GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ I Smell Sheep: November 2022

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Excerpt: The Council by T.C. Weber

The Council
by T.C. Weber
September 22, 2022
Genre: Political Satire/ Humor
Luther Smith, a newly elected county councilman, is determined to make a difference for his constituents. Unfortunately, he’s ill-prepared for the corruption, incompetence, and lunacy of his fellow councilmembers. Lisa Hogan, a down-on-her-luck single mom and avid naturalist, discovers that developers plan to raze the last tract of forest in the county. Facing a dysfunctional bureaucracy, corrupt politicians, and lazy journalists, Luther and Lisa form a growing bond as they attempt to navigate the legislative labyrinth, mobilize the community, and attempt to save the forest.

“You may think this story is full of absurdity and exaggeration, but I assure you, it is frighteningly close to reality. And that's precisely what makes this book so hilarious.”

- Local Councilman who was told to remain anonymous by the Ethics Commission

The blonde woman in the back rose from her seat and approached the microphone, pale lips pressed together. She wore tan cargo pants and a green fleece. “Hello. I’m Lisa Hogan and I live at 2355 Whistlestop Drive, Foxglove Estates.” She gestured toward Councilman van Womple. “Is he going to sleep through public testimony?”

Council President Sparks leaned into his mic. “Can someone please wake up Clifton?”

Councilwoman Sutton reached over and jostled van Womple awake. His eyes darted wildly. “Whaa?”

“According to their web site,” Ms. Hogan spoke into the mic, “Cha-Ching Properties, which owns half the land in the county, is planning to develop the Great Woods, our last sizable stand of forest. But that area is zoned for conservation. I came to ask if you know what’s going on here.”

Luther hadn’t heard this before, but the Great Woods were way over on the west side of the county and this was his first meeting. The other councilpersons similarly responded with blank faces, except for Councilman Davis, who looked down and rustled through his papers.

The council president leaned toward his microphone. “Thank you.” He scanned the empty seats. “Anyone else?”

Ms. Hogan remained at the lectern. “I’m not finished.” She scrunched her face and ran fingers through limp hair. “It’s on Cha-Ching’s website—I try to follow what they’re up to. It’s listed as their next big project—The Preserve—an irritatingly ironic name since their sketch map shows houses, stores, and office buildings instead of unbroken forest. You know nothing about it? They haven’t submitted anything or contacted you?”

Sparks looked around at the other council members. Sutton shrugged. Van Womple’s eyelids drifted slowly down again.

Luther decided to find out more. “Did you contact the Planning Department?”

“They said they had nothing on file.”

“Did you contact the developer?”

Ms. Hogan’s eyes narrowed. “They refused to talk to me and don’t respond to emails.”

“Development projects have to be approved by the Planning Department, so keep calling them.”

“It would be nice if Sylvan County posted proposed projects on their web site like other counties do.”

Davis cut in before Luther could respond. “I’ll pass that along. Thank you.”

The woman sighed and marched back to her seat.

Council President Sparks shuffled through a pile of papers. “And now we’ll take up our first order of business. Let me see if I can find it…”

Davis responded, “It’s on the agenda. We’re honoring Boy Scout Troop 1156 for um…?” He looked at the others for help.

“Oh yes,” Sparks said. “Where are they?”

There was no sign of boy scouts in the chamber.

Davis looked around. “Did anyone send them an invite?”

Shrugs all around.

Sparks frowned. “Well, someone find out where they are.”

The meeting secretary closed the Candy Crash game on her smartphone and began scrolling through contacts.

“This is important,” Sparks said. “It’s important to honor the troops.”

The troops? Luther wondered if he’d misheard.

“I was there on 9-11,” Sparks continued. “Saw the towers come down. Right there on my TV. And then I had brunch. Waffles, I think.”

About the Author

T.C. Weber has pursued writing since childhood, and learned filmmaking and screenwriting in college, along with physics and ecology. His first published novel was a near-future cyberpunk thriller titled Sleep State Interrupt (See Sharp Press). The first book of a trilogy, it was a finalist for the 2017 Compton Crook award for best first speculative fiction novel. The sequels, The Wrath of Leviathan and Zero-Day Rising, are also out. These were followed by Born in Salt, a character-oriented alternate history novel, and The Survivors, a post-apocalyptic horror novella. His latest work, The Council, pits a na├»ve councilman and a down-on-her-luck single mom against greedy developers and a dysfunctional government, to try to save their county’s last stand of forest.

Mr. Weber is a member of Poets & Writers, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, the Horror Writers Association, and the Maryland Writers Association, and has run numerous writing workshops. By day, Mr. Weber works as an ecologist, and has had a number of scientific papers and book chapters published. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland with his wife Karen and two miniature schnauzers. He enjoys traveling and has visited all seven continents.

For book samples, short stories, and more, visit my 

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Book Tour Schedule
November 28th
R&R Book Tours (Kick-Off)
Reads & Reels (Spotlight)
@latishaslowkeylife (Spotlight)
Books Blog (Spotlight)
November 29th
Liliyana Shadowlyn (Review)
The Faerie Review (Spotlight)
@witchinglybookish (Spotlight)
Cocktails & Fairytales (Spotlight)
November 30th
Lady Hawkeye (Spotlight)
@accio_mischief (Spotlight)
Stine Writing (Spotlight)
December 1st
I Smell Sheep (Spotlight)
@margiebythebookcase (Spotlight)
Rambling Mads (Spotlight)
Book Reviews by Taylor (Spotlight)
December 2nd
@adlynsreadingcorner (Spotlight)
Bunny’s Reviews (Spotlight)

Book Tour Organized By:

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Book Review: The Heart of Neverland (The Neverwitch Chronicles #1) by Natalie J. Reddy

The Heart of Neverland (The Neverwitch Chronicles #1)
by Natalie J. Reddy
November 30th, 2022
Genre: Fantasy/ Romance/ Adventure/ Pirates/ Pan Retelling
One night.

That’s all it takes to turn my life upside down. It’s not like I had the most stable childhood to begin. Most of it was spent on the run from the villains in my mom’s head. It isn’t until after she’s murdered right in front of me that I realize maybe they weren’t in her head after all.

After her death I go to stay with an uncle I didn’t know existed to try to make sense of my life and find some answers about who I really am. As I search for the truth a guy named Peter shows up and makes it his mission to constantly get in my personal space. He’s gorgeous, flirty and completely infuriating. And possibly not actually human or from this world.

The things he tells me sound insane and I don’t think I can trust him. It doesn’t matter that each heated touch draws me deeper into his web. Things like magic, pirates and Peter Pan just aren’t real.

Dani’s life has been less than stable but when her mother is murdered in front of her, and things seem to be stranger than normal she has no idea what lies ahead for her. Deciding to go live with her uncle, one she never knew she had she hopes to start fresh and live the normal life of a working college student. Her uncle seems to be rather strict, especially since she is 19 and an actual adult but Dani is willing to go along with it for the most part. When she meets Peter, he’s hot, flirty and drives her up a wall yet she is drawn to him time and time again.

Dani has never had a best friend since she moved so much growing up and when she meets Bella, she feels like she might just have a chance at a normal life after all. As Dani explores the truths in her life, she must decide who she can trust and who she can’t, but she may just find herself in more trouble than she can handle.

This was one of the best reimaginings of Neverland that I have ever read or watched on TV. Reddy did such a great job of keeping things fresh and kept you wondering, guessing all the way to the very last page. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Getting 5 sheep

Denise B

About the Author
Natalie J. Reddy is a Canadian Author who spends her days trying to escape reality by making up stories about the characters in her head.

Natalie realized at an early age that she had a passion for storytelling and that passion followed her into adulthood. There is nothing she loves more than to be pulled into a fictional world whether it’s in her own writing or the writing of others. Natalie is the author of the Scar of Days Forgotten series, a New Adult Urban Fantasy series with characters who have supernatural abilities and dark and sometimes unknown pasts to overcome.

When she’s not writing, Natalie can be found having all sorts of real-life adventures with her husband and daughter or curled up with a good book and a cup of tea.

To keep up to date on upcoming books, subscribe to Natalie’s newsletter at

Twitter Tags: @RRBookTours1 #RRBookTours #Books #FantasyBooks

Instagram Tags: @nataliejreddy @rrbooktours #rrbooktours #theheartofneverland #theneverwitchchronicles

Book Tour Organized By:

Monday, November 28, 2022

Book Review: Leopard's Scar (A Leopard Novel) by Christine Feehan

Leopard's Scar (A Leopard Novel)
by Christine Feehan
November 29, 2022
Animal attraction takes over in this exhilarating Leopard novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan.

The moment Meiling sees Gedeon she knows he’s a leopard shifter—just as she knows she can’t trust him. Meiling doesn’t take chances, life has taught her better than that. So why does she find herself rescuing this deadly, gorgeous man, when she knows she’d be better off leaving him to die?

Gedeon is used to women throwing themselves at him, not throwing his injured body over their beautiful, deceptively strong shoulders and carrying him to safety. He might be embarrassed, if he wasn’t so aroused by the very thought of this feisty lotus blossom.

As they strike up a working relationship that suits them both, Gedeon starts to rely on Meiling for just about everything. But when her hidden nature rises to the surface, the connection that links them shifts into an all-consuming desire. And neither will escape unmarked. . . .

Meiling and Gedeon are both in the woods trying to save some kidnapped women and girls but they were too late. When a bomb goes off and Gedeon gets hurt, Meiling was the one who saved him and that helped him recover from his injuries. She did this knowing that Gedeon might kill her after he recovered which just made Gedeon more interested in her. The fact that Gedeon's leopard doesn't want to tear her apart like he does most others he's around, just proves to be another thing that attracts her to him. Her personality and fierceness and the fact that she doesn't seem scared of him and actually makes him laugh is something he never expected.

She was surprised when he offers her a job as his partner. Even knowing that he was a killer and a very dangerous man she decided to take the job on a trial basis to see of they could work together. Gedeon having feelings for her, wanted to keep her close because he felt that she might be his mate but he didn't act on it because she didn't seem like she felt the same way about him. They work as investigators trying to find people who are missing and they work really well together.

Meiling and Gedeon are both leopard shifters and while Gedeon's leopard is a killer and he has to fight all the time to keep the animal caged inside himself, Meiling's leopard hasn't emerged yet. She's not sure it ever will. But after a while, Meiling can start to feel her leopard beginning to emerge for the very first time and her leopard needs to find a mate. The urge to mate is overwhelming, she would go to Gedeon but he and his leopard are dangerous and she doesn't think that he would ever be faithful to her because he's been with so many women. But she doesn't know that Gedeon has feelings for her and would actually never cheat on her so she doesn't tell him when her leopard starts to emerge. But Gedeon's leopard who is a little crazy and is always wanting to kill people even the women he's wit starts acting even crazier not letting Gedeon sleep, putting him in a really bad situation to where Gedeon thinks he might need to put himself and his animal down just to save the people around him. He doesn't realize that his leopard is probably reacting to the fact that Meiling's leopard is emerging.

Once Meiling can't stop the overwhelming urge to mate and goes to find someone, Gedeon's friends let him know what she's up to and he comes to her rescue. He doesn't want her to mate with anyone but him but he'll have to be very careful in the way he lets her know this. She doesn't realize he has feelings for her and he isn't sure she'll trust him so it takes a little while before they actually get together.

Gedeon and Meiling are both leopard shifters but people have been after both of them for a long time trying to kill them because they're special kinds of leopard shifters. The people after them want these kinds of shifters all exterminated. Both of them lost their families to the people who are after them now, so that's something they have in common. They are both really strong, smart, and cunning so once they go after the bad guys, I almost felt bad for them...almost.

I enjoyed this book because there was so much story, action, and a fun romance. But I found myself a little bored at times which is the only reason this isn't getting 5 stars.

I give this book 4 sheep.

Mary Kirkland
Dark Thoughts Blog

About the Author:
I write every day and have done so since I was old enough to pick up a pen. (I spent a lot of time getting in trouble at school for writing instead of doing the things I was supposed to do.) Once I create my characters, I try very hard to have them react to situations as they really would. Sometimes I have preconceived ideas of what I would like them to do, but they don't mind me, because it would be out of character for them. They take on a life of their own. Sometimes when I throw difficult situations at them in the hopes I'll get a certain reaction and they don't do what I want, I complain bitterly to my husband and he laughs at me. Still, it is important to me to have them be real, not perfect people, so they make mistakes we lesser mortals might make.

Book Review: The Man Who Came and Went by Joe Stillman

The Man Who Came and Went
by Joe Stillman
March1, 2022
Genre: Magical Realism / Mature YA / Literary Fiction
Publisher: City Point Press
ISBN: 9781947951389
Number of pages: 240
Word Count: 64,000
Cover Artist: Barbara Aronica-Buck and Susan Stillman
A grill cook who mind-reads orders.

A diner that changes lives.

Tips appreciated.

Fifteen year old Belutha Mariah, our storyteller, is the oldest of three kids from three different fathers. Her life’s goal is to keep her dysfunctional mom, Maybell, from procreating yet again and then to leave the coffin-sized town of Hadley, Arizona the second she graduates high school.

Along comes the new grill cook at Maybell’s Diner, Bill Bill, a mysterious drifter with the ability to mind-read orders. As word spreads, the curious and desperate pour into this small desert town to eat at Maybell's. Some believe Bill knows the secrets of the universe. Belutha figures he’s probably nuts.

But his cooking starts to transform the lives of locals and visitors, and Belutha finds her angry heart opening as Bill begins to show her the porous boundary between this life and what comes after.

I was excited to read this book. The blurb made me think of Dean Koontz’s storyline of “Odd Thomas” which is one of my favorites so I had to give this a try. Just as enticing but not the same!

Early on I fe”lt” the storyline would draw me in and it did…except that every word that had a “fi”, “fl”, and “ft” had those letters missing. Making me have to figure out the word it was supposed to be. Imagine reading “a ter”, “xing” and “midri “ (as just a few examples) and trying to keep the flow “ow” of the story.

Now, this was probably an unedited copy and the typewriter just had problems with the keys (ha) but if not…it’s a slang I have never before seen.

I eventually got the hang of it and became strongly invested in the characters. Maybell, her daughter Belutha and an interesting stranger named Bill (turned “short order cook” make quite the story. Set in a desolate desert town, one strange man brings a lot of insight, promise and joy to many. This story is great for our current time and should be a must-read. Could help us see ourselves in a different light.

I know this review started off with some negativity but I am sure the lettering has been corrected so don’t miss out on this one!

Getting 4.5 sheep


That day, the day Bill arrived, my mom was serving up eggs and complaints.

“Dammit, that daughter ‘a mine,” she yelled to Dolene, across the diner. “She’s like walking birth control. Does she think I’m trying to have babies? ‘Scuse me, Darlin’” Maybell gave Clover’s bubble walker a little kick, sending it between tables 4 and 6 so she could get by and dump a load of dishes behind the counter.

Dolene was homegrown, like the tumbleweed, with eyes like a golden retriever that never quite looked at you directly. She was smart enough to add up a check, but you could tell she was never getting out of Hadley. “I take it you didn’t get laid last night.”

Maybell pointed to her sour puss. “Does this say ‘laid’ to you?”

There was a ‘harrumph’ from booth 5 by the window. That was Rose. Rose was an old woman by the time she was 30. Now she was in her late 60s, a widow since before I was born—in other words, forever. She liked to spend her afternoons at Maybell’s Diner, reading her book and keeping an eye on the goings on around her, as if she was the town’s homeroom teacher.

“Look at Saint Rose,” Maybell said, stuffing dirty plates into the plastic tub under the counter. “Thinks she smells better than Mentos. I ain’t running a library here, Rose. Next time bring Reader’s Digest!”

There was another sound from Rose, something between a ‘well’ and a ‘pfffft.’ She never took her eyes off her book.

The door opened with a DING from the bell that hung on it. No one noticed Bill entering. He was about average in height, but his skinny frame made him look taller. You could tell from his face that he was in his mid-20s, but those were hard years he had lived, and his body looked frail and geriatric. His clothes were old and clung to him like an extra layer of skin, with a smell that would never wash out.

The angles of his face were sharp and careworn. But his eyes, those were different. His face was hard and weathered, but his eyes were soft. They seemed brand new.

No one in the diner even looked. If they did they would have seen those eyes taking in every little detail: the people talking, forks carrying food, the string lights behind the counter, Dolene ringing up a check. But what drew Bill more than anything else was the grill. Harley, the grill cook, must have had four meals going at once, each with its own set of sounds and smells. Most of those meals involved eggs. His spatula made a metal-on-metal scrape as he turned them. Bill was riveted. He went to sit at the counter to watch.

Down the counter, a porkish-looking man named Earle—probably one of three men in town who had never slept with my mom—raised his empty cup. “Can I get a refill, Maybell?”

Maybell stopped and faced him. “Seriously, Earle? Is it so goddam much trouble for you to get up off your ass and get it yourself? Can’t you see I’m working here?”

“Well…” he stammered. “I just—was I—I was—”

Maybell pointed to the coffee pot. “How far away is that? Two feet?”

“Sure, I guess…”

“Am I your personal slave, Earle? Is that why God put me on earth?”

“No, I don’t think you’re—”

Maybell grabbed the pot and sloshed coffee in his Earle’s cup. “There. You happy now?”

He nodded meekly.

While she had the pot in her hand, Maybell filled the cup sitting in front of Bill. “I’ll be by to take your order in a minute, hon.”

Maybell walked on. Bill just sat there and stared at the coffee. For him, there was no diner anymore, no Maybell, no clanking dishes or dumb conversation. He leaned closer to that cup like it was the only thing in the world. And there he was, smelling coffee for the first time. And it smelled like life. Like a whole world. Like this is how a planet smells if you’re up in space and could take a deep breath. Bill was motionless for who knows how long. And then, when he was good and ready, he took his first sip.

Those eyes, the ones that didn’t belong on his head, they closed as if he was praying. No, more like he was hearing a prayer. The coffee was praying to be heard, and Bill heard it.

About the Author:

website-FB-TwitterJoe Stillman co-wrote “Shrek” for Dreamworks which earned him an Academy Award® nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and the Annie and BAFTA Awards. Other produced features are “Beavis & Butthead Do America”, “Shrek 2”, “Gulliver’s Travels”, “Planet 51” and “Joseph King Of Dreams”.

In television, he was co-producer and writer on “King of the Hill,” for which he received two Emmy Award® nominations. He was a writer and story editor for Nickelodeon’s “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” and a writer on MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead”. More recently he worked on Nickelodeon’s “Sanjay And Craig” and “Kirby Buckets” for Disney. Other TV credits include “Albert” for Nickelodeon, “The War Next Door” for the USA Network, “Clueless”, “Doug” and “Danger And Eggs” for Amazon.

Joe is currently working on “Curious George” and “Half-Baked 2” for streaming on Peacock.

From the writer of "Shrek" comes "The Man Who Came and Went," a magically realistic novel about a grill cook who can mind read orders, and a small town diner that changes lives. #Shrek #Shrek2 #beavisandbutthead #beavisandbuttheaddoamerica #kingofthehill #theadventuresofpeteandpete

Tour Giveaway:
A signed copy of The Man Who Came and Went

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Funky Werepig Ep 21 Turkeys, Tweets, and Winkees!

Season 3: Episode #21

Happy Thanksgiving, piggie petters!
Your Funky Werepig has invited a cornucopia of plethoras of beautiful peoples to party with us. From the old neighborhood, DAWN ZIEGERER brings her many talents and wisdom. We have lunch with our own SHARON STOGNER from I Smell Sheep. The ERBMAN do what he do. And our music is provided from our brother, the Godfather of Goth Rock,  BOBBI STYLE!
Turkey- mashed potatoes- pumpkin pie-- dig in! I pour Zima on everything!

Sharon Stogner
Freelance fiction editor, Co-owner of I Smell Sheep review site.

Thomas 'Erbman' Erb

Dawn Ziegerer
A relationship and dating coach for women. Let's attract a great partner!
Music Spotlight
Bobbi Style is more than just a gifted 80′s Goth Rock Star, he is an inspiration to many, and a militant advocate for disabled people." Bobbi Style was born with cerebral palsy, leaving him in a wheelchair. He never let this disability get the better of him. Instead, he overcame the obvious obstacles, not only the physical, but the inherently prejudicial reactions to a disabled Goth-band frontman.

**Make sure you don't miss the rest of the Werepig family**
-Dracula's Winkee
-Lulu Tweets
-Moon's Cherokee Cookbook: Tsalagi Recipes
By Scarlet Sapphire Moon
-November Smell Sheep book recommendation!

Watch the show HERE

The Funky Werepig
Once a live internet radio show. Kind of like Animal House meets Larry King. Now a YouTube show. And no one knows what the hell Animal House or Larry King are. So throw your pants in the air like you just don't care!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Excerpt: Unanimity (Spiral Worlds, #1) by Alexandra Almeida + giveaway

by Alexandra Almeida
Publication date: October 18th 2022
Genres: Adult, Science Fiction
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The Series Story
Shadow is a reluctant god with a broken mind and a death wish. He used to be Thomas Astley-Byron, an affluent young screenwriter whose creativity and idealism saved a world from the brink of collapse. Together with Henry Nowak, an AI expert, Tom created heaven on earth by inventing a Jungian simulated reality that helps humans confront their dark sides. The benevolent manipulation platform turned the two unelected leaders into beloved gods, but now everything is failing. The worlds suffer as a sentimental Tom descends into his own personal hell, becoming the embodiment of everything he despises and a shadow of who he used to be.

His journey from optimistic, joyful Tom to a gloomy Shadow is paved with heartache and sinister interference from emerging technology. Humans and bots fight for his heart, but their aims differ: some want to own it, some to dissect it, and others to end its foolish beat. Estranged from the love of his life—the activist poet Nathan Storm—Tom fails to realize the biggest threat comes from within. None of the sticky stories that steer his life end well.

Now, a young goddess—Estelle Ngoie—has been appointed to replace him, and unlike Shadow, Stella takes no prisoners, and her heart bleeds for no one.

Who’s pulling on Shadow’s heartstrings? Are their intentions malign or benign? It’s all a matter of perspective, and Shadow has none left.
The Series Themes
An epic tale spanning across six days—one per book—and forty past decades of life lived across ten worlds and two universes.

Weaving hard sci-fi elements with social commentary and queer romantic suspense, Spiral Worlds explores the nature of consciousness and how it’s connected to a not-so-secret ingredient—story. As software consumes the world, intelligence is nothing but the appetizer; the human heart is the main course.

There is no black or white in this story about a contrast-making machine.

No one should live past hope, and he was ready to die. The girl screamed as he walked away, death struggling to cull so much life, and so her agony lingered, and so did her screams.

Another voice roared: the avenger he dragged away from the crime scene as she raged and kicked and screamed. Her wrath was his grail; its cost impossibly high.

Chapter 1 - Resurrection
DAY 1 — 8 AM
Thump………thump, thump……thump, thump…thump, thump thump, thump thump. No! Nooo!

Stella brought the suicidal God back to life, and his complete lack of gratitude made her jaw clench and her neck hurt. Such a lack of respect! Shadow should be happy she’d fixed his mistakes. Instead, he paced around the dark digital void looking lost and devastated. So typical of the old heart.

His slumped head and shoulders failed to hide his natural gifts—all limbs, and height, and a strong, lean constitution supremely carved to embody graceful power. A grace that had ultimately hatched his fall from power.

Shadow’s affront affected her divine posture, and she needed to look her best, as she intended to seduce him right from the start. He was her trophy, and she was there to claim all of him, but the romantic fool believed in serendipity, so she had designed their first moments to be magical. She’d planned every conversation topic, ensuring it showed her best qualities, which was hard to do because there were so many good ones. But he wasn’t talking; he wasn’t doing much of anything. Such a waste of time--time she couldn’t spare.

Nothing about his current state was abnormal, but she’d expected death to have snapped him out of his never-ending misery. She’d hoped for a hug or at least a faint smile, but he wasn’t even making eye contact; if he did, he’d find out how beautiful she was, and then everything would change, she was sure of it. No one could resist the youthful glow of her deep dark skin or the nuanced curves of her athletic figure. Like all others, he’d fall captive to her beauty, and then he’d become a slave to her witty intelligence…of course. She shrugged, confident he’d soon come to his senses.

Pacing in front of her, Shadow struggled to breathe, each attempt shallow and fast. Raising the palms of his hands over his heart, he pressed his chest where his lover, Thorn, had shot him at close range. Then he held the medal he carried on a chain around his neck, a gift from the poet he called his soulmate, Nathan Storm. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, and for a moment, the panting stopped.

Stella stood straighter, dismissing her competition and the stiffness of her body. She’d also shower him with gifts as soon as she got a chance. Storm and Thorn were old news, broken creatures tainted by a terrible reputation. She was his match; a generous, vibrant heart and a Goddess.

“I… I’m alive?” he repeated in a broken voice for the fourth time in less than a minute. “Thorn… Where’s Thorn?”

“This is getting boring,” Stella said, flicking her long silver-white hair over her shoulder. Her kinky hair was twisted into impossibly fine braids, each one smooth and straight and as bright as the full moon. “We don’t have time for this.”

“Who are you?” he asked, gasping loudly. He stared down at his chest, probably looking for the missing wound. For him, time hadn’t passed; he’d just been shot in the heart, and it likely still hurt.

“Spiral Worlds’ Goddess—your replacement. The platform needed a working human heart with a strong beat and a will to live. I’m a considerably superior upgrade.” She cringed. Those weren’t the exact words she’d planned, but he was getting on her nerves and ruining the perfect moment. Look at me! You must look at me. Then he did, and nothing happened—no fireworks, no smiles, no awkward fidgeting, and most frustratingly, no hint of red touched the cheeks of the bashful God, famous for blushing from even the slightest attention set on him. She placed her hands on her hips. Are you kidding me?

“My replacement? Where’s Harry?”

Stella wasn’t looking forward to the next few hours. She could flood his mind with everything that had happened, but she was sure he wouldn’t be able to cope with the devastation his death had caused. Harry, the other God, was dead, but she had brought back Twist, his digital twin. She was good like that: super-proactive, and immensely generous. That’s what people said Up Above, in the real world. Earthlings liked her a lot, and her approval ratings had skyrocketed since she’d promised them eternal digital life.

She sighed. “You’d better sit down.”

Stella transformed the digital void into a coastal seascape, and they stood on a sandy beach facing each other. The sea breeze frolicked with his unruly dark hair, and he scratched the tip of his nose, tickled by a strand dancing in the wind. He’d feel at home there. Tom—Shadow’s biological twin—used to live by the sea. This place was supposed to be the setting for their first romantic moment, but he had to delay their unavoidable chemistry by immediately asking about his dead friend. Now she had to explain everything, and he wouldn’t take it well.

In an instant, she replaced her silver catsuit with a long, flowy, turquoise dress and sat on the sand with her legs crossed. She wasn’t a big fan of Holizien turquoise; other colors better suited her skin tone. Still, it represented the highest level of human values, for now… And that immediate association avoided her having to spell it out for him. After all, narcissistic self-praising was beneath her godly status.

“Come.” She tapped on the sand to her side, and he sat next to her, kicking his boots off and pulling his knees into his chest. “Before I start, I want you to know I brought them all back: Twist, Storm, and Thorn. They are xHumans now, like you. I did it two years ago when I first became a Goddess.”

“You…brought them back?” The worlds collapsed inside his hazel eyes, and she was caught in the magnetic pull of his sorrow.
She shook it off, grabbed his arm and squeezed it. “Wait… Just. Wait. As I said, I brought them back.”


She’d forgotten how expressive he was. His eyes had no shield, and for a second, she got lost once again in all the drama unraveling within them. He held his breath, and she was sure his heart had stopped beating, waiting for her response.

“Yes…your ex-boyfriend, your lover and your best friend all died because of you.” There! I said it. It had to be said, so she did it quickly and got it over with.

He stared at her blankly, processing her words. His skin was coated by tears that caught the light as they gathered over his quivering upper lip. She wondered if he was going to shatter into a thousand ceramic pieces. He could be her negative: his skin so pale, and his hair so dark. She rolled her eyes. Here we go again! He’s such a cute, melodramatic God.

Shadow sat quietly, and his gaze drifted to the sea as he fiddled with his medal. Stella waited for him to speak, but as the minutes passed his tears dried up, and his eyes became empty and numb.

“Aren’t you curious about what happened? How they died?” She pulled on the sleeve of his white T-shirt, but he didn’t even blink. “Your ex killed your best friend.”

Shadow’s head collapsed between his knees as he hid it under his arms. “Stop! I beg you.”

“Anyway, to cut a long story short, the people you love suffered and died, all because you struggle with life. It’s all your fault.” He needed tough love. Everything else had failed, but maybe she’d gone too far… “Shadow, I brought them back. It’s okay.”

“To—to live in a hell of a digital world…” He spoke without lifting his head, still panting.

“No, some of our worlds are now better than Earth thirty-two years ago.”

“Thirty-two years?”

“Yeah, when you all died. Technically, you have lived thirty-two years, but you’re actually sixty-four now. Don’t worry. You’re looking damn fine.” She smiled, sliding her tongue across her lips. “I’ve brought you back, and I need your help to fix the worlds. Your designs aren’t working well, and the platform—Sibyl, to be precise—has become…temperamental. So frankly, I don’t have time for your grief or your moods. They cause problems, and we have work to do.”

For several painful hours, the stunning creature sat frozen beside her, staring at the sea. There was no way to soften the blow.
To move things along, Stella organized a bright rainbow and some flying kites to cheer him up. Colorful octopi soared through the air, breaking the laws of aerodynamics as they weren’t anchored to anything. He looked up, and a hint of life returned to his face. Good, good! She was in a hurry; Spiral Worlds’ problems threatened to damage her popularity Up Above.

“I need to see them,” he finally said.

“Aren’t you going to ask me about your worlds? How the eight experience layers evolved from one world? Why it’s failing?”

Thomas Astley-Byron and Harry Nowak had invented Down Below, a Jungian simulated reality that helped humans confront their dark sides. Better than their predecessors—stories, books or movies—digital experiences brought to life the effects of human activity, both intended and unintended. Down Below, now rebranded Spiral Worlds, enabled the travelers to experience the repercussions of infidelity, the devastation of climate change, the grief of loss, the dismay of failure, and the fallout of theft, rape and murder. Travelers jumped on this learning opportunity with the mindless freedom of those who know they will face no consequences. After returning to their ordinary lives, shaken and bruised by a deeper understanding of humanity, they became reformed criminals before ever committing any crimes. They changed into unblemished, responsible citizens, outstanding parents, loyal partners, overall good humans. Up Above was a better, safer place, full of joy, due to the contrast created by Spiral Worlds—a critical utility that was now falling apart…again.

“I need to see them. Please.”

“It’s complicated. They’ve been around for two years, and some are adjusting better than others. That they all hate each other isn’t…helpful.”

He finally focused on her: in his eyes, nothing but a sea of gloomy compassion. “What’s your name?”

She smiled. “Estelle Ngoie—Stella.”

He batted his long eyelashes at her, but not the way she’d hoped. “How old are you, Stella?” His strained voice was barely audible.

“Nineteen. I became a Goddess when I was seventeen.” She lifted her nose high.

“I’m proud of you, Stella.” He smiled with his eyes, and in them she saw affection—the sweet support of an older brother, not quite what she was expecting.

“Don’t—don’t patronize me. I don’t seek your approval.”

His lips returned a hint of amusement. She got up and circled him, flicking her hair to one side and letting the sunlight enhance her best features—her plump cheeks, the long neck, and a womanly figure many had told her was to die for. Of course, she didn’t want him dead—she’d just brought him back—but she wanted him to see her as a grownup woman and a peer. She needed him to find her as interesting, dangerous and sexy as Thorn, his deadly lover.

“Stella, I need to go now.”

She sighed. Why isn’t he focusing on me? Everyone falls for me. Everyone. They were meant for each other. She was sure of it. There was only one person in the worlds more beloved than her: him. Not for long…

She changed her strategy. From now on, I’ll be all business.

“We must talk about the upcoming war between our worlds. Spiral Worlds is collapsing, and your friend Thorn is leading the violent uprising of the soulless.”

To prevent Down Below’s creatures—all together called the Underlings—from suffering, Tom and Harry had deliberated that, as the worlds expanded, the lower, harsher worlds would be devoid of conscious beings, the soulless.

“Thorn is?” He didn’t seem surprised.

“Yes, I’m not sure why she has chosen to live in those hellish worlds, but she found a way to lead the heartless creatures. They were causing problems before; now, they are a violent, well-oiled machine destroying anything in their path, except Earthlings, of course. That’s against the directives.”

She waited for him to react. He didn’t.

She sighed and then shrugged. “Seriously! Do you understand you inadvertently created a race of psychopathic demons?”
“I see,” he said absentmindedly, and then he went quiet again. His lack of proactivity was driving her mad. He should be asking questions and jumping into action. Maybe she shouldn’t have told him about all the deaths so quickly. Did I break him? I broke him. Oh, dear…such a fragile God.

She pressed on. “Thorn is not the only one causing problems. Your beloved poet, Nathan Storm, is leading the soulful’s rebellion with his radical stories. His bots are demanding equal rights to the Earthlings. Can you imagine? The nerve.”
He almost curved his lips into a smile, but it vanished at the speed of light. “What does Harry say about all this?”

“He’s no longer Harry. He’s just Twist now. The other God doesn’t care about any of it. He just wants to see his family. Quite a self-serving God if you ask me.” She shook her head.

“Are they well, June and Quin?” Shadow asked, the skin around his eyes turning dark, as if they had sunk into his skull.
Stella nodded. “Yes, but it’s complicated. Thirty-two years is a very long time. In years lived, his son is now older than him.”

“He…didn’t see Quin grow… And can he? See them?” Tears returned to his eyes, and he massaged the scars on his wrists. Some were shallow reminders of attempts to cope with life, others deep and severe, marking the end of a life—his first. She wondered why those wounds hadn’t vanished with his two resurrections. Perhaps they were intrinsically linked to his soul, or maybe he wasn’t ready to let them go.

“Once you both died, his wife, June, lobbied to have Down Below shut down. She and Sibyl argued on opposite sides in a specially convened Senate inquiry. Sibyl won, of course, and June formed the Unplugged movement. In short, June, Quin and the hundreds of thousands of Earthlings who follow them aren’t online, and they’ve rejected Twist’s attempts to make contact.”

“Sibyl?” He summoned the worlds’ omnipresent operating system—their universe and connected consciousness.

“Yes, my heart. I’ve missed you.” Sibyl’s bodiless voice had the sweetness of honey.

Stella crossed her arms. “Hey. I’m the heart.”

“Don’t be jealous, my heart. You brought him back, remember?” Sibyl said.

“Be careful, Stella,” Shadow said. “Don’t just…trust her.”

“Not she or her, my heart,” Sibyl said. “Zie or zir.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know…” An authentic apology, followed by an order. “Sibyl, take me to see him. Now.”

His relationship with Sibyl differed from Stella’s. Unlike Stella, who still had a biological body Up Above, he was just code, an xHuman trapped within Sibyl’s universe, but he spoke to zir like he was completely in charge.

Stella had a hard time accepting that the two broken Gods had created Sibyl and Spiral Worlds. It was a tough act to follow, and there’s no way she’d be a lesser Goddess.

“Of course,” zie said, and he vanished from Stella’s side.

He could have at least thanked me, the ungrateful God.

My heart, Sibyl spoke directly to Stella’s mind, replying to her thoughts. Don’t get too attached to him. You know he is--

Deadly and soon dead? Stella replied. Yeah. Probably. But if he doesn’t snap out of it and into action, we’re all dead.

Have faith, Stella. The odds are not in our favor, but I learned from my old heart to believe in serendipity and magic.

Sibyl, Stella rolled her eyes, you create the magic and shape the future.

No, my heart. All creatures do, especially the Gods.

Stella sighed. Ugh! They are all so…broken and useless. And those odds…they’re horrific.

Sibyl continued, We’ll survive the war if you keep him alive long enough. Shadow may be the most important piece in this game of chess—the king—but you, my star, you’re the queen, the most powerful player on the board.

I’m the all-powerful queen: Stella, a star. She smiled. I’m beautiful and smart, and everybody loves me. Well…almost everybody… She’d been having some trouble with the xHumans—the humans she’d resurrected.

Sibyl giggled. I don’t know what will happen to me—a universe with two hearts. I can’t predict the outcome, and I’m finding the lack of understanding quite invigorating.

Sibyl, she said sweetly, that poet is making you sick and over-emotional. Don’t you prefer to be completely in control? I certainly do…
Sibyl’s voice broke a little. Zir tone projected a hint of deep emotion rarely displayed by the omniscient being. Anticipation is an exciting feeling, one I have never experienced before. I almost feel human, but…trust me…I’m not.

Oh, I know, Stella sang her words in her head. I know!

About the Author:
Alexandra Almeida has over 25 years of experience in technology, strategy, and innovation. In her role as Chief Transformation Officer, she acts as a senior advisor to enterprise executives. Alexandra is an experienced speaker at events such as SXSW, Gartner Symposium, and the Women in Tech Series.

For the time being, and to protect her creative freedoms, Alexandra prefers to write using a number of pen names.

​Her debut fantasy novel, released under another pen name, has received the following awards and recognition:

- Reader’s Favorite Awards - Gold Medal Winner - Young Adult - Fantasy - Epic

- Reader Views Awards - 1st Place - Fantasy

- CIPA EVVY Book Awards - 2nd Place - Fiction - Mythology

- B.R.A.G. Medallion Recipient

- Eric Hoffer’s Da Vinci Eye Awards Finalist for Best Cover Artwork

- The Wishing Shelf Book Awards Finalist - Books for Adults

- Awesome Indies Approved

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$30 Amazon gift card

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Monday, November 21, 2022

Book Review: All the Blood We Share: A Novel of the Bloody Benders of Kansas by Camilla Bruce

All the Blood We Share: A Novel of the Bloody Benders of Kansas
by Camilla Bruce
November 22, 2022
Publisher: Berkley
ISBN: 9780593102596
A sinister novel based on the real Bloody Benders, a family of serial killers in the old West bound by butchery and obscured by the shadows of American history.

The winds shift nervously on the Kansas plain whispering of travelers lost and buried, whispering of witches. Something dark and twisted has taken root at the Bender Inn.

At first the townspeople of Cherryvale welcome the rising medium Kate Bender and her family. Kate's messages from the Beyond give their tedious dreams hope and her mother's potions cure their little ills—for a price. No one knows about their other business, the shortcut to a better life. And why shouldn’t their family prosper? They’re careful. It’s only from those who are marked, those who travel alone and can easily disappear, that the Benders demand their pound of flesh.

But even a gifted seer like Kate can make a misstep. Now as the secrets festering beneath the soil of the family orchard threaten to bring them all to ruin, the Benders must sharpen their craft—or vanish themselves.

Kate and her “Ma” meet her stepfather, William, and his son, John, in the town of Cherryvale. They had to flee from Pennsylvania because Kate did something. Kate wants to lay low for a while but she wants to be a famous psychic. But again, Kate’s nature has her doing what she did back in Pennsylvania. And soon, all became a family of serial killers.

Based on a family of serial killers in the Old West, the author shares her own take on who they might have been and where they all went. She digs deep into each person’s psyche on how they turn to murder, especially Kate. All the Blood We Share will pull the reader into the madness of a scary tale of real serial killers from the past that could give the movie ones, like Michael Myers and others, a run for their money.

I give All the Blood We Share 4 sheep.

Reviewed by Pamela K. Kinney

About the Author:
Camilla Bruce was born in central Norway and grew up in an old forest, next to an Iron Age burial mound. She has a master's degree in comparative literature, and have co-run a small press that published dark fairy tales. Camilla currently lives in Trondheim with her son and cat.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Excerpt: Hunted (The Dhampyr Series, #1) by V.M. Nelson + giveaway

(The Dhampyr Series, #1)
by V.M. Nelson
Publication date: October 25th 2022
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult

Tasi, an eighteen-year-old, head-strong, blood-drinking, dhampyr, has been hidden away in a small town in Maine since the death of her parents. Though she had trained to fight and kill vampires, she never believed those skills would be useful in her mundane life. That’s where she’s wrong.

In one moment, her life changes forever, and her aunt’s final words ring in her head.

They want your blood.

Now orphaned and charged with protecting her sister, Emily—a sister who doesn’t know what they are or that she’s about to endure a life-threatening change—Tasi has no other choice but to follow directions left for her. She is to find an ally who lives in New York City. This is the only way Tasi will figure out why she and Emily are being hunted before they end up drained of their blood.

Excerpt One:
What started out as a routine task to find blood turned into an onslaught of pain. I rubbed my eyes, allowing the darkness that filled my head to fizzle away. My hands, tender from scraping against the gravel, grasped at the cold metal fence. I flinched as my cuts burned against the steel. I’d done this to myself. The thumping under my skin and my lack of balance were all a result of ignoring my need to feed.

Now here I sat, watching my blood as it dripped down my leg and pooled onto the sidewalk. A tingling sensation ran through me as I flicked out the tiny shards that had embedded themselves in my skin. My body helped to push them out in an effort to heal itself. This was not part of tonight’s plan. I stared back up at the fence—my nemesis. Razor-sharp wire wrapped itself around the top of the rusty, twelve-foot-high chain-link barricade.

Take the shortcut, Tasi. It’ll be quicker and safer, Tasi. What a stupid idea.

Under normal circumstances, I could dart up the fence, hop over the barbed wire, and gracefully land on my feet. My overall dexterity might have won me a gold medal in gymnastics, but that was so not happening in my current condition.

An ache thundered through my body as I reached for the fence again. I hoisted myself up for the first time since tumbling off. With one last labored breath, I ran my hands down my pants, dislodging the remaining rocks from my newly healed skin. Nearby, a rustling sound echoed through the alley. My breath caught. The metal garbage cans clanked together as if they were being tossed around. If I were human, I wouldn’t think twice about the commotion. Lucky for me, I knew better. It was probably setting up to kill its next victim. There were a few shady-looking dive bars and run-down nightclubs in this area. The repetitive pounding of music stemming from different directions would drown out all screams. This was a perfect feeding ground.

Over the past few months, these creatures had become my reality. Since I was thirteen, I’d known of their existence, but only recently had I been in the same vicinity as them. And when they were around, you didn’t want to be, so it was time to go.

With a quick pivot in the opposite direction, I ran. I didn’t get farther than a few feet before my shoelace caught in the grate and my chin scraped against the ground. More blood dripped from my body.

Tasi, seriously—what else can go wrong?

Wrapping the shoelace around my fingers, I yanked until it released itself. By the time I tucked it into my shoe, it was too late. It had heard me. The pounding in my ears was no longer from the nightclubs but the pavement, and it was getting louder. I’d piqued its interest. Rather, my blood had piqued its interest.

About the Author:
V. M. Nelson is the author of The Dhampyr Series. She writes upper young adult paranormal, urban fantasy with a touch of romance thrown in. When she isn’t writing, you can find her playing video games.

Virginia resides in Minnesota with her partner and three children. She has always had an obsession for myths, legends, and fairytales. If asked, she would prefer to live in an alternate universe with vampires and fairies.

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$20 Amazon gift card + signed copy of Hunted
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