Spotlight & Excerpt: Gemma Calvertson and the Forest of Despair + Giveaway

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Gemma Calvertson and the Forest of Despair

The Aepistelle Chronicles Book 1

by Ryan Hoyt

Genre: Epic Fantasy Adventure


A heroine’s first adventure. A kingdom’s last hope.

Gemma spends her days studying a war her father fought in before her birth, but she realizes that not everything is what it seems. When she sets off to interview an aging hero, she learns about an emerging threat to the kingdom prophesied by the forbidden factions of magic and religion.

Since she can’t go to the officials without incriminating her new friend Richard, they must set off together on a journey through an uncanny forest to confirm and neutralize the threat. Can they forge new alliances and defeat the forces of evil without the use of magic or the might of a military?

If they fail, everyone they love will perish.

The Forest of Despairis the first book of the Aepistelle Chronicles, a new series of epic fantasy adventures following an emerging heroine and her team of sidekicks, including a witch with an army of children, a young homeless seer, a giant ogre, a boisterous stage performer, and an all-female crew of pirates.

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gemmacalvertson - excerpt

It wasn’t as if Gemma Calvertson were some sort of chosen one foretold by the prophets. Nor did she have any particularly special skills that Abernath knew of, even if she was academically and emotionally intelligent. It was just that she was going to be in the right place at the right time.
Oh, and that wasn’t by chance, either.
Abernath had arranged the assignment in secret with Gemma’s boss, Garrod Hannon. Sometimes, even evil men can sprout consciences, hoping they bear fruit that make up for their insidious past choices. Abernath and Hannon were two of these men looking for redemption. The girl was a tool for making that happen, even if she didn’t know it yet.
Telman Abernath peered over the bannister of the fifth floor of the library, his usual perch as the head of the institution. Unlike many aged libraries, which were dark and dusty affairs, the Royal Library of Aepistelle was a grand place with many windows, including the glass-domed rooftop. There was an open, vaulted space between the mezzanine and the dome above the center of the fifth floor. Thus, natural light could shine upon all corners of the building, especially on the rows of tables that sat on the bottom floor.
That was where the girl, Gemma, sat nearly every afternoon as she engaged in her research. It was where she pored over massive tomes about the taxation rates under one king or another or compared historical accounts of the crown’s responses to famines and floods. Maybe the girl did have some kind of superpower after all if she was able to stay awake through all that. Her boss, Hannon, even said that Ms. Calvertson had it in her to become one of the great historians. That is, as long as she stayed within the narrow lanes afforded to her by the latest laws set by King Davin and his Royal Mystic Committee. So much was off-limits these days. So many books burned, so many lies sold as truths, and Abernath himself was regrettably part of it all.
Down below, one of Abernath’s assistants handed a note to Gemma. She startled at the interruption, read the note, and turned to look up at Abernath on the fifth floor. Within a minute, the girl had made her way effortlessly to the top of the winding staircase. Abernath opened the half gate that barred unauthorized entry to the library’s special collections floor. Up here, there were a number of books that barely made it past the restrictions placed on the Kingdom of Aepistelle over the last twenty-five years, restrictions just older than the girl herself. Some of these books contained limited information on the history and geography of the lands to the north; others were religious texts of some of the less dangerous faiths that had once been practiced in Aepistelle. Even these books had been carefully examined; all had passages redacted, and some were missing entire chapters. Abernath’s own hands were responsible for much of it.
“I was told you wanted to see me, Mr. Abernath,” Gemma said. She had been up to the fifth floor many times since she had started working for the University Press. It took a request from someone such as Hannon to even be granted access, let alone browse even partially unsupervised. “I don’t believe I need anything from the restricted archives today, but thank you.”
“Ah, yes, I know, Miss Calvertson. I’ll only take a moment of your time.” Abernath reached into his deep robe pocket and fiddled with the scroll hidden there. He pulled it halfway out and saw Gemma glance down at it. “I understand you are setting off on a big assignment for Mr. Hannon.”
“That’s right,” Gemma said. “I leave this afternoon.”
“Yes, well, my good friend Hannon is very excited about the work you will be undertaking.”
Something caught Abernath’s eye across the corridor and one floor down. A woman stood at a shelf near the fourth-floor balcony with a book pulled halfway out of place, but she was obviously focusing her attention elsewhere, even if her eyes weren’t pointed up at Abernath and Gemma.
What a fool I am, standing here in the open while I incriminate the girl, Abernath thought. They’re already on to me—and on to her—and I haven’t even given her the scroll.
“Is there something wrong, Mr. Abernath?” Gemma asked.
Abernath shook off his thoughts, but the expression on his face was grave. He tried to force a smile as he shoved the scroll back down into his pocket, then wiped his brow with his empty hand.
“Uh, no, I’m sorry. An old man’s mind isn’t always the sharpest, even when surrounded by a lifetime of books. I just wanted to wish you good luck on your journey, and we look forward to seeing you take up your favorite seat in the study room when you’re back.”
“Oh, okay, thanks, Mr. Abernath. I should be seeing you again in a couple of weeks. Take care!”
The girl flashed a genuine smile at the old librarian, then went back through the gate and down the stairs to where her books awaited her.
Abernath looked back down to the fourth floor, but the strange woman was gone, and the book she’d been touching was still halfway out of its place on the shelf. The slight creak of the gate sounded, and Abernath turned toward it.
“I’m looking for the section on treason against the crown,” the woman said.
Abernath was taken aback. How could the Royal Mystic Committee know about the plan?
“I’m sorry, but you must have a referral to be up here,” Abernath said. Despite his years as the head of the library, he had never developed a voice of authority.
“I think you know of my commander, don’t you, Mr. Abernath?” The woman walked slowly toward the librarian as he stepped backward. “I believe you know of Sir Marin Allemon and the Royal Mystic Committee. Is that enough of a referral?”
“There must be a mistake. We do not have any books of interest to you here.”
Abernath’s hand crept back into his robe pocket as he backed into the bannister. He could just make out Gemma down below, gathering her materials and preparing to leave.
“I didn’t say anything about a book, you fool. It’s a scroll I’m looking for.”
The woman reached under her coat and pulled out a throwing dagger. At the same time, Abernath pulled his hand out of his robe. The scroll in his possession wielded much more power than the woman’s weapon.
He reached over the railing and dropped it at the same moment the woman released the dagger. Abernath slumped down against the banister, blade protruding from his left eye, as the scroll plummeted down through the sunlit rotunda. With his one remaining eye, Abernath watched as the rolled-up parchment landed on the marble floor just behind Gemma Calvertson.
The girl did not seem to notice.
Abernath’s mission appeared to have failed.
The heavy double doors on the first floor flew open. An unnatural gust of wind stormed the library. Books flew off shelves, papers scattered from the study tables, and patrons jumped to their feet in surprise. Abernath noticed that his attacker seemed to forget about him, and he managed to push away from her to get a better look.
He heard the sounds before he saw what made them. From the front door, from the unlit fireplaces throughout the building, and crashing through the domed windows above, thousands of pigeons swooped in and circled the library frantically. Abernath could just make out a figure emerging from among birds at the front entrance. It was a strikingly tall man.
“What sorcery is this, Abernath?” The woman from the Committee slammed her boot down onto the librarian’s left kneecap.
Abernath cried out in pain. His attacker lifted her foot and was about to hammer it down on the same spot once again when she was pushed off balance by a swarm of pigeons. She screamed as she fell on the floor next to Abernath and flailed her arms and legs at the birds.
Abernath looked back down to where Gemma was collecting her scattered papers from the floor. In the pile, unbeknownst to the girl, was the scroll. Abernath watched as Gemma hastily shoved everything into her bag. As she rose, ready to flee, the mysterious tall man set his hand on Gemma’s shoulder and appeared to speak a few words. The girl froze for a moment before walking calmly out the front doors of the library.
The blood was overtaking Abernath’s vision when he spotted the tall man again, now just a few feet away at the top of the stairs. Up close, Abernath could clearly see his features and chuckled, perhaps too joyously for a man in the last moments of his life. The newcomer was hairless but for the comically large handlebar mustache protruding from his face. He was dressed in a fine suit. He was, Abernath recognized, a priest of Solendaron. And if a clergyman of one of the long-outlawed religions was making such a bold attack in Capital City, then perhaps redemption truly was close.
Abernath’s remaining eye closed for good, but his other senses still worked for a few more moments. He heard the woman screaming, felt the wind created by the birds flying all around, and then the screams again, seemingly descending through the air to the marble floor below. He felt a warm hand on his shoulder, and a man’s voice spoke softly to him.
“The girl will succeed,” the priest of Solendaron said to Abernath as the librarian took his final breath. “You may rest now, my friend, for the girl will succeed.

Ryan Hoyt is a San Francisco Bay Area native and has lived, studied, and worked there his entire life. His love for creepy and fantastic stories was nurtured early on by his mother, who let him watch the TV miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s It at six years old.

Ryan’s debut novel,Gemma Calvertson and the Forest of Despair, is the first book of the Aepistelle Chronicles series of fantasy adventures and releases November 1, 2021. A prequel novella,The Witch of Ferathan, is available now, and more will be released in 2022 and beyond. A post-coming-of-age short story, “Freddy Goodman (Ain’t No Good Man)” is also available in eBook and paperback. The gothic horror tale Raventree Hollow follows in the summer of 2022.

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Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!

$20 Amazon giftcard,

Hardcover of the prequel The Witch of Ferathan

paperback of The Witch of Ferathan,

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Assassin’s Legacy + Giveaway

TourBanner_The Assassin's Legacy


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The Assassin’s Legacy
by D. Lieber
Genre: Urban fantasy, fantasy romance, steampunk

He hasn’t been Aleksandr Sergeyevich Volonov, legendary monster-hunting assassin for ten years. Now, he is only Sasha, charming deckhand on a merchant airship so recently destroyed by pirates.

All he wants is to find another job and keep moving. But that simple plan is thwarted when his sister sends an assassin to murder him. His only choice is to return to Saint Petersburg and renounce his claim to his family’s title.

Trapped by his late father’s machinations, Sasha finds himself surrounded by death threats, engaged to a brutal villainess, shadowed by his cheeky assassin, and forced to lead the organization bent on eliminating all supernatural creatures from the Russian Empire.

As he struggles to keep hold on the man he is, Sasha must face who he used to be in this modern steampunk fantasy adventure full of folklore, banter, and artifice.


The cold wind off the Gulf of Finland seeped into my soul, greeting me like a mother’s caress. I had left the pleasant autumn of the west behind. Nothing warmed the heart quite like the promise of a Russian winter. Sighing, I smiled to myself and strolled in the direction of the river. A line of small steamboats with black and yellow striped canopies patiently waited on the river’s edge. Their smoke stacks, which stuck up through the canopies, puffed white water vapor, telling us they were ready at any time.

After we’d hopped into a taxi, I asked the driver to take us to Volonov Manor. We chugged up the Neva, and I watched the grand palaces and mansions drift by. I could still remember the names and faces of their boyar residents, those I’d grown up with. Their salons and drawing rooms, the many balls and parties, the dinners and concerts: the gilded façade that was my youth. I also remembered their cellars and basements: prisons for the creatures of the night, poor souls who were only kept alive to torture for information and study to find better ways of killing others of their kind.

Of course, not all of the noble families were members of the Ubyzniki, just the trusted few. Five families, still favored by the empress, made up the Ubyzniki. Five families with their many branches filled the ranks of “monster” hunting assassins. They lurked in forests, alleys, and ballrooms alike, stalking their supernatural prey and keeping the unknowing citizens of the Russian Empire safe. I scoffed at their hypocrisy, their righteous hubris, as all the contentment I’d felt upon landing in Saint Petersburg drained out of me.

Author Info:

D. Lieber has a wanderlust that would make a butterfly envious. When she isn’t planning her next physical adventure, she’s recklessly jumping from one fictional world to another. Her love of reading led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.

Beyond her skeptic and slightly pessimistic mind, Lieber wants to believe. She has been many places—from Canada to England, France to Italy, Germany to Russia—believing that a better world comes from putting a face on “other.” She is a romantic idealist at heart, always fighting to keep her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds.

Lieber lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John) and cats (Yin and Nox).

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Published Works:

  • Conjuring Zephyr June 2016
  • The Exiled Otherkin (Minte and Magic Adventure, #1) November 2017
  • Intended Bondmates (Intended Fates, #1) June 2018
  • In Search of a Witch’s Soul (Council of Covens Noir, #1) March 2019
  • Dancing with Shades (Council of Covens Noir, #0) August 2019
  • Once in a Black Moon March 2020
  • A Very Witchy Yuletide October 2020
  • The Treason of Robyn Hood March 2021
  • The Assassin’s Legacy (Minte and Magic Adventure, #2) October 2021


D. Lieber will be awarding a Russian tea kit, which includes: podstakannik and glass, tea, jam, and spoon to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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Spotlight: Keeping it Under Wraps

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This is my post during the blog tour for Keeping it Under Wraps. In Keeping it Under Wraps: Sex, real people from around the world share their experiences, humour and heartache about sex and sexuality.

This blog tour is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours and the tour runs from 1 till 14 November. You can see the tour schedule here.

Keeping it Under Wraps

Keeping it Under Wraps: Sex
Genre: Non-fiction/ Personal Essay Anthology
Release Date: 4 May, 2021

Society tells us what is right and what is wrong based on unrealistic expectations. In the end, though, no matter how unique our experiences seem, they aren’t wrong: they simply are.

The Keeping It Under Wraps anthology series provides a safe space to change the narrative, to speak openly about individual experiences, and in the end to understand that while each experience is different, we are not so different from each other.

Let’s start the conversation.

What better place to start than with sex?

Sexual health, sexual preferences, and sexual experiences: no stigma, no shame, no more keeping it under wraps.

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About the Authors:
You can read more about this book and the contributing authors here on the website.


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