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Monday, July 28, 2014

Guest Author - Juliet Blackwell

This is an author whose work I just enjoy.  I know when I pick up on of her books I will enjoy the story and characters.  I can just enjoy the storytelling.  I have been following her Witchcraft series since the first book.  Read my reviews of the prior books:  #1 Secondhand Spirits (click here), #2 Cast Off Coven (click here),  #3 Hexes and Hemlines (click here), #4 In a Witch's Wardrobe (click here), #5 Tarnished and Torn (click here) and #6 A Vision in Velvet (click here).  Also her Haunted Home Renovations series:  #1  If Walls Could Talk (click here).  #2 Deadbolt (click here), #3 Murder on the House (click here), and #4 Home for the Haunting (click here).    Today Ms. Blackwell joins us with a guest post regarding her recent book release, A Vision in Velvet.

On Research, Or How to Create A Modern Witch

One reason I love being a writer is that I can spend a lot of time doing things like shopping in vintage clothing stores, and call it “research”. But when I set out to write the Witchcraft Mystery Series, I wanted my main character, Lily Ivory, to be not only the owner of a vintage clothing store, but also a believable modern witch…so how could I make that happen?

Of course, Bewitched reruns were among my favorite shows when I was a kid. But I didn’t want my protagonist to be silly, someone who could simply wiggle her nose and make things happen.

So while researching the Witchcraft Mystery Series, I have attended coven meetings in the Bay Area (yes, the Bay Area is one of those regions where a person can find covens open to visitors!), and I’ve spoken not only with women who identify as Wiccan, but also Feri and other pagan traditions. I’ve interviewed people who make their living as witches and fortune tellers; people who brew and cast and read tarot cards and crystal balls. I have met with psychics and ghostbusters, and learned some extraordinary things about their world, and about myself!

I also draw on my academic background in “medical anthropology”, a field that focuses on health care throughout the world, or “folk medicine”. This includes what many refer to as “witch doctors” –trusted members of the community who are experts in botanical and ritual cures for both physical and mental problems. Locally, I have consulted with midwives, naturopaths, and acupuncturists who specialize in traditional herbal remedies.

Finally, I turned to family. My mother-in-law is from a small native (Nahuatl) village, and she’s a font of information and stories from her traditional background. My sister-in-law put me in touch with a practicing Mexican witch who scared the pants off of me! And my nieces are able to give me an insider’s view of their experiences of curanderismo, or the healing arts, in modern-day Mexico.

Lily Ivory’s world grew out of all this research. As I learned more about the history of witchcraft and the treatment of powerful women (and some men) over the years, I came to understand that a magical lineage would be a complex, fascinating, and sometimes fraught background for anyone to carry in their mind and heart. I kept asking myself: what would it be like to grow up with the knowledge that “your kind” has been mistreated throughout history, and that you might be hated and feared as well? And further, what would it be like to know, for instance, that you have the power to avenge the taunting of your classmates at school? What kind of restraint and strength of character would it take not to abuse that power?

When Lily lands in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and opens her vintage clothing store…well, let’s just say that neighborhood is so full of iconoclasts and freethinkers

that a misfit witch doesn’t stick out much. It’s the first time Lily’s been able to find community, and to open up to friendship.

Lily and the gang have led me to more research than I ever thought I’d do, and I’ve learned so much about the ins and outs of San Francisco, and the many worlds of witchcraft. I’m a lucky writer!

How about you? Have you been led on any research adventures? Any coven visits in your past (or future)? Have you ever been with a natural healer or fortune teller who seemed to just know things? 


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THANK You Ms. Blackwell for this fun post.  We are delighted you joined us.

 
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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review - A Vision in Velvet

This is another series I have been a fan of since its debut.  Read my reviews of the prior books:  #1 Secondhand Spirits (click here), #2 Cast Off Coven (click here),  #3 Hexes and Hemlines (click here), #4 In a Witch's Wardrobe (click here), and #5 Tarnished and Torn (click here).  I also interviewed the author twice: interview #2 (click here), and interview #1 (click here).  Lily finds herself in the middle of mayhem yet again, she is gifted that way.



Author: Juliet Blackwell

Copyright: July 2014 (NAL) 336 pgs

Series: 6th in Witchcraft Mystery series

Sensuality: kissing

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Cozy

Main Characters: Lily Ivory, powerful natural witch and owner of vintage clothing store

Setting: Current day San Francisco

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Lily buys an ancient trunk full of decaying old clothes from Sebastian Crowley. Not because she can sell any of it, but because of the gold velvet cape at the bottom that is calling to her.  Later, when she tries on the cape, she gets a vivid vision of an old witch trial. And when Sebastian, the junk dealer who sold her the cape, is killed, Lily suspects something wicked this way comes.

Then Lily’s familiar, Oscar the potbellied pig, disappears when visiting the tree in the park where Sebastian was found dead.  Lily is frantic to figure out why the killer is and get Oscar back safely.  She will take some big chances, even risk Aidan's wrath to get Oscar back.

Lily is growing from the loner she once was to realizing she needs people in her life. Oscar's disappearance helps her to understand how her life has changed and won't just let go.  Graciela, her grandmother, gets to play a role in this story.  Oscar, Lily's Goblin-Gargoyle mix familar shows how much he really cares for her.  Sailor is back and I love the developments between Lily and him.  Bartholmew Woolsey is the old man who originally owned the trunk and clothes. He begs Lily to break a curse placed on his family from several generations back.  The California Academy of Sciences gives several scientists in minor roles that are an interesting touch.  Will Chambers, the professor of religious studies, is a friend of old Bart who provides some history to the puzzle for Lily.

San Francisco is always a delight in this series, but we get the addition of Golden Gate Park this time around.  I love the descriptions of the city and neighborhoods.  The plot was engrossing and pulled me right in. The pacing kept my interest from the beginning and didn't let go until the last page.  The climatic showdown had Lily giving it her all and I don't know how Ms. Blackwell can follow this up.  The wrap-up gave a tantalizing hint of a connection between Lily and an ancient witch.

Ms. Blackwell has written another gripping and delightful story, sheer entertainment with all the ingredients: murder, danger, high stakes, love, plenty of suspects, tight-rope walk with Aidan, a tense showdown, and of course, crazy Oscar.  But did Lily pass her GED exam?

Ratings: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.






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Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Author - Anna Lee Huber and Giveaway

This week we have a wonderful guest post from the author of the Lady Darby historical mystery series.  Ms. Anna Lee Huber graduated summa cum laude from Lipscomb University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music and a minor in Psychology, but she had been interested in writing since she wrote her first story at ten years old.  She shares an interesting post with us today.

Plus, we have two books for a giveaway. 

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An Interview with Lady Darby
 

For this post, I turned to my readers, asking them what questions they would pose to my heroine—Kiera, Lady Darby—if they had the opportunity to interview her. So without further ado, let’s settle down for a cozy chat.

Anna Lee Huber: Thank you for joining us today, Lady Darby. I know you were hesitant to speak with us.


Lady Darby: Yes. I’m not really accustomed to such things. (She fidgets in her chair.) Perhaps it would be best if you spoke with Mr. Gage instead.


ALH: Maybe later. But we really want to hear from you.


LD: I see.


ALH: The last time we heard from you (in Mortal Arts), you were leaving Edinburgh to stay with your brother at your childhood home in the Borders region of Scotland. You were quite distressed. Did you find what you were looking for?


LD: (She hesitates.) Yes and no. I was glad to escape the bustle of the city and the meddling of certain loved ones. (Her eyebrows lift significantly and I nod, understanding she refers to her sister.) But I’m afraid the peace I sought has eluded me.


ALH: You’ve dealt with and survived a significant amount of turmoil in the recent past, which has somewhat freed you from the traditional path and expectations of an aristocratic lady. Where do you hope to find yourself a year from now? Five years from now?


LD: (She glances down at her lap.) I’m not sure. I suppose comfortably situated, painting portraits. Maybe sharing my life with someone. (She blushes.) Really I just hope to be content, happy.


ALH: Considering the harsh judgments and gossip that have surrounded you since your husband’s death, I must say you’re admirably optimistic. What advice do you have for women who fall from society’s good graces? How does a lady rise above it?


LD: I’m not certain you truly can. I think perhaps the key is to accept responsibility for your actions, but not those of other people (she stresses), and then forgive yourself and try to build a life that makes you happy and fulfilled. Perhaps you will never have society’s approval—they can be appallingly hypocritical—but the people who really matter will never abandon you.


ALH: If you had to do your life over again, where would you start? What is the pivotal moment or choice?


LD: (She considers the question carefully.) I would like to say that I wouldn’t marry Sir Anthony (her deceased husband). But had I not, then certain people might never have entered my life. (She contemplates the question further.) I do wish I had stood up for myself sooner instead of cowering in fear and hiding away at my brother-in-law’s castle.


ALH: Do you regret asking your father to find a husband for you? Do you feel that he failed you?


LD: (Her face closes off.) It’s complicated.


I realize I’ve miss-stepped, so I end with a lighter question.

ALH: You are a gifted portrait painter. Why do you choose to paint portraits instead of, say landscapes, especially when so many in society still treat you with disdain?
 

LD: It’s what I’m drawn to. Capturing that essence of what makes a person unique, be it in the twinkle in their eye or the quirk of their lip. I can’t help it really. I just seem to see more than others do. Landscapes and still lifes simply don’t hold the same

THANK You Ms. Huber for this delightful visit with the heroine of your series!

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NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!


Entry for giveaway lasts until Sunday July 27th, 6:00 p.m. (MST).  U.S.  entries only please.  The publisher will ship one copy of A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber and one copy of From Fear to Eternity by Michelle Rowen to a second winner.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower or email subscriber) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.  Please leave your contact email address.

I will accept entries for this giveaway until Sunday July 27th, 2014.  I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your physical mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.  BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

If you mention this and provide a link on your Facebook or Twitter to share with friends, please note that in the comments and you will get an addition entry for the giveaway!



   

 Thank you for following and enjoy your reading adventures!

 
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review - A Grave Matter


I have been a fan of this series since I reviewed the first book, The Anatomist's Wife (click here).  I have also reviewed #2 Mortal Arts (click here) and was honored to interview the author (click here.)  Now for the next book in this fascinating historical mystery.


Author: Anna Lee Huber

Copyright: July 2014 (Berkley) 432 pgs

Series: 3rd in Lady Darby Mystery series

Sensuality: mild kissing

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Mystery

Main Characters: Lady Kiera Darby, an accomplished artist,widow, and social outcast

Setting: 1830, Scotland

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

After the events in the previous book (Mortal Arts), Kiera returns to her childhood home to grieve the loss of her friend.  Her brother Trevor is the master of the home now and she enjoys her time with him.  But while most of Scotland is celebrating Hogmanay Ball (New Years) with lavish parties, a cemetery caretaker is murdered as theives rob a grave of a nobleman's bones for ransom.  Inquiry agent Sebastian Gage is called in and Kiery must face the complicated relationship between them while enraveling who has been ransoming nobleman's skeleton's around England.  But, then it becomes clear there may be an underlying reason why those particular noblemen's graves are targeted. Bonnie Brook, the leader of the largest Resurrectionists gang, demands that Kiera find his sister who was lured away by one of the men involved in the ransoming scheme...or else.

Lady Kiera Darby faces much of her inner demons in this addition to the series as her relationship with Gage becomes more emotionally vested.  The damage emotionally and psychologically from her deceased husband plagues her with certainty, fear, and doubt about Gage while they investigate.  Sebastian Gage, the son of a London investigator, is fighting his own battles, with his father arranging a marriage for him and his own self doubts while trying to catch the thieves who have bested him before.  Trevor, Kiera's brother, is a welcome new character who expresses the mental anguish her family experienced when they realized something was wrong with her marriage to Sir Anthony Darby.  Trevor is a devoted brother and struggles to help her find her way.  Mr. Stuart, the Frenchman in demand at parties around England had far more to him than you initially think.  Even Bonnie Brook has a few surprises.




Dryburgh Abbey ruins are a great and eerie setting for the New Year's grave robbing and murder.  The book continues from there with a trip to Edinburgh and then back to the English/Scottish border.  The basic plot idea is pretty simple in that there is somebody robbing nobleman's graves of their bones, which the prevalent thinking was the person's soul was then put in jeopardy.    The pacing moved along steadily between the murder case and the tensions between Kiera and Gage, although their relationship comprises more of the story than in the prior two novels.

The climax was built up to and delivers good tension that is logical when chasing a paid ransom, what happens at the end of the line!  The wrap-up left me wanting more.

This novel provides a bridge from Kiera helping with investigations because it directly impacts her, to her wanting to sleuth.  I like how she is included in the investigation without constant censuring or pestering about the danger.  I enjoy historical mysteries and this is one of my favorite series. 

Ratings: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 





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Monday, July 14, 2014

Author Interview Highlights- Michelle Rowen

I reviewed the first book in this series, Blood, Bath and Beyond (click here) and the second book: Bled and Breakfast (click here), and the newest release From Fear to Eternity (click here).  The backstory to the mystery series began in a paranormal romance that I felt compelled to read after this latest book.  

So I read the 2008 book Bitten and Smitten, which takes us to Sarah Dearly and Thierry de Bennicoeur's meeting.  It was called Immortality Bites series as a romance and has kept that series name so fans can follow their favorite vampires from their early romance to their mystery solving adventures.  I am really not into romance novels at all, but I have to say I really enjoyed it and particularly loved understanding how a 600 year old master vampire came to be with a newbie vamp. 

Ms Rowen writes paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and young adult fantasy. She was the winner of the 2007 Holt Medallion for Best First Book and the 2009 Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for Vampire Romance. Michelle also writes YA high fantasy as Morgan Rhodes.  Michelle lives in Southern Ontario.  Besides the Immortality Bites series, she writes the Falling Kingdom series, Nightwatcher series, Demon Princess series, Nightshade series, and Living in Eden series.  She is a busy, busy writer.

This interview is provided by the publisher and is an abbreviated version of my full interview with Michelle (click here).  Ms. Rowen gives us a little insight into her writing process, so please enjoy.

Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim, or the plot? 
The heart of my mystery series is my main character, Sarah Dearly, fledgling vampire. Everything that happens plot-wise in the books stems from her, so she’s where I start. What hasn’t she experienced? What does she need to learn? What “creature” do I want to focus on? In BLOOD BATH & BEYOND I stuck with vampires to establish the series. In book 2, BLED & BREAKFAST, I shifted over to ghosts and witches. In book 3, FROM FEAR TO ETERNITY, there’s a djinn on the loose, and enchanted objects up for sale at an exclusive auction. The mystery and the plot seem to evolve organically from there.

Do you outline a book before sitting down and writing?
I do outline before I write, and I usually gravitate to the three act structure. I like to know generally what’s going to happen and especially how everything is going to end (key in writing a mystery), so I spend a lot of time brainstorming and working on essential plot points before I even think about starting to write.

What is your process for developing a character like Sarah Dearly? I’ve been working with Sarah for ten years now and she was the star of my original non-mystery paranormal romance series Immortality Bites, so I know her pretty well by now. She is unique to any character I’ve ever written since she developed herself without much input from me. My original notes on her wanted her to be a bookworm who hadn’t experienced much from life until her transition to vampire. As soon as I started writing her, however, she turned into a sarcastic trouble-magnet who’s led by her heart and gut (sometimes, unfortunately for her, more so than her brain). This is a bit more Urban Fantasy than a typical paranormal cozy. What attracted you to this middle ground for a mystery series? I like to think that the Immortality Bites Mysteries defy categorization. It’s a bit mystery, a bit paranormal romance, a bit chick lit, a smidge of horror, and a whole lot of urban fantasy. “Cozy Mystery,” to me, means that it’s an amateur sleuth who’s doing the mystery-solving. Sarah definitely fits that bill. A cozy will also have a dead body early in the story. Everything else is up to my imagination and I sometimes do like to paint outside the lines and let my characters do whatever they like without being overly defined by genre.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book? 

When I’m writing first drafts, I like to immerse myself in the book and characters. They are constantly in my thoughts as I work out scenes and pesky plot points. I would describe myself as a binge writer, since when I write first drafts I like to do between 10-20 pages a day consistently until I’m done. If I have time, I let the first draft sit for a few days, then I’ll read it over and start my second draft, which usually takes me longer to write than the first one since I’m going slower and looking closely at the details. On my current schedule, I can finish a book (not including the initial brainstorming or the copy edits, etc.) in 3-4 months.

In literature, who is your favorite mystery/suspense character and who is your favorite paranormal character? Tough question… so many I love – Victoria Laurie’s Abby and M.J. J.D. Robb’s Eve. Evanovich’s Stephanie, Jim Butcher’s Harry, Karen Marie Moning’s Mac and Barrons. They’re all so much fun to read… I can’t pick a favorite!

Are paranormal mysteries here to stay or are they a current fad in publishing?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of being a published author, it’s that I have absolutely no idea what’s the future of publishing. For me, I absolutely LOVE paranormal mystery and the freedom it gives authors to write whatever their imaginations offer up. I love the fun, the romance, and the whimsy that’s accepted in this sub-genre. And I hope very much that it’s something that’s here to stay! 


For more info about Michelle and her books, follow her on:

Twitter: @michellerowen



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