Monday, December 12, 2016

Have You Ever Met a Super-Speed Christmas Dog?

They tell me Christmas is coming and they must be right as my Mum always brings it with her from England and she's just arrived. However, most people seem to feel Santa's the one bringing Christmas, so I'm delighted to welcome author Monty J McClaine to my blog with his Christmas Book, Santa's Rescue Dog. It's book 5 of a rather cool series (of course it's cool - there's a dog in it!)

Ebook, paperback and Audio book available from:

Ebook, paperback and Audio book available from:

Ebook, paperback and Audio book available from:

 Ebook paperback and audio book available from:


Monty McClaine (Pen name) was born in London during the start of the swinging sixties, schooled in the industrial Midlands of England, and is married with two sons.
Having spent his working life in relative isolation as a computer engineer, Monty finally dipped his toe into the water and wrote his first children’s book entitled “Touch Screen Ted.”
For some reason Monty had always been intrigued by the following C.S.Lewis quotation, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest,” which has, as Monty protests, helped in the formulation of his characters and storylines but did not contribute to his dry sense of humor or his sense of timing.
As we all know, computers, electronic games, TV shows and mobile phones and tablets are strongly prevalent in today’s society, strengthening Monty’s belief that some of the natural interactions between family and friends are gradually eroding if not already gone for some.
It sometimes feels like the simple joy of laughing or crying among family and friends is being replaced by beeps, bops, and demands to ‘add new features’ or ‘why doesn’t this work?’ or ‘who’s hogging the Wi-Fi?’.
With those thoughts in mind Monty set out to create a fun and exciting series of children’s short stories, with lots of adventure and splashes of humor, all paced to hold children’s attention whether reading or listening… at least that is his hope!
No sooner had his pen made contact with the paper, even before the ink had dried, Monty had written the title for 12 short "Sam" stories – self-contained episodes if you will – that would hopefully make you, the reader smile, as Monty makes sure that Sam gets into a lot of mischiefs when protecting his lovable McClaine family.
Monty hopes that this beginning will be the continuation of a longer journey, where I will be trying his upmost to surpass or at least attain the entertainment desires of today's modern reading audience.
Book 5 of the Super Speed Sam series, referred to by some as Monty’s Christmas special edition, and by others “Santa’s Rescue Dog” finally explains to the reader where, why and whom did Sam get his magical super speed abilities from!
Monty hopes you would all follow along with him, as the episodes unfold – perhaps you may have already guessed, or maybe not. Perhaps Monty may surprise you. Fingers crossed.

So, do you have any questions for the author? I know I do...

Q: Why did you write the 'Super Speed Sam' series in a ‘12-book series’ format?

A: Well, the first Super Speed Sam book was actually “Kitchen Decorations” where I hoped to introduce readers to the imaginary world of the main character Sam – that’s the dog. In effect, my thought was to have two stories running in parallel - the main that is the human story, along with the imaginary story of Sam.
(Here Monty looks thoughtful, then explains…)  So, for instance, when chocolate was being added to the cake mix during Kitchen Decorations in Sam’s mind, the chocolate would be substituted by bones, dog biscuits, and other such things. But, while writing that episode, I decided to extend Sam’s capabilities to include “Super Speed” and with that, the character of Sam the basset hound took a more, er… defined shape!
(Monty smiles fondly and continues)
Making special abilities available to Sam, like Doctor, Nurse - even cleaning skills - meant that in effect, Sam’s true, better-rounded character was born. And from there it simply took off – I thought up and detailed out 12 titles for the books, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Q: As a writer, why do you think it’s important to have stories that allow children and parents to share thoughts and explore imaginations?

A: I am reminded of a C.S.Lewis quotation - The Chronicles of Narnia etc.
“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”
(Monty pauses in reflection)
And I had spent many years as a computer engineer, which is a solitary task - just you and the computer equipment. As we all know, computers, electronic games, TV shows and mobile phones and tablets are strongly prevalent in today’s society. And I believe some of the natural interactions between family and friends these days are gradually eroding if not already gone for some.
(Monty looks pensive, eyebrows a little drawn as he goes on…) It sometimes feels like the simple joy of laughing or crying among family and friends is being replaced by beeps, bops, and demands to ‘add new features’ or ‘why doesn’t this work?’ or ‘who’s hogging the Wi-Fi?’. So I set out to create a fun and exciting series of children’s short stories, with lots of adventure and splashes of humor, all paced to hold children’s attention whether reading or listening… at least that’s my hope!
Stories that will delight both boys and girls, the young and old, and, of course, moms and dads! Tales that allow a return to simpler values, kid-like imagination for both children and adults and, I sincerely hope, bring families closer together.

Q: What messages would you like your readers to get out of these Sam books?

A: Each book shares a simple message – and that’s to play safe and be safe. Now, of course, many episodes have much more than that - some are informative in a fun way! For instance in ‘Kitchen Decorations’ we demonstrate how to clean hands – properly. In ‘Lights Out’ we stress the importance of using the correct equipment to change a lightbulb (lesson for the parents!) and in ‘Kinda Friends’ we emphasize the ‘danger’ of not sharing with new friends – both an emotional and physical hazard as it turns out for young Jack!

Q: How challenging would you say it is to write a series of 12 books?

A: (Let’s out a long breath and a laugh at the end) I’ll tell you - it’s been quite a challenge and a lot of hard work. Even when I decided on the initial structure of the series, it was still very difficult to maintain the style and ease of reading… and all whilst synchronizing the characters in the same time lines. I love the series, but I won’t deny it was a struggle at times and, again, lots of hard work.

Q: So, then for you, what’s the single hardest part of writing these stories?

A: As with most things in life, the hardest part is finishing, the easiest part is starting! Crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s, and again, making sure all twelve stories were consistent, entertaining and true within themselves. If anyone out there wants to be a writer, especially of a series, I do encourage you and be prepared to spend as much time in finishing and polishing as you would in writing. And definitely ask for opinions, engage an editor and don’t forget your proof-reader!

Q: Wonderful advice. Now, our final question - what have you gathered from your readers about your books and writing style?

A: The feedback has been great! (wide smile here) The readers seem to enjoy the pace, style, and themes of all the Sam stories, which couldn’t make me happier! And I’ve had six of the books reviewed by professionals, and they’ve all returned enthusiastic, 5-star reviews – I couldn’t wish for more. Now, some readers suggested that more illustrations would help in the appeal of these books. These are time-consuming, but Sam and I aim to please readers, who are after all the people the series has been written for – so I added the illustrations!


Super Speed Sam is a basset hound and the main character of a series of 12 small children’s animal chapter books that the author has written in his attempt to create a fun and exciting rollercoaster of a story, no matter what the reader’s age!
A series of short stories with humor. Stories that build from the mundane to calamitous situations. Stories to be enjoyed by both boys and girls, the young and old, and not forgetting Moms and Dads of course. Stories that allow children and parents to share their thoughts and explore their imaginations. Stories that allow a return to simpler values that may bring families closer together.
The target audience is from ages 7 – 12, and for parents or family to read aloud at bedtime or in a classroom for story hour.
Each book contains a similar introduction, allowing each book to be read independently from the others, with one exception, Book 4 entitled “Come Fly With Me” where a reading of any other book would help understand this “wacky” episode.

About Santa’s Rescue Dog

The McClaine family’s faithful basset hound, Sam, knows how to use his super speed abilities, even in a pinch, keeping it top secret from everyone except for baby Molly, of course. What he does NOT know is how these powers started… that’s a big secret, even to him!
The story goes back to a long time ago when Sam's ancestor, who also was named Sam, lived with the Brockmans in a small village. Like the McClaines, Mr. and Mrs. Brockman had two children, a boy, and a girl, named Zachariah and Sophie.
They were both excited, as was every other boy and girl in the world because it was Christmas Eve. The two of them had strung popcorn and cranberries for their Christmas tree, and then they darned the stockings they would hang by the chimney.
Their dad was on guard with the rest of the men in the village in case Mr. Bear, a giant grizzly decided to come back into town. While all this was happening with the Brockmans, Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves were all busily getting Santa’s sleigh packed up and the reindeer ready for their big day.
Sam knows that his super speed abilities is a ‘family thing,' having been passed down through generations of ‘Sam’s’ from long ago, he doesn’t know why, where, how or what got these amazing abilities started.
Well, hold onto your seats because, in this extra special Super Sam episode, you’re about to find out!
Whether following Santa and his reindeer on their highly eventful Christmas Eve journey, discovering a special ‘sleigh recovery’ team of elves or meeting Sam’s great, great, great (add a whole bunch of ‘greats’), you won’t be able to put the holiday special down!
Find out if Santa gets permanently ‘stuck’ and if Sam’s ancestor is able to control his newfound super speed powers. Will the Recovery elves – or Relves for short, the well-trained elf 'sleigh recovery team', be up to saving Christmas, or are they to ‘rusty’?
Can Mrs. Claus keep it together when she discovers a possible disaster with Santa? And, on top of all that, will the quiet old village, home of the Brockman’s and Sam’s ancestor, be attacked by the great grizzly bear?
Would Santa remember his beloved Mrs. Claus reminder that he was to use his handkerchief if he sneezed?
After all, we all know that ‘cough’s and sneezes spread disease’s’ – but why the constant reminder by Mrs. Claus? What is the importance of Santa’s handkerchief, especially on Christmas Eve? And would Santa remember?
Would Santa's mission to give toys and gifts to all the children in the world succeed? Well, sometimes even the most carefully planned events can go wrong, and in this case, Santa was able to save the day with the help of his very important rescue dog.
Read the exciting, humorous and sometimes tearful special Christmas episode, Santa’s Rescue Dog to find out! Sam might not know where his secret abilities come from, but now you get the chance to uncover the truth of the mystery in this fun, sweet, adventurous ‘Sam’ story!

 And now, as Monty leaves my blog, I'm sure you'd like to know where else to find him...

Author Website:
Character/Theme (Super Speed Sam) website
 Available for Sale at:  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Can books be delayed by snow?

Can books be delayed by snow? Can book reviews? Snow wasn't the only delay of course - there was an internet provider who unexpectedly closed our account for us, another one that found their cable had been cut, snow that meant no one could dig to lay a new cable, Christmas that meant no one could be assigned to laying a new cable, more snow, new cable, new internet, then power outages so the new internet went out, then...

Somewhere in there I meant to post this, but it landed in drafts. Enjoy.

Someone expressed surprise recently on learning that I like to draw as well as to write. In high school I insisted on studying art at the same as all my "academic" subjects. I couldn't imagine not having at least some time in the week scheduled for enjoying myself (and I'd given up English by then--life was all math and physics--all fun enough, but never done just for me). I sketched with multiple pencils of different thickness and types of lead. I painted in water-colors and oils. I created large canvases and tiny icons that fit onto postage stamps. And I doodled, doodled, doodled all the way. I still love drawing. I still illustrate some of my own books, though I tend to use the computer instead of the pen. And I still doodle, whenever there's paper (or a shopping list) to hand. But mostly I read and write, because both of them add to me, I think, while drawing just lets me out. And math? Math is patterns and symbols and shapes--it's in reading writing and drawing, and it gives meaning and focus to what might just be letters and colors on the page.

I've read some children's books recently with illustrations that are vastly different from each other. So find some coffee to match the scene, sit down and see which ones you'd like to read.

First is Santa’s Rescue Dog by Monty J McClaine--a chapbook for young readers, perhaps, or a wonderful story to share with the little ones. Each chapter starts with a bright and stylized image, with easily recognizable Santa, dog, elves, sleigh, reindeer and more. It's a fun story, combining familiar concepts (like Santa stuck in the chimney), not too distant history (when bears might easily roam into villages), nicely intriguing touches of technology (because Father Time can steal from the future), and a hint of all things Christmas, even the manger scene. Best of all, it turns out it's a story about a dog, and I love dogs! Enjoy with some bright, easy-drinking two-star coffee and have fun.

Nina the Neighborhood Ninja by Sonia Panigrahy is a picture book with bright images of a tidy little girl who grows messier the more she stops to help her animal friends. I like the way the images grow with the story until Nina takes her bath at the end, and her hair hangs limp around her face. But Nina the smart, strong and speedy uses these powers like superpowers, and other kids can too. The story ends with a nice around-the-world question--what will you do with your power? Enjoy with some more bright, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Little Lek Longtail Learns To Sleep by Bette Killion is a gorgeously illustrated picture book about a Thai Argus pheasant with a beautiful tail, a pleasing disposition, and an entirely sensible fear of those nighttime creatures who might eat him. Wisdom is hidden in the words, just as mysteries are hidden in the pictures, making this a very satisfying book that might well grow with the child. Enjoy with some well-balanced four-star coffee.

My final review is for Granny of the Pacifiers by Anat Umansky, an old-style picture book that accepts how tiny children love their pacifiers and teaches how older ones might learn to let go. The writing's all in capitals, nicely enclosed in scroll-worked boxes, with pastel scenes of birds, countryside and people, all reminiscent of old fairytales. Enjoy this mild light read with some mild light one-star coffee.

Friday, December 9, 2016

What makes fiction literary?

When Shelfari closed and Goodreads absorbed its reviews, I found myself landed with tons of new shelves on my Goodreads page. Every tag was now a permanent link between (some of the) books I'd read. And the books I'd so carefully shelved before were now scattered among the morass.

One tag I'd used on Shelfari but not Goodreads was "literary," which got me wondering, what did I mean when labeled a book that way. Is all writing literature? Do the books I labeled literary somehow have more literary merit? Or maybe it's lit if it's character driven and just fiction otherwise? Which then begs the other question, what is "just fiction"?

I remember when I was growing up, I graduated from the children's to the adult library, aged around 10, and delighted in those yellow backed Golancz science fiction novels. My granddad read James Bond adventures and Westerns, so of course I read all of those too. Mum and Dad had library books hidden under the bed--I devoured them while supposedly "helping" with the cleaning. I remember delighting in one of Mum's borrowed tomes, a tale about a farmer striving to conquer (i.e. plant crops on) the top of a hill--I can't remember what it was called, but I'd love to read it again... So maybe that's what would make a book literary...

Okay, there were Golancz science fiction books I long to read again too--that one where dead bodies were "rescued" from the past and given to dying people in the present, except the person wasn't quite dead, and neither was the guy he ran his car into... Is that lit?

And there was a novel called "Oil" on Dad's side of the bed. I was amazed to recognize parts of the story when it became a movie. Probably literary.

My Gran read pink magazines instead of books. Why were they pink? I'll never know. Mum had a blue one filled with Scottish tales later. Their stories were the same as the romances I read today on kindle--easily read, easily forgotten, easily demanding I find some more to devour--temptation like twinkies instead of a well-remembered feast at a restaurant? Is that the difference?

I'll file some of these book reviews under "literary" when I post them today. Some of the stories are seriously memorable. But where would you file them? Find a coffee, find a seat and enjoy.

First on my list is Falling Into The Mob by Steve Zousmer, a crazy, zany, exciting, intriguing tale that somehow manages to keep offering more than the reader expects. From a wonderful introduction to a 59-year-old narrator running for a train, so the happenstance of speechwriter turned mobster's friend or foe and police target, to unexpected romance, to epic battles on an everyday street, to... It's just great fun, and greatly satisfying, a veritable literary feast. Enjoy with some elegant well-balanced four-star coffee, but keep the odd cup of dark five-star brew to hand -- it has some gritty scenes and it's surely not fluff.

A Small Saving Grace by G. Davies Jandrey is definitely literature too. It's filled with fascinating characters--gay, trans, Christian, Buddhist, young, old, safe, strange and everything in between. Writing from multiple points of view, the author gives voice to a growing awareness that we're all valuable people, even the ones who hurt us. And grace is in the knowing. The story is is simultaneously dark and light, built on a cruel crime but built around wonderful characters, and giving a convincing portrayal of life after family disaster. It's a truly memorable tale, to be enjoyed with truly elegant four-star coffee.

Walt Socha's Conflict reads just as smoothly as the previous two books, though it's theme is radically different. Blending Western historical fiction with modern time-travel, adding a wealth of knowledge with a superbly gentle touch, plus some complex romance, and inviting the reader into a growing understanding of cultural mores, cruel lives and equally cruel hopes, it's a superbly swift well-balanced read, exciting in its battle scenes, introspective in its myth and mystery, complex in its relationships, and thoroughly intriguing. The story's complete by the end, but it's the first of a series and I'd love to read more, accompanied by nicely complex four-star coffee of course.

Jean Harkin's collection of short stories, Night In Alcatraz and other uncanny tales has a literary feel too, inviting the reader into intriguing places under strange disguises--visit Alcatraz when sent to jail in Monopoly, walk through Indian history and lose a locket, or wander a forest where you might find a stranger; watch  cows stampede a political gathering, dress for Halloween, and enjoy, with some well-balanced, smooth-flavored three-star coffee.

Devil’s Spring by Aaron Paul Lazar combines family drama, suspense, a touch of romance, and hints of mystery to make an enticing third entry in his Bittersweet Hollow series. Characters change and grow throughout this series, but each novel stands alone with just the right amount of background, foreground and future. In this story, sickness, kidnapping, and accidental murder are handled with a light enough touch to keep the story flowing and hope growing, in spite of everything. It's an enjoyable read, definitely character driven, possibly literary... and it goes well with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Can you really help yourself?

I want to catch up on book reviews. I want to catch up on reading, writing, editing, and just being me. I want to catch up! But can I really help myself--can you or anyone else really help yourself--just say "I want, I need" and somehow do it? Doesn't time keep slipping through your hands, just like mine, as the urgent takes over from the necessary, and the committed slips and slides to another date. I'll have to edit the deadlines on that review list again...

Of course, it's snowing and icy outside so those unwritten reviews might slide like those cars swerving when the wheel is turned and heading the wrong way. My promises might be hid under dark gray clouds or blowing in the wind. And my urgent needs have been book sales and getting the bedroom ready for my mum to visit. Plus it's way too near to Christmas! Help!

But can I really help myself?

This month I've read various books that offer tidbits of help, tidbits (and larger) of faith to help, and fairly strong hints of promises and help. But I still can't catch up; some reviews posted here were due a month ago, but I'm doing my best. So help yourself to some coffee and see what you think of the books.

First is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a birthday gift which I read in the space between October and November. Perhaps I didn't follow the artists' way as portrayed in this book, since I've fallen so far behind. It's an encouraging read, combined with great workbook exercises, well-written promises the reader might try to commit to, and an excellent understanding of human creativity, together with just the right level of low-key spirituality to appeal to all who don't actively despise the suggestion that there's more to life. Enjoy this one (and make the commitments--perhaps then you won't break as many commitments as I've done) with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Next is a book that's being studied in a small group at my church. While the artist's way encourages readers to find and listen to their own needs, guided by a higher power, Hearing God In Conversation by Samuel C. Williamson encourages us first to listen to that higher power. The Artist's Way keeps its definitions of God simple and inclusive. But Hearing God is a powerfully Christian book, keeping faith with the Bible and Biblical tradition throughout. Still, the art of listening is the same in both books, and both authors reveal a God who has made us to converse with him, to recognize his hand on our lives, and to share our lives (and our creativity) with him (who created all). Both books are practical too. And both are easy to read. Enjoy with some more well-balanced three-star coffee.

Getting Religion by Kenneth L. Woodward is a somewhat different book, but it's faith-filled and goes well with Hearing God--I'm sure the author has heard and listened well. Kenneth Woodward grew up Catholic and worked (famously) as a journalist. His insights into America's spiritual life, the interface between faith, history, religion and politics, and the driving forces from the 50s to the present day are invaluable and informative. I learned much from overlapping chapters and sections, each like a small essay, each offering its own nuggets of information, and I really enjoyed the read. Drink some elegant complex four-star coffee with this one. It's a hefty tome with a huge amount to offer.

Finally there's Sandy Scott's Lessons from Zachary. Written as memoir by a life coach whose son was born with severe brain damage, this book is an intriguing blend of discouraged lifestory combined with empowering, encouraging lessons. The author begins with a failing marriage and two children, one of whom has serious special needs. She navigates single parenthood, a world that's slowly learning special needs doesn't mean less than human, and multiple accidents and betrayals. Meanwhile she learns, as we all should, to move beyond labels into the realms of possibilities, both for herself and for her child. It's an interesting memoir and an encouraging read--one to enjoy with some more well-balanced three-star coffee.

I still can't help myself get the book reviews written on time. But perhaps I can trust God to know I'll write them at the right time. Meanwhile, Mum's room is ready, the book sales are done, and it's time to edit Paul's Purpose! Yay!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What will tomorrow's children's books look like?

We had cloth books when we were babies, card books as we grew older, and "real paper" books when we finally learned to read. Actually, my brothers graduated to real paper books pretty early. I was a slow learner and just told and retold stories until the headmistress threatened me with a microphone. Then I learned to read, and have scarcely stopped to draw breath since. But what about our kids?

My sons had plastic books when they were babies, card books as they grew older, and real paper books when they finally learned to read. If I remember rightly, one of them went straight from card to Harry Potter. Perhaps that was his incentive, just like the microphone was mine. But about grandkids (not that I have any)?

A new generation will grow up with computers - computer babysitters with bright noises, computer stories with baby-talk and toys, then, maybe, their own personal ereader when they learn to read? Perhaps?

One of the picture books I read this week feels like a very cool technological jump that keeps its roots firmly in good storytelling and reading for fun. There are "stamps" letting readers interactively "jump" to extra information (and back again). There are links so those so permitted by their parents might email the author. And there's even a rather cool music video (with a dog!). But none of it gets in the way of a thoroughly enjoyable story with laugh-out-loud family antics and a pleasing conclusion where a dog finds a home. I love this book--Bear with Bear by Hagit Oron. Enjoy on a nearby computer with happy child (or with the child inside you) and drink a well-balanced, full-flavored three star coffee.

Werner Stejskal always invites emails from his readers too in his Oliver and Jumpy stories. The series is finally coming to an end, and I read the last two books recently, stories 55-57, and stories 58-62. As befits a long-running picture book series, the last book acknowledges a child's increasing reading skills by offering more words per picture. Sillandia really comes to life in a way it didn't quite for me before, so I enjoyed this final volume best. Plus it's got a story for Christmas! Enjoy with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Another Christmas story with a very modern twist is Dreaming of a Green Christmas by Anne Zoet. Computers allow young Darryl to interact with his Brazilian friend Burrball (a sloth) and inspire him to wonder how Christmas could be combined with saving the trees. The result is a bright picture book with smooth-reading rhythm and rhyme, cool suggestions for kids' activities leading up to Christmas, and an enjoyable environmental message. A good book to enjoy with some more easy-drinking two-star coffee.

And then there's The Unusualasauruses: 15 playful dinosaurs by Efrat Shoham, a book with very cool pictures, very unpronouncalbe dinosaur names, and lots of fun, best enjoyed with some mild, crisp one-star coffee.

But I still think future children's picture books will look more like Bear with Bear than anything else.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Is Coffee a Mystery?

I've fallen behind with posting book reviews, so now I'm going to try my best to catch up before Thanksgiving... before Christmas... before New Year... before... Before sometime, but it's a mystery (and so are the books I'm reviewing here). A friend suggested I should retire before the mountain of incomplete reviews completely swamps me. She might be right. Anyway, the deaths and sorrow in these tales aren't caused by book reviews or mountains, but by people and the various trials of life. I loved reading them. I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to post my reviews. (Blame birthdays. Blame old age. Blame dry rot... Just don't blame the coffee. I need coffee!)

First is the book whose author visited my blog yesterday (at The Valley by Brandon Daily is a haunting tale of Appalachia, told through the eyes of vivid characters, and glimpsed through the mist and fog of years and tears. Slow, languid, haunting and beautiful, it's one to enjoy with some rich elegant complex four-star coffee.

Love In A Time Of Apartheid by Frederic Hunter is another literary masterpiece deserving elegant, complex, four-star coffee. Set in South Africa in the eponymous time of apartheid, it brings two very disparate characters together and reveals the cracks, not just in the system, but also in the lives of rich and poor, powerful and weak, young and old. It's a love story, oddly, but the romance is fueled with time and place, people and hope. Enjoy!

S. R. Nair's A Perfect Murder and Other Stories invites readers to India to explore a world of people and relationships, colored by dreams of the States, respect for the past, and hope for the future. Sometimes dark, sometimes curious, sometimes delightfully amusing, these complex stories deserve more complex four-star coffee.

Madison's Song by Christine Amsden is set in the States, but in that slightly skewed part of the States where magic and monsters are real. The characters and relationships feel very real as the story follows a young woman who never thinks highly enough of herself, struggling to cope with family rejection and betrayal, the wounds of love, and the possibility that gifts just might carry God-given responsibilities. It's a wonderful story, complex and powerful, and you don't need to have read the whole series to enjoy it (though I do recommend the series). Fill your mug with some complex four-star coffee and start reading.

J. B. Hawker's Cozy Campfire Shorts combines familiar teen horror themes with an amusing sense of mystery and sweetly surprising romance into a collection of interlinked short stories. It's a truly fun read. Enjoy with some bright, lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Deadly Catch by E. Michael Helms is a well-plotted mystery with a perfect sense for character, dialog and place, a cool beginning to a series perhaps. A combat veteran fishes a dead body out of the water when he goes out on a rented boat. Meanwhile his life is unmoored from his past. But this military man's not too haunted, too wounded, too confident or too dark. And this novel is one to enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Finally, Raven Black by Ann Cleeves is the first in her Shetland series - a collection that I've been glued to on TV and that my husband bought for my birthday. It's a book series with plenty to offers fans of mystery, of authentic out-of-the-way places, of police procedurals, of the Shetland Isles, and of TV. The characters feel just as real, but there are enough differences to make the story fresh and new when revisited on the printed page. I love these books! Enjoy with elegant, complex four-star coffees!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Have You Visited The World Of Literature Recently?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Brandon Daily, author of A Murder Country and the Valley, to my blog, with a post about the joys and tribulations of being published. Having read both books, I'm delighted to have the chance to learn a little more about the author. Welcome Brandon.

(And readers, please click on the book titles above to read my reviews. The Valley has just been released this month and looks set to be a real must-read.)

The World of Literature

by Brandon Daily

            Back in 2012, I was a high school teacher who had written a full-length novel as a dare to myself (to see if I could write something long after having only written short fiction for a Creative Writing class in college).
Like any writer, I had dreams and illusions of having that novel published, but I was (and still am) a realist, and so I realized that it probably wasn’t to be. The publishing world seemed like a glitz and glam Hollywood world from some old-time movie, where brilliant story-tellers hung out together and talked of stories and fictional worlds. The thought of joining that world played itself out in my mind often. So often, in fact, that I thought, “Why the heck not try to be part of that world.” And so I sent out submissions of the book to a dozen publishers. Then, the next week, I sent it out to a dozen more. And another dozen the next week. And then I waited.

When the rejections started coming in, I thought it was proving my point—I wasn’t meant for that world. But then one day in May 2013, I received a message from Knox Robinson Publishing saying that they were interested in my novel, A Murder Country, a literary and historical thriller. They wanted to publish that little book that I wrote to prove to myself that I could.
            The next year and a half of my life raced by and dragged on, all at the same time. My September 2014 release date seemed to never come, while, simultaneously, arriving before I had fully wrapped my head around the fact that I could actually call myself an “author” (something I still have never been able to say aloud—so many people come up to me and say, “You’re an author?” And I reply back with an embarrassed smile, “Ah, I wrote a book. That’s it.”). And then it was released, and I realized that my perception of the world was changed.
            From September 2014, I was able to see the publishing world for what it is: very real and very much business-oriented. Though I’ve met many authors since being published, I have never been invited to an exclusive party to talk about character-creation with other authors, there’s no secret handshake that I was clued in on. There was no glitz, there was no glam. I could say that I was disheartened by this. But, truth be told, I wasn’t. Instead, I found a new excitement, something I’d never had before. I devoted myself to the work and ideas of the work—to the books, not just mine, but to the stories that others were telling, the things readers were reading and talking about.
After being published, I became fascinated not by the publishing world but by the book world. And I loved it. I followed blogs and reviewers, awards and competitions I’d never heard of. I began to subscribe to book magazines and journals, reading up—studying up—on the writing practices of established authors, the diets of classic writers; you name a topic related to authors and their books, I read up on it. And what baffles me now (and I’m pretty sure I realized it at the time) is that none of this made me a better writer or allowed me to market A Murder Country more effectively, it didn’t help with creating the plot of my next book; instead, I found a love for the world that I now lived within. And it is a world that I still happily live within—a few weeks ago, when Bob Dylan was announced the Nobel Winner for Literature (I’ll hold off on giving my thoughts on this announcement, for fear of offending anyone’s opinions), my mind was blown, along with the rest of the literary world, since I’d been following the process for the past year. Before having a book published, I would have heard the news and thought, “Cool,” and nothing else of it. But now I am invested in what literature is and what it will become, and so the topics I normally would have sloughed off now hold a deep and personal meaning.
            During those two years, from when my first novel was released to today, on the eve of my second novel’s publication date (The Valley—November 15, 2016), I stand appreciative of the opportunity I’ve been given. On a daily basis, I remind myself of the fact that somewhere out in the wide world is a person I’ve never met, and on their bookshelf is a book that I wrote. I remind myself that someone I will never know will open The Valley and immerse themselves in the strange world that lived within my head for years before I put it on paper. I remind myself that my thoughts have been added to that brilliantly beautiful and expansive world of literature so that one day, long after I’ve died, some kid will pick up a book called A Murder Country or The Valley and become lost within the words, and that someday that kid will come to know the world of literature for himself.

Writing as someone who has opened, read and enjoyed a preview edition of The Valley, I can attest to its being a beautiful and expansive piece of literature, a book I'd be proud to have on my bookshelf. Thank you Brandon, and thank you for visiting my blog.

Brandon Daily can be found on Facebook at
on Amazon at (where you can find both books)
and on Twitter at

Find out more about the Valley:
My review :
A haunting prologue sets the reader up with questions and mysteries right from the start. Who is thed oddly unmoored mother Quinn? Who is dead--really? And who is the child? But readers are drawn beyond the questions, lyrically led to ponder the past and enter the Appalachian valley, “a place of ghost and pine, where magic plays through the land like children crossing a stream,” a place “made of stories: a place created on the miseries of the living.” There they meet the woman, the priest, the people, all evocatively described, mystically and vividly real.
There’s a sense of mist and shadows over this story—the mist of a morning run, an evening walk, hot water—the shadows of unknowing, and always the trees, like prison “bars keeping something out or keeping something in.” There’s a sense of contrast too, the black powder of the miner with the white of a junkie’s snort. And there’s music.
It’s easy to become lost in this slow languid tale, but the mystery of these people, interconnections, guilts and sorrows, will surely draw you on. A timeless story binds Cherokee past with present as the Great Spirit watches, as the white-masked demon kills. A mirror reflects the reader’s life and worries in other lives. And the whole is, like Adeline’s song, “A story to be felt by the ear and tasted by the skin.”

Disclosure: I read a pre-release version and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

How Good Are You At The Art Of Negotiation?

Virtual Tour Author: Cindy Koepp Featured Book Releases: 
Remnant in the Stars The Loudest Actions November 7 – 21, 2017

I have some fascinating guests on my blog today. If you sit quietly - don't slurp your coffee - they might just teach you something of the gentle art of negotiation. Cindy Koepp, author of Remnant in the Stars and the Loudest Actions, asked them to visit here, and I'm very grateful to her. You might want to go and find Cindy's books ( after you've met these characters. But first, over to you Cindy, Ella, Burke and Sacaran.

The Art of Negotiation

Ella Font (EF): Good morning, everyone. My name is Ella Font with the Interdimensional News Network, and I’m here today with Coalition Ambassador Burke Zacharias and Aolanian Ambassador Sacaran Asiki Raman. They are the negotiators for the Coalition and the Aolanians, and they’re headed out to meet some potentially new friends. Hello, Ambassadors. What can you tell us about the mission you’re on?

Burke Zacharias (BZ): We’re going to Monta, an inhabited planet circling a binary star, to initiate first contact with the locals.

Sacaran Asiki Raman (SAR): We find two of the major civilizations, and we go to introduce ourselves and form an alliance, if we can.

EF: How did you find out about them?

SAR: (leans closer) What do you say?

EF: (louder) How did you find out about them?

SAR: An Aolanian scout ship finds them.

BZ: (mutters) And evidence that the League was there ahead of us.

SAR: What?

BZ: Nothing.

SAR: (Eyes Burke suspiciously)

EF: It’s pretty safe to say that the locals won’t speak any language we do. How will you handle communicating with them?

BZ: Well, I’ll have to work on learning their language, and hopefully they’ll be interested in learning ours.

SAR: There is also value in having a linguist or other people with you to learn the language as well. Some people have greater ability in languages. They serve as translators, if necessary.

BZ: (Scowls) No. Absolutely not. There’s too much danger in using a translator.

SAR: Using a translator is an acceptable solution. I do not say it is ideal, but it is possible. I have used this strategy before with success.

BZ: (Shakes his head) Too many layers of separation between the negotiator and the local representative. No. Too dangerous.

SAR: (Squints up at him) Then I hope your facility for languages is excellent.

BZ: (Crosses his arms over his chest) I’ll do well enough.

EF: (Looks back and forth between them) I see, well, um, if everything works out as it should, what do you hope to accomplish?

SAR: (shakes her head. Slips a weathered fingernail under the edge of a silver disk on her head and pries it lose, makes an adjustment and puts it back on and winces). Again?

BZ: She wants to know what we’ll accomplish, and you’re worried about me communicating? Well, Ms. Font, ideally, a full alliance. We don’t want the League to have control of the planet in any way. If that doesn’t work, at least a trade agreement. We could certainly use another friendly source of resources. Most of the asteroids are mined out, and the trans-Neptunian objects are tougher to mine.

EF: What do you say to critics who think the Coalition should avoid any sort of military-based treaty?

BZ: Military-based treaty?

EF: They’re saying that the Coalition should not be provide for the defense or protection of any but our own world and our colonies.

SAR: I say that has short sight. Each member of an alliance must do the thing they are best at. Asking my people to provide defense is foolish at best. Aolanians, though, are very good stellar cartographers and astrogators, something humans struggle with when a computer is not available to help with the numbers.

BZ: To a point, Ambassador Raman is correct. The Coalition can’t spread itself too thin, but at the same time, we can’t have our allies being destroyed by the League.

SAR: We see what the locals are like when we encounter them. They are, perhaps, stronger than we expect. Arriving at the conclusion without sufficient data does not give favorable results.

BZ: (mutters) Something we agree on?

SAR: What?

BZ: Nothing important.

EF: Well, um, that’s all we have time for today. Thank you both for joining us, and good luck on your mission. This is Ella Font, and you’re watching the Interdimensional News Network.

And I do hope their mission communications go well!

About the author: Originally from Michigan, Cindy Koepp has a degree in Wildlife Sciences and teaching certification in Elementary Education from rival universities. After teaching for fourteen years, she pursued a master’s degree in Adult Learning with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement. Cindy has five published science fiction and fantasy novels, a serial published online, short stories in five anthologies, and a few self-published teacher resource books. When she isn’t reading or writing, Cindy spends time whistling with a crazy African Grey. Cindy is currently working as an optician in Iowa and as an editor with PDMI Publishing and Barking Rain Press.

Find her at:
Twitter: @CCKoepp


remnantinthestarscover_1200x800About the Book: Remnant in the Stars: Two hundred years ago, the Aolanian home world exploded and a remnant of survivors escaped.

As their convoy combed the galaxy looking for a new world to colonize, they discovered Earth and were given permission to establish a temporary base while they continued their search for a new home world. When an Aolanian exploration vessel goes missing after transmitting a garbled distress call, the uneasy alliance between the humans and the Aolanians is put to the test as two anti-Aolanian groups jockey to use this opportunity to press their own agendas by foiling the rescue mission.

Because his daughter was onboard the Kesha when it vanished, Calonti Sora reluctantly signs on as an astrogator with the Gyrfalcon, one of the ships in the search party. There he meets up with an old human friend, Kirsten Abbott. Together, they work to overcome prejudice and political plots as they race toward an enemy no one could expect.

Find it on Kindle at
loudest_actions_cover_1200x933About the Book: The Loudest Actions: First contact missions are hard enough, but they get even tougher when the negotiator has an ego the size of a gas giant.

Burke Zacharias, a first contact researcher, is chosen to spearhead humanity’s first official contact with Montans, an insect race that has already had a run-in with less friendly humans. Although his words and overtures toward the Montans are cordial enough, the Montans are put off by how he treats the crew of the scout ship that brought him to the world.

With other, less friendly forces trying to establish a foothold on the world, the negotiation must succeed in spite of Burke, or the Montans could be facing extinction.

Find it on Kindle at

Find out more. Follow the Tour.

11/7 Beauty in Ruins Guest Post
11/7 The Seventh Star Interview
11/8 MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape Interview
11/9 Jordan Hirsch Review
11/10 Magic of Books Guest Post
11/10 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! Top Ten's List
11/11 Sheila's Guests and Reviews Guest Post
11/11 Novel-ties Review
11/12 Top-Tens List (Blogger Picks Topic)
11/13 Darkling Delights Guest Post
11/14 Enchanted Alley Guest Post
11/15 Bee's Knees Reviews Review
11/15 The Sinister Scribblings of Sarah E. Glenn Guest Post
11/16 Jorie Loves a Story Review
11/16 The Word Nerds Guest Post
11/17 SpecMusicMuse Review
11/18 Jorie Loves a Story Q and A
11/18 Sapphyria's Book Reviews Guest Post
11/19 Deal Sharing Aunt Interview
11/20 Jorie Loves a Story Review
11/20 D.L. Gardner Blog Guest Post
11/21 The Swill Blog Review
11/21 Willow Star Serenity Review


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Are You Afraid Of Halloween?

When I was small, growing up in England, Halloween was so close to Bonfire Night, I could hardly tell them apart. First came black paper witches riding broomsticks crafted from twigs. We made them in school and took them home to decorate our bedroom windows. Gazing out past mine, I'd wonder if any bonfires might reflect in the clouds, and would witches dance. I'm not even sure we burned the guy in our neighborhood, but if we did I probably thought he was a witch on a broomstick too.

When my kids were small, this strange new American custom had begun to invade. Churches railed against it. Neighbors ran parties in the garage and we would debate if our kids should join in. Then we moved to the States. And Halloween was huge.

Kids parading around the school in their masks and candy for all. Kids parading the neighborhood. Knocks on the door. The churches still railed, but how could we refuse to let our kids join in. Being foreign, not understanding the culture, speaking with strange accents--belonging was already hard enough. And now?

Now I'm officially old and gray-haired with a bag full of candy. Parents stand at the end of the drive and proudly watch brave offspring knock on my door. The street resounds to laughter and joy. And sharing out that candy just might be the spirit of Halloween.

Meanwhile back in England, it's grown to American style. They're having a party in the place where my mum lives; she says people need cheering up, but she's not a fan of the season. So this one's for you Mum.

Are you afraid of Halloween? Don't be: It's a celebration of

H - Hope, because where there's life there's hope, and you have to be alive to celebrate.
A - Attention, because all those parents are attentively watching their children go door to door.
L - Laughter, because Little Tommy just fell over the hem of his ghost gown again and didn't cry.
L - Love,  as big sister reminds Little Tommy to say please and thank you.
O - Ordinary bravery, shown by small children practising talking to strangers because they'll have to learn, for all our warnings.
W - Wisdom as parents remind them they can't take treats from strangers when nobody's watching.
E - Excitement, resounding along the street
E - Entertainment, exercising those young imaginations with dreams of who they'd like to be (and no, Little Tommy, you can't be Darth Vader when you grow up).
N - Newness, because every costume is new, every doorway is a new experience, ever treat is newly delightful, and tomorrow, whether we enjoy it here or away (in a place of Hope, not ghosts), will, for sure, be a new day.

So enjoy it!