Guest Post by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway

I’d like to welcome Susannah Sandlin, also known as and writing as Suzanne Johnson, back to Reading Reality! Because I always love her books, I usually jump on the chance to get a guest post from Susannah whenever she has a book on tour, whatever name it happens to be written under. If you like urban fantasy, start with Royal Street, the first book in her Sentinels of New Orleans series as Suzanne Johnson. If you prefer paranormal romance, visit the vampires of Pentonville in Redemption, the first book in her Penton Legacy series as Susannah Sandlin. And if you prefer your romantic suspense to be more-or-less firmly grounded in the real world, you can’t do better than starting with today’s review book, Wild Man’s Curse

And now, here’s Susannah to talk about her turn to the fully-human side of the romantic force!

Wild Man's Curse Banner 851 x 315

In Praise of the Human

by Susannah Sandlin

Most—okay, all—of my early work was paranormal in nature—urban fantasy as Suzanne Johnson and paranormal romance as Susannah Sandlin. So when, under my Susannah Sandlin pen name, I branched out into romantic suspense, I feared it might be hard to “go human.”

I’d had a taste of it in my standalone STORM FORCE, where I had a team of former Army Rangers and shifters of various species working together to solve a case of domestic terrorism. In that case, I had to find a way to make my human Ranger hero, Kell, be able to hold equal ground with the shifters who report to him and the heroine, Mori, who isn’t exactly human herself.

It was that book that convinced me I could do romantic suspense. The plots of my Susannah Sandlin paranormals have always been fast-paced and conflict-driven—I’ve called them paranormal romantic thrillers in the past—so the only difference between the books I’d written in the past and the romantic suspense novels was the absence of paranormal elements.

Even the characters aren’t so different. In a good paranormal, the characters are complex. My Penton vampires have ugly pasts, dark secrets, deep emotional wounds—the same things my human heroes have (well, minus fangs and a very high-protein liquid diet). They’re as vulnerable as humans in some ways—a vampire caught in the daylight can’t defend himself, of if he’s found during his daysleep. Humans are omniphotounsensitive. (Yeah, I made up that word.)

Except even in my romantic suspense novels, I’ve never quite been able to get completely away from mystical elements. My first romantic suspense, LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP, dealt with a relic stolen from the Knights Templar, whose lost treasure is one of the world’s great mysteries. The second, DEADLY, CALM, AND COLD, tackled the mystery of the Royal Crown Jewels lost by England’s Bad King John (of Robin Hood fame) shortly before his death in the 13th century—were they stolen by a monk? By his entourage? Stashed away for safekeeping before the landowners could have him dethroned?

When it came time to plot the first book in my new series following a team of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement agents—think badass game wardens—I knew I had great alpha hero potential and could create complex heroes and heroines similar to those of my paranormal books. But again, I had to bring in a touch of the mystical.

In the case of WILD MAN’S CURSE, it’s the voodoo and Native American mystical elements that come into play. It’s never a given as to whether the rituals of the voodoo practitioner Eva Savoie and her great-niece, heroine Celestine Savoie, are true—but they are true to those characters. And since Celestine is part Chitimacha, a Native American tribe indigenous to South Louisiana, she brings some of their mysticism into play as well. Does it qualify as a paranormal element? In a way, I suppose. Although Eva and Celestine are certainly human, their beliefs help define them and strengthen them—as all belief systems do. And the fact that the villain in the novel fears Celestine’s beliefs, even if he doesn’t share them, gives her an advantage.

Strong heroes, smart heroines, cool stories. It’s what I try to imbue in each of my books, whether the characters are wizards, vampires, shifters, undead pirates—or completely human!

About the Author:
Suzanne-Johnson-Susannah-SandlinSusannah Sandlin is the author of the award-winning Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series, including the 2013 Holt Medallion Award-winning Absolution and Omega and Allegiance, which were nominated for the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Award in 2014 and 2015, respectively. She also writers The Collectors romantic suspense series, including Lovely, Dark, and Deep, 2015 Holt Medallion winner and 2015 Booksellers Best Award winner. Her new series Wilds of the Bayou starts in 2016 with the April 5 release of Wild Man’s Curse. Writing as Suzanne Johnson, Susannah is the author of the award-winning Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. A displaced New Orleanian, she currently lives in Auburn, Alabama. Susannah loves SEC football, fried gator on a stick, all things Cajun, and redneck reality TV.Web:
Twitter: @SusannahSandlin


As part of this tour, Susannah is giving away one(1) $50 Amazon gift card and five (5) $10 Amazon gift cards to lucky participants in this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-26-14

Sunday Post

As you read this, I am in Philadelphia, trying not to freeze. The American Library Association Midwinter Conference is in Philly. Why, oh why couldn’t they have picked someplace warm this year?

Oh, that’s right, they saved the hot spot for the SUMMER conference. The June conference this year is in Las Vegas! (Yes, I know, it’s a DRY heat)

Current Giveaways:

Late Last Night by Lilian Darcy (ebook)
Tourwide Giveaway from Susannah Sandlin: $25 Amazon Gift Card, $10 Amazon Gift Card and Author Swag Pack

deeper by robin yorkBlog Recap:

A Review: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
B+ Review: Forward to Camelot 50th Anniversary Edition by Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn
Guest Post by Susan Sloate on Writing About the Kennedy Assassination
B+ Review: Late Last Night by Lilian Darcy + Giveaway
A+ Review: Deeper by Robin York
B Review: Chenoire by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (75)

Coming Next Week:

share the love giveaway hopThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (blog tour review)
Jewel of the East by Victoria Vane (blog tour review, guest post + giveaway)
The Warrior & the Flower by Camille Picott (blog tour review + giveaway)
Prince of Tricks by Jane Kindred (blog tour review, guest post + giveaway)
The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki (blog tour review, author interview + giveaway)
Share the Love Giveaway Hop

Review: Chenoire by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway

chenoire by susannah sandlinFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Paranormal
Length: 48 pages
Publisher: StoryFront
Date Released: December 18, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon

When Faith Garrity’s twin sister died, she lost a part of herself. Unable to move past the pain, the once-driven ornithologist is at risk of losing her career as well. To save her job, she heads to the oil-ravaged wetlands of Louisiana. There, in the bayou community of Chenoire, she encounters the handsome but guarded Zackary Préjean, still suffering from a great loss of his own.

She’s drawn to Zack, but soon finds that the Préjean family isn’t what it seems… They have dangerous secrets—and deadly enemies. Caught up in a feud that threatens the area’s uneasy truce, Faith and Zack must learn to trust each other. Survival will require enormous sacrifice, but it just might also give them both a way to move on.

My Review:

Susannah Sandlin, whether she is writing as Sandlin or as Suzanne Johnson, always does a fantastic job of painting extremely clear pictures in her readers’ minds of both New Orleans and the less familiar but much creepier Louisiana bayou country.

Chenoire also brings us back to the devastation caused by the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill , and the reminder that the damage was not just confined to shores frequented by tourists. The spill continued for months, and the effects are still being felt in coastal wetlands today.

It’s the aftermath of the disaster that sets up this story. Faith Garrity is an ornithologist who plans to study the effects of “storm-shock” on the avian population of the bayou. She believes that the oil invading the birds’ habitats changed their coloring.

Well, Faith has sort of a plan. What she really has is a concept that she hopes will get her academic career back on track, and a lot of desperation. She shows up during “gator season”, and can’t get a boat or a guide to take her where she needs to go.

She’s desperate because she lost her twin sister to an auto accident, and hasn’t managed to recover from her own personal disaster.

Faith gets sent where she needs to go, to make a bond with someone else who is alone. In the middle of absolutely nowhere, there’s supposed to be someone who might rent her a boat. Faith is sent to Chenoire, a very small town with a very big secret.

In Chenoire Faith finds herself in the middle of the Préjean family, and the dynamics between grown-up sons who can’t get over their father’s remarriage, and the woman who gave up her city life to marry into a place she can never be part of and where she’s resented at every turn.

All the Préjean sons are twins, except for Zack. Faith lost her twin. They have a common place from which to start at least a friendship, maybe more. Until Faith is caught in the middle of the Préjean family feud, and Faith learns way more than she bargained for; about Zack, about Chenoire, and about herself.

Escape Rating B: Chenoire is a short story, and I wish it were longer. I adore everything Susannah/Suzanne writes, but the tale hints at a deep backstory that I’d love to have seen.

Admittedly, I always want more backstory.

It isn’t difficult to guess the nature of the secret of Chenoire. Figuring out that the Préjean family, and their enemies, are all shapeshifters, is not hard. The story is in Faith realizing that it’s not just okay for her to be alive, but that it’s okay to be happy to be alive after losing her twin, combined with Zack figuring out that having at least a civil relationship with his stepmother does not mean that he doesn’t still mourn his mother’s loss.

We see the beginning of Faith’s relationship with Zack. This isn’t a romance, and what they have isn’t insta-love. Thank goodness. They have a connection and the beginnings of both friendship and trust, which is a fine start for any relationship. We see the start of their healing, but not the end. We leave the story with hope that they get there.

Chenoire reminds me a lot of the author’s other recent backcountry story, Christmas in Dogtown. The story isn’t quite the same, but the settings are similar; both Chenoire and Dogtown are lost towns with deep roots in the misty past of legend. They both contain legends that still live in the present, but must be kept secret. And they both conclude with that hope of a happy ending, combined with the sense that there are still magical places in the world.

Chenoire Button 300 x 225


Susannah is giving away the following prizes:

1 $25 Amazon gift card
2 $10 Amazon gift cards
2 Author swag packs- open to US Shipping (books, swag)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (67)

Stacking the Shelves



For all lovers of Science Fiction Romance out there, be sure to take a look at the inaugural issue of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. It’s that awesome cover over on the right by the multi-talented Kaz Augustin, who is also the Chief Editor. If you like SFR, I’m sure you’ll find a few more books to add to your TBR pile.

But if SFR doesn’t light your rocket engine, maybe some of these will appeal?


For Review:
At Any Price (Gaming the System #1) by Brenna Aubrey
Bitter Spirits (Roaring Twenties #1) by Jenn Bennett
Chaos Bound (Chronicles from the Applecross #2) by Rebekah Turner
Christmas in Dogtown by Suzanne Johnson
Hard As You Can (Hard Ink #2) by Laura Kaye
Hope Flames (Hope #1) by Jaci Burton
Operation: Saving Daniel by Nina Croft
Parts & Wreck (Parts Department #1) by Mark Henry

Borrowed from the Library:
London Falling (London Falling #1) by Paul Cornell

Review: Die On Your Feet by S.G. Wong

Die On Your Feet by S.G. WongFormat Read:ebook provided by the author
Number of Pages:215 pages
Release Date:May 27, 2013
Publisher:Carina Press
Genre:Paranormal, Noir, Mystery
Formats Available: ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Author’s website | Publisher’s website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

Crescent City, 1934

In Crescent City, the dead are always close.

At the point of death, people can choose to become Ghosts, tethered to the living. They can remain with their loved ones as invisible companions—or in the case of Crescent City’s ghostly mayor, remain in office forever.

Being a P.I. in Crescent City isn’t easy or glamorous. Luckily Lola Starke has an edge: her Ghost, Aubrey, who can gather valuable clues from other Ghosts in the Ether. When they accept a simple missing-persons case, they’re drawn into a complicated web of lies and double-crosses that involves the most powerful people in the City—including Lola’s own mother, Grace McCall, a famous film star and the mayor’s former lover.

As Lola races to untangle the deceit ensnaring her, she discovers an old enemy at its center carefully orchestrating the perfect moment to betray Lola and destroy Aubrey forever; unless Lola and Aubrey can stop them first.

My Thoughts:

I was never quite sure whether the “Crescent City” setting of Die on your Feet was meant to be merely a paranormal analog for Hollywood in the 1940’s, or whether we’d moved to a completely parallel world or other dimension. I wish the author had been a bit less coy about the setting.

It seemed that Crescent City was more than a noir-type 1940’s Hollywood, but it definitely was that. Lola Starke, our heroine, is a private investigator who carried at “gat” rather than a gun. She also talked as tough as any private dick out of the Sam Spade or Raymond Chandler tradition.

But the difference in S.G. Wong’s Crescent City is that many citizens have their own personal “Ghost” accompanying them. Aubrey haunts Lola day and night. The questions abound. Why does he? Why did she agree to this? What does he get out of it?

Aubrey used to be her mother’s dresser. Not the furniture, a person. There’s the Hollywood touch. Lola’s mother, Grace McCall, is a famous Hollywood actress. Her late father, Butch, was a Crescent City cop. And her mother’s lover was Mayor Matteo Esperanza. Except that now he’s just known as Mayor. Not the Mayor. Just Mayor. He’s the one and only ghost in Crescent City so powerful that he doesn’t need a person to haunt.

Lola starts the story by taking a missing persons case. A man wants to find his best friend. Sounds simple, right? Except his friend is a former heroin addict and the guy who hires her is so obviously lying through his teeth.

Then a former school mate who Lola hated (with good reason, the woman was so obviously one of the mean girls) and clearly vice versa, has Lola kidnapped and forces her to take a case. Forces how? Threatens Lola’s family. Her former school “chum” is now a seedy and greedy public official.

So we go from a lying client to a strong-arming client. And things get even more complicated from there. It has to do with the ghosts. And politics. And ghostly politics!

Did I mention that Lola does NOT have a very good relationship with her mother? Throw family politics into the mix. Definitely. And murder.

Verdict: There were a lot of very cool concepts in this story, but maybe one too many. The ghosts were interesting, but it’s clear at the end that having a ghost is a double-edged sword. They can be friend or jailor.

The history of Crescent City took a definite turn from our own history. Crescent City came to be Chinese-dominated instead of gwai, but the author didn’t explain enough to keep the reader from being confused, or at least this reader. Most of the obvious effects seem to have been in who controlled gambling, the nature of the gaming, and that it was legal. But there was probably a lot more that I just missed.

Lola was a hot mess. She seems to hate and distrust everyone from beginning to end, including her ghost. We don’t know why their relationship is so bad, except that she’s never forgiven her mother for leaving her father. Things don’t get much better during the course of the story, either. Lola solves the mystery in the story, but we don’t learn a lot about her.

The case gets more and more complicated as things go on. Missing persons to bureaucrat-on-the-take to political power play to sorcery. It might have been one turn too many. The villain was obvious from the minute she came onstage. Her motivations seemed a bit out there, even for this alternate world.


I give Die On Your Feet by S.G. Wong 3 smoking stars.


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Stoker’s Manuscript by Royce Prouty

Stoker's Manuscript by Royce ProutyFormat read: print book borrowed from the Library
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Horror
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Date Released: June 13, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

When rare-manuscript expert Joseph Barkeley is hired to authenticate and purchase the original draft and notes for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, little does he know that the reclusive buyer is a member of the oldest family in Transylvania.

After delivering the manuscript to the legendary Bran Castle in Romania, Barkeley—a Romanian orphan himself—realizes to his horror that he’s become a prisoner to the son of Vlad Dracul. To earn his freedom, Barkeley must decipher cryptic messages hidden in the text of the original Dracula that reveal the burial sites of certain Dracul family members. Barkeley’s only hope is to ensure that he does not exhaust his usefulness to his captor until he’s able to escape. Soon he discovers secrets about his own lineage that suggest his selection for the task was more than coincidence. In this knowledge may lie Barkeley’s salvation—or his doom. For now he must choose between a coward’s flight and a mortal conflict against an ancient foe.

Building on actual international events surrounding the publication of Bram Stoker’s original novel, Royce Prouty has written a spellbinding debut novel that ranges from 1890s Chicago, London, and Transylvania to the perilous present.

My Review:

This is eerie. It has that tingle of chill up your spine subtle horror, combined with a search for identity and a bit of a scavenger hunt. Very cryptic and cool.

Then there’s the mix of contemporary horror thrown in; 21st century Romania still bears very real scars from the regime of the tyrant Nicolae Ceauşescu.

The story of Stoker’s Manuscript borrows its fascination from our endless enthrallment to Bram Stoker’s original story; but the question raised by this novel is whether that story was Stoker’s original story? What if, instead of merely borrowing from obscure folk legends, Stoker actually had a source with first-hand knowledge of real vampires?

Which begs the question that has led to so much horror and paranormal fiction, what if there really are vampires?

Joseph Barkeley is hired not just to authenticate Stoker’s original manuscript and notes from the Rosenbach Museum, but to also purchase them (if authentic) for a mysterious (and, of course wealthy) personage in Romania.

Joseph finds the commission too good to refuse, although he knows that he should. It will require him to return to Romania, the country of his birth. The country where his father murdered his mother and committed suicide. There is a mystery in their deaths, and in the equally mysterious rescue of himself and his brother from an orphanage.

He hopes for answers to his questions.

Instead, he finds an even greater mystery. His friends and his brother warn him away, saying that the truth is too dangerous to be revealed.

Dracula by Bram StokerWe know, of course we do. Stoker’s manuscript for Dracula uncovers a secret. There really are vampires. The questions that Joseph needs to ask are about the history of that manuscript. Why do the vampires want it now? What secret does it hold?

Can Joseph save anything from this debacle? Can he unravel the puzzle before it is too late?

Escape Rating B: There are puzzles within puzzles within puzzles. At the very beginning of the story, Joseph lives such an isolated life that it took me a few pages to realize that the start of the story was contemporary. The writing has a historical feel to it, a bit as if one is reading the original story.

Because of Joseph’s initial isolation, he’s a difficult person to get to know; he doesn’t even let himself inside his own head. He is dispassionate, but fascinated with solving problems. Over the course of the story, he lets more people get closer to him, but this is not a relationship story. It’s a scavenger hunt.

The analogy works on multiple levels, as the vampires are scavengers of another kind. They are not romanticized in any way. They are amoral bloodsucking villains with no redeeming characteristics, and neither were they in Stoker’s original tale.

One of the ways this story draws the reader in is that it is built on the historic possibilities. Stoker’s actual manuscript is in the Rosenbach Museum. It was lost and discovered recently. Fabricating a horror novel around the creation of a horror novel this way is particularly chilling.

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaThe way this story takes the original Dracula book, mixes in Romanian history and creates a new horror legend made me think of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Similar elements going in different chilling directions, that suck you right in…to the story.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post on the Importance of Mentors by Author Jen Greyson + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome Jen Greyson, author of the totally spectacular Lightning Rider. This one absolutely pulled me in and swept me away–or maybe I should say stormed in and took me under? Read my review and you’ll see just what I mean.

Lightning Rider large blog tour button

A huge thank you to Marlene here at Reading Reality for letting me visit (can I get a huge round of applause for librarians everywhere?)

With my first book coming out, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what got me here, and the points that stand out have all dealt with my mentors along the way, so I wanted to talk about the . . .

Importance of Mentors by Jen Greyson

I’m an eclectic. In every aspect of my life. My resume looks like those paintings where the artist throws random splashes of color on a canvas–the end result is passionate and beautiful, but it’s messy in the creating. I used to say my erratic work history made me a journeyman. Once I started writing, I realized it was fodder for my stories.

Because I have such a huge network filled with people from nearly every profession thanks to all those jobs, I’ve also been able to rely on the sea of humanity to give me mentors.

When I think of a mentor, I picture someone who has succeeded, who didn’t quit, who’s gone the extra mile to be exceptional. But when it comes to writing, my mentors aren’t all mega-accomplished writers. They’re also accountants and financial advisors and fiberglassers.

Lightning Rider by Jen GreysonSee, mentoring has to encompass every area of my life. I can’t be a writer without learning how to socialize and listen, respect deadlines and be tenacious, devote myself to my work and turn out the best possible product. Having a mentor in each of those areas gives me someone to admire and emulate, but they’ve come from every walk of life. A very blue-collar worker I know is a genius at listening and making a person feel like he’s hanging on their every word. An interaction with him makes me feel very special. I want my readers to feel that way when I meet them, so I watch the nuances of his interactions as he mentors me.

Writing is a solitary profession. I go in a room, talk to my imaginary friends for several hundred hours, and give those ramblings to other people and ask them what they think. It’s all very bizarre, if I really think about it. My daily interactions with people are pretty brief and superficial. (Not because I want them to be, but cashiers tend to want you to move along quickly and don’t care that it’s been 4 days since you’ve had an adult conversation. 🙂 Since they’re brief, I need them to be impactful and memorable, and not in a bad way. If I can make someone feel special (even in our 2 minute interaction), that’s an awesome day. But I have to work at it because socializing and listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to learn and practice and improve.

Having great mentors means being a great disciple. I have to be someone they want to continue to teach. If I argue their points, or act like a jerk, I don’t imagine the mentoring would last long.

In my new book, Lightning Rider, the main character, Evy, gets bombarded by people who want to mentor her and she must choose wisely. The wrong mentor is often worse than no mentor. While the stakes in most cases aren’t ever saving-the-world-or-die-trying like they are in Evy’s, they are impactful and deserve the right mentor.

I’d love to know, do you have a mentor in your life? Is there one from the past that sticks out? Are you a mentor to others? What’s the most impactful thing you’ve learned from a mentor—or mentored to someone else?

Thanks again to Marlene and all her readers.


Jen is kindly giving away one ebook copy of Lightning Rider. To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jen GreysonAbout Jen GreysonFrom the moment she decided on a degree in Equestrian Studies, Jen Greyson’s life has been one unscripted adventure after another. Leaving the cowboy state of Wyoming to train show horses in France, Switzerland, and Germany, she’s lived life without much of a plan, but always a book in her suitcase. Now a wife and mom to two young boys, she relies on her adventurous, passionate characters to be the risk- takers.Jen also writes university courses and corporate training material when she’s not enjoying the wilds of the west via wakeboard or snowmobile. Her new adult fantasy, Lightning Rider, comes out May 31 and features a Latina heroine with some serious superpowers.To learn more about Jen, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

Interview with Author Jennifer Harlow + Giveaway

jenWhat’s a book blogger to do? Welcome today’s guest, Jennifer Harlow, of course! Jennifer is here to talk about her terrific new paranormal mystery/romance What’s a Witch to Do? (to see just how terrific, take a look at my review)

While you’re putting What’s a Witch to Do? on your to-do list, take a look at what Jennifer has to say about it.

Marlene: Jennifer, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Jennifer: I like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain. Okay, not really. I hate getting wet. Um…I’m the Amazon Bestselling author of the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad series, I’m single, I live in Northern Virginia, and I spend my days thinking up ways to kill people. Just your typical gal.

Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing? Are you a planner or pantser?

Jennifer: I wake up, make the long five step trek to my desk, then spend ten minutes staring at the blank page before getting coffee for twenty more minutes of staring. Eventually the muse gets her ass to the office to help me (she’s in an abusive relationship with procrastination right now and really needs an intervention.) Really I have the main characters and the major plot points worked out years before I even pick up a pen, but sometimes those can change, so I’m both a pantser and planner. I think most writers are.

Marlene: All of your books so far are in the paranormal/urban fantasy/things that go bump in the night realm. Let’s face it, on your blog, you often say “welcome to the Darkside…” So what attracts you to that Darkside?

Jennifer: I don’t know where it comes from but I’ve always been drawn to horror and the paranormal. My grandmother was worried I’d go over to the “dark side,” as in become a feature on Deadly Women or something, but the darkness has always fascinated me. I like horror because it’s so dramatic like riding a roller coaster. You get to touch that darkness, that danger, but it can’t touch you back or hurt you. The paranormal is the unexplained, and we fear what we don’t understand. Plus with the paranormal you get to have a little magic in your life, even if it’s only in a book.

Whats a Witch to Do by Jennifer Harlow book coverMarlene: What can we expect of What’s a Witch to Do?

Jennifer: This one follows the most powerful witch in America who, on the busiest week of her life, finds out someone wants to kill her and take over her coven. There’s romance, humor, Southern hospitality, and plenty of suspense. Sales pitch over.

Marlene: In What’s a Witch to Do, Mona seems like a heroine for “the rest of us”. She’s not perfectly gorgeous, she’s not 22, she’s not a size 0, and her life is disorganized by a series of to-do lists that never quite get done. She’s wonderful! Was there a particular inspiration for Mona?

Jennifer: I often get asked if my character Bea from the F.R.E.A.K.S. is based off me. She’s far nicer, sweeter, and braver than me. If a horde of zombies was about to attack people I’d be running the other way, not picking up a machete to join in the fight. But Mona is the most like me. She has my former martyr syndrome, my overreaching grasp when it comes to all I commit to, my control freak tendencies, my intimacy issues, and my self-image problems. I think a lot of people, especially women, have the same quirks in being everything to everyone and weight static. Even my size 0 friends have the same static. I just wanted her to be a normal person in extraordinary circumstances. Even if she is the most powerful witch in America.

Marlene: Does your new Midnight Magic series tie into your F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad series?

Jennifer: It does. Some of the F.R.E.A.K.S. even make cameos. I wanted to expand this world to include people who are different but don’t go looking for trouble, it just finds them. Everyone shows up in everyone else’s books and events from the past play into all the books. I have a timeline above my desk to keep it all straight, like a web. Like Mona I just hope my reach doesn’t exceed my grasp.

Marlene: Will there be more Midnight Magic books? What is next on your schedule?

death takes a holidayJennifer: This year is very, very busy for me. Besides What’s A Witch To Do? I have a short story out in Kindle Single form about FREAK teleporter Nancy, the third F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad book Death Takes A Holiday out in August, and may self publish something else. Then this time next year the next in the Midnight Magic book will be out. Mona and Adam appear but really it’s Alpha Jason’s story about his rise to power. And right now I’m working on the third Magic book whose focus is Anna West, who I introduced in the second F.R.E.A.K.S. book To Catch A Vampire. I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.

Marlene: What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

Jennifer: The commute. Five steps and the boss doesn’t mind if I work in my pjs. I also like controlling people who have no recourse. Bea never calls me bossy when I micromanage her life. Fake people are so much better than real ones.

Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

Jennifer: I am a huge, massive anglophile. I didn’t leave the house for a week when PBS began their all British all the time channel. I watch more British shows than American.

Marlene: Tell us the title of one book that you’ve faked reading.

Fifty Shades Darker. I kind of liked Fifty Shades of Grey, I read it in like three hours and wouldn’t read it again, but the second one was just soooooo boring and Ana’s passivity began to grate so I stopped after about fifty pages. I totally felt like kicking Christian Grey in the balls during those fifty pages. He’d probably get off on that though.

SoullessMarlene: What’s one book that you’ve bought just because of the cover?

Jennifer: Soulless by Gail Carriger. That is one of my favorite covers ever. It’s like art.

Marlene: And what is the book that you most want to read again for the first time?

Jennifer: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. It was the last book where I had to spend all night reading it because I couldn’t put it down. I’m dying for the show to begin again.

Marlene: Morning person or Night Owl?

Jennifer: I used to be a massive Night Owl, even as a child I wouldn’t fall asleep until after midnight, but then I joined the working world and had to become a morning person. Stupid adulthood.

17517376About Jennifer Harlow

Jennifer Harlow spent her restless childhood fighting with her three brothers and scaring the heck out of herself with horror movies and books. She grew up to earn a degree at the University of Virginia which she put to use as a radio DJ, crisis hotline volunteer, bookseller, lab assistant, wedding coordinator, and government investigator. Currently she calls Northern Virginia home but that restless itch is ever present. In her free time, she continues to scare the beejepers out of herself watching scary movies and opening her credit card bills.

You can find Jennifer at her website, her blog, on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.



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Interview with Authors Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

My very special guests today are Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall, the authors of the Cowboy and Vampire series. And one of the most fascinating (and detailed) interviews it has ever been my privilege to host. Read it and get a taste of why you should dive right into their Cowboy and Vampire thriller series (see my reviews of The Cowboy and the Vampire and Blood and Whiskey for all the deliciously gory details–we’re talking vampires, there’s supposed to be some gore!)

Marlene: Clark and Kathleen, can you please tell us a bit about yourselves? What do you do when you’re not writing?

Clark and Kathleen: Leading with an absolute stereotype, all authors are boring and we are not exceptions to that rule. Serious authors (and we don’t mean authors who lack cheerful dispositions, nor do we mean those who are financially successful — we’re talking about authors who take the pursuit seriously and place it equal to or above all others) tend to spend most (all) of their spare time locked in a room, examining the motivations of make-believe people moving across a fictional landscape. It’s self-imposed schizophrenia and there is simply nothing interesting about it other than, hopefully, how it makes readers feel later when they make their way through the finished product. But there is a lot of hard, boring work to get from idea to finished product.

That’s a long-winded way of saying the only thing we do when we are not writing is think about writing, talk about writing … and read. Reading is not only an enjoyable pursuit, it keeps the brain primed with what writing feels like once it’s delivered.

To make a boring story even more mind-numbing, we both work in communications — Kathleen for a research university, Clark for a national financial services company — so we spend all of our days writing, or thinking about the strategy behind how words will affect an audience. We both write for a living, and we both write to live, which is awesome, but also tiring. And boring.

Which is a shame because we live in Portland, Oregon — one of the coolest cities in the country. Along with all the creative people, great food and tremendous beer, it’s smack dab between the lovely, rocky and often undeveloped coast to the west, the sagebrush-covered high desert to the east and the mountains of the Gifford Pinchot Wilderness (where Bigfoot walks!) to the north. We do try to get away whenever we can, but generally tote our laptops and notebooks along with us to write or talk about writing.

Marlene: And speaking of writing, what is it like to co-author a book? What’s your process for writing a novel together?

Clark and Kathleen: Writing together is like making diamonds from carbon. It takes a lot of time, heat and pressure to end up with something rare, something that endures, something that people want to own. The time is something we carve out ourselves. The heat is generated by the shared creativity and the epic fights we have about … well, everything — from the phallic nature of em-dashes to the value of flashback sequences. As for the pressure, it’s self-imposed; we feel a responsibility to create simply the best work possible, work that — despite the seemingly crazy subject matter: cowboys and vampires — will stand the test of time and not do a disservice to the efforts of writers who came before us and those who will come after us.

For example, we’re not Kafka, but it’s okay — desired, actually — to aspire to that level of creativity and skill and to try and replicate his ability to change perceptions, if only for a short time, of readers. We write about cowboys and vampires, among other things. Kafka wrote about a man who turned into a giant cockroach. We want to be known for fun, entertaining books that still deliver quality fiction. Our books use familiar icons to take readers on a journey that examines the nature of reality, the meaning of consciousness and the nature of evil. And of course, it’s all wrapped up in a dark comedy and a sizzling love story.

The process of writing together is pretty straightforward. First, we come up with the concept. Then we plot it out. Next up is assigning chapters. After that comes the most crucial step: murdering our “regular” lives. We give up on social events, family obligations and anything fun. We immerse ourselves in the process, crank out chapters and then swap them to edit and back and forth, ad infinitum. Despite great odds, in the midst of all that madness and mayhem, a book begins to take shape. And after countless edits passing it back and forth, and countless fights and going to bed angry over the most ridiculous things, our two visions of the world are gradually, painstakingly shaped into a seamless whole. And hopefully that whole will be a glittering diamond and not fool’s gold (pyrite, which is formed under much less extreme conditions than diamonds).

Marlene: What made you decide to get into this whole co-novel-writing thing in the first place? There must be a story in there.

Clark and Kathleen: We started writing together to try and save our relationship. We were tentatively exploring the idea of reconciling after a two-year separation following an ugly break up. We had crashed together in an intense and passionate relationship but the intensity, the energy generated, was bigger than we were at the time, so we came up with creative ways to sabotage our own happiness and retreated to lick our wounds. In the time apart, we realized we had turned our back on something huge, something that deserved another attempt. But we wanted to be smarter this time, so we agreed on some ground rules.

We decided to write together to divert some of the crazy, creative energy into fiction. So far, so good.

Marlene: Would you care to tell us a bit about how you got together? It sounds like your story might make a good romance novel just by itself?

Clark and Kathleen: Right? Thank you! We think it would make an awesome story. We met while working survival jobs in a restaurant in Portland. We were both unhappily married to other people at the time and there was an immediate, visceral, magical connection like we’d met in a past life, or several past lives, but — and we want to make this very clear: nothing came of it. Other than having some fantastic conversations and, probably, flirting a bit more than we should have, absolutely nothing happened.

Several years later, luckily, our paths crossed again and we were both single. Lots happened then, so much so that we combusted into an epic break up (see above).

Marlene: The series you’re writing is Cowboy and Vampire. Western meets horror. Two genres that don’t normally ride together, so to speak. What inspired you to blend them?

Clark and Kathleen: When we got back together the second time and decided to write together, we wanted to come up with a concept that brought together our interests. Clark grew up in Montana and is a big fan of the west, interested in how modern life in cowboy country is built on all of the myths and legends of that short, golden era of the American west. Kathleen is interested in the intersection of science and religion, exploring concepts such as where the self exists, how morality is created and what Near Death Experiences mean. And we both have a macabre, dark side. Bring all that together, along with a desire to write something fun that would really grab readers, and you can see how undead buckaroos bubbled to the surface.

We met up after our two-year seclusion at a truck stop in Madras, Oregon, halfway between our respective homes — a neutral, no-man’s land. We started pitching ideas and when we got to cowboys and vampires, we both got really excited and the more we talked about it, the more possibilities we saw. We sketched out the rough plot line for the first book in crayon on the back of a paper placemat, then returned to our homes and started working on it. At the time, this was 1998, we didn’t have email (insert your own “when I was young” jokes) so we mailed the chapters back and forth written in long hand.

Marlene: Can you briefly describe the Cowboy and Vampire series, so readers know what to expect when they step into your world? Can they start with Blood and Whiskey, or do people really need to start at the beginning?

Clark and Kathleen: The Cowboy and Vampire Thriller Series is a love story about the power that exists when worlds collide and opposites attract. And Tucker and Lizzie, the main characters, couldn’t be more opposite.

Tucker is a down-on-his-luck cowboy living in LonePine, Wyoming, population 438. He’s got a small ranch, big bills, an overly-sensitive dog named Rex and a good, but simple life. His world is completely upended when he falls hat-over-boot-heels in love with Lizzie Vaughan. She’s a hot-shot reporter from New York on assignment from her magazine to chronicle the disappearing west. They meet, sparks fly and bed sheets get twisted, and that might have been the end of it — a few nights of passionate sex and enough good memories to last a lifetime — but Lizzie has ancient vampire blood in her veins and the ruling elite of the vampire world want it bad.

In The Cowboy and the Vampire, Lizzie finds out she is a vampire and turns to Tucker for help. They have to fend off a horde of evil vampires, led by her maniacal father who is bent on stealing the power in her veins and using it to reshape the world to his own twisted liking, while coming to terms with the fact that she will need blood to live.

In Blood and Whiskey, which picks up on the action but is a standalone read, they face a new challenge ­­— a race war brewing between the two species of vampires, Reptiles and Royals — and LonePine is caught right in the middle. As foreign vampires bent on testing Lizzie’s strength swarm to the tiny town, an undead assassin straight out of the old west has Lizzie in his gun sights.

Marlene: What book do each of you recommend that everyone should read, and why did you pick that particular book?

Kathleen: Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer. It’s a little outdated now, but it still gets you thinking about cruelty and our own role in it. Thinking about cruelty is a good state of mind to be in when you write about vampires.

Clark: Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo; I think it’s one of the greatest books ever written and the level of character development is inspiring. Hugo spent more time developing minor characters than many contemporary authors spend on their protagonists. And that final chapter is just heart wrenching. I’m not sure the book would get published today because modern readers seem to prefer less exposition, but I consider it is a true monument to the craft.

Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

Clark and Kathleen: We are hard at work on book three, tentatively called Undead Frontiers. And we are debuting a new paranormal detective series shortly after that. It has a tough female lead and is written in the old noir style. We call it “paranoir.” The first in the series is tentatively titled Plantlife.

Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?

Clark and Kathleen:

1) Pure entertainment. Our books are a great blend of funny and suspenseful. There’s intrigue, backstabbing, betrayal, pulse-quickening action and steamy romance all punctuated with deadpan black humor. For example, after barely surviving an undead assault at a horrific slaughterhouse and flash-freezing a vampire, Tucker has this to say:

“Vampire-sicles,” Tucker said. “There’s a flavor that ain’t gonna catch on at the Tastee Freeze next summer.”

2) Gets your brain juiced up. Our vampires are sustained by The Meta. They die every morning, completely, and their “souls” — the sense of individuated self — reside temporarily in The Meta, a giant energy field that contains, sustains and stores life in between physical incarnations. For vampires, who have a near death experience every morning, it’s fairly run of the mill. For humans, accessing The Meta is life-changing. This aspect of the story continues to draw interest.

“While a number of existentialist underpinnings give the series some depth, the book is first and foremost a thriller, upping the ante in every chapter as bullets fly and relationships strain under the weight of old loyalties and new revelations. In a way, it’s a shame more time isn’t spent exploring the existence of this meta world where consciousnesses wait out the daylight hours and immortality has all sorts of ramifications for human spirituality.” Kirkus Reviews.

3) Welcome to the real modern west. The western part is utterly realistic and based on Clark’s experiences growing up on a ranch in Montana as well as our shared love of the remote reaches of Oregon. For example, we so fell in love with tiny Plush, Oregon on a recent trip there to mine sunstones, we decided to feature it — and sunstones, the state gemstone of Oregon — in Blood and Whiskey. A review from the nearest paper, the East Oregonian, indicates that we got the cowboy part right.

“These books are billed as romantic thrillers, and it’s certainly non-stop action from the get-go. They are full of the down-home dry wit and laid-back attitude that cowboys do so well. And as unlikely as their relationship is, Tucker and Lizzie’s bond is what makes the whole scheme work. So if you’re looking for a combination of sex, blood and Western romance, pour yourself a shot of the good stuff and settle in for a wickedly good read.” Renee Struthers, The East Oregonian

Marlene: Each of you, morning person or night owl?

Clark and Kathleen: Neither of us are really night owls, but only because our work schedules get us up early and send us to bed pretty early, with our brains spent. In a perfect world, one in which we never had to leave our little world (lovingly referred to as Reclusia) we would probably stay up later and sleep later.

Thanks so much for letting us stop by!

And thank you for interrupting your real and writing life (or that much-needed trip to Reclusia) to answer all my questions. This was awesome! Vampire-sicles, OMG I’m still laughing about the vampire-sicles.

Review: Blood and Whiskey by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

Format read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: Trade paperback, ebook
Genre: paranormal
Series: Cowboy and Vampire #2
Length: 362 pages
Publisher: Pumpjack Press
Purchasing Info: Authors’ Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Wanted: Lizzie Vaughan, Dead or Alive. Relationships are always hard, but for a broke cowboy and a newly turned Vampire, true love may be lethal. After barely surviving an undead apocalypse in The Cowboy and the Vampire, Tucker and Lizzie hightail it back to quirky LonePine, Wyoming (population 438), to start a family. But she’s got a growing thirst for blood and he’s realizing that mortality ain’t all it’s cracked up to be when your girlfriend may live forever. With a scheming Vampire nation hot on their boot heels and a price on her head, how far will Lizzie and Tucker go to protect their unlikely love? Blending evolution, religion and an overly sensitive cow dog named Rex, Blood and Whiskey drags the Vampire myth into the modern west, delivering double-barreled action, heart-pounding passion and wicked humor.

Blood and Whiskey by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall is definitely “A Cowboy and Vampire Thriller”, just like it says in the subtitle. Meaning that it involves a cowboy, (actually multiple cowboys, but one in particular), a vampire (again multiples, some good, some definitely not so good) and is it ever a thriller.

Also, it’s the sequel to The Cowboy and the Vampire (reviewed here), and it helps a ton to have read the first book first. These vampires have a whole religion of their very own. (There will be spoilers here for the first book. You have been warned.)

When last we left out heroes, Lizzie was the new queen of the vampires, her nemesis (and father) Julius, was permanently dead, and she was pregnant with Tucker’s baby–with no idea whether said baby was going to be human, vampire or some combination of the two. After all the crazy changes in her life, she just wanted to go home, and that meant Tucker’s home, little ole LonePine, Wyoming.

Where the vampire world descends in droves. With Julius dead, there’s a vacuum of power, and everyone wants to know if Lizzie is even capable of filling it. If she isn’t, or doesn’t, chaos will rule. A chaos that will be very, very bad, not just for Lizzie, and for the “good” vampires, but also for the human race. They’ll just be food, like cattle. On the worst-tended factory farm anyone could possibly imagine…and probably for the shortest time in (unlikely to be) recorded history.

Then night will fall. A night that will make the first Dark Ages look positively bright in comparison.

While Lizzie figures out whether she can “woman up” (maybe that should be “vampire up”) and deal with the politics, Tucker has a mission of his own: helping his best friend, conspiracy theory-happy Lenny rescue his kidnapped niece Rose from a feed lot. It turns out Lenny’s conspiracy theories were right after all, just not quite the way anyone imagined.

It forces Lizzie to accept the consequences of her choices as a vampire, and not take the easy way out. Not as a vampire, not as leader, not as a queen. She can either consciously choose to consume evil, or she can become evil by default. It’s her choice, and her destiny.

The right choices are never the easy ones. Lizzie is lucky that cowboys learn that before they fall in love with vampires.

Escape Rating A-: Blood and Whiskey had less philosophy and more action than the first book, and that made for a much more action-packed, and more absorbing story. I picked this one up and totally lost track of time–always an excellent sign.

Every writer who tackles the “vampire question” puts their own unique spin on it, and Hays and McFall are no exception. Their take on vampire philosophy/metaphysics as “good” vampires being those who consume evil humans, and “bad” ones as those who just eat whatever they darn well please made for an interesting moral conundrum, along with the two different pictures of “love as redemption” painted by Tucker’s steadfast love for Lizzie in spite of her change, and the reptile-descended vampire Eliza’s surprising discovery of love for the beautiful Virote.

The question at the end, whether enlightened self-interest is enough to redeem an entire species, is one that I hope will be answered in later books in the series.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.