Saturday, February 24, 2018

#AuthorInterview with Deborah Stevenson

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Deborah Stevenson, author of Oy, Elephants! as well as the book's illustrator Morgan Spicer.

FQ: Both of you have a strong love for animals and are true animal advocates. Can you tell readers a little bit about your particular ‘loves’ and perhaps any organizations you wish to talk about that benefit animals?
STEVENSON: On my kindergarten report card, my teacher wrote: "I think Debbie should have a pet. She loves animals so much." So I think my connection with animals was hard-wired and early onset. Actually, Grandma Gussie's character in Oy, Elephants! is based on my real grandma. She adored animals and was always taking in strays, rehabilitating and releasing neighborhood squirrels and injured birds, and she always had dogs. She would have loved the Helfands! She was most definitely a strong influence in my life in general, and in my love and respect for animals specifically. I have always had a particular affinity for dogs, and have been fortunate to share my home and my life with many over the years. I enjoy training and competing with them in the sport of dog agility, which they enjoy as much (maybe more) than I do. Agility, for me, is a like a beautiful dance that showcases the miraculous partnership that is possible between dogs and humans. And of course as dogs go, none was quite as dear to me as Soren, the incredible little French Bulldog who was the subject of my first book, Soaring Soren. I love all animals, but aside from dogs, I do have a little thing for elephants and confess that I'm a long-time collector of elephant knick knacks. I also love rhinos, and I am extremely concerned about the effects of poaching and encroachment on the future of both those species.
Author Deborah Stevenson - with a few best friends
M. Nicole Fisher Photography
For each book, I try to support a related charity.  For Soaring Soren, that charity is French Bulldog Village. It's a wonderful group that rescues, rehabilitates and re-homes French Bulldogs in need, and they don't just take the easy to place cases. They take senior dogs, dogs with medical and behavioral issues. It's an often-expensive labor of love and they do great work. For Oy, Elephants! and another upcoming book, I've chosen some charities that help fight against poaching and ivory trade. One lovely organization is David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. They rescue young elephants, rhinos and other animals who are orphaned, often due to poaching, care for them, rehabilitate them and acclimate them to return to the wild. In addition to general donations, you can foster one or more of these youngsters and get regular updates on their progress. It's both educational and rewarding, and honestly, just fascinating--a great gift and activity to share with a child. International Rhino Foundation has a similar foster program and works hard to educate the public about rhinos and protect them and their habitats.
SPICER: I struggled with my love for animals for most of my life. I called it a curse, "cursed with compassion." We live in a world where animals are not treated well. I felt I could not find a place for myself or my art growing up. My love for animals, and respect for their right to a cruelty-free life, made me feel separated from my own family and most of my friends. The best way for me to express my love for animals, with my artistic talent, was with dogs as the subject to start out my career after college. Everyone loves dogs, right! That was something we could almost all agree upon--they were a safe, but fun subject for the majority of my books. My small business, Bark Point Studio was founded in 2012, and since that time I have created thousands of pet 'caricatures,' now called illustrations, with a percentage of a lot of those commissions going to local and national 501(c)3 animal rescue groups.
Illustrator Morgan Spicer
Since making the decision a few years ago to embrace a vegan life, my struggle to love animals has no longer been a struggle or curse. I can love them, embrace them, respect them and draw them without the feeling of hypocrisy or of helplessness. I now feel I express my love for animals with each meal, every day, and not just with my professional career choices. I would love to mention Farm Sanctuary, an amazing non-profit. I would also love to mention just two of the breed-specific rescues I love to work with, Poodle Rescue of Vermont and Oldies But Goodies Cocker Spaniel Rescue. Another great one, Foster Dogs, Inc. which started in NYC but has since grown.
FQ: How did you first meet up with one another?
SPICER: Through my small business Bark Point Studio. I started the business because I was determined to make a career as a freelance artist. I had been doing pet portraits my entire life, with the best experiences having been at the Monmouth County SPCA dog walk fundraiser. My mom, who is a small business owner and philanthropist, was always pushing me to use my art to benefit others. One year, I donated all my profits which only amounted to a few hundred dollars, but I must have drawn about 50 dogs that day as they sat in front of me at this wonderful fundraiser. I would say this experience enabled my career as an artist to get off the ground. So Bark Point Studio was the same idea, but at a much larger scale thanks in part to social media. People who commissioned art of their animal companions were encouraged to share them on social media, since my work is done digitally, this was quite easy for them. One share lead to another and Deborah had found my work. It was through this process that almost all of my author's of dog-related titles found me.
Deborah and I do share a love for animals, in particular, for our dogs. We work very well together, I feel as though the more feedback we give each other and the more we bounce ideas off of each other, the better both of our work becomes. It has always been easy for me to communicate with her throughout the process because we are so similar in our mutual respect for dogs and our understanding of the incredible role they can play in our lives, whether it's as an agility partner or simply as a best friend. I believe we have many more stories to tell together!
The caricature that started it all - author Deborah Stevenson
and her dog Soren
STEVENSON: Our first meeting was quite accidental, and a real-life case of foreshadowing if I ever saw one. I saw a caricature of a friend's dog on social media, and it was wonderful. I thought, "I'd love to have one of those of Soren!" and so I asked my friend where she had gotten it. I contacted the artist, Morgan, of course, and asked her if she could do a caricature for me. She did, of Soren and one other of my dogs, and I loved them. A few years later, I went to contact Morgan again to have her draw my other dogs, and noticed on her Facebook page that she was illustrating a children's book. By then, I had a first draft of Soaring Soren written, so I sent it to Morgan and asked her if she might be willing to illustrate it.  The rest, as they say, is history. Who knew back when Morgan drew her very first Soren, that she would become the subject matter expert one day. 🙂
Whether it was chance or fate, I'll always be grateful that our paths crossed. I am not sure whether Morgan's talent or her heart is bigger, but they are truly inseparable, and they are what, together, make her work so powerful and unique. I also have always felt, since we first started working together, that our creativity is different, but meshes in a way that brings out the best in each other. I'm in awe of her ability to capture the soul of a character. I don't know if I am her biggest fan, but I have to be pretty high on the list.
FQ: Deborah, is this love you have for animals what made you first want to pen a children’s book?
STEVENSON: That's an interesting question. Animals are definitely the inspiration for much of my writing--both the stories and the characters. And undeniably, Soren's remarkable story, and my deep admiration for that little dog with such a huge heart and spirit, is what pushed me over the edge to finally bring a children's book to fruition. I loved his story, and I loved him. I wanted the inspiration he gave to so many throughout his life, to live on. He has such a powerful and important message for children and adults alike, and I was driven to share it. But I think beyond that, it is my love of reading that was the motivation. I was the weird kid that was always getting yelled at to "stop reading at the table," "stop reading while you walk--you'll kill yourself," "stop reading and go to bed--it's 3 A.M." And then I had my own child, and watching him fall in love with reading was maybe even more addictive. I think that is when I started thinking I'd love to write a children's book one day. I hoped to help children find their own love of reading. I would also like to share with them my love and respect for animals and nature, to make them laugh, and to encourage them to be kind, to themselves and to others, to dream big, to work hard for the things they want in life and to believe that anything is within their reach if they have the determination to pursue it.

FQ: Deborah, will there be more books, with more incredible animals starring in the lead roles that readers can look forward to seeing soon?
STEVENSON: I am going say that is highly likely. I've been working on one for while now that I hope will be out this year. It's on a rather serious animal conservation subject, but it also has adventure, humor, and some unique and special characters I hope children will relate to and love as much as I do. I won't let the cat any farther out of the bag, but I'm very excited about it. Beyond this next book, suffice it to say, I have more ideas than I have time, and I hope, eventually, I get to do them all. I think Soren may have a few more fun adventures and worthwhile messages to share at some point, as well.
FQ: Morgan, you operate your own studio. Can you tell readers more about this? And what got you into the illustrating realm after graduating from Syracuse University?
SPICER: I went to Syracuse for their incredible illustration program, which was invaluable to my success. Syracuse taught us not just about how to be a well-rounded and experienced artist, but also about the business aspect behind freelancing. To be honest, I never wanted to be an artist though, I wanted to be an ethologist, but very few schools on the East Coast have that program, I then wanted to be a Zoologist...Despite this uncertainty, thankfully I listened to my family who told me I was given my artistic talent for a reason, and to embrace it. I did, but the only way I was going to be an illustrator was if I could find a way to help animals and be their voice when I could. I did not seek out children's books. The projects came to me as a result of Bark Point Studio, which was founded with the purpose of being a starting point for my real goal--to have an animal and creative sanctuary for children and adults to come and see animals in a new light, in a positive, educational, kind and cruelty-free environment. 
FQ: Morgan, do you have any personal favorites when it comes to artists?
SPICER: I do! I have always absolutely loved the work of Peter de Seve, Nico Marlet, Cory Loftis and Shiyoon Kim and then more recently I've fallen in love with Ruby Roth's work. However, since I do consider myself an animal advocate and activist above being an artist, the most influential activist to me is MLK, who said, “Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
FQ: If you had to choose one, is there a favorite children’s book that you hold dear to your heart, and why?
STEVENSON: It's so difficult to choose just one, but since you said I "had to," I pick Charlotte's Web. It is such a marvelous, creative, touching story, and one character is just richer and better than the next. Ironically, I am petrified of spiders, but I can't think of a character I adore more than the ingenious, determined and devoted Charlotte. She is the friend we'd all love to have, and should all aspire to be. After all these years, my eyes still fill with tears when I think of her. As an author, I would dearly love to create some child's "Charlotte," that fifty years later, as she reflects on her favorite children's books, can still bring a tear to her eye.
SPICER: I loved, and still love, Growltiger's Last Stand picture book by TS Eliot and Errol Le Cain. The book is about cats, which was always my favorite subject matter growing up in a house with three. Ironically, I have never done a book about a cat, despite that fact that I never liked dogs until I was a teenager. I felt bad that cats were always the bad guys, and dogs were always the good guys in media and animation and I hated it! This book makes cats feel so cool. Not to mention the art, which is amazing and edgy!
FQ: Deborah, are there other genres you wish to dive into one day?
STEVENSON:  In general, I tend to love to try new things. Actually the book I am working on now is a new endeavor for me. It started as a picture book, but I decided the content was a little too heavy for that format, and that it was better suited to a chapter book. It's been an interesting transition and a wonderful learning experience. It has gone through many iterations at this point, and I have greatly enjoyed watching it evolve over time. I still love doing picture books, but this format has allowed certain freedoms picture books do not--like being able to explore more complex plots and develop rich characters and relationships. I've fallen in love with these characters and their story, and I hope children will too. I also hope it will raise awareness about the very serious issue of poaching that has taken some species to the brink of extinction. I'd love to do more chapter books in the future.
Thank you both so much for your time, and your titles. I am a huge fan! And congratulations on the award, you deserved it 100%. - Amy Lignor
STEVENSON: Thanks so much to you and to everyone at Feathered Quill for all your hard work to support, recognize and promote authors and illustrators.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

#BookReview - Tabitha Fink and the Patchwork Pirates @rfelty

Tabitha Fink and the Patchwork Pirates 

By: Rick Felty
Publisher: Dreamschooner Press
Publication Date: December 2017
ISBN: 978-0989912860
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: February 2018 

Climb aboard a pirate ship, mateys, and get ready for a fun adventure with a very famous cat - Tabitha Fink!

On her latest adventure, Tabitha Fink, the one-eyed cat, is about to set sail to search for buried treasure. She has a ship, with a flag she made, and a beautiful patchwork sail too. The best part is that her good friend, Bartholomew the mouse, will be her first mate. The pair look quite smart in their pirate outfits and they're ready to sail...almost. They have the clothes, they have a ship and a map to the buried treasure, but they need a crew! What will they do?

The pirates soon have a plan - they post a sign to find their crew:

Pirates Ahoy!!
Want three happy pirates,
two girls and a boy.
No experience needed.
We'll show you the ropes.
Please share in our journey,
our dreams and our hopes.

Tabitha is thrilled when three would-be pirates apply and she quickly welcomes them to the crew. But Bartholomew is perplexed, as he is sure the three new pirates don't have what it takes for the long journey. The first is a cook who likes to make cakes, the second is a tuba player, and the final new mate is a cowgirl. How will they ever find the buried treasure with such an inexperienced crew?

"For the very last time,
this does not seem good."
cried Bartholomew Blink
feeling misunderstood.
"She cannot say Arrr!!
this is something to note.
Without any pirates, we won't stay afloat!"

But Tabitha Fink is certain her new crew, with their very different talents, are just what they need:

"This cowgirl seems clever and talented too," said wise Tabitha Fink, "look at all she can do!" The ship is soon underway and while Tabitha Fink and the three new pirates are all set for adventure, Bartholomew is convinced they are sailing into trouble. When they meet up with a huge whale who tries to sink the ship, the little mouse is sure they're about to sink...

This is the first book in the popular "Tabitha Fink" series that I have read and I was immediately drawn into the adorable story. Tabitha Fink and her best buddy Bartholomew are the perfect pair and the pirate adventure on the high seas is one every young reader will love. The illustrations add a fun aspect to the tale as they're playful, colorful and the facial expressions of the pirates tells the story perfectly. When Bartholomew has reservations about the new crew, children will see, and learn, just how wonderful it is when we all come together to share our different talents. Bartholomew learns an important lesson that is easily shared with young readers, for like the "Patchwork Pirates" who all have diverse backgrounds, we can come together to work through the hardest of problems. Finally, the author has chosen to tell the story in simple rhyme which flows very naturally and moves the story right along to a very satisfying conclusion. Now I think it's time I go back and check out the other Tabitha Fink stories!

Quill says: Tabitha Fink and the Patchwork Pirates is a very fun story that teaches children that by combining our different talents, we can work together to do great things.

 For more information on Tabitha Fink and the Patchwork Pirates, please visit Tabitha's page at

#BookReview - Oy, Elephants!

Oy, Elephants!

By: Deborah Stevenson
Illustrated by: Morgan Spicer
Publisher: Aperture Press
Publication Date: December 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9995158-1-5
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor 
Review Date: February 20, 2018
As most kids will agree, visiting grandparents is absolutely awesome! Think about it…you’re talking home cooking, extra treats (that Mom always says ‘no’ to), and so much more. Joel is one of those lucky buggers who is spending his school break with Grandma Gussie and Grandpa Morris at their home in Florida. A place called Delray Retirement Village. Now…there are a few downsides to the visit, like always getting your cheeks pinched; and life can get a little boring when everyone goes to bed so early, but Joel is hoping beyond hope that he will have an adventure.
As soon as Joel arrives, his wonderful grandparents are right there to greet him (and, yes, pinch those cheeks of his). But once the pinching is over with, Joel smiles as they drive to the retirement community to begin their visit. The home cooked meal is awesome, as expected, but just as a bit of boredom is about to arrive, a moving van bigger than any Joel has ever seen pulls up on the cul-de-sac and parks. Out comes two extremely large elephants, moving into one of the houses across the street. There is a massive ‘buzz’ all about the retirement community in regards to the new residents, but Morris and Gussie go right over to introduce themselves and welcome their new neighbors.
The elephants are the Helfand family; Martha and Lou. It turns out that they are retiring here in Florida now that their circus days have come to an end. From water aerobics in the pool to lazing around on the sunny beach, both families spend time together. Other residents of the village are not as nice, like Mrs. Fox and Mr. and Mrs. Bell. They are more than a little annoyed when Mr. Helfand jumps into the pool and causes them to become soaking wet. But when a frightening event occurs and Mr. Helfand’s large trunk is needed, those negative opinions soon change. Although furniture gets broken, and many other humorous things occur, Joel ends up having the adventure of a lifetime.
This fantastic author/illustrator team, who also put together the award-winning title Soaring Soren, have a true gift. The fun plot addresses exactly where elephants go to retire and is based on the fact that circuses were banned from using the incredible animals in shows to improve the elephants’ health and welfare. The illustrations are vibrant, beautifully done, and will inspire ALL artists out there to chase their future dreams. This recipe of great story and brilliant drawings come together to make this book unforgettable. So unforgettable that your own grandchild may just see it and beg you to read it 24/7…at least, that’s what happened in my house. (Oy!)
Quill Says: An incredible read that’s entertaining, exciting, and downright awesome!
For more information on Oy, Elephants!, please visit the publisher's website at:

#BookReview - Leather to Steel

Leather to Steel

By: Clint Goodwin
Publisher: Book Locker
Publication Date: 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63492-163-3
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: February 21, 2018

Clint Goodwin hits it out of the park with his third installment of his outstanding war series of historical novels. In Leather to Steel (the third book in his series), he treats his audience to a riveting account of the transition from ‘Leather to Steel’ in a phenomenal account of American history through the eyes of the horse at the onset of the Great War.

Modern warfare was evolving before (and during) the Great War (WWI). Fortunately, during the modernization that would include steel U-boats, machine guns, tanks, flamethrowers, and much more, the mighty horse was still an integral part of the campaigns. The story opens with Peace, a black stallion full of pride and all too willing to share his account of the seven generations that make up his family legacy of courage, strength and the unquestionable spirit to live that is signature to the soul of a horse. Peace lays the foundation stepping from his six-generation sire (Stonewall) and his mare (Cinnamon) who were united in Southwest Texas during the Comanche Wars (Mr. Goodwin’s previous novel). Peace’s voice is immediately recognized given the heartfelt devotion he exudes in re-telling the stories of the great stallions and mares who have served our nation since the 19th century.

Peace takes his time, side-stepping periodically to explain his breeding: ‘…a trace of a warmblood and thoroughbred breeds that defined my stature…’ He elaborates further on the roles his brothers and sisters in arms played as they served in the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard), Third Squad Caisson Platoon at the Fort Myer army base in Arlington, Virginia and delves into the intricacies of their pristine stables at this installation. As the story develops, Peace touches upon the generations of his family and the war machines they have pulled since 1861. He learned wisdom through his father Rusty’s legacy and the many war stories about his family’s military endeavors since the U.S. Civil War. With the vast array of service that transcended long before the Great War (Civil War and Comanche War), there is a comfort established between horse’s voice and reader’s attention where an indelible bond is formed within the first handful of pages. Peace is the horse to continue sharing the valor of his fallen comrades and it is inherently clear this magnificent animal was destined to tell this story.

I have had the great joy and pleasure to read all of Mr. Goodwin’s work (Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, Comanche Wars and Leather to Steel) and stopping short of gushing, I commend this writer on his commitment and discipline in each installation when it comes to getting the facts down and getting them down correctly. In my opinion, there is a specific art to weaving the perfect ‘story’ together with factual and historical accounts. Mr. Goodwin is the poster child for getting it right. I also have (to a fault) an incredible love for the horse—truly a Godlike creature with insurmountable spirit and soul. Mr. Goodwin captures the essence of human emotion as much as that of the creature telling the story and it was not surprising I found myself often pausing during this read to reflect and wipe a tear (or two) before continuing. Mr. Goodwin has the gift of writing that comes deep from within and he has a natural ability to recognize his gift given the way he places his words page upon page. I look forward to the next installation in this series. My experience with this author’s work thus far is: it just keeps getting better and better. Well done Mr. Goodwin. May I please have another?

Quill Says: Leather to Steel is a beautiful depiction of the hardships and transitional time in how the wars of our fathers were fought as much as it is an homage to the gallant and spiritual horse.

For more information on Leather to Steel, please visit the author's website at:

#BookReview - As Bright As Heaven

As Bright As Heaven

By: Susan Meissner
Publisher: Berkley, New York
Publication Date: 2018
ISBN: 978-0-399-58596-8
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: February 21, 2018
The year is 1918 and the place is Philadelphia. Susan Meissner delivers a compelling and bittersweet story in her latest novel, As Bright as Heaven.
Thomas and Pauline Bright wanted nothing more than to give their three girls, Evelyn, Maggie and Willa a better life. After the tragic loss of their sweet baby boy, Henry, it was time for a new beginning. It was time to leave the tobacco farms of Quakertown behind and look toward the new future Fred, Thomas’ brother was offering. It would be a different life for the girls—trading tobacco curing barns for undertaking. Fred Bright has a successful burial business in Philadelphia and wants to turn it all over to his brother Thomas. 
Even though her beloved child Henry has died, Pauline resists the notion of moving. However, the more intimate she becomes with the notion of death and the unrelenting hold loss has on her, Pauline realizes she will never be able to bring Henry back. There is nothing left holding her to Quakertown other than her parents and extended family. It is not enough, and she has a revelation that it is time to put the sorrow behind her and focus on the beautiful children she has who are still alive and provide a future for them. The girls have their own reservations. Evelyn (Evie) being the oldest is their logical child. She must maintain a stiff upper lip and convince her younger siblings that life in Philadelphia will be grand. Maggie, on the other hand, is the free spirit. She sees life in a different light and cannot seem to grasp the concept of a better life than the one she already has. Aside from the loss of dear Henry, she believes things will get better. Willa, the baby, simply wants what all youngest siblings want: center stage and constant attention.
Initially, the move from the rural likes of Quakertown to the city streets of Philadelphia are more than foreign and overwhelming. Uncle Fred, Thomas’ brother, never having married has strict designs on what a woman’s place is in the home and far be it for him to acquiesce even a notion of Pauline or the girls ever setting foot in the embalming salon. Time moves forward, and the Great War persists across the sea. When the epic pandemic of the Spanish Flu hits the city streets of Philadelphia and the surrounding communities, the Bright family is about to face greater challenges in their day-to-day battle with survival as their constant reminder of the unknown in the days that lie ahead.
I was instantly captivated with this story. Ms. Meissner set the realities to paper of the pandemic tragedy of the Spanish Flu and assigned the horrors of the havoc it reaped on all its victims. The historical infusion she wove in and around the characters she created was fascinating. This may be a work of historical fiction, but her documentation of what happened to entire communities because of this illness breathed intense credibility throughout this story. It is difficult to fathom the period in this novel is a mere 100 years ago; yet, Ms. Meissner has a wonderful ability to impart several layers of varied emotion for her audience to revel in with the turn of each page. My only regret in reading this novel is that point when I arrived at the last page. A true master of her art, she ties the entire story up into a neat bow at story’s end; leaving her audience with the anticipation of her next novel. Well done Ms. Meissner! I look forward to your next book.
Quill Says: As Bright as Heaven reinforces the tenacity and power of hope and new beginnings.

#BookReview - Building the Great Society

Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House

By: Joshua Zeitz
Publisher: Viking/Penguin
Publication Date: January 2018
ISBN: 978-0-525-42878-7
Review by: Janice M. Ladendorf
Review Date: February 2018

The title of this book is a bit of a misleader. It is not a biography of Lyndon Johnson, but rather the story of the men who worked with him to create the great society.

LBJ expected absolute loyalty from his staff and these dedicated men worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, as well as a half day on Sundays. They believed their mission was to complete the programs initial started by Franklin Roosevelt. This is the story of men like Bill Moyers, Jack Valenti, Joe Califano, and Harry McPherson, and what they accomplished under LBJ's direction.

 Building the Great Society does not include detailed descriptions of LBJ's legislative accomplishments, but rather focuses on how these programs were created, defended, and supported by politics and master politicians. Their first achievement was the head start program which provided early childhood education and medical, dental, and eye care for children of poor families. This program was the first one to provide federal funds to improve educational systems in the states.

LBJ  and his staff also created Medicare and Medicaid - in just one year. This was only possible because they based it on the existing health insurance system. In addition, they launched the food stamp program (SHAP) to feed poor children and adults, as well as launched public television and radio. Their toughest battle was getting public and private institutions desegregated in one third of the country.

These men lived in a time when the economy was growing and expanding and believed this situation would continue forever. They did not foresee either runaway inflation or recessions. What is remarkable is how much they accomplished when so many resources had to be devoted to the Vietnam war.

This book is full of historical detail, but, as mentioned above, the focus is not on the people who worked to create so many new programs, but rather on these new programs/institutions created during LBJ's tenure in the White House. Occasionally the author does give the reader a glimpse of the personality of one of the individual members of this group, but it really isn't enough to truly get to know these men. Unfortunately, there are no pictures included in the book of any of the people who made up this fascinating story.  Images would have been a nice addition to place faces with the names so the reader could see them as real people. 

Quill says: Anyone who is interested in the political history of this period will find this book well worth reading.  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Feathered Quill #BookAwards


Feathered Quill Book Reviews is excited to
announce the winners of the 2018 award program

Started in 2008 by a small group of dedicated, enthusiastic reviewers, Feathered Quill has become one of the preeminent online review sites. In the summer of 2013, it opened submissions for the first annual book award program, and since that time, the award program has grown substantially.  This year, the number of award nominations increased by more than 20%, with nominations coming from all types of publishers including the one book self-publisher all the way up to the major New York houses. 

When submissions closed on December 15, 2017, the judges had the daunting task of reading a HUGE number of excellent books and trying to decide the best of the best.  Every book was read, every book was judged, and often it was a mere point or two that separated the winners from the ‘almost won’ books.  New this year were "Judges' Comments" which were provided for all entrants - an excellent way for winners to get promotional quotes for marketing as well as a way for all authors to get feedback on their books.

Feathered Quill also offered numerous additional awards, sponsored by various publishing related companies, valued between $100 and $1000.  For a complete list of winners, please visit the award page,

- 30 -

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

#AuthorInterview with Michael L. Bernoudy Jr.

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Michael L. Bernoudy, Jr., author of Ninjas & Vamps

FQ: Tony goes through some major life changes in Ninjas & Vamps - from a kid living in South Central to being "one of the jocks." Was this change based on a life change you experienced, or perhaps one of your friends experienced?

BERNOUDY: The entire book (save the vampires) is based on real life experiences. I lived in LA for a number of years then moved to Lewisville.

FQ: "Life really be about that BS" - It's a theme that runs through the book and helps explain what Tony and his friends are going through. Would you explain for readers who may not be familiar with it what you mean?

BERNOUDY: Well BS of course means "bullshit." It has a double meaning in the book. As a teenager there are al kinds of things you have to go through which you would consider bullshit. In Tony's case each chapter has additional shit to add to the pile. What complicates and adds to the BS of being a teenager, is being a black teenager.

Author Michael L. Bernoudy Jr.

FQ: I loved the characters of Bebe and Opal - they are quite funny and very real too. Are they based on anybody you know? Perhaps a beloved aunt?

BERNOUDY: My Aunt Berth Banks. She was always away growing up. I would often imagine that she was out doing something exciting. My cousin Celoa (who's mom is Ope) also only visited town occassionally. I expand on the few times in life I actually have seen her.

FQ: Without giving anything away, there were little hints that you dropped here and there, such as that shiny stone Tony was given. Did you plan these plot twists out carefully before you began writing or did there come to you as your wrote the story?
Author Michael L. Bernoudy Jr.

BERNOUDY: I usually do an outline of all the chapters in my book before I write a word. So the bones of the book are already set. I develop the details and twists as I'm writing.

FQ: There were some funny lines in this book, such as, "And apparently you can't put someone in an old folks' home without their permission," that made me laugh out loud. Have you ever considered writing a humor book?

BERNOUDY: Everything I write is based on putting black people in uncommon situations. I tend to think we would find a way to joke or be funny no matter what is happening. So hopefully all my books have a significant amount of humor.

FQ: There's quite a bit of African folklore (re: African vampires, Tikoloshe, etc.) in your story. Did this require a lot of research before you began writing?

BERNOUDY: It did, but luckily you can find anything on the internet.

FQ: Opal becomes the new "Izangoma" - would you explain what this is for readers who may not be familiar with the term?

BERNOUDY: Witch doctor, spirit woman. Someone who is connected to nature and the elements and knows their secrets and how to munipulate them.

FQ: You have a degree in Theology and have written a series of books ("The Kaleidoscope") that deals "...with the creation and destruction of the world." What drew you to theology and would you tell us a little about this series?

BERNOUDY: At the time I obtained that degree I was going through a seperation and life was really bad. I did an overview of my life and figured that I had a disconnect with God. I didn't think things would get on tract until I got that relationship right.

Ninjas and Vamps is meant to be a "young adult friendly" book that my 10 year old could enjoy. I'm not sure if I accomplished that.

Like Ninjas and Vamps, the Kaleidoscope takes black people and puts them in extaordinary situations. However, these books are not kid-friendly. The plots are more intricate and the stories are a lot more bloody and sensual. The main antagonist seeks an item (the Kaleidoscope) which gives God the ability to see everything everywhere in every possible reality simultaneously. An ordinary black family gets mixed up in this fight between good and evil.

FQ: I see you also run a law firm - The Bernoudy Law Firm. How do you find time to do all that you do? Is the writing an escape from your busy law firm?

BERNOUDY: This is my first book in almost 5 years. I didn't have the time. But yes I write to escape reality and bring others along with me.

To learn more about Ninjas & Vamps please read the review.

Monday, February 5, 2018

#BookReview - Poison


By: Galt Niederhoffer
Publisher: Saint Martin’s Press
Publication Date: November 2017
ISBN: 978-1-250-08529-0
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: February 5, 2018

Galt Niederhoffer delivers a roller coaster ride of deceit, betrayal and so much more in his latest novel, Poison.

Cass and Ryan Connor have it all: three kids, a cat, and a yard in the beautiful seaside community of Cumberland, Maine; just outside of Portland. Life is cozy and complete. Recent transplants from the bump and grind of the city, they buy the ultimate Victorian ‘fixer-upper,’ enroll their kids in excellent schools and off to work they go each day to their equally satisfying jobs. Nothing could possibly go wrong in their familial utopia...until it does.

Of course, sacrifices had to be made. Ryan landed the dream job in the architectural firm which Cass knew would mean long nights and a lot of hard work and devotion on Ryan’s part. However, when long nights became the norm and Cass was increasingly becoming a single mom with her absentee husband, she began to question just what so many ‘long nights’ actually entailed. It started with the persistent buzzing of texts coming from her phone. As much as Cass tried to ignore the sound, she would succumb to what she already knew: ‘stuck at work’ ...again. No worries. Three kids later and nearing forty, Cass could still rock a party dress and hang with men half her age.

Ryan was her second chance at happiness after her first husband died. Ryan was the one to court this single mom with two children only to sweep her off her feet into happily ever after. He was relentless in his pursuit. Cass knows he’s the one when he accepts her children Pete and Alice as though they were his own and finds herself saying ‘I do’ once again. Time marches on. The family bonds. Cass and Ryan welcome their new bundle of joy they created together, and the Connor household travels further down the road of bliss. Fast forward and late nights multiply to most every night, complemented by out-of-town trips on a more regular basis. These circumstances are compounded by health issues that hit Cass like a freight train overnight. Suddenly, there’s more to this shift in what was once the storybook life. What is Ryan up to and why does Cass feel like she is witnessing the implosion of her life from afar?

Galt Niederhoffer’s crafting of this story is like building a precise masterpiece out of LEGOs one delicious scene after another. The twists and turns he strategically plants throughout this read are superb. He is a slave to his audience in that he listens to their demands and acquiesces by spinning a fantastic plot of mystery, betrayal, deceit and the age-old question of why. He goads his audience with the challenge of figuring out the moment when love turns to betrayal. All the while, he supports the wonder by planting seeds of doubt as the plot thickens. Is character Ryan justified in doing what he does? What about character Cass? Is she the victim (or were the signs all there and she chose to ignore them)? Niederhoffer has a wonderful command of his pen in this story. He taunts his reader with just enough to lead them to the very edge of the cliff before he pulls them back in the next scene. I thoroughly enjoyed the masterful writing throughout. There is not one moment of drag in this read and I welcome the opportunity to read Mr. Niederhoffer’s next book. Well done!

Quill aays: Poison is the quintessential example of presenting the question: ‘Do we ever really know everything about the one we love… and when it comes down to it, would we want to’?

#BookReview - Ninjas & Vamps

Ninjas & Vamps

By: Michael L. Bernoudy, Jr.
Publisher: Blu Phi'er Publishing, LLC
Publication Date: December 2017
ISBN: 978-0985837815
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: February 5, 2018

A move from the inner city to the backwoods of Arkansas forms the backdrop for a very unique and interesting story penned by author Michael L. Bernoudy.

Antonio Anderson (Tony or "T" to his friends) lived in South Central L.A. with his father Winchester. There's no mother in this tale, as she left when Tony was three years old. His father, however, always had a woman by his side, some good (one was a great cook), some a little less noteworthy. This was the life Tony was used to, and all went along as expected until Tony's grandmother became ill. Father and son soon had to pack up their lives and move cross-country to Lewisville, Arkansas to care for the ailing woman.

Nothing could be more of a culture shock for a young man used to the streets of South Central than moving over 1500 miles to a tiny, sleepy town in Arkansas. As Tony settled into his new life, it quickly became apparent that he had a lot to learn about life in a small town.

Tony's Arkansas family was an interesting bunch, especially his aunt Bebe and cousin Opal. Both women taught at Tony's school so there was no escaping his relatives. The teen described Opal as "creepy" with her fixation on supernatural beings from Africa, especially the African vampire. Meanwhile, Bebe was in charge of Tony's gym class and she was a taskmaster who pushed her nephew harder than any of her other students. Still, while there were some things that made life in the small town hard for Tony, he did make the football team and soon settled into life in Lewisville, thanks to some new friends that helped him adjust.

Just as things seemed to be going well for Tony, while attending a party along with lots of other kids from the high school, a white girl was attacked. That attack ended the party, but it also started a rash of disappearances of white girls in the town. Something was going on, and that "something" would soon drag Tony, his good friends, and "creepy" Opal and "taskmaster" Bebe into the fight of their lives.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I began reading Ninjas & Vamps as the back cover implied something was going on in the small town Tony was moving to - but what? My curiosity was piqued and I admit that the unexpected twists in the story took me by surprise. Action, suspense, and likeable characters that the author carefully developed made the story enjoyable. In the Forward, the author warns that he switches from " narrator voice to my homeboy voice, [so] don't get too frustrated." This switch back and forth was part of what made the story real and enjoyable. The one downfall to Ninjas & Vamps is that there are numerous editorial errors that frequently interrupted the flow of the story. With a careful re-edit, this story could really take off.

Quill says: Ninjas & Vamps has a lot of potential, and with a careful review by an editor, it could be a really fantastic story.

For more information on Ninjas & Vamps, please visit the author's website at:

Thursday, February 1, 2018

And The Winners Are...

We've just announced the winners of the 2018 Feathered Quill Book Awards.  To learn more about the awesome winning books, please visit our website!