The Necromancer’s Daughter: Aster

With a book launch on the horizon, I’ve started introducing my three main characters. This is Aster, a young woman who was born dead and resurrected by Barus, the necromancer. He’s raised her as his own, and though he’s warned her away from dragons… she can’t find it in herself to be afraid.

I hope you enjoy this (slightly modified) snippet introducing Aster.

***

As it always did, the tide of emotion started as a trickle of anticipation at the base of Aster’s spine. The swelling excitement flowed into her chest, and her fingers tingled. It spread over her skin and rushed into her face. The feelings belonged to the dragon, not to her, but she’d become accustomed to the foreign sensations thrumming through her bones.

The dragon whooshed up the cliff into the ether, nearly knocking her from her feet. Whipped-up wind thrust her grandmother’s blue shawl open, and it flapped from her shoulders like a fledgling’s untested wings. Her fine white hair whirled with the blowing snow. Though she’d expected the creature’s striking entrance, she laughed in surprise.

The beast’s leathery wings angled for a spiraling descent far above her head. Sunlight shone through the webbing, enhancing the mottle of silver and black. She’d encountered this one many times before and raised an arm to wave. “Come down. I’m not afraid.” Would it finally heed her call? A gift for her eighteenth awakening day?

A scar striped the dragon’s snout, jagged as a thunderbolt. Its long neck arched, ruby eyes gleaming as its head dipped toward her, jaws agape. Curved incisors glinted in the raw light, and the serpentine tail snapped at the frozen stalks of asters quivering in the wind.

Barus had told her, long ago, to hide behind a tree and make herself small, and for years, she’d obeyed his wishes. But no more. If the dragon meant to terrify her, it had failed every time. She trusted her instincts, knew to her core that the creature wouldn’t shred her to pieces or whisk her away in its teeth.

But what about an apple?

She reached for the armor of scales as the massive body undulated above her, its back bristling with spikes, clawed feet sweeping the air just beyond her fingertips as she held an apple aloft. The beast circled, rising higher.

“Come down,” she teased, giving the wrinkled fruit a toss. “I brought an apple for you.”

The dragon’s wings swept back, and it dove from the cornflower sky. Aster shrieked and flung the apple. The toothsome jaws snapped the fruit from the air, and she laughed with delight.

As though in answer, the beast bellowed a cry and plummeted beyond the cliff’s wall. Aster darted to the edge as the dragon’s wings unfurled, capturing the wind with the ripple and snap of a galleon’s sails. The colossal beast skimmed the gray sea, flying for the Isles of White Sands glimmering like a mirage on the horizon.

As the drumming of wings surrendered to the waves’ roar, another sound assumed its place. The voices of men.

***

Thanks for reading!

June Book Reviews (Part Two)

More book reviews for the month of June, as promised. I suspect July will be quieter (famous last words). I hope you find a great read for the beach or hammock, or for those readers in the thick of winter, a story to warm you by the fire.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including fantasy, YA fantasy, women’s fiction, romance, historical fiction, and a 10-author collaborative suspense novel.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Can I find the words to say how much I enjoyed this magical fantasy series? Probably not. This is Book 3 of the Winternight Trilogy, and it’s easy to see why it’s a best seller. The trilogy is a retelling of a Russian (Ukrainian) folk tale, and I loved the lore and mythology, the old-world beliefs in the unseen spirits of land and rivers, dooryards and kitchens.

The invisible world is alive, but fading in the face of Christianity. Vasya embraces her identity as a witch as well as her ability to cross into the mysterious and dangerous spirit world. As war looms, Vasya is determined to save the old gods, her family, and the country that tried to kill her. Her sacrifices and courage are gripping, and there are some terrifying and heart-wrenching scenes in this book. I found it almost impossible to put down.

On top of that, the writing is exquisite with beautiful metaphors and descriptions. For readers who love lyrical storytelling, the book is mesmerizing. Characters are deeply drawn, straight from lore and legend, and the relationships are fraught with loyalty, loathing, cruelty, and love. At its heart, this is a love story, but nothing is straightforward and simple in this series. Highly recommended to fantasy readers, especially those who enjoy fairytale retellings, magic, lore, mythology, stupendous characters, a gripping tale, and beautiful writing.

*****

Bits of Broken Glass by Martha Reynolds

A twenty-fifth high school reunion is being planned for six months in the future, and for four characters it becomes an opportunity to think back on how those important years shaped them. For Kellie and Joe it stirs up old trauma. For Cherry, it’s an opportunity to make amends, and for Scott it’s an opportunity missed.

The actual reunion takes place in the last chapter, so the book is really about the lead-up to that event. Each character has a separate POV narrative, which begins to intersect with other characters as the day draws near. I enjoyed the way the author slowly revealed each character’s memories as well as how their lives had progressed. The healing that takes place was cathartic and touching. To me, it seemed that karma was in play, and that kindness bred kindness, as well as the other way around.

The characters were beautifully crafted, their actions and choices realistic and their emotions full of depth. Secondary characters had the same three-dimensional feel. The story unfolds in third-person with a little first-person mixed in. The pace was excellent, and I read the book in two days since it caught me and wouldn’t let go. Recommended to readers who enjoy women’s fiction, and stories about personal growth and rising above old hurts. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Between the Vines by Staci Troilo

Elena is a wedding planner who doesn’t trust love. In fact, she’s downright cynical. Aaron, a local cop, has been cheated on in his past, and he’s sworn off love. But his sister’s wedding brings him face to face with Elena and neither of them know how to handle the attraction. Then Heather, Aaron’s cheating ex-girlfriend and a woman you love to hate, enters the scene and pins a target on Elena’s back.

I read this short romance in a couple of hours. The third of the Keystone Couples novellas, the book has fun cameos from the first two but can easily be read as a stand-alone. The pace moves along quickly with plenty of cross-communication, fiery ladies, and a cop who’s not sure how to handle any of it. There are also some very tender testaments to love, and a huge dollop of kindness. An entertaining quick read highly recommended to romance fans. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Jealousy of a Viking by V. M. Sang

This historical fiction takes place around the year 860 AD when Danes and Saxons were occupying Britain. Helgha is a young woman who falls in love with Erik, a man above her status. With marriage out of the question, Erik kills her father and sweeps Helgha away to become his bed slave. In love with him, Helgha complies and bears him two sons. And when Erik weds someone of his own class, Helgha begins a devious journey of sabotaging his wife’s pregnancies. Her actions set off a cascade of tragedies.

I’m happy to say that, though jealousy and wicked thoughts follow her for most of the book, Helgha has an arc that allows her to mature and find redemption. She’s a deeply drawn character, and when she finds her heart and inner strength, it’s refreshing. As she matured and became a kinder person, I connected more with her than I did in the beginning. I didn’t like either of the men she loved (due to their treatment of women), but they did feel realistic.

At the end of the book, the author shares some of her research regarding historical events, as well as some cultural details (both researched and speculated). The book focuses on the role of women as the bearers of sons. True to life at the time, the trials of pregnancy, birth, and miscarriage occur frequently within the read, but there’s also lots of action and danger that kept me flipping the pages.

A sub-plot of Helgha’s shifting religious beliefs is exceptionally done and felt quite authentic. The pace moved at a good clip, and I found excuses to keep reading. Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially regarding Vikings in Britain.

*****

Altitudinis: Seekers, Sinners & Secrets: A Collaborative Novel

Altitudinis is a serum under development that promises exceptional endurance at high altitudes. It will benefit India’s military as well as its businesses whose employees work in the mountains. But it hasn’t been tested on humans, and unwitting adventurers are targeted for trials. And there are unscrupulous thieves who would like to steal the research and sell it as their own.

Those are only two plot threads that run through this suspense/romance/family drama written by ten authors. The complexity of such a writing collaboration intrigued me, and it may be one reason why there was so much going on in the book with the plots and subplots. Overall, it was surprisingly cohesive and consistent, as if written by one author. That’s quite a feat.

The pace moves quickly. One of the challenges with so much plot-related action, as well as the number of main characters, is that there wasn’t much time to get deeply into the characters’ psyches, emotions, or backstories. Nikhil and Nirali were the exceptions with some time given to their relationship and romance. Because I got to know them personally, they were my favorites.

With the addition of an omniscient POV, this book struck me as a broad versus deep story. Readers looking for a character-driven book may find themselves wanting more depth and focus, but readers who enjoy action-driven stories that don’t get bogged down in messy emotions, description, and backstory, may have found just the thing to fill an afternoon of reading. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Golden Healer by M. J. Mallon

I read the first book in this series years ago, but the story came back to me quickly. Amelina continues her journey to understand her magical abilities and the power of the crystals while at the same time she navigates her teen years with her friends and family. I definitely recommend that readers start with book one to orient themselves to this world and the characters.

This book isn’t an easy read, and it wasn’t surprising to me that each chapter is titled a “Puzzle.” The writing is beautiful and rich with description, but much of it takes place in the spirit world through visions and dreams. There are helpers and kind spirits as well as dark shadow demons. Shadows take shape in multiple forms, the primary one being Ryder, who manipulates the world in both real life and dream life.

The main conflict seems to be between the forces of good and evil as they meet in different situations. The author’s world-building is often dazzling, and occasionally I lost track of the plot in all the beautiful visuals and fascinating scenes. My attention remained rapt, but the result was a slow pace.

The primary narrator is Amelina, but her father and friends share the POV. The story unfolds in first person, third person, and omniscient. The action in the book is well described as are the intense emotions of the characters. Readers who enjoy vivid dreamlike worlds, metaphysical and new age spirituality, and coming-of-age stories may find just the thing within these magical pages.

*****

Happy Reading!

Interview with Yvette at Priorhouse

Yvette Prior at Priorhouse kindly offered me a chance to do a mini-interview on her blog. Of course, I snapped it up, and it’s live today. If you have a chance, stop by to say hi. See you there.

***

Hello Readers,

Today I am sharing “TEN Questions with an Author” featuring D Wallace Peach.

📚

Some long-time followers of this blog might know that I startsd the Priorhouse Interview series back in 2015-2016Ish – and managed to do a handful of interviews (mostly yoga teachers) and then in 2021, I decided to put more of a focus on it (thanks in part to Marsha  @alwayswrite).
Also, to get momentum, I scheduled monthly interviews ahead of time (and next month – July 2022- we have author Robbie Cheadle – here – so hope to see you back for that).

Another thing that helped the interview series was doing some unplanned interviews that unfolded on their own- like with  Paul Lucas from the Mariner’s Museum (here) and like this mini interview today.

D Wallace Peach, DWP,  has a new book coming out in August and that was one of the reasons for this mini interview post.  I also had a blog insight for authors and wanted to share that as well (see #5)

#1

Can you tell us about the new book being released in August 2022? And thanks for doing this interview here at Priorhouse.

DWP:

Thanks for having me over for a mini-interview!  And thanks for the fun questions with a chance to jump up and down about a new book!

(Continue to Priorhouse Blog)

Chekhov’s Gun

I’m over at Story Empire today with a post about forecasting, and the principle of Chekhov’s Gun. If you have a minute or two, stop by to say hello. Happy Writing!

Story Empire

Hello Storytellers. Diana here with playwright and author Anton Chekhov to explore the principle of Chekhov’s Gun. I’d love to hear your thoughts at the end. Let’s get started…

Pixabay images unless otherwise noted.

Imagine you’re watching a movie. The good guy and the bad guy are just about to face off in the tool shed. As the camera shifts to the bad guy, you get a glimpse of a pointy meat hook hanging on a chain. Just a glance. But it’s enough to know that someone’s going to get hooked before the fight is over.

This is one example of “Chekhov’s Gun,” though Chekhov was referring to a gun on the mantel instead of a hook in the tool shed.

At the beginning of the year, Beem talked about sprinkling a story with clues for the Big Reveal (Here). This post is a bit of a spin off…

View original post 890 more words

June Book Reviews (Part One)

It looks like June is going to be another successful month of reading, so breaking my monthly reviews into two posts seemed like a good idea. I have a bunch of great reads for you to browse, and more on the way.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a sci-fi thriller, three poetry collections, a paranormal suspense novel, and a romance/action mash-up.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Insurgent by Teri Polen

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series (Subject A36) and couldn’t wait to get into the second. It didn’t disappoint. Our hero, Asher, has surrendered to his bio-engineered personality (A36) and become a serious threat to his old team of insurgents. The insurgents are battling the Colony, a diabolical organization that harvests the genes of children (by killing them) so wealthy people can enhance their bodies.

The leader of the Colony, Silas, is a great antagonist because he’s so horrid! And sadly, Asher has become his killing machine. Declan rises to the top as the main protagonist in this book, and he has some relationships to repair after betraying his friends in the last one.

The author spends the first part of the story catching readers up on the characters and what happened during book one. Forward progress doesn’t really take off until about the 20% mark and then it’s non-stop action, twists and turns, deception, plotting, and battling right up until the end, which wraps up nicely.

Despite Asher’s months of murdering people, I still felt a lot of empathy for him from the first book (and recommend reading them both, in order). Declan was convincing, and I liked his sense of humor, but Brinn, and her unwavering trust in Asher’s love, was my favorite. This isn’t a long book and I had a hard time putting it down. Highly recommended for sci-fi readers and fans of fast-paced action. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes

Van Noble lost his leg in Afghanistan, and he has a huge inferiority complex about being an incomplete man, but when he discovers Nakina Bird on the run from a Mexican cartel, he steps right up, determined to help her. Thus begins this exciting romance/thriller mashup.

The story has a nice balance of action and romance – the book is definitely both, and Sikes spends a lot of time on character development, which paid off. I connected with both Nakina and Van, and I liked how the action grounded their relationship. Nothing frivolous going on here as they have some serious goals to achieve.

For fans of paranormal fiction or new age mysticism, Nakina has psychic abilities that thread through the story and impact the plot. There are sex scenes and a great deal of sweetness with these characters, but the action ramps up the pace between the romantic lulls. I found both aspects of the story realistic and engaging. Characters from Book One play a secondary role in this story, and this book can be read as a stand-alone without any confusion. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy romance/action mashups.

*****

Life & Soul by Harmony Kent

I read the first book of poetry by this author and was happy to pick up the second. This little collection is full of gems and took me about two hours to read, spread over several days. The styles of poems vary, including both free form and multiple forms of syllabic poetry. Some of the poems run for several pages and some are very brief (but wonderfully powerful).

The book is divided into six sections that address different aspects of a soul’s journey or state of being. Part I, Lonely Soul expresses isolation and longing. Seeking Soul addresses disillusionment and pain. Brief Soul is full of short but impactful poetry, such as this:

Beneficent sage
This old willow
Bowing its crown

Part IV is titled Friendly Soul and explores the importance of friendships. Loving Soul extends into love relationships, and finally, Life of a Soul is a long poem that tells the story of the author’s life, one that I was familiar with from her first book.

There were a lot of poems that I enjoyed. Several of my favorites were Echoes, Life Goes On, Hope, Lost Property, Not Looking, and Unconditional. Okay, more than “several,” but all calling attention to the author’s talent. Highly recommended to fans of poetry looking for a touching read about a soul’s journey. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Quantum Wanderlust: A Short Story Anthology

I love time travel and all the ways it can manipulate reality. This book of thirteen time-travel short stories by thirteen authors offers a wide variety of twists on the topic. The genres vary from fantasy to horror to romance. Some stories are spooky, some are sinister, and others are wonderfully poignant.

The Butterfly effect enters into a number of stories but not all of them. Time travel is used to recover lost memories, and to deal with overpopulation in a dystopian future. It plays out in connecting families, getting revenge, and preventing tragedies.

I appreciated the variety of stories, and as with most anthologies, I enjoyed some more than others. There’s plenty of high-quality writing in here with compelling characters and satisfying conclusions. This is an excellent way to explore new authors, and after each story, there’s a short biography of the author with links to their other books and social media.

One thing was clear from reading this collection: Avoid traveling through time, because more often than not, something is going to go terribly wrong. Recommended to readers who enjoy short stories and speculative fiction, and who adore time travel twists. (Free on Kindle).

*****

A Voice in the Silence by D. L. Finn

Drea, a recent widow, lives alone in her home far from town. There’s a serial killer roaming the area and a winter storm on the way. But what initially finds its way into her home isn’t a murderer, but a trio of animals who’ve escaped from a lab—a dog, a cat, and a rat. And before she knows it, they’re doing things that no animals should be able to do. They talk.

Suspension of disbelief was a necessity for this book. In some ways, the fantastical abilities of the animals gave the story a whimsical, childlike innocence. But that quality is countered by the presence of a serial killer outside in the storm, and the suspense intensifies when Drea finds his footprints in the snow. With the help of her animal family, a ghost, and a caring police officer, she just might get through the storm alive.

Three major plot lines thread through the story, and each comes to its own satisfying climax rather than all resolving at the end. The main protagonists are well-rounded characters, and that includes the animals. My favorites were Drea, Adam, and Charlie the dog. The villains range from mentally ill to completely deranged.

The story unfolds primarily from Drea’s perspective though the overall POV is omniscient. The pace is good, and descriptions gave a clear picture of the action and setting. There’s a romantic undercurrent and some violence, including an off-stage suicide. Overall, I’d say this book is suitable for YA and adult audiences, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy paranormal stories and want to try something whimsical, suspenseful, and entirely different. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Summer Magic by Marcia Meara

I loved Meara’s Wake Robin Ridge series, and this short book of 18 poems is written by the main character Mackenzie Cole (not really, but you get the idea). The poems are lovely glimpses of childhood summers and growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For this nature-loving reader who spent her summers exploring the woods of Vermont, it was like a trip down memory lane.

The book is divided into two parts: Mac at Ten (about his childhood), and Poems of Love & Life (told from the perspective of an adult). Some of my favorite poems were: The Rope Swing, Star-gazing, and Bruises.

One stanza from Bruises:

Badges.
Attesting to his bravery,
Marking his adventures,
And confirming in his mind
His place among Immortals.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author (ages ago) without any expectation of a review. I’m glad I finally read it. Highly recommended to poetry readers and grown-up kids who remember the magic of summer.

*****

Poetry Treasures 2: Relationships (WordCrafter Anthology)

I enjoyed the first Poetry Treasures anthology and decided to give this one a try as well. The anthology includes a selection of poems from twelve poets, and as the title suggests, the theme of relationships guided the work. Despite the unifying theme, the poems were quite varied in content and style, and I enjoyed the diversity of forms and voices.

In many anthologies, there’s a range of skill, and some pieces reflect more talent than others. I have to say that in this case, I found all of the poems well-crafted and a pleasure to read. Some of them I recognized from previously published anthologies, and it’s a good sign of their quality that they were so memorable.

That said, I did have some favorites—too many to list, of course. Here is a handful that I especially enjoyed: “The Red Petticoat” by Elizabeth Merry, “A Jar” by D. Avery, “She Lives and Yet She’s Dead” by Robbie Cheadle, and “Fat Belly Joy” by Marjorie Mallon. And so many more.

Prior to each set of poems there’s a short biography of the poet. Many of these poets have their own published collections for readers who didn’t get enough here. The book took me about an hour to read (approximately 36 poems in all) and it was an hour well spent. Highly recommended

*****

Happy Reading!

The Necromancer’s Daughter: Barus

Over a year ago, one of my beta readers, after reading The Ferryman and the Sea Witch, challenged me to write a beautiful character. Not a physically beautiful character, but one filled with kindness, a truly good person. Not easy for a writer who enjoys deep flaws and hanging out on the dark side.

But I took the request to heart and created Barus.

He has a handsome face and those lovely pale eyes, but he’s a physical wreck – back bent, muscles cramped, joints swollen, and he’s in constant pain. By profession, he’s a healer, and for Barus that includes “healing” the dead. Necromancy, the arcane ability to raise the dead, is a talent most often associated with evil and horror stories. I love turning stereotypes on their heads.

I wanted to introduce him to you and give you a little tease too. Below is a scene from Chapter One, in which Barus has yet to learn the art of Necromancy. It’s a little long, but hope you enjoy it.

***

When the fire dwindled into scarlet embers, Barus padded to his piled mats at the far wall.

And froze.

Behind the wind, a voice called, a lost sound like the hoot of a faraway owl.

He turned toward Olma and paused, listening. The voice called again, nearer, harsher, rising over the rattle of wagon wheels. He limped to the old woman and touched her shoulder. “Someone comes.”

Olma rose from her chair. “I’ll light a lantern. See who it is.” She unhooked their oil lamp from a peg and knelt by the fire.

Barus shuffled to the door. Nighttime visitors weren’t uncommon, but any ailment or injury requiring travel through the dark leas didn’t bode well. He unlatched the cord and slid the panel aside. Beneath a gibbous moon, a horse and wagon charged toward him. He jerked backward and clawed at a chair for balance.

Wild-eyed and frothing, the horse veered only moments before it smashed into the dwelling, and the wagon juddered to a halt. A tall man jumped from the bench. “I need the necromancer.”  He darted to the wagon’s bed, lifted out a small body, and dashed for the door.

Olma pulled Barus from the stranger’s path before the onslaught knocked him down. The man, dressed in a soldier’s brown robe and flowing trousers, barged into the home, a dead boy in his arms.

“Lay the child here.” Olma patted the table. “Let me see him.”

The man rested the crumpled body before her. Sweat glistened on his forehead and streaked his shirt. “I need help. He’s….” A cry lodged in his chest. “He’s dead.”

A well-built man with a tuft of beard jutting from his chin, the soldier paced in a tight circle, almost spinning as he raked his windblown hair. Eyes the color of rusted iron darted from the cluttered shelves to Olma, to Barus, to the herbs hung from the tangled branches holding up the thatch. Anywhere but at the child. “He’s dead. A horse kicked him. It’s my fault; I shouldn’t have let him near. I never meant it to happen, and I need you to heal him.”

Barus stared at the dead child, the bloodless skin waxy and ghostly pale. A horse’s hoof had bashed in the side of his face, his skull shattered into blood and brain and chips of white bone. Barus’s heart lurched into his throat, and his eyes welled at the loss of so young a life, at the man’s desperation. Could such a death be undone?

Barus had never seen Olma restore a life, let alone one so damaged. Necromancy was a guarded skill, an art she held close, and not one she practiced at home. He met her gaze before she placed a gentle hand on the child’s chest and peered at the soldier, the creases in her ancient face brimming with wordless sympathy.

The boy’s father ceased his pacing. Alarm piled on top of the fear already blanching his skin. “Which of you is the necromancer? Why aren’t you doing something?”

“I am the one you seek,” Olma said. “But I cannot heal him. He is beyond life, his injury too severe.”

“No. That can’t be. You’re a necromancer.” The soldier’s panic surged into slit-eyed rage. His jaw hardened, and his fist hammered on the table. “No! He died less than a day ago. He’s barely cold. You can save him. I order you to try.”

“What is your name?” Olma asked, her serenity undaunted by the furious command.

“Tamus Graeger.”

“And the child?”

He’s my eldest, also Tamus.”

Olma brushed the child’s ebony hair from his forehead as the soldier held his breath. “Tamus Graeger, your son’s injuries are beyond a sustainable life. He would never be whole. You must remember him as he was, a young and vibrant child. Grieve his passing, cherish your memories, and continue with your life.”

Tears glistened in the soldier’s eyes. His tragedy dragged down his cheeks and cut furrows in his skin, aging him beyond his years. “I’ll pay whatever you ask. Anything. You’re a necromancer. You know how to do this. I beg you. Please, I beg you.”

“I am sorry, Tamus. There is no life here I can save.” Olma placed the boy’s hands one atop the other in the manner of a body mourned.

Tamus Graeger

“No! Don’t touch him.” The soldier thrust Olma from the table and knocked his son’s folded hands aside. “I should have known you’d refuse. You’re a witch and a liar, and this place is thick with evil.”

He stalked toward her, teeth gritted, and she reached out a hand to console him or ward him away. Barus hung onto the back of a chair. Fear babbled from his tongue and rooted him to the floor like a twisted cliff-top tree.

The soldier’s fist flew up and punched Olma in the face. She lurched back, flailing, and her head pounded against the wall. Blood ran from her shattered nose as she slid to the floor.

A cry ripped from Barus’s throat, and he hobbled toward her, misshapen hands raised as if he could protect her from further assault. He stumbled into the table. Graeger pivoted and shoved him in the chest. Barus stepped on his robe’s hem and tumbled backward onto the stone hearth like a sack of clattering sticks. A yelp burst from his lungs as his spine wrenched.

The soldier swept his hand across the shelves, casting jars and tins to the floor. He hurled containers at the walls. Glass bottles shattered. Healing tinctures and poisonous distillates splattered the room, their droplets reflecting the fire’s embers like beads of rolling blood. Barus cowered by the hearth, helpless to stop the destruction.

With a roar, the towering man smashed a chair and flipped over the table. His son’s body rolled against Barus’s legs, a flopping, boneless husk. A child’s shriek, keen as a razor, sliced through the clamor.

The rampage halted. Graeger stood motionless in the lantern light, lungs heaving with the power of a bellows as he seemed to grasp his desecration, the brutality of what he’d done. He gazed at his son’s dead body, eyebrows locked together in confusion as if expecting the boy to leap, smiling and whole, into his arms.

The child screamed again, a longer, thinner, knife-edged wail of terror. The soldier spun toward the open doorway. A young boy of three or four years tottered on the threshold, framed by silver moonlight.

A second son.

Young Joreh Graeger

The child’s mouth hung open, eyes deep pools of horror, body trembling as if his joints might shake loose and bones fall into a hundred pieces. Shards of glass lay scattered at his feet. He crumpled to the dirt floor and howled as the wreckage sliced his hand.

The soldier glanced across the shattered room. His lips parted as though he meant to speak, and when nothing emerged, he pressed them closed, no sign of regret or grief in the grim lines framing his mouth. The lantern sputtered, casting the contours of his face in sharp-boned shadows. He staggered toward the door, snatched up the bleeding child, and disappeared into the desolation of the cold autumn night.

Barus crawled to the overturned table. He wheezed through his teeth as he hung onto the edge and climbed to his feet. Glass crunched beneath his wood-soled shoes as he limped to Olma.

She slumped against the wall, gazing through the open door, bloodied lips between her teeth and brow furrowed. He held her hand, breathing through his terror and guilt, his dismay at all they’d lost, and his helplessness to stop it. Any of it. Scattered leaves soaked in spilled liquid, and the broken chair lay in a pool of glittering glass. “Do not worry, Olma. I will clean it up.”

As the wagon rattled into silence, her gaze turned to the boy’s limp body resting by the hearth. “Remember the soldier’s face, Barus. One day, Tamus Graeger will return.”

Thanks for reading!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Post – #Life – I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now! by Diana Peach

I’m over at Sally Cronin’s today, participating in her wonderful series “I wish I knew then what I know now.” I’ve caught as many of these posts as I can. It’s been a pleasure to learn more about other bloggers on a deeper level than our love of books. Sally reinforces for me why I have such a big spot in my heart for you all. If you have a moment, stop by at Sally’s marvelous blog to say hi. ❤

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

I am sure like me, there have been times when you have wondered what difference might have been made to your life, if your younger self had been gifted with the experience and knowledge you have accumulated over the years.

I invited several friends from the writing community to share their thoughts on this subject which I am sure you will enjoy as much as I did.

Today author Diana Wallace Peach shares her thoughts on the prompt and how low moments and the high points in our lives are all part of the journey.

I wish I knew then what I know now by Diana Peach

Diana in 1977

The invitation from Sally to share our reflections on “I wish I knew then what I know now” has delivered some wonderful and personal responses from the blogging community.

Most who’ve submitted have confessed to taking some time to reflect…

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Cover Reveal: The Necromancer’s Daughter

I’m not exactly sure what happened.

You see, I wrote this book and didn’t tell anyone.

I mean, what was the hurry? I planned to release it on September 1st, which seemed

so

far

away…

Then I looked my calendar and almost fainted. September is right around the corner!

With that in mind, I’m delighted to share the cover to my latest story:

A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant, and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, he breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she learns to heal death.

Then the day arrives when the widowed king, his own life nearing its end, defies the Red Order’s warning. He summons the necromancer’s daughter, his only heir, and for his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade.

While Barus hides from the Order’s soldiers, Aster leads their masters beyond the wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a land of dragons and barbarian tribes. She seeks her mother’s people, the powerful rulers of Blackrock, uncertain whether she will find sanctuary or face a gallows’ noose.

Unprepared for a world rife with danger, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son.

A healer with the talent to unravel death, a child reborn, a father lusting for vengeance, and a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.

~***~

Thanks so much for taking a peek at the cover. And thank you to all the kind bloggers who offered to help with my tour. The schedule will be quite full for which I’m delighted and grateful! ❤

May Book Reviews

I read so many great books over my break that I decided to hold a couple book reviews until June. I have soooo many great reads for you to browse.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a historical fiction, a thriller, three romances, a cozy mystery, a horror short story collection, a MG horror novella, a women’s lit novel, and a debut poetry anthology.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall

If you like Amy Tan, I think you’ll enjoy this beautiful, often gripping, often heart-wrenching, and tragically romantic historical fiction. The book opens toward the end of the Russian revolution and then shifts eight years into the future to an international settlement in China, another nation on the brink of communism. Lydia is sixteen, living with her Russian mother as refugees, and they’re barely scraping by.

The story unfolds primarily in Lydia’s third-person POV. She’s learned to take risks to support herself and her mother, and having grown up in China, in the midst of its culture and people, she lacks the biases of the older adults in her life. Her audacity and fearlessness thrust her into dangerous situations and into a relationship with a Chinese young man. Their story is filled with tenderness and wonder, and the sense of impending tragedy was enough to keep me up at night. This book in many ways is a love story (reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet), though I wouldn’t characterize it as a romance.

The characters are exceptional, so beautifully drawn, flawed, dangerous, and heroic. The descriptions are richly visual, and I could “see” this book as I read. One of the things that brought both characters and descriptions to life was the attention to the details of time and place, as well as how the western and Chinese cultures interacted and clashed. Everything in this book is nuanced, and I loved that.

One note that I feel compelled to share is that, to me, Lydia was neither a concubine nor a mistress as the title suggests. Instead, she’s a young woman caught up in the sweep of cultures and history and love. This is a fabulous book that I highly recommend to readers of historical fiction who enjoy Asian cultures and settings and who want both gripping action and a beautiful love story.

*****

She Who Returns by Audrey Driscoll

I enjoyed the first book in this series, “She Who Comes Forth,” which introduced France Leighton and her archeological initiation into ancient Egypt. In this sequel, France returns to Egypt two years after her last disastrous and mystifying experience. She’s accompanied by her newly discovered half-brothers and her friend Willa. All four of them travel for different reasons, France to seek answers to lingering questions about what happened to her and about her paranormal connection to an ancient tomb.

As in the first book, the author’s world-building and knowledge of Egyptian archeology are impressive, and I was immersed in the physical reality of the setting. The spiritual, mythological, and paranormal elements of the story combine with antiquities theft to create layers of danger for France and her companions.

The narrative unfolds in France’s first-person POV, and I found all of the characters authentic and compelling. Having read the first book, I had a better grasp of the complex relationships that continue to impact France and are key to understanding many of the story’s plot threads. I definitely recommend reading the books in order. A great tale for readers who enjoy paranormal stories, thrillers, and Egyptian mythology. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Pour it On by Staci Troilo

Romy Chandler owns a popular restaurant, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. With a big meet and greet event on the books (which also promises future business) she wants everything to go perfectly. But at the last minute, her wine sommelier quits. She’s desperate for a replacement, and the employment agency sends a fellow named Rick to cover the night.

Rick Santucci owns and operates a family vineyard and would like to provide Romy’s restaurant with wine. He drops by unannounced, and what ensues is a wild and very plausible case of mistaken identity.

This is a short romantic novella that I read in under an hour. It’s the second of the Keystone Couples series but stands alone without any difficulty. The characters are great fun and well-rounded. The mix-up is the major plotline and obstacle of the story, and it’s cleverly done. I highly recommend this entertaining, well-written, and light-hearted romance. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney

Kellan Ayrwick heads home to Braxton with two things to accomplish: one, to celebrate his father’s retirement from his job as president of Braxton College; and two, to interview professor Abby Monroe for his true crime television show. When Abby ends up dead, Kellan’s in the perfect position to conduct an investigation while trying not to step on the local sheriff’s toes.

The story is told from Kellan’s POV, and he’s a believable, three-dimensional character with complex relationships including a complicated one with his father. The cast of characters is extensive, but they’re distinctly drawn. Nana D was a hoot and my favorite aside from Kellan. Many of the characters are plausible suspects in the murder investigation, which meant this book was loaded with red herrings, and my early guess as to who was the murderer was wrong!

The pace moves along, following Kellan’s investigation. The narrative captures the feel of small towns and their quirky townspeople, and the limited violence in the book happens “off stage.” I enjoyed Kellan’s dogged amassing of clues and his navigation through the maze of lies and misdirection as he figured out what happened. This is the first book I read in the Braxton Campus Mysteries series, and I suspect it won’t be the last. Highly recommended to readers of cozy murder mysteries. (Kindle Free).

*****

The Sheriff Meets His Match by Jacquie Biggar

 In book 4 of the Tidal Falls series the focus shifts to Sheriff Jack Garrett. He finds his new secretary Laurel Doyle irresistible, and she thinks the hunky sheriff is pretty hot too. But she has a problematic past as a swindler that doesn’t want to stay in her past. Her uncle wants her to pull one more scam to help pay off a debt to his son-in-law, Joe. And Joe is out to make sure he gets paid.

The story is a novella-length romance that checks all the boxes with some danger and action thrown into the mix. Biggar’s characters are always engaging, and I like the way this tale refers back to characters I’ve already gotten to know in previous books. Though there’s an overarching storyline (that of Maggie) that remains unresolved, this book reads well as a standalone. I polished off the book in one sitting and look forward to the next in the series. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

O’Roarke’s Destiny by Shehanne Moore

In this historical romance, Destiny Rhodes has a problem—her drunk of a brother has lost her ancestral home, Doom Bar Hall, in a card game to the last person she ever wanted to see. Divers O’Roarke might be handsome, but long ago, he cursed her with ruin. All she has left is her home, and now he’s trying to kick her out. Fat chance she’s going to go. Thus begins this enemies-to-friends romance complete with smugglers, excisemen, unfounded accusations, mistaken assumptions, and lots of witty dialog.

Moore’s style shines through with a quick pace and lots of clever internal dialog mixed in with outrage and laugh-out-loud humor. As in the other books of hers that I’ve read, sex plays a secondary role to the push-pull of attraction and the complications offered by the plot, which in this case has quite a bit of action, twists, and danger.

The POV is shared by Destiny and Divers, and it was easy to see how their different perspectives fueled their conflict. Like many of Moore’s leading ladies, Destiny is a spitfire, very witty, full of exaggerations, and constantly jumping to conclusions and acting on them. Divers is a little more of a mystery, a man with a secret agenda, and a straight man against her outrageous personality. I liked the dynamic. Recommended to romance readers and readers who enjoy a fast-paced, tangled plot, and entertaining characters who will make you laugh.

*****

Zoo of the Dead by Iseult Murphy

I read this collection of nine horror short stories in one sitting late into the night, and was highly entertained by the variety! From zombies and selkies, to vampires, succubus, strange hotel rooms, and a date with Death, no two stories are alike and most end with an enjoyable twist.

The tales aren’t overly gruesome, but they are definitely creepy. After each story, the author provides a brief description of her inspiration. Three of my favorites were Death’s Girlfriend, Checking Out, and Dead Jimmy and the Selkie. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy horror short stories with lots of originality and variety. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Reaper: A Horror Novella by Jonathan Pongratz

When his parents go out for the evening on Halloween, they leave 13-yr-old Greg babysitting for Imogene, his younger sister. Things don’t go well, and before the night is over, Imogene has vanished. Something terrible happened in the basement of their home and no one believes Greg when he tells them what he saw. Greg learns that Immy isn’t the only child to go missing over the years, and he’s determined to find out what’s happening and put an end to it.

This horror novella is a quick read that I polished off in one sitting. The writing is straightforward, there’s lots of great suspense, and the horror isn’t gruesome, so the story seems appropriate for horror-loving middle-grade kids on up to adult readers.

Greg is a great character, a typical kid annoyed by his younger sibling, though his love comes through loud and clear, as well as his courage and persistence. Trent, another boy who lost a sibling, is also well-rounded and a complementary ally. There’s a lot of action, and the story ends on something of a cliff-hanger, setting the stage for Reaper II. A quick, entertaining story for readers who enjoy young protagonists, creepy adults, and scary monsters.

*****

Linda’s Midlife Crisis by Toni Pike

Linda is an overweight teacher, bullied by her students, ignored by the school’s administration, and unappreciated by her husband who has no problem humiliating her, at home and in public. When Linda has a breakdown and is ordered to rest, her husband, feeling burdened, leaves her. The sense of relief begins Linda’s journey into remaking her life.

Linda faces few obstacles in her path beyond her own self-doubt as she forges ahead with some eye-opening determination. She has wonderful support from family and friends, and though most opportunities fall easily into her lap, she also takes risks. I’d categorize the story as Women’s Lit and though it’s fictional, it offers some practical advice on how to remake one’s life, as well as messages of empowerment.

The pace is spot on for a book light on conflict, and I finished it in a day. I enjoyed the array of well-developed characters, especially Linda who carries the POV. This happily-ever-after story would make a fun beach read. Recommended to Women’s Lit readers who are looking for a light and entertaining way to spend a few hours. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

My Mom’s Shadow by Mariana Dynasty

Dynasty’s debut book of poetry is a short one, consisting of five poems encompassing some of the life lessons she’s learned growing up with a struggling mother and demanding stepfather. It’s less than a 15-minute read. The poems are heartfelt and raw, and from the start, they reminded me of spoken word poetry with its repetition, subtle rhyme, and play with words. The themes of struggle, identity, and overcoming hardship also lend themselves to this genre. For that reason, I read the book aloud and thoroughly enjoyed the power that “voice” added to the form. Recommended to poetry readers who want to explore the work of a new author, enjoy spoken word poetry, and are looking for a quick read. (Kindle Unlimited).

Happy Reading!