Barb Taub

It’s August – It’s Write An Amazon Review Month! #AugustReviews

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August 2016 is Write An Amazon Review Month! 

On Monday 25th July, book blogger Rosie Amber wrote this post encouraging readers and writers alike to post a short review on Amazon for any book they’ve read and enjoyed ~ following this up, writer Terry Tyler is starting this initiative along with other writer-bloggers including Rosie, Cathy from Between The Lines, Barb Taub, Shelley Wilson and me!

Paper cut of heart on old book

 

The idea is that, during August, everyone who reads this uses their Amazon account to post just one review on one book that they’ve read (but feel free to carry on if you get in the swing!). You don’t even have to have read it recently, it can be any book you’ve read, any time.  The book does not have to have been purchased from Amazon, though if it, your review will show the ‘Verified Purchase’ tag; however, if you download all your books via Kindle Unlimited, as many do these days, they don’t show the VP tag, anyway.

Remember, this isn’t the Times Literary Supplement, it’s Amazon, where ordinary people go to choose their next £1.99 Kindle book.  No one expects you to write a thousand word, in-depth critique; I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to read one short paragraph or a couple of lines saying what an average reader thought of a book, than a long-winded essay about the pros and cons of the various literary techniques used.  Yes, those are welcome too (!), but no more so than a few words saying “I loved this book, I was up reading it until 3am”, or “I loved Jim and Vivien and the dialogue was so realistic”, or whatever!

Why should you write a review?

  • They help book buyers make decisions.  Don’t you read the reviews on Trip Advisor before deciding on a hotel, or any site from which you might buy an item for practical use?  Book reviews are no different.
  • If the book is by a self-published author, or published by an independent press, the writers have to do all their promotion and marketing themselves ~ reviews from the reading public is their one free helping hand.
  • The amount of reviews on Amazon helps a book’s visibility (allegedly).  If you love a writer’s work and want others to do so, too, this is the best possible way of making this happen.
  • It’s your good deed for the day, and will only take five minutes!

 

thank author

 

Off we go, then!  A few more pointers:

  • If you need any help with writing your review, do click on Rosie’s post, above.
  • A review can be as short as one word.
  • You don’t have to put your name to the review, as your Amazon ‘handle’ can be anything you like.
  • No writer expects all their reviews to be 5* and say the book is the best thing ever written; there is a star rating guide on Rosie’s post.
  • Would you like to tell the Twittersphere about your review?  If so, tweet the link to it with the hashtag #AugustReviews ~ and thank you!  Terry will do one blog post a week featuring these links: The #AugustReviews Hall of Fame (thank you, Barb!).

If you have a blog and would like to spread the word about #AugustReviews, please feel free to copy and paste this blog post, provide the link to it, re-blog it, or whatever ~ many thanks, and we hope you will join in to make this idea a success 🙂

 

 

 

Building Characters—one funeral at a time @barbtaub #wwwblogs

A fabulous guest post from writer Barb Taub today – enjoy!

I don’t know. What do you think about during funerals?

I suppose you could think about your own life, and whether this many people would ever gather in one place just to say such nice things about you. But I’m a writer, so for me funerals are ALL about the character. What went into making that person who they ended up becoming? What kind of main character did their story have?

The last two funerals I attended were for the first two people I met after moving into the tiny village in the north of England. They had already been friends for decades (the phrase “partners in crime” came up often) when I met Margaret and Marion my first morning in the Castle. I’d arrived from the States the night before, and only had time to learn one thing about castle life—the meaning of stone cold—before collapsing in a jetlag coma.

durham-brancepeth-castle

Our home-sweet-castle home in the north of England. (We were in the rear tower)

I’ve always thought that our friendship was based on the purest of human emotions: pity. First I met Margaret, who must have taken one look at me, gaping up at thousand-year-old walls, and still wearing what I’d slept in—which was, basically, everything I could pull from my suitcase, as explained here— and felt sorry for me. She introduced herself as my landlady, the owner of the castle, and informed me that it was Wednesday—which, to be honest, I couldn’t have sworn to. With Wednesdayness established between us, she took me to my first Village Coffee.

There Margaret introduced me to a lady with an accent so posh it could probably etch glass and a surprisingly wicked look in her eye. American wannabe-writer Barb, meet doctor/intellectual/PhD/90+ year old character Marion. And my life in the tiny, perfect village in the North of England officially began.

1545114_10152518184399692_350813276_nI couldn’t begin to list all the experiences the two of them introduced me to over the next several years. First, there was the Village itself. With no actual commercial entities—not even a pub!—entertainment was homemade and varied. But no matter the event, there were two things you could count on—there would be raffle tickets to buy (lots), and there would be alcohol to consume (more than lots). There were gala reenactments of the Queen’s Jubilee and the Royal Wedding, Progressive Suppers (which involved the entire village getting progressively sloshed), garden club “walks” (see progressive supper results), dance/casino/quiz/archives/garden show/you-name-it nights, and of course, the Christmas Show.

Castle gatesBut that was only the beginning. As owner of a medieval castle, Margaret belonged to something that probably had an impressive title, but which I called Castle Club. In England, you often drive past tall stone walls and lines of trees with the occasional crest-topped gates. Well, she took me inside some of those gates, up the long drives, and into the castles and stately homes you couldn’t even see from the road.

[Digression: In my family, what’s going into my will is more of a threat. (As in, “Okay, kids: last one to call me on Mother’s Day goes in my will for that Elvis on velvet painting from Great-Aunt Mo.) So it was an amazing window on a new world for an American from the suburbs to hear people debate the best way to install a roof that will last for centuries because you don’t really own the place; you’re only borrowing it from your great-great-grandchildren.]

photo (1)

Ceilidh in her Castle

Then there was their generosity. Both Marion and Margaret raised charity to an art form, and invited me along. In the name of their favorite causes, I got to help with this proper victorian tea party, a ceilidh dinner dance, castle tours, and so much more.

And they showed me the England they loved, which most Americans never see. When I told Margaret that I’d never been to the Cotswolds, she joined me as my guide in a week-long driving tour which culminated (I’m so not making this up!) in joining Prince Charles at his home for tea.

Although Marion’s sight was going and her memory wasn’t what it used to be, she also happily accompanied me on jaunts all over the county. We even took a memorable road trip to the Royal Heritage Society gardens at Harlow Carr, where she took an unholy glee in informing the ticket collectors that she had a life-membership (fact) which entitled her to take guests in at no charge, including afternoon tea (not even close to fact). They meekly ushered us in. And no outing was complete without stopping for lunch where Dr. Marion would ignore all of her health restrictions to inform me that I wanted to have a drink and a sweet, to which she would of course join me.

Admiral Roebuck: With all due respect, M, I think you don't have the balls for this job. M: Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don't have to think with them ...

Admiral Roebuck: With all due respect, M, I think you don’t have the balls for this job. M (Densch): Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don’t have to think with them … [Image Credit: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) ]

Decades of friendship notwithstanding, their disagreements were the stuff of Village legend, as Rock debated Hard Place in the most polite of Oxbridge accents. Of course, their eccentricities were legion, as the Villagers dodging bicycle or electric-scooter mounted octogenarians could attest. They gardened with passionate intensity, took care of those in need both across the street and across the globe, and taught misplaced Americans to speak a version of British that hasn’t really been used for half a century. (They would “spend a penny” when they went to the loo, price things in crowns, and institute a cone of silence while they listened to The Cricket on the radio.) They were the kind of British women who show up in movies and books, indomitable and secure in themselves—characters like Hepburn’s Rosie in The African Queen and Judi Dench’s M in the Bond films.

Captain: "Who are you?" Rosie: "Miss Rose Sayre." Captain: "English?" Rosie: "Of course." [Image Credit: The African Queen, John Huston's 1951 film starring Hepburn and Bogart] https://youtu.be/gc9QYyzw9VA?t=1h38m14s

Captain: “Who are you?”
Rosie: “Miss Rose Sayre.”
Captain: “English?”
Rosie: “Of course.”
[Image Credit: The African Queen, 1951]

 

At each of their funerals, I joined crowds who gathered to remember and share stories about these two remarkable characters. They told of amazing generosity and hilarious eccentricity. Some shared Margaret’s triumph over severe physical limitations that were supposed to end her life as a child, only to have her stubbornly confound every imposed limit. Some talked about her charming, eccentrically-English husband, who I never met because he died just as they bought the castle, leaving his relatively young widow to raise their large family and run their company.

Celebrating Marion's 93rd birthday with a champagne tea and proper cake.

The two old friends celebrating Marion’s 93rd birthday with a champagne tea and proper cake.

I heard about Marion, daughter of a Nobel Prize scientist who had “Sir” before his name. She went to medical school as a young woman, and then served as the only doctor for over 160,000 people in what was then Tanganyika. Along with her delight in forbidden alcohol and sweets, Marion particularly loved her birthday. As we celebrated the day she turned 93, I asked Marion to tell me about her favorite birthday ever. “Considering the alternative,” she told me, “every birthday I make it to is the best one ever.” So of course, I asked for her secret to a long happy ever after. She answered right away. “Have a lot of friends who remember you even when you can’t remember their names.” A few minutes later she added, “Don’t say no to sweets.” And finally, “Don’t look back.”

For me, Margaret and Marion will always be the ones who introduced an American stranger to England—village, castle, estates, country, and even future king. As a writer, I got to view characters and settings I could never have imagined. As a friend, I’ll miss them every day.


Note from Barb:

For a look at characters I’ve built, check out my newest book. Now available for presale on Amazon, ROUND TRIP FARE will be released on 7 April, 2016.

Round_Trip_Fare-Barb_Taub-1563x2500ROUND TRIP FARE by Barb Taub

Is it wrong that shooting people is just so much easier than making decisions? Carey Parker’s to-do list is already long enough: find her brother and sister, rescue her roommate, save Null City, and castrate her ex-boyfriend. Preferably with a dull-edged garden tool. A rusty one.

Round Trip Fare RWA Contest Finalist 2015

Genre:

Urban Fantasy (with romance, humor, a sentient train, and a great dog)

Pre-order here: Amazon 

 

Barb pix 300 dpiBarb Taub:

In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb wrote a humor column for several Midwest newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she’s lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled AussieDog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends them traveling around the world, plus consulting with her daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American.

Blog | Facebook | Twitter: @barbtaub

‘Round Trip Fare’ by Barb Taub – preorder now available @barbtaub

Round Trip Fare, the newest book in Barb Taub’s Null City series, is now available for preorder from Amazon.

**Although a sequel to Book 1 (One Way Fare), this is the stand alone story of twins Carey and Connor Parker.


 

Round Trip Fare
by Barb Taub

Round_Trip_Fare-Barb_Taub-1563x2500

Available now for pre-order from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Is it wrong that shooting people is just so much easier than making decisions? Carey wonders— and not for the first time. But the Agency claims this will be an easy one. A quick pickup of a missing teen and she won’t even have to shoot anybody. Probably.

Carey knows superpowers suck, her own included. From childhood she’s only had two options. She can take the Metro train to Null City and a normal life. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. Or she can master the powers of her warrior gift and fight a war she can’t win, in a world where she never learned how to lose.

And then there is… him. For the past two months, a dark stranger has persistently edged his way onto the mental game board behind her eyelids. Well, whatever trouble he’s selling, Carey Parker is not buying. Her to-do list is already long enough: find her brother and sister, rescue her roommate, save Null City, and castrate her ex-boyfriend. Preferably with a dull-edged garden tool. A rusty one.

She just has a few details to work out first. Her parents have been killed, her brother and sister targeted, and the newest leader of the angels trying to destroy Null City might be the one person she loves most in the world. And her sexy new partner’s gift lets him predict deaths. Hers.


 

  • TITLE: Round Trip Fare
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy (okay and there is humor, romance, a sentient train, a great dog, and bunch of other stuff—but Amazon only gives you a couple of words to pick genre, so…)
  • Series: Null City [NOTE: prequel One Way Fare is now available FREE from Barnes & Noble and Kobo, and the kindle version directly from Barb) but this book works as standalone.
  • Release date: 7 April, 2016

Contact & Buy Links

Blog | Facebook | Twitter: @barbtaub | Goodreads | Amazon US | Amazon UK


 

Barb pix 300 dpiBarb Taub:

In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb wrote a humor column for several Midwest newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she’s lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled AussieDog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends them traveling around the world, plus consulting with her daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American.


 

Excerpt: ROUND TRIP FARE

Round Trip Fare RWA Contest Finalist 2015Was it wrong that shooting people was so much easier than finishing up the humanities requirements for her criminal justice degree? Carey Parker sipped her coffee and—not for the first time—wondered about herself. But the Agency said this would be an easy one. A quick pickup and she wouldn’t even have to shoot anybody. Probably.

There were two distinct advantages to her corner table at the rear of the self-consciously artistic coffee shop on the edge of Seattle’s eclectic Fremont district. Nobody could see her screen, and—infinitely more important—she had sole possession of the outlet currently charging both iPad and phone. She checked her iPad’s video screen to make sure the blonde teen she was tracking still had no idea she was being studied. Well, okay—studied along with the research materials for Carey’s overdue Humanities 201 essay. “Discuss the relationship of capitalism and patriarchal post constructivist theory. Provide data and cite literature supporting your thesis.” She squinted at the assignment, minimized to parallel the video window, and cringed.

Enlarging the video, Carey automatically evaluated her target. The teenager was a few inches under Carey’s own five-five. But where Carey’s cargo pants and hoodie hid a leanly muscled frame and a surprising number of weapons, the other girl’s designer Goth outfit made the most of her soft curves. Plus that pink streak in the younger girl’s hair was a little too shiny, her dark eyeliner a bit too creamy, while her wannabe goth leather jacket, fitted black T-shirt, and long dark skirt screamed Nordstrom personal shopper and Daddy’s credit card.

A lifetime of training—three years at the Academy, four more in the field—and they send me after Goth-Barbie. Carey sighed. Is it even worth it? But a flash memory—her guardian Harry’s blood-drenched golden hair, the almost-forgotten faces of her murdered parents, her missing brother and sister—stopped her. If she had a prayer of finding Gaby and Connor, she couldn’t afford to give up the all-important info access the Agency jobs provided. And then there was…him. For the past two months, the dark stranger had persistently edged his way onto the mental game board behind her eyelids where her harmonia gift visualized connections only she could view. Whatever trouble Mr. Six-Feet-Plus of arrogance is selling, I’m sure not buying.

“Excuse me. Do you need both outlets?”

Carey looked up to see the blonde standing in front of her, expectantly holding up her power cord. “Yes.” She returned her focus to the iPad screen, ignoring the muttered “bitch” as the girl went over to try her smile on the men two tables over. Her reversed video window showed the younger girl breathlessly thanking the man who leaped to free up an outlet for her. As she leaned over their table, the men’s eyes lit with appreciation for the way she maximized scoop-neck T-shirt, youth, and the best technology the foundations industry had to offer. Guess there’s all kinds of ways to say thank you.

Shrugging, Carey returned to her own essay assignment. Her business partner, Marley, was pushing her to finish the degree that would let them bill the Agency at a higher rate. But at twenty-four Carey felt a generation older than her fellow students. With her erratic hours, she had to take classes offering online options whenever possible, so she was currently sentenced to Humanities 201: Postmodernist Applications for Economic Themes in Literature.

“What took you so long? I’ve been waiting here for ages.”

At the sex-kitten whine, Carey’s eyes flicked back to the little video window to see the other girl pouting up at a new arrival. But her complaints didn’t stop her from giving the young man—a boy, really, although Marley’s data sheet said he was nineteen—a thorough tonsil cleaning. Pulling away, he threw himself into a dramatic slouch across the next chair, giving Carey her first good look at him. He was thin, but more like an adolescent whose slender arms and legs had yet to develop a man’s solid outlines. His pale fallen-angel face sulked behind long hair too carefully slashed and tossed over one eye to be accidental. He looked, Carey thought, beautiful and brooding and more than a little stupid. Score!

Pretending to check her phone, Carey took a quick picture of the boy and texted it along with the address of the coffee shop. It had only been a few days since he’d left home and stopped showing up at his classes or part-time job. Too little time for the police to be concerned, but long enough for his frantic parents to agree to her search fee. Setting the phone aside, she adjusted her video window to give him a critical once-over. But he didn’t seem any more pale or unhealthy than would be explained by devotion to the laptop he was even now pulling out and opening.

“Get me a coffee?” He didn’t look up from his laptop as he spoke. The girl pouted again but bounced off. Returning with a cup for each of them, she leaned forward to lay a gentle hand on his arm. “Is your poem cycle done yet?” The boy shook his head impatiently, fingers tapping at his laptop’s keyboard. She smiled. “Don’t worry. Now that I’m here, it will go so much better.” He blinked, and shivered. She breathed in and smiled again. His typing increased, his face intent on the screen.

Carey flipped the cover down on her iPad, rewound its power cable as well as the one for her phone, and stored them in their specially padded—okay, armored—case. The Apple people had been incredibly nice about that last bullet incident, but she could just hear Marley explaining, again, how their little company couldn’t afford to keep buying her new iPads. Setting the case into the backpack hanging behind her corner chair, Carey leaned both elbows on the table, peering over the brim of her raised coffee cup. Excellent coffee, she decided. Wonder if they roast it themselves?

Finally the two men, the only other customers in the secluded rear room, stood up and left. She took a final look around at the coffee shop’s rear seating area—one door, no windows or other access—and left to talk to the barista in the front room of the coffee shop. Twenty dollars later, Carey taped a handwritten sign—“Rear room reserved for private meeting”—to the outside of the door. Stepping back inside the room, empty now except for the younger couple, she closed the door behind her and stopped in front of the boy.

“Your mother is worried about you, Will.” His automatic sneer came a fraction too late to cover his stunned expression. Before he could speak, she turned to the girl. “It’s time to go, Leigh Ann.”

“The name is Leannán.”

Carey laughed. “Well, Leannán Sí…” She pronounced each Gaelic syllable with exaggerated care, L’ann-AN Shee. “Since you refuse to honor the Accords Agreement, the Council feels it’s time for you to go to Null City. Let’s go. I have a class this afternoon, and I don’t want to be late again.”

The boy started to stand, trying to look tough, but only managing to achieve the ferocity of a puppy protecting his favorite chew toy. “We don’t have to go anywhere with you. Get your stuff, Leigh Ann. We’re outta here.”

“Actually.” Carey’s voice was quiet. “You’re half right.” Her hand shot out and pressed his stomach. “You don’t need to go with me.” His breath whooshed out, and all three looked down at the tiny needle as she pulled her hand back. A moment later, his legs buckled, and Carey guided his falling body back down to his chair. He slumped there, head hanging awkwardly.

Leigh Ann stared from Will to Carey, eyes round. “Is he…?”

“He’s fine.” Carey turned to the girl and pointed to her corner table. “Sit. And don’t even think about talking.”

Carey checked the boy’s pulse and nodded to herself in relief. As a young witch, her friend Claire’s sleep spells wore off pretty quickly because she had to boil down the spelled water to make it take effect so fast. He’d probably just wake up with a hell of a headache. She arranged his head on his arms as if he was taking a quick nap in front of his laptop. In an afterthought, she picked up his fedora from the floor and pulled it onto his head, hiding his face.

Returning to the scowling girl at her table, she took a small book of forms from her backpack and started filling out the top page.

“You can’t just—” Leigh Ann sputtered.

Without looking up Carey showed her the hand. “What did I tell you not to do?” The girl fidgeted for another minute as Carey frowned at the form in front of her. Finally she looked up. “How old are you again?”

“Nineteen. And I don’t…”

Carey shook a warning finger without looking up. “I hate these Accords forms. You have to make sure you fill in every last blank or those badgers in accounting will hold up your check.” She made a final note, put the notebook away, and pulled out her phone to check the time. “They should be here by now. Must be that damn bridge traffic.”

“Who?”

Carey jerked her head toward the next table. “Sleeping Beauty’s parents. I’ve found it best to collect my fee on the spot. People’s memories tend to…fade…otherwise.”

“Wait.” Leigh Ann sounded indignant. “You were hired to find Will?”

“Nah, he was just a bonus. One of his friends told the Agency that he’d disappeared with a Leannán Sí. I used him to find you because I have an authorized ARC warrant for you.”

“ARC?”

“Accords Recovery and Capture.” When the girl still looked confused, Carey sighed. “Amateurs. I’m an Accords Warden licensed for paranormal recoveries, and I’m serving an ARC warrant in your name. That reminds me.” She rooted through the pocket of her backpack for the laminated card and set her phone camera to video. Centering the camera view screen on Leigh Ann’s face, she pushed record, and began to read the card. “By the authority of Accords Agency warrant number 110309A57, I charge you, Leigh Ann—” Pausing, she looked over to the form she’d filled out before returning to the card. “—Leigh Ann Shay, a practicing Leannán Sí, to accompany me to the Council Headquarters. If you request a hearing, you are entitled to representation. Otherwise, you are sentenced to five years of Null City residency without an amnesty day. This recovery and your rights are specified in Amendment 3, sections 7-18 of the Accords Agreement of 1998. The current time is 15:57 on March 7, 2011. Carey Parker, Accords Adjunct Warden License 07823 class 3, submitting authorized Accords Recovery and Capture statement.” She turned off the camera and played back the recording. Satisfied, she uploaded it to Agency servers, put her phone and the card back into her backpack, and faced the girl.

Leigh Ann looked uncertain. “Null City?”

Carey looked at her curiously. “You don’t know about the City?”

“Yeah, and I know about the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny too. Come on. You really believe there’s a city you get to on a magic train, and after a day there you become a normal human?”

“Since my family founded it, yeah. I kinda do believe it.” She leaned back in her chair to consider the teenager in front of her. “You could have killed that boy, Leigh Ann. What could be worth his death?”

The girl widened soft blue eyes at her. “I’m a Leannán Sí. He’s a writer, and I would have given him an intense, brilliantly inspired life of creating masterpieces. So what if it would have been a short one? It’s got to be better to go as a blazing star than stay as a…” Her voice trailed off as a snore filtered from beneath the fedora.

“Did you give him a choice? Did you say to him, ‘Will, I’ll be your muse and give you lots of coffee-shop kissing although the actual sex won’t be that great, and there’s the whole die young thing… But you won’t mind because it will all be for your Art’?”

Leigh Ann frowned. “The sex wouldn’t have been that bad.”

Carey snorted. “And actually, that masterpiece he was producing?” She reached over to snag Will’s computer and pulled it around to face Leigh Ann. “First thing I did was put a keystroke tracker onto his laptop. And believe me, reading that drivel was almost as bad as my humanities essay. He copied most of it from last month’s Poetry!Slam online. Here’s what he was actually writing.” She selected Recent Documents on the laptop and opened the top file listed.

The younger girl’s eyes widened. “Fanfiction?” She peered at the screen and looked like she might be sick. “One Direction fanfiction?”

“Nothing wrong with fanfiction.” Carey raised an eyebrow. “We’ve all done it. But Will’s was…” She shuddered. “Really, really bad.” She looked curiously at the younger girl and waved at the snoring boy. “Why did you do it?”

Leigh Ann looked down at her clasped hands. “My parents were killed just before the war ended. When Haven and Gifts signed the Accords in 1995, I was sent to live with my father’s cousins. They had a little apple orchard up on the Olympic Peninsula, and there wasn’t much money. Everyone had to work pretty hard all the time, just to get food to eat and a few clothes. But I knew there was something different inside me. Something that would inspire beauty and genius and glorious creativity.”

Carey stared at her. “Well, that’s an entire pickup truck full of prime-quality manure.”

“Was it the farm?” Leigh Ann frowned. “The orphan bit?

‘Do Not Wash Hands in Plates’ by Barb Taub #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

This account of wonderful writer and blogger Barb Taub’s visit to India is the perfect antidote to a cold and miserable January.

DO NOT WASH HANDS IN PLATES

The story of three women eating their  way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha… and the kindness of Indian strangers.

Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images. We couldn’t possibly miss.

 It took over thirty-five years before—in a combination of optimism and failing memories— we recklessly decided to repeat this feat. Hey, we reasoned, now we’ve got smartphones, better credit ratings, wheeled suitcases, medical insurance, and the ability to drink legally. Just to make it more interesting, this time we chose to meet in India, where the odds against the three of us actually linking up were approximately a bazillion to bupkis.

Excerpt

Despite blizzards, canceled flights, de-icing delays, and an adjacent passenger who had made unfortunate food choices resulting in alarming gastrointestinal events, I arrived in India. The theory was that I would fly in from my home in Scotland, Janine would come from Washington DC, and Jaya would meet up with us at the airport. Nobody who knows any of us thought for a second that this could really occur.

Actual conversation at Passport Control, Mumbai:

Janine: “Well no, I don’t have my friend’s address or phone number. But she’s going to pick me up at the airport. She lives in Gujarat. That’s in India.”

Passport Control: (SO not impressed)

I arrived before Janine. As far as I could tell, the Ahmedabad Airport was staffed by the entire Indian army, each soldier carrying a honking huge gun. I grabbed my suitcase and exited baggage control into India. Noise. Chaos. People, dogs, honking horns, more people. More soldiers. More guns. Dozens of sincere men who called me “Sister” and suggested they could take me anywhere on the planet I might want to go.

No Janine. No Jaya. And, apparently, no way to get back into the airport. After several failed attempts at international texts, I realized I could (at heart-stopping expense) send email to Jaya, who soon confirmed that she was on her way and that it was 3:00AM so I should go back inside. Except there were signs everywhere saying you couldn’t go back in.

“No problem.” Jaya explained that rules in India are more like guidelines. “People in India are very kind. Just ask.”

I’ve been living in the UK where rules are inviolate and graven in stone, so I didn’t believe a word of it. But the soldier at the door listened to my plea and waved his AK-Humongo to usher me back inside. There I found Janine attempting to send email or text. I reminded her neither option was likely for two technologically-challenged, jet-lagged, middle-aged ladies in a foreign country at 3:00AM.

In the end, we wandered over to the door and to our mutual amazement found Jaya waiting for us along with a hired driver and a van. Apparently lightning does strike again, because just like thirty-five years earlier, the three of us actually managed to meet up in another continent.

What could possibly go wrong from here?

16467214421_472f86395e_o

My Review

Barb, Janine and Jaya have been friends for more than thirty years. They once managed to successfully meet up in a different continent and decided to try this again with a visit to India.

Barb (originally from the US) travels in from Scotland, Janine flies from Washington, and Jaya, who lives in India meets them at the airport. And so begins a fabulous trip, documented brilliantly in this very funny memoir.

If you read Barb’s blog (and I strongly recommend that you do) you will be expecting sharp, witty writing, clever observations and the feeling that you’re listening to an old friend telling you about her travels. And that is exactly what you get. Barb tells it like it is and paints a realistic, vibrant picture of a colourful country.

Much of the trip seems to have been spent eating and the descriptions of the food and hospitality are wonderful to read. Wildlife, culture, architecture and people are all beautifully and fondly depicted but this is far from a romanticised view. Horrendously dangerous driving is par for the course and Barb’s very funny account (sorry Barb!) of her unfortunate case of ‘Delhi belly’ tells of a rather worrying ease of access to strong medication!

This is a lovely way to spend an afternoon with your feet up, immersing yourself into the colours, smells and sights of a fascinating place, but do be warned, you might just find yourself hankering after a visit yourself!

five-stars

Find a copy here.

 

 

 

 

Null City – meet the Krampus (and help animals this Christmas!)

Don’t forget that you can still buy Barb Taub’s Null City books and help animals this Christmas. You can read my interview with Barb here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Barb back to learn a little about the villain of ‘Don’t Touch’ – the Krampus. And a very seasonal villain he is too. Over to Barb:

Krampus and Saint Nicholas visit a Viennese home in 1896

Krampus and Saint Nicholas visit a Viennese home in 1896

Christmas in Austria is not for the faint hearted. While a familiar St. Nicholas does make the rounds, in many Germanic traditions he’s accompanied by a terrifying beast called the Krampus whose job is to punish – and even take away – naughty children. With his curling horns, long red tongue, and tail, the Krampus is enough to chill any heart.

As the villain of Don’t Touch, the Krampus is a monster who literally feasts on the fear and terror he inspires in children. The demon who threatens Stefan and Lette is a cornered beast, an anachronism whose ever-diminishing influence only makes him more desperately dangerous.

The other inspiration for this story is the image of Rapunzel. But in Don’t Touch, Lette isn’t the helpless girl awaiting rescue by her prince. Instead, I go back to the origins of the folk story in sources such as Giambattista Basile’s Tale of Tales  from 1616, where she is actually the hero who rescues herself and her children, and then saves her lover. Like her earliest predecessors, Lette is a tough, self-reliant young woman who tells her would-be prince, “If I need rescuing, I’ll do it myself.”

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Hope flares each morning in the tiny flash of a second before Lette touches that first thing. And destroys it. Her online journal spans a decade, beginning with the day a thirteen-year-old inherits an extreme form of the family “gift.” Every day whatever she touches converts into something new: bunnies, bubbles, bombs, and everything in between. Lette’s search for a cure leads her to Stefan, whose fairy-tale looks hide a monstrous legacy, and to Rag, an arrogant, crabby ex-angel with boundary issues. The three face an army led by St. Nicholas’ legendary dark shadow, the Krampus, who feeds on children’s fear. But it’s their own inner demons they must defeat first.

My final message in Don’t Touch is that we build our own towers. They can provide safety; they can even be gorgeous and appealing, but if they keep us from truly living our lives or cut us off from others, they are still our prisons. I think that’s one of the things I love the most about the holiday season. No matter how often we hear them, those messages of peace and goodwill just keep reminding us of our connections to each other. More sophisticated folk can turn up noses at the consumerism and the crowds, but I believe the reason we all come back for more every year is that basic gift of hope and belief.

It’s that belief that inspires my holiday appeal to you. In most of my stories, an animal companion plays a prominent role—from George, the grumpy cat in Don’t Touch to Bygul, the bitchy feline goddess of Payback is a Witch. My own life has been immeasurably enriched by my dog Peri who came from a shelter in eastern Washington State, and by the friends (feline, canine, and the occasional rodent) rescued by the dedicated members of many shelters.

In thanks, therefore, I will donate all royalties on sales between now and January 1, 2015 from Don’t Touch as well as the newly released set (Payback is a Witch and Just For The Spell Of It) to the following wonderful organizations:

  • USANo Kill Advocacy Center. Headed up by Nathan Winograd, the No Kill Advocacy Center movement is revolutionizing shelters across America.
  • United KingdomDogsTrust. Active since 1891, this no-kill shelter rehomed almost 15,000 dogs last year.

As a special incentive, both Don’t Touch and the brand new release set, Tales From Null City (containing Payback is a Witch and Just For The Spell Of It), will be listed at the sale price of $0.99 in the USA, and £0.77 in the UK.

Both make wonderful holiday reads, while at the same time supporting the work of the no-kill shelter movement. Please help ensure that animals are not left unsheltered during the very difficult winter months to come. To help, please order a book by selecting one of the following links:

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Claire Danielsen is a young witch whose goddess is house cat of unusual size. Peter Oshiro is a Warden policing a delicate truce between those who are human and those who… aren’t. It just would have been nice if someone told them the angels were all on the other side.

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Liam is an ungodly soccer-playing card sharp on a mission from God. Eirie is a beautiful punk fairy princess with her own daytime radio talk show. They’ve worked cases for the Accords Agency before, but with war between realms looming and her baby sister as the bargaining chip, partnering just got personal.

Contact Barb: blog | twitter | facebook

‘Null City’ stories – great reads that help animals too!

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I’m so pleased to have the lovely writer and blogger Barb Taub on my blog today to tell you about herself, and about the wonderful way she is raising funds for animals this holiday season. Barb says:

In honor of this holiday season, my publisher, Hartwood Publishing, is offering a special gift package of my urban fantasy Null City stories. Not only are they releasing the two newest stories as a $0.99 set called Tales From Null City, but my holiday-themed Don’t Touch will also be available at the sale price of $0.99. (£0.72 in UK)

In most of my stories, an animal companion plays a prominent role—from George, the grumpy cat in Don’t Touch, to Bygul, the bitchy feline goddess of Payback is a Witch. My own life has been immeasurably enriched by my dog Peri who came from a shelter in eastern Washington State, and by the friends (feline, canine, and the occasional rodent) who have joined our family over the years after being rescued by the dedicated members of many shelters.

 In thanks, therefore, all royalties from sales between now and January 1, 2015 from Don’t Touch as well as the newly released set (Payback is a Witch and Just for the Spell of It) will be donated to the following wonderful organizations:

 USA: No Kill Advocacy Center. Headed up by Nathan Winograd, the No Kill Advocacy Center movement is revolutionizing shelters across America.

United Kingdom: DogsTrust. Active since 1891, this no-kill shelter rehomed almost 15,000 dogs last year.

 As the owner of two dogs myself, I can’t think of a better cause. Our dogs are definitely part of our family. We lost our gorgeous cocker spaniel Honey over a year ago and still miss her every day.

Honey

Honey

We rescued kind-of-labrador Daisy two days before the breeder was going to shoot her – she has turned into the most gentle, calm, beautiful dog you could wish for. The latest addition is a beautiful cocker spaniel, Belle (for my daughter’s 16th birthday – although she seems to forget the puppy is hers when it’s pouring with rain or she’s peed on the floor – the dog not my daughter).

Daisy and Belle 'Because the cat's bed is so much more comfortable than our own!'

Daisy and Belle
‘Because the cat’s bed is so much more comfortable than our own!’

Our dogs (and our rescue cat Milo) have and had wonderful lives, and wonderful Christmases. It would be lovely to help other animals to have just a little bit of that love.

Anyway, enough about my dogs (yes, I am slightly obsessed with them) – I’m sure you’d love to know more about Barb and her books:

Barb and her dog Peri

Barb and her dog Peri

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

Writing is verbal alchemy, so it’s my happy place, where I’m the sorceress who converts the dross of unused disk space into a whole world of golden prose. (Of course, that only lasts until I type the words “The End”. Then, into the happy place’s den comes Doubt, the sorceress’ embarrassing, obnoxious brother-in-law who sits on the couch drinking her beer, making body noises, and dropping offhand remarks about how the sorceress should keep her day job.) 

How did you come up with the title of your series?

My daughter and I have this tiny little life-altering addiction to superhero movies. One night we started talking about superheroes with awkward powers. Let’s say you are the Man of Steel, but you don’t dare have sex with Lois Lane because your Little Man of Steel would probably split her in two. (And we’re not even going to discuss the havoc your Swimmers of Steel could wreck on Woman of Pasta…)

 The point is that when you think about it, most people with special powers would be lining up to get rid of them and get their normal lives back. That’s where Null City comes in. After one day there, those with extra gifts turn into their closest human counterparts. Imps, for example, become baristas. (Of course, they’re now ex-PhD candidates in literature or classics who claim to be experts on third-world coffee blends and obscure world music groups. But hey – there is only so close to human that hellspawn can get…)

 So the idea of Null City is that it takes our fantasy worlds and turns them into normal life. My daughter Hannah (aka obsessive cowriter) and I talked about Null City for her last year of high school. The one thing we couldn’t figure out was who the villain would be, when everyone is a hero. The problem with heroes, though, is that they don’t all have the same goals. What if each group – angels, superheroes, and just plain humans – is willing to do whatever it takes to make their right thing happen? So Hannah headed off to University in Scotland and I headed to my computer. One year and many hours of video chats later, the first Null City book, One Way Fare, was published by Taliesin (now Hartwood). Its backstory is the founding of Null City. In the second book, Don’t Touch, the backstory is the Metro train, Null City’s connection with the outside world.

 What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Editing. I tell the words I’m cutting that it’s not them, it’s me. They are perfect, beautiful jewels and I’m going to place them in a special file (“Dead Kittens”) until I can come up with exactly the right place for them to shine when the day comes for me to use them again. [NOTE: any woman who has old bridesmaids dresses in the back of her closet because she was told she could “cut them off and wear them to parties later” will understand how I can say this with perfect sincerity…]

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up Book three, Round Trip Fare, which explores what happens when saving Null City means destroying the ones you love.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

As a reader, nothing pulls me out of a story faster than seeing spelling and grammar errors. As a book reviewer, I’ve gotten to the point were I won’t look at something unless it’s been professionally edited. Their are so many people who seem to think they’re words are so perfect, there unwilling to consider what a good editor can bring. (See? I could barely stand to write that, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to read it.)

Who is your favourite author and what is it that you love about their work?

That changes constantly. When I have the flu, it’s an old friend like L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series because it’s so soothing to grow up and old along with Anne. For fun I love the humour and breezy read of Molly Harper’s southern vampires. And the writing team behind Ilona Andrews simply could release the updated Muncie Indiana phone book and I’d have it on my preorder list. 

Who would you choose to have over for dinner and why?

I usually answer this with a lofty and intellectual dinner party list. But maybe because it’s the holidays, I have to admit the truth. I’m looking forward to holiday dinner with my family. Because we’re all writers, the conversation is usually amazing. My husband is a theoretical economist, one daughter is a human rights attorney who does commentary for Vox, another daughter is a humourist who writes for Funny or Die, and the youngest is my co-author on the first Null City book and my toughest critic.

Desert Island Books – what five books would you choose to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

  • The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Extreme Edition by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (I figure it will be comforting on that island to know I don’t have to survive a Turkish prison, take a bullet, stop a stampeding elephant, etc. But if it came up, I’d be prepared…)  
  • Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Because Armageddon just never gets old.)
  • Three really fat blank books for the screenplay(s). (Let’s face it—desert island stranding has best seller all over it…)

Thanks Barb for taking the time to visit my blog- I’ll be welcoming Barb again on Friday when she’ll be telling me all about the villain of ‘Don’t Touch’ – the Krampus. In the meantime, do check out this very special offer, remember all royalties from sales between now and January 1, 2015 from Don’t Touch as well as the newly released set (Payback is a Witch and Just for the Spell of It) will be donated to No Kill Advocacy Center and DogsTrust.