Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Waking Isabella: Because beauty can't sleep forever by Melissa Muldoon

Waking Isabella is a story about uncovering hidden beauty that, over time, has been lost, erased, or suppressed. 

Synopsis -

It also weaves together several love stories as well as a few mysteries. Nora, an assistant researcher, is a catalyst for resolving the puzzle of a painting that has been missing for decades. Set in Arezzo, a small Tuscan town, the plot unfolds against the backdrop of the city’s antique trade and the fanfare and pageantry of its medieval jousting festival. While filming a documentary about Isabella de’ Medici—the Renaissance princess who was murdered by her husband—Nora begins to connect with the lives of two remarkable women from the past. Unraveling the stories of Isabella, the daughter of a fifteenth-century Tuscan duke, and Margherita, a young girl trying to survive the war in Nazi-occupied Italy, Nora begins to question the choices that have shaped her own life up to this point. As she does, hidden beauty is awakened deep inside of her, and she discovers the keys to her creativity and happiness. It is a story of love and deceit, forgeries and masterpieces—all held together by the allure and intrigue of a beautiful Tuscan ghost.

Review -
Waking Isabella is the second fiction novel by author Melissa Muldoon that embraces her love of Italy including its culture, history, food and art. 

There are two main characters at the very center of this story who live at different times. First is Nora, an academic who has recently divorced and decided to revisit Italy to film a documentary on a Renaissance princess she has been researching. From the past is the princess - Isabella - who meets her end at the hands of her husband. There are also many other wonderful characters to be found that are crucial to this tale, but these two carry the main plot.

Waking Isabella moves seamlessly from present to past and back, slowly revealing the story line by peeling back one layer at a time. Nora and Isabella's stories are in many ways parallel journeys through bad marriages as well as finding love with another. As Isabella lives in a different time, her love has to stay a clandestine affair. Divorce was not an option  For Nora in the present, it is a new relationship post-divorce with an antique dealer in Italy where she is staying.

I love the way the author's writing takes the reader between past and present so seamlessly it feels like they are happening side by side.  I also enjoyed the chance to learn about Italian history during several eras -  the Renaissance, the German occupation and the current day.  However, this isn't a history lesson.  Over the course of the book the past and present story lines draw closer and closer until they meet in an ending that is the perfect period to this tale.

Waking Isabella is a story of passion, love, grief and redemption that is built upon the stories of the characters we meet - their pasts, their secrets, their insecurities and their passions. Kudos to the author on a well crafted story

Buy the Book: Amazon  ~ Kobo ~ Barnes & Noble Book Depository  ~ Books a Million  ~ IndieBound  ~ Indigo  ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet the Author - 

Fab behind the scenes author interview - HERE!

Melissa Muldoon is the Studentessa Matta—the crazy linguist! In Italian, “matta” means “crazy” or “impassioned.” Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master’s degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence.

Melissa promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta (studentessamatta.com). Melissa began the Matta blog to improve her command of the language and to connect with other language learners. It has since grown to include a podcast, “Tutti Matti per l’Italiano,” and the Studentessa Matta YouTube channel. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Tours, which she co-leads with Italian partners in Italy.

Waking Isabella is Melissa’s second novel and follows Dreaming Sophia, published in 2016. In this new novel about Italy, the reader is taken on another art history adventure, inspired by Melissa’s experiences living and traveling in Italy, specifically Arezzo, as well as her familiarity with the language and art. For more information about Waking Isabella and links to Melissa’s blogs and social media sites, visit www.MelissaMuldoon.com.

As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family. She studied art history and painting and took beginner Italian classes. When she returned home, she threw away her Italian dictionary, assuming she’d never need it again, but after launching a successful design career and starting a family, she realized something was missing in her life. That “thing” was the connection she had made with Italy and the friends who live there. Living in Florence was indeed a life-changing event. Wanting to reconnect with Italy, she decided to start learning the language again from scratch. As if indeed possessed by an Italian muse, she bought a new Italian dictionary and began her journey to fluency—a path that has led her back to Italy many times and enriched her life in countless ways. Now, many dictionaries and grammar books later, she dedicates her time to promoting Italian language studies, further travels in Italy, and sharing her stories and insights about Italy with others. When Melissa is not traveling in Italy, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Melissa designed and illustrated the cover art for Waking Isabella and Dreaming Sophia. She also curates the Dreaming Sophia blog and Pinterest site: The Art of Loving Italy. Please visit the Pinterest page for pictures of Arezzo, the Giostra del Saracino, and all the places we go in Italy in both books. Visit MelissaMuldoon.com for more information about immersion trips to learn the language with Melissa in Italy, as well as the Studentessa Matta blog for practice and tips to learn the Italian language.

Connect with Melissa: Website ~ Twitter ~  Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram ~ Youtube

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Interview with Melissa Muldoon, Author of Waking Isabella: Because beauty can't sleep forever

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? Was it a dream from childhood or something you embraced at a later age?

Ciao Marilyn

My decision to learn the Italian language ultimately led to my writing career so that I could incorporate my love for Italy and my passion for art history first through my blog and now in fictional form to engage more readers.

I have always considered myself an artist and writer. When I was little, I used to write fanciful stories, and I kept lots of personal diaries. From the age of 10 or so, I also kept loads of sketchbooks in which I drew everything I saw. In college, I began gravitating more and more toward a career in the arts and I studied both painting and Art history in Florence. I went to Italy primarily because of my passion for the arts, but wasn’t all that interested in learning the language. Upon completion of Grad School with a Masters in Art History I thought about teaching but decided instead to become a graphic designer and for years have run my own firm.

Over time, however, I began to miss Italy very much and regretted not having learned the language well. So, I started focusing on becoming fluent. A few years after that decision, I decided to combine my graphic skills, my Italian language skills and my writing skills and began the Studentessa Matta blog where I write in Italian and English to promote the study of language and culture. The blog is mostly composed of non-fiction articles, and I write about everything from language learning tips to Italian music to interesting Italian festivals and holidays.

After starting my blog seven years ago, it took another couple of years, but then I got the crazy idea to go a step further and write a novel. Since publishing my first novel “Dreaming Sophia” I've been hooked on writing novels. I love creating worlds and inventing people to populate them. I find it to be a very creative process, not only through writing but also in the design of the books together as well. I illustrate my covers and layout my book interiors.

Read Review HERE!
Where did the inspiration for the storyline in Waking Isabella come from? 

After finishing my debut novel "Dreaming Sophia" which in some ways is autobiographical and tells the story of a young woman – an artist and how she ends up in Florence Italy – I knew I wanted to write another story. In the first book, my protagonist Sophia meets important personalities from Italy's history – poets, writers, movie stars, and artists – in her daydreams.

For my second book "Waking Isabella," again I wanted to explore art and historical themes but also wanted the story to involve a bit of a mystery as well. As I have recently been spending a lot of time in Arezzo Italy, a small hill town in Tuscany leading small group language immersion programs I thought it would be a perfect setting. Not only could I take the reader to a city, not many people have heard of, but I could tell them about Arezzo's unique jousting festival, antique fair as well the city’s traditions and a bit of its history. What pulled the entire story together for me, however, was an encounter I had with Isabella de' Medici's portrait that I ran into one day a museum in Arezzo. I was intrigued by the look in the Medici Princesses' eyes, and when I started doing a bit of research about her, I knew Isabella would be a perfect character to create a story around.

How about the inspiration for the people we meet in this? Can we find parts of you in the main female characters of Nora or Isabella?

I think all writers put a bit of themselves in their characters. At the beginning of the story, Nora is a bit depressed and longs to know if she has made the right choices and wonders about the life she didn't choose. I think we can all relate to that feeling and wonder about the experiences we might have had if we had studied something different, selected a job in another city, taken that trip we turned down, lived in another country, been braver and tried something that scared us, or perhaps even married a different person. But I think the real message is: it is never too late. We can follow our dreams and our hearts and take chances. We can always make a new decision or choice that will change the course of our lives. We don’t have to settle for ordinary. I certainly changed my own game plan and the direction of my life based on my decision to learn Italian!

As for Isabella and Margherita, I’m quite drawn to both these characters and had a lot of fun writing their scenes. I think they must have been quite a remarkable women and I admire them for standing out, daring to take risks, being an independent women and a non-conformists. I would like to think I have some of those qualities too.

This book starts in the distant past, then continues in the future with flashbacks occurring occasionally. How hard was it to keep track of the 2 parallel history lines and to blend them smoothly into one story?

I like to incorporate scenes from the past because it is what fascinates me the most about fiction writing. But I think to keep a contemporary reader onboard with the story it is also necessary to create a modern protagonist.

In my first novel "Dreaming Sophia" I used Sophia's daydreams as a means for her to dip back in time and visit with characters from a different period. In "Waking Isabella," I use the fact that Nora is an empath and very sensitive to the feelings of others as the vehicle through which she can channel thoughts and feelings not only of those around her, but also the energy of personalities from a previous eras.

In “Waking Isabella” it was necessary for the reader get to know Isabella's character personally, so that they would have a greater appreciation for the story or her missing painting in the twentieth-century and why it was important for Nora to find it and bring her back to life. It was also necessary to develop Margherita's character and her storyline as it was essential to understanding how and why the painting went missing in the first place. For me, it wasn't hard to jump back in time and let the voices of Margherita and Isabella chime in throughout the book. As I wrote, I could well imagine what they had to say! In fact, I had the most fun writing the scenes that take place in the fifteenth-century and those that took place in the 1940s during WWII. 

How do you organize your time when working on a new book - daily writing time, when inspiration strikes or ?

When I begin to write a novel, it is an all-consuming process. Sometimes I start early in the morning and write all day long and well into the night. I work all week long and also on the weekends. It never stops. I get entirely drawn into the plot the characters and envisioning the scenes and making sure everything is hanging together. I begin with a well-detailed outline. Before that I work for several months reading books, watching films, and doing research on everything from the kind of hat that was worn in 1940 to emailing a jouster in Arezzo and asking detailed questions about the rules of the game. Once I have started writing and have my first draft, I begin all over again, filling in conversations and refining details and enhancing scenes.

When I'm doing other things during the day like working, answering emails and writing articles for my blog, or when I think I am relaxing, listening to music or walking the dogs at night, I'm still always thinking about the story line. Often I will abruptly drop what I'm doing to write things down or work on a dialogue or add some detail to a scene. I have also been known to wake up from in the middle of the night and jump up and turn on the computer and start writing because something has come to me that I need to get down. It's an addictive, invigorating, frustrating and a joyful process to say the least.

What kind of research was necessary to keep the places and historical references in Waking Isabella as accurate as possible?

It was essential to research Isabella de' Medici well. I wanted the reader to come to understand and appreciate her as I had. So, I read many books about her. I also visited Cerreto Guidi in Italy where she was murdered. I, like the character Nora in "Waking Isabella," had a delightful conversation with the museum guard about Isabella. I wanted the story to be accurate, but there are a few places where I took a few liberties, and at the end of the story I make some notations where I fabricated a few things. For the most part, however, to the best of my knowledge events played out as I have written them.

It was also imperative to me that the reader has a sense of events that occurred during the World War II years. Often, these injustices and tragedies aren't as evident, but just the same intolerable.

As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?

I enjoy the moments when my fingers just fly over the keyboard, and it seems like the characters have come to life and are guiding my words. Those moments when ideas come to me effortlessly, scene descriptions seem to write themselves, and I have these little ah-ha moments when I make exciting connections between characters and things just seem to fit together beautifully. Those are great days.

And then there are those days where it feels like you are pulling teeth, none of your characters want to cooperate with you. You write for an hour and think you have perfected a scene. And then you look back, and it isn't the way you saw it in your head, and you swear the words began to jump around on the page and re-write themselves (not to your liking) when your back was turned, and you were making more coffee.

As this is your 2nd book, do you find the process of finding new storyline ideas and characters gets harder or easier with each new title?

I think book two (Waking Isabella) was much easier to write. Book one (Dreaming Sophia) was super personal. I was riding a wave of ideas and let the writing take me where it wanted me to go, which it turned out was a bit of a circuitous route and I re-wrote and re-edited the story for many months. But, it was a good thing and wasn’t time wasted. The story evolved and matured as it was supposed to and in the process I learned a lot — not only about the process of writing, editing and developing a story but also the design and production of a novel and how to self-publish. After blazing my own trail I had a lot of knowledge in my head, and I couldn't let it go to waste so decided to begin right away with a second book.

So, "Waking Isabella," even though it involved a mystery — that required more research and finesse to explain it clearly to an audience who perhaps isn't knowledgeable about the time periods, settings, the town of Arezzo and its traditions as well as the challenges faced by the diverse group of characters — from the beginning followed a more straightforward progression from start to finish, and I had a clearer idea of how the story was going to play out.

When you're not working at work or writing a new book, what do you like to do to relax?

I like speaking in Italian! I love grabbing a coffee and chatting away with my Italian friends and hosting Italian meetup groups. I live in a little Italian world of my own making here in San Francisco. I listen to Italian music, watch Italian films, read Italian books. And when I'm not working on a book or writing articles for my blog, I'm illustrating, drawing, and painting. And when I'm not doing that, I'm traveling in Italy. I organize small groups to learn the language and this year I will spend two months in Italy in Montepulciano in the spring, and I return to Arezzo for the June joust and again in September.

What can readers expect next from you?

As I was completing "Waking Isabella" a new idea for a novel came to me. I like the way the first two books developed with contemporary protagonists and the stories of how they make their way to Italy as well as developing art and historical themes to pull the contemporary stories together. I want readers to know that art can “talk” to them if they take the time to listen. So, in this tradition, I am working on a third book that will be called "Avenging Artemisia" which will focus on the story of the first important female artist – Artemisia Gentileschi – who flourished during the Baroque period and she too will be paired with a contemporary protagonist and the story will involve a bit of time travel. Interestingly enough, as in the first two books, the Medici family in Florence will also play a part.

This coming year you will also find me in Italy in June in Montepulciano with my language group and after that in Arezzo where I will be promoting “Waking Isabella” in the town where the story takes place. I look forward to participating also in the June joust that occurs at night. Then in September I will return again to Arezzo for my fall language program and of course the fall joust. I am a fan after all! You can also find me on the StudentessaMatta.com blog writing about Italy and language learning.

Grazie! Melissa

Connect with Melissa:Website ~ Twitter ~  Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram ~ Youtube

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Company Files: 1. The Good Man by Gabriel Valjan

Synopsis - 

In 1948, Vienna was divided among four powers: France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Jack Marshall had served with Walker during the war, and now, working together for The Company, they are tasked to do the inconceivable. Could former Nazis really be recruited to assist the U.S. in the atomic race? As their team moves forward, they quickly discover they are not the only ones looking for these men. And the others in the search may just have the objective of murder.

In this tale of historical noir, of corruption and deceit, no one is who they say they are. Who is The Good Man in a world where an enemy may be a friend, an ally may be the enemy, and governments deny everything?

Review - 

I was fortunate to have a chance to review author Gabriel Valjan's 4-book Roma series in 2015 (review links below) and enjoyed it immensely, so I jumped a the chance to review his latest offering The Company Files: 1. The Good Man.  This new fiction still offers intrigue, suspense and danger, but it's a big departure in terms of setting and plot.

The story opens in post-war Vienna. Countries that stood against the Nazis are all present here, each with their own secret agendas that are often at odds with the goals of other countries.  While the story follows several characters, the ones that rise to the top for me are: Jack Marshall (company station chief), Walker (a soldier who fought alongside Jack and now hired by him) and Sheldon (a tailor and former Auschwitz detainee who they think is offing former Nazis).  On the female are Leslie (company analyst under Jack who might not be what she seems) and Tania (a Russia refugee Sheldon rescues and tries to protect who might also have surprises within).

The Company's goal is to find Nazis who might have information the U.S. could find useful. If one is found, they might be secretly exonerated and the information they hold used to keep America at the top globally. Sheldon's  suspected war against former Nazis could interfere with that goal in certain circumstances. Next comes Whittaker who has gone missing and Mr. Meeks from Washington whose actions begin to ring alarm bells. Are they patriots or traitors?

As the plot deepens, we are taken further and further into the underworld surrounding a post-war country.  As each step is taken, who is friend and who is foe becomes harder to discern and the truth becomes more and more elusive.  Who will survive to the end? Who will prove trustworthy?

The Good Man is a great read filled with twists, turns, thrills, mystery, danger, suspense and in the end a small dash of romance. A great read.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet The Author - 

Gabriel Valjan is the author of The Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.

Connect With the Author Website Twitter Facebook

My Roma Series Reviews - 

Roma Underground - Wasp's Nest - Threading the Needle - Turning to Stone

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Necessities (Book #4 in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series) by Boyd Taylor

Check out my review of other books in this series!
Synopsis -

Donnie Ray Cuinn returns to Austin to defend a war hero accused of murder. David Lewis lost both legs in Iraq, but he has overcome his nightmares and his disabilities by sheer willpower. He has learned to run and to box and is a successful newspaperman with a beautiful wife and son. Now the nightmares have returned and he must stand trial for murder. With twists that never seem to end, this gripping legal thriller is filled with suspense and indelibly drawn characters dealing with love and betrayal.

Review -

This book was also a surprise as the first half was told from the perspective of David Lewis - a character Donnie met in a previous book.  It steps back a bit in timeline, retelling parts from previous books from this different perspective, then heads into new territory.

David Lewis is a veteran missing both legs who has driven himself hard to make sure his disabilities don't hold him back in any way. One day he is approached by an beautiful, rich woman he used to go to school with. She wants him to be her husband and produce the grandchild her wealthy father so desires.  None of the other siblings have managed it. He finds himself very attracted to her and decides this is a life he can embrace, even with the no divorce clause.

Unfortunately, after his wife gives birth to their one and only son, she wants to live very separate lives.  In public he is required to step into the required role of dutiful husband in a very happy relationship - something he pulls of despite his growing dissatisfaction.  He is encouraged to enjoy his pleasures in other places as long as he is discreet.  His work both on the family media empire as well as a liberal newspaper he purchased with his wife though, brings him great success and professional satisfaction.

Then one day everything changes.  His father in law believes there is a dire threat against the family and sends David to protect his wife and bring her home. Unfortunately, the situation stirs up his wartime nightmares. In response he fires and kills an innocent.  Even though Donnie Cuinn has no experience at this type of trial, David has complete trust in his abilities and refuses to trust anyone else.  Can Donnie find a way to prove his innocence.

A great read with a fabulous plot twist at the end. Not all is as it seems!  You'll have to read to find out.

Buy the Books: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet The Author -

Check out a fab behind the scenes interview HERE!

BOYD TAYLOR lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their Havanese dog Toby. Necessities is the fourth novel in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series. In a former life, Boyd was a lawyer and a corporate officer. A native of Temple, Texas, he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in government and an LL.B. from the law school.

Boyd's first novel "Hero" was prescient in its story about fake news. His second novel, "The Antelope Play," dealt with drug trafficking in the Texas Panhandle, an unfortunately accurate forecast. The third, "The Monkey House", involved commercial development of a large green space in the center of Austin, all too familiar to Austin residents. Whether his upcoming novel "Necessities" predicts future events with the accuracy of the earlier books remains to be seen.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Facebook

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Interview With Evy Journey, Author of Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

To read a previous interview with Evy Journey covering her journey to writing & more click HERE!
- - - - - 

Something I forgot to ask in the last interview makes a great starting question here. While there are bits of intrigue, cooking and other themes included in your storylines, they are wrapped around the main focus which is Romance. As a writer, why did you chose to write in this genre.

I don’t think my latest book fits neatly into the romance genre. At least one romance blogger/reviewer says romance is secondary in this novel. And some, expecting the usual trajectory of this genre, have been disappointed. I think it’s because the story does not conform with some tropes they expected. The sexy billionaire bad boy doesn’t get the girl, for instance. You could go further and say that, as far as that particular pairing is concerned, there isn’t a happy-ever-after. I intended to subvert a few expectations from the get-go. I turn the tables on another trope. The bad guy usually commits the crimes. In Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies, the crimes are perpetrated by the heroine’s close friends. But that’s real life—stats show victims often know their assailants well.

It’s also real life that love is a big concern among the age group I write about. My books, though, are cross-genre, with more than a soupçon of mystery/thriller and an emphasis on character development that lends a literary flavor. There’s no one category you can snugly fit them into. So I choose a vague genre— women’s fiction. And this is okay. The focus is the heroine’s viewpoint, her growth, and what loving means to her. In romance, the alpha hero is front and center, even when the POV is the heroine’s.

This is the sixth book you've published. How does the journey to publication with each new title chang​e. Does it get easier or harder?

Review HERE!
Writing gets easier, but because I’m compulsive and try not to repeat myself, I struggle occasionally. Promotion and marketing have always been hard, though. When you think you’ve learned techniques that sell, the marketing landscape changes, maybe because there really is no science to it. And very little data. The book business remains in a state of flux.

Please share a bit about where you found the inspiration for the storyline and characters in Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies.

I love to eat and I live in an area where the first gourmet ghetto sprang up in the seventies. If the name Alice Waters rings a bell, then you know what I mean. The San Francisco Bay Area is a foodie paradise. Of the 14 three-star Michelin restaurants in the US listed in Wikipedia, half are in the Bay Area. You can stumble on ethnic restaurants—which greatly enrich local cuisine—nearly everywhere.

More a propos, the oft-mentioned but absent grandfather of the heroine is a French chef who has an artisanal French deli. He’s based on a real person. It was while walking out of his deli carrying my purchases in vacuum-sealed bags that I got my inspiration and the hazy first outlines of the story. He remains alive and well with his Chinese American wife and their now grown-up kids. They were young children when I first saw them.

The idea of love at first sight is embraced in this latest book. Do you believe in love at first sight in real life?  Has it ever happened to you or someone you know?

Ah, love! Can it hit you at that first shy glance? If you remember, Gina, the heroine, discounts this idea. She calls it lust at first sight. And if you read research studies, which I still do (I always ask: Who says this and what’s the evidence?), you’ll learn she’s right. The trouble is too many of us cannot distinguish lust from love. If you care to know a bit more about this, read my short article.

So, have I had lust at first sight? No, some tingling, yes. My trouble is I think too much.

In looking back over the 6 books you have written, what elements of you can be found scattered throughout the characters of the heroines you create?

Apart from love of food? And love of music like that of the heroine in Hello Agnieszka?

The female protagonist’s interiority. My heroines all have rich inner lives. Sometimes, they even talk about it like Elise in Hello My Love when she says, “Our inner life is what makes us human and, to me, it’s even more important for the way we live now.”

She is voicing my thoughts. The overt passivity of thinking doesn’t appeal to many modern readers, however. We prefer action and excitement. Maybe interiority is important to me, at least partly, because of my training which I share (somewhat) with the heroine of Welcome Reluctant Stranger. Leilani is a clinical psychologist, while I trained more in the theoretical/research area of psychology.

You've called yourself an "Adventurous Foodie." Can you share one of your favourite taste experiences?  Where did you experience it and what was the food treat?

Only one? I remember many. My most vivid first memory, though, is of steaming black rice rolls sprinkled with brown sugar and freshly-grated coconut, served on fresh banana leaves. The fragrance, the contrasting textures, the cool and hot, the sweet caramelly sugar and the rich, creamy, chewy coconut sinking into sticky Jasmine-scented black rice. Imagine how that hits a three-year old, standing outside an old Spanish-era Catholic church after midnight mass on Christmas eve. Shivering in the humid tropical breezes from an ocean only a mile away.

On your website under blog you list 2 headings - Love, Life, Small things and A Writer's Life.  How do they differ?

Writer’s Life is chiefly about my thoughts on writing. Love, Life, and Small Things is much more about those topics. Many times, of course, the categories intersect—how can they not since writing is what I do? So several posts are classified under both.

I love ending with this question, "What's Next?" Do you have new book in development or ??????????????

I want my next novel to be about an artist, a painter. Art is one of my other loves, apart from writing and my family. I’m toying with the idea of a historical novel, using material from an art history paper I once wrote on illuminated manuscripts—the first illustrated books inscribed on paper (vellum actually). Or I could write parallel stories, one set in medieval times and the other in the present when illustrated manuscripts have morphed into comic books or graphic novels. This book would be much more demanding and would take longer to write.

I’ll end by saying you have the best, most original author interview questions. Thank you for that.

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

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Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies by Evy Journey

Can the lessons she learned from her mother about cooking and life help Gina survive and thrive in this other world of privilege, pleasure and unexpected danger?  

Synopsis - 

Cooking a wonderful meal is an act of love. An act of grace. A gift that affirms and gives life—not only does it nurture those who partake of a meal; it also feeds the soul of the person who creates it. These are lessons Gina learns from her mother.

Gina is a young woman born to poor parents; a nobody (her words) who wants to taste life outside the world she was born into and her passion for cooking is all she has to help her do so. She gets lucky when she’s chosen to cook at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area where she finds a world of a privileged class with money to spare for dinners that cost hundreds of dollars. A world of new friends and new challenges—one that exposes her to fascinating people who’re also gripped by dark motives.

Amidst her culinary adventures, she becomes good friends with pastry chef Marcia, and falls in love, in different ways, with, two very different men: Leon, a rich regular client who has been dating Cristi, her friend from childhood, and Brent, a brooding homicide detective. This other world, it turns out, is also one of unexpected danger that eventually threatens her life.

Can the lessons she learned from her mother about cooking and life help Gina survive and thrive in this other world of privilege, pleasure and unexpected danger?  

Review - 

This is my fourth book review for this talented author.  In 2015 I reviewed all 3 books in her Between Two World series, so couldn't wait to give into her latest offering - Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies.  I wasn't disappointed. While all four books I have read are at their core Romance novels, they also offer a deeper plot line.  For Sugar and Spice, the added elements include cooking and danger.

Gina is a character everyone can relate to. She grew up poor in a loving family and chooses to walk away from an early marriage proposal that would lead her to an expected life to embrace a demanding career as a chef.  The demands of working under a top chef in a high-end restaurant leave her little time for a personal life, which she is fine with.

Then two men come into her life.  One a reserved detective - Brent - who is illusive and hard to read. Her soul is drawn to this handsome man, but he doesn't seem to offer any encouragement or hope.

The other - Leon - is a rich, charming restaurant customer who slowly wears her down with his constant attention and draws her into his world. Although he is a playboy by reputation, she throws caution to the wind so she can see how the other half lives. However, a previous phantom girlfriend is jealous and begins to send Gina threats.  Is her life in danger? And Leon's father isn't excited about his son's relationship with someone of her social status. Will he throw a wrench in their plans to wed?

An enjoyable read to curl up with over a cuppa that offers a little bit of everything - cooking, intrigue,mystery, danger and love.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet The Author -
New updated interview with the author - HERE!
Previous interview with the author covering her journey to become an author - HERE!

Evy Journey, writer, wannabe artist, and flâneuse (feminine of flâneur), wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. Armed with a Ph.D., she used to research and help develop mental health programs.

She's a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her despite such preoccupations having gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen to spin tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue.  

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

Join the Facebook Group: Thoughtful Romance Readers Love 

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Monkey House (Book #3 in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series) by Boyd Taylor

Check out my review of other books in this series!
Synopsis - 

This, the third Donnie Ray Cuinn book, pits Donnie against the old friends and new enemies guilty of land fraud and corporate greed. Donnie returns to Austin from his law practice in the Texas Panhandle to confront All-American football player Wesley Bird, his former best friend. In the company of beautiful, athletic Anna Kaye Nordstrom, Donnie experiences the "new" Austin of glitzy condos, trendy restaurants and social media. He also revisits the "old" Austin of barbecue, power politics and greens versus developers. Donnie finds that not much has changed.  

Review - 

While his foster mother Lena is gone, I love that book three in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series re-introduces us to his beloved "Papa" and his birth mother. Donnie is still happily living and running a law practice in the Texas Panhandle

Development is the driving force of this book's plot. The land across from the retirement center where his "Papa" and birth mother live formerly housed a lab where experiments were carried on out monkeys. With the lab closed because of public opinion, land developers were eager to create more condos and retail space. Residents wanted an open park where people could stroll and relax. "Papa" was leading the fight.

Danny is also lured back to Austin when he finds out his former friend - All-American football player Wesley Bird - has sweet talked Papa and his mother into investing most of their savings in a land development scheme without having him check the contract. It looks like the development has fallen through and the money's gone. Unfortunately Papa has also encourage many in his retirement community to do the same.

As Donnie moves through a twisted maze of hidden motives and backroom deals, he reconnects with a former lover - Anna Nordstrom - and explores the old Austin of his young along with the new Austin that is emerging.  Highs, lows and a bit of humor blend together in this tale of intrigue. Will Donnie find a way to get everyone's money back?  You'll have to read to find out.

Buy the Books: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet The Author -

Check out a fab behind the scenes interview HERE!

BOYD TAYLOR lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their Havanese dog Toby. Necessities is the fourth novel in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series. In a former life, Boyd was a lawyer and a corporate officer. A native of Temple, Texas, he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in government and an LL.B. from the law school.

Boyd's first novel "Hero" was prescient in its story about fake news. His second novel, "The Antelope Play," dealt with drug trafficking in the Texas Panhandle, an unfortunately accurate forecast. The third, "The Monkey House", involved commercial development of a large green space in the center of Austin, all too familiar to Austin residents. Whether his upcoming novel "Necessities" predicts future events with the accuracy of the earlier books remains to be seen.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Facebook

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Science of Cocktails - Celebrate the Science of Mixology (Media Preview)

2018 Media Preview Photos by Christopher Guy, Instagram - @picturelisten
Science of Cocktails 2017 Photos from the Science World Website.
Showcase Restaurant Image from their website.

Before I start I want to say - if you like cocktails and have never been to the Science of Cocktails main event, you need to go.  It's wonderful. I've attended three years in a row and have always been amazed by the creativity of the drinks and the food.  One surprise last year - a margarita served 3 ways: traditional, in jelly beans and turned into a steam that you inhaled.

On February 8, 2018, Science World will be filled with over 25 stations offering unique science-inspired cocktails created by award winning bartenders (mixologists).  Others will offer unique hors d’oeuvres prepared by locally renowned chefs, amazing science demonstrations and intriguing hand-on activities.

Attendees can also give themselves a pat on the back for doing something for the community. Science of Cocktails is a fundraiser created when the facility lost their government funding for their underfunded schools program. By attending this event, you'll be helping to send thousands of kids from underserved schools so Science World on class field trips. Each class bursary includes bus transportation, admission and a take home activity. Last year over 8,000 students participated and they hope to increase that number this year. And don't forget, general ticket holders receive a $50 tax receipt and VIP ticket holders receive a $150 receipt.

If you can afford to - I highly suggest getting a VIP ticket. Why?
  • You arrive to complimentary valet parking
  • You enter an hour earlier than the general ticket holder which means no long lineups at the stations.
  • You will receive a special themed take-away gift.
Tickets for Science of Cocktails 2018 are available HERE!

= = = = 


At the media preview we were treated to a mini-version of the main event.  Held in Marriott Hotel Pinnacle's beautiful Showcase Restaurant & Bar in Coal Harbour, you could feel the excitement on entering. The energy was high and there was a definite buzz going on.  Photos were being snapped, interviews conducted, questions asked, drinks sipped and canapes consumed. Everyone was smiling.

I started at one end and worked my way round in a circle, stopping at each station - 4 cocktail, 3 food, 1 challenge, 1 demonstration and 1 hands on activity (oops, forgot to explore this one).  What I loved was that the professional in charge of each station was ready and willing to either talk about their creation in depth or explain what their challenge/demo/handson was about.  I was seriously impressed with everyone, but want to make a few awards here.

My favourite cocktail by taste (really close as they were all amazing) - Southern Ginger Belle.                         Loved the hints of citrus and ginger.
My favourite food - ‘Char Sui’ pork rillettes, recipe below. I stood talking to the chef at this table                     for quite awhile and snuck back for seconds. Fabulous!
My favourite story - At the Yuzu Sake-Tini cocktail station. Hearing the concept and all the science                 behind the creation of this drink had my rapt attention for a full 10 minutes. Bravo.


1. Guatemala Colada
| Liquor: Ron Zacapa

Bartender: Grant Sceney
Presented by Diageo
Concept: Soluble Ingredients Oils & Alcohol (Using fats /oils to make a cocktail)
50 ml Ron Zacapa rum with coconut oil
22 ml Maillard Pineapple Cordial
22 ml citric acid and lactic acid solution
Stirred, served neat

2.Yuzu Sake-Tini | Brand: Prime Vodka 
Bartender: Diana Claxton (Showcase Restaurant & Bar) with JS Dupuis (Tableau)
Presented by Showcase Restaurant & Bar
Concept: Molecular Caviar Pearls
Edible caviar flavor using Calcium Bath & Molecular Mixology
1oz Prime vodka
1oz Sake
1/2oz simple syrup
1g citric acid
Yuzu + sodium alginate pearls (in calcium bath)

3. Southern Ginger Belle | Brand: Southern Comfort 
Bartender: Brice Peressini (The Victor, Parq Vancouver) & Andrea Civettini (Clough Club) 
Presented by Charton Hobbs: Top Shelf Bar Club
Concept - Shake it til you make it! Shaker Challenge See below!
60ml Southern Comfort
30ml Lemon juice
5ml ginger juice
5ml simple syrup
1 spoon Orange Marmalade

4. Cocktail: Old Fashioned | Brand: Remy Martin
Concept: Laminar Jet Streamed Cocktail
Bartender: Gez McAlpine (Bruichladdich) & Cam Brown (Clough Club)
Presented by Makerlabs
Cocktail will be served using a Laminar Jet at the main event Feb. 8th
2oz Remy Martin
1 Sugar cube
2 Dash bitters
Raisin garnish


1. ‘Char Sui’ pork rillettes, yuzu pearls, miso sesame emulsion, rice cracker, togarashi, perilla leaf.
Chef: Jesse Hochhausen. Recipe below!

Presented by Showcase Restaurant & Bar
Char Sui BBQ flavoured pork rillettes, yuzu juice thickened with agar agar to appear like pearls or row. Miso and sesame emulsion, fried rice cracker, togarashi spice blend and wild sesame leaf (also known as perilla leaf) which is quick frozen and mulled with liquid nitrogen.

2. Pink Flower Roll

Chef: Takayuki Sato
Presented by Hapa Izakaya
Sushi rice, asparagus, Albacore Tuna, fried egg, topped with beet juice dye, white radish & shiso leaves

3. Chilled Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail

Chef: Kyle Baker
Presented by The Keg
Chilled jumbo shrimp served with a martini cocktail sauce


Drink station #3 offered the Shake It Til You Break It! Cocktail Shaker Challenge. "See if you have the strength and speed to be a professional bartender using sensor technology to track how fast you can accelerate a classic cocktail shaker."

You were given a cocktail shaker with a sensor attached that transmitted your numbers to an iPad.  The muscled guy before me received a score of 120 and I was determined to figure out a way to beat him. I held the shaker in front of me, holding it with both hands to split the work instead of in one had as he had.  I didn't quite beat him, but got close. My score was 115.  After you were given a shaker filled with the ingredients for the cocktail at that station and created your own with a few simples shakes. 


Ping Pong Cannon - "Witness the awesome power of air pressure as an ordinary ping pong ball is accelerated to over 700km/h – fast enough to puncture straight through the side of an aluminum beer can."

About every 5-10 minutes there would be a loud bang that rang through the restaurant. It was from the ping pong canon.  You had super long clear tube with a compressor at one end and a see-through vessel at the other. At the compressor end they'd drop in a ping pong ball. In the clear container they'd put an empty pop can.  BANG - the relatively fragile ping pong ball would should down the tube and blow the soda can apart. 

They were using air to push the ball down the tube, but not in the way I assumed. I thought the compressor was building up air behind the ball and then pushing it forward. Nope, they sucked all the air out of the tube, then opened the seal on the end the ball was in. The air rushing in from the outside drove it down the tube at 700 KM/H. WOW


Tinkering ‘Tinker-Bling’ (bow tie, necklace) - "Craft yourself a light up LED necklace or bow tie by creating your own custom circuit."

I apologize in that I didn't stop by and create my own Tinker-Bling, but as you can see from the images, most of the attendees dove right in and what they created was a lot of fun. 


‘Char Sui’ pork rillettes with yuzu pearls, miso sesame emulsion, rice cracker, togarashi, perilla leaf by Chef Jesse Hochhausen

The Antelope Play (Book #2 in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series) by Boyd Taylor

Check out my review of other books in this series!
  • Hero
  • The Monkey House - Review coming Jan. 26th
  • Necessities - Review coming Feb. 8th
Synopsis - 

When Austin native Donnie Cuinn accepts a job as an associate in a Texas Panhandle law firm, his boredom and disdain for Velda, a sleepy Texas town, is forgotten when he gets caught up in a struggle over water rights, possible radioactive contamination of the nation's largest underground fresh water supply, and the violence of an invading Mexican drug cartel. Along the way, Donnie learns to respect the local rancher, whose brother is at the center of the troubles, and to come to terms with the violent death of his young Mexican wife.

Review - 

The opening of book two really turned left for me.

At the close of book 1, Hero, Donnie Cuinn was a recently graduated historian headed off to Mexico to do research and to try to win back the heart of his lovely Cecelia. I assumed book two would his cover adventures there. Not so. Donnie has instead returned to the U.S., earned a law degree from a low end school and is working at his first job in the small town of Velda, Texas.  Didn't see that coming. Why the change of direction?  The answer is slowly revealed in small bites throughout The Antelope Play.

Donnie is obviously depressed about the turn his life has taken and that affects his attitude at work. It isn't long before he is canned from his job. Instead of returning home to Austin in shame, he moves to an even smaller town and opens his own practice, something that quickly puts him at odds with his former employer.

The plot winds through Donnie's discovery of backroom dealings, the motives driving the key players (including the U.S. government) and trying to find the reason one of his first big clients is being asked by the family trustee to sign a document allowing the sale of family water rights, something his former employer is working hard for. Along the way new women come into his life, but he can't let go of the past enough to embrace any new relationship for long.

Scattered throughout are flashbacks to what happened in Mexico. Piece by piece we slowly learn what put an end to all his previous dreams.  

Buy the Books: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet The Author -

Check out a fab behind the scenes interview HERE!

BOYD TAYLOR lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their Havanese dog Toby. Necessities is the fourth novel in the Donnie Ray Cuinn series. In a former life, Boyd was a lawyer and a corporate officer. A native of Temple, Texas, he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in government and an LL.B. from the law school.

Boyd's first novel "Hero" was prescient in its story about fake news. His second novel, "The Antelope Play," dealt with drug trafficking in the Texas Panhandle, an unfortunately accurate forecast. The third, "The Monkey House", involved commercial development of a large green space in the center of Austin, all too familiar to Austin residents. Whether his upcoming novel "Necessities" predicts future events with the accuracy of the earlier books remains to be seen.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Facebook

a Rafflecopter giveaway