleep.





As thunder clapped angrily in the distance in the wee hours of the morning, someone barged into the Roses’ cottage in a hurry, causing both Catherine and Chloe to jump from their sleep. 


“Daddy!” Chloe leaped out of her mother’s embrace and ran straight into her father’s arms. 


“I’m sorry that I couldn’t make it to dinner last night. I promise, after this, I will take the whole day off just for you. What do you say?” Michael asked as he searched his daughter’s eyes for an answer. 


“I haven’t told her yet,” Catherine confessed.


“Told me what?” Chloe asked. 


Her father spoke up again, a small smile on his face, “We have to protect Wilmoton once again. I have to protect you from the villains next door. I worked all night to map out our strategy. I didn’t want to leave without bringing a goodbye kiss with me.” 


Michael was a hero to everyone in Wilmoton. When he led and won one of the greatest battles between Wilmoton and Cottondale, he became even more popular. He looked every inch the courageous warrior, with strong, broad shoulders, glossy hair, and bronzed skin. His facial features appeared as though every detail had been chiseled to perfection. He had the strength of three men put together coupled with a heart as soft as wool. 


Upon his declaration, Michael kissed Chloe on her forehead and placed a pink rose in the palm of her hand, turning then to Catherine to warmly embraced her with a kiss to her forehead, too. “I will be back before you know it, Chloe!” 


“I know, Daddy. You always come home.”


Michael embraced them again and dashed out. He hated saying goodbye to his girls.





About the Author:

Veronica Elle Butler is a Middle-Grade Author. Growing up, her childhood dream job is to become a doctor like most children but her life path leads her to a different role; wife, mom, twin daughters in a nutshell . She conceives the idea of an Enchanted Maze one night after reading bedtime stories to her twin daughters. She wants to create a world she could share with her daughters and other children as well, so, she begins to map out her story on a notebook every night when it’s quiet without distractions. Chloe Rose and the Enchanted Maze pulls the reader into a world of mystery that overlaps our mortal world all consisting of grief, pains of rejection, a curious twist of fate, heart of courage, and forming lasting friendships, she delivers an unforgettable adventure to her readers. She’s an avid scrabble player, enjoys documentaries and, learns along side of her husband the roles of a Military Man when she’s not writing. She enjoys spending time with her daughters and being a Mom. Her twins absolutely love Chloe Rose and the Enchanted Maze and she hopes every child would fall in love with it as much as they have. To find out more you can follow her on Twitter @MazeEnchanted.





This is my stop during the book blitz for Chloe Rose and the Enchanted Maze by Veronica Elle Butler.
I hope you enjoyed reading.


The book blitz runs from 25 till 31 March.


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Friday, 27 March 2020

Merlin Raj and the Santa Algorithm by D. G. Priya



Title: Merlin Raj and the Santa Algorithm
Author: D. G. Priya
Genre: Early Reader


My name is Merlin Raj. Usually, I only have to worry about being the best service dog. I help my boy, Matthew, walk at school. But when my human Mom has to go away for winter break, getting ready for the holiday becomes a mess. I might be a super-smart golden retriever who wears glasses, but could I help my best friend with more than a disability?

Gulp.

Will a class on algorithms get me barking up the right Christmas tree?


Merlin Raj, The Santa Algorithm is the first installment in the Merlin Raj, Computer Science Service Dog chapter-book series. With a Computer Science degree and a passion for preparing kids for the future, author D. G. Priya blends technology with animal stories to stimulate a desire to read. Each book in the series introduces a new programming skill, complete with study guides for educators. If you or your child like delightful dog tales, practical examples, and accessible learning tools, then you’ll love D. G. Priya’s tail-wagging adventure.



Excerpt:

As Miss Babbage said, a task could be done using an algorithm.

Algorithm 1: I could nudge Matthew into distracting Peter and throw the jingle-bell Sugar-O’s into the cart. Then, Dad would notice and throw them right back out.

So, algorithm 1 = fail.


Author Bio:


D.G. Priya is the pen name of Bestselling Author Priya Ardis. She obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science from the University of Texas at Austin, #6 in the world (Academic Ranking of World Universities, 2014) and #8 (US News, 2020) in Computer Science. Her advocacy of early education in computing and the challenges of childhood disabilities come from her experience as a parent and volunteer. Her love of dog stories comes from the antics of her own golden retriever.


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Thursday, 26 March 2020

Dirty Old Town by Gabriel Valjan



Title: Dirty Old Town
Series: A Shane Cleary Mystery
Author: Gabriel Valjan
Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery, Procedural, Historical Fiction
Publication Date: January 14th 2020
Publisher: Level Best Books
Number of Pages: 162
ISBN: 1087857325 (ISBN13: 9781087857329)


"Robert B. Parker would stand and cheer, and George V. Higgins would join the ovation. This is a terrific book--tough, smart, spare, and authentic. Gabriel Valjan is a true talent--impressive and skilled--providing knock-out prose, a fine-tuned sense of place and sleekly wry style."-- Hank Phillippi Ryan, nationally bestselling author of The Murder List

Shane Cleary, a PI in a city where the cops want him dead, is tough, honest and broke. When he's asked to look into a case of blackmail, the money is too good for him to refuse, even though the client is a snake and his wife is the woman who stomped on Shane's heart years before. When a fellow vet and Boston cop with a secret asks Shane to find a missing person, the paying gig and the favor for a friend lead Shane to an arsonist, mobsters, a shady sports agent, and Boston's deadliest hitman, the Barbarian. With both criminals and cops out to get him, the pressure is on for Shane to put all the pieces together before time runs out.


Excerpt:

The phone rang. Not that I heard it at first, but Delilah, who was lying next to me, kicked me in the ribs. Good thing she did because a call, no matter what the hour, meant business, and my cat had a better sense of finances than I did. Rent was overdue on the apartment, and we were living out of my office in downtown Boston to avoid my landlord in the South End. The phone trilled.

Again, and again, it rang.

I staggered through the darkness to the desk and picked up the receiver. Out of spite I didn’t say a word. I’d let the caller who’d ruined my sleep start the conversation.

“Mr. Shane Cleary?” a gruff voice asked.

“Maybe.”

The obnoxious noise in my ear indicated the phone had been handed to someone else. The crusty voice was playing operator for the real boss.

“Shane, old pal. It’s BB.”

Dread as ancient as the schoolyard blues spread through me. Those familiar initials also made me think of monogrammed towels and cufflinks. I checked the clock.

“Brayton Braddock. Remember me?”

“It’s two in the morning, Bray. What do you want?”

Calling him Bray was intended as a jab, to remind him his name was one syllable away from the sound of a jackass. BB was what he’d called himself when we were kids, because he thought it was cool. It wasn’t.

He thought it made him one of the guys. It didn’t, but that didn’t stop him. Money creates delusions. Old money guarantees them.

“I need your help.”

“At this hour?”

“Don’t be like that.”

“What’s this about, Bray?”

Delilah meowed at my feet and did figure eights around my legs. My gal was telling me I was dealing with a snake, and she preferred I didn’t take the assignment, no matter how much it paid us. But how could I not listen to Brayton Braddock III? I needed the money. Delilah and I were both on a first-name basis with Charlie the Tuna, given the number of cans of Starkist around the office. Anyone who told you poverty was noble is a damn fool.

“I’d rather talk about this in person, Shane.”

I fumbled for pen and paper.

“When and where?”

“Beacon Hill. My driver is on his way.”

“But—”

I heard the click. I could’ve walked from my office to the Hill. I turned on the desk light and answered the worried eyes and mew. “Looks like we both might have some high-end kibble in our future, Dee.”

She understood what I’d said. Her body bumped the side of my leg. She issued plaintive yelps of disapproval. The one opinion I wanted, from the female I trusted most, and she couldn’t speak human.

I scraped my face smooth with a tired razor and threw on a clean dress shirt, blue, and slacks, dark and pressed. I might be poor, but my mother and then the military had taught me dignity and decency at all times. I dressed conservatively, never hip or loud. Another thing the Army taught me was not to stand out. Be the gray man in any group. It wasn’t like Braddock and his milieu understood contemporary fashion, widespread collars, leisure suits, or platform shoes.

I choose not to wear a tie, just to offend his Brahmin sensibilities. Beacon Hill was where the Elites, the Movers and Shakers in Boston lived, as far back to the days of John Winthrop. At this hour, I expected Braddock in nothing less than bespoke Parisian couture. I gave thought as to whether I should carry or not. I had enemies, and a .38 snub-nose under my left armpit was both insurance and deodorant.

Not knowing how long I’d be gone, I fortified Delilah with the canned stuff. She kept time better than any of the Bruins referees and there was always a present outside the penalty box when I ran overtime with her meals. I meted out extra portions of tuna and the last of the dry food for her.

I checked the window. A sleek Continental slid into place across the street. I admired the chauffeur’s skill at mooring the leviathan. He flashed the headlights to announce his arrival. Impressed that he knew that I knew he was there, I said goodbye, locked and deadbolted the door for the walk down to Washington Street and the car.

Outside the air, severe and cold as the city’s forefathers, slapped my cheeks numb. Stupid me had forgotten gloves. My fingers were almost blue. Good thing the car was yards away, idling, the exhaust rising behind it. I cupped my hands and blew hot air into them and crossed the street. I wouldn’t dignify poor planning on my part with a sprint.

Minimal traffic. Not a word from him or me during the ride. Boston goes to sleep at 12:30 a.m. Public transit does its last call at that hour. Checkered hacks scavenge the streets for fares in the small hours before sunrise. The other side of the city comes alive then, before the rest of the town awakes, before whatever time Mr. Coffee hits the filter and grounds. While men and women who slept until an alarm clock sprung them forward into another day, another repeat of their daily routine, the sitcom of their lives, all for the hallelujah of a paycheck, another set of people moved, with their ties yanked down, shirts and skirts unbuttoned, and tails pulled up and out. The night life, the good life was on. The distinguished set in search of young flesh migrated to the Chess Room on the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets, and a certain crowd shifted down to the Playland on Essex, where drag queens, truck drivers, and curious college boys mixed more than drinks.

The car was warmer than my office and the radio dialed to stultifying mood music. Light from one of the streetlamps revealed a business card on the seat next to me. I reviewed it: Braddock’s card, the usual details on the front, a phone number in ink. A man’s handwriting on the back when I turned it over. I pocketed it.

All I saw in front of me from my angle in the backseat was a five-cornered hat, not unlike a policeman’s cover, and a pair of black gloves on the wheel. On the occasion of a turn, I was given a profile. No matinee idol there and yet his face looked as familiar as the character actor whose name escapes you. I’d say he was mid-thirties, about my height, which is a liar’s hair under six-foot, and the spread of his shoulders hinted at a hundred-eighty pounds, which made me feel self-conscious and underfed because I’m a hundred-sixty in shoes.

He eased the car to a halt, pushed a button, and the bolt on my door shot upright. Job or no job, I never believed any man was another man’s servant. I thanked him and I watched the head nod.

Outside on the pavement, the cold air knifed my lungs. A light turned on. The glow invited me to consider the flight of stairs with no railing. Even in their architecture, Boston’s aristocracy reminded everyone that any form of ascent needed assistance.

A woman took my winter coat, and a butler said hello. I recognized his voice from the phone. He led and I followed. Wide shoulders and height were apparently in vogue because Braddock had chosen the best from the catalog for driver and butler. I knew the etiquette that came with class distinction. I would not be announced, but merely allowed to slip in.

Logs in the fireplace crackled. Orange and red hues flickered against all the walls. Cozy and intimate for him, a room in hell for me. Braddock waited there, in his armchair, Hefner smoking jacket on. I hadn’t seen the man in almost ten years, but I’ll give credit where it’s due. His parents had done their bit after my mother’s death before foster care swallowed me up. Not so much as a birthday or Christmas card from them or their son since then, and now their prince was calling on me.

Not yet thirty, Braddock manifested a decadence that came with wealth. A pronounced belly, round as a teapot, and when he stood up, I confronted an anemic face, thin lips, and a receding hairline. Middle-age, around the corner for him, suggested a bad toupee and a nubile mistress, if he didn’t have one already.

He approached me and did a boxer’s bob and weave. I sparred when I was younger. The things people remembered about you always surprised me. Stuck in the past, and yet Braddock had enough presence of mind to know my occupation and drop the proverbial dime to call me.

“Still got that devastating left hook?” he asked.

“I might.”

“I appreciate your coming on short notice.” He indicated a chair, but I declined. “I have a situation,” he said. He pointed to a decanter of brandy. “Like some…Henri IV Heritage, aged in oak for a century.”


He headed for the small bar to pour me some of his precious Heritage. His drink sat on a small table next to his chair. The decanter waited for him on a liquor caddy with a glass counter and a rotary phone. I reacquainted myself with the room and décor.

I had forgotten how high the ceilings were in these brownstones. The only warm thing in the room was the fire. The heating bill here alone would’ve surpassed the mortgage payment my parents used to pay on our place. The marble, white as it was, was sepulchral. Two nude caryatids for the columns in the fireplace had their eyes closed. The Axminster carpet underfoot, likely an heirloom from one of Cromwell’s cohorts in the family tree, displayed a graphic hunting scene.

I took one look at the decanter, saw all the studded diamonds, and knew Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton would have done the set number of paces with a pair of hand-wrought dueling pistols to own it.

Bray handed me a snifter of brandy and resumed his place in his chair. I placed my drink on the mantel.

“Tell me more about this situation you have.”

“Quite simple, really. Someone in my company is blackmailing me.”

“And which company is that?”

“Immaterial at the moment. Please do take a seat.”

I declined his attempt at schmooze. This wasn’t social. This was business.

“If you know who it is,” I said, “and you want something done about it, I’d recommend the chauffeur without reservation, or is it that you’re not a hundred percent sure?”

I approached Bray and leaned down to talk right into his face. I did it out of spite. One of the lessons I’d learned is that the wealthy are an eccentric and paranoid crowd. Intimacy and germs rank high on their list of phobias.

“I’m confident I’ve got the right man.” Brayton swallowed some of his expensive liquor.

“Then go to the police and set up a sting.”

“I’d like to have you handle the matter for me.”

“I’m not muscle, Brayton. Let’s be clear about that. You mean to say a man of your position doesn’t have any friends on the force to do your dirty work?”

“Like you have any friends there?”

I threw a hand onto each of the armrests and stared into his eyes. Any talk about the case that bounced me off the police force and into the poorhouse soured my disposition. I wanted the worm to squirm.

“Watch it, Bray. Old bones ought to stay buried. I can walk right out that door.”
“That was uncalled for, and I’m sorry,” he said. “This is a clean job.”

Unexpected. The man apologized for the foul. I had thought the word “apology” had been crossed out in his family dictionary. I backed off and let him breathe and savor his brandy.

I needed the job. The money. I didn’t trust Bray as a kid, nor the man the society pages said saved New England with his business deals and largesse.

“Let’s talk about this blackmail then,” I said. “Think one of your employees isn’t happy with their Christmas bonus?”

He bolted upright from his armchair. “I treat my people well.”

Sensitive, I thought and went to say something else, when I heard a sound behind me, and then I smelled her perfume. Jasmine, chased with the sweet burn of bourbon. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them I saw his smug face.

“You remember Cat, don’t you?”

“How could I not?” I said and kissed the back of the hand offered to me. Cat always took matters one step forward. She kissed me on the cheek, close enough that I could feel her against me. She withdrew and her scent stuck to me. Cat was the kind of woman who did all the teaching and you were grateful for the lessons. Here we were, all these years later, the three of us in one room, in the middle of the night.

“Still enjoy those film noir movies?” she asked.

“Every chance I get.”

“I’m glad you came at my husband’s request.”

The word husband hurt. I had read about their marriage in the paper.

“I think you should leave, dear, and let the men talk,” her beloved said.

His choice of words amused me as much as it did her, from the look she gave me. I never would have called her “dear” in public or close quarters. You don’t dismiss her, either.

“Oh please,” she told her husband. “My sensibility isn’t that delicate and it’s not like I haven’t heard business discussed. Shane understands confidentiality and discretion. You also forget a wife can’t be forced to testify against her husband. Is this yours, Shane?” she asked about the snifter on the brandy on the mantel. I nodded. “I’ll keep it warm for you.”

She leaned against the mantel for warmth. She nosed the brandy and closed her eyes. When they opened, her lips parted in a sly smile, knowing her power. Firelight illuminated the length of her legs and my eyes traveled. Braddock noticed and he screwed himself into his chair and gave her a venomous look.

“Why the look, darling?” she said. “You know Shane and I have history.”



Understatement. She raised the glass. Her lips touched the rim and she took the slightest sip. Our eyes met again and I wanted a cigarette, but I’d quit the habit. I relished the sight until Braddock broke the spell. He said, “I’m being blackmailed over a pending business deal.”

“Blackmail implies dirty laundry you don’t want aired,” I said. “What kind of deal?”

“Nothing I thought was that important,” he said.

“Somebody thinks otherwise.”

“This acquisition does have certain aspects that, if exposed, would shift public opinion, even though it’s completely aboveboard.” Braddock sipped and stared at me while that expensive juice went down his throat.

“All legit, huh,” I said. “Again, what kind of acquisition?”
“Real estate.”

“The kind of deal where folks in this town receive an eviction notice?”

He didn’t answer that. As a kid, I’d heard how folks in the West End were tossed out and the Bullfinch Triangle was razed to create Government Center, a modern and brutal Stonehenge, complete with tiered slabs of concrete and glass. Scollay Square disappeared overnight. Gone were the restaurants and the watering holes, the theaters where the Booth brothers performed, and burlesque and vaudeville coexisted. Given short notice, a nominal sum that was more symbolic than anything else, thousands of working-class families had to move or face the police who were as pleasant and diplomatic as the cops at the Chicago Democratic National Convention.

I didn’t say I’d accept the job. I wanted Braddock to simmer and knew how to spike his temperature. I reclaimed my glass from Cat. She enjoyed that. “Pardon me,” I said to her. “Not shy about sharing a glass, I hope.”

“Not at all.”

I let Bray Braddock cook. If he could afford to drink centennial grape juice then he could sustain my contempt. I gulped his cognac to show what a plebe I was, and handed the glass back to Cat with a wink. She walked to the bar and poured herself another splash, while I questioned my future employer. “Has this blackmailer made any demands? Asked for a sum?”

“None,” Braddock answered.

“But he knows details about your acquisition?” I asked.

“He relayed a communication.”


Braddock yelled out to his butler, who appeared faster than recruits I’d known in Basic Training. The man streamed into the room, gave Braddock two envelopes, and exited with an impressive gait. Braddock handed me one of the envelopes.

I opened it. I fished out a thick wad of paperwork. Photostats. Looking them over, I saw names and figures and dates. Accounting.

“Xeroxes,” Braddock said. “They arrived in the mail.”

“Copies? What, carbon copies aren’t good enough for you?”

“We’re beyond the days of the hand-cranked mimeograph machine, Shane. My partners and I have spared no expense to implement the latest technology in our offices.”

I examined pages. “Explain to me in layman’s terms what I’m looking at, the abridged version, or I’ll be drinking more of your brandy.”

The magisterial hand pointed to the decanter. “Help yourself.”

“No thanks.”

“Those copies are from a ledger for the proposed deal. Keep them. Knowledgeable eyes can connect names there to certain companies, to certain men, which in turn lead to friends in high places, and I think you can infer the rest. Nothing illegal, mind you, but you know how things get, if they find their way into the papers. Yellow journalism has never died out.”

I pocketed the copies. “It didn’t die out, on account of your people using it to underwrite the Spanish-American War. If what you have here is fair-and-square business, then your problem is public relations—a black eye the barbershops on Madison Ave can pretty up in the morning. I don’t do PR, Mr. Braddock. What is it you think I can do for you?”

“Ascertain the identity of the blackmailer.”

“Then you aren’t certain of…never mind. And what do I do when I ascertain that identity?”
“Nothing. I’ll do the rest.”

“Coming from you, that worries me, seeing how your people have treated the peasants, historically speaking.”

Brayton didn’t say a word to that.

“And that other envelope in your lap?” I asked.

The balding halo on the top of his head revealed itself when he looked down at the envelope. Those sickly lips parted when he faced me. I knew I would hate the answer. Cat stood behind him. She glanced at me then at the figure of a dog chasing a rabbit on the carpet.

“Envelope contains the name of a lead, an address, and a generous advance. Cash.”
Brayton tossed it my way. The envelope, fat as a fish, hit me. I caught it.

Excerpt from Dirty Old Town by Gabriel Valjan. Copyright 2020 by Gabriel Valjan. Reproduced with permission from Gabriel Valjan. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Gabriel is the author of two series, Roma and Company Files, with Winter Goose Publishing. Dirty Old Town is the first in the Shane Cleary series for Level Best Books. His short stories have appeared online, in journals, and in several anthologies. He has been a finalist for the Fish Prize, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and received an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest in 2018. You can find him on Twitter (@GValjan) and Instagram (gabrielvaljan). He lurks the hallways at crime fiction conferences, such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. Gabriel is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime



Interview with Gabriel Valjan:

Thank you for joining me today, gabriel. Would you please begin by telling me a little about yourself and your background?
You could say that I have not had a traditional background. I began in the sciences because I was intellectually curious. I’ve worked in the lab (molecular biology and organic chemistry) and then somehow found myself in consulting (public policy) and then wandered into engineering as a result of a temporary job. I became an RN before I started writing.

How did your journey as a writer begin?
My writing career didn’t start until my early forties, with my first publication at 42. I started out writing a short story a week and then tried out a novel (my first attempt is in the drawer but my first published novel was Roma, Underground (2012, Winter Goose Publishing). Other than one poem that was published in a college literary magazine in the late Eighties, I was a voracious reader all my life but never thought of myself as a writer.

What gets your creative juices flowing?
I can’t really say there is one thing. I sit down and I see what comes. In the past, I’ve been inspired by something I’ve seen when walking around, or a snatch of conversation I might’ve overheard in public.

The best thing about being an author is….
Freedom. Nobody controls where your imagination will take you.

Tell us about your writing routine; what’s a typical writing day for you?
I exercise first thing in the morning, make coffee, and sit down to write. Like I said, I don’t have any preconceived notions about what I will write, unless I’m committed to a project. I tend to think in scenes and I’ll let myself wander and see what comes of it; that’s the fun part of writing, whereas the hard work is in revision, to make the greater whole of the novel work. Short stories are another matter.

Which, if any, of your personality traits did you write into your characters?
Insecurity and persistence. Most of my protagonists have some kind of insecurity. A lack of hubris keeps them humble, and they get the job done because they are driven to find answers, complete a mission, or find justice.

Do your characters ever seem to have a life of their own or an agenda of their own?
If there is an agenda, it’s the task at hand like Shane solving a case. The ‘job’ might be the inciting event but it’s the incidents along the way that provide the greater story and insight into character and motivation. Shane in Dirty Old Town learns more about himself and hidden or forgotten parts of his past with each adventure.

Who designed the book cover for Dirty Old Town?
Level Best Books designed the cover art, although I had a say in the concept I wanted to put across to potential readers. Since the story was set in the mid-70s, I wanted to avoid the weird and garish color schemes of the era. Greens and oranges were the predominant casualties from the psychedelic 60s. I wanted to avoid those drab colors. The prevalent colors schemes in crime fiction today are blues and grays and shadows, so I wanted my book to stand out. The usual images of a police car or noir tropes of a silhouette in a hallway didn’t appeal to me. My story is set in Boston. While Bean Town has a pedigree in crime fiction à la George Higgins, Dennis Lehane, and Robert B. Parker, I don’t believe there is a single iconic image for the city, so I settled on the skyline, as seen from a plane into Logan Airport. Boston is a port city, and was a polluted one during the 70s, and I think water can symbolize corruption. Water like corruption tends to saturate and flow around people and things.

Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Yes and No. While there’s something to be said for attracting the eye, the dynamics around selling books are unfortunately complicated. The democratization of publishing that they have brought to publishing notwithstanding, small presses have a difficult time finding shelf space. The Big 5 and their smaller imprints—often masked to appear as smaller imprints—have the bigger footprint in brick-and-mortar stores and in obtaining reviews for their authors. Word of mouth does work but it is gradual. Yes, good cover art helps, but it is only one ingredient; an author has to tell a good story well, have excellent editing, and the rest is luck and timing.

Why do you think this book will or should appeal to new readers; what makes it stand out?
My hope is that readers see a long arc in the Shane Cleary series and stay for the characters. I’ve written five books. I want readers to see that the 70s present many unresolved social issues, and it is not an era for false nostalgia. There is no safe and innocent decade in American history.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have a total of five unpublished books in search of a home. Two novels are set in 1930s Shanghai, two, during the Gilded Age, and I’ve started a third in Shanghai and an alt-history novel.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?
My novel The Naming Game (book two from the Company Files series with Winter Goose Publishing) was nominated for an Agatha for Best Historical Mystery for 2019. The story is set in 1951 Los Angeles and deals with the murder of a script doctor and with blacklisted writers. I had never imagined that I would be nominated and I’m beside myself.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I enjoy movies and reading. I’m a big fan of film noir and the screwball comedies of the Thirties. The writing often had to bypass the censors so the writers worked hard to fly subject matter under the radar. Nothing was sacred, and proof that there was no idyllic or innocent time in American history.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be kind and patient with yourself.

If you were given a one-way ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Italy. I’ve always enjoyed the country and the cuisine. The approach to life is very different from the hectic and stressful American way of doing things.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Fingers crossed on the Agatha Award, and look for the next Shane Cleary novel, Symphony Road, in January 2021. I should have a digital-only set of five novellas, Five Before Rome, which are prequels to my Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing this spring.


This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for for Gabriel Valjan.
There will be one (1) winner. The winner will receive an Amazon.com Gift Card.
The giveaway begins on March 1, 2020 and runs through May 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.






On Tour March 1 - April 30, 2020

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
These are the stops on the tour as of February 13 and are subject to change.


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Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Death in the Sound by Rhen Garland



Title: Death in the Sound
Series: The Versipellis Mysteries Book 2
Author: Rhen Garland
Genre: Victorian murder mystery, supernatural mystery,
Publication Date: 14th December 2019


Blackmail, Deceit and Murder

The year is 1900, responding to a desperate plea from an old friend, Elliott, Giselle, and Thorne, accompanied by Veronique the Labrador, travel from England to New Zealand to unravel a new and complex mystery.

For his daughter’s twenty first birthday, Millionaire philanthropist Octavius Damant orchestrates a weekend party aboard the Taniwha, a luxurious paddle steamer moored in the primordial and isolated landscape of Milford Sound.

Several high society guests are invited to their remote home for the celebrations; Sir Wesley Eade, society lawyer and his beautiful but icy mistress Lady Leonora Carlton-Cayce, Dona Carla Riva, a flamboyant Brazilian dancer, and Carolyn Nolloth, O.D’s estranged sister-in-law who has a great love of other people’s money.

But O.D is the subject of persecution; a series of anonymous letters accuse him of past crimes and threaten the life of his daughter unless he gives in to their creator’s poisonous demands.

Elliott, Giselle, and Thorne discover the odds stacked against them when an unforeseen murder is committed, and they find themselves trapped aboard the Taniwha with a killer who will seemingly stop at nothing to achieve their ends.

As the body count rises, they must unravel the clues and piece together a devilish jigsaw that includes blackmail, extortion, desire, and the reappearance of the fabulous Larkspur Diamond, a gemstone with a past as murky and blood soaked as that of the relentless killer on board.

Set in the late Victorian era, with a touch of the odd, and a twist of the macabre, “Death in the Sound” continues the crime solving, paranormal escapades of Elliott Caine, Giselle Du’Lac, and Abernathy Thorne.

Book One, “A Portrait of Death” was released in 2018.




Author Bio:

Rhen Garland lives in Somerset, England with her folk-singing, book-illustrating husband, approximately 4000 books, an equal number of ancient movies, and a large collection of passive-aggressive Tomtes.

She enjoys the countryside, peace, and Prosecco and the works of Ngaio Marsh, Glady Mitchell, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Agatha Christie, Simon R Green, and Terry Pratchett.

"I watch far too many old school murder mystery films, TV series, and 1980s action movies for it to be considered healthy."

"Death in the Sound" is a murder mystery thriller with paranormal touches set in late Victorian England and is the second book in the Versipellis Mysteries Series, book one “A Portrait of Death” was released in 2018.









Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Colors of Me by Maya and Jello



Title: The Colors of Me
Author: Maya and Jello
Narrator: Maya and Jello
Genre: Poetry
Length: 53 minutes
Publication Date: Jan. 28, 2020
Publisher: M&J Literary Works Inc.


A collection of poems. The critics are raving four/four stars. The Colors of Me is a collection of beautiful poems. The author's creativity is amazing. It's bold, sexy, spiritual, yet intriguing.

Welcome to The Colors of Me. Each poem was written based on inspirations gained from my life experiences. Listen and enjoy. Then listen again. Listen and share the experience with your friends and loved ones. It is a journey you will not soon forget.


The Colors of Me is available for review from the Adopt-An-Audiobook program!



About the Author:

Maya and Jello was born and raised on the beautiful island of Trinidad, the sister island of Tobago in the West Indies. She migrated to the United States as a young teenager. Her main objective was to obtain a great education in the hopes of affording a better life for herself, her family, and to be a blessing to those around her. This quest led her to attain a Doctorate in medicine. But she never let go of her passion for writing poetry. Her works have been published in various school publications under various pen names. During medical school she wrote a segment in the College newspaper under the pen name Sparkie.

The poems in this collection were written over a span of 30 years.

She hopes that you enjoy reading them, as much as she enjoyed writing them for you.


Guest Post by Maya and Jello:

Maya and Jello on why readers who love poetry will appreciate this the Colors of Me

If you possess a true appreciation for the art of poetry whether it be pros, verse, lines, or sonnets. Whatever format, whatever flavor. There is something in The Colors of Me written just for you. Each poem embodies the entirety of and experience. And all of the experiences are different. The poems are designed to open up like a flower in bloom and then if needs be fall apart petal by petal. It is in this that I’m able to take the hand of the listener and lead them down a path; meandering through the darkened corners of emotions that we so often hide. Each poem is chock-full of imagery. Who doesn’t have that Mother or Grandmother, Teacher or Preacher who made such a difference in their lives? Who hasn’t experience the wind being knocked out of their sails by betrayal or a lost love? If you’ve ever felt something, ….anything. Then you’ll certainly appreciate The Colors of Me. A good poet can make you cry but I pride myself in making you laugh, and moreover at yourself. The heartfelt romantic pieces are a melee of unbridled emotion. They would ignite the passions in your soul and rekindle what you have, take you back to a time or make you long for that perfect love. You’ll rise to the triumphs and sink in the squalor of inexplicable pain. But just as you think you are about to break, you’ll hear a poem, a message, seemingly straight from the heart of God himself that would lift your spirits, that would mend your heart. It would rekindle your passion for life and living. You’d feel empowered to dust yourself off and rise to the occasion. You’ll gain the strength to embrace your past and forge forward to bigger and better things. And who knows, with faith in your left pocket and hope in your right, you may even venture to love again.



Schedule:

Mar. 22nd

Mar. 23rd

Mar. 24th

Mar. 25th

Mar. 26th

Mar. 27th

Mar. 28th





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