Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Interview with B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Elisabeth Marrion

Please join me in welcoming B.R.A.G Medallion honoree

Elisabeth Marrion to A Literary Vacation today!  Elisabeth was born August 1948, in Hildesheim Germany. Her father was a Corporal in the Royal Air Force and stationed after the War in the British occupied zone in Germany, where he met her mother Hilde, a War Widow.

 As a child she enjoyed reading books and plays by Oscar Wilde, Thornton Wilder and never lost her love of reading novels by Ernest Hemingway, or short stories by Guy de Maupassant.

 In 1969 she moved to England where she met her husband David. Together they established a clothing importing company. Their business gave them the opportunity to travel and work in the Sub Continent and the Far East. A large part of their working life was spent in Bangladesh, where they helped to establish a school in the rural part of the Country, training young people in trades such as sign writing, electrical work and repair of computers and televisions.

For inspiration she puts on her running shoes for a long coastal run near the New Forest, where she now lives.


Hello, Elisabeth, and welcome to A Literary Vacation! To start off with, please tell us a little about your book, Liverpool Connection?

First of all, I would like to thank you, Colleen, for including me on your marvelous Blog site. Liverpool Connection tells us Annie’s story. Annie leaves Ireland in 1926, with her best friend Flo, hoping to find a better life in Liverpool. Only too soon, Annie falls in love, marries and starts a family of her own. Times are hard for the young, growing family and with the onset of World War Two, there is tragedy and loss. Help comes from an unlikely source, a German woman called Hilde, whose life and situation mirrors Annie’s.

I see that Liverpool Connection is the second book in a trilogy. Would you say this can be read as a standalone book or must readers start with book one in the trilogy?

Thank you for mentioning that Liverpool Connection is part of a trilogy. All three novels are available now. They can be read as stand-alone books, or as a series, whichever the readers prefer. We follow the lives of three different women, living in different parts of the world, during World War Two.

I also see that Liverpool Connection is based on a true story. Can you tell us a little bit more about the true story that inspired it? What led you to fictionalize this true story?


Yes, my books are based upon true stories. The first one, The Night I Danced with Rommel, is my mother, Hilde’s, story. Liverpool Connection. Annie’s story. Annie was my late husband, David’s, mother. But it is also about my own father who was British and in the Royal Air Force. I grew up knowing our family history and connections to England, and David filled me in on what life was like growing up in poverty-stricken Liverpool at that time. The last book, Cuckoo Clock-New York, is Esther’s story; a young doctor leaving Hildesheim Germany, my home town, November 1938, after the burning of the Synagogue. It is important for society to understand what those women had to go through, but I felt it would be prudent to fictionalize the stories.

What sort of research went into writing Liverpool Connection?

I loved the research. I grew up in Germany and knew my mother’ story, but I still had to verify the historical events: when, how and why, in the correct timeline. The information I did not have from family members was available on-line. I also contacted The RAF and War Records. This process was very informative, since the German people rarely talked about the war. The subject is almost taboo. Unfortunately, this attitude still effects today’s generation. My German family was shocked when I decided to write these books, but today, they and their friends are glad, I did.

It sounds like, as well as being historical, it has quite a bit of emotion involving mothers and children, which can transcend any time period. How did you tackle this aspect of the story? Did you draw from anything in particular to help write this emotional storyline?     
Since the stories are largely about my own family, I was on an emotional roller coaster. Many families suffered such hardship, and many children hardly ever knew their fathers who were fighting in foreign places. Even when they were lucky enough to come home, quite often, the children failed to form close relationships with their fathers. There are places in my book where I still cry when reading specific paragraphs.

Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Do you have a favorite time period to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?

Well, I do and I don’t. When I write, I don’t think I would go further back than the 1920s .There are so many excellent writers out there who are brilliantly portraying history. I do not have enough information to do it justice. But I can easily relate to the 20th Century, where I can become my characters. Up until now, the protagonists in my novels are strong females (must be my mother’s influence). However, when I write short stories, the main characters are male, or in one case, it was a surgery bun. I wonder why?

On reading, I am, like you, a ‘jumper’. I love American, Russian, and Australian History. But I also like Contemporary Fiction. My next project is what they now refer to today as a ‘chick lit’. 60s, 70s, and now.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?

My life has been thrown into turmoil, since my husband passed away. I am starting again and beginning to structure my days, albeit differently. I write in the mornings, otherwise, the day takes over. If I feel like going for a run, mid-morning is a good time for that. Gym, swimming or a movie, I would do in the afternoon. Family and friends mostly on weekends. The days just seem to fly past.

What drew you to independently publish Liverpool Connection as opposed to seeking traditional publishing?

I am published in Germany and England. In Germany, I am with a smaller traditional publishing house. I have the advantage of seeing the good and not so good points of the publishing business. Yes, it is nice to say I am published the traditional way. But believe me, you lose total control of your book’s destiny. To get yourself a name out there, you have to take the same initiative as you would have to as an Indie writer without being given the chance to promote your books via your chosen avenues.

I found a wonderful Indie publisher, whose reputation travels before them, and it was through their professionalism that I got as far with
Liverpool Connection as I did.

How did you discover indieBRAG and what does it mean to you to have Liverpool Connection awarded the BRAG Medallion?

My lovely Indie publisher again, which provides support long after your book has been published. They promote their writers constantly. Many of their writers have received the B.R.A.G. medallion for some of their books. What does it mean to me? Having been awarded the B.R.A.G Medallion? It means the world!


Thank you, Elisabeth, for taking the time to stop by and answer my questions! You can learn more about Elisabeth and her books on her website, Facebook and Twitter. You can also purchase Liverpool Connection at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Colleen has chosen to interview Elisabeth Marrion, who is the author of Liverpool Connection, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ® , a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Past Encounters merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

Monday, March 28, 2016

TLC Book Tours: Review of Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman + Giveaway!!

Pages: 272 pages
Publisher: Harper 

Publication Date: March 22, 2016


In the spirit of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, the provocative and compelling story of one of the most fascinating and influential figures of the twentieth century: Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood—an indomitable woman who, more than any other, and at great personal cost, shaped the sexual landscape we inhabit today.

The daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued free thinker and a mother worn down by thirteen children, Margaret Sanger vowed her life would be different. Trained as a nurse, she fought for social justice beside labor organizers, anarchists, socialists, and other progressives, eventually channeling her energy to one singular cause: legalizing contraception. It was a battle that would pit her against puritanical, patriarchal lawmakers, send her to prison again and again, force her to flee to England, and ultimately change the lives of women across the country and around the world.

This complex enigmatic revolutionary was at once vain and charismatic, generous and ruthless, sexually impulsive and coolly calculating—a competitive, self-centered woman who championed all women, a conflicted mother who suffered the worst tragedy a parent can experience. From opening the first illegal birth control clinic in America in 1916 through the founding of Planned Parenthood to the arrival of the Pill in the 1960s, Margaret Sanger sacrificed two husbands, three children, and scores of lovers in her fight for sexual equality and freedom.

With cameos by such legendary figures as Emma Goldman, John Reed, Big Bill Haywood, H. G. Wells, and the love of Margaret’s life, Havelock Ellis, this richly imagined portrait of a larger-than-life woman is at once sympathetic to her suffering and unsparing of her faults. Deeply insightful, Terrible Virtue is Margaret Sanger’s story as she herself might have told it.

What Did I Think About the Story?

It's probably bad to say but, growing up in the times that I have, I've often taken for granted our seemingly inherent women's rights: the right to vote, the right to decide whether or not to get married or have children, the seemingly basic right to decide what to do with our own bodies. But reading novels like Terrible Virtue reminds me that so many woman had to sacrifice and suffer through so much to change the world as they lived it into the world we now have. Margaret Sanger is one such woman, born before her time and one that refused to let anyone tell her what to do or how to live her life. In the capable hands of Ellen Feldman she is allowed to tell her story, with its many ups and downs, and the reader is able to see just how much Margaret, and her many compatriots, had to fight  to make themselves heard.

Terrible Virtue is written as Margaret telling her own story, from growing up poor until her death, as she navigates the often controversial choices she made, justifies the decisions and sets other falsities right. Interspersed with her point of view are short snippets from the points of view of some of those people who's lives she touched - both her husbands, her sister, son, lawyer, lovers, etc. - which all show some point in time she discusses from their point of view, showing how her actions hurt them in some way. I loved this as it helped round out the story and made her feel real. She wasn't a saint or a savior or a martyr as some of the women she worked to educate felt her to be. She did a lot of good, yes, but she was also an absentee parent, a selfish, free-loving woman who used men and moved on without much thought, and an ambitious and attention-loving woman who loved the spotlight as much as she loved fighting for free and easy contraceptives for every woman.

The writing is beautiful and evocative and the author did an excellent job of bringing the early 1900s to life. It covers so much ground - from the slums of New York and New Jersey, to the rich and poor areas of Paris and London, to a workhouse and prison, to what I would call a love commune in Europe - Margaret traveled all over either lecturing and studying or sharing her knowledge with those that needed it and the reader is able to go along for the adventures and experience it all. Some of it was exciting and fun but most of it was hard work and sacrifice and while I admired her for much of what she did it isn't a road I would have wanted to go down.

Margaret Sanger's grand mission to ensure no woman had to have a child they didn't desire, that every child that was born was cherished and loved and that the actual act of lovemaking did not have to lead to birth as a consequence seems so reasonable to our modern ears but, in her time, was salacious enough to lead to censorship and prison. The fact that this did not stop her and her fight to make sure contraception and education would be readily available to every woman, rich or poor, and would not lead to negative consequences to those that employed them makes her a remarkable and admirable woman, even if she was not an admirable wife or mother. Her far-reaching ideals have given all women freedoms that they might not have had without her determination and sacrifice, whether she felt they were sacrifices or not. I loved learning about this impressive rebel woman and Ellen Feldman did a wonderful job of bringing her to life.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I like it. It's very simple and the colors are muted yet eye catching. I might have preferred the woman looking up defiantly but other than that I like it.

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a free copy of Terrible Virtue in exchange for an honest review! Be sure to continue below for information on the author, the blog tour and how you can grab your own copy!

About the Author

Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of five previous novels, including Scottsboro, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, andNext to Love. She lives in New York City.

For more information on Ellen and her work, please visit her website,

Buy The Book

Giveaway Time!!!

I am so excited to be able to offer one copy of Terrible Virtue up for giveaway, open to US residents!! All you have to do is enter your name and email address on the giveaway form HERE. Please be sure to leave both your name and your email on the form so I can contact you if you are my winner (no email address, no entry!). For extra entries you can follow the blog in various ways (all links are on the right hand sidebar) and leave the name/email you follow with on the form. That's it!

I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner on April 4th, 2016 and will announce the winner here as well as email the winner for their mailing address. The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email before I have to pick another winner. If you have already won this giveaway on another site please let me know so I can pick a new winner and give someone else a chance to win a copy of this great book.

Good Luck!!

Terrible Virtue Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, March 22nd: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, March 23rd: Doing Dewey

Thursday, March 24th: Bibliotica

Friday, March 25th: Books on the Table

Monday, March 28th: A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, March 29th: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Wednesday, March 30th: bookchickdi

Thursday, March 31st: 5 Minutes For Books

Monday, April 4th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]

Tuesday, April 5th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, April 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Thursday, April 7th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, April 11th: Puddletown Reviews

Tuesday, April 12th: Reading Reality

Wednesday, April 13th: Broken Teepee

Thursday, April 14th: Time 2 Read

Thursday, April 14th: Literary Feline

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Tip of My Wish List - Women of the Civil War

To change things up this year, I've decided to do a monthly post on 5 books from my insane wish list that I am most excited about getting to. Some might be new, some old and some out of wish list has it all! I'll pick a theme each month and share my wish list post on the last Friday of the month. I know a number of excellent reviewers who will be doing similar posts and I'll be sure to link to their posts as well so you can see all the goodies we're excited about and, hopefully, add a few new book to your own wish list. 

For March I've decided to highlight books - both nonfiction and fiction - that take place during the Civil War and highlight the experiences and various roles that women played.  I'll link the titles to Goodreads where you can read reviews and find the various ways to purchase a copy if it sounds like your style. I really hope you enjoy and let me know if you've read any of these or have others you would add to the list. 


She calls herself Ash, but that's not her real name. She is a farmer's faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. NEVERHOME tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

Laird Hunt's dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?

In gorgeous prose, Hunt's rebellious young heroine fights her way through history, and back home to her husband, and finally into our hearts.

Tennessee, 1864. On a late autumn day, near a little town called Franklin, 10,000 men will soon lie dead or dying in a battle that will change many lives for ever. None will be more changed than Carrie McGavock, who finds her home taken over by the Confederate army and turned into a field hospital. Taking charge, she finds the courage to face up to the horrors around her and, in doing so, finds a cause.

Out on the battlefield, a tired young Southern soldier drops his guns and charges forward into Yankee territory, holding only the flag of his company's colours. He survives and is brought to the hospital. Carrie recognizes something in him - a willingness to die - and decides on that day, in her house, she will not let him.

In the pain-filled days and weeks that follow, both find a form of mutual healing that neither thinks possible.

In this extraordinary debut novel based on a true story, Robert Hicks has written an epic novel of love and heroism set against the madness of the American Civil War.

Women Soldiers of the Civil War profiles several substantiated cases of female soldiers during the American Civil War, including Sarah Rosetta Wakeman (aka Private Lyons Wakeman, Union); Sarah Emma Edmonds (aka Private Frank Thompson, Union); Loreta Janeta Velazquez (aka Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate); and Jennie Hodgers (aka Private Albert D. J. Cashier, Union). Also featured are those women who may not have posed as male soldiers but who nonetheless pushed gender boundaries to act boldly in related military capacities, as spies, nurses, and vivandieres ("daughters of the regiment") who bore the flag in battle, rallied troops, and cared for the wounded.

A look at the lives of the real nurses depicted in the PBS show Mercy Street

HEROINES OF MERCY STREET tells the true stories of the nurses at Mansion House, the Alexandria, Virginia, mansion turned war-time hospital and setting for the new PBS drama Mercy Street. Among the Union soldiers, doctors, wounded men from both sides, freed slaves, politicians, speculators, and spies who passed through the hospital in the crossroads of the Civil War, were nurses who gave their time freely and willingly to save lives and aid the wounded.
These women saw casualties on a scale Americans had never seen before, and medicine was at a turning point. HEROINES OF MERCY STREET follows the lives of women like Dorothea Dix, Mary Phinney, Anne Reading, and more before, during, and after their epic struggle in Alexandria and reveals their personal contributions to this astounding period in the advancement of medicine.

Thrust into the savagery of the U.S. Civil War, a Chinese immigrant fighting for the Union Army, a nurse turned spy, and a one-armed Confederate cavalryman find their lives inextricably entwined.

Johnny Tom, a Chinese immigrant, is promised American citizenship if he serves with the Union Army.
But first he must survive the carnage of battles and rampant racism among the ranks. Desperate to find him, his daughter, Era, becomes a Union spy while nursing soldiers in Confederate camps. She falls in love with Warren, a one-armed cavalryman, and her loyalties become divided between her beloved father in the North and the man who sustains her in the South.

An extraordinary novel that will stand as a defining work on the Chinese immigrant experience, The Spy Lover is a paean to the transcendence of love and the resilience of the human spirit.


Check out these lovely blogs for more books to add to your wish list:

Heather at The Maiden's Court shared five nonfiction books about the Gilded-age HERE.

Erin at Flashlight Commentary shared her wish list of fiction set during the Crusades HERE.

Stephanie at Layered Pages shared her five top Mysteries and Thrillers wish list HERE.

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede shared her favorite wish list books with ominous forest covers HERE.

Holly at 2 Kids and Tired shared her wish list books about sisters HERE.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Release Day Blitz: Porn Money & Wannabe Mummy (The Debt and the Doormat Book 3) by Laura Barnard

Publication Date: March 23rd, 2016

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Genre: Contemporary Romance/Comedy

What is it about turning thirty that sends rational women into a tailspin?

Suddenly going from having all the time in the world, to cringing at the ticking of her biological clock, Poppy is drowning under the strain of trying to get pregnant.

With a dad in the throes of a mid-life crisis, a crazy mother-in-law and time racing towards Lilly's wedding, will she be able to cope with it all...and give Ryan the baby they so desperately want?

Finally able to inherit her dad's porn money, Jazz can't wait to be rich! She can buy a house in Chelsea, go out partying with her old mates and start living how she deserves.

But with Ollie, Jemima and Meryl each clawing at their own little piece of her happiness, will she have to leave behind those closest to her in exchange for it?

The real question is, can Poppy and Jazz rescue their own lives before everything gets ruined, or will their own stubbornness destroy the lives they've created.

Buy the Book


About the Author

Laura Barnard lives in Hertfordshire, UK and writes romantic comedy or 'chick lit' as its so often described. In her spare time she enjoys drinking her body weight in tea, indulging in cupcakes the size of her face and drooling over hunks like Jamie Dornan, Ryan Gosling and Leo Dicaprio.

She enjoys wearing yoga pants and reading fitness magazines while sitting on the sofa eating chocolate. She's a real fan of the power nap and of course READING!

She writes not to get rich or famous, but because she LOVES writing. Even if one person tells her they enjoyed her book it makes the midnight typing worth it!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spotlight on Everything and a Happy Ending by Tia Shurina

Publisher: Tia Shurina
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction/Memoir

Everything and a Happy Ending is a memoir that recounts 3 interconnected relationships & love stories. It shares Tia’s full circle journey to learn how to really trust, how to “thine own self be true” and then the real & true love it circled her ‘round back to. It’s a story about how the power of love & a journey to intimacy helped flip learned pessimism, reacting in reflex and running from fear into choosing optimism, trusting intuition and rising above the fear.

Posted Public Praise

“it deeply explores the inter-connectedness of human relationships…this will be like no other memoir you have read”

“if personal growth is on your agenda Tia Shurina’s memoir comes highly recommended”

“the unifying factors in Shurina’s memoir are that it is wide ranging and logical, relationship driven, & indicative of the backward forward flows of life itself.”

“what we most identified with is the author’s struggle to find out who she really is, how to love another yet continue to love yourself without losing yourself to another”

“in order for a memoir to be interesting, the protagonist has to grow and change. Shurina has done this and her telling of the journey is heartfelt and inspiring…there is bravery in mining personal growth the way it is done in this book…the “characters” are treated with respect”

“Tia has that uncanny capability to seize your attention and make you feel as though you’re her closest friend and that rare ability true artists share…she pulls on your heartstrings until you feel her thoughts….Her subtle yet bold processing of transpersonal growth become yours, like getting lost in a great movie and projecting oneself onto the lead, the heroine.”

“Tia's book, her life, and her message is captivating. What I absolutely loved about this book is the naked honesty and vulnerability on every page. It takes tremendous courage to share one's story and life with such openness.. Tia opens herself up in this book and shares her truth which will teach any reader lessons on struggle and courage as well as hard times and happiness. This is a book, a life, that we can all learn from."

“Tia talks WITH you, not AT you.”

Buy the Book


About the Author


Tia Shurina lives in Queens, NYC but still spends time on the Jersey Shore, where she feels safest in the bungalows she spent her childhood summers. She is, most days, really filled with joy. She is, every day, truly filled with peace. She looks forward to a happy ending each new day as she continues to create a new “happily ever after”, staying committed to rising above her fears, moving out of her comfort zones and going with the flow of her life.

You can find out more about Tia's memoir on her website, and connect with her on Twitter.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

OSBORNE – QUEEN VICTORIA’S SEASIDE RETREAT: Guest Post by Robert Stephen Parry, Author of The Testament of Sophie Dawes

Please join me in welcoming Robert Stephen Parry back to A Literary Vacation today! His guest post from last year about the Belle Epoque is still one of the most popular posts I've had, so I'm so thrilled to have him back for the release of  his newest novel, The Testament of Sophie Dawes. So please, Enjoy!

When you hear the name of Queen Victoria, images spring to mind of grand and imposing buildings such as London’s Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. And indeed Victoria did live and work in these places. But there was one other, very special residence that she loved more than these, and that was her seaside home Osborne House. Let me tell you about it.
Early engraving of Osborne House as seen from the sea

Located on the Isle of Wight just off the south coast of England, Osborne requires a short sea voyage to reach it, but it is well worth the effort because it is kept very much as Victoria herself would have known it and still has a wonderful ‘family’ atmosphere.
Victorian/Edwardian painting of Osborne

Set on high ground overlooking the sparkling stretch of water called The Solent and surrounded by lush woodland, the building itself, as you can see, is distinctly Italianate in style, with grounds featuring a succession of elegant balustraded terraces and lawns.

Front of Osborne House with carriage ring

During its construction in the 1840’s, Victoria’s young husband, the Prince Consort, Albert, had a major role in shaping both the interior and exterior to his own specifications, and the couple enjoyed many happy summers there with their nine children - until Albert’s untimely and tragic death from typhoid fever in 1861.

Victoria and Albert together

Prince Albert was exceptionally proactive in the education of the royal children, and he placed a separate building, a Swiss Chalet, in the grounds where the young princes and princesses could work together, cook, grow vegetables and learn many of the practical skills of life that would perhaps otherwise have eluded them.

The children’s Swiss Chalet in the Grounds of Osborne can still be visited today

As a widow, Victoria became notoriously reclusive, and as the royal children vanished one by one overseas into politically advantageous marriages, Osborne became one of the places where she took refuge. Meanwhile, with its fresh air and spectacular scenery, her seaside island became an attraction for others seeking a fashionable place to set up home. The poet Tennyson lived there - as well as numerous writers and artists. Christmas and the Summer season were the times Victoria enjoyed best at Osborne, and successive prime ministers over the years would regularly have to endure the sea crossing to visit her on state business. She died there in 1901.

My new novel ‘The Testament of Sophie Dawes’ is partly set at Osborne and provides lots of glimpses of life ‘behind the scenes.’


England 1862 – and the nation is in mourning for the death of the Prince Consort, when a newly appointed archivist arrives at the Queen’s island residence of Osborne, enticed by the prospect of long country walks as much as by his professional duties. But his plans are forced to change as he uncovers a complex web of intrigue and scandal that reaches from revolutionary France to the very heart of Victorian Society.

What is he to make of such an unwelcome discovery? And who is the mysterious woman he encounters again and again when walking by the sea?

A testament from the grave that reveals one of the most powerful yet maligned of 19th Century courtesans whose life has been almost erased from history. But it is knowledge that does not please everyone.

Buy The Testament of Sophie Dawes


About the Author

Robert Stephen Parry is a UK writer of historical fiction with interests in a wide range of time periods, from Tudor & Elizabethan, through 18th-century Georgian, right up to the era of Victorian England and the Belle Époque. Well researched and vivid historical settings combine with unusual elements of mystery, romance and magical realism.
Find out more and connect with Robert on his website, GoodreadsFacebook and Amazon.

 *Don't forget to check out the website dedicated to The Testament of Sophie Dawes. It includes more book information, sample pages, book trailer and even a giveaway!*

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Blast: Death of an Alchemist by Mary Lawrence

Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Kensington Books
Hardcover & eBook
304 Pages

Genre: Historical Mystery    

In the mid sixteenth century, Henry VIII sits on the throne, and Bianca Goddard tends to the sick and suffering in London’s slums, where disease can take a life as quickly as murder…

For years, alchemist Ferris Stannum has devoted himself to developing the Elixir of Life, the reputed serum of immortality. Having tested his remedy successfully on an animal, Stannum intends to send his alchemy journal to a colleague in Cairo for confirmation. But the next day his body is found and the journal is gone.

Bianca, the daughter of an alchemist, is well acquainted with the mystical healing arts. When her husband John falls ill with the sweating sickness, she dares to hope Stannum’s journal could contain the secret to his recovery. But first she must solve the alchemist’s murder. As she ventures into a world of treachery and deceit, Stannum’s death is only the first in a series of murders—and Bianca’s quest becomes a matter of life and death, not only for her husband, but for herself…

Buy the Book


Praise for The Alchemist’s Daughter (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, Book 1)

“A realistic evocation of 16th century London’s underside. The various strands of the plot are so skillfully plaited together.” —Fiona Buckley, author of the Ursula Blanchard Mystery Series

“Mystery and Tudor fans alike will raise a glass to this new series.” —Karen Harper, author of The Poyson Garden (Elizabeth I Mysteries) Series

About the Author

Mary Lawrence studied biology and chemistry, graduating from Indiana University with a degree in
Cytotechnology. Along with writing and farming, Lawrence works as a cytologist near Boston. She lives in Maine. The Alchemist’s Daughter is the first book in the Bianca Goddard Mystery series.

For more information please visit Mary's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.


Death of an Alchemist Book Blast Schedule

Monday, March 7

Passages to the Past
 Beth's Book Nook Blog

Tuesday, March 8

Book Nerd
With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Wednesday, March 9

The Book Connection
Seize the Words: Books in Review

Thursday, March 10

Reading Is My SuperPower

Friday, March 11

Rambling Reviews

Saturday, March 12

Time 2 Read

Sunday, March 13

Susan Heim on Writing

Monday, March 14

CelticLady's Reviews
Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, March 15

Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, March 16

 A Literary Vacation

Thursday, March 17

 A Book Geek

Friday, March 18

 The Lit Bitch
 A Holland Reads


Monday, March 14, 2016

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Publication Date: July 30th, 2013 (Paperback Edition)
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 369

Genres: Contemporary Fiction/Romance


They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

 Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation and perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

What Did I Think About the Story?

When I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of Me Before You I knew I had to FINALLY find the time to read this book! I've had it sitting on my shelves for a while now and knew that just about everyone I've spoken to about the book has loved it, so I cleared my reading schedule and dove right in. And, while it definitely brings up quite a lot of difficult questions and feelings about love and sacrifice, I am so happy I did.

First off, Lou might be my new favorite character. She is so funny and caring and complicated and I loved the time spent with her. The way she interacted with her family had me giggling more than once and the deep-seated love they had for each other, even while they bickered and threw verbal jabs at each other, felt very real and relatable. Beyond her family, the way that she was able to pierce through the wall of anger, disappointment and grief that Will had built up around himself and touch his heart was breathtaking, and the fact that she did it with what I think of as her trademark self-deprecating wit and unwavering kindness made me love her even more. Only someone like Lou would be able to put up with Will (in the beginning...he got nicer as the story went on) and his haughty family and come out the other side with everyone a little better for knowing her. But don't let this lead you to believe she was all bouncy sunshine. She had quite a bit of heartache in her own past and only Will was able to help her get over that hurt and realize she was worth so much more than she believed. They both brought out the best in each other, and I absolutely loved that.

Now to Will's "shocking plans of his own". While I'm pretty sure most people already know what those plans are and whether or not they come to fruition, I am going to try and step lightly just to try and make sure I don't give too much away for anyone who hasn't read it yet. What I will say is I can see how this would be absolutely devastating for anyone to experience, on both sides really, and I think the author did an exceptional job of letting the reader see into the hearts and minds of a variety of characters, giving a well rounded view of the situation. It was really easy to empathize with everyone involved and the myriad of emotions and actions they all went through. I also think it ended the only way it possibly could (or maybe that is just the talent of the author) and, while I did get a little misty, I will say that I feel such satisfaction in knowing the characters made the hard choices  needed and the ones that I hope I'd be brave enough to make if it was me.

Me Before You is so much more than the unusual romance I was anticipating. Yes, it is about two unlikely people coming together and finding love in a most unusual circumstance, but it is also about two people being able to bring out the best in each other and support each other in making their own choices and being the best versions of themselves, even if that doesn't involve a happily ever after together. It begs you to ask yourself so many hard questions, namely who has a right to decide how someone else chooses to live, or die, and how much we should be willing to sacrifice for the ones we love. I'm now really excited to see where Jojo Moyes takes some of the characters in the sequel, After You!

What Do I Think About the Cover?

I like it, and I'm not even sure why. There isn't anything overly eye catching about it, but I just really like the simplistic style and curving letters. I also like that the cover to the sequel matches!

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

*I purchased Me Before You for my home library*

The Me Before You Movie Trailer



Friday, March 11, 2016

Q & A with John Wagner, Author of Troubled Mission: Fighting For Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru

Please join me in welcoming John Wagner, author of Troubled Mission, to A Literary Vacation! Troubled Mission is John's first hand account of the reality of living and working in a third world country and is chock full of political, spiritual, and physical intrigue. I've included further information about the book and author after the Q & A so please enjoy!
Hi John! To start off with, please tell us a little about your book, Troubled Mission: Fighting for Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru.

Troubled Mission is my true—and I hope inspirational—story of what it’s like to try to change your life in very fundamental ways, dealing with the important “big issues” of life we all face: love, spirituality, and what is the essence of who we are, in my case my desire to do human rights work. I try to place the reader directly in my shoes and see directly through my eyes: what I wanted to do, the problems I encountered, how I tried to overcome those problems, and also the desperate situation of Peru during the time I was there, the violence from both the terrorists and the Peruvian government, the repression, poverty, and disease, and somehow despite all that the incredible character and resilience of the Peruvian people. I use a “flat” chronological style, showing what happened, in order to draw the reader in as opposed to trying to paint a picture essentially forcing my conclusions on the reader.

The first question, of course, is why would a successful, middle-aged attorney want to give up a comfortable life style in the US—I lived, and still do, in Sacramento, California—to live in reduced circumstances in Peru, to seek to develop a deeper spirituality, and to work for human rights in what could be a very dangerous situation. I show how this wasn’t an impulsive act just to seek adventure nor was it based on the feeling that there was something wrong with my life. Rather, the desire came as a result of becoming immersed in the Peruvian society as the result of an intensive study tour. Also, I describe how I met Bella, the woman who would change my life, a vibrant Peruvian teacher. While I easily could have tried to develop a relationship with her while continuing to be a lawyer in the US, I am candid that she certainly was a factor in my decision.

Then I show the reality. What’s it like to join a mission order, especially when I wasn’t a terribly religious person to begin with. I make it clear I wasn’t a saint—I was unmarried and very open to relationships with women—and I didn’t want to proselytize or try to get people to go to church. What’s the training program like, what was the mixture of other candidates to be missioners? What were some of the conflicts and issues that arose, as well as some of the deeply moving experiences? What was it like to go to language school where I was the odd man out—one of the few lay people and the only one from my religious order? And how did I stumble into the heart of the drug capital of the world and what was it like there. Then what was it like in Peru, including the big differences between life in Lima, a big city in many ways like any in the US but with much worse problems, and life in the rural altiplano, the high altitude area dominated by indigenous races and belief systems centered around the earth and reciprocity?

Now I get into the “what happened,” not as a history but as an involved observer who at times simply could not believe what was happening. The brutal terrorist assassinations. The horrific government overreactions. The strong popular, meaning “of the people,” organizations. The president overnight becoming a dictator! What is it like to see that? To see a censored newspaper? To see troops attacking lawfully elected senators. To hear a popular radio announcer, host of a nationwide interview program, say, “I’d like to continue my program but there are soldiers in the studio who won’t let me?” Imagine. We have serious problems but we’ve never had anything like that in the US.

Finally, there were two situations in which I was heavily involved. In one, terrorists attacked Alta Perla, a nearby town, killing police and civilians, and I was one of a group of church workers asked to be of assistance. The director of my human rights agency made it clear she didn’t want me to go, although she wouldn’t stop me. Then the Army tried to keep us out of the town. Here I was, in conflict not only with the terrorists but with the Army and even my own agency director. It was there I came to grips with the visceral reality of violent death, in helping to prepare for burial the ravaged body of Dioncia, a pregnant campesina woman. I also describe the effect of the attack on the town and the townspeople.

Then there was the world of working in a human rights agency in a foreign country. The conflicts within organizations and between organizations. The worlds of religious organizations, and of human rights organizations, aren’t at a higher plane of values than other organizations—they have turf wars, political battles, and interpersonal conflicts just like all other organizations. Also, there are vital issues of the role of women versus the role of men, in a variety of circumstances.

Suddenly, for the first time ever, the Peruvian government tried to prosecute a Peruvian human right attorney for doing lawful human rights work, for doing his job. That attorney just happened to be our attorney, Victor, who by now had become my friend. I rushed into an intense campaign to fight for him and the book describes the details of that fight, which would become a landmark case in Peru.

My goal is to have the reader keenly feel these experiences along with me, feel the reality of living in Peru in this situation, all the while feeling my struggle with the ups and downs of a relationship with Bella, and feeling my struggle to achieve a life of more spirituality.
There are a lot of heavy, shocking themes running through the book, made all the more terrifying for the reader given that this is your true story. Do you ever sit back and think, “Wow, I can’t believe I survived that?” Are there any particular moments or memories that still haunt you today?

Yeah, there were so many things that could have gone wrong in a hurry I do wonder how I survived. One thing is that, as a tall gringo, I tended to stand out in any setting, even public transportation. Street crime was very bad during that time and I’m still amazed I wasn’t mugged or worse. I never felt targeted by either the military or the terrorists but then I suppose if you were targeted you wouldn’t be aware of it. I tried to always be alert, even to the point of walking down the middle of the street if there were suspicious characters around.

Many memories haunt me, especially the terrorist attack at Alta Perla and helping prepare Dioncia’s body for burial. Her body had been horribly torn apart by the terrorist bombs. I’d never seen such a horribly mutilated body and it was all I could do to keep myself together. I later had PTSD type reactions and for a long time I wondered if I could be intimate with a woman without seeing in my mind her body ripped open and all of her internal organs visible and gouged out. Eventually, I did become able to compartmentalize that and I am able to appreciate the beauty of all people I deal with, including a satisfying intimacy with my wife. In a way, maybe that horrible incident has even helped me—to really and vividly understand, not just intellectually, which I already knew, that everything can be over, or horribly changed, in an instant and all that we really have is our spirit, our essence.


I’m not very aware of the many political, social, and spiritual conflicts going on in Peru, but it does seem that there might be some similarities with issues (even if not as extreme) we are facing here in America. Are there any similarities you particularly notice?

Yes indeed. Sometimes I feel like shouting: “Don’t you see what this,” the particular incident, “will lead to?” I realize terrorism and illegal immigration are problems but the current push by some is a dangerous overreaction. And often we don’t even recognize the problem.

In many ways, our society is already in a police state and most of us don’t realize it, or don’t realize how serious it can be. When traveling, I saw once how the Border Patrol literally takes control of US cities near the border, in this case, Douglas, Arizona. Many dismiss the NSA and other electronic surveillance as something that, “doesn’t affect me if I haven’t done anything wrong.” That is SO short sighted and fails to realize all the real problems of a total surveillance state. And the recent “reforms” of the NSA aren’t real reforms at all.

I see in the current support for certain politicians the same attitudes I saw in Peru—“the problems are so bad we have to do something and so what if we violate the Constitution.” Often we forget how important it is to have the rule of law and how that, often—not always—distinguishes us for the better from other countries. One example is that we don’t realize how close we are to censorship, especially self-censorship to avoid confrontations with the governmental. To be trite, we can’t throw out the baby with the bath water!

Every day in the news there are more examples.

With all the themes running through Troubled Mission, is there any point or points that you most hope readers take away from the reading?

There are three main themes weaving through the book: First, seeking and testing love, is it for real, can we trust each other, are we fully compatible? Second, fighting for spirituality. And I mean a fight. We have to dig into our real self, our essence, our spirit, and to do that means digging through the layers of the exterior self that we put on to mask our insecurities from others and from ourselves. Finally, there is the fight for human rights, in this case the fight to prevent the Peruvian government from imprisoning a Peruvian attorney who did nothing wrong—he did his job as a human rights attorney and he did it lawfully. The consequences could be dire and the story is very up and down.

For all of these themes, what I want the reader to take away is that we must confront the issues head-on. The first two themes are timeless and relate to the human condition, any time any where. The human rights theme is more location-specific and time-specific. Most of us, thankfully, won’t be involved in a human rights struggle. But we will be involved in struggles for love, for spirituality. And we will be involved in struggles relating to what we choose to do with our lives.

In a real way, the book is inspirational. The reader can see how these themes are inter-related and how we need deep honesty and authenticity to confront these challenges.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?

I wish I could say I’m one of these writers who gets up at 4 a.m. and writes for several hours in peace and quiet. Unfortunately, even when I get up at my usual time, say, between 7 and 8, I just don’t feel like writing. After breakfast, I might keep reading whatever book I was reading the night before or even work on the stack of bills always on my desk. Even on good days, I usually don’t start writing before 10 or 11 in the morning.

Three days a week I have to drive across town for my physical therapy and workout program in the afternoon. On these days, I don’t assign myself any writing goals. That’s also when I try to schedule my routine appointments. Two days a week I try to keep clear just for writing. Not that I always succeed. On these days I do have a goal of getting at least a thousand words down on paper, actually, in the “cloud” nowadays. I’m not fussy about this. I don’t require that they be polished sentences at all. If I get a thousand words and know that I’ll have to cut the majority of them I still feel I’ve accomplished my goal. Then I have the freedom to just keep writing as much as I can after that, knowing that’s it’s all “free money’ in a way, it’s all gravy. Sometimes this is where I hit my stride and I really feel I’m writing creatively and “in the zone.”

Now those are “original writing” days. I also spend countless days editing and revising, often far more than I did writing. I probably edit and revise more than some other authors because of my prior legal career. Editing and revising is just a way of life that’s been burned into me. Also, I tend to get much more accomplished on these days because I have a text in front of me. I may change it all around but at least I have a jumping-off point. It’s not like staring at a blank page.

For relaxation, I may watch a movie or something else on TV. I’m not a big fan of TV but I’m not a saint—I can get sucked into shows, especially dramatic series. I must have watched The Sopranos ten times and if a TV channel repeats it now for the nth time, I’d probably get sucked in again and watch it all over again. I’m also a news junkie, especially during election season. When I’m watching a program or a movie on TV, I always have a pen and notebook nearby and I often write notes to myself for future use. Finally, I always like to read something page-turning before going to sleep. I’ve recently discovered Joseph Kanon’s series on intrigues of the post-World War II world and they’re great for night time reading.

I shouldn’t admit it but I’m kind of a hermit and a homebody. Also, I’m at an age where I’ve had “the talk” with my dermatologist and I have to stay out of the sun as much as possible. On some weekends we have get-togethers with my extended family—two step-daughters, one step-son, and my five grandkids, and some friends. I’m generally not big on going out to eat just to try out a new restaurant. And my days of going out to bars are long over.

Music has always been an important part of my life. I discovered the Grateful Dead late, after law school, and I’m still a hard-core Deadhead. And paradoxically I’ve become an opera buff, particularly the operas of Richard Wagner. No, it’s not because we have the same last name and no, I don’t think we’re related. I’ll now think nothing of traveling to Europe for one of his cycles of The Ring, a series of four connected operas. It gets to be an expensive hobby!

Are you a big fan of using social media to promote your writing or to interact with readers? How do you prefer to promote your writing?

My publicist is going to hate me for saying this but I’m a real troglodyte with social media. I do have a web site but I’m not nearly as active on it as I should be. The reason is I feel my first priority is to work on whatever book I’m writing and then after doing that all day I don’t have much interest or energy for going back to the computer. I need to get some more blog posts out there and I promise I’ll try to do that. As for the rest of it, I don’t know how to and I don’t really care to spend my time on Facebook or Twitter or Snap Chat or whatever else is available. I’d love to but I just don’t have the time. Now that I’m retired, I realize I only have so much time left and I want to focus on my writing. I’ve gotten to be an ol’ curmudgeon who wants to write and hope that reviews on Amazon and elsewhere will help an audience find me. I know, I know, this is so old school. At least I’m not using pencil and paper!

Finally, I’ve noticed that many writers are also big readers. Have you read anything worth reading recently?

Yes, I’m a voracious reader, a habit I picked up from my mom. I have a wide range of interests. Some of my all-time faves are: Joseph Heller’s Catch 22; all the books of John LeCarré, who I think is unfairly stereotyped as a “spy novelist” and actually is one of the greatest writers of his time, period; everything by the wild and crazy inventor of “gonzo,” Hunter S. Thompson; the poems of Paul Celan and Sharon Doubiago, who are completely different from each other but amazing poets; the works, depressing as they are, of French writer Michel Houellebecq; and what to me is the all time classic of how life can completely change, minute-by-minute, step by step, Fatelessness by Imre Kertész.

Some interesting books I’ve been reading, or re-reading lately include: Edie Meidav’s Crawl Space, a true masterpiece dealing with memory and history; Michael Ignatieff’s political memoir, Fire and Ashes, which really pushes beyond the usual politician’s pat answers and struggles for a deep honesty; and Hilary Mantel’s unheralded A Change of Climate, which appeals to me much more than her recent best-selling bloody historical novels, which I haven’t read. And, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve recently discovered Joseph Kanon who may be the “new” John Le Carré for me. I also like the World War II novels of Alan Furst.

Recently I stumbled onto Wolfgang Herrndorf’s Why We Took The Car, which is actually considered YA literature. It’s very well written, hilarious, and profoundly insightful on coming of age issues in contemporary Germany. Finally, at this exact moment I’m re-reading one of my favorite books of various analytical pieces on Elvis Presley, Kevin Quain’s The Elvis Reader. There are so many more books I like, and new books I want to read, I could go on and on.


Publication Date: July 17th, 2015
Publisher: Kelly House
Pages: 292
Troubled Mission is John Wagner’s first hand account of the reality of living and working in a third world country during its height of terrorism and counter-terrorism. A successful lawyer in the U.S., Wagner gives up his law practice to work for human rights with a mission organization. While a captivating story of forbidden love, death threats, spiritual transformation, and dramatic physical and legal conflicts, it also compellingly shows the “above the table” and “below the table” political minefield within a mission setting: conservatives versus progressives, lay missioners versus priests, women versus men, missioners working “with the people” versus missioners working in “office jobs” and much more.

Buy the Book


About the Author


John Wagner is the author of Troubled Mission: Fighting for Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru. He received a B.A. from Western Colorado State University, an A.M. from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, and a J.D. with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Wagner was a social worker in Colorado and New England before going to Law School. He then practiced law in Sacramento, CA for three decades and is now retired from law. He is currently a full time writer.

Find out more about John on his website.