Monday, June 1, 2020

#BookReview - Before the Foundation of the World

Before the Foundation of the World

By: Susan Weiner
Publisher: Belle Isle Books
Publication Date: February 2020
ISBN: 978-1947860452
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Date: May 29, 2020
Classical, natural and heartfelt imagery combine in this collection of poems by scholar and dedicated Christian Susan Weiner.
Weiner’s book examines our world before, during and after the advent of Jesus, from a multitude of perspectives. The opening piece, “Cinnamon and Myrrh,” celebrates the effect of love in the poet’s innermost being:
Your love, the center stone of my heart
Of blood and breath has joined each part.
Four poems sharing the title Parthian Wine recall the glories of the Middle East in the early Christian era, contrasting God’s love with earthly pastimes and pleasures:
Sweeter than the honey of an Ephesian bee...
As luminous as the Colossus of Rhodes...
Your love is stronger than a gladiator’s sword...
For oh, so much sweeter than dates and figs...
In another grouping, “Pater Mendaciorum,” Weiner characterizes Satan and his evil works: Mine is the kingdom of the asp/the well of poison at the heart of every wasp. 
The notable feature of Weiner’s artistry is her rich vocabulary and sure knowledge of ancient symbols and historic events. She has woven her sense of the time of Jesus’s birth and life story with medieval language and the format of hymns and even a trilogy of lullabies. One offering, “I Am True,” rings out like a powerful paean to God’s care for his created beings, with its repeated refrain ending in the stirring words: No matter how far you fall, I will be true.
Weiner is a student of history and literature whose brief author information states that “her love of God informed this book.” The volume is small, so could be carried in a purse or pocket for reference and sharing. It features pleasant graphics - a thick, vellum-like page appearance and colorful, tasteful decorations gracing each poem. 
Quill says: Before the Foundation of the World would make an appealing focus in several realms of group study, from workshops exploring the Bible and biblical history, to instruction in poetry and the finer points of its construction. And Weiner’s gentle, sincere message regarding the scope and nature of God’s love will engage intelligent Christians and those new to, or just discovering, the faith life.
For more information on Before the Foundation of the World, please visit the author's website at: www.SusanWeinerBooks.com

#BookReview - Memoirs of a Tortoise

Memoirs of a Tortoise
By: Devin Scillian
Illustrated by: Tim Bowers
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: May 2020
ISBN: 978-1534110199
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 1, 2020
Memoirs of a Tortoise, from the best-selling series of books by Devin Scillian (Memoirs of a Goldfish, Memoirs of a Hamster, etc.), heads off in a different direction from the other books as it deals with the loss of a loved one.
Oliver the tortoise is a very happy, and much loved, reptile. He lives with his best friend Ike, a human who takes very good care of him. Together they enjoy every month of the year with Oliver sharing with the reader the special things each month brings. 
Ike and Oliver have been together for a long time and they are both 80 years old. But while 80 isn't old for a tortoise, it is for a human. When Ike doesn't make it to the garden to share a honeydew melon with Oliver one day, the tortoise isn't too concerned. But after several days, he starts to worry. Where is Ike?
Oliver travels up to Ike's house where he sees many people, all looking quite sad. 
"Ike was still so young. He was 80 years old. Just like me. We were practically twins! I thought we were going to grow old together. Ike, where have you gone?"
Oliver decides to travel to his mother's garden, which is quite a distance away. But he's hopeful that once he reaches her, she'll be able to explain what's happening.
While some readers may be expecting another silly book like Memoirs of a Goldfish, this book instead tackles an important subject that is hard for so many to fathom, the loss of a loved one. Oliver calls Ike his pet, so it's a bit of a twist on the loss of a pet and would work equally well to help explain the loss of a pet and/or a grandparent or other loved member of the family. Like the other books in the series, this one is also illustrated by Tim Bowers and his artwork is truly part of what makes this series so memorable. 
Quill says: Definitely a different take on the "Memoirs" series, but if you're looking for a book to help explain the loss of a loved one, or even of a pet, Memoirs of a Tortoise is a good book to consider.


#BookReview - Unicorn Yoga

Unicorn Yoga
By: Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard
Illustrated by: Jennifer Sattler
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: July 2020
ISBN: 978-1534111066
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 1, 2020
Yoga is for everybody...and for every body. Thus begins the new children's book Unicorn Yoga, which introduces youngsters to yoga in a fun, and engaging way.
Today our yoga class is being taught by a talented white unicorn. She has two new students, a little blue unicorn and a little pink one too. Our teacher begins the class by explaining:
We begin by sitting on our mats, crisscross applesauce.
In Easy Pose, we are mindful and centered. Om.
The unicorn yogi carefully explains some basic poses as she demonstrates the proper form of each. The Cow Pose, Cat Pose, Tiger Pose and Child Pose are just a few of the basic poses she explores. The two students diligently try each, sometimes successfully, and sometimes, well, a bit distracted and not quite correctly. But it's all good - they are trying.
A two-page spread is dedicated to each pose. The left page has the text, with the name of the yoga pose, and a simple explanation on how to do it. Opposite the text is an illustration of the teacher and her students, on their mats, doing the pose. It's amazing how a unicorn can actually do some of these movements in such a way to make it perfectly understandable to those not familiar with yoga.
The illustrations in Unicorn Yoga are a big reason this book works. The unicorns are adorable, particularly the young students. They get a little goofy as they attempt some of the poses, which will definitely help keep young readers engaged. At the back of the book are two pages of notes to help young readers better understand the world of yoga and all the benefits it provides.
Quill says: Unicorn Yoga is a wonderful introduction to yoga for young readers and will help get them started on a lifetime of good health. Check it out! Namaste.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Trond Undheim @trondau

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Trond Undheim, author of Pandemic Aftermath: How Coronavirus Changes Global Society
FQ: Thank you for your time today. My first question is focused on your dedication: ‘For my children...I wanted to leave you a better world than this...’ I found this interesting and you piqued my curiosity to ask: If you could cite one scenario toward what is ‘bad’ about the world now, what would that be and how would you make it better?
UNDHEIM: It was a complicated statement. I'm concerned about many global issues in our contemporary society: climate, biodiversity, famines, social inequality, terrorism, and infectious diseases, to mention just a few. I have been struck by how quickly (in 100 days) we, collectively, have managed to screw up the world I've put them into by not containing a fairly moderate pandemic (not even the worst one that will come our way). I don't blame one single leader but I think we have a collective guilt as parents and "elders" who elected our leaders and also generally go about our life without much concern for the long term common good. I want them to fully understand how to become enlightened beings that would be more effective than I have been at creating a world where problems are addressed swiftly and efficiently. As many ambitious parents, I of course wish for my kids to become leaders, scientists and decision makers. But more than that, over the past 100 days, I realize I just want them to be emotionally literate and happy. Part of being happy, I think is being informed so that you can appreciate why you are fortunate to exist at all. Another part is being happy by having access to an inner strength that stems from years of training and quite a lot of adversity. Thirdly, having the courage to practice and always strive to have a strong, bold imagination, in order to make sense of everything that happens around you and know how to put the world back together again. I found out long ago that quality of life is not money, power or nutrition, but it is born in the mind and practiced by our bodies in tandem.
FQ: I was impressed with the amount of research you must have done to lay out the timeline in Chapter I. I’m assuming it took a fair amount of time and study to do so. How long?
UNDHEIM: I obsessed with anything written or said about the pandemic. I quickly realized that the first three months would be crucial and everything would follow from that. You could say, I gambled on a worst case scenario. Unfortunately, I was right. I wrote the book in two months. I barely slept. My family have now prohibited any and all pandemic topics during meals or indeed in conversation. An obsession at that level is not shared my many. 
FQ: In line with my previous question, did you find setting the steppingstones in place with a pandemic timeline (past and present), help your pen to flow as you got into the mechanics of writing the book?
UNDHEIM: The various timelines are useful as precursors to my scenario building. Most pandemic scenario exercises only cover a brief decision point a few weeks into a pandemic. I wanted to show that the relevant timeline here is a decade into the future and seven hundred years into the past. Having said that, I woke up one day and saw five options potentially playing out. I wrote it on my Ideapaint dry erase wall in my attic studio and realized I had to write a book about it, assuming not everyone would be prepared to think the world has changed. That was at the end of January and the first week of February. 
FQ: Since the outbreak of Covid-19 and where we are today, I’ve encountered many portrayals where it is equated to the Spanish Flu pandemic. While the loss of even one life is a travesty, do you, in your opinion, believe this is a fair assessment to cite the two as related?
UNDHEIM: Immediate death toll is not the only measure of impact. Also, we are only in the beginning of this pandemic, and what I'm imagining in the book, to a large extent, is a situation where the emerging vaccine candidates don't work as well as we wish for them to do, so it becomes cyclical. In addition, in a few of the scenarios, I'm imagining that the virus mutates. Also, as I'm very clear about in Pandemic Aftermath, it is a grave misunderstanding to equate a flu virus to a coronavirus. I'm not trying to do that, I'm saying that this is no "mini-pandemic." I think that as the months and years go by, we will come to realize that COVID-19 will seed quite significant changes, but they won't all happen overnight. Lots of things people assume will change is likely going to go back to where we started, as well. Change is not linear and seldom has one single cause. 
FQ: How, in your opinion, will the Covid-19 pandemic treat the way diseases will be reported in the future, i.e., flu season each year? Do you think there will be a heightened focus on these types of outbreaks as well?
UNDHEIM: Unfortunately, history has shown that we always prepare for the last pandemic. The biggest mistake we made this time, was to prepare for a flu scenario. We had stockpiles of flu vaccine, but no plans for quickly producing other vaccines. Next time, I fear we will prepare for a carbon copy of coronavirus, even though society will have changed, we might be faced with a different virus and different politicians and social movements. The only constant will be the antivaxxers, they have been around for centuries. Very few societies are able to keep a constant focus on risk. Rather, humans tend to practice wishful thinking. The only exception to that is the prospect of war, which seems to be something humans have a clear fear of, which motivates the build-up of military strength. I hope we can build a similar focus on pandemics and other environmental risks. But to answer your question, I fear COVID-19 will become cyclical and just one more community disease to watch out for, which brings me back to a world I didn't want to create for my kids. We were on a path to progress, with increasing quality of life and life span. That might have been a myth, at least for the great majority of humanity. As I depict in the scenarios, the elite will always find a way to come out on top. 
FQ: In Chapter 3, you make a few references to Bill Gates and "...arguably, the mere fact that a global pandemic could spread havoc even in Western societies was a ‘catastrophe foretold,’ for instance, by Bill Gates," and followed-up later in the chapter, again with: "Bill Gates’ pandemic warning (2015)..." Why, in your opinion, do you suppose Bill Gates is suddenly categorized as an ‘authority’ associated with ‘the remedy’?
UNDHEIM: Bill Gates was an authority long before this pandemic. He has successfully transitioned from millionaire tech geek to innovating philanthropist. What I was saying, though, is that he said little new in his speech. He is among the few public persons from outside the more traditional public health community (epidemiologists) who has deeply studied (and financed) public health studies and programs around the world. He is a pioneer in measuring and achieving public health impact. He also speaks from a position of being an outsider, which makes him more believable. His agenda is clearly much more than money and legacy, he actually cares, and loves to tinker with things to improve them. I identify very much with that, and I think others do as well. Having said that, as I write in my book, a pandemic is about much more than funding, vaccines and public health. We now need to decide whether and how we want to live differently. We need to build a new way to live together (and apart).
FQ: I would thoroughly enjoy your opinion/take on the controversy that has been delivered by the media toward Tedros Adhanom of WHO; both positive and negative and why you take the stance you do.
UNDHEIM: My take on him specifically is really not detailed very much in the book beyond pointing out that his predecessor, Gro Harlem Bruntland, was a much stronger leader and less of a diplomat. Tedros seems to be an outstanding African born diplomat, but what that means is that he is an appeaser of dictators, among other things. I studied appeasement in the 1930s, where well-meaning people, among them British PM Neville Chamberlain, constantly argued that it was better to appease Hitler than risk a conflict, which only created a much bigger conflict. Fast forward to 2020, and we have a few great powers with questionable motives as well, and he chooses to play both sides. Not a bad hand if you succeed, but very bad if you lose. But the WHO is an organization that has been in decline in an environment where pandemic risks have increased and globalization has accelerated without a corresponding increase in the power, authority and effectiveness of international multilateral institutions. Even a great leader would not have been able to stem the tide on this pandemic enough to avoid a catastrophe. 
FQ: You paint a hopeful scenario in Chapter 4: "The year 2030—peace in our time—again. We are in the year 2030. After a decade of widespread agreement on the goals for planet Earth, world leaders and civil society have just concluded a Global Summit for a World Without Borders. A new world government has been approved..." I detect a strong sense from you that a world without borders is a time of peace and tranquility for all humankind. What, in your opinion, is broken with the current status of a world "with borders" and why?
UNDHEIM: Borders are artificially created, usually by the winner of wars. Those wars typically split cultures and resources edgewise. Borders also tend to enlarge and grow over time. What I'm pointing out is that there is a maximum size beyond which borders don't make up for heterogeneity. If the main problems cannot be solved within borders, why continue to use that as a unit of organization in the first place? What makes sense to people is what's local (within walking and driving distance within a day). But I think I was pretty clear that a world without borders might have to be fought and won in a way that also means the loss of innocence. A globalized world is a much more complex world where bigger, smarter, more powerful elites will tend to concentrate and we risk that they are more dominating than ever before. That would be a risk we would have to be willing to take. A return to some sort of nationally focused tribalism is much more probable short term but has big costs in terms of lack of ability to coordinate the real issues facing humanity and the earth in the next 20-50 years. By the way, in the US, these debates are somehow still framed as binary--left/right, rich/poor, Republican/Democrat, when in reality they are far, far more complex. 
FQ: As a world (and generally speaking), we only began to learn about Covid-19 a brief few months ago. When did you begin your research and commit to writing this book?
UNDHEIM: I started at the end of January as I realized that the WHO was not calling this a pandemic not because it wasn't one, but for political reasons. That's when I realized that this would not end well, and the journalist and historian in me saw an opportunity to start documenting the future as it started to unfold much more rapidly than previously expected. 
FQ: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today. I cannot even fathom what your next project may be. Are you working on something and if so, could you share some insights?
UNDHEIM: I'm currently hard at work on a book on the future of technology which will come out in 2021. I'm also writing a children's book series based on stories I've told my kids throughout the years. There is also a super-exciting historically complex magical realism project which my wife and I have been working on for years. Maybe this will be the year we finish the first book in that series, too? A pandemic has to be good for something!

#BookReview - Pandemic Aftermath @trondau

Pandemic Aftermath: How Coronavirus Changes Global Society
By: Trond Undheim
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: June 2020
ISBN: 978-1-64826-190-9
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Date: May 26, 2020
Pandemic Aftermath: How Coronavirus Changes Global Society is Trond Undheim’s latest book; filled with chapter upon chapter of information for his audience to digest and consider.
The book opens with a lengthy Introduction of information ranging from ‘The consequences of the Black Death’ to ‘Scenarios for the next decade.’ Beyond the Introduction, there is a ‘takeaway and exercise’ at the end of each chapter for the reader to opt to either interact (or not). In Chapter I, Undheim takes his first dive into the minutia of the Covid 19 pandemic by setting the timeline. He begins at the origins of the crisis and ‘…the early days’ and addresses what is commonly acknowledged as ‘ground zero’ (Wuhan Province, China). From this point, he rolls along to the surge of the outbreak in Italy and the steamroll effect from there with its roll from Europe across the Atlantic to the United States. Moving along from the pandemic’s origins and original footprint, Undheim segues into who and what constitutes a ‘superspreader’ of the virus. Mind you, we are only in the infancy of this read at the end of Chapter 2.
Mr. Undheim redirects his audience to the foresights, failures by futurists, government, media and innovation; placing the reader at the headwaters with the ‘how to’ approach of mapping this pandemic beast along with a simulation of the next decade and beyond. Chapter 4 offers up the first scenario of what to do: ‘Scenario I: The borderless world…’ only to be followed in Chapters 5 and 6 with Scenario’s II and III respectively: Nation-state renewal or Two worlds apart’. After digesting the plethora of the former chapters, Undheim continues forward with a concerted and deeper dive that is rife with yet another bounty of information and eventually we are at a wrap-up and book’s end.
I am not familiar with Trond Undheim’s work but must say I was quite taken with the level of depth he went into in this body of work. The bevy of information and (at times) opinion goes beyond the pale in detail. There are times when I sensed a nuance from the author that spotlighted his opinion toward how the pandemic has been addressed, mitigated (and perhaps, mishandled) by world leaders from abroad as well as the United States. I applaud him in a sense that he has stayed true to his beliefs and while I’m sure he could have peppered his work with opinion, he tempered his pen admirably. This is not a read for the faint of heart as there are times when it can be downright disturbing. Again, I commend Undheim because, after all, isn’t this one of the basic elements of solid writing: enlist the emotions of your audience and engage them? In my humble opinion, Undheim accomplished his endeavors on both fronts.
Quill says: Pandemic Aftermath: How Coronavirus Changes Global Society, is a read that provides a bounty of information and certainly a large dose of ‘food for thought.’
For more information on Pandemic Aftermath: How Coronavirus Changes Global Society, please visit the author's website at: trondundheim.com/pandemic-aftermath


Friday, May 22, 2020

#BookReview - The Call of Magic @ARC_Storyteller

The Call of Magic (The Fool's Journey Book 1)
By: A.R.C.
Publisher: Quick and Animus LLC
Publication Date: June 2020
ISBN: 979-8-6424-5281-3
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: May 19, 2020
Describing this as a “good book” would be a monumental understatement. It would be like describing the 1953 Chevy Corvette as being an “okay car.” Reading this can only be categorized as a memorable event!
Emma Lie is our star, who we meet inside the local high school where a bully named Jimmy Haynes is harming an overweight, meek, young man named Michael Morton. Jimmy has just received a black eye in front of his football playing posse for his troubles. But the black eye didn’t come from his victim; he was just pummeled by the 115-pound Emma Lie. Now, Emma has already graduated from these hallowed halls and is on her way to the super-intelligent Harvard University. However, because of her actions, she could lose her entire scholarship and be arrested now that she’s 18. Jimmy is also in dire trouble. After all...can he hit a girl? If he doesn’t, this “leader of the pack” will fall from grace in front of his own gang. Thankfully, before he can slap Emma, Coach Ranshaw jumps in and sends them to the office.
Emma sits in front of Principal Jeminick (a former Marine) and tells him that what she did was right. He, either not wanting to get involved or actually really liking Emma for being tough, lets her leave and offers her some good advice: “Find yourself friends in life worthy of your loyalty.” It’s good advice, but words she tends to ignore. You see, Emma had a lot of friends at one point in time, yet closed herself off a while back and threw herself into a more serious role. Placing her nose-in-a-book, she has big dreams that include one day sitting in the Oval Office and running America.
Michael drops her off at home. Here Emma lives with a mother she loves who’s an amazing artist, and holds anger for a father who left them long ago. Almost running into a tall man with Asian features that seems to have come out of nowhere, Emma feels a bit uneasy as she avoids him and runs into the house to begin packing up her room in order to get ready for going to Harvard in a week.
She also must head to work at the local boutique coffee shop, Bella Lita, where she is once again surprised when the Asian man appears out of nowhere. But it’s a different stranger who captures her focus. Although trying to stay away from this stunning stranger, Emma ends up sitting down with him and discovers his name is Thies, he is also 18, a German on vacation, whose own over-the-top goal in life is to “save the world.” Thies also has something in common with Emma: they both have an odd rash on their arm, a spot that burns at times and turns red.
Time moves forward quickly and Emma meets up again with Thies and his “colleague” – a Brazilian man named Murilo who visited Emma’s house and met her mother. They tell her of an offer. They have come to recruit Emma to be a new addition at their school, a place called Institut Le Blanc. If she accepts their offer, Emma will receive a salary (which she tells them to triple in order to see if they’re lying), as well as a full scholarship. Here, however, she will not be on the road to a political future anymore; she will, instead, be taught...magic. Seems the rash she and Thies have are the mark given to carriers of magic. Emma was chosen for this, but she must sign a document and come with them before the clock ticks down and the offer is rescinded. 
Before she can do anything, however, a gunshot rings out and Emma wakes up injured in a room filled with strangers. Her mother has been abducted, Murilo is in critical condition, Thies remains by her side, and a woman in white known as the High Priestess is about to alter her future. This place is called The Citadel, where she’ll not only meet new friends, but dive into a world Emma never thought was possible. Lies are told, battles are won, Emma’s heart will be broken, and a choice between staying alone or being part of a team that truly fights for one another must be made. 
There’s so much to say...so many characters to introduce...and so many storylines to share, that it’s impossible to do so in a review. Just know, you’ll end up being a fast fan of this mysterious author with a great deal to share.
Quill says: A perfect escape. Enjoy this remarkable “event”!
NOTE: When it comes to publishing dates, the author states: “This is a series told in two parts. Every month, a new book will be released. Every week, stories will be released on the company’s website (https://www.quickandanimus.com/ARC). They complement each other; knowledge from one will shed light on the other...and free, daily, important inclusions to this universe are available, as told by Fate.” Which can be read on the website at all times.
For more information on The Call of Magic (The Fool's Journey Book 1) please visit the publisher's website at: www.quickandanimus.com/ARC

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

#BookReview - The Prince of Wentworth Street

The Prince of Wentworth Street: An American Boyhood in the Shadow of Genocide
By: John Christie
Publisher: Plaidswede Publishing Co.
Publication: April 2020
ISBN: 978-17333-55674
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: May 12, 2020
John Christie delivers a heartfelt and touching memoir of his family history among the pages of The Prince of Wentworth Street.
One hundred years beyond the Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, journalist John Christie is at a crossroads in his life. Faced with personal struggles, it was time to put his journalistic skills to use and wander down that long-ago road of his familial history in search of answers. Once committed to the writing, Christie is superb in capturing the essence of situations and a world he had no idea existed; a world that was darkened by the horrific shadow of genocide.
Christie opens his story with an introduction of who he is and the fact that he spent the better part of his life writing as a reporter: “...I wrote about city council meetings and presidential campaigns; I dug up stories about police brutality and government fraud; I composted features about Boston’s street people and antiquarian bookstores...the work always began the same way. Start with the facts: Calculate the increase in the city’s budget. Get quotes from the mayor and city councilors. Interview some homeowners...This writing was different. Writing about your own life is an attempt to unearth some essential truth, and the truth is more than a summary of facts...” What Christie discovers early on in his project is the truth; a truth that is foundational to his memoir. His story ebbs and flows in waves of melancholy sometimes and anger others. The resounding revelation throughout, however, is that his life is a part of an egregious tragedy against people who were blood relations to him. 
The Armenian Genocide occurred over a century ago in Suedia, a small Turkish village near the Mediterranean Sea and yet in modern day, it is an occurrence that is never to be discussed, but if the subject is ever broached, it never happened. If you were Armenian and Christian, you were a ‘kefir.’ Translated, ‘kefir’ means unbeliever. It was the mission of all Turks to wipe out every ‘kefir’ because the Ottoman Empire was ruled by Muslims and all other beings outside such faith were infidels. Fortunately for Christie, his Nana, the cornerstone of his memoir, not only escaped the imminent death of the Armenian Genocide but made her way to America. Twenty years beyond her death, for Christie to tell his truth, it was imperative he write her story as much as his own.
John Christie delivered an incredibly beautiful memoir. What I was thinking about how to formulate this review, my initial thought was: How do I capture the essence of this read simply by citing one or two occurrences when there are countless and notable moments he shares throughout this body of work? As an alternative, my overarching opinion for the entire body of work is: He is a master at anchoring his voice and he portrays great pride and love of and for his heritage throughout. There is a sublime sorrow the reader can often feel albeit Christie does not spell out the sadness. Rather, he is insistent and writes with conviction toward just how influentially significant the history of his family shaped him into the man (and writer) he is today. Not only was this a phenomenal read, it was an education in fact as much as humility and I thank Mr. Christie for sharing his story.
Quill says: The Prince of Wentworth Street is a fantastic portrayal of innocence as much as a depiction of wounds that never completely heal. 


Sunday, May 10, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Simon Plaster

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Simon Plaster, author of TRACKS: A Curious Tale of Who's Her Daddy?
FQ: Simon Plaster...the King of Satire...I missed Henrietta a great deal. Please tell me how the "Who’s Her Daddy premise came about; and when you decided that American Pickers would play a great part in this new book?
PLASTER: Is that you behind that mask, Amy? What the hell, we’re on phone TV, thousands of miles apart. Am I in danger of catching something? I am kinda techy about...As a matter of fact, the “Who’s Your Daddy?” idea came to me same way it came to Buford Bailey in the tale. Fellas of our generation lived in fear of being told we were somebody’s daddy, on account of gals setting down on unwiped toilet seats. As for the Pickers angle, I put it in the book with hopes of catching the TV show’s attention. I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff I would like to get rid of, but so far, no luck.
FQ: I have to ask, because of the cavalcade of characters you create, is there ever a time when the journey gets confusing? Or, do you have your notes all collected and drawn out before each character comes into play?
PLASTER: I am not one to plan ahead, so for me, all journeys are confusing; not so much in a cavalcade as in a stroll through a boardwalk penny arcade, where characters jump out at you from every which direction. I have dropped many a merlot snow cone in startled surprise.
FQ: In addition, where do you come across these titles? Balls: A Tale of Radical feminism and a Girl; BOO! A Chilling Tale of Too-Too #MeToo, etc. Were you born with with this gift — pen and paper in hand as a boy — or did the need to write come along at a later date? Do you title the work before you begin, or at the end?
PLASTER: Like most boys, I reckon; it wasn’t a pen or paper I had in my hand most of the time. As for book titles, they come at the end when I read what I wrote, but my publisher, Marty Lowry, puts them at the front.
FQ: When you began Henrietta’s books, did you know this was going to be a series starring a recurring character? In addition, is there a particular character you’ve taken a shine to that will, perhaps, earn their own set of books one day? I would think Maximo Morgan would make a great modern-day P.I.
PLASTER: Writing down my first tale, titled SUMBITCH!, I thought Henrietta was a minor figure I would likely never come across again. Only when I read what I wrote did I see that she stole the show, which is why I changed the sub-tile to A Tale of Bigtime College Football, and a Girl. And it’s funny you would ask about writing more about Maximo Morgan. I would like to tell private detective tales, but dang it, having got a taste of gumshoe work, Henrietta is now set on becoming a private eye her own self. 
FQ: Many author’s say they are not in the driver’s seat when it comes to their books. So, along those lines, has Henrietta ever shocked you? Was there a time when you were typing away and suddenly what you thought you were going to write went off in a completely new direction and you were left “following” Henrietta to see where that character was going?
PLASTER: Well, yes and no. Henrietta is what you might call “grounded.” She is not well educated but smart. She has plenty of self confidence, but is not uppity. She has character, and in that way is predictable. On the other hand, while not shocked, I have been disappointed in her choices of boyfriends; not a one of them have been worthy of her attention. In that way and others, she can’t be “grounded,” not by me. Whereas I am glad she has put aside notions of a journalism career — also not worthy of her — I have my doubts about how she is going to do as a private detective. 
FQ: Do you travel to book events, shows, etc. — or even have a blog — where readers can contact/meet you? If so, can you share with us one of the most memorable stories you have between you and a reader/ fan?
PLASTER: I will not travel, do shows or etceteras, not since Marty Lowry sent me down to the Mexican border on a bus for a book signing. The convenience store had only two copies of my book, both wrote down in Spanish, and I did not make a dime for my exertion. My tales are my blog. Anyone wanting to say something in my direction can write to mossikpress@mail.com, which is what my reader/fan — Bennie Hana — does from Osaka, Japan. Bennie also sells knives that will cut through steel, though lately — thank the Lord — I have had no need of them.
FQ: Besides your own, do you have a particular present-day series of books starring a P.I./detective that you explicitly like to read? Because of your quirks and intelligence, I would think Lincoln & Child’s, Xavier Pendergast would be a favorite.
PLASTER: Never heard of ‘em. But Julia Child was once a real life spy; I watch re-runs of her TV cooking shows. And I still listen to records made by Xavier Cugat’s dancing singer, that gal named Charo who rumba dances to Cuchi-Cuchi tunes.
FQ: How important do you feel the facets of publishing are in regards to book covers, editing, marketing, etc.? And which do you find the most difficult of them all to master?
PLASTER: My particular publisher — Marty Lowry at Mossik Press — makes editing, marketing and etcetera impossibly difficult for himself. On the other hand, he works with a gal named Kristen McGregor at Astrea Creative, who creates covers worth buying a book to frame and hang on a wall.
FQ: Can you please give us a sneak peek of what you’re working on now; and whether you have a new Henrietta from Henryetta idea already percolating.
PLASTER: Already percolated and in the can, so to speak, is GREEZERS: A Tale of Establishment’s Decline and Fall, which will come out soon as readers have had a chance to fully digest and put behind them — so to speak — the TRACKS book.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

#BookReview - Tracks

TRACKS: A Curious Tale of Who's Her Daddy?
By: Simon Plaster
Publisher: Mossik Press
Publication Date: March 2020
ISBN: 978-0-9994185-4-3
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: May 6, 2020
I don’t know about you, but I miss Henrietta from small-town Henryetta, Oklahoma, when I haven’t seen her in a while. I have a fondness for not only this journalist whose ambition was once to win a Pulitzer Prize, but also for the town, itself. I was lucky enough to stay the night in Henryetta way back when and it’s the only place in the world where you can get a Big Mac and see Dallas Cowboys memorabilia at the same time. Why? Because the McDonald’s there is also the “museum” for Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman. Yes…it’s that cute of a place.
Henrietta’s name on her birth certificate IS spelled with the ‘y’ instead of the ‘i’, in honor of this little village or a typo, no one knows. But she has changed it over time. Well, she was basically just sick of correcting people when they tried to spell it, so she dumped it. After five years of working for the newspaper in that small town, Henrietta took off to Oklahoma City to work there. Turns out, she didn’t like the detestable avenues a journalist had to take at times to land a story, so with the help of an education counselor, she learned that she was best suited for being either a bartender or cook. After those ideas fell apart (while catering, she was actually “demoted from peeling raw shrimp to boiling water”), she was basically looking at heading back home. That is, until a few weeks ago when she met up with a new boyfriend, Joe McDokes. (Unfortunately, like the rest of the men this poor girl has chosen, McDokes is definitely more of a McJoke.) 
Receiving a call from her mother, Wynona Sue, Henrietta learns something unexpected. For review purposes, I will just say her mom found a Montgomery Ward divan with ‘stuff’ on it and discovered Henrietta has a different father than the Cajun guy who dumped Mom long ago. Not only that, but the real ‘Baby Daddy’ is a man high-up in the political arena. Apparently, this prominent man had a fling with Wynona Sue when she was just sixteen. Because of this info, and McJoke’s need to talk about family and kids, Henrietta does drive back home. 
Wynona Sue has hired the only P.I. in Henryetta – Maximo Morgan – to help her with her case. Now, Max is a hoot. He/she (read to find out) listens to old cases of famous P.I.’s while also doing daily work for the USPS. Buying a fedora, Max learns from people like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer in order to get better at solving crimes. His previous run-ins with Wynona Sue (he accused her of murder once, and then accused her of kidnapping girls for their hair—both of which were never found to be true), caused him to think of her as the “strawberry blonde femme fatale.” Needing his help now, Max soon dives into the case to bring the truth to light. 
More is happening in Henryetta, however. A dried-up politician named Buford Bailey, now ex-Mayor, was ousted from the office that the males in his family have held forever. Now his only excitement comes from waiting for the American Pickers (a TV show on The History Channel) to come to his house and pay him lots of money for his collection of antiques (AKA: junk). 
On her way back into town after three years is the woman who ousted Bailey: Hildegard Bottomly. Taken from the town the day before winning the election, she’s now coming home to take over and share her never-before-read victory speech. However, her best friend states that citizens may not take to that idea very well and she may get impeached instead. So not only may Hildegard have to hold a lively primary to get the citizens back on her side, but she’ll also have to deal with the ex-Mayor and her archrival, Jonathan Henry, who threw his name into the mayoral race last time and is also the richest man in town.
Let everything from the paternity to the political games begin! I give all kinds of credit to this author, as always. There’s a very thin line between fantastic sarcasm and over-the-top rude. The line becomes evident when characters take things too seriously and their dialogue ends up on the mean side. This cast has the ability to laugh at themselves at all times; thus, allowing the reader to love the memorable interaction, laugh throughout the tale, and have a great time seeing where it all leads.
Quill says: Crowned the “King of Satire” long ago; this is yet another incredible book by the author who shows exactly why he will keep the title.
For more information on TRACKS: A Curious Tale of Who's Her Daddy?, please visit the author's Goodreads page at: Goodreads.SimonPlaster.com

Friday, May 1, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Holly Brandon

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Holly Brandon, author of Life in the Chastity Zone (Chastity Series, Book 1).
FQ: When you first began writing Life in the Chastity Zone (Book 1), did you always know it would be the start of a series, or did this project begin as a standalone novel? If the latter, can you tell readers when it changed for you and you decided there was more of a story to tell?
Author Holly Brandon
BRANDON: It began as a standalone novel. I realized 400 pages into it that there was so much more I wanted to share and so much more about Chastity that I wanted the readers to learn about her character. It was then that I realized one book would never do her justice.
FQ: There is so much emotion in this book told with the greatest wit and humor imaginable. Is it difficult to write irony/sarcasm and still keep characters so personable? Or is that a particular gift you happen to have?
BRANDON: Honestly, thank you. That’s a huge compliment. I see my characters as if they are sitting in the room with me. Since they’ve become part of my life, I get a kick out of writing what I think they would say. I try to visualize what would come out of their mouths with their quirky behaviors, and then work those elements into my story. It also helps to have gone through crazy situations and have lived to not only tell the tales but also pull from them into my book.
FQ: The “menfolk” in this book are all so unique. From Grant to Vincent to George – everybody Chastity knows and meets in her life is so different. Are these characters you’ve met along the way in your own life’s journey? If not, how difficult is it to make them all so diverse?
BRANDON: I’ve met them all. A few of the characters are a merger of two or more men that I’ve met in my past. I must say that I’ve definitely met unique men who left an unforgettable impression on me. I was a senior in high school when I encountered my first adventure with a man I secretly labeled as Montana Man. He was tall, dark, and handsome, and I was terrified of flying. It didn’t help that I was leaving on a Delta flight from one of the most dangerous airports because of its topography and weather conditions. I was scared to death. I can still picture him coming up to me in the airport, his smell, his aura, everything, and then those few little words that took me off guard, “I want to sit next to you on the plane.” He was, I’d say, “what dreams are made of,” except that he was a facade—the cover was beautiful but the inside was a seedy, tainted nightmare. And so began my adventures, which later I put to the paper.
FQ: Along those same lines, is Chastity based on you, or someone you know? And the lessons she learns throughout, do you hope that readers in this day and age will understand and perhaps learn to “stick to your guns” and take time to make decisions instead of rushing into things? What is the one “lesson” you hope readers will take from this?
BRANDON: Chastity is definitely based on my life. I learned a long time ago that it’s worth waiting and fighting for all good things. I wanted readers to see a character who has everything thrown at her—lack of success, inability to have children, loss of the things most cherished—but then decides to stick to her guns and fights. In the process, she may come out bruised, but she’s stronger, a survivor. The one lesson I hope everyone will see is that if you fight hard enough, you can overcome any obstacle thrown your way. And never, ever let anyone tell you that your ideas and beliefs are crazy and ridiculous because that’s what makes us all so unique and special. Marriage is special, and waiting for the right man is worth it, even if you’re a thirty-year-old virgin.
FQ: What is your personal favorite characteristic of Chastity, as well as Roxie’s greatest gift?
BRANDON: Her sense of humor; that she can roll with the punches and laugh about all these crazy men. Roxie’s greatest gift is her supportive nature. She pushes Chastity to find herself through these wild ideas as in the to-do list.
FQ: Roxie is a personal favorite because I love the fact that she and Chastity are polar opposites in many ways, but they play off each other so well. How did their relationship come about? Was it difficult to write their scenes? And, if you had to pick one, who do you feel you’re the most like out of the two?
BRANDON: I met my best friend in high school (aka Roxie) when I transferred to an all-girls school in my freshman year. It was honestly my worst nightmare. I had no friends, the girls were dreadfully snobby, and the teachers—all but one particular science teacher—were awful. She befriended me right away. She was different than the rest. It didn’t matter that she was 5’4” and drop-dead gorgeous. She was strong-willed, opinionated, and hysterical. She was a black belt in karate and a sharpshooter who later went into the Air Force Academy. I remember our first winter formal. We were juniors, and I had just gotten my driver’s license. She said to me, “I have it taken care of. I’ll find the guys. You drive, and if they misbehave, we can ditch them.” Misbehave was an understatement. The boys arrived at my house, completely stoned. It was easy to create Roxie’s character; it just came naturally! I love her both as a character and as a dear friend!
FQ: Was this title drawn up as an outline, or was this a project where you sat down and just started to type? If the latter, did the journey ever take a turn that surprised you while you were writing the novel?
BRANDON: Definitely, not an outline! I finished the first draft of my book and wasn’t happy at all. Something was missing. I loved the characters, the men were wacky as all get out, and Chase grew as the story unfolded, but it just wasn’t right. Then I thought about this psychic I grew up with and how he told us things that no one would ever know. From there, the little girl Daphne took shape and blossomed into the story. She brought a real understanding of Chase and her demons.
FQ: I find it amazing, considering your background (holding a PhD, M.S., and B.S. in Civil Engineering, and publishing works in the Journal of Earthquakes, Earthquake Engineering, and Engineering Vibrations and Earthquake Science) that this fiction work is so spot-on and so much fun to read. It is certainly a different path for you. Is romance your favorite genre? Are you or will you be looking at writing in other (fiction) genres one day?
BRANDON: I am a hopeless romantic to the core. I dream of forever with a man when I can look him in the eyes and say, “I do,” again and again. I will always write romance with a hint of comedy because I love it! Writing kept me going throughout my tedious studies. Don’t get me wrong, I love engineering. Still, I needed something to make me laugh, and I needed a way to turn the lemons into lemonade—meaning, the bad dates I was experiencing, and the pain I was having because of my levator-ani-syndrome. Plus, it helped me accomplish all of my degrees. Writing is my happy place. It truly helped me heal. That said, maybe one day, there will be an earthquake engineering book for the everyday person that doesn’t understand the engineering jargon—with family stories and, of course, romance intertwined!
FQ: What should readers expect in Book #2, and do you already know how many books will be in the series?
BRANDON: They should expect to find out what happened to Grant, Vincent, and Jacques-Pierre. They should also expect to see Chastity dive into the working force, and the struggles that come with being a woman in a man’s world. There are a lot of unexpected twists and turns in the next book. Spoiler alert: she does fall madly in love, and there is an unexpected wedding. The reader will have to wait to see how that all unfolds. As far as how many books are in the series, right now there are three, but who knows. Chastity has so much to share with the world.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

#BookReview - Life in the Chastity Zone

Life in the Chastity Zone (Chastity Series, Book 1)
By: Holly Brandon
Publisher: Independent Publisher
Publication Date: April 2020
ISBN: 979-8-6337-8268-4
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: April 29, 2020
Chastity Morgan (AKA: Chase) is one of those women who readers will really want to hang out with. She has an ironic life filled with sarcastic days, but the best thing is that she surrounds herself with some truly unique people. Chase has also had to deal with quite a bit, from an accident in her past to having her dissertation turned down as she’s trying to become the best structural engineer in Southern California. She’s also a woman who has been in love with Grant Stevens and has been “saving” herself for that ultimate day when she walks down the aisle and says “I do” to him...even though she’s thirty years old. 
We begin by Chase’s side as she’s driving to her Aunt Kate’s Christmas party in the Idaho ski town where her aunt lives in a dark green Victorian-style mansion. The weather is horrible, and things become worse when Chase believes she sees her Prince Charming in his red Jeep, with a female in the passenger seat. Hitting the brakes because she’s paying more attention to Grant than the ice on the road, she almost kills a pedestrian, and ends up throwing a tray of lovely Christmas cupcakes all over the pristine interior of the rental she’s driving. She gets a worse blow when she finds out that there is no girl by Grant’s side. Instead, he’s driving to Aunt Kate’s with a stunning guy who goes by the name of Brody. Brody, apparently, is the guy Grant recently married in Vegas after Grant texted Chase that he needed to take a break from their relationship.
Upon learning Grant's news, Chase watches her fairytale life of living in a “glass-and-steel” dream house with Grant, the perfect architect, fall apart. She also has to worry about telling her mother that the money spent on the upcoming nuptials was just flushed down the toilet, as well as tell her father about the damage she’s done to the rental he paid for.
This Christmas party introduces some of the greatest characters imaginable. Roxie, for one, is a bad girl that Chase calls her “partner-in-crime cousin.” Roxie wants more than anything to bury Grant for what he’s done to Chase, and will also be instrumental in getting Chase back on the market and attempting to get her out of the pain and depression that follows after being dumped. 
The humor in this tale comes from all different scenes. Popular girls from school who Chase still can’t stand; a new next-door neighbor and her daughter named Daphne, who had to move from their last location because Daphne just happens to have a “gift” when it comes to using a Ouija board (is she a witch, or will her ‘psychic visions’ help Chase find just the right man?); to a plethora of men who each have their own interesting attributes. For example, a hunky flight attendant who lives in Massachusetts named Vincent; Jacques-Pierre, who she meets while traveling; and Grant, who we find out more about that most readers (like me) won’t see coming. These are just some who come together and explore relationships, emotions, and so much more. 
The author has made sure that the conversations – whether they are between people or inside Chase’s head – are extremely witty. And it’s an understatement to say that being a part of Roxie and Chase’s journey together was a total blast. Even though you may want to roll your eyes at some of Chase’s decisions, you’ll end up cheering for her instead. Because, in the end, she is a woman who stands for her beliefs and proves that she will not settle for anything less than perfection—a lesson all of us should learn. 
Quill says: Life in the Chastity Zone is absolutely hilarious, yet I have a feeling this book will be overshadowed by the entertainment that’s still sure to come in future books in this series.
For more information on Life in the Chastity Zone (Chastity Series, Book 1), please visit the author's website at: hollybrandon.com

#AuthorInterview with Gary McGugan @GaryDMcGugan

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Gary D. McGugan, author of Pernicious Pursuit: A Howard Knight Escapade.
FQ: How much of Howard Knight is really Gary McGugan?
McGUGAN: Wow! A great question to start our interview. I hope the answer is “very little.” Naturally, some of me must permeate the character, but I view Howard as an excellent example of human beings generally. He is bright and has experienced success like few others. But he also has flaws and weaknesses like everyone else. I choose to give him qualities like an insurmountable will to survive, but temper those qualities with judgment that is questionable at best. I think readers will find Howard a complex paradox, and that’s my intention.
FQ: You seem quite knowledgeable about corporate structure and wheeling and dealing – in your own business career did you see or suspect the kind of corruption you depict in your book?

McGUGAN: Yes. One of the most stringent requirements of my employers was to know our customers well. In turn, that requirement made it necessary to visit customers and prospective customers frequently. As a result, I’ve encountered businesses that were unquestionably controlled by characters as nasty as any in my story and seen evidence of subtle sophistication that camouflages ownership or influence by nefarious actors. The business-world reflects our society in companies large and small around the globe. But I highlight those characteristics in my stories not to aggrandize them, but to inform. When we realize such forces exist, we can look for signals and take action to minimize the influence of bad companies.
FQ: Do you have a favorite female character among the ones you depict here?
McGUGAN: Good question! But the answer is no. I don’t have a favorite. Each of the women in Pernicious Pursuit has character qualities and flaws. I try to explain where those imperfections may originate and try to balance weaknesses with positive elements. To me, this is the essence of life and I like my stories to be not only entertaining but a reflection of our collective experiences.
Author Gary D. McGugan
FQ: Has your own world travel and transplantation given you insight into the seemingly habitual peregrinations of your characters?
McGUGAN: Peregrinations is a very long word that means a journey—especially a long or meandering one—and I think a very appropriate word to describe Howard Knight’s escapades in Pernicious Pursuit. My story depicts a man who is pursued desperately for reasons few may understand, with an intensity most can’t imagine. I hope the final pages will help readers bridge the gulf between justice and reality.
FQ: Did you ever, or do you plan to, visit any of the locales used as settings for Pernicious Pursuit?
McGUGAN: I’ve had the pleasure of visiting 649 cities and towns in 42 countries around the globe over the past 50 years. I’ve either visited or lived in most of the locales in Pernicious Pursuit. That includes Isla Canela, Spain— where my wife and I stayed a delightful month putting the finishing touches on Unrelenting Peril, the third novel in my trilogy about the goings-on at Multima Corporation.
FQ: What modern (not necessarily contemporary) authors/novels would you compare yourself to?
McGUGAN: I think only readers can answer that question. I never try to emulate another writer, nor do I presume the acumen of any author we might all recognize. I try to tell entertaining stories from my perspective and trust readers will decide if my work is worthy of comparison with another.
FQ: Of course, readers will want to know if they’ll see Howard Knight again, and with which remarkable woman or women. Any plans for that?
McGUGAN: Howard Knight will surface again. I think it would be a shame if such a complex character didn’t have an opportunity to fail once more! I’ve started to work on my fifth novel, and Howard will surely be a central character. And it may be the chance for his brilliance to shine through. I also think readers of Pernicious Pursuit will discern who the next story’s main women characters will be.
FQ: Have you considered writing a novel purely from a female viewpoint, with a female lead? 
McGUGAN: Yes! To me, it seems a daunting task, but I’ll move in that direction with my next novel. I can reveal two of the three main characters in my next story will be very strong women. I look forward to honing skills in that book to write with the voices of exceptional women. Maybe novel number 6 or 7 will be the time to take that plunge and utilize every expertise of wordsmithing I can muster to explore life purely from a female perspective. In the meantime, I hope your audience will enjoy Pernicious Pursuit, and I thank you again for the opportunity to chat about stories I love to write.