Jun 192017
 

PRACTICING NORMAL by Cara Sue Achterberg
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Published by The Story Plant
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-61188-244-5
Pages: 352
Review Copy From: Publisher
Edition: ARC
My Rating: 5+

**Tomorrow Q&A with Cara Sue Achterberg and a giveaway**

Synopsis:

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.

The Turners know in their hearts that they’re anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.

And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.

Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal.
Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.

My Thoughts:

Meet the Turners, your normal upper-middle-class family living in an upscale neighborhood. Husband, Everett, former cop and now a successful businessman, Kate, former ER nurse now a stay at home mom, daughter Jenna, your typical rebellious teenager, and son JT who has Asperger’s and dog Marco.

Not only does everything appear normal from the outside, but the family within, go about their day to day normal routines. But what is truly normal?

The story is told from the POVs of Kate, Everett, and Jenna.

Everett claims to be in love with Kate but is it true actions speak louder than words? Kate’s days are consumed with taking care of her autistic son and elderly mother, who has been a bitter woman since her husband left her and her daughters. Jenna, a loner, who has a knack for B&Es and JT who is a brilliant boy but lives in his own world.

This story is absolutely captivating!! The author’s outstanding writing technique brings these characters, and others in the book, to life. I found myself not wanting the book to end, but then, on the other hand, I couldn’t wait to see how this family deals with the circumstances (vague due to not wanting to include spoilers) that were their norm.

A riveting and engrossing story that I could not put down. I am the newest fan of Ms. Achterberg! I highly recommend this extraordinary novel!!!

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REVIEW DISCLAIMER

This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
DISCLAIMER

I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review.
No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
ADDENDUM

I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am an IndieBound affiliate. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.

Jun 192017
 

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia of A girl and her books and is now hosted on its own blog.

According to Marcia, “Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

Click on title for synopsis via GoodReads.

Wednesday: KEEP THE GHOST by Scott Kelly Kindle from Author
Thursday: GIRL IN TROUBLE by Stacy Claflin Kindle from Author
Saturday: THE BREAKDOWN by B.A. Paris HC from St. Martin’s Press

Jun 152017
 

Feather Stone

GUEST POST

FORBIDDEN: CHARACTER AND SETTING DEVELOPMENT

Bart, aka Croak when he’s being a pain.

When the impulse to write a second novel began, I suppressed the images. Pretty dark stuff. I figured that I’d been watching too many murder shows, and overwhelmed by the global terrorism. Then, something weird happened.

On a stormy winter night driving home from work, I met a woman from Afghanistan. Yes, friggin Afghanistan. As if I was in a zombie state, I picked up this total stranger. Never had I done anything so bizarre. Well, maybe, but that’s another story.

When she got settled into my beat up SUV, I tried to make conversation with her. Blank stare. She didn’t understand a word of English. Damn! What have I done? To make a long story short, in the next twenty minutes, my life changed. Over the next month, I became haunted by images of being in the Middle East in the midst of chaos and suffering.

I knew my muse, Bart, was pushing the plot.

“Resistance is futile.” He gave me his wide toothless grin.

“You’re nuts, Bart, if you think I’ll write that novel. How ridiculous. I know nothing of the Middle East or Islam.” I thumped Bart on his little green head.

“Oh crap, you’re going to difficult again.” He massaged his skull. “Madame, he’s waiting.”

“Who’s waiting?”

“Captain Sharif. Big brute of a man but considered a hero by the citizens of the Republic of Islamic Provinces and Territories.”

I glared at Bart. A mistake. Trapped in Bart’s golden eyes, the mystical dance began. Swirling sapphire clouds descended transforming my surroundings, shifting reality, capturing time.

Several yards away, a man’s shadow emerged.

He stood, a sentinel – solitary, waiting. His fists at his sides, clenched. Moving closer, I noted more details of his uniform. Black, from his cap to the military boots. It was then I noted his death grip on an assault rifle. I swallowed and stepped back. He hadn’t yet acknowledged my presence.

My eyes scanned the direction of his gaze. Only mist. And yet, he prepared for battle. He crouched, a lion ready for the kill. My heart pounded against my ribs. “Who is coming,” I whispered.

“Be quiet,” he growled, a sound escaping from deep in his broad chest. “Damn. They’ve frightened her away.”

Brazenly, I stepped closer. “Who frightened who?”

“The mayor. He’s trying to keep her from coming here.” His shoulder slouched. “Eliza.” He spoke her name as if she held the status of goddess. As he turned back toward the mist, he muttered, “We may be too late.” Pain laced his grief.

Frustration clawed at my need to know what the hell was going on. “Who is ‘we’?”

Finally, the soldier faced me. Still only a vague outline of his features gave any hint of his face. I felt, more than saw, that he could be considered handsome, perhaps in his early thirties, Middle Eastern skin tone, short dark curly hair. Energy surrounded him. No horror would deter him from his mission.

“Who? Me, Sergeant Abdul-Muqtadir, imam Bashir, Captain Khattab, CIA agent Hutchinson.” He stepped forward. “And you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.” He towered over me. “You must write the story. If not, she’s going to get better at trying to killer herself. So far, she’s doing a lousy job. Praise Allah, the most merciful.”

“I’m certain there are authors better able to tell the story. I know nothing of Islam or what it is like to be Muslim. Why me?”

“Because, in many ways, you are much like Eliza. You know her. His voice softened. “You see my dear Ms. Stone, as long as she doesn’t get here, their plans for a most vicious crime is safe. They’ll bury me alive if I reveal their secret. But if she’s here, I’ll have a reason to do …. what is forbidden.

A gut wrenching scream tore through my chest. The sound came from beyond the gloom. It continued to echo as if someone was being tortured within prison walls. Suddenly, the soldier fell to his knees.

“What is that?” I shouted trembling with shock.

“That is Eliza.” He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut as if her pain became his. “Her nightmare is never ending. Her mind gives her no peace. She is going insane.”

A sense of hopelessness descended upon me. Yes, I had to write Forbidden. The woman from Afghanistan and Captain Sharif had shared their secret. Everything is possible through the power of love.

Read an excerpt:

(Eliza, held prisoner in RIPT, attempts to get permission for exercise time in the police compound):

Eliza wore the required black uniform, put on her polished work boots, and pushed her hair up under the black cap. At the bottom of the stairs she listened for sounds of the men. She approached Khizar’s office and sighed with relief to find he had left. Going down a short hallway, Eliza turned right towards the crew quarters’ door. She hesitated, listening for sounds that indicated the mood of the cops.

Belly laughter and smacks against the wall made the door shudder. The men were absorbed in their amusement and might not be interested in challenging her request.

Eliza knocked on the door, careful to sound neither cowardly, nor aggressive. The door was swung open by a constable.
She held her breath. Skilled at hiding her emotions, Eliza looked into the officer’s eyes. The officer relaxed a little. An intimidating smirk grew on his face. Three other men in the room gathered behind him.

The day sergeant, a heavy-set man, came forward and said in a trivializing manner, “The whore is mine. Leave her to me.”

The sergeant sauntered up to her. His eyes lit up like those of a child about to open a birthday gift. He lowered his gaze to her dark boots, and then raised his focus to her mid-section, then to her chest. Finally, he looked at her eyes.

Eliza did not change her expression from that of bland indifference to his suggestive piercing stare. He had called her a whore, but she repressed the impulse to admonish him. She resisted the urge to put her hands on her hips. That would be sexually suggestive and body language might defeat her faster than the wrong choice of words.

“My apologies for the interruption,” she said in Arabic, her voice trembling despite her resolve. “I’m going for a walk.” She swung around toward the exit door.

The officers chuckled as the sergeant stepped forward and blocked her. His face came uncomfortably close to hers. He spoke with a grin, accompanied by the rhythmic flexing and gyrating of his hips.

“Welcome. Come in.” The three men cheered as the sergeant grabbed her shirt and pulled her into the room.

Eliza froze. The four men closed in around her. She gasped as they taunted her, touching her shoulders, her hips. She shuddered as one of the men grabbed her hat and flung it to the side.

“No,” she cried out in Arabic. “Captain Sharif will -.” The sergeant slapped her face hard, sending her spinning against a muscular man. His hand pulled on her long hair and grabbed her belt, trapping her against his body.

Eliza shrieked as the sergeant took her shirt into his fist and in one swift move, ripped it away from her and flung it to the floor. Her white cotton tank top clung to her body like a second skin. The men gawked at the curves of her breasts.

She dug her elbow into the cop’s midsection. His grip on her hair released enough for her to leap for the door. “Let me go!”

More hands clamped onto her body.

“No!” Eliza shouted in Arabic. She reached to grasp someone’s throat. Her legs trembled, barely holding her body upright.

The sergeant gave the belt a firm yank and slipped it out of the belt loops. The men cheered. He pulled on the waist band. It held fast but scraped her skin. She shrieked in pain as she fell to the floor. Eliza screamed as he pinned her to the floor with his knee.

“Quiet,” he growled. A large sweaty hand covered her mouth.

The rest of the men pounced on her, grabbing her arms and legs. Before they got a firm grip on her, she twisted and squirmed enough that someone lost his hold over her mouth. Eliza let out another ear-piercing scream. Her self-defense training evaporated.

“That’s enough,” one said. “Let her go, sergeant. Sharif will hear her and kill us.” Two men let go of their grip on her legs.

“Fuck Sharif. Besides, Captain Khizar has plans to take Sharif’s head,” said the sergeant. “Shut her up!”

Kicking and biting, she escaped their grip, and once more bounded to the door. Just as she flung the door open, a man grabbed her by the hair, and she screamed again. “If Sharif can have her, so can we!”

Strong hands threw her to the floor again. She screamed until her lungs burned. A hand clamped down over her mouth, pushing her lips hard against her teeth. She tasted blood on her tongue. She kicked and twisted. Her muffled cries and tears seemed to excite the men. Their hostility escalated.

“Hold the bitch still,” someone hollered. A hand groped her chest, squeezing her breast. She gasped at the crushing weight of a man on her legs attempting to pull her pants down. The band around her waist ripped. A knife flashed over her mid-section.

In one last effort, Eliza opened her mouth wide. The hand slipped between her teeth. Like a vice, she clamped down on the fingers and bit hard. He hollered a curse and yanked his hand from her teeth. She took a deep breath and screamed till her throat hurt. A rag was shoved into her mouth.

The men paused as the sound of footsteps thundered down the stairs.

The men gasped. Their hands remained clenched onto her as if welded to her skin. The door flung open. It crashed against the wall. Captain Sharif rushed through the doorway, wearing only his boxers. His face twisted in rage as his raised his handgun toward the men. They threw themselves onto the floor and begged for mercy.

Eliza pulled the rag out of her mouth and scrambled on all fours to a far corner. She tried to stand but crumpled to the floor. Panting and crying, she crossed her arms across her chest.

“What are you idiots doing? Get up,” Sharif roared. “Up against the wall before I kill the lot of you swine!”

They scrambled to form a line in front of the captain. Each one got a dose of the disgust on the captain’s face. The men stood rigid, gasping for air. Sweat rolled down their faces. Sharif paced in front of the sergeant and his three men. He glanced back at her.

“Get your shirt on!”

Eliza reached for the torn shirt and put it on. Rage fought for dominance over her shaky legs.

“Get out, MacKay!” Sharif’s deep voice echoed his loathing.

She raced to the exit door, flung it open, and fell down the six steps.

Reeling with shock, she used the exterior wall of the building to guide her away from the front door. She ran, blinded by tears, and staggered around a corner.

The blood-stained compound wall loomed fifty feet in front of her. In an instant, ghostly screams and unrelenting gunfire pulled her back into the horror.

Traces of bullet holes and dark red splatter stains on the walls retold the story in gruesome detail. Eliza slumped against the station’s wall, slid to the ground and squeezed her eyes shut. She clenched her fists as her mind catapulted to the night she arrived four days ago in the captain’s compound.

She huddled against the cement wall. Her body ached. Bruises and scratches were on her arms and legs, golden tangles hung in her face. She clenched her fists and fought back the need to release a scream of anger and frustration.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the captain’s hurried approach. He had dressed in casual clothes, khaki pants and white short-sleeved shirt left untucked, only partially buttoned. Eliza had difficulty reading the man, his eyes hidden behind the dark aviator sunglasses. He stood in front of her and motioned for her to stand.

“Get up,” he said, glancing in her direction.

She braced for a stern reprimand and punishment. Get up and bow to the friggin’ iceman, she thought. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep. I’ve been ordered about, shut up in a small apartment, sneered at, and treated like I’ve got the plague. Then, being treated like a whore this morning? Unforgivable. Damn! She stood.

Her torn shirt fell open, revealing more than the captain, or any decent Muslim man should see. Too damn bad! His gaze appeared in the vicinity of her chest.

Once Sharif was thoroughly tormented, she tied the shirt tails at her midriff, closing off her cleavage.

Sharif turned away. “Come with me,” he ordered and headed toward the arch-ribbed building.
“Come with me, please,” she snapped, remaining steadfast.

He turned and looked at her for a moment. Briefly, she saw a glimmer of a smile. Just a hint of his white teeth and the softening of his face.

The captain stood a good three inches taller than her five foot nine inches. His cropped, curly dark brown hair and stubble style beard defined his strong facial bones. His eyes were obsidian. During the night, when he did not wear the aviator sunglasses, she had discovered the black depths were as soft as velvet.

Author Bio:

On our cattle ranch in Alberta, when an animal was in distress or injured, I was put in charge of nursing it back to health. Never mind that I was just a kid and hated the sight of blood, but I had to muster up the courage to apply home remedies. My survival rate was pretty good. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that I would progress to nursing – humans. After one year into nurses training, I bolted. Bed pans and chronic diseases pushed me in different direction; a career of dealing with drug addicts, murder, suicide, fatalities, and biker gangs. In 1983 I graduated with honors as a paramedic and worked in the City of Edmonton’s Emergency Services.

For the next twenty years, I came face to face with scenes most people would rather not think about. I loved it. Having experienced life in the most deadly and gut wrenching events, and work alongside the police service, I gained the fodder for creating intense novels.

My creative DNA shocked me when I was driven to write a dystopian / paranormal / romance novel, The Guardian’s Wildchild. After taking several writing courses, I presented the manuscript to Omnific Publishing who published it in 2011. Just when I thought I could get my life back, another story took me prisoner – Forbidden. I couldn’t believe there was this kind of story within me and desperate to be told. I resisted. It was futile.

Retired and focused on home life, I’m back to being a mom to four pets and one husband. We travel and taste the excitement of other cultures. In between adventures, I’ve dabbled in water color painting, photography, needle work, gardening – the list goes on. In my next life, I plan to explore the cosmos.

I’ve learned a few things in my seventy years. Thoughts are powerful. Intention is everything. Passion is the key to success.

Catch Up With Our Author On:
Website 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

 

Feather will be back on March 22nd….Don’t miss the 4th installment for Author Of The Month

Check out my Review of FORBIDDEN here

See previous posts: June 1st and June 8th

Synopsis:

Forbidden: Better Wear Your Flak Jacket by F. Stone

Gunfire echoes within the walls of a Middle East police compound. Screams of terror are brutally silenced. Police captain Hashim Sharif captures one survivor. Soon Eliza MacKay will wish she had died with her companions.

The vile act of terrorism is covered-up. Sharif becomes the reluctant keeper of his city’s bloody secret – and the witness, MacKay. His corrupt superiors have a gun rammed against his skull. Disloyalty to the mayor will be rewarded with being buried alive.

Whatever the cost, his government’s honor must be restored. Secretly, Sharif hunts forensic evidence. Who is responsible for the murder of fifteen American volunteers? And, why did MacKay lie about her identity? He can’t trust her. Her mental illness is going to get both of them killed.

When he receives orders to dispose of MacKay, his Muslim faith is tested. Murder an innocent in cold blood? He will suffer Allah’s eternal wrath.

CIA Agent Hutchinson has the lying Sharif in his cross hairs. Sharif dodges the agent’s traps almost as easily as the hit man on his tail. When Sharif discovers the shocking truth, he loses all hope of survival.

What is worth dying for? Perhaps it’s not bringing a madman to justice. Could it be saving the life of a woman who kick-started his numb heart? On the knife edge of risk, Sharif plots an act most forbidden and fatal.

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense, Romance, International Thriller
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: December 2016
Number of Pages: 363
ISBN: 0995150907 (ISBN13: 9780995150904)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

An armored truck with a mounted machine gun roared up behind the two police motorcyclists. Something is terribly wrong. She ducked deeper behind the luggage and stared into the darkness. She desperately searched for a rational explanation. A cold knife pierced her core.

After speeding through intersections and red traffic lights, the vehicles came to a sudden halt. Gate hinges squealed in protest. The impulse to leap from the back of the truck fought with her intense need to remain hidden. If it were not for the armed vehicle at the rear, she would have jumped and disappeared into the night. In another moment, the opportunity vanished.

The vehicles lurched forward. Through the flap’s opening, she saw a massive iron gate. High walls extended on either side. The vehicles stopped.

The motorcyclists drove to either side of the truck. The armored vehicle surged forward, nearly crashing into the back of the supply truck (where Eliza is hiding). Eliza scrambled to put more of the luggage between her and the mounted gun. It bore down on her as if it had spied her. She gasped.

Eliza strained to hear a pleasant greeting, an apology for the change of plans, anything that would tell her heart to stop its thundering in her chest.

Someone shouted, “Ikhrog men al Araba,” then in English, “Get out of the bus!”

“Stay together,” Charlie called out. At first the volunteers sounded merely annoyed, but their mood rapidly deteriorated.

“Charlie, there’s a mounted automatic weapon on that truck. Something’s not right here.” The man’s alarm ricocheted through his companions. Quick footsteps reminded Eliza of nervous horses in a corral – wild-eyed, snorting and circling as they searched for an escape.

Charlie attempted to calm his group. “I’m sure this will all make sense. I’ll see why there’s been a change. Who’s in charge here?” he called.

Scattered thoughts fed her fear. The unmistakable sound of large guns being maneuvered sucked the air from Eliza’s lungs. Near the supply truck, she heard the ping, ping of a cell phone, then the trembling voice of a woman crying, “Ralph, pick up the phone. Please. Oh God ….” The woman screamed. With a blast of gunfire, her cries stopped. Bullets pierced the canvas and shattered a suitcase in front of Eliza.

Her body trembled violently. In minutes she would be killed. The luggage offered no protection. Terrified to make any sound, yet frantic to hide, she pressed her backpack to her chest. She gasped as if starved for oxygen. Tears ran down her cheeks as she heard the terrified people and Charlie beg for their lives.
This is only one of my nightmares. I’ll wake up and everything will be fine.

The truck with the mounted machine gun swerved around the supply truck. Deafening sounds of machine gun blasts and screams tore through her chest. She plunged down among the luggage.

A man came into her view as he lunged toward the gate. A police officer ran after him and fired several shots into the man’s back. The American dropped, bloody and lifeless.

Suddenly, an armed man dashed to the rear of the supply truck and saw her. She gasped. Oh my God, he’s going to kill me. I’ve got once chance. Get his gun. Her martial arts training kicked in. She lunged forward. As they grappled, both fell.

Falling on top of him Eliza punched his groin. He cried out in agony. She crab crawled on all fours toward his weapon several feet away. Too late she saw a boot aimed at her head.

She ducked for cover under the supply truck. Too late. The cop stomped on her head, ramming her forehead into the pavement hard. Her momentum pushed her under the truck’s back end.

Dazed, she checked to see if he followed her. He was struggling to free his boot, snared in her scarf. A gun’s muzzle appeared, aimed in her direction. Bullets ripped through her coat’s shoulder. Puffs of down feathers stuck to the sweat and blood on her face.

I’m hit. Get out. Run. Eliza kicked and crawled out from under the truck on the far side of the killers. The deafening gunfire and screams surrounded her. Her mind froze. She pressed her body into the truck’s solid frame.

More bullets smacked the ground near her. More vehicles arrived. Bright headlights blinded her. She turned away to shield her eyes. Desperate, she ran an erratic, aimless course. Silhouettes of shapes, helmets, guns and bloody bodies flashed in front of her. Keep running. Dodge. Find cover. She ran like a wild animal, blind to the teeth that would tear her apart.

When the thunder from the machine gun stopped she glanced back. The man at the machine gun tumbled head first off the truck. His companions continued to fire their weapons, but now toward the gate. More shots came from behind the blinding lights. The men ran toward the front of the supply truck. Riddled with bullets, their bodies twisted and fell.

Silence.

Eliza gazed in bewilderment at the tall form appearing in the light. He raced forward past the open gate, his weapon raised in her direction. More men followed behind him. She ran, searching for cover.

He shouted, “Tawakaf and am, la tatharak Kiff.” Then in English, “Stop where you are. Don’t move! Stop.”

A short burst of gunfire. Bullets struck the ground a few yards in front of her. She skidded to a stop. Breathless, she turned toward the gunman. She could not make out his face below the dark helmet. He wore a police uniform like the killers had – black from head to toe. If not for his vehicle’s headlights, he would have been invisible. He raced toward her, his weapon held steadfast in her direction.

***

Excerpt from Forbidden: Better Wear Your Flak Jacket by F. Stone. Copyright © 2017 by F. Stone. Reproduced with permission from F. Stone. All rights reserved.

AUTHOR OF THE MONTH ~ GIVEAWAY EXTRAVAGANZA


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Jun 082017
 

Feather Stone

See 1st installment and my review HERE

I was thrilled when Feather Stone accepted my invitation to be June’s Author Of The Month. Her book was phenomenal and will be one of my 2017 Best Reads. So without further adieu, let’s get to know this amazing author.

Welcome!

Writing:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Current events certainly played a role in the creation of Forbidden. Ever since witnessing the destruction of the World Trade Towers on September 11th, 2001, I realized how little I knew of the Middle East and Islam. Immediately, it was obvious how hatred and fear overwhelmed every nation.

In my meditation practice, I prayed that the Light, the Love of God, Allah, would be the guiding source for world governments and people of all faiths. A few months later, a magical event connected me to an elderly woman from Afghanistan. I believe that’s where Forbidden’s roots came to life.

And, yes, because of my years as a paramedic, I was able to describe in detail Forbidden’s graphic scenes of murder and violence. The horrors of gun battles and the resulting wounds are all too familiar. I’ve been transfixed by the death stare of a child killed in a traffic accident. I’ve held the trembling hand of a man who knew he was dying.

Research is critical. Forbidden’s suspense had to feel authentic to every reader. I’ve spent a year reading about Islam, interviewing professionals, and getting hands-on experience.

I’m not alone while writing my novels. Another voice assumes control.

Writers call this source the muse. If my ego tries to take control over the plot and dialogue, the story soon grinds to a halt. The visions become nothing more than disappearing vapor. The characters’ voices are garbled. Experience has taught me to shut up and let the muse tell the story. I obediently go back to the page when I stopped taking dictation and delete pages, sometimes an entire chapter.

Over the years my muse and I have had numerous battles. I always lose. This year I have given ‘it’ a body and a name. Dear readers, meet Bart, short for Bartholomew. Or ‘Croak’ when I’m on the verge of murderous intent. He can be a royal pain when refusing to let me know where the plot is heading.

Ah, you were expecting a handsome dude. Now, how much work would I get done if the muse was a Sam Elliott copy? Oh, that sexy voice.

What was the inspiration for this book?

Perhaps I should tell you about the magical event. While following the media reports about the hunt for those responsible for the attack on the World Trade Towers, I felt sad for both Muslims and non-Muslims. I knew the Middle East people had been fed hateful propaganda about the west, and vice versa. In my heart I knew the farmer in Afghanistan was no different than my dad, a simple man tending to his livestock on our farm, wanting nothing more than to feed and protect his family.

My prayers for peace continued.

While driving home from work several months later on a minus 20C winter evening, I spotted a heavy set woman limping across an intersection. Her bulky clothing appeared to be more like that of our northern communities. Perhaps she is Inuit, I thought. As I drove on, I watched her in my rear view mirror.

A spell had fallen on me. I couldn’t get my mind off of her. As insanity seemed to take over, I pulled out of the flow of traffic and stopped. In the darkness, I couldn’t clearly see her face. She could be violent, maybe escaped from the mental hospital. Every reason for leaving her behind urged me to put my beat up SUV into gear and move on.

I rolled down the passenger window as she came closer. “Get in,” I beckoned in my most pleasant voice. “I’ll give you a ride.” Shock set my mind in turmoil. Are you crazy?

She stopped and turned toward me. Still I couldn’t make out her features buried in heavy clothes and scarves. She peered into my vehicle, hesitant to come too close. Spotting the torn leather below the window, she was about to turn away.

“Oh, my dog did that,” I smiled embarrassed. “Protecting me. You know how they are. I’ll give you a ride. You going far?” I motioned with my hands for her to get into my car. She leaned in closer, I supposed to see if anyone else was with me.

Now, who’s crazier? Her or me! Never in my life have I given a ride to a stranger.

I think it was the cold that convinced her to climb into my vehicle. We did the quick exchange of smiles and polite nods. After a moment of nervousness, ‘what the hell am I doing’ nausea, I pulled back into the traffic.

Within the next ten seconds, I realized the woman didn’t speak a word of English.
Our communication was through our eyes and hand gestures. After five more long blocks, I asked her where was she from. With my hand on my chest, I said,
“Canada. You are …?”

She said smiling, “Afghanistan.”

“Afghanistan?” I frowned as if I hadn’t understood.

With great pride, she repeated, “Afghanistan.”

Silence. I could barely think coherently. How did this woman I was praying for end up in my vehicle? She continued to point to where I was to drive. After another five minutes, we apparently arrived at her destination. When I parked, I offered her my hand and good wishes. I studied into her face.

She could have been my dear grandmother, the one who made me cookies and wiped away my tears. Instead of taking my hand in a goodbye shake, she enveloped in me in her arms and kissed my cheek. A loving spell had been cast, and Forbidden began.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

The short answer is I’ve never started with the conclusion. In fact, the ending is hidden from me until the last quarter of the book. My one goal for the ending is that it must be a happy ending and that all threads of the plot must be resolved. Before I begin to write the story, I start with the deep understanding of all the characters. I know them far beyond what is needed for the plot. Then they tell their story.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I do most of the ‘writing’ when I’m away from the keyboard. Forbidden’s plots were written while Bart and I were stuck in traffic, planting petunias in a pot, walking my shelties along forest trails, or stirring my mushroom soup. When I finally sat down at the computer, the movie in my head would flow for hours without hesitation. Sometimes it was exhausting trying to keep up with the images, sounds, dialogue, each nuance of hand gestures and facial expressions.

If you could co-author a book, who would that writer be?

I doubt there is an author with the required patience to co-author with me. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until I’m satisfied with the choice of words or phrases. It’s not done until Bart says it’s done. It’s not done until I feel the magic. And, my dear readers, that may take years. Forbidden went through three complete rewrites over a period of four years.

Characters:

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?

Some of my beta readers believe the heroine, Eliza MacKay Ramsay, is based on my character. That was not intended. However, given she is a paramedic and is a risk taker. I can see how readers find her and me similar. The hero, Captain Sharif, is largely based on my late husband’s character. Forbidden is dedicated to him. He was my real life hero.

Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

You may find this shocking, but I wouldn’t want to see Forbidden made into a movie. It would be changed and perhaps given a negative twist on Islam and Muslims. I attended a lecture given by Diana Gabaldon who talked about the challenges of watching her books turned into movies. She was prepared for the director to modify characters and scenes but didn’t always agree with the outcome.

What’s next:

Are you working on your next novel?

It’s in my head; or, rather, Bart is sending signals of a potential follow-up to Forbidden. Right now, my time is completely occupied with promoting Forbidden. Once I can give one hundred percent to the next novel, you might not hear from me again for a couple of years.

Can you tell us a bit about it? Title?

The working title is Forsaken. In essence, Forsaken will be an intensely dark struggle, alternating with moods of devotion, love and hope. Both hero and heroine (Sharif and MacKay) are thrust into separate paths with no hope to reclaim their passion for each other. Oops, have I said too much. Damn!

When can we look for it? Approximate publication date?

Given my reluctance to plan and plot an outline, I can see doing a draft, then rewrites. Then my beta readers and editor will have time to slash and advise. My first novel, The Guardian’s Wildchild, took ten years (due to taking writing classes at night). Forbidden took four years. Forsaken may be out in two, but please don’t send out the mob if it’s overdue.

Reading:

Tell us why we should read this book.

That’s the million dollar question for which every reader deserves to receive an answer. Forbidden is like none other.

1. Readers hunt for something different. Forbidden is written in the point of view of a devout Muslim, a Middle Eastern cop, Captain Hashim Sharif. Absolutely unique.

2. The setting is the Republic of Islamic Provinces & Territories (RIPT) – my vision of the future of the Middle East. After the end of the current civil war, thirty years from now, I envision most of the Islamic countries joining to form one powerful nation. Sunni and Shia no longer are adversaries. The government is inclusive, democratic and Sharia law has been relaxed. However, deadly conflicts create chaos and a growing body count. The suspense does not end until the last paragraph.

3. Forbidden will enlighten readers on the basics of moderate Islam. I was guided by a generous imam, Mustafa Khattab; and a most wonderful friend who is a pediatrician and a Canadian Muslim. During the writing of the story, Dr. Sahar Albakkal provided valuable advice on the culture of moderate Muslims, Muslim names, Arabic terms, and interpretation of the Koran.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have an eclectic group of favorites: This incomplete list includes Diana Gabaldon, Nicki Elson, Pauline Holyoak,Yolanda Renee, Daniel Silva, Richard Goodship, Phoenix Rainez, and Christine Campbell.

What are you reading now?

66 Metres by Halema Begum – very exciting suspense/thriller.

Fun Questions:

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?

Honestly, I don’t have a favorite. My husband often complained that our house was full of various projects in various stages of completion. I’ve won awards for my needlework and received a congratulatory card from my mayor on the beauty of our front yard. I’m most happy while hiking with my two shelties, Sam and Jade. Lately, I’ve been working on becoming a water color artist.

Favorite meal?

Rib dinner at Tony Roma’s. The ribs – so tender. This is the stuff that legends are made of. The finest pork, beef and lamb ribs, richly seasoned with select spices, slow-smoked to mouthwatering perfection. Basted with your choice of one of their signature sauces. Accompanied by a glass of cold beer – HEAVEN! I’d love to meet you for dinner there.

Thank you for stopping by and visiting with us!

Synopsis:

Forbidden: Better Wear Your Flak Jacket by F. Stone

Gunfire echoes within the walls of a Middle East police compound. Screams of terror are brutally silenced. Police captain Hashim Sharif captures one survivor. Soon Eliza MacKay will wish she had died with her companions.

The vile act of terrorism is covered-up. Sharif becomes the reluctant keeper of his city’s bloody secret – and the witness, MacKay. His corrupt superiors have a gun rammed against his skull. Disloyalty to the mayor will be rewarded with being buried alive.

Whatever the cost, his government’s honor must be restored. Secretly, Sharif hunts forensic evidence. Who is responsible for the murder of fifteen American volunteers? And, why did MacKay lie about her identity? He can’t trust her. Her mental illness is going to get both of them killed.

When he receives orders to dispose of MacKay, his Muslim faith is tested. Murder an innocent in cold blood? He will suffer Allah’s eternal wrath.

CIA Agent Hutchinson has the lying Sharif in his cross hairs. Sharif dodges the agent’s traps almost as easily as the hit man on his tail. When Sharif discovers the shocking truth, he loses all hope of survival.

What is worth dying for? Perhaps it’s not bringing a madman to justice. Could it be saving the life of a woman who kick-started his numb heart? On the knife edge of risk, Sharif plots an act most forbidden and fatal.

Feather Stone will be back on June 15th….Don’t miss the 3rd installment for Author Of The Month. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway located on the sidebar!

Jun 072017
 

Dream A Little Death

by Susan Kandel

on Tour May 23 – June 23, 2017

Synopsis:

Dream A Little Death by Susan Kandel

From critically acclaimed author Susan Kandel comes a charming new mystery featuring Dreama Black and a cast of zany LA-based characters.

The first time I set eyes on Miles McCoy, I worried he might try to eat me. He was the size and girth of a North American grizzly, with long, silver-tipped hair, a long silver-tipped beard, and small dark eyes that bore into me like I was a particularly fine specimen of Chinook salmon. It couldn’t have helped that I’d used a honey scrub the morning we met. I should’ve known better. Not just about the scrub, but about a lot of things.

Like braving the freeway during rush hour.
Like thinking you can’t get a ticket for parking at a broken meter.
Like racing up to his penthouse in gladiator sandals, and expecting not to twist an ankle.
Like watching his fiancée shoot herself, and assuming it was suicide, instead of murder.

Meet Dreama Black. A 28 year-old, third-generation groupie trying to figure out who she is after being publicly dumped by the rock god whose mega-hit, “Dreama, Little Dreama” made the name and the girl world-famous. Now Dreama supports herself by running custom-designed, themed tours of her hometown of L.A. When she is hired by a Raymond Chandler-obsessed rap producer to create a “L.A. noir” tour as his present to his soon-to-be bride, Dreama gets pulled into the middle of a possible murder, corrupt cops, and an unforgettable pair of femme fatales.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: May 23rd 2017
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 0062674994 (ISBN13: 9780062674999)
Series: A Dreama Black Mystery, 1
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

The first time I set eyes on Miles McCoy, I worried he might try to eat me. He was the size and girth of a North American grizzly bear, with long silver-tipped hair, a long silver-tipped beard, and small dark eyes that bore into me like I was a particularly fine specimen of Chinook salmon. It couldn’t have helped that I’d used a honey scrub the morning we met. I should’ve known better. Not just about the scrub, but about a lot of things.

Like braving the freeway during rush hour.

Like thinking you can’t get a ticket for parking at a broken meter.

Like racing up to his penthouse in Balenciaga gladiator sandals, and expecting not to twist an ankle.

Like watching his fiancée shoot herself, and assuming it was suicide, instead of murder.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is another thing I should know better about. Because if I’ve learned anything at all from my study of film noir (which got me into the whole sordid Miles McCoy mess to begin with), it is to tell the story in the precise order in which it happened.

The trouble started the day before, which was Valentine’s Day, a pagan holiday named after the Roman priest who defied Claudius II by marrying Christian couples. After being hauled off in shackles, the soft-hearted cleric was beaten with clubs, stoned, and when that didn’t finish him off, publicly beheaded. Makes you think.

It had poured rain for eight days running, which isn’t what you sign on for when you live in Los Angeles. But that morning, as I stepped outside for a run, the sun was blinding—so blinding, in fact, that I didn’t see the fragrant valentine my neighbor’s dog, Engelbart, had left on the stoop for me. Not that I minded spending the next twenty minutes cleaning the grooves of my running shoe with a chopstick. It was a beautiful day. The rollerbladers were cruising the Venice boardwalk. The scent of medical marijuana was wafting through the air. Engelbart’s gastrointestinal tract was sound.

An hour later, I hopped into my mint green 1975 Mercedes convertible, and made my way up Lincoln to the freeway. I was headed to Larchmont, an incongruous stretch of Main Street, USA, sandwiched between Hollywood and Koreatown. This was where studio executives’ wives and their private school daughters came for green juice, yoga pants, and the occasional wrench from the general store that had served Hancock Park since the 1930s. It was also where my mother and grandmother ran Cellar Door, known for its chia seed porridge and life-positive service. I helped out whenever my coffers were running low. Which was most of the time.

You are probably frowning right about now. Surely a young woman who owns a classic convertible—as well as Balenciaga gladiators—should not be perennially low on funds. But it’s true.

The car came from my grandmother, who received it as part of her third (fourth?) divorce settlement and gave it to me as a gift when I strong-armed my mother into rehab for the fourth (fifth?) time. The sandals I purchased online in a frenzy of self-loathing shortly after watching my ex-boyfriend the rock god serenading his current girlfriend the supermodel on an otherwise uneventful episode of Ellen. I’d tried to return the sandals, but one of the studs had fallen off, making them damaged goods. Like their owner. Not that I’m hard on myself. It’s just that my career—I take clients on custom-designed, private tours of my hometown of L.A.—wasn’t exactly thriving, which is why I was easy prey for the likes of Miles McCoy. But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Here comes the good part. The part where I’m driving like the wind and almost don’t notice the flashing lights in my mirror. I knew I should have fixed that taillight.

I pulled over, cut the motor, handed the cop my license and registration. He looked down, then did a double take. “Dreama Black?”

That would be me.

“The Dreama Black?” he continued. “As in ‘Dreama, Little Dreama’?”

Perhaps I should explain.

I am a twenty-eight-year-old, third-generation rock ’n’ roll groupie—or “muse,” as the women in my family like to put it.

My grandmother, a fine-boned blonde who never met a gossamer shawl or Victorian boot she didn’t like, spent the sixties sleeping her way through Laurel Canyon, winding up in a house on Rothdell Trail (a.k.a. “Love Street”) purchased for her by a certain lead singer of a certain iconic band whose name is the plural of the thing that hits you on the way out.

My mother, blessed with thick, dark tresses and a way with mousse, was consort to many of the pseudo-androgynous alpha males of American hair metal, her chief claim to fame an MTV video in which she writhed across the hood of a Porsche wearing a white leotard and black, thigh-high boots. She also bought Axl Rose his first kilt.

As for me, well, I was on my way to freshman orientation when this guy I’d been seeing, who’d played a couple of no-name clubs with some friends from summer camp, intercepted me at LAX, put his lips to my ear, and hummed the opening bars of a new song I’d apparently inspired. Instead of boarding the plane for Berkeley, I boarded the tour bus with Luke Cutt and the other skinny, pimply members of Rocket Science. Four world tours, three hit albums, two Grammys, and one breakup later, “Dreama, Little Dreama”—an emo pop anthem that went gold in seven days and has sold eleven million copies to date—had made me almost famous forever.

“Step out of the car, please.”

The cop removed his sunglasses. Peach fuzz. Straight out of the academy. “So.”

He wanted to get a picture with me.

“I’d love to get a picture with you,” he said.

I smoothed down my cut-offs and striped T-shirt, removed my red Ray-Bans, ran my fingers through my long, straight, freshly balayaged auburn hair. The cop put his arm around me, leaned in close, took a couple of snaps on his phone. Let me guess. He’d had a crush on me since tenth grade, when he saw me in a white tank and no bra on the cover of Rocket Science’s debut C.D., and now he was going to post the pictures on Instagram to show all his buddies.

“Awesome.” He gave me a brotherly punch on the arm. “No way is my wife going to believe this. She’s crazy about Luke Cutt. Hey, is he really dating that Victoria’s Secret Angel? She is smoking hot.”

At least I didn’t get the ticket.

Excerpt from Dream A Little Death by Susan Kandel. Copyright © 2017 by Susan Kandel. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

An Agatha, Edgar, and SCIBA nominee, Susan Kandel is the author of the nationally best-selling and critically acclaimed Cece Caruso series, the most recent of which, Dial H for Hitchcock (Morrow), was named by NPR as one of the five best mysteries of the year. A Los Angeles native, she was trained as an art historian, taught at NYU and UCLA, and spent a decade as an art critic at the Los Angeles Times. When not writing, she volunteers as a court-appointed advocate for foster children, and loves to explore secret, forgotten, and kitschy L.A. She lives with her husband in West Hollywood.

Q&A with Susan Kandel

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
Both! I am a voracious reader, and along with fiction, that includes two daily newspapers and an embarrassing number of magazines. So I am quite attuned to things that are going on in the culture — in fashion, music, art, entertainment, etc. — and embed a lot of these passions and interests into my books. In the current series, the protagonist is a third-generation rock and roll groupie, so popular music is definitely an important subtext. I, however, am not a third-generation rock and roll groupie (nor a first or second), so I can’t draw on my personal experience there. But I absolutely did draw on my own life in delineating the mother-daughter relationships that are the foundation of the Dreama Black series as a whole.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
My process in the past has been to start writing when I have the opening scene and the closing scene — in other words, I know how it begins, I know how it ends, but I don’t have the slightest idea about how I’m going to get from A to Z. It seems like a fairly intuitive way to structure an amateur sleuth mystery because what you are essentially doing is following along as the character herself sees where each clue leads her. What I found was that if I tried to plan too much in advance I would inevitably come up against impasses, or have to write myself out of dead ends, or have to make illogical leaps to get to where I needed to go next as per my outline. With this latest novel, DREAM A LITTLE DEATH, I worked somewhat differently. I started with a scene in mind — a film noir-ish burlesque performance that ended in a shocking mock-suicide — and built the entire plot and all of the characters around that!

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
God, yes. It’s risky knowing me — everything and everyone is fair game. In my very first book I based one of the murder victims on my mother-in-law; the LAPD detective boyfriend from Buffalo, N.Y. on my husband; and yes, my sleuth Cece Caruso (at least in parts) on myself. Bad guys are my favorite to write, of course: the villain in one of my books was a dead ringer for my least favorite neighbor (who, thank goodness, does not like to read). In the new Dreama Black series, the protagonist is 28 years old, which is closer to the age of my daughters than myself, so many of Dreama’s observations and experiences (apart from the stumbling on dead bodies part) is stolen from my children & their friends. But I will admit Dreama’s ‘80s-era MTV video vixen mom, Desiree, is my fantasy version of myself.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
My office is my converted garage, so it’s out of the house, which is a plus, because I’m not constantly distracted by the siren call of laundry, dishes, etc. Nonetheless, the battle against distraction — especially since I’ve become active on Twitter — is ongoing and brutal. There is nothing worse than the feeling of having sat at your desk all day and accomplished nothing. So I use something called the “Pomodoro” method, which I learned from my husband, who is an academic. Twenty-five minutes of total concentration — no checking email, Twitter, Daily Mail, answering the phone, wandering aimlessly, playing with the dog, eating, rearranging pens, etc. You just write, and after the twenty-five minutes, you get a five-minute break, and then you do it all over again. I find I have about five of these sessions in me before lunch. Then I take a break for an hour, and after I am well-fed, I do the whole thing all over again. It works! And the day literally flies by.

Tell us why we should read this book.
You should read DREAM A LITTLE DEATH if you like your mysteries on the cheeky side; if you are enamored of rock and roll, Hollywood history, and retro fashion; and if you want your guilty pleasures to be as smart as you are.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
Tana French, Lawrence Block, Thomas Perry, Georges Simenon, Elinor Lipman, Patricia Highsmith, Ian McEwan, Jeffrey Eugenides, Ruth Rendell, Thomas Hardy, Mary Higgins Clark, and Carolyn Keene.

What are you reading now?
Currently on my nightstand are: M.C. Beaton’s latest Agatha Raisin mystery, PUSHING UP DAISIES; Dennis Lehane’s new Boston noir, SINCE WE FELL; an academic treatise on Sofia Coppola’s films; a coffee table book about Yves St. Laurent’s “shocking” ‘40s-throwback collection of 1971; and groupie extraordinaire Pamela Des Barres’s new book, LET IT BLEED: HOW TO WRITE A ROCKIN’ MEMOIR.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
So excited about this one! It is the next installment in the Dreama Black series, and in this book, Dreama is organizing a tour of spiritual/holistic L.A. for a group of sexy yoga mommies, and gets into hot (alkalinized) water when someone takes a whack at a former teen star turned New Age guru, and Dreama has to channel her kundalini energy to figure out who it is.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Tippi Hedren as Gram, Melanie Griffith as Desiree Black, and Dakota Johnson as Dreama Black; alternately, Susan Sarandon as Gram, Brooke Shields as Desiree, and Eva Amurri as Dreama.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Reading, watching any of the Housewives on Bravo while paying bills because then I feel less guilty, hiking in Runyon Canyon, Pilates, SHOPPING

Favorite meal?
This is a great question because I love to eat! I think my favorite meal is the meal I had after giving birth to each of my daughters: an egg salad sandwich on rye toast dry, French fries, and a vanilla malt. It’s the ultimate reward for a job well done.

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