Blog Tour: Ginger Snapped by Chloe Sunstone (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Ginger Snapped Blog Tour

Ginger Snapped: A Cybercrime Thriller with a Shocking Twist
by: Chloe Sunstone

Ginger Snapped

Publication Date: October 22nd, 2018
Genre: Thriller

SYNOPSIS

How does an amazing professional opportunity descend into a living nightmare?

Carefree Ginger’s motto of “Work Hard, Play Harder” shapes her life. So when her husband, Jake, gets a job offer on the other side of the country, she is up for the adventure.

But after Jake accepts the promotion, nothing is as expected. While Ginger remains in Cleveland to sell their house, she is plagued by strange prank calls, premonition-like nightmares, and the feeling that she is being watched. Is Jake’s new job putting her in danger?

Unfortunately, she ignores her intuition and soon finds herself face to face with a ruthless killer. Trapped in a deadly world of corporate corruption and murderous greed, she must overcome her own fears and rely on her wits if she plans to survive.

Although the first in the Ginger Gibson series, this is a standalone book.

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Purchase Links

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EXCERPT

Oh No! I’m back. I am surrounded by inky black nothingness. The air is musty…damp, my nostrils fill with the smell of dank basement. Like in a haunted house, filled with saws and chains and bloody hooks, this is the perfect place for any psycho to hide his tools of the crazy trade. I’m trembling, from the all-encompassing fear, eating at every cell in my body. Where am I? My fingers search out for clues. Beneath me is a thin mattress on a hard surface. My head rests on a concrete-like pillow. My breathing escalates as the panic rises in my chest. I open my mouth to scream, but only a muted croak escapes. Over the thunder of my pounding heart, I hear a booming crack, a gunshot. I recognize the sound from a trip to the range with Jake years earlier.

I swing my legs over the side of my perch, thinking in my blind panic to run even though I cannot see. I can’t ignore this intense urge to flee. But my impulse is thwarted by an unknown restraint trapping my left arm, a rope? Panic has me in its grip. I gasp for air to fill my lungs but produce only whimpers and muted pleas.

A loud screech reverberates through the darkness. Rats? Oh, please, no rats! Could this get any worse? Hysterical, I yank relentlessly on the rope tethering me. With each tug, the line cuts deeper into my skin. My arm warms as blood seeps from the gouges, coating my hand and fingers. Behind me, the pounding sound of footsteps startles me. Before I can turn to confront my visitor, I feel the rush of air preceding the impact to the back of my head. A blaze of bright stars then, a different blackness envelopes me.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chloe Sunstone

After over twenty years in Human Resources, Chloe decided to make a change. She returned to her first love of writing. She combined her corporate experience with her love for the written word to create engaging cyber-crime thrillers.

On a personal note, Chloe lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her loving husband, Mike. They spend their free time boating, scuba diving, and of course, reading. Her latest cybercrime mystery, Ginger Snapped, is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732013608

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GIVEAWAY

Giveaway: Signed Print Copy of Ginger Snapped (North America Only). Sign up HERE.

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Blog Tour: To Dream the Blackbane by Richard J. O’Brien (Excerpt & Giveaway)

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To Dream the Blackbane
By: Richard J. O’Brien

tdtb book cover

Publication Date: December 29th, 2018
Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

SYNOPSIS

A cosmic event in 2015 fused Earth with the faerie realm. Scientists referred to the event as The Anomaly. A byproduct of The Anomaly was the advent of hybrid beings—people who became mixed with whatever animal or object was closest to them the moment the event occurred. Humans, or pedigrees, soon relegated fairy refugees and hybrids into ghetto zones in large cities.

Seventy years later, Wolfgang Rex, a second-generation hybrid—part human, part Rhodesian Ridgeback—is a retired police detective who runs a private investigation business in Chicago’s Southside. It’s a one-hybrid show; though Rex couldn’t survive without his assistant, the faerie Sally Sandweb.

One night, two vampires visit Rex and offer him a substantial reward for the recovery of a stolen scroll. Later that same evening, Charlotte Sweeney-Jarhadill, a pedigree woman from Louisiana, visits Rex and hires him to exorcize the headless ghost of a Confederate soldier from her home.

To complicate matters, the private detective ends up falling for Charlotte. Meanwhile, the vampires demand results in the search for the missing scroll. When Rex’s assistant Sally goes missing, he must stay alive long enough to find her. Charlotte and the vampires, however, have other plans for Rex.

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EXCERPT

My name is Wolfgang Rex. I am a private detective. Once upon a time I’d been a police lieutenant. After twenty-five years of service to the city of Chicago, I retired in 2063 and opened up Chi-town Detectives, a private investigation firm.

I’m what they call in the medical books a second-generation Anomalous cross-breed. My father was a cop like me. One night he was out walking his dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Rex. My mother hated that dog. After she died I learned that she had always wished that Rex would meet some unfortunate demise. She got her wish on the night of The Anomaly. My father came home from his walk without the dog—in a manner of speaking. For lack of a better term, he and the dog had fused. And the result was a humanoid—with a hairy body, a tail, and the head of his old dog Rex. My mother was horrified, but my parents were both Catholic. So they stuck it out. I was born in the tenth year of The Anomaly. When I was a kid, my mother used to read me fairy tales. She died before I finished high school. So it goes, like Kurt Vonnegut once wrote. I turned out to be the spitting image of my father post-Anomaly. I lucked out with being born without a tail. My father had somehow managed to keep his human vocal cords. My face was less hairy than his, but our snouts were nearly identical.

Learning to speak with a dog’s mouth was tricky when I was coming up, but I eventually got the hang of it. And thank Christ I’d been born with opposable thumbs; otherwise, I would’ve starved to death a long time ago. Still, given that many people melded with inanimate objects—much like that poor bastard who became a stone gargoyle—I constantly considered myself lucky. My father cursed his lot for the rest of his life. Some people, like my old man, never learned to adjust.

Available on Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

author pic

Richard J. O’Brien is a graduate of the Fairleigh Dickinson University MFA in Creative Writing Program. Richard’s novels include Under the Bronze Moon, Infestation, and The Garden of Fragile Things. His short stories have appeared in The Del Sol Review, Duende, Pulp Literature, The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Weirdbook, and other magazines. Richard lives in New Jersey, where he teaches at Rowan College at Gloucester County and Stockton University.

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GIVEAWAY

International Giveaway: For your chance to win 1of 2 digital copies of To Dream the Blackbane, click on the link below!

North America Only: Win 1 of 2 print copies of To Dream the Blackbane, click the link below!

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TOUR SCHEDULE

Jan 7th

Reads & Reels (Excerpt) http://www.readsandreels.com
Life at 17 (Review) https://lifeat17.wordpress.com/
Tranquil Dreams (Excerpt) https://klling.wordpress.com/
The Invisible Moth (Review) https://daleydowning.wordpress.com/

Jan. 8th

On the Shelf Book Reviews (Excerpt) https://ontheshelfreviews.wordpress.com
Jessica Rachow (Review) http://jessicarachow.wordpress.com
Your Books, My Reviews (Review) https://yourbooksmyreview.wordpress.com

Jan. 9th

I Smell Sheep (Excerpt) http://www.ismellsheep.com/
The Voluptuous Book Diva (Excerpt) http://www.thevoluptuousbookdiva.com/
Rockabilly Spoonie (Interview) https://lauramorningstar.com
Splashes into Books (Excerpt) https://splashesintobooks.wordpress.com/

Jan. 10th

Anthony Avina (Excerpt) http://www.authoranthonyavinablog.com
The Bookworm Drinketh (Review) http://thebookwormdrinketh.wordpress.com/
The Return Cart (Review) http://thereturncart.com/
Didi Oviatt (Excerpt) https://didioviatt.wordpress.com

Jan 11th

Reading Nook (Excerpt) http://readingnook84.wordpress.com
Cats Love Coffee Book Reviews (Review) https://catsluvcoffeez.blogspot.com
J. Bronder Book Reviews (Review) https://jbronderbookreviews.com/
Sammie Reads (Review) https://sammiereadsbook.wordpress.com

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Book Blitz: In Servitude by Heleen Kist (Excerpt & Giveaway)

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In Servitude
by: Heleen Kist

In Servitude

Publication Date: August 23, 2018
Publisher: Pollok Glen Publishing (self-published)
Pages: 338

Recently voted Top 50 Best Indie of 2018 on Read Free.ly

SYNOPSIS

Do you owe your family your life?

Grace thought her sister led a charmed existence.

She was wrong.

Now she has to pay the price.

When Grace’s beloved sister Glory dies in a car crash, her carefully planned life spirals out of control. She discovers Glory had been manipulated into illegal activities at her trendy vegan café. What’s worse, Grace finds herself an unwitting accomplice now forced to take over her sister’s shady dealings.

Determined to keep her fingers clean and protect those Glory left behind, Grace plots to escape the clutches of Glasgow’s criminal underworld. But her moral certainty is challenged when more family secrets emerge and her sister’s past intentions remain unclear.

Grace grows convinced Glory was murdered. Why won’t anyone listen?

Seeking justice, she finds betrayal…

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For a limited time, you can purchase In Servitude on Amazon (everywhere) for only $2.99!
Paperback also availabe at Barnes & Noble and other outlets.

EXCERPT

Blue pulled at the lead. I let him off once I’d scanned the area and noted no loose dogs. Only a lone figure loitering. His eye line crossed mine as he also examined the park, and paused on me long enough to raise a creepy sensation.

I moved to a bench by the play park and pretended to tie my laces. When I straightened up, the man was striding straight towards me. I searched for Blue, hoping for a semblance of protection, but he was nowhere to be seen. Nor was anyone else.

Before I could stop him, the man sat down next to me. He whistled and shouted, ‘Here boy!’ then faced me with a disturbing grin. As if he knew the dog wouldn’t come. I jumped to my feet and looked around. What had he done?

On the second blow of silent air through my dry mouth, Blue appeared from behind a tree thirty yard away. Safe. He showed no interest in me or the man, instead sniffing out the ground’s many treasures.

I turned back to the intruder. Standing over him gave me an edge—at least I thought it did—and I raised my chin and my voice when I asked, ‘Do I know you?’

He chuckled. ‘Nah, hen. I’m only the messenger.’

‘What?’

His smile faded. ‘We’re not very happy about you closing the café for so long. You need to open up again. There’s a delivery coming on Thursday.’

‘What do you mean? How do you—’

His eyes turned to ice as he grabbed my wrist in a flash. ‘We’ll be very disappointed if you’re not there to receive the goods. Ken what I’m saying?’

He rushed off, his dark coat billowing behind him like a cape, almost engulfing Blue who circled his legs, tail wagging, until he turned towards the road.

About the Author

heleen kist

Heleen Kist is a Dutch businesswoman who lived all over the world while growing up and for her career. Then she fell in love with a Scotsman and his country, and now writes about its (sometimes scary) people from her garden office in Glasgow.

She was selected as an ‘up and coming new writer’ and awarded a Spotlight at Bloody Scotland 2018, the International crime writing festival.

Her debut psychological suspense novel ‘In Servitude’ was inspired by Heleen’s expertise in small business finance mixed with her friend’s courageous idea to open a vegan cafe in a city renowned for its dubious diet. She is currently working on her next book, which will be dark women’s fiction.

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Media Contact: hk@heleenkist.com

GIVEAWAY

2 paperback copies of In Servitude by Heleen Kist are up for grabs!!!

Winners will be selected at random on 23 December and notified personally, only your initials will be used in the winner’s announcement.

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Book Blitz: Without Hesitation by Talia Jager (Excerpt & Giveaway)

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Free book alert!!! To celebrate the newly released Painted Skies (Beyond Earth: Book Two) by Talia Jager, the first book in this series is available for free download! Read all about Without Hesitation, download your free copy, and enter the amazing giveaway below!

WithoutHesitation_1877x3000-AmazonWithout Hesitation (Beyond Earth Book #1)

Publication Date: June 16th, 2017

Genre: LGBT/ Sci-Fi/ Adventure

Synopsis:

Without Hesitation is set a thousand years in the future. Earth has become a wasteland. Humans traveled into space to colonize other suitable planets. Labels and stereotypes are a thing of the past and gender and sexual identity are as fluid as love as humans strive to survive. Here we meet Everleigh, the commander of her ship named Nirvana. She is under the control of an evil madman, Caspar, who keeps her family captive. He sends her to Valinor to abduct the Empress Akacia. When she arrives, she is taken back by Akacia’s beauty and when the Empress fights back, Everleigh realizes she has met her match.

**This book is an LGBTQ story with a female/ female relationship.**

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*Available for FREE Download!*

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Excerpt

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“Oh, bugger!” she muttered from her dressing room.

“What?”

“I’m stuck.” She giggled. “I’m going to find the sales lady to help.”

“No! I’ll help. Open your door.”

A few seconds passed before I heard the lock click. She opened the door and I walked in and locked it behind me.

“Zipper’s stuck.” She moved her hair so I could see.

I struggled with the zipper for a minute before working it loose. I pulled it down exposing the intricate tattoos down her back. “Wow…”

Pink flamed her cheeks. “Phases of our moon, Oro.”

I trailed my fingers down her back and she shuddered. It took everything in me not to lean in and kiss her. Our eyes met in the mirror. Her blue eyes were wide with curiosity and bright with anticipation. She tilted her head to the side just enough to expose the long line of her neck and that made my heart speed out of control. I closed the small space between us and let my lips touch her skin. Her breath hitched. She was so warm, so soft, and so perfect.

My lips trailed soft kisses up to her ear, she trembled and let out a low moan. I circled her waist with one arm to steady her. My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my body. Every inch of my skin warmed.

Akacia turned so that we were face to face and her hand came up to cup my cheek. I rested my hands on her waist. Her gaze darted from my eyes to my lips. She muttered something about hesitation and then her soft, supple lips were on mine.

It was my turn to be surprised. Nobody had ever been so bold, but I was only startled for a beat before I seized her lips and deepened the kiss.

When Akacia pulled away the tiniest of moans escaped my mouth. A smile played on her lips that I swear tasted like honey. She tangled her hands in my hair at the back of my neck.

There was a knock on the door. “Do you need help?”

Akacia giggled and I answered, “No. Just another minute.”

-Without Horizons

About the Author

Author Pic.jpg

Talia is no stranger to labels and judgment. She has slowly been developing her voice for those who need help speaking up. She believes that someday labels will be a thing of the past, that sexuality will be fluid, love will be love, and mental illness will be handled with love and care.

Talia is an author with fifteen books published including: Damaged: Natalie’s Story, Teagan’s Story: Her Battle With Epilepsy, If I Die Young, Secret Bloodline, Lost and Found, The Gifted Teens Series, The Between Worlds Series and The Beyond Earth Series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking red rocks or sitting on the beach with a Kindle in her hands and her toes in the ocean.

Talia Jager | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Amazon | Instagram | Pinterest | Goodreads

Giveaway!!!

For your chance to win either a $25 Amazon Gift Card or a digital copy of Painted Skies (Beyond Earth Book #2), click the link below!

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Blog Tour: Just by Jenny Morton Potts [Review/Excerpt/Giveaway]

Blog Tour Just

Just
By Jenny Motion Potts

Just novel

Publication Date: June 14, 2018
Genre: Romantic Thriller

SYNOPSIS

On golden Mediterranean sands, maverick doctor Scott Langbrook falls recklessly in love with his team leader, Fiyori Maziq. If only that was the extent of his falling, but Scott descends into the hellish clutches of someone much more sinister.

‘Just’ is a story of love and loss, of terror and triumph. Set in idyllic Cambridge and on the shores of the Med and Cornwall, our characters fight for their very lives on land and at sea.

An unforgettable novel which goes to the heart of our catastrophic times, and seeks salvation.

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EXCERPT

Chapter 1

The Elephant

At Westside Dental Practice in Cambridge, it was quitting time.

“Oh, nearly forgot.” Finlay Duff pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket and thrust it roughly towards Lucienne Langbrook. “This came for you. Hand delivered.”

Luci thought her Practice Partner looked a little out of sorts. “What’s wrong?”

“What is wrong is that your root canal patient left without paying. A full apicoectomy. That’s the best part of a grand, that is.”

“Ah. I see. Blimey, he was a gruff sort. Even before the pain and general torture.” Luci tore the letter out of the envelope with her fingers which annoyed her Partner further. Finlay always used a letter opener, the handle of which was monogrammed with his initials. She’d given him that as a birthday present, from the website What Do You Give The Smug Git Who Has Everything?

“Come to think of it, Finlay, my patient didn’t even thank me.”

“It’s not funny. May I remind you that we have spent a fortune doing this surgery up. And every penny of interest that we—”

“Oh my God.” Lucienne’s fingers flew to her mouth.

“What? What?”

The letter shook in her hand as she read it quickly again, then held it out at the end of a stiff arm. Finlay took the letter and began to murmur his way through.

Dear Lucienne

It is with enormous regret that I have to inform you of Eddie’s death. As you may know, he was in Botswana on a contract with Lucara Diamonds, and one evening on his way back to the hotel, his car ran into an elephant.

The letter shook a little in Finlay’s hand.

“Oh my sainted aunt, you cannot be laughing. Fin, tell me you’re not laughing at this.”

“I’m not! Of course, I’m not.” Finlay’s Glaswegian accent always amplified in moments of vehemence. “It’s just a nerve thing. I’m like this at funerals. I am.”

Luci grabbed the letter from him. “Well, there’s not going to be a funeral. And if there was, you certainly wouldn’t be invited. Look! She’s going out there. Her. To cremate Edward.”

“Where? Who?”

“Susan. Mrs Langbrook Mark Two. She’s going to Botswana.” Lucienne flicked her hand away from her own body and towards a far-off continent, like Susan was an imaginary fly to be propelled. “It is the incumbent, you see, the present wife, who buries the husband.”

“Whit? They’re not bringing the body back? How’s Ed going to feel about that?” Finlay tried to arrange his amusement into a frown.

“Oh you’re concerned, are you, about Ed’s wishes? Come off it. You always loathed him. Anyway, it’s what he wanted. Not to be repatriated, in such a… circumstance. Apparently. You know Edward, every administrative eventuality will have been planned for.”

“Give me back the letter, I didn’t finish.”

Lucienne looked at her watch. “It’s just gone six thirty. I’m going to lock up. My God.” She pushed her hand through her blonde streaks and held it there for a moment, at the temple, where the grey crept to the fray once more. Then she left the letter on the luxurious orange leather of the Aston treatment chair – Finlay’s personal favourite – and he reclined on it now to finish Susan Langbrook’s letter.

…accidents are actually the most common cause of death in that country. Not all animal related, obviously, but elephants are a constant hazard. The temperature drops rapidly in the evening and the tarmac is the warmest place for the beasts. Eddie wasn’t driving particularly quickly, the Botswana Police Service said (from the tyre marks) but all the same, an object of that size…

Lucienne Langbrook checked that the drug cabinets were closed properly and set the new alarm with her son Scott’s birth date. The letter said that Scott had been told about his father’s accident, but Luci had not heard from her son since he first arrived in Libya. She’d had a text, saying “Landed” and that was it. Was he in touch with Susan though? Oh dear God, was he? A little hook of pain hitched onto Lucienne’s heart. Both her loves in Africa, one dead love – Edward – who was now actually dead, and the other, her son, who was both missing and being missed terribly. Had Susan Langbrook heard from Scott though?

Lucienne could hear Finlay’s regulation brogues on the newly fitted engineered oak. She wanted to fall down, simply, on the floor and wait for something better. Finlay gestured at her torso. “C’mon Luci. Rip that Velcro.”

She took off her crisp, pale blue dental tunic. It had arrived just that morning and her Partner had wanted to tell her how much better that choice than the bottle green she’d considered. Finlay wanted to tell her how much she suited this tunic, the short sleeves showing off her perfect arms, the unnecessary but charming penny collar for the lady dentist. He cramped his toes up inside his shoes to banish his inappropriate responses. Anyway, Lucienne Langbrook wouldn’t stand for a compliment. Finlay knew that he ought to be ashamed of his skin-deep assessments, when she’d just that moment got news of her ex-husband’s brutal passing. Ought to be ashamed, but wasn’t. “Hey, not a mark on it. Your shirt, Luci. Must have been a good day. At some point.”

He threw her tunic into the laundry and got their coats. “I’m sorry about Ed. I am really. Sincerely. I do struggle with certain aspects of being a grown up but I—”

“You hated him from the very first.”

“Lucienne, please.”

“It’s alright, I did too, in the end. I hated Edward. Hated him and loved him. An elephant for fuck’s sake.” She looked up at her best friend and Practice Partner, eyes ashine with coping. “Now it really is, the end.”

REVIEW

Just is somewhat of a hard novel to review, probably the one where I’m having the most conflicted feelings about in a while. I’m always a little cautious when going into romantic thrillers. Romance itself has some blurred lines in the modern novel sense and thrillers are just tough to nail down. I’m not sure that Just nails down both of these areas or creates a good balance per se. However, despite a slow start to the novel which frankly did begin a little confusing as it jumps a little timeline (unless I missed something and just lost track), as the ideas of the thriller solidifies and the pieces slide together by around the middle, the second half takes a nice turn that almost does make up for the slow beginning.

On one hand, I think that the thriller elements does truly come together in the second half effectively. The pacing definitely could be better. But the setting it uses and the whole idea when we see the whole picture does work out. However, the romance element here is also not completely convincing. On many levels, this book reminded me a little of reading The Casual Vacancy. The characters are quite flawed so they don’t quite have you connecting or backing with any of them in particular. However, their flaws for some of the characters particularly the mother Lucienne and her associate/best friend, Finlay is the ones I thought worked the best here. Their flaws made them feel genuine.

There are some good ideas here and the setting here works overall. It starts off slow and the pacing is a tad slow but give it time and the second half does deliver on the thrills.

Goodreads: 3 out of 5

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JENNY MORTON POTTS

Jenny is a novelist, screenplay writer, and playwright. After a series of ‘proper jobs’, she realized she was living someone else’s life and escaped to Gascony to make gîtes. Knee deep in cement and pregnant, Jenny was happy. Then autism and a distracted spine surgeon wiped out the order. Returned to wonderful England, to write her socks off.

Jenny would like to see the Northern Lights but worries that’s the best bit and should be saved till last. Very happily, and gratefully, settled with the family. She tries not to take herself too seriously.

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GIVEAWAY

Jenny is giving away 5 digital copies of Just in your preferred format, so be sure to enter the giveaway!

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Book Blitz: Death in Vermilion by Barbara Elle (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Blog Tour Death in Vermilion

Death in Vermilion
By: Barbara Elle

Death in Vermilion

Publication Date: April 16, 2018
Genre: Murder Mystery

SYNOPSIS

A psychological mystery about art and obsession…
Artist Leila Goodfriend is laying down the bones of a painting. When she’s interrupted by Iris, the noisy, unlikeable artist in the studio upstairs, Leila is distracted and annoyed.
When Leila discovers the racket was actually Iris’ dead body hitting the floor, she becomes obsessed: Who murdered Iris?
The other Red Barn Cooperative artists—competitive, jealous and hypocritical—are prime suspects. They all hated Iris. “An artist owes his life to his art,” Iris said.
Iris was good for a laugh. But no one is laughing now.

In this gripping mystery, new author Barbara Elle paints a clever, twisted picture of women and sisters, whose lives are entwined by a brutal murder in a charming Cape Code town.
Alibis fall apart. Plot twists multiply. And Leila comes to a dangerous conclusion.

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Purchase link: Amazon

EXCERPT
Chapter 1: Bellies and Strips

There was no glance more cutting or cruel. The narrowing of unsympathetic eyes a shade of cool, blue slate, like Dylan’s on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited. The imperceptible flare of nostrils, followed by a slow yoga exhalation in Savasana, the corpse. It wasn’t going well.

Leila Goodfriend was laying down the bones of a painting. She took a step back from her easel. A no-name clam shack clung fearlessly as a barnacle to the edge of the old East End pier. A forlorn wooden structure, barely bigger than a Punch & Judy puppet stage, had withstood the fierce winds whipping off the water in the dead of winter. The pier was deserted. Anyone could paint a sunny day.

After outlining the shack in ghostly charcoal strokes, she stood, hand on hip, poised with a palette loaded with ultramarine and cobalt blues for the sky, sap green for foliage, a transparent manganese blue hue for waves in the water, Van Dyck brown for the pier’s planks and Naples Yellow Hue for sunlight. Flake white blobs dabbed in the foreground could be gulls, or children, or discarded clam containers. She hadn’t decided which. Leila loved that shack, the rough pier, and the view of dotted Race Point Lighthouse off the distance. Painting was all about execution, feeling a connection to the subject, the composition, the angles of light. Though local artists mostly painted popular summer scenes of boats and beaches.

That’s what the summer birds, vacationers who nested in the Cape Cod dunes from June until the end of August, bought. Her husband Joe dubbed them the dorks of summer. Leila didn’t care what unflattering name Joe had for them, or whether the summer birds cared as much about this place she called home as she did. She wanted to sell them a painting capturing what she loved about this place.

If she was lucky, and painting was largely a matter of luck, random strokes on the canvas would become a painting, At the Clam Bar: Succulent Bellies and Strips. If one of the summer birds bought her painting, she’d be happy. Even the most dedicated of artists needs affirmation sometimes.

A loud whacking thump overhead jarred Leila rudely from her thoughts; the thud traveled like a jolt of electricity down her spine Immediately, Leila knew the disturbance, of course, was Iris. Iris again. Always Iris. Of the six other artists who called the Red Barn home, her studio had to be, unfortunately, overhead.

And inevitably, as Iris worked, the creaking old floorboards quaked under her relentless assault with her flapping Birkenstock sandals.

Leila complained about Iris to Joe more than once, actually almost every day. It was impossible for someone who barely grazed five feet could make so much noise. Iris could be quiet if she tried, she’d say. She was inconsiderate. She was pompous. “Art,” Iris would say, “has a life of its own and an artist owes his life to his art.” Quoting Iris was good for a laugh.

If Iris bothered her so much, Joe would say, why keep talking about it? Why not rent a different studio? That would make sense, except Leila loved her space, had been there for nearly five years, and was lucky to have found it in this touristy town. Besides, she hated giving in to her own annoyance; she’d learn to ignore Iris if it killed her. Maybe, someday, Iris would just float away like a child’s birthday balloon. No such luck; gravity worked overtime with every tread Iris inflicted in her flapping Birkenstock sandals. Leila fought her first instinct, which was to grab the long, telescoping pole by the casement window, stand on a stool and bang her weapon of choice sharply on the lofty ceiling, twice. It wouldn’t work. It never did. Iris would ignore her.

Instead, Leila turned up NPR on the radio. She could drown out Iris with the sound of undemanding human voices on the radio. NPR was excellent company and, when necessary, excellent white noise. The hourly news, a lengthy interview, a personal piece affected in that breathless NPR accent was the perfect antidote for distraction. And the distraction was usually Iris.

Iris McNeil Thornton was a fellow member of the Red Barn Art Cooperative at Castle Road, which was housed in the happily dilapidated Red Barn Studio. It was high on a hill, overlooking Pamet Marsh, close enough to spy the flights of blue herons and egrets wheeling through the Aliziran Crimson sky, the sun an orb of Cadmium Yellow falling into the salt marshes from her window.

Among the Red Barn’s many charms were the old building’s quirky twists and turns, the sizeable studio spaces with high ceilings from its former life as the Southwind Bros. Button and Snap factory. Leila loved the patina on the old, uneven oak floorboards, the room secreted under the stairwell, doors that jammed and staircases that creaked.

But it was the heady mix of gesso, turp, linseed, pigments, primer, developers and emulsions, the fat smell of oil layered with acrylic resin and a faint dash of watercolor, an acrid, chemical concoction heady in the nasal passages, smells as familiar as the scent of a baby, that made it home.

Not that the Red Barn was without its problems. The daily irritations of artistry and intimacy meant the Red Barn artists were often less than happy. And when the Red Barn artists were less than happy, which occurred as frequently as the tides, they would reach for anything on hand ⎯ brooms, clogs, slammed doors, sighs in the hallways, post-it notes on the bulletin board, giggles behind a back, and any combination thereof ⎯ to convey their displeasure. Under other circumstances such communications might be considered rude, but the Red Barn operated by its own set of rules.

It wasn’t that the Red Barn, a collective space of otherwise solitary individuals, didn’t have its share of fellowship and communal spirit. Sometimes it was nice to see a friendly face.

But, recently, their friendships had been called into question by a series of items gone missing, small stuff, seemingly at random, from their studios, Daklon paintbrush, a can of gesso, and unused tube of paint and a half-used tube of paint. A box of plastic gloves was now empty; which Leila was sure had been half-full. No

one said theft, not at first. It was more like, did I leave this in your studio? did you find this in the bathroom? I must be a little crazy because I was sure I had it, but as the missing items mounted, minor though they were, so did whispering, suspicion, and an uneasy sense someone, maybe one of them, was a thief.

It made Leila uneasy; maybe someone was invading her studio, without her knowing. She debated whether, like Iris, she should lock her door at the end of the day. But she shook it off as unnecessary paranoia and decided to ignore it.

Leila took a deep breath, brushed back her unruly, graying curls, squinting at her canvas. When she painted, the circling steps of the heavy woman upstairs receded from consciousness, and time was suspended.

The wood planks of the pier were muddied. The perspective wasn’t quite right. The colors weren’t right. Leila waggled the end of her paintbrush like a cigar between her lips. It was a messy habit. She looked down at the black-and-white photo of the shack, not that she had any intention of painting the snapshot, any more than a musician only plays the notes.

Leila picked up her palette knife. Shaped like a small trowel for digging in the dirt, its usefulness came from its versatility in blending colors, creating textural effects, or scraping across the surface of a painting to obliterate an offense. Artists can be rough on their work; Leila was her own toughest critic.

The pier had to go. Leila wielded the knife, scraping hard until she hit the tooth of the canvas. She preferred working on a good, tightly woven cotton duck. It wasn’t an inert surface, so it recovered quickly after Leila’s brief attack. She dabbed a rag soaked in turpentine on the wound. The reconstruction of the pier could wait until tomorrow.

What time was it? Leila lost track of time as she worked. She never wore a watch in the studio.

But if she left too late, Joe would be annoyed his port wine reduction for the seared tuna had broken. It wasn’t the sauce—he could revive with a quick whisk of butter on a low heat—it was her spending more and more time at the studio and coming home later. The sky over Cape Cod Bay was a wistful grey heading into night.

Leila put down her palette knife, turned down her radio, and listened. There was quiet, finally quiet, blissful silence.

Now, at the end of the day, Leila had to steel herself for the most infuriating moment of the day: Iris leaving. The torrential thumps of Iris’ flapping Birkenstocks as she gathered up her belongings, slammed the window, searched for her purse, and slammed her door. The old oak boards were punished as as Iris clomped overhead.

The stomp was followed by the slam. Iris was incapable of doing anything quietly. There was some relief in the slam—it meant Iris was no longer overhead. The Red Barn artists never said good night, pretending not to notice each other’s comings and goings. So Leila didn’t expect Iris to poke her head in, or wave when she passed by. However, the daily drama of the swirling clamor that was Iris, like a performer doing a star turn on the stage, made it impossible not to notice her entrances and exits.

Leila walked to the window. The light of an Indian summer day was fading. Sailboats moored in the bay listed drunkenly. Had the final thump earlier signaled Iris’ departure? Leila walked back to her canvas. She recognized this as the same solitary circling as that of her neighbor overhead. It was ironic, but that didn’t stop Iris from being an annoyance.

She put her tools on her workbench. She should rinse them in turpentine and water in the bathroom at the end of the hall—the brushes would be tackier and difficult to clean after drying overnight. Oh well, she’d deal with that in the morning. Grabbing her backpack, she turned out the lights and closed her door. The hallway was silent. The other studio doors on her floor were closed. No Philomena, no Dové.

But something in the quality of the jarring loud noise earlier somehow made the quiet louder.

The stairs were poorly lit, even after Leila switched on the bare bulb dangling overhead. The whole damn place was a fire hazard. She climbed to the second floor. No Liz, no Gretchen. Later, she couldn’t quite explain why hadn’t she gone home.

The crap fixture in the upstairs hall, that never worked right, was out, as usual. The damn, dusty moose head Iris had mounted above her door stared down dolefully through its blind, button eyes. Its antlers wore a fine coat of dust.

Iris’ door was open a crack, which surprised Leila. Iris worked behind closed, locked doors, all day, every day. The other Red Barn artists left their doors open at least a smidgen, not exactly an invitation, but not a deliberately antisocial act. Iris had no such compunctions.

Leila knocked. Silence. She hesitated. Should she leave Iris alone? She took a few steps back toward the stairs, but turned around. What harm was it peeking inside? “Iris, its only me, Leila. ” No answer. “Iris, are you there?”

Leila stared through the crack in the door. At first, she thought the room was empty, but as her eyes adjusted, Leila made out a shape, or maybe a shadow, in the center of the studio.

The value of the only available light source, through the far window, made it difficult to see. Iris refused to use artificial light. She insisted on painting ‘as the Old Masters had’, that is, only by natural light. For a time, she had painted by candlelight, until the Red Barn got wind of it, banning burning candles before Iris burned the place down.

Leila stared at the shape. It didn’t move. Iris never left her door unlocked. Maybe she’d left something behind and would come back for it. Leila pushed the door open further, venturing into the silent studio, under the disapproving gaze of the mildewed moose, inching towards the shadow.

Iris, who incurred the Red Barn artists’ collective ire by deprecating the work of her fellow artists, neglecting to lock the front door, leaving puddles around communal hall sink, and far worse, as the prime suspect in the ongoing war of toilet squatting accusations, that same annoying Iris, was splayed on the floor, eyes wide open, inert as a tube of sepia.

It was a body. Iris’ body. Later, Leila recalled the body like a dead deer, abandoned on the side of the road after an accident. She remembered noting the color of Iris’ skin, like the underpainting of flesh in a neutral shade—what artists called grisaille, or dead coloring.

Ironically, under the circumstances, the scene is not unlike Iris’ own brooding assemblages: the carnage of death, overripe fruit in silver bowls, bird carcasses on platters, and game animals, fresh and bloodied, trophies of the hunt hung in the background, rendered in the style of the Old Masters.

And later, Leila was vaguely ashamed of her observations, her detachment. But, she thought defensively, isn’t observation was a habit developed over a lifetime?

Tentatively, Leila inched forward, reaching out her hand to touch the body. She yanked it back as if it was submerged in a shark tank. Iris was surprisingly warm, alive warm.

As her eyes adjusted to the low light, Leila saw Iris’ blood was a seeping stain from her flowing blue dress onto the floorboards. The red was the red every paint manufacturer had tried, but failed, to capture in a tube. Brilliant, blood red. But the eyes were dead, even if the heart was beating. Leila’s heart dropped a beat. Fear crept up her throat. Leila had to look away; she couldn’t look at those eyes. Should she call out? Is anyone here? But it was better she was alone, even if it was with a dead body. But, Iris wasn’t alone.

A small figure stood—as if on guard—over the body. Leila bent down to look at it: it was a wooden artist’s mannequin, no bigger than a child’s toy, standing guard over Iris. She recognized him immediately.

Jesus, it was Fred, fucking Fred— Leila, in a fanciful mood, had painted the figure to be anatomically correct, as well as well-endowed—who had gone missing from her studio months ago.

But poor Fred, as an eyewitness to a crime, could have nothing to say. There was no doubt he was Fred, and that he belonged to her. Bending down to pick up her missing mannequin, Leila gazed into his dead eyes. What to do?

In truth, she was both embarrassed by her handiwork, and concerned his presence could be construed as evidence at the scene of the crime; she pocketed Fred and in a sleight of hand he disappeared.

Leila didn’t need Fred to paint the picture. Iris prone. The blood. The burnished wood handle of a knife stuck in an ample left breast. Iris had been murdered. Leila didn’t scream. Leila wasn’t a screamer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Barbara Elle

Barbara Elle grew up in Boston, but as an adult became a New Yorker. Barbara loves writing about people and places she remembers, so Death In Vermilion is set on Cape Cod, a place of many memories. She continues collecting memories and places, traveling the world with her touring musician husband, whether exploring Buddhist temples in Beijing, crypts in Vienna or Kabuki Theater in Tokyo, in search of new stories to write about. She invariably packs a notebook and her laptop.

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Blog Tour: The Phoenix Cycle by Bob Collopy (Promo & Giveaway)

The Phoenix Cycle

The Phoenix Cycle: The Best Shall Rise
By: Bob Collopy

The Phoenix Cycle

Publication Date: June 23, 2017
Published by: The Department of Smoke
Genre: Dystopian/YA/Sci-fi

Synopsis

New San Francisco is the last city standing on a world ravaged by storms of ash and debris. The city survived by putting the ideals of the American dream on steroids and inspiring its people to persevere, though they have become ruthless in the process. Its citizens are ruled by the General, who has made sure that his people understand that gentleness and pity have become weaknesses that nature no longer tolerates.

Now Steve and Leslie must choose whether they will apply for the General’s once in a lifetime opportunity to “Rise from the Ashes” and join the Inner Circle that rules the city. If they don’t, they will be damned to spend the rest of their lives in the ghettos of Edinburg, a place where virtual reality has become a government-subsidized addiction.

For Steve, the choice is easy. His loyalties lie with the IRA, a revolutionary army led by a voice only known as “Mom.” They are trying to overthrow the General and free the people of New San Francisco from the cruelties of the City Guard. Steve’s mission is to broadcast a recording of a speech that a famous philosopher died to tell. Many thousands have and will perish to get this message out, but is anyone willing to listen?

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Excerpt

Every wrist in the stadium beeped. Every boy and girl glanced down at the face of their watch. “00:10” then “:09” then “:08.” Everyone turned their heads to the west. There it was. Right on time, as always. The nightly storm. A wall of blackness had lurched up into the sky, swallowing the setting sun. The hairs on Steve’s neck stood up, urging him to get the hell out

of there.

Instead he grabbed Leslie’s hand, who sat quietly quivering next to him, instinctively pressing her bow into her head for comfort. Steve knew her shaking wasn’t coming from Line’s yelling, the storm, or even the tank pointing at them. Her quivers never came from the barrel of a gun, no, the ragging agony she held within her was the very same thing that pushed him back into the sheets when the sun finally rose—are we going to lose each other?

Leslie’s mind pushed the feeling away for at least another moment. “It’ll be all right,” she whispered. Her brown eyes guided him to the dozens of mortar tubes pointing upward and outward on the vibrant green field and then to the perfect line of churning ash that approached the stands.

“Unity can only be achieved and be maintained when it is the STRONG who come together and fly under one flag! We, like no other in the world, have created a unity that has never broken, has never FLINCHED! When the rest of the world saw THAT—” Line’s long arm pointed at the coming avalanche of black— “They all fell to pieces!”

The earth began to quake as the wall rose over them. Someone screamed. The mortars on the field fired as one at the roiling sky. The blackness spilled over the stadium, then slid over the perimeter of the frizzing wall of static that had encapsulated the field. No Phoenix Cycler had seen—only heard rumors from past Cycle Pref parties—this blackness that was sliding over and them whispering their deaths.

Purchase Link: Amazon

About the Author

Bob Collopy

Bob is pretty dope. Firstly, his name is Bob, so…yea. Second, have you seen him rock that suit while in a maximum security prison? Epic.

Yea. That’s Bob. No psychological scarring with that author. Nope. Totally fine.

Gosh he looks good in suits.

Hey Have you read The Phoenix Cycle? He wrote that.

One suggestion before you read it and become one of those fans that leaves him roses by his doormat. Read her slowly. This book is not Twilight. She’s deeper than that. Take your time with her. Show the book you care. Cradle it and make it feel loved. If you do, she’ll be good to you. Go too fast and you’ll have no idea why she’s acting so crazy.

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Giveaway

The author is giving away 10 print copies (That’s right 10) and 5 Digital copies of his book so make sure you enter as the odds are definitely in you favor! (Giveaway will run from May 21st to May 30th)

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