Social Media Icons

Friday, September 28, 2018

REVIEW: Pippa by Malynda Schlegel @malyndaschlegel

by Malynda Schlegel

A big thanks to the author for this copy in return for my honest review.
I'd buy this just for the cover alone. 

In the small town of Pepper Rock, there lives a family.

A daddy,
a mommy,
a little girl.

In the town, there are whispers.
Don't get close.
That girl isn't good.
She's just like her parents.

My name is Pippa.
I like my life,
the company I keep.
And I'm not supposed to like it.

My Review:

The cover immediately makes me think horror.  When the author presented this book, she did tell me it was psychological suspense, but it had been a few weeks before I had a moment to read it.  Somehow I still expected a horror element - but really, there's not much more horrific than a creepy kid right?

This definitely falls in the psychological suspense category but I would also file it under a character study.  Pippa is quite the character.  Doesn't have the greatest home life and when left with just her father, she has to learn to fend for herself.  They play a mostly silent and interesting manipulative game between each other.  When left to her own devices, she ends up finding two other kids on her block that also don't have the best home life.  Yet she prefers the company of her father and craves his acceptance above all else.

It took a few chapters to try and figure out exactly what I was reading.  This isn't a book that has that big plot line where a mystery needs to be solved, or something big hits you over the head and you're wondering what the hell is happening.  Instead, this is a slow burn where the author does a fantastic job in building the atmosphere of this small town and putting you right inside Pippa's head.

I'm torn in the subtlety of the various relationships between the characters without ever pushing you over that cliff... and yet it also makes the ending a bit more impactful.   This one is a thinker for me.  I appreciate the build of Pippa and getting to know her and her strange ways.... and yet I still also felt like I needed more. 

A perfect read for those who love that character study of a little girl who is forced to grow up much faster than she should.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

SPOTLIGHT: 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by James Mustich @jamesmustich @workmanpub

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: 
A Life-Changing List
by James Mustich

Thank you so much to Workman Publishing Company for this valuable resource and amazing compilation.  There is something for EVERY reader in this book!  Scroll down to learn more, read a Q&A and see if he'll be stopping on his tour near YOU!

Publisher:  Workman Publishing Company
Publish Date:  October 2, 2018
960 Pages

Pre-Order: AMAZON

It’s time to talk books—and the conversation starts here.

Encompassing fiction, poetry, science and science fiction, memoir, travel writing, biography, children’s books, history, and more, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die moves across cultures and through time to present an eclectic collection of titles, each described with the special enthusiasm readers summon when recommending a book to a friend.

                The expected pillars are here, including Jane Austen and Toni Morrison, Virgil, Dante, Dickens and Tolstoy, Franz Kafka and Simone de Beauvoir—their works made fresh through the author’s animated essays. Established classics are joined by new and unexpected choices like Citizen and Friday Night LightsA Visit from the Goon Squad and The Pillow Bookof Sei ShōnagonThe Day of the Jackal and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The result is a treasury of essential reading for expansive tastes.

                The book’s alphabetical listing by last name results in the serendipity of juxtaposition—Cormac McCarthy’s The Roadnext to Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, John le Carré next to Ursula K. Le Guin next to Harper Lee. Following each entry are rich endnotes that include publication dates and preferred editions, other books by the same author, related books to try, and listings of worthy adaptations, including movies and audiobooks. In total, more than six thousand titles by thirty-five hundred authors are recommended.

                A Miscellany of Special Lists at the end of the book offers the reader surprising entry points into the collection, such as “Books to Read in a Sitting,” including The Little Virtuesby Natalia Ginzburg and The Third Man by Graham Greene, and “Offbeat Escapes,” including Freya Stark’s The Valleys of the Assassins and Felice Benuzzi’s No Picnic on Mount Kenya. For the truly dedicated reader, “A Long Climb, but What a View”—a perfect way to describe those mountainous texts we long to scale, such as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Shelby Foote’s The Civil War.

                An insightfully curated personal compendium that will inspire hours of browsing and a lifetime of reading, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die celebrates the gorgeous mosaic that is our literary heritage.

James Mustich began his career in bookselling at an independent book store in Briarcliff Manor, New York, in the early 1980s. In 1986, he co-founded the acclaimed book catalog, A Common Reader, and was for two decades its guiding force. He subsequently has worked as an editorial and product development executive in the publishing industry. He lives with his wife, Margot Greenbaum Mustich, in Connecticut.

A Conversation with James Mustich

Can you share with us why you decided to write 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die?

I've been an avid reader since I was a kid, and most of my adult life has been spent as a bookseller.  As a result, the search for what to read next - whether for myself as a reader or on behalf of others as a bookseller - has never been far from my mind.  In 1986, I co-founded a mail-order book catalog called A Common Reader, and spent the next two decades running that venture, which, luckily for me, consisted largely of writing about books old and new, of every subject and style.  The late Peter Workman, founder of Workman Publishing and to me both mentor and friend, took an abiding interest in A Common Reader.  After Workman had success with Patricia Schultz's marvelous 1,000 Place to See Before You Die, Peter conceived a series of similar volumes on other themes, and he talked to me about one focused on our shared personal and professional passion.  Since it was a project that brought together all the things I loved - reading, writing, the conversation with other book lovers that animates our reading lives - I singed up to deliver it.  That was fourteen years ago!

How does one start writing a book about 1,000 books?

Procrastination, next to reflection, being a writer's most constant companion, I spent months - was it years? - making lists of thousands of titles and arranging and rearranging them according to various frameworks.  Of course, any exercise in curation provokes questions of discernment, and even philosophy, which can easily lead to befuddlement; in the case of books, since they are carriers of such varied knowledge in themselves, it can be paralyzing.  A book about 1,000 books could take so many different shapes:  It could be a canon of classics; it could be a history of human thought and a tour of its significant disciplines; it could be a celebration of storytelling and its influences; it could be a record of popular delights (or even delusions).

But the crux of the difficulty was a less complicated truth:  Readers read in so many different ways that any one standard of measure is inadequate.  Keeping such diversity of appetite in mind, and hoping to have something to satisfy every kind of reading yen, I wanted to make 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die expansive in its tastes, encompassing revered classics and commercial favorites, flights of escapist entertainment and enlightening works of erudition.  And since the title invoked a lifetime, there had to be room for books for children and adolescents.  What criteria could I apply to accommodate such a menagerie - to give plausibility to the idea that Where The Wild Things Are belongs in the same collection as In Search of Lost Time, that Aeneas and Sherlock Holmes could be companions, that a persuasive collection could begin, in chronological terms, with THe Epic of Gilgamesh, written over 4,000 years ago, and wend it way to Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, published in 2004, and beyond?

I came upon the clue i needed in a passage written by the critic Edmund Wilson, describing "the miscellaneous learning of the bookstore, unorganized by any larger purpose, the undisciplined undirected curiosity of the indolent lover of reading,"  There, I knew instinctively, was a workable conceit:  What if I had a bookstore that could hold only 1,000 volumes, and i wanted to ensure it held not only books for all time but also books for the moment, books to be savored over several months or devoured in a night?  A shop where any reading inclination - be it for thrillers or theology, or theological thrillers - might find reward.  In the end, I was back in my favorite haunt, a browser's version of paradise.  That end, of course, was only the beginning - I still had a lot of writing to do!

You've been working on this book for fourteen years, how did it change over time?

A thousand books felt for years like far too many to get my head around, but now it seems too few by several multiples.  So let me say what already should be obvious:  1,000 Books to Read Before You Die is neither comprehensive nor authoritative, even if a good number of the titles assembled here would be on most lists of essential reading.  It is meant to be an invitation to a conversation - even a merry argument - about the books and authors that are missing as well as the books and authors included, because the question of what to read next is the best prelude to even more important ones, like who to be, and how to live.  It's that sense of the project as a conversation rather than an inert compendium that developed over time, shaped by hundred of encounters I've had in the course of working on it.

How did you determine which books made the cut?

Rigorous, serendipitous, haphazard, careful, evangelical, dutiful, responsible, recklessly personal - all of these at once.  A thousand titles provided a broad enough scope that I was able to apply one of those adjectives to my selection process on any given day without too much guilt.  There were, of course, a core set of questions at the back of my mind that every choice anchored to in one way or another.  What classics were compelling enough to earn a spot?  Which kids' books are so timeless they made the grade? What currents of thought retained their currency?  Which life stories were larger than their protagonists' life spans? Not least, what authors did I love so much that they might be ushered in without their credentials being subject to too much scrutiny?

How did you start recommending books to people?

While working at Books 'n' Things in Briarcliff Manor in the early 1980s, I learned to listen to customers and, eventually, to make useful, interesting, and potentially life-changing recommendations.  The last hyphenated adjective may sound grandiose, but the truth is good booksellers are modest only in salary (my starting pay at the store in question, I recall, was something like $2.70 an hour, all of it put at risk by the generous employee discount on offer).  At heart, booksellers are missionaries who seek "to spread good books about, to sow them on fertile minds, to propagate understanding and a carefulness of life and beauty," as Roger Mifflin, the protagonist of Christopher Morley's novel The Haunted Bookshop, puts it.

If you could go back in time and meet any author included in a book, who would you choose to meet and why?

Madame Germaine de Stael.  Born in 1766, she died in 1817.  She was a towering figure of her tumultuous age, a brilliant novelist (author of Corinne, or Italy, which I have among by 1,000) and a penetrating thinker on politics and society.  A French writer of the time succinctly captured her influence by saying there were three European powers vying against Napoleon:  "England, Russi, and Madame de Stael."  She is mentioned by Tolstoy in War and Peace, and much of his consideration in that book of the cumulative influence of individual human wills upon history seems informed by her earlier expression of the idea.  The biographer Richard Holmes put it best when he wrote, "... she was a truly extraordinary woman who courageously created a new role in society, one even larger than that of her irrepressible heroine Corinne.  This role was that of the independent, freelance, female intellectual in Europe."  Makes you want to know more, right?

How many authors from 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die have you met, and did any of them tell you their favorite books during your meeting?

I've been fortunate enough to meet a number of them over the years.  I've met Russell Baker, Robert K. Massie, Normal Mailer, Joseph Heller, Dava Sobel, Greil Marcus, Jean Strouse, Pete Hamill, and David Halberstam.  And, when I was working in that bookstore in Briarcliff, I met John Cheever.

I've also interviewed a good number either in person or on the telephone, including Philip Pullman, Azar Nafisi, Javier Marias, Gay Talese, Robert Caro, Billy Collins, Nicholson Baker, Neal Stephenson, Richard Price, Stewart Brand, John Grisham, James Patterson, Salman Rushdie, Stacy Schiff, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Jeffrey Eugenides, Elmore Leonard, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bob Woodward, Richard Holmes, and Philip Roth.

Most of the time, with all of the above, we talked about their books.  But two memories do stick out:  Richard K. Massie, author of Nicholas and Alexandra, recommended Shelby Foote's The Civil War, called it "the American Iliad," a wonderful description I use in the book.  And when he learned about the project I had embarked on, Pete Hamill sent me a list of his favorites that included the stories of Isaac Babel, the notebooks of Cesare Pavese, and Itali Calvino's Invisible Cities.

James Mustich's TOUR STOPS

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

REVIEW: The Purity of Crimson by Beverley Lee @constantvoice

The Purity of Crimson
by Beverley Lee

Not only is Beverley one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, she is also immensely talented and as far as I'm concerned, the new Gothic Queen of Vampires.

I'm blessed to have received an early copy of Book Three of the Gabriel Davenport series.  I highly recommend this series.

See my five star reviews for The Making of Gabriel Davenport and A Shining in the Shadows by clicking on the titles.

Menacing dark fantasy/horror and paranormal suspense combine in the final book of this reader acclaimed supernatural series (Gabriel Davenport) from British author Beverley Lee 

Blood calls to blood. 

Gabriel Davenport and his brothers have found a temporary refuge. But safety is fleeting. 
Beneath the streets of London three become five, as the brothers, the "Bloody Little Prophets," are joined by a witch boy sent on a mission and a terrified, persecuted vampire. 

But every meeting has its consequences. And one of them is not who he says he is. 

One by one, the brothers are torn apart, and all must face their own demons when unexpected questions and uncertainty arise. 

Gabriel's quest takes him to the very edge of his morality—to a creature who holds the key to death itself. 

What would he give to know why the wings of darkness had always sought him? 

And what would any of them sacrifice to save each other? 

My Review:

Can I just first say how SAD I am that this is the final book in the trilogy of The Gabriel Davenport series?  I must have mentally blocked this information because I just did NOT want this to end.  However, if it had to end, it went out in a glorious way.  Lee has a lot of surprises in store for her readers with this one.

Moth, Teal and Gabriel are back and while they have safety, they are starving for food while simultaneously trying to keep out of harms way.  They soon realize they need to face their fears fang on and what a journey it becomes.  This isn't just a story about vampires and blood and war (though there is plenty of this here), it is also a story about family, brotherhood, loyalty and just how far you would go for someone you love.

Lee's writing style is such a pleasure to read - I especially give a huge nod to just plunging right into the story as if you just turned the last page of book two.  The romantic parts make your heart flutter, the bloody parts make you shiver (or smile in my case) and you find your heart racing as situations come to fruition.  I fear to say too much as I do not want to spoil anything for other readers.  

If you follow her on social media (and if you don't, you really should!) you'll know that Beverley interacts with her followers and even put a couple followers into this book - how amazing is that?! And what a pleasure it was to see these names as I was reading!  

Beverley is the Gothic Queen of Vampires.  My only complaint?  That it's over.  However, I am SO excited to see what else Lee has for us - I just know it's going to be brilliant.

Thank you, Beverley - for making me a part of Gabriel's team - it's been my honor.  I'm going to miss the boys - luckily I have the books so I can visit at any time. 🎔


REVIEW: Nightingale by Amy Lukavics @amylukavics @harlequinteen #allthebookreviews

by Amy Lukavics

Thanks so much to Harlequin Teen for this review copy.
I absolutely adore Lukavics and her horror stories.  SO excited to have had this copy - continue below and see what me and my fellow horror lover, Jessica, thought!


Publisher:  Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: September 25, 2018
384 Pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, YA, Horror

At seventeen, June Hardie is everything a young woman in 1951 shouldn't be--independent, rebellious, a dreamer. June longs to travel, to attend college and to write the dark science fiction stories that consume her waking hours. But her parents only care about making June a better young woman. Her mother grooms her to be a perfect little homemaker while her father pushes her to marry his business partner's domineering son. When June resists, her whole world is shattered--suburbia isn't the only prison for different women.

June's parents commit her to Burrow Place Asylum, aka the Institution. With its sickening conditions, terrifying staff and brutal "medical treatments," the Institution preys on June's darkest secrets and deepest fears. And she's not alone. The Institution terrorizes June's fragile roommate, Eleanor, and the other women locked away within its crumbling walls. Those who dare speak up disappear...or worse. Trapped between a gruesome reality and increasingly sinister hallucinations, June isn't sure where her nightmares end and real life begins. But she does know one thing: in order to survive, she must destroy the Institution before it finally claims them all.

My Review:

I have a huge love for Lukavics and think her horror books, while YA, have a very mature and adult like read to them that keep me coming back and devouring all of her books.  Anything dealing with asylums and I'm SOLD. GIMME!

We are set in 1951, the "Past Days", where June is about to graduate from high school and her parents have a very distinctive role for her to play and she just needs to be "better".  Sigh.  The author does a great job in giving us that trapped feeling where we feel the necessity to be one way, as is socially the norm, but what we really want to do is break out of this mold and be our own person... and accepted for it.  Then we have the present day, in the Institution, chapters where June is committed for her hysteria and there is absolutely NOTHING that seems right about this place.  Is she wrong, or is this place wrong?

There's a semblance of a book-in-a-book with the science fiction story June is writing which takes this book into a whole different atmosphere (ha! see what I did there?).  Honestly, this is the part that got lost on me and where I think the blurb is slightly misleading.  I am just not the right audience for this - though I was reminded at times of Coraline and a season of Supernatural - but you're going to have to read this to understand where I'm coming from.  (It's ok, I rarely make sense to myself either.)

What is fantastic is the eerie feeling of this book - it's a build up of dread and insanity and the unknown of what is or isn't real as we ride through June's various thoughts before and after being institutionalized.  There are also some gruesome and enjoyable scenes as we get further along and these I always do enjoy. 

Another solid bit of work from Lukavics and I'm reminded again of why I am such a HUGE fan - even when something doesn't quite hit the mark for me, I'm still highly entertained and pulled into her stories.


Jessica's Review:

This was my introduction to Amy Lukavics and I was not disappointed! I've heard great things about her writing and was very anxious to start NIGHTINGALE. This blends horror themes and adds in some sci-fi elements, I'm not really a fan of sci-fi but this wasn't the main focus.

We have two timelines - the past is in 1951 as June is still in high school and preparing to graduate. The other is present day as she is in the Institution for hysteria. We have the unreliable narrator theme that I will always love about these types of books, especially when a mental institution is involved! Is June actually the one going insane or is there something else going on in the Institution? There's a constant sense of something being off and not quite right.

I think that June is an incredibly relatable character - she's struggling with the standards that her family has set for her. You can feel her sense of hopelessness and the seemingly uphill battle that she faces. I love when a character feels real and authentic and I think many readers will enjoy that about June. I will say that this isn't the in your face horror with monsters and ghosts, but there is a creeping sense of doom that grows on you and there is some gore towards the end.

Overall, I can see this not being for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed the read and I will be picking up more from Lukavics!

 4/5 stars

SPOTLIGHT: Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne @raeannethayne @hqnbooks

Season of Wonder
by RaeAnne Thayne

Is everyone getting geared up for the holidays?!  What better way to start than with this Christmas Contemporary Romance novel!  


Publisher:  HQN Books
Publish Date:  September 25, 2018
304 Pages
Series: Haven Point #9
Genres:  Romance, Contemporary, Holiday

He's giving her children a season of wonder... Dani Capelli seized a chance to start over in a small town with her daughters. Now, facing her first Christmas in Haven Point, she wonders if leaving New York was a mistake. Dani loves working alongside veterinarian Dr. Morales, but her two children aren't adjusting to small-town life. And then there's Dr. Morales's son, Ruben--Dani's next-door neighbor. Gorgeous, muscled and dependable, the deputy sheriff is everything she secretly craves and can't bear to risk loving...and losing.Ruben never pictured himself falling for a big-city woman like Dani. But beneath her prickly facade, she's caring and softhearted and she needs all the love and protection he can give. When Dani's teenage daughter starts acting out, Ruben draws on family traditions to show the girls just how magical a Haven Point Christmas can be. But can he convince Dani that she's found a home for the holidays--and forever--in his arms? 

This holiday season, don’t miss the latest Haven Point romance from New York Times and USA Today bestseller RaeAnne Thayne, SEASON OF WONDER (HQN Books; on-sale September 25th, 2018).

Library Journal calls the fan-favorite Haven Point series “deliciously flirty and totally engrossing,” and SEASON OF WONDER doesn't disappoint with its perfect blend of swoon-worthy small town romance and intoxicating buried secrets.

RaeAnne Thayne is the author of more than 50 books and has won numerous honors, including four RITA® Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and a Career Achievement Award from RT Book Reviews.

I'm not one of those people who knew from birth she was destined to become a writer. I always loved to read and throughout my childhood I could usually be found with a book in my hands. To the disgust of my friends, I even enjoyed creative writing assignments that made them all groan. But I had other dreams besides writing. I wanted to be an actress or a teacher or a lawyer.

Life took a different turn for me, though, when my mother made me take a journalism elective in high school (thanks, Mom!). I knew the first day that this was where I belonged.

After I graduated from college in journalism, I took a job at the local daily newspaper and I reveled in the challenge and the diversity of it. One day I could be interviewing the latest country music star, the next day I was writing about local motorcycle gangs or interviewing an award-winning scientist.

Through it all -- through the natural progression of my career from reporter to editor -- I wrote stories in my head. Not just any stories, either, but romances, the kind of books I have devoured since junior high school, with tales about real people going through the trials and tribulations of life until they find deep and lasting love.

I had no idea how to put these people on paper, but knew I had to try -- their stories were too compelling for me to ignore. I sold my first book in 1995 and now, more than 30 books later, I've come to love everything about writing, from the click of the computer keys under my fingers to the "that's-it!" feeling I get when a story is flowing.

I write full-time now (well, as full-time as I can manage juggling my kids!) amid the raw beauty of the northern Utah mountains.

Even though I might not have dreamed of being a writer when I was younger, now I simply can't imagine my life any other way.

I love to hear from readers.

BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY: The Ancient Nine by Ian K. Smith @driansmith @stmartinspress

The Ancient Nine
by Ian K. Smith

Thanks so much to St. Martin's Press for this stop on the blog tour! 
Continue below for information on the book and author (including a Q&A), my review and and excerpt from the book.
Head over to my Instagram page and look for my post for your chance to win one final hardcopy of this book!

Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Publish Date:  September 18, 2018
Kindle Edition
352 Pages
Genres:  Mystery, Thriller

Spenser Collins

An unlikely Harvard prospect, smart and athletic, strapped for cash, determined to succeed. Calls his mother—who raised him on her own in Chicago—every week.

Dalton Winthrop
A white-shoe legacy at Harvard, he's just the most recent in a string of moneyed, privileged Winthrop men in Cambridge. He's got the ease—and the deep knowledge—that come from belonging.

These two find enough common ground to become friends, cementing their bond when Spenser is "punched" to join the Delphic Club, one of the most exclusive of Harvard's famous all-male final clubs. Founded in the nineteenth century, the Delphic has had titans of industry, Hollywood legends, heads of state, and power brokers among its members.

Dalton Winthrop knows firsthand that the Delphic doesn't offer memberships to just anyone. His great-uncle is one of their oldest living members, and Dalton grew up on stories of the club's rituals. But why is his uncle so cryptic about the Ancient Nine, a shadowy group of alums whose identities are unknown and whose power is absolute? They protect the Delphic's darkest and oldest secrets—including what happened to a student who sneaked into the club's stately brick mansion in 1927 and was never seen again.

Dalton steers Spenser into deeper and deeper recesses of the club, and beyond it, to try to make sense of what they think they may be seeing. But with each scrap of information they get from an octogenarian Crimson graduate, a crumbling newspaper in the library's archives, or one of Harvard's most famous and heavily guarded historical books, a fresh complication trips them up. The more the friends investigate, the more questions they unearth, tangling the story of the club, the disappearance, and the Ancient Nine, until they realize their own lives are in danger.

Author Bio: Ian K. Smith is the author of nine New York Times bestselling nonfiction books, several of them, including Shred and Super Shred, #1 bestsellers, as well as one previous work of fiction, The Blackbird Papers. He is a graduate of Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine.

My Review:

This is like a Dan Brown novel meets the Skulls, meets romance, meets bromance, meets thriller. There's a LOT going on with this book! Spencer gets punched to become one of Harvard's elite clubs - where women can't join, but they sure can serve you and be your entertainment! There are several elite clubs that you could be vying for, but The Delphic Club and the powerful men of The Ancient Nine - well that's where you really want to be! Once punched, Spencer decides to go on a journey to figure out the depths behind these men and the full story of a murder that happened decades ago bringing in history, religion and the pursuit of justice. PHEW!

Here's what I enjoyed about this book - I love anything related to secret societies and the journey to getting into one. Although sororities and fraternities these days have all but squashed their "hazing" days (ahem), secret societies have either run their course or have become so secret that they're not very widely know (hence the word secret - ya get me?). I enjoyed Spencer's tenacity in wanted to get the details of the behind the scenes of what he may very well be getting into. Don't you do YOUR research before getting into something that will be a big part of your life? Lots of research, lore, backstories and travels become involved with Spencer and his trusty side kick, Dalton. I also did enjoy the little romance between Spencer and Ashley... that added a bit of levity to the whole story.

Here's what didn't quite work for me. Ashley's continued banter with Spencer about how she won't date stuck up, preppie Harvard boys.... ok, we get it - we don't need this explained or brought back up in EVERY interaction. At times, the book could get over detailed - I've always had issues with this - I'm just going to get bored if the author is describing, in length, where everything is placed or within the vicinity of something else. And also, I'm not the biggest fan of history so I did feel like there were moments where I was being given a history lesson and that didn't quite press my interest button. That's not the author's fault - that's just my own preference.
What I found most interesting is that I had to keep reminding myself that Spencer and Dalton are in COLLEGE, they're young men trying to live their best life and somehow the feel I received from the way the story was written was that they were much older and the time period felt more in the older days and not the 1980s.

Definitely a great read for those who love the thrill of the chase and secret societies.


Q & A with Dr. Ian K. Smith regarding THE ANCIENT NINE

1. To begin with your beginnings, how did you get into writing?
A: I have always wanted to write stories since I was in college and read John Grisham’s The Firm, long before it became the international sensation.  I enjoyed how that book made me feel, heart racing, unable to focus on anything else but the book, literally reading pages while stopped at traffic lights.  I wanted to be able to create the same kind of story that had a similar effect on someone else. I like stories. I like creating. I have loved books my entire life.  I decided that while my principle area of academic study would be biology and eventually medicine, that I would always keep an open mind and ambition to write and publish.  That writing itch I had harbored for so many years just never went away and I refused to ignore it. Despite what many of my colleagues thought while I was in medical school, I believed both medicine and creative writing could be pursued passionately in parallel.
2. You’ve written many bestselling books about health and nutrition. What made you decide to pivot and write a thriller now?
A: Thrillers and crime fiction have always been at the top of my list for entertainment.  I like to write what engages me, so I decided to sit down and create a story in the fashion that I like to read them.  I love suspense and plots lines that are fast-moving and constantly make you think. I like the feeling of not wanting to put a book down and getting excited for the next time I have a break in my schedule to pick up that book again to read the next chapter.  I wrote my first novel, THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS back in 2004, a thriller based on the campus of Dartmouth College where I finished my first two years of medical school.  I had such great feedback from readers across the country. I would be on tour for one of my health and wellness books and invariably, someone would come up to me in the airport or a bookstore and ask me when I was going to write another thriller, because they enjoyed THE BLACKBIRD PAPERS so much and wanted more.  Every time this happened, my heart would jump, and I would profusely thank the person for reminding me of my other passion and my need to go back to it and create more stories to share.  I’ve been wanting to publish another thriller for a long time, and this was the perfect time in my career to do so. Fans of my fiction had waited long enough.
3. This is a novel you “waited years to write.” What is it about this story that was just begging to be told?
A: This story has everything that I love to read.  There’s mystery, murder, suspense, history, and a love story.  I’ve been writing this book for more than 25 years. I started when I was a senior at Harvard.  While I was a very young and unpolished writer back then, I knew that it was a story that was so compelling that it needed to be told, and I knew that one day I’d be able to finish the story and publish it.  This is a fish-out-of-water story with a coming-of-age feel that I think will appeal to people across the spectrum. Everyone likes a story about an underdog, and THE ANCIENT NINE captures that feel and spirit.  I learned during my research that no one had ever written extensively about the Harvard final clubs.  There were remote mentions in magazine and newspaper articles, but never anything that really penetrated this rarefied world of power and privilege.  I just felt like this was a story begging to be told.
4. What was your personal experience with “secret societies” like?  How did you decide what details to include as elements of the story in The Ancient Nine?
A: I was everything you would expect a prospective member WOULD NOT be.  I was the wrong color, no pedigree, blue-collar family, and completely unaware of the elite circles in which these members traveled and inhabited.  When I started to understand the lineage of the members and graduate members, I couldn’t understand why they would invite me to join. I have always been sociable, easy-to-like kind of guy, but I didn’t fit the image of a member nor did I have the money or access to privilege that the majority of members had.  I wanted to include the elements as I experienced them. I wanted readers to see this world like I did for the first time, unsuspecting, unexpecting, an undaunted. I met many great guys when I was a member and remain friends with many of them to this day. Being a member was like a dual existence on campus. I was a regular student like everyone else most of the time, then I was a member of this final club that was a world of its own, including a staff that served us in our mansion and dinners with wealthy, powerful alums who were leaders of their fields throughout the country.  I sat down to tables to eat and share jokes with amazing men who were extremely successful and influential, and at the same time fun to talk to and share experiences. Being a member taught me a lot about life and discrepancies and how pivotal networking can be as one tries to advance in life.
5. The Delphic Club is a very important part of the story, just like the mysteries around it. How did you come up with the mystery? Did you know how it would be solved from the beginning or did you come up with it as you wrote?
A: When I first started writing THE ANCIENT NINE, I wasn’t completely sure how it would end.  I had a good idea of some of the plot twists and most of the narrative, but I had not worked out the entire mystery.  As I was researching the history of the clubs—something that was very difficult to do since there has been very little written about them through the years—I discovered some amazing occurrences and legends not just about the clubs, but of Harvard itself.  These discoveries were like a small, unknotted thread that once I started pulling, the story unraveled before me and everything began falling into place. I spent a lot of time in libraries, in the stacks of Widener Library at Harvard and Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, digging into the historical connections.  It’s amazing how you can reach a point where a story can actually write itself, and you just become the vessel through which it’s told, trying your best to stay out of its way while you transcribe it as best as you can without losing its feel and meaning.
6. Have you received any negative feedback as a result of writing about your real-life experiences in these secretive organizations?   
A: I don’t know what the feedback will be until more people have had a chance to read it.  I have had some of my clubmates read it and others who are familiar with the clubs and they gave me really positive feedback.  They found the book to be engaging and informative. They felt like I captured the essence of an experience that can only be felt by someone like myself who was foreign to this world.  This book is not an expose or hit piece on the final clubs. This is a book that is based on real events, secrets that have been tightly guarded for hundreds of years. As the clubs are in serious and overdue conversations about opening their doors to a broader membership, some of this information will enter the public forum much easier and more fluidly than it has in the past.  I would think that many current and graduate members of the clubs will find this entertaining, especially since they know very well the lay of the land on which the story is built.
7. How much does the main character in The Ancient Nine have in common with Ian Smith? How much of the story is autobiographical?
A: Spenser is based on me.  His emotions, worries, thoughts, and experiences are based on mine.  There are some creative changes I made such as where he was from and some of the family dynamics, but a lot of who he is and what he thinks is autobiographical.  I’ve held on to this story for a long time as I wrestled with the best way to tell it and when it should be told. I was a tough, fearless kid who wanted to excel at everything and wanted to make my single mother and family proud.  For those times, I was not the typical Harvard student—no trust fund or Ivy connection or renowned academic family pedigree—but I had what was most important for a student from any walk of life, the confidence that I could make it on Harvard’s storied campus.  I was unafraid to try new things, mix it up, and learn as much as I could. I played sports intensely all my life, and I think that taught me a lot about the world, our many differences, the rigors and benefits of competition, and the importance of resiliency. I’ve never been one to be intimated by the chasm between what I have and what others have.  Spenser sees and feels the world in exactly the same way as he remains proud of his humble beginnings and constantly works to do what is right.
8. In this novel you introduce a highly varied cast of characters, ranging from comical to mysterious, sporty to academic. Who was your favorite character to write? Which one would you most likely want to grab a beer with?
A: This isn’t an easy question as it’s like asking you to pick a favorite child.  There are different things an author loves about the characters he or she creates, and there are different reasons why the characters appeal to the author.  I will say, however, that it tends to be fun to write about characters who are very different from who you are, because it allows you to explore and imagine in a space that is not completely familiar.  Writing Ashley Garrett was a lot of fun. I liked and admired her at lot. She’s from the other side of the tracks, brilliant, tough, witty, romantic, and unimpressed. If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Ashley.  Dalton Winthrop was also a lot of fun to write, because he was rich—something that I was definitely not—and rebellious and so determined to cut his own way in life despite the overbearing expectations and interventions of his imperious father.  I don’t drink alcohol, but several of the real people who the characters are based on I actually did sit down with over the poker table and a box of pizza. I think it would be great fun to sit down to dinner with the obscenely wealthy but uproariously gregarious graduate member Weld Bickerstaff class of ’53 who lived in New York City.  You just wind him up and let him go.
9. The Ancient Nine delves deep into the history and underbelly of Harvard. What was your process for researching this story?
A: I spent many months researching Harvard’s history and some of the less known facts about John Harvard’s book collection he donated to the college and the infamous 1764 fire that destroyed almost all of it.  Over the years of writing this book I would find new pieces of information and the web of history and mystery would grow even larger. Little is publicly known or discussed about these clubs, and lots of secrets and knowledge have gone to the grave with many of the graduate members.  Harvard has one of the most expansive library systems in the world, and I spent countless hours in many of the libraries mentioned in the book, digging up old newspapers and magazines and examining rare books. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun at the same time to connect the dots and delve into the layers of such an important university and the secret societies that have long been a perpetual irritant to the school’s administration.
10. During your research, did you find out anything surprising that didn't make it into the book?
A: I gathered piles of research and discoveries while working on this book, but alas, an author must decide what to include and what to discard.  Those decisions were gut-wrenching at times, but for the sake of the reader not having to sit down to a 600-page tome, the cuts had to be done. One thing that surprised me that didn’t make it into the book was how conflicted many of the school’s former leadership really were with regards to the clubs.  Many of them publicly spoke against the clubs and the need for them to either be disbanded or opened to a more diverse membership, but privately, these administrators and school trustees had been members of a club themselves and as graduates, still supported them financially in ways that their identities and participation wouldn’t be exposed.
11. Readers will know you from your work in health and nutrition. In stepping away from that world, and into the world thriller writing, what surprised or challenged you the most?
A: It has always been fun and rewarding to write books in the genre of health and nutrition.  I have enjoyed immensely helping and empowering people. My books through the years have literally been life-changing for millions of people.  I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to produce that type of impactful work. Writing thrillers has been equally gratifying as it has allowed me to be more imaginative and tap deeper into my creative side.  I believe that a person can tap similarly and effectively into the left (science, math) and right (creativity, arts) sides of the brain. Contrary to what some have suggested, I don’t believe it’s one or the other.  One thing vastly different about writing thrillers is that the plots are not linear, and therefore requires a vigilant attention to detail and great effort to maintain continuity. There are all kinds of dead ends, interweaving threads, surprises, disappointments, and moments of excitement that you must work into the story, knowing that you need to entertain your reader and keep them engaged for hundreds of pages.  Accomplishing this is no small feat, but the work it takes to achieve it is worth every grinding second of it once you do.
12. What's next for you? Will you continue to write thrillers and do you have an idea for your next novel?
A: I will definitely continue to write more thrillers.  I love reading this genre, and I love writing it. My creative mind has a natural proclivity for this type of storytelling.  I’m currently working on a different series of crime fiction/mystery books based on a character named Ashe Cayne who’s an ex-Chicago police officer and now a private investigator.  I have learned a lot from my friends in CPD who have shown me the ropes and explained procedure. Ashe is smart, sarcastic, handsome, tenacious, morally compelled to right wrongs, broken-hearted, and a golf addict trying to bring his scoring handicap into the single digits.  I LOVE this character and Chicago as the setting. The expansive, energetic, segregated, volatile, notoriously corrupt Chicago becomes an important secondary character in the book. Ashe Cayne takes on only select cases, and people of all walks of life from all over the city come to him to get answers.  The first book in the series is called FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLY, and it’s about the daughter of one of the city’s richest men who mysteriously goes missing on the night she’s supposed to sleep over her best friend’s house.  Her aristocratic mother hires Ashe Cayne to find her missing daughter. But it’s a lot more complicated than a missing person case. I expect to publish this book in the fall of 2019.


Halloween Night, 1927
The Delphic Mansion
Cambridge, Massachusetts

EMPTY ROPES CLATTERED against flagpoles, and street signs flapped
helplessly in the shadowy night. Two boys sneaked down a cobblestone path
crowded with heavy bushes and enormous signs that warned against trespassing.
They stood there for a moment, their bodies dwarfed by the gigantic
brick mansion
“That’s enough, let’s turn around,” Kelton Dunhill whispered. He had large competent hands and knots of compact muscles that bulged underneath his varsity letter sweater. He carried a long silver flashlight he had borrowed from the superintendent’s office of his residential house.
“I’m going all the way,” Erasmus Abbott said firmly. “I didn’t come this far to chicken out. Just a few more minutes and we’ll be inside.”
Dunhill looked up at the tall wrought-iron fence that had been reinforced with solid wood planks to obstruct any potential view into the rear courtyard. He was a tough, scrappy kid, a varsity wrestler who had been undefeated in almost three years of college competition. He was many things, but a quitter was not one of them. Very little intimidated Dunhill, the son of a banker and elementary school music teacher, but when he looked up at the mansion’s towering spires and turrets set against the ominous sky and the royal blue flag that snapped so loudly in the wind, something made him feel uneasy. At that very moment, if Erasmus Abbott had not been standing next to him, he would’ve turned on his heels and run like hell. The only thing that kept his feet planted was his greater fear of the humiliation he would face once the others got word that the scrawny Abbott had showed bigger nerve.
“If we get caught, we’ll be fried,” Dunhill said in his most persuasive voice, trying to sound rational rather than scared. “Technically speaking, we’re trespassing, and they can do anything they want to us since we’re on their property. I don’t need to remind you of what happened to A. C. Gordon.”
Erasmus Abbott took the milk crates they had been carrying and stacked them in a small pyramid against the fence, then slipped on his gloves and pulled his hat down until it settled just above his eyes. He was dressed all in black. Now completely disguised, he turned and faced Dunhill.
“There’s no proof Gordon ever made it this far,” Abbott contested. “And besides, I never believed the whole business about his disappearance anyway.” Abbott turned toward the platform of milk crates, then back at Dunhill, and said, “So what’s it going to be? I’m making history tonight with or without you. The answer is in there, and I’m not gonna stop till I find it.”
“Jesus Christ,” Dunhill mumbled under his breath before pulling down his own skullcap and stepping up to the fence. It all started out as a dare, but Abbott had taken it more seriously than anyone expected. This would certainly not be the first time a student had tried to break into the well-guarded Delphic mansion. There had been many attempts over the years, but according to legend, the farthest anyone had gotten was the external foyer. No one had ever penetrated the interior. What most worried Dunhill, however, was that few had lived to share their story.
“And what’s your plan once we get on the other side of the fence?” Dunhill said.
Abbott ran his hand over the small canvas bag strapped to his waist. “Everything we need is in here,” he said. “Once we get to the back door, I’ll have the lock open in well under a minute.”
Abbott had been practicing on diferent doors all over Quincy House in the middle of the night. His best-recorded time was twenty-nine seconds with a blindfold covering his eyes and a stopwatch hanging around his neck.
Abbott was not particularly athletic, but he scaled the crates easily and in one motion hoisted himself over the top of the fence and its row of pointed spears. Dunhill heard him land hard on the other side, then made a small sign of the cross over his heart, climbed onto the crates, and hurled himself over the fence. He landed on the firm slate tiles with a jolt.
They stood on the perimeter of a large courtyard dotted with elaborate marble sculptures and a fountain whose water sat motionless in a wide, striated basin. There were no lights to guide them, but moonlight cut through the heavy canopy of trees that towered overhead. A formidable, sturdy brick wall that was even taller than the fence they had just climbed surrounded them on two sides. Abbott had correctly chosen their entry point into the yard.
A gust of wind sent small piles of leaves flying sideways from one corner of the courtyard to the next. The mansion was eerily dark except for the dull flicker of a light in a small window just underneath the sloping angle of the tiled roof. The enormous building looked cold and menacing and unforgiving.
“She’s massive,” Abbott whispered. “I didn’t think she’d be this big. Must’ve cost them a king’s fortune to build it.”
“It’s not empty,” Dunhill said, pointing at the lighted window. “I still say this isn’t a good idea. We’ve already proved our point. Let’s get the hell out of here while we still can.”
Abbott pretended he hadn’t heard a word Dunhill said. He walked quietly across the courtyard toward a set of stairs that led to a large door with small panes and a brass doorknob that glistened under the moonlight’s glow. He cupped his face to the glass and looked inside. He turned and waved Dunhill over, but Dunhill remained motionless underneath the fence, still not believing they had actually gotten this far.
Abbott unzipped the canvas bag, pulled out a couple of tools, and quickly went to work on the lock. That’s when Dunhill glimpsed a shadow moving across the courtyard. He looked up toward the lighted window and saw  something that he would never forget. It was the ugliest, scariest, blackest face he had ever laid eyes on. His heart tightened in his chest, and his lungs constricted. He tried to scream but couldn’t get the air to move in his throat. He turned to Erasmus to warn him, but it was too late. The door was open, and he was already inside.


Harvard College
Cambridge, Massachusetts
October 2, 1988

IT SHOULDN’T HAVE been enough to wake me, but I had just drifted off on the couch in the common room that separated my bedroom from my roommate’s. It was a short scratchy sound: a pebble or sand being dragged across the linoleum floor. I looked toward Percy’s bedroom. His door was closed and his light off. I sat up on the sofa, swiveling my head in the darkness to see what could’ve made the noise. Mice were not exactly uncommon sightings in these old Harvard houses, some of which had been built more than a century ago, so I was preparing myself for vermin out on a late-night scavenge. But when I turned on the lamp and looked down at the floor, what sat there took me completely by surprise.

Someone had slipped a small cream-colored envelope underneath the front door. There was no postage or return address, just my name and room number elaborately inscribed.

Spenser Collins
Lowell House L-11

I turned the envelope over, hoping to find some indication of who might have sent it, but what I discovered was even more puzzling.

Embossed on the flap were three torches—so dark blue, they were almost black—arranged in a perfect V shape.

I heard footsteps just outside the door, slow at first, but then they began to pick up speed. I pulled the door open, but the hallway was empty. Our room was on the first floor, so I grabbed my keys and ran a short distance down the hall, jumped a small flight of steps, then rammed my shoulder into the entryway door, forcing it open into the cool night. I immediately heard voices echoing across the courtyard, a cluster of three girls stumbling in high heels, dragging themselves in from a long night of drinking.

I scanned the shadows, but nothing else moved. I looked to my right and thought about running across the path that led to the west courtyard and out into the tiny streets of Cambridge. But my bare feet were practically frozen to the concrete, and the wind assaulted me like shards of ice cutting through my T-shirt. I retreated to the warmth of my room.

Percy’s bedroom door was still closed, which was not surprising. He wouldn’t wake up if an armored tank tore through the wall and opened fire.

I sat on the edge of the couch and examined the envelope again. Why would someone deliver it by hand in the middle of the night, then sneak away? None of it made any sense. I opened the book flap slowly, feeling almost guilty ripping what appeared to be expensive paper. The stationery was brittle, like rice paper, and the same three torches were prominently displayed in the letterhead.

The President and members of the Delphic Club
cordially invite you to a cocktail party on
Friday, October 14, 7 o’clock
Lily Field Mansion at 108 Brattle St. Cambridge.
Please call 876-0400 with regrets only.

I immediately picked up the phone and dialed Dalton Winthrop’s number. Fifth-generation Harvard and heir to the vast Winthrop and Lewington fortunes, he was one of the most finely pedigreed of all Harvard legacies, descending from a family that had been claiming Harvard since the 1600s, when the damn school got its charter from the Bay Colony. Dalton was a hopeless insomniac, so I knew he’d still be awake.

“What the hell are you doing up this time of the night?” Dalton said. “Some of us around here need our beauty sleep.” He sounded fully awake.

“What can you tell me about something called the Delphic Club?” I asked.

The phone rustled as he sat up.

“Did you just say ‘the Delphic’?” he said.

“Yeah, do you know anything about it?”

There was a slight pause before he said, “Why the hell are you asking about the Delphic at this ungodly hour?”

“They invited me to a cocktail party next Friday night. Someone just slipped the invitation under my door, then ran.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? The Delphic invited you to a cocktail party?”

“Unless there’s another Spenser Collins I don’t know about.”

“No offense, Spenser, but don’t get your hopes up,” he said. “This is probably some kind of prank someone’s pulling on you. The Delphic isn’t just a club, like any fraternity. It’s the most secretive of Harvard’s nine most exclusive clubs. They’re called final clubs. The Delphic goes all the way back to the 1800s and has some of the world’s most prominent men as members. An invitation to their cocktail party is like an invitation to kiss the papal ring.”

“So, what you’re really trying to say is that they would never give an invitation to a poor black kid from the South Side of Chicago.”

“Spenser, you know I don’t agree with that kinda shit, but that’s how these secret societies operate. They haven’t changed much over the last century and a half. Rich white men passing off the baton to the next generation, keeping their secrets shielded from the rest of the world. Yale has Skull and Bones, but here at Harvard we have the final clubs. It’s no exaggeration when I tell you that some of the country’s biggest secrets are buried in their old mansions.”

“If I don’t fit their image, then why did someone just slip this invite under my door?” I said.

“Because it’s not real,” Dalton said.

“What do you mean?”

“Guys joke like this all the time. This is the beginning of what’s called punch season, which means the clubs are secretly nominating sophomores to enter a series of election rounds. Whoever survives the cuts over the two months gets elected into the club. You’ve heard of the hazing they do in fraternities. Well, this is a little like that, but it’s a lot more formal with much bigger stakes.”

“What makes you so sure my invitation is fake when you haven’t even seen it?”

“Are you alone?”

“Percy’s here, but he’s out cold.”

“Pull out the invite and tell me if you see torches anywhere.”

I was sitting in the chair underneath the window, still eyeing the courtyard, hoping I might see who might’ve dropped off the envelope. The ambient light cracked the darkness of our common room. I held up the envelope.

“There are three torches on the back of the envelope,” I said.

“What about the stationery?”

“There too.”

“How many?”


“What color?”

“Dark blue.”

“Is the center torch lower or higher than the others?”


Dalton sighed loudly. “Now take the stationery, turn it over, and hold it up to a light,” he said. “Tell me if you see anything when you look at the torches.”

I followed Dalton’s instructions, carefully removing the shade from one of Percy’s expensive porcelain lamps that his grandmother had proudly given him from her winter house in Palm Beach. I held the invitation next to the naked bulb. “There’s a thin circle with the initials JPM inside,” I said. “But you can only see it under the light. When you move it away, the letters disappear.”

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Spense, it’s the real deal!” Dalton yelled as if he were coming through the phone. “The Delphic really has punched you this season. I can’t believe this is happening. Tell me the date of the party again.”

It was rare to hear this level of excitement in Dalton’s voice. Few things got him going, and they typically had to do with either women, food, or his father, whom he hated more than the Yankees.

“Next Friday at seven o’clock,” I said. “It’s at a place called Lily Field Mansion.”

“Lily Field, of course,” Dalton said. “It’s the biggest one up there on mansion row, and it’s owned by the Jacobs family, one of the richest in the country. Stanford Jacobs used to be the graduate president of the Delphic, so it makes sense that he’s hosting the opening cocktail party.”

Secret society, mansions, ultra-wealthy families, an invitation delivered under the cloak of darkness. It was all part of a foreign world that made little sense to me, the son of a single mother who answered phones at a small energy company.

“So, what the hell does all this mean?” I asked.

“That you’re coming over here tomorrow for dinner, so we can figure out some sort of strategy,” Dalton said. “This is all a long shot, but if things go well for you on Friday night, you might make it to the next round. I’m getting way ahead of myself—but one round at a time, and you might be the way we crack the Ancient Nine.”

“The Ancient Nine?” I asked. “Is that another name for the clubs?”

“No, two different things,” Dalton said. “The Ancient Nine are an ultrasecret society of nine members of the Delphic. A secret society within a secret society that not even the other Delphic members know much about. Most around here have never even heard of the Ancient Nine, but for those who have, some swear it exists, others think it’s nothing more than another Harvard legend.”

“What do you think?”

Dalton paused deliberately. “I’d bet everything I own that they exist. But no one can get them to break their code of silence. According to rumors, they are hiding not only one of Harvard’s most valued treasures but also century-old secrets that involve some of the world’s richest families.”

Copyright © 2018 by Ian K. Smith in The Ancient Nine and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press.