Confessions of a Book Blogger: What I Expect


A writer breathes life into characters with words and their book is their canvas. A writer’s art is to gather elements of life and situations and weave them into stories. To design a story that draws a reader in and leaves an impression that has the reader emotionally invested.

A book blogger’s blog is their canvas to express the feelings that they come away with in those stories. We want to be impressed with the narrative’s story-telling, themes and all other elements of the story. I want a writer to ignite my imagination. I want the characters to haunt me. Humans are multi-dimensional. I want that shown in stories. I want happy, raw, sorrowful, honest and REAL emotions.

Does SAWBONES do this for me? Find out when I post my review in April!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Review: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

The madwoman upstairs

In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using only the clues her eccentric father left behind, and the Brontës’ own novels.

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family—a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

Yet everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from the past begin rematerializing in her life. Her father’s distinctive copy of Jane Eyre, which should have perished in the fire that claimed his life, mysteriously appears on Samantha’s bed. Annotated in her father’s handwriting, the book is the first of many clues in an elaborate scavenger hunt derived from the world’s greatest literature. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own writing.

For readers who devoured The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Madwoman Upstairs is a suspenseful, exhilarating debut by an exciting new talent who offers a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.

My thoughts:

When I was a teenager, I absorbed the stories written by the Brontës’. I would re-read them many times and would day dream about the characters and their plight. The prose and the character’s actions stayed with me for a long time. These stories to me were so atmospheric and wrought with overemotional heartache. I loved it!  Another aspect of the stories that fascinated me were the social norms of the period portrayed in the story. As a young person living in modern times I found that to be extraordinary and the injustice of it all would provoke so many feelings in me about it. I believe the story of Jane was the most meaningful for me. Her misfortunes and journey was powerful and I was moved by the narrator’s voice.

As I got older, I put these books aside. I think it’s because of my own situations in life hindered me from wanting to revisit them. I’ve really never explored my reasons why. Maybe I will one day. Anyhow, currently I have been rediscovering the sister’s stories again and now in a broader approach one might say.

The Madwoman Upstairs has stirred up so many of my old emotions about the Brontës’ and new emotions as well. Samantha Whipple became my new favorite heroine. Her qualities appealed to me and her search in finding the answers to her Father’s clues to the untold family legacy had me hanging on to every word she uttered. Her strange childhood with her Father has me even more intrigued.  The dynamics of the relationship building between Samantha and Orville are spellbinding to say the least. I think I feel a little in love with Orville. I found is him to be very Brontë-ish, if you know what I mean.

All the elements of the Brontës’ in the story was superbly written and alluring. We see many things come to light about the Brontës’ one might not have thought of. There is lots of enthralling material and insight to mull over. I will have to say that I was a little surprised and-maybe- disappointed in the way the story ended. I have two minds about how it could have ended but I will say that just gives me more to ponder on so I don’t mind at all!

I really cannot say enough about The Madwoman Upstairs. My review seriously cannot do this book justice. I highly recommend this story.

I obtained a copy of this book through NetGalley and the publishers for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Characters in Motion with C.L. Talmadge

The Villains of Azgard

By C.L. Talmadge

Question: Who are your five top antagonists? Talk about each one and what motivates them.

Answer: Meet the schemers of Azgard, the doomed island nation setting for the Green Stone of Healing® speculative fiction series. They are ranked in reverse order, with the fifth least vile villain first on the list, and the most lethal up last.

As the series moves from generation to generation, some of the antagonists’ change. Or they become more or less powerful, depending on circumstances and whether or not they’re still breathing. But the top viper retains his place as No. 1. His plots and plans ultimately consign the entire world to mass destruction.

Don’t use anything except a pencil to fill out a scorecard….


Villain No. 5: Griffin Mordecai

Griffin Mordecai is the grandson of Lord James Mordecai’s mortal enemy, his uncle, Lord Jasper Mordecai. After he kills Lord Jasper to claim his right to the Dukedom of Alta and position as Lord Protector, Lord James refused to acknowledge Griffin. That consigned the latter to an early life of poverty and obscurity, although Lord James did pay for Griffin’s higher education. Needless to say, Griffin seethes with murderous (if impotent, at first) rage against the Lord Protector and anyone related to him, like first-generation heroine Helen Andros.

As a young man embarking on a profession in the law, Griffin seeks out the patronage of the Prince of Istar, the highest-ranking political enemy of the Lord Protector. Prince Seti finds Griffin an occasionally useful lackey and a symbolic insult to his detested rival.

At the outset of the series, Griffin holds the powerful post of Lord Chancellor thanks to the undue influence of his princely patron during the incapacity of the Exalted Lord, Azgard’s title for its king. Griffin aims to destroy Helen as an indirect shot at undermining the Lord Protector’s support among the noble houses of the Kinshazen, the Toltecs’ political assembly.

Later in the series Griffin’s social status changes, and he uses his wealth and power to inflict a great deal of harm and wreak havoc in a once formerly prosperous province. He gets his comeuppance from the one person he actually loves, to the extent that he can love.

The Scorpian Strike

Villain No. 2: Ezekiel Malachi

In Azgard there is little distinction between religion and the state. As Helen discovers to her peril, subjects and residents of Azgard can be charged, tried, convicted of, and punished for purely religious offenses as well as for crimes against the state.

Thus the position of the Supreme Lord of the Temple of Kronos, referred to commonly as the Holy One, wields extensive power. At the start of the series, a native of Southern Alta Province named Ezekiel Malachi holds that high and powerful religious office.

Malachi is a true religious fanatic. He is determined to force both Toltecs and Turanians to adhere to his concept of proper religious practices and beliefs. Resenting and fearing the Duke of Alta’s toleration and support of the Turanians within Alta Province, Malachi invariably sides with Lord James’ political enemies. The Holy One also feuds with Prince Enoch Atlas over his toleration of Turanians.

Malachi not surprisingly strongly adheres to the Temple’s edicts against half-breeds, for hidden personal reasons that go beyond religious belief. He is only too eager to make an end of Helen and of her half-breed second cousin, who is the second son of Prince Enoch. Helen and her father suffer the pain of separation due to Malachi’s machinations.

Malachi’s own arrogance, however, will bring about his demise. He cannot believe that his trusted No. 2 would do anything to undermine him, and pays dearly for that mistaken assumption.

Villain No. 3: Prince Seti Poseidon

This prince of the Ruling House of Poseidon is defined by lust and hate.

Born the Prince of Istar, which means he is heir to Kingship held by his elder brother, Kefren. Prince Seti lusts for absolute power. This drives him to find covert ways to murder his elder brother to inherit the Kingship. He lusts for revenge against Lord James Mordecai, the man whom Prince Seti chooses to believe stole Kefren’s respect and affections away from him.  Prince Seti also hates Lord James for refusing his sexual advances during Lord James’ boyhood. He is the personification of the scorned lover.

Bisexual, Prince Seti also lusts for his own daughter, Lady Samantha. After she, as a child, is betrothed to Lord James, Prine Seti abuses her as a twisted payback against Lord James, who eventually weds her. Prince Seti falls in love in with her in much the same way as he fell for Lord James.

Prince Seti is a twisted, unprincipled opportunist with a certain amount of political savvy, even if he lacks true wisdom or the slightest inkling of compassion. When Lord James’ relationship to a half-breed bastard becomes public knowledge, Prince Seti wastes no time in using the information to try to destroy his political opponent.

When he finally comes to power, he invariably overplays his hand and loses the support of the noble houses. His loveless treatment of his son and heir guarantees that he will not long maintain his hold on the Kingship.

The Vision

Villain No. 2: Prince Enoch Atlas

To call this prince of the Royal House of Atlas a snake in the grass would be an insult to all serpents.

A direct descendent of Kronos’ presumed second son Atlas, he becomes Prince of Westar upon the mysterious accidental death of his elder brother. Prince Enoch is also the highest-ranking lord of the Kindred generally regarded as a member of the Exalted Lord’s faction. While Lord James treats Prince Enoch like a staunch ally, Kefren’s wily Consort, Lady Naomi Palladin, isn’t nearly so certain. She doesn’t trust this prince at all.

Her suspicions are well founded. Unlike the openly power-hungry Prince of Istar, the Prince of Westar wraps his ambitions to rule supreme in the mantel of friendship and support. Unfortunately for Helen, Prince Enoch’s murderous designs will include her and her ability to bear half-breed children if married to his half-breed second son.

Prince Enoch betrays not just Lord James and Helen, but his country, too, leading to an unnecessary war that claims millions of lives.

Villain No. 1: Lucan Silenas

Second in command of the Temple of Kronos, the Holy Deputy is motivated not by the religious fervor (however warped) of his superior, but by boundless personal ambition. Lucan makes it his job to do favors for those members of the Brotherhood of Kronos who are willing to play along with him, dig up dirt on those who are not, and always apply his influence in ways that advance his standing with the Holy One and thus his Temple career.

Amoral and cunning, Lucan will not let anyone or anything like mere principle stop him from achieving his aims.

As the series moves forward, Lucan begins to disagree openly with his superior over the question of what to do with half-breeds. While the Holy One wants to destroy any and all half-breeds, Lucan argues that the Temple should explore ways to harness and use the reputed powers and abilities of half-breeds to usurp the power of the Kingship and impose its will on all of Azgard and the world beyond. When Malachi won’t be persuaded, Lucan removes him to claim the Temple’s top post.

With a little digging into Azgard’s censored history, Lucan uncovers explosive secrets about the founding of Azgard, the abilities of half-breeds, and the true heir of Kronos, the God-King revered by the Toltecs as the founder of their nation.

Lucan disregards the curse of Kronos revealed in the secret writings. By doing so, and by injuring the hidden heirs of Kronos, Silenas invokes deadly wrath that ultimately destroys all trace of Azgard and its mighty civilization.

C.L. Talmadge is the author of the Green Stone of Healing® speculative fiction series, the first three novels of which are B.R.A.G. Medallion winners. More information is available at

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly

Garrith OReilly BRAG I

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly to Layered Pages! By day, G. J. is a teacher of (mostly) ICT and Computing in the South Wales valleys, where he lives with his long-suffering wife and 2.4 cats. 

He has an eclectic selection of hobbies, from playing a number of musical instruments with varying degrees of competence to learning the art of contact juggling and teaching sword-based martial arts. Having gained his degree, he spent ten years working in industry, before deciding to change career and head into education.

With an interest in high fantasy, contemporary fantasy and science fiction from a young age, it comes as no surprise that his first work falls into the young adult contemporary fantasy genre.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

Before I answer that, I have to say that I count my lucky stars every day that I did!

I’ve been writing seriously since 2009, but I’ve only really discovered the indie writing community in the last twelve months. When I joined the Goodreads Kindle User Forum in early 2015, I had no idea how vast that community was, but one thing led to another and I soon noticed indieBRAG’s name on my screen time and again.

After looking at the quality of work submitted by other honorees at the time, I didn’t think that ‘Inquisitor’ would stand a chance of being accepted, so I put it out of my mind. Then, sometime during that summer, another writer friend brought indieBRAG up in conversation again and persuaded me to send my details. So I did. Then I forgot all about it again, so that I wouldn’t be too disappointed when my little book was rejected.

Well, I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone who’s received that confirmation from Geri how it feels! Now I visit the site every day just to marvel at the company I’m keeping and to check out the blog and read the interviews.

Please tell me about your book, Inquisitor; The Book of Jerrick – Part 1

‘Inquisitor’ is a contemporary fantasy novel for Young Adults that centres on an ongoing war between two ancient factions.

The night that Michael Ware is born, his uncle is murdered, leaving him a locked leather book that has been fought over for centuries. In the weeks following his uncle’s funeral, the opening of the thirtieth Braxton Academy is announced. To everyone’s astonishment, they say that they are going to offer scholarship places to any pupil able to pass the entrance examination. Unknown to the general public; the academy is a front for a society of powerful psychics known as the Inquisition, who are replenishing their ranks for their campaign against the nomadic sorcerers of the Elder Council. And Michael soon discovers that the truth depends on your point of view and that comfort and opulence come at a heavy price.

Set in and around an alternative, modern day London, ‘Inquisitor’ draws on inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights and Grimm’s Fairytales but isn’t a direct retelling of any of our old favourites. Instead, as a reader, you’ll be immersed totally familiar, yet with some fantastic differences and unexpected twists.

‘Inquisitor’ is a book that I hope readers of all ages can enjoy as a bedtime story or something to take your mind off a tedious train ride to work although it does have a good subtext for people who like to read between the lines. Each book in the series is a snapshot of the lives of the main characters as they live through an ongoing war.

Without giving too much away, the main theme of this first book is deceit. I’m not talking about little white lies; I’m talking about the whopping great lies that fester and, hopefully, readers will enjoy trying to decide who they’re rooting for before the end of this adventure. I want them to feel the indecision that Michael has to live with. Most of all, I want their loyalties to waver from one book to the next.


How did you come up with the title for your book?

I was looking for a title that summed up the mystery of the story in one word. Inquisitor – for me, it’s a word that has a lot of superstition surrounding it and an almost mythological quality that people still recognize (even if they only associate it with a famous Monty Python sketch that nobody expects).

It also conjures an image in the mind of what an inquisitor should look like. Think about it – what image comes to mind when someone says ‘Nurse’, or ‘Bishop’, or ‘Undertaker’? Given the plot, it might have seemed blatantly obvious to have chosen that particular word for the title, but I must have gone through a list of twenty others before I made the final selection.

Who designed your book cover?

I did. Those hands around that big ball of fire … they’re my hands, wedding band and all. Actually, the photograph was taken by my wife (don’t worry, she gets royalties). I’d been trying all day to get into the right pose during the 5 seconds the camera was counting down. 60 seconds in Bec’s hands and I had the perfect shot! Then it took a lot of hours of online tutorials and a great deal of patience with a well-known photo editing suite to get it looking the way I wanted it to.

Tell me about Michael Ware and how you developed his character.

When we meet Michael the most he has to worry about is how he’ll survive the move to his new school. He’s of that age when everything is full of wonder and the horrors of life aren’t something he should be thinking about, but often does.

Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve heard conversations that would raise a lot of eyebrows in many circles. Young adults aren’t just talking about football (both kinds), games and relationships. They’re talking about politics, pregnancy, marriage, education, economy and immigration. They might not entirely understand those issues, but they’re giving them some serious thought. One or two reviews have mentioned that Michael and his friends seem older than the age I’ve put them at, and it’s true to a certain extent. But I wanted to give them the credit that the people I teach often don’t receive.

I didn’t want ‘Inquisitor’ to be a rags-to-riches story, so I made the Wares a middle-class family. To be fair, most of the young people I teach now come from the same kinds of families, with a few exceptions up or down the ladder. I was also definite that I wanted Michael’s family to be alive and as loving as any other. I think it makes him more relatable, especially considering what he’s going to go through in the future. But above all, I wanted him to be the average person, even after his talents are discovered because I find overtly brave or sensitive characters unrealistic.

During his character development, I tried to give Michael an emotional range that would make him an accessible character for both male and female readers.  In one scene, we see him break down on Tamara’s shoulder after a heated argument with his best friend. In another, he’s about to profess his love but is stopped before he can. A lot of adult readers will read that last passage in particular and feel that those emotions are too advanced for a twelve-year-old, but young adults are more open about their feelings now than they were when we were their age (with each other at any rate).

Unlike your average teenagers, however, Michael and his friends will have adulthood and responsibility thrust upon them, and their later development will depend on just how vindictive I’m feeling at the time.

Can you tell me a little about how your characters are influenced by their setting?

Certainly. Day to day, Michael, Tamara and their friends are surrounded by wealth and power but are treated very much as outcasts by the rest of the school. Even the staff of other houses at the school look down on Solaris, mainly because the Braxton Foundation pays for the education of all of Solaris’s members. Even Rupert, who comes from a very wealthy family, is bullied for being a Solaris student.

Michael’s personality changes quite dramatically from location to location in the book, but it also depends on the company he’s keeping at the time. At home, he’s as relaxed as you’d expect him to be. He even takes the book out to his best friend’s house in his backpack – something he wouldn’t dare do at school. He’s very secretive about what goes on at the academy, however, but mostly because he and Tamara have agreed that knowledge of the Inquisition could have dire consequences for their families. And you have to wonder whether it’s something they’ve been taught at school, or whether it’s a conclusion they’ve drawn on their own.

Most of us indulge in our need for melodrama from time to time, especially when we’re caught up in the moment. Young people have a knack for seeing wonder around every corner, so I didn’t need to make the academy buildings as special as, say, another recently well-known school for gifted children. We also need to remember that they’re not gifted until they reach the academy. So, instead of the immediate wonder of … the other place, I gave them every luxury. Hopefully, it reinforces the sense of obligation that Solaris’s students feel towards the Inquisition. ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’, as they say.

In the Peer Court scene, we get the impression that duty and honour are highly prized at that academy. After all, it’s Michael’s sense of duty that lands him there in the first place, or perhaps it’s the other student’s attitudes towards Michael and his friends that encourage them to look out for each other so fiercely. In the end, though, the academy forces our best friends to grow up prematurely.

When I was editing Inquisitor, one of my biggest concerns was that chapter where Michael visits his sister’s high school. It wasn’t until I’d read the whole book back that I realised how important the chapter was to the rest of the story. We get a glimpse of what could have been – the normality (or perhaps the futility) that would have resulted from his time as a regular teen; even his father’s comments about having to stay late at the office or miss holidays with the family hint to it.

Now, you might think that all of these things have nothing in common. But they make the academy the mysterious, magical place that it is, without giving it paranormal paraphernalia. And ultimately, if we as readers feel that way about the academy, it’s no wonder Michael and his friends do too.

What is an example of Michael and Tamara’s education at the academy?

On the surface, Michael and Tamara’s timetable is like any other school timetable – Math, Science, English etc. But they also have lessons in Lore.

Lore mainly covers talent development. For example, in Inquisitor, Mr Steele (their Lore master) demonstrates his own particular talents – telepathy and telekinesis. But as each pupil’s abilities lie in any of three main disciplines, they are separated according to their strengths for physical training.

Michael and Tamara learn to use their telekinetic abilities in combat, for the most part, learning how to disarm, disable and ultimately dispatch their opponents with the minimum effort- a lot like a martial art. But it isn’t all about the fighting.

In one of my favourite passages of the book, Michael, Tamara and their friends learn about the history of the Inquisition and how their powers came to be. We also learn how Aladdin’s genie was imprisoned in the lamp and how the war began. Most of their information comes from updated versions of Grimm’s Modern Lore, which also helps us as readers to understand more about Michael and Tamara’s world and the magic that exists in it.

Who is Mr. Catchpole?

That’s the million-dollar question! All I can say is that he’s your usual villain. If anything, I would describe him as chaotically good – or willing to do whatever he thinks is right to achieve peace. His story unfolds throughout the series, and I hope that the more you learn about Catchpole, the more interesting he’ll become.

In fact, he is probably the character I find the most difficult to write. I often find his dialog and sometimes his actions getting away from me, and I have to rein him in again. On the days I struggle to get 500 words onto the page it’s usually because I’m writing Catchpole. It’s like a game of chess. I have to be thinking so far ahead of the story for him while keeping his back story in mind at the same time.

For now, Catchpole’s most important role is to be our anchor to the views of the Inquisition. Without him, I couldn’t tell their side of the story.

Where can readers buy your book?

If you’re downloading from the US, you can find it at:

Amazon US

Or from the UK at:

Amazon UK

Alternatively, readers can follow the links from Inquisitor’s page at: indiebrag  which goes a long way to supporting the BRAG community and all of the wonderful things they do for independent authors.

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to G.J. Reilly who is the author of, Inquisitor; The Book of Jerrick – Part 1, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Inquisitor; The Book of Jerrick – Part 1, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money



Confessions of a Book Blogger with Heather Campbell

Stay calm and support book bloggers

I’d like to welcome, Heather Campbell today to take part in, Confessions of a Book Blogger.

What is your blog’s name and address?

The Maiden’s Court

When did you start a book blog and why?

 My first post was May 6th 2009 – so I have a 7-year anniversary coming up here shortly!  I was a part of a few different author message boards back then and followed 2 or 3 book blogs.  I was in my final semester of my senior year at college and had a little time on my hands. I always was a reader and quite honestly my boyfriend (now husband) was getting tired of listening to me talk about the Tudors all the time, so I thought a blog would be a fun way to chat with other book nerds about the things I was reading anyway.

What are the kind of posts do you feature?

The bulk of my posts are reviews of historical fiction and biographical non-fiction.  I feature author interviews and guest posts, typically when participating in blog tours or as part of the indieBRAG interview team. Additionally, I love exploring history, cooking, and old movies which I have managed to integrate in my blog as well. I have 4 signature series that I regularly feature:

  • Caught on Tape – which features one historical character and typically 5 or so films that they appear in.  Sometimes these films subsequently see a review on my site.
  • Two Sides to Every Story – which is a combination series of my own posts and author guest posts that look at two different sides of a controversial subject or character.
  • Weekend Cooking – this is a series that is hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  I have turned it into a historical cooking theme and will feature historical recipes or cookbooks that I have tried out.
  • Historical Virtual Tours – this is a series that features virtual tours of historic sites – some that I have visited complete with my own photos and commentary, and other times places I wish to visit with input from friends or the sites website, etc.

How often do you blog?

Typically, I aim for at least 3 posts a week. I was on a little bit of a consistency struggle in the latter half of 2015, so I’m working on getting back on track. Some weeks there can be more, but I shoot for 3.

What are some of the positive feedback you have received? 

That’s a difficult question to quantify. I had many readers that have stuck with me through the years and frequently comment or engage in other forms of social media – and to me that is one of the best types of positive feedback; they wouldn’t stick around if they didn’t like it!  I have also received kind words and thanks from authors that I have featured over the years – even a Christmas card or two. Oh and one fun experience thanks to a virtual tour I did for a historical site – they reached out to me and said if we came back they would give us some behind the scenes tour stuff that not everyone sees.

On average, how many books do you review a year? 

I typically review around 40 books a year.  I read anywhere between 50 and 70 a year, so that is a significant portion. Those that don’t get reviewed on the site are typically those I have read that are outside my blog genre specifications.

What is your favorite genre?

Historical fiction hands down – specifically straight historical fiction and historical romance.

What is your less favorite? 

Within the historical fiction genre, I’m not a big fan of historical mysteries. I love regular mysteries, but I frequently have found them lacking in HF. Otherwise, I don’t *get* literary fiction and am not a huge fan of the Classics or books written prior to 1900 – it’s a style thing.

How do you feel about negative reviews? 

I think negative reviews are valuable to the reader and the writer.  I have no problem writing a negative review if it is warranted. I write reviews on my blog for my readers.  When I started the blog it was because I wanted to be able to discuss what I read with other readers, and that is still how I operate today. I have certain bloggers who I have grown to trust their feedback and reviews as they haven’t steered me wrong. I wouldn’t want my readers to question my credibility if I only posted books that I found awesome or gave a skewed review of. But I think negative reviews can often be balanced by positive elements. I always link to other reviews by bloggers in my review and often look for a different opinion from mine in order to give people other sources of reviews that might be different from my perspective. I don’t think a review should ever criticize the author, someone worked hard for that book and it is their baby, but honest feedback is valuable and I’m very upfront about that.

When considering a book to review what do you look for?

I almost always review anything I have read in the historical fiction or non-fiction/biography genre – whether I signed up to review the book or picked it up off my personal TBR.  Like many, I have a core set of authors whose works I have loved that I would immediately sign up for any tour/review opportunity.  For books/authors I am not familiar with, I look for a blurb that sounds exciting or with interesting characters. I love books set in more unique settings or with lesser known historical figures.

List three book covers you love.

Somerset by Leila Meacham


The Island of Doves by Kelly O’Connor McNees

The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

How do you feel about authors using social media to speak out badly of reviewers who did not give the author’s book a glowing review? 

I think with social media – regardless of the topic – people are going to speak their minds.  And I am sure that it can be frustrating to see the product of so many hours and so much passion being bashed by someone online. Honestly, the best thing to do is ignore it.  Or if you need to vent about it, vent offline with a family member or friend.  Don’t put it online – someone will see it and share it. I have seen authors who have spoken badly about bloggers show up on blogger lists of “Authors Behaving Badly” and I know there are people who I won’t buy because of their behavior. Basically, you are your product and in this digital age, your product will be judged based on interaction with you.  Put your best face forward and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Have you had any negative experience with blogging? 

Nothing that I can really call to mind. Sometimes certain authors or publishers can be a little pushy, but nothing more than that.

Do you read more than one book at a time? 

I typically like to be reading no more than 1 physical book/e-book and 1 audio book at the same time. This is because it is easier to keep the books separate in my mind and often the audio book is non-fiction while the physical book will be fiction.  However, there are certainly times that isn’t feasible…like right now, I am in the middle of 8!!!  A result of certain review dates coming up and delays in copies arriving, being sick, and stuff for school coming up.

Do you read self-published books? If so which ones have you read this year so far? 

 I do read self-published books, but I am typically a little more selective and do more research before picking it up. I will frequently read excerpts/samples of self-pub, whereas I don’t do that with traditional publishing. I’m looking for it to be formatted well and edited before I commit to reading it.

I don’t think I have read any so far this year. I have read a few that are from small/niche publishers, such as An Angel Called Gallagher by M.K. McClintock (this is the 4th book in her series and I think her early books *might* have been self-pub) and The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a blog?

I think people hesitate starting a blog because they don’t think they will be good at it and they worry about getting followers. My advice is don’t worry about anyone else, blog for you. You should always write something you would want to read and be genuine. Followers will come, probably slowly, but it will happen.  You have to come off as being you, people can tell when it is being forced. This will keep down the stress of being something you are not and reduce the potential for burnout. If you are stressing about blogging, you are doing it wrong!  Any time I find myself feeling pressured or out of sorts, I go back to the original concept behind my blog.  I remember that I started my blog for myself and never expected it to have a huge following or that I could receive books for free or engage with authors. I did it because I loved books and just wanted to talk with others like me.

Thank you, Heather!

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Seeley James

Seeley James BRAG pic 1

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Seeley James to Layered Pages. Seeley’s near-death experiences range from talking a jealous husband into putting the gun down to spinning out on an icy freeway in heavy traffic without touching anything. His resume ranges from washing dishes to global technology management. His personal life stretches from homeless at 17, adopting a 3-year-old at 19, getting married at 37, fathering his last child at 43, hiking the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim at 59, and taking the occasional nap.

Seeley’s writing career ranges from humble beginnings with short stories in The Battered Suitcase, to being awarded a Medallion from the Book Readers Appreciation Group. Seeley is best known for his Sabel Security series of thrillers featuring athlete and heiress Pia Sabel and her bodyguard, the mentally unstable veteran Jacob Stearne. One of them kicks ass and the other talks to the wrong god.

His love of creativity began at an early age, growing up at Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture in Arizona and Wisconsin. He carried his imagination first into a successful career in sales and marketing, and then to his real love: fiction.’

How did you discover indieBRAG?  

Joanna Penn mentioned it in an author’s forum.

Please tell me about your book, Element 42.

Element 42 has two facets, the story itself and the change it represents in the series. The story begins at a turning point for the characters of Sabel Security. Jacob decides to stop taking the meds that quieted the voice in his head: Mercury, winged messenger of the Roman Gods. Is he gifted or insane? No one, character or reader, is quite sure. Whatever the case, Jacob accomplishes more with his inner voice than without and this bad-boy becomes an important part of the team.

The story takes us from the jungles of Borneo, where Pia and Jacob stumble on a clinic of death, to the drug company CEO that engineered a disease that only their patented drug can cure. But before they can bring the guilty to justice, someone kills the suspects and steals the deadly virus. Over the course of events, we learn about aging populations, droughts, and drug treatments that bring more profits than cures.

Element 42 brag

What was the inspiration for your story?

As I reached the age to contemplate my legacy, I’m shocked at how my generation of Baby Boomers is leaving a pretty sad state of affairs for our heirs. Our successes in science and technology have exceed our responsibility for their side effects. Eager to excel, we’ve ignored the need for elder care, healthcare, climate change, clean energy, and education. How can an author point that out to the general population without being pedantic? Look into the future and ask how people and companies will profit from these problems over the next decade, then write a cautionary thriller about those potential directions.

Please tell me about Pia Sabel.

Pia Sabel was inspired by the three-year-old girl I met when I was nineteen. I adopted her and raised her, making all the mistakes one might expect of a single, teen dad. But she persevered through the difficult psychological terrain adopted kids often feel: rejection, loss, longing, displacement, abandonment, and so much more. Her ability to remain positive in heartbreaking situations led me to create a fictional character who could do the same. Like my little girl, Pia Sabel was raised by a stranger who stepped in when no one else would.

What is the friendship like between Pia and Jacob?

Element 42 changes their relationship dramatically and permanently. While Jacob will chase any skirt that passes by, he’s intimidated by Pia Sabel. Throughout Element 42, he believes he’s in love with her but she changes his mind with one big admission (you’ll have to read the story to find it). We then hear his thoughts in reaction:

In that instant, I thought about life and death and love and admitted that I was in love with Pia Sabel. Not as a romantic lover, but as a sister in the family of damaged souls. We weren’t star-crossed lovers. We were fragments of the same shooting star.

Was there any research you had to do for this story?

Research is where my inner geek ruins my working day. I can look up something simple and end up reading a book well into the night. I’m an avid reader of arcane non-fiction from which I glean ideas and thoughts. For Element 42 I read a stack of non-fiction books about how aging affects the global food supply, how droughts are wreaking havoc on global farming, how pharmaceutical companies can pay $3 billion fines and still present investors with a 20% pretax profit. Then there is the fun part: setting scenes in places I’ve never been, like Guangzhou and Milan. To get those places right, I read travel blogs and creep on people’s vacation blogs. The detail you can pick up from vacation posts is astounding.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

Editing out the blue irises that opened the early version of the book nullified the working title “Blue Plague”. Beta readers pointed out that the virus was freeze dried and shipped undercover as “Element 42”.

Who designed your book cover?

A friend who doesn’t do book covers. It wasn’t optimal but I liked it. I’ve been meaning to get it a proper cover but…

Tell me about your writing habits.

I wish I had writing habits. I think I’m getting some. For the first three books (Element 42 is the third), I would write and re-write and make outlines and make new outlines then hike a mountain and realize it was all going in the trash because where the story really needed to go was… It was like I had literary ADHD.

For the fourth book in the series, Death and Dark Money, I adapted Macbeth as the structural plan for the bad guy. That kept me focused and helped me understand why I went off the rails so many times in the past. I never lacked for a good plot, I lacked a good bad-guy.

For my fifth book (in progress), I’ve already written Dr. Evil’s “Master Plan to Take Over the World” which allows me to see where Pia and Jacob will intersect his efforts and overturn his apple cart. My next step will be to sketch a short outline conforming to the twelve-segment, four act structure and then write.

As for daily habits, I start my writing day with a journal entry to prime the writing-pumps and then write as much as I can as quickly as possible. Sometimes I spew literary gems like flakes from a snow blower, and other times, I’m typing soon-to-be-deleted-excrement. But I write no matter what.

Who are some of your influences when it comes to writing?

I’m easily influenced. Lee Child and Zoe Sharp are two authors I devour and note for technique and phrasing, along with a host of others such as Dean Koontz, Daniel Silva, and David Baldacci. But I never stop listening for new sources and influences in the world around me. Halfway through my most recent work, Death and Dark Money, I was on vacation in San Diego and heard someone use the phrase “wicked smart” as he passed by. I made a mental note to change one of my characters to a former surfer and spent the rest of my vacation picking up the surfer patois. It’s not enough to pepper dialogue with “gnarly” and “awesome”, there has to be a natural flow to it. Once I had the vernacular down, I then had to put it in a straight-jacket because the man had left the beaches for a job as a lobbyist. He was fighting his inner word pattern, trying to be a button-down professional. Hopefully, you can feel his inner conflict.

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to Seeley James who is the author of, Element 42, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Element 42, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money



Review: Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert

Loving Eleanor-larger pic

When AP political reporter Lorena Hickok—Hick—is assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential campaign, the two women become deeply involved. Their relationship begins with mutual romantic passion, matures through stormy periods of enforced separation and competing interests, and warms into an enduring, encompassing friendship documented by 3300 letters.

Set during the chaotic years of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War, Loving Eleanor reveals Eleanor Roosevelt as a complex, contradictory, and entirely human woman who is pulled in many directions by her obligations to her husband and family and her role as the nation’s First Lady. Hick is an accomplished journalist, who, at the pinnacle of her career, gives it all up for the woman she loves. Then, as Eleanor is transformed into Eleanor Everywhere, First Lady of the World, Hick must create her own independent, productive life.

My thoughts:

I have to say I am selective in what I read about political figures or their families. Often times I find them to be completely one-sided or bias. When I came across this story, I became intrigued with the premise and not having read historical fiction before on Eleanor Roosevelt, I decided to take the chance.

This story grabbed me from the beginning and I was taken quite surprised by many aspects of the story told. The portrayal of Eleanor and her relationship with Lorena Hickok was the most surprising. Though I won’t talk much about their relationship in this review, I will say Lorena-Hick-seemed to be almost obsessed with Eleanor at times and I questioned her opinions towards Franklin Roosevelt. To say further would give spoilers.

Eleanor took me by surprised a bit in this story. In the beginning and half way through the story she seemed nothing like what I have read about her in the past. Though yes, she had an unhappy childhood, she was plain looking and she was deeply influenced by feminism of her time and I do know she disagreed with her husband’s politics at times, however I was surprised at how Hick interprets Franklin’s and his family’s treatment towards Eleanor. I guess I have a lot more research to do on this subject.

I do admire Hicks ambition in journalism and her ability to stand tall in what was a man world at the time. I won’t deny her relationship with Eleanor was complex and provokes more thought into their relationship. The fact that it’s been documented that they have written thousands of letters to each other is really extraordinary and I really enjoyed reading about that greatly.

This story is a great piece of the era, women taking a stronger stand in the world, the struggles and heart ache of personal and public life of public figures, the profound sacrifices they make and the people who they love.

I obtained a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins