Tuesday, August 4, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Michael Pronko

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Michael Pronko, author of Tokyo Traffic (Detective Hiroshi series, Book 3).

FQ: I commend you for writing this book on the subject of human trafficking, and shedding light on the global issue. I read that in the United States, The National Human Trafficking Hotline has managed 51,919 hotline cases since 2007, but unfortunately most cases go unreported so the real impact is a lot higher. How bad is human trafficking in Japan?

PRONKO: The problem was not seriously addressed until recently. Japan only ratified some of the international protocols on trafficking a few years ago. I can understand how hard it is for police and task forces to root out this vicious crime, but politicians who ignore injustices like trafficking need to take action. Japan is ruled by government bureaucracy and they are slow to change. Meanwhile, the situation festers. The grey areas around trafficking make it especially difficult. The totality of trafficking includes “guest” workers on farms and fisheries, underage Japanese girls going on paid ‘dates,’ online ‘delivery health’ services and a porn industry with close ties to loansharking and debt collection. Japan has raised its compliance level with international norms and cracked down on some practices, but Japan remains a destination and transit point for international trafficking, while battling its own domestic trafficking.

FQ: Detective Hiroshi has a new girlfriend and they both participate in Kendo. Why did you choose this particular martial art for Hiroshi to experience? 

PRONKO: Kendo is one of the most traditional and popular of martial arts. Young men and women often join school “circles” for sports or other activities. That’s where Hiroshi and his girlfriend met. But I really chose that because I used to watch students at my university practicing Kendo. It impressed me deeply. For one thing, it’s really loud! People scream and hit hard. One of my students lost some hearing from an especially hard hit. As with most martial arts, the key point is less the physical side than the spiritual side. It’s maybe a cliché that Asians have some mystical interior world, but such practice really does encourage inner strength.

FQ: How do you decide what theme, or subject matter, you will base your thriller/mystery on when you begin writing?

PRONKO: I can never read the news without becoming infuriated. I worked for the editorial section of The Japan Times for years, so I’d select topics there by the degree they angered me. I often stew over these outrages and carry on arguments in my head. I keep stacks of articles and read through them from time to time. That provides start-up energy. I’m not sure what other people do with their anger, but I need to process it into some meaningful form. I’m equally motivated by awe-inspiring aspects of Tokyo and Japanese society. Anger and awe, though, aren’t enough. I wait to see if characters and story lines emerge. Often, they don’t, but when they do, they take on their own shape. I write things down as they develop and figure out how to process that emotional energy into story form. Scenes sketch themselves out, dialogue pops into my head, and I write all that down right away. Little by little, the topic and emotion transform into concrete images. If all of that sounds imprecise, it’s because I don’t understand how it happens myself.

FQ: When you’re in the process of writing a novel, from the initial idea, until the completed book is on the shelves, what task do you like to do the most? What part of the process do you like the least?

Author Michael Pronko

PRONKO: I like most parts of the process but have resistance to some parts. I love slathering ideas on scraps of paper, gathering up articles, and jamming them into folders. It’s almost a physical pleasure. Converting notes and ideas into narrative patterns is like a puzzle that you know has to work eventually, but still gives you a delicious delay. Imagining characters and visualizing settings has a freeing effect on my mind and is the part I like best. Drafting is hard, but it releases a lot of pent-up energy. As for rewriting, I ‘relish torturing a phrase once more’ as S.J. Perelman said, but after a long period rewriting, I’m zapped. I find promotion to be a drag, as it feels counterintuitive. Marketing doesn’t come naturally to me, so that’s irritating, too. Once the book is done, I want to start on the next one, so the promotion and marketing phase makes me feel stalled and uncreative. But still, there’s a lot to learn from each step of the process that can enhance the others.

FQ: How do you handle constructive criticism during your writing phase, and/or negative reviews once your writing has been published?

PRONKO: I don’t handle it very well. The more accurate the input, the more it ticks me off. But after the constructive criticism percolates for a while, usually I come around to it. I often don’t agree with what a beta reader, editor or friend suggests, but they identify weak points that I can work on fixing in my own way. As for negative reviews, it depends. Some make me wonder if they read the novel at all. Some seem mean-spirited for reasons that are hard to fathom. But others frame the novel in larger terms, or explain their thoughts, so I can accept those negative comments for what they are. Working with newspaper and magazine editors to deadline and receiving evaluations from students every semester, I’ve come to feel all feedback helps, if only to keep me humble. Or maybe especially to keep me humble. Even when it hurts, you have to step over it and move on. Anyway, I’d rather live a life open to criticism, good and bad, than to live hidden away psychologically.

FQ: In the book, detective Hiroshi has some issues with balancing his work and personal life, which of course upsets his girlfriend. How do you balance your teaching career, writing endeavors, and personal life, without making one aspect suffer?

PRONKO: I don’t handle this very well, either. Writing, teaching, living, they all suffer from time spent on the others. On any one day, I can manage one, maybe two, but the third ends up ignored. But I try to divide the day so that I can focus on just what’s in front of me. I carve out time and focus on just one of those. If I think about the novel in the middle of a class, I’d be too distracted to interact. If I start thinking about teaching while writing, it disrupts the flow. Wherever I am, I do let myself stop and jot down a note. Just getting it down lets my mind ease up and refocus on what’s in front of me. From one perspective, it’s a mess some days, but long run, I feel teaching, writing and living are deeply enmeshed, shaping and strengthening each other. That’s enough for me. I leave balance to jugglers and tight-rope walkers.

FQ: Your books have all been independently published, so you have a lot of experience with avoiding the pitfalls and frustrations of trying to get your novel seen by large publishing companies. What advice do you have for new authors who are anxious to get their writing out, and into the hands of readers? 

PRONKO: One day, I was out drinking with friends moaning about unanswered queries and my unresponsive agent at the time, when a musician friend said to me, you listen to indie label jazz musicians all the time, so why not for your books? I pooh-poohed that suggestion and ordered another drink. But on the way home, it struck me that that’s exactly what I should do. So, I did. It took a leap of faith. Everyone wants the approval, the imprimatur, of an authority, a famous agent or a respected publisher. I had that romanticized vision of writing for years. But it’s OK to just do the work and let the work itself provide authority. Independent publishing requires a lot of time and effort, and some source of steady income doesn’t hurt, but much more than that, it requires confidence and patience, and a deeply ingrained work ethic. It requires being independent in almost every way you can think of. I would have liked help, or luck, or a contract, but as The Little Prince said, it’s the time you spend on something that gives it its value.

FQ: Cryptocurrency is another subject that you touch upon in this book. What’s your opinion about digital money? 

PRONKO: I think the future of world commerce will eventually be digital money and regulating it will be hard. It’ll be a cat-and-mouse game for a long time. I think it will increase corruption, alternative economies and as-yet-unimagined problems, but it will probably go forward everywhere. It has the potential to really disrupt and destabilize the world economy, but it would take years for that to happen. So, maybe cryptocurrency can be brought under some sort of legal framework and oversight. If not, it will be like drug money, only much easier to cover up.

FQ: While I’m not fluent in any language other than English, I have learned enough of both Polish and French that sometimes I’m unable to think of the English equivalent when I’m writing. Does this happen to you too when you’re switching between writing in English and Japanese? 

PRONKO: Yes, all the time. Because the settings of the novels are always in Japan, sometimes I can’t remember the word for even basic things like floor cushions or vegetables in English. And some words seem so natural in Japanese that it’s hard to find a good translation, like genkan, the entrance area in every home. I suppose entryway is a good translation, but it doesn’t convey the same idea, because Japanese would take off their shoes and change their attitude upon entering an interior space. I try to include some Japanese words that fit without overwhelming readers.

FQ: Back in 2017 when I interviewed you for the first book, The Last Train, I asked what were the reactions to your novel in Japan, and you responded that you were working on getting it published. Have you been successful, and if so, how have your books been received?

PRONKO: I decided to focus on getting more novels completed in the series first. So, getting the novel into the hands of Japan’s voracious readers is still on my list, right after the next novel, a screenplay adaptation, a guide to jazz in Japan, and another collection of short essays. And did I mention my job teaching and my personal life? They’re on the list, too, somewhere.

Meet Author Michael Pronko

Meet the author of the popular "Detective Hiroshi" mystery series.  Just posted - Author Michael Pronko's "Meet the Author" page:

Monday, August 3, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Mark M. Bello

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Mark M. Bello, author of Betrayal High (A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, Book 5).

FQ: Your books have touched a variety of subjects that seem to burst into today’s headlines. Can you begin by telling us more about this new book and where the idea first came from?

BELLO: My niece and nephew live in the Parkland School District and I have an apartment in nearby Delray Beach. I was in Florida while the Parkland was happening in real time. My young nephew was in lockdown and everyone was terrified. The shooting hit very close to home and I began to consider these cases. While the book is not based on the Parkland incident, questions began to occupy my thoughts: What are the root causes? How does a kid get these high-octane weapons? Where was security? How will the community cope and what will they do to recover? How long will it take them? How should the legal system respond? I began to research the issue and the result is Betrayal High.

FQ: Coming off Betrayal in Black, another horribly tough subject that is now everywhere with the Black Lives Matter campaign, how difficult was it to move from that directly into this – another subject that’s truly painful?

BELLO: I actually never thought of it like that, but you are absolutely correct—these are very painful issues. However, I consider it my responsibility to write books that challenge us to be better versions of ourselves, more tolerant of people who are different than we are, to stick out our hand in friendship, rather than a AK47 in anger. Because Parkland was kind of personal for me, it was not difficult for me to make the transition. I wanted to tell the story from multiple points of view, demonstrate that good and evil come in many forms, and educate readers about how the legal system can be used as a tool for change and retribution, without resorting to violence or law-breaking. The two novels are similar in that way. 

FQ: Is there a subject you won’t touch? And, in addition, is there a genre you, personally, dislike reading?

BELLO: It should be obvious by now that I find inspiration in real life events and how real people respond to them. I don't know that there's a subject I wouldn't touch, as long as it's a good fit for an appropriate legal response. As to genres I dislike, I won't go there—I know from experience how difficult it is to write a full-length novel and I admire all of my fellow authors, regardless of their genre. (I should run for political office, no?)

FQ: With the world in this state of pandemic, do you feel like people will be turning more to books than their TV screens? It’s still a great way to actually get entertainment. 

BELLO: Sadly, I don't. I think the vast majority of people would rather "watch the movie" than "read the book." I don't get it; a person gets a day or two's enjoyment from a book and only an hour or two from a movie, but I think we've become a visual society with a short attention span. I challenge your readers to prove me wrong.

FQ: Do you have a specific feeling when it comes to this country giving up our history? (Sometimes for an avid reader like myself, I feel a bit scared that books will become a thing of the past that our kids won’t know anything about.) 

BELLO: I'm not that pessimistic. Schools will continue to require reading and reading is an acquired taste. Curling up with a good book will continue to be a joy, even if books have to compete with multiple means of electronic media. I pray you're wrong and I'm right.

FQ: When you look at this series, do you see an ultimate end for Zachary? Are you interested in the future writing something outside of the courtroom/legal genre? 

BELLO: I do not have any current plans to retire Zachary; I enjoy writing about the lawyer I wish I had been. I'm not sure I'm talented enough to write out of my legal thriller genre. My novels are the result of 43 years of legal experience and I'm comfortable in that space. I greatly admire creative authors like George R. R. Martin who can write masterpiece series without having experienced anything similar to the genre of their writing. At my age, I don't think I could do that. I will never say never, though.

FQ: Are you already working on the next Zachary book? If so, can you give us an idea of what he’ll be up against next? 

BELLO: I recently completed my sixth Zachary Blake novel. It is being edited as I write this. Supreme Betrayal is about a young woman who bravely challenges the nomination of the President's newly selected candidate for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. Why? Because the candidate sexually assaulted her twenty years earlier, and the boy's well connected, wealthy parents covered up the crime. Sound familiar? 

FQ: Where can people learn more about you and your writing? 

BELLO: They can find my books on Amazon and other online book distributors. My books are now available as audiobooks on Audible, Chirp, and other audiobook outlets. They can also go to my website at Mark M. Bello | Legal Thriller Author / Attorney | Michigan 



Sunday, August 2, 2020

#BookReview - Greezers: A Tale of Establishment's Decline and Fall

GREEZERS: A Tale of Establishment's Decline and Fall

By: Simon Plaster
Publisher: Mossik Press
Publication Date: July 2020
ISBN: 978-0-9994-1855-6
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: August 2, 2020

Okay...I’ve said it before, I will say it again. If you have not become a fan of this author by now, you have either been locked in a closet for a really long time with no access to books, or you simply haven’t been listening to me. If it’s the first reason, I’m highly sorry for your plight and I hope you find freedom soon. If it’s the latter, then you simply make bad choices.

Yet again, Simon Plaster has penned a book that is a recipe of fantastic plot, great characters, wit, charm, and (my favorite) sarcasm. It’s also a memorable read and will have you heading back to read the rest of his great books that came before. In Greezers, we are introduced to a number of things. One happens to be a chain of auto lube shops that have been failing. Of course, their recent marketing scheme (team up with a chain of fast food fried chicken franchises and introduce a concept called “Lardo” to the public) hasn’t exactly been the best idea.

The auto lube shops are part of the empire owned by the DeGrasso family; so is the Trinita Coal & Oil Co. Now, the matriarch of this family is Nanette DeGrasso. She’s a feisty woman, to say the least, and definitely likes to rule with an iron-fist. She’s also 95, yet she seems to be able to still put people in their place when she wants to. Nanette, in her role as the all-wielding superpower of the family, is also overlord of the Oklahoma City based auto shop chain. When Nanette approved the idea for the “Lardo” sales campaign, joining up with a Ukrainian partner in order to make it happen, most of the watercooler gossip was about the fact that the matriarch may have lost her mind. People started wondering who on earth would be her successor when she finally bade farewell to Earth and headed straight into the underworld. Well, let us just say that this family has a gene pool that makes a family of dodo’s seem highly intelligent.

But someone needs to take over...eventually. Introducing Charles DeGrasso. Nanette’s son, he is the heir-apparent, so to speak, and is currently the Executive VP of the company. He’s waited for fifty years for his mother to head into the afterlife and he definitely wants to take command. His wife, Candice, by the way, is also more than sick of waiting for him to take his rightful position.

Joe DeGrasso is Nanette’s nephew. He is more than willing to pole-vault Charles and nab the reins of the company for himself. He wants the job, but he also has an ulterior motive. If he gets to be in charge, he can set up the next in line to take over which would be his own outcast son, Hunter.

Is that all, you ask? Nope. Leroy O’Rourke is a young lawyer who has his own scheme. He feels that getting “in” with Trinita and throwing himself into the race to be chosen as the next successor will lead him to one day sit where he actually wants to: the Oval Office in the White House.

Reader’s favorite, Henrietta – once a small town newspaper reporter – is, yet again, a part of this wonderful tale. She is still the same dauntless woman who is now heading toward the career of private detective. Answering a want ad she’d taken from the morning newspaper that read “Female Assistant to Private Investigator”, she walks into an odd looking building that, instead of housing the ACE Private Investigation Agency, houses Leroy O’Rourke, Esq.

Will she be hired? Will the matriarch die? Who in the family will take over? How many knives will be shoved into how many backs? Et tu, Brute? Oh, no. I will tell you none of the above. A read that pays homage in its own way to the Bard, himself, Simon Plaster has once again created a book that will have you remembering why you liked books so much in the first place...before all this technology stuff and constant pandemic news got in the way.

Quill says: This truly unique author has once again come up with even more truly unique characters you’ll love.

For more information on GREEZERS: A Tale of Establishment's Decline and Fall, please visit the author's Goodreads page at: Goodreads.SimonPlaster.com

#BookReview - Betrayal High by Mark M. Bello

Betrayal High (A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, Book 5)

By: Mark M. Bello
Publisher: 8Grand Publications
Publication Date: August 2020
ASIN: B08BX5DXD6                         
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor                     Review Date: August 1, 2020

If you haven’t been following this author and his memorable Zachary Blake series of legal thrillers, then you must be either locked away in a cabinet; or, you’re playing too many video games and have forgotten how thrilling and fantastic the actual written word can be. (And, no, the “written word” I speak of does not mean texting.)

Zachary Blake has taken on the Church, bigotry—heck, even the president—so he’s no stranger to big cases that result in bold headlines. This time out, the focus is set on another truly difficult, widespread social issue and the consequences that arise from it: bullying. Not a new subject, indeed, but this author has used his incredible writing ability to introduce great characters, show the spectrum of emotions, and keep readers engaged with a plot that provides action and thrills as Zachary works hard for justice to be done.

We begin off the bat with Kevin Burns. This is a young man who has, for lack of a better turn of phrase, had it with bullying. He has passed the point of no return because of the horrific way people have treated him and worked to bring him down every day. The anger has taken over his heart, and his priority is opening up his father’s gun cabinet.

Another young man named Jake sits inside a classroom located in Bloomfield, Michigan—a high-brow suburb of Detroit that the rich and privileged call home. While in his English class, he receives a frightening text from his brother warning Jake to stay where he is and lock the door. There’s a boy in school with a gun and he’s exacting his revenge. When the gunshots end, the aftermath creates news that transforms Bloomfield from an idyllic town on the map to its’ own Columbine.

Zachary succeeds in the courtroom more often than he does in life. A stellar lawyer who earned the title of “Detroit’s King of Justice” at one time, he also calls this area home. Zachary knows pain and depression; from losing people he’s loved, he fell into a hole at a certain point that led him to hurt both himself and his career. Now, with this tragedy, Zachary feels a mixture of revenge and anger in his own heart and needs to find answers, as well as justice for the innocence that was destroyed.

Zachary knows there’s something more to this case than just Daddy’s gun being accessible, considering the wealth of weapons that were used to carry out this day of horror. Working to discover the truth, he finds more and more information that shines a light on politicians, the 2nd Amendment, and an old archenemy of Zachary’s.

In this fifth book, readers experience betrayal once again. I was introduced to this author and his lawyer in Book #1, Betrayal of Faith. This book is about faith, too, in my opinion, but it hit me in a brand-new way. This is about faith in you, the person: faith that somehow this bullying garbage could be stopped and lives could be saved; faith that we would work harder to make sure vengeance did not fill up a teen (or adult) heart so much that they believed the only clear way to feel better was to destroy their own life, while also taking down innocent lives in the process.

Zachary Blake has been to the bottom and gotten back up in the past, but watching the struggles he goes though in this tale adds another layer to this series that already has a great many layers of action, thrills, courtroom drama, and so much more. Although you don’t have to start with Book #1, because each story is great and you won’t be lost, be prepared to read. You’ll love it so much, you’ll go back and enjoy the other four. And, hopefully, a sixth one will be coming soon.

Quill says: Get away from those video games, people! Bello’s series is so good, Zachary and crew have earned a T.V. show.

For more information on Betrayal High (A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, Book 5), please visit the author's website at: markmbello.com


Friday, July 31, 2020

#BookReview - Tokyo Traffic (Detective Hiroshi series, Book 3)

Tokyo Traffic (Detective Hiroshi series, Book 3)

By: Michael Pronko
Publisher: Raked Gravel Press
Publication Date: June 2020
Reviewed by: Lynette Latzko
Review Date: July 30, 2020

They’re back again! Author Michael Pronko and his protagonist, forensic accountant-detective Hiroshi Shimizu, returns with his comrades in yet another pulse-pounding, crime-solving thrill ride through the streets of Tokyo. 

The third novel of the Detective Hiroshi series, Tokyo Traffic, opens inside a warehouse converted into an adult film studio, where a young, strung-out and terrified young woman, Sukanya, is hiding amongst a mess of toppled-over equipment. She manages to control her shivering body long enough to go near the dead bodies lying on the floor, to take out cash from their wallets, and run off with an iPad and laptop. As if being shot with drugs and confronted with death isn’t horrible enough for anyone to live through, Sukanya is on the run in a completely foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t know where to go, and the few people she does know are nowhere to be found. A few things are certain, Sukanya needs to get her passport to safely get out of the country, and someone wants her, and the electronic equipment she escaped with, and they’ll do everything in their power to get it. 

Meanwhile detective Hiroshi is living with his girlfriend, Ayana, after rekindling their long-lost relationship (and mutual love of the Japanese martial art, Kendo) from when they were young. He finds himself in a constant turmoil between being pulled into odd, and long hours at work, and spending quality time with Ayana. In fact, a recent call from his boss Sakaguchi, requesting his immediate presence at a crime scene filled with dead bodies, interrupts the ending of their Kendo practice. But duty calls and detective Shimizu is compelled to answer, even if it could potentially ruin relationships...or his life. Once the crime scene was worked over, three bodies were identified as the film studio director, an unidentified teenage female, and the head bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance. Upon further investigation, the detectives uncover more clues in the warehouse murders that lead them down a dark, complicated path involving a mix of human trafficking and the use of cryptocurrency as a means of funding pornographic projects. They also receive critical information that reveals the possibility of another girl who may have been a witness to the murders, and they must do their best to find her in the vast streets of Tokyo, before the killers do. 

Tokyo Traffic, like its two award-winning predecessors, is a solidly written novel that extends further past the simple “whodunit” mystery genre, and delves deep into a complex and thrilling exploration of strong, multi-layered characters and an equally compelling, gritty setting. The author's many years of experience in writing is evident; and combined with his personal experience and knowledge of the Japanese culture, the story propels readers right into a fast-paced thriller from the shocking opening scenes, moving into a vividly described middle that keeps readers at the edge of their seats, and swiftly slides right into a seriously electrifying finale. Pronko’s novel may be fiction, but the novel’s themes, specifically that of human trafficking, are real-life. By sensitively writing about these heavy subjects, he brings them into the forefront of readers’ minds, making this not only entertainment, but also food for thought. 

Quill says: Author Michael Pronko adroitly takes readers on another outstanding Detective Hiroshi thrill ride into the streets of Tokyo, this time presenting a murderous case involving human trafficking that you don’t want to miss. 

For more information on Tokyo Traffic (Detective Hiroshi series, Book 3), please visit the author's website at: www.michaelpronko.com


Thursday, July 23, 2020

#BookReview - Peter and the Whimper-Whineys Coloring Book

Peter and the Whimper-Whineys Coloring Book
By: Sherrill S. Cannon
Illustrated by: Kalpart
Publisher: Strategic Book Publishing
Publication Date: June 2020
ISBN: 978-1-952269-68-4
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: July 2020
Prolific, and very successful, children’s book author Sherrill S. Cannon is at it again, with another fun and engaging adventure, but with a twist...this one isn’t just a great story, but also a coloring book.
Peter is a cute little rabbit, living in a house near the woods with his mother and sister. While he’s adorable, he does have a problem – he complains about everything. He whines, he gets grumpy, and he cries. Nothing seems to make him happy. At dinner that night, he complains about his sister having more soup, more jelly for her roll, and gosh darn it, it just wasn’t right.
Peter’s mother had already warned him that if he kept up his grumpy attitude, the “Whimper-Whineys” would come looking for him.
“If you can’t stop that whining, I very much fear
That the old Whimper-Whineys will look for you here.
You’ll go live with them in a land far away,
Where you’ll join them in whining and crying all day.”
The little rabbit didn’t listen to his mother and soon he was sent to his room to sulk and think about his poor attitude. Looking out the window, he wished he was in the woods beyond his home. Instantly, he was transported into the woods where he soon met...a Whimper-Whiney. Peter was about to learn just what being a whiner was all about from a group of woodland men who were nothing short of professional whiners. Would Peter learn that complaining about everything was not a good way to live one’s life?
Peter and the Whimper-Whineys is based on a story the author’s mother told her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. With the urging of her own children, Sherrill Cannon worked her magic to bring the story of Peter and the Whimper-Whineys to life in a very imaginative way. The story is lighthearted, and the author has mastered the very difficult technique of telling a story in rhyme without the text feeling forced – not an easy feat! While once again partnering with Kalpart for the illustrative work, the difference with this book is that the pictures aren’t colored, but rather simple line-drawings, leaving the coloring up to the child's imagination. The added coloring activity will likely spark more creative play around the concept of Whimper-Whineys and the negative impact of complaining all the time.
Quill says: Peter learns a big lesson in his adventure with the Whimper-Whineys, a lesson that he wants to share with others. It’s a lesson that your kids will love learning, while they color each page.
For more information on Peter and the Whimper Whineys Coloring Book, please visit the publisher's website at: sbprabooks.com.sherrillscannon

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

#BookReview - The President's Dossier

The President's Dossier
By: James A. Scott
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Publication: September 2020
ISBN: 978-1608094134
Reviewed by: Risah Salazar
Review Date: July 21, 2020
Kicked out of the CIA after somehow being framed by his girlfriend, Claudia, Agent Max Geller is looking for a new job. It all started with Claudia initiating an email exchange expressing Max’s negative bias towards the president. He’s now putting his best foot forward to possible future employers, but after the news of him dissing the POTUS has circulated, no one wants him on their side.
Three weeks later, a lawyer named Bill Bowen approaches Max while he’s having a drink at a bar. To say that Bowen’s got a big offer for him is an understatement. What he wants is for Max to verify the content and the sources of the infamous Ironside Dossier, in exchange for ten million dollars. This dossier is a set of incriminating evidence against Ted Walldrum, the winning Republican candidate for the next US election.
Bowen seems like the real deal as he provides everything Max might need for this dangerous operation. Immediately after this strange encounter, Rodney, his former boss at the CIA, calls him. Lo and behold, Rodney’s business invitation is not far from Bowen’s. Why is everyone after him and the dossier? Not that he’s complaining -- he needs the money. With the help of his long-time trusted friends and a surprise assistant from Bowen named Jill Rucker, he travels to England, Russia, Panama, and Switzerland to finish the job.
James A. Scott’s The President’s Dossier is a thrilling and chilling spy fiction. It’s fast-paced, action-packed, and detail-oriented. The story is excruciatingly complex; it’s hard to keep track of everything that’s happening. There’s also an unsettling tension that leads to something bigger and scandalous. In the end, it’s a splendid thing to see how all these entanglements loosen up and satisfyingly play out.
The overall tone is serious and intellectual. Scott sure knows his craft and his unquestionable background becomes evident as he relays the story. There’s good representation and balance among the characters. This is not like most espionage thrillers where the stage is dominated by men. Here, there are bad-ass women too who are up for the job.
Quill says: The President’s Dossier tells a game of power, authority, and stealth that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

Monday, July 20, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Aksana Palevich

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Aksana Palevich, author of The Ten-Dollar Dream: Live and Love Your Own Dream.
FQ: What inspired you to write this book?
PALEVICH: The birth of my daughter. This life experience changed me and changed my view on many things such as what makes us happy, why we are hungry for success, and what our most important lifelong values are. Also, in my very active life, I met people from all over the world and some of them had a hard time believing that I’ve built a brand-new life from scratch in a foreign country. Telling bits and pieces about my story, I could see how people were getting energized, asked me more questions, and had an inspiring smile on their faces. It was a great feeling and I wanted to tell more. So, I started telling my story in a personal diary to my daughter, which later became The Book.
FQ: You mention raising your young daughter by yourself while juggling a career. What important message would you like to tell her when she grows up and begins her own career?
PALEVICH: The modern way of parenting is no longer focused on food, a warm bed, and a safe environment for our children. It is more than this. It is about investing a great proportion into kids’ development, which requires time. So, I would advise Maali to make room for that development but that would not mean necessarily mean stopping her career. I would tell her to never stop chasing her dreams even after having children and becoming a mom. Because humans can achieve a lot while doing many things in parallel. What I would warn her about though, is to listen to her inner wellbeing detector, which I hope she would develop in time. A detector that would tell her to stop and breathe when the balance of work and personal life deteriorates.
FQ: Setting goals, both small and complex, are one of many themes discussed in your book. What are some of your current goals?
PALEVICH: I have a few. Learning to play the piano is the biggest one, I guess. I almost achieved this when I was 10. But my parents could not afford a piano at home and I thought I would fail if I was unable to practice. Now is the time to fulfill this ambition. Also, I am planning to adjust my career, so I can work more with people – coaching, teaching or self-development. After a year of running a not for profit dance class for 6-7 year olds, I was offered a paid job, which I might consider as well.
FQ: In lesson five you say that a person can be impatient, but once they set their goals they won’t need to worry about being impatient because the drive to complete the goal will push them along. What do you suggest for people, especially for some teenagers, who are too impatient and scattered in their thoughts to even know where to begin setting goals for themselves - they just want to experience the end result? 
PALEVICH: Start small but start somewhere. Start with one very simple thing – something rooted into your daily routine – a task that a person is doing occasionally anyway. Important that this is an obvious part of the daily routine because it can easily be converted into a long term goal. For example, many people focus on their health and well-being and spend a fortune on diets, workouts, and healthy eating. It is all worth it. But such ambitions can easily be supported by nearby surroundings and nature. Instead of driving to work, use a bicycle (if short distances) or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Pause the gym and introduce a family workout in the yard with your kids. Stick to one simple thing and just practice it regularly. It will become embedded everyday and you would stop thinking about it as an ambition by becoming a natural habit and a quick win.
FQ: After reading this story I would say you’ve had (and are continuing to have) a successful life. Is there anything you would have done differently if given a chance to do it over?
PALEVICH: No, I would not change anything. I tend not to look back to the past thinking of what I could have done differently. I look back to find what I can learn for my future. I cannot change the past, but I can surely change my future. I even forget past events quickly if they meant nothing to me. And even if I had a possibility to change the past, I would be able to change some things, while many other things would still remain tough and unpredictable. What is the point of changing something when you cannot change everything? 😊
FQ: What advice do you have for someone who is just beginning their writing career?
PALEVICH: Just start writing whatever thoughts and ideas pop into your head. With time there will be a clear indication if your work is progressing into a book. And when things will start getting serious, spend a lot of time researching about the life of a book – writing, coaching, line editing, publishing, distribution, marketing – the whole end 2 end process, so you know what to prepare for.
FQ: The titles of the chapters in your book reference cars and driving such as “The Gearshift” and “The Sightseeing.” Can you explain the reasoning behind your decision to organize your book in this manner?
PALEVICH: Driving a car is very similar to living a chapter of your life. With this I mean there will always be a start, a journey, a coffee break, and a final destination. That association tells me that we will always drive in some direction throughout our lives until we reach the final destination. And each ride will be unique, maybe exciting, but full of experiences. Also, the feeling of driving fast on the highway (when it's allowed) reminds me of how I can push my driving skills to the limit and challenge my fear, which is also very much related to the content of my book.
FQ: You present forty-seven lessons and one bonus lesson in The Ten-Dollar Dream. If you had to choose the most essential lesson of them all, which one would it be? 
PALEVICH: Lesson 32 because it is connected to my struggle from when I was so exhausted that I could not feel anything anymore. I could have stayed feeling like that forever if I didn't try to get up onto my feet again. It also reflects that even a strong and ambitious person like me can end-up in crisis, stressful and extremely life-threatening situations, when it is so easy to say, “I cannot function anymore”. In such hard times we all can get up and we all can find the strength to carry on. The power of humans to survive any challenge in life is amazing and I wish that power for everyone.
FQ: Do you have any future writing endeavors?
PALEVICH: Yes. I would love to write a book about the future of mankind. We all know that in times of technology and digital solutions, human jobs will be (and are already being) replaced by robots and artificial intelligence. Finding out about how the future could change and how we as humans can remain humans is a very interesting topic which I am keen to research. 😊

Sunday, July 19, 2020

#BookReview - Otis P. Oliver Protests

Otis P. Oliver Protests

By: Keri Clairborne Boyle
Illustrated by: Daniel Duncan
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: April 2020
ISBN: 978-1534110434
Reviewed by: Gina Montanha
Review Date: July 18, 2020
Well just imagine a little boy, doing little boy things all day long...digging in the dirt, playing with worms and his dog...Now imagine he hates baths! The odors almost float off the pages of Otis P. Oliver Protests and make you want to plug your nose!
Young Otis is the star of this compromising (in more ways than one!) children’s book, who simply decides he is done taking baths. As the youngest of four children, with three older sisters, you might guess his opinion isn’t favored and his decision is not taken lightly. The dog only gets one bath a month, so why should Otis need four a week? He decides to rally up the neighborhood kids and demand his voice be heard.
“The only thing we have to fear is soap itself,” becomes his platform and the kids march the streets in peaceful protest of bath-time everywhere, signs and all, saying “Join the anti-tub club” and “Occupy dirt!” While this silly story will elicit plenty of giggles, it has an important message to convey as well. There is power in numbers, an art to compromise and reasonable negotiations can help you achieve your goals.
Daniel Duncan does a wonderful job of creating unique and memorable characters for this stinky story. The facial expressions of each one, including the family dog are amusingly accurate.
Quill says: Otis P. Oliver Protests teaches you to stand up for what you believe in, even if that’s a dirty job!

#BookReview - Daddy Loves You!

Daddy Loves You!
By: Helen Foster James
Illustrated by: Petra Brown
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: March 2020
ISBN: 978-1534110595
Reviewed by: Gina Montanha
Review Date: July 19, 2020
Such a delightful little story, perfect for a bedtime read from Daddy...It will warm the heart, while emphasizing the special bond between a father and his child. 
This adorable children’s book, by experienced children’s author Helen Foster James, is written in rhyming verse, taking a trip through an adventurous and special day, spent with the affectionate Daddy bunny and his cuddly little baby bunny. The big, bold words are perfect for little eyes to start following and even reading along, as they get older.
Daddy and baby bunny share a special relationship as they set out for a fun-filled day of playing, exploring, hopping and swinging, ending with a warm and fuzzy bedtime cuddle. Daddy bunny explains how his love is endless and how he’ll be his baby’s teacher and protector, his whole life through, “You’ll be a superhero...especially to me.” Daddy helps build confidence and assurance that his baby bunny is loved. 
Illustrator Petra Brown uses the softest colors, you can almost feel the warmth and sunshine radiating off the pages! The book even includes a space at the end for Daddy to write an endearing note to his child and to include a photo of them together.
Quill says: Daddy Loves You is ideal for a bedtime story or anytime Daddy wants to share some one-on-one special time with his son or daughter.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

#BookReview - When Life Was Like a Cucumber

When Life Was like a Cucumber

By: Greg Wyss
Publisher: Page Publishing
Publication Date: February 2019
ISBN: 978-1-64462-166-0
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: July 2020
This review has to begin this way because, quite frankly, people who were born after the psychedelic decade that was the 60’s are really going to be mad at their parents after reading this book. Tis’ true, readers. I had the 80’s to grow up in. You know...Reagan, heavy metal, hair bands, and that silly New Coke—a brand trying to take a classic and make it better just to have it bomb with consumers. In other words, boring. After reading this stellar book, all I wanted was a time machine to go back and be born again so I could call ‘The Sixties’ my home. 
We begin here with author Greg Wyss at a point when the calendar reads 1972. Jeffrey Hesse is a character who will appeal to all. He has just gotten a divorce from his wife Jane – who has quite the energy and anger within – and is about to go on a mission. He wants to take one of those journeys to explore his life, his choices, and go on a “trip” of both mind and body. (Enter the acid.) 
Through Jeffrey’s eyes, readers like me—who only learn about events that plagued The Sixties during a history class—are able to frolic in the colorful culture of the United States, fear the war in Vietnam, see the violence-charged protests on the streets (which, unfortunately, have not been erased in the 21st Century), and so much more. Everything comes alive in this tale, and no illicit substance is needed for the reader to have a ball.
This is a character who jumps into some pretty bizarre situations; a great many of them will make you laugh, and with those laughs you’ll learn the lesson there is to be learned. But this is never preachy. This young man is a whole lot of fun as his travels take him from Massachusetts to Florida to a plane ride where Jesus sits beside him all the way to Luxembourg – a part of the book that will keep you absolutely memorized!
From America to Europe, this great man “finds himself” once again as life changes all around him. We head to Switzerland where he spends time learning about his ancestral home in Amsterdam. We tag along with him to the island of Crete during the summertime, where he meets up with a Renaissance man – and does all this with the help of Isadora Duncan who wears her very own halo, so to speak. Just by reading and laughing at his thoughts and words, which are extremely clever, the author creates such a vivid picture of this decade that I almost feel like I didn’t miss out on anything; like I was really there during the Woodstock years.
Greg Wyss has, hands down, created an engrossing, intriguing tale so detailed and, for lack of a better word, beautiful, that it almost rivals the art of Michelangelo, himself.
Quill says: No matter if you are a flower child or not, you will love this charming “trip”!
For more information on When Life Was like a Cucumber, please visit the author's website at: www.gregwyss.com

#BookReview - Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation

By: Marilea Rabasa
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication Date: June 2020
ISBN: 978-1-63152-898-9
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Date: July 15, 2020
Marilea C. Rabasa shares her personal journey of addiction, loss and transformation in her memoir, Stepping Stones.
The carefully kept secrets, stored in the equally hidden baggage from the past are the perfect formula for an eventual awakening. Marilea Rabasa spent her adolescence growing up in post WWII Massachusetts. Her family was the dream of comfort and normalcy in what was once recognized as middle class. She had opportunities afforded her and willingly accepted them. However, certain secrets were to remain protected and that nuance and existence of generational alcoholism must be carefully closeted and confined to familial knowledge only.
Her long and arduous journey toward healing and clarity begins when Marilea’s mother passes. This is not to say it was a relief she lost her mother. Rather, it is a time for her to begin the process of reflection and understanding of her past that reaches back to a childhood filled with unhappiness. Marilea strategically breaks down her life through a series of personal acknowledgement of what transpired, how her conflicts evolved and an awakening of sorts toward embracing what a balanced life could be. She methodically breaks her story down into three distinct milestones: recognition, navigating through the hurt and breaking down the many walls and roadblocks that had been constructed through years of not so much denial, but pain to push through. Only then could the euphoria of hope be seen on her horizon. 
I applaud Marilea with her strength and fortitude to have the courage to take inventory of all that was wrong in her life and learn to heal from it. There is a sublime tone and nuance throughout this read that suggests often the pain certainly outweighed the comfort. Yet, through descriptive passages her willingness and desire to heal resonates throughout. She is graphic with the strained relationship she had with her mother growing up. It is when the uncanny similarities presented again when she became a mother to her daughter, she realized change happens when one commits to change. She was quite prolific in describing the relationship and how uncanny it was that ‘history was repeating itself’. There is a poignant moment in her chapter titled ‘Crossroads’ where she states: ‘It’s hard to see which of the many turning points in my life was the most important. I usually avoided the more difficult paths. Many times, I made choices that were easy: the pill to feel better, the food in my mouth, the isolation that dwarfed and limited me, the subservience to my husband. But the juncture that changed my life forever occurred during the three years we were living in Greece...’ Marilea had many demons to address and overcome, but the aforementioned passage is literally at the halfway mark in the book which makes it the pinnacle and turning point to the entire memoir. I applaud Marilea Rabasa for delivering such a profound and real experience of her life and its challenges and, in the end, the victory of recognizing the sorrows, some joys and ultimately arriving in a place where she has gifted herself with true peace and tranquility. Bravo Ms. Rabasa. Excellent read!
Quill says: Stepping Stones is a memoir that depicts the essence of its title throughout the entire read in that life, after all, truly is a series of ‘steppingstones.’

#BookReview - Dead Silence

Dead Silence
By: Robin Caroll
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Publication: June 2020
ISBN: 978-1-64352-331-6
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: July 2020
Dead Silence has a dash of politics, a sprinkle of who done it and a whole lot of adventure making it a must-read this summer.
Elise Carmichael is a widow and mom to a young son who is deaf. She is an attorney and works for the court system as a sign language interpreter and happens to be darn good at what she does. Perhaps she’s a little too good. As Elise wraps matters up at the courthouse one day, she happens to glance at the two men off to the side. One is talking on his phone and after her brain registers what his moving lips are saying, she cannot believe what she has witnessed. It would seem the stranger on the telephone is discussing an attempt on the life of her mother-in-law, Lillian York. However, Lillian is far more than Elise’s mother-in-law. She also happens to be an Arkansas State Senator. As unsettling as what Elise witnessed, the matter will have to wait given the disturbing phone call she receives seconds later.
Elise absently files the phone incident concerning her mother-in-law after receiving the call from Hallie, her son Sawyer’s caregiver. Sawyer took a fall while at the park with Hallie and they are on the way to the hospital. It’s normal for little boys to fall and get cuts and bruises, but Elise is distraught. Sawyer isn’t like most little boys. He was born deaf and her fear that he may have sustained a head injury or even worse, has Elise completely off her rails. Fortunately, Sawyer’s injuries aren’t catastrophic, but they will present a challenge. He has broken his wrist and will be in a cast for a while which will force some creative signing measures. By the time mother and son get home later that evening, all Elise can think about is getting Sawyer settled before she does the same. The next day is brighter and Elise is ready to take it on. She flips on the tv, turns up the volume and continues to her walk-in closet to get ready for the day ahead. Just as she finishes getting ready for work, breaking news stops Elise in her tracks. The memory of what she witnessed the day before comes flooding back to her. The tragic death of her mother-in-law is announced, and Elise will soon learn that this is just a sneak preview of the devastation and danger headed her way.
While I’ve not had the pleasure of reading any of Ms. Caroll’s previous books, Dead Silence was a great introduction for me. There is a distinct "must" when writing a murder mystery. In order to engage with your audience, a body must be delivered and the earlier, the better. Not only did Ms. Caroll provide the necessary body, but she continuously ramps the story page upon page thereafter. There are ample twists, turns, surprises and aha moments in this book to maintain a constant connection. The dialogue is believable. The character development has depth and the story line has a great flow from beginning to end. The element of suspense and seeds of doubt Ms. Caroll plants throughout are wonderful. One might think he/she knows what’s coming next, but Ms. Caroll is prepared with yet another ‘gotcha’ at precisely the right time. 
Quill says: Dead Silence is a fast-paced, thrilling adventure of who done it from beginning to end.

Friday, July 10, 2020

#BookReview - The Ten-Dollar Dream

The Ten-Dollar Dream: Live and Love Your Own Dream
By: Aksana Palevich
Publisher: Dansk bogfortegnelse - DBC
Publication: May 2020
Reviewed by: Lynette Latzko
Review Date: July 9, 2020
Debut author Aksana Palevich presents The Ten-Dollar Dream, a book that is part autobiography and part inspirational self-help. Organized in forty-seven lessons and one bonus “eternal lesson,” the author takes readers on a figurative drive through her life. We follow Palevich as she grows up in former communist Belarus, and then moves to Denmark at the age of twenty-three with a mere ten dollars to her name. She may have had just ten dollars, but she had a mind filled with lifelong dreams and aspirations to better her life. Along the way Palevich tells her personal story of dreaming big, setting goals and most importantly accomplishing what she set out to do by sticking through rough times and continuing to challenge herself to be the best she can be.
Although this is not a comprehensive list of the numerous lessons covered in The Ten-Dollar Dream, some of the noteworthy points are as follows:
Dream big, set goals and stick to them
Believe in yourself, and hold on even in the toughest situations 
Educate yourself and view all employment as an opportunity to learn 
Stressful situations are unavoidable, but don’t overreact to them. 
Seize opportunities, don’t wait for them to be handed to you or fall from the sky
It’s okay to experience sorrow 
The Ten-Dollar Dream is undoubtedly an uplifting story of the author’s perseverance and dedication in her pursuit of a happy and fulfilled life, with lessons sprinkled throughout the chapters. Coming from a world of communism in Belarus where everyone is equal and told what to do, Palevich took a huge risk at a young age by moving to a foreign country both in language and in political ideologies. Readers will both enjoy and be inspired by the author’s stories of her struggles and achievements, while learning pertinent skills to achieve their own success. However, with forty-seven lessons, some about setting goals and employment pursuits, while others are about family, parenting and first love, readers may be somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of information squeezed into one book. Lessons also tend to be a bit wordy and are scattered throughout the book, not appearing in any specific order, which may add to a reader’s confusion. Fortunately, a list of abbreviated lessons are included at the end of the book, which is quite helpful, especially if you’re planning on frequently referring to it. But with that said, readers should take time to explore the personal story of one woman’s life and learn from her experiences and the most essential element - you can take many roads to accomplish your dreams and goals, but first and foremost, believe in yourself; you have the power to never give up, even during the most difficult times.
Quill says: Make it one of your goals today to read The Ten-Dollar Dream, a real-life story of successful perseverance and a motivational guide for everyone, all combined into one inspiring book.
For more information on The Ten-Dollar Dream: Live and Love Your Own Dream, please visit the Facebook page: facebook.com/The-Ten-Dollar-Dream or the Goodreads page: www.goodreads.com/the-ten-dollar-dream