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Friday, April 16, 2021

Book Review: Drained by Monique Singleton + giveaway

by Monique Singleton
March 16, 2021
Genre: Paranormal, Detective Horror
Detective Liam Grady was stumped.

Never in his long years as a New Orleans Homicide Detective had he encountered a serial killer who literally drained his victims.

The mummified shell of a once beautiful student was the first sign this case was extraordinary. Within days she was joined by a high-class call-girl and a frumpy housewife. All died in the same sadistic manner.
What did they have in common, besides their strange demise?

Things are not as they seem. The victims have dark secrets, and tales of Haitian malignant spirits offer a slim lead. But it mean Liam has to ditch everything he believes in and open his mind to a conjecture that defied logic.

As he struggles with his own demons, Liam joins forces with a pretty student and a Mysterious Vodou witch doctor to stop whatever it is that holds New Orleans in its bloody grasp.

Time is of the essence.
The bodies are piling up.
And now the monster has Liam in its sights.

**Only .99 cents!!**

Not a bad debut story for this new author. A murder turned serial murders turns supernatural serial murders! Add a little romance with a wicked turn and you have the basics.

A police detective responding to a gruesome murder becomes involved with one of the victim's roommates. (WHAT!?) OK, that was the first of the 3 plot points that bothered me. The second point was that said detective began using this roommate as a “team member” of the investigation and the 3rd point was that the roommate seemed to have a better handle of how to “connect the dots” in the case than the detectives. OK, perhaps these were “clues” and maybe I just couldn’t connect the dots....

The story seemed to wander just a tiny bit and the ending left me saying “Ewww” but it was a quick and easy read with good writing sense and a very good place from which to build.

Getting 3 “Ewwww” sheep.

Jeanie G

About the Author

Monique Singleton writes compelling stories that mix fantasy with realistic psychological suspense and unique insights into the mind of the main characters. She has always had an overactive fantasy and in 2010 Monique started to put the scenes she had running around in her head, down to paper. Scenes led to a story, the story to a book, and the first book to a series: The Primal Series was born. If you are looking for Urban Fantasy with a twist, a different kind of shifter story, a tale like no other, then this series is for you. Expect the unexpected. In addition to her writing, Monique holds down a full-time job as a business consultant. She lives in a beautiful old farmhouse in the south of Holland with her two sloppy monster dogs, some horses, and a cat.

$20 Amazon
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Cover Reveal: A Bargain of Blood & Gold by Kristin Jacques

A Bargain of Blood & Gold
by Kristin Jacques
Published by: City Owl Press
June 15th 2021
Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Romance
A novice vampire hunter with a mission. A three-hundred-year-old vampire with a strong sense of irony. A town plagued by otherworldly creatures they must save.

When Johnathan Newman arrives alone in the isolated lumber town of Cress Haven, Maine, the last thing he expects is for his life to be irrevocably changed. Sent by the Society, a clandestine league of vampire hunters, to investigate a string of murders and disappearances among the town’s young women, the grisly state of the recovered bodies most certainly points to a vampire lurking amid the townsfolk. Johnathan’s attempts to enlist the locals leads him to an unlikely partnership with the alluring Vic, the town’s most eligible, if enigmatic, bachelor.

As the pair work to solve the mystery, Vic’s own secrets come back to bite him. Revealed, the vampire fights his growing attraction to a man trained to destroy him at whatever cost. But he is not alone. Johnathan’s confusing emotions land him in the middle of forbidden desires. Forbidden not only by those who created him, but by his heart itself. Even if Vic isn’t the murderer Johnathan seeks, how can he yearn for a creature who should be his natural enemy?

With an evil presence creeping through Cress Haven and inhabiting its citizens, the two men must suffer their feelings and walk together into the unknown. As Vic leads Johnathan into encounters with terrifying beings straight from children’s stories, Johnathan learns that not only is the world far stranger than he knew, but that the Society he has trusted has far more disturbing intentions for the invading creatures than he imagined. Intentions that will place hunter and vampire at the center of a conflict between realms.

Unfortunately, Cress Haven holds far more sinister secrets than its resident vampire, a secret so great, it could unleash Hell itself.

For fans of Gail Carriger’s Supernatural Society, The Charm of Magpies series by KJ Charles, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee.

About the Author:
Kristin Jacques is an author from small town New England. She grew up in the sticks, surrounded by river wildlife and various swamp inhabitants. Somehow she managed to keep all her toes, despite a run in with a snapper or two.

She lives with her husband and sons in another small New England town. She is mighty attached to them. When not writing, she is likely reading, watching a terrific B-Horror flick, or further spoiling the family cats. Sometimes she has blue hair.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

UF Author Amy Winters-Voss: What is Nalbinding? + giveaway

Greetings! You know how you learn one textile art and it leads to many, many more? *Raises hand* Hi, my name is Amy Winters-Voss and I write urban fantasy based on Japanese mythology. I’m also a textile arts addict. Today, I’m excited to share one that is dear to me, though it’s a tad obscure—nalbinding!

What is Nalbinding?
It’s a yarn craft much older than knitting. You work with sections of yarn instead of a continuous string, due to each stitch being a knot. 
I’ve seen so many names in different languages for this craft: nadelbinden, nålbindning, needle binding, needle looping, and many more! 

What supplies do you need for Nalbinding?
Yarn and a needle. You can use anything from a cheap darning needle to a large handmade one. They commonly are made of wood, bone, antler, or acrylic. Sometimes you can find them made from odd things like old computer motherboards. 

Needle size doesn’t matter much because you rarely use the needle to determine the stitch size unless you want to make tiny stitches. Usually, people tension stitches on their thumb. 

I like to make my own needles from wood or acrylic. After purchasing a needle for a class and finding out the hard way that it was sharp enough to draw blood, my husband and I decided we could do better. There are so many shapes for the needles if you look online. After much trial and error, we settled on a basic shape, and I got to learn to use power tools! (A bandsaw, drill press, and belt sander to be exact.) Though, I haven’t had the time to sit down and make needles since I started writing my book. *sigh* Someday, I’ll be able to have some in my Etsy shop again.

What do you make?
I often use nalbinding for small projects like hats and mittens. It’s great for making round items. About five years ago, a fellow crafter started a Facebook group to encourage us to make sweaters. I had a stash of Malabrigo yarn, which made a nice gradient when I lined up the skeins, so I figured I’d try it. There were a few guides to use. But since nalbinding isn’t as well known as knitting, there aren’t a ton of patterns out there. Though, as the craft gains popularity, people are creating more and more of them. One of the big challenges is that nalbinders often tension the stitch on their thumb, and everyone’s thumb is a different size. This makes creating patterns challenging!

I ended up basing my tunic on the shape of the Icelandic yoke-style sweaters and ripping things out if it didn’t look right. Since it was my first sweater ever, I did quite a bit of trying on and ripping out as I went. 
I’ve heard people say you can’t take out stitches once they’re made. Not true. Ripping out stitches in nalbinding is a pain, though. Remember how each stitch is a knot? We undo each one of those knots. Thankfully, we don’t make the stitches tight!

Does it pair well with other crafts?
Oh yes! I like to combine nalbinding with spinning and dyeing. For the hat above, I dyed some squishy polwarth roving and spun it into a delicious yarn.

What are you working on now?
I’m slowly working on a cocoon style wrap. It’s a big tube that I’ll sew the top closed, leaving two openings for my arms. Someday, I’ll get to wear it!
Had you heard of nalbinding before my post today? If so, where did you learn about it? If not, did we intrigue you?

The Liminal Chronicles Book One
by Amy Winters-Voss
April 30, 2021
Genre: Urban fantasy and Asian mythology
Publisher: Shy Red Fox Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-7366720-0-6
ISBN: 978-1-7366720-1-3
Number of pages:312
Word Count: 97,000
Cover Artist: Odette.A.Bach
A myth come to life may be worth far more than his freedom.

Will a former gangster dare to protect the elderly woman who antagonizes him? He must choose between breaking a promise to his parole officer or the old lady. Each choice carries a hefty price.

Umeji Tatsuya moves from Tokyo to a small town after leaving the yakuza, the Japanese mob. He knows all too well that his past can't stay buried.

‘Once Yakuza, always Yakuza. The tattoos mark you for life.’

Nakamura Hisako, the town’s beloved dowager, learns about Umeji’s past and tries to oust him, but Umeji just discovered her own long-held secret. If he keeps it for her, the cost is his recently regained freedom. If he doesn’t, Nakamura might have to leave her home, and he risks angering forces he barely understands… and barely believes in.

As the mundane and Spirit Realm intertwine, so do the modern-day and the Pre-Meiji eras. Centuries-old rivalries flare up again, and the past returns in the present. Umeji’s second chance is only the first step of his journey to discover myth, social redemption, and found family.

Rise is the first book in the Liminal Chronicles series.

Chapter 1: Hiding In Plain Sight
Kneeling to stock the low shelves at TaniMart makes my knees ache. Though I’ll give no complaint. I’m lucky to have this job, even if it’s mind-numbing. Someday, I’ll have my own business. Right now? I have to save up since the feds took every yen of my savings when they threw me in the slammer.

Pain shoots through my forearm as something bounces off. Crash! Years of fight-or-flight reflex have me jumping to a defensive stance. What the…

Shattered glass and pickled plums litter the polished floor. Reflections of the overhead lights glare at me in the puddles of brine. Then the green, spicy scent of shiso hits my nose. Breathe, Umeji. It wasn’t an attack.

“Sorry, Mister!” The boy and his mom bow.

“I’ll clean it up. Please, finish your shopping.” When I reach to pick up the remaining shards, my heart sinks as the distinctive blue-black wave and red maple leaf designs of my tattoo sleeve show through the transparent wet fabric of my shirt. Despite the deafening silence, the hint of the ink that marks my past wails like a siren, warning all in my vicinity. Why the hell does our uniform have to include a white shirt?

Eyes with huge black pupils are framed by the woman’s ashen face. She hunches, tensed as if ready to run. Backing away, she wrenches her son along in a white-knuckled grip.

My hand crushes the shards in my palm as heat fills my core. Only when she’s out of sight does my head hang.

When I report the injury to Satou, my volunteer parole officer and boss, he drives me to the doctor to get stitches in my hand. He made me promise not to lie to him when he took me on as a parolee, so I fess up the cut wasn’t an accident. It was that or punch something.

I opt for the hour walk home, then he doesn’t have to waste any more time on me. So much for blending in. My attempts to ditch the Tokyo accent are probably worthless now. Satou said there are fewer than 1,300 people in Nonogawa, so everyone in town will know by tomorrow. Something in the mix of traditional and modern housing looks less friendly than it did at first. Letting the old swagger back into my step lacks the feeling of control it used to give.

My insides continue to twist as I wait for my boss to return home. Tomorrow’s gonna suck. Might as well get in a good soak to relax, instead of pacing. I’d place good money down that Satou picked this old traditional house based on the big wooden tub. When I can afford my own place, a good bath will be a priority for me, too.

It’s been years since I had daily access to one of the most relaxing aspects of Japanese culture. First, because of my jail sentence. Second, most public bathhouses ban gangsters. They say our ink threatens. The previous generations won’t forget the yakuza heydays, and sporting ink was part of the tough guy act.

Naked and settling onto the low wooden stool beside the tub, I scrub and fill the bucket at my feet to rinse off. I could use a shave. Should I ditch the mustache to fit in better? It covers the knife fight scar. So either way, I don’t fit the norm. Shit.

With a slam, I flip the small hanging mirror over. Don’t want to see the reflection that stared back. Before everyone knew I had been a mobster, could they tell I was just trying not to stick out?

Splashing water on my face rinses away the questions. Despite the chill of the tile floor on my feet, I revel in not having to hurry as I scrub and rinse. Damn, it’s good to not have the prison guards timing me anymore. My chin-length hair needs some attention, but I don’t have the cash for a trim. It was used up after the incident to pick up a dark long-sleeve T-shirt to go under my work’s white button-up. I was lucky the prison didn’t make me get a buzz cut. Most do.

Finally, I slide into the tub. A hiss escapes my mouth as the fire-heated water contacts my chilled skin. The tattooed kitsune frolicking in their traditional designs over my shoulders and back seem to enjoy the warmth, too. Soon the heat seeps into stiff muscles, and I lean on the edge, soaking it in.

Satou said the community is hard to break into. So, I’ve got to avoid sticking out any more than I already do. In a small town, once you’re known for something, it’s never forgotten. With a determination to focus on one day at a time, I sink deeper into the water.

Created with Sketch.

On my next shift, whispers and side glances greet me. The yakuza taint broadcasts its presence stronger than the stench of diarrhea. Everyone gives me a wide berth. Not even a week in town and I’m an outcast again. The only way out is hard work and humility. I will endure.

The mom returns just before my shift ends. She avoids the aisle I’m stocking, but her little boy points, announcing, “Mama! There’s the guy with the tattoos!”

Her shushing causes him to insist all the louder. Focus on the task at hand, Umeji. I force myself to look away as she lugs him out of the building.

That’s the moment Satou’s elderly aunt gives me the stink eye. Shuffling up, she waggles a crooked, accusing finger right in front of my nose, causing me to back into the shelves and knock several plastic tubes of mayo on the floor.

“Get your head out of the sand, boy. Don’t bother playing stupid. You saw that. I advised my nephew not to take in a stray like you. To make things worse, yesterday I heard you’re covered in irezumi tattoos. Nonogawa may be in the sticks, but we all know what that means here.”

I blink. Why’s she so aggressive? Aren’t little old ladies supposed to be sweet and polite?

“Well? Are you?” she presses.

While I deserve the disdain, why is this woman putting down her family in public? “Ma’am, the community respects Satou-san. I’ll do my best for his sake.”

She draws out the syllables. “You dodged.” As she crosses her arms, her sharp eyes shift to a predatory glint. “If you won’t answer, roll up your sleeve. I know yakuza ink when I see it.”

My head swivels. Satou, where are you? Make your vicious aunt heel. I don’t wanna do something stupid, because she’s really making my hackles raise. “Ma’am?”

In the mob, I was good at remembering names, because the alternative could be costly. What did my VPO say her name was? Oh yeah—Nakamura Hisako, the town’s beloved matriarch. As part of the Hiragi clan in Tokyo, I would have never let a little old lady corner me or make my palms sweat. But I’m caught flat-footed because I can’t use any of the in-your-face phrases that bubble up to get her to lay off. I haven’t done a damned thing to her. What gives?

I take a breath. No attitude. “Nakamura-sama, it’s becoming more common in the cities. People keep ‘em out of sight to avoid the stigma.”

As if I’ll tell this biddy the full truth. Later, I can scream rebellion in gokudou drawl all I want. But her outburst is the proverbial piano hanging overhead, threatening to crash down on the little hope I have in this town.

At twenty-four, I should have a high school diploma and a college degree or employment experience. This is my only chance. Suck it up, Umeji. So, I bow deep. “I apologize that my tattoos offend. If I could turn back time, I’d not have done it. How may I help you?”

Harrumphing, she turns on her heel with the grace of a ballerina. How does an old lady move that fast?

When I finish stocking, I grab my baseball-style jacket with its embroidered fox on black and gold silk and beeline it to Satou. Just my luck, his aunt beats me there. Don’t look cocky.

I wait behind her and examine my shoes. Faint reflections of fluorescent lights show on the tile floor.

“That tattooed punk is bad for business.” She points, doubtless aware of how rude she’s being. “He dares to flaunt his past wearing that rebel jacket, instead of considering this store’s reputation. I’ve heard all manner of rumors. Mark my words, Kazuo, people will stop shopping here.” Full-to-the-brim grocery bags strain her arthritic knuckles.

While Nakamura’s concern is understandable, does she care that this ‘rebel jacket’ is the only one I own? I was fortunate someone dropped it by the penitentiary after emptying my apartment. My fists clench, pulling on the stitches from yesterday’s wound. Why does this town love her, anyway?

Satou clears his throat and tilts his nose toward me. “Aunt, tattoos or not, he’s being much more polite than you. I’ve never seen you in such a state.”

Umeji, the mob taught you the tenants of bushido. The honorable way of the warrior. It’s one of the few things I can carry over from the yakuza. Give it your all. My voice almost cuts out as I ask, “Nakamura-sama, may I carry your groceries?”

She grumbles, lumbering off. Where’s the grace she had?

“Aunt Hisako is opinionated and protective of our community. But she’s almost always reasonable. Wish I knew what got her undies in a bundle.” With a raised eyebrow, Satou says, “You rendered her speechless. That’s quite the feat.”

Shoving my arms into the sleeves ruthlessly, I shrug on my coat.

“It’ll be ok, Umeji-san. FYI, I need to stay late, but you can wait in the break room.”

Most days I remain beyond my assigned hours to assist with the day’s tasks. Every dutiful employee does. But I mumble, “I’ll walk.”

“Suit yourself.”

In the parking lot, a shitzu puppy breaks loose from its owner’s grasp. The mutt charges for Nakamura as it barks its head off to warn of an intruder in its domain. Nakamura, calm as a windless day, lifts her index finger toward the potential attacker, halting it in its tracks.

The owner scoops up the stiff, silent pet and bobs. “I’m so sorry, Nakamura-san! I can’t imagine what little Taro-chan was thinking.”

“Thank you for catching him. I think he intended to bite my leg off. Didn’t you, pup?” Satou’s aunt flashes a wry smile that must have created most of the lines in her wrinkled face. It causes the other woman’s eyes to widen in horror. She bows again, scurrying off.

Unperturbed, Nakamura sets her groceries in her red Nissan sedan. But a can drops and rolls, causing her to mutter under her breath.

Here we go again! Scooping it up before it’s flattened under a moving van and jogging over, I hold it out in my hands—a peace offering. Her lips purse and she snatches the item as if my touch might poison the food inside.

Fine. If this is a war of attrition, I’ll fight it to show regret for what I’ve done.

Mid-afternoon, I’m almost to the house. Strolling through the forested farmland, sunshine and the warm, late fall day breathes life into me again. The dense, fiery landscape of reds, oranges, and yellows set off by the evergreens of bamboo, cedar and cypress has me grabbing for my cellphone. I’d seen parks like this, but not horizon to horizon beauty. Then my shoulders sag. The damn feds took my cell, too.

Compared to the compacted cityscape I’d grown up with, the open farmland leaves me exposed. Tall buildings always surrounded and protected me before I came here. A weight fills my chest. Despite being in the middle of nowhere for a week, I keep half expecting to see some tall structure around the next bend. Out of habit, I shove my hands in my pockets to fiddle with the dog-eared collection of Japanese myths. My breathing slows upon contact with the book from my father. The one connection I have left with him.

A glint of vermilion in the trees stands out even in the bright foliage beyond the rice field, so I squint against the sun to get a better look. Beckoning me, a path leads through the paddies and over the river to a torii gate.

My mob leader insisted our clan appear to be dedicated followers, though I only ran through the motions to appease him. Shoving belief into a shoebox in my mind, I labeled it as ‘Umeji’s too unclean to deal with this stuff’. That box got pretty damned full.

My stride turns to a jog as I’m greeted by the fox statues with red bibs at the top of the stairs. Pausing for a brief bow at the gate, I bound up, skipping every other step. I shouldn’t run because I’m entering a sacred area. But a tug on my heart invites me to peek at what I’ve avoided so long.

Memories flood in as I climb. When I was a child, my dad would read to me. My favorite stories were of the kitsune. Whether they were the messengers of Inari or the shape-shifting trickster spirits, they fascinated me. Mom also fed my obsession with the mythical animals by buying me a fox mask and taking me to the Ouji Inari shrine to be in the Kitsune Parade when I was ten. After that, I drew foxes on everything and devoured every myth I could find.

When my mob brothers went to get inked, dragging me along, I hoped the artist would agree to my plan. Traditional tattoo artists are picky and may refuse an idea. On top of that, they charge a fortune.

I’d printed a picture of a Meiji era photograph with a man showing off his tats—a nine-tailed fox on each shoulder with them chasing each other, one red with a flame above it and the other white with a scroll in its mouth.

My brethren teased me because kitsune aren’t the typical symbols gangsters pick. They quit when the tattooer was so intrigued he did the initial outlines of the ancient design for free.

At the summit, I follow the dirt path through the foliage to find a squat shrine building that probably never had a lick of paint. Moss covers sections of the tiled roof and footings. Yet, the steps and floor are spotless. A bell and a few crisp white paper ornaments, hanging from the rope that demarcates the spiritual space, decorate the simple place of worship, urging me to pray.

Do I want to open that jam-packed shoebox? My fingers shake. The things I’ve done. The offering coffer makes me look away. I won’t get paid for a while. No coins to throw. Nothing to offer. Coming here was a mistake.

As my fists slide into my coat pockets, there’s a crinkle—the salmon onigiri that was supposed to be my lunch. Unwrapping it releases the scent of the fish, rice, and vinegar, making my stomach growl. I’ve gone without meals before. This time it’s my choice.

With reverence, I place it at the doorway to avoid stepping inside and sullying the building. Then, after a deep bow, two claps, and ringing the bell, I pray. My throat constricts as I dare to voice my request to the kami. “Help me stay on this new path and assist others as Satou-san has me.”

Heading back down the trail, my tally of all the things that could go wrong tomorrow is interrupted by prickles forming on the back of my neck. I’m being watched? A glance behind me doesn’t reveal anyone, but someone is definitely there.

After passing under the torii, I hear a rustling. The tail of a gray fox disappears into the dense foliage. Did it enjoy my meal? My love for the creatures drives me to follow it, but I stop after my first step past the gate. Idiot. I shouldn’t follow superstitions, but years of experience taught me to trust my instincts. The animal is long gone and knows this area. I’d not seen a wild one before. Despite the unease, I hope to spot it again.

Chapter 2: Arashi (Storm)
A few days after Nakamura’s outburst in the store, a conversation carries out of the break room. “Mie-san, do you think he joined the mob because he had no other choice?” Ohno’s soft, bright voice contrasts harshly with their topic.

“Why are you obsessing? You’re smarter than getting involved with the likes of him.”

“I’m not. It just seems wrong that everyone avoids him if he’s starting over. And there’s a string—”

“You keep asking about him. So, I did my homework. Umeji’s yakuza, no doubt about it. Rumor says he had a lot of charges against him, and that he was a pimp and a drug ringleader.”

“You’re serious?”

“I don’t care how handsome or how lonely you imagine he is. I’m telling you this as a friend. Stay away from him. His type will only take advantage of your kindness.”

I take a deep breath. Zip in and grab dinner. Get out.

“I still want to know if he had no other choice.”

The concern in Ohno’s voice gives me pause. Maybe one of them won’t cut me down?

“Nah, he probably thought it was cool.”

“Maybe it was for the money?”

“Or the girls.” Venom drips from Mie’s voice.

“I just thought there was more to him. Though, I was missing two-thousand yen from my drawer yesterday.”

That makes my teeth grind. She’s out to get me fired? Everyone says Ohno is cute and sweet, but she’s just shown her true colors.

When I barge in with tough-guy mode in full force, Mie dares to glare at me and slips her brand-new phone into her pocket. “Let’s go.” She tugs on her friend’s arm.

Before I can rein in my tongue, the words spew out. “I wasn’t near you or your damned till.”

Ohno gasps and her freckled cheeks flush.

As a flash of heat seeps into my core, I swagger over to Mie, the more confident of the two. “You two enjoy talkin’ ’bout me? Right now, we set the record straight. It was the mob or go hungry!” To stress the point, I slap the wall by her head. She barely flinches. “A rich chit like you always showing off what she has wouldn’t know how it feels to miss a single meal!”

Striding past them, I snatch my dinner and out of spite plant myself at the far table. I won’t back down for the likes of them.

The girls leave me to eat in solitude, scurrying away faster than frightened mice.

Then my puffed-up chest deflates. I took pleasure from their fear, didn’t I? A monster like that isn’t who I want to be. Society needs to see remorse for what I’ve done.

Resembling the sweetest little grandma, Nakamura greets all the employees, except me. Every single day. When she sees me, her expression turns to a scowl. Today, she runs over my foot with her full cart, giving no apology and no look back. Since one doesn’t accuse a customer, I suck it up and limp the rest of the shift.

Got my first paycheck and cashed it after work. I couldn’t deposit it, since the law says I can’t have a bank account for five years. That way the government can ensure I severed my yakuza connections.

Payday should be happy, right? But the crap from earlier still gives me heartburn. Be a mercenary—do the work, get paid, and save up for your own business—in another town.

At home, Satou and I go over the day and my parole report. He doesn’t have to show me the paperwork. However, it fits with his expectation of honesty between us.

“The altercation with the cashiers had to be included. But I mentioned it calmed down. By the way, Ohno-san found the money missing from her till. Anything to add?” Satou asks.

Did she? Or did my boss cover it to stop the rumor mill? “I’ve got an idea of how to handle it better. ‘Cause the incident won’t be a onetime thing.”

“True. Well, let’s clean the outbuilding for a dojo. Then there’ll be somewhere for us both to blow off steam.”

Is he taking more flack for me than I’ve seen?

We get the floor cleared, scrubbed, and polished. Making progress toward a goal helps. But the words from the gossips still swirl in my head, leaving me on the crabby side.

After chores, I grab a flashlight and my grocery bag to sprint over to the shrine. Hitting the first step makes my tightly coiled insides start to unwind. No one else seems to come, except to tend it. Even the fallen leaves on the path remain undisturbed.

Today, the wind blew the fabric into the face of one of the fox statues. How can it guard the shrine like that? So I flip the bib down on the way by.

Upon reaching the top, my head tips back and my eyes close. I take in the icy breeze blowing through the trees and my heart lifts. This quiet, out of the way location is the one place I look forward to visiting. It’s odd because I feel at ease without the population density of the big city. People can’t judge me here.

Each offering I leave disappears by the next visit. Today’s is a tray of inarizushi—small rice cakes wrapped in fried tofu. A supposed favorite of kitsune and Inari. Is that local fox the recipient?

After ringing the bell, bowing, and clapping, I offer a silent prayer. Kami-sama, thanks for the paycheck. I almost got into a fight again. Help me control my temper because I don’t know if I can keep this up. How did my boss fit in again?

When I step back, there’s no apparent difference. Can I just stay here tonight? Idiot, you’d freeze. But staying for a little while to take in the view won’t hurt.

Looking through the trees, over the night scene with its few house lights in the distance, the moon, and a smattering of honest-to-god stars peeking through the clouds makes me gawk. Maybe that stripe from the horizon is the Milky Way? I saw so few stars in the big city that I can’t be sure. But this would be a great hill for an observatory.

Satou said this western mountainous region contains quite a few valleys where squalls can sneak up from behind the hills. As the wind strengthens, goosebumps form on my skin. Lightning eerily illuminates the shrine and trees.

Better get home. Booking it down the stairs toward home, the first snowflakes hit my face. Since when does it snow in a thunderstorm? This never happened in Tokyo.

Shouting from up the hill reverberates in the valley, kicking my fighting instincts into gear. When I spin around, a green flash forces me to shield my vision. Then more shouting pierces the air. “…you’ll pay!” is all I can make out. More strange glows and flashes create an unnatural show.

Can’t afford to be in a fight! So, I book it in the opposite direction. Another voice echoes, “…won’t harm anyone ever again!”

As I pass the torii, something whooshes overhead with a paper-like rustle then banks back up the hill. My reaction isn’t fast enough to make the thing out before it’s beyond my flashlight’s range. It’s not a glider—the wings move.

What the hell kind of bird could be big enough to carry a canine? That poor dog will probably be a meal. Please, don’t be the fox I saw last time.

Staring into the oncoming snow, I glance at where the shrine should be. Lightning hits a cypress which falls next to the building.

Then an unearthly shriek pierces the air, followed by a desperate, whimpering howl. In this storm, that animal might not survive without shelter, and the fight seems to have stopped. Maybe I can help.

Even a flashlight can be a weapon. So I grip mine tight and dash back up the stairs. The beam defines the scraped side of the shrine.

Another yelp brings my attention to a silver fox struggling to bite a glowing orb in the grass and accumulating flakes. As my breath catches, “K-kitsune,” escapes my mouth.

I stumble backward before my heel catches. Flailing, I fight to keep a hold of my flashlight as I land hard on my rear. Am I dreaming? Nope. The sharp pain in my backside means I’m gonna have a bruise or two.

Pathetic cries continue as the beast stretches for a glowing blue sphere just out of reach. The mythical creature needs its hoshi no tama—the ball that holds its magic. Upon seeing me, it tries hard to wriggle out from under the log. But its cries pitch higher and more pathetic.

My heart twinges. It doesn’t matter how dangerous the creature is, I’m its best hope. Keeping the beam of light out of the fox’s face, I crouch, holding out my shaking hands in a placating gesture.

“Let me push your tama closer, then I’ll attempt to free you. Understand?”

I’d forgotten to give it a signal—like one yip for yes, two for no. But it utters a labored, scratchy, “I understand. Though, why should I trust you, yakuza? You’ll take my tama and force me to promise you a favor.”

That’s how it often went in the legends. Not this time. “I-I have a lot to atone for. This is a start.”

Crouching, I use my light to push the sphere toward the fox’s mouth. The patterned surface of the ball gives way, kind of like a sticky rice dessert cake. With a snap, the kitsune clenches the tama in its jaws.

Now that it can’t bite me, my task is the small fallen tree. Though I’m not a weakling by any means, an attempt to lift it shows my city boy ignorance. A muffled, “Idiot,” comes from the animal.

What the… While I don’t need thanks, the kitsune sure is being a jerk. I shoot back, “More than griping at the person helping you?”


Another lightning strike gives me a glimpse of a broken branch. Now we need a fulcrum. The cement bricks!

“Kami-sama, I’ll repair the damage as soon as I can!” While I prepare the lever, I direct, “When this lifts, you crawl out.”

Wary eyes watch me as the magical being nods.

I grunt, “Yoisho!” as the bark cuts into my chilled palms.

The tree raises enough for the kitsune to paw its way forward. With its injured hip, the pathetic thing can’t run away.

Damn. I slip off my jacket. “I’ll carry you to the house, so we can shelter in warmth.” The cold penetrates my thin shirt, biting my skin with every gust of wind.

Laying my coat on the snowy ground, I slide the nine-tailed fox onto it, making a sling from the snaps and sleeves. The creature’s musk assaults my nose. But I know better than to say anything.

“When we’re safe, maybe you’ll tell me how you gained your tails. There should be a story behind each—some deed or miracle.”

No answer. Though, the move doesn’t seem to cause more damage. Cradling the kitsune in my arms, I zip home. Furious white sheets fly horizontally, only to blind us as we flee. Snow accumulates, then melts on my side facing into the wind. Cold exposure on top of everything else tonight. Shit. I can’t feel my toes.

Unable to make out any lights across the fields, I tread with care to avoid falling into the rice paddy’s frigid water. The animal growls whenever my body gives a big shiver.

Looking down into the salt and pepper furred face and yellow-orange eyes, I see it wince. “Sorry! I know it hurts.” The distraction makes me trip and I get a sharp nip in the shoulder. “Don’t be stupid Kitsune-san, I might drop you!”

By the time we arrive at the house, my shaking is violent and my steps clumsy. Under normal circumstances, I’d take care to remove my only pair of shoes. Tonight? They’re sloughed off before I hobble to the squat kotatsu warming table to set down my guest.

The heater’s not on. Satou must not be back yet. Trembling hands numbly fumble with the switch before it starts.

Gotta get these icy clothes off! I tromp upstairs for dry ones. My room is colder than the main area. So, back downstairs I go.

“Giving an old lady a show, boy?” she taunts.

Even after years of seeing the worst of humanity, her comment stops me mid-way through removing my shirt. Why is the creature watching me? Creepy.

“Who was tucked into my coat, while I froze?” My wet button-up and undershirt get tossed to the floor. Hearing a gasp behind me, I rush to slip on a dry tee. It ends up backward. I duck around the corner to finish changing.

When I return with blankets, the silver fox faces away. “Why did it have to be you?”

“Everyone else had sense enough to stay home tonight. Why were you there?”

No answer. So, I try a different tactic as I scoot under the warm kotatsu. “Kitsune-sama, do you have a name?”

Still silence. She’s in pain. “I don’t think I should give you human medication. We’ll get you to a vet in the morning.”

Extracting the poor animal from my muddy coat without hurting her takes time. Then, I drag her next to me under the blankets. Despite the kitsune’s occasional whimper, the warmth calms our shaking and lulls us both.

The light above flicks to life. “Umeji! Why the hell are you sleeping with my aunt?” Satou’s thunderous voice booms.

About the Author:
Amy is a former programmer turned author after her first trip to Japan in 2017. Now she writes Japanese myth-based urban fantasy to reconnect with the country and culture that captured her heart.

She lives in South Dakota with her supportive husband, two wonderful kids, a mellow old cat who adopted the family, and three wily and crazy ferrets.

Myth come to life may be worth far more than freedom. Will an ex-mobster protect a woman who hates him? He'll choose between breaking a promise to his parole officer or the old lady. Each choice carries a price. #Rise #LiminalChronicles releases April 30.
#LiminalChronicles #Rise #AmyWintersVoss #AsianMyth #UrbanFantasy #IndieAuthors

Tour Giveaway:
Signed Copy of Rise Paperback
Kendo themed Tenugui towel
Rise bookmark
Lucky Coin charm
Okina kitsune art Print by TeaFoxIllustrations

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Character's Court: Lisa Acerbo's characters face off + giveaway

A hush falls over the courtroom. Spectators stare. A dark-haired woman holds a baseball bat covered in blood and bits of gore. She faces off against a tall, pale man. An ax rests at the base of the table he stands behind.

“It’s about the bloodlust thing.” Jenna declares from her side of the room. Her ponytail whips as she turns her head to face Caleb. “I get it. You’re a New Racer and can’t really resist, but seriously. I love you and all, but we have to focus on my needs too.”

“I control the urge.” Caleb’s eyes spiral into dark red swirls of blood. “I hunt to find snacks that keep me satiated. Don’t forget you freely offered your wrist after I saved you from those crazy New Racers who wanted to kill you.”

“That was different. You were dying. Now it’s all about your fun.”

“It’s not. That’s the reason we’re here. I had to go hunt that other night because nothing else was available.”

Jenna puts her hand over her heart. “I need my blood to stay in this body.”

“I just asked for a sip. With the zombie apocalypse in full swing, don’t I -- I mean we -- deserve a little fun?”

“Can’t we go kayaking or something? It’s not like the zombies are going to swim to the middle of the lake to meet us.”

Caleb’s lips twitch into a smile. “Never say never.”

“I want some romance.” Her hand thumps the table. “What about a nice dinner back at the inn now that we’re finally safe?”

Judge Baaart bangs his gavel. “This isn’t couples therapy. It’s court. Let’s get back to the issue at hand.”

Jenna faces the judge. “I demand to be reimbursed for the loss of my favorite weapon. Caleb borrowed it to go hunting and forgot it in the woods after he caught a deer and sucked it dry.”

“I said I’d get you another gun.” Ignoring Judge Baaart, Caleb faces Jenna. “I love you.”

“Not enough to keep my favorite weapon safe.”

“I’d buy you a million weapons if it means you’re happy.”

“You and I both know money is worthless these days.”

“I was trying to be romantic. How about I scour some empty houses for the perfect engagement ring?”


“Anything for you.”

Jenna’s smile lights her face. “I’m good with that.”

“Case dismissed.” The judge yells. “And just in time. Those damn zombies are breaking down the door again.”

Apocalipstick (Hell in a Handbag Series Book One)
by Lisa Acerbo
March 24, 2021
Genre: Horror, Dystopian,
Romantic Fantasy, NA Romance
Publisher: DLG Publishing Partners
Number of pages: 264
Word Count: 66, 000
Life is bad after the apocalypse . . . the undead just made it worse.

“My dreams pre-pandemic included a high school graduation party before attending college and marrying an attractive future lawyer. Instead, I'm praying for a long, sharp knife and a big gun to survive the undead.” —Jenna

Jenna Martin lives in a world gone insane after a mysterious pandemic kills much of the population. Being alive after an apocalypse is bad, but it is made worse when the multitudes killed by the disease return ravenous for human flesh. Jenna, in serious trouble and pursued by undead, heads to the safest place available, a cemetery.

Ready to give up, she finds the strength to persevere for one more night and meets a group of survivors willing to take her in. The group caravans to Virginia, where they plan to inhabit an isolated inn called High Point, but the undead are always close behind. Packs of zombies, known as Streakers, attack, leaving Jenna and the other survivors battling for their lives and racing toward safety.

Once safely isolated at the inn, the group rebuilds society and Jenna begins a relationship with Caleb. Although he withstood the virus, he has not come out unscathed. He and some others now labeled the New Rave have changed into what many would call zombie kin—vampires. Jenna's falls hard and fast for Caleb, which causes more problems that she ever expected in the fledgling society. But there are worse things than vampires and zombies searching for her, and they arrive at the inn's door ready for destruction.

REMNANTS OF TOPPLED CASH REGISTERS, broken carts, card‐ board boxes, and plastic bags littered the floor.

“Paper or plastic,” Quentin kicked a white bag. It flew across the room like a specter.

Brazen vermin squealed and scurried in front of Jenna’s feet. Most of the shelves were not only empty but badly deteriorated. Still, Emma and Jackie were able to gather a few cans that had hidden in dark corners or under filth.

She stepped over a long-dried puddle. It was hard and black.

“Clean up in isle four.” Quentin’s voice rang out behind her. They wandered through the maze of aisles—skirting empty. molding containers, broken shelving, and avoiding the darkest of places. A noise caught her attention and that of the group, signaling for everyone to stop. Jackie motioned for Jenna and Quentin to fan out. Quentin gave her a thumbs-up before he prowled ahead. A broken sign dangled. The words cereal and bread still attached by thin chains.

Quentin pulled out a wallet and handed Billy a one-hundred-dollar bill. “Go crazy. Buy whatever you need.”

“Gee, thanks.” Billy took the money, but a moment later let it slip through his fingers. It sailed to the floor, landing gently.

They could be dead soon. Why had she never tried to get to know Quentin?

Everyone loved him and his off-beat sense of humor. Something she didn’t understand and shied away from. He’d been part of the group for more than two months. One of the last human survivors she and the rest of them had run across. It was their first scavenging party together.

Always friendly since day one.

Did his antics make her feel protected? She couldn’t remember how that worked.

Why had she remained aloof?

“Attention shoppers.” His hands cupped his mouth, so the words echoed in the emptiness. “Today’s specials include dented cans of long-expired veggies. Don’t forget those condiments. A bottle of ketchup can spice up any type of zombie brains.”

“We don’t eat zombie brains,” Jenna blurted.

He smiled at her. “I know.”

Exactly the reason staying quiet is best.

She studied him. He stood at least five inches taller than Jenna, and when he turned back, hoisted his bat, and winked at her, the tight, long-sleeved T-shirt highlighted muscled arms. Tousled brown hair fell into his blue eyes. She’d seen it all before, but it was as if today she took it in and etched his features in her mind.

He waved her forward and she joined him. “The town’s been quiet since you and Caleb vanquished the last batch of Streakers.” Mice, frightened of his voice, surged forward, leaping over Quentin’s steel-toed boots. “Free of the undead types and humans.”

Jenna jumped back before huffing out a breath. “Yup.”

So much for practicing those social skills.

“Looters cleaned this place out long ago.” He ran a long, straight index finger along a shelf, picking up a layer of dust mixed with animal hair. “Nothing’s here but the stench.”

“And the rodents.” Jenna pointed to the boots the vermin had just run over.

“Those too.” He held her gaze.

“We should have searched houses. You know how people stockpiled at the end.”

“Staking out each house, ensuring there are no Streakers, and then searching takes so much longer. Grocery stores are a one and done deal.”

“Does it make sense to split up?” Emma peeked around a corner.

“It will make the search go faster. I doubt we’ll find much in here.” Jackie smoothed a lock of hair behind an ear.

“Not too far apart.” Emma headed away from the group and Jenna. “We can see each other from the ends of the rows. Let’s stay in sight when possible.” “Come on.”

Emma grabbed Billy and followed Jackie. “You two take the rows at the other end of the store. We can meet in the middle. Yell if you need us.”

Quentin bumped shoulders with Jenna. “Partner.”

She ignored him. He repeated the contact. This time more forcefully.

“Stop.” The growl emerged from deep in her throat. She strode away until she found an interesting store aisle and then meandered through it; Quentin followed a few steps behind. His breath hit the back of her neck and she stopped short. “Do I need to yell over to Jackie for a rescue, or are you going to behave? I like my personal space.”

What does he mean by all the close contact?

Quentin didn’t take the prior hint and started a drumbeat on the back of her jacket.

“Stop,” she protested.

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Are you ten years old?” Posture rigid, exasperation leaked out. “We’re on a mission here.”

“I’m old enough.” Quentin’s blue eyes twinkled.

“Good to know you’re so seasoned and battle ready.”

“Look at these arms.” Muscles bulged under his shirt. “Do they look like the arms of a pre-teen? I’m ready for battle… and other things.”

“All I see are the lovely and appealing stains on your shirt.” She did a double take. “Actually, I recant my statement.”

His smile was wicked. “I knew you would.”

“They look like the arms of a small child. Someone needs to be hitting the gym a little more often.”

“Ouch.” He shoved her.

Catching her off guard, she stumbled. He reached out and drew her in. “Sorry.” His whispered word tickled her ear.

He didn’t let her go and she stood cocooned in his warmth. The heat of his body, close and warm, was confusing. It’s been such a long time since physical closeness with anyone was normal.

“There’s a pharmacy at the end of the next row we should check out.” She tried to break the spell of the moment.

“Really?” He didn’t take the hint and relinquish her. “There’s a lot going on right here I want to examine.”

“I take it back.” She wiggled out of Quentin’s grasp, then punched his arm.

“What?” His arms went limp at his side.

“You’re acting like a toddler.” She inched closer to the pharmacy, placing more distance between Quentin, the confusing emotions, and herself.

“Everyone okay?” Emma’s voice echoed from the next row.

“We’re good. At least Quentin is good. I’m suffering through his antics.” Jenna wasn’t sure what was going on or why, and she didn’t want to begin to address the sensations careening through her.

“Try your best not to judge him too harshly.” Muffled laughter filtered through the ramshackle shelving.

“I’m trying my darndest.” To be over there with the rest of them. Why am I stuck in a teen dating movie? She chalked her bewilderment and awkwardness up to the recent near-death experience with Streakers and nightmares. After some quality sleep, everything would be fine and dandy. “Come on.” Jenna tugged the arm of his T-shirt. He remained planted like a tree. “We have a job to do and not a lot of time to do it.” Jenna edged back. “Let’s get moving.”

He groaned but followed, kicking at the discarded face masks littering the floor, some flaked with dried blood. She checked the nook of a shelf on the way to the pharmacy. Vermin squeaked, scurried, then scattered.

About the Author:
Lisa Acerbo is a high school teacher and adjunct faculty at a local community college. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, daughters, two dogs, and horse. When not writing, she mountain bikes, hikes, and fosters dogs.

Tour Giveaway
1 $20 Amazon Gift Card

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Monday, April 12, 2021

YA Dystopian: Seven: The Rescue by A.A. Salter

Seven: The Rescue
by A.A. Salter
December 10, 2020
Genre: young adult, dystopian
A childhood in isolation is an awful childhood, what's worse? One in a test laboratory as a guinea pig. Thousands of years after humans left earth and relocated to a neighboring solar system this story follows the emotional and physical journey a small band of teenage brothers will take to set free the family they never knew they had. Escaping from a testing site they set in motion a journey that will use all of their brains, their brawn, and awakened powers they never knew they had.
"A. A. Salter's debut novel, Seven: The Rescue, is a fast-moving sci-fi adventure dropping the reader right in the middle of the action. You're front and center as a band of six teenaged brothers, each with unique powers and abilities, discover there's a seventh and resolve to rescue him from ruthless corporate controllers bent on exploiting his gifts. With hints of X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, Seven delivers it all with video-game-style intensity."


About the Author
A.A Salter grew up on the southeast coast of Georgia near Savannah. Growing up with five brothers and one sister proved to never contain a dull moment. Writing has always been their passion and they are excited to take you on this journey into their imagination. A journey that started many years ago.