Monday, May 7, 2018

INTO THE LAND OF SHADOWS By Kristy McCaffrey – May #blogabookscene #westernromance #prairierosepubs @prairierosepubs


By Kristy McCaffrey

Blog-a-Book-Scene is a monthly themed blogging endeavor from a group of authors who love to share excerpts from their stories. Find us on Twitter with the hashtag #blogabookscene and #PrairieRosePubs.

May's theme is Mayday! Mayday! This excerpt is from my historical western paranormal romance novel, Into The Land Of Shadows.


In the land of the Navajo, spirits and desire draw Ethan and Kate close, leading them deeper into the shadows and to each other.

Excerpt

“Let’s head upstream and look for a crossing.” Ethan put the map back into his saddlebag and shifted his gaze to something in the distance. “That doesn’t look good.”

Kate looked over her shoulder. Three riders approached, some distance away. Kate turned Brandy so she could have a better look. Whiskey moved so close to her daughter that Ethan’s shoulder bumped Kate’s from behind.

“That couldn’t possibly be them, could it?” she asked. Appalled that the three men who had stolen her horse were still after her, and trying her best to act as if she bumped shoulders with men she found compelling every day, she made a decision right then and there. “I’m not giving up Fred [the donkey].”

“Then move it, Kinsella,” Ethan said. He pushed Whiskey into a gallop.

They rode the horses, Fred tied behind Whiskey and moving at a good clip, up a rocky incline, climbing above the waterfall to their left. They moved faster, riding parallel to the river. Kate noticed the waterway was wide and although it didn’t look deep she really had no desire to cross so close to the waterfall. A sickening feeling of falling swept over her at the thought of plunging over the mesa.

Ethan kept pushing forward and Kate thankfully had to do very little to keep Brandy on pace with him. Kate chanced a glance over her right shoulder. The riders were moving at a faster clip. Ethan pulled his gun.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, jolted with panic. She was between Ethan and the men chasing them; was he going to shoot her?

He slowed Whiskey just a bit but didn’t take a shot. “Get on the other side of me,” he yelled.

Kate pushed Brandy ahead and to the left. Ethan protected her on one side while the river threatened to swallow her and Brandy up on the other.

The three riders gained on them and the sound of gunfire made Kate’s heart slam into her chest.

“Ride low, Kate,” Ethan commanded. He shot several times in succession and the three riders were forced to scatter. “We need to cross. Look for a low spot.”

Kate started searching the shoreline. They’d moved about a quarter-mile upriver from the waterfall so the current should have lessened but Kate really didn’t want to test that theory.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It all looks pretty much the same.”

“Then let’s go. Remember to hold tight to Brandy, especially if it gets too deep.”

Kate’s mouth went dry as she turned her horse to the left and splashed into the muddy waters. It wasn’t deep and Brandy moved swiftly. The horse jostled Kate up and down as the water rose to Brandy’s belly. Kate’s boots got wet. Brandy kept moving, but started to slow, fighting the current. Kate looked behind and saw Ethan, Whiskey, and Fred still on the shoreline. She swung her head around to look over her other shoulder. One of their assailants closed in. Kate panicked. She should do something. She tried to turn Brandy around but the horse resisted.

“Of all the times to become independent,” Kate growled. “Go back to mama, Brandy.” The horse stayed the course.

Kate looked back again. Ethan had dismounted and shooed Whiskey and Fred into the river. The two animals moved toward her, kicking up a flurry of water. Brandy wouldn’t turn around so all Kate could do was wait for the other two animals to catch them. She watched with mounting concern as Ethan took cover behind a scrub brush with a gun in one hand and a rifle in the other. Enemy number one took aim at Kate. Ethan opened fire as Kate fell off Brandy’s back and into the water.

The current pulled her feet from under her and she frantically tried to hold onto something but lost her grip on Brandy’s saddle. She moved down river with surprising speed. It wasn’t deep, but her feet slipped repeatedly every time she tried to dig her heels into the soft bottom. Her hat bobbed behind her, pulling the drawstring against her neck. She choked as much from that as from the water splashing onto her face, into her mouth, and up her nose.

I have to stop. She’d fly off the waterfall any second. Her arms flailed to find anything. She tried to swim against the current, stroking with one arm then another but gasped for breath.

She jerked to a stop. Her foot was caught on a spindly branch protruding from the swirling fluid. Grabbing the smooth wood with both hands, she prayed it would hold. She was able to stand, but only a little; the water was just below her breasts. The strong current made it impossible to get to shore. She must be close to the waterfall.

Help! Help me!

In the distance she heard a voice. “Kate. Kate!”

“Ethan!” She hoped he could hear her. “Ethan! Over here!”

She searched for him on the western bank.

“Kate!”

He was behind her atop Whiskey. Brandy and Fred were with him, as unhappy as Kate if their agitation was any indication.

“Hang on,” he yelled. “I’m gonna get you.”

He detached a circle of rope from Whiskey’s saddle, unwound it then positioned himself partially in the water.

“I’m gonna throw you the rope,” he yelled. “Grab onto it.”

She nodded, although she doubted he could see her response. Her hands felt slippery on the thin wood she grasped and her breathing came in short, rapid bursts.

Ethan spun the rope above his head and cast it upriver from her. The current brought it to her and she reached out to grab it as it floated by but she missed it by inches. She spun around her wooden anchor and almost lost her grip entirely. In a panic she struggled to grab back on. She heard her voice and realized she was screaming and crying.

“Katie!  Honey, look at me,” Ethan said.

Her back was to him now. She was terrified to move. “I can’t, I can’t,” she chanted to herself. If she yelled, the force of her voice might dislodge her from the only thing keeping her from rushing over the waterfall.

Get hold of yourself, Kate. But she couldn’t. Her arms were paralyzed, and she could hardly breathe. She needed to grab the rope again when Ethan tossed it to her; she needed to just extend one hand from the safety of her barely-there tree. Move your arm. She closed her eyes and prayed for courage. A sob escaped. She couldn’t bring herself to let go. As long as she held on, she survived. If she let go, the water could push her from her only anchor. She squeezed her eyes shut again.

She’d be killed. Her mama flashed through her mind. She hadn’t spoken to her in two years, had barely corresponded via letters. And now she would die and there would be no more opportunities. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she chanted. But her mama couldn’t hear her. Neither could Owen or Petey. Or Mrs. Finley. She’d die, and she was only twenty years old.

“Katie! Look at me.” Ethan’s voice was louder, closer.

She lifted her gaze; she trembled so much that the hair hanging in her face shook. Ethan was in the water, coming toward her.

Copyright © 2013  K. McCaffrey LLC



Available in digital and print at Amazon.

Also in the Kindle Unlimited subscription program.




Connect with Kristy




Sunday, May 6, 2018

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

By Kristy McCaffrey


I've recently returned from accompanying my husband on a business trip to Thailand, and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary in Phuket. They rescue older elephants from the logging and tourism industries and do so by directly purchasing the animals with charity funds. They currently have 8 elephants in their care, most of whom have health issues and/or injuries.

In Thailand, there are many opportunities to 'ride' an elephant. Please don't support this industry. Training involves breaking a very young animal's spirit and the process is quite abusive and horrific. Additional tactics to keep the elephants in line are also harmful and kept well-hidden from the public. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is one of several places trying to help these magnificent creatures.

To learn more, visit their website.

Here are some photos from my visit.





















With love and thanks to the elephants for having us.






Thursday, April 19, 2018

Havana, Cuba

By Kristy McCaffrey


My husband and I recently took a cruise to Cuba with several other couples, and we spent two days in Havana. This visit was a strange mix of curiosity and perplexity about what life is like for a Cuban.

Havana is the capital and largest city of Cuba, which is the largest island in the Caribbean. It’s located 90 miles from Key West, Florida, and has a whopping 11 million residents. Many dance styles such as the Bolero, the Mambo, and the Cha Cha were created here.

To visit Cuba, you cannot come as a tourist. There are 12 ways to enter the country—we came via the people-to-people educational branch, which required us to engage with the Cuban people in some type of meaningful exchange. (We did this by taking several tours.) We are required to keep documentation pertaining to this for five years.

Watching the approach into Havana.

Old Havana.

Coming into port, we immediately noticed that only two ships can be docked at a time. The remaining berths were in decay. This would be a common theme as we made our way around Old Havana.

My husband on the streets of Old Havana.

No shortage of rum in Cuba.

Wall display at the rum shop.

Our first tour was to a rum factory, except that it was closed, so we were instead ushered to two different gift shops. This didn’t really bother us—we’ve traveled before and are always willing to contribute to the local economy by purchasing souvenirs. But since my husband and I aren’t rum drinkers, we were more eager for the cigar factory tour. Here, dozens of workers hand-rolled the famous Cuban cigar, and it was fascinating. Employees may keep 5 cigars per day, and many of them sell these under the table. My husband was able to buy several that had just been rolled. When he smoked one a few hours later, he said it was the best cigar he’d ever had.

Workers making cigars in Havana, Cuba.

It wasn't openly acknowledged, but my husband was able
to buy several cigars (freshly rolled) directly from a
few of the workers.

My husband enjoying his spoils.

The local beer and a cola. This was the first
country I've ever traveled to with
no Coke products.

My husband and I at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana, considered to be one of
the most famous bars in the world. It reopened in 2013 after being
closed for 48 years. It was the inspiration for the New Jersey Sloppy
Joe sandwich, but not the one most common today. This one consists of
deli meats, swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing.

My husband with a cigar and a Cuban sandwich.
I have very few photos of my dearest WITHOUT
a cigar in hand. On a side note: the Cuban sandwich
didn't originate in Cuba, but rather in Florida.

Cuba is a communist nation, and I won’t lie, it was hard to stomach at times because you can’t help but feel frustrated for what the Cuban people must put up with. Only ten television stations broadcast locally and satellite dishes are illegal. There is Internet, but it can only be used in city hotspots such as parks, and I wonder how throttled back it is. Families are only allowed to own one property, although in 2011 a law was passed that they could sell it and purchase another, but it could only be a cash deal. The government owns just about everything, and “I’ll pretend to work because you pretend to pay me” is very apt for many people. Schooling is free, medical care is free, but it’s only mandatory to attend school until 9th grade. University is free and it’s a matter of prestige to study law or medicine or engineering, but most people can’t make enough money in these professions, so we were told to not be surprised if a hotel bellboy is a doctor. The tourist industry offers one way for an extra income, and the Cubans were happy to welcome us.

This street in Havana was featured in The Fast
and the Furious 8 film.



The people are positive and vibrant, but they seem conflicted. The tour companies want to share the history of the Cuban people and try to redeem what Castro did (he dismantled the wealthy by giving away all of their property—Cuba claims to have zero homelessness). Coming from a democracy, many in our tour group actively argued with our guide, something I’ve never encountered in my travels. The ideals of Castro may have been sound in theory (the wealthy were corrupt and had to be taken down), but he appointed himself a dictator in the process. And the Cuban people have suffered for it.

La Bodeguita del Medis, one of Ernest Hemingway's
watering holes.

La Bodeguita del Medis in Havana.

Here’s a very condensed history of Cuba.

Cuba is considered a part of Latin America culture, deriving its customs from the aboriginal Taino and Ciboney peoples, the long period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, and a close relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

The only cars that Cuban citizens can own legally
are ones created and bought before 1959.
Most are used as taxis.



The United States acquired Cuba after the Spanish-American War via the Treaty of Paris of 1898, along with Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Cuba gained independence from the U.S. in 1902. Under Cuba’s new constitution, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to oversee its finances and foreign relations, as well as leasing the Guantánamo Bay naval base, which interestingly enough, Cuba considers to be illegal.

While a succession of leaders led to political and social corruption, the country managed to prosper in the 1920s with a booming tourist industry supported by American-owned hotels and restaurants. But a collapse in the price of sugar led to a series of revolts and leadership changes, culminating with the dominance of Fulgencio Batista, a military sergeant who soon implemented an array of repressive policies. Despite this, by the late 1940s, a stable middle class had been created through an influx of investment capital.

We saw only a few stray dogs, but an abundance of cats. Most are
fed by locals and appear to be in good health.

But in 1952 Batista once again came to power, and his policies widened the gap between the rich and the poor. He suspended the constitution, revoked many political liberties, and aligned himself with the rich sugar plantation owners. In retaliation to this flagrant corruption, Batista was forced into exile in 1958 by a man named Fidel Castro.

Initially, the U.S. supported this Castro Uprising (better known as the Cuban Revolution), but when Castro legalized the Communist Party and executed hundreds of Batista supporters, the relationship between the two countries deteriorated. He also took land from the rich, many of whom were American citizens. Between 1960 and 1964, the U.S. imposed a total ban on trade between the countries, so Castro signed a commercial agreement with the Soviets. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba suffered a severe economic downturn.

My husband waits to cross the street.
Havana is a dichotomy of past and present.
Our cruise ship can be seen in the background.

In 2008, Fidel Castro resigned as President and his brother, Raúl, took over, promising to remove some of the restrictions on freedom for the Cuban people. In 2013, Cubans were allowed to leave the country and return as long as they had a passport and a national ID card (in 1961, if residents wanted to depart they needed an exit visa which was rarely granted). However, a passport costs the equivalent of five months’ salary, so only Cubans with paying relatives abroad can take advantage of this.

Since the 1960s, the U.S. has imposed an embargo against Cuba, known as “el bloqueo” or “the blockade” among Cubans. It consists of economic sanctions against Cuba and restrictions on Cuban travel and commerce for all people and companies under U.S jurisdiction. In 2016, the Obama administration relaxed two of the restrictions, which allowed easier travel to Cuba and more commerce between the countries, but most other embargo restrictions have remained in effect. Proponents for the embargo argue that Cuba has not met conditions for removing it, which include transitioning to a democracy and improving human rights. Those against it say that it should be lifted because the failed policy is a Cold War relic and has clearly not achieved its goals. The sanctions are hurting the U.S. economy as well as Cuban citizens.

The National Capitol Building of Havana in the distance is of a similar design to
the U.S. Capitol Building.

On June 16, 2017, President Trump cancelled the Obama administration’s easing of travel and trade restrictions, enforcing the ban on tourism. Effective November 9, 2017, U.S. visitors to Cuba must travel with an organization rather than on their own, so one of the few ways to visit is by a sanctioned cruise itinerary.

Would I recommend visiting Cuba? For a vacation, no. Old Havana is in disrepair and the food is average. There is also a confusing system of two currencies (the one we used—known locally as Kooks—was tied to the U.S. Dollar; the other one—used by the local population—is not; this is yet another way the government suppresses the population).  But as an eye-opening experience to a culture sliding away while struggling to stay afloat on the world stage? Yes, it’s worth a look. As my husband says, “Cuba is for the traveler, not the tourist.” Maybe one day that will change, because there is so much potential here, and the people deserve better. And they do have some of the best cigars, rum, and coffee in the world.

Our traveling buddies.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Reading Recommendations




All Reviews By Kristy McCaffrey

(Links are to Amazon, but many of these books are available at B&N, iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play.)



This epic novel alternates between two women—Catherine Velis, a computer expert living in New York City in 1972, and Mireille de Rémy, a novice at Montglane Abbey in the south of France in 1790. Their fates are intertwined due to the Montglane Chess Service, an ancient (and possibly magical) chess set once owned by Charlemagne. As both women are compelled into searching for the chess pieces scattered around the world, their lives are forever changed, because entering the Game means a race for unlimited power. This novel was published in the 1970s but still holds up today. Ms. Neville has woven fiction around history, with many famous players showing up—Catherine the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and French mathematician Fourier—and the resulting story is so seamless that you will be hard-pressed to distinguish fact from fabrication. She also deeply explores the science behind her fictional Montglane Service, and you won’t be disappointed by the revelations. I guarantee you’ll never look at the game of chess the same again. This is a gripping, hard-to-put-down novel that will make you feel smarter from having read it. I highly recommend.


*****



In 1876, sixteen-year-old Nel Higgins suffers at the hands of her abusive pastor father while trying to protect her younger siblings and her mother. When tragedy strikes, she is forced to face the world in ways she’d never imagined. She and her younger sister, Annie, soon find themselves on the famous riverboat, the Far West, and are swept into the violence and heartbreak of Custer’s Last Stand.

The entire book is told in diary entries and it is to Ms. Jeppsen’s credit that this technique works so well. I was riveted to the story and couldn’t put it down. Nel is an engaging character, who is, at turns, frightened and heroic. She filters life’s events through an impassioned lens of curiosity. You will cheer her along while hoping for the happily-ever-after she so deserves. A heartfelt and captivating tale.


*****

For centuries, rogue waves have been the topic of myth and local lore, stories shared by ancient sailors who spoke of their colossal size and destructive force. Even today, with the technological advances of satellite tracking and computer modeling, we are still unable to accurately predict these giant monsters. Ms. Casey delves into the scientists who study them and the brave surfers who attempt to ride them. She writes about Lituya Bay in Alaska, a protected inlet just north of Sitka, and the freak waves that have repeatedly scoured the steep canyon walls and killed whomever happened to be in their path. In 1854, a purported 395-foot wave ripped through the bay with such force that the bark was stripped from trees. Casey also interviews marine salvagers and the nonstop work they do in a stretch of water in the Indian Ocean known as the Agulhas Current, which lies along the tip of South Africa. Numerous freighters and cargo ships are frequently in trouble in these waters, some disappearing before aid can be rendered with no trace of crew or cargo. Giant waves can literally snap a vessel in half.

Why do these waves occur? Seismic activity and underwater geological formations play a role, as does the climate. Her conclusions are chilling, especially considering climate change. If you live on the west coast of the United States, the threat of a destructive tsunami is very real. But the most interesting part of the book is the big wave surfers such as Laird Hamilton. These men (and, at the time of the book’s publication, one woman) chase random and behemoth waves around the globe in the hope of riding one. Hamilton fine-tuned the art of tow surfing specifically to reach ocean conditions of this type. The surfers’ relationship to the unfathomable power of these waves is inspiring and outrageous and humbling.

The Wave is filled with hard science, heartbreaking disaster, and frightening predictions of future tsunamis hitting coastal cities. It’s also a testament to our desire to challenge the awesome sovereignty of nature.


*****


Fighter pilot Alisa Marchenko has been left stranded after suffering injuries during a war in which her side—the Alliance—overcame the tyranny of the Empire. She decides to steal a freighter to return to her home planet in order to retrieve her daughter. With Mica, an Alliance engineer, by her side, they compile a motley crew which includes a bodyguard named Beck and an Empire cyborg named Leonidas, although he’s more man than machine. A few passengers come along as well and soon become major characters as they fight off pirates and attempt to learn why a cyborg facility was massacred.

This is a fun story filled with action, adventure, a strong heroine in Alisa and a brooding yet honorable hero in Leonidas. This is the first of a multi-book series, so many plot points aren’t immediately resolved but it promises to be an entertaining saga.


*****


In the near future, London is policed by an army in search of clairvoyants. Those who possess such gifts commit treason simply by existing. Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, a very rare voyant, making her valuable to the criminal underworld. When she is caught and imprisoned, she believes death will be her fate. She soon learns, however, that something worse is at play. Living side-by-side with humans are a race called the Rephaim, and they also covet Paige’s gift. She’s placed under the care of a Rephaite called Warden, but it quickly becomes clear that humans are slaves of the Rephaim. If Paige hopes to escape, she must get close to her otherworldly captor, but that proves even more dangerous as she develops feelings for him. The Bone Season is an ambitious first novel, and while the world building was somewhat confusing at times, I was swept along with the story, flying through the pages to see how it would end. Thankfully, there’s a second book available to pick up where this one ends.



*****


Scottish Highlander Iain MacKinnon captures an Englishman’s daughter in retaliation for the kidnapping of his young son. As he bargains for a trade, it becomes clear that the Englishman has no interest in his daughter Page. While Iain gains his son, he also must ponder what to do with the girl. Feeling that no one should be denied by their father, he takes her with him. The bulk of the story encompasses the growing relationship between Iain and Page. This is an old school romance novel with an emphasis on inner dialogue and lengthy love scenes, and I loved it. Iain is a tortured and compelling hero, and Page is a plucky heroine despite the circumstances. The romance was smoldering, and I cheered the ultimate happily-ever-after.


*****



English soldier Piers Montgomerie, also known as Lyon, has been given land in Scotland as a reward for service. As he struggles to make peace with the Highlanders that surround him, Meghan Brodie literally walks right into his hands. Once he lays eyes on her, he knows that his world has changed dramatically. Marrying her will solidify his standing with the Brodie clan—Meghan’s three brothers—but even more than the advantageous union, Lyon comes to realize that Meghan is unlike any other woman he has ever known. This is a wonderfully compelling romance of a stern hero hiding deep philosophical angst and a headstrong heroine struggling to be seen for her mind rather than her beauty. Their banter is delightful and, at times, downright hilarious. I couldn’t put this down and read it nearly straight through. If you’re looking for a sigh-worthy romance with a dash of humor and some major heat, then this book is for you.


*****


Seana lives in the forest away from the major clans but is desperate to find a better home for her ailing father. She has convinced herself that she loves Broc, but with him showing little interest in her beyond friendship, she turns to Colin Brodie—Broc’s best friend—for help. Colin has a reputation with the ladies that is hardly a secret, and when Seana starts to fall for him she knows it’s the stupidest thing she’s ever done. I have to admit that I was very curious to see how Colin and Seana would come together, and Ms. Crosby did a fine job with it. It was very romantic and believable, with a dash of Scottish magic thrown in. But would you expect anything less in this wonderful series?



*****



Why does a seasoned hunter die when catastrophe strikes in the wilderness, but a four-year-old child manages to stay alive? What separates the victim from the survivor? Mr. Gonzales has written a comprehensive book on the subject, analyzing accounts of tragic misfortunes for clues. And at the center lies the brain. How quickly a human adapts to a rapidly deteriorating situation—whether it be the sinking of a boat in the ocean or a broken limb on a mountainside or the imprisonment in a World War II German POW camp—has everything to do with letting go of preconceived notions of how the situation should be and instead facing the reality of what lay before them and how to develop a plan of action. We must plan, but we must be able to let go of the plan as well.

Gonzales states, “The environment we’re used to is designed to sustain us. We live like fish in an aquarium. Food comes mysteriously down, oxygen bubbles up. We are the domestic pets of a human zoo we call civilization. Then we go into nature, where we are least among equals with all other creatures. There we are put to the test. Most of us sleep through the test. We get in and out and never know what might have been demanded. Such an experience can make us even more vulnerable, for we come away with the illusion of growing hardy, salty, knowledgeable.”

In the end, he boils it down to the following rules of adventure: perceive, believe, then act—intelligence is a matter of “guessing well.” Avoid impulsive behavior; don’t hurry. Know your stuff—a deep knowledge of the world may save your life. Get the information you need for the activity you plan to engage in. Commune with the dead—meaning, understand how other people got into trouble and why they died. And most importantly, be humble. Embrace the beginner’s mind. A Navy Seal commander stated that “the Rambo types are the first to go.”

A comprehensive and well-written book.



*****



This is an excellent resource for an author to understand his/her work in the context of the current e-publishing market. While Quinn’s advice seems obvious, it surprised me how much I gained from her insights. I’ve written for both love and money, and now I can put both to rest in my mind instead of struggling endlessly to sell a book that might not be all that marketable. And, as Quinn states, that’s okay. Along the same lines, writing for money is an important tool that an author must understand if they hope to find some measure of success with a writing career. While other books present similar ideas, Ms. Quinn offers it in a fast, easy-to-digest format.