Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Guest Post: In a Town Called Paradox by Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt

Please join me in welcoming Richard Starks to Let Them Read Books! Richard is co-author with Miriam Murcutt of the just-released historical novel, In A Town Called Paradox. I'm so happy to have Richard here today with a guest post on how it’s the right details that help make a story come alive.

“I wasn’t looking for Marilyn Monroe when I bumped into her, even though I knew she was in town filming River of No Return…”

So begins In a Town Called Paradox, which asks the question: If each of us has a life story, then who determines how it unfolds and how it should end?

After her mother’s untimely death, the young Corin Dunbar is banished to live with her aunt Jessie, an obsessively religious spinster who runs a failing cattle ranch near a speck of a town called Paradox in southeast Utah. It’s the mid-1950s, and Corin hates her new life until the Big Five Hollywood studios arrive, lured by the fiery red-rock scenery that provides a perfect backdrop to the blockbuster Westerns they plan to film. Overnight, Paradox is transformed from a rural backwater to a playground for glamorous stars like Marilyn Monroe and Rock Hudson.

Seduced by the glitz of the movies, Corin finds work with the studios, but after a brush with the casting couch, she channels her growing ambitions into saving the ranch—the jewel of the Dunbar family for three generations. When she falls for a charismatic stranger, her future seems bright, but a tragic accident she believes is her fault wrecks her dreams and forces her to make an agonizing decision that will change the course of her life.

Told mainly by Corin—now a middle-aged woman haunted by this watershed moment—In a Town Called Paradox is a compelling read that redefines the meaning of love. 

In A Town Called Paradox

The devil is in the detail – or so people say, usually in relation to contracts or international treaties. But detail is just as important in a novel – especially when, as authors, we are trying to draw readers into a fictional world they may not be familiar with.

Our latest novel, In A Town Called Paradox, is set in Utah during the 1950s, when the Big Five Hollywood studios descended on that state, lured by the fiery red-rock scenery that formed the perfect backdrop to the blockbuster movies they wanted to shoot. Their arrival turned rural backwaters – like our fictional town of Paradox – into playgrounds for glamorous stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Rock Hudson, and in the process upended the lives of the local residents. We thought this setting would be ideal (if it had worked for Hollywood, it should work for us), but to make it credible we needed to salt our scenes with telling detail that was both intriguing and – more importantly – authentic.

We didn’t want to write vaguely about movie cameras and lights, but instead needed precise details of dollies, tracks, cranes and booms. When we introduced a sheriff on duty, we couldn’t just put him in uniform; we needed to highlight the fit of his shirt, the width of his tie, and the particular brown of his pants (that inexplicably were known as ‘pinks’). And when we created a scene with a stuntman, we couldn’t have him tumbling from a height, but had to show how, in those days, he was expected to land – breaking his fall on a stack of cardboard boxes precariously balanced on a mattress.

And then there was ranching. Our main character, Corin Dunbar, is rejected as a child and sent from New York to live with her aunt Jessie, a religious spinster who runs a failing cattle ranch near Paradox. We needed to create – in detail – what her life was like. At the same time, we needed to make sure the detail we used enhanced our characters as well as their story. It could not be allowed to slow the action; but needed to blend in so our readers would unknowingly absorb it.

To that end, we traveled many times to Utah (we live in neighboring Colorado, so already knew the state well) and tracked down people who remembered the days when Hollywood came to town. (Among them was one retired rancher, well into his eighties, who’d worked on set as a movie extra. He gave us a line that became the catchphrase of our fictional Paradox mayor: “When the studios arrive, they take only pictures and leave only money.”)

We listened carefully to what these people had to say – and how they said it. Because dialog in a novel can’t be just talk, but needs to reveal much about character, background and attitude. This was of special importance to us, because in addition to Corin from New York, we had two other main characters: an Englishman who’d been born and raised in the Amazon jungle, then arrived in Paradox because of his love of the movies that were filmed there; and a Native American who’d been convicted of murder but was now on the run near Paradox. (It makes sense in the book, especially when these characters come together to highlight the theme: If each of us has a life story, who determines how it unfolds and how it should end?) But we couldn’t have this diverse trio all speaking the same.

For a while, we played around with 1950s’ slang, as a way of making the characters sound real and at the same time underlining our time period. Some of the expressions current back then had considerable appeal to us (“smog in the noggin”, meaning confused; or “agitate the gravel”, meaning to drive away quickly; or “ice it”, meaning to forget about something), but wisely we decided they would be going a step too far. We didn’t want our readers to think the title of our book was In A Town Called Parody, not In A Town Called Paradox.

Available on Amazon  |  Add on Goodreads
About the Authors:

Richard Starks has lived a writer’s life, first as a journalist, then editor, then magazine publisher, and now a full-time author. He’s written both fiction and non-fiction books in genres that include crime, horror, travel, true-life adventure (both his and other peoples). His books have been published in five languages and seven countries. He’s also freelanced for business and consumer magazines, written for television, and completed the novelization of one of the early horror movies of director David Cronenberg.

Four of his more recent books, including In A Town Called Paradox, were co-written with Miriam Murcutt.

Miriam is a former journalist, editor and marketing executive who has an M.A. in English Literature. When not busy writing, she’s a student of Spanish and a volunteer interviewer for a Carnegie Library oral history archive.

The two writers often think they should have focused on one genre, one series or one character. But researching their books has taken them to Tibet, Greenland, Spain, London, the Amazon basin, and, most recently, to the hidden canyons of Utah. So no one’s complaining.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Holidays from Let Them Read Books!

Let Them Read Books is on hiatus through the holidays!

Thank you so much for your support throughout the year, a year that's reminded us of the importance of books to transport us in time and place!

Wishing you and yours a very merry season!

I'll see you in 2021!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Blog Tour Q&A with Mimi Matthews, Author of Gentleman Jim

Please join me in welcoming bestselling author Mimi Matthews to Let Them Read Books! Mimi is touring the blogosphere with her new release, Gentleman Jim, and I recently had the chance to ask her some questions about writing this tale of romance and revenge!

She Couldn't Forget...

Wealthy squire's daughter Margaret Honeywell was always meant to marry her neighbor, Frederick Burton-Smythe, but it's bastard-born Nicholas Seaton who has her heart. Raised alongside her on her father's estate, Nick is the rumored son of notorious highwayman Gentleman Jim. When Fred frames him for theft, Nick escapes into the night, vowing to find his legendary sire. But Nick never returns. A decade later, he's long been presumed dead.

He Wouldn't Forgive...

After years spent on the continent, John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare has finally come home to England. Tall, blond, and dangerous, he's on a mission to restore his family's honor. If he can mete out a bit of revenge along the way, so much the better. But he hasn't reckoned for Maggie Honeywell. She's bold and beautiful--and entirely convinced he's someone else.

As danger closes in, St. Clare is torn between love and vengeance. Will he sacrifice one to gain other? Or, with a little daring, will he find a way to have them both?

Advance Praise:

"Tartly elegant. . . A vigorous, sparkling, and entertaining love story with plenty of Austen-ite wit."— Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Matthews ups the ante with a wildly suspenseful romance..."— Library Journal, starred review

"Equally passionate and powerful...Mimi Matthews proves once again that she is a master of historical fiction in Gentleman Jim."— Readers' Favorite

"Rollicking and romantic, passionate and intriguing...Regency romance does not get any better than Gentleman Jim."— Relz Reviewz

Hi Mimi! Thanks so much for visiting Let Them Read Books!

What inspired you to write Gentleman Jim?

I’m a huge fan of Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel The Count of Monte Cristo, and of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. I love the idea of hidden identities, and of justice deferred—but not denied.

Did your characters pop into your head fully formed or did they take shape as you wrote?

Maggie and Nicholas were pretty well formed in my mind when I started the story. Of course, they developed and changed as I wrote. Their growth from passionate reckless teens into (slightly) less reckless adults was part of their journey.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?

I wrote the first few chapters of Gentleman Jim several years ago. I’ve grown as a writer since then, so it was a challenge to revise those early chapters and then write the remaining 70% of the story from scratch without losing the spark of inspiration I’d had in the beginning.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Book Blast: Betrayal by the Historical Fictioneers

by the Historical Fictioneers

Published: November 17, 2020
Formats: eBook; 436 pages
Genre: Historical short stories

"Loyalty breaks as easily as a silken thread."

Misplaced trust, power hunger, emotional blackmail, and greed haunt twelve characters from post-Roman Britain to the present day. And betrayal by family, lover, comrade can be even more devastating.

Read twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges from post Roman Britain to the present day.

AD455—Roman leader Ambrosius is caught in a whirlpool of shifting allegiances
AD940—Alyeva and cleric Dunstan navigate the dangers of the Anglo Saxon court
1185—Knight Stephan fights for comradeship, duty, and honour. But what about love?
1330—The powerful Edmund of Kent enters a tangled web of intrigue
1403—Thomas Percy must decide whether to betray his sovereign or his family
1457—Estelle is invited to the King of Cyprus’s court, but deception awaits
1483—Has Elysabeth made the right decision to bring Prince Edward to London?
1484—Margaret Beaufort contemplates the path to treason
1577—Francis Drake contends with disloyalty at sea
1650—Can James Hart, Royalist highwayman, stop a nemesis destroying his friend?
1718—Pirate Annie Bonny, her lover Calico Jack, and a pirate hunter. Who will win?
1849/present—Carina must discover her ancestor’s betrayer in Italy or face ruin.

“I read this anthology from start to finish in a matter of days…. Each story is gripping.”– Discovering Diamonds Reviews

About the Historical Fictioneers:

Hailing from two continents and five countries, the Historical Fictioneers include Judith Arnopp, Cryssa Bazos, Anna Belfrage, Derek Birks, Helen Hollick, Amy Maroney, Alison Morton, Charlene Newcomb, Tony Riches, Mercedes Rochelle, Elizabeth St John, and Annie Whitehead. 

The Historical Fictioneers can be reached via their Facebook Group at

Betrayal is offered as a FREE download from Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books and Barnes & Noble. Claim your eBook today:

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Guest Post: The Girl with the Silver Star by Rachel Zolotov

Please join me in welcoming Rachel Zolotov to Let Them Read Books! Rachel is celebrating the release of her debut historical novel, The Girl with the Silver Star, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post about the inspiration for the novel: her own family's harrowing history. Read on and grab the Kindle copy for only $2.99!

For the readers of The Nightingale and Lilac Girls, inspired by the true story of the author’s great-grandmother’s journey during World War II, The Girl with the Silver Star is the extraordinary story of a mother’s love and will to survive during one of history’s darkest time periods.

As a hailstorm of bombs begins to shatter the city of Minsk in Belarus, Raisa and her family run through the darkness of night to take cover. When Raisa, Abraham, and their daughters, Luba and Sofia, emerge from the bomb shelter, they find an unfamiliar city before them; chaos and terror burn in every direction. Fearing for their lives, they must leave at once to find the rest of their family. But before they are able to escape, Abraham is conscripted into the Russian Army and the family is forced to part ways. Raisa’s love and strength are put to the ultimate test as she finds herself on her own with her two young daughters in tow. How will she manage alone without her soulmate by her side?

Relying on hope, resourcefulness and courage, they walk, hitch hike and take trains heading for Uzbekistan, over 2,500 miles from home. Along the way they run from bombs, endure starvation, and face death.

Raisa finds solace in the women around her. Her mother, sisters, old friends and new help carry her through the difficult war years, but Raisa’s longing to reunite with Abraham still rages inside her heart. Will they ever see each other again? Will Raisa and her family find their way back to their homeland?

The Girl with the Silver Star is a captivating journey through war-torn Soviet Union as it illuminates a unique part of WWII history, the female heroes. Raisa’s journey is a tribute to the nameless women, their determination, bravery, grief and unwavering love during impossible times. Their stories shouldn’t be forgotten.  

It was early winter of 2016 and I had just finished reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As I turned the last page and closed the book, I started to think back to the stories my parents had told me about by family during WWII, and I suddenly realized that I didn’t really know much about what they went through. My family is Jewish, and they lived in Minsk, Belarus – I knew there had to be more to their story than just the few details I had overheard as a child. 

As a young girl, I could be often found evading bedtime by reading historical novels and memoirs from WWII under the covers with a flashlight. This fascination didn’t stop in adulthood, so how was it that I barely knew anything about my own family’s past?

I picked up the phone and called my mother, on a mission to find out more. I had my notebook ready to scrawl down all the details. A few minutes later, I had a page of notes, but barely any more information than I had already known. My mother explained that they didn’t talk about those times much. For obvious reasons, it was too painful of a memory to relive. There was, however, one detail that I didn’t already know. My great-grandmother Raisa and her two girls, Luba (my grandmother) and Sofia, evacuated to Uzbekistan during the war.

I was having a hard time imagining how many countless miles it took to get from Minsk to Tashkent. After a quick search, I discovered how incredibly far they had to travel; over 4,000 km. That’s about the same distance as New York to San Diego. They walked some of the way, and took trains for the rest. As a mother of two girls myself, I thought about taking that journey with them under those circumstances, and couldn’t fathom how they survived such a journey. I was instantly drawn to find as many of the puzzle pieces as I could.

That was all it took. One conversation and a few hours of research later, I was inspired. I needed to know more, and thus it began, The Girl with the Silver Star.