Monday, January 30, 2012

Guest Post and Giveaway: Jane Kindred’s ~ The Fallen Queen (ebook international)


Guest post and giveaway with Jane Kindred ~ The Fallen Queen (#1 of The House of Arkhangel’sk series).

Jane Kindred is here to enlighten us about angels in mythology (including our current header which contain cupids), and about the world building in The Fallen Queen. The novel is the first in a planned trilogy that contains the winged beings as its main characters, and is a high romantic fantasy with some erotic aspects. This creates a terrific read to enjoy during the “love season” – Spring time and Valentine’s day.

Best yet is that we have on offer - up for giveaway is one ebook copy for an international winner!

Thank you Jane for sharing your insight around angels, and how you built the complex world in your latest novel. It’s a pleasure and welcome!

Angelology and World Building

Thanks for having me today on Layers of Thought. First, I have to say, I love your seasonal banner. The Birth of Venus is a gorgeous painting. An interesting note about the cupids is the similarity between those in secular paintings (called putti, or in this case amorifallen-queenni) and the images of Cherubim in religious paintings. (I only know this because one of my favorite authors, Lynn Flewelling, blogged about putti last Valentine’s Day and I had to look it up. I’m an obsessive Googler and Wikipedia addict, and end up researching anything and everything just because it’s there.)

I had always wondered why Cherubim were depicted as babies in classical paintings, since their description in the Bible is so imposing: fierce, fiery creatures that simultaneously have the face of a man, a lion, an eagle, and an ox. When I was planning The House of Arkhangel’sk series, I researched angelology and the classical heavens because I wanted to take these concepts and give them my own fantasy twist. While the Cherubim don’t make an appearance in my series until Book Two: The Midnight Court, the other two orders of angels in their choir, the Seraphim and Ophanim, feature prominently in The Fallen Queen.

I had a lot of fun creating my own angelic hierarchy, particularly with this choir of angels, which I call firespirits. In traditional angelology, there are nine orders of angels, grouped into three “choirs.” In the Arkhangel’sk world, I added a fourth choir so that I could assign one of the classical elements—earth, air, fire, and water—to each choir. The main reason for this was to give my angelic and demonic characters specific powers based on their elements, but the most fun part of that was creating their wings. I decided only firespirits could have wings in Heaven, and I would make my firespirits “pure elementals” who were made of living fire, with towering wings of flame. Out of the three of them, I especially enjoyed coming up with the physical appearance of the Ophanim, because these are angels most people haven’t heard of. I gave them a colder, whiter fire than the other two orders, with an electric quality that makes their touch and the sound of their voices excruciating. Because of the nature of the fire elementals, they were ideal as the law enforcers and bounty hunters of Heaven.

My heroine, Anazakia, is a waterspirit, and when she falls to the world of Man, she discovers her wings for the first time when she tries to drown herself in despair after her family is murdered. Water is her element, and she releases her wings reflexively, not even knowing at first what’s holding her up above the Neva River until she looks up to see the translucent liquid wings over her head. The demon Belphagor soon follows with his own airspirit wings—those were harder to describe. How do you have wings of air when you’re in the air? I decided his were nearly transparent, but visible because of a swirling spectrum of dark color like you might see in an oil slick. And though my demon firespirit Vasily isn’t a full-blooded elemental like the Cherubim, Seraphim, and Ophanim, he does get a chance to spread his wings of ruby-colored flame when he’s in the world of Man.

The other purpose of my angelic hierarchy was to echo the class system of tsarist Russia. In my world, rather than being creatures from Hell, the demons are the peasant class of the Heavens, while the angels are the ruling nobility. The classical Seven Heavens also work well as a setting for this political dynamic, serving as a sort of empire where each Heaven is a separate princedom subject to the tsar-like Principality of the Firmament. The Russian Empire was actually much vaster than my Heavens, but seven is traditional—and a lot more manageable. You only get to see one of these princedoms in The Fallen Queen, but the others become much more important in the rest of the series.

World building can be a delicate balancing act, trying to decide how much detail you need to convey your world to your readers without overwhelming them—much like this blog post. ;) But with such a rich field of literature and mythology to draw from, I had a blast researching these books, and even more fun writing them.

Thank you Jane for such an intriguing post!

Bio:  Jane Kindred began writing fantasy at age 12 in the wayback of a Plymouth Fury—which, as far as she recalls, never killed anyone…who didn’t have it coming. She spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. Although she was repeatedly urged to learn a marketable skill, she received a B.A. in Creative Writing anyway from the University of Arizona.

She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.  You can find Jane on Twitter: @JaneKindred; on Facebook:; or on her website:

The Fallen Queen; December 2011; Entangled Publishing – Here is the blurb:

Heaven can go to hell. 

Until her cousin slaughtered the supernal family, Anazakia’s father ruled the Heavens, governing noble Host and Fallen peasants alike. Now Anazakia is the last grand duchess of the House of Arkhangel’sk, and all she wants is to stay alive.

Hunted by Seraph assassins, Anazakia flees Heaven with two Fallen thieves—fire demon Vasily and air demon Belphagor, each with their own nefarious agenda—who hide her in the world of Man. The line between vice and virtue soon blurs, and when Belphagor is imprisoned, the unexpected passion of Vasily warms her through the Russian winter.

Heaven seems a distant dream, but when Anazakia learns the truth behind the celestial coup, she will have to return to fight for the throne—even if it means saving the man who murdered everyone she loved.


We have one ebook available internationally! You do not need to be a follower to win this book, all you have to do is fill out the Google form below. Please note that there are erotic elements within this story, so please be over 18.

If you are viewing this via email – the form may not appear. So link on by to enter the contest. Good luck!

Also we want to let all our readers and friends know we are traveling again for the week. Posting will be at standstill, so will twitter, but we have some interesting stuff coming up when we return.

Have a five star week!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Our Man in the Dark ~ by Rashad Harrison

our man in the dark

Review by John for: Our Man in the Dark ~ by Rashad Harrison

Set during the mid-1960s, a dark historical fiction novel centered around the FBI’s attempts to infiltrate the civil rights movement and to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

About:  John Estem is a bookkeeper in Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Physically crippled by polio and mentally crippled by his harsh, domineering father, Estem has grown into a complex character – despite being smart he always feels underappreciated and overlooked, and consequently he has developed an aloof, superior attitude. He’s desperate to make a good impression in the SCLC, but is kept firmly in his place by his boss, who is part of the “inner circle”. He is even more desperate to make a good impression on his lifelong sweetheart, but she continues to rebuff him in favor of a seedy nightclub owner and gangster.

When the opportunity presents itself, Estem embezzles a large amount of money from the SCLC, supposedly with the intention of funding a new civil rights initiative in the Chicago area. But in no time at all, he has spent most of the money on clothes, a new car and women, trying to prove to the world that he is someone of substance. He then gets reeled in by two FBI agents, on a mission from J. Edgar Hoover to infiltrate the SCLC. By convincing him that their goal is to root out communist activities and influences, they are able to persuade Estem to secretly work on their behalf - but it soon becomes clear that their real objective is something more destructive. Meanwhile Estem also becomes beholden to the violent nightclub owner and starts secretly working for him too.

Despite having multiple bosses exploiting his ego and his weaknesses, Estem tries to figure out how to come out ahead, while also helping to protect Dr. King from his many enemies and from those who want to maintain the status quo. This is not easy – the revered Dr. King is all too human and has his own weaknesses that threaten his moral leadership.

John’s Thoughts:  This is an interesting, clever and well-written story. While it is a work of fiction, it is apparently based on a strong foundation of facts, some of which are only recently coming to light. It certainly feels true to its time and setting, and I came away feeling I had a much better understanding of some of the circumstances and events of that era.

The story that Harrison weaves is indeed a dark one – the book’s cover labels it “noir” and that certainly fits the bill. Despite being based around one of the leading moral lights of the twentieth century, the story is full of cynicism, corruption, exploitation, damaged people and twisted deeds. It seems like all of the main characters are flawed and are using other people to get what they want. But one of the strongest things about the book is the characters. They are richly developed, interesting, conflicted and believable. Not very nice mind you, but believable.

Somewhat ironically for me, while the complex characters are a highlight of the book, the fact that Estem is so flawed did detract from my enjoyment of the read – I wanted to root for him but he kept on disappointing me with his actions and thoughts. It’s difficult to empathize with someone you don’t like or respect. To an extent the same thing applied to Dr. King. Do not expect to see a squeaky clean picture of a saintly and heroic figure. Noir indeed. This one is not for readers who are looking for escapism or idealism.

The book is well-paced, engrossing, and an easy read. It has a strong plot and plenty of suspense to keep the reader enthralled. I’d rate it 3.5 stars – it would have been 4 but for some aspects of the ending that left me a little puzzled, feeling liked I’d missed something. I’d thoroughly recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction or is particularly interested in the cultural and political upheavals of the 1960s.


This book review is part of a blog tour. Our host’s logo, on the right, links to the book’s designated page at TLC Book Tours. For your convenience and other reviews for Our Man in the Dark link to three below:

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Giveaway: Martyrs and Monsters ~ by Robert Dunbar


Giveaway: Martyrs & Monsters ~ by Robert Dunbar

We have one “real” copy for a US address, offered graciously by the author. It is a collection of tales of horror for intelligent adults; and are also tastefully written GLBT stories.

Martyrs & Monsters runs the gamut, embracing vampires and sea serpents, werewolves and swamp creatures . . . as well as a host of nightmares for which no names exist. Whether set on an orbiting space station or within a haunted tenement, these terrifying tales are steeped in a passionate intensity that renders them all but unique. 288 pages; Uninvited Books (2011)

What is being said about the collection from “those in the know”: 

"The master of quiet horror returns with a superior collection of short stories. Carefully cadenced phrasing ... imbued with a trademark Southern Gothic sensibility and hauntingly sensual imagery ... touches a primordial fear center. Unnervingly erotic ... this is what horror does best."  ~ HellNotes

"A masterpiece." ~ Dark Scribe Magazine

"Brilliantly chilling ... searingly erotic." ~ The Edge

"Substantial amounts of panache and poetic insight."  ~ Cemetery Dance Magazine

"Provocative ... vivid and visceral."  ~ GUD Magazine

"Never less than brilliant."  ~ The Black Abyss

"A milestone of modern horror."  ~ The Black Glove

Now for the Giveaway:

You do not need to be a follower to enter, but please do the following: 



Robert Dunbar is a writer, editor, and playwright. He has written for radio, television and theater and is the author of The Pines, The Shore, Martyrs & Monsters, and Willy.

He has achieved extraordinary levels of critical acclaim; he has penned articles for numerous and diverse publications; his mainstream fiction and his poetry have appeared in literary journals; and his plays have been produced in regional theatres. He has also scripted programs for public television and the Discovery Channel and is a frequent lecturer at colleges and literary societies.

But most importantly he is amazingly funny and in his spare time he likes to imagine himself as a professional ice skater, or possibly a trainer of tarantulas for jungle pictures. Find out more about him at his website and blog; Goodreads (his group there ~ Literary Horror); Twitter; and Facebook.

For an insightful interview with Robert Dunbar, and more about his other books please see our post from 2011.

I reviewed Robert’s book WILLY in 2011 (text links to Shellie’s review). It also made our 2011 best of the year list (links to the list).

Good luck!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our Best of the Year ~ 2011

our best 2011

It’s our best of the year ~ for 2011. Yep, this list is a bit later than planned, but we had the pleasure of reading some intriguing and engaging books this past year.

So here is our list of “sparklers” for 2011. We have included the covers, our “review overviews”, and each book cover links to our full post for the book, so that you can read our extended thoughts - if so desired. Please enjoy, since it is our hope that you may find a few favorites of your own here.

Our Very Top of the List:



John’s choice: The Windup Girl ~ by Paolo Bacigalupi

Wonderful and highly imaginative, it’s a dystopian novel set in a world-gone-wrong that is both crazy and disturbingly believable. All wrapped up into a complex and many-layered story, this book was a delight to read.  



Shellie’s choice: Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 ~ edited by Kevin J. Anderson        

An incredible collection of short stories, novelettes, one novella,  poetry and more -representing the best in the science fiction and fantasy field published in 2009. All chosen by peers from the SFWA –Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.




Shellie’s choice:  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (in audio) ~ by Susanna Clarke;  read by Simon Prebble

There is a reason why some novels win multiple awards; this historical fantasy is one example of a book that deserves all the accolades it has received. An incredible tome which is a grand meandering adventure into the historical, magical, and darkly hilarious. It is a perfect read for fall.


Horror | Thriller | Mystery: the-revisionist_thumb10

John’s choice: The Revisionists ~ by Thomas Mullen 

An excellent and thought-provoking science fiction thriller, featuring an agent from the future who is sent back in time to ensure that cataclysmic world events are allowed to happen. His perfect future depends on near-apocalypse for today’s world.



Shellie’s choice: Willy ~ by Robert Dunbar

A disturbing and poignant coming of age story with elements of suspense and psychological terror which verges on the paranormal.



Non-Fiction | Journalistic:



John’s choice: Life ~ by Keith Richards

A fascinating, entertaining and surprisingly detailed biography of Keith Richards – the heart of the Rolling Stones.




Shellie’s choice: The Psychopath Test ~ by Jon Ronson (arc)

A darkly hilarious, and almost unbelievable journalistic journey into how “madness”  is defined, recognized, and treated within western culture and the mental heath industry.



Historical Fiction:The Killer Angels - Shaara_thumb[10]


John’s choice: The Killer Angels ~ by Michael Shaara

An excellent historical fiction novel about the greatest battle of the American Civil War, told from the perspective of several of the main protagonists.  




Shellie’s choice:  Possession ~ by A.S. Byatt  (in audio, performed by Virginia Leishman)

A multilayered award winning tale of interwoven romances. Set in two different centuries and connected ingeniously through letters and journals. It has elements which include faeries, myth, poetry, science, feminism, lgbt, and Victoriana.


General Fiction:mr-chartwell1_thumb2 


John’s choice: Mr. Chartwell ~ by Rebecca Hunt (ARC edition)

A wonderfully original and entertaining debut novel that pits Winston Churchill and a humble librarian against a most unusual common enemy.



Shellie’s choice: The Inverted Forest ~ by John Dalton

A perfect summer novel for those looking for something with a bit more depth in their reading. This novel has an idyllic summer camp setting in the Ozark Mountains, where an unexpected tragedy is set in motion through a series of complicated events. It is a heart wrenching and insightful story that has a diverse and unusual set of characters.


Classics: time machine_thumb


John’s choice: The Time Machine ~ by H. G. Wells (1895)

An old science fiction classic that still lives up to its reputation; a delightful read and a trend-setter that was published 100 years before anyone ever dreamt up “steampunk”.



Shellie’s choice: Wuthering Heights ~ by Emily Brontë

A classic masterpiece that is an incredible work of horrific and tragic fiction. It is a shocking “page turner” that I could not put  down.


Translations: final-image---the-map-of-time_thumb2


John’s choice: The Map of Time ~ by Felix J. Palma

A complex multi-layered historical fantasy that weaves real characters with fictitious ones in a story about time travel and the effects of changing history – with H. G. Wells as the central character.



Shellie’s choice: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine ~ by Alina Bronsky  (translator Tim Mohr)  

A dark modern fable translated from German. It is a literary novel that is tragic and blackly humorous, told by a narrator who is definitely misguided and “unreliable”.



Other links of related interest:

We are looking forward to our best reads for 2012. It’s always exciting since you never know which books we will uncover (no pun intended).

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: Kafka on the Shore (audio) ~ by Haruki Murakami

kafka on the shore

Review by Shellie for: Kafka on the Shore (audio) ~ by Haruki Murakami (read by Sean Barrett, Oliver Le Sueur and more).

A complex, fantastical novel with philosophical musings and literary tropes discussed throughout. Translated to English from Japanese, it is a novel that has the distinct feel of its country’s setting.

About:  There are a a number of story lines in this complex and layered story, with the two primary ones based around Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata. The story starts with fifteen year old Kafka in the process of running away from his home in Tokyo, perhaps due to his emotionally unavailable father or to find his mother and adopted sister, who left when Kafka was little. As a usual sort of intelligent teen with some unusual attributes (he has an imaginary boy named crow who advises him on various issues), he takes his “road trip” to escape.

Then there is Mr. Nakata, a lovely “simple” older man who cannot read but can amazingly speak to cats (and boy are the cats amusing and well done). He has a “Zen” like characteristic to his attitude and also to his speaking quality in the audio version. Although the two men never actually meet, they move inside the story with their own personal quests overlapping frequently - with the intricate connections becoming clear as the story progresses.

Thoughts:   Kafka on the Shore has a variety of  themes which may intrigue potential readers, as they did me. Some of these are - cats; World War II; philosophical musings; discussions around literature; the use and discussion of literary tropes such as metaphor, allegory and more; and the arts, including music. Murakami addresses gender and feminism in an indirect way. He has also woven in Asian spiritual themes such enlightenment and rebirth, and some interesting imagery regarding body fluids. The strongest thread in the story is its connection with the mythical story of Oedipus, that creates an unusual twist within the book. For a bit about this myth, here is a short definition:

As a Freudian psychological metaphor describing son–father psychosexual competition for possession of mother, the Oedipus complex derives from the 5th-century BC Greek mythological character Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his father, Laius, and marries his mother… (via Wikipedia)

It’s interesting that several of Murakami’s major themes for Kafka on the Shore are metaphor and the myth of Oedipus, and that this shocking complex is also considered a metaphor in its definition above.

I felt that the readers’ voices for the characters where done very well, giving life to the various and well developed characters. I liked that so many of the themes stimulated an intellectual side for me and that better yet I learned a few things. However, I had a conflict – there were too many sexual references and scenes, some were too detailed. Indeed the end of the novel became more about our main protagonist Kafka’s sexual desires and experiences than anything else. Otherwise a very worthy read and well done in this audio version. I give this intriguing audio book 4 stars; more if the sex had been a bit more subtle.

Publication information:  Naxos AudioBooks; May 2006; First published in Sept 2002; Unabridged; read by Sean Barrett, Gordon Griffin, Daniel Philpott, Bob Rollett, Oliver Le Sueur, and Georgina Sutton; 19 hours, 6 minutes. Audio Awards: Best Audiobooks-AudioFile; 10 Best Books of 2005-New York Times; Literary Awards: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2006), PEN Translation Prize (2006).

Haruki Marukami is Japan’s leading literary novelist, who developed a cult reputation with his novel turned movie, recently released in the UK - Norwegian Wood. For an interview see Book Browse’s write up on Haruki Murakami. (Book Browse is one of my favorite sites to go to find information on books, authors and reviews.)

This book was read/listened to in 2011 and will be included in several challenges: The Basics and Haruki Marukami Challenge 2011.

Catching up here slowly, more “read in 2011” reviews coming up. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day ~ by Ben Loory

Stories for Nightime

Review by Shellie for:  Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day ~ by Ben Loory

An intriguing book of very short literary stories with mostly horrific speculative twists. It has an unusual insight and quirkiness with unique and thought-provoking stories, and some that will leave you with a smirk.

This is author Ben Loory’s first book of odd tales, yet he has published many in literary magazines over the past several years. His new collection feels like modern and bizarre fables - a book for those looking for something a bit out of the ordinary.

The stories range from downright silly and funny to completely strange, while others will make your heart ache and more than a few may prevent you from sleeping. The stories in the book contain themes ranging from talking octopi who live on land rather than water and live like humans, to monsters of various kinds and much more. Definitely an adult book with some mature themes and not recommended for youngsters; it’s a book for “kids at heart”.

I read the book in it’s ARC/ebook format, but I have seen the paperback copy at our local indie book store. It is small, thin and easy to handle or to carry with you. Perhaps pick it up and read when there is a extra few minutes to fill, maybe before bed, or any time where one is interested in a mind altering, or potentially guffaw inducing “quickie” – each story will only take a few minutes to read. I give this collection a 3.5 stars and just love the interesting cover with the orange tentacle, UFO and blue water back ground.

Bio:   Ben Loory was born in New Jersey and graduated from Harvard. He later attained his MFA from the American Film Institute and as a screenwriter. His fables and tales have appeared-or are upcoming-in such widely varied publications as The New Yorker, ESPN The Magazine, Space and Time and The Antioch Review. He lives in Los Angeles, in a house on top of a hill.;!/benloory

I picked this copy up for review at Net Galley. It will be included in the Basics Challenge – where I explore speculative fiction.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Header ~ since the season of love is descending upon us!


It’s Our New Seasonal Header ~ for Valentine’s Day!

Yep, it’s almost here - the heartfelt (or dreaded) Valentine’s day - and we have a new header to celebrate its seasonal return. I use any excuse to put up a new one!

It is a cropping of the gorgeous traditional oil painting, The Birth of Venus by William Adolphe Boughereau from 1879. Since Venus is the goddess of love and Cupid is her side kick, we thought it was a nice header even though it’s “fluffier” than our usual choices. I have added some lettering so that Layers of Thought is still recognizable, just in case you stop on by to make a comment.

We have a variety of things to celebrate for “love day” - a giveaway for a book called Lovesick (a thriller about what appears to be love gone wrong); a guest post from the author Spencer Seidel; and a review for a non-fiction book about love called All There Is by Dave Isay (which John’s mum gobbled up in a few short sittings.)

And who can guess what the blog fates will be delivering between now and then, so the count down begins for little hearts and arrows everywhere.

Have a good Wednesday.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: “The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” ~ by Kage Baker

the women of nell gymme's

“The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” ~ by Kage Baker

A steam punk novella which won a 2009 Nebula award. It has a bit of a satirical twist, where the women of this “special organization” help with the fight against evil in their special and socially unaccepted way.

About:  “The women of Nell Gwynne’s” is set in an alternative England where steam has a decidedly different technological aspect than the standard historical Victorian era model; this is definitely steam punk. The unique aspect of the story is the women. As high class call girls, each of these special women has been selected by the madam for their strength, feistiness and other special talents - all which help them in their fight against the darker aspects of their time. As you might imagine, their main way of ascertaining secret information is especially intriguing, and revolves around the high-standing men who possess it being in the awkward and vulnerable position of having “their pants around their ankles”.

Scarlet Spies (UK cover)

Thoughts:  I completely enjoyed this short novel and was immersed in it. A key to Kage Baker’s talents is that the novella is a page turner that took me on a trip into an alternative Victorian era - it included some fictional technological inventions which combined to create a story that anyone interested in steam punk should read. It was dryly funny too. I understand from my digging around for information on the author and the back story that she had a cutting wit and sense of humor; and it shows. I giggled a lot.

Although done tastefully it’s important to mention that since the story is about “ladies of the night” there are some interesting sexual involvements, so I consider parts of this story to be light erotica. Readers bothered by this kind of read should give the story a miss. But it is highly recommended for all steam punk fans and anyone interested in a fun read. It’s a 4.5 stars and darn near a 5 in my opinion. I will be reading a lot more by this author, which is heartbreaking since her books are numbered, considering her death prior to winning the Nebula for this book.

Multiple award winning Novella Winner: Nebula Award (2009); Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novella (2010), and Locus Award for Best Novella (2010).


The novella is also included in the Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 collection which was published by Tor (cover links to my review) and is a book which I designated a rare 5 star.

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” is available alone too, since it was published in 2009 by Subterranean Press with the cover shown at the top of this review. Also included here is the UK version’s cover with a different title.

The other novellas in the running with “The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” for the Nebula are listed below:

  • Arkfall ~ by Carolyn Ives Gilman
  • Act One ~ by Nancy Kress
  • Shambling Towards Hiroshima ~ by James Morrow
  • Sublimation Angels ~ by Jason Sanford
  • The God Engines ~ by John Scalzi

All are on my TBR list since novella’s are so much fun. They require much less of a commitment than a novel and these are the veritable “cream of the crop”!

Bio:   Kage Baker was born in Hollywood CA, USA 1952. She died prior to the Nebula Award announcement for her story in 2010. During her life she spent 20 years researching the Elizabethan era as well as other historical periods. In addition to writing she was a graphic artist, mural painter, held several clerical positions, playwright, actor, director, teacher of Elizabethan English and stage manager, as well as an educational program assistant coordinator. A member of the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) you can find out more about her work from this website:

It’s the first review for the year. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Challenges ~ 2012


2012 Reading Challenge List. 

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The challenge-joining frenzy is upon us. And here is our list of challenges I have decided that John and I will attempt for 2012. (Quote from John – “Huh?”)

I have tried to kept it “light” this year, but at 10 challenges I think perhaps not too “light”.

I will be adding the books that we read linked to their reviews into this post, which will be accessible via the tabs at the top of our blog so if you wish to access it again you easily can. And all the badges below link to the challenge host’s main post, just in case you would like to join in too!


Global Reading Challenge 2012 ~ hosted by Mysteries in Paradise

Read one novel from each:

  1. Africa
  2. Asia
  3. Australasia/Oceania
  4. Europe
  5. North America
  6. South America/Central America
  7. The Seventh Continent (Antarctica, the sea, the space, a supernatural/paranormal world, history, the future – you name it).
  8. From your own continent: try to find a country, state or author that is new to you.

Nordic Challenge


Nordic Challenge ~ hosted by Notes from the North

Any book by any author born in a Nordic country (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and/or Sweden) or a book set in a Nordic country.




The European Reading Challenge ~ hosted by Rose City Reader

Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.


ME Challenge 2012 1


2012 Middle East Challenge ~ hosted by Helen’s Book Blog

Any number of books







Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2012 ~ hosted by Historical Tapestry

 5 books


Memorable Memoirs


2012 Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge ~ hosted by Betty Boo Chronicles.

Read 1- 4 memoirs 


poppies in flanders field 5


War Through the Generations 2012 – WWI

Read 1-3 books

For the buttons I created (including this one to the right) see this page.




Books in Translation Reading Challenge ~ hosted by The Introverted Reader

 Read 4- 6 books 





2012 Sci-Fi Challenge ~ hosted by Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

Any number of books





The Short Story Challenge 2012 ~ hosted by Dead Book Darling

12 short stories



Other related links (two coming soon):

Which of these challenges will join in?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Reviews: “Lament for Lost Atlanta” and “Journal of a Civil War Nurse”


Two short story reviews by Shellie. First up: Lament for Lost Atlanta” ~ by Arlan Andrews

Told from the perspective of a young man who resides in what is left of an almost unrecognizable “dystopian US”, where the south is very different than it is today.

In an alternative future (a post Civil War America of sorts) this short story examines a South where the Union did not embrace the Confederates after the war.  As is often the custom by the winners of a war, there is a changed “mythology” around the war’s history - where the heroes from the loosing side are portrayed as villains by the usurpers. In this sad story all are designated as “terrorists”, including the beloved Robert E. Lee.

What is terrific about this readable short are its realistic consequences; looking at what is considered a terrorist, then thinking about how this kind of “mentality” is created in a person or group. Better yet (for me at least) is that this story occurs on Western soil, so I have a relatable and recognizable face for the quintessential “bad guy”.

Highly recommended, this story is a 4.5 star in my opinion. One of my favorite type of reads: a story with social relevance, a glimpse inside the complexity of human nature revealing how character can be created or destroyed, and answering a question that I personally have been struggling with.

About the author:  Arlan Andrews has been writing for more than 30 years, with his work published in various magazines and intellectual journals. He is a member of the SFWA and resides in Texas. For an interesting 2007 article from USA Today where Andrews and 4 other science fiction authors of “deviant thinking” are consulted on warding off terrorist attacks:

Alt Hist is a relatively new and promising magazine featuring historical fiction and alternative history stories. This first issue contains 5 more shorts on various subjects and is where this great story was found. For more info:

civil war nurse

Second up: Journal of a Civil War Nurse” ~ by Georgiann Baldino

A too short, short story about the conditions that existed during the US Civil War from the perspective of a nurse.

Based upon actual letters by Cornelia Hancock, a US Civil War nurse, this is a well written historical fiction that I recommend if you are interested in the day-to-day horrors of war as opposed to the battles. Which is what intrigues me the most, reading about the actual human losses which puts a realistic face on the tragedy of war. Too bad it was just not long enough. Regardless I give it a 3.5 stars.

Available as an ebook (free) at Barnes & Noble.


Although a bit behind with this post - these two short stories were read for several 2011 challenges: The War Through the Generations – US Civil War 2011; Dystopian Challenge; and the Basics Challenge where I explore speculative fiction. Link to our - 2011 Challenge List.

Personal update: We are a bit behind with our posts since we still have a house full of relatives. But it sure is fun catching up with family.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Books Read in 2011 ~ list

2011 list

Books we’ve read in 2011, pending reviews, and abandoned too. Including some geeky stats.

A bit meager since 2011 included “a dose of the crazies”.  With extended trips to our respective “homes” – England and California, as well as various other catastrophes (see “the gremlin attack” – where I lost my entire hard drive) and some personal losses, there wasn’t as much time for reading as we would have liked. But there’s always 2012!

Each book’s title links to it’s review when applicable. We have also included a few stats at the bottom.

John’s Books Read:

  1. The Revisionists ~ by Thomas Mullen (review coming soon)
  2. The Immortality Virus ~ by Christine Amsden
  3. Fleet of Worlds ~ by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner
  4. Banksy: Locations & Tours vol. 1 ~ by Martin Bull
  5. Banksy: Locations & Tours vol. 2 ~ by Martin Bull
  6. The Windup Girl ~ by Paolo Bacigalupi
  7. Low Town ~ by Daniel Polansky
  8. Matter (book #8 in the Culture series) ~ by Iain M. Banks
  9. The Hum and The Shiver ~ by Alex Bledsoe
  10. Outpost ~ by Adam Baker
  11. The Devil All the Time ~ by Donald Ray Pollock
  12. The American Book of the Dead ~ by Henry Baum
  13. Mr. Chartwell ~ by Rebecca Hunt
  14. The Knowledge of Good and Evil ~ by Glenn Kleier
  15. The Map of Time ~ by Felix J. Palma
  16. The Time Machine ~ by H. G. Wells
  17. The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady ~ by Elizabeth Stuckey-French
  18. Robopocalypse ~ by Daniel H. Wilson
  19. The Curse-Maker ~ by Kelli Stanley
  20. Lost in Shangri-La ~ by Mitchell Zuckoff
  21. WWW:Wonder (#3) ~ by Robert J. Sawyer
  22. All the Lives He Led ~ by Frederik Pohl
  23. A Visit from the Goon Squad ~ by Jennifer Egan
  24. WWW:Watch (#2) ~ by Robert J. Sawyer
  25. Variable Star ~ by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson
  26. Seven Years in Tibet ~ by Heinrich Harrer (translation by Robert Graves)
  27. The Healers (The Aesculapians, Book One) ~ by Thomas Heric
  28. The March ~ by E. L. Doctorow
  29. Home Fires ~ by Gene Wolfe
  30. WWW:Wake (#1) ~ by Robert J. Sawyer
  31. Life ~ by Keith Richards
  32. Beware of the Dog ~ by Brian Moore
  33. Mr. Toppit ~ by Charles Elton
  34. The Killer Angels ~ by Michael Shaara

Not Reviewed:

  1. On the Odd Hours ~ by Eric Liberge
  2. The Metalmark Contract ~ by David Batchelor


  1. Alice in Sunderland ~ by Bryan Talbot
  2. Gateways ~ edited by Elizabeth Anne Hull

Total:  36 read; 2 abandoned

Shellie’s Books Read:

  1. The Hermetica of Elysium ~ by Annmarie Banks
  2. The Conference of the Birds ~ by Peter Sis
  3. The Uncertain Places ~ by Lisa Goldstein
  4. The Picture of Dorian Gray (in audio) ~ by Oscar Wilde; read by Simon Vance
  5. The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am ~ by Kjersti A. Skomsvold
  6. Those Across the River (audio) ~ by Christopher Buehlman 
  7. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (in audio) ~ by Susanna Clarke
  8. Eddie - The Lost Youth of Edgar Allan Poe ~ written and illustrated by Scott Gustafson
  9. Eat Vegan on $4 a Day ~ by Ellen Jaffe Jones 
  10. Vegan Family Meals ~ by Ann Gentry 
  11. Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 ~ edited by Kevin J. Anderson       
  12. Promises to Keep ~ by Charles De Lint
  13. Electric Ant ~ by Philip K. Dick (adapted by David Mack; illustrated by Pascal Aline) 
  14. The Sandman - The Dream Hunters ~ by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Yoshitak Amano 
  15. The Hobbit ~ by J.R.R. Tolkien; adapted by David Wenzel 
  16. Changeling Moon ~ by Dani Harper
  17. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine ~ by Alina Bronsky  (translator Tim Mohr) 
  18. The Inverted Forest ~ by John Dalton 
  19. The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (in audio) ~ by Margaret Atwood   
  20. Galore ~ by Michael Crummey  
  21. Fabulous Faces: From Motivation to Transformation through Facial Plastic Surgery ~ by Peter A. Adamson M. D.
  22. The Psychopath Test ~ by Jon Ronson 
  23. Warm Bodies ~ by Isaac Marion 
  24. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making ~ by Catherynne M. Valente 
  25. Wuthering Heights ~ by Emily Brontë
  26. Bury Your Dead (Armand Gamache  #6) ~ by Louise Penny 
  27. Willy ~ by Robert Dunbar 
  28. Trouble and Her Friends ~ by Melissa Scott 
  29. Possession ~ by A.S. Byatt  (in audio)
  30. The Oracle of Stamboul ~ by Michael David Lukas
  31. Wither (Chemical Garden Trilogy # 1) ~ by Lauren DeStefano 
  32. Enough About Love ~ by Hervé Le Tellier
  33. Blue ~ Lou Aronica
  34. Shadow Bound ~ by Erin Kellison 
  35. Delirium ~ by Lauren Oliver 
  36. The Afflicted Girls ~ by Susy Witten 
  37. Spellwright (Spellwright, #1) ~ by Blake Charlton
  38. Healthy Aging ~ by Andrew Weil (mini-review on Goodreads)
  39. Writing Short Stories ~ William H. Phillips (mini-review on Goodreads)

Pending Review:

  1. In Other Worlds ~ by Margaret Attwood
  2. Kafka on the Shore ~ by Haruki Marakami
  3. 52 Small Changes ~ by Brett Blumenthal
  4. Feed (audio) ~ by M. T. Anderson
  5. Name That Movie! A Painless Vocabulary Builder: Comedy & Action Edition ~ by Brian Leaf, M.A.
  6. Name That Movie! A Painless Vocabulary Builder: Romantic Comedy & Drama Edition ~ by Brian Leaf, M.A.
  7. The Wicked Good Stepmother ~ by William G. Bentrim
  8. The Marshall Plan for Writing a Novel ~ by Evan Marshal
  9. Rick Steves' Great Britain 2011 with map ~ by Rich Steves
  10. A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany ~ by Aubrey Burl

Books in Progress (number of pages read):

  1. Every Bitter Thing ~ by Leighton Gage (100)
  2. The Time In Between ~ by Maria Duenas (230)
  3. The Book of Kells ~ by R.A. MacAvoy (100)
  4. The Dove Keepers ~ by Alice Hoffman (270)
  5. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods ~ by A.S. Byatt (130)
  6. Gulliver’s Travels ~ by Jonathan Swift (100)
  7. The First Days ~ by Rhiannon Frater (130)
  8. A Long Sleep ~ by Allie Sheehan (200)
  9. Stories for the Night and Some for the Day ~ by Ben Loory (100)


  1. The Dying Light ~ by Scott D. Meek
  2. Fallen ~ by  Kate Lauren
  3. French Lessons ~ by Ellen Sussman
  4. Never Let You Go ~ by Erin Healy
  5. The Promises She Keeps ~ by Erin Healy
  6. Shea Vaughn’s Breakthrough ~ by Shea Vaughn
  7. Secret Legacy ~ by Anna Destanfano
  8. Unclean Spirits ~ by M.L.N. Hanover
  9. Lincoln’s Dream ~ by Connie Willis
  10. Afterlife ~ by Merrie Destafano

Totals:  49 books read (10 pending review); books in progress 9; abandoned 10

Stats for Completed Books

  • Female Authors: 25
  • Male Authors: 58


  • Speculative Fiction: science fiction, fantasy, and horror:
    • SF - 22
    • F - 22
    • H - 15
  • Non Fiction: 19
  • General Fiction: 14
  • Historical Fiction: 15
  • Classics and Literary:  9
  • Translations: 5
  • Graphic Novels: 5
  • Anthologies:  2
  • Audio Books: 8
  • YA/Children’s/Tweens: 13

Coming Up:  Our Favorites of 2011 and our Competed (and not so complete) Challenges for 2011

picture credit - zenobia_joy

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