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Readers’ Favorite Review Of The Brass Compass

“A Magnificent Success”

Reviewed By Thomas A. Peters

It’s November of 1944 in Germany and adept American OSS agent Lilian Saint James has just been handed the perfect opportunity to insert herself into the home of a leading Nazi tactician, after saving the German army colonel’s young daughter from being run down by a car. After passing an investigation, she is sent to be a nanny in the Oberndorf home, where she begins to gather intelligence and take pictures of strategic maps of munitions factories, air fields and static U-boat locations that she hopes to pass on to the Allies. Her hopes are dashed, however, when the only two contacts available to her are neutralized by the SS. Fearing that her cover is blown, Lily must find a way to escape west past the battle lines into liberated France where, with the help of American Army troops, her undercover efforts are brought to fruition. After an all too brief recovery period, the ever-intrepid Lily, who refuses to be relegated to a desk job while the war continues, is requested to return to Germany to help rescue a downed British pilot and she jumps at the chance. Following this death-defying success, it would appear Lily’s days of intrigue are over, but again she manages to shrewdly insert herself into the action and, in the waning days of the European war, she arrives at the captured concentration camp of Buchenwald where she makes a discovery instrumental in identifying its horrific commanding officers who fled before the Allied arrival.

Seasoned author Ellen Butler’s first foray into historical fiction with the World War II spy novel, The Brass Compass, is a magnificent success filled with characters that remind the reader again and again why the moniker “greatest generation” is so aptly applied. The carefully constructed first-person narrative, perfectly in vogue with the vernacular and popular culture of the era, is flavored seamlessly with the many tongues that the multi-lingual Lily must use to navigate in a dangerous world where it seems no one can be trusted. On its own, as a novel of intrigue and espionage, The Brass Compass would stand as quite an achievement, but the story truly hits the high notes with the romance between its Ingrid Bergman look-alike protagonist and Milwaukee gentleman-turned-army major. Physical beauty aside, it is the internal thoughts, and moreover, the impetus to “do something more” for the war effort which simultaneously drive Lily and the reader forward in discovering the horrors of combat and the triumph of love.

Isabella’s Painting ~ Arriving May 2

After a long week lobbying on Capitol Hill, all Karina Cardinal wants to do is chill with Netflix and her boyfriend, Patrick Dunne. Instead, she’s slipping her aching feet into red stilettos for his parents’ annual holiday bash.

When she accidentally interrupts Patrick’s father in his study, her embarrassment is tempered by suspicion that Martin Dunne and his dapper, secretive guest are hiding something. Maybe the painting she barely glimpses right before it disappears behind a secret panel.

An internet search raises her curiosity to full-blown alarm. If she’s right, Martin is in possession of a stolen masterpiece. Infamous because everyone close to it has turned up dead. As in Mafia-style-execution dead.

As she’s chewing over which instinct to follow—back off while she still can, or dig deeper for the truth—she crosses paths with FBI agent Mike Finnegan. An old friend and not-quite flame from her college days. When she looks into his warm, mocha eyes, she’s tempted to tell him everything.

Trouble is, she’s already being watched. And the next move she makes could destroy innocent lives…including her own.

New Series Coming in 2018

I am pleased to announce my next novel, Isabella’s Painting, will be book 1 in the Karina Cardinal Series. It’s a new thriller/suspense series featuring Karina Cardinal, an intelligent D.C. lobbyist with a sharp wit, and a curiosity to rival Jessica Fletcher. Karina’s inquisitiveness pulls her into one adventure after another occasionally putting herself or those she loves into danger. Right now, I’ve charted four Karina Cardinal novels with possibly more to follow. Fans of my contemporary suspense, Poplar Placewill enjoy Isabella’s Painting. Isabella’s Painting is currently slated for 2018. More details soon to follow.

Isabella’s Painting

A D.C. lobbyist stumbles across a stolen painting at the home of her fiancé’s parents dropping a moral dilemma into her hands. Her efforts to do what’s right could jeopardize her engagement, and place her in the mafia’s crosshairs.

75th Anniversary of the OSS~Celebrating Female Spies~The Brass Compass Release

Congressional Gold Medal Act

Female spies who risked their lives during World War II will be recognized with the 75th anniversary of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. The OSS Congressional Gold Medal Act will honor around 100 brave individuals who are still alive with an award ceremony.  Their bravery and ingenuity is displayed in The Brass Compass, a book being released on May 22, 2017 to coincide with the anniversary.

The Women of the OSS

Sabotage. Seduction. Couture dresses with hidden pockets. All were techniques and tools used by female spies recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. These women were critical to Allied success and audiences have been thrilled by their exploits in novels and on the screen, yet their very real accomplishments have been ignored for generations.

This year the OSS, which was the precursor to the CIA, will celebrate its 75th anniversary. And thanks to the OSS Congressional Gold Medal Act, its agents will finally get the recognition they deserve. Just in time for that celebration The Brass Compass, a book set during WWII, will place one female spy in the spotlight.

The novel reveals the extreme dangers agents faced when Lily St. James parachutes behind enemy lines, destroys rail lines, and infiltrates a high-ranking Nazi household. The Brass Compass is the latest story to celebrate the uncompromising intelligence and composure displayed by real operatives. From Greta Garbo in the film “Mata Hari” to Stephanie Meyer’s modern novel The Chemist, audiences are riveted by the tough-and-tender ways women approach espionage. These fictions reflect reality. By allowing women to utilize their natural talents and their specialized training, the OSS preserved freedom worldwide.

The covert intelligence program didn’t exist before December 7, 1941. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor spurred President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create one overarching espionage office, formalizing it on June 13, 1942. Scrambling to cobble together an effective system, the OSS recruited without prejudice. Race, religion, gender, or formal education had no impact on ability. Often the people who became field agents were bilingual. They might have spent time living abroad, which gave them a natural familiarity with overseas cultures. That’s how Lily St. James, the heroine of The Brass Compass, becomes an Allied spy. With a diplomat for a father, Lily grew up in various locations throughout Europe. She is therefore fluent in French and German, both of which are invaluable for an operative.

According to CIA historian Linda McCarthy, the war department knew that women excelled at infiltrating enemy networks and organizing resistance movements. Female agents became saboteurs, guerrilla warriors, mapmakers, propagandists, and communications technicians. In The Brass Compass, St. James calls on her training as well as her wits to fulfill a number of these roles. Like many of the agents who parachuted behind enemy lines in France, her life expectancy in the field is about six weeks.

Fortunately, OSS spies had a specially designed arsenal. They used single-shot Liberator pistols, button compasses, and escape maps printed on silk. Espionage equipment tailored for female spies included shoes with hollow heel compartments, codes embedded in compact mirrors, and suicide pills disguised in jewelry. St. James makes use of false documents, hidden compartments and a tiny matchbox style camera invented by the OSS. Even with this specialized equipment, she must be clever. While working as a nanny for a German officer, the tiniest slip might prove fatal. Eventually she is forced to flee with mini-film hidden in a hollow boot heel. Although exposure and fatigue cloud her judgement, she does what she must to survive, and when she stumbles across a dead pilot, St. James takes his Victory Colt pistol and the photo of his lover.

The pistol is a deadly weapon she will not hesitate to use. But she prefers flirtation and persuasion to wiggle out of tough spots, so the photo supports the story she concocts to evade enemy patrols. Seduction and evasion were used by “swallows,” female operatives who were astonishing effective. Betty Pack infiltrated the Vichy Embassy in Washington, DC, through seduction. There she secured the information needed for Operation Torch, the invasion of Vichy French North Africa.

Even though the women of the OSS performed admirably, they struggled against a society that didn’t offer much respect. Doris Bohrer, who analyzed aerial photos and selected troop drop sites, said, “Everyone else was Lieutenant So-and-So, or Captain This. We were The Girls.” Despite the lack of respect, the women of the OSS persevered. Nowadays, female operatives are widely valued. Tamir Pardo, head of Israel’s Mossad, said, “[W]omen’s abilities are superior to men in terms of understanding the territory, reading situations, [and] spatial awareness.”  Lindsey Moran, a five-year CIA veteran, believes that the agency’s best-kept secret is that their most talented spies are women. Awareness and assessment are key to survival, and these skills have been valorized in many films and books like The Brass Compass.

On the 75th anniversary of the OSS, agents who risked their lives in WWII will finally receive the recognition they deserve. The program that spawned the CIA, the Navy Seals and the Special Forces will be lauded for the heroism and valor of its employees…whether they were men or women.

On June 13, 2017, the 75th Anniversary, Ellen Butler will be presenting—A Celebration of the OSS 75th Anniversary ~ Highlighting Women’s Contributions, Weapons, and Training—at the Freedom Museum in Manassas, Virginia.

Ellen Butler is an award-winning author whose grandfather was a WWII cryptographer. She is also a member of The OSS Society. The Brass Compass was inspired by the brave women who served in the OSS, the British Special Operations Executive organization, and the French Resistance. Butler will tour multiple states from April through July to present The Brass Compass and other books to readers.

Trade Paperback $14.99 ~ eBook $4.99

.99c Book Bundles

For a limited time Heart of Design and Art of Affection are available as part of a box set. Only .99c will get you some steamy romance stories from Crimson Romance. Don’t miss out on your box set.

California Kisses: 10 Golden State Romances


We’ve packed this bundle full of mountains, beaches, Hollywood glamour, sunshine, and wine, delivering romance the way only California can. Join these ten couples as they explore love in the state known for its golden dreams.


Works of Passion: 8 Artistic Romances


A picture paints a thousand emotions in these eight tales of colorful romance. Don’t miss a stroke of these wonderful stories of inspiration and passion.

The Brass Compass Video Trailer

The Brass Compass Video Trailer is now live for your sneak peek enjoyment.

Publisher’s Weekly

I’m pleased to announce Poplar Place is listed in the December 19th Publisher’s Weekly Magazine in the section for Indie Published titles.


RONE Finalist & Writer’s Beware Article


I honored to announce that Planning for Love is a 2016 RONE Award Finalist in the Chick-Lit category. The RONE awards are one of the most prestigious and assuredly the most comprehensive Indie Awards in the publishing world and are distributed by InD’tale Magazine. Award winners can be found on page 54 in the June InD’tale Magazine.

Additionally, in this month’s magazine you will find my latest article, Writer’s Beware, highlighting the recent signing scams that seem to be on the rise in the Romance industry. Some of the swindles have been due to poor money managment or incompetence, others seem to be perpetrated  by outright fraudsters who have no plans to actually hold the signing and only seek to take your money and run. I encourage all old and new authors to read the article and become aware of the Signing Scam minefields out there.

Virginia Festival of the Book

Upcoming Event – Mark Your Calendar

VaBookFestival2016-OrigI’m pleased to announce I will be participating in a panel session at the 2016 Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday, March 19. The panel session, Series Writing: For Women by Women, also includes Virginia authors Betsy Ashton, Tracey Livesay and Avery Flynn. The panel will be moderated by the hilariously funny author of Magic Fishing Panties, Kimberly Dalferes. (Book signing will take place following the panel session.)

From best-seller lists to box office hits, series are all the rage. Though series writing is nothing new to the publishing industry, in the past decade we’ve seen an unprecedented resurgence of series in all genres of writing and publishers are continually searching for the next big hit. The panelists and moderator bring together five female Virginia authors who write romance and women’s fiction series that speak to a diverse class of readers. The author’s series’ provide main characters with ages spanning from mid-twenties to the twilight years. Moreover, the authors also bring diversity in their writing through multi-racial and multi-cultural relationships and their storylines deal with the issues that we as an ever diversifying nation face now and in the future.

The Festival of the Book is a five day conference put on by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The days are filled with author readings, panel sessions, book signings, industry discussions and workshops. It is one of the largest events in the Mid-Atlantic region bringing in upwards of 20,000 participants, including readers, authors and industry professionals. There is no charge to attend most of the sessions. However, there are some specialty luncheons, dinners and receptions which participants can pay to attend.

If you live in the region I highly recommend you put this event on your calendar. You won’t be disappointed! Visit The Virginia Festival of the Book Website for more information.

Query Letter for Agents & Publishers

(Originally posted on Savvy Author’s Blog 2013)

MC900382574So, you’re an author. You’ve written your fiction novel and you’ve edited and refined it to shiny perfection. What? You’re not finished with your novel? It’s still in draft form and you haven’t had someone else proof it? Stop! You aren’t ready to go shopping for an agent or publisher, go back to your manuscript, finish and polish it before going any further.

The Query Letter

If you have indeed finished your novel and polished it, then you are at the beginning of an exciting and sometimes devastating road. However, there are still a few documents you’ll need to prepare before beginning your search. Chief among them is the dreaded Query Letter. First and foremost, the query letter should be a professional document in a readable font. This isn’t the time for a fancy princess script font. Agents looking for new authors receive hundreds of query letters a week, and they don’t want a cutesy letter you’d send to Grandma, or you’re life’s story. The letter should be one page and generally contains four paragraphs – The Hook, A Mini-synopsis, Manuscript Info, and a Short Bio.


The Hook – Writing a hook can be a tricky business. The hook is basically an enticing 1-2 sentence attention grabber. That’s it. It shouldn’t sound like an intro to a textbook. Run your hook by a critique partner. They’ll see it from a different perspective and may hit on the key to making you’re hook stand out.

The Mini-synopsis – This is where the manuscript needs to shine. Use this paragraph to show an agent why you’re book is special and different from others. Provide quick, attention-grabbing sentences about your characters and the turmoil you create in their life. Think back of the book blurb. Leave the agent wanting to hear more about your fabulous novel. Make sure to provide the title of your book in this paragraph. Italicize the title.

Manuscript Info – This should be a brief paragraph and contain the following: word count, genre, target audience, and comparable writers. Don’t forget to research the genre you’re claiming to write. If you write romance, your word count should be between 60-80K. An agent will pass on a romance novel that’s coming in at 130K words. You’ve either written too much and need to cut, cut, cut, or it should be broken up into a series.

Short Bio – The bio paragraph should be easy because it’s about you. If you have any writing experience, articles for magazines or journals, short stories, a popular blog, etc., put that information here. If your story is about a lawyer and you are one, write that here. If you’re new and unpublished, but have joined some writing organizations, put that down. If you are a new writer and have little to say, that’s fine too. It gives you more space to for your all-important mini-synopsis.

Finally, provide a closer sentence or two thanking the agent for their time, and to tell them what you’ve attached to the e-mail or included in the envelope – e.g. synopsis, first three chapters, blurb, etc.

If you met the agent or publisher at a conference or local workshop, be sure to add that to your query letter to jog their memory. To find out more about preparing each of these paragraphs, I suggest searching the web. There are dozens of query letter samples to get you started.

Other Documentation

Agents or Publishers may request other documents beyond the query letter, such as; synopsis, one page summary, and first three chapters. Be sure to carefully read each agent/publisher’s website and query submission guidelines. If you don’t follow the guidelines, it can lead to an automatic rejection. Don’t submit a 5 page synopsis when only a twofer was requested. Don’t query an agent with your children’s book if she only represents crime and mystery fiction. Not only are you wasting their time, you’re wasting yours.

Synopsis – Many agents/publishers will request a synopsis to go along with the query letter. If the agent doesn’t define how long the synopsis should be, keep it to 2-3 single-spaced pages. Make sure to number the pages and have the title of the book and your name in the header. The entire synopsis should only include the names of 3-5 characters. When naming the characters, use all caps. Do this throughout the synopsis. A synopsis should be written in third person, even if your novel is written in first person. It should be in present tense. Do not introduce too many characters in the synopsis. You can refer to side characters by their jobs or role in the book to keep the synopsis concise. Always, always, ALWAYS include the ending of the book. If the main character dies, say that. If your heroine marries the hero and they live happily ever after, write it down. An agent is looking for the ending. If you leave a cliffhanger, she may cliff hang your synopsis in the trash.

One page blurb/summary – I have seen some agents ask for a one-page blurb or summary. Unless they define it differently, assume a summary could be akin to a long blurb, similar to something you’d find on the inside of a book jacket. Make it exciting. Write in third person. Write character names in all caps. Be sure your name, book title, contact information, and word count is at the top of the summary page.

First Three Chapters – This is self-explanatory. Your manuscript should be typed in a readable 12 pt. font and double spaced. Times New Roman is generally the preferred font. Create a Title Page. This should include your name, contact info, total word count and genre in the upper left or right hand corner. In the middle of the page, center the title. Be sure to number your pages. Do not number the Title Page. In the header of each page, not the title page, list the title and your name.

Search the web for examples of all these documents to help set you on your way. Don’t forget to proof, proof, proof your query letter and all the accompanying documents, just as you would a resume. Additionally, proof the e-mail. A careless typo in the subject line may have an agent automatically deleting or sending a form rejection.

Finding Agents to Query

Now that you’ve polished your documentation, where do you find an agent/publisher? If you’ve met one at a conference or writer’s workshop, and they showed any interest, be sure to follow up with a query promptly. Otherwise, if you’re heading out into the harsh world of cold-querying, I recommend starting with the website Preditors & Editors. It’s a comprehensive website for finding all things publishing. You’ll find information about agents, publishers, contests, conventions, and more. Preditors & Editors also provides information about sketchy agents you should avoid. I also suggest searching for an article called Thumbs Down Agency List, to find out about poor agency practices and what to watch out for.

Researching and querying agents is a time-consuming business. Be sure to tailor your query letter to each agent and format your documents to their exact specifications. Some agents prefer everything in the body of the e-mail, whereas others will accept attachments. Also be sure to save attachments in the proper formats. For instance, some agents prefer Rich Text Format rather than Word documents.

Final Thoughts

An agent may not be for everyone. If you’ve successfully launched your self-published books, or you’re working with a small e-publisher and your sales have done well, more power to you. However, if you’re dying to get a physical book on the Barnes and Noble shelf or wish to be published with one of the major book publishers, such as Random House, you’ll need an agent. Major publishers, and even some medium-sized publishers, won’t accept submissions from unagented authors. Remember, agents make contacts with all sorts of editors in the publishing business. An editor may review your manuscript if it’s submitted by an agent they know and trust, but circular file a manuscript submitted by an unknown writer.

Finally, a word to the wise, rejection comes with the territory. As a writer, you will face rejection from agents, publishers, and readers. It’s not pretty and it never feels good. The publishing industry is a dog-eat-dog world, and writers are a dime a dozen. If you can’t handle the rejection, find another career.