Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Better Off Undead

Better Off Undead (The Bloodhound Files - Book 4) by D.D. Barant

Publication Date: October 2011
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Pages: Paperback, 336pp
ISBN-13: 9780312545055

(Received for an honest review from St. Martin's Paperbacks)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

D.D. Barant on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter

Excerpt from Better Off Undead


Welcome to a world in which only one percent of the population is human. Where fighting for survival doesn't always mean staying alive. And dying is just another part of everyday life... These are the Bloodhound Files. Enter at your own risk - if you dare.

Dark magic, unknown enemies, monsters of every stripe - FBI profiler Jace Valchek has seen it all. In this bizarre parallel universe, shape-shifting werewolves and blood thirsty vampires don't even warrant a raised eyebrow. That is, until Jace has to face what life might look like as one of them...

It starts off as just another run-of-the-mill assignment: to track down the rogue don of a mafia werewolf family before he upsets the delicate balance of the underworld. But Jace wasn't counting on being bitten... and soon she's fighting the growing wolf inside her with a startling antidote - vampirism. Stopping a bloody gangland war won't be easy when Jace is feeling some new, and very inhuman desires...


In an effort to add more Urban Fantasy reviews to my blog I contacted St. Martin's to request a review of copy of D.D. Barant's latest addition to the Bloodhound Files series, Better Off Undead. Urban Fantasy is a sub-genre that really appeals to me and I enjoy reading it because it is edgy and has a bit of a darker tone to it. This particular series interests me for a lot of reasons. D.D. Barant is a writer that with a TV background that really uses that to his advantage. When reading the Bloodhound Files series readers are able to really visualize the world that Barant has created and get into the storyline that much more. 

In Barant's world, humans are a minority, making up 1% of the population. This parallel or alternate reality is mostly peopled with werewolves, vampires, and golems. Jace Valchek, the heroine of the series, and former FBI profiler, has been pulled to this universe in order to catch a human serial killer aptly named Aristole Stoker. Cassius, the mastermind behind this plan continues to allow Jace to believe she will be able to return to her world once Stoker has been caught. In the meantime there is more than enough crime to keep Jace busy as she tries to capture Stoker as a means of her ticket home. That is the overall premise that drives this series. In the latest installment to the series, Better Off Undead, Jace is pulled off the Stoker case and asked to hunt down a werewolf mafia don. During her attempts to nail the bad guy she is bitten by a werewolf and goes to some extreme means to try to prevent the change.

What I truly love about this series is the parallels between our world and Thorpirelem, the world Jace finds herself in. There are some strong parallels between the racial issues in Thorpirelem and the human Civil Rights Movement. Jace spends a great deal of time trying to learn about this world and how she fits into it. Since this is the fourth book in the series, Jace is starting to settle in a bit, meet people and starting to develop relationships with them. Her relationship with her partner Charlie is one of the most interesting parts of the novel in my opinion. The banter that these two have with each other is very sarcastic and dry and that's usually the kind of humor that appeals to me. Barant obviously has the same sense of humor to pull this off so very well.

This one is all about choices and consequences. Since Jace isn't as focused on finding Stoker in this book, she has more time to look into her volatile relationship with Cassius. She is also seeing what goes on in the werewolf and vampire worlds more us close and personal since she is effectively becoming one of them, if she can't figure out a way to thwart it. I liked the fact that Barant gives Jace a choice, but none of the options are ones that she is comfortable with. So she has to choose the lesser of the two evils from her own perspective. I think this perhaps the best book in this series so far and if readers are looking to broaden their horizons and try something different this would be a great series to look into. Barant is able to address a lot of different social issues in a different way than people expect with this series and readers will appreciate the way he plots that into each of his books.

This is a very fast paced book but about the last few chapters Barant really amps up the action and brings the book to a dramatic conclusion that will leave readers satisfied, but also looking forward to the next installment in the series. Better Off Undead is also deeply versed in crime and investigation lure. The plot of the book centers around that idea, but there is so much back story and interesting underlying themes, that it almost takes a back seat to the stuff that not being addressed as much. I really liked that and I know I have a section of readers who love all that underlying emotional stuff. I recommend this one to Urban Fantasy fans and I hope my readers will like the addition of more Urban Fantasy reviews.

Better Off Undead is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 of 5 apples from my book bag!

D.D. Barant lives in Vancouver, BC, and loves monsters, chocolate, animals, reading, comics and lying naked on the beach, while hating bullies, narrow-minded people, Sea Urchin Sushi and gluten. Awful, terrible gluten.

Review: If I Tell

If I Tell by Janet Gurtler

Publication Date: October 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Inc.
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: Paperback, 256pp
ISBN-13: 9781402261039
ISBN: 1402261039

(Received for an honest review from Sourcebooks Fire)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Janet Gurtler on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter


"It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away but couldn't take my eyes off them."

If only... if only I hadn't gone to that party. I never would have seen what I did. Jackson wouldn't have driven me home. I wouldn't have started to fall for a guy just out of reform school. I could go back to pretending everything was normal. I wouldn't be keeping a secret from my mom that could blow our family apart...


Author Janet Gurtler's second YA contemporary novel is just as emotionally gripping as her first. If I Tell focuses on a young girl who is struggling with a secret that threatens to tear her life apart. Gurlter is a writer who has a gift for getting into the teenage mind. She is able to voice the angst and heart felt betrayal that Jasmine feels and to show readers the depth of Jasmine's inner struggle. Gurtler's writing is very provocative and will cause readers to really think about what they are reading. She deals with some heavy issues but is able to keep the book feeling light, though full of emotion.

Gurtler's characters are very well fleshed out and take center stage in this character driven novel. Jasmine isn't the easiest character to like. She has some pretty big stumbling blocks to overcome and she is somewhat defensive and raw. Being a bi-racial teen in small town America is anything but sweet and Jasmine has not had it easy. From being bullied in school to the even more hurtful situation of her mother's abandonment, this is a character that is real and honest. One thing that I truly appreciate about Gurtler's writing is that she doesn't shy away from the hard issues and racism is certainly a tough one. Jasmine's struggle to find her own identity is even more skewed when she witnesses her mother's boyfriend Simon, someone who has a had a big influence on her, kissing her own best friend. The betrayal she feels is palpable and gives this book a very authentic and real feel to it.

Finding out her mother is pregnant with Simon's baby prevents Jasmine from telling her mom about what she has seen. But it grinds away at her and starts to effect every relationship she has in her own life. Secondary characters that really shine in this book include, Jasmine's love interest, Jackson. When Jasmine starts to withdraw is becomes obvious that she and Jackson will have trouble. He goes out of his way to show the depth of his feeling for her, but when she continues to push him away it's hard to know how to feel toward Jasmine. A couple of times I wanted to shake her out of this funk she gets herself into, but I think that attests to how much Gurtler is able to make the reader feel in this novel.

The racial issues are written about with great dignity and clarity. Gurtler isn't trying to point fingers or call certain groups out. She is just mirroring the inner struggles of this young girl against the struggles society has with tolerance, acceptance and just getting along. I thought the author was very open and forthcoming about how her racial heritage affected Jasmine and the struggles she faced on a daily basis. Being bi-racial Jasmine had a hard time with where she fit into the scheme of things. Though there are also issues with her mother and how she is basically abandoned by her and some issues with friendships and romance, the major focus of the novel is on how Jasmine learns her place in this world and I think YA readers and adults alike will appreciate Gurtler's attention to detail, snappy dialogue and overall grasp of the subject.

I recommend this one to YA readers and adults who love good character driven contemporary stories that don't skirt the issues but let them take center stage. This is an emotional story. It will definitely make readers do some soul searching and thinking about how they get along with others and how they view people of mixed races. The characters are well drawn and full of insight into today's teenage world. I liked it a lot and I think you will too.

If I Tell is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Janet Gurtler lives in Calgary, Canada, deliciously close to the Canadian Rockies, with her husband, son, and the memories of a sweet little dog named Meeko. Janet does not live in an igloo or play hockey, but she does love maple syrup and says "eh" a lot.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review and Giveaway: How to Party With a Killer Vampire

How to Party With a Killer Vampire (Party Planning Mystery - Book 4) by Penny Warner

Publication Date: October 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 320pp
ISBN-13: 9780451235015
ISBN: 0451235010

(Received for an honest review from Obsidian Mysteries)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Penny Warner on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter


Mixing fun and fund-raising seems like the perfect job for Presley Parker, which is why she started her event planning business to raise money for charities. But when a film soiree goes awry, it could mean The End of her business...

Presley Parker's event-planning business is really rolling. Her newest gig is a film wrap party for big time producer Lucas Cruz. He's celebrating his latest release - a vampire parody - by throwing a lavish party in a graveyard. It's a pretty gloomy venue for Presley, but she's hoping to make it so much fun that partygoers won't even notice there are more dead than living guests...

And the number of dead grows when an entertainment reporter crashes the party, trying to dig up dirt on an actor, and winds up digging his own grave. Presley's reputation is seriously on the line if she doesn't unearth the killer soon. But with a growing list of shady characters and suspect crew members, someone has to fill the role of murderer, or it's going to be Presley who won't make the cut...


How to Party With a Killer Vampire is the fourth book in Penny Warner's Party Planning mystery series. Party planner extraordinaire, Parker Presley finds herself in hot water once again as she plans a wrap party for a movie crew. Warner fans will love the latest adventure from Treasure Island, as Parker plans the ultimate graveyard party. Just in time for the Halloween season, this one might not be bloodcurdling or too scary but it's full of murder and mayhem, with a dash of romance and hint of humor added in for good measure. It's a recipe for one great cozy mystery!

In Penny Warner's latest addition to the Party Planning mystery series, readers will find interesting party ideas at the beginning of each chapter as well as at the end of the book. Warner's background as a party planner really serves her well in this series, and I think readers will find How to Party With a Killer Vampire to be the best book in the series so far. I loved the fact that Warner uses a movie crew and the paparazzi to bring about the scene for murder this time. I think a lot of readers will love the overall premise of this one and find the party in the graveyard chillingly cool. (We just wrapped a Halloween party here at our house, where we had our own make-shift graveyard, complete with tombstones and epitaphs for all the guests!)

Though isn't exactly Halloween themed, this book has a lot of great ideas and themes for the season. The mystery aspect of the book was engaging and readers will be on the edge of their seats trying to figure out who, out of this huge list of suspects had the perfect motive for murder. I always finds myself trying to figure out the clues to see if I had the murder pegged or not. I'll admit that it's fun to be surprised, but there is also that thrill of getting it right. I didn't figure this one out completely until close to the end, but it was really gratifying when I got it right! The clues were both interesting and challenging. The list of suspects was long, including the entire movie crew, some paparazzi and others, but each motive was well thought out and plausible. 

There is quite a bit of humor in this one as Warner surrounds Presley with an excellent secondary character cast. Brad, Presley's love interest in the series, continues to surprise and Warner does a wonderful job of giving the reader just enough information about Presley's personal life to keep the interest high. Readers will love Presley's patience with her mom and her overall zeal for life in general. This is a great series, with just enough of a supernatural feel to appeal to readers from a lot of different reading backgrounds. I look forward to more great books in the series and the preview of the next un-named book was a nice sneak peek at the end.

I recommend this one to cozy fans and readers who love a good party. I liked this one a lot. I thought it was appropriately themed for the season and had just enough humor and romance. They mystery was fun to try to solve and readers will love all the twists, turns and red herrings that Warner adds to the mix.

How to Party With a Killer Vampire is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Penny Warner has published more than fifty fiction and nonfiction books for adults and children, including more than a dozen party books. Her books have won national awards, been nominated for Agatha Awards, garnered excellent reviews, and been printed in fourteen countries. Known as the Queen of Parties, she's planned more than five hundred parties and events, and published twenty books on party planning. Along with her husband, Tom, she creates interactive murder mystery fund-raisers for libraries across the country. She lives in Danville, California.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of How to Party With a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner.

~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US Addresses only (Publisher Request).
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST November 12th.

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation to the author on THIS post.
2. Please fill out the FORM.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: A Christmas Journey Home

A Christmas Journey Home: Miracle in the Manger by Kathi Macias

Publication Date: October 2011
Publisher: New Hope Publishers
Genre: Christian/ Inspirational/ Christmas
Pages: Paperback, 240pp
ISBN-13: 9781596693289
ISBN: 1596693282

(Received for ah honest review from Pump Up Your Book Promotions)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository,, IndieBound

Kathi Macias on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter

Excerpt from A Christmas Journey Home


Two worlds separated by fear and anger collide at a most unlikely time and place.

During Isabella Alcantra's seventh month of pregnancy, her parents and siblings are murdered in gang and drug related violence - in a home targeted by mistake. Isabella knows the same thing could easily happen to her and her husband, Francisco. When her grandfather offers to hire a "coyote" to bring them across the border to America, she agrees.

Living on one of the smaller spreads along the Arizona border, Miriam Nelson becomes furious with God and turns from her faith when her border patrol agent husband, David, is killed in a skirmish with drug smugglers. Her mother and young son do their best to woo her back from anger and bitterness.

Isabella and Miriam - one driven by fear and a promise, the other by bitterness and revenge - must make their journey's along different pathways to the same destination on Christmas Eve. Forced to face their personal demons, Isabella and Miriam soon discover a common yearning to bind them together in a most miraculous way. 


Author Kathi Macias brings readers a modern re-telling of the nativity that will speak to readers on a personal level. A Christmas Journey Home follows the stories of two very different women brought together on one fateful night that will change their lives forever. Though this book is strongly based in Christian theology, it is also at heart a Christmas story that will draw readers from all walks of life. Macias is a writer that touches the heart of her readers as well as their minds. This is a book about forgiveness and the power of miracles.

Kathi Macias is one of my favorite authors in the Christian fiction realm. She is a writer with a purpose. She conveys the message of Christ in a way that doesn't fit the traditional Christian fiction pathways and I think that's what speaks to me about her writing. She doesn't write fluffy, easy to read novels. Her books are solid and real, full of meaty stories and situations. She doesn't sugar coat anything and brings a realism to her books that is uncommon and unique. A Christmas Journey Home is just as raw and honest as the rest of her work. Even though is may have a Christmas theme it isn't a tender romance or a tale about friendship. It centers around the problem of illegal immigration and the stark realities that people face when they decide to defy man's laws, as well as, God's.

This book is not pro-illegal immigration. It is also not a book that is anti-immigration. Though this is the back drop of the story, it focuses more of the choices of the characters and how each choice affects their lives. It is about the ability to keep the faith when things go terribly wrong. It's about seeing how God moves even when we don't like the circumstances. I think Macias is using a very current and edgy theme to bring out the message that God is still with us and working even when we go against his will. I liked the fact that Macias doesn't provide a solution for the ever growing problem of illegal immigration, because that was not the focus, nor is it something that can be solved in a few hundred pages. Macias, however does provide a solution to both Isabella and Miriam's issues. Having faith in God and trusting him to solve their problems is key. I think that using Christmas night and the story of the nativity in this way was very unique and original and I think readers will love it.

This book, as with many of Macias' novels is very thought provoking. It is one of those stories that readers will be thinking about long after they put it down. If you are looking for a sweet Christmas themed book, this probably isn't it, though the ending will probably bring a tear or two. It is rooted in the very heart of issues that people have with God. That's not an easy subject. I applaud the author for going there and taking us as readers with her.

I recommend this one to readers of all types. Though it is primarily Christian fiction it is for all intents and purposes a Christmas story. It is inspirational and realistic. It touches on tough issues and doesn't sugar coat the facts. I think readers will appreciate Macias' voice and style. It would certainly be a good read for those who have their own issues or doubts in their faith. Macias is a writer that I love and I think you will too!

A Christmas Journey Home is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Award‐winning author Kathi Macias has written more than 20 books, including the “Extreme Devotion” series of novels for New Hope Publishers.
Kathi has won many awards, including the Angel Award from Excellence in Media, fiction awards from the San Diego Christian Writers Guild, and the grand prize in an international writing contest.

With women's ministry as her primary interest, Kathi is a popular speaker for women's retreats, conferences, and churches. A mother and grandmother, Kathi and her husband, Al, call California home.

Review: His Last Duchess

His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm

Publication Date: October 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Inc.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: Paperback, 416pp
ISBN-13: 9781402261510
ISBN: 1402261519

(Received for an honest review from Sourcebooks Landmark)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Gabrielle Kimm on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter

Excerpt from His Last Duchess


That's My Last Duchess painted on the wall...

Seduced by the hot sun and blinding passions of Renaissance Italy, sixteen-year-old Lucrezia de' Medici sees a gilded life stretching ahead. Her wealthy new husband handpicked her to be his bride, and his great castle in Ferrara will be her playground. But Alfonso d' Este, Duke of Ferrara, quickly proves to be just as dangerous and mysterious as he is dark and handsome, and the stone walls of the castle seem to trap Lucrezia like a prison.

For the duke, a desperate need to produce an heir drives him deep inside the dark recesses of his complex mind. Only his lover Francesca seems able to tame him increasing fury, but Alfonso obsesses over the vicious plot he thinks will save him from disaster. With her head full of heartbroken dreams, Lucrezia flees down a dangerous path that may cost her everything. 


Gabrielle Kimm brings 16th century Italy to life in her book, His Last Duchess based loosely on the Robert Browning poem, "My Last Duchess." Much has been written over the years about the Medici family and it's presence in Italy. Kimm brings readers a portrait of a young passionate woman, who seems to have the whole world at her feet, yet she struggles against the control of a mad man. Alfonso d' Este Duke of Ferrara is a complex man ruled by his need to possess beautiful things, including his young wife. Kimm's ability to harness history and allow it drive her novel is exceptional. Readers will find themselves lost in this story and waiting with baited breath to see what happens next.

Being a former history major, historical fiction is one of my favorite genre's to read, whether is a romantic portrayal or a strictly historical account. But it isn't a genre that usually sparks staying up all night or biting my nails. Probably because it is rooted in history and stories that most readers already know the outcome about. But Gabrielle Kimm stretches the limits of historical fiction. Her portrayal of Lucrezia de' Medici is riveting. It will grip the reader and not let go. It is definitely what I would call a page turner, that will leave readers satisfied and feeling as if they were somehow a part of the story.

Kimm obviously knows her subject matter well, from the Browning poem to the sights and sounds of 16th century Italy. Her descriptive prowess is remarkable. Readers will find themselves transported through time and become lost in the imagery and details that Kimm brings out in this novel. An amazing amount of research had to go into a novel of this magnitude, and that will not be lost on readers who love rich period detail and a strong sense of time and place. 

The characters in this novel are so well drawn and explored. Lucrezia, is portrayed as a young woman, who may have been hand picked by the Duke to be his bride, but she isn't easily quelled. She is passionate and vibrant. Though she lives a privileged life, her suffering happens in private. Living with a man like Alfonso d' Este probably would have broken the spirit of many women, but Kimm shows Lucrezia as strong to the very end. The Duke is such a wonderfully written character. Though he obviously the villain, he is very complex and three dimensional character. The darkness in his soul seems to spill out into the novel and his madness is stark and raw. I thought he was the most interesting character in the book. The secondary characters are also well fleshed out and add to the overall sense of desperation that permeates the book. 

Kimm keeps the action high and intense throughout the novel and holds the interest of the reader easily. There are so many twists and turns that the reader will have a hard time figuring out how this one will end. The conclusion is very satisfying and readers will have to set back and take a breath when they turn the last page. They will probably forget they were holding it through the last few chapters. Excellent story, well drawn characters and highly enjoyable!

His Last Duchess is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book  bag!

Gabrielle Kimm is a graduate of the creative writing master's program at the University of Chichester. She is writing her second novel, The Courtesan's Lover, which features one of the characters of His Last Duchess as the heroine.

Interview and Giveaway: Gabrielle Kimm

Please join me in welcoming Gabrielle Kimm to Debbie's Book Bag today! Gabrielle is here to talk about her latest release, His Last Duchess. The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Gabrielle's book, see details at the end of the post.

DEB: Gabrielle, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  
GK: First of all, thank you for inviting me onto your blog!  A bit about me – well, I grew up on the south coast of England, and then, after having moved away to study and work, for ten years or so, in Reading, London and Oxford, I came back, and settled a few miles away from my childhood home.  It’s a beautiful place, halfway between the sea and the South Downs – a range of gentle chalk-and-flint hills.  I’m a qualified English and Drama teacher – I’d been teaching for nearly twenty years before my first book was published, and I am now on the supply teaching lists (I cover for absent teachers in a variety of schools, a day or so a week).  I have two teenage daughters and an elderly dog (a dear little Lakeland Terrier, who looks more like a stuffed toy than a real dog).  I’m a true country girl, and enjoy my daily walks through fields and woods with my little furry friend.

DEB: Tell us a little about your book, His Last Duchess?
GK: His Last Duchess tells the story of the ill-fated marriage of the fifth duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d’Este, and Lucrezia de’ Medici.  Set in sixteenth century Italy, it’s a story of love and fear, of jealousy and obsession, of paranoia and danger.  It’s the story of one relationship that fails dismally, and another that succeeds against the odds.

DEB: What was your inspiration for this book? Have you always been interested in historical fiction or Lucrezia de Medici?  
GK: This is the easiest of questions to answer!  The inspiration for this book was Robert Browning’s poem, ‘My Last Duchess’.  I first met this poem – a dramatic monologue, narrated by the homicidal duke – as a student in Reading, and fell in love with it then.  I’ve always loved the bad boys in literature, and this smug, sinister aristocrat just burst off the page for me.  Then, some twenty years later, I came across the poem in the exam syllabus I was teaching to a group of fifteen-year olds.  I was bowled over by the poem all over again, and it hit me like a thunderbolt, as I prepared a lesson, that a whole novel was here, ready to be told, in the back story to this poem.  I’d never thought of writing historical fiction before then.

DEB: What type of research did you do for your book?  
GK: Historical fiction takes a great deal of painstaking research, as you can imagine.  I read book after book and took copious notes.  I scoured the internet, and trawled relevant sites.  When I found a site which seemed helpful, I would contact the writer and ask specific questions – I am always amazed and delighted by how generous people are with their time and their expertise.  I did masses of hands-on research – flying falcons, visiting the Victoria & Albert costume collection, learning to use a bow and arrows (I am rubbish at this!), consulting a medical herbalist.  I spent an extraordinary evening in a local pub with a psychiatrist friend, psycho-analysing my complicated duke.  I was stunned by all the things he was able to tell me – he knew things about my characters which I didn’t know myself!  And of course, I travelled to Ferrara and Cafaggiolo in Italy, to see the locations for myself – a truly magical trip.

DEB: What is your normal writing day like? Do you have things that have to be in place to write comfortably?
GK:  I always write in my little upstairs writing room.  It used to be a spare bedroom, but it now contains a desk, on which is my computer, a million bits of paper, several half-empty mugs of tea, a couple of telephones, an untidy pile of books and a small teddy bear called Robert.  There’s a typist’s chair, a lovely old antique (junk) nursing chair, a little table and a kelim rug.  The room is full of books and pictures and a (sadly neglected) spider plant - and I love it.  I have to have quiet to write – I can’t concentrate at all with noise around me, so I work best when everyone else is out.  I write most effectively in the mornings, though I do work right through the day, if it’s clear and I have the space to do so.  I write every day – that might be a whole chapter on a good day, or a single sentence on a day when everything seems to go wrong!  But the book needs to progress in some way every day.

DEB: What was it like when you got the word that your first novel would be published?
GK: Oh, that was an amazing day, back in 2009.  I had had quite a few rejections, and was beginning to wonder if I’d ever be published.  Then I received an offer from a small independent publishing house, which I was very excited about, as I liked them very much, and was thrilled that they seemed happy with my novel.  I spoke with my agent about what I should do, and she said that I needed to wait until all the responses were in from the big publishers – this was just professional etiquette, she told me, as my manuscript was still on several editors’ desks.  I was happy to do this.  Then, the very next day, I had a phone call from her.  It sounds clichéd, but she actually said it:  ‘I think you’d better sit down.’  It was heart-stopping!  A whacking great two-book deal from a major UK publisher, Little, Brown.  It was hard to take in, and for several days, until the paperwork came in to prove it all, I had to pinch myself to remind myself I wasn’t dreaming. ( I had to turn down the independent house, but they were totally understanding, and said I had no choice.  I’m still in close contact with them, and they are coming to my next book launch.)

DEB: Do have any advice for new writers?  
GK: Read, read, read, and read
some more.  It’s absolutely essential! The classics, and as much contemporary fiction as you can get hold of.   No-one can write, unless they read. Read the shortlists for the big prizes, read books that your reading friends recommend.  When you write, be patient with yourself  – be fluid and open to ideas, and allow work to fail;  use work you reject to help you to improve.  Observe constantly – note how people speak, and move, and react;  watch the play of light on surfaces;  listen to sounds around you;  remember the feeling of textures under your fingers, the physical sensations surrounding the emotions you experience – remember them and use them in your writing.  One brilliant tutor I had when I was doing my masters degree in creative writing said that you should always write for the love of writing – and for no other reason.  The money, or the fame, or any other reward, should come second to that.  That love will shine through the prose and make it the best it can possibly be.

DEB: When you’re not writing, what kinds of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite author?  
GK: I’m not sure I could commit to a favourite author – I fall in love with what I’m reading over and over again!  I read a wide range of types of fiction – basically I like a good story.  I love character-based novels – anything where I can engage with the people in the story, and genuinely care about what happens to them.  I love well-crafted prose, though.  Writers I’ve met recently and whose books I’ve really rated highly have been John Harding and Dorothy Koomson.  If I was forced to commit to one writer, my all-time favourite would probably be Jane Austen.

DEB: What are you working on right now? 
GK: I’m about twenty five thousand words into a new novel.  It’s still very tender and fresh, and not really ready to be discussed – but I will say that it’s going to be set in Paris at the time of Louis XIV, and it opens … with an execution. 

DEB: Tell us one thing that people may not know about you?  
GK: I’ve been a committed vegetarian for twenty-four years.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for two copies of His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm.

~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US and Canadian Addresses only (Publisher Request).
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST November 11th.

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation to the author on THIS post.
2. Please fill out the FORM.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

2011 Cozy Mystery Challenge

As many of you know I sponsored the 2011 Cozy Mystery Challenge this year. I think it's safe to say that I didn't know exactly what I was getting into. I have added tons of new cozy reviews and giveaways so that readers would have lots of choices as to what to read and how to get them. But I think I didn't have all the logistics right on how to set it up. I have big plans for next years challenge, as I have pared down my schedule a bit and will have more time to devote to it. 

I am very busy, as a freelance writer and a single mom. I started this blog out with the intent to just review a few books here and there, but it has certainly grown more than I ever expected. To those of you who are faithful readers and commenters, I just want to say thank-you and ask you to bear with me. I am going to be changing the blog a little bit in the new year. I won't be participating in as many challenges next year, as I can't keep with posting my progress. I still will be doing some, just not as many. I plan to make the Cozy Mystery Challenge more of a priority and I hope you will join me in making it better next year. 

In the mean time I still have a post up at the top of the blog from April where you can continue to post your reviews for this year. At the end of the year I will probably contact those readers who signed up to participate and ask them to provide a wrap up post or send me links to reviews. I will then assign everyone who did at least 12 cozy reviews a number and use to choose the winner. I plan to provide the winner with a cozy series of their choice up to 5 books. If you'd prefer to mix and match that will be fine as well. 

I look forward to looking through everyone's reviews and seeing what you've been reading this year as far as cozies go! Keep up the good work and look forward to great changes to the challenge in 2012!

Review and Giveaway: Shoe Done It

Shoe Done It (An Accessories Mystery - Book 1) by Grace Carroll

Publication Date: October 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 288pp
ISBN-13: 9780425244036
ISBN: 0425244032

(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Grace Carroll (Carol Grace Culver) on the WEB: website, facebook, twitter

Excerpt from Shoe Done It


Rita Jewel has a dream job selling fabulous clothes and accessories to the socialites of San Francisco at Dolce's boutique. But when a pair of heels becomes a clue in a murder, Rita finds herself engaged in a high-end crime of fashion...

Society maven MarySue Jensen has old San Francisco money and an eye for style. That's why she must have those handmade silver stillettos special ordered form Dolce's by their top fashionista, Rita Jewel. She'd die before she wore anything less at the biggest charity event of the season. That same night, MarySue Jensen's cold, lifeless body is found in Golden Gate Park... tragically barefoot.

What kid of remorseless, fashion-conscious maniac would swipe a pair of handcrafted stilettos from a corpse? With her boss a prime suspect, Rita Jewel - and unnervingly sexy detective Jack Wall - must track down a killer. But before Rita engages in such a dangerous game, she has one nagging question... What does one wear to solve a crime?


Author Grace Carroll brings readers the first book in the new Accessories mystery series, Shoe Done It. The series follows the antics of fashionista, Rita Jewel, who spends her days selling high end clothing and accessories at Dolce's Boutique in San Francisco. Carroll combines love for fashion and food into a character that cozy fans will love to read about.

Since this is the first book in the series, I have to give it a bit of grace. I don't generally write mean-spirited or hurtful reviews, but I do find it necessary to note the things that I like about a book and the things that I don't. There were several things about this book that threw up some red flags for me, but there are also some very winning points for the author as well. So, I'll start readers off with the good news about Shoe Done It.

The idea for the series has a lot of potential and I think there is an audience for mysteries set in this type of environment. Fashion is something that appeals to women and men on many different levels and from all sorts of backgrounds. Sometimes it even becomes an obsession which sets the tone for this novel. 

Rita Jewel is a character that readers will like to read about. She is smart and sassy and has an eye for fashion. I think readers will definitely give this series more than one book just to learn more about her. Carroll spends an appropriate amount of time setting up the series, and balances that well with the time she spends on the mystery itself. 

Carroll is very good at describing the scene, the fashions and the food that Rita encounters and readers will love the San Francisco setting. A cozy doesn't always have to be set in a small town to work. Those are the pro's from Shoe Done It, but unfortunately there are some con's as well.

When reading a cozy, I try to decide if the plot is plausible, could it happen in the real world. The answer in the case of Shoe Done It, is that it could happen but maybe not in quite the way the author portrays it. The overall concept works, but the devil is in the details with this one. The book just felt a bit disjointed. There were too many things happening at one time. That may have been partly attributed to it being the first book in the series, but I don't think that entirely to blame. The author jumps back and forth a little too much between the investigation and Rita's very hectic personal life. She has three love interests including a hunky detective, but it's a lot of hopping back and forth. There is also a sub plot about real life vampires that just doesn't seem to fit the story at all. There are a few parts where the narrator of the story tells the reader that a large amount of time has passed without leads or the case moving forward, while that may be true in real life, the reader usually isn't looking for unnecessary lulls in the action.

One of the other things I think of when reading cozies, is whether or the amateur sleuth has a good reason for being involved in the investigation. On the back of the book, we see that Rita is trying to prove her employer innocent and since she was the person responsible for the theft of the stiletto's she has a reason to be involved in the case, but the author gives Rita a secondary motive by using Rita's accident with the ladder, that just doesn't add up. MarySue supposedly pushes Rita off the ladder injuring her, the author does not state whether or not MarySue tries to help Rita in any way, but then uses the accident to give Rita a reason to investigate to "pay" MarySue back for her help. Helping injure her? That bugged me a bit. Rita also has a penchant for suspecting just about everybody in San Francisco. She doesn't narrow or pare down her list of suspects very easily and that added to the overall busyness of the story. 

As I said before I always give grace to the first book in a series, because the author has a ton of set up to do and readers aren't really seeing what the finished product will be. This series has a lot of potential, if the author pays a bit more attention to the details in the future. Cozy readers are usually an astute bunch. The little things niggle at them a bit. And I think that will be the rub with this one. However, I definitely plan to read other books in this series as they come out, to see if it lives up to the potential I think it has. Don't skip this one because of a few problems, give it the benefit of the doubt and see if you agree or disagree with me. My opinion certainly isn't the only one out there.

Shoe Done It is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 3 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Carol Grace Culver aka Grace Carroll is the author of over 30 romance novels, 3 Young Adult Novels and has 5 new mystery novels coming soon - A Good Day to Pie available in August and Shoe Done It in October. In her past life she worked as a TV spokesperson for Julia Child and an ESL teacher in Algeria and Iran. She speaks French whenever she can and travels as often as possible teaching writing aboard cruise ships. A tough job, but somebody's got to do it.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Shoe Done It by Grace Carroll.

~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US Addresses only (Publisher Request).
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST November 10th.

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation to the author on THIS post.
2. Please fill out the FORM.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review and Giveaway: The More the Terrier

The More the Terrier (Pet Rescue Mystery - Book 2) by Linda O. Johnston

Publication Date: October 2011
Publisher:  Penguin Group USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 304pp
ISBN-13: 9780425243794
ISBN: 0425243796

(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Linda O. Johnston on the WEB: website, blog, facebook


Shelter manager Lauren Vancouver, "an ardent advocate for homeless pet," has taught herself a new trick: sleuthing. Now she has a chance to hone her skills, as animal hoarding leads to one less human life...

When Lauren finds out that her old mentor, Mamie Spelling, is an animal hoarder, no is more shocked, and she jumps in to help rehome the cramped critters. But Mamie's troubles don't end there. She's accused of murder when the CEO of a pet shelter network is found dead. The aggressive businesswoman was bullying Mamie to join her organization by threatening to expose her hoarding, but that was before Lauren took control of the situation. Now, Lauren's dogged determination to clear her former friend of murder may put a killer on her tail...


Linda O. Johnston's Pet Rescue mystery series, isn't just about murder and mayhem. As with most cozy mysteries, there is more going on than just the whodunit. Johnston an animal lover and advocate is using her writing not only to give readers a great mystery but also as a platform for animal issues and awareness and I find that commendable. The first book in the series, dealt with issue of puppy mills and now in the second book, The More the Terrier, Johnston takes on the issue of pet hoarding, which is a huge concern. With shows popping up on television that have exposed the problem of hoarding in many areas, there is a new awareness, but I still don't believe many readers will be familiar with animal hoarding. 

I thought this was a great premise of a mystery novel. I liked the fact that Johnston is educating the reader about animal issues they may not have been aware of while entertaining them well a first class whodunit. As with any cozy or mystery that I read, I am always looking at it to see if I think this could happen in the real world. The More the Terrier is definitely a story that is plausible. Hoarding a big issue, but more important to the mystery part of the story, blackmail can make people do some crazy things. There are also some fanatical people in this world and I could draw an easy parallel from Johnston's world to ours. The mystery aspect of the book is well written, with some intriguing suspects and motives that I didn't even think about. This one had me guessing all the way to the end, which is good thing!

Johnston continues to strengthen the main character, giving her new situations and real reason to do some sleuthing. Lauren Vancouver is one of those characters that readers just automatically fall for. She is smart and she has a big heart. Animals are creatures that a lot of times can't help themselves, they need an advocate and Lauren is that person. That's why it was so believable that she would want to find out who the killer was, not just because the murder involved her former mentor, but because it was related to the plight of these critters she cares so much about. The author is able to allow the reader to learn more about Lauren in a very subtle way that doesn't take away from the theme of the book or the mystery itself. It's like finding little crannies of goodness left on the cookie plate. 

I really enjoyed this one because I am an animal lover myself and I think readers will appreciate Johnston's commitment to animals. Readers will love Lauren and the rest of the cast and look forward to learning more about her. I recommend this one to pet lovers, cozy mystery readers and anyone interested in animals. It's just one of those series' that offers a little more than the average fare.

The More the Terrier is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Linda O. Johnston is a lawyer and a writer of mysteries, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. She lives in the hills overlooking the San Fernando Valley with her husband, Fred, and two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Lexie and Mystie.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of The More the Terrier by Linda O. Johnston.

~ You must a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US Addresses only (Publisher Request).
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST November 9th

1. Please leave a comment on THIS post in appreciation to the author.
2. Please fill out the FORM.