Category Archives: Check It Out!

Indie Book Review by Kate M. Colby: A Thousand Rooms by Helen Jones

A review by of Helen Jones’ A THOUSAND ROOMS, which I’ve raved about here before. Highly recommended.

Kate M. Colby

a-thousand-roomsA Thousand Rooms by Helen Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Katie didn’t wake up expecting to die. And yet, that’s exactly how A Thousand Rooms begins. As Katie stands on the street, watching emergency responders attend to her body, she waits for whatever comes next. Nothing comes, and Katie is forced to drift about the earth alone in search of her individual heaven, the meaning of her life, and any other souls who can help her.

I’ve long been a fan of Helen Jones’s Ambeth series, and I really enjoyed seeing her take on a different genre and world in A Thousand Rooms. The novel reads like contemporary fiction but has a lovely touch of fantasy and a good helping of romance (which came as a pleasant surprise after all of Katie’s struggles!). As usual, Jones’s writing is descriptive and detailed, and she beautifully brings to life the various settings (real…

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Check It Out: Author Interview with Zach Chopchinski

Some of you might remember that for the first time last April, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, hanging out in a virtual “cabin” with a bunch of other crazy Wrimos and having wild pillow fights supporting each other in our writing efforts, in the process making some neat new friends. One of the friends in question is ZachChop, aka Zachary Paul Chopchinski.LLP_5958

Zach’s written a novel called The Curious Tale of Gabrielle, and he is re-launching it in a new & improved version (it’s always good to make a good thing better, no?). To this end, he’s doing a blog tour, suitcase full of novels in hand, to promote his book, and he asked if our little corner of the web could be one of the stops on the tour. Now, we love having friends over to stay, so of course I said yes.

So here we are, sitting at the kitchen table with cups of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or double-malt whiskey in front of us, embarking on amo vitam‘s first ever author interview (ta-dah!). Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cuppa, and have a listen-in.Gabrielle_Final_525x8_BW_290_Front_PROOF

  1. So, Zach, seeing as I’ve not yet read your book, I don’t really know anything about it. What’s it about? What happens?

 The Curious Tale of Gabrielle is about the journey of a young girl named Gabrielle who receives a mysterious bracelet from a stranger. The bracelet allows her to go back in time and re-live the lives of those who previously owned it. In this book, Gabrielle finds herself 500 years in the past, in English-ruled Scotland. Here, she finds herself in a battle between the town and the lord who wishes to take Gabrielle’s friend, Heather, as his bride against her will. Suddenly, Gabrielle finds herself in an adventure to end all adventures as she tries to save Heather and figure out why she is having this journey.

  1. That sounds really cool. What inspired you to write it?

One day, I was checking out an old antique shop near where I worked in Portland, Maine, when I came across a really cool silver bracelet. The shop owner told me that the bracelet was 500 years old and I remember thinking to myself WOW, imagine if this was a human, what stories it would tell!

  1. Wow, I’d love to see that! By a weird coincidence, I just wrote a story that prominently features a mysterious silver bracelet, myself – silver-bracelet inspiration must have been in the air. So, why the re-launch of Gabrielle?

I decided to re-launch TCTG because I felt like I didn’t do it justice the first time. I was really just excited to publish my first novel and there was a lot of things I rushed through. Once I was published and I actually sat back and thought about it, I realized there was more of the story to tell. Through many, many long discussions with my wife about plot twists and story lines, I decided to introduce another main character, Morrigan, in the first book rather than wait.

  1. As I said, making a good thing better is excellent work. Tell me about your life as a writer. What gets your creative juices flowing? Where and when do you do your best writing?

I generally do my best writing at night. I also have to be secluded in my office with incense and my writing play list. Having ADHD, routine is really important to me. It is equally—if not more so—important in my writer life. If the conditions aren’t perfect, I just don’t get any writing done, no matter how much I want to. So, when I do find myself in the perfect conditions, I have to take advantage of it.

  1. I hear you – writing conditions matter a lot to me, too. What’s the hardest thing about writing for you? The best thing?

I find that the hardest thing about writing, is actually sitting down and creating. When you’re still in the conception phase and everything is in your head, it remains perfect and without flaws. Once you start drawing it out, imperfections emerge, difficulties arise and the work becomes staggering, and can become quite discouraging at times. With that in mind, I would have to say that the best thing about writing, as despicable as it sounds, is just driving through it and accomplishing your goal.

  1. Yes, getting a story finished is hugely rewarding! Now, if you could only achieve one thing with your writing, what would it be?

For my writing to remain loved and cherished after I’m gone. I want to create something thats beautiful that many people from different walks of life appreciate and come together on. This may seem like a tall order to fill, but it’s all I really want out of my writing.

  1. What’s next on your drawing board (or plot pile, as it were)? Is there something?

Presently I am working on the second book in the Gabrielle series, but more excitingly, I am now developing a more in depth plot line that will span the remainder of the books. Without revealing too much information, lets just say that Gabrielle doesn’t yet know what she’s gotten herself into. Developing Gabrielle into the song character that she is destined to become, there needs to be an equally powerful force in direct opposition that compels her to rise to that challenge. I have a feeling that Gabrielle will be meeting with this character sooner than she thinks.

Something else that I have been working on—well lets say toying with—is something called Webley and The World Machine. I don’t have much down on it yet but the idea that I have floating around in my head is something along the lines of steampunk fantasy meets Dungeons and Dragons meets The Chronicles of Narnia (without the religious undertones).

  1. Ooh, that sounds really interesting! But now for something completely different: What was your favorite treat when you were a kid? You know, the kind of thing you’d blow your allowance on (if you got any)? And when’s the last time you had some?

WOW, this made me think. I would have to say that my favorite childhood treat was Rice Crispy Treats. I remember every Friday afternoon my grandmother would pick me up from school and we would start the drive to the ferry boat that would take us to Kelley’s Island. I remember jumping in the back seat of the van and there would always be a baggy of Rice Crispy Treats for me to nibble on for the drive. I would have to say the last time I had one was when my wife worked at Starbucks…so probably last December.

  1. What about Gabrielle – what’s her favorite treat? Does she get to have any in the book?

Gabrielle’s favorite snack is Chamomile tea with honey and ginger cookies. Yes, she gets some when she first meets Alexandria who mysteriously knows that these are her favorites. This scene sets an ominous tone for the book and probes Gabrielle’s curiosity. 

 I must say, I like chamomile tea myself. I’ll have to go hang out with Gabrielle and find out if we share more than those preferences.

Well, thank you very much, Zach, for stopping by here on amo vitam and sharing your book with us!

And that, folks, was Zachary Paul Chopchinski. He can be found at his website, zachchop.com, where you can find links to get The Curious Tale of Gabrielle in any format you’d like.

Life, the Universe, an Author Interview and a Book Re-launch. Go check it out!

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Check It Out: “Patrick’s Song” by Norm Strauss

For today’s Check It Out let’s mix things up a bit: instead of a book, I want to introduce a song to you. Reader, meet Song, Song, Reader. Oh, that didn’t do it? Well, how about this: Check It Out: “Patrick’s Song”, by Norm Strauss, from his new album The Color of Everything. It being St Patrick’s Day and all – the song tells his story. If you want to know what actually happened sixteen hundred years ago to make St Patrick who he was, give it a listen (and no, shamrocks, shillelaghs and leprechauns don’t come into it).

Go to the link, and click on the play button underneath the album cover; you get to listen to quite a sizable chunk of the song there. I highly recommend you spend the buck and download the full song [Addendum! See PS below!] – or better yet, spend the tenner and get the whole album. “Patrick’s Song” is only one of my favourites in the collection; for the others, it’s a toss-up between “Late Bloomer”, “Immigrant” (a song about a German immigrant coming to Canada in 1952 – a topic that is, as you can probably imagine, close to my heart), “The Roofer”, and the title song “The Color of Everything”. Norm’s songs always have a story behind them – if you click on “info” beside the blue download button, you can read the lyrics and find out the background of the songs.

Incidentally, yes, Norm is related to Lee Strauss, whose books I’ve advertised here before – they’ve been married for close on thirty years. So much awesome art in one family.

Life, the Universe, and “Patrick’s Song”. Happy St Pat’s!

PS: Oy!! Just after I first posted this I saw a post from Norm – the song is free today!! Go here and get your free download so you can enjoy the whole thing. How great is that?

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Check It Out: MAGIC MOST DEADLY, by E. L. Bates

I just finished re-reading E. L. BatesMagic Most Deadly. It’s Agatha Christie meets Harry Potter – or, to put it another way, Christie’s Tommy & Tuppence crossed with Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (which, in turn, is Jane Austen/Georgette Heyer with magic). Ugh, too many analogies, which only the true aficionados among you will understand.

To put it quite plainly: Magic Most Deadly is a 1920’s murder mystery with magic. And it’s great.

The main character is Maia Whitney, a young woman who served as a nurse in the Great War. Maia is eminently likeable, and what’s more, quite real. She’s intelligent, she’s capable – but she reads quite true as a young woman who needs to find out who she really is. What I particularly like about her is that even though she has no qualms about taking  drastic action when the situation calls for it, she doesn’t just shrug off the experience and go on her merry  way – she needs time to process it, to come to terms with her actions and with its consequences. Maia is both sensible and sensitive, and the reader gets to appreciate both of those sides to her, and to enjoy her growth as she makes her way through the events of this story.

Maia’s relationship with Len is very believable, too, and the more so for Maia’s not spending most of the book bellyaching about him and how she should react or relate to him – and vice versa. The focus of the plot is the mystery – in a sense, a “magic mystery” as much of a “murder mystery”. We know fairly early on “whodunnit” (at least we think we do – did he actually do it, or not?), but the real question is what is really going on – and what’s it all have to do with magic, which Maia is only just discovering exists.

It’s an intriguing story which keeps me reading, and keeps me rooting for the characters. And at the end of it it leaves me wanting more. I sure hope to see more Maia and Len stories in the future!

And here’s the official blurb, with links to where to buy it at the bottom:

mmd_small_res_final

Magic Most Deadly

Book One in the Intelligent Magic series

by E.L. Bates

For Maia Whitney, life after the Great War is dull, monotonous, and drab. Nursing soldiers in the bloody fields of France hadn’t been easy, but it was better than life at home, standing in her sisters’ shadows. There seems no chance for a change until the night she witnesses a murder in the woods.

The last thing Magic Intelligence Agent Lennox Davies needs is this outspoken, independent lady crashing his investigation. Bad enough that a murder happened on his watch; much less that she had to see it happen. He works alone, and he does not have time for Miss Maia Whitney’s interference.

But as Maia’s own magical talent blossoms and danger thickens around the two with every step they take, before long Len and Maia must rely on each other in a fashion neither has ever done before. If they can’t learn to work together, England itself might topple. Even worse, if Maia doesn’t learn to control her magic soon, she might do more to destroy them even than their shadowy enemy.

Can they set aside their stubbornness and self-reliance in time to save themselves—and all England?

Available through Amazon, Smashwords, Nook, and soon-to-come iTunes.

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Is It A Book Review?

Wow. So here’s one of the biggest compliments I’ve received on my writing yet. Especially because it’s coming from Desi, who, in spite of the self-deprecating style in which she talks about her writing, is one of the best writers I know – I stand in awe of this woman, people. Of her academic work (she knew how to use “ontological” in a sentence years before I did, and can cite Foucault without batting an eyelash. ‘Stuffy academic bylines’, my foot!), her sheer bloody determination (check out her latest fiction project – it’s on her blog, in bits and pieces), and her incredible gift for Showing rather than Telling in her fiction (again, read her latest project – it’s called NP on her blog). To think that I had something to do with getting her back into the writing groove makes me feel incredibly proud. Yes, she’s a real-live writer, too, and it has been an incredible privilege to get to beta-read her work. (But just as an aside, it’s true, I do not have Viva Puffs and coffee for breakfast. We won’t talk about the snacks of ham-and-creamcheese rollups and the gallons of tea that get consumed during the course of my writing, though.)

[Addendum: 25/02/2015 – Desi took her blog offline temporarily, so I can’t link to it any more. But here’s her post the way it was on her website:)

Is It A Book Review?
Posted on January 25, 2015 by Desi Valentine under Writing 

I have friends who are writers. Like, real-live, actual writers whose publishing credits include real-live novels instead of stuffy academic by-lines and who do not have Viva Puffs and coffee for breakfast while caressing the covers of their brand-new notebooks. They tolerate me, these friends of mine. I would like to think that, when we see each other face to face, they will tell me if I have coffee breath or bits of chocolate showing at the corners of my mouth. Also, they send me their books to beta-read or soft-edit in advance of having a professional editor give it the ol’ fine tooth comb treatment.

I’m not sure there is a higher compliment.

And this is how I know these friends of mine are real-live writers. They take their work seriously enough to have it beta-read, and edited, and edited again before sending it out into the big wild world with professional cover design, registered ISBN, and probably a tear or two for the little bird all grown up. Unlike me, who (as you may have noticed) publicly slams out emotive quasi-gibberish before slipping down to the dungeon with a variety of chocolate products, a French press, a grinder, and a locally roasted case of black-and-tan coffee beans… and maybe a garden hose like that kid in the attic in Dirk Gently: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul…. I wonder if I could sell my husband on that.

Anyway, having talented, tolerant friends like these means that I get to read their books. And though I generally don’t do book reviews, and actually never give Goodreads ratings for books by friends for reasons having to do with ethics and the bizarre propensity for Goodreads’ users to rate books they haven’t actually read, I invite you to check out my friends’ work:

Angelika Offenwanger and I met in university, and she was instrumental in getting me writing again. I’d taken a two decade-long sabbatical after a bad experience with an unethical publishing house, and through chatting with her I sort of found my way home. She writes light fantasy that could also be called cozy mystery, and she’s really good at it. Her fun, fast, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny Seventh Son can be found at Amazon, SmashWords, Kobo and Scribd. The cover reveal for her new book, Cat and Mouse, was posted to her blog last week.

Angie West and I met through the We Blog blogging community. She was the first author to seek my opinion on her work, and the first to really open my eyes to the editorial freedom indie publishing makes possible. We lost touch while I was drowning in school and she was focused on a fast-growing list of new projects, but I have long regretted not mentioning her work to more people. She writes darker, more graphic, but still hilarious fantasy, horror and romantic mystery novels of which I’ve enjoyed Incubus, Shadow Cave, and The Fifth Hour.

There are a few other folks in my circle with novels-in-progress and new releases coming up. I’ll tell you about them once I’ve finished hammering out the draft of my WIP and emerged, pale-faced and trembling-limbed, from my chocolate-sticky and coffee-stale writing corner dungeon. In the mean time, do check out Angie’s books, and do get your hands on Seventh Son. I’m not a good enough friend to recommend them if I didn’t think they were worth reading.

Which means I shouldn’t expect them to tell me about the chocolate on my face, right?

Thanks for reading, everybody. I hope you’re having a great Sunday!

D.

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Check it Out: YOU CAN’T CATCH ME by Lee Strauss

Instalment #3 in our Check It Out! series of book recommendations: Lee Strauss’ You Can’t Catch Me, the third part of The Gingerbread Man book, hot off the press today! It wraps up the story of Marlow, Sage and Teagan, but not before throwing yet another interesting twist in your way! If you haven’t read the beginning of the story yet, Part 1 is still free on Amazon and other ebook sites.

The final episode of A Nursery Rhyme Suspense – Gingerbread Man,  
 
YOU CAN’T CATCH ME 
is out now! 
 
 
only .99
 

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Check It Out: AS FAST AS YOU CAN by Lee Strauss

Instalment #2 in the “Check It Out” postings: As Fast As You Can by Lee Strauss! It came out yesterday; episode #1, Run Run Run, is free.

As Fast as You Can – episode #2 of Gingerbread Man in A Nursery Rhyme Suspense is OUT NOW! 

 

 

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