Saturday, May 21, 2011

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

Queen of Kings: The Immortal Story of Cleopatra. Maria Dahvana Headley. May 2011. Dutton: A Member of Penguin Group U.S.A. Inc. 416 pp. hb. ISBN #: 9780525952176.

"Everything is true. Once a story is told, it becomes true. Every unlikely tale, every tale of wonders, has something real at its core." This quote in the "Historical Note" section after the novel serves to properly introduce an amazing, wondrous tale. For when one begins this novel about the famous Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, one is not expecting this story of love and war conducted on human, mythological, and supernatural multi-levels. The love of Antony and Cleopatra is well-known, but the devastation that follows Rome's defeat of Egypt sets loose days and nights of terror that will make the reader shiver many, many times in the following pages.

For Octavius, the Roman leader, sends a messenger to Cleopatra, telling her that Antony has committed suicide. Cleopatra does not discover the truth until much later, as she is busy creating an incomplete spell in which she attempts to invoke the powers of Sekhmet. Her goal is to defeat Roman power but what she unleashes are the powers of death, destruction, chaos, plague, and every form of evil one could possibly conceive. It's as if Pandora's box has opened to unleash the fury of darkness and chaos upon every corner of the world.

Cleopatra becomes Sekhmet's furious tool of evil, fueled by the blood of her hapless victims of both high and low birth. But the neatness of this story becomes even more complex when the powers of the mythological underworld,a priestess, sorceress, historian, serpents, gods, and goddesses take sides in a war between Cleopatra and those who support Octavius. Plague, war, thefts, battles, vicious murders, and ritual sacrifices fill these pages with a story that defies imagination yet seems all too real and horrific!

Maria Dahvana Headley has written a timeless, literate, and wonder-filled story that is an absolute must read. The list of sources and historical references after the story are quite impressive and provide a long list of material to be read for those who are as gripped by this story as this reviewer was and is. Superb story that was obviously fueled by the creative Muses - don't miss this gem!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Interview with Daphna Ziman - Author of The Gray Zone


1. Q: Daphna, can you tell readers what provoked and continues to feed your passion for the cause of foster children and child abuse? What do you want readers to do with the awareness created by reading this novel?
A: I wrote this novel to create awareness of the resilience of foster kids who will either turn to crime or be reeducated and receive therapy to become useful, productive, whole members of society. I also want the readers to become aware of the problem of trafficking of children for abusive reasons that is still occurring through America. Money fuels the mistreatment, neglect, and abuse of children. Money, on the other hand, can fuel legislation, therapy, treatment, and mentoring to turn these children’s worlds around in many ways, with so many positive results. That is why all of the proceeds from this novel are going to the organization of Children Uniting Nations. (
This organization creates group and mentoring centers for foster children. It begins with providing backpacks, school supplies, and clothing for foster children. One thing that happens with neglected foster children is the fact that they are looked down on by other kids. When they receive these supplies that other children may take for granted, these foster children begin to have a sense that they are on the same playing field as other children, which begins to create a sense of self-esteem with peers. The next and most important work of this organization is education. I helped to push forward legislation that school must be a constant for foster children. Concerned adults and college students can become mentors – academic or otherwise. A university student could serve in this role while in college, after being trained in neurobiology. Change in thinking changes how the brain acts and reacts of life’s ups and downs. This training teaches how neglect and abuse creates cognitive issues and causes emotional, problematic issues; but it also teaches mentors how their therapeutic work retrains the brain. After consistent mentoring, these children begin to feel supported – someone is now there, a protective shield against more mistreatment and a forceful space to explore different opportunities that are life-giving in the sense of emotional, mental, and physical wholeness. Second, these children learn they can communicate with mentors and teachers, moving through fear of failure to ask questions and share their worlds so that they don’t eventually drop out of school for the wrong reasons.

2. Q: While we admire the intelligence and steeliness of Kelly, there is also a criminal element in the working out of her payback plan. Can you talk about how you see those skills Kelly portrays, which could be turned either way, to survival or crime?
A: Kelly’s character is the personification of many peoples’ characteristics. The lack of education, as well as the physical and emotional abuse, causes trauma to the vortex of the brain which actually suppresses cognitive abilities. Unknown to teachers, such children learn by auditory means – they listen for signals – and are initially unable to process visual learning. Without educational skills, they cannot excel in the world, so they develop street smarts for survival. If you think they have alternatives, they really don’t. Yet they do have a sense of morality, so bringing down the perpetrators doesn’t strike them as wrong due to the horrific wrong that has been done to them in the midst of a supposedly moral society that denies them a moral justice, the right of every single child. That is why Kelly, representative of single mothers who have evolved from an abusive world, uses her innate, incredible brain abilities in the “gray zone,” the foster child’s sense of true morality and justice.

3. Q: You talk about how a young mother can fight the entire justice system for the sake of her children? What kind of reform do you see happening which is mandatory in the American justice system to guarantee the safeguarding of our young children and teens?
A: 126 legislations have so far been passed for these children and issues, initiated, supported and followed by well-known politicians who share my passion for practically addressing these problems. They include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Congresswoman Karen Bass of Los Angeles, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Congressman Joseph Crowley of NY, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Diane Feinstein of California. An example of this legislation includes serving breakfast to these children in the first period of a school day because foster children frequently come late to school. If they don’t eat, they don’t learn well. Legislation has also been passed lowering the emancipation age so these children can be removed or leave these potentially devastating situations earlier. Legislation has also involved forgiving academic tuition for students who agree to mentor abused children. On July 28, 2011 a panel entitled “Keeping the Promise to our Children,” will address the issues in this novel about human trafficking and rape.
The public needs to support this legislation - call your local, state, and national politicians. Don’t wait for someone else to do it; be proactive and know you have made a substantial difference to specific children living in this world on a day-to-day basis. These issues are important to our country because 78.8% of criminals come out of the child welfare system; we need to change this statistic. Crime is committed on us. Make people aware of legislation so people can actively take part – get others to buy this book. This money will fund an educational therapist in one school; we are presently in 13 schools and going into 21 schools in the fall of this year. 99% of most American students stay in school; only 5% of those who don’t get help will go to college. Education, therapy and other significant help give these precious children a chance.

4. Q Can private foster-mentoring programs like Children Uniting Nations affect typical foster children agencies and institutions?
A: Yes, absolutely. We have created a coalition – ICAN – to create best practices guidelines. This is a policy committee where the head of every foster and orphanage institution has contact with ICAN. Every child has the right to a family – we also promote adoption and will shortly be holding an Adoption Day in LA.
I recently was speaking with an 8 year old foster child who had been returned to an orphanage. After a while, she asked me, “Will you always be my caregiver?” As my heart broke while listening, I responded, “I’m not your caregiver. I’m your friend.” She responded, “They’re not paying you to be with me?” What child should have to speak such words?

5. Q: Tell the readers, please, more about your mentoring foster children work.
A: Mentoring occurs on so many levels. It may involve academic tutoring, taking a child out to do something pleasurable. I once asked a group of foster children, “Who has never had a birthday party?” Every hand in the room went up. Hard to believe, isn’t it? It is for me, yet this is reality. So we might get some birthday gifts and have some celebrities give them to the children at a party. This isn’t public pandering; this is a “special” moment for these children, changing patterns of neglect and diminished sense of identity with one small but oh so special day. It might be chatting about nothing or upon establishment of trust sharing painful realities in each child’s world. The possibilities are limitless.

6. Q: What are Kelly and Jake’s weakest and strongest personality characteristics? Which are pivotal to you in portraying the “real life” aspects of their situation that would help a reader’s awareness of the issues depicted in this novel?
A: The question first must be addressed by considering situations, not personality characteristics. For example: What are the most important five aspects of life you treasure?
Q: Family, health, education, faith, and shelter.
A: Okay, give up one.
Q: All right. Education.
A: Well, a foster child who has no education must live by street smarts, and so it goes with the other four. They have to give up all five they day they are given as foster children to a family. The cumulative result is impulsive anger without training – we give them emotional training, teaching, and treatment, so they don’t do horrific things. That’s why we hired Dr. Vicky Stevens, a renowned expert in neurobiology, who has worked with 60 former foster kids who are now interns because of this program. Solid, real results!

7. Q: Since 1940s stars are part of the protagonist’s performances, disguises, and methods of being what she needs to be, how can we educate our children about the difference between fact and fiction – acting versus reality, admiring sexiness while realizing the appropriate and inappropriate use of such skills - after all, these actors and actresses are whom our children look to as models. The average reader may not have a problem with sex at all, but this is a problem that leads to so much abuse of children and teens. Could you please share your thoughts and feelings regarding this subject?
A: I recognized that if I used modern-day stars, I was actually condoning some of the things that are right now impacting our children. Romantic impact back then lacked today’s sensationalism causing present problems. We don’t really fully understand the development of the brain, and so what shapes our children’s minds should be in the forefront of our awareness. The Gray Zone is the world behind closed doors. We get kids adrenaline shot up, stimulate them, and then say their reactions are wrong. Consciousness here needs to transfer to parental responsibility out of this awareness.

8. Q: Since your protagonist lives a plot where all turns out well, what do you know about the all too many situations of abuse that remain undetected? And what is being done in a preventative way? I mean no offense here, but Social Services Agencies in most cities and suburban towns really are only partially effective for far too many of our young children and teens? How can the public be more proactive in this area?
A: The confidentiality part of the law, FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, protects and yet harms all our kids in protective custody. This is why abuse is not exposed; but now after fighting for seven years, Assemblyman Mike Feuer of California, may see this law changed so that those files will be open and we will be able to check on these kids in protective custody. Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA), as well as Former California Governor Grey Davis and First Lady Davis, have been instrumental in support for this necessary change.

Q: You've hit a home run with this debut novel. Anything else in the works we can look forward to reading or seeing?
A: I am writing my next book right now. It’s called The Final Punch.

Visit the author’s website at

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The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland

The King’s Witch. Cecelia Holland. Berkley Penguin Group Books. June 2011. 320 pp. ISBN #: 9780425241301.

Picture a female doctor whose identity is unknown and therefore mysterious to all in this year of 1191. Spanning various cities between Europe and Jerusalem, this novel depicts the various Kings vying for control and power in the Crusade to defeat Arabs presently holding Jerusalem. Edythe is a secret Jew by birth but has no connection to that religion as Jews are anathema in Christian circles during this part of the 12th Century. She is known as the King’s witch because of her effective medical skills, displaying amazingly in various descriptions such as actually doing some head surgery, no mean feat in this time and place. Most notably, she manages to keep King Richard the Lionhearted alive throughout his bouts of a life-threatening illness. That is the only background to the respect she receives, and for that reason alone she remains free to come and go at her own pleasure and is not subject to the bawdy acts of men away from home on a brutal campaign journey.

Meet King Richard, a man who makes a vow to capture Jerusalem but cannot force his peers to stand with him to finish the job after Acre and Jaffa are successfully taken in formidable battles. Then we encounter Rouquin, a sidekick officer of Richard’s army, who possesses a secret about his own background that binds Richard to him beyond that of a King and servant. The plot thickens with the introduction of various characters all connected to Joanna, Richard’s sister, but using her to achieve their own military and religious designs. These characters the King of Jerusalem who lost his kingdom, as well as the representatives of France, Germany, etc. The notorious Knights of the Templare are also present in a rather vibrant but devious way. One character Richard particularly yearns to meet for a physical reason that is totally anathema in that day and age. Church and State are no friends in this race for power and victory!

Those who know history know Richard was unsuccessful in his Crusade quest, but Cecelia Holland tells such a riveting story that we forget what we know and find ourselves rooting for this dedicated leader striving to accomplish what he perceives as a holy war free of rivalry and defeat. Edythe and Rouquin finally dare to rebel and come to a peace about who they are – a process and subplot just as complex and fascinating as the story about the King.

Although the names and places appear initially complex, the reader will quickly be entranced by this totally beguiling, historical though general, and passionate story that does this author credit. The King's Witch is a fine beginning to the Heirs of Eleanor of Aquitaine series. Nicely done, Ms. Holland!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fire on Dark Water by Wendy K. Perriman

Fire on Dark Water. Wendy K. Perriman. Berkley Trade Paperback Original. June 2011. 326 pp. ISBN #: 9780425241012.

Blackbeard the Pirate’s notorious deeds are famously portrayed in books and movies. Here, however, we learn about this adventurer through the voice of his thirteenth wife, known as Lolamura, Lola, London Lola, The Gypsy, or just plain Doxy. Deflowered at the age of ten in 1702, Lola spends the next ten years learning the art of begging, pick-pocketing, etc. in London, England because she cannot return to her gypsy family in her impure state. After being caught stealing, Lola is sentenced to being transported to America for seven years.

Lola’s journey to the New World is dangerous, tempestuous, and exhilarating. Then her adventures with her employers in the South range educate her about social status, medicine, and a slew of outrageous conflicts life-threatening for all involved. Lola inadvertently winds up abetting horrific events from which she must escape, next to the West India island of Nassau, this time with a hooker friend, Violet.

Here the action noticeably picks up as they meet with a surprising former acquaintance, all eventually vying for men with means. “Perhaps it’s the raw excitement of loving so close to the edge, that point where the dare fires the blood with thrill…Anyhow – the higher the rank the better the plunder – as all potential queens are well aware.”

And finally Lola meets Captain Edward Teach, the notorious Blackbeard, “the charmer (charismatic, seductive, learned and cultured…” and Blackbeard the pirate (cruel, brittle rapacious, and evil…”. Lola weds him, and the following pages recount in detail his various victories and his eventual downfall. Fire on Dark Water is a fascinating, riveting, cruel and sometimes kind tale of a notorious thief and his multi-talented, lustful, and savvy but temporary, thirteenth wife.

Trace of Fever by Lori Foster

Trace of Fever. Lori Foster. Harlequin Books. June 2011. 400 pp.; pb. ISBN #: 9780373775750.

Trace Rivers is playing the role of bodyguard and messenger for the slimy criminal, Murray Coburn. Murray’s wife wants to play with Trace but she’s got some very twisted ideas of how she wants to accomplish that meeting. However, her plans are stalled with the arrival of Priscilla or Priss Patterson, who claims to be Murray’s daughter. No one believes her at all, and even Trace isn’t sure why she’s finally shown up at 24 years of age, a nondescript owner of an adult store selling movies and toys.

Trace has totally fallen for Priss faster than one could imagine, but his feelings are accentuated by his growing sense that Murray is planning something deadly for her and perhaps even for him. Why, for instance, does he sense someone following them by car in more than one place? Priss is expecting everything, but feelings get complicated when she meets Trace’s friends, Dare, Molly, and Chris, a group that feels like a very real family. For this close group is breaking her hard core defenses forged by her own natural and dysfunctional family!

And then the big boys arrive. What is their goal? Can Trace hold them off or discover their extremely aggressive agenda? What about Murray who is taking Trace on a secret mission while his girlfriend is heading off to discover Priss’s real story. By this time, hot, steamy sex scenes are flying every which way among all parties, albeit with and without love flaming the hormones!

Needles, threats, revealed secrets, kidnapping and more fill the tension-riddled pages for the remainder of this part-horrific and part-healing story! Lori Foster has upped the ante on this second novel in the “Men Who Walk With Honor” series. Trace of Fever is an impressive work of romance fiction!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Interview with Lori Foster


When You Dare, May 2011 (Now on sale!)
Trace of Fever, June 2011 ● Savor the Danger, July 2011

Much of WHEN YOU DARE is set in Kentucky. What part? Why this setting? Does the area have special meaning for you? For your family?
I rarely specify a “real” area when writing books, because I find that too limiting. However, when I set stories in Kentucky, I’m usually thinking of Williamstown because that’s where I spent most of my summers growing up. Being on the lake, boating, skiing, swimming, sunning myself and just plain having a great time, are some of my best memories. My parents had a fishing cabin there—one bedroom, small but open space for eating and sitting—and I loved it. No air conditioning, no heat, but who cared? I learned to ski when I was six, and our routine was to put on our jammies for bed, and in the morning we changed back into bathing suits. Not much else was needed.
Being on a lake makes everything better—especially coffee in the morning. You stand on the deck and watch the fog rise off the lake, and peace just settles around you. It’s perfect.

Where have you lived? How long?
I’ve lived in Ohio all my life. My husband and I grew up here, went to school here, got jobs here, and now we’ve raised our sons here. Actually, though hubby and I didn’t meet until the 3rd day of our sophomore year of high school, we always lived near each other. I love Ohio, especially the suburbs with the small town vibe. I can’t imagine ever moving away from my family. We’re all pretty close—and I like it that way!

Did you enjoy school?
I was not a great student. That is, I got good grades, but never, ever enjoyed school. As an energetic daydreamer, it was an almost painful thing to have to sit still during class. When I hit high school and could pick most of my own classes, I had several writing courses like horror fiction, humor literature, and composition. And I went nuts on art class. Every study hall or free period was spent in the art room. I had an amazing art teacher– a wonderful artist and an eclectic teacher, which was perfect for me.

Have you had other jobs in addition to your writing?
I’ve worked as a cashier at Kroger where one of my jobs was also to clean the break room and bring in carts from the lot—through rain and snow and blistering heat. I worked on an assembly line at Procter & Gamble. I’ve also been a babysitter and house cleaner. In comparison, writing is a dream come true! Sure it’s difficult at times, and it really soaks up the hours, but always, with past jobs as a comparison, I feel so blessed to be able to do what I love, to share it with others, and to be compensated too!

Motherhood—you were able to stay home with your children. How important was it to be able to do that?
I’m one of those women who would have gone stark raving mad if I’d had to turn my kids over to someone else. I’m the supreme mother hen and a world-class worrier. When I think of what other mothers have gone through—many who didn’t have the same opportunity to stay home with their children—it breaks my heart and again, makes me feel so fortunate and blessed. When the kids were younger—before I’d ever published—my husband and I lived on a very tight budget to make it possible for me to be home, but I’ve never regretted that.

Do you ever “steal” attributes from your boys or your husband and give them to your characters? What, if anything, have your learned from living in a houseful of men that has helped you develop your male protagonists?
My kids are hilarious—they get that from their dad. They’re also very physical guys, athletic and protective and outspoken. Alphas for sure. So yes, I’ve often stolen lines, actions, or attitudes from them to use in books.
Living with all guys...well, our house drips testosterone, but it’s so fun! They’re forever amusing, and give me the perfect opportunity to witness “guyness” and to appreciate male traits for how they differ from mine.

The family you grew up with—do you have brothers, sisters? If so, are you close? Do they live nearby?
I have an assorted family—which maybe helps explain the less-typical families I write about. I have a sister, step-sister, and a half brother, but none of us thinks in those terms. My stepfather—who passed away recently—was my Dad in every sense of the word. I miss him terribly.
Hubby and I are all about keeping family together and close, so most of the family gatherings happen at our house. We get both sides of the family together as often as we can, which is usually four or five times a year. Depending on nieces and nephews, who has a date and who doesn’t, we can get upwards of 60 people at a time. And we love it! You can never have too much family.

What attributes do you share with Dare and Molly? Of course, Molly is a successful writer, so you have that in common. Anything else?
Molly actually came about because of some reader mail I’d gotten—threatening me. I know readers get very invested in stories, and I’m thrilled that they care so much. Occasionally they write me with their frustrations over something that didn’t go quite how they wanted it to, or because they want a character to have a book, but I don’t have a book for that character. That’s fine—I enjoy hearing from them. But threats? Well, I’ve had a few that crossed the line. That’s not the typical reader, and it can be worrisome.
After one particular threat, the idea for Molly and the elements of the storyline dealing with one of her readers as a suspect took shape in my mind.
I love hearing from readers, whether they liked a book or not. But, just like Molly, I think my privacy is important, too.

How did the first Reader & Author Get Together come about?
Dianne Castell and I wanted to do a “thank you” to the community of readers and writers, and we envisioned it as being very small. We thought if we got a dozen people, we’d be happy—but our first year, we got around 100 attendees.
From there, it’s grown like crazy! We love to visit with other readers and authors, and we know they enjoy it too, so we’ve worked hard to keep the laid-back, easy atmosphere of the event so that lots of chit chat is possible, while at the same time doing something really worthwhile—like donating our raffle money to great local charities and bringing in agents and editors so newer authors can pitch their work to them in person, and longtime readers can get questions answered.
By dipping into our own pockets, and thanks to donations from publishers and agencies, we’ve kept the price a very affordable $50. This year is our seventh Get Together here in the Cincinnati and Dayton metro area and it will benefit One Way Farm’s Children’s Home. Information is on my site and registration ends May 19th. If you’re reading this in time and want to attend, hurry! And Saturday’s big book signing is open to the public. Come by and see us!

What is your professional schedule moving forward?
Currently I’m hard at work on another single title, but ask me in a week or so and that answer could be different. 2011 has been wonderful so far with an anthology in March titled, The Guy Next Door, and then a new single title series out May, June and July—When Your Dare, Trace of Fever, and Savor the Danger, with some part of the hero’s name in each title. (P.S. There’s a bit of a link between The Guy Next Door and my three new novels. Although the books tie together by characters, each can be read alone.)
Also in June is another “benefit anthology,” which is a pet project of mine where proceeds from the anthology go to a local charity. In 2011 the anthology is The Promise of Love and, as do the proceeds from the Seventh Annual Reader & Author Get Together, it will benefit One Way Farm, a home for abused and abandoned children.

When You Dare by Lori Foster

When You Dare. Lori Foster. Harlequin Books. May 2011. 448 pp. pb. ISBN #: 978037377571.

Molly Alexander is in very, very bad shape. Kidnapped from her modest apartment in California, Molly has been drugged and tortured for nine agonizing days before she is rescued by Dare Macintosh. Something, he gradually realizes, is wrong as the other women in the room with Molly were mistreated but not physically manhandled on a regular basis. For now, Molly's constant reiteration of "I'm fine" belies the short and long-term effects of the horrific trauma she's endured.

As Dare and Molly begin to speak about her background and possible suspects, Dare's heart begins to quickly enfold this classy, intelligent lady on so many levels. She as well is struck with the physically hot presence of this man whose surprising tenderness and sensitivity only increase Molly attraction toward him. The tension is building and it's getting more than hot!

Much of the story is about the healing process to return Molly to some kind of daily functioning capability, although she clearly displays a formidably feisty spirit even after this terrorizing event. Who might have done it? Family? Ex-lover? Readers? For Molly is a romance writer who has ticked off her family as well as a host of faithful readers with her latest story focused on the subject of forgiveness.

The raw brutality of her living nightmare is more poignant as the mystery slowly begins to be emerge of the motives and intentions of the guilty, totally unexpected, incredible party. Appearances are not always what they seem for sure!

When You Dare is a passionate, exhilarating, intense, intelligent, and endearing novel that romance fiction lovers will relish. A sequel will shortly follow very soon - stay tuned to this blog for more!