Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Available now: Asta and the Barbarians by Becca Fox

Becca Fox


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(99c through Sunday, 29 April)
On the day the Holgarians attack her town, twenty-year-old Asta is blessed by a warrior god and is empowered with the heightened senses and unnatural healing abilities these foreign invaders possess. Grief-stricken and paralyzed by terror, she’s hauled onto the conquering general’s ship and taken to the island of Holger across the sea.

One year later, Asta graduates from warrior academy with honors and is chosen as one of the king’s personal defenders. She will finally have the opportunity to kill the man who gave the general his orders, and avenge her family. She doesn’t expect the king to be young or kind, or completely oblivious of what his men are doing overseas. He has been told peaceful negotiations are going well, and the natural resources and ambassadors from the mainland seem to support this report. But Asta knows better.

Asta must find proof of the general’s treachery and bring it before the king so that she can save unconquered provinces from meeting the same fate as her hometown. But the king’s counselors suddenly start dying, and the king himself is hounded by foreign assassins. Revenge will have to wait if Asta’s going to keep the king, the mainland’s only hope, alive.

• • •

General Halvar placed a hand on my shoulder as the ship pulled into the harbor. “Welcome home, Asta.”

I winced at his touch.

“Do you remember why I brought you here?” he asked.

I looked up at the land mass before us.

Holger, the Island of Spears. I knew only rumors about this country. Their warriors couldn’t be defeated in battle, their population was larger than any other nation, and their schools offered the best curriculums. I used to think of it as a massive piece of land floating in the middle of the ocean, with foreboding clouds constantly roiling above. I used to have such an active imagination.

The actual island was far smaller than I pictured. I could see the whole of it with a turn of my head. Food vendors along the pier called out to passersby, women shopped, children played and weaved around horse-drawn carriages. Laughter drew my gaze to a couple attempting to take a schooner out to open waters. Fishing ships heavily laden with full nets pulled in beside us. I could smell the dead fish from my place on the poop deck.

I swallowed the bile traveling up my throat. “I’ve been chosen for a special task.”

“That’s right.” The general finally released my shoulder and stepped around me. His mismatched eyes, one misty white and the other gleaming like liquid copper, bored into mine. “Are you ready?”

I cowered out of habit, but straightened when I realized what I was doing. “Yes, sir.”

A grin stretched the burned side of the general’s face. “Praise be to Dotharr.”

“Praise be to Dotharr,” I said.

“Shall we?”

I stared at the elbow he offered me for a moment, entertaining fantasies about grabbing it and tossing the general overboard. I forced myself to take the elbow and follow him across the main deck instead. He waited patiently while I lifted the skirt of my dress and stepped onto the gangplank. After two weeks of suffering in men’s clothing, I had been given a bath and a new dress this morning. It didn’t make up for what had been done to me, but I couldn’t help feeling slightly grateful. Suddenly, I was a lady again and not a prisoner. Letters along the ship’s hull caught my eye: The Great Disaster.

I remembered everything then with a sudden clarity that made me gasp. My family. My home in Kenshore. The raid. The fires. Being dragged, kicking and screaming, out of the ruins of my town and onto this vessel. I tore my gaze from the hull and blinked away tears.

“Something wrong?” the general asked.

I swallowed hard. “I was simply admiring the ship from this new vantage point, sir.”

The double-masted ship was painted red-brown, with cream-colored sails and a single red flag. A wooden carving of a scantily-clad woman with a devilish smile and an outstretched sword clung to the bow. The seamen scurried up the ratlines to secure the sails while the copper-eyed warriors clamored down the gangplank. I shied away from them as they passed.

The noises of the city and the light of the sun made my head pound. I kept my sensitive eyes half-lidded and fixed on the planks of wood that made up the pier. I had gotten into the habit of breathing through my mouth to avoid overwhelming my nose on the ship, but the open air helped minimize the potency of the different odors wafting toward me.

“Dotharr’s blessings might seem even more burdensome the deeper into the city we go,” General Halvar said. “But you’ll learn to better control your abilities at Dotharr’s Academy.”

I nodded. “Yes, sir.”

The last two men to disembark from the ship stopped beside us.

“Asta, you remember Tarben and Manning?” the general said, gesturing to each as he named them. “They will be your personal guards while I’m away.”

“D-Do I need protecting, sir?”

General Halvar chuckled. “You’re the first woman and outsider to be chosen by our Heavenly Master of Warriors. Until you’ve learned how to use your new abilities to properly defend yourself, you will most definitely need protecting. Come along now.”

• • •

Becca Fox was that strange girl in high school who always seemed to have her nose in a book. She didn’t talk much because, more often than not, she was daydreaming about the different worlds in her books. Instead of doodling on the corners of her notes, she wrote scenes for her works in progress while the teacher lectured. She preferred quiet weekends at home with family or with Netflix over parties and large crowds.

Becca talks a bit more now, but not much else has changed. She still enjoys reading, writing, daydreaming, and watching TV, although, she’s gotten a lot better at socializing…over Twitter.

She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, a fat orange tabby cat, and a forever-puppy.

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Friday, 20 April 2018

Available Now in Print: What the Future Holds by Joan Fleming

Magic of Mull Series, #1
Joan Fleming


Columb Cottage on Mull has long been in Amy Wilson's family. Instead of the relaxing holiday she expected, she's now pitted against Sandy McFarlane, a boy she once loved, who intends on building a holiday village on a site beside her cottage. Having just lost her job, Amy is moving to Mull. She'll fight Sandy if she has to, to prevent the project, but finds she's falling in love all over again.
• • •
It was early evening by the time Amy Wilson opened the bulky envelope. Sitting by the fire, with a glass of red wine in her hand, she drew a deep breath of sheer contentment. This was what relaxation was all about—the scent of burning peat, silence except for the faint whisper of the waves lapping over the rocks in the bay, and the view of the island of Iona no picture postcard image could ever reproduce.
Pure heaven. That was until she saw the contents of the envelope.

Flicking her dark brown hair behind her ears, she straightened in her armchair.

At first, she stared at the papers, trying to work out what they meant. Log cabins? Holiday homes? Leisure facility? What had all this to do with her? She looked again at the envelope.

Miss A. Wilson
Columb Cottage
Isle of Mull

There was no doubt it was meant for her. But why was it delivered here at the cottage in Mull when she had arranged to forward her mail to her Glasgow address? Then she realised there was no stamp on the envelope and in a corner were the words “Hand Delivered”.

Closer examination revealed the paperwork had been prepared by a firm of solicitors. The covering letter explained the purpose of the communication—a proposal had been submitted to build twelve log cabins—a ‘holiday village’ to be named Oceanview—on a piece of ground by the sea shore on the edge of Amy’s land. Enclosed was a plan of the holiday facility.

The more she read, the faster Amy’s heart beat. Build on the shoreline! What a preposterous idea! There was no way anyone could be allowed to ruin the natural beauty of this spot on the island. Jumping up from her comfortable armchair, she ran over to the window to look out at the bay. With the plan of the proposed holiday village in her hand, she glanced from the plan to the bay itself, trying to visualise where the cabins would be, how they would look. Would they interfere with her view? Would she still be able to see the abbey on the island of Iona? Or the sea? No—this was unacceptable. It was out of the question. She would not allow it to happen!
• • •
Joan Fleming was born and educated in Edinburgh, Scotland. After university there, she became a teacher of French and German for a short period in the London area, then in the West of Scotland.

Since leaving education, she now concentrates on creative writing. She has had short stories and articles published in magazines in both the UK and America, and has won a number of awards for her writing.

Joan is a member of Erskine Writers, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors.

Her interests include: reading, walking, travel, islands (anywhere!) and the life and work of Robert Burns.

She now lives in a flat on the outskirts of Glasgow overlooking the West Highland Way.

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Available Now: Festival Fireworks by Ann Burnett

Anne Burnett



(99c through 22 April)
Twenty-seven year old Aussie, Jill Kennedy, has arrived in Edinburgh during the festival and staying in her aunt's empty flat. Immediately, she crosses swords with her new neighbour, Andrew MacCallum-Blair. To make things worse, she discovers he’s her boss in the temporary job she’s taken so she can afford to see Scotland.

For his part, Andrew has decided to harden his heart against falling in love again but Jill's fresh and frank approach to life threaten to break down the barricades he’s erected around his heart.

Jill can't understand Andrew’s changing moods, and even more, her own confused feelings for 'Mr Bossy', as she has nicknamed him.

As fireworks burst over Edinburgh Castle, Jill and Andrew must decide whether the fireworks sparking between them will lead to love or a parting of the ways.

• • •

‘Is that your car?’ he shouted up at her.

‘Yes,’ she called back.

‘You can’t park there!’ he yelled. ‘That’s my space.’

‘OK, I’m sorry,’ Jill called down to him. ‘I didn’t know. I’m new here.’

‘Aren’t you going to move it then?’ His face glared up at her, and even from two storeys up, she could make out the flash in his dark eyes. His stance reinforced his mood, hands on hips, long legs set apart, gripping the pot-holed tarmac of the parking area with a ferocity she couldn’t miss.

‘I’ve just washed my hair. Can you give me ten minutes while I dry it?’

‘No!’ The bellow reverberated around the buildings. Jill could well imagine numerous faces half hidden behind twitching curtains watching and listening to the contretemps. She sighed, closed the window, and gave her wet hair another rub with the towel, then slipped on a jacket and headed for the door.


The natives don’t seem all that friendly, she said to herself, as she flip-flopped her way down two flights of tenement stairs. The stairs wound round and round in an open spiral, and Jill held onto the brass balustrade as she descended. Wrought iron banisters coiled in fanciful flowers below the balustrade. Someone, many years ago, had taken a lot of time and care in fashioning them, she thought.

All the way down she tried to think of smart put-downs for Mr. Bossy outside, but her brain still wasn’t up to speed after her flight. At the landing window, she glimpsed him pacing up and down beside Linda’s car. His Mercedes still had its engine running.

Waster, she thought, more money than sense. Using up his fuel and polluting the atmosphere. No green credentials, him.

When she opened the door into the back court, he turned towards her. She could see how tall he was now; upstairs, the height had foreshortened him.

‘Thank goodness!’ he exclaimed. ‘Now shift your car and let me in.’

‘What’s the magic word?’ It was out before she could think. Jill’s infamous ‘open mouth before engaging brain’ syndrome.


‘No, not that but at least it’s a start.’

He glowered at Jill while she tried to stand as tall and straight and important as her five feet four inches, wet hair, and flip-flops would allow. She met his eye and held his gaze.

‘Don’t be so childish,’ he said, ‘and hurry up and move your car.’

Glaring at him, Jill climbed into the driver’s seat of Linda’s Yaris and attempted to start it.

It coughed and died. She tried again, and the same thing happened. What had Linda said about the car? ‘It was a great bargain, though it is a wee bit tetchy about starting. A touch temperamental, in fact.’ Sounds like Mr. Bossy here, she thought. ‘But just jolly it along a bit and it will get going.’ Well, that was something she wasn’t going to try with Mr. Bossy, though the sooner he got going the better. But she decided to try it on the car.

‘Come on now,’ she said out loud. ‘Try your best. You know you can do it.’ The engine coughed and spluttered. ‘That’s it. That’s the job. Come on, just a bit more.’

The engine caught, and she revved it up to make sure. ‘Wonderful! See, I told you that you could do it.’

She glanced round to see Mr. Bossy staring bemusedly at her. She wound down the window, gave him a wink, and shouted, ‘No worries!’ before reversing out of the space and parking in her designated bay.

She watched as he swung the sleek, black Mercedes into the spot she’d occupied. He jumped out, clicked the lock, and hurried into the entrance of the apartments.

• • •

Ann Burnett was born in Scotland where she now lives but has travelled extensively and lived in Canada and Australia.

She has published short stories, articles and children’s stories, as well as writing a novel, Loving Mother, as part of her Masters in Creative Writing. She is an experienced Creative Writing tutor and adjudicator for the Scottish Association of Writers.

Her short stories have been published in New Writing Scotland, Glasgow University Creative Writing anthologies, My Weekly, That’s Life (Australia), Woman's Weekly and the Weekly News. Her collection of short stories, Take a Leaf out of My Book, is available on Amazon.

Her memoir, illustrated with her father's photos, A Scottish Childhood, Growing up a Baby Boomer has just been published.

But perhaps she is best remembered for writing Postman Pat stories for a children's comic every week for five years. A labour of love indeed!

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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Available Now: Misfortune of Song by Christy Nicholas

Druid's Brooch, #5
Christy Nicholas



(99c through 8 April)
Even a soldier cannot fight love

In 12th century Ireland, all Maelan wants is to do his duty to his Chief and maintain his family’s good name. However, his granddaughter Orlagh, is hell bent on wreaking havoc, with no care for the consequences.

When Orlagh falls in love with an itinerant bard, Maelan must rule with an iron fist to keep her from running away. However, her rebellion against his strictures results in disaster and he almost loses her in the same way he lost his beloved wife.

Maelan must make some difficult decisions and bargains with the Fae to save his granddaughter’s life and future. Can he save her happiness as well?

• • •

1114 AD Ceann-Coradh, near Cill Dalua, Hibernia

“I cannot do what you ask, my chief.” Maelan kept his back stiff and his gaze forward. He couldn't bring himself to look Diarmait Ua Briain in the eye, not after the command he'd just been given. Not only did it leave a bitter taste in Maelan’s mouth, but such an act would break his code of honor as a Christian.

The chieftain stopped mid-stride. “What did you say, Maelan?”

Concentrating on the wall tapestry in the large royal chamber, Maelan remained still. “I said I cannot kill Murtough Ua Briain.”

Diarmait growled and spun, his thin frame hidden by the enormous multi-colored cloak he loved wearing. His face darkened, and he picked up a metal platter. The remains of his meal dropped to the floor as he flung the platter against the wooden walls. The harsh clang made Maelan flinch, and he did not flinch easily.

He stepped so close to Maelan their noses almost touched. Maelan could smell mead and onions on his breath. “How many winters have you been a warrior, Maelan?”

“Almost fifty winters, my chief.”

Diarmait cocked his head and raised his eyebrows. “In fifty winters’ time, you never killed anyone?”

“Of course. A warrior kills many enemies, my chief.”

“Yet you refuse to kill my enemy now.”

“You haven’t asked me to kill an enemy. You’ve asked me to kill your own brother. You do not ask for an honorable killing. You ask for a kin assassination, my chief.”

Diarmait threw his hands in the air. “Stop saying ‘my chief’ every other word, Maelan! By the power of the sun and the moon, we’ve known each other too long for such formalities. I don’t understand your reluctance. The man is a warrior just as you are. Why would you scruple to kill another warrior?”

“A warrior in battle is honorable. A helpless kinsman on his sickbed is murder.”

He spun, pacing several times as he spoke. “You and your stupid Christian morals. Why are you so blind to necessity, Maelan? When he recovers, he’ll take the tĂșath from me again. You’ll be just as dispossessed as I if that happens.”

Maelan could think of nothing to say. Either he argued with Diarmait or betrayed his beliefs. He chose neither option.

Chief Diarmait closed his eyes and let out a weary sigh. “Time was you would do as your chief commanded, Maelan. When did you change?”

Maelan clenched his teeth against the memory of that battle —a day which still haunted him.

Diarmait crossed his arms and frowned. “Sometimes I just don’t understand you, Maelan. You are my warchief, my best warrior and one of my oldest friends. You’ve stood by me through war, raids, and celebrations. Your wife, may she rest in the Summer Lands, was my own dear cousin.”

“That is all true, my chief. Nothing changed.”

“Yet you won’t kill for me.”

Maelan swallowed. “I cannot justify such an act to my God. Such an act is dishonorable.”

“Dishonorable? How in the name of all things holy is killing dishonorable? Battle is an ancient tradition for all Gaels.”

“Not for Christians, my chief. I mean, Diarmait.”

Diarmait growled. “Codswallop! A bunch of stammering weaklings. You and my brother both love them for some unknown reason. Go, Maelan. Leave me now. Do send me someone with the skills I need. You must have one warrior in your command unweakened by your Christian morals.”

“Yes, my… yes, Diarmait.”

Maelan almost smiled, but restrained himself.

Once he safely escaped the royal rooms, he breathed a sigh of relief. It didn’t really matter who he sent in his stead. No one else would have his own advantage. Murtough Ua Briain, his own chief’s brother and rival for the Chiefdom of an Mhumhain, would live another day—unless his illness took him.

Maelan had a good group of warriors under him, with various skills and specialties. Maelan could be an excellent assassin, thanks to his magical talent, but he’d never use his magic for such a task.

As Diarmait had pointed out, not every Gaelic warrior believed secret killing was dishonest. In Gaelic culture, killing became a logical part of the constant warfare between tribes and clans. Maelan was raised, however, in a strict Christian household. His grandfather had been a priest, and such sins are unforgivable.

His chief still cleaved onto most of his pagan Gaelic beliefs, though Diarmait certainly gave lip service to the Christian God and their priests. He could hardly do less these days, with the amount of sheer power the Church now held. Many winters ago, perhaps in his great-grandfather’s time, more pagans lived, but they’d been hunted and destroyed with alarming violence. Violence wasn’t common on their own island, but crucifixions, even burnings, were not unheard of in other lands.

The violence. Despite being a warrior all his life, Maelan detested and regretted unnecessary violence. Some of his memories…

Maelan found his own room and closed the door, thankful to be out of sight. He removed his simple brat from around his shoulders and sat at the simple wooden desk.

He had work to do. The supply lists were still unfinished, and he needed to assign mentors to the new trainees. Some of those boys were barely grown. One only counted seven winters. Certainly, training a warrior young helped get them used to the feel of a spear in their hands, but seven?

Maelan’s own training had officially started at age twelve. He’d had fighter practice since he aged ten winters. He fostered to his mother’s brother, a warrior in Corcaigh, after age ten. He’d been so proud of his wooden practice sword and leather helm. He smiled at the memory, but frowned as he remembered his grandmother. She’d left the winter before his fostering, disappearing in the night. He’d only found her once, many winters later.

When he turned thirty, she’d sought him out, though he’d believed her long dead. She’d gifted him with a family heirloom, passed down for generations untold. He still held his brooch, a magical artifact which granted him the ability to stay hidden in plain sight.

He wished she’d had a similar talent. Instead, her talent almost got her killed. Did she still live somewhere? Had she managed to reinvent herself? He hoped so. He suspected, however, after she relinquished the brooch, her talent of eternal youth had faded.

After swallowing hard and chiding himself for useless nostalgia, Maelan bent to the task of finishing his work for the day.

• • •

Christy Nicholas, also known as Green Dragon, has her hands in many crafts, including digital art, beaded jewelry, writing, and photography. In real life, she's a CPA, but having grown up with art all around her (her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are/were all artists), it sort of infected her, as it were. She loves to draw and to create things. She says it's more of an obsession than a hobby. She likes looking up into the sky and seeing a beautiful sunset, or seeing a fragrant blossom or a dramatic seaside. She takes a picture or creates a piece of jewelry as her way of sharing this serenity, this joy, this beauty with others. Sometimes this sharing requires explanation – and thus she writes. Combine this love of beauty with a bit of financial sense and you get an art business. She does local art and craft shows, as well as sending her art to various science fiction conventions throughout the country and abroad.

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