by Carolyn Astfalk
After his duplicitous girlfriend left, Dan Malone spent six months in a tailspin of despair and destruction: emotional, physical, and spiritual. Just when his life seems to be back on track, he meets Emily Kowalski, younger sister of his new best friend. Emily’s the kind of girl he’d always dreamed of—sweet, smart, and sincere. But he’s made a mess of his life and ruined his chances for earning the love and trust of a woman like her.
Could Dan be the man Emily’s been waiting for? How could he be when every time they get close he pulls away? And will he ever be free from his shady past and the ex-girlfriend who refuses to stay there?
“This charming tale is as delightful as it is humorous (I laughed out loud several times). But with that said, it’s also a story rich with soul-stirring moments and inspiring growth.”
“More than a romance, it’s an exploration of two hearts as they try to figure out if they belong together. Strong characters, excellent secondary characters, and a twisty, turny plot that was far from predictable, Ornamental Graces is a great read that is lighthearted at times, but with great depth where it counts.”
“The author has such a beautiful way with words and there’s a maturity to her writing that sets it apart—and above—from typical romances. I’m in awe of how she takes rather ordinary situations and weaves such intriguing, emotional scenes. There’s never a dull page! I was highly absorbed and invested in the story and characters the entire time.”
CIR: What did you enjoy most about writing this?
ASTFALK: I enjoyed writing a Christmas romance because that’s the time of year I most enjoy cozying up with a novel, especially the first one I set in my hometown of Pittsburgh.
CIR: Who is your favorite character and why?
ASTFALK: The hero, Dan Malone, is my favorite character because his transformation is the most dramatic. He’s suffered heartache, humiliation, and defeat, but despite all his missteps, he (eventually) becomes the man he’s meant to be – and gets the girl in the process.
CIR: What was the hardest part of writing this story?
ASTFALK: The hardest part for me was making sure the shallow and duplicitous ex-girlfriend still came across as human with heartache and regrets of her own. It’s a fine line between a character you want to hate and an empty caricature.
CIR: What message do you hope your readers will get out of this book?
ASTFALK: That despite the mistakes we make and a past that can still rear its ugly head, we can find forgiveness, redemption, and always hope.
by H. L. Burke
Book 1: Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors
Nyssa Glass is a reformed cat burglar turned electrician’s apprentice, settled into a life repairing videophones and radio-sets. However, when her past comes calling, she finds herself forced into one last job. No one has entered Professor Dalhart’s secluded mansion in almost a decade, at least not and returned to tell the tale. If Nyssa wants to ensure her freedom, she’ll brave the booby trapped halls and mechanized maids. Nyssa has skills, but this house has more than its share of secrets. As she steps into the cobwebbed halls lined with dusty mirrors, she has to wonder. Is the House of Mirrors really abandoned?
“Moves like a bolt of greased lightning… It becomes a VERY deep, thought provoking story but never lets up on the pacing, which is impressive.”
“To put it mildly, I did not want to put this book down! I loved Nyssa right from the beginning, and I can’t wait to read about more of her adventures.”
“Nyssa is an engaging heroine, spunky and brash.”
Book 2: Nyssa Glass and the Juliet Dilemma
Being framed for murder and forced to flee the country sort of takes the fun out of vacations.
Nyssa Glass wants to lead an honest life as an electrician’s apprentice. Instead, she’s on the run with her new friend, Ellis, implicated in a crime she didn’t commit. The pair ends up stowing away on a zeppelin and meeting Renard and Amara, two teens running away to be married. But the mysterious couple is hiding something—and it might get Nyssa and Ellis killed.
“This one is a non-stop tale of suspense, cool gadgets, mysterious antagonists, and I loved the continuing interaction between Nyssa and Ellis. It’s fun to journey with two smart, quirky young people. I alternate between gasping over their peril and smiling at their budding love.”
“Perfect sequel in the tales of my new favorite heroine!”
Book 3: Nyssa Glass and the Cutpurse Kid
Like clockwork, the past always comes back around.
When larceny is the family business, it’s hard to make a clean break. Nyssa Glass has finally gotten her life back together. She has her own electrical repair shop, a boyfriend who adores her, and for once, no one is trying to have her arrested. When the shop door rings, though, a man she hoped to never see again threatens to ruin everything.
“The addition of the ‘Cutpurse Kid’ (think Artful Dodger) made for some great character growth in Nyssa and some very exciting scenes.”
“I love the underlying theme of this installment, that family is not necessarily what you’re born to, but what you make of the people who mean the most to you.”
Book 4: Nyssa Glass’s Clockwork Christmas
Nyssa Glass doesn’t have many fond memories of Christmas. Her boyfriend, Ellis, however, is determined to make their first holiday together a celebration of a lifetime. Nyssa can’t let him down.
Overwhelmed by decorations and shopping, Nyssa sets out to find the perfect present for Ellis. However, when a charming dance instructor decides Nyssa is what he wants for Christmas, Ellis’s only gift might be a dose of holiday heartbreak.
“A delightful, lovable comedy of errors.”
“I was thinking this would go along the route of the The Gift of the Magi, and in some ways it did, but it was a completely unique spin on it that ended up holding only the same idea: Giving what you can from the heart.”
“Nyssa’s character was strong and spunky with a soft center. She was independent but still showed signs of being a teenager. Ellis and Theo were adorable. I loved their little family as well as my introduction to steampunk. And the Christmas values weren’t contrived or forced at all.”
Book 5: Nyssa Glass and the Electric Heart
Settled safely on foreign soil, Nyssa’s life finally seems back on track. However, fate soon throws another wrench in the clockwork. A determined detective tracks Nyssa down and threatens to drag her back for trial.
Nyssa’s desperate to shake off her past … or at least the aggressive lady detective. A mysterious note promises hidden evidence to finally prove her innocence, but she can’t tell anyone, even her beloved Ellis.
Surrounded by new enemies as well as nearly forgotten old friends, Nyssa must fight to keep her freedom and clear her name once and for all.
“Lots of feels in this book, both for Nyssa and Ellis, and for .. well, that would be spoiling it. Suffice to say, this wraps up the series in a tidy little bow. It’s very satisfying.”
CIR: Who is your favorite character and why?
BURKE: Hart, the house computer. The first thing Nyssa does on entering Dalhart Manor is to activate the computer system, and instead of a basic interface, she finds that it is an advanced artificial intelligence. She starts calling it “Hart,” and he becomes her only companion for most of the book. He’s sarcastic, optimistic, and unfortunately fond of bad puns. Instead of “boy meets girl” my book is “girl meets computer.” It works in an odd way.
CIR: Did this require any research, and what kind?
BURKE: This story will get me in trouble if I’m ever on trial … I had to research lockpicking, electrical shock, tasers, how a bullet would go through various sorts of glass, and of course, Victorian fashion.
CIR: What would you compare this book to?
BURKE: If Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, and H. G. Wells got together and threw everything they had into a serial adventure heroine package, that would be Nyssa Glass. Nyssa is inspired by heroes like Tintin and Indiana Jones (maybe a little bit of Nancy Drew) who tend to fall into trouble but fight their way out with intelligence and tenacity.
CIR: Is there any content that some readers might find questionable despite the overall “clean” feel of the book?
BURKE: There is a little bit of action violence, characters falling to booby traps, and some characters with murderous intentions. The house is also occupied by killer robots and without going into spoiler territory, Nyssa discovers evidence that gruesome experiments were conducted on human subjects. It’s definitely a low PG-13 level of violence. Also two mild curse words used in a heated moment, when a character finds out someone close to them has done something truly awful. (both d-words) The computer is also a bit flirty at times and compliments the heroine on her “derriere” (where do you slap a computer?).