Saturday, February 28, 2015

Another sad moment in my lifetime

*sigh* This whole thing is still sinking in, but I couldn't go without saying what was on my mind.


Yesterday a man I have idolized since I was really young passed away.  I was skimming the news online and, when I saw the article, I just froze.  HE was one of the people I thought would NEVER die.  And now he, along with several other people I looked up to, are gone.
            I'll admit it - I cried.  Funny, crying about a man that I never even met.  But it was like we knew him, wasn't it?  There are only four other celebrities that have died where I shed tears - I've been sad before, but not like this - DeForest Kelly, Mr. Rogers, Robin Williams, and Eddie Guerrero.

I will never forget the first time I saw him.  My father was a big Trek fan, and he was watching one of the original episodes in the living room.  I came in and he pulled me up in his lap (I was maybe five) and we sat there together watching.  I had never seen it before ... and I was enthralled.
            When the show was over, I had all kinds of questions.  I wanted to know who he was ... and what was wrong with him (the 5 year old brain, huh?).  I wanted to know why they called "that one guy" Bones.  I wanted to know all about the space ship - and every other question I could think of.  My dad laughed, and explained it as best he could.  I was hooked and had to watch it every time it was on.  (I think my dad was rather proud of the fact that he introduced me to this show - and, later on, the books.)

In all these years, that has not changed.  I have seen the original series I can't even tell you how many times and pretty much have the movies memorized.  I have read several of the books, and watched the spin-offs as well.  Star Trek is like comfort food to me - something I can play and replay, even if I'm not paying full attention to the show (you know, that background noise you put on while you're doing something else) - and it just makes me happy.
            I don't know if I'll be able to watch it now, at least for awhile.  No matter how much I want to see him, Bones and Kirk together on the screen, the idea of it just makes me feel very sad.

My deepest sympathies go out to his family - and my prayers are with them.

If he ever wondered how much he was loved, he knows now.  I firmly believe he is standing up in Heaven, watching us, with a smile on his face - and that his heart is full - especially after seeing all the things that were said about him on social media yesterday.  It gave me goosebumps.


Dif-Tot heh smusma

"Of my friend, I can say only this:
Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels,
his was the most ... human."
~Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

WeLCoMe!!

Welcome to The Gal in the Blue Mask.  I'm Meghan.


This is me.  (You're going to have to use your imagination on that one.  You see me waving?  Or jazz hands - that could be jazz hands.  Either way works.)

The Gal's been around for a little while now (since August 2013) and, checking my stats the other day, I noticed that I have a lot of new followers, and quite a bit of daily views, so I thought I'd take a moment to say hello, welcome you all here, and show y'all around.

If you look at the top, you'll see a bunch of tabs.  Those help you find all the important things on my blog.
            The About Me tab is all about me (as if that wasn't obvious, huh?).  I warn you now that I am absolutely horrible at talking about myself.  A couple of weeks ago, though, I was looking at a chef's blog and, when I looked at her About Me section (something I love looking at on other people's blogs, but never once thought about putting on my own), I was really impressed.  She admitted that she has the same problem as me, and decided to set it up as if she was being interviewed.  Being interviewed is easy, at least in my opinion.  Coming up with things to say about myself is hard, but answering someone else's questions...  Check it out.  Ya never know - we may have a lot in common. :)
            Next you have my Review Policy & Ratings.  This is an important place for authors (and people working for them).  It lets them know what I expect and want from people who are requesting reviews here on The Gal - and what they can expect from me.  At the bottom of this is the way that I rate books.  Now, you'll notice that there are maybe two or three books on here that actually have a rating - I tried, and honestly, I am just horrible at the whole thing.  In fact, a buddy of mine told me that I'm too nice and, because of that, he always takes away one star from whatever I rate.  But, if you read my reviews on Goodreads, BookLikes and Amazon, this will help you understand where I'm coming from.
            The Blog Tours tab gives you a list of the blog tours that I've participated in and keeps the information from each together.  (I'm actually shocked at how long the list is.  It sure doesn't feel like that many.)  You'll find quick reference to the author interviews I've done on these blog tours here.
            Among the Stacks and Between the Bindings are two of my favorite tabs.  The first is author interviews that were not connected to blog tours, the second is author guest posts giving advice to authors that are just starting out - there is some great information in them.
            You, Me ... & a Cup of Tea is a fairly new thing here at The Gal.  Several months ago I decided to start interviewing fellow bloggers - there are so many good ones that I really enjoy reading, and I want others to hear about them and the people behind them.  I did two.  And it really bothers me that two is all I did.  It was the only thing I've done on here that I didn't plan and put a lot of thought into, and my questions were just not good, at least in my opinion.  I have rectified that and will be starting my interviews back up again starting next month (which begins tomorrow haha).  I already have a nice little line up and I'm excited to begin this again.
            Besides just being a book blogger, I'm also a freelance book editor.  Hyde 'N' Seek Editing is the name of my editing company and this tab gives my contact information and the link to Hyde 'N' Seek's blog.
            The last one on that row is Hobbies.  Everyone needs them, thought not everyone has them.  Studies have shown that these kinds of things are good for your health, both physically and emotionally.  It's a small tab now, but I plan to make it grow ... and it won't just be book reviews.  You'll see. :)

As we move to the second row of tabs, you'll see several: My Book Reviews, A Place for Kids, In the Kitchen, Life & Self, Writing & Blogging, and Television & Movies.  I started out with just one massive list of reviews and, even though I list them alphabetically by title, it can become rather tedious to get through.  After putting a lot of thought into it, I decided to change things up a bit.
            First, after each title (which is the link to the actual post), I have put in smaller writing the genres that the particular book falls under.  All the books in there are Fiction.
            Second, the other tabs were formed.  You can pretty much guess from the names what they include: A Place for Kids are all books that I think will be good for children and middle school/high school kids, split in to two separate lists, and there will be some reviews on toys included soon; In the Kitchen is all kinds of cookbooks (one of my favorite things to read); Life & Self includes things like diet and fitness, personal growth, relationships, religion, etc; Writing & Blogging, as I'm sure you guessed, are books that can help you with one, the other, or both; and, finally, Television & Movies is where I'm going to be talking about those things I watch on TV or at theaters.

On to the right hand side: Here you will find Where You Can Find Me, which gives you the link to my other blogs and the social networks I am on.  
            You'll also see several ways to follow The Gal.  BlogLovin' is one of my favorites - for those of y'all who don't know what that is, it's an awesome way to follow blogs, especially if you read a lot of different ones, because you can do it all in one place.  My mother follows me by email and is always telling me how some of my posts just don't translate well there - I'm looking into some ways to fix that.  If you're a Google+ user, follow me there - all of my posts go up and will appear in your stream.
            My blog archive is also here, which is another way for you to peruse my blog if you're looking for something in particular.

One more place to look - down at the bottom.  You'll see a street team badge, and a few badges for the places I do blog tours for.  The most important thing here, though, is other blogs you should look at.  These are the ones that I look at before anything else and they're really good at what they do. :)

That ends my what-I-planned-to-be short little tour - with me, it doesn't always end up that way.  If you have any questions, concerns, ideas ... or if you just want to say hi ... feel free to email me HERE.  

Thanks, again, for visiting The Gal in the Blue Mask.  :)

REVIEW: Flamenco, Flan and Fatalities


Happy Hoofers Mystery 2:
Flamenco, Flan & Fatalities
Mary McHugh

Genre: Mystery, Cozy, Women Sleuths
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 2.24.2015
Pages: 318

Recommended by: Great Escapes Book Tours, Read 2 Review
Date read: 2.27.2015


I'm totally on a middle ground when it comes to this book.  I did not love it, I did not hate it - in fact, I liked the story - I just didn't realize that I did until I was about 70% in, and the story ends around 83%.

I love a good mystery and the book description on this one really caught my eye.  It was very misleading, though.  At no point in the story is Gini considered "suspect numero uno."  It is joked around about, the detective does question her (he questions everyone on the train), but it's all very light hearted when it comes to her - and the other dancers - as if they could never do anything wrong, and everyone trusts them immensely.  

It is slow-going at the beginning and there were questions that kept popping into my head:

How old are they?  I haven't read the first book, two of the ladies have been married for awhile with children, but it isn't until I read the book description for the next book (at the end of this story there is information on the next book, as well as an excerpt) that I found out they were 50+.

Why is an American dance troupe doing Flamenco dancing during a tour of Spain?  This was a big one that bothered me.  I felt like them doing it in the first place was rather disrespectful.  And the detective even acts quite disgusted about the whole idea.  Their second and third dance were both "American" - the second being to the song "New York, New York" - which sounded more like something you would expect.  

What does the story have to do with the title?  This one was mainly because of a mystery my mother read a couple of weeks ago that had the word flan in the title, and in that book it wasn't until the last chapter that flan was even spoken of, and just in passing.  I wanted to see how flan became a big part of this story, so big that it was in the title - that's big.  Like, was someone going to die from eating poisoned flan??!!??!!  (No, that didn't happen.  The death had nothing to do with flan.)

After we hit the first restaurant, the story starts picking up, and as with any good mystery, you have a list going in your head of who was going to be murdered - and who did it.  There were things that I didn't expect, suspects that I wouldn't have guessed, and the murderer was not even on my list of possibilities.  The last chapter was a summation of where everybody's life went after this trip (well, between this one and the next book), answering some of the questions that hadn't been completely answered, and I plan on reading the next book because it sounds interesting and I'm curious to see what kind of trouble these gals get into next.

I especially liked the descriptions of the scenery and the places they visited, including the restaurants, and that there were recipes for some of the things that they tried along the way.  For your photo buffs, each chapter ends with a photography tip - most of them I already knew, but there were a couple that I took note of.

I guess my main problem with the book was that there were ... lots of problems.  

(I am going to try very hard not to give away too much information beyond this point - I would hate to ruin the story for anyone - but I am pointing out some of the problems I had.  You have been warned.)

The book is written in first person, us being in Gini's mind.  She is very proud of saying everything that pops into her head, as if this is a good thing, and is always pointing out that she can't help her self, hold back her sarcasm, or keep her mouth shut.  And it is not just in what she says to other characters.  It often felt like I was stuck in the mind of a dog whose mind gets sidetracked by a squirrel.  She was all over the place sometimes, rambling off onto a subject, which ended up veering way off into left field, and taking away from the story at hand.

There were lots of side stories that did the same thing.  Sometimes it really felt like the mystery was the actual side story.  Especially at the end.  There was no real understanding of how exactly the murder did it - just a big event that made you feel like the person was guilty, which ended rather easily, then Gini's hypothesis when they key players discussed it back on the train.  In the final chapter, she does mention going back to Spain for the trial.

And her excuses for being rude weren't the only repetitive things - the one sticking out most was that it was pointed out at least five times that there were four different languages (Spanish, German, English and Norwegian) being spoken on the train at any given time.  We get it, and it really doesn't need to be told to us every time all the passengers are in one room.

Things didn't exactly add up:  For example, why did Eduardo and Javier (the detective) trust these five ladies so much?  They both went to them at different times with information (including right after the murder when Eduardo told only the dancers about the murder).  And, on that trust note, why did the dancers trust some people, but not others, when a lot of people had motives and opportunities.  It was like, without evidence, they were sure this person, that person, those people over there COULD have done it, when the same thing could have been said about Gigi herself.  Another example, why was there this "lie" hanging around about when the murder took place?  Eduardo told them BEFORE they went out to do their first dance, yet when the police were questioning them, everyone acted as if it happened in the middle of the night, including one of the dancers who said, "She certainly didn't get up in the middle of the night and kill anyone.  I would have noticed."  Several pages later, one of them confesses to the police that they already knew and that it had actually happened earlier.  (People lie when they are covering things up and this seemed like a false clue.)

The Spanish in at least one place is wrong i.e. "Por favor" is not a reply to "Muchas gracias."

I didn't really find the five dancers likable.  Not until closer to the end.  

Janice is the one I disliked the most ... and it's the author's fault.  Here's an example: "Javier could not take his eyes off Janice.  You could tell he was trying to suppress his feelings, without any luck.  He was hooked.  Janice was so beautiful.  Her face, which was always lovely, was glowing, slightly rosy, after the dance.  She pushed back her hair, now curly and untamed.  She looked so sexy, I knew Javier couldn't resist."  This is one of many times Gini talks about how gorgeous this girl is.  She is so beautiful, no man can resist her, blah blah blah blah blah *barf*  (I really do get tired of the "perfect" woman.  Hasn't that character been overwritten?  I couldn't help but roll my eyes whenever she came on the page.)  Of course, they know each other for two days, and are in love, wanting to spend every moment together - time he should have been spending investigating the murder, and she seemed very sulky when he was away.  And Javier is not the only man who is smitten with her.

The one I disliked almost as much as her was Mary Louise, which bothered me because I had actually liked her in the beginning - she really came off as very sweet.  She is a married woman, but also falls in love after two days, with a man who is still grieving over the loss of his wife, a woman that she reminds him a lot of.

Pat came off as the "token" gay woman.  It's not mentioned at first, and is really none of our business, but all of a sudden she falls in love, too - with a woman that I don't think should have been trusted as quickly as they did her.

That leaves us with Tina, who I actually did like.  She stayed out of drama, was very helpful and caring, and did her best to try to keep the rest of them corralled, though her job shouldn't have been to babysit the others.  

The characters I liked the most were the side characters, people I wanted to know more about.  Mark and Sam, Geoffrey and Danielle - they seemed like great people.  I liked Eduardo and the bartender as well.  My favorites, though, were Jonathan and Hawkeye - probably the most thought-out and interesting characters I have read about in a long time (and I liked how each character dealt with the two of them).  I also liked Geoffrey and Danielle's daughter Michele.

I always try to point out the things that I like and don't like - for the author and for potential readers - and I would suggest that the author find an editor to do a thorough go-through.  (She is more than welcome to contact me - I know several good ones.)  These were just some of the problems I found.  The book has a lot of potential and these things take away from what is a good story.


About the book:
The high-kicking Happy Hoofers - Tina, Janice, Pat, Mary Louise, and Gini - have been booked to flaunt their fabulous flamenco footwork on a luxury train ride through northern Spain.  But when a blowhard talk show host is found deader than four-day-old flan - with Gini as suspect numero uno - the feisty friends waste no time stepping into their sleuthing shoes to protect one of their own.
            The dynamite dancers will have to step up their game before a clever killer brings the curtain down on one of them ... for good!


About the author:
I live in Chatham, New Jersey and spend as much time in New York City as I an.  I love that city!  My husband and I have a date every Friday and have lunch in the city and go to a movie, especially foreign films.  I love Cape Cod and hope to live there some day and look at the ocean while I write away on my laptop.  I love Paris and go there whenever I can.  I studied there for a year when I was very young and I even like the French.  I have a one-woman act based on "How Not to Become a Little Old Lady," which I perform for women's groups and I do my impression of bacon frying, share my chocolate and wine diet, show illustrations from this book and my other humor books, and do a little tap dance at the end.  I have a daughter who lives on Mercer Island, Washington and three grandsons who are perfect. My life is very full and I love talking to other writers.

Friday, February 27, 2015

AMONG THE STACKS: Alex Stargazer


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Alex.  Welcome to The Gal!!  I am so loving your book cover.
            Let's start out with something easy - Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Alex Stargazer:
Let's start with my name: Alex Stargazer.  No, it's not my real name; you couldn't pronounce that even if I told you.  I'm a seventeen year old writer.  Yes, seventeen.  No typo there folks.  I write - obviously.  My genre of choice is dark fantasy; in addition, I write romance, High Fantasy, and what may best be described as supernatural literary fiction.  I also plan on writing some non-fiction - I'm a big economics buff (studying it right now), and a keen philosopher.  Quantum physics is another favourite of mine.  I hate math, but being born to two mathematicians, I'm annoyingly good at it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Alex Stargazer:
  1. I'm gay.  But everyone knows that.
  2. I have a deep fascination with Hindu mythology.
  3. My favourite color is blue, but I'm not sure about that.
  4. I'm interested in Buddhist philosophy.
  5. I can dance.
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Alex Stargazer:
Ehm, good question.  The earliest thing I remember lucidly is probably the tale of James and the Giant Peach.  Makes sense, eh?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Alex Stargazer:
Das Kapital, by you know who.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Alex Stargazer:
I began The Necromancer (my first work; out now!) in October 2012.  The catalyst?  An incipient tide of magical ideas.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Alex Stargazer:
I like attics, but my favourite place would likely be on top of a mountain.  I love mountains.  It's too bad England is flat as a pancake :(

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Alex Stargazer:
I plan everything, then proceed to ignore it and write something totally different.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where do the ideas for your books come from?

Alex Stargazer:
Who knows?  From dreams, from the ether of possibility; perhaps even from some higher entity, though I doubt it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Alex Stargazer:
Narnia.  It's brilliant.  Northern Lights is also a favourite.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Alex Stargazer:
The sweet tales of words unwritten are beautiful, but only those written can tell tales.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Alex Stargazer:
Magic - be it the magic of the mages, the lovers, or of life.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Alex Stargazer:
Neshvetal.  He's a megalomaniac Necromancer with a thirst for vengeance, and a tendency to kill people.  But he brings them back as undead slaves, so it's okay.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick your particular genre?

Alex Stargazer:
Why did the cat eat the mouse?  Because that is nature, and that is fate.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your book different from others out there in this genre?

Alex Stargazer:
Well, being able to write worth a damn helps.  You can also add flying zombies to the list.   They're my favourite.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Alex Stargazer:
Books.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by, Alex.  One more thing before you go - where can we find you?

Alex Stargazer:
My blog is the recommended venue; you may also check out my Goodreads page (just search Alex Stargazer).


About the book:
Linaera the Great 1: The Necromancer

Genre: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Stargazer Industries Inc.
Publication date: 10.31.2014
Pages: 400

From the fires of deceit, he was reborn in ice.  His name bequeaths fear into the mighty, and death into the meek.
            Meet Neshvetal: a being of darkest magic - beautiful, powerful, and eternal.  Or so he thinks...

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Necromancer


Linaera the Great 1:
The Necromancer

Author: Alex Stargazer
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Stargazer Industries Inc.
Publication date: 10.31.2014
Pages: 400

From the fires of deceit, he was reborn in ice.  His name bequeathes fear into the mighty, and death into the meek.
            Meet Neshvetal: a being of darkest magic - beautiful, powerful, and eternal.  Or so he thinks...



About the author:
Hello!  I'm called Alex Stargazer.  That's not my real name.  And no: I'm not going to tell you.  I like a little mystery.
            What I can tell you: I'm sixteen.  I have a passion for fantasy, and a soft spot for romance.  I like to write about anything fantastical (elves are a favourite; dragons too) and my favourite book's either Narnia or Northern Lights - never could decide, poor vacillating me.
            Anyways: give my stuff a read.  You might like it.  No, really; I got fans.  (If you listen carefully at night, you'll hear them whispering my name.  They're shy, are my fans, but they're a determined lot.)
            P.S. If you want to know more, alexstargazerwritesextraordinaire@outlook.com.  Yes, the address is deliberately long; I don't like stalkers.  They scare me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Follow Your Neighbor


Darla King 3:
Follow Your Neighbor

Author: Rosalee Richland
Genre: Mystery, Cozy, Women Sleuths
Publisher: Wordsmiths4u
Publication date: 10.8.2014
Pages: 160

When her new neighbor Jake Carstairs is murdered in her driveway, square dance caller and accidental sleuth Darla King has a new mystery to solve.  This time, it hits close to home.  The mystery, and Jake's wife, follow Darla to the National Square Dance Convention in Nashville.  Carla needs to figure out what Jake's wife and the killer want before Darla faces more trouble than she can handle.  As the tension builds, Darla and her friends from Clearton Squares once again contribute to solving a mystery.  Her romantic life tangles up with her professional life and her sleuthing, but eventually Darla figures it all out.
            Follow Your Neighbor is the third book in the Darla King mystery series.  The first book in the series, Right and Left Grand, found Darla and her friends involved in solving a string of burglaries.  The second book, Load the Boat, featured a square dance cruise where Darla encountered a dead crew member, a mysterious man with a satchel, and the return of an arrogant yet irresistible FBI agent.
(Book synopsis written directly from Amazon)



About the authors:
Rosalee Richland is the pen name of two real-life square dancing writers.  As Rosalee, co-authors Cyndi Riccio and Rhonda Brinkmann joined forces to create the Darla King cozy mystery series.  Darla and her friends portray the warmth and friendship among square dancers.  Darla's curiosity often puts her squarely in the midst of unusual circumstances, and Darla can't let go until the mystery is solved.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Connie Archer


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hello, Connie!  Welcome to The Gal.  It's great to have you on.
            Let's start off with something easy.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Connie Archer:
I was born on the east coast, in Boston.  I grew up and went to school there.  In college, I majored in biology and spent a few years working as a lab technician.  The work was interesting, but I knew it really wasn't for me.  I wanted to do a lot of other things.  I wasn't sure what those things were, I just knew I wanted something different.  I've held all sorts of jobs - laboratory technician, medical secretary, you name it.  One of those most fascinating jobs I ever had was a two-week temporary assignment that turned into a two year job preparing autopsy reports for a big city hospital.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Connie Archer:
Let's see ... have to think about this one.  Okay:
  1. I love old furniture and antiques, and am pretty skilled at stripping and refinishing furniture.
  2. I'm a purse freak.  I don't know what a shrink would say about that, but the first place I browse in a store is the handbag section - not clothes, not shoes, not kitchenware.  I rarely break down and buy one, but I never get rid of any and have a large collection now.
  3. I love to sew.  I taught myself when I was still in school and really enjoyed it.  I've made drapes, slipcovers, pillows, jackets, dresses, you name it.  The thing is, I have to be in the mood.  So when I'm not in the mood, all my projects, half finished or just beginning, are stashed away in a closet with my sewing machine so I won't feel as if a chore is hanging over my head.  I love to work on those things, but I do have to be in the mood.
  4. I'm fascinated with the subject of espionage, particularly the beginnings of American spy craft at the start of World War II.  I've read all sorts of non-fiction and fiction books on the subject over the years.  Can't get enough!
  5. One guilty pleasure of mine - my family groans - is catching TV shows about UFOs and aliens.  Don't laugh!  I love those shows.
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Connie Archer:
I think it would have to be The Borrowers.  I did learn to read at a very young age, so I'm sure there were earlier books, but the one I most remember is that magical book about the tiny people who lived under the floorboards and used wooden thread spools as tables.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Connie Archer:
Right now I'm starting The Secret Place by Tana French who is such an amazing writer!  I'm a huge fan.  I also just finished Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (an espionage novel by the way) and can't say enough great things about it.  I'm very much looking forward to reading his second book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Connie Archer:
Not that long ago, really.  I guess I started writing about nine years ago and I know it grew out of creative frustration.  It's strange but in a way it feels as if I started only yesterday.  I've always been in love with mysteries and thrillers of all sorts and had toyed with the idea of writing one for a long time.  I wasn't sure how hard it would be or if I could even do it, but I did manage to finish my first book and was very luck to find a wonderful agent.  I wrote two more books in that series and hopefully these will find a home in the near future.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Connie Archer:
I need to be at my computer in a tiny cubbyhole at home.  I can't seem to write anywhere else.  Well, I guess if I had to I could cope.  Maybe it's the habit or the discipline of sitting in the same chair in the same spot at the same time of day, but I do feel I'm better able to focus if I follow the same routine - no distractions, no email, no music, no sound.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Connie Archer:
I open the document I'm working on and then I play three (only three, no more, no less) games of Freecell on the computer.  There's something about that particular game that helps me move out of linear thinking and jogs the (if you pardon the expression) little gray cells.  I'm forced to let go and not concentrate on any particular card in order to win and I'm convinced that helps me switch gears and get ready to write.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where do the ideas for your books come from?

Connie Archer:
Oh, all sorts of places.  Sometimes the plot grows out of working backyard from the murder victim.  Who did that person wrong?  What relationship did he or she have that could have caused a death?  That's how the plot took shape in A Spoonful of Murder, the first book in the Soup Lover's Mystery series.  Sometimes ideas come from daydreaming.  What if ... what if a crime took place many years ago, but nothing was ever really resolved and the repercussions are still felt in the present.  That was the basis of the plot in A Broth for Bretayal.
            And, of course, the best source of deadly ideas is the news.  I always look for a crime story with a twist, something unexplained or something that makes no sense, and I fill in the blanks.  Thats where the core idea for the plot in Ladle to the Grave came from.  I can't say any more about the seed of that idea because it could be a bit of a spoiler.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Connie Archer:
All well-written stories and characters inspire me.  I admit I gravitate toward mysteries and thrillers, always have, but occasionally I break down and read something outside those genres.  I've been affected by stories that stay with me for a long time, ones in which the characters have literally come to life and follow me around like ghosts.  I've loved the Sue Grafton alphabet series.  Overtime I've picked up a new book in that series, I've felt as if I'm joining an old friend on an adventure.  I stand in awe of Tana French, an amazing style, particularly Faithful Place, although I've loved all her books.  Whenever I'm in a bookstore, I head for the mystery section and look for someone I've never heard of.  That's how I discovered Zoe Ferraris, her saudi Arabia series and her first book Finding Nouf.  Needless to say, between purchases and gifts and conference freebies, my bookshelves are overflowing.  But there are select book that I will never give away.  Books I want to read many times over, sometimes just to sink into the world one more time and sometimes to study style and plot and figure out how an author accomplished a particular thing.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Connie Archer:
Well, most of it is challenging if you stop to think about it.  And then there are moments that feel as if you're flying, as if you've literally left your body and entered another world.  I'd say the hardest part of writing is the flow process of trusting that your story will take some sort of organic shape and blossom.  It's difficult to hold on to that internal trust when you're pounding out words on the keyboard and struggling with where exactly to end a chapter while you're fighting with all sorts of little details.  I've heard very well-known and accomplished writers say that each time they begin a new book, they're sure they can't possibly do it again.  And it can feel like climbing a mountain if you start to focus on word count or worry whether what you're writing is any good.  You can outline and plot and work on details and be sure you know where you're going, but sometimes those plans need to be thrown out because you discover something more important is taking shape.  My solution is just to acknowledge that maybe what I'm writing isn't any good, won't keep a reader turning pages, but just to keep on going.  There'll be plenty of time later to rewrite and revise - just get to the end, then go back and start to make it better.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Connie Archer:
The emotional aspect is the most important thing for me.  I do believe all readers want to identify with and connect to a character.  They want to feel.  Is structure important?  Absolutely.  If it's a unique story or a clever plot that also adds to the mix but without characters that readers can truly connect with, it can be a shallow experience.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Connie Archer:
Someone once said that we all, all of us, have hundreds of characters in the gallery of our minds.  I think that's true.  So that being said, they're all me, they all come from me, my perceptions, my connections, my memories, my observations.  So is my protagonist Lucky a lot like me?  Yeeeeees, I think so.  She's maybe the angel of my better nature.  But to tell the truth, I think her best friend Sophie is most like me.  I can have a lot of fun with Sophie.  She's the dark foil to Lucky.  She can be cynical and sarcastic.  She's not mean or evil, I don't mean to say that, but she can speak her mind and say the things that would be inappropriate for my protagonist.  So, yes, I'd have to say Sophie is most like me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick this particular genre?

Connie Archer:
I am a lover of the traditional mystery, and even though the Soup Lover's Mystery series is considered a culinary cozy, I personally think of these stories as dark village mysteries, mysteries in which the reader is taken for a ride with some chills and thrills, with red herrings and the ultimate (hopefully unforeseen) unmasking of the murderer.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your book different from others out there in this genre?

Connie Archer:
Many readers expect "cozies" to be light-hearted or even humorous.  This series, although it incorporates the necessary elements of a cozy or traditional mystery, is anything but.  I do my best to create characters that readers will really care about and to describe crimes in as realistic a manner as possible.  After all, murders arise from the darkest elements of the human psyche.  I don't think it's possible to contemplate the internal pain of a character who could commit murder without being realistic.  It just won't work for me to treat the characters or the crime(s) in a light-hearted manner.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Connie Archer:
The next book in the Soup Lover's Mystery series, A Clue in the Stew, I just love that title (!), will be released in the spring of 2016.  In Clue, a famous mystery writer with some dark secrets comes to the village and events unfold from there.  I don't have an exact date for that release as yet.  And if my publisher decides to continue with this series, I'll keep on writing about Snowflake, Vermont.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by, Connie!!  It's been great learning more about the author behind the book.
            One more thing before you go.  Where can we find you?

Connie Archer:
My website and blog can be found here, where anyone can sign up for my newsletter, announcing events, giveaways and recipes.  I can always be reached at my email address.  I'm at Twitter @SnowflakeVT and on Facebook.  On the 15th of every month, you can hear from one of my characters at Killer Characters.


About the book:
Title: Soup Lover's Mystery 4: Ladle to the Grave
Genre: Mystery, Cozy, Culinary, Women Sleuths
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: 3.3.2015
Pages: 304

By the Spoonful is Snowflake, Vermont's most popular soup shop, but owner Lucky Jamieson doesn't have any time to enjoy her success - she's too busy trying to keep a lid on false accusations against her loved ones...

It's almost May, and some of the local ladies have organized a pagan celebration in the woods to welcome spring.  But the evening goes terribly wrong when one of the attendees winds up dead, apparently poisoned by an herbal concoction prepared by Lucky's grandfather, Jack.
            Lucky's sure her grandfather could not have made such a tragic mistake.  But before she can clear him of suspicion, her best friend, Sophie, is diverted from planning her wedding to By the Spoonful chef Sage DuBois when she finds a dead man floating in the creek on her property.  Now it's up to Lucky to get both Sophie and Jack out of hot water before a killer stirs up more trouble...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

AMONG THE STACKS: Freda Hansburg


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Freda!!  Welcome BACK to The Gal.  It's always a pleasure to see you :)
            Let's start off with something easy - Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Freda Hansburg:
I'm a psychologist, on the bring of retirement after forty years of clinical practice.  Although I've published non-fiction, Shrink Rapt is my first novel (and won't be my last, I promise).  I've lived in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, PA) all my life, and now my husband of 30 years and I are about to embark on the adventure of moving to the beautiful South Carolina low country.  I work out, do Scrabble and crosswords, read voraciously, regard old movies as old friends, and tend to be a Smart Alec.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Freda Hansburg:
My zodiac sign (Aries), my Myers-Briggs code (ENTP), my phobias (wasps and subways), my highest bowling score (I think it was 236, but that was a long time ago), and my natural hair color.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Freda Hansburg:
Black Beauty, a novel about the trials and tribulations of a horse in England.  I think I made my mother read it to me about twenty times until I could finally read it myself.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Freda Hansburg:
I just picked up Val McDermid's new novel, The Skeleton Road, from the local library.  McDermid is a wonderful mystery writer and it's always a treat to discover a volume of hers on the New Fiction shelf.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Freda Hansburg:
I've been writing, in one form or another, since childhood.  In fifth grade I won honorable mention in a New York citywide fire prevention essay content, and was handed a medal by the then mayor, Robert Wagner.  In college, I was an English Lit major, active in writing and editing for campus and community newspapers.  I briefly attend Columbia J School, until I decided that journalism entailed too much running around, then worked in publishing, writing jacket copy, press releases, sales scripts, ads, etc.  I've co-authored two self-help books and some scholarly articles.  But my dream was always to write and publish a novel - because novels are what I love to read.  It took me a long time to do it, but I'm very, very happy that I persisted!  It's been one of the most fulfilling accomplishments of my life.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Freda Hansburg:
Nothing very exotic.  I use a desktop computer, which means I'm at a desk (duh!).  That said, once I'm in the zone of writing, I forget where I am, what day it is, and just about everything also except the page in front of me.  What a great feeling!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Freda Hansburg:
I outline my stories, but invariably deviate from the outline as the novel develops.  I've found it helps to keep a set of "Next Directions" notes as I move forward, little blurbs about the upcoming chapters. This allows me to expand and modify as I go.  On days when I'm feeling blocked, or intimidated about starting a chapter, I'll open a new document and sort of "tune up" by writing a few lines of dialogue, or anything that gets me underway.  When I feel like I've got some momentum, I'll paste it into the manuscript and keep writing.  It's like I need to trick myself into tackling the new scene or chapter.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where do the ideas for your books come from?

Freda Hansburg:
Shrink Rapt was loosely based on my own experiences directing a treatment program in a Philadelphia university hospital, and trying to navigate my way through the academic labyrinth there.  The novel I'm currently writing was inspired by a combination of situations shared with me by different patients, which I then spun off into a totally imagined story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Freda Hansburg:
Gal, this is the toughest question you've posed.  "Inspired" is different than "admired."  There have been so many books and authors I've savored.  But for "inspired," I'll keep the list very short.  I'd be hard pressed to name a more haunting, compelling story than Thomas Mann's novella, Death in Venice, in which a tightly wound, aging artist gradually surrenders to his strange ardor for an adolescent boy.  That the story takes place amid the mounting threat of plague in the city of Venice added to the sense of fatal attraction and danger.  Perhaps this book is the prototype for my image of a great story (see question below).  I'm also inspired by writers who defy linear rules of structure.  Doris Lessing in The Golden Notebook and, more recently, Tana French in The Secret Place constructed novels that circle around and end at the beginning.  The effect is like a reality rush, reminding us that time is fluid and awareness happens in the moment.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Freda Hansburg:
Um...everything?  Completing a novel is a difficult process.  I like to use the metaphor of walking through a long, dark tunnel alone with a flashlight.  You can only see a few feet ahead of you and the journey seems endless and scary.  You just have to keep moving forward and trust that you'll make it out the other end.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Freda Hansburg:
What I love most is encountering a character whose equilibrium is precarious to start with - who's poised on the edge of the cliff, so to speak, and then rolls over, taking us with him.  It's the sort of story Ruth Rendell does so brilliantly.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Freda Hansburg:
Well, clearly April Simon, the psychologist protagonist in Shrink Rapt.  She's a younger, thinner, heavier-drinking version of me.  Although, unlike April, I never had a husband who cheated on me (that I know of).  But her cats are totally based on the ones I used to have.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick your particular genre?

Freda Hansburg:
I'd say it picked me.  I've been devouring mysteries and psychological thrillers for years.  They're irresistible.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your book different from others out there in this genre?

Freda Hansburg:
I'd like to think that being a psychologist helps me bring some depth to writing psychological thrillers.  I try to delve into my characters, understand their motivations.  I've been told I write strong, naturalistic dialogue and I suspect that comes from having spent years listening to people.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Freda Hansburg:
When we move to South Carolina this spring, my ambition is to learn to play Pickleball.  It's an up-and-coming Boomer sport, sort of scaled-down version of tennis.  The development we're moving to has courts.  Look out!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Freda Hansburg:
I'm a few chapters away from a completed first draft of a stand-alone thriller, Tell On You.  A high-school teacher with a pregnant wife falls into an infatuation with a 16-year-old student - who's very bad news - and finds himself caught in a deadly triangle between her and her friend.  Dark stuff!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks again for stopping by, Freda!!  You are welcome back any time :)
            One more thing before you go - Where can we find you?

Freda Hansburg:
I'd welcome hearing from my readers.  The easiest way is to go to my website, and click on the Contact Me page.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

BOOK BLITZ: Disintegration


The Todor Trilogy 2:
Disintegration

Author: Jenna Newell Hiott

Aerie has fallen and the land of Todor is on the brink of war.  Famine and decay have touched every corner of the land.  If Todor is to survive, Gemynd, Numa and Soman must fully embrace their powers, even as they continue to uncover more secrets and lies.  Can Soman survive the aftermath of his role in the destruction of Aerie?  Will Numa's love for Gemynd endure even after she sees the horrors of the Iturtian pit?  And is Gemynd his father's puppet or his protege?  The betrays of the past weigh heavy, but can the three move beyond them in order to work for the good of Todor?  Or will their inability to forgive propel them into way?  Thundering toward an epic conclusion, Disintegration is the second book in the Todor trilogy.  In it, author Jenna Newell Hiott paints a stunning portrait of humanity at its rawest, giving a revealing glimpse of how it fares when everything teeters on the brink of destruction.


About the author:
Author, healer, all-around kook, Jenna Newell Hiott boasts of having a limitless imagination, unless it's nap time.  While many of us had an imaginary friend as children, Jenna had an entire imaginary family - complete with a second set of parents and three siblings - all of whom lived in a make-believe world of Jenna's own creation.  One could says he's been writing fantasy fiction since she was old enough to use words.  And she never outgrew it.  Out of this hyperactive imagination, Jenna created the land of Todor: a world of magic, intrigue, and power plays.