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Musings

  • Irish Woman was furloughed from her job a few weeks ago, but she’s been keeping herself busy by undoing a lot of the landscaping and redoing it.
    • She tried to tell me that the new gas power washer could count as her Mother’s Day present.  I told her I wasn’t looking to die that soon.
    • One of the goldfish ponds in the front yard has been filled in. There were no fish in it, but several rather large and stubborn bullfrogs had to be ejected into the remaining pond.
  • I’d like to say that Boo has adjusted to this, but I’m pretty sure he’s scavenging scrap wood from the house to shore up the roof of the tunnel he’s digging through the back yard.
    • I’m tempted to warn him that the septic tank is back there.
  • The search for the new house has ground to a halt for the time being.
    • In the area we want to move into, our choices are either a $200,000 hovel that needs a few hundred thousand dollars worth of work put into it before it would be livable, or a palatial estate that costs more than the GDP of some small countries.
    • Other areas aren’t any better, and Irish Woman has made up her mind about where she wants to live.  I’d argue with her, but I’d rather be happy than right.
  • I must admit to a small amount of panic buying a couple weeks ago.
    • I purchase the coffee I like by the case from Amazon.  I get a new case automatically sent to me every couple of months.
    • Normally, that means I’m drinking from one case, with one or two cases on the storage shelves at any given time.
    • With me being home and working stupid amounts of hours, my coffee consumption has reached back into the “Working mids shift and having a newborn baby in 1992” range.  I soon found myself opening my last spare case with no coffee inbound from Amazon.  I was also out of cups for the Keurig.
    • When I went to order an extra case, my coffee was out of stock, so I ordered two cases of my second favorite and another case of assorted KCups.
    • So, I’m drinking my way through one case, have two cases of almost-as-good coffee, a case of “I need a cup of coffee, but don’t want to make an entire pot” fixings, then Amazon dropships a case of my favorite coffee on my doorstep.
    • If I can get a muzzle onto the monkey riding my back, I should have about 6 months worth of coffee.
    • Irish Woman looked at me crossways over this.  I just shrugged and pointed to her bourbon collection.
  • Boo and Irish Woman have started making a batch of homemade vanilla extract using $25 worth of vanilla beans and a bottle of good Finlandia vodka.
    • Friends tell me that making it with brandy or rum is also excellent.  We’ll try that next time.
    • Yes, they used good vodka to make vanilla extract.  Yes, I approved.  Vodka and I have the same agreement I have with tequila – Everyone leaves everyone else alone.  I use it for cooking, and it doesn’t try to get me in trouble on the Moscow Metro again.
  • We finally broke down and hired a plumber to come in and fix several small and a couple rather large problems we’ve had.
    • I know my limits.  I don’t work on things that could burn down or flood the house.
    • Even with them doing us a solid and only charging time and material, that sucking sound you hear coming out of Louisville is my wallet.
    • The plumber said that he’d do some of the easy things first, then tackle the hard things.  Little did he know that there are no easy things to fix in this house.
    • Is it a bad thing to hear the pleasant, mild-mannered man working on your plumbing stop, swear under his breath, then start hitting something with a hammer?
    • On several occasions today, he and his helper have told me that they’ve never seen anything like what we’ve got going on.  Hey, the plumbing is original from the late 1940’s and was put in before building codes reached this far outside of the city limits. You’ve got to expect a few surprises
  • I didn’t mind spending money on a 30 yard dumpster to clean out our house, garage, basement, and attic of all of the extraneous stuff we’ve accumulated over the the last 20 years.
    • I did mind, however, giving up space in the dumpster for stuff we found that the original owners had left behind.
    • It’s amazing how much stuff we have that only took a second or two to decide that it didn’t make the cut.
  • The battle with the honeysuckle continues.  I’ve resorted to the unilateral use of chemical agents against the foe.  If that doesn’t work, there’s always incendiaries.

Audiobook Review – Gods and Legionnaires

Nick Cole and Stephen Anspach return to their foundational Savage Wars trilogy with Gods and Legionnaires:

The Coalition is reeling. New Vega and its other worlds have fallen beneath the boot of the newly allied Savage marines, and the death count continues to rise at a staggering rate. One thing is clear: The war to come will be a fight for the very survival of the species. For both sides in this conflict, now is the time to become what fate, and victory, demand.

The Savages – post-human monsters who believe themselves to be gods – are intent on remaking civilization in their own violent and pathological image. Yet their alliance is tenuous. Among the many tribes of the Uplifted, as they call themselves, the struggle for supremacy rages on. All know that in the end there can be only one tribe. One leader. One truth.

Meanwhile humanity’s last, desperate hope is the formation of a new kind of fighting force: The Legion. Those select few who are hardy enough – or foolish enough – to undertake the relentless, grueling, and merciless candidate training will have the chance to be transformed into mythical heroes…or die trying. They will be pushed beyond their physical and mental limits as they seek to survive an unforgiving planet, lost and derelict ghost spaceships, and, worst of all, the cold, unflinching brutality of Tyrus Rechs. At the end of this crucible, only the one percent of the one percent will earn the right to be called…

…Legionnaires.

Gods and Legionnairesis really two books in one.  The first part is told from the perspective of Crometheus, a Savage marine who was part of the conquering force at New Vega.  In the second part, Tyrus Rechs puts the first volunteers to The Legion through a crucible designed to weed out the weak and perfect the strong.

In the “Gods” part of the book, we learn more about the Savages.  Crometheus delves into his own history and how it intertwines with the Uplifted, as they call themselves.  The tale is reminiscent of Imperator, which dealt with the origins of Goth Sullus.  The authors crank it up to eleven here, though.

There is some action as the Savages continue their crusade to conquer the known galaxy, but most of the story occurs in the main character’s head.  You definitely have to pay attention to the story as it unfolds, because it wraps around itself at several points.

“Legionnaires” follows a group of recruits as they go through Tyrus Rechs’ version of boot-camp, Ranger indoctrination, and hourly gut-checks.  Characters from the battle of New Vega return, but they’re joined by new faces that join them in the grueling training put on by the galaxy’s supreme warrior.

Stephen Lang’s narration is very good.  His telling of the almost stream of consciousness “Gods” part of the book is excellent.  We already know he can narrate an action scene, so seeing him deal with the psychology and inner voices of all of the characters in Gods and Legionnaires was a treat.

This is the middle book of a trilogy, so we know where they came from and we know they’re going somewhere.  Gods and Legionnaires is a great way to spend a few days trying to map out the road between those two places.

Book Review – Gods and Monsters

Holly Chism has come out with the next volume in her Modern Gods series, Gods and Monsters:

Here there be dragons…again, damn it.

Deshayna has her sanity back, and forces older than the gods have granted her a new purpose. Chronos, his freedom restored, fights for his sanity, and with it, a purpose in helping Deshayna—now called Shay—with hers. The gods are starting to pull together more…and it’s about time.

Millennia after the last dragons to threaten human existence have been hunted down, they’ve started to reappear, hinting to the surviving gods that something more sinister appeared first: Tiamat.

Instead of a confrontation, though, the gods—major, minor, and genus loci—are drawn into a frustrating hunt for a predator that flees rather than attempting to strike.

Gods and Monsterscontinues the story of how the ancient gods live and thrive in the modern world.  The story discusses, and is sometimes from, the point of view of Poseidon, Hades, Odin, and Artemis.  A cast of other deities from other traditions rounds out the cast.

Mrs. Chism always packs her stories with human interactions, such as love, competition, and conflict, but Gods and Monsters also has quite a bit of action as the characters come together to fight against an ancient evil.

This is a quick read, but doesn’t feel like it.  An action-packed chapter that whizzes by is followed by one that slows down and shows us the more human and family side of the characters.

If you haven’t read the first few books in the Modern Gods series, you should probably take some time and read them before starting this book.  It’s well told, but builds on what came before.  Like the rest of the series, there are a couple of adult-oriented sequences in Gods and Monsters, but none of them are gratuitous or unnecessary.

Gods and Monsters is the best work I’ve read by the author, and I’m really looking forward to what comes next.

Book Sale

Well, looks like a lot of us are going to be isolating ourselves for a bit longer. I thought I’d do my part to give folks something to do by putting some Kindle books on sale.  Basically, if my ebooks on Amazon could be discounted, I discounted them.

First, of course, we have Tales of the Minivandians.

The Minivandian is the warrior who values his home and hearth. He goes through the mundane day to day things with an eye to the adventures that they contain. She is the barbarian queen who fights the monsters of everyday tasks. These are their stories.

Minivandians also has an audiobook available through Audible, if you like those.  The narrator did an excellent job with this one.

The second book in the Minivandians series, Coming Home, is also on sale.  It includes the stories from Quest to the North, Lost Children, and Lady of Eyre, along with a few extras thrown in.

Elsked, son of DaddyBear the Minivandian and Ruarin, the Lady of Eyre, ventures out into the night to learn the saga of his mother and father.

An ancient storyteller exchanges tales of Elsked’s life for the story of how DaddyBear and Ruarin became the lord and lady of their manor.

Coming Home brings together the stories of Quest to the North, Lost Children, and Lady of Eyre, along with four new short tales of the Minivandian and his family.

Join Elsked as he creeps into the storyteller’s lair and comes to know the next Tales of the Minivandians!

 

My short story collection, Escort Duty, includes “The War”, “Grandma’s Kitchen”, and “Escort Duty”.  It’s a good mix of genres and ideas.

A princess in a high tower
A holy promise fulfilled
A hidden gift uncovered
A nation caught by surprise
These and other stories are waiting in “Escort Duty.”
Strap on your sword, march to the sound of the guns, and enjoy these tales from the author of “Via Serica.”

 

Finally, my historical fiction book, Via Serica, explores a “What If?” of Roman history.  I’m working on the sequel to this as we speak.

Marcus Aemilius Paullus has a problem – He is playing with fire and falling in love with the wrong woman.
Appius Plinius also has a problem – He has a unit full of warriors who continually get themselves, and him, into trouble.
Caesar Augustus has a solution to their problems, but it may cost them their lives.
Eastward lies fame, fortune, and the key to returning home.
Deserts, mountains, marsh and ocean lie between, occupied by barbarian cultures and hostile rulers.
On this grueling journey, Marcus and Appius will find their courage tested to the limits.
But before they’re done, the world will know the unconquerable spirit of Rome!

 

Of course, all of my books are available through Kindle Unlimited.  Please, enjoy them while they’re on sale and check out the titles that are normally priced too low to go on sale.  If you like what you read, please leave a review.

 

Grandma’s Kitchen

This story is part of the Escort Duty collection.  Thought I’d pass it along.


Grandma’s Kitchen

The man stumbled through the doorway.  The worn linoleum at his feet was waxed and polished to a mirror shine, just as he remembered.  The soft glow of the light above the sink illuminated a room painted a dusty lavender, with sprays of dried flowers and herbs tacked up over the kitchen table.  The scent of fresh coffee, propane burning, and something yeasty and spiced with cinnamon filled his head.

At the stove, with her back to him, stood an elderly woman.  Her back was bent with age, but her strong hands moved the heavy cast iron pans with ease.  Her summer house dress, white with blue flowers, was clean and starched, just as he always remembered it.

“Hello, baby,” she said without turning around, “It’s been a long time.”

“Grandma?” he stammered, taking another step into the kitchen.  He looked around, taking in the neat rows of church and PTA cookbooks and canisters on the counter, as well as the empty dish rack next to the enormous farm sink she kept scrubbed with the sponge and cleanser next to it.

The old woman turned, and her twinkling brown eyes and wide smile brought it all back to him.  Tears ran down his face as he took two quick steps across the creaking floor and swept her into his arms.

“Oh, Gran,” he sobbed, “I’ve missed you so much!”

“Oh, I missed you too, baby,” she said, squeezing him just as tight, “Now, you sit down and I’ll get you some coffee.”

He took a seat in the aluminum and vinyl chair on the long side of the table.  The other two chairs sat on the narrow ends, and the other long side lay against the wall.  The felt-backed plastic table cloth was yellow and worn, but still had pale pink roses around its edge and in a cluster at its center.

His grandmother set a white china coffee cup in front of him, then sat at her customary seat at the head of the table.  She had her own cup of the strong, boiled coffee which she had made every day she lived in the house she shared with her husband and family.

The man lifted his cup and took a sip.  The coffee was strong and bitter, but was better than anything he had tasted in a long time.  In fact, it was a taste he had enjoyed since he was a child.

“How did I get here?” he asked quietly

“You walked through the door, baby,” she said, putting her own cup down and half rising, “Oh, are you hungry?  Just put up a batch of sugar cookies.”

“Uh, sure, Gran.”

The old woman got up and opened the chipped ceramic cookie jar.  It was in the shape of a clown, and she had treasured it since her own grandmother had given it to her.  Reaching in, she retrieved several of her small, crumbly cookies and put them on a small plate.  She returned to the table and set them down before retaking her seat.

The man reached over and hesitantly took one of the cookies.  Taking a small bite, a smile came to his face.

“Gran, these are the best,” he said, putting the cookie down.

“So, baby, what have you been up to?” she said, taking one for herself and dipping it into her coffee.

“I’ve been doing my thing, you know?  Just living as best I can.”

“Sure, hon, that’s what we all do.  You’ve been good, haven’t you?”

“Sure I have, Gran,” he answered, staring down at his reflection in the top of his coffee.

 

Around him, he smelled burning oil and the pungent aroma of hot rubber.  The reflection showed a car, its front end crumpled around a telephone pole.  The driver lay halfway out the shattered windshield, his blood running down the fender beside him.  A curl of steam came from beneath the crumpled hood.

On the other side of the car, a woman screamed.   The man watched as he ran around the car to find her trying to open her door, a bundle of cloth in her hands.

“Help me!” she screamed, beating her fist on her window.

He grabbed the door handle and tugged.  The door groaned, but wouldn’t move.  The frame was buckled around it.  He looked around and picked up a rock.  As he lifted it over his head, the woman saw what he was about to do and turned her face away from the window.  The rock shattered the window, sending shards of glass into the car and onto the ground.

Unmindful of the sharp glass sticking out of the door’s frame, he wrapped his hand around it and yanked as hard as he could. The door moved an inch or two, then stuck fast.

A new smell struck him as he gave the door another pull – smoke.  With a whoosh, flames licked up through the open spaces in the hood.  The woman screamed again, and he could hear the baby in her arms crying.

He put his foot on the fender and strained back as hard as he could.  With a screech, the door let go, sending him sprawling backward into the gravel.  He felt the seat of his school pants give way, but looked up to see the woman, the baby clasped to her breast, leap from the car and run into the ditch.

A wave of heat washed over him as the fire spread to the interior of the car.  He scooted back to join the mother and her child in the ditch as their old sedan burned on the side of the road.

 

“Oh, baby, you made me so proud that day,” his grandmother said, picking up her own coffee and taking a sip.

“I never found out what happened to them after that,” he said, “I was too worried about what mama would do to me for ripping my pants.”

“Oh, honey, they turned out all right, don’t you worry about that.  And you did even better things, didn’t you?”

“I tried, Gran, but I didn’t always succeed.”

The smell of the kitchen receded, replaced with the taste of dust from a gravel road.

 

“Retard!” Joey shouted as he kicked the kid lying on the ground.  He had his hands up over his head and his knees drawn to his chest.  The kick landed squarely on his shin, eliciting a howl of pain.

“Joey, let him go, man!” Ricky yelled from where they had dropped their bikes.

“This little shit told Mrs. Olsen that I was the one who broke all her chalk, and now I gotta stay after for a week!” Joey yelled as he reached down and grabbed the smaller boy by the hair and hauled him up off the ground.  The kid stayed curled in a ball, even as Joey wrenched him onto his feet.  Blood trickled down from his nose, mixing with the tears on his chin.

“Shit ass little crybaby!” Joey screamed as he hit him again in the back, “Get up and fight!”

Ricky ran over and grabbed Joey around the middle, pulling him away from his victim. The boy screamed as Joey ripped at his hair before letting go.

“I’ll get you, asshole!” Joey shouted as Ricky dragged him back.  He kicked out with his legs, spraying gravel at the other boy.  Finally, Ricky got him back on his bike, and they rode off.

Joey turned his head and shouted, “I’ll find you tomorrow, you little shit!  You better kiss your mom goodbye!”

 

The man’s hands shook as he picked up his cup and took a drink of the strong, bitter liquid.  Grandma squeezed his hand after he set it down again.

“I broke his nose, and I kept beating him up for weeks.  Every time I saw him, I’d punch him, or trip him, or something.”

“Did he ever fight back?  Did you ever stop?”

“After a while, I didn’t do it anymore.  He stayed away from me, I didn’t go looking for him.  His family moved across town a couple summers after that.  I saw him a few more times, but I never got close enough….”

“To what, baby?”

“I don’t know.  Apologize, maybe.  Maybe let him take a good poke at me to pay me back for the lump on his nose.”

“He’s a doctor now, did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.  I haven’t seen or heard of him in years,” he replied, looking up at his grandmother.

“You tried to make up for it, didn’t you?”

“Maybe,” he said, taking a deep, shuddering breath.

The earthy smell of the herbs Grandma had tacked up on the wall to dry washed over him.

 

“Henderson!  Get your ass up here!” the platoon sergeant bellowed.

Joe looked up from the canteen cup of C-Ration coffee he’d been trying to suck down before they moved out again.  With a sigh, he set it down on a rock and hustled up to the front of the column.  The men lay to either side of the road, some talking quietly, some eating or drinking, but most either asleep or just lying there in exhaustion.

He stopped a couple feet from Staff Sergeant Phipps.  The short, skinny noncom looked as mean as he ever did.  His green fatigues were as dirty as everyone else’s, but for some reason, he seemed as parade-ground ready as he had when they had walked out of the firebase two nights before.

“TOC says we can come home,” Phipps said curtly, “You take point for a while.”

“Got it, sergeant,” Henderson answered tiredly.  “Which way are we going?”

Phipps took a map in a waterproof bag out of his breast pocket and held it up for the other soldier.  He pointed to a red X along one of the blue lines.

“We’re here, this is that village over there, got it?”

“I see it.  Firebase is on this hill a few clicks north, right?”

“Right.  We came down this trail right here, so we’ll swing to the west and come in from the south on the main road.”

“Got it.  When do we head out?”

“Just as soon as everybody gets their asses off the ground.  Go grab your shit.”

Henderson jogged back to his pack.  Snaking his arms through its straps, he pulled them tight around his shoulders.  He picked up the canteen cup of tepid, bitter coffee and took a couple of large swallows before pitching the rest into the bushes.  Putting the cup back into his canteen pouch, he walked quickly back to the head of the column.  Once there, he checked to make sure his rifle was loaded and there was a round in the chamber, then signaled to Phipps that he was ready.

Phipps and the rest of the noncoms had gotten the platoon back on its feet and lined up to head out.  They walked down the line, kicking men who were slow to rise and pushing others to get them to maintain enough interval so that a grenade landing in their midst would not get two of them.

Phipps pointed to Henderson and shouted “Move out!”

Henderson turned and walked down the trail, his eyes watching the tree line for movement.  The rest of the soldiers waited a moment to put some space between him and them, then followed.

As he walked down the dirt path, he listened to the trees around him.  Normal sounds like birds calling and the wind in the leaves made him feel a bit better about being in such an exposed position.  They had laid in ambush sites for two days and two nights, and had not seen a hair of the enemy.  Now, a couple of hours from getting back to the comparative safety of the firebase, he desperately clung to the belief that so long as everything seemed normal, they would be OK.

The trail wound its way through the hills of the highlands, with thick undergrowth and tall trees to either side.  He tried to watch for traps or wires, but could only see a few feet in front of him and less than that to either side.  Occasionally, Phipps would call out a direction to go or a correction when he went the wrong way.

Suddenly, an explosion to Henderson’s left knocked him to the ground.  Pain stabbed at his arm as he rolled on the ground.  Stunned, he lay still for a moment.  Around him, he could hear men shouting, more explosions, and the rattle of gunfire.  The deep bangs of the platoon’s machine guns mixed in with the sharp bark of M-16’s.  They were joined by the loud reports of AK’s as the enemy opened up on the column.

Henderson lifted his head and felt a jolt of agony run up his right side.  Looking down, he saw the charred remains of his uniform shirt laying over a bloody wound.  He screamed at the pain, but rolled over and grabbed his rifle from the fallen leaves next to him.

The screams of other men punctuated the fight, as both sides ripped at each other.  Henderson saw Phipps hunched over, walking from man to man, trying to get them moving out of the ambush or to help them.  The staff sergeant grabbed a grenade from his load bearing suspenders and lobbed it into the jungle on the other side of the trail.  A moment later, its explosion caused a temporary lull in the shooting from that direction.   Phipps followed his grenade, firing into the brush.

Henderson could hear Phipps yelling and firing, and stood up to follow him.  For the moment, the pain drew back, and he ran into the jungle.  He fired at flashes from rifle fire in the undergrowth, hearing someone scream as he went.  He also heard Phipps yelling ahead of him, then cursing.  A long burst of AK fire split the air between them, cutting into the trees and snipping off twigs and leaves.

The young soldier burst through a curtain of branches to find Phipps lying on the ground, a gaping wound in his leg pumping blood out.  His rifle lay next to him, its bolt locked to the rear on an empty magazine.  Henderson fired blindly into the jungle, then pulled one of his own grenades out.  Pulling the pin with the thumb of his firing hand, he rolled it into the jungle.

The explosion was close, knocking him back onto Phipps.  The older man bellowed at the pain, his hands squeezing down on his wound.  Henderson grabbed Phipps by the suspenders and hauled him up onto his shoulder.  Without thinking, he began shouting as he ran through the brush.

“It’s me!  Don’t shoot! I’ve got Phipps!”

 

“That boy lived, didn’t he?” Grandma asked, putting her hand over his.  The blue veins on the back of her hand stood out from the thin, milky skin around them.

“Yeah, I guess he did,” he answered, “The RTO called in mortars from the firebase, and we got the hell out of there once they opened up.  Me and Rodriguez carried Phipps back after we put a tourniquet on his leg, and there was a dust-off waiting for us.”

“Baby, we were so proud to see you in the paper when they pinned that medal on you,” Grandma said gently.

“Yeah, well, I got home as quick as I could.”

“But you never really came home, huh?”

“Nah, I got a job out in California and never really got back here.”

Suddenly, the kitchen smells changed, becoming richer, punctuated with the tang of alcohol on his tongue.

 

The bottle sat in front of him, half empty.  The pale yellow liquor inside was strong and tasted as bad as he felt whenever he stopped drinking.  He and Rodriguez had pooled their money and bought a garage together in Los Gatos, where his partner had family, and they spent their days fixing cars and drinking.  Lately, it had been more drinking than turning wrenches, but it kept the lights on.

Lisa set his dinner on the table next to the bottle.  Steam rose from the plate of noodles covered in tomato sauce.  She had sprinkled some cheese on top, trying to make things nice for her husband.  She went back to the stove and made herself a plate before sitting down across the table from him.

He looked up from his plate and slurred, “The fuck is this?”

“Spaghetti marinara.  My mom sent me her recipe,” she said quietly, staring down at her dinner.  She poked at it with her fork, moving the pasta around.

“I’m not gonna eat this shit.  There’s no meat in it!  Get me something else!” he said loudly, slamming his hand on the table hard enough to make their plates and his bottle jump.

“There isn’t anything else,” she said, never lifting her eyes, “You haven’t given me money for groceries yet this week.”

“Bullshit, I gave you twenty dollars on Friday!”

“That was last Friday, Joey.”

“The fuck it was!”

“Joey, you didn’t give me any money,” she said, trying to keep her voice even.

“Then where did this shit come from?” he shouted.  Lisa tried to keep her hands from trembling when she glanced up and saw his bulged, bloodshot eyes and red face.

“Mom sent me the pasta and the spices,” she replied after looking back down, “I got the tomatoes out of Mrs. Henderson’s garden.  She said I could have as much as I want.”

He picked up his plate and tossed it across the table.  It landed and stopped before it fell off the edge, but its contents sloshed over its side, falling to the floor.

“I ain’t eating this crap!  Make me something else!”

“Joe, there’s nothing else in the house,” Lisa answered in a voice barely above a whisper, “We’re almost out of milk, and there’s just a couple pieces of bread left from what I got last weekend.”

“I gave you money, damn it!”

Lisa didn’t answer.  She kept her eyes down and continued pushing her food around her plate.

Joe stood up, his hand slapping hard on the glass bottle as he snatched it up.  The liquor inside splashed against the side, but it was empty enough that it did not come out the top.

He opened the refrigerator, empty except for a mostly-dry bottle of milk.  He slammed the heavy door closed, whirling toward the cupboard.  Its door bounced against the side of the refrigerator as he took a box of cereal and a bread wrapper out and threw them on the floor.

“What did you do with the money, bitch?” he shouted as he swept his hand across the counter, knocking the sugar and flour canisters onto the floor.  What little they held mixed together on the worn linoleum.

“Joey, you didn’t give me any money!” Lisa said quietly, tears running down her face and onto her food.

“You calling me a liar?” he demanded, reaching across the table and grabbing her by the hair.  His wife cried out as he dragged her out of her seat and pulled her onto the floor next to his chair.  His bottle rang as he slammed it on the table.

“Joey, stop!” she screamed, “Please!”

His hand stung as he brought it across her pale cheek, leaving a red handprint behind.  Lisa screamed again, trying to bring her hand up to protect herself.  He struck her again, then again.  He did not notice that he had closed his fist.

Joe let go of his wife’s hair, and she slumped to the floor.  Her eye was already swelling, and the bones of her face screamed at her as she tried to cry and breathe at the same time.

Her husband stood up, shaking the ache out of his hand.  Grabbing his bottle, he headed for the door.

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours.  Clean this shit up and get me a decent meal for once,” he yelled as he slammed the screen door behind him.

 

The man wiped his nose on the back of his hand, unmindful of the tears which ran down his face.

“She was gone when I got back the next morning, and the cops were waiting for me.  I got the divorce papers from her parents’ lawyer a few weeks later.”

“Did you ever apologize to her?”

“No, I never saw her after that.  I heard she went back to school, but after that, nothing.”

“She has a nice family now, honey.  She met a good man, and they have a bunch of kids and grandkids.”

“Good.  She deserved that, after…..”

A pain ran through him as he sat trembling.  He watched the coffee in the bottom of his cup slosh back and forth as the tremor passed.

“Baby, nobody told you this would be easy.  Thing to do is be honest and try to make it better.”

“I tried, Grandma, I did.”

“I know, baby, I know.”

Another shiver ran through him as he looked up at his grandmother’s soft eyes.

 

Joe Henderson backed out the door to his favorite bar just ahead of the bartender.

“Go home, asshole!” she shouted, punctuating her words with swings of the sawed-off pool cue she held in her hands.

“Screw you!” the old man yelled.  His face, ringed by thinning white hair and a scraggly beard, was flushed, highlighting broken veins on his nose and years of hard drinking.  His eyes were bloodshot, and he weaved as he stepped out onto the sidewalk.

“You’re a nasty drunk, Joe,” she said after he turned and walked toward the parking lot, “Don’t come back until you learn some manners!”

Joe gave her the finger over his shoulder as he fished his keys from his worn work jacket.  A cold wind blew down Spring Street as he turned the corner of the building, cutting through its thin material.  Joe shivered a bit as he pulled his keys out and unlocked the old sedan, which he had taken in lieu of pay from one of the infrequent customers at his garage.

Flopping down into the driver’s seat, Joe cursed loudly as he slammed the door.  Between the three pitchers of beer he had drunk that evening and the shiver in his hands from the cold, it took three tries to get his key into the ignition.

Joe turned the key, hearing the tired engine try to turn over in the cold.  It cranked for a few seconds, then he heard the solenoid click rapidly.

“Shit!” he yelled, pounding on the steering wheel, “The damned battery’s dead!”

Joe got out and opened the trunk.  Rummaging through the rubbish and loose tools he kept there, he muttered to himself.

“Just gotta find my cables, then I’ll ask that jerk in there to jump me.  Wouldn’t be surprised if he told me to go pound sand.”

Finally, he gave up on finding his set of jumper cables.  He crossed his arms to warm his hands in his armpits and considered his options for a few moments.

“Screw it,” he finally said out loud, “It’s only a few blocks home anyway.”

Joe tottered down the sidewalk, trying to avoid the occasional patch of ice.  His breath left frost in his mustache and beard, and soon he was shivering violently from the cold.

Taking a right down First Street, Joe left the old business district and entered the run-down neighborhood where he lived.   The homes were uniformly old, some from the turn of the last century, but their upkeep differed from property to property. Joe’s house was the neatest on his block, and he smiled when he saw it.

Only thing I ever did right, he mused as he walked down the sidewalk, Twenty years of payments in ten years.  The leaves from the big maple tree in his front yard were gone, and the hedges, which bordered his driveway, were trimmed as level as a pool table.

Joe looked at the house across the street with a sneer.  The Anderson’s were renters, and their place was not as well kept as Joe’s or any of the other neighbors.  Christmas decorations lit up their windows, and an inflatable snowman waved to Joe as he turned to walk up his driveway.  A bicycle lay in the yard, and a pink battery-powered truck was plugged into the outlet next to the door.

Damn kids, he thought as he fished his keys out again, always making noise and leaving their shit in the yard.  Looks like a damn garage sale over there.

Joe unlocked his door and stepped inside.  As he unsteadily turned to close it, he glanced across the street again.  Joe stopped, the door half closed.

“What the shit?” he said, stepping back out onto his porch.

Flames licked at the curtains in the Andersons’ front window.  Joe saw black smoke curling up on their living room’s ceiling as he shouted “Fire!” and jumped down his porch steps.

Joe sprinted down the driveway, hit a patch of ice in the road and sprawled on the asphalt.  Picking himself up, he ran across the yard and onto the porch.

Banging on the front door and mashing the button for the doorbell, Joe yelled “Hey!  Hey, in there!  There’s a fire!”

Joe heard the smoke alarm in the house buzz and ring, and continued to pound on the door.  There was no answer from inside as he watched the fire spread through the living room.

He tried the knob, but it would not turn.  Cursing, he took a step back and kicked at the door.  His work boot connected next to the doorknob, and the jam splintered under the impact.  The door flew back, and a wave of heat and smoke rolled out.

Joe turned and shouted into the street, “Fire!  Help!” before covering his face with his arm and running into the house.   He heard shouts from the second floor as he recoiled from the flames, which engulfed the room.

“Get up!” he shouted, “Fire!”

A woman’s voice screamed somewhere in the house, then he heard a child crying over the roar of the flames.  Joe squatted down below the smoke and saw a bedroom door festooned with plastic butterflies on the far side of the living room.

The smoke from the burning carpet seared his lungs as he shouted up the stairs “Come on!  Get out!”

Another scream came from the door on the other side of the fire.  Not thinking, Joe ran across the room, his coat catching as he brushed against the burning Christmas tree, and slammed into the bedroom door.  His hand burned as he grabbed the doorknob, and he cried out as he shoved the door open.

The bed was empty, and there was no child on the floor.

“Kid!” he shouted, looking around, “Come on! We gotta go!”

Joe tripped on a toy, landing hard on his chest.  His vision swam for a moment, then he looked up into the tear-streaked face of a dark-haired little girl.  She was under her bed, a toy bear in her arms and a blanket wrapped around her.

Joe reached for her, but she scooted back against the wall.  He cursed as he grabbed for her, catching her arm and dragging her out.  She screamed again, her face a mask of terror.  Joe wrapped the blanket around her and turned to the door.

What he saw froze him for a moment.  The door was outlined in flames, and the fire was making its way into the bedroom.  Acrid black smoke hung in the air, and Joe could only see as far as the doorway.  Looking over his shoulder, he saw the bars on the other side of the tiny window.

“Shit!” he shouted as he ran into the flames.  He felt his beard and hair burn away as he ran, and his lungs screamed from the heat and smoke as he carried the little girl through the inferno of her living room.  He bumped into the couch, and fell to one knee.  The little girl screeched as her foot hit the burning upholstery, then he was up and running again.

He crashed against the door, then fell onto the porch.  The cold air of winter felt wonderful to him, and he hacked and coughed as he got up and stumbled out into the yard.  He heard a window break behind him and saw a man and a woman fall onto the grass in a heap.  A young boy landed next to them a moment later. The boy cried out as his ankle snapped to an odd angle when he hit the yard’s hard ground.

Joe heard sirens as hands grasped him and took the little girl from his arms.  He walked to the sidewalk and sat down hard.  He coughed again, bringing up black gunk and spitting it on the sidewalk.   A paramedic walked over and examined his face.

“How you doing, sir?” she asked, shining a bright light in his eyes.

“I’ll be OK,” he croaked, his throat raw.

“Your face looks pretty bad.  Let’s get you to the truck.  Can you walk?”

“I can dance if I want to,” Joe rasped as he heaved himself up.  His head swam as he rose, then he felt a crushing pain in his chest.  Flopping back down, his vision narrowed to a narrow, colorless tunnel. The last thing he heard was the medic shouting and more sirens coming up the street, then nothingness swallowed him.

 

Grandma took their cups back to the stove and refilled them.  The clock on the ancient range buzzed as she set them on the table.  The old woman went back to her oven and used her apron to protect her hands when she took out a cookie sheet bearing a half dozen cinnamon rolls.

“Grandma,” Joe said plaintively, “I don’t know what’s going on.”

“What’s going on is I have hot cinnamon rolls if you want one.”

Joe smiled and nodded.  He got up, went to the cabinet, and took out a couple of plates.  Grandma used a spatula to take two of the piping hot sweet rolls from the pan and plopped them on the plates.  Joe took them to the table while Grandma fetched a pair of forks and joined him.

They ate the piping hot pastries in silence, the only sound the tick of the clock over the sink.  As he washed the last bite down with the dregs of his coffee, Joe looked up at his Grandmother.

“Gran, thanks,” he said gently, “I haven’t had anything that good in a very long time.”

“Oh, Joey, don’t worry about that.  I always make something special for my only grandson, you know that.”

Joe nodded and stood up.  He leaned over and kissed her softly on her wrinkled cheek.

“I feel so much better now,” he said, glancing toward the door.  Night must have fallen, because the window was pitch dark.

“Oh, baby, talking to your Gran always made you feel better.”

“I’ve tried, Grandma, but I haven’t done so good.”  He stood from his chair and looked out the window at the inky blackness.  The reflection of a young man stared back at him.

“Don’t worry about that anymore, sweetheart,” she said, rising, and wrapping her arms around his chest.  He rested his chin on the top of her head and hugged her back.

“Now, I think it’s time you got going,” she said, picking the dishes up from the table and putting them in the sink.

“So soon?”

“You’ve got a lot to do, and my stories come on in a couple of minutes.”

Joe smiled at the memory of being banished from her house during her television programs.  He squeezed once more, then turned to the door.

As he touched the doorknob, a pang of regret ran through him.

“Gran, I don’t want to go.”

“Baby, you have to.  There’s so much waiting for you.”

“I love you, Grandma.”

“I love you too.  Now, get out there.  I know you can do right.”

 

Joe opened the door and stepped outside.  He was enveloped in utter darkness as soon as he crossed the threshold, and saw nothing when he looked back.  He thrashed around and tried to yell, but could only hear distant shouts and feel something squeezing against him.  Suddenly, a blast of cold hit his naked skin and harsh lights forced his eyes shut.

“OK, the baby’s out.  It’s a little girl!  She looks great!” an unfamiliar voice boomed.  Joe felt strong hands pulling him up and turning him over.

“Gran, what’s going on?” he yelled, but only screams came from his mouth.

“It’s OK, Joey, no need to be scared.  I’m here with you,” his grandmother’s voice said gently in his ear.

Joe was laid on a warm, soft surface, and he strained to turn his head.  Opening his eyes, he saw the blurry outline of a woman’s smiling face.

The baby girl snuggled into her mother’s breast, her tiny hands stretching out as she cried.  The panicked feeling was ebbing away, but the cold and light upset her.  A nurse draped a soft blanket over her small body as her mother, sweat and tears running down her face, gently stroked the fuzzy hair on her head.  Joe listened to the familiar sound of her heartbeat as he lay his head back down on her chest.

The last thing Joe heard before his vision blurred and darkened again was the soft voice of his grandmother.

“It’s OK, baby, just try to make it right.  I love you.”

Recipe – Baked Apples with Cranberries

Boo is learning to cook.  Today, he learned how to smoke a turkey on the charcoal grill.  Not wanting to waste all of the heat left over when the bird was done, we made dessert.

 

4 large apples, cored, sliced and cut into 1 inch pieces. I used 3 Fuji’s and 1 Granny Smith.
Lemon juice
Half cup light brown sugar,
Half stick of butter, melted
Cinnamon to taste
Handful of dried cranberries

Lightly coat apples with lemon juice in bowl to keep them from browning.

Mix in butter, cinnamon, cranberries, and brown sugar

Lay down two layers of aluminum foil 12 to 15 inches long. Pour mixture onto center of tin foil. Fold aluminum up in a drugstore wrap.

I used the residual heat from the charcoal/wood in our grill to cook the package for an hour. If you want to use your oven, I’d experiment a few times at around 325F to figure out how long to bake. We just let it cook in the grill while we ate.

The apples and cranberries were soft, but not too mushy. The butter and brown sugar made a really tasty sauce without being sticky or overly sweet. Some might like whipped cream or vanilla ice cream with it, but it was good on its own.

Irish Woman said it could probably have included walnuts or pecans. We’ll try that next time.

Made enough for three or four servings.

Musings

  • Over the past few weeks, we began a combination of spring cleaning, purge of all that is extraneous, and preparing the house for sale.
    • This weekend, we worked on the yard.
  • Irish Woman has a small electric chainsaw.  She used it to cut back a rather aggressive honeysuckle bush.
    • She claims it was a juvenile whomping willow.  She survived the encounter, so I’m only say that it might be a hybrid of some rather combative arboreal lifeforms.
  • I tried using the electric chainsaw, found it lacking, and dug out my old gas-powered saw.
    • This, after several years of no use and some neglect, refused to start, no matter how fresh the gas or vivid the cursing.
  • One trip to the hardware store later, I was the proud owner of a shiny new chainsaw.  It worked like a charm.  I cut down two dead peach trees, one dead cherry tree, and then tried to cut the honeysuckle stump back.
    • Note that I said ‘try’ there.
  • As I was cutting through that darned honeysuckle, the nut, which secures the plate that secures the guide bar, which secures the revolving, toothed chain of death, decided to explode off of its bolt, taking all of the threads with it.
    • Imagine my surprise when the nut and retaining plate went 90 degrees to my right, the guide bar sent 90 degrees straight up, knocking my hat off, and the chain wrapped itself around what was left of the saw and my right arm.
    • Luckily, Husqvarna has some really good safety features, and the saw cut off almost immediately.
    • My long-sleeve shirt was ruined, but all I got from it was a couple light scratches on my hand and forearm, as well as an elevated heart rate and a distinct puckering sensation.
    • I was able to find all of the parts except for the nut that started all this.  It is my belief that it is currently moving rather quickly over Lake Erie on its way to Nova Scotia.
  • The hardware store gladly replaced my 2 hour old chainsaw of doom with what is hoped to be a better example of Husqvarna’s product.
    • I haven’t tried it out yet, but when I do, you can be sure that I’ll be wearing as much safety equipment as I can fit my fat self into.  Think “StayPuft Marshmallow Man stuffed into a shark-proof chain mail suit”.
  • Since we have to consider the epidemiological implications of every activity we do these days, I noticed that even though the hardware store was packed, everyone was keeping six feet of separation.  They were also refraining from touching anything or anyone.
  • Lowe’s has put up large sneeze guards made of plexiglass and two-by-fours at the checkouts.
    • Of course, in order to converse with each over and be heard over the noise of hundreds of people talking in a large warehouse, the cashier and I had to lean over to the side of the sneeze guard, but at least they’re making an effort.
  • A smart man uses an electric implement to trim the bushes in front of his house and not his machete.  A wise man has his wife supervise so that it’s done to her liking the first time.

Rumblings

As our nation, and the world around it, weathers the COVID19 epidemic, there is something important that we all need to keep in mind. This is, of course, in addition to the necessity of doing our parts to limit the spread of the virus and to support one another.  Those go without saying.

We need to take a good, hard look at what our government is doing to help in this fight.  Notice that I didn’t say “what the government is doing in this fight”?  Anyway, a thought occurred to me as I was relistening to “The Last Centurion” by John Ringo and “Death Throes of the Republic” by Dan Carlin.

In The Last Centurion, the main character narrates how he and the rest of the world get through a worldwide flu pandemic that kills more than half of those infected.  It’s fiction, of course, and Ringo is definitely playing to one side of the political aisle, but throughout the narrative, he brings up excellent points about society and personal freedoms.

Death Throes of the Republic chronicles the hundred years or so between the end of the Punic Wars to the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Carlin does a great job showing how each crisis leads to just one more little exception to the rules, and each exception becomes a precedent for the next time someone makes a claim to more power or another exception.

If you haven’t read read or listened to them, you’re missing out.  If you have, you might want to give them a quick do-over.

Anyway, in Centurion, Congress passes an emergency powers act that gives the president almost dictatorial powers “for the duration”.  The chief executive goes on to rapidly increase the aspects of society that she controls, and of course she goes off the deep end on a lot of it.

In Death Throes, the subject of precedent comes up again and again.  “We let Joeblonus do it a generation ago, and this is just more of the same, but I need just a little more.”

Our government is also big on precedent.  Stare decesis rules in the courts.  Legislation written in a way that echoes the great laws of the past almost always gets through Congress.  Presidents point to their predecessors and their actions to justify their own.

I bring this up because Congress has passed several relief bills and is likely to add to them in the coming weeks.  President Trump and the legislative branch are, for once, working together on something.

Now, I’m not against providing some relief for people and industries that have been hurt by all this.  You can make the argument that the reaction to the pandemic have added to the economic problems, and that the emergency powers Congress is giving to the President aren’t all that necessary.  You can also argue that we haven’t done enough and that the worst is yet to come.

Either way, the money’s going to get spent and the government is going to flex muscles it didn’t even know it had before this is all over.  Hopefully it does some good.  Maybe it’ll also do some ill.

My concern about sweeping changes to government, made in haste, is the same as it has been since the passage of the Patriot Act.  No power granted to government goes without being abused, no matter how pure the intentions were when it was granted.

When people are scared, they want someone to make it all better.  Emergency legislation can easily become an enabling act.  Presidents, no matter how noble, can be tempted to push things just a little further or to use a power in a way it wasn’t designed.

And, of course, we have to remind ourselves that even if President Trump is an honorable man who would never stoop to abusing his office, can we guarantee that the next president, or the president in eight years, won’t?

This is the same question I asked President Obama’s supporters during his tenure.  No matter how pure one executive is, the next one might be his or her polar opposite.  Giving too much power to people we trust gives that power to folks we wouldn’t trust as far as we can throw them.

So, if we’re going to use the power of the federal government to combat this pandemic, we need to make damn sure that our Senators and Representatives are putting limits and sunsets on that power.

The Roman Republic died from a hundred crises and a thousand self-inflicted cuts.  I only hope that we can avoid the same fate.

 

Reading Material

OK, day three of suggestions on something to help wile away the hours.  I hope these are useful.

John van Stry has put a long list of his works on sale for 99 cents starting at midnight tonight.

J.E. Tabor has a space western serial up on his website, titled Once Upon a Time in the Heavens.

Melanie Nyles has her complete Luriel Cycle trilogy available for 99 cents.  Check out her website for more of her books and deals.

The world of Ahlias has a history of warfare between supernatural beings—daemons and luriel—which have nearly destroyed it at times. But ever since the Scientific Reformation, humans abandoned their beliefs in religious traditions, except for those who continue in secret to avoid persecution by daemon-controlled authorities. The luriel search for the power to end the war, while daemons hunt them down. Legends state that for either side to win, both must be destroyed. For millennia, the humans of Ahlias have been caught in the middle, and now, a mythical power has awakened in one of them. Daemons are relentless, but they have their weaknesses…

 

A reader suggested Black Hat Blues by Gene Kendall.

Meet Mr. Scratch. He’s an evil sorcerer, ruthless CEO, and diabolical weapons manufacturer. Scratch exists as drawings on paper, but he’s certain he’s better than you.

Meet Mark. He created Mr. Scratch. Never thought he’d meet him one day.

And Mark certainly never thought the fractured marriage of Jack and Gloria Power, fictional characters in his long-running comic book, would have dire consequences here in the real world.

In the 1970s, underground cartoonist Mark Lipscomb followed his muse and created, quite by accident, a merchandising phenomenon. The characters from his comic POWER & GLORIA penetrated the mainstream, becoming an action figure line, a syndicated action cartoon, and really anything else their images could be slapped upon.

Today, the audience is dwindling, and Mark’s adjusting to life with the new corporate owners of his creations. Arthritis has severely hindered Mark’s ability to draw, and his stories have a tendency to offend the modern taste makers, generating a routine series of social media outrages.

He does have one defender, though. His own creation, the villainous Mr. Scratch, who’s escaped a dangling plot thread from Mark’s final issue. The ingenious rogue has traveled the multiverse and found himself in Mark’s backyard. Truly, they were fated to become fast friends.

Except, Scratch isn’t as harmless in the real world as he is on the printed page. As the days pass, Mark can no longer deny what he’s created. Macular degeneration and arthritic wrists don’t lend themselves to old-fashioned slugfests, so Mark must get creative if he wants to stop the bloodlust of his destructive id.

 

If you’re looking for a tale to read on a dark night by the light of a fire, check out The Marchioly Project by P.A. Piatt.

Alexandru Statornik had everything – until it was all ripped away…

As his life spirals downward, Alex is recruited for a top-secret government research project at a secret prison in the heartland of America. He expects to find a most-wanted terrorist, but what Alex discovers is more horrifying than he could have ever imagined. The government has been holding a prisoner for over a hundred and fifty years – and that prisoner is a vampire.

When the project goes horribly wrong and the vampire escapes, it falls on Alex to hunt down and destroy the savage evil that has been unleashed on the world.

If he fails, eternal darkness will settle over all of mankind.

 

Treasure of the Black Hold, by S. Evan Townsend, looks like a really good detective story.

The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of . . . When private detective Rick Bailey is hired by the exotically beautiful and outrageously wealthy Princess Nora, he thinks it’ll be easy money. Escaping from her rebellion-torn kingdom, the princess has lost her handmaiden, Lores: the only person who knows how to find the hidden royal jewels. But when his search for the equally lovely Lores turns deadly, Bailey realizes that there is more to this case than it first seemed. When someone tries to kill him, he discovers that the roots of evil run deep. With his own set of values and sense of honor, Bailey must keep one step ahead of murderous mobsters, secret government operatives, and a genetically enhanced Lores as he races across the galaxy in search of the truth. The only things he knows he can trust are his eight-foot-tall ladybug-like girl Friday and a powerful weapon that responds to his thoughts. Will Bailey find the treasure of the black hole in time and will he survive long enough to discover why it is something worth killing for?

 

The latest volume of the Planetary Anthology Series is out, Uranus:

These are the stories of Uranus. Stories of new beginnings and creation. Stories of the mysterious seventh planet in our solar system and of the God of the sky that it was named after:

The Rising of Michael Reid, by Constantine Nakos – Michael Reid wasted his life. Now he has been given the chance to make amends. Every day he wakes up in the grave where he was buried and sets off for wherever Providence guides him.

Serendi-bunny, by Julie Frost – Alex Jarrett may be a mad scientist, but he’s a mad scientist on a mission to cure cancer. When he buys a pair of robot bunnies from the internet to help him accelerate his research, he gets more than he bargained for when they turn out to be assassin-bots sent from the future.

Forty-Two Years of Summer, by Karina Fabian – Forty-Two years of summer is a love story, an old woman’s reminiscing, and a peek at what the future could be. It reminds us that whatever the challenges, even the coming 42 years of Uranus winter, there is love and joy and the 42 years of summer.

Weather Witch of the West, by Ben Wheeler – Uranus is controlled by the Weather Witches. From their floating sky-palaces, they manipulate the weather, change the seasons and hold the lives and deaths of the countless inhabitants of the gas giants in their calculations.

Muddification, by Clint Hale – When human-like creatures are produced by advanced technology, they have no soul. They are a mere shell. What happens when mankind attempts to fuse the human soul and intellect with one of these uninhabited bodies? Is the body only a vessel, or does it also have some impact on who and what a person is?

The Last Human, by Richard Paolinelli – Anne Fontana needed a getaway, a vacation all to herself. But some vacations are just too short. The world has changed, and when she returns, she discovers that she alone holds the power to save humanity, or change it irrevocably.

Blue Ring Beginning, by Bokerah Brumley – Archibald wants a new start. A former detective, he lands on the Uranus station, desperate for work. Will a last-second offer from the station’s commanding officer give him the fresh start he needs, or dredge up the past he wants to forget?

Two Households, None Alike, by A.M. Freeman – Two worlds collide with an inharmonious clash at a ceremony meant to unite. The Princess of Uranus, full of pride for her society’s progress, must marry the Prince of Mars – and become queen of a rough and foreign land.

Creativity, by Arlan Andrews Sr. – Arlan was once criticized by a supervisor for being “too creative.” This is a wish fulfillment revenge story. “Sometimes management should not try to screw over a truly creative person.” (And never, never irritate a science-fiction writer)

Kashika’s Empty Nest, by Sarah Byrne – As the newly widowed dowager queen of an ancient kingdom, Kashika is looking forward to a life of retirement and freedom from her royal duties when she finds herself arrested for the murder of the late king. Only her young and inexperienced son, now king in his own right, believes in her innocence.

The Long Dream, by Caroline Furlong – The U.S.S. Andrew Jackson discovers an abandoned cryo-pod in orbit over Uranus, prompting questions about the first manned mission to the seventh planet in the Solar System – questions someone does not want answered.

The Morrigan, by Christopher Wilson – Civilization is dying, society falling apart, anarchic reavers and hungry gangs taking control now that no one is left to stop them. But an aging scout pilot, driving an old relic from a bygone era, may finally have an answer.

Cold Heart of Ouranos, by J.D. Cowan – Underneath Ouranos lies a hidden evil forgotten by those who live in the frozen wastes and the heated city. Mysteries from the past have revealed themselves once more.

Room to Breathe, by Marina Fontaine – Home. Family. Friends. Daniel knows those words used to mean something special. But not anymore. Not for him.

 

 

J. Trevor Robinson has a pair of short stories and a young adult horror novel up for free on his website.  As someone who’s spent the past week trying to keep a 11 year old occupied, young adult fiction is definitely something we need these days.

 

John Taloni’s The Compleat Martian Defense: Earth’s Defense Awakens looks like a great throwback to the golden age of science fiction.

With Earth left in shambles by the Martian invasion, Queen Victoria’s daughter Louise must lead the world through a dire emergency: The Martians are coming back.First she must rescue Cavor from his prison on the Moon in order to build a defense fleet. Even with Cavor their efforts would be for nothing without the genius of Nikola Tesla leading the way. And on Mars, unexpected allies fight a rearguard action to help Earth. Meanwhile the Time Traveler repeatedly appears, but is he friend or foe?

 

I have a weakness for noir served with a twist of magic, and Bad Dreams and Broken Hearts by Misha Burnett looks really good.

It’s hard to fight wizards and demons when all you have is a gun and a badge.

The use of magic in the Sovereign City of Dracoheim is regulated by the Lord Mayor’s Committee For Public Safety. From the licensing of magi, to the health and safety requirements for magical manufacturing, to the import and export of goods to the Realms of Nightmare, dedicated civil servants ensure that the metropolitan area stays safe from magical mayhem.

Most of the time, anyway.

My name is Erik Rugar. I’m an agent of the Criminal Investigation Division of CPS. We operate outside of the authority of Parliament and are answerable only to the Lord Mayor himself. We get involved when the regular beat cops are out of their depth. If a magic shop gets robbed by junkies, or someone gets vaporized by a fireball, or shapechanging creatures start infiltrating the city, I get the call.

But I’m not a mage; I’m just a cop. I face down magical threats with my keen investigative skills and a trusty revolver.

Welcome to my world.

 

Finally, a brand new, hot off the digital presses short story anthology featuring some of my favorite authors is out, When Valor Must Hold.

It is a time of high adventure! A time for noble men and women to say “No!” to the evils that will befall their families and friends if they don’t rise to the task at hand. If their valor doesn’t hold, civilization will fall.

Fifteen authors have spun fourteen tales of hateful wizards, treacherous seas, and scheming foes. Of times when ancient evils roamed the Earth, looking for souls to claim, and dark prophecies foretold what would happen if the Evil Ones were allowed to succeed. This anthology has all of this and more.

When Valor Must Hold focuses on heroes worthy of facing such enemies. A tiny brownie stands up to a massive ogre. A mother races to protect her children. A hunter chases raiders. A guardian serves his king. Heroes lead forces into battle against overwhelming odds. There’s even a goblin trying to save his people by stealing dwarven rum.

Inside are fourteen fantastic stories of enemies testing the valor of heroes great and small. If their valor should fail, they will lose far more than their lives.

Will their swords shatter shields? Will their magic shine forth? Or will they see their homes and families perish when they fail? Step inside and find out!

Reading Material

I hope everyone has either avoided climbing the walls or at least learned to do it with panache.  I’ve got a few more reading selections you might find interesting while we wait for the virus hordes to start roaming the freeways.

Three Ravens Publishing has several books for free right now:

First is Flux Runners, by William Joseph Roberts, which wins todays “Prettiest Cover” award:

What if tomorrow, you tasted freedom for the first time, but that freedom came with a cost… After a government-sanctioned privateering mission goes sideways, the crew of the Betty finds themselves fighting for their lives, light-years from home. Prepare yourself for an adventure with a lovable crew of degenerates and misfits as they dive into the dark unknown….

 

Next is Making Man, by John Drake.  From the description, it looks like an absolute hoot.

Cobble is a Neanderthal with itchy feet and the mind of an engineer, unlike anyone else in his old-fashioned tribe. Making Man follows his journey as he leaves the village of Boardom behind, taking him through mountains, underground animal lairs and into new landscapes. As with all good prehistoric comedies, there is a mysterious pendant and a healthy dose of talking insects. Fans of Douglas Adams and Sir Terry Pratchett may not enjoy Making Man as much as those esteemed authors, there are fewer elephants and no Vogons after all, but they should enjoy and remember it fondly nonetheless.

 

Also from John Drake, we have Cheating Death:

Even the Black Death has a lighter side. A street-side conman becomes embroiled in high politics when his scheme to relieve the doge of Genoa of a sizable portion of his wealth backfires. He is conscripted to deliver a message to The Cutler, a mysterious figure in the papal city of Avignon. Two English pilgrims are also making their way to the pope, seeking repentance for their sins. Their journey takes a debauched turn, however, and their arrival is one of a pair of wandering drunkards rather than pious pilgrims. Meanwhile, a Germanic woman leaves her homeland, intent on killing the pope as revenge for the church’s involvement in her brother’s death. There’s just one small problem; she’s not a natural murderer. Their worlds converge on the Palais des Papes amid the ravaging gloom of the plague as the shadows of the doge’s network are brought into the light to save the papacy and the brittle hope of the people.

Now, for something completely different, LoreLai Watson has the first book in her Atwood Legacy romance series, Ain’t Nothing But The Devil, available for free.  The author tells me that this book does have some adult situations in it, but it’s not too much for an adult reader.

Nothing about my life is as it seems. From the inside out it looks perfect, like a real-life fairy tale. But the truth is…it’s not.

Being married to a billionaire is not a one-way ticket to happiness like most people would think. Behind closed doors and away from the limelight he’s not the man he pretends to be.

My marriage is failing. My heart is nothing but broken pieces of pain and disappointment. My mind has become the battlefield of the war between me and the depression threatening to end my life.

I knew this day would come—the day I stood on the ledge, every fiber of my being urging me to jump. To end it all.

But there’s this tiny flicker of hope that’s keeping me from taking that fatal leap. His name is Adrian…and he’s my brother-in-law.

The Black Lily, by Mandy and G.D. Burkhead, looks as twisty and interesting as you could ask for:

Courtesan. Spy. Assassin.

Across the Kingdom of Arestea, the shadowy league of professional killers known simply as the Guild has long since earned its terrifying reputation. And none of its current members are more infamous than the Black Lily. No one knows who the Lily is, but everyone recognizes the efficiency with which he or she brings down even the most guarded targets. There is no one, it is said, who is safe from this fiend once they have caught the assassin’s attention.

Now Lily herself is about to discover if her reputation has been inflated or not, for she has just been assigned the most daunting mission of her career: infiltrate the royal palace and eliminate the entire Arestean line of succession to make room for the Guild’s puppet ruler. It’s a challenging job, but one that will secure her place in the history books should she succeed.

But when unplanned circumstances take the king from his country to help secure the front lines in his latest war of expansion, Lily is left trapped in her assumed persona behind the palace walls and forced to stall for time. And when a particularly bad stroke of luck reveals her cover to the king’s brother, Crown Prince Adrian, Lily finds herself ensnared in her own web, forced to use all her skills of subterfuge and manipulation if she is to stay one step ahead of the naïve but righteous young man and finish her mission — or die trying.

 

J.F. Holmes has put his post-apocalyptic story of a National Guard unit overrun by the ravening hordes, ZK: Falling, up for free:

When the world ends, where will you stand? Will you hold the center, or fall?

When his National Guard unit is overrun by the victims of the plague sweeping America, Sergeant First Class Nick Agostine struggles to keep his vow to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and keep those he loves safe. Along the way, he discovers just how far he will go to survive, and the price of redemption.

The prequel to the best selling Post Apocalyptic series, Irregular Scout Team One. This is how it all began, and how America fell.

 

J.F. Posthumus has her novel, The Fae’s Amulet, up for sale starting tomorrow.  I do love a good supernatural detective novel.

In her younger years, Catherine Woulfe was known as the Lady of Death…but those days are long past. Now, at over 300 years old, she is older, wiser…and painfully dull. Instead of using her necromancy skills for things like killing people and taking over governments, she now works as a private investigator, helping people find their lost treasures.

But when a charismatic stranger walks through her door, searching for one of the most powerful artifacts ever created, she is drawn into a case where she must use all of her old powers—including several forbidden ones—if she is to find the missing amulet. When the last person to see the amulet goes missing, she realizes it’s time for the Lady of Death to summon her minions and go on the warpath.

Angels and demons are searching for the amulet, as is a mysterious dark elf about whom little is known. Everyone is stalking her, waiting for her to find it so they can grab it for their own; meanwhile, her client has awoken feelings long suppressed, which is proving to be…distracting. Can Catherine find the trail of the thief and recover the amulet before the thief uses it to summon a deity that will destroy the Earth? More importantly, if she gets it, will she give it back?

 

Finally, Simple Service, the first book in Laura Montgomery’s Martha’s Sons series, is an excellent read.

A lost starship. A lost colony.

Two factions. One expendable son.

When the colony’s governor requisitions the colonists’ personal weapons, Peter Dawe’s father sets him a simple task. Get their weapon back.

But the Marss have all the technology, and Peter, a second generation colonist, the youngest of ten, the expendable son, must contend with the guard, palace politics, and his biggest problem of all, Simon, his brother.

 

So, happy reading.  Again, if you have a suggestion for a book or audiobook you think others would enjoy, please leave it in a comment.  I’ll keep doing these as long as I have things to link to and folks need some way to wile away their social distancing hours.

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