Posted in Behind the Pages, Reviews, Traveling Sisters Reads

Behind the Pages Q & A with Tosca Lee Author of The Line Between & A Single @ToscaLee

Tosca Lee joined us in our Behind The Pages Goodreads group and shared some insight into her writing process and her The Line Between Series The Line Between & A Single Light. I am excited to share some of Q & A here today on our blog.

Brenda: Thank you, Tosca for joining us!

Tosca: Hello, Traveling Sisters!! Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening!! It’s been such a pleasure to get to interact with you this last year as these books have come out, and I so appreciate your readership, reviews, and the way you advocate for books, readers and authors!

Brenda: How did you choose the names for your characters? I personally love the name Chase. It’s my son’s name.

Tosca: I’m starting with the question of how I come up with character names, and the answer is that some of my choices are very deliberate, and some just happen. On the deliberate side, there’s Wynter, who is named after my step-daughter, who was the same age when I began writing The Line Between. Chase (love this name!) was a name that came along as I was looking for something that would go with his rugged but restless spirit.

Then there is the Reverend–a minor character who was named Carolyn Richtel after the real Carolyn–a hospice worker in AZ–bought the spot in a charity auction. I haven’t always gotten to do this, having written books that were biblical or historical in nature in the past, so it was really fun for me to be able to offer a spot up in this way.

One of my favorite names was for Piper’s husband, Jax–nicknamed Jax Daniels. Btw, Piper was original Carolyne before the charity auction happened.

Brenda: How did you go about creating your characters? Were any of the characters harder for you to write than others? Do you have a favourite character that you liked writing more than any others?

Tosca: In the sequel, my new favorite character, Otto, was named after one of my longtime fans’ last name. I really love incorporating the first and/or last names of fans and sometimes post while I’m writing asking for volunteers–with the caveat that I reserve the right to make them jerks or kill them. ;D

I really like the idea of slipping into another character’s shoes and skin. Generally, writing characters is one of my favorite parts of creating stories because it seems like you can never make them too complex or multi-faceted–because real people are like that. Every now and then I have to revisit a character because I just know there’s more to them–and I need to dig that out a bit more. This was the case with my initial pass with Wynter. I had to find where she was walking that line between knowing something was off in the cult, but also trying to adhere to the only world system she knew. It took a few tries, and ultimately I had to rely on my own very strict and sometimes difficult religious upbringing for reference. It was hard to go there, but once I did… things made more sense. That’s the common ground I met Wynter on.

As for favorites… Otto in A Single Light has become my new favorite. I knew there would be someone to come along in that story–I just didn’t know who or what he’d be like until I got there. And then there Otto was. I don’t think I’ve giggled quite as much as I did writing his scenes

Brenda: What does your writing day look like to you? What is the one thing you struggle with the most in your writing process?

Tosca: I don’t have much of a typical writing day–every day can be different depending on what stage of writing I’m in: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, rewriting, editing… And often in between books, I don’t write–mostly because I’m playing catch up with everything else and trying to pick up all the balls I dropped while working. That’s the hard part for me: I seem to only be able to focus well on one thing at a time!

The other thing that makes my schedule unpredictable is that when I married my single father husband (you can learn more about him at @TheFarmerBryan on Instagram), I became an insta-mom to four. So this-single-city-girl-turned-farmer’s-wife-and-mom-of-four has had some steep learning curve lessons in country life, kids, and trying to find time for everything! 😀 But I’ve loved every minute of it

I can tell you that drafting is probably my least favorite part of writing. I know that’s where the magic happens–and fun, unexpected things do occur! But it’s also a very messy process and is the least contained part of it. I really love rewriting because finally those sentences start to sound smoother and things make more sense. 🙂

As for “typical,” though, don’t be fooled by images from awards banquets and trips to NYC–98% of this job involves sweatpants with dog goobers on them and ponytails with dirty hair. 😉

Brenda: How did you come up with the idea for this series?

Tosca: I was on my way to meet with my publisher about what my next two books should be and I had just seen a headline a few nights before about a reindeer in Siberia that melted in the permafrost. The carcass turned out to be filled with anthrax and a nearby village got sick and a young boy died. I remember thinking this was fascinating and terrifying, and added the idea of a disease coming out of the permafrost to my list of idea scenarios–which also included a story about a young woman leaving a cult and starting over in the outside world, among others.

My publisher, when we met, said, “I like these two. I think you should put them together!” I thought he was crazy at first. But then I went home and started putting it together, and really enjoyed the story!

Brenda: Did you plot out the stories or did it come together as you were writing? Did you have The Line Between completed and then wrote A Single Light or did you mapped out them together?

Tosca: Hahaha, I ought to let my editor friend who goes through all my manuscripts before I turn them in to my publisher answer this.

The short answer is that I normally plot a little more than I did on my initial draft of The Line Between. There are two genera camps in the novel-writing community–the plotters and panthers (who write by the seat of their pants). I am a plotter with some pantsing tendencies. But I still have to plot. So the initial draft of The Line Between did not come together. It was a mess. I had to rewrite it from the ground up a couple times before it finally worked.

My editor friend said, “Um, we need to talk before you start the sequel.” And we did, and I laid that baby out in enough detail that I knew what was going on and the writing flew by and was SO much easier. You’d think after a dozen books (I’ve got a couple that haven’t sold yet) I’d know better, but we all keep learning along the way.

To the other part of your question: the smart thing to do would probably be to plot the second book before writing or at least finishing the first one. But in both my duologies, I did not do this. So by the time I finished the first one, I knew I had written myself into a challenging corner, and that my job in the second book was to write myself out of it–preferably at a faster pace with higher stakes than the first book, if possible. 🙂 And I think that was kind of the fun of it–that I was in the same situation as my characters. But I have to admit that it has made for sleepless nights. I remember gearing up to write Firstborn (the sequel to The Progeny) and thinking, “How does one take down an entire European cabal???” 😀

Brenda: Things get pretty intense in A Single Light and became quite the action-packed race against time. How were you able to maintain that tension? Was that something you mapped out or did the story guide you?

Tosca: So this time I mapped it–mostly. I always leave some wiggle room and I didn’t realize that there’d be as much to the drama underground at the beginning of the book. But when I got in there, I really loved exploring it and the claustrophobic feeling of the situation. So there’s always a little discovery along the way, but in order to make up for the time I spent rewriting the first book so many times and to maintain the relentless pace of the action, I had to be very cognizent about events and the passage of time vs. the stakes Wynter and Chase were up against. It was a very intense three months of writing for me with a lot of all-nighters or 4am bedtimes.

Brenda: Is there anything you hope readers will get from your books?

Tosca: The first thing is entertainment. I really hope readers who come to my stories get the escape that we look for in fiction. Beyond that, I hope they get a few heart palpitations (:D), or that they sigh or laugh or are just so in the moment that time slips by and suddenly it’s well past bedtime. I hope they’re inspired and learn or think about something new, too. But above all, I hope they enjoy themselves.

To read more of our Q & A with Tosca Lee you can find here

Thank you so much Tosca for our copies of both books!

Posted in Reviews

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica @HarlequinBooks @parkrowbooks

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica is now available and even though Norma and I both recommend this story for a fun and entertaining read are thoughts on this one are like oil and water. I am the oil and Norma’s the water. Our reviews might not mix but we sure had fun!!

Norma’s Water

Compulsive, twisty & wholly absorbing!

There is a reason that I have been an avid fan of this author since her debut novel, The Good Girl. She writes these extremely unsettling and twisty thrillers that are absolutely hypnotic to read. She has this ability at setting the mood that hooks me in almost immediately. There also is this strong sense of foreboding that I find extremely appealing making it quite the suspenseful read.

THE OTHER MRS. by MARY KUBICA is a fast-paced, chilling, dark, psychological thriller that is absolutely unputdownable. Even though I had some things figured out quite early on in the novel MARY KUBICA has this way of keeping you fully engaged that it doesn’t matter one iota that you think you know where the story is headed. For some reason she makes it fun to figure it out on your own and then when that final jaw-dropping twist comes out you are completely gobsmacked and blown away. Well I was anyway. I find this technique extremely satisfying and rewarding. It’s like she hides things in plain sight and then as you are puzzling things together you are totally taken by surprise because you were focused on that one area and not actually what was happening on the whole.

MARY KUBICA delivers an atmospheric, clever, intense, well-crafted, and executed tale here that seamlessly moves forward without ever breaking stride. The story is told in three alternating POV’s between Sadie, Camille, and a young girl named Mouse. Each of these characters have their own unique and distinct voice that definitely brings out something mysterious and appealing into the storyline. Unreliable characters are my absolute favourite and add in a dose of secrets and lies then I am one happy reader!

Brenda’s oil

Hot Diggity splat! The Other Mrs. is a twisty yet convoluted psychological thriller that did have me thinking I was quite clever for picking up on those clues along the way. It does require suspending disbelief, and as I was reading this one, I found it fun and entertaining. The ending pushed things a little over the edge for me and that over-thinker in me took over and ruined it all for me.

Norma’s Stats:
Cover: Love this chilling and beautiful cover!
Title: Intriguing, effective, fantastic, and fitting representation to storyline.
Writing/Prose: Well-written, gripping, gifted, and suspenseful.
Plot: Intriguing, foreboding, suspenseful, entertaining, captivating, intense, dark, disturbing, twisty, and fast-paced.
Ending: An unexpected, jaw-dropping, twist ending that totally blew me away!
Overall: 4.5 Stars! It was an extremely entertaining, twisty, and enjoyable psychological thriller that ended up totally taking me by surprise. I absolutely loved the ride and I highly recommend it!

Thank to you the publisher for our copies to read and review.

Posted in Reviews

Get it Today Tuesday: Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin @CeladonBooks

Some books are just meant to be discussed and Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin is one of them. It is a book club gem with so much to talk about. Celadon Books gifted the Traveling Sisters copies of this book club gem to read and discuss in our group. Overall we struggled with the wordiness of the book that distracted us from the story, however, by reading it in a group, each of us picked up on different things and brought them to the discussion. We started to see more insight into the story making this a fascinating and meaningful discussion. Now on to our review

Brenda’s review

Saint X is a detailed character study with a mystery layered in.  It’s a slow burn and takes some patience here with just how wordy it is.  The story is told through a few different characters with each bringing some details to the mystery. There is a bit of dancing around there and I struggled with keeping my reading groove going.  For this busy reader, it slowed down the story for me and I lost some patience. I wasn’t sure what to pay attention to or not, however, the thing is every detail adds to the study of the character here.  This is where our discussion became valuable as I picked up on some different things that I missed in the “dancing details”. 

The real strength of the story here for me is the two settings used.  The luxury resort adds complex and complicated dynamics here with the characters as themes of class, race and obsession are explored.  I loved how that added tension to the serene atmosphere of the island. Now I have to admit I am getting a little tired with the whole “privilege” storylines out there that are starting to feel a bit stereotyped to me.   Well here is in Saint X, Alexis Schaitkin takes a look through the setting of the beautiful and serene luxury resort, and we see “different people” brought together who are not so different but who are people living their lives.  They are bonded together by a tragedy that takes place on the island and then they go back to living their daily lives as they deal with the tragedy in different ways. 

The ending didn’t come together as well as I had hoped it would have with one of the reveals that felt it was used for shock value, however that was not how all the Traveling Sisters felt.  For them, they didn’t see it as shock value. I suggest giving this a try and see where you fall with the ending. I especially recommend it for Group reads.  

Norma’s review

Emotionally-charged, descriptive & powerful!

SAINT X by ALEXIS SCHAITKIN is a slow burn psychological tale that often meanders. It has quite the interesting and fascinating premise though but didn’t always possess my full attention. I think this is my very first book that I found myself wanting to skim as I was getting a little impatient at getting to the climax of the novel. The pacing was extremely slow at times and I definitely got a little bit annoyed with all the extremely wordy and long passages. The writing in itself though was quite lyrical and beautiful but it wasn’t quite enough to make this a thrilling or exciting book for me to read. I was interested and engaged enough though that I needed to know how the story ended.

ALEXIS SCHAITKIN delivers quite the interesting character study, thought-provoking, powerful and well-written story here that had extremely long chapters, was a little bit overly descriptive and dense to make this a fully enjoyable novel for me. I think the author totally excelled with how exceptionally well-developed and portrayed these mostly unlikeable characters were though. I also thoroughly enjoyed the true crime atmosphere to the storyline and loved how we got an inside look into how all the pertinent characters were affected by this tragedy at the end of each chapter.

Lindsay’s review

College student, Alison Thomas, is found dead after disappearing while on vacation with her parents at a prestigious tropical resort. Two employees of the resort are taken in for questioning but released due to lack of evidence. This story follows the aftermath of Alison’s death showing multiple characters’ perspectives of the impact Alison’s death held on them.

The flow and narration of this novel is extremely unique. I was intrigued by how this story was unfolding for the majority of the book, but closer to the end it became overdone and drawn out. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into multiple characters lives and views, however, I did find a lot of the detail to those side stories unnecessary and repetitive. The narrative became too wordy and overly descriptive which took away from my enjoyment. I did enjoy the feel of suspense throughout that kept me curious until the end.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and found it to be a unique reading experience, just not as gripping or impactful as I had hoped.

Norma’s Stats:
Cover: Love this beautiful cover!
Title: Intriguing, effective, and a fitting representation to storyline.
Writing/Prose: Well-written, lyrical, beautiful, wordy, and overly descriptive.
Plot: Interesting, thought-provoking, emotional, powerful, meandering, and a little monotonous at times.
Ending: Hmmmm, I’m not exactly sure what I think of this ending. Did it give me all the answers? I think so. Did it satisfy me fully and do I really care? Not really.
Overall: I think there is definitely lots to talk about with this one and I think the reading experience would have been so much better if I had read this in a group environment. I think it would make a great book club book. Would recommend it!

Posted in Reviews, The Sisters Recommend, Traveling Sisters Reads

Not To Be Missed Monday: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James @BerkleyPub

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James is available tomorrow February 18, 2020 and it’s one not to be missed. Read this one, eat, drink and be scared!! We highly recommend!

Brenda’s review

Boo Hah! Hot spooktacular Diggity dang that was one fa-boo-lous scary good read that had me shaking my boo-ty to the creepy good vibe to this story. (I know how many puns can I get in one sentence) Hehee! It is one not to be missed!

The Sun Down Motel is an exciting, gripping, entertaining supernatural thriller, with one of the best characters here with the setting that I have read. The rundown motel takes on a life of its own and had me wanting to pull the covers over my eyes while reading it.

This is some excellent storytelling by Simone St. James that doesn’t tell a story but draws you into the story and makes you feel you are living in it. It had my heart pounding right from the start with the suspense and tension that rises with each page. It has a cinematic feel to it that makes it exciting and entertaining.

The mystery and secrets hidden in the walls of this eerie and haunting setting are brilliantly woven together. The characters are interesting, quirky and are so fun and entertaining. I loved everything about this story!!

Norma’s review

Spooky, spine-tingling suspense, and creepy!

THE SUN DOWN MOTEL by SIMONE ST. JAMES is an engrossing, dark, gripping, chilling, and fabulous gothic mystery/thriller that I was immediately drawn into. I was totally immersed in this tale and completely devoured the supernatural aspects in this story. The story was so darn entertaining with that creepy and eerie haunted motel setting that I found this to be absolutely irresistible and un-put-down-able!!!!

SIMONE ST. JAMES delivers quite the atmospheric, captivating, engaging, mysterious, suspenseful and well-written story here told in dual timelines and perspectives between the past and the present. I sometimes enjoy one timeline and perspective over another but this one I am happy to say that they both equally intrigued and fascinated me.

Lindsay’s review

A dark, engrossing, chilling, gothic, suspenseful, atmospheric, mysterious thriller! Loved it!!!

After her mother’s death, Carly moves to the small town of Fell, to investigate the disappearance of her mothers sister, Vivian. Decades earlier, Carly’s aunt Vivian took a job as the night clerk at the remote Sun Down Motel. Unexplained strange things happen at this motel including the disappearance of Vivian from her shift one night. Police investigation provides no answers as to what happened to Vivian. Haunted by the tragedy that happened before she was born, Carly begins her search at the Sun Down Motel, only to be offered a job as the night clerk. Carly finds herself in the same role that her aunt Vivian had before she vanished. Will Carly be able to uncover the long buried secrets and get the answers she hopes for?

I loved this book! The atmosphere was thick! I felt every spine-tingling scare that Carly felt. I was with her there in that run down motel, holding my breath in anticipation of what would happen next. The author, Simone St. James, created a storyline that completely engrossed me within the suspense and mystery. I felt like I truly knew the characters, the small town and the motel. The story is brilliantly narrated in two timelines/perspectives – through Carly in 2017 and her aunt Vivian in 1982. Loved the pace and flow – it kept me curious and hungry to read “just one more chapter.” My one tiny critique is that I felt a couple things near the end were a stretch for me to accept.

I will warn you that this novel is quite ghost-y. I am not one who generally attracts to ghost-y type novels, however, this story simply felt so real and kept me fully immersed and invested that I never doubted the supernatural element.

I read and loved Simone St. James’ previous novel, The Broken Girls. This book was just as good! I’m a huge fan and look forward to what this author comes out with next! I must make note of how much I LOVE THIS COVER!!

Norma’s Stats:
Cover: That cover is absolutely perfect for a creepy and haunting story!! I think it is such a striking & welcoming design that immediately caught my eye and definitely enticed me into needing to read this book.
Title: A simply perfect, chilling, impactful and fabulous representation to storyline.
Writing/Prose: Well-written, fluid, suspenseful, and engaging.
Plot: Engrossing, creepy, captivating, haunting, interesting, riveting, fast-paced, and entertaining.
Ending: Whoa! Absolutely loved it!
Overall: 4.5 Stars! This was an all around fabulous book for me and the perfect ghost story! Would highly recommend!

Thank you so much to Elisha at Berkley Publishing for gifting us a copy!

Posted in Reviews

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West @BerkleyPub @kwestbooks #BookReview

Timely, relevant & compelling!

MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES by KATHLEEN WEST is a fascinating, artful, and captivating debut novel that immediately grabbed my attention and held strong right to the very end. There is a full cast of characters here but mainly revolves around Julia Abbott a stage mom who is your typical helicopter parent and a school teacher, Isobel Johnson who Julia is harassing. The soap opera antics of Julia Abbott made this quite entertaining, amusing and definitely a fun one for me to read.

There are quite a few subjects explored here and characters to follow along with but surprisingly this wasn’t a heavy read by no means for me and I didn’t seem to have a problem with keeping everyone straight. The multiple character perspectives made this quite interesting and an easy book to read that I zipped right through.

KATHLEEN WEST delivers an intriguing, witty, and well-written story here that was extremely readable. I really appreciated that while I would say that this was more of a lighthearted tale it did have a substantial amount of truth and value to the storyline. The author did a wonderful job of fully immersing me into this story and keeping me interested. I can totally see this story being made into a movie.

Brenda’s review

Another winning from our “not our normal read” stack of books that Elisha from Berkley sends our way!!

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West was such a great surprise for me and I loved the different take she took on high school politics, the privileged bubble and those overbearing parents known as helicopter parents. She takes an interesting and sharp look through helicopter mother who becomes the gossip of the school and teacher Isobel whose teaching methods come under fire by those helicopter parent. They find themselves each with a different conflict that catches up to them on social media and through the students’ POV, we see how they become the ones with the voice of reason.

The clean pose and tight plotting around the adults behaving badly keeps the drama low and there is no teenage drama, allowing the story to be fun and entertaining from start to finish.

Norma’s Stats:
Cover: Eye-catching, relevant, intriguing, impactful and excellent representation to storyline.
Title: The title immediately intrigued me and I think it is a fitting representation to storyline. There was definitely plenty of drama to be had here and some catastrophic decisions that’s for sure.
Writing/Prose: Well-written, readable, straightforward, easy to follow, and captivating.
Plot: Engrossing, lighthearted, relevant, funny, shocking, thought-provoking, interesting, steadily-paced, and entertaining.
Ending: A satisfying, fun, pleasing, and neat resolution.
Overall: This was a very good, fun, entertaining, and lighthearted book with some substance that I thoroughly enjoyed. Would recommend!

Thank you so much to Elisha at Berkley Publishing for kindly gifting us a copy of this book.

Posted in Reviews

When You See Me by Lisa Gardner @DuttonBooks @LisaGardnerBks

This is exactly why we have been faithful fans for so many years of LISA GARDNER. She keeps knocking out fantastic books. We absolutely loved this latest installment in her Detective D.D. Warren series with Book # 11. This is an author that we can always count on that never disappoints and always delivers such fantastic mystery/thrillers that are gripping, emotional, action-packed and packed full of nail-biting suspense. It’s no secret that we are huge fans and we have read all of her novels to date. She is one of the few authors that we have read right from the very beginning and have continued on throughout the years, getting super excited with each new release. That speaks volumes of how talented this author is!

Brenda’s review

Hot Diggity dang!!! Lisa Gardner brings back three of my favorite characters, serial killer survivor turned vigilante Flora Dane, Sergeant Detective D.D. Warren and FBI Agent Kimberly Quincy here in When You See Me. This team go together like tea and biscuits with Flora being the strong bag of leaves here as she faces her worse fears and traumatic past with kidnapper Jacob Ness. The dynamics between these strong characters are fresh, humorous and exciting. Computer analyst and true crime enthusiast Keith is by Flora’s side and I loved the warm relationship growing between the two.

The story is intriguing, a bit different with some great twists and turns but it’s all about the characters and connections for me here. D.D. warmly takes a character under her wing and I hope to see more of the character in the future.

We read this in our Traveling Sister reading group and one sister read this one as a stand-alone and thought it worked however if you are new to these characters I suggest starting with Find Her where we first meet Flora Dane.

Norma’s review

Compelling, nerve-racking, & absolutely unputdownable!

WHEN YOU SEE ME by LISA GARDNER (Detective D.D. Warren #11) is a complex, gripping, suspenseful, twisty, emotional and intense thriller which unites three of my most favorite characters ever – Detective D.D. Warren, Flora Dane, and Kimberly Quincy.

LISA GARDNER creates such compelling, well-developed, fabulous and dynamic characters that you can’t help but love and be emotionally invested in. I absolutely loved that this story was told from multiple perspectives of all the key players here. This definitely added to the tension for me and definitely helped to set the mood. Although this story is quite intense it was also quite fun, touching and emotional to read. There was a scene with Flora and Keith that completely warmed my heart. I have never ever read anything so beautiful.

Norma’s Stats:
Cover/Title: Intriguing, appealing, and fitting representation to storyline.
Writing/Prose: Compulsively readable, notable, strong, impressive, well-written, entertaining, engrossing, and prolific.
Plot: Suspenseful, emotional, complex, riveting, fast-paced, dark, thrilling, captivating, taut, twisty, and entertaining.
Ending: An action-packed, surprising, thrilling, and explosive ending!
Overall: Another stellar read from the Queen of Thrillers that had me immediately hooked and completely riveted. Highly recommend!

We received our copies from NetGalley and EW.