Tuesday, September 21, 2021

#Giveaway Review - Shadow Music - Interview with author Helaine Mario

Today Shadow Music releases, I hope you've read and enjoyed the previous posts on the novel, but today is a treat you get my review, Helaine's and my interview and Helaine is sponsoring a very generous giveaway (details below). So get ready to get excited!

ISBN-13: 978-1608094509
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Release Date: 09-21-2021
Length: 384 pp
Maggie O'Shea #3
Source: Publisher-Author/Netgalley for review
Buy It: Amazon/B&N/IndieBound



Overcoming loss—finding the courage to move on—trying to stay alive

Late in the Cold War, a young woman escapes from Communist Hungary, vanishing into the night with a priceless painting and a baby girl—setting events in motion from a decades-old secret that will change lives for generations to come.

Many years later, classical pianist Maggie O’Shea is drawn to Cornwall in search of a long-lost Van Gogh and the truth behind her husband’s death. A journal from World War II Paris holds many of the answers, but only two people know where the Van Gogh is hidden now—a courageous nun and a man presumed dead.

Set against the backdrop of the international music and art world, Maggie finds herself on a collision course with three dangerous Russians who threaten all she holds dear—including her life and the life of the man she has come to love.

Past and present converge in this haunting tale of loss, courage, love, and revenge.

Perfect for fans of Sandra Brown and Iris Johansen

While the novels in the Maggie O’Shea Mystery Series stand on their own and can be read in any order, the publication sequence is:

The Lost Concerto
Dark Rhapsody
Shadow Music


My Interview with Helaine:


Helaine, hi! Thank you so much for chatting with me about Shadow Music, book #3 starring Maggie O’Shea.
Tell us just a bit about the new novel.

Hi Debbie, thank you so much for inviting me to talk about Shadow Music   In SHADOW MUSIC, past and present collide as Boston pianist Maggie O’Shea is drawn to Cornwall in a harrowing search for a Van Gogh missing since WWII and the truth behind her husband’s death.  Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 is at the heart of this story that strikes the chords of every human emotion.    

 First I have to tell you I LOVED Shadow Music.
You made this more interesting for me by incorporating things from both previous books.
Did you always plan for Maggie to star in multiple books or was it just a fortunate accident?

Debbie, I love this story.  It comes from my heart, and am so glad you enjoyed it.  To answer your first question, I never ever planned to write more than one book.  The Lost Concerto, my first classical music suspense novel, was locked in a drawer – along with my confidence - for over a year following many rejections and a parting of ways with my agent.  But a writer is compelled to write  – and I knew these were good characters who deserved a good story, especially my pianist Maggie O’Shea and the Colonel – so I finally unlocked the drawer.  I deepened my core characters and added new ones, who brought new inspiration, and a rescue Golden, who brought humor and humanity.  The publishers loved it.  BUT by then, when I signed my first book contract, I was 68 years old.  I absolutely believed The Lost Concerto would be my first, and last, book.   Until readers began asking what was next for Maggie.  I realized I needed to know as well.  And so Dark Rhapsody was born.  It turned out that Dark Rhapsody surprised me by ending with even more questions… and then a Russian teenager with a huge secret began to invade my dreams, demanding a role in Shadow Music.  And here we are.         

During the prologue readers learn that there is a connection to cold war Russia.
How did this aspect of the story come about?

First of all, over time I have learned that readers almost always love or hate Prologues.  Personally, I love books with Prologues.  I am fascinated by the idea that an event or decision made decades ago can reverberate over generations, like the ripples of a stone tossed into a lake.  For Shadow Music, I was caught by the idea of a woman having the courage to flee the Iron Curtain with an infant - and the idea that Maggie would cross paths with that now-grown infant some three decades later...  All four of my books (including my one stand-alone, Firebird), and now my work in progress as well, begin with a prologue.  It’s my hope that each one will raise so many intriguing questions that the reader will want to know what happens next and keep turning the pages.  But at the end of the day, Prologue or no Prologue, a good story is a good story.

One of the new characters in book 3 is the teenaged orphan Dov who Colonel Michael Beckett takes under his wing. He seemed super authentic to me.
How did you get inside the head of this troubled teen?

 Dov is one of my all-time favorite characters.  One secret to writing a good series is not only to keep, yet challenge, your familiar core characters, but also to add new characters who will take your story in different directions.  I felt that the Colonel finally deserved his own story in this book – and so for months I planned on introducing a preppy, arrogant, wealthy teen to Beckett’s story.  But when it came time to write his first scene, a door opened and a cocky Russian foster-care kid appeared in the stairwell, running from a hit-man.  Took me totally by surprise J.  I’m very glad you found Dov authentic – I channeled some of his foster care experiences from my days on a Children’s Hospital board in DC.    Also, I’ve supported a therapeutic riding program over the years, and that inspired me to explore the healing power of horses for kids.  But beyond that, somehow Dov just seemed to write himself.   

 Speaking of your characters are any of them based on real people?

 Mostly just bits and pieces.  An eye color here, a body build there, a way of wearing jewelry, a funny comment by someone that has me reaching for my notepad.  One character loves crosswords because of the NYTimes.  Another is a chess player because his scenes were inspired by The Queen’s Gambit.  A few times I have ‘stolen’ some intriguing thoughts, observations and quotes from my husband or our friends – or from Shakespeare.  Since it is harder for me to write male characters, I will admit that I based some of my men – in looks and/or character -  very loosely on men I knew in my distant past.  Shiloh, the rescue Golden, is based on a dear friend’s 3-legged rescue dog.  Finally, in Maggie’s case, I simply have written the character I want to be… 

 Let’s chat about the Genesis of Maggie for a bit.
Maggie is not a young chick nor is she long in the tooth but she’s old enough to have a grown son and grandson and personally it’s refreshing to read about a courageous, successful woman of a “certain age”.
What made you create her as such?

 I really like this question, and I’m told bookclubs enjoy discussing it as well.  The honest answer is, I love to read but could not feel a connection to young heroines.  So I decided to write the book I wanted to read.  As I think you know, I am a grandmother, and I knew from the beginning that I wanted a mature woman as my main character.  Not only did I relate to Maggie, but (although she was a 17 year-old single mom and is now a young grandma at age 49-ish) she is surely old enough to have an established, successful career and decades of life-experience.  I believe that many, if not most, of my readers are “of a certain age” and they have responded so well to Maggie.  Another bonus – Maggie’s age has allowed me to include several generations in these books, which I believe truly enriches a story, and also has let me explore aging, loss and grief – and the surprising romance with Colonel Beckett, who is in his 60s.  When they first meet, Beckett scowls at her and says, paraphrasing Hemingway, “I prefer younger women.  Their stories are shorter.”  J    Of course you know Maggie will be his downfall….  Now, I often hear from women who say they have “fallen a little bit in love” with the Colonel.

One more very important note about Maggie.  I wanted to show a smart but ‘innocent’ woman who must discover the courage to move on, and the bravery she doubts she has to do whatever it takes for love.  When it comes to the choices Maggie and other characters make – and their consequences - I want my readers to feel that conflict and emotion, and ask, “What would I have done?” 

 As with both previous books music plays a huge part in Shadow Music, your star Maggie is a concert pianist who in this novel focuses on Rachmaninoff and his Piano Concerto 2.
As you know music is a big part of my life as my youngest daughter is a classically trained Mezzo Opera singer and college professor.
Why does music play such an important role for you?

This question has so much meaning for me.  I always loved music, of course, but for many years it was Rock, Folk, Broadway and Jazz.  Then in the early 80s our 6 year-old son, Sean, began to ask for piano lessons.  We did not have a piano in our home, but we found a teacher and rented an old upright.  Within a few years we went from a ‘no piano home’ to a ‘grand piano home.’  (That grand is now in my son’s home and still giving music to my three youngest grands.).  My son studied for 15 years, and during that time, listening to him practice, I fell in love with classical music.

When I realized that I wanted to write a book, I knew that I wanted to write about something I love.  That is why my main character Maggie O’Shea is a classical pianist.

But that was only the beginning.  As I thought about Maggie’s music, and began to study the pieces, I came to understand that the music of Grieg, Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky could mirror Maggie’s journey.  The heart of Shadow Music is Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.   The three movements tell a story – Maggie’s story, with a beginning, a middle and an end – and touch on every emotion from grief, aching loss and fear to beauty, joy and love.  As Maggie’s father Finn says, “Music tells our stories.”        (Oh I love this and now seeing your answer I can see all three movements and how they relate to Maggie. Brava!)

 I mentioned in my review how in between one crisis after another you don’t forget the everyday happenings that make everyday life so memorable.
Was this a conscience decision on your part or is it just how you write?

 Yes, very conscious.  Early on in my writing, during that awful “rejections phase,” I received the best advice from a publisher who simply said, Deepen your characters.  And so I set about adding as many layers as I could – all those flaws and emotions that make us human.  Not only did I write the big conflicts, and the pasts that always have a way of haunting us, but I took the time to add those small touches that make characters human, make them come alive.  Maggie favors t-shirts with music quotes, she can’t cook, and ‘leads with her heart.’   Agent Sugarman is always looking for a crossword clue.   And the Colonel – well, he was too crusty in the original manuscript, until I added Shiloh the rescue Golden to the mix and that brought so much humor and humanity to the Colonel.  For me it’s not the thrills, it’s the everyday unfurling of tender moments that make my stories come to life.

 So about Maggie’s travels.
Do you actually visit the places she’s been or do you do your research in your office via books/maps and the internet?

 Oh my gosh, I am a HUGE believer in atmosphere and sense of place, and evocative settings that set just the right tone and mood for a scene.  There are two things especially that have helped and inspired me, and given authenticity to scenes in my books:  First, loving the international suspense novels of 50’s/60’s women authors Helen MacInnes and Mary Stewart; And…  my husband’s international work, which gave me the opportunity to travel all over Europe with my family for many years.  On our first family trip to Paris, we discovered Pere LaChaise cemetery.  I knew that day that it would make a perfect setting for a novel… and decades later, it is where Maggie meets the Colonel in The Lost Concerto.  The bird market near Notre Dame is another special setting, discovered long ago, which inspired a very chilling threat to Maggie.  South of France, Vienna and Salzburg – the cities of music - London, Greece…  and in Cornwall, the Circle of Stones that inspired one of my favorite scenes in Shadow Music.  I just let myself be open to the inspiration of these beautiful and mysterious places, and see scenes unfolding before my eyes.

But not only international.  I attended Boston University and met my husband there.  Fell head over heels in love with Boston and it was no surprise that Beacon Hill became the perfect place for Maggie to have her music shop.  While in Florida, I toured the beautiful Sarasota Opera House, and the story of its Ghost Light found its way into two very dramatic scenes in Dark Rhapsody.  You never know where inspiration will come from. 

Finally, I try very hard to balance familiar places that readers recognize (like Carnegie Hall) with places that make them say, I’d really like to go there (like Tintagel in Cornwall or the Morgan Library and Museum in NYC).   

We are finally coming out of the dark period of the Covid 19 pandemic that affected all of our lives in one way or another.
Will you be having any in-person events promoting Shadow Music or is the pandemic still showing it’s ugly face?

This is such a tough question for every writer I know.  So many of our in-person “fests” have had to be canceled, like Thrillerfest and Bouchercon.  Many Bookstores and Libraries are still only open half time, with limited staff, which makes signings more difficult to plan.   Still, it is such a personal decision.  I want to celebrate with a launch party and bookclubs, but have to respect the friends and booklovers who are not yet ready for close contact.  I will try to make announcements on Facebook and my website, but for now am relying on virtual ways to communicate with readers:  A podcast live interview with Pam Stack of Author’s on the Air on Wed Sept 22, and Facebook’s First Chapter Fun reading of Shadow Music’s Prologue on Thursday 9/23.  And, so important to writers, good Q & As such as yours.  J   

Well, Debbie, I’m sure this has been waaaay more than you all wanted to know.  But thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about these books that I love.  I am so grateful to be able to do something I love.  And to know that feeling of expectation a reader has when I say, “Come in, sit down, I have a story to tell you…”

My Review:

Shadow Music
Helaine Mario


Book 3 staring Maggie O’Shea is simply amazing atmospheric and poignant full of danger suspense and most of all music. In her author’s note Helaine Mario tells readers that she wants them to fall into Maggie’s story and that is exactly what they’ll do, body and soul.

Helaine Mario takes readers on an incredible journey through time and music with, Shadow Music, her latest novel staring Maggie O’Shea.
Beginning with this master storyteller’s prologue set in late cold war Budapest to a huge plot bomb she drops early in the story to the very last page the action never stops and the speed never slows enough for the audience to catch their breaths between one crisis and another and yet they’re often gifted to the mundane minutia that makes everyday life such a treasure like a sunset, an ocean breeze or a cherished memory. Her wonderful, expressive prose like narrative flows beautifully and her deliciously thrilling storyline will keep her audience engaged and engrossed, excited to connect all the ingenious convoluted plot dots. Her characters are the glue that binds this novel and not only fan favorites like Maggie, Michael, Sugar, Robbie and of course Michael’s three-legged dog Shiloh, but also the newcomers like the troubled teen Dov and even the bad guys. But it’s Maggie and Michael that are, as always, the true standouts, how their love Phoenix like rose from the ashes of their pasts, so inspiring and now maybe in trouble. Then there’s the music, oh the music, and this story focuses on Rachmaninoff and his Piano Concerto 2 one of the most celebrated and difficult works for piano and how Maggie in between personal pitfalls, dodging danger and bad guys manages to bring it to life. Music is at the heart and soul of every one of Helaine’s Maggie O’Shea books and Shadow Music is the perfect Cadence for her (so-far) three-part symphony.
Shadow Music stands well alone but for deeper character and storyline understanding read the novels, The Lost Concerto, Dark Rhapsody and Shadow Music in order.
Fans of women’s fiction, romantic suspense and fans of Nora Roberts, Iris Johansen and Sandra Brown will love Shadow Music and Helaine Mario.


Budapest 1985: An escape attempt to the west turns tragic when a young woman is killed by Russian soldiers leaving her best friend a nun to make the crossing with the woman’s now motherless infant daughter and priceless treasures from the past.
Present day: World renowned concert pianist, Maggie O’Shea has finally found her music again and has found love again with Colonel Michael Beckett after the tragic death of her husband, Johnny, almost two years before. She’s even considering performing the beautiful and difficult Rachmaninoff Concerto 2 with The New Russian Symphony Orchestra after being asked by their tour arranger Yuri Blankov until she’s visited by a past adversary who tells her that Johnny may still be alive leaving her no choice but to go and find out.
Colonel Michael Beckett has his own problems dealing with the murder of his late best friend’s daughter and finding her missing son, Dov. Never the less he doesn’t want Maggie to go off searching for Johnny but loves and knows her enough to know that there’s no stopping her, even when they learn from their friend and government agent Simon Sugarman that the last case Johnny was working on, a missing Van Gough painting has come to light again.

About the author:

Helaine Mario is the author of four novels of suspense, Firebird (Amazon), and the award-winning Classical Music Suspense Series, The Lost Concerto, Dark Rhapsody, and Shadow Music, coming 9/21/21 from Oceanview Publishing.
Helaine, a Boston University graduate, has been married 50+ years and lives with her husband Ron in Arlington, VA. She is grateful to be a two-time cancer survivor and is most proud of her two children and five beautiful grands.
Helaine was a White House volunteer for Al and Tipper Gore and continues to be a passionate advocate for women & children. Because she believes in “giving back,” she founded The SunDial Foundation in 1998 and the ‘Helaine and Ronald Mario Fund’ continues this work. Royalties from her books support reading, music and food programs for children and families.
Music and art are at the heart of Helaine’s stories. Maggie O’Shea, the pianist in her series, was inspired by Helaine’s son, Sean, who studied piano for fifteen years. Shadow Music continues Maggie’s story.
Helaine wants to invite the reader in, create characters with depth, and paint pictures with words. To make people feel, to ask “What would I have done?” She says, “Music tells our stories.”


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  1. Between the blurb and the engaging interview, I am now jazzed to read the Maggie series. Loved getting to know author and books through your questions, Debbie.

  2. What a fascinating and wonderful author. This interview is extremely interesting and filled with such amazing information. The series sounds captivating and intriguing. I read The Lost Concerto and would love to read the entire series which is a real treasure. Thanks for this fabulous feature and giveaway.

  3. They sound like really appealing characters, these kind are what bring me to read this kind of suspense story.

  4. I have not. Would love to win this to experience these characters!