Anna Belfrage’s Sixth Book in her Time Slip Historical Series is the Best Yet!

02_Revenge & RetributionRevenge and Retribution is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s The Graham Saga, which is a historical fiction/time slip fantasy series. Most readers have a hard time finding a series in which to read that allows the reader to grow along with the characters  and still be well-written. However, in this case, we watch Anna’s storytelling blossom in beautiful and full form as she delves deeper and deeper into authentic emotional territory of the family she has created (or as she would say, the characters she just listens to).

For those not familiar with the series, Alex Lind Graham slips through time from the 21st Century into the 17th Century. We follow her confusion at the situation, then her adherence to it as she falls in love with Matthew Graham and marries him. Her life truly takes shape, in all the good and the bad of the 17th Century situations, and she thrives and raises a family with him. Eventually they make it to the New World, but not without more obstacles or sadness. Now, she’s in her early fifties and into a next phase of life, which isn’t always happy and cheery.

The setting of the book is Colonial America and with that comes the Native Americans and the Salem Witch Trials. That made this reader excited, as those topics are some of my favorite subjects of study. But with that comes the darkness and the tumult of a time period seeped in anxiety run rampant, danger, and judgement. With being middle-aged, they’ve also created some enemies and have some baggage from their life journey, which formulates into revenge appearing in this novel too. Alex and Matthew must stand together against all accusations and attacks; they prove once more why they are a formidable force.

Anna’s books are always extremely well-written, with lush details, humorous prose, a bit of steamy marital romance, and strong characters, especially the intelligent and determined Alex. As an author, Anna takes Alex through so many ups and downs, showing the reader that not all things have a happy ending, but that also doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. The marriage of Alex and Matthew is quite extraordinary. They remind me of another of my favorite duos–Diana and Matthew from Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy. What is it that makes these couples so great? The woman’s intelligence and fortitude, strength and curiosity, fervor and determination and the man, his loyalty, support, and unconditional love.

My heart just breaks for Alex and Matthew in this sixth book, but my heart has cried for them before. They always seem to be able to pick up the pieces, no matter how horrendous the situation. I believe book sixth to be one of my favorites, if not her best so far. I’ve loved to watch this series grow and feel as if I know the characters personally. I might never want the series to end for I love Alex, Matthew, and their family.

You certainly can read each book as a stand alone and get the plot of that certain book, but I highly recommend reading the entire series so you can receive the full effect and immerse yourselves in their lives. It’s much better to see how they started and watch them grow, in my opinion. Plus, in each book she seems to wrap-up one part of their lives that might be an issue or something that needs resolved. Sometimes that happens before they move, or sometimes it follows them to the new location, but she does do a wonderful job as making it seem for new readers like a stand-alone issue or conflict, yet for the series followers, making it seem like a resolution!

Anna writes deep, emotional  historical novels, adding the fantastical element of the time slip and a “what if?” scenario, and creates for us a world in which to be lost in on rainy days and weekend reading fests. If you haven’t read this Graham Series, then buy it all up and settle in for a read-a-thon this winter. Her prose is sure to keep you warmed and entertained. As for me, I’m highly anticipating the next two books already with a hopefulness she’ll continue the story through one of Alex’s children, because I really loved this sixth book for all it’s grit. Alex certainly is a survivor in all the right forms of the word.

You can read my past reviews, interviews, and articles with Anna below!

Like Chaff in the Wind

Interview with Anna

The Prodigal Son

Guest Article on Writing Graham Saga

A Newfound Land

Serpents in the Garden

Guest Article on Creating Dialogue

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author through HFVBT in exchange for an honest review.

Revenge and Retribution, Synopsis~

02_Revenge & RetributionPublication Date: July 1,2014
SilverWood Books
Formats: E-book, Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction/Time-Slip
Series: The Graham Saga

Revenge and Retribution is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure – as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.

Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it’s Matthew’s brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her.

Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex’s entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them – there is no longer any ‘if’ about it. On a sunny May afternoon, it seems Philip Burley will at last revenge himself on Matthew for every single perceived wrong. Over the course of twenty-four hours, Alex’s life – and that of her family’s – is permanently changed.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex’s arms to begin a new life in the wilderness.

How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

Graham Saga Titles~

Book One: A Rip in the Veil
Book Two: Like Chaff in the Wind
Book Three: The Prodigal Son
Book Four: A Newfound Land
Book Five: Serpents in the Garden
Book Six: Revenge & Retribution
Book Seven: Whither Thou Goest (November 2014)
Book Eight: To Catch a Falling Star (March 2015)

Author Anna Belfrage, Biography~

03_Anna BelfrageI was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive …

Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

For more information, please visit Anna Belfrage’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Maggie’s Wars by Phil Pisani Reads Like a Historical Noir, with a Fiesty Female Journalist at the Helm

02_Maggie's WarsMaggie’s Wars is a quick historical fiction read at just over 200 pages. It starts out being told from a female protagonist’s view, Maggie Hogan, who is a female journalist just out of graduate school at Columbia. This told me straight away, with it being in WWII era, that she was a woman not only from a family with certain means, but that she’d be intellectual and savvy and ready to take on her dreams, no matter what societal nonsense stood in her way.

Being a journalist myself, I was thrilled when I read the synopsis and the first few pages and found out this was about a female reporter during the war. I have a penchant as well for the history of journalism. As I first read the book, I cheered on Maggie as she entered the The Herald Tribune, where she was offered a job due to so many men being sent off to war. Right off the bat, I gathered the sexist attitude that came with the times. You know the one that dictated that women can’t do any type of job, even if they went to an Ivy League school. And it never left throughout the book. I was sad to see that she didn’t overcome it, but in fact “played the game” as she flirted, had sex, and offered favors to get the story she wanted and to be a war correspondent. Though I imagine a character like hers would have had to decide which was more important to her–her dream and realizing it or her morality.

Maggie’s part of the story is told in first person, which wasn’t too jarring to me (though generally it’s hard for writers to write novels in first person) due to the fact that she is a journalist and it seems she reporting her life. But then we have the story of Johnny Stone as well juxtaposed with hers (and keep in mind that I mentioned this is a short book). Johnny fell in love with Maggie in an instant seeing her on the street heading to the Herald. His story follows him as he enlists in the war to not be killed by the mob (yep, he’s a gangster, but an Italian one, so he’s recruited him to go to Italy) and he hopes to see Maggie over there (“you know, not let her out of his sight”) who has decided to go overseas and cover the end of the war. The story at about 30% in begins to follow the lovers in their personal pursuits during the war and showcases their relationship through it.

I found that though I really liked the premise of the story, I wasn’t thrilled by the character development or the plot. I wasn’t happy with her reporting skills, though I am not sure why besides that I think she was so naive for being so educated about the protocols of war or for reporting heavy stories. Her reaction to the war seemed more focused on getting the story than on feeling the emotional turmoil around her. I’d have liked to see the author take more time developing the story, the characters, and the plot. I’d have loved to feel more connected with emotions from Maggie about what developments, news, and feelings that she went through while covering the war, or while missing Johnny.

As I evaluate it, I think my concern was that it all seems much too rushed. It could have easily been a 300-400 page book filled with slowed down character development and with the war issues broken down in-depth so that the atrocities and message in the book would be more realistic. It felt very hurried and things happened rapid fire, yet not in a good screenwriting sort of way, the premise of the novel is good for the screen–but maybe more like a 1940 movie rather than a modern movie set in 1940. I would have liked him to explore more of the story of American soldiers and some awful things that happened from America’s side during the liberation. He put it out there in this novel, I wasn’t aware of it or if it’s true either, even though I studied the Holocaust during my time in garnering my history degree. I would have liked Maggie to uncover that topic more in-depth and show her real reporting skills.

Overall the author had a good idea for a novel and I wouldn’t have hoped for more if I didn’t like the general outline of the book. But it seemed like a shell. If he was looking for a 1940 vibe, then he succeeded in that. It reminded me of a Dick Tracy crime noir yet within the historical genre. Maybe it is a historic noir with Maggie not as the sleuth, but as a reporter?

The book intrigued me and though I couldn’t read for entertainment alone, it did make me ponder it and the author’s intent and structure. It did make me want Maggie to be explored more and I’d like to see him do something else with Maggie as a protagonist, once he develops her even further and gives her compassion with the grit and emotions with the motivation. As an editor, I feel that the author should take a look at its structure and its intent, as well as his sentence construction, depth of details, and authenticity of characters.

It’s a nice read for anyone who likes a quick story set in WWII with a noir feel and featuring a feisty reporter who throws all caution to the wind in her career, her love life, and her life.

Note: I was given a copy of this book from the author via HFVBT in exchange for an honest review of his work.

Maggie’s Wars, Synopsis

02_Maggie's WarsPublication Date: November 6, 2013
American Book Incorporated
Formats: eBook, Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

Combatting wars on two fronts – one of fame and the other love – Maggie Hogan never wavers as a rare woman reporter on the battlefields of World War II, the Nuremburg Trials and the beginnings of the cold war. But she makes the mistake of falling for an officer, complicating her ambitions. Learn of what one woman feels she must do in order to make it in a man’s world, no matter what. Maggie’s Wars is a story about the ultimate battle between love and prestige, and how you can’t win them both.

Praise

“Maggie’s Wars is a highly charged story, with power politics on a grand scale…the frighteningly realistic descriptions and technical know-how is right on the mark and Phil Pisani’s skill at painting a vivid scene in the mind’s eye of the reader is excellent and packs a wallop.” -William H. LaBarge, author of Sweetwater Gunslinger 201, Hornet’s Nest, Road to Gold and Desert Voices.

Purchase Links

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Phil Pisani, Biography

Phil Pisani grew up on the north side of the railroad tracks in an upstate New York blue-collar industrial town in a rough neighborhood filled with the most colorful characters in the world. Factory and tannery workers mingled with bar and restaurant owners, gamblers and gangsters, good people and bad people, brash rogues and weak loudmouths, all spawned by the early immigrant movement to America. Italians, Russians, Slovacks, Irish, and Germans formed a rough and tough section of town where few from the south side dared to venture.

He learned to fight at a very young age, both in the ring and on the streets. Fights became badges of honor. He also was a voracious reader. His mother worked in the village’s library. After school, or fights or sandlot football games, he would curl away into the adult reading section. Enjoying the polished blonde oak bookshelves, tables and chairs, he would choose a book from the stacks and delve into its smells and contents. Reading soothed him.

He studied history and humanities in Pisa, Italy, and Oswego State in New York and later earned a MA in Political Science from Binghamton University. He worked as a labor investigator for NY and rose in the ranks through the years but never stopped writing or reading. He currently lives in Albany NY, with his wife Joanne.

For more information please visit Phil Pisani’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Bianca’s Vineyard is a True Historical Fiction that Captures the Legacy of Family, Loyalty, and Legacy

02_Bianca's VineyardI particularly love books that are based on true stories of families who endured World War I or II, because there is always so much depth to them. This era of history is seeped in stories that even the most likely of writers couldn’t even create….like the saying “sometimes real life is more exciting than fiction” applies I think!

Of course, with many of these war time families eventually having members come to America to re-build life, this meant that many families were separated, pain and secrets never much spoke of, and life took on the form of farming or wine making in the West.  This is what we find in the lovely book called Bianca’s Vineyard, by Teresa Neumann.

Of course though I love the historical stories of family vineyards, and the passing along to new generations of tradition (I learned to love this through reading past books and also sometimes having the chance in my day job to write about wine and vineyards in articles), this book wasn’t primarily about a vineyard, which had drawn me in at first, but in essence, it did really complete my hopes as it was a family story that spanned almost 90 years. The vineyard was the fruit of the story, the inheiritence that brought with it a mystery of Bianca’s Uncle Egisto, a sculptor who came to America to make money after the war (and it’s true– he was an amazing sculptor and carved many of the statues in St. Paul, Minnesota!), and his wife Armida, who struggled mentally and returns to Italy and ends up caught up in the horrors of Mussolini. Egisto then continues to work hard and raise their children, but he doesn’t want to give up on Armida in Italy (though she wasn’t his first choice to marry and didn’t know her well before they were married, he was very loyal!). That’s where the love story within this book is contained, within his faithfulness, and it will make you hold your breath.

The book juxtaposes between pre-WWII, WWII in Italy under Mussolini, and life in America. The family is reminicient of so many families that were torn apart by the horrors of war, where impulsive, quick, and detrimental decisions had to be made and atrocities endured. But as a vineyard binds, so can a family’s legacy. As part of a vine dies, a new season will bring growth. So can it be with love and with families. This book’s family history will tear your heart apart. It really touches on how hard it was for immigrants during the war, but also hard sometimes for the women immigrants as they felt lonely and out of touch, especially if they couldn’t speak the language.

I really liked the character development in her book and believe that her characters felt authentic and emotional. I was compelled by each situation and felt even sadder realizing that this was based on the author’s husband’s family history. I also really liked that she included so much historical detail and facts into her novel as this is what I look for in quality historical fiction. I like to be drawn in to the character’s time and place beyond only into their angst and personalities.

Neumann has presented a lasting memory of her husband’s family that can be passed down through their own future generations. As captivating as a sunset over a field of grapes, this story is  compelling, well-written in prose and dialogue, features historical and eloquent details, and rivets us with emotional drama which makes this book a page turner and a lasting addition to any book shelf.

Bianca’s Vineyard, Synopsis

02_Bianca's VineyardPublication Date: November 12, 2010
All’s Well House Publishing
Formats: eBook, Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

Bianca Corrotti’s vineyard is more than a piece of mouth-watering real estate in Tuscany. It’s an inheritance; a storehouse harboring the secrets of her Uncle Egisto Bertozzi, a world-class sculptor, and his troubled wife — a woman whose destiny converges with Mussolini’s when WWII overtakes them all. Based on a true story, Bianca’s Vineyard follows a devoted family of strong-willed men and lion-hearted women waging an epic battle against a gathering storm intent on destroying their lives.

Praise for Bianca’s Vineyard~

“Bianca’s Vineyard is many things: a striking portrait of wartime Italy under the Fascist reign of Benito Mussolini; a poignant story of family, torn apart and brought back together in the decades that spanned the Second World War; a love letter to the Tuscan countryside through its downfall and triumph. But beneath the lush descriptions of the Italian wine country and the startling brutality of a gruesome war that left a lasting impression on the entire world, it’s a story about forgiveness and second chances, and true love that prevails. The novel, ultimately, is a beautifully descriptive piece of historical fiction that spans nearly ninety years of one family’s history, focusing on one of the most pivotal moments of the twentieth century. The plot twists and turns with all of the provocative intrigue of family lore, but never fails to delight.” — The Portland Review

“Bianca’s Vineyard is involving and smoothly written, which is not surprising because Neumann is a journalist. Her dialogue is crisp and believable, and her evocation of the battle between partisans and Nazis is painful to read. Most of all, her story is of the secrets, compassion, family loyalty and long memories of people in small villages.” — St. Paul Pioneer Press

“Filled with drama and mystery, this page turner will have you longing for a vineyard of your own. Recommended for readers of historical fiction with lush settings and fans of family sagas.” — JoAnne Drake, Willamette Woman Magazine

Bianca’s Vineyard is beautifully written and is rich in culture and complex characters. Neumann gives you a realistic picture of what people went through during the war and how they survived a terrible force bent on destroying everything they have worked hard for and loved. I highly recommend this story! You will fall in love with it the moment you start the first page. Five Stars! — Historical Novel Society, Layered Pages

“Teresa Neumann’s wonderful novel, born in the contemporary history of Italy, has the impact that only a true and deeply human story could deliver. This is no fluffy Under the Tuscan Sun affirmation of all the cliches about Italy that you’ve read in recent years. Yes, the long family table under the sun, the wine and the wonderful Italian food, and the charming Italian eccentricity are all there … but this book is a riveting human story told by a master storyteller. It transcends place and time. With the instincts of a detective, Neumann investigated the tangled and often missing threads of a family story that found its way through the decades down to her. She has created a story that absorbs, stuns, and sometimes overwhelms the reader with its reality and immediacy.” — Dick Paetzke, Author of Postcards: Little Letters From Life

Buy the Book~

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Author Teresa Neumann~

03_Teresa NeumannTeresa Neumann was raised in a large, boisterous Irish-Catholic family from Iowa and is the author of “Bianca’s Vineyard,” and its sequel, “Domenico’s Table.” Both books are based on the true stories of her husband’s Italian family in Tuscany. She has lived in Oregon for over 30 years with her husband and three children. In addition to enjoying family, writing, reading, meeting her readers, wine tasting, traveling, and all things Italian, Teresa loves playing the fiddle with other musicians.

For more information on Teresa Neumann and her novels please visit her website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Giveaway~

To win a Kindle eBook of Bianca’s Vineyard, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. TWO copies are up for grabs tour wide. Giveaway for U.S. residents only, per Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Giveaway ends 11:59 p.m. on August 26, must be 18+ to enter. Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on August 27 and notified via email. They have 48 hours to claim prize for new winner is chosen.

Rafflecopter LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/MzUyMmRmMzEyNWJhM2M1M2I1ZjgwZmVmZGZmMTBiOjE1OA==/

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Donald Michael Platt Soars His Book Close to the Sun to High Heights for Me!

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Really love this cover!

I was offered to be able to pre-review Donald Michael Platt’s Close to the Sun and I jumped at the chance, with my love of the history of anything to do with flight or fighter planes I had high hopes. This book certainly soared for me! It’s an amazing story told from the perspective of average male fighter pilots in the onset and during WWII, juxtaposing between various men from many sides of the war. He makes one remember that the lives, desires, and pursuits of these enlisted men had almost nothing to do with the plan of their governments and as well that they really weren’t all that different from each other in many regards.

The details in this novel were spectacular, creating imagery and depth in the scenes and characters, as well as the dialogue being so nostalgic and well-written it felt right out of a 1950’s film. The romantic nuances of his storytelling felt incredibly authentic with the tug and pull of the men being called to serve and the women whom they loved who had their own high hopes, dreams, or work. I loved how he portrayed these women the most—strongly and fiercely independent.

Throughout his book, Platt also shows the differences in the lives of people during the war based on what country they were living in, for instance, in moving between them with new chapters, he highlighted what they were, or weren’t due to rations, eating, smoking, drinking, etc.

I’ve read several other books by Platt, and this is the best one I’ve read yet! I couldn’t stop reading. Though there are lots of technical details sprinkled into the book, it never weighed down the story.

As the battles of war raged on, he did a marvelous job showcasing his male characters love of flight above all things, as when they soared in the clouds like eagles, all other cares ceased to exist. He’s written a lasting legacy to many pilots on all fronts that served during this time.

As an Air Force brat myself, with fond memories of the flight line as a child, and an affinity for flight, I truly feel he captured the essence of the obsession of flying and made you feel the euphoria and drive of those pursuing this dream. I felt a bit like I was watching another version of “Top Gun” at first and then I enjoyed how he utilized the backdrop of WWII, in which he shows that for some men it was mostly all about the pursuit of flying and making flying records, though they are always patriotic as well and learn the dark side of flying in war.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a penchant for WWII historical and/or aviation novels, yet would like to read a fresh and original story.

Close to the Sun, Synopsis~

Publication Date: June 15, 2014
Fireship Press
eBook; 404p

Genre: Historical Fiction

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????????????????????Close to the Sun follows the lives of fighter pilots during the Second World War. As a boy, Hank Milroy from Wyoming idealized the gallant exploits of WWI fighter aces. Karl, Fürst von Pfalz-Teuffelreich, aspires to surpass his father’s 49 Luftsiegen. Seth Braham falls in love with flying during an air show at San Francisco’s Chrissy Field.

The young men encounter friends, rivals, and exceptional women. Braxton Mobley, the hotshot, wants to outscore every man in the air force. Texas tomboy Catherine “Winty” McCabe is as good a flyer as any man. Princess Maria-Xenia, a stateless White Russian, works for the Abwehr, German Intelligence. Elfriede Wohlman is a frontline nurse with a dangerous secret. Miriam Keramopoulos is the girl from Brooklyn with a voice that will take her places.

Once the United States enter the war, Hank, Brax, and Seth experience the exhilaration of aerial combat and acedom during the unromantic reality of combat losses, tedious bomber escort, strafing runs, and the firebombing of entire cities. As one of the hated aristocrats, Karl is in as much danger from Nazis as he is from enemy fighter pilots, as he and his colleagues desperately try to stem the overwhelming tide as the war turns against Germany. Callous political decisions, disastrous mistakes, and horrific atrocities they witness at the end of WWII put a dark spin on all their dreams of glory.

Praise for Close to the Sun~

“Donald Michael Platt’s Close to the Sun is an amazing story told from the perspective of average male fighter pilots in the onset and during WWII, juxtaposing between various men from many sides of the war. The details in this novel were spectacular, creating imagery and depth in the scenes and characters, as well as the dialogue being so nostalgic and well-written it felt right out of a 1950’s film. The romantic nuances of his storytelling felt incredibly authentic with the tug and pull of the men being called to serve and the women whom they loved who had their own high hopes, dreams, or work. I loved how he portrayed this women the most—strongly and fiercely independent. I’ve read several other books by Platt, and this is the best one I’ve read yet! I couldn’t stop reading. ” – Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Hook of a Book

“Donald Platt’s Close To The Sun, is nothing short of Historical Fiction gold. Platt’s flair for emotionally provocative storytelling makes this book attractive to both male and female readers. Seamlessly weaving the threads of action and feeling into a brilliant tableau of humanity. This is a masterfully penned tale of war, ambition, love, loss, and ACES!” – Frishawn Rasheed, WTF Are You Reading?

“Fast-paced and riveting I couldn’t get enough of Hank, Karl and Seth’s exploits! CLOSE TO THE SUN is a thrilling novel that leads readers through idyllic dreams of heroism and the grim reality of war. Platt provides readers with a unique coming-of-age story as three adventure-seeking boys discover far more than how to be an aerial combat pilot. CLOSE TO THE SUN is an amazing tale of adventure, heroism, war and the drive within us all that keeps us going when things look bleak.” – Ashley LaMar, Closed the Cover

“I found Close to the Sun to be an entertaining read, it was well written, with well developed characters, these characters had depth and emotion. A unique plot, told from the point of view of pilots prior to and during World War II. It was a well researched and interesting book” – Margaret Cook, Just One More Chapter

Buy the Book~

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Author Donald Michael Platt, Biography~

Donald Michael Platt Author

Don’t you love this photo of Donald and his cat? I think it’s like an oil painting!

Author of four novels, ROCAMORA, HOUSE OF ROCAMORA, A GATHERING OF VULTURES, and CLOSE TO THE SUN, Donald Michael Platt was born and raised in San Francisco. Donald graduated from Lowell High School and received his B.A. in History from the University of California at Berkeley. After two years in the Army, Donald attended graduate school at San Jose State where he won a batch of literary awards in the annual SENATOR PHELAN LITERARY CONTEST.

Donald moved to southern California to begin his professional writing career. He sold to the TV series, MR. NOVAK, ghosted for health food guru, Dan Dale Alexander, and wrote for and with diverse producers, among them as Harry Joe Brown, Sig Schlager, Albert J. Cohen, Al Ruddy plus Paul Stader Sr, Hollywood stuntman and stunt/2nd unit director. While in Hollywood, Donald taught Creative Writing and Advanced Placement European History at Fairfax High School where he was Social Studies Department Chairman.

After living in Florianópolis, Brazil, setting of his horror novel A GATHERING OF VULTURES, pub. 2007 & 2011, he moved to Florida where he wrote as a with: VITAMIN ENRICHED, pub.1999, for Carl DeSantis, founder of Rexall Sundown Vitamins; and THE COUPLE’S DISEASE, Finding a Cure for Your Lost “Love” Life, pub. 2002, for Lawrence S. Hakim, MD, FACS, Head of Sexual Dysfunction Unit at the Cleveland Clinic.

Currently, Donald resides in Winter Haven, Florida where he is polishing a dark novel and preparing to write a sequel to CLOSE TO THE SUN.

For more information please visit Donald Michael Platt’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Susan Spann Talks with Me about Writing Mysteries, Asian Fascination, and Raising Seahorses!

Today I have a wonderful mystery…the mystery behind the writing, reading, and seahorse raising life of Susan Spann! Just kidding, it’s not a mystery, but the interview is great and I hope you stay and enjoy the read! Maybe see what her favorite Agatha Christie mystery is? If you missed my review yesterday, in which I raved about the book,  you can view it HERE. Enjoy!

Blade of the Samurai

Hi, Susan! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It’s not 16th Century Japan, but I’ll try to make you at home here as well and we’ll talk about your life and your books.

Just take off your shoes and have a sit on the mat with me. I’ll call for tea. What kinds of tea would you prefer today?

Susan: I’d love some white jasmine tea – it’s my favorite, especially the pearl-shaped kind!

Erin: I’ll have what you’re having! That sounds delightful. Let’s settle in and get started.

Q: It sounds like the history and culture of China and Japan have always intrigued you, even before you went into law. What was the catalyst for this interest? What motivates you about the subject?

A: I “discovered” Japan in 1980, when I saw the SHOGUN miniseries on TV (the one with Richard Chamberlain in the starring role). The day the miniseries ended, I went to the library, checked out the James Clavell novel that inspired the program, and fell in love with the samurai era.

Ironically, my deeper interest in Asian history came from a book I never read. In 1983 (and yes, I’m dating myself a little), my seventh-grade history class was assigned to read a book called THROUGH CHINESE EYES, which talked about Asian history through the eyes of the people who lived it. Before that, I thought of history as “dates and dead guys” – but when my class ran out of time and didn’t get to reading that book, it made me wonder what I might have missed. Now, of course, I realize that I could have read the book on my own, but seventh-grade me considered the “missing book” an intriguing mystery to the “real” nature of history.

By the time I reached college, and discovered that “Asian Studies” was “a thing,” I dove right in and never looked back.

Q: You started reading Agatha Christie at a young age. I am a huge fan! What is your favorite mystery that she has written? What techniques does she use that all mystery writers still today can study?

A: My favorite Agatha Christie novel is The Floating Admiral, ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Floating_Admiral)) a novel she co-authored with thirteen other mystery writers as a collaborative game. Each author wrote one chapter, continuing the story with no knowledge of the “solution” the previous author(s) had in mind, but which must account for or include the clues and suspects presented in previous chapters. It’s a delightful exercise in mystery, and a fun novel on many levels.

As far as her independent works, my favorite is Murder on the Orient Express. It was one of the first mystery novels I ever read (I was ten years old, and got it from the library), and I still remember being shocked and delighted that my love of puzzles could “translate” into books.

I’m a huge fan of the way Christie’s detectives (Poirot is my favorite, by the way) often “reveal” the solution in a room filled with suspects, using the explanation to draw a confession from the guilty party. I love it so much, I’ve deliberately included it in my novels, too!

Erin: Murder on the Orient Express is one of my top favorites of her also. I was shocked that my love of trains, mysteries, writing could all assemble!

Q: I’m sure your love of mysteries helped to inspire you to write them too! Was it fun to merge two of your favorites together (mysteries and cultural/historical Japan)? What made you decide to write this kind of fiction, beyond your love of both things?

A: I was attacked by ninjas! Well, in reality it wasn’t quite that glamorous. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, getting ready for work, one morning in 2011, and I had a random thought: “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.”

I knew immediately that this was a book, and a series, I had to write.

Q: When you started out did you find it easier or harder to write a mystery than you expected? What challenges did you have and what breakthroughs? What did you do differently the second time that you learned from the first?

A: I’d resisted writing a mystery, despite my love for the genre, because I was afraid I’d do it badly. But when I actually sat down to write, the pieces fell into place much faster and more easily than I imagined. By the time I finished writing the first Shinobi Mystery, Claws of the Cat, I realized I’d found my writing niche.

One of the biggest challenges, for me, is narrowing the “cast list.” Every novel I write starts out with 3-5 extra characters who seem important in the outline but end up as “fifth wheels” when the drafting starts. I normally either meld them into other characters or cut them out of the book completely. Whatever role they supposedly filled gets handed to someone else.

The biggest change I made in writing Blade of the Samurai, which I continued to use in the third book Flask of the Drunken Master, and am using while writing the fourth novel also, is the elimination of chapter breaks in the early drafts. I write sequentially (some writers skip around in the scenes, but I write my novels straight through, start to finish), and writing without any chapter breaks lets me focus on the story as a whole. By the time I reach draft 3, I can see where the natural breaks arise, so that’s when I add the “chapters.”

Q: How do you create your characters? Are they outlined and determined with strict guidelines or do they call the shots?

A: A little of both.

I outline every novel, and my outlines include a name and short biography of every character (primary and secondary) who has a “speaking role” in the novel. I try to develop the characters as much as I can before I start writing, because it helps to create more depth – the more real they are to me, the more real they seem on the page.

Once the drafting starts, however, I let the characters off the leash—and anything can happen. My newest novel Blade of the Samurai, features a teenaged samurai named Ichiro who wasn’t even in the original outline but ultimately proved critical to the story. I love surprises, and discovering a new, favorite character in the drafting process is an excellent surprise.

Q: You like martial arts, so do you practice any? Or are you just like me and enjoy watching them? Ever since Karate Kid and the American Ninja movies, I’ve been hooked. What types do you enjoy, either doing, studying, or watching?

A: I’ve studied Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, and some traditional sword and archery arts, as well as a little knife and shuriken throwing. I’ve always wanted to study Aikido and Kendo, and I’m hoping to find a place to do that soon.

Q: How do you learn to “write” ninja action into a fiction novel? What did you have to learn to do so precisely and with momentum enough for readers? Do you write like for the screen or with more details for die-hard readers?

A: It helped to study martial arts, both in person and by watching other practitioners sparring. When you’ve held a sword, and taken a punch, you develop a sense of what’s possible (and what’s not). I tend to think visually, and I watch a lot of movies, so that definitely plays into the writing, too.

Q: Are your mystery novels purely fiction or do you have any historical fact interwoven into them? What is your overall plot line for the series or are they stand alone mysteries?

A: Hiro and Father Mateo are purely fictitious, and the plots all center on “made-up murders,” but the backdrop and some of the secondary characters in my novels are based on historical fact. I try to weave at least one “real” historical subplot into each book in the series – in Blade of the Samurai, it has to do with the shogun, though I can’t tell you more without spoilers! The way the subplot unfolds doesn’t always track the history exactly. I do take some license there, though I try not to write anything that contradicts known historical facts in a significant way if I can help it.

The books also feature “real” historical figures, in supporting roles, though obviously I have to fictionalize them for the novels. Blade of the Samurai introduces Matsunaga Hisahide, a real Japanese warlord who played a major role in Japanese history during the mid-16th century. He’s well-known in Japan, so I felt a great responsibility to write him as well as possible.

I do have an over-arching plot line for the series, even though each novel is stand-alone. As the series continues, readers will learn more about Hiro’s mysterious background, and more about Father Mateo and the other recurring characters too!

Q: I can’t NOT ask this question, based on the fact that I am a seahorse fanatic, you raise seahorses??! How adorable. Also, rare sea coral? Please do tell, I’m very interested in how easy or difficult this is within an aquarium. Do they ever beg for face time in your novels?

A: I’ve loved seahorses all my life, and jumped at the chance to set up a seahorse reef when I started working from home five years ago. They do take a little extra care – for example, they don’t have stomachs like most creatures do, so they have to eat at least once, and preferably twice, each day – but they’re remarkably interactive and totally worth the extra effort.

They don’t beg for face time in the novels, but they DO beg for food. The tank sits directly to the right of my writing desk, and the female spends her evenings tapping the glass with her snout and swimming up and down to get my attention. When I do turn and look, she swims to the spot where I put her food and looks at me, clearly hoping I get the point. I didn’t realize how smart, and how interactive, seahorses really were until I started raising them. They’re remarkable little creatures!

Q: I also know of course that you are an attorney and you help authors with publishing law. That’s fantastic. Besides your help on Twitter (@susanspann) with the hashtag, #PubLaw, why do authors need assistance in this regard and what do you do to lead them in the right direction? Do you take clients from anywhere or stay focused in your location?

A: Many authors get so excited by the prospect (or offer) of a publishing contract that they don’t stop to consider the “fine print” in the contract. This can be dangerous, because the contract governs the relationship between the author and the publisher, and once it’s signed there’s no “going back” unless both sides agree to change the terms (which almost never happens). My goal with #PubLaw is to help spread the word about important contract terms – the ones to look for and the ones to avoid – and to encourage writers to get legal help with contracts, from an agent or attorney, whenever possible.

Most of my clients do live in California, but when the circumstances and lawyers’ licensing rules permit, I take clients who live outside the state as well.

Q: Your first mystery novel, Claws of the Cat, did very well and was named a Library Journal Mystery Novel of the Month. Of course, I know you are hoping for more good news with Blade of the Samurai. But will there be more in the series? What’s coming next?

A: The third Shinobi Mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, is already with the publisher, and I’m working on the fourth installment, under the working title Blood of the Outcast. That title might change, but Flask of the Drunken Master will publish under that title in July 2015!

Q: Where can readers and writers connect with you?

A: The best way to reach me is either via my website (http://www.susanspann.com) - there’s an email widget there on the contact page – or on Facebook (I’m SusanSpannAuthor) or Twitter (@SusanSpann). I love to connect with readers and other authors, so I welcome email, tweets and Facebook messages!

Erin: Thank you so very much for coming by Susan to tell us a little about yourself, your love of Japanese culture, your novels, and your cute seahorses. Best of luck to you with your writing! Will be happy to see you back when you release your next book!

Susan: Thank you for having me here, Erin! I had a great time talking with you, and appreciate the chance to talk with you and your readers about the Shinobi Mysteries, law, and seahorses!

Blade of the Samurai, Synopsis~

Blade of the SamuraiPublication Date: July 15, 2014
Minotaur Books
Formats: eBook, Hardcover

Series: Shinobi Mystery
Genre: Historical Mystery

READ AN EXCERPT.

June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.

Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in 16th century Japan.

Book One of the Shinobi Mysteries series, Claws of the Cat, was released in 2013.

Praise for Blade of the Samurai~

“The second Hiro Hattori mystery (after 2013’s Claws of the Cat) finds the sixteenth-century ninja—and unofficial investigator—presented with an interesting problem…A strong second entry in a very promising series.”—Booklist

“Hiro and Father Mateo’s second adventure (Claws of the Cat, 2013) combines enlightenment on 16th-century Japanese life with a sharp and well-integrated mystery.”—Kirkus Reveiws

Buy the Book~

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Indigo
IndieBound
Powell’s
WalMart

Author Susan Spann, Biography~

Susan Spann 1Susan Spann acquired her love of books and reading during her preschool days in Santa Monica, California. As a child she read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie. In high school, she once turned a short-story assignment into a full-length fantasy novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day).

A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts.

Susan’s interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her highly distracting marine aquarium. Susan lives in Sacramento with her husband, son, three cats, one bird, and a multitude of assorted aquatic creatures.

For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website and blog.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/bladeofthesamuraitour

Hashtags: #BladeoftheSamuraiBlogTour #HFVBTBlogTour #HistNov #HistFic #HistoricalMystery
Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @SusanSpann @MinotaurBooks

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Blade of the Samurai is Highly Recommended Complex Mystery Set in 16th Century Japan

Blade of the Samurai

Without a doubt, there are many mystery writers in the publishing world vying for attention, with mystery being one of the top read genres. What’s even more certain is that Susan Spann has written herself to the head of the pack through her precise penmanship and plot-driven puzzles that travel us to medieval Japan and thrust us into the culture of the Shogun and the ninja.

Blade of the Samurai, Spann’s second Shinobi mystery after last year’s Claws of the Cat, is action packed and I read it rather quickly as it kept me turning the pages. Her historical research of the period (with her passion for the culture of Japan shining through), her intricate characters, and her plot that kept me guessing made this book a hit for me as much as Claws of the Cat endeared me to the mysteries of Spann.

It’s an adventure in time and left me feeling as if I’d been compelled to travel to sixteenth century Japan. I loved learning about Japanese history from the mystery, as I have a fondness for it, but Spann teaches it in a way that is easily understandable to any reader and yet doesn’t insult our intellect either! She also doesn’t let it bog down the reader, as she writes succinct and clear and keeps the action moving. I felt the emotions of her characters, especially Hiro–the ninja who is the “investigator” and his partner in solving crime, Father Mateo. They are an unlikely pair who fit like peanut butter and bananas. They mesh well together as they work from suspect to suspect, not knowing they are keeping the readers on pins and needles.

It’s like Agatha Christie set in feudal Japan mixed with some great action adventure ninja movies like I’d cuddle up to watch in the 80s. I’d definitely like to read more books by Spann, she transports me and urges me not to give a care about the clock. 5 Stars in the Mystery Genre!

Blade of the Samurai, Synopsis~

Blade of the SamuraiPublication Date: July 15, 2014
Minotaur Books
Formats: eBook, Hardcover

Series: Shinobi Mystery
Genre: Historical Mystery

READ AN EXCERPT.

June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.

Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in 16th century Japan.

Book One of the Shinobi Mysteries series, Claws of the Cat, was released in 2013.

Praise for Blade of the Samurai~

“The second Hiro Hattori mystery (after 2013’s Claws of the Cat) finds the sixteenth-century ninja—and unofficial investigator—presented with an interesting problem…A strong second entry in a very promising series.”—Booklist

“Hiro and Father Mateo’s second adventure (Claws of the Cat, 2013) combines enlightenment on 16th-century Japanese life with a sharp and well-integrated mystery.”—Kirkus Reveiws

Buy the Book~

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Indigo
IndieBound
Powell’s
WalMart

Author Susan Spann, Biography~

Susan Spann 1Susan Spann acquired her love of books and reading during her preschool days in Santa Monica, California. As a child she read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie. In high school, she once turned a short-story assignment into a full-length fantasy novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day).

A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts.

Susan’s interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her highly distracting marine aquarium. Susan lives in Sacramento with her husband, son, three cats, one bird, and a multitude of assorted aquatic creatures.

For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website and blog.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/bladeofthesamuraitour

Hashtags: #BladeoftheSamuraiBlogTour #HFVBTBlogTour #HistNov #HistFic #HistoricalMystery
Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @SusanSpann @MinotaurBooks

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Interview with Bestselling Author Deborah Harkness + Giveaway + The Book of Life Releases!

The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, including the books Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life, is one of my most favorite set of novels. Even more than Harry Potter! I love this story, Deborah’s writing, and feel a connection to these characters as if they were family and friends. When I heard Deborah speak and met her almost two years ago now, she blew me away with her thought process and her love of history, magic, and writing. I love how she weaves a tale of magic that adults can enjoy!

Now, after much anticipation, the final book (fittingly called The Book of Life), has published TODAY (July 15, 2014) and it’s just as great a novel as when I fell in love with Discovery of Witches. It really launches into action from the first chapter and held my attention long into the night. It completes the series in grand style, yet I really wish is wasn’t over.

Book-of-Life-Deborah-Harkness

Today, I have an interview with Deborah and a giveaway for readers. Later this week, I’ll have my review of The Book of Life as well as a giveaway of the book. So without further ado, here is the giveaway for today (see a sample below): CLICK  HERE TO ENTER TO WIN A COMMONPLACE BOOK AND PIN OF THE COVER.

commonplace book

Interview with Deborah Harkness~

Q: In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research. What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading THE BOOK OF LIFE? There’s quite a bit more lab work in this book!

A. There is. Welcome back to the present! What I hope readers come to appreciate is that science—past or present—is nothing more than a method for asking and answering questions about the world and our place in it. Once, some of those questions were answered alchemically. Today, they might be answered biochemically and genetically. In the future? Who knows. But Matthew is right in suggesting that there are really remarkably few scientific questions and we have been posing them for a very long time. Two of them are: who am I? why am I here?

Q: Much of the conflict in the book seems to mirror issues of race and sexuality in our society, and there seems to be a definite moral conclusion to THE BOOK OF LIFE. Could you discuss this? Do you find that a strength of fantasy novels is their ability to not only to allow readers to escape, but to also challenge them to fact important moral issues?

A. Human beings like to sort and categorize. We have done this since the beginnings of recorded history, and probably well back beyond that point. One of the most common ways to do that is to group things that are “alike” and things that are “different.” Often, we fear what is not like us. Many of the world’s ills have stemmed from someone (or a group of someones) deciding what is different is also dangerous. Witches, women, people of color, people of different faiths, people of different sexual orientations—all have been targets of this process of singling others out and labeling them different and therefore undesirable. Like my interest in exploring what a family is, the issue of difference and respect for difference (rather than fear) informed every page of the All Souls Trilogy. And yes, I do think that dealing with fantastic creatures like daemons, vampires, and witches rather than confronting issues of race or sexuality directly can enable readers to think through these issues in a useful way and perhaps come to different conclusions about members of their own families and communities. As I often say when people ask me why supernatural creatures are so popular these days: witches and vampires are monsters to think with.

Q: From the moment Matthew and a pregnant Diana arrive back at Sept-Tours and reinstate themselves back into a sprawling family of witches and vampires, it becomes clear that the meaning of family will be an important idea for THE BOOK OF LIFE. How does this unify the whole series? Did you draw on your own life?

A. Since time immemorial the family has been an important way for people to organize themselves in the world. In the past, the “traditional” family was a sprawling and blended unit that embraced immediate relatives, in-laws and their immediate families, servants, orphaned children, the children your partner might bring into a family from a previous relationship, and other dependents. Marriage was an equally flexible and elastic concept in many places and times. Given how old my vampires are, and the fact that witches are the keepers of tradition, I wanted to explore from the very first page of the series the truly traditional basis of family: unqualified love and mutual responsibility. That is certainly the meaning of family that my parents taught me.

Q: While there are entire genres devoted to stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts, the idea of a weaver – a witch who weaves original spells – feels very unique to THE BOOK OF LIFE. What resources helped you gain inspiration for Diana’s uniqueness?

A. Believe it or not, my inspiration for weaving came from a branch of mathematics called topology. I became intrigued by mathematical theories of mutability to go along with my alchemical theories of mutability and change. Topology is a mathematical study of shapes and spaces that theorizes how far something can be stretched or twisted without breaking. You could say it’s a mathematical theory of connectivity and continuity (two familiar themes to any reader of the All Souls Trilogy). I wondered if I could come up with a theory of magic that could be comfortably contained within mathematics, one in which magic could be seen to shape and twist reality without breaking it. I used fabric as a metaphor for this worldview with threads and colors shaping human perceptions. Weavers became the witches who were talented at seeing and manipulating the underlying fabric. In topology, mathematicians study knots—unbreakable knots with their ends fused together that can be twisted and shaped. Soon the mathematics and mechanics of Diana’s magic came into focus.

Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shadow of Night debuted at #1. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for the All Souls Trilogy? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?

A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who have a considerable number of quirks and challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in the world of the Bishops and de Clemonts. Sometimes when I meet readers they ask me how their friends are doing—meaning Diana, or Matthew, or Miriam. That’s an extraordinary experience for a writer.

Q: Diana and Matthew, once again, move around to quite a number of locations in THE BOOK OF LIFE, including New Haven, New Orleans, and a few of our favorite old haunts like Oxford, Madison, and Sept-Tours. What inspired you to place your characters in these locations? Have you visited them yourself?

A. As a writer, I really need to experience the places I write about in my books. I want to know what it smells like, how the air feels when it changes direction, the way the sunlight strikes the windowsill in the morning, the sound of birds and insects. Not every writer may require this, but I do. So I spent time not only in New Haven but undertaking research at the Beinecke Library so that I could understand the rhythms of Diana’s day there. I visited New Orleans several times to imagine my vampires into them. All of the locations I pick are steeped in history and stories about past inhabitants—perfect fuel for any writer’s creative fire.

Q: Did you know back when you wrote A Discovery of Witches how the story would conclude in THE BOOK OF LIFE? Did the direction change once you began the writing process?

A. I knew how the trilogy would end, but I didn’t know exactly how we would get there. The story was well thought out through the beginning of what became The Book of Life, but the chunk between that beginning and the ending (which is as I envisioned it) did change. In part that was because what I had sketched out was too ambitious and complicated—the perils of being not only a first-time trilogy writer but also a first time author. It was very important to me that I resolve and tie up all the threads already in the story so readers had a satisfying conclusion. Early in the writing of The Book of Life it became clear that this wasn’t going to give me much time to introduce new characters or plot twists. I now understand why so many trilogies have four, five, six—or more—books in them. Finishing the trilogy as a trilogy required a lot of determination and a very thick pair of blinders as I left behind characters and story lines that would take me too far from the central story of Diana, Matthew, and the Book of Life.

Q: A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and the secrets contained in the manuscript are at long last revealed in THE BOOK OF LIFE. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation. What was the story behind your discovery? And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?

A. I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.

Q: Are there other lost books like this in the world?

A. Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.

Q: Shadow of Night and A Discovery of Witches have often been compared to young adult fantasy like Twilight, with the caveat that this series is for adults interested in history, science, and academics. Unlike Bella and Edward, Matthew and Diana are card-carrying members of academia who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?

A. There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A Discovery of Witches, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.

The Book of Life, Information~

Book-of-Life-Deborah-HarknessTHE BOOK OF LIFE is the highly-anticipated final installment of thebestselling All Souls TrilogybyDeborah Harkness (Viking; On-sale: July 15, 2014; $28.95).The trilogy began with A Discovery of Witches which People magazine called, “A wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter or Twilight”. The sequel Shadow of Night debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and the Miami Herald called it, “Enchanting, engrossing and as impossible to put down as its predecessor…a perfect blend of fantasy, history and romance.” In total, over one million copies have been sold in the States with publications following in 38 countries, leaving legions of fans eagerly awaiting THE BOOK OF LIFE, the satisfying conclusion to this superbly written series.

THE BOOK OF LIFE picks up right where Shadow of Night left off.  After traveling through time, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to continue their hunt for the magical alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, otherwise known as the Book of Life.   At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they re­unite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception—ready to face old enemies. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for the Book of Life and its miss­ing pages takes on even more urgency.

In the tril­ogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and forbidden passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowl­edge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

Deborah Harkness, Biography~

deborah-harkness-small-web-resDeborah Harkness is the number one New York Times bestselling author of A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. A history professor at the University of Southern California, Harkness has received Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships.

Her publications include works on the history of science, magic, and alchemy.  Her most recent scholarly book is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution.

She lives in Los Angeles.

Website: http://www.deborahharkness.com

Find her at: @debharkness • facebook.com/AuthorDeborahHarkness

 

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Spooky Guest Article by Catherine Cavendish + Review of Saving Grace Devine

Today I have a SPOOKY guest article by the amazing author Catherine Cavendish (yes, SPOOKY, I got scared as I read it and now I don’t want to go to bed tonight). From across the pond in the UK, she’s just released her Saving Grace Devine novel with Samhain Horror Publishing. I had the terrifying opportunity of reading her book and it is excellent for all the many Gothic and haunting paranormal lovers, with an eerie mystery and a time slip to 1912.

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Her premise, “can the living help the dead?,” had me curious. I am not usually just a straight haunt story reader, because those stories scare me more than anything and I can’t sleep, but with her Gothic style (for those familiar with Victoria Holt and Daphne Du Maurier style of European or Victorian Gothic) I knew I’d love it.

Her protagonist, Alex is a modern woman, set on a vacation to an isolated island with her husband, Greg. She does feel as if she has a specter near here, but she’s never been sure what it all means. She likes to explore and sight see and visit museums and when she sets foot in to a small, local museum near where they are staying she discovers a family history and a painting that she is familiar with. It seems her specter has followed her….or maybe led her….and need her help. Slowly, she beings to unravel the mystery to the sordid and evil family history, being propelled back in time to 1912 by a family member with demonic powers.

It seems that the case is true, to break a curse sometimes deals are made with the devil with after effects you’d never think will come. At the moment you may think you have no choice, and in the end you pay the price.

I loved the mystery she incorporated into her novel. I loved her character development of Alex. I thought differently about one section of it, like who needed to do the forgiving, but I can’t say much or I’ll spoil. It was only because I cared so much about the characters though that I even  had that emotion. I think her book was contemporary and yet she switched easily to the past creating an eerie environment just right in Gothic literature. I could picture both the modern and the past as separately. She offered just the right details at the right time.

I loved the time slip part the best and the ending, yet I was so saddened by the ending. It really did shock me quite more than I expected it too. She wrapped it up nice and neat, then she tore my heart out. Ah, I still can’t believe it. Quite unnerving and terrifying. Then the book came full circle back to the beginning.

On the front half of the book, it was a delightful summer spooky read, but on the back end it left me unsettled and quite sad, which is what it was supposed to do. She messed with  my emotions and now she owes me wine and scones!!  I can’t wait to read more of Cat’s work. If you love Gothic literature, Cat’s the new author on the prowl you should be reading.

Enjoy her guest article!

The Ghosts of Brookdale Lodge
by Catherine Cavendish, Author

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In my new novel, Saving Grace Devine, a young girl is drowned, but her spirit returns to haunt the lakeside where she met her untimely end. She seeks help from the living, to help her cross over to the afterlife.

From my research, it would appear that my fictional Grace is not alone. Many people have reported seeing ghosts of drowned girls who are all apparently earthbound – searching for something, or someone. In need of help from the living to help them join the world of spirit.

In this account, the ghost of a drowned little girl is not the only spirit haunting the site.

In Brookdale, California, in the shade of giant redwood trees, Judge J.H. Logan built a lodge in 1890, on the site of the old Grover lumber mill. In the 1920s, Dr F. K. Camp built the now famous dining room, with a natural brook running through it, so that diners could enjoy their meal beside the flowing water.

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Today, this lodge is the residential Brookdale Inn and Spa, but back then, it was called Brookdale Lodge, and witnessed plenty of drama and more than one drowning. As a result, it is estimated some 49 spirits now reside there, and many guests have been all too aware of at least one of them.

The beautiful dining room created by Dr Camp is known as the Brook Room and exists to this day. It has certainly seen some interesting events and some colourful characters over the years. The Lodge itself had its heyday between 1922 and 1945 when famous stars such as Hedy Lamarr, President Hoover, Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth stayed there. Songs were written about it, such as My Brookdale Hideaway. It was also a place where secrets were kept and questions went unasked.

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1955 Photo of Joan Crawford

Dr Camp sold the Lodge in 1945, and from then on through the 1950s, it changed hands a couple of times. Its fortunes changed and it became a hideout for gangsters and others of dubious reputation. Secret passageways and hidden rooms were installed and rumours circulated of bodies buried under the floorboards.

It was during this era that six year old Sarah Logan, niece of the then owner, drowned in the dining room brook. It is her ghost that is most frequently reported. She is often seen, wearing a 1940s style white and blue dress – probably her Sunday best – as she walks through the lobby or near the fireplace between the living room and the Brook Room. She is clearly at home in the building as she has also been reported sitting in the Fireside Room and playing on the balcony of the Brook Room. Owners and visitors alike have reported their sightings and it seems she appears in solid form, rather than as a translucent wraith.

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In the Brook Room, after the guests have gone, the glasses and plates still tinkle, and people carry on their chatter. A ghost of a woman has been seen, apparently crossing the brook, using a bridge that has long since been demolished. Could this be Sarah’s mother, looking for her? When the woman is sighted, she is often accompanied by the smell of gardenias – although none exist in the building. Her perfume maybe?

Are Sarah and her mother trying to be reunited? If someone could help them do so, would their hauntings cease? Even if they did, Brookdale could still lay claim to a ‘Most Haunted’ title. In addition to the sounds of ghostly diners, phantom dancers whirl and twirl around the Ballroom and, in the Fireside room and the Pool Room, if you listen carefully, you can still hear the big band play…

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Here’s a flavour of Saving Grace Devine:

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Can the living help the dead…and at what cost? 

When Alex Fletcher finds a painting of a drowned girl, she’s unnerved. When the girl in the painting opens her eyes, she is terrified. And when the girl appears to her as an apparition and begs her for help, Alex can’t refuse.

But as she digs further into Grace’s past, she is embroiled in supernatural forces she cannot control, and a timeslip back to 1912 brings her face to face with the man who killed Grace and the demonic spirit of his long-dead mother. With such nightmarish forces stacked against her, Alex’s options are few. Somehow she must save Grace, but to do so, she must pay an unimaginable price.

You can find Saving Grace Devine in multiple e-formats at:

Samhain Publishing

Amazon.com 

Amazon.co.uk 

Amazon.ca 

Amazon.com.au 

B&N 

Kobo

and in paperback here:

Samhain Publishing

Save 30% off at Samhain for the month of July and save 50% off paperback with code Paperback50 at checkout!

Catherine Cavendish, Biography~

Catherine CavendishCatherine Cavendish is joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology competition 2013. Her winning novella – Linden Manor – is now available in all digital formats and the print anthology will be published in October. She is the author of a number of paranormal horror and Gothic horror novellas and short stories. . Her novel, Saving Grace Devine, has just been published by Samhain Publishing.

She lives with a longsuffering husband in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid-18th century which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV.

When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

You can connect with Cat here:

Website

Facebook

GoodReads

Twitter

 

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A Top Fave Book: Hell Hole, a Western Supernatural, Publishes Today from Hunter Shea

My very good friend Hunter Shea (www.huntershea.com), who has been launching his Kensington/Pinnacle book The Montauk Monster this summer (and I’ve had fun being publicist), has already published a new book with Samhain Horror today (July 1, 2014), called Hell Hole! I read Hell Hole about a year and a half ago as his first draft first reader, to lend any development editing suggestions or concerns. It certainly didn’t take me long to read through it, though nothing else got done that day.

I think he kicked up the sand with this book right from the start. His writing style reminds me of his whole personality, which is pretty high-octane. It isn’t a dull moment being Hunter’s friend and in helping him with his publicity and his books. He’s got mad skills, but he works awfully hard for it and at it, yet I never know what he’s going to say. I try to compete by making off the wall comments, but nothing stirs this guy! He’s a magnet for the creepy tales, so I suppose I should expect his writing to mirror things that will make my arm hair stand on end. He’s written a whole library set of books as of now and all are different, but all excellent.

Not knowing always what might come out of his head though, I wasn’t completely sure about the whole “western horror” books that a few of these guys were going to publish with Samhain (i.e. Dust Devils by Jonathan Janz came out in Feb. 2014–I ended up LOVING it). I certainly didn’t know what to expect when I dove into reading Hell Hole.

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I think this cover is so cool!! Right?

However, as with most Hunter Shea novels, and even though this one is completely different from anything else he’s ever written, I was completely immersed! He’s a GREAT writer, rarely needs copy editing, knows how to keep the action going, and he brings out the most in characters so that they really excel and are totally dimensional. I always immediately feel connected to his characters as if I know them personally. Not only that, they stay with me and are memorable–his stories never leave me, even with as many books as I read a year. He’s very visual and I can see the entire story running in my head, which normally is very hard for me.

With this one he also added the element of history (another fave of mine) by setting it during the time of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, when New York City cop Nat  is given an assignment in the mysterious. This gritty, sandy, dusty feel came through in his novel as Nat heads out west to Wyoming, and to a basically different world in this turn of the century time period, in search of finding out what is happening to the people going missing. Nat seems like Matthew McConaughey, his sidekick for-hire Teta, like Johnny Depp, and the lovely lady who’ll make an appearance, like Selma Hayek. Together, they’ll take on mysterious creatures and black eyed children….YEP, I’ll never enter a mine again. Well, I probably wasn’t going to anyway, but still, you know what I mean.

Hell Hole is scary good fun and IT MADE THE LIST AS  ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME in the horror genre, especially since it had a touch of history. I have a very hard time comparing his work to anyone else as I feel he is so original. But quite probably, I loved it as much and in the way I have loved Stephen’s King The Gunslinger since the first time I read it back in the early 90s.

Here’s the synopsis~

Deep in a Wyoming mine, hell awaits.  

Former cattle driver, Rough Rider and current New York City cop Nat Blackburn is given an offer he can’t refuse by President Teddy Roosevelt. Tales of gold in the abandoned mining town of Hecla, in the Deep Rock Hills, abound. The only problem–those who go seeking their fortune never return.

Along with his constant companion, Teta, a hired gun with a thirst for adventure, Nat travels to a barren land where even animals dare not tread. But the remnants of Hecla are far from empty. Black-eyed children, strange lights and ferocious wild men venture from the deep, dark mine…as well as a force so sinister Nat’s and Teta’s very souls are in jeopardy.

There’s a mystery in Hecla thousands of years old. Solving it could spell the end of the world.

Sounds pretty entertaining? It’s highly recommended for any reader who likes a good historical with a clever mystery, some supernatural altercations, and the use of haunting enemies that are original and unique to what most writers are using. If you like Ghost Mine or Tales of the Unknown mixed up with the movie “Desperado” and some Larry McMurtry writing, this one is for YOU! It’s spooky, but for my readers who say no to blood and gore, no worries. This one is for the mainstream reader who like thrills and chills. I hope you check it out!

Purchase~

Samhain Horror (and you get 30% off new titles for 30 days)

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Hunter Shea, Biography:

hunter shea photoHunter Shea is the author of paranormal and horror novels Forest of Shadows, Swamp Monster Massacre, Evil Eternal, Sinister Entity, which are all published by Samhain Horror. The June 3, 2014 release of his horrifying thriller Montauk Monster is published by Kensington/Pinnacle.

He has also written a short story to be read prior to Sinister Entity, called The Graveyard Speaks (it’s free, go download!), and a book of stories called Asylum Scrawls. His next book from Samhain Horror, titled HellHole, came out July1, 2014 and is his first western horror.

His work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Dark Moon Digest, Morpheus Tales, and the upcoming anthology, Shocklines : Fresh Voices in Terror. His obsession with all things horrific has led him to real life exploration of the paranormal, interviews with exorcists, and other things that would keep most people awake with the lights on.

He is also half of the two men show, Monster Men, which is a video podcast that takes a fun look at the world of horror. You can read about his latest travails and communicate with him at www.huntershea.com, on Twitter @HunterShea1, Facebook fan page at Hunter Shea or the Monster Men 13 channel on YouTube.

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The Bone Church by Victoria Dougherty Top Notch WWII and Cold War Espionage Thriller

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Reading The Bone Church has now cemented me as a Victoria Dougherty junkie! She writes a type of thriller I love, full of drama, intrigue, and historical stories of people who lived in occupied situations, both in WWII and in post-war situations all too soon forgotten in Eastern Europe. I’m very happy that learning about Victoria led me to her blog, Cold,  and her beautiful posts, as well. I look forward to reading much more of her writing on her blog or elsewhere, as well as future novels.

So what did I think of The Bone Church? A brilliant, beautiful book in all its harrowing content, seeped in struggle and sacrifice. It’s haunting and absorbing in all the very best ways. Victoria’s writing is literary; she has immense talent and a gift for words and storytelling that is few and far between. This is a book for an intelligent reader–one who likes to read for substance, for critical thinking and being held captive by feeling, for those with minds who can focus on her content and her juxtaposing between time frames.

The Bone Church is for someone who likes a book to concentrate on and contemplate. Be ready to take the plunge, because once I did into the first few chapters, it compelled me to not put it down. The characters will immediately seep into your heart and mind and they’ll not let you go. You’ll want to hear their story as much as they want to tell it. You’ll feel as if you are being pursued as they are pursued.

Magdelena’s story is featured in several parts–as she hides from her Jewish heritage during Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in WWII, and with her Christian husband, Felix, get caught up in a very scary plot, to the book’s present day in Prague during the Soviet post-war occupation in 1956. Then, there is also murder and suspense and pursuit. There are dangerous alliances.

This book can easily be defined as the epitome of cold war thriller, not only full of espionage and spies like John Le Carre (though with a similar feeling and even better writing–and Le Carre’s Russia House is one of my favorites), but with a focus on the real families that were actually effected by the political strife and domination too.

Victoria tells the story of so many real people of this era.  In creating her characters, she showcases their loyalty, despair, love, and hope while intertwining things that might seem intangible, danger, a touch of pensive, and tucks in the brooding introspection that comes from intensive turmoil, death of loved ones, and fight for survival.

She’s right when she describes her work as “cold,” yet it isn’t cold to the touch. In fact, I easily connected to the storyline, the characters, as well as feeling and understanding the austere story. I really think she could easily be one of the next blockbuster authors in her genre. She’s right on par to step up on the list for anyone who likes novels of Le Carre, Ian Fleming, and Tom Clancy. She’s extremely talented and The Bone Church is a must read for serious readers! Can’t wait to read more!

The Bone Church, Synopsis~

02_The Bone ChurchPublication Date: April 15, 2014
Pier’s Court Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction/Thriller/Suspense

In the surreal and paranoid underworld of wartime Prague, fugitive lovers Felix Andel and Magdalena Ruza make some dubious alliances – with a mysterious Roman Catholic cardinal, a reckless sculptor intent on making a big political statement, and a gypsy with a risky sex life. As one by one their chances for fleeing the country collapse, the two join a plot to assassinate Hitler’s nefarious Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Josef Goebbels.

But the assassination attempt goes wildly wrong, propelling the lovers in separate directions.

Felix’s destiny is sealed at the Bone Church, a mystical pilgrimage site on the outskirts of Prague, while Magdalena is thrust even deeper into the bowels of a city that betrayed her and a homeland soon to be swallowed by the Soviets. As they emerge from the shadowy fog of World War II, and stagger into the foul haze of the Cold War, Felix and Magdalena must confront the past, and a dangerous, uncertain future.

Buy the Book~

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
IndieBound

Author Victoria Dougherty, Biography~

03_Victoria DoughertyVictoria Dougherty writes fiction, drama, and essays that often revolve around spies, killers, curses and destinies. Her work has been published or profiled in The New York Times, USA Today, International Herald Tribune and elsewhere.

Earlier in her career, while living in Prague, she co-founded Black Box Theater, translating, producing and acting in several Czech plays.

She lives with her husband and children in Charlottesville, Virginia.

For more information, please visit Victoria Dougherty’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Tour Schedule:  http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thebonechurchblogtour
Tour Hashtag: #BoneChurchTour

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