Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Reviewer, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

Book Review: Black Hole Bounty

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BLURB:

Destiny is written in the stars? Maybe, but when you’re in a black hole you make your own damn destiny.

It’s not every day you get abducted by an alien general, but then, Jerusa Whichab isn’t having an average day. Earth is fading from view and she’s got a decision to make – cooperate with her despotic, yet unnervingly attractive captor or receive an injection of goo. General Toyeb can’t be trusted, and his body-healing, mind-blowing Theta waves leave her panting for more. But what choice does she have if she’s to stay alive?

None, if enemy bounty hunter Berwyck dal Korth has his way. Intent on capturing Jerusa, he performs a binding ritual to ensure she cannot escape him – a ritual with unforeseen side effects for both of them. Forced into hostile proximity, Berwyck and Jerusa battle to subdue their rising attraction, but will they conquer their desire – or succumb?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My Review: 

Black Hole Bounty defied my expectations. I mean, in some ways it was what I expected – it is a romantic alien abduction story after all — but it managed to throw me for several loops and even at the end, I can’t honestly say for sure I know where the rest of the series is going. I just know I want to find out!

I was quickly drawn into this story because of its light, conversational, and easy narrative voice. It actually made me think a little of my own Cassie Scot series (in narrative style only :) ).

The story itself began with Jerusa being kidnapped by aliens … they need her. Well, they need her blood to cure a disease. Apparently, one of her ancestors wasn’t exactly human and so many generations later, neither is she.

I was concerned about the story a bit during the first half. I did not like General Toyeb, the man who kidnapped her and who I originally thought would be the main romantic interest. I also thought Jerusa was a bit too trusting. But as I said, the story defied my expectations. It took a major right turn halfway through and the second half just kept getting better and better, leaving me wanting more by the end!

Among other things, I like the creativity of the world building, the thought the author put into the alien biology, and the fact that though there is romantic interest here, the aliens are not human.

I believe this is a new author. And I think one to watch!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Sienna spent her adolescence staring at the dark skies over the Caribbean coast of Panama, dreaming up romantic adventures she now delights in writing down. She reads, writes and revels in romance, and she’s attracted to off-beat, sexy characters—in fiction and in real life! These days she lives a long way from the Caribbean, but when she drags her husband and children to Hermitage Castle to gaze at the stars, the vast beauty of space makes her feel at home. Who knows, maybe an alien will pop down and invite them on a ride?

You can find out more about Sienna and her books on her website: www.siennabronwyn.com.

Zoom down with a message on FB: https://www.facebook.com/sienna.bronwyn or

Tweet to her @Sienna_Bronwyn

Buy links:

http://www.amazon.com/Black-Hole-Bounty-Sienna-Bronwyn-ebook/dp/B00MU46IM8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408465287&sr=8-1&keywords=black+hole+bounty

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/black-hole-bounty-sienna-bronwyn/1120161444?ean=2940150734760

http://store.secretcravingspublishing.com/index.php?main_page=book_info&cPath=30&products_id=933&zenid=885456d5a9caf51600fa6e792b90cac9

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Holiday Parade: The Case of the Dispatched Detective

Today I’m featuring another great gift idea by author Stephanie Osborn, fellow Twilight Times author.

This is not your father’s Sherlock Holmes…

The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival is a science fiction mystery in which brilliant hyperspatial physicist, Dr. Skye Chadwick, discovers there are alternate realities, often populated by those we consider only literary characters. Her pet research, Project: Tesseract, hidden deep under Schriever AFB, finds Continuum 114, where Sherlock Holmes was to have died along with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. In a Knee-jerk reaction, Skye rescues Holmes, who inadvertently flies through the wormhole to our universe, while his enemy plunges to his death. Unable to go back without causing devastating continuum collapse, Holmes must stay in our world and adapt. Meanwhile, the Schriever AFB Dept of Security discovers a spy ring working to dig out the details of – and possibly sabotage – Project: Tesseract. Can Chadwick help Holmes come up to speed in modern investigative techniques in time to stop the spies? Will Holmes be able to thrive in our modern world? Is Chadwick now Holmes’ new “Watson” – or more? And what happens next?


“…This is a really bad time for me to leave console at the moment, hon.”

Caitlin shot her a hard, annoyed look.

“You can’t be considering it,” she said flatly. “All hell is breaking loose here. I don’t care if the President needed you five minutes ago! You have to stay here!”

“Chill, Cait,” Skye tossed an aside to her friend, phone held absently to the side of her face with her shoulder as she tried to read the scribbled note Timelines handed her, around annotating her clipboard. “I’ve got more to do than I can shake a stick at now. I’m…what?” she said, staring at the note. “Software! Check the focus subroutine! Make sure it’s initiating at the correct point in the program! The last thing we need now is a software glitch causing a delay in timing. If that’s happening, no wonder the induction element’s hosed! Hardware, make sure the circuit’s clear! Holmes, I’m sorry, I can’t make it right now. I don’t have time to catch my breath down here.”

* * *


Holmes listened closely, not only to Skye’s direct comments, but also to her asides and commands, and to what he could hear of the remarks made to her. He covered the mouthpiece with his hand and informed Jones and Smith.

“It appears matters are not going well in the Chamber.” He punched the speaker button on the phone so the other men could hear. Then he returned his attention to the sounds coming from the phone. “Skye, what is happening?”

* * *


Skye watched as her teammates fought with the recalcitrant apparatus. One of the Hardware console members, Chad Swann by name and a longstanding friend of Skye’s, moved into the center of the room to check the circuitry of the monoliths. Skye grabbed her clipboard, flipping to the malfunction shutdown checklist, where she scanned the list, trying to determine the seriousness of their
situation.

Vaguely she heard Holmes’ query, but didn’t have time to devote to it. Still, she managed to find two spare brain cells to rub together, and replied abstractedly, “We’re having a malfunction in the induction element system. We can’t keep it focused…”

“Skye, we need you to make a call! Shut down, or put it in a holding pattern and troubleshoot?” Caitlin interrupted. Skye juggled phone and clipboard, trying to assess the checklist for priority red malfunction modes.

“Holmes, I’ve gotta go,” she said into the phone. “I need to figure out how serious this is—”

“DR. CHADWICK! We’ve got a GRAVITON SPIKE!” Sequencing shouted.

* * *


Smith and Jones watched as Holmes’ expression grew more and more grave as he listened to the sounds on the other end of the line. They heard Skye’s attempt to break the conversation, and Holmes was about to answer in the affirmative when they overheard the exclamation from Sequencing.

Holmes paled as they heard Skye shout, “Chad!! Get out of there! NO! EMERGENCY SHUTDO—”

The line went dead.

Instantly the entire building shuddered hard enough to knock books off shelves and send Skye’s chalk tumbling from its rack on the blackboard, smashing into dusty white shards on the tile. The three men grabbed for heavy furniture to avoid being flung to the floor.

* * *


When the quake subsided, the three men sat staring at each other, shaken. Holmes felt almost lightheaded, his grey eyes wide.

“What happened?” Jones demanded. “Did that earthquake have anything to do with Project: Tesser—”

“Emergency shutdown,” Holmes snapped out, leaping to his feet. “Graviton spike.” He didn’t fully understand the significance of the graviton spike, but from his reading of Skye’s quantum mechanics text, which perforce contained a significant amount of particle physics, he knew what a graviton was, and strongly suspected it was connected to the quake. “I am going down to the Chamber,” he declared in a tone brooking no argument. “The two of you may come, or stay.”

* * *


“Is your authorization in?” Jones turned to Smith.

“Your duty officer entered it into the system when I arrived this morning,” Smith observed.

“Good. We’re coming, Holmes,” Jones declared.

But Holmes was already out the door and down the hall, headed for the elevators at a dead run.

Jones and Smith sprinted behind.

~~~

The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival is available in print and ebook (all formats), and the first four books of the series have been released in a collected ebook edition, The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus. Book 5, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, is a 2014 new release. All of them are suitable for gift-giving!

Black Hole Bounty Excerpt + Giveaway

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BLURB:

Destiny is written in the stars? Maybe, but when you’re in a black hole you make your own damn destiny.

It’s not every day you get abducted by an alien general, but then, Jerusa Whichab isn’t having an average day. Earth is fading from view and she’s got a decision to make – cooperate with her despotic, yet unnervingly attractive captor or receive an injection of goo. General Toyeb can’t be trusted, and his body-healing, mind-blowing Theta waves leave her panting for more. But what choice does she have if she’s to stay alive?

None, if enemy bounty hunter Berwyck dal Korth has his way. Intent on capturing Jerusa, he performs a binding ritual to ensure she cannot escape him – a ritual with unforeseen side effects for both of them. Forced into hostile proximity, Berwyck and Jerusa battle to subdue their rising attraction, but will they conquer their desire – or succumb?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Excerp:

Escaping me isn’t in your best interests.”

Something in Berwyck’s tone made me wary, but for once I had the upper hand and I was going to slap him with it. “Here’s the deal—you keep your blood bank safe until we get to the compound and I’ll help you beam out the Uneg you need. Comprende?”

It’s you who doesn’t understand.” He expelled a long breath. “As part of the healing ritual I performed I fed you my varr.”

Varr…Now, where had I heard that word before? I rubbed at the scar on my neck and recoiled. “The liquid you poured down my throat was your venom? The same stuff you injected under my skin so you could track me?”

This varr is different,” he said stiffly.

But just as gross.” My stomach roiled. How much had I swallowed in the past five days? Inside my body I had Berwyck’s vile, disgusting venom mixing with vile, disgusting meat. Did he collect it from a gland in his mouth similar to the rhendar’s before he gave it to me, or—oh, God, did he squeeze it out of his veins? Whatever the case, it was rising to the back of my throat. “I’m going to be sick.”

Your body won’t expel my varr,” Berwyck said, through my dry-heaves. “The ritual I performed forces you to accept it as nourishment, not venom. It won’t make you sick, but—” He waited until he had my full attention. “It exacts a price.”

Huh? “I don’t have money.”

Not money.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Sienna spent her adolescence staring at the dark skies over the Caribbean coast of Panama, dreaming up romantic adventures she now delights in writing down. She reads, writes and revels in romance, and she’s attracted to off-beat, sexy characters—in fiction and in real life! These days she lives a long way from the Caribbean, but when she drags her husband and children to Hermitage Castle to gaze at the stars, the vast beauty of space makes her feel at home. Who knows, maybe an alien will pop down and invite them on a ride?

You can find out more about Sienna and her books on her website: www.siennabronwyn.com.

Zoom down with a message on FB: https://www.facebook.com/sienna.bronwyn or

Tweet to her @Sienna_Bronwyn

Buy links:

http://www.amazon.com/Black-Hole-Bounty-Sienna-Bronwyn-ebook/dp/B00MU46IM8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408465287&sr=8-1&keywords=black+hole+bounty

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/black-hole-bounty-sienna-bronwyn/1120161444?ean=2940150734760

http://store.secretcravingspublishing.com/index.php?main_page=book_info&cPath=30&products_id=933&zenid=885456d5a9caf51600fa6e792b90cac9

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99 Cent Sale!

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PLUS …

Every book in the Cassie Scot series will be discounted through the end of November!

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Read the First Chapters Here

Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective (Book 1)

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Cassie Scot is the ungifted daughter of powerful sorcerers, born between worlds but belonging to neither. At 21, all she wants is to find a place for herself, but earning a living as a private investigator in the shadow of her family’s reputation isn’t easy. When she is pulled into a paranormal investigation, and tempted by a powerful and handsome sorcerer, she will have to decide where she truly belongs.

  • *Winner of the 2013 Global Ebook Award for Fantasy
  • *Finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Awards

Buy now in print, ebook, or audio…

Secrets and Lies (Cassie Scot #2)

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 Cassie Scot, still stinging from her parents’ betrayal, wants out of the magical world. But it isn’t letting her go. Her family is falling apart and despite everything, it looks like she may be the only one who can save them.

To complicate matters, Cassie owes Evan her life, making it difficult for her to deny him anything he really wants. And he wants her. Sparks fly when they team up to find two girls missing from summer camp, but long-buried secrets may ruin their hopes for happiness. Sequel to Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective.

  • Winner of the 2014 Global Ebook Award for Fantasy

Buy now in print, ebook, or audio…

Mind Games (Cassie Scot #3)

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Beware your heart and soul…

Evan broke Cassie’s heart two months ago, and she still doesn’t know why. She throws herself into family, friends and her new job at the sheriff’s department, but nothing helps. The only thing that finally allows her heal and move on is the love of a new man, mind mage Matthew Blair. Cassie finds him…irresistible.

Matthew may also be the only one who can help keep the non-magical residents of Eagle Rock from going crazy over the murder of a beloved pastor’s wife. It looks like a sorcerer is to blame, but while Cassie tries to figure out who, others take matters into their own hands. With tensions running so hot, a single spark might set Eagle Rock ablaze. Book 3 in the Cassie Scot series.

  • *Winner of the 2014 Global Ebook Award for Fantasy

Buy now (Print, Ebook, Audiobook)

 Stolen Dreams (Cassie Scot #4) 

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Edward Scot and Victor Blackwood have despised one another for nearly a quarter of a century, but now their simmering hatred is about to erupt.

When Cassie Scot returns home from her sojourn in Pennsylvania, she finds that her family has taken a hostage. Desperate to end the fighting before someone dies, Cassie seeks help from local seer Abigail Hastings, Evan Blackwood’s grandmother. But Abigail has seen her own death, and when it comes at the hand of Cassie’s father, Victor Blackwood kills Edward Scot.

But things may not be precisely as they appear.

Evan persuades Cassie to help him learn the truth, teaming them up once again in their darkest hour. New revelations about Evan and his family make it difficult for Cassie to cling to a shield of anger, but can Evan and Cassie stop a feud that has taken on a life of its own? Conclusion to the Cassie Scot series.

Buy Now in Ebook and Audiobook

Trade Paperback: November 15, 2014

Praise for the Series:

“When sorcerers call the shots, what’s a girl without powers to do? Get ready for a ripper of a murder mystery full of romance and intrigue, where magic potions bubble, passions spark and vampires are definitely not your friend Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective grabs you by the heart and won’t let go until the very last page. Well written, immersive and unputdownable. This is urban fantasy at its best. More please!” – Kim Falconer, bestselling author of The Spell of Rosette, Quantum Enchantment Series

“Amsden continues the story of the only mundane member of a supernaturally-gifted family in this middling sequel to Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective. Cassie, stubborn and proud, is bravely trying to live on her own after her family disowns her. Struggling to make ends meet, she accepts a case involving a pair of magical girls who disappeared from summer camp. With the aid of the handsome Evan Blackwood, to whom Cassie is attracted despite her family’s disapproval and her own better judgment, she follows the trail of the missing girls. What she finds is a dark side of the magical world, and the hidden depths of her family’s past force her to reconsider long-held assumptions. The growing complexity of Cassie’s world makes this an entertaining installment, focusing as much on the will-they, won’t-they romantic chemistry between Cassie and Evan as on the primary mystery. An inconclusive ending is clearly intended to feed into the next volume.” – Publisher’s Weekly 

About the Author

Author_2013Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for 
everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams. In addition to writing, Christine teaches workshops on writing at Savvy Authors. She also does some freelance editing work. Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.

Social Media Links:



Holiday Parade: Fires of Nuala by Cat Kimbriel

Today, in preparation for holiday gift-giving, we’re going to hear a bit from Cat Kimbriel‘s book, Fires of Nuala! Enjoy!



On the planet Nuala, the scam that beguiling free-trader Silver has come to join has just been blown to the skies, along with the throne lines of three separate sovereign nations.

The last male heir of one throne line, Sheel Atare, is unprepared to rule, but he’s quick to seize allies wherever he can—like the beautiful and dangerous Silver.

Now Silver has to choose: stick to the scam, or get sucked into the struggle to save Nuala—and Sheel Atare’s life.





* * * * * * * * *


Mailan had reached the terrace when she heard the crash. Instinct took over; dropping her assorted bundles, she drew her cat knife and threw herself through the open doorway.

A jumbled scene littered the floor. Seeking Sheel first, Mailan found him on his knees, a cat knife gripped tightly in one hand. He had the tip of the blade pressed into the throat of a guaard. A guaard? Glancing around quickly, she saw Jude crouched, both knives held in throwing position, her gaze on—

“Crow?” Mailan’s surprise sounded shrill. Vision widened, taking in the entire room. Pressed against the inner door, the off-world woman waited, the color of her face rivaling alabaster. Crow was almost as pale—and confused. He clearly had no idea—

“Seri?” Mailan ventured, wondering if she should speak, and if so, what were the proper words. Sweet Mendülay . . .

“Did you send him here?” Almost conversational, Sheel’s tone.

“No. I sent him to the palace to speak to your sisters.”

“Did you tell him where we were?”

“No.”

“Then what” —Jude, rising now, her exasperation evident— “were you doing creeping around in the bushes?” Her voice easily rose an octave from start to finish, even as she gestured for Mailan to close the terrace doors.

Afraid Jude would lunge at the young man, Mailan quickly said: “Crow . . . how did you ever guess? . . .”

“Common sense. I checked a few other places on my way. Where you spent the night was not important—the current location was the major thing. And unless you went to the Ragäree’s retreat—”

The knife pressed closer, and Crow stopped his careful recitation. “I doubt anyone else would guess. I have met you after duty before, Mailan. I knew where to look.”

“Why were you creeping around the windows?” Again, that gentle speech pattern, which always meant Sheel was fighting anger.

Crow actually rolled his eyes. “Because I did not want anyone to see me sneaking around the temple grounds, of course. I did not intend for the entire guaard and local enforcers to find the place. Mailan wanted it kept quiet.”

“Then why did you come?” There was no way for Mailan to warn Crow that his life depended on the answer to her question. Why Sheel was acting this way was unimportant. To those who knew him, he was on the edge of violence.

“Because . . . whatever you were doing, you needed help. You were—are—a mess, and one alert guaard on an heir is not enough.” The youth was completely relaxed as he directed the last to Mailan; he had even dropped his knife, drawn instinctively when he was jumped, if his story was true. If? Could she doubt him? Why had she not confided in him? In more lucid moments she would have known he would read her worry.

“Seri . . . what do you need?” Mailan started, still afraid to move.

“The oath will do.”

All three guaard stared at him a moment. Mailan was lost. . . . What oath? Did he . . .

Glancing over at Jude’s defensive posture, Sheel drew his steel away from Crow’s throat and reversed the blade, holding it point down between them. Crow did not risk looking away; his gaze still meeting Sheel’s, the young guaard reached to wrap his right hand around the offered hand and hilt.

“On this I swear,” Crow began, the whisper slowly gathering volume, “by life and honor, by blood and trust, that with this oath I will serve the son and daughter of Atare, obeying all words and following all leads, shielding their line and prizing their secrets as Mendülay guards mine own, for so long as they hold to their charge.”

Mailan’s knees felt weak. That oath—the sharing of oaths, the duty accepted by each at the feet of their Atare, the moment they were chosen to become guaard.

Sheel responded by folding his left hand over Crow’s. “On this I swear, by life and honor, that I will take you as a guaard to serve Atare within the bounds of your oath, holding your trust as I hold to my charge—head, hand, and heart of the heirs, now and forever.”

The group remained frozen in their tableau for several moments. Finally Mailan moved, reversing her grip on her cat knife. Noticing her action, Sheel sat back on his heels and shook his head.

“No, Mailan. I only ask for that oath once. And you . . . ‘spoke’ . . . for Jude.” Grinning suddenly at Crow, he released his grip and added: “You did not have time to speak for him.” Standing and turning his back to Crow, Sheel stretched, loosening massively constricted muscle. Glancing at the off-worlder, he said in Caesarean: “It is all right. No one is going to die.”

~~~

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel reinvents herself every decade or so.  The one constant she has reached for in life is telling stories.  “I’m interested in how people respond to choice.  What is the metaphor for power, for choice? In SF it tends to be technology (good, bad and balanced) while in Fantasy the metaphor is magic – who has it, who wants or does not want it, what is done with it, and who/what the person or culture is after the dust has settled. A second metaphor, both grace note and foundation, is the need for and art of healing.  Forthcoming stories will talk about new things that I’ve learned, and still hope to learn … with grace notes about betrayal, forgiveness, healing and second chances.”  A Campbell Award nominee.

Get Cat Kimbriel‘s Fires of Nuada at AmazonBarnes-NobleKoboApple iTunes, and Book View Cafe! It makes a great gift!

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Parade: Dragon Fire by Dina von Lowenkraft

Today, in preparation for holiday gift-giving, fellow author Dina von Lowenkraft will tell you all about her book, Dragon Fire!

 

Some choices are hard to live with.

But some choices will kill you.

When seventeen-year-old Anna first meets Rakan in her hometown north of the Arctic Circle, she is attracted to the pulsing energy that surrounds him. Unaware that he is a shapeshifting dragon, Anna is drawn into a murderous cycle of revenge that pits Rakan and his clan against her best friend June.

Torn between his forbidden relationship with Anna, that could cost them both their lives, and restoring his family’s honor by killing June, Rakan must decide what is right. And what is worth living – or dying – for.




The Story Behind Dragon Fire



The funny thing about Dragon Fire is that it didn’t start out as a book on its own. It started out as a subplot in another manuscript. After writing Call, the first book in a planned four book series, and thinking it was market-ready, I began to query it. And no one was interested. All I got, if I got anything at all, were form rejections. I gathered my courage, read several craft books, and re-wrote it before querying it again. But my second batch of queries had no better results than the first.


Frustrated and a bit stumped as to how to improve my manuscript, I once again stocked up on craft books. A few months later, after reading Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel and analyzing several YA books with his ideas in mind, I began to understand where tension was lacking in Call.


Unfortunately, I still didn’t know how to fix it — especially since it would mean cutting about 40-60 thousand words. And yet I wasn’t ready to leave the world I had created and loved. So I decided to pull out a subplot fromCall’s sequel and write that. That subplot, about a young shapeshifting dragon named Rakan and the human he falls in love with named Anna, became Dragon Fire.


While writing Dragon Fire I signed up for Jordan Rosenfeld’s class, ‘Building Tension’. Taking this class was essential to my growth as a writer and it made Dragon Fire a better manuscript. I would take scenes from my work-in-progress and apply the lesson to it, improving it a first time. Then I’d get feedback and I’d re-write it again, improving it even more. All of this before rewriting one final time to produce the ‘first’ draft.


Once Dragon Fire was complete, I queried it and got several requests for fulls. In the end, I had the good fortune of being able to choose between three publishers, and I chose Twilight Times Books. And now, finally, I’m ready to go back to Call and re-write it!

~~~


Born in the US, Dina has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt – and still thinks the two are connected. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.


Dina loves to create intricate worlds filled with conflict and passion. She builds her own myths while exploring issues of belonging, racism and the search for truth… after all, how can you find true love if you don’t know who you are and what you believe in? Dina’s key to developing characters is to figure out what they would be willing to die for. And then pushing them to that limit.


Dina is now repped by the fabulous Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary Agency.

A Chocolate Snob’s Favorite Winter Drink

Hot Chocolate Taste Test

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The leaves have almost left the trees, cold fronts are on their way, and the news is predicting snow in the next couple of weeks. That can mean only one thing — It’s time to stock up on HOT CHOCOLATE!

As a chocolate snob, I disagree that Swiss Miss or Nestle should even be called hot chocolate. More like chocolate flavored water. And don’t even get me started on the “light” varieties. (See “Mindful Eating: 5-Star Desserts“)

Land O Lakes has been my go-to chocolate for many years now. It is readily available at most grocery stores (which is one of my biggest challenges as a chocolate snob). It is rich, creamy, and delicious. A little  piece of heaven on a cold winter’s night that satisfies even my most urgent chocolate craving.

But last weekend, while perusing chocolate at the new Hy-Vee on 151st street, we ran across Stephen’s hot chocolate. The price was similar, and it had a guarantee: “The best hot chocolate you’ve ever tried or your money back!”

Blind taste test time!

My entire family participated — my discerning husband and my enthusiastic children, a six-year-old girl and a nearly nine-year-old boy. We put stickers on the bottom of 4 identical mugs so we wouldn’t know which mug was which until after the test. Then we made the cocoa, mixed them up, and started tasting.

The first thing I should note, out of a sense of honesty, is that the blind taste test didn’t work as well as it should have because even me (I’m severely visually impaired) could tell that Stephen’s was a darker chocolate than Land O Lakes. But I went forward, trying to be as honest as possible.

I began with my tried-and-true Land O Lakes, which tasted just as delicious as I remembered. One counter-clockwise shift later, I had a mug of Stephen’s in my hand. And … I LOVED it!

Since Land O Lakes is the richest hot chocolate I’ve ever had (I did grow up on Swiss Miss and Nestle), it was hard for me to imagine a richer hot chocolate. But Stephen’s is. The margin isn’t staggering or anything, but Stephen’s topped Land O Lakes on richness.

Land O Lakes is slightly sweeter than Stephen’s, and even now I am not entirely certain which one I like better. I think Stephen’s by a hair. These are both EXCELLENT hot chocolate options that I highly recommend for the upcoming winter. For my part, I plan to buy whichever is on a better sale.

My son, almost 9, seemed to think Stephen’s was quite a bit better. After our initial taste-testing we checked which was which; he grabbed both Stephen’s mugs and refused to give them up! My 6-year-old daughter didn’t have a preference, she just wanted marshmallows already. :)

In conclusion, I am pleased to report that there are excellent hot chocolates in the world. Buy them because I can’t support the industry all by myself!

TV Series: The 100

Listen up post-apocalyptic scifi fans, because this may be a great new show for you! I just finished watching the entire first season in one go (available on Netflix Instant Viewing) and after a rocky start, I am a fan.

The premise is this: Almost a hundred years ago there was a nuclear war. A few humans in orbiting space stations survived by coming together to create an arc. There they plan to stay until the radiation levels on Earth are safe once again — in another one hundred years. But something has gone wrong. Life support won’t keep them all alive much longer, and they’ve got to figure out what to do. So they send 100 juvenile delinquents to the ground to see if they live or die.

I have to admit, I was very iffy after watching the first episode. I had to turn off a lot of credibility censors to enjoy it. And the next few episodes were only marginally better as I got to know the characters.

But something kept me watching, and I’m glad I did, because at the end of season 1 I felt like it was a strong show overall. A lot of elements are gradually introduced that keep tension levels high and keep you guessing — internal conflict, external conflict, people who survived on the ground (they thought everyone had died), and the people in the space station struggling for their own survival. Put together, it made for a captivating show. Season 2 has begun on the CW on Wednesdays. I definitely plan to watch!

The characters are all kinds of shades of gray, which is nice. These are people who have made bad decisions — sometimes because they had to and sometimes when they should have known better. Still, there are a lot of 3D players in here. And I have a feeling that season 2 has more surprises in store.

If you like scifi, especially dystopian, then check this out. Give it a few episodes; you won’t regret it!

Holiday Parade: Barb Caffrey

My holiday parade continues today with another fellow Twilight Times author,  Barb Caffrey.

Like fantasies? Like mysteries? Like comedy? Put ‘em together and you have Barb Caffrey‘s An Elfy On The Loose. Bruno is a young Elfy, a creature from another dimension, and he’s been dumped into our dimension with little to no preparation. While here, he encounters young Sarah, a human who is not what she seems, and Sarah’s parents, who are not nice people at all…

Excerpt

Bruno watched Sarah run through the grass while still carrying the backpacks, and wondered why she had so much energy when he had none. Could Roberto have been right? Could she be draining my energy and using it for herself? Although if she is, she can’t possibly know it…maybe she needs training. Although he didn’t know how Elfy girls got their training in magic, much less how a Human girl would get any.

Bruno knew that girl and boy Elfys were sent away to separate schools at the age of twelve. Bruno himself had been held back and home-schooled by his parents, not for being slow, but rather because they hadn’t trusted the school system. Bruno had never been sent to a segregated, all-boy Elfy school until he turned sixteen. That was right after his parents had died in a fiery aircar crash, after he’d become a ward of the state.

Many Elfys used magic frivolously, almost as if it was going out of style, and they didn’t want to use technology. Yet his people had aircars, while Sarah’s realm, the Human-Earth Realm, didn’t. Elfys would use toasters, light rail, and buses, when they wouldn’t use electricity to heat their homes (why pay for electricity if the magic was free?) and only used modern plumbing for elaborate, sybaritic layouts. He wondered if the Humans had those, too. He simply hadn’t had enough time on Sarah’s Earth…he needed to know more!

If the Elfy High Council was going to just send him out, why allow him to be so woefully unprepared? This was just silly!

Bruno rubbed at his head, and frowned. He felt a headache coming on; surely, this meant he should stop thinking so hard. He vowed to ask as many questions of Roberto, providing Roberto found them anytime soon (wherever they were), as he needed in order to make the headache go away.

This avowal immediately made him feel better.

But he still had no idea where he was. He didn’t recognize anything, except green grass, yet he had the oddest feeling. He wasn’t sure, but he thought they somehow had made it back to the Elfy Realm after all, and the not-knowing made him dizzy.

Sarah had stopped and appeared to be weaving on her feet. Bruno jogged the equivalent of three city blocks to get to her, hoping she’d not fall before he made it.

“Bruno, I feel…sick,” she gasped when he was only a few steps away. He sprinted toward her and turned her around; her greenish-white face was alarming. He told her to let the packs fall, then gently helped Sarah lay down on the ground.

“Will you two help me? I need a pillow for Sarah,” he asked the backpacks. Before he could feel too silly about asking backpacks, of all things, for help, a fluffy white pillow appeared in the air by his right hand. Maybe the packs had more power here for some reason? Bruno reached out and caught it before it hit the ground. “Thanks,” he said over his shoulder to the backpacks, as it never hurt to be polite.

He went to Sarah, knelt on the grass, and put the pillow under her head.

He started stroking her long, black hair, just to soothe her. He remembered, distantly, that his mother had used to do the same thing when he was a wee small Elfy and ill from eating some herb he wasn’t supposed to…anyway, he stroked. He talked, mostly nonsense, and tried not to think about the two of them in the middle of nowhere, one very ill and one mildly so. After all, considering Sarah’s sudden illness and his own headache and dizziness, wasn’t it more likely than not that they’d both been exposed to something? He wasn’t a completely stupid Elfy.

“Sarah, hold on,” he said as he continued to stroke her hair. “Somehow, Roberto will come. I know he will!”

“Why are you so sure, Jonny-wonny?”

“Please don’t call me Jonny-wonny, Sarah, or I’ll start calling you Daisy again,” he threatened, smiling to take the edge off his very real threat.

“All right…Bruno,” she gasped, and tried to smile. It was a feeble thing, like to her real smile as a tiny birthday candle on a cupcake was to a candelabrum.

“Don’t try to talk, Sarah,” he soothed, and continued to stroke her hair. This was very like petting a cat, he mused. Except Sarah didn’t claw when she was done with the petting.

He tried not to panic, but he had no way to treat her illness, and no way to get her any help. He felt completely useless, as he had no healing magic…very few did outside of the clerical orders, and even Roberto himself had very little.

He propped the backpacks behind him and asked them to stay put. They did. Then he fell asleep, her cradled on his lap (with the pillow between) and his arms around her. Lost on a sea of too-green grass, with no way out in sight.

~~~


An Elfy On The Loose would make a great gift for anyone — adult, young adult, or older child. Check it out for YOUR holiday gift-giving!

Holiday Parade: Special Shuttle Explosion Edition

In honor of the recent shuttle explosion (thankfully unmanned), Stephanie Osborn is selling her own shuttle-disaster scifi book at a discounted rate. For a limited time, the ebook is FREE if you buy the print book. After November 7, that deal ends, but the ebook will be 99 cents.

From Stephanie …

How do you react when you discover that the next Shuttle disaster has happened…

…right on schedule?

 

Burnout is a science fiction mystery about a Space Shuttle disaster that turns out to be no accident. As the true scope of the disaster is gradually uncovered by the principal investigators, “Crash” Murphy and Dr. Mike Anders, they find themselves running for their lives, as lovers, friends and coworkers involved in the investigation perish around them. What happened to the Shuttle? Who is responsible and why? Why is the government calling it an accident? Why is someone willing to kill to keep it a secret? And how big is the conspiracy?

 

They say, “Write what you know,” and I did. I finished the first draft and gave it to my writing mentor, Travis S. Taylor…and then Columbia went down. And I found that I pretty much nailed it in my fictional disaster scenario: orbital inclination, incoming trajectory, overflown states, intended approach to the Cape, region of breakup, debris field, I nailed it all. The only difference was a slight extension of the debris field into the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast, and this was due to the fact that my fictional scenario was no accident.

 

And right now, Burnout is on sale in all ebook formats! More, if you buy the print book at Amazon, for a limited time you can get the ebook too, for only $0.99! 

 

Why is this happening, you may ask? Simple. The December issue of Analog magazine, on store shelves right now, carries an article I co-authored with my partners, detailing our SPEARED concept and materials research — a concept that was inspired by the Columbia disaster, killing a friend of mine aboard her, and my having just completed the Burnout rough draft when the disaster occurred. 

 

So in honor of my friend Kalpana Chawla, and SPEARED, which I hope will prevent anyone else from dying like she did, Burnout is on sale until the end of November.

 

Here. Have a “taste.”

 

~~~

 

 

 

…Overhead, the sky was a deep, rich, star-spangled Prussian blue; along the western horizon could be seen the faintest hint of deep teal. “Lessee…” he glanced at the TV, to the ground track Mission Control was displaying on the big front screen, then looked at the night sky, trying to correlate the two. “She oughta show up… somewhere over in there.” He waved a hand heavenward, in a vaguely northwestern direction.

 

Conversation in the back yard of the ranch house ceased as everyone clustered together in the darkness, searching the west-northwestern sky. The only artificial illumination came from the TV screen, and the NASA Public Affairs Office Commentator could be heard in the background as he delivered general remarks about the landing.

 

“…and this is a somewhat unusual re-entry pattern over North America, due to the successful efforts to retrieve the multi-million-dollar Next Generation Tethered Satellite, dubbed NexGen or NTS, which was co-manifested on STS-281 with the Mission to Planet Earth payload, Gaia-1. This nighttime landing will make for spectacular observations by residents of California, Nevada, southern Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Coastal residents of the Gulf States may also be able to observe…”

 

“Hey, big brother,” Jimmy remarked curiously, “isn’t the commander of this flight an old friend of yours?”

 

“Yup,” Crash replied, still scanning the star-strewn, blue-black sky. “Lawrence Jackson. Jet. He and I flew in the same squadron in ‘Nam. Been buddies ever since. There’s almost nothing we wouldn’t do for each other—except give up a slot in the astronaut corps.” Crash pulled a wry face.

 

“Yeah, that’s right,” Ham Carter remembered. “He beat you out for the slot, didn’t he?”

 

“Uh-huh, he did—only because Jackson comes before Murphy in the alphabet.”

 

“Look! There it is!” Sally exclaimed, pointing into the western sky, and all but jumping up and down. “Crash! Isn’t that it?” she urged her brother-in-law.

 

“Yeah, Sally, I—” Crash did a double take and surveyed the blazing spark as it shot through the black velvet sky, then gave a swift glance at Hamilton Carter. “Ham, have they got a re-entry DTO on this flight?”

 

“No, Crash—I see it, too,” Ham acknowledged, forehead creasing with worry. “Listen… can I use—”

 

“Cell phone right here,” Crash scooped the instrument off the corner of the picnic table and shoved it into Carter’s hands as he looked back up. “Damn, Jet, get it in gear, old buddy!” he exclaimed with increasing concern.

 

“What’s wrong, Crash? What’s happening?” Jimmy asked his suddenly worried brother, as the flaming speck, growing larger and larger, flew almost straight overhead. Smaller sparks could now be seen peeling off the main object.

 

“Dammit! Jet, flare out, man! Shit! Break it out! NOW!!” Crash began shouting into the sky. Tracy, the “fourth team” relief FAO, was frozen, staring upward in shock, and Ham stood stiffly, head tilted back, listening to the cell phone he held to his ear. They all watched dumbly as the white-hot streak shot by overhead and disappeared behind the house, trailing flaming sparks in its wake.

 

Crash ran around the house to the front, trying to keep the airborne conflagration in view, and the others followed. “Damn, Jimmy, she’s comin’ in hot,” he belatedly answered his little brother. “Jet’s not bleeding off velocity in the roll reversals like he’s supposed to…” Crash paused, horrified. “Not that it looks like it would do much good, anyway…”

 

The gathered celebrants watched in stunned disbelief as the fireball plunged toward the southeastern horizon, flickered, and burned out.

 

~~~

 

Interested? Have a go at it on Amazon, then! (Here’s Barnes-Noble and Books-A-Million too, if you’d rather.) Remember, I spent over two decades working in the civilian (NASA) and military (DoD) space programs, and put my knowledge to good use in this book.