Monday, April 20, 2015

Claws of Affection

It's time to post more book reviews and I've had a busy week, both reading and writing. Subtraction has grown to 65,000 words and I'm fairly sure I know how to put it all together now, with interlaced past and present chapters until Andrew starts the journey to his future. All I need is to complete the writing and the interlacing. Then I'll get those final "future" chapters out of my head onto the page. Since there's a very active, somewhat mystical cat involved in them, I feel rather like its metaphorical claws keep kneading the back of my brain demanding release. Yes, yes; I will write your final chapter soon. And yes, yes; I do hope I'll do your subject justice 'cause I really don't want you kneading the back of my brain forever. I love cats - don't get me wrong - but those claws of affection really can hurt sometimes.

Anyway, here are some book reviews, starting with one starring some wonderful cats. Grab a coffee, and remember the ratings are for flavor, not quality; I'm really not equipped to judge the quality of what I drink or what I read.

Per-bast: A Tale of Cats in Ancient Egype, by Lara-Dawn Stiegler, blends mythology, history, sociology and cats into a convincing and enthralling mix. There's plenty of drama, humor, and scares, just the right amount of mysticism and magic, and lots of wonderful down-to-earth cats. Enjoy their mysterious tale with some rich, elegant and complex four-star coffee.

I rather enjoyed reading The Pharaoh’s Daughter, by Mesu Andrews, at the same time as Per-Bast. Both novels are set in Egypt. Both refer to godlike Pharaohs and complex societies. But Mesu Andrew's novel has a Christian flavor and looks at the plight, not of cats, but of Hebrew slaves, from the point of view of the Pharaoh's older sister. Societies of warriors, slaves, rich and poor are all convincingly portrayed, giving a feel for very real people living in a dangerous time. Faith plays an important part, but is never intrusive, being an integral part of different characters' lives. All in all, it's a thoroughly good read and my favorite Mesu Andrews book to date. Enjoy with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

The Good Servant, by Doug Lucas, is a Christian novel of much more recent history, telling the tale of a small-town American man from childhood, through service with the Marines in Vietnam, to marriage and to approaching death. It's beautifully, convincingly told with great voice, unflinching honesty, blunt humor, and some incredibly wonderful scenes. Enjoy a bold dark intense cup of coffee as your read. Then reach for The Good Servant's wife, which gives the other half of the story and the "missing pieces" pieced together from the protagonist's notes.

Ghost of Death, by Chrys Fey, is a much shorter modern-day tale of a woman who finds herself dead and doesn't know why. A short story of small errors and large consequences, it's oddly alluring and surprisingly upbeat, given the topic. Enjoy over lunch with a lively easy-drinking two-star coffee, and find my review on Nights and Weekends soon.

And now for something completely different... Olde School, by Selah Janel, is a wonderful blend of fairytale, horror, and thoroughly modern-day fun. Think Shrek for grownups maybe, with a touch of romance, a touch of horror, plenty of touches of humor, action, imagination and fun. Enjoy with some bright lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Then, for the kids, there are more Oliver and Jumpy stories, starring cat and kangaroo (and a cuddly bear) in Oliver and Jumpy 13-15, by Werner Stejskal A really well-told middle tale in the set introduces sorrow and depression in a pleasingly non-threatening way. Enjoy with some mild, light, crisp one-star coffee.

Friday, April 17, 2015

What books would make you want to write - beyond the black sea?

beyond tour button 2

Today I'm delighted to host author M. Joseph Murphy on my blog. He's touring the internet with his latest novel, Beyond the Black Sea, and he's offering a great giveaway, so don't forget to read to the end of this post and enter for your chance to win. But first, grab a coffee and a cookie, then sit down to enjoy the author's views on how we are what we eat... or what we read...

4/6 Books That Made Me Want to Be A Writer, 
by M Joseph Murphy

They say you are what you eat. Perhaps that true for the mind, especially for writers, it is more correct to say "you are what you read." I am the person I am today specifically because I developed a love for reading at a young age. Before I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer. So here's a quick list of 6 books that made me want to be a writer.

1. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Like many, I'm fascinated by Arthurian legends. What is less common, especially for men, is that I proudly call myself a feminist. So back in 1983 when I first heard of an Arthurian book from the points of view of women, I was hooked. I expected drama and sorcery which are abundant. What I didn't expect is the book would completely change the way I look at religion. Like Morgaine, I was an angry youth. I raged against the injustices committed in the name of the Church. The Mists of Avalon quieted my rage and turned it into something else. By the time I closed the book, I had learned two things. Firstly, the goddess, or whatever you choose to call the feminine divine energy, can never be destroyed or eliminated. Secondly, reading the right book at the right time can completely change your life.

2. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The story of a simple assistant pig-keeper who, though only a teenager, helps save the world inspired me to be better person. I did not grow up in abject poverty but no one really expected much from me. We lived in a not-so-good part of town. No one in my family had ever been to college or university. In fact, no one had ever really accomplished much of anything. So why should I expect to accomplish anything? Taran, the assistant pig-keeper, is at turns arrogant and foolish, brave and self-less. It is truly his courage and his willingness to do the right thing that turn him into a hero. I've lost track of how many times I've read The Black Cauldron but it truly helped shape my character. It also taught me that even in the midst of a "fluffy" story, a great writer can influence and tutor.

3. The Mutant Massacre by Chris Claremont, Walter Simonson and Louise Simonson

This is probably cheating because it's not a traditional book. Instead, The Fall of the Mutant was a crossover that ran through several Marvel comic books in late 1986. It involved a gang of people with super powers killing a group of mutants who lived underground to escape persecution. This is back before death in comics meant nothing and every character's life was on the line. It was also during a time without the internet. There was no "spoilers". The month between issues was agonizing. I would lie awake at night thinking of scenarios. Which lead to be creating fan fiction before I knew that was even a thing. It also taught me that a good story can be the most addictive substance on the planet.

4. The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay

This is one of the finest pieces of fantasy written in the 20th century. Again: cheating. This is a series, not a single book. However, I bought the three books as part of a boxed set so it almost counts. At the time, Kay was a relative unknown but I gave the books a chance when I learned Kay had worked closely with Christopher Tolkein on a little book called the Simillarion. It was rare back them to have a fantasy story set partially in our modern real world. It was the first book I read that could be classified as urban fantasy. Even though it quickly moved to another purely fantastical world, the characters were remained modern every-day people that were easy to relate to. When I first read the series, I was slightly young than the main characters, still in high school. Also like the characters, I was an avid player of D&D, occasionally a dungeon master. Something in me was triggered. I started wondering what it would be like finding myself, Joseph Murphy, in a fantasy world. I started rolling characters just to daydream about them, to put them through adventures outside normal game play. I loved Kay's magic system that was intricate and very different than D&D's system. So I created my own. Then I was drawing maps. And before you knew it, I had created the land of Maghe Sihre, currently the setting of my own epic fantasy series. Without realizing what I was doing, after reading this book, I became a writer. It's impossible for me to overstate how much the Fionavar tapestry affected me as a writer. The books I've written would never have popped into my head if it wasn't for Kay.


Here's the good news. The world is filled with millions of books. And here's the bad news. The world is filled with millions of books and you'll never have time to read them all. But, just like with food, it's not the quantity that matters, it's the quality. We live in a fast-paced world. I often find myself rushing to get to the end of a book so I can leave a review or critique it for another author. But this is not how books are meant to be enjoyed. Savor each moment you spend reading because the book you read today could affect you for years to come.

M Joseph Murphy

April 13, 2015

Thank you Joseph. I'd have to agree about Mists of Avalon and the Black Cauldron, both favorites of mine, and both novels which made me think, I want to write like that. The Silmarillion would come high on my list too--in fact, it might be the one book that most influenced me. So maybe I should look out for the Finoavar Tapestry.

Anyway, thank you for visiting my blog, and for introducing me and my readers to your list. And now for some information about YOUR book...


Beyond the black Sea

Beyond seaShe’s dead because of me. 

Josh Wilkinson is haunted by two words written in still-warm blood: Your fault. Wisdom, an immortal raised by the djinn, has gathered a band of super-powered teenagers to stop the Council of Peacocks, a group of evil sorcerers. After the battle in Thessaloniki, the Council is on the run. Just when final victory appears imminent, Josh’s mother is murdered and the prime suspect is his father.

Once Josh was integral to the Council’s plans for world domination. Now Josh learns his cousin, Travis, is the one set to activate the Verdenstab. If he does, the Orpheans, demonic allies to the Council, will escape the Black Sea, a pocket dimension that serves as their prison.

In a last-ditch effort to prevent the invasion, Wisdom and Josh use an ancient portal hidden beneath Gobekli Tepe to enter the Black Sea. The rest of the team – a pyrokinetic, a telepath, and a mercenary – head to stop Travis from activating a device.

The end is closer than anyone suspects. The Activation is set to happen tomorrow.

Buy it on Amazon

M Joseph Murphy

Joe MurphyM Joseph Murphy was born and raised in Ontario, Canada. He earned his geekdom at an early age. He read X-Men comics from the age of 8 and it only went downhill from there.

As a teenager he wrote short stories and wanted to be the next Stephen King. Instead of horror, however, he kept writing fantasy stories. After surviving high school as a goth with a purple mohawk, he studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor.

When not writing, Joseph works as Lead Accounting instructor at a local college. He lives in Windsor, ON (right across the stream from Detroit, Michigan) with his husband, two cats, and a shy-but-friendly ghost.

You can find Joseph at these links:

Website     |     Facebook     |     Twitter 



 This Giveaway is open internationally. Must be 15+ to enter. 
2 Winners - eCopy of Council of Peacocks
2 Winners - $5 Amazon Gift card
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Thursday, April 16, 2015

After School History Club might be fun!

I'm delighted to be one of the host's on I-Am-A-Reader's blog tour for Gianna the Great, by Becky Villareal, today. I was given a free ecopy of the book, so I'm offering my review, below, together with introductions to the story, the author, and a great giveaway, so please read on...

About the Book:

Gianna just wants to know about her ancestors, but she has to join an after school history club (yuck!) to do it. Now, she’s about to embark on a journey that will change everything she thinks she knows about her family.

So says the blurb for this short children's story. I was lucky enough to get a pre-release copy when I volunteered to join the I-Am-A-Reader blogtour, so... here's my review, with a coffee recommendation of course. Try some bright, lively, easy drinking 2-star coffee, and offer juice or water to your second through fourth grade listeners.

Gianna the Great is narrated by a pleasing fourth grade girl who isn’t quite sure where she belongs. Maybe history club will help. But the mystery starts when history turns into genealogy. Now Gianna will learn of her mother’s Mexican heritage through computer records and photographs. Meanwhile readers are given a very natural introduction to Mexican phrases and foods.

My only complaint is that the book is far too short. I want to know more, and I’m sure Gianna does too. In fact I’m sure she will, but “that’s for another day...”

Short chapters lead to small revelations, and parents or teachers might find the book invaluable in encouraging young children to value the past. Readers, young and old, might want more story though, and I hope there’ll be plenty more to come on that “another day...”

Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.

Find out more: Follow the Tour

Find Gianna the Great on Amazon
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Copy of GIANNA THE GREAT - author bio picAuthor the Author

Becky Villareal As a missionary’s kid Becky grew up all over the state of Texas learning that each person is special in the Lord’s eyes. As a twenty year veteran teacher she learned how to bring out those gifts in children. As a ten year genealogist she learned how wonderful finding out about the family background can be especially when the knowledge is shared with others.

About the Giveaway

$25 Blog Tour giveaway

  $25 Blog Tour Giveaway Enter to win an Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Ends 4/30/15 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 VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Excerpt from a Tale of Never Giving Up

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Today I'm delighted to welcome author Sabrina Rawson to my blog. Her contemporary romantic suspense, Blood Oath, has just been released. It's recommended for age 17+, and includes scenes of violence, rape, kidnapping, PTSD, and human trafficking - a tale of not giving up, whatever has happened in the past. I've got a cool excerpt below for your reading pleasure, and a giveaway, so don't forget to read to the bottom of the page.


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Collin was prepared for anything, until he met her…

Collin spent fifteen years leading a team of operatives renowned for their zero failure rate of disrupting the horrors of human trafficking. Struggling with PTSD, he was ready to retire after one last mission. He had to stick to the mission and any distractions could lead to lives lost. His attraction to Madeline was instantaneous, a future filled with warm nights now possible. Meeting Madeline made him want to let life happen and she was the woman he wanted to share it with.

Madeline couldn’t believe her luck meeting Collin on her first vacation ever. She knew she was a workaholic, but she had to in order to be a successful business owner and overcome the stigma her parents had left behind. The more time spent with Collin, the more she wanted him to keep on looking at her for the rest of her life. Kidnapped, Madeline has trouble believing she can survive the abuse of her captors. Remembering who she used to be, Madeline retains hope the one man she loves will rescue her.

Neither will stop at anything until they can hold each other in their arms again.

Real life situations from human trafficking to PTSD. This story is about not giving up on life. Doing all things impossible to survive one more day.

Amazon | GoodReads


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Sabrina is a cancer survivor who recently published works with Survivor’s Review and Titan InKorp Online eMag. She has published two novels within a New Adult Urban Fantasy series called A Novel of four Realms and a new Contemporary Romance Suspense Novel series called An Eagle Operatives Novel.  She enjoys life happily married to a supportive husband. You can always find her reading a book or cooking a meal for her multitude of children.


The landing didn’t prove to be too difficult and they had a two hour layover before getting on their flight to Mexico. Madeline grabbed something to eat then checked with the gate representative to make sure their luggage would make it to the correct flight on time.

With everything settled they both proceeded to sip their coffee and wait for their boarding call. Several people began to congregate in their boarding area, but both she and Shelly were content with reading from their Kindles to take much notice. There was still a half hour left before they were to board.

Shelly nudged her arm making her lose her place with reading, “What?” she hissed, not wanting to stop what she was reading.

“Check out the men at one o’clock,” Shelly whispered.

She carefully lifted her eyes and gasped audibly. In front of her were seven men. Each man was above six feet in height and extremely muscular. They were dressed in jeans, polo shirts, and casual walking shoes. She was impressed with how they looked. They appeared as if they were body builders all settled on a little vacation time like they were.

Looks like their vacation finally perked up.

Several of the men were sporting full sleeve tattoos and despite misconceptions about men with tattoos she had always found herself partial to both men who had them and those who did not.

“Guy in the dark blue shirt to the left is hot. Like fucking hot,” Shelly hissed, louder than she felt comfortable with.

“Keep it down or else someone will notice our drooling,” she hissed back, more irritated her friend had interrupted her gawking.

“I call dib’s on the man in dark blue. You touch and you break our girl code,” she said matter of fact.

“What are you twelve,” she shouted, sitting up in her seat glaring at her girlfriend. “What girl code and what the hell. It isn’t like anything has even happened yet!”

She knew she was stressed about the vacation despite their mutual pep talk earlier. She more than anything, wanted to have the romance relationship of a lifetime, but more than that just wanted to by loved and to love in return. That wasn’t too much to ask for.

Shelly just stared at her folding her arms across her chest.

“What?” she asked, feeling the headache from earlier reminding her it had not disappeared.

Gesturing with her hand Shelly waved in the direction of the men. Seven pair of eyes stared back at them for a few seconds before turning back to their private conversations.

Shelly poked her in the arm settling back to read her Kindle. Pretend to read it, she guessed.

“You screeched at me like a banshee,” she gritted out.

She picked up her tablet, heat filling her cheeks in embarrassment, “I did no such thing. You interrupted me from what I was doing and it was pretty serious,” she hissed in return. “I didn’t realize I spoke so loud.”

Placing her hand on Shelly’s arm in a gesture of peace she noticed Shelly frowned while looking down at the hand on her arm. She needed to make amends for her actions, “I’m sorry I poked you. That was completely immature of me.”

Rubbing her head with her free hand she gave up reading and closed her Kindle. “I think this headache has me acting out of character. I’m sorry for getting upset with you.”

“Hey, we’re going to have fun, men or no men. Just two women on an adventure, right?” Shelly said, leaning over to dig through her bag.

“Right,” she replied, frustrated she had acted so poorly when what Shelly had said was exactly what she had said to her earlier.

She chanced a glance back to the where the men stood and her heart stopped. The most beautiful man stared back at her. A half a foot or taller than her six foot height, his frame was completely muscular. It appeared he was pushed the limit on the polo shirt he was wearing or his muscles in his arms were going to split the seams if he moved too quickly. His stony expression hadn’t concealed his initial reaction when she first glanced up, nor did it distract her from his beauty.

His hair was sandy blonde almost a warm caramel color. She wanted to walk up to him just so she could get closer and find out if she had imagined the color or not. She could tell from where she was his eyes were bright green. He wasn’t standing more than thirty feet away, but she could tell he was very aware of his surroundings. He seemed like he was taking her in as much as she was of him except he was cataloguing everything around them simultaneously. His visual appraisal made her lick her lips in anticipation. What would he say if he knew how bad she wanted him to keep on looking at only her?

Shaking her head she dispelled their staring contest, burying her wicked thoughts. Oh, she looked at the rest of his face while they had studied each other, but it was his eyes that had held her attention. They were the same color she had imagined all her book boyfriends’ eyes looked like. She called them dream eyes. He was her dream man in the flesh.

She chuckled at her inner thoughts and began to pack up the stuff she had settled around her in preparation for the flight. What had come over her? One minute she was snapping at her best friend and the next she was mesmerized by one of the very men she had snapped at Shelly about. Maybe it was his crooked nose that had caught her attention?

The scar that ran from the side of his nose across his cheek down his throat hadn’t distracted her focus neither did his full lips. Lips she wanted to taste and feel all over her body. A body her hands itched to explore. She hadn’t seen any tattoos on his arms, but did that mean his weren’t hidden.

Flustered at where her thoughts had carried her she fidgeted with the zipper of her carryon too frustrated to pull it smoothly across its seam.

“If you pull that thing any harder the first thing we will purchase when we get there will be a new bag for you. What’s with you?” Shelly quipped, reaching over to take the bag from her before she broke the zipper. “You usually treat your luggage with delicate fingers.”

Wiping her forehead with her hand she felt like she was about to break a sweat. She knew her hot flash was because she couldn’t get rid of the images of what she wanted to happen with the man a few feet away. Naked things. Sexual things. Things she had never felt from her body before. For the first time in her life she felt desired with such intensity the feeling shocked her.

“I’m fine. A little shaken, but fine,” she admitted.

Shelly stopped what she was doing and looked at her. She tilted her head and scrutinized her with an expression she recognized as the analytical Shelly. She knew she was about to get a lecture about living in the moment, but thank God first class seats were called to board.

They rose grabbing their bags and heading embarrassingly past the men to hand the flight attendant their boarding passes. Before they walked into the Jetway, one of the men said, “The red is one classy babe, but the brunette is hot. I don’t know which one is better. They both look hot to me.”

She and Shelly gasped, but neither one of them had enough nerve to turn around. Leaving the waiting area, the last thing she heard before hurrying to their seats was an unmistakable growl followed by the possessive words that sent chills straight to her core.

“The brunette is mine.”


There is a tour wide giveaway. Prizes include the following:

  • 2 x $15 Amazon Gift Cards (Int)
  • 1 Book Bag with swag (US) 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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FIND OUT MORE, follow the tour

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Look! There's a Yorkie!

I'm delighted to welcome author Toi Thomas to my blog again, in a video series celebration of her second Eternal Curse novel (and a wonderful Yorkie). There's a giveaway too, but I don't think she's offering the dog.

Curious? Then please read on.

Welcome Toi, and what do you have for us?

Welcome friends, I’m Toi Thomas and I want to thank you for giving me a chance to tell you all about my latest book. Eternal Curse: BATTLEGROUND is the second book in my EternalCurse Series and it is bigger and better than the first. Written for both teens and adults, this paranormal adventure is packed full of diverse and dynamic characters, exotic and remote locations, a not too distant future, and of course the ongoing battle between good and evil. Eternal Curse: BATTLEGROUND officially releases May 16, 2015 at the Tidewater Comicon in Virginia Beach, VA and also online. This is a great time to pre-order your copy today!

Pre-order: The ToiBox of Words

Sound interesting, but just not sure if the sequel is a good place to start? Have no fear, my You Tube miniseries Eternal Curse Influences and a Yorkie will help you feel right at home with this book series. So go ahead and check out this episode of the five part miniseries and be sure to enter my EC: BATTLEGROUND Pre-release Giveaway for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card, from April 13th through April 17th. Sorry, the Yorkie is not included in the giveaway and no purchase is necessary.

Ah. I knew guessed correctly. The dog's not in the giveaway. I'll just have to sweet-talk my husband into getting me one of my own.

Like that? Be part of the conversation on twitter and tell me what media (book/movie/show etc…) you think was influenced by some other creative work. Click here to reply to my tweet and use the hash-tag #influenced in your reply. I can’t wait to see what you all have to say.

One random tweeter will receive a free digital copy of both Eternal Curse companion guides. Qualification ends 4/18/15 at 11:59 pm ET. Winner announced via Twitter on 4/21/15 around 12:00 pm ET. And now, the book…

Book Title: Eternal Curse: BATTLEGROUND
Series: Eternal Curse Series (book 2)
Author Name: Toi Thomas
Publisher: Amazon, CreateSpace, The ToiBox of Words
Reading Level: Teen/Adult
Genre: Paranormal Adventure, Religious Urban Fantasy
Content Rating: PG-13
Available Formats: paperback, ebook
Number of Pages: 305
Pre-order: The ToiBox of Words


In the future, will all the petty problems of everyday life be fixed or will it all go down the tubes? Giovanni and Mira can’t really say since they are too busy fighting the ongoing battle between good and evil in order to save the world- fixing it will simply have to wait.

Sometime in the fairly distant future, Giovanni and Mira are enjoying a life together but they are living no fairytale. When tragedy strikes in a way Giovanni is not prepared to deal with, he will have to decide whether life amongst the humans is worth fighting for or leave it all behind to seek a righteous calling.

Giovanni, along with a new ensemble of half-breed comrades and human companions, head into battle to face Marcos, his greatest foe. Blood, bone, and ash will be left on the battleground and the world will never be the same.

Don’t forget about my giveaway. Just think, it only takes 1 entry for a chance to win this prize, but if you’re feeling frisky, go for more. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you like it let me know and share it with others. See you next time, Toi Thomas. #thetoiboxofwords

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why write about sad stuff?

A good friend read an early version of Infinite Sum and asked why I was still writing about the sad stuff. For those who haven't read Divide by Zero, it tells a story of how abuse affects a small-town community. Infinite Sum makes it all that bit more personal by looking at how it affected an individual within that community. So yea, it's sad stuff. And my reviews in this post will all be related to sad stuff of one sort or another. So... why write sad stuff, and why do people read sad stuff?

I guess one answer might be because sad stories usually end well--they remind us that even when our lives are at their darkest, there's still hope. Maybe there's a misery-loves-company aspect to it too--when we're down and out, it's helpful, in a down-and-out sort of way, to know somebody out there's worse off than we are. And maybe it's because sad stuff wakens up our emotions. Shadows help us see the light. Darkness blown away reveals life's colors. And hiding our face in a book, like a child playing hide-and-go-seek, means the whole world looks so much more enticing and delightful when we let it back in.

Anyway, that's my two pennorth, and here are some sad books. Choose your coffee from the rating, and remember, it's for flavor, not quality.

First is Girl, by Robert N. Chan, a dark, haunting novel of an abused girl overcoming mythical odds as she reinvents herself. Rising up, torn down, and rising up again, she mirrors a world of wounded people before she finally accepts herself as maybe worthy of a name. Drink some rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee with this darkly elegant complex tale.

Another dark, complex modern-day novel is Under the Channel, by Gilles Petel, a very French novel with that feel of noir crossed with myth and modernity. Somebody dies on a train under the channel. A French detective takes a walk in the dead man's shoes to learn why he died. And the fragile structures of relationships fall apart. It's an elegant tale, deserving another four-star elegant coffee.

Harbour Falls, by S. R. Grey, is a small-town American romantic mystery/suspense novel set on the coast of North Maine. The romance is a lot more conventional (less French perhaps?) than in Under the Channel, and mystery plays a more obvious part. Locations are pleasingly evocative, and characters humanly annoying, but there's plenty of murder and death to darken the tale. Enjoy with a bold, dark intense five-star coffee.

Small Town Trouble, by Jean Erhardt, looks at death in a small American town as well - more murder, more mystery and suspense, and more romance as the young woman determined to solve the crime mourns her absent married lover and falls anew for her girlfriend from high school. Lots of inner dialog again - maybe small-town heroes like to really wrap their minds around their sad stuff. It's an interesting mix of humor and scares, best enjoyed with some more bold dark five-star coffee.

But adults aren't the only ones who read mildly sad fiction. What about kids? They deal with everyday sorrows in their everyday lives as well, so here's a review of a children's book, Gianna the Great, by Becky Villareal. A young girl, unsure of where she fits into the world, joins a history club and discovers genealogy. Okay, it's not particularly sad, but that sense of not belonging is one most of us can relate to. Enjoy with tale with a well-balanced smooth cup of coffee (but I wish it was longer!).

Collecting a series or serializing a collection?

I've been writing Subtraction, rewriting the middle while editing the beginning and dreaming of the end. It's all coming together, at last. There are pieces of the story that I really love - places where Andrew, seeing ties to the past taken away, sets his sights on something more; places where the mystical cat sets her sights very firmly on Andrew; places where... And yes, there are pieces I still hate, but I'm working on them. I remind myself Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum both needed lots of rewrites before they were done. And to hold myself accountable (to real people as well as to Andrew) I've even joined a small critique group. Part one has already been cleaned and tidied there, with wise suggestions made for the direction (or directions) of part two. And I've offered suggestions and comments to my critique partners about their writing too.

Meanwhile I'm reading (cooking, cleaning, cutting grass, doing laundry and shopping...) and even sometimes venturing into book stores. Our last book store visit resulted in the instant purchase of Jim Butcher's latest paperback. We felt like we'd been waiting forever for it (since we rarely buy hardbacks--they take up too much space). The next review on my to-read list then had to wait while I caught up with Harry Dresden. After all, one has to read for oneself sometimes... And series, like Dresden, can be seriously addictive.

Which leads to my question: Do series have to follow an overarching storyline, as the Dresden Files do? Or can they still be meandering tales of a unified gathering of characters, like, say, my much-loved C.P. Snow collection? There again, did I just define the difference by calling it a "collection" instead of a "series." My Paradise novels will probably end up being a collection too, as tales and cat meander into the lives of different characters. I'm really enjoying writing them; I just hope I'll find some more book-lovers who might enjoy reading them as well.

But perhaps you prefer authors other than myself, in which case, please enjoy my book reviews (with some well-brewed coffee to hand to go with the appropriate coffee-ratings).

I'll start with that Jim Butcher novel, Skin Game, since I've already mentioned it. It's a cool addition to the series, introducing more mystery around those wonderful swords and the hidden purposes of Harry's and his friends' existences. It's got Parkour. And there's a great board-game adventure feel to it. Enjoy with some bold dark intense five-star coffee.

New Year’s Cleave, by Colonel D.R. Acula, is a very short scary story of wild excitement, rising tension, and dark mystery. Another five-start dark intense coffee would go well.

Staying in the realms of the extraordinary, Awesome Jones, by Ashleyrose Sullivan, introduces a world protected by superheroes, where tall buildings might be leveled in a hero-villain fight, and the news is carefully linked with the comic books. It's a cool novel with a cool comic-book feel to its narration. Cleverly enticing, it draws the reader in to investigate just who Awesome is, what awesome means, and who he might prove to be. Enjoy this complex, elegant tale with a four-star complex, elegant cup of coffee.

I guess I ought to post some reviews of real-world books too, but remember that cooking, cleaning, cutting grass, doing laundry, etc bit? It's time to cook dinner. I'll be back.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Light, Even in Darkness

Today I'm delighted to welcome Barbara Stark-Nemon to my blog. She's the author of Even in Darkness, a fascinating novel of the Holocaust and more, and she's currently touring the internet with PRBytheBook

Having recently read Forgiving Maximo Rothman, by A. J. Sidransky, I'm eager to read this book too, and eager to find the answers to many questions. So grab a virtual coffee -- I'd suggest a five-star dark, intense flavor -- and join our conversation.

Hi Barbara. Could I ask you first, inspired you to write Even in Darkness?

Even in Darkness is based on the life of my great aunt, who alone among her siblings did not escape Germany during the Holocaust. Her story of survival—the courage and strength she had to remake herself and her life in the face of unspeakable loss—has been an inspiration to me throughout my adult life. Hers is a beautiful story and having come to know it in depth I wanted to share it and create a legacy for her.

I've read that you researched the book thoroughly. Did you know from the beginning how extensive your research would become, or did you just expect to use information from your great aunt?

I’ve known since one of the visits I made to my great aunt in Germany many years ago, that I wanted to write her story, so I started interviewing her (she was already over 90 years old) and the priest, who is the other main character in this story. I also interviewed my parents and grandparents. I already knew a lot about my grandfather and great aunt’s family from Sunday nights around the dinner table. Then my aunt died, and the priest sent me all her personal papers, including over 50 letters that her son had written to her during and after the war from Palestine, where he had been sent at the age of 12. Those letters deepened and changed what I understood about all their lives in a way I couldn’t have predicted.

 What was one of your favorite stories that your grandfather told you about his life in Germany?

My favorite story is one that’s actually in Even in Darkness and describes how, when all hope appeared to be lost for getting a visa to leave Germany, my grandfather chose to try one last time at the bidding of my 12-year-old mother who pestered him that she wanted to go to the U.S. to join her best friend who had already emigrated. My grandfather didn’t want to frighten my mother by telling her that he’d tried repeatedly to see the American consul and been denied an appointment. My mother begged him to go that day; it was her birthday. When he said he might not be able to get in, she told him to tell the diplomat it was his daughter’s birthday. My grandfather stayed all day in line at the consulate, and as he was about to be turned away yet again, he pleaded that it was his daughter’s birthday and he just felt it was a lucky day. The official let him in, and an hour later he had the necessary visa. That was in May of 1938, and they were finally able to leave in October, just a few weeks before Kristallnacht.

Wow! That's amazing, and wonderful! It makes me even more eager to read the book. But what about your other research. Were did you begin, and where did it lead you?

I traveled to Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and to Israel to trace all the histories and see all the places I learned about in my grandfather’s stories and later, in the trove of personal papers my great aunt left to me. I was able to interview even more people related to this story, walk the streets, photograph the homes, take trains over the same routes to the concentration camp, look out over the hills surrounding the kibbutz where all my characters lived out their lives.  In archives and museums I learned details of births, deaths, marriages, businesses, deportations, displacements, escapes and emigrations. All this knowledge fed my imagination for the parts of the story I didn’t and couldn’t know.

I'm guessing there must have been a lot of letters among those personal papers from your great aunt. How did you feel reading letters written by your ancestors? What did you learn from these letters?

This was one of the most thrilling and challenging aspects of writing Even in Darkness. To translate these sixty-five-year-old letters and hear the voice of my mother’s cousin as a 19-year-old pioneer in Palestine with his description of his escape from Germany and the early years of his life half a world away was both fascinating and did more than anything else to make that time and his character live for me. The exhaustion, desperation and heartache of his parents, having just survived years of persecution under the Nazis, and then three years in a concentration camp and displaced person camp, can be heard in his youthful assurances that one day it would be safe for his mother to visit, brushing off the dangers he faced, and his exuberance for all that he was training to accomplish on the kibbutz he and other young pioneers were starting.

What kinds of considerations were there in incorporating real letters into your novel?

The biggest challenge was to capture the voice, the history and the language of the letters and still work within the story structure of the novel. It was the most poignant and concrete example of the constant balance I had to maintain as I was writing Even in Darkness between what really happened to the people on whom the book is based, and what worked for purposes of writing a good novel. 

What was the most surprising part about your research? Did you uncover any family secrets?

There were some surprises. Through interviews with cousins in Europe I learned a different perspective about other members of my grandfather’s family, whom I knew only though his stories. I learned about my mother’s cousins who were hidden in a convent by nuns. I learned about the personal decisions about faith and influence in the Catholic Church at that time that had enormous impact on my family. I learned that another great aunt was a beautiful singer and evaded arrest by singing for a German officer. And I learned that what people had to do to maintain their safety and their sanity during the dangerous years of the 1930s in Germany resulted in boundary crossing behaviors that were both courageous and painful.

What was the hardest part about writing fiction around events and people that really happened and really existed?

As I’ve said elsewhere, Even in Darkness is not just my first novel. It is a story of my heart and the finest tribute I can craft to two remarkable people and to other Holocaust survivors everywhere. To separate my personal attachment to the real people and events behind the book enough to insure a tight, compelling novel was a really interesting challenge for me as a writer. I also felt very sensitive to and responsible for the privacy and the legacy of other family members.  Finally, this is not your typical Holocaust survival story, and the very things that make it unusual might be painful to people who would have a hard time with some of the decisions my characters made.

I've used personal events in my novels too, though nothing so dramatic and wide-reaching. How did your research expand your understanding of living life as a Jewish woman in the twentieth century in Germany?

I got to ask my great aunt the hard questions about what it was like to watch her whole family leave, and then have to send her children out of the country. I got to hear her nieces tell me how hard their mother begged my aunt to leave, and I got to feel the agony of her decision not to leave without her husband who was ill and had refused to believe the Nazi menace was serious until it was too late, and her mother who was too old to get a visa and refused to go as well. As a mother of three sons, right around the ages of the children Klare sent out, I read the letters she received from her sons and ached for what it meant, for what she lost. I grew to understand that she had to take charge of their lives and save them as best she could; a role that her traditional upbringing couldn’t have prepared her to take on.

One final questions: Why did you decide to write the story as a novel rather than biography or memoir?

The simple answer is, there were too many missing pieces in the story. I didn’t know all the facts, but felt I understood from the point of view of the characters. It was a way to use all the compelling reality of the family story with the immediacy that fiction allows us to maintain. In the first year that I worked on the book, I participated in a wonderful workshop with the author Elizabeth Kostova. I had recently come back from a research/interview trip to Germany with much new information. We worked the story out both ways: as a memoir and as a novel. In the end, I realized I wanted to write a novel, this novel.

Thank you Barbara. And I'm really glad you did write it as a novel. Like you say, fiction gives readers much more immediacy. When I'm reading, biography and memoir always seem to leave me separated from the characters, simply by virtue of my different experience of reality.

And now, a little information for my readers about Barbara and her book.


Barbara Stark-Nemon ( grew up in Michigan, listening to her family’s stories of their former lives in Germany, which became the basis and inspiration for Even in Darkness, her first novel. Barbara holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan. After a 30-year teaching and clinical career working with deaf and language-disabled children, Barbara became a full-time writer. She lives and works in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan.


Written as a historical novel based on a true story, Even in Darkness is the harrowing saga of family, lovers, two world wars, and the Holocaust, revealing a vivid portrait of Germany during the twentieth century. Spanning a century and three continents, the book tells the story of Kläre Kohler, whose origins in a prosperous German-Jewish family hardly anticipate the second half of her long life in a loving relationship with Ansel Beckmann, a German priest half her age.

Even in Darkness is based on 15 years of research, during which the author traveled to Israel, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic and England to conduct on-site investigation and interview the people who were the basis for the primary characters. Barbara also translated over 100 letters of personal correspondence, and conducted research at the Holocaust museums in Washington D.C., Jerusalem, and Detroit, The Leo Baeck Institute in New York, the Ghetto Fighters’ House in Israel, and The Central Archive for Research on the History of Jews in Germany.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pondering what makes me like a book, and ending up with way too long a list

Did you see the article about my reviews from Martin Shepherd, of the Permanent Press?

I have to confess, I've really enjoyed all the books I've received from them. And today I have two more Permanent Press reviews today to start my list. But Marty's article had me wondering, just what is it that defines a book I'll really like. I tried to make a list:

  • The writing should pull me into the story, rather than encouraging my mind to wander elsewhere (perhaps this is why I struggle with audio books, as my eyes are easily distracted)...
  • but inviting my mind to wander is a good thing too; I'd just rather the story keep its hold on me...
  • and surprising, even distracting me is good, as long as I can't help being pulled back again.
  • The characters need to be believable, or at least self-consistent...
  • but unbelievable characters are great if they make me believe in them while I read their story...
  • and characters that change in surprising ways are great too, as long as the story makes me believe in and care about the change.
  • Histories and backgrounds help me know characters, but I'd rather they didn't distract me into checking details on google.
  • Real history and real backgrounds just might send me checking up details anyway, because the story made me care. It helps if the author's right about their facts, dialect, dialog, scientific inventions, etc.
  • Events should flow from the story's set-up, rather than suddenly intruding...
  • unless, of course, the intrusion is part of the fun.
  • Patterns and themes are part of the puzzle that makes me love reading, writing, and math as well; so they definitely help.
  • Making me think and care will always attract my attention...
  • but misusing statistics and science to make me care is seriously frustrating...
  • misusing faith and history likewise...
  • and hammering me over the head with an author's point of view instead of a character's just might drive me crazy.
  • Plus lots, lots more I'm sure.
So now I'm wondering, what rating would I give my own novels if they were written by someone else? Would they keep me reading? I hope they would.

Anyway, here are some more book reviews with ratings for the type of coffee I'd recommend you drink while reading.

Hard Latitudes, by Baron R. Birtcher, is a novel from the Permanent Press that really grabbed my attention. It blends Hawaiian sailing with LA police procedural, fast-action threats with smooth deception, sharp dialog with gorgeous description, past with present and future, and dreams with hope and reality. Can you tell I loved it? Enjoy with some bold, dark, intense 5-star coffee.

Another from the Permanent Press is Locus Amoenus, by Victoria N. Alexander. Imagine the Elegance of the Hedgehog set in post 9/11 America, or Hamlet rewritten in the trials of a city boy who's father died that day. Complex and darkly amusing, it moves from the sometimes cruel humor of a child to the soul-searching mystery of rumor and plot, while sheep go astray. Enjoy this one with another bold, dark, intense 5-star coffee. It has a powerful sting in its tale.

Murder at the art and craft fair, by Steve Demaree, is a more traditional mystery, but again it's character driven with lots of dialog. Almost ex-cops of an almost-retirement age and weight enjoy an easy-going relationship with lots of quips and disasters on their way to solving a small-town mystery. Enjoy with some bright lively two-star coffee.

Then there's Dark Prelude, by Andrea Parnell, heading back into history and mystery with a young woman fleeing from England to America, and battling brothers pursuing her. It's a short tale with some nice excerpts from longer books tacked on. And it's a pleasing introduction to the author's writing. Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee, but keep some five-star dark intense brews close by.

And finally a wonderful collection of mysterious and scary short stories (and novellas) from Seventh Star Press: A Chimerical World: Tales of the Unseelie Court, edited by Scott M. Sandridge. I'd been looking forward to reading these for a while, though I'm not entirely sure why I gravitated first toward Unseelie rather than Seelie. Still, it was a happy, dark, and delightful gravitation. The stories gripped me from start to end, are full of surprises and intriguing twists and turns, and make for a really great read. Enjoy with some bold dark intense five-star coffee, and don't close the curtains.