Author Spotlight: Ted Halstead

Ted Halstead is the author of The Russian Agents thriller series. His latest release is the third book in the series, titled The End of America’s War in Afghanistan.  

He served twenty-five years in the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer, most of it overseas, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service after his second tour at US Embassy Riyadh. His tours included four years at US Embassy Seoul, and two years at the East Asia Pacific Bureau in DC. He is a National War College graduate, and served for three years at a regional US military headquarters.

While there is continuity of some characters through the series, each of the books is a standalone novel. it is not necessary to read any one book before reading the others. The books are all set in different countries at different times, and each book’s story ends with a satisfying resolution.

What inspired you to write?  

Throughout my career in the US Foreign Service, I had experiences that I shared with my fellow officers. From my very first tour, I was told I should write a book about them.  Security classification and privacy concerns have made writing a nonfiction account impossible. However, I have worked many of those experiences into my novels.

What’s your favourite thing that you have written?  

That’s a very hard question. I will always have a special place in my heart for my first book, which took me almost seven years to write. I poured a lot of myself into The Second Korean War, drawing on the four years I served at the US Embassy in Seoul. That was also true for my second book, The Saudi-Iranian War. I drew on two tours at US Embassy Riyadh for that book, spaced twenty years apart. My third book, The End of America’s War in Afghanistan, has some of my favorite supporting characters. Sadly, many don’t survive.  If I must choose one, I have to say The Second Korean War.

What’s your favourite thing that someone else has written?  

Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell. I read it when I was starting high school, and it made a great impression on me. Published in 1957, it was incredibly far ahead of its time. I genuinely envy anyone who hasn’t read it yet!What are you working on writing now?  The End of Russia’s War in Ukraine. Check out my blog, accessible through my Amazon Author Page, for the first couple of pages.

Do you have a favourite food or drink that helps you write?  

Coffee, of course!

Who designs your book covers?  

Ivan Zanchetta, for all three of my books. Just Google his name to find his site. Highly recommended!

What’s your favourite kind of music?  

At the moment, 1970s R&B. Check out the soundtrack for the movie Shaft and see if you agree with me that Isaac Hayes really did deserve his Grammy. Especially for the block of songs following Cafe Regio’s. Or try the song Natural Man by Lou Rawls, and see if you’re as amazed as I am that it came out in 1971.

What’s the best vacation you’ve had?  

Hawaii, during my tour in Seoul. After the pollution of early 1990s Seoul, it was such a pleasure to breathe clean air!

What is your pet hate? Have you ever built it into a character or used it in your writing?  

Bureaucracy. I hated it all 25 years I was part of one of the largest on Earth, and did my best to make it bearable for every member of the public we served. You will see this in all my books in many ways.

What movie can you watch over and over again?  

The Incredibles. First, it’s one of those rare movies I can safely enjoy watching with my granddaughter. Plus, there are so many sly references to old Bond and superhero movies it takes repeated viewings to find them all!

What would you like people to know about being an Indie author?  

I started self-publishing on many sites, including Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Google Books, Apple etc. But I ended up dropping the others because I decided to try making my first book available through Kindle Unlimited, which required me to do Amazon only. I was honestly shocked by how many people read both that book and the others since through KU – literally millions of pages! That actually means more to me than book sales. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s bought a book and either never read it, or just read a few pages before losing interest. As someone who puts a lot of himself into his books, it’s very gratifying to see that people are really reading them!

Thanks for being here and sharing with us today, Tom! 

Thanks for having me!

Ted’s books are all available in Kindle, paperback and audiobook formats.  They are also available through Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: ‘A Confabulated Compendium of Anecdotes’ by Melissa H North

Find your copy here.

This collection of intriguing and mysterious Steampunk-style speculative short stories offers a good variety of settings and situations in which the reader is immersed as the tales develop. 

The writing is evocative and richly textured. Some of these stories are full of brooding darkness and  macabre imagery, creating a powerful contrast with the ironic humour and hopeful adventure that pervades the final story.

These stories are just the right size to enjoy one at a time during breaks in a busy day, and varied enough to maintain the reader’s interest when read in one sitting. 

There is some adult content, so this is not a suitable book for younger readers, but it is a most enjoyable and diverting read for grownups.

Book Review: ‘Red Ink: A Darkworld Tale’ by T.D. McIntosh and Nancy Uliano

Macabre and unsettling, this psychological thriller seems disjointed and strangely sequenced until the strands of the story start to pull together.

That which at first appears to be gratuitous splatter for spaltter’s sake turns out to be far more complex psychological horror brought about by a deadly combination of individual volition and a dark power that cannot be explained. 

The reader is shocked and disoriented by the twists and turns, just as the characters are, feeling as though the story lurches from one disturbing and not-quite-fully developed scene to the next without sufficient resolution. As the story begins to gel, and the seemingly unrelated events all start to lead to the climax of the story, the reader begins to realise that this was an entirely deliberate and quite complex strategy, designed to emotionally immerse the reader in the confusion and fear evoked by both the actions of the antagonists and the experiences of the victims. 

Gory and unpredictable, this is a dark and disturbing read. 

Book Review: ‘Annabelle’ by Elexis Bell

In this book, two distinct narratives unfold: what Annabelle does, and what drives her to do it. 

The storytelling is intuitive, drawing on the reader’s instincts and assumed knowledge to build empathy and understanding with Annabelle and to evoke anger, grief and sorrow not just for her suffering and pain, but rather for that of all who have suffered in similar ways. 

The story is very well written, boldly narrated by the character from whom it takes its title. Annabelle is a young woman who displays tenacity, conviction, and a desire for justice that proves, as it so often does, to be a far more powerful motivator than self-preservation.

While this book delivers an important and timely story that needs to be told and understood, it does contain some scenes of violence and of sexual assault, so it is not suitable for young readers, nor for readers whose own trauma may be triggered by that content. 

Like Annabelle herself, this is a story that points the finger directly at not only the perpetrators, bit also those who enable and protect them with their silence, and demands justice for their transgressions. 

Book Review: ‘The Mistress of Pennington’s’ by Rachel Brimble

Set in the early years of the 20th century amidst the campaign of the Suffragette movement and aa growing awareness of the inequality of women in a “man’s world”, the story of Elizabeth Pennington’s struggle to be acknowledged as an equal by her father is one that captures the challenges and frustrations of the generations of women who worked together to change the way the western world operated. More than a hundred years after the events that frame the story, in a world that has changed so much and yet seems to have progressed so little at the same time, readers can still be inspired and challenged by the commitment and aspirations of Elizabeth and other characters in this book. 

Magnificent and luxurious, the eliteness of Pennington’s department store in Bath and the exclusivity of its clientele provide Elizabeth both enormous opportunity and significant frustration as she fights to bring the business into a new century and to make it increasingly relevant to a rapidly changing society. 

Through Elizabeth’s experiences as businesswoman, daughter, lover and friend, the reader is confronted with a number of issues that women faced, often finding them insurmountable, and thus gains a clearer understanding of why so many women fought so hard to achieve greater equality— not just the right to vote, but also to be treated with respect, to be able to make their own decisions, and to overcome all sorts of deeply-ingrained discrimination that plagued them. 

Even though Elizabeth is of a much higher social class than most of the readers, she is relatable and believable in her frustrations and responses to the society in which she lives. The cast of characters are realistic and believable, presenting a fair representation and cross-section of the working and upper classes that existed in society at the time. 

While there is some adult content, making it suitable for an adult audience only, this is a most enjoyable work of historical fiction that it well worth reading. 

Book Review: ‘My Dream Woman’ by C.H. Clepitt

While many people may insist that they wish their dreams really would come true, this story reminds the reader that it might not always be a good thing. ‘My Dream Woman’ is a heartwarming, entertaining and quite fantastic tale of the power of dreams in the lives and destinies of those who have them. 

The author has created a quite brilliant concept with the Guild of Dream Warriors and in doing so has opened up a whole new realm of potential for contemporary fantasy— one which the author has deftly and confidently made her own with the mystical and mysterious collection of characters who populate this story. Of course, nothing is perfect, and therein lies the complication that sets the plot of this delightful tale in motion. 

The story is written in a familiar and relaxed tone that makes the reader feel as if they have known Andi, the central character, for much longer than just the time they’ve been reading. The story rolls on at a good pace, at some times lighthearted and amusing, and at other times suspenseful and intriguing, but always delivering twists that keep both the reader and the characters curious and engaged. 

Once again, Cleiptt has produced a highly original and quirky story that has far more depth and meaning to it than just mere entertainment. As the assumptions, fears and instincts of the characters are explored, so are those of the reader, revealing truths that challenge the way in which one understands their own responses to life and the different people with whom we share it. 

There is some adult content, so it’s not a book for younger readers, but it is a positive and empowering read that promotes understanding of different perspectives and orientations. 

Having found so much to enjoy in this novella, it is very exciting to know there are two more books in the Guild of Dream Warriors series. 

‘Highland Blood’ The Celtic Blood Book 2 by Melanie Karsak

In this excellent sequel to ‘Highland Raven’, Karsak continues the magical, mystical story of Gruoch as she continues to learn of her destiny amid the complexity of both worlds to which she belongs. 

Find your copy here.

As with the first book in this series, Gruoch’s story is so beautifully written  and expertly crafted that the reader becomes deeply invested in the events and characters of the story, sharing Gruoch’s fears, pain, and hopes as her life takes compelling twists and unpredictable turns. She is a complex and powerful woman, strong and admirable, and steadfast in the face of conflict and danger. Yet, she is never portrayed as perfect, never unrealistically good, and never so contrived as to not be believable. 

There are some lovely references to Shakespeare’s ’Macbeth’, woven seamlessly into the narrative. This establishes close ties between that story and this one, even though the events of this series thus far happen before those in the famous play.

The story delivers a fascinating blend of history, mystery, fantasy, romance, and adventure in an deeply engaging read that, once started, demands to be consumed. 

Book Review: ‘The Old Gilt Clock’ by Paulette Mahurin

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There are times, particularly in the face of conflict or adversity, in which one might be tempted to ask, “What can one person do?”

The story of Willem Arondeus is testament to the fact that one person can do a very great deal to oppose hatred or wrongdoing, both through their own efforts but also by inspiring and encouraging others to also stand against evil. 

 Willem’s life story is well written and makes compelling reading. A man well acquainted with prejudice and hatred, Willem has been brought to life by the author in a manner that is both realistic about his flaws and empathetic about his suffering, credibly portraying him as a very normal person with a profound commitment to doing what was right.

This book adds a personal dimension to history and confronts the reader with the sense of helplessness experienced by the Dutch people of the time, and with the anger and resentment they harboured toward the Nazis and those who dumped with them. It made me reflect on what I know of my own grandfather, who was also a member of the Dutch resistance during the German occupation of the Netherlands in WWII, and to feel.somehow even more strongly connected to Willem and his friends as a result.

This is often an uncomfortable read, but it is an important one. Because stories like this are told, our generation is reminded to be vigilant against evil, to stand with the oppressed, and to ‘do some good ‘.

Book Review: ‘Fallen Captive’ by Aliya DalRae

The second novel in DalRae’s Fallen Cross Legion Series is an excellent blend of paranormal romance, tragedy and thriller. 

‘Fallen Captive’ explores the backstory of Nox and his experiences before coming to Fallen Cross, providing both compelling reading and a powerful contrast to the future Nox has begun to build for himself. All of this takes place in the context of the development of the narrative of the Fallen Cross Legion and the stories of its individual members. 

The end result is a complex and well-crafted story that immerses the reader in the world of these Vampires and causes them to invest deeply in the survival and the futures of the central characters.

Book Review: ‘The Promise of the Opal’ by Lyra Shanti

Find your copy here.

As full of mysticism as it is of mystery, ‘The Promise of the Opal ‘ is a vivid and sensual read that takes the reader to China and immerses them in a compelling love story that both blurs and crosses boundaries– of time, of gender, and of the laws that apply to the physical and spiritual worlds as we understand them. 

The characters are complex, interesting and relatable. Each struggles with questions of identity and belonging, and with feelings of inadequacy and failure, and each must wrestle with those issues as they discover confronting yet undeniable truths about themselves and each other. 

The writing is full of texture and sensory richness that brings the characters and settings — and their history — to life. The story unfolds seamlessly, deeply engaging the reader and making them feel as though they are present in the story. 

While the adult content in the story is tasteful and respectful, it is suitable for adult audiences only. 

This book delivers a fascinating story and a beautiful.reading experience.