The Menangle Virus: Part 1

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What if Mother Nature thought we humans were out of control and decided to reset population growth? How would it be if you somehow woke up 100 years after the event and didn’t find anything like what you see in the movies? What if violence and mayhem hadn’t come to rule, and that what you found was all peaceful and nice?
The year is 2130.
World population: 1 million.
Current fertility rate: 98%

Loosely based on an actual virus outbreak in Australia in 1997. The “Menangle Virus” was transmitted from bats to pigs to people. It caused illness in people. It caused massive infertility on pigs. This “Paramyxo” virus was localised and didn’t spread very far, fortunately.

Time travel?

Adam is sitting on a bus with his head rocked back and resting against the window. It’s late at night, about ten-thirty. He’s kind of hypnotising himself with the street lights flashing by.

The bus is on a straight stretch of road, so the stream of lights are constant for a while. Adam is drifting off into an episode in his life that he had shared with his ex-girlfriend, and he’s really going there. He’s floating right out of his body and walking with Amanda through the Westfield shopping centre at Liverpool. It’s as real as if they are doing it right then, as they had every Saturday morning when they were together. Adam can hear Amanda’s voice and feel the touch of her hand. He can smell the apple fragrance of her hair as the flashing streetlights turn to seagulls, and he squints then opens his eyes to a bright blue sky.

Suddenly he’s lying on a slatted wooden bench seat. He has his legs tucked up, and the wrought iron armrest is cutting into his shins. The other armrest is above his head, and he’s staring directly up at the sky—at the seagulls flashing by like streetlights through a bus window.

Adam doesn’t sit up right away. He just turns his head and looks at the barnacle infested remains of a small water taxi tied to its dock.

What the hell?

There’s a paved walkway between the bench and the wharf rail, but it’s cracked everywhere with grass and weeds growing up through it. Beyond the water taxi is a ferry terminal that Adam recognises, and above that is the Circular Quay railway station. He spins around to face the city of Sydney with the towering office blocks seemingly intact yet the streets abandoned. There are rusted shells of cars, and shrubs and trees growing up through the concrete and bitumen.

What the hell?

Adam is standing there with his mouth hanging open, gazing around at everything.

Is this for real?

He thinks of pinching himself but there’s no need. His shins are still aching and he’s thinking too clearly to be dreaming. He can smell the salt in the air, and the sound of the ocean gently crashing into the wharf is clear and distinct. He’s wringing his hands and can feel the heat and sweat in his skin.

Adam gazes out to the ocean and the horizon there—all seemingly real and true. A hundred metres to his left, there is an ocean liner docked. Like the city, it’s aged and rusted, and it has smashed at the wharf and seems to be resting slightly off kilter. Adam wanders towards it and makes out the name Pacific Princess III on the side. From there, he is able to see beyond the ferry terminal and across to the Opera House. It looks perfectly preserved with its white sail-like roof glistening in the sun. The forecourt is overgrown with trees, though, and as Adam spins back around he is looking up at the Harbour Bridge.

“What the hell?” he utters, out loud this time. The bridge is also intact but it’s a rusty orange colour, and there’s a massive sign suspended beneath it that reads QUARANTINE.

Adam’s mind is numb. He’s trying to grasp what he’s looking at but… It was night time and I was on the bus. I remember that clearly. It was like, five minutes ago.

There’s a sound to Adam’s right, and he spins with his heart pounding. There’s nothing for a few seconds, then the head of a small grey kangaroo emerges above the height of the grass and weeds in the park. It’s behind a bench like the one Adam had woken up on. Another kangaroo lifts its head and the two of them watch him intently, their ears and noses twitching.

Adam tries to force his mind to shift—to snap it out of neutral. He looks down at his clothing. He has on weird faded-orange jeans and leather pointy-toed shoes. He had been in uniform and should be wearing navy blue trousers and a white shirt with the CMR logo embroidered above the pocket.

CMR is the Centre for Microbiological Research, not more than two kilometres from where Adam’s standing. He works on the gate mostly, but today he’d swapped with Carl and done his shift on the front desk checking ID’s and signing people in and out—issuing visitor passes and the like. He had done a sweep of the building before knocking off and poked his head in Amanda’s office as he was passing. All had been quiet, so Adam snuck in and left a small gift box right in the middle of Amanda’s desk. It was just a pendant he had made from a shell. They had been sort of friendly again lately and Adam knew Amanda liked shells. He figured it would be nice for her to find it there in the morning, and maybe it would lead to something. There had been a scattering of white coats bent over microscopes or glued to computer screens in the labs. There was always something that needed monitoring 24/7—something they were incubating or the odd rodent they had injected with one thing or another. None of it meant much to Adam. He was just a rent-a-cop security dude.

“I’m no time travelling super hero,” he mumbles to himself as he watches three black and white spotted cows wander from the street and into the park with the kangaroos.

After work Adam had stopped at the pub for a counter-meal, then he had caught the bus and was sitting there minding his own business and drifting off a bit.

The absurdity of the situation is hanging in the air all around, but Adam takes hold of it and ventures forth. There is something seriously unreal going on, but he’s feeling quite thirsty and needs to find a drink.

Adam follows the walkway along the wharf and approaches the ferry terminal. There are stalls there where he often buys lunch. The first one has the shutter pulled down and locked. The next one has a timber counter that’s flaked and warped. The glass display cabinet below has plastic sandwich packets that look like they’ve been pecked open and small foil dishes that were probably for cakes. There are shelves at the back of the stall with bleached white cardboard boxes and faded candy bar wrappers. There’s a display case of cigarettes that looks okay, although caked in a thick film of dust. There’s a fridge with a sealed glass door with cans and plastic bottles of juice, water and soft drinks. The water is clear and appears reasonably safe. Adam cracks open a bottle and has a drink. It tastes fine.

Inside the ferry terminal is a stall with newspapers and magazines on display. Adam pulls a paper from underneath the faded one on top. The headlines are about a plane crash in India and a sex scandal involving the Australian Foreign Minister. The date reads October 27th, 2063—2063 being thirty-five years in the future.

Adam looks at his hand and notices the absence of his tattoo. As a drunken youth he had let a buddy tattoo the word GAME across the knuckles of his left hand. It’s gone and his hand is bigger than it should be. Adam’s arm is more muscular too. He flexes, and squeezes and feels his bicep and shoulder.

What the hell?

There’s a glassed poster on the wall of the ferry terminal. Adam approaches and looks at his reflection to find a stranger looking back at him. He’s blond and his face is too narrow. The reflection is not Adam at all.

Adam feels his face—pinching at this point to prove the dream.

He backs away from the stranger and turns to the city again. He walks. He has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing, but he walks up a street, sticking to the middle of the road and gazing into the abandoned shops and up at the towering buildings. Most shops are empty. Adam considers they have been more so closed down than abandoned. The buildings are intact. They haven’t been bombed or anything. There are no broken windows that Adam can see. There are just big cracks in the pavement and road with grass and weeds growing everywhere.

There’s a distant humming sound. It’s high-pitched and quickly approaching. It pierces the air, and suddenly a train flashes across the road ahead of Adam. It had appeared from between buildings and is gone. Adam runs and sees it vanishing into the distance. It’s fully tinted glass, sleek and hugging a single rail, and it’s moving at an incredible speed.

Adam enters a building and finds stairs. He leaps upward, gaining the tenth storey with his lungs clenching and his legs numb. He kicks open a door marked with a no entry sign and stumbles out onto a roof-top. The train is gone. The rail spears off between buildings, some having been roughly knocked down to accommodate it.

Adam turns and looks the other way, out at the ocean. The rail is suspended above. It swings in a broad arc and follows the coastline with massive steel pillars jutting up out of the sand and the water, and it disappears beyond a headland.

Adam slumps back onto a concrete ledge and sucks in some breaths. He’s fitter and stronger than he used to be. He couldn’t have bounded those ten flights of stairs in his own body.

He looks himself over again, feeling his legs and genitals. He has a look down the front of his pants and finds no appreciable difference. He has less hair, though. It looks trimmed. Adam is thirsty again. He still has the bottle of water. There’s a kind of metallic taste in his mouth but he’s thirsty enough to ignore it.

The distance in all directions reveals no further sign of human life. There are birds and bugs, and more kangaroos and some goats. There’s a boundless silence, so stark and crisp that it’s ringing in Adam’s ears. The air is thin and clean and alive with the sweetness of spring or early summer. It had been winter an hour earlier—when Adam was himself and in the real world.

This can’t be real. If I jump off here I’m going to glide to the ground or wake up on a bus.

Adam’s looking over the edge of the building. He considers testing that theory but has never been big on heights. He suddenly thinks to check the pockets of the jeans he’s wearing and finds what looks like a watch. It’s an oddly thin device with a large square screen and a black plastic band. The screen is blank, as if turned off or with a dead battery. There are no buttons of any kind. Adam taps the screen to no effect. He tries pressing and the words VOICE PROMT flash. He presses again and says, “Hello”.

“Good afternoon, Cooper, who can I get you?”

Adam gulps. “Home, please?”

The screen shows a jingling bell icon. It lasts for a minute.

“Sorry, no answer,” the device says. “Would you like to record a message?”

Adam sniffs and clears his throat. “No message, thanks… Contacts list, please?”

The smiling face of a middle-aged woman appears. It’s a still image. Adam swipes across the screen and the face of a middle-aged man is next. It looks like him—the face he currently has. Adam assumes it to be his father. He swipes again and gets a logo AFP. The next image is another face—that of a guy about his age, completely unfamiliar. There are twenty or so contacts in all before the woman in the first image appears again.

Adam takes a breath and taps the screen. The ringing bell appears. The screen then flashes to an image of the woman, obviously live now.

“Cooper! Darling, how are you?” The woman looks to her side. “Hanson, it’s Cooper.”

A man’s voice replies, “Put him on screen, love.”

The screen flashes to a broader shot with the man who Adam assumes to be his father looking over the woman’s shoulder.

“How are you, son? What’s up?”

“Um… I’m not sure… I’m…” Adam stammers.

“Are you okay, son?”

“Look, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who you are. You’re on my phone thingy… I don’t know who I am or what’s happening.”

“Wait… What?” the man asks. “You don’t know who we are?”

“Cooper, are you hurt? Are you okay?” the woman adds.

“I’m not hurt. I’m fine… Just—what the hell’s going on? I’m not who you think I am. I’m not this Cooper.”

The two faces on screen are staring blankly. The man speaks again after a moment. His demeanour shows confusion and concern. “Who do you think you are, son? Is there something wrong with your mind or memory or something? Do you have a head injury?”

“My name is Adam O’Malley. As far as I can remember, this is the year 2028… I’m going to wake up from this any minute now.”

The man and woman look to each other, their faces streaked in concern—horror. They turn back. The man speaks again. “Son, where are you right now?”

Adam glances around. “Standing on top of a building in Sydney… Where are you?”

The couple confer once more, their faces unchanged as they turn back to the screen. The woman answers, “We’re on our cruise in the middle of the Pacific, darling.”

The man adds, his tone measured, “Son, I want you to stay where you are. I’ll get the clinic at Oakdale to send someone for you… Are you right in the old city?”

“I’m near Circular Quay,” Adam replies. “I can go back to where I woke up a while ago.”

“No, that’s fine. Just wait somewhere safe. The clinic will GPS your device. It’ll probably take them an hour to get there.”

“I don’t know why you have to go exploring that silly old city all the time, darling,” the woman adds. “You must have fallen and hurt yourself. It’s just not safe there with everything crumbling down.”

“Now, Lola, just…” the man says to the woman, cuddling and patting her arm.

“Oh, but he shouldn’t even be going down there!”

The man addresses Adam again. “Are you safe right now, son? Will you be okay to wait?”

“I’m fine. I’ll wait,” Adam tells him. “I don’t know what the hell’s going on but I’ll wait for whoever.”

“Alright, son, I’ll check in with you again in ten minutes… We’ll sort this out.”

Adam’s device screen flashes back to the still picture of the woman smiling. He puts it on his wrist and fastens the catch. He has another drink of his metallic water.

The clinic is sending someone, huh? Think I might need a frigging clinic.

Part 2

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A little bit quirky…

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BOOK REVIEW: This sharp, quirky little story is kind of like the lead character in it. You don’t really have a choice – you just have to go along with everything you’re being told. It’s hypnotic. It’s fun and really interesting. I’d defy anyone to read a few pages of this and stop reading. You absolutely have to know what’s going to become of the emerald eyed thief girl… What does become of her – where this story goes – is a total surprise. The writer tackles a subject here that is always kind of strange and confusing, but she keeps it simple and does it very well. I always loved the Twilight Zone series. This little story would fit right in there and be one of the best of them.

Preview Terrible Me on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: Terrific imagination and very easy reading style. This is a strange, foreign, alternate reality where you feel right at home and quickly pick up what’s going on. Cool, quirky characters and an interesting story that may have only just begun… A very enjoyable read.

Preview Engines of Empathy on Amazon

 

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BOOK REVIEW: I liked this. What a weird story. It’s very cleverly constructed and intriguing from start to finish. There’s something so simple and true about The Pusher. I’m wondering why I can so easily relate to him, lol… It’s a short read – definitely worth your time.

Preview The Pusher on Amazon

Flawed characters – great drama…

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BOOK REVIEW: Julia’s life is not extraordinary, but it is fascinating. She steps off a plane, returning from an unplanned trip away, and is faced with a whole bunch of problems that have sprung up in her absence. It’s a scene easily related to – everything falling apart at the same time. Everyone who has lived a bit of a life has experienced this… What are the decisions and incidents that shaped your life and brought you to that point? Well, in this story, Julia is a flawed character. Reading through the chapters of her life, there were times I didn’t particularly like her. But she is human – brilliantly depicted as such. And I found myself cheering for her in the end. The real heroine in this story, to me, is her best friend. Raz is mysterious… strong. We don’t spend much time inside her head, but that adds to the story, lending a depth of dimension that exist in all of our lives… This is a captivating read. Authentic.

Preview The Secrets of Julia Hawke on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: Actually, I’ve been to the beach house, metaphorically. Any place with important personal history is the beach house. It’s horrible when you drive past somewhere you remember fondly from some life event years ago and find it’s been re-developed. It’s gone… This is a wonderfully uplifting read. The many stories, brilliantly intertwined, are so real and inspiring… If you’re an Aussie you will probably like this book. If you’re not an Aussie you will probably like this book.

Preview The Beach House on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: True to life characters and an outback Aussie road trip… this is a touching and shocking human drama, the telling of which begins in turmoil and takes us on two journeys. One is the road trip – onward into discovery and hurt. The other is a series of flashbacks that lead us to our starting point and an expertly crafted reveal. Wonderfully written – mesmerizing… this is a terrific novel.

Preview In Conversation With Strangers on Amazon

Authentic historical settings…

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BOOK REVIEW: I made it as far as about the second page before I was cheering for Rosa. Or falling for her, to be more precise. But her vulnerability makes for difficult reading. It’s so hard to see how she will ever find happiness under the influence of her sister and the weight of societal tradition. I was really worried for her as I read. I wanted to be her hero and save her from the horrible choices she had. I was so into this story – completely captivated…. In a broader sense, I’d say this is an interesting study of how a calculated marital arrangement might take time to get going, but may well develop into something rich and powerful…. The resolution for sweet Rosa worked very well for me. This is a poignant little regency romance with plenty beneath the surface.

Preview In Want of a Wife on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: I like the villain…. No, I don’t mean I’m on his side or anything – just that I like the way this kind of character contributes to the angst of the period and makes for interesting reading. He makes it so difficult for the heroine and hero to get together – for romance to flourish (and I agree with other reviewers that this is a good romance). The villainous uncle is portrayed, I think, quite realistically. He has so much power and brings this to bear against what we are hoping for as we read, and just when it looks like he’s being defeated, he goes and does something to rip the heart out of our triumph. What he does is an excellent bet-you-weren’t-expecting-that moment, which sets off an exciting and wonderfully written journey and pursuit that we have to live through before we can have any kind of happily-ever-after…. Yes, this is a terrific love and adventure story. It’s heart wrenching, touching, enlightening and steamy. And it also has a classic Victorian era villain, whose portrayal is particularly powerful and interesting in my opinion.

Preview Devin’s Dilemma on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: The heroine is a handful. Way too intelligent and strong willed for the conventions of her time. The way she fights, deceives and manipulates to get what she wants out of life makes for a bit of a romp, but the fact that this tale is based on a true story is quite sobering. It’s also very romantic and interesting because of that. For word of this lady to be around 300 years later, she must have made quite an impression at the time… I felt well enough immersed in the early 18th century setting, with minimal detail allowing the plot to move along quickly, making for a fast and exciting read. There’s a cute supernatural twist that offers another dimension to the tale. This quite cleverly heightened the intensity of the climax and ending with a parallel timeline. It also brought our protagonists to the intersection of storytelling and true-to-life… Well done!

Preview The Berkshire Lady on Amazon

Little bit creepy, seriously freaky…

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BOOK REVIEW: This is the kind of story that sort of lulls you into a bit of a comfort zone with a normal enough opening few chapters, then suddenly things get freaky. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting of this scene – getting to know Tony Logan so well as a regular guy going through some midlife s*** that isn’t hard to relate to. And the off-handed way the ‘photograph’ was thought of and mentioned several times before we got a look at it. Well, I liked that too. It was a good build up to the normality of the story suddenly being blown apart…. What then follows is a gripping supernatural thriller with a kick-arse twist at the end. The upshot being that Tony Logan might have been far better off to have never seen that photograph.

Preview The Photograph on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: These are gritty tales with a touch of irreverence – a dash of humour. Awesome detail in constructing both the setting and characters. This is what gives it the classic feel for me. It’s like one of those old late night scary movies that has you so involved that you’re clawing the armrest of your lounge. I think the pacing adds to that too. There’s some real suspense here – the creepy kind. And a great cast of characters! Everything works from the seriously gruesome to the mildly quirky…. Did I read something in the intro about screenplays as the original idea? Definite late night movie fodder – good follow-on viewing after The Twilight Zone has set the mood.

Preview The Clayton Chronicles on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: The slow reveal of what the heroine, Laura, actually is was fascinating. The story provided an interesting take on age and maturity – the history of the centuries old characters. The play on Laura’s vulnerability amongst the vampires and the relationships between feeding couples was good reading. Things escalate into a steamy romance and big action climax. This book has a smart ending. I liked it.

Preview Blood Gifted on Amazon

High octane suspense…

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BOOK REVIEW: This book has deep down grunt that gives the storyline a rich and meaningful foundation. Corporate greed. The making of a psychopathic killer. Corruption. Murder. Cruelty. Love and loyalty. An epic idea in the suicide seed technology…. Everything builds inch by inch. Slowly and relentlessly. Like multiple angles to the same force that explodes in the final chapters…. An intriguing setting in 3rd world Africa. Great characters, both the good guys and the bad. And a wonderful dog hero that is worth the read on his own…. But above all, there’s a latent power here that I also noticed in a previous read of this author. Fry writes real, gritty stuff.

Preview Suicide Seeds on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: It’s the contrast between the unrelenting, high octane suspense and the excruciatingly slow burn of romance. That’s what it is about this author’s writing. Of course you get that a lot in these kinds of books, but Sandra S. Kerns does it so well. The crime here is complicated and deeply woven through the cast of characters. This is a damned fine police story. The action starts with the witness to a murder unconscious in an ER, our hero by his side, our heroine nursing them both. Unravelling what happened is a great read… The romance is between a strong, positive, yet damaged, woman and a tough, gritty man who is all heart and impatience. Expertly drawn, these two have you feeling that slow burn and living it with them. I was particularly pleased with how things came together at the end – the way the hero took charge… Excellent romantic mystery/thriller.

Preview Her Master Protector on Amazon

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BOOK REVIEW: The feel of this book takes me back to the musty halls of the Hermitage Museum and the iron curtain mentality of the real Russia that still smoulders today. We are expertly pulled into this mood chapter one and never really get to crawl up out of it. The characters and plot – the mystery of Brodsky – kind of tumble in on top of us, abstract and disjointed at first, building and tightening as we crawl through the maze (walk the endless corridors of The Hermitage, the towering portraits of lives past eyeballing us)…. Yes, I found the setting here to be tremendously powerful. The mystery itself is classy and intelligent, and develops into a killer of a finale…. Try this one if you like your art-heist thrillers to be gritty, real, and steeped in history.

Preview The Brodsky Affair on Amazon

How to find typos in your own writing…

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Well the basic challenge is overcoming familiarity and reading what you typed, rather than what you meant to type. And the short answer to this is to use audio, concentrate, go at a set slow pace, and double check alterations.

But let’s clarify what I’m talking about here: I’m talking about a piece of writing that has already been edited and proofread. Either by yourself or by a paid service. The structure of the work is set. And all that remains is to find simple typos. A word missing. A plural that should be singular. A missing quote mark or period. Something capitalized that shouldn’t be. Repeat words etc….

The reason I’m offering this advice is because I read a lot of indie books, and almost all have simple typos. Like mine used to.

My process is this:

Microsoft Word: From the top of the page we need to click on this little arrow that gives us a drop-down box to Customize Quick Access Toolbar. And we select ‘More Commands’

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From the More Commands pop-up we want ‘All Commands’

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From the list of all commands we want to select ‘Speak’

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Which puts this little icon on our toolbar. And when we highlight a section of text and click Speak, the text is read to us slowly and clearly.

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This forces us to follow the text at a set pace, and the audio will help A LOT in picking up errors. You might be amazed at how you will see something that you’ve missed a hundred times (and that your editor missed as well).

A couple of important tips:

  1. Use earphones and accept no distractions.
  2. Make corrections immediately then highlight again to re-read that paragraph.
  3. If your mind has drifted, stop and go back to where you were last focused.
  4. Expect this to take a long time – 3 to 4 hours per 10,000 words.
  5. If you find a lot of errors, do it all over again.

Slow burn with plenty of heat

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BOOK REVIEW: This is one of the better romances of this kind I have read. It’s a letdown when the hero is a shallow playboy type and the heroine allows her attraction to him to overpower her better judgement. The mix here has the heroine not being overpowered at all. Maggie is a terrific character – her strength not wavering until the final scene, and even then we have to wonder who it was that lost control and succumbed to the attraction – or indeed whether they both did. There is a depth of honesty and realism in these characters that handles the tryst between the powerful bad boy and intrepid good girl way better than some bestselling books of late…. This is a fast read but not a quick fix story. It’s sexy and highly entertaining.

Preview on Amazon

“Bittersweet” alright!

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BOOK REVIEW: What a thrill ride! This picks up at the height of tension we were left with in the first part of the story. It picks up there and never backs off. Right to the final confrontation we are on the edge of the seat – heart in mouth. The style of storytelling here is sharp, gripping, take-no-prisoners. The action, including the love making, is graphic and powerful, but in that it is just keeping up with the mood of the story. The characters portrayed here are gritty and real. The bad guys are total scum and not easily defeated – more tension! The hero and heroine earn every bit of the ending…. Awesome, powerhouse read!

Available on Amazon

Lives up to the promise…

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BOOK REVIEW: She is going to die and she knows it. Genre aside, that right there is a powerful and intriguing story idea. No one has threatened her or anything. She has simply seen her own funeral. Brilliant. The big question to be answered here is laid out plainly in the title, and within a page or two of reading, we’re in. We’re going to need to know how and why she dies at the end…. So now we have a clear and simple yet powerfully intriguing question, but do we have a story journey to back it up? Definitely! The setting is a tangible paranormal world with interesting relationships between the different species and plenty of historic complexity. Certainly 3 dimensional. And the tale of who our heroine is and how and why she dies is rich and captivating storytelling…. For mine, this book is every bit as good as the title.

Available on Amazon