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Susanna Calkins is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The Masque of a Murderer

“The Masque of a Murderer” (A Lucy Campion Mystery, #3) by Susanna Calkins

Published as… Historical Mystery

A Chat with…Lucy Campion

Bella: What is the name of the book where we’ll find you? Can you tell us a little about it?
Lucy Campion: I have appeared in three books so far— all a rather odd chronicling of my life in 1660s London. The titles come from tracts I wrote, describing some strange events that have transpired around me: A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE, FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS, and THE MASQUE OF A MURDERER.

Bella: Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you fit into the story? What should we know about you?
Lucy Campion: Several years ago, when I was sixteen I joined Master Hargrave’s household as a chambermaid. He’s a magistrate, and never beat me like most masters will do. For a long time, my life was just an endless repetition of emptying pots, stoking fires, and laundering clothes. I did learn to read though, listening to the tutors brought to teach Master Hargrave’s daughter from behind a curtain. Everything changed when my best friend—another servant—was killed and my brother Will was accused of her murder. That was bad enough. But the world completely overturned when the plague struck, and then a Great Fire ravaged London. After that I had to do something different with my life, and somehow I finagled an apprenticeship with a master printer. Now, I spend my days setting type, running presses and selling books on street corners. I also am being wooed by two men, Adam Hargrave the magistrate’s son, and Jeb Duncan, a constable. I thought I was in love with Adam, but I wonder now whether I could ever fit into his social circle. Sometimes I am not even sure if I want to marry, since I rather like making books and selling them, and could not well do that with young ones hanging onto my skirts.

Bella: What do you think of the author? Be honest. We won’t tell.
Lucy Campion: There is a madness to your question. I know that someone else, Susanna Calkins, claims to have written these stories, but I can assure you that I am the author. I know that women are not supposed to write books, especially about such indelicate topics as murder. Which is why I write my tracts as Anonymous, or with my initials, L.C. Master Aubrey, my master, has several of my works good enough to print. I have written several tracts now, but the ones about murder sell the best. I can always get a good crowd. But sometimes that’s a problem. When I first started to sell FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS, in which I wrote about a body that had been found murdered after the Great Fire, the murderer heard my story and came after me. It was quite terrifying, I can assure you. Maybe I should let people think Susanna is truly the author; madmen and lunatics might stop pursuing me.

Bella: How do you feel about the story you’re in?
Lucy Campion: Even though my life is hard, I truly enjoy being a printer’s apprentice and a bookseller. Somehow I always seem to stumble across puzzles and secrets too, which makes life interesting. But it is never easy to see someone die, and death is ever present in my world. As I explain in THE MASQUE OF A MURDERER, I was even brought to record the last dying words of a man run over by a cart and horse. Before he died, he told me he had been pushed, and that his murderer was someone he knew. I have seen several murderers brought to justice though, and that is a reward that I will treasure.

Bella: How do you see your future? Without giving anything away about the story, naturally.
Lucy Campion: I do not know what divine providence has in store for me, but if I had my druthers, I would set up my own printing press, and be the master of my own trade. Somehow I think though, that even if that wondrous thing should come to occur, that murders and secrets will still find me…

Bella: What do you know about your author’s plans? Can we expect to see you in any future stories?
Lucy Campion: I am currently writing another of my stories, based on a true but strange tale that I recently experienced. Early one morning, as I was walking near Holborn Bridge, I discovered a young woman, distraught and clad only in her nightdress, which was covered in blood. She knew not her name, but I realized very early on that she was a noblewoman and needed to be tended to. I have called this story, A DEATH ALONG THE RIVER FLEET, which Master Aubrey will print and I will hawk next April (the year of our Lord, 2016).

Bella: Let’s say they make a movie about this book. Who do you want to play you, and why?
Lucy Campion: I have heard tell of this devilish thing—“the movie—which seems to be strange and wonderful. I do not wish to point to a player with my likeness, however, for fear that she would be strung up as a witch for cavorting about in such an unnatural way. So I shall keep such speculation to myself. I wish you a very good day and farewell.

About the Book

In Susanna Calkins’ next richly drawn mystery set in 17th century England, Lucy Campion, formerly a ladies’ maid in the local magistrate’s household, has now found gainful employment as a printer’s apprentice. On a freezing winter afternoon in 1667, she accompanies the magistrate’s daughter, Sarah, to the home of a severely injured Quaker man to record his dying words, a common practice of the time. The man, having been trampled by a horse and cart the night before, only has a few hours left to live. Lucy scribbles down the Quaker man’s last utterances, but she’s unprepared for what he reveals to her—that someone deliberately pushed him into the path of the horse, because of a secret he had recently uncovered.

Fearful that Sarah might be traveling in the company of a murderer, Lucy feels compelled to seek the truth, with the help of the magistrate’s son, Adam, and the local constable. But delving into the dead man’s background might prove more dangerous than any of them had imagined.

In The Masque of a Murderer, Susanna Calkins has once again combined finely wrought characters, a richly detailed historical atmosphere, and a tightly-plotted mystery into a compelling read.

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About the Author

Susanna Calkins Author Photo
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives in Highland Park, Illinois with her husband and two sons, where she is an educator at Northwestern University. With a PhD in history, her historical mysteries feature Lucy Campion, a 17th century chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice. Her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, was a finalist for the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (Macavity). The second in this series, From the Charred Remains, is currently a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Her third, The Masque of a Murderer, will be released in April 2015.

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M. J. Rose is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The With of Painted Sorrows

“The Witch of Painted Sorrows” by M. J. Rose

Published as… Historical Mystery

About the Book

Possession. Power. Passion. International bestselling novelist M.J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this erotic, gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome runs away to her grandmother’s Parisian mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insits it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten – her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love and witchery.

Buy the Book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks or IndieBound

About the Author

M. J. Rose Author Photo
M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed.

She is the author of more than a dozen novels, the co-president and founding board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.

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Stephen Whitfield is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

Omari and the People

“Omari and the People” by Stephen Whitfield

Published as… Historical Adventure

Stephen Whitfield’s Excerpt

As was his way, bin Aswad took no part in the celebration, and actually enjoyed his time alone as everyone else danced, sang and ate. Indeed, he had always found great pleasure in his love of numbers – calculating expenses, inventories and ultimately, profits. Despite Omari’s warnings about making money from the needs of others, bin Aswad had found it profitable to provide specialty clothing for those who could afford it. He found that some people paid well for themselves and or their family to look good in new clothing, and he was very clever in the re-use of old clothes to make new garments, as his cloth supply dwindled. Instead of being rich in coin, he now had more than his share of food, water, tools and other valuables.

He was happily humming a tuneless melody while he sat counting a number of small gems, when his tent flap flew open. A stunning young woman moved in quickly and stood over him. Astonished, he scrambled backwards with his eyes and mouth wide open, spilling the gems onto the tent floor.

“Ho, bin Aswad. Easy,” said the woman in a husky voice, and a bright smile that revealed white, even teeth. “I wish you no harm.” She raised her palms to calm his fright and sat down. “In fact, I believe I might be of some service to you. My name is Saba Khan. Did you drop something?”

No longer terrified, bin Aswad was still too surprised and embarrassed to form any reply, except to start picking up his gems while glancing up at the stranger. At first glance, Saba Khan possessed what might be called an extraordinary beauty – enough to turn heads, and very pleasing to the eye. In bin Aswad’s lamplight, her complexion was a satiny smooth, golden brown that seemed to blend into the darkness. Her finely sculpted face framed dark amber, almond-shaped eyes, which made him pause. For the brief moment he held her gaze, he was so struck by their sheer intensity, intelligence and perceptiveness that he stopped picking up his gems. His attitude changed to awe and he was willing, even eager to hear what she had to say.

“How do you know my name?” he mumbled, too awestruck to ask all the questions in his mind.

“You are well-known, bin Aswad. You have many customers—people you talk to and trade with. Some of the things you receive in trade are precious gems, such as that one you missed, just there.” She pointed a slender finger at a ruby behind him.

“That gets people’s attention. Some of the things you’ve said are bound to get even more attention – such as the fact that you are unhappy with Master Omari’s leadership.” She leaned forward and opened her eyes wide. “Allow me to offer you some free advice – trade your gems away and keep your opinions to yourself.”

Bin Aswad noticed the hilt of a dagger in her waistband. As the idea of danger began to form in his mind, beads of sweat broke out on his upper lip. “That’s some strong advice,” he said, in an effort to sound self-assured. “What do you have to do with my opinions or my gems?”

Saba Khan chuckled. “I’m not here to harm you, bin Aswad. I’m here to suggest that I might be able to help you solve your problem with Master Omari…for the cost of some of your gems.” She raised her brow and tilted her head to the side. “Are you interested in seeing someone else in charge of the caravan? Someone more sensitive to your business interests?”

He frowned and leaned forward. “And how would you…”

“You don’t need to know that,” she said. “All you need to know is if you pay my price, your satisfaction is guaranteed.”

He stared at the woman in amazement. “What do you do? Are you some kind of killer? I don’t want to kill anyone.”

“I make things happen,” she replied. “And don’t worry; you don’t have enough gems for anyone to be killed. Not even that great blue jewel you have hidden in your robe.”

Bin Aswad’s eyes widened again. “You know about the jewel?”

“That is why I’m here,” she said in a low voice. “Remember my first advice? You’re not going to be able to hang onto such a stone much longer anyway. Too many people know about it. Right now, all you have to do is say ‘yes’ to the deal. If you do, I will give you more details later. Of course, whether you agree or not, I must refer you back to the second advice – keep your business to yourself. Now, do we have a deal?” She leaned forward and smiled as if she knew the answer.

About the Book

In an ancient time, a people made homeless by a devastating fire are led across a treacherous desert by a thrill-seeking thief, to a land he doesn’t believe exists – and he started the fire.

In a squalid ancient city on the edge of a desert (based on descriptions of the African Sahara’s Empty Quarter,) a weary, thrill-seeking thief named Omari sets his home on fire to start anew and cover his many crimes. When the entire city is unintentionally destroyed by the flames, the cornered thief tells the displaced people a lie about a better place to which only he can lead them, across the desert. With the help of an aged, mysterious woman who knows a better place actually does exist, they set out. The disparate people must come together to fight their way through bandits, storms, epidemics, and more. As a result of Omari’s involvement with Saba, a fiercely independent woman who is out to break him in the pay of a merchant whom he has offended, his ability to lead – his very life – is jeopardized.

Buy the Book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Stephen Whitfield Author Photo
Chicago-born Stephen Whitfield began writing as a Marine Corps print journalist. His writing has appeared in military publications, as well as the Kansas City Star and the Jersey Journal. He holds degrees from from Loyola University Chicago, Chicago Theological Seminary, and Indiana University. Stephen currently resides near Orlando, Florida.

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David Morrell is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

Inspector of the Dead

“Inspector of the Dead” by David Morrell

Published as… Historical Mystery

David Morrell’s Excerpt

As the gentleman continued up Constitution Hill, his watch now showed eight minutes past five. The watches of his associates—also synchronized with the Greenwich Royal Observatory—would display the same time. Everything remained on schedule.

At Piccadilly, he turned right toward one of London’s most respectable districts: Mayfair. He had waited what seemed an eternity for what he was about to enjoy. He had suffered unimaginably to prepare for it. Despite his fierce emotions, he kept a measured pace, determined not to blunt his satisfaction by hurrying.

Even in the fog, he had no trouble finding his way. This was a route that he had followed many times in his memory. It was the same route that he had taken fifteen years earlier when, as a desperate boy, he had raced to the right along Piccadilly, then to the left along Half Moon Street, then left again onto Curzon Street, this way and that, begging.

Please, sir, I need your help!

Get away from me, you filthy vermin!

The echoes of that hateful time reverberated in his memory as he came to the street known as Chesterfield Hill. He paused where a gas lamp showed an iron railing beyond which five stone steps led up to an oak door. The knocker had the shape of a heraldic lion’s head.

The steps were freshly scrubbed. Noting a boot scraper built into the railing, he applied his soles to it so that he wouldn’t leave evidence. He clutched his walking stick, opened the gate, and climbed the steps. The impact of the knocker echoed within the house.

He heard someone on the opposite side of the door. For a moment, his anticipation made it seem that the world outside the fog no longer existed, that he was in a closet of the universe, that time had stopped. As a hand freed a bolt and the door opened, he readied his cane with its silver knob.

A butler looked puzzled. “His Lordship isn’t expecting visitors.”

The gentleman struck with all his might, impacting the man’s head, knocking him onto a marbled floor. Heartbeat thundering with satisfaction, he entered and shut the door. A few quick steps took him into a spacious hall.

A maid paused at the bottom of an ornate staircase, frowning, obviously puzzled why the butler hadn’t accompanied the visitor. In a rage, the gentleman swung the cane, feeling its knob crack the maid’s skull. With a dying moan, she collapsed to the floor.

Without the disguise of his beard, the gentleman had been to this house on several occasions. He knew its layout and would need little time to eliminate the remaining servants. Then his satisfaction could begin as he devoted his attention to their masters. Clutching his cane, he proceeded with his great work.

Memories needed to be prodded.

Punishment needed to be inflicted.

About the Book

David Morrell’s MURDER AS A FINE ART was a publishing event. Acclaimed by critics, it made readers feel that they were actually on the fogbound streets of Victorian London. Now the harrowing journey continues in INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD.

Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his Confessions of an Opium-Eater,confronts London’s harrowing streets to thwart the assassination of Queen Victoria.
The year is 1855. The Crimean War is raging. The incompetence of British commanders causes the fall of the English government. The Empire teeters.

Amid this crisis comes opium-eater Thomas De Quincey, one of the most notorious and brilliant personalities of Victorian England. Along with his irrepressible daughter, Emily, and their Scotland Yard companions, Ryan and Becker, De Quincey finds himself confronted by an adversary who threatens the heart of the nation.

This killer targets members of the upper echelons of British society, leaving with each corpse the name of someone who previously attempted to kill Queen Victoria. The evidence indicates that the ultimate victim will be Victoria herself. As De Quincey and Emily race to protect the queen, they uncover long-buried secrets and the heartbreaking past of a man whose lust for revenge has destroyed his soul.

Brilliantly merging historical fact with fiction, Inspector of the Dead is based on actual attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria.

Buy the Book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, iBooks, IndieBound or Kobo

About the Author

David Morrell Author Photo
David Morrell is an Edgar, Nero, Anthony, and Macavity nominee as well as a recipient of the prestigious career-achievement Thriller Master away from the International Thriller Writers. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include the classic espionage novel. The Brotherhood of the Rose, the basis for the only television mini-series to be broadcast after a Super Bowl. A former literature professor at the University of Iowa, Morrell has a PhD from Pennsylvania State University. His latest novel is INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, a sequel to his highly acclaimed Victorian mystery/thriller, Murder as a Fine Art, which Publishers Weekly called ”one of the top ten mystery/thrillers of 2013.”

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Christian Kachel is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The Spoils of Olympus

“The Spoils of Olympus” by Christian Kachel

Published as… Historical/Military Fiction

About the Book

322 B.C. The Macedonian Empire is on the verge of civil war following the sudden death of Alexander the Great.

As a boy, Andrikos watched as Alexander’s army marched through his homeland of Greek Ionia after defeating the Persians at the Granicus River on their way to the total conquest of the Persian Empire. Soon he will be embroiled in their world, forced to flee his old life due to an unintentional crime.

Thrust into the army, Andrikos struggles to cope with the brutal yet necessary training which his superiors put him through to prepare for the coming wars of succession as Alexander’s surviving generals seek to divide and conquer the spoils of Olympus.

But Andrikos is not destined to be a nameless soldier; by chance he is chosen for a clandestine mission – and is immersed in a world of intrigue, violence and brotherhood.

The path that lies ahead of Andrikos requires him to shed his immaturity and take on the responsibilities and emotions of a man beyond his years as he struggles to save Alexander’s legacy from those who wish to usurp it.

The Spoils of Olympus: By the Sword is a historical epic which follows the advancements of one soldier from boy to man set during a time of global conflict.

Buy the Book at Amazon

About the Author

Christian Kachel Author Photo
I am a Long Island, NY native and current resident of Northern Virginia. While attending the University of Maryland- College Park, the events of September 11, 2001 inspired me to join the U.S. Army ROTC program and volunteer for three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan upon my commissioning into the Army Reserves in 2003. I hold three Master’s degrees and work in the defense industry.

The Spoils of Olympus has been a 2 1/2 year project that began in a Marriott hotel room in San Antonio, Texas while attending pre deployment training for a tour in Afghanistan in late 2011. The wars of succession immediately following the death of Alexander the Great have always fascinated me despite being overshadowed in the history books by the life and times of Alexander himself. Many great novels have been written about ancient Greece and Alexander but few fictional works have explored this forgotten era in western civilization where Alexander’s generals, who were once allies, battled each other for control of the largest empire on earth.

By the Sword is the first novel in The Spoils of Olympus series and introduces us to the story’s protagonist, Andrikos. The book follows him from an adolescence of criminality and capriciousness to his forced enlistment in the wars of succession; taking him from the battlefields of Asia Minor to the Achaemenid palaces of the Persian Empire. It is my hope readers will enjoy the story while learning about this important time in history.

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Ruth A. Casie is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The Druid Knight Tales

“The Druid Knight Tales” (The Druid Knight Series) by Ruth A. Casie

Published on… 23 February 2015
Published as… Historical Fantasy/Romance

About the Book

She would give her last breath for him. He would give up everything to guard her well and love her more.

Maximilian, the druid Grand Master, was given a year to find his soul mate. On the final day, the sacred mistletoe has shriveled and died—proclaiming his failure. He must do what no other Grand Master has done before and journey to meet with the Ancestors formally relinquish his title.

Ellyn of Brodgar has the gift of healing. But each use of her magick, through a kiss, depletes her energy and brings her closer to death. Time is running out as she searches for a way to continue saving lives—especially her own.

Max and Ellyn are tossed into the Otherworld together—a place filled with magick and wonder, it’s also fraught with danger, traps, and death. They have only until the third sunset to find the Ancestors, or be lost to the world forever. The domineering druid must work with the stubborn healer, not only for survival, but for the promise of the future—a future together.

Buy the Book at Amazon

About the Author

Ruth A Casie is a seasoned professional with over twenty-five years of writing experience but not necessarily writing romances. No, she’s been writing communication and marketing documents for a large corporation. Over the past years, encouraged by her friends and family, she gave way to her inner muse, let her creative juices flow, and began writing a series of historical time travel romance novels.

When not writing you can find her home in Teaneck, New Jersey, reading, cooking, doing Sudoku and counted cross stitch. Together with her husband Paul, they enjoy ballroom dancing and, with New York City close by, going to the theater. Ruth and Paul have three grown children and two grandchildren. They all thrive on spending time together. It’s certainly a lively dinner table and they wouldn’t change it for the world.

Ruth is a Trustee and on the Executive Board of Shelter Our Sister (SOS) in New Jersey. SOS is Bergen County’s only shelter for victims of domestic violence. She frequently speaks at various functions around Bergen County on behalf of the Shelter.

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Knight of Runes

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Jess Russell is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The Dressmaker’s Duke

“The Dressmaker’s Duke” by Jess Russell

Published as… Historical Romance

Jess Russell’s Guest Post

What is the appeal of writing and reading regency romances?

We all want to be transported. Think of the appeal and popularity of Downton Abby. We love the clothes, the manners, the intrigue. We love the separation of class and how that separation gets muddy and the classes (dare we say) mingle. We love to have rules and see how they get broken and the consequences of breaking those tried and true rules.

In the world of Romance writing there is always a happily ever after—the HEA. It is a prerequisite for the genre. Unfortunately that is not always the case in the real world where so many women struggle to gain their freedom, both personally and economically. Most likely there is no knight in shining armor to ride in and save the day, but we are strong and resilient when given the tools to be so.

However, in 1810, the time of, The Dressmaker’s Duke, woman had very few avenues open to them. A good marriage was the penultimate. Other options were few and far between and the consequences were dire when women pushed up against society’s rigid rules.

I chose to write a slightly older Regency heroine. At twenty-nine Olivia Weston was considered old; definitely “on the shelf” in terms of contracting a good marriage. As a widow she has experienced some of life and knows how precious real love is. She will not compromise. But what opportunities are open to an “on the shelf” widow who is also a lady? Not many.

I sew and so I thought Olivia being a dressmaker would be a good fit for my story. By posing as plain “Mrs. Weston” she is freer to pursue her business, but by being in “trade” she opens herself to behavior no lady would ever be expected to tolerate. This is where Rhys Merrick, my monkish duke comes in and he poses quite a threat to Olivia’s good intentions.

The world of a Regency woman is narrow, but she still has all the feelings of a modern day woman, she just must express them in more subtle ways. I see this as a challenge; a kind of mental and social tightrope. I think the best historical writers embrace these strictures and learn to move gracefully and creatively between the confines of their chosen world. These characters are not just witty cardboard cutouts from 200 years ago, they are thinking, feeling folk with problems just like you and me.

I love the challenge of weaving a tale within these tight Regency confines while still making it authentic to the period. Pitting my strong, independent lady-turned-dressmaker against my tightly wound duke was great fun!

“Have you nothing else to compensate me with?”
the duke asked, as if mentioning the weather.
Olivia’s whirring mind stopped dead. Ah…now we
have it. Her vision narrowed. The bloody cheek of the
“Surely you have something you can barter with,
Mrs. Weston?” he continued, paying not the slightest
attention to her most lethal stare.
Two could play this game. “I am a dressmaker,
Your Grace. I make and sell dresses. That is the full
extent of my commerce.”
~ from The Dressmaker’s Duke

About the Book

Rhys Merrick, Duke of Roydan, is determined to be the antitheses of his depraved father, repressing his desires so severely he is dubbed “the Monk” by Society. But when Olivia Weston turns up demanding payment for gowns ordered by his former mistress, Rhys is totally flummoxed and inexplicably smitten. He pays her to remove her from his house, and mind. But logic be damned, he must have this fiercely independent woman.

Olivia’s greatest fear is becoming a kept woman. She has escaped the role of mistress once and vows never to be owned by any man. Rather than make money in the boudoir, she chooses to clothe the women who do. But when a fire nearly kills her friend and business partner, Olivia’s world goes up in smoke and she is forced to barter with the lofty duke.

As their lives weave together, Olivia unravels the man underneath the Monk, while Rhys desires to expose the lady hiding behind the dressmaker. Will his raw passion fan a long-buried ember of hope within her? Can this mismatched pair be the perfect fit?

Buy the Book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or iBooks

About the Author

Jess Russell Author Photo
As a girl Jess escaped the world of rigorous ballet class and hideous math homework into the haven of toe wriggling romance novels. She never imagined in her dyslexic brain she would ever come to write one, but one small scene grew into 359 pages, and contest wins, and multiple contract offers. Dreams sometimes do come true, just like the happy ending in the stories she loves.

Jess lives in New York City with her husband and son and disappears to the Catskill Mountains whenever she can. She is a sometime actress, award winning batik artist, and accomplished seamstress. Along with her sewing machine, she loves power tools and, what’s more, she knows how to use them.

Jess is currently working on revamping her Manhattan kitchen as well as writing two other stories, (working titles), Heart of Glass, and Mad for the Marquess. Please check them out in BOOKS.

Jess Russell is a member of RWA, as well as the Beau Monde and the NY chapters of RWA. THE DRESSMAKER’S DUKE came in first in the Fool for Love Contest, Golden Apple Awards’ Secret Craving Contest, the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest and the Golden Rose Contest (also winning the best of the best). And finaled in the Great Beginnings, Emerald City Opener, and the Lone Star Contests.

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Nnaziri Ihejirika is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

A Rainy Season

“A Rainy Season” by Nnaziri Ihejirika

Published as… African Historical Fiction

An Excerpt from A Rainy Season

I was in seventh heaven and pressed closer to the window.

After a few minutes, she reached out and turned off the green lamp beside her bed. My public show was over. With a disappointed sigh, I stepped away from the shadows and into the light by tank. I gave one wistful look back and there she was, standing by the window, peering out. At once, I panicked and ran off toward the back stairwell of the building, hoping to God she’d not seen me, making noise as I ran. I didn’t care. Clearly she knew someone was outside her window. I was determined that she not match a face to the deed. Reaching the stairwell, I paused. I had left the bucket beside the tank. If Tamara decided to go outside to check, she would find it. The buckets I used to fetch water were distinctive because they were made of iron. Almost everyone else used plastic. I had to retrieve the bucket before she went outside or raised an alarm. If she reported the incident to my parents, I would be on the hook immediately. My two brothers were younger than me and, besides, I was the one responsible for fetching water. My father would kill me with his cane if such an incident reached his ears. And I would have to bear the stigma of being known as a peeping tom, although, in truth, most young adolescents were guilty of that at one point or another, given the communal living conditions of Lagos. I waited another five minutes, then, decided to be brave. I silently crept forward and picked up my bucket, escaping back up the stairwell. I had been gone for the better part of an hour. Hopefully, I could sneak to my room without my parents noticing.

No such luck.

As I tried to slide from the kitchen to the corridor leading to the bedrooms, my father’s voice boomed out from the living room.

“And where have you been, young man?”

I stammered. “J-j-just fetching water, daddy.”

“For the last hour? I was not born last night.” He glared at me. I tried to think.

“I ran into someone downstairs and we started talking. I must have lost track of the time. I’m sorry.”

With my parents, especially my father, it was better to be sorry before they asked if you were. It had saved me many a beating.

“Who were you talking to that distracted you from your chores? Not that useless gateman Mutiu, I hope?”

My father disliked Mutiu intensely. He blamed him for the recent thefts of diesel and petrol from the tanks stored by the various owners in a secluded area of the compound, although, he did not have any proof. It was another paradox that for a country, which was one of the world’s largest exporters of crude oil, there were not enough petroleum products for the daily use of Nigerians. As a result, most people of means had taken to hoarding fuel from the black market to ensure that they were always supplied. Others who could not afford the black market prices had simply given up driving and were now in the habit of taking public transportation. One such person was Mr. Ekwe who lived above our flat. In fact, the rumour among some of the other owners, confirmed to me by his niece, Nonye, was that he could no longer afford the rent on the flat and would be forced to leave for a cheaper place soon.

“No, dad, I was talking to Jude. He was also fetching water.”

That was as safe as it could get for me. My parents were fond of Jude, viewing him as a son, and they encouraged me to cultivate his friendship. Of course, my father was not in favour of his work with the military regime, but they liked his personal habits and comportment. He was often invited to Sunday lunch with us.

“Jude is a sensible young man, even if he needs to find a new job and stop dining with the devil. You won’t be getting into trouble hanging around with him. But, try to be mindful of the time in the future.”

“Yes, daddy.”

“You need to be studying for your certificate exams, not fooling around.”

The senior secondary certificate examination was the common exam written by all students as they left Secondary School. It was required for entry into a Nigerian university. I was expected to achieve distinctions in at least six of my nine subjects and to better the scholastic abilities of my parents. I hoped for more than that, but my studying was yet to kick into high gear, so wishes remained horses at this point.

“Yes, daddy. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, son.”

I resolved to ask Jude to cover for me since my father was not above asking him to verify our meeting, or even berating him for delaying me from completing my chores. A few days later, I discovered just how narrow my escape had been.

About the Book

It is the rainy season of 1998. An autocratic and corrupt ruler has just died in the arms of courtesans at the presidential villa leaving one hundred million citizens of Africa’s most populous country in co-mingled states of joy, grief and uncertainty.

Through the eyes of eight fictional characters, A Rainy Season tells the story of Nigeria’s latest journey to democracy. Hamed, the government contractor. Ekei, the desperate fashionista. Jude, the underground radical. Kurdi, the womanizing pastor. Tamara, the ambitious divorcee. Elechi, the inquisitive schoolboy. Mutiu, the disillusioned guard. Nonye, the blossoming idealist. The sprawling metropolis of Lagos is the junction where their stories intersect. In this most chaotic of cities, they are as divided by ethnicity, religion, gender and social class as they are united by a desire to survive at any cost.

Buy the Book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Nnaziri Ihejirika Author Photo
Nnaziri Ihejirika is a proud Nigerian-Canadian writer who is inspired by his and third-party experiences growing up in Nigeria during the late 20th century. He currently resides in Canada and is enthusiastic about providing social commentary on ethnicity, gender, religious, and social class issues in Nigeria. The same topics are tackled in his first book, “A Rainy Season”, casting a spotlight on the human condition during that period. Nnaziri is a frequent contributor to online social media with an emphasis on socio-political issues.

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Michael Schmicker is Visiting! [Tour Stop]

The Witch of Napoli

“The Witch of Napoli” by Michael Schmicker

Published as… Historical Fantasy

Michael Schmicker’s Boom Baby Blast

1. One Random Fact: I refuse to try an Ouija board. All in the mind? Simply the power of suggestion? I’m not so sure.

2. Fictional Character You’d Really Like to Be: The globe-trotting Indiana Jones. I love archeology, foreign languages, and ancient history; I spent three years in Southeast Asia as a freelance correspondent traveling by steam train and prop-driven, World War II DC-3 planes; and am fascinated with the Orient’s older gods and cultures.

3. Your Authorial Theme Song: The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” There’s more to reality than what we see.

4. Favorite Part of Being a Writer: Being a tiny part of that great, glorious, fraternity of writers which includes Dickens and Twain, J.K. Rowling and Agatha Christie, David McCullough and Umberto Eco. True, I’m barely inside the door, but when people ask me “What you do?” I can honestly answer ‘I’m a writer.”

5. Name of Your First Pet (Can include family or significant others…): “Boot Dog” – he was a part Labrador, rescued from the local dog pound. I loved him fiercely. I’ve always had dogs.

6. Music, Television or Silence While Writing: Nature. I live and write high on a mountaintop in Hawaii, overlooking Diamond Head. Outside in the garden, with the door open and the sun shining, I hear a slight breeze in the coconut palms, and an occasional dog bark in the distance.

7. Early Riser or Night Owl: Night owl. When I need a break from writing, I walk outside and look at the stars –Orion in the winter, Scorpio in the summer. In The Witch of Napoli, my heroine Alessandra “pointed her finger at the luminous arc of galaxies that glittered above their heads, her finger tracing its majestic sweep across the zodiac.” I do that often.

8. Favorite Season: Fall – in New England. Hawaii is my home, and I will never move, but when I retire I hope to spend my Octobers in Connecticut, where I lived during my grade school years. I traveled one year to Jakarta on a newspaper assignment with a well-known Swiss photographer who had traveled the globe, from Tokyo to Rio, Paris to Deadhorse. He told me of all the places in the world he visited, he always preferred to spend his autumn in New England. The colors!

9. Did You Always Want to be a Writer: Maybe from birth. I read the newspaper daily as a kid trudging around the neighborhood pushing my bike, delivering the Danbury News-Times. I was writing limericks at seven, and published my first short story at thirteen. National Scholastic Writing Contest. I forget what the plot was about, and I’m sure I’d be embarrassed to read it today, but it put stars in my eyes. I’m in the Principal’s office, St. Peter’s School, Danbury, Connecticut, nervous and excited, flanked by Father Hitchcock and beaming Sister Arlene in her starched nun’s coif. A guy is handing me a small gold key and a printed certificate. My mother, bless her soul, kept the clipping for years in a tin box, and surprised me with it when I scored my first op-ed byline in the Asia Wall Street Journal. Writers have always been my heroes.

Thanks for taking the time to interview me, Mia, and my aloha to you and your readers! By the way, I’m a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society (yes, there is such a group, headquartered in England), and I post my Hawaii sunset shots on my Google Plus page.

About the Book

Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, erotic medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers?

Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. The Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe.

Praised by Kirkus Reviews as an “enchanting and graceful narrative” that absorbs readers from the very first page, The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter 19th century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife.

Buy the Book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Michael Schmicker Author Photo
Michael Schmicker is an investigative journalist and nationally-known writer on the paranormal. He’s been a featured guest on national broadcast radio talk shows, including twice on Coast to Coast AM (560 stations in North America, with 3 million weekly listeners). He also shares his investigations through popular paranormal webcasts including Skeptiko, hosted by Alex Tsakiris; Speaking of Strange with Joshua Warren; the X-Zone, with Rob McConnell (Canada); and he even spent an hour chatting with spoon-bending celebrity Uri Geller on his program Parascience and Beyond (England). He is the co-author of The Gift, ESP: The Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People (St. Martin’s Press). The Witch of Napoli is his debut novel. Michael began his writing career as a crime reporter for a suburban Dow-Jones newspaper in Connecticut, and worked as a freelance reporter in Southeast Asia for three years. He has also worked as a stringer for Forbes magazine, and Op-Ed contributor to The Wall Street Journal Asia. His interest in investigating the paranormal began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand where he first encountered a non-Western culture which readily accepts the reality of ghosts and spirits, reincarnation, psychics, mediums, divination,and other persistently reported phenomena unexplainable by current Science. He lives and writes in Honolulu, Hawaii, on a mountaintop overlooking Waikiki and Diamond Head.

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Review: “Damascena” by Holly Lynn Payne

“Damascena” by Holly Lynn Payne

Available from: Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Released on: 9 September 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Description: Holly Lynn Payne’s spellbinding tale brings the unparalleled poet, Mevlana Rumi, to life, and transports readers to the enchanting world of 13th century Persia. Simply but elegantly told, the story unravels the mystery surrounding a legendary orphaned girl, who discovers her gift of turning roses into oil. Named after the flowering rosa damascena, the girl reluctantly assumes the role of a living saint for the miracles she performs-longing for the only one that matters: finding her mother. Deeply wounded by the separation since birth, Damascena undergoes a riveting transformation when she meets Rumi and finally discovers the secret of the rose. Imbued with rich historical research and inspired by the devastating disappearance of Rumi’s most lauded spiritual companion, Shams of Tabriz, Holly Payne has courageously opened herself to receive Rumi’s teachings and offer a timeless love story.

Review: I found this book so beautifully written, and hitting so many powerful notes in me, that I don’t know I even feel qualified to write a review of it.

For almost the entirety of Damascena, I found a magical, lyrical quality to the book both in the story being told and the prose in which it was being told. There were points in the middle that it dragged very slightly, but not so much to ever pull me from it. I read it in two nights, and only because I had need of sleep the first.

This is a story about faith, but it’s not a religious story. Even if it refers to the divine in ways familiar with religion and does speak of the Sufi way, it never has the feel of religion because it feels universal to all people who seek to understand the concept of divinity and spirituality. It is faith in more than just a “higher power,” however, but about in people too.

Damascena (as the titular character) goes into the small collection of teenage female characters I don’t want to kill. She was as beautifully written as her story, realistic yet transcending reality into spirituality. The power of her, ultimately, is what she creates in others, but cannot see for herself. And that the spiritual elements in this story–where the spirit was found–were roses and dancing really just got to the heart of me.

It was a story about roses, and love, and dancing, and faith, and beauty, and poetry, and devotion… It was not a story about the human condition, but a story about how we as humans can transcend ourselves for love: love of all that we are, good and bad; love of family; love of romantic partners; love of the spirit and divinity; love of mankind; love of our enemy.

5 Fireballs, but only because I can’t give it any more than that. I liked it so much I considered creating a sixth rating just for it. This book was nearly a pyroblast.

5 Fireballs

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