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Monday, October 26, 2015

Editorial - The Witches of Port Townsend: Which Witch is Wicked? Release Event

From left to right: Kerrigan Byrne, Tiffinie Helmer, Cyndi Stark, and Cynthia St. Aubin.

Have you ever been in a group of people with whom you just felt comfortable in less than a day?

You all come from different states, make different livings, wear different styles, and yet, there's a snap and suddenly, you're all aligned.  Everyone is smiling comfortably, talking as if you're all old friends. Laughter happens often, and it's got the full-bodied warmth that only comes when you're in the company of your people.

Speaking to anyone in the group is a pleasure. The myriad of personalities are as reflective as jewels, and all fit snugly into the setting in any order.  The thought of departing for home is bittersweet. You've met your tribe. Your coven. The mothership bearing your kind. The clique that makes your high school group look shallower than a snail's slime track.

This weekend has once again reaffirmed that the world of literature is my home.  I met people who read, wrote, edited, and assisted authors, and no matter what we discussed, books came up over and over. There were debates over interpretation and style, and genre preference.  We shared authors we loved and spoke passionately about what a heroine is and isn't.  Through it all, there was no anger or unkindness, just honesty and respect for each other's preferences.  I witnessed intelligence and wit and so much humor my cheeks are still sore, yet I can't let go of my smile.

The tireless ladies that collaborated to write The Witches of Port Townsend series are a perfect balance and it is clear that these books are more than just stories.  They are a labor of love created by four women whose affection, support for, and belief in each other is obvious just by watching them together.

Tiffinie Helmer is a fascinatingly earthy woman. I don't mean in the way that the word has been twisted.  In truth, she brings back the real meaning with a natural and honest beauty that reminds her fellow women that confidence is the ultimate sexy. There is not an inkling of judgement. Her easy smile is genuine and warm, and when she hugs you, it feels like home.

Cindy Stark is nothing less than delightful. Her bright smile holds such sweetness and I'm so very sad to say I did not get enough time to talk to her.  She's lovely both in visage and heart, and there's something about her that says there are many interesting facets to her.  Watching and listening to her reminds me that no matter how smooth the surface, intriguing undercurrents are constantly in motion.

Kerrigan Byrne is one of those women that could seduce the planet with a wink and a smile.  Her wit and confidence are irrefutable, and her presence can be felt even as she is avidly listening to someone speak.  There is a radiating strength within her that bolsters you, makes you stand up straighter, and be in the moment.  She is startlingly beautiful, in a way that you'll find yourself staring, and then when she speaks, you'll be laughing at her humorous deep savvy and grounded personality.

Cynthia St. Aubin is instantly charming. Never before have I met someone whose joy is expressed without reservation or self-consciousness as Cynthia.  She is open-hearted, humble and has a kindness so obvious, I want to follow her around like a Disney forest creature.  Her classic beauty is only emphasized by the honest appreciation and affection she freely bestows, and her quick mind bubbles over with humor and intelligence.

Port Townsend is more than just a pretty tourist town with gables and widow's walks.  Streets and buildings bearing discreet historical placards hold shops, restaurants and galleries. A short wander along Water Street has such variety, it's impossible not to find something on display that won't tempt you to lighten your wallet, even if just a little. The history is rich and deep.  Listening to our very knowledgeable tour guide, Grymm, I felt a kinship to this place. There is something that speaks of strength here.  Through turmoil and hardship, this town has more than survived, it's retained its beauty and mystery.  There are talks of hauntings and odd happenings.  Whether you believe or not, there is no doubt that this place has a presence of its own.

Grymm (aka Geoff) told eye-widening histories and details that only a native could relate.  His enthusiasm was bone-deep, but not overbearing.  It made me want to know more, and I found myself recounting the tales of sailors going to sea - often against their will. The history wasn't whitewashed;  we learned about nefarious deeds, societal chasms, and the use of Chinese immigrants as veritable slave labor, as well as the swells of prosperity and strife.

The Old Consulate Inn is the Bed & Breakfast in town.  Other locales might be grander, but they have nothing on this stately Victorian overlooking a lighthouse and marina.  The care and detail of each room is impeccable and unique.  Modern amenities are present, but blend beautifully and are disguised with an artful hand.  The decor is true to the period but never feels cluttered. Instead there are nooks and shelves and niches displaying pieces to inspect and admire.  I found it comfortable, and not as though I was a naughty child exploring forbidden rooms, because the atmosphere is welcoming and homey.  The nearby clock tower at the Jefferson County Courthouse chiming the hour always made me smile.  It never caused me any lost sleep or annoyance even though my windows faced the building across the park.  In truth, I slept more soundly and longer at the inn than I have in months.  Breakfast is presented at 9:00 like clockwork and is a work of art in itself.  The proprietors are everything for which one could hope, looking quite at home in their period appropriate clothing.   Cindy is graceful, elegant, and capable. Her wry humor and economic movements speak of her confidence, and when she isn't bustling about behind the kitchen door, she is the epitome of a gracious hostess.  I liked her immediately.  Nathan is a charmer with a quick smile and an intriguing mustache. Though suited to perfection, he never failed to pitch in when necessary, and offered seamless transitions through breakfast and an event or two.  I saw more of him than Cindy, but had the impression that the two were truly partners, and both came and went with an elegant discretion that I envy. The staff is friendly and almost fairy-like in their spectacularly efficient and nearly invisible comings and goings.   The rules of the house are not overbearing or unreasonable.  Rather, they carry common sense, common courtesy, and a respect for the graceful home and its inhabitants.

As I am a cube dweller with an appallingly sedentary lifestyle, I found I was unable to keep up with all of my fellow adventurers and had to bow out of a few events.  However, the soiree, two history tours, dinners and author meet-and-greet were a swirl of laughter, fun, conversation, excellent food and drinks, and company I'd keep again, given a chance.  This was a trip I will remember always. I very much hope everyone I met and with whom I spent such swiftly departing hours stay in touch.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: Which Witch is Wicked? (The Witches of Port Townsend Book 2) by Kerrigan Byrne, Cindy Stark, Tiffinie Helmer, and Cynthia St. Aubin

Get your copy of Which Witch is Wicked? (The Witches of Port Townsend Book 2) by Kerrigan Byrne, Cindy Stark, Tiffinie Helmer, and Cynthia St. Aubin here.

The seals are opening, one by one...

The quintuplet sisters Claire, Aerin, Tierra and Moira are back, and facing down stranger and scarier dangers as they inadvertently continue to open the seven seals, one at a time. The four horsemen are still trying to stop the Apocalypse (with a capital A), each knowing that at least one of witches must die in order to prevent it from happening.

Determining which witch is to be whacked is a difficulty – each horseman has a thing for one of four bewitching ladies, and none of the men can seem to fulfill their honor-bound duty. There's a new player in town, dividing loyalties, and straining relationships.

With the number of unbroken seals dwindling and tensions mounting, the choice of which of the sisters will die may be taken out of the horsemen's hands.

“Isn't that the ultimate goal here?” Julian asked. “To end this nightmarish Apocalypse?”
“They don't all have to die,” Dru reminded them. “Only one.”

Which Witch is Wicked? is the second book in the Witches of Port Townsend Series, and is a tight anthology penned by Cynthia St. Aubin, Kerrigan Byrne, Cindy Stark and Tiffinie Helmer. The first book in the series, Which Witch is Which? was released a year ago and ended on a semi-soft cliffhanger.

This second installment begins a week after the first book in the series ended. I highly recommend reading the first book before starting this one, even if you've already read it. While there is some exposition, there is not enough to cover all of the major events of the first book, and a refresher (or just plain fresh) read makes jumping into the story a lot smoother.

The stories are once again divided by sister, each written by a separate author. In the seamless style of the first book, there is a perfect flow without a discernible difference in overall voice from writer to writer. As a reader of all of these authors, I am amazed. They each have their own style, and the collaboration on this work is completely harmonious. None of their styles stand out, they just blend as though written by one person.

There is a little retreading of old ground here, in the form of reminders of the Apocalypse and the way to end it – causing the emotional turmoil of the couples. However, it is not tedious because it is woven into the intensifying of the relationships of the sisters, the men, as well as the romantic combinations.

More is at stake now, and that leads to character growth more on the part of the sisters than the horsemen. While the witches definitely stand out in my mind, I have trouble separating the horsemen. (Note: I fully admit, that may be a failure on my part.) The introduction of a new character acts as a catalyst for further discord. While not exactly being a fresh take on this particular villain, there's enough individuality and malice to keep the reader guessing.

The story moves along briskly and smoothly, with some short breathers. Due to the number of characters, there is a lot happening. I can't say I have the whole ending figured out, but there is some hefty foreshadowing which makes me wonder if it isn't a flashy red herring. Ending on another cliffhanger (not brutal, but obvious), the way is neatly paved for book three.

With humor, drama, action, and growing tension, this book has sidestepped the “sophomore slump”. I would say it's not quite as good as the first, but only by a very small margin. Along with other readers, I bemoan the time between releases, which attests to the power of the story.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: Accidentally Ever After (Accidentally Paranormal Series, Book 11) by Dakota Cassidy

Click here to buy Accidentally Ever After (Accidentally Paranormal Series, Book 11) by Dakota Cassidy

Antonia Vitali is hiding out in Jersey working in a discount clothing store. Her boss is a young, pretty nightmare that makes Antonia wish she was anywhere but there.

And in an instant she was.

Now she's in Shamalot with the ladies from O.O.P.S., a zombie reindeer, a great blue ogre with a tiny voice, and Jon Doe – a heroic reindeer herder with perfect, well...everything. To get home, she must embark on a quest wearing a get-up that would bring a proud tear to a beauty queen's eye. But like any fairy tale, this one has all the trimmings: danger, magic and a whole lot of derring-do.

Time is running out, can Toni get to the castle in time and find eternal happiness on the way?

Dannan's words plucked a memory in Toni's brain.
The one where she wished she were anywhere but the outlet mall?
No. Nuh-uh.
Crap, crap, crap. She really was responsible for them landing here.

As the eleventh book in the Accidentally Paranormal series, Accidentally Ever After defies series fatigue with a freshness that made it a delightful page-turner. Dakota Cassidy went all out with the world-building here, and that fearless dive into the deep end of the fantasy pool is why this story works. Had she gone half-measure, or tried to weigh it down with more of a hand-wringing heroine, it would have fallen flat. This story isn't as emotionally wrought as some of the others in the series, but that doesn't detract from the enjoyment, or the ending.

Eschewing a rehash of the fairy tale twist, Cassidy gleefully mows down the trite stories without losing the crux of their existence, e.g. the journey is more important than the destination. The humor is clever and quick.  Familiar characters are lampooned with tongue-in-cheek affection that is more of a wink at the reader than a gratuitous laugh grab or mocking eye-roll. Of all the Accidentals it's the most self aware, giving a sense that Cassidy is laughing with you, even while she openly acknowledges foreshadowing.

While Toni's character feels familiar, she's different enough to remain interesting. Jon Doe is a true fairy tale hero, but his charm doesn't grate or feel overused. The peripheral characters are almost more interesting, running the gamut of personality and silliness, and definitely round out any rough edges.

The pace is swift, without being frenetic. Every scene has a purpose toward Toni's quest. Cassidy twists the end a bit, making Accidental Ever After stand out in the series. There is a strong lead in for another book, which will delight fans to no end.

Once again, I found myself laughing out loud, feeling warm fuzzies, and looking forward to the next book in the series.