Friday, October 31, 2008

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Knopf (September 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307269752
ISBN-13: 978-0307269751

(Note: Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, shortly after delivering The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to his publisher.)

Lisabeth Salander may look like a 13 year old goth princess, but she is great at undercover detective work and snooping out indepth histories of the people she is assigned to investigate. Mikael Blomkvist is a financial journalist who has just been convicted of libeling a wealthy financial backer. And Henrik Vanger is an 82 year old, semi-retired financial head of a large family owned business. These three people are drawn together to try and solve the mystery of 35+ year old murder.

Underlying themes in this book are not for the faint of heart: racism, sexual violence and financial collapse on the world market - sound like themes that are recently in the news?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an international crime thriller with memorable characters and and an interesting take on financial issues. It was a book I truly couldn't put down. The mystery kept me guessing until the every end. Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, Larsson took off in a different direction. The book is narrated in the voices of the three main characters: Mikael, Lisabeth, and Henrik

I was truly saddened after reading this book, knowing that a powerful new writing voice is no longer among us. However, Larsson did deliver two more manuscripts to his publisher, so we have those two books to look forward to. This book has been translated from the original Swedish manuscript.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who Lied and Said We Left the Garden of Eden?

Who Lied and Said We Left the Garden of Eden? - Daniel Martin

Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: Outskirts Press (August 12, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 143272939X
ISBN-13: 978-1432729394

Who Lied and Said We Left the Garden of Eden: Memoirs of a Homeless Man is a book full of hope and survival after a rough start in life. This book is about learning the lessons of life the hard way. From drug and alcohol abuse to mental and physical abuse, Martin tells the story of how he finally found balance in his chaotic world.

The first half of this book deals with Martin's childhood - and to say he had a rough childhood would be an understatement. He was raised with a fanatical religious fervor and has ran the gamete from all types of abuse to petty crimes to homelessness, all by the time he was 18 years old. He also suffered through an unsuccessful marriage and several unsuccessful attempts at rehab.

The second half of the book focuses on the eventual successes of Martin's life. He is now clean and sober. He is happily married with children. And one of the biggest changes is his personal relationship with God. He no longer allows "religion" to rule his life, but looks to God as the ultimate creator.

Martin knows what it is like to struggle with the stigma of drug abuse and homelessness, but he was able to pull himself together and turn his life around. For that I give him high praise. This book teaches the lesson that everyone is worth saving, but sometimes change doesn't happen over night.

Who Lied and Said We Left the Garden of Eden is a heartwarming true story and good reading, not only for the average reader, but for people who are trying to overcome adversities in their lives.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Way Back Wednesday - Trixie Belden #7

Trixie Belden #7 - The Mysterious Code - 1961

After a string of vandalism in the community, the Sleepyside school board targets "gangs" for extinction including the Bob-Whites of the Glen (B.W.G.) - and you thought gangs in the 21st century were a new phase.

To prove the B.W.G.s are a group of peace and not vandalism, Trixie comes up with the idea of having an antique show to benefit UNICEF (how appropriate the date of this review is 2 days before Halloween - I still remember trick-or-treating for UNICEF!) While trying to find antiques to sell, Trixie discovers a key in the Wheelers' attic, leading her straight into another mystery. Attached to the key is a tag with a coded message.

While babysitting her little brother, Trixie and Bobby are robbed by three masked men as the men are stealing antiques from a neighbor. When the B.W.G.s report the robbery to policeman Spider Webster, Spider seems unconcerned. Trixie becomes convinced someone has targeted people with antiques and she is afraid the antique show collection will be the next target. Do the robberies and the mysterious code have anything to do with each other? Leave it to Trixie and the Bob-Whites to solve this mystery.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Queen Vernita's Visitors

Queen Vernita's Visitors by Dawn Menge; illustrated by Bobbi Switzer

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 36 pages
Publisher: Outskirts Press (April 9, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1598007149
ISBN-13: 978-1598007145

Queen Vernita rules over Oceaneer and although she loves being Queen, she misses the friends from her past. So she decides to invite 12 of her friends to visit for an entire month - one friend for each month.

This book cleverly teaches children how to count to twelve, but also teaches the months of the year, the days of the week and the four seasons.

In addition, children will learn many interesting facts about each of the months. For example: April showers bring May flowers, September is the month for apples, pumpkins are the topic for October and everything's coming up turkeys in November.

Author Dawn Menge has a Masters Degree in Special Education and 11 years experience working with the severely handicapped population. She used the experiences within her life to create Queen Vernita's characters and Kingdom.

This is a clever book that uses repetition to teach, while still stimulating the imagination. I recommend it for early readers, or for parent's looking for a good bedtime story book.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stanley the Christmas Tree

Stanley the Christmas Tree, A Wish Come True by R. E. Hughes; illustrated by Anita Saunders

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Pennie Rich Publishing (September 1, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0982032803
ISBN-13: 978-0982032800

(Press Release): Reno mother of 3, Theresa "Terri" Llamas was only 10 months old when her father, R. E. Hughes decided to write her a Christmas story called, Stanley the Christmas Tree, A Wish Come True. Thirty five years, a lot of pain and tears, but Stanley the Christmas Tree's wish for a family has become a reality. This year, Terri's children, Jillian, Kylie and Zachary will hear the story that was written for their mother many years ago.

Stanley is a very special Christmas tree. All his life, his only dream was to be picked by a loving family and spread Christmas cheer. Year after year, as the other trees on the tree farm teased Stanley, he continued to grow straight and tall and wish for the perfect Christmas.

When Stanley is finally picked, his dreams come true - but they are quickly dashed when the family must go away for the holiday. Undecorated and put out with the trash, Stanley fears he may spend the season with the trash can family that resides in the alley.

But fate is not done with Stanley, and through an odd set of circumstances, he ends up with the Christmas of his dreams.

This children's book is cute and very appropriate for the holidays. The simple words and story, along with the artful drawings, give this books a special feeling that children will cherish year after year. I highly recommend Stanley the Christmas Tree for the children on your holiday wish list.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Good Person Guidebook

The Good Person Guidebook: Transforming Your Personal Life by Richard Bayer, Ph.D

Paperback: 294 pages
Publisher: Five O' Clock Books (June 15, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0944054161
ISBN-13: 978-0944054161

When I received this book to review, I wasn't one hundred percent sure I was going to enjoy it. Typically "self-help" books are long on personal stories and short on advice. But The Good Person Guidebook was not what I was expecting; it was much more.

This book is divided into three main sections:
--A Perspective on Ethics
--Virtue: What type of person should I be
--Guidelines: what must we do

I learned how to make ethical decisions, respect human dignity and how to make long-standing goals. It clarifies good business practices versus bad business practices and helps to steer you in the direction of making the right business decisions.

Each new chapter begins with a famous quote, and because I love to collect quotes, this endeared me to the author. Also, at the end of each chapter you will find questions to consider and questions for group discussions. These are helpful if the book is being used in a business training session. I also enjoyed reading The Golden Rules from many different religions.

If you enjoy reading and learning about ethics and morality, especially with how they relate to business, then this is the book for you. Slightly larger than a trade paperback, it is easy to carry with you and read on the go.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Way Back Wednesday - Trixie Belden #6

Trixie Belden #6 - The Mystery in Arizona - 1958

Trixie and the rest of the Bob-Whites are off to spend the Christmas holiday at Di's Uncle Monty's dude ranch in Arizona. At first, Trixie was afraid she would not be allowed to go because her school work wasn't up to par. But after her brothers, Brian and Mart, put in a good word for her, Trixie is allowed to go on one condition: she must work on her algebra and English theme at least one hour every day. Bummer!

After a long flight to Arizona, the gang is rearing to go, only there is a problem. Uncle Monty's hired help mysteriously packed up in the middle of the night and left. There is a ranch full of guests and no one to take care of them. It looks like the Bob-Whites will have to turn around and go home! But leave it to Trixie to come up with a plan.

Much to the chagrin of the others, Trixie volunteers the Bob-Whites to be the kitchen help and maids. The boys end up cooking and waiting tables, while the girls are left to wash dishes and make beds. Some holiday!

Even with all the work to be done, and Trixie's daily homework to complete, there is still time for some riding and picnicking, as well as a mystery to solve.

This book is the first time all the Bob-Whites have traveled out of state together, so the change of surroundings was interesting. However, I did miss the escapades of little Bobby and the interaction with Reagan and Miss Trask.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Writing Romance

Writing Romance by Vanessa Grant

Paperback: 239 pages
Publisher: Self-Counsel Press; 2nd edition (August 1, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1551803534
ISBN-13: 978-1551803531

The cover of the book says it all:
Create a romance bestseller, write romantic scenes from start to finish, and get in on the big business of writing romance!
Writing Romance gives you all the ingredients for a successful romance novel, from writing powerful characters to opening the story with a question that stirs the reader's mind.

The book is divided into several different sections:
--Planning and plotting your book
--Setting goals
--Selling your book

The author also gives details on the many different subgenres of romance: historical, paranormal, contemporary, fantasy, gothic and romantic suspence, just to name a few.

The sections of the book that helped me the most were examples of previously published works and query letters. After working hard to complete your manuscript, the query letter and getting published can be the hardest tasks to accomplish.

I also enjoyed the small essays that were included by some successful romance authors: Carole Dean, Kate Frieman, Daphne Clair, Robyn Donald, Kathi Webb, and Jo Beverly.

If you are interested in writing a romance novel, then Writing Romance is a good reference book to help get you started. It also includes a CD-ROM full of useful information.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ripple Effect (Book #1 of the Time Thrillers Trilogy)

It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!

and his book:

Zondervan (October 1, 2008)


Paul McCusker is the author of The Mill House, Epiphany, The Faded Flower and several Adventures in Odyssey programs. Winner of the Peabody Award for his radio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Focus on the Family, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and two children.

Product Details

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714362
ISBN-13: 978-0310714361


“I’m running away,” Elizabeth announced defiantly. She chomped a french fry in half.

Jeff looked up at her. He’d been absentmindedly swirling his straw in his malted milkshake while she complained about her parents, which she had been doing for the past half hour. “You’re what?”

“You weren’t listening, were you?”

“I was too.”

“Then what did I say?” Elizabeth tucked a loose strand of her long brown hair behind her ear so it wouldn’t fall into the puddle of ketchup next to her fries.

“You were complaining about how your mom and dad drive you crazy because your dad embarrassed you last night while you and Melissa Morgan were doing your history homework. And your dad lectured you for twenty minutes about . . . about . . .” He was stumped.

“Chris-tian symbolism in the King Arthur legends,” Elizabeth said.

“Yeah, except that you and Melissa were supposed to be studying the . . . um — ”

“French Revolution.”

“Right, and Melissa finally made up an excuse to go home, and you were embarrassed and mad at your dad — ”

“As usual,” she said and savaged another french fry.

Jeff gave a sigh of relief. Elizabeth’s pop quizzes were a lot tougher than anything they gave him at school. But it was hard for him to listen when she griped about her parents. Not having any parents of his own, Jeff didn’t connect when Elizabeth went on and on about hers.

“Then what did I say?” she asked.

He was mid-suck on his straw and nearly blew the contents back into the glass. “Huh?”

“What did I say after that?”

“You said . . . uh . . .” He coughed, then glanced around the Fawlt Line Diner, hoping for inspiration or a way to change the subject. His eye was dazzled by the endless chrome, beveled mirrors, worn red upholstery, and checkered floor tiles. And it boasted Alice Dempsey, the world’s oldest living waitress, dressed in her paper cap and red-striped uniform with white apron.

She had seen Jeff look up and now hustled over to their booth. She arrived smelling like burnt hamburgers and chewed her gum loudly. “You kids want anything else?”

Rescued, Jeff thought. “No, thank you,” he said.

She cracked an internal bubble on her gum and dropped the check on the edge of the table. “See you tomorrow,” Alice said.

“No, you won’t,” Elizabeth said under her breath. “I won’t be here.”

As she walked off, Alice shot a curious look back at Elizabeth. She was old, but she wasn’t deaf.

“Take it easy,” Jeff said to Elizabeth.

“I’m going to run away,” she said, heavy rebuke in her tone. “If you’d been listening — ”

“Aw, c’mon, Bits — ” Jeff began. He’d called her “Bits” for as long as either of them could remember, all the way back to first grade. “It’s not that bad.”

“You try living with my mom and dad, and tell me it’s not that bad.”

“I know your folks,” Jeff said. “They’re a little quirky, that’s all.”

“Quirky! They’re just plain weird. They’re clueless about life in the real world. Did you know that my dad went to church last Sunday with his shirt on inside out?”

“It happens.”

“And wearing his bedroom slippers?”

Jeff smiled. Yeah, that’s Alan Forde, all right, he thought.

“Don’t you dare smile,” Elizabeth threatened, pointing a french fry at him. “It’s not funny. His slippers are grass stained. Do you know why?”

“Because he does his gardening in his bedroom slippers.”

Elizabeth threw up her hands. “That’s right! He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care how he looks, what -people think of him, or anything! And my mom doesn’t even have the decency to be embarrassed for him. She thinks he’s adorable! They’re weird.”

“They’re just . . . themselves. They’re — ”

Elizabeth threw herself against the back of the red vinyl bench and groaned. “You don’t understand.”

“Sure I do!” Jeff said. “Your parents are no worse than Malcolm.” Malcolm Dubbs was Jeff’s father’s cousin, on the English side of the family, and had been Jeff’s guardian since his parents had died five years ago in a plane crash. As the last adult of the Dubbs family line, he came from England to take over the family fortune and estate. “He’s quirky.”

“But that’s different. Malcolm is nice and sensitive and has that wonderful English accent,” Elizabeth said, nearly swooning. Jeff’s cousin was a heartthrob among some of the girls.

“Don’t get yourself all worked up,” Jeff said.

“My parents just go on and on about things I don’t care about,” she continued. “And if I hear the life-can’t-be-taken-too-seriously-because-it’s-just-a-small-part-of-a-bigger-picture lecture one more time, I’ll go out of my mind.”

Again Jeff restrained his smile. He knew that lecture well. Except his cousin Malcolm summarized the same idea in the phrase “the eternal perspective.” All it meant was that there was a lot more to life than what we can see or experience with our senses. This world is a temporary stop on a journey to a truer, more real reality, he’d say — an eternal reality. “Look, your parents see things differently from most -people. That’s all,” Jeff said, determined not to turn this gripe session into an Olympic event.

“They’re from another planet,” Elizabeth said. “Sometimes I think this whole town is. Haven’t you figured it out yet?”

“I like Fawlt Line,” Jeff said softly, afraid Elizabeth’s complaints might offend some of the other regulars at the diner.

“Everybody’s so . . . so oblivious! Nobody even seems to notice how strange this place is.”

Jeff shrugged. “It’s just a town, Bits. Every town has its quirks.”

“Is that your word of the day?” Elizabeth snapped. “These aren’t just quirks, Jeffrey.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. When she resorted to calling him Jeffrey, there was no reasoning with her. He rubbed the side of his face and absentmindedly pushed his fingers through his wavy black hair.

“What about Helen?” Elizabeth challenged him.

“Which Helen? You mean the volunteer at the information booth in the mall? That Helen?”

“I mean Helen the volunteer at the information booth in the mall who thinks she’s psychic. That’s who I mean.” Elizabeth leaned over the Formica tabletop. Jeff moved her plate of fries and ketchup to one side. “She won’t let you speak until she guesses what you’re going to ask. And she’s never right!”

Jeff shrugged.

“Our only life insurance agent has been dead for six years.”

“Yeah, but — ”

“And there’s Walter Keenan. He’s a professional proofreader for park bench ads! He wanders around, making -people move out of the way so he can do his job.” Her voice was a shrill whisper.

“Ben Hearn only pays him to do that because he feels sorry for him. You know old Walter hasn’t been the same since that shaving accident.”

“But I heard he just got a job doing the same thing at a tattoo parlor!”

“I’m sure tattooists want to make sure their spelling is correct.”

Elizabeth groaned and shook her head. “It’s like Mayberry trapped in the Twilight Zone. I thought you’d understand. I thought you knew how nuts this town is.” Elizabeth locked her gaze onto Jeff’s.

He gazed back at her and, suddenly, the image of her large brown eyes, the faint freckles on her upturned nose, her full lips, made him want to kiss her. He wasn’t sure why — they’d been friends for so long that she’d probably laugh at him if he ever actually did it — but the urge was still there.

“It’s not such a bad place,” he managed to say.

“I’ve had enough of this town,” she said. “Of my parents. Of all the weirdness. I’m fifteen years old and I wanna be a normal kid with normal problems. Are you coming with me or not?”

Jeff cocked an eyebrow. “To where?”

“To wherever I run away to,” she replied. “I’m serious about this, Jeff. I’m getting all my money together and going somewhere normal. We can take your Volkswagen and — ”

“Listen, Bits,” Jeff interrupted, “I know how you feel. But we can’t just run away. Where would we go? What would we do?”

“And who are you all of a sudden: Mr. Responsibility? You never know where you’re going or what you’re doing. You’re our very own Huck Finn.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Not according to Mr. Vidler.”

“Mr. Vidler said that?” Jeff asked defensively, wondering why their English teacher would be talking about him to Elizabeth.

“He says it’s because you don’t have parents, and Malcolm doesn’t care what you do.”

Jeff grunted. He didn’t like the idea of Mr. Vidler discussing him like that. And Malcolm certainly cared a great deal about what he did.

Elizabeth continued. “So why should you care where we go or what we do? Let’s just get out of here.”

“But, Bits, it’s stupid and — ”

“No! I’m not listening to you,” Elizabeth shouted and hit the tabletop with the palms of her hands. Silence washed over the diner like a wave as everyone turned to look.

“Keep it down, will you?” Jeff whispered fiercely.

“Either you go with me, or stay here and rot in this town. It’s up to you.”

Jeff looked away. It was unusual for them to argue. And when they did, it was usually Jeff who gave in. Like now. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.

Elizabeth also softened her tone. “If you’re going, then meet me at the Old Saw Mill by the edge of the river tonight at ten.” She paused, then added, “I’m going whether you come with me or not.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Book of Nonsense

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Blooming Tree Books/CBAY; 1 edition (October 14, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1933767006
ISBN-13: 978-1933767000

Hailed as the “Da Vinci Code” for young adults, David Michael Slater brings us into the realm of the Sacred Book series. The first book in this series is The Book of Nonsense.

The story revolves around Daphna and Dexter, twins who are about to turn 13 years old. Dexter is a boy of action who has a tendency to skip school and roam the city streets. He has his own special place, a clearing in the nearby woods, where he likes to go and think. Daphna is following in the footsteps of her father and late mother by being interested in anything literary. She loves books and libraries, and she especially enjoys visiting books stores.

The children's father is away on business much of the time. He seeks out old books in other states and countries in order to turn around and sell them for a profit. His wife died on a book searching mission when the children were just babies. Now, his wife's best friend lives with the family as a full time governess and housekeeper.

In the beginning of this book, Daphna is excited about a new book store that has opened in town, and this store only carries books related to magic. The mysterious store owner, Asterius Rash, is only interested in one particular book - The Book of Nonsense. Soon Daphna and Dexter come under the spell of Rash and their lives are turned upside down.

The Book of Nonsense is a book from the beginning of time. Old and worn, it has been mutilated and burned. In order to hammer this point home, the first book in the series is designed with "burnt" pages to give it authenticity. This book is full of action and adventure I'm sure young adults will enjoy. This is the first of a five book series, so it will be interesting to see what direction the story takes.

You can check out David Michael Slater's official website here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Book Reviews Will Slow Down

Time, time - I wish I had more time ...

Just a quick note to all my readers: postings may be sparse for the next few months because I've taken on a huge writing project and it is taking up much of my reading time. I will be continuing with my weekly Way Back Wednesday, but regular book reviews may be few and far between.

When this project is completed after the first of the year, I will be able to devote more time to reading and reviews.

Thanks to everyone who follows this blog, and I hope you will continue to check back in. I will be continuing with my creative writing and will occasionally post updates on my new project - you can check this out on My Muse and Me. You can also read my monthly newspaper columns at Mercer's Magazine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Way Back Wednesday - Trixie Belden #5

Trixie Belden #5 - The Mystery Off Glen Road - 1956

If you've read the first book in this series - The Secret Manison - you will remember that Jim left Trixie a diamond ring. Because of Trixie's "tomboy" nature, her parents are keeping the ring for her until she grows up. In The Mystery Off Glen Road, Trixie is trying to convince her parents she is grown up and feminine enough so they will give her the ring.

The real reason Trixie wants the diamond ring is so she can use it as collateral for her oldest brother, Brian - he is trying to buy his dream jalopy (car), but doesn't have the money for a downpayment. Trixie feels she and her brothers can earn the money, if they can convince the owner not to sell the car to someone else.

In another story line, the Wheeler's surly gamekeeper quits without notice. Trixie and Honey agree to take on the gamekeeper's duties - again to help Brian earn money for his car. But another mystery hits the Bob Whites, and they soon fear a poacher is loose in the Wheeler's game preserve.

This book really shows Trixie's determination in following through with a project. She cares more about helping her brother than doing things for herself. This is a lesson that siblings today could learn from.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Jolly Good Fellow

Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Good Harbor Press; 1st edition (November 26, 2007)
ISBN-10: 097996380X
ISBN-13: 978-0979963803

I am thrilled to be hosting a virtual blog tour for the book A Jolly Good Fellow and the author Stephen Massee. This book was an enjoyable read and I am pleased to present my interview with the author. Without further ado, I give you Stephen Masse.

Hi Stephen! Thanks for granting me this interview. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you have been writing?
I was brought up in a home full of books and music. My mother and father used to read stories to us throughout childhood, and we were required to get two books from the library each week. Sounds great in theory, though my two library books usually ended up collecting dust under the bed and running up overdue fines. I hated to read, and loved to write. My mother used to laugh when, after I finally knuckled down to read a book, I had to go off and write one just like it.

When I was in the fourth grade, I wrote a composition for Halloween that had witches flying broomsticks and stopping for red lights. I was laughing at my creation, and the teacher said, “Mr. Masse, you seem to be having a lot of fun with your composition, why don’t you come up in front of the class and share it with us.” I recall this as the first time I was hauled up in front of the class for something honorable.

I wrote my first “novel” when I was 13, while attending caddy camp in New Hampshire. Then while a freshman in college, I began writing what turned out to be a 150 page novel, which I called “Downwind From Fire,” about a northern woodsman whose wife becomes sick and must travel to Boston for treatment. Both stories are in my attic, where they will likely stay.

After college I wasted no time beginning what I expected would be my writing career. I wrote seven novels within ten years, and sold nothing. My first check for writing was a $25.00 payment for a local newspaper article. It was so gratifying that I accepted an unpaid weekly column in Amherst which I called, “Out of Control.” Finally thirteen years after graduation, I landed a contract with a small publisher for my book, Shadow Stealer, about an American Indian boy who could magically make fire by dancing. I made about $400.00 on that before it went out of print. So after those first fifteen years, I made a total of $425.00, or about $28.30 per year. Now at long last, A Jolly Good Fellow is in print, and I’m glad to see it’s being well received.

Why and when did you decide you wanted to be a writer? And, do you write full-time?
I decided I was going to be a writer at 13, when I was handwriting my first novel in a composition book. The question why never came up. To me, writing was a vocation that was built into my microchip. I believe that some people are invested with a strong power of human observation coupled with reasonably good communication skills, and their lot in life is to observe and record for the betterment of humanity. My lifelong desire had been to write full-time, but at the same time I had no illusion of being a starving artist, so the writing had to become a dedicated hobby instead of a profession.

Do you have an agent? What were your experiences finding her/him?
I don’t put a lot of faith in agents, though they may be useful when a writer’s work is earning over $50,000 per year.

I really enjoyed reading "A Jolly Good Fellow." Duncan Wagner is an interesting character. Why did you decide to make him a "fake" Santa?
For Duncan Wagner, being a fake charity Santa Claus is a way to get out of his loneliness and self-absorption, as well as to make money without commitment to a steady job. Wagner wants to be the good guy, it keeps bubbling up out of his criminal self in so many different ways – and Santa Claus is pretty universally accepted as a good guy.

For me as author, creating Duncan Wagner was not so much a matter of conscious decision. He pretty much came to me during the six intense weeks that I cranked out the first draft of the book, and I let him tell his own story in his own Boston dialect. Ultimately it is Wagner’s choice to play Santa Claus, and that he chooses such a persona tells something about his inner reality.

Gabriel seems like the typical preteen. Do you have kids of your own to draw comparisons? If so, is Gabriel modeled after them?
Gabriel is modeled after a composite of many boys I’ve known during my time as a summer camp counselor, Big Brother, and uncle. I don’t have any children.

I found it interesting that the chapters were labeled as "tapes" instead of chapters. Why did you do that?
In the end of A Jolly Good Fellow, Duncan is in court-ordered therapy, and his therapist encourages him to make recordings of his story. He narrates into an old-fashioned tape recorder, which is consistent with his indifference to modern electronics.

The fact that Gabriel still wets the bed was so realistic. What was your reasoning behind this detail?
As with creating Duncan Wagner, I found that Gabriel’s character manifested itself to me during the writing process. He just happened to be a bed wetter, and I found it gave Gabriel more complexity as well as giving Duncan another opportunity to show his true self.

How long did it take you to write "A Jolly Good Fellow"?
The initial writing process took six weeks during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season of 1976, and the final publication draft was finished in summer of 2007.

Do you write longhand or use a computer?
While in college I found that longhand was inefficient, because I couldn’t write the words as fast as my mind could think them. Typing was perfect for me because I could type pretty much as fast as I could put my thoughts into words. Now all my writing is on the computer, though I keep a note pad and pen right next to me so that I could jot down the various urgent notes that come up during any writing session.

Many writers listen to a specific musical playlist when working. Did you have a playlist for "A Jolly Good Fellow" and if so, what was on it?
During a major re-write a few years ago, I discovered a musical sound track to the book, and perhaps someday, the film. Because the book is really about a man’s salvation, a string version of “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel {Celtic Harp for Christmas, Lori Pappajohn (1994 Ancient Echoes Music)}, followed by the choral version by Robert Shaw Chorale {A Festival of Carols, Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra (1987 RCA /BMG Music)}.

The orchestrations throughout the first half of the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed have the perfect seasonal style to match the street scenes of A Jolly Good Fellow.
Also the following:

Chantons Noel {Erato Disques S. A. 1969 (2292-45641-2)} “Mon Jesus, Doux Jesus”

Carols from Clare (Rutter) {EMI 1988 (CDM 7 699502)} “Infant holy, infant lowly,” “Rocking,” “Nativity Carol,” “Gabriel’s Message.”

The Holly and the Ivy, Clare College Choir (Rutter) {Decca Record Company D-125048}

Carols from King’s (David Willcocks) {EMI 1991 (CDB7 67356 2)}

Cambridge Singers/ Rutter - Christmas Night, Carols of the Nativity {Collegium Records 1116535} “Adam Lay Ybounden,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “I Wonder as I Wander,” “Myn Lyking.”

“Adagio for Strings,” Samuel Barber

Can you describe for us your writing environment?
I built a small office in my basement specifically for writing. It has a large window on the southeast side, with custom mahogany stained oak desk and bookcases. The desktop is eight feet long. The walls are sponge-painted in light yellow, with Berber carpeting on the floor.

What do you enjoy reading? Have your reading tastes changed over the years?
I used to enjoy reading the Atlantic Monthly every month of my adult life until fiction was discontinued and the magazine moved out of Boston. I do continue to read Smithsonian, and always have a pile of at least three books by my bed (now it’s 5). My tastes are generally in the field of good fiction and interesting non-fiction.

What are your working on now?
I’m hoping to finish up my final re-write of a children’s book, Short Circus, within a few months. This is a story narrated by twelve year old Jem Lockwood about his adventures with his Big Brother and a merry assortment of neighborhood friends, all while living under the threat that his Big Brother may have to move away.

I enjoy visiting your website- Stephen V. Masse - Do you enjoy updating the site, or is it just one of those writer "chores" for you?
It’s a little of both, depending on how urgent the changes to the website are.

If you could be any animal in the world, what would it be and why?
I’m pretty happy to be a human animal, because a human can imagine himself to be any animal or combination of animals at any time, and still come back to being human.

Thank you Stephen. To read my review of A Jolly Good Fellow, go here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

House of Dark Shadows

House of Dark Shadows is the first in the Dreamhouse Kings - a new series for young adults by Robert Liparulo. This series gets its name from the fact that the King family - mom, dad and 3 kids - were searching for their dreamhouse. The "ah ha" moment for me is when the two brothers mention the old soap opera Dark Shadows and the vampire character of Barnabas Collins. Although the book has nothing in common with Dark Shadows - except for the old house - the title was the hook that reeled me into reading the book; and I'm certainly glad it did.

Alexander - Xander - the oldest child, at 15 - is upset because his family is moving from their home in Pasadena to the small hick town of Pinedale. His father - Edward - has accepted a job at the Pinedale high school. Younger brother David - Dae - and baby sister Victoria - Toria - are excited about the move. Their mom Gertrude - G - tries to settle the peace between her oldest son's strong desire to return to their home town, and her husband's excitement with the move. The King family finally finds what they think is their dreamhouse, but soon learn the house has a dark history.

The King family starts to notice strange things are going on in their new home - voices seem to travel, family members appear in opposite areas of the house from where they were, and rooms appear larger than the outside of the house. Xander and David find a secret hidden door and discover mysterious portals on a hidden third floor. They learn once these portals are entered, they are difficult to escape from. Xander learns the hard way when he travels back to the Roman Colliseum, and then David travels about to some forbidden jungle.

The story is interesting and it is a fast read, so readers soon find themselves thinking about the mysterious house and trying to solve its mysteries. In classic James Patterson fashion, the chapters are short and they keep you guessing as you move from one scene to the next.

Although this is considered a Young Adult book, adults will also enjoy the suspense and mystery this book has to offer. This is the first book I have read of Liparulo's, but it certainly won't be the last. Because of a major cliffhanger at the end of House of Dark Shadows, I have immediately started on the 2nd book in the series, The Watcher in the Woods. The 3rd book, The Gatekeeper, will be released in January 2009.

Although this book is put out by Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson it does not have a strong religious agenda. The King family is written in realistic fashion, and they do occasionally mention God or going to church, but that is not the main goal of this series. This book was fun and enjoyable, and I would highly recommend it to readers of all ages.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Way Back Wednesday - Trixie Belden #4

Trixie Belden #4 - The Mysterious Visitor - 1954

In this book, we get to meet a classmate of Trixie and the Bob Whites, Diana "Di" Lynch. Di started out as a regular girl next door, just like Trixie, but her family has recently become wealthy, and she is having trouble adjusting to changes in her life.

True to form, Trixie and Honey befriend Di and before you know it another mystery unfolds. Di's Uncle Monty (her mother's brother) has reappeared after years of living in Arizona. Suspicious Trixie thinks he's a big fake and can't help wondering if the Lynch family money has anything to do with his arrival.

The storyline in this book is similar to conflict between Jim and his uncle, but it is still a good mystery. We will be seeing more of Di and her family in future books.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Halfway to the Grave

Halfway to the Grave is the first book in the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. It is classified as a paranormal romance.

Catherine "Cat Raven" Crawfield is the night huntress, stalking and killing the undead. She is the product of a human mother who was raped by a newly turned vampire.

Cat's mother explanined her unusual history when Cat was 16 years old, and since that time, she has hunted the night, looking for vampires to kill in order to take vengence for her mother. Deep in the recesses of Cat's mind, she has also always been on the hunt for her "father."

Cat meets Bones, a vampire bounty hunter who was able to get the upper hand on Cat's killing tendencies. After some powerful persuasions and one-on-one fights, Cat ends up working with Bones to track and kill vampires. Bones manages to turn Cat from the typical girl next door to a sexy killing machine.

The one thing I noticed was the similarities to Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although Cat is more sex kitten than Buffy, in my humble opinion, Buffy had more sum and substance. But I do have high hopes for Cat, because, after all, I wasn't crazy about Buffy during her first season (I actually hated the original movie). Bones is almost an exact copy of Spike (who was my favorite character in Buffy), right down to his English accent and the way he calls Cat "luv" or "pet" or "kitten".

This book is written in first person from Cat's point of view, and I enjoy reading first person narratives. This is a good beginning for the Night Huntress series and it has hooked me enough to give the next books a try.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Arsenic Soup for Lovers

Arsenic Soup for Lovers: When Chicken Soup Doesn't Work is a self-published book by Georgia Z. Post. As the front cover states this 76 page book is full of
"very, very short stories for very, very busy people."

Most stories are one or two pages long and they are perfect when you only have ten or fifteen minutes to spare reading - maybe on your lunchbreak, when you're stopped by a train, or when you're waiting on your children.

A few of my favorite stories were:

"Midlife Crisis" centers around a woman who learns her husband is having an affair, but she manages to turn the tables on her husband and his lover.

"Knees" is about a man with an obsession with other people's knees.

"Sex and the Widow" is what happens when a widowed woman is tired of the propositions by married men, especially the husbands of her friends.

"A Better Spouse Trap" is the story of those dog tracking "chips" you insert under the animal's skin - only these are not used for straying dogs ...

As I said, these stories are short and sweet, but they are truly funny.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Way Back Wednesday - Trixie Belden #3

Trixie Belden #3 - The Gatehouse Mystery - 1951

Jim Frayne is now officially Honey's new brother because her parents decided to adopt him. And Honey couldn't be happier; she always wanted a sibling. Jim now lives on the Wheeler estate, but he still has his own money in trust account, thanks to the fortune of his great-uncle.

The Gatehouse Mystery focuses on a mysterious new chauffeur hired by the Wheeler family. But Trixie thinks there is something funny going on with this man and she just doesn't trust him. Someone has been sneaking into the gatehouse behind the Wheeler estate and Trixie is determined to find out who. Trixie and Honey have also found a diamond, which Honey says does not belong to either of her parents.

This book is the first time we get a hint of the Bob-White Club that will be formed. The Bob-Whites include Trixie and Honey, as well as Jim and Trixie's older brothers, Brian and Mart.