Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Author Guest Post - Kathryn L Nelson

Today I'm pleased to welcome Kathryn L Nelson, author of Pemberley Manor. Her guest post here today is part of this book's virtual tour, courtesy Danielle of Sourcebooks.

Pemberley Manor, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice continued…
By Kathryn L Nelson
Elizabeth Bennet has gotten perhaps more credit than she deserves as a sensible young woman with unflappable principles. She certainly has given herself credit for those attributes. But if we are not so distracted by Darcy’s more flagrant displays of pride and prejudice, we might notice that Miss Elizabeth is perhaps equally likely to err on the side of overconfidence…
"From Kathy Perschmann at Armchair Interviews: Nelson has created an excellent backstory for Darcy, and re-creates the feel of Jane Austen’s witty dialogue and deep characters with great success. If you love Austen, you will most certainly love this story!"
Witty, oh, I do certainly hope so, for I laughed my way through the writing of Pemberley Manor and still do laugh when I pinch myself upon seeing the first edition sitting on my bookshelf. I’m counting the days until I have the new Sourcebooks edition in my hands (April, 2009) with its lovely cover.

For those of us who love Jane Austen, I think it may often be the case that we find ourselves (or someone we love or hate) in her pages. I find in Elizabeth Bennet a resemblance to a very young me. I was never so adept at the witty retort as she, but it was not for lack of enthusiasm. Miss Austen obviously admired that characteristic in Elizabeth too, judging from the letters she wrote. I take comfort in the thought that I might someday benefit, as perhaps Jane did, from time to sit in a quiet room and think sparkling thoughts. Alas, during the three years it took to write Pemberley Manor, there was precious little quiet, so we may never know.

In addition to her love of sarcasm, I find myself identifying with Elizabeth’s foolhardy optimism. Refusing to heed her mother’s wish that she should take the first good offer of marriage that comes along, Elizabeth won’t acknowledge the seriousness of her situation. It’s all very well to say she would rather be a spinster, but she seems to obstinately ignore reality. Wouldn’t it have been a fine and noble thing for our heroine to marry Mr Collins in order to secure the future comfort and security of her mother and her sisters? Of course she assumes that love will come along, and if she had done the noble thing, she would have been more Jane Eyre than Elizabeth Bennet and no one would be laughing.

Miss Elizabeth is also apt to jump to judgments about people without aid of the facts. First she believes Wickham with all of her heart, and then leaps to Darcy’s side, in both cases explaining to Jane that each must be telling the truth. Hmmm. And it was so very pig-headed of her to ignore Miss Caroline Bingley’s warning on the subject….

I’ve attempted to help the young Mrs Darcy mature in Pemberley Manor, as we all must. She won’t, I hope, ever lose her sense of humor, but she may develop the ability to see that there is no harm in reflecting occasionally before leaping to a conclusion, or at least before broadcasting it to all and sundry. Here’s a sample:

The wedding night takes an unfortunate turn and Darcy runs from the Inn, leaving his bride mystified and miserable. After a soul-searching walk, he returns to her.

“Having so recently acquired humility, it remained a novel and rather heady sensation for Mr Darcy. He returned to Elizabeth prepared to comfort and console her, and ready to heap abuse upon himself. If any hope could be allowed to lighten his despair, it sprang from the memory of her forgiveness of his earlier transgressions, and he searched for the words to lead them back to where the day had begun. But if he had learned a good deal about humility, he had not yet acquired any clear understanding of the intricacies of human nature, especially the nature of the woman who was now his wife. She stood before him, her cheeks flaming and her eyes flashing a warning. Had Mr Darcy been blessed with the eloquence of angels, he still would have found ample reason to shy away from the formidable indignation of this fair lady.”

It requires the aid of a very long conversation and a tearful (of course) reconciliation to resolve the evening’s unfortunate beginning.

“…Do not think me so angelic that I do not see your faults, or that I have none of my own. My love is not blind, but it is stronger than you credit. I married you willingly, knowing your faults.” She paused as colour rose to her cheeks. “My own I am just beginning to understand.”

Hope abounds and the honeymoon begins, but we are not to suppose that in so short a time the two lovers have reached a state of permanent marital harmony. I hope you’ll enjoy my meander through the Darcy’s first year of marriage. Let me know. I can take it.

Thanks for inviting me to your blog today.

Thank you for that interesting post, Kathy! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.
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Monday, March 30, 2009

Author Guest Post - Sheila Roberts

Love in Bloom
Sheila Roberts
336 p, St.Martins Griffin,
ISBN: 0312384815
Readers, please join me welcoming Author Sheila Roberts who will be guest blogging here today!

About the Book

Hope Walker survived early breast cancer at just thirty-years-old, but a mastectomy left her with a lot of scarring—and some serious fears about dating. Hope owns Changing Seasons, Heart Lake’s most popular flower shop. When it comes to love and relationships, she’s able to work magic through her expert flower arranging…for everyone but herself. Then one day a handsome contractor starts coming into her shop, but Hope knows he’d rather have a whole woman than someone like her.

When Hope stakes a plot of ground at Heart Lake’s community garden, she finds that a woman can grow all sorts of things there: flowers, herbs, vegetables and even friendship. As she gets to know the two women who share neighboring plots, they discover that they can learn a lot from each other—not just about gardening, but about life. And Hope realizes that in order to live life to the fullest, sometimes you have to take a chance on love.


In addition to sharing some wonderful gardening tips, I really enjoyed incorporating tidbits about what you can say with flowers in my new book Love in Bloom. I first learned about flower language years ago when I stumbled on a magazine article about it and always thought it would be fun to use somehow in a book. When I found myself writing the character of Hope Walker, who is a florist, I realized I had the perfect opportunity to share some fun information. Hope really thinks about the “message behind the message” when she’s putting together those fictional flower arrangements. Maybe, when we’re sharing gifts from our gardens, we can, too.

With spring right around the corner, it might be fun to plant goodies that we can enjoy giving to friends later when those plants and seeds grow into lovely blooms.

Giving flowers with special meaning behind them is a great way to send a special message to someone you care about. Did you know, for example, that Bells of Ireland symbolize good luck? (Well, duh. They’re Irish!) You can give a man a camellia blossom for good luck. Give him a red one and he’ll know he’s the love of your life (or, in true Victorian flower language, the flame of your heart). Daffodils can stand for a number of things, but one feeling they symbolize is respect. What a lovely spring present for someone who has been a powerful influence in your life! Lavender, in addition to making wonderful sachets and cakes, makes a lovely gift when tied up with a pretty ribbon. It symbolizes devotion. Yellow poppies stand for wealth and success – a wish you can probably think to give to any number of people right now. And pink roses symbolize perfect happiness. We should all fill our houses with pink roses! A bouquet of roses in full bloom symbolizes gratitude, so next time you want to thank a friend for doing something special, you know what to do.  Slip in some chocolate, too. In fact, a bouquet of chocolate roses sounds like the perfect gift to me. Not sure what chocolate roses mean. Oh, wait. Who am I kidding? They mean another pound for each hip!

Thank you for that informative post just in time for Spring, dear Author! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review - Unseen by Nancy Bush

Nancy Bush
384 p, Kensington Books, April 2009
About the Book

She woke up with no memories...She wakes up in a hospital room...bruised...bloody...confused. She knows her name is Gemma La Porte - but that's all. She doesn't remember smashing her car. She doesn't remember anything from the last three days. But a policeman, Deputy Will Tanninger, is waiting for answers and wants to know if she's responsible for a fatal hit-and-run.

But remembering her past could kill her...Hoping to restore her shattered memory, Gemma has no choice but to put her trust in Will. But if it turns out she's guilty of murder, he has no choice but to arrest her. Torn by her growing feelings for Will, and haunted by her shadowy past, Gemma is determined to learn the truth. But, in this case, the darkest truths are unknowable - and the deadliest enemies are unseen.

My Thoughts

I was ready to be impressed with Nancy Bush having just finished reading 'Wicked Game' that she's co-authored with Lisa Jackson. While it began promisingly enough, Unseen didn't seem that to be that original or impressive. But that impression changed soon!

Readers are introduced to this young woman who is seemingly on a vigilante crusade to eliminate pedophiles. She runs one over with her car. We then see a hurt young woman land up in a hospital. The cop assigned to the case is determined to prove her guilt, even as he battles his growing attraction to this strange woman. As the story progresses along this line, it seems to get more and more predictable. The one thing that did stand out was the villain who's obsessed with wolves and witches and is after our heroine for seemingly being a witch. It's obvious the guy's nutso but who is he, what's his motivation and what's all that with witches etc - these questions and more kept me reading.

I'm glad I did for then the story took a different turn and I soon realized I had been wrong to think of this story as predictable. There's a Hitchcockian-twist to the theme that reminded me irresistibly of a favorite movie of mine - Vertigo. That's hint enough for you! Until then, even I was taken in utterly by the liberal red herrings cleverly scattered all along the narrative by the author. The only part of this story that didn't quite gel with me was the romance that springs up so suddenly between the lead characters. They don't know each other that well to begin with. There's mutual distrust to be overcome and curiously enough, I never did get the sparks between them. And then something happens towards the end that made it feel even more unreal to me.

That part, the story overall is wonderfully suspenseful and the chill factor never ends! In the end, some questions are answered, but many others are raised. Curiously enough, this novel ends up pointing in the direction that 'Wicked Game' does. This in turn leads me to believe that perhaps all these stories are interconnected. As to how, now that remains to be seen.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Author Guest Post - Lin Wellford

The New Grandparents Name Book
 Lin Wellford and Skye Pifer
64 p, ArtStone Press,  0977706524
About the Book

When the first baby is born into a family, grandparents are also “born.” Just as parents take time to choose the name they will call their new arrival, grandparents-to-be will enjoy exploring the many options they have when it comes to selecting the name their grandchildren will call them.

The New Grandparents Name Book is divided up into categories, including traditional names, heritage names, trendy names, and names that are playful, or that reflect some special interest or personality trait. There is a section on creating custom names, and suggestions for paired names. Quotes on grandparenting and anecdotes about how others got their unique names are also included.

This attractive, small-format hardcover book makes a lovely gift and is also a fun way to announce the big news that a grandchild is on the way.

About the Author

Lin Wellford displayed a talent for art and an interest in writing at an early age, but it took decades to find success as an author. A move from Florida to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas sparked a passion for painting animals on rocks. In 1994, her first book, The Art of Painting Animals on Rocks, was published and soon was reported to be “flying off the shelves”. That led to eight more books covering a variety of rock painting subjects, including painting flowers, cottages, garden art, zoo animals and more. She appeared regularly on The Carol Duvall Show on HGTV, and her work has been featured in dozens of national publications. Becoming a first-time grandmother inspired her interest in collecting grandparent names, and resulted in her newest book, The New Grandparents Name Book: A lighthearted guide to picking the perfect grandparent name (ISBN: 978-0-9777065-2-5; $9.99).

Guest Post

Ever since I was old enough to hold a book in my little hands and knew enough not to try and eat it, I have loved books. They are a source of entertainment, solace, information, escape, and insight. At the age of seven, I was already trying my hand at creating my own books; the first on how to catch fairies was followed by an alphabet book of fantastical animals, complete with illustrations. I loved words and writing, but it was my artwork that attracted the most attention. So, when it came time to choose what to study in college, art won out. I should have listened to my heart.

After college I got married and helped my husband run his business. Children came along, but the desire to write, and the dream of creating books, never left me. We moved to Arkansas, and I began painting the rocks I picked up along our local creek. It felt like magic to transform an ordinary rock into a three-dimensional piece of art. Soon I was painting and selling my creations. Still, the desire to write would not go away. Somehow I carved out little pieces of time for myself from a crammed-full life, and slowly I accumulated several full-length novels that no one wanted to buy. I still have a drawer full of rejection slips to prove it.

In frustration, I decided to try my hand at an instruction book that would share my techniques for painting my rock creations. Happily, I found that writing non-fiction was just as satisfying as writing fiction. It still meant choosing the right words and finding the best way to get my message across. The fact that it combined my skill as an artist with my interest in writing made it really fun and exciting. Perhaps that came across in my work, because the first book I did became something of a phenomenon in the world of craft publishing, selling many hundreds of thousands of copies. It has stayed in print and is now considered a classic.

The road to publication was not without its pitfalls, however. The first publisher I submitted to kept the manuscript for over six months without a word. I thought they must have been giving it serious consideration. But when I finally called to check, I was told that, no, they were not interested in the book. They were simply short-handed and had not gotten around to sending it back to me.

I guess I could have given up then and there, taking that as a sign that the book was not meant to be. Instead, I chose to allow myself to get angry at their callous attitude towards me and my book proposal. I did not wait for them to return my submission. I made up a new proposal, fine-tuning it and making it even better than before. I had it in the mail to another publisher in a matter of days. And that time I only had to wait two weeks to get the call every hopeful writer dreams of, the one from an editor saying, “We are interested in publishing your book.” Eight other books followed that first one. In all, more than 1.5 million copies of my books have sold worldwide.

Nine years ago, my oldest daughter announced she was expecting. Even though I was in my late forties and easily old enough to be a grandmother, I found myself thinking that I felt way too young to be called “grandma.” I began researching various options, and finally, after a few false starts, settled on “Mimi” as my grandparenting name. That search planted a seed, because afterwards I found myself noticing the many different names other new grandparents were choosing to be called. I started jotting them down and talking to my daughter about them. We decided that there was a book idea in all those names I was gathering. So I kept on collecting until I found myself with over seven hundred names. What fun! With my daughter’s help, we turned my research into a book.

When I look back over my career, I realize that the desire to write and the determination not to give up are the two things that made the biggest difference. I know many incredibly talented people who should have succeeded, but who lacked those qualities in sufficient quantity to get them past the disappointments and detours that are the hazards most writers must deal with. I also discovered that the hundreds of pages of those stillborn novels I wrote were not a wasted effort. I learned from doing, from making myself sit down and write instead of just dreaming about it. Natural talent is wonderful, but for most writers it is practice and effort that ultimately predict success.

Thank you for that interesting post, Lin. And thank you, Lisa, for being instrumental in Lin posting here!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book Excerpt - Axe of Iron by J.A. Hunsinger

About the Book

Axe of Iron: The Settlers
J.A. Hunsinger
356 pages, 
Vinland Publishing,
ISBN-10: 0980160103
Axe of Iron: The Settlers is a tale of survival, strife, love, and the quest for a new home in the face of hostile opposition.

The first novel of a continuing character-driven tale of a medieval people whose wanderlust and yearning for adventure cause them to leave the two established settlements on Greenland and sail west, to the unexplored land later referred to as Vinland.

Eirik the Red established Eiriksfjord in 986 and later Lysufjord, 400-miles to the north. Just 22-years later, new settlers from the homelands found all the best land already occupied, the fragile Arctic environment strained by too many people and animals on too little arable land.

Under the capable leadership of Halfdan Ingolfsson and his lieutenant, Gudbjartur Einarsson, 315 men, women, and children set sail from Greenland in the spring of 1008, bound for the unexplored continent across the western ocean.

Standing in their way are uncounted numbers of indigenous people, the pre-historical ancestors of the Cree (Naskapi), Ojibwa (Anishinabeg), and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Indians. From the outset, these native people strenuously resist the incursion of these tall, pale-skinned invaders.

Two calamitous events occur that pave the way for the hostile beginnings of an assimilation process to occur between these disparate peoples. The way is rocky and fraught with danger at every turn, but the acceptance and friendship that develops between the Northmen and the Naskapi over an affair of honor, the eventual acceptance of a young boy of the Northmen by his Haudenosaunee captors, and a scenario that seems ordained by the will of the gods, makes it all begin to fall into place, as it must for the Northmen to survive.

See the saga unfold, in this first book of the Axe of Iron series, through the eyes of the characters as each day brings a continuation of the toil, love, hardship, and danger that they come to expect in this unforgiving new land.

About the Author

J. A. Hunsinger lives in Colorado, USA, with his wife Phyllis. The first novel of his character-driven, historical fiction series, Axe of Iron: The Settlers, represents his first serious effort to craft the story of a lifelong interest in the Viking Age—especially as it pertains to Norse exploration west of Iceland—and extensive research and archaeological site visitations as an amateur historian. He has tied the discovery of many of the Norse artifacts found on this continent to places and events portrayed in his novels.

Much of his adult life has been associated with commercial aviation, both in and out of the cockpit. As an Engineering Technical Writer for Honeywell Commercial Flight Systems Group, Phoenix, AZ, he authored two comprehensive pilots’ manuals on aircraft computer guidance systems and several supplemental aircraft radar manuals. His manuals were published and distributed worldwide to airline operators by Honeywell Engineering, Phoenix, AZ. He also published an article, Flight Into Danger, in Flying Magazine, (August 2002).

Historical Novel Society, American Institute of Archaeology, Canadian Archaeology Association, and IBPA-Independent Book Publishers Association, are among the fraternal and trade organizations in which he holds membership.

You can visit his website at www.vinlandpublishing.com.

Book Excerpt

Southwestern Greenland, spring, 1008

The sun appeared as a dull orange orb through the haze and sea mist as it began to rise above the horizon. The grey half-light of the northern night yielded to the brightness of the day. A chill offshore breeze, stirred to life by sinking cold air that flowed like a river from the vast inland icecap, began to stir the calm surface water of the fjord.

The last remnants of rotting pack ice dotted the water’s surface. Icebergs could be seen shining in the distance as they drifted by the fjord entrance on the current that carried them north along the rocky coast.

A crowd of silent people stood among the rocks and grasses of the hillside. Below them, on the stony beach, a group of six men listened to a red-haired man who stood before them.

“The offshore wind comes off the icecap, and the tide begins to run from Eiriksfjord. It is time to make sail.” He looked at each of the men before his eyes came to rest on one of them.

“I am in your debt, Eirik,” the man said. “I could not have mounted this expedition without your help. I wish you were going with us.”

Eirik turned his head to look at the four ships drawn up on the beach. “I have sailed from many shores in my time,” he mused. “There have been many adventures. Too many some would say. No, this is your time, yours and your men’s. I pass the sword of adventure and conquest, the spirit of our people, to you and to all those with you. Go now, Halfdan. Set sail for Lysufjord. Destiny awaits you.”

Eirik shook hands with each of the men in turn. He saved Halfdan for last. The two men held each other’s eyes for a heartbeat, their hands locked on forearms in a viselike grip. A silent farewell passed between them. Halfdan turned away and followed his men toward the ships.

A groundswell of sound rose from the many throats, from ship and shore alike, as shouted farewells became raucous and tearful.

The mood became pensive as though a shroud settled over the watchers ashore when the long sweeps backed the ships from the beach and pointed their bows toward the mouth of the fjord. Sails rose to the mastheads and filled with the offshore wind. The ships sailed from the fjord into the open sea and out along the coast to the northwest, to the rendezvous at Lysufjord, Greenland.


Six wooden ships laid sharply over in the brisk northwest wind as they sailed close-hauled on the port tack. Their destination was Leifsbudir, Vinland. Riotous ranks of steep swells surged by, dotted with islands of spume scattered indiscriminately on the surface. Spindrift off the wave tops pelted their hulls as the ships plunged into each deep trough and boisterously rose to the crest of the next swell.

Under the command of Halfdan Ingolfsson, the flotilla had sailed into the western ocean from the northernmost Greenland settlement of the Northmen, at Lysufjord. Halfdan took advantage of the north-flowing Greenland current to sail north along the coast to the narrowest part of the strait between Greenland and Helluland before he turned to the west. Dawn found the ships near the halfway point in the strait as the rising sun chased the twilight of the polar night to the west.

The ships were loaded to capacity with 163 Greenlanders and 152 Icelanders. The complement included men, women, children, and livestock. Each ship carried a share of the supplies and equipment deemed necessary for the establishment of a permanent settlement.

Every person had been carefully chosen to ensure all the trade skills of the Norse people were represented. All were young, as such things are reckoned, and without handicap. Halfdan accepted families among the settlers but refused their kin. Feuds among opposed kinfolk were common in Norse society; a duel with one became a duel with all. He wanted to avoid the possibility of any such trouble, even if it meant fewer settlers.


Halfdan and his second-in-command, Gudbjartur Einarsson, stand together on the bow platform of the lead ship. Their work-roughened hands gripped the ship’s rail and forestay as they swayed in time with her roll off the crest of each swell. The bow platform is the only place aboard where people knew not to disturb them. Secluded and apart as much as possible from the normal activity aboard the crowded ship, the two men reflected on the past season and the decision to begin a quest for a new land to settle.

The decision to migrate had been made when new arrivals from Iceland, Vestfold, Gotland, and Svealand, the homelands for most of them, had made it apparent that Greenland could not long support the burgeoning population.

“We have listened to all the councils, Gudbj. We know the mistakes made by others who attempted to establish permanent settlements in Vinland. We must not repeat those mistakes.” Halfdan pounded the rail for emphasis.

“If we learned nothing else, we know we are greatly outnumbered by the Skraelings.” Gudbjartur’s eyes swept the sea ahead. Serried swells covered the surface to the limit of his vision.

“Every person must understand. We are too quick to fight. This time we come in peace. We will fight to protect ourselves, but only to protect ourselves.”
“They have all been told. It will be as you say.”

“Our planned destination still does not feel right to me. We need to think on it. Perhaps a different area of Vinland would be better than Leifsbudir.”

Both men lapsed into silence as they reflected on the importance of this voyage and what lay before them. Everything they possessed hung in the balance.

Gudbjartur glanced at his chieftain and realized he was in a world of his own. He knew in his heart he had done all he could to relieve the worry and lift some of the weight of command from Halfdan’s shoulders. The final decisions were always Halfdan’s. After careful consideration, he made them without hesitation. But the strain told on his face. Gudbjartur watched the spume of the sea float by for a moment. The ship’s bow sliced through the swells like a sword blade. He left Halfdan leaning on the ship’s rail. I doubt he will even be aware of my absence, he thought. He turned and made his way aft to get something to eat.


Halfdan leaned on his forearms across the ship’s top rail, hands clasped in front, oblivious to the icy wind that stung his face and caused his eyes to water. He gazed, lost in thought, on the surface of the sea.

People remembered the eyes when speaking of him. They were like the sky on a clear winter day, a pale blue color that fairly bored into you—intense with a touch of sadness, but also tempered hard as the best steel blade. His eyes, out of long habit, occasionally rose from the surface of the sea and swept the horizon.

His age would have been difficult to determine. Like all his kith, his face was tanned and deeply lined sculpted by the timeless element of his world: the incessant chill wind of the northern sea. The scar of a sword cut turned a strip of his beard white and marred his face as it ran diagonally from his cheekbone through the corner of his lip and down across his chin. This small imperfection served to give him character. He was a handsome man, and his face mirrored a youthful exuberance. This characteristic had lulled more than one adversary into underestimating the man that dwelt within. He emanated the power and force of his will, that which made him what he was, a chieftain.

In the prime of life, he stood about six feet with a powerful build. His shoulder-length, dark brown hair was braided on each side of his face to keep it out of his eyes. A full beard blew freely in the wind.

He wore a dark woolen pullover tunic that reached his thighs, trousers of the same material thrust into soft-tanned, high-topped leather boots. A seal fur leather vest protected him from the raw wind.

A knife and ornately carved scabbard hung from the right side of the broad leather belt that encircled his waist. Large, ornate, silver ring pins—the only indication of his rank—held each of the top ends of his laced vest together over his shoulders.

He thought about the councils he had called the previous summer at both the Eastern Settlement at Brattahlid in Eiriksfjord and the Western Settlement at Lysufjord. He and Gudbjartur made the three-day roundtrip sail several times before they found enough people for an expedition to Vinland. They spent most of the summer talking to the widely scattered farmers and gathering the people, ships, livestock, and equipment required for a voyage of settlement the next spring.

Four ships from Eiriksfjord, including three of last summer’s arrivals from Iceland, had rendezvoused with the two ships from Lysufjord. The flotilla set sail with a fair wind on the ebb tide.


Gudbjartur walked up to the group of people clustered aft of the mast, greeted them with a nod, and winked at his wife. He picked a piece of dried cod from a food bag and stuffed it in his mouth. His eyes followed the movements of his wife as he chewed the tough fare.

A tall, young woman, Ingerd’s intelligent, widely set blue-green eyes animated her comely face. A single, thick braid and bright blue wool scarf captured her long golden hair. Her angular chin and jaw indicated a firmness of character. The large hands and frame of a worker and the rounded hips and ample breasts of a woman of childbearing age did not detract from what some referred to as an almost regal bearing.

Ingerd was attired essentially the same as all Norse women, although each woman adorned herself in accordance with personal tastes. Available clothing choices were limited by utilitarian necessity. She wore a simple, full-length, long sleeved, pullover shift of pale red wool. She wore no undergarments, nor was such available. A full-length apron covered her front and back. The apron provided additional warmth and served to protect her dress from work related damage. The apron consisted of identical front and back panels fastened with over-the-shoulder looped straps joined together by two large pinned broaches, one above each breast. The dome shaped broaches were ornately incised silver, a wedding present from Gudbjartur.

A beautifully worked bronze ringlet necklace hung about her neck. Beyond its decorative value, it also provided a handy place for the bronze ring that held the keys to the family’s chests. Scissors, tweezers, and needle case—the tools of all Norse women of her station—hung from a silver chain connected between her broaches. In addition to this chain of tools, Ingerd had belted about her waist, on the outside of her apron, a pouch containing flax and wool thread, spare ring pins, comb, hair brush, and a knife scabbard. Her feet were encased in the ankle-length, soft tanned leather shoes common to both men and women. Her position as the wife of Gudbjartur ensured others deferred to her.

“What were you two talking about?” Ingerd asked. Her eyes studied her husband’s face.

“This voyage. I will tell you about it later, Ingerd, when we have a few minutes alone.”

“All right, I will hold you to that.” She smiled at the man she loved above all else.

Gudbjartur bent down to look forward under the bottom edge of the tightly braced sail. He noted that Halfdan remained in the same position.

He turned his attention back to the food. He stooped to pick up a medium-size wooden trencher from a pile near the mast step. From the open food bags he selected four chunks of dried fish and the same of dried meat.

The usual fare at sea was dried fish or dried meat, boiled eggs when available, and water. There was no set time for meals; people ate as they felt the need.

“Do you want a couple boiled eggs to go with that meal, Gudbj?” Thora asked. A solidly built woman with reddish-blond hair, she was one of several cooks who prepared the communal meals when the company was ashore.

“Aye, Thora. Make it four.” He watched her ladle the eggs from the cask of whale oil that preserved them. She plopped the eggs, still in their shells, onto his trencher with a generous amount of the rich oil.

He made eye contact with her and smiled. “Dribble a little oil over the fish and meat. We need to keep up our strength.”

She snorted at his humor and did as he bade. In spite of the lively action of the ship’s deck in the quartering head seas, she did not spill a drop of oil. Whistles of appreciation came from those who witnessed her adeptness.

Gudbjartur grinned at the smug expression on Thora’s face. He lifted his chin to Ingerd. She stepped over to him and planted a kiss on his hairy cheek.

They held the rail and stepped forward out of earshot. “Halfdan and I are discussing our destination. We may not go to Leifsbudir. Keep this to yourself until we make up our minds.” Gudbjartur spoke to her in a low voice.

“No matter, you will decide what is best.” An impish sparkle shined from her eyes. “You had best watch Thora, Gudbj. She wants a man and she would be happy to have you.”

Gudbjartur stopped and turned around to appraise Thora. At that moment she happened to have her head thrown back to laugh at something said by a member of the group gathered near the mast. Her long reddish-blond hair blew in the wind. He got an eyeful as her ample breasts strained against the confines of her apron, each nipple plain to see. Of medium height, her hair framed an average looking face dominated by unusual pale brown eyes with green flecks—cat eyes some called them. Her nicely rounded hips and wide shoulders bespoke the strong, solid build of a worker. Thora was known as a woman who appreciated a good joke, especially at another’s expense. Quick to laugh, the sharp tongue of a born wit and quick to anger—these pretty well described her.

“She looks very good from here. Perhaps I can have two of you. That way, if one is uncooperative, I will have a spare, to fill in, so to speak.” He grinned at his wife.

“You!” She walked away in a huff.

“Me? You started it.” He continued toward the bow and shook his head over his wife’s reaction. It is impossible to predict how she will take something. And she brought up Thora, not me. He chuckled to himself at the thought. His free hand gripped the rail while he tried to balance the full trencher against the antics of the ship. Gudbjartur sat the trencher on the raised bow platform. “Here, Halfdan, you have thought long enough. I have brought food and water.”

Halfdan selected a piece of meat from the trencher. “I did not realize I was hungry.”

“Nor I. Food has a way of making us know that we are hungry.”

They sopped their selection in the puddle of whale oil, gripped bite-sized chunks firmly in their teeth, and cut off the excess with their knives. This process was not without a certain element of danger, as evidenced by the scarred noses and lips of more than a few of those aboard.

By comparison, the fish was easy to consume. It, too, had been salted, smoked, and air-dried to the consistency of leather; however, when soaked in the puddle of whale oil for a short time, it gave up much of its toughness.

The book excerpt posted here today is part of this book's virtual tour, courtesy Pump Up Your Book Promotion.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Author Guest Post - Donna Lea Simpson

Today I'm pleased to welcome Donna Lea Simpson, author of Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark. Her guest post here today is part of this book's virtual tour, courtesy Danielle of Sourcebooks.

About the Author

Donna Lea Simpson is a nationally bestselling romance and mystery novelist with over twenty titles published in the last ten years. An early love for the novels of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie was a portent of things to come; Donna believes that a dash of mystery adds piquancy to a romantic tale, and a hint of romance adds humanity to a mystery story. Donna lives in Canada.

About the Book

Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark
Donna Simpson
416 p, Sourcebooks Casablanca, ISBN-10: 1402217919
England, 1786

Lady Anne, a smart, stubborn, and skeptical spinster, travels north to Yorkshire at the request of a newly married friend to try to figure out what is going on. A wolf—or werewolf—is roaming the countryside near Darkefell Castle, terrorizing the populace and harassing the sheep herds. The hour she arrives in Yorkshire she stumbles across a body, and her outraged sensibility demands she discover who committed such a foul deed.

With a bewildering love/hate relationship developing between her and the master of Darkefell Castle, the Marquess of Darkefell—he happens to also be her friend’s new brother-in-law—Anne investigates, digging into the family history. Confused by the marquess’s passionate pursuit of her and skeptical of the claims of a werewolf on the loose, Lady Anne manages to triumph, uncovering the reality of a very human murderer, a bitter enemy of the family, just in time to keep from becoming his next victim.

Alarmed by her growing passion for the imperious Marquess of Darkefell, Anne flees after successfully unmasking the killer. But Darkefell, as stubborn as Anne and twice as imposing, follows her. Their courtship, unconventional but fiery, will play out over three books, as he attempts to bully… or rather persuade her to marry him, and she tries desperately to concentrate on debunking ghosts, and discrediting gypsy curses.

Author's Guest Post
Finding the Balance

PhotobucketI wondered, when I set out to write the Lady Anne series, whether I was taking a chance. Would romance readers embrace the mystery elements that are a strong thread in the series? Would mystery readers get impatient with the strong romantic undertones? Would paranormal fans be put off by the rationality of my heroine? Would readers of historical romance be offended by the gothic and paranormal touches that enliven the novels?

In other words, was I trying to be too many things to too many people?

I threw caution to the wind, because ultimately, I came back to the central core of my beliefs about writing. I’m your average reader, in a lot of ways. As long as I write what I would like to read, I ought to be okay, right? I do hope that’s true.

But I set out from the beginning to find the balance, that perfect symmetry that would please me as a reader. At first, that was a fairly simple. Book one, Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark, is where Lady Anne Addison and Lord Anthony Darkefell meet, and there is immediate antagonism mingled with attraction. Fun, right?

In book two, Lady Anne and the Ghost’s Revenge, things are getting a little more intense in the romance department, as they are likely to when a man is serious about a woman. Still, no big deal. They are investigating a mystery, and spend a lot of time together, so the sexual chemistry works. Mulder and Scully, right? David and Maddie from Moonlighting.

But when two people are seriously attracted to each other, sexual intercourse often happens… full on, passionate sexual engagement. Even back in the day, men and women did end up in bed together. However… you can’t do that in a mystery novel! But I wasn’t writing a mystery novel; the Lady Anne series is being marketed as a romance series with mystery plots attached.

Yikes, I thought, what have I gotten myself into? Should Anne and Tony make love in book three, Lady Anne and the Gypsy Curse, or not? I’m not saying they have or they haven’t, but it’s a distinct possibility with two people who can’t seem to stop kissing each other! (Not in public… no PDA’s in Georgian England!)

Ultimately, I have settled my mind to this; as with every other aspect of every novel I have ever written, I will do what comes naturally for the characters, and the reading public will decide whether I have successfully found a way to balance the two elements, the romance and the mystery. Have I done it? Have I walked the high wire?

Time – and readers – will tell!

Thank you for that entertaining post, dear Author! Readers, your questions and comments are most welcome.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Author Guest Post - Mary Margret Daughtridge

Today I'm pleased to welcome Mary Margret Daughtridge, author of SEALed with a Promise. Her guest post here today is part of this book's virtual tour, courtesy Danielle of Sourcebooks.

About the Book

SEALed with a Promise
Mary Margret Daughtridge
Can the strength of her love temper his need for revenge?

Navy SEAL Caleb Delaude had a less-than-ideal childhood. His biological father abandoned his family at Caleb's birth and left them to a life of poverty, refusing to help even as his mother lay dying. So when he is assigned to protect the powerful senator who he suspects is his father, his vicious grudge turns into a strong urge for revenge.

But then he meets biology professor Emmie Caddington, a close friend of the senator's daughter. He thinks he'll use her to spring the secret of his illegitimate birth on the senator's unsuspecting family, but his interest in Emmie begins to get complicated.

He's a SEAL 24/7, and that doesn't leave much time for women or love. Her fascination with him finally makes him feel good about himself, but when the truth finally comes out, will their budding relationship be nothing more than a means to revenge... or is she the key to his salvation?

Author's Guest Post
Seasons, Settings, and SEALs

The other day in a drug store, I stopped to look at a display of home weather station devices. As I compared wired and wireless thermometers and moisture sensors, another customer, an elderly man with a watermelon of a belly under a forest green shirt wandered over to kibitz.

After we had discussed the merits of the systems offered and their price tags, he asked me, “Why do you want one?”

“Oh, I like weather,” I said.

The answer seemed to puzzle him. “Are you meteorologist?” he persisted.

“No.” I searched for a more complete answer to give him, but I didn’t have one. “I just like weather.”

And I do. Weather is an essential element of setting. Readers won’t sit still for long descriptions of locale. By using weather I can place my reader inside the setting. I like to use weather, not so much to give the characters an obstacle to overcome, as to reveal character, establish mood and even to subtly underscore the theme.

SEALed With a Promise begins about a month after SEALed With A Kiss ends, which puts it near the end of November.

The likelihood of hurricanes notwithstanding, autumn brings the best, most enjoyable weather to Eastern North Carolina of the whole year.

First of all, fall is a season which lasts a long, long time—unlike spring which can come and be gone in a month, or winter which rarely gets serious for more than a couple of months.

In fall, the energy-sapping heat and humidity relent. Mosquitoes, flies, and gnats abate their annoyance. One miraculously perfect, seventy-eight degree, bright blue-and-gold day follows the next. Without the heat haze, the air is preternaturally clear, bright sun sparkles off every surface, and shadows are so sharp and dense they appear to be cut from midnight blue fabric and draped across lawns and streets and houses.

Everyday, people exclaim at the beautiful weather. And the next day, they exclaim that the perfection has miraculously happened again.

Caleb, called Do-Lord by his SEAL friends, meets Emmie on one of those exquisite fall days. It’s so warm that, for a wedding breakfast, linen-covered tables have been set out on the wide, white porches of the grand old Victorian—even though it’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Caleb comes from Alabama trailer-trash. For the first time he’s in a place where people are actually living the idyll of Southern hospitality and graciousness. The perfect weather underscores that these people can have anything they want. He—who has never even been to a wedding before, much less one among the upper crust—is meeting the challenge with a SEAL’s competence and adaptability, but on the inside he’s aware he’s faking it. He isn’t one of them and he doesn’t belong.

But his nemesis, Senator Teague Calhoun, does.

When Emmie, best friend of the bride, comes to him needing his covert operative skills for her cockamamie a scheme to liberate the wedding cake, he suddenly sees beyond her spinsterish exterior. She is one of these people, but she’s not. A fling with her would provide the cover he needs to infiltrate Calhoun’s world. If they’re a couple, he can hide in plain sight while he gathers the intelligence he needs to bring Calhoun down, something he’s waited seventeen years to do.

And it won’t be a hardship duty. The more he sees of Emmie, the prettier she gets, and the more he’s captured by her quirky charm.

For the first time in his life, he grants himself a luxury he’s never had before: time.

A season which seems to offer a respite from time’s relentless passage is the perfect setting to underscore themes of time and timelessness I explored in SEALed With a Promise.

A romance, though, is most of all about the progress of a relationship. For fun, I enjoyed letting the weather change every time Caleb and Emmie entered a new season in their relationship.

Here’s my weather log for today. The sky I can see (through the red fringe that has appeared on the maple outside my window) is an even, silky gray. It rained all day yesterday and today. Creamy white jonquils wait for the sun’s return with heads patiently bowed.

SEALed With a Promise will appear April 1.

Thanks for letting me come by A Book Blogger's Diary. So what’s your favorite season, or setting?

Thank you for that entertaining post, dear Author! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Rose Variations by Marisha Chamberlain

The Rose Variations Marisha Chamberlain
352 p, Soho Press, 1569475385
About the Book

The Rose Variations by Marisha Chamberlain, is garnering high praise from critics—“an enthralling first novel,” says James Wilcox in The New York Times Book Review.

The Rose Variations is about finding that elusive balance between career and love, security and independence. In it, we meet 25-year-old Rose MacGregor, who, in 1975, takes a temporary professorship at a Midwestern college, convinced that an exciting career as a composer lies ahead. Determined to stay independent, she struggles with love, loneliness, ambition, and the perplexing question of happiness.

The Author is frequently asked whether this book is autobiographical. Here’s her answer:


In my novel, The Rose Variations, from Soho Press, composer Rose MacGregor is viewed at an intimate distance. So naturally readers want to know whether the book is autobiographical. The answer is yes, of course. We writers only ever write about ourselves, though often in heavy disguise.

The real Rose behind the Rose in the book is myself, but also a dozen women artists and writer friends who went through horrors trying to balance work and love. The triumphs of the early career years have a blow-you-over intensity and the humiliations feel fatal.

Several characters in my novel bend themselves out of shape trying to attain security – job security, and security through marriage. The setting is a college so the job security available is academic tenure. I know about the deceptive allure of tenure not from my own work life, but because my father campaigned and won academic tenure and managed to lose his job anyway.

When it comes to love, Rose MacGregor gets herself into one scrape after another. Some of these are my own trials and errors, some, those of my friends, and some I made up from bits and pieces of things I saw and heard. All for the sake of the story—a story set in an era when the slogan, just do it, meant, not sports, but exercise between the bed sheets.

The form of fiction allows a writer to tell the truth more completely than possible in an essay or a memoir, where assertions must be based on fact. The ‘once upon a time’, implied at the beginning of a novel takes us to an alternate world where facts fall away. There, we look not only at people and what they do, but into their very hearts. If the story seems true, we’re there.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Review - The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth

Review Contributor: Tanya of www.books4yourkids.com
The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
illustrations by Lynd Ward and Jael, 74 pp, Reading Level 3 

The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth and winner of the Newbery Award in 1931 is a jewel of a book. It may also be the shortest book to win the award since it was first given in 1922.

At it's heart, this book is a collection of Jataka Tales (explanation to follow) woven together by the external story of a poor young artist who sends his housekeeper to the market to buy food with the last of his money. She returns not with food, but with a cat.  Angered at first, cats not always having the best reputation, the artist relents and says, "Sometimes it is good fortune to have even a devil in the household.  It keeps the other devils away."  And, upon finding that she is a tri-color cat, which is a sign of good luck, the artist agrees to allow the housekeeper to name her Good Fortune. 

She proves true to her name when the artist is commissioned to paint the scene of the Lord Buddha's death for the village temple.  If his painting is well received, the artist will never have to worry about going hungry again.  If it is rejected, his career will be ruined.  The artist meditates long and hard on his subject matter, first imagining himself as Siddhartha, the Indian Prince, in his final human incarnation before he attained Enlightenment and became the Buddha.  In Buddhism, there is no heaven, but rather nirvana, which is the state of freedom from the cycle of birth-death-rebirth, freedom from the restraints of a corporeal body. Nirvana, a oneness with the universe, is the goal of enlightenment.  As he sits, near death, the Buddha's disciples and the animals of the earth come to bid him farewell.  However, the cat does not join them, refusing to pay homage.  Remembering this, the artist thinks to himself, "and so, by her own independent act, only the cat has the doors of Paradise closed in her face."  With his affection for Good Fortune growing, the artist is saddened by this fact. 

However, he continues to meditate and paint, depicting the various animals did come to pay homage, Good Fortune always by his side, encouraging and offering her praise of his masterful work.  With each animal he considers painting, the artist remembers a different birth story, or Jataka Tale, from the Buddha's many lifetimes, of which there are over 550.  The stories illustrate Buddhist virtues, particularly those of charity, compassion and self-sacrifice, through the stories of the Buddha's various incarnations, both human and animal.  Buddhists believe in reincarnation and karma, the law of cause and effect.  The karma or one life sets up the next life, but does not determine the unfolding of that life.  Good acts in one life make it possible to be be reborn into a life that allows you to continue practicing good virtues on the path to enlightenment.  The traditional birth and death dates of Siddhartha are 563 - 483 BCE.  The Jataka Tales are dated between 300 and 400 AD and are believed to have influenced Aesop's Fables and other traditional folktaled. 

Although the book is only seventy-four pages, Coatsworth manages to fit in more than ten Jataka Tales, including that of the Banyan Deer.  As he nears completion of his painting, the artist struggles with his love for Good Fortune and his sadness that he cannot paint a cat in his picture.  Trying to find a way around this, the artist thinks of the tiger and how devoted it is to it's mate and cubs.  He remembers the story of how Siddhartha won the hand of Princess Yosadhara by out performing the other contestants in a match for her hand.  As he was led to the side of the Princess, her face hidden behind a gold and black striped veil, Siddhartha leaned in and whispered, "By you veil I know that you remember how once, in another life, you were a tigress, and I was the tiger who won you in open combat against all the others."  The artist discovers that the fierceness in love and love in fierceness can been seen as a virtue, as a "narrow pathway by which the tiger reaches the Buddha."  Looking at his painting after adding the tiger, the artist finds his "scroll of silk seemed scarcely large enough to hold all those varied lives, all that gathering of devotion about the welling up of love." 

The artist imagines how his little cat feels, excluded from this scene, and tears come to his eyes as he imagines all the other animals receiving the Buddha's blessing.  He hears the doors of nirvana close before Good Fortune and decides to add her to the painting.  When the priest from the temple arrives the next day to view the finished painting, he rebukes the artist for painting a cat into the picture when he knew that the cat did not belong there.  The priest says, "The cat must suffer for her obstinacy and you from yours.  As one can never erase work once done, I will take the painting tomorrow and officially burn it.  Some other artist's picture must hang in our temple."   The artist thinks sadly of what this will mean for his life and the housekeeper weeps for bringing the little cat home in the first place.  The artist meditates through the night and sees the sun rise.  And our after dawn a commotion arises in the village as the priests of the Temple run to the artist's house, speaking of a miracle granted by the compassion of the Buddha.  The artist finds his painting altered.  Where the last animal, the cat, had been painted there is only white silk.  The Great Buddha, whom the artist had painted with his hands folded upon his chest is now reaching out an arm in blessing.  Underneath the Buddha's hand sits a tiny cat with "her white head bowed in happy adoration."  Brilliantly, Coatsworth manages to take her story of the artist and the cat and turn that into a Jataka Tale as well, illuminating the virtues of charity, empathy and compassion that the housekeeper and artist showed for the cat upon bringing her into their home.

This story bears reading more than once because it is deceptively simple in it's many layers.  It is easy, upon first reading, to get caught up in the Jataka Tales and gloss over the story of the artist.  However, upon second reading, the empathy that the artist gains through his mediations in preparation for each stage of the painting are truly profound.  He is not just remembering a story, but imagining himself to be each creature and human that he is thinking of.  And, finally, there are the poems in the book, the eight songs of the housekeeper that tell her story as well.  The illustrations of Lynd Ward and the wood block prints of Jael add yet another wonderful layer to this story.  Simple as it is, I think that this story should be read in context with a discussion of the teachings of the Buddha, especially the virtues that the Jataka Tales illustrate.

For Jataka Tales you can visit:
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Excerpt - The Saga of Beowulf by R. Scot Johns

The Saga of Beowulf
R. Scot Johns
About the Book

The Saga of Beowulf is the first complete and accurate novelization of the epic Old English poem Beowulf, chronicling the tragic wars of the rising Nordic nations, the endless blood-feuds of their clans, battles with mythic creatures in an ancient heroic age, and the final, futile struggle of one man against the will of Fate that made of him a Legend.

The story follows the young Norse warrior Beowulf as he embarks upon a fateful quest for vengeance against the creature that slew his father, setting in motion a sequence of events that will bring about the downfall of a nation, all the while fleeing from the woman he has sworn to love. Based on extensive historical research and steeped in Nordic myth and lore, the saga unfolds across the frozen fields of Sweden and the fetid fens of Denmark, ranging from the rocky heights of Geatland to the sprawling battlefields of ancient France, as our hero battles men and demons in a quest to conquer his own fears.

"An epic adventure 1500 years in the making," this classic tale now comes to life once more in a bold new retelling for a modern audience.


To the Unknown Poet...

Late in the third year of King Hrothgar's reign the Great Hall of Heorot was completed at Lejre, and there was much joy in the land of the Danes. Denmark was then new-born, and only recently had the Scylding clan founded by Hrothgar's far-father Sceaf risen to prominence in the rugged lands between the wild North Sea and the dark Baltic. The year was 503 and that joy was to be short-lived.

At that time the Danes had not yet spread across the Jutland peninsula which would one day become their home, but still clung to the cold, hard rock known then as Sea-Land, pressed hard on all sides by the raging ocean tides. Turbulent times would mold this sturdy people into a great seafaring race, proud and strong, whose descendants would range across the far reaches of the world in search of riches and fame. Vikings they would be called, and all who saw their sails would know fear and terror.

But that time had not yet come.

Another race was on the rise at that time as well. They dwelt upon the rocky western shores of Sweden, known then as Göta-Land, the land of the Geats, for so they were called. All along those shores they made their home, beside a frigid Northern Sea that swelled and crashed upon a broad and wild land of sprawling lakes and densely wooded slopes whose jagged peaks were crowned in spires of rugged stone. They, too, were a hearty folk and mighty in those days, already a proud seaworthy people who embraced the shores and the coastal lands that looked across high waves toward the southern island realm of the war-famed Danes. Many loved and feared them, and the tales told of their deeds are filled with dread and wonder.

But their Fate was to be far different from that of the Danes, or of the Swedes who would one day devour their lands, for they were doomed to perish utterly and to fade forever from this world. Yet they would not fall easily, nor fade quietly away, and before that hard day came upon them they would mark their passing with sword and song.

None can now say what poet first wove the words which tell their tale; the poet has fallen as surely as the warriors whose bold deeds he has set down in song. But though the name has perished, still the song remains: in Valhalla it is sung, and down the far corridors its echo may yet be heard.

About the Author

R. Scot Johns is a life-long student of ancient and medieval literature, with an enduring fascination for Norse mythology and epic fantasy. He first came to Beowulf through his love of J. R. R. Tolkien, a leading scholar on the subject. As an Honors Medieval Literature major he has given lectures on such topics as the historical King Arthur and the construction of Stonehenge. He owns and operates Fantasy Castle Books, his own publishing imprint, and writes the blog Adventures of an Independent Author, where you can follow his progress as he writes The Jester’s Quest, his second novel.

You can visit his website at www.fantasycastlebooks.com.

Today's Book Excerpt is part of this book's virtual tour, courtesy Pump Up Your Book Promotion.

If you've read / reviewed this book, do let us all know about it. I'm most interested in your thoughts and comments!
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Author Guest Post - Matt Rees

The Samaritan's Secret (An Omar Yussef Mystery)
Matt Beynon Rees
288 p, Soho Press, 1569475458
About The Book

A member of the tiny but ancient Samaritan community has been murdered. The dead man controlled hundreds of millions of dollars of government money. If the World Bank cannot locate it within the next several days, all aid money to the Palestinians will be cut off. Visiting Nablus, Omar Yussef must solve the murder and find the money, or all Palestinians will suffer.

About The Author

Matt Beynon Rees was born in South Wales. He covered the Middle East as a journalist for over a decade and was Time magazine’s Jerusalem bureau chief for 2000 to 2006. He is the author of the nonfiction work Cain’s Field: Faith, Fratricide and Fear in the Middle East and three mysteries in the Omar Yussef series. The first book in the series, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger.

Choosing a title – again, and again, and again
By Matt Beynon Rees

Writing a book that sells in many countries is like owning multiple passports. Each one bearing a different name. You can end up wonder exactly who you are.
My Palestinian crime novels have sold to publishers in 22 countries and appear under almost as many different titles. Needless to say, it isn’t me who’s changing the title. For aspiring writers or fans of fiction, I think it’s very interesting to look at how publishers chop and change titles to make them appeal to more readers, as they see it. It’s a slow process that has left me wondering just how many titles I’ll have to come up with before all my publishers are satisfied. Sometimes it makes writing the novel seem like the easy part. At least it's less confusing.

Take my first novel, published in the US as THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM in 2007. For this story of gangster Palestinian militias and a schoolteacher’s fight to save a former pupil from execution for collaborating with Israeli soldiers, my original title was “The Blood of the Martyr.” I thought it was a good play on a line spoken by the hero during one of the climactic scenes and also a reference to the topical concept of “martyrdom” in Arab society.

My New York agent thought it was too political, so we came up with “The Collaborator.” When Soho Press bought it, they tacked “of Bethlehem” onto the end as a clear signal of location.
But my London publisher had different thoughts. To the British ear, he said, “collaborator” suggests a World War II thriller, which would be popular with men. We want women, he said, to buy your book, so let’s make it clear that it’s a mystery. Hence in the UK the book appeared as “The Bethlehem Murders.” It sounds a little more like a “cosy,” perhaps, than I’d have liked, given that my book is to say the least rather gritty.
Then we hit Europe. In Italy and Spain, it was “The Teacher of Bethlehem.” Germany, Portugal and Holland went with “The Traitor of Bethlehem” and in Norway and Sweden we had “Murder in Bethlehem.”
With my second book, published in the US as A GRAVE IN GAZA, I thought I’d nailed it. My sleuth goes to Gaza and is involved in a plot surrounding weapons smuggling and corruption among Palestinian security chiefs. I’d spoil it if I said how the “grave” features in the plot, but it does. The title alliterated and had the feel of a mystery.
But, opined my London publisher, “Gaza” makes people think of nonfiction and the news. Stick with “The ------ Murders,” he suggested. So I came up with “The Saladin Murders,” because the missile that’s being smuggled is called the Saladin and the main road through the Gaza Strip, on which some of the action takes place, is called the Saladin Road.
That title, I think, was a little bit too cosy-ish. But it has a flavor of the Middle East, so it seems to have worked.
Meanwhile in Italy the book was called “Death in Gaza” …you get the picture.
With my third novel finally US and UK publishers agreed and brought out the book under the same title in February. THE SAMARITAN’S SECRET fit the plot, which takes place partially among the remnants of the ancient sect of Samaritans who live on a hilltop in the West Bank, and had the right mysterious feel. Everyone was happy.
Then last week my French publisher decided on “Murder Among the Samaritans” – and here we go again.

Matt Beynon Rees’s latest Palestinian crime novel The Samaritan’s Secret is published by Soho Press. His website is www.mattbeynonrees.com

Thank you for that insight into an author's dilemma, Matt. The book sure sounds good and I hope to read it one day. Readers, your thoughts and comments are most welcome!

To take a virtual tour of Nablus and the locations in Matt Beynon Rees's The Samaritan's Secret, click here.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Tour - GALWAY BAY by Mary Pat Kelly

Galway Bay
Mary Pat Kelly
576 pages, Grand Central Publishing, ISBN-10: 0446579009
About the Book

In the bestselling tradition of Frank Delaney, Colleen McCullough, and Maeve Binchy comes a poignant historical family saga set against the Famine.

Here at last is one Irish family's epic journey, capturing the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience. In a rousing tale that echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family, inhabiting a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations. Selling both their catch--and their crops--to survive, these people subsist on the potato crop--their only staple food. But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million.

Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees in one of the greatest rescues in human history: the Irish Emigration to America. Danger and hardship await them there. Honora and her unconventional sister Maire watch their seven sons as they transform Chicago from a frontier town to the "City of the Century", fight the Civil War, and enlist in the cause of Ireland's freedom. The Kelly clan is victorious. This heroic story sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today's 44 million Irish American

Letter From The Author

The bones of Galway Bay come from my own family history, a story I discovered slowly over decades of research. In the beginning tracing my roots meant cranking through reels and reels of microfilm in a fruitless search. To access the U.S. Census records I needed the address where the Kelly’s first lived in Chicago, which I did not have.

Then I realized my father’s first cousin, Sister Mary Erigina, BVM might know. She did. Born Agnella Kelly in 1889, she had in fact lived with her great grandmother Honora Kelly. Agnella lived to be 107, her mind sharp and her interest keen.

Now I found the right reel. Here were the names of Honora’s children, their ages, but nothing about where they came from in Ireland. Finally I followed the trail to Galway and discovered at last the record of the birth of Honora Keeley, September 15, 1822. And the place? A fishing village right on the shores of Galway Bay. The cottages were gone but the Bay was the same. I stood on the beach looking out, and could almost see my great-great-great-grandfather John Keeley setting out in a pucán, guided by a knowledge of winds, currents, and the patterns followed by the fish themselves that he’d learned from past generations. I went to the site of the fish market in Galway City and imagined Honora and her mother selling the catch under the Spanish Arch, bargaining and trading, handling money. Rare for women of that time. How did that shape their character?

I found that after Honora married Michael Kelly, they moved. Spidery handwriting in the church register recorded the births of each of their children, including my own great-grandfather, Patrick Kelly, and gave the name of their townland, a farming area in the hills above Galway Bay. I found the actual acres they had rented from the landlord and knelt down and touched this special piece of earth. Then I wondered how they’d coaxed a living from the stony ground. I knew the wheat and barley they raised went to pay an exorbitant rent. They relied on potatoes as their staple food. I now understood the songs that praised the wonder of the potato. The rich might have disdained the pratties, but the nutrients in these humble vegetables, unknown at the time, allowed my ancestors and their neighbors to thrive. Large healthy families were common, until the blight came and the inherent injustice of the system meant over one million died. And yet two million escaped, one reaching back for the next—the Kellys among them. Gone to Amerikay.

As I continued my research, American history came alive for me as well. The Civil War—brother against brother—a description I’d often heard. But when I found a descendant of the Mulloy family who had shared land with Michael Kelly in 1840, I began to really understand. Eugene Mulloy’s ancestors had lived in Nashville for generations. Had the sons of these Irish neighbors fought against each other in the terrible war?

I think all those who explore their family tree find that the experience changes them. History is not presidents and generals, battles and dates, it’s us! In these difficult times knowing what our ancestors survived is soul-sustaining. Think of it—wars, famine, genocide, the middle passage, slavery—and get here we are. I felt inspired by my ancestors and profoundly grateful for the life their endurance gave me. I hope Galway Bay inspires you to celebrate your own heritage.

The Internet has transformed the process of genealogical research. I have listed here some sites I find very useful. You can find more information on my research for GALWAY BAY at www.MaryPatKelly.com.

If you’re of Irish heritage, do go to Ireland—I suggest you knock on doors in the area that your family came from. You may not find a relative, but I can guarantee you’ll meet a friend and be offered a cup of tea.

The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation
Newberry Library (Chicago)
U.S. National Archives
Ireland has done an amazing job of computerizing their genealogical records.
Here’s a way to connect to the County Genealogical Centers
Tourism Ireland has a helpful guide called Tracing Your Ancestors in Ireland. Visit their website: Tourism Ireland - www.discoverireland.com for more information.

Also, Author Mary Pat Kelly will participate in a Blog Talk Radio interview at 11 AM ET TODAY! Click here for more information.

This book tour brought to you, courtesy Hachette books!

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