Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Author: Andy Peloquin (Page 1 of 52)

ROGUE 2

Book Review: Rogue by Martyn Halm

I’m happy to once again bring you a book from the Katla Sieltjes series, one of my favorite modern-day series about the bad-ass assassin Katla! I reviewed both Book 1 and Book 2 in the series, and this new one is an amazing continuation in a great series.

Rogue

Freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter Katla Sieltjes runs her business of disguising homicide below the radar of law enforcement, but when her latest target is a judas goat intended to draw her out into the open, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Fooling local law enforcement can be challenging, but hiding from intelligence communities aiming to enlist Katla for their dirty work might prove impossible.

ROGUE 2

With Homeland Security, DEA, and the German BKA joining forces with Dutch Intelligence in an effort to track down Loki Enterprises, not only Katla’s future is threatened, but also the lives of her lover and his friends.

My Review: 5 Stars

I breezed through this book in a couple of days—I just couldn’t put it down! From the first page, the rich descriptions of Amsterdam (and other cities the characters visit) drew me in, and it was a true pleasure to return to the world of Katla, Bram, and the other awesome characters created by the author.

The story was fast-paced, with not a dull moment. I can’t wait until I get to read the next book in the series!

Here’s a Taste:

Unlike his girlfriend, Bram Merleyn seemed unperturbed by the situation. Or maybe it was the VIP lounge instead of an interrogation room. He had taken off his shoes, and sat cross-legged on a leather sofa, hands resting on his knees. Together with the half-smile on his face, the blind man exuded a Zen-like calm, as if he was detained by the police on a regular basis. Polak planted the tripod and switched on the camera while the Chief Inspector sighed and took a seat opposite Merleyn.

“I’m sorry,” Basalt said. “This must be quite a blow for you.”

“This?” Merleyn tilted his head. “You have to be more specific.”

“Your girlfriend being questioned for killing someone.” The Chief Inspector paused, then said, “How long have you known her?”

“Long enough.” Merleyn rolled his head like a boxer. “Long enough to know you’re wrong.”

“You’re sure?”

“Absolutely. Business is war, but she’s only shrewd and ruthless within the confines of a boardroom.”

“Strange. I look at your girlfriend and I see a headstrong young woman. Not the type to cuddle babies or pet puppies, but the cool executive type.”

“With the emphasis on executive, right?” Merleyn gave him a smug smile. “She works in a male-dominated environment, where femininity equals subservience. To command respect she projects a tough image. Apparently convincing enough to fool you.”

“You’re saying her attitude is an affectation? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that. I saw her stab a man to death.”

“Stab?” Merleyn leaned forward. “With a knife?”

“Yes.”

Merleyn flashed the Chief Inspector a wry smile. “Quite an achievement for someone who cannot stand the sight of blood.”

“What do you mean?”

“She can’t even look at a rare steak without going woozy.”

“We recorded her every move.” The Chief Inspector’s soft voice grew apologetic. “She killed someone in front of a security camera.”

Merleyn sat up straight again. “Seeing is believing.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“If you have her on tape, what are you talking to me for?”

“Background information.”

“Meaning, she wouldn’t tell you anything.” Merleyn snorted. “Maybe she made the correct assessment and I should follow her lead.”

“You paint a different picture than what I’ve seen so far,” Basalt said. “You sound convincing, but can you prove she’s like you say she is?”

“Prove?” Merleyn titled his head. “You’ve seen her limp?”

“Yes.”

“Did she tell you how she got it?”

Basalt shrugged. “I didn’t ask.”

“Last summer she spent a week in England for business meetings. I wasn’t able to accompany her, I had other commitments.”

“What is it you do?”

“I’m a musician. Anyway, she rented a motorcycle to ride around the countryside. Her way of unwinding. Despite her considerable experience riding motorcycles she ran off the road into a fence and skewered her thigh.” Merleyn paused to let it sink in. “You know what caused that accident? She nearly killed herself swerving to avoid running over a hedgehog. She might not look the type to pet puppies, but appearances might be deceiving.”

The Chief Inspector fell silent. Polak was still translating the last words and the blind man cocked his head. His English was impeccable. “Do I have an audience?”

“A small one,” Polak said. “I’m also with Amsterdam Municipal Police, and translating for a colleague from the United States, Ms. Cohn.”

Laure automatically inclined her head, sighed at her own stupidity, and said, “Hello.”

“What agency are you from, Ms. Cohn?”

“What makes you think I’m from an agency, Mr. Merlin?”

“It’s Merleyn. You’re too far from home for local or state police. What are you? FBI? CIA?”

“Mr. Merleyn,” Basalt interrupted. “You implied that your girlfriend affected a tough attitude.”

“I didn’t imply anything.” Merleyn turned back slowly to the Chief Inspector and spoke in measured tones. “I know she affects a tough attitude and I told you the reasons why to save you confusion on the issue.”

“Could you be wrong about this?”

Merleyn didn’t hesitate. “No.”

“Are you telling me you’re infallible?”

“Can I have some water?” Merleyn held out his hand with the commanding presence of someone used to having his wishes fulfilled. Basalt nodded at Polak, who went to the water fountain in the corner and filled a plastic cup. His free hand touched Merleyn’s wrist before he lowered the cup in the blind man’s grip. Merleyn drank the water and licked his lips. “Thanks.”

“So,” Basalt said. “How do you—”

“How long have we known each other?” Merleyn smiled in the Chief Inspector’s direction with an easy familiarity. “You and me?”

Basalt steepled his fingers. “I don’t think we met before today.”

“Right.” Merleyn put his hands together, as if unconsciously mirroring the Chief Inspector, then pointed at Basalt with his fingertips. “How do I know you are fifty‑plus years old, smoke cigars, don’t pay much attention to trends or fashion, are overweight, Protestant, and recently divorced?”

Basalt moved back imperceptibly, as if Merleyn had pushed him back in his chair.

Merleyn placed his hands on his knees again. “Am I right?”

“Yes. Yes, you are. How did you guess?”

“I didn’t ‘guess’, Chief Inspector. I pay attention.”

“Neat trick.”

“Don’t try to reduce my deduction to a parlour trick. You’re easy to read. You refer to my girlfriend as a ‘young woman’, so you’re obviously twenty or more years older. The cigars wasn’t difficult, nor the trends and fashion bit. The atrocious scent you doused yourself in to mask the smell of your unwashed body can’t have set you back more than a few euro. The floor vibrated as you entered the lounge, you wheezed when you sat and the chair complained under your weight. And like most married Protestants, you used to wear a wedding band on your right hand, long enough to form the indentation I noticed when I shook your hand.”

Basalt folded his arms. “I could’ve been a widower.”

“Doubtful,” Merleyn said. “If your wife had died, you would’ve worn both your wedding bands to honour her.”

“Not my wife,” Basalt said, drawing a chuckle from Polak.

Merleyn didn’t crack a smile. “You’re too bitter to have lost your wife. So she left you.”

“Listen, we’re not here to—”

“You missed the point, Basalt. I don’t care about you. Now, if I know this much about you after,” Merleyn ran his finger over his watch, “seventeen minutes, imagine how much I know about the woman I live with and actually care about. You arrested the wrong person. I’d know if my lover has homicidal tendencies.”

The Chief Inspector held up his hands. “Ms. Sieltjes is being questioned, not arrested.”

“You saw her kill someone and you didn’t arrest her?” Merleyn wrinkled his nose. “You ought to be ashamed, lying to the blind. Your evidence is virtually non‑existent, isn’t it?”

“We have a recording of your girlfriend committing a murder, Merleyn.”

“Something that would hold up in court? That would unmistakably show my lover, a respectable and successful businesswoman, without a criminal record or even a parking ticket to her name, stab someone to death despite having an aversion to blood?”

The silence in the room became oppressive. Merleyn leaned forward and said, “You know what I’d do? I’d swallow my pride and apologise to her before she’ll make you eat your mistake in court.”

About the Author:

Martyn V. Halm lives in Amsterdam with two children, two cats, two rats, and countless imaginary characters vying for attention.

Writing realistic crime fiction is hard work, especially when you’re a stickler for verisimilitude. When your protagonist is a seasoned killer, research can take you right up to Nietzsche’s abyss. Luckily, things get easier after the first few killings…

Apart from being an accomplished prevaricator, Martyn already possessed an eclectic variety of skills that qualified him to write the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Skills he shares with his deadly fictional characters…

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GO6VQ8O/

Read Martyn’s thoughts on his blog: http://amsterdamassassin.wordpress.com/

And his website http://tao-of-violence.weebly.com/

 

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Less Testosterone = More Civilization?

I stumbled across an article yesterday on Psychology Today titled “Did a Drop in Testosterone Civilize Modern Humans?” Basically, the article explains how the physical changes in Homo sapiens (skull and facial feature sizes and shapes) indicate a decrease in testosterone levels.

How is this possible? Studies have proven that impaired testosterone can lead to less “masculine” features among men: less prominent brows, a rounder face, etc. Higher testosterone levels lead to more masculine features, including a longer face and more prominent brows. So, the fact that the Homo sapiens’ skull and facial structure changed could very well be the result of lower testosterone levels.

But the article goes on to link these changes to an increase in civilization. Before Homo sapiens, there was little in the way of tools, language, written language, agriculture, and other early technology. Some pre-historic humans went extinct before Homo sapiens developed these things. If this correlation actually did exist, it could point to some pretty interesting things about the role of testosterone in society.

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for aggression in both men and women. One study found that increasing the levels of testosterone in the male brain led to increased reactivity of the hypothalamus, amygdala, and periaqueductal grey when confronted with angry facial expressions. The result: a higher aggression and threat-processing response. In the same test, MRI imaging revealed that men with lower testosterone levels responded less aggressively to the same stimuli.

We’ve all heard people talking about what would happen if women ruled the world, how there would be less violence and wars. Perhaps there is some truth to that! After all, women tend to have lower testosterone levels, meaning less reaction when confronted with anger or negative emotions that would trigger a threat-response or aggressive reaction in men.

This isn’t a dig against men—after all, I’m definitely fully in the “man” category of my species. But I find it an interesting look at the way our biochemistry could work against us.

As men, we have a natural reaction to respond to hostility with hostility. When we perceive someone or something as a threat, our instinct is to get aggressive and “deal with it”.

Time to stop and realize that it’s just our brains triggering that response! Once we realize that our instinctive reaction is biological instead of something that is actually thought through and analyzed, it may help us take a step back to avoid the hostility or confrontation. We could all afford to dial back the aggression a bit, so understanding the way our brains trigger this reaction gives us the power to say, “No, this is not how I actually feel, so I’m not going to react this way.”

Combat and aggression averted!

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The Origin of Bias and Prejudice

Sadly, it is human nature to be biased or prejudiced against those who are different from us. No matter how “evolved” we think we are, there will always be a subconscious reaction to the things that separate us from those around us and vice versa.

The belief that “opposites attract” is absolutely true. As humans, we are attracted to the new, unique, and novel. Our curiosity is aroused when we encounter something that is different from what we are familiar with. We have to explore it, study it, and find out as much as we can about it. The human brain has an innate desire to broaden our horizons and understandings.

Knowing that, it seems odd that we would feel bias or prejudice toward something that is different or new, right?

Well, it’s all about how our brains process new information. One new piece of information, we can absorb it no problem. Ten to twenty, sure! But when our brains are overloaded with new information, it can be too much all at once for us to handle. This triggers feelings of fear and distress—the primal instinct that protects us from danger.

When we are introduced to someone or something that is “too different” from what we know, it can bring on those feelings of fear and anxiety. The human response is aggression or avoidance of anything that causes those feelings. Thus, we are instinctively biased against the new or different because it makes us afraid.

Prejudice is defined as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”, while the definition of bias is “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”

Notice how prejudice is “not based on reason or actual experience”? It’s just our brains responding to an overwhelming amount of new information that it isn’t equipped to handle. When we see someone of a different color, facial structure, sexual or gender identity, or hair color or hear an idea that is too far outside our normal way of thinking, our innate reaction is fear, disgust, and avoidance or rejection.

Understanding this is the key to overcoming bias and prejudice. Once we realize that bias is OUR fault—the fault of our brains being overloaded, really—it puts things into perspective. It’s on us to help our brain adapt to the new information (however long it takes) so that we can once again experience the wonder and joy of exploring the unknown.

 

Cat

Book Review: Operation Badger by Tabitha Ormiston Smith

Today, I’m glad to bring another book by the wonderful Tabitha Ormiston Smith. I’ve reviewed three of her books in the past (Dance of Chaos, Operation Camilla, and Once Upon a Dragon). Now, I’ve got Operation Badger, her latest “cat mystery”.

Operation Badger

Detective Senior Constable Ben Jackson is handsome, kind, diligent, dedicated and a total mensch. He’s also as thick as two planks.
His girlfriend, Tammy, is clever as anything, but sillier than a wet hen.
And then there is Tom. Tom is a cat.
Follow this unlikely crime-busting trio as they bucket from one disaster to another.

Cat

My Review: 4 Stars

I loved how quintessentially Australian this book was! The latest in the “Operation Tomcat” novels was as quirky and off-the-wall as I was hoping for. It wasn’t quite as funny or utterly over-the-top outrageous as the previous one, but it was still highly entertaining. Short, sweet, and a humorous read overall—just what I was expecting from the book.

I received it in exchange for an honest review, and I always smile when reading Tabitha’s books.

Here’s a Taste:

A wide, happy smile rose to Ben’s face as he stepped out of the bakery, the flat box carefully balanced. It was a new week, he was on afternoons, his favourite shift, the sun was shining and he had on a brand-new suit. He was on his way to work at a job he loved, and later he would go home to the most beautiful woman in the world. Everything in Ben’s life was just about perfect, he reckoned, and so on this perfect day he had detoured to the bakery on his way back from court for a box of fancy doughnuts to treat his mates in the squadroom.

Ben’s shoulders squared and his chin lifted as he stepped onto the wide pavement. Look at all those citizens going about their business. He was their protector, one link in the Thin Blue Line that separated the good people from the Bad Guys. Ever since he could remember, Ben had always wanted to be a policeman; it was his life’s dream come true. He was Living His Dream. Not bad for twenty-seven.

A klaxon shrieked and he almost dropped the box. Hell! It was the bank down the street. Two men ran out and piled into a rusty old vehicle, roaring away in a cloud of smoke. Shit! A robbery! Heart pounding, Ben raced to his car and fumbled to get the key in. The suspect vehicle was turning the corner at the Carrington Street intersection. If he got right after them.…

And then it happened. The keys dropped from his fingers, and as he grabbed for them his hand just grazed them, knocking them away, and as time slowed he seemed to watch in horror for an eternity as they sailed gracefully away towards the kerb.

Towards the stormwater drain.

As Ben launched himself in a flying tackle, right arm extended vainly grasping for his keys, he had an instant in which to reflect that he must look just like Superman flying through the air, and then he was down on his belly in the gutter, trying to suck in air against his winded diaphragm, watching as the keys slid slowly, but inexorably, out of sight.

About the Author:

Tabitha Ormiston-Smith has spent her life in the pursuit of a good laugh. This quest has taken her through financial reporting, Information Technology, the military, commercial recovery and degrees in Computer Science, Philosophy and Law. Still on the hunt, now Tabitha shares her kills with her readers.

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Operation-Badger-Tomcat-Book-ebook/dp/B071HGP7T5

Read Tabitha’s thoughts on her website: http://tormistonsmith.wix.com/tabitha

Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OrmistonSmith/

Tweet at her: @OrmistonSmith

 

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Guest Post: Top 13 Authentic Sites for Stock Photography

Today, I’ve got a guest post along the vein of a previous post: Awesome Resources for Creative Writing: Stock Photography Sites. Someone contacted me with a list of stock photography sites they recommended, and I had to share them with you.

Our guest author, Jacky Chou, has gone over some of the lesser-known stock photography sites and shares his opinion on each:

1. EyeEm

In my experienced opinion, EyeEm is the ultimate stock photography resource for most content creators. I have used a lot, and done a lot of research, and no other site even manages to come close to the effectiveness of EyeEm, in my system of value, anyway. I love looking at the high-resolution, carefully curated, creative images that end up on this site.

2. Gratisography

Gratisography stands alone in second place on my list. It is very good. Not quite the best, but definitely separates itself from the pack in many ways. Why? Well, first of all, the photos themselves are very good. Mostly, I appreciate the way that categories are established and organized. There are straightforward, literal search categories like “People”, but also more evocative ones such as “Whimsical.” Personally, this suits me well.  More photos are always being added, and, as of now, this is already one of the best collections on the web.

3. MMT

Here is the first “niche” site to end up on this list, and one of the only ones. Generally, I judge niche sites quite harshly for their lack of versatility, but MMT manages to do it wisely and well. They seem to focus on two very distinct, different categories of image. Flowers and Nature, and Offices. If you think about it, these two general themes can be used for a wide variety of content. I mean, “office” doesn’t exactly scream “variety” but the amount of content writing that relates to workplace culture is quite significant. Flowers and Nature, on the other hand, has to be one of the most versatile thematic choices somebody can make. MMT aces both of these categories, which gives them an oddly broad appeal. The images themselves are incredibly well selected.

4. StockSnap.io

StockSnap is a great site. Great in quality, but also, great in sheer size. The quantity is substantial here, and leaves nothing to be desired. Even though higher quantity generally means less consistency in regards to high-quality, this website manages the balance quite admirably. In fact, I didn’t notice more “bad” photos here than most other sites, which is impressive, based on the amount that they are constantly adding; and the additions happen on a daily basis.

5. Unsplash

With every 10 days that pass, Unsplash adds another 10 photos to their impressive collection. No, it isn’t as substantial as a collection in size as many others, but the quality is hard to parallel. I really like this website and its impressive collection of images, and find myself on Unsplash on a fairly regular basis, admiring their new additions.

6. Negative Space

Negative Space does all the little things right, and takes care of business in a way that is quite admirable. The images are high-res, clearly chosen with care, and, best of all, completely free of charge. The organization also earns some bonus marks, as searching within the 14 distinct categories makes for user-friendly browsing.

7. Freestocks.org

Freestocks.org is an underrated source of high-quality images. It is not particularly exceptional, but, as the name suggests, it is a quality site for free stock photographs. That’s what you’re looking for, isn’t it?

8. Picography

I enjoy the time I spend on Picography. Dave Meier created this site, and is the main contributor, but he has also put together a team of skilled, creative photographers and photo contributors. I highly recommend Picography if you’re looking for high-quality photos for free.

9. Death to Stock

Death to Stock is pretty odd, but it is also quite cool. Death to Stock runs itself as a service. Rather than skimming through a mass catalogue, Death to Stock sends 10 groovy new images to your email inbox on a monthly basis. Based on the name of the site, one could safely assume that Death to Stock is trying to change the game and subvert typical Stock Photography practices… However, as well as their neat photo packs, they offer a premium package that lets you dive into their entire 1500+ catalogue for a small fee. Based on what I’ve seen of their work, I would assume that this is a worthwhile purchase, if you’re willing to pay.

10. Picjumbo

There is nothing wrong with Picjumbo. The photos are good. It is categorized in an efficient, user-friendly way. I use it every now and then and never have a single complaint.

11. New Old Stock

This is an example of a “limited” niche, but I still think it is worth recommending due to the integrity and quality of the images. New Old Stock specializes in old-school, vintage images that give a very Americana, classic vibe. If you’re not into that, look elsewhere. If your content can benefit from that feeling, then head there right away and take it in. I really like these images and it’s a good site.

12. Getrefe

I’m not typically one for gimmicks, but the image collection on Getrefe is impressive even without knowing its major quirk. What’s the quirk? Every image hosted by Getrefe has actually been taken by the camera on a mobile phone.

13. Kaboom Pics

Rounding out my list of 13– last, but just ever so slightly “least” in such elite company: Kaboom Pics. I often use this site, and have no complaints! Great images, solid interface. I have used a few images from here, and I am sure I’ll be returning!

About the Author

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Jacky Chou is a digital marketing consultant, founder of Indexsy and Reputations.io, and he is pretty good with a stapler.

 

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Book Review: Darkstorm by ML Spencer

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’ve got a dark fantasy treat by the awesome ML Spencer. This is the first book of hers I’ve read, and I have to say it was a pleasure to read. While not perfect, it was a solid read and a great addition to the dark fantasy genre.

Darkstorm

Faced with an imminent cataclysm that will destroy the magical heritage of their people, a secret conspiracy of mages has resorted to harnessing the powers of Hell to save their legacy. The only mages who can oppose them are Braden and Quin Reis: two brothers with a turbulent past and a caustic relationship. But both Braden and Quin are compromised, harboring terrible and tragic secrets.

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Will Braden and Quin be able to prevent the unsealing of the Well of Tears? Or will they fall victim to the darkmages’ sinister manipulations and join their conspiracy?

My Review: 4 Stars

There were a lot of things I loved about this book. There was one particular scene earlier on that beautifully showed the callous brutality of the characters and the world in which the book was set. The story was engaging, well-paced, and pulled me along from start to finish. The ending of the book was beautifully satisfactory and yet surprised me at the same time.

I found a few issues: one part of the story seemed to meander in a certain direction for no apparent reason. I believe it was meant to delve into the backstory of the character/s, but it just felt out of place among the rest. Also, the romance between two of the characters was hard to swallow. They went from opposites to lovers in too short a time without proper development of their relationship.

However, overall it was a great book and one I’d recommend to lovers of dark fantasy.

Here’s a Taste:

The room they entered was just as dark and wet as the rest of the warren of passageways they had traversed. On one side of the floor was a large slab of granite, waist-high. It had the look of a table or altar, hewn from a single slab of rock. A foul, dark liquid oozed down its sides, congealing on its surface.

To the other side of the chamber was a circular well made of staggered granite blocks.

It was toward the stone table that Braden moved first. He paused beside it, eyes contemplating the rough surface. Slowly, he extended his hand and dipped a finger into the dark liquid pooled on its surface. His finger came away coated with thick, coagulated blood.

Sephana recoiled with a gasp. The sheer amount of blood was appalling. It collected on the surface of the table, running in thick rivulets to the floor. She was standing in it. The blood had mixed with the water at her feet, rendering it impossible to tell how much there actually was.

She shook her head and whispered, “Animal sacrifice? To what purpose?”

“No.”

Braden’s voice was empty and hollow, completely drained of all emotion. The sound of it chilled her heart. He lifted something from the floor next to the slab of rock. It took Sephana a moment to recognize the object in his hand: a thick iron shackle anchored by a heavy chain to the side of the granite block.

Human,” she whispered.

She covered her mouth with her hand as Braden cast the chain away from him, repulsed. The iron shackle slapped hard against the slab with a sharp ring of metal.

Sephana flinched at the harsh sound. Braden hardly seemed to care if anyone heard. With a grimace of contempt, he wrenched himself back away from the altar, swinging around to face the well. He stalked across the floor toward it, kneeling down beside the granite ring. His hand rose, tracing over a series of vile-looking markings that were carved into the well’s rim. They looked more like claw marks raked into the stone by some ghastly creature than any language Sephana knew.

She crept up beside him and observed Braden’s study of the gruesome marks.

“I want to go,” she insisted, voice quavering.

But he didn’t act as though he even heard her. He was kneeling beside the well, inching his way slowly around its circumference, eyes and fingers exploring the hideous markings all around the rim.

At last, Braden finished his scrutiny of the well’s texture and pushed himself to his feet. His gaze remained fixed on the sinister markings, stare narrowed in thought. He brought his hand up to his face, absently stroking his thumb over the whiskers on his chin. He rested his other hand on the well’s cover, a thick slab of granite stone.

“This is a portal,” he said finally. His voice was cold and dispassionate. Utterly flat. He didn’t look up at her; his eyes remained captured by the cruel markings of the well’s rim. “They’re boring a gateway to the Netherworld. And they’re using human sacrifice to finish the job.”

Sephana could only stare vacantly ahead, mouth agape.

“They call it the Well of Tears,” Braden continued impassively, indicating an inscription set into the very base of the well itself. “If they succeed—if this gateway is ever opened—then more than just Aerysius will be in danger. They will unleash the powers of Chaos across the world.”

The sound of a loud, metallic crash rang out across the chamber. And then another noise: a distant thundering sound, low and throbbing, echoing up from the depths.

“They know we’re here,” Sephana gasped.

About the Author:

M.L. Spencer was born in Southern California and grew up on the works of Steven R. Donaldson, Stephen King and Frank Herbert. She wrote her first novel-length manuscript at thirteen.

By day she works as a biology teacher; by night she sweats over a beaten-up keyboard. Her novel Darkmage won the Indie-Reader  Discovery Award for Fantasy.

Her favorite authors are Robert Jordan, C.S. Friedman,  George R.R. Martin, David Eddings, Patrick Rothfuss, and Terry Goodkind.

M.L. Spencer won 1st Place Prose in the San Bernardino County Writing Celebration and the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for Fantasy.

Find the book on Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Darkstorm-Rhenwars-Saga-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01MT77SK9

Tweet at her: twitter.com/MLSpencer1

Connect on Facebook: facebook.com/MLSpencerAuthor

 

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What is Grit? 

One of the things I’ve realized about most of the protagonists I’ve written (in The Last Bucelarii, Queen of Thieves, and my short stories) is that they all tend to be very gritty, determined people. When faced with an obstacle or challenge, they “buckle down and get on with it”. Even after the initial hesitation or trepidation, they rise to the challenge.

I like to think of myself of a gritty person. No, not that I am sandy or pebbly, but that I have the resolve to take on daunting challenges.

I found an interesting article on Psychology Today that looks at the four traits of a gritty person:

Interest – In order to succeed, there has to be something you’re interested in. But more than that, you need to be passionate about it. The passion is what helps you to keep pushing forward when your motivation fails. Your love for something is often the only thing that stops you from giving up.

Purpose – This is sort of a companion to interest or passion. We all have a reason for doing something; not just the immediate, short-term benefits, but the long-term payoff. By understanding how our present efforts will benefit us (and possibly others) in the long run, it’s easier to have something to cling to when the going gets tough.

Practice – Gritty people are always practicing, but not only to keep doing the same thing day in and out. They are conscious of what they’re doing and trying to improve every day. This helps them to capitalize on their existing skills, develop new skills, and combine the two to become a master at their craft.

Hope – This is an abstract concept, but it’s possibly the most important one of the four. They say, “You’re only beat when you don’t get back up.” We keep getting back up because we hope things will get better with time, or that our efforts will improve our or someone else’s life. Without that hope, grit fails. Hope can carry us through the greatest hardships.

 

 

The Sun God's Heir, Book 2

Book Review: Sun God’s Heir Book 2 by Elliot Baker

For today’s Book Review Wednesday, I’m bringing you the Part 2 to the Sun God’s Heir series (see my review of Book 1 here). I enjoyed the first part quite a bit (4-star review), and I found the next book in the series a worthy continuation of a great story.

The Sun God’s Heir: Rebirth

Set during the wave tossed years of white slavery and Barbary pirates, this is the epic story of René Gilbert, a journey that defies time as he must draw on a larger awareness earned in previous lifetimes.

The Sun God's Heir, Book 2

The plague’s dark fingers curl around Bordeaux. René must return home to save those he loves. But first he has to escape a Moroccan sultan’s clutches. In Bordeaux, an enemy waits, filled with a hatred three thousand years old. Only René can defeat this dark power, and only if he reclaims his own ancient past. In this arena, death is but the least of failure’s penalties.

My Review: 4.5 Stars

I was glad to receive this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed the first part (minus a few flaws) immensely and looked forward to reading this one.

The book had none of the flaws that detracted from my enjoyment of the first book. The plot was steady, the climaxes were pretty well-written, and I found myself drawn into the story. Even though I had limited reading time, I always found an excuse to pull out my iPad just so I could keep reading this story to find out what happened next.

The story continued the development of the main character and gave us insight into some of the accompanying characters as well (especially the female romantic interest). It didn’t have any of the “Book 2 lag” that would stop me from wanting to continue reading. All in all, I can hardly wait until Book 3 comes out!

Here’s a Taste:

The medina of Casablanca was a warren of narrow winding streets filled with stalls of all shapes and sizes. René followed Akeefa and Abdul-Karim as they entered through a constricted archway and left behind the blinding sunlight. René stopped to take it all in. A thousand sights and sounds assaulted him at once. An intense level of energy and human striving filled the air. The sounds and smells were strident, immediate. A cacophony reverberated from the walls as metalworkers hammered on copper and brass and iron. Jewelers, leather workers, and weaponsmiths all contributed to the din of men and animals pursuing their desires. The enticing smells of food and coffee pervaded the space. Booth after booth of delicacies was on display along with the occasional goat carcass that hung from the canopy poles waiting for the butcher’s cleaver.

“This is overwhelming.” René sucked in a deep breath. “Something smells good. Perhaps we might sit and have a coffee while I try to make sense of this incredible place.”

“That is an excellent idea.” Abdul-Karim grinned. “I know just the place and ’tis not far from here.”

“More food,” Akeefa said with some exasperation. “You promised I would be able to shop and you know I cannot go off on my own. Some stupid man would say or do something and after I had killed him, we would spend the morning yelling or fighting or both. With you two, I will at least have some measure of freedom.”

René gazed sideways at Akeefa. He knew her well enough not to doubt the possibility of her statement, but he hoped she spoke in jest.

Abdul-Karim grimaced like he had bitten into a lemon. He turned to René. “You must trust my experience in this. Given the amount of walking and waiting we face, you will definitely need nourishment.”

René laughed. “Perhaps we might feed Abdul-Karim so we may better attack this shopping from a position of strength.”

“Oh, all right.” Akeefa rolled her eyes. “My master taught me when to make a strategic retreat and this is clearly one of those times. I will want, however, to see that stamina later. Understood?” She glared at Abdul-Karim.

Her effort was wasted on her older brother. Abdul-Karim’s demeanor changed to one of joyful expectation. “I know just the place. Best pastries in Morocco. This way.”

René glanced around. Even over the din and chaotic movement of the medina, he had the sensation they were being watched. The fact that he was a Frenchman was immaterial. There were many different nationalities present within the medina. Non, he, René Gilbert, was being observed.

“Do you believe they will attack again so soon?” asked René.

“The Hashashin that attacked us on the quay in Larache were paid by the sultan’s younger brother Ismail. I do not sense that level of organization. There are many bands of robbers and slavers within Morocco. It can be a difficult place to live,” said Abdul-Karim. “And there are those in Rabat who will not allow our victory over their brethren go unrevenged, regardless of the sultan’s orders.”

Both men loosened their blades while Akeefa huffed at the conventions that prevented her from carrying a sword. Still, an attacker would find her armed.

“Let us sit at that tavern.” Abdul-Karim pointed across the lane. “It has good sight lines and there are avenues of escape if necessary.”

Once seated, Abdul-Karim ordered coffee and an assortment of cakes.

Akeefa pursed her lips.

“What? We might as well eat something while we wait.”

The square had grown quieter as people found their business called them elsewhere. Men collected in small groups. So far, the numbers of their enemies were not overwhelming and René was content to wait. He glanced at Abdul-Karim. The smile on his face evidenced a gleeful anticipation at the prospect of combat. His friend genuinely liked to fight.

“It appears someone is willing to invest a great deal of money in our removal. As much as I would like to engage in this contest—” Abdul-Karim glanced over at his sister. “And we have them outmanned, father would advise us to retreat and gather reinforcements.”

Abdul-Karim inclined his head. They stood as groups of men moved to block the exits.

“We may not be offered that opportunity.” Akeefa slipped her hand beneath her burka.

“Let us make our way toward the medina’s entrance. If we reach the confines of the arch, we gain a slight advantage in the number of our enemy able to come against us.” René’s rapier was in his hand.

The scimitar Abdul-Karim pulled from his sash reflected sunlight along its razor sharp edge. A wicked looking dagger appeared in Akeefa’s hand. René eased left of Akeefa leaving a sword length between them as Abdul-Karim stepped to her right.

The square was now empty except for the growing number of armed men drawing their swords. René studied the upper stories of the souk. No musket barrels protruded from those windows.

René counted thirty men circling them and moving closer. “Akeefa, move to the front and make first contact. A moment’s confusion having you walk before us will be useful. It is not that unusual for a woman to carry a dagger. Perhaps you might hold it a little less respectfully.”

“I will do my clumsy best.” Akeefa managed to move to the front, intentionally tripping on her burka.

The number of men waiting before the medina’s arch had increased to ten. Smug smiles played on their faces. Apparently they found humor in two men so cowardly as to hope a woman would protect them. One eager young mercenary swaggered out to meet Akeefa.

“Throw down your weapons and your deaths will be easier,” said the man as he waved his scimitar toward Akeefa. He ignored the dagger that shook in her trembling hand.

“D…do you intend to kill us all?” Akeefa stuttered in a high-pitched voice.

The fool preened, sticking his chest out. “Drop your weapons.”

About the Author:

Award winning novelist and international playwright Elliott Baker grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. With four musicals and one play published and produced in the United States, New Zealand, Portugal, England, and Canada, Elliott is pleased to release his first novels.

Elliott Baker Photo

The Sun God’s Heir: Return, book one of the trilogy, was released this past January, and book two, Rebirth will come out on April 18th, followed in July by the third and final book of the series, Redemption. A member of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild, Elliott lives in New Hampshire with his wife Sally Ann.

Find the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2mklqLB

 

Visit Elliot’s Website: http://elliottbaker.com

Connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ElliottBakerAuthor/

Tweet at him: https://twitter.com/ElliottBaker?lang=en

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Why I Keep My Writing Area Clean

No, this isn’t a “look at me, I’m so good” post. It’s actually something I wanted to share because it has helped me to improve my productivity significantly.

A few months ago, as I was checking out Psychology Today for interesting articles to blog about, I found an old post about the importance of getting rid of clutter. The post was aimed at people with ADD, but I took the advice to heart and decided to unclutter my desk.

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Where the magic happens

 

Or, at least the part of my desk that was directly in my field of vision. Since doing so, I’ve been much more productive and far less prone to distractions. By keeping my devices (phone, iPad) and other necessary items out of my direct line of sight, it was easier to forget about them and focus only on what I was doing.

Yesterday, I found another interesting article on Psychology Today titled, “5 Reasons to Streamline Your Life“. Basically, it gives five simple reasons why it’s important to unclutter your spaces:

  1. Clutter stops your home from feeling like a “retreat”. Your home (or work space, for me) should be your place of peace, but clutter actually stops you from identifying the space as “home”. Instead, it feels more like something else that needs cleaning.
  2. Clutter creates stress and decreases mental wellbeing. A 2017 study found that a clean, uncluttered environment helped to improve “mental hygiene”, leading to better workplace satisfaction.
  3. Clutter leads to poor food choices. Say what? An Australian study found that people who lived in chaotic environments were more prone to poor food choices (snacking).
  4. Clutter impedes efficient thinking. Your eyes are always processing information, so anything in your direct field of vision is taking up “mental real estate”. That means less real estate is available for processing other, more important information.
  5. Clutter prevents effective visual processing. More visual stimuli can “dilute” your attention, making it harder for your brain to process information. The more cluttered the background, the harder it is to interpret emotional expressions on others’ faces.

Fascinating, isn’t it? A bit of clutter really can make a huge (negative) difference in productivity. I’m going to keep doing my best to unclutter my desk and maintain a distraction-free field of vision. It’s worked wonders so far, and will continue to free up mental real estate for all the important tasks I need to accomplish throughout the day.

Sanyare The Heir Apparent Cover

Book Review: Sanyare: The Heir Apparent

Today, I’ve got something awesome: the Book 2 in a dark fantasy series I immensely enjoyed (read my review of Book 1). This was definitely a great read and I can’t wait until I get Book 3!

Sanyare: The Heir Apparent

Her secret is unraveling. One dangerous quest could end it all…

Rie thought she was an ordinary human. After she’s named heir to Sanyaro, the truthseeker and mediator of all nine realms, life becomes a lot more complicated. As she struggles to control her magics, Rie nearly falls prey to a brutal assassination attempt during a public ceremony.

Sanyare The Heir Apparent Cover

Blamed for the chaos, Rie’s escort, Prince Daenor, is taken prisoner. While Sanyaro tempers the political flames, Rie must once again chase after the truth. As if the threat of another great war and the impending death of her lover weren’t enough, Rie uncovers a dark secret that threatens to crack the very foundations of the faerie realms. When allies fall, can Rie overcome the odds… and the opposition?

My Review: 5 Stars

While the Book 1 was a bit more slow-moving, I found the faster pace of Book 2 much more exciting. I received this book in exchange for an honest review and I can honestly say I enjoyed it very much. The characters (Rie, Greg/Garamaen, and the accompanying supporting cast) were all a thrill to read, and I loved the exploration of the various realms in the world.

Wait until you hit the last few chapters: you’ll love the plot twist there! It totally caught me by surprise—not an easy thing to do.

All in all, an excellent Book 2 that makes me want to find out what the heck happens in Book 3 to bring the story to a close.

Here’s a Taste:

Rie expected three old hags and a giant loom. What she saw, was anything but.

Three women sat behind individual desks arranged in a giant semicircle. The dark-haired women appeared relatively young, maybe in their thirties by human standards, but all of them had to be far older even than Greg. Their fingers sped across computer terminals, and they shouted instructions into headsets as they worked.

“Lachesis, I need a new soul. Male, deserving of good parents. Headed to low nobles in the Summer Court,” the central woman said, her gaze focused on the computer screen in front of her.

“Got it.” The woman to Rie’s right repeated the request into her headset. “A third life is being pulled and prepped. Delivery in five.”

“Fatal accident in the Human Realm. Fifteen dead,” the central woman said. Her voice remained calm, as if the accident were expected.

“Reaper 5-2-6 was there and ready,” the woman to Rie’s left said. “Souls headed to the gates now.”

“Ahem,” the snake-woman interrupted. “Your ladyships have a visitor.”

The central woman glanced up from her terminal and smiled. “Ah, yes,” she said. “Apprentice Sanyare. We’ve been expecting you!” She paused, glancing back at her screen. “Accidental death due in the Winter Court. Avalanche will catch an unprepared ice gnome in twenty.”

“Reaper 2-2-2 head out.”

“Sorry about that,” the central woman said again. “Unfortunately, fate waits for no man or woman. Even us. Now where was I?”

“I believe you were about to introduce yourself.”

“Yes, of course. I am Clotho, to my left is my sister, Lachesis, and to my right my other sister, Atropos.”

“Why am I always the other sister? Why can’t I go first for once?” Atropos said, bitterness underlying the teasing tone.

“Birth comes before death, dear. It only makes sense.”

“Then why doesn’t Lachesis handle the introductions?”

“Do we really have to argue about this again, in front of our guest? Do we have reapers standing by for the airline crash this afternoon?”

“Of course. My reapers know their jobs.”

“I was just checking to make sure I had relayed the accident. The engine will fail any moment.”

“We have it covered.”

“Talk about wackadoo,” Niinka whispered. “These ladies need a break!”

Rie ignored her.

“Wonderful. Back to our guest. You’ve come about the broken threads,” Clotho stated. There was no question. She knew exactly why Rie was there and where she needed to go.

“You’ve noticed the deaths?” Rie asked.

“Of course! At first we thought it was just a system glitch. They happen occasionally when the computers don’t synch up properly,” Clotho said.

“I can’t believe you use computers,” Rie said.

“You think we’re too old?” Clotho replied, a teasing twinkle lighting her eyes. “No, when the humans invented computers, we were thrilled! The weaving had become so complicated, we were losing track of threads. Now, we write code. Much easier to manage a database than a giant loom. Trust me.”

Rie tilted her head to the side and smiled. “I do.”

Atropos took up the story. “Anyway, when my reapers went to the Shadow Realm to clean up the mess, the souls were gone.”

“The Shadow Realm?”

“There have been other realms involved, but it started there,” Clotho said.

“The reapers believe that girl was responsible. Meddling fool,” Atropos added.

“Who?” Rie asked.

“Faerleithril.”

“Why we gave that girl the ability to sever souls…” Lachesis drifted off with a shake of her head. She seemed to simultaneously pay attention to the conversation and lose herself in her own thoughts.

“Even so, she should never have had the ability to steal a soul’s life force,” Clotho said. “We didn’t give her that much power.”

“If you didn’t give her the ability, how did she get it?” Rie asked.

“We don’t know. She’s a clever girl, though. Don’t underestimate her,” Clotho said.

“Live and learn. Now, only summerland souls can be borne to the long-lived elves,” Lachesis added.

“She’s been exiled from the Shadow Realm,” Rie said, trying to get back on track.

“Yes, we know,” Clotho replied, her gaze focused on her screen. “Damn, another earthquake in Asia. It’s a mess down there.”

“Natural disaster squad eighteen, you’re up,” Atropos said into her headset.

Rie let out a frustrated breath. This was getting nowhere. “I need to know about the three deaths. The assassins Faerleithril severed in the high court. Lord Garamaen thought you could tell us what happened.”

“That boy. He thinks he commands the fates? Bah,” Atropos said.

“We gave him the power. He has the right,” Lachesis said, speaking for the first time. “I remember spinning his soul.” She sighed, a wistful expression smoothing her expression as she gazed into the distance. “He’s an original, you know. My first golden thread.”

“And you gave him too much power. We’ve all agreed,” Atropos said.

“You agreed, dear sister, not me. I’ve always thought his was a strong and worthy soul.” Lachesis returned to her computer, typing out more commands. “The next batch of souls for the Human Realm are queued up and ready for distribution, Clotho.”

“Just in time, I’m on my last five hundred.”

“I’ll get to work on the next set.”

“But what about the Upper Realm assassins?” Rie tried again.

“Faerleithril severed their threads. Find her, and you find your answers,” Atropos said. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“She’s a menace. She needs to be found and stopped.” Clotho’s gaze narrowed. “Take care of her, and we will owe you.”

“What about your Guardians?”

“We’re running a little short right now,” Lachesis said. “There are issues that must be handled in the summerlands.”

“Issues?”

“Souls have been disappearing —“

“It’s nothing you need concern yourself with right now,” Clotho interrupted. “Just take care of Faerleithril. It will be good practice, anyway. Maybe help you gain control of your abilities.”

Rie blushed, but let the comment slide. Of course, Clotho knew of her failures. She was the weaver of fate. She probably knew everything about everyone.

“Where is she?” Rie asked, returning to the question of Faerleithril’s involvement with the assassins.

“If we knew that, we wouldn’t need you,” Atropos snapped, gaze never leaving her screen.

Clotho rolled her eyes and gave Rie a knowing smile, as if to say ignore her. “We don’t know exactly where she is, but we do know where threads have been snapping prematurely. Start in the Summer Court. That’s where the most recent activity, other than your assassins, has occurred.”

“What about the three assassins? What happened to their souls?”

Clotho looked over at Atropos, her gaze asking a silent question. Atropos nodded. Clotho met Rie’s gaze with an intense stare. “They’re gone. We don’t know what happened, exactly, but the souls disappeared from the database. Deleted. Like they never existed at all. We believe Faerleithril has absorbed their life force, somehow, but we’ve never seen the like.”

“They didn’t deserve it,” Lachesis sobbed, tears trickling from her eyes. “Never to be reborn, never have a second life.” She covered her face with her hands, her shoulders shaking.

Clotho rubbed her sister’s back, her expression solemn.

“But you’re the Moirai. Don’t you control destiny?”

Clotho’s mouth turned up in a sardonic smile. “We’re not puppet masters. There are far too many souls to manage with any level of detail. All we do is set a soul on its path, watch the patterns in the cloth, and reap the soul when it’s time.”

“But —“

“The Greeks were wrong. At least, in part. A soul chooses its own destiny in its every-day decisions. We’re just the watchers and caretakers,” Atropos interrupted.

Clotho tapped her headset. “Ssierra,” she hissed into the microphone, “please have Judith meet Rie at the desk. She’ll need an escort back to the portal.”

Turning back to Rie, she continued. “Talk to the fire king and find Faerleithril. If you can manage that, you might be able to save your man from King Othin’s pit of despair.”

About the Author:

MeganHaskellAuthorMegan Haskell is the author of the dark fantasy adventure series, The Sanyare Chronicles, and Program Director for O.C. Writers, A Network of Published and Aspiring Authors. She lives in Orange County, California with her husband, two young daughters, and one ridiculously energetic dog.

 

Find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sanyare-Heir-Apparent-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B01LYJ0G78/

Find her on her website: www.MeganHaskell.com

Connect via the OC Writers Nectwork: www.OCWriters.Network

Facebook: www.facebook.com/meganhaskellauthor

Tweet at her: www.twitter.com/meganphaskell

 

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