An Interview with Samantha Heuwagen, author of DAWN AMONG THE STARS

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They say ignorance is bliss, but at what cost? Aliens have made contact with Earth and Humans are having a hard time digesting the new reality. Weak and unprepared, Earth is immediately plunged into intergalactic chaos. As the governments of the world scramble to incorporate aliens into political and religious texts, the everyday citizen struggles to live day by day.

Dawn Among the Stars, set in a time of war and upheaval, follows three humans as they deal with their inner demons, while adjusting to the suddenly changing world. With Earth in the middle of an intergalactic war, Kayin, Henry, and Melissa must follow separate paths to reclaim their planet.

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An Interview with Samantha Heuwagen

Samantha Heuwagen’s debut Science Fiction/Fantasy novel, Dawn Among The Stars, will be published on May 21st, 2018 by Trifecta Publishing House. Prior to the publication, I was able to interview Samantha about her novel and her writing process.
 

Question - Please describe what the book is about.

Samantha Heuwagen - Set against the backdrop of intergalactic politics and war, Dawn Among the Stars follows the stories of three Humans as they struggle to understand the universe on a cosmic scale.

Kayin has a rough start when the Shielders, a potential alien ally for Earth, come out of hiding and into the public consciousness. Not only does their very existence cause her trouble, her panic attacks threaten to derail her everyday life. Can she overcome her mental health issues or will she be swallowed up in a political mess?

As for Henry Rickner, he wishes he could take back all of his mistakes in life, starting with his choice to leave Kayin.  Yet he finds himself within the chaos of war as he tries to reunite with those he holds dear.

Melissa Pebbles only has one goal: to keep her family safe during the attack. She will do anything to make sure she and her family make it through whatever challenges are thrown their way. While Melissa fights to keep her family alive, she learns that family is more than just blood.

Can these three work with the Shielders to save Earth or will they lose the only home they’ve ever known?

Q - Share a teaser from your book.

SH - Aliens are real and living on Earth will never be the same.

Q - What’s the story behind the title?

SH - Dawn Among the Stars was originally the series title, but we worked together to switch it around. I’m very happy with it and I think it portrays a hope for the future in the book.
Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

SH - Alien sex… Hold on, it’s about to get steamy in here.

Q - Tell us about your favorite character.

SH - My favorite character has to be the sassy and smart, Kayin Aves. She’s a feisty Latina that isn’t sure she should trust these aliens that pretty much showed up out of nowhere, but she isn’t given a choice when she’s taken off planet to fight for Earth. I love that she’s true to herself and even though she struggles through panic attacks and PTSD, she’s willing to do what it takes to reclaim her home.

Q - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

SH - Unlike Kayin, I would want to get to know the La’Mursians. I think I’d want to see what their world was like and get to know them on a deeper level. I’m a therapist, so I always have questions up my sleeve and getting to know Space in such a unique way would be so interesting!

Q - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

SH – I think all the characters have a little bit of me in them sprinkled with personality quirks from the people around me. Gotta keep it interesting!

Q - How long did you take to write this book?

SH - Several years, but I did take a few years off while I was in graduate school. I only started taking it seriously a couple of years ago.

Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?

SH - I had to look up a few locations and destinations in the US as well as some logistics in space.

Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

SH - I removed the word “had” so many times I never want to see it again!

Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SH - Pantser for sure! I can’t plot everything out or I’d get bored.

Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

SH - I make myself laugh a lot, so when I’m writing and I bust out laughing it just feels good. It might never be funny to anyone else, but at the end of the day I’m not writing for everyone else. Sometimes writing takes a toll and is very serious, but if I can laugh through it, it makes the process that much more enjoyable.

Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

SH - Finding time. I have to schedule my day in such a way that I can meet with all my clients (I’m a sex therapist), be present for them, teach (I teach at Kennesaw State University), and sit down to write or edit something. Luckily, there are 24hrs in a day or I’d be sunk!

Q - Can you share your writing routine?

SH - I write in my home office mostly, though I’ve been known to venture out to my local teashop. I light candles, turn on my salt lamp, blast some music usually by Sleeping at Last, and get to work–– oh and can’t forget the tea!

Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

SH - No. If I don’t feel like writing, I don’t. Why push myself until it hurts? That’s no fun.

Q - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

SH - Oh yes, girl, you’re going to be an author! How insane is that?

Q - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

SH - Does my second book count? It’s on the way to publication, I just have to finish it!

Q - Do you have any writing quirks?

SH - I need tea or it isn’t happening!

Q - Tell us about yourself.

SH - I’m a bilingual sex therapist in Atlanta, GA. When I’m not doing therapy I teach the class, Love and Sex at Kennesaw State University.

Q - How did you get into writing?

SH - While in graduate school I needed more self-care options. I started rewriting Dawn Among the Stars because it felt good and slowly I realized I had something special I wanted to share with the world.

Q - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

SH - I love doing yoga, hiking, and hanging with friends.

Q - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

SH - I’m a blogger. You can visit SamanthaHeuwagen.com and read my thoughts on mental health and how to live your best life!

Q - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

SH - I hated words when I was younger. Being diagnosed with two learning disabilities I thought writing and reading were for other people. I’m so shocked this is where I am today, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Q - Which book influenced you the most?

SH - Though it’s problematic, Gone With the Wind had an ending that still haunts me to this day! Come on Scarlett get it together, girl!

Q - What are you working on right now?

SH - The follow up to Dawn Among the Stars, Fading Starlight.

Q - What’s your favorite writing advice?

SH - Practice, practice, and then practice some more.

Q - The book you’re currently reading

SH - Eternal Bloom, fifth installment of The Ruby Ring Series by Chrissy Peebles.

Samantha’s Biography

Samantha Heuwagen is a sex therapist, author, and activist in Atlanta, Georgia. When she’s not doing therapy, she teaches the class, Love and Sex, at Kennesaw State University. Her debut novel, Dawn Among the Stars, will be released in May 2018.

Links to Samantha

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Dawn-Among-Stars-Starless-Book-ebook/dp/B07CSDC77N/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525289890&sr=8-1&keywords=samantha+heuwagen

Website: SamanthaHeuwagen.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/609493369396318/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sheuwagen

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samantha_heuwagen/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/heuwagens/pins/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/75884217-samantha-heuwagen
 

Review of CONFESSIONS OF A RED HERRING by Dana Dratch

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

CONFESSIONS OF A RED HERRING by Dana Dratch will be published May 29, 2018 by Kensington Publishing Corporation. It is the first in the Red Herring Mystery series.

After a lengthy career as a newspaper reporter, Alex Vlodnachek decides to switch occupations and become a public relations rep for one of the largest and most respected firms in the greater D.C. area. It only takes about three months for Alex to realize that she made a huge mistake by going to work for Coleman and Walters. After the CEO, Mr. Coleman, tries to essentially pimp Alex out to a client, she understandably causes a scene in front of numerous coworkers. Two days later, Coleman is dead and Alex is at the top of the suspect list. Alex knows that she is innocent, and the police prove that she is innocent. But it seems like everyone at Coleman and Walters has made up their minds about her guilt, as had an old nemesis in the newspaper world. What doesn’t help is that not only is Alex being framed for the murder, someone is impersonating her and trying to ruin her life. If Alex wants to prove that she truly is innocent, she’s going to have to find the killer.

What I really enjoyed about Alex and her amateur investigation is that she wasn’t afraid to go undercover to get information. Not only does Alex get a job working as a waitress at the deceased man’s catered funeral reception, she also joins the cleaning service that cleans up the offices at Coleman and Walters. Between the two undercover jobs, Alex is able to eavesdrop on multiple interesting conversations and dig up some incriminating paperwork. Alex also seeks out other people who have been wronged by Coleman and Walters. And she involves her old friends from the newspaper world in her investigation – they provide her with information and she turns over incriminating documents to them. I also enjoyed some of the secondary characters in this novel – Alex’s family is quirky, and her best friend, Trip, is such a fun character.

While I found CONFESSIONS OF A RED HERRING to be a compelling mystery, there were times that I felt myself losing interest because the story seemed to drag out. It’s not like there are sections of the novel where nothing is happening – trust me, something is always happening – but maybe there was just too much going. Too many plots and subplots. Another thing that bothered me is that the novel opens with Alex getting picked up by the police to be questioned about her boss’s homicide but there is no scene of her actually getting questioned. To me, this seems like a fairly crucial scene to include – especially since there is very little interaction with the police after this.

A Review of MURDER IN GREENWICH VILLAGE by Liz Freeland

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

MURDER IN GREENWICH VILLAGE is a new cozy, historical mystery by Liz Freeland. The novel will be published on May 29, 2018 by Kensington Publishing Corporation. The amateur sleuth of the novel is Louise Faulk. She has recently fled the small town of Altoona, Pennsylvania, and moved to New York City where she has found a job as a secretary at a publisher. After an event spent at one of her aunt’s soirees, Louise and her friend, Callie, return to their apartment to find their roommate murdered. Ethel is Callie’s cousin who has been staying with them for the past month. While Louise and Callie might not have liked Ethel all that much, they are saddened and horrified by her violent death. They are also worried that the killer mistook Ethel for Callie since the victim was dressed up in her cousin’s more stylish clothing at the time of death. When the police arrest an old friend of Louise’s for the murder, Louise and Callie take it upon themselves to find the real killer and bring that person to justice.

I was immediately captivated by MURDER IN GREENWICH VILLAGE. Louise Faulk is such a captivating character. She is a very charismatic and modern woman with an intriguing past and a bright future. The same goes for Louise’s roommate and friend, Callie. These two women are a dynamic duo! The minor characters are also engaging and help fill the pages with likeable, believable people. The murder itself is also very interesting – especially since it takes place right in the main character’s apartment. Imagine coming home to that! There are a number of suspects and varying motives to keep the reader guessing. The victim – while never seen alive – provides twists and turns that keep Louise and Callie, the police, and the reader on their toes. I also loved the way Freeland brought early 1910’s New York City to life. I’m looking forward to another novel featuring these characters.

An Interview with Carolyn M. Walker, author of IMMORTAL DESCENT

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Deep in the caves of rural Western Germany, the truth about immortality has remained a secret for centuries, but now that secret is about to break free...

Ethan West knows what it means to be different. With a haunted past and a strange sixth sense he sometimes can’t control, Ethan’s in search of a better future. Instead, he’s brutally attacked. Narrowly saved by the beautiful and mysterious Rue, Ethan quickly learns the world is darker and more bizarre than he had ever imagined. And sparing his life comes with a price: being reborn immortal. Now, a dark faction of ancient, cursed immortal beings known as Lorns are after him. And they want his rare, newly awakened soul.

Descended from the mythological Nephilim, Lorns are bound by either the divine force of order or the mortal force of chaos. Ethan is a rarity, bound by neither, yet he is ruled by both. Now, wielding an ancient and volatile power, Rue and her Alliance work to keep Ethan from spiraling out of control. At the heart of a terrifying underground war between Lorns, Ethan becomes the target of one side and a savior to the other. Amid everything, Ethan struggles to understand his own purpose and power—an ordeal that tests his loyalties, beliefs, and sanity in ways unimaginable. And the greatest danger is yet to come.

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An Interview with Carolyn Walker

Carolyn Walker’s debut urban fantasy novel, IMMORTAL DESCENT, was published on April 3, 2018 by Clean Reads/Astrea Press. Since the publication of the IMMORTAL DESCENT, I have been able to interview Carolyn about the novel and her writing process.

Question - Please describe what the book is about.

Carolyn Walker - Immortal Descent is about the mystery of immortality coming to the forefront in the modern world. A young man gets thrown into the underground world surrounding an age-old secret and he discovers he plays an integral part in a dangerous plot that has potentially epic consequences.

Q - Share a teaser from your book.

CW - He couldn’t explain it; he couldn’t justify it. All he could think of in that moment was it was all real. What he’d just seen in those memories had been real.

“The woman—what was she?” Ethan asked, still speaking just above a whisper.

“It was a Lorn.”

Q - Where did you get the idea?

CW - The idea originally came from studying world religion. The notion of immortality and how it was portrayed across world cultures was fascinating to me. The more I thought about it, the more I thought “what if” and before I knew it I said, “why don’t I write a novel about it.”

Q - What’s the story behind the title?

CW - I came up with the title myself. I love to play on words and the title has a dual meaning. Immortal represents immortality of course but descent represents the mysterious lineage of the Lorn creatures in my story, as well as the downward spiral into the unknown—a descent which the main character makes.

Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

CW - There is an entire backstory to Ethan that plays an important role in the story. It will also come up again in future installments since this book is the first in a series.

Q - Tell us about your favorite character.

CW - My favorite character is Rue. She is the main female character, opposite Ethan. Her sense of duty, strength, and ethics are deeply rooted qualities that make her memorable.

Q - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

CW - I would spend the day with Oryx, one of the oldest Lorns in the book. He is one of the most interesting characters with an interesting past, and the ability to see the future. He is very knowledgeable about the world of Immortal Descent and I know he’d be a most gracious host as is his personality!

Q - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

CW - I would say certain elements might have been plucked from a person or two but really just certain attributes from here and there. I didn’t base any character on any one person. The majority of their makeup was from my crazy imagination!

Q - How long did you take to write this book? (You can share about the timeline from drafting to publication)

CW - The mere notion for the story came as a partial short story idea way back in 2002. Shortly after, I shelved the idea for years before picking it back up in 2015. I finished writing it that year, began querying it out in early 2016 and a few months later I landed my publishing contract with Clean Reads.

Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?

CW - I did TONS of research for Immortal Descent. I did a lot of reading of historical books, mythological texts, and scholarly journals. I also had to brush up on international travel because half the book takes place in Western Europe.

Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

CW - I had a scene that was heavy foreshadowing of the conflict that comes to the forefront in Book 2. I found it to be ill-placed so early on in Book 1, so I omitted it and saved it for the early part of the next installment.

Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?

CW - Definitely a plotter.

Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

CW - My favorite part is the research in the beginning because I love to learn and educate myself on new things. I also enjoy the editing process where I’m polishing it up for the final run. I love seeing the finished product, so I can sit back and just be proud.

Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

CW - The most challenging part for me is laying the groundwork in writing. There are times when the story comes to me like a flowing faucet and I can’t type fast enough to keep up. Other times (when the faucet seems clogged) it can be frustrating and challenging to keep plodding along.

Q - Can you share your writing routine?

CW - Normally I plan ahead in my mind with a goal, such as “I am going to write for two hours today.” Then I devote time to that writing without distractions in my home office. I tend to be a night owl, so a lot of the magic happens at night.

Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

CW - If it means sitting and staring at a blank screen because I literally have no idea on how to start (or continue), then yes! I combat it by either skipping the troublesome area or throwing myself into research. Research gets me thinking about stuff and before I know it, an idea pops into my head and bam, I’m writing again!

Q - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

CW - Do NOT doubt yourself! Thinking you cannot do something is as good as not doing it. Oh, and stop editing stuff to death—learn to let go!

Q - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

CW - Oh boy. I’d say about a couple dozen!

Q - Do you have any writing quirks?

CW - I talk to myself. I always read blocks of passages out loud before moving on. It helps me understand the writing beyond just what’s on paper.

Q - Tell us about yourself.

CW - In addition to being a creative writer, I write professionally as a copywriter. I’m also a mom to a fast-growing teen girl and a loving wife to my hubby of 13 years! We have a long-haired chihuahua named Dixie. 😉

Q - How did you get into writing?

CW - Writing has been a part of my life since childhood and will be for the rest of my life. I wrote my first short story at 6, won my first state-wide writing award at 12, and published my first short story at 19 in a small literary journal. My mom fostered my love for words with an endless number of books and writing tools at home.

Q - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

CW - I love to read (surprise!) but I’m also a serious foodie and I like to recipe scrapbook! Making and cataloguing Halloween treats and holiday sweets are especially fun for me!

Q - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

CW - I sure do! I’ve worked many years as a professional copywriter, technical writer, and ad copy writer for several firms, nationwide. I also dabbled in ghostwriting for a brief time.

Q - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

CW - I’m 20% fluent in Japanese, ha ha! I took it as my foreign language of choice in college, and I’ve always admired the culture, food, music and fashion, alongside the language. Some day I want to become fully fluent; it’s a work in progress. 😊

Q - Which book influenced you the most?

CW - Many books have influenced me, but I would say that C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe really got me fascinated with fantasy as a child. To this day, I still adore that story!

Q - What are you working on right now?

CW - I am working on a couple of different projects right now. One is a heartfelt romance, another is a young adult thriller, and the third is a sci-fi story. I’ve always wanted to write a really good sci-fi story!

Q - What’s your favorite writing advice?

CW - Always keep writing. It’s simple but really means the most to me. As a writer, I must keep doing what brings me the greatest joy—write (even if it’s for 10 minutes in a day, never stop).

Q - The book you’re currently reading

CW - The Condition (book 1) by Alec Birri.

Q - What is one of your favorite quotes?

CW - Smile. “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” - Dale Carnegie

Carolyn Walker’s Biography

Carolyn M. Walker is a California native and lover of all things literary. As an avid reader, she’s always enjoying new and exciting reads. Now as an avid storyteller, it is her mission to bring that same joy to her beloved readers. After earning her Bachelors in English Literature and Psychology, Carolyn went on to pen the draft for her first fiction novel and hasn’t looked back since. Aside from writing, she is also passionate about art, food, travel, history, and music. Carolyn now lives in sunny Florida with her husband and daughter. Carolyn’s debut novel Immortal Descent, comes out in April 2018.

Links to Carolyn Walker

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Immortal-Descent-Dark-Fantasy-Book-ebook/dp/B079VJBMW2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525289349&sr=8-1&keywords=immortal+descent

Website: https://carolynmwalker.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carolynmwalkerwrites

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MissWriteWise

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/misswritewise/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/misswri/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17271041.Carolyn_M_Walker
 

A Review of NEVER DECEIVE A VISCOUNT by Renee Ann Miller

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

NEVER DECEIVE A VISCOUNT, the second novel in the Infamous Lords series by Renee Ann Miller, is a solid follow up to NEVER DARE A WICKED EARL. The novel will be published on May 29, 2018 by Zebra Shout.

Emma Trafford is an aspiring painter who is raising her two younger siblings following the untimely deaths of their parents. Her sister, Lily, is a precocious child with a vivid imagination and an unhealthy obsession with mystery novels. When Lily believes she witnessed their new neighbor, Simon Radcliffe, murder his lover, Lilly breaks into Simon’s house to look for evidence. Emma follows Lily into their neighbor’s house, and as an unfortunate run-in with the man. Emma and Lily are able to escape without being recognized, leaving Simon determined to find the two people who he was convinced meant to rob him. Simon’s search leads him across the street to Emma’s house. Emma is determined to keep her secret; Simon is equally determined to keep his own secrets – his is the infamous and scandalous Lord Adler – while ferreting out the truth from Emma. Neither of them expected to fall in love in the process.

NEVER DECEIVE A VISCOUNT is a juicy romance novel featuring two very likeable main characters. Simon is a wounded hero who must overcome his strong distrust of women. Emma is an independent – albeit “ruined” – woman who is more determined to make a career for herself as a painter. Neither of them is interested in love or marriage, but that doesn’t stop fate from giving them a shove in that direction. The sexual tension between the two is great. And their romance takes places in a realistic, lifelike setting. This isn’t the type of romance that plays out between two characters during the Season. There aren’t any balls or society gatherings.

But Lily is, by far, my favorite character. The teenage girl adds some comic relief through her antics.

A Review of THE ONES WE CHOOSE by Julie Clark

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THE ONES WE CHOOSE by Julie Clark (published May 8, 2018 by Gallery Books) is a beautiful and emotional novel about relationships and forgiveness. The main character, Paige Robson, is a geneticist and a single mother. Her son, Miles, was conceived through a sperm donor. By the time he is 10 years old, Miles is questioning his paternity and longing for a relationship with his father. Fate unknowingly dumps Paige’s unanimous donor into their laps, forcing Paige to keep a massive secret from her son, her family, and her new friends. Paige is also dealing with her floundering relationship with her boyfriend, as well as her relationship with her estranged father.

This is a novel that will speak to the reader. While not all of us may have the same problems in our various relationships that Paige has in hers, we all have those problem relationships. We all have our own personal demons that haunt us and shape who we are as a person. Watching Paige’s struggles play out, and experiencing them with her, will take the reader on an emotional journey along with the characters.

An Interview with Hilary Zaid, author of PAPER IS WHITE

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“Written across histories as seemingly varied as Lithuania’s Jewish Kovno Ghetto and Queer Nation San Francisco, Paper Is White connects them in a very different sort of adventure novel, where remembering someone you love becomes one of the most radical things you can do. Zaid is fierce, a rebel with a cause, and her breathtaking leaps of imagination make new worlds possible.” –Alexander Chee, author of Queen of the Night and How to Write and Autobiographical Novel

An Interview with Hilary Zaid

HIlary Zaid's debut novel, PAPER IS WHITE was published on March 13, 2018 by Bywater Books. Since the publication of her novel, I have been able to interview Hilary about her novel and her writing process.

Question - Please describe what the book is about.

Hillary Zaid - When Holocaust oral historian Ellen Margolis and her girlfriend decide to get married, Ellen's search for a blessing leads her into a complicated relationship with a wily survivor of the Kaunas Ghetto, a woman in search of a blessing of her own. Set in ebullient, 1990s Dot-com era San Francisco, PAPER IS WHITE is a novel about the gravitational pull of the past and the words we must find to make ourselves whole.
Q - What’s the story behind the title?

HZ - The title of the novel, PAPER IS WHITE, comes from a traditional Yiddish lullaby sung by Tanja Solnik on her album Lullabies and Love Songs. The first time I heard that song, which was many years into writing the book, I knew I had found the perfect title for a novel that is so fundamentally about the silences that define so many of our relationships with each other and with the past. Silence is one of the most profound responses to the Holocaust, to American Jewish mid-century assimilation and, I think, to the experience of many immigrant families in America.

Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

HZ - A book that’s in part about the legacy of the Holocaust sounds like it would be depressing. But, in fact, there’s a lot of humor here. As Nayomi Munaweera noted: “An important book. Also, a very funny book.”

Q - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

HZ - Strange but true: I like to use real people as “character actors” sometimes. I might have a certain person in mind when I create a character, but the character is not biographically the same in any way as the real person. But I think: “How would this person act in this situation?” or “How would this person say this?” For me, thinking about the mannerisms and speech patterns of a specific person can help me give life and consistency to a character.

Q - How long did you take to write this book?

HZ - I started taking notes for this novel in 1997 when I finished graduate school in 1997. But I didn’t start writing in earnest, with a fire burning under me, until my youngest child turned one. One day early that year, the characters who had been sleeping for almost a decade just woke up and demanded to be heard. That child just turned 14. So, yeah. Novels take time.

Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

HZ - During the editing process, I removed 75% of this book, a number of sub plots and quite a few characters! I think it’s better for the cuts, but they weren’t always easy to see at the time. For a novel about what is not spoken, the fact that more than half of it is no longer visible to the reader strikes me as particularly fitting.

Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?

HZ - For this novel, I was an absolute pantser. I was writing at first with a napping child and my goal was to sit down the minute his head hit the pillow and keep writing until he got up. At that point, I couldn’t put any other constraints on myself. I wrote everything long hand in notebooks upon notebooks. Eventually, an elaborate system of index cards helped me fit scenes together.

Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

HZ - Discovery. Starting off in a scene and watching where my unconscious mind takes me, peeling back layers, discovering what feels necessary.

Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

HZ - Juggling writing with the commitments of family and earning a living is a huge challenge. Always.

Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

HZ - I had “writer’s block” for 20 years or so. Now I have no patience for that. There are good writing days and not so good writing days, but there have to be writing days. Period.

Q - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

HZ - Just write. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks about it.

Q - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

HZ - I am currently working on another novel—my Work in Progress. Before really tackling it, I put aside another novel on which I had worked for years. It took a long time to discover that it was missing a critical plot engine and just didn’t have the infrastructure necessary to get going. I also have a YA project that I shelved for a while, but I think I’ll come back to it. It’s completed, in need of review and still timely.

Q - How did you get into writing?

HZ - I think writing is a congenital situation. Writers are born with that need to compose the world in language, the pleasure that comes from the internal generation of words. At least, that’s how it is for me.

Q – What are you currently reading?

HZ - Rachel Cusk’s Transit, which I liked a lot, and which reminded me of Karl Ove Knauusgaard. I’m about to start Liz Rosner’s Survivor Café. Liz and I will be reading together with Rachel Hall (Heirlooms) at Oakland Library’s Main Branch on June 7.

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Hilary Zaid’s Biography

A 2017 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Hilary Zaid is also an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Tin House Writers' Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online venues including Lilith Magazine, The Southwest Review, The Utne Reader, CALYX, The Santa Monica Review, and The Tahoma Literary Review and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. An alumna of Harvard and Radcliffe, she holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and works as a freelance editor. Hilary lives in the Bay Area with her family.

Links to Hilary Zaid

https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=paper+is+white

https://www.amazon.com/Paper-White-Hilary-Zaid/dp/1612941133

Website: www.paperiswhite.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hilaryzaid/

Twitter: @hilaryzaid

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34550525-paper-is-white?from_search=true

 

A Review of I AM JUSTICE by Diana Munoz Stewart

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

I AM JUSTICE, the first novel in the Band of Sisters series, by Diana Munoz Stewart is a compelling, suspenseful, and thrilling romance novel. It will be released by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 1, 2018.

Justice Parish is a skilled assassin whose goal in life is to take down sex traffickers and rescue the women who have been forced into prostitution. She is part of a close-knit, adoptive family of (mostly) women who have similar goals. Together these women work together as an extended but cohesive family of trained operatives. The problem is that one of Justice’s siblings has decided to betray her – betray the family – and throw in his or her lot with the sex-traffickers. Justice’s life is in danger, but she won’t stop until she completes her mission and unmasks the traitor.

Sandesh Ross, who is ex-Special Forces, has turned his attention from war to humanitarian efforts in war-torn countries. His efforts to help abused and exploited women runs parallel to Justice’s strategy to save the women and bring down the sex-traffickers. Justice joins Sandesh’s humanitarian efforts in Syria as her cover to go after the sex-traffickers. When everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong, Justice and Sandesh find themselves battling for their lives as they try to figure out who has betrayed them.

Oh, and Justice and Sandesh also fall in love.

I AM JUSTICE is a very fast-paced and thrilling novel. It’s definitely a romantic thriller. The love story between Justice and Sandesh is very compelling. And the sex scenes are steamy. The chapters are jam-packed with action. Justice’s character changes and grows throughout the novel. Aside from some unanswered/unresolved backstory for some of the main characters and some plot holes, I enjoyed reading I AM JUSTICE. Though I will admit that I was more interested in Justice’s mission to bring down the sex-traffickers than I was in her romance with Sandesh. That’s probably because I really enjoy novels about kick-ass women doing kick-ass things.

An Interview with Renee Ann Miller, author of NEVER DARE A WICKED EARL & NEVER DECEIVE A VISCOUNT

Hayden Milton, Earl of Westfield, is almost done in by a vengeful mistress who aims a gun at a rather essential part of his anatomy—but ends up wounding his thigh instead. Recuperating in his London town house, Hayden is confronted by his new medical attendant, Sophia Camden.

Unshaken by his arrogance, not to mention impropriety, Sophia offers Hayden a dare: allow her ten days to prove her competency. If she resigns in exasperation like her two predecessors, she will be beholden to this wicked seducer.

Renee Ann Miller's Biography

Renee writes historical romances that are sometimes witty, sometimes dark, but always sexy. Her debut novel, Never Dare a Wicked Earl, was a 2015 finalist in the Golden Heart Contest® from Romance Writers of America®. And her third book in the series, Never Kiss a Notorious Marquess, was a 2016 finalist.

Renee lives in the Northeast with her husband and during winters is always anxious for spring. She enjoys gardening, DIY projects, and pastries. And though she grew up in a household of hockey fans, she now watches football, which is unavoidable in her house. 

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Interview with Renee Ann Miller

Renee Ann Miller's debut historical romance, NEVER DARE A WICKED EARL, was released on January 30, 2018 by Kensington. Her second novel in the Infamous Lords Series is NEVER DECEIVE A VISCOUNT, and it will be published on May 29, 2018. Since the publication of NEVER DARE A WICKED EARL, I have interviewed Renee about her novel and her writing process.

Q - Please describe what the book is about.

RAM - Never Dare a Wicked Earl is a Victorian historical romance about overcoming guilt, betrayal, and finding love.

Q - Tell us about your favorite character.

RAM - Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I’d say Hayden, Lord Westfield, because he’s the most complex.

Q - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

RAM - Sophia. We’d go out for Italian ices at Gunter’s Tea Shop and talk about politics, but mostly gossip about the Lord Westfield.
Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?

RAM - The book takes place in 1875, so I had to research everything from the carriages used during this time to the undergarments (unmentionables) people wore. And there are parts of this story where the unmentionable will not only be mentioned, but removed. 😉
Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

RAM - This story originally had a prologue. When I joined a critique group, I was told that prologues were falling out of favor, so I scrapped it.

Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?

RAM - Though I wish I was a plotter, I’m a pantser. When I started this book I had an idea in my head, but it morphed into something completely different.

Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

RAM - Binge snacking. No, in all seriousness, I’d say when my wayward characters cooperate, and the scene comes out the way I envisioned it originally in my head.

Q - Can you share your writing routine?

RAM - I’m most productive in the mornings. Though I must admit, after a few hours, I get easily distracted by websites like Twitter.

Q - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

RAM - Over the last few months, I have started writing three different stories. Only a few chapters in each one, and I can’t decide which character I’m most interested in writing about.

Q - Do you have any writing quirks?

RAM - I don’t like music playing while I write. I tend to start singing off-key, which is distracting to not only anyone near me, but myself.

Q - What are you working on right now?

RAM - Editing the third book in my Infamous Lords Series.

Q - What’s your favorite writing advice?

RAM - Believe in yourself!

Q - The book you’re currently reading

RAM - Suanne Schafer’s A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE. So far, it’s an excellent read!

Links to Renee Ann Miller

https://www.books2read.com/u/4jwvAo

Website: https://reneeannmiller.com/

Facebook: http://facebook.com/reneeannmillerauthor

Twitter: http://twitter.com/reneeannmiller

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/reneeannmiller1/never-dare-a-wicked-earl/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16854787.Renee_Ann_Miller

An Interview with YZ Chin, author of THOUGH I GET HOME

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Hunger pinned her to the bunk. Starvation impaled her through the stomach, keeping her down on the thin mattress, resisting the momentum of her feebly raised head. Her neck strained to bring her vision to the requisite level such that she could observe the movement of sun against her prison walls. The sun was her way of telling time and estimating the next delivery of food.

Blurbs about THOUGH I GET HOME

“YZ Chin’s tender and furious debut, Though I Get Home, is a long gaze into a black sky; her characters are defiant enough to find light.” —Catherine Lacey, author of The Answers

“Sharp as an old wound that never heals, these linked stories remind us afresh of what it takes to survive in a brutal, racially fraught society.” —Shirley Geok-lin Lim, author of Among the White Moon Faces

YZ Chin's Biography

YZ Chin's debut book of fiction Though I Get Home (Feminist Press, 2018) is the premier winner of the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize. She is also the author of poetry chapbooks In Passing (Anomalous Press, 2019) and deter (dancing girl press, 2013). 

Born and raised in Taiping, Malaysia, she now lives in New York. She works by day as a software engineer, and writes by night.

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Interview with YZ Chin

YZ Chin’s debut novel, THOUGH I GET HOME, was published on April 10, 2018. Since the novel was published, I have interviewed her about her novel and her writing process. THOUGH I GET HOME is an intimate exploration of what it means to be an individual and a citizen within a state that wishes to control the narrative, which is a description that fits more countries than we would like to admit in today’s world.

Q - Please describe what the book is about.

YZ - Though I Get Home is a collection of interconnected stories that spiral inward to paint a picture of current-day Malaysia. The book is tied together by Isabella Sin, a young woman thrown in jail without trial for writing “controversial” political poems. Other characters include Isa’s grandfather, an immigrant to Malaya who becomes a butler of sorts under colonial masters.

Q - Where did you get the idea?

YZ - My great fear as a writer is self-imposed censorship. When I first started writing fiction seriously, it was pointed out to me that I was really holding back from writing about “taboo” topics like sex. I spent a lot of time exploring the roots of this self-repression, and I realized that I had been conditioned by a lifelong atmosphere of state censorship. That realization formed the seeds for Though I Get Home.

Q - What’s the story behind the title?

YZ - The title is from an Emily Dickinson poem (#199 Franklin; #207 Johnson). The poem is complex and full of turns, succeeding in being both emotionally heightened and ambiguous at the same time – which mirrors how I feel about the idea of “home.”

Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

YZ - There is a surprising development in the main character Isa’s story arc (Kirkus called it an “unexpected twist” in a starred review). There are also explorations of Isa’s relationships with her grandfather, her mother, her father and her best friend.

Q - Tell us about your favorite character.

YZ - Isabella Sin, the young woman who is thrown in jail without trial for writing “controversial” poems. Her grandfather immigrated to Malaya and served under colonial masters, and her relationship with her parents are strained because of their separation and her preference for dating women. She is dealt a poor hand by fate, but she does her best to add a personal touch to the roles she is given to play.

Q - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

YZ - Government censorship of the arts is a very real threat. In recent years, dancer Bilqis Hijjas was arrested and charged for releasing yellow balloons bearing the words “Free media,” “Democracy,” and “Justice” during an arts festival opening. Cartoonist Zunar has previously been arrested, and is still under travel ban for his political drawings.

Q - How long did you take to write this book? (You can share about the timeline from drafting to publication)

YZ - The book took about five years and at least four drafts. I worked full-time as a software engineer (partly to maintain legal status to remain in America), so I could write only on the weekends and in the seams of workdays. Drafts took so long to write that by the time I reached the end of the book, I was already a subtly different writer than the one who wrote the beginning of the draft, and I would have to throw out the beginning to start all over.

Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?

YZ - Two books by unjustly imprisoned men especially informed my work: Universiti Kedua (“The Second University”) by Kassim Ahmad and Sengsara Kem Kamunting: Kisah Hidup dalam Penjara ISA (“The Tortures of Camp Kamunting: Life Behind Bars in the ISA Prison”) by Saari Sungib. And of course, the daily news coming out of not just Malaysia, but also the U.S. and beyond.

Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?

YZ - I sometimes pretend to be a plotter, but the stories and characters inevitably bring me down endless unexpected paths. I follow them willingly.

Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

YZ - Oddly enough, my favourite part of writing does not always take place when my fingers are on a keyboard or holding a pen. It can be in the shower, or while I am taking a long walk to clear my head – the magical moments when a beautiful sentence assembles on my tongue, or when an unassailable truth about a character makes itself known in my head, and my heart knows it to be real.

Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

YZ - Honestly, the most challenging part is finding enough uninterrupted time to write while working full-time in an office.

Q - Can you share your writing routine?

YZ - I write in dribbles before work and on the weekends. If I am feeling particularly inspired, I squeeze in bits of writing time during lunch breaks and after work, even though I am usually drained by then.

Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

YZ - Explore another (short) project. Expand a dream into a scene. Flesh out a “what if” idea into a plot or a flash fiction piece. Flip through a notebook I keep of scattered thoughts, half-formed musings, and sentence fragments.

Q - Tell us about yourself.

YZ - I work as a software engineer coding in C, which is a programming language invented in the early seventies. My husband and I have the world’s most beautiful and softest cat named Meursault (after Camus’ The Stranger). I was born and raised in small-town Malaysia, and I left at 19 for an engineering education in the U.S.

Q - How did you get into writing?

YZ - I was a fat kid with a skin condition who was bullied at school (and Buddhist camp). For a while I had no friends. Books were my connection to the world. I want to extend that connection. Books also saved my life, and my hope is that someday my words can do the same for another lonely person.

Q - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

YZ - Reading, of course. Exercise-wise I used to do a lot of weightlifting, and then I started doing more rock climbing. But I dislocated my elbow last year when I fell 15 feet during rock climbing, so I suppose I shouldn’t say it’s something I like to do anymore?

Q - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

YZ - I am also a poet. I have two poetry chapbooks published or forthcoming: In Passing (Anomalous Press, 2019) and deter (dancing girl press, 2013). And my very first longform personal essay will be appearing soon in a magazine!

Q - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

YZ - I used to do weightlifting as a form of exercise. I once deadlifted 245 pounds, which was 2.5 times my body weight. Ah, the glory days.

Q - Which book influenced you the most?

YZ - Toni Morrison’s Beloved changed what I thought was possible in writing. It is a masterpiece that depicts extreme brutality with intelligence and utmost tenderness.

Q - What are you working on right now?

YZ - I’m working (for some reason) on two very different novels. One is about intimacy and the tough choices so-called “skilled worker” immigrants have to make, especially when facing health issues. The other I’m not quite ready to talk about yet.

Q - The book you’re currently reading

YZ - Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency. It’s a tightly woven story about the leftist movement in the immediate aftermath of colonialism in Malaysia and Singapore, told from multiple angles.
 

Links to YZ Chin

https://www.feministpress.org/books-n-z/though-i-get-home

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Though-Get-Home-YZ-Chin/dp/1936932164

Website: https://www.yzchin.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yzxyz/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/yz_chin

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36393578-though-i-get-home
 

 

A Review of the LILLY LONG MYSTERY SERIES by Penny Richards

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AN UNTIMELY FORST by Penny Richards is a very interesting historical mystery novel set in the early 1880’s. Main character, Lilly Long, is in her early twenties and is an actress with a traveling group. A few months before the novel opens, Penny married a man named Timothy Warner. The novel begins with Timothy assaulting Lilly and her surrogate mother, Rose, and making off with Lilly’s life savings. Looking to protect women like herself – and her mother who was murdered years ago by her lover – Lilly applies for a job as a female operative with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It takes some convincing, but Lilly manages to get hired on a trial basis.

For her first assignment, Lilly is sent to southern Illinois to look for a missing family. Around twenty years ago, Harold Purcell robbed the church where he preached at and disappeared along with his wife and daughter. Lilly is tasked with finding the Purcell family and figuring out if they are willing to sell the large home that they still own. It doesn’t take Lilly long to realize that something more than an old robbery is going on. The Purcell family had been living well beyond their means, none of the townspeople want to talk about the Purcell family, and it’s clear that something horrible happened in the house. After learning what she could from the townspeople and the personal belongings left in the house, Lilly travels to the state capitol where she accidently finds Mrs. Purcell. After speaking with Mrs. Purcell and traveling back to Vandalia, Lilly’s first case takes a dark turn.

There were some historical inaccuracies – mainly the author used words that would not have been used during the 1880’s – but most of them can be easily overlooked. Overall, AN UNTIMELY FROST was an enjoyable read. Lilly is a well-developed, likeable character. Agent Cade McShane, Lilly’s shadow throughout the novel, seems like an interesting character and I look forward to more appearances from him in later novels. Her first case starts out as something boring and mundane, but it quickly becomes an intriguing cold case. There is some early forensic science involved. And there is a twist in the end that readers won’t see coming.

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THOUGH THIS BE MADNESS, the second novel in the Lilly Long Mystery series, begins almost immediately after AN UNTIMELY FROST leaves off. Pinkerton detective, Lilly Long, has just wrapped up her first investigation for the agency, and she barely has time to breath before she is sent off on an undercover operation in New Orleans along with her new partner. Agent Cade McShane has been working for the Pinkertons for years, and he is less than thrilled to be saddled with a young, inexperienced female agent. Lilly isn’t very happy about the arrangement either – especially since she and Cade will be posing as a married couple while working as servants in the wealthy Fontenot household. Mrs. Fontenot, an elderly widow, believes that her grandson’s widow has been taken in by her new husband and that he has sent her to an insane asylum in an attempt to wrest away the Fontenot family fortune that his wife inherited when her first husband died. It is up to Lilly and Cade to discover what is really going on in the Fontenot family.

Overall, I mostly enjoyed THOUGH THIS BE MADNESS. The case itself is interesting, but, with Lilly and Cade working as servants in the household, it seems like the majority of their time is spent doing household chores instead of investigating. They also have a ten-year-old boy helping them, which seems a little farfetched. Robbie Jenkins’ main role in the novel is to do things that the adults wouldn’t be able to do, but it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that the adults are even allowing a child (no matter how precocious and street smart he is) to help them out. While the plot does drag at times, other sections of the novel make up for it. The case, which seems almost mundane at first, begins to take twists and turns. There is a lot more going on than a nefarious man trying to get his hands on his wife’s former husband’s property and money. The budding romance between Lilly and Cade is intriguing. And Cade’s run-in with Lilly’s ex-husband also adds something to the novel.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Pinkerton agents Lilly Long and Cade McShane are back in MURDER WILL SPEAK (published April 24, 2018 by Kensington Publishing Corporation). In the third installment of the Lilly Long Mystery Series, Lilly and Cade travel to Fort Worth, Texas, on a job that is personal to Lilly. One of Lilly’s friends from her acting days recently moved to Texas as a mail-order bride. Instead of getting married and settling into a new life, Nora Nash was forced into prostitution. Nora managed to contact Lilly and ask her to come help her, and the other women and children who are working in the brothels in Hell’s Half Acre. Lilly, Cade, and Cade’s sister Erin (a prostitute in Chicago) arrive too late to save Nora, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to find the personal responsible for Nora’s murder. They also try to unravel the prostitution ring and find the person who is supplying the women and children to the brothels.

MURDER WILL SPEAK is a good follow up to the other two books in the Lilly Long series. Both Lilly’s and Cade’s character development continues to progress, adding more depth to their characters. A lot of Cade’s past is revealed in this novel. As Lilly’s detecting skills improve, she begins to question why she is a Pinkerton. She wants to help people, but seeing the ugly sides of human nature leaves her deeply disturbed. Her moral struggle will keep the reader engaged. But there are certain things about Lilly and her attitude that rubs me the wrong way. Even after nearly getting killed, she still has the attitude that she could never kill someone. It might be a personal thing, but, to me, that just doesn’t seem like the right attitude for someone to have when they are frequently dealing with criminals and killers. Otherwise, the MURDER WILL SPEAK was very enjoyable. The time period is very well captured, and the continuing storyline is intriguing.

An Interview with Debra Sennefelder, author of THE UNINVITED CORPSE

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Leaving behind a failed career as a magazine editor and an embarrassing stint on a reality baking show, newly divorced lifestyle entrepreneur Hope Early thought things were finally on the upswing–until she comes face-to-face with a murderer . . .

Hope’s schedule is already jam packed with recipe testing and shameless plugs for her food blog as she rushes off to attend a spring garden tour in the charming town of Jefferson, Connecticut. Unfortunately, it isn’t the perfectly arranged potted plants that grab her attention– it’s the bloody body of reviled real estate agent Peaches McCoy . . .

One of the tour guests committed murder, and all eyes are on Hope’s younger sister, Claire Dixon–who, at best, saw Peaches as a professional rival. And suspicions really heat up when another murder occurs the following night. Now, with two messy murders shaking Jefferson and all evidence pointing to Claire, Hope must set aside her burgeoning brand to prove her sister’s innocence. But the closer she gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer intent on making sure her life goes permanently out of style . . .

Debra Sennefelder's Biography

Debra Sennefelder, author of the Food Blogger Mystery series and the Resale Boutique Mystery series, is an avid reader who reads across a range of genres, but mystery fiction is her obsession. Her interest in people and relationships is channeled into her novels against a backdrop of crime and mystery. When she’s not reading, she enjoys cooking and baking and as a former food blogger, she is constantly taking photographs of her food. Yeah, she’s that person.

Born and raised in New York City, she now lives and writes in Connecticut with her family. She’s worked in pre-hospital care, retail and publishing. Her writing companions are her adorable and slightly spoiled Shih-Tzus, Susie and Billy.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, Womens Fiction Writers Association and Romance Writers of America.

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Interview with Debra Sennefelder

Please describe what the book is about.

Former reality TV star Hope Early thought her biggest problem was driving traffic to her food blog, but discovering two dead bodies and clearing her sister of their murders have Hope trading her Google analytics for amateur sleuthing. When there’s an attempt on her own life, Hope has no choice but to uncover the murderer before she becomes the next corpse du jour.

 Where did you get the idea?

I was between manuscripts, at the time I was writing a romantic suspense series and I thought about trying to write a cozy again (I’d written one years ago) and thought it would be fun to make the amateur sleuth a food blogger, since I’d been one previously and culinary mysteries were hot. Then the story started to come together over a few weeks and I wrote the first three chapters and sent them off to my critique partner and she loved the pages so I continued.

Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

My characters are not based on real people, but I would say that some of the characters have personality traits or quirks from real people I’ve met.

Can you share your writing routine?

Writing is the top priority of any working day and once that’s done I’ll focus on other tasks such as writing blog posts, promotion or anything else that pops up such as copy edits for another book or page proofs to read for a manuscript just months from being published.  Writing full-time sometimes means that I’m working on weekends and holidays. And when I’m writing a first draft I often work beyond the regular work week. I’m finding that each stage of the writing process is handled differently. First drafts are fast and furious and intense while second and third drafts are slower and take longer. I also have to schedule time to develop and test recipes for the books so it’s not unusual to find me baking in the afternoon and me saying “I’m working”.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a full-time writer now because I was laid off in early 2017. I live with my family in a quaint Cape Cod house in a beautiful Connecticut town. We have two adorable and slightly spoiled Shih-Tzus, Susie and Billy. I joke that my new co-workers sleep on the job a lot.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to cook and bake, of course! I also love to exercise (yes, really) and I enjoy a good shopping expedition. In the evenings I love to read and work on a cross-stitch project.

 What are you working on right now?

I’ve just turned in the Murder Wears a Little Black Dress, the first book in the Resale Boutique Mystery series to my editor and I’m now writing the third book in the Food Blogger Mystery series and outlining the second book in the Resale Boutique Mystery Series.

 The book you’re currently reading.

I am currently reading Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins.

What is your favorite recipe from The Uninvited Corpse?

That’s easy! Hope’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. An extra scoop of dough in the center of the cookie makes for the most heavenly cookie. Definitely can’t stop at one. Or two. Or three.

Links to Debra Sennefelder

SOCIAL MEDIA

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DebSennefelder

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/debrasennefelder/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/DebSennefelder/pins/

Website – http://bit.ly/2CUW6Bj

Facebook – http://bit.ly/2ASJVDr

Goodreads - http://bit.ly/2DpMPE8

BUY LINK

Amazon – http://amzn.to/2zkxHp0

 

A Review of DON'T CALL ME CUPCAKE by Tara Sheets

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Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

You're definitely going to want to eat at least one cupcake after reading DON'T CALL ME CUPCAKE - especially if it is one of the special, magical cupcakes that main character Emma Holloway bakes. DON'T CALL ME CUPCAKE is a contemporary romance novel by Tara Sheets. It is her debut novel, and it will be published on April 24, 2018 by Zebra Shouts. The novel is the first in the Holloway Girls series.

Emma Holloway - as well as all of the Holloway women - are special. Emma has the ability to bakes wishes into the cupcakes that she sells at her bakery. Things are going okay for Emma and Fairy Cakes is on the small Pine Cove Island near Seattle - she's behind on her mortgage, the house is starting to fall apart, and she's got a lot of bills to pay. Emma is counting on the influx of tourists during the summer months to keep her afloat. Then Hunter Kane shows up in town to open up a new restaurant that will be selling all sorts of pastries and baked goods. Hunter's restaurant, Haven, is a serious threat to Emma and Fairy Cakes. And, before she knows who he is, Emma sells him three of her Sweet Success cupcakes. The last thing Emma wants is for Hunter to succeed - mainly she just wants him to leave town and never come back. The good thing is that Emma has a recipe for that! With the help of her cousin, Juliette, Emma plans to bake a cupcake that will send Hunter from her life, and from Pine Cove Island.

DON'T CALL ME CUPCAKE is a fun, sexy contemporary romance with a magical twist. Emma's ability to bake wishes into her cupcakes is an intriguing aspect. And Hunter is a great leading man - he has commitment and intimacy issues that he needs to overcome. Emma initially sees Hunter as the enemy - his restaurant is a threat to her livelihood - but even as she falls in love with him, she remains true to herself. The secondary characters are also intriguing. Emma's sleazy ex-boyfriend acts as a great foil against Hunter. The ex-boyfriend also adds another complication to Emma's life and her budding relationship with Hunter. Emma's cousin, Juliette, has a special talent that helps her grow flowers and make natural products like soaps and potions. Juliette will make a great leading lady in the second Holloway Girls novel, DON'T TOUCH MY PETUNIAS. Pine Cove Island sounds like a wonderful place, and it makes the perfect backdrop for the story. Oh, and did I mention that there's a puppy? Because there's a puppy...and cupcakes. Yummy, delicious sounding cupcakes.

A Conversation with Jennifer Haupt, Author of IN THE SHADOW OF 10,000 HILLS

A Conversation with Jennifer Haupt, Author of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills

Jennifer Haupt’s moving debut novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, is a multi-cultural story deftly weaves together the journeys of three women from vastly diverse backgrounds searching for personal peace in post-genocide Rwanda. At the heart of this novel that Bustle.com named as one of 19 debut novels to watch for in 2018 is the search for family, and the discovery of grace when there can be no forgiveness.

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 Q: Why did you go to Rwanda in 2007?

A: The short answer is that I was a reporter exploring the connection between grief and forgiveness. I went there to interview genocide survivors. I also went to interview humanitarian aid workers about why they were drawn to this tiny country still grieving a decade after the 1994 genocide.

I had an handful of assignments for magazines, writing about humanitarian efforts and they all fell through for one reason or another. That’s when I decided to hire a driver and go into the 10,000 hills to visit the small churches and schools with bloodstains on the walls and skulls of anonymous victims stacked on shelves. I wanted to trace the steps of the genocide and talk with the genocide survivors, mostly women, who were guides at these rarely visited memorials.

Q: What did you find in Rwanda that was surprising?

A: I didn’t even realize until I was in Rwanda that I needed to address my own grief for my sister who died when I was age two. It was forbidden to speak of Susie in our household; that’s how my parents dealt with their grief and I respect that. In Rwanda, it felt safe to grieve for the first time. My grief was miniscule compared with the genocide survivors. And yet, we shared a powerful mixture of emotions — compassion, sorrow, longing — that crossed the boundaries of race and culture.

What struck me was that many of the aid workers I interviewed were also grieving over the loss of loved ones. They came to Rwanda as a way of reaching out to help others, and also to heal their own souls. Most of the people I spoke with, no matter if they were Rwandan, American, European, were, in some way, grieving. I had always thought the universal commonality that connected all of us was love, but I learned in Rwanda that grief is an equally strong bond. Grief and love form the bridge that connects us all.

Q: How did your Jewish background affect you?

A: Fifteen years before I went to Rwanda, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site in Germany. The site is an impressive museum with photo exhibits and artifacts. The former prison barracks and crematorium where some of my relatives may have been imprisoned and murdered were now scrubbed clean. I went to Dachau expecting to feel sorrow, maybe anger, but instead I felt a disturbing emptiness. Nothing.

During the two weeks I spent traveling in the ten thousand hills of Rwanda, I couldn’t help but think of my visit to Dachau. Thousands of people visit Dachau each year; we Jew vow to remember the atrocities that happened there. Never again. It struck me  that I was nearly always the only visitor at the dozens of tiny bloodstained memorials I visited. There was always a guide, usually a woman, a lone Tutsi survivor whose family members were murdered at the church or school.

I remember at one church, I was met by a woman named Julia, in her mid-forties, around my age at the time. She had survived by laying on the floor among the dead bodies. Now, she gave tours so that no one would forget. I talked with Julia about her family members and friends who had been murdered here. We cried together; my tears were, in part, for my relatives and members of my tribe who had been murdered during the holocaust. I experienced a powerful connection with this stranger who lived halfway around the world from me, in a culture so different than mine, through both love and grief. I wanted to share that experience with others through the characters in my novel.

Q: Why did you write this novel, instead of a memoir about your time in Rwanda?

A: Amahoro is a Kinyarwanda greeting that translates literally to peace, but means so much more when exchanged between Hutus and Tutsis since the genocide. It’s a shared desire for grace when there can be no forgiveness. It’s an acknowledgement of shared pain, an apology, a quest for reconciliation. I wanted to be the conduit for telling the stories of amahoro that I had heard in Rwanda, from Tutsis and Hutus. I wanted to explore more deeply the meaning of amahoro, from many different world views. I wanted to excavate my own grief more fully and, perhaps, find my own vision of amahoro. I could only do all of that, I felt, as a novelist.

Q: Why did you choose to tell this story through the eyes of three women of different ages and cultural backgrounds?

 A: I wanted to offer Westerners a window into a very different world, and to do that I started with an American protagonist leaving everything she knows to try and find amahoro. Rachel Shepherd is searching for her father, Henry, in Rwanda. She is also searching for the piece of her heart that he took when he left her twenty years earlier. The piece that knows how to love: like a child, like a wife, like a mother.

I also wanted to connect the African-American civil rights struggle with the struggle for civil rights of the Tutsis in Rwanda. That’s where Lillian comes from. Once I decided that she and Henry Shepherd had an ill-fated interracial love affair during the late 1960s in Atlanta, their story took on a life of it’s own. Lillian is on equal footing with Rachel as a central character in this novel.

Originally, this was just Rachel and Lillian’s journey: The intertwining stories of two women searching for the man they both love. Two women trying to piece together a family. I didn’t add Nadine’s story until eight years after I started writing this novel. She’s based on a 19-year-old woman I met in Rwanda who had left after the genocide and was returning for the trial of a Hutu man, a former neighbor, who she had seen shoot her mother and sister.

Nadine is a fusion of this woman’s story as well as other stories I heard in Rwanda — and then, of course, my imagination. She’s the lynch-pin that hold together the stories of Lillian, Henry, Rachel, and Rachel’s love interest in Rwanda, an American doctor running from his past who has become like an older brother to Nadine.

Q: Is this a political story about the genocide?

A: No, this is a story that is set against the backdrop of pre-genocide, the genocide, and then after the genocide. I conducted a lot of research about Rwandan history but I don’t claim to be an expert on the country’s politics or tumultuous past. I do present some background about the genocide, which is factual, but this is historical fiction. The story is about the experiences of the characters during this time in history.

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About the Author

Jennifer Haupt has been a journalist for more than 25 years. Her essays and articles have been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Rumpus, Psychology Today, Travel & Leisure, The Seattle Times, Spirituality & Health, and many other publications. Her well-read Psychology Today blog, One True Thing, is a collection of essays and interviews with bestselling authors. In the Shadow of Ten Thousand Hills is her first novel. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and Duck Toller.

 

For more information about Jennifer Haupt and In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills please visit www.jenniferhaupt.com.

Interview with Cass Morris, author of FROM UNSEEN FIRE: Book One in the Aven Cycle

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EXCERPT FROM “FROM UNSEEN FIRE”

Shadow and Water both moved in him, a blend that lent itself to a strange intuition, an ability to hear words unsaid and see things not-yet-done. Drawing energy from the dark corners of the garden, from the dimming sky above, from the water that flowed into the peristyle, Sempronius concentrated on what it was he needed to know, willing the answers to come to him, etched on the surface of the obsidian mirror. His heartbeat slowed; his muscles relaxed as he eased into that place where body and mind flowed synchronously with his Elements. Thus settled, Sempronius passed a hand over the dark glass and waited, all patience, for something to surface.

CASS MORRIS’S BIOGRAPHY

Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

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INTERVIEW WITH CASS MORRIS

FROM UNSEEN FIRE will be published on April 17, 2018 by DAW Books. The novel is Cass Morris’ debut, and it is Book One of the Aven Cycle. Prior to the publication of UNSEEN FIRE, I was able to interview Cass about her novel and about her writing process.  

Question- Please describe what the book is about.

Cass Morris: From Unseen Fire takes place in Aven, an alternate version of ancient Rome where elemental magic has shaped society as much as law and war. In the wake of a brutal dictatorship, two factions compete to rebuild the Republic in the shape they desire. One side is protectionist and isolationist, seeking to preserve conventional morals and keep their nation small enough to easily control; the other side is expansionist and more permissive, looking to embrace the opportunities that allies and immigrants can provide. By law, the use of magic to influence politics is forbidden, but both sides skirt the rules where they can — and some are willing to step dangerously far over the line.

Q- Could you pitch the novel to us?

CM: In the nation of Aven, Elemental magic has shaped the way of life as much as politics and war. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. When the Dictator who threatened her family dies, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people -- if only she can find the courage to try.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate -- but will that be enough, when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery?

Q- Where did you get the idea?

CM: I knew I wanted to write a historical fantasy with a different setting than the somewhat typical pseudo-medieval-western-Europe. I’ve had one foot in the classical world since starting Latin at the age of twelve, and so working with Rome seemed a natural fit. The Roman pantheon blended nicely with some ideas about elemental magic I’d been developing for ages, and from that, the world of Aven was born.

Q- What’s the story behind the title?

CM: I am the worst at titles. If I can’t steal it from Shakespeare or a song lyric, I’m totally useless. This was just called “Aven” for the longest time. Eventually my first editor had me try to come up with something more compelling. I liked the idea of something like Scintilla, which means “spark” in Latin, with subsequent books using words for increasingly large fires, but my publisher was worried the Latin might scare people off. So I started plundering Roman poetry for elegant phrases. From Unseen Fire was among those, but my then-editor didn’t go for it, and for a while the book was titled A Flame Arises instead. When I got switched to a different editor, however, she much preferred From Unseen Fire, so we went back to that.

Q- No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

CM: There are nine magical Elements, and the power to use them is seen as a blessing from the gods. About one in every thousand Aventans manifests some magical talent, but far fewer have strong powers.

Q- Tell us about your favorite character.

CM: Vitellia Latona is the character closest to my heart. She’s a powerful mage of Spirit and Fire, but she’s never made the most of it, partly for lack of training and partly due to discouragement from various sources out of spite, jealousy, or just plain misogyny. In From Unseen Fire, she’s in the process of breaking free of all those restrictions and repressions, learning to own herself and take up the space in the world that she deserves.

Q- If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

CM: I would love to let Aula Vitellia, Latona’s cheerful and irreverent older sister, take me shopping and then to a lovely dinner party.

Q- Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

CM: They’re mostly from my imagination, though they have some historical inspiration. Julius Caesar, Tiberius Gracchus, Germanicus and his wife Agrippina, Mark Antony, Fulvia, and many other Romans have not direct analogs, but correlations in my characters.

Q- How long did you take to write this book?

CM: From Unseen Fire began life as a 2011 NaNoWriMo project. I was trying to kick myself back into fiction writing after having done little of it during graduate school and my first years working for a non-profit organization. By early 2013, I was ready to query agents, and I signed with Connor Goldsmith in October of that year. We spent about a year polishing the manuscript through several revisions and went out on sub in late 2014, then signed with DAW Books in October 2015. The book was initially supposed to debut in September 2017, but delays related to my editor switch-up pushed it into 2018. I am the poster child for the publishing world’s occasionally glacial pace.

Q- What kind of research did you do for this book?

CM: A lot of my research was reviving things I had studied in high school and college and then delving deeper. I had to get a lot more into the social history of ancient Rome than just the political overview and the “great men” narrative. Alberto Angela’s Day in the Life of Ancient Rome was supremely helpful, as were the works of Philip Matyczak. I’ve a full list of recommended resources on my website (cassmorriswrites.com/aven-cycle/the-world-of-aven/resources-and-history/). The most fun research, though, was taking a trip to Rome and spending a few days wandering around the Seven Hills!

Q- What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

CM: This book has been reworked and restructured so much that I suspect I’ve forgotten most of the changes. The one that stands out is an enormous set piece that, during my revisions with Connor, I removed in a single 20,000 word slaughter. It’s a sequence I love, set during games at a festival, but it just no longer had a place in this book. I’m intending to rework it for Book 2, though!

Q- Are you a plotter or a pantser?

CM: By nature, a pantser. When I start a story, I tend to have a strong idea of who the characters are, and finding the plot is a matter of letting them collide into each other until something happens. As I work on Books 2 and 3 of the Aven Cycle, however, I’m having to work more to an outline, since it’s what my publisher has approved. It’s an interesting challenge -- I have to remind myself that I’m not irrevocably wedded to that skeleton.

Q- What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

CM: The moment where pieces suddenly fall into place. It might be finding the plot element to connect two scenes, or figuring out the reasoning behind a character’s actions, or seeing a connection between two characters that I hadn’t seen before. When one of those hits, I’m prone to flailing my arms about like Kermit the Frog before returning my fingers to the keyboard.

Q- What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

CM: Pacing. As a child who happily read the encyclopedia for fun, I don’t always have the best natural sense of how a story should move along. My inclination is to let characters wander into each other and have long conversations. My agent and editor did a lot to make sure that exciting incidents happen at regular intervals!

Q- Can you share your writing routine?

CM: I typically work at my standing desk in my apartment. I’m not well-heeled enough to afford a place where I can devote space just for writing, so it’s in my living room (which, in my current apartment, is also my kitchen). I tend to do my best work from about 7pm-Midnight, and I often enjoy a glass of wine to help lubricate the creative process.

Q- Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

CM: No. The ideas are always there. If I’m not being productive as a writer, it’s because I’m having trouble making the time or summoning the energy.

Q- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

CM: Perseverance matters a lot more than almost anything else. Learn how to take a punch and stay on your feet.

Q- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

CM: Dozens.

Q- Do you have any writing quirks?

CM: I have to hunt down the words “somewhat” and “rather” and slaughter them. My copy editor also pointed out that I’m over-fond of ellipses and that I often use two prepositions where one would suffice.

Q- Tell us about yourself.

CM: I’ve lived in Virginia my whole life, and most of my work has been as an educator. I spent seven years at the American Shakespeare Center, where I wrote 22 guides to help teachers make plays exciting for their students. My parents and sister live in our hometown, so I revisit my old stomping grounds fairly regularly. I live in the mountains with two cats, a nineteen-year-old calico and a seven-year-old Abyssinian.

Q- How did you get into writing?

CM: I literally can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a storyteller. I got interested in writing as a career after seeing Star Wars at the age of 11, and I’ve talked about that on my personal blog (https://cassmorriswrites.com/2013/12/22/how-star-wars-changed-my-life/).

Q- What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

CM: Read, visit wineries, attend conventions, play MarioKart and Civilization.

Q- Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

CM: I’ve done quite a bit of academic writing, including those Shakespeare teaching guides and a number of papers and presentations for conferences. I’ve also been a blogger and fanfic writer basically as long as I’ve been on the internet.

Q- Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

CM: I am an utterly indifferent cook. I can make basic things like pasta, tacos, pancakes, but I just don’t have the interest in learning to make anything more complex. I can bake, though, and I make exceptionally good cookies.

Q- Which book influenced you the most?

CM: Oh, gods. In my whole life? Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, probably. Or the Witches books from Discworld. Or The Last Unicorn. Or Harry Potter. Or Dinotopia.

Q- What are you working on right now?

CM: Book Two of the Aven Cycle, as well as drafting a space opera with a rakish heroine loosely based on Julie d’Aubigny.

Q- What’s your favorite writing advice?

CM: "Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing." – E L Doctorow

Q- The book you’re currently reading

CM: At the time of writing this, I’m in the middle of Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, and 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline.

LINKS TO CASS MORRIS

Amazon -- https://www.amazon.com/Unseen-Fire-Aven-Cycle/dp/0756412242

B&N -- https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/from-unseen-fire-cass-morris/1125456861

IndieBound -- http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780756412241

Kobo -- https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/from-unseen-fire

GooglePlay -- https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Cass_Morris_From_Unseen_Fire?id=hyq2DQAAQBAJ

Website: www.cassmorriswrites.com   

Patreon: patreon.com/CassRMorris

Twitter: @CassRMorris twitter.com/CassRMorris   

Facebook: facebook.com/cassmorriswrites

Instagram: instagram.com/cassrmorris/

Goodreads: goodreads.com/CassRMorris

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cass-morris-4509907a/
 

Review of THE WILD BIRDS by Emily Strelow

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THE WILD BIRDS, Emily Strelow's debut fiction/historical novel, was published March 13, 2018 by Rare Bird Books. Over a roughly 120-year span, the novel weaves together multiple overlapping stories about a diverse cast of characters who are all connected by an ornate silver box containing the egg shells of various birds. This is a novel about finding oneself and a place to call home.

Olive was originally given the silver box by her mother before her mother died in the 1870s. Realizing that the life of a female, teenage orphan offers very little opportunities, Olive disguises herself as a boy and finds work as a lighthouse keeper on the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco. There she meets Warren, a young man who works for one of the companies that raids the seabirds' nests for their eggs. Warren discovers that Olive is a girl, and together they flee the island for a life together in Northern California.

Many years later, in the 1940s, a young man runs away from his family's home in Seattle. Victor is a tender man who loves music and poetry. When his father refuses to accept his 'sissy' son, Victor runs away to a life in the deserts of Arizona. Along the way, he meets Warren. Olive has since passed away, and Warren knows he will soon follow her. As a last act, Warren gifts Victor with the silver box of eggs. Victor then continues on his travels until he finds his home in Needles, Arizona.

Victor holds on to the silver box for over forty years, waiting for the right person to come into his curio shop, Naked Antiques, for him to pass the box along to. Sal is that person. She is a transplant from Oregon. She moved to Arizona to attend college and to track various birds in the deserts during mating season. While on a brief stop in Needles to purchase supplies, Sal wanders into Naked Antiques and finds the silver box. Sal later sends the box to her friend, Alice, back in Oregon. Sal is in love with Alice, but she spends years fearing the consequences of expressing her love.

At the center of the novel is the relationship between Alice and her daughter, Lily. Their story is set in the mid-1990s. Lily is fifteen years old, and she doesn't fit in with the other teenagers in the rural area of Oregon that she calls home. She also resents her mother because Alice runs around with different men and drinks a lot. Lily feels like she is the adult in their relationship. Lily is also convinced that there is something about her mysterious, absentee father that Alice isn't telling her. Unable to deal with her mother any longer, Lily goes to live with friends for a few months. When she finally returns home, she finds her mother gone. Alice has finally decided to follow her heart to Arizona in search of Sal.

The flora and fauna of Arizona, Farallon Islands, and the Pacific Northwest plays a major role in THE WILD BIRDS. The landscape of these different locations is as diverse and unique as the characters. Birds are the most important and prevalent of the fauna featured in the novel. It is clear that Strelow knows a good deal about various birds. She is also familiar with the different types of flora native to the various locations featured in the novel. Each of the landscapes comes alive through Strelow's descriptions. THE WILD BIRDS is a beautifully written, captivating novel.

A Review of SLIPPER by Hester Velman

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Thanks to NetGalley and Van Horton Books for the ARC.

SLIPPER by Hester Velman (published April 17, 2018 by Van Horton Books) is the retelling of Cinderella. And, trust me, it is nothing like the Disney version. This Cinderella suffers a lot more than a torn dress and dirty fingernails thanks to all of that cleaning she had to do. This Cinderella survives rape, a witch hunt, war, and massacres. Life teaches her some very hard lessons – yet it takes her a long time to learn anything from them. And, in the end, the glass slipper doesn’t even fit!

Lucinda (AKA Cinderella) is a penniless orphan growing up in the mid to late-1600s. Because her aristocratic family believes her to be a bastard, Lucinda is not treated very well. At best, she is ignored by her family. At worst, she is forced to work as a servant in the family’s sprawling countryside mansion. Lucinda’s only friend is her godmother/family cook Bessie Goose (who, in this story, becomes the inspiration for Mother Goose), and the other household servants who spoil her.

I somewhat enjoyed SLIPPER in the beginning, but then, around halfway through, I decided that I didn’t like the novel. By the end, I was on the fence about it. It is an interesting story, but, as Lucinda got older, I found that I couldn’t stand her. Lucinda is a very imaginative child, and she has herself convinced that her daydreams will one day become reality. That her Prince Charming will one day come rescue her from her miserable life. I didn’t think that Bessie Goose was the most likeable of characters either. Instead of giving Lucinda some lessons in life and common sense, she instead allows the girl to remain ignorant. After being raped by her uncle, Lucinda throws herself at a captain in the English army who is betrothed to her cousin, believing that this man in her knight in shining armor. Leaving her home in the English countryside, Lucinda follows the captain to France where he is a captain in the army. Lucinda and Bessie join the baggage train, and Lucinda becomes the captain’s mistress. Lucinda begins to see the captain for what he really is, but she continues to cling to her dream that he’s her Prince Charming. She also develops an unhealthy interest in the whores who are also part of the baggage train. At this point, it’s too late for Bessie to give the teenage Lucinda any life lessons because Lucinda isn’t about to listen to anything that anyone has to say. When Lucinda finally realizes that the captain is never going to marry her, she turns to physician John Prynce. Upon learning that Prynce is responsible for both of her parents’ deaths, she flees the baggage train and makes her way to Holland. After a brief marriage to a boorish painter, Lucinda moves to Paris where, as a female artist, she is treated as a novelty and flattered by men who wish to make her their mistress. She also meets Charles Perrault, the man who will take her life story and use it to create the Cinderella fairy tale. He also uses Bessie’s stories (passed on to him through Lucinda since Bessie is now dead thanks to Lucinda’s recklessness) and turns them into the Mother Goose tales. It’s in Paris that Lucinda finally begins to open her eyes and realize that her daydreams are what got her into this mess. She then returns to England to see if she can work things out with Prynce.

While SLIPPER was an interesting and well plotted novel, it just wasn’t for me. I just didn’t like Lucinda at all. Most of the time I was irritated with her – as well as Bessie – for her naivety and recklessness. I spent the majority if the novel wanting to reach through the pages to smack Lucinda upside the head for her foolishness. Yes, life has dealt Lucinda a lot of crap, but she brings a good portion of it onto herself. The rest of the female characters are wicked – filling the roles of wicked step-mother and step-sisters even though they are Lucinda’s aunts and cousins. The male characters leave a lot more to be desired. I didn’t want a stereotypical Prince Charming, but it would have been nice to have a male character that was at least remotely likeable.

For me, the most interesting part of the novel was learning about the origins of some of the classic fairy tales.  I also enjoyed that there were historical figures woven into the storyline. That helped add to the historic backdrop of the time period.

If you’re a diehard fan of Disney’s Cinderella, this novel probably won’t be for you. If you’re open to adaptations of the fairy tale, give SLIPPER a try.

Interview with Sharon Wray, author of EVERY DEEP DESIRE

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EXCERPT FROM EVERY DEEP DESIRE

How, after all these years, could she still be so susceptible to him? Because he’d once been her husband. The one man she’d loved beyond reason. Forever and always. She tilted her head, and the brush became a demand. The demand became an ache. And the ache became a need so great she threw her arms around his neck. Her world tilted, his arms tightened, and his lips explored hers as if he’d never kissed anyone else ever. The air around them vibrated, matching the motion of the kiss.

He broke away, leaving her a disoriented mess.

“Juliet.” The word rolled like a wave break. Forward, then retreating. His body heaved, and he ran his hands over his prison-shorn hair. “I’m sorry.”

Those words stung more than his rejection. He was sorry. Hadn’t he said so in his letter eight years ago? “You should leave.” She glanced at her clock. “It’s almost three a.m. We both need to sleep.”

And she needed to be alone. Because when he touched her, she melted. When he whispered, she caved. And when he kissed her, she begged for more. It’d always been like that. All he had to do was walk into a room, and she wanted him. When he looked at her, like she was the only woman he’d ever need, she dreamed of lying beneath him, his heavy body possessing hers. Her reaction to him was sad, pathetic, and wrong. She wasn’t sure who she hated more: him or herself for her reaction to him.

Without warning, he swung her up and laid her on the bed. “I’m asking you to help me fix what I’ve ruined. Then your life can go on as it was.”

Her eyes drifted closed. The nightmare’s adrenaline rush left as swiftly as it came in, leaving her depleted. She heard the words, but his face blinked in and out of time and space. The bed sagged, and she scooted over so he could adjust his body. Then, just before sleep hit, she reached to feel his warmth.

No, she wasn’t happy he’d been released from prison. She wasn’t happy he’d come home. She wasn’t happy he’d kissed her and she’d kissed him back. But she didn’t want to be alone. And that was going to be a problem.

SHARON WRAY’S BIOGRAPHY

Sharon is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes novels of suspense, adventure, and love. A wife, mother of twins, caretaker of Donut the One-Eyed Family Dog, she’s addicted to snapping photos and eating Oreos. She’s repped by Deidre Knight and Kristy Hunter at The Knight Agency.

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INTERVIEW WITH SHARON WRAY

Sharon Wray’s debut novel, EVERY DEEP DESIRE, was published on March 6, 2018 by Sourcebooks. It is a romantic suspense novel, and it is the first in the Deadly Force Series. Since the publication of EVERY DEEP DESIRE, I have interviewed Sharon about her novel and her writing process.  

Question- Please describe what the book is about:

Sharon Wray: Rafe Montfort was a decorated Green Beret, the best of the best, until a disastrous mission and an unforgivable betrayal destroyed his life. Now, this deadly soldier has returned to the sultry Georgia swamps to reunite with his brothers and take back all he lost. But his wife, Juliet, must never know the truth behind what he’s done or the dangerous secret that threatens to take him from her forever.

Q- Where did you get the idea?

SW: I was working on another book and writing in my journal and I ended up writing a scene about a man who’d been unexpectedly released from Leavenworth prison and had come home to find his wife. At the time, I had no idea what the story was about or who Rafe’s wife really was. But I did know it would be a retelling (in the most general sense of the word) of Romeo and Juliet as well as a redemption of the tragedy.

Q- What’s the story behind the title?

SW: My publisher picked the title because all of mine were terrible. But I think it’s perfect for the story and the genre.

Q- No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

SW: When Rafe returns home, Juliet learns that her husband had joined a secret, current-day private army known as The Fianna who date back to pagan Ireland, during the early Roman invasions in the first century A.D. Irish myths say that the brutal Fianna army was the reason Rome never conquered Ireland.

Q- Tell us about your favorite character:

SW: My heroine Juliet Capel. Her life was torn apart by Rafe’s abandonment and just as she’s put her life back together, he returns. Except now, she’s unable to rely on or trust others which is exactly what she needs to do to save herself and those she loves.

Q- If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

SW: I’d spend the day with Nate Walker, an ex-Green Beret, secondary character and hero of book 2 (still untitled), and we’d explore the Cemetery of Lost Children on the Isle of Hope (a fictional sea island off the coast of Savannah, GA, owned by Juliet Capel). I’d love to see this cemetery that’s the source of the mysteries in Every Deep Desire and Book 2. And I’d love to get Nate to tell me more about himself and how he and his men ended up in Savannah instead of having to learn it all by writing and rewriting drafts of his story.

Q- Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

SW: They are all imaginary. Although I wish they were real.

Q- How long did you take to write this book?

SW: I drafted and redrafted this book for a few years, off and on, as I wrote other things. Then I rewrote the beginning and my agent sold this book on proposal in July 2016. Since then I’ve been writing, revising, editing, and proofing this book while writing book 2 in the series.

Q-What kind of research did you do for this book?

SW: Tons. This series is about a group of ex-Green Berets trying to figure out who set up their unit and had them dishonorably discharged. But the brilliant man behind their disgrace is obsessed with history’s greatest mysteries. Each book revolves around an obscure historical fact or event that will eventually tie in to why these soldiers’ lives were destroyed. Despite the research, I fictionalize many things for the sake of the story.

Q- What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

SW: A lot. I removed a bunch of scenes from a secondary character’s point of view. I also removed a complete secondary story line.

Q- Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SW: Both. I do a brief outline of turning points, major scenes, etc. before I start drafting. Then I revise the outline before revising.

Q- What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

SW: Revising. Because I love the wordsmithing part more than the story discovery part.

Q- What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

SW: Drafting. I’m not sure why, but figuring out the initial story details is always the most stressful part for me.

Q- Can you share your writing routine?

SW: My preference is to write every day in the morning through early afternoon. Then late in the afternoon until dinner. I usually write at home at my tiny desk in my kitchen. But sometimes I go to a coffee shop or bookstore to write.

Q- Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

SW: Yes, and it’s always during the drafting phase. I overcome it by sitting down and writing anyway. I’m on deadline with three books. I can’t afford the time that writer’s block steals from me.

Q- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

SW: Not to worry so much and that everything will work out at the right time.

Q- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

SW: LOL. Too many to count.

Q- Do you have any writing quirks?

SW: Every time I sit down to write, I have a pattern of checking email and a few websites before I write. Then I do the same thing when I’m about to take a break. I don’t do anything with the email or websites, just scan the headlines to make sure the kids don’t need me and we haven’t been overrun by zombies. I get so deeply involved in my stories while I write that the neighborhood would be overrun before I noticed. LOL.

Q- Tell us about yourself.

SW: I’m a librarian and was also a wedding gown designer. And I have a one-eyed rescue dog that the kids named Donut.

Q- How did you get into writing?

SW: I’d had twins and had to give up my wedding gown designing gig (as well as turn my sewing room into a nursery). Then the library I was working in closed. I needed a creative outlet that let me stay home with the kids. It was through the Artist’s Way that I realized my love for books, reading and journaling might translate into writing novels.

Q- What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

SW: I love to spend time with my family and friends, and I love to travel. During the summer, I enjoy gardening even though I’m terrible at it.

Q- Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

SW: I love blogging and journaling. Although I really need to find some more physically active ways to relax.

Q- Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

SW: I once lived in South Korea and worked for the American Red Cross.

Q- Which book influenced you the most?

SW: JANE EYRE. I read it when I was 14, in one sitting, and I was a changed person by the time I finished.

Q- What are you working on right now?

SW: Book 2 (still untitled) in the Deadly Force Series. This book is about Nate Walker, the secondary hero in EVERY DEEP DESIRE.

Q- What’s your favorite writing advice?

SW: Don’t ever give up on your dreams. It took me over 12 years to sell and almost 14 years to see my book in print. And it was worth the effort and time and patience.

Q- The book you’re currently reading.

SW: Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Q- Are you a daytime or a nighttime writer?

SW: I prefer writing in the morning and late afternoon but when I’m on deadline I’m at my desk 24/7.

Q- Are you more productive during certain seasons of the year?

SW: I’m a winter writer. For some reason the cold, bleak Virginia weather suits my writing habit. I always do my best work in the winter.

LINKS TO SHARON WRAY

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sharon-Wray/e/B074JBP8FH/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/every-deep-desire-sharon-wray/1126633208?ean=9781492655602#/

Website: www.sharonwray.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sharon-Wray-Author-644867762246756/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sharonbwray

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sbwray/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/sharonbwray/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5368413-sharon
 

Review of TEXAS TWO-STEP by Michael Pool

A Review of Texas Two-Step by Michael Pool.jpg

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

TEXAS TWO-STEP by Michael Pool (published April 2, 2018 by Down Out Books) is a wild romp involving criminals, lawmen (some are good, and some are crooked), and a whole lot of marijuana. Cooper and Davis are looking to sell one more load of some of Colorado's finest marijuana before they go straight. When their usual contact gets picked up in a raid, they turn to their old and unreliable friend Sancho. Sancho knows just who to sell the marijuana to -- ex-football player Bobby Burrell. Bobby 's uncle Troy is the head of the East Texas Mafia located in Teller County. Troy is also one scary maniac. Cooper, Davis, Sancho, and Bobby have a good plan in place, but it all goes haywire when Uncle Troy gets involved and decides that they're going to screw over Cooper and Davis so that they can get the marijuana and keep their money. Oh, and there's a Texas Ranger named Russ Kirkpatrick sniffing around. Kirkpatrick was tasked with taking Sancho down after Sancho was indirectly involved with the suicide of a Texas State Senator's grandson.

I found TEXAS TWO-STEP to be a fun read. At times it reminded me of Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey. The main characters - while not always the most likeable of people - were engaging, realistic, and a tad bit crazy. The point of view switches almost every chapter between Cooper, Bobby, and Kirkpatrick. With the various points of view, the reader gets a well-rounded idea of everything that is going on. The descriptions were very vivid, and Pool brought East Texas to life on the page. Overall, it was an enjoyable read.

A Review of BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY by Amanda Skenandore

Between Earth and Sky.jpg

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

I have read a lot of great books so far in 2018 (according to my Goodreads Reading Challenge I’m up to 36 books so far this year), and I can honestly say that BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY by Amanda Skenandore is the best one I’ve read so far. Skenandore’s debut novel, which will be published by Kensington on April 24, 2018, is a compelling and heartbreaking historical fiction set in the 1880s and early 1900s. The novel alternates between the main character’s past as the only white child attending the Stover Indian School in Wisconsin, and her present as the wife of a lawyer in Philadelphia in 1906.

In 1906, Alma Blanchard Stewart is living a quiet life with her husband in Philadelphia. One morning, while reading the newspaper, she learns that a Native American man was arrested in Wisconsin for killing one of the Indian agents on the reservation. Alma knows the man who was arrested – he was her childhood friend from the Stover Indian School. Convinced that her friend has been wrongly accused, she and her reluctant husband travel to Wisconsin with the intention to uncover the truth and help set Asku Muskrat free. Alma’s mission forces her to confront her past, and leads her to realize that the assimilation of Native American’s into white culture left the children of the Stover Indian School damaged and destroyed as they were never accepted by white people and they were estranged from their families on the reservations. Alma also learns that life on the reservation is not how she imagined it would be.

As a child, Alma’s father moved her and her mother from Philadelphia to La Crosse, Wisconsin in the early 1880s so that he could open up the Stover Indian School. At the time, people believed that the only way for the Native Americans to survive was to assimilate them into white culture. To do that, numerous Indian Schools were opened throughout the country to educate Native American children. The children were taken from their families on the reservations and then moved to the Indian Schools where they were forced to adapt to white society. Through Alma’s perspective, Skenandore shows what it was like for the Native American children. Upon arrival at the school, they are stripped of their native clothing and belongings. Their hair is shorn, they are given Christian names, and they are forbidden from speaking in their native languages. They are robbed of the identity. Alma’s father, as well as the other white people who work at the school, believe that what they are doing is the right thing. Even though Alma is a child, she questions what they are going to the native children. As Alma grows up alongside the native children, she learns their customs and their languages. But it is when she falls in love with one of the native boys and asks for permission to marry him that Alma realizes that she is the only one at the Stover Indian School who sees the Native Americans as her equals.

I was absolutely blown away by BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY. The story is very compelling, and I love how Alma’s present plays out alongside her past. As the only white child attending the Stover Indian School, Alma is stuck in a difficult situation. She is supposed to be an example for the native children, but she also wants to be their friend. She becomes caught up in the gray area – she is a white woman who knows about and embraces not only the Native American people but their culture as well.  The reader witnesses how Alma’s grows and reshapes her opinions as she learns more about the Native Americans and their plight. The story is also a heartbreaking one not only for Alma, but for all of the Native American children who were forced to attend the Stover Indian School. This is a novel about losing one’s native identity while trying to establish a place in a world that is not yet receptive to people who are not white.