Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Consultant: A Jonathan Hunter Thriller by Tj O'Connor

Prejudice, hate, and fear vent everywhere. 
Synopsis - 

When a rogue CIA consultant goes AWOL from his Middle Eastern post in response to his brother’s plea for help, he arrives just in time to witness his brother’s murder. For years, Jonathan Hunter and his brother Kevin Mallory had not spoken―until Kevin’s final words, “… Khalifah … Not Them … Maya.”

Pursuing his brother’s killer, Hunter stumbles into a nest of horrifying terrorist activity by Middle Eastern refugees, which sparks a backlash across America. In the shadows, Hunter’s mentor, the omnipotent Oscar LaRue, is playing a dangerous game with Russian Intelligence. Neither Hunter nor LaRue realizes that a new threat―the Iranian threat―has entered the game. Stakes rise as two shadowy players are one step ahead of Hunter and LaRue―Khalifah, a terrorist mastermind, and Caine, a nomadic assassin who dances with the highest bidder.

As attacks escalate and the country drifts toward another Middle East conflict, innocent refugees become trapped between the terrorists and the terrorized. Prejudice, hate, and fear vent everywhere. Is this who we’ve become? Before the country explodes, Hunter must find Khalifah, learn the next terror target, and pray he’s in time to stop further annihilation.

Review - 

It's been a while since I've read a more serious murder/suspense/international intrigue novel, so was excited to snag a copy of The Consultant. It did not disappoint. What makes it so effective is that it brings the fear of terrorism into small town America. It is right in our own backyard.

The race begins right from the opening chapter.  CIA consultant Jonathan Hunter, after receiving an unexpected letter from home,  has slipped away from his post to visit his estranged brother. He lands in the middle of a confusing scene involving a sniper, his brother dying in his arms while whispering some important clues and a truck that is torched as the sniper flees the scene.  What is going on?

A mix of characters move in and out of the storyline - a sister-in-law and adopted nephew he knew nothing about, government operatives, heavy handed local police officer, innocent refugees, terrorists who exploit them and an illusive, unknown person playing puppet master behind the scenes pulling the terrorist's strings called Khalifah.  As hundreds of people perish during terrorist bombings, there is a hint of the biggest yet to come.  Can Hunter unwind all the threads in time to avert the terrorist's biggest threat?

The pace in The Consultant is fast and furious with danger, physical abuse and death a constant. Not for the squeamish.  If you love darker political thrillers then this is for you.

Meet the Author - 

Fab Behind the Scenes Interview HERE!

Tj O’Connor is the author of The Consultant, the first of The Jonathan Hunter Thriller series from Oceanview Publishing, and four paranormal mysteries from Midnight Ink and Black Opal Books.

Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Labrador companions in Virginia where they raised five children.

Dying to Know, Tj’s first published novel, won the 2015 Gold Medal from the Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY) for mysteries and was a Finalist for both a 2015 Silver Falchion Award and the 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Mystery Book of the Year.

Connect with Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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Interview with Tj O'Connor, Author of The Consultant: A Jonathan Hunter Thriller

Can you share with readers a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? I know you dabbled as a kid, but how did you move from an interest in writing to publishing five novels? 

Actually, I wrote my first novel right out of high school. But, as one might imagine, it was horrible so I hid it from the world (where it remains to this day). Over the next many years, I wrote two more novels which were progressively better, but still not worthy of publishing. These books were before the internet made it easier to find agents, edit, publish, and follow all the rules that go along with author’s lives. However, I was working and travelling and raising a family so my writing was more a hobby then. In the early 2000s, I returned to being an independent consultant where I could make my own hours and could devote time to writing again. I studied the process of publishing, tried out a couple manuscripts, and pushed forward toward crafting a book truly publishable. It wasn’t until 2010 that I told my adult daughter about a 20-plus year nightmare that plagued me constantly. She encouraged me to write the nightmare as a novel. I did, and Dying to Know landed my agent, the amazing Kimberley Cameron, and my first book contract. From there, it was still tough, but I kept moving forward, writing more and more, and luckily landing other contracts with Black Opal and Oceanview Publishing. I think the secret to publishing, other than a lot of luck, is just writing and writing and getting to “The End.”

How much of the inspiration for your storylines and characters you create come from your extensive career as a federal agent, an anti-terrorism agent/investigator and international security consultant? Do you ever find ideas for plotlines or characters from other sources?

Most of my inspiration (and perspiration) comes from my life’s work. Storylines are bits and pieces of my own adventures and the characters often Frankenstein-like collections of various people I’ve encountered—heroes and villains. Since my world has been largely the topics I write about—murder, high crimes, terrorism, and intelligence work—for now, I’m content to stay on those plotlines. As an independent security consultant, I often work in the areas of risk and crime, so there’s a never ending flow of ideas, characters, and plots there, too. I sort of work in the “bad news” world. Geez, what does that say about me?

Review - HERE!
How does the writing process work for you? Do you schedule a time every day, work madly when inspiration hits or ? 

I don’t really have a finite writing process. I write whenever and wherever I can. That is normally in my den but not at any one time per se. I write before I start my professional day, often over lunch, after work (and after I cook the household meals and deal with my Labs!), holidays, weekends, etc. If I’m travelling for business or an overnight book event, I write in the hotel or coffee shops. It’s not a chore for me to do that, either. I love it! It keeps me sane and if I couldn’t write, I’d be done for. I even dictate scenes, notes, and plots while driving or on the plane/train using my cellphone. If I could just win the $1.6 billion lotto, I could quit work and write full time. Of course, I’d have to actually play the lotto to win, but that’s sort of a technicality!

Do you have to do a lot of outside research on locations or specific details for accuracy or to deepen the story's sense of reality?

I do use a lot of research although most of my plot points come first from my head. Then, I do research to make sure I have the most up-to-date information and go from there. I’ve run homicides and other violent crimes, burglaries, embezzlements, terrorism cases, protection operations, undercovers, et al. But, since some of my experience is dated and those professions are constantly changing, I research to make sure my knowledge is fresh and up to date. Also, I like to have real places in mind and people’s faces on my characters. So, I jump on my Harley and cruise around until I can find just the right places for scenes. I’ll photograph them, Google Earth the maps and details, and put together scene outlines for each one. For people, I’ll spend hours on the internet finding faces of people that I want my character to look like. I’ll download those, build a character outline, and build dossiers on them. I build my stories much like I run investigations or other operations. Again, it begs the question, “what’s that say about me?”

As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore? Do you have any resources you find invaluable? 

There’s really not much I don’t like about actually writing a story. Though, I am not big on social media, although I do a lot of it. In my profession, you don’t open a web site or Facebook page to talk about yourself and your life’s work in details and play-by-play. There, I sort of try to keep a low profile. As an author, that doesn’t work. My agent would kill me! So that part is tough but I do it. Editing is painful, hurtful, destructive, and depressing. I mean, I wrote the words, so if I didn’t want it said or show or done, I wouldn’t have written them, right? So when I have to edit, it hurts! But, when my editor or agent says, “Kill that one. Lose 10,000 words. Off with their heads!” I groan, moan, cry a little . . . and do it. It often requires some bourbon and sleepless nights, however.

As The Consultant takes you through a very dark journey at times, what helped you personally walk away from it at the end of a day's writing to relax and embrace a lighter mood?

Wow, I hope this doesn’t come out wrong, but The Consultant might be dark to some, but it’s not as dark as what I’ve seen. That’s why I wrote Jonathan Hunter as sort of a smartass and sarcastic character who uses self-deprecation and his own life-stories to lighten the mood in places. It’s how I cope and how many in my profession cope as well. I have tons of my own stories about autopsies, crime scenes, and terror attacks where dark humor and storytelling kept me sane. So really, I didn’t need a break from Hunter, though he might have needed one from me a lot!

Any advice for writers in the process of starting or working on their first book?

Easy! Write and finish it. There is nothing more satisfying and motivating then typing “The End” after months of writing. It is an amazing accomplishment even if the novel doesn’t get published. There is no more important advice I can give—and it’s the most important advice I received some many decades ago.

Do you have any new books in the planning or writing stage?
Yes, of course. I actually have two. I am working a pseudo-sequel to The Consultant and a standalone mystery. Both are finished but I plan on reworking them to update for the date and change around a few characters and plot sequences to improve the stories. I love these two books and will focus my time on getting them out to my agent and hopefully the marketplace. Truth is, I have a couple dozen outlines of novels I want to write. I don’t starve for ideas or characters—just time. So, if anyone rich and famous wishes to adopt me, or someone can give me the winning lotto numbers, I can write full time and get whittling away at my novels! And if you do, I’ll make you the hero in a book!

Connect with Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

Vancouver Fashion Week FW19 - Interview With Fashion Designer Yeqi Tang of NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti)

All images provided by NABA unless otherwise marked.

Image by Arun Nevader of Getty Images
Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born in Jiaxing, a small city in south-east coast of China.

What you like when you were young? What were your interests in your teenage years?

When I was young I liked watching movies and participating in outdoor activities, like hiking or traveling.

Looking back, can you remember any early signs that you would end up in fashion? A personal story would be great here.

Before studying fashion, I didn't have any art background, so studying fashion design was a little difficult for me at the very beginning.

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was you family supportive?

Actually, after my college entrance examination, my first choice was foreign language. I wanted to be a translator in the future. But I didn't reach the entering test score. I was actually accepted by my third choice. So it's a coincident for me be in this career, but I really do like being a fashion designer.

Why did you choose to study in the program at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti)?

I am a exchange student from SUES. My Chinese university has an exchange program with NABA.

Talk about your time studying Fashion Design. What was hard for you? What was easy for you? Are they any high, low or funny moments you can share?

Where I didn't have any art background before, I sometimes felt my ideas or inspirations were very limited.

What was the inspiration for the collection you showed on the runway at Vancouver Fashion Week?

The inspiration for my collection - called Salute Antoni Gaudi - is the decorative art of Antoni Gaudi, his mosaic porcelain and stained glass.

Describe your collection – customer, day-evening-sportswear-separates-casual-luxury-glamour-stage-costuming-punk?

I would describe my collection as stage.

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

The colors of my palette were extracted from the architecture decoration of Gaudi. The main fabrics are cotton and synthetic fiber.

Do you have a favourite look?

My favourite look is the one in predominantly blue tones.

What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?

A modern Chinese style. As a Chinese girl, I deeply love my culture. I want to find a way to introduce Chinese culture to the world through my Fashion Design.

Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for awhile, launch your own line, take a break and travel?

I will be going back to China to look for a job working with an Asian brand.

Please share a quote on what fashion design means to you.

"Fashion design is window for me to meet a better me."

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For more information on the Fashion Design or Fashion and Textile programs at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti), please visit the website at

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Vancouver Fashion Week FW19 - Interview With Fashion Designer Arianna Bonifazi of NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti)

All images provided by NABA unless otherwise marked.

Image by Arun Nevader of Getty Images
Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I grew up in the countryside, basically i spent all my childhood being outside between my grandma’s violets and the smell of wheat.

What you like when you were young? What were your interests in your teenage years?

When i was young, i was intrigued by math, geometry and everything tat linked me to signs and pictures. My grandma was a seamstress and the lines her patterns always affected me because they let me get carried away and stimulated my creativity.

Looking back, can you remember any early signs that you would end up in fashion? A personal story would be great here.

As i have already stated , my grandma was a seamstress and my mom, even if she didn’t follow her footsteps, knows really well how to sew so I always had something to do with clothes.

I often went with them to the fabric shop and i always loved to get lost in it. Both of them tried to teach me how to sew but at the beginning I was completely unable. I remember when I tried to sew my first skirt with my grandma…after the third wrong seam my grandma got mad at me and got out the lab screaming that she would have never tried to teach me anything. That moment triggered something in me. I started to develop a passion for something that apparently I wasn’t good at it but that was able to take my mind completely. I had to lose myself in it.

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was you family supportive?

My formation is not purely about fashion. I got a bachelor in product design but fashion has always been a challenge that I wanted to face soon or later in my life. My parents didn’t support me 100% on the choice of a master in fashion at the beginning but after a lot of fights I convinced them that was the thing that I had to do. 

Why did you choose to study in the program at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti)?

I chose the Naba’s fashion and textile master because firstly NABA is an academy. I was coming from a technical education and I felt the need to free myself from the same method that I always loved, I had to free my mind and creativity till the end, so I thought the academy could be the right place to do it.

I liked also the fact that it wasn’t entirely focused on the creation of collections, but there were courses about history of art and above all others concerning fabrics and experiments on it.

Talk about your time studying Fashion Design. What was hard for you? What was easy for you? Are they any high, low or funny moments you can share?
Actually there’s nothing particularly difficult, for me to create garments it’s a kind of communication, my way to speak and express how I feel inside. I like experimenting and fashion has always allowed it!

Perhaps thinking about it, the most difficult step is the realization of the garment itself, but above all the re-entry into all the traditional rules of sewing and tailoring. 

Illustrations of this collection
What was the inspiration for the collection you showed on the runway at Vancouver Fashion Week?

I created the collection “Je me suis perdu en cherchant les chevaux blancs” during a somewhat dark period of my life ... that fact justifies the highly present of black color.

During those months, fate confronted me with bad situations and I didn’t feel very well ... It was all tight, confused, and I was totally wrong. So I needed to talk in some way, to make people understand myself, then open up and overcome that moment.

And I thought that maybe I had to go back to the concept of “dirt” (taken in the white look) but at the same time transmitting that sense of suffocation and solemnity, of confusion of the “me not me”, and the difficulty I had doing that thing...I arrived to the narrow silhouettes, long and sinuous, that often don’t allow the model to walk and “breathe” comfortably.

I was also very inspired by the concept of puppet, both at the philosophical level and the object itself.

Describe your collection – customer, day-evening-sportswear-separates-casual-luxury-glamour-stage-costuming-punk?
I don’t want to give a specific definition to my collection, rather I would simply transmit and make clear to the viewer how I feel, what I want to tell. In general all the garments has its own style, but there are both! Experimental pieces and clothing that can be worn normally. 

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

It’s mainly based on the black color,the black that make dirty the white...I wanted to create a clear and well visible contrast. Black is dark, fear, confusion; while white is light, it’s purity.

I also managed to “speak” through the touch and visually thanks to the fabrics; the denim canvas in black tells the heaviness but is approached to the lightness of the gauze, up to the idea of “fake” with the nylon, with I wanted to create also the sound effect during the walk of the model. In general I tried to combine fabrics very far from each other, just because on the body they are modeled in a different way and create disorder in the order.

Even the accessories, for example the zipper, are so important, clearly visible and bright.

Do you have a favourite look?

I don’t have a favorite look! All represent a path; and all of them have different tastes, as if we are walking, traveling from one space to another. 

What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?

I think the world of fashion is saturated, and empty at the same time...I try to bring something that cause a feeling, something that could be a mess but also clear and “clean”. Ironically, I could say that something new is myself with all my contradictions! 

Illustrations of other design work.
Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for awhile, launch your own line, take a break and travel?

I would like to work immediately and make as many experiences as possible, not only in the fashion design, I want to experiment myself in all the fashion’s faces. And maybe, yes...I will open something mine, like a big open space where people as me can go deeply into art’s world.

Please share a quote on what fashion design means to you.

"Fashion design means using a different way to talk with people."

"Garments tell us their stories and it’s up to us to understand, recognize ourselves and then start a connection."

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For more information on the Fashion Design or Fashion and Textile programs at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti), please visit the website at

Monday, November 5, 2018

Vancouver Fashion Week FW19 - Interview With Fashion Designer Gaoming Chen of NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti)

All images provided by NABA unless otherwise marked. 

Image by Arun Nevader of Getty Images
Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born and grew up in a small city called Xinchang, in Zhejiang province of China.

What you like when you were young?  What were your interests in your teenage years?

I started learning Chinese traditional painting when I was a little child, I like drawing and writing the Chinese Calligraphy, also like reading the novels and watching movies.

Looking back, can you remember any early signs that you would end up in fashion?  A personal story would be great here.

My mother loves fashion a lot. When I was a young, almost all my clothes were designed and made by her. Also, we have many, many pattern making books at home. Maybe because of that, when I choosing the university I wanted to attend and my major, I chose fashion design without any hesitate.

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design.  Was you family supportive?

Like I said before, my mother loves fashion and she dreamed of being a fashion designer. Now her dream has become my dream. My parents are very support me

Why did you choose to study in the program at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti)?

Firstly, Milan is my favorite city in Europe and one of the most fashionable cities in the world. Also, NABA has my favorite program - “fashion and textile design.” After learning so much about pattern making and stitching techniques, I wanted to learn more about textile design to improve myself. That’s why NABA was my best choice and yes it still is.

Talk about your time studying Fashion Design.  What was hard for you? What was easy for you? Are they any high, low or funny moments you can share?

While I am learning the fashion design, I think the pattern making has been the most difficult part for me. But I like draping and sewing and am good at them both. The happiest moment for me was when I heard my collection would be shown on the runway at Vancouver Fashion Week.

What was the inspiration for the collection you showed on the runway at Vancouver Fashion Week?

This collection was my thesis collection. My inspiration came from the movie “The Shape of Water.” I was so impressed with the love story between a deaf girl and a mysterious creature from the water, combined with my personal connection with the ocean. I do want to spread the spirit of harmonious coexistence between human and nature through this collection by the power of design.

Describe your collection – customer, day-evening-sportswear-separates-casual-luxury-glamour-stage-costuming-punk?

My collection is more day-wear, but with a lot sportswear details and an oversize silhouette, which is very my style.

What is the palette?  What fabrics did you use?

The mainly colors I used were white and blue to which I added some red as decoration. For fabric I use a lot plastic and washable-paper. I wanted to show a “plastic wave” to represent the growing problem plastic pollution.

Do you have a favourite look?

Yes, my favorite look is the jacket and skirt with ruffles on the jacket sleeve and skirt.

What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?

I am pretty good at Chinese traditional paintings, it is already part of my design blood, and I think it can make me do something different from others.

Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for awhile, launch your own line, take a break and travel?

I am heading back to china and to launch my own brand,

Please share a quote on what fashion design means to you.

"For me, fashion design is just like water. It is part of everyone’s life and gives us energy everyday."

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For more information on the Fashion Design or Fashion and Textile programs at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti), please visit the website at

Monday, October 29, 2018

Vancouver Fashion Week S/S19 - Interview with Designer Lyndsey Jackson of Phased by LJ

VFW SS19 Images by photographer Arun Nevader for Gettysburg Images (unless otherwise noted)

Image from VFW to designer.
No photographer credit given
Please share a bit about your journey to embrace fashion design as a career. 

My initial reaction to this question was no, I never dabbled in fashion when I was younger. Now that I’ve thought about it for a moment, maybe I have. Does playing dress-up in your mom and dad’s old clothes count? Or dressing up your Barbies with your sisters to get them ready for a runway show? Or stealing clothes out of your sister’s closet as a teenager because you wanted to expand your wardrobe…

Travelling in Europe is probably what got me the most interested in fashion. My friend and I showed up in Paris with our comfy Lululemons and giant backpacks at the age of 18 – we stuck out like sore thumbs. As you probably know, women in Europe are classy AF and fashion is in your face. By Italy, I had a whole new travel wardrobe and I loved it.

When I came back from Europe this first time, I took Art History and Psychology courses (which I loved), but I wanted to do something more practical. I ended up getting a Bachelor of Business Administration from BCIT and took a semester abroad in Berlin. For 6 months, I went to school in Berlin and travelled around Europe again. What an amazing city to have studied in during my 20s. It is full of young people exploring their youth; art, music, and history. There is an underground culture of partying in abandoned buildings that have turned into miniature cities/nightclubs, and everybody and their mom wants to be a resident DJ. Berlin sparked my creative interests.

After I graduated, I wanted to make money, so I made the move to get into software sales. This job gave me a lot of financial independence and allowed me to move downtown and live the city life I wanted. It was great at first and I learned a lot about the business and selling. Eventually, I got worn down by the industry and decided that I wanted to do something more technical and with my hands, something that I could be passionate about when times get tough in my career. Less than two years later, here I am.

My family and friends have been an incredible support throughout my decision to change my career path. They are all so excited for me and I am so lucky. My mom is a great seamstress and helps me a lot around fashion week and crunch times.

How did you learn your skills? If you studied fashion design where? If you are self-taught how did you hone your skills?

My mom was the first person that taught me how to sew. It requires you to think three steps ahead, and to have a lot of patience.

When I left the software industry, I took a 6-month Core Design Program at John Casablancas Institute. This is where I learned the ins and outs of creating a fashion line. From getting your ideas on paper, to pattern drafting, to executing your ideas. I was lucky to have been part of a small class with a lot of attention from my teachers, who were all industry professionals. Also, Maneli (Program Director) is amazing. She has set me up with so many industry contacts and has given me a lot of opportunities since I graduated.

Now, I am constantly learning and teaching myself about the industry through trial and error, meeting new people, making connections, and asking a million questions.

What comes easiest for you as a designer? What is hardest?

Finding inspiration and getting my ideas on paper is my favorite part of the process – next to completing it ;-)

The hardest part is managing my time (I haven’t quit my day job yet) and being patient, but it is teaching me patience.

Where do you find inspiration for new collections? How important is colour to your design process?

I like looking to music for inspiration; different eras, genres, music videos, etc.  Chaos gives me inspiration, and the idea that nothing is perfect.  I have purposely used monochromatic colour palettes in my collections so far, as to focus more on cut, lines, and asymmetry.

Readers would love to know more about the current collection you showed at Vancouver Fashion Week.

Collection name: “Feels like TWENTYSOMTHNG.”  It is inspired by the era of our 20’s – travel, learning, experimenting, music, partying…fun times. The palette is stark white…and grays. With a small contrast of yellow and green.

I experimented - A) with a lot of different textures, as opposed to colours, in this collection B) with repurposing some of the material from my old clothes when I was “twentysomthng” and C) this was the first time I got an original print digitally printed on a fabric. It was all a learning experience, and there was a lot of spontaneity in the designs.

Do you have a favourite look in?

Probably the high neck midi-dress, because the fabric for the digital print showed up at my door different than planned, so I had to change my designs up for those pieces last minute. It was off the cuff. The print itself turned out great, and it has a lot of sentimental value to me.

Turns out I enjoy the spontaneity of repurposing fabrics from old garments or being given an unexpected fabric and getting creative with how to make it work symbiotically with a collection.

Left and centre image by - Arun Nevader for Gettysburg Images, Right image from Designer's Website
Where can readers purchase your designs?

At the moment, I am working on updating my website, but my contact details are there (or you can contact me through my Instagram) and I am willing to create custom pieces from my collection.

In the new year, I will be taking pre-orders for selected looks in my spring/summer catalogue. Stay tuned for that.

What's next for you as a designer and your brand? 

New website w/ online catalogue and store. More repurposing, finding more ways to take my designs greener, and exploring ways to give back to the community.  Many more fashion weeks!

Anything you'd like readers to know about you and your brand that isn't included above? 

Nothing comes to mind. If it’s not life or death, have fun with it and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Image from the website - Some of the designer's FW18 Collection
What advice do you have for young fashion artists just beginning their journey to become designers?

If you love what you’re doing, don’t give up. Achieving yours goals is so rewarding, so make sure you have some.  Get exposure, and don’t say no to learning opportunities. When you are given a short timeline for a project, it’s an opportunity to test your creativity and resourcefulness.  Nobody’s waiting for you, so hustle hard.

Links -

Murder by Perfection (A Thorny Rose Mystery Book 3) by Lauren Carr

Beware! Perfection has a dark side!

Synopsis - 

Frustrated with their busy schedules, Murphy Thornton and Jessica Faraday attempt to find togetherness by scheduling a weekly date night. The last thing Jessica expected for her date night was a couple's gourmet cooking course at the Stepford Kitchen Studio, owned by Chef Natalie Stepford--the embodiment of feminine perfection.

When Natalie ends up dead and Murphy goes missing, the Thorny Rose detectives must peel back the layers of Natalie Stepford's flawless life to discover that perfection has a very sinister dark side.

Review -

Another great title by one of my favourite authors.  Every time I hear a new book is coming out, I try to make sure I'm first in line to snag my copy. 

Lauren Carr is a master of the light murder mystery.  Each contain a strong couple as the central characters.  Both the male and female roles are great role models - smart, loyal, talented and always interested in the truth.  And as the author is a huge dog lover, there are always several incredible pets, each with their own unique personality.  No matter how serious the threat they are facing, the author manages to work in a little humour to keep the tale from getting too dark.

Murder by Perfection is book 3 in Carr's Thorny Rose Mystery Series.  The main characters - Murphy and Jessica - fell in love at first sight and married quickly. This 3rd story sees them struggling to try to find balance in their daily lives as well as enough free time to spend together.  After a quarrel one evening, Murphy takes off on his motorcycle to calm down - and disappears! He has been kidnapped. Why - no one knows for sure. Friends, family and the government come together to search for answers.  Can he be found in time?

Murder by Perfection is a wonderful read and a perfect to escape from the challenges of a busy day. Danger, intrigue, humor and love all take their turn in this tale which will keep you reading into the wee hours.

Buy the Book: Amazon  Add to Goodreads

Meet the Author - 

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

​Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author: Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Instagram

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Zucchini Two Ways!

Images and recipes from Damn Delicious
I love vegetables of all kinds - well except eggplant - no idea why that one doesn't turn my clock - so I am always looking at new ways to cook and serve them.  There are so many that are get ignored nowadays - beets, squash of all genres, artichokes, etc.  I would love to see these become regulars again on the dinner table.

Here are 2 recipes using Zucchini that both look wonderful. I have company coming tonight so will probably try the first from a blog called Damn Delicious - Baked Parmesan Zucchini Sticks - as it seems the simplest and will look more like a side dish. It's baked instead of fried so less mess. And it is will be easy to plate.

The second I included is one I found on Yummly - Zucchini Parmesan Crisps. I love anything crunchy, so this one really stands out.  However I feel it looks more like a snack or appetizer than a a side dish for a meal, and I would have to fry them last minute which is time consuming and messy.  However, I have more get-togethers planned, so will definitely be trying at one of them.

I did a little searching to find out who created this second recipe so I could credit them and lo and behold, it was also created by Damn Delicious. So both recipes and the images are from this wonderful site.  I am definitely going to have to check out their site to what other recipe treasures I can find. I highly suggest you do the same.


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Baked Parmesan Zucchini Sticks

Ingredients - 

4 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

Directions - 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a cooling rack with nonstick spray and place on a baking sheet; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, thyme, oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt and pepper, to taste.
Place zucchini onto prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan mixture. Place into oven and bake until tender, about 15 minutes. Then broil for 2-3 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.

Serve immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.

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Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

Ingredients - 

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Panko*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 zucchinis, thinly sliced to 1/4-inch thick rounds
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten

Directions - 

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.

In a large bowl, combine Panko and Parmesan; set aside. Working in batches, dredge zucchini rounds in flour, dip into eggs, then dredge in Panko mixture, pressing to coat. Add zucchini rounds to the skillet, 5 or 6 at a time, and cook until evenly golden and crispy, about 1 minute on each side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Mantis Force: Rebirth (Marium Kahnet Book 3) by R.J. Amezcua

Book 1 Review - HERE
Review of Book 2 - HERE
Synopsis - 

It is a day of prophecy and celebration when Jazrene Vallo accomplishes her ordained task to refashion the Marium Kahnet, and witnesses them finally becoming representatives in the Grand Assembly of the Mantis Alliance. But the victory is soiled by reports of a faction of wayward sisters joining a necromancer Order, the Saurcine.

​The rebels plan to bring forth the Krevomax, the seed of the Tisrad Dragon, to defeat the Mantis Alliance. To combat this new evil threat, in Jazrene Vallo’s last act as supreme leader, she activates the sisterhood’s elite warriors, the Criss Lumbra. Their mission: destroy the spawn of the Tisrad Dragon. Should they fail, it will mean the end of the sisterhood and all peace in the universe.

Review - 

Rebirth is the 3rd book in the Mantis Force/Marium Kahnut trilogy. All three are serious sci fi offerings for true fans of the genre. They take you to the far reaches of space and introduce you to new species, new religions, alien science and a whole new vocabulary.  Each are fairly short offerings which works well because of all the concepts, characters and terminology you need to absorb.

With book 4 in the works, Rebirth is an important stepping stone to what is to follow. But I didn't feel it was the strongest in the series. Retribution introduced you to most of the players, their religions, the extensive vocabulary and some of the science while developing the series plot.  Decimation moved this plot through a very important step, the destruction of testing facilities and the immediate aftermath. In the first half of Rebirth, we move quickly from one story line to another, following different characters.  It's hard to find a unifying thread to follow at first. This settles down about halfway through and that thread becomes easier to follow as we near this book's conclusion.

I personally would have liked to feel a stronger connection flow through the individual pieces from start to finish. It's not an easy thing to do when you have so many different events to tie together, but it really elevates a story.  I did enjoy reading this book, but it took a bit more focus than the other two.

Buy the BookAmazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet the Author -

Read a fab author interview HERE!

R. J. Amezcua was born and raised in Silicon Valley, and is happily married to Sheryl. As a young boy, one of his favorite TV shows was Lost in Space. Being an entrepreneur and visionary by nature, he has begun his journey as an author and writer. Using his love for science fiction, he created the epic saga “Mantis Force,” which encompasses a vast universe.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Vancouver Fashion Week S/S 19 - Interview with designer Fara Mas of FARAMAS

Please share a bit about your journey to embrace Fashion Design as a career?

As a child I grew up, in the middle of Tehran/Iran, as my parents had to move to Tehran, after my family had lost almost everything they possessed during the Iraq-Iran [Proxy-] War (1980-1988), due to the bombing of the house they lived in, in the south of Iran.

Tehran, the capital city and new home, with high-rise buildings and mainly grey, dull colours of people’s outfits, mostly in mourning of family members they lost during the war, were in strong contrast (to) the beauty, described in the Persian Literature of Rumi and Hafiz and the stories of the Boustan and Gulistan of Saadi, and especially, with Firdausi’s Shahmame, which I got told – and later read myself.

All books, of course, re-prints of lavishly illustrated originals. The Persian miniatures sowed beautiful, colourful dresses, of men and women – and what I could not see in real, in life. When age and time came to make a decision, what to study, it was clear --- something with theatre or fashion. I felt the urge of creating what is missing in real life. In theatre, it was possible to visualize dreams and let them become alive, on stage, even if it is only for a short time.

The first reaction of my parents was: “you study something with science or medicine…” and ---- so I ended up, in, high school, studying mathematics, in which I had a serious interest but no passion - and was awarded a high level diploma in this subject.

During my pre-university studies, in Iran, I focused on Visual Arts [Family comment: “… now that you insist, if something in the Arts, then you should become an actress, theatre or preferable Film” (based on a few roles at school theatre performances)]. I decided to go on in field I was passionate about, by obtaining my BA in Fashion and Textile Design, in Tehran/Iran.

The next step was a Masters, obtained in Kuala Lumpur/Malaysia, in Design Technology in Fashion.

... and this was just the beginning.

Designer Fara Mas

Where did you learn your skills?

I started studying BA. of Fashion and Textile Design at University of Science and Culture in Tehran, but it was not enough. I knew that there’s much more to learn in this field. I wanted to continue my education with a Master Degree from abroad. Therefore I started working, after my BA, in Tehran, as costume and wardrobe stylist for Theatre and TV productions, to make some additional money for coming closer to my dreams, [… and, of course, to gain more practical experience, for the next step -- going to Malaysia for my MA.

Arriving in Malaysia, I continued to top-up the small financial help my family could give me, by working, besides studying at the University Technology Mara (UiTM) Malaysia, as part-time wardrobe stylist for TV programmes. There I met the celebrities which formed later the first clients of my fashion brand, FARAMAS.

When it comes to Start-Up and Business Operations, I’m absolutely self-taught, since, neither in Iran nor in Malaysia, are students taught these skills. The countries universities are, obviously, only focusing on “supplying” the industry, with fresh designers, and not with entrepreneurs. Luckily, in Germany, where my fashion brand is registered, the chambers of commerce & trade, besides government institutions and NGO’s, are offering useful help and training for Start-Ups – for free.

Also the Fashion Camp, in connection with the Vancouver Fashion Week 2018, has proven to be a very helpful support, and it is highly recommendable as a source of “how-to-do”. Even for those who are already knowledgeable of the subject, there is always something new to find out or at least to get confirmation in the way they are doing things. Another aspect is to share ideas, methods, share experiences and discuss them with others.

What comes easiest for you as a designer? What is hardest?

Getting ideas for new collections and single pieces is the “easiest” part. Life, nature, interacting with people [clients and non-clients], sometimes an interesting book or a good movie, triggers ideas and concepts -- and there are, more sources of inspirations.

Execution of a design, draping and preparing the prototype is already a more “labour-intensive” part of the process. I think it is natural, that the first draping on the dummy is not always exactly what the designer visualizes in mind. After finalizing the vision of a dress or dress set, comes another stage, which is the “testing” of the prototype on a live-model, to see the flow, the move of the material and apply necessary changes until the piece, in reality, matches what is in my mind.

The most challenging part, in my line of fashion design and production, is to get the right person[s] for the right job and working as a team together, like a good clockwork. Not every tailor is able to work with every kind of material and technique required.

Since we are not doing mass-production, another problem is to keep the prices affordable, while the raw materials and the workmanship is kept at its highest quality. The solution, for this, we found in networking and outsourcing with different small workshops, crafts people and textile experts, joining-up and joining-in in the team, for a collection – like a “movie on demand”- but are otherwise their own independent masters.

The most disappointing or “hardest” experience is when people, even friends and relatives, envy you and comment: “… what a lavish luxury life, all this travelling, the different exciting countries and places, the Fashion Shows …. And the limelight, the fame ...” and completely overlook the heart, mind - and body stressing work. Every new collection is like a childbirth – healthy pregnancy, labour, giving birth --- and then the “child-rearing” of your babies, till “they are mature – and leave the house”.

Where do you find inspiration for new collections?

My birth country Persia/Iran is a rich pool of inspiration, its history, its culture, poetry and literature, and its tremendous variety of historic clothing, of the different peoples and ethnicities, as well as the colours of the landscapes and seasons of Iran.

Another source is the clothing history of Central Asia and the Middle East. The strongest features of the designs of the past are comfort, and minimum waste. Long before environment- and resource scarcity-considerations became a public theme, they have been designed, with the optimum use of available size of material, for their time, in the context of their time; -- often full of, now forgotten, meanings and symbolism – reflecting professions, function, role and social status.

I started, some time ago, to look into the possibilities of bringing the beauty of the past back to life, by giving them a modern interpretation and “makeover”, for our time and a different clientele --- and have, by now developed my own individual signature style.

Since I’m scouting for new raw materials myself, sometimes the texture of a textile, the pattern, and the “feel” of a material is triggering the idea, what to do with it, what to make out of it, and it becomes the start of a full new collection.

My Husband, full time life-partner and part-time business partner is, occasionally, another source of inspiration. Being a Museologist, Archaeologist and Conservator by profession, with a special interest in Textile and Clothing History shares with me, his researches and findings. There, sometimes, by one term, one remark, I get a new inspiration, a new idea or consolidate, in dialogue, an already existing design or collection concept.

Further sources of inspiration are horrible designs, sloppy execution of designs and “wardrobe failures”.

As an old and wise woman in our family once said: “…nothing is so useless, that it can’t be used, at least, as a bad example ― and to learn from it to make it better.

How important is colour to your design process?

My relationship to colours is strongly shaped by the fact that my second passion, next to fashion design, is painting.

In the recent past I had Painting Exhibitions in Malaysia and the opportunity, by invitation, to exhibit my works in Galleries in Florence and Milan/Italy.

When it comes to importance of colours in fashion, I think all my previous and present collections are reflecting the essential role of colours, for me and the collections.

Everybody is nowadays talking about the importance of colours in offices, to enhance the productivity. Almost everybody knows that colours of dressing can be [and often are] an expression of mood, feeling; and can be used, in fashion design, to influence and change “a bad-mood-day” into a better one.

Readers would love to know more about the collection you showcased at Vancouver Fashion Week S/S19. 

The name of the spring/summer collection 2019 is “SHADES OF TERRA COTTA”.

The title terracotta (Baked Earth) refers to the results of backing earth; by the heat of the sun or man-made fire. According to the temperature and the air circulation, the earth develops into different shades of mature colours.

The title is also a homage to Ibn Batutta – the 14th century Muslim scholar, explorer, geographer and traveller from Tangier, in today’s Morocco.

Over a period of thirty years, Ibn Battuta visited most of the Islamic World and many non-Muslim lands, including North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and China.

Near the end of his life, he dictated an account of his journeys, titled A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling.

Inspired by Ibn Batutta’s travel log and the backed earth of this world FARAMAS created this collection with the title “SHADES OF TERRA COTTA”.

Drawn from the colours of my native country Iran, and its colours, the lands along the travel route of the North African traveller I got inspired to select the colours of this collection. The observations and experiences of my own travels, from east to west, as well as the rich dressing heritage of my own and the visited countries, contributed to the final development of the collection.

SHADES OF TERRA COTTA takes up the colour pallet of creation and seasons. The colours of the desserts, the multi-coloured rock formations, the colour of the earth and soil at different seasons of the year – and not to forget another type of “backed earth”, the shades of terra cotta, which is in the different nations and skin tones of people.

Do you have a favourite look in this collection?

My favourite is the last look (No. 12) of the show at the Vancouver Fashion Week 2018, the closing piece of my show; the colours, carmine red and ebony black, of the long dress with side pockets and a semi-cape. This look allows the wearer, to be playful & flirty, or serious & official or elegant & glamorous – according to the occasion, the event or mood. Making use of different accessories, head covers or simply playing with the possibilities of the dress design; make each time a different look.

The bold colours of the flowing natural dress material create their own dynamic on different body types. Besides this, I think, that I developed, again, a design and dress-pattern, which combines comfort, gracefulness, elegance and glamour.

Like all pieces of my collections, also this one can be layered-over with pieces of other looks.

It is intended, that the owner and wearer of my designs is actively involved in the last and final design-process, the “styling it” and [re-] presenting it.

For me, this last look of the Shades of Terra Cotta Collection, is the essence of this collection – and has it all.

Where can readers purchase your designs?

FARAMAS designs are available at Malaysia department stores such as Metrojaya Midvalley; where they have “brick and mortar”, as well as online store:

We also take online orders on our Instagram and Facebook page at and

What's next for you as a designer and your brand?

Consolidating further the presence of FARAMAS Brand in Malaysia, Singapore and Germany; also we are looking to entering the North American market, with focus on Canada, after the positive reactions and responses at the recent 2018 Vancouver Fashion Show. Envisaged is the presence in well-established Boutiques, Fashion Malls and online platforms.

Besides this, the next year, FARAMAS is planning to start a “Prêt-à-Porter”, Ready-to-Wear line, slightly different from FARAMAS Exclusive, but with the same quality standards, concepts and style --- and produced in lager quantity.

FARAMAS Exclusive men’s-line will see, hopefully by end of 2019, the runway; maybe again in Vancouver. 

Anything else you'd like reader to know?

Often, being asked, where “… this restless search and passion for beauty is coming from”, I can only refer to what I said already, about my childhood and up-bringing. On a second thought, the fact, that during the first years of my life, the Iraq-Iran war was still raging – and the bombardments had reached also Tehran – may be another additional “triggering effect”, for what I’m passionate about. Sometimes a banging sound or a strong smell of burning wood or other materials, coming through the open window of my design studio, is kicking off the memories and vivid scary pictures of this time – destruction, suffering, chaos and other traumatic observations, a little child can’t be prevented from. But also the pictures of a half destroyed house, where the inhabitants had put up freshly planted Geranium in pots. I remember the little garden of my family, behind the house they lived in, after the others have been successively destroyed by bombing, with a garden for fresh vegetables, also a corner, where my mother grew “non- eatable stuff” flowers, just “for the sake of , some beauty”, in times and surroundings, which were, otherwise, the opposite of beautiful.

Maybe my search for and enhancement of natural beauty has also its beginnings in this un-conscious and, partly, conscious observations and experiences. Through my fashion designs I try to provide or offer help in self-improvement, supporting and/or enhancing something which is there, but not utilized for benefit of the wearer. I have encountered, throughout my career, so far, a number of women who are self-conscious about their body. The nature of my designs is, recognizing “beauty”, not in a flawless perfect image, but in embracing the reality of a person, regardless of age, size, race, nationality or religion. Art of Design & Beauty - and “enhancing natural beauty, which is in everyone and everywhere – and can be brought out of everybody and everything”, has become my passion.

What advice to you have for young fashion artists just beginning their journey to become designers?

Start small and grow, in the right pace. If you dream of quick fame and reaching the top in no time — wake up and get real. Fashion business is one of the toughest, most excluding, not easy to enter and closed trades of all — you’re either “in” or “out”.

Don’t forget that you should not imitate the big fashion houses and brands, which have already their market share and can afford to present at international fashion events, crazy, weird, extravaganza show-pieces, which are barely purchased. Study their designs and learn, but don’t copy them.

Have a concept, focus on carving your “niche” in the market and work on it. Be authentic, be you, but also be in dialogue with your clients, your buyers. Watch the market, the trends, and the forecasts Interpret them, incorporate them in your designs and themes, but stay the true you. Don’t compromise your values for the sake of short-lived fame. Be a Leader, not a Follower.

Finally, when you have your first success, don’t rest on it and copy yourself; there is always room for improvement, further development and progress. Learning is a lifelong process.

Last, but not least: don’t forget to be grateful, thankful to the ones who helped you, provided you with opportunities, encouraged and supported you, and stood by your side all the way.

Here, I would like not to miss the opportunity to thank Mr. Jamal Abdul Rahman (Founder and Organiser) and Mr. Samir Saab (Main Sponsor), who have made the Vancouver Fashion Week 2018, again, possible and successful; and Miss. Sarah Murray (Community Relations Manager) and all the others, “behind the scene”, who worked hard and successful to make the event memorable, for designers and guests of the shows.

Links -