Thursday, March 4, 2021

Check Out These #BookAward Finalists!

We've recently highlighted the winners of our annual book award program.  Now it's time to show off the finalists.  Here's the first batch of finalists.  To see the full list, visit: 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

#BookReview - The Heroin Addict's Mother by Miriam Greenspan

The Heroin Addict’s Mother: A Memoir in Poetry

By: Miriam Greenspan
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: January 2021
ISBN: 978-1636495354
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Date: March 1, 2021

Miriam Greenspan, noted psychotherapist and author, here uses the medium of poetry to express the many deep feelings evoked as she learns about and comes to grips with her daughter’s addiction.

Greenspan’s saga begins with a phone call: a stranger has discovered her daughter in New York City –“she’s shooting heroin on the street.” She finds her child, a product of the best schooling who as a toddler “knew the Latin names of fish” now

on a once white towel
in a Westside hovel.

“Cold as a corpse,” her girl is trapped in a self-made Hades. She is living a degraded life, at the mercy of dealers who demand, and get, sexual favors. The spiral downward began with legal prescription medications in college, to the “black seeds” of heroin and a bare survival underpinned by lies and thievery. Well-meaning friends offer Greenspan advice:

They say it’s a phase
She’ll outgrow it
They say it could be worse
She’s not dead yet

Greenspan attends meetings, hears horrifying stories from other parents, tries to forgive herself for anything she might have done to let this happen, and finds herself caught in the generation between Holocaust survivors and a child who is creating and living in her personal holocaust. She must choose to cosset her daughter and try to be her ally in getting through and beyond her addiction, or coldly ignoring her and forcing her to “suffer the consequences of her actions.” All avenues of help seem futile – sent to a halfway house with daily urine checks, the young woman still finds that “buying smack was easier than ever,” and methadone appears to be just another dependence without end. In these agonized plaints, Greenspan sometimes imagines that her daughter is “dead,” yet refuses to believe that or to wish for that outcome. Small rays of hope filter through:

Nothing is ever lost – only transmuted –
like ice to water – water to vapor –
invisible – lighter than air

Sometimes a fact-tight narrative of the sort that Greenspan is accustomed to writing (A New Approach to Women and Therapy, Healing Through the Dark Emotions) cannot provide the solace of a metaphor strongly stressed, or a sensitive story from an omniscient observer. Greenspan’s works in this emotive collection speak of sorrow at the breakdown of her daughter from promising, intellectually gifted child to someone with needle marks all over her body, as well of the outrage that we all might feel when looking at the broken system that makes drugs like heroin so easily available and of the pharmacology industry that has almost nothing to offer, it seems, by way of a cure. It took true courage to compose this cathartic work that can offer comfort and perhaps a new, enlightening perspective to parents and loved ones of those caught in addiction.

Quill says: In The Heroin Addict’s Mother, Miriam Greenspan presents an honest view of an undeniably difficult, distressing subject, and in doing so may help others who struggle with similar challenges.

For more information on The Heroin Addict’s Mother: A Memoir in Poetry, please visit the author's website at:



Looking for Some Good Books to Read? #awardwinningbooks

Looking for some great reads? Here are some additional selections - books that placed in our 2021 annual award program. See all the books at: 

Monday, March 1, 2021

#AuthorInterview with Ron Seiler, author of The Engine of Survival

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Risah Salazar is talking with Ron Seiler, author of The Engine of Survival (A Charlie Edmo Murder Mystery).

FQ: Your biography mentions that you have a long career as a researcher - I imagine this book required a lot of research before you began writing. How in-depth a process was it to research?

SEILER: First, thank you for your thoughtful questions. In terms of the research that was needed, I began my search by examining the CRISPR gene editing technology. Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier’s research is a huge leap forward and holds the promise of transforming our world (for better or worst). It was clear to me immediately that once again, science has far outpaced the capacity of our society to address the multitude of ethical issues created by this new and powerful scientific tool. As I state in the book, nature is no longer in charge of human DNA. 

Once I achieved a layperson’s level of understanding about CRISPR and the genetic editing process, and the current state of this rapidly emerging industry, I dug deeper into the potential ethical issues presented by genetic engineering. I came across a book by Bill McKibben, the environmentalist and author. In Enough and other books, Mr. McKibben discusses the possible impact of human genetic engineering on families. His book gave me the idea of a two child family where one child was genetically enhanced and the other was not.

Next, I attempted to understand what it might be like to be born and grow up as a genetically enhanced person. Needless to say; this was hard. I was not interested in how genetic enhancements would impact the physical characteristics of people (hair and eye color, gender, etc.), but rather, will genetic engineering become advanced enough to alter our emotional makeup? As you might imagine, I was less successful as little credible research exists. This was frustrating, but also opened several creative possibilities for character development.

FQ: The character development was very interesting. Did you think about ironing out the plot first before the characters came to life or vice versa?

SEILER: I did extensive outlining of both the plot line and the emotional arc of the main characters. But once I started writing the first draft, I allowed deviations from the (way too long) outline; using it more as a guide. It was interesting to go back and compare the original outline of both the plot and character development to the finished book. I’m not sure I would replicate this process next time around.

For me, character development is a bit of a push me – pull you proposition. The process of inhabiting a made-up person is easier for some characters than for others. Some characters are just easier to get to know and therefore seem easier to write about.

FQ: The Engine of Survival is really a mix of sci-fi and mystery - do you think the mystery aspect of the story made it harder to write?

SEILER: Creating mystery, for me at least, was the most enjoyable part of the work. It’s like playing a game of hide and seek; when and how to reveal or imply important information. Writers are faced with a million decisions as they plow along, and I feel like I still have a lot to learn about being clever in creating suspense and mystery in the mind of the reader.

FQ: Have you always been fascinated with bioengineering / genetics?

SEILER: For as long as I can remember. And to this day I remain astounded more attention is not given by the media to the emergence of CRISPR technology. One of the reasons I was compelled to write The Engine of Survival was to increase awareness about human genetic engineering. I was especially interested in the possibility that wealthy individuals would have greater access to genetic engineering services than less wealthy citizens and what that world might look like.

FQ: How did the story develop? Did you read articles about the possibilities of genetic enhancements and think, “that has the potential to make a great story” or was there something else that triggered the book?

SEILER: The first seed planted, as I mentioned above, were the ideas developed by Bill McKibben related to the impact of genetic engineering on our society and families. His thoughtful work got me thinking about how family dynamics might change because of genetic engineering. 

FQ: Let’s say you are a character in your own book, would you want to have your own designer-baby to raise and take care of? Would you want to be genetically enhanced?

SEILER: These are difficult questions for me to address. I am haunted by the words of Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame, “And yes, it will be used for evil.’ Efforts to use genetic modifications to create super-humans and super-warriors, are already underway. International guidelines exist, but given the profit potential, I suspect these safeguards will not survive. This conclusion is confirmed by many recent news events. These technologies hold the promise of eliminating human suffering on a vast scale. Some argue that genetic modifications are the only way for us to overcome our collective shortcomings as a species. Your questions just lead to more questions and philosophical issues that can only be addressed in a bigger forum. 

FQ: What is your personal take on advanced tech like robots and gene enhancements? Do you think they have more advantages than disadvantages?

SEILER: I guess we’ll all find out. Like some many things in life, the emergence of the human genetic engineering industry is a two-edged sword. However, I remain hopeful for the future.

FQ: I loved the character of Gordon Kelly. Was he fun to bring to life?

SEILER: Yes, most enjoyable. I wanted a mad scientist and Gordon was it, and he got crazier as time went on. Gordon Kelly represents the notion, confirmed by my decades working at a university, that there is little or no connection between intelligence and rational behavior. In fact, on some days, I suspect that more intelligence results in a corresponding decrease in rational behavior. Hear my laughter. 

FQ: You have a talent for watercolor painting. Do you find that painting helps you develop your story ideas?

SEILER: Sure, one skill complements the other. Any activity that teaches me to concentrate better, to be in a more meditative state, is helpful. In some ways they are similar activities. Like writing, watercolor painting requires sophisticated and detailed planning and complete spontaneity and lightness of touch, as weird as that sounds. Both are lifelong pursuits and I feel lucky to have such interesting work.

FQ: What’s next for Charles Edmo? Would you give our readers a little tease about the next story in the series?

SEILER: Charlie Edmo will match wits with a preteen girl with advanced genetic enhancements.

#AuthorInterview with Cam Lang, author of The Concrete Vineyard

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Risah Salazar is talking with Cam Lang, author of The Concrete Vineyard.

FQ: How did you come up with The Concrete Vineyard’s unique plot? What was your inspiration?

LANG: My novel has a very complex and layered plot but all the events, situations and scenarios that occur within it are things that I have witnessed in my profession as an urban planner (except for the murder!). Although citizens tend to focus on what’s happening at the highest levels of government (especially federal), we are actually more impacted in our day to day lives by the decisions that are made at the local level – how we design our neighborhoods; the form and height limits we impose on buildings; the siting and cost of parking; and the bike lanes we install or rather, fail to install. The list is endless and because every municipality in the U.S. and Canada employs elected officials, they are all vulnerable to influence and corruption. Land developers represent those primary change agents and urban planners are at the heart of this game. 

FQ: The setting of The Concrete Vineyard is also unique, Niagara-on-the-Lake. I see that you grew up there. What gives the area the “colonial charm” that you mention in your biography?

LANG: Niagara-on-the-Lake ‘NOTL’ (the first capital of Upper Canada) has a lot in common with Colonial Willamsburg (the second capital of Virginia) in terms of its gridded street pattern, its historic centre (1 mile long x ½ mile wide), and its centuries old buildings of Georgian, Regency and Victorian design that flank and frame corridors of interlocking brick and sandy boulevards. But, once you pave and curb and gutter the roadways, much of that ‘colonial charm’ erodes. And then it is further compromised when you bring in the cars and park them along the entire street edges. This is the current situation in NOTL; a tipping point, really. It would be prudent to use Williamsburg as a model of sustainable historic preservation for NOTL and I do believe that will happen at some point; perhaps when civic unrest and political will can overcome private agenda. 

FQ: Have you always been a fan of detective stories/murder mysteries? Any favorites? Any that might have inspired Detective Bryan Dee?

LANG: Until I started writing this book, I wasn’t even a fan of fiction. I considered reading fiction a waste of time because I didn’t feel like I was learning enough. The Concrete Vineyard started off as a non-fiction account of planning problems until I realized the only people who tend to read urban planning books are other planners. Because I wanted my book to appeal to a greater audience I figured the best way to do that was to kill someone. So I knocked off the oldest and most respected civilian in town.

FQ: It’s apparent that you are fascinated with wine/grapes and that you’ve experienced first-hand what it’s like working in a vineyard. Can you tell our readers something they might not know about vineyards, harvesting grapes, etc.?

LANG: I was a complete hack in vineyards and fruit farms as a teenager. I usually just ate the cherries and peaches and sat on the tractor, waiting for lunch and watching others. Pruning grapes is particularly hard on your back because you’re often bending over and crouching down all day. As I allude to in my novel, the only people who step up to do this work now are migrant workers. They’re the front-line heroes in our agricultural industry and they should be applauded and supported. Nowadays though, a lot of this manual labor has been automated. I am in awe of some of the tractors and machines that farmers employ now.

FQ: Your characters are quite fond of playing golf. Are you a golfer too?

LANG: My lead detective is certainly fond of golf. I enjoy it but I’m hardly good at it. I’m an avid runner and cyclist, like my protagonist, Kris Gage. Although I’m Canadian, my favorite sport isn’t hockey, but basketball. I used to attend Jimmy V’s summer camps in Raleigh as a kid. I’m a diehard, long suffering Wolfpack fan. Never give up. 

FQ: Urban planning plays an important role in your book. And in your biography, you mention that it can be “a pretty boring subject.” So it’s a brave move to include it in a murder mystery and make it interesting at the same time. Was this something you knew you wanted to include in your story before you began writing?

LANG: I joke that everyone has a “planning opinion” so people should be able to relate to this story. The challenge for me was to try to figure out how to get an urban planner involved in a homicide investigation. Admittedly, it is rather unconventional; in fact, I can’t find another ‘urban planning mystery’ out there. I used Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series as a model in which he uses a psychologist to help his detective friend. I figured that if I made real estate or land development a possible motive to murder someone, who better to understand and navigate those waters than an urban planner? This is why my homicide detective (Bryan Dee) is a little na├»ve and unenthusiastic. It opens the door for his urban planner friend to get involved. 

FQ: As an urban planner, what can you say about Canada’s town planning?

LANG: To answer that I’ll use a line from my book. By failing to recognize that different places require different approaches and solutions, it was no wonder every town and city was starting to look and feel just like the next. In reality, this statement could apply to any country.

FQ: Progress comes with a cost. Old and historic sites sometimes get neglected to make way for new developments. How do you negotiate with clients and/or developers? How do you balance profit and historic preservation?

LANG: One of my developer clients once told me that he was only as good as his last project. At first I didn’t know what he meant but then I realized he understood the value of playing the long game. On one of his early projects he preserved and restored a questionable heritage building that – had he fought - he probably could have demolished for a more lucrative financial gain. Years later, on another project, the city unexpectedly rolled out the red carpet and gave him more density than he initially asked for without any public objection – Councils and residents have long memories and just like any relationship, building trust is important. If a developer seeks to squeeze everything possible out of a site and maximize financial gain on every project, it will do so at its own peril. More often than not, however, smart developers realize there is value and profit to be made by utilizing the important history of a site (or its natural heritage features such as woodlots/trees). This is referred to as ‘net community gain.’ 

FQ: Which cities in the world do you think has the best and worst urban planning? 

LANG: It really depends upon the lens you use to evaluate ‘best’ and ‘worst.’ I tend to use good mobility as my key barometer for judging places: the ability for people of all ages and capabilities to perform their daily functions and activities without getting into a private automobile. Smart towns and cities usually integrate a number of modes (subway, bus rapid transit (BRT), bicycle lanes) to increase efficiency and choice with a goal of reducing carbon emissions. Bogota, for example, utilizes gondolas to move residents from its hillside shantytowns connecting to BRT in the city, leveling the playing field by creating affordable opportunities for its less affluent.

Generally speaking, people tend to think the grass is greener on the other side. In my novel I discuss the influx of wealthy Torontonians who choose to retire to Niagara-on-the-Lake. They come here for wine, water, golf, theater and a more laidback lifestyle but little do they know they left behind neighorhoods in a bigger city that were far more walkable, dynamic, vibrant and dare I say, quieter. They now have to drive everywhere they want and need to go – and listen to the bird bangers in the vineyards wake them up at 6 a.m. 

FQ: Do you have another book you’re currently working on? Will we be seeing Detective Bryan Dee again? Perhaps in a series?

LANG: I didn’t set out to write more than one book which probably explains why The Concrete Vineyardis on the longer side and full of anecdotes, facts and details that may not appeal to the conventional mystery reader. I wanted to give readers a 10 course meal. If I was to write a second novel or continue the series, it would be with Kris Gage as my main character. He’s the urban planner. He’s who I know. Maybe he’ll show up in your hometown. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

#BookReview - Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! by Marlene M. Bell

Mia and Nattie: One Great Team!

By: Marlene M. Bell
Illustrated by: Grace Sandford
Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
Publication Date: October 2020
ISBN: 978-0999539446
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: February 25, 2020

When a tiny little lamb is born early, and her mother can't take care of her, what will happen to the newborn? Will Mia, the young girl who helps her grandmother on the farm be able to save the lamb?

Mia is a young girl who loves helping her grandma on the farm. She enjoys taking care of all the sheep, but especially the lambs. One day, when she finds a newborn lamb who has been abandoned by her mother, Mia needs to investigate. The lamb's mother had no milk for her baby and wasn't able to take care of her. But soon Mia realizes that the tiny lamb is very small and will need special care. She scoops up the lamb and lavishes the baby with love.

Mia quickly brings the lamb, who she has named Nattie, into the house. She finds a perfect spot for the lamb in the laundry room, dries her off with a towel and gives her more loving and cuddles. Looking over the new baby, Mia notes that Nattie's mouth is a bit crooked, her legs are shorter than a typical lamb's and one of her horns is straight, instead of being curved like the other lambs' horns. But in Mia's eyes, Nattie is perfect. The bond between the two is set in motion and they become best friends, with Mia feeling a sense of calm and well-being whenever Nattie is around.

While Mia was convinced that Nattie was the most perfect little lamb she'd ever seen, the lamb never caught up to the growth of the other lambs. By the time she was a full-grown ewe, she was still too small to be kept with the rest of the flock. Mia's grandmother wanted to sell Nattie to a neighbor but Mia, who deeply loved little Nattie, wanted to keep her. If she could only find a job that Nattie could do so Grandma wouldn't sell the ewe...

The story of Nattie is based on a true story of Natalie, a Dorset lamb that the author found in her barn during a late-night barn check. Like the fictional Nattie, the real Natalie was small and couldn't be kept with the other babies. This children's book, however, takes a delightful turn when Mia is drawn to the little lamb, finding perfection in the animal's unique appearance and size. Their bond is a joy to read about, and Mia's insistence that she find a job for Nattie is a nice lesson for children - that every animal (or person) has a special talent. Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! is a sweet story that will appeal to both animal lovers as well as those who simply like a feel-good story before bedtime.

Quill says: Mia and Nattie make a wonderful team that "ewe" will love getting to know in their charming new story Mia and Nattie: One Great Team!

For more information on Mia and Nattie, please visit the author's website at:


#BookReview - The Concrete Vineyard by Cam Lang

The Concrete Vineyard

By: Cam Lang
Publisher: Tellwell Talent
Publication Date: December 2020
ISBN: 978-0228832249
Reviewed by: Risah Salazar
Review Date: February 25, 2021

On Canada’s 150th birthday, 91-year old Edward Mitchell, who is quite the celebrity on Niagara-on-the-Lake, is mysteriously killed. As the investigation begins, instead of finding answers, more questions arise as leads and revelations point to different people; it seems like everyone has a motive. As if his death is not enough of a mystery to solve, it is also a puzzle to figure out what happens now to his vast private property since he doesn’t have a next of kin. Or does he?

Detective Bryan Dee, the chief investigator (also an avid golfer), makes his move but the private property alone would take days, even weeks, to finish searching. He's annoyed he's losing time for his dear sport but he's got to do the work. Fortunately, his urban planner best bud Kris Gage is taking a vacation and visiting the town shortly. Since Kris is an expert with properties, Bryan initially asks for his advice. The next thing they know, Kris is also investigating the murder. But the deeper they go, the more and more people get involved. Is it the shady realtor and his son who did this? And just a few days after Edward's death, his best friend and executor of his will, Benedict Picton, goes missing. Looks like the cause of this whole fiasco points to the will, the beneficiary, and of course, the inheritance. The more secrets they uncover, the more Bryan realizes that he can’t trust anyone, not even Kris.

Cam Lang’s The Concrete Vineyard has the power to intrigue. A huge chunk of the book carries an intellectual tone but there are witty moments too. The book anchors on great world-building that strongly appeals to the senses. However, due to the complexity of the story, the main narrative gets sidetracked by subplots, character backgrounds, and the setting’s history.

At first, it’s not even obvious what the plot is about. It was mentioned at the very beginning that it will be Edward’s last day, but it takes a while to get to his death and the audience’s anticipation dies down waiting for that. Lang writes incredibly well and nothing ever gets predictable. However, as he pours his heart into writing, he gets carried away with details. Although the facts about Canada, wine, and grapes are interesting, as the story progresses, these facts tend to drag down the reading experience. As mentioned earlier, the main narrative gets sidetracked by these facts and more.

While The Concrete Vineyard does a good job in engaging the readers' minds with the main plot, it does have an issue with its voice. There is a constant shift from third to first person. It would have been better if the change happened per chapter. But no, sometimes, within the same chapter, there would be a sudden change in point of view. This makes the transition rough and confusing.

Quill says: In general, Cam Lang makes a good and compelling debut in The Concrete Vineyard. But looking closely, some details need to be more concise and consistent.

For more information on The Concrete Vineyard, please visit the author's website at: