Ban This Book (Starscape) by acclaimed author Alan Gratz deals with banned books at a school library, and with the efforts of a young elementary school student to read every book on the list for herself, and start up a lending library so that any of her fellow students can also read the books if they want. The young girl, Amy Anne Ollinger, starts off by desiring to simply want to borrow her favorite book from her school’s library, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg.

Amy has read it numerous times before, but loves to reread it over and over again. When she attempts to borrow it this time, however, she finds it has disappeared off of the shelves of the library, and that the mother of one of her classmates, Trey, is planning on talking to the school board to have the book, as well as others, banned from the school library. Amy is determined not to let the banning of books which she thinks her fellow students should have the freedom to read prevent them from having access to the books. For a chance to win a hardback copy of this novel that all book lovers will want to read, just enter this contest by being a resident of Canada or the United States and leaving your name, mention the state or province and city where you live, and follow the few other simple rules below! The last contest I ran was involving winning a hardback copy of the thriller, City of Saviors,(Tor/Forge) by Rachel Howzell Hall. Due to a lack of entries, there was not a winner chosen…it’s so easy to enter these contests, though, so I urge you to enter this one!

At the beginning of Ban This Book, Amy is just an ordinary student, a young lady who loves reading books, and who has several “favorites.” The one she loves the most, however, is the afore-mentioned one, by Konigsberg. Amy has always feared speaking up for herself, and making her opinions known, especially living as she does with her sisters always striving to be the centers of attention. She has always just gone with the flow, wanting to say what her opinions are, but saying something else, instead.

However, Amy finds herself changing and she becomes a stronger person, inside, throughout the course of Ban This Book, as she fights her own battle against censorship. Her father takes her to a local book store where she buys herself a copy of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and she loans it to her best friend, Rebecca Zimmerman, who also loves the book after she reads it, and is intrigued with the idea of reading something that has been forbidden them. Rebecca has another book that is on the banned list, and she lets Amy read it. That is how the idea that Amy gets of creating a lending library of banned books is born.

In Ban this Book, Amy realizes that starting up the lending library could get her and her friends into trouble, if they get caught; but, she feels it is worth it to take a stand for her love of books and the rights we all have under the First Amendment. For the chance to win a hardback copy of this book, besides following the few simple rules above, you just need to be 18 or older, anda person who is not related to me. The contest will run from Tuesday, October 10, 2017, to Friday, October 20, at midnight. I will then chose a winner at random. The potential winner will have five days to get back to me with his/her snail mail address, just so I can let Starscape, the publishers, know where to send the novel. If I do not hear from the potential winner after five additional days, I will chose a new winner, from the rest of the entries. Multiple entries from the same person are allowed, but Spam-related ones will not count as eligible entries. People can also enter by providing the information I mention here to me via a Twitter or Facebook message or via email. Good luck!

Written By: Douglas R. Cobb

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Spots by the talented author, Simon Plaster, is his latest satirical novel featuring a small-town reporter, Henrietta, who is from the actual small town of Henryetta, Oklahoma. In Spots, Henrietta travels to Oklahoma City, where the novel is primarily set, to report on the days leading up to a TV awards show in which awards are given to the best actors/actresses in TVCs, or TV commercials, otherwise known as “Spots.” Because of this, other than Henrietta and her mother, Wynona Sue, many recurring characters from Plaster’s other novels in the series are not featured in Spots, but that is more than made up for with his cast of new characters, including ones from famous commercials, like William Shatner, the insurance gal, Flo, and the two guys who currently are in commercials for Sonic.

The plot of Spots revolves around the antics and intrigue associated with the actors and actresses up for awards in Oklahoma City, when the Academy of Television Commercials Arts and Sciences is forced to relocate its annual awards ceremony from Las Vegas to OKC. Henrietta, who is now a reporter for OKC’s Tinseltown SCENE newspaper, wants to get a scoop that she hopes will result in her winning a Pulitzer Prize.

Besides the usual gossip and rumors circulating around, and the rivalries that exist between TVC stars, like one Plaster writes about between Flo and her almost identical sister, Chloe (Clo), who is in commercials for Transgressive Insurance Company, there are rumors brewing about a scheme to murder at least one of the TVC stars—but, which one, Henrietta wonders, might be the first to die? Will it be possibly Flo or Chloe, maybe, or the bald-headed man from insurance commercials who seems to know an awful lot about what people do, or maybe one of the Sonic guys, or even Jimmy Mayhem, Colonel Sanders or William Shatner?

Deano DeBoffo is also one of Spot’s main characters. He’s a famous Hollywood producer/director and he wants to create a docudrama that is basically one long commercial, called “What’s In Your Wallet?” A part of the plot of Spots involves his efforts to convince some of the TVC actors gathered in OKC to sign up with him to be in his planned movie.

Spots is a very entertaining satirical romp poking fun at awards shows and the actors/actresses appearing in some of the most famous TV spots in recent memory. It is probably a novel that would be most enjoyed by Young Adults and older, as Plaster also references many older commercials that many adults will fondly remember, like the Alka Seltzer ones, with catch phrases like, “That’s one spicy meatball!” and “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is!”

I found the in-fighting between many of the TVC stars to be very amusing, and also whenever Simon Plaster wrote scenes including Jimmy Mayhem. Plaster has written, with Spots, one of his best satirical novels yet. Will the reporting that Henrietta does for OKC Tinseltown SCENE land her the Pulitzer Prize she feels she so richly deserves? Who is behind the rumors and apparent attempts to kill off TVC stars? Check out Spots to find out! It’s an entertaining satirical novel I highly recommend, along with Plaster’s other novels featuring small-town reporter, Henrietta, like Hmmm?, Ticks: A Tail of Climate Change and a Girl, and Hogback!

Written By: Douglas R. Cobb


The Dramos Saga by the amazing author Franklin E. Wales relates the adventures of the title character, Dramos, a character torn out of the old Wild West, who also has a unique set of talents when it comes to killing supernatural beings like werewolves and vampires. In the interrelated stories about Dramos and his exploits that make up The Dramos Saga, Wales skillfully weaves in plenty of action to hold the interest of his readers, a fan base that is exponentially growing by the day. If you would like to enter to WIN an ebook copy of The Dramos Saga, just leave a comment below, with your name and country, state, or province where you live, and be 18 or over –it’s that simple, though there are a scant few other rules, which are below! Fans can also buy The Dramos Saga and the author’s other novels at Amazon here.

Without (hopefully) revealing any Spoilers, The Dramos Saga opens with “13 Steps.” In “13 Steps,” Wales introduces his readers to the character of Dramos and hints at his origin story. At the beginning of the tale, Dramos, or Doriano “Dramos” Tepedino, as he’s otherwise called, is getting ready to be executed, by getting hung by the neck until dead. The rest of the first short story is about what leads up to Dramos’ death sentence, why he pleads guilty, and how he cheats death, because he — you will just have to read how he does it, yourselves. The fact that he does cheat death is not much of a spoiler, as, of course, there are other short stories in the book, all featuring the central protagonist, Dramos.

Are there werewolves in the first story? Yes! And, Drmaos encounters a foe from his family’s past, from Italy — the vampire, Tarczali. Wales also relates how Dramos, who starts out the story nude, stumbles into an encampment searching for clothing to purloin and becomes a part of a stagecoach robbery. There’s enough violence and shoot-outs in “13 steps,” to satisfy the most jaded of Western fans, and enough supernatural beings like werewolves to also satisfy most horror fans, or at least, ones of the Old School variety, who love reading about beings like werewolves and vampires that actors like Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi originally helped make famous on the Silver Screen.

Then, The Dramos Saga goes on to relate other, related, adventures that Dramos is featured in, like the second short story in the collection, “Funeral Coach.” Dramos is hot on the trail of the Vampire King, himself, who goes by the name Pierre Durie. A character called Colby has been forcibly enlisted by Tarczali’s minions at the Circle Star Ranch to be a Coachman for a funeral coach.

When Dramos orders Colby to get down from the funeral coach, he learns the horrible truth behind it, directly from Colby. He cannot get down, as he has been chained to the stagecoach at his ankles. The lead rider next to Colby has been shot in the neck and is practically dead. Colby tells Dramos, that the funeral coach contains a coffin. Dramos shows Colby that inside the coffin….ah, but that would be a Spoiler, so I will not mention what Dramos shows the Colby.

The other short stories — or chapters, that stand alone as parts of the overall saga of Dramos — are “Pickin’ To Beat The Devil,” “Renegade,” “Vampire’s Gold,” “The Vampire King,” and “Blackwater.” The other five short stories in The Dramos Saga will leave readers enthralled, and there is much more violence, blood, gore and gunfire for anyone who loves reading Westerns and Horror novels in this genre-crossing collection.

Besides the rules above, including leaving a comment below and either letting me know where you live below or through a Twtter or Facebook message, what are the remaining few rules? The period of time entries to win an ebook of The Dramos Saga will be accepted will be from Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, to Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, at midnight. Also, anyone related to me cannot enter, and if you have won something from this website during the past 90 days, you are not eligible to win this contest. The potential winner will have a five-day period to respond when I contact him/her, to then email the winner the ebook. If the potential winner does not reply within the five-day period, a new winner will be selected. Multiple entries are allowed, but please, do not leave a Spam-related comment, as anyone who does will be disqualified. Good luck!

By: Douglas R. Cobb


Strong To The Bone (Tor/Forge) by best-selling thriller author, Jon Land, is another page-turning addition to Land’s series of novels featuring fifth-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, complete with all the twists and turns, and action, fans have come to expect from Land’s novels. Texas Ranger has faced myriads of tough adversaries in the past, but in Strong To the Bone, she faces perhaps the toughest yet, as she has a very personal stake in the matter. Beware: Spoiler Alerts follow, though I will try not to reveal too much about the fantastic plot of Strong To The Bone.

Here’s the first Spoiler — sorry, in advance: One of the foes she encounters is the man who raped her when she was a college undergraduate. Spoiler Number Two rapidly follows on the heels of the first Spoiler: Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, with the aid of her boyfriend, Cort Wesley Masters, seven-foot-tall friend and protector, Guillermo Paz, and assorted law enforcement officers, also take on a drug-dealing gang of neo-Nazis intent on remodeling the United States and destroying America’s very way of life.

Read on, and get my further thoughts on Strong To The Bone — besides the fact that it is another terrific entry in the series — and please leave a non-Spam comment, below, or Message me on Twitter or Facebook, what your name is, your state, and city, to get the chance to WIN an autographed hardback copy of the thriller, before it is even available in stores on December 5, 2017! Only residents of the United States who are 18 or older are eligible for this particular contest. Jon Land will personally autograph and mail out the prize to the person who wins. There are just a few other simple rules that follow at the end of this review.

As with the other novels in the Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong series, Jon Land interweaves the past with the present, including flashbacks of cases Strong’s illustruous forebearers played key roles in, that resonate in the future and her own cases. In Strong To The Bone, both Strong’s grandfather, Texas Ranger Earl Strong, and father, Texas Ranger Jim Strong, play pivotal roles. Caitlin’s grandfather deals with an escaped Nazi prisoner of war, who murdered everyone else in his barracks before escaping, while her father is understandably enrage when Caitlin gets raped, and he does his best to help find the person responsible.

Early on in Strong To The Bone, Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes matters into her own hands, when she, in the company of Cort Wesley, sees drunken college students spilling out of a bar and causing a major disruption. She learns that there is a young female college student still within the bar, who has been sexually assaulted, and goes about coming to her rescue in a decidely flamboyant, but very effective, Caitlin Strong manner, by commandeering a fire truck with her boyfriend’s aid, and turning one of the truck’s hoses on the crowd to give her the space she needs to get through all of the bodies to help the young woman inside.

Cort Wesley’s two teen sons from a previous relationship, are also back in Strong To The Bone. while Wesley’s son, Dylan, is taking off a semester from college at Brown University, he is working at a car body shop where his father got him a job. A group of neo-Nazis that drive a truck by the car shop on a daily basis shout out racial slurs to the Hispanics who also work at the place, and Dylan, being perhaps a bit too much like his father, does not take kindly to the slurs and confronts the neo-Nazis armed with a gun.

Cort Wesley finds out about Dylan’s actions, but he does not want to directly get involved, nor have Caitlin Strong get involved in the matter. Instead, he goes to where Colonel Paz is volunteering at a shelter, dispensing food and philosphy to the homeless men who come there, and enlists him in keeping an eye on his son and stepping in, when necessary.

Jon Land very ably and convincingly ties in these subplots of Strong To The Bone into the main one, about a neo-Nazi drug dealer who has enormous wealth and power, and who has the head of a pharmaceutical company ready to do his bidding, under the threat of blackmail and getting the daylights beaten out of him. Strong To The Bone’s gripping plot, three-dimensional characters, gritty realism and non-stop action will have readers on the edges of their seats, not wanting to put the book down.

Strong To The Bone is not yet on sale either online or in stores. However, by following the rules above and leaving a comment below (or by messaging me via Twitter or my Facebook page) with the requested information, which will only be used to contact the winner, and for no other purposes, one lucky person will win an autographed copy of Strong To The Bone by Jon Land! The contest will run from Monday, September 25, to Friday, October 13, at midnight. The person randomly chosen as the winner will have five days to respond and provide me with his/her complete snail mail address, which I will only use to give to Jon Land, so he will know where to mail the autographed copy of Strong To The Bone. People who have won anything from this website during the past 90 days are not eligible to enter. also, anyone who is a relative of mine is not eligible to enter. Good Luck and Happy Reading!

By: Douglas R. Cobb


City of Saviors (Tor/Forge) by Rachel Howzell Hall is Hall’s fourth gripping thriller in her series featuring LAPD police homicide detective, Elouise “Lou” Norton, who has become a sergeant on the force. In City of Saviors, Lou is suffering from PTSD and recovering from injuries after her run-in with the brutal murderer, Zach Fletcher, who came very close to ending her life in Trail of Echoes. Lou and her partner, Detective Colin Taggert, investigate the death of seventy-three-year-old Eugene Washington, who dies after a Labor Day weekend picnic, and determine that the Vietnam vet’s death was anything but a natural one.

I and the book’s publishers, Tor/Forge, are pleased to announce that that one lucky reader of this review who enters below will get to WIN a hardback copy of City of Saviors! This giveaway is open to only residents of the United States and Canada who are 18 or older and leave a non-Spam related comment below, meaning the state or province and city he/she lives in. A few other rules are also below. Eleanor Griego was the winner of the last book giveaway, a hardback copy of Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher (Tor/Forge).

 

City of Saviors Captures Readers’ Attention From the Very First Sentence

City of Saviors captures the readers’ attention from the very first sentence, and holds it to the very end of the novel. Norton has faced many nefarious murderers during her career, but perhaps none who are any more devious than the culprit behind the death of Vitenam vet, Eugene Washington. The house Washington dies in is like a scene out of the suburbs of Hell, with cats, living and dead, roaming around at will, roaches scurrying everywhere, and the oders of spoiled food and death pungently scenting the un-airconditioned air.

Washington is found dead, sitting in an armchair, with a gun in front of him, and an unfinished meal on a rusty tray beside the armchair, with roaches stuck in a casserole dish. Also, Norton and Taggert spot an unfinished 40-ounce bottle of Schlitz on the tray, with roaches sprinting in and out of it. Lou makes it out of the house of horror, somehow, back into the sunlight on a 98-degree day, without throwing up, but just barely.

She and Taggert did not see any bullet holes in Washington’s body, but Norton knew that did not necessarily rule out murder, especially with a “girlfriend” of the victim, Bernice Parrish, on the scene, anxiously awaiting news about a will inside the house, and “soup pennies” she had been promised by Washington upon his death. “Soup pennies,” were slang for gold coins.

It turns out, in City of Saviors, that others also have a motive for wanting to see Washington dead, like some of the congregants of the 6,000-member congregation of Blessed Mission Ministries. The church is led by the colorful and charismatic Bishop Solomon Tate. When Norton, Taggert, and others re-enter Washington’s house, this time wearing HazMat suits, and Norton discovers the victim’s will, another possible suspects is named in it, Oswald Little, who has been promised Washington’s property.

In City of Saviors, LAPD homicide detective finds herself on a case like no other. Her investigation into Eugene Washington’s murder leads her to wonder why Bishop Tate might have a reason to protect a member of his congregation and led her astray. Was Washington poisoned, or did somebody possibly know about an allergy he had, which led to his death?

For the chance to win a hardback copy of City of Saviors, all you need to do is leave a comment below, mentioning your name and what state or province in Canada you reside in, and your city. That information will let me know if you are eligible to enter, as Tor/Forge needs to know in order to mail out a copy when a winner is randomly chosen. The potential winner also needs to be 18 or older, and must provide me his/her complete address upon being chosen as the winner. People who follow me on Twitter @DouglasRCobb can leave the requested information as a Message there, if you would like, rather than below. The contest/giveaway will run from now, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, for two weeks, to Saturday, Sept. 30, at midnight. The potential winner will then have five days to provide me with his/her full snail mail addres, to give to Tor/Forge, who will then mail out the copy of City of Saviors. Enter now, and good luck!

By: Douglas R. Cobb

 


Killing Is My Business (Tor/Forge) is Adam Christopher’s sequel to his critically acclaimed novel, Made to Kill, featuring noirish robot detective — and killer — Raymond Electromatic. Christopher deftly combines the genres of mysteries, detective dramas, and science fiction, with a good dose of sly humor, in Killing Is My Business, a highly entertaining romp that fans of all of these genres, and just plain good writing, will enjoy reading.

What’s more, thanks to Yours Truly, the book’s publishers, Tor/Forge, and Adam Christopher, one lucky reader who is also a resident of the United States who leaves a comment below, mentioning the state he/she lives in, will win a hardback copy of the book! A few more simple rules follow this review. I had a winner for my first-ever giveaway, of the thriller Tower Down, by David Hagberg; but, due to lack of response for the second giveaway, a hardback copy of Putin’s Gambit by Lou Dobbs and James O. Born there were no winners chosen. Sometimes one shot is all it takes….try your luck, and YOU could be the winner of a copy of Killing Is My Business!

As Killing Is My Business opens, robotic sleuth, Raymond “Ray” Electromatic is tracking down yet another person, Los Angeles city planner, Vaughan Delaney. The reason why isn’t personal. It’s to kill Delaney. Ray has been given his orders, via a roll of magnetic tape, changed out at the end of each day. He has no memories of past days, other than what might serve him in continuing on his search, and his “boss” is a brassy supercomputer. Why he has been asked, by some client he has never met and doesn’t know, he does not know. He just has a job to do, and that is to kill whoever he has been assigned to kill.

Ray definitely has a personality, though, and certain meories are hardwired into him, like his love of beautiful cars and admiration of those who also love them, even if…he has been ordered to kill them. Only, in the case of Vaughan, the city planner, on the outside a happy family man, beats Ray to the punch by taking a dive out of a window where he works on the sixth floor and killing himself. To Ray’s unknown client, a dead Vaughan is a dead Vaughan, no matter how he met his end, so Vaughan’s death still filled Ray’s unkonown employer’s pockets with cash.

Then, Ray is charged with locating and killing another man, a very wealthy individual, Emerson Ellis…and the plot of Killing Is My Business really takes off, with the elusive Ellis proving to be quite difficult to track down. Despite going to check out Ellis’ businesses and questioning his secretary, butler, and others, and journeying to his prey’s various houses, Ray comes up empty-handed, but far from defeated or deterred.

Killing Is My Business is a witty, very cool genre-crossing novel by Christopher, an extremely entertaining addition to the author’s series about his robot gumshoe, Ray Electromatic. I highly recommend that you add it to your reading lists today!

To win a hardback copy (one is being given away), simply leave a comment below, with your name and the state you live in, so that I know you are from the United States, for shipping purposes. The giveaway will run from August 31, 2017, to September 14, 2017, at midnight, when I iwll randomly select a winner from all eligible entries. The winner must also be over 18, and be willing to provide me with his/her complete snail mail address, so i can give that information to the publishers, Tor/Forge, as they will mail out the copy to the lucky winner. Good luck, and who knows? YOU might wind up being the winner!

By: Douglas R. Cobb


Putin’s Gambit (Tor/Forge) is a pulse-pounding, page-turning international thriller, an intense adrenaline-fueled collaboration between famed TV broadcaster, Lou Dobbs, and author James O. Born. Its subject is a very relevant one, especially with both Russia and ISIS being in the news so much lately and the past several years. Putin is behind a KGB plot to use terrorist attacks as a cover for an incursion into Estonia by the Russian military.

By leaving a non-Spam related comment below, in the comment section, and also mentioning the state in the United States you live in, you are entered to win a hardback copy of this terrific new read! Due to postage rates, the giveaway is open only to residents of the United States. A few simple rules follow, including the date when the giveaway will end. The winner of the last giveaway, for the thriller, Tower Down (Tor/Forge), by David Hagberg, was won by Patricia Raymond, of Fort Smith, Arkansas!

Putin’s Gambit involves a Valdimir Putin’s scheme to make a behind-the-scenes deal with ISIS to supply them with arms and money, as he also asserts Russia’s power by attempting to build the Soviet empire back up, starting by a military attack on Estonia. Former Marine Derek Walsh and his buddies from his days in the Marines get caught up in the intrigue when the FBI discovers that somehow, a money transfer of $200 million was made by someone using his computer. Walsh has to clear his good name, but that, he finds, is easier said than done, especially with a group of Russians on his and his friends’ trail, who are intent on killing them.

The exciting novel, Putin’s Gambit, opens up with a focus on one of Walsh’s closest friends from the Marines, Major Ronald Jackson, who had been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, Jackson has landed a job working for the American embassy in Berlin, Germany, and he is also “responsible for several diplomatic buildings,” including ones in Frankfurt and Bonn. As a part of his job, Major Jackson stops by the U.S. embassy and drops in on a new lieutenant in charge of security there.

While strolling outside the embassy, Jackson notices a Mercedes van ease its way toward the main gate. The occupants jump out, with the driver holding an AK-47 in his hands. Major Jackson quickly takes the initiative, and a firefight ensues. Jackson manages to take out a few of the terrorists, before his own life comes to an end. That is just the start of the action and thrills readers will find as they read the well-researched and thought provoking novel, Putin’s Gambit.

Want to win yourself a hardback copy of Putin’s Gambit? If so, the rules for this giveaway, courtesy of the book’s publishers, Tor/Forge, the authors of the novel, Lou Dobbs and James O. Born, and What’s New in Book Reviews, are few and simple! First, you need to be a resident of the United States, and 18 or over. Also, you must leave a comment below, which I will see as Feedback, but which won’t display on the page, mentioning what state you live in, so I will know you are a residnet of the United States.

Then, after the period the giveaway runs, which in this case will be from Friday, August 4 2017 through Friday, August 25 at midnight, I will select one lucky person at random as the winner. I have extended this giveaway on more week, to give people even more of a chance to win!

The person who wins will have five days, up through August 29, to get back to me with his/her complete snail mail address, so I can give it to Tor/Forge, who will mail out the hardback copy of Putin’s Gambit to the lucky winner. If the person chosen as the winner does not respond within the period of five days, I will select an alternate winner at random. You can only enter the giveaway once per contest period. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Putin’s Gambit, you can do so here, at Barnes and Noble. Good luck!

By Douglas R. Cobb


Read Forever, For Less. NOOK Devices Starting at $49.99! Shop BN.com



tower downTower Down by award-winning thriller author, David Hagberg, is an exciting, fast-paced novel about events that could have been torn out of today’s headlines, involving terrorism, ISIS, and the bringing down of newly-constructed “pencil towers” in New York City.  A blood-thirsty freelance killer, code-name Al-Nassar, or “the Eagle,” educated in England masquerades as a multi-billionaire, Khalid Seif, after having killed him, and sets into motion a scheme that brings one of the pencil towers crashing down onto Carnegie Hall, killing hundreds of people, including seventy to eighty multi-billionaires from around the world who are inside the building. Can former CIA operative, Kirk McGarvey, prevent the killer from striking again? Details on how to win a copy follow, after this review!

Author David Hagberg delivers the goods with Tower Down, an intense page-turning thriller, the 21st novel Hagberg has written featuring McGarvey. The action begins before McGarvey, known as “Mac” by his friends, enters the picture. Al-Nassar leaves a trial of bodies wherever he goes, but his fingerprints are not on file, and he takes great care to clean up possible loose ends — by methodically killing anybody he thinks might later be able to identify him.

The pencil tower known as the Tower was built to be impossible for terrorists to destroy, so that there would not be any repeat of the events of 9/11. A nine-ton counterweight near the top of the Tower, controlled by a computer, helps the building adjust to any swaying it might otherwise have experience due to high winds. Over 90 percent of the apartments in the Tower were sold prior to the building’s construction, for exorbinant sums of money, with one penthouse going for a hundred fifty million dollars.

Al-Nassar strikes during a party Seif had planned, with some of the world’s wealthiest men and women in attendance. When the Tower inevitably falls, their lives are forfeited, along with the lives of hundreds of people below.

After his wife, Katy, daughter and son-in-law’s murders, and the deaths of other women in McGarvey’s life, he has been cautious about letting his guard down when it comes to his love life. However, in Tower Down, McGarvey has, once again, found love, in the form of his latest girlfriend, Pete Boylan, and he intends for their love to last. But, with his own life hanging in the balance, can McGarvey also protect Boylan’s, as he tracks his elusive prey to Cannes and other locales?

YOU could win a hardback copy of Tower Down from Tor/Forge and What’s New in Book Reviews if you are a resident of the United States, by simply leaving a non-Spam related Comment below and mentioning the state you live in. If you are selected as the winner, I will need your complete mailing address, so I can forward the information to Tor/Forge, so they can mail the copy out to the winner.  The comments will be seen by me as Feedback, instead of as comments. A winner will be chosen on midnight August 1, and if he/she does not respond with his/her mailing address after five days, a new winner will be selected. To purchase a hardback, paperback or Kindle copy of Tower Down at Amazon, click here — good luck to everyone who enters!

By: Douglas R. Cobb

 

 

 




CharmCat CoverWho can resist a delightful story about cats? Charm (An Amazing Story of a Little Black Cat) written and illustrated by the talented Leyla Atke has it all–it’s a tale about love, loss, and continuing on, despite the pain of the loss that exists when one’s beloved pet dies and leaves an empty, cat-shaped hole in one’s heart. How can such an abyss be filled? And, how did the feelings toward the handsome black cat, which the narrator calls Charm, develop in the first place?

In Charm, the author weaves a story that is, itself, charming. Atke introduces the short but sweet book by reminiscing, in the first chapter, about how Charm came into her life and changed it forever for the better. She has the first-person narrator tell of “a hot summer day in June of 2006″ when she “was leaving work for a break.” The reason she is leaving is “to get a new hairstyle” and she is in a hurry to fit in the hairstyle into her busy day. Such are the times when Fate, or God, enters into our plans and sometimes, if we’re lucky, changes them in ways that we’d never planned, but which bring a touch of happiness to our lives.
At a busy intersection, on the way to her hair appointment, the narrator notices “something small and black” in the middle of the road, among the rushing cars. She notices that it is moving, and she decides to see what it is, so she stops her car and gets out to get a closer look. As she approaches the object, she sees that it is “a small black kitten sitting in the middle of the road.” With the cars “waiting for a green light from both sides,” she realizes that she has the chance to rescue the kitten, and she takes it.

Even then after the narrator saves the kitten, she’s not sure what to do with it, and considers if she should just “leave it in the park” which is nearby. However, struck by how cute and gentle the kitten is, though it is dirty and its fur is “smelling like kerosene” she takes the animal to her aunt’s house. She, like the narrator, has her own cat, but she agrees “to shelter the kitten only until the evening.” That enables the narrator to return to work, think about what has transpired, and make her decision about keeping the kitten.

I don’t want to give anything else away, except to say that she does decide to keep the small black kitten, and to call it Charm. I throughly enjoyed reading Leyla Atke’s book, and her wonderful illustrations help give the reader a genuine feel for how Charm must have looked, and how the kitten managed to, well, charm his way into the narrator’s life.

There is something else I should mention, though, about the book. It is written primarily for young teens on up. What ultimately happens to Charm is sad, and the description of the cat’s body after his demise might be too much for younger readers to handle, though the author is being honest about relating the details. Also, the author writes that “Vaccination and castration” will be musts for a new kitten that enters into her life, who she first sees just “a couple of steps away from Charm’s grave,” and who she also decides to call Charm. These elements don’t at all detract (at least not in my humble opinion) from the appeal of the book; but, I thought I should mention these things, so that if someone decides to buy it for younger kids, they will know that the kids might come to them with some very interesting questions about death and the definition of “castration.”

Charm (An Amazing Story of a Little Black Cat) is a truly charming story about how much a kitten can effect a person’s life and bring joy to it. If you are an animal lover, and perhaps own a cat or have owned them in the past, you’ll definitely want to add this delightful short book to your reading lists. It would also make a great gift for a cat lover in your life. I highly recommend Charm to anyone who has ever owned, or who currently owns, a kitten or a cat.


Christtmas CapersHere are the first three chapters of Lily and PAWS: Christmas Capers for you to read for FREE. I hope you like what you read, and will then consider buying the novella for just 99 cents from Amazon. It’s a funny, heart-warming, and suspenseful addition to my series The Case File of Lily and PAWS. Can Lily, her 14-year-old “Owner” Celeste, and the rest of PAWS save Christmas and prevent boys & girls around the world from being disappointed on Christmas morning? Find out by reading this cool Christmas novella. Click here to buy it!

Chapter One
“The Twelve Days of
Lilymas”

“Celeste,” I said to my bestest friend in the whole wide world, fourteen-year-old Celeste Elizabeth Quince, twelve days before Christmas, “I have an idea.”
“Oh?” Celeste said. “I think I should be scared; very scared.”
“What do you mean by that snide remark?”
“Your ‘ideas’ generally cause us to get into lots of trouble. Your ‘ideas’ have often almost resulted in the destruction of the entire city of Centralia. Your ‘ideas’ have led to our friends being kidnapped, to my death, to—”
“Yeah, yeah—blah, blah, blah,” I said. “That’s all ancient history now. Can’t you let sleeping pterodactyls lie? My ideas had resulted in countless lives being saved, this city being saved, the rescue of my friends and fellow members of PAWS—Private Army of Warrior Sleuths—and your being resurrected from the dead. Why must you always look at the glass as being half-full?”
“What-ev-er,” Celeste said. “None of those things would have had to happen at all, if it weren’t for your so-called spectacular ‘ideas,’ Lily.”
“Oh, don’t be so grumpy, Celeste! Christmas is only twelve days away; where’s your Christmas spirit?”
“I have tons of Christmas spirit, Lily—I just hope that we don’t get visited by any Christmas spirits—like the ghost of Belle Starr who visited us at the start of this past summer! Not to mention the other ghosts that almost made us into ghosts, like the specter of the mad Dr. Norman Baker of the Crescent Hotel.”
“You forgot to mention the steampunk automatons, the werewolves, the vampires, the witches, the evil Leprechauns—”
“I didn’t forget them; I was only trying to refer to ghosts, though, because you mentioned ‘Christmas spirits.’ Lily.”
I am Celeste’s “owner,”—that much is certain, though Celeste still stubbornly clings to the erroneous assumption that she is the “owner” and that I am the pet. The things that teenagers are taught in schools these days…. She and I were conversing with each other in Celeste Quince’s bedroom, on the second floor of her parents’ two-story, 250,000 square foot mansion at 221 Baker Street in Centralia, Arkansas.
Though Celeste and I were the best of friends, we often had disagreements, ranging from minor to major ones; but, no one ever said that friends had to agree on everything. For the most part, though, we got along very well with each other. She just didn’t always like to admit when she was incorrect about certain things, and I, of course, am never and have never been wrong. I suppose I could understand why Celeste wouldn’t want to admit that, though I have cheerfully told her on more than one occasion that the saying is “To err is human.” It says nothing about pterodactyls, like me.
“Celeste,” I said. “I have a modest proposal for you. You’ve heard the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ right?”
“Ye-e-es,” Celeste said cautiously. “Most people have—it’s on the radio every Christmas, and lots of people sing it when they go Caroling—but, what’s your point? What does that have to do with your proposal, if anything?”
“Well, there’s also the Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, and some people still celebrate each night of the twelve nights…wouldn’t it make much more sense to celebrate something else on those twelve nights?”
“Like what, Lily?”
“Umm…er…you almost had it with the question you just asked me, if the words are switched around a bit, and one of them is changed…. The answer is, duh, like me, Lily.”
“So, you’re saying that you’d like the entire world to not celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, but to instead, celebrate the twelve days of Lily?”
“Yes, that’s the ticket; your powers of deduction improve by leaps and bounds daily, Celeste! I’m very impressed that you have reached the same conclusion on this as I have, that ‘The Twelve Days of Lilymas’ has so much of a better ring to it than ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas.’”
“Now, hold on a minute, Lily!” Celeste said. “I reached no such ‘conclusion.’ I believe that the song and the holiday should be left as they are, and not monkeyed with.”
“Don’t you mean, in this particular case, you don’t want them pterodactyled with? No matter; I suppose I assumed too much about your improved deductive powers, and that they perhaps have not improved quite as much as I was giving you credit for. That is one of my practically nonexistent faults: to think too highly of others, at times. I guess it’s just one of my saintly qualities shining through.”
“’Saintly?’ Ha!” my friend replied. “That is not something I would confuse you as being, Lily! Let’s see—there are a number of other adjectives I might have in mind to call you, though, like egotistical, snide, snarky, a major pain in my—neck—”
“I don’t believe the last thing you said exactly qualifies as an adjective, Celeste,” I said.
“Maybe not, but it does describe how you are, occasionally.”
“Let’s not quibble over minor details; we both know deep down in our hearts that every time I open my mouth, I speak the truth, so let’s move on to our plans to change the name of the song and how people celebrate the ‘Twelve Days of Lilymas.’
“I think, for example, that on the first day of Lilymas, people should decorate their yards and houses with images of me, and—
“Only you, huh? Don’t you think that’s just a wee bit egotistical, just like I said you are?” Celeste asked me.
“No, no—don’t be silly,” I answered. “There could be some decorations of Santa and me, the baby Jesus and me, perhaps a Buddha and me—as long as I am included somewhere in each individual decoration, that’s all that counts, isn’t it? Keeping the spirit of Lilymas in your heart, and proving it to the world in the money you spend on decorating your yards and houses for the most wonderful time of the year, Lilymas?”
”What do you mean, ‘that’s all that counts,’ Lily? You’ve gone way too far—what you’re saying is sacrilegious.”
“Oh, c’mon, Celeste! As usual, you’ve misunderstood what I was saying—I don’t need this Lilymas holiday to be one on which I’m worshipped—I just want to, in my humble way, be remembered every once in a while—like, say, once a year—for the countless times I’ve saved the world from disaster. Now, is that asking too much? What’s the matter—have I left you speechless?”
Celeste shook her head “No” and pointed at her window that overlooked the fenced-in backyard.
There, I saw a being floating, and staring into the room at us. At first, I thought, “Not again! Not another run-in with the vampires of Centralia’s Belgian Quarter!” But, the being at the window was not a vampire. It was something infinitely scarier, at least to dentists everywhere. The being was a Sugar Plum Fairy.
Picture a male Tinkerbell, but human-sized, with purple, sugar-speckled wings, and you might have somewhat of an idea about what this particular Sugar Plum Fairy looked like.
Oh, and he was round, his torso was, anyway, much like a plum. Sugared plums were a delicious Christmas treat that was increasingly rarely made in America by Moms and Grandmothers. Why bother with the fuss and mess of that, when you could just as well buy solid chocolate Santas, and a wide variety of other candy to stuff into Christmas stockings?
“Hmm…” I said, as the Sugar Plum Fairy then began to lightly knock at Celeste’s window, as if he didn’t notice us staring at him. “Are you going to let our visitor in? You know, the lightly knocking one, like the raven in Poe’s famous poem about a….”
“Raven?”
“No, no—don’t be ri-donk-ulous, Celeste—more like a…raven, that’s it, not what you said, whatever that was.”
Celeste went to her window, and said: “Come on in, out of the cold, whoever you are. Get warm, and tell us why you’ve decided to visit us on this first night of Christmas.”
Contrary to what you might think, by the fact that the being who flew in Celeste’s window was a Sugar Plum Fairy, he spoke with a deep, sonorous voice, sounding kind of like a cross between the voices of Morgan Freeman and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“It’s about time you let me in, Pilgrim,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said to Celeste, imitating the star of Western movies, John Wayne. It seemed he could alter his voice to fit the situation, sort of like Robin Williams did. Of course, Robin Williams would never dress in such an outrageous costume, though—he has way more dignity than that. “I was freezing my wings off out there! You two didn’t see me because you were both engrossed in your argument. Now I know what a fly on the wall feels like!”
“O-kay,” I said. “So we didn’t notice you and you got cold and your feelings got hurt. Waah, waah. You must be here for a reason—what is it? Do you have a mystery for us and PAWS to solve? Is anyone in danger? Well, c’mon, spit it out—are you going to tell us by using charades, or sign language?”
“I do actually have a case for you, Celeste, and PAWS to solve—what’s that stand for, anyway?”
“Umm, Private Army of Warrior Sleuths,” Celeste answered. “Not that Lily and three of her friends amount to an actual army—”
“Hey,” I said, trying to justify the acronym, as it did make sense, if one thought about it, “we may not have the numerical amount of people that most armies have; but, we have the formidable power and strength of an army! At first blush, we may not seem like we’re much—”
“…and at second and third blush….” Celeste rudely added.
“…but, appearances can be deceiving. We each have specialized fighting skills, and the power to control minds. We’re lean, mean, fightin’ machines!”
“Pardon me,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “I didn’t mean to start up an argument; I just wanted to ask you for your help. You might recall from having heard a certain poem that, on Christmas night, children around the world are supposed to see visions of sugar plums dancing around their heads. This year, I’m afraid, that tradition might be over.”
“What did you say your name was, again?” I asked, suddenly getting more interested in this strange fellow than I had been before. “You’re not really in cahoots with the evil Christmas elves, are you, or our arch-enemies, the Scarlet S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S?
“Er—nothing personal, though your eyes do look kind of beady and too set close together for my peace of mind and comfort. I’m only asking, you understand, because this seems to be something right up their alley: a master plan to destroy Christmas! It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve tried to do it, and ruin the joys of good boys and girls (and animals) with their confounded criminal activities!”
“My name’s Peter Trundlebed Johansen. It’s a Swedish name—don’t ask, please. We Sugar Plum Fairies are a close-knit group, and don’t socialize with elves much, whether they be good or evil ones. And, I’ve never even heard of the SNORKLES before, so—”
“Not SNORKLES!” I said. “Sheesh! I said SNURFLES! They’re the Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity! It’s difficult for me to believe you’ve never heard of them! They’re only the most elite, top-notch criminal organization ever, is all! Snorkles, on the other hand, are used to allow people to breathe underwater.”
“You’ll have to excuse me,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “As you might have surmised, by my wings, I and other Sugar Plum Fairies are not exactly an aquatic race. I wouldn’t know a snorkel from—that other thing you said, that criminal organization, the SNIFFLES or something like that.”
“No, not the SNIFFLES! You get those when you get a cold, or the flu! I said the SNURFLES! Tell me, are you, by any chance, related to a certain Chinese Crested/rhino friend of mine, Fuzzy Wally MacGee?”
“No; why do you ask?”
“No reason—just forget about it—anyway, why is it that the tradition of children seeing sugar plums dancing around their heads on Christmas Eve in danger this year?” I asked.
“Because,” Peter Trundlebed Johansen said, “there are no plums anywhere to be found in the world. It’s as if they’ve disappeared off of the face of the Earth.”
“That must make life tough for little Jack Horner, too—if plums have been wiped out all over the world, what will he pull out of pies with his thumb from now on? Maybe Mandarin oranges, or possibly kiwi fruit?”
“Guys,” Celeste said, “I’ve been just now looking up the term ‘sugar plums’ on the Internet, and—”
“No, not the Internet!” Peter the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “The Internet: the place where dreams are crushed, people lose their beliefs, and where information gets confused with the truth!”
“Yes, the Internet,” Celeste replied. “Anyway, the sources I checked say that sugar plums originally had nothing at all to do with actual plums. Instead, the term referred to layer after layer of sugar that was built up over something tiny, like a coriander, caraway, or cardamom seed, until it was oval or round in shape. They were like jawbreakers, in a way. Almonds could also be used.”
“Ouch,” Peter said, dejectedly. “That really hurts, you know? Next thing you’ll be telling me is that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny—”
“Don’t even go there,” Celeste interrupted. “They’re real, of course; and, whatever the term ‘sugar plum’ used to mean, I see you before me, so I know that you’re real. Plums can be coated with sugar, and there are lots of great recipes I could let you have I looked up on the Internet that explain how to make fantastic sugar-coated plums. Some also use almonds—yum!”
“Yes, yes; yum, indeed,” Peter said. “Exactly my point. If enough people believe in something, eventually it will become true, whether it was before or not. And, if they stop believing—”
“That won’t happen!” said Celeste. “I used to not believe in ghosts, werewolves, witches, aliens, Bigfoot, evil Leprechauns and elves, or talking pterodactyls, but that didn’t stop them from existing and eventually proving to me that they are as real as—well—sugar plum fairies.”
“So, you’re saying you believe me, and that you’ll take my case?” he asked.
“Hmm…” I said. “How’s this for an answer? There’s a meeting of PAWS tomorrow morning, Mr. Johansen. Your case will be the main topic of the meeting, you can rest assured of that.”

Chapter Two
“The Call of Duty”

“In times like these,” I said, speaking before the weekly meeting of PAWS at nine in the morning on a Saturday, “when duty calls, what will your answer be? What will you say?”
“Is my phone going off again?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. He is a rhino, but when humans look at him, they believe they’re seeing a Chinese Crested dog. He’s the “Distracter” of our team. “I probably shouldn’t have chosen the tweeting of birds as my ringtone. It makes it kind of confusing sometimes to tell the difference between my ringtone and, say, a merry robin or barn thrush. But, I guess I’d have to say, ‘Hello? I’m Fuzzy Wally MacGee. Hello? I think you might have the wrong number.’”
“That is not what I was referring to, Fuzzy!” I said.
“My ringtone sounds more like the sound a rattlesnake makes when it’s angry,” Prince Alphonse Saed said. He resembles to the eyes of people a miniature dachshund, but he’s really a Mountain Lion. Alphonse, or “Fonz” or “Fonzie” as he’s often called, is an expert at using Ninja weapons, and he can (sometimes) predict the future by using crystal balls or Tarot cards.
“Nobody asked me,” Lucy Marmoset Higgins exclaimed. “But, my ring tone sounds kind of like a banana.” Lucy was an orangutan, thought humans perceived her as being a Great Dane. She’s an excellent fighter, and she comes in handy for cracking safes and hacking into computers.
“Like a banana?” I asked.
“Yes,” Lucy answered. “Well, not exactly. Bananas generally are sort of…soft and squishy, and don’t make many noises. My ringtone is more like…the sound of bananas when they’re sliced up into crunchy cereal…a ‘crunch, crunch, crunch,’ sort of sound. But, I know that the bananas are there, and that’s all that really matters, right, Lily?”
“Uh, um…yes, I suppose,” I said. “But, I wasn’t talking about a phone call when I said ‘duty calls,’ I was saying that when you are asked to do something, and you know that you should do it, it’s your duty to do, er, whatever it might be you’ve been asked to do.”
“You said ‘doodie,’ Fuzzy Wally MacGee said, laughing.
“No, no, I did not,” I said. “You misheard me, I suspect on purpose. I said duty, d-u-t-y. When the Sugar Plum Fairy, Peter Trundlebed Johansen—quit laughing, Fuzzy, and you too, Lucy and Fonzie—it’s quite an acceptable, normal-sounding name, at least in Sweden, land of…cheeses and…chocolates, my mouth is watering just mentioning the very word…where was I? Oh, yes—when this Swedish Sugar Plum fellow was fluttering outside of our window, my first instinct was to run and get an ultra-large flyswatter to deal with the problem then and there. But, did I do that?”
“Probably,” Fuzzy said. “That’s what I would have done.”
“Perhaps, Fuzzy, perhaps,” I said. “But, Johansen didn’t flutter outside of your window, so we’ll never really know, now will we?” I asked rhetorically. “Anyway, Celeste let the Sugar Plum Fairy inside, and he told us a tale of woe, indeed. He said that Christmas as we know it might be ruined, that on Christmas Eve, there might not be any sugar plums dancing around or through children’s heads, that—”
“I have bananas dancing through my head,” Lucy said. “But, not just on Christmas Eve—they do it on every eve. As a matter of fact, they’re doing it now. They’re kind of making my stomach growl from hunger….”
“Lucy, did you skip breakfast again? The most important meal of the day?” Celeste asked her.
“No, I just must have bananas on the brain,” she said.
“Fortunately, I have a bunch I always carry with me in my handbag for just such emergencies,” Celeste said. Her “handbag” had gotten rather large over the years since I made her an Honorary Member of PAWS (I couldn’t make her a full-blown member as she wasn’t an animal, unless you counted humans as being animals). She reach in and gave the entire bunch to Lucy, who peeled one after the other, and ate them, with a very contented expression on her face.
“Returning to what I was saying,” I said, “The reason that there might not be sugar plums dancing around children’s heads this Christmas Eve is that all of the plums in the world seem to have been stolen, or they have disappeared.”
“But, Lily,” Fonzie said, “aren’t sugar plums really not plums, but—”
“Originally, they weren’t; but, now they very often are actual sugar-coated plums,” I said, cutting him off before he could complete his thought. “It’s up to us, as members of PAWS, to discover who stole the plums and make sure that they get put back into the world’s stores so that people can once again buy them, and so that Christmas won’t be ruined for children everywhere.”
“Well,” Prince Alphonse Saed said, “if the past was any indication, I’d say that there’s one group of criminals who have a track record of trying to destroy Christmas forever, and they would be—”
“The Grinch Society of America?” Fuzzy pondered out loud.
“No; that’s not it,” Fonzie continued. “It looks like the work of the Scarlet SNURFLES, or maybe the Scarlet Mafia, or both working together.”
“Perhaps,” I said, though it’s also possible that this is the work of the criminal mastermind who most recently plagued us by having us solve seven of the most difficult cases we’ve ever had to…er, solve, namely Professor Polynesia!”
I was, of course, referring to the extremely bad Polly with an attitude that wouldn’t quit, who was the great-granddaughter of Doctor Doolittle’s Polynesia. While I wasn’t really sure what her attitude towards Christmas was, her attitude in general led me to believe that she certainly had to rank very high up on our list of potential suspects.
“Can’t people use prunes?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee asked. “They are just dried-up plums, aren’t they? So, couldn’t they be dreamt of by the children of the world, instead of plums?”
“While dried prunes are a fairly tasty treat,” I said, “the idea of prunes to most children would be one of stewed prunes, which would most likely give children nightmares, rather than pleasant dreams. Also, whoever heard of a Sugar Prune Fairy? Besides that, even if children accepted prunes as a substitute, the point is, we can’t allow whoever did this to get away with the crime of stealing the world’s plums, can we?”
“Is that another one of your rhetor-rhetor-questions you don’t really expect an answer to, Lily?” Fuzzy asked, non-rhetorically.
“Yes, and no,” I replied. “I expected that the only possible logical answer anyone here would think of giving me, if they gave me an answer, would be a resounding ‘No, we can’t let the criminals get away with that, Lily!’ But, once again, Fuzzy, you’ve managed to come up with an entirely unexpected answer.”
“Thank you!” Fuzzy said.
“I wasn’t praising you, Fuzzy, by calling your answer ‘unexpected.’ What I was saying is that—”
“Prunes, nature’s magical fruit;/The more you eat,/The more you toot,” Fuzzy sang.
“How many times have I had to say, ‘No singing at the meetings,’ to you, Fuzzy? That’s a rhetorical question, for your information, so don’t bother answering,” I said.
Just then, a flock of Scarlet Macaws appeared on the horizon, headed towards us. They had plastic bags clenched tightly in their claws. When they got immediately over our heads, they squawked, “Bombs away!” and dropped their bags upon our heads, like hundred of water balloons. Only, their plastic bags weren’t filled with water; no, instead they were filled with stewed prunes! Much to our surprise and dismay, we soon found ourselves covered from head to foot—er, paws, hooves, etc.—with stewed prunes and prune juice. Blech!
“That’s just a taste of what the future will be like without your precious ‘sugar plums!’” the leader of the Scarlet Macaws, Frankie Sinister, squawked. “Stewed prunes—bwa-ack! If you can’t get your precious plums back, you’ll be blamed by the children of the world, ’cause you couldn’t even defeat a bunch of parrots! Ba-wah, ha, ha!”
Then, before we could mount a counter-offensive and attack, the Scarlet Macaws flew through a glowing red-framed opening that appeared in the sky, one that quickly closed behind them. They had attacked us like this in the past, flying through a vortex from another dimension, then retreating back through it as it closed. We had been unable to pursue them, that is, until Celeste had gotten a red coral rattlesnake talisman from the ghost of David O. Dodd, the “Boy Martyr” of the Confederacy. The Duke of Owlington told us where to go to find it, to Mount Holy Cemetery. Thanks to Dodd’s ghost, who retrieved it from where it lay buried, we could now follow our foes to whatever dimension or universe they went.
“Maybe there’s still a chance to get them and the sugar plums,” I said, “if you get the rattlesnake talisman and hold it in your hands as we fly up to where the opening was, Celeste!” I cried.
“I—I don’t have it with me, Lily,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d need to carry it with me all of the time, after we defeated the Scarlet SNURFLES and the Scarlet Mafia and they split up into two separate groups, as they had been before Bennie the Beak, the head of the Scarlet Mafia, became the leader of their combined forces.”
“You don’t have it—with you?” I spluttered.
“No—it’s at home, where I put it, inside—” Celeste said.
“Don’t say it, Celeste!” I said. “There are likely spies everywhere! We don’t want one of them that overhears where you hid it to find it and take away from us the one way we can take the attack to the Scarlet SNUFLES when they try to escape from us! We will just have to wait until another day, I suppose.”
“What we need to do,” Celeste said, “is to have you all jump into the pond and wash that prune juice off of your bodies, before I take you back to your ‘owners.’ And, I doubt my Dad would like to drive you anywhere in his blue Mustang like you are, stinking of prunes. It’d take him forever to get the smell out of his car.”
There was a chill in the air, but I saw the logic in Celeste’s words. We ran towards the pond (I say it’s a large lake, but Celeste insists it isn’t) where we had spent so much fun diving into and swimming in this past summer, and dove into its waters once more. The water was very cold, so we were in it only as long as was necessary to wash the prune juice from our bodies, and then we stood shivering on the shores of the pond, waiting for Celeste to towel us dry.
She had, thankfully, included in her handbag enough towels to dry us after our dip. It seemed that the size of her handbag had mysteriously grown in proportion to how much time she’d spent as an Honorary Member of PAWS. She claimed that there was a link; but, I think she just liked large handbags.
We would not be humiliated again, I promised myself. Celeste would have the red rattlesnake talisman with her whenever we might meet up with the Scarlet SNURFLES in the future. The next time, we would be better prepared. We had better be, not for us, but for all of the boys and girls of the world.

Chapter Three
“Here Comes Lily Quince”

Before I closed the meeting, I had to fill in the other members of PAWS about what my plans were to defeat the Scarlet SNURFLES. I had to also fill in Celeste. That’s because, duh, I had just thought up the plans on the spur of the moment. But, I felt sure they couldn’t fail.
“What song,” I asked everyone assembled, “do you usually associate with Christmas?”
Fuzzy’s right hoof automatically went up, but I didn’t want to call on him. Like an unpopular teacher in school, I called upon a member of PAWS who hadn’t raised his paw, Prince Alphonse Saed.
“Fonzie? What song comes to your mind?” I asked.
“Um, er, ‘White Christmas,’” he said, uncomfortably.
“No, that is incorrect. Try again,” I said.
“Well, I—that is the song I’d think of first, but how about ‘Jingle Bells?’”
“Is that a question or an answer?” I asked.
“A—um—answer?”
“Sorry, you are wrong again, Fonzie!” I said. “How about you, Lucy; what song would you think of, not counting the ones Fonzie already got wrong?”
“‘The Banana Boat Song’ I’d have to say,” Lucy replied.
“Lucy, a Christmas song; remember the category of song that I’m asking you to give your answer to, okay?”
“Well, maybe ‘Frostie the Snowman,’” Lucy said, “but instead of a carrot, when I build a snowman, I use a banana for its nose. It doesn’t last very long before I eat it, but that’s how I roll—can I get a ‘Wha-What?’”
“No, you may not, and sadly, that is incorrect, as well. Celeste—any ideas?”
“Yes; let’s get in my Dad’s car, out of the cold, and take Fonzie and Lucy to their homes—that’s my idea, Lily!” she said, rather huffily.
“Fi-ine, then,” I said. “The correct answer is ‘Here Comes Santa Claus.’ But, instead of Santa Claus coming here, because it’s still several days away from Christmas, I—we—are going to go to him.
“Just as it makes very good sense to celebrate the Twelve Days of Lilymas instead of the Twelve Days of Christmas, there’s going to be a brand-new Christmas—er, Lilymas—song, called ‘Here Comes Lily Quince.’”
“Here comes Lily Quince,/Here comes Lily Quince,” Fuzzy sang, “Her singing makes grown men wince—“
“Fuzzy!” I roared. “I told you no more singing at these meetings!”
“I am just trying to get into the holiday spirit, and spread Lilymas joy to everyone around,” he protested.
“I appreciate the sentiment,” I said, “but you always seem to butcher what could have been a perfectly good song, and often, you do it at my expense.
“Anyway,” I said, ever the master at changing the subject, “we need help from the man—”
“Upstairs?” Fuzzy asked.
“Who wrangles snakes?” Fonzie suggested.
“Who tallies the bananas, all the day-o long?” Lucy put in.
“No; we need help from the man up north, at the North Pole—namely, Santa Claus! That means you all need to dress very snuggly when I come to pick you up for the trip tonight, around midnight!” I roared. “Bring your own pillows, blankets, and ropes to strap yourself onto my back, too; but, I doubt you’ll get much shut-eye, once you see the glory of the aurora borealis!”
“I’ve seen what it looks like online, Lily,” Celeste said, “and it is beautiful!”
“Yes, it is,” I agreed, “and bright. By my calculations, it will take us an hour to get there, which means I’ll be flying…well…let’s just say very fast. That’s why the ropes will not only be handy, but very necessary. If you don’t already have your Christmas, er, Lilymas lists made up, I suggest you use the rest of the day thinking up what you might like, so you can give Santa Claus your lists in person tonight!
“Once we’re there, we probably can get Santa’s help without taking up too much time. Maybe he’ll even give us a guided tour of his workshop. That should take an hour at the most, and with the return flight, you should all be at your homes at approximately three in the morning!”
“Lily, I don’t think that even Santa’s reindeer could travel that fast!” Celeste said.
“I could fly much faster, but I don’t want to accidently send the Earth out of its orbit. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race, you know—or, at least that’s what Aesop says is the moral in one of his fables.”
****
Celeste was on her Christmas holiday, and wouldn’t have to return to school until January 3rd , so she could sleep late tomorrow if our trip lasted longer than I anticipated it would. Her parents would probably believe that she was merely sleeping in, like most teenagers do when they’re not in school for the holidays or in the summertime. She would be; but, the reason would not be one that they would ever expect it to be.
I’d been to Istanbul, Belgrade, London, Egypt, Pakistan, Tahiti, Belgium, the Polynesian Islands, Moscow, and Da Bronx, among many other places; but, traveling to the North Pole and visiting Santa’s workshop would be an entirely new experience for me. I was eagerly looking forward to touring Santa’s Toy Shop and watching the elves assemble toys.
Celeste, Lucy, Fuzzy, and Fonzie would probably not need the ropes I suggested, but I wanted to mess with them and make them wonder. They’d ridden on my back several times before, but for shorter distances, and I’d flown slower then than I would tonight. But, the Earth moves at a very fast rate of speed, and no one falls off. I thought that my friends would likely be plastered to my body, much like people are when they ride certain carnival rides, so that they couldn’t fall off even if they tried.
As midnight neared, I donned my leather flight helmet and goggles in preparation. Celeste wore a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, her heavy winter coat, and gloves. She was hoping to have a snowball fight later. We didn’t get much snow usually in Fort Smith, so she was excited about that, as well as about seeing Santa Claus. Celeste also had her red coral rattlesnake talisman with her, in case we had another encounter with Freddie and his gang of plum-stealing Pollies.
It didn’t take very long to fly to the houses of the MacGees, Saeds, and Higginses. Fuzzy, Lucy, and Fonzie were bundled up like Eskimos. They were not fans of cold weather, like I was—to each his or her own, I guess. Rhinos and orangutans like warmer weather, so they had on two coats and leather water-proof boots. Fuzzy, in particular, looked very bulky wearing so many layers of winter clothing, and he looked more awkward than he normally did, trying to wear boots that were not made for hooves and to walk in them.
“All aboard Pterodactyl One!” I said. “Next stop, the North Pole!”
Celeste, Fonzie, Lucy, and Fuzzy whooped and cheered. I could see the excitement in their eyes, when I craned my head to look at them after they had gotten comfortable and were tied in with ropes that wound around my back, sides, and belly.
As I expected, the speed at which I flew kept them safely on my back, but I had thought that the ropes would ease their minds and make them feel more secure. I’m always concerned about the safety of Celeste, Lucy, Fonzie, and Fuzzy, though despite my best efforts, we have been in many more dangerous situations in the past than I’d have liked us to be in.
To avoid being detected by radar and being mistaken for a UFO, I flied low to the ground (for me), but high enough up so that hopefully no one would notice me if they gazed up into the sky. Maybe, if they did happen to look up as I flew overhead, they’d think that I was a huge eagle soaring above them. They might even think that they’d seen a…dragon. I didn’t breathe fire, but I could form fire balls with my pyrokinetic powers, so I’m fairly sure I’d been mistaken for one on some of our other adventures and detective cases.
The aurora borealis was amazing! It was very beautiful, and waves of shimmering colors flowed into each other like rivers and tributaries, but ones which were side-by-side, intermingling. My passengers “Oohed!” and “Aahed!” at nature’s colorful display, one which the greatest artists who have ever lived couldn’t match.
The hour went by quickly, and soon we were touching down on the landing strip that Santa uses for his wonderful sleigh. Elves dressed in green greeted us, and after my friends were untied we walked with them to Santa’s palace. It was perfectly camouflaged to blend in with the ice and snow, making it difficult to impossible to spot from the sky. Santa required as much privacy as possible, so that he could continue doing his good work of providing toys and other things to good boys and girls without being bothered by constant interruptions and interviews that the media would request from him.
The elves laughed and chattered amongst themselves as we entered through the massive wooden double doors of Santa’s palace.
“Santa’s in his throne room, throne room, throne room!” one of them, whose green hat’s tip drooped at a jaunty angle, said in a high voice.
“He’s been expecting you!” another elf near us said.
“But—but how did he know—” I stammered.
“How did he know that you were coming?” the elf who spoke first asked. “How do you think he knew? He’s Santa Claus, that’s how!”
“We’ve been extra busy,” a short, squatty elf with a wide grin on his face said, “Especially since two weeks ago, when our toy-making was disrupted for three days.”
“That’s terrible!” Celeste said. “What happened?”
“We were attacked by a horde of evil Christmas elves who wanted to shut our operation down,” the same elf replied. “They snuck closer and closer towards us, hiding behind snow banks, icy outcroppings of rocks, and snowmen.”
“We’ve had trouble with evil Christmas elves before, also,” I said. “They tried to destroy Christmas then, and it seems as if they’re trying to do it again, but in a different way. They sang and danced outside of Centralia Mall—Centralia’s the city where we live—and demanded that everyone contributed ‘donations’ into their scarlet-and-green kettles.
“Their songs and acrobatic dances produced a spellbinding, hypnotic effect on the crowds who viewed them. Really, to anyone who was not hypnotized by their singing and dancing, like me, if you listened to the words of the songs, they were singing about kicking in doors and robbing the city’s houses of their valuables. They had to be stopped, before they ruined Centralia’s economy. We were the only ones who knew what was actually going on and who could put a halt to their plans.”
We walked through passageway after passageway, until we finally came to Santa’s Throne Room. We could feel the excitement building in the air. When we entered, Celeste gasped out “Santa! Oh, no!”

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