Another Wonderful M. K. Tod Novel

Time and Regret is the third novel I’ve read by M. K. Tod. I became a fan of her writing after I read and reviewed her first novel, Lies Told in Silence, a couple years ago.

Tod Time and RegretHere’s what Lake Union Publishing says about Time and Regret: “When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her…

Through her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a man very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harboring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.”

Like her first two novels, this is a well written, poignant novel and, as I read, I quickly lost myself in the story. I was moved by Grace’s very different relationships with her grandmother and grandfather, and her grandfather’s experience of life in the trenches during the First World War.

The story deftly contrasts the dilemmas and difficulties in Grace’s modern day life with her grandfather, Martin’s experiences on the battlefield. Although I approached the book as an historical fiction, I found that a larger portion of the story is devoted to her modern day quest to solve the puzzle her grandfather left for her in a letter. But I wasn’t disappointed by this. Both eras were vividly portrayed and I didn’t mind spending time with Grace in the present day.

Once again, as in her first novel, the author examines intergenerational relationships within families: mothers and daughters from the daughter’s perspective, grandparents and grandchildren, mothers and sons from the mother’s perspective. The dynamics of these relationships are timeless and touch the reader’s emotions.

In a way, this is a coming of age story for both grandfather and granddaughter. Martin grows and matures in the trenches and his future is formed by what he experiences while his granddaughter has a chance to start again, taking her life in the direction she wants it to go after she finds herself single again.

The author vividly describes the settings: the chaos of New York, the grandeur of an upmarket New York apartment and the homeliness of a house in the suburbs, as well as the tranquil modern day French countryside and the horrors of World War I trench life. Using every sense, she brings each of these places to life. The battlefields are often uncomfortable, disturbing places for the reader to be but this is necessary for the reader to understand what Martin and his comrades endure.

The novel is an interesting blend of historical war drama, thriller and love story and I enjoyed each element of it. It is at once gripping and tender. The elements of the thriller and the love story both keep the reader turning the pages. This is a complex and entertaining story and I would recommend it equally to historical fiction and contemporary novel lovers.

For more information about the author, visit M.K. Tod’s website and her Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads pages.

Tod M KAbout M.K. Tod: Time and Regret is M.K. Tod’s third novel. She began writing in 2005 while living as an expat in Hong Kong. What started as an interest in her grandparents’ lives turned into a full-time occupation writing historical fiction. Her novel Unravelled was awarded Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society. In addition to writing historical novels, she blogs about reading and writing historical fiction on www.awriterofhistory.com, reviews books for the Historical Novel Society and the Washington Independent Review of Books, and has conducted three highly respected reader surveys. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and is the mother of two adult children.

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Posted in August 2016 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Should I Write?

Since June 2015 I’ve been working on a series of Second World War Link Past image 2stories set in Northern Ireland. I’ve released the first 3 Short Reads and a boxset collection of the stories will be available later this week. I already have the rough plotlines for the next 2 Short Reads rattling around in my head and I have a full length novel for the series almost completed. But, despite being immersed in my series, The Yankee Years, during the past year and a half, I sometimes still wonder what I should write.

I considered this question on Writers Abroad’s blog today. You can find it here.

Posted in August 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Meeting The Munich Girl

Today Phyllis Edgerly Ring joins me to discuss her new historical novel, The Munich Girl.

Welcome Phyllis. I’d like to ask you a few questions about your novel. Shall we get started?

Tell us about your novel.

PER: Protagonist Anna Dahlberg grew up eating family meals under munichgirl coverher father’s war-trophy portrait of Eva Braun. This baffling situation has never been explained, other than that the portrait is a symbol for her father of the Allies’ triumph over the evils of the Third Reich.

Everything in Anna’s life is turned upside-down when she discovers that her mother had a secret friendship with Hitler’s mistress, and that the portrait is a key to uncovering other secrets, including ones that involve Anna’s own life. An added complication is Hannes, a man whose Third-Reich family history is linked with hers.

What prompted you to write about this historical event or era?

PER: In the years I spent in Germany as both child and adult, some of the kindest, most morally courageous people I knew were those Germans who never wanted the war, or National Socialism, and found creative ways to outlast it and help others as they did. They found ways to endure, not lose heart, and keep faith and hope in times of enormous destruction and suffering. And, they made meaningful choices wherever they could, mostly on behalf of others, more than themselves.

I sensed there was a lot waiting to be revealed under the surface of stories like theirs. I just never imagined that the path to them would be linked with the life of Eva Braun. When I learned that an action she took in the last week of her life saved tens of thousands of Allied prisoners of war, including some British members of my own family, it was a turning point for me. Then her portrait surfaced in my own life and started me on a journey to uncover the kinds of legacies that manage to outlast every war. I wanted to explore the reality that people and situations are always more complex than they appear, and that real relationships, no matter the circumstances around them, can have beneficial effects, even generations later.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

PER: As closely as possible when it came to information from the WWII era and the years that preceded it in Germany. As my husband says, if the characters ride a train on a certain line at a certain time of day, there had to really be one. There’s a lot of factual information in The Munich Girl and I’ve heard from readers that it can be hard to know where the factual leaves off and the fiction begins. It’s easy to know where: in the emotional lives of the characters, including those people that history remembers. That’s where my own attempt to read between the lines of daily life watched for the signs of interior life I could recognize and convey as the story revealed itself.

What research did you do for this book?

PER: I immersed in reading about the time period in Germany in general, as well as Braun’s life and the sphere she moved within as part of Hitler’s life. I spent hours watching the films she had made, looking at many of her photographs. Eventually, I made two trips to the U.S. National Archives to see photo albums of hers that were confiscated by the Allies after the war.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

PER: The story has both, though more fictional characters than ones whose names are known in history. I think there’s an inviting challenge in writing either one. Invented characters act as catalysts for what a writer discovers about the story, so that’s a huge part of the pleasure of coming to know them. Characters who were real people require research accuracy, of course. A paradox I encountered is how very much information published about Eva Braun is inaccurate, including many photos in which someone else, including her own sister, is identified as her.

While she’s not the protagonist, I was looking for more of the emotional story that her life showed. The novel’s goal has never been to try to exonerate or “redeem” her, or how she is perceived. She’s an excellent motif for examining how people, especially women, suppress our own lives, and what forces and factors lead us to do that.

She also offers a way to look at the reality that human beings are complex. She clearly had a conscience, and acted on it, tried to make good choices. She also made ones that served neither herself nor others very well. Do we negate or devalue the contributions that someone makes because they also do things that are misguided, ill-advised, or even personally destructive? Do we not all share this same complexity in experience? These are themes I wanted to explore.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

PER: This was one of the most delightful parts, for me, as I spent extended spans of time in various locales in Germany that are a part of the story. Also, in the time I spent poring over Eva Braun’s photographs and films, I got to know both the interiors and exteriors of the settings as they appeared during the 1930s and ‘40s. A fun element of research was what has become, for me, a growing collection of vintage postcards that show scenes from that era in many of the settings of the story.

The story’s timeline alternates between the period of the war and 50 years after the end of it. The latter represents an important juncture for humanity, I feel, one that invites us to look again, and more deeply, at what remains unrecognized and unresolved, and perhaps overlooked. The year 1995 is also somewhat “historical” in fiction’s terms, because it’s from about that point that technology of the virtual world began asserting itself, rendering a very different human experience in our world today.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

PER: I love stories where there’s a balance that hints at what a world with equality might look and feel like. This novel has a lot more scope for female characters. At its heart is a friendship between two women, one of whom was a megalomaniac’s mistress, and the effect their emotional intimacy had in each of their lives, and in the lives of those who came along in a next generation.

But it’s really about two facets of human experience that matter a great deal to me, ones I imagine are still characterized as more “feminine” than “masculine,” though I believe they apply in all of our lives. The first is the inner reunion of “coming home to” our truest self that we all must eventually encounter. The second, and even more intriguing facet, for me, is the mysterious role that others play in that process, often in highly unexpected ways. One particular paradox I discovered might open the door to a deeper conversation about gender equality, one that examines it from the perspective of human virtues. It’s that the qualities of compassion and care that Hitler and the Third Reich sought to demean, reject, and suppress are precisely what he came home to Eva Braun for. This unexamined and very common imbalance, which distorts and abuses the value of the very things we need to heal as a world, continues to play out on a massive, violent scale in human life.

Thank you for answering my questions with such depth and insight, Phyllis.

Readers may learn more about Phyllis and The Munich Girl by visiting her blog and Amazon Author page, and by connecting with her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.

About Phyllis Edgerly Ring: A writer of fiction and nonfiction, Munichgirl authorPhyllis Edgerly Ring watches for the noblest possibilities in the human heart. She’s always curious to discover how history, culture, relationship, spirituality, and the natural world influence us and point the way for the human family on its shared journey.  Her childhood years in Germany left her with the deep desire to understand the experience of Germans during the Second World War. She has studied plant sciences and ecology, worked as a nurse, been a magazine writer and editor, taught English to kindergartners in China, and served as program coordinator at a Baha’i conference center.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Young Adult Titanic Story Reviewed

A couple days ago I finished reading the young adult novel, A Matter of Time, by Michael J. Bowler. It’s an historical suspense novel that centres its story around the sinking of the Titanic.

MATTER TIME  coverHere’s how the publisher Outskirts Press describes the story: “The world’s greatest evil stalks the world’s greatest ship, and the only one who can stop him hasn’t been born yet.

Jamie Collins is a junior at Santa Clara University in 1986. He has friends, a professor who mentors him, and a promising future as a writer. Then the dreams begin – nightmarish memories that transport him back to a time and place fifty years before he was born: Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912.

When Jamie discovers a foreign cell in his blood that links him to the famous vessel, the two timelines begin to overlap and he realizes an unimaginable truth – something supernatural stalks the ill-fated ship, something that will kill him if he can’t stop it first. And the only way to stop it may be to prevent Titanic from sinking.
But even if he can figure out a way to do that, should he? What will be the effect on history if he succeeds? And what about the lady he wasn’t supposed to fall in love with? As her destiny becomes entwined with his, Jamie discovers the value of friendship, the power of love, the impact of evil, and the vagaries of Fate.”

It took me a little while to lose myself in this story. The novel started slowly but built up to some gripping scenes as the climax of the story neared. When I began reading, I wasn’t always convinced by the conversations between the college students. Some scenes didn’t feel authentic. But the interaction between the characters felt much more real later in the book, especially as Jamie encountered people from the past then returned to his own era.

The premise for the story, that time travel is possible, was developed in an interesting way and I was intrigued by how the author explains it and fits it into the novel. He also handled well the moral dilemmas the ability to travel through time created, which added depth to the story.

There was an interesting cast of diverse, entertaining characters and I had clear images of each of them from the author’s descriptions and the characters’ interaction with each other. Jamie, Maggie and Kate were portrayed particularly well and I was drawn into their predicament. I thought that the author dealt very well with Jamie and Kate’s relationship, in the past and the modern era, though I was disappointed that we did not see more of them together in the modern era.

I thought that the story might have explored too many of the characters’ life stories. This distracted from the central story and diluted some of its power. Although many of the characters played pivotal roles at various points in the plot, we did not need to know as much about them as the author revealed.

The author has obviously done considerable research into the events that unfolded on the Titanic in April 1912 and this is reflected in the vivid scenes he paints when Jamie finds himself aboard the ship.

Although I suspected as I read that I knew how the story would unfold, and I foresaw one of the twists to the plot, I still enjoyed the novel. The ending was a bit clichéd and I’m not sure it was the strongest way to wrap up the book but it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story.

Overall I enjoyed this novel. It was an entertaining tale with an interesting slant on a well-known event.

Readers can learn more about the author by visiting his website and blog, as well as his Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter pages.

About Michael J. Bowler: He is an award-winning author of Matter time author bowlernine novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner – 2013 Wishing Shelf Book Awards; Reader Views Honorable mention; Runner-Up Rainbow Awards; Honorable Mention – Southern California Book Festival), Running Through A Dark Place (Bronze Award Winner – 2014 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), There Is No Fear (Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, Spinner (Winner – Hollywood Book Festival; Honorable Mention – San Francisco Book Festival; Bronze Medal from Readers’ Favorite; Literary Classics Seal of Approval; Runner-Up – Southern California Book Festival; Honorable Mention – Halloween Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), and Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot (Honorable Mention in the London Book Festival and The New England Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards.)

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II.”

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-three volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.
He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He has finished writing a novel based on his screenplay, “Like A Hero,” and another book aimed at the teen market. He hopes to find a publisher or an agent for both.

His goal as an author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world. The most prevalent theme in his writing and his work with youth is this: as both a society, and as individuals, we’re better off when we do what’s right, rather than what’s easy.

Posted in July 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guess Where I’ve Been?

Have you noticed that I haven’t been around here much lately? Poland 1June and July have been busy months for me. I’ve been to Poland and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps and done a few of other things besides. Then I settled down to revise a couple of stories I’ve been working on. One of them will be released a couple weeks from now.

Looking into Birkenau Concentration Camp

Looking into Birkenau Concentration Camp

In between my other activities, I also took time to chat with Pam Lecky on her blog, Victorian Treasures. If you’re interested, you’ll find the interview here.

Posted in July 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Glimpse Into ‘Semblance of Guilt’

Today I’m featuring an excerpt from a new amateur detective novel, Semblance of Guilt, by Claudia Reiss.

Here’s the publisher’s summary of the story:

Semblance Guilt coverEllen Davis’s husband left her for another woman. Post-divorce, she’s trying to reassert her independence and lands a job as a reporter for her local newspaper. One of her assignments is covering weekly items on the police blotter, which is how she gets to know Lieutenant Pete Sakura—a handsome, witty Japanese-American Ellen is drawn to immediately.

Another of Ellen’s assignments is interviewing for the paper’s “Around The Town” column, and in this capacity, she meets Graham and Sophia Clarke, newcomers to the community. He’s an administrator at Columbia; she’s his beautiful Greek wife. Ellen and Sophia become fast friends, so it comes as a great shock when Sophia ends up dead.

Sophia Clarke is found murdered, and to all appearances, Ellen is the last person to have seen her alive. When Ellen’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, she’s arrested, and evidence steadily mounts against her. Ellen takes matters into her own hands as her romantic feelings for Pete intensify. Closing this case could either save Ellen or lead to her destruction.

Two excerpts from the novel:

After navigating past the desks, she knocked on the door of the cubicle. No response. The second, more deliberate, rap was answered with an impatient “Come!”

Ellen entered the office and was somewhat taken aback by the sight of an attractive Asian man in shirt-sleeves awkwardly poised by the side of his desk, arms out, legs spread one behind the other, the front one slightly bent, the rear rigidly locked. He looked, she thought, as if he were trying to keep his balance on a skateboard. His attention was fixed on an open book sitting at the edge of his desk. “Give me a second,” he said testily, without taking his eyes off the book and at the same time adjusting the position of his front foot to a more pigeon-toed angle.

“I won’t ask what you’re doing,” Ellen said.

“Smart.” There was a sound of raised voices coming from the outer room. “The door!”

She closed it. “However, maybe you’d like to know what I’m doing?”

He ignored her question. “Damn, I’m not getting it.” He glanced up. “Do me a favor, take a look at number fifty and tell me what the hell is wrong here.”

Ellen approached the desk and peered down at the open book. A two-page spread of photographs showed a man in what looked like an usher’s uniform demonstrating a series of exercises. “Is this tai chi?”

“This is a pain in the ass. Could you look at the picture, tell me where I’m off, please?”

“‘Fair Lady works at Shuttles,’” she read aloud. She looked up from the page at him then back down again. “I see where you are. Figure fifty-A. It says: ‘Elbow bent, your right hand comes to your center line, fingers pinched together…’” She looked up. “For starters, your fingers aren’t pinched together.”

“Just hold the book up so I can see it from a better angle, okay?”

She held the book, show-and-tell style. He went through a variety of disconnected motions, clearly becoming more frustrated. “Shit.”

Ellen had formed a perception of the Japanese male as meditative, controlled, mysterious, soft-spoken, one who quietly went about transcending the material world while politely manipulating it. She had never realized she harbored this fully defined and fallacious stereotype until that moment, as she was looking at what appeared to be its antithesis. “If your phone rings, should I answer it?”

“Forget it.” He dropped the pose, took the book from her and put it back on the desk. “I’m all out of sync.”

“Now I’ll ask. What are you doing?”

“Getting my goddamn yin and yang together. My doctor tells me I have an ulcer and prescribes pills, but I don’t like pills. I’m taking up the eastern approach.”

“But isn’t tai chi Chinese?”

“Yeah, so?”

“‘Sakura’ sounds like a Japanese name.”

“Let me ask you a question. You ever eat chow mein?”

“Well, yes.”

“I rest my case.” He waved her toward the chair on the other side of the desk and dropped down into his own. “Sit.”

She remained on her feet. “I’m Ellen Davis. I was told you had the data for the Chronicle’s ‘Blotter’ column. I’m just here to collect it.”

He threw up a hand. “What’s the point of that column? All it does is stigmatize the poor saps who appear in it. There’s no investigation of circumstances, no disclaimers stating charges could be erroneous. Just a cold-blooded list of citations.”

“It’s supposed to serve as a deterrent,” she said without conviction. “Actually, I don’t particularly like the column myself, but I don’t make up the rules. I’m sorry I messed up your exercise routine. May I have the material, please?”

She became aware of herself as an unattached, uncompromised individual as she once was at Penn. She sensed the boundaries of her being as clearly as she felt the hem of her knit dress pull tightly against her legs with each step she took. It was as if she had never been married, had instead dressed for an interview and walked straight out of west Philadelphia into Morningside Heights.

***

Mid-block between 109 and 108 Streets, as she was passing a shoe store and scanning the view across the way, her attention was drawn to the bright blue awning of Charlie’s Snack Bar. At that moment the door to the restaurant opened, and a tall young woman with cropped red hair and wearing a tight black turtleneck sweater, clingy black pants and black cowboy boots, stepped out into the daylight. The girl stood aside to allow the man behind her to pass, and as he emerged completely into the sunlight, Ellen recognized Graham. She was about to hail him, when he took a step toward the redhead and Ellen realized he was with her. Unable to tear her focus from the scene or insinuate herself into it, she backed up into the shadow cast by the overhanging eave of the shoe store.

While Graham snapped down and adjusted the removable sun-visors of his eyeglasses, the young woman reached into the breast pocket of his blazer, drew out a pair of sunglasses he must have been holding for her, and put them on, in the process grazing her breasts against his left elbow. The act defined them as intimate friends, yet the distance springing up between them immediately afterward seemed devised to refute it. They stood apart talking to each other, their postures stiff and formal, their not touching as conspicuous as an open embrace.

Ellen watched them as her years at Penn were sucked into a black hole, and all she could remember was her husband Kevin dropping the bomb, telling her he was leaving her. Watching Graham and the redhead across the street was like catching the discovery scene she had missed, seeing it replayed for her benefit, like a burlesque in which she was both captive audience and object of scorn.

Almost at once she felt a connection with Sophia.

Sophia pulled her hands away and struck out at Ellen in one continuous movement, throwing herself off balance and stumbling sideways. She stared in horror at the gouge one of her nails had made on Ellen’s chest, and Ellen, stunned by the violence and not yet feeling the pain, gazed in disbelief at the drop of blood tracking toward the scalloped edge of her white satin bustier.

“Go—get out of here,” Sophia rasped. “I’m afraid what I might do to you. Get out, get out.”

The blood trickled onto the rim of smooth white fabric, forming a small, irregular stain. Ellen looked up at Sophia. The woman she thought she knew had become a trapped animal, her eyes wary-wild.

A sharp pain from the nick in her chest jolted her from her numbing inertia. She moved quickly from the room, feeling the tears coming, holding them back, postponing them as she ran silently down the hall. She descended the steps with blazing deliberation, her pace quick and even, her focus on reaching the door and disappearing into the sheltering night. She could feel her eyes, static-wide in bewildered alarm, betraying her attempt to appear in total control. Still, she focused straight ahead, concentrating on her goal, hearing Anna calling her name but moving through the sound, pacing herself to simulate haste without flight as she sliced through the clear zone of the foyer and pushed open the storm door. Midway across the porch she collided with an incoming guest, all pearls and black silk, the woman’s staccatoed “Shit!” like a gunshot in an open field of combat.

Picking up speed, she hurtled down the bluestone drive, anticipating the sound of the engine starting up even before she could spot her car.

Readers can learn more about the author and her novel by visiting her website, Facebook and Goodreads pages and Twitter. The ebook version of the novel is available at a reduced price (£1.49) on Amazon throughout July.

Semblance Guilt authorAbout Claudia Riess:  A Vassar graduate, she has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt Rinehart and Winston. On her first novel, Reclining Nude, Oliver Sacks, M.D. commented: “exquisite—and delicate.” Her second, art suspense Stolen Light earned: “complex and intriguing” —Kirkus Review.

Posted in July 2016 | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Reviewing The Lord of Ireland

In late 2012 I read the first novel in The Fifth Knight series and I’ve been hooked ever since. So I was delighted to receive a request to review The Lord of Ireland, the third book in the series, when it was released recently.

Lord of Ireland coverHere’s how the publisher, Thomas & Mercer, describes the novel: “England, 1185. John is a prince without prospect of a crown. As the youngest son of Henry II, he has long borne the hated nickname ‘Lackland’. When warring tribes and an ambitious Anglo-Norman lord threaten Henry’s reign in Ireland, John believes his time has finally come. Henry is dispatching him there with a mighty force to impose order.

Yet it is a thwarted young man who arrives on the troubled isle. John has not been granted its kingship—he is merely the Lord of Ireland, destined never to escape his father’s shadow. Unknown to John, Henry has also sent his right-hand man, Sir Benedict Palmer, to root out the traitors he fears are working to steal the land from him.

But Palmer is horrified when John disregards Henry’s orders and embarks on a campaign of bloodshed that could destroy the kingdom. Now Palmer has to battle the increasingly powerful Lord of Ireland. Power, in John’s hands, is a murderous force—and he is only just beginning to wield it.”

Like the previous novels, this book is a fast-paced historical thriller. It opens almost a decade after the second book, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, ended. The Palmers have settled on their own estate and are working hard to run it, glad to be free of the intrigues and dangers of Royal Court life that they have experienced in the past. Their children are almost grown and they have everything they want from life. So the summons Sir Benedict receives from King Henry II to accompany his son, Prince John, to Ireland on his campaign to quell the unrest there turns their lives on end. Built around Prince John’s first campaign in Ireland, a lesser-known chapter in his life, the plot is gripping and convincing. The author imagines details about people and events beyond the historical accounts to create scenes that are action-packed and fraught with political tensions and intrigues.

But the heart of the Fifth Knight books is the characters. The author is adept at portraying the emotional and physical humanity of characters from an age that held values and beliefs vastly different from modern society, making it easy for readers to empathise with them. Sir Benedict is still the honourable knight readers have come to know, now challenged by the physical limitations aging imposes. His wife, Theodosia, is still courageous and fiercely loyal to her husband and her family. I particularly enjoyed the author’s humorous portrayal of the historical figure, the royal clerk, Gerald of Wales as rather snivelling and cowardly. Some other memorable characters include arrogant and lustful Prince John, intelligent and cunning Hugh de Lacy and his proud, valiant Irish wife.

The author’s thorough knowledge of medieval life pulls everything together to vividly evoke for the reader the world in which the story is set. Although I’m not an avid fan of medieval fiction, EM Powell’s novels always draw me into the era. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and can recommend it to anyone who likes an exciting story, peopled by characters that seem to live and breathe.

For more information about the author and the series, visit E.M. Powell’s website and blog. Readers can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. The novel is available on Amazon and other retailers.

EM PowellAbout E.M. Powell: E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight have been number-one Amazon bestsellers and on the Bild bestseller list in Germany.

Born into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State) and raised in the Republic of Ireland, she lives in north-west England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog.

She reviews fiction and non-fiction for the Historical Novel Society, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers’ The Big Thrill magazine.

Posted in June 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Season Turns, Time To Reflect

It’s the Solstice today – summer if you’re in the northern bathtubhemisphere, winter for those in the southern hemisphere. It’s more or less, half way through the year.

Did you start the year full of plans and dreams of what you would accomplish before 2017 arrives? Most of us begin each year ready to tackle it head on. We have so many things we will to do in the next twelve months. So, it might shock or dishearten us if we stop and look back at what we’ve achieved (or more likely haven’t achieved) so far.

On Writers Abroad I’ve been giving my fellow writers a Solstice Pep Talk about how to get back on track before the year flies past. While it’s aimed at my writer friends, the principles are the same no matter what you want to do this year. If you’d like to read the post, pop over to my post on Writers Abroad. It’s here.

Posted in June 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dying To Be Beautiful Mysteries

Today I’m featuring an excerpt from the first book in the Dying To Be Beautiful mystery series by M. Glenda Rosen. Throughout June, Glenda is offering the first two books in the series at a special reduced price.

About the series: Dying To Be Beautiful, is about the billion dollar world of beauty. The mystery series takes place in The Hamptons, where the murdered and suspected murderers are often arrogant and obnoxious with a sense of entitlement. Private Investigator Jenna Preston and her longtime friend, Detective Troy Johnson, work together to solve these murders and other crimes.

Excerpt from Book 1, Without A Head:

Chapter 1

The Murder

Saturday, 6:10 A.M.

9781483445304_COVER.inddAs a Private Investigator, Jenna Preston had been hired to help solve murders, insurance fraud, cheating spouses and more. This was a new one for her.

She received what could only be described as a hysterical call from Darcy Monroe, owner of a popular, upscale hair salon in The Hamptons.

A head without its body was rolling around in one of her shampoo basins.

Almost five-feet, five-inches tall, always looking taller in her two or three-inch heels, Jenna had long red hair, blue eyes and was often seen driving around the East End in a white jeep, and in recent years, with her Irish Setter sitting next to her.

As a well-respected private investigator in the area, she told the salon owner, “I’ll be right there, and don’t touch anything until the police arrive.”

Jenna knew they needed to secure the business as a crime scene and Coroner Doc Bishop and Head of Forensics Lara Stern had to be brought in as well.

“Troy, someone left a head, without the body, in a shampoo bowl at Darcy’s Salon. I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”

”Damn it, Jenna, I nearly spilled my coffee listening to this bizarre message. I’ll be there within the half hour. Meantime, I’ll ask Lara to get over there to check the crime scene for prints and other possible evidence and for Doc to arrange to bring the head to the morgue. We’ll want to look at it there, after he’s had a chance to determine how it was cut off and anything else he might find.”

Detective Johnson hung up.

He and Jenna had worked together and known each other for a long time. They clearly trusted each other. He knew she would follow police protocol at the crime scene.

Saturday, as always was an exceptionally busy day, “in season” at Darcy’s Salon, which is why she had gotten there so early. She always wanted the salon looking perfect, ready for stylists and clients, who this day had appointments beginning at 7 am.

Located off the main avenue of this posh resort at the East End of Long Island, less than ninety miles from Manhattan, the salon was known for catering to the rich and famous, as well as some of wanna-be customers, primping for weekend parties and fundraising events.

The salon was truly beautiful with warm color tones and soft matching leather client chairs facing gold (well, fake gold), trimmed mirrors. There was a reception area with the latest issues of fashion magazines from Paris and Rome, and a few of the more popular Hampton rags, like Dan’s Papers were spread out on a marble table, next to it a coffee machine offering gourmet flavored coffee and teas.

Most of the women who came to Darcy’s Salon had plenty of money, some from their own success, although others were arm candy for much older, wealthy men. Sometimes one of them would joke (maybe not) that they were “Dying To Be Beautiful” like some of the famous models and celebrities, many of who summered in the Hamptons.

9781483449159_COVER.indd“Jenna, you’ve seen how difficult and fussy they can be, and their egos—they’re constantly seeking confirmation of how beautiful they look. They want to come to a high-end salon, expecting to be treated like royalty. And believe me, we do.”

Darcy Monroe was only too glad to charge megabucks for her services since it included a whole lot of catering to their whims and demands. Beauty could indeed be expensive in The Hamptons. The chatter amongst the clients, the eight hair stylists, three manicurists and several assistants meant gossip was a basic ingredient of conversation. The story about the body without a head, and the head found in the salon, was sure to explode through The Hamptons. It certainly had all the elements of a soap opera.

“My god, Jenna, the gossip about this mess is going to be like a volcano spilling over this town.”

Readers can learn more about Glenda by visiting her website, as well as her Facebook and Goodreads pages and following her on Twitter.

The books are available on Amazon and other online retailers.

Dying Beautiful authorAbout M. Glenda Rosen: She  is the author of The Woman’s Business Therapist: Eliminate the MindBlocks and RoadBlocks to Success, and award-winning My Memoir Workbook. For over fifteen years, she helped numerous authors develop and market their books, and presented writing programs in New York, The Hamptons, New Mexico and Carmel, California, on “Encouraging and Supporting the Writer Within You!” She’s the founder and owner of a successful marketing and public relations agency for twenty-five years.

 

Posted in June 2016 | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Peering Into The Gilded Cage

Today Judy Alter is joining me to tell us a bit about her novel, The Gilded Cage.

Welcome Judy. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

Gilded Cage coverJA: Against the background of Chicago history in the last half of the 19th century, The Gilded Cage tells the story of Potter and Bertha (Cissy) Honoré Palmer. He was a prominent businessman and builder of the city, owner of the still-operating Palmer House Hotel; she was one of the first socialites to believe that wealth carried an obligation to philanthropy and to put her belief into actions beyond monetary donations. Her greatest accomplishment came as president of the Board of Lady Managers at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

What prompted you to write about this historical era or event?

JA: As a young child growing up on Chicago’s South Side in the Hyde Park neighborhood, I wandered the land that once boasted the World’s Columbian Exposition. My mother took me out in rowboats around Wooded Island, and I learned to ice skate on the Midway, which still cuts a swath of green through the city for more than a mile west from the lakeshore. My friends and I made countless trips to the Museum of Science and Industry, the only exposition building that survives. Much later, I attended the University of Chicago, which sits almost on the exposition grounds. That part of the city was “my” Chicago. Then, somehow, I stumbled on the story of Cissy Palmer and was intrigued. I decided her story would make a good novel, and I simply combined the two interests—the city and the character.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

JA: I stuck pretty closely to historical fact—certainly the major events such as the Great Fire, the Haymarket Riot, the Columbian Exposition. But I took liberties with the stories of the individual characters, which I think is inevitable in historical fiction. There is for instance a romantic attraction which I’m quite sure never happened, and the villain or bad guy is wholly a product of my imagination. But I did a lot of research for this book and really tried to get the history correct. You might say the city is one of the characters in the book.

As many storytellers will say, characters can take over a book and dictate the course of the action. That’s what happened here, especially in the case of the forbidden attraction. I really tried, though, not to let the characters dabble with history.

What research did you do for this book?

JA: The Author’s Note contains a bibliographic essay detailing the works I consulted. But I also relied on my knowledge of the city and its history, my memory of my childhood there, and my own reaction to the setting—for instance my fascination with Lake Michigan when it’s at its wildest best.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

JA: Most of the major characters are historic, though not in their pure form. I did invent a couple—principally the bad guy—black sheep of a proper New England family. He thinks the world is against him and eventually blames his “bad luck” on Potter Palmer. His wife is also an invention, an Irish girl who works in a pub. They provide a contrast to the Palmers.

I suppose invented characters are a bit easier to write because you have free rein to give them characteristics and attitudes, whereas with real figures you feel a bit like you’re tampering with someone’s life.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

JA: The place was easy because it’s a place I know and remember well. All I had to do was recreate what I saw in my mind. As for people, I’ve never had a problem putting myself in someone’s head and seeing the world the way they do—or as I think they do. I’ve written several other books set in the late nineteenth century, so the era wasn’t a problem either. This novel is a bit unusual for me in that it’s in third person—I often tell the story from the first-person point of view which really makes me see and experience the world the way my character does.

But the characters, to repeat, in a sense told me what they saw and felt. They took over the story, telling me which way it would go. That makes the writing sound as easy as snapping your fingers, but that’s not the case. The book was written and rewritten, from several points of view, over a ten-year period.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

JA: I suspect that larger scope is due to our lingering belief that men shaped history. Women’s roles are gradually being recognized though. I prefer to write about women, always have. I’ve done several novels about women who played a major role in the American West during that time period—Libby Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, a cowgirl modelled on Lucillle Mulhall, and Etta Place, the Sundance Kid’s girlfriend. It’s a trendy thing to say these days but I identify as female, so it’s easier for me to see things from a female point of view. Hardest assignment I ever had was to write a chapter from the viewpoint of an escaping male slave in the South.

Thanks for answering my questions, Judy.

For more information about Judy, visit her website. Readers can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads.

Gilded Cage authorAbout Judy Alter: She is the award winning author of fiction for adults and young adults. Other historical fiction includes Libbie, the story of Elizabeth Bacon (Mrs. George Armstrong) Custer; Jessie, the story of Jessie Benton Frémont and her explorer / miner / entrepreneur / soldier / politician husband; Cherokee Rose, a novel loosely based on the life of the first cowgirl roper to ride in Wild West shows; and Sundance, Butch and Me, the adventures of Etta Place and the Hole in the Wall Gang.

 

Posted in June 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment