Friday, November 21, 2014

Interview: Sybil Johnson of Fatal Brushstrokes


I am delighted to welcome Sybil Johnson to the Back Porch today to let us know a little more about her new book, Fatal Brushstroke, the first "Aurora Anderson Mystery", and a little more about herself!  Be sure to check out my review and the giveaway published earlier today!


1.  So are you crafty in general and/or do you specialize in tole painting?

I’ve always enjoyed crafts and have tried out many different ones over the years. My mother taught me to embroider when I was in grade school.  My first project was a set of flour sack towels embroidered with cartoon mice. When I was a kid, I checked out issues of the Pack-o-Fun magazine 
from the library and did some of the projects. I’ve tried sewing, macramé, crocheting, knitting, scrapbooking, calligraphy, counted cross-stitch, and tole painting. Counted cross-stitch and tole painting are my favorites, though, and the ones I do most often.

2.  What brought you to SoCal from the Pacific Northwest?

I moved to L.A. to go to college. I’d never been to L.A., but I’d always wanted to come here so I applied to the University of Southern California. They awarded me a full scholarship so I headed south. I graduated with a degree in Computer Science which was a fairly new field at the time, got a job here, and ended up staying.

3.  Have you written in other genres as well?

Not yet. Most of my ideas fall into the crime/mystery genre so that’s what I’ve been concentrating on. It’s also the genre I enjoy reading the most.

4.  If you could walk on the beach with any other writer from history, who would you ask, what would you talk about, and how would you stay hydrated?

Agatha Christie. After I got over being in her presence, I’d ask her what her work process was, what it was like to live through WWII in London, what it was like to be on archaeological digs with her husband, and what really happened during the time she was missing. (The answer to the last I would never reveal to a soul, of course, since she’d be telling me in confidence.) I’d be drinking peppermint water for hydration.

5.  Is there a set number of books in the Aurora Anderson mystery series or is it more fluid?

It’s fluid. I’m contracted for 3 books so far in the series. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’d like to keep writing Rory’s adventures as long as I come up with ideas.

6.  What is the hardest part of being an author?

Juggling writing and promotional activities. Posting on Facebook, tweeting, blogging, updating a website, posting reviews on Goodreads... It’s all a lot of fun, but can also eat up all of your writing time if you’re not careful.

7.  What is the raison d'etre of your writing?  What would you like to accomplish?

Reading has brought me a lot of enjoyment over the years and I’d like to return the favor. I’d like to write stories people enjoy reading. It’s as simple as that.

8.  I am impressed that you remember one of the first books you read.  Does your head for detail help you keep characters and stories straight?

I’m fortunate to be blessed with a good memory for details (or cursed depending on how you look at it.) That helps quite a bit in my writing, but things sometimes still get muddled in my brain, so I keep notes on all my projects. At one point, I did some script supervising (continuity) on a few student films. Script supervisors use a slew of forms to keep track of all the details they need to remember when filming. I’ve repurposed one or two of those forms to help me keep track of information in my books.

9.  What is the best book you've ever read?

That’s a tough one. I’ve read so many great books, fiction and non-fiction, over the years I don’t really have a favorite. So here are a few books I’ve read fairly recently that stand out in my mind: LOSING CLEMENTINE by Ashley Ream, AUNT DIMITY’S DEATH by Nancy Atherton, DIAL H FOR HITCHCOCK by Susan Kandel, DISSOLUTION by C.J. Sansom, DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson.


Book Review/Giveaway: Fatal Brushstrokes by Sybil Johnson


A dead body in her garden and a homicide detective on her doorstep…

Computer programmer and tole-painting enthusiast Aurora (Rory) Anderson doesn’t envision finding either when she steps outside to investigate the frenzied yipping coming from her own backyard. After all, she lives in Vista Beach, a quiet California beach community where violent crime is rare and murder even rarer.

Suspicion falls on Rory when the body buried in her flowerbed turns out to be someone she knows—her tole painting teacher, Hester Bouquet. Just two weekends before, Rory attended one of Hester’s weekend painting seminars, an unpleasant experience she vowed never to repeat. As evidence piles up against Rory, she embarks on a quest to identify the killer and clear her name. Can Rory unearth the truth before she encounters her own brush with death?



I was a bit surprised to have the crime already committed at the book's open, but that was a good thing.  That is unusual.  In a genre (such as cozy mysteries), there are certain conventions to which a book will adhere.  It follows then that having something to distinguish one's work from amongst the crowd makes people sit up and take notice.  I certainly did.  My little reading radar was twitching madly!

Rory and Liz's friendship is great.  You know they are close because with half a dozen words over the phone from Rory, Liz knows that something is wrong.  Of course, communication is as much about what is not said and non-verbal clues, but a good friend would pick up on that.

Each chapter seems to bring a new thread or two (no wait, tole painting and the outdoors figure into this mystery) plant or two to the garden, another color or two to the palette.  Why is the body found in Rory's garden?  Either she is the murderer or someone is planting evidence (*groan* I know) against her.  Does someone hold a grudge against her?  (It certainly doesn't look good for Rory as she turns out to be the child of the couple responsible for the chief of police's family's arson deaths.)  I am NOT saying the Chief is in any way responsible but does this make it easier for him to believe the mounting evidence against Rory?  An interesting psychological angle.

Fatal Brushstrokes is an intriguing start to the Aurora Anderson Mystery Series and a satisfying read in its own right.  Freelance computer programmer is a pretty gutsy career choice for a cozy heroine.  I know it is written in 3rd person, but I had a very 1st person connection to Rory's experiences.  I felt I was seeing what she saw, feeling what she felt, etc.  I am excited to see where this series will take us!



(photograph by Nicole Ortega)

Sybil Johnson grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Frequent trips to the library introduced her to the Land of Oz, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Bilbo Baggins and a whole lot more. She fell in love with mysteries reading Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. In junior high, she discovered Agatha Christie.

After high school graduation, Sybil moved south to attend the University of Southern California, majoring in Computer Science. After twenty years of designing and writing code and managing programmers and software development projects, she turned to a life of crime writing.

Her short fiction has appeared in Mysterical-ESpinetingler MagazineKing’s River Life Magazine, Crimson Dagger, and Silver Moon Magazine. A past president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles, Sybil also co-chaired the 2011 California Crime Writers Conference. In her spare time, she enjoys tole painting, studying ancient languages (Ancient Egyptian and Coptic are her current areas of interest), and spending time with friends and family.


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(Disclosure:  I received an e- copy of this book from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death by Mark Reutlinger


Everyone knows that Rose Kaplan makes the best matzoh ball soup around—she’s a regular matzoh ball maven—so it’s no surprise at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors when, once again, Mrs. K wins the honor of preparing the beloved dish for the Home’s seder on the first night of Passover. 

But when Bertha Finkelstein is discovered facedown in her bowl of soup, her death puts a bit of a pall on the rest of the seder. And things go really meshugge when it comes out that Bertha choked on a diamond earring earlier stolen from resident Daisy Goldfarb. Suddenly Mrs. K is the prime suspect in the police investigation of both theft and murder. Oy vey—it’s a recipe for disaster, unless Rose and her dear friend Ida can summon up the chutzpah to face down the police and solve the mystery themselves.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2015 Hard Core Re-reading Challenge Sign-up Post

Please click the button above to go to the challenge sign-up page and see all the particulars.

I'm going for Level 1 on this challenge, which is 10-20 books.  The books listed below are books that I have read in 2014 that I would like to re-read.

1.  Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison
2.  The Publicist by Christina George
3.  Shelf-Life by Christina George
4.  The Lens and the Looker by Lory S. Kaufman
5.  The Bronze and the Brimstone by Lory S. Kaufman
6.  The Loved and the Lost by Lory S. Kaufman
7.  When Camels Fly by N.L.B. Horton
8.  Dance of the Spirits by Catherine Aerie
9.  The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman
10.  Who am I? by Megan Cyrulewski
11.  Lost Legacy by Annette Dashofy
(links in this list go to GoodReads)

and in the 'catch-all' categories:

a.  anything I've already read by Joyce and Jim Lavene
b.  anything I've already read by Daryl Wood Gerber
c.  anything I've already read by Avery Aames

These lists are by no means exhaustive, because I'm exhausted.  But they give me a good 'tour guide', so to speak, and let me know which books I should not put on the high shelves. ;)

As I finish the re-reads/re-reviews, I'll start a list below:


Book Review: Die I Will Not by S. K. Rizzolo


Unhappy wife and young mother Penelope Wolfe fears scandal for her family and worse. A Tory newspaper editor has been stabbed while writing a reply to the latest round of letters penned by a firebrand calling himself Collatinus. Twenty years before, her father, the radical Eustace Sandford, wrote as Collatinus before he fled London just ahead of accusations of treason and murder. A mysterious beauty closely connected to Sandford and known only as N.D. had been brutally slain, her killer never punished. The seditious new Collatinus letters that attack the Prince Regent in the press also seek to avenge N.D. s death and unmask her murderer. What did the journalist know that provoked his death? Her artist husband Jeremy is no reliable ally, so Penelope turns anew to lawyer Edward Buckler and Bow Street Runner John Chase. As she battles public notoriety, Buckler and Chase put their careers at risk to stand behind her while pursuing various lines of inquiry aimed at N.D. s murderer, a missing memoir, Royal scandal, and the dead editor s missing wife. As they navigate the dark underbelly of Regency London among a cast driven by dirty politics and dark passions, as well as by decency and a desire for justice, past secrets and present criminals are exposed, upending Penelope s life and the lives of others." 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2015 Gothic Challenge and Read-a-longs

So, I heard from A Novel Challenge that Books Under the Bed is hosting a Gothic Reading Challenge in 2015.  And being a reading-challenge-a-holic, naturally I had to go see what this was all about.  (The button up there, which I made from the graphic on the sign-up page with a little resizing and blood-red lettering at PicMonkey, goes directly to the sign-up page at the host blog.)

Below are the list of read-a-longs for the year, to give you an idea of the type of books, stories, etc that will be included:

January: Castle Otranto, Walpole, 1764 (where it all began)
February: ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’, Elizabeth Gaskell
March: Rebecca, Daphne du |Maurier
April: Anna Dressed in Blood, Kendare Blake (POC writer/YA)
May: A Street Car Named Desire, Tennesse Williams (Play/Southern Gothic)
June: Author Focus: Edgar Allen Poe (poems, short stories or novels)
July: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith (Parody)
August: Bitten, Kelley Armstrong (some light holiday reading)
September: My Sword Hand is Singing, Marcus Sedwick (YA)
October: Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist (Sweeden/GLBT)
November: Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon
December: Graphic Novels in the gothic genre

There are three levels for the basic challenge, as well as challenge enhancements aimed at enriching your reading experience.  If you are a fan of gothic literature, this is a tailor-made challenge for you!

I'm signing up for level 3 (that's 20 books +) and my list starts:


(to be continued....)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Write On Review-a-Thon

Write On Review-a-Thon

The Write On review-a-thon is a monthly event created and hosted by Brianna at The Book Vixen. It’s a duration of time dedicated to getting reviews done, whether you have one review to write or 30+. This edition of the review-a-thon takes place all day Friday, November 21st and Saturday, November 22nd. Let’s get those reviews done!

I've got so many reviews to do, it isn't even funny.  And that two-week bout of crippling headaches certainly did not help things any, but it was what it was and now's the time to get back to work.  Here is a list of reviews that I need to do:

For book tours (for which I have the books or ebooks already:

11/21 - Fatal Brushstrokes by Sybil Johnson
12/11 - The Kill List by Nichole Christoff
12/15 - Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
1/7 - Kill 'Em With Cayenne by Gail Oust

Books I just read for the heck and/or pleasure of it, but haven't reviewed them yet:

  • 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More by Rachel Aaron
  • Broken-Hearted Ghoul (Taxi for the Dead Paranormal Mysteries #1) by Joyce & Jim Lavene
  • Searching for Pekpek: Cassowaries and Conservations in the New Guinea Rainforest by Andrew L. Mack
  • Chimeras: Track Presius Mystery #1 by E. E. Giorgi
  • Blog Events: The Secret to Engaging Your Community, Growing Your Network and Establishing Your Expertise by Amanda Shofner
  • 3500: An Autistic Boy's 10 Year Romance With Snow White by Ron Miles
Well, those are the ones I can find that need reviewing.  There are probably more.  In any case, I have no fantasy that I can complete all of these in two days.  I would, however, like to get the four reviews for tours done (although, obviously the ones whose dates have not arrived won't post live until the day they are supposed to.  

This list may grow, or shrink depending on if my memory improves or I get some reviews done ahead of time.  I will try to 'scorekeep' on this post, making revisions as necessary

Let's get those lists of reviews to be done whittled down!  We'll feel more accomplished and our writer friends will certainly appreciate it!