My Take on Critique Groups by Sally Basmajian – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Sally Basmajian will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

My Take on Critique Groups

I belong to two critique groups. One is made up of five female writers—some wise and some witty, but all darn good writers. We call ourselves LAKS, which stands for the Literary Ass Kicking Society, and that’s metaphorically what we do whenever one of us becomes sluggish and stops producing. The other is a much larger collective made up of writers at varying stages of their journey. It’s a local, inclusive group. I like to support it because the members were very encouraging when I started writing, and actually awarded me the first prize I ever won.

When I meet with my LAKS friends, I take seriously every piece of criticism they give me. We push each other to be better writers, and we’re all at similar stages in our literary journeys, so we aren’t afraid to be direct. While we don’t bludgeon each other with overly harsh, personal observations, we also don’t sugarcoat our comments or pull any punches. We hash through issues over coffee and heaping helpings of complex carbs. Later, when I’ve re-read their written critiques at home, I choose how many of their suggestions to incorporate in my next draft. More often than not, it’s the majority.

One of my LAKS colleagues, Lena, doesn’t even have to write her ideas out in full anymore. She just pens a bold “OTT” on any particularly florid passage I’ve written, to tell me that once more I’ve gone too far in trying to push a joke or describe a zany character. Is she right? In my opinion, yes—at least 80% of the time. I have her to thank for helping me realize that not everything I think is hilarious will amuse someone else.

In my larger community group, I apply a different filter. I do appreciate the general impressions of everyone in attendance, and I find many of their comments instructive. I also love the fact that the larger group organizes workshops and sometimes brings in knowledgeable professional speakers. Often, though, I disagree with the feedback from one or two participants.

As an example, a person in the group recently voiced a strong opinion that a novel’s character shouldn’t be called a nickname by her lover, because having two names made it confusing to keep track of who she was. In this case, the critic happened to be new to the group and had no grasp of the book’s flow. For instances like this, the rule I follow is to nod and pin on my brightest smile—and later not revise a single word.

It’s like hand-selecting the reddest apples at the grocery store, or buying a cheap, jumbo bagful and hoping for the best. Either option can be nutritious and tasty, and I do recommend both types of critique groups. Just remember to choose your companions wisely, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you end up frustrated instead of inspired after you’ve tried out a couple of sessions. In the long run, it’s more important to feel uplifted than to be critiqued in a manner that’s inapt or inept.

Suze Foster has always been devoted to her daughter. As a child, Jannie required extra support in school, but now-at age 29-she’s a rising executive. Suze, thrilled with Jannie’s success, is finally free to follow her own dreams.
Without Suze’s dedicated attention, though, Jannie flounders. In a careless moment, she floods her apartment. Enter our hero, Aram-her hot but significantly older neighbor. He saves the day, and for Jannie, it’s love at first sight.
Not so much for Aram, though, who falls head over heels for Suze when they accidentally meet. Unaware of Jannie’s feelings, Suze is equally smitten.
In this twisted triangle, can a happily-ever-after be achieved? Or will someone’s heart break and the mother-daughter bond be severed forever?

Enjoy an Excerpt

He was the most good-looking man she’d ever seen. Luxuriant locks. She bet that’s how a Harlequin Romance would describe his hair. And under the full beard, maybe even a cleft chin. And most definitely, a sensuous lower lip. Ooh la la.

As she mused in an X-rated way about his mouth, Jannie remembered something from a book she’d read where the heroine had a habit of biting her lower lip. It drove men mad.

So she tried it. Nibble, nibble.

Aram just looked at her. His breathing didn’t accelerate. His chest didn’t heave.
She tried again. Nibble, nibble. The prolonged silence was beginning to be uncomfortable.

“Are you all right, Jannie?” Aram finally asked. He studied her.

Well, that hadn’t gone so well. But she’d never tried to flirt with an older man before. Maybe they needed something more obvious.

She attempted to look coyly up at Aram through her eyelashes. This wasn’t as easy as all those romance authors made it sound. She felt her forehead contract, her nose wrinkle and her upper lip pull away from her teeth in her effort to do the impossible.

“Jannie, are you having an allergic reaction? Shellfish, maybe? Isn’t that crab I smell coming from your condo? Do you carry an EpiPen?”

She stamped her foot in frustration. It was supposed to look fierce and cute, but she could tell from Aram’s face that he was way more startled than turned on.

About the Author After leaving the corporate world, Sally Basmajian discovered the joy of writing. Her fiction and nonfiction stories have appeared in newspapers such as The Globe & Mail and in several anthologies. In 2022 she won prizes for memoir pieces (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, Gulf Coast Writers Association), and was thrilled to have a poem selected by the journal Antithesis. She expects to be busy in 2023, when her first two novels appear: in January, a light-hearted romance, So Hard to Do (published by Creative James Media) and in October, a much darker one, Fountain of Evil (Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC).

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Love All by Liza Malloy – Spotlight and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Liza Malloy will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

College students Nate and Olivia are a perfect match on the courts—and in the sheets. Everywhere else, they’re polar opposites and sworn enemies. But as the chemistry builds, a figure from Olivia’s past unexpectedly pops back into her life and the couple realizes they have more in common than they thought. Are these star-crossed lovers doomed to repeat their parents’ mistakes, or can they build a life together once the final set is played?

This book is a standalone, steamy, new adult/college, sports romance, 77k words. Tropes include enemies to lovers, he falls first, and billionaire.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“You know, some people like to give others the benefit of the doubt and get to know them before assuming the worst.”

Olivia snatched the cherry from the shake that I’d set on the edge of my plate. “Some of us prefer to avoid disappointment. I’ll keep my assumptions until people prove me wrong.”

At least she was honest, I thought, oddly envious of the cherry stem as she pressed her tongue against it. “Challenge accepted.”

We left the diner, but the drive home was far too short.

“Thank you for the ride,” she said, already clutching her racket and duffel bag before I even slowed to a complete stop in front of her apartment.

“And for the excellent meal, right?” I added.

She stared dryly. “I’ll thank you for the food when you thank me for not pressing charges on the whole kidnapping front.”

I bit back a smile. Even pissed off, Olivia was captivating. “This was fun. Why haven’t we hung out before?”

“Because we have nothing in common.”

“Not true. There’s tennis, lame business majors, and douchebag fathers.”

Olivia gazed back at me and for the briefest of moments, I thought she would say something meaningful, but instead she just shook her head, dismissing whatever idea had crossed her intriguing mind.

“You can’t possibly want to spend more time with me. I’ve been a total bitch to you all afternoon.”

I wasn’t about to deny that last part, so instead I pushed my luck with a bad joke. “We could move into the back seat and you could make it up to me,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows seductively.

I’d hoped for a snarky comeback, but instead she just rolled her eyes and chuckled. “I’ll see you at practice,” she mumbled, climbing out of the car.

About the Author:

Liza Malloy writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She’s a sucker for alpha males, bad boys, dimples, and muscles, and she can’t resist a man in uniform. Liza loves creating worlds where her heroine discovers her own strength and finds her Happily Ever After. When Liza isn’t reading or writing torrid love stories, she’s a practicing attorney. Her other passions include gummy bears, jelly beans, and the occasional marathon. She lives in the Midwest with her four daughters and her own Prince Charming.

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Titanian Warrior by Victoria Saccenti – Spotlight and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Victoria Saccenti will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

One woman holds the key to his destiny—and his people’s salvation. Hagen drags himself to the gates of Hell, body and soul shredded by the bloodlust that consumes all the unmated of his kind. Awaiting the painful atonement that will buy him ten more years to find his eternal mate—or face oblivion. But Hades himself kicks him out with the bloodlust still prowling, unsatisfied, in his veins.

Bargained away by her parents to Master O, a mysterious, cruel wizard, Faiza serves in his household, keeping her small magic a secret, plagued by wild, confusing visions of a strange, suffering man. Then the master brings home a wounded Titanian warrior whose touch sends ice, fire, and desire racing through her body.

When she learns Master O plans to use Hagen as a weapon to conquer all races, she devises a desperate plan to free him—a plan that opens a portal to a world she’s never known. And a destiny entwined with danger that could destroy them all.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The towering pair of boulders stood as gatekeepers and markers of the way. A steep path snaked between them until farther down the hill, the road disappeared in thick fog. Leaning on the closest rock, Hagen steadied himself to catch his breath, then pushed on.

Bloodlust crippled his Titanian vision. Still, he stumbled, rolled, and crawled over jagged rocks and gnarled roots with single-minded determination to reach his appointed meeting place, the cavern at the base of the Shivaliks, and the sole entrance to Hades’s domain on the earthly plane. A perverse satisfaction filled him each time he scraped and sliced his exposed skin, as this was only a precursor to the punishment he deserved. If he could shred his flesh to strips in anticipation as he had done with his clothes, so much the better.

Hagen advanced through the haze, seeking the deity’s promised signal. Images of his frenzy during the last skirmish prodded him. He strained past gore-filled images, and the effort paid off. There, deep within the haze, a faint red light marked the spot. Alecto had not forgotten. A hitched breath escaped his lungs as he stood and trod on a more secure step.

As the haze dissipated, the cavern’s hungry mouth gaped before him. Healing and deliverance acquired through pain would soon be his. As he inched closer to the wavering light, he removed the last remaining strips of clothing. The offering had to be bare and unadulterated. Nothing but skin would satisfy the Fury, purify his spirit, and postpone the horror of termination for another ten years—a mere blip in the lifespan of a Titanian.

About the Author:

Award-winning, multi-genre author Victoria Saccenti writes romantic women’s fiction, contemporary romance, and paranormal romance. Not one for heart and flower stories, she explores the edgy twists and turns of human interaction, the many facets of love, and all possible happy endings. After thirty years of traveling the world, she’s settled in Central Florida. She splits her busy schedule between family and her active muse at Essence Publishing. However, if she could convince her husband to sell their home, she would pack up her computer and move to Scotland, a land she adores. On a side note, in one form or another, Scotland appears in most of her stories.

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The Montgomery Arrangement by Lori Fayre – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Lori Fayre who is celebrating the recent release of The Montgomery Arrangement, the third book in the Summer fling or something more?

Paige Montgomery had never given the future much thought until the opportunity of a lifetime falls into her lap. Confronted with a life-changing path, she decides that a vacation to Miami with her best friends, the Alexanders, will clear her head. However, Bryce Alexander has other ideas.

Bryce proposes an arrangement, something casual and mutually beneficial to help them both relax while they’re away from it all. There are only two conditions—no one can know and absolutely no emotions can be involved. Though he’s seven years younger, Paige thinks there could be merit in his suggestion.

Paige can’t escape the reality of where her life is headed or her long-time friend, Levi, who has his sights set on her. But what do they really mean to each other? And does Bryce mean more? While Bryce tries his hardest to escape the spotlight and his new reputation, Paige has to wrestle with the idea that she could just be a distraction to him. With a years-long friendship on the line, will they take a chance on love?

Enjoy an Excerpt

When Paige was working on a painting, time didn’t exist. By the time a piece of art was done, she could hardly remember doing it. The feeling was there, and it was easy to look at one stroke of color and say, “Oh, yeah, I was feeling very sad when I laid that down.” But she couldn’t tell you exactly when it had happened or why. So, when Bryce Alexander assured her that the pieces she’d donated to him were a big hit, she’d had a hard time believing him. Honestly, she couldn’t remember which ones she’d picked from storage to send him.

“I’m not kidding,” Bryce said through the speaker against her ear. “You outsold everyone else here.”

“You know me,” she said, trying her best to play it off. She fiddled with a strand of long blonde hair that had fallen out of her updo. “I’m always happy to help. I’m just glad they went to a good cause.”

“You could say that,” he said. “I’ve been invited to an afterparty—and I don’t mean to brag, but I think some of those girls are really into me.”

Paige rolled her eyes. “Not exactly how I wanted my art to change lives.” Leave it to Bryce to turn a charity event into a prime opportunity to pick up women.

From what he’d told her, Bryce hadn’t wanted to go to the event in the first place. Carlton Alexander, wielding his fatherly authority all the way from Greece, had ordered it. Bryce had been getting into trouble lately—and not the kind that was easy to ignore. Over the past couple of years, the Alexanders had become celebrities. Maybe it was because the behind-the-scenes story of Jade and Spencer’s dramatic engagement period had gotten out, but it had skyrocketed business and put the family under a new kind of spotlight.

“Aren’t you supposed to be cutting back on the partying?” Paige asked, attempting to keep her tone neutral. It wasn’t her place to meddle in Bryce’s affairs, even if he was her friend.

“Daddy dearest isn’t here to enforce that rule,” Bryce argued. “Besides, these are art people. Charity art people, to be exact. How wild could the afterparty get?”

As one of those ‘art people’, Paige knew how wild they could be. Not that he’d listen to her if she warned him… It would only encourage him more. Releasing a sigh, Paige simply said, “Just promise me you’ll behave, okay? And don’t drink too much.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course.” His voice became quiet as he moved the phone away from his face, and she knew that some girl in a flashy dress had probably distracted him. “You know, you could always come with me. I can drop by and pick you up.”

“That sounds amazing, actually.” She leaned against the wall, wishing she could tell him yes. “Maybe some other time, though. I have my showing tonight, and I’ll have to be here at least another two hours.”

“All right,” Bryce said, and she almost thought she could hear disappointment in his voice. “Don’t have too much fun without me.”

“Talk to you later, Bryce.”

“I’ll talk to you later, Paige,” he echoed her words softly.

There was silence before he hung up the phone. Paige sighed again. A night out with Bryce was always a good time, but she had responsibilities. He’d graduated from college only a couple of months earlier, and ever since he’d been free, he’d been an entirely new person. Paige could pick out the signs, the small changes over time, but it was a stark contrast to the Bryce she’d met nearly four years ago. She didn’t mind, but he could get carried away very easily.

Paige slipped her phone into the small handbag around her wrist. The night was not about Bryce. It was about her obligations. She’d tucked herself into a corner of the gallery, near an emergency exit, to take his phone call. Behind her, the sounds of the showing could still be heard—the laughter, the clinking of glasses, the music and the critical whispers as people judged the art they had paid a high price to view. It was the kind of thing she dreamed of, but something wasn’t right.

Paige didn’t feel like herself. Her sleeveless evening gown was expensive, its flowing marbled skirts and cinched waist very stylish without being too eye-catching and flattered her slim figure. Unlike the other artists being featured at Gould’s Gallery, she didn’t want to stand out. They were all either dressed down for the night or wearing the strangest outfits that had to be impossibly uncomfortable. Normally, Paige would have done the same. Something had changed.

Paige turned her attention to the piece hanging on the gallery’s white wall in front of her. It didn’t feel like hers. It didn’t look like hers from afar. But, when she squinted, she recognized every brushstroke. It was one of her abstract paintings—a large canvas covered with varying strokes of paint, all a myriad of colors blocked off by bold black lines. Each day she would approach the canvas with a new mood, new thoughts and ideas, and paint. As she worked, she would take in the previous day’s progress and try to fix it. In the end, it hadn’t turned out the way she’d wanted, but she had been well over her deadline, and it would have to do.

“It’s beautiful work.” Levi Gould materialized beside her. “Though, I don’t think you were entirely happy making it.”

“I’m not entirely happy standing in front of it,” Paige shot back. She smiled, playing it off as humor, but there was mostly truth to it. She had to search hard to find pieces of herself in the paint, and it was a skewed image, blurry like a fogged mirror.

“Are you saying you’d be willing to part with it?”

Paige turned to look at him. Levi was classically handsome with his dark brown skin, neatly trimmed beard and long, thin braids. Like some of the other artists, he was dressed informally, in a T-shirt and blazer, a layered scarf, and white cargo pants with combat boots. His hair was covered with a black fedora, completing his monochromatic ensemble.

They had been friends since college, where they’d taken many of the same classes, but when the time came to choose a career, Paige had stuck with painting while Levi had opened his own gallery. It hadn’t taken long for Gould’s to become the exclusive art hub in New York City, one that all the up-and-coming artists had to be a part of.

Levi quirked an eyebrow at her, his dark brown eyes expectant. Paige realized that she hadn’t spoken for several moments, only stared at Levi.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?” she asked.

“Do you want to keep your painting or not?” Levi asked with a smile.

“I’m clearly not married to it,” she said with a shrug. “You can keep it.”

“I’m flattered that you’d offer, but that’s not what I had in mind. You might not be happy with your stunning work, but a patron is.” He slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Mr. Talles has made a substantial offer, and I would like to graciously accept on your behalf.”

“Hold on. I thought this was just a showing,” Paige said, butterflies fluttering in her stomach.

“It is, darling, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to turn down an influential collector when he offers my friend five figures. Of course, I would get a ten percent commission since it’s my gallery.” He laughed. “You’re doing pretty well for yourself, aren’t you? I think this is the second work of yours that he’s bought.”

Paige could only nod, still struggling to wrap her head around the five figures part. Between this sale and the success of the charity auction, Paige felt a bit of her old confidence creeping back in.

“Is that a yes?” Levi asked. “Because he would like to take it home tonight.”

“He can have it,” Paige said, finally shaking herself from her fog. Levi turned away to speak to an assistant, ushering him away once he was done. Paige watched all of it from the corner of her eye, dividing her concentration between the two men and the painting and wondering why anyone would offer so much for it.

“For someone leaving with a considerable check tonight,” Levi whispered conspiratorially upon his return to her side, “you don’t seem overly thrilled. What is it that has you in such a glum mood?”

Paige smiled at him. “I’m over the moon. I am,” she added. “I’m slow at getting used to all this. I mean, I’m used to showings and people buying my stuff, but this is your gallery. This is Gould’s. And it’s my first time being here during a showing, so forgive me if I seem a little distant.”

“I’m nothing special, Paige Montgomery.” He nudged her shoulder with his. “You know me better than that.”

“You’re special to me.” Paige nodded to one of the women holding a glass of champagne and narrowing her eyes at a neighboring piece. “And you’re special to the critics.”

“I want to show you something,” he said, taking her hand. Paige didn’t argue, but she glanced around to see if anyone would notice them leaving together. The only person who spared them a look was the assistant placing a ‘Sold’ placard underneath her painting.

The upstairs of the gallery was roped off for the night. Not even the artists were allowed up until the next morning. Levi had converted the old loft of the building into an art studio where, for a hefty fee, artists could claim a five-by-five or ten-by-ten-foot square to work on their craft. Along with the space, they were also guaranteed exposure on the walls of the gallery once a month. It was a daring business venture, but it seemed to be doing well. A spot at Gould’s studio had a waiting list a mile long.

Levi lifted the black velvet rope that led to the stairwell, allowing them to duck underneath. The stairs were narrow, and there was no door at the landing. When Levi flipped on the fluorescent lights, Paige let out a gasp. She had toured the place, but that had been when it’d been staged for visitors. She knew how chaotic artists’ spaces could be, since she had to set one up wherever she was staying.

The loft seemed smaller than it had before, what with all the clutter scattered around. Half-painted canvases were propped on easels and along the wall. Wheeled carts jutted into the aisle marked off with duct tape, signifying whose space belonged to whom. The wood floors were stained with paint and streaks of charcoal. The open space was broken up with the occasional industrial column, but those were splattered with paint as well. It was a lived-in space with a view that most renters would kill for. Despite the chaos around her, Paige had never felt more at home in a new place before.

“We keep our kiln and sculpting equipment in the basement,” Levi told her as he led her farther in. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a sculptor rent a spot in here, though.” He took her to the tall windows in the back of the room, where the building opened up to the city. Since they were on the Lower East Side, Paige could see straight to the ocean and the Statue of Liberty.

“This is so different from what I remember,” Paige finally said. “And it’s not at all how it looks in the magazines.”

“Are you overwhelmed or disappointed?” Levi stepped up to the window, his tall silhouette set against the lights of the city.

“Neither,” she told him. “But I can certainly see why people are fighting for a spot here. I can feel the creative energy.”

“You should see it when we’re full,” Levi said. “It’s loud and messy, but it’s the best place to get work done. Though, we do argue about the music from time to time.” He motioned for her to join him, and she took slow steps to his side. There was something about him that night, something about the look in his eyes and the way that he spoke. If Paige didn’t know any better, she might think he was coming on to her.

“I’d like to see it one day,” she said. “I’ve thought about putting my name on the list, but I don’t know if I’ll be here when a spot opens up. I don’t know where I’ll go next, but I’ve been in New York too long. I’m starting to feel restless.”

“What if you could skip the wait?” he asked. “What if someone were to jump you to the front of the line? Do you think that would be worth sticking around for?”

Paige crossed her arms, focusing on the torch in Lady Liberty’s hand. “What did you have in mind?”

“One of my artists is going overseas.” He said it so casually, as though he weren’t trying to offer her a coveted spot at Gould’s that could skyrocket her career even farther. “There will be an open easel here if you want it.”

Paige turned to him with wide eyes. “I don’t think that would be fair to everyone else.”

“Being the owner comes with perks, love,” he told her. “And I know a good investment when I see one.”

Heat rushed to Paige’s face as she got the distinct impression that he wasn’t talking about her art anymore. “It’s a tempting offer,” she started, “but, I’ve been in a creative slump lately, and I don’t know if I could make anything worth being on display.” She chewed on her thumbnail as she thought. “The one down there must have been a fluke. I don’t want to take the spot and not produce anything,”

“It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks that it’s good enough,” Levi said, taking her free hand. Paige could do nothing but watch him as he pulled her closer. “It’s the curator’s discretion to show what he thinks is worth it. And you’re talking to a curator who sees beauty in all that you do, Paige.” He surprised her then by raising her hand to his lips and kissing it softly.

So, she wasn’t imagining things. Over the past couple of years, what with Jade and Clint in their own separate honeymoon phases, Paige had been spending more time with Levi. And, sure, there had been flirtations, but they were always playful, silly and when they were around other people. It was never something she had taken seriously, but the look in his dark brown eyes warned her that it was time to start.

“Can I have some time to think about it?” she asked, her voice coming out breathless.

Levi smiled kindly at her. “Of course, you can,” he told her. “I wouldn’t expect you to have an answer for me as early as tonight. How about you get back to me within ten days?”

“Ten days?” Paige balked. “Is that all you can give me?”

He laughed, a low rumbling sound that came from deep in his chest. “I want this for you, Paige, but it’s the best I can do. Like you said, there are a lot of people vying for this spot, and it wouldn’t be fair to make them wait for long.”

Off the top of her head, Paige could think of several reasons to say no. If she worked for Levi Gould, there would always be interviews to attend, photo ops and PR to deal with. And while all of it was good for business, it wasn’t her style. Paige liked to travel and see new things. While she would revisit places, she rarely stayed for long.

“New York is beautiful, but I’m not sure if it’s the place for me.” Having to rent an apartment in the city and take a taxi to work every day… Paige was unsure about a lot, but she knew that anything resembling a nine-to-five wasn’t in her future. She smiled at Levi to reassure him. “I’ll think about it and let you know, okay?”

“Works for me.” He gave her hand a small squeeze and turned back to the window.

Paige took a deep breath. She had ten days to decide if she was going to take a dream job and relocate her entire life to New York. The thing was, she wasn’t sure if it was her dream—or if it was just what she thought she wanted.

About the AuthorLori Fayre was born and raised in a small South Georgia town. An obsessive consumer of romance throughout all media, she knew that it was the only genre she could ever write. Love should always be full of passion and adventure, and Lori proves as much in her novels that span multiple genres and pairings. When she’s not writing love stories, she enjoys reading, sketching, and spending time with her husband and Yorkie.

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Roxy Constantine: Jam Queen by Meg Benjamin – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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Roxy Constantine: Jam Queen

At the beginning of The Pepper Peach Murder, my heroine, Roxy Constantine, has a laser focus on jam. She spends most of her time making jam, selling jam, and thinking about jam. After all, the local paper has called her “The Jam Queen of Shavano County.” She’s got a lot to live up to.

Roxy has come back to her hometown of Shavano, Colorado, after a bad experience as a line cook in Denver. It’s soured her on doing much besides concentrating on her jam company, Luscious Delights. Her business is just beginning to take off after a lot of hard work. And getting Luscious Delights off the ground has occupied most of her time. Roxy hasn’t done much in the way of socializing for the past couple of years. But thanks to her booth at the farmers market where she meets local chef, Nate Robicheaux, things may be looking up in the romance department.

Unfortunately, another Shavano chef, Brett Holmes, is trying to rain on Roxy’s parade. The two of them worked together in Denver, and even then he was someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Roxy doesn’t want to go out with him since he’s a definite sleaze, but he just keeps asking. And, in fact, it isn’t really asking . Brett’s demands move closer to threats, and Roxy has had enough. She tells Brett off in front of most of the vendors at the Shavano Farmers Market, which means half of Shavano gets the idea that Brett and Roxy are definitely not soulmates.

When someone kills Brett in his own kitchen a few days later, Roxy finds she’s got some major problems. A lot of people in town think she’s the killer, including the new chief of police, Ethan Fowler. Even though Roxy has an alibi, she decides she needs to investigate—Luscious Delights is in jeopardy since nobody wants to buy jam from a murderess.

Roxy’s investigation is the central focus of The Pepper Peach Murder. Well, that and her developing relationship with Nate. She’s got a lot to figure out and a lot to overcome if she’s going to maintain all she’s accomplished so far and all she wants to do in the future.

The Jam Queen of Shavano County is on the case, and she’s definitely got a lot of reasons to find the killer. Whether she can do that, particularly when she discovers some people she cares about may be involved, is another question. That’s one question she’ll have to answer if she wants to keep her title.

Roxy Constantine is the jam queen of Shavano, Colorado, and she’s fine with it. Not that things couldn’t be better. Her social life is a bust, and she’s still recovering from a bad experience as a line cook in Denver. But things are looking up when she meets local chef Nate Robicheaux. Roxy would like to get closer to Nate, but she’s fending off the unwanted attentions of another local, Brett Holmes, who won’t take no for an answer. When Brett threatens to derail Roxy’s appearance on a national cooking show, the two have a very public fight. A few days later, Brett is found murdered in his restaurant kitchen, and suddenly Roxy’s a prime suspect. Now Roxy, Nate, and her other friends must find out the truth about Brett’s background and his murderer before the town of Shavano decides Roxy’s reign as jam queen is over for good.

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It would be better for him to hear it from you than to discover it on his own.

Nate’s voice still echoed in my ears. For a moment, I wished I’d asked him to come with me. But I had to face this on my own. It was my disaster, after all.

I climbed up the stairs to the front door, pausing for a moment to check the directory on the wall inside. The chief’s office was on the first floor, right down the hall. Once I turned in that direction, there’d be no going back. I’d be committed to confessing.

I walked down the corridor, feeling like I was going to the executioner’s block.

There was a receptionist for the chief’s office along with the county attorney and the sheriff. I didn’t recognize her, which was just as well. This visit wasn’t something I wanted shared on social media.

She looked up expectantly. “Yes?”

“I need to see Chief Fowler.” I was amazed that my voice was steady.

“Do you have an appointment?”

I shook my head. “He’ll want to talk to me. Tell him it’s Roxy Constantine.”

The receptionist picked up her phone and dialed a number, turning away from me as she spoke.

Of course, I wasn’t absolutely sure Fowler would want to see me. Maybe he’d be too busy. Maybe he wasn’t interested. Maybe…

The receptionist glanced up at me. “Go on in. He’ll see you now.”

So much for hope. I opened the office door and stepped inside.

Fowler was sitting at his utilitarian, city-issued desk. He gazed up at me with that same unsmiling, inscrutable look he always seemed to wear. I wondered if he ever smiled. Probably not at people like me, people he suspected of murder.

I cleared my throat. “I have some things to tell you.”

He gestured to the chair in front of his desk. “Sit down, Ms. Constantine. I’ve been expecting you.”

About the Author:Meg Benjamin is an award-winning author of romance. Meg’s Konigsburg series is set in the Texas Hill Country and her Salt Box and Brewing Love trilogies are set in the Colorado Rockies (all are available from Entangled Publishing). Her new cozy mystery series, Luscious Delights from Wild Rose Press, concerns a jam-making sleuth based in the mythical small town of Shavano, Colorado. Along with contemporary romance, Meg is also the author of the paranormal Ramos Family trilogy from Berkley InterMix and the Folk trilogy from Soul Mate. Meg’s books have won numerous awards, including an EPIC Award, a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Holt Medallion from Virginia Romance Writers, the Beanpot Award from the New England Romance Writers, and the Award of Excellence from Colorado Romance Writers.

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Sanctuary for a Surgeon by Jason Wrench – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jason Wrench, who is celebrating today’s release of Sanctuary for a Surgeon, the third book in the Up on the Farm series. Enter the rafflecopter at the end of the post for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card! Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Finding love in the sanctuary of nature and another man’s arms.

Darrin Betancourt is a trauma surgeon in his early thirties living in New York City. His world gets thrown upside down after his husband dies in a car accident. Can Darrin get his act together and learn to love again before his life spirals out of control? His friends convince him to attend an all-gay retreat outside Woodstock. Begrudgingly, Darrin agrees to spend a weekend in nature, out of the city.

Jordan Floyd is a twenty-four-year-old farmhand who works for Devereux Farms Upstate just outside Woodstock. Jordan gets permission from his bosses to attend Camp Namast-Gay at the Woodstock Esoteric Sanctuary.

Darrin and Jordan end up in adjacent cabins. Can the two men take their friendship to a whole new level before the weekend is over? Or will disaster strike, derailing both of their lives and their burgeoning love?

Reader advisory: This book contains public sex and voyeurism.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The last six-and-a-half months had been a living nightmare. There had been funeral arrangements and memorial services to organize and attend. Then there had been the months of pitying stares. I had become a recluse. I hadn’t wanted to deal with friends and coworkers. I had gone to work then gone home. When I ran out of excuses to avoid their offers, I had occasional meals with them. My life had shattered. Richard had recommended therapy on more than one occasion because I was clearly depressed. Of course I was depressed. The man I loved had died.

Chance had been one of three people who had been directly in the vehicle’s path when it had run through the crowd. After the NYPD investigation, it was ruled an accident. The car’s tire had blown after hitting a metal object in the street, which had caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle. She had tried to regain it but couldn’t. I heard through the grapevine that she was now being treated at an inpatient psychiatric facility upstate after she had attempted suicide. The woman hadn’t been ready for the media scrutiny and the accident’s fallout in her life. Part of me was glad she’d had a mental breakdown, but that was the evil, vindictive side. Another part was sorry for her. As horrible as it was, accidents happened. I saw accidents every day. Some were preventable. Some were not.

I had agreed to another Sunday brunch with Bryce and Richard. I hadn’t wanted to go, but I found myself at their door with a bottle of wine. I plastered on my best fake smile and knocked.

“Just a second,” Richard’s voice rang from the other side. A few seconds later, the door opened. “Darrin, we’re so glad you could make it. Brunch is almost ready.” He ushered me inside the townhouse as he kept talking. “We’re having a quiche I whipped up from scratch. It has a smattering of vegetables with sausage and bacon. I also threw together a mixed green salad and a raspberry tart for dessert.” I handed him the bottle of wine. Richard inspected it and nodded before saying, “Good choice.”

Bryce came from the backroom. “How are you doing?” he asked me.

“I’m doing…” I left the phrase hanging in the air.

“Well,” Bryce said without acknowledging the ambiguity of my statement, “at least you’re up and moving around.”

I forced a smile and followed Bryce and Richard into the small dining room. The table was set for three. As usual, Richard had set an immaculate table that would make Emily Post jealous. Bryce motioned to a chair, and I took a seat as Richard left.

“So, how are things in your world?” I asked, breaking the silence.

“Richard and I are doing well. We’ve been looking into surrogacy again. I think Richard’s biological clock is ticking. He wants a baby.”

“I heard that,” Richard’s voice echoed from the kitchen next to the dining room. Richard walked in with the salad and placed it in the middle of the table. “And don’t let this one fool you,” he said, sticking his thumb in Bryce’s direction. “He wants to be a doting father as much as I do. We have a lot of love to give a little one.”

“Why not adopt?” I asked.

“We talked about that,” Bryce acknowledged, “but ultimately we want to have a little baby. We have thought about having one through surrogacy, then adopting her or him a little brother or sister.”

“Two kids?” I asked.

“Don’t be so shocked,” Richard said, returning to the dining room with the quiche. “I’m doing more and more of my work from home. After the pandemic, the firm has embraced remote work, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect.”

Richard set about serving up the quiche. We spent the next hour talking about a range of topics deemed ‘safe’ by the group.

After an appropriate amount of time once we’d all eaten, I looked at Bryce and Richard and said, “Well, I need to get to the gym before taking a nap. I’m working the ten-to-ten shift tonight.”

“Let me put together a to-go box for you,” Richard said. “I worry that you’re not getting enough home-cooked food.”

Sadly, he was right. Most nights I grabbed takeout or heated something from a box in the microwave. “Thanks,” I said. “It would be much appreciated. You can only eat takeout Chinese so many days in a row.”

When Richard left the dining room, Bryce turned and stared at me. For the first time that day, he put on his serious face.

“I’m worried about you,” Bryce said. “I know it’s only been six months, but you’ve almost completely shut down.”

“I’m still grieving. Is there an appropriate amount of time one should grieve?”

“No, there’s not,” Bryce said hesitantly. “But I worry that you’re not making progress toward getting healthy. Have you reconsidered Richard’s suggestion about therapy?”

“I don’t need a shrink… I need time.” I blinked back tears that had started to swell in my eyes. “I need him back.” I was amazed when the words came out of my mouth.

“I know. We all miss him,” Bryce said. He looked at me for a second, and I could tell he was trying to plan what to say next. “I don’t know how I would react if Richard died, so I won’t presume to tell you how you’re supposed to behave. I won’t. But I will say I’m worried.”

“Thanks…” He meant well. Part of me wanted to come back with a snarky comment, but I held my tongue. “Each day is a little better,” I lied.

“Here’s your to-go box,” Richard said, breezing back into the dining room. He took one look at the serious faces in the room. “Did I miss something?”

“Not at all,” I said, using the break in the conversation to my advantage. “Thank you for an amazing meal and lovely company, but I must get to the gym.”

Bryce looked like he wanted to say something, but he kept his words to himself, which suited me just fine. I said goodbyes and hugged both men before going home to change and head off to the gym.

About the Author Jason Wrench is a professor in the Department of Communication at SUNY New Paltz and has authored/edited 15+ books and over 35 academic research articles. He is also an avid reader and regularly reviews books for publishers in a wide number of genres. This book marks his first full-length work of fiction.

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Remaking a Man by Amy Craig – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Amy Craig, who is celebrating the upcoming release of Remaking a Man, the second book in the Sun Valley Mafia series. Enter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card! Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

A one-night stand turns serious…

Nina’s neighbor sets her up on a blind date with a handsome insurance salesman. After a candlelit dinner, Nina hooks up with him in a posh New York hotel room, but she writes off the date as a one-night stand. Returning home, she discovers her neighbor’s death, her dog’s abduction and the salesman’s possible involvement.

Traipsing across the city with her date in tow, she realizes he’s a quarrelsome billionaire and that her dog may never return. Grieving her losses, she accompanies her date to a ‘billionaire summer camp’ in Sun Valley, Idaho, but the idyllic setting revolves around his whims—and the person who took her dog follows them.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and murder.

Enjoy an Excerpt

Standing on the marble front step of her family’s Miami mansion, Gisella tapped her designer footwear, adjusted her sunglasses and blocked out the bright spring day. She breathed deeply and shuffled the bags hanging from her toned arms.

At the end of the driveway, her brother Antonio revved his red convertible’s souped-up engine and pounded the dashboard in time to blaring rock music. Miami traffic streamed past the estate. People stared.

Why can’t he just leave? She marveled at his arrogance, but she kept her expression neutral and her phone in her pocket. He was the youngest of her two siblings, and he had the stocky, tan physique her male family members prized. He also had a propensity to wear outlandish suits, a revolving door of girlfriends and a sophomoric sense of humor. If he caught her taking a selfie in front of the house, he would turn it into a meme, but her account depended on dance stills and teasing hints of glamour. The minute he left the estate, she would take the picture while her hair looked good.

Flexing her toes, she rifled through the bags on her arms. One duffle held her ballet kit, another tote functioned as a purse and the bags from her morning shopping spree hiked her credit card bill. Instead of feeling guilty for the extravagance, she admired her long, lean legs.

Her form allowed her to excel as a professional ballerina, but she worried she had the coltish naivety to match her legs. When would she work up the nerve to demand a driver’s license and stop relying on Antonio for transportation? Every time she talked about her license, her father pouted and asked what more he could do to ensure her comfort.

If her mother had lived, Gisella’s life might be so different.

A car horn honked. A woman blew kisses. “Antonio!!”

He ignored the entreaty, let the engine rumble and scanned the beachside traffic. His muscled forearm hung over the door, and he tapped his fingers against the expensive paint job. Milky fingerprints marred the convertible’s finish.

A second Miami driver slowed to gawk at the handsome, moneyed mobster. A trailing car smashed the vehicle’s lights. Horns blared and doors flew open.

Releasing the engine’s pent-up energy, Antonio took advantage of the distraction and roared across two lanes of traffic.

Gisella rolled her eyes and snapped the picture she needed, but she doubted her high-gloss smile was worth the price of the photograph.

Riding home with her brother from dance rehearsals and a shopping spree, she had stared out of the window and listened to him complain about women and their fickle ways. His problems never changed, but the consistency soothed her. If he spent more time listening to the women, he would have fewer problems with them.

For instance, she had wanted to close her eyes and rest, but Antonio couldn’t take a hint. As soon as she made Principal Dancer, she could move out of her father’s house and make rent, but she would have to stop shopping like a mafia princess.

Squaring her shoulders, she faced her father’s front door. Most Miami residents painted their doors to ward off humidity’s warping effects. Papà imported Cocobolo heartwood and exposed the precious wood to the elements. His house could grace the cover of Architectural Digest, but his acceptance in local society depended on discretion. Biscayne Bay would freeze over before he opened the mansion’s doors to gawking strangers.

Every piece of furniture came with a decorator’s commission, authenticity papers and a cataloged serial number. The insurance company knew the exact cost of her father’s investment, and if the house burned, they’d be wise to pay up.

She appreciated the wealth, but its origins bothered her. Her sweet Papà, Gregorio Vitella, ran drugs from South America up the Eastern shoreline. She feared that enjoying the proceeds made her complicit in his crimes.

Pressed by a tipsy ballet friend, she’d admitted the concession that let her sleep at night. Her father’s legitimate insurance company probably covered her bills, but how could a person separate good money from bad people—and where did that distinction place her?

Pushing open the door, she scanned the marble foyer and dropped her bags, but a green potted palm, a black concert piano and an excruciatingly expensive console table provided little company. The console table rested on acrobatic loops of brass. Beneath a glass top, python skin gleamed with a subtle sheen, and she wondered if the piece’s black crystal pulls would make an interesting jewelry set. Opening a drawer, she checked for mail and flipped through the family correspondence. “Come stai, Papà?”

Her question echoed.

Raising her head, she set down the mail and waited.

A hidden white paneled door opened. Martin, the butler, emerged, wearing the formal black suit and crisp white shirt required for his service. He’d perfected the practiced, subservient gaze on his own. She’d grown to like him, but she wondered how long he would last in the household.

“Signorina Gisella, your father is in his study.”

Keeping a bright smile on her face, she handed Martin her shopping bags and kept her purse on her shoulder. “Thanks. I’ll freshen up and join him.”

“Yes, Signorina.”

The man couldn’t speak ten words of Italian. As soon as staff members picked up a basic understanding of the language, her father fired them. Smart members played dumb. Gisella found her allies among them, but she’d learned to mind her comments, too.

Ducking into the gilt-papered bathroom off the foyer, she pinched her cheeks, added lipstick and prepared to act like a dutiful daughter. Her life revolved around the Miami Ballet Company, beachside runs and formal dinners, but in her father’s house, she would forever be ‘Gigi’.

Bracing her hands on the sink, she tilted her head. Her loving father owned Florida’s biggest commercial real estate company, Cosmica Insurance Holdings, but he also ran the Florida branch of the Italian mob.

He wore a suit to school functions, but when business soured at home, he rolled up his shirtsleeves, and the gentlemanly look faded. When she had been ten, she’d witnessed the reality of his business dealings through a crack in the study door. She’d never seen his victim again, and she’d kept her observations to herself—but she listened.

When classmates at her parochial school asked what her father did for work, she parroted the company line. “CIH offers property insurance, casualty insurance and value-added insurance services across twenty southeastern states.”

They looked impressed.

Why shouldn’t they? Every new homeowner in Florida received a direct mailing touting CIH’s low rates and friendly staff. The mailings glossed over the company’s potential money laundering credentials, but who read the fine print?

Leaving the bathroom, she made her way to the back of the house and to her father’s study. The caviar-black masculine room had views of the pool and heavy leather furniture. Despite a sparking oasis waiting beyond the windows, the room looked like a cave.

Last fall, her father’s interior designer Lisette had joined the family before Sunday dinner. Wearing a pantsuit, she’d sipped a dirty martini and made vague references to former clients. “I prefer to create a visual impact by mixing wood species and texture. That movie star I mentioned”—she sipped her drink—“had a thing for ebony.”

Gisella had wanted to like the woman, but her influence on the house’s décor leaned toward gilt and Hollywood glamour. Having a thing for ebony shocked her as much as Lisette’s cosmetic surgery bill. Once a woman immersed herself in wealth, keeping life entertaining required novelty and a steady flow of cash. “How do you plan to tackle the study?”

Lisette had wrinkled her surgically enhanced nose. “The hospitality industry uses black to create glamour, drama and intimacy. Everyone’s doing it.”

Gisella had sipped her wine and assumed Lisette was doing her father.

Walking across the room, Gisella admitted the study’s black walls created drama, but if her father wanted to scare his minions into compliance, he could pull out the handgun he kept in the desk’s top drawer. To keep her in line, he deployed guilt. ‘What would your mother think?’

She wrinkled her nose.

Walking around the polished walnut desk, she leaned down and pressed a kiss to his cheek. He smelled of black tea, Damascus rose, tobacco and leather. At sixty-five years old, he looked ten years younger. Faint silver streaks threaded his black hair. He could wear chinos and he would still smell like old manners and aged wine caves. “Come è andato il lavoro, Papà?”

“It is what it is.” Continuing in Italian, he set aside his papers. “How was your shopping trip?”

She sat opposite him and crossed her legs. “Fruitful.”

He laughed.

Pulling a stack of receipts from her purse, she slid them across the desk. “The rest will come by email.”

Shrugging, he leaned back in his chair and left the crumpled slips on the table. “Gigi, you’re old enough to drink and old enough to marry.”

She picked at her nails. “Is that so?”

“More than old enough. In the home country…”

Looking up, she tilted her head. “We’re not in the home country.”

He held up a hand. “But if we were, you’d be a bride, and I’d be a grandpa.”

“Ursula is older.”

“Your sister wants to be a nun.”

“So she says.” Looking past his full head of hair, she regretted her outburst and second-guessed her decision to come home after rehearsal. If she’d stayed out and shared a drink with Antonio, she’d have to listen to his stories and give up her evening run. She couldn’t hide from her father. He financed her life and provided patronage for her art. Looking at him, she softened her expression and recalled the sunlit days he’d spent with her and Ursula. “You’re too young to be a grandpa.”

about the AuthorAmy Craig lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA with her family and a small menagerie of pets. She writes women’s fiction and contemporary romances with intelligent and empathetic heroines. She can’t always vouch for the men. She has worked as an engineer, project manager, and incompetent waitress. In her spare time, she plays tennis and expands her husband’s honey-do list.

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Skull’s Vengeance by Linnea Tanner – Q&A + Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

If you could apologize to someone in your past, who would it be?

There is no one in my past whom I feel the need to apologize. However, I regret that I did not tell my daughter-in-law how much I loved her until she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Life is precious and we should often tell cherished family members and friends how much we love them.

If you could keep a mythical/ paranormal creature as a pet, what would you have?

Dragons.

How do you keep your writing different from all the others that write in this particular genre?

Every story has a unique perspectives, characters, and plot lines that make them distinct. I don’t consciously consider what makes my stories different from others. I write from the heart. Readers have described my novels as evocative with unexpected twists. A review from Reader’s Favorite describes Skull’s Vengeance as follows: The plot rockets off at a fantastic pace that amps up the tension at every turn, making for a surprisingly quick read filled with passion, bloodshed, and some very cinematic and exciting dark magic to top it all off.

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you ever received?

The best piece of writing advice I’ve received is how to firmly place a scene in a character’s point of view instead of head-hopping from one character to another, which can confuse readers. The worst piece of advice is when someone insists that you strictly avoid adverbs, complex words and sentences, descriptions, and semicolons. As long as the prose does not distract from the story, a writer should use all tools of writing that enhance the story.

Are the experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Whenever I visited London, I was intrigued with the statue of the ancient warrior queen, Boudicca, and her daughters in a horse-drawn chariot. The Roman historian Cassius Dio described her as being, “in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh: a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace.” She symbolizes how a single woman can unite divisive factions to rise up against tyranny and seek their freedom.

Statue of Boudicca and her two daughters in a chariot

My primary character, Catrin, is inspired by the legend of Boudicca and her Celtic world, which later inspired Arthurian legend. The characterization is based on the complex archetypes of ancient Celtic goddesses whose functions embrace the entire religious spectrum from healing to warfare, from creation to destruction, and from birth. Catrin is intended to be an inspiration to modern-day women who are seeking to find their place in society.

The legacy of Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and his tragic downfall with Cleopatra inspired the primary male character, Marcellus Antonius. Mark Antony’s son (Iullus Antonius) suffered a similar fate as his father. He fell on his sword in disgrace for his scandalous affair with Augustus Caesar’s only daughter, Julia. Little is known about Iullus’s son, Lucius, except that he was exiled to Gaul as a young man, most likely as a condition to escape his father’s fate.

Bust of Mark Antony

During the time period in my series, the Antonius family legacy was cursed by the act of damnatio memoriae (condemnation of memory) that erased public records of Mark Antony and Iullus Antonius. A burning question that I wanted to answer in Skull’s Vengeance is how the tragic family legacy would impact Lucius Antonius. How would he react if his son, Marcellus, went down the same fateful path as his forefathers?

A Celtic warrior queen must do the impossible—defeat her sorcerer half-brother and claim the throne. But to do so, she must learn how to strike vengeance from her father’s skull.

AS FORETOLD BY HER FATHER in a vision, Catrin has become a battle-hardened warrior after her trials in the Roman legion and gladiatorial games. She must return to Britannia and pull the cursed dagger out of the serpent's stone to fulfill her destiny. Only then can she unleash the vengeance from the ancient druids to destroy her evil half-brother, the powerful sorcerer, King Marrock. Always two steps ahead and seemingly unstoppable, Marrock can summon destructive natural forces to crush any rival trying to stop him and has charged his deadliest assassin to bring back Catrin's head.

To have the slightest chance of beating Marrock, Catrin must forge alliances with former enemies, but she needs someone she can trust. Her only option is to seek military aid from Marcellus—her secret Roman husband. They rekindle their burning passion, but he is playing a deadly game in the political firestorm of the Julio-Claudian dynasty to support Catrin's cause.

Ultimately, in order to defeat Marrock, Catrin must align herself with a dark druidess and learn how to summon forces from skulls to exact vengeance. But can she and Marcellus outmaneuver political enemies from Rome and Britannia in their quest to vanquish Marrock?

Enjoy an Excerpt

PROLOGUE

White Cliffs in Southeast Britannia,
Eve of Samhain, 31 October, 26 AD

Three human skulls hung over King Marrock’s stallion, dangling from a rope like ornaments. Feeling as invincible as a god, he rode to the precipice of the sheer cliffs and listened to the roar of the waves crashing below. Yet, the raven soaring overhead chilled him to the bone—an omen he was but mortal and could plunge to his death.

He embraced the warmth of Boudicca, his younger half sister, who sat astride his horse in front of him. A toddler full of mirth, she was a healer who could connect to the souls of the dead.

Whereas their mother accused him, also known as Blood Wolf, of being a soulless murderer.

On this eve of Samhain, Marrock knew the souls of the dead freely roamed among the living. He spotted his deadliest assassin, Gawain, searching for the wraith on the emerald hilltop. Gawain had a blue, triangular tattoo of a dagger’s blade on his forehead and deadly weapons underneath his black cloak—the royal insignia of the red dragon stitched to the front panel.

For Marrock, the Otherworldly dragon, with its leathery wings and fiery breath, symbolized perpetual power. It was said that where dragons trod, mystic energy flowed. The untamed beast guarded the portal into the Otherworld.

He yearned for the dragon’s mystic power—the power to summon forces from the earth’s molten underbelly to immolate his rivals.

Gawain pointed to a pile of rocks. “The sheepherder saw the wraith over there,” he said in his deep, gravelly voice.

Marrock handed Boudicca to him and then dismounted, pulling the rope of skulls off his horse and draping it over his shoulders. His family’s skulls served as a warning to anyone who threatened his sovereignty.

Until now, he had only been able to summon the deadly powers from the skulls of his stepmother and bastard sister; their souls were encased in the bone crowns. The soul of his father, King Amren, still eluded Marrock, even after he had sliced off his father’s head. If his father’s soul was indeed wandering the hilltop, he would imprison it in the largest empty skull he had.

Then, he would be able to unleash the collective forces from all three souls.

Glancing all around, he could not see his father’s ghostly figure in the thickening fog. Boudicca’s gleeful giggle roused his attention. He watched her waddle toward a mound of stones and place her tiny hands on the stacked rocks.

“Pa. Pa. Am,” she squealed with delight.

Marrock cast a glance at Gawain. “Did the sheepherder see the wraith disappear into those rocks?”

Gawain nodded. “Indeed, I believe so.”

Marrock transferred the roped skulls from his shoulders to the grassy ground and looked at Gawain. “Help me remove the rocks so I can see what is underneath.”

Gawain joined Marrock in the task of removing the white stones one by one. They inspected each rock for any defect before setting it aside.

Boudicca, mimicking the men, picked up flint pebbles and dropped them on the chalky ground.

After a while, they uncovered the gemstone handle of a dagger; its blade was embedded in a coil-shaped serpent stone. Marrock recognized the jewel-studded dagger as once belonging to his father. Intrigued, he gripped the handle with both hands and strained to pull it out, his muscles aching and his face dripping with sweat from the effort.

Suddenly, to his shock, the hilt turned sizzling hot. He jerked his hands away and inspected the blisters that had formed on his reddened palms. Hearing Boudicca’s gleeful babble, he looked down just as she gripped the dagger’s handle.

“Pa. Pa. Am,” she trilled.

To Marrock’s surprise, Boudicca’s hands did not burn.

A prickling sensation noosed around his neck as he recalled the original curse cast by his mother just before his father had executed her.

The gods demand that the scales be balanced for the life you take. If you deny my soul’s journey to the Otherworld by beheading me, I curse you to the same fate as mine. I prophesy your future queen will beget a daughter who will rise as a raven and join your son, Blood Wolf, and a mighty empire will overtake your kingdom and execute my curse.

King Amren had etched the words of the curse on the dagger’s blade using the Roman alphabet with the belief he could thwart the dark prophecy.

Marrock shuddered.

Does my father’s soul live in the dagger? Has he come back to exact vengeance on me?

About the Author Award-winning author, Linnea Tanner, weaves Celtic tales of love, magical adventure, and political intrigue in Ancient Rome and Britannia. Since childhood, she has passionately read about ancient civilizations and mythology. Of particular interest are the enigmatic Celts, who were reputed as fierce warriors and mystical Druids.

Linnea has extensively researched ancient and medieval history, mythology, and archaeology and has traveled to sites described within each of her books in the Curse of Clansmen and Kings series. Books released in her series include “Apollo’s Raven” (Book 1), “Dagger’s Destiny” (Book 2), “Amulet’s Rapture” (Book 3), and “Skull’s Vengeance” (Book 4). She has also released the historical fiction short story, “Two Faces of Janus.”

A Colorado native, Linnea attended the University of Colorado and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. She lives in Fort Collins with her husband and has two children and six grandchildren.

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Maz, Origin by T.L. Ford – Q&A and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

If you could apologize to someone in your past, who would it be?

I would apologize to the young girl whose book draft I never got around to reading (for a variety of reasons, none of which justify potentially crushing a young author).

If you could keep a mythical/ paranormal creature as a pet, what would you have?

Probably a dragon, who would be a good friend and take me out flying.

How do you keep your writing different from all the others that write in this particular genre?

I mix my genres a bit which is both good and bad. It’s good because it makes stories that are unique and interesting. It’s bad because it makes describing them to anyone and filling in Internet search terms very hard.

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you ever received?

The best advice would be making sure to use character names through longer dialogs, instead of he/she, and just having the dialog. Reading ebooks tends to make it easy to lose track of who is saying what. I’ve also started leaving clues about who each minor character is when they first appear in the scene to help the reader remember who they are and how they fit into the story.

The worst advice I ever got was to try to use Microsoft Word to write a book, splitting and linking files. What a disaster. Either use plain text files or something like Scrivener (which I adore), where you can focus on writing and not formatting and reformatting and reformatting, and Word’s broken links.

Are the experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I would say that the number of times Merrill has to change her goals reflects the many times my own direction has changed. It’s not flippancy, but a recognition that something else may suit me better.

Entering the witness relocation program after lawfully escaping a massive walled-in prison, teenage Merrill tries to fit into our society. Her background and decisions may not let her.

Maz, Origin is a story of growth and love, guilt and innocence, and changing goals. What is morally right and what is legally right? What’s legal for humans may not be for aliens…

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I heard shots being fired from below. They were aiming at the helicopter or the guy that landed on the scaffolding above me. The sign offered some level of protection, but they’d move into position directly below shortly. “It’s ok, miss, we’ll have you out of here in a jiff. Are you hurt?” The man began to wiggle through the bars, which was no small feat because he was wearing some sort of heavy armor.

He reached down toward me, and I hesitated, terrified of grabbing that hand and leaving my life behind. He clenched his teeth in frustration and urged me, “Come on, miss! Just take my hand.”

Gunfire from below decided for me. I lifted my good arm, and he latched onto me. As he jerked me upwards, pain shot through my shoulder and abdomen. I gave up life and slipped into darkness.

About the Author: T. L. Ford is a programmer, writer, and artist. She spent most of her professional career supporting the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in southern Maryland. Her science fiction novels imagine possibilities while focusing on society and personal relationships and decisions. Her fantasy novels are heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons and are light “weekend reads”. She’s also created two art books, a thriller novella, and an interactive math iBook. She enjoys sailing, hiking, and spending time with her family.

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Last Chance by Darren E. Watling – Spotlight and Giveaway

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The earth’s epilogue was a forgone conclusion.

Our World selects seven of the best human beings that man, woman, and other could put their faith in, to ensure human existence, each displaying traits of a master in his/hers/its field.

However, not all traits are in the best interest of humankind.

Out of this World places seven hospital patients on a Plan B shuttle. Life was difficult on Earth. A new planet presents new problems. The ex-Fruit and Nut Friendly Psychiatric Hospital patients are up for the challenge.

Into the Other World—The Twist. Not only a mid-1900s dance, it is also associated with a lemon, a warped shape, a frame of mind, a warped frame of mind, a face you pull from sucking lemons and an end of story, unexpected finish, not to be given away, glancing at the back cover.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“Panicked, Venus had no idea where to go from there. She began to run down the almost deserted street. Her thoughts were a collective mess. The torture of the woman, Paul Elkato, FILTH, and the APC filled her less-than-settled mind. She ran, turning in only one direction, checking behind her the whole time. She had now lost her sense of direction. Venus was extremely hot from the unintended, fast-paced getaway, and she felt as if a huge cloud had covered her entirety. She was out of oxygen, and it seemed the whole universe was spinning in the opposite direction. Dis-orientated, she kept moving. Realising the gravity of the matter, she knew she had to seek refuge and hide from Paul and FILTH. Investigating her surroundings, she noticed a large sign. With limited options, Venus reluctantly entered the establishment.

“Hello, and welcome to The Fruit and Nut Friendly Psychiatric Hospital,” came the receptionist’s opening dialogue.

Venus, wishing to keep her new secret, declared she was a nymphomaniac and needed help. The bi-sexual receptionist was more than willing to admit her into the system. Venus would only stay a short time before the doors to freedom were unintentionally opened.”

About the Author:

Born Darren Edward Watling, Subiaco, Western Australia, 1966. Darren excelled in English, maintaining ‘A’s, throughout his schooling and wrote a play, ‘Laughing Gas’, for his school at the age of 10. Credited with one small, published article, Darren found inspiration and reward, arriving at his latest piece, ‘Last Chance’.

He completed an apprenticeship, as a fitter, at Princess Margaret Hospital, while continuing his passion for short story writing.

Traveling Australia for three years on a private bus gave Darren a beginning to the experiences and continued, humorous outlook he has on life.

Darren approached his mother Jill Stubbs Mills and asked for her blessing to take her short story, ‘Deception’, and rewrite it into a novel. (The feedback from her publisher about her story was exceptional). Jill agreed to her son’s request. Sadly, Jill now suffers with dementia, but, keeps her sense of humour.

Various forms of employment, including a movie extra, a welder on a crocodile farm, a drummer for a touring band and currently a roof plumber, gave Darren considerable ‘fuel’, for a fired up, comedic novel.

Darren has had several passions over the past 56 years while walking this Earth. Drums, Karate, tennis and continuing today- comedic writing.

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