A huge perk to being published (besides all the obvious ones) is getting to know other authors you share a publisher with. In developing these relationships, and in this case, friendship, you are able to receive advanced copies of their books. Such is the case of this highly anticipated second installment of The Memory Collector Series, Pawn of the Phoenix. The book is due out in February, so at least you won’t have to wait long.
The Memory Collector Series is set in the fictional city of Braxton maybe around the turn of the century, early 1900s. Empaths are slaves to the Elite and work in one of the houses (dream, memory, or pleasure) or are privately owned. The infamous self-described Phoenix plants persuasions in select citizens’ minds that are triggered by a delivered letter. These persuasions involve suicide or murder, usually of an Elite member.
While Mind of the Phoenix set up the story and introduced the main characters, Moira and Keenan, Pawn of the Phoenix delves more into the backstories of the main characters, furthers the plot along with a couple more murders/suicides (and even an execution), and deepens the relationship between Moira and Keenan. In case you didn’t read the first book (again why?????) or read my review of it, I will explain a little about what’s going on. Detective Keenan Edwards is leading the investigation to find the Phoenix. He’s stoic and controlled, at least until his blocked memory is released. Moira is an empath who has killed her master and has been offered a deal to get out of prison in exchange for her assistance with the investigation by using her special gifts.
The story is well-paced and interesting and although it’s the middle-child of the series, it doesn’t feel like filler. There’s more romance this time around and even some schmexy time (although relatively mild to middling), but the investigation still leads the way even though the clues are few and far between. I was a little disappointed we didn’t find out who the Phoenix was at the end of the first book, but we do get that little tidbit in the Epilogue of Pawn. I’m not a fan of cliffhangers usually, but THIS IS HOW YOU WRITE A CLIFFHANGER. I now know who the Phoenix is, but there’s so much intrigue left that I find myself in more anticipation of Rise of Phoenix (book 3) than I was for Pawn. Woe is me for having to wait.
In case you haven’t picked up what I’m putting down, I highly recommend this book (and series) to anyone who enjoys speculative fiction, historical fiction, mystery, intrigue, or even romance.
Come back Wednesday and be one of the first to see the cover for Pawn of the Phoenix.
This week I have the pleasure of showcasing my friend who is also an author with Penner Publishing. She has written a fabulous book that is available now. If you’re interested in my review, please see ithere.
Author name: Bianca M Schwarz
Book title: A THING OF BEAUTY
Tell us a little about yourself and your background: Well, I was born in Germany but now speak and write better English than German. I left Germany at 19 to go to England and went to college there. I studied English Lit and Film and after ten years in London, I moved to LA.
I actually came to LA twice. The first time for the film industry, I had big dreams of becoming a director. I never made it that far but I made a few shorts and worked in the industry as a script supervisor. By then I was married and we stayed for six years but then the work permits ran out and we had to go back to England.
The second time we came because I had won a green card in the diversity visa lottery. I had just given birth to my son, but LA was still the most likely place for me to achieve my dreams and for my husband to make a comfortable living for us, so we packed up and moved Continents once again.
Tell us a little about your novel: A THING OF BEAUTY is a historical romance thriller with some erotic elements. If you like your romance rose tinted and sex free, you might want to find another book.
To the ordinary observer, the wealthy Sir Henry March, cousin of a duke, seems a typical London gentleman. But to the Crown, Henry is a powerful asset, secret defender of the country. When he sees an injured girl stumbling down the side of the road, he must stop.
The stepdaughter of an abusive innkeeper, Eliza Broad is from another class entirely. But the moment Henry lays eyes on the spirited and beautiful girl, he feels a connection. To protect her, he takes her into his home.
In Henry, Eliza finds a rescuer, handsome and kind beyond her wildest dreams. But danger is at their heels. On Eliza’s trail is one of London’s vilest and most notorious pimps, a man whose connections tie him to a dark world of sadism and treachery.
In this dark, historical thriller, can Eliza and Henry fight to protect England, their hearts, and their lives?
Have you written anything else (including novels, short stories, novellas, etc.)? I have written an autobiographical book about our first time in LA, a modern romance and an earth bound science fiction novel before A THING OF BEAUTY, but I do not consider any of them currently good enough to be published. I might work on the romance at some point.
However, since ATOB has been published, I have written a related short story called MILLIE’S REQUEST that is available for free from the Penner Publishing website and on mrblackthorne.com. Mr Blackthorne also published a couple of my poems there and I will have a short story in his upcoming anthology.
Q & A
What character was the most difficult to write and why? I didn’t find any of the characters particularly difficult to write. They all had things that were tricky but that just made them interesting to me.
The most difficult thing to write in the book was the scene where Daisie tells Henry her story. This is likely also the most worked on scene. It was much more gruesome and detailed when I first wrote it and I think it was the one and only time that my lovely critique partner Carmen cringed at something I wrote. She told me that Daisie was oversharing for someone who had kept such a secret for eight years. I toned it down and then later with Carolyn [Schwarz’s editor] worked on Daisie’s accent and anything that was too Freudian theory in Henry’s attitude.
How did you come up with names for your characters? Henry and Eliza obviously allude to another couple who fall in love despite being separated by class, but their relationship is very different. Emily is named after Emily Bronte and Viscount Fairly gets his name from one of my favorite book boyfriends. Allan Strathem has my favorite actor’s surname and Millie was the name I wanted to give my daughter when I thought I was carrying a girl.
If you could write a book with any writer, who would you pick? I had to really think about this one. My first reaction was to say that I particularly enjoy the fact that I don’t have to work with anybody when I write and that is the truth of it. It is completely mine and I love that about writing. However, there was one writer, who sadly has passed, whom I would have loved to partner up with to write my world history according to vampires, Douglas Adams. He was quite simply a genius, his way of seeing and describing the world completely unique and poignantly funny.
What do you like to have with you while you’re writing? I need my laptop and I prefer to be somewhere with a view. For some reason being able to fix my eyes on something in the middle distance helps me tune out all the distractions and demands around me.
What historical fiction thriller books would you recommend to readers who will love your book? Lucinda Brant’s SALT BRIDE is amazing. Another favorite of hers is the Roxfort Family Saga. I like a lot of Natasha Blackthorne’s work and Grace Borrows never disappoints.
You have lived in very different countries and societies. To what extent has that influenced you as a person and how does it color your writing? I think my perpetual itchy feet define me in a lot of ways. I grew up in Germany, became a fully defined human being in England and then moved to the West Coast of the USA to follow my dreams. There is no telling where I will end up and I like it that way.
But I think the most important thing you learn when you live in different places is that people are pretty much the same anywhere. Customs may be different but the fundamentals are the same. There are good and bad people everywhere, there is always more that unites us then divides us and the people who can’t see that are the ones who cause the most suffering.
My writing benefits from the fact that I have first-hand knowledge of a lot of places. It definitely makes it easier to imagine my characters in those locations and describing them is easy without requiring a lot research.
If you could instantaneously master one writing skill, what would you choose and why? Spelling. I am horribly dyslexic and need to get everything I write prof read since the spellcheck frequently can’t figure out what I’m talking about. It makes for some very funny mistakes sometimes, but it does horrible things to my confidence.
Do you have any pointers or advice for aspiring writers? Write a good book, of course. Seriously though, write something you will have fun with because there is no guarantee you will ever get anything other than the sheer joy of writing the project out of it.
Favorite song: “Love Song” by The Cure
Favorite movie/tv show: I have about a hundred of them. Right now, “Django Unchained” or maybe “Cake”
Chosen superpower: Flying
Toilet paper: over or under: What?
Real book or tablet: Kindle
Star Trek or Star Wars: Both
A Thing of Beauty
Eliza had never seen so many people in one place. The sights, the sounds, the smells made up an atmosphere that was almost celebratory. It was noisy with all the vendors vying for the shoppers’ attention and joking good naturedly with their customers in their thick cockney accents. The stalls were covered with colorful canapés and as far as Eliza could tell, anything one could possibly desire was for sale somewhere in this market. From sweet cox apples, small mountains of exotic spices and dried fruit, to bales of wool and silk cloth, to books and cheap trinkets as well as shoes, hats and furs. It smelled of roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and unwashed bodies and someone, somewhere, was roasting meat.
The cries of the hawkers were underscored by the occasional sounds of a fiddle, an old English ballad and even the distant strains of a bagpipe. Henry explained that the best musicians would be at the plaza in front of the Opera House, where the Punch and Judy show was and where the acrobats performed. He promised that they would stop there later after they were done shopping.
Sir Henry insisted on freshly roasted chestnuts to munch on whilst they explored. They meandered leisurely through the seasonally large crowd. Representatives of all social strata could be observed perusing the stalls—the market was one of those rare places where the classes mingled naturally, all drawn by the festive atmosphere and the bargains to be had.
They bought cone shaped bags of sugar plums and candied almonds for Mrs. Tibbit, some delicate doll clothes for Emily’s favorite doll, a length of lovely, white-on-white sprigged muslin for Eliza to practice her sewing and, of course, the gloves and muff they had come for.
The gloves were soft grey leather and slid onto Eliza’s fingers like a second skin. Not that she could bear to wear gloves in a place where every stall seemed to hold something that just had to be touched or smelled to be fully appreciated. The muff was, at least to Eliza’s mind, a decadent creation made of grey rabbit fur and covered on the outside with red velvet.
Eliza couldn’t stop herself from rubbing the soft fur against her cheek as she thanked Sir Henry for the handsome gift. But she was afraid she would lose the lovely thing in the crush and so let the vendor wrap it for her and handed it to William to carry.
Henry watched Eliza explore, and smiling to himself, relaxed into the experience.
The two servants took the opportunity to do a little Christmas shopping of their own and so were soon laden down with all their purchases. Henry sent Roberts back to the coach with all the packages and told him to meet them in the plaza before the Opera House, where the buskers and acrobats performed.
On the way to the plaza they cut through the big market hall, where Eliza admired a hat in a milliner’s shop, but she moved on as soon as Henry caught up to her. Henry took one look at the shop window, saw the fur trimmed, grey hat with the dark red ribbons Eliza had been looking at and was about to suggest that they go in when she hustled past him and pretended to be impatient to see the acrobats. While she was probably embarrassed about the money he had already spent on her, the hat would go perfectly with Eliza’s new muff and cape and he figured it would make a splendid Christmas present, even if he couldn’t be there to see her unwrap it on Christmas morning.
Henry had not seen anybody who looked remotely how Eliza had described Wilkins and he felt confident that no one had followed them. So he called to William to stay close to Eliza and for them to go on ahead, and ducked into the small shop to buy the hat.
As soon as Eliza stepped into the plaza she felt exposed, vulnerable. She couldn’t have explained why, it was just a cold prickle at the nape of her neck, and she told herself to stop being such a ninny and that both Sir Henry and Roberts would be back in a trice. Besides, the burly William stood right next to her sharing his sugared doughnuts with her so she was hardly alone. But the prickle of warning would not go away.
They had worked their way into the crowd to get a better look at the tumblers and so, whilst William marveled at a girl cartwheeling on a tight rope, she looked around her, unable to dismiss her feeling of unease.
There were no familiar faces in the crowd but the handsome gent in the dapper rust colored suit and the brown top hat, who stood just behind her, had an odd glint in his eye when he said to somebody on her other side: “She’s a pretty pigeon.”
The smile he bestowed on her made her skin crawl and she was overwhelmed by the thought that this creature was ten times worse than Horace had ever been. But before she could nudge William or cry out around her last bite of doughnut, a broad, callused hand closed over her mouth and a beefy arm pulled her backwards through the crowd. Then the stench of onions and rotting teeth threatened to overwhelm her when Wilkins’s voice whispered in her right ear: “Come along Liza, play time’s over! I come to collect what’s mine.”
Eyes wide with panic Eliza tried to get William’s attention by the sheer force of her will. She scratched at Wilkins’s hand dragging her mercilessly backwards and kicked at the dapper gent who had parted her cloak to grab her around her waist and kept smiling at her as if they were playing some sort of game.
Within seconds, she couldn’t see William anymore and knew herself to be lost if she could not alert anyone to her plight. She swallowed that last bit of doughnut that had lodged itself in her throat and bit down as hard as she could on Wilkins’ fat, dirty middle digit. He bellowed and cursed but let go of her mouth. By this time they were out of the crowd and she was being dragged between stalls towards a dark little lane beyond. Eliza threw her head back in desperation, head-butting Wilkins in the process, and screamed with the full force of her lungs.
“HELP! HENRYYYY!!!! HE…AHHH”
Her scream for help turned into a cry of pain as Wilkins cuffed her around her ear and the other man’s hand grabbed her breast in a vice like grip and twisted her nipple with excruciating efficiency. “Shut up bitch or I’ll tweak the other one, too!”
Fear froze any further sound in Eliza’s throat as she looked into the man’s pale, menacing eyes. The smile that crept back over his face was pure evil. The vice grip around her nipple relaxed and his hand started to massage the pain away and she thought she would be sick on his polished boots.
“See Wilkins, it’s always a question of findin’ the right mo’ivator. Soon as we’re in me ally, she can scream all she likes, no one will take no notice.”
With that he turned her around and grabbed her around her waist as Wilkins’s fist closed around her upper arm on the other side. His stupid grin held the promise of more pain to come.
“Right ya are Mr. Hobbs.”
Now that she could see that they were only one stall away from said ally, Eliza knew with blinding clarity that she had to make one last stand. Neither Henry nor William could come to her aid if they did not know which way she had gone.
She fervently wished she had ignored the doctor’s advice and donned her stays just for today. They would have offered some protection from Hobbs’s evil fingers. But there was nothing for it, she ignored all the fear pooling in her belly and used the fact that they were practically carrying her to pull up her knees and slam down her booted heels on both her captors’ toes. In the same movement she twisted her arm out of Wilkins’s slackened grip and turned under Hobbs’s arm to head back towards the stall behind her.
“SIR HENRY! HELP!”
She managed to grab the canvas of the rickety stall and upended a table full of brass oil lamps that clattered to the ground making an unholy racket, before a merciless hand grabbed her hair right at the nape and yanked her back. And then his hand closed around her other breast and the white hot fury of pain he inflicted on her rendered her helpless. The pain had left her no breath to scream but the stall holder’s anger lent her hope that he might remember her if Sir Henry came to see what the commotion was all about.
Hobbs hauled her through the last row of stalls and into the alley.
Bianca was born in Germany, spent her formative years in London and just got her US passport, but she considers herself a world citizen. She lives in Los Angeles because that’s where they make movies and she used to work on them. And she writes novels because that’s kind of like making a movie in people’s heads and because she just loves books. Bianca has one son, because that’s all she can handle and she tolerates her husband because, well, she loves him and there is no help for that.