Friday, June 17, 2011

We're Moving!

After some debate, I've chosen to move amy & the pen. Between technical issues and a desire for change, it was time for a new host. So this week is my last at this address and starting Monday we will be (Got to keep my name - phew!) To celebrate the change, next week is Open Blog week! So stop by my new address, say hello, bring friends, cupcakes. That sort of thing. We'll have some good posts and with a whole new design, I've gone ahead and refurbished everything, so there's lots to see, read, and in general check out. See you there!

Photo by TheMuuj.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: Doors Open by Ian Rankin

Book #3 for the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge is Ian Rankin's Doors Open. Until now, I only knew the author by name. I'm pushing out of my comfort zone for this challenge and pulling out titles I might pass over normally. Happily, I wasn't disappointed this time around.

Like wtih The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash, Doors Open is a little slow at times with a quieter main character. But plenty happens, and almost worse is the anticipation throughout the entire story that bad things are coming. A relatively normal group of guys have tied up their fates with an Edinburgh gangster and you can bet things are going to go very, very wrong.

What I didn't bet on was liking the characters, especially the the main character, Mike Mackenzie. I don't know why but I went into this novel with the notion that I would hate the characters. I have no explanation for that but there we are. Thankfully, I was wrong. Mike is not what you'd expect for a rich bachelor in this type of novel. He's introverted, intelligent, and bored. I love the fact that boredom with a dose of off-beat sentiment drives him to participate - and ultimately take the lead - in a major art theft.

The whole concept of Doors Open is comfortable but tinkered with. Aspects of the story are a little cheesy and predictable but I really didn't mind. I stayed up late every night to read, and all I could think about the next day was getting back to reading. I finally finished it in the AM hours and just had to sit there for a while to digest. While I always need time between novels, I enjoyed just sitting back and thinking over this one. Part of it is the writer analyzing, and part of it is the reader absorbing.

Did I mention that the story is set in Edinburgh? I've never been to Edinburgh but I want to go now. Rankin makes you feel at home there even if you're all the way on the other side of the Atlantic. That's one thing I love about reading: discovering new places and cultures. This is a good example of a writer using a place he knows (and very, very well) and introducing it to a reader like me. (I'm now more interested in anything set in Scotland.) It's writing like this that has inspired me to make better use of my home state of Massachusetts and other areas I know well.

All in all, Doors Open is an entertaining book and I will definitely be reading more of Ian Rankin's works in the future.

What are your thoughts on Doors Open (or other works by Ian Rankin)? Any suggestions for similar titles?

Monday, June 13, 2011

First Look at The Jester's Apprentice

Today the first chapter of Dead Locked is featured at the indiebookslist. I thought this would be the perfect day then to post the first teaser for my next mystery novel, The Jester's Apprentice. In short, my heroine Philippa is a medieval lady trying to put the past behind her as she marries her second husband. But the past is a tricky thing to escape, and as Philippa begins her new life, old demons resurface that leave her questioning the truth about her new husband, her own family, and a legend only known as the Jester.

I'm still editing so the following excerpt isn't polished to perfection. But you'll meet Philippa and Edric and witness the start of their story. The exact release date will be announced later, but let's just say I'm aiming for July. Enjoy!

* * *
They skipped in a circle, round and round. She closed her eyes as her chest pounded in time with the drum, sweat trickling down her spine beneath the layers of linen and silk. The music halted abruptly, and Philippa opened her eyes to see servants running into the hall and her father leaping from his seat. She broke from the circle as her cook jogged toward her, panting and sweating.

"The barn is on fire!” the woman screeched, grabbing Philippa's arms.

Edric ran from her side on the heels of another servant. Philippa ripped away from her, the shrieks of several ladies fading as she toppled out through the kitchen entrance and dashed across the herb garden. Flames licked the night sky, her former hiding place an orange blaze. Several servants formed a line, hauling water from one end to the other. Edric and other male guests joined them, but Philippa watched the puddles they threw and knew it would never do.

She clambered between the two lines of water bearers, sparks flying out toward her. This was not how she expected the evening to end. Torn between fear and annoyance, she stood there letting the heat waves wash over her sticky skin, mesmerized by how the air became visible in the heat.

"Get back inside!” Edric heaved water onto the fire, steam replacing the heat waves. His eyes pierced hers, some thought or knowledge etched into them.

Philippa tore her eyes from the blaze, blinking as she felt her way in the darkness. She rested a pink cheek against the cool stone of her house and watched them try to put out the fire in vain. She could hear the cook whispering in the kitchen behind her.

"Look what's happened!” she said. “My cousin said he was on the rise, and here's the proof.”

"You don't know that,” another servant hissed. “Homes catch on fire all the time.”

"Doubt if you like, but I know the Jester's work when I see it. I was there you know, when he burned down the master's old home. I saw his grinning face disappear into the woods. And now this, and our mistress going her way to where it all started.”

"Hush before someone hears your nonsense and takes you seriously. It's just a fire, nothing more.”

"Are you all right?” Philippa jumped, riveted by the servants' conversation. Clare stood behind her, her eyes feverish. “It's mass chaos inside.”

"It's nothing to worry about,” Philippa said blankly, leaning her back against the house. “The fire's contained.”

Clare leaned next to her. "Are you worried about the repairs? The animals?”

Philippa half-smiled. “I have more than enough to replace both. That's not the problem.”

Clare tipped her head to the side. “If this catastrophe isn't on your mind, what is?”

"Osbert. It's silly but this just reminded me of him.”

Clare followed Philippa's line of sight back to the fire, steam mixing with the smoke as another tub of water hit the fire, her dark blue eyes shimmering. "Things are now the way they should have been the first time. You will have years to get back the happiness you've lacked. Edric will see to that.”

Philippa closed her eyes. In her heart, she knew it too. Philippa fiddled with the hem of her burgundy dress, tracing the gold embroidery with her fingers. "I know we've only waited mere months for this day, but we both know we've actually waited longer.”

Clare placed a hand on Philippa's shoulder. "You're done waiting, Philippa. I promise. Fire or no fire."

Philippa smiled, but somewhere in the back of her mind she knew this was only the start.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash

So I'm doing some catch-up reading for the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge. I started the year off good and then immediately got behind. C'est la vie. My second read is The Alehouse Murders (A Templar Night Mystery) by Maureen Ash, part of the Templar Knight mystery series. As you may have already guessed, it's a medieval murder mystery set in Lincoln, England, in the year 1200. I chose it mostly for the setting. As you may know, I love medieval mysteries and I especially like anything from that particular time period. It's the age of Robin Hood, and my favorite era.

Official Description:

After years of captivity in the Holy Land, Templar Bascot de Marins escapes with injuries to his body and soul. Now on sojourn at Lincoln Castle, he hopes to regain his strength, and mend his waning faith-but not even the peace of God's countryside is safe from the mortal crimes of man...

When four victims are found slain in the town alehouse, Bascot discovers that what appears to be the grisly end to a drunken row is in fact a cunning and baffling case of murder. Bascot tracks his quarry from bawdy-house to baron's keep, once again risking his life for the justice of God's will.

* * *

My overall impression of this story was that it's rather - quiet. The story is subdued and the sleuth, Bascot de Marins, is almost in the background compared to the other characters, particularly the suspects. That might sound like a bad thing but it's really not. It's actually fitting when you think about it. What should a sleuth do but listen and watch, staying a little apart from everyone to see what's really going on. I think this contrast actually makes Bascot stand out a little more. Plus, he's a likable character with a scarred history and personal turmoil over his past choices and future decisions. He's compassionate and you can tell without a lot of smoke and flash that there is more to him than meets the eye. (That was actually an unintentional pun - he lost one eye in the Crusades.) And I really enjoyed the relationship between Bascot and his young, mute charge, Gianni. Gianni, despite not saying a word, is also a lovable character from his behavior alone.

As to the actual murder mystery, I had no clue whodunnit until the tale end. I did guess before the reveal, but it could have worked out differently. I have to say I was not into the story that much until the middle when an exciting twist is revealed. At the start, I had no idea how it would all connect and it took me until about the half-way point to really care that much. Thereafter, Ash had my attention, and she kept it going with the palpable tension among the suspects. There is very little action apart from the actual crimes, but you don't miss it. There's so much tension between the characters from the start, and even between races with the included historical import of the Jewish community in England at the time.

With all historical-based novels, setting detail is important to inform the reader and ground you in that world and Ash does a stupendous job of doing just that. It's easy to imagine the land, castle, and town. I know different readers may prefer varying amounts of historical detail, but I eat up specifics, especially for this time period. Along that line is a subplot that's entirely unrelated to the murder. Bascot orders custom boots to relieve pain in his foot from an old injury. It's a small thing, but the details and the personal nature of that side story has stuck in my mind. And Ash does tie it in to the murder mystery via information from the shop owner's son.

All-in-all this is a murder mystery grounded in details and subtleties. It's a quieter read with a lot of personal touches that draw you to Bascot and his companion. But the tension and unexpected twists really make this a mystery worth reading.

Have you read The Alehouse Murders or another Templar Knight book? What was your take? Have any suggestions for similar titles?

P.S. I also have a guest post today over at A Word Please. I chat about how everything I love came together in my first novel. I hope it will encourage and inspire you to keep writing!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Interview with Debut Author S.C. Harvey

I caught up with friend and fellow author, S.C. Harvey, this week to ask her a few questions about her debut sci-fi action-adventure novel, Sand Castles & Seashores. It's the first in a series of four following the epic journey of Madison Chase as she searches for her true identity. You can read a sample and buy the book over at Amazon. And read to the end for a short excerpt right here. Let's find out more about Madison's, and Harvey's, journey!

So tell us a little about your book, Sand Castles & Seashores.
Sand Castles & Seashores is a story about a young tracker named Madison whose past is hidden from her, and because of her special abilities, becomes the special interest of an agency. Sand Castles is the bleeding of worlds, not so much blending, with elements of two worlds bleeding into each other. It is the turning of the clock backwards and forwards. It is the journey of one woman to find the secrets of her past and fulfill the promise she made years ago. Along that journey, she encounters a special operative named Will Matthews and Nicholas, a special person from her past, and the trio’s lives become intertwined, weaving each into the other’s destinies.

What inspired you to write this story?
My husband began writing and the joy he had was infectious. It renewed my love of writing so I began to pick up the pen again with stories I have long hung onto. Sand Castles & Seashores first came to life in a dream I had long ago. Not that dreams always make sense but there were elements of it that really struck a chord with me, and so I tried to pen what would be understood to the waking public. My hope is that the essence of the story survived the translation from the dreamscape to paper. I wanted the betrayal to have as large an impact as it did and I wanted the rebuilding of her soul to be as compelling a journey as it felt. The characters and their stories are all magnificent and it was up to me to get it down on paper.

How did you get the idea for Madison's 'gift'?
I tried to see what she needed and what would suit her. Madison’s gifts complement her personality. There exists a dichotomy with Madison’s character. Her control over matter makes up for her lack of control over her own life and relationships which she so desperately yearns for. It will be later revealed in the series that she is among a special group of her kind, capable of performing the feats she does, but the talents generally appear later in their lifespan when their thinking ability and minds become more powerful. In Madison’s case, because of her amnesia, her mind was unrestrained, free of the history written for her and was able to realize its unbounded potential. Her powers manifest as she needs them to in order to survive the new reality she found herself in, our world.

What is your favorite scene?
That’s a tough one because there were so many scenes I enjoyed writing. One that stands out for me was when Will showed up at her flat and his true intentions were revealed. I can’t go into it anymore without giving away half of the story but its impact is everlasting on Madison’s character. Another one of my favorite scenes is when Nicholas showed up on the beach. Just his presence spoke volumes as to his role in Madison’s life. And certainly, I cannot leave out the last scene. I had struggled as to how I would end this chapter of her life and funny enough, I slept and had a dream about what it was like her last day with Nicholas before she had to say good-bye to the world she knew. And tah-dah! It brought the story full circle for me and hopefully readers will get that same sense of renewal and finality. She started in the book tracking fugitives and in the end, she is the one hunted.

What books, movies, TV shows, etc. have influenced your writing?
X-Men. Need I say more? I sometimes wonder if I was one of them, what my mutant powers would be. Yes, plural. I mean, don’t we all? And I tinker with the idea; sure the powers are great but what’s messed up with the person because of it or augmented by it?

Truly, there were a lot of shows and movies that influenced my writing because they have influenced me. I am a firm believer in love transcending time and space, that love conquers all, and so the reader will see some struggles along the way before they see a happy ending or the ending most true to the characters. I grew up on shows such as Star Trek TNG, Sailor Moon, MacGyver and Stargate SG-1. I love Hayao Miyazaki works and really admire how he blends worlds together coherently and how his characters are largely simple but beautifully portrayed. Stargate does much of the same but has the element of sci-fi which I find very intelligent and witty. Star Trek and Star Wars helped me to create one of my favorite characters for the Casala Series as well as a feel for the interstellar adventure Casala and Brandon are set on. I love all things spy related - James Bond, Mi-5, Salt and the novel Ice Storm by Anne Stuart. And through this genre, the element of mystery and different sides trying to outdo the other with competent operatives comes to the fore which all makes for a good story for me.

What's next for you?
There are a number of side projects that I am currently working on between series, but the book that is of primary concern is the next book in the Sand Castles series, Galatea Rising – The Shepherd Moon’s Call. It’s the next chapter in the lives of Madison, Nicholas and Will but at the same time a continuation of some of the themes of the first story and incorporating new challenges. I had considered the Prodigal Daughter as a title but it didn’t speak enough to the role Madison must play throughout the series and the destiny she must fight for. Galatea is the shepherd moon for Neptune and influences the tidal activity for the planet, so too will Madison play a central role in the future of Thylea. Even though all the books of the Sand Castles series have already been written, I am working on adding a couple of additional chapters to give more flesh to some of the characters, and after that … Editing.

Excerpt from Sand Castles & Seashores
The cool tide swept in, partially claiming my still, limp body, making every sense vividly raw. My physical wounds have healed over into scars. The not so physical one remained open, but bled no more, because there was nothing left to bleed. The winter that was my soul had frozen into a timeless tundra. Cracks and crevices remained, because in a climate so cold, nothing was left to bind them shut.

There were a few times when I would try to heal myself, to take away the scars, but couldn’t, and more pain ensued. They were a constant reminder of them, of him, of the life that could not be. There were a lot of things I didn’t know about my powers, about myself. Stupid locked box, why can’t I remember?

I remained in this purgatory and lost track of time itself. The concept seemed irrelevant now. There were no deadlines, no jobs, nobody, nothing to tie me to this world ruled by time.

The following day, when I began sculpting a new castle to replace the one taken away during the course of the night, my heart thumped. It wasn’t an ordinary thump that generally went unnoticed, but a powerful beat that became a rhythm responding to something, and it kept pounding. I consciously sensed it shortly after I sensed a shift in the world, a shift in gravity. There was someone coming, whose power rivaled my own, whose very existence validated my own. I shot my gaze up off the sand castle to the cliffs above. A lone figure stood, still in the warm sea breeze that swept through. The winds howled and picked up in intensity against the cliffs, against him, but he would not yield. Against the bright midday sun behind him, my eyes squinted, but I did not turn away. My center shifted, followed by louder thumps from my chest, and I was forced to look away when I felt my hands pulse. I looked down at them, palms raised up to my face, then turned and examining every inch as if looking at them for the very first time. Did he trigger them? I looked back up to where he stood, but he was gone.

I was not able to make out very much from the few seconds that passed. His figure seemed toned but not feeble. His golden blond hair shined with the intensity of the sun. It was short and untamed in the wind. He stood with an air of nobility that seemed out of place from the common man these days, whose postures were never good enough to hide the slouch that ached to come out. I was not able to make out his eyes, or the look upon his face. His clothes were ordinary and casual but seemed to clash with his stance. I sat there for some time, frozen as I thought about him. Ultimately, I decided to try and shake it off, returning my focus to the castle as Tantalus to his boulder.


Thanks to S.C. Harvey for joining us today! What new authors have you come across lately?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Decode, Chapter 8: V Gets Her Spy On

For a refresher, get the previous seven chapters of Decode here. Now, on to #8!

Chapter 8: V Gets Her Spy On

Veronica waltzed through the heavy glass doors emblazoned with the silver Maddox Technology logo, her story prepared in her mind. The disc the programming department had given her was corrupted and she'd swung by to see if they could give her a new one. Simple but believable she thought. She flashed a big smile for the receptionist behind the horseshoe shaped desk.

"I was here yesterday - not that you'd remember," Veronica said and half-laughed, "but I'm consulting with the programming department and they gave me a disc for something. Well, anyway, it's not working so I thought I'd stop by while I was in the area and see if they could replace it." Veronica grinned apologetically. So much for practicing what she was going to say.

The older woman looked a little confused but consented and called someone. Veronica dug her hands into her coat pockets to keep from fidgeting and hoped her scheme worked and they would let her in. The receptionist handed her a visitor's badge and directed her to the stairs. Veronica dashed up the emergency stairs to the top level where Maddox had told her to find David Moore's office. He hadn't left much to chance, giving her incredibly specific directions.

Out of breath and flushed, Veronica told herself to walk with purpose as she raced down the carpeted hallway in her pumps. In case anyone saw her, she wanted to appear to know where she was headed. Veronica came to the last door at the end of the hallway. She took a deep breath and pushed the door slowly, creeping into the dark office.

Veronica closed the door behind her and started opening drawers. Maddox instructed her to stay clear of the computer; any activity on David's computer would send up a red flag and send Guarini back. But none of the drawers were locked so she opened each one, peeking through the contents with a gloved hand. Veronica doubted he would keep anything important in such an open place, but it didn't hurt to look. Other than a great number of pens, a package of index cards, and a package of spearmint gum, nothing interested her. But in the bottom drawer underneath a folded up sweatshirt Veronica found something entirely out of place. She touched it absently, then retracted her hand as the door swung open.

Veronica dove under the desk, pushing the drawer shut simultaneously. She held still, praying the person had missed her. Canvas sneakers and jeans stood right in front of her and Veronica squeezed into the shadows as much as possible. If he sat down, he would see her. She held her breath, feeling dizzy, and waited for what he would do next. She heard a mouse clicking and heavy breathing. Maddox indicated that David's office was on lock down for the police - and the company - until things straightened out. She wished she could see a face. Whoever it was either didn't know about the computer security issues or didn't care. Realistically, would David have kept anything top secret on his work computer?

Desperate for oxygen, Veronica exhaled slowly. The mouse clicking stopped. Did he hear that? Veronica held still. The feet stepped back from the desk, and slowly a torso and then a face came into view. They both froze, each face equally nonplussed.

"What are you doing under the desk?" Jesse whispered.

"I'm trying to help."

"You need to get out of here," he peeked over the desk, "and so do I." With no more of an explanation, Jesse left her there.

She retreated back into the hallway, running toward the stairs. At the other end, Guarini stepped out of an office, seeing her flee from the opposite end. Veronica busted through the metal door to the stairs and out of sight.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

BestsellerBound Anthology Trailer

Last week I mentioned that the BestsellerBound Short Story Anthology was available as a free download over at Smashwords. Now we have a trailer announcing the event and offering a quick description of each story. This is definitely a something-for-everyone collection with 10 stories covering light, dark, and in-between. Be sure to check it out and download your copy today! 

Thanks to Belle for creating the trailer!
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