Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Ugly Priest #Blitz


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Contemporary Fiction
Date Published:  June 2018
Publisher: AuthorHouse

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The Ugly Priest is a telling story of a priest’s missteps with the women who haunt his life, and his struggle to repair his soul and restore his vocation. It is a story of deceit, vulnerability and the loss of commitment. It displays the devastation of human frailty and reveals weaknesses that even a priest can’t escape.

If Father George Bernard had only known early on that the job of being a priest pounds the hell out of a man, his life choices might have been different. That pounding hit him countless times over his twenty years as a priest inflicting considerable damage on his soul and resulting in some bad choices. Jennifer was one, Helen another. He succumbs to the vulnerability every priest battles throughout his lifetime. The temptations of the flesh have a power his vocation is hard pressed to withstand.

The Ugly Priest reveals a vocation in shambles, deteriorated not only because of Father Bernard’s moral lapses but also because of his life’s lack of substance and value. His duties at Immaculate Conception Parish on the West Side of Chicago are tedious and distressing. The sin, dying, dishonesty and infidelity of his parishioners drains him. Deepening his distress is his life at a rundown, disintegrating parish with an outdated liturgy and a pastor who is a rude, spiteful and offensive old man. Father Bernard’s attempt to save himself from his cheerless, desolate life leads him down a dangerous path. Can he salvage his failing vocation and repair his troubled soul? Will he find the strength to restore the spiritual meaning and substance that once guided him as a priest?



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Excerpt


That was twenty-two years ago, the last time he had seen Jennifer, but certainly not the last time she had entered his mind. But now there she was, her face so vividly displayed, her gentle voice, her seductive sense of humor, all of it summoned by a simple yet consuming scent. He didn’t notice it at first, but once it came to him, it was overwhelming.

 It began with the pungent odor of burnt tobacco radiating from the driver and flooding the interior of the taxi. Suspended from the rearview mirror, a bag of potpourri made a futile effort at masking the smell. Father George Bernard considered opening the window, but the typical brisk Chicago wind thwarted his wish for fresh air. The temperature was a bit chilly as well, an unusual occurrence for late September in the city. The taxi passed Midway Airport and the rectory of Immaculate Conception Church, his destination, was not much farther.

He could tolerate the smell for a couple of minutes. He inhaled deeply once and then immediately again, trying to decide which scent dominated – the foul odor of tobacco or the sweet smell of…. What was the odor wafting from that bag dangling from the mirror? It was one he knew, something from the past. His past before the priesthood? Before the seminary? Before every part of life became bland, colorless, unremarkable, never leaving an impression on anyone? He drew another deep breath. Yes, that was it. Hyacinths. The now recognized smell filled his nostrils; the image it reconstructed, many times buried and as many times resurrected, took shape, waiting only for the right moment, like the right bouquet, to reemerge.

Jennifer Roland. It was the cologne Jennifer wore. Hyacinths, the scent that overwhelmed him over thirty years ago under that viaduct and ten years later kissing again in front of the A & P when he was visiting his parents before their move to Arizona.

He never forgot. Twenty years a priest and he still remembered countless times; each time those wonderful and bizarre days of his adolescence arose and the thought veered to the viaduct; when from somewhere, or maybe someone who passed or just in his imagination, the smell of hyacinths wafted near him; when his vocation faltered and thoughts surfaced of that second kiss. He raised his face toward the ceiling of the cab and exhaled a noise from his throat that disturbed him. He recognized it; that imperceptible puff of air rising from his chest. That regular sound of embarrassment and shame his body crafted whenever thoughts of Jennifer surfaced. A deep inhale and a rapid exhale. His head shook slightly. Staring out the taxi window at the passing homes, his breath built a vapor on the glass with each heavy exhale. The waft of hyacinths continued to fill his nostrils. Jennifer Roland.

The taxi swerved to avoid something on the road as it sped through an intersection. His head bumped slightly against the window and with the minor jolt he smiled again at the recollection of Jennifer.

Hyacinths.

Again Jennifer forced the realization that he still had a weakness for that sweet-smelling scent. Images of her advanced to memories, and memories of Jennifer Roland made him perspire and shake. Glancing at his reflection in the taxi window he pressed his lips together and closed his eyes.

Jennifer Roland.

The kisses. They were dreadfully amazing. Delightful.



About the Author

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A former South Side Chicago boy and seminary student, Stickann’s Catholic upbringing sparked the need to write novels that illustrate the impact religion has on people. His two previous books - Glory Be To the Father, the Son... (2001), and Hobbledehoy Boy (2013) show how a strict religious upbringing can stunt the social growth of a person, particularly young boys. The Ugly Priest looks at the other side of the religious spectrum, the priest, and the religious implications of a weak vocation and unsettled soul.



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Don’t Expect Me to Cry #CoverReveal


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Non-Fiction / Memoir
Date Published: October 24, 2018
Publisher: MBK Enterprises LLC / Spotlight Publishing

Don’t Expect Me To Cry is a powerful story of the horrors Janet experienced at the hands of multiple abusers, including her father, and her courageous journey to a life that is inspirational to other survivors.

Janet’s resilience is evident as she tells her story in three parts, reflecting her thoughts and experiences at critical stages of her life.

Don’t Expect Me To Cry - Starting with a child’s view of shocking abuse, Janet shares how she had to build defenses to survive the impact of the horrors of her childhood.

Don’t Expect Me To Lie – Continuing with her journey through early therapy, Janet describes the pain and fear she experienced as she started to share the ‘secret’.

Don’t Expect Me To Die - The final part tells how Janet hit ‘rock bottom’ and tried to end her life. From that place of despair, she learned that it is possible to heal from the dark shame and trauma.


About the Author

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Janet Bentley was raised in Southern California. She currently lives in Arizona where she founded the non-profits Courageous Survivors and Show Up For Children. Janet is a member of RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) Speakers’ Bureau, a facilitator of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children training, and a co-author of the international best-seller, We Choose To Thrive. She also started and facilitates a support group for survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Janet loves living in the beauty of the desert.



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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Hush ♥ Blog Tour ♥ Review and Giveaway ♥


Hush
A.M. Salinger
(Nights Series, #8)
Publication date: October 16th 2018
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Tom Sutherland is an arrogant prick. There, I said it. Okay, so he’s also my assistant and I couldn’t survive without him, but that doesn’t make him less of an irritating bastard — Lana
Lana Keele is a witch. A beautiful, frustrating witch placed on this earth to torment me. Yeah, she’s my boss, but she’s still the most maddening creature I’ve ever had the misfortune to cross paths with — Tom
When Lana Keele, president of Keele Industries and only surviving heir to business tycoon Oliver Keele, wakes up in her devil-of-an-assistant’s bed after a drunken night out, she fears the worst. That is, until prissy Mr. Perfect Tom Sutherland declares that she’s the last woman he’d ever want to sleep with.
After surviving four years in the company of the infuriating woman he’d lusted after since his teens, Tom has had just about enough of the unholy siren that is Lana, especially when she turns up inebriated on his doorstep one night and demands sex. Convinced that Lana will never return his affections, Tom decides that it’s high time to get over his unrequited love.
Except Lana doesn’t quite seem to agree with this plan. Not after she sees him with another woman. Not after she confronts him about it. And most definitely not after he succumbs to temptation and kisses her.
As they finally ignite the fire that has burned so long between them, Tom cannot help but be certain that for Lana, this is just about sex. Will he be satisfied with only having the body of the woman he loves and not possess her heart? Or will Lana convince Tom that she truly means to give him her everything?
Discover Lana and Tom’s story in this sexy and stormy addition to the hot, contemporary romance series Nights by A.M. Salinger. Note from the author: although each book inNights can be read as a standalone, you will enjoy this series even more if you read the books in order!
This is a novella length MF romance with a HEA.

    

Holy smokes Hush is sizzling hot. I was not expecting Tom Sutherland to be the perfect wet dream. 

Lana has never noticed how sexy her assistant is until she wakes up half-naked in his bed. Don't worry nothing happened, but now she can't stop thinking about him. Tom is a pain in Lana's butt but he's the perfect assistant. He may argue with her on every decision but he gets the job done well. 

Tom has been in love with Lana since he meets her but she's never looked at him like that. To protect his heart he must not panda to her every need but when this romance heats up he can't resist taking a slice of what he's always wanted. 

Hush is an x-rated story intended for an adult audience. Hush is told from Lana and Tom's point of view. It's a fairly short story which I don't usually like but this one ticks all the boxes. (This book is only about 112 pages). It's a sexy standalone bedtime read with a happily ever after. 

5 burning hot stars out of 5. ☄️

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review as part of the Xpresso book tours blog tour.





Ava Marie Salinger is the pen name of an Amazon bestselling author who has always wanted to write scorching hot contemporary and erotic romance. In 2018, she finally decided to venture to the steamy side. NIGHTS is the first of several sizzling series featuring sweet, sexy men and women with dark pasts and a whole lot of love to give to the ones brave enough to fight for their hearts. When she’s not dreaming up hotties to write about, you’ll find Ava creating kickass music playlists to write to, spying on the wildlife in her garden, drooling over gadgets, and eating Chinese.
Want to be the first to know about Ava’s new releases and get access to exclusive content, sneak previews, sales, and giveaways ? Then sign up to her Reader Group here and join her VIP Facebook Fan Group here.


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The Fighter of Aldea #BookBlitz


The Fighter of Aldea
Kira Weston
Publication date: October 15th 2018
Genres: YA Fantasy
It’s the year 2216, and ever since Lydia Humsworth was little, she’s heard stories about electricity that used to light up skylines and planes that soared through the sky like birds. There were also stories about The Shift, which plunged the world into darkness nearly two hundred years ago and gave some people magical abilities. These people came to call themselves sorcerers.
Now, in the small village of Aldea, sixteen-year-old Lydia is training to be a Fighter in hopes of one day protecting her village. Her best friend, Daniel, spends his days working long hard hours on the farm. Humans and sorcerers have always seemed to coincide peacefully, but when Leonardo Kinch–a deranged sorcerer who blames humans for the death of his family–starts a war against humans, nothing is as they believed.

When war rages across the country, Lydia and Daniel must do everything they can to stop the war and stay alive, or risk the human race falling into extinction.
EXCERPT:
LYDIA
I jump up and before I’m even back on the ground, I swing out at his face. I nearly get a tap, but Joshua manages to duck away. He groans angrily and jabs at my stomach. I suck it in and jump backward, but I’m closer to the edge than I’d thought and my back slams into the rope.
Joshua smirks. He knows he’s got the upper-hand.
He goes for my stomach again, but I slip out of the way, dive into a roll that takes me behind him, and spin around to face him.
He whirls around and slices his stick down toward the top of my head. I grab my stick with both hands and hold it above me. Block.
I realize he’s holding his vertically like a sword, as opposed to holding it horizontally above his head. Bad form. I push my stick against his, forcing it toward his body. A look of confusion crosses Joshua’s face. Then I give his stick a good shove with my own, thrusting him backward enough that he loses his balance and falls down onto the mat, flat on his back.
While he’s down, I jab my stick toward his neck and tap his throat. The fight is over.
Joshua looks up at me with wide eyes, probably realizing what the result of a full force hit like that would be, and I suddenly become very aware of the fact that I’m glaring down at him. Had I wanted to fight again for revenge? What if I had lost my cool? Then I wouldn’t have been any better than he was.
Except, I didn’t hit him, whether a part of me wanted to or not. And I certainly didn’t cheat. That’s not who I am, or ever want to be.
Finally, the blood from my scratches runs all the way down my face, and just as a single drop of blood falls onto the mat, I hear the whistle.
“Winner! Lydia Humsworth!”
The crowd cheers. I’m brought back to reality. During the fight, it was as if everything and everyone had melted away and become silent. Nothing existed but me, my opponent, and the ring. I look up at the crowd who’s roaring for me. Daniel, Lucas, and my mom are cheering louder than anyone else. It hits me: I won.
I put my stick down and look up at the audience, letting my victory sink in before turning back to help Joshua up. I hold out my hand, but he shoves it away and gets up on his own.
We bow. He looks mad again. So many remarks run through my head. I told you so. Sorry to burst your bubble. Apologies for deflating your ego… But I leave it alone. He’s probably punishing himself enough.
Instead, I bow my head and say, “Good fight, Joshua.”
He seems a little surprised at my humility, but he doesn’t return it. All he does is sneer and bow his head in return. Then we separate to have quick words with our instructors before the final winners are announced.
“Well done, Lydia,” Mr. Neil tells me, handing me a towel to wipe my face with. “You had the upper hand for most of the fight and you did some quick thinking with that final move. It was different, unexpected, and intelligent.”
“Thank you, sir,” I say politely. I’m surprised by his kind words, but I can also tell that he’s holding something back. I sigh. “What is it?”
He shifts his eyes to the side, then looks back at me. “You’re still too slow.” I purse my lips. Of course…


Author Bio:
Kira Weston writes Young Adult fiction, often day-dreaming the what-ifs of magic and science fiction, and how they might affect the world. Her debut novel, The Fighter of Aldea, comes out October 15th, 2018. Kira grew up in Las Vegas, NV under the hot sun and the distant lights of the famous Las Vegas Strip, and now resides in Colorado, which is much cooler—most of the time.
Kira currently works in retail, but hopes to put her main focus on storytelling in the near future, whether it be through books, movies, or something in between. When she’s not writing, she spends her time befriending cats, hoping for rain, drinking mochas, and listening to music.

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Piper Prince #CoverReveal


Piper Prince
Amber Argyle
(Forbidden Forest #2)
Publication date: April 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
All magic is light. If that light be darkened, shadow and punishment come.
Long ago, a curse fell upon the land—a curse of forgetting and wraiths, a curse that ensured no daughters were born to the pied pipers in over three centuries. The pipers were all that stood between the humanity and utter destruction, so they did the only thing they could: they stole the daughters of the nearby kingdom with their hypnotizing melodies. With the sons born from those unions, they continued to defend against the wraiths and fight the curse, even though they were slowly losing.
Larkin was one of those daughters. Stolen by Denan and married against her will, she found herself falling in love with the very man who had taken everything from her, the man who had made her a princess. Together, they discovered that she was the first woman in three centuries to possess the magic of the pipers, and therefore, the only person capable of breaking the ancient curse.
But breaking the curse means unraveling the very past the curse is intent on keeping secret. The answer lies buried in the crypts of the Black Druids, men who consider Larkin a traitor they’ll kill on sight. Embedded in the intrigues of their court, she unearths a dark conspiracy destined to hasten the destructive power of the curse—a conspiracy aimed at destroying her piper prince.
Sequel to:


Author Bio:
Bestselling author Amber Argyle writes young-adult fantasies where the main characters save the world (with varying degrees of success) and fall in love (with the enemy). Her award-winning books have been translated into numerous languages and praised by such authors as NYT bestsellers David Farland and Jennifer A. Nielsen.
Amber grew up on a cattle ranch and spent her formative years in the rodeo circuit and on the basketball court. She graduated cum laude from Utah State University with a degree in English and physical education, a husband, and a two-year-old. Since then, she and her husband have added two more children, which they are actively trying to transform from crazy small people into less-crazy larger people. She's fluent in all forms of sarcasm, loves hiking and traveling, and believes spiders should be relegated to horror novels where they belong.
To receive her starter library of four free books, simply tell her where to send it: http://amberargyle.com/freebooks/

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Max Dedge ~Blitz


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Book One of The BreakThrough
Sci-Fi / Fantasy
Date Published: July 29, 2018

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The time of the uniborg was foretold on a distant planet.

So, what does it have to do Max Dedge, loose wheel and occasional detective?

This is just the start of the galactic event known as The BreakThrough, an event that could erase human existence, an event that could spell doom for planet Earth and possibly for history itself. It’s also an event that Max Dedge is blissfully unaware of at the moment.

And that’s a good thing. Because Max Dedge is about to find himself shot at on an alien world, fried by magic in Mexico, investigating corporate underhandedness in New Jersey, following leads on a vanished Rabbi in France, and being chased by certain death from one world to another and in between. At his side, the wizard Jracilla who has trained all her life for this day, thief and nemesis Arturo Delgado who is forever up to no good, and Sylvester… a very special phone.

Max Dedge in The Time of The Uniborg combines a unique fantasy experience with a mystery that binds two worlds and beyond, setting the stage for the epic adventure of The BreakThrough. The BreakThrough is set against a dynamically changing universe filled with characters who will helm their own titles.

Max Dedge in The Time of The Uniborg is just the first step into a universe of magic and time travel, rogues and wizards, space jalopies and portals to other worlds, taking you to the precipice of what you thought science fiction and fantasy could be and then throwing you over the side.



Excerpt

Later, Max lay in the dark, in the most comfortable bed in the shittiest little motel that still had two rooms in Las Cruces. The motel sat on a lot with an abandoned Carl’s Jr. and a burned-out gas station, but none of that had mattered. Max had been falling asleep at the wheel and knew he’d never make it as far as El Paso. After a large dinner of chili verde, beans, rice, and enough chips and salsa to choke a mariachi band, Max had wanted nothing more than to stop and sleep. Thanks to Sylvester, he did.

Max rested peacefully, digesting his huge dinner, waking only when the alarm on his Velocity 3200 rang loudly. He turned it off, wishing for a snooze button (but he had disabled that feature after hitting it about a hundred too many times). He looked around the darkened room and asked, “What the hell time is it?”

Sylvester replied, “My apologies, sir. The time is 4:17am.”

Max thought for a moment. “I didn’t set the alarm for 4:17am, Sylvester.”

“No, sir,” Sylvester replied. “You did, however, ask me to notify you should I find any connection between Chambéry and your current case.”

Max knew that Sylvester would have been working on that problem around the clock. With Sylvester’s processing speed, that was like putting an army of college interns onto a case of beer. Telling Sylvester to let him know when he found something, without specifying when that was appropriate, was Max’s fault.

Max sank back into the soft, sinking mattress and sighed. “Okay, Sylvester. What did you find?”

“There is some historical evidence, sir, that the Tretonians may be distantly related to the people of Chambéry,” Sylvester told him.

And Max’s eyes opened in the dark. He’d been hoping for a connection to the bombs in San Francisco, to the gun in Leodinym, to the clock in Pentress, but…“Sylvester? What the hell are you talking about?”

Sylvester replied with an understanding, “The story is rather complicated, sir. If you would prefer, I can tell you in the morning.”

Max wouldn’t hear of it. “You’re not going to tell me you found Tretonians in France and not explain it,” he growled.

Sylvester hesitated. “That isn’t exactly what I was reporting, sir.”

Max practically jumped from the bed. “Just tell me the story!”




About the Author

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Author and occasional philosopher and monologist, Ken La Salle’s passion is intense humor, meaningful drama, and finding answers to the questions that define our lives. Ken La Salle grew up in Santa Ana, California and has remained in the surrounding area his entire life. He was raised with strong, blue collar roots, which have given his writing a progressive and environmentalist view. You can find a growing number of his books and performances available online. Find out more about Ken on his website at www.kenlasalle.com.





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SeaJourney #Blitz #FreeBookAlert



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Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the Neanderthals, Book 1
Middle-Grade Fantasy Adventure

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A young warrior stands at the precipice of war…

To succeed he must find his courage and survive a treacherous journey across the sea.

Arken Freeth has always wanted to prove himself worthy of his king's appointment by becoming an officer in the Lantish Sea Service. Now the only thing standing in his way is his apprenticeship SeaJourney. But a peaceful training mission soon turns into a deadly struggle for survival as Arken's fleet must come to the aid of a princess fleeing capture by Tookan pirates.

SeaJourney kicks off an epic and fantastical adventure that is a great read for all ages.

#FreeBookAlert SeaJourney is free on Amazon at the moment



Other Books in the Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the Neanderthals series:



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Shipwrecked
Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the Neanderthals, Book 2
Publisher: AIS, Limited

As war looms like an evil shadow over the world…

Arken Freeth must save his crewmates’ lives as they traverse a deadly jungle filled with massive wolves and sabertooth cats.

In the age before the Great Flood, 13,000 years ago, a new alliance between the nations of Lanth and Tolaria is threatened by pyramid-building Amarrats out to conquer and enslave the world.

Fourteen-year-old Arken Freeth is swept up in the conflict when his Lantish Military Academy training ship is attacked by pirates and runs ashore. He and six classmates are the only survivors of the shipwreck, and they struggle to live in a jungle filled with saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, mammoths, and mastodons.

Arken has salvaged a necklace from the wreck--a necklace that bestows the gift of prophecy. If Arken can get it to the King of Lanth, he will turn the tide of war.




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The Toth Hunter
Arken Freeth And The Adventure Of The Neanderthals, Book 3
Publisher: AIS, Limited

Arken learns more about the secrets of his heritage and discovers the strengths it offers will help him to earn a place of leadership among his grandmother’s people.

Arken Freeth and Asher, the future king of Tolaria, find themselves trapped in the Nanders’ Water Cave as they await the recovery of Arken’s love, Talya.

While living among the Nanders, Arken earns the respect of the tribe as he hunts the deadly jalag and massive toth with the tribe. But Arken, Asher, and Talya soon anger the wife and son of the tribe’s leader, Jen. If Arken does not accept Jen’s challenge to the death, all their lives will be in jeopardy.




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Tookan Attack
Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the Neanderthals, Book 4
Publisher: AIS, Limited

A battle is looming between the Tookans and Arken Freeth’s band of Lantish, Tolarian, and Nander warriors. Who will survive?

The Pirate King Yolanta’s fleet has fled to Situn, a barbarian settlement on the northern coast of the Circle Sea. Once provisioned, Yolanta plans a return to the River Zash and a final battle that will secure the Necklace of Tol for the Amarrat King. Yet before Yolanta can return to crush the Nanders, he will face betrayal and death at the hands of the hostile residents of Situn, the treacherous walled city of the North.

A troubling vision has warned Arken Freeth that Yolanta and his men will soon storm the Nanders’ Water Cave. In order to save the Nander tribe and protect the Necklace of Tol, Arken, Talya, and Asher must forge weapons and train the Nanders in the art of modern warfare, an impossible task when the Nanders follow The Way and are so resistant to change.

Mar discovers that Arken is the Jalet-hoi, the one foretold to be the savior of the Nanders. But in order to fulfill this powerful prophecy, Arken must survive a duel with Jen, the tribal chief’s son, to save his friend Ord’s life. No one, not even his friends, believes Arken will win this fight with such a powerful warrior. Even if he does live, will their battle training be enough for them to build a Nander army skilled enough to survive the Tookan Attack?




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Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the Neanderthals Boxed Set
(The Boxed Set, Books 1-4)
Publisher: AIS, Limited

Part Neanderthal, but raised as a human, Arken Freeth finds that he doesn't fit in either world as he struggles to survive.

SEAJOURNEY, BOOK ONE

Arken Freeth has always wanted to prove himself worthy of his king's appointment by becoming an officer in the Lantish Sea Service. Now the only thing standing in his way is his apprenticeship SeaJourney. But a peaceful training mission soon turns into a deadly struggle for survival as Arken's fleet must come to the aid of a princess fleeing capture by Tookan pirates.

SHIPWRECKED, BOOK TWO

Arken Freeth’s Lantish Royal Military Academy training ship is attacked by pirates and runs ashore. He and six classmates are the only survivors of the shipwreck and they struggle to live in a jungle filled with saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, mammoths, and mastodons. Arken has salvaged a necklace from the shipwreck—a necklace that bestows the gift of prophecy. If Arken can escape the Tookan pirates intent on stealing the necklace for themselves and deliver it safely to the king of Lanth, he will turn the tide of war.

THE TOTH HUNTER, BOOK THREE

Arken and some of his friends are rescued by the Nanders, only to find that many of the Nanders want to put them to death for fear they will escape and send slavers back to the Water Cave. Join Arken as he comes to grips with his heritage and struggles to keep himself and his friends alive while learning to live and hunt in the wild like a Nander.

TOOKAN ATTACK, BOOK FOUR

The bloodthirsty Tookans return for the necklace, but a surprise awaits them when they step on shore, for Arken and his friends have armed and trained the Nanders. Though outnumbered, the Nanders are powerful warriors in their own forest. The outcome for the Tookans is anything but certain as Arken fights alongside the Nanders to defend their home.



Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Rock Test

Mother, I weep for you each night. Our enemy’s campfires

seem to number more than the stars in the sky. Their soldiers

drum and chant all night and torment our sleep. I fear the worst

for my people, for I cannot read the Necklace of Tol to see the

Time to Come.

—Diary of Princess Sharmane of Tolaria

Thirty boys surrounded Arken in a circle, waiting for him to

lift the rock and prove he was strong enough to graduate.

“No more delays, Arken,” Lar ordered. “Sunset will leave you

too old to test!” Lar’s olive skin and dark beard turned his

sunken eyes into two caves in a rock cliff. He was a lean, tall,

and wifeless instructor who lived alone in the academy officer’s

barracks.

Arken could never tell if Lar liked him, since Lar was

sometimes friendly to him, yet now made fun and appeared to

enjoy his classmates’ laughter.

The circle of boys, all taller than him, carried sparring

swords and wore bronze armor over their white, knee-length

tunics. Bronze helmets shielded faces from the blazing sun.

“Class, form a seated square around the post and stone,”

Lar ordered. The moving armor rang with the music of bronze

and they joked as they sat. It was easy for Arken’s classmates

to laugh; they had all passed the test. As the youngest, he was

the last to reach his fourteenth birthday and take the test

before SeaJourney, a one-moonth-long apprenticeship, now

only days away.

If Arken lifted the rock, he would graduate and join his class

at sea. Failing the rock test today left only one way of going on

SeaJourney. He would have to defeat Gart, the class salcon, in

a sparring match.

“He’s taken so long I’ve grown a beard,” Gart joked in a loud

voice. Everyone laughed at Gart’s jokes, even if they weren’t

funny, because he was a year older than the rest of the class,

bigger than all of them, and their salcon, their squad leader.

Gart had passed the rock test the previous year, then failed his

final exams.

Given an additional year to study and the leadership

position as class salcon, the academy expected him to succeed.

A wave of depression swept over Arken. If he failed to lift the

rock, he had no chance of beating Gart in a sparring match. He

was a head taller and stronger.

“Arken, lift the stone!” Lar’s tone turned angry. “Why are

you stalling?”

“Yes, sir.” Arken scanned the second-story classrooms a

hundred legs across the courtyard. Girls in the Queen’s

Trackers often visited the academy for training and, being

scouts, they had good eyes. He didn’t want them to see him

fail.

But no girls watched from the openings in the gray stone

walls. Even the tower guards weren’t looking, probably due to

midmeal and the mid-day heat leaving them sleepy.

Arken turned towards Tok, the name given the rock five

hundred years earlier when the test began. He’d never lifted a

stone this big in practice. Father would be so disappointed if he

failed; he’d worked so hard with him practicing swords to help

keep up with his classmates. He stepped next to the rock.

“Don’t forget the warrior’s creed,” Lar reminded him.

“Sir! Fear none in battle, nor death at sea, nor those who

wish to torment thee, with Kal in mind and sword held high,

fight until you win or die.”

“Good! Now win your fight with that rock,” Lar ordered.

Arken squatted and picked up red, courtyard clay, then

rubbed it in his palms to improve his grip. Waves of heat from

the mid-day sun shimmered off Tok. Years ago they had run

laps from their classroom across the courtyard to the rock and

back while singing war songs. He and his young classmates

would slap the hot stone for good luck and shout “Tok” on the

turn.

A lingering touch of the stone could leave the palms warm

from the heat. Today he had to be careful and lift the rock’s

cooler, shaded side because touching the warm side would

make him drop the stone.

Arken was the only commoner in his class. All the other

boys were sons of noble families. The king had granted a

request by Arken’s father, a commoner, to send Arken to the

academy. It was a reward for his father’s heroism in battle.

Arken had endured bad treatment and bullying at the hands

of the noblemen’s sons since the age of six because he wanted

to prove himself to his father and he yearned for a chance to

explore the world in the Sea Service.

Now all those years of abuse would only be worth it if he

lifted Tok and graduated.

A swordtooth’s scream split the air. The class turned as one

towards the sound coming from beyond the fort’s north wall.

The high-pitched tone dropped to a long, low rumble that made

Arken’s neck hairs stand up.

“Remain calm,” Lar ordered. “The swordtooth is far away. I

promise, if it draws close enough for the guards to kill, we’ll go

up on the wall and watch.”

The boys all talked at once about the swordtooth and

seemed to forget about Arken. He wiped sweat from his face

that had run down despite the gastag leather strap holding

back his long blonde hair. He felt grateful for the swordtooth

because it bought time to get his nerves under control.

The swordtooth cat was old and couldn’t hunt toth and ton,

so it had moved in close to the city walls to attack King’s

Harsemen when they patrolled outside the fort. Two dead

horses and riders made it essential that the swordtooth die. So

the guards had tethered a goat next to the south wall before

dawn to draw the cat within range.

The swordtooth screamed again, sending chills down

Arken’s spine. The cats grew to twenty feet long. Though

terrifying, they inspired him. They were proof of the vast,

dangerous world beyond the city walls awaiting his exploration.

“Begin, Arken,” Lar said.

“Fourteen … I’m old enough,” Arken whispered to himself.

He rubbed the loose clay from his hands and rose to extend a

hand from the top of the post to his chest, measuring the

height he’d have to lift Tok to his belly button. A slight

depression in the top center of the post would hold the rock,

but to lift and gently place it so as not to roll off was the

challenge.

“He’ll never lift it,” Gart whispered loud enough for all to

hear. “He’s too small.”

“Silence, Gart!” Lar entered the square and strode towards

Gart. “You’re a salcon! Friendly teasing is fine, but a class

leader should never undermine his men.” Lar jabbed his heavy

walking stick into the back of Gart’s calf where the armor didn’t

protect his legs, making the boy wince. A grimace crossed his

face. Crying out during punishment lengthened the beating so

Gart made no sound.

“Yes, sir! Sorry, sir!” Gart pulled his feet in tight under the

skirt of his white tunic to avoid another poke of Lar’s stick. His

lower lip quivered slightly despite his stony face and Arken

knew he’d been hurt by Lar’s blow and comment.

“Arken, lift that stone now!”

“Yes, sir.” Arken said, but the swordtooth screamed,

drowning out his reply.

“It’s getting closer!” Lar exclaimed. “Arken. Hurry and lift,

we want to see that swordtooth killed!”

“Yes, sir.” Arken felt grateful the big cat had diverted

attention for now he felt ready.

He squatted, put his chest on the stone, and reached

around with his arms so he could lock his fingers. He’d always

thought his barrel chest was an advantage; it gave him more

wind when he ran. But now his chest prevented his fingers

from touching. Arken turned his head to the left, brushing his

right cheek against the stone. The hot rock stung his flesh as

his straining fingers locked together. For once his too big hands

were an advantage and not an embarrassment.

He held his cheek off the hot rock as he pushed with his

legs. But the rock didn’t budge. It felt alive and its weight

fought him. He struggled to breathe, his chest restricted by the

rock’s pressure.

He tipped back on his heels and the rock popped off the

ground. A thrill ran through him. I’m going to do it! But when

he strained to rise, nothing happened. Impossible! So heavy!

He thought of quitting, but his fingers slipped and to his

surprise he fought to tighten his grip instead of letting go.

I can’t disappoint Father. Dear God Kal, grant me a birthday

wish, Arken prayed. Help me lift this rock.

He screamed and it startled some of the boys. He didn’t

care; the scream gave him strength and the rock edged higher.

His inner elbows burned from the strain of the weight. They felt

as if red-hot fire pokers were being thrust into them. His legs

trembled.

I am strong enough! He simply had to endure the pain.

“Almost there!” Lar had stooped over to see the post’s top.

Arken lurched forward with his right foot but the rock

thudded against the top of the post. He advanced his left leg,

then leaned back, trying to raise the rock the last little bit to

clear the post.

Pain shot across his low back. He recalled Lar’s stories

about boys injuring their spine by tipping backwards too far.

“One finger width higher!” Lar yelled.

The pain straightened his spine against his will.

“No, you’re going lower, lift it higher!” Lar waved his hands

as if he could somehow help Arken lift.

Arken strained his calf muscles, trying to lift his heels off

the ground and raise the rock that way. He rose to his tiptoes.

“You’re clear, push it forward, Arken!” Lar stepped closer.

A final push, he could feel it! He strained to go forward, but

suddenly, his calves gave way as if they belonged to someone

else, no longer willing to do his bidding. He felt his heels strike

the ground as the rock pushed them down.

“Too low.” Lar bent down. “Can’t you get it higher? You were

close.”

“I’ll try,” Arken grunted. He strained to raise himself back on

his toes, but nothing happened. He tried to pull with his arms,

but the rock lodged against his chest and wouldn’t budge.

Suddenly everything started to go dark. He focused his eyes on

some palm trees across the courtyard outside the fort’s main

gate.

The green palms swayed in the light breeze as they receded

down a long black tunnel. He blinked, but opened his eyes to

only a pinhole of light.

“Clear!” His intended yell came out a whisper. He felt the

stone slip from his grasp. A hand snatched him back by his

arm and the world left him.

“Are you alright?” Lar’s voice echoed as if he were in a cave.

“I think so.” Arken opened his eyes. A seagull hovered in the

blue sky high above Lar’s hollow-cheeked face and Arken

realized he was lying flat on his back.

“You’re sure?” Lar leaned in closer and blocked the gull’s

view.

“Yes.” Arken rose to his elbows. “What am I doing on the

ground?”

“You blacked out lifting the rock.” Lar said.

“I didn’t pass the test?” The memory came flooding back.

“You will next year.” Lar offered his hand. “You’re strong

enough, just not tall enough.”

“I know.” He felt proud he’d at least been strong enough to

lift it.

“Do you want to try your luck sparring with Gart today?”

“Yes, sir, I do.” Arken surprised himself with his answer as

he rose to his feet. He didn’t care if he lost, or even if he got

hurt sparring Gart. He wanted so badly to go on SeaJourney

this week. Life at sea called him.

“Good, I admire your spirit, Arken, though you’ll probably

lose.” Lar chuckled and shook his head.

“Maybe,” Arken rubbed his hands to knock off the clay, then

tried to brush the red clay from the back of his white tunic, but

with little success. Arlet, their Nander kitchen slave, would

scold him tonight for the dirty uniform.

The swordtooth screamed again, this time so loud it echoed

around the courtyard.

“It’s close to the wall!” Lar turned his gaze to the

guardhouse where soldiers were running for the chariot

mounted, giant crossbow. “Arken will fight you, Gart, after we

watch the guards kill the swordtooth. Lead your class to the

top of the wall.”

“Yes, sir, I accept Arken’s challenge. Cadets to me!” Gart

jogged for the wall.

The cadets saluted and were gone, like armored quails

busting out of grass in fear. Tanned legs carried lean bodies up

the stairs to the wall top in seconds.

Arken jogged two steps to Lar’s one despite Lar running with

his ceremonial robe gathered in his hands to prevent tripping

on it. Arken was grateful for some time to regain his strength

before sparring with Gart. It was his last chance to go to sea

this year. He had been so excited about beginning his officer’s

apprenticeship as a saldet, a junior officer. Only Gart stood in

his way.




About the Author


 photo SeaJourney Author Alex Paul_zpsz00ofdao.jpg
Alex Paul is the award-winning author of Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the Neanderthals books series, and co-author of They’re Mine and I’m Keeping Them.

Alex Paul lives with his wife Laura Ross-Paul (co-author of They’re Mine and I’m Keeping Them), and two faithful dogs, in Portland Oregon in the winter, and the Oregon Coast in the summer.

He trained as an Industrial Engineer at Oregon State University, working in a variety of fields before settling into a career as a real estate developer.

Alex Paul has been a life long outdoors enthusiast, having a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw on for his epic fantasy Arken Freeth series.


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