Thursday, February 26, 2015

Feuds, Sparks, and seventeen-year-old Star

Today I'm delighted to welcome Kyle Prue to my blog. He's the (seventeen-year-old!) author of the The Sparks, book one of the Feud Trilogy, and he's touring the internet with PRBytheBook. I'm delighted to have him here on my blog to answer a few questions. I hope he drinks coffee, but I do have tea and soda as well. So please pull up a chair and join our conversation.

A Q&A with Kyle Prue, author of The Sparks,
Book One in the Feud trilogy

So, Kyle, could we start by asking where  you got the idea for the Feud series?

This is a coming of age story for young adults and I am a teen in that demographic. Everyone struggles to find their path in life and my characters are all struggling with not wanting to let people down and to find their way; forgiveness and hope is a part of that journey as well. One night, at the age of 15, I had terrible insomnia and I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about the different personalities of my siblings and myself and how we will all follow different paths. That gave me the idea to create three different families loosely based around our differing personalities. I decided it would be fun to take these families and place them in a fantasy world where the obstacles we all face could be magnified to a whole new level. I wrote out the plot for the three books that night.

    That sounds a cool idea. But why fantasy, and why YA Fantasy?

I wanted to write for me. Recently, I’ve hit an “in-between” zone where it’s harder for me to find books I want to read. I wanted to write something that I would want to read and that would appeal to other kids my age. I wanted to appeal to boys who have lost interest in reading and I also created strong female characters that girls will love.

    I guess you said you had the idea for this series at age 15, but when did you first start writing?

Like a lot of kids, I was bullied in middle school. I doubt you will ever find a kid that says, “I rocked 7th grade! That was the best time in my life.” I was short and fat and had a bowl haircut with braces.This was not a great time in my life. But I discovered I could come home and pick up a pen and create a whole fantasy world that I could control, when the rest of my life felt out of control. I learned that I loved to create characters because their potential is limitless.

I was lucky because I learned to use writing as an escape at an early age. I was in a multi-age program from 1st-3rd grade where I had the same teacher for three years. She had an experimental writing program where she gave us an hour a day to write in our journals. She told us to just write freely and not worry about punctuation or grammar, just let the creativity flow. So by the end of that program, I had a stack of notebooks filled with an adventure series. I also did a series called Three Rings that I wrote from the age of 12 to 14 when middle school was really rough. It was a 200-page manuscript. It wasn’t good, but it was good practice.

    My note-books are hidden at the bottom of a box in the spare bedroom, and I'm pretty sure they were good practice for me too. But what are your other interests besides writing?

I love stand up comedy because like writing, it requires an ability to look at the world in a unique way and find the humor in that. I’m a varsity swimmer for my school. I’m involved with mock trial, I’m in a number of plays every year, I started an improv club at my school and I’m really involved with our film club—we spend our weekends writing scripts and filming. We are currently working on a web series called “Amockalypse” that I’m really excited about. I pretty much gave up on sleeping after middle school.

    When on earth do you find the time to write?

If you love something, you find the time. I write during any hour that I can get free. With extracurriculars, I don’t usually get home until around 7:00 p.m. or later, and then I have homework, so I may only write an hour or two during the week. I try to make time to write during the weekends and breaks—I get the most writing done in the summer. I started the second book in the trilogy, The Flames, this past summer and am working on editing it over this school year.

    Do you have a favorite place to write?

I’ve usually got a notebook or computer on hand so any time I feel even the slightest bit inspired I can write. I am a big fan of writing in bookstores—it’s an interesting feeling to be surrounded by the works of people who have achieved what you are trying to accomplish.

    What is your family like?

My family is nothing like the families in the book, I better clarify that up front. My parents are incredibly supportive and have allowed me to follow my dreams. I have two siblings: a brother and a sister. They are great; we are very close. I am the youngest.

My brother and I used to fight a lot and that dynamic inspired my idea for the three feuding families in the books. We don’t fight anymore, as we’ve outgrown that phase, but it gave me plenty to write about.

    I guess childhood does that. What were you like as a child?

I lived in a fantasy world all the time—I was always inventing stories and reenacting them. I lived in costumes. I had a cat suit that I particularly loved. My mom would always get me a new costume for Halloween and inevitably I would end up back in my cat suit when it was time to go trick-or-treating. I wore that cat suit until the legs only came to my knees. It’s weird…for some reason when you dress like a cat all the time you don’t make a ton of friends. But anyway, that’s why my parents signed me up for acting classes. I started taking acting classes at the age of six. I loved it from the start.

    I understand you still have the acting bug. What are you doing now?

Currently, my whole focus is on college auditions. I’m crazy enough to be applying for programs where thousands of kids audition and they literally accept only six boys. So it’s kind of like trying to win the lottery, but I’m giving it my best shot. As I mentioned, I’m writing, directing and acting in my web series and we are launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund that this week. I spent last fall in LA and I was so lucky to take acting classes and perform improv at LA Connection. It was like what I imagine grad school is like. I spent 40 hours a week in acting classes and seminars—and still had to keep up with schoolwork online. It was intense but amazing.

   Wow. What's your favorite part of acting? Favorite thing about improv?

My favorite part of acting is initially stepping into the shoes of a character and just beginning to break them in: finding out what they want, how they talk, how they move, etc.

My favorite part of improv is when you are easing into a scene and the really good lines just start flowing, especially when you’re working with a talented partner.

  Were you a big reader as a kid?

In 5th grade, I started at a new elementary school when I moved to Naples. They had a reading contest for whoever read the most books. I ended up reading like 200 books, which was a bit of overkill as the next highest kid read about 75 books, but apparently I’m more competitive than I realized. I just really wanted to beat this girl in my class who told me she was a better reader.

  That sounds fun (I think I read 270 something books last year, but I'm not at all competitive. Honest! And the topics, genres, lengths, age ranges etc were all over the place. Were you drawn to a certain genre as a kid?

When I was younger, I really disliked reading. My mom would read me the books that my brother liked and I just never got into them. One day she was at the bookstore picking out books for us, and she mentioned to the owner that I didn’t seem interested in reading and he asked her about my personality and interests. He recommended that she try some fantasy books for me. She brought home a few of those books and from then on, all I did was read and write. I love young adult fantasy.

  Were there certain authors that you really liked?

I’ve always loved Rick Riordan, and every kid in my generation loves JK Rowling. My mom started guarding the Harry Potter books and reading them aloud to us, because otherwise I would read one whole book in a night and then tell my siblings what happened. We would barely leave the house until we had finished each book. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series has been phenomenal.

  Rick Riordan is on my (very long) to-read list, but I've loved Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. How have those writers influenced your writing?

I think Rick Riordan introduces and writes characters very well, which is something I kept in mind, because I have a group dynamic with my book. But I really like the way JK Rowling set up the overall plot and carried it through, intertwining a lot of different elements. She knew how to set up a big, epic adventure and finished it beautifully. That is what I hope to do with this trilogy.

  Do you work with an outline or do you just write? Do you ever get stuck?

Normally, I have a basic idea of where the story is going when I start writing a chapter. But there have been times when I am writing the chapter that I suddenly decide to take it in a new direction. Sometimes I struggle with writing a chapter or a character in the book, so to overcome that I’ll take a break and work on another project.

  I know that feeling. Do you have a favorite character in The Sparks?

It alternates a lot. In general, I’ve always been a fan of characters that are only around for one book and that are very big and eccentric. I really like Michael Taurlum because he’s kind of the epitome of what’s wrong with the Taurlum family and he’s just such a child. So it was really interesting to write about him and make him such an aggressive, haughty character.

  Can you tell us a bit about the second book, The Flames?

One of the big themes of the second book is that no one should get to a point in their life when they should experience a complete absence of hope. Things will always get better. My best friend from childhood committed suicide this year and I really want other teens to understand that whatever seems so overwhelming in your life today, won’t be what’s important to you down the road. When my characters experience this loss of hope, that is when they gain their advanced powers. Something good can come out of something that in the moment seems so terrible.

The second book in the series focuses on the remaining family members (spoiler alert!) and their friends, as they begin to kindle the revolution. It’s a lot about personal growth for the characters, like Neil and Darius. Even Robert Tanner, who is a minor character in the first book, comes back and has a very big story arc. It is the book where we start to reach that giant conflict that the characters have been stepping toward in the storyline.

  What was your favorite part or chapter to write in The Sparks?

I really, really enjoyed writing the fight between Darius and Jennifer. It’s interesting when you write characters separately, then give them a chance to interact together. Jennifer is one of my favorite characters. Neil describes her as the model assassin so it was really fun to write her in that type of setting.

  Oh, now you've got me really intrigued. How did you come up with the title (or titles)?

The entire book is based on a family feud so that was the reason for the series name, Feud. But the individual titles are The Sparks, The Flames and The Ashes; these are symbolic of the Vapros family motto which is “Victory Lies Within the Ashes.” The Vapros turn a person to ash when they kill them. For them that is a macabre way of saying, “You have to bust a couple of heads to get what you want.” So the titles reveal that there is going to be a lot of bloodshed and a climax to this storyline, which we are building up to in the series.

  How did you pick the names of the families?

I based the family names on Latin root words: Taurlum is based on the Latin word for bull, Celerius is the Latin word for swift and Vapros is smoke.

  It's nice to meet someone who likes Latin! How did you get the idea for the three families?

In the first book, there are three main families and since I have a brother and a sister, I loosely based these families around the three of us—their mannerisms, their traits, resulting in a black-and-white version of us blended with a more honorable, respectable side and a more aggressive, audacious side. So the Taurlum are based off my brother, the Celerius off my sister and the Vapros off me, a little bit.

  I wonder how they feel about that. But what can you tell us about the challenges of getting a book published?

I went to the New York Pitch Conference and Writer’s Workshop and got the opportunity to pitch my book to Random House, Penguin and McMillan Press. Each requested the manuscript (it was the most requested manuscript at the conference!), so I felt like I had a sound idea. The conference director advised me to use the publisher interest to try to get an agent. So, I began the process of sending query letters. I got some good advice from the agents I talked to. One advised me to hire a well-respected editor, as publishers expect manuscripts to be perfect, so I did that. Then another agent took the time to really ask me about my goals. I wanted the book to be read by as many people as possible and I wanted to get it published in a timely manner. She explained that—if I was lucky—the publishing process would take 3-5 years. She recommended that I meet with a small, independent publisher with a good reputation. They could meet my timing needs and I would have more input in the process, ensuring that I could retain some creative control of the final product. I met with the publisher she recommended (Barringer Publishing) and we hit it off immediately. So far, I’ve been thrilled with the process.

I’m hoping to publish Book 2, The Flames, in late summer 2015.

  That's so cool. You seem to have made some great decisions there, and had some great help. I hope all goes well with book 2 (and I hope you find time to work on it too). Do you have advice for other high school students wanting to write a book?

Yes, never stop writing. Write, and write and write, until you’ve got something that you like. Don’t be afraid to have a very rough copy of something. The editing process is terrible and long and arduous, but it’s something you have to do. What matters is getting something on paper and then really shaping it into what you are looking for.

  I kind of enjoy the editing process. It's like putting the finishing touches on a painting - highlights here and there, smoothing this bit out, and so on. But I agree, what matters is having something on paper (on in the computer) first. Is there anything else you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. The series only gets better and more intense from here and I can’t wait to see what you guys think of it all.

  Would you tell us where we can find your book and more information about you.

You can find more info on my website,, Facebook, Twitter @KylePrue and Instagram @KyleStevenPrue.

  • DISCOUNT CODE: There is a special discount code for blog readers readers who want to purchase The Sparks. They can purchase the book from Kyle Prue’s store on his official website (linked). The code ‘BLOG25’ will get them 25% off an autographed copy, signed by Kyle Prue! NOTE: This code will not work on purchases made on Amazon. 

 Thank you so much Kyle. I've really enjoyed meeting you, and I wish the best of luck with sales, readers, reviewers, and book 2.

Here's a little information about PRBytheBook...

Ashley Lauretta | PR by the Book
512-481-7728 |

And if you want to know more about the book, or even read the first chapter, just follow this link and "look inside." I really recommend you do. It's beautifully presented, and a really fine read.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Third Twin?

Today I'm delighted to spotlight a thriller with a truly fascinating title, the Third Twin, by C. J. Omololu. When you read the premise, below, I'm sure you'll agree this one sounds like a must-read - so make sure you enter to win at the end of this post!

third Twin
About the book

When they were little, Lexi and her identical twin, Ava, made up a third sister, Alicia. If something broke? Alicia did it. Cookies got eaten? Alicia’s guilty. Alicia was always to blame for everything.

The game is all grown up now that the girls are seniors. They use Alicia as their cover to go out with boys who are hot but not exactly dating material. Boys they’d never, ever be with in real life.

Now one of the guys Alicia went out with has turned up dead, and Lexi wants to stop the game for good. As coincidences start piling up, Ava insists that if they follow the rules for being Alicia, everything will be fine. But when another boy is killed, the DNA evidence and surveillance photos point to only one suspect—Alicia. The girl who doesn’t exist.
As she runs from the cops, Lexi has to find the truth before another boy is murdered. Because either Ava is a killer . . . or Alicia is real.

add to goodreads
What are people saying about the Third Twin?

"[An] original, riveting thriller." -- Melissa Marr, New York Times bestselling author of Made for You

"Delicious and deceptive, The Third Twin is a twisty-turny thrill ride! I couldn't flip the pages fast enough!" --Kimberly Derting, author of the Body Finder series and The Taking

"A classic whodunit."--Kirkus Reviews
CJAbout the Author

CJ OMOLOLU is the author of the ALA-YALSA Quick Pick Dirty Little Secrets and several other YA novels. She loved to read but never thought to write until she discovered that the voices in her head often have interesting things to say. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their two sons.

And about the Giveaway:

$50 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
Ends 3/19/15
Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, February 23, 2015

White Swans and the Avarice of Man

Today I'm delighted to welcome Annamaria Bazzi back to my blog with her wonderful White Swans. I still had some questions left over after we last shared a virtual coffee on this blog, so she kindly agreed to return and answer them. I guess what I'm brewing can't be too bad!

To read the first interview, just click on the virtual coffee link above.

And to get you in the mood, here's a blurb for the book, before I introduce the author:

Kendíka’s second chance at life begins as a nightmare.
Will the eerie eyes always looking down from the sky reveal themselves?
Kendíka challenges the aliens no one has ever seen to bring about a better life for the humans trapped in the surreal Regency world she wakes up in.
While getting to know her alien owner, she discovers the aliens aren’t so perfect and have much to learn about humans.

Will Kendíka survive or perish, attempting to make life better for the people living on Regency?

Annamaria, please help yourself to a virtual drink. I may even have some virtual cookies somewhere - gluten free 'cause they have to be for me.

You told me last time that White Swan tackles issues concerning the avarice of man. Could you expound on that today?

The kind-hearted hero of the series is rewarded and his wealth grows exponentially as he helps his people. The anti-hero lusts after the hero’s good fortune and turns to murderous thoughts, which he puts into action, soliciting the help of innocent people through threats. In fiction, we make the hero prevail.

But in fact, things can be so different can't they? How do you think our modern world shaped by man's avarice?

We can see man’s greed in the quality of our goods today. Everything is made in a cheap way so they don’t last. Quality takes a back seat to making a fast buck. People want to get rich fast so they cut corners wherever and whenever they can, resulting in products that don’t last.

How about in the ancient world?

At least in the ancient world people took pride in the goods they made, producing high standard quality, things that lasted. Greed was definitely a part of society in the past, but somehow the good ethical people tipped the scale. I don’t think I can say that in today’s world.

That's sad. But what about in worlds we imagine and dream of?

Unfortunately as shown in White Swans, even in literature, which in many ways mimics real life, we have the villain who is motivated by greed, the need to have more at the cost of everyone else. These characters end up being important to make a story more suspenseful. We all need someone to blame and hate when reading certain novels.

It seems like people might always be the same. What do you see as the biggest barrier to becoming better people?

Today it is a difficult question to answer considering the violence we are plagued with, starting with such groups as ISOL. The hatred they display for those who don’t believe as they do is just mind-boggling. They won’t stop at anything until they succeed in their goals. As long as they are around, and they are getting more powerful, the world is not safe.

So how do you think fiction helps?

Especially with young impressionable adults, a good moral character becomes like a hero whose example they like to follow to be more like the character they so loved while reading a book. That’s why I believe young adult books should present a strong and moral hero.

Thank you very much for coming back Annamaria, and please stay to finish your drink. Perhaps you could tell our readers a little more about yourself and where to find you before you leave:

Although born in the United States, Annamaria Bazzi spent a great deal of her childhood in Sicily, Italy, in a town called Sciacca. Italian was the language spoken at home. Therefore, she had no problems when she found herself growing up in a strange country. Upon returning to the States, she promised herself she would speak without an accent. She attended Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computers with a minor in Spanish.
Annamaria spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years, she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.
You can visit Annamaria at:

Check in on Kendíka’s facebook page

Find out more... Follow the tour:

23rd February

Beppe - Interview
Cindy - Interview
Jennifer - Spotlight
Kay - Spotlight
Kym Crawford - Book Review
Kyra Dune - Spotlight
Michele Gantz - Book Review
Roselyn Jewell - Book Review
Sheila Deeth - Interview

24th February
Falguni Kothari - Interview
Vishal - Spotlight

25th February
Karen - Book Review
Mohur - Spotlight

26th February
Haley - Book Review
Claudia Burgoa - Interview

27th February
Catalina Egan - Interview
Kay LaLone - Book Review
Mindy Wall - Book Review
Vicky - Spotlight

28th February
Cindy - Spotlight
Kristy Gillespie - Spotlight
M.J. Austin - Interview
Nikita - Interview
Rachelle Ayala - Book Review
Romila - Book Review
Ruth Hill - Book Review

- See more at:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Science Fiction or YA Dystopian?

I had several YA dystopian novels on my review list last weekend. Having plenty of time to read, since my husband was out at a chess tournament, I supplemented the list with a few dystopian novels I'd received for Christmas too. The result was 6 novels read, three of them collected in one larger e-library, and a really enjoyable holiday from real life.

This morning my husband asked me about the books. I think he was wondering if any of them might be things he'd enjoy. After all, he's always loved science fiction, and isn't dystopian fiction a branch on the same book tree? So I talked about plots and premises and why they intrigued me so much. We agreed that science fiction places people in alien environments then asks that magical "what if?" But what is the difference between scifi and dystopia?

Of course, this revived all our old "discussions" about where fantasy fits into scifi. If there's no science, can it be scifi? And if there is some science, does that make it automatically scifi?

We pondered, drank coffee, and pondered some more. My conclusion was that my husband's tastes lie more toward "hard" science fiction. Science drives the change in the environment, and man lives with, or tries to scientifically alter its results. Fantasy's more likely to have non-science and altered histories driving the change. And dystopian - or at least, modern dystopian - fiction has an altered social science behind it's difference. Do I have to believe future history would send us that way? Not really, or at least, no more than I have to believe we'll really land on a planet of talking trees, or in a bowl-shaped asteroid of enormously altered gravity.

Old dystopian fiction included some great post-apocalyptic novels, which were maybe scifi; but the books I read last weekend were new, and my husband seems to have decided they're not for him. But are they for you? I certainly enjoyed them, so grab a mug of coffee, sit down and read on.

The e-library I mentioned above is called What Tomorrow May Bring. It's a fantastic way to find new authors, or cheap copies of novels by new favorites. You'd need an awful lot of cups of coffee to read it all though, so here are reviews of some of the individual novels.

Open Minds (Book 1 of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn, is built on the premise of a changed society where (nearly) everyone can read minds. The story is set after the time when mind-readers were locked away. Now it's all perfectly normal, and the author convincingly creates a society that's built around this new skill. But what about the zero who can't read? How will people who are different be treated? Enjoy some bold, dark intense five-star coffee as you read this intensely absorbing tale.

Prison Nation, by Jenni Merritt, looks at a dystopian American future where prisons have expanded to the size of towns. But what kind of change in society would result from having so many people incarcerated? And how would the rest of the world react. In this America, those in power really don't care about the rest of world, or anyone else it seems. I wish this one were part of a trilogy because I'd like to know what happens next, but it's an intriguing tale, despite a slightly oversimplified ending. Enjoy with some more bold dark intense five-star coffee.

Daynight, by Megan Thomason, is also in the collection. In this novel, a scary coorporation has discovered a way to perform social experiments on small-town communities, resulting in a world where sexual activity in teens results in immediate and permanent cleaving. The background to the premise is a little unconvincing, but the social results pull the reader in quickly, making for a fascinating read. Enjoy some smooth full-flavored three-star coffee as you read.

Tony Bertauski's the Annihilation of Foreverland is in this collection too. One to enjoy with some complex four-star coffee and a thoroughly enjoyable novel that I'd already read.

And then are the books I got for Christmas, starting with Unwind, by Neal Shusterman. The premise may wound weird - a world where babies aren't aborted anymore; instead they're cared for until they become teens, then unwanted teens are given the privilege of serving the community as spare parts. Okay, it's more complicated than that. But I really wanted to know what the author would make of it, and the result is a truly compelling novel, filled with startlingly authentic details, deeply thought-provoking, truly enthralling, and a really really good read. Enjoy it with the some really intense five-star coffee!

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, is aimed similarly at young teen readers. It never quite reveals the premise behind its strange world, but it pulls readers in to experience that sense of dissociation, uncertainty and danger along with its teen protagonist. Why are we here? How will we escape? Who is in control? And more... a thoroughly absorbing adventure, complete in itself but a great start to the series too. Enjoy this with some richly elegant four-star coffee.

Of course, I had to ask for Veronica Roth's Divergent for Christmas, even though I've not been to the movie. The blend of virtues and vices offers a fascinating commentary on modern society, and I really enjoyed the novel. Drink some dark five-star coffee while you read.

And then there's Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. Actually, I read that ages ago (a fact I'm very proud of - I read book two before book one and I was so hooked we had to collect the set, even pre-ordering book 3!), but no list of modern dystopias can be complete without it. Drink some more dark five-star coffee with this.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Maybe Love: From Byron, via Austen, to Helen of Troy

Maybe love is the theme of my next book reviews, but perhaps I should call it "maybe love," since the first novel, After Byron by Norman Beim, leaves the reader waiting awhile to find out if love is  an illusion or just a twist of fate. Dark gothic mansions loom; dark deeds are hidden in the past; and dark ghosts roam while the pages of journals and letters reveal... well, something more. Simultaneously traditional and modern, and filled with many different shapes and forms of love, it's a perfect tale for untraditional Valentines, best enjoyed with some 5-star dark intense coffee.

On the trail of love, one must of course visit Jane Austen, so here's a book of traditional faith-based love which includes a visit to her home. In Mr. Shipley’s Governess, by Joanne Troppello, a young woman who's given up speaking to God becomes a young Christian child's tutor. There's a rich handsome father, the opportunity of world travel, and, of course, romance, making this a nicely traditional Valentine's novel, best enjoyed with bright, lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Another (almost) contemporary novel with touches of romance is When the Drum Major Died, by Anjuelle Floyd. Set in the time of Martin Luther King marches, it deals with issues of race, skin color, prejudice and more in a slightly deeper was than usual, offering an intriguing picture of a neighborhood's tortured dynamics. There's romance in there too, and tales of many broken and wounded romances, with prejudice of many different kinds. Enjoy this slow tale with several cups of intense five-star coffee, but it's probably not one for Valentines.

Mama Cried, by Talia Haven, is a short story of a very different kind of love - that between mother and child. It offers a slightly disturbing view of man's vengeance and God's mercy, but it's a truly haunting, thought-provoking read. Drink some dark five-star coffee while you read it - definitely not one for Valentine's Day.

My Gift For You, by V. Moua, on the other hand, might be the perfect Valentine tale to read with your kids. Quick bright illustrations, quick bright text in big clear letters with great rhymes and great vocabulary, and a wonderful message of LOVE; enjoy this one with some one-star crisp bright coffee and have fun!

John R. Cobb's A Turtle Tale, is another children's picture book, with a message of love for nature, and friendship and hope. Enjoy this more complex read with a three-star full-flavored coffee, and let the kids have fun with some wonderful pictures. It works for Valentine's - there's definitely a touch of romance in the ending!

10, by Martin B. Flores, offers ten fairytales for children, but these are tales with a twist, inviting questions rather than sleep, and dealing with modern issues like divorce and the fair treatment of employees. There's definitely some romance in there, but probably not for Valentine's; it's a collection to read with some full-flavored three-star coffee to hand.

But now, at last, it's time to delve into romance of the past, and Helen of Troy, as depicted in Princess of Sparta, by Aria Cunningham. It's a complex novel, weaving myth and history together into something entirely plausible and enthralling. Nice touches of mysticism, well-woven social structures, convincing scenery and politics, and great characters make this is an enjoyable read. Raise a cup of four-star elegant complex coffee and wait for romance that just might have changed the world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reading in Pairs

Have you ever noticed how busses arrive in threes but movie plots are only repeated in twos? There are always three things that go wrong, but you wait for the second shoe to drop? Three wishes anyone? But only two fall in love in a romance? What is it with those twos and threes?

Of course, the mathematician in me looks at all the fours and fives we ignore--perhaps the number's a little to high to call coincidence. And then there are all the singles--truly, don't most busses arrive roughly on time, only one bus at a time? But we notice what's different, as long as there aren't too many differences, hence twos and threes.

Last week I noticed I was reading pairs of books, so I'll review them in twos too. But there were singles as well (or could I have made one a three?)--they'll be in my next post.

The first is a pair of books based in Biblical history: The Edge of Revolt (David Chronicles book 3) By Uvi Poznanski is the third in a really cool trilogy. The author brings King David and his world to vivid life, peopling it with characters not so different from modern day policiticians and rulers, falling to the same age-old temptations and suffering the same crises of family and national dynamics. The books stands well on its own, but I seriously recommend reading the whole set. I've loved them. Enjoy with some elegant complex 4-star coffee.

K Ford K's The Wife of John the Baptist, not surprisingly, is set in New Testament times, and is just as beautifully crafted and vividly real. Not recommended for those who like their Bible stories limited to purely Christian world-views, this novel depicts a reluctant, but very real prophet, married to a Greek woman with mystical powers of her own. Both see the future, but color it and run from it differently. It's another elegant complex novel, best read with some more elegant complex 4-star coffee.

My next pair of books is two evocative romances set in India. The first is The Guardian Angels, by Rohit Gore. Definitely an unconventional romance, it invites the reader to experience different segments of Indian society from the super-rich to the poor, seen through the eyes of two young people who grow together, grow apart, and somehow are always there for each other. It's a surprisingly absorbing tale, told with a sense of distance that oddly enough brings the reader closer to the world. Enjoy with some more more complex 4-star coffee.

My second Indian romance is The Malhotra Bride, by Sundari Venkatraman, a short novel that invites readers into a richly detailed world of arranged marriage and young adult rebellion... and romance. Enjoy this richly detailed tale with a bright, lively 2-star cup of coffee and prepare to be transported.

And finally, two mysteries. I guess they're not quite set in the same place and time, but they both have interestingly different protagonists, so I thought I should make them a pair. First is Abduction at Griffith Observatory, by Christopher Geoffrey McPerson. I'm already hooked on this series, where a young man in the young days of Hollywood struggles to make his way as a writer. The author creates an interesting blend of real world seen through real and imaginary eyes, and real mystery, experience by the author and inspiring the novels he writes. If you've ever wondered about how LA grew into what it now is, or if you just love intriguingly different mysteries, this one's for you. Enjoy with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

The protagonist of An Education in Deceit, by Eli Blackstone, is a modern-day, depressed housewife, trying to reinvent herself while her husband tells her to get a job and her son lives in the basement. There are some pleasing touches of humor in the relationships and dialog, though it's sometimes a little heavyhanded (and not always kind to dogs). Enjoy with some bold, dark, intense five-star coffee.

So there are my pairs. I'll post my other recent book reviews soon, but I need more time to read and write too. Guess what! Infinite Sum is getting close to publication! Hurray!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What About the Cover?

Never judge a book by its cover, they say. But we do it every day, ignoring the boring thumbnail on Amazon, leaving the uninteresting spine on the bookstore shelf. But most of my books are read on kindle and kobo, given by authors or friends or friends of friends, and weighted with promises to review. The cover's the bit I rarely even notice, if at all. In fact, my review list is so long now, I rarely even remember the back-cover blurb by the time I start to read, and every tale is a brand new picture writing itself to the page.

That said, while reviewing in the presence of my mum, I've paid more attention to what the books look like. So here are some quick reviews, coffee recommendations, and comments on the covers:

Starting with Adelita's Secret by Christopher Cloud, a young adult novel that starts like any other teen romance, then flies with delightfully innocent time travel into heritage, honesty and hope. I loved the book (well, apart from its slow start), but the cover made me think of adult romances - one to hide from my mother while I read. I wished, with such a strong female lead, it could have pictured a white teen sharing the picket line with Mexicans, gun in hand, and strength in her eyes. Drink some elegant complex 4-star coffee with this well-crafted read.

Next is Maybe, Misery, by C. S. Bailey. Billed as a gripping bio-thriller, it tells the diary of a somewhat misogynistic genius scientist, so eager to find the cure for cancer and the next girl to bed that he almost destroys the world. Oddly, the cover image is a portrait of a woman who might compete as an English rose; beautiful, fresh-faced, dark-haired, glowing skin... All through the book I was wondering why she was there. Meanwhile the protagonist did his best to make me loath him, and my scientific leanings complained and confused. A bold dark intense five-star coffee would perhaps go best with this.

Weird Things Customers Say In Bookstores, by Jen Campbell, has a great cover, appropriately weird, lined with books, and quickly inviting the browser to at least read the words on the cover. While the words can't be read in an Amazon thumbnail, the colors still stand out enough to recognize bookshelves, a desk, and a cartoon man and woman with something to say. Inside the book is filled with weird short dialogs, with customers requesting anything from milk to a signed edition of Shakespeare. Something, somewhere, is bound to make you laugh. And something else will make whoever you share the book with laugh too. Drink some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee while you read.

But perhaps the best covers ought to belong to children's picture books. Pine and the Winter Sparrow, by Alexis York Lumbard, is illustrated by Beatriz Vidal, and a pastel cover with accurate renderings of bird and tree branch gives a lovely flavor of what's inside. The story's a delight to read, with smoothly flowing sentences, a tale that's pleasingly, gently intriguing, and a moral lesson in taking care of your friends, inspired by pictures that take beautiful care of nature. It's all made even better by the way the story fits into any religious or spiritual world-view. A pleasure to share. Enjoy some well-balanced three-star coffee as you read.

Then there those soon-to-be-classic literary novels, with covers more serious perhaps, but equally important. There's a Man with a Gun Over There, by R.M. Ryan is a powerful autobiographical novel of a man who didn't go to Vietnam. The cover, with stars and strips over rough-sketched hills, might not seem overly exciting, but the font of the title demands the reader stop and see, and wonder, and turn the page. And the book is a truly compelling, well-crafted blend of scenes, combining into a life, combining into an indictment of the prices paid for war. Enjoy this beautifully crafted tale with some rich, well-crafted, elegant four-star coffee.

Another soon-to-be-classic is The Mysteries of Soldiers Grove, by Paul Zimmer. This time the cover's so elusively plain and simple, with clear typed words, and just that hint of car and trees and fog, or is it snow... but more than one mystery? How? The reader has to look inside and will surely be quickly hooked. The story starts with an old man telling stories, but he picks the wrong listener. Meanwhile an old woman's tale begins. And the two combine. And love dances with the walking canes. And mystery is life and death and everything in between, and danger, and hope. Enjoy another rich elegant complex four-star coffee with this elegant, deceptively simple tale.

Sabotage at RKO Studio, by Christopher Geoffrey McPherson, has a fine old-style cover that offers a consistent old-time feeling in thumbnail too. The thick red letters for sabotage draw the eye, even if the studio's a little hard to see. And the cover certainly gives the right feel for a novel of early Hollywood. Second in the authors James Murray series, it tells two parallel tales - one fiction within the fiction of the other - and does so masterfully, offering different views of the same history through almost the same eyes. It's smooth, cool, and almost reads itself. Enjoy with some more rich elegant complex four-star coffee.

More horror than mystery, Blind Evil, by Eric Praschan has a cover that really gives nothing away - perhaps a woman walking in the rain. But the title says it all, and the title's clear and easy to see in the thumbnail on amazon. The story's twisted and warped, starting with an intriguing psychological mystery, then devolving into psycho-horror instead. It's not entirely convincing, but it's a compelling look at built and innocence, nature and nurture, and the unrelenting grasp of evil. Drink some bold dark intense five-star coffee as you read.

And finally, Broken-Hearted Ghoul, by Joyce and Jim Laverne, is a fun, light-hearted, thought-provoking, paranormal mystery that just might be the start of my next favorite paranormal series. The cover's certainly bright and enticing, but in thumbnail it makes me think of small-town America, ordinary everyday lives - not quite the shock and awe the title inspires. It's a really cool book though, with a pleasingly different take on zombies and more, enough questions resolved to make a complete story, and enough left hanging to satisfyingly offer the promise of more. Enjoy with some rich elegant complex four-star coffee, and few darker brews for darker scenes.

So that's my review of books and their covers, and now it's time to make dinner.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What was New Zealand really like in colonial times?

Today I'm welcoming award-winning short-story author Rebecca Burns to my blog. Her latest book, The Settling Earth, was published in December by Odyssey Books, a small publisher based in Australia. It contains an interconnected collection of stories set in colonial (historical) New Zealand - a fact which immediately makes this ex-pat want to read them. I'm delighted to have the book on my virtual bookshelf, and I'm eagerly awaiting some real time to read. So... over to you Rebecca. Just what was nineteenth century New Zealand like?

The Settling Earth – life in nineteenth-century New Zealand
by Rebecca Burns
In the nineteenth century, a section of middle-class British society was faced with a difficult choice. Unmarried women, with little hope of meeting a future husband, either had to face social disdain by going out to work, continue to be reliant on elderly parents, or, as many brave souls did, take a leap into the unknown and emigrate. Indeed, the nineteenth century saw the migration of thousands of men, women and children, to settler colonies in the British Empire. Between 1875-1879, when emigration was at its heyday, 60,000 settlers arrived in New Zealand.[1] Unmarried, single women, were a key part of this movement. In my new collection of short stories, The Settling Earth, I fictionalise the experiences of settlers in New Zealand, and give a portrayal of what life was like for some women who made this bold move.
Some women did emigrate as newlyweds or with hopes of finding a partner in the colonies. In The Settling Earth, Sarah is married to William, a friend of her father’s and a much older man. He has taken ownership of a Canterbury sheep run; long absences and frequent trips to town (where he pays furtive visits to a brothel) leaves Sarah isolated. Like other settlers living in the New Zealand backblocks, Sarah experiences terrible loneliness. Indeed, it was not uncommon for wives to be miles away from their nearest neighbours, separated by a day’s hike or ride.
Despite this isolation, women were exposed to a high degree of attention, simply because of their gender. Women were scarce in some parts – colonial New Zealand had an abundance of bushmen, swaggers, gold diggers, and farmhands, but options were limited for those looking to marry. In some cases, sexual interactions became commoditised, and The Settling Earth offers a fictional representation of life in a brothel. Female characters, such as Phoebe, were there because of failed love affairs and poverty. The Settling Earth also portrays the desperate choices made by some characters when they inevitably fell pregnant – Dottie, the child of one character, is left with a woman who runs a baby farm. The Victorian term “baby farm” refers to a household which took unwanted children in and, in some cases, neglected them and allowed them to die. Dottie’s mother is not a prostitute, but an unplanned pregnancy and conflicted professional ambitions lead her to feel she has little option but to abandon her child.
Settler life in nineteenth century was challenging, difficult, inspiring, rewarding and, at times, terribly, terribly hard. It was a fascinating area to research and The Settling Earth offers the reader a collection of stories that provide a fictionalised snapshot of life during this time.
 [1] Keith Sinclair, A History of New Zealand (London: Penguin Books, 1959, 1980), p. 156

The idea of a set of interlinked short stories combining into a collection really intrigues me, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading this. 

About the Book:

"Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant - The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers' attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.

Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities - these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land."

Find it on Amazon at:

About the Author:

Rebecca Burns is an award-winning writer of short stories, over thirty of which have been published online or in print. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011, winner of the Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition in 2013 (and runner-up in 2014), and has been profiled as part of the University of Leicester's "Grassroutes Project"-a project that showcases the 50 best transcultural writers in the county.

The Settling Earth is her second collection of short stories. Her debut collection, Catching the Barramundi, was published in 2012 - also by Odyssey Books - and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Award in 2013.

Find her on Twitter at:
on Facebok at:
or visit her webpage at:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Languages of White Swans

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Annamaria Bazzi back to my blog. Her new book, White Swans, A Regency World, has just come out, and we're sitting here drinking coffee and eating chocolate chip cookies (gluten free of course), so please feel free to join us.

Hi Annamaria, and welcome to my blog. Having learned that you speak English, Italian and Spanish, I'm wondering what other languages you speak, and whether you think being multilingual helps you write.

The only other language I speak is Sicilian, the dialect from the province of Agrigento. The language is completely different from Italian and I still have a bit of a hard time sounding out the words when I read. Does speaking other languages help my writing? Not really, the only advantage I’ve found is that when I need to use some Spanish in my novels I don’t need a dictionary of translator. I’ve used both Spanish and Italian in Incantation Paradox, although I’m not sure if readers appreciate it.

I guess when you do need a dictionary you probably use one on the computer. And I noticed you studied computers too, so... how do human languages and computer languages compare? (I have to ask this since I wrote (unpublished) books, then wrote computer programs, then wrote published books.)

Computer languages are much easier to learn for me. I always have problems with grammar no matter what language. Grammar has it out for me. With computer languages I never had any syntax problems, they always made so much sense to me, unlike the English language where a knight in shinning armor has a silent K in front of the word and so does a knife for that matter. Why? And what’s with the gh why not just nite? Now that word would make perfect sense to me.

I know what you mean. I always had problems with spelling too, but with computer programs it's all nice and logical. How does White Swans fit with the other books you've written? Do all your novels have some kind of theme or message in common and, if so, what is it?

With the books I’ve published so far I have no common message or theme, but with some of the unpublished novel that still need editing I tackle worldly problems that make no sense to me so I write about them to solve them in ways that make sense to me. Although the novels all take place in other worlds they deal with real problems. White Swans A Regency Era tackles the avarice of man, but I don’t think there’s an answer to this particular problem.

Is the world becoming friendlier or unfriendlier for writers?

Amazon has made publishing real easy. I think more important is the fact that so many don’t take the art of writing a book seriously. They just want to see their name in print. It is these individuals that make life very difficult for the Indie authors who output quality and are serious authors.

That makes sense. I remember reading somewhere "Everyone can write" and wondering what that meant for those of us who love writing. And on another tack, is the world becoming friendlier or unfriendlier for original thinkers?

Most original thinkers tend to be a bit off, maybe odd to the rest of the world and as in the past thinkers today still struggle to be accepted for who and what they are.

Is the world becoming friendlier or unfriendlier for people who are different from their neighbors?

In our modern day society we’ve come to accept a great many thing, starting with homosexuality and the modern family. Yet we still struggle with certain prejudices Martin Luther King dreamed of eliminating.

And it was Martin Luther King Day yesterday. Yes.

The stubbornness of mankind to refuse to see that we are all equal no matter what color, race or national background keeps setting us back.

So, is anything we've talked about relevant to how you write?

At times I tackle political problems but I disguise them and set them in alien world so I can find the solutions that make the most sense to me. In White Swan, I only tackle the avarice of men and the mind that believes to always be right.

Thank you Annamaria, and may your problems all be good ones. I'm really looking forward to reading White Swans.

And now, for my blog readers, here's some information about Annamaria:

Although born in the United States, Annamaria Bazzi spent a great deal of her childhood in Sicily, Italy, in a town called Sciacca. Italian was the language spoken at home. Therefore, she had no problems when she found herself growing up in a strange country.
Upon returning to the states, she promised herself she would speak without an accent.
She attended Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computers with a minor in Spanish.
Annamaria spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years, she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.

You can visit Annamaria at:

And some more information about White Swans

Kendíka’s second chance at life begins as a nightmare. Will the eerie eyes always looking down from the sky reveal themselves? Kendíka challenges the aliens no one has ever seen to bring about a better life for the humans trapped in the surreal Regency world she wakes up in. While getting to know her alien owner, she discovers the aliens aren’t so perfect and have much to learn about humans. 

Will Kendíka survive or perish, attempting to make life better for the people living on Regency?