Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: The Language of the Sea by James Macmanus

The Language of the Sea
by James MacManus
Release Date: May 10, 2011 (Reprint Edition)
2010 Thomas Dunne Books
Hardcover Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 9780-312-64847-3
Genre: Fiction
Source: Review Copy from Erin McNichols

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
What happens when an ordinary man slips out of his life and into legend? Scientist Leo Kemp was always drawn to the sea and its creatures, even after a family tragedy shredded the peace he found there.  His lifelong fascination and obsession with seals had brought him to Cape Cod, Massachusetts for a teaching position at the Coldharbor Institute for Marine Studies.  Fired for his outspoken views, one last ordinary field trip with his students grows disastrous as he is thrown overboard.

Evoking the Celtic myth of the selkies – human women who transform into seals – MacManus weaves a story about the complicated relationships of a family enduring grief and the mysteries that lie beyond the perceived knowledge of science. THE LANGUAGE OF THE SEA challenges us to expand our understanding of nature even as it slips effortlessly between the marine environment off the shores of the Cape, the rivalries of academia and the fortitude of love that becomes an utterly unique portrait of hope and healing.

My Thoughts
The Language of the Sea was a powerful novel that explored the realm of the ocean's underworld, a world with which I am largely unfamiliar in the greater scope of things.  What this novel did for me, which I believe is one of the author's intentions, is to make you think more deeply about a world which, for the most part, is largely unexplored and largely ignored by the general population.  I have lived my entire life by great bodies of water and I would be the first to admit I am ignorant of the effects of pollution, of fishing, of tourism, and so on, has really had on the bodies of water on which we are so dependent.  This novel brought a lot of that home to me and realized that it was dangerous to ignore the warnings we have been given about our planet.

The novel focuses on marine biologist, Leo Kemp, and the effect his fanaticism with the sea and the seal population has on his family and on his job.  When he is swept overboard during a freak storm, he begins to unravel mentally and joins the seal population in order to learn more about them.  At the same time, in a series of flashbacks, we learn more about his family life and see the unraveling of his marriage and the love lost due in large part to his fanaticism.  While I seriously understand Leo's fascination with the ocean and its draw, what I could not relate to was his self-isolation and his dream-world habitation as he enters the other world and lives with the seals.  I just couldn't relate to that realm of self-absorption, the level where you could possibly leave everybody you love behind, and just forget about them, and compartmentalize them in such a way as to want to leave them forever.  I definitely understand the draw of the ocean and the water, but the line drawn between reality and fantasy here was too far for me to cross.  I admired Kemp, but I didn't understand him.

Mr. McManus writes with a strong, lyrical style that just draws you in and makes you feel part of the story; I could imagine myself swimming in the water, dealing with tides, currents, sharks, eels, and other assorted problems that came his way as if I was the one in the water.  I could picture the way everything would look, as the author writes with feeling and emotion, evoking powerful thoughts and images.  At one point, I almost wondered if the old folktale with the kelpies would actually happen, then spent time debating with myself whether I wanted it to happen or not.  I felt for Kemp when he struggled against the establishment for which he worked, trying to make them see how important it was for scientists to really look at what they were studying, and not just take things for granted.  It was something that really hit home for me, especially as I have not been paying as much attention to environmental issues as I should. 

The novel is told from the perspectives of Sandy, Leo, Margot, and Buck, so we get a variety of views on the events that happened.  Unfortunately, while I think this was done so that we understand and empathize with all of the characters and their stories, for me, it made them feel more distant and I couldn't always relate to them in the way that I think was intended.  Despite this, there are definite moments of brilliance in this novel.  If you are patient, and can deal with the definite aura of an indistinct line between reality and fantasy, then it is worth reading as it will open your mind and make you think about what is under the water. For example, I will never be able to think about sonar radars and sharks in the same way ever again; the effect of sonars on these animals is something I did not know and am saddened to learn that we are killing these animals.  

Verdict
The Language of the Sea had beautiful descriptions of the sea and its marine life, and the effects of pollution and humans on this environment will stay with me for a long time.  While I couldn't quite connect with the characters, and had difficulty suspending belief in the way it was needed, I absolutely loved the ending, and the way it made me think about my environment.  It is definitely well worth a look.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

WOW: The Marks of Cain & Very Bad Men

Now that school is almost finished, I am looking forward to two glorious months of reading time ahead of me; at least as much time as I can with two wonderful kiddies underfoot.  Hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, this meme takes a look at upcoming releases and those novels which we are eagerly anticipating.  Here are a couple of novels I am looking forward to reading this summer.

The Marks of Cain
by Tom Knox
Release Date: July 26, 2011 (Softcover)
2011 Plume Books

When David Martinez receives an ancient map from his dying grandfather, he is led into the heart of the Basque mountains, where a genetic curse lies buried- and a frightening secret about the Western world is hidden. Meanwhile, London journalist Simon Quinn is investigating two violent murders. Both victims had once been interned in a top-secret Nazi camp-and both came from the Basque region.







Very Bad Men
by Harry Dolan
Release Date: July 12, 2011 (Hardcover)
2011 Putnam Adult

David Loogan returns! Loogan is living in Ann Arbor with Detective Elizabeth Waishkey and her daughter, Sarah. He's settled into a quiet routine as editor of the mystery magazine Gray Streets-until one day he finds a manuscript outside his door. It begins: "I killed Henry Kormoran."


Anthony Lark has a list of names-Terry Dawtrey, Sutton Bell, Henry Kormoran. To his eyes, the names glow red on the page. They move. They breathe. The people on the list have little in common except that seventeen years ago they were involved in a notorious robbery. And now Anthony Lark is hunting them down, and he won't stop until every one of them is dead.
Sunday, June 26, 2011

Interview: Chevy Stevens

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Chevy Stevens, author of the best-selling novel Still Missing and the soon-to-be-released Never Knowing.  I am thrilled that Chevy could stop by to answer a few questions about her new novel, releasing July 5th, as well as some future projects on which she is working.  Also, look for my review of Never Knowing, coming soon.

1. To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still call the island home. For most of my adult life I worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. At open houses, waiting between potential buyers, I spent hours scaring myself with thoughts of horrible things that could happen to me. My most terrifying scenario, which began with being abducted, was the inspiration for STILL MISSING. After six months I sold my house and left real estate so I could finish the book.

2. Can you tell us a little about your novel, Never Knowing?
All her life, Sara Gallagher has wondered about her birth parents. As an adopted child with two sisters who were born naturally to her parents, Sara’s home life was not ideal. The question of why she was given up for adoption has always haunted her. Finally, she is ready to take steps and find closure.

But some questions are better left unanswered.

After months of research, Sara locates her birth mother—only to be met with horror and rejection. Then she discovers the devastating truth: her mother was the only victim ever to escape a killer who has been hunting women every summer for decades. But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out about her father is him finding out about her.

What if murder is in your blood?

3. What inspired you to write Never Knowing? How much research was involved in the writing?
My editor and I were talking about what it would be like if you were adopted and found out that your birth father was a murderer, then the story took off in my mind and kept growing. There was a horrific murder in Wells Gray Park decades ago. When I learned about the crime, I was very upset and it haunted me for a long time. Though Never Knowing is not based on that tragedy, the idea of all the remote provincial parks in BC, and the terrible things that could happen in them, resonated with me, so I wanted to explore that.

There was quite a bit of research for this book—definitely more than Still Missing. I had to learn about places I’d never visited, speak to a therapist so I could understand Sara’s anxiety, study the emotions and psychology behind adoption, and consult with the RCMP often about many sections of the book. Luckily I’ve developed some great sources!

4. What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel? The premise is very chilling.
There were a few challenges with this novel. First, I wanted to use the same structure as Still Missing where the main character is telling the story to the therapist, Nadine. So it was crucial that Sara’s voice, personality, and her relationship with Nadine, be very different from Annie’s. Also, telling it in sessions was challenging because this story is much more immediate. Annie was reflecting a lot, whereas Sara’s story was unfolding in the present day. It was also important that I make it clear to people who aren’t familiar with the Interior of BC how vast and remote the area is, so that they understand how John, Sara’s birth father, was able to elude capture.

5. In this novel, we are introduced to some very interesting and intriguing characters. Who was the most fun to write about? Which character presented the biggest challenge? Are any of your characters modelled of anyone you know in particular?
I never base my characters on anyone I know, but I do use my emotions a lot—and feelings that other people have given me. The relationship between Evan and Sara is similar in some ways to what I have with my husband, how we balance each other out, but there are many differences of course. I enjoyed writing about their relationship. John was challenging as he had two sides to him: the one that was doing terrible things and the one that just wanted a family. I needed, like with The Freak in Still Missing, for him to be multidimensional so that the reader could understand his motives. But the biggest challenge was my “twist” as it came to me late in the writing of my first draft and it took many subsequent rewrites to make it work.

6. What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
I always have tea or some sort of beverage on hand and I require complete silence. I often use ear plugs as they also help me calm my mind down.

7. Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future?
I am currently working on my third novel, which is Always Watching. This one is about Nadine, the therapist from the first two novels. It’s her story—past and present.

8. Favourite authors?
I have so many it’s hard to name them all, but I really admire Ed McBain and Stephen King.

9. What do you like to do when you are not writing?
There aren’t many days when I’m not writing, but I enjoy hiking with my husband and dog, though she’s getting older now so we can’t go far. But I just like being outdoors. In the evenings I love unwinding with a good TV show or movie.

10. Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
I love interacting with my fans, so please join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter!

http://www.facebook.com/ChevyStevens
http://twitter.com/ChevyStevens

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s hiking with her husband and her dog in the local mountains. Visit Chevy at http://www.chevystevens.com/.
Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest Post: The Duality of New Media for Writers

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Jeffery Anderson, author of the newly released Ephemera (May 4, 2011), who is here to discuss the duality of new media for writers.  Ephemera, a tale about a second rate magazine writer who witnesses more and more the violent America in which we live, goes on a journey to find a missing soldier after a mysterious note was left in his office.

Synopsis:
Nester Cab, a second rate magazine writer, goes about his mundane life, disenfranchised and hiding from the city he lives in. But, a mysterious note left in his office awakens his ravenous curiosity and sets him on a journey to find a missing soldier. In his travels, he becomes entangled with a clandestine anti-government organization, witnesses a delusional and violent American society and stumbles ever deeper into unfathomable government conspiracies.


Inspired by Internet conspiracy theorists, talk radio, and the media, Ephemera explores the visions of the ideological voices in American society and speaks to all of us through the extreme that permeates modern life. With satirical humor and sorrowful sentiment, Cab encounters a bizarre set of madmen, killers and megalomaniacs. He struggles with his search for truth as he flees for his life and the right to reclaim it.

The Duality of "New Media" for Writers
by Jeffery Anderson
 The Duality of “New” Media for Writers For nine years I worked for an online publicity firm for authors. The company was one of the first, if not the first, dedicated solely to online publicity. When I joined them, in 2000, none of the major publishing houses had online publicity departments. Some of them didn’t yet have company email or Web sites. It sounds archaic, by today’s standards. Publishing, as an industry, had not yet seen the potential for online book marketing, or the migration that media was making to the Internet.
 
What a difference a decade makes. By the time I resigned in 2009, we were competing with dozens of other online only firms. We were competing with all of the traditional publicity firms who had incorporated online marketing into their campaigns. We were even competing with our own clients, the publishers, who had created online marketing departments in house.
 
The internet had captured the lion’s share of many marketing budgets and discussion time at meetings. Newspapers and even television had almost taken a back seat. Or, at least, they were riding shotgun.
 
What the internet has done for writers is a double edged sword. Published with a major house, or self-published, a writer is open to taking the helm on much more of her/his own promotion than it is possible to imagine. Billions of potential readers are out there and the writer can connect to them, personally. But the road is littered with vicious petards. I recall one author, several years ago, that made the New York Times, not for the quality of their book, but for the shame of spamming millions of internet users with unwanted advertisements. It was a career death sentence. Other authors have sunk themselves by shilling for their books, surreptitiously, on message boards, sabotaging competing books with bad Amazon reviews or simply annoying bloggers, by not knowing the professional way to approach them. A writer has to think of themself as a brand, even if they don’t want to. A writer has to remember that everything that leaves their computer has their name on it and it could remain online for all eternity.
 
For self-published authors, like myself, the duality is even more distinctive. On the right hand, a writer who decides to publish themselves is able to write, edit, publish and market from their computer. They can reach the infinite number of readers out there and decide what direction they want to go. There are a lot of success stories for the writers who have done it correctly.
 
On the left hand, there is the stigma still attached to self-publishing with the media. Although that stigma is dissipating, it is not gone. Many major media outlets, even a lot of middle of the road media, will not touch a self-published book. As someone who worked on the other side, I can tell you exactly why.
 
I read the statistic once that 52,000 books were published by respected houses every year. Most every editor, online, or in traditional media, was probably offered or sent a copy of each one. I worked with these people every day and they were stressed by the amount of books coming in to them. It was a monumental task to decide what to ask for, read and write about. I don’t know how many self-published books are created every year, but, it adds to an already staggering amount of work for these folks.
 
And the truth remains that there are a lot of self-published books out there that are pretty terrible. Hence the reason they could not find a publisher. Sadly, there are also a lot of great ones. I never read any, until I became a self-published author. Since then, I have come to realize that there are a lot of people, like me, who have self-published because they got frustrated with the process of finding an agent and publisher. They spent seven years on a novel and didn’t want to wait two more for it to be available. Some just didn’t want to share the deep percentages into their work that an agent and publisher take to publish. Differentiating yourself from the pablum in the crowd is incredibly difficult, but, for some, that is worth the potential reward. We owe the Internet thanks for making that a small possibility.


Jeffery Anderson is a stay at home father and author of the new novel Ephemera. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and the former Senior Publicity Director for the publicity firm FSB Associates. He lives with his wife and son in New Jersey.

Learn more at www.theephemera.com
Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner & Giveaway

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici: A Novel
by C.W. Gortner
Release Date: May 24, 2011 (Softcover Edition)
2010 Ballantine Books
Softcover Edition; 391 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-345-50187-5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Review Copy from Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Tours

4.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
 The last legitimate descendant of the illustrious Medici line, Catherine suffers the expulsion of her family from her native Florence and narrowly escapes death at the hands of an enraged mob. While still a teenager, she is betrothed to Henri, son of Fran├žois I of France, and sent from Italy to an unfamiliar realm where she is overshadowed and humiliated by her husband's lifelong mistress. Ever resilient, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children as regent of a kingdom torn apart by religious discord and the ambitions of a treacherous nobility.

Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons. She allies herself with the enigmatic Protestant leader Coligny, with whom she shares an intimate secret, and implacably carves a path toward peace, unaware that her own dark fate looms before her - a fate that, if she is to save France, will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, her reputation, and the passion of her embattled heart.

My Thoughts
I've always been absolutely fascinated with this era in history as there seemed to be an abundance of very strong female rulers who led rather interesting, if tumultuous, lives  That Catherine de Medici was at the center of a lot of events in Europe during this time is without doubt, and yet she always seemed to be branded in a negative light when compared to her counterparts.  I often wondered what would cause such a woman to have such a reputation and whether it was well-deserved or whether it was because she was such a strong figurehead that men would often brand her such a thing as they didn't know what to make of her.

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici shed some light on the personal side of Catherine's life and the personal tragedies she suffered, first in Italy and then in France as the Dauphine, as Queen living in the shadow of Diane de Poitiers, and then finally as Queen Mother and Regent valiantly trying to keep her family alive and strong.  With an immense amount of research blended into a fictional account of Catherine's life, we are given a rare insight into a woman who strove to save her family and attempted to survive by her wits in a country torn apart by religious strife and the countless manoeuverings of the nobility in a search for ultimate power.  Fact and fiction, mythology and legend all blended in seamlessly to give an engaging and interesting look at one of the most difficult and dare I say, misunderstood, women of the sixteenth century.

I have always been fascinated by Catherine and I thoroughly enjoyed the personal take on her life in this novel.  Some of the stories I've read about her portray her as more of a paragon, one who easily loses her temper, and has even beaten her own children, while in this novel, she appears softer and warmer.  Although references are make to her cold heart and to her political decisions, the story revolves more around the personal Catherine rather than the political one, probably the only thing in which I was disappointed in this novel.  I would have liked to have read more about some of the political issues that were glossed over in this novel, but the novel really wasn't about those; it was about her own personal life and the decisions that really affected that personal life.  Catherine did make some poor decisions with regards to the religious strife that was tearing her country apart as I don't think she ever fully realized the full nature of the Huguenot religion and how far they would defend their right to worship and lead as they saw fit; I think she only saw it in a political sense and didn't look beyond the implications of that.  I also don't think she ever truly saw her children for what they were and who they were, but only as pawns to the throne she was protecting.  While she certainly loved them, she definitely underestimated the political influence they carried and was blind to their faults and their strengths. I also believe she made poor choices in some of the people she chose to trust in her inner circle, blind to the depths that some will go if given cause, and had to deal with the repercussions of trusting people who ultimately betrayed her trust.

Gortner writes with a beautiful lyrical style that evokes the power of his characters and makes you feel like you are right there with them.  From the amazing and deep Nostradamus, to the stern Philip II of Spain, to Coligny, to Henri de Navarre, to Diane de Poitiers, to her children, all are noteworthy characters in a novel full of vivid historical figures ready to leap off the page.  The descriptions of France during that time are great as well, and having visited most of the places talked about in the novel, I could envision the court at Amboise or Chenonceux, the colour and the pageantry that would have existed at that time, as well as the vivid details of the squalor and destruction that the religious wars left behind.

Catherine seems to come into her own far more fully once a widow, and I found her a lot more interesting during this time period.  Gortner makes use of the legends and stories that surrounded Catherine while alive, addressing the issues of sorcery and her reputation as a witch and "la serpente", all the while keeping her human characteristics alive and making her seem more human.  While Catherine was often able to laugh off some of the things said about her, she often used them to great effect in her capacity as queen, often allowing the rumours to persist.  She is continued to be seen as a woman who saved the throne of France until the French Revolution, never losing faith in her religion, always believing there could be peace between the Catholics and the Huguenots.  It is refreshing to read about Catherine as a woman and a mother, rather than as a ruthless ruler who will do anything to achieve an end.

Verdict
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is an entertaining, fun read about the life of an enigmatic, difficult queen.  If you are looking for an account of Catherine's political life and political achievements (and perhaps a more accurate historical truth), I am afraid you will be disappointed and need to look elsewhere.  However, this novel gives us a more personal view into what life would have been like for a young woman, torn from her native country, and brought to marry into a political powerhouse and forced to navigate the difficult waters that ensued, especially considering the religious strife that existed during this time.   I found myself engrossed in Catherine's life, and enjoyed reading this more personal account of the woman she would have been.  I am definitely looking foward to reading Gortner's next novel, a focus on Isabel of Castile, when it is released.

Giveaway
One lucky reader will have the chance to win a copy of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici.  Contest closes 30 June 2011.  Contest is open to residents of Canada and the United States.

Mandatory Entry:  Please leave a comment and don't forget to include your email address.

Review: The Girl Who Disappeared Twice by Andrea Kane

The Girl Who Disappeared Twice
by Andrea Kane
Release Date: May 31, 2011
2011 Mira Books
Softcover Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778329848
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Source: Review Copy from Meryl L. Moss Media Relations

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
If she'd only turned her head, she would have seen the car containing her daughter, struggling to get out. Struggling to escape her kidnapper.

Despite all her years determining the fates of families, veteran family court judge Hope Willis couldn't save her own. Now she's frantically grasping at any hope for Krissy's rescue. Her husband dead-set against it, she calls Casey Woods and her team of renegade investigators, Forensic Instincts.

A behaviorist. A techno-wizard. An intuitive. A former Navy SEAL. Unconventional operatives. All with unique talents and personal reasons for being part of Casey's group, they'll do whatever it takes.

Able to accurately read people after the briefest of encounters, Casey leads her crew to Krissy's home. There, she picks up the signs of a nervous spouse, a guilty conscience, a nanny that hides on her cell. She watches as secrets beg to creep into the open.

Forensic Instincts will dig through each tiny clue and eliminate the clutter. But time is running out, and even working around the clock, the authorities are bound by the legal system. Not so Casey's team. For they know that the difference between Krissy coming back alive and disappearing forever could be as small as a suspect's rapid breathing, or as deep as Hope's dark family history.

My Thoughts
The Girl Who Disappeared Twice was an interesting start to a new series by best-selling author Andrea Kane.  For a reader looking for everything in a novel, this one pretty much had it: there was romance, suspense, mystery, action, old secrets, duplicity, and even a little of the Mafia involved, but not in the way I expected.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel was the characters, their interactions with each other, and the character development that I can sense evolving, especially knowing this is the first in a planned series of books.  While Casey Woods appears to be the main protagonist in this story, she is definitely not the one I felt the most connected to simply as I felt she was too perfect.  While she had issues with her FBI boyfriend when it came to revealing and concealing pertinent information on the case, she just seemed to do everything right and I prefer my characters to be a little bit more flawed as it makes them seem more human.  Patrick, Ryan, Marc, and Hero are characters I absolutely adored and can't wait to learn more about them in future novels.  I also really like the potential development of a romance between Ryan and Claire and the explosive emotions that already exists between them.  This type of romance development has always been at the core of an Andrea Kane novel, but it was somewhat lacking in this one.  I am looking forward to seeing a little more of the romance, something she does so well, take more of a center stage around the thriller / mystery events.

The writing was exceptional, and has a way of grabbing you right from the start, despite the fact the plot line was somewhat predictable and I figured out the who-done-it and the big secret fairly early on.  I also had trouble believing the FBI would be so open to outside companies like Casey's zeroing in on an abduction scenario like this one, and giving her so much information, and allowing her into so much of what was happening.  This could be solely due to my own skepticism, and is definitely not due to an inside knowledge of the workings of the police.

Verdict
The Girl Who Disappeared Twice was an entertaining and fun read that I would recommend to anybody who enjoys good interaction between some interesting and quirky characters.  While the mystery and plot seemed to be pretty conventional, with no big surprises, it was still interesting and gripping nonetheless.  I have always enjoyed Ms. Kane's novels and looking forward to reading more about Casey and the gang in future installments.

Visit Andrea Kane:
Website: Andrea Kane
Blog: Andrea Kane
Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WOW: Last Letter &

I think I am in the mood for romance as the books that really struck me this week were all romance novels in some fashion.  Hmmm!!  Maybe I need to spend some more time with my husband?!?!?!  Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Jill @ Breaking The Spine, is a fun meme whereby we talk about those books we are anxiously awaiting.  Here's a couple I can't wait to read:

The Last Letter from Your Lover
by Jojo Moyes
Release Date: July 12, 2011

It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply "B", asking her to leave her husband.


Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper's archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie's search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.


Fair and Tender Ladies
by Lee Smith
Release Date: July 5, 2011

Ivy Rowe, Virginia mountain girl, then wife, mother, and finally "Mawmaw," never strays far from her home-but the letters she writes take her across the country and over the ocean. Writing "to hold onto what's passing," she tells stories that are rich with the life of Appalachia in words that are colloquial, often misspelled, but always beautiful.


From childhood, when teachers encouraged her gift for language, to her rebellious teenage years when she swore against motherhood-only to then become a mother-and on through life, Ivy writes with insight, honesty, and a passion for living that is sure to be infectious.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Post: Character Evolution by Annabel Aidan

Curling Up By The Fire is thrilled to welcome Annabel Aidan as she speaks about character evolution.  With the launch of her new novel, Assumption of Right, on June 6, 2011, Annabel talks to us about her characters, her connection to them, and how they become real to her.

Assumption of Right
Witch and theatre professional Morag D’Anneville is annoyed when she’s assigned to dress the conservative Vice President as he makes a surprise appearance in his favorite Broadway show. Even more irritating, she has to teach Agent Simon Keane, part of the security detail, the backstage ropes in preparation. A strong attraction flares between them which they both recognize is doomed, and Simon must also fight his superior’s prejudice that Morag’s beliefs make her a threat to the Vice President. When Morag is attacked, Simon’s loyalties are torn between protecting the man he’s sworn to protect, and protecting the woman he loves.







Character Evolution

By Annabel Aidan

Writers are constantly asked “deer in the headlights” questions like “where do you get your ideas?” (Everywhere), “would I have heard of you?” (how the heck should I know?), and, of course “are your characters real people?”

Define “real.”

My characters are real to me, or I couldn’t live with them as long as I do, and I think most writers feel that way. We spend hours, days, weeks, months, and sometimes years with characters. We think we’re done and they come back with more to say.

Lives are from birth to death. Fiction picks pivotal moments in lives that show great change and how the characters handle such change. Sometimes, characters (like people), go through a succession of pivotal moments in different phases of their lives -- and need a series instead of a stand-alone book.

Perhaps it’s my theatre background, but I tend to work from character rather than story. A character introduces herself to me (it might be “himself”, but for ease of phrasing, let’s say “herself”). She starts telling me about herself, her life, her friends, her not-friends, perhaps even her enemies. I start to wonder “what if?” and throw different situations at her. When I start seeing her step into the situation to play out a scene, I know I have the nugget of the story.

Some of my writer friends create extensive character biographies before they sit down to write the book. It works for them, more power to them. If I do it, I lose the character. I’ve learned what I need to know, why I’m interested, so there’s no reason for me to write the book anymore.

I need to spend the first draft getting to know the character the same way I would if it was an actual person in my actual life away from my created worlds. I need to learn how she handles herself in the situations as they unfold. If I try to control too much, it gets flat and stale. The manipulation of events, the layering of images and themes -- all of that happens in later drafts. The first draft is about getting to know my characters and finding out WHY they want me to tell the story right now.

The antagonists have just as much at stake as the protagonists, and have to be just as strong and interesting, or we all might as well spend our time elsewhere.

Most people, of course, want to know if they’d recognize “anyone” in the book -- meaning themselves. It’s hilarious to me that people who never presented a hint of inspiration to any of the characters usually see themselves as central to the book.

If someone gets in my face about something or acts badly to one of my friends, a character inspired by that person is likely to end up meeting a bad end in one of my stories. It’s a great way to blow off steam and not actually cause harm to someone whose personality, shall we say, rubs me the wrong way. I don’t have the right to make life and death decisions about other people’s lives -- except in my fiction.

The interesting thing is, once the individual provides the inspiration, if I do my job properly as a writer, the character evolves away from the original inspiration to become very much its own individual. Once the book or story goes to print, there’s only the faintest trace of the original inspiration, and I’ve become rather fond of even my negative fictional characters in a way I couldn’t if I had to deal with them in real life.

That makes sense to me as a person, since for me, all writing, even harsh, sad, frightening writing, is a way to find a better way to handle the world, the better way to tell emotional truths, within the fictional context.

Being a good listener, whether it’s eavesdropping in a coffee shop or listening to your character tell you her life story, is an integral part to being a good writer.

Annabel Aidan writes romantic suspense with a hint of magic. She
publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and nonfiction. She
spent over twenty years working behind the scenes on Broadway, in film and
television, mostly working wardrobe. Her plays are produced in New York,
London, Edinburgh, and Australia. If you run towards her undoing buttons,
she will tear off your clothes and flip you into something else — and then
read your tarot cards. Visit her at: http://www.devonellingtonwork.com/annabelaidan.html.


Excerpt from ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, available from Champagne Books:
http://www.champagnebooks.com/:


Simon’s mouth twitched. “At least you think I’m worthy guardian material.”

“You know I do. You save my life and I—I—” She stopped.

“Yes?” Simon stared at her, interested.

“I can’t talk about this right now.” She stepped back.

“You’re not going alone.”

“The man who tried to kill me is dead.”

“That doesn’t mean there won’t be more.”

Morag shivered suddenly. “You’re not just saying that, are you?”

She stared into his eyes and knew he wasn’t trying to scare her.

“Until we know more about him, we won’t know. We won’t know if he’s working with Carl Douglas or if this is connected to the Vice President.”

“Great. Now I have to worry about someone jumping out from behind every tree, parked car, and garbage can.”

Simon pulled her into his arms. “That’s why you’ve got me.”
Monday, June 13, 2011

Contest: Hounds of Heaven (Win a Kindle!)

Hounds of Heaven author Cole Drewes is having a contest on his site, Alter-Ego, to promote the release of his new novel.  Take a look!

Press Release:
Hounds of Heaven is a science fiction novel with urban fantasy/paranormal elements. I would consider it a hybrid novel inspired by the mythology of vampire and werewolves. It’s been compared to Starship Troopers with vampires. This action-packed novel is set in a futuristic dystopian New York City inhabited by vampires and demons.


Werewolf and battle hardened resistance fighter Dom Craddock is sick of losing. Dom is a member of the resistance called HADES, a paramilitary organization made up of humans and werewolves. Hades has been on the losing side of a war that has spanned six hundred years led by the vampire regime known as The Tartarus Corporation.

Dom and his elite recon team, finally find hope while on an otherwise routine mission. What they find might help them win the war against the vampires, save the dying planet, and hopefully what’s left of humanity.

Throughout Dom’s last mission he struggles with the world he once knew, and the world he now suffers in, hoping for one day to see the sun shining on his face again. Dom must first comes to terms with his past-the same past that assisted in the genocide of mankind, and handed the planet over to the vampires. A past he wants to forget and leave behind, but the actions he set in motion all those years ago have come back to destroy the only hope at saving humanity.

Monique Snyman of the book review blog Killeraphrodite, says that Hounds of Heaven “was a rollercoaster of awesome… you won’t have any fingernails left by the time the book ends. Action, romance, treachery, horror, historical references that’s been changed in such a way that it’s somewhat plausible… Damn it, just get the book and read it!”

Below you can buy Hounds of Heaven in the following e-book formats for $0.99:
Amazon.com
Smashwords

You can read 25% of the novel for free through Smashwords.

A paperback version will be available through Amazon around 6/15/2011.

All profits made from my books sales during 5/23/2011-6/23/2011 will be donated to Red Cross to help the victims of Joplin, MO.

http://www.coledrewes.com/
 
Here are the particulars of the contest:
Contest is running from today June 6/09/2011 to 6/16/2011.


(1) 1st place winner, signed copy of book and e-book of book. 1 framed poster of book cover with 2 additional promotional posters. A New Amazon Kindle!

(5) 2nd place winners will get a signed copy of the paperback book.

(10) 3rd place winners will get a e-book copy of the book in any format sent to your email.

Head on over to Cole's blog and enter!!!
Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: The Bronze And the Brimstone by Lory Kaufman

The Bronze and the Brimstone (Verona Trilogy, Book 2)
by Lory Kaufman
Release Date: June 7, 2011
2011 Fiction Studio Books
Softcover Edition; 334 Pages
ISBN: 978-193655808-7
Genre: Young Adult Post-Dystopian
Source:  Review Copy from Pump Up Your Book

4.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
Hansum, Shamira and Lincoln, three teens from the 24th-century, are trapped in 14th-century Verona, Italy. They’ve survived many deadly experiences by keeping their wits about them and by introducing futuristic technology into the past. Principal among these inventions is the telescope, which brought them to the attention to the rich and powerful.


But standing out can get you into unexpected and dangerous situations. The nobles of Verona now believe Hansum is a savant, a genius inventor, especially after he brings them plans for advanced cannons and black powder. Being the center of attention is great, but the potential for trouble is now exponentially greater because people are watching Hansum’s every move.

My Thoughts
The Bronze and the Brimstone picks up several months after the events in The Lens and the Looker, and features most of the main characters, along with a few new ones, introduced to us in the first novel.  Hansum, Shamira, and Lincoln have settled into their new lives quite comfortably and have resigned themselves to remaining trapped in fourteenth century Verona.  And while at first everything seems homey and good, you can soon pick on the undercurrents and the tensions that existed in the first novel as the characters learn to deal with an environment that is considerably different from the one in which they grew up.

I have always been rather intrigued by the concept of time travel, and have often wondered if it were ever discovered whether we, as a human species, would rather muck up our past because we would never be able to avoid introducing future technology into it.  This is basically what this novel is about as Hansum, Shamira, and Lincoln, with the help of their trusty genie, Pan, set out to save themselves politically and socially, introduce technology that would not be seen for hundreds of years.  I was especially intrigued to see how the author would deal with this and how it would all play out, and I was not disappointed as nature has a way of always intruding and fixing up problems.  Personally, I loved the resolution to the mess the three teens created, but I was surprised as well as I was not expecting it to be dealt with in the manner that it was. 

As a history buff, I really enjoyed the particular attention to detail the author demonstrated in the historical facts in this novel.  I loved reading about the daily life of the people of Verona and its outskirts, the palace life, how things were dealt with by the Podesta, and it certainly gives you an insight into why the nobles did some of the things they did or made some of the decisions they made.  Life would definitely not have been easy for anyone, of any class, for different reasons. 

My only disappointment in this novel was the particular attention it paid to Hansum and his doings rather than to Shamira and Lincoln.  While they were featured, I found it to be more to do with Hansum's doings rather than for themselves and I am really hoping this changes in the next novel as I really enjoyed the development in all of their characters.

Verdict
The Bronze and the Brimstone was a worthy sequel to the Lens and the Looker.  It was full of interesting historical tidbits and fascinating characters that twisted around a plot that was for the most part original and fun.  I am looking forward to the further adventures of Hamsum, Shamira, and Lincoln in The Loved and the Lost when it is released.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WOW: Burning Down the Spouse & For The King

Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, is such an interesting meme in which to participate as I adore searching for books that are soon to be published and look forward to their release.  I also look forward to sharing my excitement about their releases, something that everyone who is around me all day experiences to a varying degree.  I, unfortunately, have no willpower and blurt out all of my info to anyone who will listen, often forgetting that not everyone shares my passion and drive for reading.  Such is life!!

Burning Down the Spouse
Dakota Cassidy
Release Date: July 5, 2011

After discovering that her famous chef husband was cheating, Frankie Bennett lost her mind-on live TV. Now Frankie is broke, unemployed, and hiding out in her aunt's retirement village. That is, until Maxine Henderson-Barker-reformed trophy wife and owner of Trophy Jobs Inc. employment agency-arrives to give Frankie a much needed kick in the pants.


Soon, Frankie lands a job as a prep chef at a Greek diner in New Jersey, home to the world's best meatloaf and an owner who resembles an exquisitely chiseled Greek statue. Falling into bed with Nikos isn't the best idea, but after years of living in a man's shadow, this ex- trophy wife is ready to get busy cooking...


For The King
by Catherine Delors
Release Date: July 5, 2011

After First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte survives an assassination attempt, Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, a young man with a bright future and a beautiful mistress, must arrest the assassins before they strike again. But in a city with royalists and revolutionaries alike conspiring to overthrow Bonaparte, Roch's task is near impossible. And when his own father faces the guillotine, Roch has no choice but to trust those most likely to betray him.
Friday, June 3, 2011

TGIF - Hoard or Lend?

I found this interesting, interactive meme that discusses books based on a weekly question.  I've seen a few of these around the blogosphere and I think they are fun as you get to interact with other bloggers and check out their answers.  It's a great way of getting involved and for me, it's a great way to check out some other blogs.

Ginger at GReads is asking this week:   Do you share your books with others? Who was the last person you sent a book to?

This has always been a touchy subject for me as I tend to hoard books in the way that some people collect spoons or cow figurines or fancy designer dolls.  I have a few prized books that are out of print and would be very difficult to replace; these are hidden away so even my friends and family don't know I possess them and therefore, are completely out of temptation's reach for anybody.  While I'm not such a purist anymore, I also have a problem when books are returned in a different condition from the way they were when I lent them out.  I had a friend, in particular, who didn't care about the treatment of her books, and continuously returned my books with the front cover half missing, pages ripped, corners bent, and so on.  I drove me absolutely crazy and I ended up not lending her any more books.  For one thing, I paid good money for them so I figured people should at least take care of somebody else's possession, but it seems that books don't always fall in this category for many people. 

Speaking of hoarding, I have gotten a lot better in the past few years, and don't have as much of a problem giving books away as I used to.  There are certain ones that I will keep for myself because I enjoyed them so much, and I usually tend to keep those that are signed by the author.   Lately, I've been sharing some of them with students in my classes and they seem to be enjoying them.  I've also been thinking of donating some of them to my school library as they can always use a few extra fiction novels and would appreciate it.  I still have an issue with books being returned in a bad state, but only because I feel people should take care of other people's possessions, not because of the treatment of the book itself.  If it belongs to you, do what you want with it, except please don't treat first editions and other rare books as if they can be replaced.  Take care of those ones!!

I'm off to go for a walk with my family and enjoy this absolutely beautiful spring evening.  Cheers, everyone!
Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Haunting Violet
by Alyxandra Harvey
Release Date: June 21, 2011
2011 Walker Publishing Company Inc.
Harcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-8027-9839-8
Genre: Young Adult / Paranormal
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Canada

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Violet Willoughby doesn't believe in ghosts. But they believe in her. After spending years participating in her mother's elaborate ruse as a fraudulent medium, Violet is about as skeptical as they come in all matters supernatural. Now that she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death, Violet can no longer ignore her unique ability. She must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose.


Afraid of ruining her chance to escape her mother's scheming through an advantageous marriage, Violet must keep her ability secret. The only person who can help her is Colin, a friend she's known since childhood, and whom she has grown to love. He understands the true Violet, but helping her on this path means they might never be together. Can Violet find a way to help this ghost without ruining her own chance at a future free of lies?

My Thoughts
Haunting Violet was a fun, entertaining read with a dash of romance, action, supernatural suspense, and mystery.  As an historical fiction fan, I have always been interested with the great interest in all things occult displayed by our ancestors and the means they would go to in order to procure seances and other such evenings for their guests.  Such evenings were often highlights to get-togethers by the wealthy and famous mediums, whether they were 'gifted' or not, could make quite a living at their jobs if they could entertain and captivate an audience and make them believers.  It was certainly questionable how many of these so-called 'gifted' mediums were actually 'gifted' themselves or were rather clever entertainers. 

Violet finds herself in the midst of such doings as her mother has become a famous 'medium' and is wanted at many of society's soirees and get togethers to perform seances or others forms of entertainment for the guests.  Violet, unsure of her place in society, and with a tendency to believe she is second in beauty and intelligence to her mother, follows her every demand even though she is disturbed by the lies she has told people.  Violet is one of those characters with whom you can't help but identify and empathize as she deals with an uptight mother and learns to navigate the difficult paths of society.  You feel every slight and every rejection along with her, and really want her to succeed in everything she does.  She just kind of creeps under you skin and before you know it, you want her to have everything.  I really enjoyed her character and loved her strength and her courage to do what she had to do despite her living conditions and her mother.  She had an uncanny eye to pick out people who would help her and knew who would be trouble in her life.  Her closest friend, Elizabeth, is also someone I adored, and the two of them created a lot of trouble.  Through their eyes, you got a very good glimpse of both sides of society and could compare both lives. 

I liked the supernatural side to the story as it didn't overpower the other events in the story.  There were a lot of interesting 'ghost' moments that I rather enjoyed and found pretty funny.  The ghost dog yapping at people's heels and trying to bite them was pretty hilarious.  There was a comment made in the novel that it often took a devastating event in order for such a talent to appear, and I wasn't really sure why Violet's talent suddenly appeared after all these years and it wasn't really explained.  I felt like some thing were brushed off rather easily and I would have liked a little more explanation.

The mystery itself followed along predictable lines, and I will admit I did figure out who did the crime.  That being said, I found the events to be enjoyable, so I wasn't overly concerned with the fact that I figured it out, and kind of enjoyed the ride.  I may be a little biased as I love ghost stories and when you throw in a little romance, some action, and some suspense, along with mysterious characters, you have all the material needed to suck me right in.  Throw in a nice big house in the middle of nowhere and now you have the perfect setting to make it gothic seeming.  Can you say throw her a bone, too?

The story was beautifully written, and while it was supposed to be historical, it didn't really feel overly historical to me.  There were an awful lot of modern elements to the speaking and to the behaviour, and if I were to criticize the novel solely on its historical context, there would be some concerns.  I definitely would have liked to have seen a lot more of Violet's world mentioned in the novel, especially the social pitfalls and the disgraces that come about of doing something wrong;  I don't think the novel did that part justice, and it certainly would not be so easy to redeem yourself during this time period as it was in the novel.  If you look at the novel as a whole, it was entertaining, and I certainly loved the combination of the fake readings, the seances, with the real ghosts appearing, and all of the other social scenes that were overlapped with the ghosts. 

Verdict
Haunting Violet was an interesting and lighthearted read.  If you are looking for a more indepth, serious look at the Spiritualist Movement during this time period (Victorian Ghosts in the Noontide, Affinity by Sarah Waters, A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz), this you will not get.  You will however, find main characters that are quite likeable, with an ending that gives me hope that there will be a sequel to explain some of the things that were left hanging, and to continue Violet's training.  Hopefully she will also find herself in many more adventures and mysteries that will be in need of her unique talents. 

Some Bookish Questions & More About Me!!

I really enjoy doing this on Thursdays as it's such a nice way to open up a little bit and have a little fun.  I finally got my new ereader yesterday, and I am thrilled to have one again.  If you are a regular follower of my blog, you will know that my other one literally went "kaput" several weeks ago for no reason other than to send me into hysterics, especially with review deadlines approaching.  I had to return it in order for it to be replaced, but now I have to download all of the books onto it again.  At least I have a working ereader again.  You know, I never thought I would be so attached to the thing as I was originally opposed to them, but now I would rather leave the house without my cellphone than leave the house without my ereader.  Go figure!!

The weather has been fantastic this week, and I am now counting the days down until my holidays.  It's getting tough to focus and with exams still to go, and a ton of marking still to do, it's hard to want to concentrate on that stuff when the sun is shining and the heat is finally here.  I love the rain, but I definitely don't want to see it again for a few days.  I really feel sorry for those folks who have it tough right now with all of the flooding and the terrible thunderstorms and tornadoes that have hit so many parts of Canada and the United States.  My heart goes out to all of you who are affected!!!

Reading has been going great these past few weeks.  I feel rejuvenated and want to get my hands on every book out there.  The only problem being that work is getting in the way so I can't read as much as I would like.  I've been sent some pretty interesting books too, and I've now got a book going in almost every room in my house and at my trailer.  I also have one sitting on my desk at work, but so far have resisted the temptation to touch it as that would be very bad, very very bad.  I have to say though, even I am pretty impressed by my willpower. 




Question:  Do you read book reviews? Whose do you trust? Do they affect your reading habits? Your buying habits?

I do actually read book reviews, but I make it a point of never reading a book review on a book I am going to review.  Otherwise, I am happy to read reviews and points of view as I find them fascinating.  I love to discuss and debate books, so if someone has a different opinion than mine, I like nothing more than to discuss the why and wherefore of their reasoning and thoughts.  Such fun!  I have a specialist in literature, so I really enjoy analyzing books in all contexts, although I really have to watch when I am writing reviews that I don't go too literary.  I would love to have a feature on my blog where I take a text from a novel and analyze it; I just don't have the time right now to do it.  Later, perhaps. 

Reading book reviews doesn't usually affect my reading habits as I usually tend to prefer making my own judgments on what I read.  It will stop me from buying a book once in a while, and borrow from the library first however.  But I was never one to run out and buy just any book anyway as I was a selective buyer and always made use of the library.  If I hadn't, I would never have been able to buy my house.  Buying books = no money. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and there will always be books that other people like that I don't and vice versa.  The Twilight saga is a perfect example of this; while I didn't mind the first book in the series, I am definitely not a big fan of the other books in this series, while others simply feel they are their all-time favourite books.  I would never read them again and would never purchase them and am glad I borrowed them from the library.   There are some authors however, I will buy no matter what, like Jean Auel.  And there are some reviewers whom I love to read their blog posts and highly respect their opinion. 

On to another weekend, and hopefully a sunny one.  My children are off because of a PA Day and I am incredibly jealous and will probably grumble tomorrow morning when everyone gets to sleep in and I have to haul my tired carcass out of bed at 5:30, otherwise known as "o-dark and ugly".  Grumble, grumble!!