Monday, July 16, 2018

#BookReview - The Queen of Xana

The Queen of Xana

By: Fred Pilcher
ISBN: 978-0692988961
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
What would you say to a society where all people are treated equally, and the kingdom is ruled by a benevolent queen who wishes to help everyone feel valued and appreciated, and able to reach for their dreams?  Author Fred Pilcher has imagined such a place in his medieval “fairytale,” The Queen of Xana. 
When we first meet the future queen of Xana, Princess Agatha, she is just a few hours old. Her mother, Queen Julia, is alone in the birthing room with her newborn.  Julia’s husband, Prince Consort Marcel, died in battle five months earlier. Now Julia is charged with ruling Xana as well as seeing to the proper raising of the princess.  While in the royal chamber, the queen and her baby are visited by an old woman who we soon learn is Agatha’s fairy godmother.  She gives Agatha “…the gifts of wisdom and compassion” and promises that the child will grow to be the greatest monarch Xana has ever known.
Agatha’s childhood is spent happily exploring the kingdom of Xana.  She soon discovers an affinity toward the common people and realizes that she is able to help them improve their lives.  She intervenes when a moneylender is trying to take advantage of a saddle maker who desperately needs money.  Alberto, the saddle maker, is profoundly grateful, and is able to lift himself out of poverty with the advice he is given by Agatha.  But the princess also learns an important lesson when she tries to help another commoner who is more interested in getting a handout.
Early on in the story, Agatha is thrown into the role of ruler when her mother is killed by Magi, a ruthless sorcerer.  Fortunately, Agatha’s fairy godmother had given her the power to overcome Magi – which she does handily.  Agatha must next find her prince, who just happens to be the son of the ruler of Wan, another kingdom that Magi destroyed.  Olaf, the prince, is infatuated with Agatha, but she must pursue him (in a rather unique way), to fulfill a prophecy.  All of these events take place early in the story – the main focus, and the bulk of the tale, is made up of how Agatha ruled her kingdom.
Queen Agatha desired to help raise the commoners out of poverty.  She realized early on that one of the best ways to do that was to improve the education system.  She worked tirelessly to build better schools, add tutors for those who were in need, and find the funds to pay for all the improvements.  She willingly took advice from others and considered carefully all that was suggested.  Agatha also took on bullying as well as corruption within her own staff, and personally intervened in numerous cases.  Her people greatly respected her kind and wise decisions, but they also knew that she could be a ruthless ruler when dealing with a swindler, enemy of the state, or even a moneylender.  Agatha had no room in her beautiful kingdom for such people.
The Queen of Xana is told by a narrator who pauses the story at various points to explore the different versions of the myth.  This narrator style gives the story a sense of “this really happened” that adds a level of interest.  Interesting too were the different actions Agatha took to improve the lives of her subjects and the various people who fought those changes.  The erotic nature of the story is limited, and the frequent references to Agatha (and others) being naked in some versions of the myth added little to the story.  The writing was a bit stiff in spots, and sometimes the story seemed written for a youth audience while in other places it was geared more to an adult audience. Beyond that, however, the tale was definitely food-for-thought about what can, and should, be done to help people live their lives to the best of their abilities.  Author Fred Pilcher notes in his prologue that The Queen of Xana is a work of political allegory and that he hopes the story will help start discussions about the current state of affairs, particularly in reference to how the world’s wealth is concentrated within a small group of people – and he certainly achieved that with this book.
Quill says: The Queen of Xana is an interesting take on an “almost” utopian society.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

#BookReview - Along the Watchtower @DavidLitwack

Along the Watchtower

By: David Litwack
Publisher: Evolved Publishing
Publication Date: June 2018
ISBN: 978-1622534401
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: July 11, 2018
Memory, fantasy and trauma are mixed in the mind of a critically injured soldier in this dark but redemptive tale.
When Lieutenant Freddie Williams wakes up on a stretcher, he knows he is leaving Iraq, taking his fears and regrets and going to a place that no longer feels like home. As he gradually, almost reluctantly, regains consciousness, he realizes that four men under his command were killed in the incident that has left him mentally shattered and permanently crippled. He will not lose his leg, but he has lost his heart in the war. So by night he retreats to a land he knows well – the world engendered by his long fascination with computer games. There he is a newly made prince, given thirty days to interpret the signs he reads along his castle’s watchtower and save his kingdom from extinction. By day he is a maimed man who has betrayed the soldiers who trusted him. His only living family member is also lost, possibly also dead.
The images that connect the two worlds are powerful, as Freddie Williams struggles to come to terms with relearning how to walk, assisted by a sweet, concerned young therapist named Becky; and the Dauphin Frederick who battles legendary demons, comforted by lovely young gardener Rebecca. As Freddie gradually accepts and re-engages with his real life, including the possibility that he may be able to locate his missing relative, he becomes stronger in the parallel world, too, able to face and overcome seemingly impossible challenges. In both realms, he has to learn the same lesson: the greatest barrier he must face is within himself.
Litwack is a practiced fantasy writer (The Daughters of the Sea and Sky, The Seekersseries) and a skilled craftsman. His interweaving of the perceptions of two heroes - a soldier emerging from the trauma of battle and a new ruler charged with rescuing his people while still mourning the loss of his father – is highly effective. There are many poignant symbols: the silver stars awarded to brave soldiers in both worlds, and, for each “Frederick,” the flowers secretly delivered by a lady who would gladly offer more if he would only trust her. The reader will quickly begin to anticipate these pairings of events: with every foray into the game fantasy world at night, there are corresponding daytime struggles and gains. Too, one suspects that Litwack has done careful research into the experience of a soldier battling to rehabilitate a torn body and a tormented mind. Depictions of military medical facilities and treatments give his story extra credence, while his unreal world is internally consistent and alluring.
Quill says: Litwack’s construction of side-by-side dream and waking worlds works, allowing the reader to identify with the conflicted nature of a wounded warrior, quick to blame himself and slow to accept help and healing.
For more information on Along the Watchtower, please visit the author's website at:

#BookReview - Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing

By: Delia Owens
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication Date: August 2018
ISBN: 978-0735219090
Reviewed by: Jennifer Rearick
Review Date: July 10, 2018
Kya has always been known to the townspeople as the marsh girl or marsh trash. Growing up in marsh land off the coast of North Carolina with her parents and older siblings, she never had much interaction with anyone outside of her family. Her father spends his days doing one of two things - drinking or taking out his anger on his family. When Kya was six, her mother walked out and never came back. Kya's siblings stayed for a little while, but eventually they all left as well. From that point on, it was just Kya and her father.
Although she lived with her father, at times Kya would go days without seeing him. Through this she learned that the only peaceful way to live with her father was to not cross paths. One morning, while her father was gone, Kya decided to take the family boat out. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before she was lost. Eventually she asked a boy who she passed a couple times if he knew where she lived. This boy, Tate, showed her the way home and soon they were fast friends.
By the time Kya was ten, her father rarely came home and eventually he stopped coming home altogether. From this point on, Kya was truly on her own. In order to care for herself, Kya started collecting mussels and selling them to Jumpin', the man she bought supplies and gas from. This turned out to be a great way from her to take care of herself.
As Kya continued to fend for herself and live on her own, she also spent time with Tate, the boy who helped her when she was lost. They eventually became more than just friends, until Tate graduated from high school. Kya was devastated when she found out he would be going off to college. Before Tate left, he promised Kya that he would come back to see her on his breaks, but that never happened. Kya was devastated and didn't want to get close to anybody else, until she met Chase...
Chase promised Kya the world. He promised they would get married, find a house and start a family. Kya was over the moon until she found out that Chase was set to marry someone else. Although Chase wanted to continue seeing Kya, Kya never wanted to see him again.
After cutting ties with Chase, things seemed to be going well for Kya. That was until Chase turned up dead and Kya become the lead suspect in his murder. Although Kya has an appointed attorney, who is trying to prove her innocence, Kya offers no information to help her case. Soon it seems that Kya will be convicted of Chase's murder.
Where the Crawdads Sing is an emotional rollercoaster. You feel horrible for the little seven-year-old who has to fend for herself. Although you're happy that she finds a way to carry on by herself, it's sad that she has to. As Kya gets older, and makes a friend, you think that things are going to get better, but again things change and you're back to feeling horrible for Kya. Author Delia Owens did an excellent job creating a protagonist who comes to life and the reader cares for, while also creating suspense that keeps the pages turning. This is definitely an interesting book that is hard to put down.
Quill says: If you want a mystery with heartbreak and sympathy, this is the book for you.

Monday, July 9, 2018

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Monday, July 2, 2018

#BookReview - The Patriot Bride

The Patriot Bride: Daughters of the Mayflower, Book 4

By: Kimberly Woodhouse
Publisher: Barbour Books
Publication Date: August 2018
ISBN: 978-1-68322-606-2
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: July 3, 2018
Kimberley Woodhouse’s historical fiction work, The Patriot Bride, is an enjoyable read and the fourth book in the Daughters of the Mayflower series.
It is September 22, 1774 and Matthew Weber is hidden in the corner of Charles Thomson’s study. He is full of trepidation as he waits for Ben Franklin’s arrival. There is considerable unrest and uncertainty in the Colonies as the threat of war looms. Lines have been clearly drawn in the sand. One is either loyal to King George (a Loyalist) or a traitor to Britain and therefore, a Patriot for the independence of the Colonies. Matthew cannot let on he is posing as a Loyalist; yet he is a true Patriot at heart. He is a spy and holds the coveted position of being privy to information on both sides of the imminent conflict.
Faith Jackson is a wealthy widow and a friend to George and Martha Washington. Her relationship goes deeper than friendship. Faith lost her parents when she was a young girl and George and Martha were there to be surrogate parents to her. Faith is an ardent supporter of the Patriot Cause.
There is a message that needs to get to a spy among the Loyalists and Faith steps up to be the one to stand for God and Country to deliver the message. Her task is to deliver the message to Matthew Weber. Upon meeting Matthew, Faith realizes there may be room in her life to love again. Unfortunately, the challenge, nuisance and persistence of one Anthony Jameson and his intentions toward Faith could be the unraveling of a potential future Matthew and Faith could have. Indeed, the future is uncertain and sacrifices for their Country will dictate what future, if any, is intended for the two.
Kimberly Woodhouse demonstrates an admirable achievement with her contribution to this interesting series. Her historical infusion complements the timeline (and period) with terrific accuracy and at the same time breathes life and personality into the likes of both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. I’ve had the pleasure of reading previous books in this series. What is remarkable is that each author (Ms. Woodhouse included) has managed a cohesive collaboration to tie the historical timelines together; yet each body of work can stand alone. I am a fan of historical fiction and admire a writer who can blend fact with fiction and deliver a story that enables a reader to learn something while connecting with the characters. Ms. Woodhouse has mastered this premise. Congratulations on The Patriot Bride. It’s a great addition to this series and I look forward to the next installation.
Quill says: The Patriot Bride is a wonderful reflection (and account) of the willing and unrequited sacrifices made by our forefathers for the price of freedom.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

#BookReview - Confessions of a Timid Rider @timidrider

Confessions of a Timid Rider

By: Heather Wallace
Publisher: Water Horse Press
Publication Date: June 2018
ISBN: 978-1387812899
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: June 29, 2018
Author Heather Wallace delivers a book that is part memoir and part self-help as she shares her experiences and offers helpful advice in her newest book, Confessions of a Timid Rider.
Author Wallace begins her memoir with a brief chapter describing her internal struggles with being both an introvert and an extrovert - in essence, an "ambivert" (showing tendencies of both). This conflict has played a large part in her struggles to overcome her fear of "what ifs" while spending time with horses. Next, she begins the recounting of her childhood obsession with horses. She would do anything for a pony ride or a few moments with a beautiful steed at birthday parties or when the circus came to town. While on vacation when she was nine, she convinced her parents to take the whole family on a trail ride through the desert. As soon as she was mounted on her gray pony, the author started falling in love with the adorable steed. But then the sweet equine shifted its weight while quietly waiting for the other riders, and Ms. Wallace panicked. She was taken off the pony and thus began her lifelong love/fear affair with horses.
While Wallace's fear at times seemed overwhelming, she didn't let it stop her from taking riding lessons as a teen. Things went well...until they didn't. She loved riding and spending time at the barn, but always, in the back of her mind, were her "...own insecurities and vivid imagination..." that kept the thought of accidents and "what ifs" always present.
Wallace briefly discusses her college years when horses were not part of the picture, then on to motherhood and the eventual need to "get out of the house," where she again found herself in the company of horses. She began with a "schoolmaster" (a safe, older horse), and worked her way up to a younger and somewhat less predictable equine. Always in the back of her mind were the "what ifs" and her struggles with confidence. Still, her time at the barn was an important part of her life and soon she was bringing her children along with her to experience the joy of riding. Watching her girls ride helped Wallace pursue her own dreams of riding, as well as realize just how wonderful spending time at the barn was for all, while still, at times, fighting the fear of getting hurt.
Horses, and the time spent riding was, and is, a constant battle for Heather Wallace. In her memoir, she bares her soul and admits to the struggles she has faced throughout her life. Horses, being around the barn, and the sheer joy of galloping through a field have brought her indescribable joy, but also frequent bouts of fear. She openly discusses all, and how she dealt with those issues. Every chapter is named - for example: For the Love of a Thoroughbred - and below many of those chapter names are "Confessions" - such as: the fear of something is usually worse in your head than in reality/it's not easy getting back in the saddle after you've been hurt - so true! These confessions were a great part of the book and let the reader know exactly what Wallace would discuss in that chapter. If you're a horse person, then you have undoubtedly experienced exactly what the author has, but if not, you've still likely experienced times of doubt and fear that may become overwhelming. Wallace shares many ideas and techniques in this easy reading memoir that helped her work through her issues, and these strategies will likely help the reader as well.
Quill says: Confessions of a Timid Rider isn't just for horse enthusiasts but for all of us who have struggled with thoughts of fear, of being afraid to try something new, and of fighting the urge to let the fear of failure keep us from achieving our dreams.
For more information on Confessions of a Timid Rider, please visit the publisher's website at:

Friday, June 29, 2018

#BookReview - Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief @DiamanteLavenda

Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief:
Spiritual Insights Expressed Through Art, Poetry and Prose

By: Diamante Lavendar
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication Date: July 2018
ISBN: 978-198205683
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: June 14, 2018
It is so difficultTo be in a situationWhere peace eludes you at every turn.--“Understanding of Spirit”
This combination of inspirational artwork and poems has been created to comfort those experiencing grief and loss.
Author Diamante Lavendar writes that, “to fully understand life, we must understand loss.” Pain forges valleys, and joy can fill those valleys. She often refers to God, or Spirit, as a bringer of hope, and writes with the absolute conviction that death is simply a “metamorphosis.” Many of her poems read like mystical messages left for the reader on a cosmic bulletin board, superimposed over vivid color photographs depicting a beautiful sunrise or the moon peeking through the trees.  In one of her rhyming works, “Never Goodbye” she laments the death of a daughter, asking:
How am I expectedto continue living,when all around me,is pain and misgiving?
But she concludes this poem in a different, more positive mode: “I will miss you until we reunite in God’s grace.”
Lavendar exhorts the reader to believe in angels and miracles; don’t just dream – “let your dreams overtake you.” In “Belief” she evokes the image of “a flow of supernatural energy.” In addition to the photographs, there are emotive artworks incorporating butterflies, hearts, stars, angels and glowing faces floating in the heavens. Through these, Lavendar is emphasizing the etheric nature of the soul that accompanies statements such as this: “Death is not an ending but a beginning to a different reality.” There are a few darker aspects to the grieving process – grief can be an empty void, hard to comprehend, requiring a “dedicated decision” to overcome by embracing the light. A humorous piece expresses the notion that though life’s experiences may be good or bad, we should “flow with it” and “knock on wood” – set on a green, tree-filled background.
Author/poet Lavendar is winner of the Mom’s Choice Award and member of the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) Speaker’s Group. She has previously written two novels, Breaking the Silence and The Secrets of Yashire, and a poetry collection, Poetry and Ponderings, with Christian messages about overcoming the ravages of child abuse. Her writing as demonstrated in this poetic collection is capable and heart-felt, with illustrations to give color and shape to her well-chosen words.
Quill says: Throughout these selections – a rich mix of wise words, honest remembrances, sorrowful admissions and spiritual communications – it is clear that Lavendar has a sincere wish to fulfill the promise of the book’s title: to guide those suffering grief to a more hopeful state of mind.