Death by Diploma by Kelley Kaye

Death by Diploma by Kelley Kaye
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (235 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Emma Lovett leaves her philandering husband and crosses the country to begin her teaching career at a high school in Pinewood, Colorado.There, she meets Leslie Parker, a fellow teacher given to quoting Shakespeare to fit all situations, and the two become fast friends.

Arriving at work early one morning, Emma discovers the body of the school custodian, a man who reminds her of her late father. When the police struggle to find the killer, the ladies decide to help solve the murder. Their efforts lead them to a myriad of suspects: the schizophrenic librarian, the crude football coach, the mysterious social studies teacher, and even Emma’s new love interest.

As Emma Lovett discovers the perils of teaching high school, she and Leslie learn more than they ever wanted to know about the reasons people kill.

School is supposed to be a place to learn, not a place to die.

Emma and Leslie’s budding friendship was one of my favourite things about this tale. I learned a lot about both of them by seeing how quickly they started spending time together and what a good time they had every time they met up. Their personalities complemented each other nicely. I also liked seeing how both of the characters were different from each other. Emma seemed to be a little more quiet and shy, so it was fascinating to watch Leslie bring out parts of her personality that no one else could.

There were a few mild pacing issues in the beginning. The main character spent a lot of time telling the audience about how she was handling her new job and what she thought about the people she met there before the circumstances surrounding the murder were discussed. This did slow down the plot a little at first, but the rest of the book more than made up for that.

The mystery was really well done. I enjoyed seeing how Emma snuck around the school and other places in order to find new clues about the murder since there weren’t many of them in the beginning. She definitely had her work cut out for her. The fact that nothing was revealed easily made this a lot of fun to read. I silently cheered every time she uncovered another clue or learning something new about an existing one.

I’d recommend Death by Diploma to anyone who likes a little romance in their murder mysteries.

The Thing Is by Kathleen Gerard

The Thing Is by Kathleen Gerard
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (276 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Ever since the death of her fiancé, Meredith Mancuso has shrunk from the world. Even with her successful writing career, she’s not motivated to work. When her sister, Monica, begs for a favor, Meredith wants nothing more than to say no. But she’s ultimately roped into pet-sitting an orphaned Yorkshire terrier named Prozac.

Blessed with spiritual wisdom and a high IQ, Prozac is an active pet therapy dog. To heal broken-hearted Meredith, he rallies his fan club at Evergreen Gardens, an independent living facility, where he visits each week.

Prozac and the community of resilient older folks challenged by losses of their own propel Meredith, often against her will, back into the land of the living. Meredith learns that most people carry some sort of burden, but it’s still possible to find meaning, purpose, and joy—and sometimes, even love—along the way.

This book is such fun to read. It’s written in the first person with two points of view: Meredith, who is still grieving for her deceased boyfriend and Prozac (yes you read that right) a dog who needs a temporary home.

Prozac is no ordinary dog, he’s a Spirit Guide Dog presently acting as a Certified Therapy Dog for Helen, an elderly British lady. Meredith reluctantly agrees to take care of Prozac while his owner is in hospital, but she is not prepared for the hijinks of Prozac and the elderly residents of Evergreen Gardens, one of the locations where he works as a therapy dog.

Despite the depression of Meredith, the story is very light hearted and moves quickly from disaster to disaster and the resolution of these hiccups in life. Along the way Meredith finds a way out of the doldrums, Prozac would make anyone smile – or lose their temper. She also finds her life is not completely destroyed and she can begin to live and love again.

This is cleverly written with delightful characters, each of them unique in their own way. The older ladies and men are exactly as one would expect – full of fun and devilment.

A truly enjoyable book which dragged me in and wouldn’t let me stop reading until I got to the unexpected conclusion.

Critique Groups by John L. DeBoer – Guest Blog and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes John DeBoer as part of his virtual book tour organized by the publisher. Enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post to win your choice of a $5 Amazon gift card or RAP swag item.

Critique Groups
by John L. DeBoer

If an author wants to make sure his manuscript is as polished as it can be before shopping it to agents and publishers, he has only two choices: share it with a critique group of other writers, or have a professional editor review it.

I say only two choices, because the other possible options don’t cut it, in my opinion. An author who tries to perfect his novel himself, to paraphrase that well-known line, has a fool for a reviewer. Emotional and too-familiar attachment to the manuscript will usually result in errors being missed. I know this to be true from personal experience. There is a tendency to see what is supposed to be written rather than what actually is.

And having confidantes – your relatives and buddies – review the WIP cannot be depended upon to furnish objective analysis. “Mom thinks it’s great, and she was an English major in college!”

This, then, leaves the critique groups and paid editorial services to provide unbiased opinions of your baby.
I prefer the critique group, based on the time spent with the online community in which I’ve workshopped all of my novels. It’s been a valuable resource for me and, in my view, deserves a lot of credit for getting publishers interested in my stuff.

For one thing, many of its members are not just newbie writers but are published authors who have demonstrated they know their way around novel-writing. Their critiques vary in focus and style, something one paid editor can’t bring to the table.

And they come from all walks of life, providing been-there-done-that life experiences that can be applied to my fictional characters that are in the same lines of work. Cops, lawyers, EMTs, school teachers (Yes, even English teachers!), the military, scientists of various stripes – all have contributed their expertise to my stories. Having been a surgeon in my former life, I can reciprocate with my medical knowledge.

Finally, there is the matter of cost. Okay, call me cheap, but my yearly membership, which would span the time it would take for me to get a novel reviewed, chapter by chapter, is far less than I would have to pay one editor, for one critique, based on his understanding of how a story should be written.

The editor can’t stay in business for long if his advice isn’t good, and if the rules of the road were carved in stone (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), his intimate knowledge of them and his ability to communicate same would be sufficient to satisfy the needs of the writer. But times change, and so do what were once considered axioms. The Chicago Manual of Style keeps putting out new editions, after all. If your editor is old-school and has been doling out the same advice for years by rote, then perhaps a fresher outlook would be indicated.

The novelist can, of course, hedge his bets by hiring more than one editor and from their combined points of view whip his story into shape. And, of course, he can participate in the critique group AND hire an editor.

But for me, the workshop community gives me what I need to get my novel ready for a publisher. I’ve used it exclusively. Once that contract is signed, though, it’s time for the publisher’s editors to weigh in, and I welcome that – because, well, they’re pros. And I don’t have to pay them!

6_15 Skeleton-Run-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalTwenty years ago, four teenage boys left a baby behind in a crushed car after they caused the tragic accident that took the mother’s life. Ever since, they’ve guarded the secret that would’ve ruined their lives and destroyed their future careers. But when one of them succumbs to illness, a blackmailer makes contact, and the survivors realize that, somehow, someone else knows. Now, everything that matters to them is at stake.

Las Vegas billionaire Wendell Logan is pursuing the role of political kingmaker, and he’s selected his unsuspecting king: Alan Granger, governor of Pennsylvania. Granger confesses his closet skeleton to Logan, but the tycoon has invested too much time and money into Granger’s future presidential campaign to let him and his old friends endanger Logan’s power play.

It’s time to run.

Enjoy an excerpt:
Chapter 1

Late February 1995
Richmond, Vermont

Jeanne Favreau kissed her eighteen-month-old son and put him in his crib for the night. Exhausted from her long day at Bolton Valley, she flopped into her own bed across the room. Sufficient snow on the popular ski resort’s slopes kept the snack bar busy on Saturdays. At least she had the next day off. She quickly fell asleep.

The baby cried, and Jeanne’s eyes snapped open. No light crept through the blinds. She turned on the nightstand lamp and glanced at the clock radio: 10:15. Crap! She stepped to the crib, where Timmy stood gripping the side rail and emitting unhappy squawks.

“What’s the matter, sweetie?” Jeanne lifted him over the rail and held him to her shoulder while checking his diaper. Dry and empty. Then she felt his forehead. Hot.

Oh, Christ! Another ear infection? Probably. With a sigh, she carried Timmy into the bathroom and took the bottle of Tylenol suspension from the medicine cabinet. She closed the bathtub drain and turned on the water. She went into the small kitchen and deposited him into his highchair, where he rubbed his right ear with a fist.

“I know, Timmy. You don’t feel good,” Jeanne cooed, “but Mommy will make it better.” She opened a cabinet drawer, got a spoon, and poured the liquid Tylenol into it. The pediatrician had said he could have a full teaspoon. Unfortunately, Jeanne had become experienced dealing with ear infections. After successfully getting her child to take the medicine, she picked him up and returned to the bathroom.


From the back seat of the Toyota Land Cruiser, I gazed out the window at the passing forest. Though clouds intermittently obscured the face of the half moon, enough light bathed the landscape to provide a contrast between the smooth, untrampled snow and the skeletal stands of hardwood trees rising above it.

My buddies and I had taken full advantage of the good conditions on the slopes, and with the end of the season looming, we wanted to double down and continue skiing into the evening under the lights. But our social director had another idea in mind.

Alan Granger chuckled as he piloted the SUV down the Bolton Valley access road. “Hot babes in a hot tub. Doesn’t get any better than that. Didn’t I tell you? Stick with the Grange if you want to party? Bring your swim trunks just in case? I’m definitely going to give that Tammy a call tomorrow.” Tall and lanky, with a shock of unruly dark brown hair, a handsome face, and a gregarious personality, Granger was well known in our high school as a chick magnet. And starring as a wide receiver on the football team hadn’t hurt.

Bob Kretchman, sitting next to me, grunted and took a gulp from his beer can. With his intimidating size and ferocious tackling exploits for that same team, his nickname of “Crushman” had evolved naturally. He scratched his scalp through his blond crew cut. “Yeah, it was fun. But I can’t see us taking this any further. They’re college chicks, dude.”

“Get me one of those Buds, will you?” Granger said. As I reached into the Styrofoam cooler behind me, he continued, “What difference does a year make, Crush? In seven months, we’ll be in college, too. So we lie a little to get laid. You know, like we usually do.” He laughed again.

I popped the can and handed it to our driver.

“What about you, Jimmy?” he asked me. “Going to give Green Bikini a call? You two seemed to be getting it on pretty good.”

I smiled, thinking of those luscious tits practically rubbing against me as we “got to know each other” in the spa’s swirling water. The girls, Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters, were sophomores at the University of Vermont, all from out of state. They were staying in the ski condo belonging to the parents of Granger’s date for the weekend. Unfortunately, the father and his wife were also there, so we had to confine the frolic to the public hot tub. But we’d all said we would like to get together again in the near future—hopefully to take our newfound “friendships” to the next level.

“The lighting helped,” I replied, “since I don’t look ancient like the rest of you guys. But I don’t think my face could pass for a college stud in the light of day.”

Tom Webster faced me from the front passenger seat. He twiddled his index fingers in his cheeks and grinned. “Mr. Dawson, she’d just think you’re cute. Go for it, man. Sometimes you gotta go for the long ball.” The team’s quarterback turned his broad shoulders back to the front and nudged the driver with his elbow.

“Amen to that,” Granger responded.

“Hey, Jim,” Kretchman added, “you can’t always dance your way through the line. Somebody like me could be waiting for you, stop you in your tracks.”

I laughed at the ribbing, since I was used to it. They had been my friends since grade school. Though in good shape, able to hold my own in the weight room, and certainly not short in stature, I was the “little” kid among them and the youngest by four months. Not to mention my young-looking face. “Well,” I said, returning the linebacker’s grin, “if there’s a hole, I’ll be sure to find it.”

“Good one, Jimmy!” Granger laughed and took a pull from his can.

“And,” I said, “you seem to have forgotten that ninety-five-yard touchdown run I made against Essex. The Burlington Free Press certainly thought it was noteworthy. Didn’t the article say it was a school record? And how about those two—I repeat, two—kickoff returns for TDs against BFA? I can go long, too.” I gave him a light punch in the arm.

“Yeah, you’re a legend in your own mind,” Granger said over his shoulder. “Anyway, those girls do open up some possibilities.”

The car came to a stop at the bottom of the hill before turning right onto US 2. The exit for I-89, the route we’d take back to Burlington, lay just a few miles ahead.


At eleven p.m., after bathing Timmy in tepid water, Jeanne checked his temperature again with the rectal thermometer. 103.6! His fever had risen a full degree. Listless and lethargic, Timmy was no longer crying. Not a good sign.

She placed him on the bed while she quickly dressed and put on her parka. Then she wrapped a blanket around Timmy, picked him up, and went out the trailer door. Along with her child, the decrepit singlewide was all she had left to remind her of her ex-boyfriend, who’d run off as soon as she revealed the positive pregnancy test.

She secured Timmy in the rear-facing infant car seat of her beat-up Yugo and then drove out of the trailer park. The medical center in Burlington, just twenty minutes or so to the west, was her destination. Richmond didn’t have a hospital. But that’s what my baby needs, and soon.


The heavy beat of Meat Loaf erupted from the Land Cruiser’s CD player as snowflakes began to hit the windshield.

Granger turned on the wipers. “Where the hell did this come from?”

“Some freak snow flurry,” Webster said from the shotgun seat.

“More like a freakin’ storm.”

I leaned forward to peer through the windshield. The headlights’ illumination reflected back at us from the fluffy crystals. We appeared to be the only car on the road, so playing Follow the Leader wouldn’t help us pick our way through the wall of white. Roadside lights were non-existent.

“Better slow down,” I said. As Kretchman had implied in his metaphor, I was usually the cautious one. I preferred to call it the “voice of reason.”

As the car rounded a turn, Webster yelled, “Watch out!”

At the same moment, I saw it as well. A dim red glow penetrated the heavy snowfall directly in front of us. A car’s taillight.

Granger tromped on the brakes, but the SUV skidded on the slick asphalt. “Oh, Jesus!” he shouted, and we all watched helplessly, knowing a collision was unavoidable. The heavy Land Cruiser slammed into the rear of the much smaller car, sending it careening off the road and into a stout maple tree.

“Shit!” Granger regained control of the SUV, pulled onto the shoulder, and put the car in park but left the engine running. He scrambled out of the vehicle and headed toward the stricken sedan, his open parka flapping.

The rest of us followed. Snow crunched beneath my boots as I hurried to the car. The initial shock of the collision became full-blown panic as I feared the worst. The Yugo’s right headlight had escaped damage and sent its beam onto the cornfield beyond the tree. The front of the driver’s side of the car had received the full force of the impact. Snow continued to fall, its insulation imposing an eerie quiet. Except for our heavy breathing and the slight tick of the Yugo’s engine, no sound reached my ears.

We gathered around Granger and looked through the shattered driver’s side window. Faint light from the moon revealed a young woman pinned to her seat by the steering column. She wasn’t moving.

“Are you all right?” Granger spoke through the window as he tried and failed to open the door. No response came from the woman who appeared to be, at best, unconscious. “Bob, give the door a try.”

While Kretchman put his bulk into the effort, I went around to the other side and opened the front passenger door. The dome light came on, illuminating the woman, and my fear became real.

The collision had driven the dashboard assembly, including the collapsible steering column, into her chest. Her unblinking eyes stared ahead as if expressing shock at the sudden catastrophe. Med school was still more than four years away for me, but I didn’t need medical training to diagnose the obvious.

Still, I felt for a pulse in her cool, lifeless wrist. “She’s dead,” I announced.

“Oh, my God!” Granger wailed. “What’re we going to do?” He banged his fist on the roof of the car. “Shit!”

From behind me, Webster said, “Look in the backseat, Jimmy.”

Though I’d thought my despair couldn’t get any worse, it climbed to a new level.

Webster opened the rear door, and I leaned in. The infant car seat lay askew but still restrained by the seat belt. The child in it was motionless, eyes closed. Oh, Jesus, no! I put my ear close to the baby’s mouth, and the sound of rhythmic breathing rewarded me. Thank God! I didn’t see any apparent injuries. Granger and Kretchman came around the car.

“I think the baby’s okay,” I said as I backed out and stood upright. “Call 9-1-1 on your car phone, Al.”

“Yeah… all right… good idea.” He started for his car then came back to us. “Oh, man. We should think about this first. I killed somebody, for Christ’s sake! Vehicular homicide is what they call it.” He shook his head. “I’m in big trouble, guys.”

“It was an accident,” Kretchman offered. “Bad weather conditions, slippery road. That car came out of nowhere.”

“And it only had the one taillight,” Webster added. “We’ll back you up, man.”

“Except they’ll say I was going too fast for the conditions, since I rear-ended her. Slam dunk there. And I was drinking. Unlike you guys, I’m eighteen, so I’m screwed both ways. I’m not allowed to drink, but legally I’m an adult. I am totally fucked!”

I couldn’t argue with that assessment, and apparently, the others couldn’t either as indecision paralyzed all of us. I glanced at the baby. We had to do something for it and soon.

“Even if I can stay out of jail and my old man doesn’t disown me, there goes law school. Think I could get into Georgetown or any other top school with this on my record?” Granger put his hands on the sides of his head. “Oh, man. What am I going to do?”

“So let’s get the hell out of here,” Webster said. “You gotta make that call because of the kid, but do it when we’re on the road and keep it anonymous.”

“I think the cops can trace those calls,” Granger replied. “Can’t take that chance. I need to find a pay phone.”

“What about the baby?” I asked. “We can’t just leave it here. If something happens to—”

“Uh-oh, car coming,” Kretchman said.

I looked to the east. The trees lit up from an approaching car that had not yet rounded the curve. We watched as the car came into view and then reached our location. I held my breath, but it continued past us without even slowing.

Maybe the snow had obscured the driver’s view. Maybe something else had distracted him. Maybe he had issues of his own and didn’t want to get involved in our problem. Whatever—his appearance on the scene emphasized our precarious position.

“We better get going before a Good Samaritan or a state trooper comes by,” Granger said.

“The baby?” I asked again.

Granger looked at the sleeping infant. “He’s got a warm blanket.” He reached in to tuck the wool fabric around the kid. “It’s not that cold. Gotta be above freezing.” He gazed at the sky. “And the snow is letting up.” The panic in his eyes told me whose welfare he was really considering. “The kid’ll be okay. He’s not even crying, Jimmy. I’ll call 9-1-1 as soon as we hit town. Twenty minutes, tops.” He headed to the Land Cruiser. “C’mon, guys, let’s book.”

Kretchman must have sensed my hesitation. “Jimmy?”

I didn’t know what to say.

Webster grabbed my arm. “C’mon, man. I don’t like this any better than you do, but we’re all in big shit here. Al’s right. This is the only way out for us.”

It wasn’t right to just up and bolt, leaving the mess behind us. Okay, it was Al’s mess, really. But Webster had a point. We were all involved. Even though I had only been a bystander, I wasn’t innocent. I had been drinking, too, had even given the driver a beer. Because of us, a woman lay dead, and her baby had lost its mother. A terrible thing.

Guilt was one thing. I’d have that regardless. Suffering real-world consequences was another matter. In the short term, I’d be grounded for sure. But I could imagine how this incident could forever mar my reputation. I’d be one of “those boys”—the drunken teenagers on a joyride who killed a woman. And Al, my buddy, was right. He would be in a shit-pot full of trouble, legal and otherwise, if this got out.

Self-defense and loyalty finally won the debate. We could do nothing for the woman now, and the baby would be fine, I told myself. I leaned in once more to check the baby and made sure the blanket was secured around his sleeping form. I closed the door and said, “Okay, let’s go,” then followed the others to the car.

About the Author: 6_15 John DeBoerBorn on Long Island, early childhood in New Jersey, then high school, college and medical school in Vermont. General surgery training in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Left Uncle Sam’s employ after nine years (lieutenant colonel) for private practice. Recently retired, I now have time to pursue what I’ve always enjoyed – writing.

In addition to my highly literate, published-author (non-fiction) parents, I’d have to say my greatest influence was my ninth-grade English teacher, who made it her mission to drill the rules of grammar into us.

Though my education in the sciences and subsequent surgical career left little time to hone my writing skills, I kept my hand in over the years, including the publication of scientific articles for surgical journals and my annual Christmas letter to family and friends. These folks were so impressed by my rapier wit, they urged, “You should write a book.” So I did.

I chose the thriller/suspense genre, because that has been my favorite category of novels to read. Plus, since these books usually contain ample sex and violence, I thought it would be the easiest genre to tackle, following the axiom, “You should write what you know.”

Goodreads | Red Adept Publishing

Buy the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, or Google.

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Mystery Writer Recommendations by Russ Hall – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by the publisher. Enter the Rafflecopter below to win a Red Adept Publishing T-Shirt, tote bag, can koozie, or magnet. Click on the link to see the other stops on the tour.

11_20 Russ HallIf you like mysteries, check out these authors recommended by Russ Hall, author of TO HELL AND GONE IN TEXAS.

Ten mystery writers worth rereading

James Burdett
Robert Campbell
Raymond Chandler
Colin Cotterill
Dashiell Hammett
Stuart Kaminsky
Elmore Leonard
Ed McBain
Ross Thomas
Rex Stout

Five Innovative mystery writers worth checking out

Colin Cotterill – introduced 72-year-old Dr. Siri, the reluctant coroner of 1975 Laos. This is a master series in the category of “geezer fiction,” which is sure to delight baby boomers and anyone who is cool with the detective not being cut and under thirty.

Janet Evanovich – who dares open her High Five book in the Stephanie Plum series with: “When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants . . .and being a bail enforcement agent is sort of like being bare-bottom Barbie. It’s all about having a secret.” Page-turning fun.

Carl Hiaasen – who took mystery writing all the way out to the edge of wackadooble, but entertains and delights all the same.

Alexander McCall Smith – who is often shelved under M since his last name is “McCall Smith” and not just Smith. He sweeps the reader off to Botswana to meet Mma “Precious” Ramotswe, who founded the #1 Ladies Detective Agency. Delightful and relaxing reading in a faraway place.

Spencer Quinn (actually Peter Abrahams writing under a penname) – brought us a mystery series told entirely from the point of view of a dog, Chet the Jet, who works with his P.I. sidekick Bernie Little. It is a daring task, and the author pulls it off and entertains!


11_20 To-Hell-and-Gone-in-Texas-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalTrouble big as all hell.
Retired sheriff’s detective Al Quinn hasn’t spoken to his brother, Maury, in twenty years. When Maury lands in the hospital under suspicious circumstances, though, Al reluctantly abandons his quiet country seclusion to look into the matter. A second attempt to take Maury out drives the brothers back to Al’s lakeside home, where Al knows the territory, but they’re not alone for long. ICE agents demand that Maury rat on his silent partner, city cop Fergie Jergens comes investigating the murders of Maury’s lady friends, and someone takes a match to Al’s house.

Al soon learns his problems are only getting started—his brother’s in trouble on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Caught in a ruthless power struggle between the ICE and Los Zetas, a vicious Mexican mafia bent on ascendancy, Al learns the hard way who he can trust—and who’s willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

With everything he loves on the line, Al will learn just how far he’ll go to protect his own.

Buy the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes, or Google.


Author page on RAP:

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Ten Things People Might Not Know About Pete Barber – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by the publisher. Enter to win the choice of several prize options via the Rafflecopter at the end of the post.

A day with Pete Barber (behind the scenes)

This is particularly difficult to answer just now because my “behind the scenes” is utter chaos. We’re in the throes of moving from a small farm nestled in the foothills of Western North Carolina, where we’ve lived for ten years, to a town about three hours east, close to Raleigh-Durham. The area around my writing desk resembles a fort hastily constructed by a gang of enterprising children. Surrounded by stacked boxes, I have to weave my way through a cardboard corridor to make it to the kitchen for a snack. If I die in here, I might not be found for days!

10_27  Barber - Llama ShotBefore this moving-madness hijacked my life, first thing in the morning, I’d go down the pasture, let out the chickens, and feed them our left-over-food scraps from the previous day. Chickens are marvelous creatures. You put scraps and a little cheap feed in one end, and eggs come out the other. They’re busy and fascinating (and extremely difficult to catch in an open field). In winter the livestock would need to be fed—we raised llamas on the farm. Every summer we sheared their fiber and my wife processed it and spun it into yarn. Sadly, our move has forced the sale of our livestock. The pastures are as empty as a church on Tuesday afternoon.

Ten Things People Might Not Know About Me

1. In my early twenties, I toured Europe in a Ford Camper-van on two dollars a day. Well, to be precise, when I left England (where I was living at the time) I had budgeted four dollars a day. But two weeks after I reached France, the British government devalued the British currency, and suddenly my traveler’s checks were worth half their face value—that was not a good day.

2. I worked for an Israeli software company for many years. The first time I visited Israel, I managed to fit in one day of sightseeing in Jerusalem. This was in the 80s, when cameras used film, and I snapped off thirty six pictures of the Old City: The Wailing Wall, The Dome of The Rock, The Via Dolorosa, the Souk, etc. Wonderful memories, but that’s all I have because there was no film in the camera 🙂

3. In my teens, I sported a huge afro and had my sister sew inserts into my jeans so they flared to eighteen inches.

4. Although born in the UK, I became an American citizen in 2005. My wife is American, and no one in our US family even got close to passing the citizenship exam I took.

5. I worked on Wall Street for six months helping my company at the time file an Initial Public Offering. Once it was over, I held a check for $23 million dollars—I held it for about two seconds :-).

6. I’m always hopeful when I watch a Modern Family rerun that it might be an episode I haven’t seen before.

7. When I was six-years-old, I was hit by a large truck as I crossed a busy road. I lost six pints of blood before they patched me up—six-year-olds only have six pints of blood—yup, it was that close.

8. My left leg is one inch longer than my right (see #7) my femur was smashed and as it mended, the gaps calcified and extended the bone. Incidentally, the surgeon assured me this is very difficult to do on purpose. I’ve always refused to wear a built-up shoe, so my spine is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

9. I was raised in Liverpool, England, which makes me a “Scouser.” It’s a nickname derived from the Irish stew (lobscouse) that bubbled in most working class homes years ago. It’s still in use today—the term Scouser, not the stew :-).

10. When she was sixteen, my mother–who was an uneducated kitchen maid and quite a looker–ran away from home to marry my father. The love-match was against the wishes of my father’s family, who were quite wealthy. His dad offered my mom one-hundred pounds sterling to get the hell away from him and never come back. In today’s value, that was around $20,000. That I’m writing this post shows she declined the offer. His family cut them off without a penny. I’ve never met anyone from my father’s family. Sadly, my father died when I was two, so I never met him either.

Well, here’s something else you might not know–finding “ten things” was a daunting exercise. But I made it.

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit Long & Short Reviews, and for making me write about parts my life that I haven’t visited for a very long time.

10_27 barber Love-Poison-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalLove is a dangerous drug.

Lab assistant and avid climber Amber Wilson is no stranger to risk. But she feels invisible around her handsome boss, Mark, until she accidentally doses him with an irresistible aphrodisiac that leaves him with a suicidal hangover. Abruptly fired, Amber and Mark partner up to research the source of the drug—a rare New Zealand mushroom—in hopes of refining it for safe use.

On their way to New Zealand to collect fungi samples, Amber is blindsided by a deep and intense romantic connection with Mark. Their new business plan is endangered by ruthless Maori mobsters who control a mushroom scheme they’re killing to protect. As the body count rises, Amber struggles to salvage her and Mark’s dreams, but when she risks her heart and acts alone, both of them could end up paying the ultimate price.



10_27  Barber - HeadshotBorn into a blue-collar family in Liverpool, England, Pete immigrated to the US in the early 90s and settled in North Carolina.

After surviving near death experiences at ages six and eighteen, he led a haphazard life, putting bread on the table as a plumber, computer programmer, salesperson, marketing executive, hotel operator, real-estate developer, and llama breeder.

Pete loves chickens and dogs, and writes fast-paced fiction that makes people think.
Pete’s debut thriller–NanoStrike–has a 100+ 5-STAR reviews on Amazon US. Love Poison, a suspenseful romance was published September 2014.


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Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski

Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing=
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Historical
Length: Full Length (233 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Braineater Jones wakes up face down in a swimming pool with no memory of his former life, how he died, or why he’s now a zombie. With a smart-aleck severed head as a partner, Jones descends into the undead ghetto to solve his own murder.

But Jones’s investigation is complicated by his crippling addiction to human flesh. Like all walking corpses, he discovers that only a stiff drink can soothe his cravings. Unfortunately, finding liquor during Prohibition is costly and dangerous. From his Mason jar, the cantankerous Old Man rules the only speakeasy in the city that caters to the postmortem crowd.

As the booze, blood, and clues coagulate, Jones gets closer to discovering the identity of his killer and the secrets behind the city’s stranglehold on liquid spirits. Death couldn’t stop him, but if the liquor dries up, the entire city will be plunged into an orgy of cannibalism.

Cracking this case is a tall order. Braineater Jones won’t get out alive, but if he plays his cards right, he might manage to salvage the last scraps of his humanity.

The only thing worse than being murdered is waking up the next day with no memory of who you are or why there’s a gaping hole in your chest.

It took a little while for the character development to start happening in this book, but once it did I was glad for the delay. Building up such detailed descriptions of the personalities of the people involved first made their evolutions even more rewarding than they would have been otherwise. There were several developments that I didn’t see coming, especially when it came to the main character’s quest to discover his past.

One of the many mysteries that Braineater Jones has to unravel during the course of his adventures is who he was before he died. It was fun to see him slowly gather clues about his past, but I would have preferred for him to have a more humanizing undead name as he did it. I understand why the author wanted to start off with a character who has had literally everything from his former life stripped away. The name Braineater was too campy and distracting for my tastes, though. Braineater had some surprisingly empathetic streaks in his personality, and he deserved a zombie name that better represented that.

Mr. Kozeniewski has a tongue-in-cheek writing style that works incredibly well for this kind of tale. I didn’t read the first chapter so much as I absorbed it. Sometimes he made me laugh, cringe, and then gasp within a matter of minutes. This was my first introduction to his work. Based on how much I enjoyed it, I’ll be keeping a keen eye out for what he comes up with next.

I strongly recommend checking out the glossary at the end of this book to anyone who isn’t familiar with 1930s slang. While I knew many of those terms already, it was also helpful to look up the zombie-related jargon that is specific to this universe. Including the glossary was a great decision, and I’m glad that the author alerted me to its existence in the foreword.

Braineater Jones is one of the most entertaining horror novels I’ve read in 2014. This is a great choice for anyone in the mood for a genre-busting thriller!

Ever Lost by Melissa MacVicar

Ever Lost by Melissa MacVicar
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (212 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

New town, new school, new ghost.

Jade has a dedicated boyfriend, an overprotective mom, and a full scholarship. Uprooted from Nantucket, Jade is installed off-island at her dad’s new house so she can attend snobby Layton Academy. Leaving Charlie behind is sheer torment, but living with her father has plenty of dangerous distraction—in the form of a terrifying spirit haunting her new school. Hottie classmate Mateo Fernandez can’t see the ghost, but he knows its story. He’d like to know hers, too, but Jade still misses Charlie, even though distance seems to be changing him.

With support from Mateo and the mysterious Noemie, Jade commits to helping the agonized spirit cross over. As she delves into the ghost’s past, the disturbing secrets Jade learns draw her into a deadly confrontation with a desperate man. If she can’t play his demented game, the spirit’s harrowing fate could become her own.

Moving to a new community might change whom you meet along the way, but it can never change your destiny.

It was fascinating to see the relationship between Jade and her father develop during the course of this tale as he wasn’t part of her daily life in the first book in this series. Her connection to his side of the family hasn’t always been that strong, so she has a lot to learn about them. There is plenty of unexplored territory between them, though, and I hope that this series will spend even more time exploring this part of her life in the future.

A few chapters were written from the perspective of a secondary character. The first time it happened I was surprised, and when it happened again I wondered why the author made the decision to show her audience these scenes from someone else’s point of view. The secondary character has an interesting perspective, but the story would have been stronger if it had only been told from Jade’s point of view due to how much scarier some scenes would have been if I’d known only what she knew.

There were a few plot threads in the first book that never quite found satisfactory endings in it. I was pleased to see them picked back up again in the sequel, especially when it came to a romantic relationship that I found bizarre due to how the individuals in it knew one another. While they technically weren’t breaking any laws, it was cathartic to finally have this topic addressed in a more realistic manner.

The most important details from Ever Near are briefly alluded to from time to time. There have been some major changes in Jade’s life since then. Readers who are familiar with those adventures will discover a few surprises along the way, but it’s not strictly necessary to understand all of those references in order to enjoy this sequel.

Ever Lost was a wild ride. Anyone who likes ghost stories should give it a try!

The Sun, the Moon, and Maybe the Trains by Rodney Jones

The Sun, the Moon, and Maybe the Trains by Rodney Jones
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (251 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What would it take to convince you that the woods you just left is a hundred and forty-four years distant from the one you entered?

Ten years have passed since the Civil War broke up John Bartley’s family. Living with his aunt and uncle in the tiny village of Greendale, Vermont, isn’t filled with excitement for a seventeen-year-old.

Until John walks into the woods one day and stumbles into 2009…

Fortunately, he chances upon the outspoken Tess McKinnon. To earn her trust, he must first convince her that he is neither a lunatic nor a liar. The proof he needs is buried at the end of a mountain road, where the ruins of Greendale lie just beneath a layer of dead leaves and moss.

What became of his home? Why is there no record of its existence?

Sometimes you choose an adventure, and sometimes the adventure chooses you.

As soon as I read the premise of this novel, I knew I had to find out what happens next. Time travel is such a fascinating concept, and it’s even more intriguing when the protagonist does it accidentally. I liked seeing John go through his daily routines for a little while before he was suddenly jerked out of them. It developed his personality as well as helped me feel empathy for how disoriented he felt by the world he stumbled into.

John’s wide-eyed response to everything that has changed between his time and our own was quite funny. I was confused by his use of the English language, though, as there weren’t that many differences between the way he speaks and how Tess would phrase the same question or statement. Other than not understanding common words like car or cell phone, his speech patterns were almost indistinguishable from modern English. I briefly wondered if this was a side effect of the time travel, but my theory was never confirmed or denied.

There is still so much about these characters and the worlds they live in that has yet to be explored. From what I understand, there is a sequel to this book in the works. While I was satisfied with how this particular tale ended, I’d love to find out what happens to John and Tess next.

I’d recommend The Sun, the Moon, and Maybe the Trains to adult and young adult readers alike. This book has a little something for everyone!

Life After Dane by Edward Lorn

Life After Dane by Edward Lorn
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal, Horror
Length: Full Length (225 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A mother’s love is undying… and so is Dane.

After the state of Arkansas executes serial killer Dane Peters, the Rest Stop Dentist, his mother discovers that life is darker and more dangerous than she ever expected.

The driving force behind his ghostly return lies buried in his family’s dark past. As Ella desperately seeks a way to lay her son’s troubled soul to rest, she comes face to face with her own failings.

If Ella cannot learn why her son has returned and what he seeks, then the reach of his power will destroy the innocent, and not even his mother will be able to stop him.

Death doesn’t always bring peace, and it isn’t necessarily the end of everything.

The character development in this book is outstanding. Ella is a deeply flawed narrator whose rigid worldview was as realistic for someone with her background as it was frustrating as times. She comes so close to understanding her past only to veer away from the truth once again. Her personality is so well-rounded, though, that I remained completely fascinated by her journey even though I don’t necessarily like her as an individual.

This is a very minor criticism of an otherwise excellent tale, but it would have been helpful to have a few more clues about what is happening as her encounters with her deceased son grow increasingly violent. Some of Ella’s experiences are pretty frightening, yet the other people around her don’t necessarily react to what’s happening the same way she does.

Speaking of violence, there is quite a bit of it in this story. The horror elements in it can be visceral at times. While they work well with the premise and strengths an already incredible plot, this is something I prefer to know ahead of time when poking around in this genre.

The mystery of what Dane wants and how exactly he was able to return from the dead haunted me from the first paragraph to the last one. I can normally figure these things out in advance, but Mr. Lorn’s clues were so skillfully placed that I was pleasantly surprised by how he fit everything together. This was my first introduction to his work, and I’m eager to read more from this talented author.

Life After Dane is as much a chilling mystery as it is dark science fiction. This is a fantastic choice for anyone who prefers the unpredictable side of either genre.

Ever Near by Melissa MacVicar

Ever Near by Melissa MacVicar
Secret Affinity Book 1
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (199 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Love is ever near. But trouble is never far.

Nantucket Island is haunted, but only sixteen-year-old Jade Irving knows it. Ignoring the disturbing spirits isn’t an option, because one dwells in the enormous historic home she shares with her newly blended family. Jade is finding it more and more difficult to explain away Lacey’s ghostly, anguished tantrums, especially with Charlie, her gorgeous, almost step-brother, living right across the hall.

When a power-hungry ghost hunter tracks down Jade and blackmails her, Jade’s secret teeters on the edge of exposure, and her entire future hangs in the balance. If anyone finds out Jade can talk to ghosts, her life will be forever changed.

Can she save herself, free Lacey, and hang on to her tenuous connection with Charlie? Or will everything she ever wanted slip through her fingers?

Some gifts come with strings attached to them. What’s worse is that Jade couldn’t reject her gift or know ahead of time just how disruptive it would be in her otherwise ordinary life.

Jade is an intelligent protagonist who has never quite managed to get used to seeing the dead. While she can be snarky and a bit too serious at times, I liked her sharp-tongued approach to the things that she knows she can’t change. Her nonchalant approach to her own sexuality was also refreshing. She’s not embarrassed by the idea of preparing for safer sex ahead of time, but neither does this part of her life take up a great deal of her time.

It would have been helpful to know more about the past and personality of a secondary character who becomes interested in Jade’s life. Some of his actions come across as inappropriate given that he’s an adult stranger who follows a teenage girl around. From what I understand, this book is the beginning of a new series. I hope that more answers are given about his behaviour in the sequel.

Not every ghost is cute and cuddly. Encountering violent, unpredictable spirits without ever being able to opt out of the experience isn’t exactly what I’d consider to be a good time. Lacey’s backstory was particularly frightening. What I liked most about it was how slowly it was revealed. Some of the other paranormal scenes are pretty intense, though, so for this reason I strongly recommend sticking with the age recommendation.

The romantic elements were out of place in an otherwise dark plot. The characters involved in it meet under an odd set of circumstances to say the least. While they aren’t doing anything illegal, their actions do cross certain social boundaries in ways that I found disturbing. I never quite understood why this particular subplot was included, but this tale would have earned a much higher rating without it.

I didn’t know much about Nantucket before reading this book, but it’s an intriguing setting for a ghost story. There’s a big difference between how certain residents have projected themselves in public and what’s really going on behind closed doors. Everyone carries a few secrets around with them. It’s how they react when they thinks those secrets are about to be revealed that makes Jade’s journey such an interesting one.

Ever Near Book 1: Secret Affinity has piqued my curiosity. This is a good choice for anyone who thinks that paranormal activity isn’t necessarily something anyone in their right mind would seek out.