Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Makes A Mystery?

I started writing children's stories about dogs and cats when our writers' group challenged its members to write mysteries. We came up with a neat short template for the creation of a "quick" mystery:
  1. At number one, write down who is going to misunderstand something.
  2. At number five, write down the dire consequence of the misunderstanding.
  3. At number seven, write down the resolution – all is calm, mystery solved, misunderstanding corrected.
  4. Back to number three: What did your protagonist misunderstand? What incorrect conclusion did they draw?
  5. Number four: How did they act on that conclusion and how did it cause the dire consequences at number five.
  6. Number two: How did they come to hear/see/learn the thing they misunderstood?
  7. Number six: How did they come to realize they’d got things wrong, and how did they fix it to land us at number 7.
It works for a short story, maybe, but not for a novel. After all, novels need multiple peaks and troughs, problems that build on what's gone before, and resolutions that tie far more than just the one loose end. I kind of suspect I'll never write a "real" mystery, but I'll certainly enjoy reading them.

Of course, if my list really isn't enough, I've got to ask what makes a real mystery? 
  1. A cozy mystery will offer red herrings, a limited list of possible antagonists, and a single or securely well-defined collection of crimes. Probably the crime shouldn't be too gruesome, or the mystery might devolve into horror.
  2. A procedural mystery will follow someone who investigates crime while following, or choosing not to follow, well-defined, well-outlined rules. Investigations might lead to dead ends or dire dangers, but the route should be clear.
  3. A character-driven mystery might use crime and consequences to draw the reader closer to a character - probably the investigator unless we're heading back into horror again - who's personal background and progress are as important as solving the crime.
  4. And a literary mystery will break all the rules. Literary mystery can include horror without horrifying, must include character, might follow procedures but leaves doors open to loss, and paints its herrings in far more intriguing shades. After all, red's a bit plain.
  5. Maybe...
Maybe every story has an element of mystery - something unknown which the reader seeks to learn, even if it's only the end of the tale. But I'm sure you'll have your own sorts of mysteries to add to my list. But here are three books I've read recently, with mysteries in their core. Find a coffee, and see what you think.

First is Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. There are mysteries piled upon mysteries here.The protagonist's only background is shrouded in her father's still unexplained death, but that mystery's reason (besides giving fuel for a series) is the depth it gives to her emotions, and the skill to her technique. Meanwhile there's a dead woman, a mysterious photo, a curious man who offers a curious task... and more, and more. The present (recent past) blends with terrors of the past (World War II), and the author renders both with convincing skill. I look forward to enjoying more of the series when I can find time, with elegantly complex four-star coffees to drink.

Likewise fueled by history of the second world war, Hitler Mussolini and Me by Charles Davis might not technically be a mystery, but it's literary and it's got secrets. Darkly comedic, wonderfully researched, and fiercely irreverent, it's narrated by an honest Irish art historian who somehow was credited with kindness to men best remembered for anything but. Watching the story unfold through his eyes, and sharing his mixed sadness and regret at its ending, the reader is convincingly reminded that the world's most evil men weren't followed by selfish fools, but by honest citizens with honest needs. The sins of the future weren't seen in the past, and the worst monsters can grown from flatulent men. Enjoy this one's dark humor with another complex four-star coffee.

Clamour of Crows by Ray Merritt tells parallel tales of mystery and redemption as a man, broken by loss, returns to the world he once knew and is straight away involved in the question of whether a rich man's death is from murder, suicide or natural causes. Intricate, word-spanning, and oddly heart-warming, it's a complex, clamouring tale, with a wonderful dog, and a wonderful sense of hope and surprise. Enjoy with more complex four-star coffee.

And then decide, if you will, what makes a mystery. Was I right to include HM&M in this list?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Write What You Know?

A friend was told she shouldn't write for teenagers as she didn't live with any. But she was a mother of teens, now grown, and a teen herself, not so very long ago. Why shouldn't she set her tales in the teen-hoods she knew for today's teens to read? After all, we're not a different breed; we're not even history. We're just the same people growing in different worlds.

That, of course, led to my wondering about historical fiction - not that my teen-hood is history yet. Some authors build on family records and letters; they know, or knew, the people of the time and words they used. Others write of distant lands, and ages only remembered in history. Do we have to read all those ancient documents to write? Do we have to carry certificates around to prove we've done our research? Or can a wary mathematician develop a love of history in later life, then write her tales of Bible times?

Science fiction might need some scientific consistency of course. Historical fiction might need an understanding of what's guessed and what's known. Medical tales should use the right terms, as should police procedurals. And we authors should certainly strive to know enough to make our fiction seem real. But then we guess, imagine, create and reveal the rest.

My question is: Should we really just write what we know, documented in black and white, or is fiction's task, perhaps, the art of coloring over the lines? Whatever your answer, please pour some coffee then peruse the book reviews below to decide what you'll read. And remember, the stars rate the coffee you'll drink with them.

Since I started this post with teen fiction, I'll start these reviews with a vividly present-day teen novel that every mom should read then give to her daughter. It's called All The Feels by Danika Stone, and it's so much more than teen angst or teen romance. Plus it takes readers to a real-world sci-fi convention filled with dizzying crowds, cosplay, and internet identities suddenly made real. I love this book! Enjoy with some rich elegant four-star coffee, and read it again and again if you have teens of your own.

Heading back into hidden history, my next review is for Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter, a long, dark, haunting read set in the thirteenth century, which combines myth, horror, faith, hope, mystery and romance in a heady brew. You'll want to find Mouse's soul as you read, and you'll be pulled into a dark and complex world of royal machinations and betrayals. Enjoy with some rich dark five-star coffee.

Moving forward in time, Wild Life by Molly Gloss is set around the turn of the last century, presents a classic "found" manuscript, inviting the question of whether this is fictional fiction or fact. It's an intriguing question, and an intriguing tale, written with authentic style and verve, and presenting a cool blend of real life by the water's edge, and real mystery in the trees. Will you believe in sasquatch by the end? That's for you to decide. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee and ponder it.

The Quarry-Man's Wife by Mary DeMuth tells a story set in the 1930s Depression, and follows a year in the life of a widow, caring for family, waiting for failure, and struggling with faith and finances in equal proportions. Her Ukrainian neighbor tells of worse misfortunes in other lands, but this only leads to further of questions of how a loving God can allow such things. It's a dark, mournful novel, lightened with passages of humor and fun, and enlightened in the end by revealing truth. Enjoy with some more dark five-star coffee.

Meanwhile, in Europe, a different darkness reigned, as told in Barbara Stark-Nemon's Even in Darkness. Achingly real and threaded with real-life loves and dreams, it tells of a Jewish woman marrying before the first world war, surviving against the odds during the second, loving and losing, and finding comfort in quiet anonymity. The story's long, filled with memorable images, and powerfully told, with an honest blend of darkness and light. Enjoy with some more dark five-star coffee.

Set in the future, The Harvest by N.W. Harris is another young adult novel, this time with echoes of familiar YA themes. In the absence of adults, the future of the world is left in the hand of teens, who train themselves through extreme sports and combat, ready to fight an alien invasion. But who is betraying whom? Best read after the Last Orphans (first in the series), the novel's intriguing but not as complete as its predecessor and clearly demands a sequel. Enjoy with some more dark intense five-star coffee.

This must have been my week for dark and intense - and good reads!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bees, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and inspiration

Today I'm delighted to welcome some wonderfully pampered pets and their authors to my blog. The latest Pampered Pets book, Raiders of the Lost Bark, is being released as you read... so go buy it, or, if you'd prefer, peruse this post to learn where the inspiration comes from first - bees, rattlesnakes and mountain lions anyone? Then buy the book.

So, without more ado, welcome, dear authors, to my blog -- but do I call you Sparkle, Mary or Anita? Grab a coffee and a gluten-free cookie, then please tell us about your inspiration - and rattlesnakes!

“All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired.”―Chuck Palahniuk

Inspiration is everywhere. As writers, we are always looking for ways to be stirred to greatness. Inspiration drives action…or in some cases, words on the blank page.
When we’re on deadline, we don’t get to wait for inspiration to hit, we have to sit down and do the work. But that doesn’t mean we stop looking for ways to add joy or meaning to our lives and our stories.

We’re moved by great books and entertaining movies. An oceanside photo and a road trip with our closest girl friends. A great conversation and other people’s success stories. The way we live our lives often provides our greatest inspiration: a positive attitude and a large dose of laughter.

The setting for our latest release, Raiders of the Lost Bark, was inspired by an Orange County camping trip that Anita and her family took a number of years ago. For three hot summer days, at the beginning of what was to become a five year drought for California, Anita’s family pitched their well-used six-person tent at the desolate Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park campground. Bees, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions. What were they thinking? After two restless nights of sleeping on the hard, dusty ground, and watching over their shoulders for mountain lions, they broke camp and headed east—to the even hotter Las Vegas desert, a cold hotel room and running water.

Years later, we tossed around the idea of a story set outside of Laguna Beach. What if our pampered characters were stuck between the sandstone canyons and parched wilderness campsites? How would they cope? What luxuries would they take with them? Would they still be able to catch a killer under the stars?

As you can see, sometimes inspiration is so close we just have to take a moment and stop; be mindful in that instant by listening to the silence, and taking a few deep cleansing breaths. We’re not all inspired by the same things or in the same ways. So what inspires you?

Thank you for inviting us to visit with your readers. We hope ya’ll enjoy our latest Pampered Pets Mystery adventure, Raiders of the Lost Bark, out March 25th!

I'm sure I shall enjoy it, and thank you for visiting my blog. I wish you a wonderful release day! But before you leave, please tell us something about the book and the mystery.

Melinda Langston, amateur sleuth and Bow Wow Boutique owner, finds herself "Glamping Under the Stars" with a blackmailer, Orange County's hottest new gourmet pet chef, Addison Rae. But before Mel can put an end to Addison's strong-arming, the chef is found dead. Mel is just one of many suspects who had motive to snuff out the demanding chef. 

Was it Redmond, the angry sous chef who detested working for Addison? What about rival chef, Pepper Maddox? The glamping chef gig was hers until Addison blackmailed her way into the job. And then there's Asher, a charming fellow camper whose past relationship with Addison isn't the only secret he's guarding. Mel's not one to tuck tail and run, even when it looks like she may be the next victim.

Sounds cool and intriguing, thank you - a perfect cozy mystery to enjoy with your own pampered pet.

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of two mystery authors (Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter). They are friends and neighbors as well as co-writers of the Pampered Pets Mystery Series. The pen name was created by combining the names of their rescue pets--Sparkle (Mary Lee's cat) and Abbey (Anita's dog). They reside in central Iowa, but if they could write anywhere, you would find them on the beach with their laptops and, depending on the time of day, with either an iced tea or a margarita. If you're missing any of their  backlist this is a great time to grab them. Details here. And if you want to make sure you're up on all the Sparkle Abbey news, stop by their website and sign up for updates at

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Does Picture Perfect Help Children Read?

I've read and reviewed quite a lot of picture books recently. Long years ago - I'm not counting how many - I read them just for pleasure, not for review. And sometime in between I read those pictures for sons as well. Lots of pictures. Lots of books.

I remember "reading" picture books with no words. Sons would help me tell the story - well, except for oldest son who determined it wasn't a story if it didn't have printed sets of letters in it. The books were hard work though. The boys would imagine all sorts of events that weren't quite intended on the page, then we'd turn to the next, miss the point, and start over again (or throw the book across the room - they were boys, of course).

Then there were books where the pictures didn't quite fit the tale. "Mom, it said he played with elephants and giraffes, so why are there no elephants in the picture?" Perhaps they'd gone to the bathroom? "Mom, that's not right."

Some books had mass-produced pictures mass-repeated over different backgrounds. "Mom, I saw that monkey on the other page. Look, he's just the same. It's not a real picture. It's a copy." Today I read picture books with computer images and hear that same refrain repeated in my head. But does it matter, or was it just my kids who viewed things so strangely?

Best, in my opinion, are  books where the pictures can easily add to the tale, never detract from it, please  child and parent both together, and are genuinely beautiful. Those are the books I kept when the kids grew up. They're the ones I'll save and share with grandkids one day (I hope, anyway!).

And these are the picture books I've read this week. Grab a coffee. Pull up a chair. Find a grandkid to share!

First, and most beautiful, is Feathers for Peacock by Jacqueline Jules, a gorgeously illustrated and nicely imaginative tale of how the peacock got his tail. It's a new story, pleasingly flavored with world-wide myths, and very smoothly told. The illustrations of naked birds are great, inviting kids to guess which bird is which. And the lesson in kindness is wise and neat. Enjoy with some smooth well-balanced three-star coffee.

Me Too by Lea Kirshenberg illustrated by Bhangga Santoso has a nice lesson as well, for kids (parents or dogs) who always think the grass is greener somewhere else. The story's long enough to hold attention and be worth reading. The pictures are bright and stylized. And the text uses rhyme without being sing-song. It's fun. Enjoy with a bright, lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

I've read some more Midge and Moo books by Kerry McQuaide too. Moo Knows Numbers is a nice introduction to numbers, with plenty of objects for small children to point at and count, and plenty of picture play with number shapes. It's a short, fun addition to the series. Then Moo goes Missing in a quick short peekaboo adventure with a comfortable ending. Enjoy both of these with some mild, crisp one-star coffee.

Which books would you choose?

Monday, March 14, 2016

When a Sister Goes Missing... Read Last Vacation

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Sarah Elle Emm to my blog, as she tours the internet with b00kr3vi3w Tours. She's brought her latest book, Last Vacation, with her, and a fascinating interview with the protagonist, Megan - PLUS a great giveaway, so don't forget to read the whole post, down to the end!

About the Book:

Seven days have passed since Naples real estate agent Megan MacKenna has heard from her twin sister, Madeline, who was vacationing on the beautiful, Caribbean island of St. Croix. Though authorities are not convinced there is a case to solve, Megan knows with all of her heart something happened to Maddy. When Megan receives a direct warning to leave the island or end up like her sister, she turns to the only person who has taken her seriously since she arrived, Gabe, a breakfast cook at a local diner. 

Undercover DEA agent, Gabriel Walker has been building his cover for months, waiting for the opportunity to work his way into the infamous Torrez crime ring. When Megan shows up asking questions and Gabe realizes her twin’s disappearance might be linked to the Torrez men, he has to convince her to go back to Florida before she becomes their next victim. 

The closer Megan gets to the truth, the more Gabe begins to suspect he is missing a huge piece of the puzzle. And someone is closing in on Megan…

But who is Megan? What drives her to ignore all warnings in the search for her twin? Read on for a fascinating interview...

Character Interview with MEGAN:

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
A day with no responsibilities? I don’t have those. My twin sister, Maddy, has enough free days for the both of us. That being said, if I have everything on my list crossed off for the day, I might read for a bit. I might also stop in one of the boutiques on Fifth Avenue in Naples and pick up a new pair of heels. But only if I’ve finished work for the day.

If you could spend the day with someone you admire (living or dead or imaginary), who would you pick?
That’s easy. I always visit Grandma Lynn when I have time. She’s adamant about living in the retirement home because she says I am too young to have an old lady living with me, but I visit her almost everyday. It is part of my routine. I’d spend the day with both of my parents if they were still around, but I am not sure how that would go. I probably wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut, and I’d ask them why they always had to travel and go off on adventures instead of staying home with Maddy and me. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness? And, what is your current state of mind?
In a perfect scenario, my sister has finally come to her senses and is settled down in Naples, holding a steady job. I no longer have to worry about what sort of trouble she might get into next. Currently, I am frantic and desperate with worry, trying to find her. I’m the only person who can help her. It’s been my job to look after her since our parents died.

What do you consider to be the most overrated virtue and why? 
That’s tough. Before Maddy disappeared, I might have said forgiveness was overrated. I admit, I’ve been a little tough on her all of these years, never really understanding her or forgiving her for making what I consider reckless decisions. But now? That’s she missing? I wish I had told her to her face that I accepted her and wasn’t mad at her for every decision she made. I hope I get the chance to tell her how sorry I am.

Tell us 3 things about yourself that the readers do not know about.
- I secretly admire Maddy for being so daring and going on adventure-seeking vacations. 
- My co-workers always remark about how I have my life together, from my luxury convertible to my designer shoes to my commercial real estate sales record. And yes, I am successful in my career and happy with that part of my life, but underneath it all, I am a bit lonely.
- I’ve never been in love. Even though I thought I loved my ex-boyfriend, I look back now and realize I was in love with the idea of him and the image of us as a power couple. But it wasn’t really love. I doubt I’ll ever be in love.

Thank you Megan. It was cool meeting you. But now, let's see what your author has to say about you.

Read an Excerpt:

Megan parked in front of the bungalow and climbed out of the junky, little car, as she was referring to it now, resisting the urge to kick it. Though the air-conditioning wasn’t working at full power, it had offered some relief from the island temperature. Even though she’d tried to dress weather-appropriately with a short, thin cotton dress, the humid air seemed to reach out to her and settle over her at once, sending a drop of sweat down her temple. Out of habit more than anything, she wiped the sweat away before it could ruin what was left of her make-up. She sighed aloud. She didn’t just miss her Maserati. She missed her office and her house. Her routine. She missed her life. 

Maybe the police were right. Maddy had just left on a whim. It was something she had a reputation for, for Heaven’s sake. Megan wondered if she should just leave and go back to her life. Maddy would probably show up with some ridiculous story and a new tattoo before she knew it. After all, how was she supposed to find her sister if no one had seen or heard of anything bad happening to her? All facts pointed to what the police were saying... 

Maddy checked out of her hotel, and no one had seen her since. 

Of course, she still had questions...Who were the guys she had left the hotel with? Maddy could have gotten involved with a man, but had she left St. Croix with him? It was a definite possibility. Her twin was probably sun tanning on a booze cruise somewhere in the British Virgin Islands by now. Still, before she had left Naples, Maddy had been sober for nearly sixteen months. Had she given up on sobriety? 

As she climbed the steps to her bungalow, Megan tried to convince herself the theory was true. She would go home and wait for Maddy to show up with her new tattoo and tale of sailing the Caribbean islands. Then, she would try, yet again, to convince Maddy to get a job and stay put. And they would have the same old argument about why Maddy refused to act more responsible. 

As she pondered her twin’s recklessness, a hand clamped over her mouth, and her arms were pulled into captivity. 

Everything went dark. 

I don't have an interview with the author, but here's some information about her.

About the Author:

Sarah Elle Emm is the author of the HARMONY RUN SERIES, a young-adult fantasy and dystopian series, released in May 2012 by Winter Goose Publishing. (PRISMATIC, May 2012, OPALESCENT, February 2013, CHATOYANT, September 2014, NACREOUS, August 2015) Her debut fiction novel, MARRYING MISSY, was published by Bird Brain Publishing in October 2011. Sarah is a graduate of The University of Evansville, she has lived and worked in Mexico, Germany, England, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and has traveled extensively beyond. Sarah lives in Naples, Florida with her family. When she’s not walking the plank of her daughters’ imaginary pirate ship or snapping photos of Southwest Florida scenery, she is writing.

Find the Author:

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Friday, March 11, 2016

What Makes The Author Write The Book?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Bruce Edlen, author of Jazz Mergirl, to my blog. He's the author of a Jazz Mergirl, the biography of a teen activist - a book I'd certainly love to read. And here he's volunteered there to answer the question he's asked most often - Why did he write the book? I love his answer. And I know I shall love the book...

Titled Jazz Mergirl, this is the biography of Jazz Jennings, well-known teen activist and star of TLC’s I Am Jazz TV docuseries. In 2014, Jazz was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the world's "25 Most-Influential Teens,” an honor she shares with Malala Yousafzai.

The book’s profits are being donated to support Jazz’s charitable foundation TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation
Purchase Jazz Mergirl at Amazon

I'm certainly intrigued, and would love to read this. What about you? And I'm intrigued to learn what led to the author writing the book. So, pull up a chair, pour a quick cup of coffee, and please join me in welcoming Bruce Edlen.

The most common question I have been asked by curious and puzzled friends and acquaintances is, why did I write this particular book Jazz Mergirl? To begin with, I was not expecting to write any book, much less one about a transgender teen activist.
But a helpful writer friend who was reading the rough draft of my book’s preface asked how my many years as an educator might have led to my interest in this subject. Thinking about her question it occurred to me that I had come to teaching with a keen awareness of the women’s rights movement, and over the years, I always made it a point with my students to ensure the girls were treated equally along with the boys. In fact, I decided to write my thesis about increasing gender equity for girls in school, and even conducted teacher trainings based on that research.
So, the path to this book was already prepared when I came across Jazz’s wonderful and inspiring story. I just knew this was something I had to share with others. But when I looked for a biography about Jazz, there wasn’t one available. That’s how I came to do what another author advised: “Write the book you want to read but can’t find.” In other words, this book found me, not the other way around.
Write the book you want to read but can't find.
What wonderful advice. Thank you Bruce. And what can you tell us about the book?
Jazz Mergirl is the biography of Jazz Jennings, well-known teen activist and star of TLC’s I Am Jazz TV docuseries. In 2014, Jazz was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the world’s “25 Most-Influential Teens,” an honor she shares with Malala Yousafzai.

Jazz Mergirl is the compelling true story of a transgender girl born in a boy’s body. It tells how Jazz Jennings and her family navigated the challenging road to transition her into the bright, beautiful, lovely teen she is today.
It is also the story of Jazz’s courage and determination in speaking out to the world about being transgender. She urges those who are “less understanding” to become more accepting of “unique and special people,” she encourages kids who are different to accept and love themselves.
Jazz is an activist, author, artist, and TV star. She has received numerous awards and other recognitions. A champion for equal rights, Jazz said, “I am honored to represent the voice of transgender children, many of whom are too afraid to speak on their own.”
Both teens and adults will be fascinated and engaged by Jazz Mergirl.  This book will also be of interest to teachers, those in psychology and gender studies programs, therapists, and people in the healthcare and child protective systems. Included are online resources, an extensive glossary, and a Q & A section, and many B&W illustrations.

It sounds really intriguing and empowering--not just in the story, but also in the inclusion of those resources. Thank you!
Bruce Edlen, M.A. ed., was a teacher for 20 years. Having worked with students as well as adults provided him with the background and skills necessary to make this story accessible and engaging to both teens and older readers.

Connect with the Author

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How do we recreate the real world in fiction?

Recreating ancient history can be fraught with interpretations. But recent history must surely be just as hard. They tell us we should "write what we know" but I'm always afraid what I know might be skewed by what I thought I knew. If I painted the world I grew up in, I know my brothers would disagree. My older brother has already complained about things I said as a young adult that I can't even imagine wanting to say. There again, in fiction, the world is seen through a character's eyes. So perhaps I can write what I thought I once knew through a stranger's eyes and make it real, even if it's not what was really there.

Mesu Andrews recreated the ancient world of Israel in Egypt beautifully in Miriam. Her ancient history includes interpretation of Biblical events, scientific theory, historical record and more. It convinces me. Fill a suitably complex four-star cup with coffee and enjoy.

War Brides by Helen Bryan is set (mostly) in England before and during the Second World War. I don't know enough history to say if the details are true, but they're certainly convincing and agree with the sense of what family members told me. South coast villagers watch planes fly overhead, hope no bombs will drop, scrounge for black-market treats, profiteer, hide, and care for their children. The war brides themselves come from far and wide, and the story covers much more than England's shores. In the end it's a tale of endings that are never quite resolved, that turn into new beginnings at every turn. I liked it, for all its unexpected typos. Enjoy with some three-star well-balanced coffee as it balances its wealth of characters.

Calvin Davis tackles more recent history with the Phantom Lady of Paris. Americans drink coffee in Parisian bars while the world around them falls prey to terror and decay. The cancers of poverty, disenfranchised youth and rejection grew as surely then as they do now, and the novel, sumptuously written, evocatively real, and honestly portraying a wealth of characters, is hauntingly, mysteriously wonderful. Enjoy with some more four-star complex wonderful coffee.

Still in the 60s, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan takes the reader into the minds of a man and woman on their wedding night. It's a compelling and evocative depiction of human emotion and physical need, and a haunting tale of how one moment's chance can change the years of a life. How and why do we meet our loves, and what would happen if we didn't? Short, sad, explicitly sensual, and hauntingly beautiful--Chesil Beach is surely the perfect metaphor for this tale. Enjoy with some complex four-star compelling coffee.

Snake Holes by Becky Villareal is a short story for middle grade or younger, depicting the left-out school-child and how she, maybe, saves her friends. There's a nicely real depiction of childhood's taunts and a simple life, where common sense isn't always right, but it still prevails. Enjoy this one with some smooth full-flavored three-star coffee.

These last two books recreate the present day through the eyes of vastly different characters. The Shades of Fear Anthology collects a wealth of fears from the big C to the monster under the bed. Some real, some hauntingly surreal, and some just dark and twisted, they make for an anthology that twists and turns with each tale. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee and set aside plenty of time; it's a well-stocked anthology with lots of tales to tell.

Anthology of Murderous Connections by Desiree L Scott is built with short stories all from the same author. Murderous family connections drive the tales. More dark five-star coffee might be required.

But will readers believe these worlds are real? Does telling your own story (as in one of the short tales in Shades of Fear) make the story more real than telling, or imagining someone else's. If I offer my story will it seem boring, unreal, or maybe just badly remembered (as my brother will insist). And if I give you details of that banister I hid behind, will you believe me, think I imagined it, or tell me it's just something somebody told me about in later years?

Better stick to fiction, I think. In fiction events have reason, and truth is in the hands of the author.

Monday, March 7, 2016

How to Paint Rain

Today I'm delighted to feature Annette K. Larsen, author of Painting Rain, on my blog. It seems to have been raining for weeks, so the title seems kind of appropriate to the season. But what does rain mean to you? Is it just the sky crying?


How do you heal your heart after tragedy leaves you broken? When the person you loved didn’t deserve it and they can’t earn your forgiveness because they’re already dead? How do you move on, and heal, and love?

If you’re Princess Lorraina, you paint.

A year ago Lorraina watched Tobias die, and she still doesn't know how she's supposed to heal—or forgive. How can she when she’s still running away? In an attempt to reinvent herself, she steps outside her comfortable life as princess and seeks the tutelage of a master painter—a man who is not at all impressed by her pedigree, and demands not just talent, but emotional honesty.

Struggling to learn what’s being taught, she finds herself drawn to someone who not only knows her secrets, but who she once considered far below her notice. Now she is compelled to seek him out despite knowing their relationship would be forbidden if discovered. Staying away from him doesn’t seem possible when discovering him may be the key to healing her heart and rediscovering herself.

Painting Rain is number 4 in the Books of Dalthea (clean romance) series. If you want to start with book one, it's on sale below. And if you want to win a rafflecopter prize, you'll have to scroll to the giveaway at the end of this post.
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"This was one of those rare books where I just had to finish reading before doing anything else." -Kathy, I Am A Reader, Not A Writer

"This book is so well written it felt just perfect. Honest. I loved it from beginning to end." -Aimee Brown, Getting Your Read On

"I haven't come across a book that I loved like this in a long time." -Tarah, Goodreads

"Loved every second of this book. It was engaging, eventful, beautifully written and hard to put down. It's wonderful for all ages!" -Jen, Goodreads

Annette Larsen
 ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Annette K. Larsen says
 I was born in Utah, but grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona and St. Louis, Missouri, the fifth of seven children. I attended Southern Virginia University and Brigham Young University, where I studied English and Theater. I now live in Idaho with my husband and four children. 

I have Charlotte Brontë to thank for the courage to write novels. After being bombarded with assigned reading about women who justified abandoning either their families or their principles in the name of love, I had the great fortune of reading Jane Eyre. And that was it: finally, a heroine who understood that being moral and making the right choice was hard, and sometimes it hurt, but it was still worth it. After rereading it several years later, I realized that if I wanted more books to exist with the kinds of heroines I admired, then I might as well write a few myself. My books are about women who face hard choices, who face pain and rejection and often have to face the reality of sacrificing what they want for what is right. The consequences are often difficult or unpleasant, but in the end, doing what’s right will always be worth it. 

I believe there is no substitute for good writing or good chocolate. Fortunately, one often leads to the other.

Ah, indeed. Chocolate rules! Especially when it's raining outside.

And now, your chance to win and buy the whole series!


$50 Amazon Gift Code or Paypal Cash 
Ends 3/31/16

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Can Faith, Science, History and Politics Co-exist in Fiction?

I've been trying to find a definition of fiction. Someone says it's the art of imagining the unreal then rendering it real enough with words for others to believe in it. I'd try "temporarily believe." I wouldn't want people permanently convinced that my fictional worlds were true. But the intended audience surely has something to do with it. Someone writing a fictional account of a saint's life, with the intent to inspire, will presumably write for an audience that can be inspired by saints. Someone eager to prove that capitalism leads to world domination will write for readers of similar political views. And someone trying to bring history to life presumably looks for readers who believe real history matters.

This led to me wondering, what if your intended readership (say Christian women) includes readers of more than one political persuasion (says she as a European Christian, therefore almost by definition somewhat different from an American one)? Should the author strive to include or exclude those with different views? And if you're going to exclude, should you make it clear from the outset, or wait until the reader is partially invested in the characters? After all, if you wait, you just might convert them with the power of your characters' arguments... maybe...

I guess my instinct is to strive to include. I write Bible stories, faithful to the Bible, science and history. Sometimes this means my interpretation is more European than American (please don't mention the creation debate!), but I try not to alienate readers who would disagree. (Epoch 4: The gray skies clear and the sun, moon and stars appear. Scientifically speaking, they did.)

But here are three books I read recently that each apply a chosen interpretation of events, future or past, and each impose a chosen interpretation on the present. Find some coffee. Enjoy!

First is Miriam by Mesu Andrews, a retelling of Egypt's ten plagues from the point of view of Moses' sister. There's plenty of scope for faith, science and history in this, and I was intrigued to find the author had read the same book as I in her research (Miracles of the Exodus by Colin Humphreys). She doesn't go along with Humphreys' interpretation all the time, but she applies many aspects of it, together with excellent historical research, and a powerful imagination, to create a thoroughly believable world where miraculous plagues occur at the hand of a powerful God. I willingly suspended disbelief, caught up in well-told details, great characters, and an absorbing plot that threads through multiple lives and loves, shining light on the power (today as well) of communication and trust. Pour a cup of richly elegant four-star coffee and enjoy this novel. I did.

Next is another Christian novel, with elements of science through modern technology, but with politics instead of history as the third thread in the tale. Voice In The Wilderness by H L Wegley. I knew this would be a modern-day American Christian romantic suspense. And I was pleased as the story began to find the politics, though important, was nicely wing-less. Combining right-wing power-grabs with left-wing power-to-the-people, it seemed the author might cleverly avoid laying blame for the story's terror at any one particular door. But this is near-future fiction, and in this near future it soon becomes clear that the left-wing is making the power grab, and all things left are evil. So... cool story, neat romance, scary action, nicely drawn near-future, but... the politics just might turn you off. Enjoy with some bold, intense five-star coffee.

The question, for me anyway, is why did my disagreeing with the science not pose a problem in Miriam, while my disagreeing with the politics made me feel like I wasn't wanted as a reader of Wilderness. Is it because characters in the novel espouse political viewpoints, while characters in Miriam merely live through the consequences of science? Is it that the political ideas forced me to want to argue with the author (ah... but not the characters... maybe that's it!)? I suppose it could be argued I care more about politics than science, but really, I don't. I love science, and scientifically ridiculous religiosity drives me to paroxysms of annoyance, which I try to hide--that striving to include thing I guess. But I digress. Time for another book review.

The Motion Clue by Case Lane combines science/technology, future history and future politics to create a terrifying story of sabotage, mystery and peril. Again, I might disagree with the author's depiction of our future, but I'm truly fascinated. Even long expositions of how we get there from here don't stop me reading. To be honest, I'd prefer to have more left to the reader's imagination, rather than all the intricate detail. But the Motion Clue is a truly terrifying, fascinating tale. Enjoy with some bold dark five-star coffee.

And then, please ponder with me. Was that "left to the reader's imagination" the clue after all? Is that the piece which, when missing, risks alienating readers whose imaginations are differently informed? Should an author tell the reader that the author knows best, or should it be left for the reader to figure out?