Tuesday, November 19, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Ron Roecker @enfluencer


Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Ron Roecker, author of Why Ball Wouldn't Bounce.
FQ: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Your background, your interests, and how this led to writing a book?
ROECKER: I have a birthmark on my neck that looks a little like a hickey. I've been teased and self-conscious about it my entire life. One day in kindergarten I experienced the perfect storm: I was teased about my birthmark, Scott Sherman brought a snake to class and I had absolutely nothing to dazzle everyone with during show and tell. So when it was my turn to show or tell, I told my class that the birthmark that everyone made fun of was actually a skin graph from when I saved a cat from a burning building on the way to school one generic Tuesday. I went home with a note from Mrs. Dodd, my canary-haired teacher, who let my mom know that I had an inspired imagination and a scary competitiveness. I took both as huge compliments. So that's where my storytelling really begin. I could create a context around anything -- usually things I didn't quite understand -- and I had a penchant for writing verse. My mother also was an English major so I was taught the power and importance of words early on in life. I graduated with a degree in Journalism and Business Communications from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas so all roads have led to me finally publishing my first book.
FQ: Tell us a little about your book – a brief synopsis and what makes your book unique.
ROECKER: Why Ball Wouldn't Bounce is a story about Ball who desperately wants to fit in with the popular balls but feels totally alone because he doesn’t bounce like the rest of them. It doesn’t matter how hard he tries to change, he still gets laughed at or ignored. Deflated, Ball rolls far away to hide his bounce and his tears. Eventually he meets the unlikeliest of new best friends who gives him a birds-eye view of what it really means to be unique. Because of their differences, the two friends learn valuable lessons about each other and themselves. Will Ball stay broken hearted and hide who he really is forever, or will he embrace how important and joyful it can be to bounce his own bounce proudly?
Ball, which has earned five out of five stars from LitPick Reviews, GoodReads, Amazon Books, Kindle and Facebook Reviews, is the first book in a series titled "Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other" which is all based on idioms and adages.
Yes it's a "children's book" but I wrote it to have many layers so it didn't matter if you were 4 years old or 40, you still will get something meaningful out of It. It’s a story for anyone who has ever felt different, alone or that they just couldn’t or shouldn’t bounce their own way proudly!
The 2nd book I published is not part of the series but is a modern holiday story for the entire family. "Why Christmas is Cancelled: Santa Spells it Out" is a real on the nose look at how technology has affected the way we communicate and interact. With everyone always looking down at our devices, what kind of magic are we missing every day? Santa is hip to it all and when he gets no letters all year from anyone, he decides we all need a wake up call and cancels Christmas. He spells it all out in a familiar verse through a global group text, not so ironically. It's a really fun, eye-opening reminder that technology disconnects us and that we don't need to download an app to experience the true meaning of Christmas.
FQ: What was the impetus for writing your book?
ROECKER: It took 15 years because I didn't want to publish a throw-away, cookie cutter children's book. There certainly are plenty of those. I wanted it to say something that the world needed to hear and I wanted it to mean something. With today's environment of total judgment and exploiting differences while ignoring similarities, people -- especially kids -- need to understand how important it is to embrace their uniqueness and celebrate it while finding similarities that connect us instead of using differences to stay divided.
FQ: What was the hardest part of writing your book? That first chapter, the last paragraph, or …?
ROECKER: As an artist and a writer, I know when something isn't quite right or isn't finished. There's something in me that keeps me going back to it. So by the time I've finished something, I at least know it's exactly as it should be. The hardest part is figuring out if it's going to resonate with anyone else! But that is why this process has been so magical because the feedback has been extraordinary. When you get a call from someone you don't know to tell you that she and her daughter have been reading your book for two days because the little girl thinks the book was written for her...I mean, that's so amazing and humbling.
FQ: The genre of your book is Children's Fiction. Why this genre?
ROECKER: Children's Fiction has a formula to it and once you figure it out you can churn and burn titles out like a factory. I don't want to do that. I want my books to have depth and I want them to make people think. I want them to be stories that reflect what children of all ages are experiencing. I want to make life a little easier and happier, I've always been an old soul and hated it when people talked to me like a kid. It was really patronizing even at six or seven years old. So I want to make sure I'm being respectful of those old souls and relevant to them.
FQ: Which do you find easier, starting a story, or writing the conclusion?
ROECKER: If I'm inspired by creating something, starting the story is easy and the conclusion writes itself. I want it to be an interesting, surprising journey from beginning to end. It is the middle that is most challenging because it really has to say a lot in order for it to connect the beginning and end in an authentic, believable way.
FQ: As an author/writer, what famous author (living or dead), would you like to have dinner with, and why?
ROECKER: One of my idols is Oscar Wilde because he is so amusingly clever and surprising. "Life is too important to be taken seriously" was the first motto that I knew was written especially for me! It's poignant and clever and really deep. Whoever can come up with something such as "Everything in moderation, including moderation" has to be the ultimate dinner date!
FQ: Is this the first book in your series, the second, etc. in the series and how many books do you anticipate writing in this series?
ROECKER: Why Ball Wouldn't Bounce is the first book in the series of six books titled, "Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other." All the books are based on idioms and adages because I never understood why people used them. I thought there had to be a better way to say what they were trying to say. The books don't try to explain the idioms/adages. They just utilize them as a premise to bring to life colorful characters who are dealing with relevant experiences, situations and challenges. The 2nd book is called "Give an Inch a Foot."
FQ: Where did the idea for your story come from?
ROECKER: That's Just the Way the Ball Bounces was always such a weird thing people would see. My retort was always, "What if the ball didn't bounce?" So I guess the idea for my book came out of my own impertinence!
FQ: Did your family & friends encourage you to write your book?
ROECKER: They liked my writing but I don't think they ever thought I would actually publish anything. I didn't publish my first book until I was 49 years old. People were shocked that I could just do something that I'd never done before and I got a lot of questions as to how I did it. My answer? I just did it.

Monday, November 11, 2019

#BookReview - Payback: A Frank Renzi Crime Thriller

Payback: A Frank Renzi Crime Thriller, Book 9
By: Susan Fleet
Publisher: Music and Mayhem Press
Publication Date: October 2019
ISBN: 978-1-7321301-1-1
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: November 2019
Susan Fleet doesn’t disappoint in her latest installment of her Frank Renzi crime thriller series, Payback.
Convict Brian Devlin is down to hours before he is released from FCI Ray Brook, a medium security federal prison in upstate New York. Devlin is native to South Boston and he can’t wait to get back to life outside of prison. He can hardly contain himself when he thinks about the imminent reunion with his gal, Sunny. However, Frank Renzi is the one piece of unfinished business Devlin needs to take care of as soon as possible once FCI was in his rear-view mirror. Devlin has had lots of time to plan his revenge scheme while in the can and he is anxious to set it in motion. One minor detail that could present a challenge to his plan is the fact that the State thought it would be wise to fit him with the latest ankle bracelet model to make sure Devlin walks the straight and narrow and above all else, stays on the right side of the law. 
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Detective Frank Renzi is living a decent life. After getting the likes of Brian Devlin off the streets of Boston, followed by a nasty divorce and empty nest, all signs pointed toward the necessity of a change of scenery. Just when Frank thinks life is on the upswing, he catches a case that sets his life into overdrive once again. A ten-year-old boy minding his own business and doing his homework in his bedroom catches a stray bullet by a gang drive-by shooting. New Orleans is in the news again and tempers are flaring. Frank needs to button this case up sooner rather than later. What he doesn’t know is that while all his attention is being poured into this new case, Brian Devlin is perfecting his plans to derail Frank Renzi’s ‘happily ever after.’
Susan Fleet is a master with her Frank Renzi series. The book is set up with chapter upon chapter of mystery and intrigue that keeps her audience engaged in a page-turning frenzy to keep up with the twists and turns between New Orleans and Boston. She has that ‘Sam Spade’ gumshoe cheeky dialogue that is her signature style and it works! The scenes are set up with terrific balance and iconic descriptions of the scenery native to the area. She follows up great scenes with credible dialogue amongst the characters. And speaking of characters, Fleet nails believability with each fictional character introduced as the story evolves. I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few other titles by Ms. Fleet and I must say, Payback is yet another book she’s hit out of the park. Well done!
Quill says: Payback is the perfect title for a story that truly takes the premise of "Payback" to a heightened level and then some.
For more information on Payback: A Frank Renzi Crime Thriller, please visit the author's website at: http://susanfleet.com

Thursday, November 7, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Mushtaq Jaafri

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Mushtaq Jaafri, author of How to Maintain the Presence of God in this Hectic World: How I Remain in the Presence of God Daily?.
FQ: How did you organize your time and energy to compose this book, given what must be a very busy life of work and spiritual dedication?
JAAFRI: I believe that you are referring to what I mention on page 41 of this book. This book came from my ‘inner-knowledge’ –and not from me. But perhaps, the most significant benefit of the practice of the presence of God came about by the discovery and the revelation of the practice of the way to stalking the Spirit.
Let me explain! If I had only one day left on earth to live how would I spend it? Perhaps it is a silly question, but for me it’s worth spending time thinking about it. I reasoned that since I don’t know the exact moment I am going to die, so I can forgive myself and pray and focus on the presence of God and say: “Lord, I did the best I could.
I want to make peace with everyone. Why? Because everyone lives inside me! Suddenly, I was starting to see how precious is and the time I already have? This helped me organize my time and energy to compose this book in my busy life.
FQ: You use examples from the Bible to illustrate certain points; are any of your own spiritual views reflection in religion other than Christianity?
JAAFRI: Barbara, this is an excellent question and does go right back into the core component to what hinders the spiritual paths of most people who are seeking a direct way to the practice the presence of God anytime, anywhere, day and night 24/7. talking and conversing with God isn’t something new.
For example, Abraham talked to God when he was commanded to sacrifice his only son to show his love and devotion only of God. Moses talked to God when he was ordered to free the slaves from Egypt. Noha talked and have conversation with God and he was commanded to build a boat large enough to carry a pair of humans and animals in the sea. God gives us the time and energy to do His will.
This book is a testament to the true meaning of our existence, our being, and our Relationship with our creator. It’s a proof that God speaks to us and we speak to him. A relationship with God is the only way to peace and salvation in a world that can sometimes be overwhelming. Time and energy to do will just seem to come.
The funny thing is that you do not need any special skills, talents and knowledge to talk and have a heart-to-hear conversation with God. I’m a living proof of the validity of talking with God 24/7, anytime, day and night anywhere. Try it. You will be pleasantly surprised to know how easy it is and it does work for all.
FQ: Do you identify with any particular personage ties to in the Bible?
JAAFRI: Barbara, I believe what you re referring to is about what I mention in Chapter One, page 2 about my identity with any particular personage in the Bible. But, before I answer your question please let me share this with you.
When I was trying to compose this book, I did a Google-search for my identity with this particular person in the Bible and to my amazement, I found that this person was also mentioned in all the holy books, Qur’an and in the holy Torah.
An even more amazing thing about this person’s identity in all the holy books of God was that the story of this person was mentioned word-for-word and, was repeated several times and verbatim in all the holy books. Just think of it!
Here’s what I say about my identity with this particular personage in the Bible: It was Adam. Then, suddenly I remembered the Adam, one of God’s prophet and how God blew His Spirit into his body and he became a living human being.
FQ: Have you traveled to or maintained any personal ties to the country of your birth; how that affect your thinking?
JAAFRI: Barbara, I do believe that just now, you are asking me two questions. Here are your two questions as I understand them. Correct me if I’m wrong. First, Have I traveled to or maintained any personal ties to the country of my birth. Second, how that affects my thinking?
Barbara, the answer to your first question is given on page 60 of this book: Here’s what I say: “In August of 2019, I had the opportunity to visit my family in my home land Pakistan. One day I met a very famous artist who showed me his world famous painting about the nature, all things living and the universe and specially about the Soul. I truly enjoyed looking at his outstanding paintings. I was indeed very impressed by work of art.
One of his paintings caught my attention. This artist had painted beautiful flowers, trees and people. Then, this artist told me that when his father saw this painting for the very first time, he said: “Flower buds are nice but be sure not to paint faces because Allah will ask you to put Soul in them.”
Suddenly, I began to ponder on what his father had said to him about Soul. I began to mediate and contemplate on what if God had asked me to help mankind and humanity to become aware of our Souls not, just in theory but, a living reality in human life.
Barbara, to answer your first part of the question: Yes, I do travel to or maintain my own personal ties to the country of my birth. In fact, you may have noticed that I dedicate this new book to the Sialkot City, Pakistan where I was born along with my Mother, Father, Grandparent who I still admire the most.
Now to answer the second part of your question: How that affects my thinking? Barbara, please let me be perfectly honest with you and confess to you that it is indeed a privilege and an honor for me to live in America. To think that someday I will be an author of a book that will share my own permanent relationship with my Creator God—would be no more possible for me than my going to visit the moon. But, it did happen to me.
Barbara, with this in mind please let me confess also that you never ever forget your own roots. I believe that you know what I mean.
I would love to die in my home land country and be buried next to my own MOM’s grave in Sialkot city Pakistan. But, since all my children were in America, this is my home now. But, I think you get the picture.
FQ: Is your book offered as a manual for workshops or gatherings within your spiritual organization?
JAAFRI: Barbara, this is another wonderful question you have asked. I believe that you have already given in details in your book review. Here’s what you write in your book review, and I quote:
‘In his newest book, How to Maintain the Presence of God in This Hectic World, author Mushtaq Jaafri, a Minister in the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), offers a glimpse into his personal contact with God, showing its origins and gradual evolution.
As Dr. Jaafri emphasizes many times, he experiences not merely daily but constant communication with God, talking to Him and consulting with Him “24/7.” He recognizes that he has a physical being, which he has come to regard as something akin to a movie that he watches and performs in, while fixing his mind on the separate, higher reality of God’s presence. He likens this to being able to listen to a sermon while drawing a picture or making a list. He believes that God dwells within him; connecting to Him took practice but by now, it has become “second nature.” In daily life, he splits his mind; one half is involved in worldly activity and the other, in spiritual exercises. Jaafri is careful to distinguish between religion, which entails rituals, and spirituality, which is a free and open expression of God’s continual blessing.'
So, to answer your question, “is my book offered as a manual for workshops or gatherings within my (MSIA) spiritual organization?" Barbara, please understand that what I offer in this book is just a drop in the vast ocean compared to what my organization (MSIA) offers in workshops or gatherings, live at the Church or On-line. Log on: www.msia.org. You’ll see what I mean. The book is more for any who is searching for the truth.
FQ: You state that you experience a constant sense of oneness with God; do you think your unique experience led you to this point, and if so, would someone who did not have those experiences naturally reach the same plateau of understanding and you have? 
JAAFRI: As I fully explain in the INTRODUCTION of this book under the headline that NO SPECIAL SKILLS NEED to have heart-to-heart talk and conversation with God anytime, anywhere, day and night, 24/7.
You don’t need any special talent or any advance degrees from the universities to talk and have conversation with God. Some of the most holy people this world has ever known who constantly commune with God were just average people like you and me. Some were not even educated, intelligent or intellectual in the worldly sense. People can be a cook by profession or a shoemaker for making a living.
God does not care who you are. All that is necessary for anyone is a heart committed to entirely and completely to God out of love and devotion for God above all others, nothing else. That’s all.
Like most of us, I used to believe that you have to be a very holy and spiritual person to ever talk or have conversation with God. Nothing can be more true . Just try to talk to God and see how it works for you. Sinners make the best students.
If it works for you accept it as a reality. If it does not work for you let go. Let me make something perfectly clear that my own experience a constant sense of oneness with God to this point isn’t unique only to me, the experience of oneness with God is for you and me and everyone on the surface of the earth just for the asking.
For 40+ years, I’ve experienced this oneness with God and I became quite well off. Everything I ever desired or wanted just seem to come from nowhere. The most important part of holding the presence of God lay in renouncing, once for all, whatever does not lead to God.It allow you and me and everyone else, to become involved in a continuous conversation with God in a simple manner.
Finally, let me assure you that someone who does not have those experiences naturally reach the same plateau of understand that I have attained—and much more than I. Remind me if I am wrong.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read your work with no previous knowledge of your spiritual philosophy?
JAAFRI: Barbara, you have asked a question that is very dear to my heart. As I mention in the Author’s Notes (page 141), that this book is a reflection on my own forty plus years of spiritual understanding of the subject under discussion.
It isn’t intended to speak for any other modern-day religion or spiritual path. It wasn’t until I joined an organization called the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), and became a student of its teachings that I began to learn that beyond my mind, body and emotion there is the Soul.
Soul transcendence is a journey of traveling into and above the consciousness of Soul—and into oneness with God—where you see things in perspective, attune to Spirit and releases karma.
Soul transcendence is an active process and a positive state-of-being. It lights up a path for you to become established in Soul consciousness and beyond, where you are freed from creating more karma, and can stop the wheel of 84. (This is a direct excerpt from the MSIA. Please log on: www.msia.org.)
FQ: Do you have plan for more writing of a similar nature?
JAAFRI: Barbara, as I repeatedly mention in this book that one of the key things I do is that whenever I want to do some good work, I always ask God for His help. The reason is that whatever I’m writing in my book, is directly from God given to me intuitively, and I make sure that it isn’t from my own intellect(mind) or my intellection (emotions) or my Personal-self the (ego). Over the years during my meditation, contemplation and spiritual exercises, what I have discovered is the three parts of the human psyche—Mind, Ego and True-self. Ego, Mind and Spirit—the Spiritual Trinity. Interestingly enough, what I have found is that the human ego has the same ability to use the Soul ‘energy’ just as readily as the Spirit can use the Soul “energy.”
And, the only difference between the ego and the Soul is that the human ego uses the Soul “energy” for the most technologically advancements on the planet earth; and on the space. And the Spirit uses Soul “energy” for reaching into the Kingdom of Heaven while still in our physical body. Amazingly, both the human ego and the divine Spirit uses our mind as tool or a vehicle to gain the power of the Soul-energy. When humans came into physical embodiment, humans did exercise their choices. Thus, within the concept of free will, human-made choices. Sure, we have advanced enormously technologically, but as a human race we are still doing the same destructive things that were reported in the Bible thousands of years ago.
So, to answer your question (I bet you thought I forgot it), that do I have plans for more writing of a similar nature? My answer is that it is all up to God. Frankly, I thought that my very first book was the last one to write but, this new book is my seventh book of a similar. When I do write my next, I do hope you will be the one to review it, Barbara. May God bless you always—in in ALL ways—‘amen.’
Lastly, let me say this Barbara, it was an honor talking with you. I truly enjoyed our conversation. You have asked some of the most ‘thought-provoking’ questions. Bar None! Peace!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

#BookReview - Christmas on Nantucket

Christmas on Nantucket

By: Leslie Linsley
Publisher: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
Publication Date: October 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4930-4494-8
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: November 5, 2019
Leslie Linsley delivers a lovely compilation of Nantucket’s allure in her latest publication: Christmas on Nantucket.
This is a beautiful compilation of the many charms and draws that Nantucket, Massachusetts has to offer. Methodically laid out, the publication is broken into the many wonders of the Christmas season on this lovely island. It opens with ‘Christmas on Nantucket’ where the author sets the tone with the essence of Christmas: memories. The first page has a wintery scene laid out in all its glory on a page adorned with snowy streets and trees ablaze with holiday lighting. It steps beyond the first scene and showcases a picture of Brant Point Lighthouse, one of three on the island. As the book gains momentum, Ms. Linsley guides the reader on ‘A Christmas Stroll Around Nantucket’ with pictures and epithets that enlighten the reader about the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce’s festival the first week in December and the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Clause by boat only to be transported to a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Nantucket.
Throughout the book, Ms. Linsley infuses subtle nuances of what makes Nantucket special to those who have made it their home year ‘round. The island is bountiful with its historic buildings and homes as much as it is magical with many specialty shops and eateries. It is also quite the artisans haven and many talented artists live on the island as a result. There is a sense of tradition throughout this read ranging from the history of the whaling community it was prior to the turn of the century to the types of wreathes (cranberry) hung on many doors during the season. 
Ms. Linsley has done an admirable job of delivering a well-thought-out assemblance of all things Nantucket. I had the pleasure of spending a summer in Hyannisport years ago and made many a trip that summer across the water to Nantucket. Ms. Linsley has created a beautiful coffee table rendering of the beauty and allure of this magical place. In addition to the imagery, she has done her homework in showcasing the importance the community embraces when it comes to respecting the past not only in the architecture, but the overall ‘vibe’ of the beauty Nantucket has to offer. In summary, this book is a wonderful resource for the novice to pick up and read prior to making his or her ‘first voyage’ to Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Quill says: Christmas on Nantucket is a must add to one’s ‘bucket list’ of not only books to read, but places to go.

#BookReview - Once Upon a Dickens Christmas

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas: 3 Charming Christmas Tales Set in Victorian England

By: Michele Griep
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Publication Date: September 2019
ISBN: 978-1-68322-260-6
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: November 4, 2019
Michele Griep delivers three cozy holiday stories in her latest release: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas.
The book opens with the first story, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor. Set in 1850 Holywell, England, Clara Chapman is the first of a cast of characters who will be invited (summonsed, actually) to participate in the '12 Days' at Bleakly Manor. If she is the chosen one to survive the twelve days of occurrences and happenstance within the confines of Bleakly Manor, after the twelfth night, she will be the victorious recipient of five hundred pounds. Clara’s life hadn’t played out quite the way she envisioned it would. She was the sole caretaker of her infirmed and housebound Aunt Deborah Mitchell. There was a time when Clara thought she would be betrothed to the one and only love of her life, Benjamin Lane. Life hadn’t panned out in a good way for Mr. Lane, either. He too was about to receive a similar invitation to spend his 12 days at Bleakly Manor. However, the stakes for Benjamin lasting the twelve days were far greater than Clara’s. It would seem his current residence was behind bars; nine months to be exact and if he were the sole survivor, not only would he receive the coveted five hundred pounds, but his criminal past would be erased. One by one, the eclectic group of houseguests assemble and once situated, the (ahem) games were set to begin.
In story two, A Tale of Two Hearts, the reader is delivered to the Golden Egg Inn. Mina Scott is a voracious reader and it is amongst the pages of David Copperfield where she escapes to forget about her lowly existence. She is at the beck and call of the Inn’s master, Jasper Scott, and while he’s not necessarily an ogre all the time, most of the time he is just that. Mina’s only solace to hope for a brighter future is when suave and debonair William Barlow graces the Inn’s presence. Painfully shy, it’s everything Mina can manage to wait on the dashing and gracious Mr. Barlow. As the story unfolds, the future has a way of providing more than hope for Mina and her ultimate destiny.
In the third and final tale, The Old Lace Shop, the reader is transported to the home of recently widowed Mrs. White. While most would imagine such a loss would have devastated Mrs. White, to the contrary, it was a blessing in disguise to be relieved of the abusive chains her dearly departed husband had wrapped around her for the entirety of their marriage. She is greeted with a caller, Mr. Percival Barlow, clerk to Mr. Gruber. He assures Mrs. White she will not be destitute and has been left a fair amount of comfort for the rest of her life. However, there is one document Mrs. White must sign and the good clerk will be on his way. When asked the proverbial question of what happens if she opts not to sign, the rest of the story will be an adventure Mrs. White never could have dreamed of.
Michele Griep has done an outstanding job of penning three captivating tales set in 1800s England. The history she has woven in and out of the story lines of all three tales is fantastic and there is ample opportunity for the reader to learn more than a little something of a period in history long gone. The dialogue is relevant, and the scenery is wonderfully descriptive and engaging. While each story is full-bodied and has strength to stand on its own merit, the fact that Ms. Griep paired them in one book is spot on. The flow from the ending of one story and the beginning of the next is seamless. I also want to commend Ms. Griep for not only a beautiful cover selection but the overall assembly of this book. The pages are ragged-edged, with tea-stained pages which pays a bit of homage to the period within which the stories take place. This is the perfect book to cozy down over a weekend and lose one’s self in the many moments of wonderful writing. Well done, Ms. Griep! May I have another?
Quill says: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas is a must-read this holiday season.

#BookReview - How to Maintain the Presence of God in this Hectic World

How to Maintain the Presence of God in this Hectic World: How I Remain in the Presence of God Daily?
By: Mushtaq Jaafri
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication Date: September 2019
ISBN: 978-1982234065
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: November 5, 2019
In his newest book, How to Maintain the Presence of God in This Hectic World, author Mushtaq Jaafri, a Minister in the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), offers a glimpse into his personal contact with God, showing its origins and gradual evolution.
As Dr. Jaafri emphasizes many times, he experiences not merely daily but constant communication with God, talking to Him and consulting with Him “24/7.” He recognizes that he has a physical being, which he has come to regard as something akin to a movie that he watches and performs in, while fixing his mind on the separate, higher reality of God’s presence. He likens this to being able to listen to a sermon while drawing a picture or making a list. He believes that God dwells within him; connecting to Him took practice but by now, it has become “second nature.” In daily life, he splits his mind; one half is involved in worldly activity and the other, in spiritual exercises.
Jaafri is careful to distinguish between religion, which entails rituals, and spirituality, which is a free and open expression of God’s continual blessing. The examples he uses from conventional religious literature are few and mostly draw from Christian themes such as Adam as the first man and first sinner. Jaafri often uses examples from his own life to explain the development of his convictions. He sees himself as having left the heavenly realm to live with a family that he chose: a brilliant father and generous, kindly mother in Pakistan. Their decision to send him for education in the US led to the discoveries he has made of the higher realms of perception, an ascent beyond the physical to astral, causal, mental, etheric and soul consciousness. Contact with MSIA and its founder John-Roger had a profound effect on his understanding, so that, as Jaafri often stresses, for more than forty years he has enjoyed a state of higher awareness. 
Jaafri writes with sincere conviction, using simple examples as needed in his attempt to convey to his readers the ease with which they, like he, may access this special knowledge and contact. He once had a total financial collapse after poor investments, and looking for an understanding of that catastrophe led him to many revelations, and ultimately, to the sense of comfort he has gained in the realization that he can control his thinking and free his soul to the sense of the immediate, constant presence of God. His book expresses his wish to share both this knowledge and certain techniques that would allow others to experience this awareness, “right here right now.”
Quill says: Dr. Jaafri’s insights can serve as an inspirational guide for sincere seekers who are prepared to go a step beyond the usual boundaries of thinking about higher realities to experience inner peace.

#AuthorInterview with Joseph O'Donnell

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Joseph O'Donnell, author of The Tall Tree.
FQ: So many children’s books today just tell a goofy, silly, or adventurous story without delivering a teachable message. Was it important for you to write a children’s book that conveys an important message (the value of diversity)?
O'DONNELL: My three granddaughters are biracial so a story that conveys a theme of the importance of diversity is important to them while they are young and will, hopefully, become even more meaningful when they get older.
FQ: While the message of the importance of diversity comes through strong in your story, there’s also a message about not wandering off by yourself (as Sammy does, and as many young children might be tempted to do). Was that intentional or did it just happen as you wrote the story?
O'DONNELL: I needed a way to introduce “Mister Gray” into the story. So Sammy’s adventurous nature was a convenient way to do so. But, I knew I had to send a message to the little readers later by including a line about Sammy’s regret for running away and his vow to never wander off again. I loved the way my illustrators made this point very clear by showing Sammy shivering and afraid in the forest when he realized he was lost.
FQ: Where did the idea for The Tall Tree come from? Why a tree in the forest full of animals, rather than, say, a group of school children? Did you know before you solidified the plot that you wanted to teach children about diversity?
O'DONNELL: When our oldest granddaughter, Alessandra, was almost three, she had a very difficult time falling asleep at night. When she was visiting us at my in-law’s home in New York one holiday weekend, our daughter asked me to tell Alessandra a story that might help her fall asleep.
I thought for a few seconds and remembered that my mother-in-law had a feral cat that she named “Mister Gray.” Alessandra always ran to the back door with great excitement whenever her great-grandmother put food out for Mister Gray to be fed. Then Alessandra waited patiently for him to appear. She was truly fascinated by this cat.
With this thought in mind, I tried to come up with a little story that featured many different animals that lived together in perfect harmony until one day something happens that “opens the door” for Mister Gray to come to the rescue.
I made up the story in about five minutes—most of it “on the fly” as I held Alessandra on my shoulder and worked my way to a happy ending with Mister Gray as the hero. By the time I finished, Alessandra was sound asleep.
The next night, Alessandra was still awake at 9 PM and showing no interest in bedtime. Once again, our daughter asked me to tell Alessandra a story that would help her fall asleep. So I went into her bedroom and began telling her another made-up story. But she stopped me immediately and said, “No, Grandpa. Tell me about the tall tree.” I must admit, I had to gather my thoughts for a few seconds to remember the details of the previous night’s story—I had never written it down! However, I was able to pull it together and get to the same happy ending.
Sure enough, by the time I was finished, Alessandra was sound asleep. A week later, my wife and I were back at our home in Florida. Our daughter called to say she was still having a difficult time getting Alessandra to fall asleep at night. She asked my wife to make a video of my telling the story of The Tall Tree so she could play it for Alessandra at bedtime. My wife has a “flair” for such assignments and jumped to it without delay. Like a Hollywood director, she instructed me to sit on our bed, adjusted the lighting, and surrounded me with a large group of stuffed animals. Then she recorded my reading of the story of The Tall Tree. When we were finished, she sent the video via email to our daughter. Our daughter reported back to us that the video worked like a charm—from then on, Alessandra fell asleep to that story every night.
Alessandra is now age 8 with two younger sisters—Shira, age 5 and Hasana, age 3. All three of them love to listen to The Tall Tree. It seems to be the perfect non-pharmaceutical sleeping potion.
FQ: You’re known for writing mysteries, in particular, the “Gallagher” series. What made you decide to try your hand at a different genre? And why children’s books?
O'DONNELL: As you can see from the above statements, it really happened by pure circumstance. But I am so pleased that I have been able to make a small contribution to this important genre. Children need more books that are not only entertaining, but stimulate their imagination and teach them about values. In The Tall Tree, Sammy, the little mouse, comes face to face with a large cat that would normally be considered a mortal enemy. But Mister Gray is gentle and comforts the frightened Sammy to not be afraid. Then he encourages Sammy to hop on his back for a thrilling and exciting ride back to his family of friends at The Tall Tree. The message is subtle but profound: Don’t pre-judge someone as your enemy until you know more about him/her.
FQ: As a retired pediatric dentist, did you tell stories to your young patients to keep them relaxed during their exams? I see, also, that you have three granddaughters – do you make up stories for them? And did you test The Tall Tree out on your grandchildren? 
O'DONNELL: There were many occasions in my career as a pediatric dentist where I had to “talk a child through” a difficult procedure. I learned very early that, in these situations, children need a steady, low-speaking voice with a repetitious cadence to help reassure them that everything is fine and that they will be all right. I believe that the success of The Tall Tree as a bedtime story is that I have incorporated this concept of a repetitious cadence into the story.
As far as my granddaughters, they love to play “made-up” games with me. The current favorite of the two younger girls (ages 5 and 3) is “Pizza House.” All that is needed is some red construction paper, a scissors, a sheet of white paper, a piece of cardboard, a medium size cardboard box, some adhesive tape and a cell phone. With the scissors, I help them cut the red construction paper into a circle. Then we tear off some small pieces of the white paper, crinkle them, and attach them to the red circle with the adhesive tape. (This is the cheese.) Then we cut triangular “slices” of the pizza, re-arrange them in a circle and place them on the piece of cardboard (the tray) in the delivery box. When all of this is done, I give the girls my cell phone and ask them to hold it while I go into another room. Then when I get to the kitchen I use another phone to call my cell. When they answer, I order a pizza. Taking my pizza order over the phone and then delivering it is the best part of the game for them.
FQ: Speaking of changing genres, many people who have never written a book seem to think that writing a children’s book is much easier than adult genres/novels. What would you say to those people?
O'DONNELL: I believe that, in many ways, the challenge of writing a good children’s book is no different than that of writing a good novel. The author in either genre needs a “hook” in the beginning, a compelling story and a narrative that leads to a satisfying ending. In the case of a children’s book, the author also needs the assistance of a talented illustrator. I was fortunate to work with two very talented and creative illustrators.
FQ: Now that you’ve written a children’s book, do you plan to write more? Or will you be returning to mysteries? Is there another genre that you’d like to try?
O'DONNELL: I have thoroughly enjoyed writing in both genres and may do another children’s book. However, at the present time, I am writing the biography of a man who has been “connected” to The Mob through friendship and a legitimate business for his entire life. His experiences are nothing short of fascinating and help to shed light on the personal side of this criminal enterprise that has previously been largely unreported. I expect to finish this book by the end of this year. Stay tuned.
FQ: You used two illustrators for this book, Kasidy Sinteral Scott and Kestrel Erickson. This is the first time I’ve seen a team of two illustrators work on the same book. How did that work? Do they always work together?
O'DONNELL: I was very fortunate to have been introduced to two very talented young illustrators—Kasidy Sinteral Scott and Kestrel Erickson. They worked closely with me throughout the production phase to develop an understanding of the images I imagined for the story. As we progressed, they provided dozens of samples for my approval. In the end, they beautifully captured exactly what I had in mind—a group of different little creatures and birds that lived happily together in perfect harmony. The colors are bright, vivid and, as you stated, the characters are wonderfully adorable. No doubt, the illustrations help to move the story along. I could not have been happier with the end result.
FQ: Speaking of the illustrations, I mentioned in my review how much I enjoyed the bright and cheery artwork. Since this is your first children’s book, I’m guessing you didn’t have an illustrator in mind before you began this project. How did you find your illustrators and what was the creative process like between you and them?
O'DONNELL: Kasidy is the daughter of my publishing representative at Outskirts Press. Kestrel is Kasidy’s friend from their days in art school. Our working relationship was conducted via the frequent exchange of emails and telephone calls. It worked out perfectly. I recommend them to any author who is considering an illustrated children’s book.