“A cruise ship is the perfect target for a biological attack”
These are the chilling words emailed to the Seaborne Symphony in the mid-Atlantic.
Magazine editor Geneva Jones has been sent on the trans-Atlantic cruise to help secure a major advertising agreement from the CEO of the cruise line Rachel Atkinson, but her efforts to win her over are curtailed by a mysterious crew death. Geneva suspects foul play. Rachel insists its suicide. A former investigative journalist, Geneva can’t resist digging deeper, but what she finds is far more devastating. There’s an Ebola outbreak on the ship, everyone is trapped aboard and Rachel is trying to keep it secret.
Geneva knows enough about Ebola to be terrified, but she’s also onto the biggest story of her career. As panic surges through the ship, she becomes fixated on a single question. How was the virus brought aboard? The answer is worse than she could have imagined, and the greatest exposé she’ll ever get, if she can only prove it.
Aaron Atkinson is taking a cruise because his mom insisted that he come along. He doesn’t mind, of course. At least, he’s having fun until the storm hits and a waitress dies. They also rescue a stranded boat in the storm. Then the deaths on board start. Aaron can tell something is wrong, but he doesn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, reporter Geneva Jones is under pressure to both get the story and make the cruise line look good. She has the sense that she’s on to the story of her career, but is she being manipulated? Who can she trust?
The story is told from various POV, including Aaron Atkinson, adopted son of the CEO; a young housekeeper with a child; Geneva Jones, a reporter digging for the dirt; and the captain of the cruise ship. That lets the author tell the whole story, which would be impossible if you only followed one character. It made the book more suspenseful as I waited to see what would happen next.
I enjoyed this book, but I must say it didn’t make me any more anxious to take a cruise! The behind the scenes look at what went on, even when things went right, still made me realize how much the cruise industry exploits its workers. When things go wrong, it was truly horrifying. Normal food poisoning is enough of a trouble, but a real plague, with no way to get to safety – that’s the stuff of nightmares.
I had the chance to read this one for free in exchange for an honest review, but my opinions remain entirely my own.
This book is available for free from Kindle Unlimited right now or for purchase at the links below.
Today I have a guest post from historical fiction writer Karen Charlton. An English graduate and a former teacher, she now writes full-time and lives in a remote fishing village on the North East coast of England. She is a stalwart of the village pub quiz and her team once won the BBC quiz show ‘Eggheads.’ Her other claim to fame is that she won a Yorkshire Tourist Board award for writing Murder Mystery Weekends. Her series featuring Inspector Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods are available through Amazon here. Her books are available on audio, in print, and on Kindle Unlimited.
My Detective Lavender Mysteries, published by Thomas & Mercer, are the fictional adventures of Stephen Lavender, who was a real-life Principal Officer with the Bow Street Police Office in London.
By the early 19th century, Principal Officers had a variety of different and important roles although they were still nicknamed ‘Bow Street Runners’ as if they were messenger boys. Apart from supporting their colleagues solve crime in the capital, they were often sent out to help magistrates in the provinces with difficult cases. They also took part in undercover work in periods of insurrection, for example, during the Luddite riots in the Midlands and were available for hire by wealthy landowners.
They were Britain’s earliest private detectives and they were famous throughout London. The exploits of Stephen Lavender in particular filled many column inches in The Times. He was a Regency celebrity.
They were the only policemen allowed into Buckingham House (the forerunner of the palace) and did security work for the Bank of England. On some occasions, they were even sent abroad to help with crimes and criminals who had spilled out over our borders onto the continent.
Unlike modern crime fighters, the Bow Street officers usually worked alone. However, successful crime fiction novels normally have a pair of heroes – or heroines – resolving the mysteries. So, I decided to change history and gave Lavender a side-kick, Constable Ned Woods, in keeping with this modern literary convention. Woods brings down-to-earth humour and kindness to the novels and is a great foil to Lavender’s slightly-introverted, bookish intelligence. Many readers tell me he is their favourite character.
I frequently find records of Lavender’s cases in the newspapers and often use them as the basis for the plots of my novels. For example, the third book in the series, The Sculthorpe Murder, is based around one of Lavender’s most famous cases which was extensively reported. In 1818, a gang of thugs burst into the home of an elderly man called William Sculthorpe who lived in rural Northamptonshire. They viciously attacked and robbed the eighty-seven-year-old and his son.
The newspapers are always vague about how Lavender actually solved his cases. They tend to be rather gory publications and prefer to dwell more on the horror; the size of the pool of blood and ‘the large quantity of clotted blood that had settled in the victim’s mouth.’ This lack of detail about the police procedure of the time gives me plenty of opportunity to flex my imagination and use artistic license. This is how I prefer to work. I take the bare bones of a real case and then make up the rest. My latest mystery, Plague Pits & River Bones (to be published: 11th January 2018) is a mixture of one of Lavender’s real cases and several other fictional sub-plots.
Inevitably, other real characters do occasionally appear in my books. These have ranged from William, Duke of Clarence and his mistress, the famous actress, Dorothy Jordan; to the artist, William Turner, other Bow Street officers and a range of British Politicians. However, Magdalena, Lavender’s spirited and exotic love-interest, is a figment of my imagination.
My favourite part of writing is usually the first 50,000 words. I tend to think about my books for over a year and when I start writing the words flow over the page with the smoothness of silk. By the time I’m at 50,000 words, it usually gets more difficult. I’ve often got three or four sub-plots running at the same time and dozens of loose ends to tie-up. At this point, I usually take a little break. I hate the cold, dark British winters and last year I flew south to the sunshine of the Canary Islands for a month to finish Plague Pits and River Bones.
But I normally spend this ‘break’ time pottering around my beloved garden, or reading a historical fiction novel by another author (my favourite genre.) Then I come back to my desk refreshed, and race towards the dramatic conclusion. The best two words when writing a novel are always: ‘The End.’
But it’s usually not long before the voices of Lavender and Woods are clamouring in my head, demanding another outing.
I’m very excited to offer you another author interview. This time I’m featuring the author of the historical drama, Forgotten Reflections. Young-Im Lee lives in South Korea and this is her first book. I really enjoyed it and I’m so happy to speak with her.
Young-Im Lee was born in Mokpo, South Korea and relocated to Manila, Philippines at the age of one where she grew up in an international setting. She graduated with a BA in English Language and Literature from Seoul National University and an MA in English Literary Studies from the University of York (UK). She currently resides in Seoul, South Korea.
DARE TO DREAM IN THE MIDST OF WAR.
1945. Rice fields seem endless in a quaint farming village of South Korea, yet Iseul and the villagers have been on the verge of starvation for as long as they can remember; the last of their Japanese colonizers have taken every last grain with them. In the newly independent Korea, Iseul dreams of what her future might bring. Yet, war is on the horizon, and the boy she has fallen for is an alleged North Korean communist spy.
Amidst war, Jung-Soo and Iseul embark on a comic journey of self-discovery across the mountainous peninsula, as they are aided by the occasional appearances of long forgotten legendary figures. Music helps them pass the time, as does the radio and the crafty carpentry skills of Iseul who would eventually make history with her handcrafted hanji paper. Unexpected friendships are forged, love burgeons and betrayal taints their elusive dreams.
What research did you do for your book?
Researching for this book seemed to have no end. I visited one of the many museums here in Seoul and found that much of the relevant information could be found online. I tried to channel this feeling of being overwhelmed into the book where we see Jia, the granddaughter, feeling quite helpless in her own search for the truth of her grandmother’s past. After watching a few more documentaries about the Korean War, I did what I could to focus on letters and accounts of day-to-day occurrences in the lives of the soldiers coming from such a multi-national background.
In particular, I found an account of a Korean woman who remembered how grateful she felt as a young girl when the war had broken out. She explained how, for the first time, people focused on men dying, instead of her being a disgrace for having been born a daughter. As shocking as this statement was, it was somewhat understandable considering the status of women at the time. From this interview, the character “Mi-Jung” came into focus who can be found sharing the same sentiment as this woman from the interview since Mi-Jung is born as a daughter to a single mom who was pitied for having a daughter instead of a son.
As for the events/plot that transpires in the story, I was particularly taken by the battle of Chosin Reservoir where UN troops were surrounded by over 120,000 Chinese troops who were hiding in the mountains before mounting an attack in a strategic location that trapped UN forces in the Northern Territory. A task force was created to rescue those trapped, though so few survived that those who did were later nicknamed “The Chosin Few.”
While my story is not located in Chosin, I was inspired by this battle that highlighted the mountainous landscape of the Korean Peninsula, the international scale of this war and the heroism displayed by those who risked their lives to save those trapped in by the mountains.
This is a really long, detailed book. How long did it take you to write? Can you describe your writing process?
Yes, it is certainly long! I had been living with my grandmother when the idea first struck and that was over two years ago! While I had written a rough screenplay of this story soon after, I eventually abandoned the project for over a year before finally returning to it, this time opting to write the story in the novel form instead. It took eight months of full-time writing to complete this project.
Writing the screenplay first was helpful since it made me focus on scenes that pushed the plot forward. It made transcribing the story into the novel form somewhat easier, although it took a while to seamlessly integrate the thoughts of each character into prose. I had a notebook dedicated to scribbling my way towards a novel. It was certainly non-linear and possibly the most round-about way of writing, but it somehow resulted in a novel. Honestly, I don’t think I remember it being a “process” at all.
Is this your first book you wrote? What are you working on right now?
Yes, this is my first book. I am currently doing research on post-colonial orientalism. I am grateful for this novel since it inspired a new academic topic of interest. I would love to continue writing fiction, but at the moment, I have been consumed with my research and a part-time job (I teach English here in Korea, which was one major inspiration for the character, Jia).
Part of your book centers around an elderly woman suffering from dementia. Do you have any experience with relatives in nursing homes?
While living with my grandmother, I had visited her sister in the hospice center who was also suffering from some form of dementia. Likewise, my late grandfather showed symptoms while I was living with my grandparents. It was certainly an eye-opening experience and one that was quite scary. Nursing homes have become quite common in Korea and I think I am at that age where I see my parents, aunts, and uncles seriously consider the possibilities of how best to care for our grandparents.
Iseul lives in a tiny village. Her granddaughter lives in a big town. Which one more closely relates to your experience? What are the advantages to where you grew up?
Contrary to what many readers may think, my background is quite far removed from that of Jia’s (the granddaughter). I did not strictly grow up in a city, nor did I grow up in Korea. I actually grew up in a somewhat suburban area in Manila, Philippines which was a cross between a big city and a smaller city. When I first moved to Seoul, I was both enthralled and overwhelmed. At eighteen, I was also living alone in the dormitory with my parents in a different country, which made Seoul seem even more vast. But during the course of my studies in Seoul, I moved to some of the rural areas of Korea for months at a time and found the contrast so shocking! Likewise, my grandfather lives in one of the smallest villages in Mokpo which had always been uncomfortable, to say the least! The toilet was outside and a truck would come and empty it only once a week or so. The house would reek of hay and manure from the barn that was attached to the living space. I was quite shocked to know that people still lived in old-fashioned hanok houses. It was only through research into the tradition of hanok homes was I able to appreciate the structure and utility of these homes that adapted so well to the bitter cold winters and hot summers.
Iseul’s granddaughter faces a lot of pressure about her education. What’s the difference between the American education system and the Korean one?
I grew up in the American-adapted international education system. I had always known about the so-called “horrors” of the Korean education system growing up, but it was never something I experienced first-hand. I now live vicariously through my students who are under the same pressure, and it makes my heart break. On the other hand, what I also see is the resilience of children, though honestly, I don’t think Korean students can imagine it any other way. It is a sobering thought and one that made me want to write about fostering the imagination in students. How else would things change if people can’t imagine a different future?
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? What writers do you admire?
Between my job teaching English and doing research, I feel like the day goes by so quickly!
Honestly, I love knitting! It does take up a lot of time so I’m trying to limit myself J I also enjoy playing the guitar and taking a long stroll around my neighborhood/ nearby Gwanak mountain. I’ve recently joined a writer’s group and it has been so nice to finally meet other aspiring authors.
If I had to pick a few of my favorite novels, it would be Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” Towle’s “A Gentleman in Moscow,” Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” and Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
If a reader wants to keep in touch with what you’re working on, where’s the best place to keep up with your work?
I currently have a facebook page and a website where I post a few blogs every once in a while, including upcoming writing projects and updates about this book. You can reach me through both of these channels.
What are your plans this weekend? I’m looking forward to some more sewing time. I’ve been going through my Netflix queue and watching some pretty good stuff. I discovered a new Amazon series, Medieval Deaths, which is like Historic CSI.
I’ve also been watching Rosewood, but I can’t decide if I like it. The main character is kind of a know it all, and I really want to smack both him and his partner detective. I like the secondary characters though. Crossing Jordan is the opposite – all about the MC, secondary characters not really engaging at all. But I’m not very far into either series.
I do like the Father Brown series. Have you read the books by GK Chesterton? Mostly short stories, and in this case, I think the TV show is better than the books, but the books are free through Kindle Unlimited.
I’ve also been sewing a lot. I have a denim quilt I’ve been working on while I watch TV or listen to my audiobook and it’s close to being done. Then I have another quilt top done and I just need the batting and the backing. It’s a camping/woods quilt.
Here’s my list of what I’m currently reading:
Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens
American Colonies: The Settling of North America (audio)
Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, and Kate Bishop, aka Hawkeye, team up in a series of adventures. The first stories are mainly about Clint, while the last story is mainly about Kate with the Young Avengers. The art was good, but the stories weren’t anything special. The exception was the last story about Clint and Kate. That one I really liked. This is part of the Marvel Now! series, which I have generally enjoyed and is available free through Kindle Unlimited.
I’d whispered the entire thing. Every detail that fit into words. It sounded so much more civilized when I whispered it, when I turned down the volume of the fear and disgust. But horrible things whispered are still horrible.
Jennifer’s family is turned upside down when she discovers a photograph of a young girl – a girl who looks surprisingly like Jennifer. The trouble – the picture is 20 years old. Her mom has lied about her past. She’s not an only child. She has a sister. Jennifer wants to meet this aunt, get to know her, but her mother wants Jennifer to leave it alone. After some negotiations, Jennifer heads to Maine to discover her family’s past and along the way, discover herself.
I heard a little about this YA book, enough to add it to my list and then forget about it. But when I found it free on Kindle Unlimited, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA. Most of what I read is fantasy, so this was a change of pace for me, but it turned out to be a good one.
The story kind of struck home for me. My mom also had a sister she didn’t talk about. Her sister wasn’t a secret or anything, but it was still a big shock when this woman called from out of the blue saying, “Hi, I’m your aunt.” I already had an aunt, and I knew this woman was not her. I guess I experienced this story from the other side.
Our relationship was still distant and things didn’t turn out quite the way they did for Jennifer, but I still felt it was worth getting to know something about this stranger who was my relative. Now my mom and my aunt have both passed away and I can only guess at what their relationship used to be.
I recommend this one to anyone who likes contemporary YA. There is some romance, but that wasn’t what stuck with me about the book. What I liked was the main character herself and her journey to figure out who she was and where she belonged. 3.5 stars/5
Today I have something special – my first interview with an actual author! I’m pretty excited! Shenanigans over at Reads and Reels organized this book promotion, but I actually got to read the book and ask the author a few questions.
The book is about Brennan, a middle-aged guy whose life has been turned upside down when his wife and daughter are killed in an accident. He’s ready to hole up in his house and surrender to the grief, but thanks to his friends, he agrees to go on a road trip, just the guys and his beloved dog, Fender.
It was a change of pace for me, to read a book from a squarely male perspective. The only female characters in here are presented in flashbacks or as bit characters. I could really feel the difference in the way the book worked, but I enjoyed the difference.
I’ve traveled by car a lot in my life, driving to visit relatives, moving, family vacations – so I could really imagine that part of the book. There’s something magical about the open road. It really does feel liberating.
From bad checks to bathroom graffiti, Brent Jones has always been drawn to writing. He won a national creative writing competition at the age of fourteen, although he can’t recall what the story was about. Seventeen years later, he gave up his freelance career as a social media manager to pursue creative writing full-time. Fender and The Fifteenth of June are his first two novels.
Interview Q & A
1. What inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned in the afterword, my wife and I took a cross-country road trip with our dogs back in 2015. I recently published a blog post with photos and the itinerary from that trip. It was a life-changing experience traveling across America by car, and the road trip in Fender largely follows the same path we took.
I’m sometimes asked why I write contemporary fiction—literary fiction, as some call it. How come I don’t write about vampires or killer robots or contact with Martians? The answer is pretty simple. I think truth is strange enough without needing to invent alternate worlds. And when I come up with ideas for stories, I usually try to take two or more seemingly unrelated real life experiences and find a way to mash them together.
I started with the road trip idea and blended it with experiences I’ve had with my dog, Gibson, who much like the beagle protagonist in my book, is named after a guitar. Gibson has helped me through some difficult times, and I started wondering if there was a way I could combine the two ideas of a vehicular adventure and the comfort of a canine friend.
Both aspects of the story were worth telling, I thought. And so I worked backwards—what circumstances would need to transpire to bring together the therapeutic love a dog with a cross-country road trip? And that’s how Fender was born.
2. Where did you get the idea for Brennan and his close friendship with the guys? Is that based on real life?
I wish it were based on real life. I can’t say I have any close friends from childhood. For that matter, I’m a bit of an introverted loner as an adult. But there is something to being able to connect with people you share a history with. There’s an instant bond there, especially if those shared experiences include elements of overcoming adversity together. For two people to abandon their families and leave town for several weeks just to help out a friend, I figured they must share some pretty deep roots. And I felt that a shared experience of childhood poverty and neglect would be a powerful enough reason to forge such a bond.
3. Fender the dog is central to the story. Tell us a story about your dogs.
Fender, the dog, is largely based off Gibson, who is a pug mix and five-and-a-half years old. But the dog who usually gives us the most stories is Stirling, our four-year-old lab mix. It’s becoming a running (albeit unfunny) joke that whenever we travel with Stirling, we need to map out all the nearby emergency vet clinics.
When driving through California, Stirling got into something at a dog park and ended up ill for the rest of our road trip. He couldn’t hold down water or food after that. Last year we rented a waterfront property for two weeks in Nova Scotia, and Stirling decided to make friends with a porcupine. He needed several quills removed from his face in the middle of the night, and the closest vet was an hour away by car.
He’s a good boy—he comes to see me every morning for a hug! I’ll be sitting at my desk and he’ll walk up beside me, place a paw on my leg, wait for me to turn, then stand upright and wrap both his front paws around my neck. It’s just part of our routine and it happens just like clockwork. He’s a lot more work than Gibson, but he can be a lot more affectionate, too.
4. I loved the author’s note about the road trips you took before writing this book. Is there anywhere you’d like to visit that you haven’t been yet?
There are many places in the world I still hope to visit one day. But for the sake of staying consistent with road trips and the themes in Fender, I’m going to pick a location in the United States. My wife is originally from Atlanta, and we’ve made several drives there from Fort Erie. We recently drove to Washington, DC for a wedding and Miami, Florida for a funeral. Between us, we’ve been just about every state, and we’ve logged an absurd number of hours on the road. But there is one state I’ve always wanted to visit and neither of us have been, and that’s Tennessee. I’d love to drive out to Nashville or Memphis—or both!—for a few days to check out the local music scene and tour the Gibson guitar factory. We’ve driven through parts of the state, but have never stopped.
I’m assuming that when you read #4 up there, you know I’m going to comment on the rest of the series up until now, right? Just checking.
Do you like dragons? Do you like the idea of dragons living among humans in today’s world? Then you should check out these books by Rachel Aaron. The series starts with Nice Dragons Finish Last. Main character Julius is, as you might guess, a nice dragon, which makes him a liability in his clan. His mother decides to get rid of him. Lucky for Julius, he meets an aspiring mage named Marci. Unluckily, she’s in trouble with the mob about then. It’s a fun series. I really liked the first book, but I feel like the author is losing her steam a little bit here.
This one starts immediately after #3, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. In that one LAST SPOILER ALERT! I’M SERIOUS! Marci has died, Julius took control of the Heartstrikers clan away from his ruthless mother, and most of the clan has dispersed to their own lairs.
That’s when the Chinese dragons show up. They want to take over the clan. Julius is not happy – he didn’t work as hard as he did to set up a dragon council just to give control to some outsider – but unless he comes up with a plan fast that’s exactly what he’ll have to do. Fortunately, Julius can always come up with a plan.
My biggest complaint in this one was that there was so much talking! So much discussion, over and over and over, about how we’re all in terrible danger unless we do something fast. So let’s talk about it for another 2-3 pages before we do anything, right? How about no. How about you cut to the chase and do something! I still really like Julius as a character, but we hardly got to see him be awesome at all. And why have a book about dragons if they’re not going to be awesome all over the place?
If these do sound like fun, they are available from Amazon through Kindle Unlimited for free. You should definitely start with book 1 though. It really was fun.
Title: The Treasure at Poldarrow Point (Angela Marchmont, #3)
Author: Clara Benson
After solving two cases in close succession, Angela Marchmont is struck with a nasty case of pneumonia. Her doctor has ordered a rest cure at the sea side, so she’s headed to Cornwall. She’s barely unpacked when her impulsive goddaughter has shown up and discovered a local story of buried treasure.
Naturally, young Barbara has decided that would be the perfect project for their summer holiday. Angela is reluctant at first, but she gets caught up in the lives of the local residents. There’s a sweet old lady and her nephew, a quarrelsome married couple, an odd scientist, and an attractive Scotland Yard detective all involved in the events nearby.
The lighthearted treasure hunt takes a deadly turn when someone takes a shot at Angela and Barbara goes missing.
This one was my favorite in the series so far. The others were rather predictable, but not in a terrible way. This one I was actually caught off guard more than once. I thought I had it figured it out, but there were several surprises in there. I have already downloaded the next one in this series. If you like the British mysteries, this series is so much fun.
Looking for a mystery along the lines of Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion? These might just be right up your alley. They have the fun of the Lady Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn.
Our sleuth is Angela Marchmont, a charming divorcee who has a bit of a past with British espionage, although this is disappointingly vague. The first book involves the murder of a wealthy gentleman during a house party, just when his wife’s former beau has returned to England from making his fortune in Africa. The second book is about a mysterious family curse that’s wiping out the members of the Haynes family once per year and the family reunion has struck again. Angela is on the scene, with a little obliging help from Scotland Yard, but I found it much too obvious who the culprit was in each case.
These are the kind of comforting reads that I gravitate towards when I need something soothing and light, something where it all works out in the end and my brain doesn’t have to work too hard. It’s the literary equivalent of chicken soup and crackers, or a nice bowl of ice cream. Maybe that’s not fair, but sometimes that’s just what I want. These are available through Kindle Unlimited too, so they’re worth trying.