Saturday, October 29, 2011

Scavenger Hunt for The Iron Knight

I know I am not the only one who is really excited about the release of Julie Kagawa's fourth novel in the bestselling Iron Fey series, The Iron Knight.  To celebrate the official release of her novel on October 25th, I am participating in a fun scavenger hunt that began on that date and runs into the month of November.  Before I give you the scavenger clue, here is a synopsis of her new novel.

Unable to survive in the kingdom of his beloved due to his supernatural nature, a warrior prince sets out to turn himself human. But first he must cross deadly lands and overcome nightmarish obstacles before reaching the fabled testing grounds, where he will endure a series of challenges. He is joined on his quest by a team of fantastical creatures, each with an agenda of their own—one, a faery prankster whom the prince has vowed to kill for past misdeeds; another, a wise-speaking cat who claims to be a truthful guide; the third, a legendary and villainous beast pulled right from the fairy tales; and finally, the last, a seer who appears to be the resurrection of the prince’s former love, long thought dead but now restored to life and as beautiful and tempting as ever. With these dubious allies by his side, the prince sets off to achieve his ultimate prize, but to do so will require overcoming the greatest challenge of all in his quest for a human soul—himself.

When exiled faery prince Ash swears an oath to his love, Meghan Chase—the half-human ruler of the Iron Fey realm—to return and be with her forever, he knows what that promise entails. Her Iron Kingdom is anathema to a fey creature such as himself, and in order to survive in it he must renounce his powerful supernatural nature and acquire a mortal soul. Only then will he be able to return and be with his love. But even as a prince of the fabled Winter Court, Ash knows only rumors of how an immortal can become human. Ash needs help, even if that help comes from the last set of creatures in the entire Nevernever realm that he would ever want to join him.

“I thought you wanted an adventure,” I said, just to annoy him.

Puck snorted.“Oh sure, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for tromping to all five corners of the Nevernever, getting chased by angry Summer Queens, sneaking into an ogre’s basement, fighting giant spiders, playing hide-and-seek with a cranky dragon—good times.” He shook his head, and his eyes gleamed, reliving fond memories. “But this is like the sixth place we’ve come to look for that wretched cat, and if he isn’t here I’m almost afraid of where we’re going next.”

Look for the next excerpt tomorrow at Our Life Upstate.

1.  For you, what was the hardest part in writing this series or writing in general?
Lately, it’s been making myself turn off the Internet and not check Tweetdeck every time I get stuck, lol!  I get distracted very easily and “checking email” can turn into an hour of doing nothing but playing around online, very bad for the writing day.  Sometimes I’ll unplug the modem or disconnect myself from the internet or I’d never get anything done.

2.  Do you have a favorite line or two you could share with us from The Iron Knight?
Certainly!  Here is an exchange between Ash and Puck:

“Hey, ice-boy, you okay?  You’ve got your brooding face on again.”            

“I’m fine.”  

“You’re so full of crap.”  Puck lounged in the cradle of a tree, hands behind his head, one foot dangling in the air.  “Lighten up already.  We finally found the cat—which we should get a freaking medal for, the search for the Golden Fleece wasn’t this hard—and you look like you’re going to engage Mab in single combat first thing in the morning.”            

 “I’m thinking.  You should try it sometime.”

“Ooh, witty.” 

3.  Did you always know you’d be writing a spin off series and can we expect to hear more of Meghan, Ash and Puck’s story in the future?
Actually, I was approached by my publisher when The Iron Fey series was wrapping up and asked if I had any more Iron Fey stories floating around my head.  Which got me thinking of Ethan, Meghan’s little brother.  He was the one who started the whole adventure, in a way.  What would it be like growing up, able to see the fey?  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized Ethan had a story to tell, too.  As for Ash, Meghan, and Puck, I’m sure there will be a few cameos in the new series. 

For all of you who read this series, enjoy!!!!
Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: Out of Breath by Blair Richmond

Out of Breath
by Blair Richmond
Release Date: October 11, 2011
2011 Ashland Creek Press
Softcover Edition; 274 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-9796475-7-4
Genre:  Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Nineteen-year-old Kat Jones has been a competitive runner since she was a young girl, but after her mother's death, the path her life was supposed to take begins to crumble around her -- until one day, she finds herself on the run in a literal sense, this time in a race for her very life!

Kat's journey takes her to the Pacific Northwest town of Lithia, the place of her last good memories, of the days when her mother was still alive. But soon after her arrival, strange things begin to happen in Lithia -- and when one of her new friends disappears under mysterious circumstances, Kat begins to realize that Lithia's inhabitants are not all of this world. Worst of all, she is falling in love with one of these otherworldly locals, and the friend who hopes to save her has secrets of his own.

As Kat tries to rebuild her life, she is also training for a race that will turn out to be her biggest challenge yet, as she must outrun not only the demons of her past but the demons of the here and now, who threaten her very existence and that of the entire town.

My Thoughts
Out of Breath is the first novel in a planned trilogy, and features a host of intriguing characters who are mysterious, quirky, and interesting.  As a long-time runner myself, I found myself fascinated by the added running culture that was intertwined throughout the novel and how it was woven so seamlessly into the plot and into the characters' lives.  I understand that 'runner's high' and know how it feels to be connected to everything around you as you run.  Having such a wonderful environment in which to run would be amazing, as the runners and characters often ran on secluded trails and in secluded, peaceful areas.  It also gave the author the perfect setting in which to contrast the beauty with the horror that was simmering behind the beautiful town of Lithia.

Katherine, or Kat, is running away from events that we know little about throughout the novel, and eventually ends up in her birthtown, Lithia, unknowingly looking for answers to her mother's death all those years ago.  What she finds is a perfect place, with friendly, outgoing people who always seem to know what she is doing and with whom, and she finds herself happy for the first time in a long time.  Before long, she is mesmerized by two handsome men, Roman and Alex, and the ensuing byplay between the three of them is quite interesting as naturally the two men dislike each other immensely.  As the secrets are revealed, and the danger becomes more real, Kat realizes that Lithia is not such a wonderful place and that many things have been covered up.  I enjoyed Kat's character quite a bit and often identified with her, even though I still have no clue why she is running away.  She is spunky and holds true to her beliefs, and walks away from those who try to change her.  The whole vegan thread running through the novel definitely brings this aspect of Kat's personality to light as she defends her diet choice to others, but I was surprised at how extensive the vegan thread actually ran.  There are many issues that are raised in this novel (health, exercise, diet, choices, safety while running) that can be discussed with your adolescent or teen, and I like the fact that Kat was fit and healthy. 

One of the things I did not really buy into however, is the romance aspect of the novel.  While I enjoyed the byplay between Roman and Alex and how they fought over her, I didn't understand why they were so interested and protective of her all of the time.  It seemed like they just met, and then all of a sudden, they were always there, wanting to protect her, and it just didn't seem that believable to me.   Don't get me wrong as I adored Alex, and he is one of my favourite characters, but I didn't buy into the love relationship as it didn't seem real or authentic to me.  Kat can certainly take care of herself, and we understand that she learned many of these skills by being on the road for so long, and being homeless, but so little information got frustrating and I wanted to know more about her in order to keep liking her. 
Ms. Richmond's writing style is definitely clear with some emotionally wrought scenes, yet not so overwhelming that younger readers for whom the novel is written would not understand the implied meanings. While I enjoyed learning about the vegan lifestyle and liked the fact that Kat stood up for her beliefs, I did feel at times like I was being lectured to and that I should be feeling guilty because I like to eat meat.  I don't know if this was intentional or not, but it is not a feeling that I enjoyed and I don't want it to turn me off the novel, or future novels, as it is not the reason why I am reading them. Even Stacy and David, Kat's helpers and 'saviours' in Lithia, often had arguments over their vegan diet, as Stacy often broke the diet and cheated.   On the other hand, the healing effects of running were also in force in this novel and this didn't bother me at all, so maybe I was just touchy? 

Out of Breath was an enjoyable novel, and as it is also meant to cater to the 12+ age group, quite easy to read.  I found the interplay between the three main characters interesting, although I did find the character development in the secondary characters to be not quite up to par with the main characters, which is too bad as I would love to know more about Doug and David. I also felt that something was missing at times, although I couldn't really put my finger on it, just this sense that the tone changed.  Having an eco-friendly twist to the vampire tale was different, but I think a fine line needs to be drawn for the veganism discussions before the novels take on a lecturing tone and take away from the feel of the novel itself.  I did however, enjoy the descriptions of the mountains and the nature and could picture it quite clearly in my mind.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy as the ending in Out of Breath certainly left a lot of questions unanswered and I would like to find out what happens next.  For those looking for a quick, entertaining vampire novel, then take a look at Out of Breath.

About the Author:
Blair Richmond is currently working the The Ghost Runner, the second novel the Lithia Trilogy. 

Ashland Creek Press is hosting an official Out of Breath Halloween virtual book launch party on Monday, October 31st, with author Q&A, book giveaways, and to share some Halloween recipes.  Don't forget to mark this date on your calendar!!!
Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guest Post: John Everson

Curling Up by The Fire would like to welcome John Everson, author of The Pumpkin Man, released October 15th, who is here to discuss his fascination with Halloween and monsters.  Who roots for the monsters???   John's fifth novel is one of those novels I would never be able to resist if I saw the teaser in the bookstore, as I am totally drawn to the words Ouija boards, arcane secrets, mysteries long hidden, great power, bogeyman, whispers, and screams.  I doubt I will ever outgrow my obsession with the supernatural and am drawn to it over and over again, like a moth to a flame, although I am not sure I like that connotation very much.   Take a look at the teaser:

After her father’s gruesome murder, Jenn needed a place to get away from it all with some friends, to take her mind off her grief. The empty seaside cottage she inherited seemed perfect. Jenn didn’t know that the cottage held arcane secrets, mysteries long hidden and best left alone. She didn’t realize until it was too late that the old books and Ouija board she found there really do hold great power. And it was only after her friend’s headless body was discovered that she knew the legend of the local bogeyman was no mere legend at all. An evil has been unleashed, a terrifying figure previously only spoken of in whispers. But now the whispers will become screams. Beware…THE PUMPKIN MAN.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Curling Up by the Fire Readers can win an e-book copy of The Pumpkin Man and get entered into a contest to win autographed copies of either The Pumpkin Man trade paperback, or a GRAND PRIZE including ALL of John Everson's novels and an autographed copy of the CD The Mechanical Heart from the band New Years Day, who provide the soundtrack to The Pumpkin Man website. Just visit and fill out the Contest Form. Make sure you choose Curling Up by the Fire in the referral site dropdown list.

Looking for the strange... and rooting for the monster
By John Everson

There's something about Halloween that has always drawn me. I don't know why - as a kid, despite being scared to death to go in the basement crawlspace (my dad said there was a Lion there who would eat me!), I still loved to go to haunted houses to be scared by things jumping out at me! Most of the books I read at the time were science fiction-based (I loved escaping into a new world populated by strange aliens!) but on TV, I was tuning in whenever I could to the old black and white monster movies of the '40s and '50s. I loved the mix of horror and sci-fi of things like the Incredible Shrinking Man, or the drive-in movies with radiation-created giants.

And you know, part of me always rooted for those monsters. I think because no matter how scary they were, the reality is, the monster is always the outcast, and in most cases, doomed to die (hence, despite his/her strength, the monster is really the underdog). The Frankenstein movie is a case in point. The monster wasn't the monster at all -- he had empathy, and when he grew destructive, he was simply acting out of fear. The real monsters were the humans in the story. I've always loved that dichotomy about horror -- that the monster may actually be the most sympathetic character.

Maybe it's because of Halloween, or maybe it's because October is the first month as a kid that you really start getting stranded in the house a lot, but I have always identified October and November with "Creature Features" monster movies on TV on Saturday afternoons. The days were grey and moody outside, leaves blowing around like the dead skin of summer, and inside, I'd be sitting in front of the tube watching a Giant Gila Monster or something. Then at night, I'd curl up under the covers with an old science fiction novel about the future of galactic civilization.

As a kid, my mind was always elsewhere... always looking for the strange... and rooting for the monster.

I'm pretty excited as an adult to have been able to "contribute" to the "strange" that people are reading now, especially with my fifth novel, The Pumpkin Man freshly in stores this week -- my favorite week of the year. Here in the Midwest, the trees have all changed color and the parkways are filled with fallen leaves. There's a crispness to the air, and the scents of burning leaves and apple cider crop up without warning. If you drive a country road, you'll see signs for pumpkins, and fields of browned corn husks. It's a bittersweet time - the end of a season - but almost 40 years later from those days of "Creature Features," for me this is the beginning of the perfect time of year to hide inside with a good book, watch a good monster movie, or sit by a warm fire and tell stories of the past year. Or better yet, stories about ghosts and demons!

When I started writing The Pumpkin Man, I wanted to play with all of my favorite tropes of the season -- Ouija boards, witchery, possession, a strange killer (is he real or is he a spirit?) who lops off people's heads and replaces them with a jack-o-lantern. With all those pieces (and some creepy back history as well) it was really a fun story to write, and I hope it gives people the feeling of Halloween that I loved getting as a kid. That sense of creepy mystery. The sense that there is something beyond... but the beyond isn't really as far away as you might think (or hope).

The story of The Pumpkin Man doesn't actually take place at Halloween for the most part (the original short story I wrote a few years ago under the same title did, but the novel takes place with different characters in a different timeframe) -- but it feels like it is a Halloween novel, since our lead character Jennica inherits a cottage in a remote California town and finds herself holed up there amid a weird library of the occult as she faces fears of a strange killer who seems to be following her across the country. She reads about pumpkin rituals in her dead aunt's library, and the whole tone of that part of the book really reminds me of October.

I hope it gives people that delicious touch of the creeps this Halloween week.

Dark dreams...


Beware The Pumpkin Man!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall Into Reading: Question #5

Fall Into Reading is hosted by callapidder days

Question #5: Do you skim? Or are you faithful to every word?

I'll totally admit I do both, depending on what I am reading.  I do try very hard to read every word as I love descriptions and try to soak up the atmosphere as much as possible in a book.  I like paying attention to how authors string concepts together and how everything is drawn together in such a way that is mesmerizing and intriguing. 

My husband tends to read each word much more than I do, while I have a tendency to skim over passages and things that I don't think are helpful to a story or are pointless, and this includes dialogue as well and not only descriptive passages.  There are many descriptive passages that are wonderful reading fodder and add so much to the story and these I read word for word.  I also tend to skim through the sex scenes in a novel, especially if they go on and on, and end up being very descriptive and detailed, and the novel wasn't classified as erotica, a genre I typically avoid. 

In general however, I tend to read each word more than I skim as lately I find that if I'm skimming too much it's because I'm not enjoying the book and it's time to find another one.  I'm long past the days of reading everything through to the end as I just don't have enough time in a day. 
Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Bloodstone by Nancy Holzner

Bloodstone (Deadtown, Book #3)
by Nancy Holzner
Release Date: September 27, 2011
2011 Ace Books
Trade Paper Edition; 323 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-441-02100-0
Genre: Urban Paranormal
Source:  Review Copy from Bewitching Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Boston’s diverse South End is known for its architecture and great restaurants, not its body count. So when mutilated human corpses begin turning up in the area, the entire city takes notice. The killer—dubbed the South End Reaper—uses a curved blade for his grisly work. And even though there’s no real evidence pointing to a paranormal culprit, the deaths are straining the already-tense relations between Boston’s human and inhuman residents.

As the bodies pile up, Vicky, her formidable aunt Mab, and her werewolf boyfriend Kane investigate, only to find that the creature behind the carnage is after something much more than blood…

My Thoughts
Bloodstone is the third installment in the Deadtown series and I was thrilled to receive a review copy in the mail.  I had already read the first two books in this series, Deadtown and Hellforged, and was eagerly looking forward to the next book in order to find out how the characters were faring.  With her usual flare, Ms. Holzner opens up the novel with Vicky fighting an unusual demon, the Peccatum, a demon that infects others with the seven deadly sins, and it was wildly interesting to see how Vicky would get herself out of that mess, but she does, and with her usual cunning and daring.  And the plot didn't stop there, as the usual twists and turns, suspense and interesting action, secrets and mythology all blended together to form one very interesting novel.

Even though these novels tend to be slower-paced than some of the other urban paranormals that I've read, there is no lack of action and suspense.  Just when you relax and think things are going well for Vicky and company, suddenly everything happens and you are frantically reading the next few chapters trying to find out what is going on.  What I liked about the slower sections is that I got to learn more about some of the other characters in Vicky's life and some of the secrets that were being withheld.  Finally, we learn about the secret that tore Vicky's sister Gwen and their Aunt Mab apart all those years ago, and we also learn a lot more about Mab, who is one of my favourite characters.  Gwen's daughter Maria also played more of a prominent role, and it was nice to see the developing relationship between Vicky and Maria and the family dynamics that played out amongst Gwen, Vicky, and Maria. 

I did enjoy the plot, and had a lot of questions answered that plagued me in the second novel, but I don't think it was as convoluted as in the second novel.  I'm not sure if this is a strength or weakness however, and I've been mulling it over ever since I finished the novel.  I really enjoyed the mythological aspects of the novel, and it definitely helps if you are familiar with some of the legends, although it's not necessary.  It definitely put a new twist on how I perceived Myrddin, Vivienne, and Nimue however, and I will probably never be able to read anything about these legends without thinking about Deadtown ever again. 

One of the things I did enjoy was the fact that the novel was pretty much centered back in Deadtown and we learned so much more about its citizens and the troubles they faced as paranormals.  I enjoyed the political aspect of the novel, and although there wasn't as much of it in this novel as I would have liked, I am hoping to see more of that in the future.  Kane's predicament probably played some role in that, but we did get to understand that Vicky and Kane's relationship seemed much more stable and deep than in previous novels and I liked that aspect as well.  While there was not a lot of action happening on the romance front, it was nice to know that Kane was still in the picture as I enjoy his character very much.

Bloodstone is a fun and enjoyable installment to the Deadstone series.  With a satisfactory ending, but one that hints at future trouble for Vicky (delicious thought!!), I am looking forward to reading more about the intriguing characters found in this novel and the developing associations I see happening.   Ms. Holzner also has a way of exploring details, and her world is very vivid and real; she does a great job of describing life in Deadtown, explaining the checkpoints, and the reality of life for frustrated paranormal citizens.  I look forward to future novels where more exploration of the political implications of a zombie plague, and paranormal and normal relations continue to be explosive and exposed to ignorance on both sides.  There is so much more to be explored!!
Saturday, October 22, 2011

Guest Post: Nancy Holzner And Welsh Mythology (with Giveaway!!)

Curling Up By The Fire is thrilled to welcome Nancy Holzner, author of Deadtown, Hellforged, and the newly released Bloodstone (September 27th, 2011), who is here to discuss Deadtown and Welsh Mythology.  For those of you who are not familiar with Ms. Holzner's novels, they feature the amazing Victory (Vicky), her aunt Mab, and her boyfriend Kane, and a host of otherwordly creatures trying to adapt to a world that has turned itself upside down after a deadly and unknown virus has turned some of the population into zombies.  Amidst the political struggles as paranormal beings are coming forward and "out of the closet" so to speak, Vicky and company have to deal with many dangerous beings who are trying to manipulate the politicians and governments themselves for reasons that are still unclear.  Take a look at the synopsis of Bloodstone:

Boston’s diverse South End is known for its architecture and great restaurants, not its body count. So when mutilated human corpses begin turning up in the area, the entire city takes notice. The killer—dubbed the South End Reaper—uses a curved blade for his grisly work. And even though there’s no real evidence pointing to a paranormal culprit, the deaths are straining the already-tense relations between Boston’s human and inhuman residents.

As the bodies pile up, Vicky, her formidable aunt Mab, and her werewolf boyfriend Kane investigate, only to find that the creature behind the carnage is after something much more than blood…

Deadtown and Welsh Mythology

by Nancy Holzner

I began my career as a medievalist, and one of my favorite courses to teach was “Legends of King Arthur.” I had two different versions of the course: one that stuck with literature from the Middle Ages and another that started with medieval texts and moved through time, ending with twentieth-century versions of the stories. During the time I was developing and teaching these courses, I fell in love with the tales of the Mabinogi.

If you’re not familiar with the Mabinogi, it’s a collection of early medieval Welsh legends that were gathered and translated into English by Lady Charlotte Guest in the 19th century. The stories draw upon pre-Christian Celtic mythology and early medieval oral traditions, including tales of Arthur and his court.

Back in 2006, when I started writing Deadtown, I knew I wanted my protagonist to be a shapeshifter. Yet I also knew that I wanted her to be different from the weres that populate much of urban fantasy. I remembered a story from the Mabinogi about the witch, Ceridwen. She hires a local boy, Gwion Bach, to stir a cauldron in which she's brewing a potion, one that will distill all knowledge into three drops. Gwion consumes those three drops and, running away from the furious Ceridwen, changes his shape several times. As she chases him, she transforms herself to erase any advantage he might gain: He becomes a hare, she chases him as a greyhound; he becomes a fish, she chases him as an otter; and so on. (If you’ve ever seen the shapeshifting duel between Merlin and Madame Mim in the old Disney film The Sword in the Stone, you get the idea.)

This legend seemed full of potential for my novel; I liked how the shapeshifters could change into any creature they wanted, and could do it at will. And so I started thinking about how I might use the story as background for my own race of shapeshifters—and Vicky’s line of demi-humans, the Cerddorion (ker-THOR-yon, the sons of Ceridwen) was born. Cerddorion females can change into any sentient creature (or strong emotion might force a shift), up to three times per lunar cycle. They gain shapeshifting ability with puberty and lose it if they give birth.

Hellforged, the second novel in my Deadtown series, delves deeper into the history of Vicky’s race—and also of the demons the Cerddorion oppose. In Hellforged, Vicky travels to Wales for further training with her aunt, a formidable demon fighter. While there, Vicky must unlock hidden meanings in a book that tells the story of Ceridwen from the demons’ point of view. If she fails, she could be helping a demi-demon throw open the doors of Hell. Vicky’s adventures in Wales take her through the hills and mountains of north Wales, across fields and into haunted pubs, deep into an abandoned slate mine, and to the shore of the lake where Ceridwen’s shapeshifting contest began.

Book 3, Bloodstone, brings Merlin into my story. But this Merlin isn't the kindly, slightly funny old man with a long, white beard and a pointy hat that you may remember from The Sword in the Stone. This Merlin is Myrddin Wyllt, one of several legendary figures that came together to create the character of Merlin. When Gwenddoleu, the king Myrddin Wyllt served, was slaughtered in battle, together with his entire army, Myrddin lost his reason and, tearing off his clothes, ran into the forest to live with the animals. There he lived as a madman. Later, he prophesies his own triple death: by falling, impalement, and drowning. This Myrddin is not friendly and helpful. He's wild and more than a little crazy. It was fun bringing him into the world of Deadtown to challenge Vicky and her friends.

As I continue the series, I keep returning to the medieval Welsh stories and poems for source material. In Darklands (book four, which will be out next summer) Vicky travels to Annwn, the Welsh realm of the dead, to prevent an old enemy from returning. The legends of Wales, rich with myths, themes, and motifs, provide the perfect landscape and history for my own unfolding story.

Bloodstone, the third novel in Nancy Holzner's Deadtown series, is now available. For information on Nancy and her books, visit her website. You can also find Nancy on Facebook and Twitter, and blogging with other fantasy authors at Dark Central Station.


* Nancy is offering five (5) books as a giveaway for her tour. 
* You can enter at each of the tour stops for more chances to win. 
* Each winner gets his/her choice of a signed copy of Deadtown, Hellforged, or Bloodstone.
* Contest is open to U.S. residents only.
* Enter contest using FORM.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review & Excerpt Scavenger Hunter: The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman

The Kingdom of Childhood
by Rebecca Coleman
Release Date: September 27th, 2011
2011 MIRA Books
Softcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-7783-1278-9
Genre: Fiction
Source: Review Copy from Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.

4 / 5 Stars

This is the story of a boy and a woman; sixteen-year-old Zach Patterson, uprooted and struggling to reconcile his knowledge of his mother's extramarital affair, and Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher watching her family unravel before her eyes. Thrown together to organize a fundraiser for their failing private school and bonded by loneliness, they begin an affair that at first thrills, then corrupts each of them. Judy sees in Zachthe elements of a young man she loved as a child, but what Zach does not realize is that their relationship is, for Judy, only the latest in a lifetime of disturbing secrets.

Rebecca Coleman's manuscript for The Kingdom of Childhood was a semifinalist in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. An emotionally tense, increasingly chilling work of fiction set in the controversial Waldorf school community, it is equal parts enchanting and unsettling and is sure to be a much discussed and much-debated novel.

"Do you remember," I asked, "when I took you out for coffee, back before, and yourubbed my feet, and you asked me—"


"Why did you do that?"

"Because I wanted to see what you would do."

I grinned. "After I apologized a dozen times for that episode in the playhouse? That's not very nice."

*Head over to READERGIRLS on October 20th for the next installment from THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD.*

My Thoughts
The Kingdom of Childhood is one of those books that hooked me pretty much from the beginning, and despite my own feelings to the contrary and the fact that I was at complete odds with the main character, I became enthralled in the story and the events, in the same way that I would read a newspaper story that shocked me or caused me nothing but consternation.  It's the same feeling you get when you see something you don't want to watch or see, but you peek through your fingers anyways because you just can't help yourself.  And as a teacher, all I could think of all the way through the novel was, What were you thinking????

The novel was well-written, with a style that was both gripping and intense, even though it might be questionable at times when told from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old boy.  Clues and information were doled out carefully, little tidbits at a time, until the whole picture finally emerged towards the end.  Carefully crafted, I have to admit it drew me in quite successfully right from the beginning, even as I was disgusted and horrified by some of the events.  Even then, the scenes were rather carefully done, lending the horror not through description but through the emotions that were presented and the aftermath of the actions as well as the ripple effects of the characters and their choices.  While I couldn't necessarily connect on an emotional level with some of the characters as I didn't particularly identify with their choices, I definitely understood the raw emotions and the toll it took on a subconscious level as the lying and cheating progressed.

I do have to admit that there was no love lost for me for the main character Judy.  I found her psychotic, selfish, and sometimes just plain cruel towards others, and while there may have been moments of sympathy, such as when she was dealing with the death of her closest friend, they were quickly replaced with other emotions as I read through the novel.  I was filled with trepidation as I wondered what she would do next, especially as I learned the why she hates the smell of gasoline so much.  I do understand the attraction that Zach and Judy may have had for each other initially, Judy being lonely and starved for attention in a marriage that is falling apart, and Zach, lonely himself, questioning his family life as he begins a new school year in new surroundings, but I'm not sure how the line was crossed and why.  As a teacher myself, that line is so strong and impregnable, I couldn't imagine ever crossing it, and all I wanted to do was shake Judy uncontrollably.  Once that line is crossed, there is no going back.  And Judy, as we learn more about her, is downright crazy.  I'm sorry if that offends anyone, so I should use the more politically correct terminology, and perhaps say she is mentally unstable in a powerful way.  I did like the fact that the principal character was a woman, as it's often the males who are seen as the perpretrators, and I'm glad that Ms. Coleman highlights the fact that women can use and abuse as well. 

The Kingdom of Childhood is one of those novels that I kept thinking about, even days later, and with moments that are disturbing and thought-provoking, certainly highlight some issues that are present in this society.  Using a lot of figurative language and similes, Ms. Coleman's novel definitely highlights how a woman in an authoritative position can abuse her authority in order to get what she wants, and the after effects of such a relationship.  It makes for some interesting reading and would be a great book club novel.  It is the downward spiral of a woman who is losing control of everything around her as she enters a relationship that is not only illicit but illegal, and the damaging effects it has one everyone around them.  The Kingdom of Childhood is well worth a look.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Song of the Nile (Cleopatra's Daughter, Book #2)
by Stephanie Dray
Release Date: October 4th, 2011
2011 Berkley Trade (416 Pages)
E-book Edition; 391 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-425-24304-6
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review Copy from Author

4.5 / 5 Stars

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.

Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.

But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?

My Thoughts
Song of the Nile was a fitting sequel to Lily of the Nile and I enjoyed it very much.  In fact, I actually thought it was better than the first book as it seemed to have that grit and edge to it that was not really present in the first one.  Song of the Nile continues to story of Selene, Cleopatra's daughter, as she marries Juba and settles in Mauritania as Queen and her struggles as she attempts to regain the throne of Egypt; subtle manoeuvers between herself and her husband and his Roman advisers who refuse to look upon her as anything but a young girl, earning the trust of the Berber people, looking for her lost twin, dealing with Rome and its demands, and learning that everything she does has a consequence.

One of the things I've always admired about these novels is the lushness of the writing and the descriptive scenes of the climate, including the political climate, of the time.  Amongst the beautifully described scenes, I could always picture the underlying tensions amongst the characters and I found this rather intriguing, how the author was able to weave the political and social tensions within the descriptions.  It really gave everything that extra-something that lifted these scenes into something else so for example, when Solene was raped, I could feel her horror and her humiliation so clearly and subtly as the story was woven around the setting.  The rape itself wasn't described in detail per se, but it was the descriptions of Selene's horror amongst the setting in which she was in that really gave it its power and left the reader in shock.  And this was done more than once throughout the novel.

As for Selene herself, I wasn't always impressed with her actions and her deeds and found her rather careless at times.  She seemed to be rather self-centered and focused only on regaining the throne of Egypt, and some of her actions were hurtful and disdainful to others.  There were times when I could have honestly shaken her, but then I wondered what I would have done in her situation if I had been her, surrounded by those whom I counted as enemy and I wasn't so sure if I would have acted differently.  I don't think I would have been so oppositional all of the time however, and maybe I would have listened a bit better to those around me.  I just found her obstinacy somewhat cloying for someone raised in the manner that she was, even if she was somewhat spoiled and jaded, and could not believe that she would not have learned how to get what she wants without arguing all of the time. 

I really enjoyed the plot to this novel as I adore this time period.  While some of the concepts tended to stray into the fantastical, take Selene's further interest and development into the mysteries of Isis for example, I focused more on the political nature of the novel rather than the fantasy.  I liked reading about the interplay between Juba and Selene and how they tried to resolve the many issues that faced them, especially with their differing backgrounds, and I liked learning more about the time period in general.  The plot moved fairly quickly, and even with many sidelines, it was not overly confusing and stayed pretty focused on the main concepts.  And while I wondered whether things were going to slip away from the author towards the middle of the novel, everything came together nicely towards the end and I was left feeling very satisfied with the ending, although I am now eagerly waiting for the next book in this series to find out what happens.

Song of the Nile is a more than worthy sequel to Lily of the Nile.  Well-researched and beautifully written, Ms. Dray combines suspense, political intrigue, romance, and history into a well-crafted novel that I enjoyed very much.  While I wasn't as crazy about Selene in this novel, the end did make up for a lot of things and I really found the other characters fascinating and intriguing.  I highly recommend this novel and am definitely looking forward to the next installment of this series when it is released.

Guest Post: Stephanie Dray on Habits of Highly Effective Ancient Rulers

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Stephanie Dray, author of Song of the Nile, the sequel to the highly popular Lily of the Nile, which released October 4th, 2011.  Delving once again into the machinations of the Holy Roman Empire, heroine Selene must make some rather difficult choices in her quest to reclaim Egypt's throne as she manoevers around the likes of Livia, Augustus, and her husband in a political arena fraught with tension.  Intriguing, with vivid descriptions of life in Rome and Mauritania, the second novel will delight fans of historical fiction, and make fans thankful there is to be a third novel in the series.  Ms. Dray is here with us today to discuss leadership in the ancient world and the habits one needs to be an effective ruler during that time period.  First, here is a quick synopsis of the novel:

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra's daughter is the one woman with the power to destroy an empire...

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.

The magic of Isis flowing through her veins is what makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra's daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother's throne be more than she's willing to pay?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Ancient Rulers
by Stephanie Dray

In researching my novels about the life of Cleopatra’s daughter, I’ve had the opportunity to study the leadership styles of some of the most famous ancient rulers, both Roman and otherwise. As a result, I’ve compiled this list of tips and tricks for our next evil overlord:

1. Eliminate the Competition
Though they were bitter enemies, one thing Augustus Caesar and Cleopatra VII of Egypt had in common was an uncanny knack for bumping off anyone who might prove to be inconvenient. For Cleopatra, it was sometimes a matter of survival. Her sister, Arsinoe, made a play for her throne and would have had her killed if she could, so it has never struck me as particularly ruthless that Cleopatra begged her lover, Mark Antony, to get rid of her sister. On the other hand, Cleopatra’s young brother Ptolemy died under mysterious circumstances when he was still a boy under her thumb. Cleopatra didn’t want to leave any other options for the people to latch onto in case they didn’t like how she ruled Egypt and indeed, she seems to have eliminated all other rivals. At least, in Egypt.

Meanwhile, Augustus, the nephew of the inexplicably more famous Julius Caesar, was just as ruthless. Though he would castigate Cleopatra for her fratricidal ways, there’s no doubt whatsoever that he was responsible for exponentially more murders in his lifetime--including his own half-brother-by-adoption, Ptolemy Caesar, more popularly known as Caesarion. The reason? Apparently it was the boy’s name and thus we get the famous quote, “Two Caesars is one too many.”

2. If You Can’t Be A God, Say That You’re Related To One
The Romans didn’t like for their rulers to be kings, much less gods, so the effective rulers of ancient Rome had to find a different way to glorify themselves. They claimed to be the descendants of gods and goddesses. Mark Antony claimed descent from Hercules--a claim lent credence by the fact that he looked like the hulking demi-god. All the Caesars claimed descent from Venus because she was supposedly the mother of Aeneas, that Trojan hero who helped found Rome. They even built a temple to Venus Genetrix, just in case people didn’t believe they were serious about it. This was an idea borrowed, no doubt, from Alexander the Great, whose mother had been accused of infidelity. Alexander owned up to that, saying that his mother had been seduced by Zeus; being the son of a god helped him conquer the world. But all of these boys were pikers when it came to divine glorification, at least as compared to Cleopatra VII.

She didn’t bother tracing back her lineage to her goddess. She simply put out that she was the divine incarnation of Isis. And people believed it!

3. Show That You’ve Got the Common Touch
On the one hand, ancient rulers had to set themselves apart from their subjects. Claiming an affinity with the divine world was useful propaganda...until it wasn’t. How much more noble of those descendants of the gods, if they behave humbly in a crisis? The Romans loved stories about how Mark Antony suffered the same privations as his soldiers, eating bugs and bark in the woods, trying to survive a disastrous campaign. Why, he was just one of the guys!

By contrast, Augustus Caesar was never good in the field, so he couldn’t make that same appeal to the common soldier; heck, he couldn’t even stay in the mountains with them because it was too cold for his delicate sensibilities. However, he wore humble home-spun cloth that he claimed was woven for him by his own wife and sisters. And rather than admit that he was the ruler of the whole known world and could execute anybody he wanted on a whim, he made sure to call himself only the First Citizen, as if he were the first among equals.

4. Use your sex appeal if you’ve got it
We all know the story of how Cleopatra hid herself up in a carpet/sack of bed linens to be rolled out at Julius Caesar’s feet. It was a bold move; he liked her moxie. The two of them became lovers on the spot! But she probably didn’t do it because she had a fetish for balding middle-aged men. She wanted to be Queen of Egypt, and Julius Caesar was happy to reward her for her charms. Still, political seduction wasn’t just a game for women. Augustus allegedly claimed that his constant adulteries weren’t motivated by such a base motive as lust, but that he had to seduce the wives and daughters of the senators so as to better be able to spy on his enemies!

5. Never resort to open warfare when a smear campaign will do
When Julius Caesar was assassinated, his lieutenant, Mark Antony, could have sought open warfare against the Senate. But he didn’t. He bided his time until the funeral oration, waiting for the perfect opportunity to portray the Senate not as noble heroes who had saved the Republic from a dictator, but as wicked and avaricious murderers who killed a benefactor of the people. It was a stroke of genius and stoked the public’s fury into such a white hot rage that the senators had to flee for their lives.

On the other hand, turnabout is apparently fair play. It’s conventional wisdom that the Battle of Actium decided the fate of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, but that’s only true to a point. While they lost many ships in that engagement, they appear to have successfully broken a naval blockade, escaping with warships and treasure to fight another day on better ground. Indeed, Antony still had a huge army he planned to reunite with. That, however, never happened. As it turns out, Antony’s army was so dispirited by an ingenious lie that their commander fled the battle like a coward to chase after his lover, Cleopatra, that they surrendered to the other side without a fight. As the groundwork for this lie had already been set by years of propaganda in which Cleopatra was portrayed as a wanton seductress and Antony was a besotted fool, the soldiers believed that they had been abandoned, and they turned their cloaks. Antony’s enemies, the would-be Augustus and his general Agrippa, may have even rightly predicted what a blow this would be to a man who had, up until that last year, been wildly popular with his soldiers. Antony’s honor was mortally wounded and he retreated to a cabin by the sea where he ultimately sulked himself into defeat a year later.

6. Spend a lot of money
Ancient rulers never relied upon private industry. Perhaps fearing that hungry people had no patience for trickle down economics and that there would be riots if they didn’t come up with a jobs plan, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Antony, Cleopatra the Great, Herod the Great, Alexander the Great and even my heroine, Cleopatra Selene and her husband Juba II all invested deeply in infrastructure, regardless of the debts incurred. Temples, roads, aqueducts, new market squares, theatres and trade ports--it was all part of a plan to stamp their names on everything as well as to keep people working. And when that didn’t pan out, there was always some nearby country to invade and exploit.

7. Gamble
Julius Caesar is known for saying, “let the dice fly high!” This may be why he fell for a girl like Cleopatra, who staked her life on the idea that if only she could smuggle herself past enemy soldiers and roll herself out at the feet of Caesar, fortune would smile upon her. They were gamblers in that sense; both of them took outrageous political risks. But they weren’t the only ones. King Herod of Judea had chosen the wrong side in the Roman civil war; he’d been Mark Antony’s ally. When called to account by Augustus, a more timid man may have retired or even fled. But not Herod. He marched into the presence of the new emperor and declared that he had indeed been a great friend to Mark Antony. In fact, the conqueror would be hard pressed to find anyone who had been a better ally to his enemy. But, Herod pointed out, that just proved how loyal he was. And if Augustus would allow him to be the King of Judea, Herod promised to be just as loyal to him from now on. The gambit worked and Herod would go on to rule for the rest of his natural life.

Author Biography
Stephanie graduated from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.

Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.
Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood (Book #1)
by Kendare Blake
Release Date: August 30th, 2011
2011 TOR Teen
Hardcover Edition; 316 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2865-6
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Review Copy from TOR

4.5 / 5 Stars

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.

My Thoughts
Anna Dressed in Blood took me completely by surprise, and I have to admit to staying up rather late in order to finish.  Besides the fact that this was a ghost story, and I will usually drop anything to settle down and read a ghost story over any other type of novel out there, this novel also took place in Canada, my native country, and it was a combination I couldn't resist.  With a beautifully written prose, intriguing and fun characters, and a storyline that I found delightful, there was a lot to admire in this novel, and I devoured it eagerly.

Cas is not your typical hero or main character, but I loved his sarcastic sense of humour and wit, and found myself chuckling endlessly over his insightful comments about the world around him.  Not your usual teen, he inhabits a world full of ghosts and ghoulies, and after the death of his father, has inherited a power that makes him responsible for getting rid of the evil monsters that pester humans, using his trusty knife, the athame, he also inherited.  Tracking ghosts has become a job for Cas, and he finds himself facing one of the worst when he moves to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and meets the local ghost known as Anna Dressed in Blood who is responsible for killing scores of people in the sixty years since her murder.  As Cas becomes embroiled in the mess he creates, he comes to rely on some unusual friends to help him, and needs all the allies he can find to help him survive.  I really enjoyed Cas's character development as he learned to rely on others and realized that he wasn't necessarily the arrogant, self-sufficient boy he thought he was.  Cas's realization that he needed other people, not only for help defeating ghosts, but for love and companionship, was interesting to explore and I thought the author did a remarkable job in Cas's development. 

I enjoyed the dichotomy of Anna's character as she revolved between evil Anna and nice Anna and wished the author had explored this aspect a bit more in this novel.  To be honest, I think I liked the evil Anna better as the scenes involving her were fun, if spooky and dangerous.  I couldn't quite understand the attraction Cas felt for Anna, but perhaps his constant living with ghosts made this unavoidable as he doesn't quite live in the land of the living, per se.  Anna's changeable nature does make Cas doubt all the other ghost killings he has done, and perhaps this perspective is good for him and he won't be so quick to judge situations in the future.  I have to give credit to Ms. Blake however, for making me feel sympathy for a ghost who has killed countless people, something I had to keep reminding myself throughout the novel; it definitely shows how skillful she is with words if she is capable of wringing such sympathy.

Ms. Blake's writing is certainly beautiful and it drew the reader into Cas's world, without ever letting go.  The descriptive setting made me feel like I was there, although being able to picture a typical Canadian fall definitely made it help especially as I have been through that neck of the woods.  The characters were fun without being stereotypical, and although some of the scenes were quite graphic, they were over rather quickly, and were not dwelled on for long.  After some fantastic opening scenes, and great build-up for the first half of the novel, I felt somewhat of a let down during the second half as I expected a bit more of a scare in the second half than there was.  It wasn't a great disappointment, just that I wanted something a bit more scarier and spookier and it wasn't there.

Anna Dressed in Blood was well worth the read and I enjoyed the novel tremendously.  With some eerie and spooky moments, and characters that are fun and intriguing, this novel has an edge to it that is worth the time and effort.  I am looking forward to Girl of Nightmares when it is released next year, and if you are looking for some thrills and chills, this one may be right up your alley.
Sunday, October 16, 2011

Interview With Henry Mosquera and Giveaway

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Henry Mosquera, author of Sleeper's Run, which released July 27th, 2011.  This psychological thriller / suspense novel takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride as the principal character searches his memory for clues to his identity and the reasons why is he the target of an elite team of CIA assassins.  A gripping story that is difficult to put down, the plot will grip you right from the beginning and not let go until the very end.

For those who are interested, enter the giveaway found at the end of the interview.

1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you become interested in writing suspense novels?
Of course. I’m a writer and artist born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. I studied film and graphic design at University of Miami. I'm married and currently work as a freelance graphic artist in Los Angeles.

I became interested in writing thrillers because I like to tell stories, no matter the medium. It could be through film, books, graphic novels, video games; I just enjoy creating. I love the genre and I had been playing with a few ideas in my mind, which I thought would make for a great novel. So, I rolled up my sleeves and almost four years later I find myself as an author.

2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, Sleeper's Run?
"Sleeper's Run" is about Eric Caine, a self-destructive War on Terror veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A chance encounter helps him straighten out his life and find a new job that takes him back to Venezuela, the country of his childhood (Eric is half-American and half-Venezuelan). Once there, he gets tangled up in an international conspiracy that threatens the very future of the government. Eric has to outwit a team of assassins while trying to uncover the truth in a world in which nothing is what it seems.

3) What inspired you to write Sleeper's Run? How much research was involved in the writing?
The book was inspired by a combination of things: a few ideas I had to write a thriller, the current political situation in Venezuela, and a interest in history and global matters.

Research was extensive as the novel is based on non-fiction sources; even the more farfetched elements. Books, articles and documentaries became the basis of the research. I also used my knowledge of certain topics like martial arts, traveling, the military, etc. Not satisfied with that, I went the extra yard and took urban survival classes, flying lessons, weapons training and a few other helpful skills. Whenever possible I picked the brains of people who either teach or experience things related to the story. It was a fun, educational and eye-opening process.

4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?
The greatest challenge was to write a highly engaging and entertaining fiction story that touched on very serious, real themes. On top of that, I wanted to portray everything in the book as accurately as I could, without turning it into a technical manual. Everything had to be grounded in reality.

5) In this novel, we are introduced to some very interesting and intriguing characters. Who was the most fun to write about? Which character presented the biggest challenge?
Eric was the most fun, hands down. I love his cynicism, his sense of humor and his inner narrative. Blake was also great fun to write, especially his dialogs. James deserves a special mention, since he started out as a minor character and grew to become someone who is as interesting as Eric.

The most difficult character for me was Trishna. She's a very complex character and it took a long time to develop her. Editors kept picking on her almost right into the final draft. With that said, she ended up being one of the book's most exciting players.


* One lucky reader will win one copy of Sleeper's Run. 
* To enter, leave a comment with your email address. 
* Contest is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. 
* Contest closes 31 October 2011.

Good luck everyone!!
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Mind Over Murder by Allison Kingsley

Mind Over Murder (A Raven's Nest Mystery, Book 1)
by Allison Kingsley
Release Date: September 6, 2011
2011 Berkley Prime Crime
Paperback Edition; 262 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-425-24377-0
Genre: Paranormal / Cozy / Mystery
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Cousins and best friends, Clara and Stephanie Quinn run The Raven's Nest Bookstore, where people go to find their most coveted reads. But they have no idea it's the psychically-gifted Clara who's reading them...

The bookstore has made an enemy of the town crier, Ana Jordon, who claims that the store's occult collection is "poisoning" the town's youth. Meanwhile, the store's number-one employee, Molly, has made no secret of her anger over Ana's antics. So when Ana is found dead, killed by the bust of Edgar Allen Poe sculpted by Molly, the evidence is stacked against her. And Clara must rely on her gift to make sense of this senseless murder...

My Thoughts
Mind Over Murder is the first novel in a new cozy mystery series set in a small town in Maine, featuring cousins Stephanie and Clara.  Moving back to her hometown after living in New York for many years, Clara is persuaded to work in Stephanie's bookstore while she looks for another job. Looking for peace and quiet after an emotional return to her roots, what Clara actually gets is a murder, a re-awaking of the famous "Quinn" sense, and an adventure on which she wasn't expecting. 

I am a huge fan of the cozy / paranormal genre and turn to them quite often for something quick and fun to read.  Mind Over Murder had quite a lot of offer and one of the things I enjoyed tremendously was the setting; the quaint little coastal town and the cute, cozy bookstore were perfect environments from which to draw.  I could pretty much imagine the 'Nook', and the stockroom, and how the rest of the town would have looked and this helped quite a bit with regards to setting up the mystery in my mind.  Besides, I adore bookstores and love it when authors use them as their settings.  Perhaps I am prejudiced in this manner, but there you have it.

Stephanie and Clara were interesting main characters, and the contrast between them was rather delightful.  Stephanie was rather more inquisitive than Clara, who was much more reserved after her experiences in New York.  What really intrigued me about these two is the fact that the author barely scratched the surface with regards to their characters and I feel like there is so much more to them that I would like to know. With little tidbits given here and there, and many references to the "Quinn" inheritance, it seems like this series has a lot upon which to build and I like that.  While there was a hint of romance in the air, and some use of the paranormal, neither of these overwhelmed the novel and allowed the story to develop.  Unfortunately, the mystery was the weakest point of the novel, and with a plot that was fairly predictable, although there were some interesting moments, I was someewhat disappointed with an ending that was simply too easy and simple. 

Mind Over Murder is one of those novels that I devoured in a couple of hours and enjoyed for its simplicity and fun.  The first novel in a new series, this one sets up new characters, and possible situations, without divulging a lot of information, which gives readers a tantalizing taste of what could come in future novels.  I enjoyed the dynamic between the two main characters and look forward to reading more about them in future novels, as well as discovering more about the "Quinn" sense that is discussed rather indirectly.  For those who enjoy a fun cozy mystery, then I recommend Mind Over Murder for those future rainy and snowy days.

Guest Post and Excerpt: Mitchell Maxwell

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Mitchell Maxwell, a Tony Award-winning producer, director and 35-year veteran of the entertainment industry.  His debut novel , LITTLE DID I KNOW, released on October 5th and I am participating in a scavenger hunt blog tour for the book’s release. For the scavenger hunt, 30 blogs will be chosen to feature a few sentences from the first chapter of the novel and post them on specified days.  Mitchell Maxwell is the  producer behind the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees featuring the legendary Jerry Lewis – which was nominated for multiple Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical – and the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Dinner with Friends. He has produced the Broadway musicals Play On! Bells are Ringing (Tony-nominated for Best Revival of a Musical), Blues in the Night (Tony Nominated as Best Musical), Brooklyn, and the theatrical wonder, Stomp!  Here is a synopsis of his new novel:

Set in Plymouth, MA in the late seventies, this is the tale of a young man with an outsized dream – to refurbish a dilapidated but historic theater and produce a season's worth of vibrant musicals. A recent college graduate, he fills his cast and crew with people he has come to love and trust in his university life, and with others whose talents and personalities prove undeniable. Yet, while the productions drive his ambitions, a local woman drives his passions, and their romance is fateful, star-crossed, and ultimately more than either of them expected.

She allowed me to find my voice – not one that sang actual notes but one that gave me the courage to lead. One I didn’t know I owned. Then one day I woke up embracing what I wanted my life to be about. JB was a great and supportive friend, believing in me and I gained the confidence and desire to frolic in a playground that might lead to a career in the arts. She sat still and quiet for several minutes, her eyes practically glazed over.

For the next excerpt, and some further hints and teasers to Mitchell's wonderful new book, check out Bea's Book Nook tomorrow.

Guest post: by Mitchell Maxwell
 I have worked in the theater my entire adult life.  I took a few detours into making movies (which went well) and two into the sports world. My baseball experience was expensive but really fun while my sojourn into the international fight world was a disaster fiscally as well as almost ending my life in a melodramatic scene between me and some Russians with a gun.  But that story should be told in it its entirety while drinking Vodka.

Yet the theater keeps bringing me back-- actually never letting go.  I have experienced glory and magic the apex of anything anyone could hope to accomplish and I speak of little things not what you'd expect like gobs of cash or Tuxedos or shiny black limos.  I have also been at the nadir of my life where getting through the next twenty minutes was a challenge so painful it was tantamount to labor (well I can only project on that), when I wondered where my next dollar would come from let alone how my next show would get financed.  Yet even at the worst of times I find it hard to think about pursuing another path.  When you win and your cheeks are red rosy with adrenaline or when you believed what you saw in a draft of  script or an idea scribbled on the back of a napkin months ago that silences an audience or makes them howl with guffaws or causes them think or  be kinder well you are in a good place.  A place to hold onto.  But it is as if you are grabbing a handful of mist and so you begin again.  How do you start such a journey?  There is no road map and the younger you are the less you know where to begin.  There is no road map to fulfill an ephemeral impossible dream.  Except passion and perseverance, the ability to accept disappointment and fly without a net.  A blind insanity to figure it out along the way till you find a way home.  LITTLE DID I KNOW how little I knew.  Still thirty five years after the story in my novel takes place I am amazed how little I know.  I am more experienced of course, driven by the desire to soar again and to continue to find and create good work.  I am wizen and yet still full of good well and there are times when my enthusiasm is so high I feel it will make my head explode. The whole thing is sort of like a wild rollercoaster--screaming your way through promising you'll be good if you can just live through it all and then when the craziness ends you're first in line to buy another ticket. Along the way I'll come up with the next great idea and jot it all down on the back of the ticket of this crazy whiplash funhouse ride.  SRO  better buy your tickets now! 
Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Claim of Innocence by Laura Caldwell

Claim of Innocence (Izzy McNeil Mysteries #4)
by Laura Caldwell
Release Date: August 23, 2011
2011 Mira Books
Paperback Edition; 438 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-7783-2932-9
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Source: Review Copy by Erin McNichols of Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.

3.5 / 5 Stars

It was a crime of passion–or so the police say. Valerie Solara has been charged with poisoning her best friend. The prosecution claims she's always been secretly attracted to Amanda's husband…and with Amanda gone, she planned to make her move.

Attorney Izzy McNeil left the legal world a year ago, but a friend's request pulls her into the murder trial. Izzy knows how passion can turn your life upside down. She thought she had it once with her ex–fiance, Sam. Now she wonders if that's all she has in common with her criminally gorgeous, younger boyfriend, Theo.

It's Izzy's job to present the facts that will exonerate her client–whether or not she's innocent. But when she suspects Valerie is hiding something, she begins investigating–and uncovers a web of secret passions and dark motives, where seemingly innocent relationships can prove poisonous…

My Thoughts
Claim of Innocence is the fourth installment of the Izzy McNeil Mysteries and it delivered a good, solid mystery with a lot of personal drama and intriguing, fascinating characters.  And while it helps to have read the previous novels in the series for background information, it is not necessary in order to enjoy this novel and it can definitely be read as a stand-alone.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about the series is the main character, Izzy McNeil.  I adore her tenacity and her vivaciousness and as silly as this sounds, I love the fact that she continues to drive a Vespa despite the encouragement of those around her to purchase a more 'suitable' vehicle for her profession.  There are many things that she does, both in court and out of it, that reveal her vulnerability and shows the reader how confused she can be about what life throws her way, and it makes her more approachable as a character and more endearing.  I liked that Izzy wasn't afraid to dig into her client's personal life in order to discover the secrets that her employers were afraid to discover, and while they were teaching her about life as a criminal lawyer, she was also, in turn, teaching them about bringing the personal back into their jobs.  While Izzy may have been the main character outside of the courtroom, she was not necessarily the main focus in the courtroom, and I liked that tremendously.  Despite all of this, she remained loyal and steadfast to her employers, who also happened to be one of her best friends and whose dad has always treated her as a grand-daughter.  I liked how these hard-core lawyers were not afraid of trying new things and testing new waters in order to do the best thing for their client.

The plotline surrounding Valerie Solara, the woman accused of murdering her best friend, was perhaps the weakest part of the novel.  While there were many twists and turns, I don't think avid readers and fans of legal thrillers would have been caught unaware in this novel.  Don't get me wrong as I enjoyed the plotline tremendously, but if I was truly reading because I wanted something unique and suspenseful, with a plotline that caught me off guard, this would not have been the one, as I predicted fairly early on what had happened.  I think I was in the mood for something light and entertaining, which was why I enjoyed this so much and the plotline didn't matter as much as it would have.  What I found was something that was low on violence and smutty language, entertaining, with a host of engaging characters I would certainly like to read about again. 

Claim of Innocence was a quick and entertaining read with a host of engaging characters.  With a setting that does not focus entirely on court legal drama, there is plenty of interest in the personal lives of the characters that adds a fun layer of mystery, romance, and intrigue to the story.  While definitely more on the light side of the legal drama, I still found it interesting, and I would recommend Claim of Innocence to those who are looking for something lighter and fun.