Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Murder on Sisters Row

Murder on Sisters Row (Gaslight Mystery - Book 13) by Victoria Thompson

Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Penguin USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 304pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0425248003
ISBN: 0425248003

(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)

Victoria Thompson on the WEB: Webpage, Facebook

Books In The Series: Murder on Astor Place (1999), Murder at St. Mark's Place (2000), Murder on Gramercy Park (2001), Murder on Washington Square (2002), Murder on Mulberry Bend (2003), Murder on Marble Row (2004), Murder on Lenox Hill (2005), Murder in Little Italy (2006), Murder In Chinatown (2007), Murder On Bank Street (2008), Murder On Waverly Place (2009), Murder on Lexington Avenue (2010), Murder on Sisters' Row (2012), Murder on Fifth Avenue (2012)

Coverart: Click on the image for a clearer,larger picture of the books in this series.

Excerpt from Murder on Sisters Row Courtesy Of Amazon's Inside look Feature


Midwife Sarah Brandt braves the dangers of the tenements in nineteenth-century New York to help the impoverished and, with Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy, bring the guilty that prey on them to justice. Now, the latest novel in the Edgar-nominated series finds Sarah compelled to save an expectant mother from a fate worse than death…

Summoned to an elegant house to deliver a baby, Sarah finds her patient is actually in a brothel. The young woman in labor reveals she is being held against her will and forced to prostitute herself—and that the madam intends to get rid of the baby.  

To rescue the new mother and her infant, Sarah secures the assistance of Mrs. Vivian Van Orner, a woman of means known for her charitable work. But their success comes at a high price when Mrs.Van Orner is found murdered.

With Malloy’s help, Sarah’s investigation uncovers some unpleasant truths about the victim and her charity—as well as the woman and child Sarah risked her own life to save…


Set a the turn of the 20th century, in Victorian New York, Victoria Thompson's thirteenth Gaslight mystery, Murder on Sisters Row is full of murder and mayhem. Thompson's use of historical reference and setting is well done and easily transports the reader back in time. The investigating duo of an heiress turned midwife and a detective is believable and entertaining. Thompson's characters are a blend of Victorian sensibilities and curiosity that could kill. An excellent addition to a series that has stood the test of time.

This is admittedly my first Gaslight Mystery. To be honest I'm not sure how I let this series slip through the cracks. it is very well written and uses history and mystery well together. Thompson obviously has an affinity for this time period, it's customs and it's nuances. The setting was authentic and set the series off well. Not having read the previous books was somewhat of a hindrance because I believe there was a great deal of backstory and general relationships that I was unfamiliar with. The book can be read as a stand alone easy enough, but it's also easy to see the wisdom in reading what has come before.

Sarah Brandt is an exceptional character. Sometimes I think authors make a mistake when they decide their heroes and heroines must come from wealth but not be fond of what that wealth can do for them. Thompson writes Brandt with such a sense of concern and honest belief that she can make a difference that it doesn't come across as cheesy or over the top, as often happens. Sarah is an unconventional woman in a time when women were not supposed to be curious. She investigates with a sense of awe and leaves the reader believing that Sarah is completely invested in what's going on. It comes across very believable. She is an awesome character to read and her relationship with Malloy is confusing but also ingenious. 

Apparently from what I read Sarah and Malloy have been attracted to each other for quite some time, but there are hindrances to their relationship. But an investigating duo they are magnificent. These characters play well off each other and bring out both strengths and vulnerabilities in each other. Their investigating style is smooth and non-confrontational. I liked the way they worked together to solve the crime and still kept a bit of an edge in their own relationship. There was definitely some tension brewing.

The mystery aspect of the book started out a little slow, but once the murder occurred the pace picked up and flowed much more evenly. I'm not exactly sure this type of cozy would be best for younger readers, just because of the adult themes involved. Brothels and unwed pregnancy aside there were still some issues that may be more suitable for adults. But remembering that this book is set in the Victorian era, readers will understand that it is still very constrained and does not get very graphic. 

Overall I really enjoyed the book and plan to read others in the series. I want to know what went on with these two up til now. What's the real story with Brandt and Malloy. Plus there are so many books in the series. I love a long drawn out series, where the reader gets a chance to see the characters change and grow and I expect this one will be right up my alley!

Murder on Sisters Row is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

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

Edgar Nominated author Victoria Thompson writes the Gaslight Mystery Series, set in turn-of-the-century New York City and featuring midwife Sarah Brandt. Her latest is MURDER ON FIFTH AVENUE. She also contributed to the award winning writing textbook MANY GENRES/ONE CRAFT. A popular speaker, Victoria teaches in the Seton Hill University master's program in writing popular fiction. She lives in Central PA with her husband and a very spoiled little dog.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway of one copy of  Murder on Sisters Row by Victoria Thompson.

~You must be a GFC follow or an E-mail subscriber to participate.
~U.S. addresses only.
~Deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST June 14th.

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation to the author on this post, not the form.
2.Please fill out the FORM.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: The Danger That is Damion

The Danger That is Damion (Zodious - Book 3) by Lisa Renee Jones

Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks,Inc.
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Pages: Paperback, 352pp.
ISBN-13: 978-1402251627
ISBN: 1402251629

(Received for an honest review from Sourcebooks Casablanca)

Lisa Renee Jones on the WEB: Webpage, Blog, Twitter, Facebook

Books In The Series: The Legend of Michael (2011), The Storm That Is Sterling (2011), The Danger That Is Damion (2012)

Coverart: Click on the image for a clearer,larger picture of the books in this series.

Excerpt from The Danger That is Damion


Lethally passionate, wickedly dangerous...

Renegade warrior Damion Browne is a soldier of soldiers, an enforcer of the code of honor. With ruthless precision, he calculates risks as deliberately as he does his lover's satisfaction. Now it's up to him to defeat a new generation of female Super Soldiers, including the one woman perfectly programmed to be his downfall.

His enemy...or his soul mate?

Lara Martin has never felt powerful, until she's brainwashed to destroy the one man who can help her find the answers she so desperately seeks. Alone and embroiled in lies, Lara must turn to Damion for the key to the truth ...


Lisa Renee Jones continues the popular Zodius series with her latest installment, The Danger That is Damion. The third book in the series is just as action packed and suspenseful as the first two and will have readers on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last. Jones' ability to build a world that is vastly different from our own in some ways and eerily similar in others is outstanding. Jones effortlessly blends romance and suspense into a reading experience that is captivating and full of surprises.

When "Project Zodius" first went off the map and soldiers were injected with Alien DNA that enhanced their senses and gave them super speed and healing capacity, as well as, strength and some unusual characteristics it was clear that these super-soliders, G-TECH'S, were anything but normal. Lisa Renee Jones does a fantastic job of building this incredible world in the first two books of this series, but continues to show how it changes and evolves in each new book. Readers may have believed that Powell was down for the count, but he is clearly resurrected in the latest installment in the series, and just as ruthless and devious as before. He is the ultimate bad guy in this series, but he has some help with his Zodlus soldiers under the command of Adam Rain. 

Adam and his brother Caleb are on two different sides of the conflict in this series. Adam is leading the Zodius soldiers and Caleb is the leader of the Renegades who are resisting Powell's evil intent and trying to protect the world from the Zodius. Each of the men in the previous two books, Michael and Sterling were powerful and magnetic and that's the case with Damion as well. Fans of the Zodius series know Damion as a hard nosed renegade that always goes by the book. He doesn't veer from the plan or change course, that is until he meets Lara. 

Lara is one of Powell's new creations. Female G-TECH'S that have been brainwashed. Lara doesn't even remember her last name. Her memories have been taken and Damion is one of the few that can help her. But he is her enemy or so she has been taught. Lara's character is quite different from previous heroines in the series. She is a passionate and charismatic woman, but she is a fighter, a warrior. I always think is harder for characters who have a strong sense of self to understand they have been manipulated and used and I think Jones does a wonderful job of bringing that out in Lara's character.

Both Lara and Damion try to resist the attraction they feel for each other. Essentially they are on opposite sides and makes for a hard relationship. But when Damion first sees Lara it's obvious that something is brewing. I liked the fact that she turned Damion's by the book attitude to mush. He is willing to do just about anything for this woman and that was very interesting to read. But this is romantic suspense and I would have to say that the books leans heavy on the suspense side of things. There is some romance, but it is not as key to the book as in some novels. The spark between Lara and Damion is definitely there, but there was a lot more going on the novel than concentrating on their relationship. 

That's not to say it isn't a good book. It's excellent! But if you are looking for a strong romantic edge to the book, I don't think you'll find it. It is suspenseful and chalked full of action and readers who are fans of the series will love it. It expands the Zodius world and sets up for future books in the series. I have read and reviewed all three books and would definitely consider this one my favorite of the series. New readers will be happy to know that each book in the series can be read as a stand alone and a helpful glossary in this one will help to get readers up to speed on what's going on. A great addition to the series!

The Danger That is Damion is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

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

Award-winning author, Lisa Renee Jones, has published more than fifteen novels in several languages, spanning multiple genres of romance - contemporary, romantic suspense, dark paranormal, and erotic fiction. In each book the hero is dark, dangerous, and sexy. She debuted for Nocturne and Blaze on the Bookscan bestseller list.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own

Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own(Mrs Jeffries Series-Book 30) by Emily Brightwell

Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Penguin USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 304pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0425248058
ISBN: 0425248054

(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)

Emily Brightwell on the WEB: Webpage, Facebook

Books In The Series: The Inspector and Mrs Jeffries(1993), Mrs Jeffries Dusts For Clues(1993), The Ghost and Mrs Jeffries(1993), Mrs Jeffries On the Ball(1994), Mrs Jeffries Takes Stock(1994), Mrs Jeffries On the Trail(1995), Mrs Jeffries Plays the Cook(1995), Mrs Jeffries and the Missing Alibi(1996), Mrs Jeffries Stands Corrected(1996), Mrs Jeffries Takes the Stage(1997), Mrs Jeffries Questions the Answers(1997), Mrs Jeffries Reveals Her Art(1998), Mrs Jeffries Takes the Cake(1998), Mrs Jeffries Rocks the Boat(1999), Mrs Jeffries Weeds the Plot(2000), Mrs Jeffries Pinches the Post(2001), Mrs Jeffries Pleads Her Case(2003), Mrs Jeffries Sweeps the Chimney(2004), Mrs. Jeffries Stalks the Hunter(2004), Mrs. Jeffries and the Silent Knight(2005), Mrs. Jeffries Appeals the Verdict(2006), Mrs Jeffries and the Best Laid Plans(2007), Mrs Jeffries and the Feast of St. Stephen(2007), Mrs Jeffries Holds the Trump(2008), Mrs Jeffries in the Nick of Time(2009), Mrs Jeffries and the Yuletide Weddings(2009), Mrs. Jeffries Speaks Her Mind(2010), Mrs. Jeffries Forges Ahead(2011), Mrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-Up(2011), Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own(2012), Mrs. Jeffries Takes a Second Look(2012)

Coverart: Click on the image for a clearer,larger picture of the books in this series.

Excerpt from Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own Courtesy Of Amazon's Inside Look Feature


She keeps house for Inspector Witherspoon...and keeps him on his toes. Everyone’s awed by his Scotland Yard successes—but they don’t know about his secret weapon. No matter how messy the murder or how dirty the deed, Mrs. Jeffries’ polished detection skills are up to the task...proving that behind every great man there’s a woman—and that a crimesolver’s work is never done.

When the general office manager of Sutcliffe Manufacturing is murdered, no one is really surprised. Ronald Dearman was anything but a dear man. The tyrannical bully had more than enough enemies to go around. But who hated him enough to walk into his office and put a bullet between his eyes?

For once, Inspector Gerald Witherspoon doesn't get the case; it's given to another inspector.  Then someone from Mrs. Jeffries' past—someone she'd hoped to never see again—shows up and begs for her help. Now Mrs. Jeffries must step into the fray and stop a terrible miscarriage of justice…


Emily Brightwell's long-lived British mystery series featuring the unlikely sleuth, Mrs. Jeffries continues with, Mrs Jeffries Defends Her Own. It is the thirtieth book in the series and does not disappoint. Brightwell fans are arguably looking for a heroine that is similar Agatha Christie's Miss Maple and they certainly find her, with Mrs. Jeffries. Brightwell's exceptional characters and engaging plots continue to excite fans of Victorian cozy mysteries and bring in a constant flow of new readers!

Mrs. Jefferies is at it again. Though this is the 30th book in the Mrs. Jeffries series, Emily Brightwell continues to keep her books light and original. Many readers would think that after thirty books, the series may have out lived it's audience and become stale, but that isn't the case. Brightwell shakes up the series this time with several key factors. Two of Mrs. Jeffries cohorts are missing, as Betsy and Smythe are on a vacation of sorts, which leaves the door open to another "under the stairs" member of the gang to pick up the slack. Phyllis comes into her own in this book, getting her hands in the  middle of this mystery and becoming a full-fledged member of the team.

In an interesting twist Brightwell gives this latest murder case to another inspector, Inspector Nivens. Fans of the series probably had a jaw dropping moment when they figured out that beloved character Inspector Whitherspoon may be on the lame in this book. Whitherspoon always gives Mrs. Jeffries a reason to investigate and it was great to see that even though he wasn't the lead inspector, Mrs. Jeffries still made it into the middle of the investigation and luckily so does he. One of my favorite parts of this series, is Whitherspoon's "inner voice". I was hoping it wouldn't be lacking in this one and I was right. Mrs. Jeffries and her friends always seem to make Inspector Whiterspoon believe that he figured it all out and that's a very fun aspect of the book. He is the bumbling detective and she is the brains behind the operation. 

The mystery in this one revolves around the murder of Ronald Dearman a manufacturing exec. who has ties to Mrs. Jefferies former sister-in-law, Fiona. Dearman was certainly no saint, which gives Mrs. Jeffries and the readers a lot of suspects to work with. Fiona being the lead suspect also allows readers a long into Mrs. Jeffries past. Brightwell always has a way with bringing out more details about characters readers think they know everything about, in each book. The mystery aspect of the book was well written. The clues come out at the leisurely pace of most English mysteries and keep the reader engaged and calculating the whole time. English mysteries tend to be a little slower paced which allows for a lot of speculation and fun in figuring it all out.

Brightwell continues to surprise and entertain readers with each new Mrs. Jeffries mystery. This is a long-lived series for a reason... it's just that good. Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own takes readers in a different direction than most of the Mrs. Jeffries books, but it is no less satisfying. One of the things that particularly love about this series, is that each book is self-containing, much like the Sherlock Holmes books. You can read them out of order and still learn something new in every book. The Victorian setting doesn't get a lot of page time, but it sets the tone for this historical mystery series. The late 1800's must have been an amazing time and Brightwell gets that across with ease. Give this series a try, it's full of good surprises and lots of English maxims and undertones.

Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

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

Emily Brightwell is the author of twenty-nine Inspector Witherspoon and Mrs. Jeffries books. She lives in California.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway of one copy of Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own by Emily Brightwell.

~You must be a GFC follow or an E-mail subscriber to participate.
~U.S. addresses only.
~Deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST June 11th .

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation to the author on this post, not the form.
2.Please fill out the FORM.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

4th Annual Military Wives Contest - Open for Entries!

I have had the privilege of reviewing several books by author Sara Humphreys. Sara holds a contest on her website every year for military wives around Memorial Day to celebrate and honor the sacrifices that our military servicemen and their families make to keep us safe. Please see the details of Sara's contest below.

4th Annual Military Wives Contest - Open for Entries!

For the past couple of years, as a special thank you to our service members and their families, I have held a contest just for Military Wives. It turned out to be an incredibly rewarding experience. I had the privilege of meeting several incredible women and their beautiful families. It's so easy to forget that there are real people who are deeply affected by the conflicts overseas. Hearing the personal stories of these families helped me remember that our troops are husbands, fathers, brothers and sons who are immensely loved and sorely missed.

This contest will run from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend but start sending those entries in now!
Who is eligible? Wives of any U.S. military service member may enter. Retired or active-duty.
How do you enter? Send an email to with a picture of you and your family member in uniform. Tell us a bit about what branch he serves in, where you've been stationed, challenges and so forth. We want to hear your story! Please put "4th Annual Military Families Contest" in the subject line.
Once a week, beginning Memorial Day weekend, I will pick one entrant to be highlighted on my blog. These weekly entrants are semi-finalists. Labor Day weekend I will select three winners.
Second Prize: A $25 Amazon Gift Card, Signed copies of Unleashed and Untouched
First Prize: A $50 Amazon Gift Card, and signed copies of Unleashed and Untouched
Grand Prize: A $100 Amazon Gift card and signed copies of Unleashed and Untouched
For more information about the contest and Sara Humphreys, please visit and follow Sara on Twitter, @AuthorSara


Sara Humphreys has been attracted to the fantasies of science fiction, paranormal, and romance since her adolescence when she had a mad crush on Captain Kirk. An actress and teacher, Sara lives in New York with her husband, who is very considerate of her double life, and four amazing boys.

Review: A Forbidden Love

A Love Forbidden (Heart of the Rockies - Book 2) by Kathleen Morgan

Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Genre: Christian Fiction
Pages: Paperback, 310pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0800719715
ISBN: 0800719719

(Received for an honest review from Revell)

Kathleen Morgan on the WEB: Webpage, Facebook

Books In The Series: A Heart Divided (2011), A Love Forbidden (2012)

Coverart: Click on the image for a clearer,larger picture of the books in this series.

Excerpt from A love Forbidden


Moved by the desire for adventure and a yearning to help the Ute Indians, twenty-year-old Shiloh Wainright impulsively accepts a teaching position at the White River Indian Agency in northwestern Colorado. 

The new job, however, isn't what she imagined it would be, and Shiloh soon finds herself caught in the cross fire between the Utes, their unyielding Indian Agent, and the unrealistic demands of the US government.

Her unexpected encounter with Jesse Blackwater, an embittered half-breed Ute and childhood friend, only complicates matters as they battle their growing feelings for each other amidst the spiraling tensions threatening to explode into a catastrophic Indian uprising


Prolific Christian writer, Kathleen Morgan continues her Heart of the Rockies series with a book that transcends race and politics. A Love Forbidden not only takes on an inter-racial relationship but also the political turmoil and treatment of the American Indian tribes in the late 1870's. Morgan's attention to detail and warm, believable characters make this a stand out in the Christian fiction market. The theme is refreshing and original and portrays the struggle of the Ute people in a light some readers have never experienced.

Growing up one of my favorite subjects was history, even as early as grade school. And when it came time to learn about the Indians, I was excited and loved finding out about the kinds of houses they lived in and the kinds of foods they ate etc. I always loved the portrayal of the first Thanksgiving where the Indians and the Pilgrims ate together and forged a new relationship. As I got older and the stories about the Indians grew less favorable, I was sad. When I read about Wounded Knee and the Trail of Tears, I felt great sympathy for the Indian people. 

In my experience it has been rare when an author shows these troubling times in an authentic and believable light. Morgan shows the plight of the Indian nations in stark focus in this book and she doesn't favor the government. What happened to the Native American people was a travesty and I believe it should be portrayed that way and obviously Morgan agrees with me. One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book, was the honesty in which it was written. Morgan doesn't shy away from the hard subjects like racial interaction and domestic violence. She looks those issues in the eye and tells the reader like it is. I like that kind of fearlessness in an author. It's hard to find, especially in Christian fiction. 

Shiloh is a really strong character. It takes a lot of courage to give up what you know for the unknown and that's exactly what this character does. She leaves her home and the comparative safety of what she is used to, to go to a place steeped in danger for one reason. She wants to make a difference. She is compassionate and understanding and she also has a deep faith. She trusts God to take care of her in this place and in this situation. The Bible encourages us to believe that God can take care of us in any situation. That doesn't always mean throwing caution to the wind, but doing things in a spirit of faith. Knowing that whatever happens is a part of God's plan. I think Morgan got that message across in a subtle but believable manner. She doesn't hit the reader over the head with it, but weaves it into the fabric of the story.

Jesse was also a very well written and engaging character. Being of mixed race, Jesse's struggles are monumental, especially during this time period. The prejudices that we know now are hardly comparable to what someone in Jesse's situation probably faced. I liked the fact that Morgan did make Jesse bitter or dark. He accepted his situation and made the best of it. He was resourceful and understanding. And sees the great danger that Shiloh has placed herself in. I liked his protective spirit and his love. The relationship is fraught with problems from the beginning. But isn't something worth having worth fighting for? A great love story!

There are many themes in this book, including forgiveness and each character struggles with this in one way or another. Morgan really showed restraint by not letting the secondary characters lead the book. This book focuses on the main couple to a great extent. The supporting cast is there and helps to move the plot, but they do not take over the story. The plot itself is such a driving force that isn't needed. This is a wonderfully written series that I believe Christian fiction readers and historical fiction enthusiasts will both embrace and fall in love with. The Characters are well drawn, the plot is action packed and relevant and the romantic aspects of the story are not cut and dried. Though readers kind of know what's going to happen with Shiloh and Jesse they will still be on the edge of their seats. Morgan makes you think she make take a different direction, even when readers know in there hearts she won't. That was the key to a great book in this case.

A Forbidden Love is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

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

Kathleen was born in sunny Long Beach, California, one of four daughters of a career Army officer.
As a former Army nurse with a master's degree in counseling, she has lived in Germany, Korea, Maryland, Texas, Virginia, Louisiana, Florida, Washington, D.C., Alabama, California, and Colorado. 

She is married to a retired Army helicopter pilot and is the mother of two sons-one deceased- and stepmother to another son and a daughter, both of whom have been very busy making her a grandmother.
In her free time, Kathleen likes to quilt, play the Celtic harp, and be companion and caretaker to an aging English cocker spaniel. She is also a companion and the wifely caretaker to her husband, who is not quite so aged.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Interview and Giveaway: K. Hollan Van Zandt

Please join me in welcoming K. Hollan Van Zandt to Debbie's Book Bag today. She is here promoting the release of her debut novel, Written in Ashes. There is a giveaway for one copy of Van Zandt's book as well, see details at the end of the post.

DEB: K. Hollan , this is the first time you've been with us here at Debbie's Book Bag. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

KH: Well, I’m a new mom. I named my son ‘Atticus’ after a particular character I’ve always loved.
We live next door to his great-grandparents who are 91 and 92. My grandmother was my reading and writing inspiration. Her mother at the turn of the century was a newspaper editor, running the entire paper in their small farm town in Arkansas. I come from a lineage of women who write, and I’m proud of that. I wrote my first novel when I was seven years old- it was three chapters long.

I think our destinies appear at an early age if we are paying attention, and if the right fertilizer is there for that seed it will blossom. As women, we must remember we live in a culture that glorifies youth and beauty. The media indicates we are all washed up after we hit 40, but that’s when a good novelist is just coming into herself. Age is good for books... books and wine. I think like a tree, when a woman ages she has a stronger trunk and more reach with her many branches. She becomes more beautiful, and more of service. Her many knots and past tangles are meant to provide wisdom for others.

DEB: Tell us about your latest release, Written in Ashes. Is this a single title, a part of a series, etc. 

KH: Written in the Ashes is book one of a trilogy. It deals with the events that led up to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria. I have had book two in my mind for about 7 years now. Ashes takes place in Greece and Egypt, and book two (which I have been calling A Further Shore –for anyone who recognizes the last lines from the famous Seamus Heaney play) takes place on Santa Cruz de Tenerife off the coast of Africa and also in Athens. I’m also working in some flashbacks of Constantinople- modern Istanbul. Perhaps Crete. Perhaps Cyprus. I’m writing in the last sacred rite at Eleusis. The series is called The Mediterranean Trilogy for this reason.

I think some of us really herald to another time- future or past. And I think some of us are born in a country that we don’t have a real heart connection to. For us, our journey is one of nostos- of homecoming. Of trying to find our way back. We don’t fit in anywhere. We can’t figure out why. We are the ones who spend a lifetime on the adventure of sailing from island to island until we finally reach that further shore, the one where we always belonged, a true home.

DEB: What kind of research did you do for this novel? Were there specific aspects of the book that you needed more information for?

KH: I researched this novel as I went throughout over thirty drafts of writing. I accessed some of the most major university libraries in America for my research, as well as the Getty museum and various helpful scholars. Books were a great guidance, but I enjoyed speaking with the classicists more- it’s dying focus in this country and I think these scholars deserve a great deal of credit.

As you write the research you need to do makes itself evident in the kinds of questions a perceptive reader will have. What were they wearing? What kinds of dishes did they cook? What kinds of ships did they sail on and what was known about nautical navigation then? How did they tell time? What languages were spoken? Who was in power? How were slaves marked as such? Did they have hot water? What animals did they husband? Etc.

The research never ends in a historical novel, and I’m always slightly appalled when I see an author knock out a historical novel in a year or two. I’m not naming any names here, but I really think there should be a minimum requirement of at least four years of writing and research to bring a historical novel to life. Written in the Ashes took ten. Apparently, so did Pillars of the Earth, which my novel is often compared to in depth of story and historical detail. Ten is a respectable number.

DEB: Do you have to have specific things in place to write comfortably? A quiet house, a certain drink etc.

KH: I always love this question. When I was working on Written in the Ashes, I was making about $12k a year teaching yoga, and living in a tiny 400 sq. ft. cabin in the woods. Now that I think about it, that cabin shared the same three seasons as Egypt: spring, summer, and flood. The luxury of deciding when I would write, or what I had to have in place to write was totally non-existent. (There is no motivation as powerful as poverty.) I wrote at midnight. I wrote at noon.

I wrote the entire first draft longhand in pen, mostly in cafes. I tend to edit at home. I will say, I prefer writing once the dishes are all clean. Although, that also went out the window once I gave birth to my son. Time to write is always hard to find, whether you are a success or just starting out. I like to tell aspiring writers to write every day whether you grandma has just died or there’s a black out. Whip out the candles. Wipe the tears with your pen. Ideally, you write for a three hour block at the minimum. That gives you enough time to warm up and enjoy the ecstasy of being in that world till you have to stop.
DEB: How did you did you feel when you got the word that your first book would be published? What was your reaction...

KH: As a savvy marketer, I took another tack. My novel was optioned by Academy Award winning-producer Mark Harris when it was still in manuscript form. I actually met him in a church parking lot and insisted he wouldn’t like my book. I was being genuine. Turns out this is the best way to interest a producer in your work... Anyway, I decided to retain the rights to see what would come of the movie deal so I self-published the first printing. This also gave me complete editorial and marketing control. I also designed the artwork in my book, and had a say in the cover- which I adore! These are things not many authors with a publishing house can do unless they are celebs. Time will tell if this was a wise decision. So far, I’m pleased.
DEB: Do you have advice for new writers?

KH: Keep re-writing. Don’t show anyone a first draft. Definitely don’t show anyone your writing who you know in advance won’t be approving. Don’t ever give up on publication, no matter how many agents, rejections, or years it takes. Don’t be in a hurry to get your work out there- make sure it’s the best you can make it first. And follow your gut. On everything. Learn something from every rejection and let it make your writing better. Keep working to prove them wrong. And keep at least one friend nearby who believes in you and tells you so every day.

DEB: What are you working on right now? Or what are your plans for the future as far as writing goes?

KH: Right now as a single mother my priority is my baby. My day job is also writing, so that’s the sum of my focus. I hope to start another novel at some point. But I’ve written two other books in the last several years I would like to find homes for. One is a YA called Cello in Central Park that deals with a character suffering from an eating disorder, and the other is a children’s novel called Mockingbird Summer- about a mockingbird who decides he would rather write than sing and who befriends a Mark Twain-inspired mentor. To keep my chops up, I write poetry.

DEB: Do you have a favorite author or genre? What do you read when you have the opportunity?

KH: (Laughs) Well, I wish they would make a novel series out of Downton Abbey! Oh, Lady Mary. I will marry her if Mathew won’t! I love reading historical fiction, but I do read everything. I like books with strong women in them. I really love beautiful writing. Writing that gives you pause. I read more poetry than anything else. I love Neruda, Rilke, Mary Oliver, and my new favorite is David Whyte. I like a book that reveals things to me, makes me think differently, or simply moves me to tears.

DEBTell us one thing about you that readers may not know?

KH: I hold seven yoga certifications, and I’m an animal lover- I actually founded the youth division of the Humane Society of the United States about 20 years ago. One of my goals is to save as many animal species as I can before I die.


This giveaway is one copy of Written in Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Written in Ashes

Written in Ashes (The Mediterranean Trilogy - Book 1) by K. Hollan Van Zandt

Publication Date: July 13, 2011
Publisher: Balboa Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: E-Book, 448pp.
ISBN-13: 9781452535142

(Received for an honest review from Virtual Author Book Tours)

Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

K. Hollan Van Zandt on the WEB: Webpage, Blog, Twitter, Facebook

Excerpt from Written in Ashes Courtesy Of Amazon's Inside Look Feature


Who burned the Great Library of Alexandria? 

When the Roman Empire collapses in the 5th century, the city of Alexandria, Egypt is plagued with unrest. Paganism is declared punishable by death and the populace splinters in religious upheaval.

Hannah, a beautiful Jewish shepherd girl is abducted from her home in the mountains of Sinai and sold as a slave in Alexandria to Alizar, an alchemist and successful vintner. Her rapturous singing voice destines her to become the most celebrated bard in the Great Library. 

Meanwhile, the city’s bishop, Cyril, rises in power as his priests roam the streets persecuting the pagans. But while most citizens submit, a small resistance fights for justice. 

Hypatia, the library’s charismatic headmistress, summons her allies to protect the world’s knowledge from the escalating violence. Risking his life, his family, and his hard-earned fortune, Alizar leads the conspiracy by secretly copying the library’s treasured manuscripts and smuggling them to safety. 

When Hannah becomes the bishop’s target, she is sequestered across the harbor in the Temple of Isis. But an ancient ceremonial rite between a monk and priestess inside the Pharos lighthouse ignites a forbidden passion. 

Torn between the men she loves, Hannah must undertake a quest to the lost oracles of Delfi and Amun-Ra to find the one thing powerful enough to protect the pagans: The Emerald Tablet. 

Meanwhile, the Christians siege the city, exile the Jews, and fight the dwindling pagan resistance as the Great Library crumbles. 

But not everything is lost. . .


Written in Ashes is the first book in the Mediterranean trilogy by debut author, K. Hollan Van Zandt. The burning of the Great Library of Alexandria has captivated the interest of readers and scholars for untold years. Van Zandt's gripping tale of political unrest and those who risked life and limb to see knowledge survive is historical fiction at it's best. Van Zandt's way with words is an experience all it's own. From intricately detailed descriptions of the Great Library to the customs and dress of the times, this is a wonderfully written novel that is a feast for the senses as well as the mind!

I have always been a great fan of well written historical fiction, but there are a lot of factors that go into giving most historical novels that distinction. For one, the research has to be impeccable. A historical novel that can be written in a year or two does not have the same feel that a novel written over ten years does. K. Hollan Van Zandt spent ten years researching and perfecting Written in Ashes and it really shows. Her attention to detail in the description of daily life within the Great Library, as well as, within the city of Alexandria is amazing to say the least. Her descriptions easily engage the readers senses. From the sites and smells of the streets of Alexandria to the feel of the pages of the vast knowledge of the scholars. This is an extremely well researched novel and readers will be able to tell it from the first page.

Another factor in making a historical novel more than good, is the character development. K. Hollan Van Zandt's characters in Written in Ashes are very well drawn. From the heroine, a Jewish shepherdess, to Alizar, a man devoted to the preservation of the works in the Great Library. Each character is multi-layered and has a distinct personality. Hannah was a wonderful character, she embodied exactly what the reader expects from a young Jewish girl who is abducted and sold as a slave. She is compete, resourceful and understands the gravity of her situation, yet she shows her vulnerability when she is taken by the bishops guards. She is a wonderful singer and her life is forever changed when takes up the quest to find The Emerald Tablet. K. Hollan Van Zandt spent just as much time perfecting her characters as she did her plot.

The factor that makes this novel stand out above the rest is easily the plot. The premise of the book and series is a monumental one. What were the circumstances surrounding the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria? Who were the players in this game of political power and struggle? Could one person have changed the course of events that led to this great tragedy? The plot is gripping. It is full of action and heart stopping moments. Readers who were expecting the slow pace of most historical fiction will be taken aback and thoroughly satisfied with Van Zandt's energetic and forceful portrayal of these events. This is a solid combination of historical fiction and heart pounding action, with a mysterious element added to the mix. The quest to find the tablet is anything but typical and Van Zandt was able to pull it off with eloquence and style.

I can't recommend this one enough. If you haven't picked up any other historical fiction novels this year, this is the one to read! It has historical chops like few others I have read this year or the last couple of years for that matter. The research and the character development are outstanding. And plot really kicks it up a notch. It's gripping and action packed. This isn't your grandmother's historical fiction! Give it a try, I know you'll like it!

Check out my interview with the author tomorrow here at Debbie's Book Bag and enter for your chance to win a copy of Written in Ashes!

Written in Ashes is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

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

K. Hollan Van Zandt has always loved libraries, oceans, ancient history and migrating birds. Her mentor, novelist Tom Robbins, instilled in her an abiding love and respect for language.She lives in Southern California, and dreams of a home in Greece. This, her first novel, took ten years to complete.