Category Archives: keepers

They Call Me Scout

Carey’s puppy, Scout, talks about TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, GO SET A WATCHMAN and contemplates the question posed by Randall Kennedy in the New York Times Sunday Book Review:

Would it have been better for (Harper Lee’s) earlier novel (GO SET A WATCHMAN) to have remained unpublished?

IMG_6852[2] (1)They call me Scout.

Like my namesake before me, I know how to get into plenty of trouble, but I have a big heart. My human mother, Carey Baldwin, named me after the protagonist in her favorite book, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Last night at dinner, Carey’s mother-in-law complained that I am such a pretty girl, I should have a pretty name.

Why on earth would you name this puppy Scout? she asked Carey over a plateful of pasta.

I know the answer, and I’m proud of my name.

Scout is the person who taught Carey about justice, fairness and integrity. When Carey was ten years old, she read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, a tale told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout (Like me! Only I’m a puppy.) Carey was young too, and boy did Scout make an impression. The vivid images in this exciting story stuck with Carey throughout her lifetime: toys hidden in the trunk of an old tree, a Halloween costume designed to look like a ham, a pair of britches stuck in a fence, and a father who could put everything that was wrong with the world right again.

We live in a world with many injustices, but sometimes, unless we’re the ones getting the raw deal, we remain unaware. Maybe the injustice is happening far away from where we live or go to school, maybe it’s close by, but we’re afraid to look at it, or maybe we simply don’t understand what’s right in front of us. Like the black marble drinking fountain three feet away from the white marble drinking fountain in a certain fancy department store in Carey’s hometown. Only after reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD did ten-year-old Carey notice.killbird

Why are there two fountains? she asked her mother.

One is for whites and one is for colored people. That’s illegal now, but the fountains are still there, her mother answered. Sure enough, Carey could see the faded paint outlining a rectangular space on the wall that had once been occupied by a sign prohibiting blacks from drinking from the white fountain.

Carey grew up in a time and place where segregation in school, housing, and life was outlawed…yet still largely practiced. She didn’t know very many people who were different from herself, so she didn’t “see” a lot of things. Scout and Harper Lee taught her to open her eyes.

Randall Kennedy says:

“In America in 1960, the story of a decent white Southerner who defends an innocent black man charged with raping a white woman had the appeal of a fairy tale and the makings of a popular movie. Perhaps even more promising, though, was the novel Lee first envisioned (GO SET A WATCHMAN), the story of Jean Louise’s (Scout’s) adult conflicts between love and fairness, decency and loyalty. Fully realized, that novel might have become a modern masterpiece.”

Scout answers:

“I think there’s a place for both books. I don’t believe we lost out because Harper Lee’s editor changed the time and setting of GO SET A WATCHMAN to that of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or that Lee’s first attempt at the story should have remained unpublished. The truth is, Harper Lee’s vision and desire for fairness in the world comes through in both books. One is more polished, one has a hero, the other a flawed man and a conflicted daughter.

51G1qWt5-qL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Both are a window into the heart and mind of Harper Lee.

We need both books. We need all the windows we can get, because there’s simply not enough light in the world.”

Here’s a link to Kennedy’s full review of GO SET A WATCHMAN in the New York Times.

Have you read a book that has profoundly influenced your life?

P.S. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.







Young woman read book relaxing on sofa in lounge

I read voraciously- you probably do too, and it suddenly struck me this week (after thousands of books) that I have an instinctive 4-tiered rating system.

1) There’s the poorly written story I stop reading when it takes too much effort or I find I’m dreading picking up my Kindle. (Dread should never be associated with reading novels!)

2) There are the stories that entertain me all the way through, but it’s still easy enough to put the book down and perform critical human functions like eating and bathing.

3) Then there are the amazing authors who consistently capture me into their world. You know the kind: the writers who make writing look easy. My impulsive story-craft critic never rears it’s ugly head…not even once. These are the stories you burn your family’s dinner trying to read ‘just one more page.’

4) And finally- the handful of authors (and I mean one hand, folks!) who are SO talented that I only pick up their stories when I’ve ‘earned it.’ Perhaps I finished a manuscript. Or I’m finally on vacation with nothing but that story in front of me. I begin them thinking it’s the 3rd-tier I just described. I say goodbye to my husband, because nothing will pull me from the novel. But the plot is profound, the characters and setting are so real that reading the story becomes an experience. In this 4th tier, the further I read, the more I begin to SLOW DOWN. Weird huh?

CRIMINALLast night I finished CRIMINAL, by Karin Slaughter, one of the top police-procedural thriller writers of our time. If she were in my 3rd tier I’d have finished the book in a day-and-a-half. But her phenomenal skill at story weaving puts her in the 4th tier. CRIMINAL took me a week to finish. Let me explain, because it’s so counter intuitive:

When an author is that enthralling I don’t want to be without the story. Those characters enrich my life. I also know I won’t get another new work for a year or more (all 5 of my top-tier authors rarely publish more than once a year.) Therefore, the more the story progresses and the more my soul has completely drowned in the author’s world, the more I’ll only read a chapter or two in one sitting. Miserly nibbling away, because I’m already sorry I’m this far into it. And maybe during the epic final battle (what we writers call ‘the black moment’) I’ll put that book down for a whole day. It’s masochistic, I know.

Ironically, I don’t tend to enjoy thrillers and I hate scary movies! Let me be frank: the thriller part of Slaughter’s Will Trent series is beyond horrific. Her antagonists’ twisted evil defies my imagination- and probably yours too. It’s airplanes-crashing-into-buildings shocking. It simply never occurred to you that a person could think up something this horrific to harm others. And Slaughter is 8 books in, folks. Will Trent and his female partner, female boss and girlfriend make up the gist of the story, but that’s 8 villains so heinous, so much more evil than Hannibal Lecter, that I guarantee they’ll each blow your mind. Nerd alert: It’s the kind of horror that requires me to watch three Bewitched sitcoms before sleeping, so her villain won’t seep into my dreams. 🙂


Karin Slaughter

Why on earth would I stick her in the 4th tier? Because her hero, Will Trent is so mind-bendingly flawed and so determined to move beyond his disabilities, his past and his faults. His boss has such incredible depth and secrets that in 9 books (I’m including COP TOWN) you aren’t even close to figuring her out- and you know it! His girlfriend is stoic and beautiful and has held up under massive human suffering. It’s the realism of these characters’ lives and their good-trumps-evil spirit that make me slow down and drag the book out.

Initially I did not read her series in order, but I recommend you do. The Will-Trent-experience is far more enriching when you know what happened and what character traits and secrets were revealed in the previous novel. Below is the sequence of the series. And in her brilliant creativity she’s begun weaving the boss, Amanda Wagner’s backstory within the series and as stand-alones, so I’m adding COP TOWN in as a must-read too.  Will Trent isn’t in it, but you need to know this part of Amanda to make CRIMINAL that much more of a 4th tier experience!

Name your top tier authors! One commenter will win a $10 Amazon gift card. (My way of paying for that author’s next book!)


A pic found on Karin’s FB page. Why yes, I am a stalker-fan. SO?


Karin’s Amazon Author Page

WILL TRENT SERIES (links to each book on her website.)

Julie Ann Walker Celebrates Romantic Suspense!

Julie Ann Walker

Today I am thrilled to welcome Julie Ann Walker back to Kiss and Thrill! The eagerly anticipated 5th book in Julie’s Black Knights, Inc. series released Tuesday, and I’m pretty sure her wonderful fans have already devoured it and are deluging her with requests for the next book. Fortunately for all of us at Kiss and Thrill, Julie has compiled a list of favorite authors to tide us over until book 6!

If you haven’t read Julie’s series yet, but don’t want to start with book 5, here is your chance to get caught up – she’s is giving away print copies of books 1-4 to one lucky commenter!

And now, I’m delighted to hand the blog over to the fabulous and talented Julie Ann Walker!

Let’s Celebrate Romantic Suspense!

AKA: The Authors Who Inspired Me to Write in the Genre

I’ve been wanting to do a shout-out to my fellow romantic suspense authors for quite some time now.  And what better place to do that than here on Kiss and Thrill, the blog dedicated to, run by, and specializing in the RS genre.  (Hi, ladies!  *waves*  Thanks for having me back!)  Because, truly, those of us who write romantic suspense first started out reading romantic suspense.  We fell in love with the action, the mystery, the mayhem, the thrill and chills and, of course, the sexy times.  *wink*  And while I adore the work of all the ladies here on the Kiss and Thrill site – seriously, if you haven’t picked up their books, you’re truly missing out – I wanted to dedicate this particular blog to some of the authors who pioneered the way for us, those wonderful writers who’ve been plugging away in the genre for years, sometimes decades.  I thought I’d do that by listing my top five favorite romantic suspense authors – in no particular order – adding why I love their writing and how they inspired my own.

So, without further ado…

1.)  Sandra Brown

Sandra has been writing romantic suspense since before romantic suspense was even considered a sub-genre.  (Not to give away her age or anything.  It’s obvious she started writing as a fetus.  *winces*  Hi, Sandra!)  But, the thing that always intrigues me about Sandra’s books are her intensely flawed heroes.  I adore them.  They’re unique.  They’re angst-y.  And above all else, they’re real.

2.)  Elizabeth Lowell

Can you say delicious prose, boys and girls?  Because Elizabeth does it like no other.  Rich descriptions, tasty metaphors, scrumptious word choices.  I fall in love with her sentence structures.  Plus, Elizabeth’s books are always a like mini college classes in 400 pages or less.  Her research is phenomenal.  And to read one of her books is to get a crash course in everything from the emerald trade to the collection of old tintypes.  So. Much. Fun!

3.)  Linda Howard

Talk about a pioneer.  Linda’s  first single title was published in 1982!  Her books are always filled to the brim with adventure, intrigue, daring heroes, dauntless heroines, and intensely despicable villains. I like to say Linda writes romantic suspense in its purest, most distilled form. Her books epitomize the genre. I suppose that’s why she’s so long-lasting, eh?  Go, Linda!

4.)  Suzanne Brockmann

Oh, be still my heart.  Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series is the entire reason I started reading the genre.  And the thing that most inspires me about Suzanne is that she’s a rule-breaker.  She writes from multiple points of view – something not done until recently.  One of her heroes is gay – something still frowned upon in some circles.  Her books usually have two love stories – something that editors will tell you is a no-no.  The list of ways she’s pushed the envelope goes on and on.  But my point is, not only does she break the rules, but she does it beautifully, eloquently, masterfully.

5.)  Lora Leigh

Oh, Lora, Lora, Lora!  *fans self*  Does she know how to write one smokin’ hot book, or what?  If you’re a Shades of Grey fan, but like some hard-core action between your titillating sex scenes, then Lora is the gal for you!  She takes romantic suspense to the next level on the heat scale.  Her characters’ chemistry practically sets the pages on fire.  Be sure to set the screen level brightness on your eReader to dim, or else the words might just burn out your retinas.  LOL!

So, thanks ladies, for not only giving me great books to read, but also for giving me the inspiration to pen my own works!  You all rock!

And with that, I’m outa here!  A resounding huzzah to the gals at Kiss and Thrill for having me back.  It’s always such a treat!

One lovely commenter will win print copies of the first four books in my Black Knights Inc. series!  Just answer the following question:  Who is your all-time favorite romantic suspense writer and what is it that you love about their books?

Born-Wild-Book-CoverNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julie Ann Walker dives back into action with the red-hot romantic suspense Black Knights Inc. series!  They claim they’re bad-boy bikers who own custom motorcycle shop, but these special-ops guys–a mix of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Marines, FBI and more–handle the jobs too tough for the government to tackle.


“Wild” Bill Reichert knows a thing or two about explosives. The ex-Navy SEAL can practically rig a bomb blindfolded. But there’s no way to diffuse the inevitable fireworks the day Eve Edens walks back into his life, asking for help…


Eve doesn’t know what to do when the Chicago police won’t believe someone is out to hurt her. The only place to turn is Black Knights Inc—after all, no one is better at protection than the covert special-ops team. Yet there’s also no one better at getting her all turned on than Billy Reichert. She has a feeling this is one blast from the past that could backfire big time…


One heck of a riveting plotline… Born Wild is definitely not to be missed!” —RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ Stars

A wild roller coaster ride of a story… Nonstop action.” —Fresh Fiction

“Drama, danger and sexual tension… Romantic suspense at its best.” —Night Owl Reviews, 5/5 Stars, Reviewer Top Pick

Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. She is prone to spouting movie quotes and song lyrics, and prefers impromptu travel over the scheduled kind. You can find her on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission. For more information, please visit or follow her on Facebook,, and Twitter, @JAWalkerAuthor

To Purchase Born Wild:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Discover a New Love | iBooks | Indigo/Chapters | IndieBound | Sourcebooks


Dear Kiss and Thrill Reader:  I Double-Dog-Dare you!

Amanda Stevens

  Pick up or download The Restorer, the first book in The Graveyard Queen Series by Amanda Stevens. Read the first chapter, especially that last sentence! Then put the novel down and walk away without ever reading the rest. 

  Don’t feel bad…I haven’t met a suspense reader yet who can walk.  (And FYI, you’ll break a land-speed record buying the next two novels to see what happens!)

  Here’s a quick rundown: Amelia Gray lovingly restores old, overgrown graveyards by day. At twilight, when the veil between our world and the spirit world thins, you’ll find her desperately seeking refuge indoors or on hallowed ground…because even as a child Amelia has been able to see ghosts.

   Her father, who also has this ability, has repeatedly warned her: if she ever makes direct eye contact with one, the parasitic spirit will cling to her forever–leaching her energy and stealing her warmth in a desperate attempt to reconnect with the land of the living.

Now put yourself in Amelia’s shoes: Try not to shiver in the freezing presence of a hovering ghost or he will know you can see and sense him! Keep perfectly still and expressionless as his chilled fingers sift through your hair…

  Yeah…the Graveyard Queen series is addictively creepy, beautifully written and filled with unique twists. You’ll gobble up each of these Southern Gothic stories feeling the same unsettling shock and awe that you did the first time you watched M. Night Shyamalan’s: “The Sixth Sense.” 

  And each novel sinks you even further into Amelia’s tangled world of small Southern town secrets, troubled spirits, eerie gravestone symbols, unexplainable mysteries and horrific murder.  All this mayhem is uncovered during her deceptively simple graveyard renovation project! Oh, and one final challenge: don’t fall for the handsome, haunted, delectably mysterious hero, Detective John Devlin.

Meet my absolute FAVORITE romantic suspense/thriller author: Amanda Stevens!

Sarah: Welcome to Kiss and Thrill, Amanda. I heard a rumor the Graveyard Queen series may be picked up for TV. What’s the status?

   Amanda: It has been optioned by ABC TV, but I don’t know anything beyond that.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

 Sarah: In pulling up your website it’s evident that you’ve been in the industry a long time. (Dear Reader: Her backlist is so long she divides them into genres: Romantic Suspense, Paranormal, Thrillers and Short Stories!) When did you first begin writing novels and why?

Amanda: My first novel was the result of a challenge by one of my college English professors.  He offered an A to anyone who could get published during the semester.  Since writing was always something I wanted to do, I decided to take him up on the challenge.  I sold my first book to Silhouette Intimates Moments in 1985, and I’ve been writing professionally ever since.

 BLURB from The Kingdom: My name is Amelia Gray.  They call me the Graveyard Queen.  I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake?  Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods?  Something is eating away at the soul of this town–this withering kingdom–and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.

 Sarah: Did you mean to channel Edgar Allen Poe in your second Graveyard Queen novel: The Kingdom? For example, I kept picking up similarities in the creepiness and wordplay of Asher House with “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and your unsettling bird theme with “The Raven.” 

  Amanda: Actually, no, but now that you mention it… 🙂

Second in the series

  I did use the Fisher King story as inspiration—the maimed king, Pelles whose impotence affected the fertility of the land.  Pell Asher is based on this legend.

  I read something once about Alfred Hitchcock using bird imagery in a number of his movies to signify disruption of the natural order of things.  Given everything that happens in Asher Falls, I thought the symbolism appropriate. 🙂

 Sarah: Oh yeah, ‘disruption of the natural order of things’ is very much an underlying theme in all three novels! What creeps YOU out?

Amanda: I’m pretty freaked out by ghosts even though I’ve never had a close encounter.  One of my friends had some truly terrifying things happen to her when we were little—I’m talking Poltergeist level of creepy.  In fact, there’s a scene in The Kingdom that was inspired by one of her experiences.  I get goose bumps just thinking about it.


     Sarah: The picture you sent of rootworking (part of the plot in your third book: The Prophet,) is of a doll being stuck with pins. You called it hoodoo, but it sure looks a lot like voodoo! What’s the difference between hoodoo and voodoo?

   Amanda: The simple explanation is that voodoo (vodun) is a religion and hoodoo is folk magic. 

  Voodoo has a hierarchy and belief system while hoodoo is an unorganized set of traditions passed down through generations.  At its most basic, hoodoo is about having a need met through the use of spells and medicinal conjure.  Using roots, stones and other natural objects, a root doctor can help one tap into supernatural forces to gain power, luck, money, love, revenge and/or health.

  The Voodoo Doll has its true roots in the Southern conjure arts rather than vodun.

Just released!

  Over the years, there have been many books and movies that reference rootworking, most notably Midnight in the Garden of Good and EvilI’ve also enjoyed The Skeleton Key and Eve’s BayouCheck them out if you have a hankering to visit the Deep South. 🙂

 Blurb from “The Prophet”:         

With quaintly named spells and elixirs like law-keep-away dust, pay-me sachet, and come-to-me oil, rootwork is mostly a benign practice that has been passed down through generations.  But make no mistake.  There is a dark side to conjure and much truth in the old saying that power corrupts.  

Dr. Darius Goodwine is an ethnobotanist whose knowledge of roots and herbs has sent him down a dangerous path.  He’s one of only a handful of men who have been granted access to gray dust, a powerful extract that stops the heart and allows an initiate to enter the realm of the dead.   But what happens when the user brings something back from the other side? 

 Poor Amelia is about to find out.  

 Sarah: If this becomes a TV series (or movie) who do you see playing the part of Amelia? Devlin?

Amanda: Matt Bomer in the movie In Time conveys the same dark, haunted look that I envision for Devlin, and for Amelia, I like Amanda Seyfried’s dreamy, ethereal beauty.  Dr. Shaw is Donald Sutherland.  🙂

   Sarah: What is the strangest gravestone symbol you’ve come across in person or through research?

   Amanda: The Sicilian Triskelion is pretty freaky. (

Also, some of the soul effigies featured on Memento Stones look like space aliens.  (

 Sarah: What authors/genres jump to the front of your TBR pile?

 Amanda:  I’m reading tons of Young Adult.  On my desk at the moment are Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Beautiful Darkness, and The Replacement

 Sarah: What advice do you have to your fans who now want to tour through cemeteries with “new eyes”?

Amanda: Enjoy the beauty, appreciate the history and at the end of the day, take nothing and leave nothing behind.

Sarah: Dear Reader, if you’ve read her Graveyard Queen series, you (like me) are biting back a shiver at her “advice.” If you haven’t read her series then believe me, she just gave you a friendly warning.  Favorite movie ever is…?

Amanda: I have a three-way tie:  Dazed and Confused, Waiting for Guffman, and This is Spinal Tap.

Sarah: Thanks for joining us today, Amanda. I also want to share your thrilling news with our readers: you recently signed another 3 book contract to continue the Graveyard Queen series!


Click below to ask Amanda a question, leave a comment or (if you’ve read any of the 3 books) give us your reaction to the hauntingly beautiful series! One winner will be announced on Thursday, May 10th and Amanda will give away one of the books in her Graveyard Queen series–winner’s choice!

(I recommend beginning with the first book: The Restorer. Remember: I double-dog-dare you to try to walk away after that hair-raising first chapter!)

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