Stephanie Abbott's Blog

April 7, 2014

Hi, all!

I know, I need to blog more often. And today I’m here because my friend Leslea Tash has just published her debut novel, a romance called Bird After Bird.

Here’s the blurb:

Dear Birdy, Princess Birdzilla von MuffinStuff, Keeper of Dreams, Lover of our Fine Feathered Friends, queen of my life and light of my world, I hope this letter finds you well. If you are reading this then I am gone, and sweetheart, I am so sorry.

Chi-town professional Wren Riley is 25 and a rising star in the business world. She can eat a man alive and laugh about it to her girlfriends in seconds flat–and she does, on the regular. Behind the power suits and the flashing, flirty eyes, however, Wren has a secret, vulnerable side. Following a devastating loss and the discovery of a bird journal she and her father made together years before, Wren sets out to seek peace, closure, and something she just can’t name. Is that something tied to the little paper cranes she keeps finding along the way?

Laurence Byrd grew up a lanky Hoosier kid with the good/bad fortune of having the same name as the state’s perennial basketball legend. With a better affinity for dogs than sports or school, he ends up in the Army instead of the Chicago art school of his dreams. Still, his service to our country is something he can be proud of–until an argument with the girl who means the world to him results in a series of events that blows his life apart. With no one left to understand him, black sheep Laurie pours out his heart into letters and drawings he never intends to send–then he folds them into paper cranes that he leaves behind like messages in little winged bottles. He never dreams someone might be finding them.

God damn it, Sylvia, for a few moments I tricked myself into feeling really alive. I cut it off before anyone got hurt, but just for a moment or two, I really thought I might feel something again–something like trust. Something like love. Not the kind of love we had, but something new. Something like hope.

Spoiler alert: Wren and Laurie are going to meet. And when they do, their lives are never going to be the same.

“I must admit that when I got to the end of this book, I let out a tiny whimper from under my breath. It was over and I didn’t want it to be; the style of writing was unique, fun, quirky and witty.” ~JC at All Is Read

“Sweet and delightful.” ~Yolanda, of Yolanda Has So Many Books



Filed under: Books, Publishing, Writing Tagged: Bird After Bird, contemporary romance, Leslea Tash, Little Women, NA, new adult, Romance
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Published on April 07, 2014 11:54 • 7 views

February 13, 2014

Little Boy Blue

Attention Nashville area peeps:

This beautiful boy needs a home. He is 1 year old and already neutered. I would take him myself, but we have three already and one (Zahara) hates the other two (Howard and James) so we have enough perpetual drama.

If you would like details, comment on the thread, PM, or email me at

And if you’re not in Nashville but are interested, I would be more than willing to meet you halfway to get this sweet boy to his forever home. :)

Filed under: Emma Jameson Tagged: adoption. pet adoption. Nashville. forever home, cats
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Published on February 13, 2014 11:14 • 11 views

December 13, 2013

Welcome to the Writing Process blog tour. I was tagged by my good friend Shéa MacLeod, an author of paranormal romance. What’s the tour all about? Authors talk about their writing process, as well as briefly touch on their current projects. Then, they pass the torch to three other authors.

1. What am I working on now?

That’s easy — Lord & Lady Hetheridge #4, Black & Blue, and Dr. Benjamin Bones #1, Marriage Can Be Murder. Both are cozy mysteries with a heavy emphasis on characterization. The Hetheridge series is set in present-day London; Chief Superintendent Anthony Hetheridge, a baron, acts as Scotland Yard’s liaison to the wealthy, not all of whom play nice, either with the Metropolitan Police Service or each other. The Dr. Bones mysteries will be set in a small English town outside Plymouth during what the Brits called “The War At Home” — that period during the Second World War in which the English endured a great deal, including the Blitz, to safeguard their homeland and way of life.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

That’s tough, since the answer is really for readers to decide. I will say, I think my characters are not only fun, but intriguing enough to capture the imagination. They are all quite real to me, down to the supporting characters who only get five lines per book, and I hope they’re real to my readers, too.

3. Why do I write the things I do?

I’m an Angolophile from a very early age, with no idea how or why it happened. My brief visit to London in March 2013 far exceeded my expectations, and only increased my desire to write books set in England. I’ve loved mysteries, both hardboiled and cozy, for many years now, so it’s also a case of adding to the bookshelves I adore. Some of my favorite mystery writers include Ruth Rendell, M.C. Beaton, and Alexander McCall Smith.

4. How does my writing process work?

Now here’s where I’ll get in trouble with those who craft How To Write A Book columns. I write what comes to me, when it comes to me. Then I rewrite it a bazillion times, get it edited, and turn it loose on the world. Setting a daily word count goal doesn’t work for me — I can do it (heck, this is already at 385 or so) but invariably, I end up deleting whatever was forced out. Once, as a young, young writer, long before I went full time, I could sit down and type and type and then spend months if not years trying to fix a mountain of pages. Trying to decide what stayed, what went, what needed reworking and what was good enough. It was awful, and the result was unreadable.

Now I await the vision and write like a woman possessed when it comes.

This makes me slower than some of my colleagues, especially for readers who only know me as Emma Jameson — then it will seem like forever until I get the next one out. But the truth is, I’d rather be slow and proud of my work. Churning out a product according to schedule doesn’t work for me. I did it once, under another pen name, and ended up pulling the book. Although its sales were modestly successful, and reviews were good, I knew I’d rushed it to make an artificial deadline set by me, to appease some “publish every ninety days” rule. Never again.

Thanks for reading! Now it’s time for me to pass the torch.


Cheryl Bradshaw is a USA Today bestselling mystery author. She recently released Bed of Bones, her fifth Sloane Monroe novel. Link to the very first, Black Diamond Death, below:


sarah pic

Sarah Woodbury is the author of the tremendously success After Cilmeri series. Her latest book, The Fallen Princess, is available for pre-order on most ebook venues. Book #1, Daughter of Time, is free everywhere. Click the cover for the Amazon link.



Christine Demaio-Rice is the author of the award-winning Fashion Avenue trilogy. Click on the boxed set image for the Amazon link.


Filed under: Emma Jameson
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Published on December 13, 2013 14:27 • 14 views

December 1, 2013


The sale continues! Today I’m featuring some sci-fi and fantasy. If you like romance in the mix, there’s Cruxim by my friend Karin Cox. Here’s the cover and blurb:

Cruxim_cover_medium What is Cruxim?

Amedeo is Cruxim, a mysterious, immortal fallen angel. Destined to seek redemption as a vampire hunter, he nourishes his insatiable hunger on vampire blood. But when the object of his passion, the novice nun Joslyn, is turned into a vampire and enters a vampire coven, Amedeo’s worlds collide. Shattered by the loss of his beloved, he vows to rid the world of vampires once and for all, even if it means destroying Josyln in the process.

A Paranormal Game of Cat and Mouse

Joining Amedeo on his quest to rid the world of the undead is Sabine. Half-woman, half-lioness, she is a Sphinx, a Guardian who has protected humans from vampires since the dawn of time. Yet Sabine comes to this fight pursued by her own enemies. Dr. Claus Gandler knows the secret of Sabine’s mythological past and has vowed to torment her for eternity or destroy her forever.

Immortal Ever After?

Captured by the evil doctor, Amedeo and Sabine are paraded as sideshow freaks in Gandler’s Circus of Curiosities. Only vampire Joslyn has the power to intercede. Will she prove Amedeo’s redemption, or his destruction?

Next there’s Sunset by Arshad Ahsanuddin. Here’s the cover and blurb:


By DayLos Angeles, 2040. When the terrorist known as Medusa threatens to kill millions with a stolen nuclear bomb, Nick Jameson makes a fateful decision. He reveals himself on global television as a Daywalker – a vampire with a soul. To save Los Angeles, Nick exposes not only his own gifts but three separate cultures based on millennia-old magic.By NightThe three metahuman races exist in careful balance, working to maintain a fragile peace. Nick and his fellow Daywalkers successfully master their natural bloodlust. The Sentinels, armed with both magic and steel, repress their warlike instincts. And even some Nightwalkers, normally their natural enemies, have deserted the Court of Shadows to join the triple alliance. Nick Jameson is deeply involved with two such Nightwalkers – handsome Lorcan and powerful Rory. Both men love Nick. But neither can protect the new Ambassador to Humanity from the events he has set in motion.By the Sword

Jeremy Harkness was lured into Medusa’s service under false pretenses. A loner with no one and nothing to cling to, he was willing to die for his cause. But the night Medusa tried to obliterate Los Angeles, Jeremy met Nick Jameson, triggering the onset of his own psychic gifts. For Jeremy is the third race of metahuman, a Sentinel, born to kill the Nightwalkers with no quarter asked or offered. And neither Medusa nor the Court of Shadows will settle for peace when they can make war.

Betrayal and treachery lurk around every corner on the road to coexistence, and at every turn, Nick must question who to trust among his metahuman allies, friends, and lovers—before their civilization is plunged into the depths of darkness and bloodshed. With millennia-old magic, emerging romance, and ever-shifting allegiances, this inventive series unveils a scintillating, homoerotic world of Nightwalkers, Daywalkers, Sentinels, and Humans, who battle for world dominance in the not-too-distant future.

Now comes Downside Rain by Lin Welch. Cover and blurb:

Downside Rain

Another place lies palm to palm with the world we know. Downside, Earth’s backdoor, where magic, madness and monstrosities abide; where rain falls from a cloudless red sky and neon pulses day and night.

A fallen angel in a derelict tower weeps crystal tears.

A powerful man hides a dark secret.

Wraiths skim through the streets.

Rain and Castle dispose of monsters, be they mischievous but relatively benign

sprites, or ghouls which don’t limit their feasting to the already dead. When the

hunters become the hunted, they must survive attacks by demons and Gettaholt

citizens compelled by powerful magic. Who is trying to kill them, and why? Can

a wraith die twice?

Next there’s Guardians of the World by Jolea M. Harrison. Here’s the cover and blurb:


GUARDIANS OF THE WORD is an epic fantasy, science fiction amalgam that tells the story of Dynan Telaerin and his ancestor’s long struggle to rid the world of evil. Beyond the barrier lies the heart of deception, trapping the world in a repeating cycle of devastation, rebirth and then destruction once again, every thousand years. For countless cycles knowledge is destroyed, the words of truth lost to future generations until one young man, the First King of Cobalt sacrifices his eternal soul to remain. He brings previously lost knowledge forward in time to his ancestors, Dynan and Dain, who like him are telepathic twin brothers. It is their destiny to finally break the cycle, or doom the world to the final darkness. For in their time, the Gods are weakened, evil prevails and unless it is defeated once and for all, will remain to rule in domination and terror.

In CHOSEN, Dynan Telaerin finds himself on a corpse-strewn hillside, uncertain if he’s dead or alive, charged with saving his ancestor, the most powerful telepath to ever exist. The race for survival drastically changes when his brother, Dain is taken. Will courage alone be enough to face the greatest evil to exist? Will he lose his soul to save everyone else?

Finally, if you’d like a FREE book, check out The Sable City by M. Edward McNally:


For the first time in a hundred years, Vod’Adia – the fabled Sable City – is Opening. All across the known world, adventurers hungry for gold and relics from the Witch King’s era are making their way to the legendary ruins. For many of them, the Sable City will claim their lives and perhaps even their very souls. But for one heroic fellowship bent only on rescue, entering this deadly place may do worse than destroy them. It may destroy the entire world.

The journey begins in the Miilark Islands, where a most unusual dwarf makes a most unusual choice. Captain Block, charged with finding the exiled heir of House Deskata, picks Tilda Lanai to accompany him – a young woman newly trained in the arts of the Guild, but completely untested. With the help of a rag-tag company that includes a ronin samurai, a semi-competent wizard, a noblewoman in disguise, a healer, a warrior-priest and two ex-soldiers (one in danger of being hanged for desertion), Tilda’s quest leads her into the very heart of the Sable City–where devils and demons roam freely, and very little is what it seems.

Check out these and many more 99 cent or free books by clicking here!

Filed under: Books, Free Reads, Kindle Tagged: 99 cent books, arshad ahsanuddin, Cruxim, Downside Rain, free books, Guardians of the Word, Jolea M. Harrison, Karin Cox, Kindle, Lin Welch, M. Edward McNally, Sunset, The Sable City
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Published on December 01, 2013 09:54 • 20 views

November 30, 2013


You survived Thanksgiving — now what?

The 99 cent sale is still going on, and there’s a book for every taste. Yesterday I focused on mysteries. Today, I’ll show you books for middle grade and YA readers.

First, here’s the cover and blurb for Curse of the Ice Dragon by my friend Tara West.


Born with mark of the Mighty Hunter, Markus has the skill and strength to feed his people, but not to confront his own tyrannical father. Shamed by his cowardice, Markus releases his frustration on the forest creatures.

The village prophet warns that Markus’s reckless ways will bring down The Hunter’s Curse, and for every animal Markus kills, his loved ones will suffer the same fate. When the warnings go unheeded, the Sky Goddess unleashes her ice dragon. Now Markus must flee the dragon without killing it or his beloved brother will die.

Markus’s flight takes him to the lands of the mysterious Ice People. There, the beautiful maiden Ura helps Markus learn the compassion and courage he needs to face the wrath of the Goddess, but the final confrontation will not be without price, as Markus must choose between the life of his brother and the fate of the girl he loves.

Next, for older readers, there’s The Kiss Off and Over It from my friend Sarah Billington. Here’s the cover and blurb for The Kiss Off:


When sixteen year old Poppy Douglas writes a song about her ex-boyfriend Cam and ex-friend Nikki, she has no idea that her heartbreak is about to go global.

A local band picks up her song from Youtube and soon she’s along for the ride with her own fanbase as they blow up on the local club scene and hit the international charts. Though it turns out leaving Cam behind isn’t as easy as she had hoped.

Tangled in a web of unfinished homework, ill-considered sexting and a new lead-singer boyfriend, Poppy has a choice to make between the ex that inspired it all and the rock God whose poster lines the inside of half the lockers at school. But as she struggles to keep her emotional dirty laundry private, she learns that the truth can be hard to find when your life is in the headlines.

Also for YA readers who love fantasy, there’s Troll Or Derby by my friend Red Tash. Here’s the cover and blurb! Troll-or-Derby

In Troll Or Derby, fifteen-year-old Roller Deb is singled out by town bullies for both her skates, and for being different. When her popular homecoming queen of a sister is kidnapped by a scuzzy drug dealer, Deb must flee the trailer park in which she’s grown up, and rescue her. Along the way, Deb becomes enmeshed in the magical realm of trolls and fairies, and the blood-thirsty version of roller derby at which these beings excel. But spending too much time among the fairies comes with a price. Will Deb choose to save her sister, with the aid of a mysterious troll? Or will she be lost to the lures of roller derby, and this magical new realm, forever?

Intrigued? Check out every book on offer by clicking the picture below.


Filed under: Books, Kindle, Tara West Tagged: 99 cent sale, amazon, Curse of the Ice Dragon, Kindle, Over It, Red Tash, Sarah Billington, Tara West, The Kiss Off, Troll Or Derby, YA
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Published on November 30, 2013 10:48 • 11 views

November 29, 2013


Happy Black Friday! I hope you’re … oh, who am I kidding? For most of us, Black Friday is either an exhausting obligation or a free-for-all to be avoided at all costs. So how about an ebook sale instead? Benefits include (1) ability to shop from your ereader, phone, or computer, (2) low, low prices and (3) purchases will count as gifts if you’re so inclined. 


From USA Today Bestselling Author Cheryl Bradshaw, there’s Whispers of Murder and I Have a Secret. Here’s the blurb for Whispers of Murder:

It was Isabelle Donnelly’s wedding day, a moment in time that should have been the happiest in her life…until it ended in murder.

Three women, three motives to kill:

–A jealous sister

–A company CFO

–A newfound friend

But which one is plotting against her? Which one wants her dead? Think you know who did it? Think again.

Devil's Hour

From New York Times Bestseller J. Carson Black, we have The Devil’s Hour.

“J. Carson Black’s THE DEVIL’S HOUR is a superior mystery novel in all respects. Fine prose, terrific suspense, believable characters, and one of the most unexpected and satisfying conclusions I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended.”

—John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of DAMAGE

From Amazon and iTunes bestselling author Sarah Woodbury, you can start her time travel romance series for FREE with book one, Daughter of Time.

In 1997, the disappearance of three young girls rocked the city of Tucson, Arizona. Eleven years later, one of those girls, Micaela Brashear, comes home–alive.

Criminal Investigator Laura Cardinal worked homicide for Arizona DPS, but now she’s been moved to the Open-Unsolved Unit. With a new job and a new partner who questions her every move, Laura pieces together Micaela’s fragmented memories in the hope she will learn the whereabouts of the other two children.

When a man walking his dog finds the bones of a child in a shallow grave on the mountain above town, it becomes clear to Laura that Micaela was the lucky one.

But the killer isn’t through yet, and afte

r the fiery death of someone close to Laura, she realizes she faces an implacable enemy.


From Amazon, BN, and iTunes bestseller Sarah Woodbury, you can start her time travel romance series for free with book one, Daughter of Time.

From The Kindle Book Review:

While a time-travel romance, the relationship between Meg and Prince Llewlyn of Wales is not cliché. It’s truly two people struggling to overcome their different backgrounds and the current political climate of 13th century Wales to follow their hearts. The completely fresh storyline of a Daughter of Time is one of the strongest aspects of this story.

Daughter of Time is a sweetheart style romance in that the sexual scenes take place off stage, and an enjoyable look at chivalry in a way that explains how functional it was for the time period, and not just a cliché romantic notion modern readers have about knights in shining armor.

And from my friend Christine DeMaio-Rice, there’s her award-winning Fashion Avenue mysteries, all three for just 99 cents!


WINNER – Preditors & Editors Best Mystery of 2012

WINNER – 2012 eFestival of Words – Best Mystery/Suspense.

A Red Adept Select for outstanding book in its genre.

This set includes all three award-winning, full-length mysteries, including book one, Dead is the New Black:Fashion designer Jeremy St. James is everything Laura Carnegie could want in a man. He’s gorgeous, rich, and talented. The fact that everyone says he’s gay doesn’t stop her from dreaming of being in her boss’s arms. As a matter of fact, she suspects his inaccessibility is part of his charm.When Jeremy’s backer is found dead in his office and he’s accused of the crime, he trusts Laura, and only Laura, with the keys to the design room. She wants him back and out of jail, and in the process of exposing a counterfeiting ring and finding the real killer, she uncovers the secretive man under the temperamental artist; a man who is most definitely not gay, and a man who might not be that inaccessible after all.There are MANY MORE books in this huge sale, including sizzling romances (adults only!), fantasy, science fiction, young adult, and humor. I’ll feature more as the promotion continues. Check it out, and stay safe (and sane) on this Black Friday!

Filed under: Blue Murder, Books, Emma Jameson, Free Reads, Kindle Tagged: bestseller, Black Friday sale, Cheryl Bradshaw, Christine DeMaio-Rice, J. Carson Black, Kindle, New York Times bestseller, Sarah Woodbury, USA Today bestseller
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Published on November 29, 2013 08:57 • 13 views

November 12, 2013

Red CrossHey, just a brief note. If you’re like me, you’ve been appalled and probably overwhelmed by images of devastation in the Philippines after Supertyphoon Haiyan. Well, one of the best ways to help is to give money. I chose the Philippine Red Cross because they are local, and will be able to put the money to swift and proper use. If you would like to check out their website, go here. Please note if you choose to make a gift, it will be in their currency (pesos), so you’ll need to consult a USD to phP converter first, like this one.

Filed under: Charitable Giving, Emma Jameson Tagged: charitable giving, disaster relief, Philippines, Red Cross, supertyphoon
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Published on November 12, 2013 18:12 • 15 views

November 6, 2013

All right. I don’t want you to think I am not working on Lord &Lady Hetheridge #4, Black & Blue. I am, and will even have a cover reveal soon.

But here’s a bit of the new series. And some background.

It begins in September 1939, just before Britain is drawn into the second world war with Germany. The protagonist is Dr. Benjamin Bones, a young physician who is hoping to revive his unhappy marriage. Like many professionals, the war effort has taken him far from home, to a village not far from Plymouth called Birdswing-on-Sward. It’s an eccentric little place, filled with patriots ready to do their part to depose Hitler. Dr. Ben isn’t certain he belongs there. But the villagers have other ideas…


Chapter One: A New Start

29 August 1939

Things will get worse before they get better, Dr. Benjamin Bones told himself, as much by reflex as conviction. The phrase was a maxim his grandfather often spouted, particularly at grim moments, such as funerals or elections that ended in a Tory victory. A firebrand reformer and socialist, Granddad had printed his own political tracts, handing them out on street corners until his mortified wife arrived to make a citizen’s arrest. Of all the futures Granddad had imagined for his only grandson, marrying into a highly respectable Tory family like the Eubanks wasn’t one of them. And if Granddad, cold in his grave these last five years, had been alive to learn of Ben’s marital troubles, the old agitator would have received such scandalous news—the possibility of the Bones family’s first-ever divorce—one way: by cracking open a bottle of Glenlivet.

But Nana would collapse if she heard. Perhaps join Granddad six feet under, Ben thought. Mum wouldn’t say much, just cry into her pinafore. But Dad might turn me out of the house. After finishing his one-thousandth speech about men upholding their obligations, that is.

It was a speech Ben knew well. He’d delivered it to himself, in his father’s voice, every day for the last six months. Divorce was dishonorable. Divorce was shameful. Divorce was a lifelong black mark that would haunt his future prospects forever. A divorced man was, after all, a cad, a libertine, or at least weak-willed, unable to keep his house in order. And a divorced woman? With the exception of cinema stars, who existed in some flashbulb-popping alternate galaxy, a divorced woman was damaged goods. Even back home in cosmopolitan London, Penny would be called a reject and presumed a slut. After a suitable interval, Ben would have the opportunity to win back the confidence of his community and remarry. Penny would not.

Unless Albie follows her to Devon and sweeps her off her feet ….

But no. Ben wouldn’t allow himself to think that way. For one thing, Albie Sanderson, married with two small children, enjoyed a factory supervisor job supplied by his father-in-law. Ben, who’d disliked Albie even before unkind rumors started to fly, had no trouble imagining his rival abandoning the wife and kiddies. But the manufacturing job Albie’s father-in-law provided was a “reserved occupation,” immune from conscription. Even if Albie truly loved Penny, which Ben seriously doubted, what were the odds of him casting aside a guarantee of never being shipped overseas, on the eve of near-certain war? Miniscule, at best.

In the firmest possible tones, Ben had informed Penny he didn’t want to know if the whispers about her and Albie were true. Easier to forgive, he’d decided, when one wasn’t obliged to forget. Particularly the details of such a very personal transgression. Besides, if Penny and Albie had been having an affair (and most days Ben felt certain they had), his own hands weren’t spotless. True, he hadn’t broken his wedding vows, or even wanted to. But he’d given his burgeoning medical practice the bulk of his attention, reserving his deepest passion and enthusiasm for his patients. He’d worked late when he could have gone home, made routine house calls instead of taking Penny out, and read medical journals into the wee hours instead of joining her in bed by midnight. In other words, he’d done his best to live like a bachelor, rather than face the wife who’d become a stranger.

People make mistakes, Ben told himself in his father’s pedantic, slightly wheezy tone. Marry in haste, repent in leisure. Many an ill-suited union has splintered on the rocks of that first year. And many a couple discovers romantic love has flown, if it ever existed at all. But marriage isn’t about pleasure or self-indulgence. It’s about duty. That’s why it arrives clothed in solemn vows and prayer. To signal the grave nature of the commitment you undertook when you repeated, ‘Till death us do part.’

How much of that speech Ben believed varied from minute to minute, but his old dad was right on one count: people made mistakes. Ben, who’d fallen for Penny during his second year of medical training, had proposed marriage on their third date and been accepted on the sixth. Equating fascination with love, he’d been over the moon, unable to believe his luck. Barely five foot-eight and compactly built, young Ben had never quite understood how his wide blue eyes, mussed brown hair, and lopsided smile went over with the female set. He’d often misread tentative feminine advances, taking crushes for mere kindness and discarding dozens of opportunities without the slightest clue.

Then came that evening on the quad.

Since three o’clock, Ben had been studying beneath a hornbeam tree. Gradually the sun disappeared behind low hills, leaving fanlike diluted brush sweeps of orange, purple, and red in its wake. Ben wouldn’t have noticed, except for the gathering gloom; even with his youthful vision, only a scrap of reading light remained. Overhead, the hornbeam sighed, releasing a fresh volley of dry yellow leaves.

Ben pulled his nose out of Gray’s Anatomy. Looking up, he found Penny standing over him, dressed in a light blue frock and matching sweater. Her expression, slightly scornful, set off her prettiness, transforming it into near-beauty. The light blue frock had nipped in at all the right places, revealing generous curves and slender, perfect legs.

“That bird sitting by the fountain,” Penny said, indicating  another young woman several yards away, “called you a bloodless bookworm. I didn’t appreciate her cheek, so I told her you were my boyfriend. Not to mention the best kisser on campus. So stow that doorstop, why don’t you, before she decides I’m a bald faced liar?”

Ben had goggled at her. Hours later, it struck him that his ideal reply would have been, “Sure. And while I’m about it, why don’t I buy you a drink?” But he’d been too green, too steeped in academic concerns, for the words to cross his mind. In those days, asking out a girl like Penny had seemed a treacherous, profoundly delicate business, like international espionage or defusing bombs. So he’d only dropped his  textbook clumsily and said,

“Terribly sorry. Must be some mistake. Have we, er, met?”

“Of course we have. Just now, silly.” Penny had poked Ben in the chest, left of his heart. “I’m Penelope Eubanks. You’re Benjamin Bones. I’ve been watching on you for ages, working up the nerve to say hello.” This last statement was offered so blithely, she must have discovered the requisite nerve in triplicate. Before he could manage more than a weak, disbelieving chuckle, she glanced over her shoulder. “Oh! Little Miss Fountain is frowning. Quick, pretend to kiss me.”

With enviable grace, she eased down beside him, seating herself on a hornbeam root as comfortably as if it were a satin pillow. Pressing both palms against the hornbeam’s smooth, bluish-green bark, she brought her face in, near enough for him to inhale her sweet breath.

Those perfectly painted red lips didn’t touch his. Still, they hovered so close, he felt their heat, experiencing the transfer as vividly as if something far more intimate had passed between them. Later, Ben would compare the profundity of that faux-kiss to the first time he tasted a gin and tonic: bright and tart, like juniper buds submerged in snow, a little bit wrong and all the more delicious for it.

Likening Penny to a cocktail was fitting. In those days, everything about her was intoxicating. Her blonde curls, smart frocks, black patent heels and tortoiseshell hair combs. The way she smoked unapologetically, holding the fags between her fingers like a man, declaring the usual long black holder too “twee” as she sent fragrant plumes in his direction. Her red lipstick called Carnage, the whiff of Sous le Vent behind her ears, the way she laughed off a snag in her silk stockings while other girls fretted or moaned.

He’d loved her. And if it wasn’t love, it was too close for Ben, just twenty three years old, to know the difference.

Penny hadn’t wanted a long engagement, or even a society wedding, which suited Ben just fine. Less than a month after their “understanding,” they’d eloped to Greta Green, like wayward lovers in a Jane Austen novel. Scotland’s “anvil priests” had begun requiring twenty-one days of residence prior to nuptials, but Ben didn’t chafe under the restriction. Especially since Penny, content with no engagement ring and only a simple gold band to come, suggested they consider themselves as good as married.

As good as married? Ben had meant it with all his heart. In fact, since his life experience was mostly limited to academic triumphs, he’d embarked on his honeymoon almost as an innocent.

That holiday in Scotland was everything he’d hoped for. When he and Penny returned to England, they were congratulated all around, even by her parents, stiff and pale yet surprisingly  forgiving. Much was made over the romance of it all—an MP’s daughter and a promising young physician, too wildly in love to wait. A house was found for them to occupy while Ben completed his medical training, a year’s rent paid by Mr. Eubanks as a wedding present. In that house, a half-timbered mock-Tudor with a stained-glass rose on the front door, Ben and Penny began to know one another. Which was how the trouble began.

It will get worse before it gets better, Ben told himself again. But getting better will take a long time, if I insist on dredging up the past.

He stole a glance across the car seat at Penny. Only three feet of leather upholstery stretched between them, but  the distance felt greater. She was curled against the door of their Austin Ten-Four, coat rolled up to cushion her cheek. Last night, well aware they’d be alone together in the automobile for hours, she’d stayed up almost till dawn, playing Guy Lombardo records on the gramophone and drinking with girlfriends from her brief matriculation at a Swiss young ladies academy. Feeling shut out by the hen chatter and irritated by the music, which was far from his taste, Ben had gone to bed early, plugging his ears with cotton wool so he could sleep. Now he understood her plan, to sleep the day away rather than sit beside him in what amounted to a wheeled cell, with nothing to do but stare at the moving English countryside and answer “yes” or “no” when he tried to initiate a conversation.

 I should be grateful she doesn’t want a row, Ben told himself. She’s gutted, leaving home. Satisfied I’m in a reserved occupation, and not subject to conscription, as long as I go where the government tells me as we ramp up for war. Another world war. When the last one was promised to be the war to end all wars.


“Penny.” Ben shook his wife’s shoulder, but not too vigorously. “There isn’t enough starlight to go on. I’ve pulled over for the night. But we made it to the village high street. Within walking distance of the Circle Squared Hotel.”

“Albie…” his wife murmured, almost too soft to catch.

“No.” Ben, capable of almost Shakespearian tones, let his voice resonate between steering wheel, dashboard, and wife. “I’m not Albie.”

Her pretty green eyes fluttered open. The stiff potion on her lashes made each delicate hair thick and black, rendering the final result beautiful. “Ben. Ben…I love you. I love only you.”

He cleared his throat, embarrassed and hopeful and stung to the soul. “Sweetheart. Are you awake?”

“Oh. Al…”

Ben cut her off before she could finish. “Penny! You must be famished. And one of these buildings is bound to be a pub.”

“Pub? I could use a sidecar. If anyone here knows how to make one.”

“If not, you can teach them.”

Penny smiled. Ben felt his wife’s expression in the profound darkness rather than saw it. The blackout, as the UK government called it, wasn’t officially in effect, yet Birdswing-on-Sward had already adopted it, as had so many, eager to defeat the Hun. The blackout meant that the windows of every business was painted, or at least covered with dark paper. It meant no lamps on cars or bicycles. It meant even a hand-held torch, or the glow of a lit fag, was unlawful, even unpatriotic. It meant blackness helped Britain while so much as a light-flicker aided Hitler.

“True.” Penny yawned hugely and sat up. “I don’t mean to complain, darling. This is our new beginning. Our second honeymoon. If you don’t mind your blushing bride in these old rags?”

Ben found himself grinning. The gown and fur wrap, both lightly mended, that his wife considered “old rags,” was worth a fifth of his yearly earnings. And she knew it.

“You’re beautiful,” he said truthfully.

“Do you love me?”

That took a half-heartbeat. But duty was duty. “More than life.”

In the deep darkness of Birdswing-on-Sward, Penny smiled again, a flash of white teeth lit by stars. “What an accomplished liar you’ve become. Help me up. Let’s have a drink and something hot and homey, like Yorkshire pudding.”

He went round to her door, handing her down like a Victorian caricature, and looked both ways before leading her across a vast darkness to what he knew, from road signs and his map, must be the location of a pub. Good patriots across Britain had embraced the blackout—“How Black is YOUR Blackout,” as the signs went—well in advance of declaration of war. The idea was, no aid or comfort to the enemy, and certainly no gaslight, candles, or glowing fag-embers to tell enemy bombers where their targets lay. In the light of day, in some London bunker, it was a brilliant plan. Past sundown, in the heart of the country, it was dense, and terrifying, and difficult to navigate.

“Benny?” His wife always sounded querulous somewhere around drink number five, if the drinks were stiff enough. Could she still be inebriated from the night before? “Where are you taking me?”

“There must be a pub,” he said with more confidence than he felt. “Based on the map and the sign a half-mile back, there’s a pub hereabouts, with windows covered and torches snuffed. Still, we’ll find it. We can order dinner, get some advice, maybe hire a local to guide us to the inn.”

“Benny.” She sounded weak, even pitiful, as he pulled her her toward vague rectangles in the distance. “I’m sorry. I brought my hip flask. Had a nip or two of Scotch when we stopped at midday. Didn’t realize I’d be walking all over creation after sundown…”

“It’s all right.” Ben struggled to hide his dismay. As their marriage had unraveled, he’d curtailed his drinking, but she had not. “Some food will do you good. This way—” he said, pulling her onto the thoroughfare. When the lorry came, he knew it by a whoosh of air, nothing more. No lamps and no brakes.

“Penny!” At the last moment, Ben thrust his wife behind him. The instinctive maneuver saved his life, though it was some weeks before he knew why.


“I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street…”

Ben sighed. He knew this scrupulous, upper-crust voice. He didn’t like it, but he knew it. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. He recognized it, even as he registered the lumpy mattress beneath him and the odd fragrance—stale honeysuckle?—in the air.

“… and that consequently, this country is at war with Germany…”

Yes, once upon a time Britain had been at war, but that was the War to End All Wars, surely. It couldn’t happen again. Not really.

“You can imagine, what a bitter blow it is to me,” Chamberlain continued.

A “bitter blow” resonated with Ben. His left leg ached. His right knee hurt abominably. How had he put such pain aside? Morphine? Great quantities of morphine?

“…but Hitler would not have it…”

Ben fought mightily to focus on those words, to comprehend them. But while part of him thought, “Who is Hitler?” another, deeper part cried, Where is Penny?

“… his actions show convincingly that there is no chance of expecting this man ever giving up his practice of using force to gain his will…”

I never raised a hand to her, even when I knew … even when I was sure …

“We have a clear conscience. We have done all any country could do…”

Did I do all? Is my conscience clear?

“Penny!” Ben cried.

“Doctor,” a female voice whispered urgently. After a moment, Ben realized she wasn’t speaking to him, but over his head, to someone else. “Doctor, he’s trying to rise…”

“Penny!” Ben cried again, eyes burning. He knew. Yet didn’t know. And the balance between those two states, innocence and destruction, hurt more than he could have imagined.

“Dr. Bones.” The voice was male, cool, not unlike Prime Minister Chamberlain’s, apologizing for a second world war, though he held himself blameless. “Calm yourself, or I’ll dose you again.”

“My wife!” Ben shouted, voice breaking.

“And now that we have resolved to finish it,” Chamberlain continued, voice both plummy and tinny as it emanated from an unseen wireless, “I know you will do your part with courage and calmness.”

“Penny!”  Ben put every ounce of strength into her name. “Where is she?”

“Sleep, doctor,” the cold male voice said, pressing something sharp against Ben’s upper arm. “The world is at war. Count yourself lucky and sleep.”

Filed under: Dr. Benjamin Bones, Emma Jameson, Second World War, World War II Tagged: cozy mysteries, dr. benjamin bones, emma jameson, second world war, world war II
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Published on November 06, 2013 18:02 • 15 views

November 2, 2013

Solomon Northrup, a free man, is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Steve McQueen's 12 YEARS A SLAVE, based on a true story.

Solomon Northup, a free man, is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Steve McQueen’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE, based on a true story.

12 Years A Slave is one of *those* movies. One of those movies you want to see, yet dread to watch, concerning truths you know must be faced, and would perhaps prefer not to think about. It’s stark, and beautiful, and unflinchingly brutal. Director  has made two other movies, Hunger and Shame. In both cases, he revealed not only an artists’s eye, but the ability to coax superior turns from his muse, fellow Irishman. In 12 Years A Slave, McQueen also showcases soulful performances from (Talk to Me) and , a stage actress making her feature film debut.

!2 Years A Slave is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup. Northup, a highly educated professional living in upstate New York, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. This makes the movie particularly accessible to a modern audience, since the protagonist wasn’t born on a plantation or subjected to the social conventions of life in the antebellum south. Solomon is like one of us, accustomed to earning his own living and being treated with respect. Finding himself in chains, he’s horrified to realize if he means to survive, and perhaps get back to his wife and children, he must never reveal that he can read and write, much less his true identity as a freeman. Of course, this proves almost impossible, given that his captors are ignorant and fatuous as well as cruel. An altercation with an insecure, uneducated overseer rips Solomon from his relatively safe position with Master Ford (), a “good” slaver who isn’t vicious or physically violent … yet has no moral qualms buying human beings. Master Ford sells Solomon to Edwin Epps (Fassbender), and on Epps’s cotton plantation, Solomon’s circumstances go from bad to incomprehensibly worse.

Solomon Northup attempts to survive direct questioning by the cruel Epps.

Solomon Northup attempts to survive direct questioning by the cruel Epps.

Epps, an alcoholic, is terrifyingly “hands-on” when it comes to his human chattel; it’s clear he relishes shifting from benefactor to tormentor and back again in sudden drunken lurches. Of particular fascination to him is Patsy (Nyong’o), his most talented cotton-picker, whom Epps calls “queen of the plantation.” Of course, after sundown, Epps creeps into the slave cabin to use Patsy another way. The on-screen rape is brilliantly written, acted, and shot. It’s a triumph for McQueen that he can present something so terrible and make it feel absolutely authentic, yet not a whit exploitative or unnecessary. And Fassbender’s performance is probably his finest to date.

I won’t spoil the film by telling you more. if you value movies about history, or social issues, or if you simply adore superb acting and direction, go see 12 Years A Slave.


Filed under: Michael Fassbender, Movies Tagged: 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, Solomon Northup, Steve McQueen
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Published on November 02, 2013 19:44 • 14 views

November 1, 2013

Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender in Ridley Scott's The Counselor.

Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of . I’ve been looking forward to The Counselor, directed by , ever since early photos arrived from the set last summer. It sounded good: a lawyer decides to walk on the wild side, involving himself in a major drug deal with the intent of returning to his straitlaced life a few million dollars richer. But when things go wrong, he and his fiancee () face death at the hands of a vengeful cartel. In addition to Fassebender, Pitt, Cruz, and Scott, the movie boasts several other fine actors, all doing their best to sell what quickly proves to be a silly, self-important, pseudo-intellectual mess of a movie.

From the very first scene, we’re subjected to the sort of dialogue that might look pretty on the page, but sounds completely unconvincing when spoken aloud. The camera loves Fassbender and Cruz, and no one can blame Ridley Scott for lingering on them: in fact, it’s worth pointing out, the entire film is beautifully shot. If you came across it playing in a bar with no closed-captioning and you couldn’t read lips, you might think the movie would be worth checking out. But the sad fact is, you could get a bar full of drunks to redub the movie themselves using ad libbed dialogue and not only would it probably be more entertaining, it might actually make sense.

Fassbender’s character is, of course, the Counselor; he has no other name. This excruciating conceit leads to all sorts of super-stilted dialogue in which various people, including old friends, acquaintances, a mafia boss, and a Mexican drug lord, repeatedly say things like, “You’re in over your head, Counselor.” Or: “The world has changed for you, Counselor.” To which Fassbender’s character replies in three ways: stupid good humor, vague worry, or a soft, “Jesus.” Because the Counselor is an enigma– a lawyer who is unforgivably naive, a friend of drug lords who doesn’t understand that selling drugs can get you killed, and a man with inexplicable connections to the Italian mafia yet no street smarts–it’s difficult to care about him, or even miss him when he’s off-screen. You’d never guess the actor who was so compelling in Scott’s previous film, Prometheus, is this same fellow with the blank smile and (apparent) learning disability. Then again, in Prometheus (a movie with its own share of problems) Fassbender was playing a character, even if that character was an android. Here, he’s playing a suit.

The movie’s worst sin, however, is its long, long speeches that go nowhere and illuminate nothing. I have the suspicion the screenwriter wanted to out-Tarantino Tarantino, to create some movie moments like the “they call it Le Royale with cheese” bit from Pulp Fiction. Instead, we get weird pretentious dialogue that makes little if no sense:

“Greed pushes us to the edge.”

“No. Greed is the edge.”

And this:

“That’s a little cold, don’t you think?”

“I believe the truth has no temperature.”

Finally, there’s the pièce de résistance, a truly ghastly and pointless scene in which a drug dealer tells the Counselor how his girlfriend once … well, to use the sort of stilted dialogue the movie loves, “had congress with a conveyance of glass and steel.” I glanced around the theater to see if any of the women were preparing tp walk out, but they were all reading stuff on their phones. And I’ll admit, around minute six of this tripe, I tried to log into Facebook so I could post my derision. Alas–not enough bars.

Trust me, you don't want me to caption this still.

Trust me, you don’t want me to caption this still.

So what else can I say about The Counselor? Something positive? I’ve got it. It’s made me twice as eager to see 12 Years a Slave tomorrow … so Fass can redeem himself, and I can get this simpleminded nonsense out of my head.

Filed under: Emma Jameson, Michael Fassbender, Movies Tagged: Cameron Diaz, michael fassbender, Penelope Cruz, ridley scott, The Counselor
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Published on November 01, 2013 16:28 • 11 views

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