Saturday, December 23, 2017

What's your secret?

Today I get to find out the secret which inspired that fun children's book, Mamá Graciela’s Secret by Mayra Calvani. Hurray! It's a lovely picture book with mouthwatering foods, gorgeous scenery, and cats! You can find my review of Mamá Graciela’s Secret here, and learn more about Mamá Graciela’s Secret at my earlier blogpost. But now, meet the author, and learn her real secret...

The Inspiration behind ‘Mamá Graciela’s Secret’By Mayra Calvani

All my books have a special place in my heart, but my latest children’s picture book, Mamá Graciela’s Secret, has an even more special place. This is because it was inspired by my paternal grandmother, also named Graciela.

Mamá Graciela was a very sweet, generous, selfless person. And a passionate dog lover. She rescued many dogs not from shelters but right from the streets and at one point had like 30 dogs living under her roof. She just couldn’t stand the idea of an animal suffering the harsh life of the streets. When she saw a stray dog, she had to help. Her husband wasn’t as much a dog lover as she was but he never got in the way of her helping the dogs, which was nice.

My grandparents also had a small restaurant by the beach called La Bahía (just like in the book!) and my grandmother’s talent for making pollo frito (fried chicken) was kind of well-known in Ponce, the town in the southern coast of Puerto Rico where they lived. Initially my tale was about dogs and pollo frito, very close to the real story, but after I started the submission process, an agent told me the children’s market was saturated with dog books and she suggested I changed it to cats. So that’s what I did. This naturally led to bacalaítos fritos (codfish fritters) instead of pollo frito. It worked better because bacalaítos fritos are a traditional Puerto Rican snack, which added to the ethnic quality of the book.

Mamá Graciela also loved cats and, as I understand it, she fed them outside her home, but it was difficult and potentially dangerous to keep them indoors because of the dogs… So I knew I had to combine both critters at the end of the story. My grandmother died many years ago, but I could never forget her and her love for animals, so the idea simmered in my mind for over a decade before I was ready to put it down to paper. I’m very glad I did.

Oh wow! And now I know what bacalaítos fritos are! What a wonderful story, and I'm so glad you turned it into such a wonderful book. I guess I'm still wondering how there can be too many dog books, but I really love that you included cats and dogs on your final page. You cooked up something wonderful Mayra! Thank you for making my blog taste so nice.

Mamá Graciela’s Secret
Publication date: October 10, 2017
Written by Mayra Calvani
Illustrated by Sheila Fein
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing
36 pages, 3-7 year olds
Reading guide at:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Why do they want us to write in just one genre? (And other questions)

I've read lots of Christopher McPherson's novels:

And I've enjoyed them all. So today I'm delighted to welcome him to my blog, where we can sit chatting over virtual coffee and virtual gluten-free cookies. Find a mug and a plate and sit with us.

Welcome Christopher!
Thank you for inviting me to participate in an interview for your blog!

My pleasure. When did you start writing stories?
When I was a child, I was sick with allergies and asthma. I spent a lot of time home by myself because my parents both worked. I read, and created make-believe worlds with various animal friends. Later, I started writing for my high-school newspaper. That led to a career as a journalist, writing for newspapers, magazines, radio and a little television. The natural progression from there was writing novels.

I remember when I had mumps as a child I made models of dinosaurs and built a world for them to enjoy their adventures. But that was long ago. What was your route to publication?
I started out the same way I think many novice writers do: submitting my novels to agents. I had a few bites early on, but they all suggested changes to the stories that just didn’t feel right to me. I finally decided to stick to my own words and publish myself.

I tried that same route. All the agents I spoke to wanted me to stick to one genre but then I'd have to stop writing in all the others. You write in several different genres too don't you. What influences your choices of what to write?
Yeh, I’ve often been criticized for not sticking to a single genre. I can’t help it. I love history, I love stories about people interacting with history. I’ve written a love story about World War Two, a novel about Paris in the 1920s, and a science-fiction novel about a planet whose biggest industry is making babies. I had the most fun with my five-novel series called “The James Murray Mysteries” which combined my interest in historic Los Angeles with so many of the influential events of the 1930s: prohibition, the Depression, fashionable department stores, early filmmaking, the rise of Nazi Germany, Hollywood personalities, and the start of women striving to stand alone without the need to be defined by the men in their lives.

I really love those books! I love your most recent book too, “22: The Biography of a Gun,” but it's unlike anything you’ve written before. How did that come about?
I was watching an Italian movie about a woman engaged in an illicit love affair. At the end of the film, she leaves the apartment of her lover and begins walking down the street. I thought how much more interesting the ending would have been had she been shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. At that moment, a novel was born. I decided to write a novel about a woman accidentally killed by a gun, and then follow the path that gun took as it went in and out of the lives of other people. Many of the stories are loosely based on real-life events, such as that news reporter killed on air by a disgruntled co-worker and the child who found a gun hidden behind a television set.

That gun is almost like another character in the novel. Are you a big fan of guns?
No. Absolutely no. I’m terrified of the mere thought of them. When I was doing research on this novel, I was talking to a police officer. He offered to take me to a shooting range and show me how to shoot. I declined. He offered to let me hold a gun and I refused. Writing “22: The Biography of a Gun” was some kind of catharsis for me, dealing with my terror of guns out in the wild.

When we were house-hunting we found a gun in a kitchen drawer. Like you, we neither of us wanted to touch it. So, changing the subject, your books have really great covers. How important do you think a good book cover is?
Thank you for your kind words. I must take a moment to thank my cover designer, my husband, Matt, who is a professional graphic designer. He’s been responsible for the covers to all 15 of my books, and started a side industry of eBook-cover designs for which he’s won a couple awards.

Congratulations Matt! Well-deserved awards.
The cover design is the most important element of the book, after the writing itself. As you know, a cover can make or break a book. Despite warnings to the contrary, people always judge a book by its cover. With thousands of books being published every day, there’s really no way around it. The best advice I can give an author about designing a cover is leave it to the professional. I discuss my ideas with Matt and let him go to it. He never fails to come up with something so much better than I could ever have imagined.

What about those dreaded back-cover blurbs? How hard are they to produce?
They are killer, aren’t they? I often spend hours writing and rewriting trying to distill an entire novel into a few hundred words. I’ve never been completely satisfied with the results, but you have to stop at some point and just publish, don’t you?

Indeed. Otherwise I wouldn't get to read your novels. What will you write next?
Oh, this is the fun part. I’m about a third of the way through my new novel about the very first cat in Japan in the 10th century. She has some amazing adventures to share with her readers. I’ve really enjoyed the research I’ve done on this one.

The first cat in Japan? I think I'm hooked already. Looking forward to it.
Thank you for (virtually) meeting with me. I've really enjoyed learning more about you and your books... and I really do love your books.


“22: The Biography of a Gun”

“Murder at Eastern Columbia,” the first James Murray Mystery

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Is it better to give up or to persevere?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Edward Dron, author of the lovely pillow-time picture-book, Pillow Parade. He's offered to let us know why he wrote this sweet tale of sheep and a rabbit--and a child who can't get to sleep.

Thank you for joining us Edward...

The Story behind The Pillow Parade

As a parent, you always want to pass on the things you’ve learned about life to your children. A big part of our role, as parents, is to help our kids navigate this tricky world. One thing I’ve noticed is how important it is to not give up - to persevere. There are a number of independent studies that back this up. Researchers have found that the number one predictor of success is grit. Basically, it’s the ability to get up after you’ve been knocked down.

You often hear stories of how successful authors, entrepreneurs, musicians, and actors faced an enormous amount of rejection, resistance, and frustration. They didn’t give up.  They persevered.  As Bill Bradley once said, “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”  It’s safe to say that at more than one point in every person's life they are going to face resistance.  It might be because of their gender. It might be because of their religion or ethnicity.  It might even be because of how they look.  This is often a very key moment in people’s lives. They can choose to give up or they can choose to persevere.

Olive, the main character in this book, has an unquestionable talent for jumping. Based on her skills, you would think that the sheep would be thrilled to have her join their Pillow Parade. Yet, she meets up with resistance. Why? She was born a bunny. This is a very key part of the book.  Olive had two options.  Luckily, to paraphrase Woody Hayes, she decided to paralyze resistance with persistence. She chose not to give up.

My hope is that this book will inspire kids to not give up during frustrating moments in their life.  For children, these moments might be about something as simple as having trouble zipping up their coat. As a parent, I love these little moments.  It’s a great opportunity to strengthen their character.  I’ve actually said a few times to my kids, “Would Olive pout or cry?” They usually smile and say no.  It acts as a nice reset.  An opportunity to regroup and rethink the challenge.

This question actually comes from one of my favorite parts of the book.  It happens right after the grumpy sheep tells Olive that she’s not allowed to join his sheep-only club.

Since this might not be the most fun topic to discuss, I tried not to be heavy-handed with the delivery.  That’s partly why I tell the story using lyrically playful rhymes. I want kids to enjoy it and laugh.  Although the key lesson is unquestionably there, it’s gentle in its delivery.  

Having read and loved the book, I can vouch for the fact that the delivery is indeed gentle, and the rhyming is lyrically playful and smooth. It's a very cool way to deliver an important message, and I love that Bill Bradley quote - maybe I should print it out and tape it to my computer. My vehicle has a habit of breaking down... but would Olive pout or cry?

Thank you for joining us Edward, and I hope lots of children sleep well after hearing this story, and wake up ready to work through the challenges placed in their way.

Find Ed at The Pillow Parade (and have fun - it's a very cool site!)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Where do Epic Fantasies come from?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Robert Donohue to my blog. His epic fantasy series, Then Came A King, starts with the novel, Child of Creation, and he's been touring the internet, letting readers know more about it. So, fellow readers and writers, find some coffee, maybe a few gluten-free cookies, and meet Robert with me.

I know Child of Creation is a fantasy. Is this the only genre  you write, Robert, and if so, why? 

I write to relax.  I enjoy reading Epic Fantasy novels and so, my first published book is in that genre.  I grew up reading Louis L’Amour and Clive Cussler though, so I have a desire to try that genre at some point, and I have started about half a dozen times a book about my adventures in Baghdad, Iraq in 2004 when I was there serving as a police advisor helping to stand up a democratic policing presence in a country that had none.  Basically, I just like to write, and the fantasy genre is the most open, allowing me to be the most creative with character development and what I can do to create conflicts that drive character interaction.
I sometimes wonder if fantasy isn't the modern version of those Westerns! What can you tell us about your latest book.  
Child of Creation is an epic fantasy novel about a young man, Lark, who is suddenly, and violently, torn from the only world he has ever known when the small village he has never been more than a few miles away from is attacked and everyone in it, including his parents, killed.  As the only witness to that atrocity, Lark is sent away by his mother who strangely tells him to keep who he is a secret just before sending him away.  Lark then has to figure it all out, how to survive in a world he doesn’t even really understand and wanders into a variety of challenges along the way, forcing him to grow up faster than he ever thought he could, and face the fact that somehow, his tragedy is tied up in a much greater series of events than he ever imagined he could be a part of.
Those epic fantasies are sometimes epically long. So... what did you edit out of this book?  
I started this book when I was a young police officer, and as such, I was seeing quite a bit of the seedier side of life.  As I got older, and my children started growing up, I started to wonder if what I wrote was appropriate for them to read.  With a book about a 14 year old I wanted kids around that age to be able to enjoy it as well so much of the more descriptive depravity of the world Lark finds himself in was edited out to make the book more acceptable to me as a parent.
That makes a lot of sense. Thank you. I have to ask---14-year-old Lark has such an interesting name---how do you select the names of your characters?  
The most popular question I have received since people started reading my book.  I basically didn’t want to accidentally step on any toes, so whenever I ran into the need for a new character name, I would start putting vowels and consonants together until they sounded like the character I was creating.  I wanted an entirely new world that broke stereotypes from other worlds while at the same time, creating an entirely new set for this new world’s inhabitants.  There are patterns in the names that I try to follow.  I will leave the identification of those patterns to the imaginations of my readers.
What an intriguing idea! And is Lark your favorite character in your book?  
I tend to be like a parent who prefers not to declare one of his kids, (characters), the favorite.  They all have their positive and negative traits but in the end, it is their humanity and their way of dealing with each other that will define them.  I truly would rather each reader find their own favorite for their own reasons.  Imagination is a wonderful thing and, at least inside this world we live in, each person has his own experience and environment to rely on to help him choose who might become the one he most wants to know what is going to happen to as the series develops.

Do you have any intriguing marketing methods you're using to promote your book? 

A part of my choosing Page Publishing was their offer of sending out a press release about the book’s release and setting up a web page.  I was also moved to work with a terrific group of publicists out of Austin, Texas, called PR by the Book who helped me make contact with you.  It is an uphill battle for any self-published author to convince people to give your work a chance, but I have been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance the book has received and hope that the more people read it, the stronger word of mouth advertising will work in my favor.  It is about the characters and the world they live in, and if they drive people’s imaginations strongly enough, I will reach a point where the book can and should sell itself.  All I have to do is keep finding people to convince to read it until I reach that point.
What formats is the book available in? 
The book is available in paperback, and ebook versions.  It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, I-Tunes, Google Play, and Kobo along with a host of other sites.  It is also available through Ingram wholesalers for any bookstore looking to carry it. 

Where can a reader purchase your book?  

My book is available online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, I-Tunes, and Google Play as well as on request from most any book retailer upon request.  I would really love to see sales pick up in the local bookstores as I am a small-town guy and that would generate interest that would allow me to make some appearances in many of these smaller venues where the events would be more personal.   

So... I've looked it up and found it here on Amazon:

Presumably your hoping people will buy book two in the series next. Is that what you're working on currently?  

Book two of the Then Came a King series, Coming of Age is complete…for the most part.  I am editing it for contextual disagreements with book 1 and trying to make sure I haven’t taken the characters to places they really don’t need to go.  I am afraid of the sequel syndrome where everything after the first one is disappointing and so I want to use each book in the series to build a stronger connection between the readers and their favorite characters.  The hardest part of that for me is keeping each character in their lane so to speak.  The amount of time it has taken to get this published has made that effort considerably harder than it should have been.  Imagine trying to remember what your motives were for a particular idea, 25 years ago.

What a thought! But, thinking of 25 years ago, what are some of your all time favorite books?  

The Sword of Shannara was the first Fantasy novel I ever read.  The Belgariad series by David Eddings was an important part of my teen years, as was Louis L’Amour and Clive Cussler.  I stumbled into the Song of Ice and Fire long before it was a fad to do so and really really liked it.  There are so many historical books that I have really enjoyed that I can’t even name a single author other than Winston Groom who wrote an interesting historical non-fictional account on the Battle of Vicksburg about the town I live in.
And when you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?  

My wife would tell you I am a professional sleeper, but in reality, I work about 60 hours a week between all of the jobs I work and then I am a part time graduate student as well.  Soon I will be teaching at the college level also and hopefully still be writing and doing press and book signing events.


Alone and terrified, the only son of the village’s hunter is on the run from a threat he doesn’t even understand. Marauders, who destroyed his village and murdered his parents, are chasing him to silence the only voice left able to bear witness to their atrocities. His parents ominously warned him to trust no one as they sent him away while they fought courageously to give their young teenage son a chance to live. Thus, begins the adventures of Lark.

Follow Lark as he joins a group who teaches him that the world isn’t as simple as he was raised to believe. Lark soon learns that the fantastic stories he and his friends grew up hearing of a much bigger world where not just Elves and Dwarves, but Gnomes and Trolls, even magical Sprites could exist, are true. Even more disturbing, he begins to learn that his own heritage includes stunning secrets. Secrets that cause Lark to question not only who he can trust, now that he is on his own, but why his parents kept so many truths from him. Lark is forced to grow up quickly as he ventures into the incredibly dangerous world outside the sleepy little village of his youth and must learn and adapt, or die. Without any other real options, he begins a personal quest to make those who destroyed the only world he had ever known pay for their crimes. All the while, learning what it means to be the Child of Creation.


Born in Chicago and raised in Syracuse, New York, Robert Donohue moved in his mid-teens to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he has been ever since except for a few years of college. He spent most of his career in law enforcement and some retail management. He graduated Summa Cum Laude in Organizational Management and is currently working on his Master's Degree in Homeland Security at Mississippi College. Robert has been an avid reader since about two and his favorite authors are Terry Brooks, Louis L'Amour, David Eddings, and the master, George RR Martin. He lives in Vicksburg with his wife and has two grown children.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Where do paranormal and normal collide?

Not everything in life lends itself to easy explanation. Not everything in fiction either, and sometimes the not quite normal worlds of fiction are all the more believable for not explaining everything. Sometimes it's enough just to live, for a little while, in an unreal, paranormal place, looking back perhaps at the real and seeing how much is beyond our understanding. Sometimes it's good to remember we don't know it all. Otherwise we get caught up in arguments about things we don't completely know, and forget to listen to those hints of truth behind the fiction, myth, history or imagination.

I enjoy fiction, myth, history and imagination. I'm totally sure there's more out there than I'll ever wrap my mind around. I believe there's much that's been revealed, but that's for my other blog--inspired by faith and science. Meanwhile I'll read. Find yourself a coffee and see if any of these nicely paranormal tales capture your imagination as they did mine.

First are the Deadly Encounters novels by Crymsyn Hart, Death's Dance, Death's Revival and Death's Demise (I hope there will be more). Death's Dance is a place where a medium meets her match. But the medium is guarded by a hooded stranger in her dreams, and soon she's taking her place in the world as a Grim Reaper. Intriguing. Even more so when myths and legends of history try to break into earth's reality... Enjoy these dark tales with some fine dark five-star coffee.

Epitaph by Karla Brandenburg introduces a woman who rather than speaking with the dead just hears from them. It's a great talent for writing epitaphs, but perhaps not so great when the dead call out for justice. A touching romance, a fast-moving action adventure, and an intriguing take on paranormal powers, Epitaph might be best enjoyed with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

The Woman behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel is one of those gently paranormal novels that leave you wondering just what was real and what imagined. A delightful daughter seems more than able to imagine herself a bird. But the mother imagines nothing but the bottom of a glass and fills her life with regret. What if there were powers beyond death weaving threads into our lives? And what if a child could reweave with gold and heal? Enjoy this intriguing and beautifully poetic novel with some rich elegant four-star coffee.

A second Leonora Meriel book, Unity Game, blends paranormal with science fiction. Alien life is portrayed very evocatively, with power to channel an unknown energy. Then human lives are introduced, living and dead, time periods gradually proving to be twisted till even the ancients of history play their part. Coolly intriguing, this is another poetic novel to enjoy with elegant cups of elegant four-star coffee.

Friday, December 15, 2017

What is women's fiction?

Goodreads makes me tag books when I review them. Somehow I got the idea I was meant to tag them by genre, and somewhere along the line I started tagging some books as dealing with "women's issues." Of course, that kind of begs the question, what I a women's issue. And should I really just have tagged them women's fiction?

A female protagonist, possibly wounded, probably by the men in her life, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds... or maybe not overcoming... used, abused... I'm not sure if this makes it women's fiction any more than a male protagonist struggling to recover from a mountain of trials makes something men's fiction. As a girl I preferred my brother's action adventure stories to those with simperingly beautiful girls that were offered to me. As a teen I loved science fiction with adventurous scientists (usually men) solving mysteries of the universe. As a young adult I liked men's action stories, maybe war stories, and more. And now... well now, I'm just not sure it's men's or women's fiction--just fiction about real people in a messed up world.

That said, here are some women's books for you to peruse over coffee. Enjoy.

Memory’s Hostage by Margaret Pinard takes readers further into the past, a time when politics, science and spies kept the balance of peace, and a young woman awakens in a stranger's house in 1883 with no recollection of how she got there. Enjoy this bright lively read with some bright lively two-star coffee and imagine how things used to be.

Broken Chains by Emiliya Ahmadova takes American readers further afield, to Azerbaijan, Kenya and beyond. A sequence of female protagonists repeat the mistakes of the past, falling to lies and abuse, and the reader longs to see the cycle broken. Ultimately hopeful, Broken Chains is a dark difficult read. most intriguing for its depiction of different cultures. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer tells of every woman's nightmare--the loss of a child. Intriguingly, the story's told through the eyes of mother and daughter, offering an interesting perspective on how easy it might be to become "lost." There are some surprising twists and turns in a story that feels scarily real, and the reader is pulled deeply into the plot. A haunting novel, elegantly constructed, enjoy this one with some elegant four-star coffee.

And finally, having touched on fictional loss, here's a non-fiction book offering wisdom for women encountering real loss in their lives. Walking the labyrinth of my heart by Dianna Vagianos Armentrout. This one surely counts as "women's issues," dealing as it does with the death, before birth, of a child--the worse nightmare because it was true for the author. Combining essay, poetry and journal, it offers gentle wisdom, comfort, and serious food for thought, a well-balanced blend that's best read over some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Do you like cats?

Today I'm featuring a children's picture book with real character, voice and plot - a very satisfying read in pictures and words, and highly recommended. It even has a version printed in the Dyslexic Font, the typeface for people with dyslexia. Go to to find out more about the typeface (I did - it's intriguing!)

Mamá Graciela’s Secret by Mayra Calvani, illustrated by Sheila Fein - my review

It’s nice to read a children’s book with letters accented so neatly, giving depth to the narrator’s voice. Mamá Graciela has a restaurant called La Bahía, and already I need to learn how to pronounce the words. Meanwhile I learn of delicious bacalaítos fritos and I want to taste them!

Sheila Fein’s illustrations in this book and bright and warm, perfectly complementing the Mayra Calvani’s warm, inviting story. And it’s not just a story about food. There are cats “like my children, the ones I never had.” And such wonderful cats… and so many cats!

I love how this story moves from normal to wild and wonderful. I love how the illustrations are so satisfyingly filled with character. I imagine a small child playing spot the striped brown kitten. But trouble looms… and I love that this is a children’s book with a real story, with beginning, middle and end.

Disclosure: I was given an ecopy and I offer my honest review.


Publication date: October 10, 2017
Written by Mayra Calvani
Illustrated by Sheila Fein
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing
36 pages, 3-7 year olds
Reading guide at:
Mamá Graciela’s TENDER, CRUNCHY, SPICY bacalaítos fritos are the best in town...
Local customers (including stray cats!) come from all over the island to enjoy her secret recipe. But when the Inspector discovers that Mamá secretly caters to so many cats and he threatens to close her tiny restaurant, Mamá must come up with a plan to save it—and all of the animals she loves. 
Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her children's picture book, Frederico the Mouse Violinist was a finalist in the 2011 International Book Awards; her anthology Latina Authors and Their Muses was a First Place winner at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards; her nonfiction book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, was a Foreword Best Book of the Year winner. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications like The Writer, Writer's Journal, Multicultural Review, Bloomsbury Review, and others.

She lives in Belgium with her husband of 30+ years, two wonderful kids, and her three beloved pets. When she's not writing, editing, reading or reviewing, she enjoys walking with her dog, traveling, and spending time with her family.


Born in Queens, New York and living in Los Angeles since 1987, Sheila Fein has always been inspired by the changing world around her. Earning her BA in Design from Buffalo State College of New York, her concentration was on drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography. Sheila's education as an artist has taken her everywhere from Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia to Bath University in England. Today, Sheila Fein runs two figurative workshops, Imaginings Sketch in LA and People Sketchers in Thousand Oaks. She has been featured in numerous collections, magazines, books, solo and group exhibitions. Her paintings and drawings reside in public and private collections. Sheila loves to make the imagination of others a reality and has done so through her commissioned Fein Fantasy Portraits and Interactive Paintings. In addition to being a fine artist Sheila works as an illustrator. She just completed the book "Mama Graciela's Secret" for Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Have you read yourself into another world recently?

I love books. I love being transported to other worlds, historical, geographical, futuristic, fantastical... I guess they free me from thoughts of this world, allowing me to look back with a different perspective, maybe seeing the present differently because I've imagined myself into somewhere else. To some extent, reading a good book is like becoming an immigrant again. And being an immigrant gives anyone a perspective unique to their past as well as their future--a perspective the judge told me never to forget when he welcomed me into American citizenship. So I like books...

... and since I like reading and writing books, I also like writing book reviews. Here are a few. Find some coffee (the rating is for flavor, not quality), and see if you'll want to read any of these.

Marriage Before Death by Uvi Poznansky transports readers to WWII France, where an American tries not to be caught as a spy, while the girl he loves tries to save him. It's fifth in the author's Still Life With Memories series and, like the others, it offers a historical novel viewed through the wrapper of a husband watching his wife's memories disappear. The past more real than the present perhaps, though in both parts are played and the real self hidden away. Enjoy this standalone thought-provoking novel with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly takes place during the same war. Darker and more haunting, it's carefully based on fact but reads like fiction. Unsparing yet honest in its depiction of war's horrors, it reveals how women live with the unliveable, sometimes accommodating, sometimes fighting back, and sometimes merely surviving. It's a powerful, long, dark read, lit with intense humanity. Enjoy with some serious five-star dark coffee.

Howard L. Hibbard's Curse of the Coloring Book brings readers closer to war in the present day as it follows the flashbacks of a Vietnam veteran whose livelihood is now threatened, as once was his life. Nothing in war was quite as the child's coloring book depicted it. Now nothing else is the same. It's a gripping novel, scarily evocative, and filled with great characters, in past and present days. You'll want to drink another dark five-star coffee with this one.

Then there's Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller's Otherworld, which takes us past today to a near-future world of technological marvels, virtual reality bots, and the betrayals of young love at the hands of old finance. It's cool, intriguing and seriously thought-provoking. Enjoy with some rich elegant four-star coffee.

A different world indeed. Perhaps I should have added a book set in a different part of the world, but that's in my next set of reviews, and I'll keep on reading. How about you?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Why do Adults read Kids' Books?

I went shopping with a friend and a book-store voucher. We wandered aisles, greeting familiar books like lost friends, reminiscing on tales we had loved, and drinking coffee (of course). I had stopped to admire some boxed sets of children's books earlier (I have a fondness for series), and an assistant directed me to other, excellent children's books. Now my friend directed me to some that she had loved, either as a child or with a child. I picked them up, couldn't resist, and spent my voucher soon afterward.

But why do I, an adult, love kids' books so much? Partly, I think, it's the change of pace. I like the chance to read something quick, bite-sized perhaps, and learn the whole story in one session. I like the fact that children's books, unlike adult short stories, include a complete sense of time, place and plot, beginning middle and end. And I like the directness of children's books--the way the authors aren't afraid to have a message and to tell it. Perhaps it's that sense of a message, preferably told through story rather than education, that makes a kid's book work--a story that's more than just a pleasing interlude (why not play on the computer for pleasing interludes if you're a child), and therefore more worth the extra time a child (or adult) might spend reading.

Anyway, here are a few books written for children, middle-graders and adults, including the three I bought that day at the bookstore. Find some coffee and choose your next read.

First is a picture book, Nosey Charlie comes to town by Yvonne Blackwood. It hides small lessons about the lives of squirrels in a picture-driven tale that wanders, squirrel-like, in many directions. Children who see squirrels in town parks might easily relate, though I would have liked more a stronger storyline. Enjoy this mild story with some mild crisp one-star coffee.

Mamá Graciela’s Secret by Mayra Calvani, illustrated by Sheila Fein, is a picture book with a difference - firstly the nicely accented letters give a genuine sense of voice; secondly the pictures have a beautiful originality about them, and thirdly there's a real story, with beginning, middle and end. This lively, easy-reading tale goes well with a two-star easy-drinking coffee.

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner has illustrations but isn't a picture book. An enjoyable chapbook with evocative black and white illustrations, a lovely respect for life, human and animal, and haunting insights into poverty, love and bravery, it's one of those sad but happy child-and-dog tales that always make you cry in just the right way. Enjoy it with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is aimed at slightly older readers. Set near the start of WWII, it tells the story of a young Danish girl and her Jewish friend. As Germans prepare to round up the Jews, the Danish underground ferries refugees to Sweden. Told through the eyes of a child, the story begs adults to recognize more behind the words, guessing what will come. Meanwhile the child will miss her friend and will take a brave journey on her own with a curious secret. An enjoyable short adventure, this is another to enjoy with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

For readers maybe slightly older again, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell tells a story that grows pleasingly into historical time and place, leading readers to think, notice and learn naturally, just as the protagonist, left alone on an island, learns how to cope. A strong female protagonist might make it a better book for girls than for boys, though the story should work for anyone. For adults and other interested readers, the version I read included a great prologue by Lois Lowry and a nice explanation of the difference between real history and this fictionalized version. Enjoy with some more well-balanced three-star coffee.

So... five children's books. Which three do you think my friend recommended to me?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Why are Book Covers such a Big Deal?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Marissa Thomas to my blog, author of the intriguingly titled, How Not to Succeed in Hollywood. Her book, as you'll see below, has a seriously eye-catching cover, and she's going to tell us, perhaps, how to succeed in writing... or at least...

Why Book Covers Are So Important
by Marissa Thomas
            I’ve always been a painter.  Not the tortured soul kind, willing to sacrifice food to buy canvas and spread my message to the world, but I enjoy my craft.  Mostly portrait paintings for friends and family.  For events and Holidays, or just having craft time with my mother.  I’ve always been familiar with the statement that a picture is worth a thousand words.  It’ll capture your attention, or inspire you to look the other way. 
I was also familiar with this concept, since pretty much all productions, film, television, and theatrical have some sort of picture to capture an audience’s attention, and make them want to see the performance.  While I was writing How Not to Succeed in Hollywood, I was inspired by the idea of watching it as a film, and I knew it had to have a great cover.
I painted the picture I used as the cover for my book.  The bright colors, and cartoon effect almost make it look like the cover of a children’s book, but with pictures that adults of any age can relate to.  The original canvas doesn’t need to be hung in a museum for onlookers to stare at and debate for hours on end.  But, there is an idea I hope readers can take away from it.  I hope that anyone who has read the book summary, and sees the cover will see that it is a comedic look at what people of any age might have to go through to accomplish their serious goals. 

Thank you Marissa. And yes, I think that cover succeeds. I wish you well with the book and with your pumpupyourbook book tour.

So here's an image, dear reader, to hang on a wall, if not in a a museum, plus lots more information about the book and author.

Author: Marissa Thompson
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 436
Genre: Humor/Fiction


In HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD, Marissa Thomas offers readers an inside view of one young woman’s journey to fulfill her dream of becoming an actor. The personal and humorous story of Lisa reveals the often difficult and inspiring process of navigating the entertainment industry.
The acting bug bit Lisa during her first elementary school talent show. After receiving positive reviews for her performance from her fellow students and impressed parents alike, Lisa basked in the high she felt from being on stage. She ventured further into the acting world as a teenager when she enrolled in a twelve-week acting program. Although plagued with some doubt about her potential to become an actor, the experience reignited the spark that had originally lead her down the road of performance.

HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD follows the staggered path that Lisa took on her journey to achieve her acting dream. Her love for acting expanded when Lisa entered college and began auditioning for plays produced by the theater department. Reassured by the exhilaration she felt while acting, Lisa made the decision to leave her home and move to Hollywood to pursue her passion, but first she had to tie up a few loose ends. After a whirlwind romance with a fellow student, Lisa found herself moving into her own apartment while juggling school and work, as well as taking the steps to fill out her acting resume. A car accident that resulted in serious physical injuries led to a slowdown in her momentum. However, Lisa’s best friend, Mike, who already had a solid plan to move to Hollywood, gave her the encouragement she needed to overcome multiple obstacles so that she could move forward with her goal.

Marissa wrote HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD to give “anyone curious about Hollywood culture another point of view from someone coming from a completely different world, aka the Midwest, taking the plunge, and immersing herself in a new life.” Marissa says the book is “the story of my life. I can’t tell anyone any surefire methods of getting cast for your dream project. I’m just sharing my life experience. Anyone with a relentless dream has to find sanity in the limbo between a self-motivated fantasy career and the harshness of having to survive real life in the process. We’re all human, and sometimes all you can do is laugh. Set a goal, and break a leg.”


Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Excerpt:

“I’m glad you get to come to opening night of the play,” I said to my boyfriend, casually, while we started digging into our boxed dinner.
“I know. I’m glad, too.  You’ve been working hard, and it seems pretty important to you,” he replied.
“It is. We’ve all been working on it for months,” I reminded him.
“Well, is it because you’ve been spending all this time on it, or is it because it’s something you really want to do?” he asked.
It seemed like a very obvious question. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Why do we put all the time and effort into projects like this? Projects that don’t provide a paycheck, cause us to rearrange our schedules, and even add stress due to the unwritten requirement to provide a quality performance. He really made me think. It wasn’t even a conscious decision on my part. I welcomed the chaos of the production into my life. The answer to his question was as obvious as the soy sauce on the egg rolls.
My mind started to wander. I almost felt like I was becoming a part of an actors’ anonymous group and professing my addiction. My name is Lisa, and I’m an actress. I could picture the scene:  Beautiful people sitting in a circle, each of them with a monologue in hand. And everyone waiting his or her turn to speak about the repercussions, good and bad, that the industry has had their lives. It was like a support group, to help each other through the bad auditions, drop hints about where to find the legit ones, and tips on how to nail them. Who knew how true that statement was? After a brief moment of fantasy, I was back to reality.
“I do. I really want to do it.” I turned back to my food and continued eating. “It’s something I want to pursue.” It felt good to say it out loud, and to admit it to myself.

About the Author

Marissa Thomas left her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to pursue her dream of acting in Hollywood. Without industry contacts, she had to educate herself about the business. In How Not to Succeed in Hollywood, Marissa shares her experiences, both good and bad.
In addition to writing, Marissa is a licensed hair stylist. She also enjoys painting and produced the artwork for the cover of How Not to Succeed in Hollywood.




Thursday, December 7, 2017

Red Army all-female fighter regiment?

Today I'm delighted to welcome C. S. Taylor, author of Nadya's War, to my blog. His novel tells of a young pilot with the Red Army's 586th all-female fighter regiment! Having never imagined such a regiment existed, I'm eager to know where his inspiration came from. So find yourself a coffee, sit back, and read on. Welcome C. S. Taylor!

The Inspiration Behind ‘Nadya’s War’ by C.S. Taylor

Some nameless, late night many moons ago, I was doing what I do best when trying to write, namely surfing the web and finding every excuse—and inventing a few more—I could to not look at MS Word and actually type something out. Somewhere between articles telling me that “These ten unexpected, cuddly things will kill you” and “which type of mason brick are you?” I stumbled upon an article dealing with the Night Witches and was mesmerized.

For those who know little or nothing about them (and most don’t) the Night Witches were a group of female pilots in the Red Army Air’s 588th night bomber regiment during World War 2. The group was one of three all-female regiments that had been put together by Major Marina Raskova, a national heroine at the time and a fantastic pilot. The young women of the 588th flew the Po-2 biplane, which was made in the late 1920s and was really only good for training and crop dusting. It wasn’t a combat aircraft by any stretch of the imagination. But they flew it nonetheless to drop bombs on the Germans. They got the name Nachthexen (Night Witches) by the Germans because the girls quickly learned to cut their engines just before they went on a bombing run, so they were completely silent until the bombs exploded.

Fascinating stuff, I thought, and something that deserved a book or two. Also, since I love flying and in a prior point in my life, I was intent on flying for the USMC, I thought writing a book that centered around the Night Witches seemed to be a great idea.

So with that thought in mind, I began fleshing out a plot and characters, but the more I did my research into the Night Witches, I realized that their sister regiment, the 587th (who flew the Pe-2 medium bomber), met my needs in terms of the story better. So I shifted my focus to the 587th and kept at it.

I kept at it for a few weeks and soon discovered that some of the historical characters I wanted in my book didn’t survive the timeline I was after as the 587th didn’t see combat until 1943. And since I was writing historical fiction, I couldn’t exactly have one of them pop up in the story when he or she was supposed to be dead.

It was about that point when I realized I really wanted more dogfights in my book overall, and thus, settling on the 586th fighter regiment was an easy choice. My decision to go with the 586th was reinforced even more when I realized that there weren’t any books on these women at all, at least on the historical fiction side. There were a few dealing with the Night Witches and some female pilots who were in male units, but the 586th was untouched, which is very appealing as a writer.

So with the 586th firmly settled, it was just a matter of changing a few things from my rough outline because my main character, Nadya, was going to be a fighter pilot and not a bomber pilot.

Building Nadya as a real person took a lot of work, and the details of her life came from a variety of sources, mostly interviews that had been recorded with surviving members of the 586th, 587th and 588th.

The stories I read were not only from the pilots, but the navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, and ground crews, and I drew a lot of inspiration from all of them as their tenacity and bravery was nothing short of legendary. I really wanted to capture that with Nadya’s War with not only Nadya herself, but with all of the supporting characters, too. Most of all, I wanted to ensure that Nadya was crafted in such a way that her story would slide neatly in between all the others I read, not overshadowing any of them in terms of what she goes through, heroics, etc., but accurately mirroring what each young woman in all three of these regiments dealt with day in and day out.

I like to think I managed to pull that off. Hopefully readers will agree.

So the all-female regiments really existed! I'm excited to learn about them, and eager to read more. Thank you for your book and for visiting my blog today. And now, here's some more information...

Author: C.S. Taylor
Publisher: Tiny Fox Press
Pages: 300
Genre: Historical Fiction


Nadezdah "Little Boar" Buzina, a young pilot with the Red Army's 586th all-female fighter regiment, dreams of becoming an ace. Those dreams shatter when a dogfight leaves her severely burned and the sole survivor from her flight.

For the latter half of 1942, she struggles against crack Luftwaffe pilots, a vengeful political commissar, and a new addiction to morphine, all the while questioning her worth and purpose in a world beyond her control. It's not until the Soviet counter-offensive at Stalingrad that she finds her unlikely answers, and they only come after she's saved the life of her mortal enemy and fallen in love with the one who nearly kills her.



Seven of us zipped through the overcast sky, a dozen meters beneath the cloud layer. Gridnev flew lead and a girl named Tania from First Squadron flew on his wing. Alexandra and I cruised next to them about thirty meters away. I pictured myself as a modern version of my ancestors who rode into battle on horseback, courageous and strong. If only they could see me now, sailing through the air to drive off the invaders. I wondered if they’d be proud or jealous. Maybe both.
The four of us escorted a flight of three Pe-2s from the 150th High-Speed Bomber Regiment across the snowy landscape. That unit was led by Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Polbin who I’d heard was quite the commander. I’d also heard he enjoyed music and sang well, like me, which made me think we’d get along—even if he was a die-hard communist and loyal to Stalin.
The twin-engine Peshkas flew nearly as fast as our fighters, something I was grateful for. I’m certain the three crew members inside each bomber were thankful as well, since unlike the German Heinkels and Stukas, these planes were tough to catch for any aircraft. That being said, I was glad I was in my Yak-1. I wouldn’t have wanted to fly one of those bombers at all, no matter how prestigious they were. They were still big targets, and far less nimble than the fighter I had. I prayed we’d keep them safe.
All the Pe-2s, however, did have fresh, winter paint jobs. Their off-white and tan colors hid them well in the surroundings, and if I wasn’t paying close attention, I’d even lose sight of them from time to time. Their target was a rail depot the Germans were using to bring in supplies and troops headed to Stalingrad. Obliterating it would disrupt logistics and force the Luftwaffe to keep it safe once rebuilt.
With luck, the Germans wouldn’t spot the Peshkas until the bombs were already dropping and they were headed home. I fantasized about how easy of a mission this could be as we went deeper into enemy lines. Those thoughts almost turned into dreams as the drone from my fighter’s engine combined with the dreary sky nearly put me to sleep, despite the digging pain in my arm.
“Tighten up, Little Boar,” Gridnev called out over the radio.
My eyes snapped to the formation. I’d drifted away from the bombers by a good fifty meters sideways and at least that in altitude. I glanced over my shoulder to see Alexandra off to my right. She’d stayed with me even as I wandered. “Reforming now. Thought I saw something below and wanted a better view.” 

C.S. Taylor is a former Marine and avid fencer (saber for the most part, foil and epee are tolerable). He enjoys all things WWII, especially perfecting his dogfighting skills inside virtual cockpits, and will gladly accept any P-38 Lightnings anyone might wish to bestow upon him. He’s also been known to run a kayak through whitewater now and again, as well give people a run for their money in trap and skeet.

His latest book is the historical fiction, Nadya’s War.