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Archive for the ‘other authors’ Category

More Rebellion by Minor Characters

In my books I’ve always had at least one minor character who insists on playing a larger role than I intended. My most recent series is no exception. In She’s the One Who Thinks Too Much, Ryalgar’s grandmother Aliz was slated for nothing more than an introductory scene, but she not only insisted on sticking around, she quietly took over the entire Velka organization. That is one canny old woman for you…

I’m always curious if other writers experience this and recently I got to ask two very different authors what they thought..

Author Geoffrey Saign has a degree in biology, lives in Minnesota, and has written a YA fantasy series called Magical Beasts. His response to my question was emphatic.

Yes!!! Vampire bat Queen Valera in Book 4, Guardian The Stand, the only book she’s in, is in 5 short scenes. Yet she is so fundamentally important to the story, to the main character, and to the fate of an entire world, that it cannot be overestimated. Plus she is super powerful, mysterious, and interesting! An immortal, she can kick butt, and has no patience for stupidity. But she empathizes with the hero of the series, Samantha (Sam) Green and doesn’t want her to die. When this character first appeared, I had a vague idea about her. Then I loved her immediately and needed to put her into three more scenes. I was so enthralled with her, she came into the climactic ending too.

The same thing occurred in the other books in the series, where a character began as rather mild and ended up as wildly important. In Book 3, Guardian The Sacrifice, the same thing occurred with the Beister, a maniacal killer with huge secrets in his past that directly affected the main character in a shocking way. In Book 2, Guardian The Quest, Drasine, the golden dragon had a significant role, was mysterious, and very powerful. And in Book 1, Guardian The Choice, Heshia, a minor character at first, again became wildly important for the main character, even though she was only in 4 scenes.

Heshia, Drasine, the Beister, and Queen Valera all had a major impact on the main character, the plot, and the ending. They all made my writing more exciting and fun to complete, and the stories richer.

Author M. C. Bunn is a songwriter with a master’s in English who creates Victorian romance novels, including her most recent one, Where Your Treasure Is. She declared that her misbehaved minor characters made her stories better.

If our characters behaved, we wouldn’t have any stories!

Actually, during the first draft of Where Your Treasure Is, a host of characters completely blind-sided me. Though I never planned per se to write a romance that only focused on the lovers, I was unprepared for the world that opened up around them while I wrote their story. There are Winifred’s cousins, young and old, her Uncle Percival and his manservant Morrant, her staff in the town and country—and George Broughton-Caruthers, her handsome, devilish neighbor. Court is a gang member and horse racing enthusiast. His cronies are other prizefighters, cardsharps, gamblers, prostitutes, and circus folk.

The beginning of Winifred and Court’s story came to me in a flash, as did its end. What I had to find out was what happened in the middle. Every time I sat down to write, thinking that I was about to get back to my lovers, all these characters popped out, and the plot, with all its twists, followed them. What was really strange was how familiar they all were. Dorothy felt like that the entire time she was in Oz. Mentally chasing after these characters through London’s streets and around the Norfolk countryside, so did I.

Yet it was Beryl Stuart, Court’s half-sister, who added a richer, darker layer of complications to a plot that could otherwise have easily been summed up as “lonely rich girl meets poor bad boy” and “the course of true love never runs smoothly.” Because of their differences in social class, Winifred and Court were going to have a rough time of it, no matter what. There’s a dark current that flows out of Court’s world into Winifred’s long before their love story begins, though neither one of them is aware of it. Beryl and her friends bring a second love triangle into the plot, which leads to the next book in the series, Time’s Promise.

I’m also deeply fond of Court’s friend Sam Merton, a boy with a love of firecrackers, rip-roaring yarns, and penny dreadfuls, and Winifred’s memoir-writing uncle, the old adventurer Sir Percival and his manservant Morrant.

I appreciate hearing this from both authors. Frankly they made me feel a little more sane!

For the full posts about both books, each of which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Magical Beasts Series and Where Your Treasure Is.

When a sidekick’s sidekick takes on a major role

In my books I usually have one minor character who insists on playing a larger role in the story. I’m always curious as to whether other authors experience this, so I asked author Bill Zarchy if he had such a character in his novel, Finding George Washington. I was quite impressed with the insight in his response!

A Foil for My Foil

Early in the development of my debut novel, Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale, I knew that I wanted to tell the story in the first person, from Tim’s point of view. I wanted to bring General Washington to the present, and I figured that I could show George’s personality and response to the 21st Century through his interactions with Tim.

Tim was George’s foil, a character whose purpose is to contrast with another character, often the protagonist, to bring out their differences. Think Sancho Panza in Don Quixote, Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, or Bud Abbott playing straight man to Lou Costello.

Having Tim as the foil certainly worked out in many ways, but pretty soon, I began to think that I needed to provide him with a sidekick. As I wrote the early parts of the story, it became apparent that the very fact of George suddenly appearing in Tim’s life was astounding, to say the least, and Tim needed his own foil to reflect his astonishment. That’s how the character LaMatthew Johnson came to be. Tim and Matt could have their own private conversations about George, particularly in the early stages of the narrative, where they weren’t sure if they believed his story.

That wasn’t all. As I deepened my research into Washington as a slave owner, I realized that I needed people of color in my story. So Matt is mixed race, descended on his father’s side from enslaved people in the South (the Johnsons), and on his mother’s side from Jews fleeing the Nazis (the Lefkowitches).

From their first meeting, Matt confronts George about his role as owner of many enslaved people, forcing him to acknowledge that slavery is cruel, evil, and immoral. These dialogues elevate Matt’s role in the story from mere sidekick duty. He never gives George a break about slavery, even rejecting the notion Washington was just “a product of his time.”

As I write this, it’s Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, the liberation of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt, and I wonder, “was Pharaoh just a product of his time?”

Despite their differences, George and LaMatthew do learn to trust and admire each other.  Matt, whose role at first was to help Tim understand and explain George’s momentous presence among them, later takes decisive and risky action to defend George during a surprise ambush. Originally intended as a mere sidekick, Matt thus forces his way into becoming a principal character.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Finding George Washington.

Review: The Ack Ack Girl

In The Ack Ack Girl, author Chris Karlsen focuses on an amazing event in history that has received surprisingly little attention. As WWII drug on, some English women in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the ATS, a branch of the women’s army) served in crews of anti-aircraft fighters.

Author Karlsen focuses on one such woman, as she takes you into her day to day life. You learn about Ava’s family history and details of the sort of cake she prefers, the cat she saves in Coventry, and her favorite songs. Karlsen lets the reader follow her emotional journey as she faces her anger at the Germans, joins the ATS, and becomes attracted to a fighter pilot. The nonchalant sexism of the day (by both men and women) is presented through conversation, as are the fears and frustrations caused by the war.

What I liked most about this book was the way Karlsen made me feel as if I walked through life with Ava. This author has an incredible ability to include sights, sounds and smells to make a scene seem real. For example, Ava doesn’t just sit down. “Careful of the peeling paint and rough wood, Ava sat in the rickety bench in front of the barracks to wait for him.” See what I mean?

I also applaud the amount of research put into this novel. From details on the women’s uniforms (and shoes!) to specifics about the tasks the women were trained and allowed to perform, the breath of information is astounding.

I did struggled a little with the style of the book. The author inserts gaps in time, with no more explanation or transition that to say “Coventry-later that day.” To me, it gave the story a feel of walking through an art gallery, looking at related and beautifully done paintings. I’m used to a book being more like a movie, where the action flows and almost everything presented moves the story along. Here, a lot of the detail seems to only serve the purpose of immersing the reader in the immediate scene, well done though that scene may be.

I’d recommend this book to many sorts of readers. Those fascinated by modern history and particularly World War Two would enjoy it, as would those interested in stories of women being allowed to step out of traditional roles, particularly during wartime. It has a romance at it’s center, but it’s also a book about female friendship.

My strongest recommendation, however, would go to anyone wanting to leave this time and place for a while and thoroughly experience another. Go — be part of Britain’s war effort. Reading this book is as close as you’re likely to get to using a time machine.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Ack Ack Girl.

When shouldn’t you make up words for your book?

I love to ask other fantasy authors how much vocabulary they created for  their books. R.W. Buxton, author of Moscow Nights surprised me recently with his answer of “one word.” Read his interesting explanation of why.

This is an easy one… Just one. Day-walker, a person with vampiric powers that aren’t undead and can survive the sun. Although in this book I break the rule, I guess you’ll have to read it to find out how, and why.

In urban fantasy, in general, I don’t see the need for the creation of many new words. After all, it’s set in the world we are all familiar with. A world we can reach out and touch every day. Sure there are fantastical creatures like vampires, werewolves, or ghosts, but they don’t require that many new words. There is one exception to this, and that’s urban fantasy that involves the Fae. For me, these usually cross over into the realm of true fantasy novels. In this sub-genre I find there is a good deal of new vocabulary and of course new worlds, or should I say realms.

Not that the first draft of Capital Thirst, my first novel, didn’t have its fair share of new vocabulary. After I posted that draft to an author critique site, I received overwhelming feedback that it wasn’t necessary and confused the reader. It disheartened me. I worked hard to create that vocabulary to build a mystic vampire world. Not to mention it was my first novel, and I wanted everyone to love it.

After much thought, I decided these other authors were probably right. It wasn’t necessary, and I wanted the book to take place in the real world, albeit one with vampires. So I took it out.

There is clearly a time and place for creating new vocabulary. Science fiction or pure fantasy, for example. But in the end, it just wasn’t necessary for the type of writing I’m doing. Overall, it just confused things.

Find Moscow Nights at

Amazon — https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08KXG6CWS
Apple — https://books.apple.com/us/book/moscow-nights/id1527771232
BN — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/moscow-nights-rw-buxton/1137483626
Kobo — https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/moscow-nights-7

See the original post, which was part of a Goddess Fish Book Tour, at Moscow Nights.

World Building in the Once Upon A Princess Novellas

I host book tours on my other blogs and when I get a guest post that impresses me, I like to repost it here. Recently I featured author Deborah A. Bailey who has this beautiful website. (Full disclosure, she has hosted one of my books there.)

Anyway, when I featured her I asked her about how much vocabulary she created for her fantasy worlds in her Once Upon A Princess Trio. I got back fascinating information about what guided the creation of her entire worlds. Enjoy her answer.

For my worldbuilding, I considered creating words for the worlds I was writing about. But as it turned out I only ended up creating one word, “Malida.” The reason I created it was because I wanted to use it during a conversation between the hero and heroine in Heart of Stone. Willem, the hero, uses that word to refer to the heroine’s grandmother. The grandmother is a former queen of the province where the story is set. In the aftermath of a war, the heroine, Leesa, and her grandmother are (as far as they know) the only remaining members of the royal family.

When Willem asks Leesa about her grandmother he calls her Malida, which is also a term of endearment. It means “great mother.” For Willem to know that name, he would have to have known more about the family than he’s admitting.

Though I didn’t focus on creating the words and language for those worlds, Since they’re based on fairy tales, I made sure to include certain elements. For instance, I included princesses,  magic, and fantasy creatures. In Heart of Stone Willem is a gargoyle who is under a magical curse. He lives in a deserted palace and he has access to enchantments that were left there by the former inhabitant.

In Beauty and the Faun, the heroine ends up escaping into the Great Forest and it becomes a refuge. Forests are often used fairy tales as places filled with magic and mystery. Satyrs, forest nymphs, centaurs and fauns are among the inhabitants of the Great Forest. Each group has their own culture and behavior that they’re known for. The heroine finds these creatures when she enters the forest, and they show that this is an entirely different world than the one outside.

In Land of Dreams the Great Forest is also included, along with fauns and water nymphs. I added additional magical characters, such as elementals, shifters, and river deities. There’s also a character called the Night Queen who presides over the elementals. While I would’ve loved to have created other words (and languages) for the stories, I made sure to include many fantasy elements and fairy tale touches to set the mood.

Through the Eyes of the Blind

I went to college to become a science writer, but I had a bigger plan. I’d cover breakthroughs in neuroscience and nuclear physics by day and then I’d write killer science fiction by night.

I made my way through copy editing and ad writing classes while cramming in all the science and creative writing my schedule allowed. I did manage to get a fantastic well-rounded education and I left with more than a diplomma. I had a pretty decent roadmap for my life.

Then, well, life happened instead and it wasn’t even close.

However, I still have a great deal of respect for those scientists who communicate well, and those writers who love and understand science. Together they explain facts and theories about the amazing universe in which we live.

I host book tours on my other blogs and when I get a guest post that impresses me, I like to repost it here. In late March I featured author and neuroscientist Michael Tranter, PhD and his popular science book  A Million Things To Ask A Neuroscientist. I got to ask him a question and I wanted to know what he thought was the most amazing thing in his book.

Enjoy his answer.

How can you be blind but still see?

(The brain is amazing, that’s how!)

At the back of the brain we have the occipital lobe. This region receives images from our eyes and optic nerves and decides what we are seeing before sending that information to other parts of our brain to determine how to react. So, if we see an adorable fluffy dog, the light reflected from that dog travels to our retina at the back of our eye, along the optic nerve and to the occipital lobe, where it is processed. Other areas then interpret the meaning and decide what the emotional response should be, resulting in a very excited ‘Aww, a cute puppy – I like this, I feel happy!’

However, damage to the occipital lobe, for example, through trauma, a brain tumour or a stroke, can result in the images of the cute puppy arriving at the visual areas safely, but not being processed or transmitted to other areas of our brain, and hence, we become blind. This is a little different to instances where the eyes or optic nerve don’t function. This additional blindness is termed cortical blindness – essentially, blindness in the brain. You may be asking why I am talking about cute puppies and blindness. Well, because in some people with cortical blindness, even though they can’t see particular objects, their subconscious brain still perceives them. This means a person can interact with something even if they don’t actually see it. Let’s use another example. Say you want to walk across the room to the doorway, but there is a chair in your path. Under normal circumstances, you would see the chair and walk around it. A person with blindsight would also walk across the room and avoid the chair, yet they would not actively see that there is a chair in the room. They simply avoid it but do not fully understand why.

This strange phenomenon was first documented in the 1974 research by Lawrence Weiskrantz and has since been recorded in all manner of situations. A person may catch a ball in mid-air without ever seeing it, for example, but perhaps the most interesting study shows how it is possible to identify facial emotions and even mirror those same emotions in your own face, without ever being consciously aware of seeing any facial expressions.

Blindsight has been rigorously tested in many experimental settings, and as such, neuroscientists think they have an explanation. Firstly, the fact that some people with cortical blindness experience the phenomenon of blindsight may be because the superior colliculus – an area of the brain important in visual orientation – is preserved. Although we don’t yet fully appreciate the full function of the superior colliculus, we do know that this area receives information about what we see and converts it into signals that initiate an appropriate movement. To help explain this, imagine sitting down and watching a racing car drive past. Our eyes and head would instinctively follow the car as we track its movements. This is the responsibility of the superior colliculus, to instinctively monitor the environment and decide how to move our body.

The current hypothesis for blindsight states that as the brain senses damage to the occipital lobe, it starts to rewire itself to bypass the visual areas. The person may never entirely regain normal vision, but they may still be capable of living a normal life. Some neuroscientists suggest that this is a process by which the brain reverts back to a more basic form of vision, and one that is seen in animals who naturally lack the advanced visual areas of a human brain.

So, there you have it. That is how you can be blind, but your brain can still see, pretty amazing right?

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out A Million Things To Ask A Neuroscientist.

 

Well-Behaved Minor Characters

In my books I usually have one minor character who insists on playing a larger role in the story.

It started with my first novel, One of One, when I introduced Maurice, an eighty-something telepath from west Texas meant to play the minor role of contacting my main character Lola about an organization of telepaths. However, Maurice refused to exit the book after his one scene. He kept showing up, helping Lola and offering her interesting advice, and by the climax of book he’d grabbed himself a major part of the action.

It only got worse. Maurine went on to reappear in book three and four of the series and by the sixth and last book, Maurice was part of the family. Seriously. Lola’s kids all called him Uncle Maurice.

I’ve had other minor characters do similar, though not as drastic, things and I always wonder how unique this problem is to me. So when I get the chance to ask another fiction author if this happens to them, I jump at the chance.

Recently I asked Author Ellie Beals if she had such a character in her novel, Emergence (and if she didn’t, I wanted to know how she got the characters in her head to behave so well!)

Here is her fascinating answer.

I have been a chronic over-planner and over-preparer all my life.  I waited an obscenely long time to start work on a novel, because I so dreaded what I anticipated to be the long and grueling planning process required before I could actually WRITE.  And then one day, I said:  What if?  What if I don’t do that?  What if I just sit down and start writing?
And that’s what I did.  My plan at the outset was this simple:  I knew that:
  • the centre-piece of the book would be Xavier, one of my two protagonists. He is the adolescent “wildchild” who first surveils and eventually befriends my other protagonist, Cass Harwood – a middle-aged dog trainer and wilderness recreationist
  • dogs would be legitimate characters, helping to move the plot forward – but once again, they like Cass should never blur the focus on Xavier
  • there would be three dramatic and traumatic events and two Bad Guys associated with them, catalyzing the danger that eventually ensnares both of my protagonists.
Beyond that –  everything was open to that strange magic that occurs during the act of writing.  Knowing that it was really all about Xavier was my key to all of the other characters – I wanted to give them only enough oxygen to be realistic and believable, and to properly showcase the wildchild of Lac Rouge.  It was this minimalist drive that resulted in the characters in my head “behaving so well”.  I am a very disciplined human.  I simply refused to listen when one of the other characters clamored for more attention.
And one of them most certainly did.  Stefan is Xavier’s father.  I needed to create context that would realistically explain how Xavier grew up in such profound isolation at Lac Rouge.  So I made his father a declared anarchist with both intellectual and survivalist leanings.  When I first conceived of him, I thought I would shape him to be at least mildly abusive.  As the book took its own path, I abandoned that.  There were already two bona-fide bad guys, and given that I wanted a realistic plot, I figured that was plenty.  I also wanted there to be a reasonable explanation of Xavier’s many fine qualities.  So Stefan became a more complex and nuanced character than I had originally envisaged.  I endowed him with this background:  a Franco-Ontarian distanced from his rural family by his love of learning, who moved to Quebec to work in the lumber camps.  In Quebec he met Xavier’s french-speaking mother,  who left him when Xavier was eight.  Stefan also became partially disabled through a work accident.  He home-schools Xavier, and does a remarkably good job of it, except when his recurrent backpain intrudes.   That is the public face of Stefan.
But his presence injected a host of questions I had to decide whether or not to answer.  For example:  what really happened to Xavier’s mother?  Why did she leave?  Xavier mentions Stefan getting “mean” when he’s in pain, but he never describes that.  How does this “meaness” manifest?  And towards the end of Emergence, after Stefan tells Xavier that Cass has been questioned by the police, Xavier becomes quite concerned about an almost predatory alertness he sees in Stefan, that reminds him of the way Stefan is when they hunt.  Xavvy is not sure about this —  but there is a concern he expresses, without telling us why he is so concerned.  What actions does he fear Stefan might take?
I wanted the reader to be subtly or even subliminally aware of these questions I planted about Stefan.  One part of me played with expanding the book considerably, in order to explore them more fully.  However, given my commitment to render Emergence primarily a story about Xavier – I resisted the temptation.  But Stefan keeps nagging  me.  I have been urged to write a sequel, which I doubt that I’ll do.  But again –  one part of me plays with the idea of a parallel project that focuses on Stefan.  I don’t think I will – life is short and I’d like to try other things.  But Stefan does keep gnawing away at me.  He is only superficially “well-behaved”.    We shall see.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Emergence.

We need eerie music for this!

I host other authors on a different blog, and when I get the chance to ask them a question, I go for information on the things that fascinate me about writing. Recently I asked one such question, and to my surprise, the author (Susan Merson of Oh Good Now This) answered two of my favorite questions. Weird, huh? Both answers were interesting so I am reposing them here.

I said …

I am fascinated by characters that undergo a major transformation in a story, so I often ask an author if there is such a metamorphosis in the novel I’m featuring. I asked Susan Merson this, and you’ll see her interesting response below. But here’s the thing.

Sometimes, instead, I ask a different questions and it usually goes like this. “In my books I’ve always had one minor character who insisted on playing a larger role in the story. I’m curious: was there such a character in your novel?”

Guess what? Author Merson answered that question also, and I didn’t even ask it. Cool, huh? Read on …

She said …

Susan Merson

I like to think of my new book OH GOOD NOW THIS  as a second time around, coming of age story. I am fascinated by how people survive and live their lives fully, especially after loss and the plain old battles of living day to day.

Amanda is a woman in her 60’s who ends up living near Vivi, my protagonist, on a country road, hidden behind tall pine trees. She craves light and strips the house of all its possessions, heaves her clothes into the dumpster, white washes the walls, and scrapes the floors til they shine. Through the large window in her living room she can see the moon and puts her white mattress and white duvet directly in the path of its glow. She can not bear the weight of any memory, any lover, any remnant of what was and lives a reclusive, solo life until she welcomes a young man into her home. He is visiting the local college for a seminar and she needs the money from his room rental.

And she falls in love with him. His easy loping style, his curiosity, his tease of pleasure at her company. Just his presence in the house inspires her to return to the root of who she was as a young woman and she spends her days painting pine cones and making soup, pretending she does not care when or if he returns.

Of course, he leaves, returning to his own life, but freezing Amanda in this new beginning as a person who sees the world deeply, through an artist’s eye once again. And the love she bears for this man-boy, releases the hold her body had on its poisons. Renewed, refreshed, no blockages to hold them back, the old poisons find their way into her body, creating illness when she was just reclaiming life.

Amanda’s death informs the lives of my other characters in this world. The journey she makes from cynical, rejected trophy wife, to full and faulty artist—this unfolding—surprises everyone. And inspires them, as well.

Amanda was a surprise to me when I was writing the book. She showed up when Vivi needed to see how the choices we make in our own lives can affect us, can make our choice for life or death very real. Vivi insists that life is worth the struggle even though she has seen how giving in to poison can loosen our grips and let hope recede. Amanda shoves Vivi toward choosing life at an important juncture in the story and I am grateful she showed up to let me introduce her.

A Review of Zendar: A Tale of Sand

Zendar: A Tale of Sand is pure fun. In this light, fast read author K. T. Munson introduces an interesting world, a believable and likable family, and a sweet young woman every reader will enjoy.

When Nitya’s yearning for adventure brings her into contact with a handsome palace guard, we all know how this will end. It doesn’t matter. The tale is well told and it holds other surprises. Besides, one feels the chemistry between the two would-be lovers, and the inevitable is approached with a perfect mix of subtlety and detail. Enjoy the scene you know is coming.

I do add an extra bit of applause, though, for the handsome palace guard’s awareness that when a woman consents to sex with a man who is saving her life, she may not be in a position to fully give that consent. So, this well-muscled and chiseled-faced man turns out to be wise and kind, too! Another nice surprise.

I’m sure this prequel is designed to make readers curious to learn more about the desert world of Zendar. It worked for me. I’ll be looking into Munson’s full-length books A Tale of Blood and Sand and A Tale of Wind and Sand.

This short prequel is available FREE! Find it at
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Zendar-Tale-Sand-Collection-ebook/dp/B08GJT1MQC
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/zendar-kt-munson/1137534341
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1039556

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see Zendar: A Tale of Sand.

Books Written with Stardust and Magic

I host book tours on my other blogs and sometimes I get a guest post that impresses me. When I do, I like to repost it here.

A while back I learned I’d be featuring The Calling, a book by YA science fiction author Branwen OShea. I looked up her biography on Amazon and discovered she is also a licensed counselor, a yoga teacher, and a sound healer, among other things. What intrigued me most, though, was when she said she writes books with “stardust and magic.” I loved the phrase.

So, I asked her which of the many traditions she has studied contributed the most to the “stardust and magic” she put into The Calling.

Here is her intriguing answer.

I’ve always been fascinated with different belief systems and have read and studied various religious and spiritual traditions since I was about ten years old. For me, every tradition holds great truths, but no tradition by itself fully meshes with my values of compassion, nonviolence, love, truth, and valuing nature. Each of my books explores slightly different beliefs.
The Calling kicks off a series that encompasses three different species, each with their own cultures and beliefs. The humans in my series are mostly scientific thinkers and driven by a sense that the Earth betrayed them by plummeting into an ice age. Most of the humans only trust science. However, Bleu and his family are secretively highly intuitive. I based their experiences on intuitive experiences that I’ve had since childhood. I didn’t give them a specific philosophy, because they had nowhere to research one other than their own shared experiences.
The star being culture and spirituality is possibly a combination of Indian and Yogic philosophy merged with indigenous beliefs and Christian mysticism. I say “probably” because much in this book was told to me in a series of meditations/dreams from the character Rana, a star being. So, you could either assume that my subconscious combined the above, or that it’s a psychic experience and Rana is something else other than a creation of my subconsciousness. The story works either way.
The third species doesn’t appear until the end of the second book, The Chasm, which is coming out in January 2022. Their culture and beliefs could be seen as a combination of shamanism, Islamic beliefs about jinn, and myths of the Fae. That said, their culture, beliefs, and story also came to me in meditations. Like myself, my books contain influences from many cultures and times. The overarching theme of the series challenges humans to reconsider their perceived limitations and separation from other species.

I thank author OShea for such an interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Calling.

Review: The Sinister Superyacht

I enjoyed the first book in Ana T. Drew’s collection (The Murderous Macaron) and decided to give book three a try. I’m glad I did.

Pastry chef turned sleuth Julie remains witty and fun, delighting the reader with quotes like “Because, as humans, when there is nothing we want, it’s a tried and tested sign we’re dead.” Plus, her adventures as a temp crew member aboard a lavish yacht make for an enjoyable armchair adventure.

I have a fondness for those who bend (and even twist) the rules of any genre, so I was happy not to see the requisite dead body show up by page five. In fact, I had a fine time reading about life on the yacht before the murder. However, even I began to get antsy when 30% into my kindle copy everyone remained alive and healthy. (Fear not, murder does happen soon after.)

Author Drew does something else unusual in this series. She blends (no — she lightly feathers in) a subplot involving a past tragedy and possible psychic powers. In the first book, it seemed at odds with the light tone of the rest of her story, like chili powder in an orange chiffon cake. ( I like them both, just not together.) There is a second book in this series which I missed and I’ve discovered that some of the backstory behind this “chili powder” has been revealed in book two. That’s good to know.

Perhaps because I’ve encountered it before, however, sleuth Julie’s mental snapshots now seem more like chili powder in a chocolate cake — still odd but less unappealing. Perhaps this incongruous mix is growing on me.

I’ve already recommended Drew’s first book to others, and I’ll do the same with this one. I’ll probably pick up her second book and read it as well, just for fun. And honestly, no matter what one says in a review, there is no more sincere compliment than that.

(Read my review of The Murderous Macaron. For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Sinister Superyacht.)

Exclusive Excerpt from “The Salty Rose”

I host blog tours and every once in a while I get an exclusive excerpt. If it’s from a book I that impresses me, I like to share those excerpts here. Recently I got one from a historical fiction/fantasy novel that appears to involve more than romance. I’m intrigued. It’s called The Salty Rose.

This is how author Beth M. Caruso describes her book.

Author’s description

Marie du Trieux, a tavern keeper with a salty tongue and a heart of gold, struggles as she navigates love and loss, Native wars, and possible banishment by authorities in the unruly trading port of New Amsterdam, an outpost of the Dutch West India Company.

In New England, John Tinker, merchant and assistant to a renowned alchemist and eventual leader of Connecticut Colony, must come to terms with a family tragedy of dark proportions, all the while supporting his mentor’s secret quest to find the Northwest Passage, a desired trading route purported to mystically unite the East with the West.

As the lives of Marie and John become intertwined through friendship and trade, a search for justice of a Dutch woman accused of witchcraft in Hartford puts them on a collision course affecting not only their own destinies but also the fate of colonial America.

An Exclusive Excerpt for Us!

Chapter 7.

“Hello, Marie. Listen to Grandmamma so she can get a better look at you,” Sara said.

The midwife winked. “Yes, come, Marie. My granddaughter knows what’s best,” she said, smiling.

I guided them to a small room in the back of the tavern. In the exterior wall near the corner was the secret slot where the Indians who wanted a drink after hours placed their deer meat or other trade goods in hopes of a discreet exchange for liquor. My guests couldn’t see it since it was well hidden from the inside by a sliding facade.

“Sit, Marie, I need to see those feet. Are you still sick to your stomach?” she questioned.

I took a seat in a tall-backed wooden chair carved as a marriage present from Henri La Chaîne, a furniture maker and friend.

“No, it’s passed already. I’m fine, just a little tired but no more than with any other child,” I responded.

The midwife carefully placed her hand over my belly. “Do you feel her moving about?” she referred to the baby.

A loud crash emanated from the front of the tavern. The babe in my womb stirred abruptly in response.

“What’s this?” she cried.

We ran to the front, the three of us, to see what was the matter. Business in the tavern had been at a lull when I’d retreated to the back only a few minutes earlier.

On my way to the main room, I heard a man with an English accent screaming at Domingo.

“I won’t take a drink from a filthy rogue like you. Where’s your mistress?” He had just upended a table where Domingo had placed his drink and was ready to turn over some benches in his senseless rage. All my work of cleaning the tavern that morning was ruined in seconds.

Want to read more?

The book is available at:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Salty-Rose-Alchemists-Witches-Amsterdam/dp/1733373802

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-salty-rose-beth-m-caruso/1133991342

Review: The Code

The Code is based on the slick premise that two fictitious characters are allegedly telling the “true story” of how each of them created a celebrity.

Although I struggled with the initial concept of an unknown professor appearing sexy for no particular reason when seen on film, I squelched my inner cynic and read on. I’m glad I did as there is much I appreciated about this novel. Compelling writing. Exquisite details about the world of celebrities and those who make them. And most impressive of all, an excellent if unforgiving look at our culture.

One of many great quotes:

“Why do your powerful, rich friends want to know me? They already have everything.”

“They have everything but they never have enough. They’re addicted to novelty and the fulfillment of new dreams. You’re the new flavor.”

I also particularly liked Jessica, Albert’s pretension-adverse wife. She plays a fine foil to his growing immersion in his new life and her drab academic research into André Breton’s novel Nadja makes for an almost eerie comparison to Albert’s growing status as a star. 

There were things I liked less, however. I hoped the story would really be told through the eyes of the agents, at least mostly, but it isn’t even close. Although Albert’s agent Jack is involved from the beginning of his tale, most of the telling is done from Albert’s point of view, often involving his thoughts or scenes Jack knows nothing about.  Memphis, on the other hand, doesn’t even meet his agent Marcellus Moses till the second half of the book, making the premise even more flimsy with him. I suppose the reader is supposed to believe these two agents somehow know everything, including their creation’s inner monologues, but my ability to suspend disbelief wouldn’t stretch that far.

I found the brutality of the prison scenes difficult to read. I didn’t expect them and might have passed on the book altogether if I’d known. While I agree some of it was necessary to the story, I think even those with more of a stomach for such things would probably have appreciated it if the author had dialed it back a bit.

Like other novels with fascinating premises, the story is difficult to conclude and the only real option is for it to end as a tragedy. The author finds an interesting and unexpected way to do this, though, and it is one that ties everything together and states her thesis one more time. It works.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Code.

The Power of Poetry

Poetry remains the one domain of words that usually fails to grab my attention but I perhaps that’s why the exceptions standout. Earlier today I listened to poet Amanda Gorman read her work The Hill We Climb’ at the presidential inauguration. And wow did she stand out.
Her vivacious delivery helped; I loved every minite of her presentation. I also found her use of words clever and even playful in spite of the seriousness of her topic. My favorite was “what just is isn’t always justice.”
Judging from the response on social media, I suspect she won many other non-poetry-appreciators over today, and that her final words “For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it” will be quoted many times over. I hope they are.
I seldom feature poetry on my blogs, but about a month ago I ran a feature on Utanu Maa, a Canadian poet originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and her recent book of poetry entitled “Rise and Fall of My Beloved” which she describes as “my own journey into unconditional love and care, and the resilience to deal with pain, loss, grief, to grieve, heal and continue with life after my brother’s death.”
My feature was part of a blog tour, and this one was set up so that I recieved a unique piece of her poetry post on my blog. I found it powerful and moving also, and seeing as I’m going on about poetry here, I am going to repost it below. I just want to say, if I keep finding myself exposed to to this kind of quality, I may have to decide I like poetry after all.

An Excerpt Just for Readers of This Blog

The Speech

He lacked the speech and was teased, mocked.

People regularly targeted, labelled, and bullied him.

They did not believe in his ability to learn and succeed,

They repeatedly told him loudly, in his face

And ears with intent to persuade him about himself.

They predestined him for failure because he was unable to speak.

He remained silent for a long time, listening carefully.

He observed motions on their lips; he absorbed words and sounds.

Then, one early morning, still in bed,

While everyone was in their last dream or nightmare,

And when time had healed and ended his grieving,

The miracle happened: he spoke!

Words and sounds gusted out of his mouth

Like a volcano erupting after a century of long sleep,

He spoke, he spoke, and he spoke volumes!

He talked firmly to himself or maybe to an invisible entity or spirit,

Repeating verbatim words that he had been absorbing:

The same terms used to tease, label, and mock him,

To bully and denigrate him, to silence him and cast him out.

From the bed where I slept, after we were allowed,

I saw him walking outside like a soldier going to war,

Brave and determined to defend his persona with words!

The struggle was out there, and he went to fight it

With his only but most potent weapon: words!

Words used in a common way: verbally, loudly, and firmly.

He knew the power of words, used for any purpose.

Now equally equipped to face the struggle in his early life,

He spoke correctly just as he had observed words on lips,

Using the same words to tease, mock, or intimidate.

To the big disbelief of all, though I had prayed and pleaded

To my ancestors and God that one day he would speak,

Zola had proven at last his ability to pronounce words.

Soon he would go to school to learn words in books,

To write words on a blackboard or in a notebook,

On a wall or on the ground, carving on a tree or on leaves.

Words pronounced in speech to make a statement,

Words spoken with confidence in a native or foreign language,

Words used to argue, defend opinions, convince, and lead,

Words that would further educate and engineer his brain,

Words as a tool to beat all odds and rise exceptionally like a star,

Indeed, words were clearly spoken by his mouth from this point on.

What liberation, relief, blessing, and privilege!

Buy the Book

If you’re interesting in Utanu Maa’s work, you can purchase it at any of these places.

AMAZON.COM https://amazon.com/dp/0228836506
AMAZON.CA https://amazon.ca/dp/0228836506
KINDLE https://amazon.com/dp/B08M2DNJHP
BOOKSHOP https://bookshop.org/books/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved/9780228836506
INDIGO CHAPTERS https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/rise-and-fall-of-my/9780228836513-item.html
BARNES & NOBLE https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved-utanu-maa/1138021915
BOOK DEPOSITORY https://www.bookdepository.com/Rise-and-Fall-of-My-Beloved-Utanu-Maa/9780228836506
RAKUTEN KOBO https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved
SMASHWORDS https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1051884
APPLE BOOKS https://books.apple.com/us/book/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved/id1538242460

For the full post about Utanu Maa, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Rise and Fall of My Beloved.

Review: A Shot of Murder

I’m a longtime fan of crime novels and continue to be amazed at the creative ways authors find to put their protagonists into murder investigations. One of the most compelling has got to be having a family member involved and author Brenda Gayle plays this approach like a fine violin.

I appreciate a novel of any genre that also manages to capture a piece of history, and A Shot of Murder does just that with its interesting view of the soldiers of WWII returning home. Both the soldiers’ trauma and the required adjustments of the women who’ve held down the fort in their absence are examined with sensitivity.

And, I’m also a sucker for stories involving women who just want a chance to use their talents and pursue their dreams. So clearly A Shot of Murder was tailor-made for me.

All in all, it is an enjoyable and easy to read book. The writing is smooth and the pace is quick. Too often I get annoyed at amateur sleuths who come across as annoying busybodies but Charley is both likable and competent as a trained investigative reporter. I enjoyed walking in her shoes and I won’t hesitate to read more books in this series.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see A Shot of Murder.

I chose this book to review because crime novels are my other favorite genre (along with speculative fiction of all sorts.) Someday I hope to write a crime novel.

Review: The Foes Between Us

The Foes Between Us is a delightful book with a fine mix of history and fantasy. Much of it revolves around an outdoor-loving young English woman who is poorly-suited to the constraints of her society. The author has added a few twists to the restrictions placed on women in the 1840’s, including a brilliant device wherein women are literally sewn into their dresses and bloomers to keep them chaste.

The well-drawn characters in this story pull in the reader while an engaging plot that is part treasure hunt and part murder mystery keeps the pages turning. Eventually, a wizard/victim of religious intolerance from three-hundred years earlier joins the story, providing extra dollops of magic to what has only been hinted at before. Much of this tale concerns the social injustices of both time periods, but more than enough parallels to our own time keep the observations relevant.

Author Robison has a far-better-than-average way with words. Deft bits of description pepper sentences driven by high-energy verbs. The story is told in a first-person present-tense voice that adds a sense of urgency to each sentence. I liked the pace at which the plot moves, but have to admit at times her way of telling it wore me out. The occasional inner monologue provides humor and I appreciated those little breaks from the pounding activity.

I recommend this book to those who like historical fiction and to those who enjoy female protagonists with a mind of their own, ones who don’t spend the entire novel lusting after some man. I recommend it to those who enjoy reading about magic, or those who enjoy fantasy.  In fact, I recommend this novel to people who simply enjoy a good book.

If more than one of these applies to you, you need to check out this story.

I reviewed this book because I enjoy writing and reading historical fantasy. For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Foes Between Us

 

 

How do the people in your life influence the characters in your stories?

I’m always fascinated by how much other authors draw on the people they are close to as they create their characters. Recently I got the chance to ask Joanne Guidoccio, author of the women’s fiction novel No More Secrets, what her take was on this issue.

Bits and Pieces of Characters

Having lived and taught in different cities throughout the province of Ontario, I have felt free to “borrow” characteristics from friends, former colleagues, and students to create composite characters in my novels.

That was the modus operandi for the first five novels I wrote: Between Land and Sea, The Coming of Arabella, A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room, and A Different Kind of Reunion.

While writing No More Secrets, I followed a slightly different path.

Angelica Delfino, the protagonist, is also a composite character. But this time, I borrowed from the Italian women of my mother’s generation. And, yes, I did include bits of my mother’s life. Before she died, Mama read an early draft and commented, “I can see myself here, as well as…” and then she mentioned several relatives and close friends.

The three nieces—Velia, Nora, and Teresa—belong to Generation Y. While sketching their characters, I considered former students but also thought back to my own experiences.

Growing up, I was surrounded by several friends and relatives who resembled Velia, the quintessential good Italian girl who followed the script. While I demonstrated some of her self-discipline and motivation for academic achievement, I didn’t marry at an early age, nor did I choose to stay home and raise a family.

Nora, Velia’s polar opposite, is considered the black sheep of the clan. Impulsive and carefree (at times reckless), Nora has taken many risks in her personal and work lives. Her disastrous marriage barely lasted one year. Often described as a Career ADDer, she experimented with several careers before finding her niche as an interior designer. In my late twenties and early thirties, I did go through a brief period of job-hopping.

Like Teresa, the youngest niece, I settled in Guelph, a mid-sized city in south-central Ontario. We are both introverts and teachers at Catholic school boards, but the resemblance ends there. A theology department head, Teresa is more spiritually inclined. Early in the novel, she speaks wistfully about her missionary work–something I admire but could never do.

Bellastrega, aka Lynn Miller, started off as a minor character. Initially, I intended to have Angelica’s psychic companion appear briefly in the first chapter. All that changed after she started invading my dreams. She ended up with her own POV and full control of the epilogue. Her character was inspired by a psychic in Northern Ontario. While I don’t possess psychic abilities, I do share a common interest with Bellastrega. When I retired twelve years ago, I made wellness a priority in my life. Many of Bellastrega’s comments and suggestions could easily have come from me.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out No More Secrets.

Making Up Words

Every fantasy author has to deal with the dual problems of how much vocabulary to create and how to do it. Recently I got the chance to ask Russell Archey, author of the fantasy novel The Seven Spires, about his approach. He was kind enough to provide this interesting answer.

I didn’t create much vocabulary for the world in The Seven Spires, but I did draw on many sources for naming conventions. Since each kingdom and realm in the book is based on different mythological and fairy tale criteria, I tried to stick with conventions from each respective source.

For example, the Red Kingdom is properly known as Edda. This name comes from the Poetic Edda of Norse mythology. Names like Horodir are meant to invoke such Nordic naming conventions, where others like Vidar are directly related to Norse mythology. One of the most dangerous creatures encountered in the book is the monstrous, worm-like jormungandr who dwell in the Jotun Foothills—both named after creatures from the same mythology. The capital city of Edda? Valgrind, otherwise known as one of the gates of Valhalla!

Some naming conventions are meant to tie characters together, such as the three sorceress sisters who have the ‘æ’ symbol in their names to give them a mystical appeal. Other names and titles were built from various words to create something new. The capital of the Diamond Kingdom, Icostraea, is a combination of “icon” and the Greek goddess of justice and purity, Astraea.

Of course, what fantasy story filled with mythology, fairy tales, and folklore would complete without dragons? I wanted to try something unique with the dragons in this setting. Dragons are rare creatures in Septer (itself named after a word for the number seven and bringing to mind a symbol of authority) and they are named after what I’ve always felt are dragon-type archetypes.

Father Dragon is the progenitor of them all, and as such, each other dragon is referred to as a “dragon-child.” Each dragon-child found a home in a separate realm, making seven total of their kind in the world: Father Dragon, Drake, Naga, Serpent, Wyrm, Hydra, and, of course, Wyvern. Despite their rarity and special, unique natures, not all are still alive at the start of the novel…

As you can see, even though I didn’t create any languages or overly unique vocabulary for the novel, many different languages were used to build the world itself. It’s a great big continent out there!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Seven Spires.

The 10-year-old inside me reviews The Ghost of Walhachin

When I started reading The Ghost of Walhachin, I realized I was the wrong person to review this book. I’d agreed to the review because I like historical fantasy and I have a real fondness for gentle ghost stories. I thought it was YA. However, this was a middle-grade book and I soon grew critical of its simple plot and rolled my eyes at the story’s overly-large need to suspend disbelief.

So I reconsidered my approach. This book isn’t written for people like me, I thought. Its intended audience is youngsters who have better imaginations than mine. So, in fairness to the author and to the book’s potential readers, I asked the ten-year-old who still lives inside my head to review the book instead. I’ll be honest. Some of her observations surprised me. Here’s what she thought.

A Review by the 10-year-old in my Head

I liked this book. I liked the ghost because he wasn’t scary or mean, just the ghost of a kid trying to get home. I also liked that he was green and green is my favorite color. I liked the part about how he got sent to this town by his mom way back in 1912 but when nobody was there to meet him he died because he ate a bad sandwich on the way.

I liked the history part, and I liked how in the present day they were looking for something lost long ago. It was like a treasure hunt but not for a treasure.

But, I got kind of confused about how this kid from today could travel back in time just because of the ghost’s memories. Like, was he really back there or not? It seemed to me like he was just inside the ghost’s head but I guess he wasn’t because he worried so much about changing the past and he had to really be there to do that. Didn’t he?  But then I didn’t understand how a ghost can turn into a time machine for a real person.

The biggest thing I didn’t like was that there were no girls in the story. I mean most stories are about boys, or at least most of the good ones are, but usually, they have a sister or friend or something who gets to be part of the adventure too only this one didn’t have that so I felt kind of left out. I also didn’t like how so much of the book was about snakes and especially about snakes eating things.

I really liked the ending but I won’t tell you why because I don’t want to give it away. I think you should read the book for yourself. But I will tell you that the best part of it is about how people can be friends and help each other.

For more about this book and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Ghost of Walhachin.

 

 

Review: Georgian Romance Revolt

Georgian Romance Revolt

This a funny book. It’s funny in the sense of making you laugh out loud and it’s funny in the sense of being strange and hard to describe. I’ll start with the first.

Georgian romance novels are ripe for satire and author Lucinda Elliot does a fine job taking aim at all the easy targets like handsome heroes with perfect teeth and some of the more difficult ones like chaperones, forced seduction, and social inequities. She tells her story through the eyes of Elaine, a modern, slightly futuristic woman inhabiting the head of a romance novel heroine. Elaine’s take on this partially-sanitized fictional world provides another layer of humor.

But having two women living inside of one body, often fighting for control of it, is also where the story gets odd. Elaine is in eighteenth-century England by way of a virtual reality entertainment system that malfunctions, adding a sci-fi help-I’m-trapped-in-a-video-game subplot. Because even the best of satire is only funny for so long, I began to enjoy the get-me-out-of-here subplot more than the Georgian-romance-gone-wrong story.

Then it starts to get weird. Without giving away too much I’ll just say the 1960’s author of the original novel gets involved along with Stonehenge, reality, and maybe multiple dimensions. Then Elaine’s own personal life enters the scene as well.

Balancing all this is quite a feat. I think Elliot pulls it off but by the end, I’d have preferred a good bit less of the Georgian romance and a more thorough resolution of everything else.

The author says in her bio that she loves a good laugh. She certainly provided me with several and for that I am thankful. I recommend this book to anyone who likes reading something different and who enjoys satire.

 About the Author

Lucinda Elliot, four times winner of the BRAG Medallion for outstanding self-published fiction, was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. When she was growing up, her family lived in various large, isolated old houses in various parts of the UK as they used to renovate such places in the days before it became fashionable. She lived for many years in London and now lives in Mid Wales with her family.  She loves a laugh above anything.

 

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see Georgian Romance Revolt.

Fly Twice Backward is on my TBR pile

The premise of Fly Twice Backward by David S. McCracken fascinates me, and I’m looking forward to reading all of it. I’d hoped to do so for a recent review tour but frankly it’s daunting length (723 pages) put a kink in those plans. However, I spent enough time with it to make some observations.

  1. I started the book and thoroughly enjoyed the beginning. The author does a credible job of describing an incredible event — a man of today waking up in the 1950s to find himself the child he once was.
  2. McCracken tries a lot of ambitious things in this novel, and one is providing links to songs and other media intended to enhance his story. It’s a clever idea! I know because I tried it in 2012, in my first novel called x0 (and later renamed One of One)* and I thought it was brilliant at the time. The wave of the future. My own experience was that some readers loved it, some found it a real distraction, and most ignored it. Perhaps I chose my links poorly, but in the end, it took far too much effort to maintain them and I ended up rewriting the book (and four others) removing links entirely. I wish author McCracken a better experience with this idea!
  3. I skimmed through much of the long middle of this book. It appears to be a complicated but basically well-written story with a lot of action. Subdivided into decades, I zipped through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.
  4. I also looked at some of the reviews, because I always do that, and I saw some heavy criticism for the author’s inclusion of his personal political views. There is no question he has done that, but so do many if not most science fiction authors. From Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on through Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is  Harsh Mistress up to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s War, this genre has a long history of swaying hearts and minds, and not always in the direction I’d like to see them swayed. As a left-leaning independent* I thought the counterbalance McCracken offers to this legacy was a refreshing change of pace.
  5. I skipped ahead and read the end. I hardly ever do that, but so often such ambitious novels struggle to tie everything together and I was curious. No, I won’t give anything away, but only say the end was a frantic, action-filled sequence told from several points of view. It was fascinating to read and appeared to tie up several storylines nicely. I’ll have to read the whole thing, of course, to really know how well it does, but after my quick perusal, I’m looking forward to this.

*I wouldn’t normally talk about myself in a review, but lucky for me this isn’t really a review.

About the book

You wake back in early adolescence, adult memories intact, including ones that could make you very wealthy now. Your birth family is here, alive again, but your later families are gone, perhaps forever. What has happened, what should you do about coming problems like violence, ignorance, pollution, and global warming? You realize one key connects most, the fundamentalist strains of all the major religions, disdaining science, equality, and social welfare. You see that there are some things you can change, some you can’t, and one you don’t dare to.

Fellow idealists help you spend your growing fortune well–such as an artistic Zoroastrian prince in the Iranian oil industry, a rising officer in the Soviet army working to find a way to destroy his corrupt government, a Bahai woman struggling against Islamic brutality, a Peruvian leader working for a liberal future, and a snake-handling Christian minister, grappling with doubts, sexuality, and destiny. They are supported by an ally who develops essential psychic powers. The group faces familiar-looking corrupt politicians, religious leaders, and corporate czars, but there is an ancient force in the background, promoting greed, violence, hate, and fear.

This exciting, emotional, thoughtful, humorous, and even romantic sci-fi novel weaves progressivism, music, movies, and literature into a struggle spanning the globe. Vivid characters propel the action back up through an alternative history toward an uncertain destination. Experience the unique story and its novel telling.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Fly Twice Backward.

Review: Larceny at the Library

In Larceny at the Library,  Colleen J. Shogan has written an enjoyable cozy mystery enhanced with an insider’s knowledge of DC politics and a wealth of fun information about the Library of Congress and the world of historical artifacts.

Her amateur sleuth, Congressional chief of staff Kit Marshall, is diligent and methodical, and she delivers an admirable solution to the crime, just in time. I liked Shogan’s supporting characters and felt she introduced enough about each to make them three dimensional without getting bogged down in extraneous plots. On the whole, the story works well on an intellectual level.

I wish I’d read the previous novels, as I’m guessing author Shogan covered basics I missed. I needed to know more about Kit Marshall in order to really like her. I kept wondering what she was doing solving murders. Worse yet, when characters from previous stories showed up, I found their cameo appearances frustrating. I have a feeling this particular book works better on an emotional level if the reader is already invested in the main character and is happy to see people from her past.

Every book stumbles a bit somewhere: for this novel I’d say it could use a little more zing. I don’t want car chases and ticking bombs in my cozy mysteries, but less mundane food descriptions, fewer extraneous references to pop culture, and a lot less dialog that boils down to people introducing themselves to each other would have allowed this basically good story to pack more punch.

As it is, it’s a fun read and I’d like to read more by this author. I do recommend this book to all cozy mystery fans, and particularly to those who are also history buffs or are fascinated by watching the DC scene.

About the Author

Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at several universities and previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is currently the Senior Vice President of the White House Historical Association.

Colleen is a member of Sisters in Crime. “Stabbing in the Senate” was awarded the Next Generation Indie prize for Best Mystery in 2016. “Homicide in the House” was a 2017 finalist for the RONE Award for Best Mystery. “Calamity at the Continental Club” was a 2018 finalist in the “best cozy mystery” at Killer Nashville. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see Larceny at the Library.

So, which child do you like best?

In my own experience, my favorite of my own books is always the one I’m writing now. Having read and enjoyed Olga Werby’s book Harvest (see my review) I was curious how she felt about it in comparison to her latest book Twin Time.  So, I asked her which of these two books of hers was more fun to write.

Yes, I know this is a little bit like asking someone which of their children they like best. “Both” is a good answer. But to author Werby’s credit, she had an interesting and well-thought-out response.

“Harvest” and “Twin Time” couldn’t be more different! One is a sci-fi thriller; the other is a fantastical, historical romance. I’ve spent years researching the science for “Harvest”—the scientific details in that story are all true. But the same is true for “Twin Time”. “Twin Time” is partly based on my grandmother’s childhood. She grew up in post-revolutionary Russia, in a rural village where the political change was slow to arrive. When it finally did, her family had to run in the middle of the night to stay alive. They lived through unspeakable horrors and didn’t survive unscathed. Most died. When and where we are born shapes our lives. When you read “Twin Time”, you will get to experience what it was like to live in another time and place with a different value system and different culture.

I came to America as a refugee; I grew up in Russia and those experiences shaped my life. To write about what it feels like to be there, even if at a different time and place than what I knew, was transformative. I loved doing the research, looking at illustrations and old photographs. It made me remember the fairytales of my youth.

Emotionally, “Twin Time” was more powerful for me, while “Harvest” was more intellectually stimulating. Writing these two books was a very different experience. But I wouldn’t swap my life for the life of my heroines in either of these novels—they had it rough. Spending a few years dreaming the lives of these women is very different from living those lives. I have to say, I’m a girl who likes first-class bathroom accommodations!

About Olga Werby:

Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master’s degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, “Suddenly Paris,” which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, “The FATOFF Conspiracy,” was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories — homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals — the social underdogs of our world.

Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of “Alien Dimensions Magazine,” “600 second saga,” “Graveyard Girls,” “Kyanite Press’ Fables and Fairy Tales,” “The Carmen Online Theater Group’s Chronicles of Terror,” with many more stories freely available on her blog, Interfaces.com.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Twin Time.

Review: The Murderous Macaron

The Murderous Macaron is a fun read, sure to please fans of cozy mysteries and lovers of well-meaning and sometimes bumbling amateur sleuths. (I do happen to be one such fan.) Julie’s bakery is the focal point of this gentle who-done-it, and there is just enough of France woven into the story to appeal to lovers of travel as well.

What I liked best: Simply put, this is an enjoyable book. I appreciate that it was an easy read, well-paced and well written. The somewhat complex solutions to the case were believable yet not obvious, providing a satisfying ending.

My favorite thing was Drew’s stellar cast of secondary characters. Grandma is great. I do love feisty old women and she delivers. Sister Flo, the artist, is equally fun, and I could have done with more of the geeky sous chef as well. I’m not a huge dog fan, but I even enjoyed Lady, the sleuth dog who joins the team.

What I liked least: There is a fascinating backstory here, dribbled out in small pieces and never fully dealt with. It is difficult to reconcile the light tone of the novel with an unexplained traumatic family death, an estranged twin with unusual powers, and Julie’s issues with both of the above. Yet, it all comes up often enough to make it hard to ignore.

The reader wants answers. I suppose the author intends to weave more explanations into future novels, but as regarded these issues, I felt cheated at the end. Plus, the only part receiving a real explanation (why Julie doesn’t like her twin) is just odd.

However, Drew’s story was charming enough for me to put that frustration aside, along with my current irritation with the gluten-free world, brought on by a husband who’s decided to go gluten-free for no real reason, forcing me to abandon half of my favorite recipes.  That’s hardly Ana T. Drew’ fault, and I resolved early on not to hold Julie’s gluten-free bakery against her.

So, I’d be happy to read more books in this series and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery novel.

About the Author: Ana T. Drew is the evil mastermind behind the recent series of murders in the fictional French town of Beldoc. When she is not writing cozy mysteries or doing mom-and-wife things, she can be found watching “The Rookie” to help her get over “Castle”. She lives in Paris but her heart is in Provence.

For more about this book, and the Goddess Fish review tour this review was part of, see The Murderous Macaron.

 

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