books

Book Review: The Wrecking Storm – Michael Ward

Read my thoughts on the first book in this series – Rags of Time

1641.

London.

The poisonous dispute pushing King Charles and Parliament towards Civil War is reaching the point of no return.

Law and order in the city are collapsing as Puritan radicals demand more concessions from the King. Bishops and lords are attacked in the streets as the Apprentice Boys run amok. Criminal gangs use the disorder to mask their activities while the people of London lock their doors and pray for deliverance.

No one is immune from the contagion. Two Jesuit priests are discovered in hiding and brutally executed – and soon the family of spice merchant Thomas Tallant is drawn into the spiral of violence. Tallant’s home is ransacked, his warehouse raided and his sister seized by kidnappers.

Thomas struggles to discover who is responsible, aided by the enigmatic Elizabeth Seymour, a devotee of science, maths and tobacco in equal measure. Together they enter a murky world of court politics, street violence, secret codes and poisoned letters, and confront a vicious gang leader who will stop at nothing to satisfy his greed.

Can Elizabeth use her skills to unpick the mass of contradictory evidence before the Tallants are ruined – both as a business and a family?

And as the fight for London between King and Parliament hurtles to its dramatic conclusion, can the Tallants survive the personal and political maelstrom?

My thoughts: the author kindly let me know this book was out as I was on the blog tour for the first one. It’s currently free on Kindle Unlimited, which is how I read it.

I really enjoyed this book, I liked the historical setting – a period of huge unrest and upheaval in Britain as Parliament and Charles I start to fall out and Puritanism is on the rise.

When I studied the Civil War, we focused mainly on Oliver Cromwell so it was interesting to learn more about men like Pym, who were his forerunners in the religious and political conflict that reshaped how our government works.

I like Thomas Tallant and Elizabeth a lot – they’re clever and interesting, sharp minds that sort through all the clues to find out the truth of the matter – who is attacking the family and why? Violence becomes personal and puts even Thomas’ quiet sister Ellen at risk. How does this fit in with the murdered Jesuit priests and other worrying activities in a powder keg London?

I like my historical fiction riddled with real people and events and this book really delivers that, bringing those fevered weeks to life.

books

DESIblitz – The UK’s Leading South Asian Literary Festival begins 18th September

The DESIblitz Literature Festival 2021 is the UK’s leading South Asian Literature Festival. Opening in Birmingham City Centre on 18th of September with a string of leading British South Asian and South Asian literary stars, the festival, with a mix of in-person and digital events and runs until 1st October. All tickets are free apart from three headline events at £2.99 per ticket with Sathnam Sanghera, Nikesh Shukla and a panel event on Cultural Representation in Literature. Live events will take place at the Rep Theatre and B Music (formerly Symphony Hall) in the city centre.

Buy your tickets here  

The festival is designed to encourage young and aspiring British Asian writers but is open to all. It provides a much-needed programme of author events, workshops, performances and panel discussions, showcasing the work of British South Asian authors and poets, and international writers with South Asian heritage. As well as aiming to inspire new creative writers, the festival  provides an opportunity to highlight the way writers of South Asian descent have contributed to the literary canon across the world.

DESIblitz Literature Festival Director Indi Deol said: This is the third annual literature festival curated and produced by DESIblitz.com. As in previous years, the aim of the  festival is to provide a platform for new voices from within the British South Asian writing community, as well as feature existing British South Asian voices who are already successful as role models. As well as aiming to inspire new creative writers, it provides an opportunity to highlight the way writers of South Asian descent have contributed to the literary canon across the world. It has never been more important to showcase the incredible and multifaceted talent of Britain’s South Asian literary community.

 

Discussions on Diversity in British Publishing

The British South Asian demographic is still hugely underrepresented in British publishing and panel events taking place at the festival will include “Diverse Characters Matter” a panel discussion about the importance of diversity in children’s books, with leading authors Bali Rai, Serena Patel, Sita Brahamchari and Monika Singh Gangotra; “Cultural Representation in Literature a panel discussion about the importance  of diversity in adult writing with Saima Mir, Pragya Agarawal and Sufiya Ahmed; as well as Women of Colour in Publishing a panel discussing the importance of diversity in British Publishing with Farhana Shaikh from Dahlia Publishing, and Hannah Chukwu from Penguin.

Workshops to Inspire and Ignite

Workshops taking place in person at the festival include: Genre, Setting and Character led by Bali Rai the award winning children’s author, Writing Memoir led by Shyama Perera, Guardian and Channel 4 Journalist and author of three novels, as well as a South Asian Poetry Masterclasswith acclaimed poet Rupinder Kaur – a Birmingham Panjabi writer and performer whose debut poetry book Rooh (2018) was published with Verve Poetry Press.  

 

Author Events:

Highlights from the author programme include talks with the award winning Bangladeshi novelist and Granta Young Writer Tahmima Anam about her critically acclaimed 2021 novel The Startup Wife.

Bestselling author, journalist and screenwriter, Sarfraz Manzoor will be discussing his new book They: What Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other.

Nikesh Shukla bestselling author of The Good Immigrantwill talk about his new book Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home.

Social media influencer, podcaster and BBC presenter Anchal Seda will talk about her new book What Would the Aunties Say? A brown girl’s guide to being yourself and living your best life.

Acclaimed journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera, will talk about his latest book Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain.

Successful self-published author Preethi Nair will also host a talk on how to get published called “Being Published – Traditional or Indie. The pros and cons.”

 

Sci-fi, crime & graphic novels

Writer-painter Amruta Patil is India’s first female graphic novelist whose work sits at the cusp of ancient Indian philosophy and ecological-feminist stirrings. In 2017, she received a Nari Shakti Puraskar from the 13th President of India for “unusual work that breaks boundaries” in art and literature.

Samit Basu is an Indian SFF novelist. His most recent book, Chosen Spirits, a near-future anti-dystopian Delhi novel, was shortlisted for the JCB Prize, India’s biggest literary award.

Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. Her novel Take It Back was named one of the best thrillers of the year by The Guardian.

Saima Mir is a British Pakistani journalist who grew up in Bradford. Her essay for It’s Not About The Burqa (Picador) appeared in the Guardian and received over 250,000 hits online in two days. She will be talking  about her debut crime  fiction novel The Khan whichis currently being optioned for TV.

 

Poetry

An evening of Poetry on Sunday 19th will showcase the work of leading South Asian Poets including Founder of Kiota Bristol, Shagufta K Iqbal is an award-winning writer, workshop facilitator and Tedx Speaker and will read from her poetry collection ‘Jam Is For Girls, Girls Get Jam’, described by Nikesh Shukla as ‘a social political masterclass.’ One of the UK’s most exciting young poets and playwrights, Afshan D’Souza-Lodhi who is currently a Sky Writers writer in residence will read from her debut collection of poetry re;desire – longlisted for the Jhalak Prize.

In addition the world leading Pakistani poet Imtiaz Dharker whose work is part of both the GCSE and A-Level syllabus in the UK and has been described by Carol Ann Duffy as “If there were to be a World Laureate, then for me the role could only be filled by Imtiaz Dharker” will read from her extensive poetry collection.

About DESIblitz  Literature Festival

The DESIblitz Literature Festival provides a much-needed programme of author events, workshops, performances and panel discussions, working with British Asian authors and poets, as well as those with South Asian heritage. The festival is designed to encourage young and aspiring British Asian writers, but is open to all.

DESIblitz.com’s first venture into literature events began with the production of a specific British Asian Literature strand for the Birmingham Literature Festival in 2017. The organisation then went on to produce a series of high quality, independent festivals every year since then. The festival in 2020 was converted to an online offer owing to the UK wide situation with Covid 19. The festival is grant funded by Arts Council England

DESIblitz.com is a non-profit organisation, dedicated to promoting South Asian literature. In particular we aim to make British South Asians and the wider Desi community aware of the huge catalogue of literature written by and for those with South Asian heritage.

The organisation increased its commitment to supporting creative practitioners from within the British South Asian diaspora with the launch of the dedicated online platform, DESIblitz Arts, in 2020.

DESIblitz Arts is focused on encouraging and showcasing submitted works produced by creatives that include short fiction and poetry which have a South Asian theme.

*this post was created using text and images from a press release. I received no payment for this but wanted to share this fascinating and enjoyable event with you.*

books

Book Blitz: The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice – Fred Yu

TheOrchid copy

I would buy this book based on the cover alone! Check out The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice, coming this Fall!

The Orchid Farmer's Sacrifice - eBook (2)The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice (The Red Crest Series #1)

Expected Publication Date: October 5th, 2021

Genre: Asian Fantasy/ Epic Fantasy

He was born of prophecy. If he can’t embrace his destiny in time, his country is doomed.

Ancient China. Spoiled and overconfident, eighteen-year-old Mu Feng relishes life as the son of an honored general. But when his sister is abducted and his friends slaughtered, he flees home. He soon discovers the mystical birthmark on his body has attracted an enormous price on his head.

Pursued across the Middle Kingdom, Feng finds allies in two fierce warriors and a beautiful assassin. When he learns his ultimate enemy plans an incursion with advanced weaponry, he must call on his friends and his own budding military genius to defend his country. His plan is desperate, and the enemy outnumbers him twenty-five to one…

Can Feng fulfill a duty he didn’t know he had and unite the empire against a terrifying force?

Coming Soon!

Chapter One

Mu Feng woke to the call of a rooster, unsure where he was. He was staring into an empty flask flipped over and wedged against a stack of plates.

He pulled his silk robes tighter around his body. This was not his bed. His body lay bent and twisted against the hard edge of a wooden table, and his face was soaked from sleeping in a puddle of spilled liquor all night. He supported himself on one elbow to stretch his sore hip.

His three friends were still asleep, two of them snoring on the floor and another sprawled on a narrow bench, his arms and legs dangling.

Vague memories of the night before brought a smile to Feng’s lips—drinking, eating, and playing dice deep into the night. Empty flasks were scattered everywhere. Two large buckets of water remained half full.

Feng flinched against the dull pain at the base of his skull. He rubbed his oversized forehead and reached for a bowl. He hadn’t drunk enough water, and now the headache would nag him all day.

He sat back and gulped down the water, one bowl after another, and then paused to take a deep breath. He remembered coming to the Rider’s Inn with three of his best friends last night. The first floor of the little inn was packed. There were no rooms left upstairs, and the innkeeper was going to ask one of his customers to find somewhere else to stay because the general’s son, Mu Feng, needed a place to sleep.

Feng assured the innkeeper he would be drinking all night and didn’t need a room.

He remembered the innkeeper bringing him the very best drink they had to offer, a liquor made from sorghum buried in the ground for thirty years. It was something so exquisite only a Tiger General’s son could afford it. Feng remembered sipping the liquor and commenting that the taste resembled an onrush of invading cavalry, the sound of a thousand war drums approaching until it became thunder, then breezed by to leave an exhaustive state of calm. One of his friends laughed and told him to get drunk.

Feng needed to hurry home. The ride back would not be long—only a trip through a small forest. But he was to train his father’s pike unit that morning, and it wouldn’t look good for the instructor to arrive late.

The front door had been left open, and a little boy, his face filthy and his clothes in tatters, stood outside.

The boy’s a beggar and wants something to eat, Feng thought. He took a piece of copper from his pocket and stumbled to the door. The boy inched back, leaning away as if preparing himself to run.

Feng placed the coin on the table closest to the entrance. “Here, kid. Get yourself some food.”

Ding, facedown on a bench only a moment ago, was already on his feet.

“We need to go,” Feng said. “I can send a servant later to pay the innkeeper.”

“You must have paid him four times already,” Ding said. He planted a sharp kick into one of his friends on the floor and squatted down to scream in his ear. “Get up, Wen!”

He proceeded to the next drunk, curled under a table and still snoring, and kicked him in the ribs. “Get up, Little Chu. Feng needs to go home.”

Little Chu groaned. He lifted his head, his eyes still closed. “I don’t want any breakfast.”

“You’re not getting any,” Feng said with a laugh. “But there’s plenty of water in that bucket.”

Ding headed for the door, his long sword dangling by his side. “I’ll get the horses ready.” He stopped by the table near the entrance. “Who left the coin here?”

“It’s for the kid,” Feng said, turning and pointing outside. The boy was no longer there. Feng walked to the door and pulled it wide open for another look. “He was just here.”

Wen lumbered to his feet, towering over the others. “What boy?” he asked, his voice booming across the room. He hoisted a heavy bucket to his lips for a gulp or two, then poured the rest of the water over his head.

“A young beggar,” Feng said. “So many of those little things around here.”

Wen’s laughter thundered across the room. “See? Even a beggar knows he can’t take money from a dead man. You drank so much last night the boy thought you were a hungry ghost.”

“Shut your mouth,” Chu shouted, clapping Wen’s back with the hilt of his sword. Wen laughed even harder.

Ding returned, pulling the horses with one hand and carrying all four saddles with the other.

Feng stepped into the morning sun and took a deep breath. He reached for the harness of a gigantic warhorse, a gift from Uncle Shu this year for his eighteenth birthday. He stroked the nose of the charger, then the mane, and took the saddle. The horse reminded him every day that he was an adult, despite his boyish features and lanky arms, and he was commander of the best pike men in the world.

Little Chu turned back to the mess they were leaving behind—the empty bowls, the plates, and the overturned liquor flasks. “Too bad Du didn’t want to come last night. Since when did we ever go drinking without him?”

“He wanted to,” Ding said, “but he was vomiting and couldn’t get up. Must have been something he ate at the whorehouse.”

“He ate at a brothel?” Wen asked. “What kind of meat do they serve there?”

Ding turned to his friend with a smirk. “Why don’t you ever go to the whorehouse, Feng?”

Feng finished saddling his horse and leaped onto his charger. “Let’s go.”

“Feng’s father is a Tiger General,” Little Chu said. “He can get any girl he wants.” He guided his horse toward the road and squeezed its belly with his stirrups. The horse lurched forward.

“But then he’ll have to marry her!” Wen shouted from behind, hurrying after his friends. “I’d rather pay some money to amuse myself than be stuck with a wretch in my house.”

In a moment they were on the main road, riding at a comfortable pace. After a while the path bent into a forest and narrowed. The four friends merged behind one another, proceeding in single file. The dirt trail was an easy ride, well maintained and free of overhanging branches and intruding vegetation.

It was still early in the morning, and the ride home would be short. Feng relaxed a little, but not entirely. His father would be furious if he found out his son was too drunk to come home last night and couldn’t return in time to train his pike unit. He might even forbid Feng from leading his men again, a position Feng had to beg for over the years.

General Mu, Feng’s father and one of four Tiger Generals in the empire, was known as the General of the Uighur Border. He guarded the westernmost fortress in the empire. The portion of the Great Wall that he protected and the North Gate, which opened into the City of Stones, faced the land of the Uighur. It was the final stop on the Silk Road before entering the Middle Kingdom.

General Mu’s city was one of few fortresses built in a valley along the northern mountain chains. It was low enough to lose the advantage of elevation, which so much of the Great Wall depended on, but flat enough for travelers and barbarian traders to meet in this border city. Over the years General Mu had imposed heavy punishments on anyone harassing or discriminating against the foreigners, and despite countless skirmishes at the Great Wall, the City of Stones was never attacked in earnest. Commerce thrived at a time of heightened tensions between the Middle Kingdom and the barbarian nations. Chinese and Uighur, Khitans and Mongols assembled in the same bustling marketplace in the center of town and bartered. The city seemed oblivious to the politics of the Asian kingdoms.

The general placed his only son, Mu Feng, in command of the pike unit, but he was never permitted to confront the barbarians. The archers, the cavalry, and the anti-siege personnel were all deployed during border skirmishes with the Uighur.

Feng’s pike units were never battle-tested, and he never understood why. In military matters his father always sought his advice and often adopted his strategies. For years he studied The Art of War and every other military classic his father could access. In simulated battle, Feng had proven again and again he was capable. Yet, his father never trusted him in a real war.

Feng and his friends breezed along the narrow forest trail with Ding in front, Feng following from a short distance, and the other two in the rear.

Moments later, Feng noticed two rows of armed men standing in a line, motionless, blocking the road.

“Slow,” Feng said, loud enough only for his friends to hear. “Bandits.”

The foliage around them was dense with thick trees and low branches reaching into every empty space. It would be impossible to penetrate the forest and ride around the blockade.

Ding reined in his horse and slowed to a walk. “Small-time bandits trying to rob the general’s son. Wait till they find out who you are.”

Wen sent his horse lurching forward and stopped in front of the outlaws, so close he could have easily barreled into them. “Why are you blocking the road?”

None of them answered. They simply stared.

“If you don’t step aside, we’re going to run you over!” Wen said, his booming voice echoing through the forest.

 The armed thugs remained silent, motionless. Wen reached for his sword. Feng held out his hand, fingers outstretched, and motioned for him to stop.

“There’s only ten of them,” Little Chu said in a low voice. “And they’re on foot.”

“Get out of my way,” Feng said to the bandits, his voice loud and firm. “We’re military officials. We have important business in the City of Stones.”

A short bandit with a gray topknot broke into a smile. “Military officials,” he said, speaking slowly as if to pronounce every syllable. “Exactly what we’re waiting for.”

Feng stiffened. Soldiers earned modest salaries. They were well trained and armed, and very few of them traveled this road. For a small team of robbers to block the road, waiting for soldiers to rob, didn’t make any sense.

“One of our women was raped last night,” the short one continued.

Ding moved forward to Feng, his hand on his weapon, and whispered, “There’s more of them in the forest on both sides. Maybe a hundred.”

Feng nodded and turned back to the short bandit. “You’re not listening. Civilian crimes should be reported to the magistrate, not the army.”

“The criminal was a military official!” the thug shouted over Feng’s voice.

“I see,” Feng replied, fighting to remain calm. His heart was pounding.

His hand crept into his pocket to touch a bronze plate half the size of his palm, a token he always carried with himself. He still remembered the day so many years ago when he was afraid to climb onto a horse for the first time. He went to bed that night feeling disgraced and useless. His father came to his bedside and gave him this little bronze plate embossed with an image of a fierce tiger. His father told him if he carried it in his pocket, he would be able to do anything he set his mind to because the tiger held the powers of the Tiger General, powers meant for the strong and courageous. Much later he realized it was a standard pass the Tiger Generals’ messengers used.

He kept this one particular plate on himself every day.

The situation in front of him required much more than strength and courage. A hundred bandits had gathered to surround a few soldiers when very little money could be made.

Something was very wrong.

“Bring your evidence to the magistrate, and he’ll assign officers to investigate,” Feng said. “But blocking the road and randomly harassing any soldier is plain stupid. Harm the wrong soldier, and you’re all going to be killed.”

Chu pulled up behind Feng. “They’re behind us as well. We’re surrounded.”

“The criminal may be you!” the bandit continued, pointing the butt of his saber at Feng. “Why don’t you come with us to the magistrate, and we’ll talk about it in front of him?”

So, they didn’t intend to rob. They were looking to abduct, and they were waiting for the right moment to strike. The group of friends was in grave danger. Feng drew his horse back, opening up the space in front so he could see everything around him. How could this be happening?

Feng’s heart raced faster than he could withstand. They were on horses, and the bandits were not. That extra speed was their only advantage. He didn’t notice anyone on the road earlier, so they couldn’t have installed too many traps or ambushes behind them. Turning around, charging through the bandits in the rear, and riding the main road back toward the Rider’s Inn seemed like the sole course of action.

“After all, you look like a sleazy rapist to me!” the bandit shouted for all to hear. There was a roar of laughter.

“How dare you!” Wen shouted, drawing his sword. “Do you know who he is?”

Feng reached out in alarm, trying to grab Wen’s attention. He was too far away. Wen’s loud voice pierced through the thundering laughter.

“He’s General Mu’s son! Do you all want to die?”

The bandits fell silent, but only for a second. With a roar the men from both sides of the forest charged. Feng drew his sword, spun his horse around, and shouted, “Retreat! Back to the Rider’s Inn!”

His friends reacted, turned, and broke into a hard gallop. The bandits swarmed in like floodwater. Feng had never encountered a real battle before, but if they were out to kidnap for ransom, then he—not his friends—would be the prized possession. He needed to lead the bandits away from his friends if they were to have any chance of escaping.

Feng turned around and attacked the short bandit with the topknot, flying past him and slashing him across the face, almost cutting his skull open. The thug died instantly. Feng stabbed left and right, kicking his horse’s belly to urge it forward, struggling to break through the ring of hostiles.

Then he heard Wen shouting from behind. “Feng’s stuck back there! Feng’s stuck back there!”

“No!” Feng screamed as loud as he could. “Back to the inn!”

He knew they heard him, but in the distance he saw them approaching as fast as they could.

“No!” he shouted again. A spear flew across the air and struck Wen in the belly. He bowled over and fell from his horse. The bandits surrounded him and stabbed him over and over again.

Feng stared in disbelief. “Wen!” he shouted. They weren’t out to kidnap. They intended to murder. He kicked his warhorse and pummeled into the dense rows of bandits, slashing and stabbing as hard as he could, hoping to get to his other two friends before it was too late.

Chu’s horse screamed, lurching back and dismounting its rider.

They were attacking the horses. Without horses there would be no hope of getting out alive. Feng leaped off his mount and sent his horse away, wielding his sword with both hands like a battle ax and carving a path to Little Chu.

It was already too late. Chu was surrounded and stabbed from all directions at once, multiple spears and swords buried in his body. Dark blood poured from his mouth, and with his last breath, he screamed, “Run, Feng!”

Feng stabbed a bandit in the rib cage, pushed his sword all the way in until the hilt slammed against his chest. With a roar he shoved the writhing body into a crowd of enemies. He grabbed someone’s saber and swung and thrashed behind himself, fighting off those attacking his back while shielding his front with the dying bandit. He planted his feet on the hard ground, sensed Ding’s location, and pushed his way through.

Ding had already fallen off his horse, but he was hiding behind two trees standing very close together in front of a narrow gap only one person could penetrate at once, allowing him to hold back his attackers.

Feng forced his way to the two trees and dumped the dead bandit from his own sword and into the gap to seal it. He then circled around the smaller tree. “My horse is still alive,” he said. “Let’s go!”

He whistled for his horse and grabbed another saber from a dead bandit, and with a weapon in each hand, he leaped out from behind the trees and slashed at his nearest enemy.

The bandits were hardly skilled swordsmen. They were poorly coordinated and clearly had never trained to fight together.

But there were so many of them.

Feng created an opening when his warhorse broke through from behind. The massive charger was kicking and stomping the enemy, pressing them back, throwing them into disarray.

Ding stood right beside him, covered in blood—perhaps some of his own blood. “Go!” Feng shouted. He slashed another bandit in the neck, lodging his blade in the man’s collarbone.

“Careful!” Ding shouted from behind. Out of the corner of his eye, Feng noticed a spear flying toward him. Ding leaped in, crossing in front of Feng and blocking the spear with his body. He collapsed, the warhead plunged in his abdomen.

“No!” Feng wrenched his weapon free, hacked down another enemy, and leaped onto his horse. He grabbed Ding and dragged him onto the saddle, smacking the horse with the side of his saber. The charger surged forward. They were on a warhorse, one of the best in the army, and the bandits originally sealing off the road were out of position. Many were killed. Others couldn’t climb over the dead bodies littered across the narrow path. Feng’s warhorse met little resistance.

Ding yanked the spear out of his belly, and with a shout he threw it into the closest bandit. A stream of dark blood flew from Ding’s mouth.

Slowly he leaned his full weight against Feng’s back, fading out of consciousness. Feng threw away his saber and reached back with one hand to clutch his friend’s belt, preventing him from falling over. He urged the horse on, and the powerful stallion responded, charging forward at breakneck speed. The shouts and insults from behind were fading. In a moment, Feng found himself riding in silence.

His back was soaked with Ding’s blood. Ding’s breathing was becoming shorter and quicker.

“Ding! Wake up, Ding!”

How could this be happening? To think a few hundred untrained ruffians would dare confront a Tiger General’s army for mere ransom was hard to believe. Besides, they could have captured Wen and Little Chu when they fell off their horses. But they rushed in to kill without hesitating a step, as if taking them alive was never considered.

Feng felt a squeezing pain in his chest at the thought of Wen and Chu. They were gone. They were drinking and laughing and bickering only last night, and now they were gone.

A little side path branched off from the main road, and a small house hid behind a row of trees. He pulled his horse’s reins toward the house. It looked like the home of a local peasant, with coarse mud walls and an old wooden door once painted red. Feng had never spoken to a peasant before, much less asked one for help. He was the son of a Tiger General, high above the rest. Normally the peasants would be kneeling in front of his father’s mansion.

With Ding dying behind him, it didn’t matter if he had to bow to a beggar.

Feng reached the front door of the hut, dismounted, and dragged his friend’s unconscious body with him.

He took a deep breath and pounded the door with his fist.

An old woman with a wide gap between her oversized front teeth opened the door. She looked at Feng from head to toe, then at Ding. “Come on in,” she said. “I was afraid you wouldn’t knock. He’s bleeding to death, you know.”

Feng was more thankful than surprised. He lifted his friend as gently as he could and dragged him into the little hut. There was nothing inside except for a small bed, a table, and a brick cooking stove in the corner.

“We were attacked by bandits. There were four of us, and—”

The old woman sneered. “Stop barking like a neutered dog. You lost a fight, and you want to hide here. Put him in the bed. I’ll boil some towels to clean his wounds.”

Feng ignored her insolence, dragged his friend to the bed, placed him on his back, and tucked a coarse pillow under his head. Blood dripped everywhere. He yanked open Ding’s shirt and sucked in his breath. “No,” he whispered. “No.”

Ding looked up with a blank, lifeless stare.

The old woman brought a bucket of water and with one glance turned around to leave. “You should’ve told me earlier. I wouldn’t have brought the towels if I knew he was almost dead.”

Feng climbed onto the bed with trembling hands, lifted his friend’s head, and wrapped his body in his arms. “How do you feel, Ding?”

“I’m cold.”

“I-I’ll find you a blanket. I’ll—”

“No. Don’t leave.”

Feng held his friend tighter. “I’m here. I’m here.”

“What happened, Feng?”

Feng’s entire torso shook. His quivering lips were barely able to speak. “I don’t know.”

“Wen and Chu. They’re gone?”

Feng nodded.

A sob escaped Ding’s lips, and a trickle of tears rolled down his face. “I’ll . . . I’ll see them soon.”

“No!” Feng said. “Stay with me, Ding. Stay with me.”

“I’m sorry, Feng. You and Du are left behind. It’s still better than drinking alone. Tell him to stop eating at the whorehouse.” Ding tried to laugh at his own joke but only managed a choked sob. “How could there be so many bandits here?”

Feng shook his head, unable to respond.

“I’ve never heard of . . . of so many bandits . . .” Ding’s voice trailed off, and then the room was silent. Even his light gasps for air faded.

“How did we fail the people?” Feng whispered, struggling to speak so Ding could hear him. “Why did so many turn to crime?”

Ding took his last breath, his cold, limp body sinking into Feng’s arms. For a moment, the tears wouldn’t flow.

“Why are the people discontent?” Feng’s broken voice managed to say. He held his friend’s body closer. He felt ill and dizzy, as if he might vomit and faint all at once. He squeezed his eyes so tightly together that his tears couldn’t flow.

He threw his head back to scream.

“He had a gaping hole in his chest,” the old woman shouted from across the room. “Did you expect him to live?”

Feng collapsed on his friend’s body and wept. He shook with every sob, his clenched fists pounding the bed with every convulsion.

The door flew open so hard the old iron hinges rattled. A group of peasants carrying thick bamboo poles charged in, all of them young and strong. They moved in lock step with perfect discipline. They formed an arc around the door, each facing a different direction with their bodies poised to react. Feng recognized them.

“How dare you break my door!” the old woman shouted. “Get out of my house! I’ll report you to the magistrate!”

One peasant drew a sword halfway out of his bamboo pole, and the old woman fell silent.

A tall man with thick eyebrows and a short beard stepped in. He acknowledged the old woman once, then turned to Ding’s body.

“I’m sorry.”

“Uncle Shu,” Feng said, his voice trembling. His father’s brother was here, a powerful man of great skill and military prowess. At least he was safe now. “Wen, Chu, and now Ding. They’re all gone.”

Uncle Shu came to the side of the bed.

“How did you find me?” Feng asked. “How did you know?”

His uncle pulled a ragged sheet over Ding’s face so the horrid look of death would not stare back at them. The little hut was silent while he took Feng’s hand and led him to the table on the other side of the room. “Sit. I need you to calm down and tell me what happened.”

“I . . . we . . .” Feng couldn’t find words. He was so relieved to see his uncle and even more relieved to see the army’s elite, personally trained by his uncle, gathered around him. Strange, they were dressed in the coarse gray fabric of peasants, and their weapons were concealed in bamboo poles. Why would his uncle need to travel under disguise?

“You’re safe now, Feng,” Uncle Shu said. “Tell me what happened.”

Feng’s hands were still shaking.

Uncle Shu motioned for one of his men. “Bring the young master some liquor.”

Just the night before, they were drinking the finest liquor the little inn had to offer, laughing and playing dice late into the night. Feng remembered debating Mongol military tactics. Little Chu’s words echoed in his head. The Mongols may have the strongest cavalry in the world, but horses can’t climb walls. I can drink a bucket of liquor and still defend the country.

One of the soldiers placed a flask of liquor in front of Feng.

“I let my friends die,” Feng whispered. He didn’t wait for his uncle to respond. He grabbed the flask and emptied it in his mouth, guzzling the hard alcohol without taking a breath. He planted the flask on the table and tried to shake his head clear as his vision already began to blur.

“You shouldn’t be drinking like that, young man,” he heard the old woman say behind him. “Here, drink some water before you vomit all over my table. Not that I don’t have to spend all day cleaning up your friend’s blood.”

Feng grabbed the bowl of water placed before him and drank everything in one gulp.

“Take her outside,” Uncle Shu said to one of his men. “Give her some money for her troubles and ask her to leave us alone.”

Feng felt dizzy, incredibly drunk for a single flask of liquor. Maybe that was what his uncle wanted for him, something to numb his senses and help him forget. “Where is my father?” he asked.

He lowered his head onto his arms, leaned against the table, and closed his eyes. He had slept in the same position on a similar table the night before. His friends were alive then.

Nothing made sense anyway. His uncle was here, and very soon he would be taken home. His father would summon the army, they would round up all the bandits, and soon after he would find out why his friends were slaughtered in broad daylight, why even a Tiger General’s son could be attacked on his own land.

But in that moment he was dizzy and intoxicated, and he wanted to let everything go.

Very quickly the effects of the alcohol disappeared. He didn’t want it to leave his head, didn’t want his escape to be over so soon. He remained still, head in his arms, resting on the table with his eyes squeezed shut. Maybe if he tried not to move, he would eventually fall asleep and have sweet dreams.

“Sir, the young master is unconscious,” one of the soldiers said.

“Bring him to the carriage,” Uncle Shu replied.

“Do we need to secure him? In case he wakes up before we get there?”

“No need. He won’t wake up for another day.”

Feng’s heart beat so hard he thought his ribs would crack. He waited. Two men lifted him off his seat, wrapped his arms around their shoulders, and dragged him outside. Feng was determined to find out where they were taking him and whatever Uncle Shu wanted to do to him. He kept his eyes closed, his arms limp, his head hanging.

They lifted him into an enclosed carriage, settled him on his back, and walked away. Outside, at least a hundred men and numerous horses and carriages shuffled around. Feng heard his uncle giving orders to depart.

“You stay with the young master,” Uncle Shu said.

The operation was well planned and rehearsed. No one asked a single question after that.

Someone climbed into the carriage with Feng. The soldier placed his sword on the floor and shouted, “Go!”

The driver cracked his whip. They eased forward, then pulled into a steady speed. Feng waited. The road became smoother, and the horses picked up the pace. The heavy pounding of warhorses shifted to the front of the carriage, leaving only a few soldiers to protect the rear. The attack units had moved, and it was time.

Feng grabbed the sword lying on the floor of the carriage, drew the weapon, and pinned the blade against the soldier’s throat before he had time to react.

“Where are you taking me?” Feng asked in a quiet voice.

The soldier shook his head. “You—you were supposed to be unconscious . . .”

Feng pressed the tip of the sword harder into the base of his throat, piercing the skin. Blood trickled at the tip. The soldier froze.

“Answer me!”

“We’re going to the City of Eternal Peace.”

Feng’s eyebrows knit together. “General Wu’s fortress?”

The soldier nodded. “Young master, we didn’t mean to—”

“Why is my uncle doing this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why am I being escorted to another Tiger General’s city? Where’s my father?”

“I’m just a soldier, young master. You know we only receive our orders.”

Feng took a deep breath. “I’m going to kill you if you don’t tell me.”

The soldier’s face was blank, his lips pressed together.

“I’m the general’s son. I can kill you for entertainment, and no one would do a thing.”

“We’re the general’s soldiers, young master. But we’re also your soldiers.”

Feng paused, lowering his sword. “You’re the people’s soldiers. You fight to defend the people, not my father or me. Don’t ever forget.”

“I won’t, young master.”

Feng spun his sword around and hammered the soldier’s head with the handle. The soldier collapsed.

Feng reached for his peasant clothing, about to strip him, and hesitated. He had never worn the coarse fabric of a common man, much less the filthy rags of a peasant. He could almost smell the soil stains on the straw sandals.

His own clothing reeked of dried blood, so changing into dirty canvas would not be so bad.

Feng cursed himself for worrying about the quality of his clothes at a time like this. He stripped the soldier and dressed him in his own bloody robes, then lifted the unconscious body with one hand and the sword with his other and kicked the carriage door open. He threw the soldier halfway out, facedown, and released a long, tortured cry.

“Young master!” one of the riders in the rear called. The soldier hurried forward, closing the distance between himself and Feng’s carriage. Feng threw his sword out the partially opened door. The soldier outside evaded the flying sword and was barely recovering when Feng leaped out, slammed into him, and sent him toppling off his horse. Feng recovered his own position on the speeding mount, grabbed the reins, planted his feet in the stirrups, and squeezed the horse’s belly. The other guards were charging up behind him. A side road appeared ahead. Feng saw his opportunity and brought his horse thundering down the little path.

The guards followed. Feng reached for the sword hanging from the saddle, spun around, and charged into his pursuers.

“Young master!” one guard shouted. They recognized him and pulled back. No one wanted to fight the general’s son.

He tried not to think of how his friends had died that morning, how hundreds of bandits waited for him in ambush, how Ding died in his arms. The little beggar at the inn that morning, who watched them from outside and didn’t bother to collect the coins Feng left for him, must have been there to report when they began their ride home. The ambush was prepared for them and only them.

His uncle could have encountered the slaughter in the forest and traced his tracks and Ding’s blood to the peasant woman’s house. There was no way to understand why his uncle was out there looking for him, his elite unit dressed as peasants, or why he drugged his own nephew.

Feng kicked his horse and rode as hard as he could, heading south for Major Pass toward the City of Stones. Major Pass, the main artery running across the north of the empire and parallel to the Great Wall, connected the city fortresses of all four Tiger Generals. It used to be named something else, but the people called it Major Pass because it was the widest, most well paved road north of the capital. Armies and their supply wagons could efficiently move on this road.

As far back as Feng could remember, the empire was at peace within its borders.  Aside from skirmishes with the barbarians in the north and short wars with the island nations in the south, people lived well in China.

He remembered the quick briefing he received from two officers right before he left for the Rider’s Inn. They had told him the Venom Sect was recently active in this area, but no one knew why. Feng recalled asking the local government to involve themselves, saying that the military shouldn’t interfere with civilian criminals.

The Venom Sect was a powerful group of poison users rumored to be four hundred members strong and headed by a ruthless leader named Red Cobra. The officers told him yesterday that Red Cobra was also spotted in the area. Feng laughed and asked how much snake venom it would take to poison an army.

Then they informed him that the Silencer had killed Tiger General Lo. They had expected this news ever since he was ordered to invade Mongolia and capture the undefeated barbarian king known as the Silencer. General Lo walked into Mongolia with only two hundred men in an apparent act of suicide. As of yesterday they still hadn’t found his body. All his men were dead, and the Silencer took no prisoners. Some even said the Silencer was spotted killing off the Chinese soldiers by himself. General Lo guarded the easternmost fortress in the empire facing the Khitans. For the emperor to order him to march away from the barbarian nation he was guarding against to attack an undefeated Mongol king made no sense at all.

None of these events should have had anything to do with what happened that morning. The bandits were clearly not members of the Venom Sect. They were thugs carrying steel weapons they didn’t know how to use, fighting in plain view instead of killing from the shadows.

It was almost noon by now, and Feng was rapidly approaching the City of Stones.

Available October 5th!

About the Author

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As a lifelong student of martial arts, and growing up watching martial arts flicks in the 80s and 90s, Yu decided early on that he would write in this genre. Inspired by George RR Martin’s work, he decided he would write a series in English in this centuries-old Asian genre. Yu has written three previous novels, The Legend of Snow WolfHaute Tea Cuisine and Yin Yang Blades. Yu has a BFA Film and Television from NYU Tisch School of Arts. He was born in Guangzhou, China, but presently lives in New York City.

Fred Yu  

 

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Blog Tour: Sand and Shadow – Laurisa White Reyes

Seven Survivors.

One Monster.

Nowhere to hide.

Mission Specialist Adán Fuentes awakes from cryo-hibernation to discover that most of his fellow crewmates are dead and the shuttle Carpathia is not where it’s supposed to be. Surrounded by a vast barren landscape, he and the other survivors wonder how they can accomplish their mission, to establish a home for future colonists.

When an unseen creature attacks them, the Carpathia’s crew must turn their attention to surviving and solving the true purpose behind their mission.

Inspired by the 50’s sci-fi flick FORBIDDEN PLANET, SAND AND SHADOW plumbs the depths of the human psyche and the power of its influence. As the Carpathia’s crew’s secrets and flaws are revealed, readers may find themselves compelled to examine their own dark places.

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Excerpt
“Hold it here!” Adán jabbed a finger at the corner of the tent still attached. Tink obeyed, gripping the fabric with his gloved hands. Adán grasped the canvas several feet above Tink. Then he began to pull it, gradually drawing the fabric toward him. It was like trying to haul an anchor up from the ocean floor, the effort requiring every ounce of strength he could muster. He wasn’t sure his plan would work. He was battling a storm that at any moment could snatch him up and carry him off.
“Get me down!” Scott screamed, his voice piercing through Adán’s comm.
“I’m trying! Just hold on!” Adán kept pulling, but he made little headway with the wind pulling so hard in the opposite direction. “Scott, use your hands! Try to climb down!”
Scott started hand-over-hand down the column of living canvas. The distance between Scott and Adán slowly began to shrink. The sand pelted Adán so hard now that he could feel it through his gear.
“The rest of you get inside!” he called out. “It’s too dangerous out here!”
Fess grabbed the heating unit that Scott had dropped and made his way toward the shuttle. Tink held tight to the tent behind Adán.
“Tink! I’ve got it! Go on!”
“You don’t have it,” said Tink. “I’m not leaving!”
“But you have to—” Suddenly, a powerful gust tried to rip the silver tarp from Adán’s hands. The knuckle in his pinky finger snapped in a stabbing flare of excruciating pain, but he did not let go. Scott flipped around in the air, as helpless as a marionette on strings, though he was a good eight feet closer to the ground than he had been minutes before.
Adán tried to hold tighter to the fabric, but the pain in his hand throbbed ruthlessly and had robbed it of its strength.
“Scott! You’re going to have to let go!”
“Let go? Are you insane? This wind will blow me away like a kite!”
“Curl up into a ball! Wrap your arms around your knees and drop to the ground!”
Adán heard Tink’s voice. “This strap is tearing! When it rips all the way, that tarp is taking you with it, Scott!”
“Scott, you’ve got to let go now!”
He did. Scott released the fabric and pulled his knees to his chest. He fell like a stone to the sand below. He hit the ground, his limbs sprawling out in every direction. Then, getting to his hands and knees, he scurried away like a bug just as the tarp tore free from its strap. The silver snake curled and whipped like a flag in a hurricane and then vanished into the darkening sky.
Adán, his back to the wind, dropped to his knees beside Scott. “You all right?” he asked. “Can you get up?”
Scott collapsed into the sand, moaning. Adán felt a wave of relief. Their commander was dazed, possibly even hurt, but he was alive. A few yards off, Tink fought against the storm’s assault. He clutched the transmitter case to his chest and staggered forward one step at a time. The sky was so dark now and the sand so thick that the shuttle looked like nothing more than a broad mass of shadow.
Adán slid one of his arms beneath Scott’s shoulder and hoisted the barely conscious commander into a sitting position. “Dryker, listen to me! We’ve got to get back to the shuttle or we’ll die out here! Get up, Commander! On your feet!”
Scott moaned again, but Adán felt his muscles stiffen as he attempted to get his legs under him. With a bit of effort on both their parts, Scott was soon standing, though he leaned much of his weight against Adán. Adán looked back at Tink, who hadn’t made as much progress as he’d hoped.
“Tink, drop it!” Adán shouted.
Tink shook his head furiously. “We need it to communicate with the other shuttles! They’ll never find us without it!”
Tink’s words came back to Adán broken and staccato. He tapped on his earpiece. The storm had damaged his comm. “Tink? Can you hear me?”
This time Adán heard only static. He looked back to the shuttle, a mere ten yards away. Dema and Fess, clinging to each other, were scrabbling for the hatch lever. Adán looked back at Tink, half that distance behind him. He’d get Scott to safety, he decided, and come back for Tink.
“I’ll be back to help you in a second!” he said, though he couldn’t be sure if Tink had heard him, then he trudged forward with Scott in tow.
The two minutes or so that it took for him to hand Scott over to Dema and Fess felt like hours. He was exhausted and in pain, but Adán turned and headed back out for Tink, now on his knees hunched over the transmitter just four or five yards away.
He had just reached him when Adán saw it—a dark mass rising up from the ground behind Tink. “What the hell is that?” he said more to himself than to anyone else.
Dema’s voice crackled over the comm. “Adán, do you read me? Scott’s okay. A bit stunned but okay. Fess is with him in the common room now. Do you have Tink and Lainie?”
Lainie. Adán had forgotten all about her. But Tink. . .
“There’s something out here!” said Adán.
There was a pause before Dema’s voice returned. “Adán, get out of there. The sensors are picking up something solid, something big!”
He reached Tink and pulled him to his feet. Together, with the transmitter still clutched in Tink’s arms, they staggered toward the shuttle, which they could now barely make out through the thick haze of sand.
“Lainie!” Adán waited a moment for a reply. “Lainie, do you read me?” He shook his head. “The storm’s interfering with the frequency!”
“She was carrying the generator,” said Dema, her words nearly impossible to make out through the static. “She was closer to the shuttle than we were. You should see her!”
Adán and Tink continued trudging forward. Then just to right of the shuttle hatch, they spotted something square and black half buried in the sand at their feet. It was the generator tipped onto its side, but there was no sign of Lainie.

Laurisa White Reyes is the author of the SCBWI Spark Award winning novel The Storytellers and the Spark Honor recipient Petals. She is also the Senior Editor at Skyrocket Press and an English instructor at College of the Canyons in Southern California.

Laurisa White Reyes | Skyrocket Press | Facebook | BookBub

Giveaway: $20 Amazon e-Gift Card (International)

My thoughts: this was a nicely creepy monsters in space story. The sand monster is out to get the crew and the seven survivors must work together to stay alive – and save the human race.

I liked the way that most of the characters were decent people dealing with a horrific situation they were not prepared for, that had gone way beyond what they thought they were expecting. The book played with lots of sci fi tropes – the uninhabited planet, the terrifying creature, the disastrous mission with no way back, very nicely.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

books

Cover Reveal: Walnut Street Phantom Rider – Sherrill Joseph

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I’m thrilled to share the beautiful cover of another exciting Botanic Hill Detectives mystery! This one is called Walnut Street: Phantom Rider and its coming late this Fall!

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Walnut Street: Phantom Rider (A Botanic Hill Detectives Mystery)

Expected Publication Date: November 9th, 2021

Genre: MG Mystery/ Middle Grade (For fans of Nancy Drew type mysteries)

Objects of value have been disappearing from the Mayfield family’s rural California horse ranch. The Botanic Hill Detectives—Moki Kalani, Rani Kumar, and twins Lanny and Lexi Wyatt—are hired to come for a week to investigate.   

Legend has it somewhere on the Mayfields’ forty-acre property is a long-lost gold mine. It was supposedly staked by thirteen-year-old Ben Mayfield’s five-time great-grandfather, “Papa” Mayfield, in 1875.

Adding to the excitement, a nervous Ben reveals a frightening secret to the detectives. At the ranch, he alone has seen a threatening black-clad figure on horseback whom he calls the Phantom Rider. Who is this mysterious person? Is he responsible for the thefts? Where is the lost gold mine? And what’s going on in the nearby, snake-infested ghost town of Rainbow Flats? The four intrepid detectives aim to find out.

Coming Soon!

About the Author

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Sherrill Joseph will be forever inspired by her beautiful students in the San Diego public schools where she taught for thirty-five years before retiring and becoming a published author.

The author has peopled and themed her mysteries with characters after her own responsible, role-model students, of various abilities, disabilities, races, cultures, and interests. She believes that children need to find themselves and those unlike themselves in books for developing accepting, anti-racist world citizens.

Sherrill is a native San Diegan where she lives in a 1928 Spanish-style house in a historic neighborhood with her adorable bichon frisé-poodle mix, Jimmy Lambchop, who blogs.

Her books are recipients of two Gold Awards from Mom’s Choice Book Awards, a Gold Award from Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, three awards from Story Monsters Approved, and numerous other children’s book awards. She is a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, and Blackbird Writers. Watch for many more adventures with the Botanic Hill Detectives!

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blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: After The Rising & Before The Fall – Orna Ross

ORNA ROSS is an award-winning writer, an advocate for independent authors and other creative entrepreneurs, and “one of the 100 most influential people in publishing” [The Bookseller]. She writes novels, poems and nonfiction guides for creatives, and is Founder-Director of two popular online communities, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and The Creativist Club. She lives in London and writes, publishes and teaches around the globe. When not writing, you’ll probably find her reading.

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My thoughts: I’ve spent a lot of time studying the early 20th century – the First World War, the Russian revolution, but curiously never the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland and the turbulent events that followed. It doesn’t even get mentioned. Which is weird considering how many people I know with Irish parents and grandparents, North London has a huge Irish community, but we learnt virtually nothing about our nearest neighbour and the first victim of the British desire for empire.

“The Irish Question” goes all the way back to the Tudors, Henry VIII was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (a job Churchill would later hold during the 1920s, when parts of this book are set).

Moving back and forth in time, Jo slowly unravels the secrets and sadness hidden in the heart of her family. Her grandmother’s fervent Republicanism, the tragic death of her brother Barney, the suffering of Auntie Norah, and why her mother was so horrified when she fell in love with Rory O’Donovan.

Jo’s relationship with her mother – Mrs D, is fraught with barely concealed anger, they’re so alike they clash constantly, and the past continues to intrude into their lives. The history that shaped the Republic of Ireland also shaped the family, and left them with wounds that haven’t healed.

Jo is fiercely independent and it is only when going through the letters and diaries her mother bequeaths her, finding out how the turbulent years of the early 1900s impacted her family so directly, that she starts to realise that it’s ok to need people, like her sister Maeve.

Book three, In The Hour, is due out next year and fills in more of the missing story of Jo’s family, this time of her absentee father. This is an epic and powerful, moving family saga, that is also an incredible history of Ireland, something that should be more widely taught and learnt from.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Bookshop of Second Chances – Jackie Fraser

Thea Mottram is having a bad month. She’s been let go from her office job with no notice—and to make matters even worse, her husband of nearly twenty years has decided to leave her for one of her friends. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.

Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and lovely but neglected garden. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can’t seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle’s book collection. His gruff attitude—fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord—tests Thea’s patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn’t experienced in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.

My thoughts: this is a rather charming rom com set in a small Scottish town. I loved Thea, she was so funny and relatable. Who hasn’t, when it’s all going wrong, longed to inherit a house, money and a library miles away and get to start over?

I liked Thea’s friends, the locals, even the bickering Charles and Edward, especially Edward. Supposedly grumpy but secretly charming.

A really fun, enjoyable read.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Bridge Across the Ocean – Jack B. Rochester

Jedediah Smith, Luke Lin, David Bondsman and Rick Saundersson have created the most innovative bicycle drive in history: The Spinner, a technologically advanced device that produces and stores its own energy without using batteries. It’s 2011, and it’s ideally positioned for the just-emerging city bike market, and the world’s largest bicycle maker located in Taiwan is interested. Just before they are to leave for Taipei to discuss a licensing agreement with Joyful Bike, Luke is struck down while cycling and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Although heartbroken, the three friends decide to continue with their business travels, taking Luke’s fiancée Suzie Sun with them. At Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the group encounters two Japanese agents of business espionage who don’t know what they have, but nevertheless want to steal it. The “information worms” pursue the cyclists to Taipei, where the stakes grow even higher and a battle of espionage ensues. The guys begin negotiations with Joyful’s director of business development, Jung-Shan Lai. She takes them cycling on Joyful bikes through Taiwan’s breathtaking scenery as they continue to thwart the attacks of the information worms. Jed promptly falls in love with Jung-Shan, and she with him. Will the team be able to secure and finalize their business deal with Joyful Bike? Will the agents of business espionage ride away with the stolen bicycle drive intelligence? Will the three friends get justice for Luke’s tragic death? Will Jung-Shan and Jed work out their cross-cultural love affair?

An eclectic mix of genres, Bridge Across the Ocean breaks through fiction stereotypes, thanks to the author’s engaging story that opens the door to a diverse readership. Bridge Across the Ocean by Jack B. Rochester is anaction-packed, adventurous story fraught with its share of suspense and what-happens-next, IP espionage, business and technological innovation, and a moving love story. An avid cyclist for more than 30 years, author Jack B. Rochester combines his love of cycling with his love of writing in his fourth novel. “This is a book about love,” he says. “It’s a story about four intelligent business innovators’ love of bicycles and cycling; the love by all parties of technological innovation; and a love between two people and the importance of unconditional love between all people.” To support his message and bring awareness to cycling safety, Rochester will be donating all royalties from Bridge Across the Ocean to organizations promoting bicycling safety.

As a grad student, JACK B. ROCHESTER longed to see a book with his name on the cover. Today, it’s on 16 books and counting. He launched his career as a business book editor and guided 65 authors’ books into print. With the publication of the bestselling The Naked Computer, he launched his editorial services company, Joshua Tree Interactive. He wrote three college textbooks and many more business books until 2004, including the publication of his nonfiction swan song, the internationally acclaimed Pirates of the Digital Millennium, co-authored with John Gantz. In 2007, Rochester turned to writing fiction full-time. His Nathaniel Hawthorne Flowers literary trilogy was published by Wheatmark (available in paperback, Kindle, Audible). He’s currently working on two distinctly different novels and a short story collection. You can follow his writing and read his alternating blogs, Saturday Book Review and My Brain on Grape-Nuts, at JackBoston.com, his innovative website. Today, Rochester spends a lot of his time mentoring writers, counseling writers one-on-one and in writing workshops across the country – er, the internet. With Caitlin M. Park, he’s the co-founder of The Fictional Café, an online ‘zine publishing fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, fine art, photography, and fictional podcasts for nearly 1K subscribers in 67 countries. The Strong Stuff: The Best of Fictional Café, 2013-2017 was published in a limited edition in 2019. A new edition featuring work from 2018-2020 will be published soon. Rochester earned his Master’s degree in Comparative Literature from California State University, Sonoma. He grew up in South Dakota and Wyoming, and spent 15 years on the West Coast. He and his wife split their time between Boston, MA and Florida. An avid cyclist, he owns five bicycles. As he likes to say, no moss grows beneath his feet.

Video from the author

Giveaway – to win a copy of Bridge Across the Ocean, just answer this question below: which character’s death happens just before the planned trip to Taiwan? (US only, book will be sent by the publisher directly to the winner, closes 17th September)

The Ride – Excerpted from Bridge Across the Ocean

Excerpted from Bridge Across the Ocean by Jack B. Rochester. Copyright © 2021 Jack B. Rochester. Reprinted with permission from Jack B. Rochester. All rights reserved.

After breakfast, the four went back to their rooms to change into their cycling clothes. Jed, entering the hotel lobby, found Jung-Shan in Team Joyful pink-trimmed black cycling shorts and a pink-and-mauve jersey. She looked at him over her shoulder, then turned to face him and smiled. She was breathtaking to behold, her feminine curves gracefully pronounced by skin-tight spandex.
“Not polite to stare, Jed,” said Jung-Shan, giving him a coquettish smile. “Where is yours?”
“My . . . mine? My what?” he spluttered.
“Your helmet. Your gloves.” She pointed at a table. “Oh, look! They are right here. You see, I am taking care you.” She gave him a mischievous grin.
“Ah, yeah,” he stammered. “Thanks.”
Holding the door open, she said, “The others are waiting for their captain outside,” delighting in the effect she had on him. Jed grabbed his helmet and gloves and hurried past her.


Wei-Ting drove them from the Serenity Garden inn to Longshan Riverside Park to begin their day’s ride. The early August morning was already hot and quite muggy, but once the bikes were rolling the riders cooled right down. Following Jung-Shan’s lead, they pedaled the wide paved bikeway north alongside the Tamsui River, warming up, getting a few muscle kinks stretched out. All around them people walked, pushed strollers, sat on benches smoking, gazed at river boats, practiced the ancient Chinese movements known as Taijiquan on the lawns. Cyclists of every ilk rode bikes of every ilk: kids on BMXs, women on rusty clunkers with wire baskets filled with fruits and vegetables, young men on racing bikes streaking along, teenaged girls pedaling in twos and threes, three-wheeled bike-carts transporting cartons of commerce and who knows what else, all cruising along with utter disregard for a left-right traffic flow.
They rode northwards, following the river, feeling the travel tension diminish. The bikes were performing flawlessly. David said, “Hey guys, what do you think of the carbon fiber?” Jed and Rick raised their fists in approbation. “I think we ought to look into this when we get back home.”
Jed said, “I keep saying this! I don’t know why we haven’t already.”
“But I told you, a CF fab shop is gonna cost a lot of money,” said Rick. “It’s a whole different process. Lots of handwork.”
David said, “That’s true, Rick, but the cycling world is moving toward CF and we ought to, too, before we become heavy-metal dinosaurs. I remember seeing the first CF bike back in the mid-eighties. A Kestrel, I think. A few guys in the MIT Cycling Club had ‘em. In fact, I rode a guy’s once, a Specialized. I wasn’t overly impressed at the time, but this Joyful bike is turning my head.”
Jed smirked to himself, Yeah, like Jung-Shan is turning mine.
She rode breakaway, five to ten meters in front of the guys, but always close. Her long hair, pulled into a ponytail, fanned in the breeze at her back. Jed had no trouble keeping his eyes on her.
They drew deep breaths to oxygenate their blood, all the while laughing, swilling water, grabbing the lead from one another while taunting the others to catch up, but never once getting ahead of Jung-Shan. They rode through Yanping Riverside Park, where fully clothed people lay sunbathing on the manicured lawns. A young guy with long hair flew a radio-controlled helicopter with great skill, making it dive and swoop and climb, flipping it to hover upside down. A photographer with several cameras slung around her neck shot pictures of three college-age kids, two girls and a guy, wearing matching team kits as they stood astride their bikes. They rolled on, crossing the Tamsui on a bridge ramp designated for bicycles. Rick called out, pointing ahead, “Hey, Jung-Shan, isn’t that the Grand Hotel?” She raised two fingers in
a V and wagged them. Yes.
They rode kilometer after kilometer along the Tamsui until they reached the bright red double-arched Guandu Bridge. Traffic was heavy. “Please be careful and stay in one line behind me,” Jung-Shan called out. They crossed to the east side of the river and turned north on Longmi Road, stopping at a rest area on the Gold Coast Bicycle Path where food stands congregated in a grove of banyan trees. Outdoor toilets designed for a person and their bicycle stood nearby. Rick said, “I gotta take a picture of this!”
They continued riding through the Mangrove Preserve, crossing over little wooden bridges, the swamps below filled with birds, sharing the trail with scooters, dog-walkers, jitneys and bikes. Boats of all types navigated the river, shimmering in the bright sunlight. Cruising around the BaLi District, Jung-Shan pointed out the beautiful Hanmin Shrine, where they turned and rode back to the BaLi Pier and took the ferry across the river to the Tamsui District, New Taipei City.
The town was filled with interesting shops but the streets grew increasingly narrow, shared equally by cars, scooters, bikes, and jaywalkers. Jung-Shan popped out of her clipless pedals and stopped. “I suggest we walk our bikes.” Even that was difficult: the sidewalks were overrun with tourists, shoppers, scooters. They ate some street food for lunch, little gua bao sandwiches with a slice of pork and a sprig of greens inside, and refilled their water bottles at the 7-Eleven across Zhongyang Road.
Jung-Shan said, “If anyone is tired, the Danshui MRT station is near. We can ride the train back to Taipei. Bikes are allowed.” The guys cried “NOT!” in unison. They remounted and eventually were riding north again, heading toward where the Tamsui flows into the Strait of Taiwan. The river was enormously wide here; they stopped to caffeinate at a Starbucks where they could gaze upon its mighty effluence.
Jung-Shan, “Come. I will show you something special.” They swung back on their bikes, still heading north, pedaling along a narrow spit of land with the Tamsui on their left. A beautiful bridge came into view on the right. “This is called Damsui Lover’s Bridge,” she said. It was pure white, suspended by cables from a single gracefully curved wishbone-shaped tower. “Ready to go across?” she said, smiling. “We must walk our bikes.”
“Why do they call it a lover’s bridge?” asked Rick.
“The bridge construction started on a Valentine’s Day,” she said.
“I thought I heard you call it Dam-shoey,” said David.
“Yes. Often there are many ways to spell in English,” she said.
“Danshui, Damsui, all means the same thing as Tamsui. They can sound the same when you speak.”
“We have some names like that, too,” said David. “Like, the English spell the name of Köln, Germany, differently than the Germans do.
They—we—write it like the perfume, Cologne. I know there are lots of other examples.”
“Peking,” said David. “Beijing.”
“Tao, Dao,” said Jed.
Crossing the bridge, they turned south and rode back to the Tamsui District. Jung-Shan stopped them at the MRT station plaza and said, “OK, if you are warmed up, want to have some fun?” Straddling her bike she tilted her head, grinned, and shook her handlebars back and forth.
That got a laugh. “Sure!” said Rick. “What have you got in mind?”
“Follow me and you will see!” she said as she clicked back into a pedal and pushed off.
They rode a few blocks south, then Jung-Shan signaled for a left turn. There was a fair amount of traffic, discouraging much sightseeing. Soon they were moving away from city congestion on Denggong Road, which became increasingly rural. The road went up and down—more up than down—tracing a route through hills and valleys as it turned south. Then it became steeper, narrower and more twisty. They took a sharp right turn onto Fuxing Road and began climbing in earnest. Homes and Buddhist shrines sprouted out of the thick semi-tropical forest on the mountain slope; no guardrails prevented a sheer drop on the opposite side. Jung-Shan was still leading, constantly downshifting and standing to pedal the more strenuous climbs. Although it was enticing to watch her lithe body in motion—the smooth rise and fall of her pumping leg muscles, the gentle sway of her hips, her beautiful shimmering pony tail dancing behind her—but the guys instinctively knew everyone had to take their turn pacing the ride. They rounded a nearly 180-degree turn and began another steep climb that slowed all four of them. David called out, “I got it,” and jumped into the lead.
Jung-Shan got right on David’s rear wheel and began drafting him. “Thank you,” she puffed. They formed a single line and took turns in the lead, one after another, sustaining the wind pocket to help each conserve energy. One rider pumped away for a minute or two, then dropped back for the next rider to lead the paceline. Not only did everyone begin to feel better, but the klicks went by much faster. At last they crested the final mountaintop where they stopped to rest, hydrate and take in the view of the rivers and the vast valley below.
“There is Taipei, of course,” said Jung-Shan, pointing. “The small river flowing east to west is the Keelung. We will ride to it. The larger one to the right is our old friend the Tamsui.”
“Awesome,” said Rick.
“Far away you see the mountains?” she said, pointing east “There is Yangmingshan National Park. I love to go there. Once it was a place of living volcanoes!” She swung her arms into the air. “Many rare flowers grow there. Nice place to stay longer.” She stretched her arms up again,
then out, up, and rotated her shoulders. “OK, all ready for the gift of the mountain?”
“Gift? What gift?” said Jed.
“Every mountain that goes up also comes down. We have now earned our ride down. Please be careful for cars on our narrow road. It is just like the road up. When we reach the bottom, we will arrive in Beitou. It is a nice town with the culture of mineral hot springs for enjoyable health bathing.”
“Hey, crazy,” said Rick. “I would love to do that! All us would, right, guys?”
“Rick, you are probably only crazy one,” said Jung-Shan, laughing, and they all joined in.

The ride down was exhilarating, scary, fun, both hands on the brake levers all the way. They cruised into busy Beitou, its streets clogged with the usual mix of auto, scooter, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. The guys wanted to linger, just to pedal alongside the hot springs stream
and the boardwalk beside it where pretty Taiwanese girls strolled with their colorful parasols, but it was late in the afternoon and Jung-Shan said they should keep going.
They followed Daya Road south out of Beitou, eventually crossing a bridge over the Keelung River. They rode a short distance to the Dajia Riverside Park, filled their water bottles and sat on the lawn to rest. Jung-Shan pointed back across the river. “What do you see, Rick?”
“Oh, wow, there’s the Grand Hotel again! What a great day! Awesomely great riding and scenery and, wow, just fun!” said Rick. “It’s different here, but it’s not. I don’t know . . . you know?” He looked helplessly at David and Jed.
“I think I speak for all three of us,” said Jed, looking at David and Rick, “but Jung-Shan, this Dragon Fire carbon fiber is just, well, I can’t say it in a single word. Your frame design engineering is exceptional. The CF ride’s smooth, really absorbs the road. It handles beautifully;
no work. It’s fast, and it responds instantly. I thought our Smithworks bikes were about the hottest bikes on the market, but this Dragon Fire beauty . . . and yeah, it’s beautiful, too. It might be as good as our titanium bike with the same gruppo.”
“Maybe better,” said David.
“Yep, I would agree,” said Rick, “Maybe. Even. Better.”
“So I guess that means we’re in agreement,” said Jed, “we look into carbon fiber when we get home?” They nodded.
Turning toward Jung-Shan, Jed said, “What are we doing tonight?”
“We are having dinner,” said Jung-Shan.
“Sounds good!” said Rick. “I could eat a horse.”
“Oh, Rick! You eat horse?” said Jung-Shan, her eyes widening in mock surprise. More laughter. “At dinner we will be joined by Derek.”
“To discuss security, I imagine,” said Jed.
“No, Jed. I told you before, no business talk while sharing a meal. But I am concerned about what happened at One Path,” she said. “What if we were discovered?”
“I’m a little worried about that, too,” said David, “but I have no idea what we can do about it.”
“Except wait and see if it happens again, I suppose,” said Jed.
“This is not the first time we have had problems with information worms. I have told you this before, too. You will be surprised when you learn how well prepared we are to protect you,” said Jung-Shan, getting to her feet. She brushed grass off her shorts and headed toward the bikes. Jed watched her walk away. Every step. Rick gave him a poke and a wink, and Jed got up.
“How long will it take us to ride back to the inn?” David asked as they put on their helmets.
“Oh, one hour, perhaps,” said Jung-Shan. “Can you make it?” She smiled, not serious.
“Of course we can,” said David. “We’re used to four- and five-hour rides. In fact, we were out on a hundred-miler with major mountaingoat climbs just before we left . . .”
The silence that followed spoke for itself. Thoughts of Luke drifted back. Jed replayed the crash scene in his head, a bad, bad movie. He shook it from his thoughts.

Wei-Ting was waiting for them at the Longshan Riverside Park, squatting with two other men, all of them smoking and talking and laughing. He jumped to his feet as they rode up and quickly walked to Jung-Shan. She spoke to him briefly; he nodded, ran to open the Jimmy’s rear hatch and began stowing their bikes.
Jung-Shan drew the guys together and said, “Wei-Ting informs me he is confident he has not been followed today. This is a good sign. Perhaps the information worms have not been able to find us after leaving One Path.”
“You can just say we shook them off our tails, like American cowboys would say,” said Rick, grinning.
“I thank you for teaching that to me, Rick. I’m sure it is simple to translate into Chinese,” she said with a withering smile. “Shook them off our tails.”
But they had not.

My thoughts: starting with a shocking event – one that rocks the characters and changes their plans, this is an interesting story about culture clash – between the US and Taiwan, and how we should learn from each other.

There’s also conspiracy and intrigue, corporate espionage, tests to the friendship between the three men and a love story. Something for every reader really. I don’t know a lot about cycling – I own a bike, but couldn’t even tell you what kind (thanks Cycle to Work scheme). But you don’t need to be into the cyclist’s lifestyle to enjoy and appreciate this book at all.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Book Release Blitz: Samurai – Joanna White

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Happy publication day to author Joanna White, and congratulations on the release of Samurai (Valiant #3)! 

Giveaway – An 8 x 11 map from the book, 8  x 11 poster of the cover, and early access to Healed (Digital), the short story ending to Samurai!

SAMURAI OFFICIAL COVER 2021 OFFICIAL!!!!Samurai (The Valiant Series #3) *Books can be read in any order

Publication Date: September 7th, 2021

Genre: Clean Fantasy/ Adventure

Okada Akari and Sakamoto Megumi just may be two women in over their head.
Okada Akari is a samurai, the daughter of the Chief Advisor to the Emperor of the Sakamoto clan. One day on a mission, she is captured by a mysterious warrior and taken to an enemy camp—an enemy filled with strange, foreign powers the likes of which her world has never seen. What’s worse, a foreign stranger is supplying her enemy with weapons her people cannot hope to fight against. Yet that is only the beginning of her journey, one filled with war and love, sacrifice, and darkness.

Sakamoto Megumi has wanted to be a samurai her entire life. However, as the daughter of the Emperor, training is impossible. When the Emperor is assassinated, she is thrust onto a throne she never wanted. As Empress, she must find a way to become a leader her people will look up to, instead of a weak woman unfit for the throne. Her generals are waiting for her to make a grave mistake. Falling in love with her high general might very well be the mistake they were waiting for.

Corruption has touched worlds before, but this time, it will take more than a few Chosen to stop it before it fills the hearts of everyone around them – even the hearts of their closest friends and allies.

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I glanced down at my hand as it rested in my lap. “Do you think I am ready?” My voice was barely above a whisper.

Somehow, he heard me. I glanced back at his reflection. He gently smiled, his eyes were steady and calm, and his voice was void of pity. “I believe you will lead your people wisely, like your father did before you. You have his wisdom and equality inside your heart, Princess Sakamoto.”

I blinked back tears that had begun to form and glanced back down at the one and only hand I had. The real meaning behind his words echoed inside my mind. You are able to lead your people whether you have two arms or one. My strengths outweighed my weakness.

When the young girl, Chiaki, finished combing through my hair, I told her that she could leave. Once the shoji slid shut behind her and I could no longer hear her footsteps, I turned around and met Ryosuke’s gaze. As I stood, I kept my eyes firmly locked on his. Though I could not embrace him, because at any moment anyone could interrupt us, his gaze on mine held more warmth than if I was actually in his arms.

“Your father and your mother both believed in you. I believe in you, Megumi. You are not alone on this path. Never forget that.”

Now Available on Amazon!

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About the Author

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Joanna White is a Christian Author and fangirl. Hunter and Shifter are the first two books in her debut series, called the Valiant Series. In December 2019, one of her short stories was featured in Once Upon A Yuletide, a Christmas fairy tale anthology by Divination Publishing. Dark Magi, a prequel in the Republic Chronicles came out in November 2019. Glimpses of Time and Magic, a historical fantasy anthology, also featured one of her stories.

She graduated from Full Sail University with a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment. Ever since she was ten years old, she’s been writing stories and has a deep passion for writing and creating stories, worlds, characters, and plots that readers can immerse themselves in. In 2020, she reached her personal goal of writing a million words in a year. Most of all, Joanna loves God, her family, staying at home, and being a total nerd.

To stay updated and find out more about her novels, where her inspiration comes from, games, giveaways, and more, visit her website at: authorjoannawhite.com.

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Giveaway: Runs from today until September 10th!

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Blog Tour: The Secret Keeper’s Daughter – Samantha King

Holly Mayhew has the perfect family set-up. But when her seven-year-old daughter, Marley, begins to act strangely, refusing to speak and rushing off to hide in her room, she knows something isn’t right.

Desperate to understand why Marley has become so withdrawn, Holly creates a worry box, where Marley posts her thoughts each day.

At first, the messages seem innocent. But when Holly finds a note saying secrets make me sad, she begins to question everyone entrusted with her care…

Including her family.

Once the truth is out… there’s no going back.

My thoughts: everyone in this book is keeping secrets, and they fester, damaging relationships and causing fear and upset. Poor little Marley has it worst, she’s scared that telling her mum what she’s overheard and interpreted, will put Holly in danger.

If this family spoke openly and honestly with each other then they’d all be a lot happier and healthier. Only the baby is immune from this – and that’s because he can’t talk yet!

None of the secrets are as earth shattering as those keeping them think. In fact the most shocking ones actually answer a lot of questions and explain a lot about Holly and Amy’s past. A story about why it’s best to speak up and not keep things hidden.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.