Wednesday, November 28, 2018

How do you relax with a book?

Things have been so hectic around here. Reading is what I do while the microwave turns (walking from room to room with a well-lit tablet screen). I read while I wait for the computer to boot, for the washing to take that final spin, the onions to soften in the pan. Sometimes paper, sometimes electronic... what matters is the words, the story, the characters, the voice. Thinking about it, what matters when I want to relax is a voice that will help me relax; a voice that, even when it's telling of the power going out and raging hotel customers, or love going wrong, or murder and mayhem and more... that even then gives me the sense that all will yet be well, and I should just read on. So what do I read when I need to relax? I read a book with a voice that soothes, that makes me believe my problems too will pass. And I drink coffee.

Fill your mug with your favorite brew and see what you think of the following... They're not all outwardly relaxing, but inside, behind the mug of cocoa...?

Winter at the Beach by Sheila Roberts starts warm and welcoming, but then that winter storm rolls in. Life's not perfect, and neither are the people of this Oregon coastal town. But the snow will ease, the power will come back on, and maybe the lights in relationships will reawaken too. A comfortably stormy read, enjoy with some smooth full-flavored three-star coffee.

Nell Goddin's The Third Girl, followed by The Luckiest Woman Ever, take the reader, very pleasingly, to smalltown France instead of smalltown America. Switches in language are implied very smoothly without ever taxing the reader, as a divorced, not necessarily seeking love, American tries to make a go of renting out a guest house. Rather like Miss Marple in France, both books are really fun reads. Enjoy with from (French roasted) lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

A great collection of romantic suspense novels and novellas came out recently, called Love Under Fire. I've only read two of the entries so far, but both qualify as being told in the kind of voice that allows me to relax even while speeding my heartbeat and scaring me. Virtually Lace by Uvi Poznansky blends art and computers, bending reality and threatening death. Meanwhile Aaron Paul Lazar's The Asylum invites readers behind the scenes at an asylum for the rich, where someone is maybe striving a little too hard to get richer. Enjoy these complex reads with some complex four-star coffee.

Exposed Fury by Marie Flanigan has a grittier feel to it, as an excop, recoving from injuries on the force, tries to keep life simple with quiet surveillance and background checks. But murder intervenes. The action feels authentic, the mystery is intriguing, and the portrayal of post-traumatic stress feels timely and convincing. Meanwhile there's always the possibility of romance, plus touches of wisdom. Enjoy with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Post Facto by Darryl Wimberley wouldn't qualify as relaxing at all, except that its protagonist, suffering a heart complaint, might have to relax before something worse happens. She's a former big-city journalist, now running a local rag. Once muzzled by the bosses, now she is the boss and is muzzled by the need to sell advertising space. Just the same, she has character a voice, great headlines heading each chapter, and a fascinating tale to tell of a post-factual world where, sometimes, its easier to believe in little green men than in political goodwill. So no, it shouldn't be relaxing; with action, mystery, mayhem and threat... But the voice is perfect and the tale rings true. Enjoy with some richly elegant four-star coffee.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Is it time to read?

Time to read, time to write, time to dream... I have friends whose Nanowrimo dreams are rapidly nearing completion, and others who, like me, didn't even dream of writing a novel this month... This month being November, Thanksgiving, the leadup to Christmas and more, I didn't feel like I'd ever find time, and I was right. But I did read some, and even wrote book reviews; I just didn't post them. So now, quickly, before I get busy with assigning ISBNs and uploading my own books, here are some of the things I've read for relaxation recently:

Find some coffee. Relax with me.

Children's books that I've enjoyed recently include:

The Secret of Big A by Ofra Peled is the first in a series of alphabet books. It's like a cross between a picture book and a chapter book, with enough text to read like a real story, and bright but old-fashioned color images. The question of what the letter A, and little a, might look like is fun, and the the other books promise interesting integration of letters into images. Pour a large mug of lively easy-drinking coffee to keep you going through the final section, which describes the author's and publisher's purpose.

A Heartbroken Father by Paula Rose starts the 10 year old Gracie and the save a soul prayer team series. Aimed at slightly older children, these books introduce faith, angels and God's voice and love to elementary age and middlegrade children, using good-humored, sweetly-authentic dialog, Touched by an Angel type situations, and very pleasing protagonists. Enjoy with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech takes another wounded child on a journey, blending mystical, mystery and vividly real characters as the different absences and causes for absent parents are explored. Coming of age, coming of wisdom and coming in hope - another to enjoy with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Then there's The Witching Well by S. D. Hintz. Another novel for mature middle-grade readers, this tale is set in a macabre world where a grandmother's neighbors might have evil intent and witchly powers. It's not for the squeamish, but it balances its scares very nicely with wisdom and comfort. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee.

For young adults:

Jordan Elizabeth's Clockwork Dollhouse is as cleverly constructed as the mechanical device of its title, a haunting steampunk tale of corrupted power and motherless child building to a finely tuned ending. Enjoy with more five-star coffee.

Time to Live, also by Jordan Elizabeth, blends magic and superpowers in a tale of a conflicted 17-year-old protagonist, rebelling against her parents, falling in love, and powerfully protecting the innocent. Teenaged Banon is a great snarky protagonist, and the story, though sometimes confusing, is fun. It's also often dark, so more five-star dark coffee I guess.

Then there's the Aegis Chronicles by S. S. Segran--Gwen Mboya, Tony Cross, Kenzo Igarashi, and Hutar of Dema-Ki. Set in the world of the author's longer novels, these are short stories with a mature, young-adult feel, introducing characters and providing a somewhat disjointed picture of backstories to flesh out longer novels. Not have read the longer novels, I'd have to say the characters and situations are fascinating, and I'd like to know more, so they serve as a suitable enticement I guess. Enjoy with a dark five-star coffee - they deal with dark themes.

And for slightly older young adults, there's Depths of Night by Stephen Zimmer. A cool blend of history of myth, the novella brings Viking longships to life and adds a touch of magic and mysticism to a novel of men, women and monsters. Enjoy with more bold five-star coffee; it's definitely dark.

Now I need to go brew more coffee, and read perhaps, and write, perchance to dream...

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Buried letters, buried bombshells perhaps?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Jack Woodville London to my blog. He's touring the internet with his novel, French Letters: Children of a Good War, and the title intrigued me enough to encourage a "yes" when asked if he could drop in here. I hope you'll agree.

So, find some good coffee, and maybe a gluten free snack, then sit and enjoy our conversation:

  • So, first of all, I'd like to know where you're from (my accent gives you an unfair advantage otherwise)?
I grew up in Groom, Texas, a town near Amarillo.  I live in Austin with my wife, Alice, and Junebug the writing cat.
  • Ah, a cat. And a writing cat too. So, did you and/or your cat always want to be a writer?
I wanted to race sports cars until I was about 14, then wanted to be a basketball player. Then I wanted to be a history professor.  I always wanted to be a writer.

  • Always? That's the same answer I'd give. So what first inspired you to write seriously?
8th grade.  I was enrolled in a ‘Ready Writing’ competition and won a prize of some kind for a story about someone very like me who somehow fixed up a wrecked sports car, then had lots of adventures in places whose names I misspelled. I was taken by the craft of writing when I read a number of books in which the word choices the authors made were extraordinary.  Examples were the romance poem ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ and ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (“The hound?  The hound did nothing.” “Exactly.”)

  • Oh, great examples. What inspired your story?
    1. I thought that there should be a story that reflects three conditions of the cycle (cyclone?) of life:  being taken for granted (and attempting revenge); being utterly alone in the world, no matter how many people are around you; and, learning that you really don’t know who you are, then setting out to find out. 
    2. I found the meanness of the Biblical story of the brothers Jacob and Esau and the things they did to their father to also be timeless.  I build a family saga around parents who were not always completely blameless, their friends, their enemies, and their children, creating a story in which there are individual bits that all of us will recognize from our family, friends, or, shudder, ourselves.  And, as Jacob and Esau feuded and lied, so do brothers feud and lie today, with lasting consequences.  Finally, one of the great narratives of sibling rivalries is the accusation that one of them is not really a sibling at all, but a foundling, a child dug up under a cabbage patch, or a bastard that someone brought home to raise. 
  • Wow! How does a story idea like this come to you? Is it an event that sparks the plot or a character speaking to you? 
Characters are wonderful devices.  You can create them, then drop them into nearly any period or event and they will act as such characters would act at any time in history, whether it is ancient Greece, Tudor England, baby boomers in the 1980s, or Trump America.
  • Is there a message/theme in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I hope that the notion comes through that finding out who we are is something each of us must find out for himself or herself; while we may or may not know who our parents are, we almost never know who they were.
  • What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
When drawing complex characters with richly detailed individual lives, it takes a great deal of focus to keep their individual story lines arranged so that they become a part of the real story.  There are clues buried in most of the characters’ roles that readers often breeze through as minor details of daily life, then realize some time downstream that they are important pieces of the story.
  • What do you like to do when you are not writing?
My wife and I really like each other; we take long walks together, go to summer school together, I accompany her on her photography classes and shoots.  And, beyond my control, nearly everything I do becomes a seed of an idea or research for a project.  I once rode with two friends for 3700 miles over six days through the Texas desert, New Mexico and Colorado mountains, the plains of Wyoming, back to Colorado, into Kansas, down to Oklahoma, and finally back to Texas.  I went to keep them from driving off a mountain or into the Rio Grande; it ended when I discovered that no one, absolutely no one, not Lewis and Clark or Kit Carson or Zebulon Pike or Sam Houston, had done anything close to it.  What if we had been spies?
  • Sounds an amazing trip! And I can see how stories might be seeded there. So... now you've made me jealous of your travels, I suppose I should ask you to make me jealous of your writing life too. Have you won any awards or honors (not just for writing of course)?
a.    Author of the Year for 2011-2012; Indie Excellence Award; e-Lit gold award,
b.    Trial lawyer of the year, SuperLawyer.

  • Trial lawyer. Wow! (And yes, I'm seriously jealous of your Indie Excellence Award!) Thank you so much for visiting here, and I'll wish you many good readers for your book (which I also plan to read as soon as I can.)

About the Author:
Honored as Author of the Year, Military Writers Society of America 2011-2012, and winner, Indie Excellence Award, 2013, Jack Woodville London is the author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book, 2014, a cheeky and thoughtful book on the craft of writing for authors tackling their first novel. He also is the author of the award-winning French Letters fiction series. His World War II-era novel Virginia's War was a Finalist for Best Novel of the South and the Dear Author Novel with a Romantic Element contest. His 'parallel-quel' novel Engaged in War won the silver medal in General Fiction at the London Book Festival and the Silver prize in the Stars and Flags Historical Fiction competition. It was the Book of the Month by both Good Reads and Military Writers Society of America and reached Number One on Amazon. He has published some thirty literary articles and sixty book reviews, all in addition to a lengthy career as a courtroom lawyer and a forty year writing career as the author of technical legal articles, and as editor during law school of the University of Texas International Law Journal. His fiction work in progress includes French Letters: Children of a Good War.

He grew up in small-town Texas before earning degrees at the University of Texas and West Texas State University and earning certificates at the Fiction Academy, St. Céré, France and Ecole Francaise, Trois Ponts, France, and at Oxford University, England, UK.

Ha! The "other place!"

Find him at:

and Children of a Good War is available at:

About the book:
Eleanor Hastings knew from experience that some bombs lie buried for decades before blowing up to hurt someone. Now, forty years after World War II, a cache of faded wartime letters is discovered in a cellar, causing Eleanor's husband, Frank, to understand that he really was a bastard and sending him on a quest to find out who he really is — and to uncover his family's long-buried secrets.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Lace, the Asylum, and Pets...?

Love Under Fire comes out today, and every sale helps a veteran get a pet! How can you resist - lots of great reads, lots of great people, and lots of great pets.

Of course, looking at the graphic, I find myself trying to figure out which authors I've already read, but I'm looking forward to all the tales. I know they'll be good because I've already enjoyed two of them:

Virtually Lace by Uvi Poznansky

Michael has been working on a virtual reality model in his garage. The military might be interested of course, but Michael’s interest lies more in the question of beauty—“Could beauty be taken apart… Would its data be synthesized, somehow, into a lifelike experience?” And how many different angles and points of view would one need to create that simulation? Then he sees real beauty and ugliness, life and death alongside the Pacific Coast Highway.

The police are investigating of course, but the tale is told from Michael’s point of view, with beautiful scenery, complex mystery, fascinating art, and a touch of romance. The artist’s hand of the author is readily apparent in the character’s creations, both real and virtual. Suspicions grow. Reality intersects with the virtual. And a well-sculpted plot tells it all. A fast, fun and enticing read.

... and...

The Asylum by Aaron Paul Lazar

From gripping first sentence to final resolution, Aaron Paul Lazar’s The Asylum is a mystery filled with warm characters and great sense of Maine coast locations. The story grows from the author’s mystery series, giving life to side characters in a very pleasing way as a young Mexican-American woman loses her job and starts to work at an… asylum. Of course, this is not the old-style asylum. Patients are treated and cared for here, in luxury and safety… But Carmen’s soon convinced there’s something hidden behind the scenes.

Warm family life, honest emotions, great dialog, and some thoroughly scary scenes all add together to make an enticing mystery that feels like being invite to the home of friends. Sitting around the fire, comfortable with the assurance of good writing, which has to mean a good ending, learning what happened, how and why… it’s a dark cozy mystery or a warm dark mystery or… just a seriously good read.

Intrigued yet? Here's where to find the book:

And a list of titles in the collection. Enjoy!

Judith Lucci - RUN for your life
"Besieged by threats and haunted by memories, can Alex and Jacob survive another fiery attack?"

Stephany Tullis - Blue Lady's MISSION UNDER FIRE
"The mission changed. Her cover is blown. With no where to run and nowhere to hide, what can she do to survive?"

Fiona Quinn - Cold Red
"Undercover, under fire, under arrest, it's hard to save a special agent's life while handcuffed."

Anna Celeste Burke - Lily's Homecoming Under Fire
"When Lily returns home to California's wine country, sparks fly amid a hail of bullets as she and US Marshal Austin Jennings take cover. Who wants Lily dead?"

Margaret A. Daly- Monsters in my Closet
"No one knows her secrets, not even her best friend. Can she keep her secrets and her monsters at bay long enough to give love a chance again?"

Linda Watkins - The Witches of Storm Island, Book I: The Turning
"In 1685, a forbidden love catapults young Maude Prichard into a life fraught with danger...."

Tamara Ferguson - Two Hearts Under Fire
"Will Two Wounded Hearts Under Fire Survive LOVE?"

Suzanne Jenkins - Running with Horses
"Moving horses to the high country comes just in time when Mindy and her coffee date witness murder at a Mojave Desert cafe."

Inge-Lise Goss - Diamonds and Lies
"When murder upends a diamond heist, can the jewel thief trust the mark who vows to protect her?"

S.R. Mallery - Tender Enemies
"When Lily sets up a spy trap, she faces great danger--of falling in love."

Jinx Schwartz - Baja Get Away
"Sometimes love is... Murder."

Uvi Poznansky - Virtually Lace
"Michael creates a virtual reality simulation of the murder. Can he solve it in time, before the killer turns on the woman he loves?"

Kathryn Knight - The Haunting of Hillwood Farm
"A dangerous ghost brings them together...but will they survive long enough to find happiness?"

Stephanie Queen - Ace Under Fire 
"Can this bad boy make a come back to save an old flame?"

Casi McLean - Reign Of Fire
"Lies, Corruption, and Murder... exposing the truth leads to love--and a ghostly encounter. "

Valerie J. Clarizio -The Code Enforcer
"Can they overcome their painful pasts--and a murder investigation--to find happiness together?"

Chris Patchell - Deception Bay
"She's armed. He's dangerous. Together, can they stop a killer from tearing a small island community apart?"

Aaron Paul Lazar - The Asylum: A Carmen Garcia romantic suspense novel
"Carmen has a secret, and his name is Dr. Micah Worthy."

Alyssa Richards - Chasing Secrets
"Her husband's secret is priceless, her attempts to retrieve it could be deadly."

K.M. Hodge - Summer of '78
"Susan Evenbright, pledges to make her last summer in Texas a killer one."

Pamela Fagan Hutchins - Buckle Bunny
"The last guy to call Maggie a buckle bunny didn't make his eight seconds."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Winter is Coming?

It's cold outside. I love the blue skies, gold sunshine, and red leaves of fall. But I'm not so sure about the ice-cold mornings, tomato plants frost-bit (I bought in the last of the green...), and the "snow" of falling shapes across the window-pane. I need to rake them into piles or else they'll block the drains (and after last year's flood, I've no desire to see any drains start blocking). I need to wear an extra sweater. I need to drink hot cocoa... Okay, now that's a serious advantage of winter's approach; I do like hot cocoa.

Anyway, the sky's blue, the sunshine's gold, the leaves are red, and everywhere is cold. But what's life at the beach like when winter winds come in?

I was given a copy of Sheila Roberts' "Winter at the Beach" to read, and it certainly got me into the mood for Christmas, family warmth, and cold winds of adversity turned around to peace. Here's my review:

Winter at the Beach by Sheila Roberts

Christmas is approaching in Sheila Roberts’ Winter at the Beach, making it a perfect read for the season, with its enticing blend of sand and sea with winter snow. If you haven’t always wondered what happens at the seaside when the season’s done, you’ll still be delighted to learn. Though whether you’ll want to visit Santa on a snowy beach may still be in doubt.

Characters from this and other series’ weave naturally into this tale, and their very human concerns blend smoothly with the community spirit of a Christmas vacation. Life is not perfect here, or in any of the families involved. But life is never perfectly broken either, and the author, through her characters, offers haunting touches of wisdom, the gentle persuasion of situation and need, and the promise of true love.

Not quite romance, not quite adventure, not quite road-trip, Winter at the Beach weaves several stories into one warm tapestry, the perfect reading blanket for a cold winter’s day. It leaves me wanting to read more, but perfectly satisfied with a conclusion well reached. Like a vacation at a good seaside B&B, it introduces me to strangers, lets me share their lives, and promises all will be okay, even if all might never quite be well. Heartwarming, honestly soul-searching, and vividly real.

Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review.

WINTER AT THE BEACH by Sheila Roberts, Women's Fiction, 384pp., $5.98 (paperback) $6.99 (kindle)

Author: Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin/Mira
Pages: 384
Genre: Women’s Fiction

Jenna Jones, manager of the Driftwood Inn, a vintage motel in the Washington beach town of Moonlight Harbor, is convinced that a winter festival would be a great way to draw visitors (and tourist business) to town during those off-season months. Everyone in the local chamber of commerce is on board with her Seaside with Santa festival idea except one naysayer, local sour lemon, Susan Frank, who owns a women’s clothing boutique in town. The beach gets hit with storms in the winter, no one will come, too close to Christmas. Blah, blah. What does Susan know?
It turns out that Susan knows a lot. A big storm hits during the weekend of the festival, wreaking havoc with the parade and producing power outages all over town. Including at the Driftwood Inn.
Jenna finds herself with a motel filled with people, all with no power. What to do? Enlist the help of friends, of course. Her friends take in many of the stranded visitors, and Jenna and her Aunt Edie take in the others, stuffing them into Aunt Edie’s house next door to the Driftwood.

All the guests come with their own unique stories. The last thing Taylor Marsh wanted was a getaway with her husband. His refusal to give up on his dying business is taking them down financially and killing their marriage. But her sister Sarah (she who has her financial act together and never lets her sister forget it) insists this will be fun for both their families. It will only be fun for Taylor if her husband gets eaten by a giant squid. Then there’s Darrel Wilson, who planned the perfect anniversary getaway for his wife, who’s been undergoing chemo. So much for the perfect anniversary. And the sisters, Lisa and Karen, who can’t seem to go on a sister outing without it turning into a Lucy and Ethel adventure. Unlikely roommates, all of them. But perhaps each one has a valuable lesson to share with the others. And perhaps, what looked like a disaster will prove to be the best holiday adventure of all.



Jenna Jones, who manages a vintage motel, the Driftwood Inn, is sure her idea for a holiday festival will bring business to her Washington coast beach town of Moonlight Harbor. Let’s see how her proposal goes over with the Moonlight Harbor Chamber of Commerce…
 “Okay, that takes care of old business,” Brody said. “Now, I think Jenna has some new business.”
Oh, boy. She could hardly wait to see what Susan would have to say about this.
She cleared her throat. “Actually, I have a suggestion for a way to bring down more visitors during our slow time.”
“We’re all for that,” said Patricia Whiteside.
Susan clamped her thin lips together and gave Jenna a look that dared her, the newbie, to come up with something.
Jenna’s nervous twitch put in an appearance. Don’t blink. She blinked one last time and cleared her throat again. “Well, I was just thinking about other towns I’ve visited in the past and one that came to mind was Icicle Falls.”
Susan rolled her eyes. “The cheesy German town.”
“A lot of people find it charming,” Jenna said. “It’s awfully pretty, and they’ve done a great job of making themselves as authentic as possible. They always have something going to get people up there. In fact, I did some research online. They have festivals all year long, including a chocolate festival. Their tree-lighting ceremonies on the weekends in December bring in thou- sands of people.”
“So, are you proposing we have a tree-lighting ceremony?” Susan mocked.
“No, but I am proposing we have a holiday festival.”
“We just had a festival in August in case you forgot,” Susan said snidely.
What was with this woman anyway? The town had done a good deed by putting on a festival to help Jenna raise money to restore the Driftwood after she experienced a financial setback. It had been such a success that the chamber had decided to make the Blue Moon Festival a tradition, with proceeds going to help other businesses in town in need of assistance. Jenna had benefited and other local businesses would as well, and Susan resented it? She was a crab in the pot. If she couldn’t succeed, she didn’t want anyone else to, either. And everyone knew her shop wasn’t doing that well, especially now that Courtney was selling her own designs over at the Oyster Inn.
Well, pooh on her. Jenna handed papers to both Tyrella and Brody to start passing around the table.
 “People love festivals. Remember how many came down for the Blue Moon one?”
“That was in the summer,” Susan reminded her.
“I know. But people also love holiday festivals. We’re looking for ways to get visitors down here in the winter. Why not put together a giant holiday party in Moonlight Harbor?”
Patricia Whiteside was reading Jenna’s handout. “Seaside with Santa, that’s cute. And I like all the suggestions you’ve made for activities. I really like the idea of making use of the pier.”
“The weekend before Christmas?” Susan objected, frowning at her handout. “Who’s going to want to come to something then? People will be getting ready to go see family, and they’ll be finishing up their shopping.”
“Why shouldn’t they finish it here?” Jenna argued. “We have all kinds of cute shops. We have great places for them to stay while they shop and plenty of restau- rants where they can eat. They may even want to stay here for the holidays. All we need is an event to lure them down. A festival could do it. And who doesn’t like a parade? Look how many people turn out for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.”
“Look at the floats they have in that parade,” Susan countered. “What sort of floats would we be able to put together down here?”
“Okay, maybe not the most impressive parade ever,” Jenna admitted, “but I bet we could come up with some- thing.”
“I could get some of my employees to dress up as mermaids,” said Kiki, “and stick ’em on a flatbed truck strung with fake seaweed.” She grinned, clearly taken with her idea.
“We need more for our Moonlight Harbor Queen and her princesses to do,” put in Nora. “They love riding in those old convertibles. You’ll let us use your vintage Caddy, right, Ellis?”
“Well...” Ellis hesitated. “If it rains...”
“Which it probably will,” said Susan. “Come on, people, be practical. You know what it’s like down here in the winter, all wind and rain.”
Patricia pooh-poohed that objection. “We’ve survived plenty of storms.”
“Well, I think it’s a bad idea,” Susan said, scowling across the table at Jenna.
Maybe it was. Jenna’s left eye began to twitch.
“I think it sounds great,” said Elizabeth MacDowell. She and her twin sister, K.J., were new members of the chamber. They’d opened their arts and crafts store, Crafty Just Cuz, in September, and it was already one of Jenna’s favorite places to hang out.
“We do need more business in the winter,” said Cindy Redmond. “There’s no getting around it. And doing something for the holidays could be fun. I say we give it a try,” she added, and Jenna’s eye stopped twitching.
“We’d have to get moving right away,” Nora said, pulling another sheet of paper from her yellow tablet. “Who can help?”
“I can,” said Ellis.
“Me, too,” Brody said, smiling at Jenna. “Jenna, it’s your idea. You’ll have to chair the committee.”
“Me?” she squeaked. Not that she couldn’t take charge. She was a firstborn, and Responsibility was her middle name. (Although her sister, Celeste, would probably argue that her middle name was Bossy.) She didn’t have a problem with rolling up her sleeves and getting to work, but she also didn’t want to offend old- timers like Susan Frank. “I’m sure someone else...” she began.
“Your idea, you have to do it,” Susan goaded.
Jenna raised her chin. “I can do it.” She’d survived rehabbing the Driftwood Inn. How much harder could it be to organize a festival?
In three months. Blink. Blink, blink, blink.
“Do I have a motion that we sponsor a Seaside with Santa Festival for the weekend before Christmas?” Brody asked.
“So moved,” said Ellis. “I’m with you, kid,” he told Jenna.
“I’ll second,” Nora said and reached across the back of Tyrella’s chair to give Jenna’s shoulder an encouraging pat.
“All in favor?” Brody asked.
“Aye,” chorused almost everyone.
“Nay,” Susan Frank said. “I’m telling you all, this is a bad idea. Make sure you put that in the minutes,” she told Cindy.
“Motion carries,” said Brody. He smiled down at Jenna. “Looks like we’re going to be putting on a holiday bash.”
“Holiday disaster,” Susan grumbled from her side of the table.
What did Susan know? Blink, blink, blink.

USA Today best-selling author Sheila Roberts has seen over fifty books, both fiction and non-fiction in print. Her novels have appeared in many different languages and been made into movies for both the Lifetime and Hallmark Channels. She writes about things near and dear to women’s hearts – love, friendship, family and chocolate.

Her latest book is the women’s fiction, Winter at the Beach.

Website Link:
Twitter Link:
Facebook Link:


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What happens when music, history and mystery coincide?

I've loved historical fiction set in Scotland, ever since I was a child (when I was hooked on Nigel Trantner), so I could hardly resist when I was offered the chance to interview Laura Vosike, author of the Water is Wide. Join me as I learn more about Scotland, the book and the author.

Laura, I'll just go pour some coffee while readers find out about you and your book.

Laura Vosika is a writer, poet, and musician. Her time travel series, The Blue Bells Chronicles, set in modern and medieval Scotland, has garnered praise and comparisons to writers as diverse as Diana Gabaldon and Dostoevsky. Her poetry has been published in The Moccasin and The Martin Lake Journal 2017.
She has been featured in newspapers, on radio, and TV, has spoken for regional book events, and hosted the radio program Books and Brews. She currently teaches writing at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
As a musician, Laura has performed as on trombone, flute, and harp, in orchestras, and big bands. She lives in Brooklyn park with 5 of her 9 children, 3 cats, and an Irish Wolfhound.
Her latest book is the time travel/historical fiction, The Water is Wide.



After his failure to escape back to his own time, Shawn is sent with Niall on the Bruce’s business. They criss-cross Scotland and northern England, working for the Bruce and James Douglas, as they seek ways to get Shawn home to Amy and his own time.

Returning from the Bruce’s business, to Glenmirril, Shawn finally meets the mysterious Christina. Despite his vow to finally be faithful to Amy, his feelings for Christina grow.

In modern Scotland, having already told Angus she’s pregnant, Amy must now tell him Shawn is alive and well—in medieval Scotland. Together, they seek a way to bring him back across time.

They are pursued by Simon Beaumont, esteemed knight in the service of King Edward, has also passed between times. Having learned that Amy’s son will kill him—he seeks to kill the infant James first.

The book concludes with MacDougall’s attack on Glenmirril, Amy and Angus’s race to be there and Shawn’s attempt to reach the mysterious tower through the battling armies.

Ah, here's the coffee, and what was it you wanted Laura...? Here we go. And now...

Which came first for you: poetry, music or stories?

Technically, poetry came first--but didn't really last long. I remember sitting outside when I was 8, writing a poem. At ten, I was working on a novel about a boy who is kidnapped for ransom, but such trouble his captors try to return him and are charged ransom by his parents to do so. Sound familiar? Then I discovered Ransom of Red Chief on my mother's book shelf, decided it had been done, and turned to other stories.

Career-wise, however, music came first. I started playing trombone freelance in high school and college, where I majored in music. I've spent the last 29 years performing and teaching.

Which musical instrument came first: trombone, flute or harp?

Actually--organ came first!


I got kicked out of lessons when I was 7, thank goodness! Mrs. Knecht and I were both much happier after that! But when I decided I wanted to play trombone, I had a big head start in being able to read music. So trombone was second. then came clarinet, saxophone, and flute must have been fifth or sixth. I bought one and taught myself to play in tenth grade, which was also the year I borrowed a school bassoon to play in the lower level band. 

I started harp in my 30s, when my pastor asked the choir director what else I played. She brazenly bragged, "Whatever you want her to!" The next day there was a harp on my door step, as she informed me I'd be playing on the altar in front of hundreds of people, in two months! I was quite happy with the situation, as I'd always wanted to play harp.

Which instrument best matches your book, The Water is Wide? Or which best matches the characters?

Definitely trombone! Shawn Kleiner, modern musician, plays trombone, while Niall, the medieval Highland warrior, plays harp. (Actually, Shawn plays a bit of everything, Amy plays violin, Angus plays bagpipes, and the cast consists of Amy's friends and colleagues in her orchestra.) 

But the book is set largely in the years 1315 to 1317, in the wake of Bannockburn, when Scotland was still fighting England, trying to lead the Irish in revolt against English rule. The Welsh were rising under the leadership of Llywelyn Bren. I love harp--but when you have Valkyrie, Darth Vader, and great battles, musically speaking, you call in the trombones!

There is another meaning, though, to the title of the series and the first book: Blue Bells of Scotland. It is a showcase theme and variations on the folk song, to show that a trombone could be far more than people thought. This is an analogy for Shawn himself. In the first book of the series, we see him as a hard-drinking, arrogant womanizer. His girlfriend, Amy, has always believed there's more to him than the obnoxious party animal he shows the world. In The Water is Wide, we see him live ever more up to her faith in him, as he grows ever more into the good parts of himself that he was always capable of.

Okay, you've almost convinced me. Trombone as an analogy for a man sounds cool, and you're making me believe there's more to the instrument than I'd thought. So... Where do music and time-travel intersect?

What an interesting question! I'd say they intersect in the sense that people of every time and place are drawn to music. It is a human instinct, a need, even, to sing, to play music, to listen to music. 

In The Blue Bells Chronicles, and especially in The Water is Wide, where Shawn and Niall spend much more time together, the shared love of, and talent for, music is a tool that first loosens the original animosity between these very different men, and then helps forge a deepening friendship. It's a tool they use throughout the series--to comfort, to boost morale, to hide in plain sight as minstrels, to win over people in their attempt to help the Bruce and Scotland.

And, of course, you're musical. But is that all that draws you to time travel? And what do you think draws readers to it?

I have always loved time travel, starting with In the Keep of Time, a children's novel about four siblings in the 1970s who go into Smailholm Tower in Scotland and come out in the 1500s. (Readers of The Blue Bells Chronicles will recognize this means of switching times!) 

I suppose I'm drawn to it because I spent my earliest years in Germany, surrounded by medieval castles and towns, by great history, both in Germany and on trips to England, the Mediterranean, and Spain. I later lived on the East Coast, visiting Monitcello, historic Williamsburg, Jamestown, Gettysburg, Harper's Ferry, Kitty Hawk and no doubt more I've forgotten--many of them places where history comes to life with historic actors. 

History has very much been a backdrop of my life and it opens a window to see how different these people seem from us because of their clothing, speech, tools, and more. And yet they are like us in their hopes, fears, love, heartbreak, joy, and grief; in their choices to act with nobility or with cowardice, to support another even if it cost them their lives or to betray a friend to save themselves. 

By reading about their lives and choices--whether historical or fictional--we learn a lot about life and what we want our own choices to be, what we want a reader to look back on our lives and say about us. Were we the inept Edward II or were we the Bruce, fighting with all he had for his people?

I think readers (and I myself) love to think about what it was like to live in another time. Ours can seem dull and full of drudgery because it's familiar and common to us. We're curious about these exotic times and people. We romanticize other eras--the graceful elegance of the antebellum, castle and knights, the courage and determination of the men who stormed Normandy, the strength and adventurous seafaring spirit of the Vikings. 

I think deep down we wonder--would we still be the same person if we lived in that era and deeper still--we want to believe we would have been the hero, the one who stood courageously, risked all. We want to believe we would have been the William Wallace. 

Time travel puts a modern person into these situations, lets us fulfill our curiosity and live vicariously in these worlds as we follow the modern character encountering the foreign and exotic and think what we would do, if we were that protagonist.

Cool! What a great answer; thank you. It sounds like you must do a lot of historical research do you do?

 An extreme amount!

And how many real characters do you use in your novels?

 I try to be as historically accurate as current knowledge allows. I've studied the Gaelic language that Niall and the people of Glenmirril would have spoken. I've traveled to Scotland five times to visit most of the places in the books. I've climbed the Eildon Hills where Shawn and Niall, running out of ideas, hope for a magical way home for Shawn via the Fairy Queen who met Thomas the Rhymer there. I've gone to Carlisle, where they are sent by the Bruce to spy on the English, visited the castle there that was commanded by Harclay at the time, and seen the dungeons Amy learns about, where prisoners licked the walls to try to get any sort of water. I've stood in the place where the orchard stood, where Emaline and Duraina and all the girls romanced by 'Brom' the minstrel (who is really both Shawn and Niall), gather to confront 'Brom' as Shawn/Brom desperately tries to escape the incoming MacDougall who would dearly like a second chance at hanging Niall.

The means by which Shawn and Niall escape Carlisle exists exactly where I have placed it! It is my dumb luck that archaeologists discovered it not long before I started researching for a way to get them out of a walled and sealed city with English soldiers hunting every house for them. I'll leave it to the reader to read the book and find out what that means is!

Even with characters, I keep it as historically accurate as possible. In the pages of The Water is Wide,  and the series, the reader meets Robert the Bruce, the greatest King of Scots, his hot-headed younger brother, Edward, and his greatest friend and right hand man, the gentle giant, the military genius and ferocious fighter, James Douglas. We meet Harclay. Lame John of Lorne, Lennox, Angus Og, Christina MacRuari, the Earl of Dunbar--all lived and were in the places I have put them exactly as it happens in the story. 

Thomas the Rhymer--aka Thomas Laird of Erceldoune, aka True Thomas--because one moniker is never enough!--is, amazingly enough, a historical figure and his story, as relayed in The Water is Wide, is exactly what history tells us.

Even 'the Butcher of Berwick' is a historical figure. I made the name up, but history tells us there was an English soldier at Berwick who did exactly the deed I have assigned to the evil Simon Beaumont, esteemed knight in the service of King Edward.

Okay, so coffee time's almost up. What's the most important thing you'd like to tell readers about The Water is Wide?

There are many scenes I especially love in The Water is Wide. In some ways, it's my favorite 'child.' I think each book can be enjoyed on its own, and the reader can get a good feel for what has come before, but The Water is Wide is the third book in a five book trilogy (there really is a three part arc to the story) that tells the story of Shawn Kleiner, drinking, gambling, womanizing, self-centered modern musician, who gets caught in the medieval world and battles of Robert the Bruce, who lives side by side with his medieval look-alike, Niall Campbell, who is all that Shawn is not--loyal, self-sacrificing, dutiful, honorable, and more. It is a story of time travel, mysteries and miracles, adventure, romance, and, ultimately, redemption, that begins with Book One, Blue Bells of Scotland. So if you'd like to jump in to The Water, you can, and if you want to start from the beginning, grab Blue Bells of Scotland and The Minstrel Boy.

Thank you so much, Laura. The Water is Wide sounds a great read; I love the idea of a five-book trilogy! And I love the blend of modern musician and ancient world... and... well, all the other things you're blending here.

Readers can find a link to a trailer below, and to where they can purchase the book on Amazon. Enjoy! Meanwhile, I'll wish you luck with sales and with writing Laura.

Watch the Trailer: