Friday, May 31, 2013
Heather Bregman is a columnist. She has traveled all over the world. Her boyfriend is her publicist. After returning from her latest travels, Heather realizes that she wants more out of her life and she would like to go some place quieter. So she packs up and leaves and heads to Nagog.
I thought that this book was a sweet one. It did start out slow for me. Also, I felt somewhat disconnected with Victoria and Heather in the beginning. More Victoria then I did Heather. With Heather I knew what she was about and why she was wanting a new start. Which by the way kudos to her. She needed to get away from her boyfriend.
Victoria it took me a little longer to get attached to. This is because I was trying to learn what she was all about. Why she left and why all her friends were not talking to her.
As I got further into the book, I liked it. The other characters were charming and fun. Although I found them nice, I just could not fully commit to them or the rest of the book. I sadly had to put this book down after a while. I did flip through the book and opened it at a random spot and read a little bit of that section. It seemed like things got better and Victoria and Heather got to be friends. So even though this book may not have won me over you should still check it out for yourself as you just might enjoy it.
When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free? About the Author Maryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.
Praise for CASCADE
"The protagonist is Desdemona Hart, a woman drowning in the choices she's been forced to make: a marriage of necessity to save her father's legacy and put a roof over his head as he dies......trouble escalates, and so will the rate at which you turn the pages. Cascade is perfect for sitting by the fire on a chilly day contemplating the immutability of things." --Slate: 2012 Best Books, Staff Picks
"When state engineers created the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s, four Central Massachusetts towns disappeared beneath the waters. In her debut novel, Cascade, Ashland resident Maryanne O'Hara chronicles the fate of one such (fictionalized) town and its inhabitants, notably Desdemona Hart Spaulding, an ambitious artist trapped in a loveless marriage. O'Hara, a former Ploughshares fiction editor, shapes her protagonist's story to pose questions like: If art is not lastingly valuable, what is? Ponder that over your next glass of tap water." --Boston Globe, Best of the New, 2012
"Gorgeously written and involving, Cascade explores the age-old conflict between a woman’s perceived duty and her deepest desires, but in O’Hara’s skilled hands the struggle feels fresh and new." --People Magazine
About the Author
Maryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.
What do you find fascinating about writing historical novels?
Researching and discovering fascinating information and vivid details that will help to bring a time period alive for the reader.
What comes first...the plot or the characters?
Stories start with some kind of idea, with vague characters attached. For example, in Cascade, I was fascinated by the idea that you could dismantle an entire town and say that it no longer existed. I wondered what it would be like to live in such a town. I wondered what it would be like to be an artist in the town, trying to create works of art that would hopefully matter, would hopefully last. I liked something that the Boston Globe wrote: O’Hara shapes her protagonist’s story to pose questions like: If art is not lastingly valuable, what is? Ponder that over your next glass of tap water.
How long did it take you to write Cascade?
Cascade started with a short story idea about artists in New York in the 1930s. It fizzled as a short story, but I returned to the topic a few years later. I wrote the novel, on and off, over a long period of time, but basically, I completed a rough draft in 2004, committed to it in 2006, finished it in 2010, sold it in 2011, published it in 2012, and suddenly it’s 2013 !
What was your inspiration behind writing Cascade?
I wanted to commemorate the fact that our government, for the first time, back in the 1930s, had decided that putting artists to work was just as important as putting bridge builders to work. “Art was for everyone” was a new idea at the time. That was the inspiration, but the novel became much more than that.
What will your next book be about?
It’s about people dealing with internal dilemmas. Until a plot is clear, stories are hard to describe. Thank you for having me on your blog!
To win a copy just leave your email address. US. Winner will be picked June 10th.
Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #CascadeVirtualTour
Thursday, May 30, 2013
SYNOPSIS: From the author of The Book of Lost Fragrances comes a haunting novel about a grieving woman who discovers the lost journal of novelist Victor Hugo, awakening a mystery that spans centuries.
In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.
Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.
What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.
About the Author
Here is the link to my review.
Excerpt from SEDUCTION - From Chapter 5
With nothing to distract me but the ink flowing onto the paper, the walls of my resistance crumbled in these sessions. The rules of logic relaxed. I opened my mind to the possibilities of the night, to the magic of the dark, to unfathomable ideas that had been presented to me.
“They fathomed principle; they attached themselves to right. They longed for the absolute, they caught glimpses of the infinite realisations; the absolute, by its very rigidity, pushes the mind towards the boundless, makes it float in the illimitable. There is nothing like dream to create the future. Utopia today, flesh and blood tomorrow.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
About Spartacus: Rebellion
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
St. Martin's Press
Spartacus has already done the impossible—not only has he escaped from slavery, he and his seconds have created a mighty slave army that has challenged Rome and defeated the armies of three praetors, two consuls, and one proconsul. On the plain of the River Po, in modern Northern Italy, Spartacus has defeated Gaius Cassius Longinus, proconsul and general of an army of two legions. Now the road home lies before them—to Thrace for Spartacus, and to Gaul for his seconds-in-command, Castus and Gannicus.
But storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. One of Spartacus's most powerful generals has defected, taking his men with him. Back in Rome, the immensely rich Marcus Licinius Crassus is gathering an unheard-of Army. The Senate has given Crassus an army made up of ten legions and the authority to do whatever it takes to end the slave rebellion once and for all.
Meanwhile, Spartacus wants to lead his men over the Alps and home, but his two seconds have a different plan. They want to march on Rome itself and bring the Republic to its knees. Rebellion has become war. War to the death.
Praise for Spartacus: Rebellion
"The author comes into his own during the numerous battle scenes when his burly prose highlights the pain, brutality and chaos of ancient combat. Kane's Spartacus is brave, vain, ruthless and sexy, a Superman for more savage times. The author is genuinely deserving of praise for taking on this mighty subject matter in such a bold and regularly entertaining fashion. Admirers of Kane's work to date will not be disappointed and there's every chance this latest instalment will attract plenty more." (Daily Express )
"Kane succeeds in drawing a convincing picture of how it might have been, which is what a good historical novel should do." (Historical Novel Society )
Praise for Spartacus: The Gladiator
Gritty, passionate and violent, this thrilling book is a real page-turner and a damn good read. It brings Spartacus - and ancient Rome - to vivid, colourful life (Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of Gates of Fire )
Ben Kane manages to bring a freshness to the saga ... Told with Kane's usual panache and historical knowledge, this book is highly recommended (Kathy Stevenson, Daily Mail )
Eyes are merciless, blows are wicked and screams are piercing, but this is a compulsive if relentless story, vividly recounted in muscular prose. Definitely one for the boys (Daily Telegraph, 4 stars )
If you want to become familiar with the lanista and the rudus, to know your scutum from your licium, then Kane's your man ... plenty of action (Independent )
There is much to enjoy in this saga of the downtrodden triumphing temporarily over their oppressors, and the portrait of Spartacus as charismatic leader is a vivid one (Sunday Times)
I had just recently finished watching Spartacus on Starz when I picked up a copy of Spartacus: Rebellion to read. I have not read the first book but you don’t have to have read the first one to thoroughly enjoy this one.
I really was pleased to read this book because of having just finishing watching Spartacus. I was still craving my Spartacus fix. Mr. Kane satisfied it for me with this book. It is easy to see and experience Mr. Kane’s love for military history. He writes with such passion. I thought that he did a good job of portraying Spartacus’s last part of his life as he and his rebels fought against Marcus Crassus and Caesar.
If you are familiar with Spartacus then you are aware that there is blood and guts and foul language. This is just the way that things happened…war is ugly. This is what I liked about this book. Mr. Kane does not stray away from any of this which really makes this book feel realistic like I was there fighting along side Spartacus and his men.
About the Author
Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon from University College Dublin, and worked in Ireland and the UK for several years. After that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for seeing the world and learning more about ancient history. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he decided to settle down, for a while at least.
While working in Northumberland in 2001/2, his love of ancient history was fuelled by visits to Hadrian's Wall. He naïvely decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of working full time at two jobs - being a vet and writing. Retrospectively, this was an unsurprising development, because since his childhood, Ben has been fascinated by Rome, and particularly, its armies. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has sensibly given up veterinary medicine to write full time.
To find out more about Ben and his books visit
Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #SpartacusRebellionTour
After hearing of his daughter’s death, Victor Hugo starts communicating with the dead. Hoping to bring him closer to his daughter. However the dead are not just satisfied with talking. They want more. Particularly one known as the Shadow of the Sepulcher.
Jac is contacted by a friend. Her friend has found some Celtic ruins. Jac travels to the Isle of Jersey. There Jac uncovers the secret behind who the Shadow of the Sepulcher was and what he wanted with Victor.
It was great to see Jac again who appeared from book four in this series, The Book of the Lost Fragrances. I enjoyed reading The Book of the Lost Fragrances. Seduction is a nice tie in from the prior novel. However if you have not read the prior novel, don’t despair as you can still read Seduction as a stand alone novel.
One thing that I can always count on with M.J. Rose is her storytelling. She makes all of her characters and their stories come alive. She is like one of the only authors that I can think of that can find that great balance between the past and the present. Usually I am drawn more to the past tense then the present.
The way that Victor became obsessed with communicating with the spirits was creepy. It was almost like I could feel the air change in the room and hear the howl of the phantom dog. I was seduced by Seduction.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
JD’s life gets turned upside down quickly when he finds a body. His private investigator side kicks into full gear.
Another new author to me in Dan Fante. Mr. Fante really brings the grittiness and pure sinister evil in this book and the characters. If you are looking for a new author to read then you should check out Point Doom.
JD is a flawed character but this is what I liked the most about him. What I mean by this is what JD has a temper and been knocked down and is currently down on his luck. However this is all of the things that make him more personable and I can connect with him in this book.
Be warned if you are easily offended by language and gruesome dismemberment. There is a fair share of both of these elements in this book. Point Doom deserves a spot on your bookshelf or on any of your electronic reading devices.
Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.
Together Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers... A CONVERSATION WITH DEBORAH HARKNESS
Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list with publications following in 37 countries. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for A Discovery of Witches? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?
A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in Diana’s world.
Q: Last summer, Warner Brothers acquired screen rights to the trilogy, and David Auburn, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer of Proof, has been tapped to pen the screenplay. Are you looking forward to your novels being portrayed on the big screen? What are your favorite casting ideas that you’ve heard from friends and readers?
A. I was thrilled when Warner Brothers wanted to translate the All Souls trilogy from book to screen. At first I was reluctant about the whole idea of a movie, and it actually took me nearly two years to agree to let someone try. The team at Warner Brothers impressed me with their seriousness about the project and their commitment to the characters and story I was trying to tell. Their decision to go with David Auburn confirmed that my faith in them was not misplaced. As for the casting, I deliberately don’t say anything about that! I would hate for any actor or actress to be cast in one of these roles and feel that they didn’t have my total support. I will say, however, that many of my readers’ ideas involve actors who have already played a vampire and I would be very surprised if one of them were asked to be Matthew!
Q: SHADOW OF NIGHT opens on a scene in 1590s Elizabethan England featuring the famous School of Night, a group of historical figures believed to be friends, including Sir Walter Raleigh and playwright Christopher Marlowe. Why did you choose to feature these individuals, and can we expect Diana and Matthew to meet other famous figures from the past?
A. I wrote my master’s thesis on the imagery surrounding Elizabeth I during the last two decades of her reign. One of my main sources was the poem The Shadow of Night by George Chapman—a member of this circle of fascinating men—and that work is dedicated to a mysterious poet named Matthew Roydon about whom we know very little. When I was first thinking about how vampires moved in the world (and this was way back in the autumn of 2008 when I was just beginning A Discovery of Witches) I remembered Roydon and thought “that is the kind of identity a vampire would have, surrounded by interesting people but not the center of the action.” From that moment on I knew the second part of Diana and Matthew’s story would take place among the School of Night. And from a character standpoint, Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, and the other men associated with the group are irresistible. They were such significant, colorful presences in Elizabethan England.
Q: In SHADOW OF NIGHT, we learn more about the alchemical bonds between Diana and Matthew. In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research. What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading SHADOW OF NIGHT?
A. Whereas A Discovery of Witches focused on the literature and symbolism of alchemy, in Shadow of Night I’m able to explore some of the hands-on aspects of this ancient tradition. There is still plenty of symbolism for Diana to think about, but in this volume we go from abstractions and ideals to real transformation and change—which was always my intention with the series. Just as we get to know more about how Elizabethan men and women undertook alchemical experiments, we also get to see Matthew and Diana’s relationship undergo the metamorphosis from new love to something more.
Q: SHADOW OF NIGHT spans the globe, with London, France, and Prague as some of the locales. Did you travel to these destinations for your research?
A. I did. My historical research has been based in London for some time now, so I’ve spent long stretches of time living in the City of London—the oldest part of the metropolis—but I had never been to the Auvergne or Prague. I visited both places while writing the book, and in both cases it was a bit like traveling in time to walk village lanes, old pilgrim roads, and twisting city streets while imagining Diana and Matthew at my side.
Q: Did you have an idea or an outline for SHADOW OF NIGHT when you were writing A Discovery of Witches? Did the direction change once you sat down to write it?
A. I didn’t outline either book in the traditional sense. In both cases I knew what some of the high points were and how the plot moved towards the conclusion, but there were some significant changes during the revision process. This was especially true for SHADOW OF NIGHT, although most of those changes involved moving specific pieces of the plot forward or back to improve the momentum and flow.
Q: A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, whose secrets Diana and Matthew are still trying to uncover in SHADOW OF NIGHT. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation. What was the story behind your discovery? And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?
A. I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.
Q: Are there other lost books like this in the world?
A. Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.
Q: Unlike Twilight’s Bella and Edward—hormonal teenagers who meet in the halls of a high school—your leading characters Matthew and Diana are established academics who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. This is a world where vampires and witches drink wine together, practice yoga and discuss philosophy. Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?
A. There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches. US only. Up for grabs is a copy of this book and a set of these buttons to go with the book. Just leave a comment with email address. Giveaway ends June 5th.
You Cannoli Die Once is an appetizing, entertaining book that will bring a smile to your face and laughter.
You Cannoli Die Once is the first book in the Miracolo mystery series from author, Shelley Costa. I thought that this was a fun, good cozy mystery. I have a co-worker that is Italian and she is one of the nicest people I know. Having said this, I am glad that I don’t have to get familiar with the Italian side too much when they get upset or really animated while talking.
This is what I liked the most about this book was the Italian side of the characters. They kept things entertaining. As well as the other characters. They were eccentric. My only issue is that there were so many characters coming at me all at the same time and I was trying to get to know them so it was confusing to get them all straight in my head. Trying to figure out which ones are going to stay and which were just there for a brief appearance in this book. This series is a good start to what will be a fun series. You Cannoli Die Once is an appetizing, entertaining book that will bring a smile to your face and laughter.
Set mostly in Paris, it recaptures an era of literary salons, chauffeured motorcars and veiled meetings in secret cafés, the devastating Paris Flood of 1910, and the dark beginnings of World War I.
I have 2 copies to giveaway. US only. Just leave a comment with your email address. Contest ends June 5th
I did find this book to be a good one. Nonetheless it was a little hard to navigate with all the jumping around from the different time spans. There was like three time periods. The one where Peter met Amanda, the present, and the past. It was not so hard to get it all straight when the beginning of each chapter told you what time period. It was during the middle of the chapter for example when it would start with Peter and Amanda and then stop and go to the present for about another page or page and a half and then jump back to the past. After a while I found my grove and the jumping around did not distract as much from the story.
I like the mystery surround Shakespeare in this book. It made this book more intriguing and not turn out to be dull and boring. Peter is a likable guy. The way this story all came together was like watching one of Shakespeare’s plays. The Bookman’s Tale is a book that you will want to check out again and again
I have 1 copy to giveaway. U.S. only. Leave a comment with your email address. Contest ends June 6th
Monday, May 27, 2013
Lucy Silchester is receiving notes from someone that she would rather avoid. It is Life. Yes, Life keeps sending Lucy notes. One of the notes says ”Dear Lucy Silchester, you have an appointment for Monday, July 27, 2011. Yours sincerely, Life.“
Lucy avoids meeting with Life until she can not avoid him any longer. Yep, Life is standing at Lucy’s front door.
I never read Ms. Ahern’s popular, P.S. I Love You book that was turned into a movie. I did see the movie and liked it. So I decided to give Ms. Ahern a try with this book. Who would not want to know what “life” has to say to you. I can think of pros and cons to this question.
Life could tell me where I am failing at and correct me.
Life would be like my personal fortune teller.
Life and me would get to be better friends.
Having Life around all the time telling me things could get annoying.
Sometimes it would be nice to have some mystery.
Who wants Life staring at you all the time.
I really wished that I could have known what type of person “Life” really was in Lucy’s life. Just from the little bit that I did get to know of Life, I think he was a no excuses type of guy. I never got to know him well because Lucy turned me off. What with all of her bad attitude and her constant lies. I tried to get past it but after a while I just couldn’t and had to put this book down.
Even though these stories were short by just a few pages, they are still very emotional. I have to say one of my favorite stories not that it is easy to have a favorite when they are all good but still one that really put a smile on my face was a story featured in the Korean War. It is called 1000 men and a baby. It just goes to show you that even when there is a war going on that people can band together to save the innocent ones. Who grow up to never forget the ones who saved their lives. There were many times when I found myself teary-eyed. For anyone who like to read military stories then Stories in Uniform would make the perfect gift.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Mick O’Malley lost his wife a little over two years ago. They got into an argument and she was drunk. Mick lives next door to Abby’s parents. He is working on fixing their roof.
This book sounded like a charming read. I need these types of books every once in a while to break up my routine of reading mysteries. Sadly this book did not jive with me. I got about three chapters in and then put this book down and walked away from it for a long time. I did pick it back up to give it a second chance. As much as I wanted to like this book I just could not get into it or the characters. Abby was a little too boring and complaining too much. Mick did not even come off as the good guy next door. Even when he was trying to push Abby’s buttons it did not come off as fun banter.
I like these types of books of espionage/international thriller. However I have strayed away from these books for a while. Only because the last few I read were just ok. Mr. Lebor has renewed my faith in this genre.
Yael is one of the coolest people that I have met. She really can kick butt. I like her take charge attitude. While I did like the other storyline involving the news reporter that was tying into the whole overall story, I did not connect with the other characters as much. None the less, I still enjoyed reading this book. There was lots of fast moving action to keep me interested until the end. This book is a fast read.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Detective Kudu and his new partner, Samantha Khama investigate the disappearances of the two girls. What they find is a witch doctor that is making muti out of human remains.
Deadly Harvest is my first introduction to a detective Kubu mystery and the writing duo of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip as Michael Stanley. I have to say that after reading this book I am very impressed by this duo. This book was way better then I thought it would be. Mr. Sears and Mr. Trollip have developed a good formula for their writing. I could not tell where one left off and the other one began.
I like detective Kubu. However another person I was drawn to was his new partner, Samantha. Samantha helped to bring the human aspect to this story. Whereas Kubu was the more level headed one and could bring good insight with his experience as well.
The storyline featured in this book was scary. I can picture this exact situation still happening in some parts of the world. Thus this is another reason why I was so intrigued in reading this book. Don’t let your chance slip away without reading Deadly Harvest!
Friday, May 24, 2013
First she will need some help. She tracks down Michael, a friend of Joe’s that is fighting in the war.
Children of the Underground is the second book in the Children of Paranoia series. I absolutely loved the first book, Children of Paranoia. So I was really amped to read the second book. While I was not in love with this book I still enjoyed reading this book. The way this series is developing as the war rages on is really exciting.
I got to know more about the each side and why and what they were fighting for. Maria became a front runner in this book. She was strong and became a fighter. I have a warning “ Don’t mess with a mother and her child.” The excitement level was high however it did start out a little slow for me. Some of this might have had to do with I had to re-familiarize myself with this series. I read the short sneak peek to the third book, Children of the Uprising and I have to say I can not wait to read about Christopher.
When Liz’s ex-husband plans to stage her suicide by pushing her off the balcony of her high-rise home in order to collect on a life insurance policy, he topples to his death instead. When the police arrive, Liz, the potential victim, becomes the prime murder suspect. She meets Pittsburgh Police Detective Jim Shannon, who may threaten her freedom or possibly gain her love. Her swirling feelings are complicated by the simultaneous appearance of a talented, familiar-looking intern at her workplace. Although Liz is finished with a past that included a botched meeting with her biological father, the past is not done with her, for the intern and Shannon link to that past. Internal conflict is soon compounded by external threats created by her ex-husband’s mother as well as someone seeking revenge on Shannon and his fellow detective. Will Liz be destroyed by this vortex, or will she use the crisis to open the door to a second chance at love and family?
About the Author:
Val Stasik shares a home in eternally sunny Santa Fe, NM, with her aging mixed terrier, Sugar, who allows her to sleep in his queen-size bed as well as sharpen her culinary skills for his benefit. Stasik spent many years as a writing teacher, helping other writers find their voice and tell their stories, and is a consultant for the Northern Virginia Writing Project. INCIDENTAL DAUGHTER is Stasik’s debut novel.
Stasik studied drama and English at the University of Pittsburgh and then transferred to the University of Maryland, College Park, graduating with high honors and a B.S. in Secondary Education, Communication. The year she attended graduate school was filled with student protests, bomb threats, and military helicopters.
Stasik became an editorial assistant for THE PHARMACOLOGIST in Bethesda. She then moved to Harpers Ferry where she taught for five years and participated in the Old Opera House Theatre onstage and behind the scenes.
In Harrisburg, PA, she became a groom and mutuels clerk at Penn National Race Track and, later, a commercial lines underwriter for Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company. Right before her son was born, Three Mile Island happened. So far, neither glows in the dark.
In Virginia, Stasik enjoyed the enriching experience of teaching writing and literature in the Loudoun County Public School system, instructed other teachers in assessing student writings, and helped develop various English curricula. She also participated in the Fauquier Community Theatre on and off stage. From 2002-2004, she developed a part-time hypnosis practice. She then retired to Santa Fe where she has been writing—a few film scripts that have been produced (Café Destiny, on the Web, Spring 2013, www.cafe-destiny.com ) and a couple of award-winning play scripts.
Stasik is currently a member of the New Mexico Book Association, the New Mexico Book Co-Op; Southwest Writers; the Independent Book Publishers Association; the Small Publishers’ Association of North America; the Small Publishers, Artists, and Writers Network; and Pennwriters.
Visit her website
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I lived in Pittsburgh until I was twenty and have lived in Maryland; Harpers Ferry; Harrisburg, PA; and Virginia. I’ve been an editorial assistant, a commercial lines insurance underwriter, a racetrack groom and mutuels clerk, and a teacher. I’ve also dabbled in theater. I took early retirement from teaching a few years ago and moved from Virginia to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve never looked back. In addition to Incidental Daughter, I’ve written a couple of film scripts and award-winning play scripts during this time. However, I’ve been writing since I was in the seventh grade.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
When I was quite young, my grandmother regularly took me to the movie theater. This was the era of double features and some truly great films. I was enchanted with the medium and decided that I wanted to become an actress. When I was in seventh grade, we had an English teacher who encouraged us to write, and I fell in love with creating stories and characters. As a result, I vacillated between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be an actress throughout the rest of my life.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My friend Sunny Fader, who has spent her entire life writing and producing documentaries, has encouraged me to keep writing, telling me I had the talent to produce a good read. She has offered me helpful criticism and pointed out all the things she found good in my writing. A few years ago, we co-wrote a short film script. I have learned a great deal from her.
What inspired you to write Incidental Daughter?
Growing up, I learned there were a few of us who might be termed WWII collateral damage—the offspring of women and innocent young men who went off to war. None of these women expected to become mothers; the stresses and uncertainties of war spurred them to compassion for the men who feared they would not return. Some men did not return, but others did. A few mothers, because of a feeling of betrayal or for whatever reason, chose to turn their backs on the men who in one night had drastically changed their lives.
Some of the children of these single mothers grew up to live normal lives while others faced challenges that either crippled them or honed them into very successful people. The years following WWII harbored secrecy; many of these children were told their fathers died in the war. When they grew old enough to see through the lie, they could still elicit very little information about their fathers. Such were the times.
In Incidental Daughter, I chose to tell the story of one child, Liz Michaels, who overcame her trials with the help of compassionate friends. I decided to explore what might happen if at the peak of her career, she loses a child and her marriage fails. Then I decided to throw in a few curves from the past that could ironically lead to the love and family that has always been out of reach. I’ve been asked if this story is autobiographical. No, it’s pure fiction, but many born into the same circumstances as Liz will see themselves in it and, perhaps, be inspired.
Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?
Incidental Daughter is the story of publisher Liz Michaels, born Liz Migielski, who, through a series of incidents surrounding her ex-husband’s death, comes to terms with a past filled with abandonment. In doing so, she finds the family and the love of an honorable man that has eluded her for so long.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
Women’s fiction and romantic suspense seemed the best way to tell this story. I had difficulty deciding how to classify it because it involves so many themes—family, abandonment, the loyalty of friends, the pain of losing a child, a failed marriage, discrimination, a crime, the paranormal, success despite the odds, and love.
What was your greatest challenge writing this book?
The analytical left brain (the part I’ve personified as “Lefty”) gets in the way of the early stages of my writing and slows me down. It takes me a long time to get out a first draft because of this interference. There’s a time for Lefty in the later stages of the writing process when analysis helps weed out what gets in the way of the plot and pacing and what needs to be added or changed.
Do you write an outline before every book you write?
I have struggled with creating detailed outlines and often found them to be so confining that it stops my writing (My left brain can really get in the way when I should be allowing my Muse to create the story). I generally keep notes as plot ideas occur to me (I “percolate” the story even when I’m not writing). I find it more helpful to keep a very loose outline and focus in detail on character development including character interviews. It’s the characters who drive the plot after all.
How did you come up with the title?
My critique group and I brainstormed several titles. My working title was The Boating Party because of the protagonist’s fascination with the Mary Cassatt painting of the same name. It represented family to her. I then ran a contest asking people to vote on the title that appealed to them the most. (I randomly selected three winners from the pool of entrants.) The majority of entrants voted for our favorite, Incidental Daughter. The protagonist has been incidental to so many people in her life.
How did your book get published?
There is a revolution happening in publishing these days that gives an author more creative control and bigger royalties—self-publishing. I found the process quite challenging and would not recommend it to every author. I had the support of an exceptional critique group, beta readers, editing help, and used a print-on-demand company that was best for me (CreateSpace). I was able to create my own cover and design the interior myself. I enjoy the graphic side of the process. The real work, however, is promoting the novel. It’s as much work as writing the book. I find, though, that other authors who have gone the traditional route or hired PR people if they’ve self-published are doing as much as I am and are not as happy with the results. I have enjoyed every stage of writing and publishing—learning all the aspects of publishing, developing new skills, and sharing my knowledge with fellow authors. I will definitely continue self-publishing.
What are your current projects?
Most people would say I’m shooting myself in the foot with my next project and that I should continue to build my platform by writing in the same genre. However, true to my habit of rebelling against expectations, my next novel will be a young adult science fiction novel, working title Catching Air. Young Chet Hain, saddled with phobias because of a car accident that took the lives of his older brother and later his father when they were driving him to a skateboarding contest, must, seven years later, deal with the mystery of who is watching his home. His discovery of the mystery watcher leads him into a world where appearances are not what they seem, where a powerful and dangerous conspiracy continually strives to derail research and development into free energy. There will likely be a sequel to this book.
What is your favourite genre and why?
I enjoy reading mysteries, especially the works of James Lee Burke. I also enjoy paranormal and science fiction novels. I plan to write more young adult sci-fi and paranormal novels in the future. I like to read books that make me think. I want to write really good YA sci-fi and paranormal novels because these genres are open to whatever your imagination can conjur. Also too many YA books seem to talk down to this audience. They are more sophisticated than many adults realize.
What themes do you like to explore in your writing?
How fear motivates negative choices. Family relationships. Secrets. Misconceptions. Narcissism. Social classes. Conspiracies (in my next novel).
What do you think makes a good story?
A good story moves, and as one famous writer says, leaves out the parts readers would skip. It needs to create suspense and surprises so that the reader keeps reading and wanting more. It should have intriguing characters who capture the reader, characters the reader can love or hate. And the details should be so vivid that the reader feels a part of the world of the book.
Do you have any suggestions to help one become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Do some amateur acting. You will learn a great deal about character motivation, dialogue, and the action and reaction dynamic between characters. In addition, physically participating in the unfolding of a story with a live audience may instill an instinctive sense of story in you that will help with plotting. Read and write poetry. Focusing on imagery will carry over into your prose writing, making word choices to convey vivid details easier. Read as a writer; read the good, the bad, and the mediocre. You’ll learn something from all of them. Be open to criticism, but allow yourself to be the final judge of what’s right for your story. Write many, many drafts and use Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King before you send your manuscript to an agent or out to someone for editing. You’ll save yourself a lot of embarrassment if you follow their advice.
If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?
Something I wish I’d done was to begin promoting my book long before I published it. I think building expectations before the book comes out goes a long way to ensure that you have a ready audience once the book is out.
Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
Visit me at
I have 1 copy to giveaway. US. Leave me a comment with your email address. Contest Ends June 1
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Helen and Rachel McCallister are sisters. They only have each other now that their parents are gone. For years Helen has been jealous of Rachel and her beauty. Due to Rachel’s blindness, she can not tell any different what Helen is telling her when she tells Rachel that she is ugly. Helen’s lies grow when she creates this world around Roam filled with flesh eating birds and other monsters. However Helen could never know what her story was actually doing to Rachel until Rachel makes an announcement that will change both of their lives.
I was curious about this book. I thought I would give it a chance. Wow, I am so glad that I did. I almost missed out on a great book. I found myself not reading this book fast enough. What with life getting in the way!
I can not imagine depending on someone like Helen. She was so bitter towards Rachel. However I am glad that as the story went on Helen did turn a new leaf and became a better person and one that I actually liked. Due to Helen’s meanness towards Rachel I instantly liked Rachel.
There are two stories happening in this book. There is the one involving Rachel and Helen and then there is the other one involving Elijah and his slave Ming Kai. This story was just as captivating. It was fascinating to get to learn how Roam was discovered and got to be the place it was. The Kings and Queens of Roam is a book not to be missed! It is filled with lots of wonderful characters and a magical place.
The Last Girl is my first time reading what author, Jane Casey has to offer. I have to say that she does offer some good things. While I was not over the moon with this book, I still found it an enjoyable read.
It is because I was not that excited about the characters. So I did not really care who the murder was and what their motive was for committing the crimes. Also, the pace of the story was steady which did translate to a little slow at times. I like Maeve. She can hold her own with the guys and she is smart. The way she investigates a case is good. I feel that she can get the job done and do a good through job of solving it. I will go back and check out this author’s other prior novels.
This book is creepy but memorizing at the same time. It was like I was really reading the journal of a mad but brilliant man. I say brilliant because Dr. Black although he may have turned into a monster in the name of science he still was trying to further investigate and research all that science had to offer.
When Dr. Black started creating his own blend of monsters in his lab and the results that was scary. However I was also intrigued by them as well. As you can tell I can not say enough great things about this book. This book needs to be turned into both a big screen movie and television series. Mr. Hudspeth holds nothing back with his first book. I anxiety await his next book. The Resurrectionist is a must read and probably one of the best books I have read in 2013! Don’t walk but run to the bookstore or type as fast as you can online to pick up a copy of this book today.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have never heard of Uladzimir or that this book was made into a movie. This book is not something that I would typically read but I decided to give it a chance.
To be perfectly honest. I did find it different in an odd, good way. However I was not feeling it in the beginning and put the book down and gave up on it. It was only after I read some of the other reviews on this book that I decided to give it another chance. The book did get better once I was into it a while. The Wild King’s Hunt party is one scary hunting party. I sure would not want to be the hunted. This book is character driven and is very descriptive which really helped.
Up for grabs is all 4 books. US Only. Ends tomorrow, Monday night. Leave a comment with your email address as to whihc if all books you want to win.
Through both her own story and incredibly insightful interviews with others, including Richard Russo, Edward Albee, Ann Beattie, Augusten Burroughs, Susan Minot, Trey Ellis, Timothy Kreider, and more, Jenny examines relationships with fathers and mothers, people's memories of the children they were and the parents they became, and the many different ways a family can be. Followed by an Afterword by Anna Quindlen that includes Jenny and her wife discussing the challenges they've faced and the love they share, Stuck in the Middle with You is a brilliant meditation on raising – and on being – a child.” To connect with Boylan, you can follow her on Twitter @JennyBoylan.
“She’s Not There, the Running with Scissors of sex-change stories, brings irreverence and a merrily outrageous sense of humor to this potentially serious business.” —Janet Maslin, New York Times
Saturday, May 18, 2013
What I did like about this book was learning about the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Mr. Brewster did a good job of describing the ship from the large state rooms, the ship captain’s daily walks to check each deck and the engine room to the fact that the crew was pretty much sailing blind without any binoculars so the look outs could not see that far ahead of them for any signs of danger.
Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell.
In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah's perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie's all- knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.
Laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching, Beth Hoffman's sparkling debut is, as Kristin Hannah says, "packed full of Southern charm, strong women, wacky humor, and good old-fashioned heart." It is a novel that explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship and gives us the story of a young girl who loses one mother and finds many others.
Purchase a ecopy for $2.99
Lincoln Cole works for the bank. He pays a visit to the Gregory homestead. It seems that Hannah’s father took out a second mortgage on the house and defaulted on the loan. The bank is foreclosing on the home.
Luckily for Hannah she meets Rosie. Rosie is also a new switchboard operator. Her mother has a cottage that just became available. She offers it to the girls.
Lincoln may be handsome but Hannah remembers that he is the enemy.
I loved Hannah. She has lots of spunk. She is a free thinker and the type of woman I would imagine myself to be back in these times if I was living in them. Hannah’s two sisters are just as entertaining. I can not wait to read their stories.
Lincoln is easy on the eyes. I almost felt sorry for the way that Hannah treated him, except that I knew that Lincoln could handle Hannah. Now that I have been introduced to this author, I will be checking out more of her books. When Love Calls you answer it and read a copy of this book!
“Available May 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”
Friday, May 17, 2013
About the Book:
Jake Wilkerson, a disillusioned young pastor who is an expert at hiding his fears, takes on a new assignment at a small rural church in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. It's a far piece from anywhere and full of curiously odd and eccentric people, including Emma Grainger, a single woman and a veterinarian who dismisses all Christians as "those people," and Tassy, a young runaway with a secret. His first day on the job, however, Jake is adopted by Petey - a cat of unknown origins and breed - but of great perception. Petey believes that he is on a mission from God to redeem Jake and bring him and his quirky friends back to the truth.
The Truth About Sleeping Cats
From the new book, The Cat That God Sent.(Of course, I’m the main character. I’m a cat. You think I would be a walk-on? Get serious. We’re talking a cat here. A Siberian cat, to boot. Of course the book is about me.)
They asked me to do a blog.
Actually, this whole thing is playing havoc with my sleep cycle. I heard the humans cackling once over a fact they read on the Internet. The fact that seemed to amuse themwas that cats, if left to their own devices, will sleep from 16 to 20 hours a day.
To be honest, that doesn’t sound like enough hours for me.
I love sleeping. We cats—being superior creatures and all, and possessing a whole slew of bones (many more than those boney and stiff dogs have)—well, we can sprawl out anywhere and everywhere with great feline élan. We are the true aficionados of relaxation. A cat can drape itself over an armrest in a hundred different ways—all of them more comfortable than the one before.
It is one of our greatest achievements.
To fully and totally be at ease, be at peace, be at rest.
We always sleep the sleep of the innocent—even if we are the most diabolical and mean-spirited cats in all the cat world.
We are the kings and queens of REM.
Our human companions should learn from us. I have tried to sleep with the human that shares my house. It is a very difficult task. He’s all twitchy and nervous, and gallumps between positions. You ever watch a cat change sleep positions? It is a thing of grace, of beauty, of pure Balanchineballet style.
If you humans want to be at rest, at peace, asleep, perchance to dream—watch how a cat does it. Their entire heart and soul are poured into making sleep a divine, celestial experience.
Learn how to drape, relax, become boneless and become one with the deep mysteries of sleep. Watch a cat and learn.
The mystical is not how the world is, but that it is.
A sleeping cat is as close to perfection as most humans will ever encounter
About the Author:
Jim Kraus is a longtime writer and editor who has authored or co-authored more than 20 books, both fiction and nonfiction. His best-selling humor book, Bloopers, Blunders, Jokes, Quips, and Quotes, was published by Tyndale House Publishers, sold more than 40,000 copies and inspired several spin-off books. Jim, and his wife, novelist Terri Kraus, and one son, live in the Chicago area.
Also residing with them is a sweet and gentle miniature schnauzer named Rufus. Coincidently, Rufus is also the name of the dog in Jim's recent book, The Dog That Talked to God. "What a coincidence," Jim said. "What are the odds of that happening?" They also share space with an ill-tempered Siberian cat named Petey. Coincidently, Petey is the name of the cat in Jim’s most current book, The Cat That God Sent, by Abingdon Press.
Jim recently was awarded a Master of Writing Arts degree from DePaul University. "Now, I am able to write more better," Jim said. (Yes, that is supposed to be humorous.)
Passionate about writing, Jim loves to create true-to-life characters. "I tend to be the one at the party that is on the edge of things--observing how folks act and react. Plus, I'm not that crazy about people in general--so it works out fine." (Again, it's supposed to be funny.)
Visit his website at www.jimkraus.com
Purchase a copy on Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The guy who got Grace pregnant wants nothing to do with Grace and neither do her parents. In fact her parents kick Grace out of the house. Luckily for Grace her neighbor takes her in. Grace also finds a potential love interest in her neighbor’s great nephew.
Screwed is the type of book that all teens should read. The readers will rally behind Grace and be cheering for her until the end. I know I was doing exactly this. What a courageous young woman Grace was. She had a steep hill to climb with being pregnant and homeless. Yet she found some good friends in her neighbor and her great nephew.
I could not believe what hypocrites Grace’s parents turned out to be. As the saying goes “He who has not committed sin shall cast the first stone”. I can guarantee you that Grace’s parents are not the perfect angels that they would like to think they are. This story had a great message as well. What I took from this book was to stay strong, you can get as many second chances as you need, there is always someone who has your back, and love does exist.
Usually I try to stray away from books that focus mainly on religion and this also includes fiction books. One because I have my own beliefs and two because sometimes I found these types of books to be boring with too much detail spent on the explanations. This was not the case with this book. From the word “go” there was lots of high intensity action. Alessandra was a strong, female heroine. I even found the details about the religious aspects to be interesting.
An extra bonus was at the back of the book was a piece titled “Hard to Fathom Facts”. This is where Linda shared some true facts like for example fact: Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, official advisor for the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage, declared the Volto Santo in Manoppello to be the true image of Jesus. Looking forward to what Linda comes out with next. The Sixth Station is a thrill ride of a read!
Alba Ashby has just taken a devastating hit to her career. Alba is currently in a daze. She just needs to take a walk. Before Alba realizes it she ends up in the front of a house. A woman opens the door. Her name is Peggy. She invites Alba in. They sit and talk. Peggy invites Alba to stay with her in her home. There is just one condition. Alba can stay but only for ninety-nine nights and no more. Within this time Alba will need to turn her life around.
I really wanted to love this book. The premise for the story is what made me want to read this book in the first place. Unfortunately try as I might I just could not get into this book. Other then Peggy the landlady and maybe the ghost I was not impressed or feeling the other women. Probably because they came upon the house under dire situations and therefore were not upbeat.
This was sad as the rest of the story was fun. The way the house could read the women and what they needed to have happy lives was cool. I would like a house like this. If people lived in houses that made you happy what a better world this would be that we live in.
By Menna van Praag,
Author of The House at the End of Hope Street
The house has stood at the end of Hope Street for nearly two hundred years. It's larger than all the others, with turrets and chimneys rising into the sky. The front garden grows wild, the long grasses scattered with cowslips, reaching toward the low-hanging leaves of the willow trees. At night the house looks like a Victorian orphanage housing a hundred despairing souls, but when the clouds part and it is lit by moonlight, the house appears to be enchanted. As if Rapunzel lives in the tower and a hundred Sleeping Beauties lie in the beds.
The house is built in red brick, the color of rust, and of Alba Ashby's coat -- a rare splash of brightness in a wardrobe of black clothes. Alba doesn't know what she's doing, standing on the doorstep, staring at the number eleven nailed to the silver door. She's lived in Cambridge for four of her nineteen years, but has never been down this street before. And there is no reason for her to be here now, except that she has nowhere else to go.
In the silence Alba's thoughts, the ones she's been trying to escape on her midnight walks through town, begin to circle, gathering force in her mind, ready to whip themselves into a hurricane. How did this happen? How could this happen to me? She's always been so careful, never inviting any drama or disaster, living like a very sensible seventy-nine-year-old: in a tiny box with a tight lid.
And while most people wouldn't achieve much under such strict limitations, Alba achieved more than most: five A-levels at fifteen, a place at King's Col1ege, Cambridge, to read Modern History, and full PhD funding at eighteen. All this by virtue of two extraordinary traits: her intelligence and her sight. At age four and a half, as well as being able to name and date all the kings and queens of England, Alba started to realize she could see things other people couldn't: the ghost of her grandma at the breakfast table, the paw prints of long-disappeared cats in the grass, the aura of her mother moments before she entered a room. Alba could see smells drifting toward her before she smelled them and sounds vibrating in the air minutes before she heard them. So, because Alba knew things other people didn't, they never noticed she lived her life in a box.
But ever since the worst event of Alba's life, she's barely been able to see anything at all, constantly tripping over pavement edges, falling down steps, and walking into walls. She still hasn't cried because to stay in shock feels safer, it keeps a distance between her and the thing she's trying to pretend hasn't happened. The numbness surrounds her, a buffer against the outside world, through which Alba can hardly breathe or see.
Today is the first of May, just after midnight. The moon is full and bright. Vines of wisteria and jasmine twist together across the red bricks, their flowers hanging over the windows and above the door. Their scent puffs through the air and, though she's sorry she can't see their colors, the smell begins to fill Alba with a sense of calm she's never felt before. Her shoulders soften as she reaches up to touch the flowers hanging in wispy bunches above her head. Soon she'll feel strong enough to walk again. But then she remembers, she no longer has anywhere to go.
In the silence Alba hears something, a low hum in the air, almost indistinguishable from the breeze. Still cupping the flowers in her palm, she listens. The hum grows louder and becomes a tune, the notes drifting toward her, and suddenly Alba is captivated. She knows the words to this song:
Sleep, sleep my sweet
Sleep and dream of butterflies . . .
The next line slips away as Alba thinks of the summer her mother sang that song, when she was eight years old, just before her father left. The tune grows louder, seeping through Alba's skin, sending shivers down her spine. She knows she should be scared, but she's not; she's enchanted.
Alba steps back to look up at the house, at its rows of dark windows, the panes of glass glinting. For a second Alba thinks she sees a face in the window above her, a flash of white and blond that disappears so the night is mirrored back at her. Alongside the window grows a plant with flowers so purple they're almost black. Its strangeness beckons Alba to come closer, rub its leaves, smell its flowers, slide her fingers into the earth . . . The charms of the house and its garden sink deeper into Alba and, without realizing what she's doing, she steps forward and rings the bell.
As Peggy Abbot scurries down the steps, pulling on her patchwork dressing gown, a picture of Alba starts to take shape in her mind: tiny and built like a boy, spiky black hair, intense blue eyes, a mouth that rarely smiles, a weight of sadness and self-doubt heavier than Peggy has ever felt before, but a sense of sight stronger even than her own. Suddenly she knows that this might be a dangerous thing indeed. The midnight glory is in bloom tonight. If Alba looks for too long she might see what makes its petals glow and, worst of all, sense what's buried beneath it.
Wishing she were forty years younger, Peggy hurries along the hallway, slipping on the wood in her woolen socks. But she doesn't have to worry. In her current mental state, Alba's sense of sight is significantly dimmed so the secret is safe for now.
When the door swings open, Alba steps back in shock, staring into the face of the oldest and most beautiful woman she's ever seen.
The moment Alba steps into the house, she knows it's different from any home she's ever known. It is, quite clearly, alive. The walls breathe, gently rising and falling beside Alba as she follows the old woman down the hall. The stripped oak floorboards soften under her feet in welcome, the lightbulbs and lampshades pull at the ceiling to get a closer look at her.
As she walks Alba gazes at the walls, weighted down by hundreds of framed photographs: black-and-white pictures of different women, in group shots and singles, wearing trouser suits and top hats, flapper dresses and flat caps, ribbons and pearls. Among the photographs are pictures, pencil drawings and silhouettes, and a few miniature oil paintings of powder-puffed female faces with curls piled high on their heads.
"Wait." Alba almost stumbles into the wall. "That's Florence Nightingale."
"Oh yes," Peggy says. "She stayed with us for a spell before she went off to the Crimea. When my great-, great-, great-aunt Grace Abbot ran the house. A lovely girl by all accounts, Flo, though rather strong willed and a little too fond of sailors . . . " Peggy smiles.
"Gosh, really?" Alba whispers. "That's . . . gosh."
As Peggy ushers her into the kitchen Alba feels a flash of fear. She ought to think twice before entering the homes of complete strangers. Hidden behind Peggy's bright eyes might be the mind of a murderess; under the folds of her patchwork dressing gown could beat the heart of an evil witch who sees Alba as a modern-day Gretel. But when Alba enters the kitchen she's enveloped in the scent of something magical: cinnamon, ginger, lavender and several spices she can't possibly name, and her fears evaporate. She feels three years old again, transported to a wished-for childhood of baking biscuits with her mother on Sunday afternoons. If Peggy is bewitching her, then the spell is complete.
A few minutes later Alba sits at one end of a long oak table, watching Peggy search for a saucepan. The old woman is bent over, clattering around in the wooden cupboards, muttering swear words as she flings unwanted pans aside. Alba begins to wonder just how old Peggy is. With her white hair and papery skin, slight stoop and frail limbs, she might be anything from seventy to a hundred and seven. But her movements are quick and light and her voice doesn't carry any quiver or depth from age.
Peggy stands, brandishing a saucepan. "I hope you like hot chocolate, dear," she says. "I don't think tea will quite do, we need something a little more fortifying on such an auspicious occasion. Hot chocolate with fresh cream, that's the thing."
Alba nods, still captivated by the kitchen's smells, still shocked by the turn her night has taken, not really registering what Peggy's saying. While the old woman pours a pint of milk into the saucepan, Alba glances around the kitchen. It's vast, the length of a long garden, with creamy yellow walls that reach up to meet black oak beams running across the arched ceiling As in the hall, every inch of the kitchen is covered with endless rows of photographs. Alba gazes at them, wondering who they are and why they are decorating the old woman's walls.
"They've all lived here, at one time or another." Still stirring the milk at the stove, Peggy speaks without turning around. "They came to the house, just like you, when they'd run out of hope."
Alba frowns at the back of Peggy's patchwork dressing gown, at the wild white hair reaching down to her waist, wondering how on earth the old woman knew what she was thinking.
"They left to lead wonderful lives or, in some cases, afterlives." Peggy chuckles. "The old residents can inspire you, if you let them. One in particular, actually."
"Oh?" Alba asks, only half listening. In a frame just above the kitchen sink she sees an oil painting of a woman with blond hair twisted into knots at the sides of her head. Alba squints for a better look. "But, that's-"
"Yes." Peggy doesn't turn to look. "She stayed here in 1859, suffering from a severe bout of writer's block. She started writing Middlemarch in this very kitchen."
"No," Alba gasps, "really?"
"Oh yes. Half the history of England would be quite different if this house had never been built, believe me."
And although she can't explain why, Alba does. She already feels closer to this old woman than to her own family. Peggy stops stirring, steps over to the fridge, tugs open the door, sticks her head inside and takes out a china bowl. "This cream is the real stuff," she says, and smiles. "I whipped it up myself. I can't countenance that synthetic crap one squirts from a bottle, can you?"
"No." Alba agrees, amused to hear such a sweet old lady swear.
"I'm glad to hear it." Peggy sets the bowl down on the marble counter next to the stove. "I can't trust anyone who won't take real cream, or real sugar. Those"-- Peggy searches for the word and shudders -- "sweeteners. They really are beyond the pale, don't you think?"
Alba watches Peggy stirring cocoa into the milk. Suddenly she never wants to leave. She wants to sit in this kitchen, surrounded by the smell of spices, forever. Alba slips off her coat, realizing she hasn't thought about the worst event of her life for nearly twenty minutes, ever since she stepped into the house.
"Why did you invite me in?" Alba asks. "It was very kind, but I don't see . . . "
"You don't?" Peggy smiles. "Because I think you see an awful lot more than most people." She sets two giant mugs down on the table. "Don't you?"
"Thank you." Alba glances at her cup. It's the first time in her life that anyone has ever guessed who she is and what she can do. "Yes," she admits softly, "I suppose so, though not since . . . "
Peggy takes a sip of hot chocolate. "Since what, my dear?"
Alba looks up. How can she possibly explain the devastating events of the last few days? Her head is so full of fury, her heart so steeped in sadness, that she can hardly make sense of anything anymore. All Alba knows is that she wants to undo time, run backward through the last seven months, unravel everything and begin again: finish her MPhil, write a groundbreaking thesis, publish papers, until she's at the forefront of the next generation of great historical minds. And if she can't achieve that, something truly brilliant, then what's the point in living at all? Because in her family, being mediocre, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, simply isn't allowed.
As though Alba had just spoken her thoughts aloud, Peggy smiles sympathetically. "You know, in my long and extensive experience, what we want isn't always what will make us happiest," she says. "But we'll come back to that. First, tell me what brought you to my doorstep. Start from the beginning, and don't leave anything out." Peggy sits back in her chair, smoothing her patchwork dressing gown across her lap, hugging her mug of hot chocolate to her chest. This is her favorite part. After more than a thousand stories in sixty-one years, she never fails to get excited at the prospect of a new one.
"Well . . ." Alba stalls. "I don't . . . I mean, I was just walking around town, not going anywhere, and then . . . and then I just found myself here." Nervous, she scratches the back of her neck, tugging at short spikes of black hair, hoping she doesn't look as messy as usual, then realizing she probably looks even worse. "I didn't mean to knock on your door, it just sort of . . . happened."
"Take a sip of chocolate," Peggy suggests. "It'll help to clear your head."
As the thick liquid slips down her throat and into her belly, Alba starts to feel warm and soft, as if the kitchen has just hugged her. And, after a few minutes she isn't scared to tell the truth anymore. At least a little bit of the truth. So, where should she begin? History. Love. Trust. Betrayal. Heartbreak. Alba shifts the words around in her head, wondering what to hide and what to reveal.
By the time the last of the hot chocolate has gone, Alba has told Peggy about failing her MPhil and ending her career. She has carefully, deliberately omitted the single most important piece of information, the thing that slots it all together.
"So I can't stay in college any longer, and I can't go home," Alba says, though she stops short of explaining why. "So I was wandering the streets in the middle of the night."
In the ensuing silence, the spices circle the kitchen, even stronger than before, and although Alba can't see the smells, she can hear the hum of her mother's song again in the back of her head. It rocks her like a lullaby.
"You can stay here," Peggy says, "for ninety-nine nights, until the seventh of August, just before midnight. And then you must go."
"Sorry?" Alba wonders if the hot chocolate was spiked with rum because she's suddenly light-headed. "But I couldn't possibly . . ."
"No rent, no bills. Your room will be your own, to do with as you like." She smiles, and Alba can almost hear the old woman's papery skin crinkle. "But take care of the house, and it'll take care of you."
"Well, I . . ." A thousand questions crowd Alba's mind, so she asks the first one that comes to her lips. "But why ninety-nine nights?"
"Ah, yes," Peggy says. "Well, I think because it's long enough to help you turn your life around and short enough so you can't put it off forever."
"Oh, okay," Alba says, thinking it'll be impossible to pick up the pieces of her shattered life in such a tiny amount of time, let alone get it all back on track.
"Oh, it is possible," Peggy says. "I can promise you that. And you won't have to do it alone. That's the whole point of being here. The house will help you. It's all yours, except for the tower, which is only mine. And you can never go there. That's my one rule. Do you understand?"
When Alba nods, it's clear to them both that she's staying, even though she hasn't yet said yes. But how can she say no? A secret tower. How deliciously intriguing. It reminds her of another fairy tale. When Alba first saw the house she thought of Rapunzel, then Sleeping Beauty and now Bluebeard. Alba smiles. She loves fairy tales.
"If you stay I can promise you this," Peggy says. "This house may not give you what you want, but it will give you what you need. And the event that brought you here, the thing you think is the worst thing that's ever happened? When you leave, you'll realize it was the very best thing of all."
After showing a sedated, sleepy Alba to her bedroom, Peggy shuffles along the corridor toward the tower, creaks up her own stairs and hurries into her kitchen to find a pile of glittering presents and a cake. An enormous, three-tiered extravaganza, iced with thick white chocolate cream, decorated with sugar flowers and scattered with fresh ones: red and yellow roses, wisteria, sunflowers, bluebells and buttercups. Just as Peggy knew it would be, just as it has been every year for as long as she's lived in the house. Along with the cake, the kitchen is decorated with a rainbow of balloons, streamers and a banner emblazoned with the words
HAPPY 82ND, PEG!
Still catching her breath, Peggy glances up at the clock and smiles.
"Eighty-two years, two hours and twenty-nine minutes old." She eases herself into the little sky blue chair at the wooden table in front of her cake. After blowing out the candles and cutting herself an extremely large slice, Peggy slowly, methodically begins to devour the first tier and very soon, icing is smeared around her mouth and all over her fingers.
"Delicious." She grins, displaying a mouthful of cake. "Even better than my eighty-first. I must say, you outdo yourself every year." Peggy looks up and the ceiling lights flicker in appreciation of the compliment.
Peggy's kitchen is smaller and prettier than the one downstairs. The furniture is made of beech and painted white, excepting the blue chair. Vases, pots and jam jars sit on every surface, filled with flowers that alter according to Peggy's moods but never wilt or die. The cupboards have glass doors to display a collection of crockery: bone china cups covered with tarot cards that read the future of whoever drinks from them, teapots and plates painted with characters from Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Don Giovanni, The Frog Prince, "The Lady of Shalott" and The Flower Queen's Daughter. The characters shift around at night, indulging in various games and love affairs. They are Peggy's own celebrity magazines and, when she shuffles in for her first cup of tea every morning, she's always curious to see who's fallen in love and who's split up overnight. Now, on the teapot, Rumpelstiltskin is slipping off Guinevere's blouse while, on her plate and almost hidden by the remains of a third slice of cake, the Mad Hatter is kissing an Ugly Sister. The Star -- the tarot card that always appears on her birthday -- shines from her teacup.
Peggy celebrates her birthday twice. First, just after midnight, always alone. Then in the morning, with whoever is residing in the house. Peggy never knows how many guests she'll have, sometimes as many as twelve and sometimes, very rarely, only one. Today, with the arrival of Alba, she'll have just three: a rare island of calm and tranquility in a sea of usual confusion and chaos. And for once, these particular women won't need much babysitting. Years ago she would have been insulted, now she's simply relieved. Though, sadly, Peggy knows the relative peace won't last. She can already sense several women whose hope is almost extinguished, who'll be turning up on her doorstep before too long.
The house always joins in the birthday festivities, creaking its beams and rattling its pipes because it's celebrating too. The house was completed, its last brick laid, on the first of May 1811, and every Abbot woman who has inherited the house since has been born on its anniversary. The house was a gift from the prince regent to his lover Grace Abbot. And when the prince moved on to his next mistress, Grace opened the house to women who needed it. Slowly they came, drawn by their own sixth sense, stayed for their ninety-nine nights, and, with a few tragic exceptions, left with their spirits high and their hearts healed.
Peggy sips her tea. The tarot card on her cup has changed. Death looks up at her now: the card of beginnings and endings, sudden shifts and dramatic transformations. She puts down her cup.
And on the table is a note:
Congratulations on your 82nd and final birthday. You have been a beautiful landlady. One of the very best. We thank you for your service. Now it is time to find your successor. Then you will be free from this life and can move on to the next.
Peggy has to read the note nearly a dozen times before she can believe it. She knew she couldn't live forever, but the shock has still left her a little shaken. If she were another sort of woman she might be scared, she might cry and wish for more time. She might look back on her life and be fil1ed with regrets. But Peggy won't. She is made of stronger stuff. She's also in the rather unique position of being very well acquainted with a great many departed souls and knows that death is nothing to be scared of. It's a mere adjustment in living conditions. In fact, if it wasn't for Harry, she wouldn't mind at all.
Peggy holds the cup to her lips, thinking of him, and wondering how many days of life she has left.
The above is an excerpt from the book The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2013 Menna van Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street
Menna van Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street, is a freelance writer, journalist and Oxford graduate. She is the author of Men, Money and Chocolate. She lives in Cambridge, England, with her husband and son.
For more information please visit http://www.mennavanpraag.com , and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter