Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book Review of Once Upon a Fallen Time by Samreen Ahsan

All her life, Myra Farrow has been obsessed with medieval castle-and the kings and princes who once inhabited them. When Steve Bernard, a wealthy videogame designer offers her to model for a princess character in his new game, Myra can't resist his offer to enter the mysterious, colorless, and cursed Hue Castle. But unknown to Myra, her soul is bound to it by blood and sorcery. When she enters the castle's doors, she awakens dark powers, time traveling through a cursed mirror, torturing her present, and rewriting her future, leaving Steve Bernard with millions of questions. 

Edward Hue, the last of the Hue royal bloodline, has never stood in the sunshine, nor felt the rain, or held a living flower. Cursed from birth to live in darkness and bring death to all he touches, he is at the mercy of his cruel, tyrannical father King Stefan, who will not rest until he shatters Edward's soul and makes his son into a diabolical copy of himself. Edward's one hope is the mysterious woman, who walks into his life through a cursed mirror, out of his dreams, and introduces him: love. 

Will Myra break Edward's curse and bring him out of the darkness, or destroy him utterly? Will Steve ever be able to finish his game without Myra? Past and future collide in a tale of love, obsession, betrayal, and the hope for redemption.

This is book 2 of [STOLEN] SERIES

Amazon   Goodreads

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

I really enjoyed reading book one a few years ago, so when the opportunity came up to read book two of the Stolen series I was so excited! I am happy to report that this book was just as enjoyable as book one!

It was so easy to fall back into this story. Even with chapters from different characters prespectives the story moves quickly and keeps the reader engaged. I liked that Ahsan allows the reader to see what is happening on both sides of the mirror. 

The characters in this story are very human, having both good and bad traits. It can make it hard to decide who you want to see get together, but so enjoyable. Edward does portray a beastly prince, but Myra is both full of compassion and spark. 

If you are a fan of fantasy, romance or even mystery you need to add this series to your list! 

History, art, and literature are my passions. I love digging out information about prophecies, divine miracles and paranormal events that are mentioned in history and holy books, that doesn't sound possible in today's modern world.

Since childhood, I have been into reading and writing--and yes, it can't happen without imagination, which luckily has no boundaries. Dance and music are also pastimes I enjoy, as well as reading romance fiction. I love to travel and explore historical cities. I live in Toronto, Canada.

A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Heeded (A Prayer Series) is my first story about paranormal events based on Islamic concepts.

Once Upon A [Stolen] Time is my second story, a romantic fantasy fairy tale. It is the first book of [Stolen] Series.

Website   Twitter 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Popular Idioms from Invaluable

As writers, we use figurative language throughout our work often. These phrases and idioms that are so ingrained in our English language that we often use them without even realizing what the words mean or where they came from. Many of our most used figurative phrases have curious origins whether it be from an influential book of the time, a cultural custom, or historical event. For example, did you know that the phrase, “the pot calling the kettle black,” derives from Miguel de Cervantes’ Spanish novel, Don Quixote?

Invaluable created a neat visual that explores some of the most prevalent English language idioms, and how they live on today in a modern context. Check it out, and think about the literal meaning behind the phrases next time you go to use them in written or spoken language.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Change Up

Picking the point of view (POV) for any novel is a big decision. Whether it’s the immediacy of a first-person narrative (think Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro books); or the third-person limited view that most mysteries use (including my own); the point of view you choose will drive the way you develop characters and your plot.
Because every Clementine Toledano book is told from the third-person limited, with Q as the sole focus of the narrator’s attention, I’ve sometimes found this style, well, limiting – especially when there’s something important I want the reader to know about a character that’s not Q, that she can’t know yet. This constraint of this particular style automatically transforms any author into a student of human nature. For example, if you need the reader to know that a character is hiding something, how can you describe that in a way that maybe your main character might not notice? Does the character look away? Do they shuffle their feet? Do they abruptly change the subject?
First-person point of view has the same challenges plus one more. The person telling the story has to notice something for the reader to notice it too. So, if you want to hide something from the reader, it has to be hidden from your narrator, too.
Despite their challenges, the third-person limited and first-person narratives continue to be the most common points of view in commercial fiction for good reason. We experience our lives through our own lens. If someone was narrating our life, they’d hear our thoughts (which can be useful in telling our story), see things that we might not notice (useful information for people to understand our story), but be limited to seeing and hearing only that which we see and hear (useful for experiencing the world the way we experience it).
So, how does one escape the limits of these most popular of fictional narratives?
The reason this is on my mind is because I’ve recently read two of the most devilishly clever mysteries; devilishly clever because of their handling and mishandling of the third-person limited point of view.
The Investigation by J.M. Lee, beyond being ethereally beautiful writing, tells its mystery by switching between the point of view of the detective using first-person and the point of view of the victim (prior to his demise) using third-person limited. By doing so, the reader not only uncovers the mystery, but the humanity and motivation that led the victim to his demise and the detective to follow him along the same path.
I’ve used this technique myself twice. In Devil Take Me Down, I wanted the readers to get to know our killer a little better, so that they knew the object of his obsession and how long it had been going on. The reader only gets to live inside the killer’s head twice in the book, but it let me do some creepy stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have been allowed to do.
In Until the Devil Weeps, I switch to the first-person midway through to finally give our staid Detective Sanger a platform to speak his mind. I needed to do this for two reasons: first, to add more tension about the whereabouts of the main character, but also to cue the reader in on a mystery that was set up way back in Devil Take Me Down. This mystery has continued through Chasing Those Devil Bones and all the way through The Devil’s Luck and it was time to put it to rest once and for all. Also, if I’m being honest here, I just love the way Aaron Sanger speaks and getting to write his words for a chapter was a lot of fun.
Tami Hoag takes this technique of switching points of view to a whole other level, however. I’ve just finished reading The Bitter Season and quite frankly, I'm still not sure how she pulled this off without me – a pretty savvy reader if I do say so myself – figuring the mystery out. Hoag tells the story from the third-person limited point of view, but from the perspective of every character in the story. This means the detective interviews the suspect and the narrator tells the scene from his perspective, then the scene continues from the suspect’s perspective, still in the third-person limited. We experience the murder of the victim from his perspective and the reaction to his death from the perspective of the killer. The result? The reader comes away with a holistic understanding of the crime from beginning to end.
Both of these novels inspired me for different reasons, but what I came away with is a better understanding of why perspective matters so much to your narrative. Sometimes, as writers, especially series genre writers like myself, we get locked into our own voice and our own style. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But like every rule in writing, even the point of view is not set in stone. And in a mystery, if you change it up just right, it can take your story to a whole other level.

Friday, May 10, 2019

World Travel Through Literature in 402 Books

Dating back to the 5th century B.C., literature has inspired the masses to travel. It was then that the Greek writer and historian, Herodotus, detailed magical accounts of ancient Egypt in his work The Histories. It was so popular during its time that his words inspired thousands of wealthy Greeks to visit the shores of the Nile in search of great wonders and cultural diversity. 

Yet, fascination with literary travel didn’t start and stop with the Greeks. The 19th-century produced literary works from the likes of iconic authors like John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley — captivating English-speaking audiences everywhere and attracting them to a romanticized Italy. 

More commonly recognized in modern literature is the master storyteller Ernest Hemingway. His glamorized expatriate lifestyle continues (to this day) to inspire people to travel to far-flung places and experience life elsewhere. In fact, remnants of his past are still alive and well in destinations like Cuba — a pivotal setting for much of his writing, including his novel The Old Man and the Sea, one of the last major works written during his lifetime. The story was inspired by fisherman Gregorio Fuentes, who met Hemingway in 1928 while the author was living in Cuba. 

A fascination with cultures around the world is captured in the hundreds of thousands of books detailing life outside of “home.” From travel guides and travelogues to historical fiction and inspired memories, travel has been and continues to be a popular genre. Through books, authors are able to capture cultural differences, landscapes, and experiences that can’t be portrayed in a blog post or Instagram post. Books transport us to another place and time. Books are a way to armchair travel. 

Whether you’re looking for modern travel stories or tales of travel from the Middle Ages, there’s a book out there to capture everyone’s intrigue. When you’re ready to travel by book, this interactive literary map created by CarRentals is an exciting and inspiring place to scope out travel reads from around the world. Pick a world location on the map and you’ll have a few recommendations pop up for you. You can even save them for later or share with a friend by simply downloading the list of books. Of course, world literature dates back thousands of years and spans multiple genres, but this is a great place to start. 

Enjoy interacting with this literary interactive and let the words of travelers and authors past permeate your life and adventures.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Guest Post by Author Leah Penn with GIVEAWAY!

Staying true to your writing as you take the road to self-publishing

I never know what to say in a guest post that hasn’t been said already to inspire the indie-writer. I find myself swamped by great minds saying it better so I tend to write what I’m feeling at the time. So here goes.

This writing business is a minefield. You self-publish thinking your book is going to blow people’s minds then find the true work is just beginning. After creating your ‘masterpiece’, you’re hoping every avid reader will be looking for that fresh revealing read wanting to be blown away by your book. But it doesn’t happen.

Once your book hits the digital stores, you’re left wandering a scorching landscape to find your audience (because your book won’t be for everyone), and discover along the way, others of the same ilk while soaking up everything publishing-bibles have to offer.

Marketing your work beside finding reviewers and networking on social-media (never mind your niche which can be dark, popular, or controversial), self-publishing is a ‘24 hour 7 day week’. Phew! So when I come across authors with spouses, children, pets, and full-time employment, I’m aghast where they find time to write. With our lives a constant 24/7 and being told to consume each step we take, I decided to ‘take a step back’ and see what I really wanted from my remaining years on this fantastic planet.

And it wasn’t much either; stay in good health, love my mum and sis, and write. Just write the stuff I enjoy reading; realistic, honest, and uncompromising storytelling.

We all want to share our stories and have many discussing our work because we want to know what people think so that we’ll grow and learn from the experience. The joy of knowing someone laughed or cried due to your words is uplifting, and a bonus if they find it different.

We writers who self-publish are foolishly brave to share our tales with the world. Opening our hearts outside of the family is a scary prospect but we won’t listen to inner-demons telling us so - no, we allow the outer-ones who enjoy seeing us take the knocks and scrapes, win every time. Therefore we write and keep on writing, and researching and marketing, and spring back up when we get knocked down.

Be you an introvert or extrovert, reach out and connect with anything to do with publishing. Keep going, believe in yourself, believe the story you tell and build those writing-bridges along the way.

A final word; let’s connect, support indie works, shout about it, get others shouting too, and be joyed someone’s words touched your soul. But mostly, keep writing, because it’s a lovable hard slog. 

I live in London, UK, though I’m a northern-born gal and my mum and sister are my loves. I’m putting the finishing touches to a third book soon to self-publish, then will rework my first novel to clean it up a touch (be humbled knowing you can improve that first publication) as I’m only really starting to learn this business.

Writing stories that stray from mainstream populism and challenge long-held views, my characters break tradition and hoping too, their narrative is like no other.

Whilst myself an introvert yet I love to write, my third book - a piece autobiographical - will reveal more about me than perhaps I should share. 

Website:  Love and tragedy 
Twitter:   Leah Penn (@leahpenn7) | Twitter 


First 6 email requests to receive digital copies of Missing Him by L Penn 
Please state preferred format: pdf, epub, mobi. Thanks.
(we will not use or keep your email) 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Book Review of Missing Him by Leah Penn

The much maligned and misjudged, Emery Pearson, sits facing prison therapist, Dr. Susan James, in order to make a last-ditch attempt to win her freedom after the chance of happiness with the only man she ever loved is cruelly cut short, in this roller-coaster tale of passion told through revealing flashbacks. Contains adult themes.

Goodreads   Amazon 

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

This book comes in hot right away, diving the reader into the drama and world of Emery. Each chapter is a mix of flashbacks to the steamy, volatile romance between Emery and Jack and her sessions with prison therapist Dr. Susan James. It took me a bit to get used to this back and forth but after a bit, it becomes expected. 

This story can be very graphic, so if that bothers you, you may want to stay away from this one. If you like raw, realistic, graphic romance or drama then this book is perfect for you! 

Emery is a very interesting character to follow. As the reader, we get to know what she is thinking while in her sessions with Dr. Susan James. This gives insight into her personality, which doesn't come across as overly friendly or nice. This story has some dark elements but captures that raw ecstasy of emotions love can bring. 

If you enjoy graphic romances, erotica, or an intense drama than you really need to read this book. 

I live in London, UK, though I’m a northern-born gal and my mum and sister are my loves. I’m putting the finishing touches to a third book soon to self-publish, then will rework my first novel to clean it up a touch (be humbled knowing you can improve that first publication) as I’m only really starting to learn this business.

Writing stories that stray from mainstream populism and challenge long-held views, my characters break tradition and hoping too, their narrative is like no other.

Whilst myself an introvert yet I love to write, my third book - a piece autobiographical - will reveal more about me than perhaps I should share. 

Website:  Love and tragedy 

Twitter:   Leah Penn (@leahpenn7) | Twitter 

Author Leah Penn has agreed to give away six copies to the first six people to sign up! Just fill out the info below and we'll get your copy to you! Once the six have claimed their digital copies the giveaway will be over. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Future of Science Fiction

One of the things I love most about science fiction is that when I think of it I get a sense of endless possibilities. These possibilities become a playground for my mind and before I know it, a story idea pops out. 

I've been seeing some things out on the internet lately that pose the question, is science fiction still a thing? Technology today is growing fast and things that were once deemed only possible in the realm of science fiction are now a reality. Flying cars are here. Quantum computing is the next thing to revolutionalize our world. With so much happening right now, what does this mean for the future of science fiction stories? 

I feel like I'm starting to see the switch from Earth sci-fi based stories to ones that take humans into space in a practical way, like The Expanse. I think stories like this are taking science fiction into a new direction. Taking into account where we are today and applying that to the future can help a writer imagine what a realistic future may look like. 

If you write science fiction, odds are you daydream about what the future is going to look like. Will we leave Earth and colonize Mars due to destroying our planet? Will war tear us apart? Will technology bring us together? I don't think science fiction is going anywhere. There will always be a "what if?" we as humans desire to answer. 

With so much going on though, as a writer, it can all start to feel like noise in my head. I do my best to obtain information from different sources, learn about what other countries are doing and not just the US. Our world is more connected than ever before. 

What are your thoughts on the future of science fiction?  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

You Can't Miss the Library: Making Fantasy Worlds Accessible

Stark land sweeps from the buildings clustered atop the hill. I’d liken farm fields and swales to skirts or aprons. This vista is too sharp for that. These are nature’s tassets, perhaps. Narrow stone paths and hard-packed trails wind between sod roofs. This is a place out of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. I remind myself the latter was indeed filmed here. I can see why: the landscape is one I’d gladly immerse myself in and call home. But it, like many places I’ve visited in the past year, has barriers.

Fantasy is known for austere, epic landscapes, twisting, narrow streets, dark alleys, remote cities. Even outside of the grimdark subgenre there’s an echo of mercilessness. In that, I suppose, fantasy is as real as the earth I’m limping over now.

I settle against a wall across from the broad stairs, knuckles white on the handle of my cane. Pain tunnels my brain to the strange duality of dissociation and immediacy.

“You can’t miss the library!” One of our group protests, seeing I intend to do just that. As if, in a building with no lift, it’s a choice.

You can’t miss the library. I think of the worlds I’ve painted with my words, across the landscape of my novels, all the startling magical beauty in the books that made me who I am as a writer. Except I couldn’t navigate those worlds anymore. Not with this body.

[Image description: A red-headed person in a sweater leans on an old wooden desk, looking to the left. One hand rests under their chin. They do not smile. A museum display of ] This photo was taken by the man who ultimately carried me up the stairs to see the library. My face is serene as I listen to Skaldic poetry. In reality, what isn't captured on camera, my body was screaming, my ears ringing from pain, and I barely heard a word.

What would Frodo have done in a wheelchair? Forget the whole “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you,” bit. That works for a cinematic volcano climax, but even our dear Samwise Gamgee would grow weary of carrying my sorry ass through the Dead Marshes. Hell, I’d grow weary of it. The idea that the only way I can get somewhere is by inconveniencing someone else is insidious. But not always wrong. 

So how do we make fantasy worlds--yes, even Mount Doom--that are known for their inaccessibility, well, accessible? 

Return to the root of fantasy, of the magical, the awe-inspiring. Many might argue this lowers the stakes. Well, you’re the author. Raise them. Do what you do and untangle that plot-knot. How you solve this depends on whether you’re writing an arc that revolves around their disability or a “casually” disabled character (someone whose condition isn’t directly related to any main plot arc). Even if their disability is part of the plot, that doesn't mean the entire world you’ve written should be completely devoid of accessibility--where is their sanctuary?

You can easily make your world more inclusive by switching up your architecture and tech, using magic, and adding different forms of communication. 

Have a character who can’t walk? Ramps and wheels are great! If Egypt built pyramids, surely your fantasy culture could create a city without a single set of stairs. Able folks aren’t inconvenienced by a ramp vs. stairs. A great example of this occurs in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Teo uses a wheelchair that is also fitted with glider wings so he can fly with others at the air temple.

In fantasy, magic serves both as an accessibility device or disability in its own way (one of my main characters, Keplan, involuntarily hears others’ thoughts which manifests similarly to unwanted thought syndrome in someone with unmanaged OCD). But if you have magic, you can guarantee that people will use it to solve problems--perhaps there are spells that reduce anxiety or help people sleep. Braces that also relieve pain for people who dislocate, like me. There are hundreds of herbal handbooks where you can research “magical” plants too!

Communication is a big one, whether your character is non-verbal due to neurodiversity or Deaf. Luckily, many cultures developed sign language independent of one another, even if it began solely as gestures. Think of the Adem in Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, who use gestures for mood and context for their spoken language. In my own work, I have a Deaf protagonist, Rih, who is raised in a culture where many of the nobility are hard of hearing or completely Deaf. There are still a fair amount of hurdles she has to overcome, but many people in the city know sign language or learn throughout the books.

All of these things are present in our own world--if you’re worried about realism--and have been for a long time. Putting aside the fact that a person’s worth has nothing to do with what they produce, some of our most brilliant minds are housed in bodies that don’t work typically. Just look at Hawking. 

You can’t miss the library. 

So how can your character defeat the genius orc sorcerous if they can’t get to the library to research spells? Sure you could toss them up on the shoulders of a strong, well-meaning companion, who trots up each step like it’s nothing, despite the added person-sized appendage on their back. It’d be an inconvenience to the piggy-backee. Like me, with a stranger’s wool sweater clenched in my hands, your character would have to laugh to keep from sobbing at the embarrassment.

But where’s the creativity in that? Give your world ramps, and wheels, and magic politics and anxiety-reducing spells, flaming words and universal signs for non-verbal people. Give them a reason to save this perfect, accessible world you’ve made them.

And then give them something brand new to fight. 

Thanks for reading! What great examples of accessibility in fantasy or sci-fi have you seen?

Tune in on the fourth Sunday of every month for more on disability in fantasy and sci-fi. Learn more.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


Sight isn't a blessing unless you've lost it. Or unless you've forgotten how to see. Or unless you're seeing anew. Do you wake up each day and thank your body for its ability to see? 

When we say, "I once was blind, but now I see," we need the first condition to be true for the second to be miraculous. We need the darkness in order to welcome the light. And that linking word, "but," is so dreadfully important, yet we never notice it. Essential, but unremarkable. 

 Photo Nora Pace 2019

It's my belief in both creative nonfiction and in poetry that the most interesting things to explore are often found in contradictions and juxtapositions. This is where poems bloom and often where essays start. Why is it that life can be one way and also another? How can I feel ice in my fingers and toes but simultaneously know a warming in my heart? How can I believe both things to be true? 

I've been thinking a lot about faith these days, for a few reasons. I just sang several masses for Holy Week and Easter at a Catholic Church, which brought up memories and emotions about my childhood in the Church and my choice to leave it. Easter is also a season when I think about my mother, who died shortly before that holiday many years ago. And right now in my letters with a mentor, we have a running dialogue about prayer. Clearly, I have a complicated relationship with faith and religion, and that might be enough to write about for years! 

When I think about belief, I think in opposites. I don't find the opposite of religious faith to be distrust or emptiness, but rather, a turning inward. In some ways, my loss of traditional faith allowed me to find other things to believe in. This is possibly the antithesis of the blind man who is healed, who finds a new fact of his existence -- "now I see!"-- to be cause to believe in invisible power. I found the intuitive way that I saw the world to be contradictory to the existence of that same power. 

But on the other hand, the blind man believes he was blind, and it is only when that belief is shaken (by suddenly seeing), that he finds a new faith. When my faith was shaken (in part by the death of my mom), I had to look for new things to believe in: love, my own strength, truthfulness in emotion, grief, and the power of being in the present world. It was only because I knew that I once could not see these things that the new sight of them was so miraculous. 

Some of these thoughts might make it into my current essay project, which is about promises, my mother, belief, and growing up. I'm interested in the ways that one thing replaces another -- that whole thing about how when a door closes, a window opens. I'm also aware that not all of these contradictions can be resolved, and that it's okay to leave questions unanswered in my writing.  

With the beauty and difficulty of contradictions in mind, here are a couple of writing ideas for you to try. 

1. Make two lists: one of things you love, and one of things you hate. Line them up next to each other. Do you notice any commonalities or resonances across the lists? Do you love one thing because you hate its opposite? Write about what you find. 

2. Play a sentence structure game by doing "not this, but that." I find this is a great way to start a poem. Here's me trying it: 

not the window, but the breeze
not the late nights, but the way sleep settles more heavily after midnight 

not the ocean, but the tide 
not the cracks, but the edges 

not the neighborhood, but the home 
not the teaching of children in front of me, but the learning of the child within. 

I hope you find ways to explore the tough contradictions in your life and in your writing. Give yourself permission this month to be unsure, to notice things changing, and to ask questions. 

Thanks for reading! My posts appear here on the fourth Thursday of each month. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Book Review of Tainted Love by T. S. Hunter


It’s 1985, and Joe Stone is excited to be joining his old school friend, and lifelong crush, Chris, for a long weekend in London’s Soho—home to a vibrant, developing gay scene, and a million miles from the small town Joe and Chris grew up in.

But when Chris is brutally murdered, the police just write his death off as another rent boy, fallen foul of a bad hook up. Joe realizes that his best friend was killed deliberately, and joins forces with a former police detective, Russell Dixon—Chris’s flatmate—to find out why.

Spiraling debt, illicit sex, blackmail, spurned lovers and hard-nosed gangsters all play their part, but who among the celebrities, fashionistas, drag queens, ex-lovers and so-called friends is Chris’s killer?

A noirish whodunit set in 1980s London, with all the big hair, electro-pop, shoulder pads, police discrimination, and lethal killers that the era had to offer.


Goodreads   Amazon

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

There is so much I enjoyed about this book! One, it makes for a fast read, not just because it's a novella, but the pace is fast and the story is constantly moving. This fast pace helped me connect with Joe, who was new to Chris' world and friends. Joe knows Chris from their past, and it shows once they meet up again. Both have changed a lot, and when Joe begins to try to find the truth to Chris death, he learns more about his friend than he expected. 

Another aspect that sets this book apart for me is the setting. I love that it's written in the '80s and during such a rocky time in history. Even though I've never been to London it didn't matter, the visuals and descriptions were enough for me to imagine it in my mind. 

Anyone who enjoys mystery, LBGTQ stories, or just a fun quick read should give Tainted Love a try! 

Claiming to be only half-Welsh, T.S. Hunter lived in South Wales for much of his latter teens, moving to London as soon as confidence and finances allowed. He never looked back.

He has variously been a teacher, a cocktail waiter, a podium dancer and a removal man, but his passion for writing has been the only constant.

He's a confident and engaging speaker and guest, who is as passionate about writing and storytelling as he is about promoting mainstream LGBT fiction.

He now lives with his husband in the country and is active on social media as @TSHunter5.