18 December 2011

The Years of Magic by J. Lyndon Hickman

I haven't read The Years of Magic by J. Lyndon Hickman, but I read a review from one of my favourite bloggers over at The Bibliophilic Book Blog and I instantly fell in love with the book cover!

Here's the blurb as it features on Amazon:

It was when mankind discovered how to make electricity that the world as we knew it changed profoundly. Soon generated electricity lit our streets and homes, provided heat, brought us efficient communication, modern transportation, and the effort of electro-motive force. Yet, manmade electricity carried through the wires and cables with which we fenced the land; the power lines encircling our towns and our cities, had another consequence. Generated electricity banished things of folklore and legend. Witches, werewolves, demons whose evil spirits had roamed the earth throughout time were displaced, driven off by the pain of electricity. Unfortunately also displaced were the good, those angels which had appeared to guide mankind throughout history. Then one day, in our not-too-distant past, a brilliant scientist created a machine that brought manmade electricity to a halt. That day marked the beginning of the return of the evil, as well as the good, in a time that became known as the years of magic.

I haven't decided whether I'm going to add this to my TBR pile or not, but I just had to share the book cover with you. I think it's one of my favourites this year. Have you read it? How much does the cover of a book influence your decision to read it?

Carpe Librum!
12 December 2011

Review: Utopia by Thomas More

Utopia by Thomas More book cover
I have always wanted to read Thomas More's classic Utopia, and I'm pleased to finally have read it this year.  Like most people, I knew Utopia to represent the ideal or perfect society but didn't know much more about the structure of Thomas More's classic.

It's hard to believe Thomas More was born over 500 years before me, and yet his work has endured and is still relevant to us today.  Published first in Latin in 1516, I was surprised to learn that Utopia wasn't published in English until 1551, which was sixteen years after Thomas More's unjust execution for treason.

Utupia is a short novel, containing only 135 pages - and is broken down into two sections, Book One and Book Two.

Book One
Book One commences with a letter from Thomas More to his friend Peter Gilles, explaining why it has taken so long to transcribe 'this little book about the Utopian Republic'.  This letter is followed by another and then a discussion between Thomas More, Peter Gilles and a traveller by the name of Raphael Nonsenso.  Raphael is discussing his time spent living in Utopia with Gilles and More engaging in the conversation.  Book One ends with Thomas More asking for:
"a detailed account of it from every point of view, geographical, sociological, political, legal - in fact, tell us everything you'd think we'd like to know, which means everything we don't know already."
Book Two
Book Two is the detailed account of Utopia, written by Thomas More from memory of Raphael's account.

Fact or Fiction?
The correspondence at the beginning of Utopia, certainly set a particular tone that what was to follow had an element of truth, or plausibility about it.  This technique has been used countless times since, Bram Stoker's Dracula just one example.  

However, there were various clues early on that More's novel was instead a work of fiction.  Raphael's surname of 'Nonsenso', was a clue, as was the curiosity surrounding the location of the island of Utopia, and the story that just as Raphael was discussing its location a colleague coughed loudly, and More missed hearing the details.

Thomas More used the fictional novel as a means to discuss controversial topics and ideas at the time, in particular in relation to nobility and the class system in England.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Utopia, and I believe it is an accessible classic for almost all readers.  I think it is just as relevant and as important a piece of literature today as it was 500 years ago.  Have you read it and if so, would you want to live in Utopia?

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
08 December 2011

Interview with Barbara Forte Abate, author of The Secret of Lies

Barbara Forte Abate

Barbara Forte Abate is the author of The Secret of Lies which I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed.  You can read the full review here, where I gave it 4 stars.

Barbara, thanks for joining us today, to talk about your writing, and your debut novel The Secret of Lies.

Is it true that you originally started writing The Secret of Lies 20 years ago on yellow legal pads and then transcribed your writing onto a typewriter?
Yes, I really did and it was definitely slow going!  Even so, it felt like the only way to go. For starters, I didn't even own a typewriter so that alone narrowed down the possibilities of going another route. Besides which I wasn't especially confident starting out and so I was very secretive and highly protective of what I was up to. It took quite a long time to get past that insecure way of thinking in regard to my writing endeavours.  But then once I got to the crucial point of needing to borrow a friends typewriter, that was pretty much the end of the "closet writer era."

What made you decide to bring it out again and publish it in 2010?
Well, the manuscript was never actually put away.  There was never a point when I stopped working on The Secret of Lies. It went through 4 titles and so many rewrites that I stopped counting for fear of becoming overwhelmed by horror and depression. Once I'd finish yet another rewrite I would set it aside to simmer while I worked on one of my other novels in progress, and in that way would alternate projects, perfecting, polishing, and basically learning to write. Fast forward (though actually not so fast) to 2010 and it felt like, okay, enough already, it's time. 

When you write now, do you write straight onto a computer, or do you still prefer to write in longhand first?
First drafts are always longhand. It feels so much more up-close and personal and staring at the white screen is just intimidating - maybe even a little hostile. Once the initial draft is down I become far more modern and switch to the computer. I edit long and hard and I'm sure I don't have to tell you the supreme joys of cut, paste, and delete! 

I read on your website that you like to keep a pen and paper in every room so that you can capture ideas as they come to mind.  Do you have a love for stationery and journals, or do you have a soft spot for yellow legal pads? 
I do have a strange affection for pens and paper, so much so that I tend to squirrel away the pretty stuff because it's "too nice to use."  I'm trying to get over that, but it's taking some time. It's pitiful really that I can't trust my head to hold onto an idea long enough to walk over to my desk and jot it down, hence the notebooks.  But no, nothing fancy.  Dollar store pads small enough to tuck into a pocket are my favorites. Since they're cheap and generic I feel free to scribble at will - something I find hard to do if my paper is too pretty. I also have a love of stationery, and love to linger in stationery stores, admiring the pens, paper, journals and all the accessories etc.

The Secret of Lies features a romance between teenagers, one of whom is deaf.  This was one of my favourite elements in the novel; what was your inspiration for the deaf character of Jake and his relationship with Stephanie? 
I'm so thrilled to hear that Jake and Stephanie's relationship was one of your favorite elements of this story, because it was absolutely one of my favorite to write. Jake is actually the only character wholly inspired by a real person. I discovered him on a weekend camping trip I took with one of my best friends and her family when I was 16 (hence, a very long time ago!) and from the moment I saw him setting up camp with his family I was smitten. 

For the next 3 days I tried in vain to orchestrate chance meetings, imagined the perfect conversations we would have if I could just summon the courage to speak to him, thought I spoke endless volumes with my eyes...and it wasn't until just before he drove away on Sunday morning that I saw his father speaking to him using sign language.  Talk about an 'Ah Ha' moment! I did think about this mysterious boy for a long time afterward, yet I don't conscientiously recall inviting the far away memory of him into The Secret of Lies.  He pretty much just walked in on his own.

I also enjoyed your strong and deeply layered female characters in the novel.  Can you tell me more about the inspiration behind these characters? Are there women - authors or literary figures - you look up to in your own life? 
I generally find it impossible to bring real people into my stories because they inevitably become distracting and it's just too hard on the process of imagination. Certainly there are things we pick-up from people passing through our lives, even when we don't realize it, so there are always those elements.  I start out writing my characters as people I think I'd like to know and then somewhere along the way they take over and show me who they really are. By the time I type 'The End' I have grown very attached and care for them deeply. It's a crazy, altogether mysterious process, and I can't say I wholly understand it. I'm just continually amazed by what goes on in my otherwise quiet mind.

What was the best book you read in 2011? 
I'm so tempted to cheat and name several because it's so incredibly hard to name one!  No, honestly - I mean really really hard. But hum-mm....I think I'll have to say Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I just finished this book recently and it was such an incredible masterpiece of a story. And truly, isn't it just such a thrill to come across a book that grabs you from the start and holds you by the throat even after you've read the last page? I know so many people who say they don't read - ever. And I think how sad...how impossibly sad.

What do you have planned for 2012? 
Writing.  Always writing! I'm this close to finishing up my latest novel and sending it off to my agent. She's been waiting a while, so I'm anxious to check this off my list as "goal accomplished." Then I'll start something new. I'm a slow writer so starting a new project is a long term commitment.

Anything else you'd like to add? 
When I think about all the bumps and bruises that come along with writing a book, the fact remains that regardless of how a book becomes a book, the final essential link feels to be the reader who comes along to turn the pages, enabling all that's between the covers to come out and walk around for awhile.  

I so enormously value the connection between reader and author, and I absolutely want to take the opportunity to thank you for reading and reviewing The Secret of Lies, Tracey! It's been such fun chatting with you!

It's a pleasure Barbara, thanks for being my guest! 
06 December 2011

Review: The Secret of Lies by Barbara Forte Abate

The Secret of Lies by Barbara Forte Abate book cover
* From author for review *

The Secret of Lies opens with Stevie (Stephanie) running from her home on the farm and her new husband; believing it's too late to turn back. Stevie's on the road and staying at a motel, when she begins to think about the past.

The dreary surrounds of the motel fades away and the reader is transported to Stevie's teenage years in the mid '50s with her older sister Eleanor. Each summer Eleanor and Stevie stayed with their Aunt Smyrna and Uncle Calvin in their beach house on the coast.

I enjoyed reading about Stevie's summers at the beach, particularly about the friendship developing over the years with fellow summer visitor and deaf neighbour Jake.  

These early chapters are carefree and take on a coming-of-age tone as Stevie and Eleanor live out what appears to be a 'normal' sisterly relationship. However; their relationship begins to drift away one summer when Eleanor is 17, and what occurs in that summer will haunt Stevie and her family for years to come.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret of Lies, and towards the end, had completely forgotten that Stevie had run away and that this was a flashback; so immersed was I in the story. The circumstances of the 'event' (no spoilers here) and the lies that resulted - from which the novel takes it's title - were well written.

There was a small mystery going on in the novel, and although I did figure it out (this never happens to me, so I was pretty pleased) there is a slightly ambiguous ending, which is appropriate. My only criticism of the writing was the author's misuse of the word 'then' in place of 'than'. It occurred on almost every page and should have been corrected at the edit stage.

Although Stevie's mother was a minor character, she was a strong and hard-working woman and I admired her fortitude and resilience. Aunt Smyrna was a significant character in the novel and her gradual decline in the first half of the book was difficult. When juxtaposed with Eleanor's character - youthful, beautiful, falling in love - it made for quite a clash and interesting reading. I certainly admire the author's ability to write strong, individual characters; each with their own complexities.

This was the story of a family torn apart by lies in a time where secrets were better kept hidden. But it is also the story of how Stevie navigates her way through the grief to find love and forgiveness. I thoroughly recommend it!

Read my interview with the author, Barbara Forte Abate here.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
03 December 2011

New Look!!

I thought it was time for a new look, so I hope you all like the new look bookish wallpaper; I absolutely love it! I redesigned my Twitter profile today so now they're both the same.

Long overdue, but I'm enjoying the fresh new look and the change.

That's my four bucks!

Review: The Ice Cradle by Mary Ann Winkowski & Maureen Foley

The Ice Cradle is the second in the Ghost Files series by authors Mary Ann Winkowski and Maureen Foley; the first being The Book of Illumination. Anza O'Malley and her son Henry return in this novel, when Anza accepts a bookbinding commission on a small island community, Block Island.

One of the elements I really like about this series is the main character's occupation of bookbinder. Weaved throughout the story are references to bookbinding techniques and materials that are irresistible to book-lovers and bibliophiles.

Anza has been hired to preserve, bind and exhibit the letters, reports, photographs and artefacts surrounding the sinking in 1907 of the passenger steamship Larchmont just off the coast of Block Island. Of the 200 passengers, only 19 survived and those with an interest in preserving history will enjoy these elements of the story.

When Anza arrives, she walks into an island divided over wind turbines. She learns that half of the island's residents are in favour of the construction, the other half against, and a ghost informs her that they plan to build the turbines right where the wreckage of the Larchmont lies on the seabed!

All this is happening at the same time her young son sees his first ghost, and Anza is trying to find reasons local fisherman doesn't stack up to Henry's Dad.

This is a fabulous read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although you will need to be open to paranormal themes to enjoy this one. The Ice Cradle is terrific as a second installation in the series but also works as a stand alone novel. Light and easy, with a feel good ending, most readers will enjoy this one. I look forward to the next in the series!

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
28 November 2011

Review: The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

The House on Tradd Street by Karen White book cover
The House on Tradd Street is about Melanie Middleton, successful young realtor living in Charleston, South Carolina. She is one of the most successful women in the business, prefers order, lives in a modern condo and ignores her ability to see 'ghosts'.

During her visit to a client, Mr. Vanderhorst, at his historic residence on Tradd Street she notices a female ghost in the garden. Her discussion with him doesn't go to schedule, however she finds herself warming to the old man. She is shocked to hear a few days later that he has passed away, and stunned to learn that he has left his historic crumbling house to her in his will.

The house must be lived in for at least 12 months, cannot be sold, and funds have been left for renovation and restoration. Melanie enlists help from within her network of friends who are thrilled at the opportunity to see inside the Vanderhorst house and assist with the restoration.

The house comes with a mystery that Melanie wants to solve for Mr. Vanderhorst: the disappearance of his mother at an early age. Enter Jack Trenholm who claims to be writing a book about the mystery.

This easy to read novel is primarily a mystery, with clues hidden in the past, and sub plots featuring historic restoration, a romantic interest and Melanie feeling several 'presences' in the house. The House on Tradd Street by Karen White was a light hearted read, and I enjoyed it very much.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
25 November 2011

Review: The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill

The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill book cover
The Butterfly Cabinet is the debut novel from female Irish author, Bernie McGill. It's the weaving together of two stories.  The first is the story of Harriet, lady of the house at Oranmore, which Harriet describes as follows:

"To me, it has always looked, and still looks, like a house playing at being a castle."

Harriet is the mother of many children however her hobby is collecting butterflies, which she studies, pins and preserves in her cabinet - after which the novel takes its name.

Maddie was a former nanny at Oranmore, and the reader meets her when she is ready to let go of a secret she's been holding onto for decades. She is talking with Anna, the last child she looked after - now married and expecting a child of her own.  

McGill take us back to Dublin in the late 1890s to share Harriet's personal thoughts after the death of her daughter and what happens when she is found responsible. Chapters from Maddie's perspective take place in 1968.

The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill book coverThis novel felt quite similar to Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, but unfortunately wasn't as good. I felt that the 'secret' or the climax that the novel was building towards wasn't as satisfying at the end as I was hoping it could have been.

In terms of character development, I was most interested in Harriet's character. She was not a natural mother, she had unusual thoughts on parenting, and this got her into trouble and ultimately a prison sentence. (This isn't a spoiler by the way, it's in the blurb).

I was divided about which book cover to post in this review so I ended up posting both. I like the haunting blue one (pictured right) depicting Oranmore, although it's interesting to see two very different cover designs for the same book.

There were gothic elements within The Butterfly Cabinet, and I'm glad I could include it in my Gothic Reading Challenge.

Ultimately, the plot was there and it had potential to be so much more, but I was a little disappointed.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
22 November 2011

New novel from Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift

I've just stumbled across the best literary news ever! Anne Rice - one of my favourite authors of all time - is publishing a new book in February 2012, entitled The Wolf Gift.  

According to Amazon, it's:
"A whole new world - modern, sleek, high-tech."
I'm so excited!  I can't wait to immerse myself in her new world and find out what awaits me there.

Who's going to join me?

That's my four bucks!
21 November 2011

Review: The Reality Slap by Dr Russ Harris

The Reality Slap by Dr Russ Harris book cover
I first came across the work of Dr Russ Harris when I started listening to his 'Mindfulness of the Breath' CD. I've had great success with his CD so I was looking forward to reading one of his many books, The Reality Slap.

A 'Reality Slap' can be something that happens in life like an illness, fire, bankruptcy, divorce or loss of a loved one. Dr Russ Harris is an Australian and I responded immediately to his down to earth writing style, and he gave me much food for thought.  

I guess you could call The Reality Slap a self-help book, however it's definitely a book with a difference! Dr Harris acknowledges the 'internal chatter' that readers experience, and that some readers will struggle with the content. Somehow he manages to gently leads us through, even sharing lessons he has learned in his own life struggles, endearing himself to the reader even further.

I also enjoyed the list of 60 Life Values in Appendix 5, which was an interesting exercise to work through.

Highly recommended!

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. I sent a copy of my review to the author, and I was thrilled that he took time out to write back, having this to say:

"Thank you for this lovely feedback, Tracey. You have made my day. Good luck with your ongoing journey.
All the best,
Russ Harris 
13 November 2011

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness book cover
I'd been looking forward to reading A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness for a long time, however I'm sorry to say that it didn't live up to all of my expectations.

According to the blurb, it's:
"A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together."
I pretty much go weak at the knees at the word 'manuscript' and I'd been looking forward to reading this book for a while.

Diana Bishop is a scholar, a witch and the main character of the novel.  She is studying alchemy in ancient texts and manuscripts (another reason I wanted to read this book) from the famous Bodleian Library in Oxford.

On a side note, I love collecting bookmarks, and when I was selecting a bookmark to use when reading Discovery of Witches, I chose a bookmark with an image of ancient manuscripts on the front, knowing the references contained in the novel.  However, I didn't know that the main character would be studying at the Bodleian Library and would you believe it, the image on my bookmark was from the Bodleian Library, and the back of the bookmark had some info about the Library; what a weird coincidence!

Sadly, that was the most excitement I had whilst reading this book.  Sure, I enjoyed the sections written in Oxford, where Diana was studying alchemy and the illuminated texts.  I enjoyed the discussions of history and the passing of time when Diana met the centuries-old vampire, however what spoiled the novel for me was the romance.  There was just too much!  The book was dripping with romance, and if I'd known what was in store or how much, I probably would have given this one a miss.

I was in a three star frame of mind until Diana - who was in love with a vampire - referred to the vampire's 'son,' who was a couple of hundred years old as her own son, ugh! Ridiculous!!

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
01 November 2011

Celebrating 13,000 hits!

I'm extremely pleased to announce that: 

My Four Bucks has now surpassed 

13,000 hits!

Many thanks to my loyal readers, bookworms and fellow book-lovers. I hope you'll continue to enjoy my reviews, interviews and bookish news.

Happy Reading!

31 October 2011

Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey book cover
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is author Elisabeth Tova Bailey's own personal account which begins with her return from a European holiday, when she was struck down by a mysterious illness and confined to her bed.

A caring and thoughtful friend paying a visit to Elisabeth, potted some wild violets and brought them in to place on the author's bedside table, and, noticing a wild woodland snail nearby, places it in the pot with the violets to keep Elisabeth company.

Elisabeth writes that she could hear the snail munching on the petals of the violets, and that it sounded like munching on celery, and the snail quickly becomes her treasured companion.  She becomes mesmerised by the snail's night-time adventures and enjoys watching the snail explore, eat, drink and sleep.

Elisabeth is motivated to learn more about her new friend, and the book is peppered with fascinating information about snails which is surprisingly engaging and interesting.

This is an uplifting and inspiring account of compassion and companionship and is a wonderful little read.  (And no, you won't need a handkerchief at the end).  I would highly recommend The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating to readers of all ages.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
23 October 2011

Review: The Small Hand by Susan Hill

The Small Hand by Susan Hill book cover
The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill is a short quick read and I knocked it over in no time at all.  It was also a gothic novel, and met the requirements for my Gothic Reading Challenge, so that was a bonus!

Adam Snow is an antiquarian bookseller, which is such a delicious occupation for the reader to enjoy and the highlight of the novel.  One night Adam takes a wrong turn on his way to visit a client and discovers a dilapidated old manor called The White House.  I enjoyed Susan Hill's description of The White House and the history of the once famous gardens, however the 'ghost story' of the title was quite lame.

Although the novel can be called gothic, it wasn't spooky, creepy, haunting or unnerving at all.  It had none of the 'ghostly' qualities I would expect in a ghost story and was hoping to find here.

It is for this reason that unfortunately I wouldn't recommend The Small Hand.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
22 October 2011

Review: Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris book cover
I was lucky enough to win this copy of Gillespie and I in a competition (together with The Oberservations, also by Jane Harris), so it wasn't a novel I myself chose to read. Written by Jane Harris, Gillespie and I is an historical fiction novel, which is my favourite genre so naturally I was pretty pleased with my win.

Ned Gillespie - of the title - is an artist, painting in Scotland in the late 1880s. Miss Harriet Baxter meets Ned Gillespie briefly at an art exhibition in London, and then several months later, meets his mother and wife in Scotland, and becomes a friend of the family.

The book is narrated by Harriet - now in her late 70s being looked after by a carer - reflecting on her friendship with the Gillespie family.

The novel was moving along at a steady pace and with a fine amount of momentum, when the plot took a most unexpected course. In fact I don't think I could have been more surprised had Jane Harris reached from the pages and slapped me in the face herself! 

I had been suspecting the plot was gently building towards a climax centred around one of the family members, however I was completely caught by surprise, and I love it when a book catches you with your guard down.

I won't reveal anything further though, because I don't want to give anything away, however it was a satisfying read; moving between the past and the present and unfurling Harriet's memories of events.

I also enjoyed Harriet's chapters set in the present, where an air of mystery regarding her carer was unfolding, and her thoughts and behaviour at this age were very enjoyable to read!

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
16 October 2011

Interview with William F. Brown, author of The Undertaker

Author William F. Brown
William F. Brown is the author of The Undertaker, which I reviewed last month, giving it 4 stars.

William tells us more about his novel and his writing during his interview with me below.

Where did the idea for your novel The Undertaker originate?
Each of my novels starts some kind of a simple concept, a one-liner or ‘slug line’ as they call it in screen plays. The Undertaker began with, “a guy opens the newspaper and sees his own obituary.” I then start asking the questions of who, why, and what, and craft characters which fit the various story needs. I then let them take over and drive it.

My most successful novel, Thursday at Noon, began with, “a burned out CIA agent in Cairo stumbles home one night and finds a severed human head sitting on his rear stoop.” Through the Glass Darkly begins with, “a guy’s in the window seat of an air liner coming in to land at O’Hare. He looks down, and sees a man killing a woman on a roof as it flashes by below.” Then, I start asking the questions. Anyway, that’s how I do it.

How did you come up with the character of Tinkerton? Did someone you know (perhaps from the US Army) inspire the character?
For some reason I do really good villains, probably better than my heroes or lead female characters. They usually don’t drive the story, so I can have more fun with them and write them a little ‘over the top’. Tinkerton is one of my favorites, but he came 100% out of my head. Ya gotta love an evil lawyer! As my other books come on live over the next 6 months or so, you’ll see my other bad guys are pretty well drawn, too.

Can you tell us more about your own time in the US Army?
To me, it was the greatest learning experience of my life. I worked for good people and had incredible responsibilities at a very young age. That let me ‘spread my wings and learn what I can do. I did computer and systems work in Germany and was a drug counselor and company commander in Vietnam. I really wasn’t in combat, but the entire experience of being responsible for a lot of other guys teaches you about people and is life-changing.

Having published several novels now, do you have any particular writing habits?
I’ve written six now, but writing is about re-writing and it feels like I’ve written a hundred. I try to work every day and get into some regular schedule, so as to keep the threads alive. I use a computer and Word, and hate the inevitable distractions that seem determined to interrupt your best ideas.

When do you do your best work and can you describe your working space?
My best ideas seem to come in the shower or when I am running. I tend to do my best writing at night, but sometimes during the day when I have it going. My work space is a small office on the front of our condo. I used to have a problem with neck cramps when I had my monitor on the desk, so I bought a desk which has a glass center section and the monitor down under the glass below desktop level, so I’m looking down. That solved the neck problem. Beyond that, I like the desk neat, I have classical music or jazz playing, and want to be left alone. The secret to all writing is to get your butt in the chair and do it.

Do you get an opportunity to read much, and if so, who are some of your favorite authors?
It’s hard to do both. I read on trips or when I’m between books. My favorites are Michael Connolly, Stuart Woods, Lee Child, Daniel Silva, Dennis Lehane, Vince Flynn, Robert Crais, and Robert B. Parker, Hemingway, and a lot of others.

What do you have planned for 2012?
On the writing front, I have two novels presently out with my agent making their rounds with publishers . . . A War of Whispers and Winner Lose All. I am about half finished with a new one called One True Shot, and am simultaneously working on Through the Glass Darkly.

I will soon have my rights back on Thursday at Noon, which St. Martin published in hardback, and I will then put it out in e-book format. I have the first chapters of all my novels available out there, so folks can take a look. And, I’ve continued to work Facebook (William F. Brown) and to track down book blog and reviewer sites. We used to say “writing is editing.” Now, we say writing is promoting.” Anyway, that’s enough work for ten years!

That's certainly a lot of work! Thanks for stopping by Bill!
06 October 2011

Review: The Undertaker by William F. Brown

* From author for review *

The Undertaker by William F. Brown was a fast-paced and thrilling read.  I was hooked from the very beginning, when Peter Talbott, a software engineer living in Boston, still grieving from the loss of his wife, is questioned by Gino Parini about an obituary featuring his and his wife's names in an Indiana newspaper.

Pete believes it to be a bizarre misunderstanding but he's angry that his wife's name is mentioned so he decides to ignore advice from Gino Parini to drop it.  What does he do next?  He heads to Indiana to attend his own funeral to see what he can find out, of course!

I mean, what's not to love in a plot like this?  His trip to the Funeral Home was electric, and the book was simply unputdownable at this point.  (It was an e-book, so perhaps what I really mean is that I couldn't bring myself to switch the power button off).

The tension and action just keep on building, however in many thrillers, often the main character makes ridiculous choices that make you groan out loud, "no", or "don't do that."  I was pleasantly surprised to find this wasn't the case here.

There is a 'girl' in The Undertaker, and a little romance, however don't fret, she isn't a ditzy, blonde bombshell.  Author William Brown manages to strike a really good balance between avoiding the usual stereotypes, and also steering clear of the unbelievable sexy Lara Croft style character.

The plot was cleverly layered and always swiftly moving, engaging and entertaining.  Thoroughly recommended for all readers who enjoy thrillers, suspense, mystery and crime novels.

And now for the best part, leave a comment below for your chance to win a free copy of the e-book, courtesy of the author.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
28 September 2011

Review: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four short stories by one of my favourite authors, the legendary Stephen King.  The first in the collection is entitled 1922 and is an unsettling story about a husband who believes he has no choice but to murder his wife.  The theme of retribution is ever present, however the main character is haunted by his actions and there's a good morale here.  There were some quite memorable visual descriptions throughout the tale, and some gave me the shivers.  Not gory so much as creepy, and let's face it, that's why King is King!

In the second story Big Driver, we meet Tess, a single, middle-aged cat owner and well-known author who is raped and left for dead.  I was amazed at King's skill and ability to capture the essence and emotions of a middle-aged female character under extreme duress so exceptionally well.  The main characters in 1922 and Big Driver couldn't be more different, and it really highlights King's skill as a writer.

The third story in the collection, Fair Extension was the one I enjoyed the least, however was still an interesting concept.  Streeter - suffering from terminal cancer - purchases an 'extension' of life from a salesperson on the side of the road in exchange for passing on the name of someone he hates.  The consequences of the purchase and what happens to the person he named seem anything but fair, or do they?

The final story is A Good Marriage, and this was gripping reading.  In the beginning, Darcy and Bob appear to have a loving and solid marriage.  After years and years together and raising two children, they know each other inside out, irritating habits and all; until one day when Bob is away on business Darcy discovers he has been hiding something.  My favourite character in the entire collection was the retired Detective in A Good Marriage, so well drawn, and completely unforgettable!

All in all, a very entertaining read here from Stephen King.  No supernatural themes or monsters here, just the monsters lurking deep within some of us.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
21 September 2011

Interview with Paul Salvette, author of America Goes On: A Novella

Paul Salvette
Paul is the author of America Goes On: A Novella.  He lives in Bangkok with his wife Lisa and daughter Monica, and has taken some time out this week to answer some questions: 

Tell us about the inspiration behind America Goes On: A Novella?
I came up with the idea for America Goes On while I was serving in Baghdad from 2007-2008. Being cooped up in the relatively luxurious Green Zone as a staff officer, I felt a bit of guilt for the guys and gals who were out patrolling the streets every day. A story, in my humble opinion, was the best way I could bring a small bit of attention to their struggles and reality to my countrymen and internationally. 

There have only been a few great novels and films about modern veterans, and we need more. A lot of the media's depiction of veterans focuses on the "crazed vet" Rambo-type that's going to get their PTSD all over you, and it's really much more complicated than that. Looking at the issues most concerning my fellow Americans at the time, it seemed that people wanted to ignore what was happening in Iraq and turn on American Idol instead. It is dangerous for a country to exist where people involved in the current war effort is less than 1% of the population, and it is a very frustrating for many of us.

What can you tell us about your own time as an Officer in the US Navy?
The Navy is great place to be from, but not to be at. You probably understand that very well as a fellow veteran. I served from 2002-2009 with numerous years in the submarine force and a one-year stint in Iraq. My time in the Navy was classified by 98% boredom and paperwork, 1% fearing for my life, and 1% having fun on liberty; although, the bad memories are fading and the good memories remain. I'm very grateful for the friends I made during my time in the Navy, and I had some great leaders along the way. However, I could never have done it for the full 20 years required for retirement, and I have a lot of respect for those who stay in for the long haul to serve their country.

How has America Goes On been received by your Navy colleagues?
So far so good, and my old Navy buddies are enjoying it. A lot of them couldn't believe I wrote a damn book, but with the self-publishing revolution that's taking place, I don't see how you could not write a book. America Goes On has been passed along to some Marine buddies as well, and I'm hoping for some good feedback from them. It's my first novella, so I really need to keep improving on my writing and the feedback. I've got a ways to go to get my one million words in, but the journey has been really fun so far.

Have you always wanted to be a writer, or was it the furthest thing from your mind while you were in the US Navy?
It never occurred to me that I would want to be a writer when I finished my time in the Navy. Honestly, you get so bogged down in your day-to-day routine, you never think about long-term goals for your life. Once I got out, I had to start making decisions for myself. Now, I'm married in Thailand with a daughter--it's funny how life works. I started writing, because I pretty much in quarantined in the house with the new baby, and I thought I could make a little bit of money while having some fun. Hopefully, I can make a full-time living at writing, but I've got a ways to go.

What are you working on at the moment?
Currently I'm putting together a technical How To guide that focuses on eBook formatting. It's not the sexiest thing in the world, but I think there is a strong need for this knowledge in the self-publishing community. It will be released soon, so stay tuned. Also, I've just finished the first draft of a sci-fi novella. I gave it to my editor, but he just started law school, so it might be a while before I hear back from him. I hope that the writing is an improvement over my last one, because that's what important at this point.

What kind of books do you like to read yourself?
Books can come in all sorts of flavours for me. Now that I've "converted" to the Almighty eBook religion, I've found myself reading 2-3 books a month rather than just one every few months. I enjoy both indie and established authors in the genres of thriller, sci-fi, horror, and everything else. Non-fiction is also pretty enjoyable, and I admit to reading Dick Cheney's memoirs right now, mostly because I wanted to see what all the controversy was about.

Do you read to your daughter?
Baby seems to be most interested in pooping herself and crying for milk, but I have tried reading Goodnight Moon to her, and we even got a smile out of her. I want her to grow up learning to enjoy the written word. In Thailand, it's difficult to get print books in English, because the cost is the same price as the West, but the average salary is much lower. With the advent of low-cost technology, we hope to be able to purchase a lot of children's books with a few clicks and a few bucks.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you very much to Tracey for giving my self-published novella, America Goes On, the time of day. We're all in this together, and it's comforting that there are book reviewers interested in indie authors. Please keep up the great work at My Four Bucks.

Thanks for your time Paul.  You can visit Paul at his website www.paulsalvette.com or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PaulSalvette.
19 September 2011

Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day and the perfect opportunity to review Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. 

The narrator and young hero of the book, Jim Hawkins is a very likeable character and I can definitely understand why this book was so popular with boys; who wouldn't want to be young Jim?

It was interesting to finally meet the characters of Captain Flint and Long John Silver and I enjoyed the pirate dialogue by thunder!

I was somewhat surprised to find the plot a little more layered than I expected, being written for young boys. I can definitely imagine a young reader enjoying the adventure the first time through, but discovering and understanding more about the nature of men on the second read, perhaps several years later.

I confess I feel a little late to the party - only reading Treasure Island in my 30s - but it's never too late to catch up on a classic. Having read it now, I can't rightly say what makes Treasure Island a classic though, or why it has endured. It was first published in 1883, but is still popular today. What are your thoughts?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
18 September 2011

Review: America Goes On - A Novella by Paul Salvette

America Goes On - A Novella by Paul Salvette book cover
* From the author for review *

This novella (short novel) follows the journey of a young veteran who spent time in Iraq and who has just recently become a civilian.

He has no idea what his future holds, and so for now he is driving across the US while contemplating the past and coming to terms with what happened in Iraq. He is visiting old friends and trying to make sense of American attitudes towards the US involvement in Iraq.

However the highlight of the novella is definitely the ending. This novella had an ending that caught me by surprise and I never saw it coming. I hesitate to say it had a 'twist' because that will have readers searching for a twist from the beginning, but I was certainly impressed by the ending. I'll say no more though, because I don't want to spoil the best part.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
15 September 2011

Review: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome book cover
Published in 1889, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome is a Penguin Classic, and a book I've been wanting to read for quite some time now. It's a slim read at only 185 pages but it's an absolute hoot to read and I completely fell in love with it.

Essentially it's the story of three men and their trip up the river Thames in a boat. We meet them early on complaining about their health, and J, the narrator, claims to have all of the ailments in a medical reference book with the exception of housemaid's knee. When they decide to take a boat trip to escape their troubles, I began to wonder how they'd cope, but that's just when the fun begins.

I was laughing and chuckling on almost every page, and this book was just such a joy to read, I found myself wanting to read it aloud to anyone who would listen (mostly my husband). Here's an excerpt from page 36:
"Now, I'm not like that. I can't sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can't help it."
Another of my favourite sections in the book happens when the narrator J accidentally falls into the river, after the others turn down the idea of going for a swim, on page 102:
'By Jove ! old J.'s gone in,' I heard Harris say, as I came blowing to the surface. 'I didn't think he'd have the pluck to do it. Did you?'
'Is it all right?' sang out George.
'Lovely,' I spluttered back. 'You are duffers not to come in. I wouldn't have missed this for worlds. Why don't you try it? It only wants a little determination.'
I haven't laughed so much since reading A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which is one of my favourite books of all time. I wouldn't say Three Men in a Boat is good enough to join my all time favourites, however it was a quick read and very enjoyable. The snippets above are indicative of the style of humour, so if you enjoyed those, then you'll enjoy the book. I couldn't recommend it more highly.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
14 September 2011

Publishing News - Good Reading Magazine

Review published in
Good Reading Magazine
(middle, right)
I'm really excited to share some publishing news with fellow book-lovers and readers.  My favourite magazine, Good Reading Magazine, published a book review of mine in their August 2011 edition. Woohoo!!

I've been a loyal subscriber for many years now, and I guess it's always been a private goal of mine to have a review published, but for some reason I didn't submit one until this year.  

It was such a joy to have it accepted right away, and then seeing my review in print in the 'What You're Reading' article (right) alongside all the other reader reviews was a real buzz.

September 2011 edition
If that wasn't enough excitement for one year, it was closely followed by an appearance in the September 2011 edition of Good Reading Magazine. Unbelievable huh? Selected as one of six readers to feature in their 'Caught Reading' article, I was positively over the moon and even managed to include reference to my blog My Four Bucks. It was a dream come true.  

Melbournians are going crazy for football around this time of year, but like many of you, I prefer books and reading, and thanks to GR Magazine, I've had a pleasant distraction.

Have you had a review published? Or written a letter to an editor of a newspaper or magazine?
13 September 2011

Interview with Stephen Ayers, author of The Taba Convention

Stephen Ayers
Stephen Ayers is the author of The Taba Convention, which is a fast paced thriller set in the Middle East.  I recently reviewed it giving it 4 stars and I thoroughly recommend it.  Stephen has taken some time out from his writing and busy hotel management career to participate in an interview with My Four Bucks.

Early on in the novel, the main character Jordan Kline listens to the music of Enigma.  I love Enigma, so I have to ask, do you listen to Enigma when you're writing?  
Do you have a favourite Album?
I love the music of Enigma, and listened to it for hours when we lived in Eilat. I love the album MCMXC A.D., amazingly soothing.  By the way, did you know that the wife of the founder of Enigma is a great singer called Sandra?  She also had a few hits way back.  However, when I write I just like to write surrounded by the sounds of everyday life, the street sounds.  When I write I am fortunate in that I am ‘transported’ to the place that I am writing about, so I travel the world on a free ticket while sitting at my desk!

Being in the hotel business yourself, how much of yourself do you draw on when writing the character of Jordan Kline?
Actually quite a lot.  The daily business of running a hotel is described in the book, and taken in large part from my experiences as a general manager.  The anecdotes, including ‘The Eiffel Tower’ story are true and happened in the hotels I managed.  I find that hotel life is fascinating and I wanted to create a ‘different’ kind of hero and convey his new, interesting life in contrast to his violent past.  I wanted to ‘paint’ a passive ‘hotelier’ Jordan opposite the ‘violent’ Jordan reluctantly drawn back into the world he wants so desperately to leave behind. 

How often do you review your work?
When I write I write.  I do not go back and check anything until I am through with the session.  I do not want to interrupt the flow of my thoughts while writing.  However, once I am done I will go over and over the draft text.  I review all of what I have written after each writing session.  I then review the whole book perhaps ten times before manuscript submission for editing, and then again after that a good few times.

Do you believe a peace agreement in the Middle East - like the Taba Convention - is possible?
I have always believed that a peace agreement is possible.  However, it must take into account the acute security interests of Israel.  Look at what is happening in the Arab world these days.  Israel does not want the occupied territories, but the borders must be defensible.  Look what happened after they gave back Gaza.  As one clever politician put it, “If the Arabs put down their arms there will be peace, if Israel puts down its arms there may be no Israel.”

Are you worried about any backlash from political or religious groups in regard to the content of The Taba Convention?  
Not at all. It is purely fiction. I wrote Taba to be purely a thrill action read. I do not think that there is any content that is abusive to any degree at all. It is not a book that is making any political statements.  If readers of Taba are entertained for a few hours, and it takes them away from the stress of daily life for a short while, I will have done my job.

What will Jordan Kline get up to next?
Wow! The next Jordan Kline in the series is The Righteous Within.  It is the story of a Nazi plot, hatched by German Generals long in their grave that threatens to bring annihilation to Israel at the beginning of this century.  The deadly plan was hatched towards the end of The Second World War, when Berlin burned and the Thousand Year Reich was crumbling with the approaching defeat. The plot even frightened me!

I wrote the series so that my readers can follow Jordan as he lives his life. By that I mean that in Taba he lives with Irit his girlfriend, in The Righteous Within he is married to her, and in The Kharta Conspiracy I introduce their young daughter Noah. I think that the ‘progression’ of their lives adds a different angle and lots of interest for those that will read all three, while they are also of course ‘stand alone’ novels too. Irit is very much involved in all three novels.

What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer.  He is a master storyteller, his books amazing, the read keeps you spellbound.  The book is a modern ‘remake’ of The Count of Monte Cristo………I strongly urge everyone to read it! 

Thanks so much for your time Stephen, it's been a pleasure having you on My Four Bucks!