Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Dark Cluster, by Jane Shand

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 The Dark Cluster

The Darkling Duology, Book Two

by Jane Shand

YA Fantasy

Release Date: January 17, 2022

On a quest to unlock the secrets of her goddess-given powers, can one young woman defeat the ultimate evil?

Nalani is basking in her newfound contentment. But when her once-loathed ability surges back to life, the determined girl is convinced it holds the key to tracking down her long-lost father. So she’s horrified when her arrival on the mainland to investigate makes her the target of discontented warmongers.

Focused on pursuing the tiny clues she’s found, Nalani recruits old friends to cover dangerous new territory. Yet even as she grows closer to learning the truth, she’s terrified by its growing connection to an ominous Lord lurking high in the mountains.

Can Nalani beat back the creeping malevolence before it claims everything she loves?

The Dark Cluster is the second book in The Darkling Duology of YA fantasies. If you like authentic characters, charismatic villains, and quests driven by hope, then you’ll love Jane Shand’s tense adventure.

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Other books in The Darkling Duology

The Shard

The Darkling Duology, Book One

Her touch is the only cure for an all-consuming corruption. When she sets out to change her fate, will she condemn her world to despair?

Nalani is certain she’s cursed. Although everyone else claims her odd powers are a Gift from the goddess, the lonely young woman feels them cutting her off from those she loves. So when she’s called to leave her verdant island home and travel to the mainland, she seizes the journey as an opportunity to shed her unwanted magic.

Slow to surrender her innermost secrets to those who could offer help, Nalani gradually opens her heart to the new city and its fascinating denizens. But after she learns of a strange experiment with dark consequences, even her newfound allies can’t defend her against the ruthless forces she’s disturbed.

Will Nalani’s hunt for answers reunite a broken people or push her beyond salvation?

The Shard is the first book in The Darkling Duology of YA fantasies. If you like bold heroines, coming-of-age adventures, and lush worldbuilding, then you’ll love Jane Shand’s vivid escape.

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Excerpt

Nalani closed her eyes and gasped as the salt spray stung her face. She gripped the ship’s rail as it ploughed through the waves. The winter seas bullied the ship, so much rougher than on her last trip to and from the mainland. Luca’s warm arm snaked around her waist and pulled her into the warmth of his body. She raised her head towards him and his lips brushed her forehead. She opened her eyes as his laugh rumbled through her.

Everything tastes of salt!” he complained.

He grinned down at her, his eyes so much bluer than the sky over the grey and lurching sea.

I wish we could have waited until spring,” she said.

Luca nodded, saying nothing. He knew she could not wait any longer. The Gift wouldn’t let her. He turned away to where the mainland hid behind waves and low-lying clouds. Nalani followed his gaze. That was where she would find her father. She was sure of it. Why else would the Gift send her back to the mainland? They had destroyed the source of Darklings, back in the summer.

It has to be my father.”

Luca’s arm tightened. “We’ll find him or what happened to him.”

Nalani blinked; she hadn’t realised she had spoken aloud. “I have to find him. I have missed him so much for all these years. He is also the only other person I am aware of who has this Gift. He will help me understand it, accept it fully and learn what it is truly capable of.”

Luca’s fingers tipped her head up so that she had to look him in the eyes again. He had a tiny furrow between his brows. “I understand you need to find out what happened to him. Who wouldn’t? But I don’t think you need him to understand your Gift. You can do that yourself.”

Nalani made a sound of agreement yet didn’t speak. After she had taken back her Gift in the summer and understood that she needed it to heal the Orb and stop the spread of the dark energy, she had accepted it as part of her. She no longer thought of it as a parasite or a curse. But it remained an alien part of her. Luca couldn’t understand what it felt like to be controlled by a part of you. Her father did. He could help her; no one else could.

Nalani couldn’t help smiling as her thoughts dwelled on Luca. She had so quickly become accustomed to his presence. Her mother, her aunt and Arifi were all fond of him. She had never doubted it, yet it had been a relief to have it confirmed. It made life easier if all those you loved were on friendly terms.

Nalani invited Arifi to come with them to the mainland, as Arifi had asked to come last time, but Nalani had not allowed it. She was not entirely surprised when Arifi, somewhat regretfully, declined.

I wish to stay with Kahua. I am certain he is the one for me and I can’t leave him to have an adventure with you. Besides, I am doing really well with Ellara’s lessons. I love the silkworms and the gathering and the weaving.” She shrugged. “I like the life I have.”

Nalani had understood A pang of envy jolted through her chest. What must it be like to own your own destiny and to not be manipulated by your own Gift? Then her thoughts had turned to Luca, and she couldn’t remain envious. Her Gift had brought her together with him. It might prod her into doing its missions, but it also allowed her to help children who no one else could.


About the Author

Jane Shand has always been an avid reader of fantasy and mystery and is an author of YA Fantasy.

She got hooked on fantasy after reading ‘Lord of the Rings’ at a young age and was determined to write books full of magic and adventure.

She lives in Hampshire, England with her family and two cheeky cats who would love to help her write.

She published her first novel, The Shard, in 2020 and her second, The Light Wielders came out Aug 2021. The Dark Cluster is her third novel, and she is now working on the brand-new Crystal Mages Trilogy.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Illusions in Paint + Giveaway

Illusions in Paint Banner

Illusions in Paint by Ann M. Miller

Word Count: 65,807
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 248

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
FANTASY
ROMANCE
YOUNG ADULT
YOUNGER READERS

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Book Description

 

When art and illusion collide, no one is safe.

Eight months ago, Julia Parsons learned to control her strongest emotions—the ones that created doorways into paintings. With her Vista magic now in check, she has stopped looking for the descendant of the witch rumoured to have the power to remove her abilities. But when her magic goes haywire and paintings begin calling to her, she can barely resist opening portals into any works of art she encounters.

Then Julia runs into Luke Mercer, who offers to help her find the descendant, a teen named Marisa. When Julia’s boyfriend Nick joins the search, they locate the girl—in an art gallery, of all places. Before Julia can ask Marisa to remove her magic, the call of so many paintings overwhelms her, and she opens multiple portals at once. Marisa is sucked into one, and Julia and the boys are forced to enter works of art to get her back.

As Julia’s connection to the art intensifies, so does the danger lurking in the deep corners of the paintings they move through. In order to save Marisa and her friends, Julia will have to separate reality from illusion…and fully embrace the magic that runs through her veins, once and for all.

Publisher’s Note: This book is best read as the sequel to Captured in Paint.

Excerpt

The smudge of purple on my skin was my first clue that I’d done the unthinkable. The acrylic paint set on the table was my second.

I stood in the kitchen doorway, looking from the lavender-coloured smear on my thumb to the paint set that was sitting open next to the napkin holder. I had first noticed the spot on my skin a minute earlier in the bathroom, when I’d held my hands underneath the tap to wash them. The Beatles song I’d been humming had died in my throat, and I’d stumbled down the stairs, willing it to be a hallucination. But when I’d caught sight of the paint set, its case glinting in a pool of early morning sun, I’s known the truth. I’d done the one thing I swore I’d never do again—I’d painted.

My limbs were frozen, my only movement a twitching of the thumb marked with the telltale speck of paint. The paint set had been stowed away in the basement. I hadn’t touched it in eight months—hadn’t so much as looked at a paintbrush. So how did—?

My heart accelerated as I spotted the corner of white paper peeking out from under a placemat. My paralysis broken, I reached up to the hollow of my throat. The heart-shaped pendant still rested there, effectively dampening my strongest emotions. Thank God. If there was a painting under the placemat, I wouldn’t be in any danger of bringing it to life. And I didn’t mean figuratively. Without the charmed necklace, my Vista power was released—a power that not only opened doorways into works of art but pulled people inside, trapping them.

Yeah, it sucks to be me.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed off the doorframe and shuffled to the table. I ran my hand over the tubes of acrylic paint nestled in one side of the case. Every tube was accounted for, although the lavender lay crooked in its slot. As I straightened it, my fingertips pulsed with the memory of blending colours with my brush, dabbing and sweeping in an imitation of my favourite painter, Bob Ross. God, I’d missed that feeling. Eight months was a long time to go without creating, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

I snatched my hand back from the tube, focusing on the other side of the case, which housed my paintbrushes. My filbert was missing. I quickly scanned the table, but there was no sign of it. I’d look for it later. Right now, I needed to gauge the full extent of what I’d done.

With my hand shaking just a tad, I peeled back the placemat to reveal the entire piece of paper. My heart slowed to normal speed. No picture there, but a streak of paint shimmered on the bottom right-hand corner of the page. It was a streak that was an exact match to the colour on my thumb, which meant that sometime during the night I’d—

My ears pricked up at the sound of Aunt Karen’s SUV pulling into the driveway. Crap. Instinctively, I crumpled the page into a ball and pitched it into the garbage under the sink. Then I snapped the paint set closed and hightailed it down to the basement. I slid the case back onto the dusty shelf where it belonged and bounded back up the stairs just as my aunt’s footsteps sounded in the front hall. I took big, gulping breaths of air and turned to greet her when she entered the kitchen.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she said, dropping her bag onto a chair. She brushed back the wisps of auburn hair that had escaped from her bun and massaged the back of her neck. Her face was imprinted with lines of exhaustion, and her cheeks had almost zero colour. I knew she enjoyed her work as a general surgeon, but the overnight shifts took a lot out of her.

“Hey, Aunt Karen. How was your night?”

“Oh, you know, the usual. Back-to-back surgeries and…” She trailed off with a frown. “Why are you out of breath?”

I scrambled for an excuse. “Oh, I was dancing to my Beatles playlist.” I did a stupid little twirl.

My aunt glanced around. “I don’t see your phone.”

I groaned inwardly. Even when she was practically dead on her feet, she was perceptive. She knew I always listened to my music on my iPhone with my earbuds in. “I was doing it upstairs. Just came down.” I pretended to pick some lint off my pajama top so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact.

She didn’t need to know what had happened—not that anything had happened. I’d discovered a smudge of paint on my thumb and one on a piece of paper. It wasn’t like I’d created another world that could be opened up, not like my mural. But to make sure I didn’t, I’d burn my paint set or haul it to a dumpster or something—anything to get it away from here, which was why there was no point in freaking out my aunt. I’d take care of this—whatever this was—the first chance I got.

Aunt Karen crossed to me and tipped my chin up so I had no choice but to look at her straight on. She fixed her green eyes on mine. They were tired but sharp. “Talk to me, Julia.”

“About what?” I quickly tucked my thumb under my fingers to hide the evidence. “My crappy cooking skills? Because we can get something out for breakfast today.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.” Her gaze softened. “You’re worried, aren’t you? That’s why you’re wearing this again.” She touched her fingertip to the pendant hanging around my neck.

I nodded and briefly shut my eyes, all too happy to let her think my emotional management was my major issue right now. “Yeah. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slide this week.”

She gathered me in a hug. “It is a big week. I can’t believe you’re graduating and going out into the big world.” She tightened her arms around me. She smelled like chamomile and the strong soap she used for surgical scrubs. “I’m going to miss you.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not going very far.” After discovering I was a Vista witch, my plans to study at the Art Institute of Chicago had changed. I’d been accepted to the University of Western Ontario, where I planned to do a Bachelor of Arts degree while I figured out what I wanted to major in. The campus was only a few hours away from St. Peter’s. The best part was that my boyfriend, Nick, and my best friend, Roxy, were going to UWO, too.

Aunt Karen let me go with a smile. “I’m proud of you, you know? For keeping your grades up, even after everything you’ve been through, and for controlling your magic… I know it’s been no small feat.”

It had been my decision not to wear the necklace that stifled my strongest emotions, the ones that opened paintings, before I could get control of them. I’d wanted to live my life without dulling my feelings, so I’d worked at tempering them using the techniques Mom had taught me when she had been alive. While I’d gotten pretty good at checking the emotions that threatened to overwhelm me, I’d strapped on my charmed armour—aka the necklace—at the beginning of the week, just to be on the safe side with so much going on. It had gotten me through final exams and my eighteenth birthday the day before. Now I trusted it to get me through the big party tonight and the graduation ceremony tomorrow.

Of course, the necklace hadn’t stopped me from hauling out my acrylics and smearing paint on paper.

I shook off the thought and tucked my hands in my pockets. “I’m not taking any chances these next couple of days, Aunt Karen. I’ll Krazy Glue this sucker to my neck if I have to.”

She smiled again. “I don’t think you’ll have to go that far. Just check the clasp every so often.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice. Last fall I’d lost the necklace when the clasp had broken, and the chain had fallen off. Then Luke Mercer had found it and kept it from me for his own warped reasons.

Not for the first time, I wondered where he’d gone after getting access to his trust fund. I mean, it wasn’t as if I cared. I wasn’t looking for payback or closure, even though I hadn’t completely forgiven him for the part he’d played in Mom’s death. Still, I couldn’t help being curious about where he’d ended up.

“So,” I said, “how about that breakfast?”

“Oh honey, I’m exhausted. I’m going to go right to bed.” She pulled a couple of bills from her wallet. “Here. You go treat yourself to something.”

I took the money and grinned. “Don’t mind if I do. Thanks, Aunt Karen. Can I take the car?”

She slung her bag over her shoulder. “Be my guest. I’ll be out of commission for at least a few hours. But I’ll need the car tonight for my next shift.”

“No worries. Nick’s picking me up for the bonfire.”

“One last hurrah before the big ceremony, huh?”

I laughed. “Something like that.”

While she disappeared into her bedroom, I took a quick shower. Once I was dressed, I lingered outside her bedroom door, listening for the sound of her snoring, something I could always count on. As soon as it came, loud as a chainsaw, I hurried back down to the basement, grabbed the paint set and flew out to the SUV.

I glanced up and down the street as I slid the case in the trunk, feeling like I was on a clandestine mission. And I was, in a way. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing and why. I could imagine how the conversation would go if I told the truth. Oh, you know. Just going to dump my acrylics because apparently I can now paint while I’m asleep. Either that, or something drove me to paint last night, and the incident was wiped from my memory.

Yeah, that didn’t sound crazy at all.

Ten minutes later I pulled into the mall parking lot, not stopping until I reached the far corner, where a Salvation Army donation bin sat. I got out of the car, looked around to make sure no one was nearby and grabbed the handle of the case. Instead of tossing it right in, though, I hesitated—kind of like I had when I’d touched the paints right before discovering the smear on the sheet of paper. A heaviness settled in my stomach, and I swallowed hard.

I’d known this would be tough, but now that I was on the verge of giving away my most prized possession, it all seemed so…final. Once I did it, there was no going back. There’d be no painting for me, ever again, because there was no way I’d ever buy new acrylics. It would be the last nail in the coffin of my relationship with paint.

I curled my fingers around the pendant and squeezed. Without its power, I would have burst into tears by now, but it was keeping my emotions from overflowing. It was the reason I found the strength to pick up the case and hoist it into the bin. As the door of the box clanged shut, my heart gave a little jump, then stilled.

This was the way it had to be. No paints and brushes meant no risk of making art, which meant no risk of magic.

But just in case, I wasn’t going to take my necklace off, not even for a second.

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About the Author

Ann M. Miller

Ann Miller writes young adult novels about first loves, family secrets, and magic. She grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the local bookmobile fed her diet of Nancy Drew mysteries, Sweet Valley High books, and Stephen King horror. After graduating from the University of King’s College, she moved to Newfoundland, an island that makes up for its unforgiving climate with beautiful coastlines and majestic icebergs.

When she’s not reading or writing, Ann can be found spending time with her husband and son, or binge watching Netflix while curled up with the two four-legged members of her family.

Captured in Paint is her first novel, and she has several more in the works. Take a look at Ann’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Audio Spotlight: The Sparks & Author Interview

Feud-Trilogy-Banner-2

Title: The Sparks

Author: Kyle Prue

Narrator: Jon Eric Preston

Length: 9 hours 14 minutes

Series: The Feud Trilogy, Book 1

Released: Feb. 24, 2017

Publisher: Cartwright Publishing

Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult

One teen assassin-in-training must unite three warring supernatural dynasties before death comes to them all…

Find out why USA Today calls The Sparks “a crackling read” that “builds a vivid world (both) otherworldly and relatable.”

Neil Vapros just wants to make his father proud. The sixteen-year-old aspires to serve his family as an assassin, but he nearly dies in the process. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Neil’s family, as well as two rival dynasties, have abandoned an ancient promise to protect their city. An unknown evil has begun hunting all three houses from the shadows…

As Neil’s relatives fall one-by-one, he attempts to unite the three supernatural families against a common enemy. But earning trust after years of assassination attempts could prove impossible. Neil’s fight may involve more than a bloodthirsty empire, as betrayal rears its ugly head…

The Sparks is the first book in the award-winning Epic Feud trilogy of young adult fantasy novels. If you like captivating characters, inventive world building, and supernatural battles, then you’ll love Kyle Prue’s action-packed coming-of-age tale. Buy The Sparks today to ignite your thirst for adventure!

“A crackling read. The Sparks builds a vivid world that is at once otherworldly and relatable. Characters spring from the page in a deft twist on mythology that belies Kyle Prue’s young age. He’s a voice to be heard.” (Scott Bowles, USA Today)

Winner of numerous national awards including: Best Book in Florida and Best Fiction for Young Adults 2015 from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. The Sparks was runner up for Best Young Adult Fiction at the Florida Book Festival and won Honorable Mentions at the New England Book Festival, Midwest Book Festival, Southern California Book Festival, and the International London Book Festival. Prue also won an International Moonbeam Award and Indie Fab award for Best Young Author.

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Q&A with Author Kyle Prue
  • Do you believe certain types of writing translate better into audiobook format?
    • I think Fantasy stands head and shoulders above other genres as far as audiobooks go. Fantasy, especially high fantasy, is filled with so many deeply textured characters with their own rich traditions and sets of values. These worlds also come with so much dramatism. All that pomp and circumstance is just dying to be read aloud.
  • Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
    • My writing has always been written with the spoken word in mind. (Side effect of my time in the theatre.) Often I would read monologues aloud to make sure that if they were performed they would carry the necessary weight. Preston took that and ran with it.
  • How did you select your narrator?
    • Preston auditioned against dozens of his talented peers. However at the end of the day my team and I decided that there was no way it could be anyone else.
  • Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
    • All writing is on some level autobiographical. If an author says otherwise they might be hiding something.
  • Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
    • The Feud Trilogy is filled with so many larger than life characters. Preston’s narration REALLY makes that evident. Whereas when you’re reading on your own it’s possible to fall into a rhythm and start to hear characters talking in the same voice, Preston does an incredible job of adding interesting nuance to every single role.
  • What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
    • I’d probably say, “hey maybe it’s weird to care so much about this distinction. When was the last time you went outside? It’s nice out there. Let’s touch some grass.”
  • How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
    • I took a shower.
  • What gets you out of a writing slump? What about a reading slump?
    • The more I write the rarer I find writer’s block, however when it does come it hits HARD. My advice, while it might seem counterintuitive, is to step away. Sleep. Eat. Watch something. Do some life living. So much of good writing is about finding a flow and forcing words out usually just leads to later rewrites.
  • In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of writing a stand-alone novel vs. writing a series?
    • Writing a series is such an advantage from a story perspective because you’re allowed to put things on simmer. You don’t have to force characters through their narrative arcs on a ticking clock. I also think that the more pages you have to work with the more layers you get to add. While one book is a simple machine, a series is a swiss watch, with gears clicking away against each other. The con of writing a series is that you have to write more than one book.
  • What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
    • Read. Sorry that’s not a very glamorous answer, but that’s what any author will tell you. You have to read.

Kyle Prue is an award winning author, actor and comedian. Kyle wrote The Sparks: Book 1 of the Feud Trilogy when he was just 16 years old. Kyle has spent the past year on a national book tour visiting over 80 middle and high schools and meeting over 60,000 students. Kyle is now a freshman at the University of Michigan, studying acting and creative writing. He still visits schools and is a keynote speaker for conferences.

Kyle is the founder of Sparking Literacy, a non-profit dedicated to lowering the high school dropout rate by inspiring teens to read, write and follow their dreams. The Sparks has won numerous national awards including Best YA Fiction awards from: The Florida Authors and Publisher’s Association, the Florida Book Festival, New England Book Festival, Midwest Book Festival, Southern California Book Festival, and the International London Book Festival. Kyle also won an International Moonbeam Award and IndieFab Award for Best Young Author.

Narrator Bio

Jon Eric Preston received his Theatre degree from Florida State University after returning from the London program. He earned top honors narrating in the Dramatic Interpretation category on the Speech and Debate team, and performed professionally in Children’s Theatre companies and did National Tours of A Christmas Carol, Twelfth Night, and Othello.

As a SAG BookPAL and a father reading to his two boys for more than 12 years, moving into the booth to record audiobooks was a natural and joy filled progression.
He is thrilled to be narrating and giving voice to the characters for Kyle Prue’s Feud Trilogy.


 

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