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The Vampire’s Quest by Damian Serbu

The Vampire’s Quest by Damian Serbu injects originality into paranormal fiction. St Michel appears to vampire Xavier and sends him on a quest. Xavier’s emotionally turbulent lover and fellow vampire, Thomas, is uneasy about this, and rightly so. Xavier encounters his dying friend Anne who has supernatural powers. She is dying and beseeches Xavier to free her enslaved grandson. As Thomas says, Xavier is ‘the vampire that cared about the world and the people in it’. He will do anything for his friend, even though this particular action is against the vampire ethic. The ethic means vampires can feed off evil humans, but can’t otherwise interfere in human events. Transgressing vampires ace the ire and punishment of the Vampire Council if they disobey. Thomas fears for Xavier and so gets Anthony to help him, another vampire and friend. Can they keep Xavier from facing the terrifying consequences of his loyal actions.

Damian Serbu himself describes his writing as gay horror. There is darkness and violence in the novel, certainly, but it’s not too disturbing. This is writing that’s hard to categorise. This is a modern novel, although it’s set in the last century. The author’s love of history adds an extra dimension to it too. It’s brutal but also tender. I hope the gay element won’t put off any readers since the love between Xavier and Thomas is moving and powerful and always sensitively described. The relationship is strongly in the background but the focus in this book is on friendships – those between Xavier and Anne, between Anthony and Thomas – and also on the sibling love betwen Xavier and Catherine. Loyalty is tested. There are many layers in this absorbing and richly constructed book.

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Risking Eternity by Gwenan Hayden – An Outstanding Paranormal Romance Novella

A fantastic cover too

This is such an incredibly good book! Risking Eternity follows cop Hayden Farrell as she begins to investigate the murder of a young prostitute whose blood-drained body is left outside a church. She’s being watched at the murder scene by a mysterious figure, whose thoughts about her we share. Is he the murderer? Certainly the murders seem personal to him, but he also appears to have some sort of tie to Hayden as well.

Hayden distrusts the supernatural. Her mother was a fake psychic who involved her in her deceptions. Hayden likes concrete facts and ends she can tie up. She prefers to live in the real world. While her friends are happy to watch handsome heroes and beautiful heroines making out in films, Hayden would rather be taking part in the action!

The brooding figure of vampire Valentin both scares and attracts her. But they need each other. Valentin can help Hayden solve the murders and she can help him wreak revenge on a killer from the past who has resurfaced. But need becomes exploitation…

This is a fascinating, dark paranormal romance. The characters are rounded and complex, flawed and believable. There is simmering sexual tension between Valentin and Hayden from the start, even though he’s adamant at first that she’s ‘not his type’. You simply can’t predict what will happen next in the story.The plot is original and ingenious with skillfully created suspense and a denouement that smacks you in the face.

This intelligent, atmospheric, sexy novella is the first in the new Timeshifter series from this amazingly talented writer. Do put this book on your ‘to read’ list. If not, you’re missing out on a very rare treat. I for one will be reading everything from Gwenan Haines, now that I have discovered her.

 

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Fate’s Design by Lola James

Fate’s Design by Lola James is an intricately woven paranormal romance that it’s hard to put down. Twins Megan and Morgan travel to Italy after Morgan wins a prize that brings them to fashion school in Bologna. The girls are very different personality wise, but very close. Later in the story a further link between them emerges. In Italy, Megan literally bumps into a mysterious, handsome stranger, Alexandros DiPiero, that she has seen in her dreams. Her visions, though, become increasingly nightmarish and feature threatening, frightening figures. Is this fate, or is someone somewhere pulling strings? The romance element of the story is very well handled. So too is the paranormal, with vampires, dhampirs (half-human, half-vampire) and guardians. The story takes many original and inspired turns and flits between locations in America and Italy. It is complex but never overly complicated.

Pararnormal romance is probably the hottest genre in fiction at the moment, and books like this illustrate why. There’s the fun, curiosity and escapism of the supernatural combined with human emotion and a cracking good plot. Lola James creates rounded, fascinating characters who grow and develop, and places them in a recognisable, modern world. There is clever dialogue, some steamy sex scenes and never a dull moment. Danger and evil lurk, but there is fun and a lighter touch too. James includes deep issues with her choice of of fate, destiny and predetermination as themes, but handles them in a sensitive and intriguing way. This is an ambitious book but extremely successful and definitely work reading.

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Wizard by Paula Paul

Wizard by Paula Paul is a super story for young adults. Merlin the magician transports his younger sister Meghan to safety in eleventh century Armorika (France). Except he doesn’t – she ends up in twenty-first century America! At first Meghan struggles to find the words to describe her new surroundings – cars are monsters, the modern university building with electric lights is an enchanted castle (despite there being no bowmen to defend it) and every room she goes into could be a dungeon with a dragon in it. But order emerges out of chaos and Meghan is taken in by Ryan and his lecturer father, together with Ryan’s aunt, the new-age Alicia. She starts high school where she makes a big impact, not least because of her bungled spells. Meghan means well, but things don’t always go to plan.

Yes, this is another time travel book, but it has such a unique twist. Feisty Meghan, with her less than perfect magical abilities, is the perfect heroine. There are laugh aloud moments when her sixth century behaviour doesn’t quite fit into her new surroundings. But it’s not glib, and there’s a real message in the story about being a true friend and doing the right thing. The shallowness of false friendships because of only wanting to be cool is clearly illustrated. Meghan the outsider learns to value Tyler the outside for himself. Despite being confusing and flawed, modern life suits our heroine. Meghan’s closing words are: “Go back to my own century, I don’t think so!” I’m glad she’s staying because I hope Paula Paul will be creating some more adventures for her.

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Book Review: Embracing the Lemonade Life by Sandra Sookoo

Embracing the Lemonade Life by Sandra Sookoo is a hugely enjoyable and inspiring story with lemonade-loving cancer survivor Carla as heroine, and ambitious city lawyer Jake as hero. Carla now lives each day as it comes as she runs Cute as a Button bed and breakfast, concentrating on being happy as often as she can, while Jake prefers things carefully mapped out and thought through. Carla escaped the city to find a quieter and friendlier way of life in Bridgewater, whereas Jake couldn’t wait to leave the town for more excitement and opportunities in Indianapolis. He’s only come back for a couple of days for his friend’s wedding. Or so he thinks. Thanks to Hamlet, a black and white guinea pig, Carla and Jake meet, but can such polar opposites ever realistically expect to get on? Surely they’re not even remotely compatible.

I read this book in one sitting. It’s a well-paced story that flies off the page, but it’s by no means an easy read. The author cuts to the chase with the theme of cancer that runs through the story. So often taboo as a subject, Sandra Sookoo gives it its human dimension, and we see the despair, courage and hope that go with this disease. There’s a lot of emotion in the book – plenty of smiles but lots of tears too. You can’t help but put yourself in Carla’s and Jake’s shoes and wonder how you’d cope with the situations they find themselves in. Likeable, rounded characters, a realistic small town setting and imaginative and sensitive writing make for a delightful, unusual and brave book.

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Book Review: Endangered Eagle by Richard Carl Roth

This book describes itself as ‘a historical novel’. It entwines fact and fiction to create the story behind an attempt to assassinate Charles Lindbergh on a visit to Berlin. It’s been meticulously researched and the author enters into the spirit of the period and place he is portraying, namely 1930s Germany. For example, he uses the Germanic forms of names at their first appearance, and the German style of giving addresses to create a contemporary atmosphere. This is a nice touch, as is the list of translated words he offers and the very informative prologue that sets the scene superbly. The list of players is useful too. The author builds tension throughout the story and portrays tenderness and brutality equally convincingly.

However, the book is bitty. This arises largely from the switching between first and third person narrative which isn’t totally successful. Eighty-five chapters is a lot and the reader is jumping from one scene to another, sometimes too quickly. The author tends to write in short paragraphs too so there is a disjointed feel at times. It’s an ambitious and complicated novel which the author must be applauded for that and it’s obvious he has poured his heart and soul into his work. I feel this author’s forte is non-fiction although he is clearly imaginative. And I would like to see more character development.  There are a few typos but generally this is a well-planned and well-presented piece of writing from a promising author who is yet to find his preferred voice. It’s entertaining, educational and makes for very interesting, if slightly fidgety, reading.

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A Maths Book That’s Fun. Seriously!

A Cultural Paradox: Fun in Mathematics by Jeffrey A Zilahy is a great book. It’s unique and it’s very well done. And the title turns out to be true – mathematics actually is fun. Well, at least in this author’s hands. He has an engaging style of writing and a great sense of humour. We have several pages of maths jokes, and a photo of Kurt Gödel, who contributed greatly to removing uncertainty from mathematics, is labelled as ‘Probably a photo of Kurt Gödel’. Even the publication date is given in binary code! Each chapter is a brief conversation on a certain topic, such as pi, probability, statistics, the birthday paradox, the New Kind of Science, various mathematicians, zero and binary numbers. We also look at the mathematics of spaghetti and meet undercover mathematicians such as Art Garfunkel and Brian May.

Many people are at worst scared and at best suspicious of advanced maths and maths theories. This books shows us in a very approachable style what they’re really about and how they’re not actually as awful as they sound. They’re put into a familiar context and explained in ways we can understand. The book is well laid out and the subject matter clearly presented. It makes for a fascinating and educational read. My only complaint, as a European, is that it’s very much slanted to the American market. A Cultural Paradox is quirky, entertaining, well explained and interesting. And it has an index, which is something very non-fiction book should. 11 cheers for the author (that’s three in binary!).

You can download it for free here http://www.free-ebooks.net/ebook/A-Cultural-Paradox-Fun-in-Mathematics

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Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark – Blog Tour

Well, I’m taking part in a book blog tour for the first time. The book in question is Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark. Here’s my review of it:

It’s not often I can’t put a book down, but Stay Tuned came into that category. I read it one go. The turkeys were waiting mournfully for me to put them to bed, the llamas were left thirsty – I got lost in the story and remained glued to my Kindle till I finished.

Why? The story really caught me. It was fascinating to get an insight into life at a TV station, delightful to meet characters like Melissa, Chris and Candace, and there was plenty of excitement in the plot. The relationships between the people in the story were gripping. There were attractions and hatreds, tensions, frustrations, misunderstandings and real affection. Several punches got thrown, there were clumsy passes, lots of tears but just as much laughter. And the ending is bittersweet without being mawkish or implausible.

Reality is very much the key of this book. We could all so easily find ourselves in Melissa’s shoes – juggling career and family life, trying to keep the communication channels open with a workaholic husband, striving to be fully committed in every sphere of your life.

Every single character is rounded and interesting. There aren’t any cameo roles or stereotypes. This story is peopled by a truly human set of people.

It’s a very readable book. The author has a flowing, natural style that sweeps you along and you can’t wait to find out what happens next. Definitely worth reading.

 

How to win

Now, as part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Stay Tuned eBook edition has dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including lots of Amazon gift cards (up to $100 in amount) and 5 autographed copies of the book. Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, December 2nd, so you don’t miss out.

To win the prizes you need to:
1. Purchase your copy of Stay Tuned for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble (You’ll need it for the big contest on Friday)
2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!

…And I can win too! Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

 

The events

Monday, Radio Interview with Novel Publicity! We’re kicking-off on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog. We interviewed Lauren on our radio show Sunday night and have embedded the full podcast and blogged about its highlights. Give it a listen and then leave a comment on the blog post. This is a great chance to get to know more about this fun and bubbly author. One commenter will win an autographed copy of Stay Tuned. Don’t forget to enter for the other contest prizes while you’re over there!

Tuesday, Twitter sharing contest! A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters. But on Tuesday, it could win you $50. Send the following tweet across the twittersphere, and you just may win a $50 Amazon gift card. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. The winners will be announced Wednesday morning. Here’s the tweet:  Take a break from the holiday frenzy, and read Stay Tuned. It’s fast, fun, and reduced to just 99 cents! http://ow.ly/7zA1e #whirlwind

Wednesday, Google+ sharing contest! Yup, there’s yet another awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. Two chances to win with just one click! How about that?

Thursday, Facebook sharing contest! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). It’s ridiculously easy to win! On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs.

Friday, special contest on the author’s site! Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions.

 

Extract

To whet your appetites further, here’s an extract from Chapter One.

 

Alyssa Andrews was missing.

Gone, vanished, MIA with just minutes to airtime.

“Melissa, where is she?” Our news director, Joe, shot a harried look in my direction. After dealing with a broken studio camera, spotty satellite reception, and last-minute script changes, his nerves were fried to a crisp.

“She’ll be here,” I promised, knowing my confidence was a front. Alyssa, one of WSGA-TV’s main news anchors, was a constant source of angst in my already-stressful job.

She was young, talented, gorgeous…and chronically late.

This lack of punctuality was a problem, especially when WSGA ran a show at exactly six and ten o’clock every night. Not a moment later.

WSGA was Macon, Georgia’s number one news station and had been for two years running. If we wanted to keep it that way, timing was everything. Every second mattered.

I produced both evening shows, which meant—among a dozen other tasks—organizing the day’s stories, writing copy, and checking video. Each segment had to run seamlessly between three-minute commercial breaks.

Deep breath, Melissa. Send up a little prayer. She’ll show up.

The red numbers on the clock continued to march forward.

Another deep breath. Everything’s in place. Alyssa just needs to walk in and get on set…

“Tighten up on camera one.” Joe peppered the room with demands. “Mic check, now, not yesterday.”

Tim Donaldson, Alyssa’s co-anchor, obliged, counting backwards from the number five.

Joe’s thick fingers punched buttons on the massive keyboard in front of him. “Bring up the live shot.”

Still, no Alyssa.

Joe raked a huge hand through his long gray hair. “Five minutes!” he growled, with a glare into his empty coffee cup.

At this point, it was Joe’s show to run. He was in charge. I shuffled my scripts. “How about I call her?”

“She’s an adult,” he grumbled. “You shouldn’t have to.”

Joe expected nothing less than perfection. He was experienced, hard working, and a stickler for detail. Alyssa’s nonchalance made him crazy.

Which, at 9:55:36 on a Friday night, gave him the patience of a gnat. On crack.

This was particularly dangerous for an unsuspecting new employee, all of twenty years old and pimple-faced, who crept up behind us.

Joe ignored him at first, barking an order to me instead. “Fine, fine. Melissa, tell Princess A. she’s needed in the studio.”

On autopilot, I punched her extension, eyes focused on the row of monitors above my head in case she decided to appear.

While the phone rang, the new kid rocked on his heels nervously. I flashed a smile and shook my head gently in his direction, hoping he’d get the hint.

Not now.

Nope. The kid stood there, coughed lightly, and waited for one of us to turn around.

“What?” </em>Joe finally snapped.

The force of the word made the kid’s body jerk back. Jaw open, unable to speak, his face turned crimson.

Joe waited about a second for the kid to talk, and then leaned back over the control panel. He pressed at switches, clearly annoyed. The kid looked sick. Joe rolled his eyes. My anxiety level cranked up ten notches.

9:58:09. Less than two minutes.

Wait…a flash of an ivory suit and blond hair.

“There she is,” I interrupted the tension with a cool nod toward the monitors.

Front and center, Alyssa sauntered into the studio, lips puckered, blowing her shell-pink nail polish dry. She slid into her seat next to Tim, and gave him a playful pat on the shoulder.

Joe muttered something I couldn’t repeat.

I stifled a loud sigh of relief and glanced around the room. The new guy was the only one in the building unimpressed with Alyssa’s arrival. With a shaking hand, he reached out and tapped Joe’s burly shoulder.

“Mr. Joe, there’s a problem with one of the machines—”

Joe’s back stiffened. He turned a millimeter in the kid’s direction and exploded. “Get your butt back there. Get one of the engineers. Fix it. Call someone.”

I caught the now-completely mortified kid’s eye, and motioned for him to come toward me. Grabbing the nearest piece of paper, I jotted down the engineer’s extension and held it at arm’s length with a kind smile. Poor guy. Lots to learn.

With a grateful look, the new kid plucked the scrap from my fingers and darted away.

Time to get started.

I settled in, gripped my pen hard, and looked up.

Okay. Alyssa’s collar was turned under. Minor detail, but sure to garner at least five viewer complaints. You wouldn’t believe what people called in about.

I leaned toward the microphone to let Alyssa know.

“Dare you not to tell her,” Joe muttered. It wasn’t a secret that the guys would willingly let Alyssa go on air with underwear on her head. She hadn’t made friends. Or tried to.

Tim, her co-anchor and current boyfriend, didn’t count.

“Just part of those darn producer duties, Joe. You know that.” I flashed him a smile and pressed the button to talk. “Alyssa, fix your collar.”

Her mouth parted into an O. Alyssa frowned, glanced down, and straightened the pale edge. Just in time.

Like a well-directed movie, the WSGA-TV opening video flashed across monitor one. Macon, Georgia’s skyline filled the screen.

My body tingled with a familiar rush of excitement. It happened every time we went on air. The cameras and lights, the beat of the music, the thrill of live television.

Here we go.

Seconds later, Alyssa and Tim appeared under the lights, their bright anchor smiles pasted on.

“Good evening, I’m Alyssa Andrews.

“And I’m Tim Donaldson.”

And on it went, without a blip, for the first ten minutes. I started breathing again after the third break.

Stanley and Sunshine, the weather cat, were ready for the five-day forecast, check.

Commercial break, check.

Sports, check. I didn’t worry about that three-minute slot. Plenty to talk about, visual stories; the anchors could get away with jokes and ad-libbing. Viewers loved it.

We rounded out the show with an inspirational kicker about a local scholarship winner, a kid first in his family to go to college. He’d won forty thousand dollars and was going to Georgia Tech to study astrophysics.

The show wrapped with a standard goodnight, credits, and a wide shot of the WSGA set.

The second the master control operator switched to break, Alyssa flounced off the set in silicone fashion. She barked into her jewel-encrusted cell phone about her min-pin puppy’s cancelled spa appointment and stomped out of the studio, teetering precariously in four-inch heels.

Yikes!

I climbed the flight of stairs back to the newsroom, relieved the night was almost over.

The phones started to ring five seconds later.

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Guest Post from Donna Morang, Travel Author

I recently reviewed Donna’s terrific book Big Backpack – Little Word and am thrilled to bits that she agreed to do a guest post for me. I described her book as “a travel memoir that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and gives you a good shake!” So, over to Donna.

Stephanie has asked me to be a guest on her blog, and now I feel like I’m walking down the runway to accept an Academy Award. It is such a great honor to be here among readers and writers. I promise I won’t bore you with thanking everyone from my children to the pink-haired girl in Spain, but I do want to thank Stephanie for this opportunity.

Big Backpack—Little World tells my stories of teaching and traveling as an older, single woman. It is the stories of meeting new people, seeing countries I never dreamed I’d visit, having fun, and discovering an amazing life as an ESL teacher. It doesn’t tell you about the other doors that opened because of my traveling.

Twelve years ago if someone told  me to write a book, I would have known they were crazy. Today, my book is real. I see it on my Kindle. I see the paper copy. It sits on my desk, and I view it daily, hourly, gazing at the most incredibly beautiful thing in the world. Writing this book was  like packing-up everything I owned and moving to a foreign country, except it was scarier. I was no longer traveling solo. I was now traveling with everyone who picked-up my book. I was showing everyone my personal story, my soul, and it was frightening. Those that have read Big Backpack—Little World can verify I’m not afraid of many things, but this thing had me shaking.

I had kept good journals, and the first several months of writing was incredible. It was  fun revisiting countries, remembering people I’d met along the way, laughing at the crazy things I’d seen and done. Then one day, I knew I needed someone other than a friend to read my manuscript. At that time, I don’t think it could qualify as a manuscript, more like a bunch of writing.

So entered my first editor, who gave me the encouragement to continue. Then she became ill, and I had to find and pay for someone new to begin the ordeal again. My next editor, whacked and chopped my writing into a manuscript. I have to say none of this was fun. I re-wrote so many times I could hardly stand the sight of one more page of red slashes. It was rather like being back in grade-school with the teacher telling you that you could do better. She was usually right, but it still wasn’t fun.

My biggest problem with my editors were they wanted my book to be a soul-searching, gut-wrenching, in search of and finding myself. They wanted me to express the loneliness, or the hardship of being alone in a strange country. This was impossible for me, because I wasn’t searching for myself or a new love. I went on this journey for fun, and I found open arms around the world. I wanted my readers to know that at any age, it is possible to pack-up and leave their country, friends, family and happily go off into the vast unknown.

Writing your own stories, or poems can open a new adventure into your life. It can grab you, shake you, and awaken you to all this wonderful life has to offer. It doesn’t have to be for the world to view, do it for yourself, and see what you find.
Happy writing, my new friends. Thanks, Stephanie!

You can jog on over to my blog and read the incredible review Stephanie wrote about Big Backpack—Little World.

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Signs and Wonders – Book Review

Signs and Wonders by Alex Adena is a fascinating book. Annie Grace is a fraudulent faith healer, although when she was a young child, she once performed a miraculous healing. Her father, Daddy, exploited this and became a very rich man through healing roadshows.

Annie feels like a fraud. A ghost from the past rears its head – Annie faces prosecution for her part in a tragic incident five years before. Two of her employees turn against her. A client secretly taperecords her making tactless remarks. Her latest one-night stand kisses and tells. It seems everyone is trying to bring Annie down. But when it looks like things can’t get any worse, her amazing powers return. The question is, will Annie use them for good this time?

The characters in the story are all rounded and believable. The book is very well written. It’s hard to put down. And events most certainly don’t follow a predictable path.

But there’s more to Signs and Wonders than the story of Annie. As the author says, he wrote it “for everyone who has felt pre-defined by their upbringing and family expectations”. This comes across strongly in the book. Can we change as we grow up, or are we cast in permanent roles as children by the adults around us, whether rightly or wrongly? Should we try and make other people change?

Brilliant book, hugely entertaining and very thought provoking. A definite must-read. Available as a Kindle book from Amazon and from Smashwords. Paperback coming soon too.

Alex Adena has a website here and pages on Goodreads and Smashwords too. He’s a thoroughly nice guy and has given me plenty of useful advice on book marketing, which I’m very grateful for. Do buy his book!