Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Write Tribe Blog Carnival - What if You Were Not Afraid?

Write Tribe

Click on the button above to join and blog carnival and to check out your co-revelers!


So, the question is:

What would you do if you were not afraid?

And I answer:

Sometimes I want it both ways.  It's either: a) too hard and I'm not capable; or b) too easy, and everyone will find out I'm a fake.

If I were not so afraid, I would act on stage for a living.  

The family into which I was born apparently does not think very much of me.  My father was a chemical engineer, working for a defense contractor.  Very smart.  Both my brother and I had artistic leanings, him in music (he's FABULOUS, by the way) and myself in live theatre.  But I was afraid to put myself center stage, as it were, and my parents were all too happy to steer me towards a more academic life.

When I left the International Department at a regional US bank, I went back to college to get a degree, because without one there was no room for advancement.  Wouldn't you know, while immersed in the finance program (BS-magna cum laude (--that's for my mother)), I saw a notice for auditions for "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde.  My mind immediately began telling me all the 'why nots', but I went anyway.

And I got a part.  And I participated in about 5 plays a year for the next 6 years...or is it 6 plays a year for the next 5 years.  I get a little muddled.  But the point is, even though it took 10 years, I came back from a professor saying I should find something else to do, that I would never have a future in acting, to being paid to perform!

Then came marriage and children.  The oldest one turns 18 this year.  I have not done a play since before he was born.  Then we lived in Salt Lake City, which is vastly more urban now than when we lived there (last in 1997.)  We live in rural Kentucky ... where you know most of the other 5 people in the county.  You're right; it's not quite THAT deserted, but close.  The closest live theatre is about 30 miles away.  Not a big deal.  But they only have one or two performances.  That's a lot of physical and emotional work to put on a play for so few performances, with not so many people around to see it.

So, I'm allowing this to stop me right now.  Got any suggestions for me?

BOOK REVIEW: To Hold the Sun by Chas Watkins


This delightful and engaging story outlines the experiences of a young, poor, and disillusioned reporter who is enticed to do a series of articles about Paul, an unconventional philosopher and motivational speaker. In lieu of payment, he gets to travel to and dive on Roatan, arguably one of the most beautiful, pristine islands in the Caribbean. Through a series of meetings, the reporter gets to know Paul's innermost philosophies. He learns an alternate way of living from a man who strives to perfect handstands on a dock and practices the art of happiness. 

The author developed the book as a guide to help his children live their lives in a way that would allow them to enjoy the journey. Drawing on wildly diverse disciplines including stoicism, neuroscience, skepticism, behavioral economics, and spirituality; the reader is taken on a journey that exposes the author's philosophy of life. He demonstrates that happiness is indeed a choice.

All places detailed on Roatan exist and are more beautiful than described. Color Photos (if supported) are by kind permission of Shawn Jackson.



I don't know if my parents ever learned to really enjoy life.  Not that they were sad, morose people ... they were just so bound by responsibility, and being what they felt was expected of them.  I think my father was beginning to catch a glimpse of the possible - then he had a stroke at the age of 47.  Not that all responsibility is a bad thing.  It's necessary.  But there's a reason they say "all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy".

What Mr. Watkins has done is shown us one way to begin celebrating life and enjoying it while we are here on this rock.

Many of us seem to be motivated by negative emotions - fear, anger, and the like.

One of the first lessons Paul Haletine shared with Mr. Watkins was how to manage those emotions, using a very personal experience.  Seems at an informal gathering the previous evening, Chas was mispronouncing the host's name for most of the evening; he was actually calling the man 'a dog'.  So, Chas was *ahem* a little embarrassed and maybe aggravated that they had let it go on so long.  Suffice it to say, by the end of the exercise, Chas was no longer feeling a bitter sting.

The closer I got to the end of the book, the more I felt like I was going to have to return from my own 'island vacation' (ok, I know it was a working vacation for Mr. Watkins).  I didn't want to go.  So I determined to go through the book again and work through those lessons and exercises for myself.

"To Hold the Sun" is part 'how-to' and part "WOOHOO"!  Let me explain.

The book gives some very practical and useful instructions on how to do things that make our lives a lot more enjoyable.  "Sun" is also part sheer and joyful celebration of life.  I want both of those things - I need more how-to and more woohoo in my life.  Thanks go Mr. Watkins' book, I now have one way of getting those very things!



Chas Watkins was born and raised in England and is a naturalized Australian. His children are all American, which he finds very confusing. He moved to Roatan nine years ago. He has an unused degree in electronics from Hull University in England and has somehow managed to work for many fine and good companies without being fired.

After the raging madness of the dotcom world in California, he moved to Roatan to settle with his family. Chas currently pretends to work as a Realtor and Radio DJ. He reads an awful lot, watches the sunrise and sunset every day and consumes way too much coffee. He runs on the beach in the mornings, practices handstands, and lives happily on Roatan with his cat Gary and the children who have not yet deserted him. Even on his best day he is nothing like his character Paul, but strives to be so.

Occasionally he "likes to dance as if no one is watching" which is ironic as his dancing makes people stare. If you are really unlucky, you may meet him, and whatever you do, don't offer him a drink as he is a very rude and uninteresting person.


(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of "To Hold the Sun" from the author and publisher via iRead Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

WeWriWa - D is for Dedication

Welcome to another edition of "Weekend Writing Warriors", hosted at the "WeWriWa" blog.  Click the cool graphic I snagged from the site to go there and see how you can join too!


My 8 sentences today are from the "Proverbs 31 - D is for Dedication" entry posted during the "2014 Blogging from A to Z Challenge":

Cooking a meal takes effort; cooking 18,615 meals (3 meals a day x 365 days x 17 years) takes dedication.  Facing danger requires effort; facing danger every day for 730 days during a two-year deployment takes dedication.  Writing one blog post takes effort.  Writing a blog post starting with each letter of the alphabet during a single month takes dedication. ...

When we put forth effort, we receive reward.  Maybe it is money; maybe it is satisfaction at a job well done or from making a difference.  One reward we get from dedication is reputation.  When one cooks a tasty meal, one hears, "That was a great meal!"  When one cooks 18,615 tasty meals, we hear, "You are a wonderful cook!"


What people or things in life have earned your dedication?  Have any suggestions, critiques, compliments?  Comment below; I comment back! :O)

Friday, July 25, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Endangered by Jean Love Cush


To save her son from a legal system bent on sending African American men to jail, a young mother agrees to an unprecedented, controversial defense offered up from a team of crack lawyers, in this debut novel that speaks to race, class, and justice in America.

Janae Williams, a never-missed-a-day-of-work single mother, has devoted her whole life to properly raising her son. From the time Malik could walk, Janae taught him that the best way to stay alive and out of trouble with the law was to cooperate. Terrified for his safety, she warned him to “raise your hands high, keep your mouth shut, and do whatever they say” if stopped by the police. But when a wave of murders hits Philadelphia and fifteen-year-old Malik is arrested, Janae’s terror is compounded by guilt and doubt: Would Malik be in jail if he had run?

Blocked at every turn from seeing her son, Janae is also unable to afford adequate legal representation. In steps the well-meaning Roger Whitford, a lawyer who wants to use Malik’s case to upend the entire criminal justice system. Janae simply wants her son free, but Roger, with the help of an ambitious private attorney, is determined to expose the system’s hostility toward black boys.

Offering a startling and unprecedented defense, the lawyers spark a national firestorm of debate over race, prison, and politics. As Janae battles to save her son, she begins to discover that she is also fighting for her own survival and that of the future of her community.



Like "Waking up White" by Debby Irving, reading "Endangered" was not always a comfortable experience for me.  It was like being Dorian Gray and looking at the picture a decade or so after it was first painted.  (For those who haven't read "The Picture of Dorian Gray", it's like looking in the mirror after a rough night.)

If I got treated the way a lot of young, black men do simply because of the color of my skin I would be indignant too.  Heck, I might be downright hostile.

I sympathize with Janae's situation.  The advice she had given her son, Malik, to do whatever the police told him to do probably lessened the chance that he would be seriously injured upon arrest.  I struggle along with her wondering if that advice actually worked against Malik in getting him caught in the first place (instead of escaping injury by running).

In steps Roger Whitford, an white attorney from the Innocence Project, who offers to take Malik's case.  On the one hand, you would think a mother would jump at that chance.  On the other hand, Janae is right to question Whitford's motives.  He is at least as interested in trying his own theory on justice for young, black men in general as he is in representing Malik in particular.  And the high-powered lawyer from the high-powered law firm working with the project as a favor to his boss (and because he is black) takes an interest in Janae as well as the case.

Cush writes very well about potentially sensitive subject matter.  Some people will deny the problem.  Some readers will be outraged at the defense used in this work of fiction.  Using stories to get one's point across is a literary device in use for thousands of years.  Hopefully "Endangered" will do the same.  I can see this being required reading in English classes around the country.

After reading "Endangered", I know two things:
1) that this book deserves as wide an audience as possible; and
2) that we will be hearing more from Jean Love Cush in the future.



A native of Philadelphia, Jean Love Cush worked for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office directly out of law school before spending three years as a family law attorney helping low-income women escape domestic-abuse situations. After moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, she hosted a weekly radio show called A View from Summit, where she covered such topics as public safety, urban violence, and inner-city education. Cush now lives in Illinois with her husband and two children.


(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of "Endangered" from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my unbiased review.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Friendship Friday: World's Best Story!

I am really excited to tell you about an innovative new contest platform for both readers and writers. Laura Fabiani of iRead Book Tours is now a proud sponsor for World’s Best Story!

More and more authors and writers are discovering the power of readers. Books are written for the reader audience, so why not have a say in telling others we think a writer’s story has blockbuster potential? That’s what World’s Best Story allows you to do.
In view of this, I hope you will join me in helping to spread the word and to sign up as a member of World’s Best Story to find talented storytellers and get great prizes. 

But first let me tell you more about World’s Best Story.

World’s Best Story was launched at BookExpo America on May 28. It’s the first social contest to reward readers and writers with exclusive partner prizes. So what does this mean for you?

If you are a writer:

1. Submit your story. Entering is free and the entry period ends Aug 12.
2. Prizes include publishing contracts, celebrity master classes, trademark and IP protection, book tours, big box retail distribution, PR and marketing support and more!
3. Top ten finalists and grand prize winner will be announced at the Toronto International Book Fair on November 15, 2014.

If you are a reader:

1. You get the chance to be the judge, discover new stories and win great prizes.
2. When you sign up to become a member, you automatically get $10 to spend at Beyond the Rack. Signing up is easy, requiring only your name and email.
3. When you rate and vote you’ll get a chance to win cool prizes, and the grand prize package includes a $2000 shopping spree at Beyond the Rack!

So how can you help spread the word? There are several ways:
  • Write a post about it and you can enter in a giveaway for a $20 Amazon gift card and one of 6 $25 Beyond the Rack Gift Cards
  • Add the World’s Best Story logo on your blog with a link back to their site.
  • If you are an iRead tour host, your post will count toward your incentive program if you do the above.
  • If you are not yet an iRead tour host, join and you will qualify for the incentive program
  • Tell all your readers about WBS through social media networking.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette


From the author of The Deus Machine and The Third Pandemic comes a fast-paced thriller about the power of harnessing life itself—and the deadly secrets it conceals. Portland, Oregon, was once a beacon of promise and prosperity. Now it’s the epicenter of a world gone wrong, its streets overrun by victims and hustlers, drifters and gangsters. Lowly contract cop Lane Anslow struggles to keep afloat—and to watch out for his brilliant but bipolar brother, Johnny, a medical researcher. Lane soon discovers that Johnny is part of an experiment veiled in extraordinary secrecy. But he has no idea who’s behind it, how astronomical the stakes are, or how many lives might be destroyed to make it a reality.

Now Johnny’s gone missing. To find him, Lane follows a twisting trail into a billionaire’s hilltop urban fortress, a politician’s inner circle, a prison set in an aircraft graveyard, and a highly guarded community where people appear to be half their biological age. Hunted by dueling enemies, Lane meets a beautiful and enigmatic woman at the center of a vast web of political and criminal intrigue. And behind it all is a sinister, desperate race to claim the biggest scientific prize of all: eternal life.



Wow! What a book.

"The Forever Man" starts with a nearly-as-old-as-Moses man digging in a graveyard after dark, while his 'security' and staff stand guard (far enough away that they do not see exactly what he is doing.)  Though it nearly kills him, he unearths a tiny mummified body and twists one of the forearms off.  Ugh.  He then arranges with his second-in-command to have the rest of the security team take a (permanent) vacation.  Nice guy, huh?

At least I don't think the author has done this purely for shock value.  The old man, Zed, is about 120 years old, and for most of his life, has considered himself 'above' everyone else.  Society's rules do not apply to him.  Granted, his earlier home life was not all beer and skittles.  But during the San Francisco earthquake, he turns in his 'partner' and manages to walk off with a bag of expensive jewelry.

In the ensuing years, the gap between the haves and have-nots has gotten even larger, although everyone is playing a numbers game.  The well-to-do live in high-security gated communities and talk about themselves (and each other) as a 35-60, or a 42-70 (etc.);  the first number is the age they appear, while the second number is their actual physical age.  People in the lower economic strata consider themselves lucky if they have any kind of job and a roof over their heads; most don't.  In their areas of town, a crime lord called "The Bird" only allows his coins to be used.  Since most people get paid on debit cards, Bird acts as a bank and changes their plastic for the coin of his realm ... skimming a hefty 50% 'service fee'.

Against this nightmarish backdrop, we have Lane and Johnny, two brothers.  Lane is a nearing-50ish contract cop - a 'temp' if you will.  All the danger, none of the benefits.  Johnny, two years younger, is intellectually brilliant ... and subject to the wild emotional swings of a person with bipolar disorder.  He has been working on genetic manipulation that will allow cells of the aged (and wealthy) to effectively reset themselves, thus providing the patient near-eternal life.

Remember Zed from the cemetery?  He's the bank ... and ruthless enough to send Johnny and the other two geneticists to their deaths in a plane crash.  Except Johnny has a flash of brilliance and jumps off the plane before it starts to taxi to the runway.  Then he disappears for his own good.  He leaves the airport pronto, steals a copy of the technology from "Mount Tabor", and attempts to contact his brother, narrowly missing one of several hit squads attempting to seal his deal.

It constantly amazes and disgusts me the lengths to which people will go to ensure they at least maintain the status quo, or, preferably, consolidate more of societal power and wealth in their hands, while denying the same to everyone else.  And in the end, they will never be able to keep it.  It's part economics and part physics:  the more you try to hold onto, the harder it gets.

And most of the characters are betraying each other right and left.  Even if they have made deals.  Even if they have shaken each others' hands.  But then, they're not exactly ladies and gentlemen.  Lane and Johnny are true to each other, even though they spend very little of the book 'together'.  Likewise, Lane and Rachel do a good job at having each others' backs through some pretty thrilling and frightening circumstances.  You even find some *ahem* residents of the aircraft boneyard prison who have more integrity than most of the glitterati on the outside.

Most of what I read are cozy mysteries.  You know, nothing terribly disturbing reiterated on page after page.  Cute animals are the norm and maybe a romance or two thrown in for good measure.  "The Forever Man" is a much darker kind of a book - but it's a thriller as opposed to a horror novel.  I found the introduction (in the graveyard) difficult to stomach.  Thank goodness, that part was relatively short, and Ouellette's skill as a writer takes over and has the readers alternately cheering when Lane escapes one of the various traps set for him and getting riled up at the depths to which some denizens of 'humanity' have sunk.

Bottom line?  I recommend "The Forever Man", especially if you want to get riled up in service of a 'cause'.  I will keep my eyes out for Ouellette's other books too.



Pierre Ouellette entered the creative realm at age thirteen as a lead guitarist for numerous bands in the Pacific Northwest, including Paul Revere and the Raiders, and later played with such jazz luminaries as saxophonist Jim Pepper and bassist David Friesen. He has had two novels published in seven languages and both optioned for film. He has also authored two biotech thrillers published in paperback under the name Pierre Davis, and directed and produced The Losers Club, a documentary about struggling musicians. Ouellette lives in Portland, Oregon, where he now devotes himself exclusively to writing fiction and playing jazz guitar now and then in a little bar just down the street.


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(Disclosure:  I received access to an e-copy of The Forever Man from the author and publishers via TLC Book Tours and NetGalley, in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

BOOK REVIEW: Granny Skewers a Scoundrel by Julie Seedorf


Granny has a new addition to her arsenal of crime fighting weapons as Fuchsia, Minnesota’s most colorful detective. Now, along with her famous crook-hooking umbrella, she’s acquired a scoundrel-skewering knitting needle. And just in time! Residents of Fuchsia seem to be dropping dead like flies! First, it’s Granny’s neighbor Sally (who gives up the ghost in her weed-filled front yard), followed by Esmeralda Periwinkle (the squirrel lover on Main Street), and then, Mr. Nail, owner of the local hardware store (who is squashed when dozens of bags of fertilizer fall on top of him). Granny is baffled. Who is behind this murder spree?

Granny enlists the help of her sort of boyfriend Franklin Gatsby, the town’s police chief Cornelius Stricknine (or “The Big Guy”), her reality-show loving neighbor Mavis, and her own son Thor. And, of course, the special assistance of her menagerie of pets — including Mr. Bleaty, the goat. Soon Granny is hot on the trail of this dastardly murderer. Unfortunately, when Granny herself is poisoned, everyone insists that she cool her crime solving ways and stay indoors and out of harms way. Of course, that’s never going to happen! Not when Granny knows all the secret passageways and tunnels that run underneath Fuchsia. Out she goes–and watch out, you evil doers! Granny will solve this mystery–you can bet your pink undies, she will!



I love Granny!  (Do you think she'll adopt me?)

Like most cozy heroines, Granny just seems to attract trouble.  Maybe she lived a quieter, younger life, though, and now has to squeeze all that crazy into the years she has left.  Last evening she foiled kidnappers and burglars, with the help of her menagerie.  This morning, she goes (in nightgown) to check on her neighbor, whose grass has grown too high.  (But with a name like Hermiony Vidalia Criony, you just know she was not going to have a quiet life anyway.)

She doesn't take guff from the local law boys either, telling them to their faces that she helps them keep their little town of Fuchsia, Minnesota, safe.  And Granny is just one of the colorful characters in this most colorful of towns.  I was laughing out loud just reading the names:  Chief Stricknine, Mr. Bleaty (a goat), Mrs. Periwinkle and their brother and sister citizens and furry denizens.  (If the board game "Clue" is looking to franchise, they should check into Fuchsia.  Seriously.  "So-and-so" in the garden with the (insert miscellaneous weapon).  Priceless.)

I don't do spoilers.  If you've been here before, you know that.  In this case it would be a crime to tell you how everything turns out.  Far be it from me to deny anyone the pleasure of reading how "Granny Skewers a Scoundrel".



Julie grew up in a small Minnesota community. She knows the value of neighbors looking out for neighbors.

Julie has worn many hats during her lifetime. She has been a waitress, barmaid, activities assistant, store clerk, office manager and for the last 14 years has worked in computer repair, and finally owning her own computer repair business. In January 2014 she closed her computer business to write full time.

Her most important career in her estimation has been wife, mother and grandmother. Nothing could equal the gift of nurturing and watching her children and grandchildren grow.

Julie is also a columnist for the Albert Lea Tribune. Her column “Something About Nothing” brings a little fluff to an unfluffy world. She believes there is always something underlying in the nothings we talk about. In 2011 she self-published “Whatchamacallit? Thingamajig?. It is a book about grandmothers and grandchildren. It was a collaboration between her grandchildren and Julie. Along with a glossary and lots of weird words, it is a mystery that reveals to the characters grandchildren who Grandma used to be.

In 2013 Julie signed a contract with Cozy Cat Press for the publication of her Cozy Mystery “Granny Hooks A Crook.” It fulfilled one item on Julie’s bucket list. Granny lives in the fictional town of Fuchsia, Minnesota. The Fuchsia, Minnesota books are a series. Granny Skewers A Scoundrel, book two in the series was released in March 2014. The Fuchsia books are unusual cozies with a little satire about small communities and an over the top Granny that gives a new meaning to old.  Julie also writes free lance for the Courier Sentinel and the Albert Lea Tribune. She also is designing a line of shirts, cups and other material to complement her books.

Never quit dreaming is Julie’s motto. Dreams are the gateway to fun, fantasy and the future.


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(Disclosure:  I received an e-copy of "Granny Skewers a Scoundrel" from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest, unbiased opinion.)


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Booknificent Thursdays

Monday, July 21, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns by Ellen Mansoor Collier


During Prohibition, Galveston Island was called the “Free State of Galveston” due to its lax laws and laissez-faire attitude toward gambling, gals and bootlegging. Young society reporter Jasmine (Jazz) Cross longs to cover hard news, but she’s stuck between two clashing cultures: the world of gossip and glamour vs. gangsters and gamblers.

After Downtown Gang leader Johnny Jack Nounes is released from jail, all hell breaks loose: Prohibition Agent James Burton’s life is threatened and he must go into hiding for his own safety. But when he’s framed for murder, he and Jazz work together to prove his innocence. Johnny Jack blames her half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis speakeasy, for his arrest and forces him to work overtime in a variety of dangerous mob jobs as punishment.

When a bookie is murdered, Jazz looks for clues linking the two murders and delves deeper into the underworld of gambling: poker games, slot machines and horse-racing. Meanwhile, Jazz tries to keep both Burton and her brother safe, and alive, while they face off against each other, as well as a common enemy. A soft-boiled mystery inspired by actual events.



You just know it's about to hit the fan when the city's sole Prohibition agent is out on the town with a society reporter at one of the better speakeasies.  Sure enough, they step outside and someone tries to gun down the agent.  Maybe the language and the dress has changed since nearly 100 years ago, but the gangs and the drive-by shootings haven't.

"Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns" reminded me of the movie "The Sting" in time period.  I guess that would make Jazz and James (Agent Burton) the Newman and Redford characters.  There were a ton of double-crosses to keep everybody guessing and to ensure that the path of true love would not run smooth.  And you know that will continue because Jazz is not a shrinking violet kind of a doll.

The book also reminded me of "Guys and Dolls" without the singing and big dance numbers.

"Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns" is, in itself, a wonderful romp through another time and another place that you can take right from the comfort of your own home.  It is also the third in Ms. Collier's "Jazz Age" series of mysteries, which means I'm going to have to go back and catch up on #'s 1 and 2, because I really like the character of Jazz.  She is like the little sister I never had.



Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles and essays have been published in a variety of national magazines. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries.

A flapper at heart, she’s worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and served on UTmost, the college magazine and as president of WICI (Women in Communications).

FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY is her first novel, published in 2012, followed by the sequel, BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS, released in May 2013. She lives in Houston with her husband and Chow mutts, and visits Galveston whenever possible.

“When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past until I began doing research, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s. Finally I had to stop researching and start writing, trying to imagine a flapper’s life in Galveston during Prohibition.”


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.)


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Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday 56: Gold-Diggers, Gambers and Guns

"The Friday 56" is hosted at Freda's Voice.

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
 *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grab you.
>*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It's that simple.


As I turned to go upstairs, I heard a slight tapping on the window, almost a clawing noise 
Nervously, I peered through curtains, and sucked in my breath: On the front porch stood Agent Burton, bruised and battered, a black eye starting to darken, his suit disheveled and torn.

Sound interesting?  Do you speak 'flapper'?  There will be a review of "Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns" on my blog on Monday, as part of a tour set up by Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours and you're all invited back! :O)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann


June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor. .

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time . . . or die in his place.

Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in sixteenth-century Japan.



I kind of jumped at the chance to read and review "Blade of the Samurai".  I grew up with a crush on Richard Chamberlain in the mini-series of James Clavell's "Shogun" on tv.  I even remember a half-dozen or so words in Japanese from watching the drama.

With all the character names and Japanese terms in the book, it could have been easy to get somewhat lost, but Ms. Spann does a good job of making it clear what the terms mean so her readers can become involved with the story itself.

Some might find it harsh that, after being 'hired' (in a sense) to find a murderer, if Hiro and Father Mateo cannot solve the murder in a couple of days, they will be killed in his (or her) place and face will be saved.  Of course, when you live in a military society where might makes right (not a judgment-just a statement), and you never know what another family will do to oust those in power to advance their own status...there is little or no room for error.

There are many twists, turns and intricacies in the plot of "Blade of the Samurai".  It's like being presented with a complex piece of origami and trying to figure out how to make it yourself by reverse engineering.  Each new fold uncovers a hidden gem, a piece of the larger puzzle.  Each time I thought, "Aha, that is the murderer," some new piece of evidence would pop up.  It made me want to keep reading until I found out who actually committed the crime.

"Blade of the Samurai" is a well-researched novel that shows despite a 500 year distance, people are people.  The characters have hopes, dreams, aspirations, jealousies, obstacles much like we do today.



Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "Blade of the Samurai" from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Bitter Chocolate by Dawn Greenfield Ireland


The characters you loved in Hot Chocolate are back with more escapades of life in Houston’s wealthy River Oaks.

Lila Mae is in a tizzy over the Chocolate Ball – a huge event that she and her sisters, Dorothea and Madge, host every year. But due to unusual circumstances, Dorothea and Madge dump everything in Lila Mae’s lap. If it weren’t for Julian Gillespie of Event Is King, the Chocolate Ball would have melted.

Bernie, the Alcott sisters’ 92-year-old father, decides he wants his Bentley back. The sisters and Bambi are horrified. They hire Joseph’s cousin Chewie as Bernie’s new chauffeur.

Wolfram, Lila Mae’s new astrologer, gives clues of things to come. This leaves Lila Mae and her sidekick Amelia with brows furrowed.

On her day off, Amelia decides to bake a chocolate blueberry pie. She discovers she needs to make a grocery run. When she returns home, she discovers her kitchen door is slightly ajar. Arms loaded with groceries, she toes the door open.

Three things catch her attention: a vase of flowers on the kitchen island that was not there when she left the house, her marble rolling pin covered with blood… and a dead body on her kitchen floor.

Amelia’s eyes drift toward the dining room and beyond – is the house empty, or is there a murderer inside? She backs up, turns and hurries outside. After setting the bags on the ground, she slips back into the kitchen and snaps a picture of the dead guy. Then she calls Detective Chance Walker, Lila Mae and finally… 9-1-1.



So many cozy mysteries seem have a heroine that has just moved recently to a small town, has come out of a disappointing relationship and runs a fledgling business.  "Bitter Chocolate" is nothing like that.  Vive la difference!  Like a cold glass of sweet tea on a humid southern afternoon, Ireland presents us with a second look at the Alcott family, members of Houston's social and economic elite.  And they are actually likeable, unlike most of the 'rich & famous' we see on 'reality tv' these days.

I have a disappointing history with fruit and chocolate together (well, except for chocolate-dipped strawberries), so I don't know if I could ever try a chocolate and blueberry pie.  But I DEVOURED this book!

As Ms. Ireland is a new-to-me author, I've added the first Alcott Family Adventure "Hot Chocolate" to my TBR list at GoodReads, and I can't wait for "Spicy Chocolate" (Book 3) to come out - it is expected in 2016.



Dawn Ireland is the CEO of Artistic Origins Inc, a 100% woman-owned publishing and technical writing service company that has been doing business since 1995. She’s an award winning independent publisher and author of The Puppy Baby Book Mastering Your Money, and Amazon Best Seller Hot Chocolate (the first in the series, and her fifth novel). The Hot Chocolate audio book was awarded theAudioFile Earphones Award on Valentine’s Day 2014.

Her family feature film screenplay A Girl and Her Dogwas awarded a Kids First! Endorsement by the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media in October 2012 and optioned by Shadow Cave Productions in February 2013.

Originally from Feeding Hills, MA, Dawn migrated to San Antonio in 1968, then when her first son was one years old, her family moved to Houston where work was more plentiful. After 40+ years of heat and humidity, she has her sights on the Pacific NW.

Dawn is the co-author of the animated screenplay Memoirs of a Dog which won the Spirit Award of the Moondance Film Festival (children’s category) September 2011. Her dark comedy Plan B was a finalist in the Table Read My Screenplay script competition in 2010 and years before that, Standing Dead won the Women in Film and Television (Houston Chapter) screenplay award.

Stay tuned for The Last Dog (futuristic/sci-fi 2015), and Spicy Chocolate (2016).


(Disclosure:  I received an e-copy of "Bitter Chocolate" from the author via Virtual Author Book Tours in exchange for my honest, non-biased opinion.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Penny Wise by Dave and Neta Jackson


Michelle Jasper doesn’t have much time to hang out with her neighbors—not with thirteen-year-old twins, another teen with hoop dreams, a full-time job as a caseworker, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, and heading up the women’s ministry at Northside Baptist. Her husband’s constantly changing shifts as an air traffic controller at the world’s busiest airport—Chicago’s O’Hare International—and responsibilities as a trusted deacon at Northside only add to the juggling act at the Jasper household.

Her new neighbors, Harry and Estelle Bentley, mean well with their friendly efforts to bring people together, but how can she deal with neighborhood concerns—like Greg Singer, who lost his job and is now trying to recruit sales reps from the neighborhood for his new venture—when she’s confronted with tragic family situations daily in her job? Like little Candy and her baby brother Pookey, victims of neglect . . .

With the “tyranny of the urgent” crowding out the important, Michelle is blindsided by danger involving her own kids—and a personal crisis that calls into question the very values she holds dear. How could this happen? Does God even care?

As her life unravels, a missing penny—and a “penny from heaven”—give her a shred of hope. But will God just laugh at her penny test?



"Penny Wise" by Dave and Neta Jackson is a wonderfully readable story about everyday folks in middle America.  The story flows naturally and more than once I was nodding my head in recognition of situations in Michelle's life and the lives of her family, neighbors and friends.

Michelle's morality was also presented in a non-preaching manner, which I appreciated.  It was nice to read about a mom who worried about her 13-year old daughter going to a cheerleading camp where the outfits were *ahem* not exactly modest.  Not that other mothers don't take that into account, but sometimes it seems the emphasis is on whether or not the children will fit in with the popular crowd, or that the parent is trying to live out some of their dreams through their children.  (Can we say "Toddlers and Tiaras" anyone?)

While it's nice, sometimes, to read stories about people who are not like 'us' (whatever that means), it's also a good experience to read stories to which we can relate on a personal level.  Everyone is valuable in the eyes of God and "Penny Wise" is a great story about the worth of 'ordinary' people.  In my opinion (and from my experience) when it seems like God isn't there, it's because we are looking for Him in the wrong place.

The Jacksons are a new-to-me writing team.  They have collaborated with each other and with other writers on absolutely SCADS of books (154 listed on GoodReads).  Assuming they are all as good as "Penny Wise", I'm going to be a busy reader for a long, long time.



Dave and Neta Jackson are award-winning authors living in the Chicago area where their parallel novels from the Yada Yada House of Hope and Harry Bentley series are set. As a husband/wife writing team, Dave and Neta Jackson are enthusiastic about books, kids, walking with God, gospel music, and each other! Together they are the authors or coauthors of over 100 books.


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "Penny Wise" from the authors and publishers via Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Waking Up White by Debby Irving

• Paperback: 288 pages
• Publisher: Elephant Room Press (January 9, 2014)



On the heels of a year when films such DjangoThe Butler, and 12 Years a Slave have made real the lived experience of black Americans, Waking Up White exposes critical aspects of the white experience. White people are thirsting for clarity on racial issues and the confidence to engage in conversation about them. Many people of color yearn for authentic, informed dialogue about racism with white friends, family, and colleagues.Waking Up White bridges this divide by functioning both as a “Racism 101” for white people and a rare exposé on whiteness for people of color. The book is a catalytic kick-starter that provides people of all colors and levels of racial awareness with the language and tools necessary to enter into cross-racial conversations about race within a less threatening context. For white readers wanting to further their own awakening, Irving includes short prompts and exercises at the end of each chapter.

“When I finally came to understand the way racism worked,” she explains, “I spent a lot of time thinking about what might have enlightened me earlier. I decided it wouldn’t have been an academic book, an essay, or a book from the perspective of a person of color — it would have been another white person describing their own awakening. What I needed was a memoir so irresistible that I would have read it even if racism weren’t on my mind.”



Writing as a person who happens to be Caucasian , reading this book was not always easy.  But then, life is not easy either, but it is worth living.  And, "Waking Up White" is definitely a book worth reading.  The reader doesn't pick it up to read.  It picks the reader up and practically demands to be read.

I was born in 1961 in a wide spot in the road just north of Pittsburgh, PA, and lived my early childhood in the small town of Cumberland, MD.  There was one black family in town (of which I was aware).  One of their sons just happened to be in my grade school class.  My mother once described the family with the words, "and they're so clean".  Here's an interesting tidbit.  Nearly 50 years in the future, I remember the names of my two closest friends, and the name of my African-American classmate ... and that's it.

When I was 8 or 9 years old, my family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah - also not one of the more racially balanced cities in America.  I remember an incident from the 1970's where there was a big stink when someone made a show of conferring the LDS priesthood on a black man outside of Temple Square.  Up until that time, the church's priesthood groups contained few, if any, men of color and certainly no blacks.

Later, I had a job for a while on a magazine crew.  I was going door-to-door in a neighborhood outside Washington, D.C.  It was a sea of apartment buildings (and I make the distinction here from 'projects'), as far as the eye could see.  And I was the only white person I saw for several hours.  I wasn't disturbed or fearful ... but I sure felt 'different'.

Lastly, there is a country lane not far from where my family lives that is called "Old Negro Creek Road".   The long-time residents of the area still occasionally use another, less-politically correct name for it.

A main benefit (IMO) of Irving's book is that she 'leads by example' and offers up her life as a textbook for helping people think about the effects of race on our lives.

Sometimes, I feel sorry for myself as a person with chronic, clinical depression, or someone whose family cannot be described as 'well-off' financially, I often forget the advantages I have.  Some of these advantages come just because my skin is white.

At the end of each chapter is a question or two for our consideration.  A few of them had me scrambling for excuses to take a break.  I noticed the less I liked my reflection (based on the question), the more likely I was to invent 'any' excuse to stop reading for a while.  And I didn't like that about myself.  So I went back and read some more.

I may never 'leave my nets' or sell all of my worldly goods to exclusively follow the cause of racial justice.  It's a big world and there are all kinds of problems that vie for people's time.  You have to pick your battles.  The most satisfying job I ever had taught me that you have to stand up for what is right, and lessened my fear at so doing.  "Waking Up White" is a phenomenal education (for anyone) on the ins and outs of racial bias and justice.  While I may never be a general on the racial justice battlefield, I am grateful to Irving for supplying me with a field manual so I can be a well-trained, thoughtful participant in the on-going struggle.



Debby is a white woman, raised in Winchester, Massachusetts during the socially turbulent 1960s and ‘70s. After a blissfully sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban childhood, she found herself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the racial divide she observed in Boston. From 1984 to 2009 her work in urban neighborhoods and schools left her feeling helpless. Why did people live so differently along racial lines? Why were student outcomes so divergent? Why did she get so jumpy when talking to a person of color? Where did the fear of saying something stupid or offensive come from, and why couldn’t she make it go away? The more she tried to understand racial dynamics, the more confused she became. “I knew there was an elephant in the room,” she writes, “I just didn’t know it was me!”

In 2009, a course at Wheelock College, Racial and Cultural Identity, shook her awake with the realization that she’d missed step #1: examining the way being a member of the “normal” race had interfered with her attempts to understand racism. Waking Up White is the story of her two-steps-forward-one-step back journey away from racial ignorance.

Debby has worked since the 1980s to foster diversity, inclusiveness, and community-building. As general manager of Boston’s Dance Umbrella and later First Night, she developed both a passion for cross-cultural collaborations and an awareness of the complexities inherent in cross-cultural relationships. She has worked in public and private schools as a classroom teacher, board member, and parent. A graduate of theWinsor School in Boston, she holds a BA from Kenyon College and an MBA from Simmons College. Now a Cambridge-based racial justice educator and writer, Debby supports other white people grappling with the impact whiteness can have on perception, problem solving, and engaging in racial justice work.

(Disclaimer:  The author and publisher provided me with a print copy of "Waking Up White" via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

BOOK REVIEW: A Biscuit, a Casket by Liz Mugavero



The small town of Frog Ledge, Connecticut, has wholeheartedly embraced Kristan “Stan” Connor’s new business – preparing quality organic treats for dogs and cats. On a healthy diet, the animals may live longer…but one local farmer won’t be so lucky. As Halloween approaches, Stan is asked to cater a doggie costume party hosted by the Happy Cow Dairy Farm. Part of a local co-op, Happy Cow specializes in organic dairy products, and farmers Hal and Emmalee Hoffman have started opening up the farm for parties, offering a “haunted” corn maze as an added attraction. When Hal’s lifeless body is found in the maze, the police at first suspect his wife, but Stan soon learns the dairy farmer had plenty of enemies – from bitter family members to shady business associates. If Stan can’t extract a kernel of truth from the labyrinth of lies, she may be the next one to buy the farm…



Gotta love small towns.  Like Frog Ledge, Connecticut, or Dog Walk, Kentucky.  That, and the fact that the townsfolk love their dogs enough to spring for 'gourmet' dog food and treats almost gives me warm fuzzies about the Yankees (people who live in the northern United States, not the baseball team). *LOL*

I love the way Ms. Mugavero weaves in the thoughts and principles of specially prepared pet food and vegetarianism into "A Biscuit, A Casket" without preaching to the readers.  After all, most pet-lovers consider pets as their family.  (Seriously, how many times have you seen bloggers call pets their 'furry babies'?  I've seen it.  Heck, I've done it!)

With 'Casket' in the title, it would seem obvious that someone is going to wind up dead.  When Stan is setting up for a doggy costume party at a farm where there is also a corn maze, someone stumbles across (almost literally) the body of the farm's owner in the corn maze.  Either he has...well, enemy or there was a severe penalty for taking a wrong turn.  And Hal was no saint, so there is no dearth of suspects.  Just as the wife is being taken down to HQ for 'questions', the couple's eldest son, Tyler, confesses.

This is a cozy mystery.  Stan (Kristan) gets cozy with Jake.  Widow Hoffman gets cozy with Ted - one of the farm's co-op partners, and even Stan's mother, Patricia, seems awfully cozy with a local mayoral candidate, Tony Falco.

Mugavero does an excellent job of weaving the varied lives of a large cast of small-town characters together to create a coherent and thrilling mystery with a heart.



Liz Mugavero has been writing stories since she could hold a pen. Before that, she would tell them to anyone who would listen (not many at the time). After deciding early on she would write books for a living, she practiced by writing bad, angst-filled poems, short stories and even a storyline for a soap opera–all by age 15. She never wavered from her goals despite all the usual questions including, “So are you going to be an English teacher with that degree in English?” or, “That writing thing sounds nice, but how are you REALLY going to make a living?”

She went on to get a master’s in writing and publishing and spent time in journalism, PR, and presently, corporate communications. And she’s confident this writing thing IS the way to make a living.

Aside from writing, she loves animals (has a houseful), the beach, reading other writers’ masterpieces and Starbucks coffee.


(Disclaimer:  I received a print copy of "A Biscuit, a Casket" from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Death in Perspective by Larissa Reinhart



In Cherry Tucker’s fourth mystery, the curtain rises on Cherry’s debut as a high school set designer at the posh, private Peerless Day Academy. Cherry’s been hired to design scenery for an avant garde adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but the theater teacher’s hoping Cherry can also turn the spotlight on a malicious bully who’s sending poisonous texts to the faculty. The director’s got his own drama to hide, and the phantom texter seems eager to spill school secrets. When a school secretary’s death is ruled a suicide, Cherry suspects foul play. The phantom bully may be using blackmail to rid the school of unwanted staff, urging a Montague-Capulet styled showdown.

With Deputy Luke Harper wanting to return as Cherry’s leading man, he’s eager to assist her efforts in fingering the phantom culprit, but Cherry fears family secrets may doom them to the role of star-crossed lovers. Offstage, Cherry’s searching for her missing brother who’s fixed on a vendetta against Luke’s stepfamily, so she instead turns to the local, foreign racketeer, Max Avtaikin, for assistance. With the bully waiting for a murderous encore and her own family skeletons to hide, Cherry scrambles to find her brother and the mysterious texter before the phantom decides its curtains for Cherry and forces her to take a final bow.



After reading quite a few mysteries that parts of series, I have determined a few things:
1.  I prefer reading them in series order.
2.  Once I read one, if I liked it, I have to read them all.

That being said, here are the things that I didn't like:
1.  This is book four, and this author is new to me.
2.  Instead of decreasing my TBR list by one, I have now added to it by 3, count 'em THREE books (Portrait of a Dead Guy, Still Life in Brunswick Stew, Hijack in Abstract - the first three books in the Cherry Tucker Mysteries, all by Larissa Reinhart).

I know, I know, if those are my biggest problems, I'm a lucky lady!

What can I say, Cherry won me over from the get go.  Being southern, sassy and small in stature, she reminds me a lot of what my husband's paternal grandmother must have been like as a younger woman...although I never heard "bless her heart" come out of Mamaw's lips even once.

I would probably have the same attitude as Cherry going into a private school about a creative job, as I slogged through twelve years in various public educational institutions.  And I was highly entertained by the instances in "Death in Perspective" that showed that the 'well-to-do' and 'social elite' are just as human as everyone else.

The parallels between Peerless Academy's production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and the in-the-book 'real life' feud between the Bransons and the Ballards show a level of thought at care from the author that is not present in a lot of books.  I have to say this book and its author impressed me ... a lot!



After teaching in the US and Japan, Larissa enjoys writing, particularly sassy female characters with a penchant for trouble. She lives near Atlanta with her family and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit. Visit her website or find her chatting on Facebook. Death in Perspective is the fourth book in the best selling Cherry Tucker Mystery series. The first, Portrait of a Dead Guy, is a Daphne du Maurier finalist, Emily finalist, and Dixie Kane Memorial winner.