A mega-launch in the #LeiCrimeKW Kindle World



The day is finally here! My new #LeiCrimeKW Lei Crime Kindle World mystery is on Amazon’s e-shelves along with 11 other brand-new titles. We’re all very excited, and by all signs, so is the creator of Lei Texeira and the Lei Crime series, Toby Neal.

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Don’t forget to join the whole #LeiCrimeKW gang on Facebook today, May 12, 2017 at 3:30 Eastern Time, where we’ll be happy to share facts and ideas about our books, answer any reader’s questions, and give away some prizes.

Speaking of prizes, I ran a contest until today, challenging anyone who read an excerpt of Echoes to deduce which two old rock’n’roll songs it was based on. Only one person was able to figure out one of the songs, so I’ll reveal it on Facebook today, between 7:30 and 8:00 ET. In the meantime, I’m putting out a bunch of clues on my Facebook Author page. Think you know your old songs? Try to figure it out by downloading the free sample chapters, or you can just try the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.

My new #LeiCrimeKW book: Echoes

Echoes - 529x800 V3Echoes is my fourth #LeiCrimeKW title, and the fourth featuring FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm. What’s it about, you ask?

In 1999, the Kahuna was The Man on Oahu’s west coast. The coolest guy at the wildest parties, with the coolest posse, the best weed and the most beautiful girlfriend.

Then he disappeared.

Fifteen years later, that girlfriend is no longer a high school senior. She is FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm, and she sees through every lie the Kahuna spins when he shows up again to beg her help.

How can she say no when the Kahuna wants her help not for himself, but to protect his little brother. Young Cole ‘Aukai is ready to set fire to the whole Oahu illegal drug trade—for revenge.

“I am hopelessly in love with a memory. An echo from another time, another place.” — Michel Foucault 

What is the Lei Crime Kindle World?

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Lei Crime Kindle World is based on the Lei Crime series, created by bestselling author Toby Neal.

The books are great fun to read, so check out the new titles and come to the party—and invite your friends!

 

 

Over Her Head: preview of a new #LeiCrimeKW novella



LeiCrime-50titles

May 12 is the launch date for 11 new titles in the Lei Crime Kindle World—new stories by professional authors in the fictional universe of Lei Crime, the creation of bestselling author Toby Neal.

One of those titles is mine: Echoes, featuring my Lei Crime character, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm. You will find it on Amazon as of May 12.

To get you excited about the new books, I will preview a bunch of them over the next several days. Today we have Shawn McGuire’s third Lei Crime Kindle World title, Over Her Head, which happens to feature the main character, Lei Texeira

Let Shawn know what you think of her preview in the Comments. 

“I know I’ve been tough on you these last couple of weeks,” she said.

Lieutenant Lani Kaapana was Gemi’s second FTO. The first had been an officer who was close to retirement and not interested in working all that hard anymore. He taught Gemi some things, but most of what she had learned in the month with him she had either figured out on her own or learned by asking other officers. Now that she thought about it, maybe that hadn’t been so bad.

“You have been tough on me,” Gemi agreed, “but I appreciate your approach. I think you know that I’m not one to take the easy route.”

“You’re going to be a fine officer,” the lieutenant said. “I’ve seen plenty of trainees come through this department over the years, only a handful of them have truly impressed me with their potential. You’re at the very top of that list.” She held out her hand to Gemi. “Don’t let me down.”

For a heartbeat, Gemi was moved by these words, but she knew showing emotion would negate everything the officer had just said. Instead, she shook her hand and thanked her once again.

“Your formal training is done,” Lieutenant Kaapana announced, “but don’t hesitate to come to me if you have questions or need help.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Crossing the parking lot, Gemi smiled, feeling a sense of pride at a job well done. She glanced at the spot where a lightbar would go as she climbed into her Renegade and started for her townhouse southwest of Kahului. Today was a big deal, she really should celebrate. There were only two people she would consider partying with, her friend Consuelo or her sister Ashlyn. Consuelo was finishing her senior year with a couple of summer classes at Kahului College and had a big test tomorrow. She couldn’t bother her. Ashlyn? That was touch and go. Ashlyn hadn’t been happy when Gemi dropped out of nursing school. She’d been even less happy about Gemi’s decision to enter the police academy.

Gemi had to admit, if only to herself, that writing traffic tickets and chasing down car part thieves wasn’t the exciting life she’d hoped it would be. On the positive side, she knew her actions were making the streets of Kahului safer. She would put in her time, however much time that meant, and be the best patrol officer she could possibly be, until she could move up the ranks. Her sights were set on becoming a detective.

Her cell phone rang, and Detective Lei Texeira’s number displayed on the screen. Gemi pulled into the nearest parking lot.

“I hear you’re officially done being a trainee,” Lei said.

“You heard right,” Gemi said. “Not a bad day, either. Busted Ozzie Lee on vandalism and drug charges, then said thank you and goodbye to my FTO. Now, I’m on the way home and will probably celebrate with a long run and maybe a big piece of chocolate cake.”

“You really know how to live the high life. Since you have no other plans, how about you meet me for dinner? We’ll celebrate together.”

The women had known each other for more than a year. Gemi considered the detective to be a friend and mentor. But they had never once socialized together.

“Why do I think you don’t really want to take me out to celebrate?” Gemi asked. “What’s going on, Lei?”

“Meet me at the Paia Fish Market,” Lei said. “I’ll tell you there.”

“You can’t even give me a hint?”

“Fine. You’re going to like it.”

Over Her HeadAbout Over Her Head

When women go missing in Maui, the island’s newest rookie cop is on the job.

One year ago, after rescuing her abducted sister, Gemi Kittredge turned in her college textbooks for a Maui County Police Department uniform. Now, the last thing Gemi expects is a phone call from her friend and mentor, Detective Lei Texeira.

Young women are disappearing and they suspect the Yakuza are involved. Lei doesn’t have to ask twice if Gemi is willing to go undercover to find them; taking down the organized crime group is the reason Gemi became a cop, after all. But when Gemi ends up in the Yakuza’s clutches, she’ll need her entire arsenal—badge, instincts, and mixed martial arts training—to get everyone out safe.

Over Her Head takes place after Dark Lava, book 7 in the Lei Crime series.

About the author

Fantasy and suspense author Shawn McGuire started writing after seeing the first Star Wars movie (that’s episode IV) as a kid. She couldn’t wait for the next installment to come out so wrote her own. Sadly, those notebooks are long lost, but her desire to tell a tale is as strong now as it was then.

She grew up in the beautiful Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota, called the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin (Go Pack Go!) home for many years, and now lives in Colorado where she loves to read, craft, cook and bake, and spend time in the spectacular Rocky Mountains. You can learn more about Shawn’s work on her website, www.Shawn-McGuire.com.

Launch day for a surprise: The Three-Way



Photo credit: nImAdestiny/Flickr/Creative Commons

Today is the day for my newest book.

The Three-Way: A Sydney Rye Kindle World thriller featuring Van and LeBrun is available NOW on Amazon.

What’s it about, you ask?

How is Daesh, the Islamic State, funding its war of oppression in the Middle East? Van and LeBrun are determined to find out.

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Van Freeman, the socialist-surfer-dude-secret agent, takes his electromagnetic gun and his hunter-killer drones on a harrowing trip through Daesh-occupied territory, blowing stuff up in his inimitable style, to unravel a three-way deal that feeds the 21st century’s most evil regime.


The Three-Way
is one of three (that number keeps coming up, doesn’t it?) new titles in the Sydney Rye Kindle World launching today:

These two authors join Julie Gilbert, DelSheree Gladden, Jennifer Harlow, Toby Neal, Renee Pawlish, Bev Pettersen and me in the Sydney Rye Kindle World. These are all great, fun and entertaining short reads. Check them out.

SRKWbadge3Join me at 6:00 this evening, April 27, at the Sydney Rye Kindle World event, where N. Kuhn and I, along with some surprise guests, will be on hand to chat, answer your questions and give away some cool and valuable prizes!

Join the Three-Day on launch day



SKRW-fbimageThe Three-Way, my new Sydney Rye Kindle World thriller, launches on Thursday, April 27—with a party on Facebook.

Join me and other authors at https://www.facebook.com/events/1056089217869168/ where you can ask questions, learn more about your favourite Sydney Rye world characters and writers.

There will be prizes, too, including Amazon gift cards ($$moiney$$!) and other goodies that I can’t tell you about without spoiling the surprises.

So join us on Facebook. I’ll be on host duty from 7:00–7:30 Eastern Time, ready to answer all your questions about Sydney, Robert Maxim, and of course Van and LeBrun.

Save the date: April 27, 2017.

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Independent book review: Smoke Road



Scorch Series Romance Thriller Book 3

By Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman

Luca Luciano is a jerk.

The books of the Scorch Road series are gripping, fast-paced page turners that will thrill, scare, arouse and thoroughly entertain you.

Smoke Road is the third volume in the new Scorch Road, six-book series being launched at a rate of a book a month by co-authors Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman. Both best-selling authors in their own right, teamed to write a six-volume series, releasing them at about three-week intervals.

The books I have read so far in the series follow a pattern. Each one has two main characters: one of the six Luciano brothers from South Philly, and a strong woman he meets. Together, they have to fight their way through the chaos unleashed by the Scorch Flu, a pandemic that kills 90 percent of those infected. Along the way, they gather clues about the source of the virus and a deep conspiracy that caused it.

Smoke Road’s male protagonist is Luca, the eldest Luciano brother. He’s the “alpha male,” a former Special Forces member built like a superhero.
The female lead is Dr. Haunani Kegawa, a medical researcher and advisor to the U.S. national security establishment who has found intelligence about the source of the Scorch Flu: a neo-Nazi skinhead group in Texas who has stolen a virus developed by the government and dispersed it across the country.

The plot of the whole series follows the well-established apocalypse scenario. As most of the country falls sick and dies, society and government fall apart. Gangs loot towns. Communities are reduced to scavengers, pirates, raiders or slaves. Think The Walking Dead, without zombies.

Dr. Kagawa is charged with finding the skinhead neo-Nazis responsible for the calamity, and given a unit of National Guardsmen to help her—the only military force close to the enemy that has not succumbed to the flu—which includes Luca Luciano.

As soon as he meets Dr. Kagawa, they’re irresistibly attracted to each other. This is where Luca becomes a jerk

Luca has deep-seated issues. He doesn’t trust any women. He uses them for his own pleasure—and to be fair, many use him for theirs. He’s a hunk’s hunk. But he believes all women are devious.

Dr. Kagawa is anything but. She’s clearly drawn on Toby Neal’s main character, Lei Texeira: she’s part Hawaiian, part Japanese; she has baggage stemming from a bad, nearly abusive past relationship; and she carries a piece of beach glass in her pocket at all times, which she holds and rubs to allay anxiety. This is a direct carry-over from Lei Texeira.

The story is basically a love story, with the pandemic apocalypse a setting. Luca and Nani are drawn together by circumstance and biology, and their personalities are just similar enough that they clash repeatedly. They drive each other crazy in many ways.

Like reality, it’s the man who’s wrong.

Toby Neal

Toby Neal

Emily-author-photo

Emily Kimelman

It’s frightening to me just how well women can read men’s minds.

This book is compelling and exciting, full of action, suspense and hot sex scenes. It’s a true mark of a writer’s skill to be able to write hot sex scenes without coming off as either pornographic or silly.

Well done, Toby and Emily. You’ve done what every writer strives to do: make a nightmare fantasy completely believable.

5*

A look back at a tough year



To many, 2016 has been a horrible year. The war in Syria, the loss of refugees from that conflict and others, the record number of celebrity passings, record homicide numbers in my home town, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency … I won’t go on. It’s too painful.

For me, it’s been a turbulent year, too. I broke my knee in May and went through months of intensive physiotherapy and exercise to get back the range of motion and strength I needed for my two-week whitewater canoeing trip. My son had appendicitis, my other son had some issues with school and work.

In the fall, I came down with a wicked case of pinkeye. There were more problems in this single year than in many that I can recall.

On the other hand, there were some “ups,” as well.

  • I published three books this year:
    • IMG_0020.jpgUnder the Nazi Heel, Book 2 in my Walking Out of War trilogy based on the World War 2 experiences of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury.
      It won Second Prize in the East Texas Writers Guild 2016 Awards for nonfiction/memoir.
    • The Wife Line, a Sydney Rye Kindle World book that features my spy-thriller characters, Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun.
    • Dead Man Lying, my third Lei Crime Kindle World title, featuring my FBI Special Agent character, Vanessa Storm. It won First Place in the 2016 East Texas Writers Guild Mystery Awards.WifeLine-final-small
  • I edited three very strong books by independent authors:
  • I participated in some group publishing efforts along with other members of BestSelling Reads, an authors’ group that cross-promotes members.
  • New members joined Independent Authors International, a collaborative publishing venture where members share skills to provide all the functions of a full, commercial publishing company.
  • PaddlersI canoed 325 kilometres down the Missinaibi and Moose Rivers in northern Ontario to Moose Factory on James Bay, and capsized only once.
  • I visited the Finger Lakes in New York, and met some very nice, interesting people and drank some excellent wine.
  • I crafted an outline for The Triumph of the Sky, the follow-up to my first full-length novel, The Bones of the Earth.
  • I outlined a new Lei Crime novel featuring Special Agent Vanessa Storm: Echo of a Crime, and have so far written about half of it.
  • And I came up with a concept for a new Sydney Rye Kindle World novel which will feature Van and LeBrun.

So 2016 has been a year with ups and downs, and now that I look at it, for me at least, there were more good points than bad. And for the family, too.

But for the world, it’s been a tough year. For Aleppo and the rest of Syria, for Iraq, for France, Belgium and the U.K., for Japan, Italy and Fort McMurray. For the U.S., 2017 is going to be … interesting politically.

I wish you all a healthy, happy, loving, peaceful and plentiful 2017.

Come to a party with me



November 21 at 7:00 p.m.
Chat with authors — get free books — win Amazon gift cards

SRKWbadge3On Monday, November 21, I’ll be joining six other authors in the Walking the Giant Dog Facebook party, and I want you to come with me.

All the authors who have published books in the Sydney Rye Kindle World will join Facebook to share our experiences in writing these books, and to answer readers’ questions.

Have you ever wondered

  • Why we wrote Kindle World novellas?
  • Where did Van Freeman come from, anyway?
  • Why is the dog so big?
  • What is a “wife line”?
  • Why does Sydney have a gun?

We’ll all be here:

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Emily Kimelman, author of the Sydney Rye series

Pawlish

Renée Pawlish, author of Walk Softly, Danger

jennharlow

Jennifer Harlow, author of Nemesis

Julie Gilbert 2013 (5 of 25)

Julie Gilbert, author of Fatal Interest

DelSheree Gladden

DelSheree Gladden, author of The Catalyst

UseThishires

And me, author of The Wife Line

 

 

bookrhythmAnd it’s all organized by Book Rhythm.

 

We’ll be asking you questions, too, like

  • Who is your favourite character in the Sydney Rye world, other than Sydney herself?
  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

All for more chances to win prizes.

Save the date — November 21, 2016 at 7 pm. Eastern Time.

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Get ready: read the books

The Catalyst, by DelSheree Gladden

Fatal Interest, by Julie Gilbert

Nemesis, by Jennifer Harlow

Strange Behavior, by Bev Pettersen

Walk Softly, Danger, by Renée Pawlish

The Wife Line, by Scott Bury

Rough Road, by Toby Neal

Have you read all the Sydney Rye novels yet? Here’s your chance to get the first volume, Unleashed, for free.sr_unleashed

 

 

 

What do commercial publishers really want from new writers? Not what they tell us



Photo by Wonderlane on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Surfing social media a few weeks ago, I came across a reference to an article from Penguin Random House, one of the Big 5 worldwide publishers called “What Our Editors Look for on an Opening Page.”

It was advice for writers who wanted to have their manuscripts published by a big commercial publisher like one of Penguin Random House’s imprints. But rather than advice, it’s really just reinforcing the narrative that the big publishing houses put out good books — when the truth is that they don’t take chances on good books from new authors. As proof, let’s look at the opening pages of the latest releases from Penguin.

Let’s look at what they say they look for in a manuscript from a new writer

1.      “A powerful opener”

is the most important thing, because it’s the first thing that editors see. If the opening doesn’t grab them, they’ll move onto the next submission in the slush pile.

For example, consider Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins. It was published last year by G.P Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of the Penguin Group, which is a subsidiary of Penguin Random House:

Jesse Stone no longer felt adrift. No longer a man caught between two coasts, he had finally left his days as an L.A. homicide detective behind him. If not his private shame at how his life had gone to hell. He was chief of police in Paradise, Mass. This was his town now. Yet there were still some things about the East Coast and the Atlantic he had never gotten used to and wasn’t sure he ever would. Nor’easters, for one. He found the brooding, slate-gray clouds and rolling tides a little unnerving. These late-fall or winter storms seemed to blow up out of spite, raking across whole swaths of New England or the Mid-Atlantic, leaving nothing but pain their wake.

As was his habit, he drove through the darkened streets of Paradise in his old Ford Explorer before heading home. He wanted to get a few hours’ sleep before going back to work. Maybe a drink, too. The storm wasn’t supposed to make landfall until about midnight, but the winds were bending trees back against their will, sleet already pelting his windshield. Jesse shook his head thinking about that. About how storms in the east warned you they were coming. About how they told you when they were coming and then kicked your ass.

Sorry, this doesn’t count as powerful. It’s an info dump, paragraphs of back story — exactly the kind of opening all the advice blogs and creative writing courses tell you not to write. Get to the story.

For all you writers out there, this opening breaks one of Elmore Leonard’s famous 10 Rules: “Never start with the weather.”

Of course, The Devil Wins was not written by Robert Parker, who died in 2010. Reed Farrel Coleman, a successful mystery novelist in his own right, won the contract to continue the Jesse Stone series.

Homecoming

Speaking of information dumps, consider the opening of the newest volume in the Boys of Fall teen romance series by Shannon Stacey, published by Jove, another Penguin imprint.

Sitting in a hospital waiting room with a pack of scared and sweaty teenage boys while wearing a little black dress and high heels wasn’t Jen’s idea of a fun Friday night.

Nothing could have dragged her out of there, though. Not even the promise of flip-flops and her favorite yoga pants. The police officer leaning against the wall and staring at the ceiling was Kelly McDonnell, one of her best friends. Kelly had been the first to arrive when the 911 call came in from football practice. Kelly’s dad—Coach McDonnell—had collapsed on the high school’s field and they were afraid he was having a heart attack.

When Kelly called her from the emergency room, Jen had been in her car on her way to a second date with the first guy in a long time who actually had potential to make her forget the man she spent too much time thinking about, but she hadn’t even hesitated before cancelling. Kelly needed her.

That’s a lot of data crammed into three paragraphs, and there’s been no action, yet. Just a girl in a party dress, sitting in a hospital waiting room.

2.      Unique perspective – ““What is one thing this book does better than any other book?”

Consider The Madmen of Benghazi, by Gérard de Villiers.

Ibrahim al-Senussi was stark naked when he stepped out of the shower, and he stopped dead at his bedroom door. Cynthia was sitting on the edge of the big bed, making a call on her cell phone. That wasn’t sexy in itself, but between the lapels of the young woman’s Chanel suit—his birthday present to her—he could see her nipples straining against the raw-silk blouse.

Cynthia’s shapely legs were bare from her upper thigh to her tawny, very high-heeled boots. The length of her skirt had once been quite proper—until she had the hem raised.

Al-Senussi felt the blood rushing to his crotch.

This does not do anything better than thousands of other books out there. In fact, it’s just plain bad writing. Who isn’t stark naked when they step out of the shower, other than drunks?

3.      Attention-Grabbing Characters

Consider the opening of Danielle Steel’s Rushing Waters, published August 30, 2016:

Ellen Wharton was pensive as she studied the clothes she had hung on a rolling rack, and the folded items she had laid out on the bed for her trip to New York. Organized, impeccable, meticulous, she was a woman who planned everything and left nothing to chance—her business, her menus, her wardrobe, her social life. She was consummately careful and precise about everything she did. It made for a smooth, order life, with few surprises, but also very little opportunity for things to go awry. She had been planning this trip to New York since June, as she did every year, to see her mother. She also went on Thanksgiving every other year, and she usually went once in spring. She intended to do some shopping for two of her clients, and she had an additional purpose to her trip this time.

Ellen ran a successful interior design business, with three assistants, a color specialist, and clients in several cities in Europe who loved her work. She created beautiful environments for them …

For decades, Danielle Steele has been on bestseller lists with title after title. She’s popular. But that opening does not portray an attention-grabbing character. She strikes me like any number of uptight business people who think they can control the universe.

This opening also breaks a rule from all the creative writing classes: “Show me, don’t tell me.” If I submitted this to an editor, I’d be told to describe how she carefully folded every item of clothing, how she entered appointments into her daytimer, how she checked her airline tickets for Thanksgiving. But Danielle Steele has enough bestsellers behind her, and enough of a fan base to write whatever she damn well wants.

But they sell

Yes, they do. The success of these books supports arguments I have been making for years:

  • The accepted tropes of creative writing classes do not translate into sales. Readers don’t care about Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. Only writers and editors do.
  • Commercial publishers do not necessarily publish quality fiction.

“But you can’t blame a commercial business for making money.”

I don’t. What I blame the commercial publishing industry for is their snobbish pretense that only they can produce quality prose. And for not pushing for better, fresher, more innovative fiction and non-fiction. And for contracting a writer to continue a dead writer’s series, instead of publishing that living writer’s original work.

Some of the Big 5’s titles are examples of great writing. The Girl on the Train is a timely example. But some of the most innovative and gripping work is published by individual, independent, self-publishing authors.

What I want you to do

Don’t settle for commercial quality. If you like good books, look down the lists for independent authors. And if you want to find some of the best, check out these two independent authors’ groups:

And tell me what you think of the books on those sites.

 

Stories from the War: Friends of my Enemy, Book 1



StoriesFromWarBy Autumn Birt

An independent book review

I was a little nervous as I read the first chapter in Stories from the War. I like Autumn Birt’s writing and I enjoyed her fantasy series, Rise of the Fifth Order. So I was intrigued by her shift from epic fantasy to dystopian military thriller with Friends of My Enemy.

Hopes high, I was a little put off by the opening of the first Story from the War, First Meeting. It’s a lunch meeting between two main characters: Arinna Prescott, a military attaché from the USA and an EU diplomat who happens to be a baron. I thought, “Oh, no. She’s trying to evoke some kind of Regency romance here, but set it in the future.”

I was also a little afraid that Stories from the War would follow the worn path of the military dystopian future, where an ex-soldier’s military training and discipline is the only thing that ensures the survival of a small group while civilization deteriorates into rival warlord territories.

But while this book starts with the U.S. under military law and Europe renews aristocratic ranks and privileges. As I read on, I felt myself drawn deeper and deeper into Autumn Birt’s universe. I really could not put it down.

Stories from the War is not a novel.

It’s a set of 11 stories about a small group of realistic characters. First are Lieutenant Arinna Prescot, who meets a diplomat, Baron Bryan Vasquez, in Spain. Their conversation, which opens the story, skillfully sets the stage of the whole series. We learn that by 2055, the United States is under military law, beset by famine and riots. Climate change has brought storms that even the Americans could not recover from. Arinna’s and her husband, Air Force Captain Michael Prescott, have been sent to Europe in order to help rebuild the diplomatic relationship between the “New States” and the united Europe.

The characters are the best element of this very strong book. Sure, some of them are pretentious blowhards, some are conceited jerks, and some are hopeless romantics. But we all know some people like that. I don’t like all the characters, but I believe in all of them.

The stories are episodes in the lives of these characters, and each episode develops their relationships. These relationships drive the plot, or rather, its exposition. We see this new war that develops and how it affects each individual.

One of the few weakness is that the “enemy” is never clearly identified.

The U.S. was destroyed by repeated storms and famine, but soon after the Prescots’ arrival in Europe, a mysterious organization called the Freedom Liberation Front strikes the U.S. and completes its destruction. The Prescots calculate their chances and join the EU, rising in NATO’s military as the FLF turns on Europe.

Throughout the book, the FLF remains distant and shadowy. It’s not until probably four-fifths of the way through the book that the POV characters come face-to-face with the enemy, and even then they’re not that close. It helps to make the enemy that much more sinister, but it is frustrating not to know what they really want.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book.

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Author Autumn Birt

The characters, particularly Arinna, who becomes known as “The Lady Grey” are strong and very well drawn. The reader sees through their eyes, feels what they feel. The descriptions are so vivid I can practically smell the smoke and feel the heft of weapons in my hands.

Congratulations to Autumn Birt on creating another vivid fictional world to explore.

4*

Get Stories from the War on

Find out more about the author

And follow her on Twitter @weifarer.

 

Independent book review: One Upon a [Stolen] Time



OnceUponAStolenTimeThe perfect haunted castle story
By Samreen Ahsan

The old adage, “Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true” is the starting point for this story. Myra Farrow is a romantic young woman from London, UK, who is obsessed with stories about medieval knights and princes. She wants to be part of history, and wishes she were a real medieval princess. Frustrated with the impossibility of that, she reads medieval English history, literature and poetry, even making it the subject of her university degree.

Her parents have indulged her to the point of visiting every old castle and manor in the UK, except for one that’s abandoned and closed: the totally fictitious Hue Castle.

Myra’s parents, who run a successful business in London, are concerned that their daughter lives more in the past than the here-and-now, so they arrange a marriage for her to Steve Bernard, scion of one of the UK’s wealthiest and most powerful families.

But Steve isn’t just the inheritor of wealth. He’s actually a successful video game entrepreneur, and while he isn’t interest in Myra romantically, he does want her to be a model for shooting scenes for his new medieval-themed video game. And as coincidence will have it, Steve has chosen the abandoned, yet lifeless Hue Castle for his setting.

Hue Castle has all the necessary elements for a very spooky setting, like prison towers, dungeons and instruments of torture. But the most dangerous thing is a shrouded mirror. When Myra looks into it, she sees scenes from six hundred years ago, the vicious cruelty that brought down a curse so extreme that nothing grows at Hue Castle — no plants, not even rats live there.

As Myra returns to look into the mirror, she’s increasingly drawn into the lives of those dead for six centuries, and gradually, she begins to hear them and finally contacts Edward, the crown prince of England in 1415. Myra wonders whether she can even enter that time, and if she does, whether she would be able to return.

Characters

Ahsan’s strength is creating believable, familiar characters, and Myra is another example. She’s a romantic, obsessed with her fantasies of kings and princes and knights, but she is far from one-sided. She dreams about being rescued by a handsome knight, but she’s not weak. She’s a complex, modern woman who likes her cell phones and clothes, and her freedom and independence.

Steve is a complex man, too, who undergoes a transformation through the book and comes to love Myra for who she is. This sets up a love triangle and another level of conflict in Myra, who is already trying to choose between the past and the present.

Perhaps the most complex, appealing character is the tortured Edward Hue, the prince and son of the cruel (fictitious) King Stefan. You really feel for this character, and I was surprised by how fully Ahsan has realized this character.

Drawbacks

The only thing I didn’t like about this story was the framing device, the overly complex way she has set up the story, with Myra being set up by her parents with Steven, who is not interested in her at first. I understand why Ahsan chose the billionaire genius guy and the smart, regular girl structure for her previous two-volume Prayer series (A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Heeded). She was showing what a love story like 50 Shades could be if handled by a writer with skill and talent. But there is no need for that here. Neither is there a need for the marriage to be arranged. Steve could have just hired Myra to be his model, and gradually fallen in love with her. It would have made the story simpler and allowed the author to get to the action quicker.

But that’s a minor point. This is a mesmerizing story that keeps you swiping your e-reader to get to the next page. It’s well worth a read.

Get it on Amazon.