Monday, January 31, 2022

Author Interview: Louise Marley on The Great Witch of Brittany

Award-winning author Louise Marley has long been one of my favorite writers. From the chillingly prescient The Terrorists of Irustan to the deeply touching The Glass Harmonica, to the YA "Horsemistress" series (as Toby Bishop), to the music-themed Mozart's Blood and The Brahms Deception, the scope and insightfulness of her writing mark her as a major voice in fantasy and science fiction. Her newest novel, The Great Witch of Brittany, will be released in February 2022.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Louise Marley: Like so many of us, I was an avid reader as a child, and it followed logically—since I am by nature a performer—that I wanted to write stories myself. My musical ambitions dominated the first part of my life, but I always meant to return to writing. It has been amazing to learn how much the two careers have in common.


DJR: What inspired your book?

LM: There is no one factor that inspires any of my novels, but the witch novels definitely had their origins in my fascination with witchcraft and the practice of it. I had fallen into the habit of writing historicals, and so the historical settings for A Secret History of Witches and now its prequel, The Great Witch of Brittany, came naturally.


DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?

LM: I love many writers, from the Western authors I read as a girl to the Golden Age gothic mysteries to the great feminist science fiction writers of the latter half of the 20th century. I’m often inspired by the most recent really good novel I’ve read, and I find that enriches my own imagination. I’m not tempted to copy, fortunately, but I learn and absorb from some of the amazing prose and incredible plots I find. Thrillers have been my most recent indulgence, and wow! do those writers know how to plot!


DJR: Why do you write what you do, and how does your work differ from others in your genre?

LM: I’m extremely lucky to be in a place where I can write what I want to write. My last four books have featured witches and witchcraft, and I do hope they have my own particular stamp on them, which is working witches—women who have to study and practice and explore to make their magic work. I’ve found that the witch genre has many facets, and lots of excellent writers are working in it, with results that vary from terrifying to downright funny.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Short Book Reviews: A Dynamite Conclusion to the "Ghost Roads" Trilogy

 Angel of the Overpass, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

I’m an enthusiastic fan of Seanan McGuire’s “Ghost Roads” series. I love the inventiveness of the world, the plot twists, and the ghostly-but-eminently-human narrator, Rose Marshall. A half-century ago, Rose was on her way to her high school prom when she was run down and killed. The driver was teenage heart-throb movie star, Bobby Cross, desperate to ensure his immortality through a crossroads bargain that requires him to keep driving a car that runs on the fuel of human souls. Bobby’s been on Rose’s trail ever since, determined to feed her soul to his car. Meanwhile, Rose’s prom date, having lived a long life regretting her loss, has become a ghostly car that communicates with her through his choice of tunes on his radio. Got all that? Now the crossroads themselves have been destroyed, and the realms of the ghosts have become increasingly unstable. And Bobby’s getting closer.

Rose may be dead, a “hitch-hiking ghost,” but she still retains her compassion and her gift for deep friendships. She’s capable of both growth and self-sacrifice, and her personality shines through the pages.

Absorbing and highly satisfying, Angel of the Overpass lifted my own spirits. I’ll come back to this series again and again.


Monday, January 24, 2022

Author Interview: Jessica Thorne

 I loved Jessica Thorne's time-travel supernatural mystery thriller, The Lost Girls of Foxfield Hall, which I reviewed here. Jessica was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work. I was delighted to learn how many sources of inspiration we have in common.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?

Jessica Thorne: I always wanted to write, to tell stories. Even as a child I was obsessed with fantasy stories. I grew up on Tolkien and Star Wars, Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper, and read my way through the local junior library before moving to the bigger one in the next town. Eventually the librarians gave me a ticket for the adult library there as well. I ended up being both a librarian and a writer. I don’t think there was ever another option.

I write under multiple names. Currently I mainly write as Jessica Thorne but I have previously written as Ruth Frances Long for Young Adult fantasy, and as R. F. Long for adult fantasy. It isn’t as confusing as it sounds because the books are quite different. With my Jessica Thorne books I am now leaning towards a blend of fantasy and women’s fiction which is an interesting combination allowing me to explore all kinds of interesting themes in a different way. I keep the one website for all my books, and readers can find everything at

I tend to wander from genre to genre as the story takes me so multiple names can be helpful in that respect.


DJR: What inspired your book?

JT: The Lost Girls of Foxfield Hall was inspired by a number of things. I always loved books like Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Children of Green Knowe, and the idea of lives permeating a place with magic. The story grew out of the idea of the maze at the heart of Foxfield’s gardens. The women of Foxfield Hall come from a long tradition of powerful women, and the many different aspects of being a woman. Their loves and lives kind of took off from there.


DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?

JT: So many it’s very hard to nail down just a few. I would definitely point to Susan Cooper and her Dark is Rising sequence as a formative series of books. I love the idea of ancient magic persisting in the modern world, living alongside us known only to a few.  Similarly Alan Garner’s books were an incredible influence as I try to capture his “rockiness of rocks and treeness of trees”. Diana Wynne Jones taught me to “put the magic out with the milkbottles” while Terry Pratchett constantly reminds me that the truth is always far stranger than anything we can get away with in fiction. And of course, to have fun with it.


DJR: How does your writing process work?

JT: I do a lot of thinking initially. I don’t plan the story but I need to learn the world it will be set in. There is a lot of research there, mainly through folklore and locations. I love to lose myself in a place. I also use music for mood setting and to get myself deep into the characters. I think you need to write from a place of love. Once I’m writing I try to meet a specific word count each day. What that is depends on the book. Sometimes it’s a range rather than a word count. I work in the mornings in a specialist library, (Libraries again!) and so my writing time is mainly in the afternoons and evenings. I like noise around me while I work, music or terrible tv.


DJR: What have you written recently? What lies ahead?

JT: My most recent book is The Bookbinder’s Daughter, set in a magical library, for which I drew from my professional life as my imagination. It came out in September 2021 and is available now. It tells the story of Sophie, who returns to the library where she spent her childhood, where her Bookbinder mother disappeared, and finds a world of magic and mystery which needs her help if it is to survive. It is very much a book of the heart and there are so many elements of it I adore. Not least our hero Will, and his errant black cat Titivillus.

I am currently working on a new novel based on the legend of the lost city of Ys, The Water Witch, due out in 2022.


DJR: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

JT: It’s a cliché, I suppose, but write what you love, not just what you know. You’ll have so much more fun doing it. Don’t try to write what’s popular or successful at the moment. By the time you have finished your book that moment may have passed. Write the book you really, really want to read. It’s still hard work, but it’s worth it. And never give up.


Ruth Frances Long / Jessica Thorne writes romance and fantasy from the heart which often strays into weird and wonderful liminal places. She works in a specialized library of rare & occasionally crazy books.

As Ruth Frances Long she writes young adult fantasy, often about scary fairies. In 2015 she won the European Science Fiction Society Spirit of Dedication Award for Best Author of Children’s Science Fiction and Fantasy for A Crack in Everything.

As Jessica Thorne she writes adult fantasy women’s fiction, which wanders from Space Opera to time travel to epic fantasy, including The Bookbinder’s Daughter, The Lost Girl’s of Foxfield Hall, The Queen’s Wing, Mageborn and Nightborn. The Stone’s Heart was nominated for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Fantasy novel of the year in 2020.

Find her at:
@RFLong on Twitter

@JessThorneBooks on Twitter


Friday, January 21, 2022

Book Reviews: Two Ecological-Disaster Futures

Today the Earth is warming. By how much and where the mean final temperature will fall, we don't yet know. Much depends on how we use the decreasing window of action. This, of course, is fodder for science fiction writer. Suppose we fail to act, or fail to act in a timely fashion? Once the floods and wildfires, the population migration and species extinction have run their course, will oceans cover the globe? Might humanity find refuge on floating piles of garbage from centuries of discards? 

The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom)

In this ecodisaster future, warming temperatures and melted ice have resulted in a global ocean, devoid of solid land. Humans have survived on floating islands of garbage, arranged during The Great Sorting into various types. The island called Garbagetown has a district of electronic parts, Electric City one of expired prescription drugs, and so forth. The unwanted scraps of civilization provide a life that is at once filled with hope and despair. Their patron saint is St. Oscar the Grouch.

With a lot of jumping around in time, we follow Tetley Abednego from an earnest teenager to an adult universally reviled among the inhabitants of Garbagetown, although we don’t learn what her crime is until very much later. Any person is allowed to insult or physically assault her, short of killing her, on a whim, and all she is allowed to say is, “Thank you for my correction.” Her romance with Goodnight Moon leads to the revelation of a desperate scheme that will either bring the inhabitants of Garbagetown to dry land or destroy their future forever. Added to that, a strange device discovered in the mounds of discards comes to life with equally unexpected results.

Valente’s imagination never fails to bring to life worlds and peoples that are both fantastical and touchingly familiar. Despite the warning of a world in which melted ice has swelled the endless oceans, her characters embody hope and the human capacity to find joy and love even in the most depressing times. On the other hand, I had difficulty with the casual cruelty of Garbagetown inhabitants toward Tetley, especially before I had the context to understand the impact of what she had done. The jumping around in time confused me in places. But these objections pale beside the entirety of the story: endlessly inventive, often humorous, occasionally tragic, always hopeful.


Humans being humans, we will likely try to reverse the disaster of our own creation. Already there is talk of seeding the atmosphere to increase the sun's reflectivity, satellite-driven sunshields, plastic-eating bacteria, and the like. We who have grown up on speculative fiction ask, "What could possibly go wrong?" What, indeed--another ice age?

The Ice Lion, by Kathleen O'Neal Gear (DAW)

What a topical book! In the far future, the grand attempt to halt the Earth’s runaway warming has met with equal disaster. The result was a new and apocalyptic Ice Age with glaciers three miles high and a poisonous slime, “zyme” covering the oceans. As the planet descended into this frigid nightmare, the last scientists recreated species that had survived earlier Ice Ages: dire wolves, helmeted musk oxen, cave lions, and extinct, archaic human species like the Denisovans (distant relatives of Neanderthals) and Homo erectus. As the planet grows even colder, tribes of these hominids vie for territory and food.

Against this background, two teenaged friends, hunter Quiller and visionary Lynx navigate an increasingly hostile terrain. The cold seasons are growing ever longer and the “Rust People” more dangerous. When Lynx goes off on his marriage honeymoon and the camp is attacked by lions, he freezes. As a result, his new bride is killed and he is sentenced to exile and a spiritual journey to confront the mythic giant ice lion. Instead, he encounters an aged shaman who just might be the last of the true humans. Quiller, who has secretly been in love with Lynx, must choose between following him to defend him against the dangers of the wilderness and joining the fight to preserve her tribe.

This book, the first of “The Rewilding Reports” has many strengths. Prose that melts away, leaving the reader immersed in the story; a wealth of sensory detail that bring the world to vivid life; compelling characters and relationships; skillful clues and escalating revelations. The end marks a partial resting place where the drama of this first adventure is resolved but the characters still face ongoing danger and mysteries yet unsolved. Despite the bleakness of this future, the all-too-human denizens move forward with hope, joy in one another, and awesome competence.

A final word: There is apparently a new genre or subgenre of literature called "cli-fi." These two certainly fit, although I find the term unfortunately suggestive of something else.

Short Book Reviews: The Dark World of Mexican Vampires

 Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Tor)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia continues to knock my socks off, literarily speaking. Her Gods of Jade and Shadow was nothing short of breath-taking. Now she turns her wild and dark imagination to a vampire tale set in Mexico City. In this world, there are not one but many kinds of vampires, each with its own history, weaknesses, and predilection for bloodshed. Certain Dark Things tells the story of the perilous friendship between street-kid Domingo and Atl of the Aztec line of vampires whose family has been wiped out by the viciously violent narco-vampire clan. Atl is young and inexperienced in vampire terms and has led a carefree life, never having to make hard choices. Now she’s on the run for her immortal life. She’s the most beautiful woman Domingo has ever seen, and he can hardly believe his luck when she accepts his help. Atl’s only hope for a way to safety lies in fleeing Mexico, but to do that she needs documents available only through a secret and highly elusive vampire underground. Unfortunately, she soon attracts the attention of both crime bosses and a cop dedicated to exterminating her kind.

I’d classify this book as dark urban fantasy rather than horror, but it should appeal to readers of both genres. If you’ve never read Moreno-Garcia, you’re in for a treat.

Monday, January 17, 2022

I Survived a Nigerian Scam Part III: Disaster Mode


As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.

Part II: Raising the Stakes


Donations to the GoFundMe I had set up for C’s sister came in as I promoted it on social media and directly to friends and family. C ramped up his emotional manipulation and shifted to urgent/disaster mode.

C: Dec 3, 2021, 10:57 am. The doctor called today and  i went to see him. He said he's going to help talk to the financial department to allow us pay part payment so they can schedule S's surgery but he said the surgery will likely be January because of the Xmas break and that there are many patient awaiting sugary who has completed all payments. So he asked me how much we have to make deposit and i told him and he said the financial department will only accept a part payment of $7000 and we should make available the balance before the surgery will be carried out

C: The reason why he gave the suggestion is because he said if we make available the full payment Sarah must have to wait because other patients have already been scheduled for surgery and it might take a little bit long. He said it is better we have a date fix for the surgery why will raise funds instead of raising the full payment and still wait for the hospital to fix a date for the surgery

Commentary: C sent a phone photo of a one-page statement with a flat fee for dialysis and surgery. That struck me as odd, given the itemization by American hospitals. The other dubious thing was that the statement was signed by the nephrologist. Do Nigerian doctors handle hospital financial arrangements? And what hospital closes for the Christmas break? I wasn’t yet suspicious enough to try to verify details with an internet search. When I did that, I was unable to find the hospital (the name was a for-profit chain, but I didn’t see this specific location or specialty). The nephrologist was a real doctor who practiced in India. I found no mention of S in the entering classes of her medical school.

 What happened next was indeed fortunate. In the midst of C’s increasingly frequent and importunate pleas, Western Union declined to process the transfer twice. I went through two phone interviews, since apparently they flag all transfers to Nigeria, and as I answered, I could see the warnings go up, one after another. C began urging me to send the money through another, cash-based service, but I had to wait for Western Union to refund the money to my account. Then, almost by happenstance, I spoke with the manager and one of the tellers at my local bank. I do mean, “local.” We’re a close-knit community, and I’m on a first-name basis with the manager. The teller, upon hearing the situation, got very emotional about it being a scam. It turned out that a relative of hers had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to a romance scam. I wasn’t thrilled with her warnings, but her words caused me to step back and ask myself, “What if this really is a scam?”

Once I started questioning, the red flags went up everywhere. Most of them are mentioned above in my comments. What clinched it was this email from C:

Friday, January 14, 2022

Short Book Reviews: A Zimbabwean Ghost-Talker in Scotland

The Library of the Dead
, by T. L. Huchu (Tor)

This book is just marvelous. It’s got a near-future dystopic setting, with all the creative and dysfunctional ways people adapt to crumbling civilization and a devastated ecology. A world in which ghosts hang around, pleading to speak with their loved ones and a secret academy trains wizards in the depths of Edinburgh. Best of all, though, is teen narrator, Ropa, a “ghost talker” who blends her Zimbabwean heritage with snappy Scottish slang, a gift for compassion, and intellectual curiosity.

Life is hard enough for Ropa. Along with her grandmother and smart-talking younger sister, she lives in a decaying RV and is always behind on paying rent for their spot. She’s had to drop out of school, her ghost-talking work is unpredictable, and the future doesn’t offer much. To make matters worse, children have been disappearing…and when they’re found, they suffer from extreme premature aging. In a seemingly unrelated incident, an old school friend from a posh family sneaks her into an underground library of the occult where she’s threatened with immediate execution for trespass until she’s given a student pass. Now, armed with a new classmate, she’s off to discover who’s taking the missing children and what’s happened to them.

The voice of narrator Ropa is the best part of the book, vivid and compelling and smart. She’s so engaging that I kept turning pages even when it seemed the mystery and other story elements were never going to come together (they do!) It felt like a braided novel, but I was more than happy to go along with Ropa as the linking thread. It’s impossible to overstate how powerful the narrative voice was.


Monday, January 10, 2022

I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part II: Raising the Stakes


As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.

 The first part: Setting the Hook is here.

In April, 2021, C, the Nigerian, was back with another tragic tale.

C: i was called earlier today that my Dad was not feeling fine and his in the hospital.  Will be traveling tomorrow to P-- to see how's doing.

C: My heart is so heavy and i weep. Today life has brought me the greatest shock of my life and has left a wound in my heart. Why is life so unfair to me, why will i keep losing the once i love the most even in the face of untold hardship. I arrived P-- after 4 hours trip and gotten to the hospital i found out that the only thing that ever made sense and mean the world to me was no more and the reality of my present has left me with a broken heart and broken spirit. I lost my Dad today Deborah

C: Please i know am only your friend on fb and in a matter of fact i am not related to you in any way but you have been so kind to me irrespective of me being a stranger. Please help me talk to your family or probably your husband that i need you people assistant. People i never thought would assist me did that during my Dad's funeral and and i borrowed little money to add up with the one i have to make the burial successful as the first son. Please am begging you with what you hold secret. I need you help now than ever and i don't have who to run to. I need a loan of $300 so i can put things in other and pay few debts and take my younger once along with me. They can manage them self even if my house is not that big enough. I feel so ashamed of myself asking for help from you but i don't have a choice because if things were moving fine for me i won't have ask for any help from you.

 Commentary: By now I was firmly hooked, so I lent him $300. Notice that he asked to speak with my husband, figuring he might be an easier mark. I didn’t mention this to my husband, which left me feeling uneasy and dishonest. C and I spent a couple of months talking about how he could repay it. In the end, I forgave the loan. During July, he tried to get me to help set up an account at Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a crowdsourcing marketplace. Since I already had an Amazon account linked to my email address, it wasn’t possible. This was actually a trial run to see how far I would go using dubious means to promote his interests. I’m relieved it didn’t work, although even unsuccessful attempts served to further cement the relationship.

Direct gifts of money aren’t the only payoff for scammers. Setting up fraudulent accounts and campaigns like GoFundMe with the scammer as beneficiary are equally lucrative and, as in my case, don’t trip alarms as readily.

 C’s requests were coming at about monthly intervals. No sooner had I forgiven the loan (July 2021) than this arrived:

C: Aug 1, 2021.  Things has been so difficult for us this period. S (his sister) is about to sit for her exam next week and she said she will not be allowed to sit for the exam if she does not pay her school fee. S school fee for the whole academic session is $200. She's studying medicine.

C: If there's anyway you can help Sarah please do. She has refused to eat anything since morning and i feel for her. She said her friends in school will laugh at her for not being able to pay this session school feel. I just hope she won't do anything stupid to get her fee

 Commentary: The laudable cause of a young woman struggling through medical school was now irresistible. C’s last statement implied that unless I sent money, harm would come to her through desperation. I caved and sent the money.

 Here’s what happened next.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Short Book Reviews: Sinners and Saints by Jennifer Roberson

In my review of Life and Limb, I wrote: “A new Jennifer Roberson novel is always a treat, but a new Jennifer Roberson series is a cause for celebration.” Sinners and Saints, which continues the story of Gabe and Remi, an ex-con biker and a Texas cowboy, is even better! The two unlikely brothers-in-spirit share part-angelic ancestry and all-too-human limitations. Now, abandoned by their heavenly guide and thrown on their own resources, they’re about to face an unexpected menace: the spirit of Jack the Ripper (yes, that Jack the Ripper) who is bent on savagely murdering women who share the names of his historical victims. As if that weren’t enough of a challenge, Lucifer’s own shock troops are out to destroy the two.

Sinners and Saints succeeds on so many levels: fascinating world-building that draws from diverse folklore, myths, and legends, plot twists and superbly handled tension to keep the pages turning, and a mystery worthy of a volume of its own. The best part for me, though, is the hallmark of Roberson’s work: the depth and intricacy of her characters. Gabe and Remi are not only heroes to fall in love with over and over, but reminders that even fallible humans are capable of tremendous courage, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. No matter what the odds and reversals, no matter how many times they stumble, they never give up. The world is a better, more hopeful place with them in it.

Monday, January 3, 2022

I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part I: Setting the Hook

I don’t consider myself naïve about scams. I know to never give out any my bank or credit card numbers, Social Security number, or date of birth to anyone who phones me out of the blue. In fact, when I am in a cranky mood, I might lecture the caller about how what they’re doing is fraud. I read articles about romance, grandkid-in-jail, phony arrest warrants, and other scams. As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.

It all began in July 2020 with a Facebook Friend request from a young man in Nigeria. I didn’t believe that all Nigerians were scammers. Some very fine science fiction writers are Nigerian Americans. I accepted his request. Here’s his response.

 C (the Nigerian): Where are you from? I'm from West Africa. Nigeria precisely! I know not every white lady likes comunicating with a black man  and i hope in your own case it's different. I have had couple of friends here on fb and when ever i tell them i come from Africa and Nigeria they see you as an asshole and stop talking to you because am black and i come from Africa. I still have good white friends that has influence me positively and i respect them so much. I wish every white lady out there can see things the way you do.

Commentary: From the first, C tackled the issue of Nigerian scammers and put me on the defensive about his race. On face value, this seemed to be reassurance that he is not a scammer. In actuality, he was fishing for a response of, “I’m not racist, so I will trust you.” Then he added another layer of what an admirable person he is. This will be a recurring them. He used praise as a manipulative tool. 

Over the next couple of months, C sent messages like these:

8/3/20, 10:59 am. You stopped writing

8/16/20, 2:29 pm. Hello

9/2020: Things are really deficult for i and my family right now and i was thinking about starting a frozen food bussinss here but i don't have the capital to start with. I discussed it with a friend in the US and he said he was going to help me. So, he helped in set up a gofundme campaign and here is the link. He's name is M a very good friend of mine i met on fb.

C: Life over here in Nigeria is really not easy. I'm a graduate of civil engineering but ever since i finished school no firm wants to hire me for my service. It is more political over here searching for a job because jobs are only given to relatives, family members and well wishes. If you don't have someone who has connection to help you, getting a job becomes difficult.

 Commentary: First, C demanded my attention. He elicited reassurance as well as the commitment of my timely responses. Then he segued into how hard life is for him, what an admirable person he is, and how an American friend is trying to help him. (This was one of C’s tactics to convince me that it was okay to act on C’s behalf because others have done it.) This GoFundMe ended before reaching its goal.

 Later in September, 2020, came the first request for money.