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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Story Behind the Story: Heir to the Underworld: The New Gods of Olympus, Book 1 by JB Dennis

Like most of my generation, Disney’s animated movies played a large role in our formative years. They gave us brave heroes to admire, catchy songs to sing, witty lines to laugh at, and (at least for me) acted as our electronic babysitters. We were, for good or ill, molded by our love for Disney. In fact, it’s because of a Disney movie that you are reading this post.

Before 2002 my favorite Disney movie was Aladdin, thanks in no small part to the talents of the late Robin Williams. However, I, unfortunately, wasn't lucky enough to have that movie in my possession. So, instead of watching Aladdin on rewind, I had to settle for my second favorite movie at the time, Hercules. It was funny, clever, and dripping with personality. I consider it one of Disney’s best. I mention this because I want you to be left in no doubt that I truly do love this movie. However, DISNEY GOT IT WRONG!

A natural part of growing up is the shattering of certain childhood illusions. Storks don’t deliver babies to expectant parents, rainbows don’t lead to pots of gold, and Santa Claus doesn't deliver presents all around the world. That's Amazon's job. This simple fact of life is no less true when it comes to Disney movies. I can't exactly blame them for a more childish interpretation of Greek mythology. The myths surround Zeus and Hera alone are enough to give children nightmares for months. And yet, I still have a problem, a major sticking point of contention, if you will. My problem is Hades. 

Sure, Hades made a great villain. He was funny, fast-talking, temperamental, and sleazy. The perfect combination of traits to engage the masses of juvenile minds under the, somewhat monopolistic, sway of Disney Animation. Eventually, however, those minds grow up and they find Wikipedia. In true Greek mythology, Hades was not a villain. True, some saw him as such because of his association with the dead but every myth regarding the god of the Underworld showed him to be a gracious host, a loving husband, and a fair ruler (at least, as fair as a Greek god could be). And yet, despite the fact that Hades was one of the better gods, he is often characterized as petty, spiteful, jealous, and (in some case) evil. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of versions of Hades I’ve seen in which he is portrayed in a positive light and still have several fingers left over. Enough is enough. It’s time to put down another finger. 


Of course, my burning desire to give Hades his day is not the only thing I cover in my book. Heir to the Underworld has a diverse cast of 14 main characters across several different nationalities, sexualities, and socio-economic backgrounds. Yes, you read that right, 14. And to answer your next question, “Yes, I know I’m insane.” So, if you are interested in a character-driven story about Greek mythology, I invite you to give me a chance. Also, I got Hades right. And, if you disagree with me on that fact, then, in the vernacular of today's youth, "Fight me!"



Heir to the Underworld: The New Gods of Olympus, Book 1
by JB Dennis
January 14, 2020
242 pages
Fourteen young mortals find themselves the unexpected heirs to the powers of the ancient Greek gods. Benjamin Darke, the new god of the dead, soon discovers that being a god isn’t as easy as one might expect.








About the Author
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JB Dennis has been obsessed with Greek mythology ever since he watched Disney's Hercules.  This started a lifelong study of the various gods, goddesses, monsters, and heroes that make-up, in his opinion, the greatest series of stories ever told.  The New Gods of Olympus series is JB's way of sharing his love for the Greek mythos with a new generation.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Badass Female Characters of Big Cranky by James Pyne + giveaway

The Badass Female Characters of Big Cranky
Was it planned that way? Nope. But the women in my life have always had been strong with an edge to them. With characters like Athena, Lilith, Muerte, Calliope, Medusa, Hera, there are no shortage of female characters in Book 1 who bring their game and I wonder how much the women in my life have influenced these characters? It’s a given the Misses in my head (my Muse) has a lot of say in it but I think there’s a little of my mother and sister in some of those female characters, along with every other woman who’s left a positive mark on me.

Though the female angels are smaller, they have bite, and at times, can hang with their male counterparts and even better them. They don’t shy from speaking their mind and can protect their nest and younglings without the help of their husbands.

If I had to pick a favorite female character from Book 1, it would be Muerte. Without her spunk, the leader of the Death Angels, Gabriel, wouldn’t be the angel he becomes. Some might argue that’s a bad thing. But come on, folks, live a little. 😊 There’s Athena, a disgruntled daughter who was abandoned by Zeus as a youngling . . . she has quite the chip on her shoulder. Without giving much away, Calliope and Medusa are game changers. Hera, well we all know she can’t help herself but cause trouble. And Lilith is Lucifer’s other half, together they are a force to reckon with.


Big Cranky: Fall Into Darkness 
by James Pyne
July 15, 2019
331 pages
Genre: Dark Mythological Fantasy, Action
Forget everything you think you know about myths and legends, James Pyne’s Big Cranky connects them all in an epic web of deceitful betrayal, love, and loyalty. A capricious tale of gods, showing human quirks are not only wasted on the mortals. A tale of many deities treading lightly around a superior as the world begins.




About the Author:
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James Pyne hails from Nova Scotia, Canada, and has been a scribe for the Universe much of his life. He's a firm believer in being able to write in every genre, to make his world building and characters hopefuly come out genuine. No matter what he writes it will have some form of darkness, nothing is pure light in any worlds James creates and rumor has it, his surviving characters are plotting his demise. When it comes to his past time, much of it is spent learning the craft, but he does enjoy gardening and playfully tormenting those he loves. When he's not writing, or working his day job, he's traveling. The Andalusia region of Spain the last place that tolerated him.

Favorite authors: John Gardner (Grendel, Sunlight Dialogues). Fyodor Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov). Clive Barker (Imajica, Weaveworld, Books of Blood). Terry Pratchett (Good Omens, Bad Omens). J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings). And all the scribes who carried on the tradition of myths throughout the ages.


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Friday, March 27, 2020

Cover Reveal: Spells for the Dead (A Soulwood Novel Book 5) by Faith Hunter

Another incredibly beautiful Soulwood series cover!

Spells for the Dead (A Soulwood Novel Book 5)

by Faith Hunter
July 28, 2020
Publisher: Ace
Nell Ingram faces a dark magic with no known origin in the newest pulse-pounding paranormal procedural in the New York Times bestselling Soulwood series.

Nell is a rookie PsyLED agent, using the powers she can channel from deep within the earth to solve paranormal crimes. Together with her team, she's taken on the direst magic and the most twisted foes. But she'll need to tap into every ounce of power she has for her newest case.

Nell is called to the Tennessee mansion of a country music star and finds a disturbing scene—dead bodies rapidly decaying before everyone's eyes. The witch on her team, T. Laine, has never seen magic that can steal life forces like this. PsyLED needs to find this lethal killer fast. But when a paranormal-hating FBI agent tries to derail the investigation, and the dark magics begin to spiral out of control, they find themselves under attack from all sides.



About the Author:
Gwen Hunter
New York Times and USAToday bestselling fantasy author Faith Hunter was born in Louisiana and raised all over the south. Altogether she has 40+ books in print under the names Gary Hunter, Gwen Hunter, and Faith Hunter. As Faith, she writes two contemporary Urban Fantasy series: the Jane Yellowrock series, featuring a Cherokee skinwalker who hunts rogue vampires, and the Soulwood series, featuring earth magic user Nell Ingram. Her Rogue Mage novels are a dark, post-apocalyptic, fantasy series featuring Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage. The role playing game based on the series, is ROGUE MAGE, RPG.

Character Muse-ings: Author Alicia Anthony talks with her muse + giveaway

Hi, everyone! Thanks so much for having me on I Smell Sheep. I am honored to be here celebrating the release of INHERENT LIES, the second installment of the Blood Secrets series. This book begins across the pond, in Ireland, so I’d intended to give you and your readers a little insight into the inspiration behind it, but let’s just say my muse had other ideas. Call it pandemic paranoia or quarantine crazy, but every time I sat down to pen this post, the hero of the Blood Secrets Trilogy, Ridge McCaffrey, kept butting in, so I finally gave in and let him take the lead. Hope you don’t mind this little snapshot into of one of our recent creative differences. 😉

***

Ridge McCaffrey stepped into my office as I typed. His body filled the doorway behind me in what had become a familiar routine. He leaned over my shoulder and the scent of him wrapped around me. Freshly showered with a hint of musk, he tapped a finger on the computer screen.

“Look at this. You’re making me look like an arrogant ass. I would never say that to Liv. If you keep this up the readers are going to hate me.”

“They won’t hate you,” I soothed. “You have to trust me, remember? I know where this is going.”

I watched in the reflection of my computer monitor as Ridge crossed well-toned arms over his white t-shirt, pulling himself up to his full 6’2”.

“You’re asking a lot of me, Anthony. Trust isn’t exactly my forte, remember? Do I need to remind you that the word ‘irredeemable’ has been tossed around in the same sentence as my name?”

I laughed and turned from my computer screen. “You are hardly ‘irredeemable,’ Ridge.” I drug my gaze over the ex-agent who’d selected me to chronicle his life. “Besides, you picked me, remember? Not the other way around. Writers don’t get to pick their muses.”

“Muse.” He chuckled, the dimple in his right cheek making a welcome appearance. “Is that all I am to you?”

He raised his hands in surrender, his cerulean eyes piercing my resolve. His shirt stretched over the muscles in his chest and breath caught in my lungs, a flush of heat surging to my cheeks. He was right. It was no wonder Liv had fallen so hard, so fast. And her instincts were right. There was definitely more to Ridge McCaffrey than met the eye. I cleared my throat and turned back to the computer screen, tamping down the flicker of excitement in my core.

“What would you have me do? Write you a boring little storyline? Let you ride off into the sunset with Liv without so much as a quarrel?”

“Wouldn’t be all bad, would it?” he asked, the baritone of his voice sinking through me, stoking the fire that I’d handed off to Liv, my fingers flying over the keyboard.

“You have to work at it, Ridge.” I sensed him move closer, his hand on the back of my chair as I typed. “You have to deserve it,” I said, breathing him in.

“So what are you going to make me do in this book? Reject her? Abandon her? Throw her to the wolves?”
I shrugged. A smile playing at the corners of my lips as I tipped the screen in his direction. He bent over me, eyes widening as they skimmed the newly penned scene. Ridge exhaled a curse.

“See,” I said. “She’s proven herself, Ridge. It’s your turn to suffer.”
😈

***

Inherent Truth (Blood Secrets Book 1) by Alicia Anthony
January 14, 2020
358 pages
A woman with buried secrets...
An agent with an impossible mission...
An inheritance that will destroy them both...

When Liv Sullivan’s grandmother beckons for help from beyond the grave, the reluctant psychic returns to her small Ohio hometown. Scrambling to make sense of the clues left by the vision, Liv finds herself face to face with undercover agent, Ridge McCaffrey.

Assigned to protect a woman whose gifts unnerve him, for a covert psychic intelligence operation he doesn't understand, Ridge struggles to place duty over desire. But when a gruesome discovery is unearthed at Sullivan Farm, the truth becomes clear...

Some family secrets are best left buried.

Inherent Truth is the first book in the gripping new Blood Secrets psychological thriller series about the cost of truth and the price we pay for love. If you like pulse-pounding page-turners laced with a touch of romance, and shocking twists that will leave you dying for the sequel, Alicia Anthony’s thrilling debut is for you.

Books 1 and 2 of the Blood Secrets series are available at all major online retailers.
Book 3, Inherent Fate, is coming soon.

About the Author:
Alicia Anthony’s first novels were illegible scribbles on the back of her truck-driver father’s logbook trip tickets. Having graduated from scribbles to laptop, she now pens novels of romantic and psychological suspense in the quiet of the wee morning hours. A full-time elementary school Literacy Specialist, Alicia hopes to pass on her passion for books and writing to the students she teaches. Her works of fiction have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Golden Heart®, Claymore, and Daphne DuMaurier Award for Mystery/Suspense. Alicia’s most recent release, Inherent Lies, was a Golden Heart® Finalist and Silver Quill Award winner. Alicia finds her inspiration in exploring the dark, dusty corners of the human experience.


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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reaper Unexpected (Deadside Reapers #1) by Debbie Cassidy + giveaway



by Debbie Cassidy
March 26th 2020
Genres: New Adult, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Your dead are our business.

Got a loved one who’s passed? Want to ask your dead aunt where she hid that elusive will? Head over to Necro city and look no further than Soul Savers Inc.

One day the world was normal, and the next, it was filled with ghosts. And then the reapers came. Blood-sucking hot dudes with wings and wicked scythes. They took control, and now we have a system.

Now we have Necro city, the hub of all things untethered.

As a soul relocation agent, it’s my job to rehouse the dead until the reapers come to collect, but with so few of those dudes about, the wait isn’t pretty. Thank goodness for decent coffee, frosted donuts, and a pending promotion.

Things are looking good until they’re not.

One bar fight and a dead reaper later, I’m left holding the scythe.

Not just any scythe, but a scythe belonging to one of Lilith’s four favored sons—the most powerful reapers in the world.

For some reason, it’s chosen me.

Now, three very large, very pissed off reapers are on my case.

It looks like that promotion is going to have to wait.

A kickass Urban fantasy with a why choose romance. Vampires, ghosts, angels, and demons. Perfect for readers who enjoy forbidden romance, enemies to lovers, or friends to lovers.




About the Author:
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Debbie Cassidy lives in England, Bedfordshire, with her three kids and very supportive husband. Coffee and chocolate biscuits are her writing fuels of choice, and she is still working on getting that perfect tower of solitude built in her back garden. Obsessed with building new worlds and reading about them, she spends her spare time daydreaming and conversing with the characters in her head - in a totally non psychotic way of course. She writes Urban Fantasy, Fantasy and Reverse Harem Fantasy. All her books contain plenty of action, romance and twisty plots.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Cover Grabby-hands Syndrome: Fury Unleashed (Forgotten Brotherhood Book 1) by N.J. Walters

Sometimes you run into a cover or series of covers that make you stop, bow down to the awesome, and maybe drool and develop grabby-hands.

Today, I give you
 Fury Unleashed (Forgotten Brotherhood Book 1)  by N.J. Walters


This cover screams big Sheep energy! It's the superhero landing pose... RAWR. I love the stormy background and color palette.  Shiny, half-naked, muscular tattooed dude might be a cheesy PNR cliche but I don't care! I want to grab his sword (you know, to hand it to him).

They have earned my Grabby-hands stamp of approval
by N.J. Walters
March 23, 2020
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Sold by: Macmillan
Maccus Fury, a fallen angel, is trying hard to keep his sanity. Seems being an assassin might be catching up with him. Now, Heaven, or Hell, has sent a beautiful assassin to kill him. Lovely. She’s pretending to seduce him, and he’s okay with that. She’s smart and snarky—but she has no idea what she’s walked into. And he’s more than peeved that they only sent one person. They’re going to need an army if they want him dead.

Morrigan Quill is one of Hell’s bounty hunters. She sold her soul to keep her sister safe, and now she’s working off her contract by catching bad guys and dragging them back to hell. When Lucifer makes her a new offer––that’s definitely too good to be true—she can’t say no. All she has to do is kill a powerful and crazy-hot fallen angel, who will totally kick her ass in battle.

Good thing he won’t see what’s coming next.

About the Author:
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N.J. Walters quit her job at the bookstore, sold everything she owned, leave her hometown, and write romance novels in a place where no one knew her. And she did. Two years later, she went back to the bookstore and her hometown and settled in for another seven years.

One day she gave notice at her job on a Friday morning. On Sunday afternoon, she received a tentative acceptance for her first romance novel and life would never be the same.

N.J. Walters is a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author who has always been a voracious reader, and now she spends her days writing novels of her own. Vampires, werewolves, dragons, time-travelers, seductive handymen, and next-door neighbors with smoldering good looks--all vie for her attention. It's a tough life, but someone's got to live it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

This Time (Nadira Holden, Demon Hunter Book 1) by Azaaa Davis + giveaway



This Time: A New Adult Urban Fantasy Novel (Nadira Holden, Demon Hunter Book 1)
by Azaaa Davis
October 1, 2018
250 pages
Resurrected into present-day New York, Nadira Holden is asked to save the world ... again. She achieved legendary status when she gave her life to protect humans from demons. To her, it was yesterday. To the rest of the world, it was twenty years ago. Understandably, Nadira is adrift.
People have made peace with demons, worshipping them like celebrities. No one wants to believe that the beautiful creatures who brought magic to mankind could be causing the disappearance of so many people. Nadira wonders if this unfamiliar world is worth saving. Then her father goes missing, and she refuses to play nice. Gloves off. She has to do what she does best. Fight.

Nadira Holden, Demon Hunter is a new adult urban fantasy series from fantasy author Azaaa Davis that combines monster-slaying action, family drama, and simmering romance. If you like Vampire Hunter Anita Blake and Buffy The Vampire Slayer then buy This Time today!

Well, well...unsure about picking this book for review I went into the read with little enthusiasm. I didn’t know the author and knew it was the first book she published. I was prepared for things like erratic storylines, dragging descriptions or plots that have been used over and over so much that I could predict the chapters.

That’ll teach me! Never judge a book by its cover! Or at least not by your preconceived ideas!

I was intrigued by the first chapter. Buried alive...digging your way out...met by a demon, blacking out and reviving to find you have vanquished said demon. There’s a story in here somewhere and there was. Nadira, Child of Orion warrior has a great story to tell. Thinking the burial might have been a prank or revenge from the demon world, imaging how surprised she was to find that 17 years had passed while she was in that casket.

I will admit that about Chapter 8 I became somewhat disappointed in the turn of events when Nadia walked into the ocean feeling sorry for herself. Re-emerging as another entity almost made me say...”Really?!”. But I kept reading and thoroughly enjoyed the author’s plans for these characters.

From that point on I read through to the end. There was the right amount of danger, heartbreak, romance, and friendships to know this author has a great handle on good storytelling. This is the first book and it left me anxious to read the next installment of Nadira Holden, Demon Hunter! Really great start to what I see as a successful writing career!

Getting 4.25 “soul bound” sheep!



Jeanie G
 
Chapter One
NADIRA WOKE UP ENCOMPASSED IN EMPTINESS. It was as if she were in a void with no light or sound to give her a clue about her location. The air was musty, and her throat was scratchy. Nadira coughed.

“Hello?” she croaked, triggering more dry coughing. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Hey! Can anyone hear me?”

Nadira felt a solid surface along her back and behind her head and legs. She understood she was lying somewhere. Nadira tried to touch her surroundings and could barely move her arms before they hit the cushioned ceiling mere inches above her. As she continued to move, her elbows hit the cushioned sides, and her knees hit the ceiling. Feeling surrounded, Nadira realized she was in an enclosed space. Taking a deep breath, she tasted stale air. Some kind of crawlspace or trunk was her best guess.

After a long night of sleep, Nadira expected to feel ready to tackle another day. Summer was the peak of training season, and Nadira was looking forward to a few weeks of scrimmages that would allow her hunters to show off and make her look good as team leader. Instead of feeling refreshed, her body was sore, her head ached, and her stomach was empty. She felt a weakness and discomfort that only happened when she mistakenly slept for far too long. But, what am I doing here?

She tried to keep her breathing even and decided to feel around with her hands for a doorknob or latch. Behind the cushion that surrounded her on all sides, she felt a more solid barrier, like wood. Was someone playing a cruel trick on her? Nadira’s racing mind landed on Melissa—the girl that hated her success in class and on the training mat. Nadira usually ignored her, and all the other annoying cohorts. But, that didn’t stop them from whispering about her and occasionally playing pranks.

“Let me out!” she screamed with all her might. The sound was hoarse, almost a growl. Nadira hit the wooden ceiling as hard as she could. No response. No one ran away in fear or came closer to open this padded, wooden cage. Her breathing was no longer controlled. She practically hissed, her breathing was so rapid and shallow. Breathe deep, Nadira commanded.

This couldn’t be Melissa’s doing. It wasn’t her style. Besides, Melissa was preoccupied lately with Devon, her new boyfriend. One of Melissa’s flaws was that she couldn’t multitask, especial when a guy was involved. After ruling Melissa out, Nadira asked herself if this was a training exercise. Countless times, Nadira and her team experienced grueling trails designed to test a hunter’s lethal effectiveness against monsters. But, she was far beyond her student days of trick interrogations and unexplained battle simulations. At the very least, there would have been some whisper about her team getting tested. Nadira concluded that this couldn’t be a training exercise either.

Her shallow breathing was the only sound she could hear. It caused the air to become hot. Her heart raced again as she considered the awful possibility that an enemy captured her overnight. Although she should, she didn’t remember going to bed last night. Actually, she didn’t remember anything . . . Nadira’s hands started to shake. Cold sweat made the fabric of her nightgown stick. She felt like a disgusting mess. She was never a mess. She was strong and focused. She was a warrior.

Think, Nadira commanded herself. Someone has you trapped in a cold, dark place. For a second, she considered staying put and waiting for a rescue. That second passed quickly. Nadira preferred to rescue herself. She also considered preparing for the next time her enemy came to check in on her. Once, she escaped from a car trunk by fighting her way out when the vehicle stopped. The trick was to listen for your moment, and time it just right. Yet, somehow, she didn’t think she had enough air to wait around for anything other than death.

She was not afraid to die, no demon hunter was, but she wasn’t ready either. It was simply not her time. With that thought, Nadira ripped and tore at the ceiling of her confinement. Self-discipline and skill helped, but her genetic makeup—unique to Children of Orion—gave her the brute strength needed to destroy her cell. Silky cushy fabric gave way to wood. Wood chips, chunks, and splinters finally gave way to solid dirt.

She was panting, already exhausted. She wasn’t sure how many minutes went by, but the solid dirt indicated that she still had a long way to go. She couldn’t see her hands in front of her, but she could feel the cuts and bruises she was inflicting on herself in her effort to escape. Nadira’s hands were bloody and cramping from the repeated motion. She kept digging. Ignoring pain and discomfort was something that all demon hunters were taught. I can do this.

She took a moment to pull her nightgown over her face as a makeshift mask. With her eyes closed, she kept at it. As the hole got bigger, more dirt slid into the box she was in. The weight of the loose soil on her face, chest and upper body was suffocating in its heaviness. She was at the point of no return now that the last of her air was escaping. Yet, Nadira didn’t give in to panic. Focused, she kept digging and pulling herself upward while breathing as best she could with her face covered.

Nadira lost track of time—not that she knew what time it was when she woke up in this nightmare. Her mind was buzzing with a single thought. Survive. Nadira chanted to herself in an endless loop. She got sloppy with her arm movements, with her pulling and wiggling. However long she’d been clawing her way to freedom was too long. She paused, taking a few more shallow breaths through the cloth that was acting as a mask. She wanted to stop, to regain her strength, but she ignored her fatigue. Reaching up yet again, she pulled more dirt down. This time she felt nothing around her fingertips. Finally, there was space!

With renewed determination, Nadira pried and hoisted herself up, kicking her legs as if she was swimming through the soil. Her hands first, then forearms. Next, her head, and lastly her shoulders escaped imprisonment. Immediately, she ripped her nightgown away from her face and took deep breaths of the fresh, crisp air. With a bit of tugging and wiggling, Nadira’s waist, then her hips, her legs, and lastly her feet became unburied. She collapsed next to the hole she crawled out of and looked at the night sky. In the cool wind, fallen leaves rustled gently all around Nadira. She was panting and filthy, covered in dirt from head to toe. But, she was free.

Only when her breathing was back to normal did she move. Sitting up, she was reintroduced to her headache. It forced her to move at an even slower pace. She noticed her hands first. They were a bloody mess. Great. She won’t be holding a weapon anytime soon. The second thing she noticed was the long, soft pink dress she was wearing. It was far from the sports bras and shorts she normally wore to bed. She was filthy, homeless looking, but all in one piece and healthy enough. No time to wonder who changed her clothes, or who bothered to style her dreadlocks—formed by constantly twisting her naturally curly hair until the thick twists became permanent—with white ribbons.

Looking around, she saw that she was in a cemetery. Her sigh of relief was shushed by the wind carrying the sound away. Nadira felt safe for now, knowing she was free and unguarded. Of all the awful ways to kill an enemy, why this horrible yet passive method? To bury someone alive was a sadistic, cowardly and lacking in honor. Only one answer came to mind.

“Demons,” she growled.

Copyright © 2018 Azaaa Davis

About the Author:
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Azaaa Davis is an American author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels.

She fell in love with reading as a high school freshman and continues to read, write, and draw today. Her background in social work helps her portray realistic characters in otherworldly–and sometimes terrifying–situations. A New York native, Azaaa currently lives in New Hampshire (USA) with her husband and daughters.

She debuted with This Time, A Nadira Holden Novel, in 2018 about demon hunters, family ties and the magic of love. Azaaa is working diligently to finish writing more fantasy novels while raising her daughters. Thank you for showing an interest in her stories!





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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Out of the Blue (Black and Blues Book One) by Stephanie Rose Bird + Giveaway

Out of the Blue is a young-adult, coming-of-age novel that seamlessly bridges elements of African American folklore and spirituality with Greek mythology.


Out of the Blue (Black and Blues Book One)
by Stephanie Rose Bird 
March 22, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
ASIN: B084SNJ8K2
Word Count: 58,500 words
Cover Artist: Najla Qamber Designs and Qamber Kids
When two worlds collide, only one girl can unravel the mythical threads and save her father’s life.

Mobile, Alabama, 1947

Bobby “The Shrimp Man” Daniels, a blues singer and shrimper from Mobile, lies unconscious in a hospital bed, suffering from a mysterious illness. His daughter Tina, a sheltered sixteen-year-old, torn between her love for her father, and her disappointment in his relationship with Kyane, his much younger mistress, is determined to heal her father, no matter the cost.

Kyane isn’t just a mistress, she’s a Siren, obsessed with her overwhelming desire to become human and merge her otherworldly singing voice with Bobby’s incredible music. She’ll do anything to get what she wants, annihilating anything, and anyone who stands in her way.

In order to save her father, Tina will have to travel to the Kyane’s world, a world of strange and magical creatures, and figure out how to wrestle his soul from the Siren’s control. As Tina’s magical journey twists and turns, she’ll learn what it means to be a woman and what it means to save not only her father, but herself.

Out of the Blue is a young-adult, coming-of-age novel that seamlessly bridges elements of African American folklore and spirituality and Greek mythology.


Chapter 5 Aello and the Harpies
Walking along, well, hobbling really, the Sirens are in their own little world. Traipsing down the fragrant and colorful path, they leave me alone. I watch them head into the woods down a narrowing path, flanked by wildflowers of every description. They begin to chatter away, with great excitement. The trio busy themselves, going back and forth about who knows what about whom. At least a couple of minutes pass by this way. The scent and delicate beauty of the woods is enchanting, and their words weave in and out of the powerful perfume kicked up by swaying leaves and blooms.

I’m at a loss. There ain’t no way I can understand what they’re saying anyhow because it’s in a foreign tongue. What I can tell is that one of them said just a few words and her voice goes to a higher pitch as she ends.

She’s asking a question.

The others disagree or have their own ideas. . . and so it goes.

Before I tire from trying to make out what they’re saying, my mind circles back to the odd but real situation where I find myself. I’ve left my Daddy alone to fend for himself. What of Rudy and Ruby? I didn’t know when or how I’d get back to them.

As much as I hate what Daddy gone and did, running off, with that woman-child-bird thing, who I now know isn’t even human, but a Siren, I’m kind of doing the same thing. Instead of being with one of them, I’m with three.

There’s something about these Sirens. They make me feel ill-at ease. Mama wouldn’t like me being with them. No, not at all. These creatures are certainly not of this earth. Never, and I do mean that have I felt such a longing and desire to hear singing. Not even at church with the best of the choir singers.

The trio’s songs, they touch me way down deep in my soul. Daddy’s songs do that too but he is at a disadvantage, for with him there is only one voice, as deep and mellow as it is. Now, with these creatures, they have themselves and then something else, too, from far beyond my reach or understanding. Just as their cloaks left me wondering what’s beneath, the meaning of their haunting songs is also a complete mystery.

Like a paper airplane, their voices appear, seemingly out of nowhere and pierce straight through my thoughts, precise as an arrow. Soul-soothing sounds—the ones I’ve begun to crave with everything I am—returned. The trio begin singing, hitting impossibly high notes that set my heart a pumping, then lows that stir the darkest depths of my soul. They hit harmonies I could’ve only imagined possible before this afternoon. They could do this whenever and from whatever distance they chose.

For once in my life, I am complete. Full and satisfied, my heart is jam-packed with a tremendous, inexplicable joy. Before today, I wouldn’t have thought any of this could be possible. I begin to shutter and shake behind them. After all, the only way I knew of to show true joy was to get happy. I’d gone into this place of ecstasy a few other times at our church, following the elder’s ways of rhythmically jumping forward and backwards until you land in a kind of bliss. It isn’t just the elders, Mama does it and quite regularly, too.

But this is different.

I don’t realize it until it’s too late. My shuffles, back and forth and back again create a distance between us. You could call it a gap.

In that happy state I’ve worked myself up and into, my eyes are barely open. Intruding into my new reality comes a sharp and insistent wind. I feel it, and see it. It picks up the cloak and shawls that the Sirens wear, probably to cover whatever it is that they walk on, causing them to hobble so.

Coming back into myself, the desire to see what’s beneath those cloaks remains strong. It could prove to be a key to understanding what these things are and what the Siren, who has entranced Daddy so, is made of. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the same flesh and blood and bone as the rest of us.

I’ve been straining so hard to see, I never even notice the wind has picked up even more steam. The sky darkens, turning nearly to the black of night, though it was been bright and sunny just a few moments ago. Now it’s as though I’m back home in Alabama, taken by surprise by a violent spring storm, maybe even one of our dreaded hurricanes.

A storm must be blowing in, off the sea.

A very large shadow lingers overhead. I look up and get the shock of my life. Without warning, a most painful scratch gouges my upper back. I can hear whatever did it tearing straight through my blouse. Afterwards a sharp, stabbing pain, spreads all the way down to my behind.

The only thing I can compare it to is a fish being gutted.

How much more am I supposed to take?

Heart pounding, and running as fast as possible, I pump my legs, trying to catch up to the trio. Instead of narrowing, the gap between us has grown to an impossible length. The Siren’s haunting song vanishes completely. My back is wet with sticky blood and sweat, causing my stiff cotton blouse to stick to it, bringing about more irritation. My mind is usually filled up with day-to-day concerns, but I got to tell you, fear was sweeping over me just like the cruel, swiftly moving northern wind. Sweating and bleeding, panic takes over.

Looking up again, I can see more clearly. It ain’t just fear overtaking me. It’s a gigantic beast—part woman, from all appearances and part beast—looking much like a vulture but larger. This odd creature seems to enjoy toying with me by swooping in ever closer. Apparently, this monster has scratched me pretty hard but looking at it, I imagine it can get much worse.

She is the storm.

The odor coming from it, gets caught up in fierce winds. Rotten eggs, the foulest of chicken, left too long in the icebox? I get the dry heaves and then retch.

I bend over from the waist. Its smell nearly knocks me over.

What would win out, fear or the great stench?

This is not the time or place for such thinking, Tina. You have to pull yourself from getting happy, and run like you never have before.

Why doesn’t the trio look back? Is this beast working with them? Through them?

What’s happening?

Another blast of foul air that smells like a trash heap, sweltering under the hot southern sun, assaults my nose. A hair-raising wind forces the foulness deeper into my lungs until I can taste the stench in the back of my throat. It picks up force, nearly lifting me up off the ground. That’s when the nasty-smelling beast swoops in. I run as fast as my legs can go, ducking and dodging all the while. In the end, it catches me. The thing grabs me up and into the air by the scruff of my neck.

Like a kitten in its mother’s mouth, I dangle in mid-air. Maybe it’s more akin to being wet clothing flapping about on a taught clothesline because I’m out of control with fear. My mind is getting fuzzy. I realized that, rather than having images flood into my confused mind, I must come to grips with being clutched up in the air by a huge pair of talons. The reality rests with me traveling along with an unfamiliar beast, kicking and screaming all the while. Thank God, after a short distance it comes close to the earth and drops me. I doubt my feeble attempts at getting free have anything to do with it. Lying on the ground I make the mistake of halfway looking up, gazing upon the beast in an attempt to figure it out.

Please Lord, don’t let it see me looking and decide to catch me up, once more.

My nose already tells me a-plenty. The beast stinks worse than any outhouse in town and I’m not talking an outhouse where the people put lime on it properly, if you know what I mean. If not, let’s just say, it has about it the most horrible smell you can think of. It reminds me of the time my favorite rabbit, Henry died. I didn’t have the heart to bury him. I waited weeks. Oh how

Henry wreaked as bugs crawled in and out of him. Finally, I took him to the seaside on a small gardening shovel. I released him into what I imagined to be eagerly waiting waters. This smell of the beast, it too has the horrible smell of death I experienced with my beloved Henry.

Whatever the thing is, a terrible wind either escapes from the beast or carries it around.

The wind and beast travel as one. The strange island of Athemoessa is sho’ nuff a mystery. Seems like the wind must’ve been an important part of this beast. Along with the wind comes its odor.

Farts from the heavens.

It’s all I can do to keep from retching up whatever’s still left in my belly. I told you about the sunny sky I encountered when I first arrived on the shore, once leaving the cave. In a short time that same kind of sky goes grey and then black, as I tilt my chin up. That’s because the monster is enormous, its body is much taller than mine. With its wings flapping about, it’s even larger than I could’ve imagined.

It wasn’t pleasant looking like the trio of sirens but it did bear a strange sort of resemblance to them.

What kind of world have I landed upon?

Are beasts allowed to mate with humans on Athemoessa? Is that how these bird-women, called Sirens, were made?

The creature is partly an old woman, with the lower part being an extremely large, powerful bird—probably five feet tall and ten feet wide from one wing tip to another. I can’t even imagined it back in the real world. It’s too outrageous, too absurd. This thing was bulky, smelly, and bald, save for a wispy ring of feathery grey hairs—not a dainty sort of graceful bird, light on its feet, like my rescuers. When I look closer, I feel another bubble of fear rise up in the back of my throat.

The creature’s talons sprouted from human feet.

It’s clear. I’ve met my match. More than my match.

Already tired to the bone and breathless from the unplanned journey here, there are yet more to come. Weary from the shocks I’ve been presented with in the strange new world, I fear I have nothing left to fight with, plus, I’m losing blood.

Wrestling in my mind with all the things that could, would or should be, I don’t even notice that the trio has completely vanished, as though in some magic act at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus—a poof and then off they go into thin air. All that’s left of them is the faint echo of their thrilling song, so faint, it well could be a figment of my feeble imagination, or a whisper between cousins under the covers at night. Still, just that little bit of it, makes my heart soar.

Did they ever really exist?

I must believe in them, for to believe is to stay sane, and you have to stay sane so that you can get back to Daddy, and Mama, and those bothersome twins.

Oh. Good. Lord. Did the Sirens rescue me from the sea so that they could use me as feed for this beast? Maybe that’s how they keep it away from their kind. I bet they thrive on bringing human offerings to soothe the hideous, smelly, winged-woman beast.

Despite the heat, I shivered.

While I’m busy letting my thoughts run all over the place, it just swoops in, headed down towards me, all over again. I come upon a thick log, with that and the sheer force of the wind it travels with, to say nothing of the wretched smell, I crash down hard on my left side. The force of the fall might possibly have broken my arm, or even worse, my ribs. While I didn’t hear a snap or crunch, the pain comes from somewhere out of this world. I could’ve peed myself, right then and there. I want to scream but the idea that screaming would attract more of these blood thirsty demons, wins over.

The overwhelming fear mixes in with the worse pain I’ve experienced in my fifteen years, and it overtakes me. My arm throbs and doesn’t want to move, no matter how many times I try to make it act right.

I’m totally alone, and terrified.

This beast is more frightening than anything I’ve ever seen—even my first time seeing the Siren materialize from out of a live oak.

No, that image can’t even compare.

The Siren is frightening in her way and even seems to bear a feeling of ill-will. Still, she didn’t harm my body. When I left her, I remained whole, though I got to traveling through space and time, ending up in this here strange place.

This here beast tells a full story just by how it travels about and smells. Like the trio, the Siren that is probably kin to them, and the Mermaid that brought me to this ghastly island, this beast doesn’t come from the world I know. In fact, I’ve got to say it must have come straight out of the bowels of hell.

Swap!

Slash!

It hits me again full force, while my mind meanders. I try to corral my thoughts, but I’m bone-tired and so very, very afraid. This time it grazes my flesh with its razor-sharp beak. With hands flailing about, I try to fight it off or at the very least, shield myself from its pecks. Its beak is like a gigantic pair of scissors. I have to overcome my fears and get away from it or sho’ ‘nuff, I will meet up with death. No one will know where I’ve been. Having abandoned my family in their time of need, I’ll be a disgrace. My name will never be uttered, only whispered in shame.

This truly saddens me.

Daddy might not be perfect, but he’s mine, and I don’t ever want to be a disappointment to him.

Rather than continuing to flail about aimlessly, I pull myself from the ground, paying no mind to the blood droplets moving down my back or dripping down my chest, from my busted- up lip. Crawling to the side of the path, I find me a hefty bit of wood and I grab it up with my good arm, while the beast perches high in a tree doing what seems to be scheming on what to do next. I grasp a fallen, moss-covered branch, easy enough to lift, even one-sided. This chore keeps my mind, however temporarily, off my pains from the open gashes.

Next time, when that devil-beast approaches, I’ll be ready.

I’m telling you all this as though hours went by, between my thoughts and the beast’s moves, but nothing is further from the truth. The battle is almost constant. I fall, get up, brush myself off one-armed, and find a weapon, only to be picked up, dropped and pecked by the hideous monster once more. In the end I give up. I’m already weak from my journey deep into the sea and then finally swimming to shore at Athemoessa.

Why is all this happening to me?

That is my very last thought before its wing delivers such a powerful blow, it knocks me out. The world went to black.

Sometime later, I awaken firmly held by its two, piercing talons, carrying me who knows where.

For God’s sake. Enough of this bull shit.

No longer under the spell of the trio of Sirens, a new desire sweeps over me. Fear, my stalwart friend, leaves me. In its place sprouts the will to survive. My will and desire for survival will have to be enough to outwit the evil bird-woman. Then I can return to my beloved home and family back in Alabama.

Alabama wasn’t perfect, but it ‘shore beat the hell out of this damn place.

Instead of fighting the bird, I try to relax my shoulders. We fly high over the spindly trees of the island forest. Beneath them I see colorful flecks from thick patches of flowers. Down below, smoldering fires through off sparks like the lightning bugs back home. I wonder if the fires are warming the oddball creatures thriving on Athemoessa during the night. Fighting the bird-woman can only be harmful. If I fall from this height, I’ll most certainly perish even quicker than she had plans. As it stands, my purpose, as it relates to this stinking creature, remains unbeknownst to me, so with it I fly.

***

From a thick fog, Ligeia, Parthenope and Thelxiepeia appear.

“Harpy! You evil Harpy, Aellopus!” They shout, dragging out every part of the strange name.

“Aello, put the girl down,” Thelxiepeia shouts up at us.

No reaction. The talons don’t loosen and we don’t return to the ground.

Parthenope, Thelxiepeia and Ligeia meld their voices together and direct the united sound skyward like a fire ball, toward what I’d just learned was a Harpy, nicknamed Aello.

“Please help me,” I scream down to them.

Almost hissing, Parthenope, Ligeia and Thelxiepeia merge their voices together into one sound. The buttery result is thrown skyward once again.

“Down, down, down, down,” the trio of Sirens chant, evenly, if not with a hint of threat, in a sing-song voice filled with woe that raises awe within me, though they aren’t directing their words towards me.

“Wind-foot fool, wind-foot fool, wind-foot fool,” the Sirens chide, in a chant that is as alluring as it is frightening.

Aello slows her gigantic wings almost to a full stop. I wonder what she might do next.

Then, like the rest of us, she’s so taken with the haunting, enchanting harmonies that Parthenope, Thelxiepeia, and Ligeia utter, that she loosens her grip on me almost immediately.

I don’t know whether to be happy, relieved or scared half out of my wits. Guess you could say, I’m in a state that’s a mixing of all three emotions, all at once.

Falling. . . I am falling. Can this day get any worse?

Aello must have decided it didn’t want anything more to do with me, or perhaps this is exactly what it wanted to do all along--let me fall.

Who knows?

Sweet Jesus, save me.

I’m falling and as I do, I’m greeted by the salty brininess of the sea. I’m being returned, from whence I came.

Aello? That Harpy has no sense in her thick ‘ole head, except to harm me. When I fall from her talons, a torrent of wind pushes me violently down into the sea. I can’t even begin to guess how deep I went. The very action of it knocked all the air from my lungs and all the sense from my brain.

I surface coughing and spluttering water from my mouth. I’m snatched up and plunged back into the water. I feel pain once again, this time from salt water gushing into my open wounds. Nevertheless, a warmth spreads out and washes over me, making me relaxed, at once. Quicker than a wink, more of her disgusting kind arrived.

Here to help or cause more harm?

I sink into the turquoise waters, made choppy by a gathering of Harpies overhead.

Harpies don’t give up easily. They also gather together like a gaggle of geese, though instead of migrating anywhere in particular, they just stir up trouble wherever they decide to go. The wind they kick up is something so fierce that I think for sure I’ll drown. That’s just how violent the sea is rocking me backwards and forward in their wake.

Just this morning, when I was standing in Daddy’s room, I wouldn’t have believed there was a place like this anywhere on Earth, or anyplace else, but a girl can get used to strange, and indeed, I had.

Instinct—thank God—kicks in, and reminds me to hold my breath, saving my lungs from being flooded by the salty water. Strangely enough, I relax. Relaxed as I was, it is almost as though I was in a deep-sea boat riding the wind-swept waters that would have otherwise threatened to take my life.

Nevertheless, down and down into the warm turquoise water I go. It’s like being on the world’s fastest merry-go-round. My head begins to swirl from all the motion, so I clench my eyes tightly shut and hope that gives me some relief.

No time to think, let alone pray, I’m just like a stone, caught up in a tornado, thrown from side to side, all the while dropping lower and lower down. As a stone, I’m swirling yet plunging. The last time I plunged, I was at least saved by a fast-acting Mermaid. With no promise of a Mermaid to save me, this time I’m plunging to what will probably be the thing we all dread--a painful and lonely, violent death.

***

I’m figuring this is how things work around Athemoessa. After what seemed like forever, and a day what seems impossible happens. The Mermaid returns. She pushes my body with her head, and brings me back up to the surface, swiftly thumping her tail. The cave where I find myself is magnificent but at the same time, it’s tricky to make your way through it, and back to the sea. Inside, it shines and glitters like the rarest of jewels. Narrow, moist and the deepest blue- green you can imagine, it’s just about more than I can take, its beauty, I mean, yet strangely it’s also just right. You see, I always did love being in and near the water. That’s why I never want to leave the Gulf Region that I call home.

I love this Mermaid.

With her sweet manner, she’s almost like an angel, and she has the voice to match.

Are all the creatures musical? Can she sing like Thelxiepeia, Parthenope and Ligeia?

Reappearing from the depths, this time she was riding a graceful dolphin. With a fresh wave of warm water, the two came close enough to touch. Grabbing my hand gently but firmly the Mermaid pulls me toward her and the dolphin.

I ain’t never thought about riding no sea creature. I’ve ridden me a horse, mule and donkey, and that’s it. I know enough to have the good sense to let my body relax and go along with how the animal moves. I also imagine the journey ahead is going to be long, with many twists and turns because that’s how I got here. It be best if I want to live, and believe you me, I do, I’ve got to mount the dolphin and ride along with the Mermaid.

On the journey, we pass a silver school of tiny fish. They all head in the same direction, going this way and then that, just as suddenly as if they’ve heard a bell. Their movements are like a dance and it leaves me feeling dizzy because to keep up with them means moving my head back and forth as quick as flash.

The Mermaid has somehow firmly planted herself atop the dolphin. I hold on as best I can to her waist. Her wet hair is shining, even underwater because it’s so dark, it flaps into my face, leaving me without sight at times.

We’ve apparently left the cave and it’s left behind with great relief. There are critters, great and small in there, along with masses of seaweed. I can’t see, so much as feel the critters, slithering on past me as I hold my eyes tightly closed, trusting my fate to the Mermaid and her dolphin steed.

We come out into the open seas. Again, I think about Parthenope, Ligeia and Thelxiepeia.

Why had they brought me to Athemoessa in the first place? What do they want from me?

It’s a mystery, but perhaps the Mermaid knows something.

Deep in my bones, though their song is thrilling, there’s a sense of dread when I think of the Sirens. It tightens up my guts. It isn’t just the cravings the singing brings to life within me, it’s that I also lose all grounding in space and time when I hear them, so lost am I with the desire to hear them.

No. There has to be a dark purpose within their enticements. They’re soul-suckers after all. When their song leaves me, I no longer want to live.

What type of creatures are Sirens?

Hands on the Mermaid’s hips, I realize I ain’t alone with my thoughts. I can maybe communicate with the creature, right in front of me.

“What business do you have with Thelxiepeia, Parthenope and Ligeia, and more importantly, what business do the three of them have with me?” I asked, speaking slowly and as plain as possible. No answer.

“Mermaid, what purpose do the Sirens have? What do they want with me and my Daddy?” I tried to be clearer.

She seemed to understand perfectly.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” she speaks and it sounds sweeter than a wind chime. “Yes’m,” I half-said and half-asked.

“I’m not a Mermaid!”

“What? Um, I’m sorry. But you’re also not human. What are you?” I asked feeling embarrassed.

“I am a Nereide. We are sea spirits. There are many of us. We are good to people, at least when we want to be, and we have special powers.”

I’m held captive by her tone and way of speaking. “I do apologize ma’am.”

“No need to apologize and it’s not ma’am. My name is Galatea.”

These so-called water spirits, Nereides, I guess it was, they ain’t human, ain’t Mermaids and certainly ain’t American. As impossible as it might seem, they’re very capable of understanding English.

“Kyane, the one you think of as a vixen or red hot pepper, Kyane, is it? You have called her girl, child, woman, angel, demon, you’ve thrown it all at her. Kyane, is her name. She wants to be among the humans. In fact, she wants to become one of you.”

“What?” I gasped toward Galatea, in shock.

“Indeed, Kyane, not only wants to be human but she has fixed her sights on being with your father. Unheard of in our world. She’s attracted to his deeply resonate, soulful song and wants to live with it forever,” Galatea finishes flatly.

“Ma’am . . . I mean, Galatea, excuse me? His song?”

“Sirens are all about voice, and they express themselves through singing.”

“Across oceans, seas, and the Gulf of Mexico, through caves, waves and over the tops of cliffs, your father’s mournful song, filled with longing for life’s greatest pleasures, it touches a Siren, in a place we didn’t know existed in them. Straight in her heart.” Galatea said, as though surprised the words had escaped her lips.

“Your daddy, people call him, Bobby “the Shrimp Man” Daniels, correct?” “Yes’m,” I said out of force of habit.

“Well, the Shrimp Man, has gone and done the impossible, reversing all that we have ever known. Rather than sucking in and luring men to what would become their deaths, your daddy’s song has disturbed a Siren’s purpose, and their entire way of life. For that someone must pay,” Galatea told me, making fresh fear swell up deep down in my belly. Now, our beloved Kyane has left Athemoessa and never wants to return to be with her sisters. Remember them? Parthenope, Ligeia and Thelxiepeia?

She pauses and then carries on.

“Kyane could care less about her sisters. She no longer is she content to lure sailors as they have always done. She has set her sights, and her beautiful voice, on one thing only, actually—melding herself, and in the process, her beautiful voice, with your daddy’s.

“She wants my daddy for what? I don’t understand.”

“Look, child, Siren’s don’t really know the first thing about love. Kyane is no different.

She wants your daddy to feed her empty soul.”

About the Author:Website-FB-Twitter 
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Stephanie Rose Bird is the author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning, “Sticks, Stones, Roots, and Bones: Hoodoo Mojo and Conjuring with Herbs.” Her other books include: “365 Days of Hoodoo,” and “Four Seasons of Mojo,” all three were published by Llewellyn Worldwide. Bird also contributes to Llewellyn Spell-a-Day,” “Llewellyn Herbal Almanac” and “Llewellyn Magical Almanac.” She is the author of: “Earth Mama Spiritual Guide to Weight-loss” (Green Magic Publishing), “A Healing Grove” (Lawrence Hill Books), “The Big Book of Soul,” (Red Wheel Weiser/Hampton Roads Publishers) and “Light, Bright and Damned Near White: Biracial and Triracial Culture in America and Beyond.” (ABC-Clio).

She is a novelist, published by One Odd Bird Press, in the Young Adult Fantasy and Magical Realism genres. “Out of the Blue” is her debut novel in the Black and Blues Series. One Odd Bird Press will also publish “Pine Barren Blues.” She writes and paints where she lives (Chicagoland) with her husband, near her children, and along with some very busy animal friends.