Belt Tightening on the Home Front——And a Giveaway

Joanne Dobson

Beverle Graves Myers

Mystery authors Joanne Dobson and Beverle Graves Myers met by sheer coincidence after learning that for several weeks each year they live right around the corner from each other. Long talks over coffee revealed that they love many of the same books and share a philosophy about what makes a good mystery. Joanne, a former English professor at Fordham University, is the author of the Karen Pelletier academic mystery series. Bev, a retired psychiatrist, writes the Tito Amato Mysteries set in 18th-century Venice.

Joanne and Bev decided to collaborate on a new series after realizing that they also share an interest in how World War II changed the lives and attitudes of everyday people.  Face of the Enemy, released in September 2012, is the first installment of the New York in Wartime Mysteries and has garnered rave reviews. Booklist says, “This is a solid historical mystery, and its treatment of societal stereotyping of ethnic groups has obvious parallels today.”

Beverle Graves Myers

www.beverlegravesmyers.com

Joanne Dobson

www.joannedobson.com

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Face of the Enemy.

It’s December 7, 1941. Louise Hunter is enjoying an egg cream in a Brooklyn candy store when a boy’s cracking voice yells from Flatbush Avenue, “They’re bombing us! Turn on the radio!” The news report of the brutal Pearl Harbor attack blares out, setting New York, and all of America, on its ear. Louise pushes her soda glass away, suddenly sickened by the sweet smell. She glances at her large-dialed nurse’s watch and thinks: 2:33 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and nothing will ever be the same.

How right she was. Along with the pervasive fear and dread, and the awesome military response that accompanies a war declaration, Americans had to adjust themselves to a whole new way of living. A new national mantra swept the land: Use it up, wear it out! Make do or do without!

Today we call such a consumer philosophy recycling, and the determination by many to reuse rather than repurchase is conserving scarce resources and helping to keep our planet clean. Seventy years ago, however, collecting rubber, grease, and metal was much more personal. Doing without certain items just might save the life of your son or husband overseas. Rubber tires and corsets, even men’s suspenders, could be reworked into gas masks and lifeboats. Cooking grease was used in in the production of gunpowder and other explosives.

A ton of scrap metal, Americans were constantly reminded, could be made into two tons of steel for battleships, tanks, helmets, and canteens. People ransacked homes and businesses for every sliver of non-essential metal: keys, bedsprings, fences, filing cabinets, old stoves. Wedding rings. Piles upon piles of donated items grew at collection depots. If it would help the defense effort, it had to go.

As America continued to transform itself for war, many everyday items simply disappeared from stores and shops. Factories halted production of consumer goods and retooled their assembly lines for military needs. Textile factories changed production from women’s lingerie to G.I. shorts or mosquito netting. Instead of pianos and organs, the Wurlitzer Company produced radio-guided assault drones. Were your shoes wearing out? Tough. “Put some cardboard in ‘em. Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

New York City, the setting for Face of the Enemy, was urban Homefront Central. Week-long drives sponsored by the Boy Scouts and other organizations garnered astonishing amounts of goods. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia issued earnest proclamations, and radio personalities cajoled and encouraged from the airwaves. Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio even donated his baby’s rubber pants! In a lighthearted effort to support the drives, another celebrity of the day arranged a stunt at the Stork Club that involved debutantes pitching in their bracelets and hair curlers for the war effort. Even children did their part; the balloons so integral to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade were retired for scrap.

The teeming city also put its small plots of green into use. The tin cans used to package vegetables quickly became scarce, so postage-stamp victory gardens sprouted everywhere. The flower beds alongside the Rockefeller Center fountains now grew tomatoes, schoolyard playgrounds were partitioned for neighbors’ use, and bright red radishes could be spotted in window boxes along Fifth Ave.

Then there was rationing to contend with, governed by a baroque structure of cards and stamps. Gasoline was rationed early, of course. Foods that were staples on American tables succumbed gradually: meat, butter, eggs, coffee, and, eventually, sugar. Housewives stood in line to buy what they could and learned new, meatless recipes. Restaurants served ox-tail ragout and kidney stew instead of steak. Many of New York’s famed hot-dog stands disappeared for the duration.

It’s tempting to speculate that the consumer-driven society we’ve grown so used to in recent decades might well have begun in reaction against this wartime belt tightening. After VJ day, the sacrifice and cooperation so evident in the war years quickly turned to individualistic post-war indulgence. People wanted to celebrate—live it up—and industry was poised to give them what they wanted. In the new housing boom, old ethnic neighborhoods were abandoned for the suburbs. New cars went into production, growing longer and sleeker by the year. The “New Look” reigned in woman’s fashions, with lower hemlines and full skirts using yards of material.

America’s mood was changing yet again, and belt tightening soon became a quaint thing of the past.

To enter the drawing for a hardcover copy of Face of the Enemy

by Joanne Dobson and Beverle Graves Myers, leave a

comment below. The winning name will be drawn on the

evening of Monday, October 1st.

Book Review: Illusion by Frank Peretti

Illusion
Frank Peretti
Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, March 2012
ISBN 978-1-4391-9267-2
Hardcover

When the story opens, Dane Collins’s wife has died in a horrible automobile accident. Dane, in his sorrow, takes up lonely residence in the Hayden, Idaho home they’d planned together, a sanctuary from their  busy life as the Dane & Mandy team of Las Vegas stage show illusionists. But then a girl also named Mandy shows up on a Coeur d’Alene streetcorner, a beginning magician, looking exactly as Dane’s wife appeared forty years ago when they first met.

Meanwhile, young Mandy Eloise Whitacer has “appeared” at the Spokane County Fairgrounds, confused and, although in good health, apparently suffering delusions that she is living in an era forty years in the past. Moreover, she is an illusionist of uncanny ability who puts on brilliantly entertaining shows.

I’m not going to tell anymore for fear of giving spoilers to what is an intriguing, well-imagined story. The characters are superb, the dialogue just right, the novel premise a mixture of magic, black-helicopter intrigue, and an endearing love story. The science-fiction stuff is complex, but well-described. Illusion is a bit of a brain teaser and an excellent way to spend a few relaxing hours.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Sheep-Dip and Politics

Jeanne Matthews was born and raised in Georgia, where owning a gun is required by law in certain places and “he needed killing” is a valid legal defense to homicide.  Jeanne’s debut novel, Bones of Contention, published in June, 2010 by Poisoned Pen Press, features a conniving Georgia clan plopped down in the wilds of Northern Australia where death adders, assassin spiders, man-eating crocs, Aboriginal myths, and murder abound.  Jeanne currently resides in Renton, Washington with her husband, Sidney DeLong, who is a law professor, and their West Highland terrier.  Her second novel, Bet Your Bones, and the third, Bonereapers, are available at bookstores everywhere.

www.jeannematthews.com

Recently, Jeanne suffered the hardship of spending a few weeks on a Greek isle while researching her next book.

Kingley Amis believed that “any proper writer ought to be able to write anything, from an Easter Day sermon to a sheep-dip handout.”  Amis didn’t specify that the writer should know anything useful or instructive about the subject, only that he should to be able to come up with a plausible narrative.  In that spirit, and having just returned from Greece with an earful of strong opinion, I will undertake to write about Greek politics.

A friend of mine who lives on the Greek island of Samos suggested that I set my next Dinah Pelerin mystery there.  He invited me to stay in his house overlooking the Aegean for a few weeks and absorb the atmosphere.  He did not have to beg.  I leapt on the first plane out and rushed to absorb, arriving in the village of Manolates on the day of the full moon harvest festival.  I watched the moon rise over the mountains, absorbed a vast quantity of the local wine made from the island’s famed muscat grapes, and made the acquaintance of a number of villagers.  The festivities lasted into the wee hours and conversation inevitably turned to the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the European Union.   My new friends assured me that regardless of the prejudicial reports spread by the greedy, mean-spirited Germans, Greeks are NOT lazy.  Greeks are NOT parasites.

I spent my second evening at the local taverna, the hub of the village.  Sometime after 10 p.m., the talking stops and the regulars bring out their violins and the goatskin, which is a kind of bagpipe, and the night erupts into wild gypsy music.  Samos lies only a mile off the Turkish coast and the tradition of belly dancing is very much alive.  A woman with long black hair and a sinuous body jumped up and began thrusting and rolling her muscles and spinning like a dervish.  When she finally flung herself into a chair to catch her breath, she told me that, in spite of the nasty propaganda put out by the E.U., Greeks are honest, hard-working people.  “They call us PIGS,” she said.  “Portugal, Italy, Germany, and Spain.  Greeks are NOT pigs.  The problem is the agreements.”

“What agreements?” I ask.

“Nobody knows.  The E.U. forced the government to sign them.”

My third day on Samos I learned about the meltemi.  It is an annoying Aegean wind, rather like the mistral in France.  It blows from mid-day to sunset, May to September.  As I was enjoying a lovely salad on the terrace at Hippie’s Beach, the meltemi suddenly lifted my salad out of its bowl and slapped the messy contents smack into my midriff.  A charming young woman who helped me pick the rocket leaves and pomegranate seeds off my blouse was reminded of the time she participated in a demonstration against the government in Athens.  As she blotted at the Balsamic vinegar stains, she said, “The police sprayed us with chemicals, but the chemicals had expired.  Like all of the products Greece is obligated to purchase from the E.U., the chemicals were crap.  We Greeks cannot even be GASSED with respect.”

I met a man named Pandoli who showed me the torso of a Hellenistic sculpture propped against an olive tree in his back yard.  The rest of the statue and probably a trove of other archaeological treasures are buried somewhere nearby, but it would cause him endless trouble if he reported his discovery.  “The bureaucracy!” He shook his head and sighed.  “If I reported it, I’d never have gotten permission to build my house.”

A visit to the Temple of Hera is a must, although there’s not much left of it.  Originally, there were over a hundred columns.  Today, only half of one column remains standing and it looks pretty rickety.  Stuff falls apart.  Stuff disappears.  On Samos, stuff gets paved over.  The runway of the new international airport in Pythagorio is built on top of the ruins of one of the oldest ports in the world.  The sides of the road are littered with pieces of statuary and broken columns – Corinthian, Doric, Ionian – and stone slabs with ancient Greek script that will never be translated.  “This is why the British won’t return our Elgin Marbles,” said my friend Yannis over a glass of ouzo.  “To the British, Greece is just an outdoor museum and the Greeks are its undeserving caretakers.  To the Germans, we are wastrels and fools who can’t be trusted to clean up after ourselves.  Our pensions are too fat and they must impoverish us for our own good.”  He fixed me with a glittering eye.  “And you Americans can’t believe that a tiny, unimportant country with socialist leanings could jeopardize your four-0-one K investments.”

Sheep-dip is highly toxic.  You should make sure there’s enough room in the bath for all of the sheep.  And the pigs.  If you’re not careful, the pollution will spread.  Like toxic politics.

Book Review: Poison Flower by Thomas Perry, Champagne for Buzzards by Phyllis Smallman, Under the Dog Star by Sandra Parshall, The Good, the Bad and the Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, and Baronne Street by Kent Westmoreland

Poison FlowerPoison Flower
Thomas Perry
Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic, March 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2605-4
Hardcover

Thomas Perry has brought back his wonderful protagonist, Jane Whitefield, in his 19th novel, and the seventh featuring the part-Seneca woman whose credo has always been that “to save innocent people from the enemies who wanted them dead, there would be times when she must fight.” When her plans to free James Shelby from jail go immediately awry, she is forced, as perhaps never before, to make her own life and safety as much a priority as that of her client.

Shelby, described as “a man in his late twenties with light hair and a reasonably handsome face,” is still recovering from a stabbing two months prior while wrongfully imprisoned.  His sister had come to Jane at her home in Deganawida, New York, to enlist her help after he had been convicted of killing his wife, of which crime he is innocent, and given a life sentence.

For the uninitiated, “over the years she had taken dozens and dozens of them away.  Shelby was only the most recent.  They had almost all come to her in the last days of wasted, ruined lives, sometimes just hours before their troubles would have changed from dangerous to fatal.  She would obliterate the person’s old identity and turn him into a runner, a fugitive she would guide to a place far away, where nobody knew him, and certainly nobody would ever think of killing him. She would give him a new identity and teach him to be that new person for the rest of his life.”

The author once again has crafted a terrifically entertaining, meticulously plotted and suspenseful novel, one I couldn’t put down until the final page.  It is, obviously, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Champagne for BuzzardsChampagne for Buzzards
Phyllis Smallman
McArthur & Company, September 2011
ISN 978-1-55278-912-4
Trade Paperback

In the fourth of Phyllis Smallman’s Sherri Travis mysteries, the protagonist, who co-owns a restaurant/bar with her lover, Clay Adams, is planning his surprise birthday party at his ranch, 300 acres of jungle in Riverwood, Florida, near that state’s west coast.  The title derives from the fact that champagne is high on her shopping list, the ‘buzzards’ part from those unexpected carrion birds who have discovered and feasted upon a body under the tarp covering the back of her pickup truck  [The truck had been her husband’s, murdered two years prior and the subject of an earlier book.]

Also living at the ranch are Sherri’s father, Tulsa (“Tully”] Jenkins, and “uncle” Ziggy [not related by blood but might as well be], both in their sixties but still as feisty as Sherri, which is saying something.  She describes herself and Clay as “cultured and refined met smart-mouthed trailer trash,” she being the latter [called by Clay his “little beach-bar Mona Lisa].”  Their differences include the fact that she is 31, and he about to turn 45.  With her best friend, dental hygienist Marley, the two women start out bringing the upcoming party to fruition, but end up trying to solve the murder of the man who had gotten the attention of the aforementioned buzzards, to their peril. [The women, that is, not the buzzards.]

What ensues is a terrific and fast-paced mystery, complete with psychotic neighbors with a secret that they would do anything to protect, and a missing employee from whom Clay had earlier bought the ranch.  I had been unfamiliar with the work of this author [who apparently divides her time between Salt Spring Island, British Columbia and Manasota Beach, Florida], but will certainly keep an eye out for future offerings.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable novel, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Under the Dog StarUnder the Dog Star
Sandra Parshall
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-878-9
Hardcover

This is the fourth entry in Sandra Parshall’s Agatha Award-winning series, which brings back Rachel Goddard, veterinarian in Mason County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where there has been a rash of mysterious disappearances of family pets from all over the area, posters of which cover the walls of Rachel’s animal hospital. At the same time, reports have been coming in of a pack of feral dogs attacking ranches and homes at night, stealing eggs and killing chickens, threatening the safety of the homeowners and the local farmers’ livestock, and causing somewhat of a panic among the citizenry.  Some of them are up in arms, literally, and want nothing more than to form hunting parties, rifles at the ready, to find and kill the animals.  Rachel has other plans:  She is setting up a sanctuary, where she can house the animals and try to get them to bond again with humans, rather than the other members of the pack.

The stakes suddenly escalate in fast and furious manner when a local man is viciously killed, and when it appears that an animal is to blame, those already planning to hunt them down become crazed.  But Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger, with whom Rachel has been living for the past month, sees the evidence as pointing to a human killer who uses a trained and vicious dog as his weapon.  The powerful novel details some very real horrors and ugliness in our society [a hint of which was provided in real life by football player Michael Vick].

The ensuing investigation and chase becomes more and more complex: The victim was not without enemies, outside of and perhaps within his own household, which includes several adopted children and not a small amount of animosity.  The author has created some beautifully drawn characters, who come vibrantly alive in the hands of a terrific storyteller.  The suspense mounts to very high levels as the tale draws to an end, much too soon.  I loved it, and it is highly recommended.  [It should perhaps be noted that the book is also available in trade paperback and as an e-book.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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The Good, The Bad and The MurderousThe Good, the Bad and the Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

In his seventh novel [six have featured p.i. Greg McKenzie], Chester Campbell has brought back for only the second time Sid Chance.  Chance is a former member of the Army Special Forces in Vietnam, and had been a National Parks ranger for nineteen years, as well as a small town police chief for ten.  He has now set up shop as a private investigator in Nashville, Tennessee, occasionally but ably assisted by his good friend, “Jaz” LeMieux.  At Jaz’ behest, and despite Sid’s skepticism, he agrees to look into the arrest of a young man accused of murder.  One of the major factors in how convinced the cops are of his guilt is the fact that he had served several years in prison after killing another young man when he was all of twelve years old in the aftermath of a drug deal.  The current murder, of which he protests his innocence, and as Sid and Jaz investigate it, appears to have connections to a Medicare fraud set-up.  As the investigation proceeds, Sid becomes more and more convinced that the boy is innocent, and that moreover his own personal integrity is at stake, and things heat up.  On a more personal level, Jaz herself has been accused of racial harassment of an employee of her company, which morphs into something much more serious as the tale unfolds, and she and Sid believe that they are both being set up.  The good, the bad and the murderous indeed.

Jaz is a fascinating character:  Now a successful businesswoman, she had served in the Air Force Security Police, and spent a few years as a professional boxer before becoming a patrolwoman with the Metro Nashville police force.  This is a well-written and strongly plotted novel, and is a welcome addition to the series.  I loved the regular poker group to which Jaz and Sid belong, which they call the Miss Demeanor and Five Felons Poker Club, among whose members are a former Criminal Court Judge and a retired reporter, as well as the tip of the hat from the author to Tim Hallinan and his Bangkok mystery novels, and to Lee Child and his Jack Reacher books.

A very enjoyable read, and one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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Baronne StreetBaronne Street
Kent Westmoreland
CreateSpace, September 2010
ISBN: 978-1-45370271-0
Trade Paperback

This first novel by Kent Westmoreland introduced Burleigh [“Burr”] Drummond, and takes the reader on a wild ride down Baronne Street, home to, in less than equal parts, sleaze, beautiful women, horny men, free-flowing liquor, old money, drugs, prostitutes and corruption of all kinds. Shocking, to find all that in N’Awleens, right?  A place where, among the tantalizing smells emanating from the wonderful restaurants, it takes “a little longer to identify the sickly sweet odor of unearned wealth.”

Now a private investigator for three years, twenty-eight-year-old Drummond is hired by a beautiful, moneyed woman to find out why her husband is suddenly behaving in a ‘peculiar’ manner, paying him very handsomely for the privilege.  The ensuing investigation turns up much more than either the client or Drummond bargained for, much of it very, very personal to the detective.

He is assisted in his endeavors, as usual, by Morgan Cross, 35 years old and ‘the coolest guy’ he’d ever known, reputed to be many things [among them mercenary, hit man, and spy], and indispensable to Drummond.  The latter has his own “special talent,” to wit, to “manipulate delicate situations discreetly and keep the consequences quiet.”  A tall order in this case, as it turns out.

This was a delightful read, with believable characters and terrific setting and dialogue, and one I highly recommend.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Burr Drummond and his New Orleans in the next book, one I certainly hope is in the pipeline.  [It should be noted that the book is available in paperback or as an e-book online or by ordering through your favorite bookstore.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

K. Hollan Van Zandt Tells All—and a Giveaway!

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. Written in the Ashes, her first novel, took ten years to complete and has been optioned by Academy Award-winning producer Mark Harris of Agape Media Productions who won best picture for “Crash” in 2005 and plans to create a TV mini series with it.

K. Hollan Van Zandt’s website.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy

of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt!

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It’s a real pleasure to welcome K. Hollan Van Zandt to Buried Under Books today…

cncbooks—Written in the Ashes has received some very nice reader reviews. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Kaia—I wrote the novel to explore the loss of the Great Library of Alexandria, as well as the end of pagan practice as Christianity rose into power. We think now of “pagan practice” as devil worship and the like, but back then it included astronomy and mathematics. The sciences were all considered witchcraft by the early Christians. (And Hypatia, the first female philosopher and scientist was also the first woman to be branded a “witch”.)

There was a vast understanding of our universe already in place when the library was destroyed, which many people today are not aware of. For instance, Eratosthenes had measured the Earth’s circumference back in 300 B.C. – the loss of the Great Library today would be like the entire internet expiring overnight, never to be rebooted.

cncbooks—What made you decide to write in such a setting?

Kaia—I love the Mediterranean. As a novelist, you pretty much have to figure you are going to spend years of your mental life in one place, so you better love it. I love the history and the people and even the climate and botany and bird life of Alexandria and Greece, so my passion guided me in my writing.

cncbooks—How much of you is in your character, Hypatia?

Kaia—Hypatia is an extremist and a purist. During my twenties when I was writing the novel I was a vegan yoga teacher, and I was practicing yoga 2-3 hours every day. Sometimes meditating as many as 5 hours in a sitting. I was obsessive in my approach to finding a way out of my own neurosis, but equally obsessed with understanding and expanding consciousness—finding God, if you will. In my study of Hypatia, I came to a lot of personal realizations that the path I was on would not meet a good end. Hypatia denied her shadow- and lived an elitist spiritual life that excluded the grit and grime of the ordinary world. But this is a dualistic world. You don’t get good here without evil. You can’t plunge into enlightenment without calling up some pretty impressive demons. And so, I left my extremist life realizing it would be far better – and even a greater challenge, to live an ordinary and balanced life consciously. I have a child now. I allow for poo-poo. You have to!

All my characters were written as archetypes. It’s meant to be a mythic tale, a morality tale. Hypatia is the mind. Hannah is the heart. Alizar is the good conscience. Cyril is the neurosis who is ultimately brought to light. Tarek, the fool. It’s in their mingling that you get the wisdom of the story revealed. The readers who hate my book – and there are those who hate it – don’t appreciate the archetypes. They don’t understand that my story is actually a commentary on one’s own internal landscape. I’m a Jungian. You must read the story symbolically, not literally, to grok the deeper meanings. But if you read it literally, it is still a historically descriptive read. But I hope you don’t read it only that way.

cncbooks—Did you carry on conversations with Hannah while you were working on the story?

Kaia—No, actually, with Alizar. Alizar and I would take long drives up the coast to San Francisco together. He was fully capable of leaping out of his literary alchemical abode and carrying on with me. I asked him all my questions about the other characters in the story. “Why would so-in-so do that?” “What was Hannah thinking when…” etc. He was more than willing to cooperate, and became a beloved friend, if you could call him that. My next novel in the series is about him.

cncbooks—What was your favorite chapter to write and why?

Kaia—The burning of the Great Library, of course! My pen (yes, I wrote the novel longhand) could not fly fast enough across the page. I cried writing those words. My heart beat as if I could feel the heat on my own neck. And the words just kept pouring out hour after hour, day after day. It was a trance that lasted nine days, and I was nowhere but in Alexandria. I forgot to eat. I forgot to shower. I forgot to return calls. I called in sick to work. It was a delirium of love and pain and beauty. It was a fury of obsession, and I still relive it when I read those pages.

cncbooks—Is there one author (historical fiction or otherwise) who has really influenced your writing career?

Kaia—Tom Robbins has been my mentor for nearly 20 years. He is a humorist in the literary tradition of himself: some cross between zen and madness, writing always on the line that divides old age from juvenile delinquency. He gets me. We laugh about the shit the world is made of. He’s often referred to himself as an acquired taste. I think I may be following in those unconventional footsteps…

cncbooks—Who did you pretend to be when you were a kid?

Kaia—(Laughs) Looking back, I always pretended to be men, and I was fond of great detectives. I often pretended to be Inspector Clouseau or Sherlock Holmes. There were a tribe of Indians in our town once called the Chumash, and so a favorite game was of being a native—digging out a canoe, fishing, hunting. But then, I pretended to be animals and trees and rocks and things also. I would try and be invisible in a landscape to see if adults could find me. I was a great tree-climber. I suppose this all makes sense in retrospect. As a novelist, you are a shape-shifter and you must be able to put your mind into anything. I think I honestly believed until I was at least ten that if I stayed in the water long enough I would at some point sprout a fishtail. My costumes for Halloween included Halley’s Comet, a flying carpet, and Madonna. Sometimes I think I missed a career as an actor. I enjoy characters and the puzzle of being someone else believably.

cncbooks—Do you think social networking, blogging, tweeting, etc., are worthwhile promotional tools for authors or do they steal too much time away from career writing?

Kaia—Who knows, really. What I can say is this: Pynchon will never do a blog tour. J.D. Salinger would have sooner died than tweeted. I guess he did die. Norman Mailer said that the novel is dead. So these are the type who just didn’t need or want it. Purists. Then there are those writers who really enjoy connection. They appreciate a blogger like yourself who wants to invest some time and energy into a relationship with a story and with a writer, and who showcases it for others. The book bloggers of yore would have all owned bookshops, more than likely.

If you get stuck on even the idea of “promoting” your book, you are already underwater. And you will drown. Books have their own life energy. If they are worth reading, they are discovered and they live on. Period. Writers need to write the next book. What tree out in the field creates apples and goes on neurotically worrying about who will eat them? So I think writers have to find a way to satisfy their publishers, appreciate their readers, and most importantly find time to write. It’s not easy! I suggest living frugally or marrying wealthy….

cncbooks—What is the one place in the world you really want to visit for the first time and why?

Kaia—Thailand. The Thai keep elephants as pets! I want to play with an elephant. And the climate suits my constantly cold bones. I would adopt a Thai child if I could. Or an elephant…

cncbooks—If you were shipwrecked on an uncharted island with no hope of rescue, who is the one person, other than family, you would want with you and why?

Kaia—Cary Grant. Don’t you just love Cary Grant? Or Woody Allen. I would want to laugh about our predicament. But Woody would sunburn…

cncbooks—When that ship wrecks, you manage to save your four favorite books. What are they?

Kaia—Oh, God. You’re talking to someone with a personal library of over a thousand titles. Pause. I need to walk around the house and think… Ok, so, The Dictionary (Oxford English), Tarot ReVisioned by Leigh J. McCloskey, A Hundred Years of Solitude, and the biggest collection of Neruda ever published in both Spanish and English. I ache to memorize more of his poems.

cncbooks—What is in store for you? What’s happening next?

Kaia—Well, we have a big Hollywood director attached to the TV series of Written in the Ashes now. She is working on Borgia’s at the moment. So I have hope the project will find production. As for my writing, when my son, now an infant, gets a little older, I will travel to Isla de Tenerife in the Canaries to research the next novel in the Mediterranean Trilogy!

Kaia, thank you so much for spending a little time here today 😉

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You have two chances to enter the drawing for an ebook copy of

Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt. Leave a

comment on the review of Written in the Ashes

posted on September 25th and then again

on today’s post. The winning name will be drawn on

the evening of October 3rd.

Follow the tour here.

Book Review: Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt—and a Giveaway

Written in the Ashes
K. Hollan Van Zandt
Balboa Press, July 2011
ISBN 978-1-4525-3515-9
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback and electronic editions

From the publisher—

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. . .

Leave a comment below to enter the drawing

for a copy of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt.

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Way back in the Dark Ages when I was a teenager, I fell in love with history and, in particular, with the ancient lands of Egypt, Greece, Italy, Britain, etc. I seriously considered going into archaeology as a career but, fortunately, I figured out early on that I’m a couch potato at heart and really not cut out for all that sweat and hard work. Despite that setback, I’ve never lost my love for those places and their stories.

Then, in 1989, I had the great good fortune to go with my younger daughter to visit my older daughter who was studying in Greece. We did the tourist thing in Greece and then went on to Egypt. I don’t expect to ever again experience anything like it and that wonderful trip confirmed my belief that those two countries, in particular, have history that’s magical.

That magic is what the reader finds in Written in the Ashes. From my first introduction to Hannah, I was captivated by her and by what happens to her, and she became a very real person in my imagination. I could feel her emotions, her fear, her strength. I could once again experience the heat, the red dust, the intense sun, the incredibly blue sky, the sense of being in a place that would have an immense effect on the rest of humanity for eons to come. And Hypatia—what an incredible woman she is in the author’s hands and must have been in real life. To think that she played such an integral role at a time when religions and the empire were in great turmoil, a time when an intelligent woman was looked upon with suspicion and distrust, is mesmerizing.

These two very different women and the secondary characters that touch their lives for good or bad, bring to life the story of what happened in Alexandria and the massive changes that occurred in the religious world of the 5th century. Whether the reader is Christian or Jewish or pagan or of any other belief—or even atheistic—really doesn’t matter because we all live today with the ramifications of those events. Ms. Van Zandt has done a masterful job of creating a compelling and absorbing story around a fascinating piece of history.

Ms. Van Zandt is also to be commended for her meticulous research but, most of all, for her flowing, striking prose that frequently caught my breath; I’d find myself re-reading passages just to see if they sounded the same a second time. (Hint: they did and, sometimes, were even better.) I really do hope this author will offer us either a sequel or another novel entirely without making us wait too long.

One note of caution for those readers who are easily offended—while you’ll find love and excitement and danger and even a little humor, the author does not hold back when it comes to scenes of violence and abuse and I applaud her for that. After all, slavery, rape, murder, arson and mob behavior are all about brutality and should be portrayed accordingly, but I highly recommend Written in the Ashes for any reader who enjoys tales from our past that are grounded in truth and written in beauty.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.


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You have two chances to enter the drawing for an ebook

copy of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt. Leave

a comment below and then again on September 26th

on Kaia’s guest post. The winning name will be drawn

on the evening of October 3rd.

Follow the tour here.

The Native Americans I Borrow From for my Tempe Crabtree Series—and a Contest!

Marilyn & her daughter, Dana

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Raging Water from Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel is No Bells, the forth from Oak Tree Press. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and follow her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/

Marilyn borrows a lot from where she lives in the Southern Sierra for the fictional town of Bear Creek and the surrounding area.


The Tule River Indian Reservation is near my home. I can look out my back window and see the mountain that is part of the reservation. This reservation has the most acreage of any in California and may encompass the most beautiful scenery, including Giant Sequoia trees. Of course they have a casino, Eagle Mountain, which is tucked away in the valley where the majority of the native people live.

The casino has helped this tribe tremendously. And the casino has helped the town of Porterville too since many non-Indians have jobs there too. The tribe is generous with their money, giving to many local charities and helping in many other ways too. They provide busses for our annual two day Apple Festival to transport visitors from the rodeo grounds parking lot to the festival and back again. They’ve donated money to our church to send kids to camp. Indian children, whether they live on the reservation or not, receive free medical care.

It hasn’t always been good for this particular tribe. After having the whole valley and the mountains to hunt and fish, after some horrific events, the Indians were herded onto a reservation at the east end of what is Porterville today where they learned to farm. As the city grew, the other people who lived in the town didn’t like being so close to the reservation. The Indians were forced to move far from town onto a new reservation. There was no electricity until the ‘60s. There were no doctors or stores. It was a long way to town to shop and seek medical help. Times were tough until the casino became a reality.

The majority of the Indians on the reservation are Yokuts, but there are representatives of other tribes too. And you notice I’ve been calling these people Indians; that’s because that’s what they call themselves.

Though I’ve based the Indians in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series on this particular tribe, I changed the name because I like to say that I’m just “borrowing” from them. Of course when I’m selling my books at an event in the area, I’ve had Indians come up to me and say, “You’re the one who writes about us.” And yes, I am, though I usually add, “Sort of.”

I’ve written about their pow wows, and used some of their legends and ceremonials in my mysteries. I’ve visited the reservation many times including the Painted Rock and the pictographs of the Hairy Man and his family. Many new services have been added to the community like health facilities, a day care center, their own police department and much more.

When I write about Tempe Crabtree who is part-Indian and her good friend Nick Two John, also an Indian, and the people who live on the Bear Creek Reservation, I’m writing about people who feel real to me and I hope will to the reader, but they came from my imagination.

In my latest book, Raging Water, Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s investigation of the murder of two close friends is complicated when relentless rain turns Bear Creek into a raging river. Homes are inundated and a mud slide blocks the only road out of Bear Creek stranding many—including the murderer.

I know there are some people who like to read a series in order, but let me reassure you that every book is complete. Though the characters grow through each book, the crime is always solved. Here is the order of the books for anyone who wants to know: Deadly Trail, Deadly Omen, Unequally Yoked, Intervention, Wing Beat, Calling the Dead, Judgment Fire, Kindred Spirits, Dispel the Mist, Invisible Path, Bears With Us, Raging Water.

A Nifty Contest!

The person who leaves comments on the most blogs during

this blog tour will have his/her name used for a character in

my next book—can choose if you want it in a Deputy

Tempe Crabtree mystery or a Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel.