Getting to know Neil S. Plakcy #author #mystery #romance #LGBTQ+ #historical #thrillers #books

Please help me welcome my guest author today, Neil S. Plakcy! Let’s take a peek at his bio and then find out more his writing process and inspiration.

Neil Plakcy has written or edited over three dozen novels and short stories in mystery, romance and erotica. His golden retriever mystery series was inspired by his first golden, Samwise. Long walks with his current goldens give him plenty of time to think up new crimes and solutions—and Brody and Griffin provide love, entertainment, and endless piles of fur on the floor.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook * BookBub

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Neil: I grew up along the Delaware Canal in southeastern Pennsylvania, and so much of the area’s history was all around me as a kid. I wanted to explore what life was like along the canal toward the end of its era.

Betty: What, if any, new writing skill did you develop while working on this story?

Neil: I realized that just because I thought something was “historic,” it didn’t automatically make it from the period I was writing about. So perhaps I enhanced my research skills.

Betty: Did you struggle with any part of this story? What and how?

Neil: I originally saw this as a two-book series. One set of characters would fall in love and discover a murder, while in the second book a new pair would find romance together and solve the crime. But that kind of cliffhanger just didn’t work, and I realized that I didn’t know enough about the second pair to build a whole novel around them.

Betty: Which character(s) were the easiest to get to know? Why do you think?

Neil: The easiest for me was the lock-keeper, Isaac Evans. I grew up around Quakers and learned a lot about their religion as a kid. I made him smart and bookish, like me, and all that helped me get to know him.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Neil: I had to do a deep dive into 1872, the time of the story, as the canal was fading from prominence and freed slaves were coming north. I also researched my hometown’s history—for example, learning that there was a small Black community there which still thrives.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Neil: I wrote the draft of book 1 of the two-book series, and wasn’t happy with the ending. So I tacked on another hundred pages solving the crime, then had to go back and slim the whole book down, focusing on the two romances. Then a third draft to polish and prepare for my editor, and then a fourth draft cleaning up any errors she found.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Neil: It was a quicker process than usual for me because I was isolated during Covid. For part of that time I was on a sabbatical from teaching, and then later I was teaching online. So I had more time to focus on the book.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Neil: Pre-pandemic, I went to Starbucks every morning to write for an hour before work and reward myself with a café mocha. I trained my brain that when I settled in at that table, I was there to write. When everything shut down I had to buy a coffee maker and become my own barista. I have to fight with more distractions now, but I still sit at a table and write every morning, with a venti café mocha by my side.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Neil: A little and really are my writing tics. I always do a last minute run through for those before I send off to my editor.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Neil: I have three: Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac and Jimmy Buffett. I appreciate all of them for their prose, but also for the lifestyles they represent. I want to be an adventurer—even if it’s only in my head!

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Neil: As I’ve said, it used to be Starbucks. Now it’s my kitchen table for writing and revising. I read in bed on my Kindle, for the most part.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Neil: I will be retiring from twenty years as a college English professor this summer. While I relish having more time to write, I think I will miss the contact with students and colleagues. Many of those I work with are creative writers and we share a lot about writing.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Neil: Readers enjoy and relate to my characters. My best-selling series is about a guy and his golden retriever who solve crimes, and people sure do love that dog, and tell me they think of his human as their friend. I also pioneered writing a mystery series about a gay Honolulu homicide detective in which his coming-out process mirrors the crimes he investigates, and I’m proud of winning awards for that.

Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?

Neil: I have an equal love for crime fiction and light-hearted or low-angst romance. And those are the genres I enjoy writing the most, too.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Neil: For years, I’ve wanted to be able to support myself with my fiction, which I’m finally able to do. And the second part of success is reaching readers, and hearing back from them how much they have enjoyed my books.

Can two broken men heal each other?

In the aftermath of a failed love, Isaac Evans drops out of college and flees Philadelphia for a lock-keeper’s job on the Delaware Canal in rural Pennsylvania, where he pursues a life of Thoreau-driven solitude.

Prussian immigrant Lenert Tessmer trudges along the canal towpath in good and bad weather, hobbled by his dialect which prevents him from connecting with others. Then Lenert breaks his leg, and Isaac’s Quaker beliefs force him to offer a place where Lenert can recover.

Slowly, these two broken men find solace and healing in each other. But with railroads replacing the canal and narrow-minded outsiders who threaten their country idyll, Isaac and Lenert will have to face their deepest fears to develop a love that will endure.

Fans of MM historical romance will appreciate a fascinating time period, filled with unique details and a vibrant location, and a focus on the lives of working-class men in the 19th century who dare to love other men. This historical MM romance set in a small town in rural Pennsylvania in 1872 has a hurt/comfort theme.

Buy Links: Amazon * Books2Read

I love a good historical story, especially ones set in unusual places and times. Thanks for sharing, Neil!

Happy reading!

Betty

Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories

Visit www.bettybolte.com for a complete list of my books and appearances.

Subscribe to My Newsletter to learn the inside scoop about releases and more!

Impressions of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

I’ve finished reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. If you missed my initial thoughts, you may want to hop over there to read that post first. Let me just say how much I enjoyed reading this story. It’s a kind of gothic mystery, murder mystery, historical, blended with a coming of age romance of sorts. There’s a lot going on, with lots of red herrings and mysterious doings sprinkled throughout.

The use of the key elements of gothic tales really creates the atmosphere of this story. Not only the large, shadowy spaces featured throughout. There are fallen angels pointing accusingly toward one of those immense buildings, angels made of concrete who outlive the symbol of power and money as it is abandoned by the rich family and falls into ruin. You’ll find disfigured people, too. Strangers who become friends who find out they don’t really know each other as well as they’d thought, or hoped. Families that break apart, and some that come back together. Freaky weather—unusual rain, flooding, and snow, for example—lends an unsettled air to the tale.

One strong thread throughout this entertaining and intriguing story is that of the power of friendship and family. True, not every friendship and family survives the throes of this tale of the 20th century. The ones that do are forged in fire to withstand anything going forward, though. I particularly enjoyed and appreciated the friendship between Fermin and Daniel, Fermin acting as a kind of unreliable mentor at times but with a heart of gold. Daniel grows throughout the story both in size and maturity.

Zafon’s story is memorable and engaging, one I think is worth reading. Some of the descriptions (metaphors, similes, etc.) were a bit flowery for my taste. Not to say any of the writing was bad! Not at all. I wonder though if the somewhat exaggerated (?) terms is because of the translation from Spanish (a romantic language) into English (more a Germanic based language). Someone else will have to determine the answer to my question, since I don’t know Spanish and of course don’t have the Spanish edition to compare to even if I did.

Zafon also created unique and individualistic characters to have to work together, or against each other, in order to help solve or confuse the puzzle Daniel and Fermin are trying to solve. Corrupt police. Killers. Librarians. Booksellers. Housewives. Mothers. Girlfriends. Guy friends. Shady people working in cahoots with the corrupt police. It’s quite a fun mix.

I hope you’ll give this book a chance. I think it was definitely worth reading, which explains the well-worn covers and pages!

I’m going to take a little break from this tour of historical fiction because I’ll be having surgery and treatments for breast cancer over the next few weeks. I don’t expect to have a post next week because the surgery is this Friday. I’ll get back into the swing of it in a week or two, and will most likely start telling you more about my upcoming releases in July and August. But I will swing back to this series because you all seem to be enjoying it as much as me! And I’m learning more and more about nuances to writing from different countries.

Have you ready Becoming Lady Washington yet? If not, in honor of her June 2 birthday, it’s on sale through the end of June 2022. Think of it as a fictionalized autobiography of her life, from when presented to society until she died. I hope you enjoy it!

Until next time, happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

On sale for only $1.99 for a limited time!

Patsy Custis manages a large 18th-century plantation in Virginia but as a widow she struggles to balance her business with caring for two young children. When Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her, her life veers in an unexpected direction. But when trouble in the form of British oppression leads to revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, she must decide whether to stay home or follow her heart into a dangerous future.

Books2Read     Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Kobo     Apple     Google Books     Bookshop

Introducing Antonio Sarvilli, inadvertent hero of Trapped by the Mob by Tami Lund

#author #romcom #suspense #paranormal #mafia #fiction #books #mustread #romance

I have a special treat for you all today. We get to chat with a financial planner (sort of) from Trapped by the Mob by Tami Lund. Please help me welcome Antonio Sarvilli! First a very quick peek at Tami’s bio and then we’ll see what Antonio has to say…

Romcom. Mafia. Suspense. Shifters. Vampires. Demons. Dragons. Witches. And more. Tami Lund writes it all. With wine.

Author Social Links: Facebook * BookBub * Instagram

Betty: How would you describe your parents?

Antonio: *rubs back of head* Wow, you start with a whopper of an interview question, don’t you? Not exactly my favorite subject. There’s a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda when it comes to my parents… I suppose I’d describe them as never satisfied. Christ, that sounds like a Prince song. But it’s true. They moved to America from Italy, searching for that elusive American Dream, but they never found it and died poorer than before they made that decision. The worst part is, my brother and I, we found the underground version of that American Dream. Running a mafia business is most definitely lucrative. 

Betty: What do you think is your greatest failure? Why?

Antonio: Damn, there’s another powerful question. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re in cahoots with that annoying cop, Detective Proctor. Did you know he thinks I’m just a lay about who constantly mooches money off my brother, the mafia king? Guy has no freaking clue I’m the one who’s grown Gino’s empire so big, there’s no possible way he could spend all that money in a single lifetime. Which, I suppose, takes us back to my greatest failure. Yeah, my greatest accomplishment is my greatest failure. That’s what happens when you start regretting your involvement with the mob, I guess.

Betty: What is the most wonderful thing that has happened to you?

Antonio: This is gonna sound weird, but meeting Phoebe Cavanaugh is definitely the most wonderful thing to have ever happened to me. It’s weird because all I was supposed to do was keep an eye on her, make sure she didn’t cause trouble for my brother. Instead, I… well, I don’t wanna use the l-o-v-e word, but let’s just say… I’m crazy about her. Which sucks because, as wonderful as that is, I can’t let it go anywhere. No way am I pulling her into this messed up world I live in. And since I can’t get out…

Betty: If you could change the past, what would you change?

Antonio: *Snort* That’s an easy one. I never would have let my brother bully me into becoming his financial planner. Man, what I wouldn’t give to be just another working shmuck. Trust me, money really doesn’t buy happiness. Plenty of heartache, though.

Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?

Antonio: Pushing my brother too far and ending up wearing cement shoes at the bottom of the Detroit River. And no one knows that fear, except, of course, my brother. And you, now. But you know better than to talk to anyone about this interview, right? Crap, interview… you aren’t planning to publish this, are you? That whole cement shoes scenario could become reality. Can you at least change my name or something?

Betty: What’s your favorite game to play?

Antonio: Cat and mouse with my brother, the mafia king. Just kidding. I hate that game.

Betty: Do you have a favorite sibling? Who?

Antonio: I have one sibling, Gino Sarvilli, leader of the Detroit mafia, and he’s definitely not my favorite.

Betty: If you could live anywhere, where would you live?

Antonio: Wherever Gino couldn’t get to me. And I’d take Phoebe with me. And maybe Gino’s ex-wife, Margot, and my niece, Nina, because they are good people who got a raw deal and don’t deserve to be under Gino’s thumb.

Betty: How do you like to relax?

Antonio: Before all this mess with Phoebe and my brother and Margot started, I liked to hop into my boat and cruise around the lake. So relaxing. Now, pretty much anything I do with Phoebe is relaxing. Well, when we aren’t trying to hide out from my brother, I suppose. So yeah, I’m not getting much relaxation time these days.

Betty: What genre of books do you most enjoy reading?

Antonio: Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I love a good romance. They’re kinda sexy, y’know? Plus, it’s great fodder for figuring out what women really want. Act like a romance hero, and you’re in, know what I mean?

Sure, Antonio Sarvilli is the money man behind his brother’s criminal empire, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. He’s not the one out there killing people. All he does is make greenbacks and enjoy the fruits of his labor.

That attitude changes when his brother assigns him to get to know Phoebe Cavanaugh, a Good Samaritan who witnessed something she wasn’t supposed to.

Now, all Antonio wants is to get out so he can be with Phoebe.

Except that’s not how it works when you’re related to the mob.

Buy Links: Books2Read

Yikes, Antonio! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you find a safe passage out of your current situation. Be sure to thank Tami for giving you a few minutes away from your job to chat with us, too!

Happy reading!

Betty

Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories

Visit www.bettybolte.com for a complete list of my books and appearances.

Subscribe to My Newsletter to learn the inside scoop about releases and more!

Initial Thoughts about The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

I’ve started reading the next book on my Historical Fiction (Authors) Around the World tour which is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The story is set in Barcelona, Spain, and Zafon included a map of the area where the story takes place. That helped me have a better sense of relationships and distances, too. That’s the only extra material included in the book but it’s useful. He uses some Spanish terms as well, which aren’t defined anywhere so I’m just skimming over them most of the time. Sometimes I can sort of tell what they mean, but not always.

This story is 487 pages long in the paperback edition I’m reading. I’m only on page 98, so I’ll just say that I’m intrigued by the story. It’s written with a gothic flare that I really appreciate and enjoy. Lots of large, shadowy spaces and mysterious people coming and going, threatening and sometimes harming. Including a special library that is called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It doesn’t hurt that Barcelona is a “foreign” place to me which adds to the sense of mystique of the setting.

Zafon apparently wrote the story in Spanish and then Lucia Graves translated it into English. The language of the story is very elegant and flows along like a calm river. I cannot do the phrasing justice in this short post, but if you pick up a copy for yourself you will soon see what I mean. I can give you a snippet, though. “Six years later my mother’s absence remained in the air around us, a deafening silence that I had not yet learned to stifle with words.” So much is contained in that description of how the youth felt about the loss of his mother that it’s difficult to fully explain. Indeed, I almost feel like if I were to try it would spoil the effect, the atmosphere of the narrative.

The story is told from the first person perspective of a boy grieving for his dead mother. I am not a huge fan of first person stories, but Zafon and Graves have done an excellent job of making the story enjoyable (to me) despite that. I have the impression that the story is being told in retrospect despite being in first person, much like how I told the story of Martha Washington. Becoming Lady Washington is the only story I’ve ever published written in first person past tense. I have the same sense in Zafon’s story of retelling a personal history.

I’ll see if I can finish the book over the next week so I can tell you more about what impresses me about the story and the writing. I’m sure there is more to come on that score!

Be sure to take advantage of the sale on Becoming Lady Washington below, in honor of her June 2 birthday.

Until next time, happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

On sale for only $1.99 for a limited time!

Patsy Custis manages a large 18th-century plantation in Virginia but as a widow she struggles to balance her business with caring for two young children. When Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her, her life veers in an unexpected direction. But when trouble in the form of British oppression leads to revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, she must decide whether to stay home or follow her heart into a dangerous future.

Books2Read     Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Kobo     Apple     Google Books     Bookshop

Getting to know Charlie Cochrane #author #mystery #historical #romance #series #books #fiction #amreading #amwriting

My guest author today is coming to us from “across the pond” so I hope you’ll help me give her a warm welcome! Let’s get to know more about author Charlie Cochrane and her writing, first with a peek at her bio and then on to the questions.

Because Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes both romances and mysteries, including the Edwardian-era Cambridge Fellows series, and the contemporary Lindenshaw Mysteries. Multi-published, she has titles with Carina, Riptide, Lume and Bold Strokes, among others.

A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People and International Thriller Writers Inc, Charlie regularly appears at book festivals and at reader and author conferences.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Charlie: Lock, Stock and Peril is the latest book in the Lindenshaw Mysteries series and is inspired by life during lockdown: the extra stresses, the different kind of existence and how that might ultimately turn murderous. The whole series, however, was originally inspired by the TV series Midsomer Murders. I kept thinking how cool it might be to have a similar series set in leafy England but with a gay detective. such thing existed, so I wrote it, making sure the detective fell in love with one of the key witnesses. One who owned a big, adorable, Newfoundland dog.

Betty: What, if any, new writing skill did you develop while working on this story?

Charlie: Nothing new in particular, this time, although I firmly believe that with every new book you produce, you hone your skills and become a better writer. I can confess to one new bad habit I acquired, though: my editor always spots words I overuse and having managed to cut down on the usual ones, I’d only gone and picked up some new ones without realising. 😊

Betty: Did you struggle with any part of this story? What and how?

Charlie: Bizarrely, it was remembering exactly which lockdown rules applied when. There’s quite a gap for an author between first draft and final set of edits so I had to rely heavily on a) notes b) memory and when all else failed c) scrolling back through the government website. Isn’t it odd how something that seemed so constricting at the time passed so quickly out of our brains?

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Charlie: PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) became my new best friend at one time, when I wanted to make sure I’d got the police rules right at a couple of key places in the story. I also tried to incorporate what I’d learned at the 2020 Portsmouth Mysteryfest where our keynote speaker took us through the latest advice for conducting police interviews. She made a point of saying how unrealistic TV police dramas are so I wanted to get closer to depicting the real thing.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Charlie: My usual two. I always produce a pretty good first draft and then bash it about until it’s polished enough to submit to the publisher. Which is where my editor comes along with her virtual red pen and, after much toing and froing, we’re several versions later and have something fit to see the light of day among readers.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Charlie: Very few, apart from going off and doing something mindless – like cleaning the kitchen floor – when I need to get a plot point clear in my mind. It always works, probably because it taps into the subconscious, which is very powerful and underused. I remember reading a book about inventors (and similar) which said many of them got their lightbulb moment while doing a repetitive physical task. It probably frees the rest of the mind.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Charlie: In my first draft, no matter how hard I try, the usual suspects creep in too often. Just. Look. More. Even. I hang my head in shame at how many of these little so-and-so’s manage to make it into the second draft. The newest addition to that list was simply, which kept appearing in the first draft of Lock, Stock and Peril – possibly as a replacement for just. (That sound is my eyes rolling at myself.)

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Charlie: How much time have we got? Mary Renault, because of her beautiful economy of words – she could say more in a sentence than some folk do in an entire page. Agatha Christie, because of her plots and the wonderful way she re-used the same idea (and made fun of herself for doing that in depicting her alter ego, Ariadne Oliver.) Michael Gilbert, for producing the amateur detective Henry Bohun and Shakespeare…for being Shakespeare.

Betty:  Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Charlie: I can write just about anywhere so long as I’m comfy. I usually work on a PC or laptop but if inspiration strikes then jotting notes on paper/phone/anything to hand has to be done, even if that’s while I’m sitting in the dentist’s waiting room. In terms of reading, I prefer to do that in bed or in the bath and I need quiet both for maximum enjoyment and for maximum concentration, as I read a lot of mysteries and don’t want to miss an important clue. 

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Charlie: I’m retired from everything but writing. Well, in a paid capacity, anyway, because I chair the board of a small charity. I used to do freelance training of school governors, helping them with things like recruiting new headteachers, and many of the experiences I had doing that have sneaked their way into the Lindenshaw and other books.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Charlie: I think if I was a normal author, I’d say having a book reach number one in its genre on Amazon. But as I’m me, I feel prouder of two things: having an author I greatly respect telling me they like my characters and using the loo at the house of a multi-million selling novelist (long story, involving somehow getting invited to a meeting of crime writers during which I sat thinking, “How the heck have I ended up here?”)

Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?

Charlie: Cosy mysteries, especially those written at the end of the nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth. They used to be quite hard to get hold of unless you scoured second-hand bookshops but there’s been a spate of republishing old novels and short stories, for example in the British Library collection. An absolute Godsend for readers like me.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Charlie: Wow, there’s a question. I think, for me, success is defined primarily by people’s reaction to my stories. When you have readers emailing you to say your novels have helped them through bereavement, or to cope with another equally hard aspect of their lives, then what more fulfilment can you want?

They may be locked down but this case isn’t.

Lockdown is stressful enough for Chief Inspector Robin Bright. Then a murder makes this strange time even stranger. In one of Kinechester’s most upmarket areas, the body of Ellen, a brilliant but enigmatic recluse, has lain undiscovered for days. Pinning down the time—and date—of death will be difficult, but finding a killer during unprecedented times could prove impossible.

Adam Matthew’s focus on his pupils is shaken when a teaching assistant reveals his godmother has been murdered. Keen to avoid involvement, Adam does his best to maintain a distance from his husband, Robin’s, case, but when it keeps creeping up, Adam lends his incisive mind to the clues again.

Between Robin trying to understand the complex victim and picking his way through a mess of facts, half truths, and downright lies from witnesses desperate to cover up their own rule-breaking, he realises this could be the cold case that stains his career and forever haunts a community. And when it looks like the virus has struck Adam, Robin’s torn between duty and love.

Buy Links: RiptidePublishing

I wondered how long it would take for authors to write about life during the pandemic. There’s my answer! Thanks for sharing your story with us, Charlie!

Happy reading!

Betty

Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories

Visit www.bettybolte.com for a complete list of my books and appearances.

Subscribe to My Newsletter to learn the inside scoop about releases and more!

Follow Me on Amazon / Facebook / Twitter

My Impressions of The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

If you enjoy mysteries set in the art and chess worlds, you’ll enjoy The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. If you haven’t read my Initial Thoughts on this book, please take a moment to do so before continuing with this post.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this author’s elegant writing. His descriptions are so poetic and vivid. Dialog flows and reveals much about each uniquely crafted character. Yet he has woven a mystery into this sometimes shocking (to me, at least) depiction of life in Madrid in 1990 (I think that may be the timeframe of this story after reading the entire book). I have never been to Spain, so don’t really have a frame of reference for the locations mentioned in the story.

The mystery stemming from a hidden inscription on a painting called The Chess Game involves reverse playing the game depicted on the chess board. Now, I have played chess in the past but I am not a very strong player. One surprise in this ebook (borrowed via Hoopla from my local library) was the number of illustrations, specifically of the chess board and the location of the pieces being mentioned in the story. That helped me to understand the moves and decisions the players were having to make. (It also made me realize I can add some more illustrations into my own books, but that’s another story entirely!)

Each of the individual characters were distinct and memorable. Some I loved to hate, some were edgy, some were funny, and the main character, Julia, seemed like she’d make a very good friend. She’s smart, loyal, trusting until that trust is broken. Some of the characters I’d avoid in real life because you simply cannot trust them. Which ones are which, you’ll have decide for yourself.

Another interesting aspect of this author’s story is that the ending is rather open-ended. The reader is left to decide how they envision what the characters will do next. The author does provide the options they are faced with but not their final decisions. It’s left me debating, knowing the characteristics of the individuals involved, what path they’d choose. It gives the reader the power to choose the ending they’d prefer. Curious, isn’t it? Authors don’t typically hand over that power to the reader, most preferring to definitively end the story. I don’t know if this is a common technique from authors in Spain or that general region, or particular to this author. I’m also unsure whether I could pull off the same sort of ending as effectively as Pérez-Reverte has done.

One other thing I’ll mention about reading this book. I borrowed it from the library as a digital book available via Hoopla. I read it on the app on my iPad. I must confess I’d much prefer to read the actual paperback. I couldn’t resize the tiny text to something just a little bit larger so it was harder to read than an actual paperback I could hold in my hands. The iPad is also slimmer, so for me it was tiring to hold. I ended up propping the device on a small pillow to “hold” it so I didn’t have to.

So next up on my Historical Fiction (Authors) Around the World tour is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Zafon is another author from Spain, so maybe I’ll find answers to my questions above. And it’s an actual paperback, too!

Check out the sale on Becoming Lady Washington below, in honor of her June 2 birthday.

Until next time, happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

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Patsy Custis manages a large 18th-century plantation in Virginia but as a widow she struggles to balance her business with caring for two young children. When Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her, her life veers in an unexpected direction. But when trouble in the form of British oppression leads to revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, she must decide whether to stay home or follow her heart into a dangerous future.

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Initial Thoughts on The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

I’ve begun reading the next book in my Historical Fiction Around the World tour of historical fiction authors, which is The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. This book is translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa, an award-winning translator. The setting is Madrid, Spain and the original book was published in 1990; the edition I’m reading was published in 2004. I’m about 40% through the digital book via Hoopla. I haven’t had as much time to read over the last week because of some travel to two cities over the last week. But I’m back home and will get back to my normal rhythm and routine for the next month at least.

In trying to determine whether this story is actually historical fiction, I considered the premise of the fact that it involves a “five-hundred-year-old murder,” one which is alluded to in a 1471 painting, The Chess Game, created a few years after the actual killing. So, 500 years after 1471 would be 1971, and the book was first published in 1990. The “definition” of historical settings is anything at least 50 years before the time of writing and/or publication. So while the story is all about solving an historical murder mystery, I’m hesitant to call the story itself historical fiction.

The main female character, Julia, is apparently living in contemporary times and is an art restorer working on restoring The Chess Game. Even if we assume she is living in 1971, the book was published in 1990 which is 19 years after the time in which the character is living. It’s also only 32 years earlier than our present time. See, I just can’t make the historical fiction claim work. That said, it’s a fascinating story and a murder mystery too boot!

I’m thoroughly enjoying the vividly unique characters as well as the sleuthing into the mystery encapsulated in the painting. I feel like I’m being educated on art analysis at the same time as learning how to determine previous chess moves based on the current placement of the pieces. I didn’t even know that was possible, so it’s intriguing to me. I’ve played chess in the past but I would not call myself a chess player. I prefer checkers…

The tone of the story enhances the rather dark atmosphere of the art world, too. I think Pérez-Reverte has a great story going and I’m anxious to find out more about what’s going to happen and to whom.

Until next time, happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

On sale for only $1.99 (ebook)!

Amy Abernathy is a woman renowned for her storytelling prowess but even she cannot invent a sound reason for her suitor’s inexplicable actions. She picks up the shreds of her heart and endeavors to forget him, until he suddenly appears without any fanfare or explanation.

Benjamin Hanson returns to make amends with his captivating Amy. While he knows she’s upset with him, he also knows she’ll eventually forgive him and agree to marry him. But marriage has to wait until after he’s finished spying for the Americans against the British during the war.

When he discovers her and a friend—along with a precious gem—missing from her sister’s home, he finds them in the hands of desperate renegade soldiers. Can he protect the women, the gem, and his heart before it’s too late?

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Meet Captain James Hook, notorious pirate of the Neverland #fairytale #fiction #PeterPan #CaptainHook #amreading #mustread #novels

Buckle your britches, here comes Captain Hook! He’s here to tell us more about author Andrea Jones’ story about his life and times. First, let’s get to know more about Andrea, and then Captain Hook will take it away…

Andrea Jones, author of the Hook & Jill Saga – Novels of Neverland, for grown-ups.

Author Andrea Jones questions the fairy-tale premise of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan story: is it truly desirable to remain a child, or is it a greater adventure, after all, to grow up? Jones enthralls us with her award-winning literary series, the Hook & Jill Saga. As a “pirate author,” Jones breaks the rules, and her stories leave readers rethinking convention.

The first three books of the Hook & Jill Saga ─ Hook & Jill, Other Oceans, and Other Islands ─ won numerous literary awards and the hearts of their many readers. Within these novels, Jones deepens and explores Barrie’s famous and infamous characters, and re-imagines the Neverland for grown-up readers who long to return there. Jones is currently composing book four, The Wider World. Five books are charted for this series.

Jones graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied Oral Interpretation of Literature, with a Literature minor. In her earlier career in television production, she worked in PBS, CBS, and corporate studios. Jones is known around the world as “Capitana Red-Hand” of Under the Black Flag, a web-based pirate brotherhood.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

Betty: How would you describe your parents?

Captain James Hook: My murderous father, and my cheat of a mother? He was handsome and aristocratic. She was vibrant, and corrupt in a very charming manner, and I adored her. Until their fatal day, they were discreet in front of the servants. But I assure you, there was nothing I didn’t hear.

Betty: Who taught you to tie your shoes?

Captain James Hook: A nursemaid, naturally. Since my unfortunate injury, however, Mr. Smee performs these little tasks for me. He is, quite literally, my right-hand man.

Betty: Do you know how to swim? How did you learn, if so?

Captain James Hook: One doesn’t bother with such a trifle until one adopts a life upon the sea, although many a sailor fails to learn, and many a sailor drowns. Of course, once Pan’s damage was done, leaving me maimed and single-handed, I had to relearn everything. I endured terrible pain, for a very long time. Before the insolent boy’s interference, I was a master swordsman. Do you think it was easy to regain my skill? I couldn’t wield a spoon, let alone a cutlass! By the time I was able to scrawl my signature, even my name had changed. To remain afloat upon a sea of turmoil, aye, this is a skill I was forced to refine, or die.

Betty: What do you think is your greatest failure? Why?

Captain James Hook: For too long, I failed to grasp that my existence is dictated by my Storyteller. I strove in vain to win on my own terms, while all along it was she – “the Wendy” – who narrated my failures and my successes. Once I understood her power, I moved to take her under my control. Alas for all the time spent fighting the boy, when I should have pursued the girl. And yet, those years of struggle make the taste of my victory all the sweeter to the tongue.

Betty: What is the most wonderful thing that has happened to you?

Captain James Hook: I shan’t give the ending away, but I can attest that to possess a woman whose soul encompasses my own is the most exhilarating discovery a man of spirit can experience.

Betty: If you could change the past, what would you change?

Captain James Hook: Not one thing. I have arrived, after years of striving, at a place of perfection. It will not last. In the world of piracy I inhabit, it cannot last. Yet my legend will abide, and I shall die with the satisfaction of having truly lived.

Betty: What is your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?

Captain James Hook:  I flinch at nothing but the sight of my own blood. For this reason, the threat of the Crocodile looms ever at my back. Since that fateful day that Pan fed my right hand to the monster, the beast sniffs about the island of Neverland, seeking to devour the rest of me. The men of my crew are aware of my dilemma, as is the Wendy, who, attempting to inflict a weakness upon the “villain” of her tale, dictated this hitch’s existence along with my story. I contrived to make the Croc swallow a clock, which instrument ticks warning of its coming. When the beast and its ticking approach, I seize the nearest weapon, and launch my attack.

Betty: How do you like to relax?

Captain James Hook: Piracy is not a vocation that lends itself to relaxation. In my private moments, when they occur, I devise my schemes for revenge and enrichment; I read philosophy and the classics, play the harpsichord with one hand and one hook, and, in more stimulating moments with the fairer sex, share warm sips of rum to set the mood for seduction.

Betty: Who would you like to meet? Why?

Captain James Hook: I have already met her. I await her awakening. Why? Really – I am a man, and she is a female. I’ll not be so crude as to elucidate the nature of my desires. And one other walks this world with whom I should like to share my appreciation for her interest. My author, Andrea Jones. She “pirated” the brilliant Mr. Barrie’s Neverland, yet she remains true to his vision. I find her ideas as to my character and circumstances enthralling. As I judge it, her mind is full of wit, intelligence – and intriguing twists. She expresses me beautifully. If you doubt me, do pick up the Hook & Jill Saga. We’ll both come to life there.

Wendy Darling learns. What appears to be good may prove otherwise, and what seems to be evil…is irresistible.

In this startling new vision of a cultural classic, Wendy intends to live happily-ever-after with Peter Pan. But Time, like this tale, behaves in an unsettling way.

As Wendy mothers the Lost Boys, they thrive on adventure. Struggling to keep them safe from the Island’s many hazards, she finds a more subtle threat encroaching from an unexpected quarter: the children are growing up, and only Peter knows the punishment.

Yet in the inky edges of the Island, the tales Wendy tells the Lost Boys come true. Captain Hook is real, and even the Wonderful Boy can’t defend his Wendy against this menace. Hook is a master manipulator, devising vengeance for his maiming. Insidious and seductive, Hook has his reasons for tempting Wendy to grow up.

Revenge is only the first.

Deepening the characters sketched by J.M. Barrie, Hook & Jill reveals the dark side of innocence within Peter Pan. It awakens a daring Wendy who asks questions and seeks truth; it delves into Hook, the iconic villain. Striding from fairy tale and thrusting into reality, Captain Hook becomes a frightening force indeed.

Buy links: Website * Amazon * BookDepository * B&N

Thank you, sir, for taking time to come by and tell us more about your life.

Happy reading!

Betty

Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories

Visit www.bettybolte.com for a complete list of my books and appearances.

Subscribe to My Newsletter to learn the inside scoop about releases and more!

My Impressions of The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #amwriting #amreading #books #novel #mustread #review

I have finished reading Nguyễn Phan Qué Mai’s The Mountains Sing. This story is set in Việt Nam and really paints a clear picture of the difficult life and times of the people who lived there in the 1930-1980 timeframe of the story. You can read my Initial Thoughts on the story from last week here. I’ve come away from this story with a deep appreciation for the culture and the people that I did not have prior to delving into these pages.

As the book description states, the story is “an intimate, enveloping story of four generations of the Tran family, as seen through the eyes of the matriarch, Tran Dieu Lan, and her granddaughter, Huong.” (I must apologize for not including all of the diacritic marks. I simply don’t seem to have them in my word processor.) So the overall structure of the story is Huong telling the story of her grandmother telling her about life when Huong’s aunts and uncles were children. The family faced many hardships and tragedies, including being separated for several months when they were forced to flee for their lives.

One thing I really appreciated was seeing the impact and impressions of the Việt Nam war on the people of that country. My brother fought over there—he was a Ranger in the Army—during that conflict and came home very different. In fact, he’s estranged himself from the family for the past 30+ years. Reading about the conflict from the other side of it gives me a much clearer idea of what he might have seen or done that he never would tell me about. I was a child at that time and not aware of what was happening. I have since watched a documentary on the war and now this story provides another view of what transpired.

The hardships and sacrifices throughout this book are incredible to me. I realize how very fortunate my life has been that I’ve never faced such challenges. Some seemed insurmountable I’m sure. Survival is one very strong thread running through the lives of these characters. Family and cooperation also underlie everything. Working together to keep the family together no matter what they faced. It’s a powerful story. I’m very glad I read it.

So next up for my Historical Fiction Around the World tour of historical fiction authors is The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. This author is from Spain. This will be the first book I read from the Hoopla app on my iPad/iPhone. So a new experience in checking out books from the library for me!

Until next time, happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

On sale for only $1.99 (ebook)!

Amy Abernathy is a woman renowned for her storytelling prowess but even she cannot invent a sound reason for her suitor’s inexplicable actions. She picks up the shreds of her heart and endeavors to forget him, until he suddenly appears without any fanfare or explanation.

Benjamin Hanson returns to make amends with his captivating Amy. While he knows she’s upset with him, he also knows she’ll eventually forgive him and agree to marry him. But marriage has to wait until after he’s finished spying for the Americans against the British during the war.

When he discovers her and a friend—along with a precious gem—missing from her sister’s home, he finds them in the hands of desperate renegade soldiers. Can he protect the women, the gem, and his heart before it’s too late?

Books2Read    Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Kobo     Apple    Bookshop

Getting to know Jennifer Worrell #author #scifi #bibliophile #noir #thrillers #crimefic #books #fiction

My guest today is a debut novelist with quite a story to tell. Please help me welcome Jennifer Worrell! Let’s peek at her bio and then find out more about her and her story.

If Jennifer were to make a deal with the Devil, she’d ask to live—in good health—just until she’s finished reading all the books. She figures that’s pretty square.  In case other bibliophiles attempt the same scheme, she’s working hard to get all her ideas on paper. She writes multi-genre fiction and the occasional essay, and is currently working on a sci-fi novel and a handful of picture books that may or may not be suitable for children.

Jennifer works at a private university library in Chicago. Edge of Sundown is her first novel. She’s always been drawn to “what-ifs” and flawed characters, and has never quite mastered the happy ending. You can sign up for her newsletter and read pieces published in various nifty literary magazines and anthologies at linktr.ee/JenniferWorrell.

Author Social Links:  Twitter * Facebook

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Jennifer: The notion of covert extremists covertly eliminating people who outlived their worth seemed deliciously surreal, and since I’m frequently anxious about one day losing my ability to write, I was excited to explore the connection between the two.  But I started writing the novel before conspiracy theorists grew so much larger and louder in real life. 

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Jennifer: My protagonist, Val Haverford.  He and the plot were entwined from the start, though he mellowed out a little as the drafts became more polished.  The story is character-driven, so although he’s more of a passive fellow, everything that happens stems directly from the type of person he isn’t.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Jennifer: My villain, who shall go unnamed to prevent spoilers.  I’d like to think it’s because I’m not quite as evil or misguided.  I also feared readers would perceive them as a little too enthusiastic about their obsessions and consign those attributes to me.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Jennifer: I read all sorts of history on supremacist groups, which was not fun.  The aftereffects of garroting was much more interesting, as was traveling a few hours downstate to Val’s childhood town (fictionalized in the novel).   I also rediscovered my own, in order to avoid making mistakes.  Unfortunately, I still made some incorrect references, which proves that setting the majority of your book in your own city doesn’t make things any easier.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Jennifer:  I lost count.  I believe it was in the ballpark of eleventy billion and three, and it wasn’t so much a feeling of completeness as “you’re going to tweak this into oblivion.” 

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Jennifer: I spent roughly six years on it.  In my defense, I also wrote short stories whenever I needed a break or a shiny new idea wouldn’t let me alone.  But I am the world’s slowest writer, and often work when the muse strikes rather than on a daily schedule.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Jennifer: Unfortunately I can’t seem to get in the proper mindset until mid-afternoon.  Then I need to be at the keyboard (I only handwrite while taking notes) with coffee.  I log off social media because the temptation to noodle around on there is too great, and suddenly it’s tomorrow.  I need to have a big block of uninterrupted time in order to get lost in the project.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Jennifer: A friend pointed out that passive voice ruined my prose, so I’m trying to watch out for that.  And I tend to repeat words and phrases, but every story repeats different things, which makes the habit impossible to break!

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Jennifer: Marilynne Robinson and Jeanette Winterson’s writing is so delicious.  I’m in awe of what they do with prose and mood.  I discovered new favorites recently: John Mantooth and Hank Early, whose characters and settings wouldn’t let me go.  Ditto Howard L. Anderson, who also does amazing things with tone.  He was even kind enough to blurb my book. 

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Jennifer: I love writing outside.  Since the pandemic, I got tired of bending over TV tables, so I bought a nice proper table and set it near a window in the living room, and it’s the next best thing in bad weather.  I do most of my reading on the train to work, and at home it’s either the couch or a comfy chair in the bedroom, depending what the cat allows.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Jennifer: I’m the assistant to the dean and office manager at a university library.  It’s the first job where I really feel at home, with people who are supportive of my writing.  And I’m surrounded by books! 

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Jennifer: I wanted to be a novelist since I found out such a thing existed.  I’m lucky that I found publication with a small press, and got my start with many great literary magazines and anthologies.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Jennifer: I think once I reach all my goals without justifications or caveats, I’ll finally feel successful.  I’m not quite there yet, but I have one toe on the path. 

Val Haverford’s sci-fi and western novels made him a household name. But that was then. A decade of creative stagnation and fading health has left him in the literary wilderness.

Attempting to end his dry spell and secure his legacy, Val pens a dystopian conspiracy theory set in a tangential universe where alien invaders eliminate ‘undesirables’ perceived as drains on society.

But as he digs deeper into violence plaguing his adopted home of Chicago, he discovers unsettling similarities between his work in progress and a life he thought he left behind. Soon he finds his fictional extremists are not only real—they’re intent on making sure his book never sees the light of day.

As he pieces together haunting truths about his city and his motives, Val realizes his last chance to revive his career and reconcile the past could get him—and the people he loves—killed.

Will he make the right choice? Or will it be too late?

Edge of Sundown is a provocative story that shows how the desperation of lost opportunity can lead to drastic and unexpected consequences.

Buy Links: Amazon

That’s quite a tale! I hope it all works out for Val. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jennifer!

Happy reading!

Betty

Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories

Visit www.bettybolte.com for a complete list of my books and appearances.

Subscribe to My Newsletter to learn the inside scoop about releases and more!

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