Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: Tempest in the Tea Leaves by Kari Lee Townsend

Tempest in the Tea Leaves (A Fortune Teller Mystery, Book #1)
by Kari Lee Townsend
Release Date: August 2, 2011
2011 Berkley Prime Crime
Paperback Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-425-24275-9
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review Copy from Author

3.5 / 5

In the fortune telling business there are a lot of pretenders, but Sunshine Meadows is the real deal—and her predictions can be lethally accurate…

Sunny is a big city psychic who moves to the quaint town of Divinity, NY to her fortune telling business in an ancient Victorian house, inheriting the strange cat residing within. Sunny gives her first reading to the frazzled town librarian and discovers the woman is going to die. When the woman flees in terror, Sunny calls the police, only she’s too late. The ruggedly handsome, hard-nosed detective is a “non-believer.” He finds the librarian dead, and Sunny becomes his number one suspect, forcing her to prove her innocence before the real killer can put an end to the psychic’s future.
My Thoughts
Tempest in the Tea Leaves was a fun and quick read that introduced us to a new host of characters residing in Divinity, New York.  The first novel in Kari Lee Townsend's new Fortune Teller Mystery series, Tempest in the Tea Leaves introduces us to Sunny Meadows, a psychic, who moves to Divinity in order to escape her loving, but controlling, parents, and to forge a life of her own.  While giving her first reading, she unknowingly becomes involved in the life of the town librarian when she has to warn the librarian against imminent danger.  When the librarian is murdered, Sunny must clear her name, and the result is a series of adventures and foibles that are fun and entertaining.
I have always been a huge fan of the paranormal cozy mysteries and this is what drew me to this novel.  I enjoyed the plotline, and although I guessed who the murderer was quite early on, it was still fun to follow Sunny through her various adventures, and meet the new characters in the town, knowing that I would hopefully meet them again in future scenarios.  There were lots of little twists and turns, some I wasn't quite expecting, such as Sunny hiding in a closet as two people put themselves in a compromising position and she couldn't get out.  There were a lot of comedic moments and I liked the fact that Sunny didn't always have an easy time while looking for answers.  I'm not quite sure I bought into the 'partnership' idea, but I went along with it for the sake of the book, and just enjoyed the scenario and tried to keep my skepticism at bay.
I enjoyed the characters in the novel, especially Sean and Jo.  To be honest, I wasn't crazy about Sunny for a lot of the book, although she did grow on me somewhat as the story continued along.  It was her mannerisms and her constant bickering that drove me crazy and it reminded me a lot of a spoiled child.  I didn't always enjoy the dialogue between Detective Stone and Sunny, but I do have to admit some of it was fun and interesting and witty.  There were times though, that I rushed through those scenes just to get the relevant information that I needed to solve the crime.  I personally think the author was trying too hard to create something between the two of them that just didn't work for me.  I am really hoping for some good romance in the next novel however, it just needs to feel more genuine, and there are genuine flashes of gold in Sunny that I would like to see developed as she has a big soul and really cares for those around her. 
One of my favourite things about this novel was Morty, Sunny's white cat, and I would love to know a lot more about this mysterious creature who doesn't eat or drink, and appears whenever there is trouble.  I also can't wait to learn more about Vicky, Sunny's house, which also seems to hold a lot of secrets.  Now these secrets definitely kept up my interest throughout the novel, and I laughed out loud at some of the scenes with Morty and Detective Stone and their interactions.  What fun!!
Tempest in the Tea Leaves was your standard light, paranormal cozy mystery novel that was fun, interesting, but did not have a lot of depth to it.  There is an incredible amount of potential to this series however, and I am looking forward to what the author has in store for us in book 2, Corpse in the Crystal Ball (June 2012), and book 3, Trouble in the Tarot (March 2013).  For now, don't hesitate to curl up with Tempest in the Tea Leaves, and read all about Morty and Sunny in snow-covered Divinity, New York.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guest Post: Richard Denning and London in 1666

Curling Up By The Fire is thrilled to have Richard Denning, author of the newly released The Last Seal (July 20, 2011 - Paperback), here with us today.  He is here to discuss London as it was in 1666, the setting of The Last Seal, and also the time of the Great Fire that destroyed most of the city.  For those of you who are not familiar with Richard's latest release, here is synopsis of The Last Seal:

September 1666: a struggle between two secret societies threatens to destroy London. Three hundred years previously the Praesidum defeated and incarcerated a demon beneath the city. Now the Liberati aim to release it and gain its power for themselves. Meanwhile agents of the King are seeking four suspected foreign spies who are, in reality, disparate and unlikely heroes: GABRIEL, the sole remaining member of the Praesidum, crippled by his fear of failure; FREYA, a young thief orphaned by the Great Plague, driven by poverty and self-interest; TOBIAS, a cynical physician, obsessed by his desire for vengeance against the Liberati cavalier who killed his father, and finally and most vitally, BEN, a Westminster schoolboy, whose guilt over his parents’ death threatens to destroy him. Thrown together by chance when Ben finds an ancient scroll revealing the location of arcane seals that bind the demon beneath London, the story launches into a battle between the Liberati and Praesidium, a battle which takes place within the Great Fire of London. These four must overcome their personal problems and work together if they are to foil the plans of the Liberati, protect the city and gain the means to defeat the demon.

A visit to London in 1666

by Richard Denning

I am delighted to be a guest on Curling up by the Fire. I am a Young adult sci-fi, historical fiction and historical fantasy writer. This post is part of a blog tour celebrating the release of my historical fantasy novel, The Last Seal. The Last Seal is set during the Great Fire of London in 1666. So it was suggested that I write a post about what London was like in 1666 to set the scene for the reader.

London in the summer of 1666 was by far the largest city in Britain and the third largest in the world after Paris and Constantinople. The population of greater London was about 300, 000 - say the same as Coventry, UK or Lexington, USA today. Most of the population lived in the suburbs but around 80,000 lived within the old Roman and mediaeval city walls.

John Evelyn - a contemporary of the famous diarist Samuel Pepys complained that the city had no plan, no order or organisation. It had simply evolved around and along the old Roman and medieval roads and no one had tried to impose upon it a structure. The City was an overcrowded warren of narrow, winding, cobbled alleys existing cheek by jowl with the dwellings of the better off and merchants warehouses. Most houses were wood and thatch as very little building had been done in stones other than churches.

London, apart from during the worse months of the plague (see later), was a thriving trade hub. The focal point for traders from foreign parts was the great Royal Exchange at Cornhill which on two levels had over 130 boutiques and shops and where merchants from a score of countries would meet and trade goods from the orient and the new world. Down by the waterside at Billingsgate the catch of fishermen was sold - fresh fish and shellfish like oysters in barrels. Over in the Shambles markets near Cheapside near Newgate Prison a thousand good were hawked by the open air traders: honeyed nuts, muscles, fresh meat and candles. Around St Pauls were dozens of books shops and pamphlet printers. Further west at Westminster Hall the covered markets sold sweets and trinkets to the court flunkeys and Westminster school boys whilst on its roof the head of Oliver Cromwell could be seen on a spike! One should imagine the constant noise from hundreds of traders calling out their wares, the clatter of hackney carriages, the whinnying of horses and the babble of thousands going about their day to day life.

It was a city of vast overcrowding with the poor crammed into tenements. The typical six- or seven-storey timbered London tenement houses leant over to almost touch other buildings. It was a city of great poverty as you can read in this excerpt from The Last Seal:

Below the thief, on the banks of the ditch running beneath the bridge, was the Rag Fair. The poorest came here each day to pay copper coins for a few pathetic clothes stolen in tenements or stripped off the dead, linen taken from the beds of plague victims and then washed in urine in an effort to cleanse the contagion, or wigs pulled off the heads of passing pedestrians on Cheapside by enterprising boys hanging out of first floor windows.

Children played on the narrow shore barely inches from the decaying body of a dog that floated downstream through the stinking filth that was the River Fleet. A brief gust of wind from the north brought more noxious smells, this time from scores of huge brass and iron vats standing along the water’s edge and perched on top of fires that threw a dense cloud of smoke and fumes skyward. The vats produced a hundred wares: vinegar, glue, cured leather and soap, or were used to bleach cloth or boil the fat off animal skins. Further up the river, butchers smoked animal carcasses and the refuse from this and all the other trades was thrown into the water or littered its edge. The smell was unbelievable and sickening, but here, in rotten wooden huts overlooking the ditch, the poor just endured.

The city was still suffering from the effects of the great plague of 1665 to 66. At its height in the summer of 1665 1000 people a day were dying and the city was all but evacuated by the wealthy - with the king moving court to Oxford for the winter. Overall 100,000 people died which is ONE IN FIVE of the population. In September 1666 the city was only just returning to normal just in time for its biggest disaster - the Great Fire of 1666.

London was a city which was extremely vulnerable to fire. Firstly this was due to the crammed buildings mostly made of wood and built extremely closely together. London contained hundreds of workplaces, many of which were fire hazards. So it was full of foundries, smithies, glaziers and of course bakeries. The riverfront was lined with vast warehouses which had stores and cellars of combustibles which increased the fire risk. These included tar, pitch and hemp as well as spirits in great quantity.

London was also full of gunpowder, much of which was left in the homes of private citizens from the days of the English Civil War. The war had only finished fifteen years before and most men - especially nobles and wealthy merchants would have stores of weapons and barrels of gunpowder. The summer of 1666 had been one of the hottest in living memory. As such the wood and thatch houses were as dry as tinder - tinder which was ready for a spark.

That spark came in the early hours of September 2nd 1666. A careless baker in Pudding Lane forgot to put out his fire and it spread creating an inferno which would destroy 13,000 houses and make 70,000 of London’s 80,000 population homeless. The Lord Mayor failed to act and it was down to the trained bands of militia to fight the fire and finally put it out. King Charles II and his brother, James Duke of York were even seen on the streets fighting the fire. In the end, though, it was the wind dropping and changing direction coupled with the blowing up of houses that ended the fire.

It is estimated that the destruction included 13200 houses, 87 churches, 44 Guild Halls, St Pauls Cathedral, Baynard’s Castle, the Royal Exchange, Newgate prison and many other important sites. Maybe 1 person in 3 or 4 of greater London was made homeless. The Great Fire cost London an estimated £8 million in buildings and 2 million in goods. At the time, the City's annual income was only £12,000. In today’s terms the loss to the city was about £14 billion – maybe more.

The old wooden city was gone forever along with the slums and warrens. There was a chance now to rebuild along planned lines with great avenues and squares. In the end though each landlord insisted on having his own buildings rebuilt and the opportunity was lost. Never the less at least the rebuilding was done in stone and London got many new churches including today's great St Paul's Cathedral designed by Wren.

It is this city in which my novel is set - a novel of gunpowder and sorcery in 1666!

To read the first part of The Last Seal visit my website here:

Check out the books Facebook Page:

I am on Twitter:!/RichardDenning

Author Biography
Richard Denning was born in Ilkeston in Derbyshire and lives in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, UK, where he works as a General Practitioner (family doctor). He is married and has two children. He has always been fascinated by historical settings as well as horror and fantasy. Other than writing, his main interests are games of all types. He is the designer of a board game based on the Great Fire of London.

By the same author:
Northern Crown Series (Historical fiction)
1.The Amber Treasure
2.Child of Loki (Coming 2012)

Hourglass Institute Series (Young Adult Science Fiction)
1.Tomorrow’s Guardian
2. Yesterday's Treasures
3. Today's Sacrifice (Coming 2012)

The Praesidium Series (Historical Fantasy)
1.The Last Seal

Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: The Egyptian by Layton Green

The Egyptian (Dominic Grey, Book #2)
by Layton Green
Release Date: August 21, 2011
2011 First Ward
E-book Edition; 325 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Thriller
Source: Review Copy from Author

4.5 / 5 Stars

At a mausoleum in Cairo's most notorious cemetery, a mercenary receives a package containing a silver test tube suspended in hydraulic stasis. An investigative reporter tracking rogue biomedical companies is terrified by the appearance of a mummified man outside her Manhattan apartment. A Bulgarian scientist who dabbles in the occult makes a startling discovery in his underground laboratory.

These seemingly separate events collide when Dominic Grey and Viktor Radek, private investigators of cults, are hired by the CEO of an Egyptian biomedical firm to locate stolen research integral to the company's new life extension product. However, after witnessing the slaughter of a team of scientists by the remnants of a dangerous cult thought long abandoned, Grey and Viktor turn from pursuers to pursued.

From the gleaming corridors of visionary laboratories to the cobblestone alleys of Eastern Europe to a lost oasis in the Sahara, Grey and Viktor must sift through science and myth to uncover the truth behind the Egyptian and his sinister biotech - before that truth kills them.

My Thoughts
The Egyptian is the second book in the Dominic Grey series and I was looking forward to this one with eager anticipation as I enjoyed the first book, The Summoner, quite a bit.  There is a lushness to Mr. Green's writing that draws the reader into his novels, and makes you feel like you are right there experiencing the culture, the sights and sounds, and the events.  I was not disappointed in The Egyptian as that same quality of writing was definitely evident in this novel, and I was able to let myself be absorbed into the setting and allow the characters to draw me into the events of the story.  With ample twists and turns, suspense, adventure, action, and even a touch of romance, The Egyptian definitely lived up to the quality that was evident in the first book.

One of the things I really enjoyed about both these novels is the characterization.  Dominic Grey is a troubled soul, who comes from a very troubled background and was forced to survive on the streets as a youngster.  This shaped his outlook on life and trained him for his current job as nothing else could.  Yet, with these amazing fighting skills that he has, there is the soul of a wounded and troubled man, one who survives by a very strict moral and ethical code, one who is often troubled by some of the things he has had to do in his life.  The interesting dialogue he has with himself and others about this dilemna allows his human side to really shine through and makes his dark, brooding character so interesting and fascinating.  I am always drawn to these type of characters, and I don't know why I find them so intriguing!!

The other characters were interesting as well, although I do have to admit that except for Viktor, I don't think I found Veronica quite as interesting and mysterious as I found Nya from The Summoner, and I thought Stefan was too good to be true.  The interesting twist where Dominic has to deal with betrayal did add a level of depth to this novel, but I also liked how there are a lot of gray elements involved as well; many of the incidents and happenings that began in The Summoner did carry over in this novel and are still not quite resolved and that makes it feel more real and authentic; for example, Dominic is still dealing with his rather mixed emotions over Nya and is confused with his relationship with Veronica (even if I didn't quite buy into that relationship). Also, he is still bewildered by the hypnotic effects of the events in Zimbabwe, and the almost lethal effects they had on him when he was put in a dangerous situation; it scared him pretty badly and he's afraid it could happen again. With that being said, you can still read this novel as a standalone; you may just not understand the references to Nya and what happened in Zimbabwe although it doesn't affect any understanding of the events in this novel.

I found the plot to be a little more predictable in The Egyptian and as the characters chased around the globe after the elusive Elixir of Life, I found the really interesting dialogue, fascinating descriptions, and great characterization held up the plot, and kept it going.  While it was interesting, I don't think it quite had that same level of tension that it had in The Summoner.   There was a lot of research that went into this novel, and I have to admit that I had to read some of the discussions about the biomedical research/biomedical gerontology twice in order to be fully understood.  I was more familiar with the mythology/legend portion of the research and again, I have to commend the author for the extensive research that went into that aspect of the novel as well. 

The Egyptian was a worthy sequel to The Summoner, and although I was somewhat disappointed with the ending (and I'm not talking about the Epilogue), I enjoyed the characters and the trips to Cairo and Bulgaria as I loved the descriptive writing, although the parts of Cairo that were described are probably areas that I will never step foot in as they were dark, depressing, and dangerous.  I highly recommend both of these novels, and look forward to the third book in the series when it is released.

Interview With Kari Lee Townsend

Curling Up By The Fire is pleased to welcome Kari Lee Townsend, author of Tempest in the Tea Leaves, who is here to discuss her new series as well as give readers a little insight into her life and into her reading and writing habits.  I had the pleasure of reading Tempest in the Tea Leaves, and look forward to immersing myself in future adventures featuring Sunny Meadows, and a host of new characters living in Divinity, New York.   For those of who who love cozy mysteries, here's a little synopsis of the book:

In the fortune telling business there are a lot of pretenders, but Sunshine Meadows is the real deal—and her predictions can be lethally accurate…

Sunny is a big city psychic who moves to the quaint town of Divinity, NY to open her fortune-telling business in an ancient Victorian house, inheriting the strange cat residing within. Sunny gives her first reading to the frazzled librarian and discovers the woman is going to die. When the woman flees in terror, Sunny calls the police, only she’s too late. The ruggedly handsome, hard-nosed detective is a ”non-believer.” He finds the librarian dead, and Sunny becomes his number one suspect, forcing her to prove her innocence before the real killer can put an end to the psychic’s future.

1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you become interested in writing fiction novels?

I have always loved to read and write, that’s why I got my degree in English education. I wrote short stories and poetry when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I was married and home with my first child that I tried my hand at a writing an actual novel and realized I loved it. It took me forever to sell, but I’ve never regretted it and never looked back. I’ve learned so much along the way and it’s made me a better writer because of it.

2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, Tempest in the Tea Leaves?
Tempest is about a big city psychic named Sunshine Meadows who moves upstate to the quaint town of Divinity, NY. She opens her own fortune-telling business and her first reading for a frazzled librarian turns deadly. She predicts the woman will die, and when the woman does, hard-nosed cynical Detective Mitch Stone names Sunny as his number one suspect. Now she must prove her innocence before the real killer can put an end to her future for good.

3) What inspired you to write Tempest in the Tea Leaves? How much research was involved in the writing? Haunted houses are something I absolutely adore; did you base any of your writing on personal experiences?
I knew I wanted to write a cozy mystery for Berkley Prime Crime, so I researched their site to see what themes they already had. When I saw a lot of light fun paranormal, I knew I wanted to write one of those. So I thought about what I was interested in and what I wanted to learn more about. That’s when I thought of fortune telling. I’ve had my tea leaves read, my tarot cards read, my palm read, and even a past life reading which was so cool. I can’t wait to write more books since each one will focus on a different fortune-telling tool. As far as haunted houses, I love the stories I’ve heard about them, but I’ve never actually experienced any “haunting” first hand .

4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?
Making sure the fortune telling comes off as authentic. I did a lot of research online and tried to combine several techniques. Also, making sure the mystery plot was sound and that I had enough red herrings to throw the reader off. I really wanted the killer to be a surprise. Not an easy task to do since die hard mystery readers are very smart!

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?
No characters were really a challenge for me. I love characterization. Coming up with fun, quirky characters who are unique and interesting yet seem real is a blast for me. It’s hard to pick a favorite. Sunny doesn’t look like me, but she acts a lot like me. And Mitch is just so hot. I love dark, brooding, wounded alpha males. And I have to say I adore Morty the cat. I can’t wait to delve even deeper into his backstory and really figure out who he is and where he came from.

6) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
I have four children (3 boys and 1 diva) so when I first started writing, I wrote during naptime. Even though they are all in school now, I am still most productive in the afternoon. I tend to do more promotion and social networking and emails in the morning with my coffee. Then take a break, exercise, do errands, etc. When I return to work after lunch, I sit down with a diet Pepsi or diet Coke(I switch between the two so I don’t get bored) at my desk in my bright, sunny formal living room (that no one uses and I claimed as mine!) I have to have complete silence to create something new. I can edit and do everything else to noise, but I need the silence to create…that’s why summer is killing me! Thank goodness school starts soon.

7) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future? What can fans expect next from you? Hopefully more novels in this series?
I just finished book two, CORPSE IN THE CRYSTAL BALL, which will come out in June 2012. So now it’s time to start on book three, TROUBLE IN THE TAROT, which will come out in March 2013. I am having so much fun with this series, so hopefully the rest of the books will do as well as TEMPEST IN THE TEA LEAVES and the series will continue for a long time to come.

8) Favorite authors?
I love anything funny, and especially humorous cozy mysteries. Janet Evanovich first got me hooked, and now I love Donna Andrews, Tamar Myers, Peggy Webb, Annette Blair, and so many more. There really are a lot of talented cozy authors out there. A couple of brand new authors to watch for are Liz Lipperman and her Clueless Cook Mysteries which will come out in October, as well as Rochelle Staab’s Mind for Murder Mysteries in November!

9) What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your ultimate luxury?
Reading simply for pleasure in a hot bubble bath! I also love to travel, take pictures, go on wine tours, and basically do anything adventurous. I am the dare devil in my family.

10) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
Basically to never give up. It took me 14 years to sell. It will happen, you just have to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Pay attention to the market. You never know what you might be good at or love unless you give it a try. When I started writing smart is when I finally sold. Good luck and I hope to see you on the shelves someday.

To find out more about me and all my books go to and my group mystery blog at
Follow me on Twitter at
Like my Facebook Author Page at

Author Biography
Kari Lee Townsend lives in Central New York with her very understanding husband, her three busy boys, and her oh-so-dramatic daughter, who keep her grounded and make everything she does worthwhile…not to mention provide her with loads of material for her books. Kari is a longtime lover of reading and writing, with a masters in English education, who spends her days trying to figure out whodunit. Funny how no one at home will confess any more than the characters in her mysteries!

Kari writes fun and exciting stories for any age, set in small towns, with mystical elements and quirky characters. You can find out more about her on her website and also on the group mystery blog she cohosts, called Mysteries and Margaritas, at

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey where book bloggers get a chance to share the books we read, those we are currently reading, and those we want to/need to read next.  For me, it's a great way to focus on what I would like to read next, as well as what I really have to read next, to take a look at what commitments I've made.  It also provides me with a reason to peruse that TBR shelf that I don't look at often enough due to other reading commitments.

I haven't really participated in these memes too much this summer and I've missed participating.  I've been away most of the summer at my trailer, what my husband and I have nicknamed our 'trottage'.  I really enjoy it there, and during the week, when it's not quite as busy, it's very peaceful and quiet.  The kids and I love spending time there and as we didn't go away this summer, it's been our home-away-from-home.  We've spent many a pleasant evening with friends around the campfire, and soon it will be coming to an end.  In October, we close her up for the season and it's always a little depressing.  But for now, even with school starting next week, we know we still have a few weekends to escape from the rush that school brings on when everything starts again, and get to spend a few more nights around the campfire chatting with friends.  I thought I would get more reading done this summer than I did, but I've been busy doing a lot of little things that really ate up into my reading time.  And the weather has been so beautiful, it's been really difficult to settle down with a book when I could be wandering around chatting with neighbours, or doing other things.  I was actually happy when it rained all day last week, as it gave me a great excuse to sit in a chair all day and read. 

What I Read This Week:
The Last Seal by Richard Denning
The Egyptian by Layton Green
Tempest in the Tea Leaves by Kari Lee Townsend
Symphony for the Devil by Justin Gustainis

What I am Currently Reading:
The Legacy by Katherine Webb
Queen By Right by Anne Easter Smith
The Sixes by Kate White

Up Next:
The Paradise Prophecy by Robert Browne
Sunday, August 28, 2011

Guest Post: Kari Lee Townsend Shares Her Workspace

Curling Up By The Fire is pleased to have Kari Lee Townsend with us today.  Kari is the author of the newly released Tempest in the Tea Leaves (published August 2, 2011), a new cozy mystery series set in Divinity, New York.  It features Sunny Meadows, and a host of intriguing characters as she sets the town upside down searching for the murderer of the town librarian who would like nothing better than to frame her.  Using her psychic abilities, she partners with the town's detective to hunt down a killer before the killer finds another victim, or gets to her. Kari is her with us today to share her workspace with us, and how she uses that workspace to get her inspiration.

Kari Lee Townsend’s Workspace

by Kari Lee Townsend

People often ask me where I work so I thought I’d give you all a peek inside my world.

In the past, I never had an office. We always had a main computer, but I tended to work on my laptop wherever I was most comfy. But I ended up carrying around tons of notes, and sitting in the worst possible position, writing for hours at a time without getting up. Now, after mega deadlines, a bad back, and a lot more common sense, I finally decided I needed an office.

So my wonderful hubby built me an office when he finished off the basement. It has a nice big desk, filing cabinets, book shelves, etc. The problem is our main computer is there, and I have four children. You also have to pass through my office to get to the workout room and the extra refrigerator. Did I mention three out of four of my children are teenage boys? They are always on the computer and always in the extra fridge. At first I thought this was no biggie because I tend to write when they are all at school anyway. But then I realized my notes got moved, and everything got messed up. Besides, the house was empty, and I did not want to be in the dungeon all day, no matter how nice my office is. Although by the picture I posted, you can see how messy my animals—aka children—keep the main office.

So, now my frustrated hubby got me a desk to use in our formal living room. I’ve never really seen the point of a formal living room. We all tend to congregate in the family room and kitchen, while the formal living room sits empty. No TV and not really closed off completely for privacy anyway. I still store a lot of things in my “official” office that is more like the “family” office, but now I have a writing space that is just mine. No kids allowed! They still wander into the room; they just aren’t allowed to touch my desk. And, um, yeah, according to this next picture, you can see where my kids their messiness from. I can’t help it. When I’m working on a project, I need quick reference to lots of notes and research. And I know where everything is, so it doesn’t get cleaned until I finish a book. But then I start the next one pretty quick, and there’s always promotion materials and schedules, so I guess it’s never “really” clean.

I love my writer’s nook because you can’t see it from the rest of the house unless you enter that room. I am upstairs and available if anyone needs me, yet hidden enough to work…most of the time. Besides, I mostly work when everyone is gone. And that room has nice big bright windows that let a lot of light in, something the dungeon just doesn’t have!

Finally, I now try to remember to get up every hour and move. When I am really under the gun and my back is killing me, I’ve tried standing. Standing works really well, but bothers my legs after a while. The perfect solution would be a walkstation, but they are so expensive. So in the meantime, I rigged up my own in the basement. A board on my treadmill, and then I turn the treadmill on really slowly (like a 1 or 1.5, but no more than 2). That way I can easily stand and type at the perfect level so my back doesn’t hurt, and yet walk slowly so the circulation in my legs keeps flowing and my legs don’t hurt. I’ve lost track of time and spent two hours doing that before. Even at that slow of pace, you’d be surprised at how many extra calories you burn. Here’s a picture of my homemade walkstation.

Hope you’ve enjoyed a peek inside my world and how and where I write my books like TEMPEST IN THE TEA LEAVES which is out now. CORPSE IN THE CRYSTAL BALL comes out in June 2012 and TROUBLE IN THE TAROT comes out in March 2013. Guess I’d better go get started on that one now.

You can find out more about me and all my books at and my group mystery blog Follow me on Twitter at Like my Facebook Author Page at

Friday, August 26, 2011

Interview With Justin Gustainis and Contest Alert

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Justin Gustainis, author of Sympathy With The Devil, his latest novel which was released July 26, 2011.  It's the third book in the "Morris/Chastain Investigations" series, but you don't have to read the first two novels in the series in order to understand the events in this novel.  Here is little synopsis:

Senator Howard Stark wants to be President of the United States. So does the demon inside him. With the competing candidates dropping out due to scandal, blackmail, and ‘accidental’ death, Stark looks like a good bet to go all the way to the White House. And if he gets there, Hell on Earth will follow.

Occult investigator Quincey Morris and white witch Libby Chastain are determined to stop this evil conspiracy. But between them and Stark stand the dedicated agents of the US Secret Service – as well as the very forces of Hell itself. Quincey and Libby will risk everything to exorcise the demon possessing Stark. If they fail, ‘Hail to the Chief’ will become a funeral march – for all of us.

1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you become interested in writing fiction, in particular the paranormal?

My day job is as a college professor; writing fiction is essentially a hobby (although my publisher is inclined to see writing as my day job and teaching as the hobby) – although it’s a hobby that has been gradually taking over my life. In my misspent youth, I was, at various times, a factory worker, soldier, speechwriter, and professional bodyguard.

In high school and college I was always writing stories to amuse my friends (and they were amused, since they appeared in most of the stories). I didn’t start writing fiction as an adult until the mid-1990s, and I was mostly doing that to escape, temporarily, some unpleasant aspects of my personal life. I began writing short fiction and entering contests with it. I started winning (or at least placing in the top three) almost at once, which gave me encouragement to attempt a novel.

Why the paranormal? I think, at first, I was trying to escape into a fantasy land where the rules of the real world didn’t apply. And I was always a big fan of Dracula and The Exorcist. It’s probably not coincidental that vampires and demons keep showing up in my fiction.

2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, Sympathy for the Devil?
Sympathy for the Devil is the third book in my “Morris/Chastain Investigations” series. Quincey Morris (who is descended from the Texan who helped destroy Count Dracula – see what I mean about recurring themes?) is an occult investigator. In a sense, he’s carrying on the family business. His partner (in ghostbusting, not romance) is Libby Chastain, a practitioner of “white” magic.

The new book is built around Senator Howard Stark, who is running for President of the United States. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Stark has been possessed by Sargatanas, one of the most powerful demons in Hell. The forces of darkness want Stark to get elected, then use the powers of the Presidency to destroy the world (they don’t like us much, down there in Hell). Stark doesn’t start out as heavily favored to gain his party’s nomination, but things start happening to his competitors – one dies in a freak accident, another commits suicide when shocking details about his past are revealed, and others have to deal with scandals based on information that no one should know.

Quincey and Libby eventually figure out what’s going on. They plan to get Stark in a locked room with an exorcist, and have the demon cast out of him. Their plan only faces two obstacles – the brave and dedicated agents of the U.S. Secret Service, and the powers of Hell itself.

3) What inspired you to write Sympathy for the Devil? How much research was involved in the writing?
One source for the inspiration was those “cold war brinkmanship” novels that were popular in the Sixties – Fail Safe, Seven Days in May, etc. I was nuts for those when I was a kid. One of them posits the question: what if the President went crazy? It’s not anything dramatic -- no screaming or chewing the carpet, like Hitler. But he seems … irrational. What can the people around him do to stop World War III being started by a madman? So, my twisted mind substituted “possessed” for “crazy,” and I was off.

I didn’t have to do a great deal of research. I’m a political junkie – I think politics is the best spectator sport around. And sometimes it’s also a blood sport, as it is in my book.

4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?
To make an outlandish premise seem reasonable. Both the supernatural elements and the political aspects had to seem as realistic as possible, in order for the reader to engage in “willing suspension of disbelief.” In my book, you don’t work black magic by waving your arms around and going “Booga-booga!” And you don’t get to be President by giving a couple of speeches. The book follows the Stark campaign from the Iowa caucuses to the party national nominating convention in NYC – and it is there that politics becomes a blood sport – for real.

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?
One really fun character was a demon named Ashley. She’s in the story because of another character, Mal Peters. Peters was a CIA assassin who was killed years ago and went to Hell. But not everybody in Hell is in favor of the Stark-destroys-the-world plan. One faction fears that if the plot succeeds, it will bring on Armageddon, and Hell will be the ultimate loser. So Peters is sent back from Hell by these dissident demons, with the assignment of killing Stark before he can get elected. Ashley is a mid-level demon who is given flesh and sent to assist Peters and make sure he carries out his task. But Ashley is also part succubus, so things between her and Peters get very … interesting.

One of the hardest characters to write was Senator Stark himself, after he is possessed (which occurs early in the book). I wanted to get across his dual nature of man and demon without going overboard with either one. That was tricky sometimes.

6) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
I always have an economy-size bottle of Ibuprofen handy – extended typing gives me pain in the neck and shoulders. See? I do suffer for my art. Plus, I have Papa John’s pizza on speed-dial. And I don’t see how anybody can live, let alone write, without Cherry Diet Pepsi.

7) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future?
I find myself in the odd (but pleasant) position of having not one but two books being released on July 26th. In addition to Sympathy for the Devil, that date will also see the publication of Hard Spell, the first book in my new “Haunted Scranton” series.

The book has what several people (okay, me and two friends) regard as one seriously kick-ass book trailer:

I’m currently writing the sequel to Hard Spell, called Evil Dark. It’ll be out early next year.

8) Favourite authors? Favourite characters?
Favorite authors include Jim Butcher, Kim Newman, Lilith Saintcrow, Rachel Caine, Chris Marie Green, Jackie Kessler, Mike Ashley, Thomas Perry, and Stephen Hunter.

Favorite characters? I want to be just like Harry Dresden when I grow up. Except taller.

9) What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Right now, what little spare time I have is taken up with trying to raise a couple of kittens (two little guys I’ve named Quincey and Stan). It’s proving more of a challenge that I had anticipated.

10) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
There are three more things about Sympathy for the Devil that I’d like to mention.

One is the book trailer (yes, I have one for that book, too):

Contest Alert!!!
The second thing is news of a huge contest that I’m running in conjunction with the publication of Sympathy for the Devil. First prize is a $50 Amazon gift card and I’ll name a character after you in the next Morris/Chastain adventure (tentatively called Play with Fire).

Because the prizes are so cool, the contest requires you to do more than just make a comment about this interview. For details, go to my web site:

And finally – and this is kind of troubling, actually – there seems to be a rather sinister-sounding guy called Howard Stark who says he really is running for President in 2012. Now, my Howard Stark is a fictional character, so this can’t really be Hell’s candidate for President – can it?

His website is but I wouldn’t check it out, if I were you. The content is just too … disturbing.


Review: The Watchman of Ephraim by Gerard de Marigny

The Watchman of Ephraim (Cris de Niro, Book #1)
by Gerard de Marigny
Release Date: January 21, 2011
2011 JarRyJorNo Publishing
E-book Edition; 226 Pages
Hardccover Edition; 290 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-983-37460-2
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review Copy from Author

4.5 / 5 Stars

Cris De Niro worked his way up to the top of the hedge fund world. Yet, all of his money couldn't protect him from losing his wife on 9/11.

Turning to his faith to overcome his anguish, he reads about the "Watchman of Ephraim" a defender who kept watch over the land, in a biblical passage. De Niro decides to acquire a lackluster counter-terrorism agency in order to transform it into a modern-day version of The Watchman for the United States but there's not a moment to lose. Aref Sami Zamani is planning a terrorist attack on American soil - codenamed "Antioch," a plot to detonate a nuke over the city of Las Vegas. The Watchman uncovers a connection between Zamani and a Mexican drug cartel but their agent goes missing before they can learn more.  References are discovered to something the Mexicans are calling "Noche Del Espantada" ...Fright Night," but can it mean something else? September 11, 2011 and the sun hasn't risen yet in Las Vegas or Nogales. Antioch is in motion! At the border, Noche Del Espantada has begun and there are intruders at De Niro's ranch.It's the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil and unless De Niro and his new team are successful, the day will be known as "The 2nd 9/11."

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed The Watchman of Ephraim, and with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming soon, this novel is certainly a testament to those who lost their lives in one of the most horrific terrorist acts to take place on American soil.  The Watchman begins ten years earlier when Cris De Niro is in New York City to surprise his wife who is pregnant with their third child.  Coming to the realization of how important his family is to him, he buys her flowers and is on his way to the 104th floor when the first plane hits the Tower.  As the terrifying events unfold, they are told with beauty and utmost respect by the author, leaving me breathless.  Even though I watched everything on television as it was happening, the horror and pain came back like it was yesterday, and my heart went out again to all those who lost loved ones that day.  Mr. de Marigny did a wonderful job recreating the shock, fear, and heartbreaking loss of those who experienced the tragedy of 9/11.

Ten years later, Cris is still reeling from the shock of losing his wife through such an act of terrorism, looking for answers that do not come.  As hugely successful hedge-fund investor, he buys a counter-terrorism company in order prevent something like 9/11 from ever happening today.  This is part of the novel I found really fascinating as the author took the reader through some of the steps of setting up such a company, and what kinds of tools would be necessary for such a company to function.  I read with vivid interest all of the scenes between the CEOs and Cris, and how people were recruited to how things were going to be developed.  Usually in novels, the companies are already functioning, or have been running for years, so you don't see this kind of thing.  The characters fit in smoothly with this scenario, and I really enjoyed the dialogue between all of the characters, even when things weren't necessarily functioning smoothly.

While I enjoyed the plotline very much, I did find it somewhat predictable and I definitely was able to predict the ending to the problem.  I would have liked to have seen a little more complicated plotline, and I would have liked the 'mole' so to speak to be a little less out there in the sense that I would have preferred to figure out who it was rather than be in my face.  Other than that, I enjoyed the characters tremendously.  The witty dialogue and fun interactions between the characters kept the novel entertaining, and I do have to admit that I developed a special liking for David, even if he wasn't in the novel for very long.  The Scotch bottle scene had me laughing out loud, and I am still chuckling over it today.  That comic bit of humour amidst the death that took place around the scene is one of the things I enjoyed about this novel.  I do have to admit to frustration at times over things the characters didn't do considering how brilliant they are supposed to be;  why didn't they look up Zamani's picture while they were researching his information?  And how did such brilliant techies miss what was researched on the 'cellphone' as I would have thought that was easy to find? To suddenly find this information at the last moment certainly adds to the suspense, but still...

With several themes flowing through this novel, the main one being the sense of patriotism one has for their country and the safety of those in it.  This is what sends Cris on the path to protecting his fellow citizens and there are some interesting discussions revolving around this topic in this novel; to what extent does one go to protect the innocent citizens of one's country, those who have no political involvement, but may be victims of attacks without their knowing it?  The other strong theme in this novel is loyalty, friendship, and love.  It is great to feel deeply for someone, but how does someone get over the feeling of betrayal for someone when that loved one is dead?  It's an interesting theme, and a sad one as well, one that motivates Cris in everything he does.  I am curious as to how the author deals with these emotions, and with Cris in future novels.  With strong and wonderful writing skills, Mr. de Marigny has created characters that you want to believe in and in whom you want to succeed so that nothing like 9/11 ever happens again.

The Watchman of Ephraim is a great beginning to what promises to be a wonderful series.  This novel is the one that sets up events for future novels, and while it definitely has its tension and suspenseful moments, it was more about introducing us to some very interesting and intriguing characters whom I hope we will definitely see in his next novel, Signs of War, to be released September 2011.
Thursday, August 25, 2011

Interview With Mike Saxton: Author of 7 Scorpions: Rebellion

Curling Up By The Fire is thrilled to welcome Mike Saxton, author of 7 Scorpions: Rebellion.  He is here to discuss his latest project, the 7 Scorpions Trilogy, his inspiration for the project, and reveal any future projects to which his fans can look forward.  I had the pleasure of reviewing 7 Scorpions: Rebellion and if you are interested, you can read my review here

1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you become interested in writing science-fiction novels?

I’m a 34 years young kid. My day job is as an Assistant Dean of Student Life. Don’t be fooled by the title, I like to be in a relaxed work environment and I think it’s important to laugh on the job and in your personal life. I’m currently working on a PhD in Organizational Management. I ask myself every day why I decided to do that. I have been a fan of science fiction since I was 3 and I saw “Empire Strikes Back” in the theater. I finally decided to follow my dream and begin writing. Since I can’t draw or play any type of musical instrument, this is the only form of artistic expression available to me. I am married and I have a wonderful 6 ½ year old son named Christopher who is the light of my life.

2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, 7 Scorpions: Rebellion?
The first of a trilogy, 7 Scorpions: Rebellion introduces a world torn apart by a dictator who describes himself as “hatred incarnate”. 5 months after the Flash Storm wipes out all of the major cities and decimates the armies, plunging the world into chaos, a loan figure returns from exile to fight back against Zodiac’s Grand Army. He teams up with a group of unlikely allies, survivors with hearts of steel. The second book, which is currently being edited to prepare it for release is 7 Scorpions: Revolution. I am in the process of writing the final book of the trilogy, 7 Scorpions: Retribution.

3) What inspired you to write Rebellion? How much research was involved in the writing?
My inspiration came from an unlikely source: lucid dreams. I had a four year period of them pretty much nonstop which began the summer after my Sophomore year of High School and ended the summer after my Sophomore year of college. For the first two years, I didn’t tell anyone about them. I was actually scared out of my mind that they were future predictions. I no longer think that but I do believe they were to serve as a warning. When I finally did tell people about them, they suggested that I put them in novel format. For the 11 years following the end of the dreams, I organized them, filled in holes (as there are many with dreams, they get kind of vague), and outlined the 7 Scorpions trilogy.

I actually did quite a bit of research for this series. I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, so some of the I.T. related concepts are actually reflective of real life (Josh has a habit of forgetting a semicolon when he programs in C, which is actually a problem I had and it really annoyed me so I added it). I have a side interest in quantum physics. In my dreams, the Seekers were lobotomized soldiers that radiated a fear aura. With what I learned about physics and nano technology, I didn’t think it was too farfetched to create the “spider chips” that control them. Other things, such as the plasma beam power plant is an actual experiment that really is going on in Florida. When it comes to traveling distances, I used satellite images through Google Earth and Google maps to track distances and possible obstacles.

4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?
That would definitely have to be filling in the gaps that were left from my dreams. Even stupid little things. For instance, the character Chris Talbot only had a last name in my dreams. Vincent’s past is extremely colorful and I had to separate his time as a cancer infected vigilante from the current time period of a post apocalyptic world where he is a super soldier. Lexi’s fearlessness needed an explanation. I had actually read years ago about someone who had brain damage to the amygdala and couldn’t feel fear so I borrowed that concept and included it as part of her back story. Though that affect is extremely rare, it has actually happened. Eve’s birthing complications virtually mirror the ones that my wife had when Chris was born. I wanted to make the lives of the characters as realistic as possible.

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? I was rather intrigued by Lexi, Vincent, and Josh, as well as Jade.
For me, all the characters really came to life and developed personalities that almost made them seem real. Vincent, with his strange and unique past was probably the most fun. Lexi is a spitfire, having no powers but also no fear, she was enjoyable to write. Jade’s development was also fun. I wanted her to seem like she was just another psycho villain at the beginning then reveal more about her. She has even more development in book 2. When it comes to Josh, well, who wouldn’t like writing about a computer nerd?

6) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
I am usually good with noise and a little boy running around screaming when I’m doing just about anything except when it comes to writing. For me, the scenes come to life in my head and my biggest challenge is moving my fingers fast enough to get it all out. For that, I need concentration. Music helps, typically relaxing meditative music, although sometimes I play rock or metal when it is time for a fight scene because it helps me get pumped up. Finally, it helps if I have something with caffeine in it. I write better when I’m wired.

7) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future? What can fans expect next from you?
7 Scorpions: Revolution is being edited and I hope to have it released soon. I am currently writing the last of the series, 7 Scorpions: Retribution. After that, I have some outlines for some short stories as well as a couple of novels. I haven’t decided which I will pursue first yet since I’m focused on getting 7 Scorpions finished.

8) Favourite authors?
I have read 40 of the Star Wars novels (I even named my cats Padme and Obi-Wan) so my faves are mainly Star Wars authors. Drew Karpyshyn and Timothy Zahn are my favorites there. I also like R.A. Salvatore’s writing quite a bit, especially his descriptive fight scenes. My favorite novel of all time though is “Eyes of the Dragon” by Stephen King as it was the first “adult” novel I ever picked to read for a book report and I finished it in 2 days. Kurt Vonnegut is another great one and I especially liked “Slaughterhouse V”.

9) What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your ultimate luxury?
Spending time with my son is the best. I like to go to the movies, especially these new comic book movies (most of them have been good over the past couple of years). Going to the gym is a bit of a pain, but I like how I feel afterword (other than the sweat). Swimming is also great. I’ve been swimming since I was two. My ultimate luxury is to sit on the patio with my netbook and write or converse with a slightly overcast sky and a cool breeze.

10) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
I’m pretty much a fun loving guy. I like to laugh and I use humor to lighten moods, including my own. I’ve recently joined forces with a group of other authors with a great sense of humor and we call ourselves the Writers of Mass Distraction. We’ve started a website and blog here:

Author Biography
Mike Saxton grew up in Vernon, CT.  After earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science, he went on to earn a Master of Science Degree in Organizational Management.  He is currently pursuing his PhD in Organization and Management.

Mike found his inspiration in his current novels through his lucid dreams.  His first novel, 7 Scorpions: Rebellion is the first in a trilogy, to be followed by Revolution, then Retribution.  He is hoping to one day be able to write full-time.  He lives with his wife Amy, his son Christopher, and two cats, Padme and Obi-Wan.
Mike Saxton's Home Page

Booking Through Thursday - It's All About History Today!!

As anyone who follows my blog will know, history and anthrolopogy are two of my favourite topics.  I tend to go through phases with my reading, but will browse through any bookstore with the intention of looking for historical fiction, historical biographies, and historical texts first and foremost.  What I don't seem to have anymore is the time to really devote myself to them like I used to have.  Unfortunately, my day job, my kiddies, my hubby, and other activities get in the way.

Today's Question: Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.

Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.

My Answer: I love historical biographies and other assorted history texts and constantly browse the libraries and bookstores looking for something interesting to read.  These books are the only books, other than personally signed editions from authors, that I never get rid of, and I have shelves full of history books and novels.  I have one shelf alone dedicated to the French Revolution.  I try to read anything written by David Starkey as I love his biographies.  I also tend to read anything by Antonia Fraser.  And there are a host of others that I read as well.  I also collect books about events and time periods as I find them fascinating.  If I travel somewhere and want to learn more about the places I'm travelling, then I will collect history books about the regions.  I'm just a history buff through and through.  I believe the last historical text I read was, Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone.  Up next is one I have been wanting to read for a while, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman.  While I am interested in anything historical, my real passion is anything to do with the French Revolution first, the working backwards through time.  I did go through a phase where I researched a lot of things about the Black Plague and read a lot of historical accounts about the events surrounding that time period.  I am currently just finishing a fictional novel about another Plague as well. 

I also read a lot of historical fiction and pretty much have since I was a child.  I'm currently reading Queen By Right by Anne Easter Smith, an author I just love. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

WOW: Legacy and The Night Strangers

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.  For book lovers who browse bookstores and the internet, it's a great way to post news about upcoming releases and to add to that ever-growing, never-diminishing wish list that we all have.  But what fun it is to scour those upcoming release lists, isn't it?

by Molly Cochran
Release Date: December 20, 2011

When her widowed father dumps 16-year-old Katy Jessevar in a boarding school in Whitfield, Massachusetts, she has no idea that fate has just opened the door to both her future and her past. Nearly everyone in Whitfield is a witch, as is Katy herself, although she has struggled all her life to hide her unusual talents. Stuck at a boarding school where her fellow studens seem to despise her, Katy soon discovers that Whitfield is the place where her mother commited suicide under mysterious circumstances when Katy was just a small child. With dark forces converging on Whitfield, it's up to Katy to unravel her family's many secrets to save the boy she loves and the town itself from destruction.

The Night Strangers
by Chris Bohjalian
Release Date:  October 4, 2011
In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.

The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain due to double engine failure. The body count? Thirty-nine.

What follows is a riveting ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling, award-winning novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, meticulous research, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply. The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: The Summoner by Layton Green

The Summoner (Dominic Grey, Book #1)
by Layton Green
Release Date: December 8, 2010 (Ebook Version)
March 7, 2011 (Paperback Version)
2011 CreateSpace
E-Book Edition; 301 Pages (95 000 Words)
ISBN: 978-1456546861
Genre: Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
Source: Review Copy from Author

4.5 / 5 Stars

A United States diplomat disappears in front of hundreds of onlookers while attending a religious ceremony in the bushveld of Zimbabwe.

Dominic Grey, Diplomatic Security special agent, product of a violent childhood and a worn passport, is assigned to investigate. Aiding the investigation is Professor Viktor Radek, religious phenomenologist and expert on cults, and Nya Mashumba, the local government liaison.

What Grey uncovers is a terrifying cult older than Western civilization, the harsh underbelly of a country in despair, a demagogic priest seemingly able to perform impossibilities, and the identity of the newest target.

My Thoughts
The Summoner was a fascinating, absorbing read; it was particularly fascinating for me because it took place in Zimbabwe and I learned quite a bit about a culture of which I am not that familiar and I found it quite interesting.  The novel had that little bit of everything, political atmosphere, anthropological and religious discussions, adventure and suspense, and even a bit of romance, at just the right amounts, that made the reading experience fun and captivating.  I really had a hard time putting this one down.

Dominic Grey is a character after my own heart.  Coming from an extremely difficult childhood, he has had to cope with abuse and a lightning-quick temper all of his life.  Finally feeling at home in Zimbabwe, and working for the American Embassy, Dominic still feels constrained by the limits that are imposed upon him, and constantly pushes at those limits in order to get at the truth.  I loved this man's sarcastic wit and tough-guy persona, yet at the same time, he definitely has a vulnerable side that is very much evident as the scenes unfold and with those people who are either unfortunate or helpless. 
The setting of the story is a wonderful one, if one that is tragic as well.  While I follow politics, and know to a limited extent what is happening in Zimbabwe, this novel made it more personal and made the plight of the people that much more tragic.  It is a great example of what a government's greed can do to a country that was once doing well economically, and bring everything crashing down around it in a matter of years.  The large-scale destruction certainly runs through everything that Dominic and Nya do, and while their case may seem to be small-scale in the grand scheme of things, it is hindered by everything and everyone around them.  The descriptions of life in Zimbabwe were very well-written, and while there was no holding back in their forthright nature, there was still an element of hope in their message and in their nature.  The author mentions he spent time in Zimbabwe and the light of the people who live there certainly shone through in his writing.

While there were some elements to the plot that were predictable, and it didn't take me long to figure out who the Babalawo was in the story, there were enough other twists and unpredictable elements that it made this novel extremely interesting and fun to read.  Everyone was keeping enough secrets to keep me seriously interested in the events, and I don't even feel like everything was revealed.  The ending resolved itself satisfactorily, if not to what I expected, but that is the fun of a novel like this, and the unexpected ending was a delightful surprise, at least to me.

The Summoner was an intriguing read that introduced me to some rather interesting and fascinating characters that I hope to re-visit in Layton Green's next novel, The Egyptian.  I enjoyed the descriptions of Zimbabwe and learned a lot about a culture of which I was not wholly familiar and as an intrepid historian and cultural anthropologist, this is something I really enjoy.  With an abundant of research involved in this novel, it is evident that Mr. Green isn't afraid to lay it out on the line, and give us a story that pushes the boundaries of our skepticism and make us really think.   The fast-paced action, abundant twists and turns also make it one of those novels that is difficult to put down, and I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a brilliantly written novel from an author who is able to blend a variety of elements into an engaging whole.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Interview With Gerard de Marigny

I am thrilled to have Gerard de Marigny, author of the political thriller The Watchman of Ephraim, here with me today.  Gerard is here to talk about his his new novel, as well as discuss a few things he has planned for his fans in the future. 

1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?  How did you become interested in writing fiction novels?
Gerard: I think the word that sums my background up best – prior to publishing _The Watchman of Ephraim_ is ‘journeyman.’ Looking back now, I can see that I spent my life searching for the three secrets to a happy life … something to do, something to love and something to hope for. I’ve been blessed – I’ve found all three in my writing, my family and my faith. I became interested in writing novels about 25 years ago. Back then I thought I could pick up where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle left off with Sherlock Holmes. After that I wanted to write novels for the Star Trek series but both aspirations died before I wrote my first real manuscript. It took two decades and my wife’s clear thinking to put me on the path to my ultimate happiness. My wife did it with tough love. In 2009, after seeing me go through the motions at my day job – devoid of satisfaction and becoming pretty depressed over my inability to create art – she finally just said, “Write the damn book already … no more excuses!” haha … not exactly lovey-dovey words but they were words of love and support. I owe my wife so much. I had a few ideas bottled up in me and I began writing the next day … and have never stopped since!

2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, The Watchman of Ephraim?
_The Watchman of Ephraim_ is about a man who loses the love of his life, his soulmate and wife, in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. It tells the story of how he channels his rage and agony of his loss in a positive way. Utilizing an epiphany of faith he dedicates the rest of his life to protecting the citizens of the United States from enemies domestic and abroad. His name is Cris De Niro and he’s from the same tough streets in Brooklyn that I’m from. De Niro is an extraordinary guy. He worked his way up in the financial industry to become one of the youngest, richest men in the world. He’s also an Italian guy. I can tell you … there is no one more passionate than an Italian guy from Brooklyn, New York – and no one more dangerous to underestimate. De Niro acquires a counter-terrorism agency, in order to carry out his new life mandate and renames it ‘The Watchman Agency’ after a Biblical passage. The prophet Hosea talks about “The watchman of Ephraim …” – Ephraim is a symbol of The United States in prophesy. The plot involves an Iranian businessman turned terrorist and his link to a Mexican drug cartel. All relevant topics going on right now. In the end though, the predominant theme revolves around De Niro’s devotion to his deceased wife Lisa. The book is Book One of THE WATCHMAN OF EPHRAIM series.

3) What inspired you to write The Watchman of Ephraim?  How much research was involved in the writing?
I was inspired to write _TWOE_ from a personal experience. My wife and I lost a dear friend, Danny Afflitto, in the North Tower of the Trade Center on 9/11. Danny’s wife Stacey and my wife are dear friends. We were with Stacey when she watched the tower collapse, taking her husband with it. Even as a writer, I can’t find words that can fully express all the feelings from that moment. I was left feeling totally helpless … no way to help Stacey … no way to help all those other people. All of them someone’s spouse or child or parent or friend. I wanted to create a character that felt the agony that the families and friends of victims of 9/11 felt. All of the frustration and anger … and utter sadness from loss. I wanted the character to feel all those things but then to be able to do – what none of us could do – I wanted the character to take action, to fight the bad guys … to win. Cris De Niro gets to do what we can’t do … he does it for us! With respect to the sensitive nature of the 9/11 catastrophe, I was very careful to reconstruct the events exactly as they happened. Two French brothers who were shooting a documentary on a local firehouse happened to capture the event on tape. I studied their documentary for over a month alone. The entire novel took four months to research. I’m anal about details being correct. Locations, times, dates, distances, weapons, gadgets … even down to food and drink – I have to get it all spot on or else I wouldn’t enjoy reading it. That’s the stuff I love about Tom Clancy novels and W.E.B. Griffin novels – my two favorite thriller authors.

4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?
The greatest challenge was getting the first two chapters correct. The first two chapters deal explicitly with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. I always considered that _TWOE_ could end up as a sort of historical document, if I recreated the situation accurately. I did. I hope the families and friends of victims of the terrorist attack read the book and feel some kinship with Cris De Niro. I want them all to be able to vent some of their pain and I also want to introduce the rest of the world to the intimacy of the event – through De Niro’s eyes. Taking it all together – not an easy thing to do – especially for a new author.

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?
The most fun to write about is easy … the character’s name (and he certainly is a character) is David Nicholls. He’s a character that I originally created as a friendly gesture towards a British friend of mine – the real David Nicholls. The Nicholls character was originally intended to appear in only one line of the first chapter but so many people that know both me and David in the social networking universe got wind of it and soon the skinny was that Nicholls was a main character in the book. I was about to set everyone straight when once again my wife Lisa came to me and said, “I like the idea that you’re gonna add a quirky character to the story.” I trust my wife implicitly so I expanded Nicholls into the storyline. If you can believe – after _TWOE_ was published this January, I began receiving ‘fan mail’ for David Nicholls! Haha … no kidding. Readers were coming telling me that he was one of their most enjoyable characters. My wife will tell you that her favorite character is Nicholls. All of the messages I received all said the same thing too, “… can’t wait to read more about him in the next book!” So, I had to add David Nicholls to the sequel, _Signs of War_. I actually think its kinda cool now – I created a beloved character … without actually intending to. The biggest challenge was the turncoat character, Les Pastak. It’s easier for me to write plain good guys or bad guys, but Pastak was basically a greedy imbecile – not really evil, per se. I found it challenging at times to express him in those terms.

6)  What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
Let’s see … 1-Fast internet access. I research continually … everything. It’s not unusual for me to have a dozen windows open on my laptop, all within Google; 2-For this series, I need the copies of the other books right next to me. So far, that just means having a copy of _The Watchman of Ephraim_ next to me, for reference; 3-And probably the most important, I need to have a clear vision of the story. I write similar to the way Nikola Tesla invented – I ‘see’ the entire story in my head. If any part of the storyline is hazy to me – I need to sleep on it and allow the little grey cells to rest. I’m unable to continue writing though unless I’ve solved the plot kinks. Writing rituals … yikes, yes I do! Actually too many – I have a tendency to want to have everything ‘taken care of’ before I write – from personal stuff like bill paying and email reading to tracking _TWOE’s rankings and sales. I follow the teachings of a great writer and mentor, Dean Wesley Smith who teaches that, in order to establish a career as a novel writer – I need to write three to four novels per year. Figuring that it took my entire lifetime to turn out my first manuscript and nine months to write _TWOE_ from soup to nuts, I know I have to work on eliminating distractions. Some of my rituals have to go.

7) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future? What can fans expect next from you?
I’m completing the sequel to _TWOE_ as we speak. It’s called _Signs of War_ and it will be published in September (2011). I’ll immediately start on the third novel in the TWOE series and am shooting to have that one out by December (2011). I have the outline for that book already, so we’ll see if I can pull off three novels in 2011. After that, there’s a fantasy/adventure series that I had come up with before TWOE that I might attempt to write in ’12 along with a couple more TWOE novels. As Master Yoda once said though, "Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future." So, we’ll see.

8) Favourite authors?
The most influential authors on my writing career have been W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Shakespeare … I know, a bit of an eclectic bunch.

9) What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your ultimate luxury?
The three most important aspects of my life are my faith, my family and my friends. The rest of life, to me, is just noise. If I’m not writing, I’m with my boys doing something or out with my wife or bending an arm at a local pub with friends.Ultimate luxury … hmm … my ultimate luxuries are those that I can bestow on my wife and boys. Their happiness from stuff like my wife’s ‘Bling-Mobile’ and Kindle to the boys X-Box360 and PSP’s are my greatest luxuries.

10) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
Just to say thank you to you, Stephanie, for affording me the opportunity to introduce myself to your friends and followers here – and to say thank you to everyone who took the time to read this Q&A. Hey, if anyone wants to reach me, I’m always available by email: or my social networks listed below.Peace All!

Author Biography
Gerard de Marigny is author of the political thriller, _The Watchman of Ephraim_. He lives in the beautiful foothills surrounding Las Vegas, NV with his lovely wife Lisa and their four sons. When he's not writing he can be found spending time with his family or bending an arm with friends at the local pub.

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