"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Murder on the Orient Espresso by Sandra Balzo

Murder on the Orient Espresso
Author:  Sandra Balzo
Published:  December 2013
Publisher:  Seven House Publishers Ltd
Pages:  200
Genre:  Mystery
Edition:  ARC
Source:  A thank you to the author and her publisher for a complimentary advanced reader's copy to facilitate this review.  Receipt thereof bears no influence over my opinion nor my review.

Wisconsin coffeehouse owner Maggy Thorsen accompanies her main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, to South Florida, where he's been asked to speak at a mystery-writers' conference.  Maggy is anticipating a romantic arrival in their hotel suite, but when the opening night event turns out to be a re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express, the couple reluctantly sets off on a night train into the Everglades.

The idea is to solve the "crime" and return, but the troupe soon finds itself embroiled in a real-life murder mystery as creepy and baffling as any work of fiction.

My thoughts:

I just have to say I hate snakes!!!  Even more than spiders do I hate them!  So when I read Murder on the Orient Espresso I learned far more than I ever wanted to learn about pythons, their choice of foods and how the everglades have become home to some including the African rock python which can grow a horrifying 20 feet long!!  (Shudder!!!)

Alright, I digress.  Murder on the Orient Espresso takes place on a train mimicking the story of Murder on the Orient Express written by a favourite author of mine, Agatha Christie.  A group of mystery writers, both established and up and coming, a sheriff, a coffeehouse owner, and a book reviewer contribute to the small list of participants in a writing conference aboard a train re-enacting the mystery in Agatha's novel.  However, and you can see this coming, someone ends up dead and there are several people aboard who bore grudges against the deceased.  

Maggy, the coffeehouse owner, is a bit of an amateur sleuth who has accompanied Sheriff Jake Pavlik, a guest speaker for the conference.  I like Maggy and not just because she hates snakes as much as I do.  She is a very real member of this cast with desires and fears who cannot help speculating and investigating the murder.  When she is left aboard the train while her boyfriend, Jake (aka Sheriff Pavlik) leaves to go for help, Maggy is confronted with the murderer and a snake...again!  Yikes!! 

Murder on the Orient Espresso author Sandra Balzo has been compared to other illustrious mystery writers including Joan Hess and Janet Evanovich.  Murder on the Orient Espresso is a new twist on an old classic which is fun and interesting and somewhat unexpected, snakes aside. I'd like to investigate her other mysteries which include Uncommon GroundsRunning on Empty and Dead Ends to name just a few.

Meet the author:

Sandra Balzo is an award-winning author of crime fiction, including ten books in two different mystery series from Severn House--the Wisconsin-based Maggy Thorsen Mysteries and Main Street Murders, set in the High Country of North Carolina and featuring journalist AnnaLise Griggs.  Balzo's books have garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, while being recommended to readers of Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, Mary Daheim, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron. A Wisconsin native, Sandy now splits her time between South Florida and North Carolina.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Literary Christmas: Bookish Gingerbread Houses

Booklicious Blog shared this wonderful post of book related gingerbread houses that I just loved so had to share with my readers as well.  Thank you to Booklicious for the inspiration and sheer enjoyment of such delicious creations!

[The Nutcracker by Cake Power and Baked Ideas]

Click the link below to see the entire post consisting of Hogwarts, Hansel and Gretel and the above to name a few.  I have new ideas for our very own cake lady for upcoming special occasions now!

A Literary Christmas: Bookish Gingerbread Houses

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

The First Phone Call From Heaven
Author:  Mitch Albom
Published: November 2013
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Genre:  General Fiction
Edition: Advanced Readers' Copy
Pages:  336 (hardcover edition)
Source:  I received a complimentary copy from the publisher and TLC Book Tours to facilitate this review.  Receipt of same bears no influence over my opinion nor this review.

One autumn day, in a small town on Lake Michigan, the phones begin ringing. The people calling are all deceased. They talk about heaven. They say they are safe and happy. Each call is greeted differently—some with relief, some with love, some with religious zeal, some with fear.
On that same day, Sully Harding is released from jail for a crime he may not have committed. During his time behind bars, his wife, Giselle, passed away, leaving him a single father filled with heartbreak and regret. He returns to his hometown hoping to rebuild his life. Instead, he finds a community increasingly gripped by miracle fever. As the mysterious phone calls become more frequent, outsiders begin flocking from all over the world to be part of the blessing, changing the small town indelibly, and turning local citizens into worshipped heroes.
When his own son begins to carry a toy cell phone awaiting word from his mother, Sully has had enough. He sets out to prove that the phenomenon is a hoax. But is it? Or could this be the world’s greatest miracle? Do the calls give people hope, or do they imprison the receivers to a never-ending cycle of grief?
The story follows several residents whose lives have been irrevocably touched when they are confronted with evidence that heaven exists. This remarkable novel takes us on a journey both of individual healing and society’s response to the question of life after life.
Part mystery, part allegory, The First Phone Call from Heaven is a heart-racing page-turner and a soul-fulfilling tale of faith, hope and love.

My thoughts

What would you do if you received a phone call from a loved one who is deceased?  How would you feel and act?  Would you keep it a secret?  Would you believe it if you were told they were calling from Heaven?

A select few residents of Coldwater have received those phone calls.  Do they dare believe it to be true?  A sister calls her sister to let her know she is happy in Heaven.  A son calls his dad and then later his mother to let them know he is in Heaven and happy.  Another resident receives a call from a deceased former employee.  Hearing from a deceased person in this case is not reassuring, only stirring up the pain of the past.

A little boy carries around a toy phone hoping his mom will call him.  Strangers arrive and camp outside of town hoping to get that precious phone call, just to hear their loved one's voices one more time.  A resident is followed around town by a journalist and the news carries her story which goes viral.  

The message from the deceased is: tell everyone the good news.  Heaven exists and those who go there will find happiness.   What joy this message could bring.  What turmoil it also has the potential to bring.  One man, Sully, sets out to find the true source of the messages because he doesn't believe.  He sees the impact this announcement has made on the town but most of all on his young son who carries a toy phone, waiting for his mother to call him.  The pain of her passing becomes as fresh as it was when at first it happened and Sully cannot endure it.  He must prove the truth, one way or the other and in his efforts the reader becomes so caught up in the story that it passes too quickly.

The First Phone Call From Heaven will make you think about your own beliefs about death and heaven.  Albom doesn't preach, this is fiction after all, but he opens up the mind to possibilities. He sets the stage for conversation.  His novel makes you ask, what if?  That very question that becomes embedded in your mind keeps you turning the pages to find out what happens, what if it were true?  

The First Phone Call From Heaven is a great choice for a book club selection because it begs to be discussed and pondered.  The plot will remain in your minds long after that last page is turned.  If you open your mind and your heart to ponder, to question, to engage; then Albom has achieved a truly remarkable feat in offering a work of fiction that makes you ponder your very existence.  What if......?

"As happens with all miracles, once life goes on, those who believe
retell them with wonder.  Those who do not, do not." (Mitch Albom,
 The First Phone Call From Heaven.)

Meet the Author:

Mitch Albom is an internationally renowned and best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, radio and television broadcaster and musician. His books have collectively sold more than 35 million copies worldwide; have been published in forty-eight territories and in forty-four languages around the world; and have been made into Emmy Award-winning and critically-acclaimed television movies.
Find out more about Mitch at his website, connect with him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and sign up for his newsletter.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Color of Light by Helen Maryles Shankman

The Color of Light
Author:  Helen Maryles Shankman
Published:  October 2013
Publisher:  Stony Creek Press
Pages:  573 Advanced Readers Copy
Genre: fiction
A complimentary copy was provided by TLC book tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

NEW YORK CITY, 1992. At the American Academy of Classical Art, popular opinion has it that the school’s handsome and mysterious founder, Raphael Sinclair, is a vampire. It is a rumor Rafe does nothing to dispel.
Scholarship student Tessa Moss has long dreamed of the chance to study at Rafe’s Academy. But she is floundering amidst the ups and downs of a relationship with egotistical art star Lucian Swain.
Then, one of Tessa’s sketches catches Rafe’s attention: a drawing of a young woman in 1930s clothing who is covering the eyes of a child. The suitcase at her feet says Wizotsky. Sofia Wizotsky, the love of Rafe’s life, was lost during the Holocaust.
Or was she? Rafe suspects Tessa may be the key to discovering what really happened.
As Rafe finds excuses to interact with Tessa, they cannot deny their growing attraction to one another. It is an attraction forbidden by the Academy Board and disapproved of by anyone familiar with Rafe’s playboy reputation and Tessa’s softhearted innocence.
But Tessa senses the truth: despite his wealth, his women, and his townhouse filled with rare and beautiful treasures, Rafe is a haunted man…for reasons that have nothing to do with the rumors they whisper about him at school.
Intensely romantic and deeply moving, The Color of Light blends fact and fantasy in an unforgettable tale of art and passion, love and war, guilt and forgiveness, spanning the New York art scene, high-fashion magazine publishing, the glittering café society of pre-World War II Paris, and the evil stalking the back roads of Nazi-occupied Europe.

My thoughts:

This isn't Twilight's vampire story.  Not at all.  This is more how I envisioned vampires. Mysterious with mesmerizing eyes, regal carriage, handsome features, and charismatic.  Rafe (Raphael Sincair) is that suave charming protagonist and, yes, he is a vampire.  At times his appetite is cruel and deadly but his appetite for young Tessa is different.  He comes off as a bit of a playboy until Tessa touches that heart that may no longer beat but is still there.

Tessa, meanwhile, is in one of those one-way relationships with Lucien.  She works for him, practically saved his life even, and yet he disregards her, overlooking her for another.  Tessa is still infatuated with Lucien despite how he treats her, only minding when he feels he might lose her.  I cringed to see her still so set upon Lucien, despite everything, but she is young and naive. I've been there, young and naive.  I can see how her eyes may be clouded to what is happening before her and so I was grateful for the interventions of Rafe.

Rafe is drawn to Tessa.  She reminds him of his former love, a love that lived before he became the undead, and he can't shake the attraction regardless of it being inappropriate as he is the headmaster of the art school wherein Tessa studies the masters of art and the techniques they practiced.  

Ms. Shankman's love for the arts, including a tantalizing tango scene near the beginning of the book, is evident.  She infuses the story with her knowledge of art and technique and creates a genuine atmosphere within the old somewhat decrepit building that houses the school.  You can feel the draft, see the architectural details, hear the creak on the stairs.  Helen does a very good job enabling the reader to envision the school as if it were a character as important to the story as the main protagonists.

The characters come alive in the pages of The Color of Light making this book hard to put down. It gets a little wordy with descriptions as the author builds a background as a foundation for the present.  But that aside, The Color of Light practically breathes, sweeping the reader back to Rafe's past to a time of war  and anguishing separation, to a time of eternal change for Rafe. It's a kaleidoscope of events, of the bleakness in black and white and then color in love.  A metaphor.  It is in turns hauntingly beautiful, sad, and joyous.  And this is her debut novel.

Meet the author:

Originally, when Helen Maryles Shankman moved to New York, she thought she wanted to be an illustrator, to tell stories with paint.  A few years later, she discovered that what she really wanted to do was paint with words.
Her stories appear in The Kenyon Review, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Grift, Danse Macabre, and JewishFiction.net. She was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
For now she lives in New Jersey, with her husband, four kids, and a blue-eyed Australian Shepherd named Sky.
Her debut novel, The Color of Light, is coming from Stony Creek Press on Halloween, 2013.
Follow Helen on Twitter @hmshankman
Visit Helen’s blog at helenmarylesshankman.com.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Reckless Engineer by Jac Wright

The Reckless Engineer
Author:  Jac Wright
Published:  November 2013
Publisher:  Soul Mate Publishing
Pages:  340
Genre: Classic mystery, legal thriller
ISBN 9781619353213
Edition: e-book (PDF format)
Source:  A copy was sent directly to me by the author to facilitate an honest and unbiased review.

Jack Connor's lives an idyllic life by the Portsmouth seaside married to Caitlin McAllen, a stunning billionaire heiress, and working at his two jobs as the Head of Radar Engineering at Marine Electronics and as the Director of Engineering of McAllen BlackGold, his powerful father-in-law Douglas McAllen's company in extreme engineering in Oil & Gas.  He loves his two sons from his first marriage and is amicably divorced from his beautiful first wife Marianne Connor.  Their idyllic lives are shattered when the sexy and alluring Michelle Williams, with whom Jack is having a secret affair and who is pregnant with his child, is found dead and Jack is arrested on suspicion for the murder.

Jeremy Stone brings in London's top defence attorney, Harry Stavers, to handle his best friend's defence.  While Jack is charged and his murder trial proceeds in the Crown Court under Harry’s expert care, Jeremy runs a race against time to find the real killer and save his friend, if he is in fact innocent, in a lurid saga of love, desire, power, and ambition.

My Thoughts:

The Reckless Engineer is a relatively short novel as an e-book at 182 pages, but it is packed with drama beginning with a phone call to Jeremy from Jack Connor.  The two men had worked together previously in an engineer firm, with whom Jack is still employed, and had become friends.  Jack had Jeremy's back during a dark time and now he was requesting a return favour. Desperately seeking help after being arrested under suspicion for the murder of his pregnant mistress, Jack turned to Jeremy who hooked him up with a top defence attorney.  It doesn't end there for Jeremy though.  His curiosity finds him sleuthing the countryside in compromising situations in his efforts to clear his friend.  It's his path to discovery that keeps you turning the pages.

Jac Wright gathers together a group of possible suspects but you will likely not guess who did the deed and framed Jac.  That twist comes at the end and you realize Wright had dropped cleverly disguised hints all along.  I love to see that ability, especially in a new to me mystery author.

Engineering is not commonly found in mysteries.  You find writers, police officers, elderly spinsters, journalists with cats, and a myriad of others but never before have I come across engineers in this genre.  Jac Wright intends to change that with this series, of which The Reckless Engineer is the first.  He brings to the series his own personal knowledge as an engineer, expounding upon situations in his realm of experience thus introducing the mystery enthusiast to an entirely new and interesting facet to the genre.  If you're a mystery lover sleuthing out something new, check out Wright's series, engineered to reaffirm your love.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

WestJet Christmas Miracle: real-time giving

Excerpt From The Man in the Snow by Rory Clements

The Man in the Snow
Rory Clements
December 10, 2013
Witness Impulse
A Harper Collins Publishing Imprint
Electronic book text
$0.99 US / $0.99 Can. / 0,73 € EU
A riveting novella set in Elizabethan England-perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom and The Tudors.

Just a few days before Christmas, a reluctant John Shakespeare-brother of a rising playwright-answers a plea for help from Joshua Peace, Searcher of the Dead, but he has no idea the kind of menace he will face. A naked man has been found in a snowdrift, a wreath of holly crowning his head and a bullet in his back.

As all around him prepare for the festive season, Shakespeare must unravel a complex plot of passion and treachery and confront a cold-blooded murderer who will not hesitate to kill again.

*I thank Harper Collins Publishing, Witness Impulse, for the following excerpt provided for this special posting for The Man in the Snow by Rory Clements.

Even the best riders would not manage the hundred-mile highway to Stratford-upon-Avon in such conditions. A letter would have to suffice and the courier would have to deliver it as and when he could.
Sitting back from the table, he looked at what he had written: news of the girls, Mary and Grace, both thriving in health and their lessons. He was about to move on to his adopted son, Andrew, when there was a knock at the door and Boltfoot Cooper limped into the room, his club- foot scraping across the rush-matted boards.
‘Mr Peace is here to see you, master.’
Peace? A visit from Joshua Peace was a rare event indeed. Rare, but most welcome. ‘Bring him in, Boltfoot, and ask Jane to fetch us brandy, if you would.’
He put down his quill and rubbed the wet ink from his hands on the rag he kept at the side of the table as Boltfoot ushered Peace in.
‘Well met, Joshua. Are you hail?’ Shakespeare took his old friend’s icy hand, then embraced him, struck by how gaunt and ill at ease he appeared.
‘As well as any of God’s creatures in this bleakest of winters, John. I swear the cold would freeze a man’s very soul.’
‘Well, take brandy with me. You will find some warmth there.’
Peace managed a faint smile. ‘Brandy indeed. Yes, that is what a man needs. If not to warm him, then at least to numb the pain in the long, dark nights.’
‘So have you come to cheer me up, to drink and make merry? Are we to go wassailing?’
‘You make jest of me.’ Peace took off his ice-coated felt hat and ran his hand across the smooth peak of his pate. His hair was nothing but a rim around the edges, a pauper’s crown. ‘Forgive me. It is getting to me.’
‘Then I shall have to cheer you. Let us trudge through the snow to the Old Swan and sink into mellow oblivion together.’
‘No, John. I have no temper for the company of strangers. Let them carouse without me. Work and sleep are my lot this season.’
Shakespeare’s maidservant, Jane, appeared with a salver holding a flagon of brandy and two goblets. He poured two large measures of the spirit and handed one to Peace.
‘Then what has brought you here?’
‘I have care of a corpse that I wish you to look at. In truth I am at a loss as to what to do with it.’

‘Is there foul play?’
‘Most certainly. The man has been shot in the back.’ ‘Then it must be a matter for the justice and the sheriff.’ ‘They are not interested.’
‘The justice is not interested in murder? In God’s

name, why not?’
‘The victim is an Ethiop. They presume him to be

either slave or deckhand from some foreign vessel. No one cares enough to inquire into his death. Anyway, they are all too preoccupied with the prospect of feasting.’
Shakespeare wished he were surprised by the reac- tion, but nonetheless murder was murder, whoever the victim. ‘How did he come to be entrusted to you?’
‘The watch brought him to me. They had no idea what to do with the body and said they did not want to bury a heathen in hallowed ground.’
‘A shameful business.’
‘Indeed it is. One of those who brought him to me suggested he was shot escaping, another that he hadn’t paid some quent merchant for use of his whore. Either way, they said, he had got his deserts.’
‘Drink your brandy, Joshua, and we will see.’
The stone walls of the crypt beneath St Paul’s dripped with water. The cacophonous sounds of teeming com- merce above were muted here. This was where Joshua Peace worked alone as Searcher of the Dead.
Shakespeare was a tall man and his long hair hung about his face as he stared down at the mound on the trestle table. It was covered in a stained sheet that had once been white. Peace pulled back the covering to reveal the corpse, which lay face down, showing the wound.
Even in death, the skin had a wonderful, dark sheen, its beauty cruelly marred by a hole in the middle of the back, just beneath the delicate arc of the shoulder blades.
‘Could his death have been an accident?’ Shakespeare asked.
‘Look more closely, John. See the scorch marks around the entry wound. That tells me he was shot at close range. Most likely with a dag. This was murder.’
‘A dag?’ It was not that easy to get hold of a wheel-lock pistol. Such weapons were costly. Shakespeare sniffed the air. ‘How long has he been dead?’
‘You notice the absence of stench.’

‘Which must mean the death is recent.’
‘No, not in this case. The body was found beneath a

drift of snow, somewhere close to Bishopsgate, just outside the city wall. It had frozen solid. The bitter cold has delayed putrefaction. In truth, I cannot give you a time of death, except to say that it occurred some time in the past three weeks, since the snows came.’
Shakespeare reached forward and touched the skin. It was so luminous and bright, he half expected it to be warm, but it was as cold as ice.
‘It still hasn’t thawed through, John. It was brought to me this morning, rigid. The blood is frozen in the veins. Let me turn him over for you and show you his face.’
Peace put his practised arms beneath the slender body and turned it over.
Shakespeare took a step back in shock and then came closer again, to be sure. It was a face he had not seen in almost ten years, but he was certain. ‘His name is Giovanni Jesu. He attends upon the Earl of Oxford. Attended ...’ he trailed off.
‘You know him, John?’
‘I met him once when the earl was engaged as a com- missioner at the trial of the Scottish Queen.’ He had been struck even then by the man’s remarkable beauty.
‘What was he? Servant?’
‘Difficult to say precisely. I know there was a scan- dal. The earl brought him back from his tour of the great Italian cities. Siena or Padua, I believe. No, no, it was Venice. That is where Giovanni came from. He must have been a youth then, barely out of childhood. They arrived in 1577 and he was about twenty-two when I met him, so that would make him thirty-one or thereabouts now. I think the earl was captivated by his exquisite skin and his perfect features. If he saw something beautiful, he collected it. Giovanni was like a diamond or pearl to him. There were others, of course ...’
Joshua Peace nodded. ‘Yes, I have heard of them. But what are we to do about this man?’
‘At least we have a name now.’
‘But that does not tell us why he is dead nor who killed him.’
‘The motive is, perhaps, the least of our problems. We also have troublesome connections.’ Shakespeare grimaced at the thought. The Earl of Oxford was always trouble. Most difficult of all was his link to the Cecils. He had been ward to Lord Burghley, and had married his daughter. The history of the Earl of Oxford and the Cecil family was as strained as a galleon’s sheets in an easterly gale. Yet even more difficult was his history with the Queen. One moment he was her favourite, the next he was banished. Shakespeare began to sift the possible political complications through his mind, and did not like the dangers he perceived.
Peace said nothing but walked through to the adjoining room, returning with a trencher. There was a circle of holly on it.
‘What is that, Joshua?’
‘The watch told me it was around our corpse’s head, like a coronet.’
‘An emblem of martyrdom. Christ’s crown of thorns.’
‘The possibility had occurred to me. Though what it might signify in this case, I have no idea.’
‘What clothes was he wearing?’
‘Nothing else. The body was naked. He had, however, been clothed when he was killed, for I found a fragment of woollen cloth in the wound.’
‘Show me.’
Peace held out the trencher with the holly crown to Shakespeare. A jagged piece of cloth shone at the side of the platter. It was small and dark with dried blood, but there was enough to show that it was of high quality, with a cross-weave of gold thread.
‘Thank you, Joshua. I have no idea what is to be done about this, but I will put my mind to it.’
As Shakespeare hastened through the icy streets towards the river, he thought back to his only meet- ing with Giovanni Jesu. It had been in an anteroom at Fotheringhay back in the year 1586. Shakespeare had been taken off his intelligence work to help Walsingham prepare his case against Mary Queen of Scots. His job was to safeguard and organise the mass of secret docu- ments from the Babington conspiracy that would be used to prove Mary’s guilt and lead to her death. It had been a menial, unpleasant task and Shakespeare had wished himself anywhere else, but he had nonetheless been irritated to be interrupted by a stranger who entered the room without knocking ...
Shakespeare looked up from the endless documents. The man was a blackamoor. ‘I am afraid this room has been taken over as Sir Francis’s private office. Who do you want?’

‘Edward ... the Earl of Oxford.’
‘Well, he is clearly not here.’
‘Do you know how long the commission will last?’
‘It will be finished soon enough.’
‘And so will the Scots Queen, yes?’
Shakespeare had looked at him sternly, hoping he

would go away.
But the man made a comment about the impossibility

of having two queens in one country, then added in his fluent but accented English, ‘In truth, sir, it is like having two wives in one bedchamber or kitchen, a thing that is always likely to lead to death.’
Shakespeare found himself laughing. ‘It would be wise, sir, to refrain from any more jests about the Queen or her cousin, unless you wish to join Mary on the block.’

‘If a jester can’t make jests, then who can?’
‘Are you a jester?’
The young man had shrugged. ‘Jester, bedfellow, curiosity, dog. People have called me all those and more.’ ‘Then what are you?’

‘I am Giovanni Jesu, a man.’
‘And I am exceedingly busy, so I would be grateful if you would please leave me to my work.’

Jesu had grinned, bowed very low and retreated from the room. It had been the only time they met, but Shakespeare had never forgotten the encounter. He thought now of the cruel holly crown and the corpse on Joshua’s slab. How had this vital, witty man come to this? 

Author Rory Clements

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Reckless Engineer Excerpt and Note From the Author

The Reckless Engineer

Author:       Jac Wright
Published:  November 2013
Publisher:   Soul Mate Publishing
Pages:        340
Genre:        Classic Mystery, Legal Thriller
ISBN           978-1619353213

Can you forgive betrayal?
The aftershocks of an affair reverberate out to those in the lives of the lovers, who will  NOT take it lying down.

Jack Connor lives an idyllic life by the Portsmouth seaside married to Caitlin McAllen, a stunning billionaire heiress, and working at his two jobs as the Head of Radar Engineering of Marine Electronics and as the Director of Engineering of McAllen BlackGold, his powerful father-in-law's extreme engineering company in oil & gas. He loves his two sons from his first marriage and is amicably divorced from his beautiful first wife, Marianne Connor. Their delicately balanced lives are shattered when the alluring Michelle Williams, with whom Jack is having a secret affair, is found dead and Jack is arrested on suspicion for the murder.

Jeremy Stone brings in a top London defence attorney, Harry Stavers, to handle his best friend's defence.  While Jack is charged and his murder trial proceeds in the Crown Court under barrister Harry Stavers' expert care, Jeremy runs a race against time to find the real killer and save his friend's life, if he is in fact innocent, in a tense tale of love, friendship, power, and ambition. 



Saturday, October 16 – One Day Later

Despite the comfort and luxury all around him Jeremy was woken from a night of disturbed sleep by the sound of the dogs barking. It was 8:20 Saturday morning. There were voices downstairs in anxious chatter. His room (huh, he thought of this as his room now, did he?) was a first-floor en-suite with a bath. Actually it had a shared bathroom separating two twin rooms, but the second one had never been occupied whenever he had been here.

Jeremy washed his face quickly and hurried to the cupboard. Caitlin had laid out some clean clothes. He set his oversized laptop case, in which he carried a sleek laptop he had enhanced to pack in massive processing and memory power, so compact it hardly took any space, on the bed. Into the remaining space he generally packed various gadgets and electronics equipment he needed at client sites, including some “emergency” underwear and socks.

He pulled on a pair of black slacks and a blue Polo T-shirt from the cupboard. They must be Ronnie’s. Being slightly over 6 feet tall and having a wider frame, he did not fit so well into Jack’s clothes. He stepped out of his room and followed the voices downstairs.

One of the boys who worked in the stables and on the land, a brown lad in muddy Wellington boots, was talking animatedly to Caitlin, who was still in her dressing gown, in the kitchen.

‘There is police again at the front gate, sénora,’ he said with a heavy Spanish accent. ‘I put Molly and Max in the stables, ha?’

Caitlin and Jeremy hurried to the front reception with little Bubbles the puppy Lab running circles around them. There were two police cars at the gates.

‘If you could open the gates, Caitlin, I shall handle this,’ he said, thinking how lovely and vulnerable she looked with no makeup on and with tousled dark brown hair some length between short and medium. Something about a damsel-in-distress in silks stirred a man’s loins.

Jeremy went back to his room, splashed his face with icy cold water, and put on his shoes. He stepped out as the police cars pulled up outside the front door. 

From the Author

I wanted to create an engineering hero and a series centred around an engineering firm. The last hero in fiction who was an engineer was Barney in Mission Impossible (the TV series). There is Q in the Bond series, but he is an old and geeky supporting character working from a bunker. There are so many legal and medical dramas, but where are the dramas centred around engineering firms?  I want to bring an engineering drama to life treated for an audience not from the profession the same way that legal and medical dramas are.

The environment of an engineering firm in reality is just like in the book, so much so that this could be non-fiction but for the murder set in the middle of it.  The characters are very realistic. Jack Connor, for instance, is of a somewhat smaller physique, who seems to over-compensate for it by going after glamorous women. Women are somehow attracted to his brilliance and confidence at his work and well as the security and the respectability society assigns him because of his profession. Then there are people like Alan, Jack and Jeremy's boss at Marine Electronics, who make it to management positions because they have more people skills, are extrovert, and are better looking. Jeremy's character is still coming into its own and is in transition through the book and the series. He is emerging as a manager and a leader from the subordinate position he has been in so far. And then you have the super rich owners of these engineering businesses like the McAllens. There is also the occasional female engineer like Sally who is very introverted, outmanoeuvred at every opportunity by the much more glamorous and outgoing Michelle. These characters are a cross section of people you get in an engineering firm in reality.

One important reason I wanted to create a hero like Jeremy was to attract youngsters to the field.  I know that this particular story is not suited to a YA audience because it deals with infidelity. If I had a younger sister I wouldn't particularly want her rosy world clouded by such gritty (though realistic) subject matter; I would want her to read of gallant and loyal heroes only.  The future books in the series, however, will be very YA suited. I want young adults to know how entertaining, satisfying, powerful, and glamorous the engineering field is so that they will be attracted to the profession.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Excerpt From Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

I'd like to thank Harper Collins Publishing and the William Morrow division for this excerpt of the exciting second book in the Order of the Sanguine series by James Rollins. If you enjoy what you read, and I know you will, be sure to visit your local bookstore for a copy.

"In this riveting follow-up to The Blood Gospel, the first book in their thrilling and atmospheric Order of the Sanguine series, New York Times bestselling authors James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell deliver a riveting tale of international adventure, intrigue, suspense, and supernatural mystery involving a modern scientist, a highly secret eternal spiritual order, and a terrifying power who must join forces to bring down a ruthless and cunning enemy and prevent the Apocalypse."

AUTHOR SOCIAL MEDIAOfficial Author Website: JamesRollins.com
Official Author Facebook: /sigmaforce
Official Author Twitter: @jamesrollins

On Sale: 12/10/2013
  • Tr 9780061991066 $27.99 ($32.99)
  • 448 pages; 6 x 9
  • ISBN: 9780061991042


December 18, 9:58 a.m. PST Palo Alto, California
An edge of panic kept her tense.
As Dr. Erin Granger entered the lecture hall on the Stanford campus, she glanced across its breadth to make sure she was alone. She even crouched and searched under the empty seats, making certain no one was hiding there. She kept one hand on the Glock 19 in her ankle holster.
It was a beautiful winter morning, the sun hanging in a crisp, cloud-studded blue sky. With bright light streaming through the tall windows, she had little to fear from the dark creatures that haunted her nightmares.
Still, after all that had befallen her, she knew that her fellow man was just as capable of evil.
Straightening again, she reached the lectern in front of the classroom and let out a quiet sigh of relief. She knew her fears were illogical, but that didn’t stop her from checking that the hall was safe before her students trooped in. As annoying as college kids could be, she would fight to the death to keep each one of them from harm.
She wouldn’t fail a student again.
Erin’s fingers tightened on the scuffed leather satchel in her hand. She had to force her fingers to open and place her bag next to the lectern. With her gaze still roaming the room, she unbuckled the satchel and pulled out her notes for the lecture. Usually she memorized her presentations, but she had taken over this class for a professor on maternity leave. it was an interesting topic, and it kept her from dwelling on the events that had upended her life, starting with the loss of her two graduate students in Israel a couple of months before.
Heinrich and Amy.
The German student had died from injuries sustained following an earthquake. Amy’s death had come later, murdered because Erin had unwittingly sent forbidden information to her student, knowledge that had gotten the young woman killed.
She rubbed her palms, as if trying to wipe away that blood, that responsibility. The room seemed suddenly colder. It couldn’t have been more than fifty degrees outside and not much warmer in the classroom. Still, the shivers that swept through her as she prepared her papers had nothing to do with the room’s poor heating system.
Returned again to Stanford, she should have felt good to be home, wrapped in the familiar, in the daily routines of a semester winding toward Christmas break.
But she didn’t.
Because nothing was the same.
As she straightened and prepared this morning’s lecture notes, 
her students arrived in ones and twos, a few climbing down the stairs to the seats in front, but most hanging back and folding down the seats in the uppermost rows.
“Professor Granger?”
Erin glanced to her left and discovered a young man with five silver hoops along one eyebrow approaching her. The student wore a determined expression on his face as he stepped in front of her. He carried a camera with a long lens over one shoulder.
“Yes?” She didn’t bother to mask the irritation in her voice.
He placed a folded slip of paper atop the wooden lectern and slid it toward her.
Behind him, the other students in the room looked on, nonchalant, but they were unconvincing actors. She could tell they watched her, wondering what she would do. She didn’t need to open that slip of paper to know that it contained the young man’s phone number.
“i’m from the Stanford Daily.” He played with a hoop in his eyebrow. “i was hoping for one quick interview for the school newspaper?”
She pushed the slip of paper back toward him. “No, thank you.”
She had refused all interview requests since returning from Rome. She wouldn’t break her silence now, especially as everything she was allowed to say was a lie.
To hide the truth of the tragic events that had left her two students dead, a story had been put out that she had been trapped three days in the Israeli desert, entombed amid the rubble following an earthquake at Masada. According to that false account, she was discovered alive, along with an army sergeant named Jordan Stone and her sole surviving graduate student, Nate Highsmith.
She understood the necessity of a cover story to explain the time she had spent working for the Vatican, a subterfuge that was further supported by an elite few in the government who also knew the truth. The public wasn’t ready for stories of monsters in the night, of the dark underpinnings that supported the world at large.
Still, necessity or not, she had no intention of elaborating on those lies.
The student with the line of eyebrow rings persisted. “i’d let you review the story before I post it. If you don’t like every single bit, we can work with it until you do.”
“i respect your persistence and diligence, but it does not change my answer.” She gestured to the half-full auditorium. “Please, take your seat.”
He hesitated and seemed about to speak again.
She pulled herself up to her full height and fixed him with her sternest glare. She stood only five foot eight, and with her blond hair tied back in a casual ponytail, she didn’t strike as the most intimidating figure.
Still, it was all about the attitude.
Whatever he saw in her eyes drove him back to the gathering students, where he sank quickly into his seat, keeping his face down. With the matter settled, she tapped her sheaf of notes into a neat pile and drew the class to order. “Thank you all for coming to the final session of History 104: Stripping the divine from biblical History. Today we will discuss common misconceptions about a religious holiday that is almost upon us, namely Christmas.”
The bongs of laptops powering up replaced the once familiar sound of rustling paper as students prepared to take notes.

“What do we celebrate on December twenty-fifth?” She let her gaze play across the students—some pierced, a few tattooed, and several who looked hungover. “december twenty-fifth? Anyone? This one’s a gimme.”
A girl wearing a sweatshirt with an embroidered angel on the front raised her hand. “The birth of Christ?”
“That’s right. but when was Christ actually born?”
No one offered an answer.
She smiled, warming past her fears as she settled into her role as 
teacher. “That’s smart of you all to avoid that trap.” That earned a few chuckles. “The date of Christ’s birth is actually a matter of some dispute. Clement of Alexandria said . . .”
She continued her lecture. A year ago, she would have said that no one alive today knew the actual date of Christ’s birth. She couldn’t say that anymore, because as part of her adventures in Israel, Russia, and Rome, she had met someone who did know, someone who was alive when Christ was born. in that moment back then, she had realized how much of accepted history was wrong— either masked by ignorance or obscured by purposeful deceptions to hide darker truths.
As an archaeologist, one who sought the history hidden under sand and rock, such a revelation had left her unsettled, unmoored. After returning to the comfortable world of academia, she discovered that she could no longer give the simplest lecture without careful thought. Telling her students the truth, if not the whole truth, had become nearly impossible. every lecture felt like a lie.
How can I continue walking that line, lying to those I’m supposed to teach the truth?
Still, what choice did she have? After having that door briefly opened, revealing the hidden nature of the world, it had been shut just as soundly.
Not shut. Slammed in my face.
Cut off from those truths hidden behind that door, she was left on the outside, left to wonder what was real and what was false.
Finally, the lecture came to an end. She hurriedly wiped clean the whiteboard, as if trying to erase the falsehoods and half-truths found there. At least, it was over. She congratulated herself on making it through the final lecture of the year. All that was left now was to grade her last papers—then she would be free to face the challenge of Christmas break.
Across that stretch of open days, she pictured the blue eyes and hard planes of a rugged face, the full lips that smiled so easily, the smooth brow under a short fall of blond hair. it would be good to see Sergeant Jordan Stone again. it had been several weeks since she had last seen him in person—though they spoke often over the phone. She wasn’t sure where this relationship was going long term, but she wanted to be there to find out.
Of course, that meant picking out the perfect Christmas gift to express that sentiment. She smiled at that thought.
As she began to erase the last line from the whiteboard, ready to dismiss the students behind her, a cloud smothered the sun, cloak- ing the classroom in shadow. The eraser froze on the board. She felt momentarily dizzy, then found herself falling away into—
Absolute darkness.
Stone walls pressed her shoulders. She struggled to sit. Her head smashed against stone, and she fell back with a splash. Frantic hands searched a black world.
Stone all around—above, behind, on all sides. Not rough stone as if she were buried under a mountain. But smooth. Polished like glass. Along the top of the box was a design worked in silver. It scorched
her fingertips.
She gulped
, and wine filled her mouth. Enough to drown her. Wine?
A door at the rear of the hall slammed shut, yanking her back into the classroom. She stared at the eraser on the whiteboard, her fingers clutched tightly to it, her knuckles white.
How long have I stood here like this? In front of everyone.
She guessed no more than a few seconds. She’d had bouts like this before over the past few weeks, but never in front of anyone else. She’d dismissed them as post-traumatic stress and had hoped they would go away by themselves, but this last was the most vivid of them all.
She took a deep breath and turned to face her class. They seemed unconcerned, so she couldn’t have been out of it for too long. She must get this under control before something worse happened.
She looked toward the door that had slammed.
A welcome figure stood at the back of the hall. noting her atten
tion, Nate Highsmith lifted up a large envelope and waved it at her. He smiled apologetically, then headed down the classroom in cowboy boots, a hitch in his step a reminder of the torture he had endured last fall.
She tightened her lips. She should have protected him better. And Heinrich. And most especially Amy. If Erin hadn’t exposed the young woman to danger, she might still be alive today. Amy’s parents wouldn’t be spending their first Christmas without their daughter. They had never wanted Amy to be an archaeologist. It was Erin who finally convinced them to let her come along on the dig in Israel. As the senior field researcher, Erin had assured them their daughter would be safe.
in the end, she had been terribly, horribly wrong.
She tilted her boot to feel the reassuring bulge of the gun against her ankle. She wouldn’t get caught flat-footed again. no more innocents would die on her watch.
She cleared her throat and returned her attention to the class. “That wraps it up, folks. You’re all dismissed. enjoy your winter holidays.”
While the room emptied, she forced herself to stare out the window at the bright sky, trying to chase away the darkness left from her vision a moment ago.
Nate finally reached her as the class cleared out. “Professor.” He sounded worried. “I have a message for you.”
“What message?”
“Two of them, actually. The first one is from the Israeli government. They’ve finally released our data from the dig site in Caesarea.” 
“That’s terrific.” She tried to fuel her words with enthusiasm, but failed. if nothing else, Amy and Heinrich would get some credit for their last work, an epitaph for their short lives. “What’s the second
“It’s from Cardinal Bernard.”
Surprised, she faced Nate more fully. For weeks, she had 
attempted to reach the cardinal, the head of the order of Sanguines in Rome. She’d even considered flying to Italy and staking out his apartments in Vatican City.
“About time he returned my calls,” she muttered.
“He wanted you to phone him at once,” Nate said. “Sounded like an emergency.”
Erin sighed in exasperation. Bernard had ignored her for two months, but now he needed something from her. She had a thousand questions for him—concerns and thoughts that had built up over the past weeks since returning from Rome. She glanced to the white- board, eyeing the half-erased line. She had questions about those visions, too.
Were these episodes secondary to post traumatic stress? Was she reliving the times that she spent trapped under Masada?
But if so, why do I keep tasting wine?
She shook her head to clear it and pointed to his hand. “What’s in the envelope?”
“It’s addressed to you.” He handed it to her.
It weighed too much to contain just a letter. Erin scanned the return address.
Her fingers trembled slightly as she slit open the top with her pen.
Nate noted how her hand quivered and looked concerned. She knew he was talking to a counselor about his own PTSd. They were two wounded survivors with secrets that could not be fully spoken aloud.
Shaking the envelope, she slid out a single sheet of typewritten paper and an object about the size and shape of a quail’s egg. Her heart sank as she recognized the object.
Even Nate let out a small gasp and took a step back.
She didn’t have that luxury. She read the enclosed page quickly. it was from the Israeli security forces. They had determined that the enclosed artifact was no longer relevant to the closed investigation of their case, and they hoped that she would give it to its rightful owner.
She cradled the polished chunk of amber in her palm, as if it were the most precious object in the world. Under the dull fluorescent light, it looked like little more than a shiny brown rock, but it felt warmer to the touch. light reflected off its surface, and in the very center, a tiny dark feather hung motionless, preserved across thou- sands of years, a moment of time frozen forever in amber.
“Amy’s good luck charm,” Nate mumbled, swallowing hard. He had been there when Amy was murdered. He kept his eyes averted from the tiny egg of amber.
Erin placed a hand on nate’s elbow in sympathy. In fact, the talisman was more than Amy’s good luck charm. one day out at the dig, Amy had explained to Erin that she had found the amber on a beach as a little girl, and she’d been fascinated by the feather imprisoned inside, wondering where it had come from, picturing the wing from which it might have fallen. The amber captured her imagination as fully as it had the feather. It was what sparked Amy’s desire to study archaeology.
Erin gazed at the amber in her palm, knowing that this tiny object had led not only to Amy’s field of study—but also to her death.
Her fingers closed tightly over the smooth stone, squeezing her determination, making herself a promise.
Never again . . . 


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