Monday, 27 July 2015

Free today (July 27th): Phoenix Contract by Melissa Thomas

Title: Phoenix Contract
Author: Melissa Thomas
Genre: A New Adult paranormal fantasy
Published on:  June 15, 2015

Blurb:
Centuries after the fallen angels left heaven to live among humans, their Nephilim descendants dwell in secret, hidden from the modern world. Once, a charismatic leader known as the Phoenix led their people, but he vanished centuries ago. The few surviving Great Houses are in decline, bickering over petty rivalries while a handful of faithful warriors battle to keep the forces of evil at bay.
Eighteen-year-old Aiden McLachlan devotes her life to her studies and pursues her lifelong goal to become a full-fledged Watcher. But everything she knows of her life is a lie and everyone a liar. Through a strange twist of fate, she finds herself caught up in an ancient prophecy.
The stars predict the rebirth of the Nephilim leader, but the mystery must be unraveled or the Phoenix cannot rise. With a soul-eating demon, a coven of ancient vampires, and a hardheaded Celtic warrior competing to subvert the Phoenix, Aiden doesn't know where to turn or who she can trust.

Excerpt:
“I won’t help you,” Matthew said, “no matter what you do to me.”
“Oh, but I think you will,” Daniel disagreed. “Once I turn you, then you’ll be more than happy to help.” Lightning swift, the vampire lashed out and seized Matthew’s wrist, forcing the priest’s arm down.
Matthew cried out in pain as Daniel squeezed his wrist until his hand opened and the crucifix dropped to the ground.
Aiden shouted and swung her crucifix around to protect Matthew, but she was too slow. Daniel dragged Matthew away and thrust the priest toward his minions.
“Hold him,” Daniel said.
Immediately, the carrot-topped boy and the policewoman caught hold of the priest.
Aiden expected Daniel’s attack, but that didn’t prepare her for the vampire’s speed. Daniel rushed her, progressing so fast his contorted face filled her vision. She kept the crucifix level and aimed for the vampire’s eyes, but Daniel caught hold of her wrist with disturbing ease. Then he twisted her arm, causing a wrenching pain in her shoulder. Against her will, Aiden bent over to avoid having her arm torn from the socket. She lost her grip on her crucifix.
“Let her go!” Matthew shouted. “She’s done nothing.”
Daniel immobilized Aiden, ignoring her struggles. He forced her head to the side and exposed her throat. “Oh, I don’t think so. I want you to suffer, Matt,” he said. “As a self-styled Lord of the Night, I’m rather pleased with the revenge I’ve concocted. So I’m going to eat your pretty daughter and make you watch.”

All of the serial parts of Phoenix Contract (Parts 1-5) are FREE on Amazon Kindle on July 27th.


Links to individual parts:
Phoenix Contract Part One:  http://goo.gl/6XkZ5P
Phoenix Contract Part Two:  http://goo.gl/Xc0nQg
Phoenix Contract Part Three:  http://goo.gl/0aJaOC
Phoenix Contract Part Four:  http://goo.gl/S3CTf7
Phoenix Contract Part Five:  http://goo.gl/cJSxsk

Link to Boxed Set (Parts 1-5):
$2.99 on Amazon  Kindle:  http://goo.gl/nEBP8o



Author Bio and Links:
Melissa Thomas breathes life into her dreams, bringing imaginary characters and fantasy worlds into our reality. She loves her characters so much they become her alter-egos, enacting the exciting adventures she envisions for them. She is a resident of San Francisco, California and adores the picturesque city by the bay. Her hobbies include surfing and scuba diving.

Phoenix Contract is her debut novel.

You can learn more about Melissa at http://thephoenixascending.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Book Review: The Boleyn King

The Boleyn King (Boleyn Trilogy, #1)The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful piece of historical fiction following from a clever premise: what if Anne Boleyn had a son who lived? The story follows that son, William, and others of his court including his friend Dominic, and royal ward Minuette. Surrounded by the struggles of power, can the three retain their integrity and friendship?
The details of the Court are beautifully drawn, and the invented history blends seamlessly with the true past to create this compelling first instalment in a trilogy. I look forward to reading the other two books - my only annoyance was the feeling that the ending was just a little too inconclusive in order to leave the way open for the sequel.

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Thursday, 23 July 2015

Skin Deep (Flash Fiction)


This story was written in response to Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge.  The random phrase generator gave me 'pencilled collarbone' and 'Skin Deep' was the result. 

The first time I saw Lydia, I thought she had tattoos. A dragon snaked down her left arm, its tail disappearing under the sleeve of her surprisingly ladylike summer blouse. On her right forearm, a sailing ship danced over the waves, and a fairy forest grew up her calves.
“That'll be four ninety-five.” Her voice was as delicate as her wrists.
I handed over a fiver, then smiled my thanks as she returned my change. I took my tray to the nearest table and listened as the next five customers complimented the designs. She smiled at each one as if it was the first time she'd heard the comment.
The Copper Cauldron wasn't the kind of place people went back to. On the road from somewhere to nowhere in particular, it scraped by on passing trade, while the occupants of the few local offices ate their brown bag lunches on the bench outside in summer, and at their desks in winter.
I'd been enticed in one morning when I was running too late to make sandwiches on my way to the office. A week later, I was enticed back by the memory of Lydia's gentle smile.
This time, her left arm was encircled by a complex band of Celtic knotwork. A snake swallowed its tail around her neck, and a butterfly perched on the rose which grew on her right forearm.
For a moment, I let myself entertain the notion that I'd misremembered the pictures, but I knew that wasn't the case.
I took my tray to the counter, handed over the right money, and walked to what had already become 'my table.'
During the time it took me to finish eating my plate of lasagne, six people went through the till. Four of them commented on the tattoos. She smiled at each of them, and never corrected them. Maybe it didn't matter. They were just passing through.
When I finished eating, I checked my watch. I had seventeen minutes before I was due back at the office. I pulled out my pen and sketchpad, and sketched the rough forms of a dragon, a sailing ship and a fairy curled in the branches of a tree. I took my pad to the counter and showed it to Lydia. She knew exactly what I was asking.
“They're drawn with pen,” she explained. “I give art a chance to live, to be seen. It takes about a week to wash off.”
I thought about this, and she looked at me as if she, too, was thinking.
I smiled. I liked the idea of giving art a home and I was fascinated by the pictures' impermanence. Each drawing was fresh and new, like sand sculptures which you knew would be washed away by the tide.
“Would you like to draw for me?” she asked.
I wanted to say, “You're beautiful,” but my tongue locked up. I nodded. Perhaps I could draw it instead.
“On Saturday?”
I nodded again. She pushed a piece of paper into my hand.
“Come to this address. Bring a sketch of what you want to draw.”
I looked the address up on the street plan when I got home that night. It was a few streets away from the café. I left early for work the next day and detoured by Lydia's address to make sure I wouldn't get lost on Saturday. Even if I hadn't had the house number, I'd have known which was Lydia's house. Coloured butterflies fluttered up the windowpane and metal flowers crammed the terracotta pots on the balcony.
I thought about her butterflies and flowers all day at work, and that evening I began sketching Lydia's slender figure, the way I imagined it looked without the prim blouse and skirt. I filled her body with mountains and rivers and trees. Foliage twined down her arms, with bees and butterflies feeding from their nectar. Quicksilver fish flitted through the silken waves of her seas, and a hummingbird hovered in the delicate hollow of her neck.
When I arrived on Saturday and showed her the picture, she smiled.
“It's beautiful,” she said. “But you can't do that.”
I lifted her hand and traced the blue vein from her wrist up her slim, translucent arm. Once again, she knew what I was saying, without words. And she answered me without words. She closed the curtains, and in the glimmer of a dozen tea-lights, she unbuttoned her blouse and dropped it to the floor, revealing her small, perfect breasts. Then she unfastened her skirt and pulled it away to display the angry patchwork of scars criss-crossing her stomach.
“You can't make this beautiful,” she said.
I reached for the pen and showed her that I didn't need to. When I finished, each silvery scar was a branch or a vine, and the forest of her ravaged body became home to a multitude of living things. My pictures told her that, while they lasted, she was the whole world.
When I finished, she stood in front of the mirror and looked at them for a long time. Then she turned to me and drew my hand to her, and I traced the lines of the breeze along her pencilled collarbone and kissed the rose that nestled in the curve of her hip.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “For making me beautiful.”
I shook my head, denying her praise.
That was the moment I always remembered, after the tide turned, when the butterflies and the metal flowers appeared in the window of the charity shop and a plump brunette took her place at The Copper Cauldron: my sudden fierce anger at the world for letting her believe that because of her pain, she wasn't beautiful.


Monday, 20 July 2015

One Giant Leap for a Writer?

Who doesn't love a good robot story?  I wonder if anyone else remembers those yellow-jacketed Gollancz editions of Asimov's short stories?  I used to borrow piles of them from the school library along with my Chalet School and Sweet Valley High books (I was always an eclectic reader).  So when I saw the call for short stories for Darkhouse Books' anthology of science fiction stories based on the future imagined at the 1939 World's Fair, I knew I had to have a go.  The result was 'The Robot who Smoked', my homage to 'I, Robot', 'AI' and all the other robot stories that have made me think hard about what it means to be human. 


Originally I thought the anthology was coming out in June, so I've been twitching with impatience since then to see the other stories.  (Believe me, those I've read so far were worth the wait).  Editor Andrew MacRae has been a pleasure to deal with, and has finally picked the best possible launch date for our leap into a hypothetical future: the 45th anniversary of the moon landing. I'm delighted because I like to imagine that being a writer is like being an astronaut: constantly pushing new boundaries to explore places you've never been before.  

This anthology certainly takes its readers to some dramatic places.   My favourite so far is Wenda Morrone's dark, beautiful story 'The King Contest', which takes the reader to a future in which radiation poisoning is destroying humanity's ability to reproduce, leaving the King and his cloned First Minister with some difficult choices.  With a troubled teenager at its heart, this short story gives The Hunger Games a run for its money.  And that's my favourite only from the first three stories, so I can't wait to see what the rest of the book has in store.  If you're curious too, buy links are below for US and UK readers.    

Amazon.com paperback and kindle
Amazon.co.uk paperback and kindle

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Book Review: The Paper Magician

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1)The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded The Paper Magician on a whim for no better reason than that I was short on fantasy reads and liked the title. I started reading and was instantly addicted. Ceony is a wonderfully kind, funny, likeable heroine. She's feisty and independent (traits which cause her no small difficulties) yet with plenty to learn from magician Thane, to whom she is apprenticed. Being forced to be a Folder (paper magician) when she wants to be a Smelter (iron magician) is maddening, and her attempts to make the best of the situation are both endearing and humorous.

As Ceony gets to know magician Thane and becomes more involved in his life, the secrets which emerge lead to some thrilling adventures, as she quite literally explores Thane's heart. I found those scenes the least convincing of the book, but then Charlie Holmberg set herself a huge challenge with them and I still thoroughly enjoyed this very strong first novel of the trilogy. The human characters, both heroes and villains, are convincing, but the character who really captured my heart was Fennel, the animated paper dog. I want to see this book filmed - I mean, this stuff is what CGI was invented for!

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