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Welcome to the January 2020 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 Goodreads page:
Goodreads

Happy New Year!

One of my favorites of my own novellas is “Fantasia Quest,” in which the heroine and hero get trapped inside the beta test of a hyper-realistic computer roleplaying game. Fortunately, when I wrote the story, I hadn’t viewed or read any of several anime and manga featuring “stuck in a game” premises, such as the excellent SWORD ART ONLINE. If I’d known how often that plot premise had been used already, I might not have dared to write it myself. But, then, as often pointed out, there are only so many plots in the world. I’m currently following the novels, manga, and anime of RE-ZERO, whose hero isn’t literally stuck in a game, but he’s trapped in a predicament reminiscent of game-death outcomes. So “Fantasia Quest” came to mind. It’s in the collection DAME ONYX TREASURES, which you can find here:

Dame Onyx Treasures

In the excerpt below, Rolf, Carrie’s partner, is one of the game designers; Graystreak is her flying-squirrel familiar; Zack is a rival at the game company; Rolf’s “singing sword” plays show tunes.

Our first interview of 2020 features romance and mystery author Sadira Stone.

*****

Interview with Sadira Stone:

What inspired you to begin writing?

Even as a tiny child, I entertained myself by spinning tales in my head. Most kids do, I’m sure, but mine were elaborate fan fic epics based on TV shows like Batman and Star Trek. I’d fill my school notebooks with scenes and doodle illustrations in the margins. Eventually, I started writing stories based entirely on my own characters. I wish I’d kept those early scribblings.

What genres do you work in?
I’ve published two contemporary romance novels and one horror short story. I have a couple still-unpublished cozy mysteries.

Do you outline, “wing it,” or something in between?
With each project, I become more of a plotter. I’m still trying out different techniques, from sticky note collages to scene cards to beat sheets. However, I always end up revising the outline as I write, since the characters insist on having their say.

What have been the major influences on your writing (favorite authors, life experiences, or whatever)?
Joining the Romance Writers of America was the best investment I’ve made in my writing career. Romance writers are a generous bunch, and through RWA I’ve learned so much about the craft and business of writing. Of course, I read top sellers and award winners in my genre to learn what works and what readers enjoy. Also, listening to romance reader podcasts teaches me about how readers react to various tropes, styles, subgenres, etc.

How have your experiences with serving in the Army and living in Germany affected your fiction?
I wish I had some warrior-woman tales to tell, but I was an army legal clerk working in the JAG office. After my enlistment ended, I returned to the U.S. to get my teaching degree (English, French, German, theater), then went back to Germany where I taught high school to the kids of U.S. military families. Thus, I’ve travelled more than most public-school teachers simply because I was stationed there. Working with military families introduced me to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Perhaps this helped me craft believable characters who don’t all look and sound alike.

What kinds of research do you do in writing mystery?
Poisons, car chases, how to escape when bound with duct tape, rigor mortis, firearms, arson, police department hierarchy and jurisdiction…I’ve found cops to be very generous in sharing their experiences and correcting my misperceptions.

Please tell us about your new book.
Runaway Love Story, Book Two in the Book Nirvana series, takes readers back to Clara’s bookshop in Eugene, Oregon, where we meet Laurel, her newest employee.

Chasing a big-city art gallery job, Laurel detours to Eugene, Oregon to help her spitfire great aunt. An eccentric, ninety-year-old artist with day-glo hair, Maxie is the only family member who supports Laurel’s artistic ambitions. But Maxie recognizes early signs of dementia and makes the tough choice to move into assisted living.
While on a run, Laurel is harassed by a group of teens until a tall, broad-shouldered hottie rescues her by pretending to be her boyfriend–with a kiss that makes her wish it were true, even though Doug seems to be the opposite of what she’s striving for— no flash, no glamour, just a solid, kind, generous guy who teaches high school and coaches cross country. Turns out, his mom, who suffers from dementia, lives in the same retirement village as Maxie.

Their surprise connection sizzles, but Doug can’t leave Eugene, and Laurel can’t stay without surrendering the career dreams that have sustained her for so long.
Doug’s only hope: To convince Laurel those big-city lights have nothing on her inner sparkle—a task that gets more complicated when a viral Twitter post about their love story spirals into Crazy Town.

Buy links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Apple Books
Google Play Books
Kobo

What are you working on now?

Love, Art, and Other Obstacles is the working title of Book Three in the Book Nirvana series. This one features my youngest couple yet: Margot, twenty-two, is a senior in graphic design at the University of Oregon and has worked at Book Nirvana since the beginning of the series. In Runaway Love Story we meet Elmer, age twenty-six, a buff, tattooed, ginger-bearded ceramics artist. Great-aunt Maxie arranges for them to compete for the same art grant.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Learn your craft. No need for expensive courses if you’re a beginner—just check out the many excellent craft books and blogs available.

Read widely in your genre. Learn the rhythm of that type of story, and what readers expect.

Get other eyeballs on your work before submitting or publishing it. You’re too close to the story to see all the problem areas.

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

Visit Sadira on All the Socials!

Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
BookBub
Amazon Author Page
Pinterest
Instagram
Author Newsletter

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE CASE OF THE SPELLBOUND CHILD, by Mercedes Lackey. In this new installment starring psychic warriors Nan and Sarah (with their ward, Suki) Sherlock Holmes is still presumed dead. Aside from Dr. Watson and his wife, with whom Nan and Sarah continue to work on paranormal cases, they are among the very few people who know Holmes is alive. The Great Detective, however, doesn’t play a major part in this novel, in which the Watsons, Nan, and Sarah investigate the disappearances of children in Yorkshire. First, however, the book has two bait-and-switch opening episodes. In the first chapter, a sociopathic petty crook named Alf gets murdered by an accomplice. Discovering himself to be a ghost and learning his powers and limitations, he plots revenge. The two heroines don’t show up until a supposed fellow ghost, really an ally of theirs in astral projection form, tricks Alf into appearing to Sarah in her role as a medium. One of her gifts, as readers of the series know, is to help or force ghosts to cross into the next world. The next incident, which also looks as if it might be the main plot but isn’t, involves a young woman committed to a mental institution. Suspicious of the circumstances that brought her there and wondering whether she’s being mistreated, the Watsons investigate with the help of Sarah and Nan. Finally, the story proper begins with two Yorkshire siblings, Simon and Ellie, whose frazzled, enraged mother reacts to their rambunctious behavior by throwing them out on the moor with orders not to come home until they’ve collected enough food to make up for what Simon accidentally spilled. They stumble upon a tempting cottage in the middle of nowhere, like Hansel and Gretel. Along with a handful of other children, they become captives of a terrifying figure they call the Dark One. It turns out the victims have been chosen for their magical potential, and the Dark One preys on them by draining their magical energy to fuel his or her own powers. Like Gretel tricking the witch, Ellie ingeniously works toward her escape, determined to bring help and free the other children. Meanwhile, the Watsons, Nan, Sarah, and Suki, along with their preternaturally intelligent pet birds, follow a convoluted web of clues to discover the fate of the missing children. Robin, aka Puck or the Oldest Old One, lends his help, naturally. The investigation proceeds plausibly and suspensefully, and the true nature of the Dark One is piquantly surprising. The heroes are delighted to have saved a group of children while bringing to justice a slimy energy-draining magician who used stolen powers for such mundane crimes as stealing jewelry. Not every case, as they agree at the end, has to involve saving the world.

THIRTEEN DOORWAYS, WOLVES BEHIND THEM ALL, by Laura Ruby. Set in Chicago during World War II, this novel tells the story of Italian-American teenager Frankie, her sister Toni, and their brother, consigned to an orphanage for several years even though their father is alive. When he remarried, he left them there, supposedly temporarily. Although the Guardian Angels Orphanage doesn’t treat the children like Oliver Twist in the workhouse, Frankie’s day-to-day existence is dreary enough to engage the reader’s sympathy. With boys and girls segregated, the sisters see their brother only once a week. Their father moves out west with his new family, and their brother eventually joins them. The book begins with a 1946 framing scene, when Frankie has won her independence, holding a job and moving into her own place (however cramped and poor) with Toni. It then follows her life at the orphanage from 1941 through 1945. The novel’s fantasy dimension comes from the narrator, a ghost haunting the orphanage, observing the girls while unable to interact with them. Few living people sense her presence, and she has very little power to affect physical objects. For a large part of the story, it might as well be a realistic historical novel aside from the unusual narrative perspective. Later, the ghost’s own past plays an important role, as she begins to remember her earlier existence while developing the power to move things and actively haunt some individuals. After leaving the orphanage and attempting to live with her father and his second family, Frankie, with the ghost’s help, has a violent confrontation that leads to her and Toni’s climactic flight from their toxic home. This emotionally harrowing but ultimately uplifting story conveys a strong sense of its historical milieu—not surprising, in view of what the author reveals in the afterword: The book is based not only in broad outline but in many specific details upon the real-life childhood and youth of the author’s mother-in-law.

THE NEW TESTAMENT IN ITS WORLD, by N. T. Wright, with Michael F. Bird. I’d been awaiting this book for a long time. I’ve often wished Wright, a distinguished New Testament scholar, former Anglican bishop, and now a professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, would publish his theories about the authorship and dating of the Gospels. Well, this overview does that for every book in the New Testament, along with a detailed summary and analysis of each one, accompanied by sections on the life and theology of Paul in connection with his epistles. That project, however, comprises only three parts of this nine-part volume. The book also covers how to read the New Testament, its historical Greco-Roman and Jewish background, the life and mission of Jesus, the Resurrection in its cultural as well as theological context, the making of the New Testament canon, and a final section (specifically directed to practicing Christians) on “Living the Story of the New Testament.” Although much of the content reprises material from Wright’s SURPRISED BY HOPE (on Christian teaching about the afterlife) and his monumental, four-volume “Christian Origins” series (which begins with THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD), THE NEW TESTAMENT IN ITS WORLD brings together Wright’s work on those themes in one convenient location, written in a more popular style than the weighty “Christian Origins” tomes. The present book also includes a lot of additional material that makes it definitely worthwhile for anyone interested in first-century Christianity. In short, in my opinion this is the most comprehensive, readable overview of the New Testament one could ever hope for. Unfortunately, the availability and pricing have already gone wonky since the book’s publication only a few months ago. Granted, it’s a huge volume (almost 900 pages not counting bibliography, etc.) lavishly adorned with illustrations and maps, so no wonder it originally cost over $40.00 on Amazon. Now, though, the hardcover version is available only from third-party sellers, admittedly at more affordable prices. But the cost of the Kindle, which was reasonable on release date, has risen to the $40.00 range. Still, if you’re interested in the subject matter, do get a copy if possible. There’s always the library.

*****

Excerpt from “Fantasia Quest”:

They hardly needed the map on this stage of the journey, with only one trail through the forest. The horses’ hooves left prints in the damp loam, and sparkling raindrops dripped from the leaves overhead. She felt the solid bulk of her mount’s torso under her and the leather of the reins in her grasp. To make the scene fully lifelike, the program needed only woodsy aromas, which she missed, and sore muscles from riding the whole day before, which she didn’t mind doing without. When they’d traveled two or three virtual miles, Carrie worked up the nerve to question Rolf. “You really didn’t have a clue they were canceling the beta test?”

“You said they postponed it, not canceled, right? Anyway, like I said, your message was the first I’d heard.” He stared straight ahead at the path rather than looking at her. Not that a computer-generated face would necessarily reveal a lie, anyhow.

“What if those twinges of pain were signs of an underlying problem in the code?”

“They’d have caught it at a way earlier stage.” A hint of impatience tinged his voice. “There’s nothing to worry about. If I’d thought there were, I would have canceled our session myself.”

“Fine, you’re the professional here.” Still, she mentally reserved the right to bail out if anything more serious went wrong.

After a clash with a pack of wolves, which Rolf’s bladewarden gift persuaded to accept a truce, Carrie’s acid darts made quick work of clearing a cluster of bushes that fired thorns. While the adventurers paused to pluck out the handful of thorns that had lodged in their clothes, Carrie said, “Would it be tempting fate too much to point out we’re getting challenges way below our level?”

“Yeah, it would. Trying to throw us off guard for something tougher, I’d say.”

Something tougher confronted them shortly afterward. The path narrowed, funneling them toward a rocky outcropping with a jagged hole opening into it.

“Another cave?” she said. “Or tunnel? Do we have go in?”

“What do you have in mind?”

She unrolled the map. “It seems the path continues in the same linear mode on the far side of this patch of forest. Is there anything in the program that would stop us from cutting through the trees?”

He arched his slanted eyebrows. “Sneaky. I like it. With luck, nobody thought of preventing that move.”

They turned toward the area where the gaps between trunks looked widest and the undergrowth thinnest. No more than five of the horses’ paces into the forest, the wooded landscape morphed into a solid barrier.

“Obviously somebody did think of it,” he said. “I should have figured they wouldn’t waste code on the chance players might wander off the path.”

“Big surprise. I guess it’s the hole in the rock or turn back.”

“Which isn’t an option.” When they faced the dark entrance again, he said, “We’ll need your mage light.”

She conjured the usual floating globe. They dismounted and led the horses. Just beyond the cave’s maw, the space opened up enough to let them walk side by side. “Looks like a tunnel,” Carrie said. “Would have been nice if the map had told us about it.”

Several paces on, a gossamer veil shimmered across the span. A web. Desiccated corpses of two birds and a bat hung in the network.

Rolf’s fist clenched on the hilt of his sheathed sword. “Damn. If the spider that spun this is hanging around, I don’t want to meet it. This has to be a surprise Zack planted for me.”

The tension in his voice reminded her of the arachnophobia he’d confessed. “I’ll get rid of the web.” Surrounded by rock, the strands could burn without endangering nearby plant life. At her arcane word, flame shot from her wand and engulfed the web. It blazed for a second, then crumbled to ash.

Graystreak volunteered to scout to the end of the cleft. When he glided back to Carrie’s shoulder, he said, “It’s a tunnel, and there’s a spider guarding the other end, all right. A big one.”

His face set in a strained mask, Rolf glanced at her, then back at the web. “How big?”

“You don’t want to know,” the squirrel muttered.

“I’ll find out in a second anyway. It’s not like we have an alternative.” Rolf whispered to the horses, patting their necks and commanding them to stay put. He drew his sword and strode forward.

At his side, Carrie flourished her wand to the sword’s lyrics of a spy thriller title song about a villain with a spider’s touch. Fifty paces in, they glimpsed a multi-legged lump silhouetted against a patch of daylight at the far mouth of the tunnel. It shambled toward them with a scrabbling of claws on rock. Once inside the passage, its eight eyes glinted scarlet in the dimness.

Rolf halted, a visible tremor in his upraised sword arm. The shaggy thing in front of him looked like a tarantula the size of a pony. Venom dripped from its fangs. It headed for the bladewarden, who only stared as if paralyzed.

Carrie cast an acid dart at the spider. It shuddered when the dart sizzled in its bristle-covered torso but turned toward her only for a second before looming over Rolf. He still didn’t move.

It’ll bite his head off for all I know!

“Rolf, do something!”

He took a step backward, his sword arm frozen. Shouting his name again, she charged between him and the spider. She flung a spray of rainbow dazzle at the monster’s head, blinding it. It staggered in confusion, but not before its mandibles nipped her arm. Pain stung her, brief but sharp.

She stumbled and fell to one knee.

“Crystal, no!” Rolf surged into action with a yell of rage. He sliced off two of the spider’s legs before she managed to struggle to her feet. Though he hadn’t stopped shaking, he brandished his sword between her and the monster. In spite of its temporary blindness, it scored a glancing bite on Rolf. With his mouth twisted in revulsion, he cut off a third limb.

She aimed her next acid dart at the thing’s slavering mandibles. In these close quarters, she couldn’t deploy fire or ice without hurting herself and her partner. The half-lamed spider lurched sideways.

Scuttling noises diverted her attention. A quick glance to left and right revealed a pair of four-foot-long centipedes, one on each side. Their pincers looked as lethal as the spider’s fangs. The sight made her skin prickle and her stomach turn queasy. Rolf whirled around to hack at one, then renewed his assault on the spider. Carrie launched a barrage of shadow bolts at the other centipede. The wounds oozed white fluid but didn’t slow down the crawling things.

She switched the wand to her left hand, drew her dagger with her right, and invoked a spell that converted the blade into a rapier that shone with an azure glow. The transformation wouldn’t last long, but long enough to deal with the centipedes and possibly maim the spider. She stabbed one centipede just behind its head. Sparks scintillated and the creature convulsed before shriveling up. With a shout of triumph, she dispatched the other one the same way.

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek
Wild Rose Press: Wild Rose Press

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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

Welcome to the December 2019 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 Goodreads page:
Goodreads

Happy winter holidays to all!
My one Christmas story, “Little Cat Feet,” appears in my collection DAME ONYX TREASURES. Only $3.99 in e-book format!

Dame Onyx Treasures

My tale was inspired by the legend that animals can talk on Christmas Eve (as immortalized in the song “The Friendly Beasts”). A teenage runaway and a stray cat help each other. There’s an excerpt below.

Herewith I’m interviewing Colleen Driscoll, author of children’s books and romantic thrillers.

*****

Interview with Colleen Driscoll:

What inspired you to begin writing?

That is an interesting story. Ten years ago, I was bed-ridden with a terrible stomach virus on Christmas Day. By the time I felt better two days later, I was upset because I had missed having Christmas with my husband and four children. My mind wandered and I began imagining what the elves did at the North Pole. The idea of writing my first children’s story struck me. I was fortunate to find a publisher for the book and the book was published two years later. When I was launching that book, I met other authors and decided to write a novel.

What genres do you work in?

Besides my children’s books, I wrote my first novel—a romantic thriller.

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

For my children’s stories, I think about the idea and then I start writing. For my first adult novel, I started out “winging it,” writing out scenes that I thought played important parts in the story. Then I filled in the empty holes. It was a learning process and I wouldn’t recommend it. Currently, I’m writing the second book in the Euphoria trilogy and I have an outline. I have learned from my mistakes from the first book and have a better idea of what publishers and editors want.

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

My children have influenced my children’s books, and my life experiences working in the clinical laboratory certainly have a major influence on my writing. Barbara Parks was one of my favorite children’s authors. In the adult circle, I love reading Robin Cook’s medical thrillers and like the idea of introducing controversial medical issues into writing.

What do you think are the particular challenges of writing for children?

The biggest challenge is writing topics that are unique and interest large groups of children.

Did you deal directly with the illustrator(s) of your books, or did the publisher make the arrangements? How does the process work?

When my publisher contacted me regarding my first children’s book, she said I could use the company’s illustrator, but I would be in the queue behind the other authors under contract. The publisher gave me an option to use my own illustrator if I didn’t want to wait. I am a very impatient person, so I contacted an art teacher whom my sister recommended, and he turned out to be an illustrator! After some necessary paperwork, the illustrator sent me the first sketches after two months. Five months later, he completed the illustrations. The experience was wonderful and exciting. He was great to work with and I met him a year after my book was published; I conducted an author visit at the school where he worked. It was a cool experience for the students that day to meet the author and the illustrator of a book.

Did you have direct involvement in the production of the audiobook versions, and how does that work?

Two of my children’s books are in audiobook. I went to a recording studio and recorded the story using my family as the voices of the characters. For the first book, Piper the Elf Trains Santa, I also used the recording studio to record the Piper the Elf Theme Song, in hopes that the story will be made into a children’s Christmas show someday. When the second Piper the Elf book was released, I learned more about the requirements needed to put the audiobook on Amazon. My publisher was very supportive. The recording studio followed the required specifications, and my family recorded the voices in the story Piper the Elf and Santa’s Rockin’ Band. I also recorded three additional original songs that related to the story. Then I submitted the recordings and the publisher did the rest, making it available on Amazon. My newly released thriller, Finding Euphoria, just had an audiobook version released last month. The publishing company submitted my name to the pool of narrators and someone auditioned for the book. After the contract was signed, the narrator taped the audio version of the story. The process took a few months for the narrator to record the story and then I had to review the recording and request any changes. Once that step was completed, the audiobook was accepted on Amazon.

What is your latest-released or soon-forthcoming work?

My latest released book was Finding Euphoria, a romantic thriller, which released this past March. I also have an illustrator working on illustrations for my next children’s book.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the second story in the Euphoria trilogy—Losing Euphoria, Trust No One.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Join a writer’s group and don’t get discouraged with writing. There is always a home for your story.

What’s the URL of your website? Your blog? Where else can we find you on the web?
Colleen Driscoll
C. Becker

I’m not a big blogger. Between my other life’s duties, I have to give up certain aspects that some writers do. All of my books can be found on Amazon. My Christmas children’s books can be found in the Headline Books website:

Headline Books

My novel is found on The Wild Rose Press and all the major retailers, Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, B&N.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

GWENDY’S MAGIC FEATHER, by Richard Chizmar. This sequel to GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX, written by Chizmar and Stephen King, returns to Castle Rock when Gwendy, now age 37, is a Democratic Congresswoman from Maine and married to a photojournalist. The story takes place in December 1999, building up to the Y2K millennial turnover, with brief flashbacks to catch up on how Gwendy got to her present status. It’s told in the present tense (even the flashbacks), annoyingly, since there’s no apparent narrative justification for that choice, but I got used to it quickly enough to enjoy the novel. Gwendy has had a very successful life, for the most part. As an author, she has enjoyed excellent sales and lucrative movie deals. She finds her service in Congress fulfilling and lives happily in her home town when not required to be in Washington. At present, her mother is in recovery from cancer, while Gwendy’s husband is working in a war zone and may or may not make it home for Christmas. Meanwhile, the U.S. is embroiled in a crisis with North Korea. This novel takes place in an alternate America with a President clearly modeled on the Current Incumbent. At this point, the button box Gwendy has managed to keep out of her mind for the past couple of decades inexplicably shows up again. She fights the temptations to eat the magical chocolate candies it dispenses or push any of the buttons. Even so, the box seems to grant her some sort of clairvoyance that either didn’t exist before or remained latent. That’s where her personal story intersects with the local mystery of three girls who’ve disappeared, with no indication of whether they’re alive or dead. I quickly got emotionally involved with Gwendy, and the other characters, major and minor, are vivid and engaging. Like the previous book, GWENDY’S MAGIC FEATHER has an intimate, gentle tone despite the backdrop of various crises. The titular feather makes only a few brief appearances but does play a pivotal role. I still haven’t decided whether the mysterious “Richard Farris” is an incarnation of Randall Flagg or just an in-joke allusion. His role as tempter would suggest the former, yet he seems far more benign than Flagg in his various appearances throughout King’s canon. Farris’s reassurance to Gwendy that her accomplishments and choices are her own, not engineered by the button box, hints that both the “magic feather” and the button box itself may derive their energy from some innate psychic power she unconsciously possesses.

ANNO DRACULA 1999: DAIKAIJU, by Kim Newman. Coincidentally, the latest novel in Newman’s long-running alternate history series also takes place at the end of 1999, in this case entirely on New Year’s Eve as the world anticipates a Y2K catastrophe. While I don’t consider any of the later installments in the series up to the high standard of the first two, ANNO-DRACULA and BLOODY RED BARON, I’ve enjoyed reading them. This one, for my taste, suffers from consisting of nearly nonstop violent action. I skimmed a lot of the scenes for that reason. Nevertheless, it does perpetuate the fun of spotting pop culture references and contemplating how the twentieth century would have developed differently with vampires as an openly embraced feature of the zeitgeist. Doubtless I would have appreciated the book more if more of the allusions had been familiar to me, but the ones I did get were entertaining—for instance, the passing mention of “Hamish Bond,” a British secret agent who, as a drunken womanizer, is assigned to missions where he can do the least possible damage. Vampire princess Christina Light (aka the Henry James character Princess Casamassima) throws a lavish New Year’s Eve party in the titular Daikaiju, a skyscraper in Tokyo shaped like a giant dragon. Hint—its resemblance to a gargantuan monster from a Japanese SF film isn’t accidental. We also get references to the Bund, a vampire enclave within the city, a clear allusion to the manga series DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND. Principal characters include, among others, an amnesiac man with a cybernetic left hand that talks back to him (surely inspired by VAMPIRE HUNTER D), a human agent of the Diogenes Club, and a katana-wielding Japanese schoolgirl who’s actually an ancient vampire but still thinks and behaves like a schoolgirl. A mysterious terrorist organization drives the action, and secrets are revealed as the hours advance toward midnight. Fans of this series will want to add this novel to their bookshelves.

DRACUL, by Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker. I liked this book more than I expected to. I could hardly pass up reading a DRACULA prequel co-written by Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew, although I was skeptical of how well the literary pretense that the novel’s events really happened (and that those traumatic experiences explain the writing of DRACULA) would work. The research into Stoker’s family and early life appears thorough and credible, as one would expect. The framing narrative, set in 1868, begins with Bram Stoker trapped in a tower, struggling to stay awake and fend off the vampire threat lurking outside. We then revert to his childhood, when he suffered from an unidentified disease that kept him largely bedridden until the age of seven. He and his sister Matilda covertly investigate their nanny, Ellen Crone, whose state of health and apparent age mysteriously fluctuate. The reader soon realizes she’s some kind of vampire, although she seems to be a benevolent one, at least to Bram, since she heals him of his chronic illness. After she unaccountably vanishes following several eerie events, the action skips to Bram’s young manhood. He’s working in a civil service position and beginning his side gig as a theater critic, his true enthusiasm (which later led to his lifelong role as actor Henry Irving’s manager). Both Matilda and Bram imagine they catch glimpses of Ellen, who doesn’t appear to have aged, as well as a man they know to have died years earlier. Their brother Thornley’s wife, meanwhile, is deranged and getting worse. The three siblings eventually become aware of the existence of vampires, with the help of distinguished linguist and Eastern European specialist Arminius Vambery (whom, according to Stoker’s real-life biography, he didn’t actually meet until much later, and who is sometimes cited as a possible inspiration for Van Helsing in DRACULA). A wild, suspenseful plot follows, with layers upon layers of dark secrets unearthed. Bram, of course, survives, although the family doesn’t get through without severe trauma and lingering scars. Although I remained emotionally distanced from the characters and the plot, I have to acknowledge the creeping horror and the atmospheric writing. The concluding Authors’ Note maintains the illusion that this collection of documents (journals, letters, memoirs, etc.) constitutes an authentic discovery that reveals the secret biographical sources of DRACULA. While I hope no reader would take this conventional literary device for truth, stranger things have happened. I was mostly able to suspend disbelief in the documentation—I’ve been a big fan of epistolary narrative structure since my first reading of DRACULA, at age twelve—but some aspects strain credibility too far. Thornley somehow transcribes after the fact, from memory, Vambery’s oral translation of a crucial manuscript? Bram’s writing his memoir while trapped in a ruined tower besieged by vampires is also a bit hard to accept. Nevertheless, most DRACULA fans will probably find points of interest in this deeply researched horror novel.

*****

Excerpt from “Little Cat Feet”:
Just as Lauren was working up the nerve to try a door on one of the deserted rowhouses, she heard a noise from the alley next to it. Her first impulse was to run the other way. She definitely had no desire to meet anybody else prowling the night, somebody who might be a mugger or a crazed drug addict. When she heard the sound repeated, though, she paused. A screech…no, more like a yowl. It reminded her of an enraged cat. Another noise mingled with it—laughter.

Lauren tiptoed to the alley and peeked around the corner of the building. The wan glow from a nearby street lamp cast just enough light into the shadows to reveal two dark-haired boys who looked her age or a little older. They stood over a super-size garbage can. The cries came from there. Definitely a cat. One of the boys held a broom, which he kept poking into the can.

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” She mentally cursed the way her voice wobbled.

One of the guys, lean and wiry with a buzz-cut, flashed a grin at her. “Who’s asking?”

“What’s in that can?” Glad she sounded a little more confident this time, she marched up to them.

The second boy, taller and broader with his black hair in a ponytail, said, “None of your business. Get lost. Unless you want to have some fun with us.” He made a grab for the front of her jacket.

Dodging, Lauren peered into the can. It was almost full of water. Inside, a cat paddled frantically. An orange tabby, as far as she could make out the color of its sodden fur in the dim light. Its cries drilled into her skull like an ice pick stabbing her eardrums.

A flush of anger flooded her cheeks. A pulse hammered in her temples. “Let it go!” she screamed.

The cat scrambled to the edge of the can and hooked its claws over the rim. The pony-tailed boy jabbed the animal with the broom to force it back into the water. With an inarticulate shriek of rage, Lauren seized the broomstick and threw her whole weight against it.

“Yo, bitch, what do you think you’re doing?” The boy fought to wrestle the broom out of her grip.

From the corner of her eye, she saw the cat scrabbling at the edge of the can again. Meanwhile, the other boy grabbed her arm. Whirling around, she smacked him with the bristled end. He yelled a curse and gave her a hard shove. She staggered, and the hefty guy wrenched the broom out of her hands and tossed it on the ground.

The cat leaped free of the can and dashed out of the alley. The thin boy slapped Lauren across the face. With tears of pain and fury blurring her vision, she faced the two punks, her fingers curled as if she had claws herself.

“That wasn’t nice. We had a bet,” the guy with the ponytail said.

Breathing hard, she glowered at him. “What bet?”

“How long a cat can tread water before it drowns.” His hand shot out to grab the collar of her jacket. “You should pay for screwing up the game. Let’s see what you got for us.” He tugged the zipper down to reveal the sweatshirt she wore underneath.

When she tried to pull free, his friend caught both of her arms and twisted them behind her. The pain forced a scream from her. Why didn’t somebody hear it and come to her rescue?

Come here? Who am I kidding?

The bigger boy clutched her pendant. “Yo, what’s this? Real silver?”

Her heart pounding furiously, she said, “Don’t touch that.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.” He broke the chain with a quick jerk.

Lauren writhed in the smaller boy’s grasp. “Give that back!” she cried. “It’s my grandmother’s!”

“Yeah? What’ll you give us for it?” the boy with the buzz-cut asked. Relaxing his hold, he snaked one hand down her front to squeeze a breast, hard, through her shirt. Her head reeled with fear and anger. She kicked the larger boy in the shin, then wiggled around to face the smaller one. She drove a knee into his groin. He doubled over, groaning.

Hey, that really works!

The hefty guy was reaching for her. She shoved the palm of her hand into his nose. The crunching noise made her stomach lurch, but he stumbled backward. Thank God her mom had made her practice those moves.

Mentally giving thanks for her time on the girls’ cross-country team, too, Lauren bolted for the street. She sprinted around the corner and ducked into the next alley she came to. There, she dropped to her knees behind a dumpster and huddled in the deepest pool of shadow.

Unless she got super lucky, they would find her sooner or later. Probably sooner. The snow wasn’t falling heavily enough to cover her tracks right away. Meanwhile, those jerks had her pendant. Grandmama’s pendant. Fresh tears welled in her eyes. She choked down a sob to keep from making a noise that would give her away.

Now that she’d stopped running, the cold hit her anew. She hugged herself and shivered while the wind spattered her with damp snowflakes. She heard the two punks yelling to each other as they searched along the street. Another sound cut into her misery, a low hiss.

Glancing up and rubbing her eyes with a gloved hand, she found the orange tabby staring at her. Its pawprints lined up beside her own footprints. With a flick of its tail, the cat paced toward the far end of the alley.

A female voice said, “This way. Quickly, before those two catch up with you.”

Lauren looked frantically from side to side, searching for the woman who’d spoken.

The cat trotted back to her and rubbed insistently against her leg. “Get up! What are you waiting for? Follow me.” She headed for the alley’s outlet again.

Okay, that cat did not talk. I’m dreaming or losing my mind.

Nevertheless, the animal acted as if it wanted to lead Lauren somewhere, and it wasn’t like she had a better plan. She hauled herself to her feet and hurried after her feline guide. Around the back of the rowhouse that marked one side of the alley, the cat led her to a stoop and a boarded-up door. Behind the boards, the door stood an inch or two ajar. Picking its way up the three concrete steps, the cat nudged a spot where the planks had been broken to create a narrow opening.

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek
Wild Rose Press: Wild Rose Press

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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

Welcome to the November 2019 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 Goodreads page:
Goodreads

You’ve probably heard the dismaying news about Yahoo’s changes to its groups:

Yahoo Announcement

“Message History” is one feature going away. Does this mean you won’t be able to read previous newsletters on the Yahoo site anymore? If so, you can access old issues back to January 2018 on my website’s Newsletter page here:

Newsletters

People are speculating that this cutback in services is a prelude to shutting down the groups altogether. If that happens, I’ll continue to post monthly newsletters on my website’s Newsletter page.

Brenda Whiteside welcomed me as a guest on her blog in mid-October, featuring some background about “Yokai Magic.”

Brenda Whiteside’s Blog

Here’s an interview with me that appeared on the Writers Exchange E-Publishing website:

Writers Exchange Interview

Below is an excerpt of the beginning of “Mad Magic,” from my collection PERILOUS MAGIC, which includes (among other pieces) four of my five stories first published in the “Sword and Sorceress” anthologies.

Perilous Magic

This month I’m interviewing romance author Linda Nightingale.

*****

Interview with Linda Nightingale:

What inspired you to begin writing?

All those gothic romances I read as a young girl like Rebecca, Kirkland Revels, and the Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart. My favorites were Jean Plaity with her historical romances, Daphne DuMaurier, and Victoria Holt as well as Mary Stewart. I loved them and would sit and read for hours and hours. I’m dating myself with these oldies but goodies, but they were great. I also liked sci-fi and fantasy, but first story I wrote wasn’t a gothic romance. It was a sci-fi about an alien with pink hair running through London.

What genres do you work in?

Almost all genres of romance from paranormal to contemporary, but I don’t yet have the nerve to try historical. That must be a difficult genre to write. The research alone is daunting.

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

I wing it, starting with one character and letting him or her tell me the story. Usually it works; sometimes not. The book plays like a movie in my head. I watch the characters move and react, listening to the dialogue. It’s a fun way to write unless the characters stop talking!

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

The old Gothic writers I mentioned above like Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Daphne DuMaurier.

How has your experience with horses featured in your fiction?

All of my books mention horses, usually Andalusians. I bred, trained and showed the magnificent Andalusian for many years. I have a poster that says, “This horse will change your life”, and it’s true. But back to the question, I wrote one book strictly about horse lovers (a contemporary romance) titled Gambler’s Choice, the name of a class in a hunter-jumper horse show. It gives a peek at the equestrian world.

How do your vampires differ from the traditional supernatural undead?

My vampires aren’t resurrected corpses. In my mythos, the Vampyre (the race) are viral mutations of human DNA. I recently read an article that said most people’s DNA has been mutated by this or that virus. Luckily, not the Vampyre Virus which changes mortals into immortals. My vampires (individual) can’t go out in the sun, but the cross and garlic doesn’t affect them. They don’t regenerate, like limbs, but heal quickly. They can see themselves in the mirror and don’t change into bats. They can appear to vanish since they can move so fast. They have fangs and drink blood solely. The fangs and the elliptical pupils are Glamoured by holding the picture of a normal man firmly in the vampire’s mind.

Please tell us about the mythic background of the angels in your novels.

Mainly the Grigori, the angels who were sent to Earth to teach Man and fell from Grace. Their story is in the Book of Enoch, which was deleted from the Bible, but there is one reference to them still in Genesis 6;2: “That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose”. Gylded Wings is a dark fantasy romance starring Lucifer as the good guy. I did a lot of research for this one, including spending an evening talking with a Jewish scholar.

What is your latest-released or soon-forthcoming work?

Sinners’ Opera – ‘Death is his punishment. She is his prize.’

Sinners’ Opera was released by The Wild Rose Press on Monday, October 7th. Sinners’ is a vampire paranormal romance. It is the book of my heart and the first book I wrote. The main character is an English lord, a concert pianist…and a 300-year-old vampire. Reviewers have called Morgan D’Arcy a “tour de force of egotism, wit, sensuality, and talent.” He has everything except what he most desires—Isabeau.

This is a quote from the New York Journal of Books review:
Morgan and John (his rival) begin their rivalry dueling with words.
“With a perfectly straight face, I said, “Size does count. The length of the strings produces deeper resonance.”
“Some men drive big trucks.” Payne slid an arm around Isabeau’s shoulders,
tucking her close to his side. “Some, I guess, play big pianos.”
Thus Morgan begins his courtship of the woman he’s loved since before her birth. Isabeau responds, but soon their affair whirls out of control.
The review also calls him a ‘tour de force’ of egotism, wit, sensuality, and talent, as well as a determination to bring about his plan while protecting Isabeau from harm.
Other reviewers have called Sinners’ Opera ‘intense and thrilling’, ‘beautifully written, and ‘haunt you long after you finish reading’.

Here’s the blurb:
Morgan D’Arcy is an English lord, a classical pianist, and a vampire. He has everything except what he desires most—Isabeau. When she was a child, he appeared to her as the Angel Gabriel, steering her life and career choice, preparing her to become Lady D’Arcy. Many forces oppose Morgan’s daring plan—not the least of which is Vampyre law.
Isabeau Gervase is a brilliant geneticist. Though she no longer believes in angels, she sees a ticket to a Nobel Prize in Gabriel’s secrets—secrets that have led her to a startling conclusion. Gabriel isn’t human, and she fully intends to identify the species she named the Angel Genome.
Morgan is ready to come back into Isabeau’s life, but this time as a man not an angel. Will he outsmart his enemies, protect his beloved and escape death himself? For the first time in eternity, the clock is ticking.

What are you working on now?

Another Morgan book titled Mr. Piano Man. The story is told in a frame, beginning in 1989 in Charleston, South Carolina, with Morgan working in a piano bar, segueing to 1941 during the Battle of Britain—the Blitz of London. Morgan is a RAF fighter pilot. That story left with he and the heroine parting when his plane is shot down over France, the book returns to 1989 when Morgan and the heroine meet again. But she is now in her late 60s, and he still is young and beautiful.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Persevere. Constantly improve your craft. Even talent can benefit from learning then breaking the rules. Don’t put away your Christmas tree if you have one. Decorate it with the painful emails from publishers who don’t recognize a good book and laugh as the tree fills up. Or wallpaper your bathroom walls with them. Do take to heart any constructive criticism you feel might be justified.

All my links and contact information, as well as the books and their descriptions can be found on my website at Linda Nightingale.

Thank you, Margaret, for allowing me to meet your lovely readers.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

A HEAT WAVE IN THE HELLERS, by Deborah J. Ross. This collection contains Ross’s stories published in Darkover anthologies over the years. Although I own all of those books, I bought this one because it also includes four other tales, one from a fanzine and three never before published. My favorite of the previously anthologized works is “The Death of Brendon Ensolare” (inspired by a classic Russian story), about an imaginary cadet accidentally “created” by a mistake in a roll call; the other cadets find their nonexistent comrade useful to have around, until a sad event makes it clear that they have to get rid of him somehow. The title story, “A Heat Wave in the Hellers,” is a sort of fanfic that humorously incorporates all the elements forbidden by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s submission guidelines for the anthologies. Darkover fans who haven’t read the anthologies should definitely get this collection, and even if you own the anthology series, you might find the trade-paperback price worthwhile for the sake of the new pieces.

THE TWISTED ONES, by T. Kingfisher. I consider this the best horror novel I’ve read in many years and possibly the only one I’ve found really scary since the original publication of PET SEMATARY. The narrator, Melissa, nicknamed Mouse, receives a call from her elderly father about clearing out his recently deceased mother’s house. The house has been locked and uninhabited for the past two years, since his mother went into a home for the aged. He warns Mouse the place could be “bad,” but she accepts the task, since there’s nobody else to do it. If it turns out to be too much for her, he assures her he’d be okay with having the house razed instead of sold. Even with only vague hints from the blurb about the prospective horrors, I was captivated by this beginning. Mouse’s narrative voice makes the most mundane decisions and chores interesting. She grabbed me on page two with this statement: “I’m a freelance editor. I turn decent books into decently readable books and hopeless books into hopeless books with better grammar.” She and her rescue hound, Bongo, dutifully head for her grandmother’s house in rural North Carolina. Her grandmother was a hateful person who turns out also to have been a hoarder. “Bad” doesn’t begin to describe the house. At least, however, there’s no rotting food inside, and the water, electricity, and stove work. Mouse finds one bedroom untouched by the piles of accumulated junk (including a room stuffed with creepy dolls). It had belonged to her step-grandfather, Frederick Cotgrave, an immigrant from Wales whom she recalls only as a colorless, silent man constantly browbeaten by his wife. She does have one fond memory of his teaching her to draw the “Kilroy” cartoon popular in World War II, which becomes vitally important later in the story. She finds a journal written by Cotgrave and later a hidden manuscript referenced in the journal. At first she thinks the weird references in his writings imply that the old man suffered from dementia and paranoia. On the other hand, the petty persecution he mentions would have been totally in character for her grandmother. What about the things Cotgrave claims to have seen in the woods? When Mouse and her dog come across a strange cluster of stones with grotesque carvings on them, in a spot that should not exist in the local geography, she begins to suspect Cotgrave wasn’t losing his mind after all. By the time she discovers his hidden manuscript, she’s inclined to believe the dark things it hints at. It reconstructs as much as he can recall of another journal, the “Green Book,” written by a young girl who’d had sinister encounters with what she called the “white people.” Are the horrors that nineteenth-century girl witnessed being duplicated in North Carolina? Do similar things lurk in secret places all over the world? In the midst of her struggle with the house, Mouse glimpses what appear to be effigies made of sticks, bones, and miscellaneous debris topped by deer skulls. Moreover, she reluctantly entertains the possibility that they are animated. She makes friends with the three middle-aged “hippies” on a nearby property, and they acknowledge that all the locals know there are vague but dangerous “things” in the woods. I can’t be more specific because I don’t want to give away spoilers. As the plot accelerates, unexpected, terrifying events come at every turn. Yet even in the tensest moments, Mouse’s narrative interjects wry humor. She labors on the house to a background of the local NPR station’s Pledge Break week (another detail that pays off in the end). This novel includes an abundance of my favorite horror trope, the unearthing of dark secrets from the past. It was also a thrill to recognize this story as essentially a sequel to Arthur Machen’s classic story “The White People,” as the author explains in her afterword. She, of course, puts a different spin on his plot elements. The dog, Bongo, is a character in his own right but not unrealistically sapient. As Mouse frequently notes, he’s as dumb as a box of rocks aside from his almost preternatural tracking ability. Unlike too many horror-fiction characters, Mouse has sound motives for sticking around despite the frightful incidents and, later, for venturing deeper into the forest. Another feature of the novel I admire is that she has a credible reason for writing down her experience—to sort out the traumatic experiences in her own mind—and that, unlike many horror protagonists, she doesn’t blithely move on with her life unscathed after escaping the monsters. Furthermore, Cotgrave’s manuscript sounds believably uncertain at points, not (as Kingfisher discusses in the afterword) as if he had a photographic memory. I’ve rambled on long enough, so I can only urge horror fans to read this fantastic (in both senses) story.

THE WATERS AND THE WILD, by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. This latest installment in Lackey’s “Bedlam Bards” urban fantasy series about elves in modern America centers on a teenage girl, Olivia, depressed because her parents are breaking up. Her life holds only one bright spot, her boyfriend, Blake, a star athlete on the swimming team. It seems incredible that the most popular boy in school has chosen the rather nondescript Olivia as his girlfriend. When he invites her to his family’s summer cabin after their senior year of high school, she welcomes the chance to escape the cold war between her parents. When they arrive at the lakeside resort area, though, she discovers the cabin is more rustic than she expected, Internet and cell phone access are erratic, Blake’s parents seem unsure what to do with her, and Blake himself ignores her most of the time. The reader, of course, realizes before Olivia does that something sinister is going on. It turns out that Blake has courted her and invited her on the trip for ulterior motives. Furthermore, there’s a Lamia in the lake. A Selkie bonds with Olivia, and eventually elves get involved. When confronted with magical phenomena, she’s neither absurdly gullible nor stubbornly skeptical, a good balance for a fantasy novel character and difficult to achieve. She presents a convincing characterization of a teenager suffering from depression yet able to cope with the weird events that entangle her. By the climactic clash between the elven cohorts and the monster in the lake, she has found her strength. I enjoyed the novel very much, like all the installments in this series, and there’s a fun twist at the end when Olivia learns of unsuspected magic in her mother’s past. Unfortunately, one inexplicable error in this book, repeated too often to be a one-time lapse, made my teeth grind in exasperation: The authors think Long Beach (where Olivia plans to attend college) is in San Diego. No, they’re in two different counties, separated by a drive of at least an hour, depending on where in San Diego you start. Granted that Lackey lives in Oklahoma (I don’t know where Edghill lives) and the publisher’s office is in New York, shouldn’t SOMEBODY in the production process still have noticed this obvious blunder?

THE SINISTER MYSTERY OF THE MESMERIZING GIRL, by Theodora Goss. This third volume in the Athena Club trilogy, starring the daughters, whether begotten or created, of the principal Victorian mad scientists (Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Lucinda Van Helsing), wraps up with an air of finality, suggesting a definite conclusion to the series. I’d have been happen to see it continue for several more volumes. At the end of the last book, EUROPEAN TRAVEL FOR THE MONSTROUS GENTLEWOMAN, Mary’s faithful kitchen maid, Alice, has been kidnapped. She turns out to be the daughter of Helen Vaughn from Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan.” Like her mother, Alice has a powerful gift of mesmerism, able to warp reality or at least cast an illusion of doing so. Her mother (introduced in the previous novels as “Mrs. Raymond”) wants to make use of Alice’s power. The Athena Club must rescue Alice and save the world from an occult conspiracy, in an uneasy alliance with Ayesha (of Rider Haggard’s SHE), head of the alchemical society to which the heroines’ fathers belonged. Irene Norton, Professor Moriarty, Dracula, Carmilla, and Mycroft Holmes, among others, make return appearances. Sherlock Holmes, however, stays offstage until about halfway through. In the climactic magical battle, the heroines save England, Europe, and Queen Victoria. I was delighted to see Queen Tera, the resurrected mummy from Bram Stoker’s JEWEL OF SEVEN STARS, as the main antagonist, intent on world domination. As in the previous two books, it’s also fun to read the interpolated comments by Catherine Moreau (the in-universe writer of the three volumes) with remarks and rebuttals from other characters, including Mary Jekyll’s housekeeper, Mrs. Poole. If you’re a fan of classic nineteenth-century horror and fantasy and haven’t read this trilogy, dive into it as soon as possible, starting with THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER, and savor the lively, articulate, intelligent protagonists, the suspense, the clever plotting, and numerous allusions to the literature of the period.

*****

Excerpt from “Mad Magic”:

The windows of the mansion shone with the glow of dozens of oilnut lamps. To Lorita, the spectacle looked more threatening than welcoming. She didn’t belong in this setting. She stepped from the carriage and smoothed the skirt of her unfamiliar evening gown, which rippled blue-green like a waterfall. Her employer, the wizard Arlen, had assured her that she and her magically forged invitation would easily pass inspection. Still, she would have felt more at ease in her usual tunic and trousers, not to mention boots instead of these impractical shoes. She’d had to practice before she could walk in them without stumbling.

Tallis, the apprentice mage driving the carriage, scowled down at her. The frown and his rakishly disheveled raven hair slightly marred his disguise as a coachman, but with luck none of the guests or staff would get close enough to notice. “I should go in with you,” he said for possibly the tenth time that evening.

“Don’t start that again. Master Arlen and Mistress Irina agreed this way is the safest. You’re known by sight to Sylene’s guardians. I’m not.”

“Aunt Irina could have cast a glamour so they wouldn’t recognize me.”

“And if it didn’t last long enough, happened to fail in the middle of a crowd?” They’d gone through this whole argument several times over. “Your job is to wait here and be ready so we can make a fast getaway after I sneak her out.”

This escapade seemed like a lot of trouble to go through to free a mad girl from a greedy aunt and uncle who wanted to keep control of her fortune. No, not mad, Lorita reminded herself. Mistress Irina swore financial motives alone had caused Sylene’s guardians to lock her up and forbid her either to study magic with Irina or to marry Tallis. Either course would take their niece’s inheritance out of the couple’s clutches, not to mention impoverishing their own son, whose betrothal tonight’s festivity celebrated.

Arlen had offered his colleague Irina aid in freeing her would-be student and sent Lorita to carry out the task. She patted the elaborately coiffed black wig that covered her own short, brown hair and took the invitation out of the embroidered purse on her belt, where she’d also tucked the prepared spells Arlen had given her in the form of crystal beads.

The liveried guard at the door barely glanced at the square of parchment. She checked one last time to make sure her flowing sleeves hid the creature wrapped around her arm like a translucent ribbon. Her familiar, Arlen called it, though technically, as more thief than wizard, she couldn’t have a true familiar. It reacted to her nervousness by tightening its coils.

Easy, Taper. Nothing to worry about. While it couldn’t answer her in words, even silently, she sensed its relaxation. Her skin tingled from the myriad tiny needles on its underside as it absorbed a few drops of her blood. The usual rush of pleasure from the contact boosted her confidence. She stepped over the threshold into the entry hall. Fragrances of lamp oil and scented candles perfumed the air. Cloying heat replaced the cool of the night air. Lamps in wall sconces lit the way to the ballroom, where richly dressed people danced to a quartet of musicians on one side or clustered around the refreshment table on the other side. Draperies in the household’s colors of crimson and gold adorned the walls, the red hue matched by bouquets of roses on the table. All she had to do was thread her way through the crowd and slip out the far door into the corridor without attracting notice. She’d memorized Tallis’s directions to Sylene’s chamber.

She took a deep breath and stepped into the middle of the room. Strolling at a leisurely pace to avoid standing out, she paused at the buffet. Food aromas tickled her nose. Strips of rare meat on skewers, shrimp on a bed of ice with a bowl of sauce for dipping, and the miniature eggs of some exotic bird tempted her. Well, why not take advantage of the rare chance to try delicacies she never came across in her normal life? She wanted to blend in, didn’t she? She chose a sample of the meat and nibbled on it while watching the nearby guests. Pepper and hints of spices she didn’t recognize flavored it.

As she set aside the empty skewer and reached for a glass of chilled, amber-colored wine, a young man also picking up a drink turned to her with a smile. Tall and copper-haired, he wore an emerald green robe embroidered in gold. “Good evening.” He scanned up and down her body before returning his gaze to her face. “I’m Orrin, a distant cousin of our hosts.” He clasped her hand and bowed over it before she could dodge. “I’m sure I haven’t met you before. I would remember.”

Lorita almost laughed at the trite attempt at flattery, but his winning smile made up for the blatant falseness of the words. “My name is Lorita.” No reason to invent a false name, since the family wouldn’t have heard of her. “I’m a friend of Sylene’s. I’d hoped to see her here, but she doesn’t seem to be around.” She made the claim on impulse, hoping to find out whether the story about Sylene’s madness was generally believed.

Orrin’s smile faded. “I haven’t seen her in months. I’ve heard she’s very ill, poor girl.”

“Then perhaps I should pay her a visit. She must get lonely if she’s been confined to her room for so long.”

He evaded her eyes. “I’m sure she could use a friend. But from what I hear, she’s not allowed visitors.”

-end of excerpt-

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