Review Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook by Kelly I. Hitchcock

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This collection of short stories surprised me by how the author managed to incorporate real life drama and joy into a work of fiction. I liked very how she linked the stories together by using the way the lives of the characters touch each other. It made the whole seem more of a complete, work rather than a collection of unrelated stories.

The downside was that neither story had a real resolution. We are shown the why of things but rarely how things pan out in the end. Not that they feel unfinished, but still I would have liked to see a real ending to each one.

I could have done without the lengthy and rather spoiler filled foreword, as well as the many samples of other books at the end, but that is an aside and as such has no impact on my opinion of the stories this collection consists of.

There are quite a few typos and missing, or double words (like the one in the title), but that could be because I had an ARC to review, so I have no idea if the final product got another round of editing which this version certainly needed.

With regards to the characters and their stories, I got sucked in soon enough and rooted for each and every character in all stories alike. Nothing ever felt contrived or unreal, so kudos for that. I actually thought it could just as easily be all real life stories rather than a fictionalised version of the real stories of these women.

Why I won’t give it a 4 or even a five star rating? Well, it was good, but just not that gripping that it made me want to recommend it to whomever wants to listen to me. I feel there could have been more to the stories than the author has written now. Sometimes it felt as if she took a shortcut rather than show us all there was to a particular story.

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Should you want to get your copy anyway, it’s for sale at Amazon

Author of the Day – Sarah Mallery

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Hi Sarah, we’ve met before and you even have a page on my site, so I feel know you a bit. However, the readers visiting today might not know who you are and what you’ve done. I’m glad you agreed to let me ask you a few questions and to get to know the woman behind the author.

Do you still sing? And how do you think writing lyrics differs from writing fiction? It’s both a story to tell, isn’t it?

As far as singing goes, these days I’m not doing it professionally at all, just for fun in the shower or the car when a particularly great song comes on! Something about that shower….

Interesting question about fiction vs. lyrics. Well, to me, lyrics usually rhyme, but it’s also so often about the way the lyrics are colored—the vowels and tones changing, depending on the singer and the significance of the piece. The same with fiction, I feel. Some words just sound good together, rolling off the tongue perfectly. Others sound forced and awkward. When I write and decide to look up a synonym for a word, I carefully voice that word to see if it will fit in with the tone of the piece, much like the lyrics of a song.

Do you miss teaching?

Actually, I still am teaching ESL to adults, part time, and enjoying it immensely. Love their determination, their grace under fire, and their discussions about the ins and outs of their countries of origin. Fun.

Are you still quilting, and if so, do you use a machine or do you create it by hand? I would love to make a great quilt.

quilt redUnfortunately, I don’t have time to quilt anymore. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day! But when I did quilt, I started out doing it by hand, then, because of my having developed carpal tunnel, had to switch to machine quilting. That changed my life. I learned all about the sewing machine’s potential rhythms, how you learn to drop the ‘feed dogs’ and just let your hands manipulate the fabric. At that point, a Zen thing happens, and as you’re eyeballing the stenciled pattern lines, you get into the peaceful space of Ebb and Flow, much like calligraphy. Anyway, I used to teach it that way, and even got good enough myself that I was able to produce some pretty complicated Amish feather quilting lines amidst their signature simple solid colored quilt patterns. Don’t know if I could still do that today, however!

Is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?

Not in my books, but in my life–water or wine, particularly a nice chardonnay.

What is your favorite dish and can you give me the recipe?

I don’t know about favorite, but one dish that has become popular in our watching-the-gluten-intake household is making lasagna with zucchini strips instead of pasta.ZucchiniLasagnaFT

Basically, you can make your lasagna anyway you want, but just cut strips of zucchini and layer them like you would with the pasta. I use a mandolin (not the musical instrument!!) which is amazing, but learned the hard way that those devices could be easily used in a major crime novel, their blades are so sharp! I now use the mandolin c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y, with a fork as the zucchini diminishes. I suppose one could also just cut the thing with a knife as well. Also, be advised that because zucchini when it cooks releases a lot of water, you’ll have to press out some of the extra liquid as it’s cooking.

Find a nice recipe with turkey here, or a vegetarian one here.

What is the title of the book you would like to talk about, and can you give a small taste of it?

The book I would like to talk about is my collection of long short stories, Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads.

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AMAZON

The eleven long short stories in “Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads combine history, mystery, action and/or romance, and range from drug trafficking using Guatemalan hand-woven wallets, to an Antebellum U.S. slave using codes in her quilts as a message system to freedom; from an ex-journalist and her Hopi Indian maid solving a cold case together involving Katchina spirits, to a couple hiding Christian passports in a comforter in Nazi Germany; from a wedding quilt curse dating back to the Salem Witchcraft Trials, to a mystery involving a young seamstress in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; from a 1980’s Romeo and Juliet romance between a rising Wall Street financial ‘star’ and an eclectic fiber artist, to a Haight-Asbury love affair between a professor and a beautiful macramé artist gone horribly askew, just to name a few.

For those that want to know more before getting their copy, here is a taste:


…Saturday, March 25, 1911 started out like so many other days. Sasha woke up in the dark, got dressed with cold, numb fingers, splashed water on her face from the porcelain pitcher and bowl set out on the kitchen table, gently kissed a sleeping Jacob, grabbed a piece of bread she had covered with jam, and let herself out the door. Feeling her way down the pitch-black hallway by running her fingers over the embossed plaster patterns, she almost stumbled on a nail peeking out of a floorboard just before reaching the front door. The gas light in the vestibule had been out for weeks, and their landlord had refused to fix it. She felt tired and depressed, but as bad as conditions were at Triangle Shirtwaist, nothing could compare with being around Moshe, and so taking a deep breath, she gratefully made her way through lower Manhattan to the sewing factory for a day of overtime and its slightly higher pay.
On the sidewalk outside the factory, she caught up with many of the girls with whom she usually worked—three hundred Italian, German, and Yiddish girls, their thread-worn dresses hanging over muddied petticoats and eyes as dark-circled as hers. Trudging up the path, they were all met at the front entrance by Joe Zitto, one of the elevator operators.
“Okay girls, okay. Let’s get goin’. The rest of the building ain’t opened today, so I’m gonna take ya’s up to the 8th, 9th and 10th floors only. Don’t try to go anywheres else for lunch. The doors to the other floors are locked mostly. I guess Old Man Harris don’t want no burglars comin’ in. So, c’mon girls, let’s go.”
Bending over her assigned sewing machine was excruciating. Her entire body ached from the previous day’s abuse; still, she kept working until lunchtime. She was in no mood to socialize—making idle chit-chat was the last thing she wanted to do, but when she retreated to a corner of the factory floor by herself, two of her closest co-workers, Gladie Moskovitz and Irma Delacina, came over to sit beside her.
“What’sa matter wid you today, Sasha?” Irma peered at her friend as she bit down hard on a piece of Italian bread, some crust flipping out of her mouth and onto the floor.
“Yah, you look different. Is evertink all right at home?” Gladie was more privy to Sasha’s problem with Moshe than Irma was.
“I don’t vant to talk about it—sometink did happen, but I not say…” Sasha feared once she started talking, there would be no stopping. Better to keep mute.
In what seemed like a mere five minutes, the whistle blew, followed by numerous deep sighs and groans. Irma threw an arm around Sasha’s shoulder on the way back to their sewing machines, and handing her a delicate-looking locket from around her own neck, told her, “Here, taka dis to wear. It’s a good luck charm necklace. I got it in Italy. If you wear it, maybe you getta good luck from now on.” She leaned over and gave her friend a little kiss on the cheek.
Touched by Irma’s gesture, Sasha instinctively pulled off a little pinkie ring of her own—a small, silver Jewish star pattern with a pink stone in the center. Uncle Samuel had bought it for her the week before at a local flea market, telling her, “Remember, Sashelah, you’re American now, but always, you are a Jewish girl. Never forget the Torah, my child.”
Irma’s mouth curved into a huge grin as she placed the ring on her pinkie finger. Then the two girls gave each other a quick hug before returning to their stations.
The afternoon dragged on. Sasha found that by concentrating only on the rhythm of the sewing machines, she could block out her misery for a while. Closing her eyes and listening intently, she could almost hear the tapping of a marching band: click, click, slam-slam-slam, whoosh-whoosh, rattle-rattle went the machines. Soon, the entire factory room pulsed.
By 4:45 p.m., the whistle blew as if by magic, signaling the end of the workday and going home to face another round with Moshe. Turning off her machine, Sasha stood up, took a deep breath, and steeling herself, tried to remember the good people in her life, like Irma and Gladie, and of course, little Jacob.
Three steps forward, she smelled smoke.
Girls on the opposite end of the floor next to the windows were beginning to scream in a panicked chorus, and suddenly streaking past her, someone shouted, “Fire! Fire!” Still, she remained paralyzed, her arms and legs like lead, her mouth filled with a bitter, chalky taste. Then the adrenaline hit her and she broke into a dead run.
Dark gray swirls of smoke were seeping in from under the doorway cracks while dozens of girls stampeded past the sewing room, heading towards the elevator shafts or stairwells and ending up crushed together against the in-going only doorways. Hysteria rendered each girl strong. No matter how hard she tried, Sasha couldn’t push her way through the group of flailing arms and legs, so she about-faced to explore other escape routes.
Outside on the street, a man walking by pointed upward and shouted, “Look at the smoke coming out ofthe Triangle building!”
“Yeah, it looks like it’s comin’ from the top floors! What’s that coming outa the windows? Looks like bolts of fabric! Old Man Blanck must really want to save his precious cloth!” a woman chimed in.
“Yeah. Wait! Wait a minute!” the man continued. “That’s not bolts of fabric—they’re—they’re—oh, God in Heaven!”
The cynical woman let out a blood-curdling shriek….

 Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?

Not really. It’s the title of the first story and since it’s about the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the book’s running theme is a tiny ‘thread’ of sewing/crafts throughout the stories, I decided that was the best title to represent the entire book. At one point, I toyed with the idea of calling it “A Stitch In Time,” but opted for the more unusual title.

What do you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to your books?

Well, I’m still learning the process of this OMB (Overwhelming Marketing Business), but so far, the attention seems to have been coming from different sources—Goodreads, Facebook, bookclubs. I am discovering that my books can be marketed in more ways than the single area of historical fiction. My novel, Unexpected Gifts, has been labeled ‘Women’s Fiction’ on Amazon, and recently, I have been approached by mystery readers, and an international craft association, who wants to feature these Sewing Can Be Dangerous stories as part of their crafting curriculum next year.

Hahaha, I am abbreviations impaired, but I love that one OMB.

To end this interview I’d like to ask you to tell me something no one has ever heard before from you? Hehehe…I love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂

Oh, dear…well, as I have mentioned on other sites and presentations, I have always been fascinated by my ancestors, and having inherited some of their memorabilia, have a confession to make. I hate to admit it… and please don’t think badly of me, but…sometimes I like to slip out of our house during the pre-dawn hours, and with my great grandfather’s 1800’s pitchfork and my grandfather’s WWI binoculars, scour the neighborhood, spying into various windows, waiting for innocent future victims—-NOT!!!!!! (hehehe)

Thank you Sarah, for being here and so very entertaining too! 🙂 Should readers want to know more about you they can find, follow, or stalk, erm, I mean become your greatest fan on your websiteTwitter as @SarahMallery1, on Facebook, and Goodreads. But also on my site where Sarah Mallery has a page.

A Menu of Death by Lucy Pireel

A Menu of Death

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AMAZON | SMASHWORDS | KOBO | iTUNES | B&N | FLIPKART

A collection of short stories about vengeance, obsession, cravings, and selfishness.

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Pick one item of the Menu or devour the entire buffet

Make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew

Read, but not with greed for

Death awaits, ready to come and collect its due

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Why not listen to some music while we wait for the main course to be served?

Featured Author – Mark Combs

4854_1175106300983_6411029_nToday the featured author is a man that has proven he has things to say we all like to read. Let’s welcome Mark Combs.

Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to drop by and take the time to answer my questions. I’d like to start with a few personal questions, if that’s okay with you?

Absolutely.

Great! Thanks, brace yourself because here we go. 🙂 Given the choice, would you drive around in a car, or take a bike ride?

Depends. If I need to run a quick errand, I’ll drive. However, I love the freedom that being on my bicycle brings, so if I am looking to unwind or clear my head, I’ll hop on my bike and go. Twenty or thirty miles is usually enough for me to get my head straight. I recently got a new Trek road bike, but haven’t been on it much because of cold, windy, shitty Indiana weather.

What came first? The love for crime thrillers or the degree?

The degree came first. I was a sophomore at Indiana University majoring in Biology. Well, calculus, a requirement for my major, kicked my ass not once, but twice. I decided that it was time for a major change, so, at the urging of my friend Mike, I changed to Criminal Justice. That turned out to be a whole lot easier.

I started reading a lot of true crime books when I lived in the Chicago area in the early 1990s. Back then, it was mostly stuff about the mafia. I really developed a taste for crime thrillers in 2003, when I started commuting an hour and a half each way to and from work. I started listening to a lot of audiobooks, and soon “discovered” two authors who are among my favorites today: John Sandford and James Lee Burke. Sandford is a great writer of dialogue and a great storey teller. Burke takes crime fiction into the realm of literary fiction.

If you could ask Stephen King a question, what would that be? About grammar, or fiction?

In his memoir On Writing, King says that stories are found things, like fossils waiting to be uncovered. I would ask him to sell me on this theory, because I’m not sure I buy it. Maybe I just haven’t expanded my mind to the point where I am able to discover stories in my head that have always been there.

Your dog, the Damn Dog (if the readers want to know where that comes from they can ask you in a comment, will that work for you?), is he a house companion, or do you like to take him for long walks?

Damn Dog is my wife’s name for our dog, a BIG Siberian Husky. He’s a year old, so he’s still got a lot of puppy left in him. He spends a lot of time running around in the back yard, but also spends a lot of time in the house. He’s really good-natured, but is still very clumsy. He knocks a lot of stuff over, including our granddaughter, much to my wife’s chagrin. He also tends to chew on things he shouldn’t. We take him for walks (or rather, he takes us for walks). My youngest daughter Riley likes to let him pull her around the block on her Ripstik, which is basically a skateboard with only two wheels.

What would be a good reason to take a long walk?

To clear my head.

There, that wasn’t too painful, was it? But it’s not why you are here, you are here to talk about your work, aren’t you?

Let’s not waste anymore time but tell me what the title of the book is you would like to talk about?

I am currently working on expanding one of my unpublished short stories into a novel. The title of the novel will be Lyrical. I won’t say what the title of the short story is because it would give too much away. The book centers on a series of killings that seem to be based on lyrics from classic rock songs.

Sounds intriguing! Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?

Not at all, though I hated giving up the original title of the short story.

What will you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to books?

I don’t have any books or stories published yet, but I do have a blog casualmisanthrope.wordpress.com, and I have been able to generate some momentum on Facebook and Twitter. Initially, I plan to publish via Kindle Direct Publishing, so social media will continue to play a prominent role in promoting my work.

Is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?

I could eat pizza every day. My wife can’t. Therefore, we only have pizza maybe once a month.

What is your favourite dish and can you give me the recipe?

I have a world-class chocolate chip cookie recipe. Can’t share the recipe because my wife and daughters plan to open a bakery in a few years, but I’d love to send you some cookies.

Oh! Double chocolate-chip, perhaps? Nom! 

Gif found on Chickennuggetgirl’s blog

Would you be able to come up with a credible excuse why you haven’t written a whole day? Remember, I have to believe it!

There are days I don’t write, particularly if we are doing some sort of family outing, but generally, I put something on the page every day.

Okay now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want the blab about. But please no cat’s, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even envious. Tell me something none has ever heard before from you. hehehe, love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂

My life is really pretty boring, but here are a couple of tidbits you may find amusing:

  • I have a bit of a crush on Flo, the Progressive Insurance lady. There’s something about her that really turns my dials!
  • I cry every time I watch Forrest Gump, when Jenny dies.
  • I have an intense dislike for country music, but I could listen to Willie Nelson all day.
  • I once got bitten on the finger by a salmon. It took 3 weeks’ worth of antibiotics to get rid of the infection.
  • My wife was 17 and I was 23 when we started dating. We’ve been married for 21 years.
  • In 1999, my employer made me take a tact and diplomacy training. 

Thanks for sharing all this with us Mark. Do remember to come back when you have a release to celebrate and for now, off you go, back to your writing and reviewing cave!