J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “series”

Happy Holidays!

I’d like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season! Please keep in mind all of our military personnel who are overseas and missing their families this Christmas. One of my favorite songs is “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” which was written by a soldier during WWII. Listening to it makes me cry every time!

The holidays can be a difficult time of year for some, as the following excerpt demonstrates. Losing a loved one during this time of year is especially painful, and sometimes lonely. I think the first Christmas after a loved one passes away is the hardest. I know from experience, since I just lost my mom last year.

The following excerpt is the opening chapter from my book, A Beckoning Hellfire. It takes place on Christmas Eve, 1862. What should be a joyous time has turned into tragedy. While we celebrate the birth of our Lord, let’s also keep in mind the hardships that many have experienced during Christmas.

But what a cruel thing is war. To separate and destroy families and friends and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world. To fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world¼My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.

Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, December 25, 1862

Chapter One

“Here it is! Come quick!”

David sauntered across the dead grass toward his little sister. Amused by the way she was jumping up and down like a nervous flea, he couldn’t help but grin. Obviously, she was too excited to care that her petticoats were showing from under the brown coat and green calico dress she wore, or that her long auburn hair had broken free from its bondage as her bonnet slid from her head and dangled down her back.

“Which one, Josie?” he asked, stifling a snicker.

She planted her feet and pointed to a small yellow pine near a cluster of sweet gum and ash trees. “Right here!” she exclaimed.

Glancing down at the sapling, he gave her a crooked smile. “Well, that’s a mighty fine tree, but ain’t it kinda scrawny?” He estimated the pine to be three feet tall at most.

Josie frowned at her older brother, who had one eyebrow cocked from under his slouch hat. His hands were tucked into his brown trousers, and his linen shirt hung loosely on his tall, lanky frame. “No,” she said, “ it’s jist right. We’ll string some corn on it, hang some nuts and berries on it, and it’ll look right smart in the corner of the front room.”

With a shrug, he said, “All right. If you reckon this is the one.”

She nodded, her bright blue eyes reflecting her elation.

David relished the moment, for he knew Christmas was her favorite holiday. He had only heightened her anticipation on the way out to the woodlot by reminding her what would happen that evening, how Santa would be stopping by later when she was sound asleep. Of course, he had no explanation as to how eight tiny reindeer could pull a sleigh all the way to Alabama. Josie promptly informed him that she wasn’t a child any longer. She was all of thirteen, and didn’t believe in those farfetched stories anymore, but he knew better. She would be lying in her bed tonight, listening and waiting.

“Well, go on now, cut it down!” Josie insisted.

He put his thumb and forefinger to his lips and gave a high, shrill whistle. Noticing how the gray sky was growing darker, he looked over at the edge of the clearing where they stood and saw the underbrush rustle. Suddenly, two hound dogs bounded out of the trees, followed by a gangly young stallion.

“Come on, Renegade. Over here,” he called out to the colt, who responded by cantering to him.

Josie giggled at the sight. “Your dumb horse thinks he’s a dog!”

“He ain’t dumb. I’ll wager he’s a lick smarter than you are, li’l sister,” David teased.

The horse blew and stomped his front hoof.

“Why, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. And not only is he dumb, he looks right silly, too. He can’t decide if he should be spotted or palomino!”

David observed his horse for a moment. Renegade’s face was piebald. His dark chestnut coat was highlighted with white spots and patches concentrating on his underbelly, and his mane and tail were light flaxen. He had white socks up to his knees. His unusual eyes were brownish green. David remembered how he had heard that a horse with strange-colored eyes like Renegade’s was considered sacred and chosen by the Cherokee Indians. Several people had noticed the strange coincidence, and his other sister, Rena, also frequently commented that he and his horse had the same colored eyes.

“I reckon he knows what he is,” David remarked. “Besides, he’s unusual, and that makes him unique.”

“Oh, he’s unique all right,” Josie said, giggling again. She pulled her hair back from her face and replaced her bonnet.

David untied a saw from a leather strap attached to Renegade’s saddle. He knelt down, quickly sawed through the little tree’s trunk, picked it up, and tied it across the saddle’s seat. His two black and tan dogs sniffed around the tree’s sawed off stump. Suddenly, they both lifted their noses into the air with their ears pricked. They bolted across the open clearing, baying at an unseen curiosity as they disappeared into the woods.

“Caleb! Si!” David hollered after the two hounds. “Well, there they go,” he observed wryly. “All right, Renegade, take it on home.” He patted his horse on the shoulder.

Renegade nickered softly, shook his head, and trotted off in the same direction as the two hounds.

Josie gasped. “Look, David! It’s startin’ to snow!” She tilted her head back and stuck out her tongue, trying to catch snowflakes on it.

He chuckled.

“Come on, you do it, too,” she coaxed him.

He obliged his little sister by imitating her.

Josie laughed, spinning around with her arms extended while snow fell silently down around them.

“Oh!” David clasped his hand to his face. “One fell in my eye!”

Josie giggled.

He couldn’t help but smile, although he was careful not to let her see, and snorted to cover up his delight. “Well, I’m right glad you think it’s so funny.” He looked at her, trying to keep a straight face. “Come on, Josie girl. We’d best be gittin’ on back.”

He allowed her to go ahead of him as they started on the bridle path that cut through the woods.

“Let’s sing Christmas carols!” she said. “That new one we heard last year. Jingle Bells!”

“You start,” he prompted.

“Dashin’ through the snow…”

He joined in. Their voices grew stronger in unison.

“In a one-horse open sleigh…”

They came to an empty field, and trudged through, stepping over mud puddles while they continued singing.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”

Their house stood quaintly at the far end of the field. Smoke circled from its two chimneys, dissolving into the gray sky. The sweet smell of burning hickory reached out, inviting them closer. From a distance, the structure appeared to be two separate cabins sitting side by side, but upon closer observation, one could see that they were connected by a covered breezeway. Each section contained two rooms and a fireplace. A wide flat porch on the front of the split log building served as an entryway. The tin roof, which seemed to expel heat in the summertime, also managed to repel snow during winter months.

The cold, damp air encroached upon brother and sister. As they sang, their breath escaped, floated out across the fields, and vanished in phantom gusts.

“Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!”

On the last note, Josie’s voice jumped an octave. They laughed at their grand finale and walked around to the front of the house, where Renegade was waiting patiently for the tree to be removed from his saddle. A buckskin horse stood beside him.

“Whose horse is that?” Josie asked.

“It looks like Bud Samuels’ horse.”

David and Josie looked at each other, wide-eyed. “Pa!” they both exclaimed.

Josie sprang onto the porch, burst through the front door, and went inside while David untied the small yellow pine. He set it aside, pulled the saddle from Renegade’s back, and removed his bridle.

“Go on into the barn, Renie,” he said. “Or you’ll be one big ole snowball in a minute.”

The colt blew and trotted around the side of the house.

David carried his tack into the breezeway. He placed it on a horizontal board, which was supported by a plank on each end. Collecting the tree, he heard the sound of Bud’s voice coming from inside.

“I had some trouble gettin’ here,” Bud was saying as he entered. “But I convinced the Home Guard to follow me home so’s I could show them my furlough paper.”

David produced the tiny tree. “I know it’s small,” he said with a grin, “but Josie insisted, and…” The sight that befell him inexplicably filled him with dread. His smile faded. He looked around at the faces before him and let the tree fall onto the wooden floor. Warmth from the fireplace did nothing to relieve the chill that grasped him. “What is it?” he asked.

“Come in, darlin’, and close the door,” his mother said from her high-backed chair, which sat near the empty corner they had readied for the Christmas tree. Her brown skirt encircled her like a puddle. Her dark brown hair, streaked recently with gray, was parted in the middle and contained in a white cotton hair net. She clenched her hands in her lap, and her lips were pursed. The flickering firelight accentuated the grooves on her face, which, for some reason, David had never noticed before. After closing the door behind him, he looked at Rena, who was sitting beside the hearth. She vacantly stared back, her violet eyes welling up with tears.

“Rena?” he asked her.

She looked away and hugged Josie, who had taken the chair beside her.

David walked across the room to their neighbor, Bud.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Samuels,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. “How’s Pa? Is he comin’ home for Christmas, like he wrote?”

“Have a seat, David.” Bud’s eyes filled with concern. He scratched his straggly, graying beard.

Obeying the command, David slowly sank into a chair, keeping his eyes fixed on Bud’s face.

“I’m afraid I have bad news.” Bud cleared his throat, then slowly, deliberately said, “Your father’s been killed at Fredericksburg.” He looked down at the floor. “A little over a week ago. I know he was lookin’ forward to seein’ y’all. I’m…immensely sorry.”

He pulled a folded piece of yellowed paper from his coat pocket. The gray coat was torn and tattered in places, not at all like the beautiful piece of clothing that had been provided to him nearly two years earlier. His trousers and the kepi he held in his hand were weathered, too.

“Miss Carolyn, Hiram wanted me to give you this here letter…in the event of his death.” He solemnly handed her the note.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Carolyn held it to her mouth. Tears streamed down her weathered face. “Thank you, Bud,” she finally said. “You’ve been a good friend to my Hiram. I know he appreciated you dearly.”

Bud nodded. “Please let the missus or me know if there’s anything we can do,” he offered, and walked toward the door.

“I surely will.” Carolyn wearily stood, followed him to the door, and walked him out.

Bud placed his kepi on his head, untied his horse, mounted, and galloped off down the lane. The rhythm of hoof beats faded.

Turning from the doorway, Carolyn somberly gazed at her children. Her two daughters came across the room to hug her. The three of them burst into tears. Carolyn gazed at her son, who was sitting motionless across the room, his handsome young face drained of color, his hazel eyes growing a darker brown.

“David,” she said, her voice filled with the sorrow that had now overtaken the room.

He looked over at her, his face blank with grief-stricken shock.  Finding no comfort in her anguished expression, he glanced up at the ornately-carved mantle clock, the one his father had given to her as a wedding gift. It read ten minutes past five. Beside it sat a framed tintype of his father, adorned in Confederate glory, ready to march off to victory, but now he was never to return. David’s eyes wandered, and he noticed things he’d taken for granted before: the raised oval portrait of his paternal grandmother on the wall, the paintings of flowers his mother liked so well that hung on the opposite wall, the fieldstone fireplace that his father had built, and the pine furniture that had been there ever since he could remember. Somehow, all of it seemed irrelevant.

Moving numbly, he rose and walked across the room to pick up the little tree he had dropped earlier. A tiny pool of water remained where it had fallen. He carried the tree outside, leaving a trail of moisture that splattered onto the floorboards. The cold winter air, uncluttered with snow, barely whispered, its breath deathly quiet and still. Dusk was rapidly approaching.

David hurled the tree as hard as he could. It landed with a rustled thud out in the yard. Without pausing, he walked into the breezeway past his mother and sisters and grabbed a kerosene lantern. He carried it outside, lit it, and threw it at the pine. The glass shattered upon impact. Kerosene trickled out onto the tiny branches and within seconds, flames engulfed the little tree. He stoically watched tongues of fire consume the sapling. Slowly, he turned to face his mother and sisters, who were standing on the porch, watching him while they wept.

“I reckon we won’t be celebratin’ Christmas after all,” he said, his voice raspy with distress.

Impending darkness engulfed his heart. Feeling the need for solitude, he walked around the house toward the barn, vaguely hearing his mother call out to him. The sky opened, releasing icy rain. He stomped past the pigpen and the chicken coop. Upon reaching the old wooden barn, he went inside and blinked several times before his eyes adjusted to his dim surroundings. He caught glimpses of shadows dancing off the walls and up around the rafters. A pungent combination of dry, clean hay and musty wood enveloped him. The rain rattled down upon the barn’s tin roof and sounded like a thousand tiny drums. Three cows studied him with soft brown eyes. One mooed a welcome as he walked past them.

Sidestepping bales of hay stacked near the stall door, David paused to shake off cold drops of moisture that clung to his shirt and ran his hand over the top of his head, wiping the rain from his dark brown hair. A large Percheron, standing in the stall next to Renegade, gazed at David with his ears pricked.

“Hey, Joe Boy,” David said softly to the tall white gelding.

The draft horse sniffled at David’s pockets but seemed to lose interest and shuffled to the other end of his stall when David didn’t offer a treat like he usually did. Renegade looked up from his fodder and nickered softly. David walked over and gently stroked his muzzle. “I’m sorry I put you through all that trouble of bringin’ home a tree.” Anguish and anger welled up inside him. Searing-hot tears streamed down his cheeks. His hatred seethed. His grief was overwhelming, and he could hold it back no longer. Sobs escaped him. He grasped onto his horse’s mane, burying his face in Renegade’s neck. The colt stood quietly, seemingly to console him.

https://www.amazon.com/Beckoning-Hellfire-Novel-Civil-Renegade-ebook/dp/B09C2HXBZL/?encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_w=S5Coj&pf_rd_p=29505bbf-38bd-47ef-8224-a5dd0cda2bae&pf_rd_r=CE2AMZTMFTYM2Y392VS5&pd_rd_r=d7da3536-eeb5-4d0c-8d3e-525f97a5f395&pd_rd_wg=XFA9u&ref=pd_gw_ci_mcx_mr_hp_atf_m

A Beckoning Hellfire Soaring to #1

My novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, just acheived #2 rating in Civil War books on Amazon. My publisher, Westwood Books Publishing, has been pushing to get this book rated as #1 on the Amazon bestseller list. Hopefully, that will happen soon!

Part of their marketing campaign is to get more reviews for the book. Here are a couple of five-star reviews that it recently received.

Nov 08, 2021

Pegboard rated it FIVE STARS! It was amazing

A Beckoning Hellfire: A Novel of the Civil War by J.D.R. Hawkins brings one of our country’s devastating times to life. David Summers is angry, hurt, and wants revenge. He can’t fathom a war that would have killed the man he idolized. His passion now is to make everyone pay who represented a small part in the death of his father. As he fights this war, brother against brother, father against son, he realizes there isn’t glamour or pride when you win a battle. The destruction and despair are unimaginable.

I found J.D.R. Hawkins a skillful writer as she brings the Civil War alive with a fierce reminder of our country torn apart. A Beckoning Hellfire is well-written and a fascinating novel. The characters are just as you would imagine them with hopes, dreams, and disappointments. They strive to live one more day and to keep their family and friends alive. People will show their true light during their darkest days. History lovers will enjoy this novel.


John H. Manhold

5.0 out of 5 stars 5* thoughtful addition to the American Civil War literature.

Reviewed in the United States on November 12, 2021

Verified Purchase

A RECONNING HELLFIRE, A Novel of the Civil War, Kindle Edition by JDR Hawkens.
The author has set forth a coming of age tale of a young farm boy in the horribly difficult time of the Civil War between the states. His father has joined the Army of the Confederate States of America and left him to manage the large but somewhat hardscrabble farm in western Alabama with the help of his sisters and mother. Unfortunately, he is killed and the family is informed just before Christmas shortly before his 18th birthday that was to occur the following year. With a typical display of the bitterness exhibited between residents of the northern and southern states, plus an anxiousness to “get into the action existent in almost all young naïve young men, he is determined also to join in the bitter fighting to “gain revenge on the Yankees:” The story unfolds following the young man’s subsequent enlistment and experiences as he becomes one of the many young men involved in the gradual expansion of the deadly hand-to-hand combat of a member of the Southern cavalry fighting under the flamboyant and highly successful J.E.B. Stuart. His plight is made worse by his actions immediately before leaving for the army, but aided in many ways by his lifelong close friend who joins with him and his unusual horse that has been his companion for many years.
Discussion: The author is the well-known as the eminently well-qualified one of the few women writing in this area of American literature, and once again has provided readers with a well-researched, well-written, mostly poignant story of one series of actions that could have taken place during the conflict. It is a story of the common soldier with only an occasional glance into the lives of the cavaliers and the storied lives lived by the wealthy plantation owners and that from which came the Southern Officers. Instead it depicts the farmer, blacksmith, storekeepers and others who made up the largest proportion of the soldiers involved in the horrendous conflict. It is not a story for the delicate reader and, as are any descriptions of battle scenes as they truly exist, subject to a goodly amount of repetition or repetitive-like description. However, the informed reader will learn much he/she may not previously known about the substitute foods and other innovative moves the southerners ‘manufactured’. It is a well-worthwhile addition to the collection of stories of tis great American conflict.

5* thoughtful addition to the American Civil War literature.

https://www.amazon.com/Beckoning-Hellfire-Novel-Civil-War/dp/1648030777/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2VKLVNBU6CDCY&keywords=a+beckoning+hellfire&qid=1639167713&sprefix=a+beckonin%2Caps%2C251&sr=8-2

ReleaseDayBlitz :: My Ruin (Bond of Brothers #1) by Sapna Bhog

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The bonds of family are unbreakable.

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From bestselling Author Sapna Bhog comes a new romance series of friendship, loyalty and betrayal.

He never expected to run into her…

SHAURYA RAJPOOT is a man of many secrets. A sudden meeting with Myra Gupta changes the course of his life. Bound by a vow to his family, Shaurya keeps her at a distance…until she shatters all the barriers between them. Staying away from her soon becomes impossible, resisting her…unimaginable. 

She wasn’t prepared for him…

After losing the only man she ever loved, MYRA GUPTA has gone through life barely living and merely surviving. But all that changes when she meets Shaurya Rajpoot. Fascinated and intrigued by him, Myra is drawn by his loyalty, silent strength and quiet reserve. She yearns to get to know him better. However his past, his family and their bitter history keeps getting in the way of them being together. 

But when the past collides with the present and secrets are revealed, will love be enough? Or will one lie—the biggest deception of all—destroy Shaurya and Myra forever?

Book Links:
Goodreads * Amazon.in * Amazon.com

Meet Myra & Shaurya from ‘My Ruin’

Myra Gupta


28 yo Myra Gupta lost the man she loved more than four years ago. Post that traumatic ordeal, she’s focused all her energy into her work as the head legal counsel for a huge company. Her work requires her to move cities and she does so with the single aim to begin her life afresh and to move beyond the past. But a chance meeting with a stranger at the airport, changes her life. Suddenly, Shaurya Rajpoot is everywhere she is.

Very soon, Myra is battling feelings for the only man who can possibly help her overcome her past and fall in love again. 

Shaurya Rajpoot


A rising star in Dubai’s construction sector, Shaurya Rajpoot’s main goal in life is to protect his family from an old enemy. After being betrayed by the woman he loves, he never wanted anything permanent with another woman ever, until he bumps into Myra. She makes him feel again and soon Shaurya is fighting his growing attraction for the one woman who works for his family’s enemy. 

Including her in his life is hard, keeping her away even harder. But with his family’s history and his past in the way of their happily ever after, Shaurya has to decide if he can take a risk and confide in Myra about everything. 

About the Author:
Sapna Bhog is an author from India who writes contemporary and historical romance novels. As a self-proclaimed die-hard romantic, her books are filled with swoon-worthy heroes and feisty heroines who clash all the time, but do get their happy ever after. Sapna has always surrounded herself with books and when she is not writing she is reading. Originally from Dubai, she now lives in Western India with her husband, kids and a Siberian Husky. Sapna gave up a successful IT career and took a foray into writing and has never looked back since. Her favourite pastimes are reading, writing, traveling and shopping—not necessarily in that order. She loves to hear from readers.

Sapna on the Web:
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New Cover Reveal!

I’d like to officially announce that my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, has a new cover! This is in conjunction with my acquiring a new publisher.

It has been so much fun to reinvent my book and to breathe new life into it! A Beckoning Hellfire has been re-edited and improved. This book has received several awards and has earned many five-star reviews. It is the second book in the Renegade Series (the first is A Beautiful Glittering Lie). Stay tuned, because the third book in the series, A Rebel Among Us, will soon come out with a new cover as well.

Thanks so much for your continued support and interest in my books. I’m always fishing for reviews, so if you are interested, please let me know and I will send you a PDF!

Cover Reveal – Murder in the Chowdhury Palace

~ Cover Reveal ~
Murder in the Chowdhury Palace
by Sharmishtha Shenoy

Murder in the Chowdhury Palace Banner copy

Murder in the Chowdhury Palace Cover copy

About the Book:

What if someone you loved… was murdered? How far would you go to bring a killer to justice?

Orphaned in her childhood, Durga has always longed for wealth, security and, above all, a sense of belonging. She finds it all when she marries Debnarayan Chowdhury, heir to an immense, multi-crore estate. But the Chowdhury family has been under a curse that dates back to the British era. The first-born of each generation dies young, purportedly killed by the spirit of Kadambari, a young woman murdered by the notorious Shankar Dakat, the founder of the Chowdhury family and their Zamindari. When her father-in-law Birendranath dies unexpectedly, Durga and Debnarayan come down to the ancestral home in Kakdihi, a small village near Kolkata. The moment Durga enters her new palatial home, she crosses a threshold of terror. She loses her husband within a month of her marriage and finds herself a widow in a house full of strangers. Are Debnarayan’s and Birendranath’s deaths accidental? Everyone in her new family and the neighborhood appear to be friendly. Most of them have a motive to kill her. A well-meaning neighbor tells her, ‘Run from this place. You have no friends here.’ Is she, the current owner of the estate, now on the murderer’s radar? 

Read an Excerpt from Murder in the Chowdhury Palace

The trees were denser beyond the pond on the northern side, and the area was unkempt and full of thorny bushes and nettles.  Debu remarked, ‘Not many people venture into the northern part of the woods from this point because the haunted house is less than a mile from here. So this part of the estate is in a rather wild state.’

‘Yes, I can see that nature has completely taken over this part. But still, let’s go there.’ I said excitedly.

‘Some other day…,’ Debu murmured. His face was slightly pale.

‘Debu! You really seem to believe in these ghosts and all that nonsense…,’ I said rather incredulously.

‘No… no… of course not!’ Debu exclaimed.

‘Then prove it! Let’s go and visit the house.’

‘Look… it won’t be very safe. The walls are crumbling, and I am sure that bats have made their home there.’

‘Please, Debu, let’s go, I have never seen a haunted house,’ I said, cajolingly. I gripped his hand and almost dragged him towards the house.

We came upon the abandoned temple first. The plaster was coming off the walls, and the aerial roots of a huge banyan tree had encroached upon the temple and gone in through the walls causing rainwater to leak into the walls and damage them further. The house was located a further quarter kilometer away.

There was a strange, sinister silence all around. Even the birds did not twitter in this part of the woods. The house with its closed shutters and peeling walls was a one-storey medium-sized building. It was dark and uninviting, steeped in shadow due to the jungle of trees that had flourished around it. Darkness echoed and folded upon itself. I walked resolutely to the main door, only to find it locked. 

‘Where is the key to this door?’

‘I don’t think anybody has it.’

I was in a naughty mood. ‘Then let’s break it open. I really want to see what’s inside.’ 

In spite of Debu’s protests, I picked up a heavy rock and hit the rusty lock with it. The lock broke easily.

We stepped inside a large hall. It was full of cobwebs and broken dilapidated furniture. Suddenly, a bat swept past my face. I let out a startled cry and drew back. I would have fallen to the ground had Debu not caught me.

‘Let’s get out of here. You shouldn’t be so adventurous in your present condition. The baby might get hurt,’ he said in a quavering voice. 

‘Oh come on… please Debu…let’s explore a bit more.’

I went further in and switched on the torch of my mobile to see better. At the center of the hall, were the remains of a havan done a long time back. The bricks used for the havan were blackened, charred and crumbling with spiders spinning their webs over the layers of dust. There was a portrait of Shankar Dakat and another of a woman on a wooden platform near which the havan had been performed.

‘This is, of course, Shankar Dakat’s portrait. And this must be Kadambari…,’ I said. ‘Who painted this?’ The painting of Kadambari mesmerized me. She was little more than a young girl in a green sari, worn without a blouse in the traditional fashion. Her big eyes were strangely life-like and sad and her long, thick, curly hair cascaded down her bare shoulders like a cloud.

‘I don’t know who painted this, nor do I care. Let’s go, Durga. I feel really uncomfortable here.’ Debu said a little impatiently. I started coughing because of the dirt. ‘Durga, you know you are allergic to dust. Come away now. I don’t want our baby to get hurt.’ He clutched my hand in a death grip, and almost dragged me out of the house.

The fear in his voice was contagious. Also, to be honest, the life-like painting had spooked me. We hurried back towards the pond. As we almost ran back and neared our home, there was a shout from the ground-floor east-wing balcony. It was Kanak. She shouted, ‘Who goes there?’

About Sharmishtha Shenoy:

Sharmistha Shenoy copy
Sharmishtha Shenoy is the author of the Vikram Rana Mystery series. The books under the series are “Vikram Rana Investigates,” “A Season for Dying,” “Behind the Scenes” and “Fatal Fallout”. She has also published a book of short stories, “Quirky Tales.”

Her short stories have been published in efiction magazine and Woman’s era. She loves writing murder mysteries, the kind of books that she likes to read. Her favorite authors are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. She also likes the work of Satyajit Ray – especially the Feluda Series. 

Before starting to write, she had been an IT professional and had worked in TCS, Satyam, Infosys, and Microsoft. 

She is a big foodie and enjoys Biriyani (both Hyderabadi and Awadhi versions) and rasgullas like most Bengalis. She is also a lusty singer of the bathroom singing variety.

Though she is happily married to Mr. Shenoy in real life, in her fantasy world she is wedded to her creation Vikram Rana.  You can get to her blog by typing the word “Sharmishtha Rana” into Google. No, seriously, try it.

She was born in Calcutta. She is an M Tech from the University of Reading, Great Britain and had received a 100% British Government Scholarship to study there. She lives in Hyderabad.

Sharmishtha on the Web:

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * YouTube 

 

It’s That Time of Year

In exactly two weeks, it will be Christmas! It’s my favorite holiday. Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, the first book in the Renegade Series. This glance into the past shows what a war-torn country was like in December, 1861.

ABGL B.R.A.G. Medallion

The day of Callie’s Christmas party arrived. Rena and Josie had primped for a week, repeatedly trying on the five dresses they owned between them, until they finally came to a decision. David didn’t give it much thought, since Callie’s charms had worn off with time, but he did carve a beautiful broach for her.

They reached the Copeland’s as dusk was setting in. It was an unseasonably warm evening, and Caroline remarked about how the weather seemed to be cooperating with the party. Pulling into the yard, they saw several other carriages and wagons parked outside. David directed Joe Boy to an open area. He jumped down, tied the draft horse to a shrub, greeted Percy, who was tending the horses, and after assisting his mother and sisters down from the wagon, he escorted them up the steps to the house. The stylings of festive violin music floated through the air. Caroline tapped on the door. Momentarily, Mr. Copeland answered, dressed in a waistcoat with matching black trousers.

“Why, there y’all are!” he greeted them happily. “Please do come in!”

Extending his hand to David, the two shook and followed the ladies into the parlor, which was aglow with glittering lights. Candles flickered on brass candlesticks, reflecting off blown-glass decorations that adorned an enormous pine Christmas tree regally standing in a corner. The women were attired in festive, colorful dresses, and the men wore fine suits. David thought the entire sparkling room was enchanting.

Josie and Rena saw some friends, so they went off to mingle. Mr. Copeland took Caroline’s arm and led her over to his wife, leaving David awkwardly alone. He gazed around for a familiar face, and finally found one. Jake ambled across the room in his direction, with Callie on his arm. She was radiant in a shimmering, bronze-colored, hooped gown. Her golden hair was drawn up and confined within a snood that matched the hue of her dress. Jake appeared similarly attractive in his best suit.

“Glad to see you could make it!” he exclaimed, giving his friend a playful punch on the arm.

“Y’all knew we couldn’t miss this.”

“Well, I should certainly hope not!” exclaimed Callie. “Everyone knows mine is the most extravagant party in the county this season. And we have cause for celebration, this bein’ the first yuletide since the start of the war.” Releasing Jake, she clamped onto David. “Jake, would you be a darlin’ and go fetch me some punch?”

“It would be my pleasure, Miss Callie,” he said with a smile. Giving David a wink, he strolled off into the crowd.

“Now, Mr. Summers, if you please, I would like you to come with me,” she said, giving his arm a tug, so he obediently followed along like a puppy.

The violinist, joined by a pianist, delved into a tender rendition of “Silent Night.” Callie stopped momentarily to listen, so David took his opportunity.

“Miss Callie, I made you a token,” he bashfully admitted. Withdrawing a small wrapped package from his pocket, he handed it to her.

“Well, I do declare! David, darlin’, you shouldn’t have!” She tore open the wrapping and pried open the box, revealing the broach he had painstakingly carved for her. “Why, it’s absolutely breathtakin’.” She pinned it onto the front of her gown. “I shall wear it always.”

Taking his hand, she leaned over to give him a gentle kiss on the cheek, barely missing his mouth.

He shied away, embarrassed. Clearing his throat while his face flushed, he muttered, “What did you want to show me, Miss Callie?”

“I would like to present you to some friends who are out back.”

He followed her to the garden, but immediately wished he hadn’t, for as soon as they were outside, he saw several faces he recognized.

“David, you know Owen Ridgeway, and his brother, Lemuel.”

“Hey, Summers,” said Lemuel in a friendly manner, but his older brother only glared.

“Hey, y’all,” David responded genially, for Callie’s sake.

Jake arrived, and handed Callie a glass filled with sparkling red fluid. Seeing the tension, he said, “Zeke, go on in and git yourself some punch.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” he said, taking his chance to escape the scene. He knew Callie was unaware of the conflict, but he was riled, and he didn’t wish to spoil her party, so he went inside to the food table.

The spread temporarily distracted him from a possible confrontation. Ham, turkey, stuffing, cornbread, pickles, garden vegetables, bread pudding, and assorted pies were displayed on gold leaf china. His mouth watered as he absorbed the sight.

Rena appeared beside him. “Are you enjoyin’ yourself?” she asked, taking a plate.

“I was, till Callie took me outside. That scoundrel Owen Ridgeway is here.”

“He is?”

“Yeah, and so is his brother. I don’t have a quarrel with him, though.”

“Jist avoid him, David,” she advised.

He looked over to see the seriousness in her gaze. “I’ll be on my best behavior for Ma’s sake, but if he tries to make a fuss, well …”

“Jist don’t.” Rena glared insistently at him before moving on.

Once he had filled his plate, he walked across the kitchen, sat at the table, and began eating. Soon, several guests joined him, and struck up a conversation about his father. Isabelle scurried about to accommodate the partygoers, as did the Copeland’s five slaves, and a few others the neighbors had brought along to help support them.

After lingering for half an hour, David excused himself. He walked into the parlor, where he saw Jake and Callie talking to Alice Walker, so he joined them.

“Oh, David, Miss Alice has jist informed us of the most dreadful news!” Callie leaned against Jake for support.

“What is it, Miss Alice?” he asked.

“We’re movin’ to California,” she announced. A broad smile spread across her young porcelain-like face.

“Californee is a right far piece away!” Jake exclaimed with a chuckle.

She nodded. “My pa has an uncle out that way who struck it rich, so we’re fixin’ to go next year sometime. Perhaps after spring thaw.”

David smirked through a flash of jealousy. “I wish I could go out to Californee and strike it rich,” he muttered.

Callie smiled at him. “Perhaps we can all go out for a visit later on,” she suggested hopefully. Turning toward the wall, she decided to change the subject. “David, have you seen the paintin’ my ma jist acquired?”

“No.” He drew closer to have a look.

“Pa bought it for her for Christmas. Ain’t it magnificent?”

“It surely is.” He gazed at the landscape, noticing how the bluish-purple colors of twilight were accurately represented.

“My ma says that it’s right fittin’ and all. She says that this paintin’, Twilight, symbolizes the transitions we’ve all been goin’ through—the new Confederacy and two new presidents, talk of freein’ the slaves, and the country splittin’ in two. It’s like the dawnin’ of a new day.”

David stared at the painting, reading her description into the swirls left by the artist’s brushstrokes, and reckoned she was right.

Mrs. Copeland’s high-pitched voice cut through the din. “May I have your attention, please?”

Callie’s father tapped on a crystal champagne glass with a piece of silverware, causing it to ring out. The participants grew quiet.

“We would like for all of our guests to please assemble out back in the garden!” she exclaimed, and motioned invitingly, so the partygoers followed her.

As David walked outside, he noticed the entire backyard had been redecorated. Paper lanterns strung across the length of the yard illuminated the setting, and musicians were gathered on a platform near the back. The violinist had transformed himself into a fiddle player. He was joined by a banjo player and a percussionist, who sat poised atop a stool with spoons in his hand.

“For our first song,” the banjo player announced, “we’re playin’ a fine tune by Stephen Foster, called ‘O Lemuel.’”

Owen guffawed at the reference, jabbing his little brother with his elbow. The music started, and the crowd coupled up. Walking out into the center of the straw-covered yard, they began swirling to the music. The chill in the air seemed to dissipate as the dancers moved in synchronized harmony across the makeshift dance floor.

David watched while a schoolmate, Thomas Halsey, escorted Rena. Jake and Callie took to the floor, as did their parents, even though Mr. Kimball’s injured leg prevented him from dancing with much elegance. Like he usually did at gatherings such as these, David partnered with his mother and younger sister, dancing to the lively melodies of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Jim along Josie.” He danced with Alice, and once, timidly, with Callie, who complimented him on his stylish grace. When the music changed to a waltz, she stated that she thought he would easily fit into high society with his fancy footwork.

After the musicians took a break, he strolled into the house for refreshment. Owen followed, confronting him in the kitchen.

“Think you’re quite the rooster, don’t you? Dancin’ with every gal at the party.” He stared provokingly with penetrating green eyes, his blond hair tussled atop his head.

David whirled around to face him. Owen had always been a showoff, and was constantly teasing him because he was left-handed, and trying to outdo him at every opportunity. 

“That ain’t none of your concern. Savvy?”

Owen snorted. “You’re worthless. You ain’t nothin’ but a weasel. All you can do is hide behind them skirts!”

Rena entered to see her brother bristle at his adversary. “David …” she warned.

“Not now, Rena,” he growled back.

“Recall what we discussed.” She could see from across the room that her brother’s eyes were darkening from hazel to brown, which to her was a bad indication.

“I want to have a word with you out on the veranda, Ridgeway,” David stated.

He tromped off through the house. Owen grinned, traipsing behind. David heard his mother’s voice as she entered the kitchen. 

“What’s goin’ on in here?” she asked.

“Dere’s ‘bout to be trouble out front, Miss Caroline,” Isabelle explained as she gathered a trayful of dirty dishes.

“It’s Owen Ridgeway again, Ma,” added Josie.

Caroline growled, “I’ll put a stop to this.” 

“No, Mrs. Summers,” Jake intercepted. “Allow me.” He sauntered through the house as voices outside escalated, and went outside to see David and Owen glaring intensely while throwing verbal spears at each other.

“I know it was you who killed my dog last winter!” David roared. “You did it jist to spite me, because you were jealous!”

“Why would I be jealous of you?” Owen mocked a laugh.

“Because I’m smarter than you, and you know it.”

“You cheated on those school exams so you could graduate! You lied about your pa fightin’ at Manassas, too! You’re spoiled and soft!”

“I’ll have you take that back!”

“Now, boys,” Jake interrupted, “there ain’t no need for—”

Suddenly, Owen lurched at David, who threw a punch into his attacker’s face. They were immediately wrestling on the veranda, tumbling over each other while grunting, cursing, and yelling. Members of the party dashed outside, alarmed by the commotion. Jake managed to break the two apart, and held his friend’s arms behind his back. Lemuel seized his brother in the same manner. The two opponents snorted like bulls, their faces red with vehemence. A trail of scarlet blood trickled from Owen’s nose.

“Take it easy!” Jake hollered.

Mr. Copeland stepped in. “What is the meaning of this?! I will not have you two behave this way at my gatherin’!” He stomped over to Owen and took him by the ear. “I’m throwin’ you out, young man! You’re no longer welcome here!” Leading Owen to the steps, he thrust him toward the yard. Lemuel meekly scurried after his brother. “Off with you now, and don’t come back!”

The brothers staggered toward their wagon, climbed in, and rode off down the lane.

Turning toward David, who was panting to catch his breath, Mr. Copeland sighed. “David, I thought better of you than this.” He walked past him and went inside.

The words stung more than any expulsion could. Frowning, he looked at his startled family, at Jake, who simpered at him, and at Callie, who scowled at him. He knew what he had done, although it was unintentional, and he felt deeply ashamed. He had ruined Callie’s Christmas party.

Soon, the family decided it was best to leave. Barely speaking to each other, they returned home and retired to their bedchambers. The next morning, on their way back from church, Josie broke the silence.

“How come Owen Ridgeway don’t like you?” she asked straightforwardly.

David shrugged. “He never has, and I don’t cotton to him, neither.”

She chuckled faintly. “I reckon you would if he was nice to you.”

He shrugged again. It was a situation he assumed he would likely never know.

Soul Warrior Book Blast  

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15th to 17th September, 2017

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The Age of Kali is a series of mythic fantasy novels by international bestselling novelist Falguni Kothari. The first book of the series, Soul Warrior, introduces readers to a fictional law-governed Cosmos made up of heavenly, demonic and human realms and its protagonist, Lord Karna, the legendary guardian of the Human Realm, who is coerced into training six godlings into demon hunters against a rising demon army. The series arc interlocks into a war of domination between the Light and Dark forces of the Cosmos and the race to control the one soul capable of total cosmic annihilation, demi-god Karna’s and Draupadi’s secret child.

Get Your Copy from AMAZON

Praise for Soul Warrior:

“A beautiful exploration of fantasy and mythology, Soul Warrior (The Age of Kali) is the latest release from Falguni Kothari and by any stretch of the imagination she’s delivered an awesome story. Rich, enchanting, evocative, she effortlessly blends an ancient Indian epic and South Asian mythology with grace and quiet elegance to create the canvas upon which her miraculous world finds form…. Beautifully written and enviably imaginative, Soul Warrior proves an exemplary example of Fantasy Fiction. Definitely deserving of your attention it is recommended without reservation!”

   —Book Viral 


“I loved the writing which… hit that nice spot between being evocative and descriptive and still keeping the story moving….It has a huge cast of fascinating characters, a deep and rich world and definitely something I’m interested in following.”

   —Fangs for Fantasy 


“I loved the way Ms. Falguni has shown an eye for the details scattered throughout the novel…. Will I recommend this book? Oh yes, and be assured you will grab the next one too just to know more about the Soul Warrior.”

   —Global Asian Times 


“The plot is intriguing, much in the tradition of a modern thriller…. Precisely sketched and nuanced with quirky detail, the characters enrich the story they inhabit…. The vibrant characters in the multi-hued setting are the stuff superhero animation films are made of. Soul Warrior engrosses and enthralls. A thumping good read, I would say.”

   —Of Prose and Poetry blog 



Read an Excerpt:

 

SHUNYA: NOTHING AND EVERYTHING



Kuru Kshetra Battlefield.

        Day 17 of the Great Kuru War, seven thousand five hundred years ago.



Death is hot.


That surprises me. I’d imagined death as cold and brutal. Merciless. But in truth, death is hot as blood, and constant like a heartbeat.


Thrum. Thrum. Thrum. My lifeblood ebbs to the rhythm. My head ripped from its torso by Anjalika, the arrow of death that burns even now with the energy of the sun. Struck from behind like some novice. Felled in battle by that lily-livered usurper the Heavens smile upon—Prince Arjun. Brother Arjun.


What have I done?


I harness the thought. Cease all reflection and wrench free of my mortal body. I soar up, up into the gloaming, snapping the ties that tether me to life. Dead, I have no use for ties.


“A matter of perspective, Karna, O son of my godsire.” The unearthly words strum through the air, and I quiver like a plucked bowstring, overcome as much by the voice as its blasphemous claim. 


“Bonds of devotion nourish the soul, brother.”


There is that word again. Brother. Unpleasant laughter wells up in me. Alive, I am abandoned, denied my birthright—Celestial or royal. Death, it seems, changes everything.


A bright, nebulous light brings forth Lord Yama, the God of Death, atop his divine mount. His elephantine thighs ripple beneath a silken dhoti, ochre and crimson of color, as he guides the mammoth water buffalo to a halt. An iron medallion sways against the God’s powerful cerulean torso, its center stone an ethereal blood orange.


Hypnotic. Pulsing with life. I am drawn to the stone.


“Piteous waste,” Lord Yama mutters, surveying the carnage of war far below us.


I trace the trajectory of his gaze and behold the battered remains of my army drenched in the evidence of its mortality. Is it true? Have we died in vain?


Words form inside me and I will them out. “Shall we go, my lord?”


“Ha! Impatient to be judged, are you? Anxious to have your fate revealed?” asks the Judge of the Hell Realm. His red-black eyes burn with intelligence and compassion in a blue-tinged face that is long and lean and hard. “Rest easy, brother-warrior. You are not bound for the Great Courtroom.”

Not bound for Hell? Where then? Fear has eluded me for so long that I take a moment to recognize it. 


A hollow-bellied feeling it is, as annoying as a bone stuck in my throat.


“My lord, I have done bad deeds…terrible deeds in my life. I have waged wars, this horrendous bloodshed, and all because my pride could not—would not abide rejection. I have sinned. I must atone for my actions.”


Lord Yama smiles in a way I do not like. “You have redeemed yourself admirably, Karna. You forfeited your life for the greater good today. The deed far outweighs any misguided ones. Be at peace, brother, and enjoy the fruits of your karma.”


There is but one place to enjoy such fruits—the Higher Worlds.


I’d rather burn in Hell for eternity. I say so. “I won’t live amongst the Celestials.” Coexisting with the very souls who’ve spurned me is unthinkable. Watching her—for she would surely reside in Heaven soon—will be eternal torture.


Yama shakes his head, the horns on his crown slashing to and fro. “I thought you might say that. Relax. Your destiny lies elsewhere.”


“Am I to be reborn then? Am I to begin a new life, and forget the past?” Pain, sharp as a blade, lances through me at the thought. Forget my past? My family? Even her? Was that my punishment? To forget all that made me human?


It must be so. For have I not betrayed them as surely as I’ve betrayed my prince regent?


“Human rebirth is not your destiny, either. You are chosen, brother. Your war skills are needed for a higher purpose.” The God slips off his mount, his garments rustling in agitation. “This unjust war has pushed the Cosmos to the vortex of a cataclysm. Tomorrow, the Kuru War will end. Fearing its outcome, the Celestials rolled the Die of Fate and have unwittingly bestowed on Demon Kali untold powers.” Lord Yama bares his fangs in disgust at the foolish gamble. “Imagine the havoc that asura and his minions will wreak on the weak if left unchecked. The Human Realm must be safeguarded during Kali’s dark reign.”


I can imagine the horror only too well as I have battled with evil all my life. But I am done with wars. 

I am done with defeat. I won’t waste another lifetime fighting.


“With due respect, my lord, I am not the man for this task.”


“You are not a man at all,” Yama thunders, fists shaking. “You are the son of Surya, the Sun God. Accept that you are no ordinary soul.”


I say nothing. I think nothing. I feel something but I squash it down.


Lord Yama’s thick black brows draw together. “Demon Kali will try to pervade every particle of good that exists in the Cosmos, beginning with the corruptible Human Realm. Once he obliterates all of humanity, he’ll set his sights on the Celestials. Kali will not stop until he’s destroyed our way of life. But you can stop him. You are light to his darkness. Do you understand now why you had to betray him? Your beloved humans need you, Karna. I need you. Our father believes in you. Claim your rightful place in the Cosmos.”


Impatiently, Lord Yama removes the iron medallion from his neck and holds it out. The vermillion sunstone glows as if its soul is on fire. Nay! It is my soul that is on fire.


Indescribable energy curls through me. I gasp, though not in pain. I shudder and feel myself grow large, grow hot. Was this rebirth?


I am strong, full-bodied and lethal once more. Then I roar as light bursts forth from my very core and I throb with glorious, blinding power. When I come to myself, my world has changed again. Bubbles of color shimmer all around me: cobalt and saffron, azure and rose. By karma! They are souls. Infinite floating souls.


“Behold the spectrum of life: the worthy, the notorious, the righteous and the sinners.” The God of Death’s soul was a worthy sapphire blue with a tinge of silver. “Your duty, should you choose to accept the office of the Soul Warrior, is to hunt down the red-souled asuras and crush them. Whatever you decide, I wish you a long and successful Celestial existence, Karna,” Yama booms out and vanishes into the purpling sky.


The parley has stunned me. The world of color holds me in thrall. I was dead. Yet, now I am not. A new path lies before me. Unwanted, unwelcome, I insist on principle. I close my eyes. Open them to stare at the medallion cupped in my hand—a golden-hued hand at once familiar and not—and know myself for a fool. I do want this. It’s what I am.


Bastard-born. Rebel. Son. Husband. Father. Warlord. And protector. I fist the talisman, buoyed by its concrete warmth. This is who I am.


I am the Soul Warrior.

 

About the Author:
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Falguni Kothari is a New York-based South Asian author and an amateur Latin and Ballroom dance silver medalist with a semi-professional background in Indian Classical dance. She’s published in India in contemporary romance with global e-book availability; Bootie and the Beast (Harlequin Mills and Boon) and It’s Your Move, Wordfreak! (Rupa & Co.), and launches a mythic fantasy series with Soul Warrior (The Age of Kali, #1)

I’m embarrassed to admit how many social media accounts I own :

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