Blondes, Books & Bourbon Blog Hop

Author:  R. M. Ridley
Pages:   192
Format:  Paperback, Kindle, Nook
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  company project
Genre:  Paranormal
Style:  Intelligent, fast-paced prose with dark hero of an ironic and satirical bent, strong plot, vivid world-building, infinite possibilities for additions to the series


In this collection of short stories, Jonathan Alvey continues to battle the unraveling world of the White Dragon Black.

Interview: A rare sit-down with paranormal private investigator Jonathan Alvey.

The Play’s the Thing: When a blonde woman shows up in Alvey’s office, seeking protection, he uncovers more than a murder attempt.

The Cost of Custody: Alvey helps estranged parents rescue their daughter from a terrible fate.

Sins of the Father: A pawn shop owner risks it all by asking Alvey to recover property that is more than meets the eye.

Legerdelivre: There’s nowhere Richard Tomlin can hide when it comes to the controlling powers of a dusty grimoire, but can Alvey truly help him?

What a Nightmare: Little old ladies do deceive, and secretaries come dear, in Jonathan Alvey’s office.

Do As I Say, Not As I Did: Alvey must air a CEO’s dirty laundry before a company ghost destroys too much.

The Ties That Bind: Can Alvey control a poltergeist and maintain his promise to not fall victim to the Dragon Black?

Bindings and Spines: A first chapter sneak peek of the second White Dragon Black novel.

About the Author:

R.M. Ridley lives with his wife on a small homestead in Canada, raising a small flock of sheep and a swarm of foul. He has been writing stories, both long and short, for three decades, the themes of which range from the gruesome to the fantastical. As an individual who suffers from severe bipolar disorder, R. M. Ridley is a strong believer in being open about mental health issues because myths should be kept to stories.

His debut novel Tomorrow Wendell, first of the White Dragon Black series, was published through Xchyler Publishing June of 2014. The protagonist of that novel was first in print in the WDB short story "The Cost of Custody" in Shades and Shadows: A Paranormal Anthology. The next WDB story "Charon's Obol" is in the paranormal anthology Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions released through Xchyler Publishing on October 22nd 2014.

R. M. Ridley has also had short stories in: Tales of the Talisman, Hell's Hangmen: Horror in the Old West, Mental Wellness: Real Stories From Survivors, and the Bram Stoker Award nominated Horror Library: Volume Three

The Process:

My first experience with R. M. Ridley was in editing Shades and Shadows, in which his short story "The Cost of Custody" appears. The theme of the contest, "extreme makeovers," spawned a wide variety of entries, but Ridley's story jumped out at me due to the strength of his character, Jonathan Alvey, the professionalism of Ridley's craft, and the ability of the tale to not only spark my interest but to keep me reading. When our senior editor, McKenna Gardner, said she wanted his full manuscript, Tomorrow Wendell, and believed in this work and the author, I agreed, sight unseen. 

self portrait, Luke Spooner
From experience, I knew that Ridley is a joy to work with, open to suggestion, and eager to master his craft. He is a driven writing machine, with a whole catalog of White Dragon Black manuscripts waiting in the production queue. Choosing his second short story, "Charon's Obol," for our second paranormal anthology, Legends and Lore, was a no-brainer. In the fall of 2015, we will release his second full-length novel, Bindings and Spines.

Of note, when Luke Spooner of Carrion House agreed to work with The X, I knew exactly which project needed him. Luke's working speed and style lends a hard, gritty edge to his work, and the window he opens into Jonathan Alvey's home town of New Hades is as striking as it is a dead-on match for Ridley's writing.

My Take:

I don't do horror. It's just not my thing. Almost universally, after a few pages of quasi-effort, I put the book down and step away. However, Ridley's skill in all these areas make his work a temptation not to be resisted. 

However, Ridley's stories in the White Dragon Black universe are more about his protagonist, Jonathan Alvey, and his battle with his own inner demons than they are about the smorgasbord of pantheons from which he draws Alvey's enemies. His acerbic wit and black humor laces his writing and his meticulous attention to detail bespeaks hours of extensive research. This, and his deft hand with the gory bits, make the WDB world feel real. 

In "The Cost of Custody," the first story that introduced me to Ridley's creation, Alvey is hired by a father whose estranged wife abruptly denies him access to his daughter. Classic private detective work, but Alvey is a student of the human condition and realizes this is more than a simple custody case (or a simple divorce). He prepares for the worst before ever leaving his office, and ultimately his perceptions pay off. 

Ridley continues on this vein throughout the Blondes, Books & Bourbon. Each story presents its own unique problems, its own unique and unexpected beastie to vanquish—or at least contain—and its own human monster to put in their place. There is not a story in this collection I would not hardily recommend. Indeed, the WDB series is one that helps bolster Xchyler's reputation as publishers of quality work.

Bottom Line:

Ridley's turn of phrase is as refreshing and unexpected as the foes his protagonist battles. His perceptions into human nature and his ability to bring them out in his writing make him a talent to watch. This is just the beginning of a stellar career.

One tasty sample, from Bindings and Spines, Chapter 1:
The air smelled stale inside—heavy with the malignant ghosts of too many cigarettes, burdened under the heavy layers of dust that never quite landed on any surface, and suffocating in its inability to circulate. Jonathan breathed deep and sighed in contentment.
“Yeah, that’s better.” He couldn’t help but taste the nearly dead motes of magic still drifting in the air but tried not to dwell on it.

Warning: the White Dragon Black series by R. M. Ridley is strongly addictive, with no known cure. Only more Alvey provides any relief.

Find Ridley on the web:

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Book Review: Siren Tamer by Sofia St. Angelas

Book:  SIREN TAMER (Book 1 of the Siren Tamer series)
Author: Sofia St. Angelas
Pages: 324
Format:  Paperback, Kindle, Kindle Unlimited
Publisher:  Sofia St. Angelas
Book Source:
Category:  Young Adult Fantasy/Romance
Style: Easy, contemporary voice that speaks directly to target audience.


I’m a Siren Tamer, and she’s my Siren. Apart we’re nothing much. Sure, she has the ability to level entire armies with one song, but it’s a one-time deal. One song and she’s dead.

I’m a myth and a legend. Tamers like me only come around every thousand years, so no one’s sure what I can do. But legend has it, when my Siren and I are together, we become a lethal weapon. One with infinite destructive capabilities.

What’s the real problem here? Neither of us knows it.

A YA Paranormal Romance set in an alternate Maya universe, SIREN TAMER does to Sirens what TWILIGHT did to Vampires. With a stalwart warrior you'll love to love and a bewitching Siren you'll hate to hate, it promises an adventure beyond compare.

Book Review: Mechanized Masterpieces 2: An American Anthology

Author: J. Aurel Guay, Megan Oliphant, Jay Barnson, M. Irish Gardner, D. Lee Jortner, J.R. Potter, M. K. Wiseman, Scott E. Tarbet, Scott William Taylor, Neve Talbot
Pages: 456
Format:  Paperback, Kindle, Kindle Unlimited
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  company project
Category:  Steampunk
Style: Flowing, imaginative prose of differing styles and pacing, dependent upon author voice.


Ride into the Wild West with ten steampunked expansions of classic American tales.

A Princess of Jasoom: An intrepid young researcher reaches for the stars from the Arizona desert, and finds love where she least expects it.

Winged Hope: The widow of a brilliant inventor fights insurmountable odds to see her husband’s dreams realized and save the life of her daughter.

The Van Tassel Legacy: A stranger arrives in Sleepy Hollow to unearth old conspiracies and bring the Van Brunts to justice.

Invested Charm: A mysterious woman doles out justice in Boston society, but who will catch her first: organized crime or the law?

Payoff for Air Pirate Pete: A pair of train-robbing outlaws bite off more than they can chew when they kidnap the son of a railroad bigwig.

Rise of the House of Usher: A mad scientist gains power over life and death at the cost of his family’s sanity, if not their very lives.

The Silver Scams: A fast-talking confidence man ensnares all of Holland in his scheme to eliminate dikes forever . . . for a price.

Nautilus Redux: Captain Nemo’s crew stumble upon an island castaway who claims to be Captain Ahab of the Pequod. Only Moby Dick knows the truth.

Mr. Thornton: Hounded by tragedy and betrayal, a gifted young blacksmith wanders from The Ohio to The Yukon searching for honor, loyalty, and justice.

West End: A heartbroken Theodore Laurence follows the siren song of steam to Jamaica, where love and law collide with explosive results.

About the Authors:

Read about all ten of the authors on the title's home page. Today, I'm spotlighting just one.

I have worked with Scott William Taylor for more than three years, his first short story with us being "Little Boiler Girl" in Mechanized Masterpieces: a Steampunk Anthology (Xchyler Publishing, 2013) He won our short story competition a second time with "Split Ends" which appeared in Shades and Shadows: A Paranormal Anthology (Xchyler Publishing, 2013). The inclusion of "Mr. Thornton" in Mechanized Masterpieces 2 ties him at second place for the most stories published in Xchyler anthologies. I have had the pleasure of working with him on all three projects.

Although all three of Scott's Xchyler stories end . . . how do I put this . . . on a downbeat, with a non-"happy" ending, paradoxically, they illuminate the human condition in a warm and empathetic way. Bad things have happened, but hope and faith remain. That takes a great deal of not only skill but insight to accomplish as a writer, and although Scott's persona is as understated as his writing, he pulls this off with great elan.

Scott is also a man of many other talents, including an actor (Bob Cratchet, anyone?), photographer, blogger, podcaster, and family man. He has participated in multiple writing panels at FanX/Salt Lake Comic Con and The Life, the Universe, and Everything Science Fiction/Fantasy Symposium. He recently self-published a collection of anthologies, Speckled, available in paperback and on Kindle.

The Process: 

Like all of the titles I have had the time to review of late, MECHANIZED MASTERPIECES 2: AN AMERICAN ANTHOLOGY (2015) is a Xchyler publication. It is also a follow-up volume to our best-selling anthology, Mechanized Masterpieces. The challenge of expanding classic literature with Steampunk themes has always sparked the imaginations of our readers and writers, and Xchyler authors have long been pestering me to publish a second title. I finally acquiesced when we figured out the slightly different angle to come at it. I didn't want to just do more of the same.

Although unintentional, the majority of titles we explored in MMSA were from British authors. So, for Volume 2, we decided to restrict the classics selection to American literature. We also added one more caveat: this would be an inhouse but anonymous competition. The judges only knew that previously published authors at The X and/or staff members could participate. All other information was withheld. We thought that would make judging easier and less time-consuming. We were wrong.

Our authors had no difficulty whatsoever coming up with Steampunk twists to American classics. For them, their greatest hurdle lay in choosing in which stories to invest their greatest efforts; for the judges, choosing only ten stories. If we had more time and an open calendar, we could easily publish a third volume just on the remaining stories submitted.

All the prep work paid off, however. Editing these fine authors was a breeze, they were all eager and willing to boost their writing to new heights, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Although this volume feels to me like an exercise in indulgence (doing what I love with the people I love), I am also proud of the product. These Xchyler authors gave me their very best.

My Take:

Princess of Jasoom: J. Aurel Guay is a terrific writer and a fantastic story coach with the rare combination of both analytic and imaginative mind. He represented himself so well with this short story, he has since joined the editorial staff at The X.

Winged Hope: Smart, engaging, suspenseful, and totally unexpected. Expanding a poem? Who thinks of that? The most difficult thing about editing this anthology was getting the authors to leave off the amendments. Megan Oliphant wrote and rewrote this story until she was happy with the final result. I know readers will be as well.

The Van Tassel Legacy: Jay Barnson tops himself with this story; again, imaginative, well-written, and unexpected. That's the beauty of Steampunk. One never knows what they'll find next.

Invested Charm: I admit, M. Irish Gardner had me completely fooled with this story. I absolutely had no idea she wrote it. I believed it came from the same author as "Winged Hope." Like Megan Oliphant and J. Aurel Guay, after winning the competition, she took her story back and pounded it into submission before I ever began editing it. This is a surprising, original, beautifully written work, one that showcases the skills of our senior editor. You've never read anything like it.

Payoff for Air Pirate Pete: A pure delight, plain and simple. As dark as some of our other stories get, D. Lee Jortner brings a breath of fresh air to the work with humor, humanity, irony, and playfulness. It's a favorite among reviewers.

Rise of the House of Usher: I don't like real heavy "horror" stories. I have a fat Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe sitting on my bookshelf that I couldn't get half through. It's just not my cup of tea. However, I'll read anything J.R. Potter writes and revel in the luxury.

The Silver Scams: Another breath of fresh air from M. K. Wiseman. She and I have worked together on several projects now, and I'm delighted to be the lead editor on her as-yet-unnamed historical fantasy title slated for release later in the year. This prequel to the Hans Brinker story is the perfect introduction to her writing.

Nautilus Redux: The imagination of Scott E. Tarbet never ceases to amaze me. Although "Year of No Foals" is probably my favorite of all his short stories, this comes as a close second. Moby Dick meets 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 'Nuff said.

Mr. Thornton: This story is a head-scratcher for some readers because of the plot arc, but, as mentioned above, I believe Scott William Taylor demonstrates a keen understanding of the human condition coupled with some fabulous steampunkery. Not all stories have to be about how everything goes right in life. Sometimes, after dreams die, the rebirth of hope is the real tale to tell.

West End: This took four different editors to beat it into submission after it ballooned into a 30,000-word beast, as the continuation of "Tropic of Cancer" in MMSA. There's a whole lot of story on the cutting room floor, so to speak, and I think it will eventually become a full-fledged novel. Special thanks to Justin Guay, McKenna Gardner, Jessica Shen, and MeriLyn Oblad for helping me cut it down to size for this purpose. Neve Talbot (that's me) couldn't have done it without them.

Bottom Line:

Again, I don't put star ratings on Amazon or Goodreads for Xchyler titles to keep it fair and honest, but I do think this work deserves five stars, and I know lovers of both classical literature and Steampunk are going to enjoy this work.

Find Scott William Taylor on the web:

Book Review: On the Isle of Sound and Wonder by Alyson Grauer

Book:  On the Isle of Sound and Wonder
Author:  Alyson Grauer
Pages:   309
Format:  Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Kindle Unlimited
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  company project
Category:  Steampunk
Style:  Literary prose with complex characters, strong plot, and vivid world-building


All but alone, wild but resourceful Mira dreams of life beyond the shores of her mystical island. Isolated by her father, a dark sorcerer bent on vengeance, she has only his servants, an air spirit and a misshapen cast-off, to share her company. When Dante conjures a terrible storm to wash ashore his mortal enemies, Mira must chose between her loyalties to her father and what she knows is right.

Sail the skies and soar the seas surrounding this Isle of Sound and Wonder as Alyson Grauer masterfully retells William Shakespeare’s classic, The Tempest, bedecked in the trappings of Steampunk.

About the Author:  

Alyson Grauer is a storyteller in multiple mediums, her two primary canvases being the stage and the page. On stage she is often seen in the Chicago area, primarily at Piccolo Theatre, Plan 9 Burlesque, and the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Her nonfiction work has been published in the Journal for Perinatal Education for Lamaze International. Her short fiction can be found in Tales from the Archives (Volume 2) for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and in two anthologies from Xchyler Publishing, "Lavenza, or The Modern Galatea" in Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology (MMSA) and "The Brother-Sister Fable" in Legends and Lore: an Anthology of Mythic Proportions. Alyson is a proud graduate of Loyola University of Chicago and hails originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is her first novel.

Author and Thespian Alyson Grauer

The Process:

I first "met" Alyson (by the interweb definition) when she won one of Xchyler Publishing's first short story competitions. Her "Lavenza, or The Modern Galatea" anchored MMSA. Besides being a brilliant writer, I found her witty, intelligent, and a delight to work with. I wanted to see more of her work.

When I asked her to send me her current work in progress, she hemmed and hawed. I found it impossible to believe that such a great writer had nothing to show me. (That was then. Now, I marvel that she actually found the time to enter the competition. It must have been a slow week.)

As it happens, the previous November, Alyson had participated in National November Writer's Month (NaNoWriMo), an Internet site for writers, half social media, half support group, that challenges them to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. She had something gosh-awful that she had whipped up, but it really wasn't share-worthy. I told her to show me anyway. She sent me her initial take on a Steampunk rendition of William Shakespeare's The Tempest

I don't recall it being as terrible as she professes it was, but that was . . . wow! . . . close to two years now. In any case, it was good enough (or I had faith enough in Alyson) for me to pass it on to one of our senior editors, Jessica Shen, asking if she wanted the project. Jess said 'gimme', and the rest is history. A long, tumultuous history, but history none the less. They got 'er done.

Alyson and Jess have spent the past eighteen months hammering away at this project, starting from the ground up and rewriting the entire thing. Alyson has done a magnificent job, and Jessica has been with her every step of the way. They make a fantastic team, and are what I encourage all my authors and their editors to be: great friends. Their end result: a much lauded book that Xchyler is proud to have in our catalog.

Cover Artist Egle Zioma
Of note, when Artist Egle Zioma agreed to work with The X, (after jumping for joy) I knew exactly which project I wanted her to start with. Like Jessica, she was the perfect fit for Alyson and her vision. The three of them worked together developing this marvelous cover, and we couldn't be more pleased with the end result.

I first met met Alyson last August at Salt City Steamfest. You can read about that event here. She's just as fun, energetic, and genuine in person as she is online. Then, just two weeks ago, I finally got to meet Jessica (equally charming) when we all converged on Madison, WI, for Teslacon 5 (a premier Steampunk event I highly recommend). You can read about that event here. Seeing them together, it's easy to see how this work came about, a result of their amazing synergy.

My Take:

I don't post reviews of Xchyler books on Goodreads or Amazon because I don't want my bias to influence the ratings. I think it best for readers if they can trust the reviewer not to have a vested interest in the success of the project; that they will get an honest review.
Alyson and Jessica at Teslacon

But, this is my blog so I get to say what I want. And, while I do have a bias toward these fun and fabulous women, I hope I'm capable of being honest in my review. I won't let anything I'm not proud of wear the Xchyler logo on its spine, and in the case of OISW, I like to shout it to the world. WE PUBLISHED THIS BOOK!

Alyson's masterful world-building engrosses the reader from the start. Her approach to Steampunk is light and refreshing, without the mechanics of it all being the sole point of the story. Rather, her richly drawn characters and dynamic, complex plot claim all the reader's attention and refuse to release them even after the last page has been turned.

Of course, the skeleton of the plot isn't hers. It's Shakespeare, plain and simple. Anyone familiar with The Tempest will identify it more sooner than later. However, Alyson calls this a "re-imagining," and indeed it is, for she takes the plots and the characters places Shakespeare only hinted at. The reader need not be familiar with the original text to become engrossed in this book. 

Alyson also claims the names of people and places as her own, and it's fun to mark how she has changed them to suit her own sensibilities. As much as the soul belongs to The Bard, the heart belongs to Alyson.

At Teslacon, we loved to tell parents of teens and tweens that we only published books they'd be happy to have their children read. Thus it is with OISW, but I would caution that Alyson does carry through the themes that Shakespeare mentions in The Tempest

There is a deftly handled attempted rape, and a same-sex relationship between two of the minor characters. While not physical, it is there, the dynamics of the relationship explored. Likewise, the attempted rape is more discussed than anything, and the actual action experienced through a sort of dream sequence, something the mentally challenged Karaburan doesn't even understand he's doing. It's very well managed.

Actually, as enjoyable as Heroine Mira is, my favorite character is Karaburan, or Kabu, as Mira calls him, not for any great or noble acts, but because Alyson does such an amazing job portraying him. While he is simple, he is not evil. Although an orphan and outcast, he is loyal and true. With the looks of a monster, he would never knowingly harm Mira or anyone, the aforementioned assault the product of the air spirit, Aurael's bad intentions. In discussions, Alyson called Kabu 'the fish monster,' but in her prose, he steps off the page as her very best human.

His mother, Corvina, is also a favorite, as you can probably surmise from my blog post here.

Bottom Line:

I strongly recommend this book to lovers of Steampunk or Shakespeare, or Shakespearean Steampunk, or those looking for a fantasy with heart. While there are some elements that require caution to parents of readers aged 10-18, they also provide an excellent opportunity for discussion of the issues at hand, which I would strongly encourage.

Alyson is a fine author. There are one or two things I may have changed (usually along the lines of more more more!), but this first full novel promises truly great things from her in the future . . . if she can step off the stage long enough to do them.

Find Grauer on the web:

Book Tour: On the Isle of Sound and Wonder by Alyson Grauer (Character Interview)

Neapolis, 1854

I am not a courtier, by any means, and so you can well imagine my desire to serve my king well when he gave me such a critical commission. He came to me in the nursery late one evening, when all the children were abed. I never retire early; Mira betimes stirs in the night, tormented with strange and curious dreams. Not until she is well and truly settled do I myself seek my humble repose.

Often times, when King Alanno Civitelli has come to the nursery to check the children before he himself retires, we have shared a quiet word, a cup of tea, a bit of consultation. I know he loves his children dearly, especially his son and heir, Ferran. It warms the heart to see a father so devoted, especially one so powerful as he, especially as he is so beset with the troubles of rule.

Perhaps this explains his choice of ambassador. Secrets never stay long at court, and I fear His Majesty knows not whom to trust in this affair, the matter of utmost delicacy. Who would suspect a lowly governess conducting important matters of state?

Thus, it breaks my heart to have failed him. I had hoped to find the answers he sought, but instead, I return empty-handed, my quest a failure. I could not find Psychoraxx. She has simply vanished, probably drowned with the rest of the ship upon which she was last seen.

Probably, but I cannot be certain, for my own dream continues to plague me. I have told no one lest they think me mad. Indeed, I cannot, for once or twice I have attempted to tell the king, but the words will not come. As if by some enchantment, I find myself back in the nursery without knowing why, having never uttered a word to His Majesty. Perhaps if I commit it to paper, it may purge my torment.

It begins with a mighty storm. I am at sea, alone in a skiff, tossed about on tumultuous waves. I know not how I came to be there, but only violent strikes of lightning illuminate the night. I believe I see the silhouette of an island on the horizon, but it is too far and I have no way to navigate my craft. Without hope, I am certain I am lost. I cross myself and finger my rosary in fervent prayer. I am about to meet my Maker.

Then, for some inexplicable reason, in a brilliant flash of lightning, I find myself in the warmth of a cave, in the company of Psychoraxx herself―Corvina her true name. Somehow, I know herself the source of my rescue, but I cannot recall it. We chat like two women over a garden gate. The conversation is always the same.

Myself: Thank you for guiding me safely ashore, Mistress Corvina. I despaired of any rescue out there on the shoals.

Corvina: You are welcome here, traveler, though only for a short time. The island does not tolerate too much of a crowd, I’m afraid. There are questions you would ask of me, I think.

M: You seem to have comfortable accommodations for all your isolation. Did you create all of this yourself?

C: This cave was a natural occurrence of the isle, but I have made it somewhat bigger to house me safely from the elements. It is not… ideal, but it is certainly not the worst home I’ve ever had. I rely on the island for all other things―food, tools, mending my clothing, and so on. I had not intended to retire myself here, but it provides as well as any host in any inn, and for that I am grateful.

M. Fascinating. Perhaps a cup of―oh my. Is that how it works? Just ask and it appears?

C. You see? And people are so hesitant to trust in the forces of nature.
M. Funny you should mention that―the forces of nature―as that is exactly what I came to speak with you about; specifically, the mysterious occurrences surrounding the birth of Lady Mira, daughter of Duke Dante. That storm lives on in the memory of us all. Do you recall it?

C. I cannot remove it from memory. There are few who have that power, and I would not wish it even so. I remember the night you speak of, and I remember that woman, and that child, as I remember each woman and each child whom I have helped in my life.

M. But this child. She is . . . peculiar. I have met her, you see, in the court of King Alanno. Pretty, lively little girls there are a’plenty, but Mira seems so much . . . more―a force of nature, if you will. Did you not note it?

C. . . . She is young . . .

M. I have heard it whispered amongst the menials that her soul was too strong for the woman who bore her, and thus, she is motherless.

C. That . . . is one way of seeing things. I would not say, however, that her mother was weak. What I would say . . . I would say that it is not our place to say what souls are stronger than others.

M. You hesitate. You choose your words with care.

C. We all must choose with care. Worlds are built and destroyed on words, you know. And besides that, the island listens.

M. <glances about nervously> Rumors would have you here on the island alone. . . . Are there others here?

C. There are many beasts, bugs, and birds that call this island home. And things unseen that fill the night air with sounds and strange songs. But yes, it is true I am not alone. My son lives here with me. I’d ask you to remain quiet, if you will―he sleeps a little further on in the cave. He is very young still and sleeps a great deal.

M. Forgive me, madam. I would not intrude into your personal affairs. To return to that other child―Mira―some say the storm brought her. Otherwise say she brought the storm. I, of myself, have seen something akin to lightning in her eyes, a manner of divine spark, as if some sort of magic lit the child’s soul. You left quite abruptly after her birth. In your short time with her, did you notice such as this?

C. Listen, traveler. The child is young. This spark, this lightning may pass, if she grows healthy and does not trouble the waters of her spirit and mind. But her father is a powerful man. . . . He may surely spot it before it has gone, and if he uncovers that . . . I cannot pretend to predict what he might do. But the girl is strong and there are no singular factors to have caused that strength―some is her own self, some from the storm, some from her mother, some from her father, and yes, perhaps some from me. But she is who she is now, and she will grow and become her own self. What she does with that strength is her path to choose.

M. Again, you anticipate my questions, as if you had some sort of prescience. Or, perhaps, considering the subject, it is to be expected. It is all one, is it not? Of a truth, I must confess. I am not merely an idle traveler seeking safe harbor from a storm. I came here seeking you out, following every rumor, every waft of Psychorrax on the breeze. King Alanno begs whatever information you might have on Duke Dante. His concerns grow by the day. But, again, I would not overstay my welcome. May I proceed?

C. You may ask, but I can only tell you what I know, not what I do not have to give you.

M. Dante abandons his lordly duties. Since the death of his wife, he shuns all companionship, even that of his toddling daughter. He bars himself behind the doors of his chambers and scarcely emerges for the necessities to sustain life. 

The child to whom he professes his devotion languishes in the nursery. Her attendants are devoted, to be sure, and the young prince proves a congenial playmate, but with her father so near, she lives as a foundling. And the king takes his children away betimes, excluding the little girl. I fear only that child’s fire prevents her from becoming a cipher. Can you shed any light into this dire situation? What drives the duke so?

C. <a slow, deep frown forms on her face> Ambition, as it is with all men of his kind. Ambition to be greater than he already is, to seek what must be kept hidden, and to overcome the trappings of his mortal mind. Dante seeks to own what is not his to even dream upon, and if he does not come to that realization himself, it will be his downfall.

M. What is to be done? Is he . . . dangerous? to the king? to his daughter?

C. If Dante does not cease this journey, the king will try to derail him. He might not succeed in that, but the king’s decision will forge a new path for Dante and his child. I cannot see the future. But Dante’s passion will quickly turn to madness if the love of his friends and family do not bring him to a halt.

M. <brooding silence> . . . It sounds to me . . . As much as he neglects the child, she seems to have the greatest hold on him. She draws him out when nothing else can. She is his only hope?

C. Most assuredly. Not the only factor of this equation, but must assuredly, she could be his salvation.

M. It seems a heavy burden for anyone to bear, let alone a lisping child.

C. <faint smile> Does she lisp? Sweet girl.

M. A lisp indeed, which she will certainly outgrow. But, truly I have not ever a brighter, more erudite child. Her wisdom seems well beyond her years. I begin to see the truth in your own words. She has the strength of soul to accomplish this task.

C. May it be so. I hope . . . I hope the love of a daughter for her father reminds the father of his love for his daughter.

M. I thank you, mistress, for granting me safe harbor, or calming the storm. Indeed, the waves did cease their rambunctiousness when you did appear on the shore. I shall return with my report to His Majesty, the King. Mayhap there still be hope for the duke. Would you travel with me?

C. I cannot go apart with you from this place, traveler. It is not the way of this story to return me to Neapolis. I ask that you do not tell the king whose lips these words came from, and speak not of how you found this island. Let this island become a single cloud in a field of sky―let it drift away in the empty space of your memory and be hidden from maps and minds when you return home.

M. Indeed, good lady. For your graciousness and patience in the face of my coarse and bumbling manner, this is the smallest of favors to grant you. I shall entrust your care to this enchanted place, then, and bid you with all fondness, adieu.

C. Travel with safety and haste, friend, but forget me when you are home. Remember not this place or my voice, and let your own paths take you forward.

Author Alyson Grauer
My memories of that voyage are hazy, at best. I am told the vessel on which I embarked upon my journey was lost in a mighty gale. I was rescued by a passing merchant ship, found unconscious and fevered, just clinging to life. The physicians tell me the illness and trauma account for my loss of memory, but I am not convinced.

I have proven of no use to the king, and what will become of Duke Dante I cannot say. I pray that sweet Mira is not caught up in the maelstrom that seems to surround that man, but I fear it may not be so. May God and all the Forces of Nature see her a woman grown.

Corvina: Alyson Grauer
Governess: Penny Freeman
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Book Review: Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions

Author:  Alyson Grauer, Sarah Hunter Hyatt, Emma Michaels, R. M. Ridley, Sarah E. Seeley, Lance Schonberg,  Danielle E. Shipley, A. F. Stewart, M. K.Wiseman
Pages:   404
Format:  Paperback, Kindle, Kindle Unlimited
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  personal project
Category:  Fantasy, Paranormal
Style:  Broad range of styles from Aurthurian fantasy to darker paranormal elements.


     Delve into myth and legend, where the Fates force post-modern man into a world of the unknown—a world long since dismissed as ignorant superstition.
     The Brother-Sister Fable by Alyson Grauer: a young boy disappears into a realm where only his sister can follow.
     Faelad by Sarah Hunter Hyatt: Claire Whitaker didn’t even know she was Irish, let alone The Morrigan, the goddess of war.
     By Skyfall by Emma Michaels: a mer-couple from Atlantis find themselves in the middle of a human murder investigation.
     Charon’s Obol by. R. M. Ridley: Jonathan Alvey didn’t believe in gods, until he helps a lost child find her all-powerful parents.
     Peradventure by Sarah E. Seeley: a jinni must choose between the woman he loves and destroying the city that persecuted her.
     Natural Order by Lance Schonberg: when Carlos Vasquez is kidnapped, he discovers powers within himself to change the world.
     Two Spoons by Danielle E. Shipley: A little girl’s soul meets its match in the family diner’s most mysterious patron.
     Grail Days by A. F. Stewart: Living forever has its drawbacks, especially when you spend it clearing away the messes of other immortals.
     Downward Mobility by M. K. Wiseman: they say love conquers all, but can it save a Valkyrie when she breaks all the rules?

My Take:

One of the most fun and most difficult aspects of filling the role of editor on an anthology is getting to choose which stories to include. Three times a year, Xchyler Publishing holds short story contests, including Steampunk, paranormal, and fantasy genres. For each contest, we provide a theme; in this case, Mr. and Mrs. Myth. Time and time again we get asked the same question: what do  you mean by that? Our answer is always the same: what do you mean by that. This year, over forty authors decided they wanted to tell us.

Narrowing the field down to these nine titles was extremely difficult. It entailed reading every story, rating it, filling out a 92-question evaluation form, averaging the sum of scores from a number of editors and marketers, and then figuring out how many stories we could fit in and still stay within our target word count. It's not as easy as it sounds. However, the end result is worth it.

Then, the work begins.

Book Feature & Giveaway: The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington


Author:  Anika Arrington
Pages:   220
Format:  Paperback, ebook
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  responsible for project
Category:  Young Adult to Adult fantasy
Style:  Easy, conversational style, added depth to appeal to mature readers


Brilliant and ambitious, Rezdin the Wizard has one goal: impress the king, but he answers to Baron von Dappenshien who refuses him access to Court. Before Rezdin can maneuver himself into the limelight, the king charges von Dappenshien for treason, and Rezdin goes to ground. The wizard finds himself dependent upon the wits and good will of a starving street urchin. But what can he offer little Tommy in return? When old dangers and new alliances rear their menacing heads, Rezdin must decide where his true loyalties lie, and what to do with his new-found entourage of one.

My Take:

Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology
Anika Arrington first came to my attention when she submitted her short story, "Sense and Cyborgs," to Xchyler Publishing's first Steampunk anthology competition requesting extensions of classic literature. Anika's writing so delighted me, I placed her offering as the leading story in the resultant book, Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology.

With the title's release, we asked her what other projects she may have in hand. More than a year later, Accidental Apprentice is about to be unleashed upon the world.

Because I have been directly involved in the editorial process and publication of this novel, I refrain from reviewing it. However, on a personal level, I find it charming, imaginative, and everything I expected from Ms. Arrington and more. This is even more remarkable considering she is a mother of six children and still has found the time to write and release this book.

I am certain lovers of fantasy of all ages will enjoy reading this book. It is something appropriate for family reading time for middle-graders as young as ten or eleven, with engaging characters and a compelling plot, yet textured and nuanced enough for more mature readers, fecund with the promise of rich character development and intricate plot lines in coming installments.

As part of Anika's book release, she has created a Pinterest board to help bring her readers into the world of The Accidental Apprentice. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Rezdin, a brilliant if self-absorbed wizard.

Crispin, a former student of Rezdin

Marzena, Head Maestra of the Wizard Academy
Damir, a wizard bent on vengeance

Follow The Accidental Apprentice Blog Tour 

and enter our giveaway as much as you like!

The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington Blog Tour

Monday, 9/29: Kick-off tour –
Tuesday, 9/30: Interview –
Wednesday, 10/1: Guest Post –
Thursday, 10/2: Excerpt –
Friday, 10/3: Interview –
Saturday, 10/4: Pinterest Review -
Tuesday, 10/7: Guest Post –
Wednesday, 10/8: Interview and Excerpt – 


I find myself at an interesting point in my life where all sorts of things are happening, doors have closed, windows are opening, I'm well down paths I never imagined I would take.

Not quite two years ago, I had a discussion with my son about life choices I had to make secondary to my husband's medical retirement. Basically, he wanted me to throw in the towel, metaphorically speaking. It would have been an easier road, but I refused. I'm not finished yet, I insisted. I still have a lot I want to do with my life. I'm not ready to say that's all there is of me. (I was a wizened 48, so you can understand his concern).

Fast-forward nearly two years—two very intense, very trying, and sometimes seemingly hopeless two years—and here I am a published journalist, author, and content and developmental editor. Here I am, the co-owner and editor-in-chief of a micro publishing house that is fast developing a reputation for quality fare. Who would have thought it?

A review of Mechanized Masterpieces: a Steampunk Anthology came out today, published by Ricky L. Brown of Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders. He was kind—so kind that I can't help but share a bit of it here.

Write Mr. Brown:
          The smartly titled A Steampunk Anthology: Mechanized Masterpieces (sic) is not just a description of the stories collected in this anthology edited by Penny Freeman. The book’s forward reinforces the theme of the stories with, “Steampunk is revisionism, and what better material to expand upon than literature that bespeaks the universal human condition and has withstood the test of time?” In the spirit of brilliant classics, Xchyler Publishing has taken this definition to heart by using characters, ideas, little snippets and whole stories from literary “masterpieces” and opened up fresh new Steampunk perspectives.
          There are only eight contributions with varying lengths in this collection, with only nine authors to their credit. But be assured, each selection exemplifies the revisionist theme by introducing new angles on old ideas. Here are brief rundowns of what you can expect.
          Anthologies are tricky in that editors are encouraged to put their best foot forward if they want to grab the reader’s attention for the entire volume. Tropic of Cancer by Neve Talbot is the first installment of the collection, and a strong candidate in letting the reader know just what to expect in the rest of the book. Fashioned around the moral awareness of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the familiar character Edward Fairfax Rochester is the determined protagonist this time around. With the industrial challenges of a Steampunk era mixed in with a little mystical romance, the hero battles atonement to an estranged father, an ambitious brother and the empowerment of love. Charlotte Brontë would approve. (read more)
As an editor, I find this intensely gratifying. As one drags through the tail end of an arduous rewriting/coaching/cheering process, after the fourth or fifth read-through, one becomes convinced that the whole thing is drivel and will be universally panned, simply from one's overexposure. One becomes shell-shocked, as it were: a supreme case of editorial battle fatigue.

To have a well-read Steampunk aficionado not only "get it" but to stamp it with his seal of approval provides all the validation a person requires. (The seven five- and one four-star ratings on Amazon only three days after the launch don't hurt either).

As for Tropic of Cancer, "Charlotte Brontë would approve." What better praise could Author Neve Talbot require?

No, Son. I'm not done yet. You're only old when you stop saying, "Some day . . ."