Archive for Book Reviews

11 Oct 2013

Julia Gousseva: “Moscow Dreams”

2 Comments Book Reviews




“Moscow Dreams” by Julia Gousseva is one of the most captivating and engaging books I have read in some time.
The teenage heroine, Marina, is preparing for her future education with a view to Linguistic and English language when the 1991 political developments in the Soviet Union bring uncertain and volatile times for her and her peers.
In the struggle for Democracy Gorbachev is being kidnapped, McDonalds opens a restaurant in Moscow, Yeltsin announces the end of the Soviet Union and the end of the Communist Party.
Reading about it as it is being told from the perspective of a teenage girl I feel that I understood the dynamics of the times only now properly for the first time. Marina and her friends experience the changes together but every one of them has different dreams, different goals and different backgrounds. 
While the political changes aren’t always good (food rationing and crime waves to name but two) the characters reflect perfectly the conflicting emotions and experiences of the new era.
Marina and her friends are great characters that not only drive the plot easily but they are people you can perfectly relate to. Gousseva does an excellent job at showing the unique moment in time in modern Russian history for us foreigners from the West, so we can understand better how it impacted personally and in a wider cultural context.Giving us some historical and political background and fleshing it out with youthful romance Moscow Dream is exactly the kind of novel I love. 
Written in excellent prose, perfect pacing and just the right amount of emotions this is a touching, informative and wonderful reading experience that I cannot recommend enough.


Your novel is set in Moscow at a time of great changes. Can you briefly explain how much of the story is biographical and how much was researched?

I lived in Moscow in 1991 and worked as a Russian-English interpreter for a British cameraman. I described all the events in the story from personal experience since we spent the three days of the attempted coup in 1991 walking and driving around Moscow, participating in various gatherings, and taking pictures. I had to research some specific details, such as days of the week when the coup happened, the exact quotes from Yeltsin’s speech, numbers of tanks involved, things like that.


summer 2011 398

Can you tell us a little about yourself now, where you live and about your life since Russia?

After the coup failed, Russia suddenly felt like a much more open country. Western companies opened offices in Moscow, travel restrictions for Russians wanting to go abroad were lifted by the government, and there was an overwhelming feeling of new opportunities that we all wanted to experience for ourselves.

At the time, I had just graduated from the Moscow State Linguistics University and wanted to try everything that this new life had to offer. My interpreting skills took me all over Russia and the former Soviet Union, from Western Siberia to the Arctic regions of the Komi Republic to wineries in Moldova and film studios in St. Petersburg. I felt that there was no van, bus, helicopter, train, or plane that I had not been on.

One of my jobs got me involved with an educational organization that administered US graduate school exams. The American lady I worked with in that organization encouraged me to take those exams and apply to graduate school in the US. I did (just to do it! because the opportunity was there!) but quickly realized that the incredibly slow speed of the Russian postal service would prevent me from having any chance of even getting my application in on time to a US university. I was about to give up when the University of Arizona sent me their fax number. That sealed the deal. I was not only accepted but given a chance to work as a graduate teaching assistant to help with tuition payments. I took the chance. Now, many years later, I have a Masters’ and a PhD from the University of Arizona and teach writing full-time for Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. I love every minute of it! And the sunshine still feels like a gift every day. I’ll take triple digit summer temperatures over the frozen darkness of the Arctic polar night any time!

How did the idea for the novel come to you?

The coup of 1991 is the only revolution I have personally experienced, so the choice was easy. I just had to write about it

Did you have any say in the artistic cover art and how was that process?

As I’m learning now, most writers find graphic designers to create their covers. And that’s smart. My only attempt to find a graphic designer for that cover was a disastrous one, so I decided (not so smart!) to design the cover myself. I wanted to show a young couple in an outdoor setting – thus, the couple by the wrought-iron structure. That structure reminds me of the embankment of the Moskva River where a few important moments of the book take place. I also wanted to convey the feeling of instability and change by including a leaning Kremlin tower. The concept of “kremlin” and the fort itself has been a constant in the history of Russia since at least the 14th century, but it was in the early 1990’s that it felt that all the familiar concepts and life itself were shifting, changing, and becoming unstable. No more constants! And, of course, the sky had to be dark and cloudy – no political statement here. Just the reality of Moscow weather.

What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?

The best aspect of writing is writing, in all its stages. The worst? Having to stop to make dinner, run errands, or vacuum. Luckily, I live in the desert, so gardening takes care of itself. Just throw a few rocks and garden gnomes around, and it’s all done!

What do you do when you don’t write?

I’ve always loved dancing (no connection between passion and skill though!), and now I am a Zumba fanatic. If I don’t go to a Zumba class at least five days a week, my life feels incomplete.

What are you writing now?

I am in the process of editing my latest novel titled Anya’s Story.  It is set in Russia in the early 1990’s and traces the lives of two young women, Anya and Katia. 

Anya’s life takes her from Moscow to a small town where her husband serves as a submarine officer in the Russian Northern Fleet. She thinks that her life as a military wife will bring her stability and security, but that doesn’t work out the way she expected. 

Katia stays in Moscow, goes to college, but gradually gets drawn into business ventures. At that time in Russia, many business ventures quickly became dangerous, as Katia soon finds out.

Earlier, you asked me about cover designs. I’m absolutely thrilled with the cover for Anya’s Story. It was created by my friend Vardan Partamyan, a talented writer of dystopian fiction and a perceptive graphic designer. Why perceptive? One night, Vardan and I talked about possible images I wanted to see on the cover. My vision for the cover was blurred at best! The next morning, I woke up to find this amazing cover that he designed and sent me. Thank you, Vardan!

Links to connect with Julia: 

Moscow Dreams on your Amazon site:

My review of Julia’s Short Stories

“Twelve Months of a Soviet Childhood: Short Stories” by Julia Gousseva is a wonderful selection of short stories about the author’s childhood in Communist Russia but thankfully her approach is fresh and charming.

Telling a story for each month of the year Gousseva takes us back to a simple time in her life. Yes, Communist rules determine a lot of her life but the book does not bemoan hardship or missed material goods. It is a sentimental journey into all-day-life and special occasions of her life.

Having had relatives on the other side of the Berlin Wall I have found it always very hard to imagine just how life was for people in ‘The East’, and many comparisons of our and their lives tended to focus on TV, VHS and Cigarette brands. All very justifiable points, but to portray life the way Gousseva does is a true gift.

Gousseva introduces most of her stories with author notes, giving background information on cultural or climatic factors that come into play in her writing later, but the stories concern what would concern a child on either side of the iron curtain: A music box, the family garden, or questions like: How do we feel when we benefit from a friend being punished? What does a hedgehog perceive? 

The location of these personal memories and stories could be almost seen as secondary, but with the author’s thoughtful notes and the many interesting small facts that are included, Gousseva draws a vivid picture of life in her Russia.

I would like to thank the author for sharing the memories with us and allowing us some further insight into a world we would otherwise know little about. It is wonderful to learn that there were so many good moments and so many pleasures despite oppression and deprivation.

Cover for the soon-to-be-released book:

ANYA'S STORY cover from vardan
10 Oct 2013

P.C. Zick: “A Lethal Legacy”

1 Comment Book Reviews
“A Lethal Legacy” by P.C.Zick was a real surprise-find and treat for me. Knowing this superb author from her award nominated environmental novel “Trails in the Sand” I was not prepared for a psychological thriller so incredibly well written and breath-taking.
The powerful and to me entrancing narrative follows two cousins through their lives as teenagers and young adults, their first amorous affairs and their marriages. While writer Ed envies his good looking cousin Gary the women and the ease in his life, Gary is struggling with his concealed homosexuality and would probably happily trade with Ed who has all the qualities that Ed’s father would appreciate.
I felt myself deeply engaged in the minds of these two men and was eager to find out where the story was leading, how the men would develop and if or how their many intriguing issues would be resolved. The powerful writing kept me almost entranced with the story and made for some compelling reading.
Gary’s grown up daughter Kris re-appears in his life and gets re-acquainted with her father. Ed tells her (and us) more of the missing pieces of his and Gary’s past. In small segments we learn more about the failed marriages and the friendship between the two. The narrative strands work extremely well together to keep the suspense and explain what needs to be told. Family secrets and background information add spice to the story and fairly late into the book a murder pushes the plot even further.
I am truly amazed at the author’s versatility and the quality of the writing. This reads more like it is coming from an experienced thriller expert rather than from a newcomer to the genre. I found the depth of the characters, the continuous tension and the easy flow of the narrative outstanding and must give this book a very enthusiastic 5 stars.
Interview with the author:
Welcome back to the blog. What made you decide to write/ publish a thriller after writing/publishing environmentally themed books?
Actually I wrote A Lethal Legacy in 2000. It was my second novel and an experiment in writing technique. I wrote it in first person, but the main character is a man about fifteen to twenty years older than me. I tried to keep it suspenseful yet thoughtful so I made Ed, the main character, a writer.
I understand You wrote the book ten years ago.Tell us a little about the history of the book.

There’s bits of truth interspersed. An event with some family members gave me an idea. I had a cousin who was similar to the Gary character although I extrapolated the details of my cousin’s life from small little tidbits. He was the only son of my dad’s brother and wife. He had two marriages (one to Miss America 1973 who’s now on the 700 Club as a host) that ended abruptly. One involved the removal of his son as a young child. My cousin ended up dying in San Diego in 1992 with a dear friend who called my aunt and uncle with the news. The friend was with him when he died and he was male. My aunt and uncle refused to go to his funeral even money, time, and health were not issues. They told the rest of us my cousin died of lymph node cancer. Then the son he hadn’t seen in fifteen years showed up at my aunt and uncle’s and started bilking money from them. The police even suspected that he tried to kill my aunt with an overdose of phenobarbital. I had to do something with this story. My aunt didn’t die until a year later and in the meantime she had her will changed to disinherit her grandson. Who couldn’t resist writing that plot?

What was your motivation to write A Lethal Legacy? Do you have a particular message you would like to convey?

Many things occurred in the lives of the people I just mentioned that involved greed and a concentration on the outward trappings of a successful life. In fact, the first title of the book was Greed.

How did you have the inspiration for your story and your characters?

I loved writing the sexy, seductive Kristina. She is the vamp I’ve never been in real life so it was a hoot to let loose with her. I also intimately understood Ed’s character. He tried so hard to please everyone around him, but he couldn’t until he started loving himself. 

How much of the stories was fixed before you started writing and how much changed during the process?

Not much really changed in the way of plot. However, I do remember moving the scenes around quite a bit to get the flashback part right. I had two people read the first draft, and they didn’t get it or understand the plot. I went away to the beach for a few days and holed up in a hotel room with the surf beating outside my balcony. I moved the pieces around the board and came up with the right mix. When I reissued it this year, I didn’t do much of anything but work on grammatical things.

Are you like any of the characters in the book?

I believe I’m in a little bit of all the characters. The two Townsend brothers are very similar to my father and his brother–they were very easy to write.

What is your life like? What do you do for pleasure and work when you are not writing?

My husband and I love to be outdoors as much as possible. We have a small pleasure boat and spend summer weekends on the water. We also kayak and golf. My husband is a master gardener so we have an abundance of produce in the summer that I’m put up by either freezing or canning. We eat well all winter long. I lived in Florida for thirty years before marrying my husband in 2010. Then I moved to Pittsburgh, but we get back to Florida two or three times a year.

Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite books/ films/ albums?

John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors. I also love Carl Hiassen’s books about wacky Florida. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is probably one of my favorite books. When I was a high school English teacher, I taught that book along with Steinbeck’s The Pearl. It was amazing to turn teenagers on through reading.

What are your views on independent publishing?

I fought it for a long time. My first three books were independently published. Then I became disillusioned with the publishing world when I realized if I could only be Madonna’s maid for a year–then I’d be able to sell a book. Then when I came out of my period of pouting, the revolution in indie publishing was occurring. I love it, but I want all Indie Authors to put out only their very best writing so we can gain respect.

Can you recommend any indie books/ authors?

I love the work of Darlene Jones, Revital Horowitz, Christina Carson, and so many others. However, my queue on my Kindle is packed so I’m sure there are many more left to discover.

What would your friends tell us if we asked for your best and your oddest qualities?

My best quality would be my sense of humor I suppose. My friends tell me all the time they laugh the hardest with me. My oddest quality? I like my underwear to match my clothes and just don’t feel put together when they don’t match.

What are your favourite animal/ colour/ outdoor activity?

I’m a lover of wild animals as long as they are left alone to be wild. I love burgundy and kayaking is my favorite outdoors activity.

What would you take to a remote island?

My husband.

Who would you like to invited for dinner and why?

I would invite Carl Hiassen because he’s so funny and breaks all the bounds of decency with his characters. I then would bring back Thomas Jefferson so we could sit around and talk about the stupidity that’s occurring in Washington right now. And then I’d like to round out the table with a few of the wonderful people I’ve met through my blog and books, but I’ve never met in person. 

What are you writing at the moment and where would we find out about your next projects?

I’m just finished putting together the diary of my great grandfather. He wrote the journal about his experiences as a Union soldier during the Civil War. I added historical tidbits to round out the piece. I’m quite proud of it. I’m also working on my next Florida environmental novel called Native Lands. I began the book several years ago, but then got busy on other projects. I’ve pulled it out and gone through it. Right now it’s on my coffee table in a three ring binder waiting for me to read and flesh out. It’s merely a 300-page outline at this point. My website,, contains all the information about my books.

What else would you like us to know about you and your books?

Very simply, I love to write. I love to write about the human condition, but I also like to have a deeper meaning evolve. I believe that our future depends on us living lightly on this earth and taking responsibility for making it a better world.

Find Lethal Legacy on Amazon:


The official website:

08 Oct 2013

Ben Manning: The Vril Codex

2 Comments Book Reviews


Vril is a force which to its believers can heal or destroy.’ For famous journalist Jane Wilkinson, a peaceful architectural assignment in Berlin is a chance for some much needed relaxation. Until she notices that something very sinister is happening… she is touched by an occult evil more terrifying than anything she has ever known. An evil that will engulf her and reach out remorselessly to her husband Bob who is literally haunted as he tries to discover her fate and what lies beneath the ancient legend of the VRIL CODEX’
Part romance, part conspiracy thriller, involving Nazi’s, and the mysterious cults of the “Thule Society,” and the “Devils Bible.” Supernatural forces and conspiracies combine, leading Bob and his companions into danger and a confrontation with the ancient Vril power’.

“The Vril Codex” by Ben Manning is an unsual and to me a highly original read.
While the main protagonist is a widower and tries to overcome his grief with a work trip to Berlin, the plot edges into paranormal area and sheds light on some supernatural cult around Hitler and his hardcore followers.
I have read quite a few stories and articles about it, all handled as rumours, but their existence is so persistent that the plot – speculative conspiracy as it may be – sounds very plausible to me.
The book is well written and held my interest throughout.
The most pleasant aspects of the book are that the characters are so real and believable, more dimensional and that the storyline is far from flat, as I find so often with books in the genre.
I found it a compelling and fascinating read.



Hi Ben

Your novel has quite an unusual theme. Can you explain it to my readers quickly. How did you hear about it and when did you decide to write this story?

Sure I was influenced to write this novel series  – the Vril Chronicles – by reading “Morning of the Magicians”- a cult new age book that covered everything from secret societies to the unexplained.  It was strangely written and published back in 1962 ish but influenced me as did a rather tacky but interesting history channel documentary aired in 2009.  It was in 09 that I completed my first draft, which I rewrote at author workshops in 2010.  Then I got it published in 2011 and 2012 but the final edition with a reputable publisher has come out in 2013. 

How did you research for it? Especially since so much of the information is contested. What was the most fascinating aspect in the research and the writing for you?

I enjoyed travelling to Germany a lot and finding obscure libraries and meeting characters that influenced the book.  To be honest the internet was useful but I enjoyed meeting real people such as Anthony J Hilder who is probably the most unusual conspiracy theorist out there with a fascinating past in entertainment. I also wrote off to lots of obscure people and cults to differentiate what I was writing with what’s really out there, when it comes to Vril.  There are some rare books on the subject but not a lot is out there.  Not many people realize the esoteric traits of Hitler and especially Himmler, either with the Vril Society or the Thule Society or the Black Sun.  There is some on youtube and many obscure pamphlets were printed about it after the war.        

Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?

Well the plot was kind of roughly planned but I added to it as I went along. I knew nothing much had been written on Vril and the Nazi’s but paranormal Nazi’s have been written on a lot – from Indiana Jones to James Herbert – so I wanted to create my own myths and figures rather than just using Norse myth and Hitler.  That would have been obvious; they were just the starting point.  Hence my characters such as Helena Hister and the whole mythos around that, that I invented. More recently there have been a few more vril novels out there but it is still few and far between.  There are hundred on the spear of destiny and the Nazi’s for example. As I often say – mine was the first ever on vril and the nazi’s – a fact I am proud of.    

This is part of a series. How many books will there be and can you tell us where this will be going – without any spoilers?

Well part 2 was self-published in 2012 but that will have a proper final release, possibly with Double Dragon Publishing.  That is set in Dresden and is called the Dresden Benefactor.  It is more of a mystery and the one I am working on right now is more of a thriller perhaps.  

How did you choose the characters for the story?

I wanted characters people could relate to.  It is hard trying to be original because you have to produce characters that are familiar so to an extent they have to be based on universal types.  I did base Warwick Blake – a psychic archaeologist – on the late Michael Baigent who was co-author of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”. 

How did you come to writing in the first place? Apart from this historically themed blend did you have other genres in mind, too?

I wouldn’t call the Vril series historical fiction as it is set in the present but yes there are historical elements.  I did think of making it more science fiction like because of the aliens and UFO’s but then the whole vril universe is very “Fantasy” too – couple that with the fact that there are paranormal romance elements and crime thriller ones that we have one of the strength’s to critics a possible weakness .  It is primarily a thriller but does genre hop.  But why not break the rules?!  

I wrote short stories as a small child and poetry (cringe!) and as a teen and in my twenties mainly did journalism.  Then in my thirties I decided to turn to novels as I felt the need to be creative. 

Who is your favourite character and why?

Warwick Blake- 

This is simply because he is an interesting outsider.  I imagine him portrayed by Michael Gambon. 

Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?

Yes –

I guess Bob is loosely based on me.  Make of that what you will!

Did you have any say in the cover art and who was that process?

To be honest both covers came largely from my idea.  I still do not think there has been a definitive cover and vril 2 and 3 are yet to have a professional cover done.  I do like vril codex’s second “alien” cover most which I designed with Riley Steel. 

What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?

Best aspect is when people like it and the worse is when people don’t but then no writer in history is liked by everyone.  I love the creative highs but I don’t like the writer’s block lows.  I am also dyslexic which makes me a slow writer. 

How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?

With difficulty!  I know the internet has opened up some opportunities but it is also a boon to criminal publishers.  I worked in marketing and part of me is repulsed by mixing it with my creative side.  In the past, if you had the money to self-publish  – pre web – marketing had to be done by the writer or paid for.  These days whether you self – publish or go with a publisher you still have to promote which is kind of a shame as it used to be more the domain of marketing at the publishers.  

What do you do when you don’t write?

I am a keen actor. 

What would be the cast in a Hollywood or British film?

Michael Gambon or Bill Nighy as Warwick

Rufus Sewell as Bob – depending on budget!  If not – me! 

Romola Garai as Jane

Who are your biggest influences?

Rod Serling

Alfred Hitchcock

Roald Dahl

Gothic Horror

M.R James

Hammer Horror and Amicus  – Vincent Price, Peter Cushing ect…

Which are your favourite books and authors?

I have always loved I Claudius by Robert Graves.

Other favourites are Douglas Adams, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, James Herbert and Isaac Asimov.

I would also pick Roald Dahl as an author and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as a poet.
Dahl always fascinated me with his short stories for “Tales of the unexpected” on the TV from “someone like you” and “kiss kiss” – but what im most impressed by is that he could write, horror, humour –in a book like “my uncle Oswald” and for children with stories like “Charlie and the chocolate factory”. I think he understood the way people think – in terms of how children feel and react and also the very adult world of intrigue, where there is always a moral twist. A tribute I wrote to both him and Coleridge is at the Roald Dahl museum here in the UK.

ST Coleridge – I would love to know his theories on the universe and life in general, as well as the subconscious and life after death.  Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner is incredible and I used to work at his cottage where he lived in 1797 and wrote it. 

Douglas Adams – “The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” 
Aldous Huxley –”Brave new World”

Voltaire – “Candide”  *** Charles Dickens –”A Christmas Carol” *** George Orwell – 1984

 *** Edgar Allen Poe – Murders in the Rue Morgue *** Mary Shelley – Frankenstein.

Which indie writers can you recommend?

Terry Ravenscroft.  His books make me laugh a lot. 

What would you take to an isolated island?

A cat

Who would you like to invite for dinner?

David Bowie

What else would you like us to know about yourself and your books?

I am in a forthcoming major horror film called “Zombie Snuff Movies”  and I am interviewed in the major magazine “Haunted after Dark” who are sponsors of the British Horror film festival held in Leicester Square, London. 

Links –
Twitter – “@TheVrilCodex”

New from DOUBLE DRAGON publishing…the number one award winning publisher…the VRIL Codex…a paranormal thriller and the first to ever be written on vril and the Nazi’s…conspiracies and norse myth…







07 Oct 2013

NEW RELEASE: “The Village Idiots EBAY CLUB” by Charlie Bray

3 Comments Book Reviews



“The Village Idiots EBAY CLUB” by Charlie Bray is the first in his new Laugh Out Loud at Life series and concerns a bunch of very odd and idiotic e-bay users. Their inventive and original silly names are most likely their handles for their interactions on e-bay and their `club’ has the nature of an AA meeting. Having read Bray’s “Open House” I am amazed at his versatility to change the tone of his humour so easily.
I am probably not experienced enough with e-bay myself to get all of the clever, sarcastic, ironic and laugh out loud jokes but from what I gather the items traded, the prices paid, the uselessness of some of them, the addiction, the bidding wars and the clever traders taking advantage of the `idiots’ are all themes found in one way or another in this often hilarious and wonderfully absurd story. I found many parallels to other internet groups and forums that I use, so even if you like myself are not too familiar with e-bay, the principles and characters are very similar everywhere.
In this regard the book is a great reflection on modern society as well. Our village idiots, avoided in public and ridiculed by their peers have now found a new forum on the internet where their extravagant, eccentric and weird qualities, habits and characteristics find a new and sometimes rather unsuspecting audience. Everyone can be someone on the internet, Bray gets them to meet in their club and you can see what can happen when they do.
Bray has taken a great idea and with original imagination and sadly probably with quite a lot of material based on real experiences and characters has made this a very entertaining farce.

“Open House” by Charlie Bray is the first in his Cove Castle Comedy Series and it is off to a promising start. An aristocratic family runs into financial difficulties and has to open their house to the public, at least for certain people and projects, such as a hunting party, a film crew and ghost tourists.
Charlie Bray portrays the British class system and its difficulties to stay intact in modern society extremely well. The family concerned struggle in hilarious situations with the outside / real world and with the decay of the conservative values amongst their own ranks. Catalogue brides, tree hugging activists outside their premises and rebellious family members provide an excellent mix of adventures for the reader and the author tells it with great wit and talent. A must read for any fan of the genre and anyone in need of a good laugh.


06 Oct 2013

NEW RELEASE: “A Menu of Death” by Lucy Pireel

2 Comments Book Reviews, News



“A Menu of Death” by Lucy Pireel is a selection of very strong short stories, all written with a raw, edgy and bloody pen. Ranging from harsh reality to fantasy territory they provoke, open your mind, change your perspective, entertain and take you to the edge of your seat. They can be gory and violent yet also thoughtful and insightful; they are most certainly unpredictable and therefore a truly compelling read. Excellently written, tightly edited and brilliantly compiled into a varied yet homogenous collection the pages just flick through your fingers.
I’d find it hard to choose a favourite story or tell you much about the stories without giving vital clues away. I loved however one story about Karma, one about an abusive husband and one about a brutal killer, all of which turned out completely different from what I expected them to become and were extremely rewarding and a pleasure to read. There is a bite to these stories and a sharp mind behind them.
I came across the author via a tweet about her previous book, “Red Gone Bad” which was also an excellent reading experience and I am pleased that this new book is in no way second. Pireel is a fascinating emerging talent, an uncompromising wordsmith with plots that stimulate your adrenaline and your brain. 

P7140751 cover_image_600x800

Here is a link to Lucy’s interview on my blog earlier this year:

16 Sep 2013

Karen Prince: Switch

2 Comments Book Reviews



A young adult fantasy adventure about magic, friendship and bravery, but also about bad judgement, rascally witches and thoroughly irresponsible adults.

Trouble is brewing in the secret African rift valley of Karibu and Gogo Maya, the witch, and her leopard familiar are about to make matters worse. Of all the dubious magic tricks in her repertoire, they choose a risky ‘switch’ she’s been working on, to escape from somebody lurking in the forest. Unfortunately they overshoot, switching right out of Karibu and drawing an ordinary Zimbabwean boy into the vacuum they left behind them. The whole disaster that followed might have been averted if another boy had not gone and sucked up what was left of the witch’s power, leaving her too weak to switch back again. CPR, the daft boy called it. He should know better than to risk kissing a witch.

If you had to choose between Joe’s two best friends, or his fifteen-year-old cousin, Ethan, to lead an adventure into the bush to rescue him, Ethan would be the last one you’d pick because, well … he’s useless that way. Yet, the witch’s leopard inexplicably chooses him, and starts issuing instructions right into his head. Apparently he’s Joe’s best hope because he has absorbed some of the witch’s questionable magic powers. Powers which might come in handy if he ever learns how to wield them, and if he can endure the painful backlash he suffers every time he tries.

In a world that quite literally defies belief, where magic seeps into the drinking water for anyone to use or abuse, and the terrain is impossible to navigate without help from extremely risky sources, this is the tale of Ethan’s struggle to reach his cousin, Joe, before Joe falls into the wrong hands and gets himself killed


“Switch (The Kingdoms of Karibu)” by Karen Prince is a wonderful and magic story for young adults.
Set in parts in rural contemporary Zimbabwe (with all its beauty but also its faults) and in other parts in the secret rift valley of Karibu the story ‘switches’ between two narratives, keeping up a sense of suspense throughout.
In Karibu, a witch and her leopard suddenly have to escape the Tokoloshe, but their getaway via a magic trick goes terribly wrong and forces an ordinary boy from Zimbabwe into the kingdom instead, while the witch is on the other side.
The rest of the story follows the attempts to reverse the switch.
The book owes a lot to modern fairy tales such as the Lion King or The Jungle Book that opened our minds to speaking animals and even animals that can be human. “Switch” pays a loving tribute to African tribal culture with the colourful characters as well as to the magical mythology.
Karen Prince has written an awesome book that overflows with her love for the continent and its creatures and culture but more importantly so with a lot of original ideas and vivid powers of imagination. One of my favourite parts of the book was about a group of crocodiles who are re-paying a moral debt and therefore help humans across a tricky waterfall.
Easy to read, entertaining and full of surprises this is an excellent debut novel and should do well with both African and non-African readers. I was quite captured by the romantic vision of nature on the continent and thanks to the great characterisation of the boys and the witch it had a light hearted and wonderful touch.



How did you come to writing? Is this your first written work?

Yet this is my first book. I came to writing on a whim, really, or a new year’s resolution. I kid you not. I sat on my friend’s verandah and said “This year I will give up working for an unappreciative boss and find another job, and while I am looking for that perfect job, I will write the book I always wanted to write.” I fondly imagined that I would sit at my computer and bang out a book in six weeks or so. Well, what a shock! It took at least six months of intense research and an online course just to learn how to write a good book, and then another year to write it.

Have you always wanted to write in the genre? And for young adults?

I have been a voracious reader all my life, mostly of fantasy. Anything from the epic “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson to the more offbeat and quirky “Discworld” series by Terry Pratchett, so in a way, it was writing what I know.  Add that to a childhood spent mostly in rural Africa, which is practically like living in a fantasy. Between the awe inspiring wildlife, the lack of technology and the terrors of a civil war that raged for most of my childhood, there was plenty of fodder for story telling.

‘Switch!’ is marketed to young adults because the content is acceptable for advanced readers as young as ten, but it is, in fact, a straight fantasy adventure. Most of my reviews have come from adult fantasy readers.

How did the idea for the novel come to you? Profile Pic

A mash up of a couple of things that intrigue me. One is Ngorogoro crater in Tanzania, a vast naturally enclosed volcanic crater which is so difficult to access from outside that it almost has it’s own wildlife ecosystem. Another is Son Doong cave in Vietnam. It is the largest cave known to man but despite all modern technology was only discovered in 2009 because it is so well hidden in a remote jungle. A third idea comes from my childhood. The village where I come from, on the banks of the Zambezi in Zimbabwe, had no communication with the village across the river in Zambia because the two countries had closed the border and were not talking to each other. Despite the fact that we, and the Zambians, smiled and waved as we boated past each other, we had no idea what was going on ‘over there’. The idea of living so close to a nation that you can see them, and yet know nothing about them, has fascinated me ever since.

For this story I wanted to have today’s people, who we can relate to, fall into a fantasy milieu like ‘Harry Potter’ rather than jump straight into a fantasy where even the behavior is unfamiliar.

May I ask you about your geographical background. Tell us what Zimbabwe means to you and how you chose it as the setting for parts of your story.

As a child I spent a lot of time in the bush. I grew up on a game farm very close to the Victoria Falls — which, by the way, are so awesome that you never get tired of looking at them even if you go down there and stare at them every day. My mother was a tour guide, so I got to go on river cruises whenever I wanted and to fly over the falls and the game reserve in those little light aircraft whenever there was a free seat. What a thrill! Needless to say I think Zimbabwe is a brilliant place for a fantasy setting with all its wildlife, diverse tribes and fantastic terrain. In fact you should put it on your bucket list to visit at once.

I live in Cape Town now, and it is almost as beautiful but a city milieu is not as conducive to fantasy adventures.

You have created great characters. Which one is your favourite?

Aarg! It is so hard to say but when it comes down to it I would have to say Tarriro. He started off being a foil for Ethan’s pickiness but soon took on a life of his own. He will be the main protagonist in the sequel.

How did you choose the characters for the story?

I wanted to tell a story about a bush adventure and I love to make people think outside of their own experience so I started out with the kind of person who would be the most uncomfortable and inept in that situation. Preferably one who would not be there by choice. Hence Ethan; only child, extremely wealthy and privileged, with the world at his fingertips, if only you could tear him away from his computer.

Even though Ethan is picky, with all his education and resources, he’s pretty smart. I wanted him to have some competition along the way. Someone equally privileged, whose agenda would clash horribly with his. And that’s where Tarriro comes in. Anyone in their right mind would have chosen him to lead the group because he is a natural leader; confident, athletic, from a politically powerful family and he’s had practice bossing around his three younger brothers, so it is especially hard for him when Ethan is chosen. And he is grumpy about it.

Neither Ethan, nor Tarriro have any bush skills so I sent  Jimoh along to guide them and keep the peace. . . If he can.

The three boys risk their own lives to save Joe.  So Joe had to be fiercely loved by Ethan, Tariro and Jimoh, and for different reasons because they hardly knew each other before the disaster that started the whole trip. Honor is probably his strongest point, and bravery.

Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?

Not much, although I may be as picky as Ethan and am surely as bossy as Tarriro. I share their experiences though. Boarding school featured heavily for me like Joe and Tarirro, and I spent a lot of time in African villages and the bush like Jimoh.

Did you have to research for the magic, mythological or animal scenes?

The Tokoloshe, which feature heavily in ‘Switch!’ were as much a fact of everyday life where I grew up as ghosts are for westerners and probably with as many variations. From a mischievous character who’s toxic farts would incapacitate you so that he could tickle your feet, to an evil entity conjured up by a witchdoctor to cause real harm. Mostly they were believed to be about knee high, hairy, lived in crevices under river banks and would come and get you if you were naughty.

I did do a lot of research on the other mythological creatures but since the premise of the story is that the magic alters the DNA of a creature over time, I did not always stick closely to the original myths.

How did you research for the book?

For the magic and the mythology I was not that fussy because I could stretch the information to suit my story, but for animal behavior I preferred books to the internet for research because there is some accountability attached to the information. I read everything I could get my hands on because much of what I learned growing up was based on hearsay and I probably survived by sheer luck. For instance everyone swore blind that it was safe to water-ski because a crocodile does not have the strength to take you in deep water. That turned out to be a myth.

Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?

I began to write the scenes only once I had a full synopsis of the plot. ‘Switch!’ is not a tale of wonderful good verses pure evil, but rather a tale of ‘what if’. I started off with a set of characters and tribes, complete with character sketches and politics, and a basic premise for the magic, then spent a long time loosely plotting how those people would react to the crises that came their way and how they would overcome them. Sometimes their actions set the plot off in a new direction so it was better to be sure where I was going before I wrote in too much detail.

Could this be part of a series? If yes, how many books will there be and can you tell us where this will be going – without any spoilers?

Yes, this is a series. There will probably be three books, but if this idea is completely mined out by the end of book two and there is nothing really entertaining to go on with, I do not want to force it. At the same time, if the plot naturally runs to four books I will do four.

Although ‘Switch!’ could stand alone, the boys will be sucked back into the politics of Karibu one way or another. Not only does the magic cause havoc with the current residents — the kind of trouble that only the boys can sort out — but all that free magic, just waiting to be harnessed, is mighty enticing for the boys themselves. And I am nowhere near finished with that dragon.

What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?

The best for me is plotting. How wonderful to spend your days making up stories. I also happen to love all the technical stuff; formatting for Kindle and hardcopy, designing covers, designing websites on which to market, even the marketing itself. The worst thing for me is that there are not enough hours in the day.

How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?

It is impossible for me. Since I do everything myself it takes a very long time to get a book together. I have been marketing the Kindle eBook version of ‘Switch!’ for a year and only just now found the time to format and design a new cover for the print version to launch in a couple of weeks. In the mean time, I have been loosely plotting the sequel. When I write it, I imagine I will keep at it relentlessly until it is finished without distracting myself by dividing my time between writing and marketing.

What do you do when you don’t write?

I am a freelance Interior Designer. The kind that sits behind a computer and makes plans of people’s homes, kitchens etc. Occasionally I will design a pediatric ward for a hospital or paint a mural or something, but I like planning best.

What would you take to an isolated island?

A Boat?! Without my entire family, all my friends and the internet thrown in for entertainment, I’d go out of my head in a week. Besides, I have watched enough Bear Grylls to know that it is not much fun on an isolated island. . . It is all sweating and foraging and wondering if you are going to get rescued.






My website for young adults:



 Photo on 2013-05-02 at 12.14 #5


13 Sep 2013

“Nobody Loves a Bigfoot like a Bigfoot Babe” by Phantom Bigfoot (a.k.a. Simon Okill)

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The Northern California town of Big Beaver has become a haven for Bigfoot, alien sightings and is home to The Phantom Bigfoot Bather. One particularly weird Beaverite, Duane, has kept the Bigfoot a secret, but to his utter dismay, a female Bigfoot abducts a teenager. Duane must use all his guile to stop his secret from getting out, especially now that MB, his close friend and crypto-zoologist, is on the trail, along with Sheriff Lou and the FBI. Can Duane keep his Bigfoot friends a secret? And what does MB discover deep in the forest?

“Nobody Loves a Bigfoot Like a Bigfoot Babe” by Simon Okill is simply a wonderful book.
Set in a sleepy town in Northern California called Big Beaver it centres around sightings of a Bigfoot, who may or may not be real, according to the people in Big Beaver. Much fun is poked at these sightings with pranks and jokes by the locals.
When a teenager is abducted Sheriff Lou gets assistance from FBI Agent Merlot. But the Bigfoot is real and while the investigation is under way, one citizen tries to keep this a secret for his own reasons.

What strikes me most about this book is the great sense of humour and the tongue-in-cheek style that runs through the entire story. There is a reference to Twin Peaks and there are some stylistic parallels or similarities, only this book is funnier and not quite as dark as David Lynch’s work.

There are great one-liners and excellently drawn characters to make this book a delight to read. I finished the book in almost one sitting, drawn in by the great story telling and addicted to the community of Big Beaver. Simon Okill is an author to watch.

A very entertaining novel, highly recommended.

 SImon author pic

Hi Simon, please tell us a little about yourself as a person and as author. –

Howdy Christoph, and before we get into it, a beer would be helpful. Thanks. That’s better. I am Phantom Bigfoot, author of that which leaves my brain as a jumbled mess and somehow gets put in some semblance of order when the lights are all on. My lights were left dim by an accident and only my writing seems to replenish the power. The more I write the brighter the light. So it’s best not to be around me when I’m not writing. Hehehehe!

How long have you been writing, and how did you start?

At least 15 years, but not since the accident have I become a full-time author. It all began one night long, long ago when I had too much to drink watching Twin Peaks and The Broken Lizards’ Super Troopers – well let’s be honest you need a few to watch those shows. That night it struck me like a right cross from Rocky – Bigfoot! Combine those shows into a town obsessed with Bigfoot!

The Bigfoot theme is such fun. When did you decide to go with it and write a whole book? –

That very night.

How did you manage to make it your own story when the Bigfoot theme has been kind of monopolised by the Hollywood films? –

Hollywood has declared Bigfoot a monster. Not me. My Bigfoot are peaceful creatures who bonk at the drop of a hat. There’s more but that will be revealed in my new Bigfoot novels.

Was the humour planned or was the idea initially more serious? –

I don’t like serious novels. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a serious message in Bigfoot but it’s relayed tongue in cheek. After all, I am Phantom Bigfoot purveyor of the practical joke.

Did you ever think of writing it just for children or young adults? –

Wouldn’t work, Christoph. The search for Bigfoot is not the realm of teenagers.

Did you have it all planned out before you write your stories or do the characters and story surprise you? –

Actually all my novels started out as screenplays and from there I fleshed them out into novels.

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

Duane is my favourite as he is what most guys would like to be – a bum with loads of money.

What would your character(s) say about you? –

Nothing good, probably – hehehehe – except a big thanks for giving them life.

Are you (or your children) like any of your characters? –

There is a pinch of me in Duane and MB, but I prefer going over the top so no one could identify with them.

Would you say your books have a message and could you hint at it – for the confused? –

Bigfoot’s message is clear – save our environment and stop hunting for pleasure.

What do you like best about writing? –

Leaving my world and entering a fantasy world of my own design where I can do and be anything I want.

What’s your least favourite thing? –

Marketing the little monsters – they take over your life and that’s not much fun.

How do you balance writing with family life? –

I get up before I go to bed and slave away until dawn then market for several hours and with a stroke of luck find time to write until the early hours. Family life has suffered somewhat, but I am hoping the pressure will ease with more books published.

How do you edit and quality control? –

First I type in key words that should be used sparingly – suddenly, became, felt, seem etc and use next mode to correct. I do same with repetitive words. After that I send the book to an editor.

How have you found the experience of self-publishing? –

Daunting at first. Formatting for Kindle and Smashwords drove me mad. By downloading reviewers for both, I have cut the time right down and now I can format both in under 20 minutes.

What were your highs and lows? –

Lows were getting formatted indents right – highs was getting into Smashwords Premium and seeing Luna Sanguis, my vampire romance on sale at WH Smiths UK.

What is your advice to new writers?

Never ever give up. Even Stephen King had 100s of rejections before Carrie was a hit. Oh and get a good pro editor.

Who are your favourite authors?

Stephen King, Graham Masterton, Dean Koontz and too numerous to mention Indies from ASMSG.

I know you are very supportive of other writers, but who are your favourite independent writers?

– That’s such a loaded question, Christoph, there are so many I love for different reasons, I’ll just say they are all my dear friends on ASMSG and I love them all. They know who they are.

 What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?  –

ebook – Fantacia: Voxian Series by Ruth Watson Morris of ASMSG

What three books have you read recently and would recommend? –

Once Upon Another Time by Rosary McQuestion –

The Nightlife Paris by Travis Luedke –

Capital D by Natasha Johnstone.

Travis would appreciate the sandwich I have going for him there. Hehehehehe!

Who would you say are the biggest influences?

ASMSG as a whole. So many great posts on writing have shown me my faults.

 What books have you read more than once or want to read again?

None as far as I can remember, but I have watched my faves on the box several times – Where Eagles Dare, Guns of Navarone, True Grit, The Shining, Salem’s Lot, The Stand, To Kill A Mockingbird and the list goes on.

Tell us about your other books?

Okay, Christoph –

Luna Sanguis and Luna Aeturnus follow a young woman on the verge of vampire superiority, but she witnesses a brutal murder and is hunted by her evil lover. She wakes up in a prison-like room with total amnesia. She is defenceless and must depend on a young doctor to save her from The Count, help her recall her past and escape into the night as vampire lovers.

SS-Steppenwolf retells WWII through the eyes of a werewolf created by Himmler to destroy the Allies at The Battle of the Bulge. Not many people know that the Waffen SS were addicted to a mind-altering drug which drove them to kill without mercy, but when the drug ran out, so Germany’s fate was sealed by Stalingrad. Facts are twisted to fit the new order of the wolf. Rainbow’s End is a YA fantasy which explains what happened to Errol Flynn’s family heirloom that went missing from his birth 1910. The heirloom is Captain Bligh’s sword.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

Bigfoot has its own song – Nobody Loves a Bigfoot Like a Bigfoot Babe. But “Addicted to Love” sums up the entire book.

What are you working on now?

Luna Aeturnus is being edited for release in September.

Is there anything you would like us to know about yourself and your books?

What you read is basically me, so read my books to find out what I’m like.

Thanks Christoph for this chance to air my laundry.


Info Links:


Buy Links:

US Kindle

UK Kindle

US Paperback

UK Paperback


I live with my wife and Shirlee Anne, in a pretty coastal town in South Wales, UK. We both love Stephen King and had read many of his books and enjoyed their transition to the screen. Due to our love of books, my wife and I dabbled in writing for some years as a hobby. We were approached by a film company to write a paranormal TV series. We struggled most nights and all through weekends to come up with 22 episodes only for the company to go bust. Then after an accident at work, I was forced into early retirement due to disability. I used my newfound skills as a writer to help with my depression. We decided to use our TV series episodes as templates for film scripts and novels. My writing became more serious as certain A-list actors expressed interest in my scripts and my debut novel Nobody Loves a Bigfoot Like a Bigfoot Babe was accepted by Christopher Matthews Publishing after so many British publishers turned it down.



Also by the author:

“Luna Sanguis” by Simon Okill attracted me because of its setting in Paris around 1925. I enjoy only the occasional Vampire story and with the setting in mind I had different expectations to the intense but thoroughly enjoyable reading experience I got.

Luna Sanguis has some exquisite historical feel to the story but it is mostly an intense and gory read with some detailed descriptions of killings, sexual scenes and psychological power games. It took me by surprise and thanks to the surprise effect I was totally engulfed in it.

At the heart of our story is Delicate Rose, or Eternal, who becomes amnesiac after being witness to a dreadful killing and she only escapes by the skin of her teeth. Brought into a lunatic asylum she continues to have nightmares and horrific visions.
Count Lucien and his two sidekicks are after her and she knows a certain fate awaits her at the next full moon. 
The book is written in a very powerful prose and with very appropriate language to the historic setting. The story infiltrates your mind as you read it and the build up of suspense, the sense of helplessness and fear oozes from every page.
Scary, clever, superbly written and at times disturbing this is not for the light hearted but seems a must for all fans of the Vampire genre who like it ‘rough’.
Quite unforgettable.


Coming soon:

“Luna Aeturnus” by Simon Okill is the long awaited sequel to Luna Sanguis. I was lucky enough to get an early copy by the author for review.
Rose, or Eternal, is still trapped in the lunatic asylum and the romantic sparks between her and her Doctor Eduard are blossoming, but Rose is afraid of Count Lucien, who will be coming after her at the next full moon. The possibility of two lovers eternally ‘reincarnated’ and meeting over the centuries is beautiful and adds romance of great quality to a story that is also often chilling and intense. The theme of eternity, eternal life and love runs through the novel and adds some reflective notes to the fast paced story with its many action packed scenes of fighting and violence. 
The characters are wonderful creations, be it the vile Demon Bonbon, the evil Count or his colourful sidekicks.
The writing in this piece is amazing, and that goes not only for the skilful use of language. While the doctors wonder about Rose’s Amnesia, deem her possibly schizophrenic or ‘just’ traumatized it makes us often wonder ourselves if Rose is really losing her mind and we with her. Or are we? Much remains ambiguous but in a very fascinating and rewarding way.
Like the first book this is a must read for Vampire fans



10 Sep 2013

Derry O’Dowd: The Scarlet Ribbon

3 Comments Book Reviews



The Scarlet Ribbon was chosen to launch the History Press Ireland’s fiction line in 2012.

Written by father and daughter team Michael (a doctor and medical historian) and Katy O’Dowd (a writer), the book follows James Quinn, a young Irish surgeon battling prejudice, suspicion and personal demons in his controversial quest to change the face of medicine.

Following his marriage, tragedy strikes, thrusting James into a life of turmoil and despair. Throwing himself into his work, the young surgeon eventually begins to find solace in the most unexpected of places. From the backstreets of Paris, through the glittering social
whirl of London and finally back to Ireland again, this is a story of the thorns of love and the harsh reality of life in the eighteenth century, where nothing is simple and complications of all kinds surround James Quinn, man midwife.


“The Scarlet Ribbon” by Derry O’Dowd is a fascinating historical novel about man-midwifery in the 1700s.
I am amazed at the amount of research that must have gone into this work of art. With much attention to detail O’Dowd sets the scene perfectly with the description of a dramatic birth that draws our protagonist James Quinn into the field of mid-wifery.
Quinn immediately encounters the first prejudices and obstacles to his new chosen career path, which continue through his life and the rest of the book.

Although it is quite specific in its theme and full of medical procedures and jargon the book reads easily and makes the topic accessible for readers like myself who have lesser knowledge of the field.
Many other historical novels also loose themselves in excessive insertions of researched facts whereas this books strikes an excellent balance. I feel that I got a wonderful insight into the state of medicine, mid-wifery and 
also some entertaining superstition of the times but this never gets in the way of the smooth flow of the novel.

James Quinn is a greatly chosen protagonist, possessing a caring nature and a genuine desire to help but also some weaknesses. Without giving much of the plot away, his professional and private life are both full of painful moments which makes for a very good balance between history, facts and fiction.

The Scarlet Ribbon refers to a piece of wedding finery and stands for the strong connection Quinn holds with his wife and mother of his son Daniel. The book is full of great locations, such as Dublin, Galway, Paris and London and rich in plot and sub-plots. It is a personal journey of loss, endurance and professional vision but it also reflects on mid-wifery and medicine in more general and political terms.

O’Dowd creates a great feel for the times yet he has drawn characters we can easily relate to. One of my favourite parts in the book is a very moving letter to James written by a rejected admirer, so well composed and heart-warming and gracious that I had to stop and read it again.

The authenticity of the book is greatly helped by lovely short excerpts from the ‘Quinn Household Recipes and Remedies Book’ which are so cleverly put at the beginning of each chapter, often serving as very appropriate indication of the themes to come within the story.

This was a real find for me and a book that I would chose over many best-selling historical novels for its genuine and lovely feel. O’Dowd has written an astonishing debut novel, I have no doubt he will do very well with his writing and hope there will be many more books to come.









Hi Christoph! Thanks for having us over – I’ll be answering on behalf of Dad and I.


How long did this book take you to write?

Dad had the idea for The Scarlet Ribbon years ago but didn’t have the time to write it. He approached me and asked me if I would like to write it, and from there it took a couple of years. Dad plans and plots the books out and I write them. We have a weekly meeting, and talk through the scenes which I then go away and write.


How did you research for it?

Dad is an ObGyn and a medical historian. He put a lot of extra work into research for The Scarlet Ribbon series (we are hoping to write at least three) and then had to explain and re-explain the medicine of it all to me until I could write it in layman’s terms. Quite the challenge, I can tell you, but hugely interesting.


How comfortable do you feel writing about history and medicine? How much did you know before you started writing?

Dad has written about history and medicine before with the text books The History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and The History of Medications for Women. I on the other hand, knew absolutely nothing when I started, but feel much more comfortable writing about it now that I know I can do it.


How difficult was it to draw the balance between research and invention/ imagination?

I think the difficult bit was presenting all the research in a way that seemed natural to the reader rather than bombarding with lots of facts. A difficult thing to do for any historical fiction writer.


Was the storyline pre-determined or did it change during the process?

The storyline was pre-determined. I think when working in collaboration with another person it’s probably absolutely essential to do so. There were small deviations, but on the whole the plan was kept to.


How many rewrites did it take you?

I have put it out of my mind! Ha! We edited as we went along, so a fair few.


What did you find most challenging about this book?

Turning all the medical stuff into something that I could understand and then write for the reader to understand too.


Will there be more books from you? Will they be the in same genre or even about the same characters?

Absolutely. As Derry O’Dowd, Dad and I have at least three in the James Quinn Scarlet Ribbon series. And plenty more ideas too. Medical historical would seem to make sense as Dad has so much knowledge, but we may deviate at some time.

What would you say is the message of this book, or rather, what would you like us to take with us from it?

Ah. It has to be love. Kindness. Compassion.


What are your next projects and where would we be able to hear about them?

We are currently writing the second in the series (as yet it only has a working title). You can find out more at



The Scarlet Ribbon is widely available in bookshops and online in ebook and paperback at

Amazon UK 

Amazon USA 

The History Press Ireland

Find out more at

And visit Katy at


07 Sep 2013

Author Bernice L. Rocque in Lithuania

1 Comment Book Reviews, News



and the author’s visit to Central Europe to connect with her roots there.



THE STORY:  It is 1922. An immigrant family and their devoted midwife struggle to save a tiny premature baby. Inspired by real events in Norwich, Connecticut, this historical fiction novella about determination, family, faith, and friendship includes a story chapter about the family’s Polish and Lithuanian Christmas Eve traditions. Appendices include Author’s Notes about the facts, family history, and research behind the story


More than forty years ago when I was in my teens, I interviewed my grandmother and numerous other relatives about family history. I took a few notes about the 1.5 pound baby born to my grandmother in 1922. It is astounding to me now that I didn’t ask more questions.
In the fall of 2009, my Uncle Tony reminded me about that baby. My uncle is a retired engineer and a naturally curious person and problem solver, much like my father was, and like their grandfather, Nikodimas. Since this event about the baby had some mystery attached to it, my uncle and I became more and more intrigued as we talked.
Since 2004 when I joined the writing group, I had been writing mostly memoir pieces about my immediate family and cousins. I could tell my uncle was hoping I would write a story about this birth, so I offered to try historical fiction if he would serve as an advisor, since he grew up in the 1920s-1930s. He gave me a big smile and said, “Let’s do it.” And so we embarked on this adventure of trying to unravel the mystery and tell the story that “might have happened.”

My Review of the book:

“Until the Robin Walks on Snow” by Bernice L. Rocque grabbed my attention on the historical fiction forums on Goodreads and was intrigued by the Eastern European angle of the story, something that I have researched myself for my own books.
I found the relatively short novel had a lot more to it than Eastern European culture. It is a meticulously researched and detailed account of the winter 1922 and 1923 in Norwhich, Connecticut, during which a group of mainly Lithuanian Immigrants fear for the live of a fragile baby. Antoni is the smallest baby the doctor has ever seen – dead or alive – and his survival is in serious question.
The author describes precisely which steps the family and the doctors take to help the baby survive in the same way as she adds great detail and authenticity to the cultural background of that group: The house they live in, the cooking implements they use, the clothes and fabrics, the religious habits and celebrations – all of this creates an amazing insight and allows the reader to become part of the community and the times.
It is a great challenge to write about one small subject matter such as the birth of a fragile baby. Some authors might have been tempted to fill the book with lots of side plots to keep the reader’s attention but Rocque manages easily to hold the interest and the suspense up.
As a plot driven writer and reader I was surprised to find myself so comfortable in the slow pace which this close up of the family and the surrounding community kept. The Wigilia, a Polish Christmas Eve dinner, the fables told and so much more that is mentioned makes this a well-illustrated and rich feast for the historian and culturally interested.
Right from the beginning when the author gives an introduction, background and her acknowledgements, the writing was already so fascinating and captivating that I was surprised when the actual novel began.
This is well crafted from research to the composition. If you have an interest in this field then “Until the Robin Walks on Snow” is a must read.

THIS IS FROM BERNICE’S WEBSITE  BLR Connections Photo Cropped 4

 For years I have wondered about Lithuania.  What was it like? This Baltic country was the homeland of my immigrant grandmother, Marianna. Two years ago, I promised myself that I would travel there. Fifty years had passed with no communication with relatives.

A month ago, when I stepped onto Lithuanian soil and began to experience this exquisite country, my first impression was that Lithuania felt like home. In researching my trip and experiencing the country first-hand, I learned that Lithuania is a land of geographical contrasts, rich history, and deep traditions. 2013-06-11-14.52.47-Cathedral-Square

A resilient people, the Lithuanians have survived centuries of unwelcome governance by other nations and extreme suffering at the hands of invaders. Remarkably, the Lithuanian people endured, often resisted their oppressors, and somehow protected their language and culture. The first country to break away from the Russian block (1991), their high level of education, respect for the environment, and enterprising nature are moving this spirited nation forward.


While I was visiting Lithuania, a writer friend was visiting Poland, also on an ancestral journey. I smiled when I read her email question to me: could her DNA know?  She described the similar phenomenon  — that surreal sense of being home. Her question has been on my mind since she posed it.

The feeling is somewhat difficult to describe. Calming and peculiar at the same time, this same wash of familiarity had pervaded my trips years ago to Quebec, Montreal, Arizona, and even Alaska. Maybe my DNA somehow recognized French Canada, my mother’s homeland, but why Arizona and Alaska?

I believe part of the answer came less than a year after the trip to Alaska. When I submitted my DNA to National Geographic’s genographic project in 2006, they analyzed my mitochondrial DNA. According to their report, my mother’s mother’s mother’s… people had traveled out of Africa, across the Middle East and Asia, and over the land bridge to the Americas. I was stunned. I expected the diagram to show a path to western Europe. Could this be correct?


Before contacting National Geographic, I called the cousin who had assumed the research on our French Canadian family after I had to let it go due to work demands. She HAD identified the likely ancestor in our family tree, a Native American woman. As it happens, we also have some Native American blood on our Canadian grandfather’s side of the family. So this information provided a possible clue about why an unfamiliar place might feel familiar.

Any rational person might dismiss these “sense of home” impressions, perhaps assigning the experiences to the realm of overactive imagination. As I age, though, I trust my instincts more. They have proven reliable far too frequently to ignore, somehow magically distilling my reservoir of knowledge and life’s experiences, not so unlike the insights that “big data” analyses digitally discover for businesses today. In simpler terms, I also pay more attention to any impression that moves from a single point, to two (a pattern), and then three or more (a trend). Just part of the lessons of business and life.


That being said, my left brain would still like to see science backup my sensory feedback. In every century, science does bring clarity to some of life’s mysteries. So, as I sit here writing this blog, and though emotionally accepting the wisdom of my intuition, my intellectual curiosity is jiggling.  Is there scientific evidence to support this feeling of “being home” in a location you are visiting for the first time? Is there such a thing as genetic memory?

This lingering brain action is normal for me. My cousin, Birute, in Lithuania, had commented that our family has curiosity in its blood. Her observation, shared during my Lithuanian visit, agrees with what I know. Many of my U.S. relatives are/were not just curious occasionally, but skilled problem solvers, perpetually looking for answers to their questions.


My grandmother, Marianna, her father, Nikodimas, and her husband Andrzej all exhibited this attribute during their lives. If you have read my book, UNTIL THE ROBIN WALKS ON SNOW, you are familiar with how they and the midwife did not hesitate to attempt the impossible in 1922 — find a way to save a 1.5 pound newborn. Researching this compelling story helped me to understand why I have consistently chosen to “climb mountains” during my business career. Challenging projects are like a favorite food!

So, my curiosity is fueling my fingertips right now. As someone who was a reference librarian when the internet did not exist, I just marvel at what can be found with only a few key strokes and a little time.

Well, there will be more than I have found so far. But, I have identified a field which appears to be investigating related questions. Epigenetics is a relatively young field of interdisciplinary study. A number of credentialed researchers are examining whether the genetic code of humans and animals is altered by life experiences and then transmitted to offspring, with effects emerging in subsequent generations.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if, in our lifetime, they more fully unravel the breadth of genetic memory?  Will these curious scientists be able to explain eventually that peculiar sense of “coming home” when visiting a land of your heritage?


What do you think?  Have you visited an ancestral country and had the feeling you were home?

Here are a few links if you are curious to read more about Epigenetics and related research.  If you find more great information, please leave a comment.

Key to photos by Bernice L. Rocque.  All rights reserved.

Photo 1:  Cathedral Square, Vilnius, Lithuania (6-11-2013)

Photo 2: The Nemunas River, taken at Vilkija, near Kaunas (6-15-2013)

Photo 3: Historical house at Rumsiskes Open Air Museum, outside Kaunas (6-14-2013)

Photo 4: Forest on the Coronian Spit (Kursiu peninsula) (6-17-2013)

Photo 5: View from Ventes cape toward Curonian Spit (Kursiu peninsula) (6-16-2013)

Photo 6: Giant pine in Palanga (6-18-2013)

 Video link:

05 Sep 2013

Mark Louis Rybczyk: The Travis Club

3 Comments Book Reviews, News



Radio listeners in Dallas/Fort Worth may know Mark Louis Rybczyk better as ‘Hawkeye,’ the long time morning host on heritage country station, 96.3 FM KSCS. An award-winning disc jockey, Mark, along with his partner Terry Dorsey, have the longest-running morning show in Dallas. Mark is an avid skier, windsurfer and traveler. He is also the host of ‘Travel With Hawkeye’ a radio and television adventure feature that airs across the country. The Travis Club is the third book from Mark Louis Rybczyk.

The Plot:

In a cathedral in downtown San Antonio, just a few blocks from the Alamo, sits the tomb of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the other Alamo Defenders. Or so we have been led to believe. What secrets really lie inside the tomb and what has a group of misguided activists known as The Travis Club stumbled upon? How far will the city’s power brokers go to protect those secrets?

What would happen if a group of slackers discovered San Antonio’s DaVinci Code? Find out in the new book by Mark Louis Rybczyk, The Travis Club.


 Mark card_217902601

















How did you come up with the idea for your book?

In the mid 1980’s when I just out of college, I was living in San Antonio starting my career as a morning radio host. One weekend morning, I was riding my bike through historic Fort Sam Houston, an Army post situated in the middle of the city.

I’m one of those kind of guys that stops and reads every historical marker and that morning I must have run into about 10 of them. Little did I know that Dwight D Eisenhower was once stationed there and met his wife while coaching football a local university. Or the the first military flight occurred on the the parade ground with a plane purchased from the Wright Brothers.

On my ride home, I decided to write a historical guide book to San Antonio. I figured there were enough stories that, by themselves would not merit an entire book, but all together would be an interesting read.

It took me three years to write. In 1990, I published my first book, San Antonio Uncovered. The book was a local best seller and sold 5 printings and 2 editions. It was this book that gave me the idea to write my current novel The Travis Club.

The Travis Club features many of the odd, funny and hard to believe stories that seem to be so prevalent in San Antonio including the fact that there is a tomb in the back of the nation’s oldest cathedral that supposedly holds the remains of Davy Crockett and other Alamo defenders. Even today, the church is not sure about the validity of the remains. I thought it would be fun to create a Da Vinci Code type story about the tomb and weave thru it the history and quirkiness of on of this nations oldest and most unique cities.

Are you like any of the characters?

I have been accused by many of my family and friends of being a bit too similar to the main character Taylor Nichols. I will concede that there are many similarities.

What else would you like our readers to know about yourself?

I would like to point out to other writers how much trouble I had getting this book into print and how important it is to be persistent. I first wrote this book and tried to get it published over ten years ago. I ended up putting it on a shelf and started other projects. I finally pulled it off the shelf and reread the entire work. Because so much time had passed and I wasn’t as emotionally attached to the original, I was able to edit the book down, cutting out not essential parts that didn’t contribute to the plot.

Next, I hired and editor to look over the project. Those were the best two things I ever did.

The self editing made the book so much better. The professional editor made the book so much more polished.

The third thing I did was decide to self publish. I decided to wait a few years for self publishing to get better established. I’m glad I waited and I’m glad I self published. The timing was right. I have been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming positive reaction from readers. I have received quite a few reviews on and most have been between 4 and 5 stars.

You are never really sure what the public will think about your book until it is published. It has been an exciting time for me.

Are there any changes you would have made to your book?

After it was published, I wish I would have made one extremely minor change. I told my wife about it and she said I was nitpicking, so I stopped worrying about it. Your book will never be perfect, you will always wish you made changes.

One thing I added to the book that no one ever seems to get is the metaphor of the main characters cat. The cat is always trying to get outside to mark his territory, not unlike the main characters of the book, who also mark their territory by appointing themselves the protectors of the San Antonio’s historic treasures. I can honestly say that no one has ever picked up on that metaphor. Next time I won’t try to be so clever.

Will there be more/ a sequel?

I am hoping to write a sequel perhaps a trilogy. Many of the reviewers have mentioned that they would like to see more from the main characters and the other members of the Travis Club. I am excited that people have become so invested in my characters and I want to take it to the next level

I would also like to to write a tour of the places that are mentioned in the book and where to find them in San Antonio. I probably will post them in my blog


Website | Metroplexing | San  Antonio Uncovered | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads





One paperback copy of The Travis Club.










Publisher: Self Published


Genre: Mystery


Release Date: June 17, 2013






Excerpt One Short:




Chapter 1




Noel Black sharpened a pencil and placed it neatly back in the top drawer of his glass-topped


desk, right next to the other sharpened pencils. He glanced at the clock then straightened a few


paper clips and a calculator on the stark, polished surface.


11:08 p.m.


He knew he’d be leaving soon. So important to stay on schedule. Especially on a night like


tonight, when a life would come to an end.


Among the abstract paintings of his office was one unframed black and white print. A picture


of her. Not a picture of sentiment, but simply of record. A photo that would soon belong in a file.


Black fingered the yellowed photograph and could not help but think of childhood visits to


his mother’s father, his abuelo. He remembered spending the hot San Antonio summers at a


rickety west-side duplex much different than his parents’ ranch house in Dallas. Abuelo’s home


was filled with people, music, food and love.


As a child, Black would spend summer afternoons within earshot of the front window,


waiting for the rumble of his grandfather’s old diesel engine. Then the home would fill with


other workers, workers who were grateful to the old lady. All immigrants, they had left Mexico


hoping for a better life. The old lady offered them higher wages than the pecan shellers received.


With the promise of steady income came the chance to move into a house with plumbing, to send


money home, and to send for other relatives. His grandfather loved the old lady and he did too.


More recently, Noel Black’s feelings about her had changed. She was a relic, an icon of a


past era. Now in her final years of the 20th century, the old lady had outlived her usefulness and


had no place in the modern San Antonio that he envisioned. She was in his way. She needed to


be eliminated.


Of course, this kind of work had to be contracted out. He usually relied on a local contact


who understood the procedures. Anytime a life was extinguished, it must be done with precision


in Noel Black’s world.




Excerpt Two Long:




Chapter 1




Noel Black sharpened a pencil and placed it neatly back in the top drawer of his glass-topped


desk, right next to the other sharpened pencils. He glanced at the clock then straightened a few


paper clips and a calculator on the stark, polished surface.


11:08 p.m.


He knew he’d be leaving soon. So important to stay on schedule. Especially on a night like


tonight, when a life would come to an end.


Among the abstract paintings of his office was one unframed black and white print. A picture


of her. Not a picture of sentiment, but simply of record. A photo that would soon belong in a file.


Black fingered the yellowed photograph and could not help but think of childhood visits to


his mother’s father, his abuelo. He remembered spending the hot San Antonio summers at a


rickety west-side duplex much different than his parents’ ranch house in Dallas. Abuelo’s home


was filled with people, music, food and love.


As a child, Black would spend summer afternoons within earshot of the front window,


waiting for the rumble of his grandfather’s old diesel engine. Then the home would fill with


other workers, workers who were grateful to the old lady. All immigrants, they had left Mexico


hoping for a better life. The old lady offered them higher wages than the pecan shellers received.


With the promise of steady income came the chance to move into a house with plumbing, to send


money home, and to send for other relatives. His grandfather loved the old lady and he did too.


More recently, Noel Black’s feelings about her had changed. She was a relic, an icon of a


past era. Now in her final years of the 20th century, the old lady had outlived her usefulness and


had no place in the modern San Antonio that he envisioned. She was in his way. She needed to


be eliminated.


Of course, this kind of work had to be contracted out. He usually relied on a local contact


who understood the procedures. Anytime a life was extinguished, it must be done with precision


in Noel Black’s world.


11:22 p.m.


38 minutes to show time. His instructions were explicit: action not to be taken until midnight.


Not a second sooner. Not a moment later.


He locked the glass door behind him and walked briskly to his polished black BMW. He


knew that he should stay and wait for a call. But tonight, waiting was too difficult.


11:37 p.m.


He eased the perfectly waxed sedan through the streets of downtown and into the fringes of


the west side. “This land is way too valuable,” he mumbled aloud. He slowed down and parked


across the street, hoping to be inconspicuous, even though he knew that a European sedan was


about as common in this South Texas barrio as a snowball.


“Just a quick look,” he told himself.


He caught the eye of a shadowy figure in a black hooded sweatshirt. It was one of the locals


he had hired to complete the job. Black flashed back the mal ojo, the evil eye. He knew he


shouldn’t have come. But deep inside he needed to see her one last time, not to pay his respects,


but to make sure the job was done right.


11:46 p.m.


He started up his engine and allowed his eyes one final glance at her. It was one time too


many. Immediately, he noticed something amiss. A glint behind a window pane that made him


realize someone must have been tipped off.


He felt a rock in his stomach. He knew there would be trouble.




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