Review: UNDERSTANDING CEMETERY SYMBOLS by Tui Snider {giveaway}

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A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards

(Messages from the Dead)



– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

  Genre: History / Landmarks & Monuments / Iconography

Publisher: Castle Azle Press

Date of Publication: August 19, 2017

Number of Pages: 250

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Understanding Cemetery Symbols by Tui Snider helps history buffs, genealogists, ghost hunters, and other curiosity seekers decode the forgotten meanings of the symbols our ancestors placed on their headstones. By understanding the meaning behind the architecture, acronyms, & symbols found in America’s burial grounds, readers will gain a deeper appreciation for these “messages from the dead.”


Praise for Understanding Cemetery Symbols:

“When I ordered this book I thought it would be good for information concerning cemetery symbolism. I was wrong. It is GREAT!!!! This has already become my go to guide for all types of cemetery information. By far the best book I have come across!”  – Amazon verified purchase, wearylibrarian

“Wow! What a great book! I got bit by the bug doing genealogy research. I always wondered what the symbols meant and could not find a reliable resource for the info. With Ms. Snider’s book along with the symbiology and great pictures, also a creative process of Tui’s, are plenty of interesting tidbits! Useful and entertaining! The book is small enough to keep in the glove box or your handbag or backpack!!” – Amazon verified purchase, Rev. Joy Daley

“I always enjoyed walking through a cemetery and looking at the stones. Now it will give it a much deeper meaning. I really enjoyed reading this book!”  – Amazon verified purchase, Deborah D.

“Perfect book to get an idea for symbols and meaning. Only glanced through it and already picked up a few facts! Welcome addition to our growing library…” – Amazon verified purchase, Toripotterfan


Book  Graveyard Journal Workbbook Ghost Hunters Journal


Check out the book trailer! Music by Tui Snider!



UNDERSTANDING CEMETERY SYMBOLS is THE most essential field guide for field genealogy research and cemetery hounds.

Sometimes you happen upon something that you didn’t know you needed, until you have it.  And then you can’t imagine why or how you ever managed without it.


I began my genealogy and family history research sixteen years ago when I was pregnant with my first child.  Some of my most treasured artifacts from my research are the narratives that I have discovered or pieced together about an ancestor (who they were, and what was important to them).  This book gives me an exciting new tool to add information to those narratives, and I am SO excited to get to use the information to create a clearer picture of who my ancestors were, simply by checking out their gravestones.

UNDERSTANDING CEMETERY SYMBOLS is a comprehensive guide to the hidden or long-forgotten meanings behind the symbols and architecture of not only headstones but the cemeteries, as well.  The guide is filled with pictures and explanations of everything and includes a TON of narratives and examples (thrilling the history addict in me).  Everyone from the curious history buff to the avid genealogist, and including the ghost hunter types will find the content in this volume useful in translating the “message” that each headstone is trying to tell us.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  You will not be sorry for grabbing a copy to take on your next field trip to a historic cemetery.  Also see the companion GRAVEYARD JOURNAL for note-taking on your trek, or the GHOST HUNTERS JOURNAL for keeping data on your investigations.




Tui Snider is an award-winning writer, speaker, photographer, and musician specializing in quirky travel, overlooked history, cemetery symbolism, and haunted lore. As she puts it, “I used to write fiction, but then I moved to Texas!”

Tui lectures frequently at universities, libraries, conferences and bookstores. Her best-selling books include Paranormal Texas, The Lynching of the Santa Claus Bank Robber, Unexpected Texas, and Understanding Cemetery Symbols. She recently taught classes based on her books at Texas Christian University.

When not writing books, you can find Tui exploring the historic graveyards and backroads of Texas with her husband, Larry. 





Grand Prize: Signed Copies of Understanding Cemetery Symbols + wGraveyard Journal Workbook + Ghost Hunters Journal 

2nd & 3rd Prizes: Signed Copies of Understanding Cemetery Symbols

October 18-October 27, 2017

(U.S. Only)

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Special Feature: HIDDEN SEA by Miles Arceneaux {giveaway}

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  Genre: Mystery / Thriller / Suspense
Date of Publication: November 2017
Number of Pages: 384
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Charlie Sweetwater saw Mexico—especially the Mexican Gulf Coast—as a spiritual second home. He’d worked, played and lived there for much of his life, and thought the country suited him better than anywhere this side of his home on the Texas Coast.
But now a worrisome and potentially dangerous development has shown up on Charlie’s radar. Young Augustus Sweetwater, affectionately known as Augie, hasn’t reported in after completing a south-of-the-border sales trip for Sweetwater Marine. Raul, Augie’s father and Charlie’s nephew, is worried sick. Drug cartel violence in Mexico has reached epidemic proportions and Augie’s path took him through the heart of the narcotraficantes’ territory.
Charlie figures Augie just went off the grid to do some well-deserved fishing, surfing and beer-drinking at the end of his trip. He’d done the same in his time. But as Augie’s unexplained absence grows, Charlie and Raul become increasingly alarmed and set off for Mexico to bring their boy home.
What they unearth is far more than the sum of their fears. The familiar and friendly Gulf of Mexico has turned into a hidden sea plagued by smugglers, human traffickers, crooked politicians and even pirates. And Augie is lost somewhere in the middle of it all.
Charlie and Raul must summon an unlikely cast of characters to aid them, including a hilariously dissolute ex-pat musician, a priest whose faith struggles against the rising tide of refugee migration, a Mexican tycoon who may have secrets of his own and a beautiful maritime “repo man”. At the end of their quest, as the deepest secret of all is revealed, Charlie Sweetwater learns that neither Raul and Augie, nor the Gulf of Mexico, nor even himself, will ever be the same again.
Praise for Hidden Sea:
“A riveting story from Texas that wanders down the cartel-invested Gulf Coast of Mexico and drifts across to lawless Cuba. The characters are as salty as the sea and the plot pulls you along as powerfully as the loop current.
W.F. Strong, Stories from Texas, Texas Standard Radio Network
“Hidden Sea is a total blast: smart, funny, and riveting, with unforgettably colorful characters and a world so alive that you’ll swear you’re really there.”
Lou Berney, Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone
“In Hidden Sea, Miles Arceneaux tosses us in the drink of a timely contemporary adventure tale with the Sweetwater clan, complete with pirates, slave ships, family secrets, and the mother of all plot twists, in his patented Gulf Coast noir style.”
Michelle Newby Lancaster, Contributing Editor, Lone Star Literary Life, NBCC Literary Critic

In Case You Were Wondering. . .Sources Used in the Writing of Hidden Sea

NY Times article on the use of slaves in the South China Sea:

NY times article on maritime repo-men:
Guardian article on the fall of Tampico:

Houston Chronicle article on cross territory fish poachers:
Texas Observer story on the Central American women and children fleeing violence:
Photos of the dangerous practice of pressure diving:
Description of Geoff Winnigham’s travelogue of the Gulf Coast:


“Miles Arceneaux” is the pen name of three long-time Texas friends. James R. Dennis is a former attorney turned Dominican friar who lives in San Antonio. Brent Douglass is an international businessman from Austin. John T. Davis, also of Austin, is a journalist and author. Together, as “Miles,” they have been featured authors at the Texas Book Festival, the San Antonio Book Festival, and the Lubbock Book Festival.
Grand Prize: Autographed copies of all five Gulf Coast series books by Miles Arceneaux + a copy of Geoff Winningham’s Traveling the Shore of the Spanish Sea — The Gulf Coast of Texas and Mexico
Two Runners-Up: Each win an autographed copy of Hidden Sea

October 11-October 20, 2017
U.S. Only
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Interview: Laurie Olerich, Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance Author on her new release, KOIVU

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?

I write urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I love creating the world and the lore that goes with it. The little details of setting, culture, history and creatures are so much fun to write! My stories are meant to be an escape for readers. What better way to forget your problems than to lose yourself in a world that may or may not exist alongside our distressing one? Each book builds on the lore and the backstory so it unfolds in real time as you read. I love giving my characters unique psychic abilities that give them an edge on the bad guys and in the bedroom too–telepathy, telekinesis, energy exchange, teleporting… Imagine the possibilities! My paranormal world includes Primani (immortal soldiers), psychics, angels, and demons (both good and bad). Oh, and just because this is PNR, there’s no reason to leave out the occasional kinky character, is there? These guys have needs too! Now, isn’t that more fun than cowboys and bikers? Wink, wink!

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I’ve loved reading since I was a little girl. My mother read to me often and I devoured every book I could get my hands on. I remember reading “Reader’s Digest” and the encyclopedias when there were no new books. I memorized all of the Nancy Drew books by the time I was 11. When I was about 14, I discovered Piers Anthony. There’s just something about escaping into another world that appeals to me. I can’t tell you how many Nancy Drew mysteries I invented in my neighborhood!

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I describe my writing style as action oriented, fast paced, and conversational. My characters tell the story from the prologue to the epilogue. Sure, I have to guide them along and fill in the details, but the story comes from them. I love the twists and turns this brings to the plot. The romance is as important to me as the plot and action scenes so I let it flow as the characters want. I believe romance has to flow organically so I don’t try to rush it. Same thing for sex. Each couple has their own personalities so their romance and sex scenes will be as true to that as I can make it. For example, my crazier couples will have sex in public or indulge in hot, wild monkey sex. My more spiritual, sensual couples are more likely to make love in a steamy lagoon or an elegant hotel room.

In a nutshell, I write stories to sweep readers into my world. I prefer to sprinkle clues and Easter eggs across the book and weave the backstories along the way to create that delicious feeling of anticipation that my readers really want.

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’m having a blast writing the stories in my new Demons After Dark series. These poor demons have been exiled into human bodies and they are in constant trouble. Between their love lives and the ongoing conspiracy to overthrow Lucifer, I’ve got a lot to write. I’m in the middle of book four now. “Derick (Demons After Dark Book Four) should be released between Dec-Jan. I’m also working on another novella in my Primani series. This one will also be released between Dec-Jan.

What do your plans for future projects include?

I’ve got a full plate! In 2018, I’m planning an additional two books in the Demons After Dark series and another novel and a novella in the Primani series. I’ve got a contemporary romance series planned for 2019.


Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?  

Hmmm. I do my best thinking out loud, so I usually run my plots by my Dalmatian, Rambo. He’s the genius behind my secret society in Hell series arc. Is that strange?

How many donuts are you capable of eating in one sitting?

I can eat about eight. Seriously. Nine, if I’m starving. They’re nothing but sugar and air! I have no willpower over donuts so I rarely buy them.

What is your go-to method for getting rid of hiccups?

I never get the hiccups. Seriously. Like never.

If I gave you a pencil and piece of paper and told you to draw something funny, what would you draw?

Silly puppy faces with lolling tongues, or perhaps, sad penises. Those are always funny!

Do you have a favorite Girl Scout Cookie?

Yes! Those chocolate-coconut-caramel thingies.

How many times does it take for you to listen to a song that you love before you actually hate it instead?

8,321.5 times. I’m very patient.

This or That?

Dogs or Cats?  

Dogs! Dalmatians most of all! I love my spotted furbabies.

Marvel or DC Comics?  

Marvel—I’m a big Thor fan! And Agent Coulson! And Iron Man! But not Captain America. He’s too goody-goody.

Winter or Summer?  

Winter for sure. I hate to sweat!

TexMex or Italian?

TexMex all the way. I make awesome chicken enchiladas.

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Vanilla, but I wouldn’t kick chocolate out of bed.

Fun Facts about the author:

I’m a zombie apocalypse junkie–totally a guilty pleasure! I’m fascinated with the way the world’s embraced the idea—books, movies, games, TV shows, chat rooms, blogs…it’s crazy how fast the phenomena has spread. Completely normal people sit around and talk about what they’d do if the world suddenly was overrun with zombies. If I had more money, I’d probably be a doomsday prepper. My son’s officially in charge of all things apocalyptic in our house. So we have two hatchets–unsharpened–in the garage and a combat shotgun in the upstairs bedroom. Yep, that’s his plan.

Over the years, I’ve rescued and rehabilitated 26 Dalmatians. There are so many abandoned and unwanted animals out there and I’m glad I was able to find new homes for these beautiful dogs. At any given time, we usually have two or three Dals in the house. Although now we’re down to only one since my favorite girl died last year. Princess Domino was 15. She may be gone, but I immortalized her in my Primani books in the years before she died. Yes, she really did play hacky-sack with us! Luckily, we’ve still got Rambo. He’s my writing buddy now. We rescued him from an abandoned crack house. Once we got him cleaned up and healed from terrible injuries, he’s been a wonderful, loving member of the family. I recommend adopting a rescued animal to anyone looking for a new furbaby!


Laurie Image 8 cropped final.jpg

Laurie Olerich is a Texas girl with an unhealthy love of hockey, a taste for expensive bourbon, and an obsession with all things supernatural. She writes taut, action-packed, and wickedly sexy urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Creating a world filled with immortal soldiers, micromanaging archangels, and unforgettable demons is her one true passion. Give her angel juice and demon mojo any day of the week! She loves taking psychic abilities and twisting them around in new and exciting ways. Add in a ton of high-octane action, shocking subplots, funny characters who nag at her in her sleep, and explosive sex and she calls that a book! Her PNR elements tend to be demons, angels, and psychics not shifters, vamps, or fae. And she’s got a thing for flawed, muscle-y smartasses who carry weapons. She just can’t help herself. She likes sharp & pointies and things that go BOOM!


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Team Lucifer?

This Band of Brothers Will Steal Your Heart!

Introducing the Demons after Dark series! It’s hot paranormal romance featuring unlikely alpha heroes who will make you laugh, cry, and swoon. Known as Trinity demons, this band of brothers was stripped of their powers and violently exiled from Hell. Forced to live as humans, they’re left with no power and no weapons while a secret society quietly plots Lucifer’s demise. For these big, bad demons, adjusting to life as a human is, well, harder than Hell!

Former Hell’s Fury champion, Koivu, is desperate to return to Hell to reclaim his title and stolen life. As an extreme athlete, he had fame, glory, and more pleasure than he probably deserved. He was a freakin’ rock star! Being exiled in a broken human body is his worst nightmare. Stripped of his powers and unable to fight, he’s consumed by frustration, counting the seconds until he can go home. His future looks bleak until he meets a sexy, soft-hearted physical therapist who heals much more than his shoulder.

Physical therapist Micki Glass knows something about damaged people. She’s been struggling to get over her ex for three long years when this crazy man crashes into her life. He’s crude and intense but irresistibly charming. With his feral eyes and sexy smile, Koivu takes her on a sensual joyride that makes her feel like a woman again. As their affair heats up, she craves him like oxygen until she discovers what he really is. With more than her heart on the line, can she accept his past and love him for who he is now?

The day of reckoning is looming closer and the sacrifices have begun. Can Koivu stop the murders, find the rest of the Trinity, and convince the woman he loves to give him another chance before it’s too late?

Warning: This story contains intensely hot sex, an irresistibly-damaged hero, and a damsel with a steel backbone. Have a box of tissues handy. The author takes no responsibility for missed work or grouchiness from lack of sleep.

Note: This title can be read as a stand-alone story, but for the full backstory, start with “Vanek.”

Books in the Series:




˃˃˃ Introducing Demons After Dark!

This Primani World crossover series is hot paranormal romance featuring unlikely heroes who will make you laugh, cry, and swoon. Dubbed as Trinity demons, this band of brothers was branded as traitors and tossed out of Hell while an ancient evil patiently plots Lucifer’s demise. Waking up with no memories and no powers, the Trinity are horrified to learn they’re now human and the conspiracy goes much deeper than they thought. An uneasy alliance with the archangel Raphael is their only hope of clearing their names and stopping a civil war in Hell from destroying humanity.

All is not lost though. Between some heavenly interference and the love of a few good women, the Trinity just might solve the mystery before all Hell breaks loose. Each book features one of my heroes and his lady love plus extends the overarching conspiracy. These are action-packed stories filled with humor and smokin’ hot sex.


Review: LOVING LUTHER by Allison Pittman

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  Genre: Christian Historical Romance 
Publisher: Tyndale House
Date of Publication: September 1, 2017
Number of Pages: 432
Scroll down for giveaway!
Germany, 1505
In the dark of night, Katharina von Bora says the bravest good-bye a six-year-old can muster and walks away as the heavy convent gate closes behind her. 

Though the cold walls offer no comfort, Katharina soon finds herself calling the convent her home. God, her father. This, her life. She takes her vows–a choice more practical than pious–but in time, a seed of discontent is planted by the smuggled writings of a rebellious excommunicated priest named Martin Luther. Their message? That Katharina is subject to God, and no one else. Could the Lord truly desire more for her than this life of servitude?

In her first true step of faith, Katharina leaves the only life she has ever known. But the freedom she has craved comes with a price, and she finds she has traded one life of isolation for another. Without the security of the convent walls or a family of her own, Katharina must trust in both the God who saved her and the man who paved a way for rescue. Luther’s friends are quick to offer shelter, but Katharina longs for all Luther has promised: a home, a husband, perhaps even the chance to fall in love.


Praise for Loving Luther

[Pittman] pens an exquisite tale, capturing the emotions of a nun grappling with the faith she’s always known vs. a new and unfamiliar freedom in faith.  Simmering with tension of Katharina’s discontent and longings, the novel unveils a slow morphing that follows Katharina’s own personal transformation, from reverence to spirited determination in choosing her own way in the world. — Booklist
Loving Luther is a moving and rich historical romance based on Luther’s relationship with his wife Katharina.  In addition, it shows how their marriage was actually significant to the Lutheran faith.  Instead of dwelling on the couple’s courtship, the story goes deep into the roots of the Reformation.  Luther and Katharina interrogate their faith, living out their convictions in a way that is both inspiring and profoundly human.  Loving Luther has depth, and it is unexpectedly touching.  Katharina and Luther, in search of a happy ending, find one another.  Their love, Pittman shows, really did change the world. — Foreword Magazine
A historical novel with characters who are brave, strong and willing to take chances in times of persecution.  The plot is partially based on the teachings of Martin Luther and the many lives he changed, some for the better, some for the worse.  Pittman is a talented author who touches on topics that have been debated over the decades and are still being talked about today. — Romantic Times Reviews

Fascinating Historical Romantic Tale of one of history’s less-known heroines during The Reformation

Katharina Von Bora would one day become the wife of the Master of Reformation, Martin Luther, but the story of how she got there is a less-known tale.  

Upon her mother’s death at an early age, her father left her at a convent to be raised in the Faith by the nuns of the Order.  She was cloistered and taught the ways of the Catholic church, bonding with many of the Sisters of the convent.  As was expected, she took her vows at sixteen and joined the Order, despite questions and doubts.  

She happens upon a bit of parchment with translated scripture upon it, written by the outcast Martin Luther, and even though she is forbidden to read them, she takes them, and takes the words to heart.  This begins a reformation of her own being, and before long, she has left the convent and her vows.  The rest of the book tells the story of her relationship with Luther and role in the Reformation movement, by his side.  It is a wonderful story of faith, love and loyalty.

I recommend this book to historical fiction readers who like the glimpse at what the life of lesser-known heroes and heroines who supported large movements in history and larger historical characters.  Well-done.

Allison Pittman is the author of more than a dozen critically acclaimed novels and a three-time Christy finalist—twice for her Sister Wife series and once for All for a Story from her take on the Roaring Twenties. She lives near San Antonio, Texas, blissfully sharing an empty nest with her husband, Mike.
October 2-October 11, 2017
(U.S. Only)

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Top 10: Eliza Maxwell, author of THE UNREMEMBERED GIRL

BNR The Unremembered Girl JPG

  Genre: Psychological Suspense / Mystery
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Date of Publication: November 1, 2017
Number of Pages: 332
Scroll down for giveaway!
In the deep woods of East Texas, Henry supports his family by selling bootleg liquor. It’s all he can do to keep his compassionate but ailing mother and his stepfather—a fanatical grassroots minister with a bruising rhetoric—from ruin. But they have no idea they’ve become the obsession of the girl in the woods.
Abandoned and nearly feral, Eve has been watching them, seduced by the notion of family—something she’s known only in the most brutal sense. Soon she can’t resist the temptation to get close. Where Henry’s mother sees a poor girl in need, his father sees only wickedness. When Henry forges an unexpected bond with Eve, he believes he might be able to save her. He doesn’t know how wrong he is.
Eve is about to take charge of her own destiny—and that of Henry’s family. As both their worlds spin violently out of control, Henry must make an impossible choice: protect the broken young woman who’s claimed a piece of his soul, or put everyone he loves at risk in order to do the right thing.


Praise for The Grave Tender, Maxwell’s previous book:

“An emotional powerhouse of a story that will leave readers reeling from the beginning to the end.” —Christena Stephens, Forgotten Winds
“Beautiful and intoxicating.” —Chelsea Humphrey, The Suspense is Thrilling Me
“Haunting. Lyrical. Beautiful. Dark. At times, sickening.” —Julia Byers, Books in the Garden
“This is dark psychological suspense that skillfully inspires a slow-dawning dread. . .It will shred you.” — Michelle Newby, Lone Star Literary Life

Check out the book trailer!

Top Ten

Eliza Maxwell’s Top Ten Books – and a Few Pet Peeves

When someone asks for a personal top ten list for books, I always panic a little.  “That’s too vague!” I cry, already imagining the amazing books that I won’t be able to fit onto the list.  “Ten books written for kids? Ten beautifully written books that moved me to tears? Ten books by women? Ten books by men? Ten mysteries that shocked me? Ten circus books? Ten books that taught me something about life, love, diversity, culture, death, parenthood, millennials?  It’s too much!  I need parameters!”

My husband, ever the voice of reason, says, “Calm down. Just list the books you’ve read more than once.”

Whew. Sigh of relief.  I can do that.  So without political agenda and without worrying about whether there is enough representation for the various amazing authors, stories, and voices out there, I’ve gone through my shelves and tipped out the first ten books (or series of books) that I have verifiably read more than once, most more than twice.


Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

“I have not broken your heart – you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.”
― Emily BrontëWuthering Heights


Ender’s Game/ Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

“Sometimes David kills Goliath, and people never forget. But there were a lot of little guys Goliath had already mashed into the ground. Nobody sang songs about those fights…”
― Orson Scott CardEnder’s Shadow


It by Stephen King

“Home is the place where when you go there, you have to finally face the thing in the dark.”
― Stephen KingIt


The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

“Now … if you trust in yourself … and believe in your dreams … and follow your star … you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”
― Terry PratchettThe Wee Free Men


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Men are simpler than you imagine my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.”
― Daphne du MaurierRebecca


Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

“You think you know how this story is going to end, but you don’t.”
― Christopher MooreLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal


The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

“I wanted to cry, but I realized that I was too old for that. I would be a woman soon and I would have to learn how to live with a divided heart.”
― Anita DiamantThe Red Tent


Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

“It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism.”
― Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch


Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

“Have a biscuit, Potter.”

– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

“Did they all live happily ever after? They did not. No one ever does, in spite of what the stories may say.”
― Stephen KingThe Eyes of the Dragon


As a bonus for those of you who made it to the end, I’ll throw in a mini-list of Pet Peeves: (You’re welcome. ☺ )

  1. Sitting in a warm seat
  2. Putting peanut butter in the fridge.
  3. People in my personal space in the check-out line.
  4. Reading the end of the book first.
  5. Duck faces.


Eliza Maxwell lives in Texas with her ever patient husband and two kids. She’s an artist and writer, an introvert and a British cop drama addict. She loves nothing more than to hear from readers.
You can find her at
Grand Prize ($90 value): Autographed copy of The Unremembered Girl, 1.75 mL bottle of Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka, Jusalpha white porcelain decorative cake stand, recipe for “Caroline’s Coconut Cake” (featured in the book), $20 Amazon Gift Card.
2nd Prize: Autographed copy of The Unremembered Girl, $10 Amazon Gift Card
3rd Prize: Autographed copy of The Unremembered Girl
October 5-October 14, 2017
(U.S. Only; proof of age 21 or older required to receive vodka)
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Interview: Sara Jade Alan, Author of A MESSY BEAUTIFUL LIFE

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?

After college, I moved to New York City with my college improv group. I got a job working for a bestselling author of YA fantasy books, Tamora Pierce. She was so inspiring, and her fans were so inspiring. She introduced me to this whole world of YA lit that I hadn’t known about before. I worked for her for seven years and fell in love with the YA community and the books. So when my first book idea came to me, I knew it would be YA.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

My parents would take my sister and I to the library every week to get a giant stack of books, so that fostered my love of books and reading. Also, my older sister Theresa is an author, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. She was always talking about books and writing, and I would edit early versions of her manuscripts, so all of that nurtured my love for the process of writing.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing in some form or another since elementary school, but A Messy, Beautiful Life is my first novel, and I started writing it eleven years ago, in 2006.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?

Through my teens and twenties I mostly wrote (and performed) sketch comedy, standup comedy, two-women shows, and a one-woman show. I still write sketches for The Novelistas—a comedy show about the highs and lows of writing and publishing. But now I’m most passionate about writing YA novels, and that’s been my main writing focus for the last decade.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?  

Learning how to write a book while writing it. I think writing characters, emotion, and dialogue came more easily to me because of my background in performance. But learning how to plot and structure the story arc took a long time. It really took my editor Candace guiding me on how to rearrange the beats to make the story come together.

Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book?  If so, discuss them.

It’s not necessarily an underrepresented group, but I haven’t read any YA books about teens who love improv before. I’ve believed for a long time that if all kids learned improv and yoga in school, the world would be a better place. Improv is a fun, playful way for young adults to develop emotional awareness, confidence, and empathy, as well as a low-risk way to practice taking risks. Especially for girls, there’s such a focus on being pretty and perfect, and I don’t want to see them lose their silly. So, I’m happy my book might have the chance to introduce teens to improv if they haven’t thought about it before. Also, sarcomas are a rare cancer that can often be misdiagnosed, and I hope Ellie’s story might bring a bit of awareness to this form of cancer.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

Tamora Pierce: As I mentioned above she introduced to me to the world of YA lit I was missing out on, and she inspired me to write girls with grit. Also, her heroes have amazing friends that can count on each other and support each other, like Ellie in A Messy, Beautiful Life. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write fantasy, but I love reading it and admire authors who can world-build like Tammy.

Sarah Dessen: She was my first introduction to YA contemporary as an adult reader. I wish I’d had her books when I was a teen. I think her tackling real issues that teens face in a way that still makes for a compelling story has been an influence in my writing.

I have many other favorite authors, and I think what they all have in common are smart, empathetic characters with heart and a sense of humor. Those are the kind of characters I’m interested in reading about and interested in writing about.

What did you find most useful in learning to write?  What was least useful or most destructive?

There are many craft lessons that have helped me along the way, but I think learning how vital good critique partners are (and finding great ones!) has made the biggest difference in my writing. I think I’m lucky that I can’t think of anything destructive I’ve learned.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

I write part-time. I’m already a pretty slow writer, so having a limited amount of time to focus on writing makes progress feel glacial sometimes. But, I’m in this for the long haul and believe in steady, committed action over time, so I will continue on that path. (Well, you know, at least until the giant movie deal comes in and I can write full time.)

What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

I’ve had a ton of different jobs including:being a business manager to an author of YA books (which eventually inspired me to write YA); delivering sushi to grocery stores at 4:30am; working the door staff a comedy club; working stage crew in community theater; being a server in an Irish pub in Times Square; community organizing with Clean Water Action; dressing up as a flapper and giving out coupons outside of a casino in Black Hawk; plus many office jobs. These experiences have given me the chance to meet and observe different people and provided insights into a variety of industries. In my next book, I pull more from a few work experiences than I did with this one.  

What do you like to read in your free time?

I read mostly YA books, but I’m obsessed with the wiring of the human brain and our potential to change our thoughts and habits, so I always have some kind of book in this vein to listen to on Audible. Most recently I listened to Grit by Angela Duckworth, and I always have one of Pema Chödrön’s books at the ready.

What projects are you working on at the present?

It’s another YA contemporary called LOVE AND OTHER PUNCHLINES. It also features comedy, mostly standup. The story is told in dual-perspective from two clashing teen comediennes who are the only girls in a nationwide comedy contest. One needs the grand-prize to afford college, the other must win to support herself and her dream. Along the way the two young women learn there are other valuable prizes at stake—like self-discovery and sisterhood. It’s like PITCH PERFECT meets LAST COMIC STANDING.

What do your plans for future projects include?

When I was 19, I did a summer internship with an environmental activism organization in DC. We were all staying in dorms, and when I went to my dorm to meet my roommates, there were two guys in my room, Matt and Seamus. At first I thought, oh, maybe this organization is very progressive and the rooms are co-ed, but then we realized we were the only co-ed room. Since our names were pretty straightforward gender-wise, we were confused at how the mix up happened. I’m sure I could have gotten my room switched if I’d asked, but I ended up liking and trusting them both pretty quickly and I’m glad I stayed bunking with them, because we had a blast during the internship and stayed friends for years after. So, I want to use that idea for how the two main characters meet in another YA romance…but I only have the first page right now. I have no idea yet what will happen next.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Being able to teleport myself anywhere, anytime, so that I could visit my friends who live all over the world. I would love to just be able to pop up in Oaxaca for a night and take my best friend out for dinner, or in Brussels to see my friend’s new apartment, then pop over to LA or NYC to see my friends in a show.

Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?

There are so many places I want to visit! But I’ll go with Australia. When I started college I thought I was going to major in biology and wanted to do a semester abroad to study marine biology in Australia. I soon learned that while I found science interesting, I didn’t have a knack for it, and somehow I abandoned my studying abroad vision, too. But I would still love to travel there someday.



Sara Jade Alan wrote her first comedy sketch during second grade recess, then cast it, directed it, and made costumes out of garbage bags. Since then, she has performed in over a thousand improvised and scripted shows all over the country. When she lived in New York City with her college improv group, she worked as an assistant to a best-selling author of young adult novels featuring strong female heroes and was completely inspired by her books and the awesomeness of her teen fans. Spending a year on crutches, Sara turned to writing her own young adult stories and was hooked. Currently, she is one-half of the comedy duo, The Novelistas, who perform about writing and teach performance to writers. Hailing from a suburb of Chicago, Sara now lives in Colorado with her husband—who she met in that college improv group—and daughter, who they waited a bunch of years to make. She is a member of and guest instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.





Life is funny sometimes. 

And not always the ha, ha kind. Like that one time where a hot guy tried to kiss me and I fell. Down. Hard. And then found out I had cancer. 
I’m trying to be strong for my friends and my mom. 

And I’m trying so hard to be “just friends” with that hot guy, even though he seems to want so much more. But I won’t do that to him. He’s been through this before with his family, and I’m not going to let him watch me die. 

So, I tell myself: Smile Ellie. Be funny Ellie. Don’t cry Ellie, because once I start, I might not stop. 


Review: AN INCONVENIENT BEAUTY by Kristi Ann Hunter

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Hawthorne House, Book 4

  Genre: Regency Romance 
Publisher: Bethany House
Date of Publication: September 5, 2017
Number of Pages: 384
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Griffith, Duke of Riverton, likes order, logic, and control, so he naturally applies this rational approach to his search for a bride. While he’s certain Miss Frederica St. Claire is the perfect wife for him, she is strangely elusive, and he can’t seem to stop running into her stunningly beautiful cousin, Miss Isabella Breckenridge.
Isabella should be enjoying her society debut, but with her family in difficult circumstances, she has no choice but to agree to a bargain that puts her at odds with all her romantic hopes—as well as her conscience. And the more she comes to know Griffith, the more she regrets the unpleasant obligation that prevents her from any dream of a future with him.
As all Griffith’s and Isabella’s long-held expectations are shaken to the core, can they set aside their pride and fear long enough to claim a happily-ever-after?
Praise for An Inconvenient Beauty:
“With the latest superbly written installment in her Hawthorne House series, RITA award-winning Hunter once again proves she has the key to inspirational-romance and traditional-Regency readers’ hearts as she gifts them with another gracefully executed love story that delivers all of the richly nuanced characters, impeccably researched historical plotting, and sweet romance they could ever crave.”—Booklist
“The final book in the Hawthorne House series brings Hunter’s saga to a sigh-worthy conclusion. These family members have become like real people, and although readers will celebrate that the characters have found love, it is bittersweet to say goodbye. The plot moves briskly, yet the romance never feels forced. The period details are, as always, charming, and entrench the reader in the culture and traditions of the era.”—RT Book Reviews
“Hunter’s final installment in the Hawthorne House series will delight those already invested in the series as well as any reader who enjoys stories set in Regency-era England. . . . As the London Season plays out, secrets are revealed, past loves return, and hearts align—despite a fair amount of underhanded conniving–to create a fitting finale to the series and a lovely addition to the Regency genre.”—Publishers Weekly starred review
A Charming, Heartfelt and Delightful Regency-era Romance.

The Duke of Riverton knows it is time for him to take a bride and produce an heir, but he’s not taking the task lightly.  He’s picked the most practical and least exciting potential bride to court.  But her cousin, Isabella is always around, and as much as he doesn’t want the complication, he can’t help but be drawn to her.
Isabella Breckenridge comes to London for her first season as a debutant, but it comes with a hitch.  She’s struck a deal with her uncle to entertain the attention of the society men for his political advantage.  If she does what he asks, her family’s farm will be saved.  If she doesn’t, they risk losing everything.   So when she falls for Riverton, she must choose between love or family.
I’ve been very lucky to find so many wonderful historical romances this year, and this one ranks high up there amongst them.  Hunter’s writing is suberb and her voice is perfect for the era.  It was easy to imagine a ballroom filled with couples sweeping across the floor in dance as groups gathered on the fringes to watch and mingle. I was easily transported to the scenes, and eager to read more.  The romance between Griffith and Isabella is wonderful and swoon-worthy.  Both characters are struggling with their own problems and insecurities, and must rely on faith to bring them together.
It’s a wonderful, heart-warming story, and an ending with ALL THE FEELS.



Kristi Ann Hunter graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in computer science but always knew she wanted to write. Kristi is the author of the Hawthorne House series and a 2016 RITA Award winner and Christy Award finalist. She lives with her husband and three children in Georgia.

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Guest Post: Jennifer Locklear – MUSINGS


Covenant House Pennsylvania Volunteer Inspires New Anthology

Our friendship with Terry Aisenstein began with an online story that eventually became the bestselling Gabriel’s Inferno series. From serious to silly, our conversations covered a lot of ground. We became true friends, encouraging and inspiring each other and the author, who dubbed us The Muses.

Eventually, we Muses began meeting up in person, coming from as far away as Australia to put names with faces and give IRL (in real life) hugs.

Many of us are writers as well as readers, so we began to share our stories and offer feedback. Terry encouraged several Muses who have gone on to write and publish novels. Her cancer diagnosis gave us the chance to offer her some of the support she’d given us over the years.

And when cancer took her from us, we wanted to do something to honor our fierce, funny and brilliant friend.

Terry volunteered at Covenant House because she loved the kids and believed in the mission. To honor her commitment,  we decided to write a collection of stories, Musings: An Argyle Empire Anthology, and donate the proceeds to a cause she loved. The book has raised over $335 so far.

Musings brings together two of Terry’s great loves: good stories and Covenant House Pennsylvania. Our goal is to sell enough copies of the book that we can contribute $1,000 to Terry’s favorite organization.



Forever Valentine PR and More, in partnership with Locklear Books and MJ Emerson, is proud to present the blog tour for Musings – An Argyle Empire Anthology.
About Musings
Seven friends inspired to raise awareness and funds for homeless youth in crisis.
Seven authors with a love for storytelling.
Nine original stories with themes every reader will love.
Comedy. Romance. Suspense. Fantasy. Drama. Prose.
Individual reflections combined into an eclectic collection.
All proceeds to benefit the Philadelphia chapter of Covenant House, in loving memory of Terry Aisenstein. 
Foreword by Sylvain Reynard.
Musings Included:
Kris Babe: Walking After Midnight
Shari Ivey: Stranger in a Stranger Land
Jennifer Locklear: Aurora
Morgan Locklear: House Rules
Tara Severance: Slash Pine
Susan K. Swords: Better Than Yes
Susan K. Swords: Everyone Deserves an HEA
Becca Vry: Hopescapes
Morgan Locklear & Susan K. Swords: STUD


About Covenant House PA
Covenant House Pennsylvania is a program for young people in desperate situations age 21 and under. Our goal is to help homeless young people become healthy, happy, responsible, productive, and ultimately independent adults.


Covenant House Pennsylvania is a program of transformative change, an opportunity to move forward, often from lives of trauma and neglect. From the very first moment, we approach our young people with unconditional respect and support. We strive never to turn anyone away.  ( as described on Covenant House Pennsylvania’s website )

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Interview: Shawn Smucker, Author of THE DAY THE ANGELS FELL

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Genre: Psychological Fiction / Christian

Publisher: Revell

Date of Publication: September 5, 2017

Number of Pages: 320

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Cover Med Res The Day the Angels Fell     

Shawn Smucker will capture readers’ imaginations with this masterfully written debut novel that combines elements of mystery and magical realism.

It was the summer of storms, strays, and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident.

Twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to turn back time. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Samuel begins his search for the Tree of Life—the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend, Abra, in an ancient conflict and forces Samuel to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?

Haunting and hypnotic, The Day the Angels Fell is a story that explores the difficult questions of life in a voice that is fresh, friendly, and unafraid. With this powerful novel, Shawn Smucker has carved out a spot for himself in the tradition of authors Madeleine L’Engle and Lois Lowry.



Praise for The Day the Angels Fell

“Neil Gaiman meets Madeleine L’Engle. I read it in two days!”Anne Bogel, Modern Mrs. Darcy

“Shawn Smucker enchants with a deftly woven tale of mystery and magic that will leave you not only spellbound but wanting more.”Billy Coffey, author of There Will Be Stars



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Where did your love of writing come from?

I have an Amish great-great-grandfather, and there is a story about him that has been passed down. In his later years, he took to writing on the wooden barn walls at his farm. He wrote about things that happened in his community, little bits and pieces of news and gossip. One day there was a fire and the barn burned to the ground – some of the lumber still had his writing on it but it was all discarded. My great-uncle was just a boy when this happened, and he regrets not keeping a piece of that barn.

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing for many, many years. I’m 40 years old, and I can’t remember exactly when I started, but I know I was young. I started writing every day when I was in college, and I wrote fiction for 17 years before I signed a three-book deal that included The Day the Angels Fell.

What kinds of writing do you do?

I co-write and ghostwrite memoirs for individuals and publishers for a living. I love writing fiction, and I have a small, free eBook of poems called We Might Never Die.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

When I’m writing well, I’m writing in a melancholy, reflective tone that brings out the best in looking back and remembering earlier times. I love to think about our relationship to time, and as I grow older I think a lot about how my memories have become more like legends. There are some deep truths hidden in the way we remember our lives, and I like to have my characters caught in the tension between how they remember things and how they actually happened.

Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book?

In my first novel, The Day the Angels Fell, the idea that death is a gift and the death-positive messages are certainly under-represented in our culture that seems obsessed with endless youth and living forever. It’s not something I can categorically say — that death is ALWAYS a gift. But I think it’s a valid question to be asking.

Who are some of your favorite authors you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

Madeleine L’Engle and Neil Gaiman have been huge influences on me in the way they write about surreal things happening in a very real world. I love how they allow their characters to be themselves, make gigantic mistakes, and then act with unexpected bravery. To me, that’s a reflection of the best lives each of us could live.



Author Pic Smucker_Shawn1     

Shawn Smucker lives with his wife and six children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Day the Angels Fell is his first novel. 






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Excerpt: THE GERMAN MESSENGER by David Malcolm

The German Messenger by David Malcolm – EXCERPT


Chapter 1 – In London

It was a cold, wet December afternoon when my train pulled into Victoria. Clouds of steam billowed up in the damp air, up into the blackened arches of the station roof. Pigeons flapped aimlessly from one to the other. A tired, bleary-eyed, bad-tempered crowd pushed and lugged its bags, porters shouted hoarsely, soldiers stood in small huddles, smoking, drinking tea at steaming, makeshift canteens. As always when I came back to London, I was struck by the amount of khaki everywhere. The city, or at least its stations, its parks, its squares, all its public places were on a war footing. Soldiers everywhere, waiting, gathering, reading, larking, dashing purposefully or looking lost and confused. One came up to me, a scrap of official paper clutched in one hand, a huge kit bag weighing down his shoulder. In a broad Belfast accent he asked me, without saluting, where platform five might be, for God’s sake. His eyes were glazed with tiredness and worry. I turned him round and pointed him in the right direction. He didn’t even manage to stammer a thanks.

The motor cab jolted me through the wet, windswept streets. Evening was coming on, and they were lighting the lamps. The matinee shows at the music halls were finishing, and crowds milled on the streets along the Strand. Again I noticed the uniforms everywhere. London used to be such a civilian town, I thought to myself. Now suddenly, so many soldiers. And then I realized it was already the second year of the War, and, as I glanced down at my own Army greatcoat, that I was one of them too.

I let myself into my service flat. I had wired ahead so they had cleaned and aired the place, and a fire was burning in the sitting room grate. For a moment, my mood of depression vanished. Here I was safe, here I was at home, surrounded by my books and chairs, my pictures, my letters, my civilian clothes, by all the bric-a-brac of a life of sorts. And then as I unstrapped my boots and took off my greatcoat, I caught a glimpse of my face in the hallway mirror, and a wave of sadness and bile swept up from my guts to my throat.

I stared at the face in the mirror. The neck rose out of the khaki and brown thinner, more gaunt than I’d ever seen it. The face above was grey and stretched. The eyes stared out of bony hollows. The hair was going grey at the temples. The neat brush of a moustache that we all affected in those years was flecked with grey. I suppose the look was distinguished in its way, but for a moment I had seen myself without any protective layers of pretence or habit, without the company of others. I looked awful, I thought, like a walking dead man. I was wearing a grey mask, and only my eyes seemed half alive. No wonder the little Belgian had almost died of fright when I had stuck my face next to his (we were completely alone by then for I had sent young Morrisey out of the room; Lefranc of course stayed, cleaning his nails in a way even I found unnerving) and told him very quietly, and in very passable French, what it was in my power, my personal power, to do to him if he didn’t tell us exactly what he thought the Panamanian registered tramp due into Santander on Thursday was really carrying. He broke down at that point and seemed grateful rather than anything else when we told him that he would probably get four years in a French military prison for not letting us know earlier.

The face was not my father’s, not my father’s at all.

The face was not that of a happy man, nor of a kind one. By late 1916, I was neither of those things. Although I was alive, and that might have been cause enough for a brief smile or two. Sometimes I felt I knew more of the dead, than I did of the living. On bad days, I felt that I belonged among them myself.

Later, after I had bathed and changed into comfortable civilian clothes, and the lights glowed liquid in the jet black night outside, I reviewed the past few years of my life. I poured myself a whisky and sat by the fire. I was afraid to lose the heat of the bath, and I let the warmth from the flames play on my face. I was thirty-one years old, a major in the British Army, seconded to the War Office for special duties. The special duties had been no choice of mine. In 1914 I had tried to join up like thousands of other young men. It seemed only right, the logical continuation of my work for the past decade. At last, the final battle was coming. I was still young enough to believe that. They plucked me out within three days, put a captain’s uniform on me, and sent me to France to interrogate German POWs. Bullivant came to see me in the big house north of Paris. We could hear the German guns on the Marne and all our papers were in boxes and all the trucks were manned round the clock in case we had to leave at a moment’s notice. Bulllivant looked like a man who’d placed a bet on an unknown horse at the races and won a fortune. His bald head gleamed in the autumn sun and he glanced towards the east and the sound of the guns with a kind of grim satisfaction. “This is your war,” he said to me, waving his hand round the grand dining room we used for preliminary interrogations. “Not out there. A stray bullet and a decade of experience is wiped out. We can’t afford that. This war will be longer than most of the generals or politicians think, let alone the general public. Longer than any of them can begin to guess, either here or in Berlin. We need you to do the kind of work only you can do. We can always find brave young men to die. We need your knowledge and your brains.” And then he added with a smile, “And don’t think for a moment it won’t be dangerous. It will, I assure you, it will.”

So I fought my war not in the trenches, but in chateaux behind the lines, in tiny French provincial police stations, by the customs desks in Boulogne and Rosslare. I interrogated, browbeat, bullied, terrified, trapped. I watched lines of people stepping off boats. I scrutinized Swiss permis de séjour and bills of lading out of Varna bound for Christiansand. I travelled to Boston to trace Irish money that was buying German guns. I tried to buy or trap German clerks in Lisbon, and to unmask the German who was trying to do the same to British clerks in Zürich. I was five times behind German lines. Exciting visits, but not for telling about here. I was in Berlin when Casement visited in 1915. Later they sent me to speak to hard-faced Polish legionnaires in the forests round Kraków. In early 1916, I was in Pommerania checking on exercises for an invasion of Britain which the German General Staff appeared to be holding on the Baltic. A few months later they sent me into Galicia to look for a lost agent, gone missing with Austrian Army codes. The Germans almost killed me later that year in an Armenian restaurant in Bucharest. Bullivant was right – it was dangerous. I carried a few more scars, my bones ached from the last mad tramp over the Tatras, I sweated when I thought of a certain forest glade in the Carpathians and a yeshiva in Romanian Transylvania. Oh, yes, dangerous enough. That salved my conscience a little, but not much when the casualty lists started to come out in August 1916. No, not much.

Andrzej had stayed with me when the War started. Bullivant payed him a salary for work he did for us. He helped me with interrogations, freelanced and trawled for information on his own among the Central European emigrés of London and Paris, came with me when I travelled to Kraków and Galicia. It was he who knocked out the German agent who wanted to kill me in Bucharest. All for a free Poland (but he was on the wrong side if that was what he wanted), or all for adventure? Or was it simply that he, like me, had become used to a certain way of life, and neither he, nor I, quite knew what we would do without it?

Along the way, too, I had picked up another assistant. Corporal Alan McLeish, tall, red-haired, very hard, very Glaswegian, had come to me as my driver and batman in the autumn of 1914. I had quickly learned to value his violent efficiency and exemplary skill with vehicle engines. He brought other qualifications with him too. He had lived for several years in South Africa and spoke very decent Afrikaans and passable Dutch. I took him with me on my first trip into Holland in late 1914 when we played the part of a pair of Swiss and South African representatives of a certain Swedish shipping company that was willing to transport certain items to certain neutral ports for a substantial fee. We flushed out a whole network of secret German suppliers that time. McLeish, like Andrzej, was a useful man to have around in a tight corner. I once saw him stop a particularly nasty pro-German, Dutch gendarme with one of the best placed head-butts I have ever witnessed. We ran fast that night, I can tell you. I remember breathing a deep sigh of relief when the little fishing smack we commandeered made it out of Dutch territorial waters.

But I lost McLeish in early 1916. He gave me an ultimatum (we were on that kind of terms by then). Either let him join up in a line regiment, or he would simply go AWOL and get himself thrown in a military prison. I told him he was mad, he’d be dead in three months. He said he didn’t care, he couldn’t bear watching good men go West while he sat safe in “some fucking fancy French chateau, drinking wine like a pimp.” When I pointed out that we got shot at too, he just laughed. “Nothing against you, sir,” he said, “I know they won’t let you join the regulars. But we have a right cushy number here most of the time. I canna look mysel’ in the mirror much longer if I stay here. Just sign the bloody paper, would you? Sir.” So I did, and he went back to the Cameron Highlanders. I missed him. I hadn’t seen him for almost a year. He was most likely dead. I really did miss him. Young Morrisey couldn’t get a car started on a damp February morning; no prisoner believed he’d break every finger in your left hand without a qualm (they did when McLeish looked at them); my paper work wasn’t half as good as when McLeish was managing it. And I missed the covert and overt insults. Morrisey was a mild mannered young man from Hardy’s Wessex, not a Glaswegian thug deeply imbued with a Scottish contempt for authority. Ach, McLeish was probably frozen dead in some trench by now. And good luck to him.

Then I started. I stared into the fire and thought of the dead. When I was out on a job, I rarely allowed myself the luxury. Here in my own flat, by my own fire, I could hardly stop. You see, it wasn’t all safety behind the lines. My work took me to the front too, and not to some cleaned-up version that the brass-hats saw. I knew the mud and the wire and the trees like burnt matchsticks. I smelled the stench of the unburied bodies in No Man’s Land; I heard the heavy guns. But after a day or two I could go home. That was the difference. But even there the front pursued me. I talked to men on furlough, on rest detail, British and French. The stories were the same. The same endless, concentrated imitation of hell. But what was unnerving was that the German soldiers I interrogated told the same stories. They all shared a landscape of hell and madness – the same mud, the same stench, the same rats. A young Bavarian Feldwebel would paint the same picture as a corporal from East Lancs or a French poilou from Dijon. Sometimes it seemed they weren’t fighting each other, but the war. That was their common enemy, the bloody war.

I remembered a spring day in 1915. McLeish and I were lounging against the wall of an old French farmhouse. We’d stopped for lunch on our way back from a line H.Q. where they’d just captured a sergeant from a Prussian regiment. He was a tough old Berliner (with Social-Democrat leanings, I’d wager) who told us nothing of any use, so we decided to take the long way home and enjoy ourselves a little en route. The cold chicken and the white wine that Mcleish had conjured out of a passing French officers’ supply truck were excellent. The sun was shining, heating the old limestone walls of the farm house. The trees had a haze of green on them.

And then down the road marched a column of Scottish soldiers. Their badges were that of one of the new Glasgow regiments, one of Kitchener‘s New Army creations. But they looked good lads, well-disciplined, marching in good order, their trench kilts swinging like loose aprons. We raised our glasses to them as they passed, about a hundred and fifty of them, and they smiled and waved back. “Awa’ ye go, lads,” called McLeish. “Awa’ the bhouys!” I even knew the captain from school, a grim, dark-faced lad two years my junior who’d wanted to be a doctor. “Aye Gavin,” I cried. “Did ye make it to the Medical Department?” “Harry, man, Harry Draffen,” he called in return. “Aye, I did. MBChB. I got married too. A bonny lass. We live near where your grandad had his parish.” “Good luck to you, Gavin. Tak’ care.” “An’ you too, Draffen.” They marched on and McLeish and I watched them. There was yellow blossom in the fields. The trees had that tinge of green they only have in early spring. We watched them march away, and then silently, without exchanging a single word, we packed the basket, loaded the car and set back for base. We didn’t say a thing to each other for more than an hour. What was there to say?

I was in Divisional H.Q. when the flimsy came in for that sector. The afternoon we had seen them they had been wiped out attacking German fortified machine-gun emplacements. Every one of them was dead. That night McLeish and I drank a great deal. I think it was then he decided to leave me altogether.

But I never hated the Germans. Well, with my background and experiences I wouldn’t, I suppose. But it went further than that. You’d think, after that story of the Scottish column being wiped out, I’d blame it all on them and hate them for it. But neither McLeish or I did. We hated the War, we hated the bloody brass-hats on both sides who sent kids in to die in the mud and on the wire. But hate the Germans? Christ, they were dying like flies too, in the same mud, on the same wire.

It was as if we were all characters in some mad novel, written by a lunatic whom we couldn’t control. So many of us knew the whole thing was bad, but we could never break away from it. How could we? If we did, we’d be betraying our mates, the men who suffered and died with us. We’d have to confess that the two years of hell had been for nothing and that the men we let give us orders were fools. And that we were fools for obeying them. So we kept on serving the War that consumed those very mates of ours.

And the funny thing was, the men from the Wilhelmstrasse felt the same as we did. Some did, anyway. I met one in Zürich in early ’16, I remember. We were exchanging agents (oh, we’d become sophisticated enough to do that by then, provided we could keep it out of the papers and away from the brass), one of ours for one of theirs, on neutral territory by a pretty little summer house on the Lake of Zürich. It was spring, I remember. The snow was still on the mountains, but the leaves were beginning to bud and the birds were singing. The waters of the lake lapped softly on a grassy shore. Goethe had rowed here 130 years before and written one of my favourite lyrics. “Und frische Nahrung, neues Blut . . .”. (“And fresh nourishment, new blood. . . ” – it doesn’t translate well, does it? But it is beautiful.)

I was to meet one of theirs first, to settle details, to arrange terms. He stood by the lake, a tall, slim figure in a dark coat, smoking a cigarette. The smoke from his right hand curled against the sparkling blue of the water. We bowed ceremoniously and exchanged credentials. He spoke with a clear North German accent, and after we had finished our business, he smiled and offered me one of his cigarettes. I took it and we stared out over the water and its little choppy waves to the other side of the lake. Zürich was a cluster of medieval towers and steeples off to our left. The hills that surrounded the city were brown and their trees still leafless. The air was sharp, the light clear and thin.

I could think of nothing to say. I stole a closer look at my counterpart. The face was like a reflection of my own, thin, with shadowed eyes, the obligatory small moustache drawing out his face. The same age. I saw him making his way through the streets of Lübeck or Rostock or Hamburg to his university. I saw the friends he drank with, the girls he talked to. I knew the trips he had made to the Schwarzwald or Bavaria, to Hiddensee or Rügen. A Doppelgänger, I thought, how appropriate for this gothic, necromancer’s city.

“Goethe rowed a boat out there in the lake,” I said. It was all I could think of.

The German turned to me, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Ah, yes? You know that?”

“Yes. One of my favourite poems comes from that experience.” I quoted the first two lines. “Und frische Nahrung, neues Blut, saug’ ich aus freier Welt. . .”.

“Wie ist Natur so hold und gut, die mich am Busen hält,” he completed the sentence. “You are a German scholar, I see, sir.”

“A little. I was a student in Germany many years ago.” This was more than I should have breathed to him.

“Ah, yes,” he replied gently. “I too was a student for a time in your country. A year in Oxford. It was very charming. I remember it with great pleasure. So many people were . . . very kind. I studied Anglo-Saxon literature with your Professor Sweetman. I still remember how he would recite Beowulf. It was quite wonderful. I disagreed with his reading. It ignores the German tribal elements. But he was a great man, nonetheless. A great scholar. I think he is dead now.”

“I believe so. In 1913, I think.”

“Quite so. A sad loss.”

“There are many sad losses nowadays.”


“I hate this war. I loathe it with all my heart.”

He could barely conceal his surprise. He stared at me for a full five seconds before turning away and flicking his cigarette onto the pebbles of the lake shore. What was running through his mind, I wondered. Was this Englishman mad? Was he trying to entrap him somehow? Why this absurd, unprecedented confession? But his answer was strangely unexpected, yet wholly appropriate. He cleared his throat and poked the ground lightly with the shiny toe of his shoe.

“I hate it too, my friend. I too, with all my heart.”

And then we both cleared our throats together, and like men caught in some guilty act looked quickly around us. He gave a wry smile and I responded in kind. I shrugged my shoulders. We bowed briefly, shook hands and went our different ways back to our waiting cars. I turned as I opened the door of mine, and saw him sitting hunched in his, a brown gloved hand covering his face. Gulls were wheeling above the bright blue of the lake, crying sharply.

That night I went drinking in a small bar in a Niederdorf backstreet. The streetlight glanced off the black cobbles, damp from a spring rain shower. I walked down by the river and watched the black waters lap slowly against the stone embankment. I felt completely lost and empty, a living ghost in the night.

This night, too, in London, I downed my whisky and went to bed. The whisky killed the dreams and helped me sleep.





Genre: Historical/Crime/Thriller

Published by Crime Wave Press/2016



Late 1916. Europe is tearing itself apart in the Great War. Harry Draffen, part Greek, part Scottish, British secret agent, cosmopolitan, polyglot, man of violence, is having a bad war. Now he is instructed to uncover a plot by the Central Powers against England. From the slums of East London to an Oxford college, from the trenches on the Western Front to an isolated house on the Scottish coast, on to a bloody showdown in the North of England, he chases a phantom and elusive German messenger. Betrayed, deceived, under attack from many enemies, bringing death to those he does not hate and even to those he loves, he tries to reach the heart of the mystery. In a final reckoning in a London tenement, he at last understands the full scope of the plots centered on the German messenger.




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David Malcolm was born in Scotland. He was educated in Aberdeen, Zürich, and London.

For over thirty years he has lived and worked in Japan, the USA, and Poland. He currently resides in Sopot, Poland.

His collection of short fiction, Radio Moscow and Other Stories was published by Blackwitch Press in 2015.