Archive for July, 2018

Welcome to the August 2018 issue of my newsletter, “News from the Crypt,” and please visit Carter’s Crypt, devoted to my horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance work, especially focusing on vampires and shapeshifting beasties. If you have a particular fondness for vampires, check out the chronology of my series in the link labeled “Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe.” For my recommendations of “must read” classic and modern vampire fiction, explore the Realm of the Vampires:
Realm of the Vampires

Also, check out the multi-author Alien Romances Blog

The long-time distributor of THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT has closed its website. If you would like to read any issue of this fanzine, which contains fiction, interviews, and a detailed book review column, e-mail me to request the desired issue, and I’ll send you a free PDF of it. My e-mail address is at the end of this newsletter. Find information about the contents of each issue on this page of my website:

Vampire’s Crypt

A complete list of my available works, arranged roughly by genre, with purchase links (gradually being updated as the Amber Quill and Ellora’s Cave works are being republished):

Complete Works

This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!
Facebook

Here’s my page in Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. These items include some of the short stories that used to be on Fictionwise:
Barnes and Noble

Go here and scroll down to “Available Short Fiction” for a list of those stories with their Amazon links:
Kindle Works

Here’s the list of my Kindle books on Amazon. (The final page, however, includes some Ellora’s Cave anthologies in which I don’t have stories):
Carter Kindle Books

Here’s a shortcut URL to my author page on Amazon:
Amazon

I’ll have a humorous story, “Therapy for a Vampire,” serialized in NIGHT TO DAWN 35 and 36 (the 2019 issues). It’s a spinoff from DARK CHANGELING and CHILD OF TWILIGHT in my “Vanishing Breed” universe but can be read on its own. Half-vampire psychiatrist Roger Darvell and his human partner, Britt Loren, try to cure a young vampire of his phobias. There’s an excerpt below.

This is a wonderful summer for fiction. This issue’s book reports highlight three novels I’ve been impatiently awaiting for months.

My August interviewee is romance author V. C. Buckley.

*****

Interview with V. C. Buckley:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I am a great observer of life, and I am very much intrigued with the uniqueness of everyone’s love story. I wanted to write about them and weave tales inspired from them.

What genres do you work in?

I work mainly in Romance, although woven into many different subgenres. I like plotting romance into fantasy and contemporary. And I like Young Adult and New Adult romances as well.

Do you outline, “wing it,” or something in between?

Both. I usually begin with an outline, but I allow the story to pull into unexpected turns and twists. I always look forward to them and often times I get pleasantly surprised at how the story comes into its own.

What have been the major influences on your writing (favorite authors, life experiences, or whatever)?

I must say that my father was one of my major influences. He was an amazing storyteller, and it was through him that I learned to tell my own and found great joy with it.

Please tell us about the background and origin of the Hanami series. How did you acquire your extensive knowledge of Japanese culture?

Hanami is the story of a tycoon’s arrogant son, who falls for an innocent and angelic looking girl in his school, but he doesn’t know she happens to be the next leader of the Yakuza and is dangerous in every possible way.

I’ve always had an interest in Japanese culture. I love the food, the country and the people, and it’s one of my most favorite places to go. I’ve also dabbled into Kendo, a Japanese sword fighting sport. Through the sport, I met many Japanese nationals that have given me so much input on their genuine everyday life living in Japan, as well as their etiquette, customs and practices. Hanami still required an extensive amount of research and imagination, though, so I travelled to Tokyo for visual and sensory reference.

One review compares your fiction to manga. Are you a fan of manga and anime, and if so, what are your favorites?

Yes, I am a fan of shoujo and josei manga. When I first wrote Hanami, my intention was for it to become a manga. I very much wanted to see my characters play out their story as an illustration, but I am not skilled with drawing manga and had trouble finding someone I could collaborate with.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book (or both)?

The sequel to Hanami is underway and getting ready to launch sometime in September.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a poetry book that started out as a mere emotional outlet. They are poems that were not meant to be seen by anyone else but me, and some of it is based and inspired from stories of real people and myself.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t give up even when it seems like there’s no hope. Accept criticism from the right people and keep honing your craft. And last of all, keep writing.

What’s the URL of your website? Your blog? Where else can we find you on the web?

V. C. Buckley
You can find me on:
Instagram: @v.c.buckley
Facebook
Twitter: @vccbuckley

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

BLACK CHAMBER, by S. M. Stirling. The first volume in a new alternate-history series, with no fantasy content (unfortunately, from my viewpoint). In addition to the alternate-history premise itself, some examples of technology more advanced than existed at that time in the primary world qualify the book as science fiction. The point of departure, shown in the prologue, occurs when President Taft unexpectedly dies, opening the way for Theodore Roosevelt to run for President again. He wins the 1912 election, and with no constitutional amendment restricting him to two terms, he’s potentially popular enough to become President for life if he so desires. The Progressive Republican Party quickly transforms its vision into reality, with (among other “radical” changes) not only female suffrage but a full-fledged ERA and enforcement of civil rights for the black population. Naturally, the Great War will unfold quite differently with Teddy Roosevelt rather than Woodrow Wilson in the White House. Roosevelt, who wants the United States to come to the aid of the European alliance, is only waiting for the right moment. The action of the story takes place in 1916, with the U.S. still nominally neutral. Zeppelin-type airships coexist with airplanes and routinely make transatlantic passenger flights, although a ticket costs far more than the average person can afford. We first meet the protagonist, Luz, daughter of an Irish-American father and an aristocratic Cuban mother, about to board such a ship. Luz works for the Black Chamber, the federal government’s secret intelligence agency, more or less under the umbrella of this world’s equivalent of the FBI. (And we do meet a young J. Edgar Hoover near the end of the book.) Also, she has known the President and his family since childhood and calls him “Uncle Teddy” in private. Luz is traveling to Europe under the identity of a Mexican revolutionary recruited to help the German war effort, although in fact she’s going there to investigate a report of a new German super-weapon. In that guise, she enters a liaison, both professional and personal, with Captain Horst von Duckler, her German contact. The action begins on the flight itself, when Luz and Horst get into lethal combat with French agents. The irony of having to kill people whose side she’s secretly on is not lost on Luz. In Germany, she witnesses a test of the new weapon, a uniquely deadly and long-lasting gas. She also meets Ciara, a representative of an Irish-American revolutionary organization intent on helping Germany defeat the hated English. Having suffered a change of heart after witnessing the effects of the gas weapon, the Breath of Loki, she allies with Luz against their hosts. Nearly unrelenting suspense punctuated by explosive action scenes (written clearly enough that I could actually understand what was going on most of the time) pervades a narrative replete with fascinating details about this alternate world. The settings are vividly described, and the principal characters are engaging, even Horst, whom Luz is almost sorry she’ll probably have to kill in the end. She and Ciara, a naïve younger woman but an electronics whiz, have to maintain their covers until the last possible moment in order to thwart the German plot to deliver the Breath of Loki to the East Coast of the U.S. by submarine and disseminate it in every major port city. Luz is an interesting, sympathetic character whose motives we can understand. She comes across as a sort of hyper-efficient female James Bond, complete with an array of high-tech gadgets, yet still a fully rounded personality with a rich intellectual and emotional life. It amazes me how Stirling induces the reader to feel such a strong attachment to a trained killer. Of course, her memories of the trauma of losing her parents in a violent home invasion contribute to our reaction, as does her self-awareness; she knows what she is, and she isn’t immune to the post-traumatic aftereffects of killing. She finds herself unwillingly becoming fond of Ciara, despite the pitfalls of getting attached to anybody in her profession. I have ambivalent feelings about the world as altered by Roosevelt’s presidency. I enjoy contemplating the imagined progressive reforms and technological boom. On the other hand, the administration imposes a limitation on freedom of speech and packs the federal courts to enforce the repressive law. In any case, I could hardly bear to put the book down; I’m eagerly awaiting the next volume and hope it will star Luz and Ciara again.

LACE AND BLADE 4, edited by Deborah J. Ross. An anthology of swashbuckling tales of adventure and intrigue with touches of magic and romance. The first LACE AND BLADE (2008) promised stories reminiscent of Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and D’Artagnan. In subsequent volumes, the anthologies have widened their scope, as the editor explains in the introduction to this new one. By now, the “theme” has broadened to the nebulous qualities of “heart and wonder.” Most of the stories in LACE AND BLADE 4 would fit just as well in the same publisher’s SWORD AND SORCERESS anthology series. Nothing wrong with that, but not what I expected from having read the original LACE AND BLADE. Some pieces that adhere fairly closely to the original premise are: “At the Sign of the Crow and Quill,” by Marie Brennan, about a sword duel to the death under the auspices of two enigmatic women who aren’t quite human; “Gifts Tell Truth,” by Heather Rose Jones, an adventure of espionage and romance set in her invented middle-European country of Alpennia; and “Sorcery of the Heart,” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, in which a young woman discovers one of two men, an aristocrat and a wandering minstrel, exerting magical influence on her—but which one? Stories such as the fairy-tale-like “The Wind’s Kiss,” by Dave Smeds, and “The Heart’s Coda,” by Carol Berg, an adventure of a reclusive bard, dragons, and a narrator from a single-gender, elf-like species, have a strong sword-and-sorcery feel. Some are unexpected and hard to classify, such as “A Sword for Liberty,” set during the American Revolution from the viewpoint of a loyal aide-de-camp to General Washington. This volume contains plenty of high-quality fiction but, in my opinion, strays too far from the promise of the title to be completely satisfying. A personal quirk, maybe, but I prefer theme anthologies that stick to the theme. Most fantasy fans should enjoy this book as long as they know in advance what to expect.

EUROPEAN TRAVEL FOR THE MONSTROUS GENTLEWOMAN, by Theodora Goss. I’ve been waiting with breathless anticipation for this sequel to THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER. I was delighted to find it over 700 pages long, so that the pleasure of reading it lasted more than a day or two. Again, Goss’s academic background in Victorian Gothic horror undergirds her affectionate, deeply knowledgeable re-imagining of the daughters (begotten or created) of the classic Victorian mad scientists. Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein, having formed the Athena Club, live together in Mary’s house under the care of the very proper housekeeper, Mrs. Poole, and their faithful housemaid, Alice. At the end of the first novel, Mary received an appeal from her former governess, Mina Harker (nee Murray), on behalf of Lucinda Van Helsing, another young woman whose father has subjected her to sinister experiments. Now Lucinda has disappeared, and members of the Athena Club travel to the Continent in search of her. Boarding the Orient Express, they eventually arrive in Eastern Europe, where they meet Carmilla Karnstein and Count Dracula. In this world, vampirism is an infectious disease, with which Professor Van Helsing and Dr. Seward are infecting experimental subjects in pursuit of the overarching goal of the Society of Alchemists—to advance human evolution to a higher level and achieve immortality. Some characters assumed to be dead aren’t, many people are not what they seem, and layers upon layers of secrets are revealed. The premise and the heroines are as engaging as in the first novel, and the settings and pseudo-scientific background are fascinating. Not too surprisingly, the “truth” in many cases turns out to be different from what we’ve read in Victorian fiction; some “monsters” prove to be good guys, and ostensible “heroes” are exposed as villains. Additional classic characters are added to the cast. The heroines achieve their immediate goals, but a hook for the forthcoming third novel is planted in the final pages. As in the previous book, Catherine Moreau writes the story while the other members of the club, as well as Mrs. Poole and Alice, interject their often argumentative comments, adding an extra dimension of fun to the narrative.

SPINNING SILVER, by Naomi Novik. This stand-alone novel, another book I’ve been eagerly waiting for, set in an alternate version of medieval Eastern Europe, expands upon a story that appeared in the fairy-tale anthology THE STARLIT WOOD. The protagonist, Miryem, begins her first-person narrative, linking her experience to the Rumpelstiltskin tale (the novel’s inspiration), with, “The real story isn’t as pretty as the one you’ve heard.” Once the analogies between Rumpelstiltskin and the stereotype of a Jewish moneylender are highlighted, they’re impossible to miss; he’s a grotesque “other” who cares only for gold and eats babies. Miryem’s father is a moneylender but not a very successful one. He too-readily accepts excuses for nonpayment of debts, so that his family scrapes along while their debtors prosper. Regarded with the usual suspicion by their Christian neighbors, Miryem’s family lives on the fringe of the town near the deep forest where the Staryk endanger unwary trespassers. An elf-like race, bringing unnatural cold with them, the beautiful but cruel Staryk raid human settlements, seemingly at random, for gold, ravaging and raping as they go. Their enchanted road runs through the forest at unpredictable times and places, and they forbid human hunters to kill white animals. The prints of the strange deer they ride sometimes appear around Miryem’s house, but nothing can be done except to exercise caution and obey the taboos. Miryem takes it upon herself to collect her father’s debts. With advice from her mother’s father, a rich moneylender in the nearest city, she becomes an expert businesswoman, and the family attains financial security. While her parents appreciate her intelligence and energy, they also lament her becoming harder and colder in order to succeed. Her reputation for “turning silver into gold” attracts the attention of the Staryk king. He entrusts her with Staryk silver of almost magical quality, with which she obtains the gold he craves. As often happens in dealings with the fey, Miryem’s success lands her in trouble, for the king promises to make her his queen if she fulfills his commissions. And a Staryk must always keep promises and pay debts, even though neither he nor Miryem actually wants the “marriage.” He carries her off to his kingdom of ice and silver. Miryem now becomes analogous to the miller’s daughter, ordered to transform the silver in the king’s storerooms to gold. She acts as her own Rumpelstiltskin, though, with the help of only a few Staryk servants she wins over with her kindness. A bargain with the king allows her to ask him three questions each day, in exchange for foregoing her marital “right,” which of course neither of them wants anyway. But, according to Staryk custom, debts must be paid regardless of personal preference. Meanwhile, other first-person narrators spin other threads of the plot. Wanda, a village girl hired as a servant by Miryem, grows close to Miryem’s parents after their loss of their daughter, and eventually Wanda and her brothers become almost family to the Jewish couple they initially regarded with superstitious fear. Irina, daughter of the duke who has bought the magnificent ring, necklace, and crown made from Miryem’s Staryk silver, marries the young tsar (not the Russian Czar, but ruler of a small country). He turns out to have a terrible secret. Miryem’s clever bargaining and planning ultimately bring all the characters to a meeting in which the Staryk king has to fight the tsar’s demon. The novel maintains the atmosphere of a fairy-tale world throughout, with overtones of “Beauty and the Beast” as well as “Rumpelstiltskin.” Enigmatic rules and alluring but terrible enchantments pervade the story, as well as an occasional touch of benign magic. Miryem achieves her happy ending by surmounting frightful ordeals though her own intelligence and courage. My only complaint about the novel is that the various sections are not labeled with the names of their first-person narrators. The reader has to infer each narrator’s identity from context, and sometimes it’s not instantly clear.

*****

Excerpt from “Therapy for a Vampire”:

The next evening after sunset, Roger ushered the new patient into his office, where Britt waited in the extra chair. The young vampire checked out the room with its typical décor of leather-upholstered furniture, well-stocked bookshelves, and diplomas and certificates on the wall above the desk. Closed blinds produced a lighting level comfortable for nonhuman vision. Hoping the visitor found the conventional ambience as reassuring as most human patients did, Roger wheeled the desk chair around in front of the desk to face him. “Britt, this is Franz Reiner, whom I told you about. Franz, Dr. Loren is my associate and will be participating in your treatment.”

Like Roger, Franz was alabaster-pale and taller and leaner than the average human man. He had a mane of wavy, bronze hair and, like most vampires, silver-gray eyes. Despite his chronological age, in human terms he looked about twenty-five. He stared at Britt in undisguised bewilderment and said, with a faint vestige of a German accent, “She will? But she’s an ephemeral. She knows—?”

“All about us. And you will grant her the same courtesy you show me, or this arrangement ends now.” If there’s to be any chance for this “arrangement” to improve relations between the species, he’d better get used to respecting ephemerals from the start.

Franz’s aura momentarily dimmed with embarrassment. “Oh—of course, Dr. Darvell.” If he’d been human, he would have blushed. The fact that he didn’t make any attempt to hide his emotional reactions was a favorable omen for therapist-patient trust, Roger hoped.

::Isn’t he the cutest thing?:: Britt telepathically remarked. ::Like a tame, half-grown wolf cub.::

Roger fought the urge to snarl. Not an appropriate attitude toward someone he was supposed to be helping. Obviously sensing the flash of anger, Franz flinched and bowed his head for a second in a gesture of submission. “Let’s start at the beginning,” Roger said. “Do you have any idea of the source of your phobias?”

“I know exactly what caused them. My aunt—she was my mentor—didn’t put much stock in the usual custom of protecting the young from popular superstitions by insulating us from human culture. She thought the opposite approach would work better, so she had me read Dracula at the age of twelve. Repeatedly. She thought by dissecting the book, she could immunize me against its fallacies.”

Britt said, “I take it the plan backfired.”

The young man grimaced. “Explosively.”

“So you developed fear of crosses and other religious objects?” Roger took out a pad and began taking notes.

“Yes, among other things.”

“I hope you don’t sleep in a coffin.”

Franz chuckled. “No, I’m not that far gone, but I do rest on a bed of native earth.”

Britt’s eyebrows arched quizzically. “How do you manage that?”

“The soil is zipped inside a sleeping bag, which I cover with a sheet.”

“No particular trouble with sunlight, I assume,” Roger said. Direct exposure caused discomfort to their kind but no significant harm.

“Luckily, no. That’s not in the novel, and anyway I’d been going out in daylight all my life up to that point.”

Roger didn’t bother to ask about garlic, whose ill effects were real. It caused acute nausea. “Reflection?”

“I stopped being able to see myself in mirrors. I had to switch to an electric razor.” He also confirmed that he couldn’t force himself to enter a residence without an invitation. Likewise, he couldn’t cross running water.

“Except at the slack or flood of the tide?” Britt asked, mentioning the restrictions in Dracula.

“My subconscious doesn’t keep track of tide tables. I can’t do it anytime, which gets damned inconvenient around here.” Since Annapolis was bounded on most sides by various bodies of water, he would’ve had few viable ways to reach their office. Roger’s mind boggled at the thought of the circuitous routes the unfortunate lad would have to navigate if he needed to drive in the Washington area.

“These problems have been going on for almost three decades, then? Is there any particular reason you’ve decided to seek help right now?”

Franz sighed. “Well, yes, I have a sort of deadline. You see, there’s a girl.”

“Meaning a human girl, I suppose.” Britt said.

He nodded. “Shortly after moving to Baltimore, I attended a choral performance. She was the soprano soloist. Her voice fascinated me. I cut her out of the crowd afterwards and drank from her. Then I realized that wasn’t all I wanted. I wanted to know her as a person.” That flicker of embarrassment again. “Most of our kind would think that’s rather silly.”

“Well, they’d be wrong.” Roger didn’t try to hide his annoyance.

“I figured you’d understand. That’s why I jumped at the chance when the Prime Elder suggested I come to you.”

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Hard Shell Word Factory: Hard Shell
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

“Beast” wishes until next time—
Margaret L. Carter

Welcome to the July 2018 issue of my newsletter, “News from the Crypt,” and please visit Carter’s Crypt, devoted to my horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance work, especially focusing on vampires and shapeshifting beasties. If you have a particular fondness for vampires, check out the chronology of my series in the link labeled “Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe.” For my recommendations of “must read” classic and modern vampire fiction, explore the Realm of the Vampires:
Realm of the Vampires

Also, check out the multi-author Alien Romances Blog

The long-time distributor of THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT has closed its website. If you would like to read any issue of this fanzine, which contains fiction, interviews, and a detailed book review column, e-mail me to request the desired issue, and I’ll send you a free PDF of it. My e-mail address is at the end of this newsletter. Find information about the contents of each issue on this page of my website:

Vampire’s Crypt

A complete list of my available works, arranged roughly by genre, with purchase links (gradually being updated as the Amber Quill and Ellora’s Cave works are being republished):

Complete Works

This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!
Facebook

Here’s my page in Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. These items include some of the short stories that used to be on Fictionwise:
Barnes and Noble

Go here and scroll down to “Available Short Fiction” for a list of those stories with their Amazon links:
Kindle Works

Here’s the list of my Kindle books on Amazon. (The final page, however, includes some Ellora’s Cave anthologies in which I don’t have stories):
Carter Kindle Books

Here’s a shortcut URL to my author page on Amazon:
Amazon

My vampire romance PASSION IN THE BLOOD has been re-released:

Passion in the Blood

To save her kidnapped sister, Cordelia turns to Karl, an old family friend. Until that crisis, she has no idea that he’s a vampire or that her own background holds a secret she never suspected. In the excerpt below, Karl comes home early one evening and catches Cordelia breaking into his house.

This month’s interview features multi-genre author Laurie Ryan.

*****

Interview with Laurie Ryan:

What inspired you to begin writing?

Quitting the day job. Seriously, that’s what did it. I’ve read all my life. I can still stay up half the night reading if the story is good. I’ve always been that way. And I’ve always had characters rumbling around in my head. But I held off putting “pen to paper” until I could devote enough time to it. I don’t multi-task well and truly admire those who can raise a family, work a job, and still manage to get their words in every day.

What genres do you work in?

I’ve published in romance and women’s fiction, but the influences of Tolkien, McCaffrey, and so many more fantasy authors have been knocking on my head to get me to write the fantasy series I’ve been structuring for a few years. So that’s my current focus.

Do you outline, “wing it,” or something in between?

I’m more of a plotter than a pantser, but characters have a way of taking stories in completely different directions. What I’ve found is most effective for me is to write an outline, then a stream-of-consciousness first draft. After that, I take some time to map my chapters and emotions out before I begin edits. So I guess that’s something in between?

What have been the major influences on your writing? (favorite authors, life experiences, or whatever?)

I’ve already mentioned a couple of authors I love. J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey…I have dog-eared copies of hobbit and dragon stories. The initial spark for my stories, though, are drawn from life. In my work in progress, Guardian Druids: The Royan Legacy, Earth has been decimated by man’s overuse. I started imagining a world where everything stopped working because we’d used up all our resources, and this series came out of that.

You have several series listed on your website. Do you typically work on multiple novels in one series at a stretch, or do you alternate between books in different series? And do you maintain series “bibles” of characters, settings, etc.?

At first, I never planned to write series. I kept falling in love with secondary characters, though, so then I had to write their stories. Now, I’m actively designing a series. Actually, two of them, set in the same post-apocalyptic world. I’d never be able to keep it straight without a series bible. I’m constantly referring to it to check hair color, characteristics, or where in this world I placed things. My local RWA chapter spent several meetings working on how to create a series bible. That was a huge help.

What sources have you used for your fiction on druids? Modern pirates?

I now own several books on the druid way of life, as well as books about runes, since they play heavily into my series. I tried to combine the scholastic with the lore to portray both in the way they were meant to be.

As for the pirates, well, my Tropical Persuasions series is contemporary and my pirate very modern-day. I pretty much created him out of my fantasies.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book (or both)?

Since release of my fantasy series is still several months away, at least, I have a shorter reunion romance novel that should be out in early Autumn.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the third book in the Guardian Druids: The Royan Legacy series, the emotional wrap-up of Rianthe Royan and Kaiden Darcy’s stories.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write, write, and write some more. And keep at it. The best marketing for your first release is to get the second book written. And the third, and the fourth. You have to be a little bit thick-skinned in this business, but it’s sooooo worth it. Oh, one more thing. Join a writing group. That is the single best way to learn about the pitfalls of publishing before you fall into them.

What’s the URL of your website? Your blog? Where else can we find you on the web?

I love to have people stop by and say hi! All my books, blogs, and social links can be found on my website:
Laurie Ryan Author

Thank you so much for interviewing me, Margaret. You’re no stranger to writing in multiple genres yourself. It’s fun, isn’t it?

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE THORN AND THE BLOSSOM, by Theodora Goss. An earlier book by the author of THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER. (The sequel to the latter comes out this month, adding Professor Van Helsing’s daughter to the cast, and I can hardly wait.) THE THORN AND THE BLOSSOM is an odd novel in more than one respect. It tells the same story twice, with appropriate variations, from the respective viewpoints of the heroine and the hero. Furthermore, its physical format is unique, as far as I know; it doesn’t place the two novella-length versions of the action back-to-back upside down, like the vintage Ace Double paperbacks. Instead, it’s bound “accordion” style; while reading one iteration, you don’t see the other version at all. Despite this construction, a beautiful slipcase, and four interior illustrations, it’s priced at below the typical hardcover cost. You can read either “Evelyn’s Story” or “Brendan’s Story” first. I read them in that order, and in my opinion that’s the way it works better, since Evelyn comes into the setting as an outsider. While visiting a village in Cornwall from which some of her ancestors emigrated, she meets Brendan, working in his father’s bookshop. A common interest in a Cornish variation on “Gawain and the Green Knight” draws them together. Evelyn has written her dissertation and a book of poetry on this rather obscure tale; Brendan produces a new translation of it and later rewrites it as a children’s story. Evelyn has spent a lot of time in therapy and on medication over the years because of her “hallucinations” of fairies and similar beings and phenomena superimposed on the “real” world. The reader seems meant to understand these apparent symptoms of mental illness as visions of a parallel reality alongside the one we know. Just as she and Brendan begin to fall in love, she has a vision that terrifies her into fleeing from him and the town. They meet again years later, and she learns a secret about him. The legend of the Green Knight shapes their love story, as if they are reenacting elements from the myth. Neither ending states a definite conclusion, but both narratives seem to imply that the two will find each other once more and get together permanently. I found the accordion arrangement slightly awkward to read, because the “spine” tended to collapse unless I held the book carefully, but I adjusted. I recommend the story for anyone who enjoys a tender romance with a haunting, fairy-tale atmosphere.

THE HILLS HAVE SPIES, by Mercedes Lackey. This book, the first of the “Family Spies” novels, follows the “Herald Spy” subseries in the Valdemar universe. Mags, a former enslaved orphan turned Herald, has grown into a mature adult with a trusted position in the inner circle of Valdemar’s royal family. He and his wife, Amily, the King’s Own Herald, have several children. The oldest, Perry (for Peregrine), age thirteen, relishes his training in weapons and spycraft. He possesses the gift of Animal Mindspeech. He’s ambivalent about not yet having been chosen as a Herald; he worries that his parents might be expecting that role of him, but he’s not altogether sure he wants the responsibility. Mags gets a report from an elderly, semi-retired Herald in a remote village near the Pelagir Hills, to the effect that people have gone missing—at a higher rate than should be expected even in that enigmatic region. Mags and his Companion (an intelligent, magical equine) take Perry along to investigate the rumors while giving Perry some experience in survival away from the big-city environment familiar to him. Perry finds the trip less adventurous than he’d hoped, until he gets chosen as a bondmate by a kyree, a member of an intelligent, wolf-like species native to the Pelagirs. As guests of the old Herald, Mags and Perry pick up hints that something sinister may indeed be going on. As Perry’s gift of speaking with animals helps to discover, the trouble seems to center on a remote fortress where mercenaries are taking the kidnapped people. Perry wants to rush to the rescue immediately, a course of action Mags vetoes. With the cooperation of his new kyree friend, Perry sneaks off to investigate, infiltrating the compound under the guise of a simple-minded dog caretaker. He unearths horrors occurring under the rule of a thoroughly creepy villain, while Mags tries to work out a safe way to rescue the victims while not endangering Perry any further. A fun fact about this book: The first printing of the dust jacket (the one I have, which should become a collector’s item) bears a blurb with only a remote resemblance to the actual plot of the novel. Even the main character’s name is wrong. Whichever version of the cover you happen to get, you’ll find THE HILLS HAVE SPIES a solid adventure tale with sympathetic characters. It’s nice to see Mags as a husband and father, and I like the detail that he has outgrown the lower-class accent he spoke with as a boy. Perry behaves like a believable teenager, bright and good-hearted but impulsive and not immune to occasional outbreaks of sulking and minor rebellion. While I don’t think I’d recommend this novel as an introduction to Valdemar, if you’re a fan of that series at all, you’ll probably enjoy this installment.

SHELTER IN PLACE, by Nora Roberts. Nominally romantic suspense (although the two protagonists don’t meet until the middle of the book), this novel begins with a “ripped from the headlines” scenario of three teenage boys on a shooting spree in a mall in a fictional small town near Portland, Maine. Like most of Roberts’s novels, this one uses multiple viewpoints; the story, however, centers on Reed, a college student working in a shop in the mall, where he saves a little boy’s life by getting the two of them under cover, and Simone, a teenage girl who survives because she happens to be in the ladies’ room in a movie theater, where she hides and makes the first 9-1-1 call reporting the incident. Of her two best friends with her that day, one gets killed and other severely injured. Growing up, Simone tries to live as if the catastrophe never happened, leading a superficially exciting (with international travel and many short-term sexual affairs) but unfocused, emotionally shallow life. The aftermath of the trauma poisons her relationship with her parents and sister. As an adult, Simone eventually begins to face her memories and fears. Encouraged by her beloved old-hippie grandmother, a famous artist, she finds her vocation as a sculptor. Meanwhile, Reed, inspired by a female police officer who worked the case and befriends him, becomes a police detective. Early in the novel we learn that the true mastermind of the mass murder was Patricia, the sociopathic sister of one of the three boys (all killed at the crime scene). We see numerous scenes through her viewpoint as she plots her revenge on the people who defied her plan by failing to die. She targets high-profile survivors, who’ve not only made fulfilling lives for themselves but have gained media attention for their post-trauma triumphs. Reed and Simone, in particular, stand at the top of Patricia’s list. Much of the story, though, focuses on their adjustment and growth, with the healing of their emotions and relationships, rather than on the killer stalking in the background. Around the time Reed begins to suspect the deaths of survivors fit a systematic pattern of serial murder, his path and Simone’s intersect. Moving to the island off the coast of Maine where she and her grandmother live, he gets to know them. While the villain—an intriguing portrait of the rare phenomenon of a female serial killer—moves up her list to her supreme goal of destroying Reed and Simone, we enjoy watching Reed settle into the island community and become close to Simone and her family and friends. Since SHELTER IN PLACE is a Nora Roberts novel, we know the hero and heroine will survive, thrive, and ultimately get together, but we can’t be sure about other characters, so the suspense remains genuine. The small-town setting and its people are deeply engaging. The warmly satisfying conclusion brought me to tears, which I can’t remember ever experiencing with this author before.

*****

Excerpt from PASSION IN THE BLOOD:

When Karl stared right at her and spoke to her, Cordelia’s vision went gray. Why didn’t her trick work? It always had before. By the time she’d discovered that talent, in high school, she’d known better than to ask her dad about it. It had first come over her at a party where a boy whose emotions made her feel slimy had pursued her from room to room. She’d finally slipped outside and ducked behind a gardenia bush. She’d prayed, Don’t let him see me. She’d visualized herself wrapped in a cloud of fog. The boy had walked right past her and glanced behind the bush without seeing her. Later, wondering if she’d imagined the incident, she’d experimented. The trick had worked every time. She hadn’t even dared to reveal it to Miranda, the only other person who knew about and shared her ability to read emotions.

Or had it ever actually worked after all? Had she deluded herself all these years? She shook off that recurring qualm and focused on Karl.

His violet-gray eyes drew her like a leash around her neck. Shaking, she walked into the trap of his gaze like a mouse crawling to a cat instead of running away like a sensible quarry. Normally she couldn’t feel his emotions. For a second, though, a blast of anger flared from him. He quenched it instantly. Now she sensed only the same cool reflective surface that always met her tries at probing him.

She squelched the panic that hammered in her chest. Nothing to be afraid of. It’s just Karl.

Now he was touching her, a rare event. Touching her the way she’d so often fantasized. His fingers hovered at the hollow of her throat before wandering to the back of her neck, where he caressed her under the hairline. She tilted her head to stare up at him, one of the few men she knew who towered over her.

Raindrops glittered in his mane of sable hair, streaked with auburn highlights and sprinkled with silver at the temples. The damp shirt clung to his chest. She longed to sculpt the lean shape with both hands. He kept talking to her, repeating words she couldn’t process. She only hoped he couldn’t tell she was melting inside, the way she always did when he got close to her. He kept ordering her to relax, as if she could while his cool fingers inexplicably left fiery trails on her skin.

If only she could sense his emotions like every other man’s. Her inability to read him made her feel helpless.

She did sense one thing from him―pressure. He pushed at her mind. “Tell me why you’re here. Tell me everything.”

The mental coils tightening around her chilled her desire. She blinked away the mist in front of her eyes, shook her head, and pushed back.

“What are you doing in my house?” She caught a whiff of his breath, like peppers seared on heated metal. His faint trace of a German accent made her shiver with pleasure, as always. She’d love to listen to his voice all night, but not while it spun a web of fog around her brain.

“What are you doing to my head?”

“It doesn’t work on you, does it? Interesting. You can’t affect me with your psychic invisibility, so for the moment we’re even.”

His open reference to that secret she’d hidden from everyone made her stagger in shock. He steadied her with both hands on her shoulders. “You saw me?” she whispered. “I mean, you saw me trying to keep you from seeing me?”

To her relief, he didn’t laugh at her babbling. “Of course. I’m surprised at your talent, though I suppose I shouldn’t be.”

“Then I’m not crazy.” Light-headed, she clutched his forearms.

For the first time since he’d walked in, he smiled. She felt the pressure on her brain ease. “Hardly. You’re gifted. Since I can’t compel you to answer, I’ll ask politely. Why are you searching my office? And why shouldn’t I call the police on you?”

Could she trust him enough to answer truthfully? He seemed ready to listen, and now that he’d caught her, she had no hope of getting the book unless he handed it over. She saw little choice but to confide in him.

“I broke into your house because Randy’s been kidnapped.” Speaking the words aloud for the first time made the situation feel both more bizarre and more frightening.

His thick eyebrows arched. “What in the name of sanity does that have to do with your taking up a life of crime?”

“I was looking for that journal in the secret compartment. I need it to ransom her.”

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Hard Shell Word Factory: Hard Shell
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

“Beast” wishes until next time—
Margaret L. Carter