March 17, 2012

#Giveaway- The Taker by Alma Katsu


ABOUT THE BOOK:

A young doctor at a county hospital in the northernmost corner of Maine, in below-freezing temperature, is on duty when the police bring in a young woman, who allegedly killed a man and left his body in the north woods. Luke, the doctor, is strangely drawn to her, as she pleads with him to help her escape. As she begins to tell him her story, she grabs a scalpel and slices herself deeply across the chest. As Luke watches in horrified amazement, the sides of the cut creep together and heal themselves. So begins her story—a love affair that began 200 years before, when a ten-year-old Lanore McIlvrae first declared her love to Jonathan St. Andrew, son of the man who founded the settlement in northern Maine. Lanore became pregnant by Jonathan, was sent off to Boston in disgrace to have her baby, and was abducted by a Hungarian count, who lived a life of unbridled sensuality. Having given her the gift of eternal life, the count tells his story, which began in 1346 Hungary, where he was the apprentice to an evil alchemist who seduced and murdered virgins. Now, nearly two centuries later, their paths have crossed again with unexpected consequences....

Blending the allure of immortality with the occult, The Taker sweeps readers along a historical journey—each time period and setting as rich as the last.

Read a scene from The Taker here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Alma Katsu lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. Her debut, The Taker, a Gothic novel of suspense, has been compared to the early work of Anne Rice and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. The novel was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by the American Library Association and has developed an international following. The Reckoning, the second book in the trilogy, is coming out in June 2012. The Taker Trilogy is published by Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster.

Ms. Katsu is a graduate of the Master's writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor's degree from Brandeis University, where she studied with John Irving. She also attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies.

Visit Alma's website

March 16, 2012

#Giveaway - #BeingFlynn Movie Tie-in Book & $25 Fandango Bucks



Can one life story have two authors?

Being Flynn is the new dramatic feature from Academy Award-nominated writer/director Paul Weitz (About a Boy). Adapted from Nick Flynn's 2004 memoir Another Bulls—t Night in Suck City, the movie explores bonds both unbreakable and fragile between parent and child.

Nick Flynn (portrayed in the film by Paul Dano of Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood) is a young writer seeking to define himself. He misses his late mother, Jody (four-time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore), and her loving nature. But his father, Jonathan, is not even a memory, as Nick has not seen the man in 18 years.

Jonathan Flynn (two-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro) has long defined himself as a great writer, "a master storyteller." After abandoning his wife and child, Jonathan scrapes through life on his own terms, and ends up serving time in prison for cashing forged checks. After prison, he drives a cab for a number of years, but with his drinking and eccentricities now accelerating, he loses his job. Despite the occasional grandiose letter to his son, he has remained absent from Nick's life.

Suddenly facing eviction from his apartment, Jonathan impulsively reaches out to Nick and the two come face-to-face. The older man is eloquent and formidable; overwhelmed, Nick nonetheless prepares to integrate his father into his own life. But, as quickly as he materialized, Jonathan flits away again.

Moving on, Nick takes a job at a homeless shelter, where he learns from Captain (Wes Studi) and Joy (Lili Taylor) how to relate to the guests who arrive night after night. Seeing the homeless – some permanently, some temporarily so – and hearing their stories, Nick finds purpose in his own life and work. He also sustains a romance with a co-worker, Denise (Olivia Thirlby). Then one night, Jonathan arrives, seeking a bed, and Nick's senses of self and compassion falter. To give the two of them a shot at a real future, Nick will have to decide whom to seek redemption for first.

Evocatively told, ruefully funny, and moving in its depiction of the ties that bind, Being Flynn tells a story that reveals universal truths.

Release Date: March 16, 2012

Visit the website




March 13, 2012

Infamous by Sherrilyn Kenyon


The world has fallen in love with Nick Gautier and the Dark-Hunters. Now Nick's saga continues in the next eagerly anticipated volume...

You should get Sherrilyn Kenyon's book with Amazon coupons and read other books from the author.

Go to school. Get good grades. Stay out of trouble. That's the mandate for most kids. But Nick Gautier isn't the average teenager. He's a boy with a destiny not even he fully understands. And his first mandate is to stay alive while everyone, even his own father, tries to kill him.


He's learned to annihilate zombies and raise the dead, divination and clairvoyance, so why is learning to drive such a difficulty? But that isn't the primary skill he has to master. Survival is.


And in order to survive, his next lesson makes all the others pale in comparison. He is on the brink of becoming either the greatest hero mankind has ever known.




Visit www.sherrilynkenyon.com for more about SHERRILYN KENYON, INFAMOUS, and all of her novels.

March 9, 2012

Blog Tour - Prophecy of the Flame by Lynn Hardy


ABOUT THE BOOK:

In a blinding flash of light, five nondescript strangers are yanked from this world and thrust into a land of sorcery as they are granted the looks and abilities of the people they were playing. This band of wannabe heroes soon discovers that having the powers they have always dreamed of, does not make life a dream come true. The Crusaders of the Light struggle to form a cohesive band as they blend twentieth century technology with the supernatural powers of this new world, fighting to liberate the kingdom of Cuthburan from the evil horde threatening humanity.

Battle is also waged within Reba, an ordinary housewife who has become the most powerful mage on the planet, as she struggles to remain true to her wedding vows. Drawn against her will to the arms of Prince Alexandros, Reba must choose between a marriage to a handsome prince in a magical world or returning to the husband she left behind.

MY THOUGHTS:

I love to escape from reality by burying my nose in a book.  That's exactly what I did with Prophecy of the Flame by Lynn Hardy.  Once I started reading, I could not put it down.  What I enjoyed most about Lynn's writing is that she was able to not only keep me intrigued, she didn't write a book that was completely predictable.  You can imagine how excited I became when I heard that Prophecy of the Flame is currently being made into a movie.  When you are in the mood for a magical story, pick up Lynn's book and be ready to catch fire!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Led by a series of dreams and encouraged by friends, Lynn Hardy began the journey to become an author. She stored her work in a computer file labeled “second job.” Writing began as a passion she could not contain and has become much more than she ever expected.

In the Fall of 2010 Prophecy of the Flame – Book One reached #1 on Amazon kindle, shortly after Book Two in the series released. In the spring of 2011, Lynn released the Full Cast unabridged audio book of Book One. Now both fans and newcomers can hear the book come to life as every character jumps of the page with their own unique voice.

In reality, Lynn is overcome with compassion for families who are suffering through the recession and so she has created Agape Assistance – Shelter for Families One Book at a Time. (AgapeAssistance.org) Prophecy of the Flame has now attracted the attention of Hollywood. With 100% of the proceeds from Book One in the series going to Agape Assistance, there is now a full length movie now in the works.

Lynn has attended many science fiction conventions and has had the privilege of serving on panels about writing. Renaissance fairs are another favorite event for the author. Seeing others dressed in costume (as she always is during book signings) makes her feel right at home. Meeting other writers at these conventions and events who are struggling to break into the publishing field has led Lynn to merge Resilient Publishing with Borderline – a unique type of publisher that offers the individual attention to their authors that the big publishing houses give, with the control and increased payouts of self-publishing. As marketing director of Borderline, Lynn is blazing a new path for authors to follow.

The road has been longer and more complicated than she would have ever guessed–not always smooth, but filled with wonderful surprises. Like most stories, Lynn is sure that her journey has only just begun.

Visit her website at www.lynnhardy.com.


Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of Prophecy of the Flame by Lynn Hardy for review purposes. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.

March 7, 2012

#Giveaway - Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream


ABOUT THE BOOK:

In thirty days Clementine Pritchard will be finished with her last painting and her life.

World-renowned artist and sharp-tongued wit Clementine Pritchard has decided that she's done. After flushing away a medicine cabinet full of prescriptions, she gives herself thirty days to tie up loose ends—finish one last painting, make nice with her ex-husband, and find a home for her cat. Clementine plans to spend the month she has left in a swirl of art-world parties, manic work sessions, and outrageous acts—but what she doesn't expect is to uncover secrets surrounding the tragedy that befell her mother and sister. In an ending no one sees coming, will we lose Clementine or will we find her?

A bold debut from an exciting new voice, Losing Clementine is a wonderfully entertaining and poignant novel about unanticipated self-discovery that features one of the most irresistible, if deeply flawed, characters to grace contemporary fiction in years.

March 6, 2012

Blog Tour: Her Frozen Wild by Kim Antieau

About Her Frozen Wild

Scientists in the Altai in Siberia uncover the 2,500 year old frozen mummy of a tattooed priestess or shaman. This mummy has the same mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) as American archaeologist Ursula Smith whose mother disappeared in Siberia 30 years earlier. Ursula travels from the U.S. to Siberia to unravel the mystery of the “lady” and meets Sergei Ivanovich Polyakov, a Russian doctor who graciously invites her into his home. After they become lovers, she discovers he has the same tattoos on his body as the tattooed lady. He tells a disbelieving Ursula that they have met before and she is destined to save the ancient People, considered as devils by some and shape-changing gods by others. A shaman takes Ursula to one of the sacred timeless caves where Ursula’s mother supposedly disappeared. When Ursula allows the shaman to tattoo her, she is thrown back in time where she must unlock the mystery of the People and their link to her past in order to save them and Sergei—even if it costs her her life.


My Favorite Books
By Kim Antieau

Since this post is going to be on the Readaholic, I thought it would be appropriate to write about some of the books I have loved over the years. Like you, Bridget, I was always a voracious reader. I loved books and stories. When I was a child I would sometimes sleep with my favorite book under my pillow, hoping that I would dream about it.

In elementary school, I read any book about horses I could find. I read all the Chincoteague books by Marguerite Henry. Plus I gobbled up Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. I read them over and over, although my favorite was the one with the aliens, The Island Stallion Races.

Then in middle school, I loved the Narnia books as well as any horse books. I was getting frustrated that hardly any of the books had girls in them, or if they did, the girls didn’t have much of a role or else they were relatively powerless. It was around this time that I created by own imaginary world where my friends and I were from another planet; on that planet girls and women had magical powers—and rode horses and unicorns—and the men and boys had no powers!

At various times when I was young, I also read Jules Verne and Alexander Dumas. Although I never finished any of their books, I loved the alienness of what they wrote about. Verne’s style was so odd and floral. The worlds Dumas wrote about were so different from my own. I was fascinated by The Count of Monte Cristo even though I never finished the book. (I have always preferred shorter novels.) I loved Dickens, too, and I did read and finished David Copperfield. It was one of my favorite books for a very long time.

In high school I started reading gothic novels. Most of them were written by women so at least women and/or girls played a major role in the books. I also read just about every end-of-the-world apocalyptic novel there was. Most of them were assigned to us in school. It’s no wonder I was a bit depressed in high school! We read 1984, Brave New World, On the Beach, and Alas, Babylon. The future did not look very bright. We were either all going to be poisoned by nuclear war or we’d become automatons unable to love or live freely. Yikes!

Fortunately a teacher of mine introduced me to the work of Daphne Du Maurier. Although Du Maurier’s heroines were not always powerful, they were well-developed characters who seemed like real women. Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are both books I still recommend people read, especially writers. In Rebecca, we never know the name of the woman who narrates the entire novel. In My Cousin Rachel, we’re never quite sure what is happening. Du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now is one of the most frightening stories I have ever read. In fact, I’ve never re-read it because it was so scary to me.

I also read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in high school. Some people claim that if someone prefers Jane Eyre over Wuthering Heights, that person has no romance in her or his soul. Well, I did not like Wuthering Heights at all. I thought the characters were unrealistic; they acted like children—and not very well-behaved children.

I didn’t see anything romantic about the way Heathcliff treated Catherine. I thought he was a bully and a bit psychotic. Plus Catherine was so powerless through the entire story. In Jane Eyre, Jane took her power. She was the center of her story. Yes, she was in love with Rochester, but once she discovered he had deceived her, she left. I loved Jane Eyre, the person and the novel.

Oh wow, I see I’m only up to high school, I’ve gone on for pages, and I’ve just skimmed the surface! Maybe I should tell you about some writers and books I like now. Fast forward quite a few years. I still like strong women or at least women who are not caricatures, women who are multi-dimensional.

I got my Masters degree in American literature, so I read a lot of books in my college years. I grew tired of books about older men lusting after younger women. (The male professors were picking out these books for us to read.) I was thrilled when I took a science fiction course. Yes, some of the books were outdated and the male writers could be just as clueless as they were in any genre. However, a lot of women were starting to write science fiction then.

After years of reading mostly male writers in college—or women writers who could only tell the tales of powerless uninteresting women—I got to read Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Pamela Sargent and Kate Wilhelm. Wow! Fantastic imaginative settings and powerful women! I was thrilled. Pamela Sargent edited a science fiction anthology series called Women of Wonder with all women writers. I can only say that it blew my mind. The stories were eye-opening, to say the least, so rich, thought-provoking, and full of great characters.

Who do I read now? I still read lots of books, but when I’m writing fiction I read only nonfiction and poetry. Some of my favorite writers in those genres are Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Oliver, Tom Cowan, Vicki Noble, Mario Milosevic, Dale Pendell, Patricia Monaghan, and Stephen Harrod Buhner.

In fiction, I enjoy most of Barbara Kingsolver’s books. Pigs in Heaven is one of my favorites. The main character is on a road trip with her adopted daughter, and they travel through many of the landscapes my husband and I have traveled. Her books have compassion and heart and an appreciation for the land and the Earth.

Alice Hoffman is another favorite of mine. I happen to be a fan of the Latin American magical realists. Although Hoffman is not a magical realists, her novels are all filled with myth and magic and ordinary life, and it’s not necessarily unordinary for the myth and magic to be all mixed up in every day life.

Charles de Lint is another favorite. Charles’ books are mythic, filled with fairies, music, and art. His work is also compassionate and heartfelt, and he writes really good women! Although I love his current novels, some of my favorite books of his are from his early years, probably because they were some of the first novels I had read by him, and I was so thrilled and impressed to find him. I loved Svaha. How to describe it? A kind of mythic Native American science fiction apocalyptic futuristic novel. OK, and that does not do it justice. I also really loved Jack the Giant Killer, which was probably the first modern day fairy novel I’d ever read.

Another of my favorite writers is Mario Milosevic. I should mention that I happen to be married to him, but I loved his writing before we married, and why should leave him out just because we happen to live together? His poetry is amazing. Sometimes simple and beautiful, other times complex and mysterious. His prose writing is like that, too. It’s always something different with Mario. He has written one of my favorite books in the world, period: Terrastina and Mazolli, a novel told in 99 word chapters about a year in the life of a free-spirited couple, their five-year-old twin daughters, and the people in their small town in the Pacific Northwest. There is something tender and lovely about each little chapter.

I better stop now! Those are a few of my favorite books and favorite writers. As I mentioned earlier, when I’m writing, I can’t read anyone else’s fiction. I like to re-read my own books while writing. I know I’m not supposed to admit that, but I feel like the characters in my novels told me their stories and I wrote them down. So why wouldn’t I want to re-visit old friends now and again?

Thanks, Bridget!

Kim Antieau has written many novels, short stories, poems, and essays. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, both in print and online, including The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s SF, The Clinton Street Quarterly, The Journal of Mythic Arts, EarthFirst!, Alternet, Sage Woman, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. She was the founder, editor, and publisher of Daughters of Nyx: A Magazine of Goddess Stories, Mythmaking, and Fairy Tales. Her work has twice been short-listed for the Tiptree Award, and has appeared in many Best of the Year anthologies. Critics have admired her “literary fearlessness” and her vivid language and imagination. She has had nine novels published. Her first novel, The Jigsaw Woman, is a modern classic of feminist literature. Kim lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, writer Mario Milosevic.
Her latest book is Her Frozen Wild.

Learn more about Kim and her writing at www.kimantieau.com.

March 5, 2012

Author Q&A & #Giveaway - Clawback by Mike Cooper

Q&A with Mike Cooper
author of CLAWBACK
(Viking / On-sale: March 5, 2012)

Ruthless bankers, one-percenters behaving badly, populist anger—the themes in CLAWBACK come straight from today’s headlines.  Are you an Occupy Wall Street fan?

In fact, I’d wanted to write a full-length Silas Cade story for a while, before Occupy started making national headlines—I’ve published some short stories with him as a protagonist.  The original concept was of a hitman accountant.  I was amusing myself there—after years in finance, who wouldn’t want to bring automatic weapons into an audit?  So the character and setting were ready to go.  Then Wall Street cratered the world economy, and the plot practically wrote itself—“Don’t bail them out, take them out!”

I should stress that, however cathartic it might seem in the novel and however much blame they bear, shooting banksters is not a good solution to the country’s financial problems.  The Occupy movement has done well to bring the real issues to everyone’s attention: inadequate regulation, sociopathic behavior among the financiers, and consequent extremes of inequality.

Do you really think financiers are sociopaths?

Not all of them!  The problem is that the financial industry—nearly a tenth of GDP now, an all-time high and truly an astonishing figure—is built on a structure of individuals maximizing their own gain.  That’s capitalism, I suppose.  But when everyone on Wall Street is primarily concerned with the size of their own bonus, overall outcomes are poor. 

What research did you do for CLAWBACK?

The usual:  talked to some traders, read a lot, walked the streets of New York City.  The financial material was familiar to me already, less from work than from paying attention to the news every day.  A lot of specific details (on weapons for example) I checked using the information cornucopia of the internet.

Not everything in the novel is accurate.  It’s fairly difficult to acquire a concealed-carry permit in NYC, for instance.  But that’s the benefit of fiction—if the story’s compelling and believable, that’s good enough for me.

You mentioned traders.  CLAWBACK’s window into their lives is fascinating—they seem driven by an almost carnal desire for the acquirement of wealth.  Are they really like that?

Some, sure.  But after a point the money’s just scorekeeping.  Even a 25-year-old can only drink so many bottles of Cristal Brut.  The better traders have an unusual combination of risk tolerance—or risk desire, really—and capacity for objective analysis.  They want the thrill of jumping of the cliff, but they know exactly how far they’ll fall, what the acceleration will be, and how hard they’ll hit the water. Many of the novel’s characters (not just the bankers) are cynical, gossipy and sarcastic.  

It sounds like your worldview is somewhat jaded.

Perhaps that’s what studying Wall Street does to one’s psyche?  I’m kidding.  Some people believe in the goodness of humankind, especially in the abstract, but find fault or difficulty in everyone they know.  For me it’s rather the opposite:  I’m deeply disappointed in civilization’s progress and pessimistic about its future, but most people I meet in person are interesting and likeable.

Is that what encouraged you to become a writer?

Oh, I’ve always been a writer.  In third grade I wrote my first book – a six-page science fiction epic that ended, classically, with “it was all a dream!”  But I didn’t try to get published until our daughter was born and we decided that I’d be the stay-at-home parent.  I published a few stories, wrote a novel that found an agent but not a publisher, wrote another novel that did sell, started another…and then our second child was born, free time totally evaporated, and I went fallow for a couple years.

Are your children older now?

They’re in grade school.  Our older has read some of what I’ve published.  Our policy is not to censor—whatever they want to read, go ahead!  So far it’s worked out; I think children are generally good about stepping back when a book is too scary or complicated or challenging.  Which is only to say that neither has read CLAWBACK.  I haven’t stopped them, but I think they might miss the humor.

Your sister Sophie Littlefield is a writer as well—how did you both end up in the same profession?

Genetics?  Our father, an academic, has published numerous books.  Sophie got started years earlier than I did, publishing fiction and nonfiction in magazines.  I got the first book contract, but then she sold one novel, another, then another, and never looked back.

People often seem to assume that if either of us is cornered, in private, and given enough to drink, we’ll spill all—about the rivalry and jealousy and backstabbing.  The boring truth is that Sophie and I have a wonderfully supportive relationship.  In fact, it’s great to have someone to talk freely with, about all the little irritations of publishing that we normally keep hidden away.  We do write in somewhat different genres.  Sophie’s inclined to darker themes, and has a keen ear and eye for relationships, while my books tend to have exploding helicopters.

Not just helicopters!  Silas Cade is interesting in how thoroughly he’s managed to keep his life off the grid.  He leaves no data trail at all, which would seem especially difficult in Manhattan.  Could someone looking to slip off the radar employ any of the techniques he uses?

Most of them.  Like a thriller author whose afterword notes that, say, certain lockbreaking methods and kitchen-sink explosive recipes have been altered for public safety, I won’t tell you which disappearing techniques might backfire.

But in seriousness, privacy is a considerable concern of mine.  Advances in technology—from storage to visual surveillance to Big Data analytics—have made it impossible to live free from the Panopticon’s eye.  The danger is not just from government, though legal and technical protections are being eroded with astonishing speed.  Private-sector aggregation is just as scary, as anyone who’s tried to clear up a credit-score inaccuracy knows.

The world knows far too much about me already.  I’m not ready to live in a mountain shack with no electricity or phone service (still less our children), but the loss of privacy is a loss of liberty as well.  We would all do well to emulate Silas, at least in some ways.

What’s next for you and Silas Cade?  Will he be on to other adventures?

Yes!  Look for him in a short story, “The Sellout,” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine this month.  And Viking will publish the sequel to CLAWBACK next year, in 2013.

As Silas himself has pointed out, when your job is taking down corrupt bankers, you won’t want for work any time soon.  With luck he’ll be around for some time yet, helping Wall Street heal itself.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mike Cooper is the pseudonym of a former jack-of-all-trades. Under a different name his work has received wide recognition, including a Shamus Award, a Thriller nomination, and inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010.


ABOUT THE BOOK:

After a stint in the Middle East, black ops vet Silas Cade becomes an "accountant"-the go-to for financiers who need things done quickly, quietly, and by any means necessary. Silas is hired by a major player to pay a visit to a hedge fund manager to demand clawback: the mandatory return of compensation paid on a deal that goes bad. But before Cade can tell his client that he got his ten million back, the guy turns up dead.

And he's not the first. Someone's killing investment bankers whose funds have gone south. Silas's scrubbed identity, and his insider's perspective, makes him the ideal shadow man to track down whoever's murdering some of the most hated managers on Wall Street. With the aid of a beautiful financial blogger looking to break her first big story, Silas tracks a violent security crew who may be the key to the executions. But as paranoia and panic spread, he begins to wonder: is the threat coming from inside the game-or out?

With breakneck pacing, nonstop action, and cutting edge details of today's financial intelligence technology, Clawback hurtles to its final twist, a gripping contemporary tale of shady finance, venal corruption, and greed run rampant.

March 2, 2012

Blog Tour Review & #Giveaway - Stella Cameron & Cynthia Garner


ABOUT THE BOOK:

After her husband's tragic death, Leigh Kelly arrives on Whidbey Island determined to start over. Yet the tiny town of Chimney Rock is not as peaceful as it seems. Women have been disappearing, and Leigh can't shake the feeling that she's being watched . . . especially at night. Soon, she's experiencing visions she can't explain and fighting her attraction to a handsome stranger who seems to know her most intimate desires.

As the leader of the Team, a pack of werehounds forced to hide their very existence, former special ops soldier Niles Latimer is desperate to prove a man's heart beats beneath his predator's body. And Leigh-the mysterious beauty possessing powers she doesn't yet understand-may be the one woman who can help him. But Niles isn't the only one who recognizes Leigh's true identity. Something evil is waiting in the woods-and the hunt has begun . . .

MY THOUGHTS:

I have been a fan of the paranormal genre since the fifth grade.  I never seem to get bored from reading paranormal books and that's because there are authors like Stella Cameron.  She can take a subject and make it her own.  I became a fan of Leigh's instantly and enjoyed the intensity of this book.  If you are a paranormal fan, Darkness Bound is a must read.

Stella Cameron Q & A:

How has writing changed your life?

1. Writing changed my life completely, my focus. I'm never alone because I have another populated world in my head. Also, writing has given me the opportunity to spend so much time with what I love most, reading and writing. From the early days when I had little children and had to write from 4 to 7 in the morning and after they were in bed at night, I've always found time to write every day unless something extraordinary got in my way.

What author has influenced you the most?

2. Now there's an easy question—I don't think. I can't pick out just one. Stephen King has inspired me with his imagination and excellence. Pat Conroy really taught me so much about emotion and the outrageous. Years ago Susan Howatch helped me develop my sense of spinning dark threat. Jayne Ann Krentz gave me a love of humor. Ann Maxwell is the queen of tension. My dear, now gone friend, Suzanne Simmons showed me it's okay to mix humor and pathos.

If you could change places with someone for a day, who would it be?

3. Now I'm going to bomb out. No one. I believe we have to play the hand we're dealt and deal with our strengths and weaknesses. There are things I wish I could do but they are all so unattainable. What I long for most is justice tempered with kindness and understanding. And if I had my one big wish, it would be that no child or animal would ever suffer. So you see, I start to sound silly, almost childish. Above all: WIPE OUT JEALOUSY AND ENVY.


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Once a generation, the rift between the paranormal world and the human world opens, allowing supernatural entities to cross. Vampire, demon, or shapeshifter, they can save the world-or send it spiraling into chaos. Half-demon, half-human, Nix de la Fuente is accepted by neither and mistrusted by both. Determined to prove she's more human than not, she devotes herself to solving crimes between the world's mortals and its most unsavory undead. But her latest case brings her face to face with the one vampire she could never resist . . .

Called in to investigate a string of violent murders, special agent Tobias Caine isn't interested in rekindling his relationship with Nix. Yet one look and the vampire knows his need for her is as strong as ever. Once, their all-consuming passion nearly cost Nix her fragile hold on her humanity. Now, as their hunger for one another intensifies, exposing them to an unimaginable danger, it could cost them both their lives.

MY THOUGHTS:

Kiss of the Vampire is the first book of Cynthia's that I have read and I was instantly smitten with her writing.  It is impossible to put this book down once you start reading.  An unrelenting tale of suspense and romance, Kiss of the Vampire is an undeniable treat.



March 1, 2012

Review & Giveaway - The Dawn of Saudi: In Search for Freedom by Homa Pouragari


ABOUT THE BOOK:

This poignant mystery is about three people whose lives intertwine in a tale that depicts the oppression of women and the human rights abuse under the pretext of religion. Dawn Parnell made the mistake of marrying a Saudi; Sahar Al-Hijazi is forced to marry a man she doesn't love; Jason Crawford has business ties to the Al-Hijazi family. As the lives of these three people cross paths, the story takes the reader on a dangerous journey from Saudi Arabia where women are considered the property of a man, to United States where women are independent.





MY THOUGHTS:

The Dawn of Saudi is a gripping mystery that holds your interest.  I enjoyed  getting to know Sahar Al-Hijazi and felt the undeniable emotion tugs as I read about her life.  I've was born and raised in the US and it still shocks me how women are treated in Saudi Arabia.  This is a touching romance that will stick with you long after you have you have stopped reading.

AUTHOR BIO:


Homa Pourasgari resides in Los Angeles, California. She received a degree in Business from Loyola Marymount University, after which she left to live in Paris for one year and attended the University of Sorbonne, focusing on literature. Multilingual, she has been traveling since the age of 5 and has experienced many different cultures. Homa has worked in various industries such as marketing, retail, banking, accounting and fitness but has always returned to her true love – writing. She is currently working on a new book. Lemon Curd is her first novel.

Visit the website

#Giveaway - Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock


ABOUT THE BOOK:

An unvarnished portrait of a marriage that is both ordinary and extraordinary, Dancing on Broken Glass takes readers on an unforgettable journey of the heart.

Lucy Houston and Mickey Chandler probably shouldn’t have fallen in love, let alone gotten married. They’re both plagued with faulty genes—he has bipolar disorder; she, a ravaging family history of breast cancer. But when their paths cross on the night of Lucy’s twenty-first birthday, sparks fly, and there’s no denying their chemistry.

Cautious every step of the way, they are determined to make their relationship work—and they put their commitment in writing. Mickey will take his medication. Lucy won’t blame him for what is beyond his control. He promises honesty. She promises patience. Like any marriage, there are good days and bad days—and some very bad days. In dealing with their unique challenges, they make the heartbreaking decision not to have children. But when Lucy shows up for a routine physical just shy of their eleventh anniversary, she gets an impossible surprise that changes everything. Everything. Suddenly, all their rules are thrown out the window, and the two of them must redefine what love really is.

AUTHOR BIO:

 
Ka Hancock has two nursing degrees and and has spent most of her career working with psychiatric and substance abuse patients. She lives in Oregon with her husband and and four children. This is her first novel.

February 29, 2012

Review & #Giveaway - Lemon Curd by Homa Pouragari


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Lemon Curd is a love story between the righteous and opinionated Anna Lisa Gibson and her arrogant British officemate, Neil Scott Whittaker. He can have any woman he desires but Anna Lisa's honesty and down to earth personality makes him fall in love with her. Except that he doesn't want to give up his fiancée and she doesn't want to have an affair with a soon to be married man. Yet romance is only part of this story. From the streets of Los Angeles to the streets of London, Lemon Curd depicts the millennium lifestyle - Women's position in the business world, the workaholic and multitasking attitude of our society and the difficulty of balancing family and work life while trying to make a difference in the lives of the people around us.





MY THOUGHTS:

When I first picked up Lemon Curd by Homa Pouragari, I had some trouble getting into the flow of the book. I kept noticing my mind wandering and I had to force myself to keep reading. Once I was about halfway through, it seemed to pick up and hold my attention. While I wouldn't say this is a must read book, it does have potential.

AUTHOR BIO:


Homa Pourasgari resides in Los Angeles, California. She received a degree in Business from Loyola Marymount University, after which she left to live in Paris for one year and attended the University of Sorbonne, focusing on literature. Multilingual, she has been traveling since the age of 5 and has experienced many different cultures. Homa has worked in various industries such as marketing, retail, banking, accounting and fitness but has always returned to her true love – writing. She is currently working on a new book. Lemon Curd is her first novel.

Blog Tour Review & #Giveaway - Hope Ramsay & Bella Riley


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Gracious me, my daughter Rocky sure could use my help. I always knew she wasn’t much interested in the local boys—but who’d have thought she’d come home with English royalty. Trouble is, Hugh wants to buy some of our folks’ land. We don’t want to sell, but Rocky’s job depends on her closing the deal. And though Hugh’s obviously smitten, I’m not sure he’s right for my Rocky. After forty years with my Elbert, all I want is to see my little girl find the same. Well, always nice talking to you, and remember: the Cut ‘n’ Curl’s got hot rollers, free coffee, and the best gossip in town.

MY THOUGHTS: 

I had so much fun reading Last Chance Beauty Queen.  It made a great escape from everyday life and I enjoyed following along with the life of these instantly likable characters.  Hope Ramsay knows how to weave an irresistible romance while making it completely believable.  Romance lovers everywhere will rejoice for Last Chance Beauty Queen.

Hope Ramsay Q & A:
How has writing changed your life?

Well, I know people expect some dramatic answer to a question like this. But I've been writing so long that it's hard to see how my life has changed because of it. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was seven years old and I never wavered from that desire. I studied journalism in college. My first job was as a "legislative correspondent" for a member of Congress -- a job that entailed writing letters to people for eight hours a day. I went on to work for a variety of non-profit organizations where I wrote newsletters, articles, speeches, testimony and all kinds of other documents. And while I was doing all that non-fiction writing in my day job, I was writing fiction for fun. It took decades to sell the novel, but even if I never got a book published I would still write them. I think I've just got the story teller's gene. So writing never changed my life, it's solidly a part of who I am as a person.

What author has influenced you the most?

Oh there are so many writers have influenced and inspired me. But my favorite romance authors are Lavyrle Spencer and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Both of these great ladies write memorable characters. Lavyrle Spence always made me cry. And SEP always makes me laugh. I can't tell you how much I admire authors who can do that consistently.

If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

Oh this is an easy question. I would want to be Neil Armstrong on the day he took his first step on the moon. I would be awesomely cool to stand on the moon and watch earth rise.



ABOUT THE BOOK:

Despite such a close friendship, Rebecca Campbell never saw fireworks with her fiancé. Now with a broken engagement behind her and a promise she has vowed to keep, Rebecca is determined to make a new life for herself in Emerald Lake – a quaint town in the breathtaking Adirondack Mountains.

When Sean Murphy heads home, he never expects to fall for his younger brother’s girlfriend – but that is exactly what has happened. With a smile like sunshine and a wonderful heart, Sean feels something he has never felt before…at home.

Neither Rebecca nor Sean anticipated the sparks to fly so quickly. Lingering secrets aside, Sean can't deny the obvious attraction and burning desire he has for Rachel. But how can he give his heart to a woman he can't trust – or can he? As the days pass and his resolve is tested, Sean begins to realize Emerald Lake is home sweet home and that it is the perfect place for falling in love.

MY THOUGHTS:

I love it when I start reading a book and two characters meet and the sparks fly instantly.  That's how I felt when my husband and I met up six years after graduating, so I know it can happen!  That undeniable pull between two people is a beautiful thing and Bella captures it perfectly in With This Kiss. 

Bella Riley Q & A:

How has writing changed your life?

I laughed when I read this question because eight years after first deciding to write a book, writing IS my life. :) No matter what else I'm doing – hiking, eating, swimming, watching a movie – the book I'm working on is always there in the back of my head. Inspiration comes from absolutely everywhere and I never know when I'll have an “a-ha!” moment about a character or plot point.

What author has influenced you the most?

I'm a huge reader and I love so many authors. Jennifer Crusie is a favorite, as is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Both of them write fabulous contemporaries that make me laugh out loud and cry depending on what page I'm on. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a group of writers that I'm very close with. I'm thrilled to call all of these fabulous authors - Barbara Freethy, Tina Folsom, Monica McCarty, Anne Mallory, Carol Grace, Jami Alden, Veronica Wolff, Tracy Grant, Candice Hern, Penelope Williamson, Catherine Coulter and Josie Brown – close friends as well. I've learned a great deal from each of them, not only with regards to writing great books, but also how to best navigate the publishing industry. Best of all, they make me laugh!

If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

I really like my life :) so this is a hard one. I do think it would be interesting to see what Kate Middleton's life is like now that she's a princess.

February 28, 2012

Review - Superman's Cape by Brian Sprangler


ABOUT THE BOOK:

When Sara Connely is asked what life is like today, she answers with the simple words, ‘life goes on.’ The life she and her boys enjoyed the last dozen years is gone. Coping with the death of her husband is difficult. Doing so with two young boys, and no money, is almost too much to ask.

Life does go on, but when Sara’s oldest boy becomes lost in Croatan National Forest, life comes to a stop.

Twelve year old Kyle Connely doesn’t know the woods. He doesn’t know the wildlife. He doesn’t know how to get home. Lost in the wilderness, he faces dangers the likes of which he has never seen. Kyle’s time is running out. A hurricane is looming, and in its path is the coastal forest he is trying to survive.

Jacob Hanson has a gift. An intuition. An insightfulness. And it has helped him find success. But his gift turns into a curse as he becomes an unwilling participant in Kyle's plight. What Jacob Hanson doesn't know is he also holds the key to Sara’s past and the lifetime she lost with her husband.

MY THOUGHTS:

When I sat down to read Superman's Cape by Brian Sprangler, I didn't really have any expectations set.  This is his first novel, so I didn't have any prior work to compare it with.  After reading the synopsis, I had a feel for what the book would entail and was ready to dive in.  I enjoyed Superman's Cape, especially because of Brian's ability to capture my attention.

AUTHOR BIO:


Brian Spangler is a resident of Virginia and lives with his wife, two children, three cats (sometimes more), mouse, parrot, lizard and a sugar glider.

Brian grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a youngster, he liked to write short stories and even self-published a few times using cardboard for book covers and almost all of the masking tape found in his parent’s house. Later he worked with his father in a professional photography lab where emerging technologies captured his imagination and attention and from which a career in engineering was born.

As an engineer, Brian has both a Bachelors and Masters degree in computer science. He has worked on large projects including a number of national level security programs and smaller projects such as computer visualizations that demonstrate a form of graphical pixel ballet in response to music.

Writing has always been a constant. From producing technical documents to writing poetry and his favorite, writing fiction – a day does not pass where Brian isn’t spending a part of it writing or thinking about writing.

Visit Brian's website

Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of Superman's Cape by Brian Sprangler through Business 2 Blogger for review purposes.  I will be receiving a small stipend.  All opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Review & #Giveaway - So Damn Lucky by Deborah Coonts


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Lucky O'Toole -- Head of Customer Relations at The Babylon, premier mega-resort on the Vegas Strip -- thinks it's just another night in Las Vegas. But then a magician pulls a disappearing act, right under Lucky's nose. Is it a stunt? Or something worse?

While Lucky chases leads, someone is trying to put her off the scent. As if this wasn't enough to ruin her day, Lucky's relationship with The Big Boss is coming to a head - - past hurts can no longer be denied. Of course, she is already on shaky emotional ground: Teddie, her live-in, has been touring with a young and lovely pop star. Paxton Dane, former coworker and would-be suitor, is still circling, hoping to find a chink in the armor of Lucky's resolve. And then, there's this French chef, who is proving to be too hot to handle . . .

Las Vegas expert Deborah Coonts thrills again with this third installment in her dazzling series focused on casino "fixer" Lucky O'Toole.

EXCERPT:

Chapter One of Deborah Coonts' So Damn Lucky
By Deborah Coonts,
Author of So Damn Lucky

Some things in life are best savored alone -- sex is not one of them.

This happy thought occurred to me while piloting a borrowed Ferrari and staring at the smiling couples filling the sidewalks along the Las Vegas Strip. Walking hand-in-hand, they were living, breathing reminders of the sorry state of my own love life.

"Lady! Watch out!"

I heard the shout in the nick of time. Slamming on the brakes, I narrowly avoided sliding the front end of the Ferrari under a tour bus. A sea of Japanese faces appeared like moons in the back window, peering down at me. Then cameras blocked the faces, flashbulbs popping as I shrugged and waved while trying to appear unruffled.

The young man who had shouted stepped over to the car and peered through the open roof, like a judge eyeing the accused. "Are you okay?" he asked. His face flushed, his eyes glassy, he looked like he was still recovering from last night's party or getting a head start on the next one.

"Thanks to you," I said as I restarted the car, which had stalled. "I know better than to think about sex while doing something potentially life-threatening. What was I thinking?" I cringed as the words popped out of my mouth. Even I couldn't believe I'd said that. Clearly, I needed to get a grip: first I couldn't stop thinking about sex, now I was talking about it to strangers. This was so not good.

"What were you thinking?" The kid smirked at me as he took another gulp from the glass clutched tightly in his hand. "Care to . . . enlighten me?" he asked after wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his sweatshirt which had NYU printed in bold blue on the front.

The sweatshirt looked new. He looked twelve. I felt old.

"Another time, perhaps," I lied. I didn't really intend to flirt with the kid. However, with Teddie, my former live-in, gallivanting around the globe playing rock star for the last six weeks -- and the foreseeable future -- my prospects looked pretty dim. Teddie and I had been really good for a while. Now, I didn't know what we were.

Sexual self-preservation clearly had kicked in.

"Go easy on those walktails -- they're deadly and the night is still young," I said, in a blatant attempt to steer the conversation away from the current topic.

"Walktail?"

"That drink in your hand, small enough to take with you, but potent enough to leave you puking in the gutter."

The kid's face grew serious as he held up the brew for inspection, looking at it with new- found respect. "Yes, Ma'am," he said, his voice filled with awe.

My smile vanished. Despite careful study, I was still unable to figure out at precisely what moment in time I had gone from being a Miss to a Ma'am. What changed? Whatever it was, I wanted it back like it used to be -- along with a few other things, but they would all take minor miracles. While I believe in magic, miracles were pushing the envelope, even for me. I squeezed the paddle shifter and put the car in gear. Easing around the still stationary bus, I hit the gas. The night held an October chill -- refreshing as the wind teased my hair. A full moon fought a losing battle as it competed valiantly with the lights of the Strip. I knew stars filled the sky, but they weren't visible in the false half-night of Las Vegas at full wattage.

My name is Lucky O'Toole, and, as I mentioned, the Ferrari isn't mine. It belongs to the dealership at The Babylon, my employer and the newest addition to the Las Vegas Strip mega-resort explosion. By title, I am the Head of Customer Relations. In reality, I'm the chief problem solver. If a guest at the Babylon has a 'situation' -- which could be anything from an unplanned marriage, an unfamiliar bed partner, a roaring headache or an unexplained rash, to a wife and kids given a room on the same floor as the mistress's suite -- I'm the go-to girl.

Lucky me.

Actually, I love my job. And I miss Teddie. As the two appear mutually exclusive, therein lies the rub. But, enough of that -- I had wallowed in self-pity for my allotted ten minutes today. No more private pity party for me; I was on my way to the real thing.

The invitation read:

Inviting all family, friends and former dancers to a farewell party in honor of the forty-year run of the Calliope Burlesque Cabaret. October 26, eight o-clock sharp, backstage at the Calliope Theater, the Athena Resort and Casino. Present this invitation for admittance.

To someone in my position, being invited to parties was part of the exercise, but this was one guest list on which I never expected to find my name. I wasn't family, nor was I a former dancer -- although with my six-foot frame, I guess dancing might have been a career path had I not been averse to prancing in front of strangers wearing nothing but stilettos and a thong, with twenty pounds of feathers on my head.

That left friend. As the sole individual responsible for shutting down the show, I doubted I qualified under that category either. Perhaps they invited me because of my unparalleled ability to smooth ruffled feathers, or maybe for my irritating inability to overlook a pun no matter how tortured. Who knew? However, I never could resist a good mystery, so despite the niggling feeling I'd received an invitation to my own execution, I accepted.

After having to go back to the office for the invitation, and after the near miss on the Strip, I pulled the Ferrari up to the front of the Athena. Careful to extricate myself from the low-slung car without giving the valet an eyeful up my short skirt, I then tossed the keys to him. Wrapping myself in a warm hug of cashmere pashmina to ward off the night chill, I straightened my skirt, threw back my shoulders, found a tentative balance on four-inch heels, and headed inside. An aging Grand Dame, the Athena had seen better days. Like a ship marooned on the shoals, torn and tattered by the elements, the Athena had been savaged by time and inattention. Moored at the wrong end of the Strip, surrounded by lesser properties, she now boasted only faded glory. Her carpet stained, her walls dingy and décor dated, she reeked of quiet desperation. While she still boasted 'The Best Seafood Buffet in Vegas' for less than twenty dollars, which brought in some of the locals, her gaming rooms were rarely more than a third full. In Vegas, folks are quick to abandon a sinking ship -- even if the slots are loose and the staff friendly.

My boss, Albert Rothstein (also known as The Big Boss), recently acquired the Athena from the previous owner, who had decided the best way to beat The Big Boss was to frame him for murder. In a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse, The Big Boss had eaten the canary -- with my help, I'm happy to say.

The fact that The Big Boss is also my father is a closely guarded secret -- so close that even I was in the dark until recently, when, facing the prospect of imminent death at the hands of a heart surgeon, The Big Boss decided to come clean. I'm still not sure how I felt about the whole thing, so I ignored it whenever possible. I was pretty happy with the way things were before the big bombshell, so I didn't see any reason to rock the boat. The Big Boss saw it differently; now that he'd claimed me -- and made his relationship with my mother public -- he wanted the whole world to know. Not a hooker's chance in Heaven, thank you very much. Don't get me wrong; I loved him like a father . . . always had. But, who the heck wants to be the boss's daughter?

Expecting the usual sparse crowd, I was surprised to see a throng milling in the Athena's dismal lobby and spilling into the casino. Having spent my formative years in and out of Vegas hotels and my adult life working in them, I rarely noticed the fashion choices of the river of humanity that flowed through. However, tonight their choices were hard to ignore.

Space creatures of all shapes and sizes mingled, giving each other the Vulcan sign of greeting. It was like the Star Trek Experience at the Hilton used to be, but better. While I'm not that well versed in aliens, I thought I recognized a couple of Klingons, a Romulan or two, multiple Ferengi, and a collective of Borg. As the Borg passed, their faces impassive, I thought about saying "Resistance is futile" but I stifled myself. The whole thing made me realize how much I missed the Hilton's hokey institution. When they shuttered Quark's, the Hilton had closed a whole chapter of my youth. Strange new worlds must be explored, I guess.

Scattered among the Trekkers -- they'd been Trekkies when I was young, but one vehement Klingon had corrected me and I was not one to argue with an angry Kilngon -- were little green men, bubble-headed aliens of 1950s movie fantasy, a Wookie or two, other wild Star Wars imaginings, and several truly original creations. Some of the aliens were even disguised as humans -- one of whom I recognized.

Junior Arbogast, hoax exposer, fraud buster, and legend in his own mind, made his living debunking UFO sightings, alien abductions and paranormal phenomena in general. Junior and I had bonded over an interesting outing to Area 51 -- the local Air Force spook palace north of town and the epicenter of UFO lore. He had spent an hour face down in the dirt, a gun pointed at his head, while I endeavored to talk the Lincoln County Sheriff out of arresting him, and the Cammo Guys, as the security service hired to protect and defend the perimeter were so lovingly referred to, from perforating him. Now, each year when the spookies held their annual convention in town, Junior and I usually found time to have a drink together, which I enjoyed. Yes, he could be arrogant and a pain in the ass, but he was bright and knew BS when he saw it. I liked that about him.

Built like a fire hydrant, with a shock of wiry dishwater blond hair, pale eyes under heavy, bushy brows, and a nose that had been broken more than once, Junior loved a good fight -- the product of a childhood in the mountains of West Virginia. He didn't tolerate fools well, so he had few friends, a fact that didn't seem to bother him. How I managed to stay off his blithering idiot list was an enduring mystery.

"Are you merely observing the mating rituals of alien life-forms, or are you looking for the next Mrs. Arbogast?" I whispered as I sidled in next to him.

"Ah, the great quipster, Lucky O'Toole. I was wondering when you'd turn up," Junior mumbled through a mouthful of hot dog. He swallowed, then took a healthy swig from his gallon-size Bucket-o-Beer. "You jest, but I'll have you know," he continued, "a renowned professor at one of this country's most storied institutions of higher learning postulated that all alien abductions around the world could be explained as a simple cross-species breeding project."

"So everything really is about sex?"

"Especially in Vegas. If sex doesn't happen here, why come?" Junior stuffed in the last of his hotdog and washed it down with more beer.

Why indeed, I thought as I watched the UFO aficionados -- some true believers, but mostly half-baked hangers-on who liked a good party with a weird group of folks. I could identify -- I lived there.

People and aliens packed in around us, their energy infectious. A television crew trailed one of the local talking heads apparently on the prowl for content for a 'wacky and wonderful' segment for the nightly news. Everyone seemed to be waiting for something.

"What's going on?" I asked Junior, since he appeared to be waiting as well.

"We are all about to witness a spectacular example of professional suicide."

"Really? Whose?" I felt the inner flicker of some primal calling -- probably the same unsavory instinct that draws us all to the scene of disaster. I didn't like it.

"Dr. Zewicki."

"Ah," I said, not needing any more explanation.

Zoom-Zoom Zewicki had been a train wreck waiting to happen for years. A former astronaut and the twentieth-something man launched into space, with a PhD in some obscure science from one of the world's foremost universities, Zoom-Zoom had one major affliction: He used to be somebody. In recent years, he had resorted to quirkier and more outlandish stunts to make sure we all remembered that.

"This must be my lucky day. First I get to witness professional suicide, then I get to preside at a funeral."

"My, you're a glutton for punishment." Junior waded up the paper wrapper from his hot dog and stuffed it in his pocket.

"That will be my epitaph," I said, only half joking. "I'm sure 'taking punishment' is part of my job description, but, fool that I am, I didn't read the fine print. So, what treat does Zoom-Zoom have in store for us?" I glanced at my watch -- eight fifteen. Fashionably late to the party, I still had a few more minutes before my tardiness would be considered another salvo in my one-man war on the Calliope Girls. The war was a figment of their imaginations, of course, but I didn't want to toss any unnecessary grenades.

Before Junior had time to answer, a hush fell over the crowd. Heads turned as Zoom-Zoom stepped to a podium on a dais at the far end of the lobby.

A short man who kept himself in fighting trim, Dr. Zewicki wore his hair military short, his shirts pressed, his slacks creased, and a look of encroaching madness in his dark eyes. He leaned into the microphone, got too close, then drew back with a jerk as if the resulting squeal was from a snake coiled to strike.

"Thank you all for coming." This time he got the distance to the mike just right. His unexpectedly deep voice echoed around the marble lobby and rippled over the crowd. He waited until the last reverberation died before continuing.

"My statement will be brief and I won't accept any questions at this time. For those of you who wish to know more, I will be holding a formal presentation Thursday night, in Rachel, as part of Viewing Night."

Expectant murmurs rolled like waves through the crowd.

Dr. Zewicki fed on the attention of the crowd like an alien spacecraft sucking electromagnetic energy from a thunderstorm. Pausing, he milked it, then waited a few beats more until every head turned his direction, every voice quieted. Staring at the crowd, a serious expression on his face, he pulled himself to his full height and announced, "I have recently experienced an alien abduction."

The murmurs of the crowd rose on a cresting wave of expectation.

"My abductor's message is simple and two-fold: When we die, they come and take our spirits. Some spirits pass through to the next life, but those of us with unresolved issues -- those who were murdered, perhaps -- live on with the aliens. And now they wish to open a channel."

The wave of expectation broke into a cascade of excited voices, flooding the lobby with a rushing torrent of questions.

Questions that would remain unanswered: Zoom-Zoom Zewicki had left the stage.

Stunned, I needed a few moments to find my voice. "Did he just say what I thought he said?"

"Tortured souls live on with the aliens and Dr. Zewicki can talk to them."

"I'm sure the Homicide division at Metro will be thrilled to have alien assistance." I shrugged off a chill that shivered down my spine. Talk of murder messed with the Vegas magic -- magic that was part of my job to deliver. Junior looked at me, his face inscrutable. "Talk about a meteor hitting the atmosphere! A lifetime of achievement incinerated, just like that." He snapped his fingers in front of my face.

"The death of a star," I whispered.

"And the birth of a pop-culture icon," announced Junior, his voice as hard as flint. Zoom -Zoom Zewicki had just pegged the fraud buster's bullshit meter.

#

I left Junior plotting the pulverization of the last remaining pebbles of Dr. Zewicki's reputation, and headed toward the Calliope Burlesque Theatre on the far side of the casino. Working my way through the throng took me longer than I anticipated. I had just reached the edge of the crowd when I felt a hand on my arm.

"Ms. O'Toole?" Young and soft, the voice was unfamiliar.

"Yes." I turned and found myself staring down at a blue-eyed Ferengi.

The alien thrust an upside-down top hat at me. "Would you be so kind as to deliver this to Mr. Fortunoff? He left it in the bar. Normally, I would take it to him myself, but security is not allowing anyone backstage except those invited to the party."

"Sure." I grabbed the hat, surprised by its weight, as the Ferengi melted back into the crowd. That a magician would need a top hat to pull something out of seemed logical to me, so I didn't think the request odd. I peered inside the hat…empty. Turning it right-side up and shaking -- nothing fell out. Whatever.

A lesser luminary in the world of the Dark Arts, Dimitri Fortunoff specialized in sleights of hand, mindreading, and other parlor tricks. He performed nightly as the entertainment between the first and second acts of the burlesque show. I tucked the hat under my arm and strode through the casino. Flashing my invite to the security guard, I pushed through the double doors into another world. While decorations and scenery adorned the audience side of the curtain, creating the illusion of a bright and exciting world, a different, workman-like world existed behind the curtain. The stage was empty, illuminated by bare bulbs that would be extinguished during the show. Scenery hung in the rafters on counter-weighted pulleys. Other accoutrements, including Dimitri's magic tricks, were stuffed unceremoniously into every nook and cranny, creating an obstacle course for the unwary. At the appropriate time during the show, each piece would be moved into position; after its use it would be removed in a well choreographed, painstakingly rehearsed dance.

Forty years of dust and grime, forty years of pain and sweat, forty years of hopes and dreams, forty years of Vegas history -- and I had swept it all away with the stroke of a pen. A matter of dollars and cents, the decision had been easy to make. Living with it, however, was a different matter.

Extraordinarily tall, beautiful women in heavy make-up and little else dotted the backstage area, each encircled by friends, family, and adoring fans clever enough to talk their way in. I noticed Zoom-Zoom Zewiki orbiting GiGi Vascheron, the star of the show. No wonder he had disappeared from the stage so quickly.

Shorter women in costume also hosted clusters of partiers. The show photographer darted in and out, memorializing the event for posterity. Everyone talked in hushed voices. If anyone smiled, I missed it.

The few men who danced in the show weren't visible. Neither was Dimitri Fortunoff.

Nobody's eyes met mine as I gently pushed my way through the crowd. However, I felt the daggers hurled at my back, and I didn't really blame them. In their shoes, I'd hate me too.

I found my conjurer in his dressing room hiding from reality.

"Well, if it isn't the grim reaper," he growled when he noticed me filling his doorway. "Did you come to gloat, or are you just slumming?"

A tall man with a barrel chest, droopy features, hangdog eyes and a down-turned mouth, dressed in a poorly-fitting tux, Fortunoff looked more like an undertaker than an entertainer. Slumped in a chair, one leg crossed over the other, a plate balanced in his lap, he eyed me as he forked in a bite of chocolate cake with one hand. The fingers of his free hand worked a coin over and under, from thumb to pinkie, then back again.

A number of plastic glasses dotted the desk and shelves. Plates with partially eaten cake stuffed the small trashcan in the corner.

"Looks like you've had a party."

"A wake."

"The world moves on, Dimitri." Mesmerized, I watched the coin dance between his fingers. "The Big Boss is spending millions refurbishing this place, turning it into Las Vegas' first eco-friendly, totally green hotel."

"Eco-friendly in a town known for depleting all the available local natural resources… an interesting concept."

"We like to appear to do our part."

"An illusion."

"You should know," I fired back. "Besides, I've heard you've moved on."

"Yeah? How so?"

"Rumor has it you're the Masked Houdini."

A magician who hid his identity while exposing famous illusions for a national television audience, the Masked Houdini had aroused the ire of illusionists far and wide. In fact, when we announced he would be doing the Houdini Séance on Halloween, several death threats had appeared in my office -- some for me, some for the Houdini. The police were unable to trace the notes, but we'd heightened security as a precaution.

"The rumor is just that, a rumor. No truth to it," Dimitri intoned. His eyes held mine briefly, then skittered away.

"Right. Truth or not, somebody obviously believes it. I wouldn't take the threats lightly." This was old ground for us, but I felt the need to cover it once more.

"I'm touched by your concern."

I might have imagined it, but I thought I caught a glimpse of a grin lift one corner of his mouth, then vanish.

"Don't let it go to your head," I said. "I'm just covering my ass. If the Masked Houdini doesn't show up on Halloween, I'm toast."

This time I was sure I saw a smile.

"Did you bring me a present?" Dimitri tilted his head toward the hat under my arm.

"Not me," I said as I thrust it at him. "A Ferengi."

Dimitri raised an eyebrow.

"Don't ask. The UFO folks . . . " I trailed off, figuring that was enough of an explanation.

He took the hat. His brows creased into a frown when he felt the weight. Reaching in, he pulled out, of all things, a rabbit, surprising us both. "Cute, but trite, don't you think?" he scoffed.

Snow white, his black nose flaring excitedly, the poor creature looked terrified. Reaching to pet it, I noticed something tied to its dainty, jeweled collar.

A note.

I unfurled it and my blood ran cold.

In red lipstick, someone has scrawled 'DIMITRI FORTUNOFF MUST DIE'.

Dimitri paled. He dropped the rabbit as he fell back in his chair, grabbing at the bow tie knotted around his neck.

I snagged the bunny just before it hit the floor.

"Water. I need water." Dimitri's face was now turning crimson. "I can't breathe."

"Molly," I screamed, shouting for Dimitri's assistant, as I put the bunny down. She hadn't been in her cubicle when I'd walked by earlier, but she had to be close by. "Molly!" I knelt by Dimitri and managed to get his tie unknotted and his collar loosened. I was opening my mouth to shout again, when the girl materialized in the doorway.

"What happened?" Molly asked looking flustered and out of breath. Trim and sturdy, she had an athlete's body and an efficient manner. Her dark hair was cut in layers and styled to look unkept. Concern clouded her brilliantly blue eyes as she looked first at Dimitri, then to me, then back again.

"He's just had a shock. Get some water, would you?"

Dimitri gulped air. When Molly returned with water, he gulped that too. His normal coloring slowly returned, and his breathing settled back to a steady pace until a sheen of sweat was the sole remaining evidence of his panic attack.

"Are you okay?" I asked when I thought he could answer.

"Fine." He pushed himself upright in the chair and set about retying his tie. "Well, as fine as anyone could be after having their life threatened."

I sat back on my heels, my knees pressed together. "I found using Thumper as a delivery vehicle particularly menacing, didn't you?"

He gave me a sneer. Molly hid her smile behind a dainty hand.

I pushed myself to my feet, then realized the bunny was nowhere to be found -- he had escaped in the commotion.

"Molly, you better go find that rabbit. He'd certainly liven up the show, but I'm in enough trouble with the girls already."

She glanced at the magician, then bolted.

"Do you want to cancel tonight's show?" I asked, turning my attention to Dimitri. "We really should call the police."

"And then what?" Dimitri mopped his brow with a multi-colored scarf, then tucked it back up his sleeve. "All the other threats have been false alarms and the police have found nothing."

"You have a point. They haven't been successful with the notes delivered to my office addressed to the fool who hired the Masked Houdini -- which, by the way, would be me. I've increased security. I don't know what else to do."

"You're getting notes, too?"

"Just lucky, I guess." Hands on my hips, I tried to look stern. "Seriously, I think you should cancel the show."

"No." Dimitri looked adamant. "The show must go on."

He didn't smile, so I don't think he meant that as a joke.

"Well then, come on." Grabbing Dimitri's hand, I gave him a tug -- neither of us was particularly eager to cancel the final performance in a forty-year run. "This is your swan song. Make the most of it."

"I wish you hadn't put it quite like that."

"You'll be in front of a packed house," I said as I brushed myself off, then straightened his tie. "What could possibly happen?"

#

The mood in the front of the house was even more somber than backstage, if that was possible. Patrons filed into the theatre -- the most important among them following the ushers to long, communal tables placed perpendicular to the stage, seating six per side. Guests of lesser importance were left to fend for themselves. If any of them wanted a beverage of choice, they had to get it themselves at the bar window on the left side of the theatre, the queue for which already snaked halfway across the large room.

Statuesque women greeted each other with hugs and air-kisses. Some cried while their escorts shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. Nobody smiled when they looked my direction.

I felt like a creep.

Unaccustomed to being in the midst of so much hostility, for a moment I was flummoxed. Casting my eyes around the room, I finally spied a safe haven -- a small gaggle of elite magicians. Purportedly the members of the Magic Ring -- a secret ruling society within the mystical arts community -- I had checked them into The Babylon yesterday and taken charge of their VIP stay.

"Mr. Mortimer." I greeted the man who had made all the arrangements for the group. "How are you enjoying Vegas so far?"

"It's been lovely, thank you," Mr. Mortimer said, his eyes lighting up when he saw me. "And this show is a particular treat."

A short man, almost as big around as he was tall, Mr. Mortimer had dancing eyes and a quick smile. A ring of snow-white hair circled his otherwise bald head. The buttons of the silk vest stretching across his blossoming midsection looked ready to burst, but he appeared unconcerned.

"We were so sorry to hear the show is closing," he continued, clearly unaware he was talking to the harbinger of death.

"It's one of our favorites -- a Vegas institution."

"Where are you sitting?" I asked.

He consulted his ticket. "Table Seven."

"Me as well. May I show you the way?"

We worked our way down to the front and took our seats as the lights dimmed and the orchestra played the first chords of a lilting tune. The curtain parted and the company of clothed dancers, male and female, took the stage in a rousing cabaret number. The audience, many of whom were former dancers, whistled and clapped for their compatriots. When the topless ladies, or the nudes as they are referred to in the business, sashayed onto the stage, the admiration of the audience grew louder. Some of the women smiled, but most stayed in character.

Despite having seen my share, topless shows remained a mystery to me. First, the women weren't even buxom. With the shortest of them measured at five foot ten and none of them weighing more than a hundred and thirty pounds, how much bust could they be expected to have? Of course, my initial expectation had been they would all have been enhanced like most of the strippers in town, but that was not the case. A sort of weird reverse discrimination prevailed in Vegas: the very best showgirls must be au naturale. I bet those women's boobs were the only natural things left in town. Heck, even the grass outside The Wynn was plastic.

Wishing I had taken time to wait in line for a drink, but worried I might not have lived through it, I sat back, tried to relax, and watched the show. At the completion of several rousing dance numbers, each punctuated by the appearance of the nudes, the curtain fell on the first act.

After a brief moment, the curtain again parted. The scenery had disappeared. A large rectangular wooden crate resembling a phone booth with a glass front and sides stood vertically in the center of the stage. Shiny brass angles attached along the edges with neat rows of rivets, held the box together. Although it was hard to tell, I thought the crate was full of water.

Mr. Mortimer and his friends gasped in unison. Leaning over, he whispered in my ear, "That's Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Chest."

"Houdini? Like Harry Houdini?"

Mr. Mortimer nodded. "I can't imagine where Dimitri got it."

Our eyes shot back to the stage as Dimitri Fortunoff appeared, clad only in old-fashioned swimming attire. Molly and several of the dancers accompanied him. The magician waved to someone off stage, then glanced up as a block and tackle descended from the rafters. It bore a wooden plank, cut with two round holes.

"Is this part of his normal act?" one of Mr. Mortimer's compatriots asked.

"Not as of a month ago," I replied, a ball of dread growing in my stomach.

"Ladies and gentleman," Dimitri began. "As you all know, tonight is our last show and I've been perfecting a special escape for you."

When he paused, you could hear a pin drop.

"Harry Houdini, widely considered the best of all time, developed the escape I am about to do for you. First, my ankles will be placed in this stock." He held up the wooden board, removed an open padlock, which released the two halves, allowing it to be positioned around his legs.

An assistant then bent, threaded the padlock through two D rings, one on each half of the stock, and snapped the padlock closed.

"Thank you," Dimitri said to the girl, then continued. "After volunteers from the crowd have checked all the apparatus thoroughly, I will be lifted and lowered head first into the chest you see here, which is filled with water. My beautiful assistants will then padlock the top in place."

A nervous murmur rippled through the room.

"You must be convinced the chest is nothing more than it seems, that I have not tampered with it in any way. Now for the volunteers." With one hand shielding his eyes from the lights, he looked over the crowd. His eyes came to rest on our table. Pointing at us, he said, "You. All of you. Would you be so kind?"

Catching my eye, he shook his head at me, so I remained behind as the magicians at my table filed onto the stage. Zoom-Zoom appeared from backstage and joined them even though he hadn't been called.

Dimitri didn't seem to mind. As he watched, the men examined every pane of glass, every nook, every cranny of the chest. When they had apparently satisfied themselves, Dimitri asked them, "Could you see any alterations in the chest that might explain an easy escape?"

Each of them shook his head. "We could not," announced Mr. Mortimer in his stage voice -- apparently he'd been voted the group's spokesman, as the others remained silent, merely nodding their agreement.

"What about you?" Dimitri pointed to one of the magicians who looked most unhappy at being singled out. A hawkish man with angry eyes, he glared at Dimitri. "If this box has a trick, I do not know it."

"Why don't you ask Mr. Houdini?" Before the man could answer, Dimitri turned to address the crowd. "Some of you may be too young to remember the acclaimed mentalist, but may I present The Great Danilov."

The crowd clapped politely as Danilov took a bow, and shook Dimitiri's hand. After a whispered exchange with the magician, Danilov hurried off stage.

"Or you?" Dimitri pointed to Dr. Zewiki. "You claim to talk to the dead. Maybe Mr. Houdini will speak to you."

"Doubtful. No one ever said he was murdered," Zoom-Zoom hissed as he ducked backstage.

The other magicians filed after Danilov and retook their seats as Dimitri announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, these men are part of an august group of magicians. If they can't see how I perform this escape, then it must be a very good trick indeed."

"I have a really bad feeling about this," Mr. Mortimer again whispered in my ear as he settled himself in his seat. "It's long been believed the secrets of the chest died with Mr. Houdini."

"Could Mr. Fortunoff have a new trick up his sleeve?" I asked.

"There are only so many ways to get out of a chest filled with water and locked from the outside."

I didn't like the hint of impending doom in his voice. I fought with myself. I wanted to stop the whole thing. But what if he really could get out of that contraption? He wasn't suicidal, as far as I knew, and I was in enough trouble already. Against my better judgment, I decided to let the show go on.

We watched as the assistants first checked the shackles and tested the block and tackle. Then they helped the magician as he was lifted, then lowered into the tank. Quickly the women lowered the lid and snapped several padlocks in place around its edge, effectively securing it to the chest -- with Dimitri clearly visible inside.

I held my breath as the assistants drew a curtain around the chest and left the stage. Apparently the rest of the audience felt as I did -- they didn't move. Not even a whisper broke the silence.

An eternity passed. Then another.

The audience grew restless. Nervous whispering buzzed.

Finally someone shouted, "It's been too long. Somebody get him out of that thing."

Other voices joined in agreement.

"Come." Mr. Mortimer ordered as he rose to his feet and grabbed my hand, pulling me with him. His friends fell in step behind us as we started for the stage.

We had made it to the first step when Molly ran out from stage-left. Her face was stricken, streaked with tears.

"Oh my God! He's dead!"

The above is an excerpt from the book So Damn Lucky by Deborah Coonts. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2012 Deborah Coonts, author of So Damn Lucky

MY THOUGHTS:

I have been a fan of Deborah Coonts writing ever since I first laid eyes on one of the Lucky O'Toole books.  The author has a way of sucking in a reader and never loosening her grip.  So Damn Lucky offers an interesting plot with a memorable main character.  I recommend reading the series in order, because once you get a taste, you will be hungry for another. 

AUTHOR BIO:


Deborah Coonts, author of Lucky Stiff, says her mother tells her she was born in Texas a very long time ago, though she's not totally sure -- her mother can't be trusted. But she was definitely raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer. She currently resides in Las Vegas, where family and friends tell her she can't get into too much trouble. Silly people. Coonts has built her own business, practiced law, flown airplanes, written a humor column for a national magazine, and survived a teenager.

For more information please visit http://www.deborahcoonts.com/, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.