Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Straight Chatting from the Library: The Man with the Crystal Ankh and The Girl Who Flew Away by Val Muller

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Val Muller will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC and a download code for The Girl Who Flew Away, a download code for The Scarred Letter, a print copy (US only) of The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and an ebook of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

What is the favorite book you remember as a child?

I read and re-read The Hobbit (and later, The Lord of the Rings). The world Tolkien created pulled me in. It felt so natural—I suppose it’s the way he described things. I could tell her had a clear picture of the world in his head. Sometimes when I work with students on writing, I ask them things like “How far out in the wilderness are they?” and the students shrug “I don’t know.” It’s so important for a writer to truly see every aspect of their world to make it come to life on the pages, even if all the details in the reader’s head aren’t explicitly on the page.

What is your favorite book today?

I’m an English teacher, and every time a student asks me this, I feel like a parent when their kids ask “Which one of us is your favorite?” Whatever my answer, I feel like I’m betraying several! I’d probably have to say Orwell’s 1984 ranks as my all-time favorite book. I used to teach the book, so I’d read it once per year. What fascinates me about the book is the paranoid nature of the narrative. In some ways, I imagine Winston living in a North Korea-like situation. He’s not being given any actual information about his country or the surrounding world that can truly be trusted: there are conspiracies within conspiracies, and some of them are fabricated to manipulate citizens. He’s even uncertain about the date, and this is compounded by the fact that he knows (and is allowed to know) that he rewrites history for the Party. I love examining the book from a psychological perspective—what causes someone to break? To what extent do we value freedom?—as well as a narrative one. What do we do with a character who is trying to be honest but whose situation makes him possibly unreliable. I feel sorry for Orwell, as it’s easy to imagine his troubled mental state as he wrote the famous work. It’s also interesting to look at the media today and wonder if there is any source that is 100% objective and truthful.

What are you reading right now?

Don’t laugh. It’s a book about training toddlers to be essentially good citizens of the family. It’s a book that was recommended to me by someone. I won’t share the title because I’m not yet sold on the philosophy in it. My daughter—almost two now—is very strong-willed, and I want to make sure I’m thinking through all my decisions and not inadvertently causing certain behaviors. (And if you know me, you’ll understand where she inherited her strong will from :-).)

One book at a time or multiples?

I used to insist on reading only one book at a time. Since I’m a teacher, I have the summers off, and I would often go through one book in a day (or two). I committed to that book for all my reading moments until I finished. But now, with chasing a toddler around, I often have several books cooking at once. This is because I keep one open on my kindle (upstairs), one in the bathroom (a “light” read so I can read while watching her in the bathtub), and often one in the basement in case of downtime.

Dog-ear or bookmark? (don't worry—Librarian Judith won't hold it against you—much)

My husband detests this, but if I can’t immediately grab a bookmark or envelope, I will resort to a dog ear, but only as a last resort. Usually, though, I prefer to leave it open, face down, if I can’t get to a bookmark.

Favorite place to read?

In a hammock under a tree in the summertime with a bowl of blueberries on my stomach for snacking purposes!

Do you loan your books?

If I trust that the reader will enjoy it. It’s not so much that I care if I get the book back; it’s that I want the person reading it to actually read the book and appreciate it.

Favorite book to recommend?

It depends on who the reader is, but I love recommending The Life of Pi so that I can discuss the varied meanings with the reader. That book is personal in its interpretation. Part of the message is that we long for stories to structure our world, whether that story is science or religion or swimming. We make sense of the world in a way that resonates with us. So when hearing a story someone is telling, we must consider the storyteller’s background or purpose as well as our own. Each story changes with each hearer or reader, and ultimately, we are responsible for creating meaning in our lives and choosing what to believe. It’s a powerful message, but it’s deep and elusive. The more people I talk to about the book, the more enlightened I feel about its message.

Re-reader or not?

Only for the classics. As an English teacher, I read the books I teach every year, sometimes several years in a row. I truly enjoy this because I gain new insight each time I read. And I get to annotate these books as well (once, coming back from the Caribbean, an airline decided to chuck suitcases violently onto the belt, and a bottle of rum we had packed ended up spilling and wetting my copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I was devastated because some of my annotations ran on the pages, and the book smelled like rum—no longer something I could really bring to school!). I don’t generally re-read books, though, because I don’t trust all authors to build in enough “literary merit” for me to get much out of a second read-through. Some books are meant for entertainment mostly, and in that case the plot is the focus.


Everyone’s heard the legend of the hollow oak—the four-hundred year curse of Sarah Willoughby and Preston Grymes. Few realize how true it is.

Sarah Durante awakens to find herself haunted by the spirit of her high school’s late custodian. After the death of his granddaughter, Custodian Carlton Gray is not at peace. He suspects a sanguisuga is involved—an ancient force that prolongs its own life by consuming the spirits of others. Now, the sanguisuga needs another life to feed its rotten existence, and Carlton wants to spare others from the suffering his granddaughter endured. That’s where Sarah comes in. Carlton helps her understand that she comes from a lineage of ancestors with the ability to communicate with the dead. As Sarah hones her skill through music, she discovers that the bloodlines of Hollow Oak run deep. The sanguisuga is someone close, and only she has the power to stop it.

No good deed goes unpunished when freshman Steffie Brenner offers to give her awkward new neighbor a ride home after her first day at school. When her older sister Ali stops at a local park to apply for a job, Steffie and Madison slip out of the car to explore the park—and Madison vanishes.

Already in trouble for a speeding ticket, Ali insists that Steffie say nothing about Madison’s disappearance. Even when Madison’s mother comes looking for her. Even when the police question them.

Some secrets are hard to hide, though—especially with Madison’s life on the line. As she struggles between coming clean or going along with her manipulative sister’s plan, Steffie begins to question if she or anyone else is really who she thought they were. After all, the Steffie she used to know would never lie about being the last person to see Madison alive—nor would she abandon a friend in the woods: alone, cold, injured, or even worse.

But when Steffie learns an even deeper secret about her own past, a missing person seems like the least of her worries…


She picked up the instrument and set it onto her shoulder. A calmness passed into her, as if the violin exuded energy—as if it had a soul. The varnish had faded and dulled. Its life force did not come from its appearance. She brought the bow to the strings, which was still rosined and ready to play. Dragging the bow across the four strings, she found the instrument perfectly in tune.

Sarah took a deep breath and imagined the song, the way the notes melted into each other in nostalgic slides, the way her spirit seemed to pour from her soul that day.

And then it was happening again.

She had started playing without realizing it. Warm, resonant notes poured from the instrument and spilled into the room. They were stronger, and much more powerful, than those she was used to. This instrument was different than the factory-made one her parents had bought for her. Rosemary’s violin was singing to the world from its very soul. And it was happening just as before. Sarah’s energy flowed from her body, causing her to lose consciousness and gain perspective all at once. She rode the air on a lofty run of eighth notes. She echoed off the ceiling with a rich and resonant vibrato. She flew past the guests, who had all quieted to listen to her music; flew past the table of cold cuts and appetizers and up the darkened staircase, where she resonated against the walls and found her way into the guest room. There, she crept along a whole note and slid into the closet.

As the song repeated, she twirled around in the closet, spinning in a torrent of passionate notes. She searched through the notebooks and books on the floor and on the shelves, searched for an open notebook, for something she could read, something that might make her feel tied to the place. Otherwise, she might spin out of control and evaporate out the window and into the sky. She found her anchor on the floor in the darkest corner of the closet, a large parchment—maybe a poster. The notes spun around her in a dizzying way as she tried to stay still enough to read what was on the paper. It was a difficult task; now, with every beat her body downstairs tried to reclaim its energy.


Teacher, writer, and editor, Val Muller grew up in haunted New England but now lives in the warmer climes of Virginia, where she lives with her husband. She is owned by two rambunctious corgis and a toddler. The corgis have their own page and book series at

Val’s young adult works include The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and The Girl Who Flew Away and feature her observations as a high school teacher as well as her own haunted New England past. She blogs weekly at

The Girl Who Flew Away:

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The Man with the Crystal Ankh:



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  1. Congrats on the tour and thanks for the chance to win :)

  2. Reading in a hammock under a tree sounds nice.

  3. Thanks for featuring me :) I miss the hammock with this cold weather :)