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Interview with Gigi Pandian on her Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series + Review of Quicksand!

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Today, I have a review of Gigi Pandian’s Quicksand, plus an exclusive, entertaining interview with Pandian and a link to a tour wide giveaway option below. Enjoy your weekend!

Review ~

I was entranced by the covers in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series, as soon as I first heard about Quicksand and realized it was the third book in the series. So that said, I haven’t read the first book, Artifact, or the second book, Pirate Vishnu yet, though their covers and blurbs entice me! I did read Quicksand for review, though, so let’s start there by saying that I didn’t feel too lost in reading only it, though as in any series with the same lead protagonist, I’m sure it’s always better to read them all for extra connectivity to character(s). Yet, the mysteries themselves in each book are standalone.

Jaya, the main female lead and historian, receives a letter from Lane, an old love interest she met previously and fell for hard, with a plane ticket to France enclosed and a request for her to meet him there. She goes against her better judgement and is talked into helping him steal something from the Louvre. There is a double mystery, one solved early on, in which Jaya put together clues to figure out the stolen item, and one later, in which witty, determined, and intelligent Jaya helps to stop one enormous archaeological theft. Of course, she’s helped by sidekick Lane and an old magician, Sébastien. Much of this story takes place on the island of Mont Saint Michel, which is an interesting fortress located off the coast of Normandy, France. I thought the setting was fun and ingenious.

Pandian writes well-researched historical mysteries that intertwine many cool places into a suspense mystery and an action-filled adventure. I have heard her described as being similar to Elizabeth Peters, one of my favorite authors, and yet, I feel that Pandian writes with even more flow, flair, magic, suspense, and the ability to hold a higher level of interest for modern readers of all ages. This book would appeal to teenage readers as well as adults for its clean romance and zippy action. It’s like Tomb Raider meets The Librarians or a female version of the Young Indiana Jones. Her magical elements make her story even more unique and on top of all that she plots in twists and turns to keep us on our toes.

Jaya and Lane are well-developed characters. Jaya is a very courageous lead and I could fully engage with her. However, I also enjoyed her characterization of the French magician in this story! He added an extra element to the story. As well, the villain in this story, North, was entertaining and balanced out the cast.

Overall, I can fondly say that Pandian’s Quicksand had some of all the major elements of a book to love. I can’t wait to go back and read the others, plus anything else that she writes in the future. This book was a captivating, energized ride to historical and cultural places ripe with mystery and suspense. Pandian’s characters seem like old friends more than just mere characters on a page.

Interview~

Hi Gigi, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It’s a pleasure to have you here, in conjunction with the release of Quicksand, your third book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series. I see you’ve been busy promoting, attending conferences, and accepting awards. Congratulations on your success!

Gigi: Thank you! I was so surprised to be awarded the Rose Award at Left Coast Crime last month for Pirate Vishnu, the book in the series that comes before Quicksand. This coming week I’m headed to Malice Domestic, the big convention for traditional mysteries.

Erin: You’re a woman to be admired. I want to learn more about your commitment to writing and your books. You seem like someone who would love to get lost in travel and a good adventure, like me!

Let’s sit for a moment and relax in my cozy library. You can take your seat and I’ll put on some tea? What kind of tea is your favorite? Sugar and cream?

 I’ll also bring out some sweets. Can’t talk books without sweets!

Gigi: Unsweetened mint green tea is my favorite. It goes wonderfully with any type of chocolate!

Erin: Tea is poured and sweets are for the taking, don’t be shy. Let’s get started with some questions. You first started out pursuing a life in academics, but then realized you’d rather write. How and why so? What helped you come to that decision? Did growing up with cultural anthropologists as parents help mold your desire to write adventure/mystery stories?

Gigi: You guessed correctly. Traveling with my parents as a kid, I made up grand adventures while they conducted research. Those travels and their influence helped me a storyteller from a young age.

As an adult, academia wasn’t as satisfying as I imagined it would be. I should have realized it sooner, because all of my college electives were creative pursuits (writing, art, photography), but I never imagined I could have a creative career. I left a PhD program and began writing a novel while attending art school. I’m so glad I followed my heart, because now I make a living being creative.

Erin: Did you have the idea for the Jaya Jones series immediately and what was the inspiration you used when you began writing the first book, Artifact. How did you take off at the gate with construction of the plot? Did you have in mind a series from the start?

Gigi: I knew it would be a series, and that the books would be puzzle plot mysteries set all around the world with plenty of adventure a romance – the type of book I love to read. Beyond that, it took many years to figure out exactly what my own unique voice was.

Erin: You must have had some success with self-publishing Artifact, and I did see it was Suspense Magazine’s “Best of 2012,” because you then obtained a publishing deal for it, and the rest of your series, with Henery Press. How did that all come together? What kind of success does an author need to show on their own for a publisher to pick up on the book?

Gigi: Every writer’s journey is different, but if you follow your heart and don’t rush the process, I believe you’ll find the right bath for you. I was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant (a grant for unpublished mystery writers) for Artifact back when it was a work in progress. That’s what made me take my writing seriously – and then I had to learn how to write a good book! Two years later, I thought the book was in good shape, and I found an agent quickly. However, she had trouble selling the book; it doesn’t fit neatly into one sub-genre, so big presses were wary.

When my agent was getting ready to pitch the book to smaller presses, which are often more open to taking books that don’t fit genre lines, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was only 36, and I didn’t know what would happen, and I needed to be in control of something in my life. I decided to work with an editor (every writer needs one, and if you’re with a publisher, the publisher supplies an editor) and self-publish the book. I put a lot of work into it to do it professionally, including making Advance Reader Copies so I could get trade reviews, and it was worth it. As you mentioned, Artifact was well-received, leading Henery Press to become interested in the series.

I was getting ready to self-publish Pirate Vishnu, and Henery Press requested a copy of the new book. They said it was even better than Artifact, and that’s when they offered me a 3-book deal for the series. So the most important factor was still the quality of the book, but getting great reviews and putting myself out there professionally is what put me on Henery’s radar.

Erin: They must have been correct about your book series, because the next book after Artifact, which was Pirate Vishnu, won an award (Left Coast Crime Rose Award). What do professionals have to say about your series? What makes it similar but different from other books on the market? Who is your target audience?

Gigi: I’ve been thrilled to receive some wonderful reviews, including many that compare my stories to my favorite author, Elizabeth Peters (such a thrill!). Most professional reviewers call the book as a cozy mystery, but readers who aren’t in the industry characterize my books in many ways. The series is definitely cozy reader friendly (no violence or sex or bad language on the page, and no dark endings) but it’s also genre-bending. It’s a romantic multicultural adventure puzzle plot mystery.

Erin: I’ve just been able to read Quicksand, and am itching to go back and read the first two, but I’d like you to tell my readers, what makes it a treasure hunt and what makes it a mystery? Is it a true who-dun-it or more of a mission-based mystery?

Gigi: The combination of a quest and a whodunit is what creates my style of books. I’d say the series is an equal mix of adventure and mystery. They’re all treasure hunts that concern present-day crimes linked to historical treasures relating to India’s colonial history.

Erin: In all honestly, should you read the books in order from the start, or are they stand-alone? What might a reader miss if he/she doesn’t read the first book, Artifact?

Gigi: The plots stand alone completely, but the character relationships progress. So if a reader is drawn to a particular adventure, then it works just fine to read an individual book. But if you want to follow the love triangle, in particular, it’s best to read the series in order.

Erin: How did you construct your lead character? Did you outline her or did she have a voice of her own? What traits did you give her and why?

Gigi: In some ways Jaya Jones is based on my own life. I have one Indian parent and one American parent. It’s easiest to start writing when you writer what you know, but I also wanted to make sure Jaya didn’t become me. I’m tall (6 feet tall in heels), so as a jumping-off point to make sure I never wrote too much of myself into her, I made Jaya only 5 feet tall.

Erin: Besides your historian Jaya Jones, what other characters have been your favorites to write into your book? Why?

Gigi: In Quicksand, 90-year-old retired stage magician Sébastien was a blast to write! I love characters who surprise me.

Erin: Is this third book, Quicksand, the end of this series? Why or why not?

Gigi: The series is continuing! I’ve got so many adventures in mind for Jaya and friends. So far her adventures have taken her from San Francisco to Scotland, India, and France. I’m toying with an idea for Italy next…

Erin: You just published a new book, The Accidental Alchemist, in January 2015, with Midnight Ink. It sounds very inviting! Is this adult, YA, or both? What’s the book about? Will it be a series, too?

Quicksand Accidental-Alchemist-Gigi-Pandian-cover-w-text-WEB-mediumGigi: The Accidental Alchemist is a paranormal cozy series, but I’m hearing from lots of booksellers that it’s YA-friendly (so is the Jaya Jones treasure hunt series). The series is about a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician. It takes place in Portland, Oregon, and the gargoyle is a food-snob chef. Yup, it’s a humorous, lighthearted series.

Erin: Who does your amazing cover art and fun extras, like the cards and games? I love it all! And they are great attractions for the book. Even if they aren’t YA, you sure did grab my daughter’s attention too.

Gigi: Lovely! I went to art school, so I have a lot of fun designing my promotional materials. (Readers can win recipe postcards – my book covers on one side with recipes from each of the countries where the books take place on the other – as part of the grand prize of this blog tour.)

Erin: I understand that you also like to read and write “locked room mysteries.” Can you tell us what exactly ARE locked room mysteries, why you like them, and some of your favorites? Also, share with us any you’ve written that you think readers would be interested in. I’m curious!

Gigi: Locked-room mysteries are impossible crimes. The classic example is a dead man found in a room locked from the inside, but he’s alone and there’s no gun.

John Dickson Carr was the master of the genre. I was honored to have my locked-room story The Hindi Houdini nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards.

Erin: What has been your favorite place to travel and why? Where do you want to go that you haven’t yet?

Gigi: Scotland and India. My first trip abroad was a summer in Scotland with my mom when I was 10 years old, and it captured my imagination and will always hold a special place in my heart.

My dad is from India but has lived in the United States for most of his adult life, so it’s always special to travel to India with him.

I’d like to spend more time in Southeast Asia. I backpacked through Europe after college, but in Asia I’ve only traveled throughout India.

Quicksand 1985-Gigi-with-a-bagpiper-by-Loch-Ness-Scotland-webres-textQuicksand India-2010-Gigi-in-Mysore-webres-text

Erin: Oh, Gigi, you’re adorable! And by Loch Ness! One of the top places on my bucket list! Do you work in any of your own travels into your books? If so, where? If not (or in addition), how do you choose your locations?

Gigi: All my books are set in places I’ve been. Sometimes I’ve visited a place already when I have the idea for a book, and sometimes it’s a great excuse to take a trip. For Quicksand, I’d been to France before, but I hadn’t been to all of the locations where I wanted to set the book. It was a perfect excuse to take a research trip.

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Erin: I’m a foodie, so I always ask, what have you eaten somewhere that you dream of eating again?

Gigi: There are so many restaurants in Paris I’d love to visit again, both for the food and the atmosphere.

Erin: I know you value life in a way that “each day counts.” How has this led you to write faster and publish more often? How does this help you in the creation of your goals?

Gigi: Most definitely! After surviving breast cancer, I’ve held onto the feeling of wanting to live life to the fullest. I love storytelling, so by doing it mainly for myself, rather than worrying about what other people think, I’ve been able to write more quickly because I don’t second-guess my gut instincts.

Erin: What advice do you have for other writers when it comes to make writing a priority? What tips did you use starting out that helped you create such success with your books?

Gigi: Set goals and stick to them. But I know that’s easier said than done. That’s why I recommend trying NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), challenging yourself to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in 30 days. NaNoWriMo is what helped me finish a first draft of my first novel, because it allowed me to let go of thinking my writing had to be good. But nobody’s writing is good at first. The point is to get your ideas down on paper. You can edit the words later, but finishing a project is the first serious step in becoming a writer.

My other trick is to set a writing time and stick to it. I write three mornings a week, because that’s what fits into my schedule, and I make sure those chunks of time are sacred. Even if there’s no food in the house, or a big pile of laundry, writing comes first during those dedicated writing times.

Erin: Who were your favorite authors or favorite books growing up? Which ones inspired your writing? What types of mysteries do you read now for pleasure?

Gigi: Elizabeth Peters and Aaron Elkins were the mystery writers I read as a teenager that made me want to become a writer. Their books are full of mystery, history, and adventure in settings across the globe. I read mostly within the mystery genre, but all types of mysteries from cozies to thrillers. (You can see what I’m reading on Goodreads.)

Erin: I’ve gathered that you have an obsession for gargoyles? How did this start? What’s a favorite that you’ve spotted? What is one you hope to see but haven’t yet?

Gigi: I’ve been photographing gargoyles since I was a kid. (Seriously, I have some awful photos I took on a 110mm film camera from that first trip to Scotland when I was 10!) I love mysteries, as you may have gathered, and gargoyles are so mysterious. That’s why my new series features a stone gargoyle who was accidentally brought to life. It’s been a lot of fun to hear from readers who love the gargoyle, Dorian.

Here are a couple of my favorite gargoyle photos, and there are many more on my Gargoyle Girl blog.

Quicksand westminster gargoyle 1997 blue square - webres - by Gigi Pandian GARGOYLEQuicksand-Notre-Dame-gargoyle-Gigi-Pandian-webres

Erin: It has been so much fun chatting with you, Gigi! I look forward to reading many more of your books and following your writing! As a writer myself, you are very inspiring. Feel free to stop back anytime! I’ll make more tea, or maybe a smoothie next time!

Gigi: Thanks for inviting me to stop by! Your questions were a lot of fun.

Quicksand book coverQuicksand: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery

(cozy mystery)

Release date: March 10, 2015
at Henery Press
280 pages

ISBN: 9781941962275

Synopsis~

A thousand-year-old secret room. A sultan’s stolen treasure. A missing French priest. And an invitation to Paris to rekindle an old flame…

Historian Jaya Jones finds herself on the wrong side of the law during an art heist at the Louvre. To redeem herself, she follows clues from an illuminated manuscript that lead from the cobblestone streets of Paris to the quicksand-surrounded fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. With the help of enigmatic Lane Peters and a 90-year-old stage magician, Jaya delves into France’s colonial past in India to clear her name and catch a killer.

Gigi Pandian, Biography~

 Gigi PandianUSA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood,
she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program for art school. But adventurous academics wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand).

Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” Debut Novel by Suspense Magazine. Her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards, and she also writes the new Accidental Alchemist mystery series.

She takes photos of gargoyles wherever she goes, and posts them on her Gargoyle Girl blog.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter

Subscribe to her newsletter

Visit her Gargoyle photography blog: http://www.gargoylegirl.com

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Itunes | Google Play

Giveaway~

You can enter the global giveaway here at the link below or on any other book blogs participating in this tour.
Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook, they are listed in the entry form below too.

Entry-Form

Visit each blogger on the tour: tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour will give you five (5) extra entries each time [just follow the directions on the entry-form]!

Global giveaway open internationally:
1 winner will receive a print copy of the 3 books in the

Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries Series

plus a beautiful set of recipe cards matching the 3 books!

Yes, you got that right: 1 winner will win the 3 books + recipe cards!

______________________________________
Click on the tour graphic below to follow along with more information on the tour!

Quicksand banner

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Interview with Emily Croy Barker, Author of A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Today, I’m continuing my coverage of Emily Croy Barker and her debut magical novel, A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. For lovers of Harry Potter and A Discovery of Witches or even Alice in Wonderland, the book has fantasy elements as such, with a strong female lead. I’m reading it now and enjoying it!

In the meantime, please get to know the book, and Emily, a little better by reading this interview graciously given by Emily and her publisher, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking/Penguin. Thank you, Emily for taking about your book at Oh, for the Hook of a Book! and I hope I get to further interview you at a later date!

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Q. Which of the characters in THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC did you most enjoy writing?

A. Aruendiel, no question. He says exactly what he thinks, and he doesn’t mind giving offense to anyone. Not something that most of us can get away with in our daily lives.

Of course, Ilissa was also a lot of fun, too. Because she’s also honest—Faitoren can’t tell lies—but at the same time, she’s thoroughly deceitful.

Q. Are any parts of this novel autobiographical?

A. You mean, is it about the time I stumbled into an alternate world and started studying magic? Sadly, no.

There were things in my life that I deliberately borrowed for the novel. The way Aruendiel talks about other magicians—I was thinking of how my father, who was a painter, used to talk with his artist friends about other artists, about who was doing good work and who wasn’t. My dad was the kindest and most gentle person ever, but he was ruthless when it came to criticizing bad art. It’s the idea that you have a calling that you have to follow and you don’t sell out.

I gave Nora some of my interests—a penchant for memorizing bits of poetry, a love of cooking—although she’s much better at both things than I am. She’s also braver than me. You could never get me to go up a cliff like the one at Maarikok, even with a levitation spell! And I let her take a path that I considered but never took—going to grad school in English.

Q. Your heroine, Nora Fischer, is swept away by magic into a kind of too good to be true existence.  Even though a part of her knew it wasn’t right she stayed.  Why would she allow herself to be easily enchanted?

A. As Aruendiel himself would point out, Faitoren enchantments are very hard to fight, because they give you something you want. Nora was feeling bruised and defeated, and suddenly she had everything that she thought she was missing.

I also think the kind of idealized femininity that Ilissa offers Nora—being beautiful, being the belle of the ball, having this perfect romantic love—is a very seductive thing, even for someone like Nora who has read all the feminist theorists and has really chosen the life of the mind. Maybe especially for someone like Nora.

 Q. You have so many literary references, John Donne, Miguel de Cervantes, William Carlos Williams, Alice in Wonderland and Grimm’s Fairytales, but it’s Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice that Nora ends up with as her only possession in the alternate world.  What is the significance of this particular book?  Any personal connection to it?

A. Well, Pride and Prejudice is so modern in many ways, although written and set in a premodern time. So it seemed like a good match for A Thinking Woman’s Guide, where a contemporary woman is thrown into a world where women are still second-class citizens, at best. And Pride and Prejudice reflects some of the themes that I was interested in—an intelligent woman engaging with a man who has both higher status and worse manners than she does—without being too closely parallel to the plot of my story. Finally, I love Pride and Prejudice! And so do many other readers. So I hoped it might resonate with those who read my novel.

Q. Words are a powerful tool and language is a very important status symbol in Nora’s new world. Women are uneducated and don’t speak to men the same way Nora does; something she is repeatedly frustrated by.  How did you develop Ors, the language Nora must learn in order to communicate?

A. Language reflects society, so as I thought about Aruendiel’s world, I tried to imagine what sort of linguistic rules it would have to help keep women in their place. And as anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, there are all kinds of subtleties that you don’t pick up right away. You can make blooper after blooper, sometimes for years. So Nora keeps bumping up against things like the feminine verb endings, which she never noticed until Aruendiel rather officiously points them out to her.

I was also inspired by how Tolkien, who was a philologist, essentially began imagining Middle-Earth by inventing various Elvish names. He wrote poems about these characters and, eventually, fiction. I thought, wow, what a powerful tool to create a believable fantasy universe, to develop some kind of logical linguistic framework that underlies your story.

Q. You’re a journalist by trade. What was it like, switching to fiction? Where do you write? Do you set hours or just put pen to paper when inspiration strikes?

A. It took me a while to feel comfortable writing fiction. It’s a different kind of narration. Suddenly, after years of having to be super-careful about collecting facts and double-checking them, I could make everything up. That felt wonderful! But what exactly do you include, what do you leave out? Beginning writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell.” Well, in fact there’s a lot you have to simply tell, or you’ll write twenty pages and your character will still be finishing breakfast.

The journalistic skill that I found most useful in writing fiction was simply the ability to sit in front of the computer and write. Even if you’re just trying to write, even if what you’re writing isn’t great at the moment or if all you have to show after three hours is three sentences. And then to do it again the next day. It doesn’t matter if you have to rewrite it all over again—because you’ll find something that’s worth keeping, or you’ll learn what not to do. The important thing is to keep going.

Usually I write at home on my laptop—sometimes on the train when I travel. I write best during the day. If I try to write at night, I’m usually too tired to get very far. Or occasionally I’ve had the opposite problem—I get really into it and then suddenly it’s way past my bedtime and I’m useless the next day. So starting out, I wrote for a couple of hours every weekend. Then it became every spare moment of every weekend. I still owe huge apologies to so many of my friends for turning down all their lovely invitations to go to museums, parties, movies, et cetera, over the past seven years.

Q. Who would be in your dream book club? Where would you meet and what would you talk about?

A. Henry James, Charlotte Brontë, Scott Fitzgerald, Mary McCarthy, Zadie Smith, and couple of my friends. We’d meet at Florian’s in the Piazza San Marco every third Tuesday in the month—this is a dream, right?—and talk about whatever I happen to be reading at the moment. I imagine it would be a lively group.

Q. Are you a fan of other fantasy novels?

A. Yes, although I certainly haven’t read everything that’s out there. I tend to like the denser, more literary kind of fantasy. Unlike Nora, I love Tolkien. Also Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Alice Hoffman, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, and Kelly Link. Kate Atkinson is best known now for her Jackson Brodie mysteries, but I’m really glad that I didn’t read her Human Croquet until after I wrote The Thinking Woman’s Guide, because in some ways that’s the book I wanted to write.

Q. Your writing is loaded with references from history, literature, and fantasy. What sort of reader did you envision for this series?

A. I tried to write the kind of novel I would want to read, so I guess in that sense I wrote it for myself. And as the book took shape and it became clearer that I would actually finish a draft at some point, I decided I would send it first to one of my oldest friends to see if she thought it was any good.  She and I grew up watching Star Trek and Monty Python, reading Sherlock Holmes and The Black Stallion and Jane Eyre, and doing the ultimate in geekdom—taking Latin—so I trusted her judgment. She liked it, so that encouraged me to keep revising.

Beyond that, I was thinking that it might appeal to some of the adults who loved Harry Potter but who wanted more of a adult perspective and a strong female character at the center of the novel.

 Q. The Thinking Woman’s Guide To Real Magic ends on a cliffhanger. Can you hint at what’s next for Nora and Aruendiel?

A. I’m pretty sure that Nora will find her way back to Aruendiel’s world. The two of them really need to talk and to be straight with each other, don’t you agree? And of course she has a lot more to learn about magic—and how to use it properly.

Check out the guest article by Emily about her transition from journalist to author that was previously posted on my blog HERE!  Watch for an upcoming review and giveaway of the book….!

emily photoAuthor Emily Croy Barker, Biography~

A graduate of Harvard University, Emily Croy Barker has been a magazine journalist for more than 20 years. She is currently executive editor at The American Lawyer magazine. This is her first novel.

A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Synopsis~

Nora’s life is not quite going as planned. The man of her dreams is getting married, but not to her; her academic career has stalled; and there’s a mouse in her kitchen… Getting away for the weekend for a friend’s wedding seems like perfect timing, especially when she stumbles across the unfeasibly glamorous Ilissa, who immediately takes Nora under her wing.

Through Ilissa, Nora is introduced to a whole new world – a world of unbelievable decadence and riches where time is meaningless and everyone is beautiful. And Nora herself feels different: more attractive; more talented; more popular….Yet something doesn’t quite ring true: Was she really talking to Oscar Wilde at Ilissa’s party last night? Or transported from New York to Paris in the blink of an eye?

It is only after Ilissa’s son, Raclin, asks Nora to marry him that the truth about her new friends becomes apparent. By then, though, it’s too late, and Nora may never be able to return to the world, and the life, she knew before.

If she is to escape Raclin and Ilissa’s clutches, her only real hope – and an unlikely one at that – is the magician Aruendiel. A grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past, he might just teach her what she needs to survive and perhaps even make it home: the art of real magic.

For fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker is proof that magic not only exists but—like love—can sweep you off your feet when you least expect it…

“A marvelous plot, clever dialogue, and complex characters… With the intimacy of a classic fairy-tale and the rollicking elements of modern epic fantasy”
Deborah Harkness, author of the All Souls Trilogy

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Purchase~

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Womans-Guide-Real-Magic/dp/0670023663/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0

GoodReads:  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16158565-the-thinking-woman-s-guide-to-real-magic

IndieBound:  http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780670023660/emily-croy-barker/thinking-womans-guide-real-magic

Barnes and Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-thinking-womans-guide-to-real-magic-emily-barker/1108935054

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Emily Croy Barker Talks about the Transition from Journalism to Fiction to Write A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Today, I have a guest article from debut author Emily Croy Barker, who has written A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic!  Published by Viking Penguin, it’s probably one of the hottest reads of this summer and fall.  I’m currently reading it, so a review will come later.  However, right now you can check out what Emily has to say about her decision and transition to step over from journalist to fiction author.  If you are interested in what the book is about too, you can see the information below the article.

If you know me, or are an avid reader of my blog, you know that I interview many men and women authors who’ve come from journalism backgrounds.  As a journalist and aspiring fiction author myself, this topic always interests me as many find it easy, some find it helpful, while others struggle. Now I’m waving my wand and mind-bending you to read the article…hehehe…but first the book cover…

Thinking Woman's photo

A Journalist Turns to Fiction

By Emily Croy Barker, author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

I’ve been a writer and editor for more than 20 years, and for the majority of that time, the writing I did was all journalism—mostly long features for business magazines like The American Lawyer and Inc. When I started writing The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic almost eight years ago, it was strictly for my own enjoyment. I’d dreamed up a couple of characters that I couldn’t get out of my mind, a woman trapped by enchantment and the magician who becomes her ally and teacher. Once I’d figured out a little bit more about who they were and how their stories were linked, I decided that I’d better start writing this down.

Writing fiction instead of nonfiction felt a little bit as though, after I’d mastered one dance—the foxtrot, say—the music changed and I was suddenly trying to dance swing. Some previously learned lessons helped me with this new dance. I already knew how to keep typing, resisting the temptation to turn off the computer and flee, even when I became convinced that what I was writing was crap and that no one would ever want to read it. And I knew that sometimes, when you really get stuck, it’s fine to go off and take a bike ride or watch a movie and come back the next day to try again. I had written long articles about people doing deals or starting companies or arguing in jury rooms; I had learned to look for “color” and the famous Telling Detail; to listen to how people talked; and to pay attention to what they said and what they didn’t say.

That all turned out to be quite useful in fiction-writing. But the actual process of stitching together sentences to make a fictional narrative was daunting at first. Beginning writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell,” which is very good advice. On the other hand, you can’t show everything. I had to learn where I could condense and where I could leave something out altogether. It took me a while—probably one reason why my first draft ended up being 1,300 pages long—and I know there’s still more to learn.

One change from journalism that I loved was being able to make things up. No more coaxing anecdotes out of reluctant or forgetful sources, no more worrying about holes in the story. And yet this new freedom was also a little scary. Suddenly the entire burden was on me to create a credible world. I could no longer rely on details scrounged from reality. What if I got things wrong?

Thankfully, I was writing fantasy about an alternate world, so most description came straight from my imagination. The main thing I had to be concerned with was consistency. If I were to write a police procedural, say, where I had to think about what kind of car a certain character would drive or which make of gun she would carry or whether it really makes sense for a transgender Russian emigré to be running a vegetarian restaurant in a small city in North Carolina, frankly I would be a nervous wreck.

Good journalism and good fiction are both about telling stories and as such, they are hugely satisfying. I have to say that fiction is a bit more fun. Maybe it’s because, when I was sweating over crafting the perfect lede for a magazine article or explaining some complicated twist in a deal or litigation, I was always keenly aware that I was writing for someone else, the readers of American Lawyer or Inc. Will they like this? Will they get this? With fiction, though, I’m writing for a smaller audience: myself. Because if what I’m writing doesn’t move me or excite me or pull me along—if it doesn’t come alive for me—I’m absolutely sure it won’t do that for anyone else, either.

emily photoEmily Croy Barker, Biography~

A graduate of Harvard University, Emily Croy Barker has been a magazine journalist for more than 20 years. She is currently executive editor at The American Lawyer magazine. This is her first novel.

Learn more about Emily and the book, including excerpts, maps, extras and more at www.emilycroybarker.com.

 A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Synopsis~

Thinking Woman's photoNora’s life is not quite going as planned. The man of her dreams is getting married, but not to her; her academic career has stalled; and there’s a mouse in her kitchen… Getting away for the weekend for a friend’s wedding seems like perfect timing, especially when she stumbles across the unfeasibly glamorous Ilissa, who immediately takes Nora under her wing.

Through Ilissa, Nora is introduced to a whole new world – a world of unbelievable decadence and riches where time is meaningless and everyone is beautiful. And Nora herself feels different: more attractive; more talented; more popular….Yet something doesn’t quite ring true: Was she really talking to Oscar Wilde at Ilissa’s party last night? Or transported from New York to Paris in the blink of an eye?

It is only after Ilissa’s son, Raclin, asks Nora to marry him that the truth about her new friends becomes apparent. By then, though, it’s too late, and Nora may never be able to return to the world, and the life, she knew before.

If she is to escape Raclin and Ilissa’s clutches, her only real hope – and an unlikely one at that – is the magician Aruendiel. A grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past, he might just teach her what she needs to survive and perhaps even make it home: the art of real magic.

For fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker is proof that magic not only exists but—like love—can sweep you off your feet when you least expect it…

Praise for A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

“A marvelous plot, clever dialogue, and complex characters… With the intimacy of a classic fairy-tale and the rollicking elements of modern epic fantasy”
Deborah Harkness, author of the All Souls Trilogy

“Centered on more adult concerns than the Harry Potter books, Barker’s debut is full of allusions to dark fairy tales and literary romances. If Hermione Granger had been an American who never received an invitation to Hogwarts, this might have been her story.” —PEOPLE magazine

For Purchase~

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Womans-Guide-Real-Magic/dp/0670023663/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0

GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16158565-the-thinking-woman-s-guide-to-real-magic

IndieBound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780670023660/emily-croy-barker/thinking-womans-guide-real-magic

Barnes and Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-thinking-womans-guide-to-real-magic-emily-barker/1108935054

Watch for upcoming review of the novel, and Q and A with Emily Croy Barker, including a giveaway!

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Will they Stop Earth from Being Destroyed? Sci-fi Romance Warrior Prince First in a New Series by Nancy J. Cohen

WarriorPrince680-199x300Many people know award winning author Nancy J. Cohen due to her Bad Hair Day mystery series, which currently has its tenth book published. However, I first read Cohen a few years ago when I reviewed her intergalactic story Silver Seranade. Now, she is busy writing more sci-fi romance, with her touch of comedy included, and I’ve just recently read Warrior Prince (#1 in her new Drift Lord series) that came out this past Fall. 

As always, her female characters are superb role models for women on how to be not a  bit afraid of following your heart and taking a thrill ride of action and adventure.  Fairly stubborn, these women know not only how to make the strongest man’s heart weak, they also know how their stubborness and sheer will can always save that man and the day. I just love strong women like that who are more than a man’s equal and valued for their advice and courage! Her protagonist, Nira, fits this evaluation with fiery attitude. (review continued after synopsis)

Synopsis~

A galactic warrior joins forces with a sexy mythologist to stop a dimensional rift from destroying Earth.

When mythologist and Florida resident Nira Larsen accepts a job as tour guide for a mysterious stranger, she’s drawn into a nightmare reality where ancient myths come alive and legendary evils seek to destroy her. To survive, she must awaken her dormant powers, but the only person who can help is the man whose touch inflames her passion.

After a dimensional rift in the Bermuda Triangle cracks open and an ancient enemy invades Earth, Zohar-leader of the galactic warriors known as the Drift Lords-summons his troops. He doesn’t count on a redheaded spitfire getting in his way and capturing his heart. Nira has the power to defeat the enemy and to enslave Zohar’s soul. Can he trust her enough to accomplish his mission, or will she lure him to his doom?

Set in a contemporary world woven with magic, intrigue, romance, and suspense, Warrior Prince is based on Norse mythology. At its core is the story of a woman’s search for her true identity and a man’s need to accept his destiny. Their fate together is written in the runes.

Digital: 978-1-61217-358-0, $5.99, Wild Rose Press, Sept. 21, 2012
Trade PB: 978-1-61217-357-3, $15.99, Wild Rose Press, Sept. 21, 2012

Review Continued~

When I first started reading the book, I was a little worried about if I’d like the story or the structure of it. Cohen’s comedy can catch you a bit off guard if you aren’t fully ready and her romance always starts extra early, almost like love at first sight syndrome. However, once I got past the first two chapter and the book really started into the action, drama, and plot, I really couldn’t put it down even if I thought I should. She really keeps the action moving, and with a time travel component to the book, morphing a mile every minute (and in a unique style I might add). It was pure fun and entertainment with some heated passion involved along the way.

Nancy’s humor hit my geeky funny bone. She nabbed lines and inferences from Battlestar Galactica, Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, Stargate, and Star Wars to name a few. They made me laugh along the way and I felt connected, probably due to my love of those shows and movies myself. I admired how she put her own twist on some of it to fit it into the story.

Also, she combined Norse God legends and mythology into her intergalactic writing. Of course, this means we’re presented with Thor and his brother, Loki, which really fits smoothly into a sci-fi story for you if you’re a Stargate SG-1 fan (I am). In legend, Thor supposedly is tasked with protecting humankind, so it is fitting when you read the story that Zohar, the Drift Lord king, fights to save Earth as well as other outer realms from invading space aliens. I think Cohen did a smooth job of mixing together the legend and sci-fi themes. It was the best part of the book in my opinion. The Norse God legend is one of my favorites though, so I might be partial, but I liked what she did with it.  The other favorite part of my book involved dancing with elves. But I don’t want to spoil your fun by givng away all the nutty details here.

Her insight on her character Nira was detailed and believable, as well as memorable, and the surrounding cast of characters were also vibrant enough to be admired, hated, and interesting. I can’t wait to follow them further.

If you’re looking for a light romance, with a few lustful scenes, but more on the action and adventure side then this might fit that criteria for you. I liked the sci-fi action and enjoyed their emotional romance evolving as the story brewed.  It might just be their destiny to be to be together….what Nira finds out is very important to them both and when they find out they need each other more than for just pure partnership, it becomes very interesting. I can’t wait to see where this story heads as their quest hasn’t ended yet. So many questions still to be answered.

So because I’m left wondering, it’s great to know that Warrior Rogue (#2 in the Drift Lord series) is out now in Kindle format with paperback coming in April!!

For a funny bone tingling non-stop action and adventure sci-fit thriller with a swirl of romance, Nancy J. Cohen’s Drift Lords series is one you won’t want to pass up.  I encourage you to try Warrior Prince today if you are a reader of sci-fi romance. Cohen’s writing is very entertaining.

I LOVED checking out Cohen’s Pinterest board for Warrior Prince! It enabled me to visualize some of her characters and ideas through her eyes. You can check it out here:  http://pinterest.com/njcohen/warrior-prince/

Nancy J. Cohen, Biography~

Cohen HeadshotNancy J. Cohen is an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her humorous Bad Hair Day mystery series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several of these titles have made the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association bestseller list. Shear Murder is the tenth book in this series and her sixteenth title.

Nancy’s imaginative romances have also proven popular with fans. Her first title in this genre won the HOLT Medallion award, while Silver Serenade won Best Book in Romantic SciFi/Fantasy at The Romance Reviews. Warrior Prince, her latest title, begins a new paranormal romance series from The Wild Rose Press. Coming next is Warrior Rogue, book two in the Drift Lords Series.

Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. Nancy is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Novelists, Inc., International Thriller Writers, and The Author’s Guild. When she’s not busy writing, she enjoys reading, fine dining, cruising, and outlet shopping.

For more on Nancy J. Cohen, go to her website at http://nancyjcohen.com/ where you can also find how to connect to her social media networks.

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The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone, a Children’s Book Review and Information on Chicago’s Minature Rooms

Marianne Malone, author of the children’s book The Sixty-Eight Rooms (new Random House from 2010), describes herself as not growing up being a reader or wanting to be a writer. In fact, from what I gather from her website (www.mariannemalone.com) she spent a good portion of her life as a middle school art teacher and she is an artist who loves to paint. However, growing up and living in Illinois, she enjoyed going to the Art Institute of Chicago and this is where she fell in love with the Thorne Rooms.  These rooms started her mind percolating over the course of many years an adventure surrounding them.

If you don’t know what the Thorne Rooms are, they are a collection of 68 minature rooms (like dollhouse rooms) given to the Institute by a Mrs. James (Narcissa) Ward Thorne in the early part of probably the 1940s.  Mrs. Thorne traveled the world and was a collector of minatures. She collected so many of the minatures that she had craftsman assist her in turning them into the various rooms from different time periods in England, America, France…and she used her minatures to create interior design themes, from the 13 th century to about the 1930s, that could be used to educate others about interior design of various eras. Of course, many children visitors over the years become entranced by the rooms and their imaginations run wild with ideas. The author Marianne Malone, of course, was one of those children. To view some photography of The Thorne Rooms, go here to the Art Institute of Chicago’s website page of the Thorne Rooms: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/thorne.  Last Spring, the Huffington Post had an article about the minature rooms and Malone’s book. If interested, go here to view the article:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/07/the-art-institute-of-chic_n_528739.html

Malone’s book, The Sixty-Eight Rooms, is a children’s novel  full of imagination and magic surrounding themes of life based on two main characters, Ruthie and Jack. These best friends go on a class field trip and fall in love with the possibilities of the Thorne Rooms.  Getting a back corridor glance, and finding a gorgeous vintage key, leads them to an adventure into history as well the power that sometimes lies behind the simple act of just believing.  These sixth graders fall in love with the Rooms and Ruthie wishes so badly to have a look inside that when she holds the key, it warms in her hand and she is instantly made minature herself!  Eventually Jack is also, if he holds on to Ruthie, and they go exploring the Rooms. As they are in the rooms, they walk out the front doors and are catapulted directly into different time periods such as France right before the French Revolution and Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials. Actually getting to talk to other kids in that time period, and possibly change the outcome of their lives, is touched on. I really wish I could have read even more on the rooms and the time periods they enter. Eventually a piece of each of these children they meet is acutally found in the rooms and they uncover that other children, even possibly Mrs. Thorne who createdthe Rooms, have visited in the same way and they feel a bond to these others. The mystery is uncovered through the book about how the Rooms came to be magical in the first place, through an important historical figure. I won’t give the mystery away here, but I do believe I would have developed that more and let it grow to the end. The suspense would have been intriguing, though Ruthie throughout the book certainly does not have any patience. This may be a mirror of the author’s personality as a child. I’d love to ask her!

The character development of all side characters, several of the parents as well as the little old lady antique dealer who plays a very important part in the end of the book, are very well done. However, some of the other details such as fighting the mega-cockroach and some of the parts about getting from room to room and up and down into the Rooms could have been left out. As an adult, they bored me. Being a child at heart, a history buff, and sucker for imaginative and magical stories involving doors and keys, I wanted to hear more about the magic and I wanted them to explore various parts of history longer and more in depth.

I did LOVE the art element in it, beyond the Institute, as Jack’s mom is a struggling artist and the museum caretaker of the Rooms, a faded photographer. I probably love this because I love art and also am a photographer. My love for art museums and history both caught my attention to this book. I could imagine all the little art pieces decorating the minature rooms. I would love to see The Thorne Rooms one day and experience the magic myself.

I sense that this is not the end of adventures for Malone. The end of the book certainly did entertain the fact that a vintage purse she is given from the antique shop owner might be another magical object with another story. I certainly hope so. (In fact, in a recent e-mail from Malone, she does tell me that they will be another book).  I do love Malone’s passion for “old” things and what magic they might possess.  Though I do wish that the character’s adventures in The Thorne Rooms not be quite done yet. It for around age 10, fourth grade level, depending where your child’s reading level is. I know I would have loved this book when I was 10. As adults we may look too much into plot structure and want more detail, when for a child it could be more than can be handled. Therefore for me, it is hard to give an accurate review for a child. I’ll have my children read it next and see what they say.

This book had intrigued me back in 2010, as did walking through the Wardrobe in Narnia, Alice shrinking in Wonderland, and the minatures coming alive in Indian in the Cupboard when I was a child, but I didn’t realize until I read it how all these books lend to the idea I have for my own children’s book which I’ve detailed before in this blog.  The idea of a vintage key, and historical doors, leading to somewhere else is certainly a story told before and certainly a global plot. But I think it never gets old. We all wish sometimes to walk into another place and time totally different from ours. Even as an adult, I still share these childhood fantasies and imaginative thoughts. I can’t wait to see where my key and door take me in my book also.

Thanks Marianne Malone for bring The Thorne Rooms to life and for opening up my eyes to this amazing feature of the museum. I certainly will want to visit if I do ever get to Chicago!

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