Sunday, May 17, 2015

Safari Stew: A Blenders Mystery by Veronica Helen Hart Review from Long and Short Reviews

Safari Stew: A Blenders Mystery by Veronica Helen Hart

Safari Stew: A Blenders Mystery by Veronica Helen Hart
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (228 Pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen
Doll Reynolds receives word that her missing husband, Barclay, has been discovered teaching in a South African university. Rather than call the school, she arranges a trip to confirm the information for herself. Six of her Blender friends join her for support. Old Howard arranges a luxurious safari as a side trip to either celebrate finding Barclay or to console Doll if she doesn’t. Either way, the trip leads to murder.
Many years ago, Doll Reynolds’ husband fell off a boat in the Galapagos and disappeared. But now, Doll learns that her missing husband has been found, teaching at a South African university. She decides that she has to go to South Africa to meet this man in person, and six of her friends rally to support her. Soon all of them are on their way to South Africa to learn the truth.
Safari Stew is told from multiple perspectives, each chapter focusing on a specific character, and the name of the character appears in italics at the start of each chapter. The group meets a film crew for a cooking show, also headed to South Africa, and this results in an even larger cast of characters. Over half of the chapters are told from Doll’s point of view. The others are from the point of view of three other women, one a friend of Doll’s and two from the film crew.
The characters are fairly flat and stereotypical. The murderer was easy to spot and that character was painted with no positive aspects. There are two minor characters who were more atypical and hence more interesting, namely Howard, the oldest of Doll’s friends, and Achi, the South African policemen. They added welcome spice to the story.
The plot had several different storylines, in addition to the murder itself. The pacing seemed a bit slow in places and some aspects were just dropped. But overall, it was interesting to see how the murderer was discovered and how the murderer ended up being tricked and deceived.
I learned a number of things about South Africa, some geographic and some cultural, and the time spent at the Haartsveld Game Preserve was very interesting. Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries set in foreign places are sure to enjoy following Doll and her fellow travelers on this adventure.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Lesson by Joyce Ward Review from Long and Short Reviews

The Lesson by Joyce Ward

The Lesson by Joyce Ward
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (62 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe
A rebellious, young woman and her stoned boyfriend learn an important and frightening lesson after behaving badly in a mortuary.
Warning signs exist for a reason, but Kevin and Pamela aren’t about to let that stop them from figuring out what all the fuss is about.
Including basic backstories for the two main characters was a smart decision. Early on in this tale they make a decision that I would have otherwise found hard to believe. Knowing what kind of people they were made it easy to understand how their minds work and why they would consider this kind of choice to be a good one.
There was one plot hole that I would have liked to see addressed in this tale. It was something that I definitely would have expected at least one of the characters to notice right away, so figuring out why it wasn’t being mentioned was distracting. Had this not been the case, I would have selected a much higher rating for this story as I really enjoyed everything else about it.
Horror doesn’t always have to include blood. There are plenty of ways to frighten an audience without getting gory, and Ms. Ward spooked me with quite a few of them. I was so interesting in discovering what would happen to Kevin and Pamela next that I read the whole thing in one sitting, and I made sure to keep the lights on for a few hours after I finished it. Some images really shouldn’t be rattling around in my mind in the dark!
The Lesson made me shudder. It’s something I’d recommend to both longterm and brand new fans of the scary side of science fiction.

Unspoken by J. A. Garland Review from Long and Short Reviews

Unspoken by J. A. Garland

Unspoken by J. A. Garland
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (121 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia
Paranormal Bounty Hunter Myka Quinn has left her failed attempt at wolf pack life behind. She’s focused on providing for her brother and staying out of werewolf territory. When she’s framed for a witch’s murder, she must accept help from a very unlikely source, or watch the lives of those she loves rip apart.
Myka’s life is about to get a whole lot more complicated.
Myka is a smart, tough heroine, but she makes it very hard to like her. She is brash and intentionally pushes people away. Her painful past makes it easy to understand why she is so reluctant to get close to people, particularly men. However, she continues to act this way even after Ari proves he has no intention of abandoning her or forcing her do something she’s not comfortable with. She is so used to protecting her emotions that I think she forgets that her actions hurt others.
Ari is a good match for Myka and he demonstrates incredible patience in putting up with her rash actions. He is there when she needs him, but he always gives her the freedom to choose her own path. Ari and Myka definitely have a strong physical attraction, but I do wish there had been more interaction between the two. Ari and Myka don’t spend much time together, and when they are together, Ari is usually getting Myka out of trouble. When they do have some downtime, Myka squanders it by pushing him away. Their antagonistic interactions made it hard for me to believe they had truly fallen in love in such a short time.
The pacing of Unspoken is very well done. The last part of the tale is particularly intense as Myka learns more about her past and the reason she’s been framed for the witch’s murder. The ruthlessness of the villains in the story is chilling. I was on the edge of my seat wondering how Myka and Ari could ever win against such incredible odds. However, Ms. Garland threw in a twist that evened the playing field considerably and changes Myka’s life forever.
I enjoyed reading Unspoken. I recommend it to anyone looking for a fast paced paranormal with a strong, capable heroine.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Excerpt from The Songwriter

The Songwriter
By Brooke Adams
Contemporary/Paranormal Romance

His music brought them together. A gypsy’s magic would do the rest.


Downstairs, Annie was racking her brains wondering what to do. She was madly in love with James and that terrified her. Maybe he was right and she should put the past behind her once and for all. However, twenty minutes later she was still stalling for time and was starting to get nervous wondering what James would be thinking of her. She knew she was being ridiculous and got up from the sofa, heading for the stairs with all the determination she could muster, stopping to take off her slippers and walk barefoot over the pinewood floor so as not make any noise. She reached the door of his bedroom and gingerly tried the doorknob. It opened and she poked her head around the door. The spacious room was in complete darkness, except for the moonlight streaming in through the double-glazed window. She walked in as silently as possible and called softly to him in the dark.
"James, are you asleep?" she whispered.
There was no answer and she turned around to go, somehow relieved, when the door suddenly closed shut and a key turned in the lock. Annie jumped back, startled, and then stifled a scream when she saw a silhouette in the darkness coming towards her. It was James, of course, but what was he doing lurking in the shadows?
"Gotcha," he said, gently pulling her towards him.
"For god’s sake, James, don’t do that. I almost jumped out of my skin."
"Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you."
"Was that a key I heard in the lock?"
"You heard right."
"But why did you lock the door?" she insisted.
"I just wanted to make sure you didn’t have second thoughts about coming here."
"And if I do?"
"It’s too late now. You just crossed the point of no return," he said, lowering his head to kiss her.
She unconsciously placed her hands on his chest in a half-hearted attempt to hold him back and realized he was naked from the waist upwards. The feel of his warm skin and taut muscles underneath her palms was electrifying. James reached down inside her pajama pants to caress the silky skin of her thighs and then placed his hands to her hips and pressed himself against her so she could feel his hard arousal. Annie was secretly burning with desire for him and knew she was utterly helpless in his arms. His sweet, musky scent was intoxicating. James broke the kiss and drew back slightly, lifting both her arms above her head and pulling off her top. Then he reached behind her head and undid the clasp, letting her lovely auburn hair fall in waves over her shoulders and down her back. His breath caught in his throat… she looked so beautiful in the moonlight.
James claimed her mouth passionately, almost knocking the breath out of her. His lips left her mouth and ravaged her neck, blazing their way over her shoulder and down towards her breasts. Annie felt what was left of her resolve melt away completely as she gave in to unbridled desire.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Excerpt from Home World

Home World
By Michael W. Davis
Science Fiction

Is courage enough when your morality is at stake?


Every tree adorned its own brown spaghetti-shaped webbing with some form of six-inch worms undulating along the strands. The vibration of so many bugs crawling across the matrix caused each tree to contract and expand as if it were a thriving, breathing organism throbbing with its own rhythm. Moss-colored arboreal creatures with hammer heads hung upside down from the major branches and munched on the squirming invertebrates. Derek caught movement in his peripheral vision—something pushing the black gooey matting atop the swamp in his direction.
“Holy crap.” He aimed at the base of the rippled dorsal gliding through the water toward his location and touched off three rounds.
The discharge from his weapon exploded on the surface. The sub-aquatic beast, mimicking a prehistoric monster from some horrid nightmare, bolted out of the muck and turned away from its pursuit of Derek as a meal.
Two triple volleys of popping sounds in the distance.
They’ve found her. Swamps so thick can’t see shit.
He trudged through the warm slimy liquid toward the telltale sound of M4 rifle fire. As he shrunk the distance to his shipmate, the frequency of small arms fire increased.
Must be all around her.
Thirty yards forward and the distinctive blue flicker of her gun crept through the water soaked trees. He ignored the pain in his hip muscles and made six virtual leaps across the surface of the bog.
There she is.
Propped against the crashed survival module, her back covered by a pile of fallen debris, Marla toasted one after another of the cocoa-colored creatures with flailing octopus-type extremities. “You bastards!”
He joined the defensive posture and cut down a dozen slugs before the onslaught of aliens redirected their T-shaped weapons at the new human invader. Several hyper-pressured projectiles ripped at the tree just to his left and still he kept a barrage of blue bolts zapping toward the dozen remaining Tarians. Each hit to a near man-sized beast exploded into an omnidirectional mist of mucus. Another series of shots from them and all targets were destroyed.
Derek rushed the remaining distance to his wingman and squeezed her around the chest, then grabbed each shoulder and yelled, “I told ya to lead them, damn it. Why won’t you ever listen to me?”
Stubs winced and favored her left side. “I missed you too, mommy bird.”
Three inches to the right of her belt buckle, blood oozed from a hole in her flight suit. “You’re hit.”
“Now you notice.”
“Pain or not, we need to haul ass. Four squadrons of slimers are headed our way. We’ll never take off if they get to my ship first.”
Marla placed one arm around his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek. “Let’s go.”
Like two kids in a potato sack race, they sludged through the dense quagmire. “Listen, hear that?”
No response.
“Hey, Falco. Don’t you pass out on me. Your butt is too big to drag back to the Stryker.”
She lifted her head. “Yeah, yeah I hear it.” Marla inhaled. “The fleet’s begun their bombardment.”
“Means the interceptors headed for us will redirect their focus on our cruisers. We just need to make it to my ship. Come on.”
Another forty strides and Derek pointed to the left at the arm-length lobster-shaped creature snapping chunks of yellow flesh off a smaller bug-eyed fish.
“There she is.” Again, no response. He smacked her face twice. “Damn it Stubs, wake up.”
Marla opened her eyes. “I see it.”
Once at their ship, Derek made a support with his hands beside the rear seat of the cockpit. “Go ahead. Jump in the back.”
She staggered slightly, then stepped upward onto the makeshift stirrup the instant a bullet projectile clipped the edge of the vertical stabilizer.
A hot poker sensation burned through his upper thigh. He spun in place and instinctively aimed at the closer of two Tarians skimming through the water clocking twice the speed of a biped. The targeted slimer ignited immediately but before he could swing the weapon at the second, the slug slapped the pennons extending along each side of its slimy leathery skin and launched out of the water. The airborne alien released a series of screeching sounds and clenched its triple layer of spine teeth into Derek’s shoulder.
“Ahhh!” He dropped his rifle, snatched one gimbaled yellow eyeball in each fist and ripped two of its four visual sensors out of its body.
The creature released a curdling howl while he removed the knife from his belt and continued cutting at the tentacles wrapped around his throat. Finally, he found the plasma pistol in his holster, stuck it in the slimer’s chest, “Suck on this you smelly bastard,” and pulled the trigger.
He wiped the green mucus material from his face and lifted himself into the pilot seat. “Would have appreciated a little help, Stubs,” but the body in the back seat remained inanimate. “Marla!”
He pushed her torso backward from the bulkhead and surveyed the new wound just below her heart. Derek felt for a pulse.
She’s still alive. If I can just get her to the cruiser.
He strapped in his comrade, closed the canopy and fired both booster engines. The fighter disappeared back inside the dense atmosphere. He retracted all control surfaces to minimize drag and pressed the throttle full forward.

You’re tough, Stubs. If I can just get ya to the Med techs, I know you’ll make it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Excerpt from Alex in Wanderland

Alex In Wanderland
By R. J. Hore

A strange new toy leads a married couple to an alternate universe and an ancient prophecy.


Alexis screamed in his ear. She doubled over as though ready to bring up supper—if she had any. She clutched at him and opened her eyes.

His ears buzzed as if his head hosted an unruly crowd of cicadas. Everything continued to revolve.

Alexis’ mouth gaped but no further sound came out. Her clenched knuckles bulged white where they gripped his arm.

Shaking, he clung to Alexis and, using her as a prop, staggered to his feet. The world around him slowed, dissolved into focus and the sensation of sickening movement ceased.

A loud ringing echoed inside his skull. Was that the doorbell? Who could that be? The ringing didn’t sound like the front door, more resembled a Chinese gong. Where did that come from?

They lurched together like a pair of drunken dancers, and after a long moment, steadied. The sky above glowed with a million stars displayed through parting clouds. Darkness stretched to the horizon, except for the shimmering ring of a thousand pinpoints of flickering light somewhere at his feet.

Alexander’s straining eyes accustomed to the gloom, and he stared around. He stood, clutching Alexis and swaying on a platform, or maybe a flat roof, at the top of a high building. A loud ringing echoed through the night. Someone pounded on a gong, a large one by the sound.

“Whatever was that?” He gasped. His stomach did a flip-flop.

He inhaled wood smoke, or perhaps some sweet incense. Alexis held a firm grip on his arm.

She moaned. “What happened? Oh, my head.”

“The Twins have come, they are here,” a hoarse voice shouted from close behind him.

Roaring rumbled up from far below. He turned around, Alexis still hanging on tight to him.

A round, bald man garbed in a yellow robe stared at them wide-eyed. The glow from a nearby torch gleamed gold off his nose ring. He shouted, “Quick, acolytes assist them.”

Half a dozen men, also hairless, and garbed in what appeared to Alexander to be lemon-yellow bathrobes, rushed forward from behind a high, triangular archway and pressed around them, bowing and bobbing like a flock of hungry pigeons. The newcomers surrounded the clinging pair, reaching out for them with painted nails.

“Get your filthy hands off me,” Alexis cried out.

From the strangled sound of her voice, she struggled to hold back a full-fledged scream.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Excerpt from To Ruin a Rake

To Ruin A Rake
By Liana LeFey
Historical Romance

Remaining true to a dead saint is nowhere near as satisfying as succumbing to the touch of a dedicated sinner...


“What the devil are you doing here?” growled Manchester, moving closer, forcing her back a step until she bumped up against the wall.

“I happen to be volunteering my services!” Perhaps, if she was quick, she could slip past him.

He must have read her thoughts, for he raised his arms and laid his palms on the wall on either side of her, trapping her.

“Still playing the martyr, Harriett?” His voice was a soft rasp that caused gooseflesh to break out across her skin despite the heat reaching across the scant space between them. “Do you really think my brother is beneficently watching from on high? That he sees and approves of your toil and sacrifice in his name? I can assure you he does not. The dead have no care for the living.”

His breath stirred the hair at her temple, and she was transported back to that awful day. William had just been buried, and this horrid man had disrupted the memorial service with his drunken irreverence. Giving him the benefit of the doubt—she’d seen he was mad with grief—she’d taken him aside to calm him.

Closing her eyes, Harriett tried not to think about what had followed, but it was impossible with his scent yelling in her nostrils: brandy, tobacco, leather, and something else she couldn’t put a finger on, something uniquely him. He’d staggered into her at the cemetery, resulting in the shock of her life. For just a moment as her hands had braced against his chest, feeling the pounding of his heart beneath, she’d looked into his pain-filled eyes...and had wanted to embrace him. Worse, she’d wanted him to return her embrace, to fold her in his arms and tell her she wasn’t al—

“Did you not hear me?” he barked, jolting her back to the present.

She hadn’t. But she wasn’t about to let him know it. “You will release me at once,” she said in her sternest manner, the one she reserved for very naughty children.

A corner of his mouth lifted as he removed his hands from the wall beside her and straightened. “The years have not mellowed you one whit, have they?”

“Nor have they made you any more of a gentleman,” she retorted before thinking better of it.

“So speaks a lady dressed as a drudge.”

She raised her chin. “The clothes do not make the person, Your Grace. I could be wearing a grocer’s sack and still remain a lady, whereas no matter how much finery you don, you will remain an uncouth pig.”

The look in his honey-brown eyes made her uneasy as he swayed and again leaned toward her. “I’m quite convinced you would remain every inch a ‘lady’ even without the grocer’s sack.” His gaze dropped to her mouth. “Or am I wrong, I wonder?”

His implication set fire to her already heated cheeks. Without thinking, she licked her suddenly dry lips. As she did so, something lit in the depths of his leonine eyes, something that caused her pulse to whoosh in her ears, her head to become light, and her body to become leaden. Instinct screamed at her to bolt, but she remained rooted to the floor, mesmerized as he drew closer still.

Stopping mere inches from her, his lips parted in another mocking smile. “I’ve often wondered what William saw in you.” He cocked his head to one side. “Now I begin to understand, I think. Unlike me, my brother always did as he was told. Whereas I favored defiance, he actually seemed to enjoy submission. He lacked the courage to challenge authority. You, however, appear to have an overabundance of spine. I’ve often heard it said that opposites attract. You must have drawn him like a lodestone.”

His drawling tone set her teeth on edge and made her palms itch. She stood her ground, refusing to show the brute any weakness. The breath she drew was shaky at best. “You, sir, are incapable of even the barest modicum of decency. And you understand nothing. Now, you will remove yourself at once and wait for me below,” she commanded, raising her arm to point the way back for him since, given the strong scent of brandy rising from his person, he probably didn’t know which way was up.

He did not move. “William might have bowed to your every whim, madam, but I certainly shall not. You will take me to see Mr. Dun. Now.”

The urge to slap him drained away along with all the blood in her head. “I will do no such thing. Because he is not here,” she added quickly. “He has already gone home.”

“Then you will provide me with his address so that I may call upon him at his residence,” he said with a slow, cheerless smile.

She squirmed. “I do not know his address.”

“Then take me to someone who does.”

“I—I don’t think—”

“My lady!” a frantic voice called from the other end of the hall. It was Nurse Hayes. “Oh,” said Hayes, taking in the scene. A flush colored her cheeks. “I didn’t realize you were with...”

Harriett watched as Manchester fixed the intruder with hard eyes. “Lady Harriett was just going to escort me to Mr. Dun’s office.”

“Mr. Dun?” repeated Hayes, blinking. “But downstairs you said you wished to see the Assistant Administrator, did you not?”

He looked at the woman as though she was an idiot. “So I did. I wish to see Mr. Dun. Now.”

“But, Your Grace, there is no Mr. Dun,” stressed Hayes. “I’ve already told you there is no one here by that name.”

With a sinking heart, Harriett watched as Hayes—who’d remained oblivious to her small, frantic signals—pointed a trembling finger at her and spoke the dreaded words.

“Lady Harriett is the Assistant Administrator.”