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Happy readers make happy writers
Full review from SmartGirlsRead:
Mally Biddle is a young girl living on a farm with her widowed mother. She spends most of her days chasing her goats and trying to convince them to come home. It isn’t an especially exciting life, but she is happy. Well, happy if you don’t count the bullying, thieving knights that come to collect “taxes” and threaten the people of her village. Since the King of Lenzar was murdered many years before, the new king has allowed the knights to rule the country with cruelty and fear. Mally feels powerless until she joins a band of rebels. Their mission is to find out if the King’s infant daughter really did die of a fever all those years ago, depriving the kingdom of it’s rightful heir. To do so, Mally is hired at the castle as a servant where she can learn more of the circumstances surrounding the princess’s death.
This was a delightful book filled with excitement and more than a little espionage. Mally is a bright, strong character that is far from happy playing the delicate victim. She speaks up for herself and stands up for what is right, she doesn’t hide her talents, but uses them to help those around her and she is loyal and protective of her friends and family. While I admit it was a bit predictable, it was still a fun read. This would be a fantastic book for a young girl and I think boys would enjoy the adventure in it as well. I especially appreciate that it is a book I could recommend to a ten- or twelve-year-old and not worry about inappropriate content. It is a very sweet book and very well written. I really think you will enjoy it.
Also, Happy Fall, everyone.
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Magic Mirror Presents: Mushrooms // The Tale of Mally Biddle
A reviewer once said, “I didn’t get the mushrooms” … or something like that. My reaction was, “you must not like mushrooms.”
Some things just go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Beauty and the Beast and garden roses. Mally Biddle and mushrooms. But perhaps I need to explain why I felt such a strong need to include the colorful fungus into my book.
People like to say “write what you know”, which has always irritated me. Are you saying write what I know? Well then I guess I can’t talk about sword fighting or hitchhiking or nearly getting killed by axe-swinging bandits. Cool. Got it.
Forgive me, I’m taking the helpful writing advise too literally and I know it. It isn’t required to have experienced everything that you write. I doubt I’d still be alive if I did, much like the rest of you. But it does help. When you have immersed yourself in something, the writing flows more quickly. You even may not realize it’s effecting you. There have been so many times when I’ve written some little thing into the story and only after the fact realized where it had come from, and usually from my own backyard of life.
But back to the mushrooms.
When I was working on Biddle, my family (brother and father mostly) became exceedingly excited about mushroom foraging. They bought books and talked about their research findings over dinner. It was infectious and for a young twenty something who’d only consumed the plastic sealed mushrooms in grocery stores, to see full color pictures of all these amazing varieties — different shapes, different colors, different flavors — well, I couldn’t help but long to try them, too.
Before I knew it, mushrooms had flooded my story. My main character became what my father most greatly desired, a mushroom hunter. She collected all sorts of delightful little toadstools: black bonnets, fairy caps, hunter’s horn (my version of horn of plenty), flat-footed ogre, all of my own invention. But I also included ones that are real: Death Angel, the blusher (turns pink when bruised), and old man of the woods. The mushroom that’s the most important in the book is the one called amanita, which I did a little fiddling with. Amanita is actually a genus with some 600 mushrooms, including some of the most toxic. Death Angel is one of them, but I so liked the word amanita that I made it its own little poisonous mushroom.
Other than having a good time coming up with mushrooms, they were important to the flow of the story. Mushrooms causes Mally to meet Ivan, the aristocrat that sneaks her into the castle. Mushrooms gets her in good graces with the cook, which leads to the highly important sleep tea.
So there. I’ve said my peace. Mushrooms are in the book because mushrooms were a part of my life during its creation. Not to mention I downright love them.
Excerpt from the book: Chapter 21
“Look what I have, Archie, old boy!” Lita exclaimed, swinging a small basket onto the table with a flourish. “Fairy caps! A bloke was selling them at the market. Who says I can’t find fairy caps now, eh?”
Archie seemed so stunned that he was momentarily speechless, whether due to the mushrooms or Lita’s sudden exuberant appearance, Mally couldn’t decide. Relishing her triumph, Lita picked up one of the white mushrooms in her basket and lifted it to her mouth.
That was when Mally had her first good look at it. The teacup went flying through the air to smash into pieces as she leapt from her chair and slapped the mushroom out of Lita’s hand. It fell to the floor and rolled.
“Mally!” Lita yelled angrily. “What was that for?”
“Those aren’t fairy caps,” said Mally, pointing at the mushroom that had come to rest beside one of the table legs. “That’s an amanita.”
‘Look upon this wretch, all of you! Look upon her and thank God for his love and his mercy. Thank God that he has sent me to rid the world of such filth as this.’
1647 and England is in the grip of civil war. In the ensuing chaos, fear and suspicion are rife and anyone on the fringes of society can find themselves under suspicion. Matthew Hopkins, self-styled Witchfinder General, scours the countryside, seeking out those he believes to be in league with the Devil. In the small village of Coggeshall, 17–year-old Alice Pendle finds herself at the center of gossip and speculation. Will she survive when the Witchfinder himself is summoned? A tale of persecution, superstition, religious fundamentalism, hate and love, ‘The Black Hours’ mixes fact with fiction in a gripping fast-paced drama that follows the story of Alice as she is thrown into a world of fear and confusion, and of Matthew, a man driven by his beliefs to commit dreadful acts in the name of religion.
My Rank: 4 cups of coffee
Good golly. Talk about intense. I had never heard of Matthew Hopkins until reading Williams’ The Black Hours. Learning that he was in fact an actual human being was almost more than I could stand. (I was having a hard enough time when I thought he was fictional.)
But if you’re fascinated by history — especially Witch Trials — you will find this to be a trip back in time. It’s clear that Williams took great care in her research. The characters are vivid (I liked that both the persecuted and persecutor told their views — made it all the more horrifying), and the writing is smooth. If you’re looking for a Halloween read, check it out. You’ll certainly get chills.
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This book was the 2012 Best Literary Fiction award winner from Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. (BAIPA)
The Emma Caites Way
Empty-nester, Fiona Hedge, finds a strange and evocative painting while rummaging in a thrift store. Later she discovers that it connects her to Emma Caites, an obscure, long-dead artist whose mysterious life compels her. In her quest to unravel Emma’s story, Fiona is forced to shake free of her own circumscribed life to explore new definitions of success, as she learns to live fully.
“She did it with her head held high.”
“I am awestruck. I can’t fully grasp the enormity of your task and I marvel at the thoughtful sensitivity you bring to the undertaking.”
These are two quotes from this novel and I can’t think of a better way to pay homage to A V Walters and her knack for storytelling. I became absorbed and mesmerized by the story and the characters. My only disappointment was not being able to see and taste personally what the author described so eloquently.
I wanted to sit at the table with the characters, I wanted to see the visions described within the pages. This is a must read if you enjoy the interweaving of how one persons’ life can impact so many others; and the triumph of living life despite whatever hard knocks may be thrown in your path. An amazing tale of lives crossing paths, a must read.
Fiona Hedge is a woman of a ‘certain’ age who is on her own, reasonably content but living a life that falls something short of real fulfillment. The chance discovery of a landscape, painted from the perspective of her rented home, launches her onto a quest to discover the story behind the artist, Emma Caites. This sets in motion a series of events that transform Emma’s rather uninspired day-to-day existence into a voyage of discovery. Along the way we meet a memorable cast of characters, each of whom widens Fiona’s world. This book evoked a bit of Alexander McCall Smith – one of my favorite writers. There is real warmth and just plain unassuming genuine goodness to Fiona and her new friends. OK, ‘chick lit’ is not really my genre, but this is a good story filled with characters that you’d like to meet. There’s a bit of Fiona in all of us who have reached some kind of maturity. Quickly, we’re cheering her on, hoping she can still grow, change, learn and expand outside her somewhat stodgy, fussy but endearing little eccentricities. I’d like to see a sequel where Fiona takes her natural curiosity and caring nature into new adventures – maybe even romance? Fiona (and Emma) show us that life is about our connectedness to others. In the words of Tolstoy, “The only real happiness is shared.” Highly recommended.
This is a simply fabulous novel filled with characters who will stay with me for many many years. WOW – what a story this author has created and the telling of it is masterful. I loved the book – one of those that I hated for it to end but could not put it down!
As I was reading, I laughed out loud, smiled often, teared up and actually shed tears a couple of times. The story resonated with me on so many levels (and it will for most people) … including the parent / child relationship aspect, the non-stereotypical fitting in to the “norm”, flying under the radar yet achieving great things, personal growth, love and friendship, completeness in one’s life, and so much more … Right down to the flea markets / “vintage” shops … OMG did I mention that I love the book and can still “picture the characters”?
This one is a must read!
Arthur Bradley rang the bell, fidgeting nervously at the door. His lanky frame tilted, weighed down on one side by his briefcase. He hadn’t called in advance—not knowing what he could have said on the phone. There was no answer. Anxiously, he pressed the button again. He set the briefcase down, clasped his hands together, and waited.
Finally, Fiona swung the door open, eyes widening when she saw who it was. “Why, Mister Bradley… what a surprise.” Clearly it was. Fiona was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans with her hair piled high on her head, wrapped in a towel.
Despite teaching for over forty years at a women’s college, Arthur Bradley had never become accustomed to the rituals of female grooming. He couldn’t imagine why a grown woman would be towel-turbaned in the middle of the afternoon. He blushed.
“Come on in,” she invited. “I’ll be just a minute.”
He followed her in and stood awkwardly for a moment in the living room while she ran upstairs. Realizing he’d left his briefcase on the porch, he stepped out to retrieve it, and as he bent over to pick it up, the door swung shut behind him. His fear was confirmed when he reached down to turn the knob. Locked. He couldn’t bear the idea of ringing the bell and stood, briefcase in hand, trying to decide whether to simply wait or flee.
He was still debating his next move when the door opened, and a confused Fiona peeked out. Her hair was damp, but combed neatly, she’d donned a cotton pullover.
“Well there you are.”
Arthur Bradley blushed again. This time it was clear that she’d noticed, making him blush even more.
“Well, I guess you’d best come in, again. Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“No, of course not. I was just going to make myself a pot.” She retreated to the kitchen to put on water. He followed her as far as the dining room, and seeing the table and chairs, set himself down for the duration. While she busied herself with the tea, he reached down into the briefcase and pulled out more than a few stacks of paper and a file folder, which he arranged neatly in front of him. All told, it added up to almost three reams of paper, separated into tidy piles.
Fiona brought the tea service in on a tray. Seeing the state of the table she retreated to the kitchen, and returned carrying only the two cups.
“Would you like sugar or cream?”
“No, thank you, black is fine.”
She placed a cup in front of Arthur and held hers as she sat down across from him at the paper-covered table.
Art Bradley, apparently satisfied with his organization, sat straight as he addressed Fiona, “I want you to know how impressed I am with this. It is a monumental effort.”
“What is it?”
Bradley had thought that self-evident, but replied, “Why, it’s the manuscript.”
“My manuscript? Surely it’s not this big. I’ve never actually seen it printed.”
“This is it. It’s in the edit format and I made the print a little bigger. I’ve also separated it into functional segments, corresponding loosely with decades. And thank you for getting it to me in advance of the deadline. Almost no one does that. This stack here,” he patted the largest stack of paper, “These are the footnotes.”
Fiona looked on.
“It’s very impressive. I certainly never expected this level of scholarship, or involvement.”
“Thank you. I had a lot of help.”
They sat quietly for a moment, surveying the array of paper on the dining room table.
Fiona sensed some discomfort from Arthur and broke the silence. “Is it too long?”
“Well… not exactly. It’s academic.”
“Yes. I thought that was, in part, the objective. It is, after all, an academic press.”
Bradley laid his hand again on the footnotes. “I must say again, I am particularly impressed with this.”
“Thank you…” Now, it was Fiona who was uncomfortable.
He picked up the footnotes, and flipped through them. “You, see, the heart of it is in here.”
“Is that good?”
“Of course. You truly captured it. Not an easy feat for any scholastic endeavor. With the accompanying exhibit materials, this is an exhaustive and sensitive approach to the art and times of Emma Caites.” He smiled.
“Thank you.” It was clear now that Arthur Bradley had something to say, but was avoiding saying it.
“If this were the Master’s or Doctoral thesis by any Mills student, I would be proud to publish it. Honored.”
Fiona couldn’t sit quietly any longer, “Mister Bradley, is there a problem with the manuscript?”
“Yes, you said that already.”
He paused nervously, “Normally, that would be precisely what I’d be looking for.”
Fiona leaned forward, as if that could get her closer to his meaning. “But not in this case?”
“Exactly. Thank you.” Bradley relaxed a little now that Fiona seemed to understand. With his hand still on the footnotes pages, he sipped his tea.
“Mister Bradley, what exactly is it you want me to do?”
The question seemed to surprise him. “Why, fix it, of course.”
“And what do you think is wrong with it?”
“It’s academic.” He saw Fiona’s eyes narrow as he searched for the words, “It could be more. It’s… inside-out.”
“The story is here,” he patted the footnotes stack again. Then he waived his hand dismissively at the rest, “These should be the footnotes.” Fiona hung in the silence. Arthur Bradley began to wonder if he’d offended her.
“Are you asking me to re-write it?”
“The whole book?”
He glanced over at her and noted her color draining away. “Well it’s really a reworking that’s needed. You’ve buried the story in the dates and influences. The footnotes, though, are lovely. They really sing. You’ve really got the story there.”
“Mister Bradley, there’s only…”
“Arthur, please. Call me Arthur.” He smiled warmly.
“There’s no time. There’s just over a month to the exhibit. It’s still got to be edited and printed.”
“There’s plenty of time to do it right. There always is.”
“Mister…” She caught his glance, “Arthur, I’ve just spent three months writing it. How do you expect me to re-write it in three weeks?”
“Fiona, it’ll be fine. But it has to be the best you can give. This just isn’t that.” She looked despondent. He’d thought there for a bit that she understood. He continued “Your research is done and the bones are good. You just need to turn it right-side-out.” She was near tears. Arthur Bradley had never been good with emotional women.
“What is it, exactly, that you mean by that? I don’t understand.” Shaking her head, she challenged, “Inside-out, right-side-out, speak English. What the hell do you mean?”
Bradley was flummoxed. “You know Emma well. Maybe too well. Sometimes you tell the story of Oakland, or the times, but forget Emma.”
“It’s all there.” Fiona was defensive, “I think I tell it all. Show me what you mean.”
Bradley hadn’t come to pin her to the wall. He was sorry that it was going so badly. He reached out, grabbed one of the stacks, and opened it randomly. He scanned the page, on which the text discussed the dynamics of Depression era art employment, particularly during the 1937 double dip period. At the end of the passage there was a footnote. Arthur Bradley handed her the page. “Read this section.”
Fiona complied. She looked up, “So?”
“What’s the footnote number?
Fiona scanned the text again, “137.”
Arthur Bradley hoisted the hefty footnote section and flipped through its pages. He found 137, and handed it to Fiona. “Okay, read the footnote.”
She skimmed through the reference. It explained Emma’s reticence to exhibit, and apply for WPA jobs, quoting letters to Wren in which Emma lamented the plight of her fellow artists. Bradley saw her soften. She looked up and met his eyes.
“Which one of those passages tells you more about Emma?”
Her shoulders slumped. She sighed.
“It’s like that throughout. Academic. And yet the footnotes tell a wonderful story.”
Fiona flipped randomly to another page of the text and tracked it through to a footnote. She shook her head. Arthur Bradley sat quietly and watched her work the process through several times.
Wilted, she looked up, “Okay. Inside-out.”
“It’s okay, Fiona. Like I said, the work is done, just flip it.”
She looked sapped. “How am I supposed to do all this?”
“You’ve already done it. Start with the footnotes, let them lead you. Much of what is your current text will become your footnote material.” Arthur went on to discuss the plans for the exhibit, how each section would emphasize a phase in Emma’s life, but that some threads would carry through, show her styles changing and growing. His excitement was infectious. Fiona sat nodding, understanding the exhibit’s visual approach.
“For the exhibit, the paintings and some of the other items are the story. Emma’s biography is the footnote. You can flip that, too—use particular paintings to illustrate events or trends in her life. You’ve already written it, Fiona, if you just look at what you’ve done. This is more of a reshuffling to make it less…” He couldn’t find the word.
“Academic. Yeah, I get it.” She continued rifling through the pages, “Can I keep these?”
“Sure. Of course you have all this on your computer.”
“Yeah, but holding it, moving it around helps.”
He nodded. “Me, too.”
“Arthur, how do you know I can do this?”
He sat a moment, thinking, then reached across to the file folder on the table. He opened it up and removed another, smaller stack of papers. Fiona glanced over at the emails she’d written from Paris. He held them out to her. “Because, I’ve read these.”
Where to Purchase
Book to Picture is my project where I match an image to a scene in one of my books. I’m very excited to showcase the artist or photographer’s work as well as share some of my writing. I always link to the artist’s website or prominent social media page so you can discover more of their stunning work, so go give them some love.
Image Credit: Rod Stroh
Featuring books that have caught my eye — welcome to Books On Parade! If you are an author and would like your novel featured in Books On Parade, click here to find out how.
I, Humpty is a collection of mock-tabloid satire marrying the reality of everyday life with popular elements from fairytales, folklore, and nursery rhymes. Rejoice with the Beast as Belle grants him permission to convert the den into a man-cave. Learn why the third little pig grows weary of his live-in brothers. Follow the courtroom drama of Rumpelstiltskin’s indictment in the Straw-To-Gold Scandal. I, Humpty covers all of these stories and more.
“I, Humpty is a smart, laugh-out-loud spin on fairy tales in a modern setting. Not since ‘Politically Correct Bedtime Stories’ have I enjoyed fairytale satire so much. Definitely a collection I’ll be recommending and sharing with friends.”
-Jess E. Owen, author of the Summer King Chronicles
“The best collection of twisted fables around…”
-Ned Hickson, syndicated humor columnist at Siuslaw News
“Creative and quirky, Wilder presents an alternate universe that reminds us fairy tales never needed happy endings. His laugh-out-loud versions of the beloved stories we grew up on are irreverent in the best sense of the word and leave me pleading for a sequel.”
-Robin L. Flanigan, journalist
Neverland a Refuge for Former Teen Idols
NEVERLAND–A recent study of census data has revealed a large population of former teen idols living among the Lost Boys of Neverland. Many of those residing in the community were formerly employed as boy band members, child actors, or product poster children. They have all followed the second star to the right with the same happy thought: to never have to endure the fate of growing pains.
Cultural nostalgia permeates the fabric of the Lost Boy community. A who’s who of Tiger Beat cover alumni move about their day to a synchronized step. All culinary concoctions are personally taste-tested by a boy named Mikey before they are served to the general populace. The dialect is comprised of old slang and out-of-date catchphrases. “What you talkin’ ’bout, Hook?” has even replaced the old battle cry of a rooster crow.
“Whether working in show business or battling the pirates of Neverland, there’s one thing that concerns us all. Getting the hook!” said longtime lad, and rumored founding member of Menudo, Peter Pan. “Neverland is a place that keeps us all young and our appeal fresh. Since I never completed high school, I’m not sure how it works. It could be something in the water we drink, the air we breathe, or the pixie dust we ingest. I guess you could say Neverland’s got the right stuff.”
Where to Purchase
A moving, surprisingly humorous, sometimes snarky novel about life, friendship… and cancer
Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.
My Rank: 4 cups of coffee
With a horrific past that left her bitter, closed off, and emotionally crippled, it is with the startling diagnosis of cancer that Lara truly begins to heal.
I found the first half rather slow and slightly difficult to remain engaged with, but that’s most likely due to Lara’s prickly personality. Truth be told, she was supposed to be prickly and I believe I was supposed to slowly grow to love her, which I did. By the second half, Lara’s icy exterior began to thaw as she opened up to the love around her and it became a much more pleasant reading experience. In the final scenes, I felt that I was there beside her, holding her hand, wanting to help her climb above all the pain. I give Hein tremendous kudos for a fantastic job at transforming her main character from a hide-in-your-shell turtle to a live and laugh and love butterfly.
Though I enjoyed it and recommend it, there were a few times when I was pulled out of the story, most commonly when Lara repeatedly said oh my god. It got a bit old and it wasn’t necessary.
Overall, a well written novel about friendship, love, courage, and cancer.
Ellery Cancer Center protruded from the hospital’s facade like a glass tumor.
“May I sit with you?” I expected the woman’s voice to be as smooth as her grey silk blouse, but it sounded as scratchy as wool against bare skin.
I turned toward the wall and reopened my book. My book friends would protect me from the room full of bewildered people clutching their itineraries like shields against bad news.
I pulled myself up on the exam table and lay back. By the time my head hit the surface, my mind had disengaged from my body. I didn’t feel the thin paper gown slipping down my thighs or the nurse positioning my feet in the stirrups. I had escaped with my book friends. While Dr. Lander dictated copious notes into a handheld recorder, I wandered through Narnia eating Turkish delight with Edmund Pevensie and the White Witch.
I am alive.
Still, no amount of decorating could mask the oppressive thump of the lead door that signaled that this was yet another place where my body would be subjected to forces the rest of humanity needed to be shielded from.
Did you know that people thought the directions were nothing more than a children’s poem? Hair of the unicorn, talon from a roc, Springs of Mirg, moonflower, elfin moss. Stir together what you seek. Listen. Listen. The vessel speaks. Idiotic, isn’t it? But after a few potioneers realized the original writing came from a reclusive who was known for her unnaturally skillful brews, they began to think otherwise.
– Mr. Edward P. Owl, Chapter 25
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