Monday, October 31, 2011

Tabby's Guess & Win Contest - The Answer & The Winner

This is Tabby's very colorful rendition of the heroine of a popular series of books that later became a much beloved family favorite television show that ran for several years and is still rerun today. Can you guess who she is? The answer and winner will be revealed on Halloween.

And the answer is...Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House On The Prairie (I told Tabby her colors were too vivid, but she likes things bright). I read her a very amusing book called The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, which I hope to review here eventually and when we got to the chapter about Laura look-alike contests she decided she wanted to dress up.

And the winner is...Kim Cree, as soon as I have your address I will mail your book out. Thanks so much for entering and I hope you enjoy it.

First Look at The Queen's Pleasure by Brandy Purdy

From the back cover:

When young Robert Dudley, an earl’s son, meets squire’s daughter Amy Robsart, it is love at first sight. They marry despite parental misgivings, but their passion quickly fades, and the ambitious Dudley returns to court.

Swept up in the turmoil of Tudor politics, Dudley is imprisoned in the Tower. Also a prisoner is Dudley’s childhood playmate, the princess Elizabeth. In the shadow of the axe, their passion ignites. When Elizabeth becomes queen, rumors rage that Dudley means to free himself of Amy in order to wed her. And when Amy is found dead in unlikely circumstances, suspicion falls on Dudley—and the Queen…

Still hotly debated amongst scholars—was Amy’s death an accident, suicide, or murder?—the fascinating subject matter makes for an enthralling read for fans of historical fiction.

The Queen's Pleasure by Brandy Purdy will be published in the USA by Kensington in July 2012 and in the UK by Harper/Avon as A Court Affair by Emily Purdy in August 2012.

I will post a better quality image of the front cover when I can.

The Man Who Killed Houdini An Investigation by Don Bell

On October 22, 1926 J. Gordon Whitehead, a thirty-one-year-old McGill University student from Montreal, Canada visited magician and escape artist Harry Houdini in his dressing room at the Princess Theatre and punched him repeatedly in the stomach to test his oft-repeated boast that he could withstand any blow to the abdomen by tensing his muscles. Houdini was caught off guard, before he had a chance to steel himself, some reports say he was lying on a sofa perusing his mail at the time the onslaught of blows began, doing irreparable damage. Nine days later on Halloween the magic died. At age fifty-two the great Houdini was dead of a ruptured appendix and peritonitis. In those days before antibiotics, there was nothing medical science could do to save him.

J. Gordon Whitehead appeared to fall off the face of the earth after the incident and in 1982 journalist Don Bell became intrigued by the man who, whether intentionally or unwittingly, innocently or maliciously, caused the death of the world’s most famous magician. At the time of his death Houdini was on the hit list of many mediums who resented his exposes of their fraudulent activities; the entire third act of his show was devoted to exposing the tricks that went on in darkened seance rooms, and many mediums swore vengeance and prophesied doom would befall Houdini very soon. Mr. Bell wondered if this was in any way related to Houdini’s death—Was J. Gordon Whitehead a believer striking a blow for spiritualism?

Mr. Bell spent twenty years searching for the truth, tracking down surviving eyewitnesses or the descendants of those already departed, elusive documents, and even the only known surviving photograph of J. Gordon Whitehead. Sadly he died in 2003 and did not live to see his book published. The Man Who Killed Houdini is a fascinating real-life detective story that delves into the mind of a disturbed and possibly tormented personality, it’s a must for any Houdini fan and will, I think, also appeal to anyone interested in fully exploring one of the little incidents in history that has often been glossed over in just a paragraph or two in past accounts where the fact that Houdini died overshadowed the circumstances of exactly how and why.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Clueless In New England The Unsolved Disappearances of Paula Welden, Connie Smith and Katherine Hull by Michael G. Dooling

At last, a book about one of the mysterious disappearances that has captivated me most of all—Paula Welden, a pretty sophomore at Vermont’s Bennington College who vanished without a trace in December 1946. With an idea in mind about hiking the Long Trail, after working her shift in the dining hall, Paula put on her red parka, blue jeans, and tennis shoes, and set out, alternately walking and hitchhiking. She never came back. Though featured in numerous collections of unsolved mysteries and articles about missing persons, and that area in Vermont that has been eerily dubbed “The Bennington Triangle” because of the numerous disappearances that have occurred there over the years, all of which are rationally chronicled in this book, with an eye towards truth not New Age mysticism or spinning a good campfire yarn, this is the first time the case has been treated to a full, book-length analysis and viewed through modern eyes and the lenses of forensic, psychological, and geological knowledge about serial killers and their behavior patterns.

As well as the Paula Welden case, Mr. Dooling also examines the 1952 disappearance of Connie Smith (Constance Christine Smith) is also examined. So tall for her age that she might have been mistaken for older, the ten-year-old left her Connecticut summer camp after a brawl with another girl, dismissed as “horseplay” resulted in broken glasses and a bloody nose for Connie. She was last seen hitchhiking, witnesses later came forward to report that she had stopped to ask them for directions to town, but somewhere along the way she vanished.

The last case, although chronologically the first, as it occurred in 1936, tells the story of Katherine Hull, a pretty blonde stenographer who vanished while visiting her grandmother in Lebanon Valley, along the New York/Massachusetts border. Katherine went for a walk and vanished. She may have been hitchhiking or someone stopped to offer her a ride, as some witnesses report seeing a woman matching her description get into a car. Her family liked to believe the religious young woman had run away to join a convent, at least that way she would still be alive. Unlike Paula Welden and Connie Smith, Katherine’s remains were later found, seven years later a hunter happened upon her skeleton. Because of their condition, cause of death could not be determined, and what was left of Katherine Hull was cremated. At that time, authorities assumed she had died of exposure.

The author fully explores the theory that a serial killer was at large, preying on vulnerable young women hitchhiking along the New York border and hiding their remains in the woods. Whether these three women who vanished were truly murder victims or not, Mr. Dooling delivers a meticulously detailed account of their disappearances, the details culled from police files, newspapers, and interviews, and ponders whether if they happened today if they would have remained unsolved. Even if I didn’t stay up all night anyway, this book would have kept me awake.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker

With Halloween coming up we’ve got to have a vampire book, so here’s my review of Immanuel’s Veins by Ted Dekker. The year is 1772 and the hero and narrator is Toma Nicolescu, a soldier in the service of Catherine the Great. The Empress sends him to Moldavia, to the country estate of the Cantemir family, seated at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, just west of Transylvania. With his trusty friend Alex Cardei, he sets out on his mission, to protect the family in these times of political unrest, but, the Empress warns, steer clear of the notorious Cantemir sisters—impetuous blonde Natascha and wise brunette Lucine who, unlike the typical 18th century nobly born girl, have been brought up to live their lives for love, in pursuit of pleasure and passion. A marriage between one of them and a member of the Russian royal family may even be in the works, so they are officially off limits.

Of course, Toma and Alek ignore this and they soon pair up with the sisters, Toma with Lucine and Alek with Natascha. But Alek soon finds he has a rival, Natasha just can’t keep away from Castle Castile and the mysterious men and women who live there, living for pleasure sake and imbibing a special wine that bears a strong resemblance to blood; she repeatedly sneaks out at night to join them. But if you can’t beat them join them and Alek soon joins Natascha on her nocturnal visits and soon he is enthralled as she is and it is up to Toma and Lucine to put a stop to these antics and restore them to their senses. But Alek and Natascha don’t want to be rescued and instead try to convert them to the Russian’s free-love, do-as-you-please, live only for pleasure’s sake, lifestyle: “They are the model of love. The pounding of the heart, the touch of lips. They are God’s gift to the world, to love as you would be loved, with intense affection.”

More complications arise when the lord of Castle Castile, Vlad von Valerik, asks permission to court Lucine and her mother urges her to accept him, and, realizing that Vlad may be the marriage prospect the Empress spoke of, Toma finds himself turn between his love for Lucine and duty to the Empress and his country.

After tasting the Russians’ special wine, Toma blacks out in the embrace of Sofia, one of the mysterious Russian coven, and thus Lucine comes upon him. Soon afterwards, though Toma has decided to follow his heart come what may and damn the consequences, he will risk the ire of the Empress, Lucine decides to accept Vlad’s suit and begins to succumb to his charm and desire to please her. But after he bites her lip and she complains of the pain he suddenly becomes violent, and there are no more words of love and tenderness.

And like the hero of any vampire movie, Toma must save his beloved, but more perils and trials await him, and obstacles to overcome. But with the help of a mysterious old blind man who calls himself Thomas and gives Tomas a mysterious volume called The Blood Book that describes the origin of the Nephilim (the word vampire is never used in the book), the evil beings born of unions between fallen angels and human females, and, armed with this treasure trove of knowledge, and a new-found belief in God, Tomas returns to Castle Castile determined to save the woman he loves and slay the evil Vlad.

There’s really nothing new under the sun or moon where vampire fiction is concerned, but it’s still an interesting and entertaining tale. I personally would have liked a better sense of history as window dressing for the story, there were a few modern words that seemed out of place, like “slacks” instead of "trousers" or "breeches", and I’m not sure the term “party people” was used in 18th century Russia, but these are really minor points, little rocks in the road that shouldn’t be allowed to spoil this stirring tale of romance and adventure and good versus evil.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Update: The Queen's Pleasure by Brandy Purdy / A Court Affair by Emily Purdy

My next novel The Queen's Pleasure will be published in July 2012 by Kensington, and in the UK by Harper/Avon as A Court Affair by Emily Purdy in August 2012. I will post more information as I receive it. This novel, told from the viewpoints of Amy Robsart Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I, tells the story of the deadly love triangle that ended with a mysterious death that was the greatest scandal of Elizabeth's reign and to this day remains one of history's great mysteries.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The White Devil by Justin Evans

Andrew Taylor thinks his luck has taken a turn for the worse—and quite rightly too it turns out--when his father sends him to London to attend The Harrow School an elite 400 year-old boarding school where the students, all born to wealth and privilege, wear the same style jackets, ties, and straw hats that students wore in the 19th century. It’s a whole new world for American Andrew with the different customs and accents and he finds it very hard to fit in. And when the boy who befriended him on his first day dies under mysterious circumstances Andrew is blamed and shunned as a rumor begins circulating that he gave the boy drugs that caused his death, even though the autopsy soon disproves this.

When another student notices that Andrew bears an uncanny resemblance to Lord Byron, one of Harrow’s most famous past students, he is cast as the lead in the school play. But things keep getting stranger and Andrew wonders if he is losing his mind when he starts having bizarre dreams, visions of, and perhaps ghostly visitations from, a pale effeminate boy with white-blonde hair. Research and clues lead Andrew to identify his nocturnal visitor as John Harness, a poor scholarship or charity student who attended the school during Byron’s time there. Byron took John under his wing, defended him against bullies, and the two eventually became lovers. Is the ghost confused and mistaking Andrew for Byron?

Then the past begins to repeat itself when the ghost mistakes Andrew’s girlfriend for a boy and thinks Byron is betraying him all over again, and Andrew must race against time to solve a 200 year old mystery, to save the lives of his classmates, friends, and teachers as the vengeful spirit unleashes a plague of deadly tuberculosis upon them.

I love ghost stories and this is one of the best I have read in a long time. I thought it breathed new life into the genre and I loved the way it mixed the past and present, the way history and its mysteries and facts long buried, forgotten and obscured by the passage of time, were unearthed or forced their way to the surface to demand confrontation. It blows the dust off the old familiar haunted school stories and gives the reader something novel and new.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tabby's Getting Ready For Halloween!

Tabby is so excited. She's already getting ready for her Halloween party. I bought the Funfetti cake mix and icing today before the store sold out so I can make Tabby's favorite cupcakes and we are planning a movie party to watch several classic black and white horror films including the silent vampire classic Nosferatu, Haxan (Witchcraft Through The Ages) one of the most bizarre movies ever made, and all the Universal Monster movies that we can like Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula (Tabby likes to growl at the monsters). And, though it's not considered a horror film, more a melodrama, A Fool There Was, starring Miss Theda Bara as the vamp who devours men's souls and bank accounts. So lots of scary fun and sweets for Tabby and me, though our tummys and hips could do without the cupcakes, Halloween only comes once a year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Coming in July 2012! The Queen's Pleasure by Brandy Purdy The Story of Amy Robsart

My novel The Queen's Pleasure will be published in July 2012 by Kensington, and in the UK by Harper/Avon as A Court Affair by Emily Purdy in August 2012. I will post more information as I receive it from the publisher. This novel gives Amy Robsart a voice, and tells the story of the love triangle between Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, and his wife, which ended with Amy's mysterious death at the foot of a staircase, one of history's great mysteries.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Salvation On Sand Mountain Snake Handling and Redemption In Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington

This was a fascinating book to read. I have always been amazed and intrigued by those who take their faith, and their lives, into their own hands by handling deadly, poisonous serpents, trusting in God and their faith in Him to protect them. I also happen to like snakes as long as they are on tv, behind glass, or safely confined to the pages of books. My parents, who had me late in life, grew up in rural Georgia in the 1930s and 1940s and, in my father’s case at least, believed in this sort of thing; in his youth he attended a church where members would prove their faith by putting their hands on a red-hot iron pot-bellied stove without suffering burns and faith healers performed miracles at tent revivals. To this day he refuses to believe that any trickery might have been involved, whereas I, skeptic that I am with my interest in the paranormal, psychology, history, and science, am more inclined to seriously entertain that suspicion; people have been faking miracles and relics since religion began. So, for me, this was a very interesting book.

In 1992 the author of this book, Dennis Covington, went to Alabama to cover the trial of the Reverend Glen Summerford who was accused of attempting to murder his wife, Darlene, with the rattlesnakes they used in their worship services. Covington decided to attend an evening service at The Church of Jesus With Signs Following, a converted gas station/general store with a steeple on top, where Reverend Summerford used to preach before he was arrested. The men in jeans and overalls and the women in ankle-length skirts with long hair and no makeup made him welcome and after the lively hillbilly music, the pulsing thrum of electric guitars and the jingle-jangle of tambourines, and the hymn singing they got down to business—speaking in tongues, drinking strychnine from mason jars, handling fire with their bare hands, and, the snakes—rattlesnakes and copperheads mostly, though cobras were also occasionally seen at services by those “fortunate” to acquire them.

One would think this was the end of the story, that after the trial ended, Dennis would go back to the city and write his story, but he found himself drawn to the snake handlers and, welcomed to their services and hailed as “Brother Dennis” he began regularly attending their churches, even traveling with them to various parts of Georgia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, to attend meetings, and, caught up in the ecstasy, he would eventually, when the spirit moved him, dare to take up serpents.

Despite becoming intimately involved with his story, Mr. Covington manages to deliver a sane and straightforward account of the history of snake handling and the misadventures of those who practice it, the bites, fatalities, beliefs, bickering, and controversy. It is not a preachy book that the author, who has left snake handling behind, uses to try to convert disbelievers, merely an account of his own investigation and experiences. Whether you are seriously interested in bizarre religions and strange beliefs or just vaguely curious, I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mad Madame Lalaurie New Orleans' Most Famous Murderess Revealed by Victoria Cosner Love and Lorelei Shannon

If you love historic ghost stories like I do, no doubt you have heard the tale of the infamous Madame Lalaurie. In 1834 when her opulent mansion located in New Orleans’ French Quarter caught fire unspeakable horrors were discovered in the attic. Firemen found naked slaves, starved and mutilated, some the victims of horrific medical experiments performed by Madame’s husband, a doctor interested in deformities, while, cool as a cucumber, Madame implored them to save her fine art and furniture and then fled in her coach to evade mob justice, supposedly living out the rest of her life exiled in Paris until she was killed by a wild boar in a hunting accident. For over 150 years the tale has endured with 1140 Rue Royal being pointed out as New Orleans’ most haunted house.

But is the story true? Incredibly, until now, there has been no in depth investigation of the truth behind this tale of terror. The authors offer us a concise, straightforward account of the few facts known about Madame Lalaurie’s genteel Creole upbringing, her life as a high society belle presiding over balls and parties at plantations and mansions, her three marriages, and the births of her children. It contains numerous quotations from various historical sources not readily available to the average reader, which some readers might find distracting and disruptive to the narrative whilst others will appreciate the air of authenticity it lends. The authors do a thorough, meticulous job of exploring every facet of the legend, from genealogy to hauntings and alleged paranormal activity at the house on Royal Street, they even include a chapter on depictions of Madame Lalaurie in popular culture and show how the legend grew and evolved with each telling.

This is one of those books I call “don’t shoot the messenger books” in which it is revealed that the scant facts don’t really support the oft-told sensational story once the embroidered layers are stripped away like a southern belle’s petticoats, but that is not the authors’ fault, they have done an admirable job of exposing the naked truth.

To read more about their research please visit