Sunday, November 30, 2014

WeWriWa - D is for Dedication

From the WeWriWa site:  "Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors! Sign up below with your name, blog and email and share an 8-sentence snippet of your writing on Sunday. Your post needs to be live between 12:00 noon on Saturday 07/05/14 and 9:00 AM on Sunday 07/06/14. Visit other participants on the list and read, critique, and comment on their 8sunday posts.

Spread the word. Twitter hashtag #8sunday. "

Cooking a meal takes effort; cooking 18,615 meals (3 meals a day x 365 days x 17 years) takes dedication.  Facing danger requires effort; facing danger every day for 730 days during a two-year deployment takes dedication.  Writing one blog post takes effort; writing a blog post starting with each letter of the alphabet during a single month takes dedication.

When we put forth effort, we receive reward.  Maybe it is money; maybe it is satisfaction at a job well done or from making a difference.  One reward we get from dedication is reputation.  When one cooks a tasty meal, one hears, "That was a great meal!"  When one cooks 18,615 tasty meals, we hear, "You are a wonderful cook!"

Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: Searching for Pekpek by Andrew Mack


In 1987 Andrew Mack walked into the rainforest of New Guinea in pursuit of cassowaries and adventure. He ended up building a research station a three day hike from the nearest road and living there for years. Because these huge birds are so hard to observe, his research focused on their droppings and how they disperse the seeds of rainforest trees. Indeed a new species of mahogany, named in his honor, was first found in cassowary droppings.

His research expanded to many topics and as he and his colleagues developed conservation and research programs with the field station at their core. But despite the remote location, it was still accessible to miners who moved in and disturbed the delicate social and ecological balance of the forest with devastating consequences. His story gives an inside view of how international conservation organizations operate and why they often fail so miserably in places like New Guinea.




Who would travel far away from home, to a place where s/he doesn't speak the language, and endure all sorts of hardships, all to study "pekpek".  (For the uninitiated, of which I was one before I opened this book, "pekpek" is the New Guinean word for *ahem* animal droppings.)  Specifically, the droppings of this particular bird:

(This picture of a southern cassowary is from Wikipedia.)

Andrew L. Mack, Ph.D., that's who.  Searching for Pekpek: Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rain Forest, is an autobiographical account of Mack's years in New Guinea, studying seed dispersal of the large birds.

The book is also a critique of 'Big Conservation".  You know those mailers you get, showing colorful pictures of far away places, and asking for money to help "save" this or that species or piece of ground?  Now, doubtless they do some good.  After all, most folks doing field studies receive grants from these organizations.  But, like in any big business, politics comes into play.  And there are always costs associated with getting donations and staff.

After my last camping trip (tents on hard ground, the whole nine yards), I said the only way I would go camping again was if there was a tent painted on the side of a motel.  Yet Mack and Debra Wright went to New Guinea, traveled days from civilization, hauling supplies, and had to build their own shelter.  Such is the dedication of true pioneers!

The group provided employment to the local population, and the early days of the language barrier reminded me of a trip to my mother's birthplace in Switzerland, and wondering what in the world I would do when the shopkeeper informed me she did not speak English.  Yikes!  There were tribal and family loyalties to be considered.

Then a mining company comes in an offers the New Guineans more money for mineral rights on their land.  What is a poor person to do?  Of course, there was no talk about how this would destroy habitat of the animals or deplete the soil, making it near useless for farming.

Normally, non-fiction books take me a little longer to read than novels of the same length.  Not so with Searching for Pekpek. The photos of nature are amazing; the pictures of people touching.  Mack's account reads like a compelling thriller that had me alternately mad as all get out and shouting for joy.  The writing, the telling of this story, is educational, entertaining and compelling.

If you are concerned about Mother Earth and Mother Nature, you need to read this book.  It is also a 'coffee table'-worthy publication, having both a beautiful cover and a title that will start conversations.  In my opinion, even if you don't particularly care for non-fiction books, you will like Searching for Pekpek - the book, maybe not the 'activity'.  (Certainly the New Guineans got a lot of humor out of a white man paying to investigate bird droppings!

Searching for Pekpek will be an excellent addition to your library, and a wonderful gift for family and friends who are interested in animals and/or conservation.



“I began serious bird watching around age 12.  While still in high school, my passion led to an offer to join an expedition to Mexico. I took a night and weekend job as a busboy to save for the trip.  This grand adventure at 16 included the company of several friends, including Mark Robbins and Steve Hilty (now both top experts on South American birds). I became hooked on tropical forests for life.  

After high school I went to the University of Arizona, mainly for its proximity to Mexico, and made several field trips to Mexico with Mark Robbins, Ted Parker, Kenn Kaufmann and other young bird enthusiasts (all successful ornithologists, though Ted died in a plane crash in Ecuador about 20 years ago).

After that first year, I dropped out to work and save money for a longer trip to Central and South America, which I took when I was 19-20.  Falling in love with Costa Rica, I stayed there for about 5 months, joining a sea turtle project in Tortuguero before moving on to Peru and joining Ted in Madre de Dios.  I was fully hooked on field research.

On a trip to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia (to look at specimens of birds I had seen in Latin America),  I happened to meet the curator, Frank Gill, at a time when he needed help moving the entire bird collection to a different building.  I volunteered and moved to Philly.  I guess I made a good impression and Frank hired me as collections manager.

I got to know the collection really well, an astounding assemblage of around 165,000 bird specimens.  It was a great job an allowed field work in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Borneo.

But without a degree I knew I would never get to do my own research, so around 1982 I went back to college, getting a Bachelor's at the University of Delaware.  From there I went to the University of Miami for PhD studies in their tropical biology program.

In my first year at Miami I got a call “out of the blue” asking if I would like to go to Papua New Guinea, and that is where Searching for Pekpek:  Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rainforest begins.

After spending half a year in PNG during 1987, I went back to Miami for a year, but returned to the rain forests I so enjoyed newly married to Debra D. Wright, also working on a Ph.D. in tropical biology at the University of Miami.  Deb and I went out to a jungle village called Haia, hiked about 10 hours to a place called Wara Sera, and built a research station there.  We spent about 5 months on the initial construction, all done with hand tools and wood cut by axe from the surrounding forest.
The years 1990-1993 were fully occupied studying cassowaries around Wara Sera.  I particularly studied seed dispersal, what happens to seeds after they are moved and defecated by a cassowary.  Deb studied what the cassowaries eat and why they select their diet.  

Eventually we had to return to the States; I finished my PhD in 1995 and soon took a job with Conservation International.  Working with CI, I led expeditions and conducted field training courses in New Guinea until 1999.

In 1999 Deb and I moved back to PNG fulltime to be co-directors of the Wildlife Conservation Society PNG country program.  We mentored many students and increased our field training efforts.  We developed a small campus with many staff and student interns, all doing field research on various subjects.  Deb and I divorced, but kept working together for the sake of our program.

Unfortunately, WCS (for no known reason known to me) closed our program abruptly in 2007. I had to leave PNG and took an endowed position as a conservation biologist with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  I left Carnegie so I would be free to focus on my research and conservation issues in New Guinea, and to write.

The team we had mentored in PNG formed the PNG Institute of Biological Research -  a fully national conservation and research organization.

I became executive director of the IPCA (IndoPacific Conservation Alliance) and Scientific Director of Green Capacity in order to continue to work with colleagues in New Guinea.  I've made my home in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, remarried to Lydia C. Mack, an owner of a small tree farm.


(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of Searching for Pekpek from the author, Andrew Mack, in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Holy Mailbox Monday, Batman!

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came in their mailbox during the last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.  Click the link-up button above the see more book hauls and/or to add your own!

It's been a dry spell in my mailbox of late.  Seriously, I've been going through withdrawal.  But just now, I went down to the road to a mailbox STUFFED with envelopes and packages.  (I didn't think the mail carrier was down there that long!)

First up, all the way from the UK:

(Cover graphic is linked to tour page at Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours.  I will review this title on Friday, December 5, 2014.)

Publication Date: December 5, 2014
Crooked Cat Publications
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 312
ISBN: 978-1-910510-06-3

Genre: Historical Fiction

SIX EPOCHS, TEN LIVES INTERSECTING AT A SINGLE PLACE. 2013: Al Cohen, an American in search of his European heritage.

1944-1946: Friedrich Werner, an officer of the Wehrmacht and later a prisoner of war. His wife Greta, clinging to what remains of her life in war-torn Berlin.

1799: Suzanne de Beaubigny, a royalist refugee from revolutionary France.

1517: Richard Mabon, a Catholic priest on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his secretary, Nicholas Ahier.

1160: Raoul de Paisnel, a knight with a dark secret walking through Spain with his steward, Guillaume Bisson.

4000 BC: Egrasté, a sorceress, and Txeru, a man on an epic voyage.

Transgressions, reconciliations and people caught on the wrong side of history.

Omphalos. A journey through six thousand years of human history.


Next up, a book I have been waiting for since I read its predecessor, When Camels Fly back in May of this year:

(Cover links to the book's GoodReads page.  The book is part of a tour by Virtual Author Book Tours.  I will post a review of this title on Friday, January 16, 2015.)

Publication Date: November 12, 2014
RidgeRoute Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 408
ISBN: 0991401735

Genre: Historical Fiction

A friend's deception. A family's dilemma.

While cataloguing looted antiquities in Brussels, archaeologist Grace Madison discovers that her daughter has vanished in France, and her son's bride has been attacked in Switzerland. After the Madison family unearths a relic whose taproot pierces the Ancient Near East, they realize that before they can save themselves, they must rescue an old friend. If he'll let them. 

Because choosing what's right is all that's left. 


(Cover links to the tour page at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  I will post a review of this title on Wednesday, December 10, 2014, and host a guest post by the author on Friday, December 12, 2014)

Publication Date: September 29, 2014
Raven’s Wing Books
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages:  344
ISBN:  1618071254

Genre: Historical Fiction

“… in the meantime, a credible report caused all ecclesiastics of the Catholic Church to lament and weep.” Prudentius of Troyes, Annales Bertiniani, anno 839

On Ascension Day May 22, 838, Bishop Bodo, chaplain, confessor, and favorite of both his kin, Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, and Empress Judith, caused the greatest scandal of the Carolingian Empire and the 9th century Roman Church.

Bodo, the novel, dramatizes the causes, motivations, and aftermath of Bodo’s astonishing cause célèbre that took place during an age of superstitions, a confused Roman Church, heterodoxies, lingering paganism, broken oaths, rebellions, and dissolution of the Carolingian Empire.

And last but not least:

(Cover links to the tour page at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  I will post a review of this title on Monday, December 8, 2014.)

Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Blank Slate Press
Formats: eBook, Trade Paperback
Pages: 300
ISBN:  0985808667

Genre: Historical Fiction

Agnes Canon is tired of being a spectator in life, an invisible daughter among seven sisters, meat for the marriage market. The rivers of her Pennsylvania countryside flow west, and she yearns to flow with them, explore new lands, know the independence that is the usual sphere of men.

This is a story of a woman’s search for freedom, both social and intellectual, and her quest to understand what freedom means. She learns that freedom can be the scent and sound of unsettled prairies, the glimpse of a cougar, the call of a hawk. The struggle for freedom can test the chains of power, poverty, gender, or the legalized horror of slavery. And to her surprise, she discovers it can be found within a marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman who are equals in everything that matters.

It’s also the story of Jabez Robinson, a man who has traveled across the continent and seen the beauty of the country and the ghastliness of war, as he watches his nation barrel toward disaster. Faced with deep-seated social institutions and hard-headed intransigence, he finds himself helpless to intervene. Jabez’s story is an indictment of war in any century or country, and an admission that common sense and reasoned negotiation continue to fail us.

As Agnes and Jabez struggle to keep their community and their lives from crumbling about them, they must face the stark reality that whether it’s the freedom of an African from servitude, of the South from the North, or of a woman from the demands of social convention, the cost is measured in chaos and blood.

This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the prelude to civil war. 


If you made it this far, first of all: congratulations!  Secondly, thank you!  Which of these books seems most up your alley?

Book Review: Murder for a Rainy Day by Teresa Trent


Animal rustling is alive and well in the sleepy little town of Pecan Bayou, Texas–but with a particularly peculiar spin. Only the fake livestock seem to be at risk. First, cowboy legend Charlie Loper’s larger-than-life fiberglass horse disappears from the town square, but before the police can get any solid leads, the cow in front of the local steak house gets pinched.

Betsy Livingston Fitzpatrick, local helpful hints columnist for the Pecan Bayou Gazette, is trying keep her mind off of being nine months pregnant in the blistering Texas summer heat. Troubled by haunting dreams, she pursues the odd animal thefts in a case that soon turns into murder. As Betsy closes in on the killer, a hurricane is headed straight for the Gulf Coast sending spin-off storms and tornadoes to the little town of Pecan Bayou.

“Hunker down” with Betsy and the lovable characters of Pecan Bayou in the latest Betsy Livingston mystery from cozy author Teresa Trent. Recipes and helpful hints included.

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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Click the logo above to follow the tour, including more reviews, guest posts, interviews and more chances to win!

(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!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: The Red Book of Primrose House by Marty Wingate


Pru Parke has her dream job: head gardener at an eighteenth-century manor house in Sussex. The landscape for Primrose House was laid out in 1806 by renowned designer Humphry Repton in one of his meticulously illustrated Red Books, and the new owners want Pru to restore the estate to its former glory—quickly, as they’re planning to showcase it in less than a year at a summer party.

But life gets in the way of the best laid plans: When not being happily distracted by the romantic attentions of the handsome Inspector Christopher Pearse, Pru is digging into the mystery of her own British roots. Still, she manages to make considerable progress on the vast grounds—until vandals wreak havoc on each of her projects. Then, to her horror, one of her workers is found murdered among the yews. The police have a suspect, but Pru is certain they’re wrong. Once again, Pru finds herself entangled in a thicket of evil intentions—and her, without a hatchet.



When I began reading The Garden Plot, the first of the Potting Shed Mysteries, something told me I was holding a very special book.  It was more than the sum of its parts, and The Red Book of Primrose House (Book 2) is like a younger sibling with the same familial allure.

In truth, the intrigue of The Red Book of Primrose House begins in the previous novel.  When Pru goes to Primrose House for her interview, one of the staffers tell her that she won't get the job.  Turns out there is a local that also wanted the position, and Pru suspects him of sabotaging her efforts to restore the garden and grounds.

One of the house staff has a son who is mentally-differently-abled.  Unfortunately, this young man is being framed for the latest crime, that of the death of one of the garden crew, which was definitely not of natural causes.  Pru does not believe he could be involved, and of course sets about finding out who really 'dunnit'.

As Pru gets closer to the truth, she gets closer to Christopher, (which is not a bad place at all to be).  As the mystery deepens, Pru gets deeper in danger.  Finally, the more you get to know about Pru and her acquaintances, the more you will want to know.

While The Red Book of Primnrose House more than satisfies as a standalone novel, reading both books (and any future installments, assuming naturally that they will be just as good) will enrich your mind and your library.



Marty Wingate is a Seattle-based author and speaker about gardens and travel. She is the author of The Garden Plot, first in the Potting Shed mystery series (Alibi, May 2014) as well as Perennials for the Pacific Northwest (Sasquatch Books) and Landscaping for Privacy (Timber Press). Marty’s garden articles appear in a variety of publications, including Fine Gardening, American Gardener, Country Gardens, and Gardening How-to. You can hear her on the podcast A Dry Rain, available free from iTunes. She leads garden tours to European and North American destinations.


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: Loving Lucianna by Joyce DiPastena


Sir Balduin de Soler gave up long ago on love. He never had the means to support a wife until an unexpected advancement in his fifties allows him to reassess his future just as the lovely Lucianna enters his life.

Lucianna Fabio harbors a secret, painful memory from her past that has kept her unwed, as well. Now in her forties, she thought herself too old to marry until she meets Sir Balduin. Now suddenly their lonely autumn lives feel very much like spring again . . . until Lucianna’s brother appears without warning and threatens to revive the secret that will destroy Lucianna’s second chance at love.



Much like the scripts of plays, (which are my first literary love), Loving Lucianna has a 'cast of characters' at the beginning.  And the chapters indicate a location and year.  Both these are quite valuable for keeping order in one's thoughts when reading this enchanting book.  

A few of the characters have been mentioned or appear in previous works by this author, Loyalty's Web and Illuminations of the Heart, but it does not seem to be a series in the traditional sense.  Even so, this first taste of DiPastena's work leaves me wanting more.

Ms. DiPastena's prose is as rich as the fabrics used in a Middle Ages ladies' gown.  You know the kind you see at Renaissance Faires or in a Shakespeare play, and makes you sigh with delight when you run your fingers over it.

And, I must admit that being a 'woman of a certain age' myself, I like reading something where a woman in her 40's (which, back in those days was practically old age) can find a first romance is very heartening.

There is romance and danger, as well as secrets from the past and other mysteries in this well-rounded novel.  Loving Lucianna will appeal to people who enjoy well-written books, and especially fans of historical fiction and the Middle Ages.



Joyce DiPastena dreamed of green medieval forests while growing up in the dusty copper mining town of Kearny, Arizona. She filled her medieval hunger by reading the books of Thomas B. Costain (where she fell in love with King Henry II of England), and later by attending the University of Arizona where she graduated with a degree in history, specializing in the Middle Ages. The university was also where she completed her first full-length novel…set, of course, in medieval England. Later, her fascination with Henry II led her to expand her research horizons to the far reaches of his “Angevin Empire” in France, which became the setting of her first published novel, Loyalty’s Web (a 2007 Whitney Award Finalist).

Joyce is a multi-published, multi-award winning author who specializes in sweet medieval romances heavily spiced with mystery and adventure. She lives with her two cats, Clio and Glinka Rimsky-Korsokov, in Mesa, Arizona.



1.  Where was your author picture taken?

At a book signing I did at the Arizona Renaissance Festival a few years ago. Usually I dress casually when I go “just for the day”, but I dressed up for the book signing. Such fun!

2.  What draws you to the medieval period of history?

People are always asking me that, and I never have a really good answer for them. I’ve always been interested in history, from ancient to pre-Industrial time periods. My mother had a set of World Book encyclopedias when I was a child, and I remember opening the M volume many times to the “Middle Ages” and looking at the pictures, so even when I was young, something clearly drew me to that era. Still, when I started college and decided to major in history, I began fairly open minded about what period most interested me, and yet again, I found myself most drawn to the classes on the Middle Ages. It helped that they were taught by a fantastic professor, Dr. Thomas Parker. I took all the classes on the subject I could find. And when I began dabbling with a new story during those same years, I set it in the Middle Ages and the more I researched for the story I was writing, the more I continued to fall in love with the time period. That story turned out to be the first full-length novel I ever completed (I’d started but never finished many stories before then). It wasn’t very well written at the time, but I always loved the plot of that novel. Last year I pulled it out and vastly revised it, using all the writing skills I’ve developed since those inexperienced college days, and I finally plan to publish it in 2015 as a romantic historical titled The Lady and the Minstrel.

3.  What is the difference between a historical romance and a romantic historical novel?

The difference, in my mind, is whether the focus of the story is mainly on the romance (historical romance) vs a story with strong romantic elements but the romance may not be the main focus or may only be one of multiple focuses of the story (romantic historical). Loving Lucianna is a historical romance. My next medieval novel, The Lady and the Minstrel, which will come out in 2015, has a strong romance in it, but the romantic relationship is not the sole important relationship that develops in the story. It also deals with a larger historical issue (the class system as defined by the medieval manorial economic system) than simply trying to get the hero and heroine together in the end. Although I do manage to pull that off in the story, too. ☺

4.  One of your cats has a short name and one has a rather long name.  How'd that happen?

Clio is named for the Greek Muse of history. I was hoping she might be my writing muse, but when I got her as a kitten she just seemed more interested in biting and scratching, so the “muse” thing never really worked out. (Still love her, though!) My second cat was a Maine Coon kitten when I got him. He was so fluffy and something about his coloring reminded me of one of those furry Russian hats the dancers wear in the Nutcracker ballet. I’d been listening to a lot of Russian classical music at the time so I decided to name him after a Russian composer. First I tried Rimsky-Korsakov, but after awhile, he didn’t look like a Rimsky-Korsakov to me, so I switched his name to Glinka, another Russian composer. My sister, who was with me when I got him, kept insisting she liked Rimsky-Korsakov better than Glinka, so I finally compromised and said I’d let him keep both names. So technically he’s Glinka Rimsky-Korsakov, but I usually just call him Glinka.

5.  Does your faith affect your writing and if so, how?

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and my Christian belief system affects my writing inasmuch as it helped me decide that I wanted to keep my stories clean. No on-the-page sex scenes, no premarital sex between my hero and heroine, no profanity, no graphic violence. Clean doesn’t have to equal “boring,” however. I try to include lots of adventure and mystery, as well as lots of romantic tension, to draw a reader in and keep them reading to the end.

6.  Where is the Arizona Renaissance Festival held?

It’s held about 15 minutes from the edge of Mesa, Arizona, where I live, but it can take you a good 45 minutes to get there because it’s so popular, the traffic is always quite heavy. It’s held for 8 weekends (plus Presidents Day) every February and March and it’s like disappearing into another world when you get there. Everyone (except for some of us lazy spectators) dresses up in Medieval and Renaissance period costume. The rides are all “people powered”, the shows are all “live,” and the shops—well, fortunately they do accept Lady Visa and Master of the Card for purchases, but it’s easy to forget that little bit of modern magic in the otherwise festival atmosphere. It’s truly one of the highlights of my year because it gives me one day to escape from the stresses of the 21st century and disappear into a simpler time. I always leave with a sigh and a big smile on my face.

7.  In which of your stories could you most see yourself living? 

That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child. I love all of my stories equally and could be happy to live (temporarily) in all of them. (I’d want to come home and sleep in my 21st century bed at night though!)

8.  Which historical figure from the Middle Ages would you most like to meet?

I’ve always been fascinated with King Henry II of England. He’s best known in popular culture for his conflict with Thomas Becket, his turbulent marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his conflicts with his sons. But his contemporaries described him as a man who hated war, even though he constantly seemed to be fighting them. (And almost always prevailing, until the end when he became old and ill.) He was jealous of his royal prerogatives, yet he shunned the personal trappings of power. He had a towering temper, yet was described as allowing himself to be patiently pushed and pulled by common people who came to him with petitions. Obviously, a man of huge and fascinating contradictions. But what I admire about him the most is that he seemed to be a king who wasn’t content to just sit around and enjoy the power that came with his title. He tried to use that power to actually improve the lives of the people he ruled, mostly through legal reforms that he instituted. He tried to leave England better than he found it, and most honest historians will agree that in that aspect, he succeeded. That’s the kind of king I would like to meet.

9.  Who is/are your writing influences?

In other interviews that ask me this question, I’ve mentioned Regency author Georgette Heyer. Although I never wanted to write a Regency, I read her so much beginning around junior high school that I know, stylistically, I patterned a lot of my early writing attempts on the way she wrote. But I’m going to share with you another influence that I very rarely confess to anyone. Comic books! I grew up reading DC, and later Marvel comic books: The Fantasitc Four, Spiderman, the Avengers, and Thor were some of my favorites. It took me a long time to realize how much this type of reading influenced my writing, but many years later I looked back and realized that not only had I learned a lot about pacing from reading comic books, the theme of “good vs evil” that is (or at least, was then) at the center of every good superhero comic undoubtedly influenced the “good vs evil” themes that I just instinctively started including in my novels when I began writing them. I still can’t write a good story that doesn’t have a villain in it somewhere. That didn’t come from Georgette Heyer. That came from all the comic books I read as a child and teenager. So for anyone out there who thinks I write good villains, you can thank Marvel comics for teaching me how!

10.  What advice do you have for young writers?  

Find a story you love and really want to tell, because then you’ll write from your heart. Study books and blogs and articles on writing to learn good writing techniques. Because it’s not enough to have a great story to tell, you need to learn how to tell that story in the most effective manner so that others will enjoy reading it. Be prepared to make mistakes, know that there is a huge learning curve to learning “how” to write. Be patient. Don’t allow discouragement to derail your dreams. Don’t expect perfection all at once. When you’re starting out, know that you’re still learning and that the more you write the better you’ll get. Be prepared for failures, but have faith in your talent and give it time and room to grow. 


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

Click the logo above to see the rest of the tour schedule, including more reviews, interviews, guest posts, spotlights and giveaways!

Monday, November 10, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Kicked to the Curb


Cara Mia Delgatto’s cup runneth over with worries. Her ex-husband is refusing to pay their son’s college tuition, her evil sister is pulling mean pranks, and her old boyfriend has broken her heart. And that’s just the personal stuff. She’s also concerned about keeping the cash register ringing at The Treasure Chest, her retail store specializing in upcycled, recycled, and repurposed décor items with a coastal theme. The media event that Cara plans turns nasty when reporter Kathy Simmons threatens to share unsavory details from the shopkeeper’s past. Things get really dicey when Kathy mysteriously disappears. Cara’s other problems seem trivial in comparison to…a murder investigation!



Poor Cara Mia ('my heart') Delgatto.  In the first book of this series, "Tear Down and Die", she moves to the Treasure Coast of Florida where her grandparents lived, buys a small apartment building and finds a corpse in it.  Something tells me that wasn't in the listing.

Well in this 2nd book, "Kicked to the Curb", Cara gets dropped in it rather quickly.  This time around, she is a proprietress of 'The Treasure Chest'.  The day after her big VIP Event, a part-time reporter who was aggravatingly insistent upon purchasing an old photo that evening, and wasn't above attempting blackmail to do it, was found dead, stuffed in the trunk of a car behind the building next door.  (Take a breath, that was a long sentence.)

That's one thing I love about cozies.  Whether they are based on pets, food, crafts, car racing, or whatever, there are many, many threads of intrigue that go into the stories.  Ms. Campbell Slan's, "Kicked to the  Curb" is an excellent example of how to weave together these threads of story lines into a cohesive whole.  I appreciated the fact that at the beginning of the chapter, a name is listed.  It is through that person's eyes that we then read and interpret the story in that chapter.

And the Old Florida Photos are important as well.  They are the link to something that happened in the area long ago.  And that's all I'm going to say about that.

I liked the emphasis at The Treasure Chest on recycling, upcycling and the like.  Kicked to the Curb is just the 'spoonful of sugar' we need to help the medicine of reclaiming lost or wasted resources to help our planet stay around a little longer.  

I am looking forward to reading the first book in the series, the short story that relates to the series and any future installments!



National Bestselling and Award-Winning Author Joanna Campbell Slan has penned 26 books, including the popular Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series (Agatha Award Finalist). Her new series featuring Cara Mia Delgatto is a spin off from those books. Joanna writes about spunky women who get by with a little help from their friends. A crafting junkie, Joanna lives on a nearly deserted island in Florida with her dog, Jax, who is making a career out of stealing women’s lingerie.

Click the above link for the rest of the tour schedule, including more reviews, as well as interviews, guest posts and a Rafflecopter giveaway for one of : 3 e-copies of Kicked to the Curb, 2 print copies of Kicked to the Curb or a $50 Amazon gift card!

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

Review/Interview/Giveaway: Suede to Rest by Diane Vallere


When Poly Monroe was little, she loved playing in her family’s textile store. But after a fatal family tragedy, Land of A Thousand Fabrics was boarded up and Poly never expected to see the inside again. Now, as inheritor of the long-shuttered shop, she’s ready to restore the family business. However her two new kittens, Pins and Needles, aren’t the ones causing a snag in her plans…

Not everyone wants Poly back in San Ladrón, especially a powerful local developer pressuring her to sell—and leave town fast. But even when the threats turn deadly, she’s not ready to bolt. Because Poly is beginning to suspect that the murder behind the shop is tied to a mystery in her family’s unsettled past that she’s determined to solve…before her own life is left hanging by a thread.



Thank goodness Poly Monroe has a sense of humor.  She was born, some years ago, in her grandparents' fabric store, which she has just inherited.  She was born on a bolt of fabric, and so was given the name "Polyester".  Apparently, her family has a sense of humor as well! ;)

There are a lot of tangled relations in this book and Ms. Vallere does a good job of weaving the threads of her story with the right design and at the right time to keep the reader engaged.  And I'm just a wee jealous that Poly can tell the difference in fabrics according to their feel.

Ms. Vallere's writing is fluid and there are enough plot twists and turns to keep even the most avid cozy mystery fan hopping.  Most of the street's businesses are owned by a local developer, all except Poly's store.  While she is inside for the first time in 20 years, someone vandalizes her car.  And things go downhill from there.  Someone plasters a 'go away' type message on her metal gate ... in ketchup.  The only person who claimed to see someone leave the store the night of Poly's grandmother's murder is found dead in back of the store within 48 hours of Poly's arrival.

I love Poly's love interest in this one.  Not the local LEO (law enforcement officer), but the son of the developer trying to pressure her into selling the store.  So, it's a love-hate-mistrust relationship from the start.  Of course, it doesn't help that they meet while she is stuck in the office door and he informs her that she is trespassing on 'private property'.  

I will go so far as to call this an innovation in cozy mysteries.  Make no mistake, I have enjoyed every cozy I have read so far, and Suede to Rest added a new refreshing twist that made me sit up and 'take notice'.  



After close to two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. SUEDE TO REST, the first in her new Material Witness Mystery Series, comes out November 4. In addition, she writes the Style & Error Mystery Series, featuring former fashion buyer Samantha Kidd, and the Mad for Mod Mystery Series, featuring Doris Day-loving interior decorator Madison Night. Diane started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.



1.  So, tell us about this detective agency you started?

It was shortly after I started reading the Trixie Belden series. A friend and I thought we should start our own agency. Her last name started with an I and mine with a V, so we called ourselves "The Ivy Leaf Detective Agency." We wrote letters to each other, including license plates that we'd seen around town (practicing our skill at recognizing the cars the other mentioned), and signed all of our letters with a drawing of an ivy leaf by our names so we'd know they had not been forged.

2.  What was your favorite place in the world to visit?

Paris! Though, it was not all fun and games. My work schedule started early and ran late, so there was not much time to play. The hotel was about half a mile from the Eiffel tower, and one cold morning (I think it was 18 degrees!) I bundled up in just about everything I'd packed and walked to it. It was around 6 a.m. and nobody else was out on the streets. I walked up to it, looked at it and then turned around and went back to the hotel room.

3.  Do you know already how many books there will be in the 'Material Witness Series"?

Right now there are three books scheduled for the series. I would love for there to be more!

4.  Can you describe Poly Monroe's favorite pair of shoes?

Poly wears a lot of black, and she's 5'9, so she naturally towers over people. Her favorite pair of shoes are black leather riding boots. Comfortable, fashionable, practical.

5.  Do you have a favorite designer, and if so, who?

This is a tough question because I've always been a fan of mixing designer with bargain pieces. I do love Pucci prints from the sixties and the whimsy of Kate Spade. If money were no object, I could probably live exclusively in Chanel!

6.  Does your family have any pets?

I am between pets at the moment. When my cat of fifteen years passed away, I had a particularly hard time. She had been with me through a lot.

7.  What would you call your dream ranch?

My dream ranch would have a flat roof, large, open living room, plenty of giant windows and natural light, and a modest pool in the back yard. It would not have to be big, but would have a nice area for entertaining. Perhaps a fireplace for cold nights. And hardwood floors throughout. I've always wanted hardwood floors and I've never lived anywhere that has them!

8.  What is the hardest thing for you about being a writer?

Not getting distracted by the internet!

9.  What is one (or more) of your goals as a writer?

I want to entertain people, and I want to continue to grow and never feel like I'm phoning something in.

10.  What advice do you have for young writers?

This process takes time and resiliency and creativity and passion. You might not need all four at the same time. You might find you have no time when your creativity is at its peak. You will need your resiliency when rejection comes. But always protect your passion for writing, because when you reach the point where you write because you love to write, you'll find a sense of calm that helps you deal with everything else.

(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of Suede to Rest from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

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GIVEAWAY:  One randomly chosen commenter will receive a print copy of Suede to Rest!