Monday, September 29, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Traci L Slatton


Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Traci L Slatton.  She is the author of Broken, a book I reviewed here on The Gal today, and a lady with a very interesting imagination.  The story that she shares in Broken is really want that caught my attention - and kept my attention - through the whole story.  (You can see my review HERE.)  


Hello, Traci.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Growing up, I was a Navy Brat, a tree-climber, and a dedicated reader of novels.  I love chocolate and red wine, ripe peaches, Paris, Rome, and Old Master art.  I received a BA from Yale in English and an MFA from Columbia in Creative Writing - Poetry.  I lived all over the country as a kid so I'm happy to be settled now in Manhattan, in the same apartment for almost twenty years.  I have four daughters (three and a step), ages 9 years old, 19, 24, and 24.  I've written 11 books and I'm now working on my 12th, which is the fourth book in the romantic dystopian After Series.

What are 5 things about you that most people don't know?

  1. I love action-adventure movies where things blow up; I consider The Terminator to be a perfect movie.
  2. I laugh at silly jokes.
  3. I secretly drink from the almond milk carton, but only when no one's looking.
  4. Everyone teases me about my taste in music because so much of what I enjoy is pop.  Neil Diamond, Cyndi Lauper, or Rod Stewart anyone?
  5. I do web design for extra money.
What is the first book you remember reading?

My first "big book," which I read at age 6, was called Angel Unaware by Dale Evans Rogers.

What made you decide to begin writing?

When I was 6 years old, I went in a few months from reading "See Spot Run" to reading novels.  I was enthralled by reading.  The first "big book" I read was about a deceased child looking down on her family from heaven.  It made a huge impact on me.  I was moved to tears, and I thought, "I want to do this!  I want to write stories that make people feel things so deeply!"

Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Since I have been married with children my entire adult life, I've learned to be very efficient with my time.  There are always twenty things competing for my time.  So when I sit down to write, I write.

Do you have a special place you like to write?

I have a small home office, that's where it happens.

Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Middles are hard for me.  I always start a novel with a burst of inspiration, creativity, and enthusiasm - I'm excited about the story.  And then I get the same rush at the end, when I'm eager to bring the story home.  But middles can be challenging for me, that's where I rely on a good outline and my craft.  

What do you think makes a good story?

On one level, conflict and obstacle, along with three-dimensional characters, make a good story.  However, all story is really an argument for a specific value.  I've written about this in the Huffington Post HERE.  So a good story is one that argues skillfully for the author's value(s).  Think about Macbeth, which is an argument for the value "Overweening ambition contains the seeds of its own destruction."  Shakespeare argues most skillfully!  In Broken, I am arguing for the power of love, and I am arguing that spirit informs everything.

What book(s) have most influenced you?

As a reader and a writer, I love Whom the Gods Would Destroy by Richard Powell.  This historical novel is set in ancient Troy, and it influenced my inner life a great deal when I was a kid.  It also made a deep impression on me because it's so well written.  The plot is well-designed and well-executed and the characters are three-dimensional.
            I admire the writing of Daniel Silva, Sue Grafton, Richard North Patterson, and Greg Iles.

What inspires you most?

I'm inspired by many things: my family and friends, my travels, my spiritual practice.  I guess what inspires me most, of late, is my yoga practice.  There's something about showing up every day on my yoga mat.  I get integrated more deeply into my own being, and that integration enhances my creativity.

Where do the ideas for your book come from?

Good question!  Darned if I know.  They seem to bubble up like dreams from the well of my unconscious.  I'll recognize bits and pieces of people I love or hate, issues with which I'm grappling, fantasies and desires, old wounds, aspirations, relationships, places I've traveled ... I always say writing is an arachnoid process: I spin a yarn from what I pull out of my gut.

Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?

I think there's a little bit of me in all my characters.  In Broken, Alia the protagonist has my love of children and my delight in good wine, poetry, dancing, and friends.  Her neighbor Suzanne has lived a more conventional life, as I have - I've been married with children for my entire adult life, so I haven't had the opportunity to explore having lots of lovers, as Alia has.  Maybe in my next life.

What have you learned creating this book?

Researching World War II was not pleasant.  I confronted some of humanity's most evil actions.  The Nazis acted out our shadow in a way that was shocking and terrifying.  Many people were heroic, too.  It was an archetypal time for humankind.  I learned in deeper ways how evil we really can be, and who much we can sacrifice and endure out of love and heroism.

What do you think your readers will take away from this book?

I hope they will take away a deep feeling of reverence for the power of love and a sense of wonder at how spirit informs everything.

What makes your book different than others that fall under this genre?

I think the combination of sensuality and spirituality and painstaking research will differentiate Broken from other historical novels set during WWII.  Broken is not a book for children - there are graphic, explicit sexual scenes.  Those aren't gratuitous but are integral to the story.  At the same time, Alia is a fallen angel, and she retains vivid memories of her time as one of the host.  She is always aware of spirit, and she has visits from the Archangel Michael.  Those visits, too, are integral to the story.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I am currently working on the fourth book in my romantic dystopian After Trilogy, which is tentatively entitled Fire Storm.  (This is just a working title and will probably change.)  Readers seem to enjoy the first three books: Fallen, Cold Light and Far Shore; I get emails all the time asking when the next book will be released.

Thanks for stopping by, Traci.  I was happy to have you here.  Before you go - can you let us know where we can find you?


REVIEW: Broken

Broken
Traci L Slatton

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Parvati Press
Publication date: 9.5.2014
Pages: 240

Recommended by: Worldwind Blog Tours, Read 2 Review
Date read: 9.27.2014

Summary: Power is pornographic.
            Can love sustain light when the forces of evil close in?
            Paris, 1939-1942.  A fallen angel is trapped in the web of German occupation.  The deadly noose of Nazi control grows even tighter, ensnaring her and two of her lovers, a bullfighter and a musician working in the fledgling Resistance.  Can she save them and the Jewish widow and her child that she has come to love, or will betrayal take them all?


When Worldwind sent out the email for this one, I was immediately hooked by the cover (wow!) and the line "Power is pornographic" written on it.  The fact that there was a fallen angel involved during World War II just made it even more exciting for me and I was delighted when I finally had a chance to sit down and read it.

It is a really powerful book - it's very interesting to see how things unfurl around her throughout the story, to see how a fallen angel lives - and her "relationship" with the Archangel Michael, as well as the people in her life, was something I enjoyed finding out more about.  The story, as a whole, was something you don't see out there and I enjoyed the different point of view on the war itself and how it effected people in France.

Those are the reasons I loved the book and would recommend it to everyone.  And now for the reasons that I did not like it ...

Alia.  Come sit down with me for a moment.  We need to talk.  When we start out the story, you were a little boring.  I'm not quite sure what you did that made me come to that conclusion, but then you entered the bar, and then the alley and, well, I just wanted to smack you.  YOU are a fallen angel having sex with a human, which is forbidden, in an alley.  An ALLEY!  Words like "perineum" and "d├ęcolletage" just seem out of place in that scenario.  "There is a stretch in my hip flexor and the deep inner muscle band of my psoas, that alchemical meeting ground of pain and ecstasy, melts.  The body ripples and stretches."  Really?  I'm not really a fan of sex scenes, but this one really seems medical, awkward and uncomfortable.  And it gets worse.  "I wipe off his spend with my hand and then scrape off my hand on the limestone wall."  How utterly lady-like. o_O  Later you think "...and the feel of his body, warm and solid, skin over fascia over muscle and bone, causes a hitch in my respiration."  Maybe it's just me... *shrugs*  I think I would have liked the book a whole lot more if the description of your trysts was just a little more believable. 

Favorite line: "I have learned that people keep talking if you let them and silence squeezes forth the juice of the moment."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Nancy G West

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Nancy G West.  This is the first day of her Fit to Be Dead Blog tour with Great Escapes Book Tours - and, yes, I'm her first stop :)  


Hi, Nancy!!  Welcome to The Gal.  Let's start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself.

For me, writing is a necessary bodily function ... like eating, sleeping, laughing, loving, consuming chocolate.  Okay.  It's better than chocolate.

What are five things most people don't know about you?

I'm laid back, except about writing.  I do a lot of rewriting until I'm satisfied.  It's a good thing and I enjoy it.

What is the first book you remember reading?

Nancy Drew's Secret of the Hidden Staircase.  She was so self-sufficient and cool, and her father trusted her to make good decisions, like my parents did.  Plus she drove a convertible.  I never talked them into that one.

What are you reading now?

Bruce De Silva's Providence Rag.  He's an excellent writer, but sociopathic killers like his character scare me because they don't feel normal human emotions, and nobody can reason with them.

What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

When I was seven, my mother and I wrote poems to each other on special occasions.  They were simple poems, pretty silly, actually.  But I think putting words on paper taught me people give more credence to what you write than to what you say.  We have to consider before we write.  When we speak, we often pop something out without much thought.  (I can count the ways I've done that.)

Do you have a special place you like to write?

Anyplace that's quiet, without interruptions, where I can enter into the story, stay there with my characters and watch them develop.  Writing with a river flowing in front of me is a good place.

Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

The whole writing process is quirky: we learn how to dredge up the imaginative parts of our brains.  Frequently, ideas or scenes pop up there, and I don't even know where they come from.
            As for process, I sketch a rough outline of the story, decide what type of characters and locations will help me tell it, write an awful first draft and then change or add to almost everything.

Where do the ideas for your books come from?

From people I observe.  I'm fascinated by people and often wonder why they act as they do.

What books have most inspired you?

To Kill a Mockingbird: There are so many revelations about human nature underneath Harper Lee's fascinating story.

Shakespeare's tragedies: You have to be in a class to have help with the language and story, but once you begin to understand, you see what a genius he was at interpreting human psychology and crafting characters and language to portray it.

William Kent Kruger's Ordinary Grace is a mystery totally focused on character: how a mother, father, and sons react to one particular death in their small town.  The mystery is a vehicle to show how these people view evil, kindness, and even God.

Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

It's always a challenge to translate characters' feelings and their physical surroundings on to the page. You want so much to describe what's in your mind so it will affect the reader the same way it affects you.

What do you think makes a good story?

People who really care about who are faced with a threatening situation.  These people have to dig deep to overcome their dilemma and survive without growing permanently bitter or cynical in the process.

Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Aggie Mundeen, the heroine of my mystery series, is like me in that she's curious and determined.  Single and pushing forty, she writes the column, "Stay Young with Aggie," and is always on the lookout for the fountain of youth.  (Aren't we all?)  She sees humor in most situations.  She feels deeply, but most people don't see that side of her because she's intrusive when she finds somebody committing a wrong and decides to make it right.  She's a lot braver than I am.  Her friend, Meredith, is like me, too.  Quiet.  Serious.  Sometimes.

Why did you pick your particular genre?

Mysteries depict what happens when the normal course of events become chaotic and threatens good people.  The sleuth has to find the source of the chaos and use skill and courage to reestablish order.  Wrongs are made right, and justice is served.  Isn't that what we all want?

What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?  

I  use humor to define character.  [Fit to Be Dead, West's first Aggie Mundeen Mystery, was Lefty Finalist for Best Humorous Mystery.]  We take ourselves pretty seriously, but our human habits are - let's face it - funny.  Amateur sleuth, Aggie, is in love with an idealistic, psychologically-wounded detective.  She wants to impress and thrusts herself into weird situations.  In her eagerness to solve crimes and make Sam care for her despite his frustrations with her meddling, Aggie does things that make us laugh.

What can we expect from you in the future?

After Dang Near Dead is released this month, there will be at least two more Aggie Mundeen mysteries.  Smart, But Dead comes out in spring 2015, and they'll be another Aggie Mundeen mystery after that.  Aggie and Sam grow closer with each story, so given her obstreperous behavior, this relationship is going to take a while.

Thanks so much for stopping by The Gal today, Nancy.  Before you go, where can we find you?

Thanks to The Gal in the Blue Mask for the wonderful questions!  And thanks to Great Escapes Dollycas Tours for getting us together!
            I love to hear readers' opinions about the books and talk about characters, plots, and writing.  We can do that through "Contact Me" on my website and on Goodreads.  To see what I'm up to and what's happening with Aggie's books, follow me on Facebook.

REVIEW: Fit to Be Dead

Aggie Mundeen Mystery 1:
Fit to Be Dead
Nancy G West

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication date: 7.24.2014
Pages: 338

Recommended by: Great Escape Book Tours, Read 2 Review
Date read: 9.27.2014

Summary: Aggie Mundeen, single and pushing forth, fears nothing but middle age.  When she moves from Chicago to San Antonio, she decides she better shape up before anybody discovers she writes the column, "Stay Young with Aggie."  She takes Aspects of Aging at the University of the Holy Trinity and plunges into exercise at Fit and Firm.
            Rusty at flirting and mechanically inept, she irritates a slew of male exercisers, then stumbles into murder.  She'd like to impress the attract detective with her sleuthing skills.  But when the killer comes after her, the health club evacuates semi-clad patrons, and the detective has to stall his investigation to save Aggie's derriere.



I am a huge lover of mysteries (one of my favorite genres, my favorite sleuth being Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot) and am always looking to find new ones to try.  When I read the description on this one - and saw that it was set in the city that I live in - I thought this could be a great read.  I was right and wrong.

I was expecting a light mystery, one that I could just breeze through, the kind of book most people consider "summer reading."  What I got was a cute mystery.  I mean, it was cute - I did get my bit of light reading and breezed through the story quite quickly - but when I was telling my mom about it, she said "Mysteries aren't supposed to be cute," and I agree with her there.  

After the incident in the pool on the day Aggie starts at Fit and Firm, I was interested to find out what was going to happen next and kept reading.  It got even more interesting after the murder.  There were some funny parts too.  But I felt like I was reading a romance that was trying to disguise itself as a mystery novel - and was trying too hard to be cute and funny.  I actually thought this was just me - I'm not really a fan of the romance genre - but when I sat down to write this review, having no idea where to start or what to even say, I took a look at some of the other reviews to see if other people felt the same way that I did, and there were a few that did.

I think my major issue with the book was Aggie herself.  I didn't like her, from the very first pages.  She cared too much about looks and came across, at least in my opinion, as an unhappy know-it-all who constantly wanted all attention on her.  I also felt like she "played dumb" to get guys to notice her, something I just can't stand.  I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen to the other characters - a few I really got into - and not really caring to find out more about her.  

I do plan to read book #2, though.  I'm curious to see how things progress and if she matures any as the series goes on.  I may like her more if she does.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Benjamin W DeHaven

Have I mentioned how much I love author interviews?  (I'm sure I have, but if you missed it ... I love them!!)  I'm always excited to see the answers that I receive and to find out more about the person behind the books that I read.  Of all the interviews that I've done for blog tours over the last year, this is one of the ones I looked forward to the most - I knew he had to be interesting with the book that I read.  And I was not disappointed.  (I also have to say that he is the first author from a blog tour that has made the rounds liking me everywhere that he could - they usually wait until after I've reviewed their books to just hit follow over on Twitter, but he really took an interest and I appreciate that.)
            Ladies and gentleman, I give you Benjamin W DeHaven ..... :)


Hey, Benjamin!  Welcome to The Gal.  Let's start off by you telling us a little bit about yourself.

DeHaven keeps his heart in Chicago and his soul in New Orleans.  He holds a MBA from Tulane and a film degree from Columbia.  Once removed from a community college for arguing Frost's agenda in the poem Birches, he has since written screenplays, tread futures in Madrid, and was Editor in Chief of the Nola Shopper Newspaper.  Described as a thinking man's Tucker Max as well as an idiot's Hunter S Thompson, his goal is to die from an unwavering commitment to be more like Hemingway. He and Michael Enzo were friends.

What are 8 things about you that most people don't know?

*I believe all dogs go to heaven, but most people don't.

*My best friend is a priest, but I never go to mass.

*I was the best man in a female porn star's wedding.

*I was asked to be on the Oprah show, but my life just wasn't interesting enough to make it on the air.

*I have a "shout out" in a Jay "Z" song.

*I have been interviewed by the FBI 7 times - once as a candidate for potential employment.

*I believe you should do something nice for a person without being discovered, and for this reason I am often alone.

*I read the Bible cover to cover once a year (usually in December).

What is the first book you remember reading?

As a child, I was tricked into an antique shopping event with my mom and bought a 5 cent book called "4 Minute Essays" by Rev. Brown.  It was a tiny brown hardcover pocket sized book full of stories hiding underlying moral questions.  Each of the lessons had completely different writing styles and it was the first time I felt an author purposely pull the reader out of the text and toy with them.  The opening story is about a young man who wants to be a church deacon, but because he is unable to read or write, they won't accept him into the church.  A cigar salesman observes him weeping outside and takes pity on him.  The salesman tells him to go into town and sell some cigars to take his mind off his predicament.  He does as instructed and years later he owns multiple stores and has become a pillar in the community, helping everyone he can.  One day he runs into the bank in a fuss and asks the teller to extend his credit for an emergency.  The teller hands his statement over and the main character says, "I need 250,000 can you please lend me the money."  Confused, the teller says "Sir you have over thirty million dollars in the bank!  Can't you read?  If you are this wealthy, just imagine what you could have been if you could read and write."  He looks up and smiles, "I could have been a church deacon."

What made you decide to begin writing?

Is there an option of not writing?  For me it's as important as breathing and it's the ultimate release of tension.

Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

I'm lazy, followed by bouts of insane commitment.  When I write, I'm an addict.  I write sloppy and loose, my grammar and spelling are terrible.  I have no idea what diagraming a sentence means.  I have to write with a legal felt tipped pen, so everything for me is long hand.  It's funny, because I type quickly, but after I have the long hand version, I usually use the dictation software to read the story into the computer.  It's amazing how many problems you will find when reading something out loud.  I don't like people to look at me when I am writing.  I feel like an asshole.  But I don't feel weird editing in public.  Which seems strange because how in the world would the people watching know the difference?  I guess I feel like I am "wide open" when in the groove and don't want to let too many people see that.  I'll spend months throwing ideas on paper, but then I drive till the tank runs dry, check into a hotel and lock myself down until I have something to work with.
            I am the type of writer that wants to connect with people, but never have Matt Dillon play me in a movie (although he did personally request a copy of Confessions - Jesus save me).

Do you have a special place you like to write?

For me a clean, well lighted place is an ideal writing space.  If I am writing dialogue, I like to be in a busy spot or a bar.  But if I am really working through something I would prefer days alone in an ice-cold hotel with a room service menu in hand.  I spend tons of time organizing thoughts, characters, and an outline.  Then when it's time to get some serious writing done, I will grab all my materials, a laptop, my bug out bag, and I will drive until the tank runs dry, check into a hotel, and turn off the outside world until I am at a stopping point.
            For Confessions I wrote ten pages a day for thirty days, then drove into the mountains with a 5th of vodka, a carton of cigarettes (when I smoked), and my dog.  I emerged 4 days later with 38 pages.  I thought a 10% return was pretty good!

Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Adjectives.  LOL.  Seriously though, I often jam so many moist, delicate, smelly descriptive lines into something it reads terribly.  I have to remind myself to lave room for the readers to interpret for themselves.  Finding time is a challenge lately while taking care of my mom who suffers from Lupus.  I used to be challenged by worrying about how my work would be interpreted, but as I got older, this hasn't worried me so much.  The hardest part about writing over all is to get enough people interested in what you have to say to turn a profit, and if you want to be a working author, you can't entirely take this time out of the equation.  While this hasn't limited me, I think the hardest thing in writing is keeping that idea out of your head while trying to create.

What do you think makes a good story?

Rhythm and style are essential.  I know that sounds silly, but I can read an entire book on something I care little about if it flows, or if the style is interesting.  In my mind, the real purpose of art is to make something anyone can enjoy, but a scholar, or someone who thinks they are a scholar can reach deeper to question meaning or can appreciate the style choices the artist made.  I remember my favorite artist's words shifting from somewhat common to difficult without losing the reader.  There is a lot more going on there than meets the eye.

What book(s) have most influenced you?

Anything by Ginsburg, Brown, Fitzgerald, Mamet, Bukowski, Salinger, Hemingway, Lucado, Palahniuk, Updike, Millhauser, Vonnegut, Frost, Kafka, Steinbeck, Solondz, Tolstoy, Peale, Malcolm Gladwell, Faulkner, Joyce, Dickenson - I could go on forever, but that's what Goodreads is for.

What inspires you most?

Human kindness and cruelty.  I am amazed when blessed to see kindness and shocked when I witness cruelty.  I am either inspired to do something nice for someone without being discovered, or to destroy someone in public.  In this case, hopefully Michael Enzo.

Where do ideas for your book come from?

Ideas come from everyday life.  I once dreamed of traveling the world, but then realized how much there was to see just in America.  (I still took a job in Spain and traveled; this is always remembered on my credit card.)  Once you realize how rich the environment in which you exist is, it's easy to find material.  Also, I keep a journal of every book I've read and add notes, ideas, even the most obscure thoughts.  It is impossible not to find something to like in every book.  Whether it's a writing style, a quote, a description, something not to do, or even a piece of dialogue, I have a ton of titles of books to work with and have no idea what they are all about.  To me that's really exciting.  This way, when I am looking for ideas, I have an inspiration reference point to turn back to.  

Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?

In Confessions of a Self-Help Writer, I am one of the characters, so I hope that one.  Although it was really to ugh not to re-write my own personal flaws out of the story.

What have you learned creating this book?

Throughout the body of Confessions of a Self-Help Writer, there are tidbits of advice that I tried to link to other Enzo works.  Upon re-editing them, I really took them to heart.

*Beware of people who say "I love you" without hesitation.  They've had a lot of practice saying it.

*There are signs everywhere.  The secret is reading them.

*It's good to ask questions that make people uncomfortable.

*Your reality can be as beautiful as you imagine it.

*Escape is impossible without knowledge.

*It's easy to sell people with a glimmer of hope.

*Self-destruction is inevitable because existence is a full-time job.

*When you bargain with yourself, you always lose.

Most of all, though, I learned forgiveness.

What do you think your readers will take away from this book?

Laughter, Hope, the promise of Love, and maybe some new curse words.  Most of all, though, I hope readers either enjoy the book as purely a story, or grab the sensation they should to help themselves by seeing what a tragedy people writing self-help are.
            Or this is the last self help book you will ever read.  Not because it's a self-help book in the traditional sense at all, but because you will see the mind of a twisted man who spent a good portion of his life writing self-help books.  If nothing else, I hope readers can either find a couple of good laughs, or look at t his person's life and say, "wow - my life is not that bad, why am I not helping myself?"

What makes your book different than others that fall under the same genre?

What makes this book so different is that it can fit into many genres.  If read as a work of fiction, I think it's a disturbing, funny, and somewhat insightful read.  But what is completely different is the basis of the book is true, so if your interest is sparked, there is a bigger story taking place outside of the narrative that you could explore.
            This is the roughest project I have ever worked on.  We sold it as a work of fiction, but the majority of it is from a con man's journal who at one time was my best friend.  We gave him the name Michael Enzo, but the truth is I can't even disclose his real name.  If you forget about the back story surrounding the book, it's a fun read with some sick humor.  It's more of a first person narrative, but its amazing to me how a lot of the people who picked the book up, did so only because of the back story.  One person actually said, "This might be the greatest self-help book ever because it shows you the mind of a sick person who wrote self-help.  If you realize what a joke this industry is, maybe you'd stop reading it."  If you pick up the book hoping to "catch a celebrity," you'll have to follow the bread crumbs I've left behind.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I'm working on a studio movie re-write as a favor, but I am also trying to desperately get the non-fiction version of Confessions of a Self-Help Writer published.  And finally, we have a really fun travel blog-beer cookbook project my publisher is trying to get together.  I hope to make people forget about their problems and laugh.

Thanks for stopping by, Benjamin.  It's been a lot of fun. :)  One more thing before you go.  Where can we find you if we're looking for you?

REVIEW: Confessions of a Self-Help Writer

Confessions of a Self-Help Writer
Benjamin W DeHaven

Genre: Self-Help & Psychology, Satire, Coming of Age, Humor
Publisher: Lagniappe Publishing
Publication date: 7.1.2014
Pages: 176

Date read: 9.23.2014
Recommended by: Worldwind Blog Tours, Read 2 Review
Amazon link: Confessions of a Self-Help Writer

Summary: Lunge into a funny, audacious, and devastating work of fiction based on factual events.  As much a comedy as a tragedy, "Confessions is a unique piece of literature to be remembered for its originality as much as for its significance as a statement about living life in today's harsh reality."  Explore the psyche of one of the world's most profound advisors: a Quixotic adventurer who admits freely to lurid depravity, substance abuse, and emotional complexity.  Despite personal demons, he's fooled adherents into unique reverence and might be responsible for saving more souls than Mother Teresa and Gandhi combined.
            Hypocrite isn't a strong enough word for someone who writes self-help books purely for profit.  Two of the world's ten wealthiest used Enzo as a ghostwriter and while they attribute their sales in life to Enzo's words, not a single one willingly admits to knowing him.
            DeHaven, a patsy in Enzo's schemes and a recurring voice, shares his own perspective and often times paints himself in a very negative light, which adds a layer of credibility to such a fantastical story.  Brief moments of compassion and insight are even more powerful and poignant from this perspective.
            The most disheartening admission presented is that Enzo would only fall back on his tremendous gift, of writing self-help, as a last act to pay debtors and sustain a ridiculous lifestyle.  The reader of "Confessions" is forced to question DeHaven's motivation in publishing this journal.  Does he truly want to ruin Enzo's legacy or is this an act of love?  Reaching out to someone who is still lost.  Enzo, wherever you are, pick up a self-help book and give it a read.  Who knows, you may have written it.


When I was asked if I wanted to give this book a read for an up-coming blog tour, I really wasn't sure.  I have this thing for self-help books (a not-so-secret passion) and comedy/satire is an iffy thing for me - sometimes I find it hilarious and sometimes I find no humor in it at all.  After thinking about it for a few days, I decided to give it a try ... and I'm glad that I did.

This book was funny, in an odd-funny sort of way.  And at the same time, it made you think - about the self-help genre as a whole AND about your own personal issues as you read through a journal that Enzo kept, a journal that was turned over to DeHaven by Enzo's wife after his disappearance.  I like when authors use the "journal" as a way of writing their story.  I feel like, if done correctly, it really allows you to get a deeper understanding of the character that's writing because everyone shares more with their journal than they are willing to share with the people around them.  Add in clips from different books that he penned, and it makes for an interesting read, whether you're a believer in the self-help hype drivel or not.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

REVIEW: Clay Play

Clay Play: 24 Whimsical Projects
Terry Taylor

Genre: Art, Sculpture, Children's Crafts
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 3.18.2014
Pages: 80

Date read: 9.10.2014
Recommended by: NetGalley, Read 2 Review
Amazon link: Clay Play

Summary: Transform simple balls and coils of modeling clay into an awesome alligator, laughing lizard, magic trinket box, and other sculptures, signs, and ornaments!  These full-color illustrations and clear directions explain basic techniques as well as every step of the crafting process for 24 projects, including happy heart, snazzy snip, dancing polar bear, and other treasures.
            Each project is graded according to level of difficulty and includes a list of materials consisting of colored clay and ordinary household items.  The step-by-step instructions feature numerals corresponding to color photos that provide easy-to-follow examples.  Crafters of all ages will adore these fun-filled projects and their products, which make charming keepsakes and unique gifts.


I am big on arts-n-crafts and have a lot of fun doing them with the children in my life.  When I saw this book go up for review on NetGalley, I grabbed it up.  We love working with clay and play-doh - and the projects on the cover look like a lot of fun.  The next time the kids came over, we sat down at my laptop and took a look, deciding what we were going make.  The projects are cute and fun.  Even though the book description on Amazon says this is for ages 7-11, grades 2-6, because of the easy instructions and color photos, children of all ages can make these projects. 

REVIEW: A Death in the Family

A Death in the Family
Jon Jefferson

Genre: Horror, Short Story
Publisher: 10th Day Publishing
Publication date: 2.26.2014
Pages: 34

Date read: 9.12.2014
Recommended by: The author
Amazon link: A Death in the Family

Summary: Ever had a bad day?  Maybe wake up late for work, or get stuck in traffic?
            Sam Marsden is having a bad day.  Late for work, stopped by a traffic accident, then to find out that her mother is in the hospital with terminal lung cancer.  Can her day get any worse?



After talking about another author on Facebook, calling his brand of horror a psychological thing, Jon told me that I should give one of his stories a try because he writes the same way.  I decided to give it a go and really enjoyed it.  It's definitely one that stays with you, creeping you out when you're by yourself and the lights are down low.  There are a couple of places I felt dragged a little and some important parts I felt like we breezed through, but I enjoyed the story as a whole and can't wait to read more of Jon's books.  (Thanks, Jon :D)

REVIEW: The Painted Catch

The Painted Catch
Ronder Scott

Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Publisher: Tenth Street Press
Publication date: 6.27.2014
Pages: 288

Date read: 9.22.2014
Recommended by: Sage's Blog Tours, Read 2 Review
Amazon link: The Painted Catch

Summary: What happens when you are in an elite military squadron and follow an order that was given in error?
            That's what has happened to Shane Braff and Jennifer Koppell when they entered Tayyip Nafisin's home.  He wasn't a terrorist and neither was his family.  But it all happened so fast and the result was that his son lost his life that day and his wife soon followed.
            Not able to cope with the grief, The Painted Catch is a psychological thriller that shows how Tayyip Nafisi turned from dedicated government employee; a man who used his genius to help the United States government, to a man who will stop at nothing to get revenge on the people that stole everything from him.  When Shane and Jennifer discover they are both in The Land of Paintings, they will do whatever it takes to ensure that their children survive.  For Shane, it means the ultimate sacrifice of his life.  For Jennifer, it means coming to terms with the past and doing what she must to protect their daughters in the future.  Unfortunately, it also means paranoia because Tayyip Nafisi was never caught.
            He's out there and she doesn't know where he'll be lurking.  Waiting.  She knows he'll be watching though.  It's his nature.


This is an interesting story, beginning immediately in the mist of action - a small military group enters Tayyip Nafisi's home to arrest him, mistaking him for the terrorist that they are looking for.  Despite Tayyip's claims of innocence, they arrest him, but not before one of the members of the team assaults his young son, who dies a few minutes later.  Life just gets worse and worse for Tayyip and his family - and also for the surviving members of the team.

As we move through the story, we find out that Jennifer and Shane, two members of that team, are no longer in the military, are suffering psychological and money issues, and are struggling to keep their family (minus their other halves, who have passed away) afloat.  Separately they receive mysterious invitations to be a part of a reality TV show during the Super Bowl that could allow them to win quite a bit of money, which will surely help them and their families out.  Little do they know who is behind this show ... and that the other is involved as well.

This story has so much potential and really is an interesting look at a man bent on revenge and the extremes he will do to get it, but it's not as exciting as I would have expected it to be with so much going on (and there is a lot going on).  It's a little slow in spots and could use some tightening up in the places that sort of drag on.  I also was very disappointed to see that the book description gives away way too much of the story, leaving no real surprises.  The characters are fun, but after their behavior at the beginning of the story, it was really hard for me to get behind them, to feel sorry for them - but I did care about their children.  The Land of Paintings was an interesting place and was written well.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I love my author friends

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a little all over the place when it comes to book taste.  Hell, it's easier to say what I don't like then what I do like because, if it looks good and catches my attention, there's a good chance I'm going to give it a try sometime in the future.

I have authors I like, authors I love ... but I have never ever ever been one of those "fangirl" type ones that act like one of their favorite actors from Twilight just walked in the door - yuck!!  

I have to say, though, when I received a book in the mail the other day, I squeeee-ed.  *shakes head and sighs*  Yes, yes I did.  It was quite embarrassing - people WERE around to witness this.

You see, this book has not one autograph in it, but two.  Two of my favorite horror authors, brothers.

After speaking to one of them, I received a signed book in the mail - and boy is it beautiful.  But it wasn't quite right because it's a book full of both of their stories.  So I spent the less-than-$5 needed to ship it out to the other and now it is home and on the shelf where it belongs.  Right next to Jonathan Janz ... and in front of my Miss Piggy collection :)

Some of you have already seen these pictures because I talked them up on Facebook a bit, but the last picture is completely new to everyone, so keep reading :)


Isn't it beautiful?  Can you tell that this is the important shelf?  (My mom says it looks like an alter haha.)


The inside is just as pretty.  (My buddy who works in the office of my apartments is jealous and he's not even a reader.)

Later that evening, after I had pulled myself back together haha, I took apart the box that it came in so I could put it in the trash.  That's when I found something that was EVEN BETTER than what you've seen so far.  As an avid reader, it completely made my day.


Adam, you just don't realize how awesome you really are.  :)

BIG thanks to both of these guys.  If you don't know the Light Brothers, you should introduce yourselves.  Two of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.  (Jonathan Janz is pretty freaking awesome too.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Chris Malburg

Today I am happy to introduce you guys to Chris Malburg, author of God's Banker, a book I just read, reviewed and very much enjoyed.  He is definitely one of the most interesting authors I've interviewed for a blog tour.  Check it out :)



Hello, Chris.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm not a born writer.  But I became one as soon as I could.  My background is in corporate finance.  That's definitely where I learned to use multinational corporations as the weapons of mass destruction depicted in Deadly Acceleration and God's Banker.  I'm happily married, live on the coast in Southern California and am an endurance athlete - a long distance cyclist.  My hobby is raising service dogs for the disabled.  In fact, both of my novels feature these two beautiful, intelligent Labrador retrievers.



What are 5 things about you that most people don't know?

I'm a student and I'm coachable.  I'm getting ready to begin my first quarter at Stanford's writer's school.  I'm a perfectionist in my craft.  I won't be satisfied until I reach the top of the NYT Bestseller list.  Hanging around #20 on Amazon's mystery list - where God's Banker rose - was very nice, but I can do better.  My best book is yet to be written.  I have a deep respect for my reader's intellect and judgment.  That's why I strive to write intelligent fiction.

What is the first book you remember reading?

Jack London's Call of the Wild.  I read it by flashlight under my blanket at night after Dodger Baseball was finished and when I was supposed to be asleep.

What made you decide to begin writing?

I kind of fell into it.  I did a lot of article writing when I ran part of the consulting practice at Ernst & Young, CPAs.  Then magazines began seeking me out and paying me for content.  I came up with a cute book idea called, How to Fire Your Boss.  I wrote the book proposal, in two weeks had a literary agent, four weeks later we had us a bidding war between Simon & Schuster, Putnam and Wiley.  I was hooked after that.

Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

No quirks, but a definite process.  All 13 of my nonfiction books were sold before I wrote them.  So I had a deadline and production schedule written into a publishing contract where money was involved.  I would calendar out where my production would be for each day of the contract.  If I fell behind, I'd work overtime to catch up.  If I was ahead of schedule - as I always am - I would press on to turn in the manuscript early.  I carry this same discipline to my fiction.   It takes about 3 months for me to produce a 90,000-word novel.

Do you have a special place you like to write?

Yes, I write in my lovely home office overlooking the Santa Monica bay.  There is some sort of music playing.  Depending on what I'm writing, the music can be anything from classical piano to the Navy SEALs running cadence to the Warrior's Song.  You're welcome to see my office on my book promo on YouTube HERE.

Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

For me, getting the book started is always hardest.  I work in a serial format - the SEC Enforcement Division.  So I already know the characters, their capabilities, backgrounds and quirks.  I have a detailed outline of the book's plot.  But finding that moment of inertia where the story kicks off is difficult.  Once I get it, though, I'm rolling and the book takes on a rhythm of its own.

What do you think makes a good story?

When I read other authors, I look for superior character development.  I must like or hate the characters.  I want to care about them.  Then I watch as the author runs them up a tree in Act I, stands there and throws rocks at them in Act II, then gets them down in Act III.  This is what I love about writing.  Like my readers, I too am waiting to see what actually happens to these people I've created, then thrust into such impossible situations.

What book(s) have most influenced you?

Masters of action/adventure and suspense have shown me the way.  Each provides a unique perspective that I've managed to incorporate into my own style.  There's Clive Cussler for a swaggering, cliche hero.  There's Lee Child for the incredibly resourceful Jack Reacher.  There's the late Vince Flynn for the disciplined, but outrageously irreverent Mitch Rapp.  All have affected the way I've crafted my characters.

What inspires you most?

I owe my readers a responsibility to entertain.  There must be a bond of trust between author and reader.  When you lay out your hard-earned money for Deadly Acceleration or God's Banker, you need to know that I've done the very best job I possibly can to make the characters and the pot come alive for you.  I want to see you on that airplane or at the beach, paging thru my books, aching for Jackson Schilling to just shoot the assassin who drew down on the Pope in the Sistine Chapel.  If you can say that I had you from the first sniper shot in Rome to the last scene in the Oval Office, then I've done my job and I'm a happy camper.

Where do the ideas from your book come from?

I'm a long distance cyclist.  Some of my plot ideas come when I'm pedaling thru the hills where we live overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Sometimes it's the music coming over my headphones that inspires.  Other times, it's my clients.  I've worked for two of the world's largest corporations.  I've seen what happens in the C-suites.  Then I wonder, hmmm, what if that wasn't accidental.  That's exactly how Deadly Acceleration came to life.  Other times, it's an interest that I've always had in something and wanted an excuse to learn about it - in detail.  So I wrote a book: That's how God's Banker got started.

Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?

Without a doubt, Jackson Schilling in God's Banker is me - or at least a person whom I admire and deeply respect.  He's got it all - brilliant financial intellect, a deadly command of advanced military weaponry and tactics.  He's a former Navy SEAL, after all.  And he's a great manager of people - respectful, respected by his people and has the back of all who work for him.  Jack Schilling is my kind of guy.

What have you learned creating this book?

I love this job because of all that I learn.  Aside from the technical aspects of writing - which I'm getting better at with each book - I love learning things that most people haven't a clue about.  For example, the Barrett M98 Bravos sniper rifle.  This is the rifle of choice for the world's most highly trained military snipers.  The scope used on this weapon varies depending on the mission.  The precisely choreographed ballet between shooter and spotter is what brings an element of art to this deadly undertaking.  Then there's the physics involved in making a mile and a half shot to a point about 2 inches in diameter.  All the calculations for windage, drift, elevation, humidity and everything else is done by a laptop combat computer right there in the sniper's hide and run by the spotter.

What do you think your readers will take away from this book?

I hope my readers will take away a feeling of satisfaction.  The good guys prevailed and the villains were vanquished.  That I managed to tie up all the loose ends and everyone gets what they deserved.  I also want them to feel my humble gratitude toward them for consenting to spend some time with me and allow me the privilege of telling them a story.

What makes your book different than others that fall under this genre?

In the case of God's Banker it's definitely the research I did for the book.  The Vatican Bank is the world's least understood and most secretive financial institution.  Then there's an understanding of the way the SEC audits publicly held companies and ferrets out the smallest inconsistencies that lead to allegations of global investor fraud.  The way a brilliant and highly trained SEAL operator works, thinks and never, ever gives up.  All are integral to the plot and to knowing the characters I've created.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I have my next two books in development right now.  The first is carrying on the Enforcement Division series and is also written with an eye to the young adult market.  It involves a wealth of teaching moments as well as being a helluva ghost story.  The second one is a departure from this series.  It's about a very high-class strata of kept women.

Thanks for stopping by, Chris.  It was a pleasure having you and I'm definitely looking forward to reading BOTH of those books.  Before ya go, where can we find you?



Thursday, September 18, 2014

REVIEW: God's Banker

Enforcement Division 2:
God's Banker
Chris Malburg

Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Publisher: Writers Resource Group, Inc
Publication date: 5.14.2014
Pages: 394

Date read: 9.17.2014
Recommended by: Worldwind Blog Tours, Read 2 Review

Summary: Cardinal David Caneman took just three years to engineer his ascension into the CEO's office of Vatican Bancorp.  His cabal of fundamental zealots now quickly moves to seize the world's largest institution.  First by publicly assassinating the Pope.  Next by replacing him with Caneman.  Finally by giving the masses a common, everyday object - unquestionably used by their savior - to rally behind.  For centuries, folklore has claimed the sacred item laid in wait sealed within the Church's lost treasury vault.  Caneman races to unearth the vault - if it exists.  He has bet everything that he can find the blessed object surely buried within.  He intends using it to sweep the faithful from their ungodly ways and into his personal standards of piety.
            The Taliban took just two years to overthrow Kabul.  Armed with over a billion faithful worldwide and a $200 billion war chest - and the sacred Brook of Formia - Cardinal David Caneman figures it will take him just half that time to conscript the hearts and minds first of Europe, then...
            Jackson Schillings enjoys his happy, early retirement.  He attends minor league ball games near his home in Elkhart, Indiana.  He's an amateur chef.  And Jackson Schilling is a hunter.  Then the SEC drafts him.  Come on, Jack.  One last audit.  It's mandatory after an attempt on the Vatican Bank Chairman's life.  But Jackson Schilling is no ordinary auditor.  And it was his Commander in Chief who personally ordered him drafted.  Schilling exhaustively uncovers Caneman's deadly purpose.  First he must stop a professional assassin from completing his mission against the Pope.  Now the hard part - derail a fundamental faction led by a brilliant, ruthless [and some would say] saint to over a billion faithful.  Jackson Schilling battles a force growing faster and more deadly than the Crusades, the Inquisition or the Taliban ever were.  Legitimate governments will surely topple, becoming answerable to one man and his band of strict fundamentalists if Schilling fails.



I am a huge fan of this kind of book - religious zealots, mystery, espionage, intrigue, suspense, and lots of action - so when this book came up for a blog tour with Worldwind, I jumped at the chance.  It was a lot of fun to read and the characters were really interesting.  (I especially like Schilling's wife.) The author does a great job of showing you who each character is and how each of them effect the story as a whole.  

The story itself was awesome and riveting.  Even sick with the plague (haha some sort of flu or something), I forced myself to stay awake so that I could see what would happen next.  From the first couple of chapters, with the sniper setting the Pope up in his crosshairs, I just could not put it down.  Watching as Caneman's plan was elaborated on - and watching Schilling swoop in to do what he had to in order to save the day - was awesome.  


Mr. Malburg, you have a new fan.  Not only do I plan to go pick up book one, but I plan to continue this series.  You did an awesome job.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

REVIEW: The Magic of Maxwell and His Tail

The Magic of Maxwell & His Tail
Maureen Stolar Kanefield
Illustrator: Carlos Aon

Genre: Children's Books
Publisher: Magic Tale Press
Publication date: 9.1.2014
Pages: 32

Recommended by: NetGalley, Read 2 Review, JKS Communications Blog Tour
Date read: 9.14.2014

Summary: Everyone has magic but sometimes you have to search to find out what it is.  That's what Maxwell Mouse had to do.  And he discovered that what he thought was something very bad was actually something very good indeed.
            The Magic of Maxwell and His Tail is more than just a charming, wonderfully illustrated story.  With childlike innocence, it presents an inspiring motivational model for youngsters - especially gifted kids and those with special needs - to take another look at themselves and recognize their unique gifts.  It shows them how to see beyond what appears to be limitations and appreciate them as positive attributes that will help them to soar.
            Written by an educator with over 30 years in the trenches and based on sound educational principles acknowledging the various ways children learn (multiple intelligences), The Magic of Maxwell and His Tail is a micro-guide to life.  It will delight children as they celebrate Maxwell's triumphs, and warm the hearts of parents as they watch their kids discover how perfectly special they are.
            The Magic of Maxwell and His Tail is the first in a series of books to entertain, educate, and encourage children to be their better selves.


I love books that teach children to look at their differences in a whole new light.  This book is great.  The character of Maxwell is adorable and, as you go through the story, you really feel what he is feeling - who among us hasn't had a time when they felt like they were being picked on, laughed at, for being a little different?  With some kind words from his family - and the help of his amazing curiosity, love of learning and great imagination - he realizes that he is perfect just the way he is ... and some other people do too :)

I shared this with a few of the little ones and they immediately fell in love with Maxwell (one of the most asked for stories to date).  In fact, it made them start looking at things about each of them that are different too.

Book Spotlight: The Anonymous Girl


Count of Monte Cristo 7:
The Anonymous Girl
By: Holy Ghost Writer

Genre: Thriller Crime
Publisher: Illuminated Publications, Ltd
Publication date: 12.22.2013
Pages: 264
Price: $0.99 for a little less than 4 hours (regular price $6.66)

Book description:
Unbeknownst to the world, Zaydee is not only the founder of Bitcoin, soon to revolutionize banking, but also a descendant of the real person that inspired The Count of Monte Cristo.  As she makes her way through the federal prison and court systems she continues her plans to start her own country that we first learned about in That Girl Started Her Own Country.  Will she win her case or make a daring and unique escape as she turns her enemies into real zombies?  No, not those silly ones in Walking Dead, but like those that have ben made in Haiti for generations. (provided by author)

"This book's author adds mystery to the series by remaining anonymous.  Those who like fantasies set in the present day, depicting exaggerated lifestyles and cyberspace intrigue, will be entertained." ~Margaret Cullison, Foreword Clarion